Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Molitor Managing For His Career

Paul Molitor compiled over 3,000 hits and played in over 2,600 games in his career. He was enshrined in the Hall of Fame at Cooperstown, New York. Paul Molitor the player accomplished about as much as humanly possible of the baseball field, the managerial version has been less successful however.

Now with a new front office regime in Minnesota, Paul Molitor will be proving his worth to an entirely different crowd. The argument can definitely be made that the Twins manager should've been fired ending the 2016 season. His club lost a franchise worst 103 games, he looked inept at times during critical in game situations, and his reliability to the franchise's lifeblood, its youth, seemed lacking. While there was the successful 2015 campaign before it, 2016 did no favors to Paul Molitor's managerial credibility.

While Jim Pohlad did make the decision to begrudgingly dismiss General Manager Terry Ryan, he mandated that whoever come into the role be tied to Molitor for the 2017 season. It was a decision seen as something of a detractor to an otherwise attractive role. However, Minnesota landed their men, and now must move forward into the year that lies ahead.

As Derek Falvey and Thad Levine enter, the Twins now have a front office duo that combined are nearly the junior to Ryan's age. They bring a new line of thinking with them, and appear more inclined to welcome all possible avenues for growth and advancement within the franchise. On top of what they are on their own, neither men has any more tie to the former Twins (and Brewers) great than the relationship they are developing in the moment. With nothing to hang his future hat on, Molitor must know his time is now.

Given that the Twins will find themselves at somewhat of a crossroads in 2017, Molitor's management will come into the spotlight early and often. The club was awful a season ago due in large part to pitching that was simply not big league quality. Bouncing back to somewhere even slightly below average should give this club a decent shot at chasing a .500 record. The little things over the course of the season, and on a game-by-game basis, will determine how realistic it is that they reach or surpass that mark.

Without immediate notes to point to, recalling late game bunting scenarios, bullpen management, pinch hitting decision, and arguably the most egregious, lineup construction, highlight the areas in which Paul Molitor continually fell short. Having a team void of the superstar big league, Molitor will need to become a manager that does more with less, and further positions his team to achieve past their potential. It will be on both Falvey and Levine to decide whether or not Paul accomplishes that feat.

In 2017, Molitor will have more help around him. Going outside of the organization, the Twins have a hitting coach in James Rowson that can be no worse than the dated ideals of Tom Brunansky's "drive-the-ball-into-the-ground" style, and his over emphasis on changing hitters to all fit a similar mold. They also have brought in Jeff Pickler from the Dodgers organization, with the sole purpose being a liaison between baseball between the lines, and the game played on a piece of paper. Before anything even gets started, Molitor should find himself better positioned than he was to start the 2016 season.

Given no assurances, and with nothing to hang his hat on, it could be a while before Molitor finds another opportunity should this one come up empty. Molitor has long been groomed within the Twins organization, and beat out another internal candidate in the form of Doug Mientkiewicz. He'll now need to exceed the expectations of an external duo and generate a list of accomplishments that tie directly to what he has provided from the dugout's top step.

There's really no reason to bet against Molitor in 2017. The Twins will enter with low expectations, and pieces in place to surpass them. It's in the club's best interest to establish continuity during their rebuild, and Molitor can make a case to be at the heart of it all. If he's going to do so however, he'll need to get the buy in from his young players, and turn them into the stars Twins Territory has heard about for years. It's an uphill battle for the Minnesota native, but Paul Molitor absolutely appears to be fighting for his managerial career in 2017.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

May Gives Twins Another Option

August 14, 2016 was the last time Trevor May started a game for the Minnesota Twins. He lasted just three innings giving up two runs on five hits. Since that game against the Cleveland Indians, May has worked solely as a reliever for Minnesota. Now with his status for 2017 up in the air, it appears a return to the rotation could be in the cards.

Acquired from the Philadelphia Phillies in exchange for Ben Revere, May was always the headliner of the deal that also included Vance Worley. He was expected to be an impact rotation arm, and while not an ace, was someone that surely should compete for many years. Now 27 years old, he's made just 25 big league starts and pitched a total of 203 innings across three seasons.

In 2016, Paul Molitor used May in high leverage situations and at the end of games until the wheels fell off. He posted a 5.27 ERA which was inflated due to poor defense as evidenced by his 3.80 FIP. Command was an issue for Trevor last season as he issued 3.6 walks per nine innings, but his strikeouts saw a big jump as he posted 12.7 per nine. In his first season as a full time reliever, there were glimpses of a really good pen arm. Unfortunately, he also experienced back issues that were likely tied to usage, and will undoubtedly factor into any decisions made for 2017.

So, now having been a starter and a reliever with a decent body of work to look back upon, can May really be counted on to give the Twins anything of substance? I've always been a bit torn as to whether or not I believe in him out of the rotation, but given the health concerns, I think it's the only way you get production out of him at all.

Working solely as a starter in 2014, May watched his fastball velocity sit right under 92 mph. As a reliever for the bulk of the past two seasons, he saw an uptick to nearly 94 mph in 2016. Also in 2016, May pushed his swinging strike rate up to 13.2%. Working out of the pen plays into both of those jumps, but it also could've provided a new perspective for him.

If May is going to be effective as a starter, he'll need to keep a focus on the things that worked for him out of the pen. Understandably the velocity will dial back down a bit as he looks to pitch deeper into games. However, he was allowing a career best 72.3% contact rate in 2016, and missing bats is something the Twins desperately need from their starters. If he can stay ahead in counts, and give up less of the med/hard contact (86.1%) he allowed a season ago, there's reason to believe he'll be a better version of the starter he once was.

Expecting May to be a savior for the Minnesota rotation isn't a good bet at all, but there's plenty of room for him to contribute. With the need for a quality arm or two on the back end of the group, you could do a lot worse than Trevor May. He's not a soft-tosser, and with some expected upside still in his favor, Paul Molitor should be pushing to get the best version of the one-time top prospect.

For a team that needs rotation help, May provides an internal option. I'd heavily shy away from him working out of the pen if you want him to stay healthy, and while he's not a slam dunk starting option, I believe he's one the Twins should welcome.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Does Minnesota Trust What's Next?

As the offseason rolls on for the Minnesota Twins, easily the biggest storyline thus far has been the potential trade of Brian Dozier. I believe it's a move they must make, and more a matter of when as opposed to if. In a potential Dozier transaction though, the Twins will be faced with an interesting decision. Do they trust the next man up?

In the particular scenario of second base, the next man up would be Jorge Polanco, who played out of position at shortstop a season ago. The reality for a rebuilding team with young pieces though, is which ones are actually difference makers going forward. It's not just Polanco that the new braintrust has to decide upon, but actually a few fringe types that are worth wondering about.

Giving each of them some individual analysis, here's my thoughts on how some of the Twins positional youth factors into their long term plans.

Jorge Polanco

The aforementioned Polanco is an immediate replacement for Brian Dozier at second. He's not the power hitter that Dozier has become, but he's also not a dead pull bat and can spray the ball to all fields. He profiles as a more typical top two hitter, and has the ability to generate extra base hits with his speed. In a 69 G sample size during 2016, Polanco split balls put in play between grounders, liners, and fly balls, to the tune of roughly one-third each. He swung out of the zone far too often (also one-third), but had a respectable 84% contact rate. An abysmal shortstop, he's just fine at second base. The bat has always carried belief, and the total package should be one the Twins feel good about.

Kennys Vargas

It's actually interesting that Vargas was granted another option year for 2017. Had he not been, he's someone I would have totally been ok with the Twins DFA'ing with the potential that he's lost on waivers. Try to get out from the fact that he has a similar stature to David Ortiz, and accept that he may just be a guy. Now with roughly a full season worth of big league action split between three years, Vargas has shown an inability to take walks (aside from his impressive showing down the 2016 stretch). He makes contact just north of 70% of the time, and you'd definitely like to see more of his fly balls leave the yard. Vargas carries an average first base glove at best, and I'm not sure you couldn't find another DH type with more upside.

Eddie Rosario

Admittedly I was all in on getting Eddie Rosario to the big leagues prior to the 2015 season. He looked like a difference maker, and actually proved to be as much picking up Rookie of the Year votes. What his league leading 15 triples and impressive 16 outfield assists in 2015 masked were some bigger issues however. As the triples faded, the OPS and SLG tumbled. Rosario tries to be a bad ball hitter, chasing more than 40% of the time, but he also has gotten worse with his swing and its tendencies (up over 15% in 2016). In the outfield, he went from an 11 DRS mark in 2015 to a 2 DRS mark a year ago. At times, you wonder whether or not it's an effort thing, but Rosario's approach also may be too much to overcome. Right now, he fits for the Twins, but I'd be all in on another option or packaging him in a trade.

Danny Santana

There's maybe nothing more for Danny Santana to be able to hang his big league hat on than his rookie year. An incredibly unsustainable .405 BABIP led to an inflated .319 AVG. In the two seasons since, Santana has gone on to slash an ugly .227/.259/.308. He doesn't have much of a defensive ability, and at the plate he has become little more than a man with a bat. If he's going to play outfield, I think I'd give Zach Granite a look instead. If you want him as an infielder, Engelb Vielma could possibly be the choice. Santana is out of options, and it seems inevitable he's DFA'd at some point. What started off great never looked real, but it's also unfortunate it fell this far apart as well.

John Ryan Murphy

Maybe an odd inclusion for this list, Murphy gets a look being only 25 years old. While he didn't come through the Twins system, there was some belief from the old regime in swapping Aaron Hicks for him. Having played 67 games for the Yankees in 2015 with an OPS of .734, it appeared he may have a solid hit tool for the Twins. As things went last year, Murphy played in just 26 big league games, was passed over for Juan Centeno, and owned just a .609 OPS in 83 Triple-A games. He's decent in working the running game, and an ok receiver, but he doesn't do anything incredibly well. At this point, having Murphy and Mitch Garver battle for backup duties out of the gate seems like a good plan of action. With Jason Castro around for the next three seasons, Murphy won't see real work anytime soon. That said, it's pretty realistic that he could slide behind the Twins internally developed Garver as well.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Dozier And The Discussion Of Necessity

The Minnesota Twins have not had a ton of needs to address this offseason. While the 2016 season produced the worst record in major league history, it was indicative of the worst pitching staff in the big leagues. With more reason to rely on internal options, addressing deficiencies through a poor free agent market never seemed like a good bet. If there was something to be addressed though, it was Brian Dozier.

Coming off the best season of his career, the first as an All Star, and having totaled over 40 homers for the first (and potentially only) time, Minnesota finds themselves at a crossroads. Sure, there's little room to argue that the Twins lineup isn't better with Dozier in it, but in getting back to being a playoff contender, does Dozier realistically fit in the picture?

It's been clear for quite some time that Minnesota was going to be forced into a decision. Jorge Polanco is an up and coming prospect that can realistically only help the Twins at second base. Dozier wasn't extended into his free agent years, will undoubtedly never be better, and is playing for a Twins squad that isn't exactly close to contending. So, does Minnesota need to trade him at all costs?

The short answer is yes, but the longer answer is yes with some caveats.

Thus far, the Los Angeles Dodgers have emerged as the likely landing spot. That has been expected since the talks of a trade were initially thought probable. Los Angeles needs just another piece or two for a World Series run, and second base remains a large hole for them. With the club now open to trading their top pitching prospect Jose De Leon, Minnesota is simply jostling with who joins him on the flight to the Twin Cities.

As expected, the Dozier are reluctant to trade first base prospect Cody Bellinger. He's near big league ready, looks like the real deal, and should seamlessly take over for Adrian Gonzalez. Expecting the Dodgers to deal Yadier Alvarez, whom they invested over $30 million in signing him out of Cuba, never seemed like a good bet. Asking for 2016 draft pick Walker Bueller didn't seem to be a realistic bet either. Nonetheless, Minnesota has inquired on all three and reportedly been turned down.

That brings up to the "trade Dozier at all costs" crossroads. Right now, the Twins have followed the best possible path in dealing their star. They made sure to guarantee that the centerpiece of any deal is included, and they've aimed as high as possible for any secondary players. Now it's time to pull the trigger and take what else you can get.

De Leon quite possibly helps the Twins more long term than does Dozier. Getting another prospect such as Brock Stewart or Willie Calhoun in addition is something Minnesota should feel content with. While they may not see the immediate impact that another year of Dozier may provide, understanding that any step backwards would squash the ability to move him at any time. Right now it's about asking for the stars (they have) and settling for everything you can get (they need to).

With how much smoke there has been this offseason in regards to Dozier moving from Minnesota to Los Angeles, you'd be hard pressed to suggest anything less than a 90 percent chance a deal is consummated. It's taking a bit longer than I imagined, but the process the Twins have followed thus far has been the right one. At this point, it's time to back off the highest ask, take what you can get, and close the chapter on a deal that should benefit both sides.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

What's Santa Gifting The Twins?

In the midst of the offseason, the snow has flown and Target Field has gone into its winter slumber. With warm thoughts of Spring Training on our minds, surpassing the benchmark of Christmas helps us barrel towards Opening Day 2017. For a Minnesota Twins team coming off of a franchise worst season, what is Santa Claus gifting the club this year?

It's probably pretty hard to categorize whether or not the organization was naughty or nice. I mean, it was anything but a strong year, but maybe the Twins applied for the lovable losers moniker. No matter what designation on the worthiness scale they are given, Santa is a compassionate chap and wants to dole out one gift to the club for 2017.

Sure, it'd be great if the Twins turned out to have their own version of a staff ace. The reality is, the ghost of Clayton Kershaw isn't walking into the clubhouse any time soon. We could also ask St. Nick for a big bopper, but Brian Dozier launched 40 plus homers a year ago and is likely on his way out the door. Heck, going straight to the top and begging for a shiny World Series ring would even be fun, but even in make-believe land, that's a feat too drastic to pull off.

So, what is it that the Twins organization is gifted for 2017? What if I told you the answer is nothing, and they already had everything they needed?

Right now, the best thing to happen to the Twins was an infusion of perspective. Derek Falvey and Thad Levine both bring ideals and principles that have otherwise not been adopted by the organization. They come from outside and haven't been brought up along the same line of thinking as those that have recently failed in their posts ahead of them.

In choosing to revitalize the front office with two new thinkers, Minnesota gives themselves an opportunity that they have passed up in recent years. With a roster that was mainly treading water, the organization can fully commit to a rebuild utilizing pieces they've obtained, and figure out where their true deficiencies lie. At this point, it appears Minnesota has some intriguing talent on the farm, but many of them haven't been positioned well enough to understand how they fit going forward.

At the top, Paul Molitor's club remains a few key areas leveling off away from a much different year. Rather than being league worst in pitching, a jump to somewhere near the middle would make a significant difference. The offense is there, if not consistent, and the pieces to at least show up on a nightly basis remain in tact. Whether or not Molitor remains the most capable leader is still up for debate, but both Falvey and Levine will now have a front row seat in making that decision.

Really what it boils down to is that there's no Golden Ticket for this Twins club. They aren't one piece away from being a serious contender, but they aren't void of assets either. The gift they needed was an individual (or duo in this case) committed to a turnaround. Rather than placing band-aids on bullet holes, it's an opportunity to act, make difficult decisions, and take the long term route towards moving forward.

If free agency and the offseason has been any indication of this gift, it's that the Twins too know they aren't one shiny present away. Enjoy what they have been given, stay the course, and commit to it. Right now Minnesota is making the long play, and given the pieces that can be moved around the blueprint, living in the present with the gift we've been given is something we can all embrace.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Where Does The Twins Pitching Come From?

A year after having the worst starting pitching staff in the big leagues, the Minnesota Twins will be looking to turn a significant corner in 2017. Paul Molitor has a pretty realistic opportunity to bounce back greatly in the wins column, but it's only going to happen if he can get productive outings from his starters.

While the Twins haven't had a true ace since the days of Francisco Liriano or Johan Santana, there are plenty of teams the operate with a good group rather than a top heavy individual. The Twins will be taking the latter path this year as they fill out their rotation, but the question becomes exactly who rounds it out.

Going into the year, I count at least 10 pitchers that Minnesota could task with starting a game. After using 11 different starters last season, I opined that the Twins would run out no more than 8 in 2017. Counting Ervin Santana, Hector Santiago, and Kyle Gibson as rotation locks, the club will need to make decisions on the final two spots. That brings us to the candidates and the order of their likeliness:

Phil Hughes

In Hughes, the Twins have an odd scenario. He's absolutely a lock if he's healthy, but coming back from Thoracic Outlet surgery doesn't guarantee that. Guys have bounced back differently, and he could be a shell of himself, or not pitch again at all. Hughes has faded every year since finishing 7th in the Cy Young voting during his first year with the Twins. If he does come back, hoping he lands somewhere just north of his 3.90 ERA across 2014-15 would make Minnesota ecstatic.

Trevor May

I'm much more skeptical than some on whether or not May finds success as a starter. Working as a reliever, he saw a nice spike in both his velocity and strikeout rates. Unfortunately, his back flared up and is likely tied to usage concerns. He hasn't consistently started since his debut season in 2014, and the results weren't good. Now more developed as a professional, the Twins will have to hope he can give them the strikeouts, with better command, and stay healthy.

Jose Berrios

After doing himself few favors last season, Berrios is going to be in a scenario in which he has to earn his spot during Spring Training. If Hughes isn't ready from the get go, I'd bet Berrios is the next man up. Command was the issue during Jose's rookie season, and his flat plane fastball got hit over the fence far too often (12 HR in 58.1 IP). The Twins will need to rely upon the year providing valuable experience, and the dominating stuff from Triple-A playing up a bit more at the highest level.

Adalberto Mejia

Acquired in exchange for Eduardo Nunez last season, Mejia was a nice get for the Twins system. He doesn't have flashy stuff, but should be capable of a back end spot in the rotation. In four starts for Triple-A Rochester, he totaled a 3.76 ERA to go with an 8.5 K/9. At the big league level he surrendered two earned runs across just 2.1 IP as a reliever. Mejia should get a serious look in Spring Training, and he's maybe the safer option if Minnesota wants to make absolutely sure that Berrios is ready.

Stephen Gonsalves

Now we get to the bit of the stretch portion for Opening Day rotation options. Gonsalves is the Twins top pitching prospect by most accounts, and he should be expected to be a solid contributor. However, he's yet to pitch above Double-A. While Gonsalves owned a 2.06 ERA last year, his 10.0 K/9 was watered down a bit by a 3.7 BB/9. He has some command issues to work through, and will need to rely on pitching at the higher levels as opposed to just throwing. I'd expect him to make his MLB debut this season, but not out of the gate.

Tyler Duffey

After starting 36 games for the Twins over his first two big league seasons, it's time Duffey heads to the bullpen. A college closer at Rice, Minnesota went the most sensible route in attempting to convert him to a starter first. Now 26 and without a dominant trio of offerings, he can be a very good two pitch reliever. His curveball is filthy when it's on, and he'll be more than capable of getting big leaguers out. Send him to the pen, decrease the homers (25 in 25 starts during 2016) and enjoy the uptick in velocity and strikeouts.

Justin Haley

Included here because Haley has worked as a starter for the entirety of his minor league career, and likely is slotted there in the Twins future, he should only see pen time this season. Haley did pitch at Triple-A during 2016 and fared well posting a 3.59 ERA. He has been categorized as among the safest Rule 5 picks, and many have said he's major league ready to back-end a rotation. Given what's ahead of him though, I'd welcome his opportunities in 2017 to come in a long relief role.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

In The Hall, Morality Needs To Go

I have long been a supporter of guys linked to performance enhancing drugs being in the Hall of Fame. Simply put, if you don't believe that players like Barry Bonds and Rogers Clemens are among the best to ever play the sport of baseball, you're unquestionably wrong. Here's where the caveats come in though, morality still plays a role that it has no business playing.

Today I read over a piece by BBWAA member and former Yankees beat writer Wallace Matthews. In it, he calls out Curt Schilling for being a baffon (political stance aside, he absolutely is), and huffs over the burden it is to cast a Hall of Fame ballot. While it's fair and understanding to note where he's coming from, the true burden is one that was cast upon him by the Baseball Hall of Fame itself.

Almost as equally long as I have contended that guys linked to PEDs but still deserving should be in The Hall, I've stated that the character clause is one of the goofiest prerequisites for inclusion at Cooperstown. Listen, the Baseball Writers Association of America should be asking journalists to quantify performance factors, not policing the shortcomings of the Commissioner and Major League Baseball itself. At the end of the day, inclusion in the Hall of Fame should be related to the amount of homers you smashed, strikeouts you tallied, or accolades you compiled while on the field of play.

When participating in Major League Baseball, players have gone through eras with live and dead balls. They have played the sport while certain races were excluded. Long before PEDs were the drugs of hatred, there were amphetamines and other choice vices that were explored. As a collective whole, the reality has always been that asking a group removed from decision making efforts within the sport, to retroactively rule on decisions that were made, was a losing battle.

Looking at Matthews' piece and knowing he isn't the first one to publicly defend his decision to throw away his vote, it's hard not to want something done about the burden he defines. At it's core, it seems quite haughty to come across as being above a privilege granted to so few. While The Hall has imposed the notion that morality be considered, the process involves nothing more than checking boxes of up to 10 players deserving of the game's highest honor.

While trying to be sympathetic to the tone of Matthews' message, it's also a tired one from a group that has so often fallen short of being worthy of give the benefit of doubt. I'm not sorry your journalistic profession has included you among a group of your peers that are tasked with helping us to celebrate baseball's greatest. I'm not sorry that the BBWAA as a whole has seen countless votes cast (or not cast) as personal vendettas or in trying to politic against those that wronged them while playing (or not playing) the game. I'm not sorry that it seems silly to cast votes for those you feel friendly towards, and want to give a final hat tip to. I'm really not sorry for any "burden" you'd like to define as part of the voting process.

If there's something to be sorry for, it is, and always has been, Cooperstown asking you to play morality cop. Most anyone that has ever watched the game can effectively evaluate the performance of a player's career, and a consensus (or at least a 75% consensus) should be relatively straightforward to reach in that line of thinking alone. It's time that morality stop playing such an issue in the voting process, both on the ballot, and in the fallout thereafter.

There have been positive changes from the BBWAA in recent years (removing writers no longer covering the game, accepting writers, making ballots publicly available), but the large linchpin remains the character clause. It's time the ballot was simply used as a process of deeming who is worthy based on baseball merit alone, and celebrating that. Pushing writers to do what comes across as a look-at-me thing, while not voting or channeling feelings into their ballots should cease. Really though, it's the BBWAA and The Hall itself who continue to facilitate it all.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

What Numbers Can Twins Expect In 2017?

Last December, I put together a piece looking at certain statistics and numbers that the Minnesota Twins may find themselves teetering on in the year ahead. Dubber over/unders, I took a look at a few areas to watch and tried to decipher whether or not Paul Molitor's team would surpass or fall short of the mark. If you want to read that piece, you can find it here.

The 2017 season presents plenty of new storylines, and while the team wants to wipe clean the slate after a 100+ loss season, it will take some bounce back performances to do so. Last year I went with six over/under predictions and hit on just one of them. Attempting to go out on a limb with the categories rather than to play it safe tends to turn the tide that way, but nonetheless, let's hope for a better effort with the 2017 offering.

With the groundwork laid, let's get into it.

Stephen Gonsalves over/under 6 MLB starts:

Last season, Jose Berrios was in this category, and the number he needed to reach was 20. I took the over and he came in with just 14. Berrios struggled and went back and forth between Rochester and Minnesota quite often. For Gonsalves, I think the bouncing around will be less, but so should the opportunity. Yes, Gonsalves is currently the Twins best pitching prospect, but he's not of the same tier that Berrios was. After last season, Gonsalves had pitched just 13 games at the Double-A level. His 2016 sparkled with a 2.06 ERA to go with a 10.0 K/9. The downside for Gonsalves is that he doesn't have any overpowering big league pitches, and he's still struggled some with command (walking 3.7 per nine at A/AA in 2016). I believe he's going to be a solid mid to back end starter for the Twins, but believe his opportunities come closer to September. I suggested he'll debut in July, but think he sticks at the end of the year.

Prediction: Under

Players to hit at least 27 home runs over/under one:

Operating under the belief that Brian Dozier is not going to play for Minnesota in 2017 takes away a player that hit 42 longballs (43 technically) a season ago. That leaves the next closest slugger at 25, coming from Miguel Sano. I believe a season that doesn't have Sano jumping all over the field should see him play more games (116 in 2016) and reach the 30 HR plateau for the first time in his career. Among the guys that could join him at that number include Max Kepler and Byungho Park. I'm a Kepler fan, and I love his swing, but I think the power is more a by-product of execution than it is a concentrated effort. Park should be in line for a nice bounce back year, and a guy that hit 100 homers in Korea over the course of two seasons should be a good bet to start launching them in Minnesota.

Prediction: Over

Twins will run out over/under 9 starters in 2017:

A year ago, the Twins had the worst pitching staff in the big leagues. They had no one that could offer consistent innings, no one that could keep them in games, and no one that could strike any batters out. By all measures, it was a disaster. What made it worse was that production and injuries caused them to allow 11 different players to make a start. In the year ahead, Paul Molitor will have plenty of options at his disposal, but I think the number that actually start will be considerably less. Sure, Trevor May, Adalberto Mejia, Tyler Duffey, and a couple others should all compete for rotation ending starts, but I'd hope Minnesota doesn't double up on the amount of arms required for a full turn again. I feel like a safe number here is that about eight different pitchers will start a game for the 2017 Twins.

Prediction: Under

Minnesota will win over/under 77 games:

After going 59-103 in 2016, 77 wins would be an 18 game improvement for the Twins. While that number seems like a significant amount, internal adjustments alone should help to make up for a large amount. Minnesota shouldn't expect to be the worst pitching team in the big leagues for a second year in a row, and the offense can be expected to carry a bigger load over the entirety of the year than it did a season ago. Even a small improvement on the pitching front should help the Twins, as the offense is relatively sound when things are status quo. Combine those factors with the White Sox going for an all out prospect team, the Royals trading away pieces, and the Tigers again, and you find yourself with a Twins team that benefits from the step back taken by division competitors. The Indians will be good, and they'll be at the top of the Central, but the Twins actually played them quite well a season ago. This group isn't going to make the Postseason, but they shouldn't expect a second straight number one overall pick.

Prediction: Over

Glen Perkins will record over/under 10 saves for Twins in 2017:

Pitching just two innings a year ago, Perkins succumbed to surgery on his shoulder. His effectiveness has been trending downhill for quite some time, but finally getting the issue addressed could help to turn the corner. Once among the American League's most underappreciated closers, Perkins will need to reclaim his role with the Twins. I don't have much belief that he's ready by Opening Day, and labrum surgery as intense as his sounded doesn't bode well for him to regain his past greatness. If the Twins can get any sort of return to former prominence out of Perkins I'd be thrilled, and look to flip him at the first opportunity. More realistically though, I think we've seen the beginning of the end, and he'll be relegated to lower leverage situations in a best case scenario.

Prediction: Under

Byron Buxton finishes over/under 10th best in MLB by Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) measures:

During the 2016 season, Byron Buxton played 92 games (88 starts) in the outfield for the Minnesota Twins. He was worth just three defensive runs saved, and elevated his career total to just 7 DRS over the past two years. It's a by-product of his offensive ineffectiveness, inability to stay healthy, and some rust in the outfield. When things are clicking, it's absolutely fair to expect a Kevin Kiermaier level of defense from Buxton, and he's more than capable of deservedly taking home a Gold Glove. The threshold for the top 10 in DRS a season ago was 15 DRS. Among the top 10 in DRS were Mookie Betts (32), Kiermaier (25), Kevin Pillar (21), Colby Rasmus (20), Adam Eaton (20), Jarrod Dyson (19), Jason Heyward (18), Jake Marisnick (18), Starling Marte (17), and Ender Inciarte (15). Buxton's arm is a true asset, and his speed is easy to categorize as a weapon. If he can stay healthy (a must), and contribute at the plate (hopeful), he shoudl have ample opportunity to be among the best five outfielders in MLB.

Prediction: Over

Monday, December 12, 2016

Dozier To The Dodgers Taking Shape?

With the Los Angeles Dodgers now having inked both Justin Turner and Kenley Jansen to free agent deals, they could slow on spending this offseason. They also brought back Rich Hill, and have effectively kept their 2016 roster in tact. That group didn't win a World Series though, so adding a piece or two seems like the next logical step.

The Dodgers have a need in the form of a setup man ahead of Jansen, and arguably more pressing than that, at second base in the infield. For what seems like the longest time, the Dodgers and Minnesota Twins have been doing a dance around All Star Brian Dozier. Now it sounds like they'll turn their focus to that trade, and Howard Cole believes it'll get done.

I spoke with the Forbes writer and IBWAA Founding Director via email in regards to the Dodgers and Dozier. With a few questions sent his way, here's the answers I got back:

Off The Baggy: Now that the Dodgers have handled their free agent deals in the form of Rich Hill, Kenley Jansen, and Justin Turner, it would seem reasonable that turning to other needs would be a good bet. Brian Dozier fills a 2B hole for LA. What are the odds you see a deal getting done, and what reasonable expectations do you see for him in 2017?

Howard Cole: The Dodgers have held on to their prospects for a deal just like this, and I think they'll get it done. It's a great match for both clubs. Obviously, L.A. would love for Dozier to pick up where he left off the second half of 2016, but they'll be happy with a solid second baseman who plays 155 games a year and hits for power from the right side, both of which are things they desperately need. They'll take an OPS of only .800 gratefully.

OTB: After going with aging veteran Chase Utley a year ago, Dozier would represent a player with a bit of control and arguably in his prime. Do you see him as a player the Dodgers are looking at as just an immediate addition, or someone they expect to help beyond his deal in 2018?

HC: The Dodgers are looking to win now and in the future, but the two years remaining on Dozier's contract is perfect. They'll worry about a second baseman for 2019 later.

OTB: While Brian Dozier represents the best the Minnesota Twins have to offer, it's realistic to assume they won't be winning while he's on the roster. In dealing him away, they could target just prospects, or blend in some big league ready options too. What do you see the Dodgers being willing to give up?

HC: Power guy Willie Calhoun probably goes in this one. He's an offense-first player who's already listed as a "Second Baseman and Designated Hitter" on I imagine the Twins will ask for Jose De Leon and they might just get him. Brock Stewart could work as well, but it really depends on what the ask is. The Dodgers have a ton of good pitching prospects to choose from.

OTB: Obviously the Dodgers farm system is loaded with prospects due to some solid moves over the past year or so. If there was a prospect you just really don't want to see Los Angeles give up because he may turn into a real star, who is that for you?

HC: Cody Bellinger. He'll follow Adrian Gonzalez as a two-way star at first base no later than 2019, and contribute in the outfield as early as midseason next year. I'm excluding Julio Urias, of course, because he's no longer a prospect; he's a mainstay in the rotation.

OTB: I've contended that Jansen, Turner, and Hill being resigned wasn't the Dodgers elevating themselves as they were simply making sure to keep their 2016 club in tact. Adding Dozier, is he enough of a piece to feel good about advancing further in the Postseason or win a World Series?

HC: Don't forget they'll have newly re-signed Rich Hill for the entire season in 2017 too, after getting just 47 innings, including the postseason, out of him in 2016. They'll have Andre Ethier back in a platoon role next year too, in addition to their late find, Andrew Toles, and if healthy, Trayce Thompson. So no black hole in left field for another season. But yeah, Dozier would make a huge difference. Huge.

It sure seems like the two sides are in a collision course to a resolution. We could see that happen in short order.

Setting The 2017 Twins Lineup

Last winter, I tried my hand at projecting the upcoming lineup right around this same timeframe. With Paul Molitor back as manager of the Minnesota Twins for 2017, much of the same can be expected lineup wise, but he'll need to make some adjustments if he's going to overcome his own deficiencies from a season ago. There's no doubt that Derek Falvey and Thad Levine want to turn this thing around, but it'll be a process.

Right now, we know that the Twins have lost a couple of pieces from 2016, and there could be a few more changes along the way. I wouldn't expect them to make many waves in terms of offensive additions, so now seems as good of a time as any to set the lineup. With that out of the way, let's get into it.

1. Joe Mauer 1B

The unfortunate reality with Mauer is that his defense is Gold Glove caliber but the bat and offensive production is just a shell of what it once was. Recently I touched on the blueprint to get the best out of Mauer. Play him sparingly, split time with Park and Kennys Vargas, and even look at platooning him to remove some at bats against lefties. If Molitor can wrap his head around Mauer being what he is, rather than what he wants him to be, the Twins will be better for it. He's not going to bat .300, but hitting .280 using a similarly structured plan seems like a good bet. If you're not going to bat him leadoff, hitting him sixth or seventh makes a lot of sense.

2. Brian Dozier 2B

There's really no reason to be disappointed about being able to keep your best player. In not dealing Dozier, the Twins did just that this offseason. He's not going to hit 40 homers again in 2017, but settling in somewhere between his 2015 and 2016 season is a realistic ask. He should be a 3.0+ fWAR player, and will once again drive the Twins. He can allow Mauer's on base skills to add to his RBI total as well.

3. Max Kepler RF

At points during the 2016 campaign, it appeared that Max Kepler might run away with the Rookie of the Year award. In 31 games from the middle of July through the middle of August, Kepler posted a .912 OPS and cracked seven homers. His smooth swing and quick trigger through the zone should continue to allow him the ability to succeed at the plate. There may be less highs and lows for Kepler in 2017, but a year of consistency would be more than welcomed. He's got a realistic shot at 20 longballs this year and can be among the Twins best hitters.

4. Miguel Sano 3B

With the Twins non-tendering Trevor Plouffe, it's become time that Sano slots in as the full time third basemen. Realistically, he isn't a great fit there as the accuracy issues with his arm remain a real concern. Until things sort themselves out though, a move to full time DH or first base just doesn't appear in the cards. After a strong rookie year, Sano took steps backwards in 2016. The hope should be that his OPS rests somewhere in the mid .800 range and he can push towards 30 homers. Having played just 116 games a season ago, remaining in shape and healthy will be contributing factors towards Minnesota getting the most out of their young slugger.

5. Byungho Park DH

Brought over from the KBO as one of the best players that league has ever seen, Park's rookie year in the big leagues didn't go well. The Twins got just 62 games from Park and he was sent to Triple-A for the remainder of the year. Posting just 21 walks with 80 strikeouts, the swing and miss issues were definitely there for the Korean slugger. I believe that the wrist injury that eventually required surgery was a bigger deal than he let on, and if healthy, a big bounce back in 2017 is very plausible. Wipe the slate clean and give me at least 20 bombs in 130 games for the Twins from Park in the year ahead.

6. Byron Buxton CF

A year ago I found myself making excuses to try and get by Buxton's disappointing debut season. While he's still young, his 92 games in 2016 weren't great either. What Buxton did do though was bolster expectations for 2017 with a strong finish to the season. From August 5 through the end of the year, Buxton had a 30 game sample size in which he posted a .992 OPS while slugging an incredible .641. He's not going to hit nine home runs in a month all too often, but betting against baseball's former top prospect isn't something I want to do. Let him start in the middle, with a move to the top of the lineup being a quick possibility.

7. Jason Castro C

Signed to a three year deal this offseason by the Twins, Castro is being brought in first and foremost for his defensive acumen. Despite posting just a .684 OPS with the Astros last season, it was his best mark since his .835 OPS All Star season in 2013. If he can trend towards a .700 OPS for Minnesota as a defense first backstop, Molitor will have to be happy. Castro has totaled double-digit homers each year since 2012, and getting some pop from the catching position is something the Twins will welcome. His floor shouldn't be too low, and Castro's ceiling is probably the best the Twins have seen at catcher since Joe Mauer.

8. Eddie Rosario LF

If there was someone that did themselves no favors in 2016 it was Rosario. Not only did he take steps backwards defensively, but his approach at the plate looked awful far too often. A free swinger that chases out of the zone, Rosario shaved nearly 30 points off of his OPS and again posted an ugly K/BB (91/12) ratio. He needs to be more patient at the dish and come up with a better plan. In the field, Minnesota needs the guy that was worth 10 DRS in 2015, not the one that was worth zero last season. This spot also gets interesting if the Twins do in fact pull off a Brian Dozier trade. If Yasiel Puig is a part of the return, Rosario could find himself as the odd man out.

9. Jorge Polanco SS

With Brian Dozier remaining a member of the Twins for the 2017 big league season, Polanco is destined to stay at shortstop. It's not an ideal spot for him defensively, but the Twins frankly don't have another option. His bat should help to alleviate some of the defensive gaffes, and expecting him to tote the lumber is a good bet.

Last year, the Twins terrible season was a by-product of a team that couldn't pitch at all. The offense took far too long to get going out of the gates, but showed in multiple stretches that it's capable of competing. In 2017, the pitching probably isn't going to be significantly better, but the offense normalizing will likely spell the difference. Not a .500 team still, an offensive uptick should have the Twins winning somewhere north of 75 games.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Molitor Needs To Be Better For Mauer In 2017

As the Minnesota Twins enter the 2017 Major League Baseball season, the focus will undoubtedly be on getting better pitching performances than those that saw the club post league worst numbers. It's fairly realistic to expect a rebound from an offense that was expected to carry the club, and we shouldn't be shocked if that happens. What Paul Molitor must do is utilize hometown hero Joe Mauer in the most sensible way possible.

Once a surefire Hall of Famer, Mauer has watched his career be sapped due to the severe concussion he suffered years ago. He hasn't set foot behind the dish since the 2013 season and never will do so again. What he has done since is become an average hitter with an exceptional glove at first base. Unfortunately, the best version of Mauer is the one that doesn't play as often.

Going into the year, Minnesota has at least two other first base options in Byungho Park and Kennys Vargas. You could make the argument that Miguel Sano will need to transition that way at some point as well. Regardless of what the other options are, even a Gold Glove caliber defender in Mauer shouldn't be run out there anything close to every day.

In 2016, Mauer was relegated to playing just 134 games, a significant step back from the 158 he played in during 2015. When catching, Mauer routinely played somewhere around 140 games a season. Now for a different reason, to stave off his decline, I'd be looking at utilizing him for something like 120 games in the year ahead.

Through the first 25 games a season ago, Mauer slashed .337/.459/.461. For 23 games from May through June, he slashed .326/.402/.517; and for 19 games at the end of July into August he slashed .418/.513/.687. Cherry picking bits of production here really isn't the point, other than to show Mauer is still very capable of hot streaks. What his final .261/.363/.389 slash line tells us is that he's not capable of sustaining it over the course of a full year anymore.

Getting regular rest generally seems to benefit Mauer. Rather the incorporating off days, Molitor seemed to continually turn to Joe a year ago. At points, it was as if Mauer would be run out then until he ran himself into the ground. On top of being over-utilized, Molitor asked Mauer to bat either 2nd or 3rd in 117 of the games he started. The reality is that he's just not that player anymore.

In an ideal scenario, Mauer bats lower in the lineup, maybe the six hole makes sense. He also displayed some pretty drastic splits a season ago. Posting just a .610 OPS against left handed pitchers, he hit to the tune of a .793 OPS against righties. Platooning players isn't something the Twins have traditionally done, but with Mauer, it might be a really good opportunity.

At the end of the day, Joe Mauer still holds value for the Minnesota Twins. There's no arguing that he's not the player he once was, but he's still a productive asset reliable for right around 1.0 fWAR. Getting the best out of him requires regular rest, lest lineup responsibility, and being put in more advantageous situations at the plate. There's a blueprint here, it's up to the Twins as to whether or not they want to use it.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Rule 5 Continues To Be Good For Twins

The Rule 5 Draft took place at the conclusion of the Major League Baseball Winter Meetings. As teams selected players from other organizations that must stay on their 25 man roster throughout the duration of the upcoming season, Minnesota continues to reap the rewards of solid Rule 5 Draft success.

In the 2016 version, Minnesota had the first overall pick and selected a pitcher from the Brewers organization, Miguel Diaz. He was sent to the Padres in exchange for Justin Haley, a pitcher from the Red Sox organization that the Los Angeles Angels had selected with their Rule 5 pick. Haley is a tall kid with average stuff that projects as a capable back-end big league starter. He'll join the Twins organization and likely compete for a rotation spot during spring training.

When looking at previous Rule 5 success, Twins fans can easily point to Johan Santana. The club weathered two seasons (when Santana was 21 and 22 years old) in which he posted a 5.9 ERA and just a 6.4 K/9 with a 4.9 BB/9. He then went on to win two Cy Young awards while compiling a 2.92 ERA across the next six seasons. By all measures, Santana is the Gold Standard when it comes to Minnesota Twins Rule 5 Draft Picks.

There's one that's still paying dividends however.

Ryan Pressly was selected in the Rule 5 Draft out of the Red Sox organization prior to the 2013 Major League Baseball season. He's worked exclusively as a reliever, and posted a 3.55 ERA across 208 MLB innings for the Twins the past four seasons. Last year however was easily Pressly's best in Minnesota.

Healthy and contributing over 75 innings for Paul Molitor's club, Pressly turned in a 3.70 ERA that was backed by a nice 8.0 K/9 and a 2.7 BB/9. He picked up his first career save, and flashed some really strong offerings on the mound. Also in 2016, Pressly turned in his highest average fastball velocity of his career sitting at 95.2 mph. His slider and curveball also saw velocity spikes while he all but abandoned his changeup.

Going into the 2017 season, I'd hope that the Twins give significant run to internal bullpen options. Players like Jake Reed, Trevor Hildenberger, D.J. Baxendale, Aaron Slegers, and Nick Burdi should all be close to big league debuts. With that much youth in contention for relief opportunities, it will be on veterans such as Pressly to provide a steadying feeling late in games. If the returns of late are any indication, the native Texan should have no problem being up to the task.

As teams around the big leagues have placed an increased importance on relief pitching as a whole, the Twins bullpen has lagged behind. With starters failing to go deep in games, the relievers have generally been asked to do too much. Of the group, and around the big leagues, Pressly doesn't get the praise he deserves and isn't the household name he may soon turn into.

Right now, the jury is out on how good of a Rule 5 selection Justin Haley will be for the Twins. What isn't up for debate is that Ryan Pressly is one of the best Minnesota has ever taken in the draft.

Monday, December 5, 2016

On The Hall And A Twins Potential Outfielder

With plenty of different happenings going on in baseball during this time of the year, it's hard to stick simply to one topic. The Winter Meetings are now in full swing, and the Minnesota Twins should be plenty busy fielding calls on trade asset Brian Dozier. For the purpose of this post though, there's two notes I wanted to expand upon.

The first is in the way in which Official Baseball Writers Association of America members handle their Hall of Fame votes. Recently former Commissioner Bud Selig was inducted into the Hall of Fame. Susan Slusser, beat reporter for the Oakland Athletics, made this comment following the news, "Senseless to keep steroid guys out when the enablers are in Hall of Fame. I now will hold my nose and vote for players I believe cheated."

I have been beating this drum for years, and am happy to hear more prominent voices start to get on board. The largest detractor for PED guys has always been the character clause. BBWAA voters hide behind voting for deserving players because the use of PEDs suggests flawed character, and inducting a cheater isn't something any of them seem to want on their hands. In putting Selig in The Hall however, they've just allowed the most egregious offender.

Here's the thing, Bud Selig is the reason PEDs ran rampant in baseball. He allowed it for good reason, and players like Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire saved his sport post lockout. In the midst of it all happening, those players (and the commissioner) were celebrated. The era is what it was, and should be treated as such. It's nice to see Susan getting on board, and would be great to see more of her fellow voters do the same. This is the same contingent of people that reject change at every turn however, so let's not start to hold our breath.

As an aside, here's more thoughts on PED users being voted into the Hall of Fame if you're interested.

The second note I wanted to touch on is the decision by the Washington Nationals to non-tender Ben Revere. The former Minnesota Twins outfielder made $6.25 million in 2016 with the Nationals and was scheduled to get a small bump; having played just 103 games this year though, they saw him as an expendable asset. Now a free agent, this is where things get interesting.

Revere hasn't played for the Twins since 2012 after which he was dealt to the Philadelphia Phillies for Vance Worley and Trevor May. Since then, he's played for three teams and compiled a .289/.320/.353 slash line. His speed remains his biggest asset, and he plays all three outfield spots. He makes a lot of sense for the Twins as there should be plenty of need for an extra outfielder among a young group.

A season ago, Robbie Grossman was the Twins mid-season flier. In 99 games, he posted a .386 OBP and getting on base kept him in Minnesota's lineup. What was troubling however, was that Grossman posted a ridiculous -21 DRS as well as a -15.2 UZR. The defensive runs saved number was the third worst mark posted in the big leagues (and both Andrew McCutchen and J.D. Martinez played nearly twice as many innings), and dwarfed the likes of previous ugly defensive showings for the Twins such as Delmon Young.

To be fair, Revere's defense isn't world-breaking either. He posted a 2 DRS in just over 700 outfield innings last season, but he's two years removed from a -16 effort with the Phillies. Likely best suited for left field at this point, he'd fit in nicely alongside Byron Buxton and Max Kepler. There isn't really a platoon play for Revere at all, but he could be interchanged with the likes of Eddie Rosario pretty seamlessly.

I'd guess Revere will have no trouble finding a big league job, but if I was the Twins, I think I'd prefer him over Robbie Grossman. Even before Revere's availability, I wondered whether Minnesota had room for Grossman going forward.

With the Winter Meetings ready to take the bulk of the news this week, we should have plenty of excitement to look forward to.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

All Star Changes Are Only Half The Battle

As Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association came to agreement on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, the Mid-Summer Classic hardly went ignored. Sure there was decisions made on an International Draft, Qualifying Offers, and the new Luxury Tax thresholds, but it was the All Star Game decision that caught the attention of the Associated Press late Wednesday night.

With the new CBA, Major League Baseball decided intelligently that the exhibition game should no longer count. In the 14 seasons since making it matter, nine times the World Series winning team had home field advantage. Thankful to their opposition for the All Star victory, it was a meaningless game in July that determined, at least in part, over half of the last 14 World Series winners.

Here's the thing with the All Star game though, it never should have counted. It shouldn't have counted in the results column, but it absolutely should count when it comes to representation. This summer, Twins fans were given their representative in the form of Eduardo Nunez. Sure, he had a very nice year in comparison to his career norms, but he hardly competed at an All Star level.

With every team getting a representative, this is the kind of situations the league finds itself in at times. While it's not the fault of the player at all, it's a massive miss by the league. Surely, Twins fans didn't need Nunez to be included in the game to decide upon watching it; that was more than likely a separate decision made entirely on its own merit.

As players convene for the All Star game in the middle of the summer, Major League Baseball's focus should be on one thing, marketability. The sport itself needs that stage to highlight the best young players the game has. Sure, you'll have your years where an Alex Rodriguez or Ichiro Suzuki type makes sense, but the bulk of the roster should be up and coming stars. Mike Trout, Kris Bryant, Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor, those are names that should be represented at every All Star Game for the next ten years.

It's understandable why leagues incorporate fan voting into their All Star Game processes. At it's core, that's a level of marketability in giving the people who they want to see. In scenarios though where the entire Royals or Cubs roster is starting in an All Star Game, the league may be best served to step in. What do jersey sales look like? Are all of those top players represented? Is the brand a saturated result of baseball players as a whole, or is the game showcasing the best the sport has to offer?

Recently Sony announced that MLB The Show 17 will feature Ken Griffey Jr. on the cover. I am a fan of the move and think it makes sense to do a historic cover as it coincides with his Hall of Fame induction, and Griffey has long been synonymous with baseball video games. However, I can definitely understand the miss that is the league failing to provide uber marketable players that just present no-brainer options in scenarios such as these.

Thanks to the new CBA, the All Star Game will no longer count in terms of determining home field advantage. For a game that's gaining traction again across the country though, it counts at the highest level when it comes to providing a platform to market the most meaningful players in the sport.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Getting Familiar With Jason Castro

The Minnesota Twins officially announced Jason Castro as their newest free agent acquisition. He has been added to the 40 man roster, and the organization now has a full boat there. He'll wear number 21 for the home nine, and he started off his new adventure by allowing Twins fans to get to know him today.

I've already covered what the Castro signing means for this new era of the Twins, and why he makes sense as an ideal catcher for the organization here and here respectively. Minnesota gave Castro an opportunity to address the fan base on Twitter recently by answering questions with the hashtag #AskJason.

Here are some of the highlights:
Twins Territory is among the most passionate fanbases in the game of baseball. It will be fun to see Jason's contribution both on and off the field.

I'm guessing the California mountains don't have much on Minnesota winters, but you have to appreciate a willing mind.

As a pitch framer, Castro no doubt incorporates advanced analytics into his game.

A personal and team achievement each, Castro has a history of experience across multiple different levels of achievements.

C'mon Twins Territorians, send him some suggestions.

McCullers has one of the filthiest curveballs in the game, so it's not at all surprising that the former Astros teammate gets the nod here.

It sure didn't take long for Jason to meet Sid...

And this is where Jason's Midwest education starts!

Castro will look to help the Twins pitching staff improve upon some league worst numbers next season, and he should be expected to be quite the upgrade from veteran Kurt Suzuki. Inked for the next three years, here's to hoping Castro is a part of the next Minnesota turnaround. Give him a follow on Twitter at @J_Castro15

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

A Twins Reunion That Makes Sense

Of recent, the Minnesota Twins have made a history of reuniting with players on the field that don't make a ton of sense. Whether it was Jason Bartlett, Matt Guerrier, or Jason Kubel, veterans on the tail end of their careers aren't a great move for a bad team. In hiring Torii Hunter, LaTroy Hawkins, and Michael Cuddyer as Special Assistants, Derek Falvey and Thad Levine seem to have picked a meaningful reunion.

While the trio will no doubt be asked to provide value, they are not in significant positions of power. Instead, as Special Assistants, they'll be called upon to provide their insight from both a player perspective as well as having significant ties to the organization and its inner workings as a whole. Sure, they could have been brought in as Spring Training figureheads, but there's no downside to this move either.

Then there's the bit of information I gleaned in reading over Mike Berardino's piece for the Pioneer Press. He noted that other Twins Special Assistants include Bert Blyleven, Rod Carew, Jack Morris, Kent Hrbek, and Tony Oliva. Of that group, there's a few thoughts that come to mind. I'd imagine both Carew and Oliva are more present in spirit than practice at this point given their age. The duo of Blyleven and Morris though are what jumped out at me in reading their names in Mike's piece.

When thinking about former players involved with current Twins happenings, there's few that come across as more aloof than Bert Blyleven. On the air, Bert rambles nonsensically about his Hall of Fame career while providing little to no game value. The Twins broadcast routinely grades out among the worst in all of baseball, and an astute listener can only put up with Blyleven for so long. While he's likely forgotten more about the game than I'll ever know, he's hardly someone I'd entrust with teaching today's game to up and coming stars.

Getting to Morris turns a different page entirely. While I think he brings significantly more to the air than most former players analyzing Twins action, he too represents a dated way of thinking. He's a big proponent of the pitcher win stat, and his chauvinistic comments from his playing days have really never left him. At the end of the day though, it's pretty clear that this new trio was necessary.

In looking at LaTroy, Michael, and Torii, the group combines a wide array of personalities. There's outspoken individuals as well as more reserved players. All have had the designation of clubhouse leader, and each has gone on to win elsewhere in recent memory and with adjusted perspective. While Torii is admittedly not a fan of saber metrics, and LaTroy doesn't mind mixing it up on Twitter, there's little reason to believe that a fresh and younger perspective to the game won't help the current club.

Admittedly I have no idea what the job of a Special Assistant entails, I'd be willing to guess the new grouping won't be simply telling stories of yesteryear to the young pups. This is far from a scholarship program that has played out on the field in the past, and it's a breath of fresh air to a group of Special Assistants that very clearly needed it.

While Minnesota needs to organizationally shift from a way of thinking that has allowed them to tread water for years, Falvey and Levine accomplish little by alienating those that could be in their corner. Hunter, Hawkins, and Cuddyer can now champion for the new regime while understanding the old, and there's some real benefit to that. We may rarely see what the actual results are from the dollars spent, but I'd bet that the net is a positive one.

Monday, November 28, 2016

2017 IBWAA Hall Of Fame Ballot

As is the case around this time of the year, Hall of Fame ballots are sent out. To Official Baseball Writers Association of America members, they are mailed and returned as such. Through the forward thinking Internet Baseball Writers Association of America, email is utilized to streamline the process. Once again, I have the privilege of completing a ballot.

Before getting into the selections themselves, I wanted to lay a few guidelines out. First and foremost, the IBWAA has already voted in the likes of Tim Raines, Edgar Martinez, and Jeff Bagwell. Voters also have the opportunity to vote for anywhere between one and 15 players, but may not turn in a blank ballot. My stance on performance enhancing drugs has been discussed previously, and you can find it here.

For players I have voted previously, I will denote them as such with an asterisk. I will also be using the same explanation as the previous vote. Without further ado, let's get into it:

*Barry Bonds: 164.4 fWAR

It's a no brainer. The all-time home run king (762) is arguably the best player to ever step on the field. A seven-time MVP, eight-time Gold Glove winner, and 14-time All Star, Bonds did it all.

*Roger Clemens: 133.7 fWAR

The Rocket is one of the greatest pitchers to ever grace the mound. He's won seven Cy Young awards, claimed an MVP as a pitcher, and was invited to 11 All Star Games. His 4,672 strikeouts were buoyed by leading the big leagues five separate times.

*Trevor Hoffman: 26.1 fWAR

At one point the All-Time saves leader, Hoffman's 601 career saves still rank second, trailing only Mariano Rivera. His career 2.87 ERA was is dazzling, and the seven-time All Star has a place in the Hall.

*Fred McGriff: 56.9 fWAR

The Crime Dog spent many of his early season among MVP discussions. Despite never winning won, he finished fourth in 1993. He was elected to five All Star games and won three Silver Slugger awards. It's his 493 career home runs that get him over the top and into the Hall however.

*Mike Mussina: 82.2 fWAR

Pitching his entire career in the AL East, Mussina was a household name for Yankees and Orioles fans. Making five All Star games, and winning seven Gold Gloves, Mussina has his fair share of awards. Totaling 270 wins, and just over 2,800 strikeouts, Mussina comes up just short of the guaranteed numbers.

*Curt Schilling: 79.7 fWAR

Bloody sock nonsense aside, Schilling is a three time Cy Young runner-up, and six-time All Star. He struck out 3,116 batters in his career and owns a 3.46 ERA while totaling more than 200 wins. Three World Series rings, an MVP, and a 2.23 postseason ERA do him favors as well. Since voting for him last year, Schilling has made plenty of splashes in the media. He's not well liked off the field, but the character clause is among the most dated pieces of inclusion into the Hall of Fame. On baseball merit alone, he's worthy of the nod.

*Lee Smith: 26.6 fWAR

When it comes to closers, before there was Trevor Hoffman or Mariano Rivera, there was Lee Smith. His 478 saves still rank third among major league career numbers, and likely will stand there for quite some time. Smith was also a seven time All Star.

*Larry Walker: 68.7 fWAR

Although he played the field plenty, Walker also turned in a nice run spending time in both the infield and outfield. He was the 1997 NL MVP and made five All Star games. His glove netted him seven Gold Gloves and his bat produced three Silver Slugger awards. Walker finished his 17 seasons with 383 homers and drove in over 1,300 runs.

Vladimir Guerrero 54.3 fWAR

Guerrero was a nine-time All-Star and picked up an MVP award in 2004. Even with all of his accolades, it's two defining instances on the field highlight his memory most for me. Few players have ever been better bad ball hitters, and his arm from right field remains one of the best the game has ever seen. In his first year on the ballot, Vlad is a no brainer.

Ivan Rodriguez 68.9 fWAR

Another first timer on the ballot, Pudge gets the nod immediately as well. With 14 All-Star appearances, 13 Gold Gloves, seven Silver Sluggers, and an MVP to his credit, Rodriguez is among the top three or four catchers to ever play the game. He did it on both sides of the plate and his 21 year career was a testament to his durability as well.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Twins Establish New Era In Free Agency

Recently, the Minnesota Twins made among the first big splashes in free agency this winter by signing catcher Jason Castro. He's not a bank-breaking starting pitcher, and he won't light the world on fire at the plate, but the acquisition sends all the right messages throughout Twins Territory.

First and foremost you must understand who Jason Castro is. Sure, a three-year, $24.5 million deal for a player with a .684 OPS might seem egregious in today's offensive era of baseball. Looking at the former Astros backstop through that lens would be shortsighted though. As it stands, Castro is an elite pitch framer, and has average caught stealing numbers, which makes him one of the best commodities in the game of baseball as it stands today.

In a previous piece about Castro, I said this in comparing him to the backstops Minnesota employed a season ago:
Per StatCorner, Jason Castro was the 5th best catcher in all of baseball in 2016 when it came to generating extra strikes for his pitchers. Conversely, only 19 catchers were worse than Suzuki, and the second worst catcher in all of baseball when it came to pitch framing, was his backup Juan Centeno.
Not only is this move indicative of the Twins helping out their pitching staff, and addressing pitching concerns in a more economical way, but the optics surrounding the move are promising as well. Derek Falvey and Thad Levine are nearly combined what former Twins General Manager Terry Ryan was in age. They were supposed to embrace the new age of baseball, and welcome in an advanced way of thinking. Around the game, it was Castro behind the plate who embodied that, Minnesota who was often linked as making sense, and the duo comprising the new front office that got on board.

Far too often, Terry Ryan made his mark in free agency by throwing money at need positions. When Minnesota needed starting arms, he gave ill-advised millions to the likes of Kevin Correia and Ricky Nolasco. When he did make a solid move, Phil Hughes for example, he doubled down and processed an early extension to turn what was a positive into a negative. While it's just their first order of business, Falvey and Levine addressed a need in both catching and pitching, did so economically, and upgraded themselves from what Suzuki and Ceteno provided them a year prior.

In a vacuum, the Jason Castro deal makes a ton of sense for the Twins. He's a superior player to Kurt Suzuki even at his worst, and he checks off boxes across so many other facets of the organization as well. It's probably a bad bet to presume that Castro once again finds his former All Star self for Minnesota. Even if he doesn't though, a career .699 OPS with potential to enter back above the .700 plateau this season, combined with his defensive prowess, makes his presence a welcomed one.

I'd hope that the Twins aren't too terribly involved in free agency the rest of the way with so many similarly capable prospects that appear on the cusp of production in house. That being said, Falvey and Levine's first move should provide plenty of faith that the new men in charge have a firm grasp on what they are trying to accomplish, and a strong understanding of exactly how to get there.

Jason Castro is a great signing for the Twins. The thought process behind the execution of bringing him in is even better.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

The Twins 2016: Diamond Treasure

If you're not familiar with this award designation, that's more than understandable. After reading through Patrick Reusse's Turkey of the Year last fall, I found myself moved to create a designation for the Minnesota Twins. The Diamond Treasure award was designed to shed light upon an area of the organization that provides excitement for the future while displaying roots in the past.

A season ago, the Diamond Treasure was given to Miguel Sano. After being talked about as a prospect for so long, and then producing at the big league level, Sano exemplified everything the Diamond Treasure is supposed to be about. He has long been a part of the organization's future, and finally, it all came to fruition at the big league level. While 2016 was far from what will likely be his best major league campaign, he continued to flash the promise that has long made him a can't miss prospect.

Looking ahead to the 2016 Diamond Treasure, there's a handful of ways the award could go. Top prospects such as Byron Buxton and Jose Berrios have just started to scratch the surface of their future potential, and both have long been heralded as key pieces of the future. Joe Mauer saw another tough season at the plate, but provided a near Gold Glove worthy performance in the field and has long been a Twins figurehead. While the on-field results were less than ideal in 2016, there were a handful of strong on field performances.

For the 2016 Diamond Treasure though, I can't bring myself to look past the organizational shake up at the top. This year's award is being handed to two of the newest members of the organization. The 2016 Diamond Treasure is none other than Derek Falvey and Thad Levine.

Now, to be fair, the duo has very little claim in roots that run deep within the organization. However, the Twins have long been tied to internal resources and processes. In hiring Falvey and Levine, the organization has made a monumental shift that they no doubt hope will springboard them into the future. Falvey and Levine both have a tenure with the Twins that can be measured in a matter of days, but their baseball experience runs incredibly deep.

Beyond the prospects and on field talent, there's hard to find a bigger reason to be excited about the future than what the front office looks like. Between them, Falvey and Levine provide a culture of winning, and both have been integral pieces in constructing winners for other organizations. The Twins continue to look back at the early 2000's when AL Central titles were a forgone conclusion. If there's a reason to believe those feats are once again achievable, it's because of the new leadership.

Expecting the new Chief Baseball Officer and General Manager to make their presence felt immediately is a good bet. They both appear ready to dig in and entrench themselves among what is currently the Twins culture, and continue to make it their own. As the transformation gets underway, takes place, and continues into the future, it will be by their direction that things succeed.

At the granular on field level, Minnesota has plenty of reason for excitement in the not-so-distant future. From a top down view though, it's because of Derek Falvey and Thad Levine that the organization appears to be breathing with new life.