For long-suffering Twins fans, the front office decision to pretty much start all over was a bitter pill to swallow. I can relate. Oh, I’m not really a Twins fan, but I have swallowed a lot of bitter pills in my time.
Most of them palliated my pain or my depression, which is exactly the opposite of what the team’s reboot is going to do for its loyal following. But having observed many decades of front office stupidity and penury, I have no doubt this was the right move.
The choice was pretty simple: aim for perpetual mediocrity, or make the sacrifice needed to at least have a chance someday to be a World Series contender. Although not everyone on this page shares my opinion, it seems to me that, without drastic changes, this was a team closer to outright putrefaction than post-season action.
Remember when Derek Falvey and Thad Levine were suggesting that with their keen understanding of analytics, the franchise was as good as turned around? Hard to believe, but that was the kind of selling point we tend to associate with siding salesmen who call to tell you that they’re going to be in your neighborhood tomorrow.
For eight years, we heard that a championship was going to be ours to keep just as soon as Miggy and Byron rounded into form. We know better now, or at least we ought to. I’m pretty sure that if F. Scott Fitzgerald were still living on Summit Avenue today, he’d tell us that those promises were the green light that year by year recedes before us.
That acrid taste in your mouth is the bitter truth. The rebuilding process won’t happen in a mere three or four years. There’s just not that much to build on. Perhaps a few of the prospects acquired by trading veterans will work out. Maybe one or two will be genuine stars. Maybe, for the first time ever, the Twins will eventually acquire that one free agent coveted by the big boys. Maybe Buxton or Sano will play in 150 games next year. Maybe Sano won’t strike out 275 times. Maybe we’ll see the same Buxton who posted a slash line of .300/.349/.546/ last year after the All-Star Break.
It can happen here. It’s just terribly unlikely.
But a trade that shifts the tectonic plates below Target Field will have to hurt. Trading the likes of Lance Lynn and Ryan Pressly and even Eduardo Escobar is a good start, but to get great prospects you have to trade great players — if the Twins have any. We’re talking about trading perhaps Jose Berrios or Eddie Rosario, and we’re talking about trading them very soon, while their value is peaking. The fans won’t like it. Old Man Nelson, down in Rochester, is going to write a nasty letter to the editor. He’ll be damned if he’ll ever make the drive to the big city to see this bunch of bums.
Nelson has a right to be pissed off. He’s not getting any younger and now the front office is saying the future is no longer now. A six-year-plan isn’t going to excite the base — which is why Falvey and Levine aren’t calling it a six-year plan. Honesty is the first casualty of a rebuilding cycle.
But look at the big picture: in the last seven seasons, the Twins finished a total of 165.5 games behind first place.
I already hear fans grumbling about getting rid of Brian Dozier and getting close to nothing in return. Never mind that he is about to become a free agent. Forget the fact that his slugging percentage was almost 100 points below last year’s when he was dealt to the Dodgers.
True, he got off to a big start in California. So Dozier might wind up being the toast of L.A. Then again, come October he might be toast in L.A.
Either way, it might be best to take a measured look at the last seven seasons instead of any one player. Yes, the Twins thrilled us with that one-game playoff last year — a classic demonstration of Minnesota Mediocrity. But look at the big picture: in those seven seasons, the Twins finished a total of 165.5 games behind first place.
I know that some of my colleagues on this page aren’t nearly as dyspeptic as I am, and I envy their rosy cheeks and good humor. But when I look at this disheveled mess of a lineup, it’s hard to be sanguine.
Start with a look up the middle. The Twins have one catcher who can’t catch and another who is hitting, as we speak, .169. Then there’s the shortstop, Jorge Polanco, who can’t get the ball to first base in the air. There is no second baseman.
The Twins’ lineup does, however, feature perhaps the most consistent batter in the big leagues: Logan Morrison. Say what? Consider: Morrison’s high point came on May 22, when he was hitting all of .209. But here’s the thing: he’s never actually been in a slump. In fact, his low point after that came on June 27, when he was hitting .187 (it’s .195 as I strike the keyboard). You won’t find a narrower range than that. The good news for Morrison is that he’s unlikely to challenge Chris Davis for worst BA, because of all qualifying players as of this writing, Davis was hitting .161. Still, the only other player with a worse average is Joey Gallo, at .182. But Gallo has a slugging percentage of .449, compared to Morrison’s .387. (Davis is on track to surpass numerous records for futility.)
Of course, Bobby Wilson’s .167 doesn’t officially count, because — and here we are thankful — he doesn’t have enough plate appearances to qualify. Wilson, we are assured, makes up for his futility at the plate with his canny ability to call the game. To which I call bullshit.
I am convinced that no one has ever called a worse game than Wilson. Basically, Wilson seems to believe that every pitcher is Clayton Kershaw at his best. Is the count 0-2? Then why not throw that 102 mph fastball about six inches above the strike zone? And if that doesn’t work, how about that killer slider?
Sadly, guys like Lynn are not Kershaws. So if Lynn had thrown 20 sliders, and only two were in the strike zone, why not call for it with a 3-2 count and Chris Davis at the plate? I wasn’t surprised that in his debut with the Yankees, Lynn pitched 4 1/3 scoreless innings, something that rarely happened in Minnesota.
It shouldn’t have to be said that no team with Wilson behind the plate will ever be a World Series threat. But it does have to be said that the Twins farm system is bereft of credible catchers. No one in sight. You can draft them, trade for them, pray for them, or just sit back and think about how stupid you were to make the long and horrible journey from Wilson Ramos to Wilson, but you’re still screwed. Chances are it will take six or seven years just to come up with a mediocre catcher.
With each passing day, Molitor is looking more like Hunter S. Thompson in his declining years.
And I suspect that Paul Molitor realizes this, even if he hasn’t figured out Wilson’s cerebral deficiencies. The last time I witnessed a manager who appeared to be more miserable was a day, perhaps 40 years ago, when I saw Billy Martin show up at Yankee Stadium without a hangover. Now that was history in the making.
With each passing day, Molitor is looking more like Hunter S. Thompson in his declining years, especially when Molitor is wearing shades to shield himself from the probing glare of failure. Molitor has two more seasons left on his paltry contract, but I have a strong sense that well before that he’ll be put out of his misery. For Twins fans, however, the pain will endure — with or without bitter pills.
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