Three years ago, the Minnesota Twins were in an ideal position. The organization was proud to be opening Target Field on a beautiful day in downtown Minneapolis. Minnesota would be on their way to 94 wins, the most for the franchise since the 2006 season. It would be a memorable season for Twins Territory but there were some problems starting to bubble under the surface.
The dreaded Yankees were again waiting for the Twins in the first round. It was another quick exit from the postseason but things seemed to look fine to the blind eye. Those views of the team would quickly fall apart with injuries, poor play, and bad decisions. Minnesota has fallen far since that day in the Bronx.
Teams that suffer this kind of defeat can find it hard to get back on their feet. Minnesota won six division titles from 2002-2010 but only one of those playoff trips resulted in a trip to the ALCS. The price of losing can start to add up and for some teams, that price can result in a decade long struggle to get back to the top.
One of the toughest things to do when a team wins or when a team loses is to divide the credit or the blame. There are going to be plenty of people who want to take credit when things are going well for a franchise. If things are going the opposite way, there will be plenty of finger pointing. The bitterness in defeat can be a lot harder for a franchise to overcome.
After the team's tough 2011 season, two of the most vocal members of the clubhouse left the franchise through free agency. Michael Cuddyer had been the longest tenured Twins player and he offered a veteran presence. Joe Nathan set the franchise record for saves but he saw a better opportunity to win in Texas. Now there are other veteran players on the club but most of their personalities are calm and reserved.
There have been other casualties as the storm has continued to build.
Bill Smith was given a lot of responsibility when the club handed him the reigns in September 2007. He would be the man in charge of trading away Johan Santana, signing franchise player Joe Mauer, and preparing the team to enter Target Field. These were challenging items and the team went in a different direction in 2011.
Minnesota went back to Terry Ryan. There have been some tough decisions with him back in the saddle. Denard Span and Ben Revere were traded this offseason to try and build up some organizational pitching depth. Some other tough decisions could be on the horizon.
Justin Morneau has been an important part of the franchise over the last decade. He won an MVP and was selected to four consecutive All-Star Games. Concussion issues and other injures have limited his playing time. The Twins made sure to sign him to a deal that would keep him in a TC uniform until the new stadium opened. That deal expires at the end of the year and he could be dealt before July's deadline.
The coaching staff saw it's biggest shake-up since Tom Kelly resigned after the 2001 season. Ron Gardenhire is in the last year of his contract. There are fresh faces on his staff but it's hard to have hope that the club will get off to a good start. This could mean the end of Gardy's tenure as Twins manager and maybe that's the best path for the franchise.
It seems the Twins are entering a new phase. There will be plenty of new faces on the roster for Opening Day. The minor league system is stocked and some of the best young hitters in the game could be getting closer to Target Field this season.
One of the hardest things to do in sports is to reinvent an organization. Terry Ryan knows this. His job is to calm the gathering storm. There will be other changes but fans can have hope that the clouds will part and the sun will shine through on a bright future in Minnesota.