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This is a business, not a family.

Hello Twins Fans!

I am sure I am not the only one who is puzzled and, dare I say, annoyed by the quasi-familial atmosphere that seems to slink around the Twins organization like smog. Don’t get me wrong, I think camaraderie is great for a team and especially for a team that is struggling like the Twins are however this is a business, not a family.

I guess what pushed me over the edge on this issue was the article I read in which Alexi Casilla spoke with manager Ron Gardenhire about his lack of playing time. In the article, Gardenhire refers to current third baseman Trevor Plouffe as “Plouffey” and Casilla as “Lexi.” This is just a brief example of his “pet names” he uses for his players. To me, and a lot of other people out there, this is not professionalism. This is a manager trying to be a friend instead of a boss–and this is reflected in the performance of his team and their demeanor. In truth, it is not a mature way to go about things.

As far as nicknames go, you do not hear of other managers referring to their players in such a way. Can you imagine if former Yankees manager Joe Torre or current manager Joe Girardi had referred to Alex Rodriguez as “Lexi?” First of all I can’t believe Joe Torre has ever called anyone “Lexi,” even a girl named Alexis if he knows one. It just isn’t something that should be done in a professional organization. Call them by their real names, please Gardenhire. Even calling Michael Cuddyer “Cuddy” was pushing it.

I know this may sound frivolous and not such a big deal but the larger issue here is how this organization and team is perceived and how it is currently being run. Between the nicknames and Gardenhire’s set of golden children I like to call them (Casilla, Plouffe, Revere, etc.), there is something fundamentally wrong here. I find it hard to take the team seriously from a business standpoint if it is run like a family where we don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings by letting them go when they need to get the heck out of town. NO. Why does the front office continually keep people around who don’t deserve the roster spot? Why do they let go of the people worth keeping (JJ Hardy for example)? 

I will tell you why: it is because the Minnesota Twins do not and cannot think outside of the “Minnesota nice” mentality. They would rather endure mediocrity (oh we would be so lucky if we were even that!) or worse than make some waves within the clubhouse. Newsflash people: the way you have been running this team does not work and won’t work. Time for a new game plan. I was hoping for a fresh approach from Terry Ryan when he returned to the organization but we have gotten more of the same: trading away our consistent players and replacing them with scrap heap “talent.”

The Minnesota Twins will not grow as an organization unless the management style changes. In an earlier blog I talked about pitchers Nick Blackburn and Francisco Liriano and the endless chances they get to prove themselves. I would like to ask this question about multiple players in this organization, mainly the ones I have mentioned in this article. When is Gardnehire or Ryan going to stand up and say “enough is enough” and get rid of the dead weight? Baseball is an industry and a business. It is time the Twins grew up and started acting like it.

Get out your brown paper bag, its going to be a long season. (Instructions included!)

Thursday night’s loss to the Blue Jays was down right humiliating–running into a tag for a double play, pop up falling to the ground while three Twins players watch it from two feet away, another four inning stink-fest from a starting pitcher. Need I continue? Any more memories and I might need to pull out my brown paper bag to keep from hyperventilating. 

In one of my early blogs, I said that the Twins are giving the term “the Bad News Bears” a whole new meaning. I wish I had saved that for this blog. The Twins have been playing horribly all year but Thursday night took it to a whole new level. Manager Ron Gardenhire said in his post-game comments that “Things happened out there that don’t really happen in high school.” Understatement of the year. The Twins are doing things that even little leaguers know better than to do. For a team that once prided itself on its defensive prowess they sure put on a clinic of how not to take care of business.

The Twins can be described on defense as many things but the biggest thing that stands out seems to be the lack of focus. Not only is that dangerous as a line drive would get to you at third base in a hurry but it makes for one painful game to watch. Alexi Casilla’s gaffe at second base that allowed Yunel Escobar to score from second on a grounder to third was not only pathetic but all too descriptive of the Twins’ season thus far–just when you think something good has happened, the team will find a way to screw it up. Casilla made a nice stretch to catch the throw to second base but fell down and seemed to not realize that Escobar was indeed running home. As a professional baseball player, you must be focused on every play. Especially if there is a runner in scoring position. Escobar should never have made it home from second on an infield grounder. This is just one example from Thursday’s comical defensive play.

Offensively the Twins are atrocious. On Thursday they hit into multiple double plays in a game for the 10th time this season. As a team, the Twins are batting .238 on the season–ranking 28th in the league. They are 28th for home runs hit and 28th for runs scored. Correlation and causation? Oh I think so. It is enough to make you want to run and hide every time the Twins take the field or step into the batter’s box.

In light of the shortcomings of this motley crew of multimillionaires who are playing like they need to revisit the basics we all learned in tee-ball or little league, I have devised a way for us as fans to survive the season.

If you are brave enough to attend a game at Target Field, here are instructions for you to make your own brown paper bag Embarrassment Mask:

1. Go to your local grocery store and buy your favorite brand of antacids. Place in brown paper bag.
2. When you get home and are preparing to leave for the game, take your antacids out of the bag and take prescribed dosage. Place empty bag on table.
3. Place paper bag over your head to measure for where to cut out eye holes. Remove bag and cut out the circles for your eyes. Cut out a nose hole if necessary.
4. Take your new mask to the game and place it over your head. This way no one will recognize you when you are either on TV or if you happen to be on KissCam… or any other fan cam at the game.

Use your new mask out of embarrassment or to make a point to the team, your pick!

If you are going to be watching the game from the comfort of your own home or if you are looking to suffer and go to Target Field, here are instructions for your own brown paper bag Hyperventilation Preventer:

1. Obtain brown paper lunch bag.
2. Grasp with the hand of your choice.
3. Breathe into bag when the Twins begin to step on to the field.
4. Continue as needed.

In all seriousness, Twins fans are going to need to find a way to get through this season since it seems that the organization has already given it up for dead. Some fans will move on to other teams, others will stop watching and some will just wait for the Vikings season to start and hope that they do better. After building Target Field for our beloved team from Minnesota, the fans of the Twins deserve so much more and so much better than what we have been given. I, for one, feel betrayed by the Pohlads and the entire organization after okaying the stadium and then getting nothing in return as far as a team worth watching. I can’t imagine how the citizens of Hennipin County must feel after funding the project. 

All one can do when their team is the embarrassment of Major League Baseball is hope for better days ahead and try not to hyperventilate. Keep that paper bag on hand, Twins fans. It is going to be a long season.

How many chances is too many?

PART 1: Nick Blackburn

Embattled pitcher Nick Blackburn

The 2012 season has gotten off to rocky start for starting pitcher Nick Blackburn. After posting an 0-4 record in 5 starts with a 6.84 ERA, fans are looking for some answers from the six year veteran–answers to questions from “When is he going to turn it around?” to “How many more chances is this guy going to get?”

I am asking the second question as well. As much as I hate to sell a player off down the river, it may be time to part ways with Nick Blackburn. While 2012 has been rough already for the starter, his career statistics indicate that he has not been nor is he capable now of pitching to a record above .500 or to an ERA below 4.00. Looking at his career numbers, Blackburn’s peak came in 2009 when he pitched 205.2 innings while going 11-11 with a 4.03 ERA. 2009 was the only year that Blackburn topped 200 innings in a season. While these numbers are not stellar and pale in comparison to many other starting pitchers around the big leagues, one must look at all six years of Blackburn’s career to see the big picture–there is no improvement whatsoever.

There lies my issue with the Twins keeping Blackburn. He has shown no improvement in his quality of pitching and certainly his stats from the beginning of his career up through this current season. In fact, most of his numbers have gotten worse. Blackburn is now 30 years old, not exactly in the early part of his career anymore. There is nothing to indicate that he will improve.  Again, “How many more chances is this guy going to get?”

The first problem with unloading Blackburn is this–what team in its right mind would want to pick up a pitcher who is 0-4 on the year and comes with the price tag of $4,750,000? Blackburn signed a four year deal in 2010 with a club option for 2014. In all honesty, the Twins should not exercise that option.

The second problem is that the Twins have no minor league help available to them. The Twins’ two best minor league pitching prospects in Alex Wimmers and Kyle Gibson are both out with, you guessed it, elbow issues. I swear, the Twins organization injury report is like a broken record that is stuck on repeat.

Even with the problems with getting rid of Blackburn, I still believe he needs to go. He has had more chances to prove himself and has failed to do so, usually to the tune of exiting by the 6th inning and after surrendering more runs than our impotent offense can overcome. The organization may just need to eat his salary and send him packing if no other teams are interested. As of right now, he is wasting a roster spot that could be filled with a minor leaguer ready to prove himself.

PART 2: Francisco Liriano 

Struggling pitcher Francisco Liriano

The 2012 season was supposed to be a comeback year for Francisco Liriano after a less than great 2011 season. Of course, that could be said of any member of the Twins’ 2011 campaign however Liriano has been struggling to regain his pre-Tommy John surgery poise and dominance since he went down with the injury in 2006. Liriano made a nice comeback bid in 2010 by going 14-10 with a 3.62 ERA in 191.2 innings pitched but followed it up with a stagnant 2011 that saw Liriano go 9-10 with a 5.09 ERA in just 134.1 innings pitched. His no hitter that he pitched in Chicago gets lost in the dismal 2011 season.

In seven years at the major league level, we have seen Francisco Liriano go from great to bad, better to worse and everywhere in between.  While some may say that variety is the spice of life, variety in a starter’s results is not something to be excited about. Lack of consistency has brought Liriano from being hailed as “the next Johan Santana” to observers asking the question “How many more chances is this guy going to get?”

2012 has seen Liriano get off to an 0-5 start with an astronomical 9.45 ERA in just six starts. His pitching velocity has started to return however the erratic nature of his pitching has apparently led him to having confidence issues. You can fix a pitcher’s mechanics but how do you fix his thoughts? The staff thought skipping a start would help him clear his mind–not so. In his start following the extra time off, the left-hander was pulled after 5.1 innings where he gave up 4 earned runs on 7 hits–two of which were home runs. I guess the time off didn’t help very much.

With Liriano as a head case and the Twins not knowing which version of Liriano will take the mound when he starts next, I believe it may be time to say goodbye to the pitcher once thought to be the future of the team. He has never evolved into that power starter that the Twins so sorely needed and continue to need. Liriano is a free agent after the 2012 season so the Twins may just hold on to him until the end of the 2012 campaign and outright release him. Afterall, who is going to pick up his $5,500,000 price tag?

PART 3: What now?

It seems like we have been asking that question a lot lately with these Twins. What does the team do with these two starters who seem to be dead weight now? The long and the short of it is that the Twins need to part ways with both Blackburn and Liriano. They are no longer assets to the organization but now the quandary of it all is that they will garner little to no trade value. I don’t envy the Twins at all–stuck with two pitchers that no one else will want.

With about $10,000,000 in salary tied up in Blackburn and Liriano, the Twins have their hands tied. Maybe in the future they will be a little wiser with where they invest so much of their money…then again, I wouldn’t bet on it.

Two Twins Who Need to Go

MINNEAPOLIS — As the Twins continue to struggle, one can’t help but notice how poorly two pitchers in particular are performing. These two pitchers eat up over $10 million of the Twins’ payroll. One of these pitchers is paid $5.5 million a year to be incredibly unpredictable by showing his All-Star form 15% of the time and a rookie league washout 85% of the time. The other pitcher is average at most, but has been rewarded with $4.75 million a year. Of course I am talking about Francisco Liriano and Nick Blackburn. The $10.25 million the Twins drop on these guys every year has yielded a combined record of 0-8 and a combined 8.37 ERA thus far in 2012. Following are some notable tidbits on two of Minnesota’s most overpaid pitchers (careers stats as of May 7, 2012).

Nick Blackburn 

Age 30, 2012 Salary $4.75 million
Best year, 11-11 4.03 ERA
Career, 39-50 4.58 ERA

Like Brad Radtke before him, Nick Blackburn is a perfect example mediocre pitching that Twins reward with a hefty contract. However, unlike Radtke, who had a 20-10 breakout season at age 24, at age 30, Blackburn has nothing comparable. Blackburn’s top performances were back to back 11-11 seasons with a 4ish ERA (2008, 2009). In his so called “best years”, he finished 4th for most hits allowed in 2008 and in 2009, allowed the most hits in of any AL pitcher. Following his “top performances”, Blackburn pitched a 10-12 record with a 5.42 ERA in 2010. The Twins awarded his mediocre performance with $3 million for the 2011 season, in which he went 7-10, ERA 4.49. Now he is paid $4.75 million a year.

Accolades:

  • 2008 8th for Rookie of the Year voting
  • 2008 Allowed the 4th most hits amongst AL pitchers
  • 2009 Allowed the most hits amongst AL pitchers

Francisco Liriano

Age 28, 2012 Salary $5.5 million
Best year, 12-3 2.16 ERA
Career, 47-46 4.37 ERA

During Liriano’s rookie campaign, he posted an impressive 12-3 record with an unheard of 2.16 ERA. Everyone thought he was the next Johan Santana. However, after off season Tommy John surgery, Liriano missed the 2007 season and spent most of his 2008 year playing Triple-A after starting the year 0-3 with a 11.32 ERA with the Twins. Since 2008, he has gone 28-36.

Accolades:

  • 2006 All-Star
  • 2x AL Rookie of the Month (June & July 2006)
  • MLB.com Rookie of the Year (2006)
  • 2009 Ranked 2nd for Losses
  • 2010 Comeback Player of the Year
  • April 2010 AL Pitcher of the Month
  • 2011 5th most BB allowed in AL
  • 2011 Pitched a No Hitter

2006 Season compared to his 2012 pace.

————W       L       ERA       ER       IP        BB         SO
2006    12       3       2.16       29       121        32      144
2012     0       24      9.97       144     126       96      102

Bottom line: Liriano had a one great year (2006), one solid year (2010), two fair years (2008 and 2011), and one horrible year (2009). Since his Tommy John surgery, his seemingly once great skills have been up and down, mostly down as seen in 2009, 2011 and 2012.

Aside

ARE THE TWINS THE NEXT ’03 TIGERS?

ARE THE TWINS THE NEXT 2003 TIGERS?

ANAHEIM – Following their 9-0 loss to Jered Weaver and the Angels’, the Twins have fallen to an Imageatrocious 6-18.  Needless to say, the Twins are not only dead last in the AL Central, but the entire league.  If the season ended today with their current winning percentage of .250, the Twins would finish 41-121.  A record like this would grant them the 2nd worst season in the last 70 years of baseball; placing them ahead of the 1962 New York Mets (40-120) and behind the 1952 Pittsburgh Pirates (42-112).  Prior to the 1950s, MLB witnessed 3 or 4 clubs a decade, fall victim to 40 some win and triple digit loss season.  In the not too distant past, fellow AL Central team, the Detroit Tigers succumbed to a record of 43-119 in 2003.

The 2003 Tigers were a low to midmarket team, ranked 23rd the league in overall team salaries.  Unfortunately for Detroit, their payroll was a mere $6 million less of than the 2003 AL Central Champion Minnesota Twins (90-72).  Similarly, other teams such as the Florida Marlins (91-71), Pittsburgh Pirates (75-87), and Toronto Blue Jays (86-76) had similar team salaries to the Tigers, but clearly had much better 2003 seasons.  Clearly, money isn’t everything.  Players can be disappointing or unlucky.  Poor performance, injury, and mismanagement by the front office wreaked havoc on the Tigers’ 2003 season.

So how does this compare to the 2012 Twins?  It’s tough to say.  From a salary stand point, it bows both better and worse for Minnesota.  As of today, the Twins have the 13th largest payroll for the 2012 season, meaning that they have the money to buy or trade for talent that the 2003 Tigers might not have.  However, the Twins’ front office has been horrendous with signing talent and rewarding mediocrity in the last 2 years.  Despite bringing back shoestring budget miracle worker, Terry Ryan as GM, the Twins look mismanaged.  A 6-18 record, $94,085,000, and theoretical payment of  $2.29 million per win really puts the 2011 season of 63-99 (.388), $112 million payroll, and payment of $1.69 million per win in perspective.  Perhaps it is early to know how well the Twins will fair.  However, with the M&M Boys already with acute injuries and a pitching staff that appears to be throwing batting practice, it does not look good.  Look at the warning signs below.

Warning signs:

*Rankings for entire MLB

Pitching:

+ 3rd for least BB allowed

- 30th for ERA

- 30th for SOs

- 30th for Opponent Batting Average (.293)

- 30th for Homeruns allowed (38)

Offense:

+Ranked 5th for Doubles

+/-Ranked 15th Batting Average (.250)

-Ranked 3rd in Double Plays Grounded Into

-Ranked 24th for runs scored

-Ranked 24th On Base Percentage

-Ranked 27th for Homeruns

Deffense:

+/-16th Errors committed

Misc:

-Have allow 50 more runs that they have scored (worst in the league by 20).

-Outbatted by opponents by .043 (.293 versus .250).

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