Before the trade deadline arrives and the playoff race intensifies, let’s take a moment to congratulate the Twins on what shouldn’t normally be viewed as an achievement but qualifies this year because of this lost decade of competitiveness.
The Minnesota Twins matter, at least for now.
They’ve mattered for more than three months, and they start the post-All-Star Game portion of the schedule with a daunting series against the Houston Astros, one of baseball’s best teams, with games that matter to all American League contenders.
This places the Twins in an all-too-rare and interesting position. If they contend in September or make the playoffs, fans will be able to ask this question:
Who gets the credit?
It would be easy to bestow credit on the new front office. But how many players have Derek Falvey and Thad Levine contributed to the current roster?
They dramatically improved the catcher position defensively by signing Jason Castro and Chris Gimenez, who has also proved to be their best late-late-late-game reliever.
Their more prominent free-agent relievers — Matt Belisle and Craig Breslow — have failed, although the coaching staff at least likes Belisle’s influence on young pitchers. The Bartolo Colon experiment seems odd if not desperate.
Falvey and Levine could be credited with instilling a new atmosphere in the organization, but the organization performed similarly in 2015 with the same manager and many of the same players under Terry Ryan’s regime.
Ryan has been the key figure in the Twins organization for the past 22 years. His failure to draft and develop starting pitchers cost him his job, but he can take credit for many of the players who are keeping the current Twins afloat.
Ervin Santana. Brandon Kintzler. Taylor Rogers. Jose Berrios. He also can claim a few players who have contributed at times, including Joe Mauer, who, despite his large contract, has proved to be a useful player this season.
Ryan gets demerits for signing Phil Hughes and Glen Perkins to contract extensions that looked far better when the ink was still wet. And Ryan is responsible for a wave of pitching prospects who, other than Berrios this year, have been largely disappointing but could eventually contribute to a winner.
Bill Smith held the general manager job during Ryan’s absence. His reputation became tainted by the series of trades that turned Johan Santana into Jim Hoey, but Smith can take credit for Miguel Sano, Max Kepler, Brian Dozier and Eddie Rosario.
Under Smith, the Twins aggressively pursued international players who can make up more than half of the lineup when Kennys Vargas is in the big leagues. And the Sano signing landed the Twins their best player for a reasonable price.
A general manager oversees a large staff of scouts and analysts who rely on a combination of hard work, intellect, experience, insight and luck.
We don’t know enough about Falvey’s operation yet to judge him. We may not know for years.
We know that Smith made mistakes that cost him his job but oversaw signings that helped the Twins compete in 2015 and now 2017.
Ryan’s inability to overhaul the franchise’s pitching in his second stint as GM cost him his job, but he signed two free agents who made the All-Star Game this year.
All three front offices should get some credit if the Twins make the playoffs, and this exercise proves that assigning blame is far simpler than parsing credit.
But where would a team that ranks 26th in baseball in ERA be without Santana, Kintzler, Berrios, and Rogers — two All-Stars, a budding ace and one of baseball’s best lefthanded relievers?
Answer: They’d be on their way to 100 losses for a second consecutive season.
Ryan couldn’t escape blame for last year’s disaster. He should get at least some of the credit for the Twins’ competence this year.
Jim Souhan’s podcast can be heard at MalePatternPodcasts.com. On Twitter: @SouhanStrib firstname.lastname@example.org