Before the 2008 season, a common grievance among Twinkie faithful was how little they got in Johan Santana trade, and almost lost in the gloominess were the contracts to Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau. And while in a perfect world, the Twins would’ve kept their former Ace, things didn’t turn out so bad after all. They did challenge for the pennant with a young and agile team, and both of their young stars were among the top four in AL MVP voting.
Think about it, the Twins needed to win one more game than the White Sox won to go to the playoffs. Had they let Livan Hernandez go sooner, had Liriano been available earlier, had Carlos Gomez been a little more patient at the plate, had Delmon Young hit two percentage points higher; they might have gone to the playoffs. Sure all of that is in the past, but the key to 2009 is the realistic possibility of all these scenarios coming together because there’s a core group of players that already produce good numbers.
The Twins were quick, they stole 102 bases, and they were on base a lot, putting up a .340 OBP, both good for fifth in the AL; they had the third best batting average, and scored and produced more runs than the White Sox did. So what do they need?
Well, there was a noticeable absence of power. As much as it’s true that the White Sox rely on home runs to win, the Twins didn’t make it over the hump due to the dearth of long balls: they hit a measly 111, good for dead last in the AL.
Lest we think 2008 was a fluke, the Twins have been in home run cellar-ville for the past four seasons. Last time they hit more than 150 home runs was 2004, and guess who won the division that year…
The good news: The Twins are on the case. They’ve been looking to upgrade the left side of the infield, giving Adrian Beltre some consideration and being mentioned as possible destinations for Garrett Atkins if the Rockies decide to trade him, but all signs point to Casey Blake as their choice at third, and Orlando Cabrera as a possible upgrade at short.
As far as pitching is concerned, their starters were relatively stable, with all five regulars earning double-digit wins; now that Francisco Liriano is healthy, one full season of his services will only improve their rotation. If anything, they might need one or two more bullpen arms to pitch in the sixth and seventh innings before turning the ball over to Dennys Reyes and Joe Nathan.
Now, the million-dollar question is (quite literally), can the Twins afford bigger moves? In a word, no. Frugality is the Twins’ game, and they’ve come close to mastering it, going to the playoffs four times since 2002. Yes, there is a new stadium being built, but it’ll be ready for the 2010 season, so until then, don’t expect anything more than what we’ve already used to from the Twinkies.