Happy New Year

Basketball season was too busy this year for me to do my usual preseason baseball writing, but subconsciously I have to assume the fact that my favorite team has little hope going into the season has led to a lack of enthusiasm that prevented me from ever giving spring training my full attention.

That hasn’t changed much, as what you’re reading right now was much more of a chore to write than it’s been in the past. If you missed my super optimistic season preview column, it’s here.

I think the Twins pitching staff is going to be terrible this year, and I’m not certain their lineup is going to be as good as they think it is, and as such, I would see 70 wins as a major accomplishment.
I was at the first game in Target Field history three years ago, and it seemed inconceivable at that time that the Twins would fall so far so fast. They were a World Series contender moving into a tremendous new facility — a facility that was supposed to sustain their ability to compete, not kill it.

Not that Target Field is at fault for the Twins failures — it isn’t — but I do wonder if it created a false sense of security that led to the Twins making a series of terrible decisions that drove them to the bottom of the league quicker than anyone could’ve imagined.
When the Twins rose to the top of a bad division in the early 2000s and stayed there for almost a decade, plenty in the media and around the game told the Twins that they had accomplished what they did because they were smarter than everyone else, and while I never quite bought it, it seems that the Twins maybe believed the BS, because they’ve mostly clung to their outdated ‘Twins Way’. They’ve been loathe to adapt in a fast-moving industry that is becoming more and more progressive each year, and I admit I had to chuckle when I saw that this year’s Sports Illustrated baseball preview issue (which predicts a 60-102 season for the Twins) included a lengthy feature on how strikeouts ‘rule the game’, and the silly Twins are entering another season in which they’ll rely on pitch-to-contact control specialists who will have a mediocre defense behind them.

There’s some evidence that the Twins aren’t as clueless as they sometimes appear — both of the major trades Terry Ryan pulled off this winter brought them bat-missing power arms in exchange for slightly overrated players who possess skills the Twins have always overvalued.
And while many fans complain about decreased payroll in a new stadium, I don’t. The Twins aren’t going to win this year. Boosting the payroll would be spending money just for the sake of spending money, and that’s never wise (if the Twins refuse to spend competitively when and if they get back into contention, that’s another thing).

The Twins have as much high-end talent in the minors now as they have in my lifetime, and some of that will appear in the majors this year. Aaron Hicks opens the season as the leadoff hitter and centerfielder, and Oswaldo Arcia could also appear in the outfield at some point as well, along with starting pitchers Kyle Gibson and Trevor May.
The Twins don’t want to admit it, but this season is about figuring out how long it’s going to take to get good again. They should probably trade Josh Willingham. Unless Justin Morneau - A. Returns to MVP form, and B. shows an interest in staying with the Twins, he should probably be traded, too.
The Twins will have the No. 4 pick in this summer’s draft, and assuming they lose 90-plus games this season, they’ll have another top-10 pick in 2014, so the Twins should hopefully be able to continue stocking the system, hopefully with more pitching.

Bad pitching was what led to the Twins’ collpase in the 90s, and good starting pitching was what fueled their 21st century resurgence. The only way for the Twins to get back into contention is pitching. Pitching, pitching, pitching.

Predictions for 2013 in the AL Central
1. Tigers
They had a little more difficulty winning the Central than I expected last year, but they still ended up in the World Series. They’ve since added Torii Hunter and welcomed Victor Martinez back from injury, and their starting rotation features four guys who are aces or close to it. Their bullpen has questions, but Jim Leyland has won without a closer before (Pirates).
2. Indians
Their lineup is pretty good, their rotation isn’t bad, and they added a great manager in Tito Francona. But I don’t think second place in this division is a Wild Card contender.
3. White Sox
If Gavin Floyd and John Danks are decent, this is a really good rotation, but I’m not a fan of their lineup.
4. Royals
I’m not believing the hype, and they traded their best prospect to create it.
5. Twins
I just hope they manage to avoid 100 losses.

Some thoughts on the 25-man roster and a few others that may appear on it at some point.

Joe Mauer
Yeah, more home runs would be nice. A guy who leads the league in on-base percentage and can catch 80 or more games is actually worth about $20 million a year. This guy’s not the problem.

Justin Morneau
I thought he was done, so it was nice to see him have a decent year last year. But I’d like to see at least 25 homers this year and something close to a .300 average.

Brian Dozier
I don’t think he’s ever going to be an All-Star, but he looks like he might be able to hit a little bit.

Pedro Florimon
I’d rather have Jamey Carroll at short. This guy will not hit at all.

Trevor Plouffe
Has a 30% chance of becoming Gary Gaetti, and maybe a 75% chance of becoming Casey Blake, either of which would be great for the Twins.

Aaron Hicks
Don’t know if he’s ready yet, but he has the skills to be an All-Star. Rocket arm, speed, uncommon plate discipline for a youngster. If he can hit for power he could be a superstar.

Josh Willingham
I doubt he’ll hit as well as he did last year. But if he does, sell high.

Chris Parmalee
He’s far from a sure thing, but I think he’s gonna hit. No idea if he can play right field worth a damn, though he could end up at first base if Morneau gets traded.

Ryan Doumit
Really a terrific acquisition last year. A guy who can catch when Mauer doesn’t, and can hit and hit well. Pretty awful outfielder, though.

Darin Mastroianni
If Hicks fizzles, he’ll take over, otherwise, an excellent fourth outfielder.

Jamey Carroll
I don’t care if Carroll is 50, Pedro Florimon isn’t the shortstop of the future, either, so I don’t know why Carroll isn’t starting.

Wilkin Ramirez
Minor league journeyman. Bench bat. Nice story, but your typical roster-filler on a bad team.

Eduardo Escobar
You’ve seen one utility infielder you’ve seen ‘em all.

Vance Worley
The best hope the Twins have to spend the entire season in the rotation and finish with an ERA below 4.00.

Scott Diamond
It’s nice that the Twins found a not-terrible starting pitcher in Diamond, but he’s not an ace. He’s a three or a four.

Mike Pelfrey
If he makes 30 starts and finishes with an ERA below 5.00, I don’t see how the Twins could be less than satisfied.

Kevin Correia
See above.

Cole De Vries
I think it’s kind of a miracle this undrafted soft-tosser from St. Louis Park has held his own as well as he has so far. I’m not optimistic he can do it for long.

Liam Hendriks
Has no trouble getting Triple-A hitters out. Can’t get major league hitters out. They used to call those ‘4A’ guys.

Sam Deduno
For all the hype of how ‘unhittable’ he was in the World Baseball Classic, this guy went unclaimed on waivers. He can’t throw strikes. Then again, I’d rather have a guy with some bat-missing ability that needs control than another Nick Blackburn clone.

Brian Duensing
As long as he never has to face a right-handed hitter, he should have a very good season.

Casey Fien
Did a nice job last year after a midseason callup. Now he has to prove it wasn’t a fluke.

Tyler Robertson
Was terrible all spring, but they didn’t have anyone else.

Josh Roenicke
Also had a rough spring, but at least has a decent track record. Had a 3.25 ERA in 63 games for the Rockies last year.

Glen Perkins
Solid closer, but not an elite closer.

Jared Burton
Tremendous last season. Fingers crossed he can do it again.

Ryan Pressly
Has a career minor-league ERA of 4.27 and has never pitched above Double-A. But he’s got a live arm, so why the hell not?

Caleb Thielbar
Former Jackrabbit. Good chance he makes his big league debut this year.

Anthony Swarzak
Innings-eater who opens season on the DL with a horseplay-induced injury.

Drew Butera
He’ll be back. Gardy loves him, because Gardy loves guys who can’t hit.

Oswaldo Arcia
Hit .320 with 17 homers and 98 RBI last year. If Parmalee fails or Willingham gets traded, he’ll probably take over in a corner OF spot.

Kyle Gibson
Former No. 1 pick, there was hope he’d make the rotation out of spring training but wasn’t ready. Has a chance to be a top-of-the-rotation guy, but he’s been around long enough there’s also a chance he could end up a bust.

Trevor May
The minor league starter acquired in the Revere-Worley trade. Had a 4.87 ERA in Double-A last year, but also had 151 Ks in 149 innings.

PJ Walters
If he pitches for the Twins this year, things went even more wrong than they were supposed to.

Nick Blackburn
The richest man in the minor leagues.

Happy Opening Day everyone. It’s the best day of the year.