The Little Engine that…

13 Apr

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After the Twins lost a 10-5 decision to the Kansas City Royals on Wednesday afternoon, all I could think about is The Little Engine that Could. “I think I can. I think I can.” Toot! Toot!

I have to be honest. There are days and times when I really, really miss the Twins being the little engine that could. I know many Twins fans would be frustrated back then with all of those “pitching and defense” philosophies. I got annoyed with the “One Game at a Time” theory. I know that we always hated that the Twins would need two or even three hits bunched together to score a run while other teams just sat back and scored two or three with one swing of the bat.  

Although we said we didn’t like the “Small Market” moniker, we took some pride in it. We may not have the big names and the big contracts, but you know what, we’ll out work you and out hustle you. (We’re… Scrappy!) We are going to have players that “do the little things right,” and make some things happen. We have a team that may not have the big name pitchers, but our defense will make all of the plays behind them, including some that will be spectacular! Remember how often Nick Punto and the Twins made appearances on Web Gems? Phrases like “Battled their tails off” seemed to represent the team so accurately.

Yes, there are days, like today, that I miss those teams. However, now the Twins are not a small market team. They’re not even a mid-market team. They are the team with the stars, the big name players with big-money contracts. The Twins 2011 payroll comes in at a robust $113,237,000. The team that outplayed and out-scrapped, and did more little things right today was the Kansas City Royals, a team whose payroll comes in at just $38,176,000. Have the Twins become too big for their britches?

The Royals are expected to lose 95 or more games this year, yet they are currently 7-4 while the Twins are 4-7. They have a lot of guys that other teams either gave up on or simply didn’t want. They came to the Royals because they will be given a chance to play. They likely know they are stopgaps while the organization waits for the likes of Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Wil Myers, John Lamb, Mike Montgomery, Cristian Colon, Chris Dwyer, Danny Duffy and several more to develop. In fact, Royals fans can’t wait for that group of prospects to arrive.

Guys like Melky Cabrera and Jeff Francoer, Wilson Betemit, Bruce Chen and Jeff Francis, are playing for their careers beyond 2011. Alex Gordon is playing for a chance to show he can play big league baseball. This team is not real high on talent (although Gordon, Butler and Soria may argue that), but they have a guys who are playing for their careers. That means something.

At the same time, we are also seeing the first wave of those highly regarded and discussed prospects. The Royals bullpen contains hard-throwers Aaron Crow, “Tiny” Tim Collins and Jeremy Jeffress (one of the players they acquired for Zach Grienke). In this two game series, Twins fans go to see what kind of talent these guys have. Crow is the only one of those three to crack Baseball America’s top 10 Royals prospect list, at #9. Those guys are pitching to show that they belong.

The Royals have two players on long-term contracts (not counting Jason Kendall’s weird two year, $6 million deal). Billy Butler signed a 4 year, $30 million deal in the offseason. Joakim Soria’s contract guaranteed him $8.75 million from 2009 through the 2011 season, but it also contains three very team-friendly options.

Meanwhile, the Twins have plenty of players on multi-year deals for huge dollars. Joe Mauer is signed and will get $23 million a year through 2018. Justin Morneau will get $14 million a year through 2014. Carl Pavano will get $8.5 these next two years. Denard Span is signed through 2014. Nick Blackburn and Tsuyoshi Nishioka are signed through 2013.

That’s not to say that the Twins don’t have players who are playing for something. Mauer is likely trying to prove that he’s worth the money. Morneau is trying to come back from his concussion. Pavano is trying to show that his year-and-a-half with the Twins has not been a fluke. Span and Blackburn are trying to show that their 2010 seasons were the anomaly. Also, Joe Nathan is a.) trying to prove he is back from Tommy John surgery, and b.) playing for his 2012 option or for some other team to pay him in 2012. Jason Kubel, Michael Cuddyer and Matt Capps are free agents after this season. Delmon Young and Francisco Liriano are playing for either a big final arbitration day pay raise or a multi-year contract. Nishioka is trying to prove that he can play in the big leagues. The same is probably true for Alexi Casilla. Brian Duensing is trying to prove he can be a starter for a full season. Danny Valencia is playing to avoid a sophomore slump. Luke Hughes is trying to prove he belongs.

And frankly, Ron Gardenhire is a tremendous manager and has proven himself over and over again. Some of his best work was motivating those young players and the second (or third, or fourth) tier talent players to play together, and in the end, to win. When expectations are low, the Twins have consistently come through. The question has become can he again find a way to motivate a lot of veteran ball players that should not need any motivation.  I always laugh when people say that part of a manager’s job is to motivate his players. Again, if a player is in the big leagues and can’t be motivated, it says a lot more to me about the player than the manager. All reports are that while Gardy will back his players all day on the field and to the media, behind closed doors, he can tell it like it is. That’s a good thing.

So, a lot of Twins fans, myself included, are a little frustrated by the play of the Twins through their first 11 games. The offense hasn’t consistently hit. There are a lot of players who are off to slow starts. We see the Royals and Indians near the top of the division and wonder why the Twins aren’t playing better. Many are questioning the effort of this Twins team. As much as there are times when this team can look lethargic and play poorly, I think it’s pretty dangerous to question a person’s effort.

I don’t think the effort should be questioned unless you have some sort of proof that a player is not giving their best. That said, a staple of those Twins teams last decade was always defense. And when you trot out a lineup that has Jason Kubel in right, Delmon Young in LF, Michael Cuddyer at 2B, and few (if any) guys that have above average range, there are going to be days like today. Days when a bunch of hits trickle through the infield “just passed” an infielder. Days when the outfielder comes up just short and the ball drops in.

It’s not about effort. I am a Michael Cuddyer apologist, and I won’t apologize for it. But I do get annoyed when I hear or read people bashing Michael Cuddyer for his defense at 2B. First of all, it is absolutely commendable that he is willing to do whatever is asked of him. Second, his effort level at the plate and at 2B is very high. And finally, and maybe most importantly, He is Not a Second Baseman. So, bashing him for not being as good as we would hope at a position he simply isn’t, makes no sense to me. Or, you can question his range in right field when he doesn’t get to balls that other right fielders might, but that isn’t about effort. Same with Jason Kubel.

People can and do question Joe Mauer’s intensity level. Occasionally, I even spend time annoyed when I see more weak ground balls to second base and not blocking pitches in the dirt. People want him to be more demonstrative on the field, want him to be more vocal in the media and say something more controversial. Would that make him a better player? Would that make him a better teammate? And, we don’t know what happens, what he says, when the media isn’t around. Maybe he is a terrific, but quiet leader. He is who he is, and what that has been is a great baseball player, which is all that he is paid to be. Forcing him to be something he isn’t, is not the best thing.

The funny thing is that the same people that complain about the Twins defense, also complain when Jason Repko or Drew Butera are in the lineup.

As this team is comprised right now, it is no longer a scrappy, hard-nosed team. They are now a highly paid, veteran roster. They don’t have players that take the extra base and force the other teams to make plays. They won’t have any Gold Glovers (other than Joe Mauer who has been based on reputation). But, they really didn’t have those guys last year either. And last year’s team was tremendous, won a lot of games.

Bringing in another children’s story, there is the tortoise and the hare. The Royals are out to a faster start than the Twins. So is Cleveland. The Twins are off to a slow start. Does that change my thoughts of what the standings will look like at the end of this season? Of course not! The Royals are going to lose 95 to 100 games. Cleveland is going to lose 88-94 games. The Twins are going to win 88 to 94 games. Why?

Here’s a little secret that people forget sometimes… Those “little engine that could”, small market Minnesota Twins teams that surprised a lot of people and won division titles… They also had more talent than the higher-paid teams that they beat. Likewise, the now big market, high salary Minnesota Twins team has so much more talent than those teams. In the end of a 162 game season, that all plays out. The White Sox have had big ups and downs already this young season. The Tigers too.

In the end, talent (along with health and a bit of luck) is what wins over time. They’re not what they once were. They are no longer that scrappy team, and that team that does all the little things right, anymore. This Twins team has talent. They’re off to a slow start. That is all!  

Any thoughts?

LAST NIGHT’S PODCAST – The Twins game ended with about a minute left in the Weekly Minnesota Twins Podcast. It was great to catch up with New Britain starter David Bromberg for a fun 15 minute discussion. Check out the podcast. The next will be Twins Minor League Weekly on Thursday night at 10.

MINOR LEAGUE UPDATES – I will update the Wednesday games that are not complete as they become complete. Minor League Hitter of the DayTo Be Determined,

Seth Minor League Pitcher of the DayTo Be Determined,

Red Wings Ramblings

Wednesday – Red Wings, Lehigh Valley – Rained out on Wednesday. Double-header scheduled for Thursday. Anthony Slama is in Rochester and will be activated before those games.  

Rock Cats Report

Wednesday – Game 1 – Rock Cats 7, Harrisburg 1 – Game starts at 6:05 central time tonight. Deolis Guerra will start for the Rock Cats. Updates will be provided following the game.

Miracle Matters

Wednesday – Miracle 3, St. Lucie 5 – As mentioned, Dan Osterbrock returned to the Miracle after starting the season on the DL. The lefty went 2.1 innings and gave up two runs on four this. He did not walk any and struck out two. He was relieved by St. Thomas grad, Matt Schuld, who went the next three innings. He was not charged with any runs (although he came into the game and allowed one inherited runner to score), on three hits and two walks. He struck out three. Andrew Albers then came in and gave up one run on three hits. He struck out two. Despite throwing three guys who joined the team before the game (so terrific job by them!), the game went to the 9th inning tied at three. Dakota Watts came in and gave up two runs on two hits to take the loss. The bats had a hard time getting going. Jeurys Familia made the start. He gave up one run on one hit in six innings. He walked two and struck out six. Through his first two starts, the 21 year old right-hander has allowed two hits, two walks and one run in 13 innings. Danny Rams had two of the team’s four hits. He had a double and a triple along with a walk. The other two hits were from Anderson Hidalgo, and one of those was a double.  

Snappers Bites

Wednesday – Snappers 1, Clinton 0 – BJ Hermsen will start for the Snappers at home tonight in a game that starts at about 6:30. Updates will be provided following the game.

Feel free to leave your thoughts, questions or comments.


16 Responses to “The Little Engine that…”

  1. TT April 13, 2011 at 6:51 pm #

    Seth –

    I don’t disagree with this. But talented, well-paid veterans can do the little things right as easily as guys with less talent and lower salaries. There is nothing inevitable about high pay that prevents players from taking the extra base.

    That said, its possible we are seeing a team that is less than the sum of its parts. Its one thing when you have outstanding defense to tell pitchers to throw strikes. To build a pitching staff around guys who put the ball in play and let their defense do their jobs. But its quite another to do that when you have guys who are going to let a lot of those balls go for hits.

    So there may be a disconnect between as strategy of encouraging pitchers rely on their defense and then choosing players based on their bats.

    You are right. Cuddyer isn’t a second baseman. So what was he doing out there? The answer is Gardy wanted to keep his bat in the lineup. Instead of a defense that saves you runs, the Twins have a defense that gives them up. And that is a bad sign on a team with pitchers who don’t strike out a lot of batters.

    Of course, if they were hitting the way they are supposed to it would be a lot less critical …

    • mike wants wins April 14, 2011 at 8:10 am #

      Odd day….I think i agreed with every word in that post.

    • Kunza April 14, 2011 at 9:46 am #

      Great post!

  2. HektorHawkins April 13, 2011 at 6:55 pm #

    Great Post Seth! So true! Totally different squad. I think people forget what this squad could do, and will do once they get hot. Could be absurd #’s we see from this lineup. Absurd!

    And as for the Royals & Indians–My good friend @jakenyberg put it last night. “Two weeks out of the year it’s great to bean Indians or Royals fan…..”

    Awesome post!

  3. Jeff Olson April 13, 2011 at 7:02 pm #


    This team NEEDED to be shaken up after last season’s playoff debacle, and it wasn’t. Kubel needed to be gone. Cuddyer too (although that would have taken some guts). In Target Field, the Twins need another defender out there…a stud CF who can hit a little and get Span to LF. Young can play RF. They needed a DH like Adam Dunn to hit cleanup every day between M and M. They needed a backup catcher who can hit the ball. They needed another option up the middle in case Plan A (Casilla and Nishioka) fails. They needed a shake up, and Smith and Gardy decided to go STATUS QUO (except Gardenhire said they needed speed up the middle and ended up weakening it). If the team isn’t going to contend this year, hopefully they will blow pieces up and retool for next year. It’s a disappointing start, but not a surprising one…I pretty much called it.

    • J Boone April 13, 2011 at 7:20 pm #

      I agree with you, Seth. But I also agree with TT. The true test of Gardy as a manager is going to be how he handles players who aren’t trying to impress him or play for their jobs. Can he still demand that the little things be done right?

      All the people who are in panic mode need to put money on Cleveland to win the World Series.

      • TT April 13, 2011 at 7:31 pm #

        The story that really struck me was Gardy saying he was considering using Hughes at shortstop. A middle infield of Cuddyer and Hughes is not something he would have considered at all five years ago. And its alarming that he would consider it now.

      • Seth April 13, 2011 at 7:32 pm #

        The manager shoulnd’t have to motivate, but unfortunately, when players don’t perform, and teams don’t perform to the expect levels, it is the manager that goes. That won’t, and shouldn’t, happen with Gardy.

        I said often in the offseason that if you stay the same, you go backwards… because players get older and other teams try to get better.

        Gardy suggested the speed angle in an attempt to get back to what they were. It’s about personnel, and the Twins don’t have the personnel to be a speed, take the extra base (often) kind of team.

  4. TT April 13, 2011 at 8:44 pm #

    ” It’s about personnel, and the Twins don’t have the personnel to be a speed, take the extra base (often) kind of team.”

    That isn’t really true. Being aggressive on the base paths is a relative thing. You don’t expect Jim Thome to advance on the same play as Span or Casilla. But you do expect him to take the extra base when its possible.

    As for the manager’s responsibility, the manager decides what gets drilled and how hard. These guys all know how to play the game, but doing it every day for a 162 games a year is hard. Someone needs to figure out how to keep stuff fresh. That’s the manager’s job.

  5. Jack Martin April 13, 2011 at 8:54 pm #

    The Twins sort of get what they deserve. They have a completely new middle infield for the 5th year in a row? Strange for a team which prides itself on defense. How suprising can Casilla’s struggles really be? Irrespective to his offense, he’s barely played shortstop in the majors. He wasn’t even an above average 2nd baseman. Certainly never been a player who seems headsy or instinctively baseball smart and now your asking him to be your shortstop?

    Their refusal to do anything on the free agent market is also worth noting. They refuse to spend a dime on the bullpen. It’s worked for them the past 2 seasons before and after the deadline to upgrade but it’s pretty risky to rely on Hughes, Perkins, Manship and Burnett to get big outs in any month. The bullpen really hasn’t been an issue yet but it’s hard to imagine it’s not going to run into problems when their starters rarely make 7 innings.

    Truth be told, I think they will win the division but they dont have any chance at winning a world series because without exception the team the does has stalwart starting pitching and or a lockdown, airtight bullpen. The Twins have neither and show no willingness to aquire any.

  6. mike wants wins April 14, 2011 at 8:18 am #

    1. I don’t care about effort. Any of us could put out effort. It is about results and production.

    2. You’ve said yourself, Seth, that the Twins no longer do the little things well. The longer Gardy is in charge, the worse it gets. This can’t be a coincidence. Either the minor league staff needs overhauling or the major league staff does, but something is wrong.

    3. Everyone raves about the Twins’ minor league system, but their ability to draft and develop infielders should be embarrassing for them.

    4. The loss of Nishi is big, I think. Not just from a production standpoint, but also from a mental one. This team has to know that they have no good options.

    5. Pitching to contact with this defense is bad strategy. Telling your only strikeout pitcher not to try to strike people out is, well, I am trying not to use a mean word here…..

    6. I still think they will win 88 games (and yes, that is a two game drop….).

    • Kunza April 14, 2011 at 9:47 am #


  7. Jon April 14, 2011 at 8:36 am #

    Seth – Is Liam Hendricks hurt or something? 2 games in and only 2.2 IP, that seems off.

    • Han Joelo April 14, 2011 at 5:31 pm #

      He started a game that got rained out after 1 inning, and then came in a couple days later in relief, presumably to “get some work in.” Right, Seth?

  8. waterface April 15, 2011 at 2:18 pm #

    are we all forgetting that cuddyer’s number one position was as a second baseman before the twins moved him all around to get him a spot that he would perform at?


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