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Column: The Minnesota Twins idenity crisis

Published 12:00am Thursday, August 9, 2007

Jon Laging, Talking Sports

Who really are the Minnesota Twins baseball team? It has been a confusing summer for the team and its followers. It has appeared at times that they are a .500 ball club and would finish with a record of 62-62. Other times it looks like they will be in the long summer fight for the pennant.

Some of the moves Terry Ryan has made are hard to figure out. The trade of Luis Castillo for two minor leaguers and the waiver release of Jeff Crillo did not bolster the weak offense of the Twins. They were average before and have been performing last in the American League since the All-Star Game.

The trade of Castillo is perhaps easiest to understand. Ryan is shedding two million and he had a ready replacement in Alexi Casillo. Ryan stated that the team would absorb the loss of Castillo easily. He likened it to the release of Doug Mienkiewicz and the installation of slugger Justin Morneau at first base. I don&8217;t believe that&8217;s quite the case in the Castillo-Casilla move. But Casilla does bring youth, enthusiasm and good legs to the team. Harder to understand is the letting go of Crillo for nothing. He was only hitting .262, but who does Ryan have to replace him?

Ryan has been accused of giving up on this year with the move of Castillo. The Twins reacted strongly to the loss of their leadoff hitter. Johan Santana accusing Ryan of only building for the future, had some harsh words of criticism and Torii Hunter joined in.

I don&8217;t think that&8217;s the case, for if Ryan was only building for the future, this was the time to trade Hunter, Rincon, Silva and Nathan. He didn&8217;t. Ryan could have gotten a brand new team for these guys. If I was Torii Hunter I would, if not pleased at the trade, take the long view and realize that Ryan now has 2 million more to try to sign him through 2010, the &8220;year of the stadium.&8221;

Michael Cuddyer came down on the side of Terry Ryan, essentially saying, he doesn&8217;t tell me how to bat and I dont tell him how to administer the team. Perhaps Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer took the right approach. I can&8217;t find them saying anything.

As a fan I was a little disturbed by Santana&8217;s and Cuddyer&8217;s opposing statements, feeling that perhaps there would be dissension among the players. At this time it doesn&8217;t appear so. The team seems to have recovered from the dust-up and as I write this is playing good ball. Wins have a tendency to heal all wounds. Scott Baker&8217;s shutout of Cleveland didn&8217;t hurt a bit.

The team is in a position to make a move on the leaders. It&8217;s not that they&8217;re playing so well, its that Detroit and Cleveland are not. However, I believe the team still needs an identity. Last year&8217;s Piranha attack and “smell those RBIs” is not this years team, what with the poor hitting Punto and the departure of Castillo.

The 2006 team had a strong identity and this years group needs to find one and come together during these last two months of the season. I&8217;m not asking them to be the slugging Yankees of Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle or even the efficient Yankee teams of a few years ago. They&8217;re never going to be those Yankees, but perhaps they could model themselves on the &8217;91 Twins, a team that played very good ball in the clutch and had a great deal of fun doing it.

Jon Laging writes a regional sports column from his home in Preston.