For those who have yet to see, Twins GM Bill Smith sat down with Phil Mackey and Patrick Reusse on Monday for an afternoon interview on 1500 ESPN Radio. There's some expected responses in there; the Twins will be looking for a shortstop upgrade this offseason, Joe Mauer's goal is to stay healthy (gasp!), and the Twins have come the shocking realization that Drew Butera is apparently a lackluster option with the bat and will look to upgrade offensively behind the plate (Realistically, there are probably some commenters here who could fit that bill).
What stuck out for me though was not only the fact that Smith said the training staff will remain intact for 2012, but the fact that he actually blamed the onslaught of injuries on bad luck and collisions. While that's true to some degree, there's a whole lot that can't be explained by collisions. More after the jump.
The Twins clearly had their share of unlucky injuries. Tsuyoshi Nishioka's near-immediate fracturing of a leg couldn't have helped his transition to the Major Leagues. Denard Span's concussion isn't something a trainer can do a whole lot to prevent, and Michael Cuddyer was going to get hit in the wrist with that pitch regardless of what Rick McWane and his staff did. Delmon Young hurting himself by running into a wall, of course, should be expected... but it's not the training staff's fault that he's a danger to himself every time he dons a glove.
But what about the other barrage of injuries this season? What about Alexi Casilla's recurring hamstring problems and the oblique strains sustained by Young, Jim Thome, and Glen Perkins? Smith also refers to Jason Kubel "crashing into" a wall, but Kubel told reporters he felt discomfort as soon as he jumped. By season's end, the only Opening Day batters seeing playing time were Cuddyer and Danny Valencia, and 80% of the Opening Day rotation was on the DL as well. These guys didn't all suffer fluke injuries.
There's also the constant misdiagnoses the fans had to endure in 2011. How many times did we hear that a player was "day-to-day" or could make a quick return, only to see them absent for another several weeks or even months? Mauer, Nishioka, Young, Kubel, the list goes on -- time and time again this season there were false reports of near returns. Young was supposed to be a one- or two-game scratch early on but missed 24 days. Span was originally diagnosed with "neck stiffness" and was back on the field just days after his concussion before he told trainers he didn't feel right following a Twins win. He eventually hit the DL where he stayed for 56 days. You can even interpret this quote (courtesy of Phil Mackey) from former Twin J.J. Hardy as a strike against this staff:
Hardy said the treatment he received from Orioles trainers was different than what had been tried in Minnesota, but he added, "I don't want to get into that too much and make people look bad, but yeah. It definitely was a little bit different."
Smith was quick to point out that this is the same training staff that's been in place since 2006, but it's not as if the Twins have been without injuries over the past several years. What about another injury-shortened season for Scott Baker? He missed 58 days with elbow injuries, has spent a total of 108 days on the DL (three stints) since May 2008, and had elbow surgery last winter. Kevin Slowey went through two different bouts of elbow injuries last season, and Nick Blackburn has had three surgeries performed in four years. Speaking of surgery, let's not forget that the Twins delayed Tommy John Surgery for both Joe Nathan and Pat Neshek, instead first hoping the pair could work through their partial UCL tears and avoid the procedure. Neshek sat on the DL with a UCL tear for the whole 2008 season before finally undergoing Tommy John that November. Upon his return to baseball in 2010, a misdiagnosis of a hand injury led to him publicly griping about the situation on Facebook.
Cuddyer has a fairly long injury history. Nick Punto could never stay on the field (although admittedly, some of his injuries were self-inflicted, and three DL trips in St. Louis this year suggest you can let the Twins off the hook for that one). Jesse Crain's right shoulder was an ongoing problem. Mauer tacked onto his injury log this year with whatever "bilateral leg weakness" is, in addition to an upper respiratory infection that eventually turned into a season-ending case of pneumonia.
No team is without injuries. There's no perfect training staff, and the Twins had an unquestionably high amount of rotten luck in 2011. But we also heard far too often that a player like Mauer or Span was on the verge of a return, only to find out something else was really wrong with them. None of this even mentions Justin Morneau, who racked up so many injuries this season that I lost count. A big part is his concussion, yes, but he also dealt with both wrist and neck injuries, and his tumultuous season lends itself to questioning the methods with which he was handled.
If the Twins aren't going to make changes to this training staff, then I hope we see them publicly discuss some changes to the training methodology. The injuries this year were too great to maintain the status quo and cross your fingers.
Steve Adams writes for MLBTradeRumors.com and contributes for MLB.com Fantasy Baseball and 612Sports.net. You can follow him on Twitter: @Adams_Steve
Thanks to Baseball Prospectus for the injury data that contributed to this post.