When the Twins finally get their Opening Day starting 9 back on the field, whether that's June 1, June 15, or July 1, it may be too late to make a serious run at another AL Central title. To be sure, there are many parties at fault: the front office, the on-the-field manager and coaches, the trainers, and the players themselves, most of whom, with the exception of Jason Kubel and Glen Perkins, repeatedly have failed to play consistent, professional level baseball.
Statistics indicate that, even if the Twins were to play out the 2011 season at a pace to win 90 games, they would end up with a record right around .500, which will not be good enough for any kind of postseason berth. Unfortunately, it will soon be time to consider shopping some of our players before the July 31 trade deadline, even some that have made great contributions over the last several years. Players such as Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel and Jim Thome will be free agents after 2011, and could play important roles on a team that is in a playoff hunt. The Twins, in return, could get prospects with a potential high return. Make no mistake, I do not like to think about losing veterans, but this is what losing teams with high payrolls do. My main concern is not so much which players become available; rather, I worry about who is making the decisions.
General Manager Bill Smith left this team, on Opening Day 2011, without a major league level shortstop, and with a bullpen that, in polite terms, could best be described as weak and unproven. It wasn't so much that he left the bullpen/shortstop situations that way, it was that he actually created the problem, by failing to resign any one of Jesse Crain, Matt Guerrier, or Jon Rauch, and trading oft-injured, but reliable when healthy, shortstop JJ Hardy, for parts. In the offseason Smith failed completely to upgrade starting pitching, an area that has painfully been exposed in every recent playoff series. And as has become glaringly clear, Smith failed to retain a catcher to fill in for Joe Mauer when he is injured, disabled, or simply tired, despite the fact that, only one year ago, the organization had two such players who could have filled the role, only to be dealt away. Further, from a management standpoint, Smith and the front office have given the impression that Mauer himself, and not the organization, is dictating the "terms and conditions" of his rehabilitation, leading some to question who is running the ship.
Undoubtedly, the Twins have been victimized by a lethal combination of bad luck, compounded in the form of a series of injuries to starting MLB players; this string of bad luck underscores the fact that the roster is incredibly shallow. Nearly every offseason decision has, in the span of less than two months, come back to bite the Twins, and has exposed weaknesses in the farm system and in the ability of the front office to make trades and personnel decisions that benefit the Twins on the field, not just financially. For the record, I have supported certain of Smith's decisions, including not making a significant effort to resign Torii Hunter, and I applauded the "drive" at the trade deadline in 2009 that resulted in Orlando Cabrera and Carl Pavano. No doubt the Twins would not have won the division that year without the push from the front office. And I also supported the Mauer contract, under the reasoning of "what else was he supposed to do???" But in many other deals, including the bungling of the purported Johan Santana trade to the Red Sox, he has left me wondering what the hell is going on with this organization and its method of valuing talent?
If the Twins end up becoming sellers at the deadline for the first time in a decade, the first move they need to make is in-house: I do not want Bill Smith, who bears ultimate responsibility for the quality and depth of the talent at all levels of the organization, making the call on who stays, who goes, and at what price. He has made too many significant errors in his short tenure.