TWINS: Team headed for offseason of heavy scrutiny

ST. PAUL Analysis: the Twins can expect heavy scrutiny from a fan base unaccustomed to the kind of season that just ended. General manager Bill Smith will receive the brunt of it. OK, so now what? With a disappointing 2011 finally in the books, T...

Bill Smith
Minnesota Twins general manager Bill Smith. (AP file photo)


Analysis: the Twins can expect heavy scrutiny from a fan base unaccustomed to the kind of season that just ended. General manager Bill Smith will receive the brunt of it.

OK, so now what?

With a disappointing 2011 finally in the books, Twins general manager Bill Smith and his staff are on the clock for 2012, and they have a lot of skeptical fans to win over. Though they packed Target Field more than 3 million strong for a second straight season, their goodwill showed signs of thinning as the Twins played out a 63-99 season.

And though Smith doesn't subscribe to the theory that the empire is in decline, he acknowledged Thursday -- a day after the Twins completed their season with a 1-0 victory over Kansas City -- that he and his staff have some heavy lifting ahead of them.


Savvy navigation of the trading and free agent markets will be required.

"We have a lot of work to do to get back to where we were for most of the previous decade," he said. "This was a very disappointing season for everybody involved -- the coaches, the players, the front office, the fans, everybody.

"A lot of it was unfortunate; we had a lot of bad breaks. But we also know we have to improve in other areas of the game and the operation."

The Twins are adamant that the bulk of their problems came from injuries, and that getting healthy will be the key. They used the disabled list 27 times, the most of any team in the majors, and finished with three of their big guns -- Justin Morneau,

Joe Mauer and Jason Kubel -- shut down. Another important player, Denard Span, missed 92 games because of a concussion and migraines.

So, yes, getting healthy is the key. If Morneau, Mauer and Span can't return to form next year, the Twins will be done before they start.

But it's also clear the Twins need additional pieces they can't get from inside the organization, such as a backup catcher who can hit and a shortstop who can play every day. If Smith doesn't re-sign Kubel, he'll need to find a productive designated hitter, and if he doesn't sign Michael Cuddyer, he'll need a major league outfielder who can hit for power and average.

And though the Twins have a surfeit of serviceable starting pitchers, they have lacked what you'd call an ace since Johan Santana was traded to the New York Mets in 2008. There are front-line starters available -- among them lefties C.J. Wilson and Mark Buehrle and right-hander Edwin Jackson -- but the Twins haven't signed a superstar pitcher since Jack Morris came home for the 1991 season.


On the other hand, Minnesota has more money for payroll than ever -- this year's $115 payroll was a franchise record -- and a pitcher-friendly park.

"It has been widely suggested that we need to get a No. 1 starter, but there are not many available," Smith said. "We'll certainly look, explore and pursue, but there are not many, and the teams that have them want to hold on to them."

Some doubt whether Smith has the ability to pull a rabbit out of his hat this winter, and his trade record hasn't been stellar. Though he has made helpful moves, such as acquiring Carl Pavano from Cleveland for Yohan Pino, signing Jim Thome on the cheap and adding pieces such as Orlando Cabrera, Jon Rauch and Brian Fuentes to contending teams, his offseason track record is spotty.

- Trading Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett to Tampa Bay for Delmon Young helped the Twins win in 2010, but ultimately Smith has two potential relievers, Lester Oliveros and minor leaguer Cole Nelson, to show for three major league starters.

- When Smith sent Carlos Gomez to Milwaukee for J.J. Hardy after the 2009 season, he seemed to salvage something from the Santana trade. But then he sent Hardy to Baltimore, where Hardy thrived, for reliever Jim Hoey, who spent half the season in Rochester.

To compound the error, Smith replaced Hardy with Japanese batting champion Tsuyoshi Nishioka. Marketed as cheaper, sturdier and faster, Nishioka was cheaper. He couldn't hit (.226, five extra-base hits), run (he was 2 of 6 on stolen base attempts) or field (12 errors in 68 games).

Nishioka is under contract for two more years at $3 million per, and the Twins paid a $5 million posting fee to his Japanese club. Smith said Thursday the infielder will be back next spring competing for a starting job.

- Closer Matt Capps helped win in 2010, earning 16 saves with a 2.00 earned-run average after being acquired at the deadline, but he struggled this season and is ready to walk as a free agent while the player the Twins traded for him, catcher Wilson Ramos, appears headed for an all-star career with the Nationals.


Asked whether he looks back ruefully at any of those deals, Smith said no.

"You look back only to prepare for the next one," he said. "You look back and see if there was anything in the process you might have done differently. Every deal has risks; you make them based on all the information you have at that time, all the projections and evaluations, and you make your deal.

"So the part you look back on is more about the process and whether you could do things differently so that in the future you can make better deals."

Regarding those who blame him for this season, the Twins' second-worst season since moving to Minnesota in 1961, Smith said, "You always want passionate fans."

"I'd rather have people say, 'This was good and this was bad' than say nothing at all," he added. "We've had a very good run the last decade. This year was a bad year. It was disappointing for everybody. We'll regroup and go after it in 2012."

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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