Monday, November 30, 2015

The Newest Twins Territorian: Audra Martin

In following the Minnesota Twins throughout the Major League Baseball season, there's always one person that remains synonymous with victory. Following a walk off win, or a dominant starting performance, there's always that one person there to break down just how impressive it was. Often being caught up in the Gatorade shower, that person is going to be a different face in the upcoming 2016 season.

After Fox Sports North announced the departure of Jamie Hersch near the end of the 2015 season, the role went into limbo. The face that would be sharing the excitement of each Twins win on the way to a hopeful playoff berth in 2016 was now void, until it wasn't. Enter Audra Martin.

A University of Central Florida graduate (we won't hold their current football struggles against her), Martin comes to Twins Territory from Nashville, Tennessee. Having Midwestern roots, both baseball and hockey rank at the top of her sports loves. There's no better way to understand what she will bring to the diamond however than to get those answers directly from herself.

I had the opportunity to speak with Audra on the Twins, the move to Minnesota, and the excitement that lies ahead. Here's what she had to say:

Off The Baggy: Minnesotans are familiar with UCF thanks to the popularity of Daunte Culpepper. As your alma mater, was it there that the decision to venture into sports broadcasting was born?

Audra Martin: It was! Most people are surprised to learn that I actually applied to college as a Criminal Justice major. For my entire life, as long as I can remember, my dream was to be a police officer. Then as I got older, the plan was to eventually get my Masters and apply for the FBI. After my first year at UCF, my GPA was high enough to allow me to apply to restricted programs and
when I was looking at the list, Radio-Television was the one that jumped out. I’m not sure why,
but a light bulb just went off. I changed my major to RTV- Broadcast Journalism but still graduated with a minor in Criminal Justice.

OTB: Having come to Fox Sports North from Tennessee, baseball wasn't something the market presented often. What do your baseball roots look like and what are you most excited about in
working with the Twins?

AM: I actually grew up a HUGE baseball fan. I know coming from Chicago has some
Minnesota fans a bit skeptical of my I have to own it right? But at least I grew up a
Cubs fan and not a Sox fan right?? After college I decided I wasn’t ready to dive right into a
broadcasting career but I knew I wanted to work in sports so I took a job in the front office of the
Atlanta Braves. It was an awesome experience, but it also was an eye-opening experience in the
sense that it made me realize that I really did want to be in broadcasting and that the front office
type job wasn’t for me. Then once I was working in Nashville, I got to cover the Nashville
Sounds who were the Triple A affiliate for the Brewers and now the A’s.

As far as working with the Twins, the thing that most excites me is simply the fact of getting to
know a new team and organization that is certainly on the verge of some very exciting times.
Plus, I’ve heard nothing but AWESOME things about the whole organization...the employees,
players and the fans!

OTB: Covering the Wild currently, is there a sport you find yourself leaning towards most, or is there a relatively shared level of comfort across the board?

AM: That question is such a reminder of how blessed and lucky I feel to have gotten this job.
It whole-heartedly is my dream job. My two favorite sports have always been baseball and
hockey. Don’t get me wrong, I love football and had a blast covering the Titans the last two years,
but far and away, baseball and hockey are my first loves. To be covering those two sports year
round has me pinching myself everyday.

OTB: Looking ahead the the 2016 Twins season, it's shaping up to be one of the most important and
anticipated in the past five years. What has you most intrigued about the year ahead?

AM: How great is that! When I heard this job was opening up I knew a big focus would be on
hockey and then when I was reminded that I would get to cover the Twins as well, talk about an
amazing opportunity. To start this kind of job when the team is primed to make the playoffs...
again pinch me. I think was most excites me is to see how this team comes firing right out of the

When you look at how last year ended, coming SO close but ending just short, you can’t
help but think back to some of the earlier games when things just weren’t clicking for some of
the team. Those early to mid-season games are a grind no doubt, but we saw that they can be the
difference from spending October in the dugout or on the couch. So I want to see them come out
with the same fervor and intensity that we saw towards the end of the season. And of course, who
isn’t excited to see what kind of sophomore season Sano can put together!

OTB: With Tennessee being surrounded by National League teams such as the Reds, Cardinals, and
Braves, the Twins probably weren't on your radar. Prior to taking the role with Fox Sports North,
what did your knowledge of the Twins look like?

AM: Well, just being a baseball fan I’ve always have a pretty good feel for what’s going on with most teams. The Twins are no exception, especially just because of what was going on towards the end of the season. I’m a sucker for a great underdog and watching a team like the Twins exceed a lot
of critics expectations was awesome. Have I spent more time around National League teams...
sure...but that just means Twins fans can rest assured knowing I’ll be working extra hard to learn
everything there is to know about this team. Again, that’s the fun part and I’m already well into
the process!

OTB: As a Midwestern native, and outside of the harsh Minnesota winter, what challenges
are you most looking forward to overcoming in working with a new market at Fox Sports North?

AM: Well, you definitely read my mind about the biggest concern. I am originally from
Chicago so I should be used to the cold, but living in the south for the last 11 years has made me
soft! Besides that, I think the biggest challenge is just learning a whole new market and new
teams. At the same time though, that’s the fun part. 

I also knew coming into this role that I was taking over for an incredibly talented and well liked person. I’ve always admired Jamie’s work, and I know the fans have too. I’m not here to replace Jamie, but instead take the awesome foundation she left behind and add my style and personality to it. It’s tough and I know some viewers may take some time to win over but I’m really honored to have been given the chance to do it!

OTB: Obviously with an already impressive resume coming to Twins Territory, there's plenty of
success in your past. What are you looking forward to bringing to the diamond with you?

AM: The two things I try to bring to everything I do is my passion and my personality. You can teach
anyone about the game, but you can’t teach passion or personality. The number one, most
important part of this job is delivering insight to the fans- sharing the stories and giving them the
information they may not know otherwise. If I can do that, while also allowing fans to get a
sense of who I am and how much I love the game, then I’m happy. 

Interacting with fans is my favorite part of working in sports. The fans are what it’s all about, so being the “middle man” between the fans and the team is awesome.

OTB: Finally, as 2015 ushered out a brief stint of failures for the Twins, 2016 looks to continue upon
the growth and have the Twins take the next step. Give me your playoff prediction and a way too
early short at the final record.

AM: Oh man! You’re going to put me on the spot already?? I just got here!

Alright if you insist. If the Royals weren’t a factor in all of this it would be much easier...but unfortunately they are so I will say the Twins clinch the first Wild Card with an 87-75 record. How’s that for a positive attitude to start the season!

It's clear that Audra is already well involved in the excitement that is Twins Territory, and with the impressive background behind her, there's little doubt what's to come won't also be great. Hopefully she's ready to duck plenty of Gatorade showers, because 2016 should produce a lot of them.

Friday, November 27, 2015

The Twins 2015: Diamond Treasure

I've been a Minnesotan for the entirety of my 25 year life. While having spent only the most recent years in the heart of Twins Territory, growing up in southern Minnesota, the Minneapolis journalism scene has only recently become my go to. In reading Patrick Reusse's Turkey of the Year for 2015 however, it dawned on me that the Twins could use a similar designation.

Unlike Reusse's Turkey of the Year, the Diamond Treasure as I'll dub it, is not designed to point a finger in jest. On the contrary actually, the purpose of the Diamond Treasure is to shed light on someone or something within the Twins organization that provides excitement for the future, while displaying deep roots in the past. Not meant to be an MVP award of sorts, the Diamond Treasure should carry more weight in encompassing much more than statistical output between the lines.

For the year that was, there's plenty of candidates to kick off the first annual Diamond Treasure. Starting at the top, the 2015 version of the Twins can't be spoken of without discussing Paul Molitor. The first year skipper stepped into some big shoes, and succeeded beyond all expectations.

Molitor, though familiar with the organization, had gone from a relative bystander to the man in charge. Instead of being simply involved at spring training, he was now running the show. Given a cast of characters that had done nothing but lose in recent memory, it was the former Twins great that turned the tide. By bringing in some fresh ideas, and expecting a higher level of performance, Molitor brought meaningful baseball back to Target Field. Although the club fell short of the playoffs, it was because of Molitor's efforts that the club appears to be poised for a strong future. For all he did though, Molitor isn't this year's Diamond Treasure.

If we're looking for someone who exemplifies leadership both on the field and in the clubhouse, it's hard to stray far from Torii Hunter. Brought back on a one-year deal that seemed to throw baseball sense to the wind, it worked. It didn't work because Hunter made the contract make sense on the field (ultimately, he was more liability there than he wasn't). It worked because Hunter was the leader the Twins needed, even though they might not have known it. The limited offensive production was a bonus at times, but pushing the youth for more, and forcing the clubhouse to let loose no doubt led to a September filled with disco balls and smoke machines. Torii, as he always does, provided more memories. All said and done though, Hunter isn't this year's Diamond Treasure.

Stepping even further away from the field of play, there's Terry Ryan. Often chastised for questionable front office decisions, it was his role in building the 2015 squad that ultimately gave the Twins hope. A key 2014 trade for Tommy Milone helped to provide depth. Dealing for Kevin Jepsen during the 2015 deadline proved substantial for an ugly bullpen. It was Ryan who looked his doubters in the eye and gave this team hope. The Twins competed before they were supposed to, and thanks to Ryan's efforts, should do so well into the future. It's a great thing, but it isn't quite Diamond Treasure worthy.

There's only one man worth of the Diamond Treasure distinction in 2015, and it's a young man with the personality to completely embody the distinction. Having been known to Twins Territorians since the age of 16, the realization of his talents and persona were finally shared with us in the year that was. Miguel Sano had arrived.

After living up to every bit of the hype throughout his minor league tenure, Twins fans were forced to wait a season ago. Coming off of Tommy John surgery, the young Sano would need to battle back, and battle he did. Sano turned early season success under Doug Mientkiewicz at Double-A Chattanooga, into big league reality for Molitor and the Twins. He provided moonshots and lasers, he hit homers and long balls, in summary, Target Field became his playground. For all Sano did with the bat though, he did more with the smile.

Throughout the 2015 season, it became apparent that Miguel Sano in fact loves this game. Constantly producing with the big grin on his face, Sano's mannerisms were the complete embodiment of what Twins fans everywhere expected him to be. No longer the lanky teenager, this was a filled out young man that loved coming to the park every day, and he happened to be better than most at it. Sano is every bit as integral to the Twins going forward, as he was expected the day he signed from the Dominican Republic.

For what he is on the field, who he is on the field, the belief of what he can be to the Twins franchise, and the significance of it all off of it, Miguel Sano is your 2015 Diamond Treasure.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Twins Provide Plenty Of Room For Thanks

Whether you're new here or not, a quick glance at a handful of the articles at Off The Baggy should give you a glimpse of what I'm about. Not a full blown sabermetrician, I find myself using statistics to tell a big story more often than not. In this post however, there's very little reason for numbers to quantify anything. With what the Twins gave us in 2015, and where they appear headed, there's plenty of obvious reasons for thanks.

Following four dismal 90 loss seasons, the Twins turned things around big time under first year manager Paul Molitor. Posting their first winning seasons since 2012, September was fun again in Twins Territory. While the playoffs ended up being out of the picture, there wasn't a game that wasn't much watch down the stretch. For that, we can give thanks.

Over the summer, Terry Ryan, Molitor, and the Twins brain trust introduced fans to names they had only heard of at the minor league levels. Alex Meyer, Byron Buxton, and Miguel Sano all made their big league debuts. Eddie Rosario shined in 2015, and Max Kepler was even there at the end. Getting contributions from players like Tyler Duffey was only icing on the cake. Turning the franchise around will happen on the backs of the emerging talent, and the season provided plenty of glimpses of that. For that, we can give thanks.

On top of turning a page in the record column, the Twins did so by improving across the board. What has been arguably the worst stretch in team history, Minnesota made pitching a relative strength in 2015. Although the bullpen still struggled and the strikeout numbers weren't anywhere to be seen, depth emerged for the first time in a while. Monitor will have at least eight options to consider when filling out his 2016 rotation, and bullpen spots could be claimed by some hard throwing prospects. Pushing the needle further in the year ahead is going to start on the mound, and Minnesota has some answers. For that, we can give thanks.

Though young, the offseason has provided plenty of excitement for the Twins. Starting with the out-of-nowhere bid for Byung-Ho Park, and stretching to the acquisition of catcher John Ryan Murphy, Terry Ryan has not stayed put. Park gives the Twins another legitimate middle-of-the-order power bat, and Murphy has the ability to be a long term answer behind the plate. Expect more moves to be coming, but Minnesota hit the ground running this offseason. For that, we can give thanks.

Looking at what has taken place, and what can be expected, the Twins should be in a much more predictable place entering 2016. Although previous seasons have been predictable, it's been for all of the wrong reasons. The 2016 version of the Twins won't finish last in the division, and they have a very strong chance to push for a playoff spot. In having areas of improvement targeted, and coming off a big step forward, it's playoffs or bust in the year ahead. For that, we can give thanks.

Then there's you. Stepping away from the on the field action, there's no doubt I'm thankful for you, my readers. I enjoy doing this, it isn't a job for me, and it's a hobby turned into so much more. Whether you follow me on Twitter, or read here at Off The Baggy, it's you that makes covering this team so much more fun. For all of the interaction, debates, questions, and tweets, I thank you!

Have a Happy Thanksgiving, give thanks for baseball, the Twins, and for all you have going in your life!

Monday, November 23, 2015

Fall Sets Up Big Future For Twins Prospects

Nick Burdi- Knuckleballs Blog
Back in October, I wrote about the Twins and their seven players headed to the Arizona Fall League. The focus was on what each of them needed to improve or work on over the next two months, and how they could end 2015 on a high note. Over the weekend, each of them became Arizona Fall League champs, and it was because of their success that the title was claimed.

As I tweeted out over the weekend, baseball is no doubt a team sport, however it was the Twins group that carried this team during the title game. Taylor Rogers got the start and went 3.0 scoreless, striking out two and picking up the win. Adam Brett Walker drove in three of Scottsdale's six runs, and the game was closed out by both Jake Reed and Nick Burdi. To put it mildly, the Twins stars shined over the weekend.

Looking back at the Fall League as a whole, the majority of the Twins prospects did themselves some considerable favors. Starting with the two guys who have now won back-to-back AFL titles, Rogers and Reed, 2016 is shaping up to be a great year.

Rogers was second in the Twins minors leagues in innings pitched this past year. He's a lefty who has good command and looked impressive for most of the Triple-A season. He established himself as Scottsdale's ace in the AFL and his 2.88 ERA and 21 strikeouts across six starts was a very good way to end the year. He may begin the season with Rochester, but he's a definite bet to contribute for the Twins in the year ahead, likely out of the bullpen.

After an impressive showing a season ago, Reed improved in his second AFL stint. Pitching in 10 games, the former Oregon Duck surrendered zero earned runs. He threw 10.2 IP giving up just six hits while striking out ten and walking just four. If the Twins are going to improve their bullpen in 2016, giving Reed a shot at some point would seem to be a good idea.

Staying with the bullpen, Nick Burdi was equally impressive in the Fall League. He gave up his lone run on a solo homer in the title game, but was lights out otherwise. Burdi was an inclusion in the Fall Stars game, and his command was impeccable owning an 11/1 K/BB ratio across 8.0 IP. Trevor Hildenberger also did some really nice work in relief this fall. His 12.2 IP were second highest for Scottsdale in relief. He owned a 2.13 ERA and struck out 12 while walking none. Although he played at Fort Myers a season ago, the strong showing against superior talent bodes well for his 2016 trajectory.

Then there's the offensive side of things. Starting anywhere but with Adam Brett Walker would be misguided. His Fall was very similar to the rest of his 2015, very mixed. While he was also the hero in the title game, it was his strikeout numbers that continue to cause reason for pause. His final slash line rested at .240/.326/.493 with five homers and 18 RBI. The issue though is that the strikeout week actually got worse. In Double-A this year, Walker averaged 1.65 K per hit, 1.47 per game, and 6.29 per home run. In AFL action, he averaged 1.94 per hit, 1.75 per game, and 7.0 per home run. Those numbers are going to determine whether or not he can contribute at the next level.

It's almost a certainty that Walker starts 2016 at Triple-A, and as a top 10 Twins prospect, Minnesota wants to see him succeed. However, he is not going to be a viable contributor at the big league level based on power alone. He's well behind the likes of Chris Carter, Mark Reynolds, or Adam Dunn in their minor league careers. In the year ahead, it's about making more contact, working on plate discipline, and reducing the ugly strikeout numbers.

Rounding out the offensive grouping for the Twins in the fall are two catchers who had vastly different results. Stuart Turner continued along the path of being a defensive guru who can't hit. He slashed a Scottsdale worst .171/.306/.220 and totaled just two extra base hits in 12 games. The Twins still have significant reason to hold out hope (lack of catching depth being one of them), but Turner needs to hit in the year ahead.

On the other hand, Mitch Garver shunned his regular season numbers by having an impressive fall campaign. The backstop slashed .317/.404/.512 across 12 games and cranked out five doubles and a homer. He handled the bat well in 2014 before taking a step backwards this past year. If the fall production can carry over into 2016, Garver could vault himself up the ladder and into the Twins plans sooner rather than later.

As a whole, the Twins deep farm system was extremely impressive during action down in Arizona. It was pitching that owned the season, but the group set itself apart. Knowing that the big league club is getting ready to turn the corner, a couple of these contributors should be expected to be front and center in the revolution.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Sorting Through The 40 Man

The deadline for the Minnesota Twins to add players eligible for the Rule 5 draft to their 40 man roster has come and gone. Going into Friday. Minnesota had a 40 man roster with seven openings, and ending the day, there are just two. With some expected, and some unexpected names, the regular season 25 man is becoming more clear.

First off, those players added today include J.T. Chargois, Yorman Landa, Pat Dean, Mason Melotakis, Taylor Rogers, Randy Rosario, and Adam Brett Walker. Among the grouping, it was always expected that Chargois, Rogers, and Walker would get the inclusion. The rest of the additions provided a bit further intrigue.

Rounding out the top four, Pat Dean had to be the obvious name. The lefty rebounded well in 2015, and threw to the tune of a 2.82 ERA with Triple-A Rochester. Considering his left-handedness, and his impressive showing at the highest minor league level, it stands to reason he would have been a Rule 5 draft pick of another organization.

The inclusion of Melotakis is an upside play. Despite coming off of Tommy John surgery, he has the ability to push near triple digits when healthy. He's going to be back in 2016 at some point, and could be a bullpen option down the road. Landa, a Venezuelan, should appear for Fort Myers in the year ahead. He looked good at Cedar Rapids this past season, and while he may be a long shot for a big league team to hide in 2016, his long term upside was one the Twins felt worth protecting. That leaves just Rosario. He's probably the most surprising inclusion given his current status. He's not among the Twins top 30 prospects, and despite upper 90's and being a lefty, losing him wouldn't be terrible.

Looking at the roster moves from the other side, there's some pretty obvious surprises as to who was left off. Starting with former first round picks, the Twins have left Levi Michael, Luke Bard, Travis Harrison, and Alex Wimmers are susceptible to being drafted. Of those, really only Michael should be expected to go. He turned in a decent-enough season last year with Double-A Chattanooga, and has the makings of a utility type at the next level.

Arguably the most egregious snubs outside of Michael may come from another level or two down. Both Felix Jorge and Zack Jones are guys that I'd believe a handful of other organizations could use. Asking Jorge to jump from Low-A Cedar Rapids to the big leagues is a tough ask, but his 2015 should some impressive signs for his future. While Jones was demoted to Fort Myers during 2015, he started strong at Double-A, and finished strong playing High-A ball. A power arm out of the pen can play, and Jones has absolutely that.

The Rule 5 draft a season ago saw the Twins select J.R. Graham from the Atlanta Braves. He gave the club 63.2 IP with a 4.95 ERA and totaled one of the best strikeouts ratios in the Twins pen at 7.5 K/9. The club lost Sean Gilmartin to the Mets, and he went on to be a World Series roster inclusion.

For the upcoming Rule 5 draft, I'd have to expect that the Twins would lose at least one of the aforementioned players. With a deep farm system, it's hard to protect all of your assets, and the organization is no doubt well aware of that. With the roster currently at 38 players, Minnesota has room for some movement yet. Obviously, Byung-Ho Park will be taking one of those spots, but the other could be a Rule-5 pick of their own, or a potential free agent signing.

Also on the day, Minnesota lost both Josmil Pinto and A.J. Achter on waivers. Pinto was expected to win the backup catcher job, but concussions stalled his year before it got started. In going to the Padres, one has to wonder whether he wasn't a San Diego target for quite some time as the Twins had documented trade discussions with the NL club. Achter was a 46th round pick and little more than a depth arm. He got into 11 games for the Twins a season ago, and heads to the Phillies.

With the Hot Stove season heating up, the Twins are going to be well worth monitoring in the weeks ahead.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Twins With Unprecedented Success Ahead

Earlier this week, the Rookie of the Year awards were unveiled. In the IBWAA balloting, Carlos Correa picked up the AL honors. However, it was Miguel Sano who finished in 3rd place with 172 points and seven first place votes. Looking at the BBWAA balloting, Sano once again finished third with teammate Eddie Rosario coming in 6th. An impressive finish for the two however, is merely a foreshadowing of what is to come.

The last Minnesota Twins player to win Rookie of the Year honors was Marty Cordova. That honor was bestowed well over a decade ago, back in 1995. Looking ahead to 2016 however, it's probably fair to argue that the home team has the deck stacked in their favor.

First and foremost, the odds on favorite, Byron Buxton. Retaining his rookie status by a single at bat (Buxton compiled 129 of the 130 needed ABs to exceed rookie status in 2015), baseball's top prospect enters 2016 still under the rookie and prospect designation. Having played in 46 games during a playoff driven 2015 season, the Twins youngster has a handful of experience under his belt.

Although Buxton struggled to the tune of a .209/.250/.326 line in his first tour of the big leagues, brighter horizons lie ahead. Forget the Mike Trout first-to-second-year comparisons, Buxton has done plenty on his own. He's the owner of a .301/.383/.489 minor league line, and he recorded a hit in all 13 of his Triple-A games during 2015 (accumulating a .400/.441/.545 line). With an offseason to prepare, the offensive expectations for the Twins superstar should be through the roof for the season ahead.

On the off chance that Buxton doesn't quite do enough to nab Rookie of the Year honors though, the rest of the possibilities are equally as impressive. Considering the Twins have at least three more players that should be considered for the award, the emerging presence of this team is no doubt going to be felt.

Staying in the outfield, Max Kepler is a name that likely will be on many watch lists. Despite not having the same top tier pedigree as Buxton, Kepler has impressed nearly everywhere he's been (when healthy). He was healthy in 2015, and went on to win the Southern League MVP while leading the Chattanooga Lookouts to a Double-A Championship. Kepler slashed .322/.416/.531 while ripping 13 triples and launching nine homers. He's got an outside shot to start the year in the big leagues, and he should contribute when he gets there.

Then there's the overseas addition (or expected one). Minnesota has not yet agreed to a contract with Byung-Ho Park, but belief is that a deal gets done. The Korean Baseball Organization superstar should fill in as the Twins everyday DH. His 53 home runs in the KBO are going to come down a bit in the big leagues, but this guy is a star. After seeing Jung-Ho Kang struggle, then got hot, and eventually finish third in the NL Rookie of the Year voting this past season, Park's expectations are through the roof. He's a superior talent, and at 29, should be right in the middle of his prime to show it off.

Rounding out the group, a step onto the mound is made. If Kepler dominated minor league pitching, Jose Berrios laid waste to hitters through the minors. Across two levels a season ago, Berrios owned a 3.03 ERA and compiled a 2.85 ERA in 12 Triple-A starts. His 9.5 K/9 has blown away hitters, and while walking just 2.1/9, Berrios has proved incredibly tough to beat. Despite the Twins pitching depth, Berrios should be mentioned amongst the highest tier, and he should be expected to show that off at the MLB level relatively early.

Regardless of the fact that, as with many awards, the Rookie of the Year is an individual honor, this list alone highlights a great thing for the Twins. Coming off an 83 win season, Minnesota is in position to add at least four players to the big league roster, that could be among the best in the game for their age. The organization is in position to turn the corner in a big way, and the aforementioned parties should be front and center in that revival.

When it comes to the 2016 Rookie of the Year award, it may not be addressed to Byron Buxton, but Minnesota has a pretty good shot of it being delivered to 1 Twins Way.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Performance Reigns Supreme, Especially On The Ballot

It's that time of year again. The time in which we see the end of season baseball awards announced. More importantly though, it's when we begin to see those special and oh-so revered individuals among the Baseball Writers Association of America reveal their Hall of Fame ballots. It's also the time of year best served to remind you you're probably wrong about PEDs, and that's ok.

Before delving deeper into what is viewed as a controversial topic (it really doesn't need to be), I want to give you a theme to ponder throughout this journey: "Performance reigns supreme." The quantifiable totals of what has happened before, in relation to what may happen in the future, is quite possibly the best unit of measurement in sports. Now to bring in some context, let's dive in.

This year, as with the one before it, and those before that, you will likely see some BBWAA writer proudly share his ballot on Twitter or some other social media avenue. He'll proudly proclaim he's voted for just eight players (with 10 being the accepted maximum), leaving off the likes of Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens. You may see someone else do the favor of voting in Alan Trammel (which is likely warranted), while boasting a snub of convicted felons, er PED users, Bonds and Clemens. In short, you'll watch as a handful do it all wrong.

Among many, there is a belief that the Hall of Fame is a sacred place among baseball lore, and accepting anyone linked to performance enhancing drugs would be the first, final, and only way in which to taint the museum. In baseball terms, that thought process couldn't be more outside.

Forget the fact that Hank Aaron resides in the Hall of Fame (he took amphetamines during his playing days). Let's overlook that Babe Ruth didn't play the game against some of the best athletes the sport had to offer (Jackie Robinson didn't break the color barrier until April 15, 1947, nearly 12 years after Ruth retired). We probably shouldn't shed light on the fact that 146 of Lou Gehrig's home runs came during a period in which the game was played dramatically different (during the live ball era). Honestly looking back through history, each previous era should be discredit for being just that, a previous era.

No. Baseball in and of itself is a sport that celebrates it's past. America's game is a National Pastime because of it's evolution, and it's relevance through the years. The sport reinventing itself has allowed for the growth and continued admiration shown towards such a beautiful game. To go back and negate the game for what it was is a detriment to the history that the Hall of Fame is supposed to be celebrated for.

For whatever good or bad you'd like to attribute to it, the Steroid Era was. Just as amphetamines, racism, live balls, dead balls, and a host of other ways in which the game was played, baseball ushered in a new era. In fact, because of Bud Selig's decision to turn a blind eye to the era that produced some of the most homer filled seasons in history, the sport may be at an all time high.

The year was 1994, and for the eighth time in the history of the game, worked ceased. On August 12, 1994, the season was cancelled, the World Series was skipped, and baseball had endured its fourth work stoppage in the past 22 years. No doubt an uphill battle to regain popularity, the sport needed something, and the next era was about to provide it.

Fast-forward to 1998, and dub the season the year of the long ball. Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa took baseball fans on a journey that is still fresh in their minds. Trading leads back and forth, Roger Mari's single-season home run record was in both of their sights. Eventually, both players would top the heralded 61 total, and McGwire would set a new bar with 70. The sport once again became must see action, and fans around the country made sure not to miss an at bat by either player. With a super-human look to them, McGwire and Sosa had ushered in the newest era.

Since then, players like Bonds, Clemens, Rafael Palmeiro, Alex Rodriguez, and a host of others have been linked to PEDs. Still in todays game, players are handed out suspensions on a near yearly basis. With a need to revitalize the sport, Bud Selig had turned a blind eye to a medical enhancement that allowed for the game to be played at an even higher level. Shutting that door is not an easy task, but it's also one that should not be retroactively punished.

The suggestion is not that there's a ton of players who have used or been linked to PEDs that belong in the Hall of Fame. However, there is no doubt that there are those who have, and belong. Clemens is one of the best pitchers the game of baseball has ever seen. Bonds is the home run king, and played every phase of the game at an incredibly high level. Their achievements are something to be celebrated, and there's no better place for that than in Cooperstown.

At some point, both players should (and likely will) get in. It may take the BBWAA ushering in a new wave of writers, continuing to flush out the past, or an understanding of a new thought process. Whatever the case may be, baseball is a sport that should be celebrated for all of its parts. Past eras have brought the game to where it is today, and trying to change that history only further separates the game from its roots. You can disagree with who a player is, what they stand for, or how they carry themselves. Trying to disagree with how the game was played, and what was achieved is a different story.

We've moved on from the steroid era, and the future is yet to be written, but the past needs to be celebrated in bronze.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Two Bats Without A Home

This offseason, the Minnesota Twins have already shown an indication that they are in fact looking to improve upon what was a breakout season in 2015. In making a couple of trades, while also securing the winning big for Korean slugger Byung-Ho Park, Paul Molitor's squad is trending in the right direction. Amidst the moves though, there's two players that have seemingly been cast aside.

Enter Oswaldo Arcia and Kennys Vargas.

In 2013, Arcia made his big league debut as a 22 year-old. The Venezuelan born outfielder was regarded as a power bat, with the ability to take up space in left. After a 97 game debut season that saw him slash ..251/.304/.430 with 14 homers, Arcia has taken somewhat of a nose dive. Although the home run total rose in 2014 (20 HR), the splits dipped (.231/.300/.452). On top of poor defensive showings, Arcia entered 2015 with a whole lot to prove.

After being given just 19 games at the big league level, the Twins sent Arcia packing and made him aware and extended stay on the farm was in order. An average beginning to his Triple-A stay was followed by an impressive power display. From July 1-16, Arcia launched eight home runs and 19 RBI while slashing .367/.446/.918. The problem however, is that was the end of the positives. When the dust settled, 79 games at Triple-A saw Arcia bat just .199/.257/.372 while striking out 82 times and drawing just 18 walks.

For Kennys Vargas, the path saw what amounted to significantly muted lows, but also much less significant highs. Oddly, after a hot start to the month of May (.366/.395/.561 from May 1-17), Minnesota asked Vargas to go down and find his power stroke. In his first 29 games with the big league club last season, he hit just three home runs. From that point on, Vargas watched as his season was filled with travels.

Initially, he was sent to Triple-A Rochester, then recalled to the big leagues. Next he was demoted two levels to Double-A Chattanooga, before finally earning a late season promotion back up the ladder. In total, Vargas hit .283/.414/.496 between two minor league levels, and owned a .240/.277/.349 MLB slash line. With 18 home runs on the year between all three levels, the power wasn't as expected.

Heading into 2016, both Arcia and Vargas find themselves in less than ideal situations. For Arcia, he's battling against not only the perception that he took significant steps backwards a season ago, but also that he's up against a 40 man roster crunch (Arcia enters 2016 out of options). Vargas on the other hand, didn't quite do enough to suggest he's ready to contribute, and now Park could be taking away more of his opportunity.

As far as projections are concerned as both players rose through the farm system, Vargas seemed much more along the lines of the suspect bat between the two. However, given Arcia's defensive chops, I always pegged both as being potential bench bats as a middle-of-the-road scenario. Now, it's fair to question whether either have a place with the Twins at all.

There has been discussions that the Twins may look to allow Vargas an opportunity to rebuild his value in playing overseas. While I'd question whether this scenario makes sense for either party, Vargas appears most likely to be on the outs at this point. With Arcia, the trade of Aaron Hicks couldn't have come at a more opportune time. In no way does it open a door wide to playing time, but it gives Arcia much more ample opportunity.

No doubt there is plenty of offseason left, and the Opening Day roster situation is a long way from sorted out. Ideally, Terry Ryan is finding out what the trade market looks like for both Arcia and Vargas. In the end, I'd lean towards keeping both in the organization, with Arcia debuting with the big league club. Get him on the roster as a backup outfielder and a bat off the bench.

Regardless of what outside opinions suggest however, both players find themselves at a crossroads that could end up being make or break in their big league careers.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Twins Best Pen Arms Could Be In Arizona

Photo Credit: S D Buhr/Knuckleballs Blog
Last season, the Minnesota Twins had one of the worst bullpens in all of Major League Baseball. Despite the front office's cry for calm prior to the season, the inevitable reality that the talent just wasn't there came to fruition. Once Glen Perkins broke down in the second half, the lone bright spot was now gone. In 2016, the goal will be to change the course, and it's possible two of the best additions may currently be pitching in Arizona.

For what the Twins have in pitching depth throughout their organization, there's also some key contributors who should be very close to their big league debut. Both drafted early in the 2014 draft, Jake Reed and Nicky Burdi are taking the Arizona Fall League by storm.

A month or so ago, I wrote a primer on what the focus needed to be for each of the Twins inclusions in the Fall League. For Burdi, the focus was no doubt going to be on his command, in that piece I said, "Burdi throws gas, but his command was non-existent in 2015. Owning a 6.6 BB/9 mark, pounding the zone will be a major focus in the Arizona Fall League." Often connected due to their path and pedigree, I touched on Reed as well. In talking about the former Duck I said, "Reed is repeating the Fall League this season. In 2014, Reed owned a 0.71 ERA in 12.2 IP for the Salt River Rafters. Another strong performance, with improved command, should have his arrow pointing right back up." We now find ourselves at a point of evaluation.

With just four games left in Arizona Fall League action, both Burdi and Reed have the bulk of their action behind them. To show for it, each pitcher has been nothing short of spectacular. For Burdi, he's pitched 7.0 innings allowing just two hits and zero runs while striking out nine and walking none. Reed has followed suit going 8.1 IP surrendering just four hits, no earned runs, and owning an 8/3 K/BB rate. In the ERA column, both pitchers have a flawless mark.

It's probably a certainty that the Twins will look through the free agency market and trade offerings for options to improve upon the pen. For both Burdi and Reed however, it looks as though they once again should have a very strong possibility of surfacing, and contributing, for the Twins this upcoming season.

During the fall, Burdi has regularly pushed the radar gun into the triple digits. He's notched 1-2-3 innings, and he's struck out sides. Reed has picked up saves, he's been used in high leverage situations, and he's gotten some very strong hitters out. Against competition that would rank among the best either player has seen on a consistent basis, both Twins prospects have excelled considerably.

With turnover needing to happen for Paul Molitor's relief help, a decision to go younger may not be a bad idea at all. Although both Reed and Burdi will need to continue the success out of the gate in the upcoming season, they should (and likely will) be given some time during big league spring training. If both players can show that the Fall League is what should be expected, and the hiccups of 2015 were just that, Molitor may have two really good arms ready to make a splash.

Affiliated during the Fall League with the Twins, Scottsdale owns a league best record and is in position to take the title. Helping them to get there no doubt has been both Jake Reed and Nick Burdi. The next contribution they make could come at a much higher level.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

No Training Wheels, Are The Twins Diving In?

Going into the offseason, the Twins absolutely needed to address the issue that was not having a long term solution behind the plate. After having dealt Aaron Hicks to the Yankees in exchange for John Ryan Murphy, they believe they have fixed that issue. Now looking at the outfield landscape, are the Twins ready to take a major plunge?

There was a handful of reason that the Twins were in a position to move Hicks. The outfield is a position of strength and depth for Minnesota. On top of that, it appears Terry Ryan and the Twins are believers in Eddie Rosario, while Hicks was probably more valuable to other teams. New York gave up a level of certainty, in exchange for a player who's ceiling is likely not yet reached. The deal poses an interesting option for Minnesota however.

Early on in the offseason, there had been talk that Miguel Sano would assume one of the corner outfield spots (likely left field). That change would come under the assumption that Minnesota does not deal Trevor Plouffe (I believe they will). Should the roster moves play out as expected, that would leave Paul Molitor with youth (Buxton, Rosario, and Max Kepler) as well as depth (Oswaldo Arcia, Danny Santana, and potentially Shane Robinson) to fill his three man outfield.

Considering the attitude showcased in the Hicks trade, one of aggressiveness, Minnesota may be best served to carry that same principle into the season. In that, I am suggesting that Molitor's best outfield may in fact be starting the season with Rosario in left, Buxton in center, and Kepler in right.

There's no doubt Rosario could be the most concerning of the bunch. He's been a followed prospect, but never one expected to be elite. He garnered Rookie of the Year talk (despite the performance of the big three: Sano, Francisco Lindor, and Carlos Correa), and got it done on both sides of the game. His 16 outfield assists were outstanding, and the 11 defensive runs save were impressive. At the plate, his 13 long balls and major league leading 15 triples no doubt were beneficial to the Twins lineup. If he can work on his 46% chase rate (swings at balls out of the zone) and 14.5% swinging strike percentage, he should be just fine.

When it comes to the other two names, the Twins probably have a bit more feel for what should happen. The interesting obstacle in starting the season with Buxton in center and Kepler in right, is when exactly will what should happen play out?

Last season, Buxton played 46 games with the Twins. He slashed just .209/.250/.326 while contributing just 10 extra base hits. Swinging and missing at 13.5% of pitches, he just didn't make enough contact to be a top of the order force. However, his 18.5 DRS total (projected across 162 games) only substantiates his elite defensive ability.

Although Kepler did get his cup of coffee in the big leagues to end the season, he didn't factor into the 2015 Twins. What he did do however, was mash on the farm. At Double-A Chattanooga, Kepler hit .322/.416/.531 with 13 triples and nine homers driving in 71. He walked more than he struck out (67/63) and was named the Southern League MVP. His 63 outfield games a year ago saw him contribute three assists and right field was the spot for each of them.

Going into 2016, an outfield consisting of Rosario, Buxton, and Kepler could have more question marks than almost any other team in the big leagues. You could make a similar argument however, that the grouping has the ability to be arguably the best defensive outfield, with an immense offensive upside.

Both Ryan and Molitor will have to make tough decisions this winter and spring regarding the three players. Rosario should be a lock for the Opening Day roster, and I'd put Buxton near 90% after dealing Hicks. If the club decides to take off the bubble wrap though and have the kids learn, contribute, and go for it right out of the gate, Kepler will be there with them.

There's going to be growing pains either way, but the Twins may put together one of the most promising outfields in club history right from the get go.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Twins Get Their Catcher

As they have done most of the offseason, the Twins have kept their decisions close to their vest. Despite not seemingly having an opening. the club won the bid for Korean slugger Byung-Ho Park earlier this week. Now they have solidified their catching prospects going forward. In parting with former first round pick Aaron Hicks, Minnesota has acquired John Ryan Murphy from the New York Yankees.

Hicks scuffled with the Twins in his first two seasons after being promoted following the trades of Denard Span and Ben Revere. In 2015, he broke out to the tune of a .256/.323/.398 average. While he still struggled as a switch hitter, Hicks hit lefties very well. On the year, he posted career highs in games player, hits, runs, homers, runs batted in, and stolen bases.

With the Twins having plenty of youth to fill the outfield, Hicks became the odd man out. He will take his cannon arm to Yankee Stadium, and look to play alongside Jacoby Ellsbury. In turn, the Twins receive 24 year-old John Ryan Murphy.

Murphy initially debuted in 2013 with the Yankees at the age of 22. He's now played in 115 big league games, getting into 67 a season ago. With the Yankees last year, Murphy slashed .277/.327/.406 with three homers and 14 runs batter in. He added nine doubles and one triple as well. Behind the plate though is where Murphy should make the biggest impact for the Twins.

After Kurt Suzuki through out an MLB worst 15% of would be base stealers in 2015, Murhpy caught 28% of them. He also allowed just seven passed balls in 416 chances. In his 415.1 IP with the Yankees last season, Murphy added 24 assists as well. With a similar path as Hicks, Murphy was a high draft pick (2nd round in 2009) out of high school. He has six seasons of minor league experience under his belt and has slashed .263/.327/.406 across that timeframe.

There's still plenty of reason to believe that Murphy has not yet maxed out his potential. While he has a ways to go to be considered a significant contributor at the big league level, the Twins addressed an absolute need. Hicks was part of a roster crunch, and with the Twins finding a one-for-one swap, the deal should benefit both sides.

The Twins Other Moveable Asset

Update: With Aaron Hicks moved for John Ryan Murphy on November 11, Eddie Rosario (likely) won't be going anywhere for the Twins. Ideally, the club would have pulled off the same trade for Rosario, but his stock isn't high enough to command that type of return.

Should Miguel Sano start in left field with Trevor Plouffe not being traded, Terry Ryan could surprise us however. 

Heading into the offseason, there has been talk about the Minnesota Twins trading Trevor Plouffe more than any other player. To be fair, there's plenty of reasons that a trade would make sense. For everything surrounding Plouffe though, there's another guy that the Twins could look to deal, and the trades wouldn't necessarily need to be an either or. His name, Eddie Rosario.

Last season, Eddie Rosario made his big league debut for the Twins at the age of 23. he was the first big time prospect to make it to the big leagues (as I suggested), and he had himself in contention for Rookie of the Year honors by the time things were all said and done. The former fourth round pick, and once 60th rated prospect (in 2014 by Baseball Prospectus) enjoyed a season worthy of celebrating.

On the offensive side of things, Rosario led the big leagues with 15 triples, he cranked out 18 more doubles, and launched 13 homers. His .459 slugging percentage was impressive, and he provided an end of the order jolt to the Twins lineup. In the field, Rosario's presence may have been felt to an even greater extent. Starting 116 games in the outfield, the rookie contributed 16 outfield assists while accounting for 11 DRS (defensive runs saved). His 7.4 UZR (ultimate zone rating) was truly indicative of the ground he covered behind Twins pitchers. In short, Rosario did it all for the Twins in 2015.

With any situation however, there's detractors, and for Rosario they come in the form of future regression. Although his .459 slugging percentage was impressive, he hit just .267, and worse, owned just a .289 on base percentage. Rosario fanned 118 times in 122 games and walked just 15 times last season. The problem stems from the fact that Rosario swung at pitches outside of the strike zone 46% of the time a season ago. He also swung and missed at 14.5% of pitches he saw. Knowing he produced a .332 BABIP (batting average on balls in play), the swing and miss tendencies could produce even worse results.

Going forward, it's probably fair to assume that Rosario refines his approach. Across six minor league seasons, Rosario hit .291/.340/.480. In the minors, he never struck out more than 96 times in a season, and he routinely walked somewhere around 25 times a year. The hope would be that with a big league tour under his belt, this winter would be one of advancement for the young Twins prospect.

Trading Rosario may have less to do with his future performance than it does with what he has currently done, and the landscape of the Twins. Regardless of whether the Twins put Miguel Sano in the outfield or not, the club still has Aaron Hicks, Byron Buxton, Max Kepler, and Oswaldo Arcia looking for playing time. There's little doubt defensively that Rosario helps to make up the best three, but his greatest level of return may be in advancing the Twins as a whole.

It's far from a forgone conclusion that Buxton starts the year with the Twins, and Hicks still has plenty to improve upon in his own right. Kepler is almost certain to start 2016 at Triple-A, and Arcia remains an absolute wild card. What the grouping does give the Twins is a very real opportunity at a strong outfield each and every night. Operating under the belief that Kepler and Buxton are untouchable, it's Rosario that no doubt provides the biggest return.

Looking to raise the ceiling of the club as a whole, Rosario could be dealt straight up, or packaged with other assets, for another impact position of need. Moving Arcia now would be a definite sell low opportunity (and being out of options makes him even less valuable). There would likely be a market for Hicks, but in looking like a late-bloomer, the Twins would run the risk of someone else experiencing his success.

At the end of the day, Trevor Plouffe being dealt frees up space for Sano without moving to the outfield. It helps to alleviate the problem, but doesn't remove the fact that Minnesota has more capable options in the outfield than positions to play them. If an asset needs to be moved, looking at Rosario and understanding the return expected, the 24 year-old would make a lot of sense.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Trevor Plouffe Still A Twin, For Now

To say that the Twins have spent the last week and a half making some position juggling decisions would be to put things lightly. It appears that Miguel Sano is headed to the outfield, and Minnesota has found their newest designated hitter. In the midst of it all, Trevor Plouffe still remains in line to man the hot corner, and for good reason.

There has been plenty of discussion regarding the Twins looking to deal their starting third basemen. Plouffe is considered to be blocking uber-prospect Miguel Sano, and he's only getting more expensive through arbitration. After another solid campaign in 2015, there's no doubt his $4.8 million contract is going to go up in the second year of arbitration eligibility. While a trade could still come to fruition, it's far from something that should be considered a lock.

A season ago, Plouffe had the look (at least early) of an All Star caliber third basemen. He finished with a .244/.307/.435 slash line cemented by 22 homers and 86 runs batted in. The 29 year-old logged career highs in games played, runs, hits, triples, and RBI. On the defensive side of things, he was worth -1 DRS (defensive runs saved) and compiled a 1.7 UZR (ultimate zone rating). Although it was a step back in the field, the improvement defensively over the last two seasons still remains substantial.

In short, Plouffe is an asset for the Twins, and appears to remain so moving forward.

That begs the question, what reason is there for Minnesota to trade him? Considering his positioning as an asset, Plouffe has become a valuable commodity. Adding to that is the fact he is under team control until 2018, and is still just 29 years-old (likely entering his prime a bit later than most). The production combined with the business side of things makes Plouffe a commodity if the Twins choose to go that route.

Looking at the roster shuffle the Twins have recently begun, it's hard to argue against Plouffe not pushing the envelope however. While Sano to left field is a defensive step backwards, it makes a significant amount of sense for the immediate future. Sure, an Eddie Rosario, Byron Buxton, and Aaron Hicks is a defensive wonder, but it's probably not quite ready yet. Buxton's bat may keep him from the Opening Day roster, and Rosario's swing and miss rates should be some cause for concern. In due time, that scenario could still play out.

With things shaping up as they are, it appears the Twins are poised to go with an outfield of Sano, Hicks, and Rosario. Plouffe would man the hot corner with Joe Mauer at first, and the (hopeful) addition of Byung-Ho Park filling the DH spot. In going with this construction, the Twins would be adding talent all over the field, and worrying about how to make it fit later. In an organization with strong youth prospects, as well as major league pieces, this is an incredibly sensible strategy.

There's still reason to believe Plouffe could be dealt. If a team like the Angels is willing to part with pitching, Terry Ryan would be best served to listen. Regardless, right now the assumption that his bags are already packed should be looked at as incredibly premature. Minnesota is on the cusp of turning the franchise around for the foreseeable future, and parting with talent because of position squeezes isn't generally a viable strategy.

Byung-Ho Park Shakes Up Twins

Last week, the talk of Torii Hunter's retirement press conference was the idea that Paul Molitor and Terry Ryan were ready to dabble with Miguel Sano moving positions. No, he wouldn't be playing first base, but instead, they asked him to play the outfield this winter. I already explained what that may look like here, but yesterday the Twins added a new wrinkle: Byung-Ho Park.

The Korean Baseball Organization superstar Park is definitely a fan of flair. The bat-flipping aficianado (who's since said he's given up the theatrics) has hit 210 homers in nine KBO seasons. Last year with Nexen, Park hit 53 home runs and drove in a ridiculous 146 runs. It was quite the follow up to a 2014 season in which he parked 52 homers and drove in 124 runs. As in most cases though, the numbers should decrease somewhat when heading to the big leagues.

Jung Ho Kang, the rookie infielder for the Pittsburgh Pirates, played in the KBO with Park until this past season. In 2014, both playing with Nexen, Kang launched 40 homers and drove in 117 runs. In his first year with the Pirates, that translated to 15 long balls and 58 runs batted in. However, there's more to this picture than simple power numbers.

On the positive side for the Twins (as well as Park), the newest KBO prospect is regarded as not just another free agent, he's elite. His power numbers are what fuels his production, but they are also something that every major league team coveted. With nearly every squad in on the bidding, it was the Twins $12.85 million tag that narrowly edged out the competition. In scouting Park, Minnesota saw the elite player he had been talked up to be. As in all cases though, there's always some cause for concern.

In 2015, the Pirates new Kang would have a learning curve when taking to Major League Baseball. While he started out slow, it was the end of his year that paid dividends. A slow start could be expected for Park, but the biggest concern is the strikeouts. While the homers are impressive, the 28 year-old slugger struck out 161 times while walking just 78 times in 2015. A year prior, he whiffed 142 times drawing 96 walks. Prior to coming over to the big leagues, fellow Korean Kang never struck out more than 109 times in a season.

So where does that leave the Twins and Park? Right now, there's a few things to consider. The first thing to consider is whether Minnesota can sign the Korean superstar. I'd wager the answer is yes, but it's going to cost them. Kang was posted last season for a $5 million fee, while Park just garnered a $12.85 million total. Pittsburgh signed Kang to a 4 year, $11 million contract, and Park is going to far surpass that. Per MLB Trade Rumors, Park's total could look something like 5 years, $40 million. Payroll isn't an issue for the Twins, and that deal makes a lot of sense with the team looking to contend. Park wants to be in the big leagues, and things should trend towards being mutually beneficial for both parties.

Next is what Park looks like for Minnesota. There's very little reason to believe he's going to sniff anywhere near 50 home runs in his first season. What the Twins are hoping for is a middle of the order power bat. If Park can slug something like 30 long balls and drive in close to 100 runs, Terry Ryan will be ecstatic. If the bottom falls out, Park could end up looking like a poor man's Mark Reynolds, striking out over 200 times, and hitting around 10-15 homers. Realistically, I think the answer lies somewhere in the middle.

Finally, Park is a man without a position. He's a first basemen that profiles almost solely as a designated hitter. Joe Mauer is going to be the Twins first basemen until at least 2018. Right now, designated hitter has been vacated with Miguel Sano moving to the outfield. Something like a Sano, Park one-two punch in the middle of the lineup looks like a good thing for the Twins. Expect an Opening Day outfield of Sano, Aaron Hicks, and Eddie Rosario, with Mauer at first, Trevor Plouffe at third, and Park DH'ing. The losers in this scenario are none of the names mentioned, but instead both Oswaldo Arcia and Kennys Vargas.

When the dust settles, I'd expected Byung-Ho Park to be the newest member of the Minnesota Twins. Terry Ryan clamored for a power bat, and he's going to get it. Minnesota is stacking talent, and the position shuffling is going to be done on the run. Where things stand currently, there's no doubt the envelope is being pushed for the 2016 season, and you can bet a lot of balls will be leaving the Park.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Sano In The Outfield? Get Ready To Juggle

In 2015, the Minnesota Twins finally unleashed their hulking prospect from the Dominican Republic. Signed what seems like ages ago, the 22 year-old took the big leagues by storm. He swatted 18 homers in just 80 games, and pulverized plenty of pitchers. Heading into 2016 though, he's a man without a position, and his next stop could be in the outfield.

Following Torii Hunter's farewell press conference, media touched base with both Terry Ryan and Paul Molitor. In speaking with Molitor, we learned that the Twins have asked Sano to play some outfield during winter league play, and that option is being explored heading into 2016. With Trevor Plouffe slated to man the hot corner (barring a trade), Molitor is determined to get Sano into the outfield another way.

As things stand currently, the Twins most logical outfield configuration to start the season would be Oswaldo Arcia in left, Aaron Hicks in center, and Eddie Rosario in right. Byron Buxton seems destined to begin the year at Triple-A Rochester. So, putting Sano into the mix, the outfield likely becomes Sano, Hicks, and Rosario from left to right. Although that gets his bat into the lineup, it creates some other obstacles for Minnesota.

First and foremost, let's take into consideration that a 6'4" 260 pound human being would be out in left. Sano is a heck of an athlete, but he's played all of 83 innings in the field at the big league level (all coming in the infield). In fact, since the age of 17 when he debuted in the Twins organization, he's never played anything but third, first, or short. In each of those roles, he's been considered passable defensively at best, with a body best suited stationary at first base. To say Sano would fail as a left fielder is probably short-sighted, but expecting much more than Oswaldo Arcia's -5 DRS (defensive runs saved) average would be a long shot.

That brings us to the aforementioned Arcia. The Venezuelan slugger had nothing short of a wasted 2015. He was quickly demoted, and despite a home run tear over the summer, he failed to hit over the Mendoza Line at Triple-A Rochester. He's out of options, and there's no way he'd pass through waivers. Unless he's going to be given the keys to the designated hitter role (which could work), he's out in the cold. The Twins could definitely trade him this offseason (and they should be looking), but they'd be selling low.

Aside from the two big guys, the focus then needs to turn to the actual outfielders themselves. Aaron Hicks is really the only one that doesn't need mentioning in this situation. He's got a role going forward, and he profiles well despite the roster shuffles in the grass. However, Eddie Rosario and Max Kepler now both have questions of their own.

Rosario burst onto the scene last season for the Twins and garnered some Rookie of the Year talk. Slashing .267/.289/.459 with 13 homers and 60 runs batted in, Rosario was an offensive asset. In the field though, he was a menace to the opposition. He posted a 10 DRS mark and contributed 16 outfield assists. So how do you reward him for that production? Honestly, I'd be looking to trade him (for the right price).

For everything Rosario does well defensively, we may just have seen him at his offensive best. The slash line should provide some reason for concern. Getting on base at just a .289 clip is not good. Rosario drew just 15 walks in 2015, while striking out 118 times (roughly 25% of his at bats). Pitchers loved facing Rosario as they garnered swinging strikes at pitches outside of the zone a ridiculous 46% of the time. Really, the biggest number working to stave off Rosario's plate discipline issues was the fact that he batted .332 on balls in play.

If the Twins choose to keep Rosario going forward, he's going to have to battle significantly better at the plate to be more than a defensive replacement. He's an asset, but in a crowded outfield situation, he may be the one to deal.

Then there's Kepler, the Twins minor league hitter of the year and Southern League MVP. Sure, there's reason to be skeptical that a .322/.416/.531 Double-A slash line translates to the big leagues, but this kid looks special. An adept centerfielder, Kepler can play all three outfield positions. Probably most likely at the big league level is in left, and now he's looking at some newly introduced competition.

From a top down view, Minnesota currently has to include Aaron Hicks, Eddie Rosario, and Oswaldo Arcia in the outfield. That doesn't take into consideration Byron Buxton should be up quickly, Max Kepler needs a spot, and Miguel Sano seems to be transitioning there from the start. Also of note, the Twins have interested in bringing Shane Robinson back in 2016 (as a 5th outfielder, which would make a good bit of sense). So in total, that's seven outfielders for three spots.

Going forward, Molitor and the Twins know that they'll be including Buxton and Sano in their long term plans. Hicks fits based on present value, perceived future value, and (likely) lack of trade value. That leaves Rosario, Arcia, and Kepler out in the cold to a certain extent. Should the Twins find a good trade partner this winter, I'd look to deal from those three players in that order. Kepler should be near untouchable, with both Rosario and Arcia having the Twins motivated to be entertained.

At the end of the day, it appears that Sano is going to be playing the field at all costs. A Trevor Plouffe trade could make that at third base, but regardless, the Twins have plenty of assets ready to blossom, and some of them should be used to advance the big league roster.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

The Blank Check For Matt Wieters

Sometimes, there's an applicable use for the statement "elephant in the room," but when it comes to the Twins catching problem, that might not do the situation justice. Kurt Suzuki was less than mediocre in 2015, and there isn't much help on the horizon. Those developments put the Twins in an interesting position. What remains to be seen is whether or not they'll dole out the big payday Matt Wieters has coming to him.

ESPN, Twins Daily, heck even here at Off The Baggy, Wieters has been linked to the Twins. He's a living, breathing, and capable catcher on a free agent market void of many options. Outside of the Twins trading for a backstop, the pickings are left relatively slim. With A.J. Pierzynski as a likely backup option, the Twins must consider Wieters. The question is to what extent.

In 2015, Wieters was in the final year of a deal that paid him $8.3 million for the season. Although he's a year removed from Tommy John surgery, he's also a Scott Boras client, and a 29 year-old catcher looking for his big payday. With his one chance, he'll likely be holding out for the highest bidder.

This past year, Wieters played 75 games for the Orioles, but was behind the plate for just 55 of them. He slashed .267/.319/.422 (or essentially his career numbers). Although he played less than half a season, Wieters mustered just eight long balls and 25 runs batted in; he added 14 doubles and tripled once. Behind the dish, Wieters arm was tested 26 times, and he caught eight base stealers (31%). That mark is just one off the league average of 32% and significantly better than the 15% Suzuki threw out.

Looking at how to address the catching situation, much of the Wieters discussion centers around what he should be perceived to be going forward. No doubt his production was muted in 2015, but how much of it was due to being eased back in following injury? He's just 29, and should have plenty of run on him into the future. Spending big on Wieters however, requires the Twins to be of the belief he will produce both at and behind the plate.

As things stand, the Twins need their catcher of the future. A.J. Pierzynski would be a far cry from a fix to that situation. While the former Twin makes a lot of sense on a one-year deal, he creates a the same problem in 2017. Wieters on the other hand, could fill the gap if the Twins believe in his projections going forward.

Prior to his arm injury, Wieters had caught at least 125 games in every season since 2010. He's consistently thrown out would be base stealers around a 35% clip, and his bat is regarded as an asset (launching 20+ homers three different times). In signing Wieters, the Twins would likely be getting a more polished all around version of Josmil Pinto (and a significantly better defensive version).

We are just a few days away from the Twins having to muster up the dollars to present an offer. Wieters should have plenty of suitors, and there's little doubt Boras is going to drive the market as much as he can. It may take a big blank check from the Twins (something their payroll can handle), but the belief that better times are ahead must be there.

Whether it's Wieters or Pierzynski, I think both make a great deal of sense in Minnesota for significantly different reasons. Noting that A.J.'s market is going to be secondary, I'd hope the Twins would go all in on Wieters, until it doesn't make sense to do so. Use the secondary market for what it is, a fallback option.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The Next Twins Reuinion Tour

In recent seasons, the Twins have been more than well known for taking some flyers on the players of yesteryear. There was Matt Geurrier, Jason Kubel, and even Jason Bartlett. While Torii Hunter had more appeal than those players, more often than not, it's not a winning strategy. However, in 2016, it could actually be a path that makes a lot of sense.

To be fair, there's plenty of reason to tread cautiously. Geurrier all but forced his way to the big leagues with his contract suggesting he be added to the 25 man or leave. Jason Kubel offered the Twins next to nothing in 45 games in 2014. Then there was Bartlett, who was put in the outfield and quickly was worth -2 DRS (defensive runs saved), in just 7.0 innings. While Hunter wasn't the trainwreck of those before him, he was more liability in the field than he wasn't, and his greatest asset came in the clubhouse.

With the Twins in a position to take another step forward in the upcoming season, there's a couple of options that could make a decent bit of sense. With the bulk of the roster being set, and holes being more position related than the team as a whole, Paul Molitor and Terry Ryan could find fits from at least two of three former Twins.

Let's start with the guy that probably doesn't make sense to bring back; Justin Morneau. The Colorado Rockies recently declined the team option on his contract, and the former league MVP and batting champ now is a free agent. He'll be 35 next year, and is coming off of a season that was once again cut short by a concussion.

In two seasons with the Rockies, Morneau slashed .316/.363/.487. Coors Field no doubt aided in his increased slash line, and he's a prime candidate for regression no matter where he goes (Morneau hadn't hit about .267 since 2010 previously). While hitting for average, Morneau hit only 17 homers a year ago, and just three in 2015. On top of the expected dip in production, Morneau is a first basemen or designated hitter, two places the Twins already have too many options. This one is a pass.

Next, it's time to touch on the fit behind the plate again. A.J. Pierzynski is an ideal fit on a one-year deal to pair with Kurt Suzuki. Should the Twins not want to shell out big money to Matt Wieters, it's Pierzynski they should turn to. I've made all of the points as to why he would work here (go read it please).

He's going to be playing at age 39 this upcoming year, and while the age should cause him to regress, the same argument could have been made in 2015. Unlike past scenarios, putting A.J. behind the plate in the year ahead would be much more about production than it would a reunion or feel good story. If the opportunity is there, the Twins should take it.

Finally, and maybe most interestingly, the Twins have a bullpen option to consider. Looking to improve upon one of the worst relief situations in all of baseball, Minnesota has plenty to consider. Former closer Joe Nathan is one of the names they could choose to look at. The Tigers declined his $10 million option (sensibly), as he's returning from Tommy John surgery.

Nathan's last deal was a two-year, $20 million contract from Detroit. In his four years since leaving the Twins, he owns a 2.93 ERA and has converted 116 saves. He still strikes a ton of batters out (9.91 K/9), although being admittedly dangerous the past two years (3.1 BB/9 in 2013 4.5 BB/9 in 2014). The caveat here is that in Minnesota, he wouldn't have to close.

I'm not sure what the market will look like for a guy like Nathan. When he signed that $20 million deal, he was coming off an All Star season with the Tigers. Now, he's trying to rebuild his value (both from injury and ineffectiveness). If Ryan gets an opportunity to bring Nathan in on a minor-league deal with a spring training invite, Minnesota should do so in a heartbeat. Allowing him to pitch in a Casey Fien role seems to make a lot of sense.

Although in recent seasons the Twins have made a habit of bringing back retreads in hopes of finding a former spark, they aren't in a position to do that in 2016. You can't have has-beens taking meaningful at bats, but in Pierzynski and Nathan, the expectation would be much higher. If there's a reunion tour this time around, expect it to make much more sense.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Ron Gardenhire And Dried Up Chances

Following a fourth straight 90 loss campaign, and 13 seasons as the skipper for the Minnesota Twins, Ron Gardenhire was given his walking papers at the end of the 2014 season. With a 1,068-1,039 record under his belt, the German born Gardenhire was sent searching for what was next.

In 2015, what was next was a well deserved (and probably needed) vacation. He made an appearance at Twins Spring Training (Gardenhire owns a home in Fort Myers), but outside of that, the former Twins manager remained out of the baseball picture. As the season drew on, and teams began to settle into positioning, his name surfaced in managerial discussions. First with the familiar AL Central Tigers, and then others, but nothing would happen.

Now as the offseason has gotten under full swing, Gardenhire's activity has picked up significantly. He was interviewed twice by both the San Diego Padres and the Washington Nationals. What transpired though, was that he was past up in both situations. After being considered the front-runner in San Diego, the Padres went with 38 year-old Andy Green. In Washington, after a contract debacle with Bud Black, the Nationals settled on Dusty Baker.

That again leaves Ron Gardenhire wondering what's next?

It's pretty apparent that the former Twins manager would like to regain that title somewhere in baseball. The problem is that the opportunities don't seem to be there for him. Passed over in the two situations that seemed most logical, there's simply nothing left. Gardenhire has not been given thought by the Los Angeles Dodgers, despite the club still having a vacancy. Right now, Gardy's best chance might take a bit of humbling.

Per multiple reports, Ron Gardenhire has been offered the bench coach position with the Padres. After being turned for the head of the clubhouse role, San Diego has asked the 58 year-old to play second fiddle to Green, 20 years his junior. In doing so, it may spell out exactly what has transpired for the once beloved Twins manager.

While Gardenhire no doubt stepped away from baseball for good reason following his Twins dismissal, I'm sure he didn't plan on this as his welcome back to the game. Having over 1,000 wins to his credit, taking the role of bench coach is quite a big step backwards. Regardless of the way his Twins tenure ended, he probably deserves better. At this point though, if he wants it, this may be a necessary evil.

Having been dealt the tough task of competing with a Twins team up a creek without a paddle, Gardenhire watched as his teams lost 90 plus games all too routinely. He seemed overmatched at times, and his management came under question at others. In the blink of an eye (or four years out of a 13 year career), it was those 90 loss seasons that wiped away the remembrance of six division titles.

As time goes on, things aren't going to get any easier for Gardenhire. While Dusty Baker was hired by the Nationals this season having been out of the game since 2013, that is more the outlier than the norm. Gardenhire needs to revive his value, and doing so with a young and innovative manager at the helm may be his best bet.

Right now, it's hard to see Ron Gardenhire getting another shot at managing in the big leagues. The youth movement and desire for analytics are working against him. His biggest asset is himself in this situation, but is he willing to take a step backwards in hopes of making the leap forward? Only time will tell.