Friday, April 29, 2011

A Faceless Franchise

I feel sorry for Ron Gardenhire.

In addition to having three key starters on the disabled list, he's seen multiple minor injuries pop up in recent days, depleting an already short-handed bench. Backups have failed to produce, and -- more significantly -- so have most of the starters who have managed to evade injury or illness.

Beyond all that, the starting pitcher he'd hoped would develop into a dominant ace has completely derailed. Gardy is trying to preserve the few late-inning leads his team gives him with a patchwork bullpen, morphing constantly as players shuttle in and out from the minors.

After playing three cold-weather games in two days, all humiliating blowout losses in front of a cranky home crowd, the manager now must lead his beleaguered club to Kansas City, where they'll open a nine-game road trip. His pitching staff has seemingly forgotten how to throw strikes and his relievers have been run into the ground.

As for Gardenhire's best player, his $23 million franchise centerpiece? Still no timetable for Joe Mauer's return. The words "improving" and "progress" have been uttered repeatedly by all involved, but edgy fans can be excused for their skepticism considering how many times those buzzwords were invoked throughout Justin Morneau's eight-month recovery from a concussion.

Gardy and Mauer have generally evaded questions about the specific nature of this mysterious ailment, and I'm willing to believe it's because they -- along with team doctors -- genuinely have no clue what's going on. No one can come up with a rational explanation as to why the 28-year-old catcher still has no strength in his legs four months after undergoing an allegedly minor knee procedure that wasn't even deemed necessary until the offseason was two months old.

Mauer has never been a leader in an traditional sense -- the vocal clubhouse force who steps up and takes bullets in the media at the team's low points. But in the past, at least he's been there. This year, the frazzled face of the franchise has been conspicuously absent, leaving Gardenhire to take on the full wrath of reporters who are dutifully pressing for answers on behalf of a concerned public.

Like I said, I don't envy the Twins' skipper right now.


mgraves said...

I'm half looking forward to an outfield of Tosoni in LF, Span in RF, and Revere in CF; an infield of Valencia, Plouffe, Nishioka, and Morneau; Kubel at DH/4OF and Tolbert and Hughes as utility-men.

Blackburn seems to be pulling a Mays/Silva (e.g. two good years followed by an inability get anybody out). Liriano can't throw strikes and buckles under pressure. The bullpen is a hodgepodge (although Perkins has been pleasantly surprising).

At the start of the year I was looking forward to a third place finish. Now, I'm looking forward to a fourth place finish. (For the record, I gave up on this year before spring training--$20m on 2 closers, and $23 on 4 DHs is not exactly a recipe for success.)

Matt said...

At least the weather was nice last night. The crowd sure wasn't. I know I paid too much for my seat...
Where's the energy with this club? The guys who are playing are lolly-gagging their way around the field, in and out of the batter's box, and to and from the bench.
I wasn't even remotely entertained last night. I wanted to boo, but didn't, because it's still too early.

$20m on 2 closers, and $23 on 4 DHs is not exactly a recipe for success.
You said it, dude.

cy1time said...

Why would Gardenhire pitch Capps in the first game? I mean, did he just assume that we were going to get our asses kicked in game 2 and we wouldn't need a closer? They talk about getting Nathan some time in less leveraged situation. 15-3 seems like a pretty low leverage situation, to me.

Anonymous said...

Gardenhire brought a lot of this on himself. He wanted more speed and athleticism in the middle infield instead of good players. His preferred high contact pitching model has always been bad baseball. Hes a slave to the save statistic. There is nothing smart or progressive about ron gardenhire or the twins FO.

In other misguided by proxy success news, has drew butera forgotten how to call a good game?

twinkilling said...

What! what! what!. Okay listen all will be fine! we've just got done playing 17 games against the A.L. East. We've never faired to well against those clubs. You'll see as long as we can own the central we'll be fine. What does anyone think Cleveland will run away with this divison? But i would be thinking some sort of shake up. Is there anyway we can muster up enough money to trade for the Prince? He wants out! Maybe Morneau or Cuddy or both!

Dan said...

I agree with twinkilling, for the most part. In all reality, we're only 2.5 games behind Detroit. We've had a tough schedule, and there is no way things can continue to go this bad; our team is just too good for it to stay this bad.

However, I do not want Prince Fielder. His size and lack of defensive ability make him destined to become a career DH soon, and Delmon Young is our destined to DH guy.

If we're going to muster up the big money for someone this year, I'd rather go for Jose Reyes. The Mets will definitely try to shop him, perhaps well before the trade deadline. How's that for Gardy's speed and athleticism up the middle? He would fill a HUGE hole in our defense and the top of the lineup.

Anonymous said...

We have the worst record in the AL. Hope isn't lost, but we need to string some wins together and get some confidence back.

Anonymous said...

This is about as bad a stretch as I can remember in the last 10 years. I was not overly optimistic before the season started, but I do feel like they will turn things around and compete for the division. This team needs an ace - and now a catcher of the future. Mauer must move to RF. I'm tired of talking about it, but Gardy et al are just delaying the inevitable. He can't do it physically any more.

twinkilling said...

Dan, I like that IDEA!

Jose Reyes is a great idea. Its time to cut ties with alexi and Jose would look great at the top of line up with span.

As fare as your thoughts on the Prince, he is alot quicker and athletic then you think. Once he gets paid he'll stop cryin. He would be that real power hitter in our lineup we've been searching for. Not these weak tits, we've got now.

Lastly, Mauer has to catch for atleast 5 more years! Or we should have traded him to the Yankees and got a boat load for him! I hope we dont look back on this and ask ourselves what would have been if we traded him. Who knows what we could have got in return and Wilson Ramos looks damn GOOD!

Anonymous said...

The cash for closets and dh's comment is right on. This is a very average team right now that will need to acquire at least 1 arm real soon to compete.

Liriano amazes me (rather the Twins' pitching coaches do). His inability to learn from mistakes and evolve as a pitcher is so so disappointing. It's like no one sat him down 4 years ago and said, "man, you have great stuff - top ten in the MLB stuff - but you throw like a little leaguer." His inability to repeat his motion every time across his repertoire is baffling...and disappointing.

As for Mauer...well... they gave 463 million bucks to the best singles hitter ever. I know they had to keep him, I get that from a business perspective, but from a baseball perspective, the move just looks worse and worse. I love the Twins, and it's still early, but this is going to be a tough year.

Is there a chance Gardy could get the boot? I doubt it...

Anonymous said...

Gm Bill Smith deserves nearly all of the credit for this pathetic start, hamstringing the club with a series of bad trades.

-Johan Santana for basically Jim Hoey. I hate to say it but I would much rather have Go-Go running around the outfield and flailing at the plate then watch Hoey throw ball after ball. FYI Go-Go already has 10 RBI this year.

- Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett for Delmon Young. Garza would be the ace of the staff and Bartlett would have anchored the infield at SS for the past 3 years instead of hoping that 2010 wasn't an aberration for Delmon.

- Wilson Ramos for Matt Capps. Butera is a horrible hitter and no one is complaining in Washington about Ramos' fielding. Ramos would allow the inevitable move of Mauer to the outfield while keeping a very good catcher behind the plate. Capps is a good closer but not a great closer and the Twins could probably have resigned both Crain and Guerrier for the money paid to Capps or resigned Fuentes.

It would be nice if the Twins weren't always on the short side of these trades.

Anonymous said...

Instead of trading for the expensive Reyes how about trading for the young speedy phenom SS for the Cubs, Starlin Castro.

Mauer should be the starting LF in 2011, let him catch maybe 20 games a year but have him spend most of his time in the outfield or DHing, that way you'll get more games out of him and his hitting should improve without the beating he takes at catcher. That makes Delmon expendable, so trade him for the best catcher you can find. They will have to blow up the roster a bit for 2011 anyway...they've gone to the well once too often with this roster. Too many slow, marginal power hitters.

I'd be in favor of a Morneau and Cuddy for Fielder trade but the Twins would never pull the trigger on a deal like that, plus is that really an attractive deal for the Brewers? If Morneau takes any kind of shot to the head he is done and Cuddy offensive production has been too up and down.

USAFChief said...

"Instead of trading for the expensive Reyes how about trading for the young speedy phenom SS for the Cubs, Starlin Castro."

What, exactly, do you propose the Twins offer the Cubs for Castro? Mauer and Sano? St Paul and Stillwater?

Anonymous said...

Although the hitting has been awful this April I don't think this level of ineptitude will continue...with Nishioka, Mauer, Young, Thome and Morneau all missing time the lineups have often included AAA talent with the likes of Matt Tolbert, Jason Repko, Luke Hughes, Steve Holm, Alexi Casilla and Drew Butera seeing a lot of ABs.

When Nishioka returns he will take back the 2nd spot in the order and allow either Tolbert or Casilla to take their rightful spot sitting on the bench.

Young's injury doesn't sound too serious and should be back in May...keep in mind he has never hit higher than .258 in April and usually really gets going in June and through the rest of the summer.

Cuddy and Morneau look like they have a bit more life in their bats lately.

Kubel and Span have been hitting and even though Valencia's avg is down he has been driving in runs.

The troubling aspect is the pitching...both the rotation and the bullpen have been a mess. Part of the hitting woes can be attributed to the starters giving up a lot of early runs and digging deep holes for the lineup. Baker and Duensing have looked solid but Pavano has not looked sharp, Blackburn gets hit way too hard and cannot strike anyone out and Liriano is such a mess that he should be sent to the minors. Slowey should be in the rotation but is he someone the Twins can trust? Gibson and/or Diamond should be given a shot but will the Twins pull the trigger on a move like that?

The bullpen is a bigger mess...right now Perkins and Capps are reliable but the rest are not....Mijares, Burnett and Hoey can't find the strike zone, Hacker and Manship belong in AAA, Dusty Hughes wasn't good enough for the Royals, Nathan isn't anywhere near his pre-injury form and has probably seen his days as the Twins closer come to an end. Not shelling out money for Guerrier and Crain is looking like a very bad decision.

Anonymous said...

well getting Castro from the Cubs is about as realistic as getting Reyes from the if we're throwing trade scenarios out there, go for the gold....anyway we're talking about the Cubs front office here, they are pretty reliable in making stupid decisions.

USAFChief said...

"well getting Castro from the Cubs is about as realistic as getting Reyes from the Mets"

There's a strong chance Reyes will be dealt by the deadline. He's in his walk year, the Mets are unlikely to contend, and Mets ownership is in a dire financial situation.

The Cubs, on the other hand, aren't dealing Castro.

Clay Shaw said...

It's more than the numerious injuries. They are playing the worst baseball ever under Gardy and its not even close. It's the most difficult product to watch since the 99 club. Simply a bad product right now. Much of it they deserve. They believed they could plug the bullpen with warm bodies and spare parts and its been a disaster. Their decision to go with cassia is another blunder. Never even a good 2nd baseman they think he play shortstop? Again, totally burned by this decision. No leadership either. They still have Cuddy, morneau, and kubel. All high priced and none of them can get hot and carry the team for even a series. Like a bunch sheep, following each other blindly in complete denial that its early and they are better than they are. They are 1/2 game better than the worst record in baseball. The only thing early about this season is the stage of the lost season they are incumbered in. Unfinished Business II.

Ed Bast said...

After all this awfulness, things are bound to get better now that we're back to the spectacularly crappy central. It really goes to show how inferior the Twins are to that entire division (better than Baltimore but no one else). The Rays are especially impressive: they are basically the franchise we like to believe the Twins are but in reality are not. Half the Twins' payroll, lost the bullpen, lost Crawford, best player gets hurt, they start 0-6. What happens? Veteran leadership, managerial leadership, and they're already over .500.

If there's anything this month has taught us, it's that this current roster, healthy or no, is not nearly good enough to be a serious contender in this league. The Central, sure; but this team would get absolutely slaughtered in the playoffs.

Message to Bill Smith: you screwed this up. How are you going to fix it?

Anonymous said...

Bill Smith needs to be removed from his position. He is making moves that make Omar Minaya look competent. Bring in someone who actually has some knowledge of baseball's statistical revolution.

CA said...

What we're seeing is a mix of questionable offseason moves combined with a rash of injuries, followed by some additional bad luck. I can't complain about the injuries and other unexpected bad luck incidents, because there's nothing that can be done about them. What I can complain about, and what's frustrating, is that the Twins' offseason moves put them in a position such that, when a few bad things happened, the consequences snowballed into a disaster.

Going into the season with Casilla as the starting shortstop, then having a lack of middle infield depth, was asking for trouble. Not having a serviceable backup behind Mauer when he was coming off knee surgery was a mistake, especially when it should be established by now that he needs days off even when healthy. Breaking camp with Slowey in the bullpen wasn't a great decision either. Many people following the team recognized these things as the decisions were made, but the front office didn't seem to acknowledge the problems.

None of this is to say that the Twins would be in great shape if players like Ramos or Morales or Hardy were still on the roster, but they could have helped to mitigate the consequences of an unfortunate situation. Part of the front office's job is risk management. The offseason decisions ensured that if a few things went wrong, the Twins would be in serious trouble due to a lack of up-the-middle depth. Well, now we're seeing a situation in which just about everything that could go wrong has occurred, and now the team is in an even bigger hole than anyone could have expected. Things can only get better from here, but the question is how deep a hole the Twins will have dug for themselves by the time they start to recover.

Marshall Garvey (MarshalltheIrish) said...

This has indeed got to be the worst team I've seen in my 11 season as a fan. As many others have said, the front office's decisions put the team in jeopardy of being in the situation we're witnessing now and should absolutely be held accountable for it. I was big on Bill Smith after last offseason, but I just can't defend him anymore after the horrendous job he did this past one (I'd call it his "third strike" along with the Santana/Gomez trade and failing to get Cliff Lee or Roy Oswalt last summer). Not looking to start a "Fire Billy" brigade, but if he doesn't do anything to rectify this situation I'll have a hard time trusting him again.

As for the injuries, there's no doubt the team will be much better once the lineup's back in place, but for some reason I don't feel too optimistic about that. Not only are some of the day-to-day elements of the team just hideous (Casilla starting, the patchwork bullpen), but this team just really lacks swagger. The quotes from Cuddyer and Span are reassuring but only go so far. Where's Puckett, Hrbek, Gladden, Gaetti, Brunansky, and Morris when you need them? said...

All of a sudden the Twins look old. But we knew it was coming. Hopefully their rebuilding period will be much shorter than the Indians and the Royals' one.
Go Twins!

mgraves said...

Marshall Garvey (MarshalltheIrish)--I've been looking to start a fire Bill Smith Brigade since the Santana and Garza/Bartlett trades. Assembling the slowest outfield I've ever seen is also fairly outstanding (in a negative sense).

I also think that--based on Mays, Silva, Blackburn and Pavano--ground ball pitchers have a two year life span in Minnesota. Duensing may end up an exception b/c he is not always a ground ball pitcher (he has a career GB% under 50%, although in a small sample size), but I may just be hoping (and is left handed).

After this year, Smith will have $20m from closers and $23m from DHs, maybe he'll put together a complete team, but I doubt it.

The Twins are the Mets of the American League.

Marshall Garvey (MarshalltheIrish) said...

mgraves: I just might be closer to that bandwagon after reading his quote where he singled out Casilla and Tolbert for the team's struggles. What a gutless act and a complete refusal to acknowledge his own failures in making this situation possible, as well as the bigger role players.

The Santana trade was awful and still hurts, not to mention his refusal to trade for Lee or Oswalt last summer when it was abundantly clear that the Twins needed an ace to complete the team for a serious playoff run. I too am weary of the soft-tossing college pitchers (although Duensing sure is promising and Baker seems to be coming of age) and would like to see a shift towards strikeout and power pitchers.

To say the least, this trade season and offseason will be huge for Smith. He's made this situation possible with his incompetent moves, now he's got to fix it.