The Minnesota Twins are 59-87, they’ve lost 8 of their last 10 games are currently 26 games out of first place. They have been officially eliminated from the playoffs. They are 2 games behind the Kansas City Royals for last place in the AL Central and are just a half a game ahead of the Baltimore Orioles, the worst team in the American League.
The Houston Astros, they of the 49-67 record, are still a full 10 games behind the Twins, so they’ve pretty much locked up the #1 pick in next year’s draft, but the Twins have the opportunity and the motivation to continue losing games as they head towards the series finale against Kansas City. But this is not about losing. If the Twins draft 2nd or 5th in 2012 they likely will not see any windfall from that draft until at least late 2013 (if they take a highly touted college player) or even 2016 and beyond (if they take a toolsy high school player like Aaron Hicks). By the start of the 2014 season this Twins team will look radically different. Joe Mauer’s knees will have two additional years of abuse, Justin Morneau would probably have to take a big pay cut to still be with the team, and the stable of veterans in the outfield (Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel, and Jason Repko) will all be gone. The Bullpen and the Starting Rotation will probably experience nearly 75% turn over from this disappointing 2011 campaign. That is going to leave a lot of holes, but nothing that can be filled with a single high first round draft pick. It is safe to say that tanking down the stretch is NOT the best course of action.
So why does winning these games matter? Who cares if the Twins win any of their remaining games? Notice, I am not saying that these games only matter because the Twins front office and coaching staff has an opportunity to see young talent against Major League caliber opponents. Everyone would agree that it is important to see what the young kids can do and to give them an opportunity to experience life in the Big Leagues and to begin making a transition to life beyond the Minor Leagues. I am saying that WINNING these games is just as important as seeing prospects play. Winning these games is every bit as important as winning games before the All-Star break. Winning matters, even on a losing team. This is why:
LEARNING TO WIN
The past two years the Twins’ minor league affiliates have been, as a group, pretty terrible. The young kids (Liam Hendriks, Lester Oliveros, Kyle Waldrop, Luke Hughes, Chris Parmelee, Joe Benson, Brian Dinkelman, Ben Revere and Rene Tosoni) that are up with the Twins right now need to learn how to win. They need to grow as teammates and as baseball players. They need to develop relationships and to learn about each other. They need to figure out who the future leaders are and how to get the best out of one another. This team needs to figure out how to win as a group. They need to experience the joy and the happiness that comes from winning baseball games. They need to understand that winning ALWAYS matters. Pretending that experience for experience’s sake is good enough is a slap in the face not only to the Twins organization, but to their fan base. The guys on the 40 man roster need to learn how to win, and to remember what it takes so that in 2012 and beyond this team is set up for success.
TO PUT FANS IN THE SEATS
Gate revenue drives team revenues, and while a $123 million dollar payroll hasn’t resulted in wins in 2011, it allows the Twins to be more aggressive in acquiring free agents and signing young talent. Even though the Twins have been horrendous in 2011, fans are still showing up at Target Field looking to see the home town nine win a baseball game. The Twins will draw more than 3 million fans again this year, thanks in large part to their success in the past decade, and the shiny new Target Field. When the Twins lose, a trip to the ballpark is disappointing. When the Twins lose eight out of ten games at home, it is downright depressing. No one likes to leave the ballpark feeling like a loser. Right now Target Field is still a destination, and so the product on the field is ALMOST irrelevant, but if the Twins continue to lose, and continue to throw games away with errors and mental mistakes it will not be long before there are more empty seats than full ones.
WINNING IS FUN
Nothing energizes a clubhouse and a fan base like winning. The Twins have 15 games left in 2011, if they could suddenly turn things around and win 10 or 12 of those games optimism would be dripping off of every Twins fan, player, and executive heading into the offseason. The players will feel excited about the future. The ownership will be able to take a step back and appreciate the product they’ve provided. The fans will have something to hang their hat on during the cold winter months as they look forward to a welcome Florida vacation in Fort Myers to see the Twins in Spring Training.
Winning is exciting. It makes players better. It brings more people to the ball park. It builds relationships between fan and player alike. Winning makes everything better. Your pitchers will be happier, your hitters will be happier, the fielders will be happier, the fans will be happier, and the owners will be happier. Everything is better when you win. So who cares about winning? I do, and I think everyone else should jump on board. The Twins might not be going anywhere in 2011, but the future is bright, and brighter with wins.