Because the Twins finished tied for second in the AL West last year, remaining in contention until the final weekend, management sold a team-record 5,000 season tickets, prepared to host the 1985 All-Star Game and duly noted that in 1965, when the midsummer classic was last held in Minnesota, the team won its only American League pennant.
Will the faithful get another Minnesota Miracle—or is this a Minnesota Mirage? Consider how the Twins handled their four major problems: shortstop, designated hitter, catcher and short relief. They did reacquire Roy Smalley, their shortstop from 1976 to 1981. He's 32 and hasn't played the position full-time since he left the Twins, but he has lost 10 pounds and regained some mobility. "On our turf, all we want him to do is make the routine plays," says manager Billy Gardner. Smalley can certainly do that.
New owner Carl Pohlad made a big show of bidding for DH Andre Thornton, who eventually resigned with Cleveland; actually, says a Minnesota insider, "The Twins weren't at all serious about Thornton—it was strictly public relations." (Pohlad's public criticism of the contracts given Rick Sutcliffe and Bruce Sutter augurs poorly for future signings as well.)
In lieu of Thornton, the Twins traded for Mike Stenhouse, who can DH, play first and left and hit with power. In 80 games with Montreal, however, he batted .183. As Stenhouse, a onetime economics major at Harvard, could attest, that doesn't add up to another Thornton. At catcher the Twins will be satisfied if Tim Laudner increases his average from .206 to .230 and his homers from 10 to 20. And the club utterly failed to land bullpen help for mercurial Ron Davis, who blew 15 of 44 save opportunities. "He's got a lot to prove," says Gardner, "both to himself and the people of Minnesota." If it becomes clear that Davis is still better suited to be a set-up man than a finisher, Gardner will turn to lefty Curt Wardle, who had an 0.69 ERA and 17 saves for Double A Orlando last year.
On the bright side, the Twins may have enough hitting to contend again if .500 ball is the standard of divisional excellence, as it was last year. Behind sluggers like first baseman Kent Hrbek (.311, .358 with men in scoring position, 27 homers, 107 RBIs) and rightfielder Tom Brunansky (.254, 32, 85) are good contact hitters in centerfielder Kirby Puckett (.296) and leftfielder Mickey Hatcher (.302). Alas, behind Frank Viola (18-12), who may be the league's best left-handed starter, are John Butcher (13-11) and Mike Smithson (15-13), who may not pitch as well again. However, it's expected that raising the Metrodome's rightfield wall 10 feet will help Twin pitchers lower their league-leading total of 159 gopher balls.
"We're a year older, and we've had the kind of experience money can't buy," says Gardner. What the Twins don't have is the best players money can buy. Looks like another Minnesota Mirage.