Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Missing Playoffs Provides A Simple Blueprint

In any given year, there's some sort of an expectation as to how things should go before it gets off the ground. Despite coming off a franchise worst 103 losses in 2016, the 2017 Minnesota Twins were representative of a better team. They weren't expected to make the playoffs, but competing on a nightly basis was a fair ask. As the season wears on, your conclusion is often presented months in advance. At some point, it's wise to adjust how you finish.

With the trade deadline in the rear view mirror, the Twins became sellers. Now, that term carries negative feelings, but Minnesota shipped away just two expiring assets. They dealt no one that would help them in the future, and the club got real assets in return. There's no other way to dissect it besides saying it was executed properly. Now into August though, the balance of the season takes on another form of importance.

I recently opined on Twitter that if a non-playoff team isn't using August and September to set up the next season, they're doing it wrong. Your goal should always be to stay ahead of the competition. Right now, there's a handful of teams that are in the mix for the Postseason and ultimately the World Series. With Minnesota not being one of those, they should be setting forth plans for the year ahead.

Given the opportunity to expand big league rosters in September, there's often the caveat that baseball becomes watered down in the final month. Teams are playing lesser players and giving their regulars time off. Entering 2018, Minnesota should be no worse than the second best team in the AL Central, and having an idea of who they can count on ahead of time sounds like a pretty good thing to bank on.

With Jaime Garcia being shipped out at the deadline, Minnesota needed to replace a starting pitcher. Instead of going with a high ceiling prospect like Stephen Gonsalves or Fernando Romero, the organization will call upon veteran retread Dillon Gee. There's nothing wrong with Gee pitching in big league games, he's a capable arm. What he doesn't do however, is tell you anything you don't know about the year ahead. Both Aaron Slegers and David Hurlbut at Triple-A will feel the 40 man roster crunch over the offseason, even they could provide more insight as to future positioning than Gee.

For a club that's thrown nearly 15 different starting pitchers, and is on pace to set a new club record in terms of pitcher's used, it'd sure be great for them to go with guys that could have long term value. In 2018, hurlers like Colon and Gee will still exist, and can be had with the same expectations as they are presently capable of. Having to call on a top prospect, or even a lower tier guy, early on or out of spring training without seeing them at the highest level seems suboptimal.

This same principal carries over to the other aspects of the game as well. There's no denying that Jorge Polanco has taken a significant step backwards in 2017. Despite being a bat first player his whole career, he's started solid defensively, and now how dipped well below average both with his glove and at the plate. That being said, he does no good to anyone sitting on the bench. Unless the Twins are in a position right now that they believe Eduardo Escobar or Ehire Adrianza is their surefire answer at shortstop, Polanco should be getting those reps every single day. Being on the bench does no good for answers, growth, or future expectations when it comes to Polanco or the Twins.

At the end of the day, the idea should be that you're always building towards something. If you aren't building towards a World Series this year, you should be putting your ducks in a row to jumpstart the season ahead. While it's still just the early stages of August, each day that passes counts as a missed opportunity for the Twins. There's a lot of question marks and possible solutions down on the farm, but the longer you wait to figure out who falls into what category, the worse off your find yourself.

Going into the winter, Minnesota will have a strong core that should be supplemented with a few impact pieces to put them over the hump. If they miss out on internal options because they didn't act aggressively, that will hurt far more than whatever the final month's win/loss record sits at. Derek Falvey and Thad Levine traversed the trade landscape admirably in their first year thus far, now it's time for them to make something of what the season has left to offer.