At some (very depressing) point, as a season turns into an extended offseason, the focus needs to change. For the Twins, that change has been coming since the middle of last week. The turning point was tonight.
At some point, the focus changes from the team to the players. The moves become less about what the team needs, and more about what each player needs. It doesnít necessarily mean coming down on one side or the other, but the balance changes. That balance changed tonight.
Tonight third baseman Danny Valencia was sent to AAA-Rochester and starting pitcher Francisco Liriano was sent to the bullpen. I like both moves, because I agree with the change in focus.
I donít know if Valencia is ever going to be a competent starting third baseman in the majors. Nobody does. But I sure used
to think so. This move isnít a punishment Ė itís a release. Valencia is hitting .198, 50 points lower than last year, which was 50 points lower than 2010. As bad as that is, thatís not the most alarming of his statistics. Heís also struck out 23 times in 96 AB Ė and walked just twice.
I donít know what he needs, but he isnít finding it here. I wonít argue with those suggesting that itís foolish for a club to invest time in a 27-year-oldís career in AAA. But at this point, one needs to try things. Maybe AAA might reestablish Valenciaís confidence. With literally zero third base options in the Twins pipeline until at least 2014, why not try it?
Which is exactly the philosophy for the other big move. Liriano is moved to the bullpen to try and regain some Ö. well, name it what you will. Confidence? Mojo? Momentum? Or, if you're especially cynical: Equity? They all work. The Twins and Liriano have tried everything else, and short of demoting him (which I suspect he and his agent would resist) this is the last option.
If youíre of the opinion that Liriano needs to be traded for something valuable, I gotta think you like this move. Maybe Liriano can build some value. A decent reliever is valuable at the trade deadline. Even more so if heís a southpaw. His value certainly canít decrease.
As for the rest Ė meh. Matt Maloney was the odd man out with another lefty moving to the bullpen. That's unlucky for him. I like Darin Mastoianni as a infield/outfield utility guy, though his infield coverage is limited. One can argue whether heís the best fit, but Iím getting weary of sweating where deck chairs should be moved. PJ Walters must have had the right mix of control, BABIP and veterany goodness to make him the default pick for the open rotation spot. That's not the way I would go, but Iím not nearly as close to this situation, and it's close to a tie. Whatever.
The bad news is that these look more and more like the moves of a last place team looking to the future. The good news is that is probably the correct philosophy to embrace. The focus is changing from the team to the individuals, and for both of these individuals, the change in focus looks to be wise.