BIG Changes Could be Ahead for the Twins

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Following Francisco Liriano’s no hitter on Tuesday and the 3-2 nailbiter in Chicago on Wednesday, there’s a sliver of optimism in Twins Terriority, so I hate to be a buzzkill. At 11-21, the White Sox are only team in baseball with a worse record than the local nine and the Twins scored a measley 4 runs in the two game sweep.

Of course, the most troubling aspect of the 2011 Twins – the single biggest reason for their dismal 11-18 record – is the team’s inability to score. In 20 of their 29 games, they’ve plated 3 runs or less. When you couple that with their inexcusable fundamental breakdowns, this season has been largely unwatchable so far.

On paper, the squad has too much offensive talent for this trend to continue. The bats of Justin Morneau, Joe Mauer, Michael Cuddyer, Jim Thome and Delmon Young seem destined to get healthy and/or heat up at some point. But what if they don’t? What if the Twins stayed mired in the lower half of the AL Central into July?

If that happens, we could see major changes take place. What seemed unfathomable a couple of weeks ago may happen – the Twins could engage in a firesale that would completely transform the team.

Cuddyer, Jason Kubel and Thome are all free agents at season’s end. The Twins don’t seem to be in any rush to extend the contracts of Cuddyer or Kubel. There’s no talk of it – zilch. Thome meanwhile, turns 41 in August and can’t play in the field. Why would a losing team keep him around?

As my friends and acquaintances have heard me say for months and Patrick Reusse astutely pointed out this week, the Twins farm system has nearly dried up. The Double and Triple A teams are a mess and offer precious few blue chip prospects. This reminds of the post 1992 Twins when Kirby Puckett and Kent Hrbek began aging and other stalwarts like Greg Gagne and Dan Gladden left via free agency. The farm system, always the bellweather of the Twins organziation, produced no viable replacements. As a result, the franchise went into a decade long tailspin. Unless action is taken, we could be witnessing the prequel to the sequel of that nightmare.

Guys like Alexi Cassilla and Matt Tolbert are getting multiple chances because the Twins don’t have any better options. If the team had top notch, major league ready prospects, they’d be here. Instead we’re subjected to middling, career back-up types like Tolbert, Trevor Plouffe (.255/.317/.396 in 803 minor league games) and Rene Tosoni (decent minor league numbers, but didn’t reach Triple A until age 24).

My point is that the Twins need young, cheap talent and if they are out of the pennant race by late July it only makes sense to deal guys like Cuddyer, Kubel and Thome to get it. You also have to look hard at the future of Justin Morneau. While he’s safe for this year, Morneau’s contract runs through 2013 and if the organization decides it can’t afford to lock him up beyond that (very likely with Morneau’s health issues and Mauer’s albatross of a contract hanging around their neck), their best option may be to deal him this offseason or sometime next year. If they hold onto him too long their bargaining position will be severely damaged – see Johan Santana. The Twins got next-to-nothing for the two-time Cy Young winner and can’t let that happen again.

When the 2013 season opens, Twins fans surely won’t be yearning for a return to the Metrodome, but they will likely be waxing nostalgic about the players and the quality of baseball they saw late in the Dome era. A playoff sweep at the hands of the Yankees may be looking pretty good at that point.

(Photo by David Zingler)

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