If you’ve ever watched 1960s era American television, you probably recognized the title as the catchphrase of Star Trek character Mongomery “Scotty” Scott. But Twins Manager Ron “Gardy” Gardenhire could make the same complaint, and it would be just as true. Gardy’s team hit an American League low 104 homers this year. In all of MLB, only the pitiful Astros and the Petco-Challenged Padres hit fewer.
It’s a familiar story for the Twins. The franchise has suffered some lengthy power droughts before. From 1988 through 2005, while the rest of MLB was enjoying a steroid-fueled home run rampage, no Twin managed to hit 30 or more home runs in a season. By contrast, the division rival Indians had 23, 30 homer seasons, and the 2000 Blue Jays alone had four hitters accomplish the feat (Carlos Delgado, Tony Batista, Brad Fulmer, and Jose Cruz). The Twins’ drought ended when Justin Morneau and Torii Hunter topped 30 in 2006, but there still hasn’t been a 35 home run season in Minnesota since 1970. That was the Milwaukee Brewers’ first year of existence, and the Brew Crew has produced a dozen 35 home run campaigns.
And the Minnesota homer total may drop even further in the near future. Michael Cuddyer led the team with 20 longballs, but he is a free agent this offseason. Jason Kubel, who hit a career high of 28 in 2009, chipped in 12 this year. He’s likely to depart as well. Jim Thome and Delmon Young are already gone. All together, the departures subtract 45 roundtrippers, or 43% of the already pitiful team total. The only proven power threat who remains on the team’s roster is Justin Morneau, and given Morneau’s health situation, the Twins would be foolish to assume that he’ll carry the team with his bat in 2012.
The farm system boasts a few boppers, but they are not ready for the Show just yet. Miguel Sano, Eddie Rosario, and Oswaldo Arcia look like they could hit some homers for the Twins… in 2015. Joe Benson hit 27 in the minors in 2010, but his September call-up proved that he needs some time at AAA next year. Chris Parmelee hit a few moonshots in his month with the team, but it is debatable whether he could hit well in a full Major League season.
This leaves the Twins with two short-term options: try to add some big bats from outside the organization, or embrace the lack of power and go Full Pirhana.
Option 1 is tempting. The Twins have about $30 million to spend on the free agent market this offseason, more than enough to lure a couple of power hitters. Unfortunately, after the game’s two premier superstar sluggers – Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols – the market for home run guys is quite thin. The Twins could theoretically afford Fielder or Pujols, but either one would eat up nearly the entire budget, thus preventing the Twins from improving the pitching staff. Thus, the Twins would have to settle for a second tier power hitter, such as Carlos Beltran or Josh Willingham, or a past-his-prime veteran. There are quite a few free agents in the latter category: Hideki Matsui, Pat Burrell, Raul Ibanez, Aramis Ramirez, Carlos Pena, and Carlos Beltran. Going with an Over-the-Hill slugger sometimes provides a top notch hitter at a bargain price (Jim Thome), but it’s just as likely to result in a dud who actually makes the team worse (Tony Batista).
Option 2 is far less exciting, but it might make more sense given the Twins’ current roster and pitcher-friendly stadium. Instead of spending big bucks on power hitters, the Twins could use their free agent dollars to sign pitchers, and fill out the lineup with guys who can get on base and run. Ben Revere, Denard Span, and Alexi Casilla all fit this mold in theory (when healthy). Free agents like Coco Crisp and David DeJesus could supplement such a lineup, and they’d probably be an asset in the field as well. Of course, good on-base/ stolen base guys can be as expensive as power hitters can. Jose Reyes would be the ideal free agent for this approach, but he will probably command almost $20 million per year. But going for speed over power makes a little more sense for a team that plays in a stadium where home runs are difficult to hit. If players get on base and occasionally steal bases, it doesn’t take a home run to drive them in – a single or even a sac fly will do the trick.
The 1980s era St. Louis Cardinals are a perfect example of a team that made Option 2 work. The 1987 Cardinals hit an NL low 94 homers, but they stole an incredible 248 bases. As you probably know, that team made it to the World Series and nearly defeated the Twins for the title. The 1985 Cards, who were also NL Champs, stole even more (314) and hit even fewer home runs (87). And the 1982 Cardinals, who not only went to the World Series but actually won it, hit a measly 67 home runs and stole 200 bases. All three teams led the National League in on-base percentage.
There’s no way that the Twins could copy the amazing running game that the 80’s Cardinals had (Ben Revere is no Vince Coleman). But their example proves that it’s possible to win baseball games by getting on base and running, instead of trying to hit for power when power does not exist. I’m not saying that the Twins should definitely adopt that approach, but it’s food for thought.