Saturday, January 18, 2014

"Set Two $100 Bills On Fire": The Twins in 2013

This is Part 3 of a 7-part look-back at what happened in Minnesota sports over the past 12 months. Some of these stories are obviously figments of my imagination. A couple actually happened. These are the tales, imageries, conversations, and visualizations that best described, at least for me, what it meant to be a Minnesota sports fan over the past 12 months.

Courtesy of

Three friends and I went in on a Minnesota Twins 20-game season ticket plan for the 2012 season. We held two seats just to the right of the bullpens in the right field bleachers. 2011 had been a disappointing, injury-riddled year for a Twins team that had been expected to challenge in the American League, the year when only three position players made it through 100 games, Tsuyoshi Nishioka broke out and Drew Butera played in 93 games and posted a .449 OPS—a figure that I think could have been matched by either of Joe Mauer’s at-that-point-unborn twin girls.

But the four of us thought that better times could be ahead for the 2012 season as guys got healthy and pitchers like Frankie Liriano and Matt Capps (Matt Capps! Remember Matt Capps? If you played the Matt Capps drinking game correctly—take a shot for every no-movement fastball thrown by Capps—then you shouldn’t remember having played the game. Frankly, you should be dead.) had the potential to get back on track. We each bought five games out of the pack, which gave us the opportunity to call each other “season ticket holders” while each only attending about 6% of the team’s games.

Seemed like a good idea at the time.

So did getting into this hammock, probably.
The following is a string of ticket renewal-related e-mails sent between frequent story subject Ron, who handled the logistics of our 20-game pack, and me around the time the 2012 season concluded.

Ron, on 9/28/12:

Do you guys want to do this again? I'm pretty sure the prices will be the same as last year. I'd like to keep it going as we have a guaranteed chance of getting All-Star game tickets if we're a season ticket holder. Payment is due Monday, so let me know ASAP.

Bruff, on 9/28/12:

There are two tickets available in our row, in our section tonight for $15 apiece. I don't think anybody sees this team getting markedly better next year. I saw three blowout losses and one close loss this year, and the one game for which I gave tickets to my cousin Nick, the Twins won 19-7.
It would have been a better idea for me to set two one-hundred dollar bills on fire back in April.

Ron, on 9/28/12:

So wait, you wanna get more tickets for next year!?
Let me know if you want tickets later.

The Twins then spent the first act of the 2012-13 offseason trading away most of their outfield defensive advantage (and most of their fun guys) in exchange for two high-quality pitching prospects. We also received Vance Worley, who started Opening Day 2013 and then pitched so poorly over the next two months that he managed 1.2 wins worse than a replacement-level player would have offered before being relegated to Triple-A Rochester for the rest of the year.

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But that wasn’t the signing that had me most jazzed for what became a third straight disgusting 95-plus loss season.

Bruff, on 12/11/12:

HOLD ON!!! Did we actually just sign THE Kevin Correia?????!!!?!!?!!?!?! 2011 Pittsburgh Pirate All-Star Kevin Correia????????? We FINALLY found our 4th #5 starter!!!!!!!! We co-miiiiiiiiiiiiiin!!!!!!!!!!!! I'M BACK IN I'M BACK IN I'M BACK IN I'M BACK IN I'M BACK IN I'M BACK IN I'M BACK IN I'M BACK IN I'M BACK IN I'M BACK IN I'M BACK IN I'M BACK IN I'M BACK IN I'M BACK IN I'M BACK IN I'M BACK IN I'M BACK IN I'M BACK IN I'M BACK IN

Ron, on 12/11/12:

That dude supposed to be good? Never heard of him, but he can't be worse than Blackburn. Good news for you, we did renew.

There isn’t much that needs to be said about the terrible 2013 Twins season that actually took place in 2013. The team started 9-7 and then won 39 percent of its games the rest of the year. The offense consisted of Joe Mauer For Four Months Before A Concussion Derailed His Catching Career and a bunch of hacks who batted below .260. Brian Dozier was alright, I guess. Rookie outfielder Oswaldo Arcia showed some pop and posted an okay .734 OPS. We traded away former MVP Justin Morneau to Pittsburgh for a light-hitting scrub in Alex Presley, which we sorely needed, because the Aaron Hicks Experiment in center failed horribly and we had allowed the Royals to just straight-up buy Jamey Carroll three weeks prior to the Morneau deal.

Dozier, Presley, or Carroll? You make the call!
Our pitching rotation performed as though it was a pitching rotation that featured no pitchers who made more than $4.5 million, which it was. Correia, with his 9-13 record and his 4.18 ERA and his 101 strikeouts in 185.1 innings, was actually the squad’s most reliable starter. Shows how much I know about sports! We gave an already mediocre guy coming off Tommy John surgery in Mike Pelfrey $4 million in a 1-year deal to pitch 150 awful innings. I have to assume that his performance just kind of blended into the rest of the bad acid trip that was the Twins’ starting five (which was worst in the majors in ERA and innings pitched), and GM Terry Ryan was just coming off a lengthy bender when Pelfrey was offered—and, DUH, accepted—a two-year, $11 million deal this offseason.

The bullpen was okay. Jared Burton seems cool.

Really, the best thing about 2013 was that it passed and now we are all one year closer to being able to watch uber-prospects 3B Miguel Sano and OF Byron “The Next Mike Trout” Buxton—as well as some nice pitching prospects in Alex Meyer, Trevor May, and (what the hell happened to) Kyle Gibson (?)—play in the sun at beautiful Target Field. That’s kind of hard for the team’s top-notch marketing department to sell (Come to the ballpark to come watch some…uh…placeholder guysOH HEY LOOK A GOAT BURGER I BET THAT’S GOOD!).

In case you weren't interested in clicking the goat burger link, here's a goat burger.
The Pohlads actually allowed Ryan to open the checkbook a smidge this offseason to do a better patch job to the rotation for the 2014 year. Ricky Nolasco’s had a couple good years with the Marlins lately, so he has a chance to be the best pitcher to don a Twins jersey since the Liriano of 2010 disappeared. Former Yankee (and former Johan Santana trade rumor stalwart) Phil Hughes is also now a Twin; he has alternated good years with Mike Pelfrey years the past four seasons, and (lucky for us!), he was terrible in 2013. He should be a decent #4 starter; unfortunately, we probably have him slotted as a #2 guy.  The combined salary of Nolasco and Hughes will likely equal the combined salary of the (eleven!) guys who started a game for the Twins last season.

These transactions constituted the two largest free agent deals the Twins have ever handed out (Nolasco will make $49 million over the next four years, Hughes $24 million over the next three), and Pelfrey is now under contract through 2015 as well. Though Twins starting pitchers have been battered by injuries (and every opposing offense—HEY-O!) the past few years, it’s still strange to see the team sign up a glut of guys to clog up the five starting roles when, reportedly, some rather impressive prospects may be major league-ready in the next year or two. But I’m not going to spend much time trying to rationalize the deals of a team that likely won’t be relevant again until 2016 at the earliest, anyway.

Highlight: Target Field looked very pretty all covered in snow in mid-April.

Lowlight: It was the kind of season where I could write “the 10-game losing streak” in this space, and you would be forgiven if your first reaction to that statement was “which one?” The Twins lost 10 in a row in mid- to late-May, 12 out of 13 in midsummer, and 16 out of 19 to finish the season. Wow. I checked out of the team in early June, but after seeing that terrible September stretch, I’m very surprised Ron Gardenhire was granted a two-year extension. But then again, we gave Mike Pelfrey a two-year extension too, so what the hell do I know.

Image #1 from a "Ron Gardenhire befuddled" Google search.
(I promise, these year-end reviews are going to get a little cheerier in the near future. No, really. Part 4 will be about the national champion Gophers women's hockey team.)

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