Sunday, April 17, 2011

Blame Bill Smith



The Twins are off to an embarrassing 4-10 start, their best player is on the DL until at least the end of April, Joe Nathan has looked mortal since returning from Tommy John surgery, they are hitting .234/.284/.310 as a team, and the team's ERA is 4.61. They have been outscored 67-41. Needless to say, the first 14 games of the season have not gone the way the Twins or their fans wanted. Luckily, there are still 148 games to go and plenty of games against their AL Central counterparts, so throwing in the towel this early in the season would be ridiculous.

However, anyone who took the time this off-season to actually look at the moves the team was making was capable of realizing that the team seemed poised to take a step back in 2011. Even if we were to assume Justin Morneau and Joe Nathan bounced back from the concussion and Tommy John surgery, respectively, to become all-star caliber players again, the team still made a lot of silly decisions this off-season. Some of these I complained about all off-season as well, but here's all the simple mistakes Bill Smith and company made last off-season that were obvious mistakes at the time.

Giving away JJ Hardy for two minor league relievers was bad enough, but giving the starting job to Alexi Casilla was indefensible. Trading Jose Morales to Colorado for a marginal prospect was also silly, because he was a better option to back up Mauer than Drew Butera and now that Mauer is injured the team is starting a career .214/.296/.317 MINOR LEAGUE hitter. Yes, he has a .613 OPS for his minor league career, yet he's starting at catcher for the Twins for at least the next two weeks. Unless he can somehow turn every single pitch into a strike and throw out every base runner, his defense is extremely overrated and his offense is going to absolutely kill a lineup that's already struggling mightily.

Refusing to find a decent utility infielder, someone who could potentially replace Alexi Casilla when he was still struggling in May, looks even more foolish now. Matt Tolbert has no business being on a major league roster but instead of being a AAA utility man he's instead getting occasional starts at both shortstop and second base in the big leagues.  Even signing someone like Cristian Guzman, who's defense at shortstop is absolutely brutal now, would have been a better decision than keeping Tolbert on the roster.

Yes, Ron Gardenhire makes mistakes as a manager and he's far from a great manager. But there's not much he could do differently with the current roster that Bill Smith and company have put together for this season. In the 8th inning of yesterday's game, the Twins had Matt Tolbert, Drew Butera and Alexi Casilla in the game. Those are three players who really have no business being on a major league roster, although I wouldn't argue with someone who thinks Casilla could be a decent utility man.

So rather than blaming Joe Nathan, Matt Capps or Ron Gardenhire for yesterday's blown lead, just remember that Bill Smith made mistake after mistake this off-season, he traded Wilson Ramos for Matt Capps last July, and the team has absolutely no prospects that project as above average players at either shortstop or second base.

It's incredibly frustrating as a fan when I can literally sit in front of my computer, look up stats, and project what moves are likely not going to work. It's so simple to do, and regardless of how you feel about stats, facts are facts and there's a reason teams like Tampa Bay were able to compete with Boston and New York with a payroll about five times as low. Luck certainly plays a part in building a team, but constantly making trades and signings that are clearly bad decisions are going to catch up to you eventually.

After a depressing year for Minnesota sports, it's unfortunate that the Twins front-office made enough incorrect moves to turn a 94-win division champion into a likely 80-win team that will finish third. But hey, at least the Yankees won't sweep them out of the playoffs this year.