The Minnesota Twins have fallen on some hard times in recent years. After winning 94 games in 2010, they plummeted to a 63-win season in 2011. They have steadily improved over the last three years, winning 66, 66 and 70 games, respectively, but that’s just not good enough. That’s why the Twins finally got their 2015 payroll back up over $100 million.
They signed Phil Hughes to a three-year, $42 million contract extension after a career year last season. They also brought back former Minnesota great Torii Hunter after he left in free agency seven years ago. Ervin Santana has been added to the rotation as well.
The Twins have done a very good job of bringing in some key veterans to compliment all of the prospects they have been building up over the last few years. Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano are future stars who could see some action this year. Now, it’s up to new manager Paul Molitor to make the pieces fit in 2015.
Danny Santana (CF) – Only Jose Abreu of the White Sox outproduced Santana among AL rookies last season. He hit .319 with 20 stolen bases and 70 runs scored to go along with a lofty .824 OPS for the Twins in 2014.
Brian Dozier (2B) – One of the rare second basemen who hits for power, Dozier has a combined 40 homers over his last 264 games dating back to May of 2013. He also gets high marks for his defense, baserunning and competitiveness.
Joe Mauer (1B) – A strained oblique last year forced Mauer to miss six weeks, and an overall poor season meant that he would not be able to play in his hometown for the All-Star Game. The three-time batting champion has something to prove with four years and $92 million remaining on his contract.
Kenny Vargas (DH) – The mammoth slugger went more than a month last season without a walk last year, but he started to show more patience in winter league, which is a promising sign moving forward. Vargas hit .274 with nine homers in 215 at-bats last year.
Torii Hunter (RF) – Hunter is back where it all started after leaving in free agency seven years ago. The 39-year-old, nine-time Gold Glove winner still has plenty left in the tank. He hit .286 with 17 homers and 83 RBIs last year in Detroit.
Trevor Plouffe (3B) – He improved his defense so much last year that the metrics actually show he was better than Adrian Beltre. He also hit a respectable .258 with 14 homers and 80 RBIs at the dish in 2014.
Oswaldo Arcia (LF) – Poor defense and nagging injuries have slowed Arcia’s progress. However, there’s no denying his raw power at the plate. He hit 20 homers in only 372 at-bats last year.
Kurt Suzuki (C) – A huge first half last year earned Suzuki a trip to the All-Star Game. He finished the season hitting .288 with 61 RBIs, earning a new two-year, $12 million deal with the Twins this offseason.
Eduardo Escobar (SS) – He certainly made the most of his trip to the big leagues last year. He outslugged Mauer by 35 points while starting 86 games at shortstop. He hit .275 for the season.
This lineup certainly isn’t going to ‘wow’ a lot of people at first glance, but there is some talent here. Not one player in this projected lineup has a massive weakness. Santana and Dozier are better than advertised, while Mauer will be highly motivated to bounce back from a rare down yuear. Vargas and Arcia have a ton of power, while Hunter still has plenty left in the tank. Plouffe has decent pop and has improved in the field. Suzuki and Escobar both hit for a pretty good average at the bottom of the order.
Phil Hughes (RHP) – The ex-Yankee shined in his first season with the Twins last year. He set the MLB’s all-time record in strikeout/walk rate (11.63) while going 16-10 with a 3.52 ERA.
Ervin Santana (RHP) – The underrated, well-traveled righty has been consistent over the past five years. In fact, he has posted a sub-4.00 ERA in four of the past five seasons and will make a solid No. 2 in this rotation.
Ricky Nolasco (RHP) – Pitched through elbow pain last year after signing a then-club record $49 million free-agent deal. The result was a 6-12 record and a huge 5.38 ERA over 27 starts for the Twins. He can only be better in 2015.
Kyle Gibson (RHP) – The former first-round pick and Tommy John survivor won 13 games last year and pitched nearly 180 innings. He could take another step forward in 2015 as he’s another year removed from surgery.
Tom Milone (LHP) – The finesse lefty won 31 games in Oakland over two-plus seasons before coming over to the Twins in the Sam Fuld trade. He’ll have a good chance to beat out the disappointing Mike Pelfrey and break up an otherwise all-righty rotation.
The Twins struck gold on Hughes when they bought low on him entering 2013. He is now the clear ace of this staff and entering the prime of his career at his age 28 season. I really like the Santana get as well considering how consistent he has been of late. However, four years and $55 million is a lot to pay for the 32-year-old. Once Nolasco let his elbow heal, he returned from the disabled listed to post a 2.93 ERA in five September starts, which is a great sign going forward. Gibson should build upon his 13-win season, and anything Milone can give them would be a bonus.
While bullpen salaries are skyrocketing everywhere else, the Twins have two-time All-Star closer Glen Perkins locked up through 2018 with a maximum salary of $6.5 million per season. He did blow seven saves in 2014, but he also pitched through a forearm strain over the final two months. Casey Fien returns as the primary setup man, while free-agent righthander Tim Stauffer is likely to handle the seventh inning duties after coming over from San Diego. Southpaws Brian Duensing and Caleb Thielbar have proven to be durable and able to work out of trouble. Lefty Aaron Thompson, young guns Michael Tonkin and Ryan Pressley, and long-man Anthony Swarzak round out the bullpen.
Betting Odds (Bovada)
- To Win World Series: 100/1
- To Win AL Pennant: 50/1
- To Win AL Central: 18/1
- 2015 Season Win Total: 71.5
Prediction: 5th Place AL Central (73-89 – OVER 71.5)
With the AL Central wide open this year, the Twins could surprise and contend. They have steadily improved in recent years, but that improvement just hasn’t been enough as they still only won 70 games last season. I like the additions of Hunter and Santana this offseason, but that’s not going to put them into contention in the Central.
I do have the Twins losing fewer than 90 games this year for the first since since 2010, but just barely. They will be a much tougher out on a daily basis than they were a year ago, but the fact of the matter is that this is simply the least-talented team in the Central, and it’s not really close. Unless Paul Molitor can work some miracles, the Twins are headed for a last-place finish in the Central in 2015 for the fourth time in five years.
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