I can’t imagine the Twins think this is good timing.
On Thursday night, some six hours after word got out that the Twins had traded away their second pretty good center fielder in as many Thursdays, I was on hand as team president Dave St. Peter got up to give a "State of the Twins" talk during the team’s season ticket open house. The audience seemed to be approximately half season ticket holders, and the other half (like me) normal folks the team was hoping would buy season tickets. It was a festive night, overall; good food, clubhouse tours, Kent Hrbek. Lots of fun.
St. Peter had a pretty rough job, though. His talk was the first item on the schedule, and his opening line following a traditional greeting -- "Some breaking news, you know, we made a trade today" -- was met with a chorus of boos (from a crowd that doesn't quite appreciate the value of a mid-rotation starter and highly-ranked pitching prospect, evidently). It’s not the way you’d want to start an event you’re hoping ends with most of the audience handing over a large amount of money.
St. Peter recovered quite nicely, and gave a nice, apparently honest talk, then good-naturedly answered some pretty pointed questions. Here are the takeaways.
The Twins are fishing, but the fish aren't biting.
St. Peter indicated that the team is still trying to add free agents. His line of the night was "it takes two to tango." Without naming names, he indicated that the Twins had made concrete offers on "two or three" free agent starting pitchers, and on at least one third baseman to compete with Trevor Plouffe, but that the offerees were uninterested. He still plans to sign players to fill both roles.
He’s...bullish on Twins center fielders.
When I see the Twins deal away two solid center fielders in a week, leaving them with a roster with one corner outfielder (Josh Willingham) and a couple others who have been pressed into service as corner outfielders under extreme circumstances (Chris Parmelee and Ryan Doumit), I tend to think that the outfield is in pretty bad shape. But St. Peter, like Terry Ryan, doesn’t see it that way: "We have, in our mind, an incredible depth in center field." He identified three candidates for the spot: Aaron Hicks, Joe Benson, and Darin Mastroianni.
He added that he would "like to think Aaron Hicks will grab that spot in Spring Training." And one has to assume the Twins’ organizational thumb is heavily on the scale in Hicks’ favor, or will be once enough of the season has passed that they get an extra year of service out of him. Seems to me we can expect Mastroianni to open as the starter, with Hicks taking over in late April or early May, whenever the cutoff is.
He plans to contend.
St. Peter expressly discussed the idea of "rebuilding," and indicated that he thinks they can do both -- build for the future without completely giving up on 2013. Thus the attempts to bring in starting pitchers, and another third baseman.
Chris Parmelee is your starting right fielder.
St. Peter came out and said this; the three players discussed above will compete for the center field job, but Parmelee -- historically primarily a first baseman -- is the unquestioned front-runner for the right field job.
Just a note: an outfield of Willingham-Benson-Parmelee is a pretty real possibility, at least to start 2013. That sounds like a lot of doubles and triples.
A Liriano redux is a very real possibility.
One audience member asked, essentially, what the front office sees that the questioner doesn’t that would cause them to consider re-signing Francisco Liriano. St. Peter is a big fan of his clubhouse presence, somewhat surprisingly, but stressed that they would bring him back only on an extremely team-friendly contract.
Gardenhire’s good, for now.
One brave questioner noted that the Twins have replaced most of the coaching staff, and asked why Gardy was spared. While noting that "everybody’s accountable" and that they explicitly did not extend his contract last season, St. Peter believes that Gardenhire’s track record means that he deserves a chance to run this team, and hopes that the new coaching staff will help.
Miguel Sano is the third baseman of the future.
No, he really did say this, and I have the recording to prove it. Sano is certainly (we hope) the something of the future, but posted an .884 fielding percentage in A-ball and is an exceptionally large human being.
It helps to keep in mind that St. Peter was speaking to an audience of people that the team hopes will help them financially, immediately, in 2013. As such, he had every reason to paint the rosiest picture possible of their 2013 chances.
And that’s what I’ve chosen to hang on to, because it simply doesn’t make any sense for the Twins to be adding free agents with the goal of getting better for 2013. They’re a 96-loss team that didn’t suffer from a collection of catastrophic injuries or anything else that’s likely to suddenly turn things around next season, and they’ve since lost two of their more important starters, who probably gave the Twins something like six or seven wins in 2012. They may have gained a couple back with Worley, and Hicks/Benson/Parmelee might add back in a couple, but there’s little question they’re worse now than they were during most of last season. It’s not a competitive roster right now, and it’s not going to become competitive with the addition of Joe Saunders, and Francisco Liriano, and...any of the sad group of third basemen that remains available. Rebuilding halfway, we’ve seen many times (the Orioles have done that quite a bit, and the old dark ages Devil Rays), just doesn’t work. Either you’re in it and you compete, or you’re out of it and you rebuild. And this team is not in it.
So I’m choosing to put my faith in his comments on Liriano and the need for a very reasonable contract; it makes sense for the Twins to sign free agents this season only at very, very low prices. They’re pieces that will keep them from being a total embarrassment as long as they’re in town, but at prices that will make those pieces easy to deal when, in July, they’re hopelessly out of the race.
Regardless, though, a Twins fan (like me) has to like where this organization is heading. In the space of a week, they've moved the mediocre farm system into the realm of the best handful of systems in the league. They’re not going to be good in 2013 (feel free to save this to shove in my face when they go all 2012 Orioles and A’s on us), but they could be pretty good in 2014, and better than that beyond. On several occasions, St. Peter referenced the velocity of the pitchers the team has brought in (generally all very good), with no mention of anything like pitching to contact or a maniacal devotion to the avoidance of walks. Good signs abound.
I’m convinced things are going to be very bad in 2013, but by and large, St. Peter’s comments just reconfirmed that they’re laying the groundwork for an encouraging 2013 and a strong 2014 and beyond.