Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Twins Reinforcement Absent In September

With August officially coming to a close, and the Twins just a game back in the Wild Card standings, Paul Molitor's club is in uncharted territory. For the past four seasons, losing has been all the Twins have known. Now with a chance to play meaningful September baseball, promotions take on a whole different meaning.

As the Rochester Red Wings finished off a 4-2 win to end the month of August, Twins General Manager Terry Ryan watched the action unfold as he decided who he would bring back north with him. Upon exiting the Triple-A clubhouse for what can be assumed the last time in 2015, Kennys Vargas, Danny Santana, A.J. Achter, Eric Fryer, and Michael Tonkin were headed back to the big leagues.

Vargas had been all over the system in 2015 having played with the Twins, and as low as Double-A. Santana was being forced to prove that 2014 was more than a flash in the pan. Tonkin had been up and down more times than he'd like to admit, Fryer gives Molitor options, and Achter was still looking for his time to be long enough to make an impression. They now would all get to write the next chapter of their story.

The biggest news out of Rochester though, was who wasn't called up.

Having been informed that the Twins decision maker, Ryan, was there to watch him. Being told that a few solid performances could be the final push to get to the big leagues. With the knowledge in the back of his mind, Jose Berrios pitched.

His 3.08 ERA at Double-A Chattanooga didn't matter now, and nor did his 9.1 K/9 a step down. Not even his already impressive track record at Triple-A Rochester. What mattered were the few starts being watched by the man who held his fate in his hands. With Ryan on hand, Berrios pitched to the tune of 13 one run innings. He gave up just seven hits and struck out 17 while walking just one batter. His 0.69 ERA was near flawless, and opposing hitters mustered just a .146/.163/.229 line against him. At the end of it all though, it was deemed not enough.

Despite Kyle Gibson owning an ERA of 6.00 in August, forgetting that Tommy Milone had been hit around to a 5.40 mark over his last three starts, and negating the fact that one brilliant outing overshadowed a 9.12 ERA for Ervin Santana in the past month, Ryan decided there was no room for Berrios. With nearly 160 innings pitched under his belt, this was Berrios opportunity to make a contribution at the next level.

There's two trains of thought that could provide answers for the most obvious reasons to overlook such a needed commodity in Minnesota. The first, is Berrios' workload itself. Having pitched a career high 139.2 innings a season ago, a 20% increase was fast approaching. Whether of the belief that should be a hard stop to avoid arm damage for a young player or not, the Twins would no doubt want to exercise caution with the 21 year old.

Despite Berrios being in the best shape of his life (as quickly noticed by his offseason program), the long term health should continue to remain at the forefront. His big league contribution (from a health standpoint) would have made a lot of sense sometime in August, and no doubt would have afforded the Twins more work earlier on in the shutdown process.

On the flip side, there is baseball as a business. A team like the Twins generally is going to do what they can to keep control over young assets. Without the lucrative TV deal allowing spending to be amongst the league's best, smart contracts loom large. Berrios has a service clock that has yet to start, and a September call up would reverse that fact.

The problem with both of the reasons not to bring up what no doubt could be a key cog for the stretch run, is that both issues are somewhat simply addressed. On the health side of things, Terry Ryan was in person to watch Berrios is his most recent outings. Showing no signs of slowing down, the sentiment that Ryan suggested in regards to his limit being based on feel, seems little more than lip service. A 20% increase in innings is far from a gold standard, and once again, Berrios has done nothing but show he wants more.

In regards to service time, contracts, and controllability, the Twins decide to gamble on the future. While Berrios' service time would start with a September call up, a year of arbitration is not immediately lost. Had the Twins called him up now, and then held him at Triple-A until May 2016 (rather than starting with the Twins out of Spring Training), they would have saved the same year of service time. No doubt the practice would frustrate an agent, but the same can be said about the current handling.

At the end of the day, the Twins are in a position that no one expected them to be. Above .500 and competing for a playoff spot in the season's final month, an opportunity presented itself. Rather than capitalize on where they are currently, Terry Ryan decided to gamble and hope that in 2022 (when Berrios' final year of team control comes into play), matters just as much.

Minnesota could have positioned themselves for a playoff run now, in 2016, and going forward. Instead, they chose to play the "we're just happy to be here" card, and act as though 2015 is nothing more than a participation trophy.

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