The Twins currently are not certain what their team will look like this season. But even with the loses of Luis Castillo, Torii Hunter and Carlos Silva (since Santana is still a Twin, I'll leave him off this list), I can't help but feel optimistic about this season. That's probably just because this sport is baseball, and anything is possible, but when you look at the upcoming season, the Twins look to be longshots (if that's not an understatement) to even compete this upcoming season.
Last year, they came into the season as a favorite to win the division, even with the loss of young ace Francisco Liriano and the fact that the Detroit Tigers won the American League Pennant the previous season. The Twins had the '06 AL MVP in Justin Morneau, the '06 ML Batting Champion in Joe Mauer, as well as the '06 AL Cy Young award winner in Santana. The Twins definitely set their sights high last year and when the team finished in third place under .500, they definitely did not come close to the high expectations that not only they put on themselves, but the fans as well.
2007: The most uncertainty that everyone had with the team last year was their bullpen. Carlos Silva was coming off a horrible season, the team lost Liriano to injury, and the team had to "had-beens" in the starting rotation with Ramon Ortiz and Sidney Ponson starting at the back of the rotation.
2008: The Twins are also dealing with some uncertainty for their rotation this season, however most of that is because the Twins may or may not be without Santana who is by far the best pitcher on the team, if not in the entire league. With him, the Twins will field a relatively good rotation with Scott Baker having a resurgence last year and Boof Bonser shedding some of his weight to give the Twins his "second wind" that he was lacking. Kevin Slowey was one of the best pitchers in the minor league in '07 and should compete for a spot in the rotation in Spring Training. Liriano is back and should start at some point this season, it's not certain if he'll be ready by the start of the season.
Edge? 2008. Even with the loss of Carlos Silva, I can't say I felt better about the 2007 rotation, opposed to the 2008 rotation.
2007: The 2007 bullpen was also coming off of a phenomenal season in '06 in which the Twins in which they lead the majors in ERA and walks and also had the fewest blown saves in the league. The team relied on Juan Rincon and Jesse Crain a lot in '06 and they really pitched well. Dennys Reyes also was a major surprise as he had an ERA of 0.89 while pitching over 50 innings out of the pen. Joe Nathan, Pat Neshek, Matt Guerrier and Glen Perkins also pitched very well out of the pen.
2008: The team definitely has some major concerns with the bullpen this season. Rincon did not have a great season as he had many off-the-field distractions, Reyes looked miserable compared to '06. Neshek had a very good first half, but regressed in the second half and was shelved with fatigue late in the season. Guerrier & Nathan were really good in 2007, and the Twins expect big things from them in '08.
Edge? 2007. And I don't think that's even arguable.
2007: The Twins expected big things offensively in 2007. Both the M&M Boys had great seasons in '06, Hunter had a career year as well, Michael Cuddyer looked like he'd put up good numbers for a second year in a row, Nick Punto had a good year at the plate, as did Jason Bartlett. But unfortunately, the team really played well below its potential last year. Neither Mauer or Morneau had great season, Punto was floating around .200 all season, Bartlett was a good spark for our offense, however he was horrible early on. Hunter though was the biggest piece to our team as he hit as well as he did as a 27 year old (he was 32 in '07) but he's now gone and the Twins have a gapping hole in center field. And Jason Kubel also never produced like many thought he would. Besides Hunter & Bartlett, there weren't many bright spots to our offense.
2008: The Twins lineup looks completely different than a year ago. (Of course, these are all pending any changes during Spring Training) Brendan Harris is going to be replacing Castillo at second base, Mike Lamb will be replacing Punto, Delmon Young will virtually be replacing Hunter in the middle of the lineup, Craig Monroe will be replacing Jason Tyner at DH, and Adam Everett will be replacing Barlett at shortstop. Overall, I have to say that the Twins vastly improved their lineup from 2007, with respect to Hunter and Bartlett. The reason I feel this is that the difference between Hunter & Young will be smaller than the difference between Monroe & Tyner, Lamb & Punto, as well as Harris & Castillo. Many also feel that Kubel will finally break out this season as he had a great final month to the 2007 season which looks like a prelude to a great 2008 season. The biggest thing the Twins need this season is a real lead-off hitter who will also play center field. Right now, unless either Jason Pridie or Denard Span claim the job in Spring Training, the Twins may be force to have Harris lead-off.
Edge? 2008. As I said, the additions/upgrades outweigh the losses.
I know I'm probably crazy, since last year we were considered favorites and this year it doesn't look promising for us to finish over .500, but I do feel better about the team this season. The reason why the Twins are longshots at being contenders is not because the team is not as talented as they were last year, it's because they play in arguably the best division in all of baseball and the Tigers may look to be the strongest team on paper that I've ever seen. The additions of Miguel Cabrera, Edgar Renteria, and Dontrelle Willis will strike fear into the rest of the AL Central as before they already had one of the most potent lineups in the game. Now, they're clear-cut above the rest. The Indians have a strong lineup with a very good rotation. The White Sox had a down season in '07 and will likely bounce back in '08. And the Royals are one of the up and coming teams that other teams are going to need to begin to take seriously.
I feel better about the team this season, but as far as the rest of the division, I don't like our chances. However the Twins have won the AL Central 4 out of the last 6 years and pretty much has the same core of young players in which they won the division with 2 years ago. I have to have the slightest bit of optimism that we bounce back from a sub par 2007 season and become surprise contenders.
Of course, in the result that the Twins trade Santana, this might all change.