The 2014 Twins hung around .500 for longer than we thought they would to start the 2014 season. With a record of 23-21 through play on May 21 it felt as though, even if the club wouldn't compete over the course of the season, they would be a competitive team to watch. In late June and into early July they did go 3-11, their worst stretch of the season, but by closing out the first half with a 5-2 run the team went into the All-Star break with a 44-50 record.
How does a 44-50 record compare to Twins teams through 94 games over the last three seasons?
An improved record is what the fans demanded, and so far they have it by a margin of three games. A .468 winning percentage extrapolated over the rest of the season would mean a final win-loss record of 76-86 for the Twins. That's a ten-win improvement over 2013, and a massive step in the right direction.
But is that success sustainable? After all, the 2011 club was also 44-50 after 94 games thanks to a June and July that saw the team go 33-19, but then that team somehow went 19-49 (.279) thereafter. The 63-99 team managed to avoid 100 losses, but it was still the second-worst season in the history of the Minnesota Twins organization.
We could talk about the reasons for that teams failures (injuries, under-performance, bad decisions at the Major League level, poor draft results), but I'm tired of gnashing teeth and shredding garments over the past. Let's talk about what lessons 2011 can provide from three years in the rear view mirror.
1. Self awareness
The streak that saw the Twins go 33-19 brought Minnesota from 16.5 games out of first to within five games of first place, and you could also say that the winning streak came at the worst possible time: leading up to the trade deadline. Minnesota was never better than six games below .500 during that stretch, but the proximity to the front of the division fooled the front office into believing contention was a real possibility.
This year the team is a few games further back than they were in 2011, but the lesson remains the same. The 2014 incarnation of the Twins is not going to contend.
2. Understand your future
Minnesota refused to totally bottom themselves out, and in some sense it's understandable. It's the organization's job to make sure the product on the field is going to bring fans to the ballpark, and with little to no help in the minor league system at the time going to the "bottom out" blueprint would have sent up a white flag to a fan base that just one year prior had seen the opening of Target Field.
Unfortunately, this kind of politic didn't help the organization in any measurable way that matters. The team was still awful down the stretch, and the club lost opportunities to strengthen the farm system for the future.
3. Act accordingly
This lack of self awareness led to the Twins not doing anything at the trade deadline. They didn't move Michael Cuddyer, in spite of interest from a number of teams around the league; the Phillies, Yankees, Giants, Braves, and Angels all had some degree of interest according to reports, but there were potentially others. Denard Span and Ben Revere weren't moved at the time in spite of interest, especially in Span, although both players did get moved the upcoming winter in two good trades.
Scott Baker, Francisco Liriano, and Carl Pavano had some level of interest around the league. You could understand not wanting to move Baker, who was still young enough to lead the team in coming years, but Liriano was an enigma causing endless amounts of frustration - although the Twins are still benefiting from his trade a year later in the form of Eduardo Escobar. Pavano wasn't moved for unknown reasons, and of course he returned to the Twins in 2012 and was terrible. Delmon Young and Jim Thome were August trades, netting the Twins very little and nothing, respectively. Jason Kubel wasn't traded.
The point being: just because a player has helped the team achieve a certain level of success in the current season, it does not mean they will be a part of that success in following seasons - especially when those players are on expiring contracts. If contending isn't in the cards this year, stack the deck in favor of the future.
Circumstances matter. The bridge to a brighter tomorrow is much shorter right now than it was at this time three years ago, which means that some veterans might be able to help the team bridge that gap whereas three years ago that would have been, and was, a futile philosophy. But that isn't advocacy for the 2014 Twins to hold their cards and do what they can to reach that 76-win mark. In the grand scheme of things, winning 76 games this year is not as valuable as winning 71 or 72 games in return for a couple more rolls of the dice on a better team in coming years.
This is the eternal struggle of organizations that will not win in the current year: winning what they can now versus possibly winning more in the future. At some point a club needs to take the tangible wins in the present versus the potential rewards down the line, but that decision is best left to teams truly on the cusp of contention.
I love Josh Willingham's bat. I respect Kevin Correia. Kurt Suzuki has been a god-send as a catcher. Still, their roles on the winning Twins teams that are just around the corner are, respectively, nil, nil, and probably nil. The Twins need to make the hard decisions that they refused to make in 2011, and the future will be brighter than it already is as a result.