The Twins have numerous problems as they get ready to depart Florida and open their 54th season. Ownership is not among them.
The Twins have lost 99, 96 and 96 games in the past three seasons. They will be back in the same range in 2014, if the lineup remains such a mess that the best idea manager Ron Gardenhire can come up with is to bat Kurt Suzuki second.
This is not the fault of owner/CEO Jim Pohlad, or his brothers and partners, Bob and Bill. This is the coming together of poor big-league personnel decisions; mediocre work in the amateur draft a few years back; and bad luck.
The Pohlads had nothing to do with those decisions, the draft or the luck. The owners budgeted a higher payroll in 2012 and 2013 than General Manager Terry Ryan chose to spend. That will again be true in 2014, as the Twins prepare to start with a payroll of about $84 million.
The bad luck started on July 7, 2010, when Justin Morneau was kneed in the head while sliding into second base in a game at Toronto. Morneau was two months past his 29th birthday and putting up numbers that would have surpassed his MVP season of 2006.
It’s not a stretch to say that, without the concussion and its lengthy effects, Morneau would have signed another large contract and still be hitting fourth as the heart and soul of the Twins’ lineup. Instead, he is in Colorado, trying again for a return to productivity.
The Twins made an awful decision in July 2010 when they traded Wilson Ramos, an outstanding young catcher, for Matt Capps, a closer in the midst of a strong season in Washington.
This was done to mollify Gardenhire’s concern over having Jon Rauch in that role. As it turned out, the Twins would have won the division with Rauch as the closer, as they did with Capps, and they would have been swept by the Yankees in the playoffs with Rauch, as with Capps.
That big mistake was compounded in the winter of 2010-11. Rather than show some confidence in their original evaluation of J.J. Hardy at shortstop, the Twins decided to jettison him after one much-injured season. As a replacement, they brought in Tsuyoshi Nishioka, as clueless on a big-league baseball field as was Ndudi Ebi on an NBA basketball court.
These were not Pohlad decisions. These were the decisions of Bill Smith and his advisers, and they wound up getting Smith fired as general manager by the Pohlads.
As a TV announcer of local notoriety might say, there are not yet signs on “the major league level” of progress with the rebuild since Ryan’s return in November 2011.
The decision to spend $49 million for Ricky Nolasco and $24 million for Phil Hughes in an attempt to lift the starting pitching from horrific to respectable was not done with recalcitrance from the Pohalds, but almost at their insistence.
If Ryan wanted to sign outfielder Nelson Cruz and sacrifice a second-round draft choice, he could have done so. If pitcher Ervin Santana wanted a three-year deal for around $10 million per from the Twins, he could have had it.
I don’t believe in praising a pro organization for what it tried and failed to get done. This is simply pointing out that ownership and money have not been the issue here; it’s been those bad decisions, mediocre drafts and bad luck.
If you take part in the moronic mantra about the Pohlads promising gigantic payrolls once Target Field opened, you’re just that … a moron. The Pohlads have been wonderful caretakers of the spectacular ballpark that will serve generations of fans, including the next one not yet born.
The original deal called for the Twins to pay one-third of the actual stadium cost: $130 million out of $390M. Right away, the Pohlads threw in another $15 million for land acquisition. They added another $50 million in enhancements before the ballpark opened, and $10 million since then.
As for personal seat licenses, they charged an initial fee of $2,000 for 3,000 seats in the Legends Club. That was $6 million in PSLs for roughly 8 percent of the general seating. Our friends at Winter Park hope to have collected $100 million in PSLs when the Taj Ma Zygi opens in 2016.
There are more problems ahead for the Twins in 2014. The Pohalds aren’t among them. They are good citizens, determined to keep their ballpark magnificent, willing to fund a return to winning when the homegrown talent dictates, and not gougers of the public.