Monday, July 9, 2018

Twins Can Capitalize on Remaining Schedule

Entering play on July 9, the Minnesota Twins playoff odds sit at just 1.1%. With the sweep of the Baltimore Orioles, the numbers have jumped up from the 0.4% entering the series. At this point of the season however, the writing is on the wall. Paul Molitor's squad is going nowhere, and the focus should turn to process more significantly than results. While the win total may be meaningless at the end, using the slate of games ahead for good is a must.

Going into 2018, there was plenty of optimism surrounding this Twins team. They were coming off a Wild Card game, added more talent, and had another year of development for their young stars. What was also apparent, is that the amount of one-year deals and expiring contracts would allow the club to retool again in 2019. This version won't have a postseason berth to jump off of next year, but the window for opportunity remains open. For the Twins to capitalize on it, Derek Falvey and Thad Levine need to do a much better job utilizing the 25 man roster than they have thus far.

For starters, the lineup should begin to reflect players with a future being prioritized. It took far too long for a superior player in Jake Cave to get real run over a retread like Ryan LaMarre. Mitch Garver clearly has a capable bat, but he's still sitting far too often behind the inept Bobby Wilson. Cave is a 25 year old fringe prospect that could be a nice 4th outfielder and take over Robbie Grossman's role. Garver has concerns behind the plate, but if the feeling is that he can't catch, opportunities should be found at first base. Going into 2019 without a clear idea of what sort of contributions these two are capable of would be a mistake.

Despite the Twins pitching staff having been a significant area of improvement this season, there's going to be a good deal of turnover next year. Zach Duke and Fernando Rodney are on one year deals, while Lance Lynn is an expiring contract as well. Those guys are all trade candidates, but even if they aren't moved, it's a decent assumption they won't be back. Instead of letting someone like Matt Belisle eat innings, relievers such as John Curtiss, Alan Busenitz, Trevor May, Tyler Duffey, and Jake Reed should all make major league appearances.

In the rotation, the Twins will return Jose Berrios and Fernando Romero for certain. Ervin Santana has a year left on his deal, but at this point, can't be counted on. Minnesota can offer Jake Odorizzi arbitration, and Kyle Gibson falls in that group as well. The depth in the rotation remains strong, but finding out who else can rise to the top should be a goal. Zack Littell should return for some consecutive starts that allow him to be comfortable rather than nervous, and Stephen Gonsalves should make his debut for an extended period as well. Getting the jitters out and accomplishing the acclimation process now would be a good idea.

At some point, the Twins should promote Nick Gordon. The 22 year old put up a .906 OPS this season for Double-A Chattanooga. Since moving up to Triple-A Rochester, he's posted just a .609 mark in 45 games. The next level has seen pretty poor results, and that should provide plenty of reason for caution. That said, the Twins are almost certainly going to let Brian Dozier walk this offseason, and Gordon would be expected to then take over. He may not win the job out of spring training, but I'd assume the goal is to have him in the big leagues by June 2019. Using a month of games that don't matter could be a very good way for him to get his feet wet.

Really what it all boils down to is that the front office learn something from what's left. While trying to stay in it, many of the roster moves have trended towards lower ability players that bring an off the field aspect to the clubhouse. With poor performance and injuries having mounted, it's hard to suggest that a different story could have been told even with the most optimal roster decisions. At this point however, the Twins are presented with a desirable situation for future performance.

No one should be expecting a rebuild in Minnesota any time soon, and the division sets up nicely to go for it again next year. Bringing in new parts from the free agent market, and pairing them with internal talent could very likely produce optimal results. As we've seen this season however, there's no guarantees from players within your organization, and even less so with fresh faces. Figuring out who you may be able to promote and count on now, could save a lot of face down the road.

It's common sense that Minnesota will win plenty more games in 2018. It's also a fair suggestion that when the dust settles they won't matter at all. What level of development, process, and groundwork is laid for the future will be the takeaway from this year. It's time to shift the focus to that level of thinking, and hopefully we see the decisions from the top to mimic that sentiment.

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