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.
Maybe it was a good thing that the Twins didn't sweep the Cubs. For one thing, it did some good for the self-esteem of the Cubs fans who made the journey to the Twin Cities over the weekend. If you were at Target Field, you know they were there. We were surrounded by them near the top of Section 114 on Friday night, and they seemed as resigned to that night's outcome (the bullpen blowing a couple of leads) as Twins fans were earlier in the season to watching one of the local starters get knocked around.
Now please don't laugh or call me names, but on Saturday -- for the first time this season -- I did some scoreboard watching during the game. The division lead has been cut to single-digits for the Twins and, providing things continue somewhat close to as they have been lately, we'll no longer talk about the Twins in the "worst team in the majors" context.
Now, the coming dilemma. If the Twins continue playing well and chopping a few more games off the division lead in the next couple weeks of interleague play, they will be within aroma distance on first place in the American League Central. Then they'll have a week against the White Sox and Royals before the schedule turns tougher.
And then the buyer/seller question will be asked.
A few days back, Jim Souhan wrote that the team's recent success shouldn't alter plans to sell off some veterans and look to the future. He's right.
I know that some people feel you should never turn down a chance to take a run at a title, no matter what the circumstances, but the fact remains that the Twins' roster still needs to get stronger to do anything more than lurk at the fringe of one of baseball's two weakest divisions. (The NL Central, ft. the Cubs, is the other.) They could have dealt with issue this last season, but opted not to -- with the possible payoff being further down the road with the extra draft picks the Twins received through free-agent departures.
Baseball's free-agency rules have changed so that is almost certain not to happen in 2013, and for as long as the new rules remain in place.
The Twins have several bargaining chips that could help them get stronger -- and without sacrificing much in the short terms. If Denard Span is traded, Ben Revere can move into center field. If Matt Capps is traded, Glen Perkins and Jared Burton can move to the end of the bullpen in its current build. If Francisco Liriano is traded, we will finally be done with the drama.
If you want to commit to Brian Dozier at shortstop, the Twins could still stand to be stronger at second base and third base. If you are willing to give Trevor Plouffe 400 at-bats, you have the flexibility in the long term of having him play third base, right field or (if Ryan Doumit isn't around after this season) DH.
Justin Morneau is an issue deserving of more than a sentence, which it will not get here. If another team thinks he'll help bring a championship and offers a good haul in return, then it should happen. That's the starting point for a discussion that will take place for the next season-and-two thirds -- until his contract expires at the end of the 2013 season. A Morneau deal is the only move that could create a gaping short-term hole -- based on the idea of losing a 25-homer talent.
The Twins are in a position where they can make trades and not suffer much in the short term. In fact, the right pieces could even make them stronger for the short haul, as well as for the years to come, when the current group will be joined (in theory) by reinforcements from the minor-league system.
Whatever moves are made need to strengthen the starting pitching.
I'm not expecting Terry Ryan and his staff to bat 1.000 with their personnel moves. That simply doesn't happen. But the good has outweighed the bad so far and I do expect Ryan's posse to have the fortitude to make moves with the coming seasons in kind, not the coming months.
In return for that, I promise not to bring up (too often) that things should never have reached this point in the first place.
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