50+ Games into 2016 Season – What’s Gone Wrong With the Twins?
And where does the team go from here?
Ever since the Twinkies went 94-68 and won the American League Central in their 50th season as a Minnesota franchise in 2010, the team has spiraled out of control, and they've lost 90+ games in 4 of the past 5 seasons. This year, they could easily lose 100 or more.
So, what hell happened?!?
Injuries, inexperience, and bad trades/signings have all contributed to this current squad under-performing... and that's putting it mildly! General Manager Terry Ryan deserves, and has owned up to, much of the blame placed on his this team's record so far. But he is as puzzled as anyone as to why they've struggled in the ways that they have.
For the past 3+ seasons, all we've heard from Mr. Ryan is "Wait until 2016, wait until 2016!" That's when prized prospects Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano and even J.O. Berrios were supposed to start to make an impact. That hasn't happened... yet. Those three mentioned above are part of a highly-touted farm system that Ryan has re-built since his return to the GM role in 2012.
Here are some ideas that, if I were GM, I would do going forward to fix this team:
With Danny Santana put on the disabled list, the Twins have summoned Buxton back up from Triple-A, where he's been tearing it up. Entering Monday, he was hitting .333 with six home runs and 16 RBI with the Rochester Red Wings. But as we've all seen with the 22-year-old, he's struggled mightily with Major League pitching, hitting just .195 in parts of two seasons with the Twins. That just won't cut it. Buxton is the best defensive center fielder in the organization, and perhaps already one of the best in the Majors, but if the Twins really are bringing him up because he's finally found the right approach at the plate, then he just needs to stay up here for good.
Here's what I would do: Let him go through all the growing pains and make him study the game and big league pitching for the rest of the season. I say if we're going to continue to lose, then we might as well lose with the #2 prospect in all of baseball in our line-up.
I'm sorry, but what the hell were they thinking? I understand we need to have Sano's bat in the line-up every day, but hiding him in right field was the wrong way to go about it. Having played third base all through the minors, it made no sense (at least to me) to teach Sano a new position. A position he's NEVER played, by the way. On top of that, his hitting has suffered for most of the season. Up until this past holiday weekend, when he hit a career-high 4 home runs in 4 games (bringing his total to 11), Sano has been mostly mediocre at the plate. Hitting only .235, he's striking out at an alarming rate and not putting the ball in play, let alone over the fence.
As of Wednesday morning, the team doctors have diagnosed Sano with a strained hamstring and put him on the 15-day disabled list. But when he returns, he shouldn't be trotted back out to right field ever again. It's just too embarrassing to see a 260-pound human running around taking bad angles!
Here's what I would do: Play him at DH with Byung-Ho Park, or stick him back at his natural position at third base. I think he's doing way too much thinking out there and it's throwing off his concentration at the plate, which is where the Twins really need him to come through. What about Trevor Plouffe? We'll get to him in just a bit.
I brought up these first three players earlier for a reason. They all need to find their games, and step up! Berrios was absolutely blasted in his last MLB start back on May 16th against the Tigers and the Twins immediately sent him back down to the minors after he posted a 10.20 ERA and 20/12 strike-out/walk ratio in 15 innings over four starts. There's still a lot to be excited about here for the long-term (remember he's just 21 years old) but there's still work to be done.
Here's what I would do: After the next injury to the starting rotation, bring him up and keep him here. Much like Buxton, one of our top prospects needs to learn on the job and figure out Major League hitters. A player like Berrios has nasty stuff, so let's keep trotting him out to the mound every fifth day and see what he's got!
I have to admit, it sucked typing that out. Trevor's been a fan-favorite on the team and a solid third basemen the past few seasons, but his stock isn't going to get any higher than it is right now. Teams are always looking for a strong corner infielder with Plouffe's abilities: So why not trade him now and try to get some prospects back in return? We've been hearing for past two years that Sano would threaten Plouffe's spot on the roster if he didn't shape up and start playing better defense at third... well guess what? He has been! He's also filled in nicely at first base when Park or Mauer isn't playing that day.
Granted he's been injured for most of this season with knee problems, but he's still been productive when he does get on the field.
Here's what I would do: Trade him sooner rather than later before the trade deadline in July. As I've said multiple times already, it's a lost season. Give Trevor the chance to play and maybe compete for a championship. It's the least we can do for all his years playing the game the right way here.
What happened to Brian Dozier? Since last year’s all-star break, the second baseman is hitting just .206 in over 500 plate appearances. Yuck! Dozier's in a deep rut, and the Twins need him to get out. Manager Paul Molitor has already sat Dozier on the bench once this year, and said that hitting coach Tom Brunansky is working with him to “tweak his approach.” Considering he’s a very pull-conscious hitter who seems to feast on fastballs, and struggles on secondary pitches like change-ups and breaking balls, he's got some major work to do.
Maybe the pressure of hitting so high in the lineup is weighing on him and he's putting too much pressure on himself to carry the load? If the Twins are going to have any shot of digging themselves out of the cellar in the standings, then a productive Brian Dozier has to be at the top of their wish-list!
Here's what I would do: Move him down the batting order to bat fifth or even seventh. Granted, there's a ton of young hitters right now in the lineup due to injury who don't have a ton of experience... BUT, instead of benching him again (or worse, sending him down to Triple-A) why not just move him down and take away some of the pressure? We're running out of ideas the way it is, so it wouldn't hurt to try it.
What a horrible signing this was. Terry Ryan's made some questionable moves the past few years, but this one is the biggest black eye of them all, in my opinion. Nolasco inked a 4-year/$49 million contract and hasn't lived up to the bill thus-far. Sure, he looked good against the Mariners in his last start as he held the M's to two earned runs in six innings with seven strikeouts for his second win of the year. But he still owns a hideous 5.28 ERA for the year and isn't consistent enough to stay in the rotation.
Here's what I would do: The Twins already demoted starter Phil Hughes to the bullpen last week, so you're probably thinking "well who's going to start in his place then?" If/when the team brings J.O. Berrios back up, then you make the switch. We've already got a shaky bullpen, so any of the relievers are expendable considering Ryan won't eat Nolasco's bloated contract. If any playoff needy teams are willing to take it and his arm, then pull the trigger on a trade immediately and let's put the Ricky Nolasco era behind us for good.
Sorry Terry Ryan, but you have to go. Twins owner Jim Pohlad already labeled this season as a "total system failure" in a column by the Star Tribune’s Chip Scoggins. In that column, Pohlad more or less exonerated GM Terry Ryan and manager Paul Molitor, while suggesting that the players in the clubhouse need to “step up.” That hasn't happened, and it doesn't look like it will anytime soon either. Part of the problem is while he's rebuilt our farm system, none of those prospects are bearing any fruit at the moment. I believe that has a lot to do with the coaching in the minors. Ryan coined the term "The Twins Way" back in the early 2000's and was lauded by his fellow GM's for doing things the right way. Well, times have changed and the "Twins Way" is probably dead and gone. The way we continue to hire former Twins players (both in the majors and minors) is annoying and it hasn't transitioned to any more victories. Their coaching tactics are too old school and don't apply to the new wave of players coming up into the league.
Here's what I would do: If Mr. Ryan doesn't "step down" at the end of the season, then owner Jim Pohlad needs to fire his long-term friend and GM. He also needs to let go of many of the coaches from top to bottom and bring in a new philosophy to grow because the current way of doing things hasn't worked this entire decade. However, I do think Paul Molitor should be given another another year to right the ship as it's not all his fault the team has failed. That, of course, would be in the hands of the new GM, but I do think Molitor should stay.