• HaroldHecuba: Mike Mussina is EASTERN EUROPEAN, not Italian....

This is part of a series of posts in which we call out all 30 teams for their wily offseason moves and tragic offseason blunders.

Ask anyone who won the AL Central last year and I’m sure more than one will say the Tigers won it. They did hold the lead in the division for most of the season and they did go on to the World Series. But oh you’d be so wrong. Tigers didn’t win it; the Tigs were the Wild Card. The Minnesota Twins won the Central.

TwinkiesOh yeah, now you remember, it all came down to the wire and the Twins pulled it off. Too bad they don’t advance in the playoffs, otherwise you’d think it mattered to them.

Ok, ok, ok. Enough with the bias. The Twins did win the Central, and they won it outright. The Tigers didn’t ride out their early season surge until the end, missing the AL Central title by a day. But the Twins deserve all the credit, not only do they have a “small market” team, they also have the reigning Cy Young winner, Johan Santana, and the reigning AL MVP, Justin Morneau. Oh, right, Joe Mauer was the first AL catcher to ever win a batting title.

Justin MorenauSo what does a team so chock-full of talent like the Twins do in the offseason, to contend again in 2007? Well, first off, you’ve got, let’s count them, six members of your core up for arbitration (Morneau, Mauer, Michael Cuddyer, Nick Punto, Juan Rincon and Lew Ford). None of which, by the way, have been signed to any deal; and with the start of arbitration hearings slated for Feb. 1, you’ve got to wonder how many of those six players will GM Terry Ryan be able to lock-up long term.

Forget trading for starting pitching; yes the Twins do need to replace stud Francisco Liriano’s spot (he’s out most of the season coming off of Tommy John surgery) and Radke’s spot (he can’t pitch forever, ya’know). So who do they sign? Ramon Ortiz, former Nat’s Ace. Oh, and they’ll hope Sidney Ponson didn’t get too carried away this offseason and contribute some seashells or wins.

But no, the Twins can’t worry about all that right now, they have to secure their core. Ryan has expressed hope in at least signing Morenau, Mauer and Cuddyer – arguably, the soul of the team – to long-term deals; but if he fails, he’ll have to worry about that all season long, and about the impending free-agencies of Torii Hunter and Johan Santana next offseason, and Joe Nathan’s in 2009.

Update: With Spring Training around the corner, the Twins have signed all six registration-eligible players. This doesn’t improve their offseason grade because they had to sign all six players in order to stay the same. With no improvements, and with the added possibility that their core could’ve been broken up, the D remains.

Offseason grade: D

Acquisitions: Ramón Ortiz, Sideny Ponson, Jeff Cirillo, Mathew LeCroy.

Losses: Brad Radke (retired), Willie Eyre.

Projected line-up, rotation and closer.

2B Luis Castillo .296 / .358 / .370, 49 RBI

3B Nick Punto .290 / .352 / .373, 45 RBI

C Joe Mauer .347 /.429 / .507, 84 RBI

RF Michael Cuddyer.284 / .362 / .504, 109 RBI

1B Justin Morneau AVG .321 / .375/ .559, 130 RBI

CF Torii Hunter .278 / .336 / .490, 31 HR

LF Rondell White .246 / .276 / .365

DH Jason Tyner AVG .312 / .345 / .353

Jason Bartlett .309 / .367 / .393

LHP Johan Santana 19-6, 2.77 ERA

RHP Boof Bosner 7-6, 4.22 ERA

RHP Carlos Silva 11-1, 5.94 ERA

RHP Ramón Ortiz 11-16, 5.57 ERA

RHP Sidney Ponson 4-5, 6.25 ERA

CL Joe Nathan, 36 SV, 1.58 ERA

- Hot Offseason Action Index -

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