Major league baseball did not have divisional play until 1969. Detroit and the Twins were not in the same division until the Tigers joined the American League Central in 1998.
Both teams were in woeful shape then. The Tigers were in the midst of eight consecutive losing seasons (1994-2001) when they finished a combined 182 games under .500. The Twins were in the midst of eight consecutive losing seasons (1993-2000) when they finished a combined 171 games under .500.
The Twins finally found daylight with an 85-77 record and second-place finish in the Central to Cleveland in 2001. The Tigers remained woeful at 66-96, and owner Mike Ilitch brought in esteemed baseball executive Dave Dombrowski to fix the mess.
It took four more losing seasons, but the Tigers sprung to life in 2006 and went to the World Series as a wild-card team. The Tigers played in another World Series in 2012, and also lost in the ALCS in 2011 and 2013.
The Tigers took an aggressive shot in 2014, bringing in wonderful lefty David Price in a deadline trade with Tampa Bay. This was supposed to get the octogenarian Ilitch a World Series trophy to go with his Stanley Cup championships.
Detroit was swept in a division series by Baltimore. Now, the 2015 Tigers have been a bust and Dombrowski was let go by Ilitch on Tuesday. Obviously, the owner did not feel he was getting his $170 million payroll worth from his baseball boss.
Jim Pohlad and his brothers, Bob and Bill, the owners of the Twins, would be entitled to have the same reaction, even with a more modest output of $110 million (including dead money, such as the released Tim Stauffer).
Twins General Manager Terry Ryan built his reputation for acumen with the turnaround that led to four division titles from 2002 to 2006. He stepped aside after the 2007 season, Bill Smith was the general manager for two more division titles in 2009 and 2010, and then came the disaster of 2011 — a 19-50 finish and a 63-99 record.
Smith was removed as GM in November 2011 and Ryan returned. Ryan will turn 62 in October and his energy looks to be there, as is his resolve to fix a team that was 118 games under .500 in the previous four seasons.
There was hope at the All-Star break when the Twins were 49-40 and in excellent position in the AL’s wild-card race. They entered Wednesday night’s game at 5-12 since the break.
You look at this team and see Brian Dozier at second, and Trevor Plouffe at third, and Torii Hunter pushing himself to a worthy season at 40, but what else?
Miguel Sano brings hope, but he shouldn’t be hitting fourth in a big-league lineup … not yet. Eddie Rosario has good games and bad ones. Aaron Hicks remains a suspect.
Joe Mauer is 32 and looking increasingly like a guy destined to bloop and to bounce his way through three remaining contract years as a part-time player. The Twins don’t have a shortstop, and Kurt Suzuki is an automatic out as the catcher.
Ryan wasted $49 million of the Pohlads’ baseball budget on Ricky Nolasco before the 2014 season. Ervin Santana missed the first half of this season because of a steroid suspension, and now he has 3½ seasons to earn the $47 million left on his deal.
A faction of Twins fans was upset that Ryan didn’t do something significant at the trade deadline. More likely, there was nothing significant to be had for Oswaldo Arcia, hitting at Class AAA Rochester like he belongs there, or Alex Meyer, looking increasingly like a bust, or any other alleged prospects not named Jose Berrios or Byron Buxton.
Did you want to give up Berrios or Buxton in the hope of plugging the leaks in this dinghy?
It’s not the failure to make a deadline trade that should have the owners questioning Ryan. It’s the big pile of millions tossed in the bonfire for Nolasco, the small pile for Stauffer, the fielding of a team that doesn’t have a shortstop or catcher of the present or the future.
I look at the 2015 Twins and I see the 2014 Brewers: 53-43 at the break, 29-37 the rest of the way, and running uphill the next season.
There’s still much to fix here.
Presumably, the Pohlads will choose to hold their baseball boss to a far different standard than was Dombrowski, and allow Ryan to continue this uncertain attempt to be the fixer once again.