When you look at this Minnesota Twins team on paper, there isn't a whole lot to be excited about. Sure, you have the usual names that you've come to know this club by (Mauer, Perkins, etc.), but it doesn't scream excitement in any way, shape, or form. Most of the intrigue for this team is in the farm system, where names like Buxton and Sano (though he's out for the year) reside. This team will be a strong American League contender within the next few years, but who are the key folks for this team in the meantime?
Any discussion regarding the Twins obviously begins and ends with Mauer, who is still the face of the franchise for the club despite missing significant time in two of the past three years, including appearing in just 82 contests in 2013. There isn't any question of Mauer's ability to perform when healthy, though. He's a guy that has hit for .323 in his career and can get on base at a .400 clip in a typical year. The power isn't there, but he can produce when the runners are out there for him (.262 with runners on). It isn't a question of offensive capability for the established Mauer.
Where the intrigue really comes for him this year is in his ability to transition to first base. The Twins made the decision to move Mauer to first due in large part to those injury woes he's had to deal with over the last several years. Between his concussion in 2013 and the nagging stuff that he's dealt with over his career, this should be a move to benefit Mauer greatly from a health standpoint, as long as he can make the defensive transition.
The Twins shocked a lot of people when they signed Nolasco to a four-year deal worth $49 million, more people than they shocked when they signed Phil Hughes. This is definitely a statement move by the Twins, as they're not simply content to let the season pass them by as they wait for their young talent to arrive. Nolasco almost immediately jumps to the top of the Twins' rotation, coming off of a very strong season in which he pitched to a 3.70 ERA and a 3.34 FIP, the latter of which represents the best mark of his career.
It's weird to think that after Joe Mauer, Willingham may be the steadiest source of offense for the Twins, at least until the kids arrive. His future in Minnesota is a bit up in the air, as his contract is up after 2014, but the possibility of an extension with the Twins is still there. At 35, Willingham has seen his production decline, especially coming off of a very poor 2014 in which he appeared in only 111 games and was barely above the Mendoza line. If the Twins are going to be competitive, he'll need to rebound.
Willingham presents value to the Twins in a couple of different ways. If he's steady enough this year, the Twins could extend him for a couple of years to keep that veteran presence in the clubhouse with the influx of youth coming in. If he outperforms what is expected of him, they could attempt to trade him and stock up that farm system a little bit more. Both scenarios require him to rebound, of course.
There's been some uncertainty about Perkins' future with the Twins, and that's likely going to carry into the 2014 season. Despite his questioned future in Minnesota, Perkins has developed into one of the league's better closers, closing out 36 ballgames with the save last year, posting the highest strikeout rate of his career (up over 11 per nine). At 31, though, and on a non-contending ballclub, one has to imagine whether or not he'll finish the season in Minnesota.