After consecutive seasons of 99 and 96 losses, the obvious answer for the Twins is to tear it all down. True change, though, hasn’t come to Minnesota in a long time.
These Twins have employed two managers in 25 years, with Ron Gardenhire replacing Tom Kelly in 2002. General manager Terry Ryan spent 14 years on the job, stepped down in favor of his longtime assistant, Bill Smith, in 2007 and then came back a year ago only after Smith proved totally inadequate.
When the Twins decided to make some coaching changes at season’s end, it was mostly a reshuffling. The new hitting coach simply moved up from Triple-A. The old hitting coach became the third base coach. The old bench coach became the first base coach.
The Twins finally made a real move for the future Thursday when they traded center fielder Denard Span to the Nationals for a top pitching prospect in righty Alex Meyer. Even that was a compromise move, though. Trading Span isn’t starting over. It only clears $4.75 million from the 2013 payroll. And his replacement, Ben Revere, is a very similar player who probably won’t ever be as good as Span is.
That’s why this can only be the first domino to fall. Trading Span and keeping Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and Josh Willingham would be crazy. With their unexceptional farm system, the Twins aren’t going to contend the next two years. There’s a case for holding on to Mauer as the face of the franchise, but Morneau and Willingham aren’t great bets for 2015, which is the year the Twins need to be thinking about now.
According to STATS, INC., the average game in 2015 was 2 hours, 56 minutes. That’s six minutes faster than games in 2014.
The gains came in the first half, when games averaged 2:53. Second half games averaged three hours even. One can probably thank the expanded rosters in September for that, as games then see many more pitching changes. Of course, it’s likely that second half games were faster in 2015 than 2014 as well given the rules changes.
Those changes: agreement to enforce the rule requiring a hitter to keep at least one foot in the batter’s box and the installation of clocks timing pitching changes and between-inning breaks in ever ballpark.
It remains to be seen if MLB stays satisfied with that modest improvement or if chooses to go the way Triple-A and Double-A leagues did. They installed 20-second pitch clocks and started penalizing violators with balls and strikes. Triple-A’s two leagues, the International and Pacific Leagues, saw game-time decreases by 13 and 16 minutes, respectively.
I’m so old I remember when general managers used to run baseball operations departments. Now they’re basically assistants.
The latest example: the Oakland Athletics have promoted Billy Beane to vice president of baseball operations and have named David Forst general manager. Forst has been with the A’s for 16 years and has been Beane’s assistant for 12 years, so it’s not exactly a situation in which Forst will be making the final calls. The official move came today, though the move has been in the works for some time, it seems.
Someone with a lot of good front office access is going to write a good story this winter about the title inflation going on in Major League Baseball over the past year. And it’s gonna be great when one of his or her sources breaks the pattern of saying “well, baseball transactions are so much more complex these days . . . ” and admits “hey, if Theo gets a fancy title and La Russa gets a fancy title I WANT A FANCY TITLE TOO.”
Not that it’s much of a secret as it is.