Patrick Reusse: Brain trust got lost on 'Twins way'

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 24, 2012 - 9:36 AM

You can date the current pitching debacle back to the day someone decided trading Matt Garza would be a good idea.

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Matt Garza came up from Class A ball to the Twins in 2006, but the following year they dealt him to Tampa Bay.

Photo: Bruce Bisping, Star Tribune

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The clichés continued to fly on the national panel shows and on FSN telecasts and, yes, even in the local print media until the end of the prior decade:

The Twins were an organization that many major league teams were attempting to emulate. The Twins were able to put together a winning roster at reasonable rates through astute player acquisition and player development.

And once assembled, these players succeeded by playing the game right -- throwing strikes, making the plays in the field, advancing runners.

The Twins way ... we were still gushing about it well after the fielding and base running had turned mediocre, and well after the minor league system had stopped sending high-impact players to Minnesota.

Denard Span is a good player. Ben Revere can be an asset. Trevor Plouffe had a couple of intriguing weeks with the long ball.

High-impact player? The Twins haven't introduced one of those to the lineup from their system since Jason Kubel came to stay during the 2006 season.

Oh, yeah, the disaster that exists today -- we should have seen it coming way back in the winter of 2007-08, but the excellence of Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau, and the ability to piece together a competitive starting rotation and build bullpens enabled the Twins to cover up the sins being committed with trades, drafting and development.

The incredible blunders of the winter of 2007-08 failed to show up in the American League Central standings for the next three seasons. The Twins lost a Game 163 to the White Sox in 2008, they won a Game 163 vs. Detroit in the Metrodome's last great baseball moment in 2009, and they put up 94 wins and pulled away to a six-game margin over the White Sox in 2010, that first, happy summer in Target Field.

Yet, when you look back, you wonder how the Twins -- not just Bill Smith, as the new GM, but his brain trust -- could have consented to trading starting pitcher Matt Garza for outfielder Delmon Young as the main pieces in a deal with Tampa Bay on Nov. 28, 2007.

If there ever was a "Twins way," it was based on the philosophy of Tom Kelly, the manager from September 1986 through the 2001 season. And his No. 1 tenet was:

"If you don't have starting pitching, you can't compete."

The Twins proved this when they ran out of starting pitching and went through eight losing seasons from 1993 to 2000. A return to competitiveness in Kelly's final season of 2001 was fueled by starters Brad Radke, Eric Milton and Joe Mays.

There's another bromide that Kelly shares with every person on a baseball payroll: "You never have too much starting pitching."

You go back to November 2007 and remember: This was a winter when the Twins knew they were going to trade Johan Santana, a two-time Cy Young Award winner. And, it was a winter when Francisco Liriano was coming off a season lost to Tommy John surgery.

No Santana. No certainty with Liriano. And, yet, the Twins decided to trade Garza, just turned 24 and the starting pitcher with by far the best arm in the organization, for a righthanded bat in Young to replace the departed Torii Hunter.

And then on Feb. 2, 2008, the Twins traded Santana to the Mets with another outfielder, Carlos Gomez, as the main piece. He came with three undistinguished pitching prospects: Phil Humber, Kevin Mulvey and Deolis Guerra.

Five years later, Garza, now 28, will attract a large ransom if the Cubs choose to trade him by the July 31 deadline. Garza's won-loss record is 47-46 since he left Minnesota, but he has made 138 starts, pitched 867 2/3 innings with 790 hits allowed and a 3.75 ERA.

The Twins have no starter in the same ballpark when it comes to Garza's super-fecta of starts, innings, hits and ERA.

You can go many directions in blasting the Twins front office for the current, pathetic product. And yet nothing hurts more the November day in 2007 when someone in a baseball strategy meeting came up with this brainstorm:

"We don't know what we're going to get for Santana, and we don't know what to expect from Liriano, so how about this? We'll trade Garza, the youngest, hardest-throwing starter we have, for a guy who's been known to throw a bat at an umpire."

Patrick Reusse can be heard noon-4 weekdays on 1500-AM. • preusse@startribune.com

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