Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Why Do Twins Doubt Themselves?

In 2016, the Minnesota Twins have been among the worst teams in baseball. While that's far from an ideal situation, the reality is that it's provided an opportunity for the organization to get a look at a lot of different players. In too many cases though, they haven't taken it. Why not remains a realistic question.

You can almost take your pick as to which players you may want to shake your head at getting significant time for Minnesota. Danny Santana has played in 75 games this season, Juan Centeno has caught 44, Ryan O'Rourke is currently on the big league roster, and Neil Ramirez was given over a month of poor performances before being sent packing. Over the course of the season, Paul Molitor has gone with plenty of low ceiling options.

Now, if the Twins were looking to field the team with the most veteran presence, there's probably some merit to their roster construction. The reality however, is that this team hasn't been good since the get go, and they really owe nobody anything. Poor performances didn't need to be compounded by lengthy stays on the 25 man roster. While Minnesota would have been promoting inexperience, it's that youth that is going to be relied upon to turn things around.

Highlighting the scenario as a whole is a current member of the starting rotation, Andrew Albers. Albers hasn't started a major league game since 2013, for a Twins team that finished the year 66-96 while also having Cole DeVries and P.J. Walters make starts. Since then, he was a failed starter in Korea (5.89 ERA in 28 starts), and played a game in the Atlantic League for the Lancaster Barnstormers. Now starting for Minnesota, he was added to the 40 man roster over a more deserving option in Jason Wheeler.

Wheeler, a 25 year old 8th round draft pick by the Twins, owns a 3.23 ERA in 23 Triple-A starts this season. He's not a high strikeout guy, owning just a 6.4 K/9 over 131 minor league starts. He pitched the final game for Double-A Chattanooga a season ago to win the Southern League title, and he's owned a 3.04 ERA in 2016 after resurfacing in Triple-A. By all measures, Wheeler has earned it at this point.

It's in these situations that the Twins appear to be operating with a confusing knowledge of their own organization. Sure, Wheeler is far from a sure thing, but when a 40 man roster move is needed regardless, putting the developed player with some upside in position to compete seems like a better bet than the castoff retread. In failing to understand these principles, the Twins turn an already bad season, into one that they learn little as well.

You have to ask yourself what the Twins may have been able to learn from Mitch Garver, D.J. Baxendale, or Jake Reed at the big league level right now. As rosters expand, they could easily be called up. No matter the 40 man situation, Minnesota is far from a position in which they don't have warm bodies occupying roster spots. Rather than lose and do so without purpose, using the stretch run as an acclimation process seems to be an ideal scenario.

At some point, you'd hope that the Twins would put stock in the players they've drafted, and seemingly developed. You can't assume they'll all work out, but rather than going out and cycling through the Neil Ramirez's and Edward Mujica's of the world, playing time at the highest levels for those expected to carry some realistic weight would be a good idea.

Sooner rather than later, the Twins need to understand (and covey that) what they have at their disposal, and actually use it.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Who Gets The Call In September?

The Minnesota Twins have played a lot of bad baseball in 2016. With the worst record in the American League, 49-81, the lone team below them in all of baseball is the hapless Atlanta Braves. In a matter of days though, we could see an influx of prospects from the farm as big league rosters expand. For a team looking for something of interest, this could be it.

For the most part, the big names Minnesota Twins fans have been clamoring for have made their debuts. Byron Buxton has gone back and forth, while Jose Berrios has followed suit as well. As the calendar turns to September however, there's a handful of guys that could be called up as the Triple-A season comes to an end.

Here's a look at some names we could be seeing in a Twins uniform not too far from now:

Adam Brett Walker- OF

Walker has betted .251/.313/.489 for Triple-A Rochester this season. once again, he's leading his respective league (the International League in this case) in homers with 26. A big power guy with swing and miss tendencies, he's posted a .282/.326/.520 line over his last 47 games. For someone already on the 40 man roster, Walker should be about as close to a slam dunk as it gets to join the Twins in September.

Mitch Garver- C

You could make a case for Garver to be in the big leagues already. He played in 95 games for Double-A Chattanooga this season owning a .753 OPS before earning his promotion to Triple-A. Since arriving in Rochester, he's totaled an .823 OPS in 15 games and he's caught 50% (26/52) of would be base stealers across both levels this season. I'd argue he should start 2017 with the Twins, and he's an immediate upgrade over Juan Centeno for Minnesota.

Daniel Palka- OF

If there's a reach when it comes to offensive additions on this list, then Palka may be it. His production looks very similar to that of Walker's, but he doesn't have the benefit of already being on the 40 man roster. Palka has hit 33 homers in 2016 between Double and Triple-A. Acquired from the Diamondbacks in exchange for Chris Herrmann, Palka has put up a respectable .247/.316/.523 line in 46 Triple-A games. He could take over the 4th outfield spot for Robbie Grossman to open 2017, and there'd be plenty more pop in his bat. Like Walker, he does strike out a ton as well, so I'm not sure Minnesota has room for both.

D.J. Baxendale- RP

If there was a guy who you can't blame for having some hard feelings when the Twins called up Alex Wimmers, it was D.J. Baxendale. The former 10th round pick owns a 1.19 ERA in 30.1 Triple-A IP this season. His 10.1 K/9 is the best mark since rookie ball, and now working as a reliever full time, he's excelled in the pen. Baxendale should be in the conversation to relieve for the Twins on Opening Day in 2017, and getting him a month of work sounds like a good idea.

Jason Wheeler- SP

When it comes to Triple-A starting pitching, Minnesota has exhausted most of it. The one player they have not yet called upon however is Wheeler. Not currently a 40 man guy, Wheeler owns a 3.23 ERA across 23 starts for Rochester this season. His 7.0 K/9 is pedestrian, but his 2.2 BB/9 suggests he limits damage. Wheeler isn't flashy by any means, but if we're looking for lefty options, Minnesota would be better served having him start than either Pat Dean or Andrew Albers.

Jake Reed- RP

Much later than expected, Jake Reed should be up with the Twins. I pegged Reed to be called up sometime in the middle of the summer. While he had an up and down time at Double-A Chattanooga, he's really settled in of late. For Rochester, he's made six appearances totaling 7.0 IP. One the year, he owns a 9.6 K/9 over 67.0 IP and that number will absolutely play in the Twins pen. He's a hard thrower with good stuff who can get big league hitters out. Like Baxendale, Reed should be a staple in the 2017 Minnesota bullpen, time to get him acquainted now.

Outside of the aforementioned players, it stands to reason that Minnesota will recall a handful of guys who have spent time with the big club previously. Jose Berrios could come back, Tyler Duffey will likely head to the majors, and Kennys Vargas could also see a return. Neil Ramirez, Logan Darnell, and Edqard Mujica represent former big leaguers not currently on the 40 man, which makes their chances tougher. There are two guys that I'd probably hold off on promoting however:

John Ryan Murphy- C

Acquired from the Yankees for Aaron Hicks, Murphy has been a massive bust. Not only didn't he perform at the big league level, but he's flopped at Triple-A as well. In 78 games, he's posted a measly .590 OPS and he's caught just 21% (10-47) base stealers. Garver has outplayed him since he got to Rochester, and Minnesota sending Murphy a harsh message going into the offseason is something I'd definitely be in favor of.

Byron Buxton- CF

It's not so much that I think Buxton needs a message sent, or isn't going to make it, as it is that we don't need to go down this road again. Simply put, he's not ready. Sure, he just won the hitter of the week award, but homers and average aside, he owns a 29/2 strikeout to walk ratio since his demotion back to Triple-A. That's awful, and largely demonstrative of his big league problems as well. Keep Byron on the farm, let him work on things through the offseason, and hopefully he wins the job out of spring training on his own merit.

We should have a lot more clarity in regards to what actually takes place over the course of the next few days, but for now it appears like the Twins could find some intriguing names on their roster down the stretch.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Paul Molitor and Twins Do In Berrios

Jose Berrios made his major league debut on April 27, 2016. He now has made nine starts for the Twins, the latest of which came today against the Detroit Tigers. As has been the case more often than not, he wasn't good. This time though, it resulted in Jose Berrios being demoted to Triple-A Rochester.

This is the second time Berrios has been demoted by the Twins this season. The latest occurrence though highlights a culture of ineptitude at the big league level. Everyone from Paul Molitor on down seems absolutely clueless when it comes to not only Berrios, but the majority of the young prospects supposedly tasked with revitalizing the organization.

On the season, Berrios owns a 9.24 ERA and is 2-4 across his nine big league starts. He owns a poor 35/23 K/BB ratio, and his pitches have been all over the strike zone. In hoping to fix that, Minnesota has recently gone with a committee approach. Molitor, pitching coach Neil Allen, pen coach Eddie Guardado, starter Ervin Santana, and even Hall of Famer Bert Blyleven have taken to observing the young Puerto Rican. The collective brain trust has failed, and done so miserably.

The issue I have with how things went down following Berrios' latest poor start is that the Twins come out looking clueless in the whole mess. A young 22 year old top pitching prospect just got shelled. It's not the first time, and his struggles haven't been consistently getting better either. Instead of letting him continue to work through it under the best coaches the organization should have, the big league club (and staff) simply washes their hands of him.

While with the Twins in his latest stint, Berrios was given direction by seemingly everyone with a mouth and the ability to walk to the Target Field pen. No doubt reeling with the amount of information and tweaks he was trying to make to his game, the process was absolutely experiencing more negativity than anything else. Rather than realize that this club is destined for 100 losses though, and Berrios continuing to work through things against the only competition he hasn't mastered, Minnesota gave up.

Earlier this season, Jorge Polanco was sent back and forth between Triple-A and the big leagues despite no reason for Minnesota to do so. Paul Molitor was clueless when it came to intitially utilizing Max Kepler. Heck, Byron Buxton is so wrecked that prominent national analyst Keith Law has suggested Buxton stay at Triple-A until he's traded to an organization that "knows how to develop him as a hitter" or Molitor and his staff is gone. The collective coaching staff at the highest level for the Twins is arguably a larger laughing stock than that of the clubs 48-79 record.

Don't worry though, Jim Pohlad has suggested that Paul Molitor will be the first thing inherited by his newly hired General Manager.

At this point, you can't help but to feel for the likes of Jose Berrios and Byron Buxton before him. Berrios doesn't have a good outing or two to spare him. Thankfully Kepler has 15 home runs, and Polanco has a solid average, otherwise the likelihood of Molitor continuing to mismanage them would remain high as well.

Going into 2017, there's nothing more important than Jose Berrios and Byron Buxton getting right at the major league level. The problem is, the Minnesota Twins don't have organization pieces in place to allow that to happen. Unfortunately, we got to see that on full display yet again.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Pitching In 2017? Twins Don't Need Any

Over the past few days, it seems the talk of Twins starting pitching has reared its head again. I talked about how bad it's been recently, and it probably can't be overstated. Right now, Minnesota has the worst ERA in the big leagues and it's not particularly close. They don't strike anyone out, and it's just not a great situation. A year from now though, they don't need pitching either.

Now before getting all up in arms, let's take a step back. It's nearly guaranteed that the Twins will lose 90 games this season, and they very well could find themselves staring at 100 losses for the first time since 1982. Regardless of the fact that Molitor and his bunched just missed the playoffs a season ago, they really aren't in a position to compete a season from now anyways. The most important factor for 2017 is that the new GM realize that, and construct the team with that reality in mind.

Over the course of the 2011 to 2014 seasons, the Twins were in no position to compete. What they did during the offseason though was to add warm bodies like Kevin Correia and Jason Marquis to their starting pitching staff. At that point, it may have been necessary with a less healthier farm system, especially on the pitching front. Right now though, that couldn't be further from the truth.

Here's the reality, the Twins already have Phil Hughes and Kyle Gibson as guaranteed rotation arms to start 2017. Assuming they don't trade Ervin Santana, he'll be at the top, and without DFA'ing Hector Santiago (which I'd be in favor of), there's just one spot left. That one spot is going to need to go to top pitching prospect Jose Berrios.

Therein lies the problem.

Minnesota could have as many as four of the five starting rotation spots filled, and only two of them may be around when this club gets back to relevance. If the hope is that 2018 sees Minnesota at the top of the AL Central again, that rotation should be led by Berrios. Behind the aforementioned group to open 2017, whoever is managing the 25 man needs to be getting significant looks at longer term options.

Trevor May's back is all but begging to go back to starting pitching. Adalberto Mejia is a top 100 pitching prospect Minnesota was flipped by the Giants for Eduardo Nunez. Stephen Gonsalves is nearly kicking the door down to be called up to the show, and he has both Tyler Jay and Kohl Stewart behind him. There's a ton of inexperience and youth among these names, but using 2017 as anything but a proving ground for the arms doesn't make much sense.

With the way things are set up, the bullpen should follow suit with the starting staff. Players like Jake Reed, Zack Jones, Trevor Hildenberger, D.J. Baxendale, Alex Wimmers, and even a healthy Nick Burdi should be given significant run in relief next season. While there's some spots already claimed, putting retreads ahead of the home grown talent doesn't stand to make much sense.

Now, it's absolutely fair to question the validity of each of these options (starting or relief) working out. There could be a handful of mediocrity among the options, and finding top tier players isn't an easy ask. That being said, making a move for an ace in a losing season before finding out what your internal talent looks like doesn't sound like a great ask either.

If you really want to deal Brian Dozier for a top tier starter, you can probably ask around. Given that he's 29 and not signed into any of his free agent years, I'm not sure that the return is necessarily what it's made out to look like. Outside of that scenario, hold onto your top prospects and actually play them. Turn 2017 into a big league providing ground. Get the kids' feet wet and make sure you know who's capable of leading you into relevancy during the 2018 season.

Prior to 2018, the Twins will likely have the same opportunity to make a deal in swapping prospects for a starter should they choose to do so. They'll likely have two more top 10 draft picks in their system, and a GM in place to actually turn things around should all be realities. Right now though, practice some patience and wait.

It may not be glamorous, but the 2017 Twins shouldn't be significantly different than this bunch. Move on from the holdovers and get the perceived difference makers from the farm up. After you've gotten some time to complete evaluations at the highest level, then figure out what's next.

Dozier's Dazzling Numbers For Twins

If you've been reading Off The Baggy at all this season, there's been no one I've been more all over the place on than Brian Dozier. From wondering if he's selling out too much, or becoming defiant in his approach during his down swing, to marveling at his uptick, his season has been a roller coaster ride. Since May 25 however, he's turned it on, and the results have been incredible.

At this point, you know what Brian Dozier is. He's a pull hitter, although doing so less often than in 2015 (just 54.9% of the time this season). He hits most of his homers to left field, and he's an adequate defender. This season, more of Dozier's fly balls are leaving the yard (15.8% HR/FB ratio) and he's hitting 32.9% of balls he puts in play with hard contact.

Let's end the statistical analysis there though and look at the ridiculousness of the numbers he's provided us in 2016.

In 2012, Dozier burst onto the scene during spring training. Many wanted him to come north with the club as the starting shortstop. He ended up being promoted in May and owned a career worst .603 OPS while playing a very poor defensive shortstop. Since transitioning to second base, Dozier has gone from non-prospect to relative national name.

Over the course of his career, Dozier has amassed 14.0 fWAR, which is already 25th best in Minnesota Twins history. Among franchise second basemen, only Rod Carew and Chuck Knoblauch have a higher total than Brian. Really, what fuels his rise though, has been the power numbers.

This season, Dozier has set a new career high in longballs for the Twins with 29 (excluding his wiped out shot in the Twins suspended game). Over the course of Major League Baseball's entire history, only 39 times has a second basemen hit that many. He becomes just the 18th second basemen in big league history to reach that plateau.

As things stand currently, Dozier is on pace to set career highs in multiple different categories. His batting average of .268 is well above his career mark of .245, and his .877 OPS is over 100 points better than his previous career best of .762 set in 2014. He's already tripled five times this season, another career high, and his 87 strikeouts have him on pace to post a career low by a longshot.

Considering the power output, Dozier also compare favorably across all of baseball position-wide. His ISO of .268 is easily the best mark of his career, and currently puts him 12th in the big leagues during 2016. That mark is higher than that of names such as Nelson Cruz, Giancarlo Stanton, Manny Machado, and Mike Trout.

Thus far, the Twins have played 125 games, meaning they've got 37 left to go. Calculating off of his current pace, Dozier would end the season with 38 homers. That would be the 9th highest single season total in Twins franchise history, and the highest by a player not named Harmon Killebrew. 38 homers would tie for the 7th most in major league history during a single season by a second basemen.

To summarize, Brian Dozier went from a fun spring training story, to a failed shortstop, to an incredibly polarizing second basemen. He's now one of the game's most legitimate middle infield power hitters, and the Twins are season production at levels they've never before experienced. To put it bluntly, Brian Dozier is a lot of fun.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Building The 2017 Minnesota Twins

There's no denying that 2016 has been a colossal disappointment across Twins Territory. Even if you weren't among the group of believers thinking this club could be a playoff team, you likely didn't see this level of disaster. That being said, it's probably past time to begin looking at next year. When doing so, maybe the most important factor is what names fill up the 25 man roster.

Here's some stipulations for this exercise. I won't be using trades to acquire anyone. First, I'm not a great matchmaker, and predicting who may or may not be available just isn't a rabbit hole I want to dive down. Secondly, I won't be taking any stabs at arbitration salaries. It's a complicated process, and while I'll note guaranteed salaries and any free agent dollars, I will merely mention players that will be arbitration eligible as well as referencing their 2016 dollars.

With that out of the way, here we go:

Starting Lineup (9)

  • 1B Joe Mauer $23 million
  • 2B Brian Dozier $6 million
  • 3B Trevor Plouffe Arbitration Eligible ($7.25m in 2016)
  • SS Jorge Polanco Pre-Arbitration
  • C Wilson Ramos $20 million (5 year, $100 million)
  • LF Eddie Rosario Pre-Arbitration
  • CF Bryon Buxton Pre-Arbitration
  • RF Max Kepler Pre-Arbitration
  • DH Miguel Sano Pre-Arbitration
I'm not of the belief that Brian Dozier should be dealt. He may be the Twins best trade chip, but having not bought into his free agent years hurts the Twins some. Play him up the middle with Jorge Polanco and let them be the catalyst of the Minnesota lineup. My thoughts on Plouffe coming back have been fleshed out here, although I'm nervous to see what he gets in arbitration. By allowing him to play the field, Miguel Sano can focus on being a hitter, what he does best.

Obviously the biggest splash here is the Wilson Ramos acquisition. He's the best hitting catcher in the big leagues, and that deal may even be a bit light. Considering he just turned 29 and won't be 30 until the end of next season, I'd look to wrap him up for at least five years. He'll have plenty of suitors, and there's no telling what his feelings towards the organization are. Minnesota has serious catching issues. Don't keep putting a band-aid on them, the new GM can make a splash and fix this spot almost immediately.

Bench (4)
  • Eduardo Escobar Arbitration Eligible ($2.15m in 2016)
  • Mitch Garver Pre-Arbitration
  • Daniel Palka Pre-Arbitration
  • Byung Ho Park $2.75 million
When it comes to utility infielders, it's basically between Escobar and Danny Santana for the Twins. I'm really not concerned about Santana being out of options, and his positional flexibility doesn't mean much when he's below average everywhere. Give me Escobar to spell the infield. I'm more than ok with the idea that Mitch Garver can leap frog recently acquired John Ryan Murphy. The former Yankees backstop has struggled all year, and the Twins home grown product has done anything but. Garver can spell Ramos when needed.

In this scenario, Palka essentially replaces Robbie Grossman, who I don't think has a place on the 2017 Twins. Palka's power is real, he should be a very capable bench power bat, and can start in either corner outfield spot one or two days a week. Palka will strike out plenty, but I think he's shown just a bit more than the other guy I considered here, Adam Brett Walker.

That leaves us with Byung Ho Park. 2016 has been a disappointment for the Korean slugger. He's been nagged by a wrist issue, but I think there's a significant learning curve he's struggling with too. 2017 may see him head back to Triple-A again, but from the get go, let him rotate in at first base and designated hitter.

Starting Rotation (5)
  • Ervin Santana $13.5 million
  • Phil Hughes $13.2 million
  • Kyle Gibson Arbitration Eligible ($586k in 2016)
  • Trevor May Pre-Arbitration
  • Jose Berrios Pre-Arbitration
Having nearly $27 million tied up in two average starters isn't ideal, but the rest of the Twins rotation comes on the cheap. I'd struggle with dealing Santana in part because of Hughes' injury concerns, as well as knowing the open market has next to nothing that you could replace him with. Minnesota will need to hope Hughes returns healthy and at least somewhat effective to start the 2017 season.

After the top two guys, it's youth all the way. Trevor May to the rotation is not something I've ever been convinced of, but his back suggests he needs to be back there. If he can pitch anything like he has as a reliever, Minnesota may have a high strikeout guy here which is something they desperately need. Speaking of strikeouts, Jose Berrios should provide plenty if he can get locked in as well. Something has to click, but I think he'll be fine.

I'd really rather see Adalberto Mejia in this five somehow, but I'm just not sure where he fits. If you deal Santana or Hughes can't stay healthy, then there's obvious room. There should be plenty of steam behind Stephen Gonsalves being an early season addition as well.

Bullpen (7)
  • Glen Perkins $6.5 million
  • J.T. Chargois Pre-Arbitration
  • Taylor Rogers Pre-Arbitration
  • Tyler Duffey Pre-Arbitration
  • Brandon Kintzler Arbitration Eligible
  • Michael Tonkin Pre- Arbitration
  • Ryan Pressly Arbitration Eligible ($520k in 2016)
There's some real concern as to whether or not Perkins is ever effective again. Either way, I'd start sliding Chargois into some save situations sooner rather than later. Rogers has been lights out for Minnesota this season, and I think it's just the tip of the iceberg. Light is another hard thrower, coming over from Boston in exchange for Fernando Abad, and he could help the Twins push the strikeout total in relief.

When it comes to holdovers, Tonkin and Pressly both seem no brainers for me from the get go. I'm not sure Tonkin is a long term option, but I think he's too good to cut bait with from the get go. Pressly has been one of the Twins best relievers since 2014, and the former Rule 5 pick continues to be as trustworthy as they come in relief.

Probably the toughest to pin down for me is Brandon Kintzler. He's pitched himself into the immediate 2017 plans for the Twins, but he's not a piece of the future either. Operating as a closer, he's done admirably. Striking out just 5.5 per nine though, there's little upside here. I think he warms a 7th inning spot for the likes of Jake Reed, Pat Light, or Zack Jones in the not-so-distant future. If Minnesota gets any trade offers for him, I'd move him immediately.

If there's a surprise in this group, it's my inclusion of former starter Tyler Duffey. He was a reliever in college, and his lack of a solid third pitch has hurt him significantly as a starter. He profiles as a guy who could be very good in short bursts, and even if he's your long man, the Twins are better positioned with him out of the rotation.

As things sit right now, I feel pretty good about the above landscape. Sure, players like Danny Santana and Kennys Vargas are jettisoned from the organization as they are out of options, but trading them prior to losing them would be a good way to go about things. I have a hard time believing the Twins are destined for greatness in 2017, but think the above provides a solid foundation to begin to go for it in 2018.

While there's not a massive overhaul, I don't think there really needs to be either. Seeing the Twins turn the page the past few months, this current group is capable of playing competitive baseball. If the 2017 group I've laid out can play good baseball on a nightly basis, they'll hang around .500 long enough to be relevant all season. At the end of the day, they're going to need to pitch, which has been the organization's downfall. The pen is set up to be creative and cheap, while the rotation relies on arms that should have higher ceilings than those that have been run out in the not so distant past.

Should the Twins spend this offseason, it needs to be at the catcher position. With a free agent class void of any real diamonds, throwing money around with capable internal options doesn't seem ideal. That may not provide fireworks, but keeping a focus on the future needs to be the goal.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Starting Pitching Remains Twins Biggest Mystery

Now with the 2016 Major League Baseball season quickly racing to a close, the statistical output for teams has a solid base. When looking at team compiled numbers, no longer is there such a thing as a small sample size. For the Twins, that spells disaster once again on the starting pitching front. As has been the case plenty in recent years, Minnesota has failed to get out of its own when way it comes to getting games off on a good foot.

In 2016, the Minnesota Twins own a major league worst 5.37 ERA for starters. They are joined by Oakland, Arizona, and Los Angeles as the only other teams with starting ERAs north of the 5.00 mark. When it comes to strikeouts, Minnesota is also dead last with a 6.70 K/9 total. Only the Brewers, Athletics, Braves, and Rangers have also failed to strike out at least seven batters per nine innings with their starters. The unfortunate reality for the Twins is that this isn't new.

Almost certain to lose 90 games again this season, Minnesota ranked 30th in ERA and 29th in K/9 during the 2014 season, last in both categories during 2013, 29th and 30th respectively in 2012, and 26th in ERA while being 28th in K/9 during 2011. During their long drought of losing, starting pitching has been a significant problem. Even in 2015 when the Twins made a surprising run at the playoffs, starters owned just the 15th best ERA in the big leagues, while compiling the 28th best K/9 mark. As has been the case for quite some time, starters that don't strike anyone out generally struggle.

Individually, only Jose Berrios owns a K/9 of at least one per inning (9.0) among Twins starters. Tyler Duffey is second best coming in at 7.53 K/9, and rotation ace Ervin Santana has compiled a 6.97 K/9, When looking for pitching help in recent seasons, Minnesota has made a habit of going for inning eaters as opposed to difference makers.

Should the Twins be looking to turn things around in 2017 and beyond, and renewed focus in regards to their starting pitching is a must.

Going into 2017, the Twins likely could be looking at just two veteran pitchers in Santana and Phil Hughes. If they can somehow get out from underneath Hector Santiago's roster spot (even DFA'ing him), three rotation spots should be up for grabs. You'd hope that one of those would be handed to Jose Berrios. Ideally things begin to click for him, and whatever the big league coaches haven't been able to unlock is figured out. From there, a return of Trevor May to the rotation makes sense, and the 5th spot could be decided between Adelberto Mejia or even rising prospect Stephen Gonsalves.

What is promising among the aforementioned group is that the latter three or four (Berrios, May, Mejia, and Gonsalves) are all capable of generating swings and misses. Minnesota may flip Santana, and Hughes is far from a sure thing given his injury issues. Regardless, a transition to a more dominant version of a starter is something that's going to be necessary for Minnesota to be relevant and competitive.

This whole importance of strikeouts is something that's been a shift over the landscape of major league baseball for some time. Thus far, the Twins haven't adapted and it's been to their detriment. What is worth noting however, is that a change can be made when it's actually concentrated on. In 2012, the Cleveland Indians found themselves 29th in K/9 and just four years later, they've vaulted up to 5th. Actually implementing the change is half of the battle.

Considering that a new GM is coming, and organizational changes will be made, there's reason to believe that Minnesota stops operating on old principles. If the Twins are going to compete, they'll need to start playing the form of baseball that the current major league landscape dictates. If starting pitching continues to be something Minnesota takes mulligans on, it won't matter how many top prospects come through the system.

As has always been the case, pitching reigns supreme, and the Twins getting on board with true starters is a must. A turnaround is more than possible, but it needs to be one that the organization commits to.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

In Minnesota, Target Field Still Reigns Supreme

On Friday night, I found myself attending one of the first events at the recently opened US Bank Stadium. The new home of the Minnesota Vikings has been long anticipated, and was shown off to a soccer crowd, and a handful of concert goers prior to its intended debut on Sunday August 28. My unfortunate reality is that I wasn't at all prepared for what I experienced during what can only be described as one heck of a party put on by Luke Bryan.

Let's start with the positives. US Bank Stadium has all of the grandiose feel down to an art from the outside. The building resembles a Vikings ship, and its glass clad exterior does a great job reflecting the beautiful city around it. Once you're in a seat viewing the playing field, or in this case the concert venue, The "new" Bank is at its best. Sightlines are near flawless, leg room is plenty, and everything from the dual video boards to the glass ceiling takes your breath away. Outside of that though, I'm going to be grasping at straws.

I want to preface the next part of this by saying that I'm a Vikings fan, and was genuinely excited for the Tajh-Ma-Zygi to debut. I wanted to love this place, to forget about the days of the Metrodome, and begin to consider how many games I'd line up to be at this season. What I experienced though prior to getting to my seat has me at the realization that I won't be at a single Vikings game this year, but more than likely, not any time in the near future either.

When proposing to build their new stadium, the Vikings listed a handful of different locations. If I remember correctly, one of the last alternatives was what was essentially a field out in Arden Hills. The stadium would have been the sole reason to travel there, parking would've been aplenty, and Minnesota Vikings football would have had an area to call its own. Instead, US Bank Stadium is built in the midst of a crowded portion of downtown Minneapolis that offers little to no incentive to be there.

Regardless of a terrible parking situation, the pre-stadium experience is nothing more than tailgate or perish. There's a handful (literally a handful) of bars (none anything to write home about, although we enjoyed Maxwell's) and Izzy's ice cream. Outside of that, you've got nothing to eat at within a reasonable walking distance, and the ambiance of a Cowboy Jack's, Pizza Luce, Hubert's, or any number of other options surrounding Target Field and Target Center are nowhere to be found.

When deciding to make the plunge to enter the stadium (roughly an hour and a half prior to the concert starting), it quickly became apparent how poor crowd control would be. Thousands of patrons were cordoned into tiny lines on public sidewalks and stood stationary for no less than a half hour. Despite assuming the problem was waiting every 20 seconds for a light rail train to halt the movement, the reality was that the security of choice was to filter fans through tiny tents with metal detectors.

Instead of employing a similar, metal detector in front of each door, walk through, scan ticket, type of scenario, US Bank Stadium has an oddly inefficient plan of action. Fans are forced through small tents with a handful of metal detectors about 200 feet from the stadium. Rather than allowing foot traffic to free flow into security, stadium officials have effectively bottlenecked their own process about as massively as could have possibly been done.

When entering US Bank Stadium through the Verizon gates, you find yourself below one of the large video boards and staring at the other. When the drapes are lifted on the glass at the far end of the stadium, a nice view of downtown Minneapolis is present. Turning either to your left or right though immediately makes you feel as though you're back in the Metrodome. Concrete surrounds you everywhere. The walkways, while significantly wider than the dated H.H.H., have no character to them whatsoever. A mural here or there may present itself, but for the most part, it's the underbelly of the stadium and does a good job making you feel as such.

Before you sit down, you'll likely want to grab yourself something to eat or drink. Sure, there's a handful of unique options (I mead who doesn't want a pound of lamb at a football game right?), but those will be even more outrageously priced than your standard fare ($5 for a water and $5.50 for a pop is market inefficiency at its finest). While you're chewing on the price your pocketbook will be asked to dish out, be aware you'll have plenty of time to contemplate. Whether it's waiting in line 30 minutes for a bathroom, 45 minutes for a beer, or somewhere in between for a plate of nachos, lines are absolutely the name of the game.

Oh and those lines, plan on them being in your way even when not intending to participate in them. A football stadium can only have so many shapes, US Bank Stadium follows that mold in being an oval. The problem is that far too often you've got bathrooms on one side of the aisle, and drinks or food on the exact other. This means walking with thousands of others down the middle has now become yet another bottleneck. Again, crowd control seems to be quite a oversight here.

At the end of the day, the Minnesota Vikings have built themselves something that will show incredibly well on TV, and be enjoyable from your seat. The experience built around that however, and considering the rising cost of ticket and food prices, will have you leaving with a feeling of emptiness. Sure, the Metrodome absolutely had to go. What this "new" Bank has done however, is make me reconsider how bad the cold really is at "The Bank." I enjoy football in front of a TV enough to not have to brave the winter at the Gophers home, but on an enjoyable weather day, I'm going to the college stadium 10 times out of 10.

It's hard to compare sporting facilities given their layout and structure, but in Minnesota, there's no question Target Field still reigns supreme. If that doesn't do it for you, The Bank trumps this "new" Bank anyways.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Jorge Polanco May Be What's Wrong With Minnesota

In 2016, very few things have gone right for any extended period of time for the Twins. Whether it be losing, injuries, or mismanagement, the group has not had a good showing coming off of a near playoff year (flukey as it may have been). There's one guy, and his situation, that may embody most of the shortcomings for Minnesota this season, Jorge Polanco.

Now, before you go leaping off the deep end, Jorge Polanco has been arguably one of the best players from the Twins in 2016. He's absolutely nowhere near their list of problems. However, the handling, utilization, and understanding of Jorge Polanco may almost perfectly describe a host of the Twins shortcomings this season.

Starting the year off down at Triple-A, Polanco was looking up at a roster that didn't seem to have much room for him. Brian Dozier was entrenched at second base, and at some point, the plan was for Miguel Sano to take over at third. Really, the only thing left up in the air was whether or not Minnesota had a real shortstop. For the better part of the first half, Eduardo Nunez played out of his gourd, earned an All Star trip, and held down the role. When he was flipped to San Franscisco though, it finally became time for Polanco to play.

By this time, Polanco had already been shuffled between Triple-A Rochester and the big leagues three different times. Each time he was called up, manager Paul Molitor seemingly didn't know how to use him. He didn't find time in the lineup, and he was passed over for lesser options. Molitor's public comments were of the vein that as a young player, there may not be much of a role for him one the big league club at the current juncture.

Here's the problem with that train of though, Jorge Polanco is 23 years old, and already out of options a season from now. He's one of Minnesota's best prospects, and there's very little track record of him being given any considerable run to showcase his talents at the highest level. On a team with a record among the worst in baseball, there's no excuse to continue to exclude him.

Finally, the training wheels come off. Since his most recent promotion he's played in 18 games for the Twins. Polanco has hits in 16 of those games, and has gone from hitting at the bottom of the order, to being among the top three. He owns a .347/.355/.440 slash line, and has been a catalyst for the Minnesota offense. If there was one thing known about Polanco, it's that his bat would play, and it has.

Then there's the other side of the equation, defense. Molitor shuffled Polanco around between third, second, and short to start. Despite knowing that two-thirds of those positions were supposedly spoken for, Polanco still being utilized as a utility type. It wasn't until his eighth game with the club, following his recall, that he finally played shortstop. Then, Molitor played him there three games in a row, and eight of the last 11 contests. The decision is only concerning because of the way in which we've gotten here.

Despite playing nearly 3,000 minor league innings at short in his career, Polanco played a whopping zero there this season for Triple-A Rochester. Although it appeared that was his best bet for consistent playing time, Minnesota operated using the idea that Polanco's arm wasn't strong enough for the role, as absolute truth and didn't manage their roster accordingly. Since, and with the understanding that it's a small sample size (just 72 innings), Polanco has been worth 3 defensive runs saved and posted a 1.8 UZR. Those marks make him easily the only productive defensive shortstop the Twins have had this season. Having had 40 chances now across his post-recall time at short, Polanco has committed just one error, and it was of the fielding variety.

At this point, Jorge Polanco is no more than long term answer at shortstop for the Twins than he may have been entering the season. What he has been however, is a tale of youth that has been underutilized, an organization that was ill-prepared, and a management style that doesn't suggest awareness of the positioning in the standings relative to the long term goals of the club. If Minnesota is actually going to rely upon their developed talent as they should be, knowing when to get the acclimated, comfortable, and productive is something that can't continue to be overlooked.

For now, Polanco may have given the Twins enough leash to save themselves, but this is a trend that can't continue to happen.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Trevor Plouffe Has A Home With Minnesota

Coming into the season, arguably one of the most head-scratching decisions the Minnesota Twins made was to load up on first basemen and designated hitter types. There was Miguel Sano, Joe Mauer, Trevor Plouffe, and then the acquisition of Byung Ho Park. Given the scarcity of at bats to go around, more questions than answers were present in regards to how it would all work. Now nearing the end of the 2016 campaign, it seems the most likely to be moved of the bunch, may have a future role.

Trevor Plouffe has not had the 2016 season that Minnesota hoped for after a solid 2015 campaign. Owning a .244/.307/.435 line a season ago, bolstered by 22 homers and 86 runs batted in, this season has been nothing short of a disappointment. Slashing just .259/.295/.399 his .694 OPS is the worst mark he's put up as a pro. Plouffe has just seven long balls, and he's played in just 65 of the Twins 120 games this season.

Therein is the greatest issue for Plouffe during the second year under Paul Molitor however, he just hasn't been able to stay healthy. Having taken multiple trips to the disabled list, it's hard to imagine Plouffe finding any ability to get into a consistent rhythm.

With the idea that a mulligan can be placed on his 2016 season, it's going to be decision time as to whether or not the Twins bring Plouffe back a year from now. Making $7.25 million this season, and entering his final year of arbitration, I'd be more than ok with that happening. I was a big supporter of the idea that Minnesota should've extended Plouffe last season, buying out his final two years of arbitration and one year of free agency, likely saving themselves money in the long run. Having not done that, the Twins will end up spending a bit more through the arbitration process, but that shouldn't deter them from Plouffe being at Target Field to open 2017.

Considering the log jam that was created, we've been given some clarity as to how the Twins can manage the group due to what's taken place this season. Joe Mauer is having his most productive season in years, and the reality is that it's come with him getting more rest. Byung Ho Park has struggled with a wrist injury most of the year, and hasn't yet proven he's capable of catching up to Triple-A pitching let alone the big league level. On the Miguel Sano front, his position is third base when playing the field, but elbow concerns have that looking like something that may not be an every day scenario.

Where does that leave Plouffe and the rest of the Twins infield cast? Likely in a constant shuffle, but one that can be tweaked on a game-by-game basis. Despite having a better approach this season, I still don't see Kennys Vargas as much more than a bench bat. He'll be out of options, and likely not clear waivers, but Minnesota could try and move him in a package deal this winter. Jorge Polanco can be given the starting shortstop job allowing Eduardo Escobar to rotate in. Polanco has the ability to play third as well, and can find time there, or in spelling Brian Dozier at second when necessary.

To summarize what Plouffe's position boils down to is to suggest that he remain flexible. Knowing that 2016 isn't a reflection of the production that should be projected for him, keeping his bat on your 25 man roster is a good idea. Plouffe can rotate in at third, designated hitter, first, and even play some corner outfield if need be. Right now though, there's not an internal option for the Twins that is substantially more reliable than what Trevor Plouffe brings to the table.

I don't expect Minnesota to realistically compete in 2017. That means Plouffe could potentially be flipped over the summer if that's what ends up needing to take place. Going into the year though, he should be seen more as a solution, than a part of the once perceived log jam.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Twins Building A Better Bullpen

Over the past few years, the Twins have put forth some pretty poor displays of baseball. From 2011-2014, they were among the worst teams in baseball and routinely found themselves behind the pitching curve. While every team clamors for top tier starting pitching, the bullpen is an area that can generally be turned around more quickly. It appears that Minnesota is finally conforming to some league wide trends.

After having some of the worst relief options in the big leagues the past few seasons, there's been some definite bright spots for Paul Molitor's club in 2016. Although the bullpen in its current form leaves plenty to be desired, there's some real pieces for the future out there. For the first time in franchise history, the Twins have five relievers (at least 25.0 IP) with at least 8.0 K/9, and could have a sixth (J.T. Chargois) join them by season's end.

When looking at the Twins pen however, there needs to be a disclaimer attached, simply stating this is a transition in progress. Minnesota still ranks 13th of 15 American League teams in relief ERA. Despite the strikeouts being heightened for some, it's not across the board yet either, as the Twins 8.52 relief K/9 comes in 8th across American League teams. Then, there's the realization that Twins starters have forced the pen into action far too often this season. The bullpen's 402. IP is second most in the American League and 8th in all of baseball.

So, that leads us to a point where we can take a quick glance ahead. Operating under the belief that a bullpen should either be good, creative, or cheap, Minnesota has some options that can fulfill a few different realities a year from now.

Recently, I wondered if we'd see over or under four of the current pen options on the 2017 Opening Day roster. Those options as they stand today include:

  • J.T. Chargois
  • Taylor Rogers
  • Michael Tonkin
  • Brandon Kintzler
  • Ryan O'Rourke
  • Ryan Pressly
  • Pat Dean
The results of the poll I posed asking that question had 58% of respondents taking the under. I'm not entirely confident in my belief, but I think we end up seeing five of those pitchers crack the Opening Day roster in 2017 with the Twins. Four of the five guys I would carry to start 2017 are plenty capable of striking batters out and holding leads. My group would include: Chargois, Rogers, Tonkin, Pressly, and Kintzler.

Right now, Minnesota has been forced into using Kintzler in the closer role. He's performed admirably thus far, but profiles better for a seventh inning type role. He strikes out just 5.4 per nine although he walks no one (just 3 BB in 39.2 IP). As a 32 year old with a final year of arbitration, he shouldn't be too terribly expensive, and continues to be a nice non-roster find. The worst thing Minnesota could do with Kintzler is to force him down the Kevin Jepsen path, asking him to continue to pitch out of the closer role, and expose him for an extended period of time.

That brings us to the final to relief spots, one of which is the closer role vacated by Glen Perkins. Expecting the Minnesotan to return to form would be a nice, but could be a fool's errand. Perkins has struggled to stay healthy for some time now, and I still am of the belief that the Twins significantly failed on their opportunity to capitalize on him by moving him two years ago. Regardless, he's likely going to be given the closer gig back to start 2017, and Minnesota has options in Chargois or Pressly should he falter.

With the final pen opening, the Twins could make a play at another non-roster guy, or give a long look to the list of internal options. Blaine Boyer and Kintzler have been recent NRI types that have worked, and Minnesota only needs to hit on one. Staying internally would mean considering Jake Reed and Zack Jones, or weighing options between injured arms Nick Burdi and Trevor Hildenberger.

No matter what, the Twins don't project to be significantly better a year from now. They should be looking to compete in 2018, and ironing out the pen prior to that point would be a good decision. Following the trend of strikeout arms that has taken over the big leagues is something that's nice to see the Twins on board with. Pushing the envelope and making sure there's an even greater output of strikeouts has to be something the organization demands from pitchers in the pen, as well as the rotation, for many years to come.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Is Eddie Ready To Be Every Day For Twins?

Eddie Rosario experienced a solid rookie season for the Minnesota Twins. He owned a .748 OPS, ripped off 15 triples, and was an outfield assists machine. There were some very real concerns as to how things were going to progress in his second season however. Now with some ups and downs experienced, are we ready to call Rosario a piece of the Twins future?

In 2015, Rosario played in 122 games for the Twins. He ended up being worth 2.3 fWAR, which ranked him 8th among American Leagued left fielders. If there was something Rosario was going to hang his hat on a season ago, it was his big league leading 15 triples, as well as his defensive prowess (16 assists 11 DRS). Unfortunately for Rosario, both of those areas are generally unrepeatable statistics.

Triples tend to be a by-product of happenstance. Of course speed is required to snag three bases in a single plate appearance, but a well placed base hit is generally a requirement as well. As far as outfield assists go, it's generally a fickle expectation to think a player will consistently put up gaudy numbers. In talking with Cold Omaha's Brandon Warne prior to the 2016 season, he surmised that assists were generally down slightly over time due likely to the fact that players aren't going to test a proven arm.

As could've been expected, Rosario has seen a dip in both categories that bolstered his performance a year ago. He has contributed just two triples over the course of 65 games, while contributing just five assists. In both instances, it appears that the expected regression did indeed take place.

Looking at Rosario though, the question has never been about whether or not he can hack it defensively or has speed. Instead, the concern has been whether or not his plate approach can hold up at the big league level. A free swinger that chases often and misses too much, it would need to be reigned in some to turn him into a big league regular.

So where are we when it comes to Rosario at the dish? Well, a season ago Rosario swung at pitches outside of the strike zone a ridiculous 45.6% percent of the time. He swung and missed 14.5% of the time and it equated to a .267/.289/.459 slash line. In 2016, he's chased 41.5% of the time while swinging and missing a heightened 16.1% of the time. Regardless, it's turned out to a near exact replica line of .269/.290/.438.

This season however, Rosario began with the big league club and was sent down after 32 games. Prior to his demotion, he was slashing a dismal .200/.218/.313 for Minnesota while chasing out of the zone 41.4% of the time and swinging through pitches nearly 20% of the time (19.6%). After going back to Rochester for both some refining and an attitude adjustment, he's returned to slash a very strong .331/.353/.551. When looking at his approach after heading back north, the chase rate remains high at 41.6% but his 13.1% swinging strike rate is the lowest it's been in his career.

So, what do we make of it all? Well, the reality is that a 40% chase rate isn't ideal in a vacuum, but Rosario is doing some things to make it work. First, he's improved his swing and miss ratio nearly 6% over the course of the season, and is now doing so less than at any point in his career. Rosario's contact percentage since rejoining the Twins is 76.2% which is also a career high. Then, if a guy is going to chase, you'd hope he puts the bat on the ball. When swinging at pitches out of the zone, Rosario is hitting them 70.7% of the time as opposed to a 64.5% mark over the course of his career.

In summarizing the situation, Eddie Rosario is not an ideal guy to model an at bat after. However, he's also made tweaks to his approach that allow him to take chances and benefit from them. He's a free swinger that has honed it in enough to make the process work. Expecting a guy like Rosario to hit near .300 at the highest level is probably always going to be a foolish bet. If he can make contact 75% of the time, swing and miss under 15% of the time, and barrel balls he chases at least 70% of the time, he should make things work.

Realistically, Rosario's approach and plate discipline is one that will take constant refining. He's never going to be able to not work at it, and that will have to be something the Twins impress on him. Committing to doing so though should continue to provide results that make him an above average player on a team that needs a host of them. Given what he's displayed this season, and what Minnesota has behind them, I'd pencil him into the future more quickly than I'd be looking to flip him.

Eddie Rosario does a lot of wrong things at the plate, but it seems as though he's put forth an effort to make them work for him, and right now it's paying dividends.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Is Molitor Mismanaging Minnesota?

The Minnesota Twins could arguably be in the midst of the most critical juncture in franchise history. Terry Ryan was fired mid-season, and the club is going to lose 90 games after narrowly missing the playoffs a season ago. Attendance is in the tank, and the organization is relying on youth to turn things around. The biggest issue though could be that Paul Molitor doesn't seem to have gotten the memo.

Over the course of the 2016 season, there's been plenty of instances in which Paul Molitor has made poor roster decisions, seemingly failed to connect with younger players, and put forth in game actions that leave an informed baseball fan scratching their head. To narrow things down a bit though, we can take a look into at least four different scenarios that leave plenty to be desired.

Regarding the youngster that's been the most productive, Miguel Sano was recently a recipient of a Molitor misstep. With Trevor Plouffe returning from the disabled list, and owning a paltry .682 OPS on the year, Molitor knew he had a roster decision looming. Regardless of being in a simple slump and still acclimating (albeit poorly) to a new position, Sano's name was brought up as a possibility to be sent to Triple-A.

As silly as that sounds for one of the most prolific power hitters in Twins history, it's even worse to consider that Molitor's motivating tactic was to drag his budding superstar's name through the mud. Sano has hit .353/.421/.882 since the disparaging remarks, as well as launching five homers in nine games. It might be fun to suggest that Molitor sparked something, but Sano's OPS was already .875 since July 1, and his nine home runs were more than welcomed by the Twins. In Sano, the Twins have gotten a guy whose strikeouts are mitigated by his immense power, and doing anything internall to stifle that it a silly decision.

Then there's the more recent example with Eddie Rosario. On August 9th, Rosario wore the Golden Sombrero striking out in each of his four at bats. Despite owning a .997 OPS in the 27 games since his recall prior to that game, Molitor decided his recourse for the rough day would be to put his youngster on the bench. On August 12, Rosario wore the Sombrero again, but Molitor decided to let things ride a day later on the 13th. Even with two awful games in August (through 13), Rosario is slashing .353/.377/.588. hardly worth riding the pine.

It may be fair to argue that Molitor was simply giving his left fielder a day off. That may be easier to pass through the sniff test if other actions weren't so contradictory. Rosario has consistently batted in the bottom three of the lineup, and particularly behind the aforementioned Plouffe. Prior to his injury, Plouffe owned a .682 OPS, and in the five games since his return, it's a dismal .369. Either Molitor has an unfortunate lack of statistical understanding, or Rosario is another case of a Molitor misstep.

Following the same vein as that of Rosario, Byron Buxton may be the biggest misstep thus far for not only Molitor, but the entirety of the Twins big league staff. The consensus number one prospect in baseball owns a career .349/.411/.571 slash line at Triple-A, but has yet to figure it out at the big league level. His major league struggles could be in part due to the initial jump from Double-A to The Show, but that can't continue to be the reason.

Sure, Buxton has hit every single time he's gone back to Triple-A, but the way in which he gets there is troubling at best. After scuffling at the big league level, it appears Molitor and Co. simply want to wash their hands of him, send him packing, and hope he figures it out. Rather than work through things at the level he needs to learn, the developmental curve has been stunted by the group of big league coaches.

Buxton has seen an improving strikeout rate over the course of the 2016 season, but things still aren't where they need to be. Rather than work through those struggles in the big leagues for a 90 loss team, Buxton is sent back to pepper the baseball against underwhelming competition. Molitor has drawn negativity from National writers in regards to his coaching ability, and none have been more vocal than ESPN Insider Keith Law. In his latest Klawchat, a question as to what advice should be given to Buxton is posed. Keith Law answers in saying, "Stay there [Rochester] and hope either Molitor & staff are replaced or that you're traded to an organization better quipped to develop you as a hitter."

At the end of the day, the list of detractors doesn't stop with singular stories when things relate to Molitor. Still riding the wave of a team that outperformed statistical expectations in 2015, strapping Molitor to whatever General Manager is tasked with righting the ship starts things off on the wrong foot. He's a great player that's a mediocre coach at best, and his handling of Minnesota's youth has been one misstep after another.

Friday, August 12, 2016

What If Twins Never Signed Joe Mauer?

If you've paid any attention to one of the most criticized parts of the Minnesota Twins over the past handful of years, you've been made aware of the large contingent of fans upset over Joe Mauer's $184 million contract. Despite being the fourth-largest deal in MLB history at the time, and the largest ever for a catcher, it seemed to make perfect sense from the get go. Now more than six years later however, there's still plenty wondering (and even wishing), what if it never happened?

Let's set the stage. At the time he signed his contract, Joe Mauer was a soon to be 27 year old coming off of a second straight All Star appearance (third overall), and having won his first MVP award. He was a three time batting champion, Mauer owned a career .327/.408/.483 slash line, and he had collected two Gold Gloves to go with his three Silver Sluggers. Maybe the cherry on top of it all, the former first overall pick, was a St. Paul native and accomplishing it all for his hometown team.

Then on March 21, 2010 it happened. Prior to his final arbitration season, and headed into free agency, Minnesota locked up Mauer. He was given an eight-year, $184 million deal with a full no trade clause. Effectively, Joe Mauer was made a Twin for life.

So what if Minnesota never went down that road? What if Mauer simply played through his final arbitration year, making $12.5 million, and was dealt to a new organization? You have been refreshed on the production and the awards, but what did the external landscape for the Twins look like?

Taking a speculative approach for the purpose of this piece, lets assume the Yankees would have had significant interest, as would've the Red Sox given how well Fenway Park would play to Joe's strengths.

Heading into 2016, the top 10 prospects in baseball as decided by Baseball America included Jason Heyward (braves), Stephen Strasburg (Nationals), Mike Stanton (now, Giancarlo Marlins), Jesus Montero (Yankees), Briant Matusz (Orioles), Desmond Jennings (Rays), Buster Posey (Giants), Pedro Alvarez (Pirates), Neftali Feliz (Rangers), and Carlos Santana (Indians). There's some big names in that list, and there's some relatively big misses as well.

Let's hone in on the Yankees and Red Sox though. Starting in New York, their top two prospects in 2010 were both catchers: Montero, and a guy named Gary Sanchez. Behind them was Dellin Betances, Manny Banuelos, and further down the line, Eduardo Nunez. The top 10 prospects for Boston at the time included names like Casey Kelly, Jose Iglesias, Anthony Rizzo, Josh Reddick, and Garin Cecchini.

At this point, it's pretty easy to check off which of those prospects have amounted to something, and which haven't. Trying to be as fair as possible, the expectation that two top 10 prospects would head to the Twins seems like a good bet. Asking the Yankees for something like Sanchez and Betances, or the Red Sox for Iglesias and Rizzo seems like it could be fair.

So, let's assume that there wouldn't be any backlash for the Twins trading Mauer in the first place (a showstopper and a fool's errand, but whatever). From the Yankees side, Sanchez is just debuting so it's far to early to evaluate. Betances is one of the game's best late inning relievers, but he didn't become a dominant star until 2014, at the age of 26. Now 28, he'd be a nice piece to have in Minnesota, but hardly the missing link pushing the club into contention.

In terms of the Red Sox, Iglesias has been a defense first shortstop that owns just a 4.9 career fWAR since his 2011 debut. Still only 26, he's got time on his side, but expecting a peak to be much high probably isn't likely. Anthony Rizzo is easily the biggest name from above, and was moved from Boston, to San Diego, and eventually to Chicago. Making his debut with the Padres in 2011, he's since gone on to be an MVP candidate for the Cubbies, and own a career 18.4 fWAR at 27 years old.

Whether or not the trajectories and outputs of the aforementioned players would remain the same is far too much to assume. Regardless, a best case scenario looks like a set of players producing roughly 25 fWAR combined since 2010. So what has Joe Mauer been up to since his deal?

Having been worth 32 fWAR through the 2010 season, Mauer has now been worth 14.4 fWAR since signing his deal. After an injury shortened 2011 season (playing just 82 games), Mauer rebounded to become an All Star again in 2012 (4.5 fWAR), and 2013 (5.2 fWAR). Concussions forced him out from behind the plate (a premium position) and into his new role at first base. He's been far from the same player, despite having a solid 2016 season.

In trying to equate some financial equivalence to Mauer's production, we have to look no further than Fangraphs (again). From 2004-10 Mauer was worth $182 million while being paid $34.025 million. After 2011, Mauer has earned $138 million (by season's end), and has been worth $104.7 million (currently). Added together, Mauer has been paid $172.025 million to date, while being valued at $286.7 million.

At the end of the day, Joe Mauer isn't going anywhere for the Twins. His contract isn't an issue, and the fact that he doesn't hit a zillion homers isn't a massive downfall. What is reality though is that Minnesota is likely better off having hung onto their superstar (the backlash had they not likely would've been even worse), and both parties were dealt an unfortunate blow when brain injuries became an issue.

Trying to retroactively dictate the past is an interesting premise. This is one though that the Twins appear to have put the right foot forward.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Do Twins Create A Utility Duo?

At different points during the 2016 Major League Baseball season, the talking point regarding Danny Santana and Eduardo Escobar has came up. Both players present similar skillsets, and the likeliest scenario is a utility type position going forward. The question is though, do the Twins choose to roster both players a year from now, or is their only room for one Swiss Army Knife.

First, the less flexible of the two, Eduardo Escobar. While Escobar has made a home at shortstop, he's been passed up at different points this season by potentially more intriguing options. To start it was All Star Eduardo Nunez, and of recent it's been top prospect Jorge Polanco. When considering all possible options, Escobar can find his way into the lineup at third, short, and second base. Despite having played the outfield before, that time period has almost assuredly (and for good reason) come and gone.

In 2015, Escobar slashed .286/.350/.524 from August 1 through the remainder of the season. His .874 OPS was among the best for shortstops in the big leagues, and his eight long balls in that timeframe helped to give him a career best 12 on the season. In 2016, the results have been less, but the playing time has also been more sporadic. Across 70 games thus far, he's slashing .257/.283/.386 with just five home runs and 12 doubles. His .669 OPS is the lowest mark since 2013, his first full season with the Twins.

Defensively, Escobar has taken big steps backwards this season. After posting a 2 DRS and 2.6 UZR at SS in 627.1 innings last season, he owns a -7 DRS and a -4.3 UZR across 511.1 innings this season. He's logged just 10.0 combined innings at both third and second this season as well, meaning his positional flexibility is more in principle than reality.

At the end of the day, Escobar has taken a few steps backwards in more of a reserve role this season. He's been league average posting a 0.0 fWAR and has slipped each of the past two seasons (2.4 fWAR in 14, 1.5 fWAR in 15). Off of the bench though as a fill in player, it's hard to argue against him having done his job.

Then there's Danny Santana.

Santana is two years the junior to Escobar at 25. He's out of options, but looking to pass him through waivers hasn't really been a considered option at any point this season. His .261/.300/.357 line is a far cry from the .319/.353/.472 he posted in his rookie season, but with a BABIP in 2014 above .400, we knew that was never going to be sustainable.

You can definitely point to Santana's .657 OPS being less than ideal. After hitting seven homers in his first 101 MLB games, he's hit just two in his last 157. Across 207 at bats in 2016, Santana has only 14 extra base hits, and despite his prowess for speed, he's been caught stealing (9) nearly as often as he's stolen a base (12).

When finding Santana's greatest asset, there's little reason to look at anything but his ability to spell players all over the diamond. Over the course of the year, Paul Molitor has played Santana at eight different spots. Operating as the designated hitter on occasion, Santana has played every defensive position aside from first base and catcher.

The caveat to Santana's defensive flexibility, is that he's generally below average across the board. He was awful at short a season ago, he hasn't been a good centerfielder in over 300 innings this year (-7 DSR -2.9 UZR) and his time in both corner outfield spots has been brief at best. Essentially, he's a body that is able to fill a need as opposed to holding down a role.

Going into 2017, I'm not sure the Twins will have to make the decision as to whether or not they keep Eduardo Escobar or Danny Santana. There's a very real possibility that the 25 man roster has room for both players. Minnesota doesn't project to be significantly better a year from now, and filler players like both of the aforementioned names have a place in that type of situation.

If you're Santana or Escobar, looking at the roster construction probably provides some reason for optimism as well. While both seem destined to operate as bench fodder, there isn't another infielder or utility type on the 40 man roster not currently at the big league level. On top of that, there isn't a surefire fit for someone to overtake that role at Triple-A or Double-A in the near future either.

Should the Twins have to make a choice, I think I'd lean towards keeping Eduardo Escobar, I think the bat has significantly more play, and that the defense can turn around some. I'm of the belief that Santana's best days may be behind him, and with an approach that doesn't get on base nearly enough, couple with a defensive ability that breaks down to simply wearing a glove, his usefulness is more in theory than practice. A year from now, both guys could still very well be with the Twins, but if one has to go, I'm ok with it being Santana.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Is Grossman A Twin For The Future?

On May 20th, Robbie Grossman made his debut with the Minnesota Twins. After starting the year in the Cleveland Indians organization, Grossman saw opportunity through the Twins farm system and jumped ship. Playing just one game with the Rochester Red Wings, Grossman was headed to the big leagues. The question now is should he stay there, at least for the Twins.

In the 2008 Major League Baseball draft, Robbie Grossman was a 6th round pick out of high school by the Pittsburgh Pirates. He was rated the 76th best prospect in baseball by Baseball Prospectus prior to the 2012 season, and he made his big league debut in 2013 with the Houston Astros. Through his first three big league seasons Grossman owned a .240/.327/.341 slash line. He never flashed any real power, but was a solid on base contributor.

For the Twins, Grossman has experienced nothing short of a revolution. In 64 games with Minnesota, Grossman owns a .266/.392/.436 slash line. He's hit a career best seven home runs, and his 14 doubles tie him for a career mark with 49 games left to go. His defense has been anything but average. With a -12 DRS number and a -7.2 UZR, Fangraphs sees him as essentially Josh Willingham out in left field for Minnesota.

Right now, Grossman's contribution to the 2016 version of the Minnesota Twins is largely irrelevant. Really though, that's only because it's a microcosm of what the 2016 Twins have become. This is a lost season for Paul Molitor's squad, and no results are going to matter much in the grand scheme of things. What Grossman is doing, and is fighting for, is a place on this team and in the organization going forward.

So, what exactly does that look like? Well, Grossman's bat has played to a capable, if not above average level. His power is not along the lines of a corner outfielder, but his advanced on base rate is something any time would enjoy putting ahead of power hitters in their lineup. In the outfield though, he's essentially been the 2012 version of Josh Willingham, and could finish the year with worse numbers than the 2008 version of Delmon Young. Weighing out both the detractors as well as contributions, the next place to look is at the competition.

At Triple-A, there's only two realistic big league prospects; Adam Brett Walker and Daniel Palka. A level further down, Zach Granite and Travis Harrison could be in play, but won't be ready come Opening Day 2017. So, let's take a look at the two current Triple-A options.

Both Palka and Walker present similar skillsets. They are hitters first, with a ton of power, and a relatively high strikeout rate. Walker has the weaker arm of the two, but is also the one on the 40 man roster. Palka was acquired prior to 2016 in exchange for former Twins backstop Chris Herrmann. Between Double and Triple-A in 2016, Palka is slashing .264/.343/.533 with 27 homers, 141 strikeouts, and 51 walks. Adam Brett Walker has played the entire season at Triple-A and owns a .243/.310/.481 line with 22 homers, 164 strikeouts, and 37 walks. Being on the 40 man, it's a pretty good bet he may see time with the Twins in September.

So, where does that leave us to open the 2017 season, and what is Robbie Grossman up against? Let's assume that the starting outfield includes Max Kepler, Byron Buxton, and Eddie Rosario from right to left. Buxton is probably the biggest question mark of the group, but you can bet a new GM will be wanting to make sure he rights the former consensus top overall prospect's ship. With Danny Santana continuing to be loved by the organization, and out of options, he seems a good bet to return as a utility player that draws a good deal of time as a rotating outfielder. In this scenario, you've probably got room for one more true outfielder on the 25 man roster.

If it comes down to whether or not the Twins keep Robbie Grossman, or roll with one of either Daniel Palka or Adam Brett Walker, a smart choice could be in choosing one of the latter two. Walker doesn't have nearly the on base prowess, and while Palka doesn't either, he's not as far removed. Both of the Twins home grown options have a significantly more realistic power component to their game though, and should play defense at least at a comparable level.

My opinion relies largely upon two factors: What happens to Byron Buxton, and what can you get for Robbie Grossman? If Buxton isn't on the 2017 Twins Opening Day roster (things are bad already), that means Eddie Rosario is your starting centerfielder, leaving left field up for grabs. In that scenario, carrying both Robbie Grossman and one of the two Triple-A guys could make a lot of sense.

To answer the second question, the Twins will have to do their homework. Experiencing a solid season at the age of 26, and turning 27 prior to the 2017 season, Grossman still arguably has his prime ahead of him. Not arbitration eligible until 2018, and not a free agent until 2021, he could be a nice piece for a club closer to contending. If the return is worthy of flipping him and going with the other internal options, I'd put some serious thought into it.

For now, Robbie Grossman has played himself into a realistic big league roster spot for the forseeable future. Whether or not that continues to be with the Twins or not is the only thing yet to be determined. The pieces are still moving, but they should work themselves out.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Someone Else Give A-Rod A Chance

Alex Rodriguez will play his final game for the New York Yankees on Friday. It's the end to a saga that seemingly has such a sad trombone effect to it. No matter what you feel about Alex Rodriguez the human, or even the ballplayer, this doesn't feel like how the script was supposed to end. Then again, I'm not really of the belief that this is it either.

I have no idea what the contractual obligations boil down to. Rodriguez isn't a free agent until the 2018 season, at which point he'd turn 43 in the middle of the year. The Yankees were on the hook for $21 million next season, and there was $30 million allotted for marketing purposes tied to home run milestones. Throw all of that away though, forget the money, and just assume Alex Rodriguez isn't done.

After hitting 33 homers and owning an .842 OPS a season ago (his best mark since 2010), Rodriguez has fallen off of a cliff in 2016. He owns just a .609 OPS and has cracked just nine big flies in 62 234 plate appearances. What's worth contextualizing though is the way in which Rodriguez has been utilized this season. After starting 18 of the Yankees first 22 games (with an ugly .185/.274/.400 line to show for it). He's drawn just 37 starts in the last 89 games, with just 28 of them being on back to back days. The last time A-Rod started a game was July 30, and he hasn't started two days in a row since July 21-22. At this point in his career, he's far from a regular, but finding a rhythm with that schedule can't be easy either.

Assuming that one way or another, Rodriguez sorts his contractual obligations with the Yankees out, he'll be free to sign with another team. On a one year deal, I'd love to see it happen, and I'd love to see it happen for one reason. Alex Rodriguez has 696 career home runs, and I want to see him hit four more.

You can probably all but guarantee that Rodriguez will never surpass Babe Ruth's 714 homers, and he's not going to come anywhere close to Barry Bonds or Hank Aaron. 700 is within his grasp though, and watching him clutch it would be an all time great baseball moment. Over the entirety of Major League Baseball's existence, only three players have surpassed the 700 milestone.

Babe Ruth entered the 700 home run club on July 13, 1934. Hank Aaron became the second player to join the club, 39 years later on July 21, 1973. Barry Bonds turned the duo into a trio when he launched number 700 on September 17, 2004, 31 years after Aaron's feat. Now, just 13 years after Bonds, we could watch Rodriguez make it a part of four. Seeing two players hit 700 home runs in my lifetime is something I selfishly want to see take place.

I've outline my stance on PED's previously. If you missed it, you can read it more in depth here. In short, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and yes, even Alex Rodriguez all belong in the Hall of Fame. Trying to arbitrarily rule after the fact as to what is right and wrong is something that has no business in baseball. I have as much of a tough time with A-Rod the person, or at least the perception of him, as the next guy, but the feats he's accomplished in this great game can't be ignored.

Some point in the not so distance future, I hope the Yankees cut ties with A_Rod. He doesn't need a plaque in Monument Park (though a case could be made for one). He doesn't need a celebration or a sendoff. No, he just needs a brief chance from one team willing to celebrate history.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Buxton Remains Twins Biggest Hurdle For New GM

Over the weekend, Byron Buxton was demoted back to Triple-A. With Trevor Plouffe returning from the disabled list, Paul Molitor needed a roster spot for the veteran. Miguel Sano wasn't going to go back to the farm without a fight, and Kennys Vargas has put up decent numbers in his latest stint with Minnesota. That left the top prospect the odd man out, and now things are starting to get real for Buxton and the Twins.

It's been just over a year since Byron Buxton made his major league debut. In that timeframe, he'll now be experiencing his third demotion back to Triple-A. Over 46 games a season ago, Buxton batted .209/.250/.326 at the MLB level. He's recorded 63 big league games this season and has slashed .193/.247/.315 across that time span. There's some reason for hope, but there also has to be significantly heightened results at some point soon as well.

Here's what Buxton progression has looked like in his big league time thus far:

  • 6/14/15-6/24/15 .189/.231/.270 15/2 K/BB 38% K/PA
  • 8/20/15-10/4/15 .217/.258/.348 29/4 K/BB 29% K/PA
  • 4/4/16-4/24/16 .156/.208/.289 24/2 K/BB 49% K/PA
  • 5/31/16-8/5/16 .204/.257/.322 56/11 K/BB 33% K/PA
It's hard to call any period of time that Buxton has spent with the Twins a success at this point. He was baseball's consensus top prospect and has failed to live up to the hype offensively for any period of time. That being said, his final stretch with the Twins of late had to have provided the brightest ray of hope.

Looking back at the production the Buxton has put forth, the greatest change in his recent stop was the ability to strike out significantly less than what he did to start 2016. However, for a speed guy and contact hitter, fanning in one-third of his plate appearances is far from ideal. He's been caught off balance far too often, and is generally fooled by offspeed pitches. At the Triple-A level, Buxton hasn't struggled with those areas, but hasn't yet made the transition either.

Right now, it's tough to feel good about Buxton going back to Rochester yet again. He's got all of the tools to succeed but hasn't been able to put it together. When at Triple-A however, he looks like a superstar and is well above the level. His focus on the farm absolutely needs to be recognizing pitches, and commanding a stronger presence in the batter's box. With a 14.2% swinging strike rate thus far in his career, upping the paltry 69.3% career contact rate needs to be his goal when he returns to the Twins.

There have been suggestions that part of Buxton's struggles have been due, in part, to those he is being taught by. Keith Law has mentioned multiple times that Paul Molitor and the current staff likely isn't the best group for developing some of the Twins young stars. In finding and hiring a new GM, unlocking Buxton's ceiling needs to become priority number one for the decided upon candidate.

I would have liked to see Buxton continue to struggle through his issues at the major league level the rest of the way. He's very clearly got a firm grasp on what the level below has to offer. That said, if it is Molitor and Brunansky that aren't getting through to him, maybe more time spent out of their hands is what Buxton may benefit from.

At the end of the day, Byron Buxton is a 22 year old uber prospect that has every ability to succeed within his grasp. It's far from time to panic, but the hope has to be that he puts it all together sooner rather than later. Should the Twins turn the corner as a franchise, it will be on the backs of Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

These 62 Twins Seem More Realistic

Through the beginning of the 2016 Major League Baseball season, the Minnesota Twins were the worst team in baseball. Paul Molitor's club lost their first nine games, and they were competing on a nightly basis with the Atlanta Braves to see who could pile up losses at a faster pace. Over the past 62 games though, the Twins have looked like a much better representation of what should have happened this season.

Out of the gates, things were bad for the Twins. Through the end of June, Minnesota owned a -112 run differential and an ugly 25-53 record. It wasn't a much better situation than their 11-34 start through the initial 45 games of the season. A team that was expected to be carried by youngsters and supplemented by veterans had fallen flat in every imaginable way.

Recently though, a significant corner has been turned. Sure, over the past few days in Cleveland, the Twins have set the world on fire. They've scored double-digit runs in three straight games for the first time dating back to 2010. Despite facing one of the best pitching teams in the big leagues, Minnesota has made waves with offense.

It's not tied completely to the output in Cleveland though. Across their past 62 games, Paul Molitor's club has played what breaks down to .500 baseball. They are 32-30 in that span, and have been even better of late. Since July, Minnesota owns an 18-11 record and has outscored opponents by 44 runs. The turnaround has been drastic, but it's been more indicative of what should have been expected from the get go.

Sure, Brian Dozier hitting over .300 since June 1 is probably something nobody saw coming. Max Kepler was expected to be a solid contributor, heck I called him a dark horse for the American League Rookie of the Year, but what he's doing now far surpasses those expectations. While the script has been completely flipped, it's the sum of those parts that lands somewhere that it really should be.

Coming into the season, Minnesota was seen by many around Twins Territory as a potential playoff team. After making a late season run a year ago that was masked somewhat substantially by luck, the playoffs as a possibility may have been a fools errand from the get go. More realistically, this group could've been cast as a competitive club that hung right around the .500 mark for most of the season. The AL Central didn't have anybody that was seemingly going to light the world on fire, and Molitor's group could settle in somewhere in the middle.

After getting off to such a poor start, the hole this team dug itself was substantial. If for no other reason, the struggle costing Terry Ryan his job was a necessary evil. The organization needs to clean house and build differently for the future. That being said, continuing at a blistering pace (as has been the case over the past month or so), is less important that simply staying the course.

Should the Twins be able to finish out the final two months of the season playing competitive baseball and toeing the .500 line, you can look back at 2016 as a significantly different season than it appeared destined to be. While not at all where the club wants to be right now, there's a lot less negativity at this point than there was just a matter of weeks ago.

In short, this Twins club is much more the team it was the past 62 games than it was the first 45. What remains over the course of the final 55 is yet to be determined, but continuing to fall somewhere in the middle ground is a pretty good bet.