The Twins have become the baseball version of Minnesota winters. Our only solace is mumbling, “It could be worse.”
Because that is true. It could be. Winter storms can turn from annoying to deadly, and baseball ineptitude can cause franchises to collapse.
As the least-anticipated Twins spring training in decades begins, let’s count our blessings.
Here’s a doubleheader’s worth of reasons things could be worse:
1. The Twins threatened to leave town over the years if they couldn’t land a new ballpark. Today Minnesota features one of the game’s best parks and, thanks to the team’s play this decade, it still would be classified on eBay as “New-other.’’
2. There will be no chance of Minnesota-style sports disappointment, that feeling of watching a promising team flop. This year’s team only has to win 59 games to match last year’s total. A decline in performance is almost mathematically impossible.
3. Paul Molitor’s situation will be resolved. He was a big reason the Twins performed well in 2015 and no manager can escape blame when a team plays as poorly as last year’s did. If the team fails this year, it will be time for him to depart but this is a worthwhile experiment: Testing whether the genius that made Molitor a Hall of Famer, paired with an analytical front office, can bring the best of both worlds to the dugout.
4. Spring training always warms the soul. No matter the state of the team, there is room for optimism, even feigned. The departed Bill Smith helped the Twins build an ideal complex in Fort Myers and the facilities are better than ever.
5. There is no doubt that that the raw talent of the Twins’ best young players is real. Every team in baseball would love to have Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano, Max Kepler and Jose Berrios. Just because you’re tired of hearing it doesn’t mean it isn’t true.
6. Unexpected success is the sweetest form of success. The best teams and stories in Twins history arrived after seasons of abject failure. There is no reason to believe this team will contend, but it could perform similarly to the 2000 Twins, who started the transition from the woeful mid-’90s to the successful 2000s.
7. Raw talent is something to behold in any context. The Twins will have to win to engage the casual fan, but for those who love baseball, watching Buxton and Kepler run down flies is the best version of modern art.
8. Losing big creates the opportunity to clean house. The Twins have gone through almost unprecedented changes in their franchise the past five years. They have no reason to remain loyal to any veteran who isn’t part of the solution.
9. Brian Dozier is still here. As a blend of personality and performance, he’s as good as it gets in baseball. The Twins aren’t willing to sell low to trade him and probably shouldn’t sell at all unless they can get two or three sure-thing starting pitchers.
10. Joe Mauer’s contract is almost up. While most fans obsess over the money he makes, the real problem is his job security. He’s tying up a power-hitting position that could be filled by Miguel Sano or a free agent with more power. When Mauer’s contract expires at the end of the 2018 season, the Twins will have more flexibility as well as more money to spend.
11. This may sound like sarcasm; it’s not. I love living in a town where you can get a major league baseball ticket at the last minute.
12. Ervin Santana is highly unlikely to get busted for PEDs again.
13. It is impossible for the Twins to trade for John Ryan Murphy again.
14. It is highly unlikely that the Twins will lose to the Yankees in the playoffs any time soon.
15. Rainouts feel like reprieves.
16. The Twins can honor the 1987 team for the 1,987th time.
17. Replay reviews have yet to overturn the Ron Gant call.
18. This season the Twins are not scheduled to play any games that will be announced by Joe Buck.