I suppose this is what we asked for, Twins fans. Our team is playing “meaningful games” in August. Technically, they even continue to possess the second American League wild card spot (for a few more hours anyway).
Entering the season, if someone had told us that our Twins would be right in the thick of the hunt for even a wild card postseason spot, I think most of us would have smiled and said, “thank you.”
Some of us have had some elevated hopes for 2016 and even more would have projected 2017 as a reasonable goal to see the Twins contending for the postseason. But 2015? No, not really. There were just too many question marks and, frankly, calling some areas of the Twins Opening Day roster “question marks” would have been being generous.
So, given this unexpected bonus of meaningful play in August, why don’t I feel like celebrating?
To begin with, it’s not like the Twins’ hold on that final wild card spot is exactly something you’d call a death grip. OK, bad wording. Maybe that’s exactly what you would call it, as in, “they are about to lose that grip and see their season die.”
The Twins enter Monday with a one game lead over Baltimore and Toronto, a three game lead over Tampa and Texas, and a 3.5 game lead over Detroit and Chicago. That’s a lot of competition and it doesn’t even include the Angels, who currently hold the first wild card spot, just one game ahead of Minnesota.
Certainly, the front offices of some of those teams have already decided not to even try to compete for a spot in the league’s one-game, win or go home, wild card play-in game. Detroit and Tampa appear to be selling off parts. I’m not sure what the White Sox front office is doing, other than apparently trying to overcome the shock of discovering they’re actually not mathematically eliminated from the postseason yet.
Then again, as a Twins fan, I probably shouldn’t be too critical of another organization’s inertia in the face of unexpected contention for the postseason.
After all, while Chicago has only recently pulled themselves in to the hunt by winning a whole bunch of games in a row, the folks running the Twins have had an entire season to get acclimated to the fact that their guys actually have a shot at doing more than just playing meaningful games this late. And yet, the Twins front office gave no indication at the trading deadline that they had noticed.
That’s not really true, of course. Twins General Manager Terry Ryan did give such indications. He indicated to the media on more than one occasion last week that he intended be active in the trade market in an effort to improve his ballclub.
Then he did nothing.
And no, don’t even try to claim with a straight face that adding Kevin Jepsen, the relief pitcher they acquired from the Rays for two minor league pitchers, constitutes making a serious bid to improve the Twins.
Pioneer-Press Twins beat reporter Mike Berardino asked Ryan last week if the GM felt a responsibility to the current players to improve the roster. His reply:
“That’s correct,” Ryan said. “That would be very accurate. I know that. There’s nobody that’s more sensitive to that than me. I know they’ve done a hell of a job of getting to this point and we’re in a good position. Now it’s my responsibility to help the cause.”
Then Ryan went out and added Kevin Jepsen and – nothing else.
As a result, the Twins open a four-game series with one of the teams who is nipping at their heels in the wild card standings, the Blue Jays, without the benefit of any significant help from their front office.
Meanwhile, those Blue Jays have added Troy Tulowitzki, David Price and Ben Revere in the past few days. That’s a top of the rotation starting pitcher, a good-hitting veteran shortstop and a centerfielder who improves their club’s defense (and, therefore, their pitching as a whole).
Maybe this was never going to be the year the Twins made a postseason run. It certainly wouldn’t help their cause that Ervin Santana won’t be available to them in the postseason, even if they found themselves there as a team.
But Ryan was right. This collection of ballplayers has worked hard, exceeding everyone’s expectations, and he owed them a better result last week.
I’m not suggesting he should have traded away a bunch of top prospects for rental players. You don’t mortgage your entire future on a slim chance at the brass ring in 2015. But you don’t pay lip service and then try to convince the guys in your clubhouse that adding a middle inning reliever is all you could come up with to give them a boost while their nearest competitors are making serious improvements.
Making no deal at all – just saying right out loud that you don’t think this year’s club is built to not only get a wild card, but contend in the postseason once they get there – and explaining that you are not willing to give up any of your above average prospects at all in this environment would have been courageous. Likewise, making Toronto-sized mega deals that would have cost you some serious prospects would have been courageous.
Taking either road would have required some real stones, because either approach would have been controversial and would have met with loud criticism from the fan base. Yet either approach would have at least been defensible.
Dipping your toes in the water and giving up a couple of decent, but very young, pitching prospects for a middle reliever, but doing absolutely nothing else, is neither courageous nor defensible, in my opinion.
Of course, we know that the end of the non-waiver trade deadline in July does not necessarily constitute the end of all trade opportunities. Terry Ryan can still improve this year’s Twins roster in August via waiver trades. If he does, I’ll be among the first to applaud.
But waiting too long to provide that help is a real concern and making deals later this month certainly won’t help the Twins this week in Toronto.
Ryan is sending Paul Molitor in to Toronto this week to fend off one of his club’s closest challengers and Molitor’s club is seriously outmanned. The reason is as simple as it was preventable. Molitor’s club was not given the kind of boost that the Blue Jays got from their GM last week and that was, by his own admission, Terry Ryan’s responsibility.