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Twins Prez Not Settling for .500%

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July 18, 2016

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Before baseball’s All-Star break last week the Twins’ record was 32-56, a winning percentage of .363.  Since their schedule resumed last Friday the Twins earned one victory in a three-game series at home against the Central Division leading Indians.

But even though the club has an awful record, Twins president Dave St. Peter has ambitious expectations for wins and losses before the season ends on October 2.  Asked about a hypothetical guarantee by the baseball gods that the Twins will win half their remaining games, St. Peter didn’t buy in.  “No, I would never take .500,” he told Sports Headliners last week.  “I think we’re capable of being better than that. I am not ready to settle for .500 baseball.”

At least .500 was what the Twins were expected to do with their 2016 schedule after last season’s 83-79 record.  What happened?  St. Peter listed multiple reasons including lack of offense at the beginning of the season, injuries to key players like All-Star closer Glen Perkins, and also inconsistent bullpen and starting pitching.

Max Kepler (photo courtesy of Minnesota Twins).

Max Kepler (photo courtesy of Minnesota Twins).

St. Peter said the club “dug ourselves a mighty hole” but he is encouraged by the “high quality young players in our system.”  Although he didn’t list names, those players surely include the likes of outfield prospects Byron Buxton and Max Kepler, both already with the Twins, and pitcher Jose Berrios at AAA Rochester.

For the Twins to perform a lot better the rest of this season—and beyond—the organization will need to focus on improving the pitching.  Not only is the roster of pitchers and position players being scrutinized, but St. Peter also said the organization’s decision makers will soon be reviewed.

The baseball department is led by Terry Ryan, a longtime favorite of management and ownership.  He has been working for the Twins identifying and developing personnel since 1986.  He is in his second assignment as general manager after coming back as personnel boss in 2011.

Ryan has fought off cancer in the past and baseball insiders may wonder how much longer he wants the demanding job of rebuilding the Twins who had four consecutive years of 90-plus loss seasons from 2011-2014.  St. Peter said a mutual evaluation of Ryan’s future will be made near season’s end.

In talking to St. Peter the message is that everything and everyone will be analyzed.  “It’s an ongoing evaluation.  I can assure you that,” he said.

No final decision for 2017 has been made about manager Paul Molitor.  The Minnesota native and Hall of Fame player managed for the first time last season.  His efforts were applauded but with such an awful record this season Molitor and his coaches are on the spot like others in the organization.

St. Peter said he’s “very pleased” with Molitor’s overall work as Twins manager but that’s “not to say he and his coaches don’t accept some responsibility” for the club’s record this season.  “There is no doubt in our minds we continue to be big believers in Paul Molitor,” St. Peter said.

The manager and coaches have helped lead the team through a difficult start but the club has won eight of its last 12 games.  The Twins also made some progress in June, going 5-5 in the last 10 games.

Molitor didn’t panic when the season nosedived.  Molitor is known for his high baseball I.Q. and St. Peter said his manager is also a leader with “tremendous poise every single day.”

One change that for sure won’t happen in the organization in 2017, according to St. Peter, is the return of Joe Mauer to catching.  Because of concussion symptoms, the former All-Star catcher moved to first base starting with the 2014 season.  Mauer admitted last winter to at times having difficulty seeing the baseball while batting and the results at the plate of the last few seasons substantiate that.

Mauer, a three-time batting champion, hit .277 and .265 during the 2014 and 2015 season.  A career .313 hitter going into this season, Mauer is batting .268 this year.

With a contract that pays him $23 million per season, Mauer is giving the Twins a poor return on the club’s investment.  First basemen are expected to offer better numbers than seven home runs and 28 RBI if their batting average is .268—particularly if they are among the best paid players in baseball.

Mauer, now 33, would be more valuable to the Twins if he could play part-time behind the plate.  The team needs catching help this season and beyond.  With Mauer’s present offensive limitations, an ideal assignment might have him catching 50 games, playing 50 at first base, and being the designated hitter at other times.

“Joe Mauer will not catch,” St. Peter said.

Why?  “His health and his ability to continue at a high level as a dad, as a husband, trumps everything else in our minds.  I think we’ve covered this ground many, many times.  Joe Mauer is not going to return to the position of catcher based on his history there with his concussions.”

St. Peter said he isn’t aware of Mauer having vision problems now. Mauer is hitting .333 in his last seven games and that provides encouragement that the St. Paul native can continue to raise his average.

Can he become a .300 hitter again?   “I am not putting numbers on things, you are, but we just think he can be a more effective hitter than what his average shows at this point,” St. Peter said.

Twins Notes

After yesterday’s loss to the Indians, the Twins are 7-27 against Central Division rivals.  The Twins start a three-game series in Detroit against the Tigers tonight.

In yesterday’s game Kepler hit his ninth home run.  The rookie right fielder has hit nine homers and driven in 32 runs since June 12.

First baseman and designated hitter Kennys Vargas has hit safely in seven of nine games since being recalled from Rochester on July 4.  He is batting .379 with the Twins.

Announced attendance at yesterday’s game was 25,692.  If the Twins were contending for a division title the game could have been a sellout.  When football is dominating local sports interest in August and September, attendance will be a challenge for the Twins who are headed toward their lowest customer total in Target Field history.

St. Peter said former Twins great Rod Carew has been cleared to be on a list for a heart transplant.  Carew almost lost his life last year after a heart attack.

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David Shama

David Shama is a former sports editor and columnist with local publications. His writing and reporting experiences include covering the Minnesota Vikings, Minnesota Twins, Minnesota Timberwolves and Minnesota Gophers. Shama’s career experiences also include sports marketing. He is the former Marketing Director of the Minnesota North Stars of the NHL. He is also the former Marketing Director of the United States Tennis Association’s Northern Section. A native of Minneapolis, Shama has been part of the community his entire life. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota where he majored in journalism. He also has a Master’s degree in education from the University of St. Thomas. He was a member of the Governor’s NBA’s Task Force to help create interest in bringing pro basketball to town in the 1980s.

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