by, 03-26-2014 at 02:58 PM (540 Views)
Somewhere on the horizon, an end is in sight; a merciful conclusion to this horrendous chapter for the Minnesota Twins that has been characterized by losses piling up while mind-boggling injuries have plagued every level of the organization and interest has steadily declined in a team that should be enjoying its renaissance with a beautiful new outdoor ballpark.
The Twins keep pointing to a day where their heralded prospects will arrive to usher in a renewed era of competitive baseball, and where the front office will have plenty of money to aggressively supplement and support this talented young core.
The problem is that, as we keep inching forward, that day seems to continually move further down the line.
And in the meantime, being a Twins fan just hasn't been very much fun.
Now we've reached a point where, even with the season opener just days away, there's less buzz and enthusiasm for local baseball than I can ever remember. Tickets sales are stagnant. Team officials are publicly calling out hitters for uninspiring spring performances. And we're seeing threads pop up here like this one, wondering whether the worst is yet to come for a club that has taken some pretty brutal lumps over the last three years.
The negativity that is gripping a sizable portion of the readership has led to some of those inane arguments about what it means to be a "real fan."
Here's the truth:
There are "real fans" who are trying to look on the bright side, acknowledging the drawbacks of the roster but electing to focus on the legitimate reasons to hope that this club will take steps forward this season and prove to be solidly on the right track.
There are also "real fans" who are frustrated and demoralized after three years of unprecedented losing, and by a constant barrage of organizational setbacks, and by ongoing decision-making that can often be described as questionable at best.
I place myself in the first group, mostly for the sake of my sanity, but can't find it in myself to denigrate the second.
Despite the upgrades to the pitching staff, the Twins were passive in adding to the offense during the offseason, bringing in only a catcher who doesn't hit, a utility candidate who sat out last season and an aging designated hitter coming off the worst year of his career.
Twelve months ago, my concern was that while the Twins had made personnel changes on the starting staff -- subbing out Scott Baker, Carl Pavano and Francisco Liriano for Vance Worley, Kevin Correia and Mike Pelfrey -- it wasn't clear that they'd implemented a significant talent upgrade (health issues aside).
This year the same rings true for the offense. Justin Morneau and Ryan Doumit are gone while Jason Kubel and Kurt Suzuki are in, with Joe Mauer shifting to first base full-time. It's tough to be convinced that the Twins have truly improved their lineup on paper, so they're counting on things breaking right and guys bouncing back from bad years. We all saw how that worked out with the rotation in 2013.
The most frightening part of it all is the lack of fallback options. There's finally a little depth in the starting corps but few strong contingency options on the other side.
If either Brian Dozier or Trevor Plouffe fails to deliver or suffers a major injury, there's no appealing option to step in as an impact starter. If Josmil Pinto doesn't hit, good luck getting any offense from behind the plate. If Josh Willingham's knee acts up or Oswaldo Arcia gets caught in another prolonged mental slump, you're potentially looking at Alex Presley as a regular in a corner spot.
Ultimately this team's hopes reside with the top-tier prospects, and even in that department the news is surprisingly discouraging considering that the season hasn't even started. The Big Three already are dealing with various question marks -- Miguel Sano is gone for the year following Tommy John surgery, Alex Meyer is trying to bounce back after losing a third of his '13 season due to shoulder soreness and Byron Buxton is expected to open on the disabled list with a sprained wrist that keeps bothering him, despite repeated insistence from everyone involved that it's no big deal.
All that in addition to the uncertain status of No. 5 prospect Eddie Rosario, who will miss the first 50 games of this season after a drug suspension and still hasn't shown up in Twins camp due to what are only being classified as "personal reasons."
When beaten Twins fans can't even look to the stacked farm for relief from the bleak realities, you know things are bad. There's still plenty of talent there but with each setback the distance to the goalpost grows, and the team's underwhelming efforts to field a playoff-caliber team in the intermediate make cheering for this club all the more maddening.
Maybe worse than maddening. Maybe just flat-out uninteresting.