Thursday, October 13, 2011

Twins Need to Keep Getting Younger

One of the things the Twins organization has done better than other organizations is staying young while continuing to be competitive. Over the past decade, they have largely avoided the ups and downs that go with keeping a core of veteran players until they go into decline and then rebuilding with young players who struggle to play at a major league level.

If you look at the 2002 Twins, there are no players left in the organization from that core group. Michael Cuddyer got a few at bats that year, but he is the only player on the current Twins left from that era. Many of the core players however are still in baseball. That includes players like AJ Pierzynski, Torii Hunter, Kyle Lohse, David Ortiz and Johan Santana.

Of course part of that success is that the transition to young players included Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau. It helps when you add players who turn into superstars. But there have been a lot of young players who contributed who were anything but superstars. Some like Nick Punto, Matt Guerrier and Carlos Silva came over in trades for major league regulars. Others, like Jason Bartlett and Alexi Casilla were developed by the organization after aging major league role players were traded for low level prospects. And, of course, some were prospects from the draft.

There were also a lot of failures. Young players who were given a chance to win a job and didn't quite do it. In some cases, the Twins were able to trade those players for someone useful. But there is a long list of young players auditioned for jobs who only contributed briefly, if at all.

In some cases, the Twins let veterans go and then had young replacements fail. Michael Cuddyer is actually one of those. He was originally slotted to replace Corey Koskie at third base.

Of course, some of what forced the Twins to stay young was their status as a low budget team. They were constantly forced to replace players as they got expensive with younger, cheaper versions. The new stadium has not eliminated budget constraints, but it has made them a lot less a factor.

Nonetheless, last winter the Twins let a number of veterans leave, while looking to younger replacements. JD Hardy, Orlando Hudson, Jesse Crain, Matt Guerrier and Jon Rauch all left during the offseason with the idea that they would be replaced with younger players.

What we have to hope is that this season's disaster is not taken as a lesson that was a mistake. The Twins need to continue to make room for young players and take the risk of giving them opportunities to play. One of the silver linings in the Twins late season collapse is that it gave them a chance to see a lot of young players. Now they need to decide which ones deserve extended auditions next year.

Its understandable the Twins want to keep Michael Cuddyer. But it would be a poor move to give him a three year contract that commits them to playing him at age 35 instead of giving their promising young outfielders an opportunity.

The Twins were forced by budget constraints into discovering a successful strategy for ongoing success. They ought to stick with that strategy. They need to get continuously younger.

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