The Twins are 8-23, the worst record in baseball by a large margin, and there’s no doubt that this is a terrible baseball team for the second year in a row. It’s incredibly disheartening. Here are all the things that have gone wrong over the last 18 months, in roughly chronological order:
1) Twins trade JJ Hardy and Brendan Harris for two minor league relievers.
2) Twins win the rights to and sign Tsuyoshi Nishioka from Japan for a total of $18 million. Nishioka hits .226/.278/.249 in 68 games.
3) Twins sign Matt Capps for one year, $7 million.
4) Francisco Liriano shows up to Spring Training out of shape, and is urged by the Twins to “pitch to contact”.
5) Bungled treatment of a wart in the offseason requires foot surgery and keeps Michael Cuddyer out of Spring Training for almost a full month. He starts the season 3 for 28 (.107/.194/.107) through 9 games.
6) Kevin Slowey and Twins clash over role and injuries. Is publicly mocked by members of the Twins administration and the broadcast team, is sent to AAA, and eventually is traded for a minor league reliever.
7) Joe Mauer is not properly recovered from offseason knee surgery, but pushes through Spring Training. Is shut down with leg and back problems after starting the season .235/.289/.265 through 9 games. Finishes with worst season of his career.
8) As a result of this, and an offseason trade that sent Jose Morales to Colorado, Drew Butera plyas 93 games, has a 24 OPS+.
9) Joe Nathan is installed as closer less than a year after having Tommy John surgery. His velocity is down and he walks 8 batters in 10 innings while striking out 7. He loses the closer job to Matt Capps and eventually goes on the DL. Capps has the lowest strikeout rate of his career, surrenders 10 homers in 65 innings, and blows 6 of 21 save attempts.
10) Justin Morneau plays through his concussion symptoms, hits .225/.281/.338 through June 9 before re-aggravating the problem, and shutting down for two months. He returns for a month and continues to struggle before being shut down for the year. Finishes with worst season of his career.
11) Hitting .294/.361/.385, Denard Span suffers a concussion while sliding into home. He returns after almost two months off, and goes 2 for 35 and is shut down again for another month.
12) Danny Valencia and Delmon Young both play like Danny Valencia and Delmon Young.
13) Brian Duensing and Nick Blackburn pitch like Brian Duensing and Nick Blackburn.
14) Without adequate depth or the means to acquire it, the Twins give a full-season’s worth of plate appearances to the combination of Luke Hughes (.223/.289/.338) and Matt Tolbert (.198/.252/.266).
15) With Matt Tolbert, Michael Cuddyer, and Denard Span injured but not on the disabled list (though Span would soon go on it, and Cuddyer missed 11 days with a neck injury), and Jason Kubel attending to a family emergency, the Twins play most of an August 18 game against the New York Yankees with no bench players because Luke Hughes missed his flight to Minnesota from Rochester because he was sitting at the wrong gate. Joe Mauer has to play right field. Hughes shows up in time to pinch hit for Drew Butera in the bottom of the 9th and strikes out swinging.
16) Twins win 15 of 17. It’s Happening. Lose next 6. It’s not.
17) Scott Baker suffers an elbow injury. Starts 8 games after the All Star Break. Continues to complain of soreness in 2012 Spring Training. MRI and team diagnosis does not catch the need for Tommy John Surgery, which is discovered during a related procedure. Misses all of 2012.
18) Twins lose 30 of 36 games from August 18 to September 24.
19) Twins sign Jason Marquis for one-year, $3 million. Marquis misses much of Spring Training to be with his daughter, who suffered life-threatening injuries in a bike accident. Marquis starts 2012 in the minors, is promoted after 2 starts. Has 6.26 ERA through 5 starts, having struck out 10 batters in 27 innings.
20) Twins sign 38 year old utility man Jamey Carroll for two years, $6.5 million, who hits .218/.312/.264 through 30 games and loses the starting shortstop job to Brian Dozier.
21) Francisco Liriano continues to fall apart, posting 9.45 ERA through 6 starts with 19 BB in 27 innings.
22) Nick Blackburn pitches like Nick Blackburn.
23) Liam Hendriks proves unready to pitch in the majors. Gives up 18 runs in 18 IP, with 9 strikeouts and 5 homers allowed.
24) Luke Hughes makes the team again. Goes 2 for 10 and is DFAed.
25) Chris Parmelee, who has no experience at AAA and is a career .266/.355/.436 hitter in the minor leagues, is given the 1B job on the basis of a strong September in 2011 and 2012 Spring Training. He hits .203/.263/.297 through 80 PAs, has not started last three games.
26) Ben Revere starts 2012 in the Majors, but only starts 3 of 6 games and is sent to AAA. Recalled 12 days later, he goes 3 for 7 with a walk, a double, and 2 runs scored in back to back games. Is promptly returned to AAA. Is currently hitting .309/.351/.324 with 6 stolen bases.
27) Instead, the Twins play a combination of Trevor Plouffe (.149/.298/.234) and waiver wire pickup Clete Thomas (.143/.172/.286 with 16 Ks in 29 PAs).
3B and PH Sean Burroughs gets 18 plate appearances in 22 games. Goes 2 for 17 with a walk. Plays in the field three times. During this time, the Twins are carrying 13 pitchers and 3 bench players. Is DFAed.
28) Drew Butera is back, baby.
29) Justin Morneau starts hot, hitting .267/.353/.578 with 4 homers (as many as he hit in all of 2011) through 12 games. But he injures his wrist in Tampa, and proceeds to hit .172/.250/.276 through the next 8 games without a day off. At some point, complains that wrist is hurting. Is sent back to Minnesota for an MRI on April 30. MRI shows “no structural damage” according to team doctors, and Morneau rejoins the team. Morneau stays on the bench for another four days before the team puts him on the Disabled List, essentially choosing to play with a 1 or 2 man bench the whole time.
30) The Twins lose 23 of their first 31 games.
31) May 10, Jason Marquis, Ryan Doumit, and Trevor Plouffe allow an Edwin Encarcion pop up at home plate to plop to the ground, untouched, between them, allowing Yunel Escobar to score from second base; thus perfectly encapsulating the last 18 months. See it above, as .gif'ed by @CheapSeatChron. It is ruled a single.
When so many things go poorly, it’s hard to know who to blame. Bill Smith deserves a lot of our scorn because he is responsible for handing out extensions to guys like Nick Blackburn, and bringing players like Dusty Hughes, Scott Diamond, Matt Capps, Delmon Young, and Tsuyoshi Nishioka. He’s responsible for trading away JJ Hardy, Matt Garza, Wilson Ramos, and Johan Santana, and getting precious little in return. He’s the one who did not try to upgrade over players like Danny Valencia, Drew Butera, Luke Hughes, and Matt Tolbert. He’s the one who allowed a shoddy medical staff to operate unchecked.
But let’s be fair. Terry Ryan is as much responsible for the hiring of Bill Smith as anyone else. Ryan anointed him as his chosen successor, and stayed on as an advisor. And when he took back the reins this offseason, Ryan did nothing to address the problems with the medical staff that are continuing to mount in 2012, allowed Ron Gardenhire the freedom to carry 13 pitchers and to start the season with Parmelee. And Ryan is ultimately for the flurry of roster decisions that smack of outright panic and rearranging deck chairs on a sinking ship.
And Gardenhire bears responsibility as well. He has been the constant. He has been the one obsessed with giving guys like Nick Blackburn, Nick Punto (who admittedly has his uses), Matt Tolbert, Danny Valencia, Brendan Harris, Luke Hughes, and Jason Tyner playing time. He was the one who was never satisfied by Jason Bartlett, Anthony Slama, Francisco Liriano, Kevin Slowey, Scott Baker, or Pat Neshek.
And of course, there’s that crackerjack medical staff that missed, misdiagnosed, encouraged rehab over surgery, or obfuscated the injuries of Mauer, Morneau, Span, Cuddyer, Liriano, Neshek, Baker, Slowey, Perkins, Nathan, Capps, and who knows how many minor leaguers.
And finally, the players themselves, who…are not very good. Mauer is. So is Morneau, if he’s healthy. Burton’s been great. Perkins has been deceptively good. Span is solid as always. But just about everybody bears at least a little of the responsibility for not playing better.
So, after a lot of thought, here’s how The Common Man breaks it down:
Jim Pohlad gets 2% of the blame for allowing all this to happen with his money.
Terry Ryan gets 21% of the blame for turning Bill Smith and Ron Gardenhire loose, and for being unable to fix some problems and unwilling to address others.
Bill Smith gets 42% for his horrendous job as a GM, systematically destroying the Twins’ organizational depth and inability to produce productive Major Leaguers.
Ron Gardenhire gets 17% for his managerial tendencies, which tend to favor scrappiness, his distrust of young players with talent, and his refusal to put players in positions that will allow them to be most successful.
The Twins medical staff gets 11% because…come on. They are just terrible. They’re like the doctor on Arrested Development.
Francisco Liriano gets 1% for not being in shape last year and allowing the Twins to take his mojo.
Joe Mauer gets 1% for taking up some payroll (not that he was wrong to do that), and for generally not playing well, even when he was supposedly healthy, over the last year. And as the de facto leader on this team, he bears some responsibility.
Matt Capps gets 1% for costing the club Wilson Ramos, for pitching all year with a sore arm and hiding it, and for generally being terrible.
Nick Punto gets 1% for giving rise to the idea that the Twins are “piranhas,” which the club has totally bought into.
Michael Cuddyer gets 1% for making people love him so much that they overlook the fact that he’s not a great player, and for being a “gamer” and playing through injury even though it hurt the team, and thus making Mauer and Morneau look bad.
Carl Pavano gets 2% for having some success with “pitch-to-contact” and thus making Gardenhire totally buy into that. Also, as his former personal catcher, Drew Butera is largely his fault.
Look, The Common Man is sticking with his beloved Twins. He always will. He'll watch damn near every game and root as hard as he can. But TCM wonders if Terry Ryan and Ron Gardenhire know how depressing it is to think about all the ways the Twins have failed in the last 18 months. Maybe they do, since they're living it, but seriously. They are in a position to do something about it. Calling up Darin Mastroianni and PJ Walters, and picking up Erik Komatsu on waivers doesn't fix any problems. It leaves the same holes on this club that were there a year ago. Those holes need to be filled, and The Common Man is rapidly losing confidence in the current regime's ability to do that.
Couldn't agree more with the harrowing points raised. Here is the root problem: The Komatsu/Mastroianni type moves are all they can realistically make without making a "Holy $hit" move. I'll explain.
If you look at the major league roster - Mauer, Willingham, Perkins and Span are above average major leaguers and have tangible trade value. (Morneau and Liriano do not fit both of these categories currently).
No one else does. How can the Twins possibly acquire anything of value other than: Trade Mauer/Span/Hammer or Perkins, Draft - or make Komatsu/Mastroianni type pickups and hope they get hot and become chips @ the deadline. (Although, Smith clearly misplayed his hand with Kubel, Cuddy and Capps at the 2011 deadline.)
To illustrate - Let's say the Twins called about one of the Blue Jays starters - younger, cost controlled clear upgrades to our current rotation - what could the Twins offer that the Jays wouldn't laugh and hang up at? Seriously?
Sometimes - I wonder how the panhandling bums holding up the "Ninjas killed my parents - need money for karate lessons" cardboard sign on the Lyndale ave freeway exit ever let it get so bad.
To quote the great Ron Burgundy "Boy, that escalated quickly... I mean, that really got out of hand fast."
Wow TCM, super duper awesome article! Unfortunately the Twins are soooooo brutal and plain boring that they are damn near unwatchable. It's the TWolves of the past 5 years (minus this season), where they suck so bad with so little hope that ya can't even waste time on them. It's the worst thing for a pro sports franchise. The Twins need to do something drastic ASAP or they are going to be in an even bigger heap of trouble when Target Field is empty every game. I also agree that Pohlad gets a lot/more blame, as jlwoj said.
The one thing I think you might be underrating, TCM, is the role of the owner. The owner doesn't make the baseball decisions, but the owner, as you say, chooses the people who do and enables them with his money. Tolerance of profitable losing is one thing. Tolerance of the complete clusterfuck that the Twins as an organization have become, as you detail in fantastic depth, is a whole other.
Luckily for Twins fans, this kind of misery has to be a genuine problem for Pohlad's bottom line at some point. If he checks his bank statements every once in a while, hopefully he'll realize that he might need to engage in some house-cleaning.
@CollegeWolf The Common Man can definitely see apportioning more blame Pohlad's way. TCM is probably letting his general feelings about Pohlad, who is just so much better than his father was as an owner, cloud his judgment a little. Given that Pohlad is undoubtedly the one who ordered the payroll drop in the 3rd season of a new park, and who is responsible for the ultimate hiring and firing of the Twins' Administration, as Woj suggested, he could probably take some of the heat off of Smith, and a smidge off of Gardy.
@The Common Man Yep, well said. And I'd agree with your assessment of that.