Startribune.com digital sports editor Howard Sinker used to cover the Twins and now shares season tickets with friends in Section 219 of Target Field. He blogs about baseball from the perspective of a long-time fan who loves the game, doesn’t always believe the hype and likes hearing what others think. Howard sometimes talks about sports with Cathy Wurzer on MPR's Morning Edition.
It's been a couple of weeks since we slogged through the wreckage of the final days of the Twins season, during which the most cheerful of Twins fans could celebrate the final two victories that kept the team from losing 100 games. Whether or not they lost 100 wasn't a big deal to me because the reality that things need to change for 2012 and beyond should have already sunk in to those who can do something about it, whether they be players and their work ethic or the front office and its need to openly acknowledge reality.
There's no shortage of interesting stuff out there how the Twins can better themselves. The TwinsCentric crew is putting together a lively portfolio of work and Phil Mackey at ESPN1500 has an interesting three-part read on what the Twins could and should do.
If you want to play along, here's a list of free agents for 2012.
So far, the most interesting event of the Twins offseason has been the phone call that general manager Bill Smith held with season-ticket holders on the Tuesday after the season ended. Fielding prescreened questions, Smith showed more range than usual. He acknowledged that it was hard to give a No. 1 priority because so many things have to be better. The best things I took away from the phone call, which Joe Christensen reported on, was an acknowledgment that some of 2011's starting pitchers could be in 2012's bullpen and that getting a solid starter is vital. Also, that going outside the organization for an everyday shortstop is a priority.
Smith also said that the backup catching needs to be upgraded. Yup.
Those things being said, here are the interesting things I've learned paying attention to baseball in October.
*Ron Washington is a fine manager. He has built a team in his image, with the support of a Texas front office that backed him through his unfortunate cocaine-use episode in 2009 and saw his methods when others wondered if he was going to survive. Washington was a utility player for the Twins in the mid-1980s and, even though he could hit, you could see how the Twins of that era suffered when they had to rely on him as an every-day shortstop. (The late Twins president Howard Fox used to refer to Washington as "Roberto Duran." Those of you who remember Duran also remember his nickname: "Hands of Stone." )
Washington was among the middle infielders, holdovers and hopefuls, purged form the roster before the start of the 1987 season. (One of the guys trying out that spring was named Gardenhire. He didn't make it either.) But Washington can manage, and I made the unpopular argument last season that he should have been the American League manager of the year -- an award that went to Gardy. Washington should win it this year.
*For all the grief we (rightfully) give Twins management for the understated way it acts publicly, the events in Boston of the past week have been pretty incredible. Winning masks many dysfunctions and losing, especially falling apart so dramatically, can blow up some things out of proportion. I hope that the Twins, after seeming to fool themselves into thinking that all was going to be fine for an indefinite period, can make the changes they need without putting on a pro-wrestling style freak show. There's a middle ground of acknowledging that all is not well, without the ugly scenes that played out with the Red Sox.
*Delmon Young hit a batch of home runs for the Tigers --including a couple of dramatic ones -- but most of his offensive statistics in Detroit were pretty similar to what he did with the Twins. And it's not like the trade made him a better defensive player, either. I'm glad for Delmon that he had some success and raised his profile and gave the illusion that the Twins somehow made a huge fail by dealing him. The fail, of course, was trading him when his value was at its lowest.
*For the $750,000 that Nick Punto is getting from the Cardinals, I would have kept him, providing Gardy signed an agreement that, come hell or high water, Punto wouldn't have more than 250 plate appearances.
*My favorite piece of radio in the last couple of weeks was Dan Barreiro's interview with Chicago Sun-Times columnist (and part-time Minnesotan) Joe Cowley, who doesn't exactly flatter Joe Mauer when the talk turns to what other major leaguers -- not to be confused with sports reporters, bloggers and those who add comments to our work -- think of him.
*Justin Verlander pitched a nice enough game on Thursday when he helped extend the ALCS, but his pitching line looked a lot like a so-so Scott Baker performance -- save for the 30 extra pitches. You would have thought from some of the reporting on his work that he'd done a Jack Morris on the Rangers. Seriously? During the postseason, Verlander had a 5.31 ERA and opponents hit .330 against him. (Opponents hit .300 against Brian Duensing this season, but only the right-handed ones.) Verlander is a pitcher who had a great regular season and was picked up by his offense in the postseason.
*Carlos Gomez makes me laugh more now that he plays for someone else.
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