"Every spring, no matter if you lost 95 games or won 95 games, it's a great time of year," Twins general manager Terry Ryan said. "You evaluate players, you get to see new faces and you renew your friendships. There isn't any better time for a baseball team than Spring Training."
This year brings a little bit of a different Spring Training for the Twins, a club that is used to having a settled pitching staff. Normally, the team's first week of camp has drawn little attention. When the position players reported, the anticipation would build to see which of the team's new additions might bring the offense that had been lacking in previous seasons.
Now, all that attention will be on the club's rotation, as almost all of the spots are up for grabs. Without Brad Radke, who retired, and Francisco Liriano, who's recovering from elbow surgery, to anchor the staff behind two-time Cy Young Award-winner Johan Santana, it will be a fierce competition to see who can help fill the voids.
"That's a rarity for us in the last number of years," Ryan said of an unsettled staff. "Usually, it's things other than starting pitching. But we're not an organization that doesn't have concerns every time that we go to Spring Training. You have to have Spring Training for a reason, and sometimes you have to work things out."
That process now begins as the club welcomes new faces, such as Ramon Ortiz and Sidney Ponson, as well as some of the young arms now battling for their chance at a spot in the rotation. But the questions are not limited to the newcomers. Even one of the lone returnees, Carlos Silva, is a bit of a question mark. After struggling to an 11-15 record with a 5.94 ERA in '06, the hope is that Silva can return to the form he had in '05, when he went 9-8 with a 3.44 ERA.
Boof Bonser is considered a virtual lock for the rotation after earning the No. 2 starting spot in the playoffs, and other young pitchers such as left-hander Glen Perkins and right-hander Matt Garza provide the team with some talented options. Scott Baker and top pitching prospect Kevin Slowey also will be in the mix.
For some of these rotation candidates, it will be a first opportunity to catch the coaches' attention, while for others it will be a final chance to prove themselves ready for the big leagues. Such is the case with right-hander J.D. Durbin, who finds himself out of options heading into this year's camp.
The Twins may have spots to fill in the rotation, but there is no such concern in the bullpen. All-Star closer Joe Nathan once again anchors the group that returns Dennys Reyes, Juan Rincon, Pat Neshek, Jesse Crain and Matt Guerrier. There is an opening for another lefty to back up Reyes, with a few veterans in camp as non-roster invitees, including Randy Choate and Mike Venafro, battling for the spot.
The Twins are also set in their catching situation, returning one of the most formidable duos behind the plate in Joe Mauer and Mike Redmond. Mauer enters his fourth season in the Majors having just signed a four-year deal, and he will look to repeat his offensive success of '06. But it's not offense that's a concern, as Mauer and Redmond will have their work cut out for them trying to figure out a relatively new pitching staff.
A better look at just what might be in store for the Twins this spring won't come until the rest of the club reports on Friday. The first full-team workout will take place on Saturday, and everyone seems eager to get things underway. The excitement to get started is certainly fueled by the disappointing end to last season -- getting swept by the A's in the playoffs still lingers with many of the players and coaches.
"Everyone is kind of on a mission," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "Everyone pretty much understands what we went through last year. We'll have a few new people who didn't have a chance to experience it with us, but most of the guys in the clubhouse did. We know how to get there; now, it's just about getting it done when you get there."