Twins Prez: Little Merit in ‘Standing Still’
The Minnesota Twins, prior to the season considered a World Series favorite, were 11 games under .500 during last week’s MLB All-Star game break in the schedule. “I don’t think there’s a lot of merit in standing still when your team is in the position we’re in,” club president Dave St. Peter told Sports Headliners Friday.
The MLB trade deadline is 3 p.m. Minneapolis time on July 30. St. Peter said as the deadline nears front office leaders are obligated to assess their personnel and listen to what rival clubs are offering. “There’s no mandate from ownership around moving players for the sake of moving players, or saving money. That said, we also want to look for ways to improve our club.”
St. Peter isn’t predicting a fire sale by Minnesota but it sounds like there will be at least minimal change to the roster. “I guess I would be surprised if we didn’t see some movement considering where we’re at and considering the number of good players that we believe we have that other teams certainly have interest in. But it ultimately comes down to what you’re getting in return—so hard to predict how that market will evolve over time.”
Trading high potential young players always prompts anguish for organizations but St. Peter believes it’s wise to consider trades involving all personnel. “I think every player is on the table for discussion,” he said about the Twins.
Speculation is 41-year-old DH Nelson Cruz should keep his suitcase nearby, with a possible landing spot in Tampa Bay with the Rays. Wherever Cruz might go, he is unlikely because of his age to command much in trade return other than lower level prospects with promising potential.
Several other Twins players are part of trade chatter across the country, including pitcher Joe Berrios and center fielder Byron Buxton. Both are cornerstones for having a winning team during the next several seasons but they will be free agents in 2023 and it’s uncertain how long they will be in Minneapolis. Rumors are the Twins are trying to secure them long term but St. Peter declined to talk about contracts. It might take deals of more than $100 million each to retain Berrios and Buxton.
While Berrios has emerged as the staff ace, Buxton has only played in 27 games because of injuries. He was one of baseball’s best hitters and complete players before his latest injury (left-hand fracture) sidelined him again. In only 103 at bats he is hitting .369 with 10 home runs and 19 RBI, along with a .767 slugging percentage and 1.176 OPS.
At the time of his late June injury Buxton was playing in his third game back after being sidelined with a right hip strain. St. Peter said Buxton’s hand injury initially left him feeling down and frustrated, but the 27-year-old is resilient and a terrific teammate even when not playing.
“He’s a special person,” St. Peter said. “There’s no question he’s dealt with his share of adversity and it has made him stronger.”
From wisdom teeth to serious injuries, a lot of problems have kept Buxton sidelined over the years. St. Peter thinks Buxton’s goal for the remainder of 2021 will be to stay healthy and play as many games as he can.
What does St. Peter want to see from his club before the season ends? Play better and more consistent baseball, and move toward a .500 record. He added that the attitude of players is the season isn’t over. “I think that’s step No. 1 (getting to .500),” St. Peter said. “We get there and start to think about what’s the next step.”
The Twins are third among MLB teams in home runs with 130. Their runs scored total of 425 ranks 12th. “Offense really has not been the problem,” St. Peter said. “We’ve struggled at times in clutch situations, runners in scoring position, but for the most part offensively we think we’re scoring enough runs. Where the regression has taken place is on the mound. So I am optimistic that we’re going to see improvement there.”
Berrios leads the starting rotation at 7-3 with a 3.48 ERA. No other starter has won more than five games for Minnesota and 2020 club ace Kenta Maeda has a 4-3 record with a 4.71 ERA. In 2019, when the Twins earned what would be the first of two consecutive AL Central championships, the team had five starters who won 10 games or more.
The Twins are among the MLB leaders in giving up the most earned runs. The bullpen has faltered too, including offseason acquisition Alex Colome. He was supposed to be a late inning lights out guy, maybe even the team’s ninth inning stopper. The 32-year-old had a resume of relief pitching success including as recently as 2020 with the Chicago White Sox when his ERA was 0.81 in 21 games during the pandemic shortened season.
“The Horse” has been more like a colt for the Twins, with shaky pitching and just two saves to go with his 4.83 ERA. St. Peter believes Colome’s “stuff” is as good as ever but the reliever’s confidence is off in locating his pitches.
“When you miss, particularly in the zone in this league, you’re going to get hit,” St. Peter said. “He also, I think, had some bad luck early on as well. But it hasn’t worked out. He’s pitched better of late. …”
The Twins started the season 5-2 but by late April weren’t even close to playing .500 baseball. The team had a difficult spring, losing a lot of close games and sometimes both strategy and execution was questioned. Rocco Baldelli, the 2019 AL Manager of the Year, became the target of unhappy fans.
St. Peter said Baldelli, 39, will be the team’s on-field leader for years to come. “We love Rocco Baldelli and everything he represents, and we believe he will be our manager for a long, long time.”
Baldelli, St. Peter said, is admired inside and outside the Minnesota organization. “Rocco Baldilli is one of the more respected managers in the game. Just talk to other managers, talk to other executives. This guy has done a tremendous job here in 2019, 2020.
“2021 hasn’t worked out as well. I think some of the adversity we’ve dealt with collectively…over time will certainly help Rocco. Make him an even better manager going forward.”
This has been a challenging year for the Twins at the box office, too. The club hasn’t fulfilled expectations and the social unrest that hit downtown in 2020, along with the alarming ongoing Minneapolis crime reports, has created an image of the city that keeps some fans away from the ballpark.
“We believe very strongly that Target Field is a safe place to come to,” said St. Peter, who has been with the organization since 1990. “We don’t buy into the premise that it is not. The statistics, the reality would show that our fans have been very safe attending games. There have been…no incidents of note that have taken place in our home schedule, this year or…in previous years.
“There’s a perception issue. We have a lot of work to do as a community to deal with that. We’ve taken strides locally to try to ensure that there is a heavier infusion of security measures but at the end of the day we believe in an urban ballpark. We believe in playing downtown Minneapolis and frankly that’s going to include a number of night games which…most of our fans prefer because of their ability to get to those games.”