Two months ago the Twins fired Terry Ryan after 18 total years as general manager. His longtime assistant, Rob Antony, was promoted to interim general manager and owner Jim Pohlad insisted that the permanent GM—whether Antony or someone else—would have to retain Paul Molitor as manager in 2017. Since then the Twins have an AL-worst 19-29 record, including losing 17 of 20 games to put them on pace for more than 100 losses and the worst record in team history. They’re the worst team in baseball. That’s the bad news.
The good news is that the Twins’ search for a new front office boss is being aided by the firm Korn Ferry and appears to extend past the in-house options feared by fans who are used to the way things are typically run in Minnesota. Jon Morosi of FOXSports.com reports that the Twins’ targets include former Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos and a pair of current Cubs staffers—assistant general manager Shiraz Rehman and senior vice president of player development and amateur scouting Jason McLeod.
Rather than debate the pros and cons of individual candidates, I’ll simply say that any list of targets with those three names on them is encouraging for a Twins organization that is behind the times in several key areas. It sounds like Antony has little chance of remaining the permanent GM and it sounds like the Twins are trusting the search firm they hired to pursue in-demand candidates. Whether the sought-after candidates are actually interested in taking the job is another issue, of course.
MacLeod has been an oft-cited GM-in-waiting for years, first when he was with the Red Sox and now that he’s with the Cubs. Rehman’s profile has risen along with the Cubs’ record, as teams shake the organizational tree from top to bottom. Anthopoulos rejected a five-year contract extension from the Blue Jays last year and stepped down on the same day he received an Executive Of The Year award, so he’ll be in high demand for any teams preferring previous experience. These are men with options, present and future.
Minnesota is not an unattractive job—assuming one of only 30 potential openings could ever be all that unattractive—but it does come with well-established payroll limitations and an ownership group that has never exactly inspired confidence. What the Twins can offer is plenty of young, high-upside talent, a fairly clean slate that includes around $65 million in 2017 payroll commitments with no guaranteed contracts beyond 2019, and a comforting mix of extremely low expectations and tremendous loyalty.
There’s no getting around how awful the Twins have been this season, but half the team has been pretty good. Offensively they rank seventh among AL teams in runs scored and are second in runs scored since the All-Star break, behind only the Red Sox. Brian Dozier turning into Babe Ruth has obviously been the driving force behind that success, but the Twins’ second-half regulars also include 22-year-olds Byron Buxton and Jorge Polanco, 23-year-olds Miguel Sano and Max Kepler, and 24-year-old Eddie Rosario.
They still need to figure out the best defensive alignments to fully take advantage of that talent, but the pieces are largely in place for a very good offense built around Dozier, Joe Mauer, and the handful of 25-and-under former top prospects turned young big leaguers. If the Twins wanted to, they could retain eight of their nine current regulars for next year at a total cost of around $50 million, find a new catcher capable of being passable at the bottom of the order, and feel pretty confident about scoring runs in 2017 and beyond.
Unfortunately, the exact opposite is true of the pitching staff. Minnesota ranks dead last in runs allowed among AL teams by such a huge margin that the gap between the Twins and the second-worst team is 125 runs while the gap between the second-worst team and the best team is only 88 runs. They’ve essentially been one run per game worse than any other staff, living on an island away from the other 14 teams. Turning around a bad staff is a common task for a new front office, but this mess goes well beyond that.
Here’s how the Twins’ pitching staff has ranked among AL teams since 2011:
- 2016: 15th out of 15
- 2015: 10th out of 15
- 2014: 15th out of 15
- 2013: 14th out of 15
- 2012: 13th out of 14
- 2011: 13th out of 14
- 2016: 13th out of 15
- 2015: 15th out of 15
- 2014: 15th out of 15
- 2013: 15th out of 15
- 2012: 14th out of 14
- 2011: 14th out of 14
It’s hard to paint a worse picture for a pitching staff over a six-year span. Combined from 2011-2016 the Twins have allowed 400 more runs than the second-worst AL team while striking out 900 fewer batters than the second-worst AL team. And they’re getting worse, somehow. Minnesota has allowed 6.3 runs per game in the second half, including 7.0 per game in August and September. They’ve allowed double-digit runs nine times in the past 30 days, whereas 15 of the 29 other teams have done so nine or fewer times all season.
These are all of the pitchers on their active roster following September call-ups:
- Alex Wimmers
- Andrew Albers
- Brandon Kinzler
- Buddy Boshers
- Ervin Santana
- Hector Santiago
- Jose Berrios
- J.T. Chargois
- Kyle Gibson
- Michael Tonkin
- Pat Dean
- Pat Light
- Ryan O’Rourke
- Ryan Pressly
- Taylor Rogers
- Tyler Duffey
In six seasons the Twins have failed to make any progress with the pitching staff and, if anything, the current roster suggests regression. They have one above-average starter in the 33-year-old Santana and one top prospect struggling in his first taste of the majors in the 22-year-old Berrios, but otherwise the staff consists of established mediocre veterans, scrap-heap journeymen, organizational soldiers, and struggling quasi-prospects It’s hard to look at that group and imagine constructing anything even resembling a decent staff.
Talent is talent and simply acquiring it is the main battle, but is it more desirable to have a hitting/pitching balance? I could see arguments for either side. Position players are less risky, from performance and health standpoints, but elite-level pitching is forever scarce and valued at a premium. McLeod, Rehman, and the Cubs are thriving building around young bats and veteran arms, which is an approach that could be duplicated in Minnesota, albeit with payroll constraints increasing the degree of difficulty.
There are some pitching prospects still on the horizon, but Berrios is without question the best of the bunch—he has a 9.21 ERA through 10 career starts—and the others project as potential mid-rotation starters or late-inning relievers rather than rotation building blocks. Even the most beaten down, frustrated, damaged Twins fans can look at this mess and at least see the makings of a good lineup, but there aren’t beer goggles strong enough to see a decent staff without sweeping changes. That’s the challenge awaiting a new boss.