October 2, 2005


Well, it's over.

And not "over" like it was a couple months ago, but "over" like the Twins won't play any more games until next year. To be honest, most Twins fans could probably use a little time off from watching and thinking about this team, although I'm sure having playoff baseball to keep everyone busy over the next few weeks allows me to feel that way.

While the actual games came and went without much attention this weekend, there was a lot of Twins talk in the news. The big story was that Torii Hunter and Justin Morneau allegedly got into a clubhouse scuffle last week. I don't care that two players fought at the end of a disappointing season, but the incident between a young player and a veteran suggest a larger problem.

In particular, Hunter talked about not liking the way the attitude of the team has changed recently:

Some of the things I just don't like in the clubhouse. I can't handle it. Some things are going to have to change. If it doesn't change, I don't want to be around that clubhouse. The young guys should respect the veterans. I'm talking about some guys, not all the guys. ... The reason I came here is to support the team on the final weekend of the season. But once I got to the clubhouse, I don't think I want to be here. I don't want to be a part of that. I'm depressed and frustrated about what's going on in the clubhouse right now.

Hunter and Morneau have had some issues with each other in the past, and I have no idea whether Morneau is a colossal jerk who doesn't show anyone respect or Hunter is difficult to be around and unnecessarily prickly towards young players. I would guess that neither player is without blame, but whatever the case it is obvious that the environment in the clubhouse has changed as the Twins have brought in a new wave of players.

That's not surprising, as most of the guys Hunter came up with are gone via trades and free agency. It's also not surprising that Hunter would react negatively to the change. However, if Hunter is no longer able to coexist with players like Morneau, the fact is that it is Hunter who should leave. While he is a key part of the team and a big reason for the Twins' recent success, if the team is going to return to the top of the division it will be because of the development of young players like Morneau, not Hunter.

Of course, this could all be just your run-of-the-mill infighting during a frustrating season. Or as general manager Terry Ryan put it:

We've had this happen before, and we'll have it happen again. These things come out sometimes when you're not successful, and we're having a tough year.

Let's hope that's all it is, because the Twins certainly don't need any more problems with their lineup as they head into a crucial offseason.

* * * * *

Some other Twins notes from the season's final weekend ...

  • Francisco Liriano looked tremendous in his start against the Tigers Friday, picking up his first big-league win while putting up the following line:
     IP     H     R     ER     BB     SO     HR
    7.0 5 2 2 0 8 1

    A lot of fans seem to think that his inability to arrive in the majors and immediately establish himself as a top-line starting pitcher is an indictment of Liriano's status as an elite prospect. That's silly. He is a 21-year-old pitcher who showed flashes of brilliance, got knocked around a little bit, and posted a 33-to-7 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 23.2 innings after starting the season at Double-A. That's good news, not bad news.

    The even better news is that Ron Gardenhire sounds almost convinced that Liriano can step into the rotation full time next spring:

    He threw as good as we were expecting and hoping he'd throw. He was throwing the fastball, using the fastball, locating the fastball and working off of that. Once he does that, his slider and changeup are unbelievable. ... He's going to have an opportunity to make this ballclub in spring training. He's impressed the heck out of the staff.

    I'll have more on this as we get further along in the offseason, but the Twins' pitching staff is in outstanding shape for next season.

  • Unfortunately, Grant Balfour will not be a part of that staff. After sitting out the entire season following Tommy John elbow surgery, Balfour will now miss all of 2006 after having surgery to repair the labrum and rotator cuff in his right shoulder. The combination of serious arm injuries, one right after the other, could be devastating to Balfour's career. It's a shame, because he is by all accounts a good guy and looked to have a very promising future ahead of him this time last year.
  • The Twins may give Michael Cuddyer a look as the everyday right fielder next season. While that's not optimal, Cuddyer's defensive versatility does give the Twins some offseason flexibility. If they acquire a good-hitting corner outfielder, Cuddyer can move back to the infield. If they find a new third baseman, Cuddyer can slide to right field. Of course, I've been saying for about three years now that they should just stick him at second base and leave it at that.
  • Johan Santana put an exclamation point on his 2005 season with a gem yesterday afternoon, tossing seven innings of three-hit, one-run ball against the Tigers on the way to his 16th win of the season. Sadly, Santana left the game just a few outs short of claiming his second American League ERA title. Instead, he finishes with a 2.87 ERA, while Cleveland's Kevin Millwood checks in at 2.86.

    It's a shame, but in some ways I respect Santana for not caring about a personal accomplishment all that much in a season that has been so disappointing from a team standpoint. On the other hand, Cy Young voters aren't likely to give him as much credit for being unselfish as they would have for finishing with the lowest ERA in the league.

  • Today at The Hardball Times:
    - Playoff Preview: Cardinals-Padres (by Aaron Gleeman)
    - Egalitarianism and the RBI (by Dan Fox)

    Today's Picks (113-99, +$1,220):
    Green Bay +7.5 (-110) over Carolina

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