Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Beams of Light

It's been a season full of malady and sorrow for the Minnesota Twins, and last night's Triple-A lineup might have exemplified this more than ever. Plenty of time has been spent -- and will be spent -- going over all the things that went wrong and all the things that must be done to get this franchise back on track.

Today, I thought I'd take a break from the doom-and-gloom, and grasp for some positives within this pitiful season. Believe it or not, there are a few (and I do mean few) things we can look at for encouragement. They're listed below, as I see them. Feel free to add your own.

1. High draft pick in 2012.

This stands out as perhaps the most significant bonus to come out of the Twins' lousy performance this season. At present, only two teams in baseball have a worse record, which puts Minnesota in line for the third overall pick in next year's draft. If they continue to tank here in the final month, which seems likely based on where things are headed, that slot could continue to improve.

Between Miguel Sano, Aaron Hicks, Oswaldo Sosa, Eddie Rosario and Adrian Salcedo, the organization's most intriguing minor-league talent rests in the lower levels. Next June the Twins will have the opportunity to add one of the top amateur players in the nation to that mix, so in three or four years we could be looking a truly exciting wave of youth at Target Field.

2. Experience for the kids.

Trevor Plouffe and Ben Revere have accrued more at-bats than expected this year, and while both have experienced their share of growing pains, that's not necessarily such a bad thing.

The Twins will be in a financial crunch next season, so the ability to use players who are making the league minimum in starting roles would be hugely beneficial. It's not clear that either Plouffe or Revere are ready to be assets as starters yet, but they both will enter the offseason with a good idea of where they need to improve in order to get there.

3. Sense of urgency for the front office.

Since 2002, the Twins' three most successful seasons -- in terms of wins -- have been 2004, 2006 and 2010. Not coincidentally, the offseasons that followed have been the front office's three least active during that span. If there's one thing the Twins have shown over the years, it's that success makes them complacent.

As bad as things have gotten, Bill Smith and Co. won't have that luxury this winter. Fans will be hungry for a shake-up, and over the years the team has generally been willing to provide just that in the wake of a disappointing campaign.

After the the Twins missed the playoffs in 2005, Terry Ryan traded prospects for Luis Castillo, shoring up a longstanding hole at second base. After the club finished below .500 in 2007, Smith took over and made several big moves, including the Delmon Young and Johan Santana trades.

What will the front office have in store for us this winter? You can bet some significant moves will be coming. Let's just hope they do more good than the rest of Smith's tinkering over the past 12 months.


jokin said...

The Twins will be in a financial crunch next season...

Did you enter a time warp back to 1995? The new ballpark changed everything (or so we were told). I haven't seen the revenue streams, but I've got to believe there has been no $$$ crunch with the Twins near the top of the MLB in attendance the last two years. Couple that with up to $40 million coming off the payroll with the departure of Young and Thome for sure, and possible-to-likely, Nathan, Capps, Slowey, Cuddyer, Kubel, and who knows, maybe even Pavano, if the right offer comes along? If they commit to the same type of payroll ($115 million) they have the ability to fill the holes in pithing, catcher and MIs with the right trades, minor league promotions and FA acquisitions

The only "crunch" has been an organization ridiculously in over its head, as far as transitioning the culture to a team that wants to match payroll strategies with the big market teams. They are learning the hard way about the risks inherent in signing long-term, no trade and other player-control incentives, the big teams know they will have about a 25% non-performance cost built into their payrolls around guys that get injured or stop producing as their contracts are winding down. The Twins handcuffed themselves into a corner with a slew of big dollar contract players who couldn't perform.

It's obvious from GM Bill Smith's patented- deer-in-the-headlights-non-decision-making-beauracratic-inertia- as to whether he was a a "buyer" or a "seller" back in July, that the Twins haven't gotten up to speed on the need to have a Plan B, a Plan C, etc, ready to implement when Plan A fizzles badly, as happened in 2011.

Ed Bast said...

As jokin notes, the Twins better not be "in a financial crunch" next year, or else the whole we-need-Target Field-to-be-competitive bit we heard for 10 years will prove to have been yet another lie from an organization that, let's face it, treats its fans like garbage (e.g, raising ticket prices after 1 year).

And front office urgency? Most likely they'll chalk up this year 100% to injuries, but even if they do feel the need to make changes, God help us. This is a front office that got nothing for Santana, Garza, Hardy, Ramos, etc. This is an organization that committed $15 mil to perhaps the worst everyday player in the major leagues. God help us.

I've been saying for a while now that this organization was headed the way of the Wild. It's already happened. Bill Smith has run this franchise into the ground. The sense of urgency needs to come from the Pohlads. We cannot entrust this crucial offseason to Bill Smith and co. We need a GM who will shake up this organization top to bottom, from the way we draft and develop players to the training staff to roster construction to clubhouse expectations to the overall arrogance and complacency of the front office.

Step 1: admit the "Twins Way" isn't working. Look at it this way: 1 playoff series win since '91. One series in 20 years. Time to honestly re-evaluate the organization to set us up for more than 1 win in the next 20.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, where is the financial crunch thing coming from?

And how is Bill Smith being active a good thing? You cite the Garza and Santana trades as evidence of good things to come? Okaaaay...

And it can make sense to not be very active after strong seasons. In the Twins' case, it meant they had good young players who could be expected to produce similar results the following year.

This 2011 team was doomed by the injuries. It would have taken very skilled MLB-ready depth at AAA to keep this team competitive this season.

Mac said...

Bast says it all - and quite well. What is probably going to irritate me the most is that this situation is going to be blamed entirely on injuries, DickBert and the other shameless shills have begun this campaign already. The insult to the intelligence of the true fan who pays attention, not to mention the outright arrogance is astonishing. Injuries have, indeed, been disasterous, but this storm has been gathering for much longer than the FO will admit - or address.

Anonymous said...

Mac, how can it not be the injuries? You think this wouldn't be a COMPLETELY different team if it had typical health?

Keeping last season's bullpen and Hardy would NOT have made up for the injuries.

Anonymous said...

Injuries are a major part of the problem, combined with Starting Pitching. The bullpen doesn’t matter… If Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau are healthy and playing the way they should the Twins are 10 games better and probably wouldn’t have this kind of free fall. I agree with others as I see no financial crunch they could actually take 50 million off the books if they trade Liriano and non-tender Slowey. Which would be great. Some think the Twins payroll will go to 120 million next year. Reusse thinks it would be around 105 million. I think it’s the same of around 112 million. It should be sustainable they will draw 3 million fans this year. Look for a top 10 payroll.
Obviously, I’ve disliked Plouffe from the start and he has shown nothing to change that. Revere is somewhat intriguing his UZR is off the charts. I haven’t looked it up but my guess his average for balls in play is low and he has been hitting somewhat unlucky. He may be an asset. Hendriks and Benson are guys that really intrigue me with Parmelee maybe being a nice bench addition. If you use Benson, Span and Revere to start in the outfield and add Hendriks as a 5th starter and Parmelee as a infield/outfield bench bat you saved a bunch of money already while creating the best outfield defense in the majors and having a potential solid 5th starter making the minimum. That outfield also would make about 4 million. So you have dropped 50 million off payroll replaced certain positions for cheap. You can then go out and look at premium free agents to fill starting pitching, shortstop, and a DH spot. Since the outfield will have hitting growing pains you really need guys who can hit at the DH spot and short. They have to spend some long term money on premium guys. Not castoffs. Even with some big contracts the Twins still have flexibility because Pavano 8.5 million and Morneau 15 million come off the books after 2012 and 2013. That’s big money out of the way. Miguel Sano, Oswaldo Arcia and Aaron Hicks are big time prospects that are coming up and Alex Wimmers is back on track. Michael Levi could pan out as well. Top that with a top 3 draft pick next year and things look really bright for the Twins.

Nick N. said...

Did you enter a time warp back to 1995? The new ballpark changed everything (or so we were told). ... The Twins handcuffed themselves into a corner with a slew of big dollar contract players who couldn't perform.

You sort of answered your own question. The financial crunch I spoke of stems from a number of sizable contracts for players whose status is in doubt -- heck, Mauer and Morneau account for $37M by themselves.

If the Twins bring back Kubel, Cuddyer and Liriano, their payroll is going to be around $100M. If they don't bring those guys back, they'll have to find players to replace them, and that won't be cheap if you want similar production. Oh, and they need to find a quality starting pitcher and rebuild their entire bullpen. I don't expect them to spend much over $100 million on payroll next year, so yeah, I do think money will be a little tighter than many of you folks seem to expect.

And how is Bill Smith being active a good thing?

This team might lose 100 games. Change is good. I'm not saying I have the utmost faith in this front office right now but they're not a bunch of blithering idiots either.

You can then go out and look at premium free agents to fill starting pitching, shortstop, and a DH spot.

Like who? There aren't going to be a whole lot of "premium free agents" at those positions.

Anonymous said...

Cuddyer and Kubel are mediocre players. If say, you sign Cuddyer to 12 million and Kubel to 8 million a year (nuts) and they keep Liriano (nuts) 6 million a year the Twins payroll comes out to be around 94 million. I doubt they sign both or at least I hope. I hope they get rid of them all as they can be replaced in house for the minimum.
Michael Cuddyer is a slightly above average hitter who is a horrible fielder at all positions he tries to play. That’s a fact.
Jason Kubel is a good hitter against righties who is a horrible fielder and really only a platoon hitter. That’s a fact. I’m supposed to be impressed these guys have 18 and 12 homers with OBP around 347 and 337 while paying them top dollar? No thanks, if the Twins do keep these guys they have created payroll where they actually have guys available to replace them. Joe Benson can hit 18 homers while hitting 230 with an OBP of 300 while playing superior defense for the minimum. To me that’s worst case scenario for him and I’d take that against Cuddyer if the Twins go out and replace a position of need.
There are plenty of top guys out there at the positions the Twins need. Lance Berkman has statistically been one of the top 5 best hitters this year he would be a DH. CJ Wilson is an ace starting Pitcher. Jose Reyes is a top shortstop. Sign even one of those guys and you improve your club by 4 wins. I’m not saying it’s going to happen but the Twins have the money and those guys play positions the Twins need big time.
Other guys that would seriously help the Twins that are available – David Ortiz DH, Prince Fielder DH/1B, Omar Infante SS/2B, Jimmy Rollins SS, Ramon Hernandez C, Chris Snyder C, Mark Buehrle CP and Roy Oswalt should also be available.

Ben said...

I'd say Bill Smith was very active this past off-season in gutting a team that won 94 games last year. Our middle infield was A)too uppity and B) in the training room talking about single-handedly winning games and the bullpen had too many guys not named Matt Capps. He addressed those problems with aplomb.

For all the talk about how injuries have hurt this team, everyone seems to ignore that Nishioka's injury helped the team. How many more would they have lost if he was actually playing for those 2 months? I say no fewer than 4.

At least now though we'll get a good pick to use on a soft-tossing college right-handed pitcher who never walks anybody because nobody needs to see more than 3 pitches before they get one they can send into orbit.

USAFChief said...

Explaining away 2011 through injuries alone is convenient, but ignores the weaknesses of this organization that were apparent on opening day.

2012 doesn't look very appealing at this point, and looks even worse when you consider the Twins are very likely to keep Bill Smith in place.

Tricia said...

Bright spots: Liriano's messy no-hitter against the White Sox, Thome's 600th HR while wearing a Twins uni, Ben Revere's highlight catches, and let's not forget Luke Hughes' Aussie accent.

jokin said...

You sort of answered your own question. The financial crunch I spoke of stems from a number of sizable contracts for players whose status is in doubt -- heck, Mauer and Morneau account for $37M by themselves.

Yes, but I answered more fully than you intimated. Other big-payroll clubs with more experience with big-time contracts have fallback Plan Bs, Plan Cs, etc. when/if Plan A fails. You can't hamstring your team for 3+ years if you don't have optional courses to take. There were examples all around them to take notes on, and learn from: Look at Tampa Bay, Florida and Arizona for teams that learned the hard way on reaching the pinnacle of success, dismantling, rebuilding, reloading and retooling for future success. Sadly, the St Peter/Smith regime will, in effect, have to "reinvent the wheel", meaning an unnecessarily longer "trip to the wilderness" ala Twins 1971-1986, 1993-2000.

TT said...

"the offseasons that followed have been the front office's three least active during that span"

The front office was not "active" last offseason? That is ridiculous. For instance, they traded away Hardy and signed Nishioka to the three year contract. You might not like the result, but it wasn't for lack of activity.

They let Crain, Guerrier, Rauch and added a bunch of players as options for the bullpen. Again, you might not like those moves, but they were not a result of inactivity.

They also resigned Pavano as a free agent.

The complaint is really that they didn't make a bunch of moves some fans supported such as signing Liriano to a multi-year contract, or non-tendering Capps, Casilla and Perkins. Or stocking the bullpen with overpriced middle-relievers with good 2010 seasons. Or signing an "ace".

Frankly, we ought to expect a lot less activity this offseason. The big issues are going to be whether to hang on to Nathan, Kubel and Cuddyer. I don't think they are going to try to keep Capps, but they might offer him arbitration if he isn't a Type A free agent.

The Twins have way too many holes to fill them by spending on free agents. They really have only two starters set, Pavano and Baker. They have one guy in the bullpen, Perkins. They have one guy in the middle infield, Casilla.

They also have three guys, Mauer, Morneau and Span, whose health is a big question. They aren't going to sign backups for those three that are going to keep the team competitive for very long.

What the Twins have a bunch of young players that are going to have to continue to develop for them to be competitive next year. Guys like Plouffe, Revere, Hughes, Swarzak, Diamond, Burnett, Oliveros, Guttierez and Hendriks. You can add Guerra and Parmelee to that list by the end of next season.

And they are going to need to have their young, and no-longer young, veterans like Mauer, Span, Baker, Blackburn, Slowey, Duensing, Liriano, Casilla, Nishioka and Valencia to have better years.

Next season does not depend on what the Twins do in the off-season. If they don't stay healthy and/or they don't get any improvement from within they aren't going to be competitive. No matter how much money they have to spend or how they spend it.