By PATRICK SLACK
The Minnesota Twins were coming off a brutal 63-99 season this winter that resulted in Terry Ryan being reinserted into the general manager role.
Just one year prior, the Twins had won 94 games and the American League Central title in the first year played at Target Field.
That prompted this question heading into 2012: was the horrific 2011 season primarily a result of injuries and off years that could be rectified en route to another playoff run, or was it a sign of rough times ahead.
Ryan, ever-cautious, didn’t hitch his wagon to either outlook, opting to patch holes with low-cost veterans such as Josh Willingham, Ryan Doumit, Jamey Carroll and Jason Marquis and bringing back Matt Capps.
Despite the tremendous year out of Willingham and the respectable production from Doumit and Carroll, all they have done is make the Twins a more frustratingly mediocre team, one that has an offense capable of carrying a squad for a week at a time, but with a pitching staff woefully incapable of sustaining such success.
Those moves were forgivable given that the franchise was entering the third year of a beautiful, taxpayer-funded stadium that was promised to provide the resources to compete on a yearly basis.
But Ryan’s actions, or lack thereof, at Tuesday’s trade deadline were not.
Outside of rehabbing starting pitcher Kyle Gibson, the Twins don’t have any prospects that appear ready to improve the team in 2013.
With that in mind, Minnesota would have been best served by unloading everyone it could for competent pitching.
Willingham was sitting at 27 home runs at the end of July, on pace to eclipse 40 by season’s end.
Even if he somehow miraculously manages to continue on his tear the next two years, at age 33 his career high for homers is 29, he will never exceed what he has done, leaving his trade value with nowhere to go but down.
Add to that the fact that he is only making $7 million over the next two years and the Twins undoubtedly had to have received offers including talent that is close to major-league ready.
The same goes for Denard Span.
Span also has a team-friendly contract that will help the Twins win games over the next two years, but not enough to put them in contention.
The supposed heir-apparent to Torii Hunter in center field, Span has settled in at the age of 28 as a decent leadoff hitter with slightly above average range and a below average arm.
After two disappointing seasons, Span has put together a nice bounce back season and Twins officials even commented that there were suitors very interested in him.
Ben Revere could have filled in more than adequately in center, with better speed and more range, if not quite the same ability to reach base at this point.
Anything the Twins could have gotten for the likes of Jeff Gray, Jared Burton or Carroll would have been worth it, along with Capps and Carl Pavano via the waiver wire in August.
Selling high carries its risks, namely the possibility that a player continues to perform at a high level for another team.
However, it certainly beats selling low like the Twins have in recent years and getting two mid-level prospects like they just did for Francisco Liriano, who would have commanded a hefty haul if dealt after 2010.
To get the franchise out of the doldrums, Ryan is either going to have to take the better part of a decade to slowly rebuild the farm system as he did the first time around in the mid 1990s, or stray from his previous path and deliver some bold, decisive action in parting with any and all of the roster’s standout performers.