I was getting ready to put together some Twins info for you to read before today's Spring Training game when it occurred to me that one of my dear friends is a very knowledgeable and passionate Twins fan. So I invited him over for cigars and drinks and baseball talk, which is what we'd prefer to do even if I didn't have an article to write. We had a great time. You should have been there.
Here are some snippets of a good long Twins baseball chat with Max Philbrook: Twins fan, writer, teacher, and bonhomme.
So, what happened to the Twins? For a decade, they were nearly always solid to good, but the last three years have been horrendous.
I had a lot of faith in Terry Ryan in his first run as GM (1994-2007). We had a lot of success in the 2000's with teams that he built. But after he left, Bill Smith was just terrible. The lowlight for me that kind of sums up the Bill Smith era was when we traded Wilson Ramos for some reliever I can't even remember (it was Matt Capps). Ramos was cheap, under team control, and looked like he was going to be good, and we got very little for him. And now Mauer is done at catcher and we signed Kurt freaking Suzuki.
You guys have these huge prospects, Buxton and Sano, and some good pitching prospects as well. Do you have faith that the front office is going to put the right players around this likely future core to make the team regularly competitive again?
Well, I'd like to think so. Terry Ryan is back now, but I didn't like this off-season at all. I don't know why we signed Suzuki or Phil Hughes, and Ricky Nolasco doesn't make any sense given what the next four years look like. I just don't have any faith in these mid-career guys with career ERA's around four and a half.
But I think there are pieces in the organization, and seeing the guys who will come up in the future, that will have to be the way we succeed. Not by signing Phil Hughes or Kevin Correia. Ryan worked that way (building from within) in the past, so I think we can be successful through the farm again. It's one of the reasons I'm proud to wear the Twins jersey. I know there are a lot of good ways to build a team, but this way feels like the right way to me.
So who else should we look for to do well soon?
I like Aaron Hicks. I think he still has time to develop a bat. I think Oswaldo Arcia is going to be good player. He could be a .280 hitter with 20 homeruns. That's the kind of guy we need to develop around the hopeful superstars. Kyle Gibson is in the mix for a rotation spot, and Alex Meyer should be up soon.
I know you were a catcher in high school and have a special affinity for the position. What are your thoughts on Mauer's move to first?
Necessary. It's just an absolutely necessary move. He had concussions and bilateral leg weakness. Leg weakness doesn't sound a like a big deal, but for a man of Mauer's size, what is he 6'4, 240 or something like that, I mean, there's a reason there aren't many catchers his size. Of course, his bat will be just very good rather than incredible as a first-baseman, but if you get a patient .320 hitter from any position you have to be happy with that. And what's great about Mauer... he's going to be a Twins legend, and I don't think this will change that at all. He grew up in St. Paul, has been a great face of the franchise, and I think he truly cares about the Twins. I genuinely expect him to retire a Twin.
So... Suzuki? What's up with Pinto? I thought Pinto was supposed to be good.
As I said earlier, the Suzuki signing was really puzzling. We don't need to win a couple of extra games this year. We need to see what the young guys can do. I think they signed Suzuki because of Joe Mauer. Mauer's bat justifiably got noticed more, but it's often overlooked that he was an excellent game-caller and a very good defender. After years of that, I think the Twins simply aren't willing to let a guy with questionable receiving skills have the job. But in a building year like this, why not see if Pinto can handle it? Pinto is going to be with the club. His arbitration clock has started. It goes back to what we discussed earlier. I don't think Sam Deduno is going to be that good, but why not find out? He had a couple of good starts last year. We already know what Kevin Correia is!
Do you think Gardenhire is a good manager? It was surprising he survived last year.
I do. A good manager isn't going to make a bad team into a good team, and the three year disaster has been because of the roster, not the manager. Look at last year's pitching staff. Who was the Mets guy? Mike Pelfrey?! Shit.
Didn't Vance Worley get the opening day start?
Oh god. (laughing) Goggles. Yep.
What does it feel like to have lived through so much playoff and, let's face it, regular season futility in the last 22 years? Is this something you can quantify?
I don't know, Aaron. Can you quantify how it felt to you watching the Cardinals lose the 1987 World Series while you were just a seven year old at your old man's teat?
Sound of scuffling, yelling, and broken glass. Tape cuts out.
Ok, and we're back. The Metrodome: Good riddance?
Yes. That place was terrible, though I'll miss the cheap tickets and hotdogs of a stadium with more seats than could be regularly sold. Target Field is beautiful and baseball should be played outside. The Curse of the Pine Trees is going to be tough to beat though.
You moved to Missouri four years ago from Minnesota. Are Cardinals fans as smug and self-satisfied as the media portrays us to be?
Hah. Present company excluded, not at all. I mean, I know plenty of Cardinal fans who are pricks, but you get that in any fanbase. I've had nothing but great experiences in Busch stadium. I think there are some similarities with the Twins fans. I love the Midwest.
Anything else you'd like to say?
I love the first day of the season. We'll be in first place.
How do you pronounce the word spelled g.i.f.?
Uses hard G.
More scuffling and yelling.
Thanks for your time.
We also spent about thirty minutes pontificating about why baseball is the best sport. It was fascinating. If you want to hear that, you'll need to subscribe to the podcast. The podcast does not exist.
Many thanks to Max Philbrook. He tweets about writing, teaching, food and food politics, life, and sports from @Food4Max