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Opinion

Minnesota Twins come into baseball season with a unique situation

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April 1, 2010

As I am writing this its 70 degrees outside, the sun is shining, the snow has melted away. Spring is in the air, it can only mean one thing; yes, baseball season is right around the corner. Well, technically baseball has started up. High schools in the southern states have kicked off their seasons, colleges across the country are playing games usually in the southern climates, and even the MLB has kicked off their season. Well, their preseason anyway. Preseason wraps up this weekend and the regular season starts on Monday. Teams are preparing game plans and opening day lineups for the start of the season.

One team in this area everyone is talking about is the Minnesota Twins. Being in Wisconsin, but so close to the Twin Cities, everyone is either talking about the Twins or Brewers, and each team has their storylines heading into the regular season. This week I’ll discuss the top five storylines of the Twins and next week I’ll touch on the storylines of the Brewers.

1) Joe Mauer’s new contract. Whether Mauer signed an extension or not, his contract was going to be the big news this year. If the Twins were not able to sign him before the season, the big talk would have been whether or not to trade him before the trade deadline in August or wait and see if we could beat the competitors on the open market. Luckily, the hometown hero signed an eight year, $184 million dollar contract because the team would have lost a huge chunk of their fan base if he were traded. There would have been no way the Twins would have been able to beat out the Yankees, Red Sox, Phillies, Dodgers, Mets and Angels in the open market for him unless Mauer would have taken the hometown discount, which he did.

On the open market, barring a huge injury, Mauer could have seen contract sizes of over $200 million dollars over a 10 year span. He saw the Twins have made an effort to put a championship team on the field and Mauer took a little discount to stay as the hometown hero.

2) Opening day payroll of 2010 vs. 2009. One of the biggest reasons Mauer stayed a Twin is because of the opening day payroll. Not because the payroll is bigger, but because who they have brought in to make the payroll bigger. Free agents Jim Thome and Orlando Hudson did not come at a cheap price, and the trade between the Twins and Brewers this offseason that involved J.J. Hardy and Carlos Gomez increases the payroll for the Twins as Hardy’s contract is larger than Gomez’s. Hardy’s salary for 2009 was $4,650,000 compared to the salary of Gomez at $437,500.

3) Joe Nathan’s season-ending injury. This may not seem that big of deal considering Nathan is just a closer, but it is. Nathan has 246 career saves over the last six seasons, which is the most in the MLB. When it comes down to it, if the Twins find themselves in a lot of close games, this season could fall apart real fast without a solid closer. The Twins have three solutions.

The first solution is to go out and find a reliable closer, which doesn’t seem to be on the Twins agenda at the moment.

The second solution is to promote from within. An ideal guy for this case would be Jon Rauch. He is the most experienced closer on the team, with 26 career saves. Another option could be Pat Neshek, but that would be more the down the road as he is coming off an elbow injury that made him miss the last two years.

The third solution is closer-by-committee, which is the route the Twins are going at the moment. I don’t agree with this solution. If it were up to me, I’d give Rauch the chance to be the full-time closer for the year as closer-by-committee seems to fail for teams more than help teams.

4) Twins starting rotation. The baseball experts on the major sports Web sites pick the Twins to have a solid starting five in the rotation. Yet I don’t see the staff ace in the starting five or the leader of the group. Everyone will point to Scott Baker being the staff ace and leader for the pitching staff this year, yet he went 15-9 last year with an ERA of 4.37. His career numbers are 43-33 with an ERA of 4.27. These numbers do not look like a staff ace to me. He’ll have to prove it this year , as he is entering his fifth year in the MLB. The other concern from the starting five is last year they proved to not be very durable. The team was grabbing pitchers from their AAA and AA squads every other week it seemed. The team will have to prove they are more consistent, mature and durable this year if the Twins are to contend for the World Series.

5) The rest of the teams in the division. Every year is unpredictable because no one knows how each team will play in their own division. We can look on paper right now and see the Kansas City Royals are a young team still in development mode. They should be better than in years past, but no where near title contender. The Cleveland Indians are in the same boat as the Royals. They saw their two best pitchers face each other in the World Series last year because they had to trade them away and go into rebuilding mode. The Detroit Tigers had one of the largest payrolls last year, but all that rewarded them for was a sideline seat for the playoffs, as the Twins won the division last year. They will come into this year predicted to finish towards the top, but no one knows their identity. The Chicago White Sox faded down the stretch last year. They made a trade for Jake Peavy last year, hoping when he came back from his injury, he would go back to his staff ace and Cy Young Award-winning self. The White Sox will have to see how big of an impact Peavy can be for this White Sox team who finished under .500 last year.

Derek Johnson is a student at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls.