It’s OK to admit it hurts. Joe Nathan’s jersey hangs in the closet, unworn. Jason Kubel’s signed hat somehow looks emptier. But it’s the scorecard with Cuddy and his dimples — those magnificent dimples — that hurts the most. Why? Why do they ALWAYS have to leave?
Enough. Enough self-pitying. Start reciting those time-tested clichés: you can’t live in the past, there’s plenty of other fish in the sea, you’re better off without them. …
Hold it; we lost 99 games last year. We really might be better off without them. Bring on those other fish! OOH! Here’s some more good news: the new fisherman is Terry Ryan. The old captain that sailed our ship through that whole contraction crapstorm a decade ago, drafted Kubel and Cuddy and traded for Nathan, is back at the wheel.
He’s been busy. Hoping to reverse course, the Twins will be coming north with a half a dozen or so new teammates. True to Ryan’s reputation, these guys aren’t show horses — they’re mudders. There isn’t one who hasn’t dealt with significant adversity. So let’s get to know a few of them.
Speaking of slogging through mud, Ryan Doumit comes to the Twins from the Pirates organization, which hasn’t cleared the .500 mark for 19 consecutive years. (Yes, that’s a record. Yeay.) He was a catcher with them and will often serve as the backup catcher with the Twins, but you’ll find him playing just about every day in one position or another.
That’s because the guy can hit. His hitting “rate” stats (batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage) are nearly identical to Kubel’s. Unfortunately, his injury history is similarly long and (again, like Kubel) he hasn’t had a lot of luck against southpaws. Doumit could use a fresh start and the Twins plan to give him a score of those starts at catcher, designated hitter, first baseman and corner outfielder this year.
Carroll was 28 years old before he was called up to The Show, long past the age when several prospects give up. He’s always profiled as a replaceable utility infielder, but has eked out a 10-year career for five teams, playing in 1,000 games and earning 3,439 plate appearances. Last year, as a 37-year-old, he was supposed to be the Dodgers’ backup middle infielder. Instead he played in 146 games, making nearly equal starts at second base and shortstop, while hitting .290.
He’s solid, not spectacular, with the glove, and the Twins will certainly take that after last year. But what has set him apart is that he figures out a way to get on base. He’ll replace last year’s .278 OBP of Tsuyoshi Nishioka, who was mercifully demoted to AAA, at shortstop. Finally, Carroll’s right-handed bat slots nicely between lefties Denard Span and Joe Mauer at the top of the lineup.
Over the last three years, right-handed slugger Josh Willingham has hit 69 home runs. The player he’s essentially replacing, Michael Cuddyer, hit 66. And yet this year Cuddyer signed a contract for $10 million more than Willingham.
The difference? Cuddyer is a former 1st round pick who has been highly touted his whole career. Willingham worked his way through the minors as a super-utility fielder and then was converted to catcher. That plan was scrapped once he got to the majors and he was thrown into the outfield. He didn’t get to play regularly there until he was 27 — at which point he hit 26 home runs for the Marlins.
He’s been the classic overachiever, the guy nobody trusts to keep it up, traded away by some teams, signed to a one-year deal by others, until this offseason. Suddenly everyone noticed that this 32 year old has averaged 20 home run seasons for all six of his years in the majors.
Jared Burton, Matt Maloney
These two were brought in to help shore up the bullpen. Actually, there were about a dozen guys brought in — these are two of the survivors. They represent Ryan specialties: a waiver claim and a minor league deal identified by scouting. They are both struggling to regain careers. They both proved themselves to the Twins with successful springs.
Jared Burton has the most experience. He was a successful late inning reliever for the Reds from 2007 through 2009 until injuries cost him 2009 and 2010. He was brought in on a minor league deal, meaning there were no guarantees, but worked his way onto the roster. With only seven strikeouts and five walks in 10 innings, he’s still not putting up his old numbers, but he’ll get some more time to show what he’s capable of.
Maloney also came up with the Reds, but as a starter, ala Glen Perkins. The Twins are hoping that converting him to a reliever, like Perkins, will increase his effectiveness. It sure did this spring. The southpaw showed an ability to put batters away unlike what he did as a starter, striking out 16 in just 14.1 innings.
These guys are more than fill-ins for the glamorous All-Stars who left. They represent an attempt to leave last year’s troubles behind by adding a modicum of grit to a clubhouse that sometimes seemed a little too distracted last year. Perhaps these new kids will have an impact beyond what they do on the field.
John Bonnes writes for Twins Daily — a hub for all things Twins at twinsdaily.com. He started TwinsGeek.com in January of 2002. He also is the owner of GameDay Program and Scorecard, which provides the content for the Minnesota Twins Official Scorecard. You can hear him as a guest of the Powertrip Morning show on KFAN 101.3 and on his Gleeman and the Geek podcast, or follow him on Twitter at @TwinsGeek.