I’ll admit, I don’t think this was what anyone expected when Derek Falvey and Thad Levine were hired. After being subjected to numerous pitch-to-contact strike throwers and the seeming refusal to acquire any impact bats, the hope was that the replacement(s) for Terry Ryan would dedicate their time to making significant improvements to the on-field product.
The 2017 season approached and saying “when the dust cleared” felt like a misnomer. Instead of radically reshaping the roster, Falvey and Levine focused mainly on making tweaks. Their biggest contract was given to Jason Castro, a pitch-framing catcher whose best offensive trait was his patience. No starting pitchers were acquired. The biggest bullpen reinforcements were found via minor league contracts. It was a disappointing, lackluster performance when claiming utility infielder Ehire Adrianza off waivers was in the team’s top five moves for the offseason.
Yet the season came and went and when it was all over, the Twins found themselves in the Wild Card game. That brings us to today, where it appears that significant moves need to be made in order to keep pace with the arms race building in the American League. The Astros won the World Series. Cleveland owned the Central Division last year. The Yankees just paired the most powerful right fielder in the majors with the other most powerful right fielder in the majors. And of course, there are the Angels, that just won the Shohei Ohtani sweepstakes and then tacked on Justin Upton, Ian Kinsler, and Zack Cozart. Even returning to the Wild Card game looks like a difficult proposition and yet it appears that Falvey and Levine are content with treading water instead of keeping pace by launching into a front crawl.
Yes, they keep stating that they feel they are serious contenders for Yu Darvish. I sincerely hope this is true, but I also see why fans are hesitant to believe that Darvish would ever consider the Twins. When a 4-year, $54 million contract (Ervin Santana) is the largest the organization has ever handed out, it’s difficult to see the team willing to shell out at least $100 million to land the top pitcher on the market.
Regardless, it’s still roughly two months until spring training starts, but it’s been disheartening to see some fans already give up on the team. On an article announcing the signing of Michael Pineda to a 2-year, $10 million, I saw comments decrying the Pohlad family for being too cheap to sign a decent starting pitcher. Never mind that the Chicago Cubs signed fellow starting pitcher Drew Smyly to an identical contract, unless one were to also accuse Cubs owner Tom Ricketts of being tightfisted. Similar comments have come up with the signing of Fernando Rodney, whose meltdowns have been well-known even before he lost Game 163 against the Twins back in 2009.
There’s no question that this team needs more pitching, but there’s no need to be in a rush. As I’ve said before, one of Terry Ryan’s biggest weaknesses was also one of his biggest strengths: his refusal to hand out large contracts. While it kept top-tier players out of Minnesota, it also prevented the team from getting saddled with undesirable contracts, much like Joe Mauer’s $23 million per year that finally expires after 2018. While Thad Levine came from the Texas Rangers organization, a club that unfortunately acquired Prince Fielder only to watch him rapidly deteriorate, Falvey came from the Cleveland organization, one that operated similarly to Minnesota.
Hence, while Falvey would seem like a reincarnation of Terry Ryan, Levine would be the one to possess the willingness to make a big move. Thus far, we’ve seen more of Falvey, but I don’t doubt that Levine would get his chance to acquire someone (Darvish?) that would significantly change the team.
Even then, I think it’s foolish to accuse the new front office of not making any changes. Falvey and Levine have made multiple coaching changes, most notably with bringing in James Rowson as hitting coach and now Garvin Alston as pitching coach. The analytics department, long an area of deficiency under Ryan, has been beefed up and now rivals the rest of the league, plus the scouting department has been revamped. These improvements include bringing in former major leaguer Jeremy Hefner, along with hiring John Manuel away from Baseball America and Josh Kalk (a pitchF/X pioneer) away from the Tampa Bay Rays. None of these hirings carry the on-field weight of signing Darvish or Jake Arrieta, but they were done in order to turn the nobodies on the roster into role players and stars. Remember how Brian Dozier became Brian Dozier? He wasn’t a hot prospect, but rather was a mediocre player that was coached to change his hitting approach by Tom Brunansky. Likewise, the hope is that Rowson, Alston, et. al can do the same with the Doziers of the present and future. Adrianza, that utility infielder that was claimed off waivers last year, is already someone the organization believes could become a better hitter with the right tweaks.
I certainly agree that missing out on Darvish or Arrieta would be a letdown, but we have to realize that Falvey and Levine have been making significant changes off the field as well. While it would be nice to spend more on payroll, the Twins front office has been busy finding cost-effective ways to keep the team competitive with the rest of the American League. That’s not being cheap, that’s being shrewd, and I’d rather be a fan of a team that makes smart, calculated, “cheap” decisions rather than aimless, hasty, expensive ones.
Besides, it sounds like Darvish doesn’t want to sign until mid-January, anyway. Take a chill pill, y’all.