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Tuesday, September 17, 2013

2013: A Postmortem

Yes, I am aware that there are a couple weeks left in the season. But the Twins are dead. Dead as a door-nail. And they've been that way for months (years?). Shortly after this season comes to its pitiful end, the Twins' brass and field personnel will assemble, as they do every year, in Ft. Myers, for the organizational meetings. Among other topics, they will dissect the 2013 season, and what exactly caused this year's ineptitude.

Ron Gardenhire: 2002
If Terry Ryan, Ron Gardenhire or Dave St. Peter needs to do some cramming on the Delta flight down south, what follows is a short(ish) list of causes for this season's horrid, embarrassing play. Make no mistake, this is not an exhaustive or detailed list. And I'm not adding very many stats this time around (it's 2013: if you need statistical support for my proposition that Darin Mastroianni wasn't spectacular offensively, check out any number of websites). Without further ado, and in no particular order of importance, here are my Cliff's Notes for the 2013 Twins Organizational Meetings.

1. Aaron Hicks was Not Ready for Primetime

The Twins made good trades, getting (potentially) quality arms for centerfielders Ben Revere and Denard Span. By getting rid of Revere and Span, however, the Twins' thrust Hicks into the spotlight. To be sure, he put on a good show at AA in 2012, and was dominant in Spring Training in 2013. But we know now -- hindsight being 20/20, of course -- that he was not ready for the major leagues. Yes, he had flashes of brilliance offensively, and was solid defensively, but this was too much, too soon, for Hicks, evidenced by the fact that he didn't earn a September call-up, and that the Twins selected a replacement-level centerfielder, Alex Presely, when they traded Justin Morneau to the Pittsburgh Pirates last month.

2. Low Power in the Middle of the Order

Josh Willingham, who had a career year in 2012, was injured for a significant part of 2013, and his power numbers dwindled. He'll end up at around 15 home runs, and will be lucky to get 55 RBIs (last season, on an equally bad team: 35 dingers, 110 RBIs). Justin Morneau was serviceable, but also lacked the power that Twins fans enjoyed for the better part of a decade. Joe Mauer was good before his concussion, but his "power numbers" (dingers/RBIs) weren't high, mostly because no one was on base in front of him. In short, the guys that were penciled-in as the Twins' 3-4-5 hitters didn't do the damage that was expected. Make no mistake, RBIs are very much a team stat -- so perhaps it's more appropriate to say that the Twins as a whole under-delivered in giving the meat of the order opportunities to do damage.

3. Starting Pitching was Disgusting

Terry Ryan got what he (while spending Pohlad family money) paid for. It makes me physically ill reciting Twins' starting pitching stats from this season, so I'm not going to. But it's basically what you would expect: way too many hits, way too few strikeouts, way too few guys getting deep into games, and a batch of guys that probably wouldn't deserve more than a "cup of coffee" at the major league level being given multiple starts with the Twins this season. One thing to note: Vance Worley -- who projected to be not fantastic, but serviceable, failed this season. I didn't see that coming, and it's probably not fair to blame the front office for that (but note, at the same time, that Trevor May -- a better pitcher under team control for more years -- was the larger piece in that trade as far as the future goes).

4. Trevor Plouffe Showed Little Improvement

The Twins have given Plouffe, now 27, every chance. I know -- he showed great promise last season (I was at one of those games last July where he was just on fire, and it was exciting). But so far, those couple months have been, more or less, a flash in the pan. Although his average is a little higher than it was last year (.252 to .235), the OPS is lower, the defense isn't as solid as the team would like, and I'm not even sure how dedicated Plouffe is to the game (not my opinion -- based on a smattering of articles/tweets the past couple seasons from those "in the know"). With Miguel Sano on the rise, 2013 would have been a good season for Plouffe to establish himself as the Twins' starting third baseman to beat. Now, I expect the competition will be on in March, 2013. Sure, Plouffe will be better defensively than Sano, but will Plouffe be able to compete with Sano's power, and, equally as important, Sano's desire  -- desire to succeed, to improve on defense, to be an All-Star?

Ron Gardenhire: 2013
5. No Help from the Top of the Order

Aaron Hicks failed to get on base when the Twins gave him lead-off hitter duties. Here are some other guys that hit out of the 1-hole this season: Clete Thomas, Eduardo Escobar, Jamey Carroll, Alex Presley (and Brian Dozier, who really hasn't been bad in that position, but is an ideal 2-hole hitter). Not quite Denard Span-esque, huh? It's tough to give Dozier (when he's batting second, that is), Mauer, Morneau, Willingham, Oswaldo Arcia and Ryan Doumit the opportunity to do much damage with that rather pathetic crop of players occupying what is supposed to be a high on-base percentage spot in the lineup.

6. Little Assistance from the Farm

Long story short, when the Twins really needed talent to come up from their farm system and produce, they didn't get results. Yes, there were bright spots. In fact, I'm sure every guy called up this season performed well at some point. But in the aggregate, it was insufficient. Hicks, Kyle Gibson (remember the "Free Gibson" movement?), Chris Parmelee, Chris Colabello (I hesitate to even put him here -- I'm a big fan, he performed so well at New Britain and in Rochester, and he's been up-and-down so much in 2013 that the Rochester-to-Minneapolis flight attendants probably know him by name -- but I've been let down), and Oswaldo Arcia (who started off well, and is doing all right now, but had a horrid stretch that resulted in a demotion to AAA) haven't given the Twins the boost they needed this season. And I'm not going to mention the rest of the pitchers (but I am glaring at Liam Hendriks, and he knows it).

7. No Top Prospect Forced their Way Up

Don't get me wrong. Miguel Sano had a great, great season. He exceeded expectations. But in the end, he didn't deserve a call-up -- unless you believe his call-up would have been just for the fans this season (not an unreasonable proposition, by the way). Sano slowed down at AA, and was inconsistent (though powerful and exiting). Trevor May was stable, in the sense that he was uninjured, but was never good enough to warrant a promotion to AAA, much less the Twins. And the best pitching prospect, Alex Meyer, was limited because of injuries, thus never even entering the equation for a mid-or-late season promotion. I need to be measured in my observations, because Sano and Meyer were very, very good, and May did improve. But make no mistake, none of these guys really forced Terry Ryan's hand when it came to a September call-up. Accordingly, they were unable to breathe life into the dead MLB team. But maybe that's for the best. I'm not sure I want Miguel Sano's first game to be one where Mastroianni is batting leadoff and one where the Twins are about to lose their 90th game of the season in front of an "in-the-stands" Target Field crowd of 8,000.

The end results: The Twins stopped playing meaningful games back in May or June. Again. Payroll decreased. Again. The Twins sold off an asset (Morneau). Fans stopped coming in person to the ballpark like they used to (even if they had paid for tickets in advance).

There is hope in sight (a very good farm system), but I am not at all convinced that the talented prospects, alone, will bring relevance to this organization.

As I mentioned, this was a non-exhaustive list. Please, leave a comment. Add your thoughts on what else factored into the Twins' failures this season.

Thanks for reading.

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