Twins need new leaders to step up
Who will replace Santana and Hunter as clubhouse go-to guys?
MINNEAPOLIS -- Much has been made of the impact that the departures of Johan Santana and Torii Hunter will have on the field for the Twins in 2008.But an equally important question might just be the impact they will have inside the Twins clubhouse. Leadership and chemistry have long been considered to be critical aspects of a team's overall success. And after losing two of their team's more established leaders, the Twins head to Spring Training in Fort Myers, Fla., next week searching for somewhat of a new identity. The Twins went through what can only be described as a dramatic overhaul of their roster this winter. Of the nine spots in the club's lineup, only three of them are expected to be occupied by the same starter as last season. The rotation will also undergo a makeover of sorts with the group appearing to be headed toward a youth movement. "There have been some changes, certainly," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. With the combination of so many new players joining the team and the loss of some key veterans, the Twins clubhouse itself also appears in the midst of a significant shift. One where that leadership now falls upon the club's new group of "core players." The Twins made a big statement about their future recently when they signed first baseman Justin Morneau and outfielder Michael Cuddyer to long-term extensions. Morneau inked a six-year, $80 million deal and Cuddyer was locked up for three-years, $24 million with a club option for a fourth year. Spending over $100 million for two players is not a typical event for the budget-conscious Twins. It signified just how much stock they put into these young players. At the press conference announcing the signings, the club's front office stated that it considers these guys to be to be cornerstone players for the franchise, the type that can have a significant impact on the field. But the question is whether they can step into those fixture roles off it, as well. In recent seasons, it was Hunter who embodied most of the vocal presence inside the team's locker room. He was often the one who would tell a teammate if he did something wrong or he would loosen up the clubhouse following a particularly difficult loss.
Santana made his impact in a slightly different way. He helped provide the steadying force for a rotation that has been steadily growing younger. The left-hander was looked to by many of the younger players as a mentor and a strong model of how to carry themselves both on and off the field."It's tough to lose a guy like Johan," Morneau said. "Guys look at him as an example of how to have fun but still know how to play the game the right way and do what you are supposed to do. To lose somebody like that and a guy like Torii, it's hard on everyone." Morneau and catcher Joe Mauer, whom the team secured to a four-year, $33 million contract last winter, have long been labeled as being key parts of the club's future. But while both have displayed significant talent on the field, neither has been known for having the stature of being particularly vocal around his teammates. Not that some of the Twins feel it's a necessary part of these guys establishing themselves in leadership roles. "There is a difference between being a leader and a vocal leader," Cuddyer said. "There is a difference between walking in and seeing who the leaders are on the team or reading about who the leaders are on the team. And believe me, we've got plenty of leaders in this clubhouse." Cuddyer himself is one of the players that has already started to emerge as a go-to guy in the clubhouse. Having spent over a decade in the Twins organization, Cuddyer is well established with the way things are run in the club's system. He also has shown some comfort in perhaps filling that vocal role left void by Hunter's absence. The outfielder also pointed to the fact that some other veteran guys still remain with the club. That includes backup catcher Mike Redmond and closer Joe Nathan, both of whom have previously been identified as team leaders. Those guys are expected to have an impact on the chemistry of the team this upcoming season. Still, Cuddyer said there have been signs that it's the younger group of Morneau and Mauer who are starting to gain more respect as leaders in the clubhouse -- due in part to their increased presence on the field. "Success brings on leadership," Cuddyer said. "If you see a successful person, you want to be like that person. That's just human nature. So when a guy like Delmon Young comes into this organization and sees the years that Morneau has had and sees how he goes about his business, he's going to want to do the same. That's leading by example. And those are the leaders that carry your ballclub." The ascension into leadership roles can often be a slow process. Morneau admitted that, as recently as two seasons ago, he hesitated to take too much ownership of the team. At that time, he felt that the core group of players that came up before him -- including Hunter, Santana, Brad Radke and others from the team's three-peat American League Central title run in the early part of the decade -- were still very much in control of the clubhouse. But things have since changed. "When you first come up and those guys are established, you just sit back and assume that it's their team," Morneau said. "Not too many of those guys are left here anymore. And now it kind of feels like it's more of our team."
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.