May 28, 2007


The Twins haven't learned from their mistakes enough to actually stop making the same mistakes, but they've at least learned to get them over with more quickly. After waiting until mid-June to get rid of Tony Batista and Juan Castro last season, the Twins cut bait on Sidney Ponson in mid-May and demoted Ramon Ortiz to the bullpen yesterday. Not giving a pair of washed-up veterans $4.1 million and 17 starts to post a predictable 6.22 ERA would have been better, but at least it's "only" the end of May.

Thanks in large part to the horrible all-around play of Batista and Castro, it took the Twins until the 68th game of last season to even their record at .500 following a poor start. This time around Ponson and Ortiz helped put the Twins in another early hole, but they've managed to climb out enough to stand at .500 after 50 games. Again, not making poor decisions that give the rest of the division a head start would be much preferred, but at least there are four months left with which to make up ground.

How much did giving 17 starts to Ponson and Ortiz hurt the team? It's tough to say for certain, but a rough estimate is possible. On the most basic level, the Twins went 6-11 in their starts. If you assume that they would have managed a .500 record if those same starts had been made by Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey, and Matt Garza, then going with Ponson and Ortiz cost 2-3 wins. If you assume that Baker, Slowey, and Garza would have won more than half the time, then 4-5 games were lost.

Beyond that, by paying them $4.1 million the Twins devoted about six percent of their payroll to Ponson and Ortiz. It's difficult to say how much of an impact spending $4 million to improve the team elsewhere would have had, but certainly having another capable bat in the lineup at third base or designated hitter would have been helpful. Twins third basemen have combined for the third-worst production in the league at .226/.308/.328, while the DHs have been fourth-worst at .256/.342/.384.

While it's impossible to pin down specific numbers or players at this point, it's clear that spending $4 million to sign or trade for even a run-of-the-mill bat at those spots could have easily led to a multi-game improvement over the course of an entire year. Add it all up and the decision to go with Ponson and Ortiz will likely end up costing the Twins at least 3-5 games and perhaps as many as 6-8 wins by season's end.

There's an argument to be made that keeping Baker, Slowey, and Garza at Triple-A while Ponson and Ortiz lost games will end up helping the team in the long term because of service-time issues. However, there's little argument to be made for it being a positive right now and that was clear from the beginning. As I wrote back in February when it first became clear that Ponson and Ortiz would be filling two-fifths of the rotation, for once I'd like to see the Twins simply put the best team on the field:

Trust the talent you have regardless of when it was born, spend what little money you have available to fill legitimate holes on the roster instead of buying expensive, mediocre insurance for spots you don't need it at, and go to war with the best possible group in place. If the AL Central is as tough as I expect it to be this year--with perhaps four of the 10 best teams in baseball--the Twins will need every win they can get from Opening Day to Game 162 in order to make it back to the playoffs.

Opening the season with Silva, Ortiz, and Ponson in Minnesota and Garza, Baker, Perkins, and Slowey in Rochester might be a lot of things--and might not prove to be a season-killing mistake--but putting the best team on the field isn't one of them.

Getting rid of Ponson and demoting Ortiz in favor of Slowey or Garza while the team evens its record at .500 represents something of a clean slate, but the Twins are still looking up at three teams in the division and will have to make up at least five games to grab a playoff spot. It's nice that the mistakes have been realized and dealt with more quickly, but perhaps next time the Twins can try things without making the mistakes, period. As for this time, let's hope Baker, Slowey, and Garza can dig fast.

Once you're done here, check out my latest "Daily Dose" column over at Rotoworld.

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