Monday is signified as Opening Day, which for the 2017 Minnesota Twins is unfortunate. This is a franchise much more desperate for closure than the false promise of a baseball holiday.
The 2016 version of the Twins earned the right to be called the worst in franchise history. The Boys of Spring posted the worst winning percentage in the Minnesota version of the franchise, and the worst since the 1955 Washington Senators were inspiring jokes.
The 2016 Twins — playing in a still-beautiful ballpark, coming off 83 victories and stocked with promising young players — managed to perform even worse than Twins teams that admitted they weren’t trying to compete.
Remember 1995? Andy MacPhail had seen the advent of competitive imbalance and fled to Chicago, the team’s run as the most admired in baseball had ended, Terry Ryan traded everyone he could before the end of August and the team actually tried a platoon of Jerald Clark and Kevin Maas at first base. But that team was better than the 2016 Twins.
Remember 1998? Twins ownership had decided to play “studio” baseball, meaning a minimal investment in players. Otis Nixon celebrated his 98th birthday in a Twins uniform and played 110 games. But that team was better than the 2016 Twins.
The 2016 Twins lost their first nine games and wasted another summer at Target Field. Ownership fired Ryan and hired Derek Falvey and Thad Levine to mop up the mess. And what has transpired since “Falvine” took over is almost as remarkable as what preceded their arrival:
They have done close to nothing.
The business side of the franchise is withering. Ownership is embarrassed. The manager knows he’s likely a lame duck. The All-Star closer, who has been this team’s most effective player for most of the past four seasons, might be near the end of his career. Expectations are as low as they have been since the 1990s.
Falvine responded by signing a catcher known for pitch-framing.
Their inactivity could be an admission, a complaint, an homage, a cry for help or a cry for patience. Most likely it is all of those.
Falvine know this team has little chance to contend. The 2017 Twins could improve by 20 games and not reach .500.
They know that making one major signing in free agency would make little impact, even if they could persuade a major free agent to sign with a 59-win team, which is unlikely.
They know they are new at their jobs and that the incompetence on display last year buys them time.
They know that despite his mistakes, Ryan amassed an impressive group of young position players who should mature in the next year or two, and that Ryan’s primary fault — failing to develop quality starting pitching — can’t be fixed in one winter. The promise of the position players and the desperation for homegrown pitching both require patience.
Falvey and Levine couldn’t admit this publicly — “This can’t be fixed quickly” would be the worst marketing slogan in sports history — but they might as well spend this season assessing the organization, from Molitor to the last statistical analyst.
Most likely they will begin 2018 with a manager of their own choosing and with a better firsthand understanding of what needs to be done to fix the franchise.
They’re lucky that while doing little they are almost certain to see improvement in the Twins’ quality of play and record. It would be almost impossible to lose 103 games again.
There is no better job in sports than taking over a broken franchise. Mathematically and aesthetically, Falvine’s new team can’t get worse.
Jim Souhan’s podcast can be heard at MalePatternPodcasts.com. On Twitter: @SouhanStrib. E-mail: email@example.com