Aaron Gleeman is probably best known these days for his contributions to NBC Sports' very good baseball blog HardballTalk. He has also been publishing his thoughts on the Minnesota Twins (among other things) at AaronGleeman.com since Windows Me was a viable operating system. To help get you ready for the Seattle Mariners' weekend set with the Twins, Aaron generously agreed to answer a few questions for Pro Ball NW.
Did Joe Mauer's health issues in 2011 change the way you view his 8-year, $184 million contract extension? What are you expecting from him in 2012?
Definitely. At no point was giving a catcher $184 million not going to be a massive risk with a large chance of working out poorly, but Mauer immediately got hurt and so far at least hasn't regained his pre-injury form. He's been solid this season and is certainly among the best-hitting catchers in baseball, but he's shown very little power and has hit most of his balls in play on the ground.
I'm sure it's an untradeable contract at this point and Mauer gets a ton of criticism from Twins fans whenever he's not having a huge game, with the "they're paying $23 million per season for this this?!" stuff being the usual refrain.
With that said, I find it awfully tough to be very hard on a catcher hitting .300-plus with a .400-plus on-base percentage, and as long as he stays reasonably healthy the contract won't be anywhere close to crippling to the Twins.
Justin Morneau was running away with the 2010 MVP before being derailed by concussion symptoms. Do you believe that he can get back to being an impact player?
Morneau showed signs of getting back on track, hitting for good power and putting together some big games, but his plate discipline has seemingly disappeared after so much time off and he certainly doesn't look like the pre-concussion guy who was having a monster season. And now his surgically repaired wrist is a problem again, potentially sidelining him for at least some of this weekend's series.
Between the concussion and five different surgeries last year he's had so many major injuries that simply being in the lineup on a regular basis is a huge step in the right direction, but I'd certainly bet against Morneau regaining his MVP form. Realistically, though, the Twins would be very happy with about 80 percent of what he used to produce.
The Twins are back to the drawing board after a great 10 year run. What does this team need to do to get back to the playoffs? Do you believe in the franchise's current management?
I believe in Terry Ryan, but the organization made so many mistakes and suffered so many injuries under former general manager Bill Smith that he has a very difficult job ahead of him. They don't have many high-upside prospects or even many valuable big leaguers to trade for prospects, so the rebuilding job won't be a fast one. They've always struggled to find power hitters and strikeout pitchers, and those weaknesses have really been magnified recently. It's definitely a franchise at a crossroads.
Few are picking the Twins to finish anywhere near the top of the AL Central. What will get Twins fans through the 2012 season? Do you anticipate a silver lining?
Coming into the season I had some hope that they could get back on track enough to at least hang around .500, which would have been a major accomplishment following a 99-loss season. Their terrible start more or less ruined any chance of that, but I do think this team is better than it's looked so far and is capable of being competitive.
They have some decent prospects at Double-A and Triple-A, but few impact guys, so aside from anticipating the Twins' many picks in June's draft and hoping Mauer, Morneau, and Denard Span stay healthy and productive there isn't a whole lot to get excited about.
Jason Vargas vs. Carl Pavano
Felix Hernandez vs. Jason Marquis
Hector Noesi vs. Nick Blackburn
Catcher: Joe Mauer, Ryan Doumit
First Base: Chris Parmalee
Second Base: Alexi Casilla
Third Base: Danny Valencia
Shortstop: Jamey Carroll
Left Field: Josh WIllingham
Center Field: Denard Span
Right Field: Trevor Plouffe, Clete Thomas
Designated Hitter: Justin Morneau