Now, does everyone have their Tsuyoshi Nishioka jokes out of their system? All right, good. We get it now. The Twins added Tsuyoshi Nishioka for a pretty price after he had put up gaudy numbers and projected as a solid defensive infielder. Instead, he likely had some anxiety issues that came with high expectations, and those were fueled by off the field problems, none more explicit than a crumbling marriage. That led to an abysmal, brief Major League Baseball career.
In order to get some roster space and available cash for Nishioka, the Twins felt they needed to let Orlando Hudson go, and traded away JJ Hardy who, since he has gone to Baltimore, has become a solid power hitting option, in addition to having a good glove. These are the readily apparent issues that arose from the Nishioka experiment. My greater concern going forward is the message that it sends to the Pohlads. Don’t take chances, and don’t reward innovative thinking.
The two biggest blunders that fans point to in the Bill Smith tenure were also changes in the standard operating procedure to how the Twins regularly did things. And while the failures were somewhat spectacular, there were successes that need to be noted so the Pohlads don’t shy away from new ideas when they are brought to their attention.
Let’s start with the Nishioka thing. It was one of the first significant international free agents I can remember the Twins signing, at east in recent history. What was also notable was the amount of money it took to sign Nishioka. While Nishioka’s career with the Twins was an unmitigated failure, the signing of international free agents hasn’t been. Also under Bill Smith, the Twins added, most notably, Miguel Sano for an exorbitant sum, and he has been tearing up the minor leagues. Most prospect watchers in the Twins organization are very excited about his potential. Add that to a collection of Australians, Max Kepler and recently added Amaurys Minier (this season) and spending in the international free agent market has been a pretty decent option.
Another example hand wringing over the Twins under Bill Smith was the trade for Delmon Young. If I had described this trade to you as “the Twins traded from a position of strength for a position of need” I think people would have rallies around this move. Results after the trade aside, this is exactly what this move was. The Twins had an abundance of pitching prospects at the time, such as the eventually traded Matt Garza, Kevin Slowey and Scott Baker. The Twins also had no bats on the right side of the plate, and a young, top overall pick was available. It hurt, but this trade seemed as though it would be mutually beneficial for the Twins and Rays. It didn’t quite work out like that. Of course, other trades, like the move of Carlos Gomez for JJ Hardy were successful, but those are long forgotten.
Terry Ryan was growing stilted as the team plateaued under his watch, and Bill Smith brought some new ideas to the table. They led to one of the best teams I have ever seen in Minnesota, but also to one of the worst. Terry Ryan’s latest tenure has shown signs of more open-mindedness. He long said that the Twins couldn’t be built through free agency, buy added team pillars Josh Willingham and Ryan Doumit that way. It’s going to take some fresh ideas to fix the Twins, or at least a slight deviation away from the way it’s always been done. Personality over talent and developing and retaining players in house works some times, but after all, that’s how the team ended up stuck with Nick Blackburn.