Here we are, folks: the End of Season Post-Mortem series. If you're new here (which about 50% of our reader base is in comparison to last year), here's a brief explanation: after a team is eliminated from playoff contention, we're going to put their season under a microscope and look at just what the hell went wrong, what went right, and so on and so forth. The goal is to post these the day after a team is eliminated. Also, for the first ten teams eliminated, we're going to post a series called "Hope for the Hopeless", which is going to be an expanded version of the "What Went Right" portion of the Post-Mortem series pieces.
We didn't expect much from the Twins this spring. And to that extent...well, they delivered. At the very least, the Twins were able to determine which players are a part of their future, and which are not.
Preseason prediction: Things should improve over the last two seasons, but the Twins are still far away from getting back to the top of the division. The pitching additions they made are your typical rebuilding stopgaps, with the likes of Correia just holding a spot until someone like Meyer is ready, and the offense will probably be tough to watch at times. They could make a push to avoid a last-place finish, but with the Royals and Indians making such an effort to improve, it won’t be easy.
What Went Right: Despite turning 30 this year, Joe Mauer is turning in arguably his best season since his MVP year in 2009. At the very least, he's continued to quiet some concerns about his decline with a second straight All-Star season following a disappointing 2011. He'll still likely have to move off catcher sometime in the near future, but at least in the meantime, he's been one of the few consistent positives.
Glen Perkins also posted his third straight very good season out of the bullpen, emerging as a bona fide Proven Closer (TM) this year. Perkins has countered an increased flyball rate with an increased strikeout rate, and only blown four saves to this point. In those four blown saves, the Twins managed to go on to win anyway three times. Perkins is signed through 2015 with a team option for 2016 and could be an interesting trade chip if the Twins ever back off their stance of not listening to offers.
What Went Wrong: I mean, who could have possibly guessed loading up your rotation with low-strikeout, pitch-to-contact guys wouldn't work out well in the American League? Kevin Correia, Mike Pelfrey and Samuel Deduno are the only starters worth more than one win over replacement level according to FanGraphs, and they're all sporting K/9 rates in the 5s. As a whole, the pitching staff has allowed the second-highest OBP and OPS in the AL (only Houston is worse, predictably).
Not only was the pitching bad, but the offense was also a below-average bunch once again. Mauer was the only regular with an OPS north of .800, Josh Willingham battled injuries all year and Justin Morneau hit just .259/.315/.426 before getting traded to Pittsburgh. Brian Dozier is second on the team in fWAR. Let's just leave it at that.
Most Surprising Player: I don't know how surprising a player who entered the year in Baseball America's top 50 prospects can be, but Oswaldo Arcia spent just 38 games in Triple-A this year before making the jump to the majors at age 22. While he's struggled to make contact consistently (carrying a K% around 30%), when he's made contact, he's put up solid numbers considering his level of experience.
Most Disappointing Player: If Arcia seems to be on his way to fulfilling his top prospect status, Aaron Hicks took a step back this year. Hicks had a reputation for starting slow at each new level, and this year wasn't any different, hitting .192/.259/.338 in his first 81 big league games. He’s still a very fun player to watch defensively and has the tools to become a good overall player, but this year has shown his tools are still fairly raw.
Willingham should also get a mention here, struggling to stay on the field following a Silver Slugger-winning season last year. With Morneau never quite getting his power back and Ryan Doumit falling off a cliff, the Twins needed Willingham to provide the same power he did last year. He's currently tied with Trevor Plouffe on the team's home run list, and due another $7 million next season.
The Future: Everyone knew that this year would be a tough one to watch, but the reinforcements are coming. Arcia is already in the majors, flashing quite a bit of the ability that had scouts drooling. Miguel Sano made it to Double-A this season as a 20-year-old, and posted a .915 OPS there. Byron Buxton made it to High-A as a 19-year-old and hit .326/.415/.472. They both could be in the majors within the next two years, in which case the Twins go from one of the league's most unwatchable teams to one of the league's most must-see teams. If that's not enough, this season has them in the running for another top-5 pick in what's expected to be a strong draft class. 2014 should see some more improvement, but 2015 is when you could see Minnesota start to matter again in the AL Central.