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The Minnesota Twins last won the World Series in 1991. In 1992, they fielded a very competitive team, but were undone by the loss of ace pitcher Jack Morris, and one bad pitch to Oakland Athletics reserve outfielder Eric Fox.

In 1993, the Twins thought they would again be right in the mix, signing hometown hero Dave Winfield to anchor a lineup that included Kirby Puckett, Chuck Knoblauch (before he lost his mind), Shane Mack and Kent Hrbek. The Twins lost 90 games that year. Management appeared to be blindsided and dumbfounded by the lack of production, and it put the franchise into an eight-year tailspin of tragedy, turmoil and ineptitude. It wasn’t until they decided to hand the franchise over to a core of young players who had mostly come up together in the Twins farm system that the team began to win.

The pitching staff of that renewed team was anchored by the “Big Three” of Brad Radke, Eric Milton and Joe Mays. Having recognized the complete lack of leadership on his team after the loss of guys like Kirby Puckett and Rick Aguilera, GM Terry Ryan sought out veteran pitchers, probably past their prime (and certainly affordable) who’d had success and could pitch a lot of innings, but who, most importantly, could mentor his young pitching prospects. So, in came the incredibly soft throwing Bob Tewksbury, and the very, very, very, (very) well -traveled Mike Morgan.

Ryan’s plan took some time, but it paid off. In the end, none of the “Big Three” became Hall of Famers, or even made a single start in the World Series, but they were significant pieces in the Twins return to the playoffs and respectability.

Cut to 15 years later.

The Twins have moved out of the big blue TV studio that was the Metrodome into a limestone and glass outdoor palace. The difference in atmosphere and experience for those attending a game today vs. the late ‘90’s is the difference between going to the local county fair vs. Disneyland. Yet, again, the team is facing an elongated span of underperforming, having approached 100 losses three seasons in a row.  So, last week when the Twins signed Ricky Nolasco, I was completely underwhelmed. “Great,” I thought. “Another mediocre pitcher. Another non-move designed to pacify the hometown fans.” In my cynicism, I found myself thinking about those lost years in the mid-90s, when Twins fans were expected to accept Butch Huskey, Roberto Kelly and Otis Nixon as an attempt at anything more than just fielding a team with 25 players.

But this morning, I found out that the Twins had signed Phil Hughes away from the New York Yankees, and suddenly things look a little bit different. All of a sudden Ryan and the Twins are making more noise than almost anyone else out there.

To be sure, nobody believes a guy who went 4-14 with a 5.19 ERA last year is going to turn this thing around. But it is now becoming apparent that Ryan may have gone back to his old playbook.

The Twins have very promising young talent that is beginning to emerge. Plenty has been written about Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano (that hype, by the way, is a different topic altogether), but there is solid pitching that’s coming, too. Kyle Gibson, who made his so-so major league debut in 2013, is still highly thought of. The Twins traded Denard Span to Washington for 6’9” right-hander Alex Meyer. Meyer immediately became the Twins top pitching prospect and the first power prospect they’ve had in more than a generation.

They followed it up by adding Trevor May, another intriguing prospect (along with Vance Worley, the most forgettable opening day starter in Twins history) for speedy-but-weak-armed OF Ben Revere.

Behind them are Great Possibilities in Jose Berrios and the 4th overall pick in the 2013 draft, Kohl Stewart. In fact, after Buxton and Sano, five of the Twins next eight top prospects are pitchers.

The Twins clubhouse is sadly devoid of leadership. Joe Mauer is a great hitter, a fine citizen and boring as green Jell-O. The problem is even worse amongst the pitchers. Not only has there been nobody to stand up and take young players under their wing, there hasn’t even been anyone to lead by example.  One could make the case that the pitching staff hasn’t had a true leader since the trade of Johan Santana, six years ago. (And, speaking of Santana, Ryan is on the record that he would like to entice the free agent lefty with a twice re-constructed shoulder back to Minnesota).

With the signing of Hughes and Nolasco, along with rumors about signing Santana, or trading for Homer Bailey or Jeremy Hellickson, Ryan is revealing his plan.

Throughout his career in the Bronx, Hughes has been brilliant at times and absolutely horrible at others. Recent history is rife with pitchers who simply could not handle the intense Yankee spotlight, but found success once they had moved to other organizations (see: Kenny Rogers, Ian Kennedy, Carl Pavano, AJ Burnett). Hughes may well be one of those guys. Moreover, having come out of the Yankees system, where he was surrounded by some of the best pitching in the world, he is without question a man who knows how to handle himself as a professional.

Nolasco is a classic #4 pitcher: a good-not-great innings eater with an ERA that hovers in the high 3s to the low 4s. However, he has playoff and pennant race experience. The nine-year veteran by himself will not inspire a lot excitement, but can certainly contribute as both a serviceable starter and a lead-by-example type of guy.  The combination of Hughes and Nolasco could be very good for the young Twins hurlers.

Discounting nearly everybody who pitched on the Twins starting staff last year (sorry if you’re insulted Kevin Corriea, Scott Diamond, and Andrew Albers – and Sam Deduno, we all know you’re going to be an excellent set-up man), the Twins rotation by mid-June could be Hughes, Nolasco, Kris Johnson (a recent and circuitous acquisition from the Justin Morneau trade), Gibson and Meyer. If Ryan keeps walking down this path, you could see one of those rumored big league trade targets in there as well (though, frankly, I’ll believe that when I see it).

Is that a World Championship rotation? No. It’s not really even a playoff rotation at this point. Should it get a fan base excited for 2014? Please. This team has a long, long road ahead of it. But to long time Twins fans that have seen their GM do this before, this is the first glimmer of hope.

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3 Responses to Ryan revisits old strategy in new Twins rebuilding program

  • Mick says:

    No big splash, as expected. however, with the developing arms in the minors it is a sign moving forward with more formidable placeholders. 2014 should be a better year, but expectations are starting to climb for 2015 and beyond. I loved Justin at first but he was overpriced and not the same since the head injury. Mauer gives you some flexibility by playing 1st and the bats can be better, provided Dozier proves 2013 wasn’t a fluke and hoping that they can find someone to man third. I still haven’t given up on Plouffe, but he is running out of chances to prove himself as the everyday starter at the hot corner. The trading of both Span and Revere will prove to be good or bad in the next couple of seasons………………Hicks is a wildcard and needs to live up to expectation and Pinto could be a good thing for us. Bullpen is always a strength and should get help with more inning eaters in the rotation. I DO not want to see Cole D. on the mound though.

  • Brad Beneke says:

    The Twins need to sign Cruz and Garza… Not one or the other but both or they will lose 90+ games again this year.

    I promised Andy I wouldn’t curse here.

    Terry Ryan should be hung from the foul pole and left to rot in the sun all summer long. He is a terrible GM. He is a coward, a liar and he does not have the testicular fortitude to fill a thimble as a nut cup.

    As long as he is the GM this team will fail. He is cancer incarnate.

  • Brad Beneke says:

    And that is the G rated version of how I feel about Terrible Terry Ryan.

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