Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Looking Ahead

How many members of the current Twins team will still be around in April 2010 when Puckett Park/3M Field/Best Buy Stadium opens?

I'd like to say that Torii Hunter, Joe Nathan, and Luis Castillo will be around, but in today's baseball climate that's not likely.

If I were a betting man I would say that, at most, eight of the 25 current 2006 Twins will be on the 2010 opening day roster.
  • Johan Santana
  • Francisco Liriano
  • Scott Baker
  • Jesse Crain
  • Joe Mauer
  • Justin Morneau
  • Jason Kubel
  • Michael Cuddyer
Of course there's a chance that Boof Bonser or Matt Guerrier will show some staying power, but there's as good a chance that Baker or Crain could falter. Perhaps Nathan will still be closing out games at 35 and Juan Rincon will still be setting him up, but it's also possible that Santana could leave as a free agent in their place.

Maybe the Twins don't trade Hunter this year and are able to sign him to a long-term contract extension, putting the then 34 year old face of the franchise in center field four years from now... and maybe Castillo's knees hold up for a few more years. But maybe Morneau never figures out how to hit a curveball... and maybe Cuddy-bear's May 2006 hot streak that seemed to win him the everyday right field job fizzles out by July and has him in Pittsburgh or Kansas City in 2007.

Four years is a long, long time to hold a team together. Really, it's unheard of in our current era. Looking at the current Twins roster, only five guys - Santana, Brad Radke, Rincon, Cuddyer, and Hunter - played on the 2002 team. In all likelihood, I'm being too generous in guessing eight players will still be around in 2010. I can't argue that the 2006 team is a younger team than 2002 - not with stopgaps like Tony Batista, Juan Castro and Rondell White and older veterans like Shannon Stewart and Castillo occupying the positions that were then held down by twenty-somethings Corey Koskie, Cristian Guzman, David Ortiz, Jacque Jones, and Luis Rivas - but I do think that the upside of the current group of young Twins on the roster (Mauer, Liriano, Baker, Kubel, maybe Morneau) is much greater than the 2002 team from which only Santana and Ortiz have developed into superstars (and of course, only Santana has done that with the Twins).

I also believe that with the certainty of the new stadium now in place, it becomes more likely that the Twins will be able to lock up their young talent to multi-year contracts. The newfound revenue from the new stadium should have the payroll up to around $80-$90 million in 2010, which is a $20 million increase from the present. While I think it's pretty safe to assume the Twins will let go of the guys who will be on the downside of their careers by then (Nathan, Hunter, Castillo), they should be able to lock up Mauer and Liriano for the long haul.

One final prediction:
With Johan Santana, Francisco Liriano, and Matt Garza at the top of the 2010 rotation, the Twins will be right in the thick of the 2010 pennant race.


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