Yesterday, I attended the Worthington stop of the Twins Winter Caravan. This particular visit featured Dick Bremer, new bench coach Terry Steinbach, Ron Gardenhire, and Brain Dozier. For about an hour, they took turns answering questions posed by attendees. The answers I was mostly interested in were those from Gardy about the direction of the team. The Twins manager, as always, was honest and humorous in his responses.
But anyway, what is the direction of the team? The Twins have made moves during this off-season that are sure to affect the club going forward. The first thing was a coaching shakeup. On October 4th, they fired (well, technically, they just didn't offer contracts to) first base coach Jerry White, third base coach Steve Liddle, and bullpen coach Rick Stelmaszek. Somewhat holding on to their jobs were Joe Vavra and Scott Ullger. Vavra was re-assigned from hitting coach to third base coach while Ullger went from bench coach to third base coach. Taking their old positions are Tom Brunansky and Terry Steinbach (already mentioned), respectively. The other new coach will be Bobby Cuellar in the bullpen. These moves show an, albeit reluctant, willingness from the front office to make necessary changes while still highlighting their loyalty to their staff. The two coaches to remain as before are Rick Anderson, the pitching coach, and Ron Gardenhire, the manager.
As for players, Terry Ryan has made some significant trades and signings so far this off-season. On November 29th, the Twins traded Denard Span to the Nationals for minor-league pitching prospect Alex Meyer. A week later, on December 6th, they traded Ben Revere to the Phillies for another right-handed pitching prospect, Trevor May, and for a starter who will immediately be inserted into the rotation, Vance Worley. Later that month, the Twins signed more pitching "help" in Kevin Correia, Mike Pelfrey, and Rich Harden. Again, these moves showed GM Terry Ryan's acceptance of what we all knew, that the Twins desperately needed to improve their pitching staff.
These are some of the more significant moves the Twins have made before the start of the 2013 season. With only 27 days until pitchers and catchers report to Fort Myers, there will be less trades or signings until the start of the regular season. Although the Twins could still make some moves, we now have a pretty good idea about what direction this team is taking. First of all, the Twins have shown that no one's job is assured forever. Although I think Gardenhire's contract will and should be renewed, there is now a sense of accountability within the coaching staff. Gardy recognized that and even mentioned it during his stop in Worthington on Tuesday. He knows it's the last year on his contract and that this team needs to improve in 2013 for him to stay with the club for 2014 and beyond.
Secondly, the front office has taken a step in the right direction by replenishing the minor league system, specially when it comes to pitching. Span and Revere were talented and likable players, but they were part of a surplus of outfielders. Meyers and May won't start the 2013 season in Minnesota, but they will hopefully be part of a good, young pitching staff in the future that will also include Kyle Gibson and Scott Diamond. The outfield holes left by the trades as well as other positions will be covered by players like Miguel Sano, Byron Buxton, Aaron Hicks, Eddie Rosario, and Oswaldo Arcia. All of these are quality prospects whom scouts project highly. These were good moves because the Twins are trying to build a contender for the future, not buy a team that might win now but will flop later. I do think the team will be slightly improved in 2013, but definitely not enough to be contenders in the AL Central. The time I'm really excited for is 2014 and later. Next year, the team will still have great players like Joe Mauer and Josh Willingham, but with exciting young talent ready to form part of a Twins team that can once again contend.
As the Winter Caravan rolls around Twins Territory and with Spring Training just around the corner, the baseball season is closing in. Even though they don't project to be among the contenders in 2013, I do think the team is headed in a better direction than it had been the last few years. Although we should probably begin to prepare ourselves for just one more less-than-stellar season, Twins fans can finally be optimistic again about the future.