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AL Central Preview & Roundtable Part 1: The Twins

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This week the AL Central Scribes at SB Nation preview America's Favorite Division and the home of champions, the American League Central. Today's discussion centers on our neighbors to the north, the Minnesota Twins.

http://www.twinkietown.com/story/2006/3/9/41112/97845#commenttop

Here's a choice cut:

Beyond the Box Score: Detail the most effective and least effective transactions and moves by the Minnesota Twins this past offseason.

Jesse of Twinkietown: This is a much debated topic at our site. The most effective and best acquisition is the trade for Luis Castillo, in which we gave up nothing but one of our 7 million pitching prospects and a couple throw-ins. In Castillo we solidify the best defense up the middle in the AL Central (Mauer, Castillo, Hunter), get a major upgrade as an OBP guy at the top of the order (career .370 OBP, below this line only twice since 1998), and we pick up a bag stealer (not as effecive as he was in the past, but still more effective than what we had). Reports say he's lost his burst on the basebaths, leading to fewer stolen bases, but overall he's an excellent pick-up and nice upgrade.

The least effective transition is the Tony Batista signing. It's not the doomsday prediction some are proclaiming, but that doesn't make it a good signing. His career OBP is nothing more than miserable, and rumor is that he's out of shape. His defense isn't good, he's slow, and he has a funny batting stance. He'll hit for some power, but that doesn't make up for the deficiencies in the rest of his game. His contract is non-guaranteed, so if he doesn't play not just average but well, I'm not sure how long he'll stick. Regardless, I expect Cuddyer back at 3B at some point in the season, with an OF of Stewart, Hunter and Kubel/Ford.

Another way of looking at it is that the Twins didn't make the move for a big hitter. That could be the least effective transaction in the fact that it didn't happen. With all our prospects, especially off the mound, there was a way to get something done...it just didn't happen. At the chance of sounding outrageous to fans at my site-Minnesota's window of opportunity may be closing. If this is true, waiting for Liriano may just waste more time. Liriano, who is second only to the young gun in Seattle in terms of prospective talent, and another mid-level prospect could have yielded a 40-HR designated hitter. This may have weakened the starting rotation three years down the line, but the return would have been ten times as good as the combination of Rondell White and Tony Batista.

Having said that, the eventual tag-team of Santana/Liriano runs shivers down my spine...

Will of Royals Review: I still think the Twins are going to struggle scoring runs, especially if Stewart, Hunter and Ford struggle at all. I liked the Batista signing, warts and all, since the team clearly needs power. Minny just might be one of the more fascinating teams of the `06 season, sorta like a Central version of the Blue Jays in terms of the variance of their performance. Everything just looks a little shaky: you throw Rondell White, Luis Castillo, Batista, Torii and Shannon Stewart together and what do you get? That has the potential to be an above average core or something pretty awful.

Jay of Let's Go Tribe: I think the Twins are in real danger of being outscored by the Royals this season. Hunter is one of their very best hitters, and it's been several years since he was significantly better than average at the plate. Note the career OPS+ of exactly 100 - this is their third-best hitter! I respect the pitching talent and several of the young position players, but I honestly think they would have been better off going for a "mini-rebuilding," dumping off Hunter and Stewart and possibly Radke for guys who can help them in 2007 and beyond. If I were a Twins fan, I'd be absolutely livid at my team for bringing in Batista and White - two guys with recognizable names who will probably be less productive than your average Triple-A lifer. It really calls into question if that front office has any idea what a good hitter even would look like.

Good Stuff. Be sure to check out the rest of the Twins discussion. We'll be going team-by-team these next few days, with our precious Royals currently scheduled to go last.

Also check out Marc Normandin's essay on the Royals at Baseball Digest Daily, which is required reading for the thinking Royals fan.

http://www.baseballdigestdaily.com/bullpen/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=45& Itemid=32

The piece discusses the Royals' Pirates-esque "Drive for 75" approach this offseason:

The Royals came into the 2005-2006 offseason with an interesting set of options before them. They had $22 million to spend on free agents, which would lead one to think that good things can occur for the first time in awhile in Kansas City. This is not the case, as the current free agent class contained only a handful of very talented players, and none of these players were about to sign with a franchise that has been, to put it kindly, an embarrassment as of late, excepting their 2003 season where they surprised a great deal of people. This year's free agent class was weak, to put it kindly, and none of the top-tier free agents would be particularly interested in signing with a team as downtrodden as the Royals have been. A second route was to invest the money into the minor leagues, future draft picks and the player development system. After having negotiating issues with 2005 first round pick (and #2 overall) Alex Gordon over money, $22 million in hand to help draft the first overall choice in 2006 would make sense. The Royals could also draft Scott Boras clients that fall to later rounds or spots due to cash issues like the larger market teams do (along the lines of Boston and Los Angeles in the 2005 draft, with Craig Hansen and Luke Hochevar respectively). The Royals will most likely have a top five pick in 2007 as well, which only makes it more appealing. They could use it to lock up the young talent they do have to long-term, inexpensive contracts through the arbitration years; players like Zach Greinke, Billy Butler, Alex Gordon or Justin Huber form an excellent talent base, especially if they are going to stick around at a discount price for the Royals. Instead the Royals chose to spend their $22 million on middle tier free agents in order to attempt to win 75 games in 2006. Basically, they are trying to upgrade themselves from awful to poor...

Contract this franchise now!