Wednesday, November 14, 2018

A First Basemen with Familiarity

On Monday morning the legendary career of Minnesota Twins great Joe Mauer came to an end. While it's obvious that his exploits behind the dish were far superior to what he did at first base, the reality for Derek Falvey and Thad Levine is that they now have a hole in their infield. Heading into free agency the first base market is pretty ugly, but a familiar name could make a ton of sense.

Last winter Carlos Santana signed a three-year, $60 million pact with the Philadelphia Phillies. Now according to Ken Rosenthal, they are "shopping the hell" out of their newly acquired first basemen. Of course the optics of such a move don't look great for the Phillies, but there's much more to it than meets the eye. Everything boils down to the fact that Rhys Hoskins is a bonafide stud, but he cannot play in the outfield. Serving as the regular left fielder last season he was worth an abysmal -24 DRS. The best configuration for Gabe Kapler's squad has the young star back at first base.

For the Twins (and any other suitors) there's somewhat of a perfect storm brewing. Santana had a down year in 2018 (not terrible however), and his team is motivated to move him before the start of the 2019 season. With those two factors at play it'd be fair to assume that leverage may be on the side of the acquiring ballclub. At 33 next year, Santana is owed $20.3MM with a $20.8MM commitment in 2020. There's a $17.5MM team option for 2021 but the buyout is a measly $500k. For teams interested in corner infield help, Carlos Santana at two-years and $40 million doesn't sound like a bad ask. Trading prospects and taking on the deal though, you're probably looking at asking the Phillies to eat something in the range of $10 million.

Right now you'd like to believe that the Minnesota Twins have Miguel Sano inked at third base to open 2019. A position change across the diamond could be in the not-so-distant future, but keeping him in his current role as long as possible is the most optimal scenario. As he transitions across the diamond though, a sort of mentor could be a great addition to the process. Santana has dabbled at third base in both 2014 and last year. He knows the position well enough to understand Sano's process, and Carlos has been a league-average at worst first basemen since coming out from behind the plate.

Offensively there isn't a box that Santana doesn't check for the Twins. Sure he had a down 2018, but even that included a respectable .766 OPS. In his final two seasons with Cleveland (yes, not the Falvey connection) Santana owned an .842 OPS. He has a career .363 OBP and has routinely split walks and strikeouts at the dish. With three straight seasons of at least 23 homers the ability to lose the ball in the seats is also present. Of course the best ability is availability, and Santana has been incredibly reliable as a big leaguer. Dating back to 2011, he's played in no less than 143 games and has gotten in 152-plus in all but one of those seasons.

Despite playing Gold Glove caliber defense at first base dating back to his positional change, Mauer's greatest detraction on the right corner was the ability to hit for power. Santana brings that to the table, combining his efforts with Sano on the other side. Minnesota's lineup also needs an infusion of on-base ability as Joe (and likely Robbie Grossman) has been subtracted from the mix. On paper this is certainly a perfect fit.

According to 1500 ESPN's Darren Wolfson, Santana is "on their radar" and that's a great sign for Twins fans. While the Phillies are motivated to move him, this is a team considered front-runners for one (or both) of Manny Machado or Bryce Harper. They aren't going to take pennies on the dollar and Carlos' services will be coveted by more than a few clubs. If there's a deal to be made in Minnesota this offseason involving prospects however, this is the one I'd like to see get done.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Well Played, Mauer

Sitting in the Charleston International Airport at 12 pm eastern time, I grabbed my phone and watched as Joseph Patrick Mauer delivered a 17 minute speech to announce his retirement from playing professional baseball. This is a man who had been in the Minnesota Twins organization for nearly 20 years, and spent 15 seasons at the Major League level. Sandwiched between two magazine covers emblazoned with his image, there was nothing left to say except, "Well played, Mauer."

For two straight seasons, in 2010 and 2011, Sony used Joe Mauer as their coverboy for the popular MLB The Show franchise. On the heels of his 2009 Most Valuable Player season he was the focal point of a limited Nike shoe and countless commercials to promote the game. As the premiere virtual offering to baseball fans around the world, the iconic line "Well played, Mauer," grew plenty of steam. As the dust settles it's incredible how fitting those three words were.

At this point we know that the incredible year peak will be his calling card to the Hall of Fame. Three batting titles (a feat in which no other catcher in 118 years of American League Baseball has accomplished once), six All Star games, three Gold Gloves, five Silver Sluggers, and an MVP in tow, the resume is impressive in and of itself. That alone doesn't define the career of the Minnesota Twins legend however. Mauer's reach was felt far beyond his impact behind the dish.

Being the incredible athlete he is, and one that could've been a first round NFL draft pick or likely selection in the NBA draft as well, Joe adapted better than anyone could've expected. Following his career altering brain injury he transitioned to a new position and was snubbed of a deserved Gold Glove there. Despite being miscast as a power hitter due to his incredibly 2009, the leadoff prowess always displayed through his on-base skills only gained momentum as his tenure drew on. Regardless of what he set out to do, Mauer played it, and well.

Through all of the accolades, thanks, and tears Joe displayed up on that stage there was one statement that got me the most. During the media portion of his press conference Mauer was asked how he wants his legacy to be remembered. This is one of the most decorated Minnesotans ever; a guy that did it all at the highest levels. If there's a loaded question with the ability to draw out an answer filled with never-ending glory, that one was it. His response, "Respect, and the way I played the game."

All of the time I find myself suggesting that athletes, celebrities, and public figures are not people to look up to. They're human, have faults, and are unnecessarily placed in the spotlight. This man however, gets it at every level. The last playing embodiment of the legendary Johnny Bench, Joe Mauer wanted his legacy to revolve around respect and the way in which he carried himself. In a landscape starved for great human beings, we didn't deserve what Joe Mauer gave us.

The clock now begins, with 2024 being the first time Mauer is eligible for enshrinement into Cooperstown. We'll have to wait and see how the vote shakes out, and it may take a few tries, but make no mistake that the St. Paul native will be the fourth member of the city voted into the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame. In the meantime, we'll need to look back with fondness of what was, and enjoy the continued involvement of a man that has given of himself in every avenue possible.

1,868 games, 15 seasons, one press conference...It was all "Well played, Mauer."

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Donaldson to Fix Twins Hot Corner?

Bryce Harper has the best hair on the open market this winter, but Josh Donaldson may not be far behind. The oft-injured third basemen is a free agent and coincidentally plays a position that the Minnesota Twins could be looking to rectify. Joe Mauer should provide clarity to the club soon, and that could leave Miguel Sano with an opportunity to swap sides on the diamond. Transitioning from the division-rival Indians, Donaldson could be an answer to the Twins questions.

When the 2019 season gets underway the former Oakland and Toronto third basemen will be 33 years old. He's got just shy of 900 big league games under his belt, and has eight years of MLB service to his credit. Talent is undeniable when looking at what Donaldson possesses, but he's also played in just 165 games across the past two seasons.

Last season the Donaldson made $23 million in the final year of arbitration eligibility. He enters the market at an odd time, looking for a long term payday but also having to calm fears of recent injury concerns and the reality of being an aging commodity. While a one-year deal may be more team friendly this is probably his last chance to get paid, and some level of stability will be hard to pass up.

From a dollars and cents standpoint, something like three years and $75 million seems like fair market value. Donaldson would be 36 at the end of that deal, and $25 million is a steal for a guy that has owned a .931 OPS dating back to 2015. There's obviously the risk that injuries derail things from the get go, but he played in 16 games down the stretch for Cleveland and was healthy enough to act as an impact bat in the Postseason.

The Minnesota Twins have to decide how they are going to handle both their corner and middle infield spots during the first year under Rocco Baldelli. Manny Machado is a perfect fit solely from a positional standpoint, but in that same vein, so to is Donaldson. The latter comes in at a far lower price point, and given the spending flexibility, is still well within the realm of Derek Falvey and Thad Levine's reach.

At his absolute best Miguel Sano is probably a league average defender at third base. Moving over to first puts him in a spot where defense is less of an issue, but also allows him the opportunity to take strides forward at a less demanding position. In Donaldson an acquiring team is getting a player that has never posted a negative defensive season in terms of DRS. With over 7,000 innings to his credit he owns a 53 DRS total and has a combined 30.3 UZR. Although he's never been rewarded with a Gold Glove, the leather is plenty strong with this one.

If there's another avenue that Donaldson plays up for the Twins, it's a middle-of-the-order bat that checks off every box. Not only is he a real power threat, having hit 29 or more home runs in each full season since 2014, but he's not a strikeout machine either. On-base threats are something Minnesota's lineup could use, and his .383 mark since 2015 is beyond impressive. Allowing Sano to see that kind of production, and likely learn from it, could pay dividends in more ways than one.

The reality is that when dealing with free agents the marriage has to be an ideal fit for both sides. No matter how much money the Twins could throw at the likes of Manny Machado, there's plenty of other big hurdles to overcome. Going into contract talks with Donaldson hoping for a one-year pact may be enticing for the Twins, but it probably doesn't move the needle or position them well amongst competing markets. Should the front office push their chips forward and believe the injury issues are behind him, this could be the opportunity to land a superstar talent through a perfect storm.

Pairing the likes of Donaldson with a lineup that includes Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton should be mouth-watering for Twins Territorians. You're never going to avoid risk when ponying up this level of cash, but being able to make a move like this doesn't often present itself so perfectly to organizations like the Twins. Whether Mauer returns or not, Donaldson fits and the iron is hot.

Monday, November 5, 2018

The Case for Cutch

Going into this offseason the Minnesota Twins have some very clear needs. Deciding what to do in the infield, and adding a few relief arms are chief among them. If there's a position that isn't immediately on the radar it's adding a body in the outfield. That being said, we don't know what the offseason will bring, and there's a free agent of intrigue on the market.

After being the 11th overall pick by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 2005 Major League Baseball draft, Andrew McCutchen spent the first nine years of his big league career with the same organization. Traded to the Giants prior to 2018, he was then shipped to the New York Yankees down the stretch. This isn't the same perennial MVP candidate that Pennsylvania natives came to love from 2012-2015, but there's something left in the 32 year-old's tank.

At 29 in 2016, there was a real fear that McCutchen was hitting the skids and looking at the downside of his career. A .766 OPS and awful centerfield defense brought plenty of questions heading into the 2017 season. He responded by moving to right field and putting up an .849 OPS which was bolstered by a near-career high home run total. 2018 saw Cutch post a .792 OPS that was buoyed by a strong .368 OBP and a very nice 25 game stretch for the Yankees.

Coming off a $14.75 million salary in 2018, and a long term deal with the Pirates, McCutchen gets to test the waters for the first time in his career. His market will be interesting, but I'd think that logic suggests years may be the greater focus than a high AAV. If he could be had for something like three years and $30 million you'd certainly find teams willing to play the role of suitor.

With Byron Buxton, Max Kepler, and Eddie Rosario in tow for the Minnesota Twins there isn't an immediate opening. However if I'm Derek Falvey and Thad Levine, two of those players should absolutely be made available on the trading block. Max Kepler likely has the lower value at the moment given his statistical output, but I'm fine in believing he could end up being the superior player.

In 2018 Eddie Rosario was deserving of being Minnesota's representative at the All Star game. He was on fire in the first half and finished with an .803 OPS. Playing in 138 games, he displayed power and production at the plate. From where I sit however, I think we're seeing the absolute peak of what Rosario can bring to the table. If there's a partner out there willing to match the Twins asset with real value, that's a guy to move with certainty.

Never mind that despite the All Star caliber start, Rosario put up lower numbers in 2018 than he did the year prior. His plan at the plate has always been to work as a bad ball hitter, and that didn't change last season. He chased 43% of the pitches he swung at, and he whiffed nearly 13% of the time. On top of that, his walk rate remained at an ugly 5%. When the lumber connects things go well, but that's a trio of numbers just begging for a chance to fall off the table.

Since his debut, Rosario's outfield defense has also taken a dip. As a rookie the outfield assists piled up and were a number to recognize. While his arm strength is a known commodity at this point, he sees himself tested less. Although he did perform positively in 2018, there's still more than a handful of blunders due to routes and decision making that have negative impacts on the scenarios at play.

Make no mistake, there should never be a suggestion to move a 27 year-old Rosario for a 32 year-old McCutchen. Looking at how this could play out however, we aren't operating in a vacuum. If another team wants to bring Rosario on board in exchange for pitching help or something of equal value to the Twins, it's a swap that needs to be heavily considered. At 27 Rosario isn't a kid anymore, and his approach doesn't lend itself to production heights much higher than what we've seen. If the Twins can cash in before things go belly up, it'd be a move you'd need to applaud.

The front office needs to inject this current roster with a bit of leadership, some significant on-base prowess, and talent that can challenge the Cleveland Indians in the very weak AL Central. There's more than one way for them to get that done this winter, and it will be interesting to see how it all takes place.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

First Round Fall on Minnesota 40 Man

With the regular season and Postseason now in the books, the Minnesota Twins are joined by every other major league team in the offseason. Joe Mauer is a free agent for the first time in his career, and the front office has plenty of 40 man roster decisions to make. Prior to bringing in new talent the organization must decide who will be kept from within. At this juncture, there's a very real possibility a first round pick could see his time come to an end.

Recently on Twins Daily, Seth Stohs did a great job highlighting the minor leaguers with impending 40 man additions looming. Although the Twins don't have much in the form of guaranteed adds, there's a couple of big name prospects that are part of the group. Nick Gordon and LaMonte Wade will certainly be added to the 40 man roster, but there's zero certainties given to former 6th overall pick Tyler Jay.

Set to follow in the footsteps of Phil Hughes and Matt Harvey, Jay was destined for surgery to address Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. After getting in just 11.2 IP during 2017, Jay opted to pass on the surgical route and believed rest and rehab had addressed the issue. Returning for Arizona Fall League action, Jay got in 9.2 innings before his offseason began. In 2018 Jay returned to Double-A and spent the entire season there. Pitching just shy of 60 innings, he turned in a lackluster 4.22 ERA that was bolstered by a career worst 7.4 K/9.

Selected by Terry Ryan in the 2015 Major League Draft, Jay looked like an odd fit from the get go. He was a dominant closer at the University of Illinois, but had never worked as a starter, and the frame didn't suggest great things would be in store. Ryan had made a habit of going with relievers early in drafts during the final years of his tenure as Minnesota's GM, but the track record in developing them was poor at best.

Prior to the front office change the Twins attempted to work Jay as a starter. He made just 18 starts, and while the numbers weren't bad, the quality of his stuff sagged across the board. As a reliever the velocity and strikeouts were his best assets, but the unfortunate shoulder issues changed things significantly as well.

At this point in the game shoulder problems are significantly more damning to the effectiveness a pitcher will display as their career continues. While Tommy John surgery carries the name recognition and the lengthy timetable, the reality is that it's a standard operation and pretty well understood. Shoulders and the injuries related to them, are a much bigger wildcard, and we see a minefield of guys that will look back and wonder what could've been.

It's really too bad that Jay is going to be at this crossroad, but the climb through minor league baseball is not an easy one. He'll be 25 next season, and hasn't been a top prospect for three years. Having relievers like Jake Reed and Nick Anderson more deserving of the roster spots, it's hard to make a case based solely on pick pedigree.

On the flip side, there is a decent possibility that the Twins may not lose Jay through the Rule 5 draft. The same hurdles in front of him for Minnesota are present anywhere else. He wasn't good last season, health remains a question mark, and jumping up to the big leagues likely doesn't provide ideal results. Another year in a system he's grown acquainted to could be a good thing for both the player and the organization.

Looking back it would've been great if Terry Ryan's run on early round relievers would've worked out. It was a low ceiling with an even lower floor approach though, and it's a process that yielded projectable results. Adding Jay to the list of misses would be the final nail in the coffin, but we could certainly be embarking upon that reality soon.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Aggressive Moves on the Twins Radar?

Looking ahead to the 2019 Major League Baseball season, it’s relatively apparent that this is a year that looms large for the Minnesota Twins front office. Embarking on year three, and with their hand-picked managerial candidate soon to be announced, the impact of change must be felt at the major league level. Derek Falvey and Thad Levine have done a good job revamping the organization, but the fruits of their labor must start to show promise. In an offseason of massive proportions, some aggressive moves could be on the table.

I’m not sure how to categorize each of these scenarios other than to catalog them as realistic possibilities. Without attempting to venture down a hot take hole, each of the following situations could play out, but shouldn’t necessarily be banked on either. Minnesota has a significant amount of money to spend, and new talent should flood onto the 25 man roster this year. Noting both of those things as definitive truths, we could certainly see some interesting avenues explored when blueprinting how things look in March.

Eddie Rosario Doesn’t Play for Minnesota in 2019

If the Twins want to make a big move on the trade market, dealing from the outfield could be the option they explore. Max Kepler could be had by an opposing team, but obviously brings back a significantly muted return. Byron Buxton combines a low value and high ceiling to find himself in a relatively untouchable form. In Rosario Minnesota would be capitalizing on a player at his peak. Eddie would bring back the most talent and would be of benefit to another organization for the next few seasons.

At this point we’ve seen Rosario establish himself as a near All-Star caliber type of player. I don’t think the ceiling is much higher, but he’s also helped to cement the floor as being respectable as well. It would hurt the Twins to lose him, but there’s other avenues to make up the loss in outfield ability. Should the Twins pull off a big swap, I’d much prefer to see it include this name as opposed to some of the top prospects.

Nick Gordon Gets Dealt This Winter

Thinking along similar lines to any Rosario deal, Gordon is the prospect I’d try and entice another organization with. He’s still entrenched among Top 100 lists, and he’s just 23 years old. To be frank, that’s where the good news ends. Gordon has played 556 minor league games and owns just a .704 OPS. His only solid offensive output came over the course of 42 Double-A games while repeating the level to begin 2018.

At this stage of his career it doesn’t seem like Gordon will stick at shortstop either. Destined for second base, light hitting, and lacking ideal on-base skills, he seems like a decent type of prospect to include in a trade to sweeten the deal. Should the Twins sign a middle infielder this winter (and they need to) Gordon falls further down the depth chart as well.

Miguel Sano Is Done at Third Base

There’s a lot of assumptions built into this one, but I don’t think any of them are a relative leap. Joe Mauer appears to have player his last game in the major leagues, and that leaves the Twins with an opening at first. The free agent market for the position is beyond ugly and dealing for some thump could prove to be an unwise endeavor. Reports on Brent Rooker in the outfield aren’t good, and they aren’t much better at first.

Miguel has looked passable at times when it comes to his defensive ability, but it almost solely falls on his drive to be great. There’s a lot riding on how he prepares this offseason, and a move to first could allow him to slack further. That said, Minnesota can upgrade at the hot corner and grab the best bopper for first base from their own team. Both Mauer and Justin Morneau could help Miguel (if he’s willing) take to his new role this spring.

Addison Reed Rebounds in Year 2

Going the one-year contract route on a few relievers, it was Reed who grabbed $16.75MM from Minnesota on a two-year deal prior to 2017. The numbers looked good for the home team, and Reed was expected to be every bit worth of that contract. Fast forward to today, and we saw a guy be both bad and hurt most of the season.

Reed’s average velocity dipped to 91.3mph last year, which represented a career low and third straight season of decline. He’ll be just 30 years old  however, and a clean bill of health should help significantly when it comes to righting the ship. Missing bats was the biggest problem for Reed last year, and that was evidenced by a career worst 7.1 K/9. Ticking the velocity back up and staying in front of hitters, he should see an ERA more in line with the 2.66 mark put up between 2015-17.

Once the offseason gets started the Minnesota Twins are going to be a team with plenty of intrigue. The front office knows what is expected of them, and there’s more than one way they can execute upon vast improvement for the year ahead. After a winter where baseball mostly froze out free agents, I’d expect a significantly different couple of months this time around.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Mr. Miami in Twins Territory?

Right now, the most pressing question for the Minnesota Twins revolves around who will be managing the club during the 2019 Major League Baseball season. Beyond that however, the questions revolve around how the club will allocate something like $50 million in salary dollars to round out their squad for the upcoming season. Two names highlight this free agent class, and one of them is worth taking a deeper look into. The stage is yours Mr. Machado.

Entering free agency for the first time in his career, Manny Machado will have just experienced a new clubhouse for the first time as a big leaguer. Being traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers, he’ll have some knowledge as to what awaits him in acclimating to what could end up being his third team in the last calendar year. With just over $34 million in career earnings to date, the massive payday awaiting him is one that should destroy historical precedents.

Given the level of talent Machado possesses, and combined with the expected digits on a check presented to him, it’s fair to wonder why the Twins in this scenario. There’re more than a few reasons in which a marriage of the two makes a good deal of sense.

Minnesota Needs a Shortstop

Jorge Polanco has dedicated himself to his craft, and the strides he’s made at short have been admirable. Having initially been nothing short of a complete abomination, he’s embarked upon the category of passable. The reality though is that his arm still plays better at second base, and he could end up being the answer to who replaces Brian Dozier is he moves over to the right side of the diamond.

Yes, the best prospect in the Twins system is a shortstop, and there’s ever reason to believe that Royce Lewis is destined to be a superstar. You don’t pass up franchise altering players for the possibility of how a prospect may round out. Lewis looks like a better bet to stick at short now than he did at the time he turned pro, but there’s plenty of positional flexibility to be had. Two or three years from now is when the alignment should enter the equation.

The Dollars Make Sense

Joe Mauer and his $23 million average annual value are removed from the books. Even if Machado were to command something like 10 years and $300 million, Minnesota has the financial flexibility to absorb the deal. In an uncapped sport, there’s always going to be money to spend, but the reality is that payrolls are reflections of revenues driven largely by TV contracts. Yes, the Pohlad’s are rich, but so is every other owner in the sport. Sticking within logical spending parameters Minnesota can add Machado and still afford multiple other upgrades.

There’s little reason to believe that the Twins wouldn’t need to slightly overpay in acquiring Machado’s services, but we aren’t talking about a bottom of the barrel organization here. Minnesota plays in a poor division and is embarking upon a window of contention. Machado didn’t have a choice in his Orioles assignment but will go to a much better place this time around. Also, should he be coming off a World Series victory, priorities regarding winning or financial capital could also be impacted.

A Trial Run

Last season Derek Falvey and Thad Levine were in the running for premiere starting pitcher Yu Darvish. At this point, it certainly looks like a good thing that the Twins lost the contest, but they were right near the finish line according to reports. Given that they were involved with the “must have” free agent a season ago, this green front office isn’t afraid or unaccustomed to making a big move.

At 26, and looking for a mega-deal, Machado would be in an entirely different category. The practice and knowledge gained from last offseason certainly isn’t going to hurt the Twins front office however, and it could better position their tactics this time around. Looking to find players worthy of long-term commitments appears to be part of the goal as well, and this is about as long as it gets.

I could make a list of positives as long as I’d like, but there’s no denying that the detractors would dwarf the total. Any time the New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers, or Boston Red Sox are going to be involved on a player, everyone else is put on notice with a wait a see plan of action. Fortunately for Twins, the biggest market players are relatively set at the position Machado would most like to play. That won’t stop them from flashing cash, but it could temper the level to which the pursuit is made.

When the dust settles, the Minnesota Twins are always going to face long odds when it comes to landing the biggest fish. There’d be some irony in it happening following the retirement of their last big fish however. Joe Mauer provided the hometown team with an inside edge and replicating that type of a contract would be contingent upon an incredible sell. If there’s an opportunity to make it happen however, Falvey and Levine are staring it right in the face.