That Was Fun! Thanks!

1 Oct

also available at www.SethSpeaks.net

So this morning in the Twin Cities, it is gray, cloudy and raining (ok, it’s pouring). It kind of seems like the perfect backdrop for Twins fans this morning, doesn’t it? Last night, the Twins lost 7-2 to the Tigers, in a game that essentially ended any playoff hopes. Sure, they are not mathematically eliminated, but they would need some serious help. Historical help. No team in baseball history has come back from three games down with four games to go to make the playoffs. I know, I have said too many times that it is over, and if any team has the ability to do the unthinkable and never give up, it is the Minnesota Twins. But Zach Greinke is pitching against the Twins on Saturday!

Although the 2009 season has generally been a story of mediocrity caused by injury and some disappointing seasons by some players, I have to say that the last three weeks have been a joy for me to watch. Maybe our expectations or hopes were too high at the start of the season. That is likely true. But if nothing else, these final three weeks give hope for 2010. There are some obvious holes in the lineup and pitching staff, but they seem correctable with an offseason. These last two weeks have been fun, and I have immensely enjoyed them.

Joe Mauer has given us another historical season. Jason Kubel took yet another step forward. Justin Morneau was a serious MVP candidate through July. Scott Baker pitched great in the middle of the season. Denard Span proved more and more people wrong and became one of the top leadoff hitters in baseball. Michael Cuddyer played the best baseball of his career in September, becoming a 30 home run hitter and providing the team with everything it needed. There are a ton of terrific stories from the 2009 season, and I just want to spend a little time thanking a couple of guys who have taken way too much grief all season (and more).

First, I think that Ron Gardenhire deserves a lot of credit for giving the Twins and opportunity this season. No, I’m not always a huge fan of some of his decisions, lineup construction, strategies or things he says to the media about young players. However, for 2009, he deserves to be noticed. Let’s just sit back and think for a minute about what this team had to overcome to be an above-.500 team.

  • Joe Mauer missed the entire first month of the season.
  • Justin Morneau missed most of the final month of the season, after playing hurt and struggling for the previous month.
  • Kevin Slowey looked like a possible All-Star selection, until he needed season-ending wrist surgery.
  • Glen Perkins struggled with injury and team relations.
  • Francisco Liriano did not take another step forward in 2009.
  • Joe Crede was a good signing and did what was expected this year. That includes getting hurt, which meant he was out of the lineup a lot, including very little playing time in the second half.
  • Nick Punto played like 2007 Nick Punto.
  • Alexi Casilla played like Alexi Casilla in all but 1st half 2008.
  • Jesse Crain had to be demoted in the first half.

And I am certain I am leaving several things out that should be included. I’m not calling Ron Gardenhire a perfect manager, but I guarantee that every fan from every big league team questions certain aspect of their manager’s approach. But there is one given with Ron Gardenhire’s teams. They don’t give excuses, and they don’t give up. They will play all 27 outs. Even over these final four games of the season, you can rest assured that the Twins will give their best effort and not quit. With all of that, Ron Gardenhire absolutely deserves consideration for AL Manager of the Year. He has finished second four times already in his career without a win. My assumption is that he will again not win. Personally, I think my vote would go to former Twin Ron Washington of the Rangers. You could also make a mini-argument for Joe Girardi. And there will be sentimental reasoning to vote for the Angels’ Mike Scioscia.  My main point is that Ron Gardenhire deserves to be in the discussion.

And secondly, GM Bill Smith and the Front Office have been the target of a ton of heat since he took over for Terry Ryan. No, the Brendan Harris/Jason Bartlett trade has not turned out well yet. The Twins haven’t received a lot of return from the Johan Santana trade (yet!). But I actually think that Bill Smith had a very good year. If you choose to, you can choose to focus on the two year contract to Nick Punto, and some “fans” will want to find fault in everything, but for today, I choose to focus on the positive. There is enough negativity already.  

  • Signing Joe Crede – He stared down Scott Boras and won. Boras wanted $7 million guaranteed for Crede, but Smith got Crede for $2.5 million plus incentives. Crede was everything we had hoped he would be. A few right-handed home runs and excellent 3B defense. Yes, he got hurt, but doesn’t that actually make the terms of the contract look even wiser?
  • Acquired Orlando Cabrera on July 31st – I’m not a big Cabrera fan, but I have to admit that he performed to the expected level when he came to the Twins. Although I don’t think he’s really a legit #2 hitter anymore, he at least gave the Twins a better option there than the Casilla, Tolbert, Harris options of earlier in the season. It shall be seen if Tyler Ladendorf develops into a big leaguer, and that is when the trade can truly be evaluated. But for 2009, not a bad trade.
  • Acquired Carl Pavano in early August – I liked this deal when it was made (for a Player to be Named Later). I thought Pavano was better than a few options the Twins were using in the rotation at that time. Well, he proved to be everything the Twins could have expected and more. He outperformed any expectations. Regardless of his performance last night, Pavano was a big reason the Twins kept it close. I like Yohan Pino and think he can be a big league long reliever, but the move worked.
  • Signed Ron Mahay in August – Mahay had been released by the Royals earlier in the week, and the Twins signed him after he became a free agent. He gave the Twins a veteran lefty out of the bullpen, and unlike Eddie Guardado the year before, Mahay performed admirably down the stretch.
  • Acquired Jon Rauch in August – the Twins were rumored to  be interested near the July trade deadline, but my assumption is that the Diamondbacks wanted a lot for him. By the end of August, the Diamondbacks were willing to deal Rauch for what essentially turned into Kevin Mulvey. Mulvey likely did not have a future with the Twins. Rauch performed well with the Twins, and he is signed for $2.9 million for 2010.
  • Signed Miguel Angel Sano – This one is one that the entire front office and scouting department deserves credit for. He was the top Latin American ball player available, and the Twins got him. The relationship they developed there helped the situation. And again, whether the 16 year old Sano turns into a star or not, this move symbolizes the club’s willingness to spend on top talent. You could add signing the top European prospect, Max Kepler, into this bullet point and other international players.
  • Drafted and Signed Kyle Gibson – the Twins were fortunate that a player of Kyle Gibson’s magnitude fell to them with the 22nd pick in the June draft. It is equally impressive that the Twins were willing to go above the suggested slot to insure that he signed. This was an excellent effort by both sides, and the Twins should be credited.
  • Signed R.A. Dickey, Sean Henn, and Bobby Keppel to minor league deals – Maybe it was necessity, but any time you sign three minor leaguers to AAA contracts and they all contribute on any level to the Twins success, you have to be happy. Dickey did a very nice job in long relief for the Twins most of the season. Until he started getting some 8th inning duties, or when he came into bases loaded situations, he was very good. Henn came up and did well for a few games. Keppel came up and was on fire for the first couple of weeks, until maybe reality set in, but he has even been solid of late in mop up situations.
  • The Moves Not Made – Twins fans were upset when certain moves were not made. I was disappointed when the Twins didn’t get Freddy Sanchez (although I wouldn’t have given up as much as the Giants did either!), and he’s having knee surgery and hasn’t helped the Giants much. I thought the Twins might have had a package to offer Seattle for Jarrod Washburn that could compete with what the Tigers offered. Washburn has been horrible and shut down by the Tigers. How about Rich Harden? People were throwing names like Rene Tosoni and BJ Hermsen in rumors, but in the couple of weeks since the end of August, he was shut down by the Cubs. You can add names like Joe Nelson, Eric Gagne and several other relievers who would have been probably worse than Luis Ayala that fans (and bloggers) wanted as well. Hey, many Twins fans, again yours truly included, thought that at the price and years that the Royals signed Juan Cruz for, it was worth a first round pick. Cruz has been horrible and the Twins got Kyle Gibson. So again, sometimes the best moves are the ones not made.

And again, I am certain that I am leaving some other moves (or non-moves) out that did not go so well for the Twins. My point is that I do think that Bill Smith and the Twins front office had a nice year. I’m looking forward to the Winter Hot Stove League where we can start dissecting each Twins move and non-move again!

Speaking of Offseason’s Winter Hot Stove – In the next few days, you will read about a project that I am incredibly excited about. John Bonnes (Twins Geek), Parker Hageman (Over the Baggy), Nick Nelson (Nick’s Twins Blog) and myself have been hard at work the last month working on another book. And as proud as we were of our TwinsCentric July Trade Deadline Primer, we are infinitely more excited about what we have about to be released. I may be slightly biased due to how much work and time spent there has been, but I think the results are a book that any Twins fan will want on their coffee table throughout the offseason. I will leave it at that for now, but please continue to check back for updates. And following the release of that project, I will begin working on the Minnesota Twins Prospect Handbook – 2010. I was immensely proud of the debut book, the 2009 version, and I am hoping that the 2010 version is even better.

Anyway, I will again be playing hooky from work this afternoon to enjoy another Twins game. Yes, I am a die-hard, and it’s the last afternoon weekday game of the year. I feel the need to be there. Any thoughts on your mind today? Feel free to leave your comments.

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15 Responses to “That Was Fun! Thanks!”

  1. mike wants wins October 1, 2009 at 9:49 am #

    Scioscia had no Mauer or Morneau, and lost much better pitchers to injury and death. His team also won a lot more games. I don’t think it is even close between him and Gardy at this point (though there are also other good to excellent candidates in TX, Sea and NYY). Serioulsy, would you trade the Twins roster for the Mariners roster? No way.

    I love how they’ve stepped up and paid some money for top prospects. It is a great sign.

  2. cmathewson October 1, 2009 at 10:03 am #

    Thank you Seth! I tried to write some of this over at Glooman’s site. I’m just amazed that the Twins are in meaningful games with four games to play considering all the injuries. This has been a fun September and I’m thankful for that.

  3. Mark October 1, 2009 at 10:13 am #

    As usual Seth you wrote a good one today and i have to agree it. I really like the things you have put out with your blog and I look forward to reading it for years to come. Thanks…Mark

  4. Joel October 1, 2009 at 11:14 am #

    I disagree with your opinion that Smith had a good year. Some moves, such as the Rauch trade, were good, but they were too little, too late. It was obvious to even the most casual fan that the reason the Twins did not win the division last year was a weak bullpen (except, of course, for Nathan). There were a number of good, reasonably priced veterans out there, plus the Twins payroll was down so there was, apparently, money there to spend. The only move Smith made in the off season was to sign Ayala. The other weakness was at second base, but, again, Smith did nothing until the 2009 season was mostly over.

    It seems to me that Smith and the Twins’ ownership is hoping to win, rather than really trying to win.

  5. doogie fresh October 1, 2009 at 11:14 am #

    Why do you and the others feel the need to separate yourselves from the other Twins bloggers? While you guys are all very popular, it seems as though you’re trying to push other blogs off the face of the earth by monopolizing your popularity.

    I say give some of the other writers a shot every once in a while too. Or at least offer to include them in your guys’ little boyscout meetings.

  6. Bucket October 1, 2009 at 11:55 am #

    Hey Seth,
    Nice article- I really enjoyed your perspectives this year, and am looking forward to the project that you guys are puting together. Yeah- the last few weeks for me have made the season enjoyable. Frustrating at times, but over all the Twins provided some good entertainment. Thanks for all your work!

  7. sportsphd October 1, 2009 at 1:19 pm #

    Very good and detailed wrap-up. My much shorter wrap is here, for those who might be interested.

    http://sportsphd.wordpress.com/2009/10/01/saying-goodbye-to-the-2009-twins/

  8. TT October 1, 2009 at 2:03 pm #

    This is about the third post-mortem look at next year that you have done and the season still isn’t over. You have all winter to discuss next year.

  9. rover27 October 1, 2009 at 2:35 pm #

    The Brendan harris for Jason Barlett trade doesn’t look good?? Are we forgetting something? Maybe the Delmom Young for Matt Garza part? Another disaster.

    Not to mention the Santana trade for 4 nobodies.

  10. Dave October 1, 2009 at 3:49 pm #

    C- for Bill Smith becomes a B if he keeps Rauch, Pavano, and Cabrera [never thought I’d add that name]. The minor league signs is the best thing we did all year. I’d trying not to be as automatically anti-Gardy as I have been anti-Nicky P, but I don’t get Seth’s increasing warmth. Agreed, the team plays hard. Nothing to casually dismiss. But the number of bone-head decisions Gardy routinely makes is astonishing. Not questionable calls but choices that make no sense, such as keeping Duensing in as long as he did and then replacing him with Keppel. Or using a right-handed pitcher against Granderson. Or starting Gomez yesterday, etc.,etc, etc.

  11. Han Joelo October 1, 2009 at 7:16 pm #

    Thanks Seth, great write up. Ardent fans are inevitably intelligent in retrospect, so obviously Smith and Gardy can be criticized by glass half-fullers. I’m sure in a few years Smith will be lambasted by some for ‘wasting’ $3 million on Sanos when he could have spent it instead on, I don’t know, acquiring J.J. Hardy, Freddy Sanchez, or Rich Harden, who I’m sure will turn out to be not injured and have a spectacular season somewhere else next year. And Gardy will be criticized for ‘ruining’ Sanos. Or maybe the opposite will turn out, but if it does the half-fullers will be focused on something else. Hard to be perfect. But, I have to say, Girardi has done a nearly perfect job of penciling in that lineup every night. Gardy won’t win the Manager of the Year–Washington deserves it–even more injuries. But Gardy is well respected and the Twins know it. But, I here Eric Wedge and Bobby Valentine are available.

    But in general I stick to your viewpoint and am thankful for a fun ride–which isn’t over yet. I wish I lived in Minnesota and could go to the game on Tuesday.

  12. mike wants wins October 1, 2009 at 8:18 pm #

    Why does anyone want to keep Pavano or Cabrera? I don’t get it at all.

  13. John Welsch October 2, 2009 at 7:57 am #

    Seth-

    As always well written and thought out. I’m not sure I would give any props to Bill Smith for the year he had at the major league level. True, if you include minor league signings the Twins future looks promising and exciting, but for Mauer, Morneau, Kubel, and Cuddyer, the future is now, and Bill did very little to improve this team for 2009, despite obvious deficiencies from spring training to the All Star break. I would agree Crede was a nice signing and we got what we paid for, but the fact is when we needed a right handed power hitting third basement down the stretch, Crede could not answer the bell. So no credit to Bill. I think everyone would agree that his late season moves needed to be done, and it was nice to see him be agressive in acquiring players, but it appears it was too little too late.

    Thanks again for all of your hard work Seth.

  14. nathangau October 2, 2009 at 7:57 am #

    I’d make one comment about Harden. He may have been shut down, but I’m fairly certain he would have made a difference in a few Ws by removing the back end of the rotation. We may not have had him for the playoffs, but we’d be in them right now had we gotten him.

  15. TT October 4, 2009 at 8:07 am #

    “Bill did very little to improve this team for 2009, despite obvious deficiencies from spring training to the All Star break”

    Does anyone really think the Twins would be tied right now without Pavano, Cabrera and Rauch? You can probably even add Mahay to that list. This is just become a standard Twins fan complaint with no substance.

    Was there more Smith could have done? Sure – he could have traded the entire farm system for rental players. But the reason the Twins are in contention is they don’t do that.

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