Where would the Nationals and Orioles be without the Minnesota Twins?
The Orioles and Nationals have five players who were key to the Twins’ success since 2010.
The Orioles have infielders J.J. Hardy, Danny Valencia and Alexi Casilla. The Nationals have outfielder Denard Span and catcher Wilson Ramos. Hardy, Span and Ramos will play big roles on the East Coast. Valencia and Casilla are trying to re-start their careers.
* Hardy, who started with Milwaukee, came to the Twins in a trade for outfielder Carlos Gomez. Hardy hit .268 with six home runs for the Twins in 2011, and fit well with Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau. But Twins general manager Bill Smith wanted to fortify the Twins bullpen and add speed in Japanese shortstop Tsuyoshi Nishioka. So he traded Hardy for relievers Brett Jacobson and Jim Hoey. Neither were any good and Nishioka, overmatched defensively, hit .215 in 70 games. The Twins still need a shortstop.
* Casilla, 28, acquired from the Angels by the Twins in 2005, is a switch-hitting infielder with speed. The Twins gave him chances at shortstop and second base, but he never played more than 100 games in a season, although his game-ending single gave the Twins their one-game playoff win against the Tigers in 2010. The Twins weren’t happy with his focus and there were disagreements about his hitting approach. If Brian Roberts is healthy, Casilla, who has the potential to hit .280 with 20-plus steals, will be a utility player. The Twins haven’t settled on a second baseman this season.
* Valencia, 28, went from the Twins to the Red Sox last season and has been in slump since hitting .311 for the Twins in 2010. In the minors last season, he had 52 strikeouts and 18 walks combined for Triple-A Rochester and Pawtucket. Can he reclaim his career as a right-handed DH and reserve for the Orioles? Trevor Plouffe is solid for the Twins at third.
* The Nationals gave the Twins closer Matt Capps for Ramos midway through 2010. Ramos is 25 and his strong defense and power bat will pay long-term dividends for the Nationals. Capps, now with Cleveland, saved 16 games in 27 appearances for the Twins and helped them make the playoffs. The Twins have Joe Mauer behind the plate, but Twins fans ask: Could they have kept Ramos, moved Mauer to first and traded Morneau? The Twins’ closer is Glen Perkins and he’ll be fine.
* The Twins were loaded with center fielders, so they traded Span, 28, to the Nationals and Ben Revere to the Phillies, getting three pitchers. With Span, there will be no more questions about who bats leadoff and plays in center for the Nationals. The Twins think that five-tool prospect Aaron Hicks will be their center fielder soon, maybe by July. The Twins also think that Alex Meyer, the pitcher the Nationals traded, will be at the top of their rotation in a year or two.