After some early season snafus relating to the Twins’ previous post-season failures against the Yankees, the Twins have an opportunity to put some of those demons to bed, starting tonight, as the open a 4-game series in New York tonight at 6:05pm central.
While some former Twins (Torii Hunter, Michael Cuddyer, etc.) may have indicated that they Twins were mentally beat against the Yankees before their previous post-season collapses, there is a wealth of historical precedence that helped create those mental barriers. In the past 10 years the Twins are 18-51 against the Yankees, and that does not include the three times the Yankees eliminated the Twins from post-season play. Add those in and the Twins are an even more embarrassing 20-63 against the Bronx Bombers. A W-L% of about .241. To put that in perspective, over a 162 game season, playing ONLY the Yankees, the Twins would win 39 games.
In those 83 games against the Yankees, 42 were in New York, and the Twins won only 7 times, which does not bode well for the Twins as they roll in to Yankee Stadium this evening.
But here is why I think the Twins have a chance to split* this four game series, which would be a resounding victory, historically:
*Let’s just assume that C.C. Sabathia is his regular self, and Francisco Liriano is the disappointing fallen star that we’ve come to know, so the Twins are not going to win tomorrow night. And while only two Twins have faced Hiroki Kuroda (Ryan Doumit and Josh Willingham), both have been unsuccessful and the Yankees have blasted Jason Marquis to the tun of .361/.395/.778 for an OPS of almost 1200! In the other two games, the Twins will face Freddy Garcia, and Phil Hughes. Both are beatable and if the Twins can pitch well enough to keep the Yankees to 5 runs per game, they will have a chance to steal a couple of wins from the Yanks.
In addition to hitting 4 home runs and 6 doubles against Garcia in 71 plate appearances, Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer have combined to walk 10 times compared to just 5 strikeouts. Of the 114 total plate appearances by current Twins, only Danny Valencia (1/4) has an OBP against Garcia that’s lower than .285. The Twins have not fared quite as well against Phil Hughes, but still post an OBP of .317, albeit in a sample size limited to just 38 at bats. Either way, the Twins have an opportunity to get out front of the Yankees early and to allow their starters to work deeper into games, limiting the opportunities for the bullpen to let another close game slip away.
In addition to hitting well against the Yankees, Carl Pavano (tonight’s starter) and Anthony Swarzak (projected to take Nick Blackburn‘s start on Thursday) have managed to keep the Yankees in check. Pavano has limited current Yankees to a triple slash of just .229/.252/.359 with just 9/30 hits against him going for extra bases. Swarzak has faced current Yankees hitters just 39 times, but he has yet to give up a home run to any of the current Yankees, which has been one of their biggest weapons against the Minnesota Twins. Decent starting pitching will be complemented with a defense that is likely to be near league average with Justin Morneau slotted into first base and either Trevor Plouffe or Clete Thomas taking an outfield spot away from Ryan Doumit.
Winning two games against the Yankees and splitting the series will not get this team any closer to contending for the AL Central, but it will help plant the seed in the minds of this current group of Twins that they can beat the Yankees, something the Twins haven’t really done for a decade.
Yes, I’m feeling a bit Alfred E. Neuman-ish today.
Yes, the Twins are 0-4, a trait they share with the Atlanta Braves. Yes, they’ve hit at a pathetic .165 clip and struggled to score a run or two, at most, each game. Yes, three of their four starting pitchers currently sport ERAs of 5.14, 7.50 and 11.25 after their first time through the rotation.
But is all of that really enough to make everyone bail on the entire season?
Given that so many fans had pretty much written this season off before it started, I guess it’s not surprising that the answer to that question for just as many people is, “yes.” It just seems a tad premature, to me, after just four games, especially when everyone knew (or should have known) that April was going to be a brutal month.
No, the Orioles are not among the American League’s elite teams, but the Twins have struggled with them recently, especially on the road. And, yes, this team is likely to remain at or near the bottom of their Division through the rest of the month, given the nature of the upcoming schedule (the next 15 games are against what are probably five of the six best teams in the AL).
But let’s keep a little perspective here. Despite the losses, there are a handful of things that haven’t gone too badly so far:
Josh Willingham will never be mistaken for a gold glove outfielder, but he’s done what he was brought in to do… hit the baseball hard. He’s hit .385 and has an OPS of 1.390 with a home run in Baltimore and, just to prove it can be done, another home run in Target Field Monday. (Hey, if others can use a small sample size to “prove” the team sucks, I can use it, too.)
Justin Morneau is hitting the ball hard. Do I wish he was playing 1B while hitting the ball hard? Of course. But given my limited expectations a month ago, I like what I see.
Most of the bullpen arms are looking OK. Matt Capps hasn’t blown a save (then again, there hasn’t been a save situation, yet) and he, along with Brian Duensing, Glen Perkins, Jeff Gray and Alex Burnett, have managed to hold opponents scoreless in their limited work.
Speaking of limited bullpen work, only Francisco Liriano failed to go at least five innings in his first start and the WHIPs (walks + hits per inning pitched) for the other three starters were very reasonable (1.20 for Anthony Swarzak, 1.17 for Nick Blackburn and 1.00 for Carl Pavano).
The bottom line, for me anyway, is that I believe this team will score some runs. My greatest fear entering the season was that the pitching staff would implode. In fact, that’s still my greatest fear. But the arms are off to a reasonably decent start, with a couple of exceptions (that would be you, Mr. Burton and Mr. Maloney, along with Mr. Liriano), so when the bats start to come around, maybe things won’t look so bad.
Even in the middle infield, where Jamey Carroll and Alexi Casilla have managed a total of one hit between them, at least they are making most of the plays they need to defensively, which is more than we could say a year ago. And if their bats don’t come around soon, Brian Dozier is already raking down in Rochester and he’s only a phone call away.
I really don’t expect a lot of wins over the next couple of weeks and I’m sure that will only intensify the grumbling among the fan base. But I’m anxious to see whether some of the young players like Swarzak, Liam Hendriks, Trevor Plouffe, Chris Parmelee and, eventually, Dozier, can do when they get past the, “Oh my God, I’m in the Big Leagues!” phase of their seasons.
I’m still interested in this team and I hope most of the rest of you are, too. But if you really just can’t imagine the start to a season being any worse, keep in mind that things could be much worse.
With Opening Day upon us, everyone is making their predictions for how this season will unfold. And why not? It’s harmless fun.
But here are a few things I’ve learned over the years about pre-Opening Day prognostications:
They tend to be based way too much on the previous season. I’m amazed every year by how many people who are supposed to be “experts” about Major League Baseball seem to come up with their predictions apparently by doing nothing more than looking at a team’s record the previous year.
There’s a lot of “groupspeak” going on. Once a couple of these “experts” render an opinion about a team, that’s the end of the discussion. Everyone else falls in line with that “conventional wisdom.”
The pre-Opening Day conventional wisdom turns out to be wrong as often as it’s right… and sometimes it’s very wrong.
Or, if you trust my math skills, I’ll save you the trouble of looking:
37 of the 50 picked the Red Sox to win the World Series (the computers didn’t pick a WS champion, but they did project the Sawx to have the best record in baseball). In case you’ve forgotten, Boston collapsed and didn’t make the playoffs. Oops.
None… zero… picked the Cardinals to win the World Series… or even be in the World Series. Only ESPN’s Doug Glanville, Peter Pascarelli, Bobby Valentine, Dave Winfield, Joe McDonald and Mark Mulder foresaw the Cards to make the post-season. That’s six out of 50 who believed that the eventual NL champion would even play post-season ball.
But what about their AL Central predictions… and specifically, what did they think the Twins would do? Twelve out of the 50 predicted the Twins would win the Division. Then again, why shouldn’t they? They won the AL Central the previous season, right? So who DID the experts like to claim this Division? Well, for 33 of the 50, that would have been the White Sox. The Tigers, who eventually pretty much lapped the field in the AL Central, were the choice of just five prognostications. Give the computers credit, though, they were the consensus pick of the machines (though the same machines did predict that the Twins would win about 84 games).
All of that considered, why shouldn’t we retain some optimism for our Twins?
Last year’s Opening Day roster was good enough that nearly every media “expert” believed they should at least compete in the AL Central Division. What’s changed? While many don’t believe the rotation is any better, I think that’s just a matter of people having short memories of recent failures. I expect the rotation to be stronger. I also expect the bullpen to be better (there are decent arms on this staff AND a couple of guys in Rochester capable of coming up to help, when necessary).
The bench depth is considerably better. The starting line-up is better, just considering how much healthier Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau are, compared to a year ago. Josh Willingham and Ryan Doumit are at least the equals of Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel offensively. Is there reason to question whether young players like Chris Parmelee, Trevor Plouffe and Luke Hughes can perform at Major League levels over the course of a full season? Of course. Then again, they’re bound to be better than Tsuyoshi Nishioka, Drew Butera and Jason Repko.
So, the question I keep asking myself is this: If last April’s roster was expected to win enough games to contend within the AL Central Division, why shouldn’t the expectations for this roster be similar? To my mind, there’s no reason they shouldn’t have similar expectations, last year’s record aside.
It’s fine to keep expectations in check. There remain concerns with the health of key players like Morneau and Scott Baker. Denard Span still speaks of occasional lingering concussion issues. But from top to bottom, I like the looks of this roster much more than I expected to.
The Tigers are still the smart-money choice to win the AL Central Division and, outside of the White Sox, perhaps, the rest of the division could be better than last year, as well. But I fully expect the Twins to be contending at mid-season. If that turns out to be the case, we’ll find out whether ownership is willing to step up and make a deal or two, even if it means nudging the payroll a bit closer to last year’s level.
No team has ever made the playoffs a year after losing 99 games. Then again, few 99-game losers had as many health issues contribute to their lousy season as the Twins had a year ago, nor have others likely had two former MVPs (both still 30 years old or younger) returning from injury the following season.
Am I expecting greatness out of this Twins team? No, of course not. I’m not expecting more than I expected going in to last season. Then again, I’m not expecting a lot less, either.
My point is… there is reason for hope. And hope is really all that fans of any team have this time of year, because no matter how good the experts say your favorite team is, there are no guarantees. Just ask Red Sox fans.
Real live baseball (in America) begins tonight, before ramping up on Thursday, leading to the Twins’ opener on Friday in Baltimore. With opening ceremonies in mind, here are the Knuckleballs Twins Predictions for 2012:
Pitcher of the Year: Scott Baker (minor early season DL stint not-withstanding) Baker was the best of a bad Twins pitching staff in 2011, despite missing chunks of the season on the Disabled List. I couldn’t tell you why I think he’s going to be healthy and productive this year (which already seems like a bad idea), but I think he will be great. Jim Crikket thinks that Francisco Liriano will be the best pitcher of the year. His spring numbers were very positive, he limited his walks and earned plenty of strike outs. Unfortunately, if you look back just a little farther to his Winter numbers, they’re terrible. Let’s hope the recent results tell more of a story for 2012.
Hitter of the Year: Justin Morneau “Morneau is swinging like I haven’s seen him swing in a couple of years. Vicious cuts.” – Jim Crikket Again, these are only Spring Training at bats, but ever since Morneau flipped the switch and hit two home runs in a game a couple weeks ago he’s been a man on fire. Moving into the DH position and focusing solely on hitting seems to be working for Morneau. Success in 2012 will help distance Morneau from his 2010 concussion and he could be playing first base everyday by the All-Star Break.
Defender of the Year: I wanted to select Alexi Casilla as the defender of the year, hoping against hope that he will remain focused, healthy, and attentive at second base and play more than 100 games for the first time in his career. Jim wanted to go with Denard Span, because for the Twins to succeed in 2012 Span is going to need to cover huge amounts of ground in the left field and right field gaps (gaps which are now wide open with the move to put Josh Willingham and some combination of Trevor Plouffe and Ryan Doumit in the corners).
Rookie of the Year: Chris Parmelee/Liam Hendriks If Parmelee continues to hit like he did last September and this Spring he’ll be a top choice for the Twins’ best rookie. The other candidate, who made the 25 man roster and will open the season in the starting rotation is Liam Hendriks. Hendriks was probably slated to come up after 5-10 AAA starts, but because Scott Baker and Jason Marquis are not ready to start the season Hendriks gets a chance to showcase his skills earlier than anticipated. If he keeps his spot in the rotation when both Baker and Marquis are back you’ll know he’s pitching well and on track to steal a Rookie of the Year award from Parmelee.
Most Valuable Player: Justin Morneau The engine that makes the Twins go is Joe Mauer, but Mauer is even better with a healthy Justin Morneau hitting behind him, forcing pitchers to attack Mauer allowing him to hit doubles all over spacious Target Field and driving in runs for the Twins. If Morneau comes back and is indeed the hitter of the year, selecting him as the MVP will be as much about what he does as an individual, as what he does in the lineup to help those around him.
Comeback Player of the Year: Francisco Liriano Obviously Justin Morneau is a candidate here if he hits well and helps the team succeed, but after a horrendous 2011, if Liriano returns to his 2010 form he’s one of the best players in baseball. If Morneau and Liriano are both All-Stars, this team will be lucky to two potential comeback players on their squad.
Expected Record: The Marcel projections peg the Twins for just a 70-92 record, relying heavily on the Twins’ 2011 results as a predictor of 2012 success (and a heavy dose of regression to the mean). Even if Joe Mauer’s Cindarella Spring Training Clock strikes midnight and he turns in another injury plagued 2012, simply trading Drew Butera for Ryan Doumit means turning a -1.2 WAR into a 1.2 WAR, 2.4 additional wins, and that’s not even factoring in upgraded seasons the Twins are likely to receive from Denard Span, Alexi Casilla, Jamey Carroll (vs. Tsuyoshi Nishioka), Danny Valencia, and at least half of the Twins’ pitching staff. Assuming then that the 70-92 record is the worst that the Twins could do in 2012, what is a reasonable expectation for the Home 9? My best guess, 82-80, Jim Crikket is more optimistic, suggesting even 86-76 for the Twins. Either way, the Twins are going to be competitive, entertaining and might even be relevant in September. Will any of this come to pass? I don’t know, but we’ve got 162 games to find out. Bring on the baseball!
By this point, everyone knows the variables that will determine whether the Twins will have a successful 2012 season, right? Mauer, Morneau, Baker and Span have to stay healthy and the bullpen needs to be vastly improved over last year. We know all of that because every beat writer, columnist and blogger has pointed at those issues over and over again since October.
Sure, if the established veterans all return to the level of productivity we’ve come to expect from them, the Twins should avoid the kind of meltdown they suffered through last season. That said, if the team is going to actually contend in 2012, they’re going to need more. They will need breakout seasons from players that have not yet demonstrated that they belong among the American League’s elite names at their positions.
But where can the Twins expect to find those potential breakout seasons?
The typical arc of a professional baseball player’s career is actually more predictable than one might think. Their prime years are pretty much from ages 26 to 32. We all spent a lot of time discussing the back end of that range during the offseason, as we discussed the pros and cons of offering multi-year contracts to Michael Cuddyer, who is just past that “prime” range, and Joe Nathan, who is well past it.
But when you are looking for potential breakout years, it makes more sense to focus on the front end of the range. The Twins are notorious for bringing their minor league prospects along slowly through the organization and, for a club with a reputation for disregarding advanced statistical analysis, it appears that they may have a basis for this particular proclivity. Projecting that most players hit their strides at age 26, I doubt that it’s a coincidence that most Twins prospects aren’t often starting their Major League careers (and their arbitration clocks) until they’re at least 24 years old. The Twins apparently try to time a player’s Big League debut a year or two before they expect him to break out and become a fully productive Major League ballplayer, then get as much of their peak years as possible while they’re still affordable.
For example, Cuddyer was getting his first real full-time duty with the Twins at age 25 and had his first OPS above .800 (or first OPS+ season over 100, if you prefer that metric) in his age 27 season. Torii Hunter got a taste of the Big Leagues in the season during which he turned 24, but he really figured it out in 2001, the season he turned 26. More recently, Glen Perkins may have made his debut at age 24, but it wasn’t until last year, in his age 28 season, that he carved out a meaningful role for himself with the Twins.
Armed with this knowledge, who should we be looking at in 2012 as having the potential to have breakout seasons? Here’s a list of possible candidates:
Trevor Plouffe turns 26 years old in June. He’s shown some pop in his bat and, let’s be honest, if he had demonstrated passable defensive abilities, he’d be the Twins regular shortstop right now. If he can play a decent outfield, Plouffe could establish himself this season. But few players really get it all figured out in their first full year of regular time in the Show, so we should probably hold off on establishing those expectations of Trevor quite yet. Maybe next year.
The same would be true of pitchers Anthony Swarzak and Kyle Waldrop. Both will be 26 years old pretty much throughout the upcoming season, but given their relative lack of Major League experience, it’s probably not realistic to expect them to have Glen Perkins-like results already this season.
Infielder Luke Hughes is starting his age 27 season and he got a few swings in at the Big League level last year, so we can hope to see him step his game up a little bit. He’s not currently penciled in for a regular starting job, though, so you have to wonder if he’ll get the plate appearances necessary to make significant strides in 2012.
So if those candidates aren’t likely to break out, who will?
First, keep in mind that Denard Span just turned 28 years old a couple of weeks ago, so while he’s arguably already had his breakout season, he’s still on the front side of his peak years. He’s reached the point of being physically mature and has enough experience that he really should no longer be seeing much of anything offensively or defensively for the first time. That being the case, I’d like to see Span take a big step forward with his game this season, assuming he can stay healthy.
Another familiar name on my list of potential breakout seasons is Francisco Liriano. We’ve been waiting for him to have a true breakout season for what seems like forever. Despite having several seasons of Major League experience in the books, Liriano is still just now entering his age 28 season. That’s slightly past our “breakout season” ages, but it’s not too late to see it happen… yet. That said, this is arguably the last year that anyone can make the, “he’s still a young pitcher with potential,” statement, so it’s now or never (at least with the Twins organization) for Frankie.
If it seems like Alexi Casilla has been around forever, too, it’s because he has. He was rushed a bit after being acquired from the Angels for J.C. Romero and his service clock started while he was still just 23 years old. That means he’s just now entering his age 27 season (he turns 28 in July). Casilla has been inconsistent, to say the least. But this season, he’s starting off at what’s arguably his best defensive position, second base, and so far this spring he’s making good contact from his spot at the bottom of the Twins order. The game should finally be slowing down a bit for Lexi and if he can play decent defense while getting on base with regularity, he could play a significant positive role for the Twins in 2012.
Finally, the guy with perhaps the greatest potential for having a true breakout season is third baseman Danny Valencia, who will be 27 years old throughout the first five months of the season. Valencia’s had two full years now to adjust to Big League pitching and there’s no reason he shouldn’t take a major step forward in 2012. Everyone seems to project Valencia as hitting in the #7 spot in the Twins lineup and he very well may start the season there, but if he’s still hitting in the bottom third of the order in August, I’ll be disappointed.
So those are my “breakout season” picks… Liriano, Casilla and Valencia (with some additional improvement also from Span). Talk all you want about Mauer, Morneau, Baker and the bullpen, but in my mind, the Twins’ success, or lack thereof, this season is riding just as much on the ability of these players to make significant strides as any other factor. They are hitting their prime years and it’s time for them to show fans what they’re made of.
You may have heard the news… the Twins fired General Manager Bill Smith Monday and replaced him with his predecessor, Terry Ryan.
The news has been received well among most Twins fans. That’s not surprising. Most of us had lost much of whatever confidence we may have once had in Smith’s talent as a GM and what better guy to replace him with than the GM who gets most of the credit for molding the Twins in to a contender for most of the past decade? It does seem pretty convenient though, doesn’t it, that fans tend to overlook the fact that he also failed miserably at the GM job during his first half dozen or so years in the GM chair. Then again, he was barely over 40 years old when he first got the job and we all know that nobody under 50 knows a damn thing, anyway.
In any event, I’m certainly not disappointed to see Ryan back in charge. It was a good and necessary move by the Twins ownership and top management.
But make no mistake, this move means things are going to be done differently and there will be changes, both at Target Field and across the Twins organization, from the minor leagues to the international scouts and beyond. You might not think that someone with merely an “interim” GM title would have the clout to turn an organization on its head, but this is no ordinary “interim” GM. There is nothing “interim” about his level of authority.
All of this has me thinking a bit about who the potential winners and losers are likely to be when the dust settles on this little internal drama that’s playing out within the team’s front office.
Minor league prospects: If you’re a prospect in the Twins organization and were starting to get concerned that the Twins might go out on the open market and sign a free agent to a multiple-year contract that could essentially block your path to the Big Leagues, you’re a winner in this deal. It wasn’t all that likely to happen in the first place, but now, those chances are considerably smaller.
By association, our friend Seth Stohs over at SethSpeaks.net is a winner, too. Seth lives and breathes minor league baseball and nobody knows that stuff better. I doubt that Seth was ever too concerned that the Twins might become a “trade all your prospects for old guys” organization, but there’s no doubt in my mind that Terry Ryan will make improving the Twins minor league organization a high priority. That’s going to make Seth (and, eventually, the rest of us) very happy.
Ben Revere: Terry Ryan made perfectly clear on Monday that the Twins need to improve their defense. There are questions about whether you’ll ever be a Major League hitter, but if Ryan truly believes that better defense will lead to better pitchers, I think you just got locked in to a starting spot in the 2012 Twins outfield.
Talented prospects buried in other organizations: Terry Ryan’s forte is identifying young talent, whether in his own organization or others, and bringing that talent to the Twins where they get a chance to prove themselves worthy of a shot at the big time. If your organization has been holding you back, there’s a decent chance Ryan already has a file on you that’s about an inch thick. Make sure your agent has Ryan’s number on speed dial.
Wayne Krivsky: It’s been quite a rollercoaster ride for you over the past week. A week ago, you were a frustrated, seldom listened to, advisor in the Mets front office. Then you got the good news… the Twins GM wanted you back in the organization in an advisory capacity. Then you got the bad news… the GM who wanted you back was being canned. Then you got more good news… the new interim GM is your old buddy Terry Ryan and now you’re close enough to sniff your next opportunity to become a Major League GM, once again. That is, if you’re the one person on the planet who actually believes that Terry Ryan is just the “interim” General Manager of the Twins.
Twins Medics: You may have breathed a sigh of relief a while back when Bill Smith stated publicly that there would be no blood-letting among the organization’s doctors and trainers. Better get back to work on those resumes, folks.
Cuddyer, Nathan, Kubel (assuming any of them wanted to return to the Twins for 2012 and beyond): Bill Smith grew to genuinely like certain players and some feel that he allowed those feelings to affect his decisions. Terry Ryan isn’t heartless, but he is first and foremost an evaluator and appraiser of baseball talent. The next time he overpays for the declining years of a player who’s productivity level has arguably peaked will be the first time.
Mike Radcliff: A week ago, you were being mentioned as a possible GM candidate in Baltimore, then the Twins declined to allow the Birds to interview you. Now, your new boss is publicly talking about how you’ve been spread too thin and will have some of your responsibilities reassigned. Word is that you decided you weren’t interested in their job and the Twins “declined permission” for the Orioles to talk to you merely to allow them to save some face. If that’s the case, you may be regretting that decision. Now, instead of the organization’s highest ranking player-personnel guy and heir apparent to Bill Smith, your new boss is twice the baseball man you are and he’s bringing back his former right-hand man in Krivsky. Ouch.
Tsuyoshi Nishioka: There is absolutely no way Terry Ryan would have committed $15 million to acquire you a year ago and given that you embody everything that Ryan feels is wrong with the current roster, your already meager hopes of ever playing another inning of baseball for the Twins just became virtually non-existent. I don’t know where you’ll be playing ball in 2012, but it won’t be in the Twin Cities.
Trevor Plouffe: Did you hear what Ryan said about needing to improve the Twins defense? Yeah… he was talking about you, Trevor. You’re still inexpensive, so if you’ve been improving your glovework, you may get a shot at redemption in Ft. Myers, but you’d better demonstrate marked improvement or you’re going to be the “throw in” player in one of Ryan’s inevitable trades.
Anyone who pitched for the Twins in 2011: Glen Perkins might be the only pitcher on the roster who’s spot is relatively safe. The rest of you, either by virtue of your performance or your contract (or both… see: Blackburn, Nick, et al), are just as likely to be playing elsewhere in 2012 as playing on a Terry Ryan team.
Carl Pavano: I don’t believe for an instant that Ryan would have re-signed you to a two-year deal last offseason. If he can find someone willing to take on most of your remaining salary, I believe you’ll be wearing another uniform in 2012.
Bloggers who spent time assembling a 2012 “blueprint” (unless you didn’t really like your blueprint, in which case you’re in luck because now you can start over and do a new one): Back to the drawing board. Any of us that still want to spend $35 million on free agents need to get creative about figuring out how to cut $15 million from the existing commitments. Then again, we can pretty much rule out the Mark Buehrles and anyone else likely to get several million dollars for multiple years.
TOO EARLY TO TELL:
Ron Gardenhire: You didn’t see eye-to-eye with Smith on a number of personnel issues, so you’re probably feeling pretty good about things right now. But keep in mind that Terry Ryan just actively participated in the firing of one of his best friends. He says he’s going to assemble a team that he thinks should be competitive in 2012. If it isn’t, he’s not going to hesitate for a moment to send you packing, too.
Danny Valencia: On the one hand, Danny, you’re young and cheap and you hit the ball a little bit. On the other hand, your defense is not good and some reports indicate you’re not exactly the prototypical “Twins guy” in the clubhouse. That may not have been a big deal a week ago, but there is absolutely nobody in the organization that’s more of a believer in the “Twins Way” than Terry Ryan. If you thought Gardy was anal about that kind of thing, you’re REALLY gonna love the new sheriff in town.
Denard Span and Alexi Casilla: I’m honestly not sure what Terry will do with you two. You’re not gold-glovers in the field, but by comparison to almost everyone else the Twins have on defense, you almost look the part. I suspect he will start his purge elsewhere, but your salaries are getting to the point where Ryan starts to think he can find someone comparable for less money. Not to mention, you may be two of the few members of the current roster with actual trade value.
Fans: I stand by my previous statements that fans should not accept a slashed payroll without loud objection. We can hold out some hope that Ryan was just tossing out numbers during the press conference and, by the time spring rolls around, the payroll is pretty close to the 2011 levels. At any rate, if (and this is a very big “if”) Ryan can actually unload some dead weight and replace it with players who can actually… you know… play baseball, then fans may be pleasantly surprised with the results.
What are your thoughts? Who do you project to be the big “winners” and “losers” under the Terry Ryan Regime, Part Deux? Tell us what you think in the comments section.
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.”
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.
This is it. Game 162. The last game of the season.
For the Twins, anyway.
In case you haven’t been paying attention, the two Wild Card races are heading in to game 162 in a dead heat. The Rays and Red Sox could still have to play a game 163, as could the Cardinals and Braves. I have to say, as frustrating as it is being a Twins fan right now, being a Red Sox or Braves fan and having to face the prospect of watching your team totally collapse your way right out of the playoffs before they even start might be even tougher. Anyway, there are four games certainly worth keeping an eye on tonight.
Finally, in the “if Ted Williams were alive, he’d kick your ass” category, we have Jose Reyes. Reyes entered the day with the narrowest of leads over the Brewers’ Ryan Braun for the NL Batting Title. In his first PA today, Reyes laid down a bunt and beat it out… then promptly told his manager to remove him from the game in order to put his lead over Braun in the bank. Why? Because he’s a pending free agent and his agent thinks he can get more money on the open market with that batting title in his pocket. I’ve never liked Reyes much and never really had a good reason why. Now I do.
Tonight is not only the Twins’ last game of the season, but also John Gordon’s final game as the voice of the Twins on the radio. Gordo isn’t what he used to be (then again, who of us is?), but he’s been an icon of the organization for many Twins fans for a very long time. We wish him all the best.
This will also be the last game in a Twins uniform for a number of players… we just don’t know exactly which ones, yet. Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel, Joe Nathan and Matt Capps all could be free agents. Kubel, Nathan and Capps aren’t probably going to see action, but I hope fans find a way to express their appreciation for the years of service that Cuddyer, Kubel and Nathan, in particular, have given the organization.
At least I get a momentary break over the lunch hour to put up a gamechat but work calls and I’ll have to head out again when the game starts so I won’t be able to join in…
Nishioka is back on the bench with soreness today and Repko is getting a shot filling the Span/Revere spot in the roster today. I have to admit, I really enjoy watching him play even though he’s not really anything spectacular. He just has a way of making something happen you weren’t expecting and I like that.
I would like it a LOT if the boys could avoid the sweep today.. I really would.
The Twins rudely played this game while I was having to work, so all I know about it is what I’ve read via various social networking sources. Seems the guys lit up Jake Peavy in the first inning, Scott Diamond pitched well through six innings, Matt Capps safely maneuvered through the 7th and then everyone had to hold on tight while Glen Perkins and Joe Nathan allowed the BitchSox to get within one run with runners on base at the end.
Glancing at the GameChat, it appears the one lonely soul who was there at the end of the game declared support for Trevor Plouffe for Boyfriend of the Day, on the strength of his two hits, three assists and, perhaps most notably, no errors in the field. Thus, Trevor is our BOD! – JC
If it’s the All-Star Break, then it must be time for fans to start talking about trades. We are, after all, just past the mid-point of the season and the non-waiver trade deadline is less than three weeks away.
At this point there are three kinds of teams… obvious buyers, obvious sellers and everyone else. The Twins are in that “everyone else” category because they haven’t established themselves as an obvious contender nor have they fallen so far back in the standings that they have virtually no chance of becoming contenders.
So, that means everyone is (or soon will be) posing the question, “Should the Twins Buy or Sell?” To me, the answer is… “Yes, if the price is right.”
What’s that you say, it wasn’t a “yes or no” question? Too bad.
July trades generally are made between two parties, one a contender and one… well… not. The contender (or “buyer”) has a spot or two to fill to help push them to the top of the standings and/or prepare them to be a stronger playoff team. Their GM has to be willing to do one of two things… or both… (a) give up highly rated prospects or young (read: cheap) MLB-ready players; and/or (b) take on significant salary owed to an established (and often overcompensated) veteran player.
The other party to these trades (the “seller”) has some highly paid veteran players that are either having good seasons or have put up good numbers recently enough that a contending team might be willing to bet they could help put their team over the top this season and that team is looking to restock with young players that will help next season… and for several years to come. They also are likely looking to shed some salary because they recognize attendance is going to be dropping the rest of the season.
I think the Twins, thanks to the very weird season they’ve endured, find themselves in a unique position… they’ve pressed a lot of young players in to Major League action and many of them have performed well enough to demonstrate that they fit the “MLB-ready” criteria that “sellers” are wanting in return for established players. They also find themselves with an abundance of veteran outfielders and pitchers… many of whom will be free agents at the end of this season… that could be attractive to contending “buyers”. Finally, they’re already certain to exceed 3 million in paid attendance, so there’s no need at all to consider shedding salary to be a factor.
It amazes me how many suggestions I’ve read that the Twins trade a Denard Span or a Delmon Young for established relief pitching. That’s absurd on two levels. First, nobody who has top veteran relief pitching to trade is likely to look for expensive veterans in return. They’re going to want young players they can continue to pay the league minimum to for a while. Also, you simply don’t trade players of the quality of Span, Young, Cuddyer, etc., for relief pitching. Ever. MAYBE you trade your Rene Tosonis and Trevor Plouffes… legitimate prospects (but not future superstars), guys you can (and likely will) find a way to live without in the future… for relief pitchers. The Twins SHOULD be “buyers”… they SHOULD get relief help… and they have enough decent young talent to use for that purpose. There are a lot of decent relievers (meaning better than what the Twins have been trotting out there for middle relief) on the market so it should be a buyer’s market. There’s no need to overpay.
At the same time, the Twins have demonstrated that they can compete without the likes of Delmon Young, Denard Span, and Jason Kubel in the line up. The question is… should they trade away a veteran or two and continue to try to compete without them? If the price is right, sure, why not?
Of course, you do not just give any of these guys away. Even those who are going to be free agents are likely to be good for compensatory supplemental draft picks if they walk away at the end of the season. But because guys like Ben Revere, Luke Hughes, Anthony Swarzak, and Glen Perkins have demonstrated they can be relied upon to play a role with a contending team, the Twins CAN afford to deal SOME of their veterans and still remain in contention in the AL Central Division. If Twins GM Bill Smith can get real prospects in return for one of his outfielders or one of his pitchers, he should go ahead and do it. Would that mean running a risk in the event the Twins get hit with more injuries? Absolutely… but a GM’s job is to evaluate and take acceptable risks.
But what if the Twins do none of this? What if Smith takes a summer vacation and leaves his phone in the Twin Cities? Can the Twins compete if they do nothing at all?
Well, I still think getting some relief help is important, but otherwise… yeah… the Twins could stand pat and make a serious run the second half of the season… and in to the playoffs. How is that possible?
It’s possible because, even if Bill Smith takes that long summer vacation, he will be adding three quality veteran players by the July 30 deadline and another… a former MVP… by the August 30 waiver-deal deadline. Delmon Young has been reactivated and Denard Span sounds like he won’t be far behind. Jason Kubel should be returning not long afterward. Justin Morneau’s recovery seems on target for mid August. Name me a contending team that wouldn’t give a boatload to get four players like that over the next 5 weeks! And Smith doesn’t have to give up a thing.
And here’s the bonus, in my mind… many teams (including past Twins teams) expend so much emotion and energy trying to make the surge necessary to dig out of a deficit in the standings that their tank is empty in September and October. They’re worn out mentally and beat up physically. But most of the Twins top players shouldn’t be feeling worn down. Mauer, Morneau, Young, Kubel, Span… they’ll all be far fresher than most players at that point in the season.
The Twins also have enough starting pitching, with Swarzak, Kevin Slowey and Kyle Gibson (again, we’re assuming the GM makes no deals) ready to step in, that any member of the current rotation who gets as much as a hangnail could be DL’d for 14 days, allowed to get rested up, and come back strong.
This is not the time for Bill Smith to overspend. He doesn’t need… in fact can’t afford… another trade where he gives up a top prospect for a relief pitcher, like the Ramos-for-Capps deal a year ago. He can afford to wait for a trading partner who’s willing to overspend and, if necessary, settle for a moderate deal for middle relief help.
I hope he shows patience because God knows the blogging world is likely to urge otherwise.