The Minnesota Twins figure to be quite busy in the coming months.
The primary focus of this offseason will be inking the club’s franchise player—and future American League MVP—Joe Mauer to a long-term deal.
Additionally, the front office will be looking to improve the infield and bolster the rotation for the inaugural season at Target Field.
It is the final objective, improving the rotation, which could prove to be the most daunting.
This year’s crop of free agent pitchers offers only a handful of difference-makers, most of whom will draw interest—and large paydays—from big-market clubs with deep pockets.
There is, however, one free agent who could improve Minnesota’s rotation immediately.
Here’s the kicker: He’s not a pitcher. Oh yeah, and he’s 61 years old.
I’m talking about Leo Mazzone. Perhaps you’ve heard of him.
Mazzone was the architect of the dominant Braves pitching staffs of the 1990s and early 2000s.
It was under Mazzone’s tutelage that future Hall of Famers Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz blossomed into the core of one of the best rotations in the history of the game.
It would be easy to question how successful Mazzone really was, given the enviable stable of gifted arms he had to work with, but history also shows that his success wasn’t limited to pitchers with out-of-this-world talent.
Mazzone—much like his contemporary, Dave Duncan of the St. Louis Cardinals—is renowned for getting big years out of journeymen. Such reclamation projects have included Paul Byrd, Mike Hampton, Denny Neagle, John Burkett, and Jaret Wright.
The last anyone saw of Mazzone in the big leagues was his unsuccessful two-year stint as the pitching coach for the Baltimore Orioles.
Nowadays Mazzone co-hosts a morning sports talk radio show in Atlanta and serves as an occasional color commentator for FOX.
In a recent interview, however, Mazzone made a not-so-subtle statement implying that he was ready to return to the game.
“Let it be known—I’m willing to get back in,” Mazzone said. “Salary would not be an issue.”
Call me crazy, but this sounds like the perfect situation for the Minnesota Twins.
Leo Mazzone, a Hall of Fame-caliber pitching coach, is practically begging for an organization to give him another shot, and the Twins fit the bill perfectly.
The Twins have a veritable stockpile of young, talented pitchers on the roster, and every one of them—especially Francisco Liriano—could benefit greatly from a man with the experience and knowledge of Mazzone.
Where I come from, if you’ve got a chance to bring in a guy who has a history of churning out Cy Young winners, you go out and get him.
A lot of people might be hesitant to bring in Mazzone as the Twins already have a pretty successful pitching coach in Rick Anderson. Luckily, Mazzone isn’t necessarily looking to take anyone’s job.
“I would love to be a pitching coach, adviser, consultant,” Mazzone said, implying that he’s open to taking any sort of position that gets him back in the game.
At this stage in his career, Mazzone’s biggest interest appears to be in exchanging ideas with organizations about how to improve their pitching.
“I feel like I would be a huge asset in developing continuity between the major league clubs and the farm system,” he said. “Let them give me their ideas and combine it with mine.”
Mazzone knows the game, and most specifically, he knows pitching.
He has an incredible track record and could allow the Twins to improve their rotation without overpaying for a mediocre, middle-of-the-pack starter—the type the market figures to be flooded with—this offseason.
By no means is this a call for Anderson’s head. On the contrary, I think he has done a wonderful job in his time at the helm.
That doesn’t change the fact that the Twins’ rotation and bullpen struggled with inconsistency nearly all season long in 2009. Perhaps bringing in Mazzone as a tag-team partner of sorts for Anderson could be the missing link.
There is also the possibility that Mazzone could be a bust. His forgettable stint in Baltimore could be attributed to the lack of talent he had to work with, or it could have been a sign that the game had passed him by.
Either way, it is worth it for the Twins to at least “kick the tires” and invite Mazzone to Fort Myers in February to offer some advice to a cast of pitchers who are all ready and waiting to take the next step in their development.
“Spring trainings really are pretty much a downer,” Mazzone said. “I miss the game terribly.”
Call me crazy, but I think he’d gladly accept the invitation.