When a club suffers through three straight 90 loss seasons, moves their franchise player to a different position, bids farewell to a former MVP, and sees a top ten prospect go down with a season-ending injury…well, there's probably just a couple of things wrong with that club. Such is life for the Minnesota Twins – Joe Mauer is now a first baseman, Justin Morneau is now a Rockie, and Miguel Sano won't play this year due to Tommy John surgery. But the issues with the Twins lie much deeper than those problems. Minnesota's biggest weaknesses in 2014 are a weak outfield and a mediocre starting rotation.
Pop quiz: who are the Twins starting outfielders? Well, there's Josh Willingham in left, Aaron Hicks in center, and Oswaldo Arcia in right. In just 111 games last year, Willingham provided the most value to the Twins, clocking in at a stellar mark of 0.0 fWAR. Arcia landed behind Willingham at -0.4, and Hicks brought up the rear with a -0.7 mark. Both Willingham and Arcia were both league average hitters, but were atrocious fielders, while Hicks couldn't hit at all and had an up and down performance in center field.
All three will return in 2014, and all three have a lot to prove. The 35-year old Willingham is in the final year of a three-year, $21 million deal, and among Twins hitters, only Joe Mauer will make more money in 2014 than him. Arcia and Hicks were both rookies in 2013, and their minor league histories indicate that they could both be special players, with Arcia bringing power to the dish and Hicks blending solid power, speed, plate discipline, and defense. But the signings of Mike Pelfrey, Phil Hughes, and Ricky Nolasco this winter indicate that the Twins won't be content with another 90 loss season, and those three outfielders will be a key to improving a middling Twins offense.
Speaking of Pelfrey, Hughes, and Nolasco, the Twins spent some money to upgrade a starting rotation that was the worst in baseball last year. Minnesota's 5.26 starter ERA was worse than every team in baseball, and only the Blue Jays came to within half a run of Minnesota. Needless to say, it won't take much for Hughes and Nolasco to improve that staff, and some better luck for Pelfrey would help as well.
While a rotation of Hughes, Nolasco, Pelfrey, Kevin Correia, and one of the Scott Diamond/Samuel Deduno/Vance Worley mess seems primed to be better than last year's crew that saw 30 starts go to Cole DeVries, P.J. Walters, Pedro Hernandez, and Liam Hendriks, I don't think they'd be any better than the other teams in a loaded AL Central. Are they better than the Tigers, even after the Doug Fister trade? Of course not. Are they better than the Royals, even after replacing Ervin Santana with Jason Vargas? I don't think so. Are they better than the White Sox, who bring back Chris Sale and Jose Quintana while dumping all the dead wright? Not if both of those players stay healthy. Are they better than an Indians team that lost Ubaldo Jimenez? Not in my opinion.
So even while the Twins rotation should be better this year, it's going to take a lot for their starting five to eclipse the rest of the AL Central.