It's been four years of futility for the Minnesota Twins. But compared to some other MLB franchises, four years is a brief period of time compared to their struggles to compete for a championship.
One of those franchises, the Kansas City Royals, finally broke through last season, after having missed the playoffs for nearly the last 30 years.
So, could the long road back to relevance for Kansas City provide some lessons for the Twins? Or perhaps serve as a cautionary tale for Twins fans?
On a recent trip to their spring training home in Surprise, AZ, I had a chance to chat with Royals GM Dayton Moore about the process of bringing a winner back to KC, about his philosophy on building an organization and about the prospects for his club in the AL Central in 2015.
Do you see last season as a culmination of your plans to bring a contender back to Kansas City, or is that not a plan that every really “culminates”?
The truth of the matter is we modeled a lot of the things that we did after Terry Ryan and the Twins. Terry, I believe, took over in November of '94. I want to say it was about 6 years, maybe year 7 they were over .500 and year 8 they won the division and were in the playoffs and of course they had some consistency of being in the playoffs there for a period of time. I don't know if we will have that type of success. But we like our team a great deal. We've tried to maintain our strengths and hopefully we've even improved on them with Rios in right field. We think he's going to add something to our already quality defense. And with Hochevar and Frasor we think that's going to strengthen our bullpen. We probably can't replace James Shields, but Edinson Volquez had a terrific year and we think he's in his prime. We feel like he can keep doing well. And of course, Duffy and Ventura, we expect them to get better too.
Now that your club has tasted success, do the players feel pressure to get back to the playoffs, or has it made them more hungry?
I think they're more hungry. I just remember all those years in Atlanta, you couldn't imagine not being in the playoffs. You did everything to hopefully win a World Series. Now that our players have tasted that environment, played baseball on the biggest stage, that's all you dream about, that's all you think about. Their mannerisms, their routines this offseason, this Spring Training have been very similar, if not identical to years past. They love to play baseball. They'll be fine.
Fans don't tend to be patient. They want a winner and a consistent one at that. How much do you have to pay attention to the fan base in your decision making process?
Certainly you want to put a great product on the field for your fans to enjoy. I mean, that's very important. But I know that this group of players over the last two and half years has really captured the attention of our entire fan base, all generations. They love watching these guys play. I think the important thing is, you keep them together. They put on a good show every night with their energy and their effort to win.
How do you balance dedicating resources to free agents versus building through your farm system and does that change based on the success you have?
It's one of the more challenging things. You want to make sure that you're managing all the expectations that you have to at the major league level. That's paramount. But we also, in our market especially, you have to keep in mind the importance of building your farm system. You've got to be able to manage on both fronts and manage well. And then have production in all those areas to be successful, especially long term. So our farm system, the draft and everything we do internationally is obviously going to be very very important to our success.
How difficult was it to let a guy like Billy Butler, who's been a big part of this teams growth, leave as a free agent?
Billy's a terrific hitter and has been a terrific player for us for a long time. We knew it was going to be a challenge to re-sign him. So we just wish him well in Oakland. [Former Twin] Kendrys [Morales] is a terrific leader, great work ethic, loves to play baseball. He's going to get a lot of at bats this Spring Training. We feel like he can get back to his accustomed level, just because of his make-up. We're going to trust in who he is as a man.
Twins fans saw a little of Kendrys Morales last season, but it was struggle – perhaps because he didn't play the first half of the season. Do you think having a full Spring will get him back on track?
I think so. I mean, we have to believe that. That's for sure. That's why we acquired him. We're expecting him to do well. There's no doubt in my mind that a full Spring Training will help him.
It seems like first baseman Eric Hosmer took a big step in last season's playoff run, and has continued to become more of a leader this Spring. How have you seen him grow as a leader?
“Hos” has been a great leader from day one. He leads himself well. He loves to play baseball. Obviously, the more experience you gain and the success you have, you earn more opportunity to lead. But he's certainly one of the leaders. We have several leaders. I view all of our players as leaders because, again, they love to play baseball. They lead themselves well and collectively, they play for one another.
Looking back at last season, you had the tying run at third in Game 7 of the World Series. Can you look back on last year as a success, or does it still sting to be THAT close to a championship?
It certainly stings. I mean the opportunities to play in the World Series are very rare. You realize that as you're experiencing it, so you want to win. That's for sure. But when you do get a chance to reflect, which isn't often in this game, you realize the success that we've enjoyed. We certainly remember a lot of the tough times too. But we're excited to get going in 2015. We're ready to hopefully go out and compete. The division is exceptional. A lot of great teams and great talent. It'll be a tough race.
I'd be remiss if for the “Twins Blog” I didn't ask you for your perspective on the Twins?
The Twins got a terrific club. I think they scored a ton of runs last year. Very athletic. Obviously Torii Hunter's going to help a great deal. Ervin Santana. It's a team that's full of a lot of terrific talent.