Closer: Joe Nathan
, 37/41 saves, 1.88 ERA in 2007
RH setup man: Pat Neshek
, 2.94 ERA in 2007
LH setup man: Dennys Reyes
, 3.99 ERA in 2007
The new guys
After trading away everyday shortstop Jason Bartlett in late November, the Twins were left with a gaping hole at shortstop. The club went out and got arguably the best defensive shortstop in the game. Everett's offense is suspect, at best, but he will catch everything up the middle and help solidify the middle of the infield. Exactly what manager Ron Gardenhire wants at the position.
Carlos Gomez: The most Major League-ready of the four prospects the Twins received from the Mets in the Johan Santana trade, Gomez is expected to battle for the starting center-field spot. The 22-year-old has blazing speed, a strong arm and above-average defensive ability in the outfield. The question will be if he can show enough offensively to earn the role, and that includes his ability to hit the breaking pitch, which he's struggled with in the past.
This winter the Twins sought to improve the offensive production they received from their infield. That's why the club acquired Harris, who was a surprise find for the Rays last season when he hit .286 with 12 homers. Having Harris at second base would give the Twins a stronger bat at the position than any of the club's recent options there.
This spring, Lamb will get his first crack at being an everyday player following four seasons with the Astros in a platoon role. The Twins signed Lamb to a two-year deal, meaning that he will get every opportunity to earn the third-base spot. Lamb's glove has been shaky at times and he hasn't faced lefties very often due to platooning, but the Twins believe Lamb's bat will be a solid addition.
The Twins' first acquisition of the offseason may have to battle for a roster spot this spring. With the club's abundance of outfielders, Monroe most likely will find himself as a platoon option at DH against left-handers. Monroe is a career .273/.319/.495 hitter against southpaws. To earn his spot, though, Monroe will have to demonstrate in spring that he's rebounded from the offensive woes he had in '07 when he hit just .219 with 12 homers in stints with the Tigers and Cubs.
The Twins' biggest pickup of the offseason came from the centerpiece of their six-player trade with the Rays. The runner-up last season for the American League Rookie of the Year Award, Young has shown to have a good eye, but he could likely use a little more plate discipline. A strong work ethic, a desire to improve and loads of talent should spell plenty of future success for the young outfielder.
Prospects to watch
A tremendous 2007 season, which included him pitching 44 straight scoreless innings at Triple-A Rochester, catapulted Blackburn from a virtual unknown to a rotation candidate. Blackburn made his Major League debut toward the end of last year as part of the Twins bullpen. A strong stint in the Arizona Fall League helped Blackburn to make some needed adjustments, including his ability to better mix his pitches. He likely will battle for the fifth spot in the rotation.
The left-hander is one of the rising pitchers in the Twins system. He earned some attention this fall when he started the gold medal game for Team USA in the IBAF World Cup and helped end Cuba's 25-year championship run. After going 11-5 with a 3.24 ERA for Rochester last season, there is a chance that the lefty could end up vying for a spot in the Twins rotation.
The third player the Twins received from Tampa Bay in the November trade, and perhaps the least talked about, Pridie will have a chance this spring to earn the center-field job. He'll battle with Gomez and Span for the spot. Pridie isn't unfamiliar to the Twins. They selected him in the 2005 Rule 5 Draft and he spent the following spring with them. The Twins didn't have room to keep him on the Major League roster then, but a strong few weeks in Fort Myers, Fla., could change that this time around.
Returning from injury
The right-hander is coming off extensive shoulder surgery last May to repair tears in both his labrum and his rotator cuff. Crain's rehabilitation has gone better than expected and he's supposed to be ready to pitch early in Spring Training. The key things to watch will be how he progresses over the course of the six weeks and whether his velocity returns. A healthy Crain would be a huge addition to an already talented Twins bullpen.
The club's biggest question mark likely will be the talented young southpaw. After missing the entire 2007 season following Tommy John elbow surgery, Liriano heads to Spring Training with a clean bill of health and the expectation that he will compete for a spot in the rotation. But a lot is riding on his status. The Twins are very young and unsettled in their rotation. If Liriano can regain the form of his tremendous '06 rookie season, then it would dramatically upgrade the team's starting staff.
Hindered by leg problems for most of the '07 season, Mauer was never really able to play at 100 percent. That meant a significant drop in batting average for the 2006 AL batting champ and an overall decrease in his offensive production. A full offseason of rest and extra strength exercises for his legs has Mauer optimistic about a better '08 season.
A candidate for either the rotation or the bullpen in '08, Perkins is going to get plenty of innings in spring following an injury-shortened 2007 season. After straining a muscle behind his left shoulder in May, Perkins was limited to just 28 2/3 innings in the big leagues. He's back healthy and should give the Twins a talented lefty in either role he winds up filling.
Injuries don't often sideline this backup catcher. So when he sat out almost the entire month of September with a sprained finger, it was easy to tell just how much he was hurting. The finger is now 100 percent and Redmond should be back to playing through his usual bumps and bruises in '08.
An inflamed left elbow limited his time in the second half but the decision was made for Reyes to rehab the injury rather than undergo surgery. As the only guaranteed left-hander in the Twins bullpen, Reyes will need to bounce back from a difficult '07 season in which he had a 3.99 ERA over just 29 2/3 innings.
On the rebound
The right-hander struggled to find consistency last season as he went 8-12 with a 5.10 ERA. One of Bonser's biggest problems was an inability to last deep into outings, failing many times to pitch past the fifth or sixth inning. The Twins issued a challenge to him to lose weight and Bonser arrived at TwinsFest having dropped close to 25 pounds. The hope now is that carries over to the mound and any improvement would be a huge boon for the club.
Last season was a blip in what had been a string of successful seasons for the right-hander. Rincon posted his highest ERA since 2002 with his 5.13 mark last season. Exactly what caused the problems wasn't clear, but Rincon has performed much better this winter while pitching in the Venezuelan Winter League. The right-hander had a 1.80 ERA in eight games, striking out nine batters in ten innings.
Punto's glove kept him in the lineup last season but it was a multitude of offensive woes that cost him the starting job at third base. Punto never got into a rhythm at the plate all season and he toiled near the Mendoza line for much of the second half. A strong September in which he hit .286 showed glimpses of Punto getting back in form. But he'll have to do something similar to that all spring to earn another starting job. He will be competing with Harris for the second-base spot.
The player projected to be the Twins' everyday shortstop of the future suddenly found himself no longer in the equation following a six-player trade with the Rays in November. Despite a significant number of errors in '07, Bartlett seemed to really take hold of the position as the season progressed. But as the Twins repeatedly said following the trade, they had to trade quality to get quality in return.
The Twins' top pitching prospect became a fixture in the club's rotation last July. He finished the year with a 3.69 ERA over 16 games and was only expected to improve heading into 2008. But considering that the Twins have lots of pitching prospects and a bigger need for offense this winter, Garza became expendable when the Rays made Young available.
The longtime Twins center fielder was one of the more sought-after free agents this past fall, so his departure wasn't unexpected. But it clearly stung for the fans in Minnesota when he signed a five-year, $90 million deal with the Angels on Thanksgiving. Hunter had become one of the more beloved players in Twins history, but it's his vocal leadership, strong offensive contribution and Gold Glove-caliber defense that will be missed most by the Twins.
The Twins just recently said goodbye to their ace when they traded him to the Mets in return for four prospects. It came as no surprise considering that the club had been listening to offers for Santana for months. Still there is no question that losing arguably the best pitcher in baseball will hurt the team significantly.
The least surprising departure of all this winter was likely Silva. The right-hander rebounded significantly in 2007 and has proven to be an innings-eater. Still no one seemed to expect that he would receive quite as significant a deal as he did -- a four-year, $48 million contract from the Mariners.
Triple play: Three questions that need answers
2007 hitting leaders (min. 200 at-bats)
Avg.: Redmond, .294
OBP: Mauer, .382
SLG: Hunter, .505
Runs: Hunter, 94
RBIs: Morneau, 111
Hits: Hunter, 172
2B: Hunter, 45
3B: Bartlett, 7
HR: Morneau, 31
SB: Bartlett, 23
2007 pitching leaders (min. 30 IP)
IP: Santana, 219
W: Santana, 15
L: Silva, 14
Win %: Slowey, .800 (4-1)
S: Nathan, 37
ERA: Nathan, 1.88
K: Santana, 235
K/9: Nathan, 9.67
WHIP: Neshek, 1.01
1. How much will Liriano be able to contribute this season?
2. Who will fill the hole in center field left by Hunter?
The loss of Santana puts a huge strain on the Twins rotation, but fans could soon be watching a similar star in the making if Liriano indeed can regain the form he had in his '06 rookie season. Physically he's on track to be right in the mix of things at the start of Spring Training. Still, there is no telling to how he will adjust to being back on the mound and if he can produce the same dominant stuff following the surgery.
There is no proven center fielder in the mix for the club's opening. Right now the expectation is that Gomez, Pridie and Span will compete for the role. Of the three, Gomez is the only one with Major League experience and the 22-year-old saw just 58 games with the Mets last year. Monroe and Young each has the ability to play the spot as well, but the club would prefer not to use either in the everyday role.
3. Can the Twins remain competitive in the AL Central with such a very young rotation?
The Twins could break camp this spring with no starter over age 26. That would leave them with their two most experienced starters, Baker and Bonser, each having just a total of 48 career starts. It's certainly a daunting figure when you figure that those arms have to face lineups the likes of the Tigers and the Indians on a regular basis. Spring Training likely will give the Twins a better feel if they can head into the season with such a young starting staff or if they need to pursue at least one veteran arm to help stabilize the group.
The bottom line
Following so many key departures this offseason, this young Twins squad will have to answer its share of question marks in '08 -- including whether it can remain competitive in a difficult AL Central. The task of doing so was made even tougher by additions the Tigers and Indians, as well as the White Sox, made this winter. The Twins still do retain one of the best bullpens in baseball and they made some upgrades offensively. But the team will have to wait until it gets to Fort Myers, Fla., to see just how all of the new additions will mix together before truly judging how it might fare in the upcoming season.