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Updated: March 30th, 2014 3:07pm
Zulgad: Anger with Twins' weak lineup means fans are paying attention

Zulgad: Anger with Twins' weak lineup means fans are paying attention

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by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com

Jason Bartlett? The Twins are actually going to keep this guy? Who cares what type of a leader he is, he had four hits all spring.

Jason Kubel, too? What year is this? We got to know 'em and then got rid of them. This is such a typical Twins move.

The Twins are 24th in payroll in the majors! We thought Target Field was supposed to mean the Pohlads would open their pocketbook and be big spenders. Sure they added Ricky Nolasco ($12 million in 2014) and Phil Hughes ($8 million) to the pitching staff but this just proves the Pohlads always will operate on the cheap.

All of the above statements, true or not, were uttered in Minnesota last week as Monday's opener against the White Sox in Chicago drew closer. All also contained plenty of venom toward a franchise that has lost 90-plus games for three consecutive seasons.

As Twins officials digested this in the warmth of Fort Myers they should have been thrilled with the reaction.

Why? That's simple.

Whether fans called sports-talk radio shows to vent or jumped on the nearest chat board or blog to express their frustration, the anger that was expressed at least showed that complete apathy has not set in when it comes to the Twins.

That's the real danger. Complete silence. When nobody cares, you might as well not exist.

The Twins are growing closer and closer to achieving this and no one can fault any member of the fan base for checking out.

The Twins, of course, are hoping that what appears to be an improved starting rotation will buy them time until 2015, when if Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano and Alex Meyer aren't on the Opening Day roster something has gone drastically wrong.

For those upset by the fact that general manager Terry Ryan did not spend more of the Pohlads money this offseason, there will be a time to criticize payroll decisions. It's just not yet.

If Buxton and Sano are the players we're all expecting, then those two will need to be rewarded in quick fashion with lucrative, long-term contracts that give them reason to agree to forfeit their early years of free agency.

This won't come cheap but if ownership fails to do this then everyone will have reason to pile on. How expensive could it be to get a guy like Buxton to sign that type of deal?

Pittsburgh left fielder Starling Marte signed a $31 million, six-year contract last week. The 25-year-old Marte, who is a natural center fielder but moved to left because the Pirates have reigning MVP Andrew McCutchen playing that position, received a deal that covers his five remaining years of team control and at least one free-agent year.

There are two club options for the Pirates that would cover two additional years in which Marte could hit the open market.

This is not the first proactive move by the Pirates, who also signed McCutchen and Jose Tabata to six-year deals worth $51.5 million and $15.5 million, respectively.

The Los Angeles Angels locked up superstar center fielder Mike Trout this weekend, giving the 22-year-old a six-year, $144.5 million contract. That makes Trout the first player with less than three years of service time to sign a deal worth more than $20 million annually.

If Buxton is as good as advertised, it's possible he could be the second.

These are the types of moves that might get fans excited. For now, however, the Twins are selling hope for the future and a present that will include this year's All-Star Game at their baseball palace, Target Field.

What they are hoping you won't notice, but what will be the reality of this season, is that it's going to be very difficult for this team to score runs. The Twins struggled to do this during spring training and there is no way to make this lineup look good.

While many of marveled at the fact that Bartlett and Kubel actually made the big-league roster, we missed the fact that Josh Willingham appeared to forget how to hit in spring training. He belted his first home run of the spring on Saturday but finished with an .068 batting average (3-for-44).

Two years ago, the Twins might have been able to get something for Willingham after he blasted 35 home runs in his first season with the organization. Now, there are some who are convinced Willingham is finished.

The Opening Day lineup could look like this: Brian Dozier, 2B; Kurt Suzuki, C; Joe Mauer, 1B; Willingham, LF; Trevor Plouffe, 3B; Oswaldo Arcia, RF; Chris Colabello or Kubel, DH; Aaron Hicks, CF; Pedro Florimon, SS.

Mauer is one of the best hitters in baseball, but after that this could be one of the worst lineups in the big leagues.

Dozier is coming off a portion of a good season, Hicks was a top-shelf prospect who batted .192 last season and has nowhere to go but up and Arcia struck out far too much but was 21 years old when the season began and continues to have potential.

After that, there is nothing to get excited about and there is, thus, little reason to think things will improve much in 2014.

This will cause more angst and anger to be expressed at the Twins this spring and summer. But at least those reactions would mean that someone still cares.

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Judd | @1500ESPNJudd | Mackey & Judd
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