A third consecutive season that has seen the Twins finish among the worst teams in baseball has understandably bred a sense of hopelessness amongst the fan base. Not necessarily long-term hopelessness -- most people understand that Minnesota boasts one of the best farm systems in the game, and that this assortment of high-profile prospects should eventually help usher a turnaround -- but certainly a feeling that contention is still a distant proposition.
It is for this reason that some have embraced a mindset that involves making no meaningful effort to compete over the next year or two (as was the case this year), and instead saving all bullets for 2015/2016, when the brightest young talents within the organization are more likely to be impact players at the big-league level.
I call this a loser mentality.
The Twins may be in a rather dire situation presently, but contention in 2014 is hardly some implausible dream scenario -- IF the front office is prepared to make such a commitment. Just take a look at the team that plowed through Minnesota in a season-ending sweep at Target Field over the weekend to lock down a playoff berth.
Last year, the Indians finished with 68 wins, just four more than the Twins. Cleveland scored fewer runs than all but one AL team and posted the league's worst team ERA (yes, even worse than the Twins). Before this season, John Sickels of Minor League Ball ranked the Tribe's farm system as the sixth-worst in baseball.
Much like the Twins, the Indians were amidst a lengthy stretch of losing baseball. They hadn't finished above .500 since 2007, and last year was their third 90-loss season in the past four.
But Cleveland did not embrace the loser mentality. Instead, the front office made sweeping changes to reinvigorate a stale product. Seth outlined the ingredients in their resurgence last week, but the bottom line is this: The Indians hired a new manager, made some bold and inventive moves to acquire talent, and had a handful of returning players improve dramatically.
Given that the Twins stand to receive a major infusion from their bustling pipeline very soon (Miguel Sano, Byron Buxton and Alex Meyer all could be up next year), who's to say that a similar transformation could not take place? At the conclusion of his well written piece, Seth said, "Maybe in 2015 the Twins will be able to make a 20+ game improvement and contend for a playoff spot." Why 2015? Why should anyone view next year as another hopeless death march we must inevitably trudge through?
The Twins may not have underperforming talents at the level of Ubaldo Jimenez and Justin Masterson, but there are plenty of candidates to take steps forward and make a positive impact in the rotation, most notably Kyle Gibson, Vance Worley and Scott Diamond. That's before you account for the potential additions of Meyer and any external reinforcements.
In my mind, it is Cleveland's ambitious approach that should serve as a blueprint for the Twins, not the endless patience of Houston or (up until this year) Kansas City. The Indians did what it took to sign high-caliber players at positions of need, spending $104 million on Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn. They turned a player who didn't figure into their long-term future (Shin-Shoo Choo) into a bright young pitching prospect (Trevor Bauer). They took a chance on a classic risk/reward play in Scott Kazmir and ended up with a player that outperformed every Twins starter.
And as for the managerial switch… well, I don't have strong feelings about that. If he's supplied with enough talent and injuries don't bite too hard, I have every confidence Ron Gardenhire can pilot the team to a winning record. At the same time, it's hard to look at what happened in Cleveland this year and not think that -- on some level -- that stagnant club was jolted by a fresh voice with differing thoughts and philosophies.
Regardless of what the course is, the Twins ought to tread purposefully this offseason. There are intriguing free agents, international stars and buy-low trade opportunities to be had, with all options made possible by unprecedented financial flexibility. As long as Terry Ryan avoids adding decline-phase players on multi-year deals, anything he does this winter stands to benefit the team down the line as well as in the short term.
Thus, the Twins are positioned to make some things happen in the coming months. Twins Daily will present all the possibilities in the upcoming 2014 Offseason GM Handbook, which is now available for pre-order! As always, this graphically rich e-book will put you in the shoes of the Twins' general manager, offering up a comprehensive and entertaining portrayal of the offseason landscape. Inside, you will find payroll analysis, available free agents at every position, trade candidates, organizational depth breakdowns, arbitration scenarios and much more; with all these details at hand, it's up to you to decide the best approach for getting the franchise back on track within realistic parameters.
If you pre-order now, you can lock up your copy of the 2014 Offseason Handbook for just $4.95. In addition, those who pre-order will receive a copy in their inboxes on October 23, the day the World Series gets underway. The Handbook will become publicly available at least a week later, when the Fall Classic concludes, and at the standard price of $6.95. Pre-order today to support local independent writing and prepare yourself for a pivotal winter!