Your place for Minnesota Twins and New Britain Rock Cats coverage, analysis and opinion.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Getting Left Behind

Bleak: The outlook for the weather, and probably
for the Twins in 2013
 I've had a tough time posting lately. There is no real Rock Cats news, and quite frankly, it's difficult to be optimistic about the 2013 Twins. Instead of generating negative Twins content, I had decided to just keep my mouth shut for a while. That proved a difficult task when, in back-to-back days, Scott Baker left for the Cubs and a little extra money, and the Marlins and Blue Jays completed a blockbuster trade the likes of which many Twins fans can only dream about.

Although I have been quiet on the posting front, I have thoroughly enjoyed reading JC at Knuckleballs lately. In fact, I am in such agreement with his content that it seemed unnecessary to write on those topics that he so wonderfully covered. But today, I want to piggyback on his piece from Monday opining about the Twins, their management, the payroll, and the fact that money can help solve problems. I commented on his blog about the Twins' perceived success at developing MLB outfielders, but their comparative failures at developing pitching and middle infielders, and how the success in the one area should be utilized -- one way or the other -- to fill the holes in the other. 

Over the past several years, we’ve been blessed (more or less) with the ability to field a competitive outfield without having to pay a guy $20 million/year to play center field. Kirby, Torii, Denard, and even Ben Revere have done well in that position and never completely broke the bank. And when a guy like Hunter reached free agency and decided to leave for greener pastures, there was at least someone ready to take his place, even if there was a dropoff in talent. In other words, we haven’t had to grossly overpay for outfielders, and by and large, they have been good and affordable ballplayers. And it’s a trend that I think will continue in coming years with guys like Oswaldo Arcia, Aaron Hicks, (hopefully) Joe Benson, and perhaps Miguel Sano if he is unable to make it at third base. It's something that makes comparatively expensive players like Denard Span and Josh Willingham unnecessary at some point in 2013 or 2014. Make no mistake: our outfield "problem" is a nice problem to have.

But what do you do when you consistently cannot develop MLB average or above-average talent at a position? You have to pay market price, whatever that currently is, or you have to trade away prospects that you highly value in order to make up that deficit — if you want to be competitive, that is.
With the Twins, of course, it’s the inability to develop starting pitchers that is extremely problematic (and middle infielders, too, but to a somewhat lesser extent). It hurts as a Twins fan to think that we could have a cost-controlled outfield for the next few years, but that ownership is seemingly unwilling to spend some of that financial surplus on starting pitching.

Yes, we’re hardly into the offseason, and I hope that I’m wrong. But I am a little nervous that Joe Blanton is going to be our prized starting pitching pick-up this winter. It hurt to see Scott Baker walk away over an extra million (or so) and a 2014 option upon which the Twins were insisting -- even if, as many believe, the contract was too much guaranteed money for a guy coming off of Tommy John surgery. It hurt to see the Blue Jays trade away a few good prospects for some major leaguers that instantly made that Toronto club an AL East contender. It hurts that, if the season started today, Kyle Gibson would be our #2 starter. It hurts that this team needs 3 starting pitchers who can miss bats, and it hurts that I believe that we wouldn't even enter a free agency hunt for a guy like Zack Greinke, who would help this team both immediately and for years to come. It hurts that the Twins haven't publicly stated that they need to be more aggressive on the free agent pitching market than they ever have been. Finally, it hurts that Twins fans are likely going to have to deal with another season, or two or three, of losing baseball, while management is unable to admit that either: 1) a more complete rebuild is necessary and prudent; or 2) tens of millions of dollars need to be sunk into the pitching staff and the middle infield this winter in order to field an AL Central competitor.

Again: Yes, it's early in the off-season. The Twins don't play their first Spring Training game until the end of February. There is plenty of time for deals to be made to make this team more competitive for 2013 -- and more importantly -- competitive for 2014 and beyond. But right now I can't help but feeling that the Twins, and their fans, are on the verge of getting left behind.