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  • Reasons For Hope

    You'd figure a team that lost 99 games last year, and now finds itself on pace to lose 96 this year, would instill little confidence in its fan base. Yet, as we creep up on the season's halfway point, I find myself feeling rather optimistic about the Twins' future.

    No, I don't believe the club is going to miraculously climb back into the AL Central race this year. But I do think that, given some of the positive signs we've seen, the path back to contention is looking shorter than we once may have feared.

    Coming into this season, the Twins were in a state of disarray. A disastrous 2011 had caught them like a sucker punch, sullying their reputation as an organization to be emulated and prompting a major front-office shakeup. Alarming question marks swirled around several of the roster's key players, many of whom were amid long-term deals that had the potential to become quite burdensome.

    Given the number of health concerns attached to position players, and the see-what-sticks approach taken with the pitching staff, no one really knew what to expect from the lineup, the relief corps or the rotation. Fortunately, two of those units have proven solid.

    The bullpen has been a very pleasant surprise for the Twins, with a WHIP ranking fifth in the majors. Glen Perkins and Jared Burton give them two legitimate back end relievers who are under control for multiple years, Brian Duensing continues to excel as a lefty specialist, and several guys have emerged in the minors as possible blocks with which to build around those three (not to mention all the college relievers drafted earlier this month who figure to be fast risers). All in all, the outlook for this unit is fairly bright.

    The offense, after a slow start, has also come into its own. The Twins lead the majors in hits this month, and several embattled players are alleviating concerns through their performance on the field. Denard Span, Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau have all been relatively healthy and productive; along with Josh Willingham, Ben Revere and Trevor Plouffe, this gives them a quality core that is entrenched beyond this season.

    Granted, the starting pitching is a mess, but that appears to be the only thing holding the Twins back at this point. Building a rotation isn't easy, of course, but the ability to focus on a specific area Ė as opposed to the across-the-board retooling required during this past offseason Ė makes returning to contention far less daunting.

    If the Twins can keep the lineup and bullpen together for the most part, they could find themselves back in the mix as soon as next year IF they get significant improvement from the starters. That's obviously a substantial "if," but between Scott Diamond, Liam Hendriks, Kyle Gibson, Nick Blackburn and some freed up money (from departing starters like Carl Pavano, Francisco Liriano and Scott Baker) to hypothetically put toward a deep free agent pool, the Twins may have some decent options available.

    It's enough to make you think twice about the notion of trading away guys like Willingham, Morneau and Span (or Burton and Perkins), who could all contribute to a revival next year if they're still around.
    This article was originally published in blog: Reasons For Hope started by Nick Nelson
    Comments 42 Comments
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      Quote Originally Posted by Nick Nelson View Post
      Here's the other thing I didn't touch on in the article: As long as the Mauer is here and taking 25% of the payroll, the Twins need to build around him. I believe they stand a better chance of winning a championship behind Mauer right now – while he's in his physical prime – than in 3/4 years when he's aging into his 30s. This must be a consideration.
      I definitely agree, I merely wonder whether it's better to punt 2013 and push for 2014 when the next wave of prospects starts to arrive.

      If I was the Twins FO, I'd be looking long and hard at the FA pitching market in 2013 and 2014 and figuring out which has more potential for success.
    1. JB_Iowa's Avatar
      JB_Iowa -
      I see very little reason for hope. I see an organization that except for a retread from Bill Smith to Terry Ryan is as stagnant as it was last summer. Until I see some infusion of talent, enthusiasm and ideas in the management of this organization - both front office and field staff - I see very little reason for raising my expectations.
    1. cr9617's Avatar
      cr9617 -
      Quote Originally Posted by JB_Iowa View Post
      I see very little reason for hope. I see an organization that except for a retread from Bill Smith to Terry Ryan is as stagnant as it was last summer. Until I see some infusion of talent, enthusiasm and ideas in the management of this organization - both front office and field staff - I see very little reason for raising my expectations.
      Agreed.

      I hope the FO doesn't have mediocrity as its main objective. HOPE being the key word..
    1. twinzgrl's Avatar
      twinzgrl -
      I know that some people think Terry Ryan doesn't know what he is doing, but, I believe he does, and that he realizes what he has and what he doesn't have on this team. Other than Diamond, the starting rotation is awful. Fixing that issue is going to take all his experience and savvy. I have confidence that he will make strides towards fixing it, but what it is going to cost us in terms of loss in our current lineup remains to be seen, plus don't you think some of the "cut" payroll could be put back if the Pohlad family really wants to field a winner and keep putting fans in the stands at Target Field? Make strides towards fixing the starting rotation, and this team will be okay.
    1. jokin's Avatar
      jokin -
      Quote Originally Posted by JB_Iowa View Post
      I see very little reason for hope. I see an organization that except for a retread from Bill Smith to Terry Ryan is as stagnant as it was last summer. Until I see some infusion of talent, enthusiasm and ideas in the management of this organization - both front office and field staff - I see very little reason for raising my expectations.
      JB-It appears you definitely have left the "glass half full" camp and are falling in amongst us in the "glass half empty and leaking rapidly" camp.

      Welcome, I heart-wearily concur with your lack of optimism- the recent, pre-draft Strib "inside story" on the scouting department was the last nail in hope's coffin. This organization is suffering from a severe case of inbred paralysis of thought- run and staffed by yes men, beancounters and backslappers- and owned by a family that would rather make schlocky movies for tax write-offs and find novel new ways to squeeze the last drop of blood from a turnip- and the turnip truck it rode in on. If George Steinbrenner was the poster boy for an over-involved owner, surely the Pohlads are at the polar opposite- Ol' Carl would have been more thrilled to make a decent fortune on contraction than to winning a pennant . Surely there must be a potential local ownership group that could come in somewhere in-between the two extremes and make the necessary changes in this moribund club. This is a good-to-great baseball market and deserves better than the sclerotic status quo.
    1. Boom Boom's Avatar
      Boom Boom -
      The Twins pride themselves on their loyalty to their own people. I can respect that, but...

      The Royals have been in rebuilding mode forever, and have taken criticism for not sticking with a blueprint long enough for it to come to fruition. The Twins are the antithesis of the Royals, in that they had a successful blueprint and are too loyal/haughty/stubborn to adjust it. Things have changed since the Twins made their run, from new players, a new GM, a new old GM, a new ballpark, and wholesale changes to division rivals. But the Twins philosophy is still etched in stone.

      At some point loyalty becomes myopic. I don't know if the Twins are quite there yet, but the last two seasons aren't good signs.
    1. Winston Smith's Avatar
      Winston Smith -
      Contending is a bad word. Contending in the Central doesn't take much and doesn't mean you have a good team. It seems that a lot of fans and maybe the front office and ownership think that is good enough. If you feel that way leave things as they are and hope for the best. If you would like them to build a team that can win a playoff game and maybe a playoff series or two things need a complete overhaul, imo.
    1. JB_Iowa's Avatar
      JB_Iowa -
      Here's the thing. It wouldn't have to be a wholesale change in the Twins management staff. But what was so disappointing in the return of Ryan and the hiring of Krivsky is that they both had so many ties to the staff already in place. And, Ryan almost has to be invested in the success or failure of the system that he and Tom Kelly developed.

      It is often hard to take an unbiased look at your co-workers. You know their strengths and weaknesses but you also try to compensate for them (or you often overlook problems). At some point, it is helpful to have an objective eye in a position of authority reviewing things -- whether it be the on-field staff; the medical/training procedures; the minor league staff or other aspects.

      If they were determined to bring Ryan back, I wish that he had brought in a "Special Assistant" that could bring an fresh viewpoint to the baseball operations. Until they do so, I fear that they will keep repeating the practices and procedures (and employing the same information) that led to the current situation. And that, I fear, will doom them to mediocrity.

      I've enjoyed watching this last month of games where the Twins have played better ball but there hasn't been anything about their improvements that indicate to me that they are on an upward curve or that they have made adjustments from what they were doing that landed them in this mess.
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      I see nothing from Ryan to indicate he will be any different than when he was in charge last time, so I also see little reason for hope. Until I see something different, I assume things have not changed.
    1. ashburyjohn's Avatar
      ashburyjohn -
      Quote Originally Posted by JB_Iowa View Post
      If they were determined to bring Ryan back, I wish that he had brought in a "Special Assistant" that could bring an fresh viewpoint to the baseball operations.
      A GM like Bill Smith has to rely on Special Assistants because he will freely admit to lacking deep fundamental insights. Someone like Terry Ryan, who has great self-confidence in his methods, might hire a Special Assistant and let him make decisions at the margins, but this Assistant will constantly get overruled on anything important like whether to draft Buxton versus a pitcher.
    1. jokin's Avatar
      jokin -
      Quote Originally Posted by JB_Iowa View Post
      Here's the thing. It wouldn't have to be a wholesale change in the Twins management staff. But what was so disappointing in the return of Ryan and the hiring of Krivsky is that they both had so many ties to the staff already in place. And, Ryan almost has to be invested in the success or failure of the system that he and Tom Kelly developed.

      It is often hard to take an unbiased look at your co-workers. You know their strengths and weaknesses but you also try to compensate for them (or you often overlook problems). At some point, it is helpful to have an objective eye in a position of authority reviewing things -- whether it be the on-field staff; the medical/training procedures; the minor league staff or other aspects.

      If they were determined to bring Ryan back, I wish that he had brought in a "Special Assistant" that could bring an fresh viewpoint to the baseball operations. Until they do so, I fear that they will keep repeating the practices and procedures (and employing the same information) that led to the current situation. And that, I fear, will doom them to mediocrity.

      I've enjoyed watching this last month of games where the Twins have played better ball but there hasn't been anything about their improvements that indicate to me that they are on an upward curve or that they have made adjustments from what they were doing that landed them in this mess.

      Maybe not "wholesale changes" immediately, but there need to be major changes at the top- to examine each aspect of the club's operations, keeping the valuable assets and eliminating the dead weight. I don't necessarily have a problem with Krivsky coming back in some capacity, lots of connections, institutional memory, a slew of 'ol boy connections and a keen eye for talent. Here's a name associated with Krivsky who has had success, is highly qualified in the business background and baseball organizational sense, has been with a club that has built itself up on a shoestring budget and is fully versed in sabremetrics. His name, Matt Arnold, director of Pro Scouting with Tampa Bay. Worked with the Reds, so has a background with Krivsky. He may be ready for the big jump to GM. He certainly is far more qualified than Bill Smith ever was. He undoubtedly would need strong people around him. I'd suggest someone at "Special Assistant" who wouldn't represent a threat to Arnold. How about Charlie Manuel? His time with the Phillies has to be coming to a close, is an ex-Twin, and has come from a competely different successful culture in Philly. As head of Baseball Operatons or President, how about hiring the current MLB VP for baseball operations, Kim Ng? She has a midwest background (worked in strategic position with the White Sox), has a very sharp and savvy business and baseball mind (played softball at the University of Chicago where she degreed in public policy). The Twins have a bevy of ex-Twins floating around who appear to be willing to take on some of the field operations but are currently being blocked from consideration for higher profile positions. We all know who they are, hire them soon after the new management team is in place and has made a full and fair assessment of the situation.
    1. Nick Nelson's Avatar
      Nick Nelson -
      Quote Originally Posted by Winston Smith View Post
      Contending is a bad word.
      This couldn't be further from the truth. Contending means giving the fans something to care about. It means higher attendance and more money to spend. It means having a chance to get on a hot streak in October. There's nothing bad about contending.

      Quote Originally Posted by mike wants wins[/QUOTE View Post
      I see nothing from Ryan to indicate he will be any different than when he was in charge last time, so I also see little reason for hope. Until I see something different, I assume things have not changed.
      Since taking over, Ryan has made two of the better free agent signings in the club's recent history (Willingham and Doumit) and snagged a high-end relief arm off the heap (Burton). I'd say he's done pretty well thus far. Cut him some slack; he inherited quite a mess from the Bill Smith era.
    1. one_eyed_jack's Avatar
      one_eyed_jack -
      I agree with the idea that there is reason for optimism because the team has some good things going, and a couple of good moves could have them competing for the division again.

      However, I also agree with those who have expressed skepticism over the current management group's ability to identify those moves.

      It sure seems as though a staleness has set over this organization, and I too would like to see some new blood from outside the organization. I'm not in the "everyone member of the front office and the coaching staff is an idiot" camp. In fact, I think TR and Gardy are good baseball guys, and I appreciate everything they did to help raise the Twins up from the ashes of the late 90's in the face of threatened contraction. Nor am I one who is quick to fire the coach or GM, which happens too often in pro sports not because it's the best move you can make, but the simplest.

      But having the same people do the same jobs for too long is usually not a good idea, and sometimes you need to make change for change's sake.
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      The upper minors and lack of young players in the majors are on Ryan, not Smith. He was the GM when those guys that should be in the majors and at AAA were drafted, so laying it all on Smith is bogus, imo. As for the FA signings, agreed, those were good, but neither were big time, legit, starters that they were competing with others to sign. When they sign a big time FA starter for multiple years for big money, I'll believe they'll do it. When they trade a big time set of prospects for legit starters (Capps was not that), I'll believe it. He also went with Marquis, which was an awful lot like his previous signings. And, let's not forget, while it was the right decision, he let Cuddeyer go, and replaced him with a less expensive player. When they go out and add money and players, under Ryan, that are in their prime, for mulitple years, for big money, then I'll believe things have changed. Isn't that fair, seeing evidence of change, before believing change is real?
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      Quote Originally Posted by Nick Nelson View Post
      This couldn't be further from the truth. Contending means giving the fans something to care about. It means higher attendance and more money to spend. It means having a chance to get on a hot streak in October. There's nothing bad about contending.
      I hate watching 3-and-done playoff series but I hate not making the playoffs more.

      Quote Originally Posted by Nick Nelson View Post
      Since taking over, Ryan has made two of the better free agent signings in the club's recent history (Willingham and Doumit) and snagged a high-end relief arm off the heap (Burton). I'd say he's done pretty well thus far. Cut him some slack; he inherited quite a mess from the Bill Smith era.
      JR was a mixed bag this offseason but overall, he did a pretty good job. The Capps signing was groan-worthy and the Carroll signing was meh. 38 year old MI don't impress me much, particularly when signed to multi-year deals. But he did a fantastic job with Burton, Willingham, and Doumit. Overall, he gets at least a B, probably a B+.
    1. gunnarthor's Avatar
      gunnarthor -
      Quote Originally Posted by cr9617 View Post
      Agreed.

      I hope the FO doesn't have mediocrity as its main objective. HOPE being the key word..
      Seriously, what has ever giving you the indication that anyone in the FO is aiming for "mediocrity?" Hell, Smith made more 'win-now' moves than any previous Twin GM. They've had a ton of success over the last decade and we've now had one and a half seasons of bad baseball and Ryan is rebuilding the team. We just drafted the highest ceiling prospect in the draft (and paid him the highest bonus in MLB this year). But you really think the FO is aiming for mediocrity.
    1. USAFChief's Avatar
      USAFChief -
      Excellent blog, Nick.
    1. Dilligaf69's Avatar
      Dilligaf69 -
      they have to make some trades for some starting pitching...but i don't think a full scale fire sale is needed...we'll see.
    1. Land Of 10,000 Beasts's Avatar
      Land Of 10,000 Beasts -
      Thank you, Nick. Great article.
    1. peterb18's Avatar
      peterb18 -
      Quote Originally Posted by jokin View Post
      JB-It appears you definitely have left the "glass half full" camp and are falling in amongst us in the "glass half empty and leaking rapidly" camp.

      Welcome, I heart-wearily concur with your lack of optimism- the recent, pre-draft Strib "inside story" on the scouting department was the last nail in hope's coffin. This organization is suffering from a severe case of inbred paralysis of thought- run and staffed by yes men, beancounters and backslappers- and owned by a family that would rather make schlocky movies for tax write-offs and find novel new ways to squeeze the last drop of blood from a turnip- and the turnip truck it rode in on. If George Steinbrenner was the poster boy for an over-involved owner, surely the Pohlads are at the polar opposite- Ol' Carl would have been more thrilled to make a decent fortune on contraction than to winning a pennant . Surely there must be a potential local ownership group that could come in somewhere in-between the two extremes and make the necessary changes in this moribund club. This is a good-to-great baseball market and deserves better than the sclerotic status quo.
      Agree with the above statement--
      Terry Ryan knows what needs to be done. It is a matter of the Pohlads being willing to step up to the plate and sign some Free Agents(pitchers)---they, the family, chose to cut payroll after a 93 win season two seasons ago. Their history doesn't indicate an eagerness to take the next step. They probably are not even embarrassed by this team. A friend of mine just said," They field a triple AAA team, but charge major league prices".
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