• The Elephant in the Room

    Earlier this week, Charley Walters of the Pioneer Press asked Terry Ryan whether the team's recent run of success has affected the way he's preparing for the offseason.

    "Regardless of what you look like right now, you still look at the club and figure out where you're headed and where you need to add," Ryan told Walters. "My focus and our focus will always be, as you go through a season, to look at what you've got and what you've got coming up."

    What the Twins have got and what they've got coming up are one in the same: bats.Their lineup is looking strong, and everyone is locked in for next year and beyond. In the offings, you've got Chris Parmelee obliterating Triple-A, while Aaron Hicks and Oswaldo Arcia thrive in Double-A.

    Where they need to add, clearly, is pitching. Everyone agrees on that. Opinions differ on the scope of the project.

    Should they focus solely on adding young, high-upside arms, even if it means disassembling their current core and delaying their window of contention by a few years?

    Or should they try to keep this group largely intact, picking up pitchers wherever they can and hoping for some good things to happen in 2013?

    From my perspective, there are a number of ways to work toward putting a contending team on the field next year that don't jeopardize the organization's long-term outlook. And not doing so would be an injustice to the franchise's most valuable (and highly-paid) asset: Joe Mauer.

    You may have noticed that Mauer has been rather awesome this year in spite of the club's struggles. After a sluggish start, he's turned it on the summer months and is back to ranking among the elite in batting average and on-base percentage while logging significant time at catcher.

    The likelihood that Mauer keeps playing at this level diminishes a bit next year. And a little bit more the year after that. And so on. That's because he'll turn 30 next spring, and historically baseball players have often started to show decline as they age into their fourth decade of life. Particularly guys with substantial injury histories.

    The time to build a championship-caliber team around Mauer is now, while he remains in his physical "prime." As the years pass, it becomes more difficult to center plans around him, and as long as he's consuming close to a quarter of the payroll there's really no other choice.

    As the Twins ponder whether to take a long-term approach in putting a competitive product back on the field, what they need to ask themselves is whether biding their time and stocking the farm is worth wasting the best years of Mauer's career.
    This article was originally published in blog: The Elephant in the Room started by Nick Nelson
    Comments 64 Comments
    1. Steve Lein's Avatar
      Steve Lein -
      Quote Originally Posted by Brock Beauchamp View Post
      Not taking the BPA in the draft is a slippery slope to step on. You make excuses for doing it one year and it's not hard to come up with reasons to continue doing it every year thereafter.
      The whole thing is, BPA is subjective. Was Buxton far and away a better player to draft at #2 than a pitcher like Appel? I honestly do not think so, and in such a case, the needs of the team should play a part.
    1. Steve Lein's Avatar
      Steve Lein -
      Quote Originally Posted by Nick Nelson View Post
      It's not so much that it's an injustice to Mauer himself. He's making his money and he's had a couple shots in the playoffs already.

      More so, it's an injustice to the Twins themselves and their fans. Here they have this once-in-a-generation talent, a Hall of Fame caliber player that they paid an enormous amount of money to lock up. Now they're going to waste his best remaining years in a semi-rebuilding effort rather than doing everything they reasonably can to build a contender around him? Seems like a regrettable decision to me. Considering the condition of his legs and the likelihood that he'll need to fully switch away from catcher at some point, there's a very good chance Mauer's value will start fading fast as he ages into his mid-30s and it's awfully tough to build a great roster around a fading player earning ~25% of the payroll. People in the long-term rebuild camp often overlook this.
      Replied before I saw Nick's response. This is exactly what I'm getting at with the word "injustice".
    1. jokin's Avatar
      jokin -
      Quote Originally Posted by Steve Lein View Post
      That's not the type of injustice I'm talking about (his contract certainly is NOT an injustice...). You have a once in a lifetime player on your roster, and you aren't doing everything in your power to surround him with the other needs of the team to legitimately contend for a World Series title. That is the injustice.
      Yes. I think we are all in agreement that the fans are being done an injustice, not Mauer- which was what the original poster stated had been done to him.
    1. Shane Wahl's Avatar
      Shane Wahl -
      Quote Originally Posted by Steve Lein View Post
      The whole thing is, BPA is subjective. Was Buxton far and away a better player to draft at #2 than a pitcher like Appel? I honestly do not think so, and in such a case, the needs of the team should play a part.
      I have tried to block memories of that whole discussion out! Maybe Jose Berrios will be a fast riser though.
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      Quote Originally Posted by Steve Lein View Post
      The whole thing is, BPA is subjective. Was Buxton far and away a better player to draft at #2 than a pitcher like Appel? I honestly do not think so, and in such a case, the needs of the team should play a part.
      In the case of Appel/Buxton, I wouldn't have faulted the Twins for going either way. Just speaking more in generalities about not taking the BPA.
    1. jokin's Avatar
      jokin -
      Quote Originally Posted by Brock Beauchamp View Post
      In the case of Appel/Buxton, I wouldn't have faulted the Twins for going either way. Just speaking more in generalities about not taking the BPA.
      What about the Scott Boras factor? The Twins were far from the only team to take a pass to avoid that guy.
    1. Shane Wahl's Avatar
      Shane Wahl -
      Quote Originally Posted by jokin View Post
      Yes. I think we are all in agreement that the fans are being done an injustice, not Mauer- which was what the original poster stated had been done to him.
      So since he is making $23 million it doesn't matter if the Twins don't try to win while he is still productive? Players are not motivated only, or primarily, by money.
    1. jokin's Avatar
      jokin -
      Quote Originally Posted by shanewahl View Post
      So since he is making $23 million it doesn't matter if the Twins don't try to win while he is still productive? Players are not motivated only, or primarily, by money.
      Huh? I think you are missing the point.
    1. Steve Lein's Avatar
      Steve Lein -
      Quote Originally Posted by jokin View Post
      Yes. I think we are all in agreement that the fans are being done an injustice, not Mauer- which was what the original poster stated had been done to him.
      I don't really agree with all of that either, at least in the way I think you're trying to demonstrate. To me, it's an injustice to Mauer himself and the fans that he's not being surrounded by other needed talent that could put them over the top to contend.
    1. Oxtung's Avatar
      Oxtung -
      Quote Originally Posted by Steve Lein View Post
      Quote Originally Posted by jokin View Post
      Yes. I think we are all in agreement that the fans are being done an injustice, not Mauer- which was what the original poster stated had been done to him.
      I don't really agree with all of that either, at least in the way I think you're trying to demonstrate. To me, it's an injustice to Mauer himself and the fans that he's not being surrounded by other needed talent that could put them over the top to contend.
      You seem to be arguing there is an inherent responsibility for an employer to provide perks or bonuses to employees beyond what is stated in the employee/er contract. I would agree with that with regards to discrimination and safety, etc., but I don't think there is any obligation to provide help to an employee to do their job. In many situations that might be beneficial to do so but certainly it shouldn't be an obligation. If it is not an inherent responsibility then it can't be an injustice. So again, maybe we're just arguing semantics here about the word "injustice". On the flip side there is an obligation to the taxpayers of the state of Minnesota because of the publicly financed stadium.
    1. gunnarthor's Avatar
      gunnarthor -
      Quote Originally Posted by jokin View Post
      Quote Originally Posted by Brock Beauchamp View Post
      In the case of Appel/Buxton, I wouldn't have faulted the Twins for going either way. Just speaking more in generalities about not taking the BPA.
      What about the Scott Boras factor? The Twins were far from the only team to take a pass to avoid that guy.
      Yeah, Twins (I argued) were never going to take Appel b/c of our past history with Boras (Belcher and Lee were both Boras guys). I thought the Twins might take Zimmer but he struggled a bit. I was pretty happy with the Buxton pick and he's played great for us so far.
    1. USAFChief's Avatar
      USAFChief -
      Quote Originally Posted by Steve Lein View Post

      That's not the type of injustice I'm talking about (his contract certainly is NOT an injustice...). You have a once in a lifetime player on your roster...
      Once in a lifetime?

      I think one would have to be pretty young, and most likely plan on not watching much baseball in a few years, to make that claim about Mauer.
    1. Jim H's Avatar
      Jim H -
      Actually, I think the Twins signed Mauer with the idea he would be very productive throughout his contract. I think that is fairly likely, given reasonably good health. He likely won't be close to an everyday catcher, but he will likely not be a liability defensively wherever he plays. His approach and general batting ability will allow him to maintain a high on base percentage even toward the end of his contract.

      What I think is interesting is that the Twins seem to have a pretty good stockpile of potentially productive everyday players throughout the farm system. Some like Parmelee are ready now, some probably won't be major league ready for 5 years. A few may turn out to be high impact players, though most won't.

      What is good, is that the Twins should have fairly productive, fairly low cost options at most?-many? positions over the next 10 years. Possible surpluses at some positions may yield trade possibilities.

      Pitching is so volatile that it is often impossible to predict what you will have from year to year. But you can also rebuild pitching faster-if you ar lucky-because generally pitching develops faster than position players.

      Largely, I think that the Twins have positioned themselves to be very competitive over the next ten years. Certailnly the Twins seem to have more talent in place than they seemed to in 2000, when the Twins were poised to make a nice 10 year run.
    1. The Greatest Poster Alive's Avatar
      The Greatest Poster Alive -
      Quote Originally Posted by Brock Beauchamp View Post
      Quote Originally Posted by Steve Lein View Post
      The whole thing is, BPA is subjective. Was Buxton far and away a better player to draft at #2 than a pitcher like Appel? I honestly do not think so, and in such a case, the needs of the team should play a part.
      In the case of Appel/Buxton, I wouldn't have faulted the Twins for going either way. Just speaking more in generalities about not taking the BPA.
      The fact that Buxton signed and Appel turned down an overslot to go back to college is good enough reason for me to agree with the twins decision not to draft him.
    1. MarshalltheIrish's Avatar
      MarshalltheIrish -
      Nick,

      I agree 100%, but there's no way the front office will push for it. It's bad enough they're as awful and underwhelming as they are when the new stadium was supposed to open up greater potential, but worse that they won't even try to go for it all in Mauer's prime. I've always believed they should win at least one title with Mauer and Morneau, and even after the (excruciating) disappointment of 2006 I figured they would have a good share of opportunities. I think when they blew it in 2010 that was a huge setback, and then the utter disaster of 2011 and Bill Smith's litany of bad moves threatened to kill the team for a long time. This year they've managed to find some life with the offense and bullpen, and Mauer's turnaround in particular is an important component of that. All they need to do in the offseason to compete is add at least two solid FA starters, maybe a weapon or two more in the bullpen, and shore up the infield if necessary (hoping the best for Plouffe in the long run). A WS run would probably require a little more, but I wouldn't object to making the effort. Ryan's offseason acquisitions (aside from Marquis) have worked out fine, so him ruling out free agency after this year doesn't make any sense.

      That said, I think the team's likely headed for another stretch akin to the early 80's and late 90's. At least in the case of the former they were growing the foundation for the 87/91 teams, and the latter were just bad teams to begin with. A dry spell like that now would indeed be an injustice to the fans.
    1. StormJH1's Avatar
      StormJH1 -
      Quote Originally Posted by Nick Nelson View Post
      It's not so much that it's an injustice to Mauer himself. He's making his money and he's had a couple shots in the playoffs already.

      More so, it's an injustice to the Twins themselves and their fans. Here they have this once-in-a-generation talent, a Hall of Fame caliber player that they paid an enormous amount of money to lock up. Now they're going to waste his best remaining years in a semi-rebuilding effort rather than doing everything they reasonably can to build a contender around him? Seems like a regrettable decision to me. Considering the condition of his legs and the likelihood that he'll need to fully switch away from catcher at some point, there's a very good chance Mauer's value will start fading fast as he ages into his mid-30s and it's awfully tough to build a great roster around a fading player earning ~25% of the payroll. People in the long-term rebuild camp often overlook this.
      I think that's a terrifically unique and interesting perspective, but I just don't know what the alternative was. Are you saying let Joe Mauer go play for the Red Sox, Yankees, Phillies, etc? If the argument now is that the Twins are squandering money on extending guys they shouldn't and only "semi-rebuilding", then what is the expectation for what we would have done with that extra $23 million.

      Lots of Hall of Fame-caliber players get stuck on mid-level or even bad teams - it doesn't mean that their careers were sad. Look at three of my favorite players growing up: Ryne Sandberg, Cal Ripken, and Tony Gwynn.

      Joe Mauer is to the Twins what Kevin Garnett was to the T-Wolves in the mid-2000's. I liked both guys and they were both very good players. But it was evident to everyone (except apparently KG himself) that he wasn't going to win anything if he was "the guy" and there wasn't much else around. His contract and his silly demands for playing with certain guys (Troy Hudson, et al) made sure that there wasn't another star as a sidekick.

      People don't buy that logic as easily in baseball because it's a 25-man roster and everything seems more diluted. But since you could buy about 3 Willinghams or a dozen-plus Scott Diamonds for the price of one Mauer, the financials with this situation fit that same dilemma.
    1. savvyspy's Avatar
      savvyspy -
      Its fun to speculate but the reality is this team BY CHOICE won't spend on free agent pitching, won't make trades at the deadline that meaningfully improve the roster, and have ZERO pitching prospects within 3 years of the majors that would rate as anything higher than a #4-#5 starter on a playoff team.

      Given that, the only choice is to firesale the whole thing. Stock up on prospects, draft wisely (last 2 years have seemed better), and start making a run in 2-3 seasons.

      To do that you MUST trade Mauer. He's the only guy with the kind of value where you can get the level of prospect you need to rebuild.

      I'd keep a core of Plouffe and Revere and build around that. They have some nice complimentary pieces like Mastroianni and I think Dozier will be fine.

      As was pointed out, when the bats arrive the lineup is going to be very good. It all comes down to can you draft and trade for enough pitching for it to matter.
    1. DPJ's Avatar
      DPJ -
      Quote Originally Posted by savvyspy View Post
      To do that you MUST trade Mauer. He's the only guy with the kind of value where you can get the level of prospect you need to rebuild.
      I'd actually say Mauer has the least amount of value once you consider his contract and fact that at 29 he's no longer a fulltime catcher.
    1. cr9617's Avatar
      cr9617 -
      Quote Originally Posted by savvyspy View Post
      Its fun to speculate but the reality is this team BY CHOICE won't spend on free agent pitching, won't make trades at the deadline that meaningfully improve the roster, and have ZERO pitching prospects within 3 years of the majors that would rate as anything higher than a #4-#5 starter on a playoff team.

      Given that, the only choice is to firesale the whole thing. Stock up on prospects, draft wisely (last 2 years have seemed better), and start making a run in 2-3 seasons.

      To do that you MUST trade Mauer. He's the only guy with the kind of value where you can get the level of prospect you need to rebuild.

      I'd keep a core of Plouffe and Revere and build around that. They have some nice complimentary pieces like Mastroianni and I think Dozier will be fine.

      As was pointed out, when the bats arrive the lineup is going to be very good. It all comes down to can you draft and trade for enough pitching for it to matter.
      Plouffe and Revere as your core? Kansas City here we come..

      Mauer is possibly the least tradeable guy on the entire roster.
    1. lee_the_twins_fan's Avatar
      lee_the_twins_fan -
      Yes, the team needs pitching, particularly starting pitching. Beyond Scott Diamond, I would be willing to trade all other starters who have played this year – get two strong arms and some for the future.

      Whether we sign pitchers as free agents, or trade for them, we need starting pitchers. But we also need middle infielders who can actually hit the ball. I like Brian Dozier, but Nishioka should be released immediately; and Casilla should be traded. Keep Carroll as utility infielder and find someone else who can play a very good second base, and still hit the ball.

      Starters and 2B. Those are our needs this offseason. Fielding a championship team won't happen unless we get both.
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