Friends, Americans, baseball fans, I come not to praise the Minnesota Twins, but to bury them. After finishing 2015 with 84 wins, Minnesota faithful were hoping to see another big step forward as young players matured. Instead, they were stuck in a six-month long nightmare in which the Twinkies would contend for the worst record in club history.
Now mercifully nearing the end, the Twins’ 2016 should be remembered for the total, utter disaster it was. But we should also remember the very few good times and look forward to what they can be in their next life.
When was it over:
The season was lost when the Twins largely stood pat last offseason despite massive and obvious holes in their pitching staff. Then-GM Terry Ryan essentially decided to roll with what he had on hand, hoping that the development of Jose Berrios and some young relievers would upgrade the club in time for a stretch run. Before they even got to Spring Training, the Twins were screwed.
At first it didn’t seem that way; in fact, it looked like it might work out. Even though the club started 0-9, the pitching staff was averaging four runs allowed through their first 14 games. But Miguel Sano was an uninterested disaster in right field before getting hurt, Byron Buxton was bad. And, at first, and so were Brian Dozier, Eduardo Escobar, Trevor Plouffe, Eddie Rosario, and John Ryan Murphy. Glen Perkins got hurt with a shoulder problem that probably should have been caught during spring training and Phil Hughes was hurt and ineffective. The club couldn’t get any traction in those first weeks.
And then, soon after, the pitching staff just gave way. The Twins have allowed 10 runs or more in 19 games, and five runs or more in 83 games. They’ve cycled through 28 pitchers so far, not including shortstop Eduardo Escobar, who got in an inning of relief along the way. And nine pitchers have started at least eight games. Of those, only Ervin Santana has an ERA below 5.00. While the offense would eventually rebound, the pitching never would. Terry Ryan was fired in July.
What went well:
Almost entirely the offense. Brian Dozier went nuts, mashing 36 homers in 105 days from June 1-September 14. Max Kepler and Jorge Polanco have come up and done well in their first real exposure to MLB pitching. Buxton has hit .311/.364/.705 with six homers since coming up back in September. Kennys Vargas has hit himself back into the mix going forward and Robbie Grossman has established himself as a perfectly good MLB hitter, especially against lefthanders. Eduardo Nunez hit well enough to get traded for a good pitching prospect at the deadline. And Eddie Rosario hit .305/.335/.477 after his own Triple A exile.
On the pitching side, the aforementioned Santana was a true stalwart in a sea of ineptitude, and probably would have made a great acquisition for some club at the deadline. Taylor Rogers proved himself a capable lefty out of the bullpen.
A second opinion:
“The 2016 Twins were bad. Really bad. Their pitchers were bad. Their hitting was mostly bad. Brian Dozier was good, but other all, it was mostly really bad.... And on top of all of this, Prince died.... But how about that Brian Dozier?"
What’s in the future:
The Twins are knee-deep in front office executive candidates at the moment, trying to find the right person to lead their Baseball Operations and chart a new course for the franchise, so a great deal is up in the air. They have Joe Mauer and Kennys Vargas, who can each play first base and DH. Brian Dozier can play second base, or could be traded for pitching help. Jorge Polanco can either play shortstop or second base. Eduardo Escobar, then, would either start at shortstop or remain the utility infielder. And either Trevor Plouffe will be traded or Miguel Sano could play third base. Sano could also conceivably DH. The outfield appears set with Buxton, Rosario, Kepler, and Grossman.
The team still has major issues to sort out on the mound. Santana will be around next year, and the club is hoping for a recovery from Phil Hughes. Kyle Gibson and Tyler Duffey will be in the rotation mix. Jose Berrios, who has been atrocious in the majors, could start or wind up back at Rochester for extra seasoning, and Adalberto Mejia could be an option as well. All those relief pitching prospects Terry Ryan drafted over the last few years are still on hold because of injuries or ineffectiveness or both, so the club should definitely work to address their bullpen shortcomings this offseason, as well as try to find at least one starter, like Brett Anderson, who can be effective on a short term deal.
The Twins are still probably two years away from another winning season, sadly. But they are still well positioned to have a great core for the next 5-7 years if they can just find the arms to support it.