Three Pieces: Minnesota Twins

Minnesota Twins find themselves in an unfamiliar position this year. They missed the playoffs for the first time since 2001 and saw the winner of their division go on to win the World Series. In addition to the threat from a powerful Chicago ballclub, they Twins will have to battle with the Indians for the AL Central crown.

1. A new stadium

The Twins have suffered in what has been at times the worst, second worst or third worst stadium in baseball. The revenue structure at the Metrodome is very favorable for the Vikings, so favorable that the Vikings receive large percentages of concessions sales and luxury box receipts from Twins games. The Twins do not have a large cable network to draw revenue from and the Metrodome is likely the ugliest and least interesting ballpark in the majors. None of these things help generate additional revenue or interest in the franchise, either in the public, or from ownership. In the new golden age of the urban ballpark, the Twins need a new stadium, or risk sinking to the level of the Expos for all those years in Olympic, drawing only a few thousand a night. I don't care how it gets done, but I do feel that a small, county based sales tax raise (about half a cent on the dollar) is an entirely fair price to pay. If we want to live in a great city, we have to be willing to pay for it. Given the fact that there are also large areas of St. Paul to put a park in, the Twins have some opportunities that they need to exploit. The problem is that public support for the stadium is less than overwhelming. The Twins need to get into the community over the next few year and build the kind of relationships that make a community value an asset. I think that would be the best way to influence public support and make sure that the community has a voice in the new stadium.

2. A 'Professional' Hitter (or two, or three)

There's a Twins blog named "Warning Track Power" which is perhaps the most accurately titled thing ever. The Twins need power, and they need leadership in the lineup, period. They ranked 29th in team SLG, 21st in OBP, and 28th in OPS.
The only teams lower in OPS were Seattle and Washington. No team with stats like that can compete. The Twins have lacked a significant presence in their lineup for years. Mauer is good, but it will be years before he becomes the kind of force that can carry a lineup the way a Bonds or a Pujols can, and it may not happen at all. It is much more likely that Mauer will need two good, or one great bat to help him out, and the Twins as they are now aren't cutting it. The revolving-door infield has been a joke. Castro (.257/.279/.386), Bartlett (.241/.316/.335), Punto (.239/.301/.335), Rodriguez (.269/.335/.383) and Tiffee (.207/.245/.293) are glorified minor leaguers that should not have seen even a third of the playing time they did this season. Morneau should be able to improve on his abysmal .239/.304/.437, but he won't be enough to elevate the lineup, and doesn't threaten opposing pitchers. The Twins needed to make a move and trade Jacque Jones and his 5 million salary for a much better hitter this past season, and now they'll lose him to free agency without anything in return. They made a great decision with Stewart, and they need to make another move like that. If the Giant's hadn't inked Winn, I would see him as a good fit. But the point here is that this is a move that must be made this year. I know that the Twins would have been a much better team if Hunter had stayed healthy, but when the performance of your team depends on the health of a man who runs full speed into walls, perhaps you need to find ways to protect your team. This need has existed for years, and it is why the Twins have had minimal success in the playoffs.

3. Time for Liriano

This young man is going to do great things for the Twins (and would have for the Giants, if they hadn't given him away), but like any young pitched, he needs time to develop. He's been knocked around in his first few starts, but his K/9 is over 12 and a half. When he's got his head together and learns how to exploit hitters, instead of just trying to blow them away, he'll be a force, but the organization needs to keep the media heat off him, and needs to make a splashy move that will let him stay out of the limelight and develop at his own pace. If they put too much pressure on his psyche, or his arm, he may turn into a never-was, and that would be a crime of monumental proportions.

The Bottom Line:

This Twins have a lot to do, not much to do it with, and have two teams to climb over to reach the pinnacle of the AL Central. But this is a team that knows how to win, sports a Cy Young winner and a Local-Boy-Done-Good who has been waiting for a chance to really shine. Brooks and Aho might disagree with me (although considering the performance of the '05 Twins, they might be happy just to see the Twins get close), but it's nice to see a three-sided race shaping up. With a smart move or two, like the one that brought Stewart from the Jays in '03, the Twins could be a force in the AL again.

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