Tag: Bill Smith

Rick Anderson, Ron Gardenhire

2013 Preview: Minnesota Twins


Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2013 season. Today: the Minnesota Twins.

The Big Question: Did the Twins do enough to improve their AL-worst rotation?

After a decade-long run as a consistent winner in the AL Central the Twins fell apart in 2011, losing 99 games and firing general manager Bill Smith while replacing him with the man he replaced, Terry Ryan. Things were supposed to be better last season and I suppose technically they were, but the Twins lost 96 games despite a far healthier team and some strong individual performances because they simply couldn’t pitch.

Twins starting pitchers had the worst ERA in baseball among teams that don’t call Coors Field home and the pitching staff as a whole recorded the fewest strikeouts in baseball for the second straight season. At the beginning of the offseason Ryan spoke of big plans for addressing the terrible rotation, but when the dust settled the only moves were trading for Vance Worley and signing Kevin Correia and Mike Pelfrey as free agents.

Worley was a sound pickup who should be a solid mid-rotation starter long term and Pelfrey is a reasonable enough reclamation project with mid-rotation potential as he comes back from Tommy John elbow surgery, but giving a two-year, $10 million deal to Correia made little sense when similar or better pitchers were agreeing to one-year deals all winter.  Of the 91 pitchers to throw at least 400 innings as starters since 2010 he ranked 88th in ERA, 81st in strikeout rate, and 80th in strikeout-to-walk ratio.

And that was it. That was the full extent of the Twins addressing their awful rotation.

Would-be Opening Day starter Scott Diamond will begin the season on the disabled list following a setback with what the team called minor elbow surgery in December and former first-round pick Kyle Gibson isn’t ready for the majors after Tommy John surgery in late 2011, so the Twins will likely turn to Samuel Deduno and/or Cole DeVries to fill out the rotation. It’s not a good sign when the same career minor leaguers who joined the rotation as emergency options during a miserable season are already back in the mix before Opening Day.

What else is going on?

• As dark as things look for the Twins now the future is extremely bright. Thanks to the combination of shrewd international signings, high draft picks, and veteran-for-prospect trades the Twins have built one of the best farm systems in baseball. They placed six prospects on Baseball America‘s top-100 list, including Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton in the top 10, and will add the No. 4 overall pick in the draft to the farm system in June. I’ve been writing about the Twins on my personal blog for 11 years and this is the best, deepest farm system they’ve had in that time.

• Sano and Buxton are still teenagers and years away from the majors, but the Twins look likely to get an immediate impact from the farm system by naming Aaron Hicks their Opening Day center fielder. Hicks has yet to play above Double-A, but the former first-round pick is a standout defender with an elite arm and improved significantly at the plate last season by adding power to his already strong patience. Delaying the start of his service time clock by sending him to Triple-A for a month or so would seemingly make sense, but all signs point to the Twins handing Hicks the job now.

• Ron Gardenhire enters his 13th season as Twins manager without a contract beyond this year and most of his coaching staff was fired or reassigned during the offseason, leading to speculation that another 90-loss season would lead to his exit. He’s the second-longest tenured manager in MLB behind Mike Scioscia.

• If the Twins get off to another bad start it’ll be interesting to see if they begin shopping veterans. In the past they’ve largely shied away from that, choosing to let guys like Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel leave via free agency, but Justin Morneau will be a free agent after the season and Josh Willingham isn’t exactly part of the long-term plans at age 34.

• Joe Mauer took an incredible amount of heat locally for an injury wrecked 2011 season, which tends to happen when you miss half the year after signing a $184 million contract. He bounced back in a huge way last season, setting career-highs in games and plate appearances while hitting .319 with the highest on-base percentage in the league. Mauer was paid $23 million last season and Fan Graphs calculated his on-field value at … $23 million. Joe Mauer ain’t the problem.

• Target Field is an amazing place to watch a game and easily one of MLB’s best ballparks, but as the Twins enter Year 4 there they’ve already squandered much of the new ballpark excitement by putting out a terrible product. Only the Astros had a bigger attendance drop last year as Minnesota fell into the middle of the pack, and 20 percent of season ticket holders did not renew. And that becomes a chicken-or-egg situation, because the Twins have sliced payroll from $115 million in 2010 to $80 million this year in part due to decreased revenue, but the lack of spending has also helped turn the team into something no one wants to watch.

Prediction: Fifth place, American League Central

Twins’ overhaul can’t stop with Denard Span trade

Josh Willingham, Denard Span, Ben Revere

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.

Twins fire or reassign all but one member of coaching staff

Rick Anderson, Ron Gardenhire

Last year 99 losses and the AL’s worst record motivated the Twins to fire general manager Bill Smith a month after the season ended.

This year 96 losses and the AL’s worst record led to immediate and sweeping changes to the coaching staff, as the Twins announced that everyone on Ron Gardenhire’s staff except for pitching coach Rick Anderson has been let go or reassigned to a lesser role within the organization.

During the first 11 seasons with Gardenhire as manager the Twins fired a grand total of one coach, Al Newman. Yesterday alone they fired first base coach Jerry White, third base coach Steve Liddle, and bullpen coach Rick Stelmaszek while reassigning hitting coach Joe Vavra and bench coach Scott Ullger to roles described as infield and outfield instructors. Head trainer Rick McWane was also let go.

I’d love to offer some meaningful analysis, but beyond stating the obvious about the need for change after 195 losses in two years it’s difficult to say if specific firings were justified or what the shakeup’s impact will be. Good or bad, evaluating coaches is a lot of guesswork. What’s easier to see is that with a new coaching staff and Gardenhire’s contract up after 2013 the writing is seemingly on the wall for what another 90 losses would lead to this time next year.