I’m a Twins fan. To readers of this website, that is blatantly obvious. There was about a six-year period (let’s call it the post-Kirby thru pre-Torii years) that I didn’t pay much attention to the Twins. For accuracy sake, let’s call this period 1995-2000. Part of it had to do with the strike which had really burned me as a fan. Part of it was the fact that the Twins were horrendous. They just didn’t contend. Not only did they not contend, they made no efforts to contend. Twins fans had to endure seasons where Roberto Kelly and Dave Hollins were considered “big signings.” The Twins were the only team sorry enough to allow a bum like Denny Hocking to stick around for 11 seasons.
For years and years, I heard excuses about why the Twins weren’t any good. We were a small market team. We have a horrible stadium. Our attendance stinks. Blah… blah… blah. A few years later, baseball introduced a luxury tax. Small market teams are guaranteed to rake in around $30 in revenue sharing plus another $20-30 million on tv, radio, internet, and licensing deals. All of that is above and beyond what they make at the gate, what they make in concessions, and what they make in merchandise sales. According to Sid Hartman (and we all know how “accurate” he can be at times), the Twins made $114 in revenue this past season. To me, that number sounds about right. There is all sorts of talk that the Twins can’t compete without a new stadium. Listen to me – I’d *love* to see a new stadium and I fully would support a stadium bill with one stipulation. Carl Pohlad and Terry Ryan – please own up to the real reason that the Twins are only marginally competitive.
The real reason the Twins aren’t competitive: they don’t want to be. If they can generate $114 million without having to try to improve their team, why would it interest them in putting a bigger risk (investment in players) that may or may not work out. The Twins have a history of holding on to the one or two stars the sell tickets (see Torii Hunter and Johan Santana). They also have a history of letting all of the big name free agents go while trying to patch the team together with a collection of castoffs, role players, and has-beens.
This year is a perfect example. The 2005 Twins struggled, but overall showed signs of being able to compete in 2006. With the exception of Brad Radke (a proven vet who is exactly what he is), we were returning three pitchers under the age of 27 who all had a 4.18 ERA or lower. We were returning four relief pitchers who all had ERA’s of under 3.39 and all had pitched at least 70 innings. We had two young studs (Baker and Liriano) who dominated Triple-A last year and had proven that they were ready to shine in the bigs.
We had a lineup with some potential. Our catcher (usually one of the offensively challenged positions) was poised to become a superstar. Our centerfielder was a defensive whiz who wasn’t god awful with the stick (although during some of his slumps, he sure seems awful). Our first baseman has proven he can hit for power if he can ever learn some plate discipline. Our left-fielder had a below-average season, but had a solid enough career to believe he would bounce back. We were losing our right-fielder (Jones), but we had at least three options (Ford, Cuddyer, and Kubel) that weren’t bad options. Plus, Jason Bartlett (who’d batted above .300 for approximately 72 straight season in the minors) was all but named starter at shortstop. Coming into the season, the only huge question marks we had were at 2nd, 3B and DH. Exciting to me, the fan, though was only one player was over 30 (Stewart) prepared to make up our core.
One possible solution was to play Michael Cuddyer at either 2nd or 3rd. He was at least an average solution at either position. The problems at 2B were cleared up when we traded for Luis Castillo. I was excited as this was probably as big of a move as the Twins have made since signing Chili Davis in 1991. During the off-season, there were tons of names being tossed around as third basemen. The two that I absolutely loved that could’ve been signed as free agents were Bill Mueller (career .292 hitter/.800 OPS) and Nomar Garciaparra (career .319 hitter with a .863 OPS). Both were signed by the Dodgers – Mueller for $4.5 million and Nomar for $6 million per year. The Twins, who are under financially restraints couldn’t swing this. Everyone knew this was going to happen. On December 13th, I said “I fully expect our “next big signing” to be some major league castoff. I’m thinking T-Ry is going Juan Castro on us again after getting our hopes up a bit… On December 15th, we signed Tony Freakin’ Batista. No matter what happens all year, I promise you’ll hear me call him “Tony Freakin’ Batista” the same way everyone from Boston calls a certain former Yankee “Bucky F’n Dent.” It must be the Minnesota-nice in me that causes me only to use the word “freakin.”
Present day, the Twins left site of the infield (Tony Batista, Juan Castro/Nick Punto) make approximately $2.94 million. Ruben Sierra (another “big” off-season signing) makes about $900,000. That brings the total of four awful players to $3.84 million dollars.
Take Castro, Batista, Sierra, and Punto off the team. Replace them with Bill Mueller (making $4.5 million) and Jason Bartlett, Jason Kubel, and Luis Maza (all three of whom would make the league minimum salary). Is there anyone who wouldn’t prefer option number two?
There are so many examples of the Twins trying to do as little as possible to compete. Look at the 2001 season. We had four starters under the age of 28 with an ERA under 4.25. What did we do? We raded our third best batter (matt Lawton) on the team for a 35-year old starter who had only once won more than 13 games in his career in Rick Reed. Plus, he crossed the stupid picket line in 1994 thus kicking him out of the players association and ensuring I would have some dude named “Pitcher No. 99” on all of my All-Star Baseball games on PS2 and Xbox. We also traded a young left-handed pitcher (Mark Redman) for Todd Jones who went on to face a whopping 89 batters as a Twin. In 2003, we signed Kenny Rogers and Rick Helling. In 2004, it was Terry Mulholland. In the past five seasons, we’ve been to the playoffs 3 times and we’ve won an average of 85 games per year. Yet, we’ve made exactly TWO trades or signings (Shannon Stewart in 2003 and Castillo in the 2006 offseason) which has immediately made us a better ballclub. We’ve made a few trades that have paid off a few years later (AJ for Nathan, Liriano, and Bonser), but getting Nathan was really an excuse to let go of Eddie while giving future stud Joe Mauer a chance to play every day.
My request to the Twins – surprise me for once. Here is a list of free agents this off-season. Find a few good ones that will upgrade the team. Take a look at the minors and see who can upgrade from within. Don’t see anyone that looks appealling? Make a trade! Please do something to show me that you are interested in competing in the future. I’m almost certain Shannon Stewart and Torii Hunter won’t be back. An outfield of Juan Pierre, Denard Span, and Jason Kubel works for me. Carlos Lee seems like he could be a mean option at DH. Jose Guillen (and everything that comes with him) could probably be had for thirty five cents to a dollar this season. Instead, I’m predicitng this is the offseason the Twins finally grab Joe Randa and maybe a has-been reliever.
If you’re out on your bike tonight, do wear white,