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Monday, April 16, 2012

Rebuilding the Minnesota Twins

This beautiful photo, taken by former Twin Michael Cuddyer,
illustrates the main concern for the Twins organization:
empty seats
The White Sox officially announced that they were rebuilding last December, when they traded pitcher Sergio Santos to the Toronto Blue Jays for a pitching prospect. At that time, General Manager Kenny Williams said, "It is the start of a rebuilding. You guys know I have not used that word in 12 years. It's the start of a rebuilding now." It's sort of rare for a front office to officially admit that a team is rebuilding, and you can see why -- there is a stigma attached to the word "rebuilding." Most often, it's very obvious from actions, rather than words, that a team is rebuilding. They will never admit it, but it's more than clear.

It's embarrassing, in any personal or professional endeavor, to admit that your Plan A, and perhaps Plan B and Plan C, didn't work. You have to go back to the drawing board completely, and it's going to cost you. With respect to Major League Baseball, it's going to cost you ticket sales, and everything that comes with putting people in your seats: concession and liquor revenue; merchandise revenue; parking revenue; and probably the ability to attract top talent to your team. The list goes on, I'm sure. Over the end of last season, and into the off-season, it seemed like the Twins were re-tooling -- or reloading, rather than rebuilding: a guy that left, like Michael Cuddyer, for instance, was replaced with a comparable, yet somewhat cheaper alternative, like Josh Willingham. Through these efforts, the Twins went into 2012 fielding a seemingly competitive team (not World Series competitive; just competitive in the sense they could win 81 games), but also reduced payroll. In the end, you definitely would not have called last offseason one of rebuilding.

And then the last 10 days happened. Scott Baker is done for this season without throwing a pitch, and his career as a Twin might be over. Nick Blackburn has been injured, though he is scheduled to pitch this week -- I'm not holding my breath there. Already, two of the most veteran arms are suspect. This doesn't take into account Francisco Liriano, who certainly is not pitching like it's a contract year. Offensively, Jamey Carroll has been mostly dreadful. Couldn't Brian Dozier do the job for less? He'll probably be given a shot next month, so we'll find out. Josh Willingham, great at the plate, has shown that he'd be better suited for designated hitter. This isn't just supposed to be a laundry list of complaints about my favorite team. I'm listing them to illustrate the massive holes that this team has -- even with a $100 million payroll.

The word "rebuilding" is loaded. When a GM utters that word, there's no going back. You are bound to lose ticket sales. At Target Field, commencing only its third year, an official period of rebuilding probably was not an option. But here's a question for you this morning: would the money the Twins would lose in, say, 2012 and 2013 by officially rebuilding, be less than or greater than the money they could stand to lose in the future, say, 2014-2016, if their failure now to officially rebuild and sell off tradeable contracts comes back to bite them in the form of 5 or 6 sustained years of non-winning teams, versus just 2 or 3? Long-winded question, I know. I don't know the answer, but I think it's worth discussing.

Right now, that's my worry. Yes, there are some great prospects coming up. We should be excited by guys like Miguel Sano and Alex Wimmers. But they -- especially Sano -- are some time away from arriving. If the Twins continue the subpar play into May, and then June, I'm hoping that we see some major moves for the long-term health of this organization. That's tough to say for the fan in me that likes each of these players for different reasons, but the Twins might have an opportunity to do what they failed to do at the deadline last year -- move competitive players for decent prospects. If that's the case -- and for the record I hope this team gets going and puts posts like this to rest -- I hope that the front office acts this time around. Act for fans of the Twins organization; act for 2014 and beyond.

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