As part of SB Nation United you’re going to be seeing some new voices at Twinkie Town, SBN "Designated Columnists", writing about issues both local and national. Think of them as guests in the community..and maybe a bit like a designated hitter except we get them in both leagues. We’re beginning this week with Michael Bates, better known as one of the minds behind The Platoon Advantage. I'm a big fan, and I'm sure a few of you are too, so let's give him a warm welcome. - Jesse
The last time a competitive Twins team fell off the rails, back in 1993, it took eight years before the club made it back above .500. Those eight years were filled with terrible baseball and uninspiring players like Denny Hocking, Ron Coomer, Scott Stahoviak, and Matt Walbeck. The team brought in low upside veterans like Kevin Maas, Jim Deshais, Bob Tewksbury, Shane Rawley, Alex Cole, and Otis Nixon, while embracing a hometown strategy that saw the club pick up Minnesota natives Dave Winfield, Paul Molitor, and Terry Steinbach. It was all very safe, very predictable, and very ineffective.
I honestly don’t remember the last time the Twins did anything surprising to try and improve their team. I suppose trading A.J. Pierzynski after 2003 probably counts, but there’s no denying that, since the club signed a flagging workhorse in Jack Morris and a 30-year-old DH suffering from a power outage in Chili Davis, the Twins have relied on far more traditional modes of team-building. Rather than using free agency and the trade market to identify undervalued assets and take advantage of them, they have emphasized player development and exchanging veterans for prospects.
The vast majority of recent acquisitions under once and current General Manager Terry Ryan have been low-ceiling guys like Sidney Ponson, Ramon Ortiz, Livan Hernandez, Mike Lamb, Craig Monroe, and Jason Marquis to fill out open spots on the roster. According to his recent interview on ESPN 1500, Ryan is again focused on finding "affordable" pitchers. That’s a category in which he’s had amazingly little luck in his career; he simply hasn’t shown an ability to discern precious antiques from junk. And make no mistake, this is a Twins club that’s going to require a diamond in the rough or two to be competitive if Ryan’s "urgency to win in 2013" can be taken at face value.
Let’s be honest: regardless of Ryan’s sense of urgency, nothing is going to happen in 2013. After two straight seasons with more than 95 losses, this club needs a makeover. Burdened with the Joe Mauer contract and borderline untradeable players like Justin Morneau, now is exactly the time for the Twins to start thinking outside the box about how to acquire the talent that’s going to comprise the next great Twins club. That means tearing down this club to its foundations as much as possible. That means the team needs to be willing to deal relatively new toy Josh Willingham and emerging third baseman Trevor Plouffe, if that means freeing up additional cash, filling other holes, and opening up positions for Joe Mauer to land as he continues what should be his transition away from catching. That also means making honest inquiries into pitchers who are question marks with the potential for a high upside like Roy Oswalt, and Bartolo Colon, who can be exchanged at the trade deadline if they prove healthy and effective, since those pitchers wouldn’t be blocking anyone of consequence.
In a strange way, Pedro Florimon is the key to this offseason, and to understanding whether Terry Ryan really is willing to engage in the kind of creative destruction this team needs. Florimon is a 26-year-old offensive cypher who has a reputation as a good glove. Visions of an older, less-talented Luis Rivas should be dancing through your heads. Ron Gardenhire has indicated that Florimon is the likely starter at shortstop next year. Yet, no one can honestly argue that Pedro Florimon should be the starting shortstop on a major league team. He has a .321 OBP in seven minor league seasons, and his career OPS rivals some of Drew Butera’s greatest works. Simply "because he’s already in town" is not a good enough reason to hand him the keys if the Twins are hoping to be respectable. That strategy didn’t work for other clearly outclassed players like Rivas, Nick Blackburn, or Danny Valencia. Starting Florimon is a decision born either out of resignation or incompetence.
If the Twins do follow through on their threat to make him the starter, we can only hope that almost everything else will have changed; looking at whether Florimon still has a recognizable team around him will help us understand whether Terry Ryan is really up for the job of rebuilding this franchise in fewer than eight years.
Michael Bates is one of SBN’s Designated Columnists.