The Twins sorely miss Torii Hunter.
That’s not an excuse. It’s an indictment.
Baseball shouldn’t work this way. The Twins shouldn’t miss a 40-year-old corner outfielder who hit .240 last season, and who probably made the right decision to retire before he was relegated to a backup role.
But they do miss him, and they are not alone.
After Hunter left the Twins in free agency following the 2007 season, the franchise didn’t suffer. Justin Morneau provided pop and leadership, and the Twins were winners for the next three years.
But after Hunter left the Angels, they went from 89 victories with him to 78 without him. When he left the Tigers, they fell from 90 to 74 victories. Last season, the Twins won 83 games with him; they started the 2016 season a franchise-worst 9-26.
There is no logical argument to be made that Hunter himself, even at his peak, was worth 11 or 16 or 40 victories in a season, and yet this Twins team is virtually identical to last year’s and far less competitive. This year, as was the case from 2011 through 2014, you walk into the Twins clubhouse and feel like you’re in a windowless basement in the middle of a Minnesota winter. There is no life in that room.
Even if you can make a case for Hunter’s influence, he is no longer a solution. He doesn’t want to be a full-time coach, and you can’t bring a player back to be a glorified bench-player/coach.
Hunter’s absence is a problem and his return probably isn’t a solution.
The Twins are buried in the standings. For the fifth time in six years they need to spend the summer preparing young players for next year.
Here’s how they should spend the summer:
1. Don’t fire anyone. Yet.
Calls for Paul Molitor’s firing are silly. He did excellent work last year and shouldn’t be fired over six bad weeks, no matter how bad the six weeks have been.
Calls for Terry Ryan to step down or be fired hit closer to home. The general manager is the most important figure in any baseball organization. Ryan has made poor trades and free-agent signings, and his prized prospects are a mixed bag.
Firing a general manager in the middle of the season makes no sense. That’s a move best suited for the offseason, when a new general manager can spend the fall reorganizing. So Ryan will have the rest of this summer to prove that his prospects were worth waiting for. And even if outside observers decide that Ryan should take the fall for another bad season, he’ll only depart if he or Jim Pohlad decided it’s time for him to go.
2. Get Glen Perkins healthy, wait for him to have a good stretch, then trade him.
He’s 33 and has broken down in consecutive seasons. If he’s pitching well, someone will pay a reasonable price for him at the trade deadline.
3. Trade Trevor Plouffe.
Plouffe is one of this team’s better players and personalities, but the Twins have plenty of outfield prospects and need to find out if Miguel Sano will hit better while playing his natural position, third base.
4. Trade Phil Hughes and Ricky Nolasco, if possible.
Hughes’ velocity has dropped from 95 when he was at his best to 91 with little movement. If someone will take him, ship him. If anyone will take Nolasco, ship him, too.
5. Don’t promote Byron Buxton until he’s ready.
Buxton’s progress was impeded by his call-up last year, when he wasn’t even swinging well at Class AA. Don’t call him up again until he has dominated Class AAA and is filled with confidence.
Ryan tried to build with free-agent pitchers and trades. The Twins’ awful play this season is proof that he and the franchise are more dependent than ever on Sano, Buxton and Jose Berrios becoming stars.
The rest of this summer should be dedicated to preparing them to compete — stop me if you’ve heard this one before — next season.