Thursday, November 10, 2011
Crazy Thoughts: Twins Should Pursue Reyes
I've been thinking a lot about the Twins lately, specifically what I think the expectations should be for this off-season and for the 2012 campaign. While I celebrated the re-installation of Terry Ryan as Twins GM, I was equally disappointed to hear that the team plans on dropping it's 2012 payroll to around $100M. Imagine my surprise when I saw many fellow Twins' bloggers support this decision; I figured the reaction would be the opposite. Here's my logic, and I'm going to present a case that the Twins should go after Jose Reyes.
Two Aprils ago, on a mild night in Minneapolis, the Twins played their first regular-season game in the new Target Field. That 2010 season was a dream of sorts with the squad tallying 94 wins and easily winning the AL Central crown. The playoffs left a poor taste in all of our mouths, but there was hope for 2011 because a majority of the team was returning...except for the middle-infield and half the bullpen. Things didn't work out the way most of us thought they would. In 2011, the Twins had their worst season in 12 years on their way to losing 99 games and finishing dead-last in the AL Central. Bill Smith was fired. Terry Ryan was re-crowned GM...and now the Twins want to reduce the payroll?? Only 2 seasons after opening their brand-new stadium...a large portion of which was paid for by taxpayers in Minnesota? This may seem crazy, but I think that rather than pulling back, this team should be doing all it can to put a competitive team back on the field next year. The holes are obvious and the potential fixes for those holes are out there in the form of free-agents.
In my opinion, when you fight for 10+ years to get a new stadium built and then it gets done, and then in only your 2nd year in said stadium the team has a bad season...you DON'T give up. I think the Twins owe it to the fans to put as good of a product as possible onto the field, even it is means raising the payroll to $120M or $130M. Here are some other reasons why now is a bad time to reduce payroll and "re-build" for a couple of years:
a) Joe Mauer isn't getting any younger, neither is Justin Morneau. I realize that both players have had their injuries and that neither is a "sure thing" for the 2012 season, especially Morneau. That said, Mauer is turning 29 shortly after the 2012 season starts and Morneau will turn 31 next May. If you doing the re-building thing for the next season or two, you may be missing out on the last couple of "prime" years from two of your current superstars. Say what you will about Mauer, I know there's a lot of question marks there, but he is going to have a few more great seasons during his career.
b) The Twins have nothing in the Minors that inspires much confidence, especially in terms of pitching. As this last season showed, the Twins farm depth is no where near what many of us thought it was. Many of the Triple-A players that were called-up as a result of injuries last year were over-matched or were just not very good. Of particular concern was the lack of middle-infield depth and the lack of capable bullpen arms in the farm system. Nothing has really changed on that front. The Twins have a few decent prospects (Hicks, Sano, etc), but NONE of them are pitchers...in fact the one elite pitching prospect they had (Kyle Gibson) will likely not even pitch in 2012 due to Tommy John surgery. Liam Hendriks, who was thought to be one of the Twins better Minor League arms, took a huge step back in 2011 and pitched to a 6.17 ERA in 4 September starts with the Major League club at the end of the year. According to Baseball Prospectus' new prospect rankings, the Twins have ZERO pitching prospects that even rise to the level of "3-stars". No matter how you look at it, the Twins are going to be getting much rotation help from the Minors any time soon and we've all seen what they have for potential bullpen arms and, well, it ain't good.
c) Re-building isn't going to put butts in the seats. The reason the Twins are talking about reducing payroll is because the team is anticipating a loss of revenue as a result of the team's poor play on the field in 2011. Less season-tickets have been sold, there was less revenue from vendors in the 2nd half of last season, and on and on. That said, spending less on the team and risking a couple more losing seasons isn't going to increase revenue. If anything, it will simply make the problem worse which will result in continued payroll reductions. This has been the Pohlad's M.O. all the way back to when Carl was owner of the team. The Pohlad's want the team to be profitable and they will reduce payroll to the point where, at the very minimum, the Twins are a break-ever proposition. To hear front-office people say, "oh, we might raise the payroll again in a few years" is insulting. The Twins increased their payroll number after every winning season during the 2000's and dropped it following the 2007 after the club had a sub-.500 record that season. The only reason the payroll went up in 2009 was in anticipation of the club's move to Target Field.
You always hear sports media people talk about "windows" for a given team winning a championship. Usually they are talking about how the "window is closing" on a team...and in the Twins case, the window is already closed or, at best, it's almost closed. This is why the Twins put a stopper on the window and try and get Jose Reyes. Landing Reyes would address a number of issues the Twins have.
a) Shortstop-play is perhaps the Twins most glaring weakness. The position has been a black-hole of offense for them for a majority of the past 20 years and though they have been able to put capable defenders there, they haven't been able to find the complete package (aside from the one season of JJ Hardy).
b) As was made obvious last season, middle infield defense can be directly correlated to the success of the pitching staff. There are a lot of factors at play here, but good middle infield defense can save A LOT of runs which translates directly to wins. Reyes is a very capable defender with a large range when healthy.
c) Ron Gardenhire wants speed? Reyes is speed. He stole 39 bases last season in only 126 games. When he has played full seasons, he's led the National League in steals 3 times (2005, 2006, 2007).
d) There has been talk of the Twins trading Denard Span, some say to the Nationals. If they managed to do that and picked up either Espinosa or Desmond, they could put either one at 2nd base, and by acquiring Reyes, you have a bonafide lead-off man to replace Span. Reyes has more pop, more speed, and a better eye than Span.
Reyes isn't going to be cheap. He made $11M this past season and projects to be making at least $15-$20M/yr depending on the length of the deal. That represents a SIGNIFICANT investment for the Twins, yes, but it also fills a hole that the organization clearly has right now and will probably have for awhile if it is not addressed soon. Reyes is 28-years-old, so he is by no means old, and if you could entice him with a short-term deal, like has been rumored to the be the case with the Marlins (reported that they offered him 3-years @ $20M per), you could hedge your bets a little with regard to age.
I don't expect the Twins to be players in the Reyes sweepstakes, especially considering their recent announcement about payroll, but it's fun to dream. I really don't understand the reduction in payroll and I don't understand the support for it either. This team has set of circumstances RIGHT NOW (in terms of the age of certain star players) that it will not have 2 or 3 years from now. I think the Twins should either try like hell right now to win, or it's going to be awhile before we see a truly competitive team on the field.