I am not a big Jim Souhan fan, and I think many here at TT share that sentiment. His recent article, "Here are 6 things the Twins need to do to retool" is extremely hit-and-miss, with half of his points off-base, and the others mostly correct. I will go point by point, including key quotes from each section. Follow the link above for the text in its entirety.
1. Don't Blame the Manager
Ron Gardenhire is one of the most important figures in one of the most successful franchises in sports.
Exactly right, and very well worded. He goes on to compare Gardenhire and Cox, which is a very apt comparison. I was so happy that Souhan started with this point that I had very high hopes for the rest of the article.
2. Acquire Power Arms
The teams that have beaten the Yankees in the postseason -- the 2001 Diamondbacks with Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson, the 2002 Angels with their power bullpen, the 2003 Marlins with Josh Beckett, the 2004 Red Sox with Schilling and Pedro Martinez, the 2006 Tigers with Justin Verlander, etc. -- were able to strike out the Yankees' best hitters in the biggest situations.....Delmon Young is at his highest value, and the organization is down on Kevin Slowey. Could they offer those two plus a prospect and swing a trade for Zack Greinke? That might not be possible, but it's the right way to think.
Souhan is half correct. It is an interesting point to list the teams that have defeated the Yankees in the postseason, but it really proves nothing. The Yankees have changed managers, most of the players, and even stadiums during this time period. At the same time, I think we all agree that strikeouts/missing bats becomes that much more important during the postseason, when each and every at-bat is magnified. The main problem I have with the rest of his point is that he insuiates in the article that the Twins don't have anyone of Greinke's caliber, when Liriano actually had a better season. People forget that he pitched 40+ innings in the Dominican last offseason. Combine that with spring training, and Liriano threw well over 250+ innings in the past calender year. He will be a true ace and even quite possibly a legitimate workhorse, which is the main compenent that is keeping him from being mentioned as an ace. Innings pitched is the only grounded criticism that can be leveled at Liriano this season. The "he's not a big game pitcher" argument is laughable. He has never pitched a big game until ALDS Game 1 of this season, which was far from a disaster (aka he matched Sabathia almost pitch-for-pitch). The one game that he was criticized about this year quite a bit was against Ubaldo. Not actually a "big" game, and here is his line: 7 IP, 5 H, 3 ER, 3 BB, 6 Ks. I'll take it. Remember in 2006, when he outdeuled Roger Clemens on national television? That was a pretty big stage, wasn't it?
Again, Souhan is right, but the need is not quite as dire as he believes it to be. Is the price of Delmon/Slowey/prospect too high for Greinke? It depends on how ready Revere/Benson are for the big leagues. Of course, then you duplicate Span with Revere. I tend to think its much more likely that Revere/Slowey/prospect would be packaged in a trade, although it would have to be more than a decent prospect if said trade was for Zach Greinke.
3. Get Younger and Faster
While Orlando Hudson and J.J. Hardy were comforting because of their sure hands and experience, by the end of the year neither had produced much offensively or shown range in the field. The Twins, who won't be able to afford bringing everyone back, should get younger, cheaper and faster up the middle.
One possibility is starting Alexi Casilla at short and Luke Hughes at second, with Trevor Plouffe and Matt Tolbert waiting their turn. Casilla would give them speed and range and would produce more runs than Hardy. Hughes would lack range but add pop to the lineup.
Wait.....what??? I almost fell out of my chair when I read this, and Souhan could not be more wrong. Let us take a moment to digest this, although "digest" probably isn't the best word choice for such a putrid mess.
"....neither had produced much offensively or shown range in the field".
Excuse me? Last I checked, Hardy had the best UZR in the league (smaller sample size, but he's unquestionably a top five defensive shortstop in the MLB. As FanGraphs argues here, he was likely the best all around SS in the playoffs this season, as he produced a 1.6 WAR before factoring in defense throught the 2010 season. And Hudson's defense was better than it had been metrically advertised before the season. Both contributed offensively, although Hudson slumped down the stretch.
One possibility is starting Alexi Casilla at short and Luke Hughes at second, with Trevor Plouffe and Matt Tolbert waiting their turn.
Gross. First of all, you do not let J.J. Hardy walk. That would be a colossal mistake. Secondly, Plouffe's plate discipline got worse in AAA this season. His walks, average, and OBP decreased in his second full season at Triple-A, while his strikeouts increased. Yes, he hit more home runs, and that's great. He needs to stay in AAA, and will likely be this year's Matt Tolbert, on the Rochester-to-Minneapolis shuttle the whole season. Hughes has not had a season with more than 157 plate appearances at AAA, and he needs to improve his defense. Leave him there. And wait--Matt Tolbert waiting for his turn? What turn? He won't be back next season, being as he's out of options (and he'll be 28...and he's bad...any more reasons?).
My solution is simple: Let Hudson walk, give Hardy his raise through arbitration, unless it is more cost effective to lock him up for 3 years or so, as they did with Span and Blackburn (although the true value of those contracts remains to be seen). Casilla and Plouffe battle for the second base job, although depending on Punto's status, they both will likely make the roster. Punto could be brought back after an enormous pay cut, and that would be fine, provided they don't pick up his $4.5m option (ouch...I'm worried that I'm even a little nervous that this might happen...). Hughes stays in Triple-A, while Hudson, Tolbert, and possibly Punto are gone altogether.
4. Make the Right Decisions on Your Free Agents
Jesse Crain failed the Twins when they needed him most in the playoffs. Time to let him move on....I hear Pavano wants a three-year deal worth $30 million. The Twins won't pay that. If they can get him for two years at $15 or $16 million, he's worth the investment because of his settling effect on the rotation.
Creative title, Mr. Souhan. I'm sure you're the first one to think of this novel idea. Also, great logic on the Crain decision....he threw one bad pitch, but was otherwise the best pitcher out of the bullpen. Yes, he could be too expensive, in which case he could (and should) walk, but there must be an effort made to keep him. The Pavano take is interesting, and I think its likely the Twins would go to two years, barring an unlikely scenario in which another club gives him three. He also says that Hudson is gone, and Hardy only stays if he takes a big pay cut. Which of course, doesn't make sense, as Hardy won't get a pay cut through arbitration. Does Jim Souhan understand how arbitration works? We should keep Guerrier, if he isn't "trying to break the bank". If he's a Type A free agent, then we're in a tough spot (since no team would sign him and forfeit a draft pick), but he should be non-tendered. My commentary: try and keep Crain, give Pavano a solid offer and don't budge on it, let Hudson, Fuentes, and Guerrier go. Make an offer to Rauch, but I'm guessing someone will (over)pay him to close. And additionally...
5. Bring Back Jim Thome
The Twins might have to overspend to keep Jim Thome. He's worth it. He's a key figure in the clubhouse, he was baseball's best bargain this year, and he wants to come back. Pay him extra to be a player/coach so he hits his 600th homer as a Twin, even if he winds up being a glorified pinch-hitter.
I don't know about having to "overspend", but yeah, we should keep him. I think this gets done, and I doubt he'll get paid too much more he did than this year, plus incentives again. He reached most of his incentives this year anyway, so the Twins can play on that and get the contract very much incetive-laden once again.
6. Cross Your Fingers