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AL Central: Who's Now? Not the Twins
Does, um, anyone want to win this division?
The Indians and Tigers are tied atop the AL Central with 65-53 records, but neither has the luxury of falling back on a wild-card lead should they fail to win the division, as both New York and Seattle are now two games up. Cleveland seems to be falling apart, after failing a big test and getting swept at home by the Yankees this weekend. And Detroit, with 14 consecutive games against sub-.500 teams, went 5-9 and are just 8-17 in its last 25 and are reeling as they enter tonight's start of a two-game set with Cleveland.
Sounds like time for the annual second-half Twins surge, right?
Not this year. They've lost seven of eight and are still kicking around at the edge of contention, seven games behind the co-leaders, but seemingly disinterested in charging forward. Not fully out of it, not quite in it. And that's exactly Johan Santana's problem.
Sorry I'm a little late on this -– it'll teach me to go on even a small vacation during the season -– but Minnesota's two-time Cy Young winner expressed his unhappiness with Twins management after Luis Castillo was dealt at the trade deadline for two low-level prospects. The move saved Minnesota $2 million in payroll and hurt the team's (outside) chances at contending this season, leading Santana to rant about the move and general manager Terry Ryan's philosophy.
Santana said a lot of things, ranging from "That's why we're never going to go beyond where we've gone" to "I respect all the decisions they make, but I won't say that they're right all the time" and "from seeing that we're not even trying from the top to the bottom -– I don't think it's a good sign."
Amidst all the ace's critical words of Twins management -– "these guys upstairs," as Santana put it -– none was more troubling than this: "They protect their young players. They protect their organization, their roots, everything. But I guess I won't be a part of it. A lot of guys don't feel like they can be part of it, and they have to move on."
It comes as no surprise that Santana likely won't return to Minnesota after his contract expires at the end of 2008. For many it's a foregone conclusion that Santana will be pitching the 2009 home opener in either the new Yankee Stadium or the Mets' new Citifield, rather than sticking around Minneapolis for the 2010 opening of the Twins' new downtown stadium.
But these comments seemed well-considered and almost well-rehearsed, almost like Santana's been waiting to deliver these lines, to build a body of evidence for why he's unlikely to accept a hometown discount to stay with the Twins.
What's curious about Ryan's dealings -– and where Santana likely makes a good point -– is why the Twins aren't more eager to compete now. I understand that they don't have the payroll to make a big splash. Santana's contract alone was likely going to be worth the value of the franchise before plans were finalized on a new park.
But I also understand that in Santana, Joe Nathan, Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer that the Twins have arguably have the four best players at their position in the AL. It's hard to find a better core of players to build around. They locked up Mauer with a four-year contract before season started, and Morneau isn't eligible for free agency until 2011. Yet Nathan and Santana have contracts set to expire at the end of 2008, and Torii Hunter will walk at the end of this year. Why go halfway? Maybe the Twins think Alexi Casilla can step right in for Luis Castillo at second, but if you're going to be a seller at the deadline, why not also move Hunter since he's likely to skip town at the end of the year for free?
Twins management seems perfectly willing to hold onto a few big names that will keep the team competitive and draw fans to the park, but they seem wholly uninterested in taking the plunge to really make a run at a title. On one hand they have star power; on the other hand Nick Punto (.208 /.301 /.271) is still their everyday third baseman, they haven't found a power upgrade for corner outfielder Jason Kubel (.248/.307/.405) and Carlos Silva is still a major part of their rotation.
Talk about mixed signals. It's like trying to date a girl who can't make up her mind whether she's interested or not. You'll have a great time, I don't know, say, three times out of nine (i.e. at bats by Hunter, Mauer and Morneau); twice you'll have a fun, nothing-special kind of date with the girl (i.e. Michael Cuddyer and Castillo/Casilla); and on the rest of your dates the girl will show almost no interest in getting on base whatsoever (Punto, Kubel, Jason Tyner/Lew Ford and Jeff Cirillo). It's a maddening existence, to be sure.
Though it's a sound business strategy to always be in contention without ever mortgaging the future to acquire a big name at the expense of prospects, it's not necessarily the most sound baseball strategy if you're targeting a World Series title. Sure, the Twins keep churning out quality young players, but at the pace they're working, they'll never have enough overlap among those players in their prime, especially considering the occasional injury or two (ahem, Francisco Liriano). Frankly, we might not be having this conversation if Liriano were still in the rotation, but every team has its share of bad luck.
As always, it's hard to argue with a team that's won the division four of the last five years, even if only once in that stretch have they advanced beyond the first round and never have they reached the World Series. But it is easy to argue with a team seemingly willing to let the game's best pitcher walk away disgruntled.
Labels: AL Central
posted by SI.com | View comments |
The Twins did win the World Series in 87 and 91.
as a minnesotan i want to say that i'm sick of the small market excuse for why the twins a) needed to move in the 90s b) needed to be contracted in first part of this decade c) can't afford to keep this talented nucleus together.
twins owner Carl pohlad loves to cry poverty, but it just isn't true. first of all, the twin cities metro really isnt a small market. at over 3 million people, it's more like a medium market. (it's also one of the wealthiest cities per capita in the US) examples of franchises in smaller or similar sized markets who have consistently spent more than the twins include the Cardinals, Orioles and D-Backs.
Furthermore, Pohlad is one of the wealthiest people in america. to give some perspective, here are some pro sports owners who have been quite willing to spend and are worth less than pohlad.
glen taylor (MN Timberwolves)
note: didn't count guys like arte moreno or george steinbrenner, who are worth less but have advantage of being in truly large mrakets.
can pohlad afford to sign santana? yes. does he want to? no. i guess that's how he got so rich in the first place. no wonder minnesotans were so resistant to a publicly financed stadium.
not to nitpick, but who's means 'who is'. 'Whose' shows possession. of course, it's possible you meant "who is now" but i doubt that.
as for the post, i think that Santana should stick around and it's a shame he'll walk. but the moves by the Twins suggest they have accepted that they can't afford him, even though keeping him means they'll be better and thus make more money on tix. hell -- if they pushed for this postseason they'd have more money. it bothers me how easily organizations move on when players who help win and thus help generate revenue are shipped off as cost. we've seen it here in Philly alot too.
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