In a perfect world the Minnesota Twins are just coming off of their World Series high after a dominant season in 2013.
General manager Terry Ryan recalled an occasion back in 2002 that set the tone for the Twins’ future success. Ryan recalls that on a winter evening in November of 2002 he and manager Ron Gardenhire had to make roster decisions. When the time came for the final spot they had to choose: David Ortiz or Matthew LeCroy. Ryan’s decision to keep the talented, yet inconsistent Ortiz has become vastly more influential than ever imagined. Since that time, Ortiz has mashed 373 home runs while being regarded as the league’s premium designated hitter.
From that moment, Ryan knew that he had to lead the Minnesota Twins into a new era that eliminated the traditional penny pinching the Twins had done for so many years and break the bank as the often bragged about prospects began to rise to stardom.
Torii Hunter, who has arguably been the face of the franchise since 1997, continued to prove those who questioned his age wrong. While serving as a mentor to fellow outfielders Ben Revere and Denard Span, Hunter batted .317 and posted an OBP of .334 while falling just short of his tenth Gold Glove award. Hunter was not the only Twins outfielder who seemed snubbed of the award as centerfielder Span managed the entire season without committing an error.
Speaking of players who were deemed over-the-hill by many "experts," the Twins 2013 dominance would not have been made possible without the presence of Michael Cuddyer. The rifle-armed third baseman fell just short of this year’s batting title as he was a nightmare for opposing pitchers at the plate and opposing batters who threatened the hit corner.
"We’re fortunate to have a front office that is so committed to winning," said Twins’ manager Ron Gardenhire. "Guys like Cuddy and Torii were just coming into their own at the time of their contract expirations and we would have been crazy to have let them walk away after so many years of experiencing their growing pains." Even fans would admit that it would’ve been a slap in the face if Michael Cuddyer would’ve gone off to win a batting title for another team like the Colorado Rockies.
Among other genius moves that Terry Ryan made was to nod off previous trade rumors of sending catcher Wilson Ramos to the Washington Nationals for now out of the league pitcher Matt Capps. "I had to think long and hard about it," Ryan said. "Fortunately when Joe (Nathan) went down in 2009 we had plenty of options for a closer because we built and maintained a quality bullpen for so many years." Many should recall how ageless wonder LaTroy Hawkins stepped up heroically that season and posted 2.13ERA for that season.
With Ramos staying with the Twins, Minnesota’s front office finally decided that Mauer should move to first base. Though Mauer was a perennial All-Star at catcher, the Twins realized who the employer was and who was the employee and made the logical decision of putting the fragile player at a safer position. After much skepticism, Mauer has embraced his position change and has found consistency in his power stroke now that his legs are under less stress.
The decision came at the right time after then first basemen Justin Morneau endured a career ending concussion. There were many tears in Minnesota the day that the former MVP retired that reminded many of the day that Kirby Puckett also called it quits. However, it was a more practical plan than forcing Morneau, who admits that he has never felt the same since, to try and continue a career that would likely be detrimental for both his health and the team’s success.
Among the 2013 Twins, credit is due to unsung hero shortstop J.J. Hardy. Though he has batted ninth for the Twins for most of his career in Minnesota, Hardy remains grateful for his second chance with the team. Fans will remember the disappointment when supposed prize Carlos Gomez from the Santana trade was sent to Milwaukee for Hardy. Hardy greeted his new fan base with an injury filled 2010 season as Hardy seemingly had a one-and-done year with the Twins. However, after never fielding better offers than a mediocre reliever with a plus fastball, the Twins decided not to sell short and retained Hardy for the following season, and has he rewarded the Twins’ brass since. In the following three seasons, Hardy has won two Gold Glove awards while hitting a total of 77 homeruns. Before Hardy’s arrival in Minnesota, Ron Gardenhire had coveted an everyday middle fielder with either tremendous defense or good power. Luckily he has both in J.J. Hardy; it’s funny how things work out.
As outstanding as the Twins’ offense has been this year and the preceding others, many can argue that the Twins’ strength is actually the rotation. The traditionally inconsistent Francisco Liriano finally found traces of his ’06 dominance as the Twins discovered that the pitcher craves challenges and an incentive-laid contract was exactly what he needed. The rotation filled out with other longtime Twins such as Matt Garza and Kyle Lohse. Last year’s Cy Young award winner, R.A. Dickey, was not as spectacular in his follow-up performance, but still managed to be an outstanding number four pitcher.
Glen Perkins continued his solid performance in the rotation, though many still argue he is better suited for a bullpen role. The bullpen continued its traditional dominance led by closer Joe Nathan whom many pegged as being done after his Tommy John Surgery. Now the naysayers have egg on their faces three years later. Nathan is joined by Crain, Balfour, Neshek and company to combine for an ERA of 2.31. Needless to say the games were well in hand once the starters came out with the lead.
Heading into the offseason, the only glaring hole for the Twins appears to be at second base. The Twins survived 2013 with a revolving door of Trevor Plouffe, Nick Punto and Brian Dozier. While all three have their strong points, none of the three have a makeup of being a practical everyday player. Dozier finished the season with much promise and may have a chance at the job in spring training, or the Twins may have the luxury to speed up the development of prospect Eddie Rosario and allow him to learn on the go next season in the big leagues. Can anyone imagine how horrendous it could be to have a difficult job heading into the offseason? The very thought of having to fix numerous positions around the team (let’s say the whole rotation, outfield and half of the infield) would drive anybody to the brink of insanity.
"If those guys were truly going to be as good as we said they were, then we had to make sure we kept them instead of let them develop and then leave the team," said Ryan.
As the Twins have shown, building from within the organization is a brilliant move as long as it is done correctly. Doing it blindly and giving up on players too soon only to see them succeed with other organizations could cause madding chaos within the fan base. Thank goodness the Twins made the right call to stick with David Ortiz and company.