Baseball Prospectus’ Pre-season Projection: 76-86, fourth place
Actual record: 87-76, first place
They do have arguably the best all-around player in baseball, and one of the best managers. Hey, and Carl Pavano. All this is good, no?
Buster Olney of ESPN.com’s Take
What went wrong: The Twins scrapped and scraped and won their last five regular-season games to take the AL Central-and then they ran into real power. The Yankees outhomered Minnesota in the first round 6-0, and generated far more strikeouts with their pitching, 34-22. In the Twins’ final season in the Metrodome, general manager Bill Smith was aggressive in making moves for help in the last 10 weeks. He traded for Orlando Cabrera, Carl Pavano, and Jon Rauch and picked up released free agent Ron Mahay, something that your father’s Twins never did; Minnesota was able to overcome injuries to Justin Morneau and Kevin Slowey partially as a result.
Biggest puzzler on the drawing board: The Twins’ pitchers will always throw strikes-they allowed the fewest walks in the majors, again-but Minnesota is lacking in starting pitchers with plus stuff, and of course, it’s not in the Twins’ DNA to go out and make deals for established, big-money pitchers. And this winter, the Twins will likely begin negotiations in earnest with Joe Mauer, who will be eligible for free agency after next season. Keep in mind, he’s represented by Ron Shapiro, the agent who served a couple of superstars who played their whole careers with one team-Cal Ripken and Kirby Puckett.
The Baseball Prospectus Take
So, yes, Joe Mauer is very, very good at baseball. We all know about the probable AL MVP’s historic season, leading the league in batting average, slugging percentage, on-base percentage and finally displaying the sort of power that fills out his batting toolbox. However, Mauer was only one part of a truly frightening middle of the order that helped the Twins score 811 runs (fourth in the league) and was the main reason Minnesota won nine more games than we projected. Former MVP Morneau provided typical production before his September injury, Jason Kubel approached his 90th-percentile PECOTA projection, and Michael Cuddyer chipped in as well, giving the Twins a quartet of home-grown sluggers good enough to compete with any lineup in the AL. That power kept Minnesota afloat-within three games of the break-even mark-throughout a tepid spring and summer while the Twins’ young starting rotation struggled more than expected. With the rest of the AL Central similarly treading water, the Twins were able to leverage a few small mid-season moves (trades for Pavano and Cabrera, the addition of Brian Duensing to the rotation) into a September surge that propelled them into an ALDS showdown with the Yankees.-Ken Funck, Baseball Prospectus
Key stat: -9.2
There are holes, there are abysses, and then there are bottomless voids from which even light and heat cannot escape. The Twins’ 2009 infield (minus first basemen) qualifies as the last, having posted a combined -9.2 VORP and .229 EqA for the season. “Led” by second baseman Alexi Casilla (-10.8 VORP, .196 EqA in over 250 plate appearances), infielders Nick Punto (-3.1 VORP), Matt Tolbert (-5.3), Brian Buscher (-0.4), and Brendan Harris (0.2) all checked in at or below replacement-level production, while key off-season addition Joe Crede (0.2) was ineffective when he wasn’t injured. Shortstop Cabrera managed a .253 EqA and 10.0 VORP after his deadline acquisition; absent his comparatively Ruthian contributions, Twins middle infielders and third sackers combined for a ghastly .226 EqA and -19.2 VORP in over 1,900 plate appearances. Minnesota’s inability to plug in even replacement-level players at the bottom of the order forced the Twins to go to Game 163 to punch their playoff ticket, and helped seal their early exit.-Ken Funck, Baseball Prospectus
ESPN.com Rumor Central
Trades: The Twins will be getting a pair of arms back (Pat Neshek and Boof Bonser) in what will be an increasingly crowded bullpen, so it might be time to trade from a position of strength. That’s right, move Joe Nathan and the $11.25 million owed to him next year for what could be a good everyday player and a couple of prospects. People at the local level think it could (and should) happen-and considering that Trevor Hoffman just got $8 million and Jose Valverde and Fernando Rodney could very well get far more, Nathan’s price tag might not seem so high.
Free agency: Need a big bat? How about a former MVP in Justin Morneau? Need a solid everyday starter to fill out the rotation? How about a guy that was 10-2 last year before an injury, your very own Kevin Slowey? Expect the Twins to wait on the market, not just because they need to serve Mauer first, but because they’re aiming to fill two of their biggest needs by turning off the whirlpool. That said, once Mauer is in the fold, flexibility may finally arrive as revenues go up with the opening of Target Field.
Who 2 Watch 4: Danny Valencia, 3B
The Twins’ system is currently in one of those gap periods, where all of their top prospects are still in the lower levels, while the upper-level squads have little to offer. Still, they’ll need a third baseman next year, and Valencia will get a long look next spring. Seen as little more than an organizational player when Minnesota selected him in the 19th round of the 2006 draft, Valencia has simply hit at every level, including a .285/.337/.466 line this year split between Double- and Triple-A. He has a quick, quiet swing, but scouts wonder if his aggressive approach at the plate and average-at-best power make him anything more than a placeholder until something better comes along.-Kevin Goldstein, Baseball Prospectus
Signed: 22 of 51
Spent: Just under $5 million
Hits: Kyle Gibson, RHP (22nd overall), LHP Matt Bashore (46th) and RHP Benn Tootle (101st): The Twins continued their philosophy of high-probability arms that are most likely to help them in the big leagues, saving them from dipping into the free-agent market.
Miss: Of the arms the Twins selected, none of the starting pitchers possess plus stuff, possibly leaving Minnesota with a slew of back-end starters and nobody to back lefty Francisco Liriano.-Jason A. Churchill, ESPN.com
The Bottom Line
There’s no truth to the rumor that Target Field, the Twins’ new home in 2010, will feature “Joe Mauer Retention Fund” credit-card readers built into each seat back. Using their upcoming stadium revenue bump to shop for a few complementary parts would not only keep them on top in an underwhelming AL Central, but might help convince Mauer of the Twins’ long-term commitment to build a championship team around him. There are gaping holes to fill at second, short, third and in the unsettled starting rotation. Management may hope Liriano and Delmon Young will finally fulfill their immense promise, but hope is not a plan.-Ken Funck, Baseball Prospectus
A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider .