As I write, the two pieces at the top of the front page are Jesse crabbing about the offense and the lineup, and Jon asking just how bad the bullpen is. That got me to thinking about the choices the front office has made in building this team over the past couple of years. I don't know that I have any overarching conclusions, but I thought it was worthwhile to try to sort through what's happened and where we think we are.
When Bill Smith took over after the 2007 season, there were several issues facing the club. They had just completed a disappointing season that had centered around a weak offense that suffered from a lack of star power (Joe Mauer missed some games and didn't have a great year, Justin Morneau was down some as well) and poor secondary play especially from the bench and such nominal starters as Jeff Cirillo and Nick Punto.
The star-power wasn't such a problem--Mauer and Morneau weren't going anywhere. It was clear that the team had significant holes, however, and it was exacerbated by the impending free agencies of Torii Hunter and Carlos Silva. It was further clear that the team was in the process of deciding the future of the team's best player, Johan Santana. The team desperately needed to upgrade the offense--particularly third base and and left field where a parade of less than mediocrities had played--Nick Punto, Jason Tyner, Jeff Cirillo (nominally the DH, but Jason Kubel was the future there), and second base where they had traded Luis Castillo for reasons that weren't entirely clear and plugged in an overmatched Alexi Casilla. They also obviously needed a centerfielder to replace Hunter on the assumption that he was going to leave.
There was a massive flurry of activity in the off-season following the 2007 season. They (correctly, IMO) let Hunter and Silva both walk. To solve the infield problems, they signed Mike Lamb and Adam Everett, both formerly Astros, both with durability problems, both marginal starters. To sovle the left field/DH hole, they acquired Craig Monroe. Then they made 2 big trades. Recognizing that they needed power and young hitting, they made the Matt Garza/Delmon Young trade. There were people who thought that Young was overrated, but it was generally well recieved. One of the problems was that they also gave up their starting shortstop (Jason Bartlett), who never seemed to get respect from the powers that be. Then they made the big Santana trade, which among other things gave them a center field option to replace Hunter.
OK, the point of this wasn't to review. Here's what I take from this flurry of activity: there was a lot, and there was significant risk taking in one sense (trading away Garza, trading Santana), but ultimately, there was significant risk aversion in terms of money and expectations. They didn't REALLY solve SS or 3B, they stopgapped with guys who, if they failed, well, its not that big a suprise. They didn't REALLY look for a big hitter for DH (Frank Thomas), they got Monroe, who, if he couldn't hit, well, he couldn't hit before. These guys were all cheap, and they all played like it.
On the trade front, they traded 2 guys who they had crabbed about despite their talent--Garza and Bartlett, for the talented but mercurial Young. So far, not good. Young has not gotten better in 2 seasons. He's the same player now that he was a rookie. Then there was the Santana deal. I know this is going to chap some hides, and I know I can't "know" what other offers there were, but this was mishandled, and that isn't just in retrospect. Despite their protestations, it was clear they were going to trade him. The package they got...here's the problem: they got exactly nobody who they could be reasonably close to sure would actually have a significant major league career. Carlos Gomez was talented but hadn't dominated, or even really been very good, in the minors. Philip Humber was hurt and never got his stuff back. Kevin Mulvey was a limited stuff guy, and Deolis Guerra was so freaking young he could have turned into anything. Frankly, a year later, and the exact same things can be said about these guys.
This past off-season, there was much less activity. After a season in which essentially none of the previous seasons' moves actually worked, it appeared that Smith became gunshy. The bullpen had been a problem in 2008; they did nothing to solve it. Wouldn't make a trade, wouldn't give up a pick for Juan Cruz. They further, apparently, misread how shallow the offense was. Bolstered by an unsustainable performance in RISP situations, bailed out by a suprising Denard Span and a dubious Casilla, they scored more runs than they could expect. Starting the offseason by saying they wanted to upgrade both spots on the left side of the infield, they immediately capitulated, resigned Punto and called it a victory. They dithered around with 3B until Joe Crede fell into their laps. They punted doing anything about the outfield crowd of dubiousness. It appeared to be paralysis, made even more frustrating by the fact that their payroll was diminishing and a new stadium was a year away.
Here's my take: they have generally refused spend money. I mean, they signed Joe Nathan...but they wouldn't sign Santana. They signed Michael Cuddyer for 3 years...but let Hunter go (wisely). They also seem unable to surround their core with quality players. They have something of a "good enough" syndrome. The Young trade was their one attempt to add another real hitter...and it hasn't worked. The guys they dredge up...really not good. There are always reasons...but they have refused to either trade prospects or spend money--if you won't do either of those things, it's hard to get better. You can't expect your farm system to pump out above average players at every position year after year--and yet they seem perpetually confused when they have holes that need to be filled.
I'm not giving up on this team--it has things going for it. But I will say that I don't think they have done a good job of identifying and fixing problems in the last couple of years. At some point, Smith has to be responsible for that. I'll add this: one of the things that many fans like about the Twins is the continuity--they promote from within, they keep people, etc. That's a good thing, I agree. But I wonder sometimes if it also doesn't make things stale. When it's the same people with the same philosophies running thngs, you can get stale, miss out on new ideas. Sometimes you need new perspectives from the outside to see what you aren't doing well. I wonder sometimes if the Twins haven't become TOO reliant on the same people doling things the "Twins way."
That was insanely long, and I didn't even really get to a lot of things I wanted to talk about. REally I just thought it might be time to take a look at the front office under Bill Smith.