Tellin’ it like it is.

I’ll be honest. While I’ve watched almost every inning of the Twins games this week, I haven’t been devoting as much time to really focusing on the games or on the Twins in general. My mind has been occupied elsewhere (Nebraska in the Big Ten? Where will the Longhorns go? Isn’t it time for the Irish to give up the “independent” foolishness and join the Big Ten?). I know they’ve won some games and lost some games and some guys have looked good and some guys haven’t looked good… and some guys aren’t even showing up. It’s time to do something about those guys. Not the end of July at the trade deadline. Not in a month at the All Star break. Not in a couple of weeks. The time is now. Right now.

We were all excited about the team Bill Smith built during the offseason and, for the most part, about the choices made with regard to who constituted the 25 man roster coming out of Spring Training. This was, arguably, going to be the most talented gathering of players to don Twins uniforms in years… perhaps even decades. This team was no longer going to send minor leaguers out to play on Sundays. Even the “B” lineup would have can’t miss Hall of Famer, Jim Thome, in the DH spot. This team, we felt, wasn’t going to have to overachieve to win the Central Division. They SHOULD win the Division and the talent was there to do some damage in the playoffs once they got there.

It wasn’t all that long ago that we felt that way. But let’s tell it like it is, gang. Twins fans can not feel that way right now. This team, as currently constituted, is still competitive… but it is far from GOOD. In fact, that lineup card Gardy turned in Sunday was an embarrassment.

Yes, there have been injuries. The nagging kind where you really don’t know if you should put the guy on the Disabled List or let him rest a couple of days. And in almost every instance (or so it seems) the result has been an extended absence from the lineup.

One of the things that has endeared the Twins to its fan base over the years has been the way we could enjoy watching young players come up through the organization and be ready to contribute when they get their chance. All five of the starting pitchers came up that way. Denard Span thrived when he got his shot. The list is long.

Suddenly flush with revenues as a result of moving in to their new stadium, the organization uncharacteristically brought in help to fill a couple of holes in the infield this offseason, even while giving Mauer and others big raises, where in the past they may have been traded away at this point in their career. It has been very encouraging.

Now many people weren’t thrilled with opening the year with Nick Punto as the 3B. Personally, I have been in the “as long as the Twins have improved offensive production from 2B and SS, they can afford one mediocre bat in the 9 position” camp. The problem is… they are no longer getting improved (or any) offense from those other infield positions.

A significant sector of Twins Territory (or at least the Twins Blogosphere neighborhood of the “Territory”) is insistently enthusiastic about “giving the kids a shot” whenever someone with the Big League team either gets hurt or is performing so poorly that replacement appears inevitable. That’s fine. I like to see guys who have worked their way up through the organization get their shot, too.  But the time has come to admit that the Twins do not have infield options that are Major League ready right now. Maybe Trevor Plouffe, Danny Valencia and Matt Tolbert will go on to have fine Big League careers. They seem like good guys who are easy to root for.

But they have no business being on the Major League roster of a team that sees itself as a World Series contender. Not as starting infielders and not really even as utility options off the bench. They just aren’t ready.

And what about that pitching staff? There are some talented young pitchers both in the rotation and in the bullpen. And they seem to be really good guys, too. Lots of reasons for fans to “like” almost all of them. Every member of the rotation has had some very good starts… and some that were pretty ugly. Bert pointed out during today’s broadcast that the Twins’ bullpen has the best ERA in the American League. That’s nice. Everyone out there has had some impressive appearances. But why is it that whenever virtually ANY reliever comes out of the pen, at least one person in any group you may be watching the game with is likely to say, “I wish I felt more confident with him coming in to pitch”?

Maybe JJ Hardy and Orlando Hudson will come back from their DL stints healthy and productive. Maybe one or two of the starting pitchers will become a legitimate #1 guy (I’d settle for legitimate and reliable #2 guys at this point). Maybe Ron Mahay and Jose Mijares and Jesse Crain will become more consistently reliable. Maybe Jon Rauch will add a couple MPH to his fastball and we won’t always have to hold our breath every time he comes in with less than a 3-run lead.

But that’s a lot of “maybes” for a team with expectations at the level we have for the Twins.

It’s mid June. The Twins are 2 and a half games ahead of the Tigers, with whom they have a series in Target Field to close out the month. Between now and then, both teams have 4 interleague series. The Twins with the Rockes, Phillies, Mets and Brewers. The Tigers with the Senators (missing their phenom Stephen Strausburg), D’Backs, Mets and Braves.

The truth is, the Twins will not be leading the AL Central Division at the end of the month with a lineup featuring three starting infielders every game from the group of Valencia, Harris, Plouffe, Tolbert and Punto. Unless changes are made now, look for the Twins to be playing catch-up in the second half of the season… again.

I know the Twins have already stretched their payroll beyond anything remotely close to what they’ve historically spent on MLB ballplayers. I also know they don’t like to send their precious prospects around the country in return for more expensive veterans that may or may not be a part of the team beyond the end of the current year. I can’t argue with any of that when you’re trying to build a competitive team over time.

But if the Twins organization is really serious about being more than just competitive in 2010, it’s time to bring in some reinforcements. In recent weeks, the Twins have been linked to several players who are, or may become, available via trade. The names include top of the line starting pitchers like Roy Oswalt and Cliff Lee and 3B/1B Mike Lowell, in addition to a variety of middle relief pitchers, such as former BitchSox David Aardsma.

It’s fair to debate whether each of these players, or any others that may become available, would be good “fits” for the Twins. Would they upset team chemistry? Would they stay healthy? Have their better years passed them by? Are they overpriced?  All fair questions for discussion. But there’s really only one question that should matter.

Will the Minnesota Twins win more games… now and potentially in the post season… with this player than with the player currently in that role? If the answer is “yes”, it’s time to make the deal, Mr. Smith. And when the names you’re looking at replacing are Harris, Valencia, Tolbert, Plouffe, Mahay, Crain, and Mijares, how could the answer not be “yes”?

My preference? I want Mike Lowell in my lineup as quickly as he can get to Minnesota. If/when Hardy and Hudson come back, we finally get Little Nicky Punto-Tiny Super Hero in his proper role as utility infielder. I also want one of those top of the rotation guys, Oswalt or Lee (heck, even Jake Peavy is making noise about wanting to be trade again). I know, I know… somebody’s favorite current starting pitcher is going to be asked to move to the bullpen (which shores up the pen, by the way), but when you have World Series aspirations and pitchers like that are available, you go get one. That’s how the big boys play.

Now we find out if the Twins front office believe they have truly joined that exclusive club. The clock is ticking, Mr. Smith.

Tick. Tock.

-JC

2 thoughts on “Tellin’ it like it is.

  1. too much to comment on . . . but I don’t see any evidence that Aardsma has improved much since he was a Cub in 2006 (last year’s numbers seem to be a fluke when you look at the previous and current numbers) . . . and I can tell you, he got the same reaction from Cubs fans then that many of the pitchers you’re complaining about are getting now . . . “holding my breath and hoping for the best” . . . so I wouldn’t put any money on that one . . .

    On the rest, as a former Cubs fan I probably have infinitely more patience with losing teams than the Twins gang (and we aren’t exactly a “losing team” right now), so I’m less in a hurry to futz with what’s developing.

    Rant on JC :)

  2. I would be happy with finding a reliever to replace Jesse Crain. If the team were to start there, I could wait for the middle-infield injuries to resolve themselves.