The Minnesota Twins lost 103 games last year. Their pitching has been among the worst in the major leagues for several seasons. Fan interest has plummeted, as they approach their eighth season at beautiful Target Field.
So in the offseason, the club made significant moves in the front office, hiring young and promising executives Derek Falvey and Thad Levine to seemingly cleanse the organization of its stale ways of the past. Both are big on analytics, come from previously successful systems and place much value on building a competent stable of good arms.
Meanwhile though, the Twins seem to have done little in the offseason to make significant changes ON the field.
They acquired light-hitting catcher Jason Castro, a free agent known for his ability to frame strikes with the best of them. That little-known attribute was apparently garnered from analyzing Castro’s influence on Houston’s pitching staff the past few years.
They picked up well-traveled Craig Breslow, an extremely bright but aging reliever, who has toiled for many teams during his long career, including the Twins. The left-hander is one of those veterans who doesn’t throw hard but tosses enough to the right places to get most lefties out regularly. Breslow also has a degree in molecular biophysics from Yale and spent $3,000 recently, purchasing a device designed to change his arm angle and prolong his career.
Intelligent, generally inexpensive tweaks. No big name signings. Few adjustments to that shaky staff that struggled frequently last summer. In fact, one of their hopeful starters, Trevor May, blew out his arm in the early stages of training camp, which means an already questionable rotation has one less option in 2017.
On the offensive side, it was more about what the Twins didn’t do, in the offseason. They didn’t trade Brian Dozier, whose big bat last year might have procured a quality starter from a team looking to add a second baseman who can hit 40 homers and play solid defense.
They didn’t add any extra power themselves, although briefly showing interest in Jose Bautista, a guy known for bashing balls regularly when his Blue Jays would visit Target Field.
They also kept small contracts and tried to rid themselves of big ones. Outfielder Robbie Grossman stayed. Byung Ho Park was initially released, after his four-year, $12 million dollar deal a year ago looked like a failure.
Park had hit a few early homers in 2016, but his average slipped and a hand injury made things worse. The Korean star was humbled by a demotion to Rochester and even cleared waivers this spring. Almost as an after-thought, the Twins gave Park a chance to make the club as a nonroster invitee in February.
They went into Fort Myers with a similar roster to the one that earned the worst record in the majors last year. There has been little fanfare, despite a respectable 17-13 record thus far in Grapefruit League play.
The one story of interest from this year’s spring training has been the resurgence of Park. To Minnesota’s surprise, he has looked like the best player in camp, crushing six homers and hitting .350. His performance has far outshadowed Kennys Vargas, the younger, cheaper player they’d hoped could DH and spell Joe Mauer at first base on occasion. With Vargas currently hitting .067, they simply couldn’t justify keeping him over Park.
So this morning, with their opener just four days away, tough decisions had to be made. Falvey and Levine announced their tentative 25-man roster:
Ryan O’Rourke (DL)
Ehire Adrianza (DL)
No Park. No Vargas. Both sent back to Rochester. An unusually large number of pitchers, with 13. It leaves Manager Paul Molitor, who may or may not have endorsed these moves, with a short bench and no real backup for Mauer.
The Twins contend that this roster is very temporary. To me, it smacks of a front office not confident in its starting rotation and unwilling to shell out too much money on a team they don’t really believe is ready to compete for awhile.
On the one hand, I understand these moves. Maybe even endorse them. That’s because it’s becoming clear that the new analytics boys are in charge and want to place a higher priority on the club’s horrendous pitching. It reflects a philosophy of long-term rather than short-term solutions.
I’m not sure Falvey and Levine much care that Park looked good this spring. I doubt seriously if they ever really had him in their plans. He may be viewed as just too expensive. Winning now, seems less important, than gradually stabilizing a shaky rotation and building for the future.
That all sounds reasonable. But it also fails to take into account that a once loyal fan base has been forced to watch bad baseball for much longer than the decision-makers are now experiencing. Six years of it.
They don’t want to see more of Joe Mauer. They’ve had their fill of the bargain basement, quick fix acquisitions like Grossman. Jason Castro? Hits .210 but is the league’s best framer? Send Park down again despite being the only real feel-good story coming out of camp?
The Twins’ season-ticket sales are in serious decline, yet they did little to nothing in the offseason, to sell hope. Preaching patience to an already disenchanted and disinterested fan base is risky business. Good luck pushing new ballpark food and another round of bobbleheads, one more time.