Twins looking for leadership after veterans leaveFORT MYERS, Fla. (AP) — The Minnesota Twins brought 67 players to spring training this season, a group so large that they had to cram a makeshift cluster of lockers into the middle of one end of their locker room to squeeze everyone in.
FORT MYERS, Fla. (AP) — The Minnesota Twins brought 67 players to spring training this season, a group so large that they had to cram a makeshift cluster of lockers into the middle of one end of their locker room to squeeze everyone in.
And yet, the clubhouse feels so empty this year.
Maybe that’s because two of the veterans who departed in the offseason were fixtures here for the last eight seasons, as much a part of the Twins organization as the interlocking T and C they wear on their caps. Do-it-all Michael Cuddyer and closer Joe Nathan are gone. They were All-Stars in every sense of the word, becoming mainstays with the team in 2004 and helping the Twins turn into a perennial contender in the AL Central.
“Those guys are poster guys,” closer Matt Capps said. “From the outside and you look in and you see the Minnesota Twins, that’s what you thought of. You thought of Michael Cuddyer and Joe Nathan. Now those guys aren’t here. They’re not in the clubhouse. Certainly influences that are going to be missed.”
Cuddyer was a first-round draft pick in 1997 who went through ups-and-downs before establishing himself and Nathan was a throw-in in the famously lopsided trade with San Francisco, only to become one of the dominant closers in the game.
Cuddyer signed a three-year deal with the Colorado Rockies and Nathan left to join the two-time defending AL champions in Texas. Throw in the departure of Jason Kubel, a rock solid pro who had been in the organization since 2000 before signing with the Arizona Diamondbacks, and the Hammond Stadium clubhouse has taken on an entirely different vibe this spring.
“Definitely a different feeling, that’s for sure,” third baseman Danny Valencia said. “This is my fourth spring training and Cuddy’s been next to me every single year. He’s not here anymore. We’ve got to move on. Obviously it’s tough losing guys like that, but I think we’ll be all right.”
Cuddyer and Nathan in particular were the pillars, setting the example in workouts and serving as team spokesmen in good times and bad. Franchise cornerstones Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer are coming off of injury-plagued seasons, which made it hard for them to assert themselves.
“It’s hard when you’re sitting there on the DL or on the sidelines to try and fire guys up, just to feel like you’re going out there and you’re working hard and you’re being a part of it and you’re going through that grind every day,” Morneau said. “It’s hard when you’re sitting on the sidelines. Obviously you can be that voice or that ear for the guys if they need it. But it’s one of those things where if you’re on the DL, it’s kind of hard to be that guy.”
This is not the first time the Twins have had to weather the exodus of several vital players at one time. In 2008, All-Star center fielder Torii Hunter signed with the Los Angeles Angels and Cy Young winner Johan Santana was traded to the New York Mets.
“It feels about the same as it did when we walked in here and didn’t have Torii,” center fielder Denard Span said. “Cuddy and Kubel and Nathan, those are the guys that I looked up to.”
The Twins missed the playoffs in 2008, but rebounded to win the Central the next two years. But the roster seemed so much more stable then. Mauer and Morneau were healthy forces in the middle of the lineup, Nathan was on the back end buckling knees at closing time and Cuddyer was there to plug whatever hole needed plugging.
“It’s always comfortable when you’ve got familiarity; there’s no guess work, you know how they fit and react,” GM Terry Ryan said. “But in the game, in the industry, there’s a lot of movement nowadays.”
No arguing there. St. Louis is dealing with the loss of Albert Pujols. The Milwaukee Brewers are down Prince Fielder. The Rangers lost C.J. Wilson. But none of those teams is coming off a 99-loss season that put them in the basement of their respective division.
“We’re looking for leadership. We lost some leadership,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “We’re looking for guys that are gamers. Not so much leadership as far as word of mouth, but we’re looking for guys that lead by example, and that’s going out on the field and playing.”
The talk of clubhouse leaders can often be overrated. Cuddyer and Nathan, after all, were both on the team last year that finished at the bottom of the division.
“Those guys were good players for us and good people, and they’re not here, so we can’t sit here and wish that they were here or wish they weren’t,” Mauer said. “We’ve got some new guys in here ... Cuddy, Kubel, Nathan and those guys are great players for us, but we’ve got to move on.”