Thursday, September 22, 2011

There IS a Quick Fix for the Twins

According to Patrick Reusse there are no quick fixes to the Twins, "The signs are everywhere. This is not an isolated dive in the midst of a long run of success for the Twins. "

He then spends a lot of time talking about the Twins in 1994. But you could just as easily point to the Twins of 1990 who finished last and then won the World Series the next year.

The simple quick fix for the Twins is to stay healthy. You can, as Reusse chooses to do, believe that Mauer and Morneau's injuries have finished their careers. Or you can choose to believe they will both be healthy next year. In either case, your answer tells us more about you than anything else, because there is really no basis for either belief. Even the players and doctors don't really know and won't until the players get back on the field.

This Twins team "that lost 100 games", if it actually does, will likely spend most of the season at AAA next year. The Twins have been playing with one or two players who were in the starting lineup to begin the year. Span's return got them up to three players. Until then, the top six batters in the opening day lineup were either injured or gone. Valencia and Cuddyer are the only players in that lineup who have played much more than half the season.

The starting pitching is not much better. Pavano is the only current starter who was in the rotation to start the season. Because of injuries, Blackburn is on the DL and Liriano, Baker and Duensing are all pitching out of the bullpen. Slowey is really the only other legitimate major league starter.

The rest of comparisons to the Twins of 1994 are further off the mark. Hrbek's career was cut short at 34 and Puckett was the same age in 1994. Mauer and Morneau are 28 and 30 respectively. Moreover, the 1994 team had finished 5th in 1993. In other words, it took three years of decline for the Twins to get from a championship to 1994. It was not a single bad season.

In fact, there is very little evidence Reusse's reliving of his middle-age Twins crisis has anything to do with the current team. Its problems are largely injury induced, while the Twins of the 1990's were old with a bare cupboard in the minor leagues. In addition to Puckett and Hrbek, players like MIke Pagliarulo, Brian Harper and Randy Bush were all ending their careers.

Of course, its possible the Twins minor leagues will turn out to be barren. And, as is always the case, there is a lot of excitement among fans about mediocre players when they first come up and have some success. There is even more excitement about young players having success in the minor leagues, who will never repeat that success at the major league level. I suspect there are few of both types on the current Twins team.

But the Twins success next year doesn't depend on unrealistic expectations for prospects. It depends on veteran players who have done it before, and are still in their prime, being healthy and productive again. The Twins will need for prospects to fill in some gaps, particularly if Kubel and Cuddyer both leave. The really big question for the Twins is whether the members of their now veteran pitching staff can step up. A healthy Twins lineup is championship quality, but its not clear their defense and pitching is.

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