12/26/11 11:07 AM EST
Thome's 600th, hire of Ryan highlight 2011
Liriano's no-no, Blyleven's induction also bright spots of season
By Rhett Bollinger / MLB.com
For Minnesota, 2011 was rough, as the club finished with the worst record in the American League after winning the American League Central in '10.
Injuries were paramount to the club's struggles, but the Twins still opted to make a major change after the season, bringing back Terry Ryan as general manager to replace Bill Smith.
Ryan is charged with leading the Twins back to contention, as the club is still hopeful that '11 was just a down year caused by injuries to key players.
So while it was a frustrating year for the Twins, there were plenty of positive moments too, such as Francisco Liriano's no-hitter, Bert Blyleven getting inducted into the Hall of Fame and Jim Thome's 600th homer.
But of all the storylines that played out over the past 12 months, here were the five biggest:
5. Cuddyer an All-Star, departs for Colorado
Twins outfielder Michael Cuddyer was one of the club's lone bright spots, and the result of his impressive effort was his first-ever trip to the All-Star Game. But after parts of 11 seasons with the Twins, Cuddyer opted to sign with the Rockies after the season for a three-year, $31.5 million deal. The Twins made a strong push to retain him, offering him a three-year deal reportedly worth $24 million, but he decided to take Colorado's bigger offer. The Twins signed free-agent outfielder Josh Willingham on a three-year deal totaling $21 million to replace Cuddyer.
4. Injuries, injuries, injuries
The Twins utilized the disabled list 27 times to lead the Majors, seeing key players such as Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Denard Span and Jason Kubel miss extended periods of time with various injuries. The injury bug also plagued the pitching staff, as Carl Pavano was the only starter to avoid the disabled list. The Twins simply couldn't absorb the losses of Mauer, Span and Morneau, who played in just 82, 70 and 69 games, respectively.
3. First to worst
It goes hand-in-hand with their injury problems, but the Twins suffered the rare drop off of going from the best record in the American League Central to the worst record in the American League.
But injuries weren't the only reason for their steep decline, as they scored the second-fewest runs in the AL while allowing the second-most runs in the Majors en route to a 99-loss season. The Twins are hoping to bounce back in '12, but it's far from a sure thing after such a poor showing in '11.
2. Ryan replaces Smith
The Twins surprised just about everyone when they decided to bring back Ryan as their general manager to replace Smith on Nov. 7. Ryan served as Twins general manager from '94-07, prior to handing over the reins to Smith before coming back for a second stint as GM. Ryan, who served as senior advisor to Smith for four years, wasted little time in his new role, quickly adding shortstop Jamey Carroll and Ryan Doumit to the roster. Smith also decided to remain in the organization in a new role, becoming the assistant to the president and general manager.
1. Thome hits 600
Thome made history on Aug. 15, crushing two homers against the Tigers at Comerica Park to become just the eighth player to reach the 600-home run plateau. Thome's chase for his 600th home run was one of only a few positive storylines for the Twins, who otherwise had a forgettable season which also saw the death of celebrated slugger and Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew. But Thome, long-known as one of baseball's good guys, provided the Twins with a signature moment for the franchise, and one that won't soon be forgotten.