Happy Thanksgiving. I’m thankful for the opportunity to have A’s season tickets, and to have been through a magical season.
About once a year, I beg the front office of my childhood favorite team, the Minnesota Twins, to do something aggressive. You would think I would’ve learned by now. But I haven’t.
Here I go again. This week, I was seriously disheartened to witness the Twins filling their 40-man roster. Naturally, this wasn’t because the Twins added Kyle Gibson, Aaron Hicks, Danny Santana and other future big leaguers. No. I was disturbed because someone in the front office sees this roster as somehow complete, albeit temporarily, with such potential All-Ordinaries like Pedro Florimon, Casey Fien and Josh Roenicke. I was disturbed because this apparently precludes use of that favored Johan Santana-Scott Diamond vehicle, the Rule 5 Draft.
The Twins have acknowledged that Scott Diamond is in the rotation for 2013. And that’s it. There are four openings. Let’s say for the sake of argument that three starting additions would be necessary to create a competition for the fifth spot. Kyle Gibson and others would theoretically compete for that fifth spot if the prior three were filled by established big leaguers.
Between the Rule 5 Draft and free agency, even given the usual Minnesota constraints, humble approach, and strike-throwing requirements, there are abundant possibilities. No one wants to see the Twins pay Carl Pavano a salary of $8 million again. No one wants to see the Twins fork out $25 non-sense millions to Jeremy Guthrie.
Let’s start with the desire for a front-end stud, in the almost unthinkable event of a playoff appearance. The Twins are not stacked up to make a deep run in the playoffs because their pitching is barely major league in caliber. It just so happens that some unique combinations are available.
The Twins assert that $25 million or so. I’m going to spend it now.
Dan Haren is going to come with an injury discount at some rate significantly less than his $15 million option. Let’s say the medical reports come in on his back that he’s a risk worth taking. That may already be out of the question. If he were medically sound, I’m offering him $10 million, willing to go to $12, for the one-year deal to re-establish himself. Even better if this is an incentive-laden offer, heavily focused on innings, starts, quality starts, and similar benchmarks of his previous durability.
Ryan Dempster is a character. He’s goofy, light, and known around the National League as a clubhouse Blyleven. I’m offering him the last contract of his baseball life, two years with a third year option, at an average annual value of $8 million, with bonuses for all kinds of things including returning to his strikeout-per-nine rate over 8.0, making 28 starts, and so forth. Dempster ends his nicely above average career as a Twin, and the team gets a tremendous influence on the pitching staff.
Next, I want some subprime talent looking for a shot. I want Jonathan Sanchez, who is truly out of control at times. Or Erik Bedard, who is maybe a little mercurial. Or Rich Harden, who will break down after 6 weeks. Or Scott Feldman, who will be motivated to prove himself – but who doesn’t look like these others in that he stands very little chance of missing 150+ bats. Or Shawn Marcum, who is an overachiever in the mold of Brad Radke. Unfortunately, Marcum likely breaks the bank for this plan. These moves would be out of character for the Twins front office.
Now for this commercial message: Dear Twins front office, your pitching approach has not been successful. Dare I say, it has been an outright failure. Where is Shooter Hunt now? How about that Carlos Gutierrez? It’s high time to consider a mix of approaches, so that all five starters don’t resemble the cloned, high-80s heat of a gopherball strike thrower. And how did that Jason Marquis signing pan out? Or even the front end approach with Pavano? For an organization holistically geared to strike throwing, where are the strikeouts? I do understand and agree with Crash Davis’ truism: ground balls are more democratic. But that approach would require pitchers to successfully throw more outs. That doesn’t seem to be happening.
Back to our approach. The combination of Haren, Dempster and Sanchez has a chance at producing more than 550 strikeouts, and is veteran enough not to require years of development. Swap out Sanchez for the injury risks of Bedard or Harden and you have different clubhouse risks. The personality of Bedard, and the seemingly recovered prima donna of Harden. Either way, you still run out to the mound with a shot at 175 Ks. Switch those with Feldman or Marcum, and you are more likely aiming for 500 strikeouts, but with a notably more mature rotation that allows Diamond, Gibson and Company to continue on their normal development path, won’t have to count on rookies in slots 3-5, and makes a statement to fans that will sell more tickets.
With the new ballpark, the Twins face a new reality in the AL Central. They are no longer poor. Meanwhile, the Tigers’ billionaire owner is trying to grab that ring before his end of days. That’s the new reality. Winning will require a different approach. For the passing fan, the Twins simply haven’t shown the ability to break out of their terribly outdated business model.
Instead, we’ll wind up with Joe Saunders and some other Jason Marquis clones like John Maine.
I no longer wake up on Christmas morning hoping for something surprising under the tree in Minnesota. And that’s why I’m so thankful that I live in California now, with all the chances at winning that these teams present.