Startribune.com digital sports editor Howard Sinker used to cover the Twins and now shares season tickets with friends in Section 219 of Target Field. He blogs about baseball from the perspective of a long-time fan who loves the game, doesn’t always believe the hype and likes hearing what others think. Howard sometimes talks about sports with Cathy Wurzer on MPR's Morning Edition.
The thing about a bad baseball team is that you take a week away this time of year and don’t miss much. I watched the Twins stumble through their half-speed loss to the Mets last week and then pretty much took a vacation break.
Kyle Gibson 1.0 ended, Joe Mauer got concussed by a foul tip from Ron Davis’ kid and the team somehow won two out of three from Detroit. Let’s assume the latter was a result of Detroit’s disinterest, Justin Verlander’s struggles and the good fortune to miss Max Scherzer. The Twins reverted to all that ails them over the weekend in Cleveland.
This feels like a good time to offer thoughts on an assortment of topics. So here goes with 10 of 'em:
The Mauer concussion and position discussion. The “how much should he catch debate” has restarted with vigor. To me, it’s simple. If catching 100 games per season is going to hamper Mauer more and more as his career continues, then it’s time to turn him into a 6-foot-5 first baseman who does some catching on the side and is one of the best (count of fingers of one hand) hitters in the game. There’s an opposing opinion saying Mauer wouldn’t provide the same value at first base as he does catching. I say he’s already provided a ton-and-a-half of value behind the plate. Plus, value to whom? Are you more concerned that the owners get some kind of perceived “value” or that a healthy Mauer is in better position to be an offensive force, maybe for another decade, while evolving into a solid first baseman? I’ll take the assumption of added offense and better health, which should mean a better chance to win.
Morneau's future. Speaking of first base, the chatter about Justin Morneau’s future continues. Bless Morneau for all he contributed during a prime that is now three seasons past. Now? Let’s never have anyone else wear No. 33 for the Twins and wish him luck on his future endeavors, especially when there’s a logical heir to the first-base job. Money spent to keep him with the Twins is better spent elsewhere. If he goes somewhere else and does well, toques off to him.
Josh Willingham. There’s a touch of revisionist history at work about how the Twins should have traded him after the best season of his career – and a two-year run in which he had 64 home runs and an .851 OPS. As the Twins plot 2014, it makes sense to turn Willingham into a full-time DH who can play the outfield only if needed – and rarely. Let’s a presumed outfield of Oswaldo Arcia, Aaron Hicks and someone else play the field. Willingham has never had two subpar seasons in a row, but if 2014 feels like the start of a permanent decline, the Twins can part ways with him.
Starting pitching. In the post-Johan Santana era, the Twins went to the postseason twice (and Game 163 another year) with a rotation of No. 2 and 3 starters. Since then, Twins starters have been a collection of fours, fives and guys who shouldn’t be in the majors. One of Terry Ryan’s challenges is to sift through this year’s group of free agents, see who may be available in trade and simply do better than the Twins have been doing these last few years. Prevailing wisdom is that teams need to overpay for starting pitching, but (again) that’s not an issue for a fan to worry about. (Even less so when Jim Pohlad told Phil Mackey on Saturday in an ESPN 1500 interview that Ryan can increase the payroll significantly.) Find an ace, find a couple of starters more solid than Mike Pelfrey and Kevin Correia and let the others battle for the back end of the rotation.
Bring back Johan? I’d try it … but not at the expense of anything else. In other words, an interesting sideshow when there are more important things to do. (I'm assuming the Mets aren't going to pick up his option for next year.)
Adding the “right” veterans. When the Twins tried to explain their 2011 flop as a “perfect storm” of problems instead of recognizing the cliff jump that had taken place, the Twins brought in Willingham, Ryan Doumit and Jamey Carroll. All were useful; none, however, came from winning-team backgrounds. I made that point back then, contrasting them to the worst-to-first additions the Twins made between 1990 and ’91 (Jack Morris, Chili Davis, Mike Pagliarulo). In 2014, if Morneau doesn’t return, the core of Twins with winning backgrounds will be Mauer and … uh… pretty much nobody. I like numbers as much as most of you, but team building is a multidimensional task. Veteran players with skills – in the clubhouse and on the field – need to be part of the build.
Bring back A.J. Pierzynski? Let him catch 100-110 games and help whip the pitching staff into shape. It's called "adding the 'right' veterans."
The middle infield. If you’d asked me in April if I thought a middle infield of Brian Dozier at second base and Pedro Florimon at shortstop was a major league combination, I would have dismissed the query as rhetorical. Now, I’m pretty much sold. Ever since pulling his average above .200 at the end of May, Dozier has been a .265/.343/.488 offensive performer and a fine defensive second baseman. (Morneau’s numbers in that time are .241/.309/.439, by the way.) Florimon does what shortstops should do – field. Using Ultimate Zone Rating to judge, Florimon is second among American League shortstops. He makes plays that other shortstops don’t. His presence also allows the Twins not to worry as much about defense at third base, which could be an issue when Miguel Sano is ready for promotion. (Trevor Plouffe is second from the bottom is UZR among AL third basemen, ahead only of Miguel Cabrera, who brings a different set of superhuman skills to the ballpark.)
Gardy’s future. In Los Angeles, apparently there will be an off-season showdown in which only the general manager or manager Mike Scioscia will be survive. Here, ownership is committed to Ryan as GM. But even if Ryan truly leads the discussion about Gardy’s future, it’s naïve to think there won’t be input from the Pohlads. I’m not getting heavily invested in this discussion because it runs a distant third to acquiring better major league talent and continuing to develop the top players in the minors. For me, it’s a “whatever” debate. If that disappoints the Gardy-bashers, so be it.
Sano’s future, Hicks' future and the future of the future. I still need to be convinced that anyone in the minor-league system will be ready to make an impact on the Twins in 2014. Miguel Sano, perhaps. But selling Sano without paying attention the organization’s other issues is a bit like having a really hot car – and leaving it outside during the Minnesota winter because you don’t have a garage. Aaron Hicks should get another shot at owning center field next year, but am I the only one who looks back on the young Torii Hunter’s struggles and wonders if it will take beyond 2014 for him to contribute at the level we’re expecting? I’m looking forward to the time when the minor-league system starts producing more than end-of-bench talents, but I’m not seeing that being the case in any kind of quantity until 2015.
That’s a list of 10 and I don’t expect anyone to agree with me on all of them. But these are my chattering points to get through the final few dozen games.
There's been lots of Twitter angst/love in the past 24 hours over Jamey Carroll's departure from the Twins to Kansas City. Lots of talk about professionalism and, for lack of a better term, "all that." As far as I could tell, Carroll was never subjected to any ridicule from Twins fans during his time with the team.
This should not be confused with a big chunk of the reaction when Nick Punto left Minnesota after the 2010 season -- a post-Minnesota journey that has taken him to St. Louis (where he was on a World Series-winning team), Boston and now the Los Angeles Dodgers, who look to be in good position for the postseason.
In almost-two-years with the Twins, Carroll had a .257 batting average, .327 on-base percentage and .301 slugging percentage.
In seven years with the Twins, Punto had a .248 average, .323 on-base percentage and .324 slugging percentage.
Both were three-position reserves in the infield, and their playing time had more to do with glove work than handling a bat.
Punto had 2,707 plate appearances during his 1,142 regular season games on the Twins roster. (That's the number of games the Twins played, not the number Punto played in.) So he averaged about 2.4 plate appearances per game.
Carroll had 743 plate appearances in his 277 games with the Twins -- about 2.7 plate apperances per game that he was on the roster.
In other words, you can't really argue that Punto was disliked because of how much the Twins played him. You know, the whole "Gardy's pet" thing.
Punto and Carroll were pretty much the same player, save for the fact that the Twins had a young Nick Punto and an old Jamey Carroll. Both filled a role that exists on most teams. Both are players who should have limited playing time on a successful team, although Punto had a fine year in 2006, when he rescued the Twins from Tony Batista at third base.
All of that being the case, who wants to take a run at explaining why there was so much scorn toward Punto and so much affection for Carroll?
It's kind of puzzling me.
But maybe the third time will be a charm, or at least a call to action for the Twins, from ownership to the players who wouldn't be here if the team resembled a competitive club.
"Our fans don't deserve to watch this crap."
Spot on, Gardy. And I'm not intending to use this space to assess who deserves what share of the blame. We've already gone that route. It simply bites to be a Twins fan right now, especially for those who have made the commitment to pay major league prices to watch what has transpired this year. (Guess what my answer was when I was asked, on the Twins' season-ticket holder survey, if I'd be willing to pay more for my season tickets in 2014.)
No amount of happy talk or diversionary tactics, whether they be advertising yuck-yucks or the 2014 All-Star Game, can take away from the fact that the Twins are a bad team that is running in place -- if not backward. This week's unveiling of the All-Star logo, with guys in suits on the beautiful field in a staged event, had a little bit of a North Korean TV feel to it. (Start at the 4 minute mark, if I made you look.)
The hope of reinforcements from the minors will mean nothing if the Twins don't make intelligent decisions about the veterans who should be brought in to augment Miguel Sano, Byron Buxton, Eddie Rosario and the others. Jim's column makes the point about the Twins lack of veteran leadership. If that's not addressed, there's no sense in addressing anything else.
That will cost money -- or maybe even one of the promising minor-leaguers. (Not Buxton, not Buxton, not Buxton, OK?) The Royals, the team we used to laugh at, traded the future star Wil Myers to Tampa Bay for starting pitcher James Shields (and another starting pitcher) and took advantage of a salary dump to get Ervin Santana from the Angels.
Now, the talented young Royals have starting pitching that isn't a joke to go their young players who continue to get better, or whose shortcomings are less of a liability.
When Twins blog commenters are reduced to debating when Delbinson Romero might be a better third base option than Trevor Plouffe and radio chatter spews about how Justin Morneau should be offered another contract "because there's no one else in the system," then fans might as well give up -- and you all might as well join me and buy Lynx season tickets to get through the summer. Or watch the Saints or Minnesota United or the horses at Canterbury.
I'm not going to Target Field this weekend. Astros vs. Twins? I have, ummmm, standards. Call them minimum daily baseball requirements.
Or, as Gardy said: "Our fans don't deserve to watch this crap."
As the trading deadline approaches at the end of the month, there will be talk about teams interested in Twins players A, B, C and a few others. Think of Glen Perkins as A, Justin Morneau as B, Ryan Doumit as C and a bunch of others, including Jamey Carroll and Mike Pelfrey, as being among the few others.
The wisdom behind trading Perkins is that a terrible team doesn't need a first-rate closer and the lefty closer is the guy on the roster who would bring the most in return.
That's true ... but that doesn't mean the Twins should trade him.
Some people argue with vigor that it's reasonably simple to find someone who can be plugged into a closer's role. Maybe it was the time I spent covering the Twins -- when they traded for Yankees set-up guy Ron Davis and tried to make him a closer -- but I don't buy it. In addition to being a game of ever-expanding statistical models, which is a good thing, baseball is a game in which the same player can perform differently in different situations.
Check out RD's statistics in his four years as the Yankees set-up man versus his 4 1/2 as Minnesota's closer.
A few years back, Cleveland liked the stuff of the pitcher formerly known as Fausto Carmona to try him as a closer, an experiment that failed horrifically the season before he won 19 games as a starter.
Another example of a different sort: Journeyman Pat Tabler, a .282 hitter in 12 career seasons, was a killer force batting with the bases loaded during his career. How good? This good: In 109 bases-loaded career appearances, he had a .489 average, .505 on-base percentage and 1.198 on base-plus-slugging percentage (OPS).
By comparison, Miguel Cabrera, a pretty good baseball player, is .417/.413/1.034 in those situations. Joe Mauer? .333/.322/.850. (I use Mauer as a comparison not to make mock, but because Mauer has significantly more power than Tabler, but Tabler's numbers in this particular clutch situation are so incredibly extreme.) And yes, I know, we're doing some cherry-picking of stats here, but this is a five-minute model. Give me five hours and I'll find you more.
Not everyone can switch roles as gracefully as the fabulous Joe Nathan, who was a set-up man in San Francisco before the Twins traded for him 10 years ago.
OK, back to Perkins.
He is among the best in baseball at what he does. If you favor a trade, you're betting on finding a suitable replacement for what is currently the team's No. 1 strength. Plus, you may be conceding that the Twins are on a treadmill of trading top talent because you don't expect them to be competitive for another few years. I've made the case, more often than some would like, that one of the current Twins' failings has been their inability to field a competitive team while waiting for their young talent to be ready for Target Field.
Give up Perkins and you're creating another hole.
Trade Morneau or Josh Willingham (which won't happen right now because of his injury) or Carroll or Doumit, and you should quickly find someone to adequately fill those roles right away based on current, or even anticipated, performance.
Trade Perkins to an American League team and, a dozen years down the road, maybe the Twins would be presenting him with a rocking chair made of their broken bats. Trade Perkins and you're asking for trouble.
West Coast baseball tonight. Take a nap and maybe we'll trade some tweets.
We've now reached the point of the season where things are going pretty much as we thought they would. The Twins have deteriorated into a flawed mess that is leaking losses at home and on the road. The saddest part -- and there's some competition here, so I could be wrong -- is watching Gardy and Rick Anderson in the dugout waiting to see what will happen next. Or make sense of what just happened.
To me, they sometimes look like two old guys trying to figure out how to use the GPS on their cell phone.
On Thursday, Patrick Reusse threw the Ron Gardenhire-as-manager discussion into overdrive with his column that the Twins should spare Gardy the coming grief and make a change sooner rather than later. Putting a new guy behind the manager's desk won't solve the problems, but the manager is the most representative symbol of a team's failure. (Players are the symbol of success, so it's never quite fair, but that's the way it is.)
The Twins have disserved Gardenhire with flawed personnel moves, whether they were free-agent decisions, trade giveaways or the unwillingness to bring in the type of veteran who have served as a competitive bridge to the future.I think Gardy bears some responsibility, especially because the field staff's opinion had to weigh more heavily during Bill Smith's failed term as general manager, if for no other reason than Smith was not a "baseball guy."
I also think Gardy will manage someplace else before retiring and will do well.
The mere arrival of Miguel Sano, Byron Buxton, Eddie Rosario and the pitchers-with-promise guarantees little except new faces and short-term excitement. There will be a need for able veterans to make sure that
whomever whoever is managing the club has experienced hands to model the way things need to be. In 1987, that was Bert Blyleven, Dan Gladden, Jeff Reardon and the late-season addition of Don Baylor. In '91, it was Jack Morris, Chili Davis and Mike Pagliarulo. Those teams already had established stars, but needed that much more to get to a championship level.
To say the Twins were not going to settle for .500 this season -- a Terry Ryan contention from season's start -- while forcing Gardenhire to regularly use getting-experience and makeshift lineups is a disservice to the manager and an insult to ticket-buying fans. The Twins currently have a $76 million payroll -- about half going to two guys whose names begin with M -- so there was room to bring in talent without spending beyond reason (whatever that is).
Aaron Hicks being the regular center fielder because there was no viable alternative, not because he hit three home runs in an exhibition game; promised competition for Trevor Plouffe at third base never materialized; Jamey Carroll is back to playing as often as not. The Caleb Thielbar scoreless streak and the Michael Tonkin story are sweet distractions, but even a dozen such successes doesn't take a team from 95 losses to 70.
Fans looking to the future and saying they're fine with Plouffe or Chris Parmelee at first base instead of Morneau for financial reasons -- yes, I've really heard that -- are following a road map that will continue the Twins toward being Kansas City North.
There are other paths, and it's up to the general manager to find them and ownership to finance them.
To say the Twins have been the victims of injuries and bad fortune since the last trip to the postseason doesn't take into the account the decision making that has gotten us to July 2013. Not that Delmon Young shouldn't have been traded, but he was given away. Not that J.J. Hardy would be putting up his current numbers with the Twins, but trading him for Jim Hoey*. Not that Jesse Crain wouldn't have been a nice bullpen anchor, but ... You get the idea.
For longer than I would care to admit, I have deflected some criticism of the coaching staff by saying that major leaguers are pretty much responsible for their own improvement. I've been queried specifically in the last couple of years in that regard about Rick Anderson. The troubling thing is that I can't think of a single established pitcher who has come to the Twins and shown marked improvement.
Meanwhile, the departures of Crain, Kyle Lohse, R.A. Dickey, Jason Marquis, Craig Breslow, Pat Neshek and .... what's his name ... oh, yeah, Francisco Liriano (9-3, 2.00 in 12 starts for Pittsburgh) ... resulted in all of those guys finding more success than they had while pitching for the Twins. (Some of the comparisons between those players are apples and oranges, but are in the fruit family.)
And here's what the Twins have to show in return for those guys:
I'm not going to turn this into a car wreck's aftermath and try to establish percentages of blame among ownership, management, the field staff and the players. But this is a time when 110 percent pretty much bites.
So here's the deal: The bad state of the current team is the result of failures on all levels that needs to result in hard judgments over the next few months.Some people chided me for calling out the Twins' lack of attention to 2013 in the off season, but I can't imagine those people being satisfied with what they've watched this half-season -- and some of the happy talk that's been serving as a distraction. Others chided me for hanging with a team they felt was commited to mediocrity, but walking away isn't on my list of options.
Until a couple of weeks ago, the debate was more abstract: Were Gardenhire, Anderson and other coaches the right people to handle the next generation of Twins? Until recently, Gardenhire appeared to have more supporters than detractors. Now, however, those who dislike Gardy and many of those who care for him, are saying change is needed.
Now, we know the time for judgment is coming. Will the Twins really try to pass off a change in manager as the cure? Or will the organization take a hard look at what's going on, from top to bottom, and come to the conclusion that the franchise's failures run much, much deeper?
*Jim Hoey has a 1.08 ERA -- for the Somerset Patriots in an independent league! He says he's regained his fastball! Really!
|Vikings (5)||Twins news (12)|
|Bears (1)||Packers (1)|
|Off the field (2)||On the road (9)|
|Rookies (1)||Roster moves (2)|
|Vikings trade talk (2)||Ron Gardenhire (67)|
|Target Field (50)||Twins fans (111)|
|Twins game coverage (19)||Twins management (91)|
|Twins offense (105)||Twins pitching (107)|
|Twins rumors (8)||Twins transactions (20)|
|Twins: From the Dome (4)||Adrian Peterson (1)|
|Bernard Berrian (1)||Brad Childress (1)|
|Brett Favre (2)||Brad Childress (1)|
|Twins postseason (26)||Farm System (17)|