I know that the baseball season is a marathon, not a sprint. But already in the early stages of the season there is cause for concern if you are a Minnesota Twins fan, like me. Coming off a 99-loss season in 2011, Twins management did almost nothing to improve an offense that was near the bottom in runs scored or a bullpen that was absolutely God-awful. They added Jason Marquis to the starting rotation when pitchers like Mark Buehrle and C.J. Wilson were on the market. But we (fans and management) thought we would be OK. Having contended for the division title every year since 2002, we became arrogant, as every pro Minnesota sports team does when it experiences a bit of success. Here’s my opinion.
The Twins have always prided themselves on bringing up talent through the ranks of professional baseball. In other words, they were able to develop players. Players like Torii Hunter, Johan Santana, Justin Morneau, and Joe Mauer have been among the best at their respective positions at one time or another.
But what has happened to them recently? We know that the Twins traded away Santana because he was going to be worth too much money and they wouldn’t have been able to sign him. But they traded him away for Carlos Gomez, Philip Humber and another scrub and all of those players aren’t even on the Twins roster anymore. They let Hunter walk because they had another center-fielder, Denard Span, waiting in the wings. Span has filled in nicely, but is and won’t be the defensive player that Hunter was for the Twins. They traded catcher A.J. Pierzynski to the San Francisco Giants in exchange for Joe Nathan, Boof Bonser and Francisco Liriano. Perhaps that was the greatest trade in Twins history. The Twins got rid of Bonser a few years ago and let Nathan walk this past offseason. Liriano still hasn’t fully recovered from Tommy John surgery (back in 2007) and when he has been good, he has been inconsistently good. Mauer has been plagued by injuries every other season, but when he is good, he is great. I believe that he can still salvage his career, unlike Morneau, who has battled concussion symptoms since 2010. He still isn’t the same player and is now a full-time designated-hitter. The Twins didn’t re-sign Michael Cuddyer or Jason Kubel and traded Delmon Young, who was inconsistent and a wreck, defensively, half-way through last season.
But in the midst of letting players go and trading players away, what have the Twins done to replace those players?
For years, everybody said the only thing the Twins lacked was a power-hitting third-baseman. Well they still don’t have one. No offense to Danny Valencia, but I don’t think he will ever figure it out. Their current shortstop is Jamey Carroll. A player in his upper-30’s who has never been given a real chance to play full-time throughout his career and now he is starting for the Twins. Alexi Casilla is the second-baseman and don’t get me started on him. Offensively inconsistent, Casilla is not an every-day player in the big leagues. You know your outfield is in trouble when you have your backup catcher, Ryan Doumit, playing in right-field. [Denard] Span is in center and new-comer Josh Willingham is in left-field. The Twins starting rotation consists of Carl Pavano, Liriano, Nick Blackburn, Jason Marquis, and Scott Baker. Pavano is old and on his last go-around in the majors, I noted Liriano’s inconsistency earlier, Blackburn has also been inconsistent, I don’t know what to make of Marquis and Baker always has something wrong with him but it’s never anything serious. Their bullpen is bulimic. They either have guys no one has ever heard of or below-average veteran arms.
But it doesn’t look like help is on the way, at least not anytime soon. According to minorleagueball.com, the Twins farm system is ranked 17th among MLB’s 30 teams.
I guess the nice thing about baseball is that every team seems to have a surprise player that has a breakout season and establishes himself as a marquee-name. Take David Freese of the St. Louis Cardinals as an example. In 2010, Freese batted .296 with four home runs and 36 RBI in a limited role. In a more expanded role last season, Freese batted .297 with 10 home runs and 55 RBI and was named World Series MVP this past postseason. In the first few games this season, Freese is batting .418 with two home runs and eight RBI.
The Kansas City Royals have a guy named Eric Hosmer. Hosmer came up last season and had a solid rookie season for a Royals team that is on the rise. He batted .293 with 19 home runs and 78 RBI.
Teams that have built through the draft such as the Royals, Tampa Bay Rays and Toronto Blue Jays, have drafted well and developed their players to the point where they are able to contribute consistently at the Major League level. The Twins used to do that, but not anymore. They moved into Target Field in 2010 and splurged big contracts to Morneau and Mauer a few months before the opening. In turn, it handicapped them from making any other key acquisitions. According to cbssports.com, in 2010, the Twins had a payroll of $97,559,167. In 2011, their payroll jumped up to $112,737,000! Now their payroll has shrunk to $94,085,000. It’s obvious the Twins are spending less, but they are hurting double because they don’t have anyone in their farm system that is ready to perform at a Major League level day in and day out.
Since 2005, here are the players that the Twins drafted in the first round that have either 1. Been traded, 2. Haven’t done anything since getting to the Big Leagues or 3. Haven’t even made it to the Big Leagues.
2005: Matt Garza (traded); 25th pick
Henry Sánchez (released because of a 50-game suspension) 39th overall pick
2006: Chris Parmalee (starting first baseman with four career home runs) 20th overall pick
2008: Aaron Hicks (playing for Class-A Beloit) 14th overall pick
Carlos Gutierrez (playing for Triple-A Rochester) 27th overall pick
Shooter Hunt (playing in Fort Meyers) 31st overall pick
2009: Kyle Gibson (coming off Tommy John surgery) 22nd overall pick
Matthew Bashore (playing in Elizabethton) 46th overall pick
Ok I am getting sick of this. Let’s see who the Twins have passed up since 2005.
2005: Chase Headley 3B, Yunel Escobar SS, Brett Gardner OF, Jeremy Hellickson SP, Clayton Richard SP, Austin Jackson OF.
2006: Ian Kennedy SP, Daniel Bard RP, Trevor Cahill SP, Justin Masterson SP, Jon Jay OF, Andrew Bailey RP
2007: Giancarlo (Michael) Stanton OF, Darwin Barney 2B/SS, Matt Moore SP.
2008: Brett Lawrie 3B, Craig Kimbrel RP, Vance Worley SP
2009: Mike Trout OF, Brandon Belt 1B
And the rest is history.
I am very disappointed with my hometown team for standing-pat in free agency as well, but that’s another story.
On the bright side, they have the second overall pick in the June draft.
But with a depleted farm-system and unproductive players, the Twins are staring another long and dreadful season right in the face.
The nice thing is it’s a marathon, not a sprint.