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Twins Team Health Report 2011

Target Field was supposed to give the Twins new sources of revenue, which it did, but the franchise was forced to spend a large portion of that new money not only to players who contributed little to their 2011 playoff run, but also to their replacements. The Twins paid out one of the highest amounts of salary to players on the disabled list in baseball last year, which isn't hard to believe when you consider that they jumped out to an early head start as the team's third largest salary -- Joe Nathan's $11.25 million -- was lost for the year before the season even started. He was joined by Justin Morneau -- $15 million, the team's largest salary -- halfway through the year. High-profile injuries aside, the Twins' medical staff had a number of victories, most notably with offseason acquisitions Jim Thome and Carl Pavano. Rick McWane and his team kept Thome's back healthy and were rewarded with his best season since 2007. Pavano was a red injury risk going into the 2010 season, yet they kept him on the mound for 221 innings, nearly a career high. Repeating both of those feats, as well as keeping Joe Mauer and Morneau on the field, will be critical for the Twins' chances in a much tighter AL Central.

(HEAD TRAINER: Rick McWane; FIVE YEAR RANK: 11; 2010 RANK: 22)
For explanation of these ratings, click here
 
GREEN LIGHT
DH Jason Kubel
Kubel will split his time between right field and designated hitter as Morneau and Cuddyer need get rest and will have his time at DH further cut by the return of Jim Thome. Variation is a nice problem to have for the Twins and for Kubel, whose range in right field is limited at best.

SP Carl Pavano
Yes, he's really green. After a career in the Bronx marred by injury after injury, Pavano has been healthy and effective in consecutive seasons, giving the Twins more than just an innings-eater at the top of their rotation. There's no question that Pavano's ability to pitch deep into games in 2010 factored into his return to Minnesota, as both Scott Baker and Kevin Slowey routinely gave the bullpen a workout.

CL Joe Nathan
Unlike Morneau, Nathan's comeback from injury has yielded mostly positive news as he was already back on the mound and throwing in late January. He expects to resume his duties as the team's closer in 2011 and there seems to be little doubt that he'll do just that. Tommy John rehab is now predictable enough that there should be no concerns going forward.

Also Green:
LF Delmon Young
CF Denard Span
SP Brian Duensing
RP Matt Capps
 
YELLOW LIGHT
2B Tsuyoshi Nishioka
The Twins brought Nishioka over from Japan and are expected to use him primarily at second base, though he logged significant time at both second and shortstop before changing leagues. He has a history of minor injuries -- wrist, hamstring, knee, and neck injuries have all kept him out of games in recent seasons -- but it's things that affect his speed that are the major concern.

SS Alexi Casilla
A torn ligament in his thumb derailed Casilla's best season as a professional in 2008, but he's only a borderline yellow because he's been relatively healthy since that point. Bone chips in his elbow and ankle cost him time in 2010, but they aren't causing problems at this stage, and he recovered from both fairly quickly. The Twins could use the day-to-day knocks he acquires as a way to rest him and keep him from an extended slump.

3B Danny Valencia
Valencia will be the Twins starting third baseman baring an injury in camp after a strong end to the 2010 season. He's a low yellow, and any concerns here stem from his lack of big league playing time; Valencia has logged at least 120 games in each of the past three seasons, but hasn't yet shown he can play a full major league slate. With Nick Punto now in St. Louis, Valencia's backup is Matt Tolbert, so the Twins are certainly hoping that he'll play as close to 162 games as possible.

RF Michael Cuddyer
The move to grass last season helped Cuddyer as much as anyone on the team, as his legs and back will take less abuse on the softer surface and keep him on the field. This is especially welcome since Cuddyer had arthroscopic knee surgery last winter. He'll serve as a Morneau's primary backup at first base, which ought to decrease the physical toll on him as well.

SP Francisco Liriano
Liriano's rebound to form last year was a pleasant surprise for the Twins, but even the most optimistic observers didn't expect 200 healthy innings. He didn't quite make it there -- he threw 191 2/3 innings -- but it's unlikely there's much gnashing of teeth over nine innings and an arbitrary landmark. The test for Liriano this year is if he can string together back-to-back successful years, something he has yet to do as a pro.
 
RED LIGHT
C Joe Mauer
Catchers will always have an increased injury risk, bigger catchers even more so, but Mauer's issues go beyond the wear and tear of 162 games worth of foul balls and the odd collision. Mauer enters the first year of his eight-year, $184 million contract coming off of offseason knee surgery and with back problems that have plagued him since an inflamed SI joint cost him the first month of the 2009 season. The Twins hope that injections of lubricant in his knee will help keep him comfortable, but it's fair to wonder how much longer he can stay behind the plate.

1B Justin Morneau
Morneau was having an MVP-caliber year before a concussion -- his second since 2005 -- cost him the second half of his season. The Twins are wisely bringing him along slowly, keeping him out of the first few weeks of spring games, in an effort to have him ready on Opening Day rather than the first split-squad game in Ft. Myers. It is impossible to know if or when Morneau will be back to form, or if he'll simply try to play through the lingering effects, but the real danger here is if he were to suffer a second injury before the first is healed. Expect the Twins to be cautious with him.

SP Scott Baker
After throwing 200 promising innings in 2009, Baker regressed badly in 2010, and had his elbow scoped this offseason after battling tendinitis during the season. Baker's elbow will continue to pose a risk going forward, but he will be counted on to improve on a disappointing 2010 campaign.

SP Kevin Slowey

Slowey missed the second half of the 2009 season following surgery to place two screws in his right wrist, though the injury occurred at the end of the 2008 season. While his wrist didn't present specific issues in 2010, he struggled with elbow pain that eventually forced him to the disabled list. Even removing his wrist from the equation, the fact that he's missed significant parts of the last two seasons with arm issues shows that there's substantial risk here.

Dan Wade contributed to this report
 
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