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Updated: July 26th, 2014 11:49pm
Zulgad: Twins can't afford to remain with status quo after this season

Zulgad: Twins can't afford to remain with status quo after this season

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by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Twins had gone 5-2 on a road trip to Seattle and Colorado before the All-Star break. Despite being 44-50 and 6.5 games back of the second wild card spot in the American League, players had a message for general manager Terry Ryan:

We're going to show you in the 13 games after the break, and before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, that this team can be competitive enough that selling off parts would not be in your best interest.

Sadly, that now seems laughable.

The Twins' record since that "message" was sent is 2-7. All nine of those games have been played at Target Field and there is one more game left on this brutal home stand.

On Saturday, White Sox ace Chris Sale (10-1) put together a dominant performance (eight innings, five hits, two talks, 12 strikeouts) in a 7-0 victory that came a day after manager Ron Gardenhire held a team meeting that was reported by the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

The Twins are 46-57 and now have a firm hold on last place in the AL Central, 12.5 games behind division-leading Detroit. There might have been no shame in losing to Sale, but there is plenty of embarrassment in the fact the White Sox could complete a four-game sweep on Sunday afternoon.

Ryan, meanwhile, went ahead and began his fire sale last week when he dealt designated hitter Kendrys Morales to Seattle for reliever Stephen Pryor, who at 25 and coming off surgery probably would fit into the category of semi-prospect.

There will be more trades to come and those deals likely will continue into August as most of the players Ryan will attempt to move are likely to clear waivers.

Understandably, these transactions aren't going to create much interest or any excitement among Twins fans. These people want real changes and after watching their team lose 99, 96 and 96 games the past three years, and being on pace for another awful finish in 2014, they are entitled to see significant moves made.

The Pohlad family has shown the type of loyalty you rarely see in pro sports since buying this franchise in the mid-1980s, but we've now reached the point where this devotion makes no business sense.

No matter how bad things got last season, the Twins always had the selling point of the All-Star Game coming to Target Field. Anyone who dropped their season tickets lost the opportunity to get first crack at buying tickets to a game that lived up to the hype.

What are the Twins going to sell season-ticket holders on for 2015?

In a perfect world, Miguel Sano would be playing third base right now and Byron Buxton would be either in center field at Target Field or on the way. But Sano had Tommy John surgery before the season and is still recovering. Buxton has been slowed because of wrist injuries.

That means that maybe Sano or Buxton will be here at the start of next season, but maybe isn't going to be good enough.

Then there is the Joe Mauer situation. Before this season, you could argue that Mauer was overpaid given his lack of power, but there also was a case to be made that the guy was underappreciated by many and remained a fantastic hitter.

No more.

Mauer was moved from catcher to first base with the thought that the shift would help him remain in the lineup and off the disabled list. Mauer was hitting an incredibly disappointing .271/.342/.353 with two home runs and 28 runs batted in when he was placed on the DL early this month because of an oblique strain. He also proved to be an average, to below average, first baseman.

What makes this situation extremely curious is that the Twins still seem to protect Mauer. Even if you want to say he couldn't avoid injury, a guy making $23 million a year through 2018 with a no-trade clause is 100 percent at fault for falling apart as a hitter.

Not only should the Twins no longer protect Mauer, they would be wise to call him out publicly and assure everyone that no one will be willing to accept this lack of production again.

It's extremely difficult to tell what goes through Mauer's mind, but the Twins should be at a point where they go with the option of challenging him in a frontal manner. If nothing else, no longer showing blind loyalty to Mauer would be a positive sign to a fan base that (literally) is tuning out of games on Fox Sports North.

Don't underestimate a drop in television ratings. Broadcasters like Fox don't write big checks to teams out of the goodness of their heart and there will be pressure from the television side to at least give viewers a reason to tune back in.

By the way, I know what you're saying right now.

What about Ron Gardenhire?

Gardenhire got a two-year contract extension after last season, angering many fans, but let's be honest: The easiest move in the world, despite the Twins' hesitation, is to fire a manager. The Vikings have had six coaches (Jerry Burns, Dennis Green, Mike Tice, Brad Childress, Leslie Frazier and Mike Zimmer) in the same span the Twins have had two managers (Tom Kelly and Gardenhire).

It wouldn't be surprising if the Pohlads try to work out a deal with Gardenhire where he agrees to step aside, instead of being fired. However, it will be surprising if there isn't a change in the dugout after this season.

Paul Molitor, who by no accident joined the coaching staff this season, is the likely candidate to take over. You can debate whether this is fair to Gardenhire, but that's not the point.

The point is the Twins have to find a way to make money in 2015 for themselves and their partners, and simply attempting to sell the fact that the future appears to be bright, and then crossing their fingers, isn't going to cut it.

No matter how anyone connected with the franchise might feel, attitude and organizational changes almost certainly are coming at Target Field. It makes too much business sense for that not to be the case.

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Judd | @1500ESPNJudd | Mackey & Judd
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