Can the Twins compete in 2008? Both Cleveland and Detroit got noticeably better on paper. But, as everyone knows, the game is played on the field. How do the Twins compare to last year?
To start with its pretty clear their rotation is totally unsettled. They will have to get very lucky with a bunch of talented young pitchers all becoming major league starters at the same time. That is unlikely. But, assuming the young starters come through, what does the rest of the team look like compared to last year:
Mauer should have a better year than last. Redmond will remain a solid backup. The Twins should be as good or better in 2008.
First Base: +
Morneau had a slight down year last year. As with Mauer, you would expect some improvement and a repeat of his 2006 season is not out of the question.
Second Base: -
Castillo looked like a player starting his decline last year. That doesn't mean the Twins will be better this year. This job is probably Brendan Harris' to lose. He will not match Castillo defensively or offensively. Cassilla could steal the job from Harris, but to do it he will probably have to be an improvement over Castillo last year.
Everett's bat will not match Bartlett's, but he will provide better defense at a defensive position. I think that will net out to a little improvement.
Third Base: +
Punto offense was simply unacceptable at third regardless of his defense. The Twins will lose a lot of defense with Lamb, but they will pick up a lot of offense.
Left Field: +
Delmon Young will be a huge improvement over Rondell White, Lew Ford et al. offensively and defensively.
Center Field: -
Gomez defense will make losing Hunter a lot less painful for the pitching staff. His bat will not begin to match Hunters - at least not in 2008.
Right Field: +
Cuddyer should have a better year than last year.
Kubel will be better, Monroe will give him a rest against tough lefties.
Punto is really at his best as a utility player, Monroe gives the Twins a solid bat on the bench and Redmond has shown he is solid as a backup catcher. I'm guessing there will only be one other bench player. Jones, Pridie, McDonald, Machado ... There is a long list of players who could win a spot with their performance in spring training. But overall, the bench should be better with Monroe and Punto.
Despite losing Torii Hunter and Luis Castillo from last year's opening lineup. The Twins should have a considerably improved everyday lineup this year.
Based on their having good years last year, we can expect some decline from Neshek and Guerrier. Likewise Rincon should rebound and Crain will add another solid arm if he is full recovered from injury. My guess is that there will be seven relievers with Zach Day or one of the losers in the starting rotation competition taking that spot as a inning eater. Given the Twins are going to be sorting through a lot of young pitching, keeping the bullpen fresh is going to be a real challenge. But the bullpen still looks like one of the Twins real strengths, at least as long as Nathan is still around.
The biggest challenge for the Twins is going to be sorting through the young starting pitchers.
You can almost guarantee that a couple of guys who win jobs in spring training will lose them in the first couple months of the season. If that musical chairs continues all summer the Twins will have little or no chance. But if they can settle their starters in the first couple months, they have an everyday lineup that can compete.