Terry Ryan’s Back

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If there had been any doubt as to the new direction of the Minnesota Twins under new/old GM Terry Ryan, that was dispatched with his signings of under-the-radar, inexpensive and useful free agents Jamey Carroll and Ryan Doumit.

Under fired GM Bill Smith, the Twins signed Tsuyoshi Nishioka to a 3-year, $9.25 million deal to play shortstop not knowing how the Japanese import would react and transition to the North American game. He didn’t transition very well. In fact, he was awful in every single aspect of the game. He couldn’t field or hit. It was a terrible signing in theory and, predictably, in practice.

With Ryan in command, they’re paying less money to the long-underrated Carroll to a 2-year, $6.5 million contract and will know they’re getting an experienced and versatile veteran who can hit, field, get on base and steal a few bases.

Doumit was signed to a 1-year, $3 million deal. With Doumit, the only question about him is whether he can stay healthy. Has he overcome his concussion problems? Is his shoulder is in good enough shape to throw acceptably from behind the plate so teams won’t go crazy when he’s catching? Doumit’s a switch-hitter with some pop; he can play first base and the outfield in addition to catching and that’s precisely what the Twins—with the frequent injuries to Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau—need. They couldn’t go into the 2012 season with Drew Butera or some similar no-hit journeyman functioning as Mauer’s backup. If Doumit can catch, that frees Mauer from having to catch 20-30 games while still keeping the star’s bat in the lineup. Doumit could be another player who blossoms when he’s released from the Pirates’ purgatory and is in a venue with more structure and positivity.

Now the Twins are on the lookout for a closer and you can bet Ryan’s not going to revisit the insipid Smith idea of trading Denard Span to the Nationals for Drew Storen.

Ryan doesn’t function that way.

He’s either going to bring back Matt Capps; look for a cheaper arm on the market that’s been a closer previously; or he’ll find a pitcher that another team might be willing to trade—Luke Gregerson, Bobby Parnell, Michael Stutes, Santiago Casilla—who could conceivably close if given the opportunity.

This is Ryan’s way and it’s better than the desperate staggering around in the dark the Twins have been doing since he retired.


Joe Mauer Was In Right Field

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Joe Mauer was in right field last night because the Twins were horribly short-handed and had no choice but to stick him out there, but that’s only a symptom of the larger set of problems the club has.

To grasp how bad the Twins truly are, you have to look at their record against the mediocre AL Central.

Against the Tigers, they’re 3-9; but playing the White Sox, Royals and Indians they’re 21-14. It could be worse.

But if you see how they’ve fared against other divisions, the situation becomes clear. They’re 9-22 against the AL East. Put them in the AL East full time and they’re well on the way to losing 100 games.

They’re awful and it’s no secret why.

For a predominately successful organization, the Twins are notoriously devoid of rational thought when looking toward the future. Did they really think that giving Tsuyoshi Nishioka $9 million was a good idea? He’s what Kaz Matsui was to the Mets, only worse.

Did they have an inkling that they were going to possibly shift Mauer out from behind the plate at least part of the time last year when they traded Wilson Ramos to the Nationals for Matt Capps and didn’t find a backup who could perform more competently than Drew Butera?

Did they realize that if they did move Mauer for 20 or so games that it’s a bit difficult to function in the major leagues with Butera behind the plate?

Even if there was no immediate intent to move Mauer to first base, the outfield or have him DH 10-15 games, they should’ve had a contingency plan better than Butera just in case what happened did happen—Mauer getting hurt.

The injury excuse doesn’t gloss over the multitude of potential disasters they had when the season started.

Their bullpen was gutted; they overpaid to keep Carl Pavano; there are black holes in the lineup; they counted on repeat seasons from the likes of the recently dispatched Delmon Young and Pavano; and they’ve endured injuries to the key players Justin Morneau and Mauer.

The biggest issue they have is their pitching, which has been top-to-bottom terrible. In years past, they’ve gotten by with mostly average starters because of a deep bullpen and a lineup that could score; but considering the bullpen subtractions without adequate replacements, the bad starting pitching, the injuries and aforementioned black holes, how could they contend?

There’s been a general reluctance from the Twins to give up on seasons and they’ve been validated for that strategy by staging remarkable comebacks in 2008 and 2009; but there’s no such magic now and it was acknowledged when they dumped Young on the Tigers for a low-level minor leaguer.

They’re lucky that the trade proposal that would’ve included Denard Span going to the Nationals for Drew Storen didn’t go through.

Will they trade Jim Thome now that he’s hit his 600th homer and would be in relatively high demand for a contending club to bolster their lineup? They should. But that doesn’t mean they will.

Are the injuries to Mauer and Morneau as much of a factor in this disappointing season as has been implied by those who were expecting a “normal” season from the Twins? Only if you want to engage in “what ifs” as I have by suggesting they’d lose 100 games if they were in the AL East. If Mauer and Morneau were 100% from the beginning of the season until now, the Twins would probably be within striking distance of the top of a weak division.

But they’re not.

They’re a bad team.



Mauer’s Hometown Discount?

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I didn’t hear it but evidently Mike Francesa was talking about Joe Mauer and the Twins on yesterday’s show and saying the Twins fans shouldn’t boo Mauer because he gave the club a hometown discount in eschewing free agency to stay in Minnesota.

So did he?

Could Mauer have gotten more money elsewhere had he decided to test the free agent waters? Should the fans be booing him? And should he switch positions?

Let’s take a look.

Should the Twins fans be booing Mauer?

Independent of the contract and concept of a “hometown discount”, Twins fans should not be booing Mauer.

He’s not 100%. That’s obvious. He’s trying to play through whatever’s ailing him—his leg weakness, foot problems, etc.—and is slumping.

Is the poor start because of injuries? Is he pressing because of the contract? Is he simply not hitting yet?

All of the above?

Mauer’s going to hit. There’s no question about that. Whether he stayed in Minnesota because of the allure of playing in his home is irrelevant. He’s not a busted free agent who showed up as a big ticket item and is faltering—he’s the face of the franchise who could’ve left but didn’t. He’s their best player; they need him to perform if they’re going to win.

Booing him is neither fair nor is it going to help his ailments and attempts to find his swing.

Should Mauer switch positions?

It may be hard for media “experts” and fans to grasp, but players tend to dislike it when outsiders are telling them what to do; what’s good for their careers and teams.

Could Mauer stay in better condition if he were playing left field, third base, first base or DHing? He wouldn’t get the beating he takes behind the plate, but such a thing is unquantifiable.

Albert Pujols and Ike Davis got hurt in collisions while playing first base; third basemen aren’t encased in the Joba Chamberlain protective sarcophagus; and the outfield has walls and teammates in which to crash.

Is the grind of catching affecting Mauer’s hitting? Only if it’s provable that his injuries come as a direct result of being a catcher. And it never affected him before when he was hitting .360.

He’s also terrific defensively behind the plate and the Twins, having traded Wilson Ramos for Matt Capps, don’t have anyone else to catch. Drew Butera‘s not even a suitable backup, let alone a starter; as the Giants have proven with the loss of Buster Posey and desperate search for someone who could be a short-term replacement, there aren’t any catchers out there.

Objectively and from the outside, is Mauer comfortable and lazy now that he’s gotten paid and has consciously decided to start milking customary aches and pains?

It’s an idiotic concept. Of course not.

If anything, he’s probably playing when he shouldn’t to justify his paycheck amid the pressures of playing near home. Stresses would’ve elicited a similar result—with different catalysts—had he signed with the Yankees or Red Sox.

Should he play 15-40 games at a different position? If it gets his bat in the lineup for another 100-150 or so at bats than he would strictly catching, absolutely.

How much could Mauer have gotten on the open market?

Put it this way: the big money teams another would all have been in on Mauer. That means the Yankees and Red Sox would both have engaged in a bidding war for the catcher.

The Yankees would’ve had to make a choice between pursuing Cliff Lee or Mauer; Mauer’s availability would’ve rendered the signing of Rafael Soriano non-existent because they wouldn’t have executed that act of disastrous desperation.

Count up the money of Lee ($150 million) Soriano ($35 million) and you’ve got something close to what the Twins paid to keep Mauer ($184 million). The Yankees would’ve found the cash to surpass the $200 million barrier it presumably would’ve taken to seal the deal if they truly wanted him and Mauer was looking for every penny he could get on the open market.

The Red Sox would’ve been after him hard as well, preferring Mauer to Carl Crawford.

Mauer knew this and chose to sign with the Twins without entering free agency; he probably cost himself another $25 million or so. At least.

While the conjoining of the “hometown discount” and booing is illogical, Francesa’s not wrong in the independent ideas. As crazy as it sounds to say that a person who’s got a guaranteed $184 million coming his way did the club a favor, Mauer actually did.

The fans should be more understanding of all factors involved with their discounted hometown hero and stop giving him all this grief.