The Twins will conclude another disappointing season Sunday, and any attempts to create an optimistic view in Minnesota feel forced.
So I called someone for perspective on the Twins’ plight and future. I called old friend Ryan Lefebvre.
Lefebvre is the son of former big-league player and manager Jim Lefebvre. He grew up in California but chose to play college baseball at Minnesota, where he was the most valuable player of the 1993 Gophers. He worked as a Twins broadcaster before leaving for Kansas City’s booth in 1999.
Lefebvre knows the game, the division and droughts. He watched Kansas City General Manager Dayton Moore take a team that hadn’t made the playoffs since 1985 to a World Series in 2014 and a World Series title in 2015.
Without the benefit of a new stadium or large payroll, the Royals came within a few pitches of winning two straight titles.
“I know my friends who are Twins fans are panicking,’’ Lefebvre said. “Denny Matthews has been broadcasting Royals games for 50 years. He has a theory, and it comes true more times than not.
“When a young team makes a big, unexpected leap forward, like the Twins did in 2017, it’s easy for people to fall into the trap of believing that team will be even better the next year. History will tell you there’s usually a year of regression, but then the year after that, look out.’’
Lefebvre believes patience and organizational leadership brought the Royals back from the dead. He made these points:
• Royals ownership gave Moore full authority over baseball operations, and Moore gave manager Ned Yost full authority over the daily running of the team, and Yost empowered his coaches to work without restrictions, and the coaches told young players to think for themselves, creating an atmosphere of trust that accelerated learning. Players were allowed to make aggressive mistakes in big-league games. “I learned so much about leadership watching this franchise,’’ Lefebvre said.
• The Royals emphasized winning in the minor leagues, and built their best teams around a group of young players who took pride in winning and supporting each other, which is why the Royals excelled at small-ball and situational play.
• Moore built a team tailored for Kauffman Stadium — a team of speed and defensive range.
• The Royals were patient in waiting for their best young players to develop, then aggressive on the trade market once they were good enough to win big.
“I read Dayton Moore’s book, and the line that stood out to me more than any other was something [Red Sox GM] Dave Dombrowski told him,’’ Lefebvre said. “It was: ‘Come up with a plan and stick with your plan and if you run out of time, then you run out of time.’ Every GM probably has a great plan, but how many see it all the way through and don’t panic when it’s not trending upward every year? The Royals’ leadership stuck with their plan.’’
Until their best young players were ready to win. Then Moore made a series of aggressive trades that yielded key contributors to the World Series teams.
“The Royals wouldn’t have won it all without those players,’’ Lefebvre said. “And we won’t be losing 100-plus games if not for those trades. Dayton didn’t want to just be competitive for a long time. He wanted to win it all.’’
Twins history informs that view. The ’87 and ’91 champions are celebrated as heroes. Members of the Twins teams of the 2000s, who were relentlessly competitive but never made it to the World Series, still question whether management should have done more to win it all.
“Let’s face it — you also have to have some serendipity,’’ Lefebvre said. “We should have lost the wild-card game in 2014, should have lost in the first round the next year. We were down by four in the eighth inning of the wild-card game and four down in the eighth in Houston the next year.
“You can also argue that the chemistry and winning culture got them through those tough games.’’
Patience might be the last word Twins fans want to hear right now. That doesn’t mean it’s the wrong word.
Jim Souhan’s podcast can be heard at TalkNorth.com. On Twitter: @SouhanStrib. • firstname.lastname@example.org