Rotation issues overshadow offensive breakout in 2014

Rotation issues overshadow offensive breakout in 2014

MINNEAPOLIS -- After losing at least 96 games in each of the previous three seasons, the Twins had much higher hopes for 2014.

They tried to bolster their rotation in the offseason by signing Ricky Nolasco, Phil Hughes and Mike Pelfrey to a combined $84 million worth, while also adding veteran catcher Kurt Suzuki on a one-year, $2.75 million contract. But while the Hughes and Suzuki additions worked out, the rotation was still a mess, leading to a fourth straight year with at least 90 losses and a last place finish in the American League Central for the third time in four seasons, which led to a managerial change, as Ron Gardenhire will be replaced next season.

"The reason for this change I think it's safe to say the last couple years we've not won enough games, that's what it comes down to," Twins general manager Terry Ryan said. "He's done the best he could with the product that he's been given for the most part, and ultimately we just decided to come to this decision."

Twins starters combined to post the worst ERA in the Majors for a second straight season, as Hughes was their only consistent starter atop the rotation. Right-hander Kyle Gibson had some impressive stretches and showed flashes in his first full season, but still needs to be more consistent moving forward.

Nolasco had a forgettable year in the first season of a four-year, $49-million deal, while Pelfrey posted a 7.99 ERA in just five starts before undergoing season-ending elbow surgery in June. Right-hander Kevin Correia also had a 4.94 ERA in 23 starts before being traded to the Dodgers on Aug. 9.

Add it all up, and the Twins went through another trying season despite the offense breaking out in the second half and finishing among the league leaders in runs scored.

"You need a starting rotation to compete," Ryan said. "We've struggled in that area. Anybody will tell you if you don't have a rotation you can count on for a season, you're going to struggle, period. You can't keep putting pressure on your offense and your bullpen every night."

Record: 70-92, fifth place in AL Central.

Defining moment: When the Twins signed designated hitter Kendrys Morales on June 8, they were 29-32 and five games back of the division-leading Tigers, prompting Ryan to ask, "Why not us?" during Morales' introductory press conference. But the Twins went 17-22 with Morales to fall 11 games back of Detroit before trading him to the Mariners on July 24 for reliever Stephen Pryor to signify the Twins were sellers heading into the non-waiver Trade Deadline .

What went right: Hughes turned out to be one of the best offseason free-agent signings in baseball and quickly established himself as the club's ace. He reached the 200-inning mark for the first time in his career and finished near the top among pitchers in Wins Above Replacement (WAR), according to Fangraphs.com. … Brian Dozier didn't hit for a high average but still reached base plenty via walks en route to scoring more than 100 runs for the first time in his career. … Trevor Plouffe had his best season in the Majors, leading the team in RBIs and also improving his defense at third base. … Suzuki was a first-time All-Star and was one of the club's most consistent hitters throughout the season before signing a two-year contract extension on July 31. … Rookies Danny Santana and Kennys Vargas both had impressive seasons, especially Santana who was one of the team's best hitters, while also filling in capably in center field despite being a natural shortstop. … Closer Glen Perkins was an All-Star for the second straight year, but saw his season end in mid-September because of a strained left forearm.

What went wrong: Nolasco signed the biggest free-agent deal in franchise history, but struggled mightily in his first season with the Twins. He pitched better down the stretch after missing roughly seven weeks with right elbow soreness, but still finished the year with an ERA above 5.00. … First baseman Joe Mauer was expected to play more and perhaps put up better numbers offensively after moving away from catching due to a concussion suffered late in the '13 season, but it never materialized. Mauer had a down year offensively by his standards and missed more than a month with a strained oblique. … Pelfrey, who signed a two-year, $11-million deal before the season, made just five starts on the season before undergoing season-ending surgery. … Top prospects Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano both suffered through injury-plagued seasons. Buxton, ranked as the No. 1 overall prospect by MLB.com, played in just 31 Minor League games because of a sprained wrist and a season-ending concussion suffered in his first career Double-A Game on Aug. 13. Sano, ranked as the No. 7 prospect by MLB.com, missed the entire season after undergoing Tommy John surgery in March.

Hitter of the Year: Despite his low batting average, Dozier gets the nod by a narrow margin over Plouffe and Suzuki. Dozier finished among the league leaders in walks to offset his average, while showing off power and speed en route to becoming the first Twins player to have at least 20 homers and 20 stolen bases in a season since Torii Hunter in 2004. Among advanced statistics, he led Twins position players in WAR, with Plouffe finishing second.

Pitcher of the Year: Hughes was undoubtedly Minnesota's best pitcher and was one of the best pitchers in the Majors. He bounced back after posting a 5.19 ERA with the Yankees last year, and his three-year, $24-million deal now looks like a bargain. Hughes showed impeccable control, as he finished the year with the best single-season strikeout-to-walk ratio by a starting pitcher in Major League history.

Rookie of the Year: Santana was easily the best rookie on the team and figures to finish among the leading vote-getters for the AL Rookie of the Year voting, although White Sox slugger Jose Abreu has that award locked up. Santana played out of position most of the year in center field, but it was his offense that was most impressive, as he was a major catalyst atop the lineup, hitting for average and showing surprise extra-base power with plus-speed on the bases.

Rhett Bollinger is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Bollinger Beat, and follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.