Mauer, poor pitching and a dim future

If you’ve watched the Minnesota Twins play the last two nights, then you’re either an Angels fan or one tough cookie.

The Twins were no-hit last night by Jered Weaver and have had three hits total in the last two games.

Forum sports editor Kevin Schnepf sums up the Twins’ woes pretty well in this column he wrote in today’s paper.

The numbers don’t lie. Minnesota has the worst record in baseball, the worst ERA, the fewest strikeouts, etc. The offense ranks among the bottom third in the majors. And the defense … well, I’d argue the Twins lack a single player defensively that’s above average.

Johan Santana led the 2002 Twins in strikeouts. Associated Press

Go back 10 years to the 2002 Twins, who broke the team’s 11-year postseason drought with an AL Central title and eventual berth in the ALCS. Like this year’s team, the 2002 Twins had a pitch-to-contact staff too (although obviously a more superior one). Johan Santana led that team in strikeouts with 137, despite pitching only 108 1/3 innings and only serving as a part-time starter.

Among the many differences between the two, what was the biggest? I’d say defense and athleticism. The ’02 Twins could pick it, with Corey Koskie at third, Cristian Guzman at shortstop, Dougie Mientkiewicz at first. Then in the outfield, Torii Hunter and Jacque Jones provided the range.

But back to the present. In 2012, I see a team with hopeless pitching and no signs of it letting up. After all, if the Twins chose to jettison Nick Blackburn or Francisco Liriano to the bullpen, who is going to take their places? And don’t give me the line about Scott Diamond having a nice year in Rochester. Is there anyone that can be expected to make any sort of an impact on the horizon at either Triple-A or Double-A?

Even in the lower levels of the minors, the Twins have hope, but it comes in the form of position players. That’s all fine and dandy, but this is a pitching era, and somehow the Twins have missed the boat entirely in pitching development.

The state of the organization screams rebuilding mode, but this is where Joe Mauer and his eight-year, $184 million contract enter the picture. The Twins could seemingly try to rebuild for, say, 2015 with the hopes that guys like Aaron Hicks and Angel Morales and Miguel Sano are ready to make a big impact in the big leagues. Then the club could spend money on pitching rather than worrying about the offense. Or trade a guy like Hicks now for a minor league power arm.

So ask yourself these two questions:

  1. Can a team rebuild while simultaneously paying a player $23 million per year, essentially wasting the prime of his career?
  2. And if you think they can’t, is there any way in the short term for the Twins to dig their way out of this hole and compete again?

I think there’s a better chance of No. 1 working than No. 2 ever happening.