Friday, October 21, 2011

Experience Still Matters

Before the 2011 season got underway, I expressed some shock that the Twins hadn't sought out veteran depth to back up their young starting infielders. The roster looked especially thin in the middle infield, where I noted that, since 2006, the two Opening Day starters had missed at least 97 games between them every year. The following paragraph summarized the problem:
Whether because of injury, poor performance or trade, the Twins have annually gotten far fewer games than expected from their season-opening keystone combos. Unless Casilla and Nishioka can miraculously shatter that trend, we should expect to see other players getting significant time in the middle infield this year.
As it turned out, Alexi Casilla and Tsuyoshi Nishioka did not shatter that trend. Quite the contrary. Between injuries and sheer ineffectiveness, they missed more time than any other duo over the past six years, playing in only 165 games combined. This left a lot of middle-infield work in the hands of players like Matt Tolbert, Trevor Plouffe, Brian Dinkelman and Luke Hughes; as you saw, the results were not pretty.

The Twins clearly underrated the importance of experienced depth in the infield last year, a mistake they are unlikely to repeat. After sitting through a season marred by booted grounders, errant throws, missed relays and plain old lousy fundamentals, Ron Gardenhire has undoubtedly stated his desire for the front office to shore up this unit.

So, what's out there? Among the free agent crop, some names that pop out at me are Ramon Santiago, Cesar Izturis, John McDonald, Edgar Renteria, Nick Punto and Jamey Carroll.

I realize that none of these options are all that enthralling. They're not high-impact, premium names and in some cases they shouldn't be viewed as starting candidates. But these are veterans who have been around the block, and since the Twins seem unlikely to break the bank for a player like Jose Reyes or Jimmy Rollins, they are the types of infielders I expect to see targeted in the coming months.

18 comments:

mgraves said...

As long as whoever it is can pick up and throw the ball to first, he'll be an improvement over shortstop du jour of last season. If he can hit his weight that would be a bonus.

Jack Steal said...

Nick,

I really like Ramon Santiago!! However, I don't see him coming to Minnesota and Detroit most likely will resign him. What are your thoughts on Santiago? What about St. Paul native Jack Hannahan to play 2B and we move Casilla to SS. I will repeat again that you were right about J.J. Hardy.

It seems rather humerous to me that all the major holes on the Twins (SS, backup catcher) were created by the wonderful GM Bill Smith. I thought his job was to fill holes. It's absolutely amazing to me that with a poor economy, this two-rate bum still has a job. Twins will never win until they start firing people like Smith, St. Peter, Gardenhire, Anderson, and Vavra. Simply put the Pohlad family is too nice.

Anonymous said...

Jack Steal, do you ever read back what you actually write? The Twins have done nothing but win for the last 10 years (with the exception of one year). All of those guys were somehow involved in the organization during that entire time period. Your revisionist history is really obnoxious.

Anonymous said...

Continuing: fire everybody isn't always the right answer!

Ed Bast said...

"The Twins have done nothing but win for the last 10 years."

Yep, the only teams to win more playoff games in the AL over that time frame are Detroit, Chicago, Cleveland, New York, Boston, Tampa, Texas, Anaheim, and Oakland. We're #10!

Anonymous said...

Obviously, I was talking about the regular season. If you want to judge the playoffs as the be-all, end-all, be my guest, but you have to make it there in the first place to have a chance.

Jack Steal said...

"Fire everybody isn't always the right answer."

Let me try to explain this to some of you light-headed thinkers who should go through life wearing a helmet.

-The team just lost 99 games and balmed it injuries.

-Nobody on training staff will lose their jobs. Essentially no changes have been made.

-Ron Gardenhire has lost 12 straight playoff games and has more player talent and larger payrolls than Tom Kelly couldn of ever imagined.

-Ron Gardenhire is like 20-64 lifetime vs the New York Yankees.

-GM Bill Smith has made 4 of the worst trades in team history (Santana, Young, Capps, Hardy). He let Young go for nothing and refused to get prospects for future free agents at trade deadline.

-Hitting coach Joe Vavra and his hitting the ball the other way (Twins philosphy) is a joke. See Casey Blake, David Ortiz, J.J. Hardy, and recently Delmon Young for more information on that. They all turned into really good players once they fled this organization.

-Rick Anderson is a complete idiot and has ruined LHP Francisco Liriano and telling him to pitch to contact. Liriano will win a CY Young award winner once he leaves. See Luis Ayala, Klye Loshe, and Matt Garza as most recent examples of this.

-The minor league system is in shambles with our best prospect being in Elizabethton (Miguel Sano).

If you (Anonymous)think this team does not need some serious changes at the management level than your positive thinking classes are paying off. Keep sending those checks to Dale Carnege. This team is in desperate need of major and sweeping change to get them back on track.

Anonymous said...

i hope the twins sign mark ellis.. or maybe clint barmes at ss..

Santiago isnt very good.. neither gonzales..

Mike said...

@Jack

Wow, all those bad moves and they still managed to make the playoffs for most of Gardy's tenure. Impressive. At least for a helmet wearer like me.

Your explanations are pretty lacking, though. First, I don't like to use the injury excuse very often and can think of a time before this past season where I thought it was appropriate, at least not for a Minnesota team. Take a look at the lineup that was out there for much of the season- there were a ton of AAA kids trying to play in the MLB.

Like anonymous said, if you want to judge success solely on the playoffs, go ahead. But you have to make it there first, which the Twins have been able to do just about as consistently as anyone. Yeah, Gardy's record against NYY is bad, but IMO, it's pretty silly to isolate performance against one team to override everything else.

Casey Blake barely played with the Twins. It isn't uncommon for a guy to perform well after his initial brief stints in the MLB. He had 112 at-bats in the MLB when his time with Minnesota was done. The Santana trade had to happen as Minnesota was unable to keep him. Analyzing trades in retrospect is always easier; although, since none of us are in the position of GM, we don't know what offers were really on the table. We just know rumors.

The biggest joke in that example, though, is Delmon Young. Young barely played for Detroit and I sincerely doubt that his better hitting was the result of the hitting coach. I watched Delmon play enough times for Detroit to know that his approach didn't change in the slightest. The guy is, frankly, just erratic with a ton of potential. He lit up opposing pitchers for much of 2010, too.

I think that some changes should be made, but I don't think a reaction of fire everybody associated with the Twins is the correct response. That's typically what I hear from the casual fan that sees a losing record and thinks a complete overhaul is what's needed and will instantly make the team winners. I think that Bill Smith has done an overall terrible job. I have serious questions about the training staff; maybe it's just been bad luck for the Twins' players, but it seems like they get injured more frequently and take longer to recover than players on other teams. I know at some point this season, JJ Hardy noted to the media that there was a pretty distinct difference between Baltimore's training staff and Minnesota's.

rghrbek said...

Mike,

I am not saying I agree with everything that Jack is stating (I may agree with his comments in general, but not with such conviction), however, when assessing the job Gardy has done, we have to look at one over riding factor.

The AL Central, in general, has been the worst division in baseball over his tenure managing. I am not saying Gardy is a bad manager, I'm just saying he's not that good. In those 10 years he has a losing record against the AL East and the AL West. That means he's made his hay due to the unbalanced schedule (which should go away). If you like winning the division and getting a false sense of security based off that, then that's your deal. I want to root for teams that have a chance to win in the playoffs, and stay viable over the long term. Winning the worst division in baseball doesn't do anything for me as it did in 2002.

As far as billy smith goes, he's been a train wreck. Although the Twins have had decent teams recently, those of us who pay attention to the minor leagues, have seen how devoid of talent the Twins have become, with nobody to help anytime soon. That's on the GM.

I just don't think people realize how perilous the Twins are to becoming a cellar dweller for the next 5 years. It's not going to be pretty.

Ed Bast said...

"I think that some changes should be made."

You and every other Twins fan out there. So why is it that the organization refuses to do so?

Honestly, I keep thinking about this. How do you, as an organization coming off a 99-loss season, refuse to change anything?

Let's say you're a sales manager. Your division just had the worst year in the 50-year history of the company. Do you just brush it off and say, well, it was unlucky. Hopefully we'll do better next year.

No. You change. You adapt. You evolve. You make some difficult decisions. You develop a plan. Or your company doesn't survive.

Jaden K said...

To quote Jack Steal: "See Luis Ayala, Klye Loshe, and Matt Garza as most recent examples of this."

How many Cy Young awards did those guys win? 0.
Does Garza even pitch for TB anymore? No.
Who does Ayala play for?
Lohse is definitely winning 20 games a year...except he isn't.
What's his ERA? Sub-3.00, right? Oh, wait, it isn't.
You suck. Check your facts. And your grammar sucks too. Go back to school, knucklehead.

Laches said...

"Yep, the only teams to win more playoff games in the AL over that time frame are Detroit, Chicago, Cleveland, New York, Boston, Tampa, Texas, Anaheim, and Oakland. We're #10."

---So the regular season doesn't count? By that logic Jim Edmonds was a far better power hitter than the Killer. He had 13 playoff homers to Harmon's 3!

While the Twins have had more than their share of playoff disappointments over the last decade, and that has been extremely frustrating, I hardly think that 'number of playoff games won' is an effective way to judge the overall success of an organization during a given time.

Yes, the Tigers won more playoff games. They made the playoffs twice and made good runs both times. But they've otherwise ranged from disappointing (high-payroll teams with high expectations that went nowhere) to heartbreaking (the 2009 late-season flop) to downright dreadful (119 losses in '03).

Cleveland won some playoff games during their '07 run, but that was also the only time they made it in the last 10 years. They only had 1 other winning season in that time frame.

So I think it's a stretch to say those teams (or Oakland, Tampa or even Texas for that matter) had better decades overall that the Twins..

Jack Steal said...

Jaden K,

Luis Ayala played for the N.Y. Yankees in 2011 and had 2.09 ERA in 56 IP. This is the reliever Anderson and Gardy said used his slider too much and they gave up on him after a two months in 2009.

Matt Garza has thrown over 184-200 IP in every season since being traded in 2007 and has a lifetime 3.83 ERA. Anderson and Gardy did not like that he threw so many fastballs. Big mistake and also the 2007 ALCS MVP.

Kyle Loshe was a disaster with the Twins but since being traded he has won 51 games and thrown over 853.2 innings.

Yup no CY Young award winners in there. The point is when this kucklehead coaching staff gives up on pitchers too soon they become pretty good players somewhere else.

Hey M-O-R-A-N go drink some more of that tasty Twins kool-aid.

Ed Bast said...

"So I think it's a stretch to say those teams (or Oakland, Tampa or even Texas for that matter) had better decades overall that the Twins."

The Twins have been consistently competitive in the confines of their crappy division, yes. That's undeniably impressive considering their payroll constraints in the early parts of the decade. But the playoffs have to be considered. Which Twins team do you remember more fondly: the '06 team (best reg. season in franchise history) or the '91 team?

My comment was in response to the suggestion that "all we do is win". Not in the playoffs. I wish fans and the organization would be realistic about what has happened in the past in order to develop the best path forward. By resting on the laurels of division titles and ignoring the playoff embarrassments, it establishes a culture of mediocrity that deludes people into believing, for example, that a 99-loss season is cosmic misfortune and that nothing whatsoever needs to change.

Be realistic. Yes, 6 division titles are nice. 1 playoff series win in 20 years is not. This organization is not some golden model of success. We don't "do things differently." The "Twins Way" is not morally superior to other team philosophies.

Face it, folks: we need to rebuild. Before we can do that, everyone in Twins Territory needs to be honest about the situation. Don't dwell on the past ten years. Dwell on the next ten.

Anonymous said...

"Honestly, I keep thinking about this. How do you, as an organization coming off a 99-loss season, refuse to change anything?"

Obviously they are going to change some things.

I think I finally understand Jack. He played too much football without a helmet.

"The AL Central, in general, has been the worst division in baseball over his tenure managing."

Even if true, there are four other teams in the division who weren't able to take advantage of this.

" Delmon Young for more information on that. They all turned into really good players once they fled this organization."

Actually, Delmon Young's numbers with Detroit during the regular season were very similar to his career numbers with the Twins. Of course, Young was much better than that in 2010 and worse for the Twins in 2011.

"Let's say you're a sales manager. Your division just had the worst year in the 50-year history of the company."

No, you fire all those realtors because they didn't sell enough houses. You can't blame the housing market.

"Luis Ayala played for the N.Y. Yankees in 2011 and had 2.09 ERA in 56 IP"

Ayala spent 2010 at AAA. Maybe he learned something there. That example is about as silly as they come. Lohse hasn't pitched for the Twins in 6 years. Until this year, his numbers have been worse, despite pitching in the National League.

"The point is when this kucklehead coaching staff gives up on pitchers too soon they become pretty good players somewhere else."

As we saw this year, to win now, you need players who are ready now.

Shane Wahl said...

After Barmes, who I think is really the best viable option, I sincerely would like Edgar Renteria. He is still average defensively and is a winner. I usually don't like having players just because they are winners, but I was thinking about various options for the Twins to fill out the roster and Renteria and I-Rod come to mind. If Thome decides to return, adding these three would at least be the most interesting if replacement players are all the Twins are really going to get (plus Thome). It the team is only .500 it would still be fun to watch these veterans, two of which are hall of famers and the third has two rings.

Nick N. said...

Good ol' Jack.