There have already been several post-mortems on the Twins 2020 season. Most, of course, reflect the very mixed reality that was the shortened season. There was the good (Nelson Cruz, Kenta Maeda, Tyler Duffey, Trevor May), there was the bad (Polanco, Kepler, Rogers), and there was the ugly (another 0-for in the playoffs).
As the philosopher, Sheryl Crow said: “A change would do us good.”
Mostly, from my point of view, there was stunning mediocrity. Perhaps that mediocrity was best exemplified by Eddie Rosario who had some really good moments, and Miguel Sano, who had some pretty good moments as well. But, they had some really bad moments too. As much as we all want to believe in Rosario and Sano, they both have very real flaws that really cannot be ignored. It’s why I begin this particular lament with my belief that it’s time for some serious changes in the everyday line-up. Starting with trading Rosario and Sano seems like a fairly logical place to start (I shouldn’t have to mention that I’m not suggesting giving them up for something less than a fair return, but let’s listen to offers,…in fact…let’s make some offers).
Obviously, it is unfair to single out Rosario and/or Sano. Almost every Twin this past year, had, frankly, a mediocre season, with the exception of the few I’ve already singled out above. A mediocre season was followed by a disappointing playoff experience. Maybe I’m just bitter and angry, but I think its time for a change, we cannot just keep running out the same line-up and expect different playoff results.
Every winter I tell my closest friends (and last winter I told Twinkie Town, in one of my essays) that we should trade Byron Buxton. Then, I suffer through the slings and arrows of those who inform me that he has possibly the greatest potential of any athlete in any sport…well…apparently, ever. The truth is, I don’t necessarily disagree. I like Byron Buxton, I think he’s a great team player who clearly illustrates that the team is better when he is on the field. But, every winter, EVERY winter, we have to discuss the reality, which is that Byron Buxton will be hurt for half the season, and that the Twins will miss him in a variety of ways.
In fact, I think Buxton is so important to this team, that when he inevitably misses games, the team seems to mostly fall apart at the seams. While that suggests his value, which it surely does, it also suggests that perhaps we need a new approach, wherein we aren’t beholden to a single catalyst that misses half of the games played. In other words, we need a new and different catalyst. Maybe we’ve grown so dependent upon Buxton’s fielding brilliance and occasionally brilliant at-bats (I mean he did have a walk-off ground ball fielder’s choice this year…and you don’t see that every day, or ever), that he makes us all stand up and take notice. But he also provides a built-in excuse for the team to lower its level of play when he enters injury rehab. It’s time for a change.
I don’t blame an athlete for injuries. I’ve seen too many basketball players in incredible physical condition do what they do for the millionth time and suddenly tear their ACLs. It wasn’t anything they did, it wasn’t anything they failed to do…it was, seemingly, fate or luck or whatever it is that allows some people to get injured when others do not. Have you ever fallen a step or two off of a ladder? Of course you have…and you probably didn’t get hurt, or maybe you slightly sprained your ankle at worst. Still, you may know someone who took a similar fall, or even stepped off of a curb the “wrong” way and suffered a genuinely serious injury, maybe even requiring surgery. These people deserve our love and respect, not our scorn. But…these people don’t play centerfield for the Minnesota Twins, a team that hasn’t won a playoff game since 2004.
The point is…the Twins haven’t won a playoff game since 2004. It may be time for a change….maybe even a radical one. I, like many of us, are now suffering from the low return on expanded expectations. It was cute when we “overachieved” all those years and then suffered the inevitable beatdown at the hands of the Yankees. But this year, we suffered a beatdown by the cheating (under .500) Astros. Granted, the Astros came within a game of the World Series, as they seemingly peaked at the most right of all right times, but still, this year’s playoff struggle was, in my view, even more painful than the traditional Yankee beatdown.
And so, as much as I love my Minnesota Twins, I’m calling for a change. I like Rocco, and believe in him. I wouldn’t make that change. Which means the change needs to occur on the field. Many have already called for the promotion of the future, maybe it’s time for Kiroloff, Lewis, Larnach, etc…maybe. If any of their promotions is the right move, then it’s time for some of those we’ve grown fond of, to take their talents elsewhere.
Let’s start with the two with the greatest potential, the two who’ve I’ve already mentioned. Sano and Buxton. One of them has to go (understanding, of course, that I’m not suggesting their unconditional release…but rather a serious trade discussion with a willing trade partner). I think perhaps the Twins have proven that having two players with seemingly unlimited, but mostly unrealized, potential, is one too many to have in the major league starting line-up. It’s time, and it’s very possible that the one we trade will go on to long-term greatness with another team, and that will truly hurt. But, I will go on record (not that going on record means much anymore) promising (not that promises mean much anymore) that I will not second-guess, nor will I express any anger or disappointment when the trade is made and it doesn’t work out. We’ve got to try something, we’ve got to shake-up this tradition of mediocrity that seems to have permeated everything about this team…at least in the playoffs.
Next, Eddie, oh how we love you. We loved the Eddie chants from the crowd (when we had a crowd), we loved your endless energy, we even forgave you for not running out groundballs, and for a level of casual interest in fielding flyballs that was sometimes terrifying and occasionally downright tragic, but always worthy of our undivided attention. But. It’s time. I think Eddie has enough trade value to be…traded.
That leaves a starting outfield of Kirilloff, Kepler and Buxton (if we trade Sano) or somebody new (if we trade Buxton). Kepler had a terrible year. I think Kepler, would suggest that he had a terrible year. In my view, he’s not only signed long-term for reasonable money, I have a feeling he’ll be back. Of course, I had a feeling we’d win a playoff game this year too, so I don’t place great stock in my feelings, but nevertheless, I still have them.
Polanco was awful, but he is under a favorable contract and was just recently surgically repaired. I think he’s got a lot of good baseball ahead of him (and if he doesn’t, we’ve got Royce Lewis). Arraez didn’t live up to our very high expectations, but he was hurt too, he’ll be back, better, stronger, faster (maybe not faster, but he’ll be back). Josh Donaldson…what can we say. He’ll be back. If he stays healthy, he can surely be a force for us…at least I really hope he can be.
Completing the infield, is Sano at first base. I have to revisit my earlier point that either he or Buxton should be traded. My only hesitancy stems from the favorable contract status of both Buxton and Sano (Sano is signed for at least two more years at very reasonable money, and Buxton is arbitration eligible, which, of course, means a probable significant raise, but which doesn’t make him unaffordable). If Sano remains, it heightens our need to re-sign Cruz who seems to be a genuine friend and mentor to him. I like Sano, just as I like Buxton. I would be happy to keep him around. He’ll be better, I have a feeling.
As for our free agents, here goes. The Twins need to re-sign Odorizzi, May, Cruz, Adrianza, and Clippard, even if that means “overpaying”….we don’t have a salary cap after all. I’d be perfectly fine with re-signing Gonzalez, Hill, and Bailey, if the price is right, but I don’t feel overpaying is in any way necessary for those three. No need, in my view, to resign Avila, as Garver has to be better next year…doesn’t he? I should add that Gonzalez is a very steady player, he is a valued defender all around the field, but his bat is…well…mediocre. For a steady defense and a mediocre bat, we can have Adrianza, at far less money.
So, there it is. The Twins need to make a big trade, they need to change the culture a bit (I mean, do we really need more proof that what’s being done isn’t working)? What’s the worst that can happen? A first round beat-down in the playoffs? We can handle that. Let’s try a little something different. There are many solid pieces in place, I think Levine and Falvey have done a good job, I’m not suggesting a complete overhaul, but I am suggesting some fairly serious tweaks…we can’t just do what we’ve been doing.
Let’s look in the mirror. When I look in the mirror I see an old man who once had unlimited potential, but who now has lots and lots of limitations. Thinking that I’m the same person I once was who may grow up to be President, simply isn’t productive (spoiler alert, I didn’t grow up to be President). The truth is, if I want to do something more than what I’m presently doing, I’d have to be willing to make some changes and take some risks, otherwise, my friends would be right to tell me to stop whining about a reality I’m unwilling to change.
The Twins, for me, need to take a similar metaphorical look into that mirror. If they want to do things in the same way, with the same players (many with unlimited potential) then next year after a quick playoff exit, we should simply accept that the evidence proves that “pretty good” or “good enough” is fine. If they want more, then they’ll need to make some changes. Some of those changes might even backfire, but at least they will have tried. So…stop whining, accept being a good regular season and a terrible playoff team…or….make some changes. I’ll love you either way, but I’m growing weary of blaming injuries and unrealized potential year in and year out…I mean, it’s what we do, but I’m more than ready to try for something more, even if it doesn’t work out the way we planned.