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October 11, 2010

Kiss'Em Goodbye

Minnesota Twins

by John Perrotto, Kevin Goldstein and ESPN Insider

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Kiss 'Em Goodbye is a series focusing on MLB teams as their postseason dreams fade— whether in September (or before), the League Division Series, League Championship Series or World Series. It combines a broad overview of this season from Buster Olney, a take from Baseball Prospectus, a look toward a potential 2011 move courtesy of Rumor Central and Kevin Goldstein's farm system overview. You can find all the teams on one page by going here.

Now, it's time to kiss the Minnesota Twins—the first playoff team to exit—goodbye.

The overview

Ron Gardenhire went into the press room after the Twins were eliminated and mentioned that in spite of the nine straight losses to the Yankees in the postseason, he didn't feel as if the Twins were dominated; there were spots within all the games in the Division Series when Minnesota could taken control of a given game with a timely swing (Jason Kubel, Game 3) or pitch (Carl Pavano, Game 2). But in the end, the Twins went down again, partly because they were banged up—Joe Mauer and Jim Thome appeared to be nursing injuries, at a time when Minnesota was without Justin Morneau—and partly because of their lack of power pitching. The Yankees saw 68 pitches in Game 3 before one of them swung and missed, and that lack of stuff in the Twins' rotation has been a recurring problem in October.

Francisco Liriano ran out of gas at the end of the regular season, but during the summer, he had a Cy Young-caliber performance. Delmon Young had an excellent rebound season, after getting himself in better shape, and Danny Valencia was a revelation at third base, with his offensive and defensive production. And Thome mashed 25 homers, edging closer to 600 for his career.

The Twins expect that Morneau will recover from his concussion and return to his All-Star form, and the backbone of what should be another AL Central contender will be in place. But the Twins have to hope that Joe Nathan can recover from Tommy John surgery to be at least a plus for the bullpen, and if the Twins aren't able to re-sign Pavano as a free agent, they'll need to add at least one frontline starting pitcher. Already there is speculation in Minnesota that the Twins could be well-positioned to pursue Zack Greinke—who would fit the Twins' market—if the Royals make the right-hander available.—Buster Olney, ESPN Insider

Baseball Prospectus' take

What went right: Mauer ended the suspense about whether he would be a lifelong Twin by signing an eight-year, $184 million contract that will keep him in his native Minnesota through the 2018 season. Liriano finally regained the dominating form he showed before undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2006 by striking out 9.44 batters per nine innings and allowing just 0.42 home runs per nine. Thome provide a full season's worth of production in 340 plate appearances as he had a 1.039 OPS, a .350 True Average and 25 home runs despite Target Field proving to be a pitcher's park in its inaugural season.

What went wrong: The Twins have lost 12 straight post-season games, all to the Yankees in the ALDS round, leaving them one short of the all-time record set by the Red Sox from 1986-95. Morneau was leading the majors with a .360 TAv when he suffered a season-ending concussion on July 7. The Twins .693 Defensive Efficiency ranked a very ordinary eighth in the AL; they were particularly weak in the outfield.

The key number: 2. How many hits the Twins had in 29 plate appearances with RISP during the ALDS after hitting a majors-best .285 in those situations during the regular season. Ouch.

What won't happen again: The Twins getting swept in the ALDS by the Yankees. Sooner or later, the laws of averages have to kick in.—John Perrotto, Baseball Prospectus

Rumor Central: 2011 options

Funds: The Twins spent around $100 million on payroll this season but their commitments for 2011—about $72 million to eight players—may make it difficult to add an impact player over the winter. Kubel's $5.25 million option appears affordable and a relative bargain but the arbitration cases on Young, Denard Span, Liriano and J.J. Hardy could push the Twins to trade one or more of them to keep their payroll from reaching levels the organization does not wish to handle. General manager Bill Smith will have to find a second baseman to replace Orlando Hudson or spend the money to bring him back, and the club's bullpen may need some help with Jon Rauch and Brian Fuentes hitting free agency. One idea is to look to move Young, who had a breakthrough season in 2010 and could make as much as much as $5 million via arbitration this winter.

Help for Francisco: Considering the issues Smith may have in patching the bullpen and finding an infield to play regularly with Morneau next season, it may be extremely difficult for the Twins to put together a starting rotation that figures to compete for the division title. Liriano was backed this by free-agent-to-be Pavano, but the right-hander may have priced himself out of Minnesota with a strong year. The Twins have Kyle Gibson in the minors near-ready for the show, and Scott Baker has always been a reliable mid-rotation arm, but Smith's creativity may be put on display this winter in attempt to strengthen the club's greatest post-season weakness. Perhaps giving up Young and a pitching prospect for an arm such as Jonathan Sanchez of the Giants could work for both clubs.—Jason A. Churchill, ESPN Insider

Organizational future

The Twins' top prospects are mostly too young to contribute in 2011, but after trading for Fuentes and Matt Capps to shore up the bullpen for this year's stretch run, there's some help coming from within. A 39th-round draft pick in 2006, Anthony Slama has continued to prove all doubters wrong with a career rate of 12.5 strikeouts per nine. Those that felt he'd be exposed at the upper levels looked foolish after his 2.20 ERA at Triple-A Rochester in 2010 that included 74 whiffs in 65 1/3 innings while limiting International League hitters to a .178 batting average. Like most Twins' pitchers, he's more polish than stuff, as he uses a deceptive delivery that allowed his low 90s two-seam fastball and solid slider to play up. While he's unlikely to close in the big leagues, he could get big outs in the seventh and eighth innings.—Kevin Goldstein, Baseball Prospectus

A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider Insider.

John Perrotto is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see John's other articles. You can contact John by clicking here
Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

Related Content:  Minnesota Twins,  Twins

20 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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I feel like its time to stop throwing Jonathan Sanchez's name in the rumor mill. At this point, its hard to imagine the Giants trading him for anything more than an elite bat. As impressive as Delmon Young's season was, much easier to find a solid corner outfielder than a young lefty with Sanchez's strikeout and BAA numbers.

Oct 11, 2010 11:56 AM
rating: 7

I tried, but I couldn't "+1" this comment any harder than I already did.

I don't see that there's any substance to the suggestion that the Giants trade Sanchez. The Giants are still in the playoffs. The Twins aren't. SF could spend a few pennies for a FA outfield upgrade and come out ahead.

Oct 11, 2010 13:49 PM
rating: 2

I meant, of course, that its hard to imagine trading Sanchez for anything *less* than an elite bat.

Oct 11, 2010 15:30 PM
rating: 0

The Sanchez comment makes more sense now that I've noticed it came from the ESPN insider commentator...

Oct 11, 2010 16:42 PM
rating: 1
John Collins

He's just picking it up from a Star Tribune columnist, who suggested that the Twins need to pick up a power arm (Sanchez, Greinke) and might get one by packaging Delmon and either Slowey or a prospect.

Oct 11, 2010 21:13 PM
rating: 0

Agreed re Sanchez. And are the Twins really truly crying "we can't afford our players!" after just one year of their new ballpark???

Oct 11, 2010 12:29 PM
rating: 0

The Twins aren't crying anything, but their 2010 payroll was 10th in the league, almost 50% higher than in 2009, a whopping $97 million, more than the Dodgers, Cardinals, despite being in roughly the 20th largest market in the league.

They've already spent the new ballpark money to get to that level, it's not unreasonable that they don't want to go higher, particularly as I would imagine they won't sell out nearly every game next season as the novelty of the new park wears off.

And certainly Smith is trying to avoid ending up like the Tigers, committing large chunks of payroll to players who likely won't be worth it at the end of their deal. Carl Pavano is the most obvious of these, he's going to get something like 3yrs/$30m, a deal that could end up looking like Nate Robertson's at the end.

Oct 11, 2010 13:52 PM
rating: 1

If the product is worth seeing, the stadium will fill up - regardless of the 'novelty' wearing off.

People need to understand that.

Oct 11, 2010 14:09 PM
rating: 3

Two things:

1.) There are not many things worth seeing outdoors in Minnesota in April if they aren't novel. Or at least, there's the potential for a really unpleasant month of baseball, not an issue this year because of the newness of the stadium, but when tickets are suddenly ubiquitous rather than scarce (as they were this season), not a lot of people are going to sit outside in 40 degree weather, regardless of the quality of the team.

2.) The Reds, for one, are a strong counterexample. They averaged only 25,000 fans per game despite playing in a new park and winning the division. That's down about 4,000 fans from the GAP's first two seasons.

Oct 11, 2010 14:46 PM
rating: 1

You have that backwards: When not a lot of people are going to sit outside in 40 degree weather, tickets will be ubiquitous rather than scarce.

Oct 11, 2010 22:19 PM
rating: 0

I think you misunderstood. This season, tickets were scarce regardless of weather or the on-field product because of the novelty of the stadium. That novelty is now gone, so factors like the weather will play a much larger role in attendance.

That is, this season, if someone offered you Twins tickets on a day with lousy weather, you would be far more likely to take the tickets because they were so difficult to get. Going forward, you'll be more likely to pass on the tickets, as they will be easier to get when conditions are better.

Oct 12, 2010 09:57 AM
rating: 0

While the Twins have lost 12 straight postseason games, they all have not come to the Yankees - 3 of them came versus Oakland in 2006.

Oct 11, 2010 14:06 PM
rating: 2

s/Sooner or later, the laws of averages have to kick in./Sooner or later, the Twins will fire Ron Gardenhire./

Seriously, the Twins stand as an object lesson in two things:

1) Keeping on doing the same thing when it's not working is the definition of futility.

2) Every now and then, a manager needs to be fired to set an example for everyone else.

Oct 11, 2010 14:25 PM
rating: -2

What would the example be? That playing .550 baseball for a decade isn't good? Or that winning the division six out of nine years (and losing in game 163 in a seventh) isn't the most success of any club in the last decade?

Certainly getting swept out of the playoffs isn't ideal, but you're taking the miniscule sample size of his playoff record and ignoring his wildly successful, large sample size of almost 1500 games managed.

The Twins failed for a lot of reasons, most notably Morneau's absence and the lack of elite-level starting pitching. Neither of those things have anything to do with Gardenhire.

Oct 11, 2010 14:43 PM
rating: 4

What would the example be?

Pull the starter when he's fading in front of the best offense in the league.

Certainly getting swept out of the playoffs isn't ideal

Year after year after year.

Oct 11, 2010 15:13 PM
rating: -1

I agree with Scareduck. At some point, the onus has to fall - along with the axe - on Gardenhire.

Sample size or not, its all about winning in October and he doesn't do it.

Oct 11, 2010 17:43 PM
rating: 0
Karl T

Trade: Ozzie for Gardy, straight up. Ozzie has won in October. I'll take the guy who wins the division every year regardless of injuries.

Oct 11, 2010 17:48 PM
rating: -1

Once you get to October, it's kind of a crapshoot, though, right? Anything can happen in a short series.

Besides, I don't think "manager" was one of the Secret Sauce categories.

Oct 11, 2010 21:45 PM
rating: 2

Bobby Cox agrees with this (and is a very nice comp for Gardy and why he shouldn't be fired).

Oct 12, 2010 09:56 AM
rating: 0
T. Kiefer

Mike Sciocia is another nice comp for Gardy. And perhaps the Angels as well--the Twins amazingly seem to overperform, relative to what their stats would predict, during the regular season almost every year. It then catches up to them in the playoffs. What Gardenhire was able to do with his staff without Morneau, a less-than-100% Mauer, and relative no-names everywhere else (save Thome) this season was just remarkable.

Oct 12, 2010 10:58 AM
rating: 0
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