After a lengthy hiatus, I'm proud to announce that the Minnesota Twins Re-Education Center is going to be a go for the 2010 season! Like many nowadays, the MTRC was not immune to the tough economic times besetting the country currently, but thankfully a few of my most loyal supporters came through in a big way to provide the funding to maintain this site. So, to Donna, Terry, Hank, and Betsy, a big THANK YOU is graciously extended. As many of you know, the apiary business has not turned out to be an adequate source of part-time cash, and even with my Roth IRA not totally tanking, I needed to tend to the more important things over the winter; hence, the MTRC essentially shut down for a few months. But those four wonderful folks mentioned above wanted to see the MTRC return for this season and paid for that privilege. Our mission statement for 2010: Bigger and better this year. Hank Rickenbacher, who many of you voiced positive responses following his guest gig at the end of last year, has agreed to step into an elevated role for this season. You'll still be mostly hearing from me, but Hank will be featured here on something like a weekly/bi-weekly basis. I, for one, am excited to welcome Hank to the full-time staff here. Like hell I'd ask Mr. Rogers to be my neighbor -- I'm blessed to have Hank and his lovely wife Betsy (who makes the meanest oatmeal-raisin cookies, by the way) live so close by.
Now to get to the stuff you're hear to read about...
A secondary reason that I was resistant to relaunching the blog for the 2010 season was that I thought the Twins weren't going to be as underachieving (and, hence, having the potential for a hilariously pessimistic blog) as last season. They made some good moves in the offseason -- great moves if you count who won't be on the 2010 roster ([cough] Carlos Gomez [cough]). The middle of the field is greatly strengthened for 2010 -- J.J. Hardy provides a much-needed offensive spark at shortstop, and Orlando Hudson was almost too shrewd a move for the front-office to make; you'd think they'd prefer having Matt Tolbert sucking up scoring opportunities in the 2 hole like it's nobody's business. Add Denard Span playing center field full time (like he should have been for the past two seasons) and a locked-up Joe Mauer -- that's a potent combination down the middle. The Twins' other "significant" moves over the offseason were pretty humdrum -- the Jim Thome signing still confuses me, as I don't see him getting all that many at-bats, but at least he'll be a home run threat off the bench, and Clay Condrey might as well be a Matt Guerrier in disguise. At least Condrey's presence will give Ron Gardenhire one more serviceable option to blow leads in the seventh and eighth innings.
That's a good segue to the biggest news for the Twins since they opened spring training in Fort Myers, the Joe Nathan situation. Nathan's done for the 2010 season, about to undergo Tommy John surgery, seemingly dealing a devastating blow for the Twins in the bullpen. Sure, Nathan's a great closer -- right up there with Mariano Rivera in my book in terms of the best closers in the game. But we're talking about a closer here for crissakes -- someone who pitches one inning a game maybe three times a week. As lights out as Nathan can be, let me say it here -- he is replaceable. For any other team in the league and any other manager, Nathan's absence can be overcome through a little roster tinkering and a little inspiration and coddling by the coaching staff. But we're talking about the Tweedledee-Tweedledum regime of Ron Gardenhire and Rick Anderson here. Here's a pair of clowns who didn't know how to manage a pitching staff with a healthy Joe Nathan. Now that you take the all-star stopper out of the mix, I'd just as soon suspect Ron Gardenhire is going to dictate his relievers' appearances by drawing names out of a hat.
What the Twins should be doing right about now is exploring outside options. It can be a blessing that Nathan's injury occurred before the season, as it could give them some time to address the issue before the games counted for real. But let's be honest -- Bill Smith already went over budget when he signed Hudson for $3.5 million, and then he signed Mauer for his deserved extension. Do you think Smith is ready to pony up another few million to add a Heath Bell (the best choice) or a Kerry Wood (a distant #2 option)? Doubtful at best. Most likely the Twins will turn to in-house options [gulp] Jon Rauch, Matt Guerrier, and the like. Francisco Liriano's name has been bandied about in regards to the closer's job, and I for one would welcome Liriano in that capacity if they are going to go with an in-house replacement. He probably doesn't have the meddle to handle the stress that comes with the job, but Liriano usually unravels after two or three innings in his starts -- meaning that his first inning or two is usually solid. That being said, he's probably a LaTroy Hawkins in the making, and I doubt that Ron Gardenhire would want to throw Liriano in that position to start the season, even if he was their best candidate (Gardenhire, of course, struggles making talent-based decisions [see Punto, Nick]).
Either way you think about it, the closer's job is definitely replaceable. Even a pitcher with a solid 3.00 ERA is going to give up a run every three innings, and you just hope that that run is surrendered when the team is up by more than one run. And it's not like Joe Nathan was rock solid all the time -- his playoff record is, well, checkered at best (see the 2004 and 2009 playoffs against the Yankees), and his blown saves down the stretch in 2008 were a major reason the team didn't qualify for the postseason that season. A big loss, for sure, but one that can be overcome.
Photos: (1) www.babble.com/; (2, 4) AP/Steven Senne; (3) www.fullcountpitch.com