The offseason is over. Okay, that’s not technically true, but at least the longest and most boring parts are over. Now we are in the home stretch of the offseason, the portion of the year where the excitement builds daily until we cannot wait for Opening Day any longer. Pitchers and catchers have reported to Spring Training.
It may not seem like it, but the Twins have actually accomplished quite a bit this offseason. It’s worthwhile to look back at what has happened over the last few months. If you’ve been hibernating, this will all be news to you; if not, it’s probably still worth a read just to make sure you haven’t forgotten anything.
Back on September 28, 2011, Minnesota eked out a 1-0 walkoff win against Kansas City to finish the season. It was actually the team’s third win in their final four games, which would have seemed like a high note to end the year, except that it came on the heels of a cartoonishly bad 2-19 stretch. When Trevor Plouffe drove in Denard Span for the winning run that day, Bill Smith was the General Manager of the Twins, Michael Cuddyer was in the lineup as the right fielder, Joe Nathan was available out of the bullpen, and Jason Kubel was with the team as well, albeit on the Disabled List. The Twins had major holes in the middle infield, the backup catcher slot, the DH position, the outfield, the starting rotation, and the bullpen. Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, and Denard Span were sitting on the bench with Kubel, literally and figuratively limping toward the end of their worst seasons as Major Leaguers. Tom Kelly’s number 10 was available for use, and Jim Kaat’s number 36 was sewn onto the back of Nathan’s jersey.
Quite a bit has happened since.
An unexpectedly exciting postseason kicked off the Twins offseason (since they weren’t involved in the playoffs, I’m counting that as the offseason for our favorite team). The division rival Tigers, led by former Twin Delmon Young, advanced to the ALCS before losing a tough contest to the Rangers. In the end, it was Nick Punto’s Cardinals who won it all, thanks to David Freese’s plagiarism of Kirby Puckett’s signature play.
Soon after the World Series, the biggest shoe dropped. Twins GM Smith got the axe after the Twins heard Puckett’s Pond’s verdict, and Terry Ryan climbed back into the saddle. He quickly offered Smith a job as his assistant. Together with special assistant Wayne Krivsky, they form a three-headed hydra of former General Managers in the front office. We were all excited about the change in direction until Ryan dampened the enthusiasm by stating he would cut payroll by about $13 million. It turned out he was not joking.
The only other big management changes came in the minor leagues. Tom Nieto, a member of the 1987 Twins team that won the World Series, got the axe as manager of AAA Rochester along with his hitting coach, Floyd Rayford. In their place the Twins hired Gene Glynn and another member of the 1987 team: Tom Brunansky.
In November, Ryan addressed the hole at shortstop by bringing in 38 year old journeyman Jamey Carroll, who is old (in baseball terms) and has no power but can get on base like nobody’s business. Later that month he solved the backup catcher and designated hitter issues by bringing in Ryan Doumit on a one year deal. The next month he signed a Cuddyer-esque outfielder named Josh Willingham and made a move to add another arm to the rotation in Jason Marquis. Finally, in January, Ryan took a chance on the impressive but usually injured reliever Joel Zumaya. Ryan thus checked off each one of the boxes on the Twins’ to-do list: shortstop, catcher, outfield, starting pitching, bullpen. You can argue about how well these five veterans will actually play, but at least something was done to address each of the team’s areas of need.
In the meantime, three productive, well-liked, but expensive veterans left Minnesota. Nathan bolted to the Rangers, who offered a surprisingly large contract to the upper-30s reliever who had Tommy John Surgery less than two years ago. Cuddyer got his own high-dollar deal from the Rockies, and Kubel secured a nice two year contract with Arizona. When all was said and done, the Twins raked in three extra draft picks from Cuddyer and Kubel, thanks in part to the new Collective Bargaining Agreement that was finalized in December. They could easily have pulled down another high pick, but Ryan inexplicably chose to offer Matt Capps nearly $5 million to come back in 2012.
Kevin Slowey packed his bags for Colorado in exchange for pitcher Daniel Turpen before packing again for Cleveland (by way of Mount Kilimanjaro). Ryan used the second pick in the Rule 5 draft for another Slowey-like pitcher named Terry Doyle. The Twins claimed Jeff Gray, Matt Maloney, and Dan Mastroianni off waivers, and they lost Jim Hoey to the same process. And they collected an endless array of minor league free agents and invited them to Spring Training, every one of whom was profiled by Puckett’s Pond in January.
And that’s where we are now. Ready to see whether this parade of offseason moves will start to pay off this spring.