The 2008 Twins weren’t expected to be competitive, let alone be in the mix to win the AL Central which had been deemed a two-team race between the Indians and Tigers long before pitchers and catchers even thought about reporting. Fast-forward one year and the Twins will be reporting to Fort Myers as a team that ended 2008 with a tough 1-0 loss to the rival White Sox in the 163rd game of the season, a one-game tie-breaker to determine the division winner.
This offseason the Twins made few moves, a stark contrast from last winter’s purging of Johan Santana, Torii Hunter and Carlos Silva. The quiet winter, however, didn’t change the Twins’ intention of competing for a fifth division crown in eight years in 2009.
Now that the days until Spring Training are down to single-digits it’s time to take a look at the five biggest questions facing the Twins in 2009.
1) Can the rotation repeat last year’s success?
Last season the Twins rotation was one of the most impressive in all of baseball and–following the jettisoning of Livan Hernandez–one of the youngest. All five members of the projected starting rotation earned double-digit wins last season and figure to take a step forward. If, however, any member of the rotation should falter Kevin Mulvey, Phil Humber and R.A. Dickey could step in and serve a larger role.
2) Will there be enough power?
In the past three seasons Justin Morneau has hit 88 home runs. Last season all of the Twins not named Justin Morneau hit 88 home runs…combined. Needless to say the Twins are in need of another power bat. With sluggers like Adam Dunn, Barry Bonds and Manny Ramirez still on the market one has to wonder if the Twins could be looking to add another slugger so Morneau doesn’t have to do the heavy-lifting all by himself for another season.
3) Who plays third-base?
The Twins never-ending black-hole at the hot corner doesn’t appear to be ending any time soon. Last year’s signing of Mike Lamb proved to be a mistake as Lamb quickly played his way out of the starting lineup and eventually the league. This offseason’s failed attempt to sign Casey Blake coupled with tepid pursuits of Ty Wigginton and Joe Crede have left the Twins with the same Brian Buscher/Brendan Harris platoon that underachieved down the stretch in 2008.
4) Who is the odd-man out?
The Twins have one of the best outfield quartets in baseball with Carlos Gomez, Delmon Young, Michael Cuddyer and Denard Span on the roster. Unfortunately, Major League rules only permit three men in the outfield. This leaves Ron Gardenhire with the tough task of trying to find enough playing time and at-bats for all four men. In signing Jason Kubel to a two-year contract to serve as the team’s DH the situation grew even more muddled. Expect a big battle in Fort Myers.
5) Who builds the bridge to Joe Nathan?
When Pat Neshek was lost early last season the Twins quickly realized they had little insurance in the middle innings. The Twins signed Luis Ayala on Saturday as a potential setup solution after unsuccessful pursuits of Brandon Lyon and Eric Gagne earlier this winter. If Ayala can regain the form he showed with the Nationals/Expos in the past he could be exactly what the Twins are looking for. In addition, the Twins will be looking for big bounce-back seasons from Jesse Crain and Matt Guerrier as well as potential contributions from Boof Bonser and Humber who are both out of options.