COMMENTARY: Are Twins smart enough to change to aid team in 2012?
MINNEAPOLIS You don't have to be overly cynical to wonder whether the right stuff exists to make things better for the Twins in 2012. Nothing that was done during the offseason has yielded fruit this season. The injury-forced shuttle of players b...
You don't have to be overly cynical to wonder whether the right stuff exists to make things better for the Twins in 2012.
Nothing that was done during the offseason has yielded fruit this season. The injury-forced shuttle of players between dreadful Rochester (46-75) and Minnesota hasn't provided a glimpse of future quality as much as showing off the organization's stockpile of marginal Triple-A players. The only glimmers for fans have been the play of Ben Revere (and there are still questions about whether he should be an everyday player or a fourth outfielder) and whether Trevor Plouffe's bat is solid enough to help the team in a multi-position/DH role. (Let him play!)
If things don't get better, the Twins will be looking at the prospect of a half-filled Target Field sooner than was anticipated.
The most serious mistakes made last winter were the inability to find a leader for the starting rotation, the purge of the middle infield and the failure to find more than one reliable arm in the bullpen to replace the veterans (Guerrier, Crain, Rauch and Fuentes) who departed. (They are fortunate that Glen Perkins came through when he filled a set-up role by default.) The only "successful" decisions were the negatives ones -- not offering more than one-year contracts to Delmon Young and Francisco Liriano, both of whom have performed miserably compared to the expectations set by 2010
I would hope at some point that Bill Smith or Jim Pohlad would acknowledge the failures publicly and vow that significant changes will be coming.
2012 needs to be a put up-or-go away year for the Twins. They have a front office, a minor-league system and plenty of players with much to prove. I'm willing to use the confluence of events that's ruined this season as a call to action for seasons to come. But I want to be more confident than I am right now that the pain of this season will spur the moves needed for long-term gain.
Falling back on the accomplishments of the recent past holds little weight. After the 1985 season, the Kansas City Royals could tell their fans, "Hey, we've been to the postseason seven times in 10 years."
Absolutely true. And the Royals haven't played a postseason game since.
Here are some suggestions:
_ Hire another middle infield. Tsuyoshi Nishioka has so many holes in his game -- offensively, defensively and mentally -- that it's hard to imagine him showing more than incremental improvement. Let him hit .330, steal 30 bases and not make mental mistakes in the minors for a season. As well as Alexi Casilla has played in stretches, he's a fifth infielder on a contending team. The Twins knew there were weaknesses in Nishioka's game when they signed him, but took an intriguing gamble. Anointing him as the starter for 2012 sends every kind of wrong message possible. If you still need evidence, watch the replay of Friday's loss at Cleveland.
_ Acknowledge that if speed is important on offense at Target Field, it's equally important on defense. An outfield with Denard Span or Revere in center and slow-foots in left and right is an invitation to failure, especially with a team whose pitchers are at the bottom of the league in strikeouts. Committing to Revere in left and Span in center (or something comparable), would allow the Twins to have some defensive slack in right. It looks like last season was an aberration, so you can't even argue that Young can make up for a lack of range by hitting 20 homers and batting .300. Let some other team make that case.
Editor's note: The Twins announced Monday -- after this was written -- they had traded Delmon Young to the Detroit Tigers.
_ Find major-league relief pitchers rather than Triple-A guys for next spring. Bullpens can be built economically providing that scouts make better calls than Dusty Hughes and Jim Hoey. I hope I'm not being naive to assume that assessment is going on right now.
_ Gamble on bringing in an ace starting pitcher. Jack Morris was coming off two mediocre years in Detroit but had enough left to win 39 games over the next two seasons for the Twins and Toronto. That's a tougher call than improving the bullpen, but no less vital for a team that wants to be a viable playoff participant.
_ Pick a second position for Joe Mauer. He can still consider himself a catcher if he's behind the plate for 100 games a year, but a call needs to be made that will serve the team both sooner and later. Whatever choice is made will create a chain reaction. Third base would have an impact on Danny Valencia; first base would say something about Justin Morneau, who is signed through 2013; right field brings another set of implications. I would prefer to never again hear the words "general soreness."
_ Never use Mauer's contract as an excuse for not making a move to make the team better. I consider the Mauer contract an investment in the success of Target Field -- an expenditure separate from the rest of the team payroll. (I admit that's an easier position to take from outside.) At the time of the deal, Mauer was considered a singular talent based on everything his game contributed to the Twins. I am betting he'll regain that status. But I don't want to hear that ownership couldn't do this or that because of Mauer's contract.
_ Some combination of Cuddyer/Kubel/Thome/Nathan/Capps/Young/Liriano/Butera/Mijares/others will be gone in 2012. Most of the returning players should be reporting to Fort Myers next season looking over their shoulder at who could replace them if they continue underperforming. With the exceptions of Cuddyer, Kubel and Perkins, no player has shown the kind of improvement or maintained a performance level needed for the Twins to be taken seriously.
_ Recapture the right way to play. Even during Wednesday's game -- the victory over Boston -- there were mistakes that made it harder than it needed to be to win. That's become the norm for the Twins. As Morris asked on the radio Sunday afternoon: "What's happened to Twins baseball?"
And here's one immediate change -- albeit a symbolic one -- that I can buy into immediately. It's not an original idea, but rather was proposed by the blogger Jim Crikket on the Knuckleballs blog.
He suggests taking away the throwback jerseys the Twins have worn since Harmon Killebrew's death.
The reasoning: "Their performance on the field dishonors my memories of watching Killer and the others play baseball the way it was intended to be played. They aren't worthy of wearing the same uniform and if I were in charge, they wouldn't put those uniforms on again until they earned the right to be mentioned in the same breath."
Here's [ http://knuckleballsblog.com/?s=killebrew] the entire post.
It's harsh, but when the Twins come home on Thursday, their navy blue jerseys should be hanging in Target Field lockers.
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