Twins Win a Little and Lose a Lot

After beating the Red Sox for the second straight day, the Twins are 2-0 in the young 2014 Spring Training season. They topped the Sox 6-2 on Saturday with a three-run Chris Parmelee blast providing the biggest offensive blow. That’s the good news.

But the good news of a virtually meaningless exhibition win pales compared to the bad news that came out of the Twins’ camp in Fort Myers Saturday morning.

Miguel Sano, perhaps the top power hitting prospect in all of baseball, will undergo “Tommy John” surgery to reconstruct his ulnar collateral ligament in his right (throwing arm) elbow. Mike Berardino of the Pioneer Press posted a number of videos Saturday where you can hear from Twins Assistant GM Rob Antony and, if your heart can stand it, from Sano himself.

Miguel Sano as a Beloit Snapper

Miguel Sano as a Beloit Snapper

Judging from the way Twitter blew up after the announcement, Twins fans are clearly disappointed and frustrated. That’s understandable. But, obviously, nobody is more disappointed than Sano, himself (although manager Ron Gardenhire no doubt has cause to feel a fair amount of disappointment, as well).

As you’d probably expect, a number of fans were looking for someone to blame. Whenever stuff happens that disappoints a fan base, especially a fan base as frustrated as Twins fans have become after three years of dreadful results on the field, the immediate reaction is to identify people to blame. The Twins’ front office and their medical staff are catching most of the flack over Sano’s misfortune.

On the one hand, that’s understandable. You don’t have to go back many years to come up with any number of examples where injuries and other medical conditions were arguably initially misdiagnosed and players ended up missing more playing time than they probably should have. In fact, the Twins did make some changes to their medical/training staff going in to last season.

Sano’s UCL injury was originally identified after he felt twinges in his elbow last season and then was shut down after just a couple of winter league games. The Twins medical staff and Dr. James Andrews, perhaps the leading authority in the world with regard to UCL injuries, agreed in November that the best course of action at that time was rest and rehabilitation.

Of course, what the Twins SHOULD have done at the time was have their PR guys put out a poll on Twitter to get the advice of those fans who know better than the specialists when it comes to determining the best course of action for these things.

These injuries typically take pitchers a year to recover from, but position players can recover as soon as eight months, since they don’t contort their arms to spin the ball different directions when they throw it the way pitchers do. Sano should start being able to take swings in four months. Antony told the TV audience during Saturday’s game that Sano could possibly return in time to DH in some minor league games late this season, if that’s what the Twins choose to do.

Practically speaking, however, Sano’s 2014 season is going to be a wash. He should be fine to ramp up during next offseason and be ready to go all out during Spring Training 2015.

The Twitter experts, however, using perfect 20-20 hindsight, want to blame someone for not having the surgery done in November. If Sano’s injury had been a full UCL tear, that’s what they would have done. But it was only a partial tear and those injuries are less cut and dried. For position players, the real experts tell us that it’s possible to simply play through some partial tears with sufficient rest for the elbow.

Had Sano undergone surgery during the offseason, maybe he could have been cleared for full play in the field by August, in time for one month of minor league ball. It’s hard to imagine a scenario where he would finish the season with the Twins.

Either way, 2014 was going to be virtually a lost season if it turned out resting the elbow wouldn’t allow him to avoid surgery. And either way, he was going to be ready to challenge for the Twins 3B job in spring training 2015. So it was clearly worth a try to avoid surgery.

And even if it wasn’t clear to me that it was the right course of action, it was the recommendation of people with medical degrees who have actual experience treating UCL injuries, including the doctor who is the preeminent expert in the field.

The arrival of Sano with the Twins, at some point in 2014, was at least something to look forward to during what’s expected to be another pretty disappointing season. It’s natural for fans to be frustrated to learn that’s not going to happen. But if he’d had surgery earlier, he wouldn’t have arrived in Minnesota this year anyway.

It’s not easy, I know, but we’re all just going to have to wait to see number 24 launch balls in to the left field seats at Target Field. It will be worth the wait.

- JC