Thursday, March 26, 2009

Who's Not on First

The Minnesota Twins know who’s on first. They even have options for who’s on first if their ex-MVP, All-Star first baseman doesn’t play. (Last year, for a period, there was no true back-up; Michael Cuddyer is presently un-injured, and Brian Buscher and Brendan Harris have both played there this spring.) They have a real third baseman in Joe Crede--with solid back-ups in, again, Brendan Harris and Brian Buscher. They have a shortstop, Nick Punto, and a second baseman, Alexi Casilla with decent back-ups in Brian and Brendan, again. (I should note that neither Harris nor Buscher could be considered super-utility players in the truest sense. They’re fine on the field, but not ideal.)

The starting rotation is set, with the same five guys who ended the season last year. Only Blackburn made it the full year last year, but that was due to injuries to Slowey and Baker and Perkins and spending time in the minors. There are a number of options in AAA if another starting pitcher is needed. (Me? I’m going to be Pollyanna here and declare that while the AAA pitcher will pitch wonderfully, none will be needed in the majors.) Scott Baker is the wizened veteran of the rotation at the ancient age of 27 (so is Nick Blackburn, but Baker is older). Baker was given a long-term contract (to cover his arbitration years, with an option for his first year of free agency), but has pitched batting practice so far in Spring Training.

This is not to say the Twins are without problems.

They have five outfielders, and even if Jason Kubel is the DH, that’s still one too many. This is not a bad problem, mind you, it will just be interesting to see how the year pans out. Michael Cuddyer’s injury-laden last year meant that Denard Span got a chance to show off his skills. But now that Cuddyer’s healthy, Span is still there, and Gomez and Young are where they were, too. Gomez and Young are the two youngest guys on the team, so they have the most potential for improvement--as well as the most potential for rookie mistakes. Ron Gardenhire will have his hands full trying to get all four guys playing time--and in the interleague play away games, he’ll have five guys to juggle.

Another area of problem is the bullpen. So far in Spring Training Jesse Crain is re-claiming his role of set-up man, which he lost due to shoulder surgery in 2007 (wherein Pat Neshek took the role, but lost due to Tommy John surgery in 2008). Boof Bonser was supposed to be in contention for that role, but he was lost to shoulder surgery in 2009. The only loss to the bullpen from the end of the year was to Dennys Reyes, but his role seems slated to be taken by Luis Ayala. Craig Breslow stepped in beautifully as another lefty in the bullpen, and seems to be holding that down quite well. Middle relief will be held by Matt Guerrier (who is still struggling since second-half 2008), and the long-relief right now is in competition between Philip Humber (out of options; part of the Johan Santana Trade of 2008) and R.A. Dickey (the knuckle baller whom the Twins signed in the 2007 off season, only to lose to the Rule 5 draft). And, of course, there’s still the elusive Jose Mijares, whom came out of AA last fall to be a lights-out relief pitcher, but came into Spring Training out of shape and prefers pitching batting practice to the other team so far.

And we’re not going to take about the catcher situation. It is what it is. Joe Mauer might have another injury-plagued year, or it might be temporary. It’s too early to call. And it’s way too early to tell if the guy whose hitting 1.000/1.333/2.333 in the majors (Jose Morales--with his three major league at-bats) will make the team as the second catcher come opening day. (It seems that making Mike Redmond will not be the primary catcher, but rather that Gardenhire would lean towards having two catchers splitting time.)

In short, I’m curious to see what this team is really made of. Are they the team that clawed their way to a one-game play-off against the Chicago White Sox last year? Or are they the team everyone thought they were going to be last spring? There’s only one way to find out: playing games. Play the game on paper as much as you want. Writers and mathematicians might love baseball, but baseball loves the elusiveness of luck and determination.

Timberwolves update: 20-52 (0-4 since last time, 16-37 since McHale).

Marian Gaborik Injury Status: Sure, the day I say he won’t play for Minnesota again (last week), it’s announced he’ll play the next Sunday. And he did. And Mikko Koivu was injured so…

Mikko Koivu Injury Status: As of yet, it’s unknown ho severe the knee injury is, but I suspect it’s season-ending. There just isn’t that much time left. I’m sulking over this.

Joe Mauer Injury Status: A second opinion again stated that his injury is not serious, but he will not be playing opening day.

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Blogger Ryan said...

Yay baseball! And to say they "clawed their way into the one game playoff" is somewhat misleading. More like both teams lucked their way into it. The end of the season was ugly.

1:16 PM  
Blogger Beth said...

I used the phrase not from forcing the play-off game, but putting themselves in the position that that forced it. They were supposed to be in third or fourth place--or fighting with the Royals for last place. But rather than accept their fate, they fought their way to be one of the best teams in the division (which, granted, last year didn't mean too much).

In short, they clawed their way since April, not through September.

8:05 AM  

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