Monday, May 8, 2017

Twins Must Re-Stack, Not Just Re-Shuffle

In the past few days, the Minnesota Twins have made more than a few roster shakeups. With Nick Tepesch hanging out on the 25 man roster waiting for his first big league start since 2016, the club also sent Danny Santana and Michael Tonkin packing. While those moves each have implications of their own, it's the corresponding moves that are telling for this club. To separate from what was, the organization must begin to do things differently.

Starting Tepesch against the Boston Red Sox during a weekend series, the Twins decided that Jose Berrios wasn't quite ready for the big leagues in 2017. Despite owning a 1.09 ERA .157 BAA and 9.5 K/9 with a 2.2 BB/9 in 33 innings prior to the tilt with Boston, Minnesota apparently needed more. Instead, Tepesch was sent out, having not worked since April 20, and having not been a real big league starter since 2014. The results don't justify the question, although Tepesch lasted just 1.2 IP, but it was a curious move at the time.

With Berrios, the idea has always been that he needed to work on more than just surface level production. Given that he's all but dominated the Triple-A level, pitch economy as well as command was always going to be the areas he needed to hone in on. However, it would appear that it's something he's done well to grasp this season, and could be a real asset to the Twins starting rotation.

Sticking with pitching, Minnesota DFA'd Michael Tonkin. In doing so, they opened up a 40 man roster spot, and chose to go with veteran reliever Drew Rucinski. At 28, Rucinski hadn't pitched in the big leagues since 2015, and had totaled just 14.1 IP at the highest level in his career. Across 277.2 IP at Triple-A, Rucinski had compiled a lackluster 5.74 ERA, hardly worth getting excited about. Despite Minnesota not having top arms like Mason Melotakis or Nick Burdi at Triple-A, they passed over names such as Trevor Hildenberger, D.J. Baxendale, or Aaron Slegers, who are in Rochester.

Not unexpectedly, Rucinski didn't fool many big league hitters, and gave up two runs on five hits over 3.1 IP in his Twins debut. It wasn't disastrous, but there's little reason to believe that the water level is much higher there. Given the fact he was added to the 40 man roster for that level of production, you'd hope the club could do more.

Rounding out the trio of moves was the expected DFA of Danny Santana. Much to the chagrin of Paul Molitor, Santana always seemed destined to be moved as soon as offseason acquisition Ehire Adrianza was healthy. As that came to fruition, the move was made, and Santana can now be had by any team in the big leagues.

Adrianza presents a clear upgrade with the glove, although he doesn't hit. That's probably a net positive over Santana, who couldn't field or hit, but Ehire is a weird peg for this club. Given Eduardo Escobar's role as the utility man for this team, watching the two coexist is somewhat of a puzzling ask. While Escobar doesn't possess a glove to the same capability, he's arguably the superior player, and Minnesota could definitely be better off with a more focused hitter off the bench (namely a right-handed bat).

What we can summarize though from the moves the Twins initially made, is a very real hope that this club isn't done. Drew Rucinski doesn't do much for a big league club, and Nick Tepesch seems all but washed out as well. Adrianza has value, but less so to this club, and the organization needs to work through a more ideal fit. These moves really signify the shuffling of deck chairs, and there's not much advancement made in any of the callups.

If the Twins are going to differentiate themselves from the previous regime, it's going to take place in raising the water level. Gone must be the days of replacing mediocrity with more mediocrity. Players like Jose Berrios don't grow on tress, but there's higher level talent on the farm than the likes of a Rucinski or Tepesch type, and giving those guys run is what needs to be seen.

As things stand now, I'd view (and hope) some of these moves as very short term or temporary. Given that notion, it's hard to be too up in arms about them currently. However, the shift towards more talent absolutely must take place. Minnesota can't continue to cycle in the same types of players and think change is going to come. Restack the deck and give yourself more opportunity, rather than simply reshuffling it and hoping that the cards fall differently.