Let's just say, for the sake of argument, that the Twins' front office was correct when it repeatedly has stated that the dismal 2011 season was the result of a barrage of injuries to most every single player that had been counted on to produce. Mauer, Morneau, Span, Thome, Baker. The list goes on and on, and there's definitely merit to this contention. Let's also say, for the sake of argument, the the Twins' front office is also correct when it says, now, that Mauer is healthy and ready for a big season, that Morneau's workouts have been going well, and generally there is every indication that last year's injuries were just a terrible confluence of events. Where does that leave us?
It leaves us in October, 2010, when the Twins were swept again in the playoffs by the Yankees, when the differences between the haves and the (sort of) have-nots were, for what felt like the thousandth time, exploited. Yes, the 2010 Twins were a very good team. But they were not capable of winning even a single playoff game. In an era in which it seems that the team with the best and hottest pitching has a dramatic advantage in the playoffs, the Twins started Brian Duensing in the third and final game, in the Bronx no less. I felt bad for the guy just watching him warm up on the mound. I'm not sure that I have seen a less confident pitcher, yet that's what the Twins were left with.
In the time that has passed, what moves have the Twins made to address the significant holes in their roster, and to become a more powerful force in baseball, not just in the AL Central division? No big moves come to mind. It's been the same old, tired story for years now: this organization rarely signs other teams' free agents, and is not very often successful at resigning its' own free agents. Furthermore, when the Twins have been aggressive at the trade deadline -- and willing to deal a top prospect -- it hasn't been in exchange for power starting pitching (which, I know, comes at a premium), but for an average, at best, closer. In short, even assuming that health returns to all those that were DL'd in 2011, this team is in no better position to have a chance at winning a playoff game or series than it was in 2010. Further, the 2012 Twins will lack Jim Thome (who was a driving force in 2010), as well as Jason Kubel, Michael Cuddyer, or even both! Yes, theirs skills are replaceable through free agent acquisitions, but, at this point, am I crazy for harboring a little doubt that the Twins actually will swing a deal to bring in another power bat/outfielder? In fact, the Cuddyer deal is taking so long to get done that, by the time he actually decides whether to accept the Twins' offer, Josh Willingham could very well be gone to another team.
Am I wrong to expect that, after a 99 loss season, the Twins would seek to add at least 1 All-Star level player -- a player that wasn't on last year's team -- into the fold, in an effort to return to contention? A healthy crop of current Twins, plus Jamey Carroll and Ryan Doumit, do not a World Series team make (my intent is not to criticize these particular moves, as they undoubtedly do make the Twins stronger, but to emphasize that these moves are not nearly enough). At this point, I feel like the Twins may have done the worst thing possible: field a $100 million dollar team that cannot compete in the playoffs, instead of fielding a subpar team for 2 years while loading up great minor league prospects, and giving our own rookies a chance to play in the majors without immediate expectations, in anticipation of a return to greatness in or around 2014.
My Christmas wish is for a little more transparency from the front office. What exactly is going on here? I'm a little confused by the "moves" at the Winter Meetings. Is this a subtle re-tooling, the beginning of a multi-year rebuilding, or are these just decisions that I don't quite understand yet? Sure, the off-season is far from done, but do Terry Ryan, Ron Gardenhire and Dave St. Peter really think that this group -- with this questionable, to put it nicely, starting rotation -- is poised for a playoff run? If not, they why are they spending money on a "proven" closer, and contemplating committing around $30 million to an aging right fielder?
At least White Sox fans know that their team is rebuilding. At least Angels fans know why their ticket prices are going to increase in years to come. Twins fans, I feel, are being punished for not continuing to sell out Target Field last year, when the Rochester Red Wings played about 50 games there. Dave St. Peter has stated that payroll is a function of revenue, and that revenue is expected to drop in 2012, and that, because payroll is a function of revenue, payroll will also drop -- or at least won't increase. This sounds to me like a circular argument. Maybe if the Twins went out on a limb and signed a player that fans could be excited about (Edwin Jackson comes to mind as a somewhat realistic option with at least some upside), for more than 1 year, revenue would not be expected to drop?
There is still plenty of time, literally months, left in the off-season. Now that Albert Pujols has made his decision, it's Prince Fielder's turn. And on and on. There are many players left that need a home in 2012 and beyond, and there are numerous phone calls Terry Ryan should be making to try to put together a trade or two in order to help the Twins now. If they're committed to spending around $100 million on payroll, instead of $80 million and calling it a rebuilding year, then they may as well go on a limb and increase payroll a bit more so that they can secure a missing piece or two to help this team not only get back to being a relevant team during the regular season, but actually becoming a relevant team in October.
As always, I welcome and appreciate any comments.