Thursday, January 12, 2012

Are the Twins Delusional?

In Sunday's edition of the Star Tribune, Patrick Reusse suggested that the Twins – like the Vikings – are deluded in their assessment of being able to compete in the short-term.

He's certainly not alone in his stance. Almost every day, whether here in the comments section, or on Twitter, or on other blogs and media outlets, I see people grumbling about the approach being taken by the Twins' front office this winter.

The team lost 99 games last year. Do they honestly believe in their asserted convictions that a return to contention in 2012 is possible, or is this lip service aimed at stimulating ticket sales? If it's the latter, why are they pumping payroll into veteran players like Jamey Carroll and Jason Marquis, who seemingly function as finishing touches on a contending roster rather than useful pieces in a rebuilding process?

What many people seem to forget is that the roster from a year ago is still largely intact. Sure, players like Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel are gone, but their replacements – Josh Willingham and Ryan Doumit – stand a good chance of replacing the lost production.

The Twins are a year removed from winning the AL Central in dominant fashion, carried by the contributions of many players that are still under team control and still in their physical primes. It's true that a litany of injury concerns surround the club's roster, but that was also true last year – a point I repeatedly tried to get across to jovial fans still reveling in the wake of a 94-win season.

No one could have expected the Twins to lose nearly 100 games last year, not even me in my relatively pessimistic outlook. It took an all-out worst-case scenario, with extraordinarily bad luck striking the entire organization.

But it also took poor planning from a general manager who showed little foresight in recognizing his team's health concerns and the lack of palatable contingency plans. This is an area where I feel that Terry Ryan has improved dramatically over Bill Smith.

No one really knows that to expect from Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Denard Span, Francisco Liriano or Scott Baker this year. Maybe their injury issues will carry over into 2012, again causing them to miss large chunks of the season. Maybe they'll be healthy enough to play, but not effective enough to fuel a 25-game turnaround in the standings.

Or maybe they'll benefit from an offseason of rest and rehab, returning to perform like the cornerstones they've been at various times in the past. And maybe, with help from solid complementary pieces like Willingham, Doumit and Carroll, that will be enough to give the Twins a shot in a division that can often be taken with fewer than 90 wins.

I'll fully acknowledge that the latter scenario is far less likely than the former. But I don't think it's delusional. And I also think that, even if you believe the Twins are destined to be a .500 club at best, there's still nothing wrong with Ryan's decision to pad the roster with reasonably priced veteran depth.

Reusse argues in his column that players like Brian Dozier and Chris Hermann should be given an opportunity to get some run in the big leagues this year. Others have stated that this hopeless season should be used to allow Joe Benson, Chris Parmelee and Liam Hendriks to gain valuable MLB experience.

The thing is, none of those guys have spent any time in Triple-A yet (except for Hendriks, who threw 49 innings in Rochester last year). They'll all be in the organization and available whether or not players like Carroll and Marquis are on board, and going with the veterans out of the gate enables those prospects to prove that they're big-league ready rather than being thrown into the fire and leaving Ron Gardenhire with the same kind of depth problems that plagued him last year.

Is it delusional to believe the Twins can hang in the AL Central this year? I say no. And even if it is, there's nothing wrong with the approach being taken by the front office. Whether you're looking to contend or rebuild, depth is a good thing.

30 comments:

Mitch said...

Do I think Carrol, Marquis and a relatively healthy Twins roster will compete this year? Not really. But I don't mind the veteran signings really because of the short term nature of the contacts. None of these guys' contacts will be burdens on the organization, even if we have another worst-case scenario type season.

Anonymous said...

I think Pohlad asked Ryan how much it would cost to compete this year and when he heard the number he told him to do what he could for $100M. As much as I don't like the approach for this season I do have to admit that it probably makes sense. But I don't believe the Twins will compete in 2012. I just wish people would quit saying that this is essentially the same team as 2010 that won the division. The BP has been gutted, Thome and Hardy are gone, 2B is still up in the air, and Morneau is a shell of his former self. That's the delusional part Reusse is talking about.

Mickey D said...

I like Ryan's signing of Willingham, Doumit, Carrol and Marquis. Collectively, these are not long-term commitments and do not tie up a large chunk of payroll. The signings also assume that some rookies will step up in the next two years to fill these positions for a longer period of time. I'd rather have a couple of non-competitive years than a complete remodel requiring 5 or 6 years. I like the flexibility in Ryan's moves.

Nate Palmer said...

I like to think that it isn't a delusional thought that the Twins could compete. Instead it will be a very steep uphill battle where a lot of things will have to break right for them. But isn't that how any good sports season is? Compiling the talent that you can and then getting a couple good breaks along the way.

JB_Iowa said...

I'm not unhappy with the signings that have been made. I've felt they need to target 2013 or 2014 since October 9, 2010.

BUT I am -- and will be -- very grumbly over this organization until they prove to me that they are as committed to winning on the field in the post-season as they are to filling the Pohlad's bank account. (pitching, pitching, pitching)

I also strongly agree with Anonymous' comment at 4:39 that this team is not "essentially the same" as the team that won the division in 2010. In addition to the absence of Thome, Hardy and the BP, Delmon, Cuddyer and Kubel are gone. Many would argue that Cuddyer was the emotional leader and many of us believed that Delmon was the team's MVP that year. The current team is a pale copy of that team.

Anonymous said...

I agree, but this is the same strategy they had in mind when they signed guys like Ponson and Ortiz. They had guys in the minors who were close (in that case, they were closer than Dozer or Herman), but those signings are low risk in the sense that they had backup options.

Anonymous said...

I don't think they are the candidates to win the division, but I don't think they are going to lose nearly 100 games either. Of course, a lot depends on health. I don't agree with the idea of saying, well if it not going to be a winning season, just bring up the young guys so they can taste the majors. If this is so, the taste is going to be very bitter, and you can ruin a young player by making him play in a constant losing atmosfere. I guess I don't buy much the philosophy of going into full rebuild (see Pittsburgh).

Anonymous said...

Twins are not delusional, they're smart. well, we have to spend a magic 100 mil so that we can say at least we have a 100 mil payroll. meanwhile we'll continue to just bank on target field, i mean, so much taxpayer-funded profit they're wiping their butt with 100s. they know fans are the delusional ones and will allow twins to do it. bill smith wanted 115 mil payroll so they cut his ass and found someone to do it for 100. baseball has nothing to do with it. wins? playoffs? ha! who's delusional here? fans, bloggers, anyone who thinks the decisions this offseason have ANYTHING to do with something other than pohlad profit. get over it everybody, the pohlads are making fools of us all. your cheering for a greedy corporation, not a baseball team.

Josh said...

I don't think the twins are delusional, just taking a calculated risk that they don't really want to talk about. They're betting on Mauer/Morneau/Baker/Blackburn/Span/Liriano being healthier this year and significantly so in some cases. Considering how much the team has invested in those players, it's not unreasonable. And by supporting that move with veterans with a track record of success to fill in the back end of the roster, it should work assuming that A) those players are healthier and B) they perform around their capability when on the field.

If Mauer and Morneau give this team 250 combined games as the M&M Boys that we've seen before and Baker & Liriano combine for 60-65 starts and Span gives the team 130-140 games...well, this team gets a lot more interesting. They're expecting that Danny Valencia of 2012 is more like Danny V or 2010 than 2011. they're expecting that Nishioka/Casilla can put together a respectable season from at least 1 of them.

None of these are crazy bets. The scary thing is how many bets the team is making and how few things they can count on. This will be one of the hardest teams to project in the league next year, I think. It could as easily win 70 games as it could win 90 games, I think. Odds are they fall somewhere in the middle.

I also think it's a terrible idea to just fling guys like Dozier & Benson into the fray when there's room for them to develop at AAA and sound reasons for them to get that exposure. While toll their service time early when they probably could use the AAA time? (Parmelee too; keep him at AAA working on his D at 1B and have him be ready if Morneau's head really is broken.)

Twins: not delusional, just don't have any safe bets right now.

Nick N. said...

The BP has been gutted, Thome and Hardy are gone, 2B is still up in the air, and Morneau is a shell of his former self.

The BP is a big question mark, no doubt, but the Twins have some pieces in place and I do believe that if they find themselves in contention in July, they'll spend to add talent.

Yes, Hardy and Hudson are gone, but I don't think it's a huge stretch to believe Carroll and Casilla could match the production they provided in 2010. Morneau only played half of that season, and while Thome is gone, it's worth noting that Cuddyer and Kubel both had down years, so quality campaigns from Willingham and Doumit could make up for a lot of the lost production from those three.

Twins: not delusional, just don't have any safe bets right now.

Good way to put it.

Bryz said...

Here's a thought I just had. Perhaps the Pohlads were guessing that this season wasn't looking too promising, which is why they wanted the Twins to reduce payroll down to ~$100 million. Why spend big bucks if you don't think there's a chance of returning to respectability? Plus, as you've mentioned before, Nick, if the Twins are in playoff contention by the trade deadline, this does give them some room to add some pieces.

Anonymous said...

I think the criticism about payroll and the unwilligness of the Pohlads to spend money is just false at this point. Last year they ranked 8th or 9th in payroll on Opening Day, behind only the New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, and Philadelphia teams. Not exactly a list of "small market teams". The question is whether or not they spend their money wisely.

It seems to me that we really don't need to look any further than how much Morneau and Mauer give them this year. The fact of the matter is we haven't gotten close to the production that you need from two very highly compensated players in the last year and a half. Without these two being difference makers, the supplementary pieces that we have added and/or subtracted would only lead to a middle of the pack finish, even if everybody else stays relatively healthy.

Anonymous said...

I think we'll know quickly if this team can compete. The first 25 games are, in order; Orioles, Angels, Yankees, Rays, Red Sox, Royals, Angels. I'd be happy with an 11-14 start, and .500 would be awesome.
-ossieO

Anonymous said...

^Anon,

Read this article: http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/marinersblog/2017206419_how_the_myth_that_cost-effecti.html

The Twins are not a small market team, yet you praise them for not spending like one. Your type of blind, uninformed enabling of the Twins bald greed is the reason the team can get away with gaining millions in TV revenue yet cut payroll. why an everyday fan like yourself would instinctually defend a greedy billionaire without knowing anything in the way of "fact" is absolutely beyond human comprehension.

Anonymous said...

"Absolutely beyond human comprehension" you say? I'm offering an opinion just as you are.

I'm certainly not nieve enough to believe that the Pohlads haven't benefited from owning the Twins or that they won't make money this year. I'm not praising them for spending above the average "small market team" or even classifying them as a "small market team". They clearly are very savvy business people and won't put themselves in a position to lose a bunch of money, particulary if on the surface it doesn't look like they are going to win this year. But I'm also not going to rip them if they don't spend 200 million on a very weak free agent market. (other than the two or three very elite talents). They don't owe that to the anonymous posters of the world.

If you don't like the game or the financial benefits that the owners and players obtain....stay away. It is still a choice you make to follow the team.

JimCrikket said...

You won't see the Twins rush players to the Big Leagues and throw away a season for the same reason you won't see them sign free agents to long term contracts. Both approaches are bad bets.

They don't give long term contracts to 33 year olds because they know they'd be paying top dollar for players on the downside of their effectiveness.

They also know that players don't hit their stride until their mid 20s to very early 30s and they want as many of those years to be under club control at reasonable prices.

If they use up a year of service time on a young player in a season they aren't expecting to be competitive, it throws away one valuable season of club control over that player and means he'll either get expensive sooner or walk away via FA sooner.

Using a Carroll or Doumit on cheap contracts allows the Twins to let their young players get a year of AAA competition and preserves all of their controllable service time for seasons the club is more likely to be competitive.

At the same time, IF the Twins have any shot at being competitive, it's going to be with some veterans at those positions, not half a dozen rookies. I might disagree with the Twins concerning which players they're signing, but not about their decision to hold back many of their higher ceiling prospects for at least another year.

Nick N. said...

I started writing a post in response to the payroll debate shaping up here, but it started to run so long I think I'll just make it into a post for tomorrow. Thanks for the inspiration, anonymi.

mntwinsmusings said...

One of the great things about baseball is all the projections in the world mean nothing at the end of the season. The old cliche, you still have to play every game, is still operative. Last year is a case in point for several teams, not just the Twins. For example, everyone thought Philadelphia, San Francisco, Yankees and Boston were the odds on favorites. Hmm. Who played in the World Series again? None of the above.

I don't think the Twins are delusional and I do think the off-season moves made so far are good decisions based on what we know now. Depth is important! The probability of the Twins winning it all in 2012 is not high, but if every player has a career year like virtually every player had a terrible year (many due to injuries) last year, winning is possible.

Mauer, Morneau and to a lesser extent Span are the keys to the coming year on the offense side and Liriano, Baker and Blackburn are the keys on the pitching side. If they all return to health and success, the Twins will be competitive. Right now, the Twins have very little choice but to bet on that. At least this year there are some viable experienced backups if they cannot play regularly.

mntwinsmusings said...

I'm looking forward to seeing that post on payroll tomorrow, Nick. The whole issue of total revenue, total expenditures (including payroll) and profit margins is much more complicated than most fans want to make it.

Jewscott said...

I don't think you can rule the Twins out from contention. To get there, they'll need 130 healthy games at catcher and first base from Mauer and Morneau and a Francisco Liriano at about 90% of where he was in 2010.

But at the same time, they haven't done themselves any favors with their offseason moves to get them there. Marquis adds another #5 starter to a team that's fairly stocked with number 5 starters. Carroll adds another shortstop without the arm to play the position to a deep stable of shortstops without the arm to play the position. Willingham is essentially Cuddyer at the plate without the flexibilty to play any corner spot and second base in a pinch (the key component that made Cuddyer a roster MVP). And the bullpen looks like just as big a disaster as last year.

Whether he's right or wrong, Reusse is right in that this has been a blah offseason. And the second coming of Ryan has been a little too "meet the new boss, same as the old boss."

Anonymous said...

I can see the argument around a few of the pickups on offense either way. But at the end of the day, this team is a whole bunch of "ifs" on offense wrapped around horrible defense and atrocious pitching. I think its twice as likely they lose 99 again than improve to win 85-90 games and contend for the division.

birdofprey said...

I feel sorry for our Negative Anonymous, I really do. so bitter, so angry, and so quick to judgment.

On the subject, though, I agree with Nick and others that this is a wise strategy to acquire Carroll, Doumit, and Willingham, as well as a slew of BP arms, all as placeholders for the prospects that just aren't quite ready. ^The "horse" in this situation is the reality that we're reloading over the next three years with an impressive group of high-ceiling prospects. The "cart" in this case is fiscal sanity. Greedy bloggers like Negative Anonymous want the Twins to just throw a bunch of cash out there and see if some of it sticks. The Pohlads likely are more charitable people than most of us will ever be. But small-minded sorts will forever equate wealth with greed and evil, right?

Kelly said...

Nick, I love the headline.


and I have wondered that myself. Gardy has been complacent as of late. Injutries ar ea easy excuse but fgee whiz, look at what happene dlast yreear....


Still in all, I think we have a few guys with something to prove, and I always like having something to prove.


K

Anonymous said...

This is about player development, which is a unique component of baseball relative to other professional sports. TR has a strong history of bringing MLB ready rookies into the fold. Guys who haven't logged a full season in AAA can't realistically be expected to succeed with the Twins. Throwing them in the mix would be unfair to all parties. It's that simple.

TR accepting the GM role was like early Christmas for me. Long term planning is back.

Williesworld24 said...

Nick, you make solid points. Personally, I think the Twins are delusional, just like the Vikings were/are delusional that, with health, they can contend in the Central. The talent run-off has been shocking. Cuddy, Young, Kubel, Thome, Hudson, Hardy, Crain, Nathan, Mijares, Guerrier, Rouch and Slowey. Doumit and Willingham were good picks. Ok on Carroll. Terrible effort in bullpen and #5. Example, who would you rather have, Capps+Marquis or Saito, Dotel + draft pick and Harden or Cook for same or less $?

The team can not field, no power, few speed guys, poor fundamentals, lousy pitching. Pitch to contact with below average fielders and range is silly. And this assumes a healthy Mauer and Morneau. Not seeing the plan. This is a 75 win team at best. Hope I am wrong.

Laches said...

Delusional? Not in this weak division. It's not likely they'll win it, but it's possible. It wouldn't be the first time they defied expectations. In '08, ESPN, SI and a host of others predicted a last-place finish for the Twins and they ended up taking it to game 163.

A lot of things have to fall into place. They need a bunch of guys to stay healthy and have bounceback years.

On paper, the Twins should finish no higher than third. But it's baseball, and they don't play games on paper, they play them on the %&$*ing field. Go Twins!

TT said...

The Seattle article is just a diatribe about rich owners. Get over it. The Twins are not a hobby for the Pohlads. Its a business. That doesn't mean they aren't willing to spend to make the team better. But as a business it spends money to make money.

Its not clear to me the the Twins defense is going to be terrible next year. Casilla has the tools to be well above average at second. Morneau, if healthy, is a good first baseman. I think Mauer's defense has started to be underestimated. Again, if healthy. Span is a solid center fielder and Revere will be outstanding in left.

That leaves right field, where I think Willingham's arm will be an issue, shortstop where Carroll is going to make the routine plays but lacks range and third base where Valencia is probably the worst fielder on the team. Those are the only three positions that are below average if everyone is healthy.

The problem is that any expectation that "everyone is healthy" is probably delusional. The question is which ones won't be.

WI.Twins/Vikingfan said...

How many times did we see Ryan pickup these type of players over the years? He has a plan, that plan is to sign veterans who are at the end of their career. Then in July when the playoff teams need that extra veteran who can fill a void the Twins trade these veterans for draft picks or farm players. That is why our farm system was loaded when Ryan left the first time. Smith depleted it so Ryan needs to restock the farm system.

Anonymous said...

First, you assert that you were right about predicting that the Twins weren't going to compete last season, then say the roster is pretty much the same, and then assert that they have better than a snowball's chance this year; where's the logic?

cribs for twins said...

I don't think they are the candidates to win the division.