I’m not one to usually say, “I told you so,” but… yeah… I did tell you so. I told you to prepare to be disappointed at the trade deadline so it comes as no surprise to me that most Twins fans seemed to come away from the July 31 non-waiver deadline disappointed in the lack of moves by the Twins.
Many of us do understand why the roster remained intact, except for the trade of Francisco Liriano. The new CBA dampened enthusiasm for players who will be free agents at the end of the season. Justin Morneau’s contract is too big to get other teams excited about trading something of value for him. Other teams are understandably hoarding their top “high ceiling” young starting pitchers and weren’t willing to part with them for any of the Twins players Terry Ryan had to offer. Logically, we know there will remain interest in those same players this off-season.
But even knowing and understanding all of that, there’s disappointment all over Twinsville. I’m disappointed in the aftermath of the deadline, too. But not necessarily for the same reasons others are.
Some people are disappointed that Ryan didn’t just take the best offer on the table for a player like Denard Span, for whom the Twins arguably have a suitable replacement for already in Ben Revere. Some felt Josh Willingham, who at age 33 is having the best year of his career, will never be more valuable than he is now and should have been traded for the best deal offered, simply for that reason. I don’t happen to agree with either of these positions, so I’m not disappointed that Span and Willingham are still Twins. In fact, when the deadline passed Tuesday with no deals by the Twins, I wasn’t really disappointed at all.
No, my disappointment came a little later.
Phil Mackey of 1500ESPN posted a couple articles with quotes from Terry Ryan in the aftermath of Tuesday’s trade deadline and it was Ryan’s comments, taken all together, that provide the groundwork for my disappointment.
“There’s a lot of players on this ballclub that people would like to have on their team. I don’t think there’s any question about that. I don’t think there’s any shock that people putting up the numbers on this ballclub would be desirable for other organizations. If you’re going to do something with that you’d like to think that you’re getting equity back. We didn’t see it.”
“Everything that we do here right now probably includes some sort of pitching. In particular, starting pitching. I think we’ve shown some resiliency in that bullpen out there.
“It is difficult to come out with starting pitching, especially the younger controllable-type guys that organizations covet, where they have control. That’s exactly the types of people we were looking to bring back in any sort of deal, and we just couldn’t get what we were looking for today.”
“We have holes. And some of it is pitching. And some of it is not. There are other areas we need to address.”
“Some of it will be injury. Some of it would be chemistry and some of it is execution. We’ve cracked in a few areas this year.”
So much there to digest, isn’t there? Yet, I can’t see anything there I disagree with at all. There certainly was no shortage of players other teams were interested in having.
It’s also good to see the Twins recognize their biggest problem, whether short term or long term, is their rotation. They needed good young high-ceiling pitchers in any deal and apparently didn’t get that kind of talent offered.
Ryan is also correct in saying that pitching is not the only hole they have to fill. The middle infield remains less productive than you would like it to be, for example. They certainly have “cracked” in more than one area over the course of the season.
But then there were these additional quotes.
“As you know, I don’t worry too much about the payroll. We had all kinds of money this year and we didn’t get it done. It’s not a payroll issue. It’s personnel and making sure we put the right people in the right place.”
“I’m not banking on free agency, to be honest. If you keep banking on free agency, you’ll end up chasing your tail. This is not going to be a free agency approach. This is going to be no shortcuts and doing the job the way it’s supposed to be done. And that’s usually that’s with young, development, scouting and picking the right people.”
If he had just said, “It’s not just a payroll issue,” and, “I’m not banking strictly on free agency,” I’d have felt a little better because I do agree that you can’t, “keep banking on free agency.”
But he didn’t.
So, taking his words exactly as quoted, we all have to be disappointed, because Terry Ryan is just wrong. It is partially about payroll and free agency is a perfectly legitimate “shortcut” to fielding a better baseball team than you currently have. Shortcuts are not necessarily mutually exclusive from, “doing the job the way it’s supposed to be done.”
Have you ever been to San Francisco and decided to take a little day trip across the bay to Sausalito? It’s not very far away and there are multiple ways to get there. The most direct route is by boat, but of course that costs you some cash. If you have the cash, I think it’s the best option. If you are on a budget, you can drive across the Golden Gate Bridge. Then again, that’s a toll bridge, so even traveling that way comes with a cost, too.
Both are shortcuts, though, because you do have another option. You can travel east a ways then north a longer ways, then west a ways, then south a ways and get to Sausalito that way. Not many people do that, because people recognize their time has value, too, and it takes a lot of extra time to get where you want to go that way (and if you’re directionally challenged, you may take a wrong turn and never get exactly where you wanted to go).
There was a time, during Terry Ryan’s first tour of duty as GM, when the Twins had no alternative to taking the long way toward building a competitive team. They simply couldn’t afford the free agency shortcut. They had no choice but to flip veteran players for prospects as soon as they got expensive and then develop those prospects and hope they turned in to good Big Leaguers. They had moderate success doing that, too.
But they don’t have to do that now. Not exclusively, anyway. Is developing from within still the best way to fill out most of your roster? Abso-friggin-lutely, it is. But utilizing free agency to augment that process… to fill those “holes” Ryan referred to… in order to maintain a level of competitiveness, is not wrong just because it’s an option you didn’t have five years ago. I would have hoped that their experience with Josh Willingham would have demonstrated that to the Twins front office.
If the Twins had traded off most of their veterans Tuesday, I’d have been disappointed. I’m in the group of fans that believes the line up is capable of competing within their division in 2013 if they fix the rotation. That said, if they’d gone the route of trading off the veterans, I’d have at least understood that Terry Ryan has a plan and I’m just going to have to be more patient to see how it unfolds. But he didn’t do that.
The result is that he seems to be caught in between… not embracing the new “shortcut” available to him to get the team back on track quicker through free agency, but also not fully executing the old “flip veterans for top prospects” method of building a competitive team over a longer period of time, either.
It’s that purgatory in between that appears to indicate a lack of any real plan that disappoints me more than anything else today. Then again, it’s the same disappointment I felt last year when the Twins made no attempt to improve their rotation through free agency, so this isn’t exactly new disappointment.
I would think it would have to be disappointing Joe Mauer and the other veteran players, as well. These guys are here because they felt they would have a legitimate chance to play for a winner in Minnesota and it’s hard to see how that will happen for anyone who’s already approaching or past his 30th birthday if the Twins are unwilling to tap the free agent market for serious rotation help.
If the “free agency approach” is not an option, it seems to me that the right thing for Terry Ryan to do would be to call those guys together… Mauer, Morneau, Span, Willingham, Doumit, Perkins… and say, “Guys, here’s the plan. We’re not going to spend money for top free agent pitching, so we’re probably going to continue to struggle with the rotation. That means we’re probably going to have to win a lot of 8-7 games to even come close to being a .500 team for the next couple of years. That’s not what any of you signed up for. We’d like to give our fans some familiar faces to root for and our young pitchers some semblance of offensive support, so unless we get bowled over by an offer, we’d like to keep most of you around. But if you would prefer, we will see what we can get for you on the trade market this off-season. We won’t give anyone away for a handful of magic beans, but if we can get legitimate prospects in return, we’ll try to give you a better shot to play for a contender. Talk to your agents and have them give me a call. Either way, thank you for what you’ve given the organization already and no hard feelings.”
When he’s done with that chat and after he hears back from their agents, he could communicate something similar to the fan base. Would there be disappointment? Yes. But the honesty would be refreshing, everyone would know what to expect and at least there would be some rational hope for the future.
As it is now, all we’ve got is the disappointment, even if we can’t all agree on why we’re disappointed.
P.S. To be fair, Jim Pohlad sounded at least slightly more positive about the Twins participation in the free agent market in this Pioneer Press article. The money quote:
“We will definitely look at the free-agent market,” Pohlad said Tuesday, July 31. “We probably won’t sign the most expensive free-agent pitcher that there is. Terry (Ryan, general manager) is committed to doing everything (to improve the team).”
Pohlad said the Twins, who are 12 games behind the first-place Chicago White Sox, will be able to afford some free agents. The Twins’ payroll this season is about $100 million.
“We’re happy at the level (of payroll) we’re at right now,” the Twins CEO said.