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.
You know that saying about the beginning of baseball season, "Hope springs eternal?"
Since Friday, we've had the Justin Morneau news, which has largely been regarded as pessimistic, and Joel Zumaya's season-ending elbow injury. Couple that with the skepticism that exists from the 99 losses of 2011 and it's not quite your recipe for optimism in Fort Myers.
As much as I'd like to think that Morneau can somehow return to his pre-concussion form, I'm past the point of expecting that to happen -- and Morneau's cautious description of his condition sounded honest compared to some of the unfounded optimism that often surrounds injury situations. Think about all the optimism we've heard over the years about Francisco Liriano, for example, and how much of it has turned out to be justified. I don't begrudge his words one bit.
In Zumaya's case, past results sometimes portend the future. I was fine -- and even excited -- about the Twins' willingness to gamble on him. I'm bummed about what happened, but not surprised.
At this point, you just want those guys to be pain free and symptom free and not have the things that happened to them playing baseball have an impact on the the rest of their lives. (For those who think that Morneau is somehow slacking or going through the motions to collect his salary, I can't tell you -- civilly, anyway -- how strongly I disagree.)
My frustration -- as a ticket-buying fan -- is that the Twins didn't come to camp with adequate backup plans. The blogging community around here sometimes gets unnaturally cheerful about Twins minor-league prospects, but I'd feel better if there was a veteran fallback as a Plan B at first base. I'm not ready to buy the Chris Parmelee solution based on a month of expanded-roster baseball. Ryan Doumit has 32 games of first-base experience in his seven-year career, most of them partial games; Trevor Plouffe played there for seven games at Rochester and one inning with the Twins.
In Zumaya's case, the Twins are so far falling back on expecting one or two of the 678 pitchers in training camp to step up and fill a set-up role. That's what the Twins were saying last year when they held open auditions to replace Guerrier, Crain and Fuentes. Remember the Dusty Hughes optimism? The midseason excitement about Chuck James? Jim Hoey's fastball?
Modestly priced free-agent relievers were in abundance during the offseason and the Twins chose to pass, save for Zumaya. (I'm not counting Matt Capps, even though he was a free agent who re-signed.) John Bonnes of TwinsCentric writes about the free-agent relievers who were available and have dispersed elsewhere. So does Aaron Gleeman in his latest blog. The Twins are placing faith in pitchers who, for the most part, have so far proven little in terms of being major league capable.
Set-up men have become a bit like NFL placekickers: They often move from team to team, even if they've done well, because most organizations simply aren't going to invest a lot of money in them. I'm doing my best to be excited about Jason Bulger -- or is it Jared Burton I'm trying to be excited about? -- but I'm not feeling it.
Maybe the fact that I'm disappointed in February means that things can only get better.
If not, at least it's an Olympic year.
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