Monday, October 15, 2018

Outlining the Offseason: Names to Consider


Although the Postseason continues to press onwards with the League Championship Series round, the Minnesota Twins are firmly entrenched in their offseason. The front office has begun interviews of possible managerial candidates, and the free agent market looms right around the corner. Recently I looked at a handful of positions the Twins need to fulfill for the 2019 season, and now it’s time to put some names to those groups.

Given the free agent class, more loaded at the top than displaying real significant depth, there’s opportunity for Minnesota to get better through the trade market as well. Having financial flexibility plays on both the open market, as well as being able to absorb a contract in trade. On top of dollars, the Twins organization boasts one of the best farm systems in baseball, and while Royce Lewis and Alex Kirilloff are untouchable, that’s probably where the designation ends.

Bullpen

A season ago, the Twins brought Fernando Rodney and Zach Duke in on one-year deals. Addison Reed was given a  two-year contract and responded with the worst year of his career. Although it’s a toss up giving lengthy deals to relievers, there’s two names that have age and ability on their side. Both Kelvin Herrera and Jeurys Familia have yet to reach 30 and are among the premiere relief options in the game. Closing experience resides in both, and Herrera obviously has divisional familiarity through his time with Kansas City.

Minnesota isn’t going to acquire either of those guys on the cheap, and a two-year deal around $20 million for each seems logical. That’s a pretty big chunk to spend on the pen, so a lesser option for just a year could come into play as well. Zach Britton isn’t the impact arm he used to be, and he’s never been a big-time strikeout guy. Given the expected market there, I think that’s a pretty safe pass. Joe Kelly and Adam Ottavino are both guys that would be huge boosts to the pen, and I’d think the one-year route could be doable there. As things stand now, the Twins don’t have a proven closer, so they could make a big play for Craig Kimbrel. He’s elite but will be paid as such also. Kimbrel well beyond a pace to shatter Mariano Rivera’s records, so he’ll need the 9th no matter where he ends up.

1st Base

In my initial breakdown, it was first base that I saw Minnesota looking to explore when it comes to the infield corners. Joe Mauer looks to be hanging them up, and that would leave a significant hole there. Obviously, the caveat is whether Miguel Sano slides over, but still just 25 and with more of a commitment, third base would be the ideal role from the Twins perspective.

From a point of talent acquisition, it’s relative negligible when it comes to what infield corner is being acquired. The market for first basemen is incredibly thin, bearing no starting caliber talents. On the hot corner side, you’ve got the injury plagued Josh Donaldson, or the utility man Eduardo Escobar. Minnesota has bridges to mend with Eduardo, and Donaldson will likely be given a deal that puts an organization in the unenviable position to be burned. If there’s an opportunity for the Twins to make a trade, this could be it.

There’s no doubt that the Phillies showed up in 2018, and probably outperformed a certain level of expectations. In signing Carlos Santana last winter though, they positioned youngster Rhys Hoskins well out of position and were worse off for it. They then also acquired Justin Bour, and now have a glut of options at the position. Both Bour and Santana are coming off down seasons and could be nice candidates to have bounce back performances. Santana is owed another $40 million over two years, while Bour is under team control through 2020. Either of those options would look nice in a Twins uniform, and they’d bring some significant thump to the lineup.

2nd Base

After deciding to hold off on any extension talks with Brian Dozier prior to the 2018 season, hindsight makes the decision look even better. In a contract year, Dozier put up his worst numbers as a pro, and he may need to settle for a one-year deal in hopes of recouping some future value. Minnesota could look to former utility man, and Fogo de Chao connoisseur, Eduardo Escobar here. Again, that’d have to include some mended feelings, and reunions aren’t often seen that quickly through free agency.

You’d have to put Logan Forsythe squarely in the running for a return to Minnesota. He played great defense and showed a capable bat down the stretch. There isn’t much youth to be had, and D.J. LeMahieu is the youngster of the class at 30. The falloff from Coors is real for LeMahieu, and he provides little else besides contact offensively. Asdrubal Cabrera could be a nice option, and there’s power in his bat that doesn’t typically show up at the position. I can’t see Minnesota being enticed by a 37-year-old Ian Kinsler, or an expensive Daniel Murphy however.

In an ideal world, Manny Machado makes too much sense for the Twins on paper. He’d be able to take over at short, pushing Jorge Polanco to second base. After rating horribly at the position with the Orioles, the more analytically inclined Dodgers had Machado looking like a new man. He’s elite, and at the top of this class however, so even if the Twins wanted to go all in, Manny would need to meet them there.

Starting Pitcher

Given the internal depth of Minnesota’s rotation, this is a much less pressing need than it has been in previous seasons. Fernando Romero looks ready to assume a regular big-league role, and unless the Twins want to add a top three starter, I’d rather not see him get bumped from that position. Should there be money left over however, slotting another arm in with Jose Berrios and Kyle Gibson would only improve what should be a respectable group.

When it comes to hurlers Dallas Keuchel and Patrick Corbin headline the talent. The New York Yankees have already indicated their intentions to pursue Corbin, and his figure is going to get quite high. Keuchel isn’t the Cy Young winner of a few years ago, but he won’t come cheap either. Minnesota could acquire either, but it’d likely come at the detriment of another position group.
Operating on two ends of the spectrum, both J.A. Happ and Gio Gonzalez are names that would be a fit. At 36, Happ isn’t the type you’d go more than a year or two on, but it certainly seems like there’s plenty left in the tank. Gonzalez will be 33 and has proved a timely addition for the Milwaukee Brewers down the stretch. Both should be in the mid-level category when it comes to a payday, and there’s little doubt that they’d pitch as one of the Twins three best starters.

Looking at more of a dice roll Trevor Cahill could be an option. He was solid this season for the Athletics, and while his track record isn’t great, the cost shouldn’t be significant either. I’d have trouble trusting him among the top half of the rotation, but he’d be a worthy addition to supplement the overall depth. Following along a similar train of thought used with Michael Pineda in 2018, Garrett Richards is a very enticing arm as well. He has a horrible time staying healthy, having not pitched a full season since 2015, but he’s very good when available. He’ll be 31 next year and is still recovering from Tommy John surgery in July. The stuff is hard to shy away from however, and if you can make the dollars work, there’s certainly appeal here.

If we’ve learned anything thus far about this front office, it’s that they have done a very solid job when it comes to talent acquisition. Regardless of how it worked out, the names brought in last winter were all good ones. Getting a big-league starter under team control for a flier prospect was also a shrewd move. I’d expect Derek Falvey and Thad Levine to be active on both fronts, and it should only push the envelope for Minnesota’s relevance next season.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Outlining the Offseason: Areas of Addition

As the 2018 Major League Baseball Postseason continues to rumble on down the tracks, the Minnesota Twins are nearly two weeks into their offseason. Paul Molitor has been let go as manager of the club, and the winter ahead looks to be the most critical in the Derek Falvey and Thad Levine tenure. Despite a 78 win season for the hometown nine, this is still a collection that should compete next year in a weak AL Central. To best position the club however, the front office has some work to do.

With departures, and dollars coming off the books, Minnesota should have something like $50-60 million to spend on talent before Opening Day 2019. That's a good chunk of change, presumably one of the higher numbers in the sport, but before looking at names we'll need to blueprint the areas of focus. There's a handful of holes that need to be filled, and prioritizing them is part of the process as well. Let's take a look at what the blueprint may look like.

Bullpen

In 2017 the Twins owned the 22nd best relief ERA in baseball at 4.40. The front office responded by signing Zach Duke, Fernando Rodney, and Addison Reed in hopes of an uptick. In 2018 the relief corps owned the 22nd best relief ERA in baseball at 4.45. Looking ahead to 2019, two of those free acquisitions have since been traded (both were on one year deals), and Reed put up a clunker. Elite arm Ryan Pressly was also dealt from the group.

Taking a look at holdovers Minnesota really only has three certainties. Trevor May, Taylor Rogers, and Trevor Hildenberger look like capable high-leverage options. Outside of that trio however, Minnesota's bullpen is somewhat of a black hole. Names like Alan Busenitz and Tyler Duffey haven't seen consistent big league success, and internal options appear to be running relatively thin. Given the impact relievers now have on the game, it's hard to suggest less than two impact arms be acquired by the Twins.

Right now this collection doesn't have the "proven closer" type, although I'm not certain that's a necessity. If Reed can return to form, giving him the 9th wouldn't be such a bad idea. Pairing the internal trio with a couple more firemen that can be leaned out to get big outs would lighten everyone's workload, and raise the overall water level.

1st Base

Given where things stand currently, it seems near certain that Joe Mauer's playing career is over. I don't see how he'd be able to top the moment he left Target Field on, and a season of questions doesn't strike me as something the Minnesota native would welcome. Add in the fact that he'd be learning another new manager, along with his changing family dynamic, and I just can't find a way it makes sense. That means the Twins need someone new to start at first.

Tyler Austin is going to be in this mix, and he certainly should be, but there's a lot to be desired defensively from his candidacy. With Mauer out of the mix, the Twins could go the more traditional route of a power hitter at the corner spot. Miguel Sano could definitely be moved off of the hot corner, but again would need to show the defensive chops worthy of regular time there. Brent Rooker still remains a bat only prospect, and Zander Wiel probably isn't ready for that type of promotion.

How the Twins decide to address this spot is going to be interesting. All of the internal options have a couple of warts, and Mauer held the position despite being non-traditional in the stat producing categories. When a legend hangs them up you've got big shoes to fill, but how the front office goes about this fix should be worth watching.

2nd Base

From 2013-2018 the Minnesota Twins employed the 3rd best second basemen in baseball (in terms of fWAR). Brian Dozier also hit a position leading 166 homers in that time span. In fact, since Dozier came into the league in 2012, no second basemen has hit more than his 172 longballs. Transforming himself from a failed shortstop into a slugging two-bagger was an incredible feat. Don't let any of that cloud your judgement though, as Minnesota did the right thing.

In the final year of his deal Dozier owned a .712 OPS through 104 games for the Twins. It was apparent that a qualifying offer wasn't going to be an option for the organization, and getting assets in return was a very good proposition. Brian went on to post a .650 OPS in 47 games with Los Angeles, and hasn't started a Postseason game.

When looking to fill holes up the middle, the Twins have a few options. Although Jorge Polanco is miscast as a shortstop, he's certainly not an abomination. He could be shifted though, and a shortstop could be targeted instead. Nick Gordon struggled mightily at Triple-A and isn't a big league option right now. Really, you'd need to go down to Royce Lewis before you find a true shortstop in the system.

At the end of the day, expecting peak Dozier production from the replacement is a losing proposition. Second basemen typically don't launch 30 or 40 homers in a season. Polanco may be the best bat available, and Minnesota has some flexibility in that regard with how they'll fill the other position. An up the middle player is needed however, and it'll need to be one of starting caliber.

Starting Pitcher

You could arguably put starting pitcher among the list of needs on a continual basis for eternity. That said, seeing it this far down the priority list when looking at the Twins is quite a nice development. Kyle Gibson, Jose Berrios, and Jake Odorizzi have spots locked in for 2018. Michael Pineda is also going to be in the rotation if he's healthy. From there, it's up to the Twins depth.

The front office could deem that Fernando Romero is ready to be the 5th starter right from the get go. That would hardly be a poor decision, but it would be a significant gamble in the depth department. Should the Twins go out and sign a guy that can slot into the top three of their rotation, the overall quality rises, and Romero immediately becomes a strong first depth option.

It was nice to see guys like Kohl Stewart, Stephen Gonsalves, and Aaron Slegers get run this year. In 2019 names like Lewis Thorpe and Brusdar Graterol could vault to the next level as well. The more patient the organization can be in terms of readiness however, the better results can be expected from the big league group. Minnesota could make a relative splash here, and with the talent already in house, it would make for a very strong overall positional group.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Twins Nearing Some Key Crossroads

With the Minnesota Twins missing the Postseason in 2018, the 78 win campaign simply wasn't good enough. Although Paul Molitor isn't the sole owner of fault, he deservedly took the fall after being spared a season ago. Recently I took a look at a few players that began to develop in big ways for the organization. On the flip side of that, there's some players that are watching time run out.

As was the case going into 2018, the Minnesota Twins should be expected to challenge the Cleveland Indians in the AL Central. With talented youth, and money to spend, there's opportunity to shake up the division at the top. If that's going to happen however, the players mentioned below need to become more known commodities as opposed to wild cards.

Miguel Sano

There's arguably no player wasting talent more right now than Minnesota's third basemen. Regardless of weight and conditioning issues, it's always appeared to be a work ethic situation for the Dominican Native. A healthy Sano could probably hit 30 homers in a full year without much effort. In his present state, that also likely comes with a record setting strikeout total and a hollow defensive effort.

For Sano to return as the All Star caliber player he was in 2017, Minnesota needs more. This offseason Miguel has to live and breathe his craft. Being involved with a sexual assault case, and more recently, an accident involving a police officer, the organization needs a character reset as well. At 25 years old, Sano isn't a kid anymore, and his actions have consequences. Sano becomes a free agent in 2022 and is arbitration eligible in 2019. You can bet he's already bleeding money, but the career arc needs a turnaround, and fast.

Byron Buxton

Unlike Sano, Buxton has never had a questionable work ethic. As a tireless competitor, and someone with a never ending drive, it's availability that has held Byron back. Over the offseason, and in the year ahead, Minnesota needs their centerfielder to stay healthy and get reps. Having endured what amounts to as a lost year, the Georgia native did little for his development in the past 12 months. That will need to change in 2019.

There's no denying Buxton will always be a significant asset in the field. If he can stay healthy through his exploits in center, it will come down to consistency at the plate. He's shown plenty of ability to hit during his rise in professional baseball, and there's too much talent to write that aspect off. That said, Byron is soon to be 25 and the clock is ticking there as well. Minnesota isn't in a spot to give up on either player, but as the current foundation of a promoted prospect group, they must come through.

The Bullpen

Naming a single player leaves too many variables out in this equation. It seems Minnesota has real assets in Trevor Hildenberger, Taylor Rogers, and Trevor May. Behind them though, no one has stepped forward and that's a problem. Alan Busenitz, John Curtiss, Tyler Duffey, and a handful of others have gotten their shot but failed to capitalize. With numbers that look promising on the farm, major league success has yet to follow any of those arms.

You can probably expect Thad Levine to target at least a couple impact arms in relief this winter. Losing Ryan Pressly, though I agree with the premise of the trade, will need to be addressed. Although there's plenty of options internally, very few of them are looking like anything of consequence. At this point, the group mentioned above is rounding out some of their last opportunities before roster trimming begins.

Without going into every area or instance that could be improved upon, the above trio of suspects is simply more vital than the rest. Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton have always had the ability to be franchise altering players, and their realization of potential is integral to sustained success in the near-term. Given the Twins draft strategy in the late years of the Terry Ryan regime, generating something of substance from the glut of middling relievers is a must at this point. Once that group is passed by, there's little to feel good about in terms of a return.

Over the winter, Derek Falvey and Thad Levine will embark upon one of the most critical offseasons in recent memory. No matter what they do however, the emergence, development, and turnaround of the names above represents the largest piece to the puzzle.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Feeling Out the Front Office

Over the course of the past two seasons I have seen plenty of comments directed towards the Minnesota Twins front office. With Derek Falvey and Thad Levine replacing the Terry Ryan regime, much has been made of their age and new-fangled way of doing things. When looking at it objectively however, are there really any egregious missteps, and isn't this the way baseball is run around the league?

From many around the media landscape, nicknames have been given to the duo sitting at the top of 1 Twins Way. Whether calling Falvey and Levine the "Boy Wonders" or "Baseball Nerds," there continues to be monikers that poke at the age and data driven ideology disseminated from the Twins organization. From my vantage point, this either speaks to a lack of knowledge regarding the current game, or a level of malice intended towards individuals deemed unfit for the role.

At any rate, using analytics as a buzzword remains out of touch in today's game. Baseball, and front offices in general, have long since incorporated data driven practices to set forth at least a portion of what they do on a daily basis. This isn't specific to the Twins, and it's certainly not new to the game. When attempting to carve out competitive advantages, continuing to do the things you have always done will quickly get you left in the dust.

In an effort to attack some of the misconceptions head on, I posed this question last night on Twitter:
The responses were aplenty, but genuinely surprised me. Maybe it's because of my follower base being of the more informed variety, but there simply weren't the frustrated and shortsighted responses I expected to get. Sourcing through a few of the comments, I did want to do my best to rebut a few things that I thought lacked context.
A couple of comments surrounded the handling of Byron Buxton, which has been a horse I've severely beaten. The FO looks silly for how they handled that, and regardless of the business aspect, you'd have to be looking through a very narrow vacuum to argue in favor of it.

The other point that's touched on regards Matt Belisle and the 25 man roster. If there's criticism I believe is fair, it's how the 25 man roster was handled at times this season. It's hard to know what level of impact Paul Molitor needed or wanted over who he managed, but aging veterans were often preferred over potentially more impactful youth. Should that be a reality we move away from in 2019, one can assume Molitor's hand may have been in that process as well.

From there, we get into a few complete fallacies.
I don't know how you could realistically look back at the offseason and come to the above conclusion. Logan Morrison was added for nearly nothing after hitting over 30 longballs in 2017. Lance Lynn was a big rotation boost, and was brought in late in the game. Although not a free agent, acquiring multiple years of Jake Odorizzi for a low-level prospect was another shrewd move. The winter as a whole was hit out the park by the front office. We know how the talent performed on the field, but there's zero argument to be made against the moves being sensible at the time.
Looking across the organization, I'm not sure how there could be a conclusion that the Minnesota Twins aren't in a significantly better position than they were two years ago. The developmental staff of coaches and scouts has been beefed up significantly, and the influx of talent has followed suit. Drafting first overall in 2017, Falvey and Levine put together a very strong class. They then followed up that group with another good set of youth this past season. Supplementing amateurs with prospects acquired through trades this season, identifying talent genuinely seems like something they've excelled at.

At this point in the game, you need to come to the table with something better than stathead or moniker driven detractions for the Twins front office. It's not as though computers run the game of baseball, but data driven analysis has turned into an exploitable competitive advantage. Marrying that notion with the human element and squeezing the most out of the on-field product remains the optimal goal.

We're embarking on year three for this front office, and the offseason is an incredibly critical one. 2019 remains a season that Minnesota should compete at a high level, and expecting a full tear down or rebuild is nowhere in the blueprint of what is currently taking place. Although being left out of the postseason isn't fun, an objective view of the current landscape should be viewed with a level of positivity.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Molitor Out. Falvine In.

Today the Minnesota Twins announced that Paul Molitor will not be brought back as Manager in 2019. With two years remaining on his freshly signed three year deal, it may come as a surprise to some, but it really shouldn't. While it hasn't been a certainty that the Twins front office would make a change, the signs have been there for some time. Now with the opportunity to hire their guy, Derek Falvey and Thad Levine prepare for a pivotal offseason.

Molitor was offered a three-year extension following the 2017 season. Despite looking like he would be let go last season, Molitor's Twins got into the playoffs and he earned a Manager of the Year award because of it. With the Manager of the Year award being loosely tied to surprise performances, it's not a huge shock he was the one voters selected. Had he missed the postseason however, the award likely lands elsewhere, and the three-year deal never gets done.

Being brought back this season, it appeared that Minnesota's front office thought long and hard about the decision. He was not immediately re-upped last winter, and there was never any glowing indications of support from the top during the 2018 slate. While he was offered a three-year contract, a two-year deal after such a close decision for change likely would've looked like little more than a placeholder.

Certainly there will be some Twins fans that can't wrap their head around guys like Brian Dozier and Eduardo Escobar being gone in the same season. Adding St. Paul native Paul Molitor to that list isn't going to do management any favors with that crowd. However, give the front office credit for not concerning themselves with those opinions. Making baseball decisions based on feelings or how an individual relates to an organization is a good way to quickly venture down a wrong road. At the end of the day, fans clamor for winning more than anything else, and being solely focused on that purpose is of the utmost importance.

Embarking upon one of the most important offseasons in recent memory, Derek Falvey and Thad Levine will now begin with a managerial search. They are able to bring in someone of their choosing, and internal candidates such as Derek Shelton and Jeff Pickler could be waiting in the wings. The ties to Texas and Cleveland still reside in both, so Sandy Alomar or Jeff Bannister may be of some intrigue as well. I'm not sure where they turn, but I'm of the opinion that it will be a good source regardless.

While there's been some in-season roster decisions I've found myself in disagreement with the front office, the vast majority of trades, acquisitions, and moves have been well executed. Although it's easy to mock a process that seems new or uncertain, it's also hard to really dig in and not see positive ripples reflecting throughout the system.

Managers don't make an incredible impact during a Major League Baseball season, but Paul Molitor generally did less with more during games. He left opportunity on the table, and neither Byron Buxton or Miguel Sano truly developed under his tutelage. The organization wanting to get someone on staff that can take the big league club to new heights is a worthy ask. Now that Molitor is out, Falvine is in and it's on them to find who's next in charge.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Twins Developments Worth Watching

There's no denying that the 2018 Minnesota Twins fell short of expectations. This club came into the year having played in the Postseason a season ago, and they were looking to target the Cleveland Indians at the top of the AL Central division. Winning just 78 games, that didn't happen, but there was plenty for this group to hang their hats on.

Obviously a season in which we saw Paul Molitor's squad take a step backwards, there's a few key areas needing improvement. Before getting into those narratives however, we need to take a look at which positive launching points could loom large for the offseason and year ahead.

Kyle Gibson

Mid-way through the 2017 Major League Baseball regular season, it looked as though the former 1st round draft pick would be a non-tender candidate at the end of the year. Then things clicked, and he posted a 3.76 ERA over his final 13 starts. What's only made it look better, is that Gibson has carried the strong performance into 2018.

He wrapped up the year trailing only Jose Berrios in terms of fWAR among Twins pitchers, and his 3.62 ERA was easily a career best. The FIP and xFIP numbers suggest there's some room for regression, but it isn't too worrisome. Another key development is that Gibson showed a heightened ability to get batters out on his own. With a career high 8.2 K/9, his strikeout numbers were notable for the first time in his career. Thanks to the emergence of Gibson, and presence of both Berrios and Jake Odorizzi, the Twins rotation is in a good place.

Jake Cave

In baseball, you are rarely afforded multiple significant opportunities to make an impact. After being pulled from the Yankees glut of outfielders, the Twins afforded Cave an opportunity and he ran with it. As a 25 year-old rookie, he's a bit past the typical prospect shine. That said, he posted a more than enticing .797 OPS and showed plenty of power potential.

Right now, he's locked in as nothing lower than the 4th outfielder for the Twins going into 2019. Cave took the run likely tabbed for Zack Granite coming into the season, and he could very well push Robbie Grossman out of the organization as well. If there's an area to focus on when it comes to development, it's easily plate discipline. A 102/18 K/BB ratio leaves plenty of room for a higher level of on-base prowess to rear its head.

Taylor Rogers

Losing a bullpen piece like Ryan Pressly was going to create opportunity for another arm to step up, and Rogers did in a big way. Leading the Twins in fWAR out of the pen, Taylor posted a career best 2.63 ERA. It was the third straight season in which he's lowered his ERA, and he finished with a career best 9.9 K/9. Although velocity isn't his game, he gets pitches by batters, and doesn't give up free passes.

On top of being dominant as a whole, Rogers wasn't simply a LOOGY either. Sure, he nuked lefties to the tune of a .428 OPS, but he only allowed righties to post a .643 OPS against him in the process. Across over 68 innings this season, he only allowed three longballs, and he pitched his way to the back of the Minnesota pen.

Eddie Rosario

Spanning the group of exciting prospects that rose the Twins ranks together, it's probably a bit surprising that Rosario has emerged the most. That said, we're absolutely at that point in their collective development. After an .836 OPS season in 2017, Rosario solidified his ability by performing at an All-Star level in 2018.

From where I sit, I don't think there's much more to the ceiling of the Minnesota left fielder, but the floor shouldn't be significantly lower either. A guy that has a cannon in the outfield, and can hit as a middle-of-the-order threat, he's going to be a guy that makes sense for a long term extension. Rosario can be a star for the Twins, and that came somewhat out of nowhere.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Letting Mauer Tell the Story

With this week signifying the last of the 2018 Major League Baseball regular season, we very well could be watching the final games of Joe Mauer's career. Yet to indicate or announce his intentions for 2019, the Minnesota Twins longtime star has compiled quite a resume. Over the course of this season, he's surpassed plenty of the legends and greats before him throughout Twins history. Trying to narrate that tale is one I'd fall short of, but the numbers do some significant justice.

Although the meat and potatoes of Joe's career is how he's been a lunch pail type player, that's come to work every day, and simply got the job done. He put together a 7-10 year stretch in which he was on par with Johnny Bench for the title of greatest catcher the game has ever seen. He reinvented himself and became a defensive wizard at first base. He's had ups, and he's had downs. Wherever along the journey you'd like to examine though, the final tallies are nothing short of impressive.

Joe is who he has always been, and the living legend isn't ever going to acknowledge his rightful place in Twins Territory. We can do that for him though, simply by using his merits.

  • .306 career average- 3rd all time for the Twins. Behind Carew and Puckett
  • 1011 runs- 3rd all time for the Twins. Behind Killebrew and Puckett
  • .388 on-base percentage- 3rd all time for the Twins. Behind Carew and Knoblauch
  • 2,114 hits- 2nd all time for the Twins. Behind only Puckett
  • 599 extra-base hits- 4th all time for the Twins. Behind Killebrew, Puckett, and Hrbek
  • 1,852 games- 2nd all time for the Twins. Behind only Killebrew
  • 3,073 times on base- 1st all time for the Twins.
  • 2009 American League Most Valuable Player
  • 3-time (2008-10) American League Gold Glove Winner- Catcher
  • 5-time (2006, 2008-10, 2013) American League Silver Slugger Winner- Catcher
  • 3-time American League Batting Champion- Only AL C to ever do so. Only C to ever do it 3 times.
  • 6-time (2006, 2008-10, 2012-13) All Star- American League Starting Catcher
  • 2009 Sports Illustrated MLB All-Decade Team
  • Baseball America Major League Player of the Year (2009)
  • Career 49.1 fWAR 
  • Career valuation of $306.9MM compared to $218.025MM career earnings
  • Career .995 Fielding % as a C ranks 8th all time
  • Career .996 Fielding % as 1B ranks 5th all time
  • 2006-2013 hit .327/.410/.473 with a 139 OPS+
  • Would be third 1st Overall pick to make Major League Baseball Hall of Fame, joining Ken Griffey Jr. and Chipper Jones.
Selfishly, I hope this isn't the end. I want to see Joe back in 2019 for what should be a competitive season in Twins Territory. Regardless what happens, the list above is otherworldly, and it's been a joy to watch it unfold.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Ranking the Rookies

The Minnesota Twins are now in the final week of their 2018 Major League Baseball season. With a Postseason berth eliminated from reality, the final seven games will be of little significance. Given the opponents coming to Target Field include the Detroit Tigers and Chicago White Sox, opportunity to play spoiler isn't present either. That said, these contests remain a proving grounds for players looking to crack the 2019 Opening Day roster.

Right now, there's some intrigue as to whether or not we're witnessing the end of Joe Mauer's heralded career with the hometown team. These could be his final days in a major league uniform, and although I believe he'd be of service to the club in 2019, it appears that no decision has been reached at the present time.

For the guys that are significantly Mauer's junior, they are still looking to make a final imprint on the organization in hopes of vaulting themselves into a more secure position next spring. While the final week may be somewhat of a slog for the battle tested veterans, no opportunity can be taken for granted when looking to stay at the game's highest level.

This season, the Twins have trotted out more than a handful of rookies. Here's a look back at how they've all performed.

Mitch Garver - C

Somewhat unfortunately for the organization, Garver was turned loose relatively early this year. Instead of being able to serve as Jason Castro's understudy, he was pushed into a starting role after a knee injury ended Jason's season. While Mitch looked raw behind the plate early on, it's been more than apparent that he made strides as the season went on. Working with veterans like Bobby Wilson, and briefly Chris Gimenez, his glove work improved dramatically.

On the offensive side of this, his .734 OPS was more than welcomed behind the dish for Minnesota. He was easily the most productive offensive asset as a backstop, and there appears to be some legitimate pop in his stick. Over a full season, he's a likely double-digit longball guy, and he's pushed himself into the conversation for more work next season. It remains to be seen if Minnesota will make changes at catcher, but Garver didn't hurt his positioning at all.

Jake Cave - OF

Maybe one of the most shrewd moves in the early tenure of the Twins new front office, Jake Cave was acquired as outfield depth from a Yankees system that simply didn't have room for him. With Byron Buxton having a lost year, and Zack Granite falling out of the picture, Cave harnessed the opportunity presented to him.

Early on, Cave should've gotten more run than veteran retread Ryan LaMarre, but that didn't stop him from turning heads on a near daily basis. In 85 games this season Cave owns a .771 OPS and has ripped 12 homers. At 25 years old, he's somewhat of an elder rookie, but there's plenty of reason to believe that this is just scratching the surface. He's easily Minnesota's 4th outfielder to open up 2019, and it's been apparent than he can start for stretches when need be as well.

Willians Astudillo - UT

After over 630 minor league games, Astudillo finally graced Major League Baseball with his presence. The folk tale of a chubby catcher than picked off runners without looking and never struck out came to the big leagues and initially started as an outfielder, third basemen, and second basemen. Now settled into a utility role, and backup catcher, Astudillo has seen regular run down the stretch.

It's just a 23 game sample size, but the .877 OPS is certainly eye opening. It's hard to imagine Minnesota carrying three catches on Opening Day next season, but there's worse ways to use a 40 man roster spot early on in November. This could very well end up being the last we hear of Astudillo, or he could continue to be an out-of-nowhere spark for a Twins team eyeing the Postseason a year from now.

Fernando Romero - SP

First it was Jose Berrios, and then it was Fernando Romero. When it came to Twins starting pitching prospects, those were the cream of the crop. Romero's electric fastball has pushed him into the conversation of a true ace, and he looked the part in small bursts this season.

The numbers themselves are all unremarkable, and he didn't light Triple-A on fire after returning. That said, the 55.2 IP in the majors as a 23 year old should prove invaluable when setting him up for future success. I'd imagine the Twins front office will be looking to upgrade the rotation again this winter, and that likely keeps Fernando at Rochester on Opening Day, As a first man up however, that's a heck of an arm to turn to.

The Best of the Rest- Zack Littell, Stephen Gonsalves, Kohl Stewart, and Adnrew Vasquez

None of these guys got much time to really cement any sort of significant expectations for the year ahead. Littell, Gonsalves, and Stewart should all open 2019 in the Triple-A rotation, and getting a look at big league talent could do wonders for their offseason preparation. While none of them have dominant stuff, honing in on command and pitchability should continue to remain a key focus for them. Again noting the Twins depth, there's at least one capable big league starter in this trio, and Minnesota having them to turn to next season isn't a bad thing at all.

Vasquez was the lone rookie to get a relief chance this season. Working just 2.0 IP despite entering six games, manager Paul Molitor obviously displayed a short leash. Over such a small sample size you can't draw any definitive conclusions, but it's more than apparent that the meteoric rise from High-A to start the year was impressive. At every level, Vasquez posted massive strikeout totals and tended to keep his walks in check. If he can replicate a portion of that for the Twins, they'll have developed a nice pen piece.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Buxton's Greatness Knows No Bounds

Recently, the team behind MLB's Statcast came up with another visual and defensive metric for our perusal. It's still astonishing to me that the Baseball Savant platform is a free database to the average fan. That's the reality we live in however, and they've now introduced a Directional Outs Above Average leaderboard. In 2018 Byron Buxton obviously isn't on it. Looking back at least year though, the numbers are extraordinary.

MLB.com's David Adler broke down some of his findings using the new tool today on Twitter. Notably, the White Sox Adam Engel has been the most valuable outfielder in baseball this year when it comes to tracking down balls behind him. Quantifying anything above +5 as elite, Engel has tracked down baseballs behind him and to his glove side as good as anyone in baseball this season.
That's all fine and well, but the high water mark this year is +5. The Twins centerfielder won the Platinum Glove last season, and watching him play, it was easy to see why. Among players with at least 25 opportunities, Byron Buxton's 29 outs above average was eight clear of his closest competition (Ender Inciate 21). Generating those outs though, Buxton's play behind him is what sets him apart.
Working in centerfield, Buxton generated elite totals (+10 and +7) on balls to the left and right field gaps. With 81 home games a year played at Target Field, getting to baseballs towards the high wall in right center or the bullpen fence in left center, saved his pitcher's ERA significantly. With 20 OAA behind him, only the White Sox Engel came close (owning an 18 OAA mark on balls behind him).

During 2018, the Twins have gotten just 28 games from Buxton at the big league level. Due to injuries, rehab, and now service time issues, he simply hasn't been on the field for a team that took a significant step backwards. Max Kepler has been one of the most consistently available outfielders for Minnesota in his place, and his nine OAA total is quite the dropoff.

As you may expect, this reality has caused quite the problem for the Twins defensively. In 2017 Minnesota outfielders combined for a 24 DRS total, which was good enough for 4th in all of baseball. Fast forward to today and Minnesota owns just a 2 DRS total this season, ranking 17th in the big leagues. There's no doubt it has also contributed to the Twins sliding from 19th to 23rd year-over-year in terms of pitching ERA.

There really isn't anything groundbreaking about the concept that Byron Buxton is an immense talent on defense. That premise alone is why the Twins rushed him back from his initial injury this season, and why they were willing to sacrifice both his health and offensive game for the betterment of their team as a whole. That said, it's plenty refreshing to see new metrics reflect just how exceptional Minnesota's center fielder appears through the eye test.

Getting a healthy Buxton back next season should do wonders for Minnesota, and he should continue to be a best friend for Twins pitchers.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Handing Out the Hardware: 2018 Edition

As a member of the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America, or IBWAA, each year the group is tasked with voting on end of season awards. Having now been a part of the voting process for the past few years, it's always fun to see where we stand in comparison to the BBWAA. In 2018, there's been so many strong seasons from veterans and rookies alike, this one of the most exciting ballots to fill out in recent memory.

Ballots are due back to the IBWAA by September 30, but I have already filed my vote. Despite their being a couple of weeks left in the 2018 Major League Baseball season, I'm comfortable with my suggestions for who should take home each award. I'll revisit my selections upon the announcement of final totals later this fall, but here's who I have in each of the ten categories.

AL MVP

Mike Trout- Angels

Others receiving votes- Mookie Betts, Jose Ramirez, Alex Bregman, Francisco Lindor, Matt Chapman, J.D. Ramiez, Chris Sale, Justin Verlander, Trevor Bauer

While Mookie Betts has had an incredible season of his own, there's no player in baseball whose team suffers more when they aren't on the field than Mike Trout. He's a revolutionary talent, and with a relative tie in statistical categories compared to Betts, the "Most Valuable" definition came into play for me here.

AL Cy Young

Chris Sale- Red Sox

Others receiving votes- Justin Verlander, Trevor Bauer, Gerrit Cole, Corey Kluber

In his third season with the Red Sox, Sale should finally nab his first Cy Young Award. Having came up short many seasons previously, this campaign is one for the ages. He's got a career high strikeout rate, and has paired that with a career low ERA. One of the greatest we'll ever see pitch, Sale takes home the hardware.

AL ROY

Shohei Ohtani- Angels

Others receiving votes- Miguel Andujar, Joey Wendle

There was a time that it appeared Miguel Andujar had this award wrapped up, then Ohtani returned from injury. The two-way phenom has put up nearly identical numbers to the Yankees third basemen, despite 40+ less games. Oh, and he was also an ace level pitcher over the course of 10 starts this season. Shohei will need surgery after 2018, but the award should help to legitimize how special this season was.

AL Manager

Alex Cora- Red Sox

Others receiving votes- A.J. Hinch, Aaron Boone

Sure the Red Sox have a ridiculous amount of talent on their major league roster, but Cora is still tasked with having it all come together. In his first season, Cora has Boston over 100 wins and looking like the team to beat in all of baseball.

AL Reliever

Edwin Diaz- Mariners

Others receiving votes- Blake Treinen, Craig Kimbrel

Diaz is breathing down the neck of Francisco Rodriguez's single-season saves record (62), and hasn't gotten there by any cheap measure. The strikeout rate, walk rate, and ERA are all elite. Although the playoffs are out of the picture for the Mariners, this is going to be a year to remember for the closer.

NL MVP

Javier Baez- Cubs

Others receiving votes- Christian Yelich, Nolan Arenado, Lorenzo Cain, Paul Goldschmidt, Matt Carpenter, Trevor Story, Jacob deGrom, Max Scherzer, Scooter Gennett

This season, the National League has quite a group at the top of the leaderboards. Although they all fall short of the American League race, this collection is tightly contested among themselves. Baez jumps off the page as a difference maker for the Cubs, and is a large part as to why they own the best record in the NL.

NL Cy Young

Jacob deGrom- Mets

Others receiving votes- Max Scherzer, Aaron Nola, Patrick Corbin, Mike Foltynewicz

Wins be damned, there's really no argument to make against the Mets ace taking home the NY Cy Young. deGrom hasn't been gifted run support in virtually any of his outings, but his level of dominance transcends the final tally in the box score.

NL ROY

Ronald Acuna- Braves

Others receiving votes- Juan Soto, Walker Buehler

Given the meteoric rise Atlanta has seen in 2018, it's almost fair to wonder whether Acuna belongs in the MVP discussion. Despite missing some time during the middle of the year, Acuna has been nothing short of exceptional while on the field. At just 20 years old, this should be the first of many awards coming to him over the course of a long career.

NL Manager

Joe Maddon- Cubs

Others receiving votes- Brian Snitker, Bud Black

The Cubs haven't been the dominant team they were back in 2016, but the best record in the National League is going to send them to the postseason nonetheless. This collection has a shot to bring another championship to Chicago, and Joe Maddon continues to be best suited in helping them achieve that goal.

NL Reliever

Josh Hader- Brewers

Others receiving votes- Adam Ottavino, Jeremy Jeffress

Following up a strong rookie debut season, Hader hasn't slowed down at all in 2018. The dominant lefty fans batters at an incredible rate, and has helped to give Milwaukee one of the fiercest relief duos in all of baseball.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Minnesota and the Arms Race

Over the past few seasons, it's been fun to watch the emergence of a few arms for the Minnesota Twins. While starting pitching is obviously the premium you'd like to corner, talent in the relief corps is where some unusual suspects have emerged. From Ryan Pressly to Trevor Hildenberger, the 2018 culprit is a guy that already showed some promise a season ago.

Lefty Taylor Rogers has become a mainstay in the Twins bullpen, and after a 3.07 ERA across 55.2 IP during 2017, that was a realistic expectation. As a 27 year-old without much prospect fanfare though, it was safe to question whether the numbers could hold. Utilized best as a lefty on lefty specialist last year, the 3.4 BB/9 provided some reason for pause. While Rogers enjoyed a sparkling ERA, the 4.09 FIP told a different story, and the 7.9 K/9 was nearly a 2.0 K/9 dropoff from his rookie campaign.

Fast forward to 2018 and Rogers looks the part of a difference maker. On the year, he owns a 2.92 ERA across 61.2 IP. His 9.9 K/9 is a career high while the 2.0 BB/9 is a career low. In a credit to Taylor, he's also handled himself very well against batters from both sides of the plate this season. Seeing 136 plate appearances versus righties, he's given up a .675 OPS. Against lefties in 102 plate appearances opponents have tallied a .439 OPS. Those numbers are both down nearly 100 points from where they were in the same situations a season ago.

Judging by the splits, it's safe to suggest that Taylor can be much more than a LOOGY for Minnesota. The former 11th round pick probably wasn't assumed to be a back end of the bullpen option, but he's certainly pitched himself into the high leverage conversation. Despite not being cut from the blazing fastball cloth, Rogers has turned to pitch quality in order to get big league batters out.

Improving on his pitches as a whole, batters have helped to advance his cause on the mound as well. A 32% chase rate is a new career high, and he is now getting swinging strikes 10.9% of the time (a 3% jump from his rookie season). The former Wildcat is seeing contact against him at the lowest rate of his career, and batters are generating hard contact only 31.2% of the time (which has also led to a career low 6.7 HR/FB).

With Minnesota having transformed the bullpen yet again this year, 2019 is going to be rip with new opportunity. Trevor Hildenberger, Addison Reed, and Rogers are among the few certainties. From there the front office will need to acquire or decide upon internal options once again. Having a guy like Rogers step up into a role that can provide accountability from the get go is a very nice development.

No matter what level of loss is experience during a down season, being able to generate productivity and some level of certainty for the future is a must. Minnesota has a few areas they can point to along that thread from 2018, and Rogers should be chief among them.

Monday, September 10, 2018

A Gift for all Twins Groups


Heading into the offseason, the Minnesota Twins will once again have the luxury of spending some money. With very little committed to the 2019 payroll, I’d imagine the front office will target something close to the 2018 Opening Day number when the dust settles. Having the luxury of a team composed of players still in arbitration years helps to provide financial flexibility. It’s worth wondering where it will be allocated this time around.

Last offseason, it was hard to suggest that Derek Falvey and Thad Levine did anything short of knocking the ball out of the park. They were in on the most premiere free agent talent, and began the season with a strong influx of ability. As we saw this season, many of those acquisitions didn’t work out, and that’s why the year went as it did. While each player had their own shortcomings, one thing worth coming back to is the talk of one-year deals.

It has been brought up multiple times down the stretch that the Twins clubhouse was somewhat toxic this year. Having signed multiple guys on one-year deals, it’s worth wondering if there wasn’t more of a focus on a “me” game intended to land the next real paycheck. This winter, I’d imagine Minnesota would be more focused on landing guys believed to help the organization in the long term, and given a financial commitment to do so.

Although there’s plenty still up in the air as to how the 2019 Opening Day roster will look, here’s a free agent addition for each position group that could make a whole lot of sense:

Starting Pitcher- Patrick Corbin

To the casual observer, Dallas Keuchel is likely the big name when it comes to the 2019 free agent pitching crop.  He’s not the Cy Young winner he was a few years ago, and he’s settled into more of a number two type role. What Keuchel does present is a good deal of consistency and reliability. I’d imagine he’ll be paid handsomely, and think there’s probably a better option out there.

Corbin is a year younger than the Astros starter, and he has had an incredible 2018. His 3.01 ERA and 11.2 K/9 are more than worthy of salivating over. What’s holding the Diamondbacks starter back is the lack of a true track record. He was pretty mediocre in 2017, and downright poor the season before that. Over the course of his career though, strikeouts have been a thing he can generate, and limiting walks has been a pretty safe bet. Teams will need to push down his ask a bit by noting that lack of consistency, but he’s the guy I’d pay for.

The Twins have run out more than a handful of starters once again this season, and only Jose Berrios and Kyle Gibson should be 2019 rotation locks. Fernando Romero should be a mainstay and take another step forward, while the emergence of an arm from the group of Zack Littell, Stephen Gonsalves, Chase De Jong, and others would be a nice realization. Bringing in another top half hurler on a long-term deal makes sense for the Twins, and this could be their guy.

Other possibilities: Keuchel, Nathan Eovaldi, Hyun-Jin Ryu

Relief Pitcher: Kelvin Herrera

In 2019, Minnesota shed a ton of talent out of the bullpen. Guys like Fernando Rodney and Zach Duke were brought in on one-year deals making them expendable. Ryan Pressly, one of the best relief arms in baseball, was capitalized on in the form of a nice prospect return. Regardless of where they’re at now, the reality is that the Twins will need to re-tool.

Addison Reed will be in the final year of his deal, and the hope would be that he could rebound from a disastrous 2018. Taylor Rogers and Trevor Hildenberger look the part of developed talent, and should be able to bolster the back end of ball games. From there though, it’s a significant amount of question marks. Alan Busenitz, Tyler Duffey, and John Curtiss are getting to the point where feeling them out needs to produce results. Jake Reed and Nick Anderson should’ve already had a look, and Gabriel Moya must show more stuff than deception.

While signing relievers to long-term deals is never an ideal scenario, one or two coming in on two-year pacts makes some sense. In Herrera, the Twins would be getting a guy that throws hard, and knows the division. Kelvin has previous closer experience, and would be an immediate boost to the back end of the pen. There are a few other names that could be a fit, but this is the combination of stuff and results that jumps off the page for me.

Other possibilities: Jeurys Familia, Zach Britton, Adam Ottavino

Starting Lineup: Eduardo Escobar

Trying to decipher how the Twins will line up to start 2019 is quite the question mark. There are plenty of bodies to put into positions, but the reality is that expectations are left unfulfilled all over the place. Miguel Sano needs a committed offseason, and Byron Buxton needs a bill of health. Does Joe Mauer return in a limited role, and what are the thoughts behind the plate?

From where we sit today, I think we can safely consider Eddie Rosario, Jorge Polanco, and Miguel Sano to be starters. Byron Buxton and Max Kepler should be the second wave of near certainties, and that leaves just a handful of openings. What Minnesota does at first base remains to be seen, and the options aren’t ideal. Second base is open, and Nick Gordon doesn’t appear ready. Jason Castro should be back behind the plate with Mitch Garver spelling him, but it’s worth considering an upgrade.

As crazy as it sounds, the best fit from a constructive standpoint is superstar Manny Machado. He moves Sano to first, gets a mega deal from a team with money to spend, and becomes a cornerstone for a budding organization. It’s hard to live in that reality, so the next step down (and an obvious significant one) is the return of Eduardo Escobar. He can play second or third regularly, and his midline is one that still remains above league average.

The Twins front office probably has some relationship equity to regain here, but that’s not something that will be new to them this winter.

Other possibilities: Manny Machado, Yasmani Grandal, D.J. LeMahieu, Wilson Ramos

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

A Rift at the Top in Minnesota?

The Minnesota Twins front office is sure making a habit of blundering important decisions here in September. With respect to Byron Buxton, and the late season promotions, there's plenty of head-scratching and hand-wringing to be observed. At this current juncture, it's maybe worth speculating if everyone isn't on the same page?

Over the course of the 2018 major league season, I have found myself as a supporter of the new front office. Derek Falvey and Thad Levine had an exceptional offseason, and they positioned this Twins club for success in the current season. As everything has gone up in flames however, their responses have seemed less than satisfactory. Now as real adversity creeps in, we may be seeing some cracks in the armor as well.

Obviously the biggest misstep thus far has been the handling of Byron Buxton. This isn't the space to rehash that situation, but I believe I did a good job of explaining the situation here. Looking back at it however, something has stuck out to me, and that's the quote from Thad Levine to Mike Berardino. Minnesota's GM said, “Their recourse has not been laid out to us. They’re certainly entitled to whatever they think is in the best interest of Byron Buxton. From this day forward, I think we recognize a responsibility to make amends and that we’re going to need to invest in the relationship with Byron Buxton. We understand this is a blow to the player, a potential blow to the relationship."

In analyzing that quote, it's hard not to wonder why the Twins GM is being so open and candid about the situation as a whole. He talked about service time implications to the media as well, and the suggestion that this team decision could be potentially damaging to a long term relationship speaks volumes. As the only member of the front office to speak on the decision thus far, it's hard not to speculate as to whether Thad is simply acting as the orator here, and there's some dissension in the room.

Derek Falvey is 35 years-old and holds the title of Chief Baseball Officer for the Minnesota Twins. His top rank previously was the title of Assistant General Manager for the Cleveland Indians. While he's obviously skilled and qualified for the role in which he's been enlisted, there's also an equally capable and qualified network of support around him. When making such delicate decisions, it's more than fair to wonder whether or not his peers all jump onto the same page.

When it comes to head-scratching options, Minnesota embarked on another when they revealed their full list of September call-ups. On top of the egregious missing name in Buxton, neither Nick Anderson or Jake Reed saw their names included among the group either. The Twins are currently 63-74, 14.0 games out of the AL Central, and have nothing left to play for in 2018. With those parameters, September immediately becomes a breeding ground for acclimation and assimilation with talent that could prove useful on the 2019 Opening Day roster. Except the Twins chose to forego that route.

It's great that John Curtiss, Chase De Jong and Tyler Duffey found themselves recalled, but so too did Chris Gimenez, Gregorio Petit, and Johnny Field. The latter three players represent veteran retreads that have no real value on a big league bench. Given the current state of the team in Minnesota, Mitch Garver or Jake Cave losing at bats to that duo seems counter productive. On top of that, the Twins left a stocked cupboard and closed the door. There's two spots still open on the 40 man roster, and of the 40 spots available on the active roster in September, only used 34 of them.

Anderson, a Minnesota native, turned in a 3.30 ERA, 13.2 K/9, and 2.9 BB/9 across 60.0 IP for Triple-A Rochester this season. Jake Reed posted a 1.89 ERA and 9.4 K/9 in 47.2 IP, and owned an even better 1.16 ERA in his last 31.0 IP. After signing multiple relief arms to short term deals this winter, squeezing out all the available talent within the organization seems like a smart blueprint. Given that neither now have an opportunity at the major league level in September, their afforded sample size will be a minimal one during big league camp (assuming they are invited, and still around).

Without being behind closed doors, it's impossible to know what Derek Falvey's impact on each decision is. It's also unfair to assume how he is viewed by his peers. What is absolutely certain though, is that there's a danger to always believing you're the smartest person in any given room. If the operating tactics are less collaborative than the amount the term has been used by the head honcho, it's hard to see how lackluster buy in is a positive.

Maybe Levine's comments surrounding Buxton are nothing more than they appear on the surface. Maybe no one in the front office saw the idea to waste the opportunity September roster expansion provides as a bad thing. Maybe everyone truly is on the same page. If that's the case though, we might be in even more trouble than it seems.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

So...This IS How We Baseball?

After recently writing a piece at Twins Daily about the Twins doing the unthinkable and playing the service time game with Byron Buxton, Thad Levine came out and said that's exactly what's going to take place. Minnesota's horrible "This is how we baseball" has been mocked all season long, thanks to lackluster performance and confusing decisions, but I really didn't expect something to take the cake in September.

I have been quite vocal about my support of the Twins new front office. Derek Falvey and Thad Levine had a stellar offseasons. They've acquired some very shrewd talent in trades, and they've helped to infuse an organization with new trains of thought. Where I've disagreed, also vocally, has been on the handling of in season roster decisions. Everything from Ryan LaMarre playing in 40 meaningful games, to Matt Belisle being valued for leadership and throwing out ability, to Paul Molitor still looking like a fish out of water when it comes to any form of strategy. All of those situations are trumped by this Buxton decision however.

Thad Levine attempted to prepare us for this self-sabotage by suggesting that Byron was still "playing through" thinks, and Molitor was non-committal when it came to his September plan. When Darren Wolfson dropped the bomb officially though, no amount of preparation helped to ease the lunacy.

Although Levine tried to gray out his obvious admission of guilt when it came to service time manipulation, his quote to Mike Berardino was all that needed to be said, "I think part of our jobs is we’re supposed to be responsible to factoring service time into every decision we make. ... We wouldn’t be doing our jobs if we weren’t at least aware of service-time impacts on decisions we make."

So, now that there's finality to this ridiculous move front the front office, here's shooting down every sensible retort coming out of Twins Territory:

Manipulating service time makes sense, the Cubs did it with Kris Bryant and the Blue Jays are currently doing so with Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

In and of itself, nothing about the above situation is wrong. Garnering extra service time from your elite prospects is something every franchise should look to stretch out. However, comparing Buxton to those situations is one that suggests a lack of understanding surrounding contracts and how baseball development takes places. Uber-prospects having service time manipulated takes place BEFORE they debut at the big league level. Whether trying to stretch out another year of arbitration or avoid Super 2 status, it's in or before major league debuts that this stuff takes place. Byron Buxton was an uber-prospect, but he's currently 300-plus games into his big league career. You aren't manipulating in hopes of what could be coming at this point.

Buxton is actually hurt, and Minnesota wants him to start 2019 healthy.

That's a really convenient avenue for a franchise to take after Buxton missed a large portion of the 2018 season because the Twins didn't care. After breaking his foot, the Twins needed their Platinum Glove winner back so badly that they allowed him to play in 17 games despite an inability to swing without pain. On top of that, Buxton still being hurt hasn't shown up in the box score at Rochester. He owned a .996 OPS since his activation following the wrist injury, and was being asked to play on nearly a nightly basis. Unless there's some injury that occurs when crossing state lines, merit is nowhere to be found on this one.

Has Buxton actually earned anything? He owns the 3rd lowest OPS among MLB hitters with 90 PAs in 2018, and had just a .787 OPS in 35 games for Rochester.

Defining whether or not a player has earned or is owed something is likely a reflection of personal preference. From this vantage point though, healthy players play, and the best ones get the most run. Buxton is an elite outfielder, and is no doubt one of the most important pieces to the Minnesota lineup. He was awful to start the year, and then was hurt for a significant portion of the rest. With a month left to go, allowing a guy to catch up with as many imperative at bats as possible seems like common sense. Sometimes though, those things aren't so common.

Getting another year of team control for Byron in 2022 is more important than a month's worth of ABs during a lost season.

Here's another one that has real merit when viewing the sentiment in a vacuum. Yes, when Buxton is a superstar in all facets of the game in 2022, it'd be great for Minnesota to have contractual flexibility with their player. Unfortunately, the thought that a guy with 300-plus games under his belt needs a reset, has to get going at Triple-A, and isn't worthy of MLB at bats in September doesn't jive with said player being a superstar. In short, if you're worried about how good Buxton is in 2022, then you should absolutely be all in on him being provided every avenue for development in the here and now. Contradiction doesn't get to be separated for the purpose of sensibility.

On top of Derek Falvey and Thad Levine making such an error in judgement, they've continued to double-down with the poor public disseminations. Levine suggested that Byron is still very much a part of the Twins future, and the front office hopes to "make amends" with him soon. It's very true that money talks and a hefty arbitration raise could do wonders for smoothing things over. It's also entirely plausible that Buxton laughs at the thought that the organization is again suddenly looking out for his best interested after entirely screwing him over.

Then there's the manager, Paul Molitor. When addressing the media prior to their game on September 2nd, Molitor suggested it isn't a given that Buxton is the 2019 centerfielder for the Twins. He went on to note lots of competition and a bit more political jargon. Maybe Molitor forgot that this is the reigning Platinum Glove winner, and the best defensive centerfielder in baseball. Jake Cave has been a great addition to Minnesota's stable, but he's not supplanting Byron's future. This also reverts back to the contradictory suggestion that 2022 is an important year of team control, despite a lack of belief in 2019 and beyond.

With Rochester having two games left on their schedule, the resident major leaguer packed up his bags and began his offseason. Byron has become the face of public ridicule for a decision derived from a poor front office decision. He's not bailing on anyone, it isn't a "me first" mentality, and questioning his team attitude is shortsighted. His bosses left him out to dry, and then went on allowing him to twist in the wind as the fruits of their failure come to light.

I'd imagine that Buxton's agents have made calls to the front office already. MLB Players Association Executive Director Tony Clark should be helping Byron to draft a grievance as we speak. This isn't a decision that can come down without recourse, and siding with billionaire owners never should sit right with millionaire players.

At the end of the day, the hope should still be that Byron Buxton turns into the superstar his prospect status alluded to. While that chapter is yet to be written, there's going to need to be a significant amount of relationship capital built back up for the player to trust an organization that no longer looked out for his best interests.