No matter what happens tomorrow and the rest of the season, Minnesota Twins fans can rest assured that things are in good shape for next season. Unlike seasons past, this Twins team is actually built for success in the postseason...if they can just manage to get there.
That's what makes this latest postseason chase so disappointing: I like this team as is, right now. When I called for Twins GM Bill Smith to step up on July 28, just days before the trading deadline, few if any Twins fan, myself included figured on anything special besides the same old excuses.
In fact, I continued my rant by writing the article "Grading Twins' GM Bill Smith's Trade Deadline Performance," where I gave Smith a "C" since he hadn't added the starting pitcher the team so desperately, and obviously, needed, in addition to several bullpen arms, which was then actually the Twins' biggest weakness.
I noted a "B" would have been given if he added a starting pitcher or a reliever and an "A" if he basically added both.
Well, a surprise Aug. 1 waiver claim turned out to be starter Carl Pavano, who went 4-4 with a 4.50 ERA in 11 starts with the Twins, and the bullpen help came on Aug. 27 with a waiver claim for reliever Jon Rauch 4-1 2.08 ERA in 14 outings and 13.2 crucial innings, helping out a dead and ineffective bullpen. Even more reassuring, this near seven-foot stud is already signed for $2.9M next year, courtesy of an earlier option picked up by Arizona, from whence he came.
Also, the Twins have added 38-year-old veteran southpaw Ron Mahay, who has gone 1-0 with a 2.25 ERA since joining the club. With those moves, in addition to the Cabrera signing, the "C" I initially gave the GM Smith is now easily an "A".
The thing is, for the first time in years, the Twins were given a real, legitimate fighting chance thanks to their GM's real moves. Not since the overused 2003 steal of Shannon Stewart from the always-fledgling Blue Jays had the Twins done anything significant at the deadline, and now they added three real impact veterans in an unfathomable fashion. Smith, to his credit, should be rewarded, and as I've been telling my friends, I was wrong and I admit it.
This is why to see this latest miracle run (13 out of 16 wins) fall short would be so disappointing as in the other usual excuse-creating years. Cabera and Pavano are both free agents-to-be that have done everything we've asked as fans.
Cabrera, just by taking at-bats away from manager Ron Gardenhire's pet—Nick Punto, who's hitting a whopping .232 despite being paid $4.25 million this year—already proved to be a worthy move. Not only that, but his on-base percentage of .299 and batting average of .272, while not flashy, are some of the best offensive numbers the Twins have gotten out of that position in years, proving what a revolving door, and how mediocre at best, its been, thanks in large part to Pet Punto.
On a team where defense is usually the mantra for shortstops, Cabrera gave the Twins a fighting chance every time he came up not to mention many exciting hits in his 54 games since. There has to be a way to keep him for next year.
Projected Payroll $90M next year?
Thanks to the Twins' new $512-million dollar open-air stadium next year, rumors abound that the Twins could have a payroll around $90M next season, which could be enough to keep Pavano and Cabrera, both of whom, I'm hearing, the Twins will do everything they can to accommodate, especially if you heard Peter Gammons on ESPN on Tuesday. Gammons has also been saying all along to prepare for a one-game playoff in Minneapolis vs. Detroit on Tuesday...
What should/could that team look like based on 2010 salary projections?
1B Justin Morneau: $13M.
2B Punto: $4.25M (by default to justify his salary and "gold glove" defense).
SS Cabrera: $4-5M (I'd offer one-year $4M or one-year $5M with an option year for the 34-year-old).
3B Joe Crede: Retain @ $3M, or a similarly priced vet or rookie Danny Valencia ($400K).
C Joe Mauer: $23M (new contract similar to Johan Santana deal with Mets).
Total infield cost: about $47M with Crede
CF Carlos Gomez: $1M (arbitration).
RF Denard Span: $1.5M. Span is arbitration-eligible, although the Twins would be wise to lock him up soon.
LF Michael Cuddyer $10.5M (option expected to be picked up; better lock up my favorite player soon, who apparently wants to retire a Twin).
DH Jason Kubel: $2.75M.
Delmon Young: $2M. I hope he stays, as he's still only 24 and, at worst, provides good depth.
Jose Morales: $450K.
Brendan Harris: $1M.
Matt Tolbert/Valencia or another filler: $450K.
Total hitting cost: about $67M
Scott Baker: $3 million, part of the four-year $15.25 steal they signed him for earlier this year.
Nick Blackburn: $2M (arbitration).
Kevin Slowey: $450K.
Carl Pavano $6M (I'd offer something in the range of two years for $12M or three years for $15M).
Brian Duensing: $450K.
Total cost: $12M.
Jesse Crain: $2M.
Matt Guerrier: $2M.
Closer Joe Nathan: $11.5M.
Pat Neshek: $450K.
Jose Mijires: $450K (the best bargain in baseball).
Jon Raush: $2.9M.
Francisco Liriano: $1M. Better be a one/two-inning "specialist" only; if I'm GM, he's in AAA.
Pen cost: $20.5M
Total payroll: $67M+$12M+$20.5M=$99.5M
Now obviously, this is $9M over budget, meaning they are going to have to do some tweaks here and there. Maybe $1M less for Cabrera and Pavano, and ask Mauer to take $20-21M, so that the Twins can better build around him. Third base could be a savings of 2.5M alone if they go cheap with a rookie or defer some of the new contract with Mauer (and maybe a re-done Cuddyer deal?)
This is why to lose this year would be so frustrating since I really like this team and, as I've said before, what a waste it would be for the probable league MVP, Joe Mauer, to be sitting at home when his best years here are being waste along with Morneau's, which, before this year, was the front office's fault.
Additionally, this very well could be the Twins' final run together as a group with Mauer's likely departure to Boston or New York following 2010 as I project regrettably, due to economics. The only question I have been asking is, how long will it take for Mow-wa to pick up that awful New York or Boston accent?
Division Looks Favorable Next Year
This isn't meant to be a throw-in-the-towel piece, but with the way Cleveland went into sell-off mode, unless they are planning an unlikely 1993-ish signing of all their prospects they got in return for Cliff Lee, Pavano, Ben Fransico, Ryan Garko (who was always a Twins killer), and Victor Martinez, this team is basically Grady Sizemore and that's it ,with a 90-loss season like this one in their future for next year.
Chicago on the other hand, is cash-strapped with the Jake Peavy four-year, $52M and Alexei Ramirez five-year, $55M salary additons. Couple this with the loss of locker room leader and fellow Twin-killer Jim Thome, whose stay with L.A. will be short due to no-DH and the hitting gets weaker, too. Now, I expect Thome to return to Cleveland in a Ken Griffey Jr.-esque "farewell tour," but as for the White Sox, this, with the loss of the affordable Jermaine Dye ($5M), another Twins killer, is going to make their path to the playoffs much easier next year. Notice a theme?
Kansas City has proven to me to be inept, even after I gave them a chance.
With some luck and skill, the Twins should win about 2:1 against these three teams leading to around 36 divisional wins alone, not counting the Tigers, who they usually do right around split with (11 out of 18 this year). Even a 10/8 split with the Tigers would give them 46 divisional wins before their usual flame-out against the AL beasts Yankees and Red Sox, for whom they always bend over.
Playoff Preview Different than Years Past?
In their last 27 regular-season games versus the Yankees, in New York, the star-struck Twins have lost 24 of them; look it up. Playing in that new palace or the old hallowed House that Ruth built, caused the peach-fuzz Twins to soil themselves.
However, much of that mess from the July series—R.A. Dickey, Craig Breslow, and crybaby Glen Perkins—are gone, complete with three Yankee-mystique walk-off hits, which single-handedly turned the Evil Empire's season around.
Additionally, Pavano, Cabrera, Rauch, and Mahay weren't there so its likely they are immune from the Yankee-itis the Twins suffer from each regular or postseason, giving me reason for optimism if they can just make it first.
Finally, annual playoff choker, Justin Morneau, another star-struck hitter, is currently out for the rest of the regular season with declining numbers caused by a "bad back." So, its likely he wouldn't be back for the first round of the playoffs vs. the team of high-priced whores, like Traitor Tex.
Divisional Games More Meaningful
Let's take it one game at a time andMLB's Last Chance at a True Spoiler" target="_blank"> remember that Major League Baseball doesn't want you here.
Take care of business and leave the rest to the White Sox. Last year, a rivalry was renewed when the Twins played the Sox; this year, it's the Tigers who the Twins must hope to lose.
All of this is good for the game and creating extended fan interest later into the season. Additionally, it renews interest in the American League Central, an afterthought to the national media, and, finally, it causes fans to take an interest and research the cities, fans, and players of their rival teams to appreciate the rivalry, in every sense of the word, instead of just calling it such based on geographical location.
No matter what happens, the Twins are already winners, this time because their front office finally gave them a real, fighting chance now and for the future, and as fans, what more could we ask?