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 was Thanksgiving morning six years ago when the news broke that Torii Hunter had agreed to a new contract with the Angels after playing his entire career with the Twins. He wanted something more than he could get in Minnesota, and got a lot more than the Twins were willing to pay.
For most of the years since, we've watched at this time of year as other teams have been major players in free agency and the Twins have nibbled around the edges. Yes, even the Josh Willingham signing -- the previous "richest free agent signing in Twins history" -- was a small mouthful compared to what other teams have been doing.
Ricky Nolasco is a good start to the rebuilding of the Twins. He'll come in with huge expectations only because he's Cy Young compared to what we've watched take the mound at Target Field for the last couple of seasons.
A friend e-mailed me this morning, asking basically, "Jack Morris or Vance Worley."
Talk about zero shades of gray.
My response: "Carl Pavano+."
Nolasco is a No. 2-starter type who could well play the role of an ace from time to time. He's one of a number of needed pieces, and I'm hoping he's one of three starting pitchers with credentials who the Twins sign for 2014 and beyond. I like two from the group of Matt Garza, Bronson Arroyo, Ervin Santana and Scott Feldman. And there are several catchers on the market who would make me happy.
Do that, and I'll trust the Twins to cobble together what's needed for the rest of the roster. (Hey, they're saying Denard Span is available from Washington, you know.)
If you're playing at home, here's a good free-agent tracker to bookmark.
In contemporary baseball, you can't cobble together an entire roster. But if the Twins are on their way to an aggressive overhaul, they could very well be a good team in 2014 and a very, very good team in 2015 and beyond. I'm still in the "if" camp on whether it will happen, but I'm allowing myself to be optimistic.
One move does not make an overhaul or change in tactics.
But bringing in established starting pitchers raises the bar for the young pitchers whose acquisition was the excitement of last winter and, for the most, had an assortment of struggles during their first year in the Twins organization. It's a lot easier to forecast an eventual leading role for Byron Buxton or Miguel Sano than for Trevor May, Alex Meyer or Jose Berrios. If one member of that pitching group comes through, that's good. If two come through, that's excellent.
Have a great Thanksgiving everyone. Maybe there will be more to get excited about in the weeks to come. At the very least, this Thanksgiving is better than the one when Torii Hunter got away.
Joe Mauer's move to another position was inevitable. The question was always going to be at what position, and the impending presence of Miguel Sano made first base a much more logical destination than third. We can debate that one if you'd like, but it's just not worth the energy.
Next issue: What do Josmil Pinto, Chris Herrmann, Eric Fryer and Ryan Doumit have in common? They're the catchers on the roster whom, according to media reports, general manager Terry Ryan expressed confidence in to handle the Twins' catching duties next season. No matter that we were told toward the end of last season that Doumit was also done as a catcher.
Next issue II: A.J. Pierzynski, John Buck, Brian McCann, Brayan Pena, Carlos Ruiz and Kurt Suzuki. What do they have in common? They're among the free-agent catchers on the market. (You can find a dozen more catchers in this list, but none of those names should interest us as much as the five mentioned here. Boston's Jarrod Saltalamacchia is available, but his defense reminds me too much of the Vikings' secondary to take him seriously.)
I'm all for Pinto becoming the Twins' regular catcher at some point. But all of the enthusiasm about his offensive ability needs to be put into the context that he had only 83 plate appearances for the Twins. (Can you say "Chris Parmelee, 2011?") Plus, there are the concerns that you would have for any young catcher about his ability to work with the pitchers, especially on a staff as flawed as what the Twins have been putting forth.
If there's a team in need of a veteran catcher to work with a promising youngster and a pitching staff in flux, it would be the Twins.
One of our stories about the Mauer move listed McCann, Ruiz and Saltalamacchia as free agents but "too expensive."
Let's all call garbage on that one.
I'm not saying one of those three has to be the answer, but the words "too expensive" and the Twins ownership should never, ever be mentioned in the same sentence, paragraph or book. That goes double right now with all of the salaries that have been dumped. You can make these numbers wiggle a little bit, but the Twins' payroll in 2013 dropped to about $82 million, The commitment to their 11 signed and arbitration-eligible players for this season comes to about $53 million, which means about $60-$62 million when you add the baseball-modest salaries of the others likely to be brought back.
That leaves plenty of room for investment, both in shorter-term position enhancements and longer-term pitching help. You could read toward the end of the season about ownership's shame, most notable the Jim Pohlad line from last summer on his embarrassment about walking through the concourses at Target Field. If the Twins truly believe that Pinto and those other guys are the catching answers for 2014, then ownership's shame is a sham.
If the Twins are committed to fighting the tire fire their team has become, the improvements for next season will include a veteran catcher to go with the new first baseman and the pitching help and Jason Bartlett (Jason Bartlett?) and any other moves they make.
Besides, you know you want to cheer for A.J. one more time.
Back around the start of the season, a couple of people emailed and chewed on me for being -- in their opinions -- excessively grumpy about the Twins. One of them said that it made my voice in the discussion less relevant, which struck me as a little bit off. But in return for sharing my opinions, I have an obligation to be thick-skinned when they are critiqued.
I have to say that however harsh I may have been back them doesn't feel like it was harsh enough.
Let me put it this way so that nobody can misunderstand: From the front office to the playing field, the Twins made a mockery of 2013. Anything that smacks of progress is overshadowed by all that went wrong and needs to be overhauled. In fact, I'm kind of glad the Twins capped off their miserable season with such a miserable finish, losing 20 of their final 25 games and getting outscored by 90 runs in that span.
That way, nobody can look at anything that happened over the final month -- when positive signs are often illusions, anyway -- and look to it as hope for the future.
When I look at the extended September roster, plus those on the disabled list, I see 11 players that I want to see back in 2014. Maybe 12. Go ahead and do that exercise and see where you end up. There are about two dozen players who would be no great loss (or no loss whatsoever) to not see again in a Twins uniform. That's a telling head count.
I mean, I'm trying to figure out exactly who the Twins players and manager Ron Gardenhire are talking to in those sappy end-of-season ads in which they thank fans for hanging with them through the season. I know it's marketing, but it had the hollow ring of airline ads that talk about their customer service when dealing with them is another matter entirely. Despite being a season-ticket holder, they weren't talking to me.
I would have preferred the Pohlads looking earnestly into a camera and saying, "We're sorry, fans. This won't happen again. Not only are we as peeved as you are, we have the power to take action and do something about it." Twins players could have thanked their fans in September by showing a pulse rather than being the Happy Meal of teams clinching their spots in the postseason.
Incredibly, during this final and dismal homestand, Twins batters struck out 91 times in 244 at-bats -- a 37 percent rate. In other words, the Twins struck out last week at the same rate as Mark Reynolds, the notorious MLB strikeout machine, during his seven-year career.
Now comes the off-season. It is time to be done with the players who take a step back back for every hint of progress when their careers should be beyond that stage. While waiting for the arrivals of the talented young players about whom we hear so much, it is time for the Twins to build a base of quality players with experience to greet them. Cleveland showed what can be done this season. Tampa Bay has done it season after season. There are others, too.
To have promoted anyone with promise into what was happening at Target Field this season would have exposed them to nothing good. In fact, it's logical to wonder whether some of the issues that Gardenhire had with young and talented Oswaldo Arcia were steeped in the environment that he entered. Nobody was here to help steer Aaron Hicks, who probably shouldn't have been here at all, and certainly it was best to keep Miguel Sano and Eddie Rosario as far from the troubles as possible.
It is better to bring in the Swishers, Pierzynskis, Napolis and their veteran ilk than to engage in silly debate about whether guys like Chris Colabello and Alex Presley and Chris Parmelee are of major-league caliber beyond a 24th or 25th roster spot. (We can disagree on names, but I hope we agree on philosophy.) I'll take failure when there are expectations over failure based on the unwillingness to engage.
The Twins have risked little with the players they've brought in because, frankly, there would be little market for them elsewhere. They give off the scent of an organization that is afraid to take risks. I haven't said this for a while because I may have said it too often in the past, but this ownership never had any reason to hide behind payroll as a reason for player moves (or inactivity). And it has even less reason to do so now..
There has been some brave chatter about tapping the free agent market in ways the Twins haven't tried; yet there was also Terry Ryan's scary contention a couple of weeks back that Josh Willingham's $21 million deal somehow represented a "huge" contract. Willingham, remember, signed with the Twins for $10.5 less over three years than the player he replaced -- 2013 National League batting champion Michael Cuddyer.
Yes, it is possible to both spend more and spend intelligently. There's even more urgency to do it starting this very minute because waiting any longer will make it that much more difficult to have credibility among the players who could help them improve. It was only a few years back when coming to Minnesota was an opportunity to compete at the highest level. Now it's on the precipice of being an organization of last resort. To hear Astros and Twins in the same sentence -- "The Astros and Twins have lost more games over the last three years than any other MLB team." -- is ugly.
That's all for now, friends. I'd like to end the season with something wistful for you, but there's nothing to look back on that way. I backed out of a couple of chances to go to the ballpark one last time this month and, yes, I'm glad the season is over.
At least we have October basketball to engage us. Go Lynx!
When a season blows up, as another Twins season is doing, one of the consolations should be the final few weeks of the season when some of the new guys get a chance to make names for themselves, and maybe improve their chances to have an impact in the following seasons. It can be fun to watch.
The current group of Twins isn’t even affording their fans much of that opportunity, mostly stumbling through a 10-game home stand in which they managed to get outscored by 37 runs. If you watched for any length of them, you were likely to see players throwing to the wrong base, giving half-hearted renditions of the little things (like backing up their teammates in the field) and continuing a season of cluelessness at the plate.
The other night, following a particularly substantial mental lapse in the infield, Kevin Correia threw his arms in the air like a substitute teacher wondering what he has to do to keep control of his youngsters.
There’s simply nothing to see here.
The glimmers, like Josmil Pinto’s game-changing home run Sunday afternoon, have simply been overwhelmed by all that’s been done wrong. Dick ‘n’ Bert have been unnaturally owly when I’ve caught them; Dan Gladden is a good radio guide for explaining the difference between what’s happening on the field and what should be happening.
The Twins aren’t even living up to the silly cliché of trying to be a spoiler for the teams they’re playing that do have a shot at the postseason. Gardy made that point, especially about the lack of hunger on display during Saturday night's shutout loss to Tampa Bay.
“This is an opportunity for these guys,” he said on his ESPN1500 radio show Sunday morning.
This post isn’t about suggestions for what to do. If five of us put forth our top five ideas, then we’d get tangled up in debating which ones should be at the top of the list. That’s not the point. If you want to know what I think, read this post.
Jim Pohlad acknowledged his embarrassment to a local columnist last week, and a Star Tribune letter writer – the thoughtful minor-league blogger Andrew Walter -- wondered the other day: “I’m curious to find out for how many years the organization can field a pathetic product using the mantra, ‘Target Field offers one of the best fan experiences in all of professional sports.’ “
I don’t know the answer to that. But I do know this: Two of my friends who operate the Section 219 ticket cartel sent around emails last week. They’re done. One wrote: “I have always said that watching baseball is ‘an exquisite waste of time,’ but if none of the play is exquisite -- and the Twins even drag down their opponents -- then it is just a waste of time.”
(Update from the original post: One of the group's leaders hasn't pulled the plug and is trying to find new members, so if you're interested, maybe we can work something out.)
I'm keeping my tickets, but I wonder whether I'll be in the majority. I suspect that one more year of this mess would cause me to get rid of 'em.
It was 2004 when the debate kicked into full gear in Minnesota: Should slugger-in-the-making Justin Morneau take over first base from Doug Mientkiewicz, the incumbent who was known for getting on base and his slick glove. As time went on, and Mientkiewicz slumped in 2004, the decision became obvious. The Twins traded Mientkiewicz to Boston, while the Red Sox were playing at the Metrodome, and Morneau was installed at first base.
Now, nine years later, the debate fired up again and the sensible conclusion has been reached. It became time to trade Morneau and move on with the reshaping of the Twins. After the concussion that corruped a season that had MVP Candidate etched in its statistics, Morneau showed glimmers of his former excellence. But the statistics bear out that he has become a middle-of-the-pack first baseman, at bat and in the field.
To accept that for another year or three would have run counter to the extreme makeover that the Twins have to undertake.
For the Pittsburgh Pirates, who are making an unexpected pennant run in the National League, looking for a short-term spark is part of the equation for a team that has finished below .500 for the last 22 years.
For the Twins, This is another indication that, whether we like it or not, Joe Mauer will make the move to first base. A catcher audition begins Sunday with the arrival of young Josmil Pinto. And there will be no shortage of available catchers in the off-season free-market.
Enough with that.
Morneau's good years with the Twins were the ones when the team was in the postseason more often than not, although he wasn't on the playoff roster in 2009 and '10. He was an American League MVP, an MVP runner-up, a four times-in-a-row All Star and a two-time Silver Slugger winner. From his MVP season until the concussion, he had a batting average just under .300 and an on base-plus-slugging percentage of exactly .900.
Sometimes he was a team carrier. Never in that time was he a liability.
That's why it has been so hard to watch these last three seasons, from the time that reporters were called to a back field in Fort Myers to watch a B-game that marked his return to the field in 2011 to the booming home run Friday night that broke a 2-2 tie and gave the Twins an unexpected victory over Yu Darvish and the Rangers.
We'd see a few games and hope that the .298/.372/.900 Morneau was about to bust through.
Instead, the post-concussion Morneau gave us .256/.316/.728. It was a big enough sample size.
I'm not sure that, in the long term, there will be numbers from Morneau that will be much better than that. But I don't care about the long term right now.
The Pirates are tied for first place in the National League Central with 28 games to play. I hope Morneau gives them a September (and October) to remember.
It's probably not the way you want it, but Twins fans have a team to cheer.
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