Search

5 Minnesota Twins You get what you pay for. With the majors' tiniest payroll, the Twins have no shot

March 27, 2000
March 27, 2000

Table of Contents
March 27, 2000

Baseball Preview 2000

5 Minnesota Twins You get what you pay for. With the majors' tiniest payroll, the Twins have no shot

Doug Mientkiewicz is the face of the Minnesota Twins. Like most
of his teammates, the first baseman is young (25), inexperienced
(one of 17 rookies used by manager Tom Kelly last season), short
on power (two home runs in 352 career at bats) and facing an
uncertain future. In fact, after holding down a starting job last
season, he will start 2000 in the minors, and, truth be told,
he's not sure the Twins didn't make the right decision. "It's not
humanly possible to hit any lower than I did last year," says
Mientkiewicz, who had a sickly .229 average in 1999. "I'd go back
to the dugout and say, What am I doing? Who's wearing my
uniform?"

This is an article from the March 27, 2000 issue Original Layout

You hear a lot of that around the Minnesota clubhouse. "If I were
with another team, I probably wouldn't get all these chances,"
says righthander LaTroy Hawkins, who at age 27 passes for an
elder in this dugout. Despite going 10-14 in '99--the third
straight year he's had double-figure losses--and having the
highest ERA (6.66) in the majors among pitchers with at least 162
innings pitched, Hawkins is entrenched as the No. 3 starter. "I
felt guilty all f------ year," he says. "I went to winter ball
because I felt I had to do something to show the team I want to
get better."

Meet the Twins, the club that's forever developing but never
developed. Minnesota won the fewest games in baseball last year,
scored the fewest runs, hit the fewest homers and drew the fewest
fans in the American League. This season figures to be just as
few-tile. "I thought with the club we had, we did pretty well
last year," says third baseman Ron Coomer, who led Minnesota with
16 homers in '99 and was its lone All-Star representative. "I
mean, it didn't get ugly too often."

But, alas, it has the potential to get worse, given that many of
the veterans from last year's roster are either gone or on their
way out the door. The Twins traded their alltime saves leader,
Rick Aguilera, to the Cubs last May and let Mike Trombley (24
saves) walk as a free agent after the season, opening a gaping
hole in the bullpen. Bobby Ayala, who has eight saves for three
organizations since the start of the '98 season, is the closest
thing to an established stopper on the staff, but Kelly will use
the entire bullpen to try to nail down save opportunities--not
that there will be many. "There's no sense having a closer if
you're going to win 40 games," says Kelly. "Finding a closer is
not a priority at all."

Much more pressing is figuring out what to do with former 20-game
winner Brad Radke, whose 3.75 ERA in '99 was the league's fourth
best. The righthander is eligible to become a free agent at
season's end, and he wants not only a three-year extension worth
$27 million but also an opt-out clause that allows him to become
a free agent after the 2001 campaign. General manager Terry Ryan
has told the many teams interested in Radke (who says he wouldn't
mind playing for his hometown Devil Rays) that his ace is not
available, and by mid-March the Twins were reportedly willing to
increase their earlier offer of $21 million for three years to
$24 million.

Beyond Radke are the makings of a decent rotation. Righthander
Joe Mays, 24, was scintillating at times as a rookie--he pitched
20 1/3 consecutive scoreless innings in July and throws a nasty
sinker--but he's inconsistent, too. Lefthander Eric Milton, 24,
made huge strides in his second full season, pitching a no-hitter
against the Angels in September and lowering his second-half ERA
(3.82) by more than a run from his first-half figure (5.17). He
also held opponents to a .243 batting average, fifth lowest in
the league. "He's still young," says pitching coach Dick Such,
"but Eric's real close to putting it all together."

The one other bright spot for Minnesota is the defense, which
statistically was the league's second best last year. But even an
error-free season wouldn't make up for a frightening lack of pop
in the order. Mientkiewicz is an excellent defender, but he was
sent down to make room for the bat of David Ortiz (30 home runs
at Triple A Salt Lake City). Free-agent acquisition Butch Huskey
is a huge improvement at designated hitter: Twins DHs hit just 14
homers, nine of them by the now departed Marty Cordova. Huskey
hit 22 in just 119 games with the Mariners and the Red Sox.

With a puny $17 million payroll, the best the Twins can hope for
is that its young players gel earlier than expected, much as
Oakland's cast of youngsters did in 1999. "The baseball gods
didn't like us young pups coming up so soon," Mientkiewicz says
of last season. "Veteran teams win a lot of the games that we
lost. Hopefully, we'll learn how to win those games."

--S.C.

COLOR PHOTO: TOM DIPACE IDENTICAL TWINS Backup Coomer--just like almost every one of his teammates--is modestly talented and grateful to have a major league job.COLOR PHOTO: CHUCK SOLOMON

around the HORN

OFFENSE
[1 star]
DEFENSE
[4 stars]
STARTING PITCHING
[2 stars]
BULLPEN
[1 star]
MANAGER
[3 1/2 stars]

by the numbers

1999 Team Statistics (AL rank)

Batting average .264 (11)
Runs scored 686 (14)
Home runs 105 (14)

1999 record: 63-97 (fifth in AL Central)

Opponents' batting average .283 (10)
ERA 5.00 (9)
Fielding percentage .985 (2)

next up...

Plain and simple, third baseman Corey Koskie was overmatched when
he was called up to the majors in September 1998. Though he had a
.301 average at Triple A Salt Lake City that year, he hit only
.138 with the Twins, striking out 10 times in 29 at bats. Things
were dramatically better last season, when Koskie led Minnesota
with a .310 average. Desperate for deep threats, the Twins could
still use a little more power from the 6'3", 217-pound Koskie,
who hit 11 dingers last season. They will definitely get better
glovework from him; this winter Koskie spent time in Minneapolis
working on his less-than-graceful defense with infield coach Ron
Gardenhire. The 26-year-old Canadian improved enough to win the
Twins' every-day job at the hot corner. Says teammate Ron Coomer,
who will be Koskie's backup this year. "He's worked as hard as
anybody to get better."

the lineup
projected roster with 1999 statistics

Manager: Tom Kelly (15th season with Minnesota)

BATTING ORDER B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

LF Chad Allen R 194 .277 10 46 14
2B Todd Walker L-R 241 .279 6 46 18
RF Matt Lawton L-R 165 .259 7 54 26
DH Butch Huskey[1] R 168 .282 22 77 3
3B Corey Koskie L-R 180 .310 11 58 4
1B David Ortiz* L 206 .315 30 110 2
CF Jacque Jones L 211 .289 9 44 3
C Javier Valentin S-R 272 .248 5 28 0
SS Cristian Guzman S-R 336 .226 1 26 9

BENCH

IF Ron Coomer R 177 .263 16 65 2
IF Denny Hocking S-R 263 .267 7 41 11
OF Torii Hunter R 307 .255 9 35 10
C Marcus Jensen*[1] S-R 349 .291 8 44 0

STARTERS PVR W L IPS WHIP ERA

RH Brad Radke 41 12 14 6.6 1.29 3.75
LH Eric Milton 106 7 11 6.1 1.23 4.49
RH LaTroy Hawkins 202 10 14 5.3 1.71 6.66
RH Joe Mays 159 6 11 5.9 1.44 4.37
RH Sean Bergman[1] 220 5 6 5.8 1.56 5.21

BULLPEN PVR W L S WHIP ERA

RH Hector Carrasco 122 2 3 1 1.35 4.96
LH Eddie Guardado 145 2 5 2 1.29 4.50
RH Bob Wells 228 8 3 1 1.23 3.81
RH Bobby Ayala[1] 282 1 7 0 1.34 3.51
LH Travis Miller 299 2 2 0 1.43 2.72
LH Johan Santana(R)[1][2] 328 8 8 0 1.35 4.66

[1]New acquisition
(R) Rookie
B-T: Bats-throws
IPS: Innings pitched per start
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched

PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 164)
*Triple A stats
[2]Class A stats

the book
an opposing team's scout sizes up the Twins

"The Twins are young, but they don't have very many high-ceiling
guys. It's a team of role players, so this will be an interesting
club to watch around the trade deadline. Players like Denny
Hocking, Ron Coomer and Eddie Guardado will have value to
contenders down the stretch.... Brad Radke's velocity dropped a
bit last year, but he'd still fit nicely near the top of anyone's
rotation.... Joe Mays is the guy to watch on this staff--he throws
91 to 93 mph, has four pitches and shows absolutely no fear....
If you're going to compete in the AL, you have to hit home runs
at the corner-infield and outfield spots, so David Ortiz has to
be in the lineup somewhere.... Doug Mientkiewicz has a good
glove, but it's tough to have an opposite-field hitter at first
base.... Cristian Guzman has a chance to be a solid shortstop. He
has good range and a good arm and can run. This year he might
break out a bit at the plate.... Tom Kelly would like to run a
lot to try to make something happen, but there's not much speed
here."