The Twins begin spring training this week. They will follow the marketing guidebook and tell you that they are hopeful, and that if Pitcher A and shortstop B and center fielder C found just the right yoga class this winter, they could win the division, the World Series, even a Grammy or two.
It is bad business to admit that you are at least a year away from contending, that your goal this season is to be better even if that does not mean good. The Twins have tickets to sell. They are not going to run a negative campaign against their own product.
The downside of the Twins' approach is that it ignores the historical strength and the true promise of their franchise.
The key people running the show today helped build the last championship team the Twin Cities has produced, the World Series title in 1991. They also built the team that saved Major League Baseball in the Twin Cities, built a stadium and contended for most of 10 years. If there is any group in town that has earned patience and trust, it a front office headed by Terry Ryan.
So the question to ask of the Twins as spring training begins is not will they win big this year. It is a question to be asked of the nouveau Twins fan. It is: How much patience do you have?
The past two seasons shocked the nouveau Twins fan, who had experienced nothing but winning teams and thought of a playoff loss to the Yankees as the pit of despair. And the nouveau Twins fan had a right to a certain amount of anger, given the increased expense of buying a ticket and the aimless personnel moves that made the Twins' inevitable slump more unsightly than need be.
If you love baseball, now is the time to look ahead, and spring training, with the prospective big league club working out a few fields away from some of the best prospects in the game, is an apt time to do so.
The Twins' unwillingness to spend more money on this year's team is a signal that Ryan doesn't think this team is one player away from winning, whether he'll admit it or not. Think of this year not as 2011, when the Twins fell apart, but as 1999-2000, when Ryan began feeding playing time to his best young players while accepting the losses that followed.
Over the next two or three seasons, we'll get to see Aaron Hicks and Byron Buxton try to become the next Torii Hunter, and Miguel Sano try to become the next Gary Gaetti -- if not the next Miguel Cabrera.
We'll watch Alex Meyer, Kyle Gibson, Jose Berrios and Trevor May try to build the best Twins rotation since Johan Santana left. We'll watch Eddie Rosario and Oswaldo Arcia try to emerge as outstanding hitters.
With a little patience, you'll be able to enjoy one of the most rewarding aspects of fandom: watching a talented young player mature into a winner.
Ryan thought he might lose his job at the end of the '90s. His team was in the midst of an eight-season losing streak. A notable wave of prospects had flamed out. He sold then-owner Carl Pohlad on the promise of a group of players that included Hunter, Christian Guzman and Corey Koskie. He stopped investing in mediocre free agents and handed the franchise to the kids.
Had he been less patient then, the Twins might not have stuck with an average reliever named Johan Santana. They might not have given Koskie time to learn how to play third base. They might have looked at Hunter's minor league statistics and given up on him. They might have gotten sick of A.J. Pierzynski's rampant insubordination and cut him.
So while the minute-by-minute sports media obsess over how many more mediocre free agents Ryan will add to this year's roster, the real story of the franchise this decade will be told in the development of the best young players in the system.
Delayed gratification is a hard sell these days, but being a Twins fan again requires patience. And what's wrong with that?
Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon and weekdays at 2 p.m. on 1500-AM. His Twitter name is SouhanStrib. firstname.lastname@example.org