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In a post-game press conference following Saturday's extra-inning loss to the Blue Jays -- the Twins' seventh consecutive loss overall and seventh straight at Target Field -- Ron Gardenhire placed blame on himself, dwelling on the decision to leave starter Nick Blackburn on in the eighth inning to face Corey Patterson, who delivered a game-tying RBI triple.
"We had a lead," Gardenhire grumbled repeatedly, treating the occasion as the true rarity it has been this spring.
On a day where his team scored three or fewer runs for a 24th time in 37 games, where his bullpen allowed six men to cross the plate in the 11th inning, where his club was blown out by a margin of 5+ runs in front of the home crowd for a seventh time this year (in 2010 it happened only six times all season), a dejected Gardenhire was kicking himself for leaving his starting pitcher in one batter too long.
It's safe to say 2010's AL Manager of the Year is feeling the frustration in a season where almost nothing has gone right for the Twins. His team is the worst in baseball, finding new ways to bottom out with each passing game, and with no relief in sight.
Few will blame this team's utter incompetence on minor gaffes by the manager. This is a situation that has been brought about largely by catastrophic injuries and inexplicably awful play from established players.
But the problems for this franchise run much deeper than slumps and injuries. When the pain of this perhaps unavoidably disastrous season subsides, we must turn our glare to a front office that has brought the organization where it is today: a last-place team burdened with horrible contracts, a lack of depth across the board and a barren minor-league cupboard.
Injuries happen in baseball and are always tough for a manager to deal with, but Gardenhire's difficulties have been magnified by the poor judgment and astonishing lack of foresight from Bill Smith and Co.
The Twins entered this season with no infield depth behind the unproven question marks up the middle, no real defensive assets in the starting lineup despite an extreme pitch-to-contact staff, no workable insurance plan behind the concussed first baseman, no bullpen to speak of, and no major-league catchers to back up a starter coming off knee surgery.
These decisions go beyond questionable and into the realm of blatantly irresponsible.
The Twins have long been an organization that has emphasized scouting over statistics, and in many ways that has worked out for them, especially when they had a renowned scout at the helm in Terry Ryan. Smith, however, is not a scout, and while he obviously doesn't make personnel decisions in a silo, he's ultimately responsible for the team's personnel decisions and he has listened to the wrong people far too often during his tenure.
Ever since Ryan's departure, the Twins have regularly been bitten by poor player evaluation in signings and trades. None of the prospects in the Johan Santana trade panned out. Delmon Young has not developed as the team hoped -- certainly not well enough to justify the value they gave up in acquiring him. Free agent signings have most often yielded poor results.
More recently the whiffs have ramped up. Matt Capps, who the team dealt its top catching prospect and best trading chip for, has proven no more effective than any number of other relievers who could have been acquired -- and tendered a contract -- for much less. Jim Hoey, who the team traded its starting shortstop for, has been awful. Dusty Hughes, signed to supplement a rebuilt bullpen, has been predictably terrible.
Smith has been very questionable in his player evaluation, but what's most frustrating is his blind spot when it comes to assessing the needs of his own organization. The Twins' two weakest positions, at present and going forward, are shortstop and catcher (assuming Mauer has to move, which I think he will soon). Within the last year, Smith has traded away the team's top catching prospect, its only other backup catcher with any kind of stick and its starting shortstop, all for relief pitchers -- the most fungible asset in the game. On top of all that, the bullpen is still one of the league's worst.
The Twins are now in a position where they will have to quickly rebuild while hoping that core long-term players like Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer can rebound. What we have to ask ourselves is whether we trust a front office that has contributed in plenty of ways to the franchise's current dismal state to guide it back to respectability.
I'm not sure that I do. I was fully on board with this group as recently as a year ago, but the terrible decisions -- and, more so, the shoddy reasoning behind those decisions -- over the past 12 months have almost completely eradicated my faith.
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