Saturday, August 7, 2010

The Twins Future is Now

It is indeed rare that a baseball team has 1 let alone 2 or 3 franchise players on their roster at the same time. When they do they need to take advantage of these players presence and bid for title.

 Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew was the Twins first franchise player. He was at this peak from 1961-1971. In 1964 another franchise type player Tony Olivia arrived and played at an All-Star from 64-71.

In 1965 shortstop Zolio Versalles had a MVP year and along with Killebrew, Olivia, and All-Star performers Jim “Mudcat” Grant, and Earl Battey the Twins went to the World Series. They lost.

In 1967 the Twins third franchise player Rod Carew joined Killebrew and Olivia and the Twins came within a game of going back to the World Series. In 1969 & 70 Killebrew, Carew, and Olivia lead the Twins to division titles. Pitcher Jim Perry won 20 games both seasons winning the CY Young in 1970. The Twins lost both American League Championship series 3 games to none.

After 71 Killebrew and Olivia career went downhill and the window of opportunity for a championship was gone.

In 1984 the Twins fourth franchise player Kirby Puckett arrived. Along with All-Star level players Kent Hrbek, Frank Viola, Gary Gaetti, Tom Brunansky, and soon to be Hall of Famer Bert Blyleven, Puckett seemed poised to lead the Twins into a window of opportunity to bid for that elusive World Series title.

However then Twins General Manager Andy MacPhail knew the Twins needed a strong bullpen closer if they were to compete for a title. He acquired Jeff Reardon who then went on to help Puckett and the Twins win the 1987 World Series.

In 1991 with Puckett still at the top of his game, MacPhail was able to sign free agents Jack Morris and Chili Davis to be the Twins #1 starting pitcher and DH. Again the Twins were able to win the World Series.

But the 1993 season started a string of 8 consecutive losing seasons, and Kirby Puckett’s time as a franchise player came to an unexpected end in 1995 due to injury.

I write this because in 2010 the Twins have 2 franchise players on their roster in Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau. Morneau is signed through 2013 which by then he will 32 and Mauer 30. The opportunity for the title is now. The next couple of years will see Mauer and Morneau at the top of their games. The Twins do not seem to have another Mauer or Morneau in waiting in the minors.

However, franchise players need help to win. That’s why baseball is called a “team” game. Like 1987 & 1991 the Twins have made moves that signal this organization thinks the future is now. Now is their chance to win it all. Trading for J.J. Hardy, signing free agents Jim Thome and Orlando Hudson, and retaining Carl Pavano were all signs the Twins thought 2010 could be their year.

Another sign is the Twins trading highly rated catching prospect Wilson Ramos to Washington for reliever Matt Capps last week. The move was not a usual Twins move. They don’t trade highly regarded prospects away. They believe in preparing for the future.

Of course the future for Ramos was not so certain. He is a catcher in an organization which employs the best catcher in baseball in Joe Mauer. Ramos has had a history of injury. He has also had a history of showing great defense and tremendous power. Ramos looks like he could be a star. He could also be a dud.

Capps has already shown who he is -a reliever with a 92-94 mph fastball and a good curve ball who’s closed games effectively for 2 of the worst teams (Pittsburgh & Washington) in baseball. One of the things that separate Ron Davis one of the worse closer in Twins history from Jeff Reardon one of the best closers in Twins history was not their pitching ability, it was ability to maintain their composure and confidence after a bad outings. Good closers need a good makeup to thrive. Reports say Capps has a good makeup. We shall see.

The Twins need Matt Capps to thrive. Their bullpen has been shaky of late. Jon Rauch has been an effective closer, but is needed in a setup role. Capps give the Twins bullpen depth not only for this year, but for next year when Rauch, Matt Guerrier, and Jesse Crain might leave because they are free agent after this season and Joe Nathan’s return from injury is questionable. Matt Capps will contribute, but will it be enough to help win the World Series?

Harmon Killebrew, and Tony Olivia never won a World Series. Rod Carew never got to one. Kirby Puckett has won 2 World Series and his legacy is enhanced because of it. What will Mauer & Morneau’s legacy be? The Twins look like they are trying to be make sure it a legacy of a World Series Championship team.