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Hope springs eternal, but this time we might really mean it

The winds of change are blowing in Twins Territory

Minnesota Twins Introduce Josh Donaldson Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Ed Note: Bob is the second new writer to debut today, but he’ll also be a frequent presence here at Twinkie Town.

So, there’s a trade for a starting pitcher and then there’s not a trade for a starting pitcher, and then ultimately the trade for that same pitcher actually happens. Brusdar Graterol, whose name sounds like an energy drink and a remedy for a variety of gastrointestinal maladies simultaneously, truly is leaving the Twins. Not for the Red Sox as was previously planned and announced as part of a three-team deal, but instead to the Dodgers for a more basic two team trade (perhaps we should stay with straight trades rather than parlays).

So goes the winter of our discontent. But it’s almost spring training. It’s almost time to stop binge watching Netflix and get back to baseball. Which is not to say that Netflix isn’t kind of awesome much of the time, and yet for all of the great stuff we’ve probably all been binge watching, at least since the Super Bowl, the truth is, much of it is so genuinely disturbing that we all would have been better off, had we stuck to winter sports alone. Then again, watching the Timberwolves can be every bit as disturbing as the “truth” we witnessed in the Aaron Hernandez story and the fiction we may have enjoyed in “You.” All in all, it’s time to get back to baseball and start watching the reality that results day-to-day in the type of joy and horror that documentaries or even fiction simply cannot touch.

Which brings me then to the stranger than fiction first Graterol trade—the Graterol trade that didn’t actually happen. While those of you who may read my work from here on out might not always view me as possessing an incredibly upbeat viewpoint, I choose to start this essay accentuating the positive. Even though the first Graterol trade didn’t really happen, there is a certain joy involved in knowing that the Twins tried to make a trade to improve their team immediately. I feel even giddier knowing that after the first trade fell through, Twins management found another way to get the starting pitcher from the Dodgers that they had targeted. While that might not sound like much to many fans around the league, as Twins fans we know that such a trade involving our favorite team is a rare thing indeed. We’ve spent so many years around the trade deadline hoping that we’d add a good player to put us over the hump, only to see us trade away our stars in favor of future prospects, that to actually make a trade designed not to save money and to improve us here and now, is genuinely enjoyable. The fact that it didn’t happen at first, but we kept trying until we got it right, puts us in a far different place than we typically find ourselves. So, in truth I was inclined to give management credit for even trying for a change, and now I’m definitely going to give them credit for actually trying until they got it done. I’m not opposed to them continuing this practice of trying a bit harder and spending some more money in order to make us not just regular season and central division successful, but genuinely play-off competitive. I think I could get accustomed to being a fan of a team that seems to want to win now and want to win often. Settling for being competitive every several years and for short bursts has been accepted in Twins territory for far too long, and I am hopeful that we will all begin to demand something a bit more.

I’ve read, perhaps even on this very site that the first Graterol situation with the Red Sox wasn’t like the Dyson situation that so badly torched the Twins last season. If we someday find out that this situation was kind of like the Dyson situation, then we need to simultaneously congratulate the diligence of the Red Sox medical staff, while we question our own. The fact that less than a week after the Red Sox challenged Graterol’s medical history, the Dodgers accepted him in trade, suggests that, among other things, the Red Sox wanted a way out from their initial agreement. I don’t know why they would have done such a thing, but it’s certainly not like the Red Sox to cheat or anything. Wait. Never mind.

Whether or not the prospects traded away for Dyson amount to a lot or not, the Twins got torched. Whether or not San Francisco knew Dyson had issues or not (and really how could they not), the Twins got torched. If San Francisco didn’t know, then at least we can accept that honest people make mistakes. I know the Astros and the Red Sox cheated, and over time perhaps I’ll forgive them. After all, it’s actually pretty easy to forgive those you never really cared that much about in the first place. Think of those people we all knew in high school who, if what they now post on facebook and twitter is actually representative of their thoughts, have most certainly have gone off the rails completely. It’s as if the education we seemingly shared didn’t take root in the same way for all of us. But I digress, this essay was about baseball, not life. There may not be crying in baseball, but it seems like there’s a massive amount of cheating going on, and I’m not even going down the steroids route.

By the time you read this, you’ve probably already read a lot of analysis regarding the Graterol-Maeda trade. It may prove to be a great trade, or then again Graterol could become amazing, and Maeda may falter, but however it goes, this article suggests that the trade itself may prove to be less important than the turning point it may (hopefully) indicate.

Minnesota sports fans have seen some bad trades over the years. The Herschel Walker trade may stand alone in the annals of history as being one of the all-time worst trades in NFL history. In NBA circles Kevin Garnett for Al Jefferson, which didn’t seem so atrocious at the time, is difficult to justify in hindsight. Last year the Wild almost literally gave away Nino Niederreiter, and Mikael Granlund. As horrific as the results of those trades have been, the GMs who made those trades made them in sincere, if badly misguided efforts, to improve the team. Ultimately then, when those trades were proven to be as bad as they proved to be, we were forced to question the individual judgments of the general managers and their ability to actually competently judge talent. The Twins, in contrast, haven’t made bad trades generally in an effort to improve the team (though the Matt Garza & Jason Bartlett for Delmon Young & Brendan Harris deal wasn’t a source of pride, nor was Denard Span for Alex Meyer). But the exceptions just prove the rule, that the Twins, generally made their moves primarily to save money on major league talent and re-stock the farm teams with prospects, rather than trying to improve the team on the field at the time of the trade. Our trades tended to be trade deadline deals designed to trade away players before they walked in free-agency, in order to get some return instead of no return. Some of those moves actually worked out. As much as we may have loved Brian Dozier as a player and a teammate, trading him rather than signing him to big money proved to be the right move. But that said, our Twins traditionally made trades, both good ones and bad ones, based almost entirely on dumping salary and/or saving long-term money. In some sense, running an organization that way is far safer, since we all know why the GM is making those trades, and his judgment regarding value received in return is given a bit of a pass, since we have always viewed our GMs are working under tremendous restraint. Despite the constant refrain of people in the organization, including the GMs themselves, that they were free to spend money to improve the team, the evidence simply didn’t suggest that. All of this means that while Terry Ryan, for example, may or may not have been a genius baseball man, we didn’t really hold him to a particularly high standard, as “good enough” was all we expected. A carpenter is only as good as his tools, we are told, and most of us accept that. A GM is only as good as his budget, and in baseball, without salary caps, a GM should only be expected to get the most out of the players he’s allowed to afford, rather than really getting the best team on the field. In that sense, GMs in leagues with salary caps face far more pressure, since they have to get the best team on the field, or court, or ice, that they can within the constraints of the league-wide salary caps which level the playing field for all. So, Timberwolves fans are frustrated that they really never compete (one year excepted) with the Lakers, and Knicks fans are rightly frustrated that they too, seldom compete with the Celtics in a league with “fair” rules in place. Wild fans have largely accepted mediocrity as they have little else with which to compare it. Never too hot, never too cold…just sort of…well…mediocre. Vikings fan have their own tortured history, and perhaps the Herschel Walker trade sort of symbolizes their long-standing efforts to get over the top without quite getting there. In comes Brett Favre and we almost get there, but whether it’s too many men on the field, a missed field goal, or some other calamity, we get close, but we can’t quite get there. As with the Myth of Sisyphus, the Vikings keep rolling that boulder up the hill almost reaching the summit, only to have it roll back down, forcing them to begin anew again.

The Twins don’t do that sort of thing. The Twins are who we are and who we develop from the minors, as trades have never really been part of the analysis. This trade for Maeda is such a welcome breath of fresh air, even if it proves not to work, simply because we tried, we really tried. I feel like Sally Field must have felt when she won her Oscar “you like me, you really like me!” Maybe the Twins under Falvey and Levine really like their fans and genuinely want us to like them back. I hope so. It may just mean that at this year’s trade deadline, if we are in it, but not quite where we want to be, we’ll actually look to improve the team, rather than merely dump salaries. That’s the type of comfort level that Yankees and Red Sox and Dodgers fans must always have.