July 31, 2005

The End

And so it ended.

For years we've watched as Torii Hunter fearlessly took on outfield wall after outfield wall, usually winning and miraculously walking away in one piece each time. He finally met his match this weekend, when his left ankle went up against the triangle in Fenway Park and lost in a knockout.

It was a perfect example of the all-out, 110% effort Hunter has given the Twins over the years and the play that may have ended his season -- a double off the bat of David Ortiz landing just beyond Hunter's outstretched glove as he crashed into the wall -- is a perfect example of the almost-but-not-quite year the Twins have had. And it may have ended their season as well.

With a record nosediving toward .500, an offense looking completely helpless for going on a month, and the team's leader being taken off the field on a cart, Terry Ryan could very easily have panicked. He could have pulled the trigger on any number of deals, dealing prospects for veterans with the misguided notion of saving the 2005 season.

Whether he tried to do just that and simply failed, or instead realized at some point that it wasn't worth doing at all, is uncertain. Either way, things worked out for the best. Alfonso Soriano wasn't going to save this team, and neither were Bill Mueller, Kevin Millar, Shea Hillenbrand or any of the other veteran stop gaps the Twins were reportedly pursuing over the last couple weeks.

This season was gone the moment Hunter's ankle hit the wall in Boston, and probably quite a while before that. Dealing away the future in the form of Francisco Liriano, Scott Baker, J.D. Durbin or even Boof Bonser to chase what just isn't there would have been disastrous. Instead, this season can serve as a transition year, a learning experience, and the Twins can reload next year with all their bullets intact.

Things could have gone a lot better, of course. The offense could have provided the pitching staff with just a little support, the Twins could be fighting off Oakland and New York for the Wild Card, and perhaps a trade for someone like Soriano could have spurred the team to a strong finish like the acquisition of Shannon Stewart did in 2003. But for whatever reason, it just didn't happen.

I would have liked to see Ryan take advantage of an extreme seller's market to unload guys who won't (or shouldn't) be around next year, like Joe Mays and Kyle Lohse, and trading J.C. Romero when his value is seemingly at an all-time high wouldn't have been bad either. But asking a general manager to realize his team is going nowhere when they're still just a few games out of the postseason is tough, asking him to realize that and then start cashing in spare parts is almost impossible.

The next two months are probably going to be pretty tough to take, but the good news is that there are better days ahead and the events (or non-events) of this weekend put the Twins in a better position to succeed in the future. When Liriano and Johan Santana are forming a beautiful, left-handed 1-2 punch in the rotation, the idea that the Twins were thisclose to giving him up for 60 games of Soriano will be just a distant memory.

As will this season, hopefully.

Today at The Hardball Times:
- Analyzing the Deadline Deals: 2005 (by Aaron Gleeman)

Today's Picks (84-71, +$1,165):

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