I'm not one to blast the front office. Because usually they make good moves to better our team moving forward. But this past offseason, and even during spring training, this front office has pulled off a horrible string of moves that has severely affected, and most likely crippled, the Twins 2011 season.
Go back to November, the team watched Jesse Crain, Matt Guerrier, Brian Fuentes, and Jon Rauch all hit the free agent market. This was one of the best bullpen's in baseball, and the Twins never were legit contenders for any of these pitchers. Over time they all signed with new teams (Crain-CWS, Guerrier-LAD, Fuentes-OAK, Rauch-TOR), leaving Matt Capps, Joe Nathan (who missed all of 2010 with Tommy John Surgery), and Jose Mijares in the Twins bullpen. It was believed that the Twins payroll was already near its ceiling then, which is why they never got in on any one of those pitchers.
Then flash forward to early December and the Winter Meetings. On the final day, the front office traded SS JJ Hardy and INF Brendan Harris and $500,000 to Baltimore for minor league P's Jim Hoey and Brett Jacobson. Hardy was an above average shortstop on both sides of the field. But he was due $6 million in 2011, and the Twins felt they'd rather free up some salary room and get rid of him. And this season, all we have seen is a revolving door of players at the shortstop position with no foreseeable end in sight. Jim Hoey has been up and down with the Twins and has shown poor command of his pitches. Brett Jacobson has a 2.93 ERA at AA, but has 22 walks in 27 innings. So a solid shortstop was sacrificed for two pitchers with command problems.
In late December, the Twins signed Japanese middle infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka to a 3 year/$9 million deal. He was put at second base to start the season, and 7 games in he suffered a broken fibula and is very close to returning to the field. The jury is out on this move still, but I thought I'd acknowledge it as well.
Mid January, the Twins outbid themselves and inked righty starter Carl Pavano to a 2 year/$16.5 million deal. They had been believed to be the front runner the entire offseason for Pavano. The closest offer was Pittsburgh for 2 years/$12-13 million. All other teams that called were only offering one year deals. Why just one or two year deals? Because of his age. Pavano had a career year in 2010 (17-11, 3.75 ERA, 221.0 IP) despite being 34 years old. I understand him wanting a two year deal, and I had no problem with the Twins giving him a two year deal. But the front office felt they were getting nowhere with him, so they upped their offer (essentially outbidding themselves) and got Pavano to resign. A few more dollars that could of been better spent on some effective late inning relief.
Back in the Winter Meetings, the Twins had selected SP Scott Diamond from Atlanta. For those who don't know how the rule 5 draft works, you pick a player and you have to keep them on the MLB roster for the following season. If you want to send them down to AAA you have to offer them back to their original team or work out a trade. Diamond didn't have the greatest spring so the conventional thinking had him going back to the Braves. But instead, the Twins sent minor league lefty Billy Bullock to Atlanta so they could keep Diamond. Bullock projects as someone who can be a good lefty specialist for an MLB team one day. Diamond projects as someone who can be a back end of the rotation starter. And all he has done so far is put in one abysmal season, going 2-4, with a 5.40 ERA in 9 starts for AAA-Rochester. This move has little affect on the 2011 team, but could affect them in the future.
Then toward the end of Spring, one of the pitchers battling for a bullpen spot was placed on waivers. That pitcher was Pat Neshek. He was claimed off waivers by the San Diego Padres. So essentially, the front office gave him away for nothing. Yes, Neshek did have a stint at AAA, but in 11 games with San Diego, he has posted a 1.54 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, and a .200 opp AVG. I'm almost positive that Neshek would be a better relief option for Ron Gardenhire in the later innings than the likes of Jim Hoey, Phil Dumatrait, or Alex Burnett.
As you can see, this was not a banner offseason for the Twins. Essentially, these moves crippled their bullpen (which was one of the best in baseball, now one of the worst), kept a revolving door on a position (SS) that has been difficult to fill, and acquired a pitcher who realistically has no chance to make this team as a starter anytime soon for a pitcher who could of been coming out of the bullpen for the Twins in 2013.
As I said, I'm not one to throw the front office under the bus. But when moves backfire this much, it needs to be addressed. And frankly going forward, I have zero confidence in Bill Smith if he chooses to be a seller at the trade deadline. Look at his past trades involving prospects that have come to the Twins...its not pretty. So all I can hope for is for this team to magically flip a switch and start playing better and making a charge for another division crown. But we all know that the likelihood of that happening is moving into the 0-10% chance range. This is going to be a long summer....