If It Looks Dead and It Smells Dead, Is It Still Alive?

It's only going to take a pulse to win the AL central, but the Twins better find one in a hurry

Finally, the Twins' rotation may be healthier this year--they certainly have a robust ERA--but they have hardly been better, and I have no good explanation for the troubles. Their ugly numbers haven't been helped by Gardenhire's inexplicable reluctance to move Johan Santana, the most dominating pitcher on the staff, into the rotation until Joe Mays essentially forced his hand.

Five of the team's starters--Reed, Mays, Brad Radke, Kenny Rogers, and Eric Milton (who's on the disabled list)--are making a combined $28,900,000, nearly half of the Twins' payroll. The team's front office has gotten into the habit of handing out handsome contract extensions to every pitcher who has a halfway decent year. That's a product, I'm sure, of lingering insecurity from a long stretch in the desert, during which, under previous pitching coach Dick Such, the team routinely posted earned run averages in the stratosphere. It's bad business, though, particularly for such a famously tight organization.

In fact, the Twins' front office has made a number of questionable decisions, and almost all of them are products of either complacency or Terry Ryan's innate conservatism. At this point I don't think there's a single defense of the Twins' selection of local wunderkind Joe Mauer over Mark Prior that holds any water. I have no reason to think that Mauer won't someday be a solid major league player, perhaps even a star, but Prior is an All Star right now, and at 22 years of age is already dominating opposing hitters (145 strikeouts and only 31 walks in 124 innings pitched so far this year). And for a team that gave Joe Mays a $20 million contract extension to plead poverty on the Prior decision looks more ridiculous and indefensible all the time. Granted, the guy did command a big bonus, but his basic five-year contract is paying him less per annum ($1,450,000 this season) than all but three guys on the entire Twins' pitching staff.

I'm not sure where to look for a silver lining at the moment, other than the fact that the Twins do still have the luxury of playing in the American League central division. The White Sox went out and got Roberto Alomar and Carl Everett, and then proceeded to lose five of six to the woeful Tigers and Devil Rays. Kansas City has a staff ERA of 5.06 (including 5.55 from the bullpen). So as discouraging as things look for the Twins at mid-season, the good news is that they really don't have to get a whole lot better--they don't even have to get good to win another division title. What they can't do, however, is get any worse. And I mean that literally.

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