Trades have not helped
Terry Ryan declared himself ready and willing last July to make a deal. “I have every intention of trying to improve the club. We’ve got some areas we’re pinpointing,” he said. “But we aren’t going to do one just to make a trade. You’ve got to find a good match.”
That last part has been the hangup that has prevented Ryan, now in the fifth season of his second stint as general manager, from acquiring players to supplement the Twins’ development strategy — or even help clear gluts of players at some positions and better organize his roster. In his first tenure as GM, Ryan was able to pluck valuable players like David Ortiz, Johan Santana, Joe Nathan, Francisco Liriano, Joe Mays, Shannon Stewart and Jason Bartlett from other organizations.
Now? “It’s gotten more difficult, because contracts have complicated the process,” Ryan said. “It takes two sides to make a trade.”
The only current starting position player acquired in a trade is shortstop Eduardo Escobar, who was projected as a utility infielder when the deal was struck. Ryan’s gambles to repeat his hidden-gems success of a decade ago — deals that brought Alex Meyer, Trevor May, John Ryan Murphy and Vance Worley to Minnesota — have so far not made a big impact, with Tommy Milone, 9-7 with a 4.56 ERA since being acquired for Sam Fuld, or Kevin Jepsen, who saved 10 games in late 2015, the most notable successes in Ryan’s relatively infrequent dealings.
Not since Ryan’s interim peer, Bill Smith, dealt for J.J. Hardy in 2009 has a position player acquired via trade stepped right in to a starting position. Not since Smith picked up Carl Pavano a few months earlier has a starting pitcher been found who kept his job more than a few months.
Catching: Solution needed
John Ryan Murphy was sent to the minors and Kurt Suzuki's production has declined
When an interviewer lamented to Kurt Suzuki recently that he mostly is asked questions about being clobbered by foul balls, the veteran catcher said, “I wish I was doing something worth talking about.”
Signing Suzuki was the Twins’ stop-gap reaction more than two years ago to the decision to move Joe Mauer to first base, and the choice was validated with an All-Star selection a few months later. But the affable Hawaiian, popular with his teammates and especially the pitching staff, has declined considerably from that first impression. And the Twins’ inability to identify Suzuki’s successor, both immediately and longterm, is glaring.
At the plate, Suzuki’s production, as measured by wins above replacement, ranked 44th among catchers who played at least 80 games in 2015, and he’s been worse this year. He threw out only 15 percent of would-be base-stealers last year, worst in the majors, and the 80 stolen bases allowed led all catchers.
His backups have been worse. Eric Fryer and Chris Herrmann combined to hit .160 last year, with a .245 on-base percentage, and the Twins had no plausible solution in the high minors. That convinced the Twins to trade for John Ryan Murphy over the winter. The result? Three hits in 40 at-bats (.075) and a demotion to Class AAA Rochester.
Suzuki’s contract expires this fall, but if Murphy doesn’t live up to projections, the Twins will have to go fishing once more for an answer at a critical position.
Learning on the job
Eddie Rosario's gaffes resulted in a demotion to the minors
Overthrowing the cutoff man. Bunting with two outs. Trying to steal third base with two outs. Swinging at the first pitch after a walk.
When a team is winning, when a player is crushing the ball, it’s easy to overlook some occasional bad judgment. Not so much when the results aren’t there.
“Young guys make mistakes. You expect that — running on their heels, or bobbing their heads [when they run] or messing up some footwork,” former manager Tom Kelly said during spring training. “But they have so many talents that complement them while they fight inexperience.”
The Twins counted on a brigade of players who haven’t even turned 25 this year, and they’ve paid the price in fundamental errors. “There was a time when guys spent years in the minor leagues, and you were expected to master both the physical and mental parts before you could be a big-leaguer,” said manager Paul Molitor, a Hall of Fame player. “But circumstances change. I spent one year in Class A and went right to the majors, with no understanding of how to win. You just count on your talent to carry you, and you absorb the mental part as best you can.”
Eddie Rosario had barely played more than 100 games above Class A before he was called up to Minnesota. Danny Santana had two dozen games in Class AAA before getting there, and Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton had none.
“You’d rather not have to learn on the job, so to speak, in the major leagues, at least what I would consider the fundamentals,” Molitor said. “But sometimes that’s the reality.”