The 2013 baseball season has been over for almost a month and in the case of teams like the Minnesota Twins, it ended long before that. The temperatures have gotten colder and snow flakes have been seen over at Target Field but I still find it difficult to rid myself of the bitter taste of yet another wretched Twins season. A season in which the home town team managed to lose 96 or more games for the third year in a row. Not once in franchise history going back to 1901 have any previous Washington Senators or Minnesota Twins teams managed to accomplish what the 2011-2013 Twins have done by losing 96 or more games three years in a row. The 1997-2000 Twins ball clubs who lost 94, 92, 97, and 93 games were pretty dismal but they fell short of the three straight 96 loss mark.
The depressing part of this is that we can’t even blame injuries for the Twins poor play, the team just plain under performed to what were already low expectations. Sure Joe Mauer missed the last 39 games and Josh Willingham missed 33 games and a few other regulars spent a couple of weeks on the DL but that was about it. A number of players that spent time on the Twins DL list didn’t belong in the majors anyway.
When your team plays this bad it should not be that hard to find candidates for this years Twins Turkey of the Year. I had a few minutes the other day and I start compiling a list of possibilities and here is who I came up with off the top of my head in no particular order. Worse yet, I know it is hard to believe but these guys didn’t even make the cut for the final five.
Rich Harden – The Twins signed this fraud in December 2012 and allowed him to rehab his surgically repaired shoulder but Harden requested his release at the end of July when even he could see he would not be pitching in the majors in 2013. The man last pitched in the majors in 2011. I am not sure what it says for the state of baseball today when teams keep giving pitchers like Harden chance after chance. In all or parts of nine big league seasons with three different organizations, Harden has already pocketed $23,586,500 and he has pitched in a total of 170 games and only twice in nine seasons has he ever appeared in more than 25 games. If there was a DL Hall of Fame, he would be right there. He will only be 32 later this month and he still wants to pitch again in 2014.
Joe Benson – The Twins selected Benson in the second round of the 2006 June draft, just a couple of picks ahead of Justin Masterson and Jon Jay. Benson passed on a football scholarship to Purdue and took the Twins $575,000 and started his career in pro ball. Benson finally got the call to join the Twins in September of 2011 and had 71 at bats in 21 games and hit .239 with no home runs and two RBI. The Twins kept trying to hand him a starting outfield spot in 2012 and 2013 but he just could not get the job done. With his propensity to strike out, Benson would have fit right in with the 2013 Twins. In May of 2013 the Texas Rangers picked Benson up on waivers.
Chris Parmelee – This Twins first round pick in 2006 was projected to be a big time home run hitter. Parmelee worked his way up the minor league ladder and got his first taste of big league ball as a 2011 September call-up and he knocked the cover off the ball by hitting .355 with four home runs and 14 RBI in jus 76 at bats. The Twins had high hopes for Parmelee in 2012 and he rewarded them with 5 home runs and a .229 average in 192 at bats. The Twins handed Parmelee the starting right field job in 2013 but by the time the all-star game rolled around he found himself in Rochester. Parmelee finished the 2013 season hitting .228 with 81 strike outs and just 8 long balls in 294 at bats.
Scott Diamond – This 2010 Rule 5 pick-up had a wonderful season in 2012 going 12-9 with a 3.54 ERA in 27 starts and was projected to be the Twins ace going into 2013. After undergoing elbow surgery in late December of 2012 Diamond started the 2013 season on the DL. When he joined the team later in April he was nowhere near the pitcher he was in 2012. Diamond crashed and burned in 2013 going 6-13 with a 5.43 ERA in 24 starts and by August found himself with AAA Rochester.
Josh Willingham – This Twins starting left fielder was born in the Yellowhammer state and goes by the nickname of The Hammer but in 2013 he played more like a toffee hammer then the sledge-hammer that the Twins expected. Coming off a 2012 season when he hit .260 with 35 home runs and 110 RBI Willingham slumped badly in 2013 hitting just .208 with 14 home runs and 48 RBI. Worse yet he played in just 111 games due to a knee injury which eventually needed surgery. The Hammer’s strikeout’ jumped from 27% of his 2012 at bats to 33% of his 2013 at bats.
Eddie Rosario – A fourth round pick in 2010 this Twins minor leaguer was expected to make his big league debut with the 2014 Twins and possibly fight for a starting spot but a week or so ago he announced that he would be suspended for 50 games for violating the minor league drug policy. Rosario claims that the positive test came from some pills he took to help recover from an arm injury but then again everyone that is caught has some excuse. Neither MLB nor the Twins have made an official announcement as yet. Rosario began his career as an outfielder but agreed to switch to second base in 2011. This past year Rosario played for Ft. Myers before being bumped up to AA New Britain. This past Fall the Twins sent him to play in the Arizona Fall League. If this suspension is a fact, this will really hinder Rosario’s climb up the minor league chain towards Target Field. Minor league teams only play around 140 games so missing 50 really hurts.
We have spent enough time talking about the nonqualifiers, so without further ado let’s get to the meat of todays festivities. Each and every one of the final five did his best this past season to win the 2013 Twins Turkey of Year award but we can only have one winner here.
The fourth runner-up is pitcher Vance Worley. Worley was a Phillies third round pick in 2008 and pitched in just 5 games for Philly in 2010. In 2011 Worley went 11-3 but in 2012 Worley went 6-9 with a 4.20 ERA in 23 starts.The Twins parted ways with center fielder Ben Revere to acquire the Vanimal from the Phillies in December of 2012. Worley started 10 games for Minnesota including the Twins home opener going 1-5 with a 7.21 ERA before GM Terry Ryan had seen enough and sent Worley to AAA Rochester. Worley was supposed to be a stalwart in the Twins 2013 rotation but he didn’t even make it to Memorial Day in Minnesota. The man talked a good story but he could not walk the talk. In Rochester he spent time on the DL and started just 9 games going 6-3 with a respectable 3.88 ERA but the call to return to Minnesota never came. Worley was the big acquisition by Ryan last off-season and he was supposed to eat innings and stabilize the rotation but he failed miserably in both. The man pitched like a turkey and earned his spot on this list.
The third runner-up is outfielder Aaron Hicks. Hicks was the Twins first round pick (14th overall) in 2008. Hicks slowly worked his way through the Twins system and finally had a breakout season in 2012 with AA New Britain. He so impressed the Twins brass that during that off-season they traded both of their center fielders, Denard Span and Ben Revere for pitching help and Hicks became the front-runner to be the Twins Opening Day center fielder in 2013. Hicks rewarded the Twins organizations faith in him by having a great spring training hitting .370 with four home runs (three in one game) and 18 RBI along with 3 stolen bases. But when they started playing for real Hicks got off to a horrendous start getting two hits in his first 48 at bats and worse yet, he struck out 20 times. The Twins had no one else to play center so they kept sending him out there everyday until he pulled a hamstring on a June 9th. At that point Hicks was hitting .179 with 6 home runs but he also struck out 56 times in 190 at bats. While rehabbing in Rochester Hicks was recalled by the Twins when Willingham went on the DL. On August 1st Hicks was still hitting .192 with the strike outs continuing to pile up and GM Ryan sent him packing to Rochester and Hicks never again put on a Twins uniform for the rest of the season. I really don’t like picking on rookies and the Twins probably did Hicks a disservice by having him in the major leagues without a single AAA at bat but the Twins were in desperate circumstances and so they threw Hicks in the deep end of the pool and he was just plain in over his head. But Hicks didn’t earn his was on this list because he couldn’t hit, he is here because his attitude left a lot to be desired at some points this year. There were times when he failed to run out ground balls, on some of his home runs he stood at home plate and admired it, and in the field he sometimes played so casually that runners took extra bases on him without too much effort. To me he looked like a player that thought he was a star now that he had reached the major leagues and he quit working and was just coasting along. A little humble pie should be on Aaron Hicks Thanksgiving table this year and hopefully he will become the player that we all hoped he could be. If he doesn’t show solid improvement this season he should look at sharpening his already strong golf swing and consider the pro golf tour.
Our second runner-up is pitcher Anthony Swarzak. Swarzak did not make this list because of how he did on the mound, he made the list in spite of having a career year in 2013. Swarzak appeared in a career high 48 games and threw 96 innings and posted a 3-2 record with a career best 2.91 ERA. So why was he invited to the Twins Turkey of the Year banquet? Swarzak is here because on January 25th while attending TwinsFest 2013 he and his teammates thought they would have a little fun and started practicing their wrestling moves and Swarzak ended up with two broken ribs. The non-injured participants were not identified and GM Terry Ryan said that he appreciated that Swarzak come forth and fessed up. I am sure that childish behavior like this goes on all the time in baseball locker rooms as Kent Hrbek can certainly attest to when he broke his ankle during some horseplay in the Twins clubhouse in September of 1990. With the Twins desperate for pitching this was a stupid move on the part of Swarzak and possibly cost him a chance to join the Twins starting staff. Swarzak missed most of spring training and did not pitch in a single ST game. Swarzak started the season on the DL but was activated on April 7th and went on to have his best year. Sometimes baseball players have some let’s say “unusual beliefs” and this Twins long reliever fits right in with that group with his passion and interest in Sasquatch, otherwise known as Bigfoot. He’s obsessed with it,” said fellow reliever Brian Duensing. “He believes they’re real. He really wants to find one. He is adamant that they are around.
Our runner-up turns out to be hitting coach Tom Brunansky. This former Twins player got into coaching in 2010 with the GCL Twins and the Twins quickly moved him up the ladder with stops at AA New Britain in 2011, at AAA Rochester in 2012 and in 2013 he became the Twins hitting coach. A number of Twins minor leaguers loved him as a hitting coach but in his one season in Minnesota he has shown nothing that indicates that he is a big league hitting coach if you go by the teams hitting numbers. The 2013 hitters were with a couple of exceptions the same players as the Twins sent to the plate in 2012 but yet Brunansky turned these hitters in to as Sid Hartman might say, real stiffs. Lets take a look at a couple of hitting categories and compare 2013 to 2012. The 2012 Twins hit .260 and under Bruno the 2013 Twins hit .242, fourth worst in team history. The OBP in 2012 was .325 and it was .312 this past season, only five Twins teams have done more poorly. The 2012 team scored 701 runs and in 2013 they scored 614, only the 1968 Twins played in 162 games and scored fewer (562) runs. The crowning achievement for Bruno was his teams 1,430 strike outs, a franchise record going back to 1901 and the next closest number was 1,121 by the 1997 Twins bunch. The 2012 boys went down swinging 1,069 times. But on the plus side he did increase the number of home runs from 131 to 151. It is hard to understand how the Twins justified renewing the man for 2014 who just by looking at the numbers, might be the worst hitting coach in team history. I am thinking he will be on a short leash in 2014 and if Twins hitters get off to another miserable start Dave Engle‘s brother-in-law will be looking for work and Joe Vavra will get his job back.
The entire Twins organization had another bad year and that makes three in a row. You can say what you want and dissect it a thousand different ways but the only way to measure success for any baseball team is in terms of wins and losses. If you don’t win, your season has to be considered a failure and you are not doing your job, it really is as simple as that. In baseball, like in life there are really no moral victories and I am tired of hearing that “the boys really got after it”, I want to see the win column increase and the loss column decrease.
In addition to being bad on the field the Minnesota Twins organization was equally bad off the field. Spring Training 2013 was year 2 of “Value” and “Premium” pricing and the tickets ranged from $13 for a “value” lawn ticket to $43 for a “premium” Dugout Box seat. In 2012, three of the 16 (18.8%) home games were designated as “premium”, in 2013 six of the 18 (33.3%) of the home games were classified as “premium” games. 2013 was the first time in a number of years that the Twins had not raised their spring training ticket prices at Hammond Stadium from the previous season but they doubled the number of their “premium” games so yes, they pocketed more money from ticket sales. YES, $43 to watch a ST game. How in the world can the Twins who were coming off of back-to-back 90+ loss seasons, dropping payroll, charge $43 to watch a team that will not even have big leaguers playing most of the time?
The 2013 regular season brought even more changes in Twins ticket pricing for Twins fans. The variable ticket pricing plan that was instituted in 2006 with two tiers jumped to three tiers in 2009 and jumped to five tiers in 2013 as the Twins came off back-to-back 96+ loss seasons. The tiers are called “extra value”, “value”, “select”, “premium” and “elite”. Six of the nine “elite” games were against the Yankees and White Sox, I wonder how they were chosen as the “elite” games. Oh, by the way, the Twins record for “elite” games was 1-8. When you look back at the 2013 season how many of the games that the team played should have been classified in any of these five categories? According to Team Marketing Report the average MLB ticket price in 2013 was $27.73 and the Twins 2013 average ticket price was the 13th highest of the 30 big league teams at $32.59. To bad the Twins play was not that good, I can’t wait to see the Twins 2014 ticket prices.
Then on April 8th the Twins sent out a Press Release – Early Entry Program Coming to Target Field. The press release went on to say that early entry tickets will be sold on a walk-up basis at the main Target Field Box Office beginning 30 minutes before the early entry time for that game. Tickets will cost $15 dollars, and sales will be limited to the first 60 fans. Fans will also be required to have a normal entry ticket to the game, and will not be allowed to exit and reenter the ballpark after batting practice. When the Twins fans and the press saw this release the reaction in blogs, Twitter and sports talk shows went wild and it wasn’t positive.
Then a couple of hours later Twins corporate communications senior manager Chris Iles sent out another press release retracting the whole “early entry” offer from this morning. “My apologies as I sent a release out prematurely earlier today. The early entry program outlined in the release was not fully vetted across the Twins organization. To that end, please disregard the earlier release as the Minnesota Twins will not be offering an early entry program as stated earlier today. There will be no change in policy regarding gate opening times and season ticket holders will continue to be given early access priority as part of the Sweet Spot program. On behalf of the Twins, we apologize for a lack of internal communication which led to the premature release of this misinformation”.
So what happened? Twins President Dave St. Peter said the release was sent prematurely and hadn’t been approved by higher-ups in the organization. “It was released before it ever should have been. It’s hard to believe, but it was not pulled down because of fan reaction,” St. Peter said, adding this: “Our organization made a mistake.” We’re looking at ways to add more access to batting practice, but I’m not sure charging incrementally is the way to go about that.” When asked again if this 180 degree turn had anything to do with the roughly 95 to 99 percent of people who thought the plan was a bad idea and made their voices heard on Tuesday. “I heard from a few fans,” St. Peter said. “I know this: I know we provided a tremendous level of entertainment to the world of Twitter this afternoon. I don’t know if that’s good news.”
Dave St. Peter, a native of North Dakota became the fourth president in Minnesota Twins team history in November 2002 and has done great job in that role over the years. Dave has always been willing to help anyone that asks and he is one of the few MLB team presidents that I know of that is willing to make his e-mail address available to the general public and respond to your e-mail personally as quickly as he can. Although I am not a Twitter user, St. Peter is and I have heard that he is very active there.
Having said that, I am disappointed in how St. Peter handled to the pay for batting practice issue this season, my perception is that Dave St. Peter threw Chris Iles under the bus and did not take responsibility for the problem and then was less than honest about the reason for the change of heart. I also have the perception that a baseball teams president should be more of the face of the franchise to the general public then Dave St. Peter has recently shown. I know that Dave St. Peter shows up at many events but I am talking more about taking responsibility for the actual play of the team. I know that running the team is not his job, he has people for that like GM Terry Ryan and manager Ron Gardenhire but St. Peter is the team president, as President Harry Truman one said “The Buck Stops Here.” The way I see it Dave St. Peter should stop spouting the normal baseball clichés and step forward and admit that “I am responsible for the state of this baseball team and I will do all I can to fix it.” The first part of that process is to instruct his GM to sign some players that will make this team more competitive. I know that it might be difficult to get good players to play for a team that is as bad as the Twins have been for three years but money speaks volumes and if the Twins have to over pay to get them, so be it. After all, Twins fans have been over paying to watch this team play for several years, now it is your turn to hand over your wallet. Another step might be to revisit ticket prices both for spring training games and for the regular season. The team has sucked for several years, maybe the organization should give the fans a break on ticket prices until things get better instead of bragging that you didn’t raise the ticket price but fail to mention that you have moved to five tier ticket pricing from three with higher prices for those two new tiers. For some reason Dave St. Peter’s name never comes up when members of the organization such as the GM, the manager or the pitching coach are criticized for their performance, the president of the Minnesota Twins appears to be the Teflon man. The entire Twins organization probably earned this award but we need the leader of this organization to step up and accept responsibility. 2013 was not a good year for another president we all know but for your performance this year Mr. Dave St. Peter you are our 2013 Twins Turkey of the Year winner.