The Twins are in a great position to compete for their division title, and thus the World Series, in 2010. Outside of their injured closer, they return all of the key members of last year’s AL Central-winning squad and also made some good pickups over the off-season. As a result, they have, mostly likely, the best team in the AL Central heading into the 2010 season.
Of course, for the Twins it all starts with their recently locked-up catcher, Joe Mauer — one of the best players in baseball. Mauer plays the most demanding defensive position, from which offensive value is the hardest to find; is projected to have a wOBA above .400; and is not yet 27. Along with Albert Pujols and Hanley Ramirez he is one of the game’s greatest talents.
The rest of their position players have enough talent to form a competent core around Mauer. Outside of their catcher, the infield was a wasteland after Justin Morneau went down with an injury in 2009. But the Twins made steps to address that major weakness in the 2010 off-season. They brought in Orlando Hudson and J.J. Hardy, which should result in fewer plate appearances from the likes of Nick Punto, Alexi Casilla, Matt Tolbert and Brian Buscher. Also, Morneau comes back from injury, looking to replicate his three-win season of 2007 and 2008.
The rotation — although it does not have a lights-out, number-one guy — is solid one to four and one of the better ones in baseball. Its top four members are united by their strike-throwing ability, as none projects by CHONE to throw more than 2.11 BB/9: Scott Baker is the ace of the staff, quietly posting a top-fifteen K/BB ratio over the past three years; Kevin Slowey, coming back from injury, could be Baker’s equal, if not better; Carl Pavano re-signed with the Twins after an encouraging 2009; and, finally, Nick Blackburn limits walks enough to make his poor strikeout and average walk rate work. After that the Twins will go with Francisco Liriano, who they are guardedly optimistic about after a solid performance in Winter Ball. If he recaptures any of his past glory this could be an amazing rotation top to bottom.
The loss of Joe Nathan for the season no doubt hurts, but the Twins have a number of good relievers to cover the loss. And picking up bullpen guys during the season is easier than getting starting pitchers or position players; if the Twins need to they can trade for a closer (although not one of Nathan’s level).
All in all the Twins have surrounded their superstar with enough talent to make themselves the team to beat in the AL Central.