Going into the season, we have a few problem areas/things to worry about. Let's dive in.
- Do we really trust Joe Crede to give us "punch" from third base? I’m skeptical at best… let’s put it like that. Yes, Crede slammed 17 homers and 55 RBI in limited at-bats in 2008, but no one would mistake him for a careful hitter. Cripes, in his best offensive season (2006), he walked 28 times. That places him outside of the top-200. Behind the likes of known-free swinger Rickie Weeks, to name one. Point being that if we expected a Twins-style hitter to walk through the door, we’ve got another thing coming. Toss in the fact that he’s played 97 and 47 games in the past two seasons, and I’m not ready to get all rowdy about our acquisition. To me, a successful season for Joe Crede begins and ends with health. If that happens, I expect 20-22 home runs and 65-80 RBI.
- Can Delmon Young make the leap from platoon outfielder to everyday player? First of all, let me be clear… Delmon Young should be an everyday player. And for all the vitriol hurled at Young, he actually had a better season in 2008 than in 2007, when he drove in 93 RBI with 13 homers and looked like a big-time player in the making while destroying the Tampa Bay clubhouse. Consider that Young dropped his strikeouts from 127 to 102 in 2008. Or that he raised his BB count from 26 to 35 in 70 less at bats. Or that his .290 batting average and .336 OBP ranked #4 among regulars last season (more than half of the games played). He’ll continue to take better routes to the ball on defense, and we already know he has a cannon for an arm. And he’s 23 years old, 24 in September… give it a little more time.
- Will Carlos Gomez' supposed commitment to plate discipline follow him into the regular season? This spring, Carlos Gomez has looked like a different player. In 50 at-bats, he’s belted three home runs, stolen eight bases, driven in seven RBI and most importantly, is hitting .280/.368/.580. He’s walked six times compared to eight strikeouts, which is a mark most patient hitters would be proud to own. Either way, it’s a far cry from his absolutely toxic 6:1 K/BB ratio in 2008. The question is whether this success will translate, because as we all know, Spring Training is not the end-all for projecting seasonal stats. But if, by chance, Gomez does get a ton better, we’ll all start breathing easier about the Johan trade.
- How long is Joe Mauer really going to be out for? We all know Mauer is a top-3 catcher in baseball. Whether he’s going to produce while he’s in the lineup hasn’t been a question since his arrival back in 2004. The problem is that he keeps getting hurt, and it’s pissing everyone off. If it’s not a knee, it’s a hamstring… if it’s not a quad, then it’s his back. Check out this snippet from the Disabled List Informer – an absolutely wonderful injury source:
“See a pattern here? I do. Most injuries are on the left leg. As a clinician, what this tells me is that there is something predisposing Mauer to left-sided lower extremity issues. Usually, it stems from improper foot positioning, i.e. too flat of a foot, or too high of an arch. In most cases, it is that the foot on the involved side is flat, thus leading to altered mechanics up the chain (in the knee, hip, low back, and the associated muscles in these areas).”
- Maybe there’s more wrong than we think? But aside from all this stuff is the back injury he’s currently dealing with, and the latest news from Twins writer LaVelle E. Neal is that he’ll miss most of April. But the real question is whether he’ll miss time because of nagging injuries after that.
- Are we going to place our hope in a bunch of young pitchers again? Seriously? Don’t get me wrong, I love our starting pitching for what they provided last season. They soothed us all year despite injuries to the top two (Scott Baker – 1 month; Liriano – more than 3 months), when the front office laid waste to the fan base by letting Torii Hunter go, and traded Santana in late winter. So yes, I’m thankful and I love them. And I believe Liriano, Baker and Slowey will be just fine this season, but I’m not feeling Nick Blackburn and Glenn Perkins again. And it has nothing to do with Spring Training, where they’ve been really good. It’s just that they have such high WHIPs and such low strikeout rates that there’s seemingly no way they get this lucky again. Not to rain on the parade, but I’m expecting a regression.
- Could the Luis Ayala signing be worse than 2008's Livan Hernandez signing? Which is worse: Never having a chance, or being really close, only to have something taken at the last second? Seems like most Twins fans would take the former over the latter from the different ways they treated Livan Hernandez and Matt Guerrier last season. They both had good moments and bad ones, but on the whole, Guerrier was light years more destructive than Hernandez because the piss-poor starts he spun were near-impossible to come back from. When Guerrier had a bad game, he gave up three hits and an earned run to snatch victory out of our grasp time and again. Enter Luis Ayala, who could be every bit the choke artist Guerrier turned out to be after July 4 last season. Looking at 2008, you can see why Washington/New York were so eager to part with him, what with a 5.71 ERA and 1.454 WHIP in 75 2/3 innings. That, and a pretty pedestrian 50 strikeouts (5.94 k/9).
- Is this the year Joe Nathan gets hurt? I’m sorry to bring this up, but Nathan had shoulder problems in 2000, and is dealing with them again this spring. I mean, the guy is 34 years old, and an injury wouldn’t be completely out of the question after six straight malady-free campaigns. Right?
- There’s little chance our division will be worse than last year. From the looks of things, Cleveland and Chicago will be our main competition, but Kansas City is on the rise and Detroit probably can’t get further than the rock-bottom they hit last year. Cleveland gets Fausto Carmona, Victor Martinez and Travis Hafner back from injury, and while they lost CC Sabathia mid-season, they should be ready to role with now-stud pitcher Cliff Lee leading the way. Sizemore, Peralta and up-and-comer Shin-Soo Choo along with Ryan Garko and Kelly Shoppach all look like solid bats. Chicago lost Carlos Quentin and almost the division after his wrist injury in September. With him, they were probably going to win the Central by 3-4 games. Tack on the fact that Ken Griffey Jr. and Nick Swisher gave them nearly nothing down the stretch/all year and you can see how good this team really is. Thome, Dye, Konerko, Quentin and Alexei Ramirez should all scare you. Thank god we stole Joe Crede! Kansas City remains a rag-tag group, but you can’t deny that their young hitters are going to continue to get better, and their pitching (Meche/Greinke) is finally able to shut people down on occasion. And closer Joakim Soria might be the best in the league (yes, better than Papelbon/Nathan/Rivera). Detroit lost Jeremy Bonderman for a large portion of 2008, and Gary Sheffield/Curtis Granderson struggled with injury at times, as well. Most of all, the team couldn’t get anything consistent from Justin Verlander, Nate Robertson or Kenny Rogers, which led to their undoing. I expect Detroit to struggle again without any reliable bullpen help (Brandon Lyon, Fernando Rodney), but one has to think they would improve a bit with a full season from their key players.