The ever-rebuilding Twins may finally be getting better. After a horrible 16-54 start in 1982, Minnesota won 44 of its last 92 games to suggest it might be a competitive big league team after all. Led by a contingent of sparkling rookies, the Twins flexed considerable power with 148 home runs; the defense ranked third in the league; erstwhile Third Baseman John Castino became one of the league's best second basemen; and ex-Reliever Bobby Castillo, a former Dodger who had been mainly known as Fernando Valenzuela's interpreter, emerged as a formidable starter in his own right. Indeed, there's every indication this could be a team on the way up, though you could never tell it with all the squabbling that went on over the winter.
First, owner Calvin Griffith (page 104) insulted two of his most valuable players and left in doubt how long they would remain with the franchise. When Reliever Ron Davis won a $475,000 arbitration award, Griffith blustered, "If he deserves to make $475,000, I deserve to be President." Immediately, half a dozen clubs contacted Griffith, but to no avail. In spring training Davis said he was happy, but warned, "If Calvin insults me in the papers again, I'll ask to be traded." Meanwhile, Griffith summarily renewed First Baseman Kent Hrbek's 1983 contract at $85,000, although Baltimore's Cal Ripken Jr., who edged Hrbek for Rookie of the Year, is making about $100,000 more.
Manager Billy Gardner was more concerned about player performance than player finance. Catcher Tim Laudner, says Gardner, "needs to be more aggressive. He was too nonchalant last year." Shortstop Lenny Faedo "needs to play deeper in the field and forget about hitting homers." As for Centerfielder Jim Eisenreich, Gardner says he bats "like a magician" but has trouble merely staying on the field. Eisenreich's rookie season was limited to 99 at bats in 34 games because of a nervous disorder that was exacerbated by the boos of opposing teams' fans. A .303 hitter last year, he's going to give big league pressure another try.
For the Twins to become winners, the problem positions must be strengthened, 15 second-year players must continue to develop—-"I don't even want to think about sophomore jinx," says Gardner—and, most important, the relief pitching must improve. Starters Brad Havens, Jack O'Connor, Frank Viola, Al Williams and Castillo are capable of averaging five innings or so, especially Castillo, who was 13-11 with a 3.66 ERA. Gardner would like to limit his short man, Davis, to the last two or three batters. "The fewer innings I work each time out, the more often I can pitch," says Davis, who came through in 22-of-26 save situations in '82 but was spotty in other appearances (3-9 and a 4.42 overall ERA). If Davis can pitch to his old Yankee form, the Twins will be much improved.
For the first time since their pennant-winning season of 1965 the Twins had four 20-homer sluggers: Gary Ward (28), Gary Gaetti (25), Kent Hrbek (23) and Tom Brunansky (20). However, this same group also averaged 98 strikeouts apiece. Meanwhile, the Twins pitching staff was serving up gopher balls to opponents at an even more prodigious rate; it led the universe by allowing 208.