Monday, July 31, 2017

A Change Coming In The Twins Dugout?

Now into the final third of the 2017 Major League Baseball season, the Minnesota Twins have somewhat mapped out their destiny. Selling off short term assets, they will be positioning themselves to make a playoff run in 2018. In the first year under Derek Falvey and Thad Levine, the club was in somewhat of a feeling out period. Over the offseason, the biggest change could come in who heads up the dugout.

Paul Molitor was given a one-year grace period by owner Jim Pohlad. Despite mixed results his first two seasons, Molitor was saved as Pohlad mandated that whoever take over for Terry Ryan, keep the current manager in place. Now in the last of a three-year deal, Molitor has nothing to fall back on, and management could go a different direction.

When hired, Molitor was up against a group that included names such as Doug Mientkiewicz and Torey Lovullo. The other names in consideration were significantly younger than he was, and had a bit more going for them in terms of managerial experience. Molitor was a guy I backed, and thought made sense, but as we've seen, it's been a bumpy road. It's hard to go backwards and consider what could've been at this point, but the past three years lay a blueprint for Minnesota to avoid.

Chief among the issues that plague Molitor are in game decision making, and his relatability to younger players, which is currently the lifeblood of the Twins future. Regarding in game decisions, Minnesota's skipper has done everything from pinch running in odd situations, to making head scratching bullpen moves. In relief, Molitor has latched onto a few guys each year, and ridden them into the ground. For 2017, that name has definitely been Taylor Rogers. Despite running an overflowing bullpen for the bulk of 2017, the same select arms have been used.

There's been select games that one could point to in illustrating bad in game managing or bullpen usage, and there's also been a concerning trend of the same mistakes being made. For Molitor, it seems to boil down to a lack of experience, or an inability to best position the Twins for success. Being paired with help like Jeff Pickler this year, it's probably not something that has gone unnoticed by the men in charge.

Outside of the in game decision making, there's been a confusing inability to develop youth. While not in the clubhouse or involved in any conversations, it appears from the outside that Molitor struggles with relating to the backbone of Minnesota's core. Whether it be Jorge Polanco, Miguel Sano, Byron Buxton, or some other name, Molitor has dropped the ball at times over the past three seasons. Young players have either gone underutilized or put in odd situations at times, and knowing they represent the organization's future, that's more than a little concerning.

In reality, managers in baseball come in somewhere along the middle of the spectrum as far as coaches go. They maybe don't make as many impactful decisions as coaches of other sports do, but the few opportunities they get each night, can have a big influence. Employing an average or mediocre manager may not matter in the standings, but an above average or good choice can absolutely steal you a game or two. Conversely, someone below average as I would argue Molitor has been, can cost a few games over the course of a season. That hasn't mattered in recent memory for Minnesota, but a team with playoff aspirations as soon as next year should want more.

As things stand right now, I'm not sure where Derek Falvey and Thad Levine may turn. I do believe they'll go elsewhere to manage the 2018 Twins, and I don't think they can be faulted for that practice. Molitor is finishing out his contract, and I can't see a scenario in which Minnesota or another organization is lined up to give him more run. Paul Molitor the player was a great one, but as a manager, the Twins will need something more a year from now.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Fixing The Mound For Minnesota

We're well past the halfway point in the 2017 Major League Baseball season. With the Minnesota Twins now looking at both the Kansas City Royals and Cleveland Indians above them in the AL Central, growth is more the focus than the playoffs the rest of the way. Once again this season, pitching has been a problem for the Twins, and 2018 can be a tide turning moment.

For the past handful of years, the Twins have found themselves in a circular state of rebuild. There's been bumps in the road however as management has made missteps in acquiring free agents, and development on the mound hasn't been what you'd have hoped. In 2018, the Twins will be looking at a division full of opportunity, and a lineup ready for a pitching staff to support. Through moves the rest of the way, and over the winter, they can blaze a new trail in the year ahead.

By the end of the week, Paul Molitor's club will have run out 12 different starting pitchers in 2017. That's a high number for the season in total, and being it's only July, something the club will want to avoid a year from now. Looking for five guys to round out a playoff contender in 2018, here's who the Twins should be considering:

Jose Berrios

Start first and foremost with the internal options. Berrios has come into his own in 2017, and while he hasn't been consistently lights out, he's shown the ability in short bursts. Through 14 starts, Berrios has tallied a 3.76 ERA and an 8.4 K/9 to pair with a 2.7 BB/9. You'd still like to see a heightened level of command, but he's been much more good than bad.

Adalberto Mejia

Arguably one the greatest return in a trade for Minnesota in quite some time, Mejia has looked the part of a rotation fixture. He doesn't have a high ceiling, but at the back of the group, you could do a whole lote worse. Through 15 starts he owns a 4.10 ERA and has compiled a 7.6 K/9 to go with a 4.1 BB/9. Pitch economy is something he's struggled with this season, and he'll need to limit high counts and walks to take the next step forward. Still just 24, there's plenty of reason to believe he's capable.

High-Level Free Agent

For all of the hand-wringing the past few seasons in regards to not spending or acquiring talent, 2018 represents Minnesota's first true opportunity to be open for criticism. With a lineup ready to take the next step, and plenty of money coming off the books, there's zero reason not to spend and supplement from outside. Adding a big name hurler isn't going to come cheap, but there's a few sensible options out there. Thad Levine has familiarity going for him with Yu Darvish, and while 2017 hasn't been great for Jake Arrieta, the Cubs pitcher could be a good option as well.

Mid-Level Free Agent

If the Twins don't trade Ervin Santana, and I'd be in favor of them doing so barring a fair return, then they'll need another similar type of arm. Santana has flashed some really good stretches, and putting someone of similar ability in front of the Twins defense could produce consistent results as well. Names among this group probably include Jeremy Hellickson, Chris Tillman, Lance Lynn, Tyler Chatwood, or Alex Cobb

A Fight For The Fifth

Rounding out the group, Minnesota could call upon their depth. Trevor May is probably the most talented among the group, but remains a question mark in coming back from Tommy John surgery. Top prospects like Stephen Gonsalves and Fernado Romero will factor in here, and getting them exposure in 2017 seems like a good plan of action. A holdover like Kyle Gibson could make sense if the Twins bring him back as well.

Entering the 2018 slate, it remains apparent that the biggest detriment to Minnesota taking the next step is on the mound. The core for a solid team is there, and the division presents opportunity. Adding from the outside and committing to go for it seems like the logical path to travel. Now let's hope something similar takes place.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

The Dreaded Middle Ground

As the 2017 trade deadline quick approaches, the Minnesota Twins find themselves in what amounts to a less than enviable situation. Despite losing a franchise record 103 games a year ago, the turnaround has put them near the top of the AL Central. At 49-50 on July 26, they find themselves 4.5 games back in the division race. That makes decision making that much more critical.

Thus far, the Twins have suggested they will be buyers of long term assets, yet their only move has been to acquire two month rental, Jaime Garcia. The aforementioned Garcia gives the club a nice starting boost while surrendering Huascar Ynoa doesn't hurt them to any real extent. While the trade in and of itself doesn't hurt the club, it doesn't signify any real stance on how they'll approach the rest of the year.

Beginning on July 26, 30 of the Twins final 64 games come against teams with losing records. The bulk of that competition hails from the AL Central, thanks to poor efforts from the White Sox and Tigers. They do get the Athletics, Blue Jays, and Padres down the stretch as well, so there's plenty of opportunities for wins. On the flip side of that coin, both the Cleveland Indians and Kansas City Royals have a similar amount of divisional games left.

Despite the exciting results thus far in 2017, the realistic expectation is that this current Twins club isn't a playoff contender. There's always an argument to be made that going for it when the opportunity presents itself makes sense; after all, anything can happen if you can simply get in. For Paul Molitor's club though, it's virtually division championship or bust. The hometown nine is currently three games out of the second Wild Card, and the Yankees aren't going anywhere. They'd need to be better than the Royals, Rays, and Mariners to be a real player for that final entry into a one-game playoff.

As the rest of the trade landscape takes place, Minnesota finds themselves in an enviable position even if they stand pat. The club is bolstered by a young contingent of players that are under team control, and can be counted on to contribute, for many years to come. A lineup with Sano, Kepler, and Buxton seems to be one that will continually be run out year after year.

Wading in the middle ground, the Twins have some expendable assets. They could probably garner some sort of return for the likes of Ervin Santana, Brian Dozier and Brandon Kintzler. Of that group, only Kintzler is a free agent after the year, and the former two are likely unaffected trade-wise if dealt over the winter.

Right now, the reality for Minnesota is that their internal core is one that already exists. At this point, taking the next step has to come from supplementation. By spending on a couple of free agents, whether through the rotation or the lineup, the Twins 25 man can rise to the next level. There isn't that next top tier prospect ready to provide an immediate impact, and allowing the group to be bolstered by a credible big leaguer or two is something that could put the current contingent over the top.

The fact of the matter is that the middle ground isn't an entirely enviable place to be. Fans void of a winner for some time will be clamoring for the club to make a realistic run. Sacrificing what 2018 appears to be doesn't seem like a solid tradeoff. Playing good teams like the Dodgers, will expose the Twins as the lopsided run differential club they are, but they'll have plenty of wins to grab the rest of the way. Expect an up and down final couple of months, but know that 2017 isn't the spectacle you've been waiting for.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

When Depth Becomes An Issue

When trying to set up a major league team for success over the course of a 162 game season, depth is something that every organization strives to possess. Sometimes however, depth becomes a clogging glut of similarity, and ends up being a detriment when trying to push the needle. Right now, the Minnesota Twins could find themselves in that category. The revolving door has continued on the mound, and there doesn't appear to be an end in sight.

After making his second start for the Twins, Bartolo Colon was given another opportunity to take a turn. Despite reports that he was mulling retirement, the bigger issue is that the results were less than lackluster. In two turns for Minnesota, Colon has fared poorly the second time through the lineup. He's allowed opposing hitters to go 8-19 with a triple, two home runs, and three RBI. Despite both starts coming against great offenses (Yankees and Dodgers), Colon hasn't shown any ability to be reliable.

The problem for Minnesota, is that the depth behind him provides lackluster alternatives. Kyle Gibson was recently optioned back to Triple-A Rochester. It comes on the heels of seven shutout innings against the Tigers, but is the result of a poor 6.08 ERA on the year. Gibson hasn't taken the assumed steps forward, and while he's flashed ability at times, has struggle more often than not. Right now, he's probably a better option than Colon, but that's arguably splitting hairs.

Going down the line takes Minnesota to Hector Santiago, who's currently on the disabled list. While the severity of his injury isn't known, the reality is that he wasn't good before being placed there. Santiago owns a 5.63 ERA across 14 starts and has given the club consistently poor starts. He'll likely be reinserted into the rotation at some point, unless of course the Twins want to eat his remaining salary and DFA him.

In acquiring Jaime Garcia from the Atlanta Braves, Minnesota gives themselves a realistic fourth option. Being able to pair him with Ervin Santana, Jose Berrios, and Adalberto Mejia, they have another arm that they can count on giving the ball to every fifth day. The problem that continues to remain however, is depth that really provides no solutions. Whether Colon, Gibson, or Santiago is run out there, none of the trio should be given turns at this point. Because depth has essentially boiled down to warm bodies, the Twins don't have much to gain in starts from any of them.

At some point the organization could turn the keys over to the likes of top prospects Stephen Gonsalves or Fernando Romero, but it doesn't appear like that move is on the immediate horizon. Over the course of 2017, the back of the rotation has been handled by giving opportunities to dart throws. Everyone from Adam Wilk to Nick Tepesch has gotten their turn, and the results have been virtually as expected.

It's a pretty big ask for any big league club to have lights out starters even at the bottom of their rotation. Every team needs pitching and that's why it's always overpaid and at a premium. However, for Minnesota, the depth has resulted in a group of guys being cycled through one after another. For a team that's been in the thick of a division race, they've been in a spot where giving up a loss every fifth day is nearly the expectation. At some point, you'd hope that depth has some upside.

While the season wears on into the end of the summer, Minnesota will need to do everything they can to grasp at whatever playoff hopes they may have. Prospects don't always come up and blossom right away, and even the established veteran is far from a guaranteed thing. The Twins have lulled themselves into believing depth is adequate however, when nothing they run out there gives them any better chance to compete. Having depth with some reasonable upside is one thing, but simply putting names on a roster isn't an equivalent scenario.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Twins Bench Provides Room For Growth

Whether looking at the 25 man roster as it sits currently, or how it will be constructed a year from now, the Minnesota Twins have opportunity through their bench. In winning more games against other big league clubs, the goal needs to be raising the water level of your weakest link. For Paul Molitor's club, there's some ample opportunity for growth.

On July 24, the Twins employ a bench of three players. Due to the extra (and frankly unnecessary) bullpen arm, the reserves rotate between a group of Eduardo Escobar, Chris Gimenez, Ehire Adrianza, Robbie Grossman, and Jorge Polanco. While none of those players are a black hole, the group itself has plenty that can be worked on.

Looking at the starting roster, there's probable cause for each player to be a relative mainstay for the immediate future. Save for the shortstop and DH roles which are aided by the rotating bench, Minnesota virtually has their lineup claimed. In working towards a better overall talent level, a new bench construction could be a strong place to start.

Of the four aforementioned players, Polanco is the one that sticks out. He's a guy that hasn't owned an OPS south of .600 since he was 16 in the Dominican Summer League. His bat was his calling card for the majors, and while his defense was above-average to start the year, that's regressed to more expected results. Now with a .578 OPS and out of options, the Twins are forced to stash him and allow the 23 year old to work through his problems at the highest level. Ideally you'd like him to go back to Triple-A and iron things out, but his spot isn't necessarily an egregious bench usage.

As a fourth outfielder and designated hitter, Robbie Grossman drew rave reviews through the early part of the season. He's a patient hitter that forces a pitcher to throw strikes, and he simply gets on base. Over the past 33 games however, he owns just a .218/.321/.286 slash line. The .607 OPS is bolstered by no power, and he's contributed just eight extra base hits. Not being able to play an average level of outfield defense, there's plenty more to ask from a designated hitter. Grossman was a great story in 2016 owning an .828 OPS in 99 G, but the regression has set in and he's slipped well off that mark.

Maybe most valuable of the group is Eduardo Escobar. Experiencing somewhat of a breakout in 2015, Escobar owns a career best .768 OPS this season. He's not a great defender, but being average at three positions around the diamond makes him an asset. His nine homers are the second most in his career (12 in 2015), and he's become a much more significant on-base threat (as witnessed by the career best .328 OBP). If you're filling out a bench, Escobar is the ideal candidate to take a spot.

I had questions early on in 2017 as to whether or not Ehire Adrianza and Escobar could coexist. They offer virtually the same thing, with Adrianza being a whiz with the glove despite not hitting at all. Getting into 32 games for Minnesota, Adrianza has a career best .766 OPS. He doesn't generate any power, but he's been good for a timely single when needed. On a three man bench however, a backup catcher and Adrianza taking up two of the spots can be costly. Even in a four man rotation, having near identical players in Escobar and Adrianza seems to drop the ball a bit.

That takes us to the backup catcher in Chris Gimenez. A natural clubhouse leader, Gimenez has posted a .689 OPS on the year. It's his best mark since 2015, and second highest total of his career. While that's great for him, the offensive production in that role is virtually non-existent. Gimenez has been average at best behind the dish, and that may warrant Minnesota looking elsewhere.

Whether or not the Twins make any significant moves in 2017 or not, there's positions to be had on the big club. Mitch Garver seems an immediate boost over Gimenez giving the club plenty in terms of flexibility as well. There isn't a great argument to be made internally when looking at replacing Adrianza, but it stands to reason that a trio of middling infielders all rotating may be wasting a spot. Maybe Zack Granite can chip into Grossman's necessity, but that remains a slow play at best.

Going into 2018, there's room for Minnesota to add offensively. While the bulk of the lineup may be set, and for quite a while, outside help could grab a few extra wins. Having additional firepower in reserve, and knowing it's more than just a placeholder, puts a club in a very good spot. While the 2017 Twins have surprised, the core of a solid team is there, with areas of improvement to take things to the next level.

Continue The Twins World Series Fun

Over the weekend, the Minnesota Twins celebrated the 1987 World Series Champions. On the 30th anniversary, the vast majority of the roster was in town to put the excitement of the organization's first World Series on display. Now with the festivities over with, another Minnesota original can continue the fun all summer long.

Pick and Shovel Wear is a Minnesota clothing brand that I've heard plenty about. Whether advertising on podcasts like Gleeman and Geek or showing up on many a Twitter feed, they're a company with plenty of intrigue. While not solely a baseball brand, Pick and Shovel has a very nice baseball line. Featuring batting stance shirts as well as the grizzly beard of former hurler Jeff Reardon, there's plenty of nostalgia to go around.

Made in Minnesota, Pick and Shovel offers a handful of clothing options that are sure to pull at the heartstrings. With local sourced designs, the inspiration stemming from the Land of 10,000 lakes is pretty evident in each offering. You could be the 1,000th fan to walk through the gates of Target Field wearing a Joe Mauer jersey, or you could go with something more original.

That's where Off The Baggy comes in. i'd encourage you to check out on your own to pick up something new, but they've also been gracious enough to give something away. Over the next week on twitter (follow @tlschwerz), I'll be running two separate contests to win one of the 1987 and 1991 batting stance shirts from Pick and Shovel. You can see the designs below. Make sure you're following and enter to win, you won't want to miss out.

Again, there's plenty of baseball fan apparel out there, but rarely do you see something homegrown do it so well. Pick and Shovel has created a strong offering of Minnesota originals, and you'd be wise to take notice.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

The Next Twins Bat Is Ready

As the summer has drug on, the Minnesota Twins have been noted to need some right handed hitting help. Whether the roster is constructed with eight relievers, or the more efficient seven, a boost could be given to the 25 man with a strong hitter on the right side of the plate. For quite some time, Mitch Garver has made a case to be that guy, and it's time to take notice.

Thus far this season, Kennys Vargas has been shuttled between Triple-A Rochester and the big leagues six times. He's often been the guy sent down when a spot is needed, and he's been the easy choice with his production lacking. While the home run power is obvious, Vargas has posted a .723 OPS in 176 at bats, but owns just a .291 OBP in 2017. He has hit eight long balls, but his 54/10 K/BB ratio continues to drag him down. Add in the fact that he's been well below average defensively, and Minnesota simply can't find a reason to carry him.

If there's an opportunity for a new name the next time the big club decides to make a move, it's absolutely worth considering Garver. A 9th round pick in the 2013 MLB Draft, Mitch Garver has predominantly been a catcher in the Twins system. This season at Triple-A, he's branched out to playing first base and left field more often, only expanding his flexibility. Behind the dish, he's at worst an average receiver, and he's consistently thrown out one-third of would-be base stealers in his time as a pro.

Garver started to gain some real intrigue after a strong second season as a professional with Cedar Rapids. Postin an .880 OPS with 16 homers, there was excitement surrounding the New Mexico native heading into 2015. After scuffling for Fort Myers, he used a strong Arizona Fall League showing to bolster the last two years of his career. With a .764 OPS at Double and Triple-A a year ago, Garver's .915 OPS in 2017 takes his career up a notch. Consistent all season, Garver has already hit 13 homers, and ripped 20 doubles for the Red Wings in 2017.

When looking at his numbers as a whole, it may be easy to overlook just how good Garver has been of late as well. Over the course of his last 31 games, Garver owns a .328/.389/.630 slash line with 12 doubles and eight long balls. On the season, his .884 OPS against righties is solid, and his 1.005 OPS against lefties is downright incredible.

With the Twins currently opting to go the extra pitcher route, they've found themselves using the likes of Jorge Polanco and Eduardo Escobar as the designated hitter. Bench bats have included Chris Gimenez and Ehire Adrianza. When on the roster, Kennys Vargas has played first poorly. Robbie Grossman has shown significant limitations in the outfield, and the 25 man as a whole continues to clamor for a more versatile righty.

It would be foolish to expect Garver to come up and be some sort of a savior for the Twins club. A catcher first, any other position will see some drop off as a secondary position. Also, while hitting the snot out of the ball at Triple-A, he's a 26 year-old rookie that would likely need some time to adjust to the next level. What's also foolish to expect, is that Garver isn't up to the task.

Thanks to the lackluster play of the Cleveland Indians, the Minnesota Twins find themselves in the thick of the AL Central division race. Squeezing out extra wins by raising the water level on the roster with players from within seems like a solid strategy. Mitch Garver represents a clear upgrade for the hometown nine, and it's time he gets his shot.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Twins Hoping Rosario Can Make It All Work

Over the course of the past three seasons, no young player has been more polarizing for the Minnesota Twins than Eddie Rosario. Despite being an early adopter on his bandwagon, and ready for a breakout in 2015, I've been nothing short of a skeptic since 2016 and beyond. In 2017 however, he's having his best offensive year as a big leaguer, and small tweaks are the big story.

After a slow first two weeks to start the season (in which Rosario slashed just .186/.239/.209), he's been a necessary lineup fixture for Minnesota. Despite being consistently tied to a high likelihood of chasing pitches and flailing outside of the zone, he's seemingly been intent upon abandoning those descriptors and has turned over a new leaf. From April 18 until July 17, Rosario owns a .307/.341/.508 slash line. While he's still struck out significantly more than he's walked (51/13), the ratio has turned for the better on both sides.

Over the three years he's spent in the big leagues, the drastic strides at the plate this season are showing themselves numerically. Owning a 24.9% and 25.7% strikeout rate the past two seasons, he's cut the number to just 19.5% in 2017. He's struck out less because of having gone from a 14.5% swinging strike rate in 2015 (and 15.3% last year), to 12.6% this season. Swinging at less pitches out of the zone (38% in 2017 as opposed to 45.6% in 2015) is no doubt going to raise the water level as well.

During his debut season, only the Red Sox Pablo Sandoval (47.8%) and the Orioles Adam Jones (46.5%) chased pitches out of the zone more often than Rosario's 45.6%. Swinging through 14.5% of pitches he took a hack at, Rosario also fared 10th worst in baseball among hitters in 2015. Thanks to his increased discipline, he now ranks 17th lowest in baseball when it comes to chase rate (bad, but much improved), as well as 41st in SwStr% (which is a big leap). As witnessed by his swings and misses outside of the zone since 2015 as well, pitch recognition is something he's vastly improved upon.

While Rosario is far from an elite hitter at this point, it's no coincidence that his slight changes have helped to post his first big league OPS above .300. As things stand currently, he also paces the Twins with a .289 average. Still a work in progress, enough can't be made about the strides Rosario has made at the plate for Minnesota.

Unfortunately, the downside to the offensive growth is the defensive slide. After tallying a ridiculous 12 assists from left field to go along with 10 defensive runs saved, he's fallen off. In 2016, his big league efforts resulted in basically a league average fielder, and this season, he's been worth -7 DRS and -2.2 UZR. Although Twins fans have dealt with the likes of Robbie Grossman, Josh Willingham, and Delmon Young in left field, Rosario hasn't been any sort of steadying presence this campaign either.

There can't be enough noise made about how important Rosario's offensive changes have been. As the defense now holds him back, the wonder continues to be whether he can put it all together. Rosario at his best presents a dream outfield scenario for the Twins, but he'll need to present the reassurance that he's still capable of that. It's pretty crazy to think that we'd reach a point of Rosario being fine offensively while lacking in the outfield, but here we are. Minnesota needs him to come full circle, and doing so soon would be a nice boost.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Deadline Comes As Twins Time Begins

It's July, so there's nothing that will be asked more often over the next couple of weeks than whether or not competing teams should buy or sell. Maybe surprisingly to some, the Minnesota Twins find themselves in the thick of that discussion. What's important to take note of, is that the Twins time is now.

There's no way to get around 2016 being a complete disaster for the hometown nine. Minnesota lost 103 games en route to a franchise worst season. That club however, was coming off of an 83 win season in 2015, and highlighted the volatility of youth. In 2017, we're seeing that notion continue. As the club turns over to being one punctuated by the likes of Miguel Sano, Jose Berrios, and Byron Buxton, growing pains are to be expected. Whether or not the expectations were a winning team in 2017, the reality was that this club had pieces to begin to make waves.

As things stand while nearing the trade deadline, Minnesota has seen most of its top talent rise to the big league level. Miguel Sano is here, Jose Berrios has emerged, and Byron Buxton is playing every day. With other names like Max Kepler and Jorge Polanco on the big league club, the farm system has slogged as its best fruits have been picked. That's not to say there isn't talent still in the minors, but rather, the top tier names are bolstering the 25 man already.

For much of the past seven seasons, the talk has been that the Twins haven't spent money, operating cheaply since opening Target Field. While that may be true, it's also a sensible plan of action. Save for 2010, there wasn't a season in which a big splash or two was going to turn a 90 loss squad into one that makes the playoffs. The organization could've splurged to raise the water level, but the end result would still remain. That is, until now.

As Jerry Crasnick recently described the Atlanta Braves on Twitter, the Twins should be both short-term sellers and long-term buyers at this point. If there's value to be had in return for Ervin Santana or Brian Dozier, listen. If you can grab a piece like Sonny Gray or Marcus Stroman, explore it. While waiting on prospects is fun, the impact is two-fold. Some graduate to your big league roster and make an impact (Sano/Berrios/Buxton), others provide an impact by allowing you to improve your big league roster and have their day elsewhere (see Cubs/Red Sox).

I'm not sure what the asking price for impact pitchers, a bat, or relievers will be during this trade deadline, but Minnesota would be wise not to shy away. Nick Gordon is having a great year at Double-A, but if you can turn him and a few others into a player that has a great year for the Twins in 2017 and beyond, absolutely it's something to be considered.

2017 has opened a window for competition in Minnesota thanks to a handful of reasons. While the Twins may be exceeding expectations, they are also highlighting the weakness of the AL Central as a whole. The Indians aren't running away with anything, and every other club is either not competitive, or has its warts. That same scenario should remain in play for at least the next two years, at which point the White Sox system should begin to bear fruit.

In mentioning that White Sox system, it's of note that Chicago may threaten the Twins longevity the most. Through trades in the last year, the Southsiders have added the #2, 12, 14, 16, 45, and 77th best prospects in all of baseball (per pre-2017 rankings) as well as a 1st round draft pick and top International signing. They have gone full rebuild, and the level of prospects in their system should quickly become impact big leaguers.

During the deadline this summer, and in the upcoming offseason, the Twins would be operating entirely wrong if they aren't going for it. Thanks to the youth contributing at a high level, their window has opened, and will remain wide for at least the next couple of seasons. Spending money on a big name pitcher or shoring up the bullpen with a handful of different suitors should be the expectation not the hope. While they may come up short in 2017, or find an early playoff exit, bringing in an asset or two that helps now and down the road is hardly a bad decision.

Given the landscape of the division, and the state of the organization as a whole, the Twins time to wait on the next prospect has ceased, and it's time to supplement what they have. The nucleus is there, and the new front office will be tasked with adding to it taking the club over the top.

Big Leap For Next Twins Starter

After making just on Triple-A start at Rochester, the Minnesota Twins will call on Bartolo Colon to take a stab at shoring up their starting rotation. With the group of five being in flux virtually all season long, the hope is that Colon can be a steadying presence. The reality however, is Minnesota will more than likely be needing a new arm in the coming weeks, and this time, it could be another impact prospect making a big jump.

Stephen Gonsalves has been lighting Double-A Chattanooga on fire, and it appears his time is soon coming. While it was Felix Jorge who got the first crack at the jump, it never made much sense to put Gonsalves in a spot start scenario. Jorge can be a nice piece for Minnesota in the coming years, but he doesn't have the upside that Gonsalves possesses. As one of the organizations top arms, Minnesota will be promoting Gonsalves with the intention of him staying, and the numbers suggest he may be ready.

Getting off to a late start this season, Gonsalves has thrown just 63 innings over 11 starts. While that could be seen as a detriment, he's made 24 starts at Double-A in his career, and now has less miles during the 2017 season. This year, Gonsalves has also elevated his game to another level. After struggling with command in his Double-A debut tour (4.5 BB/9), he's been near perfect this season (1.7 BB/9). On top of lowering the free passes, he's held strong with a 10.6 K/9 mark, truly dominating the level of competition.

Often times, organizations are faced with the idea of whether or not to move a prospect from Double-A to Triple-A as opposed to the highest level. While that works for some, Gonsalves could be argued to be ready for more. He's pitched to a 2.86 ERA and has shown an ability to do more than simply throw the ball by opposing hitters. A lefty with solid velocity and better pitchability, the former fourth round pick appears more ready for the big leagues than ever before.

At the highest level, Minnesota will have some decisions to make. Colon is going to be added to the 40 man roster, while Hector Santiago seems destined to eventually come off the DL, and Phil Hughes looms in the bullpen. Despite that any number of them could make starts, the idea that you'd be counting on them seems a longshot at best. There's sunk cost in both Santiago and Hughes, meaning the Twins would need to be ok simply eating dollars and moving on. Arguably the smart decision, it's not the easiest one to swallow either. Regardless of how things are handled, Gonsalves has forced the issue.

Considering the landscape of the organization, it's really a discussion between Gonsalves and teammate Fernando Romero when it comes to the next man up. The latter is on an innings limit still not too far removed from surgery, and could be a candidate to pitch out of the pen or make a spot start. It's really only Gonsalves that profiles as an impact addition that can be inserted into the rotation and stay.

Right now, it's hard to look at when and where makes sense for Gonsalves. Things are going to remain up in the air throughout the month of July, and as the Twins scour the trade market. As the summer draws on though, I'd be nothing short of surprised if Gonsalves isn't the next man up to take the ball at the start of the game for Minnesota. Suggesting he's ready is a good bet, and things have more than begun to line up.

With youth already the backbone of the big club thanks to Miguel Sano, Byron Buxton, and Jose Berrios all playing key roles, Minnesota could be best served to continue the movement. Maybe not an ace, Gonsalves profiles as a rotation fixture for years to come, and a season from now, could be pitching the Twins into the Postseason.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Twins Searching Out A Bat?

Recently on, Jon Morosi wrote a trade deadline buyer's guide focused on hitters. I recently wrote a piece regarding the Twins and how they should attack the deadline when it comes to pitching and prospects. I hadn't considered them adding a bat, but there's a name Morosi mentions that could make some sense. Is this the time that Jose Bautista comes to Target Field wearing the home uniform?

There was some talk over the offseason that Minnesota may have interest in the long time Blue Jays slugger. He would join an outfield better suited defensively, but there's a clear path to regular playing time as the designated hitter. Over the winter, he ended up heading back to Toronto on a one-year deal worth $18.5 million. Now on the hook for just a prorated portion, Minnesota could attempt to entice the Canadian AL East club to send him south of the border.

On the season, Bautista has posted a .749 OPS, or his lowest mark since 2009. He owns a poor .234/.349/.400 slash line and has hit just 14 homers. Much of that is directly related to a very slow start to the year however. Since May 12, Bautista owns a .275/.379/.482 line with 11 of his 14 total homers. Having turned it on after a slow start, he's beginning to trend back up.

At 36 years old, and with over 1,000 MLB games under his belt, there was plenty of reason to worry about a downturn in 2017. Now with the season halfway over, the Blue Jays have eaten up most of that risk. Should the Twins, or some other team, trade for him at this point, they'd be getting a player with most of the risk assumed by another organization. Toronto would likely still want a decent return, but unless they are willing to eat most of what's still owed to him, any partner should have strong negotiating position.

Throughout his career, Bautista has enjoyed plenty of success at Target Field. Obviously that comes with the caveat of having faced a good amount of poor Twins pitching over the years. Nonetheless, in 21 games at Target Field, Bautista owns a 1.324 OPS with 14 homers. Obviously playing there full time, those numbers probably decrease some, but having past success to use as a springboard is hardly a bad thing.

Given the Twins current roster construction, Bautista seems to fit as well. While not a good defensive outfielder, he would immediately slot in as the every day DH. He hasn't consistently played first base for some time, but could spell Joe Mauer at the position every once in a while. He also allows Minnesota to upgrade from Robbie Grossman, who while despite being an OBP machine, has gotten exposed with increased playing time.

A lot regarding the landscape of how the Twins attack the remainder of the 2017 season will be determined in the next week or so. With tough series against good teams upcoming, Minnesota will have a much more clear picture as to how they will fair down the stretch. If everything follows along with the status quo however, Jose Bautista remains a name that makes a good deal of sense in Minnesota.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Spend Or Flip: Twins Path To Pitching

As the second half of the Major League Baseball season gets underway, the Minnesota Twins find themselves in an interesting position. Despite being in contention and owners of a winning record, they sport a -60 run differential and are void of pitching options. A crossroads is appearing, and Minnesota will need to decide how they are going to acquire some arms.

With the trade deadline quickly approaching, it's pretty easy to note that this club should not be in win now mode. That's to say, no acquisitions for rentals should be made, and the goal shouldn't be to contend in 2017. If transactions are coming, they should all be forward thinking and have future value.

So, if that's the plan of action, there's a handful of exciting names that could be on the table. Recently, Ken Rosenthal tweeted the Twins are checking in on controllable starters. This is absolutely the right avenue to pursue. Those names would include the likes of Jose Quintana, Sonny Gray, Chris Archer, Marcus Stroman, Dan Straily, Julio Teheran or even Gerrit Cole. Now, that group (and there's more possibilities that fall under the umbrella) are going to have varying degrees of asking prices. Regardless of what the Athletics try to argue, the likes of Archer or Stroman represents a superior option to Sonny Gray. Cole and Stroman are near the top end of the spectrum, while Quintana and Teheran hover around the middle. Given the differing acquisition cost of each, the Twins will need to tread lightly.

In flipping players, Minnesota will likely be asked for top prospects such as Nick Gordon, Stephen Gonsalves, and Fernando Romero. They could be pushed on Max Kepler, and while there's other names that could draw interest, that foursome probably commands the most attention. Given that level of talent, it will be on the front office of Derek Falvey and Thad Levine to decide if surrendering those players are worthy of making a swap. It's a scenario that will weigh heavily, especially in baseball with another option looming so easily.

It's just money right? Well, that's true to a certain extent, and in an uncapped sport, Minnesota has plenty of it. While you may have disparaged the club previously for being cheap, spending whil the bulk of your roster is subpar doesn't make sense. Given where the organization is right now however, supplementing the roster with a big contract or two could be enough to put you over the top. Sure, the Twins don't have the TV revenue of other markets (meaning the dollars are stretched just a bit further), but they have the means to command the attention of any free agent they covet.

Aside from making a deal with another club, the organization could go with a cost that only requires dollars and cents. Someone like Yu Darvish, with whom Thad Levine is intimately familiar, is a pretty obvious option this offseason. Yes, he'll cost you significantly in terms of cash flow, but he represents the clear upgrade with all of the reasons the Twins as a landing spot just may work.

Given the current landscape of the organization, the window to win has begun to open. Inserting at least one top tier rotation arm will go a long ways to kick it to a gaping degree. If Minnesota can have prospects like Romero and Gonsalves to turn to, as well as a Darvish type, the dollar cost may end up seeming like a moot point as the dust settles.

Should the organization go the trade route, the hope would be that they aim high. Whatever Sonny Gray commands, an Archer, Stroman, or Cole should be more intriguing. If you're giving up prospects, don't stop short of getting the near-guaranteed boost. To deal from youth with a potential to end up looking at another middle of the rotation starter isn't a practice you want to follow.

In the coming weeks, we will soon have a more clear picture as to how the Twins will choose to navigate these waters. There's no denying they need pitching, and they're more than one arm away. The hope would be that they choose to acquire help in a way that not only sets them up to take a step forward, but also doesn't sacrifice any presumed longevity of their winning ways.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Minnesota Twins First Half In Review

Coming off a season in which the Minnesota Twins posted a record amount of losses, conventional wisdom would've told you to be down on this 2017 squad. However, a year prior in 2015, virtually the same group compiled an 83-79 mark. At the All Star Break this season, Paul Molitor's club looks more the group of two years ago as opposed to the one from last year. There's been good, bad, and ugly, but what do we make of it all?

First and foremost, the Twins were tabbed with an over/under of 74.5 wins going into 2017. At 45-42 at the break, they're on pace 83 wins, and need to go just 30-45 the rest of the way to surpass betting expectations. Through three full months, Minnesota has had two winning flips of the calendar, and a June that saw them miss a .500 month by one game. Back in 2015, a 20-7 May set the pace for the rest of the season, and that team finished with just two winning months total.

Against the rest of the AL Central, the Twins are +2 in the win column, with their best record coming against the Kansas City Royals. The home and road splits have been odd, but are merely an outcome of random variation. The expectation would be that the 20-28 home record sees improvement, while the 25-15 road record takes a step backwards. Given a -60 run differential however, the club will have to make sure whatever slide the do hit, isn't as drastic as that number says it should be.

Numbers aside, this club has a few things to investigate at the midway point. First and foremost, pitching has been virtually what it was expected to be. The rotation has been up and down, being saved from disaster in part thanks to Ervin Santana and Jose Berrios. In relief, the bullpen has been nothing short of atrocious save for Brandon Kintzler and Taylor Rogers. The rotation was going to be questionable at best, but has been supported by a strong defense and improved catching game. THe pen could've been upgraded, but with Matt Belisle and Craig Breslow the only offseason additions of note, the level of futility isn't hard to imagine.

On offense, Brian Dozier has (as expected) regressed towards career averages, while Miguel Sano has been just as good (if not better) than his rookie season. We haven't yet seen the big contributions at the plate from Byron Buxton, and players like Max Kepler and Robbie Grossman have waded somewhere in the middle ground. At times, Eddie Rosario has looked like a contributor, and Joe Mauer has trended in a positive direction. With much less reason to worry about the sticks going into the 2017 campaign, it's been about as expected.

Going forward, the Twins are going to need to fend off a form of regression that's almost certain to come. There's plenty of reason to suggest they'll hang around late into the season, the quality of the AL Central chief among them, but there's going to be tough tests ahead. Coming out of the All Star Break, Minnesota faces the Astros, Yankees, and Dodgers all in short order. Getting swept or beat in each of those series could put a quick damper on the last half of the season.

As July concludes, the Twins will likely find themselves in a similar position to where they are currently. They've exceeded expectations, but aren't truly a contender. There wasn't enough ammunition brought in over the winter to make this current roster construction viable, and nothing focused on winning in 2017 will change that.

To define the Twins positioning, they should be both buyers and sellers. If looking to acquire talent, it should be controllable options with high ceilings. That may have a significant price tag, but players like Chris Archer or Marcus Stroman aren't simply a 2017 answer, and that's a good thing. On the flip side, if there's teams willing to give you real talent back for someone like Brandon Kintzler, Ervin Santana, or even Brian Dozier, you'd absolutely be best suited to listen.

If you told the casual Twins fan that they'd be 45-43 at the All Star Break this season, I'd imagine the response would be one of disbelief. The position this club finds itself in is a good one, that presents itself as unsustainable, but also makes you wonder what could be if more was done. Going forward, Molitor and the front office will need to get more from less the rest of the way. They'll need to scratch out victories and claw to stay in contention. Missing the playoffs isn't a death sentence, but playing meaningful late season games is far from a guarantee as well.

Thus far, the 2017 Twins have had a successful season. It will be on those currently in the room to ensure it ends that way. To wrap up, here's a few first half awards of note:

Team MVP: Miguel Sano .276/.368/.538
Sano has looked the part of a middle of the order bat. Sure, he's striking out a ton, and I'd still like to see a few more walks, but everything else is there. The power is real, he hits everything hard, and he's been well above expectations at 3B.

Biggest Surprise: Brandon Kintzler 2.29 ERA 24 SV
Kintzler doesn't have any of the peripherals a traditional closer possesses, but he continues to make it work. Despite the low strikeout rates, he's a ground ball machine and doesn't walk anyone. It's not always pretty, but Kintzler has been a bright spot in an otherwise abysmal bullpen.

Biggest Disappointment: Jorge Polanco .224/.273/.323
I've been a Polanco fan for some time now, and it's always been his bat that suggested he was big league ready. This season, he's been above average through virtually the whole first half as a defensive shortstop, but hasn't hit at all. Completely opposite of his career norms, you have to hope the bat picks up soon.

Most Improved: Jason Castro .223/.317/.370
This is less about Castro as a player specifically than it is about the upgrade he represents. The Twins suffered through a terrible rotation of Kurt Suzuki and Juan Centeno a year ago. While Castro hasn't hit really at all, he's been great behind the dish, and without him, the marginal pitching staff would be incredibly worse off.

2nd Half Key: Jose Berrios 3.53 ERA 8.7 K/9 2.4 BB/9
Through his first few turns, Berrios looked the part of the incredible pitching prospect he's been touted to be. He did fade a bit down the stretch, and Minnesota will need that to cease. Given the revolving door that the rotation has been, the Twins can't afford Berrios not to be a high level asset. Whether they trade Santana or not, this team needs Berrios to continue to be an impact hurler virtually every time he steps on the mound.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Bartolo Colon, The Savior Minnesota Needs?

When the Minnesota Twins signed Bartolo Colon to a minor league deal, my initial reaction was one of disbelief. I'm not sure where the feeling came from. It could've been because Colon is a big name, maybe because he has a big ERA, or maybe because at 44 years old, he's a big guy still playing baseball at the highest level. I've now had time to mull it over, and I couldn't be more ecstatic.

Coming out of the All Star Break, the Minnesota Twins will go with a rotation consisting of (and, in order): Jose Berrios, Ervin Santana, Kyle Gibson, and Adalberto Mejia. Of that group, Gibson has continued to struggle, and Mejia remains unproven. They'll need to address what to do with Hector Santiago at some point, and Phil Hughes appears to have been jettisoned to the pen despite being owed $26.4 million over the next two years. Where we sit today though, the home nine need another starter.

At this point, we've seen Quad-A type pitchers like Nik Turley and Adam Wilk get a shot. We've brought in veterans like Dillon Gee (who has now seemingly been passed over), and we've watched a Double-A hurler in Felix Jorge make the jump. None of the options Minnesota has cycled through have looked the part of someone that can immediately stick long term. Enter Colon, Bartolo.

Yes, Bartolo Colon has been an atrocity for the Atlanta Braves in 2017. He owns an 8.14 ERA and an equally bad 5.08 FIP. Over the course of 13 starts for Atlanta, he has just two quality starts, and has failed to make it to the 5th inning on six occasions. If you look at his last 10 starts, negative two gems to start the season, he owns an even worse 9.59 ERA. All that said, it's about as bad as it gets. There's rays of hope however.

Let's start with where he was a season ago. With the 2016 Mets, Colon was a mainstay in one of the best rotations baseball had to offer. Across 33 starts (34 games), Colon owned a 3.43 ERA and a solid 3.99 FIP. In fact, prior to 2017, the last time Colon posted an FIP higher than 4.00 was 2009 in a 12 start year for the Chicago White Sox.

As a right-handed pitcher, Colon has generally kept same-handedness hitters in check. During 2016, he allowed a .664 OPS to righties while giving up a .795 mark to lefties. The script has flipped in 2017, as he's surrendered a 1.011 OPS to righties and an .879 OPS to lefites. The surface numbers don't suggest all that much has changed either. His 6.0 K/9 is in line with career norms, while his 2.9 BB/9 is up from where he's been since 2011, it isn't an egregious total. If there's an number that pops off the page, it's the 13.1 H/9 and 1.6 HR/9. It's pretty obvious that extra baserunners, and balls leaving the yard, aren't a recipe for success. What's promising is what lies beneath.

Thus far, Colon has been victim to a .360 BABIP number in 2017. That's way up from a .296 career average, and well above the MLB average this season. Not in line with the rise, Colon is allowing a 32.6 Hard%, which is below his 2016 number, and essentially his average dating back to 2014. A 14.3% HR/FB rate explains the rise in longballs, but well hit baseballs aren't something that seems to be a large problem for Bartolo. On top of all of this, his velocities have held strong. He's averaging 90.7 mph on his fastball this year, up slightly over 2016, and at a normal rate of decline given his age and career arc.

So, what we see is that Colon's surface numbers are an outlier, and that the supporting numbers don't necessarily suggest such a drastic change should be taking place. Of course, we're dealing with a 44 year old who has more than 3,200 innings on his arm. It's very possible he could be cooked, and that everything would fall apart at once, it's also quite likely that isn't the case.

The way things stand for the Twins, Colon is as little of a risk as you can possibly get. They pay him a prorated portion of the league minimum, or just over $200k for the rest of the year. He's not a long term solution, but expecting him to provide valaue is a decent bet. Given the financial implications are next to moot, being a contributor in a rotation that so badly needs it would be a huge boost.

Maybe Colon needed a change of scenery. He'll get a much better defense in Minnesota (the Twins rank 7th in MLB in DRS, Braves are 24th), and he'll get a better team as a whole. The Twins aren't serious playoff contenders, but there's a shot, and that gives Colon something to play for as well. If none of it works out and things go up in flames, neither side is out much, and can move on. For Minnesota though, Colon could represent a boost the club desperately needs.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Santana Falls Victim To Useless Stat

Ervin Santana has been the talk of baseball in the first half of the 2017 Major League season. He has bucked his career trends and been among the games best starters. While there has been some slipping of late, against the Los Angeles Angels, Santana recorded his 4th complete game of the season. Unfortunately he ends up on the wrong side of the decision, only to highlight the uselessness of the pitcher win.

For the past few years, there's been any number of talking heads that have pointed out baseball's dated numbers. From statistics such as Wins to saves, and ERA to batting average, we're at a place in the game where we can more accurately understand it. In the tilt between the Twins and the Angels on July 5th, we saw more than a few of those useless statistics in play.

First and foremost, Santana's complete game comes into focus. It was his fourth of the 2017 season, meaning he's already thrown more as an individual, than any other team in baseball. Across the 9.0 innings he worked, Angels hitters tallied 7 hits and 2 runs while walking twice and striking out five times. Throwing 80 of his 117 pitches for strikes, Santana was economical, and largely sharp on the evening. When the dust settled though, the win went to Angels rookie Parker Bridwell. Bridwell was fantastic in his own right, but threw three less innings before handing the game over to his relievers.

Then there's the double whammy of how Santana lost his opportunity, and it hurt his line as well. With Cameron Maybin at 3rd base and Kole Calhoun at 1st, the Angels made Minnesota look like an aloof bunch of high schoolers. Calhoun broke for second, and Minnesota Catcher Jason Castro fired all the way through to second. Neither Brian Dozier nor Eduardo Escobar acted as if there was a steal play on to cut the ball off and throw home. Maybin has plenty of speed, and he made it home easily as the Twins essentially gave him the run. All of this took place while Santana stood on the mound and watched, being credited with an earned run.

Looking back at that series of events as a whole, it couldn't be more clear why surface stats have been now aided by a further dive into what takes place on the diamond. ERA is hardly the be-all-end-all for a pitcher. Given the discretion of an official scorer, a pitcher is at the mercy of interpretation. In this instance, that run was much more Castro, Dozier, and probably even Paul Molitor's fault than it was the pitcher's. In allowing that runner to cross the plate Minnesota's run in the bottom of the 7th just drew Santana closer, but didn't lead to him having an opportunity to get the win.

Baseball Prospectus' Aaron Gleeman tweeted out after last night's game that Bert Blyleven owns the most complete game losses in Twins history with 45. While that seems like a staggering number (and it is), what's worse is how good he was in those games. he went on to highlight that while Bert went 0-45 in those games, he posted an ERA of 2.99. So, Blyleven was exactly as good as Santana has been all of 2017 as a whole (his ERA currently sits at 2.99) and gave his Minnesota teams 9 innings, just to be tagged with a loss each time.

I can understand why needing to pin the win or loss on a pitcher is a necessary practice. With that being said, there should absolutely be the caveat that the weight it carries is minimal at best, and rarely indicative of the game's actual flow.

When pitchers are being decided upon for awards at the end of the season, the win stat is one often pointed to. Last year's AL Cy Young winner was 22-game winner Rick Porcello. Given the landscape of options in 2016, he was far from an egregious choice, but it was likely that win total that tipped the scales for him over the equally (or maybe more) deserving Justin Verlander.

At the end of the day, Ervin Santana twirled a gem for no less than the fourth time in 2017. He wasn't credited with a statistic saying as much and his overall numbers suffered due to a gaffe he had nothing to do with. All baseball statistics aren't created equal, and the more we challenge the validity of each, the better understanding we will have.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Mauer Presenting Twins An Opportunity

34 years old and in the second to last season of his eight-year deal with the Minnesota Twins, Joe Mauer has given the organization a brand new opportunity. Despite being sapped from the sure-fire Hall of Fame trajectory he was on as a catcher, Mauer has mostly scuffled at first base. In 2017 though, there's a different narrative beginning to emerge. In his current form, Mauer presents some intriguing value to the Twins.

The knock on Mauer at first base has always been that he doesn't hit for enough power to play the corner spot. While that's a fair assessment, he's turned into a premier defender. He's absolutely worthy of a Gold Glove in 2017, and should've been more in the conversation a season ago had he played in enough games to qualify. While the defensive metrics may be fickle, the vast majority tip the scales in his favor. All of that is for another time however, this new opportunity is about Joe Mauer the hitter.

Owning a career .308/.390/.444 slash line, Mauer likely won't be putting up the slugging percentage of his career average any time soon. However, he's shown that when healthy and given regular rest, he's still not someone opposing pitchers should want to face in 2017. On the season, his .287/.360/.404 slash line is the best mark he's posted since the last time he was an All-Star, in 2013. More impressively yet, Mauer's numbers under the hood are relatively gaudy.

It's been a talking point for some time that the lefty has declined greatly against similarly-handed pitchers. In 2017, Mauer has 67 plate appearances against lefties, and he owns a paltry .542 OPS. Against righties however, he's slashed .305/.381/.448 with all five of his home runs, 15 of his 17 doubles, and driven in 26 of his 33 RBI. There's really no other way to put it, Mauer remains a menace against right-handed pitching.

At 34, Mauer isn't the same hitter that used to draw walks more often than he struck out. That streak all but ended in 2012. However his 14.6 K% ranks 35th in MLB, and only Dustin Pedroia has a lower (3.8%) SwStr% than the Twins first basemen (4.0%). After topping out at 112 strikeouts during 2015, Mauer is at just 45 through the club's first 83 games, putting him on pace for an acceptable 88 (lowest since 2012).

Diving a bit further into the output, Mauer's 34.6 Hard% is the best mark he's posted since 2012, and while he's going the opposite way more often than any season since 2014, he's putting the ball in the air more often (27.6%) than any season dating back to 2009 (29%). At this point, we know groundballs aren't the way to sustainable success in the big leagues, and Mauer has created a perfect storm for himself.

While highlighting the good side of things may seem self serving, the reality, at least to a certain extent, is that's exactly the point. The Twins have an opportunity going forward to be self serving with Mauer. I'd love it if he could pick up the hardware this season and win a Gold Glove. A year from now however, putting him into a full time platoon with a right handed first basemen (with a bit bigger power bat), makes all the sense in the world. Rather than having an above average answer to part of the equation, they'd immediately have a true threat at first base.

We have seen (and probably should've known) that Kennys Vargas is nothing more than a bench bat in a best case scenario. ByungHo Park is starting to turn things around at Triple-A, but there hasn't been much power there, and a handful of question marks still remain. One of the most often called for things off of the Twins bench is a right handed power bat; killing two birds with one stone by asking that player to be a first basemen seems like an ideal scenario.

If there's a necessary caveat to mention in all of this, it's that there's not a ton of options when it comes to lefty-mashing first basemen. Of the impending free agents, you're left with a list of Mike Napoli and Mark Reynolds. The former was a Twins target that's been awful in 2017, and the latter has reverse splits, hitting righties far better (and also has to beat the skepticism of hitting outside of Coors Field).

Regardless of how this narrative plays out, what is certain is that Joe Mauer has given the Twins an opportunity. They can upgrade first base production by pairing him with a partner. He isn't going to sign another long term deal following this contract, but being kept around on short deals after it, he's an asset as opposed to a former aging vet like Torii Hunter may have been.