Archived Story

Column: Hope springs eternal in spring training, right?

Published 12:00am Thursday, February 21, 2008

By Jon Laging, Talking Sports

Well, not really, although I think we&8217;re ready for it, but it is spring training time for professional baseball. Our Minnesota Twins have gathered in Fort Myers, Fla. and once again &8220;The Boys of Summer,&8221; are preparing for next season. The seven-month quest for a championship. All things are possible and our team that finished 17 games out last year has all the poor play and frustrations wiped out as teams start over.

Optimism reigns supreme and blue skies, green grass and soft breezes prevail. What&8217;s not to enjoy as the crack of the bat and leather baseballs meeting leather gloves ring throughout the field.

A beautiful setting for the nation&8217;s game, doing what a lot of us would give our eye teeth to be doing. Not only enjoying life, but getting a fresh start. Spring training is a joy.

But sooner or later, spring training will be behind them and they will start playing the season. As Long John Silver said, &8220;Ay there&8217;s the rub.&8221; To take realism one step further: How will our Minnesota Twins do this year? Will they have a chance to contend for the pennant? Let&8217;s take a look. Listing first the negatives of the 2008 team.

It appears that all the big offseason moves have been made, and folks it was not a kind offseason for our favorites.

1. They lost Johan Santana, perhaps the premier pitcher in baseball and certainly the best lefthander in the American League. I am really disappointed having felt that the Pohlads might cough up enough money to keep Johan. It seemed possible given the new stadium being built for the Twins. It didn&8217;t happen. Instead the team spent a possible total of $10 million for a journeyman part-time leftfielder and DH, Craig Monroe and a pitcher of the same caliber, Livan Hernandez. If they had done little more than double that amount, Santana would still be with us. The Twins contend that it wasn&8217;t the amount, it was the length of the contract. Santana probably wouldn&8217;t have signed for less than six years and he might have been injured during those six years. That&8217;s possible, something could have happened, but that is what insurance is for. Not only that, Santana does not have a history of injuries. Which, to give the devil his due, the Twins helped him prevent over the years. Given all this may be true, crying in the soup isn&8217;t going to change Santana&8217;s present team. What&8217;s past is past, but I am not yet willing to let the Pohlads off the hook.

2. Pitcher Carlos Silva is gone. A workhorse of the staff is no longer with us. The man with a record of 13-14 with an ERA of 4.19 is now with the Seattle Mariners. He left for $10 million a year for four years. I don&8217;t know if Seattle made a good deal, but Silva is set for life.

3. Sticking with pitchers, the Twins traded promising newcomer Matt Garza. The team&8217;s official position was that Garza showed a lot of promise but was immature. The same is said about Delmon Young the Twins&8217; new hitting hope, but that didn&8217;t stop the Twins from acquiring him. Perhaps overlooked was Garza&8217;s ERA of 3.69, second only to Santana among starting pitchers. One could well say that the top three pitchers are now gone.

4. Torii Hunter All-Star centerfielder left on his own volition for a long contract and a lot of money. I think there was very little the Twins could have done (that made sense) to keep Hunter. But they are going to miss his .287 batting average, 28 home runs and 107 RBI, not to mention his Gold Glove play in centerfield.

5. Jason Bartlett, a good hitting shortstop with a lot of range. He was out there almost every day being a major league shortstop. I had some problems with his play, but more about that next time when his loss and second baseman Luis Castillo&8217;s are evaluated.

Can the Twins come close to balancing these losses to put a good team on the field and perhaps even contend for the Central Division title? As they say on CNN: &8220;That and more when we come back.&8221;

Jon Laging writes a regional sports commentary every Thursday.