Now before I start this, I just want to state for the record I love Twins GM Terry Ryan. I think he is the best GM in all of baseball with the magic he has been able to perform throughout his tenure. But sometimes I just wonder if he learns from his past mistakes. Last season Ryan openly admitted (and even joked) about what a bad decision he made in bringing in Tony Batista, Rondell White, and Ruben Sierra to help give the Twins line up a little extra pop. By the end of June, these players had been replaced for the most part. White and Sierra were injured and not playing and had been replaced by Jason Tyner in left field and DH. Batista was replaced by Nick Punto (again, not your typical corner infielder). And the struggling Kyle Lohse had finally worn out his welcome in Minnesota when he and Juan Castro were shipped off to Cincinnati and replaced in their spots by Jason Bartlett and Francisco Liriano. So why is Ryan seemingly wandering down the same path of destruction?
This winter has been uneventful as usual for the Twins. The exception has been a couple of signings that seem so similar to the mistakes of last year. The first signing came when the Twins brought aboard the veteran third baseman Jeff Cirillo. Sure he’s not the risk that Batista was, but I don’t see how .319 AVG, 3 HR, 23 RBI, and 1 stolen base will be any sort of upgraded from Punto’s .290 AVG, 1 HR, 45 RBI, and 17 stolen bases. Punto did a great job for the Twins in the number two spot in the order by getting on base, moving runners across, and scoring runs. As long as Cirillo is here to play off the bench, I’m fine with it. But Punto had better be the starter on opening day.
The main move which I don’t see any benefit from was the signing of Ramon Ortiz. Here is a man who in a weaker league and in one of the biggest pitcher’s ballparks in baseball posted a 5.57 ERA. Of the 38 pitchers in the NL that qualified with enough innings to win the ERA crown, Ortiz finished second to last. In opponent batting average he finished third to last. In other words, he had a horrible 2006 and a similarly horrible 2005. So why did the Twins shell out $3.1 million and a spot in their starting rotation to a pitcher who has had such issues?
The reason seems to be one that has haunted this team for years: their inability to put faith in their young talent. They’ve been doing it for years. Look how long it took them to insert Johan Santana into their starting rotation from the bullpen. Everyone on earth knew it was time months before the Twins made the move. Look at Michael Cuddyer who finally got a chance to play everyday and put up monster numbers as their clean up hitter that they have been desperately searching for since Kent Hrbek. And look what happened when they finally trusted Punto (.290 AVG, 17 SB, and a great 2 hitter), Bartlett (.309 AVG, 10 SB, and huge clutch hits), Tyner (.312 AVG and did great in left field and DH), and Liriano (12-3, 2.16 ERA) last season. Once all those players slid into the line up, they became the best team in baseball.
Rather than waste the $3.1 million on Ortiz, that money should have been used towards avoiding arbitration with Joe Mauer, Morneau, Cuddyer, and Punto. Then just use one of our young pitchers like Scott Baker or Glen Perkins. Honestly none of them could do any worse than Ortiz. Plus we already have a pitcher who gives up home runs and racks up his ERA with Carlos Silva. Two in the rotation would be disasterous.
Bottom line is the Twins front office and coaching staff needs to be more willing to embrace these younger players and let them learn at the major league level. I know there is a lot to learn for players in the minors if they are only going to ride the bench in the majors, but signing a hand full of has been (or never was) players just holds back the possibilities they have for success.
And if there is one thing a small market team like the Twins know it’s that you live and die by your young, home grown players.