As the Twins begin another meaningless September homestand, what we know about the direction of the franchise is that we know nothing.
We have no idea whether the not-so-new front office can build a winner. The Twins have hired a lot of people and dramatically upgraded their analytics department and that could lead to championships or firings. Their only stretch of success so far capitalized on a brief surge from their predecessor’s best prospects.
We have no idea whether Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano will become the Twins’ support beams or cement shoes. Anyone suggesting they should be traded or cut is ignoring franchise history and embracing irrationality. Anyone professing certainty that they will become stars is engaging in understandable hopefulness but nothing more.
We have no idea whether the absence next season of Joe Mauer’s blame-everything-on-me contract will have any positive effect on the franchise. Nor do we know whether Mauer will return, or whether his return would be beneficial.
We have no idea whether the many trades Derek Falvey and Thad Levine have made will produce good big-league players. Remember that before Terry Ryan became the best trade-making general manager in baseball, from 1998-2006, he was the worst trade-making general manager in baseball, from 1995-97.
We have no idea whether the public’s constant plea for the Pohlads to spend more money on players would have the desired effect. The biggest contracts in franchise history have not yielded championships, and the 10 richest contracts in baseball history have produced one World Series title — won by Alex Rodriguez with the Yankees in 2009.
We have no idea whether calling Buxton up to play in meaningless September games would have helped his career. He has produced two excellent Septembers in his big-league career. Neither led to him performing well the following season.
These examples of unenlightenment demonstrate the mysteries of baseball rebuilding.
Are analytics the answer? Not necessarily. Now that everyone is using them, it’s harder to use them to gain an edge.
Is patience rewarded? Sometimes. The Royals stuck to their rebuilding philosophy and it worked. They won one World Series and almost won another. And all it took was about 25 years of dice-rolling and roster-flipping.
Is spending $150 million or more on payroll the answer? It might be for the Red Sox, Cubs and Astros. It isn’t for the Dodgers, Giants and Nationals.
Adding to the mystery is the very nature of September baseball. The Twins will be playing without pressure against expanded rosters. If a Twin excels this month, he might be succeeding in the autumn version of spring training, and that success might never translate into competence against good teams in a playoff race.
The Twins will spend this month playing games because they are required to play games. There is nothing to see here. We will learn nothing from a month devoid of baseball meaning.
What could matter is this winter.
If Buxton and Sano don’t become stars, the Twins soon will be embarking on another rebuild with less-talented prospects. This winter, Buxton and Sano need to revamp their hitting approaches and come to spring training prepared to carry their team.
I heard this suggestion first from Twins analyst and former All-Star Roy Smalley: They should be sent to play for the same team in Sano’s country, the Dominican Republic. They should be accompanied by whichever coach is deemed most likely to turn their careers around.
They should play every other day, and spend their off days working on technique.
What Buxton and Sano do this winter will matter more than anything that has happened over the past 11 months.
Forget September. Winter is coming, and it could mean everything to a stumbling franchise.