Is Winning No Longer the “Twins Way”?

I thought initially that it had to be a misquote… or at least a quote taken out of context. But Jim Mandelaro of the Rochester Democrat-Chronicle has not, in my experience, been prone to playing fast and loose with that kind of thing.

I WAS VERY DISAPPOINTED to read former Red Wings shortstop Trevor Plouffe’s comment about playing in the minors: “There’s a bit of wanting to win, but it’s kind of a game where you want to perform so you can get to the big leagues.”

Trevor Plouffe

I almost feel bad even attributing the quote, because Trevor Plouffe has perhaps been the subject of more criticism than any one member of the sorry excuse for a baseball team the Twins trotted out on to Target Field should get. Plouffe made his share of rookie mistakes (and, arguably, the share of two or three other guys), but he was far from the only player prone to screwing up this summer.

Mandelaro didn’t mention in his blog post where he had picked up on Plouffe’s quote, so I decided to Google it… just to see if there was some context I was missing out on. It turns out, the quote came from a September 23 column by the Star-Tribune’s LaVelle E. Neal III and there actually was an additional sentence added by Plouffe, but I’m not sure it makes his comment any easier to swallow. “Once you are here, it is all about winning. I could care less if I go 0-for-3 or 0-for-4 if we are winning. That’s my honest answer.”

It’s nice that, once Plouffe got to Minnesota, he discovered that winning is more important than his individual stats, but am I the only person who thinks maybe that kind of approach should be ingrained in to the minds and habits of players BEFORE they put on their first Big League uniform?

Then again, I suspect that it comes as no surprise to Red Wings fans to find out the players there have barely cared about winning the past few years. The Red Wings have lost more than 90 games in each of the past two seasons. Is it any wonder that many Rochester baseball fans are clamoring for their organization to dump their affiliation with the Twins? Next summer, the Yankees’ AAA team will be playing a lot of their “home” games at Rochester’s Frontier Field while their own stadium gets a face-lift. It’s going to be pretty embarrassing for the Twins when Rochester fans turn out in greater numbers to cheer on the future Yankees than they do the Red Wings.

Look, we all understand that the primary function of the minor league system is to develop talent to feed the parent ballclub. But isn’t part of developing players supposed to be instilling something deeper than just a “bit of wanting to win”?

I really am not intending to come down hard on Plouffe. When has he ever played for a winning team on his way up in the Twins organization? He’s been part of both of those 90+ loss Red Wings teams the past two years, as well as the 70-74 version in 2009. He did get some time with the Wings in 2008, as well, when they went 74-70, but he spent half of that season at AA New Britain where the Rock Cats went 64-77. He also spent all of 2007 with the Cats when they went 69-72.

That makes this the fifth straight season Plouffe has played for losing teams. The 80-60 season he spent with the Ft. Myers Miracle in 2006 must seem like a lifetime ago. By the way, if you go back and look at the rosters of the futile teams Plouffe played on coming up through the organization, I think you’re going to see guys like Luke Hughes, Danny Valencia, Drew Butera, Rene Tosoni and Brian Dinkelman on a lot of those teams, as well.

Talk about playing the “Twins Way” has become almost a joke. I’m not sure what it even is supposed to mean any more. It used to mean playing the game the right way. It used to mean players that knew how to move runners, run the bases with a bit of intelligence and avoid making mental and physical errors in the field. In other words, it used to mean recognizing that the purpose behind playing the game was to win, through whatever means necessary.

So have the players changed? Have Twins affiliates stopped winning because the players only care about their stats? Or do the players only care about their stats because that’s all the organization looks at when they pass out promotions to their minor leaguers?

I’m not smart enough to know the answer to that. But I’ve been around enough sports teams in my life to know that both winning and losing become habits and after spending years only wanting to win “a bit”, it’s got to be pretty damn tough to flip a switch and suddenly know what it takes to win at the highest level of competition.

From here, it looks to me like the Twins have been all about teaching “pitch to contact” and hitting to all fields… but virtually nothing about teaching how to win.

It also feels to me like there’s a sense of entitlement among this crop of young Twins. They’ve put up stat lines in the minor leagues to earn promotions, so now they just assume it’s their turn to be handed a roster spot with the Twins.

I’d like to say it doesn’t work that way, but maybe with the people running the Twins front office these days, that’s exactly how it does work. If that’s the case, Twins fans better get used to last place finishes and celebrating .500 seasons as a major accomplishment, because that’s pretty much what the Twins have given their minor league affiliates lately.

– JC


7 Replies to “Is Winning No Longer the “Twins Way”?”

  1. Winning baseball games is no longer a goal for the Twins organization, players, or management. With Target Field it is all about selling tickets, jerseys, food, and beer. It is now just a money game, really no different than a Target department store. Only now it is selling jerseys, food, and beer. “Baseball” is far, far, down on the list. Winning baseball games is not in their vocabulary. Twins baseball will never be the same.

  2. even without the quote, I think Twins fans were already realizing that there is just something not quite right with the guys we have coming up and it’s part of why the injuries hit us SOOO hard. You can recover a bit better if your minor league guys are a bit more ready to perform when they get here.

  3. I guess I completely agree with Plouffe’s quotes. The goal in the minor leagues is (SHOULD BE) to make players ready for the big leagues. Winning is secondary. Now, of course, there is no reason not to try to win in the minor leagues. But it is secondary to the big picture. Plouffe’s was an honest comment.

  4. It’s all Nieto and Rayfords’ fault — isn’t that the company line? Yeah, right.

    No real problem with the departures of Nieto and Rayford but virtually every statement that comes out of the Twins organization or the players shows me that this is a franchise that has lost its “baseball sense”.

    I thought the Rosenthal article on FoxSports about the contrast between the Braves and the Red Sox was an interesting one. While the Red Sox (correctly) are portrayed as reactionary, the Braves are portrayed as stable. BUT the Braves were still going to change their hitting coach — regardless of the September collapse.

    Compared to the Braves, the Twins are moribund. I guess we’ll see after Gardenhire and Smith “meet” whether there are any changes in staff in the front office or major league coaching staffs.

    They really need someone from outside the organization to shake up their complacency.

  5. Re: Seth’s comment

    The problem is the nuance in Plouffe’s statement. He didn’t say he wanted to be prepared for the big leagues. He said he wanted to perform in such a way that he would be called up to the big leagues.

    I’m not sure that is the same thing.

    But either way, your comment ignores the issue of “fostering a winning mindset” — something I took away from JC’s post.

    This strikes me this morning as I read the tweets, etc. about Delmon Young last night and as I think about last season (and why I thought he was MVP in 2010). Delmon has a lot of faults but he seems to have that “something extra” that causes him to perform better later in the year as the stakes get higher and in clutch situations during a game. This quote from DY last night was telling: “We needed desperately to get a run, because playing a tie ballgame with the Yankees late in the game is never fun. There’s always some type of spark and magic that they have late in ballgames. If they get a lead, they have [Mariano] Rivera coming in, so we’re desperate to try to get some runs across the board late.” It is a “sense of the moment” that cannot be quantified by statistics.

    That “sense of the moment” is also what I see lacking in Joe Mauer. When healthy, he is consistently good — no question about that — but I don’t see that ability (or desire) to really step it up in the clutch. Rather than relishing being up in big situations, it seems like he would prefer to be elsewhere (I know that is somewhat unfair and is based only on observation). I think Morneau has a bigger sense of the moment but it is becoming a dim memory because it has been so long since he played late in the season or in high pressure games.

    I think that much of this is a reflection of Gardenhire’s even keel philosophy. Keep the boat steady, keep performing competently, there is always tomorrow (or in Plouffe’s case, there are always the big leagues). And for the most part, it has worked in the regular season. But when the Twins have gotten to the post-season when there ISN’T always another game, it always seems like the missed that extra sense of urgency (I know, they played better teams with better pitching but there still should have been a way to steal a game here or there).

    For some time, several commentors on the Strib have talked about wanting players and a team that “refuses to lose”. Seems to me that mindset needs to be instilled early on.

  6. As I mentioned in the post, we understand the primary purpose of the minor leagues is to develop players for the big club.

    But there’s a difference between winning taking a back seat to player development by the Twins front office and winning taking a back seat to stat accumulation by the minor league players. Plouffe’s comments were honest, I give him that. I simply don’t believe you can not give a damn about winning for several years and then suddenly play like a winner when you reach the Bigs.

    Successful organizations, whether in sports or other businesses, have certain characteristics in common… things that they emphasize in attracting, developing and retaining talent… things that come to form part of their institutional DNA. Things that make their organizations and their people “winners.”

    I don’t see those characteristics in the Twins organization any more and I sincerely believe part of the problem is that the mentality Plouffe expressed is what is taught in the minor leagues.

    Can’t make the exceptional play on defense? Can’t get a bunt down? Can’t move a runner over? Can’t get a jump to steal a base? Can’t read balls as they come off the bat well enough to know when you can get from 1B to 3B on a single? Don’t study opposing pitchers/hitters? Can’t WIN?

    That’s fine… don’t worry about it as long as your batting average or ERA are better than the next guy’s.

  7. Agreed Jim. This team has so many holes in it from top to bottom that the only cure is 5-6 years of drafting star players. I hate to say it but Morneau is done as a produtive player. Mauer never makes a “move” without a ton of thought as to how it will affect his chances of entering the HOF. Mauer is done as a productive player. The starting pitching is suspect. The bull pen is nonexistant. The defense stinks. The outfield will be mediocre at best without Cuddy. Kubel is gone. Yet the Twin’s front office KNOW they will sell 2.9 million tickets next year. Beer will be $8.00 and hotdogs will be $5.00. It’s kinda like shooting fish in a barrel.