MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Five things to know about the Minnesota Twins as they start spring training camp:
MAUER'S MOVE: With six-time All-Star catcher Joe Mauer coming off a concussion, the difficult decision was made to move the franchise cornerstone to first base. With only 105 home runs over his 10-year career, Mauer's $23 million annual salary will be well above market price at a typically power-hitting position. But his value can't be overstated, as evidenced by the team's 12-27 finish after he took a foul tip off his mask on Aug. 19 and sat the rest of the season. That woeful .308 winning percentage was down sharply from the .439 mark they were at before his injury.
Not needing as many days off at first base, Mauer's overall contribution to the offense ought to increase. There's also a reasonable expectation that, without the grind of being behind the plate, a fresher body will bring more power. The infield could use the boost. Second baseman Brian Dozier, shortstop Pedro Florimon and third baseman Trevor Plouffe have a combined .236 career batting average.
REVAMPED ROTATION: The Twins had an All-Star closer in Glen Perkins and a serviceable bullpen from top to bottom last season, but their starters had the worst ERA in the majors (5.26), nearly a half-run higher than the next-closest team. After averaging 97 losses over the last three years, the Twins aggressively upgraded the rotation through free agency. They'll pay Ricky Nolasco, Phil Hughes, Mike Pelfrey and Kevin Correia a combined $31 million this year, the most in franchise history for the top four starters, including when Johan Santana and Brad Radke were the aces.
"Obviously the rotation wasn't very good. Obviously I was a huge part of that," Pelfrey said, adding: "Pitching is what wins you games. I think we have a chance."
CATCHING UP: The Twins signed Kurt Suzuki, a starting catcher for most of his seven years in the majors, to help take Mauer's place behind the plate. The Twins heard strong reviews from Oakland, Suzuki's former team, about his leadership and intelligence. Josmil Pinto, who posted a .963 on-base-plus-slugging percentage over 21 games last September, is the leading long-term candidate. Eric Fryer and Chris Herrmann are also possibilities to make the team, if Pinto isn't deemed ready yet for regular action.
"Our pitchers have a whole spring training to work with these guys, and I think it's going to work out," manager Ron Gardenhire said.
OUTFIELD IS OPEN: Twins outfielders ranked last in the majors with a collective .668 on-base-plus-slugging percentage. With Mauer's move and the trade of Ryan Doumit, Josh Willingham is expected to become the primary designated hitter. Oswaldo Arcia is in line to be the everyday left fielder. But the entire outfield is open for competition.
Jason Kubel, brought back on a minor league contract, is an option at the corner spots. Former first-round draft pick Aaron Hicks will have another tryout in center field, with Alex Presley pushing him. Chris Parmelee's last chance in right field has arrived.
MISSING RYAN: Widely respected general manager Terry Ryan won't be present when the Twins open camp on Monday in Fort Myers, Fla., having recently been diagnosed with cancer in his neck. He's away from the team indefinitely for treatment, but in his typical stoic fashion last week, Ryan told his lieutenants not to worry about managing without him.
"It'll be up to him to give us a call, and when he does we'll fill him in on what's going on and ask his opinion and everything else and what he thinks, and when the time comes we'll just make the best decisions we can," assistant general manager Rob Antony said.