The Twins lost catcher Ryan Doumit, who had a .333 on-base percentage with two homers and three doubles against the Royal sin 2013. But they added veteran catcher Kurt Suzuki, who is better defensively. The Twins also bolstered their staff with the additions of right-handers Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes, and (possibly) left-hander Sean Gilmartin. Outfielder Jason Kubel was brought in on a minor league deal.
HOW THEY GOT BETTER
When you lose 96 games, you have numerous issues. But with the Twins, the No. 1 problem was pitching. The team’s 4.55 ERA and 1.41 WHIP were the second worst in the league.
The Nolasco signing should help. Nolasco has quietly become a pretty reliable middle-of-the-rotation guy, turning in a 13-11 season last year with a 3.70 ERA while splitting time with the Marlins and Dodgers.
Royals fans are familiar with Hughes, who was rumored to be in the Royals’ sights during the off-season. Hughes was just 4-14 with a 5.19 ERA last season, but the Twins are banking on the notion that Hughes is a fly-ball pitcher who will benefit from pitching away from Yankee Stadium.
Gilmartin is a prospect whom the Twins got from the Braves for Doumit. Gilmartin is a finesse pitcher who battled shoulder tendinitis last season.
The Twins also are hoping that Kubel, who came up with the Twins and hit 28 homers for them in 2009, can find his stroke again after hitting just five homers last season for the Diamondbacks and Indians.
CROSSING THEIR FINGERS
The Twins were actually worse offensively than the Royals last season, scoring just 614 runs (the Royals had 648). And the Twins didn’t do much to bolster the offense.
So, they are counting on their younger players to take major steps forward (sound familiar, Royals fans?). Two of those players — shortstop Pedro Florimon and center fielder Aaron Hicks — have all the potential in the world. Florimon hit just .221 and was undisciplined at the plate (.281 on-base percentage), but he showed some impressive pop (nine homers) at times and could be a 15-20 homer guy. Hicks simply was overmatched last season (.192) and if he struggles again, the job will go to Alex Pressley, acquired in the Justin Morneau deal with Pittsburgh.
Joe Mauer is making the full-time transition to first base, which should keep him in the lineup more often and help his offense.
As KC fans remember fondly, the Royals simply owned the Twins last year, winning 15 of 19. If not for that dominance, the Royals likely wouldn’t have stayed in the playoff chase as long as they did. On paper, it wouldn’t appear the Twins have closed the gap much at all. Nolasco was a nice signing, and Hughes (three years, $24 million) could be a great risk-vs.-reward get. But while the Royals improved their offense significantly by getting a true leadoff man (Norichika Aoki) and a proven second baseman (Omar Infante), the Twins are banking on the development of their younger players and possibly a breakthrough year from Trevor Plouffe. It won’t be enough.
You can follow Jeffrey Flanagan on Twitter at @jflanagankc or email firstname.lastname@example.org.