So this issupposed to be the new spark plug of the Twins? With several huge ice packsAce-bandaged to his aching left knee and surgically repaired left hip, LuisCastillo didn't look like the player that hitting-challenged Minnesota hadhoped for when the club traded two minor league pitchers to the Marlins for himin December. No need to worry, the 30-year-old second baseman assured a visitor(who wasn't so easily convinced): The ice was just a preventive measure.
A five-time .300hitter, Castillo was the most impressive acquisition in a typicallyunimpressive off-season for the Twins. In addition to Castillo, they signedthree aging journeymen: 34-year-old outfielder Rondell White, who joins hisseventh club in the last seven seasons; 32-year-old third baseman Tony Batista,who spent last season in Japan; and 40-year-old DH-outfielder Ruben Sierra,who's been a regular in only one season since 1996. That's not a huge upgradeto an attack that finished last in the AL in runs.
Compared with thepaths of the three other newcomers, the career of Castillo, who spent his first10 seasons with the Marlins, is a model of stability. A three-time Gold Glovewinner and All-Star, Castillo made only 13 errors in 268 games at second overthe last two seasons. Castillo's ability to serve as a catalyst in the two holeof the batting order, however, is open to speculation. After averaging 48stolen bases from 1999 through 2002, he has not swiped more than 21 since,bottoming out last season, when he had 10. Complicating Castillo's vow toreturn to the days when he easily stole 30 bases is the Metrodome's artificialturf, which could take a toll on his fragile knee.
"I know whatpeople are saying about me: I can't steal, I can't play every day," saysCastillo, who missed 40 games in 2005 and allows that he isn't back to 100%yet. "But I plan to play every day, and I plan to be more aggressive on thebases. I will run. You have to understand, in Florida last year I battedsecond, and [Miguel] Cabrera and [Carlos] Delgado were behind me, and so Iwasn't [encouraged to run]."
General managerTerry Ryan believes the Metrodome's AstroPlay, a more forgiving turf than theasphalt-hard AstroTurf it replaced in 2004, will minimize the pounding onCastillo's legs. "It's more of a surface conducive to baseball, more of atrue surface," he says. "It'll be to Luis's liking."
Perhaps becauseMinnesota--which scored two or fewer runs in 51 games last season, tied forsecond most in the league--doesn't have Cabrera- and Delgado-type hitters inthe middle of the lineup, manager Ron Gardenhire will give Castillo the greenlight on the bases. "We're not going to sit around and wait for three-runhomers," Gardenhire says. "That's obviously not the kind of team wehave."
The Twins onceagain will count heavily on a contender-quality pitching staff, led by theleague's best pitcher, Johan Santana, who is 36--13 with a 2.74 ERA in 67starts over the last two seasons; during that time he struck out 503 batters in4592/3 innings. While the numbers speak to Santana's dominance, the win totalreflects a lack of run support. In 18 no-decisions over the last two seasons,the 27-year-old lefty has given up three or fewer runs 14 times. To helpSantana avoid wasting many more strong performances, Minnesota needs greaterproduction from catcher Joe Mauer and first baseman Justin Morneau, whocombined for 31 homers in 979 at bats in 2005. Ryan says that he may haveexpected too much too soon from Mauer, 22, and Morneau, 24, but this year theyshould provide more pop behind Castillo and leadoff hitter Shannon Stewart.
"You have tounderstand the pressure on kids like that," says centerfielder ToriiHunter. "Imagine you're 23 years old, like Morneau last year, and you openthe year for us in the four hole. I don't care what anyone says--that'spressure."
And it's notgoing away anytime soon. "In this division," says Gardenhire, "wecan't afford to play offensively the way we played last year. Chicago andCleveland don't give you anything. We used to be able to get 14 or 15 wins ayear on some of the teams in the Central. No more."
With 12 victoriesin 2005, Jesse Crain became the third straight Twins pitcher to top the AL inrelief wins. Juan Rincon (11) led in '04, and LaTroy Hawkins (9) tied with theA's Keith Foulke in '03.
a modest proposal
Minnesota mightnot be known as the Land of 10,000 Pitchers, but with a pair of hardthrowers--righthander Scott Baker, 24, and lefty Francisco Liriano, 22--readyto contribute in the big leagues, the time has never been better for the Twinsto trade a starting pitcher for a much-needed big bat. In 2005 Minnesota waslast in the AL in runs. Righthander Kyle Lohse (right), 27, who is a free agentafter next season, is the most viable candidate for such a deal. A package dealfor Rangers third baseman Hank Blalock, 25, whose value is depressed after adown year (.263, 132 strikeouts) in '05, would make sense for both sides.
projected roster with 2005 statistics
third in AL Central
fifth season withMinnesota
LUIS CASTILLO[New acquisition]
TONY BATISTA*[New acquisition]
RONDELL WHITE[New acquisition]
WHIP: Walks plushits per inning pitched
*Japanese Pacific League stats
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 59)
coming to a ballpark near you this summer...
Over the lastthree years no other team has produced more good, young middle relievers thanthe Twins, and in 6'2" righty Willie Eyre, 27, they have anothermiddle-innings eater on the way. At Triple A Rochester last season Eyre, theyounger brother of Cubs reliever Scott Eyre, was 10--3 with a 2.72 ERA in 56appearances. Despite Minnesota's abundance of relievers, don't be surprised tosee Eyre in the big leagues sooner rather than later.