Apr 12, 2010

Off-Season Perspective Part IV: Winning Moves Around the Edges: The Twins Perspective

The Minnesota Twins have been a "small market" team in this decade and they have always subscribed to their own philosophy (for better or for worse). I am reminded of their small market designation because of the inane discussion that Joe Morgan and Jon Miller had last night on Sunday Night Baseball on ESPN.

At this point, the Cardinals/Brewers game seemed to be out of reach (7-1 or so) and because it was ESPN, the announcers like to go on tangents about broader topics. Miller was remarking how the Brewers made the playoffs in '08 and still could be competitive and they were in a small market. He then likened that success to the Twins and A's (pre-2007). Joe Morgan disagreed. With the opening of tbe Twins' new ballpark, Morgan opined that the Twins weren't a small market team.

He said (and I paraphrase): small market is just a label that teams use. They say they're small market when they can't sign a guy or to get revenue sharing, and they don't say they're small market when they can sign a guy. They signed Mauer, they're not a small market team.

Miller disagreed, saying, look the Yankees infield makes more than the entire Milwaukee roster put together. And Morgan replied to the effect that if the Brewers resigned Fielder, they're no longer small market. I lost track at that point because the reasoning and structure were just so awful and without thought.

Oh yes, the Twins. The Twins have been successful with a basically homegrown core (Mauer, Morneau, Cuddyer, Kubel, Span, Baker, Perkins, Blackburn, Slowey, Crain....etc) and surrounding them with low-cost veterans. In the past, their choices were not, how you say, efficient. They installed Juan Castro as a starting shortstop one year and cycled Livan Hernandez out there every five days to get sent to the showers early.

They still love Nick Punto in Minnesota for some reason (his spectacular diving plays, I guess), but they've started to surround their core with low-cost productive veterans and that is the difference. This year, they acquired a (hopefully) re-incarnated JJ Hardy to man shortstop and they signed a completely capable and cast aside Orlando Hudson to replace the black hole of offense they had in 2009 at 2B (Alexei Casilla had a 44 OPS+). Carl Pavano has also decided to pitch and become a capable 3rd/4th starter. Jim Thome was signed for good measure just in case someone was foolish enough to bring in a right handed reliever in for a crucial situation.

The focus of the team is Mauer. He is a gold glove winning, batting title winning, leading the league in OPS catcher. He's basically Johnny Bench with less power and more average hitting capabilities. Morneau, Cuddyer, and Kubel give credible presence in the middle of the order and they have a speedy outfielder who gets on base. Who let the sabermetricians into the front office? Denard Span hits leadoff and has a career .385 OBP...ideal.

The pitching even with the loss of Nathan as closer has enough depth to cover the hole. Even a league average 86% save conversion rate (a decrease from Nathan's otherworldly one) would cost the Twins 2-3 wins over an entire season. Plus, Pat Neshek is back. Who doesn't love the sidearming Pat Neshek?

All in all, the Twins built a team to compete for a division title this year and next year, small market or no.

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