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August 1, 2012

The Platoon Advantage

Remain Calm, All is Well in Minnesota

by Michael Bates

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“What the hell?”

That's what I wondered all yesterday as the Twins sat on their hands, refusing to deal Denard Span, Josh Willingham, Justin Morneau, Jared Burton, or Glen Perkins. As the Phillies divested themselves of Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence: "What the hell?" As the Astros sent away Chris Johnson: "What the hell?" As the Cubs traded Ryan Dempster, Paul Maholm, Reed Johnson, and Geovany Soto: "WHAT the hell?" As the Marlins sent Gaby Sanchez packing:  "WHAT THE HELL?"

What the hell was Terry Ryan thinking? When were they finally going to pull the trigger? Why would they think that this team was fine as is? Who was responsible for this debacle? Where could I find them? How much prison time would I get?

It's not that they had to deal all of them. Indeed, there were significant reasons to hang on to most of them. Span is signed to a reasonable deal through 2015. Willingham has been the club's best source of power. Morneau didn't figure to bring much back in return. Glen Perkins is signed through 2016 and continues to be a fantastic weapon out of the bullpen. Burton is...well, ok, there was no good reason not to deal the oft-injured Burton before his shoulder exploded. To not trade some of them would have been understandable. To trade none of them is inexcusable.

Terry Ryan had his chances. There was significant interest in Span coming from Cincinnati especially. They really like Span, but Twins officials pointed out to the Star Tribune’s Joe Christiansen, "so do we." The Dodgers tried to get something done for Perkins, but the price was very high. Aside from dealing Francisco Liriano (who dominated his former team last night) for two young players who will almost certainly never be more than a win above replacement, the Twins essentially decided to stand pat with their club that is 14 games under .500, has the worst run differential in the American League, and has allowed the most hits, most homers, most runs, and struck out the fewest batters in the league.

The Twins aren't just bad, they are broken. They don't understand that they are not just losing games, they are a losing team. The current team, as currently constructed, isn't capable of being competitive even in the AL Central. But the Twins are Kevin Bacon at the end of Animal House, insisting that all is well:

Well, all is not well. It would be one thing if there was any help on the horizon for next year, but they have no additional talent from which to build for 2013. Of their Top 11 prospects at the start of the year, according to Kevin Goldstein, only three were given a 2013 ETA or sooner. One of them, Brian Dozier, is in the Majors and is hitting .239/.272/.324. Another, Joe Benson, has been out almost the entire minor league season with a wrist injury. And the third, Alex Wimmers is rehabbing a partially torn UCL, hoping to avoid Tommy John Surgery, even though the Twins have tried and failed with similar approaches to Pat Neshek, Francisco Liriano, Joe Nathan, and Scott Baker. There are no reinforcements coming. And according to Phil Mackey, they’re “not banking on free agency” either. So where, then, is this talent going to magically appear from to fix the rotation, the bullpen, the middle infield, and rightfield, if not from the free agent market? From trades? We just went through a trade deadline where the team stood pat, refusing even to move ticking time bomb Jared Burton.. 

It's easy, of course, to be an armchair quarterback. It's easy, without having all the information that the Twins and Terry Ryan had at their disposal, to make suggestions for what we would have done that have no basis in reality. We're not major-league GMs, and far too often we don't give the smart people who run our favorite teams the benefit of the doubt. But this isn't a case where we should be critical of Terry Ryan and the Minnesota Twins over something they've done. This is a case where something, virtually anything, would have been a step forward, even if it moved the team backward in the short term. Even panicking would have shown that the Twins understand they have a problem. But the Twins decided to stand still. What the hell?

Michael Bates is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Michael's other articles. You can contact Michael by clicking here

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

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jj0501

I would think the Twins refusal to adjust a failed model in the face of overwhelming proof must be the most frustrating part for fans. They have seen both Baltimore & Seattle pass them by in the last year on their own journeys out of the bottomless pit. It's not Lake Woebegon that's in Minnesota, it's really Lake Placid. They are 10 years behind the times and losing ground every day.

Aug 01, 2012 06:41 AM
rating: 1
 
Richard Bergstrom

The teaser on the main page for this article says "The Twins are the type of team that usually sells aggressively at the deadline, but they stood pat."

When have they ever sold aggressively at the deadline?

Aug 01, 2012 08:07 AM
rating: 0
 
aareinsch

I suspect he means that the Twins are in the position of a team that usually sells aggressively at the deadline, not that it is part of the Minnesota Twin character.

Aug 01, 2012 08:10 AM
rating: 4
 
jfranco77

I know Willingham has been really good, is signed cheap, and the Twins still need to field a team for the next 2+ years. But really, is he going to be part of the next good Twins team? Will the farm produce enough talent by 2014 to surround him? I think the general consensus is no.

Aug 01, 2012 08:27 AM
rating: 0
 
timber

The title of this article sure is misleading.

Aug 01, 2012 10:28 AM
rating: 0
 
thegeneral13

The toughest part of this equation is knowing what directive Terry Ryan got from ownership. I think it's pretty clear they need to do a full-on rebuild, and I would guess Ryan recognizes this, but I don't know if ownership wants to endure the public backlash if they ship off all their respectable players. The preference for major league players in return for their trade chips signals that ownership doesn't think it has the political capital with the fanbase to willingly diminish the major league team. It kills me as a Twins fan, because they lucked into some great deadline trade bait this year, with Willingham healthy and on pace to hit 40 homers, Liriano with a resurgence leading up to the deadline, Span a cost-controlled, up the middle player reemerging and avoiding a recurrence of his concussion problems, Doumit proving adequate enough at catcher that he's pretty valuable, Burton emerging from nowhere, etc. I mean, the stars aligned on some of these guys to bring back more value than one would expect, and almost certainly more value than they'll command at any future point. And yet nothing was done outside the underwhelming Liriano trade, which as far as I can tell has the purpose of locking up two 25-man roster spots at replacement level production for the league minimum for the next few years. To me this all points to a very long rebuild, in which the Twins let the existing roster rot on the vine and rebuild entirely through the draft. That was a painful strategy before, and it's even worse under the new CBA since they won't collect draft picks when these guys leave via FA. So yeah, I'm pretty depressed. Ever realize you fundamentally disagree with you favorite-team-since-childhood's core philosophies? It's not fun.

Aug 01, 2012 12:37 PM
rating: 1
 
ddufourlogger

They should have tried to trade someone for pitching. This team can hit pretty well and score runs...but might have the worst staff in the bigs.

Aug 01, 2012 13:49 PM
rating: 0
 
drawbb

None of this should be surprising at all for an organization that:

A) Failed to use the surplus of tweener-type OFs it had 7-8 years ago before they spoiled to shore up the Guzman/Rivas sinkholes in the middle IF, and

B) Stubbornly refuses to recognize that Blackburn/Duensing-style pitch-to-contact types are the baseball equivalent of Viagra to opposing Yankee offenses in the playoffs, but that Liriano repertoires must be shipped out of town for pennies on the dollar simply because they don't fit the vaunted "Twins way" on the mound.

As an outsider, they are a frustrating club to watch simply because an institutional denial is the biggest thing that has kept them from capitalizing more fruitfully on the nice decade they had...and it is that, not money, which was the primary culprit despite the barrage of disinformation that the party-line financial mouthpieces constantly spew.

Aug 01, 2012 17:07 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Bill Parker
BP staff

I have to say I don't think the Liriano bit of this is fair. They didn't trade him "simply because [he didn't] fit in the vaunted 'Twins way,'" they traded him because he was going to be a free agent, and frankly, it'd be crazy for this team, or any team, to lock him up. And it's hard for me to get as worked up as Michael is about the trade, because I don't think that's "pennies on the dollar," I think that's about what he was worth on the market -- I expect him to do really well for the rest of this year, but it's not like there aren't plenty of reasons to think he's a ticking bomb.

I get as frustrated with the Twinsy type of pitcher as anybody (more frustrated than anybody, probably), but I'm satisfied that it's not an institutional problem anymore. They've been targeting strikeout pitcher types in the last few drafts and trades, etc. They got rid of Liriano because of when he is, not who he is.

Aug 01, 2012 19:09 PM
 
Richard Bergstrom

Locking up Jamey Carroll to a multiyear deal was less crazy?

There are a lot of Carrolls in the world. There are fewer Lirianos.

Aug 03, 2012 08:46 AM
rating: 0
 
cmaczkow

I would have liked to see more trades too, but given the lackluster returns they've been managing over the past few years (remember the JJ Hardy deal?), I'm almost relieved not to have seen more. I know no one should have expected the world for Liriano but it would have been nice to see at least one guy with SOME actual upside come back.

I'll second the sentiment that it's difficult to evaluate the current braintrust without knowing what the directive from management is. The unspoken problem, though, is that as a fan, you should theoretically be able to deduce that directive from the team's move, and with the Twins, it seems more and more as though there is no real plan in place.

Aug 02, 2012 14:40 PM
rating: 0
 
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