Twins President Dave St. Peter talked Monday about the organization striving to achieve "the balance between the art and science of baseball" with the new hires of Derek Falvey and Thad Levine atop the baseball food chain.
That notion became a recurring theme as both newcomers talked during their introductory news conference — with Falvey, 33, and Levine, 44, eager to assert they are more than just number-crunchers. Both men spoke of intangibles such as veteran leadership as key pieces of successful teams they have helped build in the past.
Let that serve as a building block for a re-examination of two other men: Torii Hunter and Kevin Garnett.
It has been suggested that the Twins missed Hunter's leadership last season, when they tumbled from 83 to 59 wins. Nobody should be naive enough to suggest an outfielder with a .702 OPS and a fondness for fog machines was the main difference between those squads, but we should be willing to consider the role beyond numbers that Hunter played for the Twins.
This year's Timberwolves are another young team with similarly high expectations off to a slow start in the absence of a veteran leader who returned to the Twin Cities sports scene after leaving in 2007. The dynamic is a little different with the Timberwolves and Garnett than with Hunter and the Twins, but the question of missed leadership still is worth asking.
First, the differences: Hunter was a starter for the most part, while KG was a part-time player and then a no-time player last season — the latter coming at the end of the year when the Wolves played close to .500 basketball. Hunter walked away on his terms and was by all measures loved by the Twins; Garnett's love was a lot tougher than Hunter's, and there is plenty of evidence his intensity wasn't necessarily welcomed by all (particularly the new Tom Thibodeau regime, since the Wolves are paying KG $8 million not to be there this year). That said, KG still was productive when he played last season. In games where he played at least 12 minutes, the Wolves were 12-14 (compared to 17-39 in all other games).
When Hunter retired, he seemed to pass much of the leadership torch to Brian Dozier. The Twins second baseman did his part on the field, crushing 42 home runs, but nobody will confuse Dozier for Hunter when it comes to personality (which is not a knock on Dozier). Similarly, Karl-Anthony Towns accepted much of the leadership burden from Garnett, saying on Instagram upon KG's retirement, "I know what I must do. I'll take it from here."
Towns has been quite good on the court so far, but the Wolves have lost all three close games in which they've been involved. Towns is wise beyond his years, but he can't even legally drink in this country until next week. There's a wisdom that comes from being 40 that just isn't there when you're 20 (and I don't just say that as someone who hit that magic number a week ago).
Both the Twins and Wolves have other leaders. But Hunter and Garnett had a certain presence. In both cases, it's impossible to know how much — if at all — that has been missed. But it's equally impossible to dismiss the potential impact of their contributions and their absences on their respective teams.
Therein lies the mystery and opportunity in finding the balance between art and science.