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Series Preview: Minnesota Twins (April 18-20)

2007 At-A-Glance:

Run Creation AL Rank
Runs 12th
BA 9th
OBP 10th
SLG 13th
Run Prevention AL Rank
Runs Allowed 4th
Walks Allowed 2nd
HR Allowed 13th
Def, Efficiency 6th

A year after winning the AL Central, the Twins fell back to a 79-83 record mainly because of the offense, or lack thereof. There were significant dropoffs from both Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau, as well as down years from Michael Cuddyer and Jason Bartlett. Nick Punto, who was surprisingly good as an everyday player in 2006, hit a horrendous .210/.291/.271 in 472 at-bats at third base. On the positive side, Torii Hunter had one of his better offensive seasons, hitting 45 doubles and 28 home runs. Jason Kubel also finally began to hit at the major-league level.

The loss of Francisco Liriano to Tommy John surgery before the season was a pretty big blow, even though the Twins didn't lack for starting pitching. Even if the offense wasn't going to be of much help, a rotation of Santana, Liriano, Scott Baker, Carlos Silva, and a random pitching prospect would have kept the Twins in the race. Instead, the Twins were just among the best in the pitching, not enough to carry the offense to a winning record.

So faced with the loss of Torii Hunter to free agency, Twins GM Bill Smith decided to make some massive changes.

Important Offseason Transactions:

11-13-07: Traded a PTBNL to Chicago (NL) for OF Craig Monroe

11-28-07: Traded RHP Matt Garza, SS Jason Bartlett, and RHP Eduardo Moran to Tampa Bay for OF Delmon Young, IF Brendan Harris, and OF Jason Pridie

12-13-07: Signed SS Adam Everett to a one-year contract

12-14-07: Signed 3B Mike Lamb to a two-year contract (2010 TO)

2-2-08: Traded LHP Johan Santana to New York (NL) for OF Carlos Gomez, RHP Phillip Humber, et al.

2-12-08: Signed RHP Livan Hernandez to a one-year contract

Among others, Torii Hunter and Carlos Silva left via free agency.

The big move was obviously the Santana trade, which took quite a while to execute. All the usual big market clubs were in the running, and for a time the Yankees seemed to be the front runners. The centerpiece of the deal was Carlos Gomez, a toolsy 22-year-old center fielder.

The Twins got a much better player earlier that winter in Delmon Young. This deal, made with the Rays, involved young core players changing sides. Minnesota parted with Matt Garza, perhaps the best of their current pitching crop, but the offense absolutely needed an upgrade, and Young looks for all the world like a perennial All-Star corner outfielder.

With Jason Bartlett heading to Tampa in the Garza-Young deal, the Twins needed a stopgap shortstop, so they signed Adam Everett to a one-year deal. Everett can't hit, but he's the best defensive shortstop in the majors. To fill the yawning offensive hole at third, Mike Lamb was brought in. Livan Hernandez will eat innings at the back of an otherwise-young rotation.

Strengths and Weaknesses

Amid all the movement in the rotation and the lineup, the entire bullpen was brought back. The Twins also signed Joe Nathan, who would have been a free agent at the end of the season, to a long-term extension. Setting up Nathan is Pat Neshek, a right-hander with a funky but effective delivery; he allowed just 44 hits in 70.1 innings pitched last season.

The lineup still looks like the main weakness. Mauer and Morneau will be better, and Delmon Young is a big addition, but there still isn't a lot of power, at least not yet. Carlos Gomez is a big unknown in center; he projects to be a nice all-around outfielder but hasn't really had that breakout season yet.

2008 Outlook

This a sifting season for the Twins; they've turned over their roster, acquiring some promising talent in the process. Now it just remains to see what exactly they have. If all goes well, the Twins will improve over the course of 2008, setting up a competitive 2009.