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.
One thing that appeared clear a few weeks into the season was that the Twins wouldn't be as bad as some people thought they'd be. In fact, if everything went just about as well as possible, the Twins maybe would contend for third place in the mediocre American League Central.
That's different than whether we'd be looking at a countdown to 100 losses for the third consecutive year, a fate the Twins barely avoided in the disastrous seasons of '11 and '12. They're currently on pace to lose 88 games. (You decide whether "only" is an appropriate modifier, OK?)
So it has been with equal measures of amusement and horror that we have been subjected to straight-faced conversations about whether the organization will be "buyers" or "sellers" as the baseball trading deadline approaches.
First of all, the Twins are a more interesting team to watch than they have been the last couple of seasons. (If you can come up with fainter praise, go ahead and take a shot in the comments.) But watching Oswaldo Arcia develop, Aaron Hicks go from zero to a .179 average and Joe Mauer hit is overshadowed by underperformance almost everywhere else. The sad state of the offense is broken down in a blog post by Patrick Reusse, where you can find an especially horrifying detail about what the Twins numbers would be if you eliminate Mauer.)
In other words, combined with the starting pitching, this team is more intriguing than good. Creating a "buyer vs. seller" debate is silly at best and disingenuous at worst. The only real question is whether the Twins have anything to sell that would do more than free up payroll, and the accompanying question of what management would do with any resources that are freed up.
The current payroll of about $75.8 million is a significant retrenchment from the $113.2 million that the Twins spent in 2011. There's more coming off the payroll in 2014 (Justin Morneau's salary) than there will be added in raises due to players with multiyear deals. That's why you don't have to be much of a skeptic to wonder whether the Twins will spend on talent or put the savings in the company wallet.
And, for the record, teams don't have to spend large to win, a point made by KFAN's Dan Barreiro a few days back. Eleven of the 15 MLB teams with winning records current are 10th or below in total payroll -- starting with St. Louis at $115 million. Seven of those 15 teams have 2013 payrolls of $90 million or less.
Put it this way: Painting the Twins as buyers is a reach-and-a-half. They are good enough to play interesting baseball in spurts and flawed enough to fall apart in others. The two losses in Miami this week were due to shortcomings in offense, defense, starting pitching and the bullpen. In a word, everything.
Painting the Twins are sellers is almost as silly because they don't have much that will fetch a return. TwinsCentric's Nick Nelson explained this week why Morneau won't bring much, if anything, except for increased playing time for Chris Parmelee. If you want to get excited about acquiring midlevel prospects, excuse me if I don't join in. I didn't renew my membership in the Lester Oliveros fan club.
As sellers, the Twins aren't much more than a thrift shop.
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