Tuesday, November 28, 2017

One Abbreviation Highlights The Need For Another

This time of year, especially with the free agent market moving as slow as it is, puts the Hall of Fame in the spotlight. Although the Hall tends to do more bad than good in the press (yes Joe Morgan, you're at fault here), the ballot does get us to some intriguing talking points. I've written plenty about my stance on voting and who should get in, and I'll share my IBWAA ballot in the coming weeks. In 2017 though, the HOF highlights the need for the universal DH.

A quick look at the timeline of Sporting News' Ryan Spaeder will hint that he's on a crusade he shouldn't need to be embarking upon. As with Tim Raines a year ago, Edgar Martinez has been the cross taken up with Spaeder and some other writers around the baseball community. On the ballot in his 9th year (of 10 eligible), Martinez is drawing eerily close to missing his opportunity to be voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.

In 2017, Martinez received 259 votes (58.6%). He needs to jump just over 15% in his final two ballots to reach enshrinement, and that it looks like an uphill battle remains a sad development. While the BBWAA has voted previously to expand the possible votes from 10 to 12, the Hall of Fame shot the motion down, and a stacked ballot continues to haunt players that are simply left out. While the IBWAA did the right thing and inducted Martinez in 2016 alongside former teammate Ken Griffey Jr., the BBWAA has yet to follow suit.

Over the course of his 18 year career, Martinez was a seven-time All Star, five-time Silver Slugger, and racked up two batting titles. He owns a career .312/.318/.515 slash line, and he's one of very few players that can claim more walks (1,283) than strikeouts (1,202) to their credit. The one detractor everyone seems to point at when considering Martinez comes down to two different numbers. First, the amount of games he played in the big leagues (2,055). There's nothing wrong with that number, but it's the 560 games started in the field that apparently holds him back. The simplest way to address that argument is to flat out call it wrong.

Even if Edgar Martinez was the worst defensive first or third basemen in the majors for those 18 seasons, he would've been among the greatest hitters to ever play the game. At 65.5 career fWAR, there's just five third basemen with a higher mark in their career. One of them is retired, and based upon his merits in the game should be in the Hall when eligible (Alex Rodriguez). Two of them are still currently playing, and should be Hall of Fame locks (Adrian Beltre and Miguel Cabrera). Another is on the ballot and isn't given enough credit, despite much of his value coming on defense (Scott Rolen). The final name is Graig Nettles.

Looking at the landscape we just explored, Martinez has compiled an fWAR number on par with every Hall of Fame third basemen already enshrined, and did so solely by the production of his bat. Again we reach the crossroads of the designated hitter becoming disrespected. It's at this point, and upon the induction of Martinez, that the game needs to change.

In the National League, on a nightly basis, pitchers embarrass themselves at the plate. Failing to get down a bunt, flailing away, or having to stand in for the first time since high school is not something that should take place in a big league game. While Madison Bumgarner is hitting his one or two longballs a year, he's still a terrible hitter that has no business ever batting over a big league offensive player (yes, that was silly Bruce Bochy).

The game of baseball has changed in 2017, and even earlier than that to be fair. Managers use closers in high leverage situations as opposed to just the 9th inning, platoons give offenses a tactical advantage, and shifts seek to steal away would be base hits. Specialty play is something that game has embraced for the better, except when it comes for the players to be recognized after they are done.

It's not the fault of Trevor Hoffman, Billy Wagner, or Lee Smith that they pitched one inning a night. The were the by-product of the save, and in turn, were exceptional at the task they were called upon to complete. Martinez may have been able to hack it in the field longer than he did, but wielding just a bat, he was among the best in the game. It's time those things are remembered when the votes are cast.

Looking ahead to the class reveal on January 24th, I fear Martinez will be staring his final year of eligibility in the eye. It's a situation I can't imagine the beloved David Ortiz will find himself in (steroid accusations or otherwise), and it's disgusting that the Mariners star has to shy away from what he was as well. Edgar Martinez was, on a nightly basis, designated to hit and that's exactly what he did. We're long past due on enshrining him for that greatness, and in turn, allowing baseball to embrace the specialty across both leagues.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Shooting High Bodes Well For Minnesota

As the offseason continues, the Minnesota Twins will eventually make a free agent acquisition. While all of baseball appears at a standstill right now, dominoes will eventually begin to fall. Recently, Twins GM Thad Levine told MLB Network that the club is focused on both Shohei Ohtani and Yu Darvish. Although neither may happen, that suggests the club is in a good place.

In 2017, the Twins turned heads making the postseason as an Wild Card team. While the turnaround wasn't unexpected, winning as often as they did probably was a bit much to ask. The reality however, is that Minnesota did accumulate those wins, and the ship was righted as the youth continued to blossom. Arguably the greatest problem for the franchise in recent history has been pitching, and that didn't necessarily leap forward.

Coming in 19th across MLB in team ERA (and 19th among starters), pitching still left a lot to be desired. By FIP measures, Minnesota checked in at 25th, and that really highlights how pitching was addressed prior to 2017. The reality is that not much changed going into last year, but an improved defense and a much better defensive catcher made a significant impact. With the defense and catcher returning, it's now time to raise the water level on the mound as well.

The current free agent class leaves plenty to be desired in terms of pitching, and there will never be a time that quality arms come cheap. That being said, Levine's comments suggest Minnesota is putting their best foot forward. There's no denying that both Ohtani and Darvish are the two best available pitchers on the open market. Rather than aiming at the middle ground the Twins have targeted the cream of the crop. For Darvish, money will factor in significantly more than it will for the capped out Ohtani. Regardless, knowing that Minnesota can't possibly aim any higher than they already are is a good thing.

Regarding Ohtani first, Minnesota isn't going to have to shell out an extraordinary amount of dough. The spending is capped through the posting system, and for a guy turning down literal hundreds of millions a year from now to compete early, the fit in an organization seems to be much more enticing. Minnesota can offer him a young team on the rise, and a place that he could truly find himself as a superstar.

Coming to Darvish, cash is absolutely going to be king. While he may not choose the most lucrative offer, getting the former Rangers ace for anything less than $100 million simply isn't going to happen. His stumble in the World Series doesn't deflate his market, and the fact that he's bounced back from Tommy John surgery so nicely calms most of the injury concerns. Darvish is a true ace, with strikeout ability, and that's something the Twins have needed since the years of Johan Santana. Levine having a leg up here, working with him in Texas, definitely can't hurt the situation.

At the end of the day, the Twins may wind up being without either Darvish or Ohtani. Starting there though suggests a few things. First and foremost, they realize that starting pitching has to be a priority. The club has more than a few options to round out the rotation, but the reality is they are barren at the top. Ervin Santana isn't an ace, and is likely only going to decline. Jose Berrios could push for more, but that still leaves the club with just one shut down starter. Bringing in another arm one way or another is a good plan.

Also, the Twins aren't shying away from the top of the market. Now it could be all talk. but there's no uncertainty when it comes to the payday Darvish is going to land. If Minnesota wasn't interested in playing at that level, having discussions at all would seem to be a waste of time. The fact that there's been engagement suggests that there's a level of commitment financially to tighten things up on the mound.

Finally, starting at the top makes a level of settling a bit more manageable. If Minnesota can't land either Ohtani or Darvish, a step down to Lance Lynn or Alex Cobb is hardly a throwaway. While neither of those two guys are going to be an ace, they could slot in at Santana's level or higher, which helps the Twins as a whole. If the club started their search at the middle ground, adding a back end option as a fallback does little to actually fix anything.

Right now, teams and players seem to be playing a game of chicken. There's likely big numbers being thrown around, and it's going to be interesting to see who bites first. Once moves are made however, the expectation should be that they come in relative bunches. Commend the Twins for doing more than their due diligence, and being aware of the focus they should have. Although Ohtani and Darvish may not end up in Twins Territory, it's hardly a bad thing that they're being heavily discussed at this point in time.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Twins Hinting At A Busy Offseason

Recently, the Twins (and all of Major League Baseball) had to finalize their 40 man roster in regards to Rule 5 Draft protection. While the Rule 5 Draft isn't until the conclusion of the Winter Meetings, any eligible players left unprotected on the 40 man are now eligible to be taken by other clubs. With Minnesota having around six guys they could've added, the expectation was that more than a few would be chosen. After the dust settled though, we may have gotten our first teaser into what will be a busy offseason.

Prior to the deadline for 40 man additions, the Twins added three pitchers to their 40 man roster. Top starting prospect Stephen Gonsalves was joined by Zack Littell, and Lewis Thorpe. Littell was acquired from the Yankees when Minnesota ate Jaime Garcia's salary, and Thorpe has rebounded well from Tommy John surgery. Those three were essential locks, but the exclusion of three names may turn some heads. I'd argue the assumed expectation was that each of Jake Reed, Kohl Stewart, and Lewin Diaz would be added as well.

After the moves were made, Derek Falvey and Thad Levine had four spots left to work with on the 40 man. Sitting at 36 of 40, each of the three aforementioned players could've been included, but there's most definitely a reason they were left off. First and foremost, it may be best to take a look at their individual contributions.

Reed was a 5th round pick in 2014, seen as a fast mover through the system, and a way to garner relief help at the major league level. Outside of a tough 2015, he's been very good for the Minnesota organization. Despite missing time to start 2017 following a spring training injury on the final day, he posted a 2.13 ERA across Double and Triple-A. While Reed has a relatively safe floor, the ceiling may have decreased some in recent years. As the strikeouts have sagged, the walks have risen. Had things broke differently in 2017, he probably would've been a no-brainer for a September call up.

The highest pick of the three, Kohl Stewart, may be the most intriguing. Taken 4th overall in the 2013 draft, the former Texas A&M quarterback recruit has never flashed top of the rotation stuff. Velocity is middle-of-the-road, while his game has been generating ground balls. He owns just a 5.9 career K/9 and posted a 6.1 K/9 to go with a 5.3 BB/9 mark at Double-A in 2017. The former regime showed patience through injuries and development stemming from a kid just beginning to play baseball full time. Now at 23, the flame out worries are genuine, and it seems the new regime has more questions than answers.

Rounding out the trio is Lewin Diaz. Diaz was signed out of the Dominican Republic and has long been a prospect darling as a power bat. After putting up a .928 OPS in the App League during 2016 as a 19 year old, 2017 became an important year for the lefty masher. Diaz posted just a .773 OPS at Single-A Cedar Rapids, but did hit for average (.292) and added 12 home runs. I'd imagine the thought process here is that if a major league team wants to gamble on bringing a 21 year-old yet to play above Single-A to the big leagues for a full season, that's a risk Minnesota is willing to let them take.

Looking at the three main omissions as a whole, Diaz seems to be the most understandable. I'd wager there's about a 35% chance he's lost in the Rule 5 Draft, and for a power hitting, bat first type, that's something you can probably replace. Both Reed and Stewart are different stories, and I'd put them at 100% and 90% gone respectively. Reed is big league ready right now, even if he's not yet a polished prospect. The walks are an issue, but there's strikeout stuff there even if it's only in the mid-90's. Stewart probably can't start on a regular basis in the big leagues, but being stashed in long relief for a pitching-needy team seems to be a smart bet.

With Falvey and Levine willing to lose two decent pitching commodities for an organization who could use more, the assumption is that more must be in play. Reed could've been added to the 40 man, and helped to fill out a Twins pen needing improvement. In being passed over, and with spots open, it's almost certain that Twins brass sees the need for proven big league help in the pen. Rather than taking fliers on guys that could accept a minor league or one-year deal, it stands to reason a big league contract could be offered to a true arm.

On the starting side, Stewart represents more quantity than quality in terms of starting depth. While the Twins need to beef up their rotation, right now the group of guys filling out the back end seems to be relatively plump. Adding top of the rotation pieces is where Minnesota needs to focus, and Stewart doesn't ever appear to profile as that. Again, open 40 man spots suggest that pitching is going to be a focus, and we should have clarity soon enough.

It'll be interesting to see if Minnesota can package either Reed or Stewart in any prospective trade talks. With the market for starting pitching being thin, and the expected loss of both players in the Rule 5 Draft, they could be moved for a return prior to that date. It's always tough for prospects of a former regime to find their footing amongst new bosses, but it seems the Twins levied some clarity to the group. Now, the organization will begin to show us what they intend to do with their four open roster spots, and that's plenty exciting.

Monday, November 20, 2017

The Twins 2017: Diamond Treasure

Now in it's third installment, the week of Thanksgiving prompts the revealing of the Minnesota Twins Diamond Treasure. Crafted after being moved by the 2015 Turkey of the Year piece penned by Patrick Reusse of the Star Tribune, this article has been carried on at Off The Baggy. The Diamond Treasure is designed to be able to highlight a player or area of the organization showing excitement for the future, while having roots established in the past.

Now in the third year, the inaugural winner was Miguel Sano. Last season, the new front office tandem of Derek Falvey and Thad Levine too home the Diamond Treasure. For 2017, I think the designation was all to glaring to overlook. Minnesota centerfielder Byron Buxton is your diamond treasure.

The soon-to-be 24 year-old is coming off his best season as a big leaguer, and we've only begun to scratch the surface. Debuting with the Twins at 21 years-old, things are just now beginning to bear fruit. Picking up enough votes to finish 18th in MVP balloting and tally his first (of many) Gold Gloves, Buxton show plenty of promise to get excited about his future.

As things stand currently, the former first round draft pick may be the best defensive outfielder in all of baseball. He essentially redefined the Statcast-era of defensive metrics this season, owning the top spot in Outs Above Average and Catch Probability. His sprint speed numbers dubbed him as the fastest man in the game, and his Gold Glove was actually a proper reflection of his defensive acumen in terms of sabermetrics. What's most impressive though, is that he's just scratching the surface as a player.

In garnering the MVP votes, Buxton was able to do so despite hitting below the Mendoza Line as late as July 3. His defense didn't slump, and the speed never will, but that early season struggle at the plate hung over his head for most of the season. Broken down however, James Rowson was able to reconstruct the centerfielder's swing at the highest level. After finding a better footing, Buxton slashed .285/.339/.492 from June 11 onwards (85 G). Over the course of a full season, that level of production no doubt vaults Buxton into a top five MVP conversation.

Thus far through his big league career, Byron Buxton has experienced a roller coaster of emotions. With so much promise and hype, the former top draft pick was never going to escape the immense expectations set out for him. The reality however, is that he remains a kid by big league standards, and is just now coming into his more adult frame. With 278 games at the highest level under his belt already, Buxton far surpasses what Kirby Puckett (0 games) and Torii Hunter (142 games) had for MLB experience prior to their 24th birthdays. That should only enhance the belief in what's yet to come.

Sometimes players race out to an immediate showing of exceptional ability, and whether it fades or sticks, remains a mystery. For Buxton, it appears a level of growth was a slower process, but he's been made all the better for it. There's a good amount of time yet before he'll be considered in his prime, and the amount of high level production to be expected should be sustained for well over a decade. Developed from within, and bearing fruits internally, the Twins find themselves in as great of a spot as Buxton himself.

We haven't even begun to see the best of the Twins star centerfielder, but at this time of thanks, I think it's fair to be thankful that the hometown team has a legitimate superstar on their hands. 2018 should be a ton of fun for the organization, and it could be the one where Byron becomes the poster boy.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Are Yu Ready?

The Minnesota Twins enter the offseason prior to 2018 with immense expectations. Following a season in which they arrived in the postseason a year early, this club looks ready to take the next step, and the AL Central is begging them to do so. Knowing pitching remains a focus, a free agent starter seems to be a sensible acquisition. The question always revolved around how high the Twins may aim though.
According to a report from Fanrag's Jon Heyman, Minnesota is coming out guns blazing. While the arms on the market are hardly plentiful at the top, Derek Falvey an Thad Levine appear to be keyed in on premier starter Yu Darvish. Levine was a part of the front office that signed him in Texas, and the fit is one I've liked for quite a while. Yes, he'll likely command the greatest contract of the available starting pitcher's, but that's not something that should deter Minnesota's efforts.

Darvish will be pitching 2018 at 31 years old. He has just over 830 innings on his arm in the big leagues, but that number jumps to 2,100-plus dating back to his time with Nippon Ham in the Japanese Pacific League. Potentially no worse for the wear however, Darvish has actually added to his velocity post Tommy John surgery, and he's been healthy each of the past two seasons.

For both Texas and Los Angeles in 2017, Darvish owned a 3.86 ERA across 31 starts. Rejoining the All Star team for the first time since 2014, Darvish posted a 10.1 K/9 with a paltry 2.8 BB/9. His 3.83 FIP was a career worst, but was better (3.38) with the Dodgers down the stretch. On the biggest stage in the game, Yu was knocked around by the Houston Astros, but I hardly find his World Series performance concerning. Given the talk of tipped pitches, I tend to believe Darvish is more the guy that went 11.1 IP with a 1.59 ERA against the Dbacks and Cubs, than he is the 21.60 ERA guy in 3.1 IP vs the Astros.

It's likely the last chance for Darvish to cash in on a long term deal, and he'll probably want to expand upon the $11m he received a season ago. A free agent for the first time since coming to the big leagues, Darvish is going to have plenty of suitors. Even as the price tag climbs towards an expected $200m though, Minnesota should continue to fight for real estate in the Japanese pitcher's mind.

At the end of the day, a perfect storm is brewing in Twins Territory. The 25 man roster has gotten younger and cheaper, while money should dive off the books in the next few years. On top of that, the division has three teams that should be virtually nonexistent in the foreseeable future, and Paul Molitor's club already began to exceed expectations. If there's a time to go and make the biggest free agent signing in franchise history, now seems as good of one as ever.

With the goal being to develop internally for the sake of sustainability, there comes a point where supplementing with high-end talent from the outside seems the best answer. Derek Falvey and Thad Levine are arguably now at that crossroads, and how they handle the offseason will likely lay the groundwork for how at least the next few seasons go for Minnesota.

Right now, with things in such infancy, it's hard to get giddy about the potential to land a big fish. That being said, when I wanted Darvish for the Twins rotation back in May, it was for the same reasons that I feel the same way now. He's a difference maker, a solidifying presence, and a true ace. Those things don't grow on trees, and you never know when the next opportunity will present itself.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Twins Closing In On A Closer?

Over the weekend, news broke that the Twins checked in on the availability of Cincinnati Reds closer Raisel Iglesias. While he's undoubtedly not the only player Minnesota has looked at on the trade market, his name has filtered into the media cycle at this point. No matter how much substance there is to the situation moving forward, it's worth looking at Iglesias as a player, and whether or not he fits for the Twins.

First and foremost, Minnesota needs to shore up the bullpen heading into 2018. While Brandon Kintzler and Matt Belisle did an admirable job in the closer role for Paul Molitor a season ago, it's hard to imagine either in that scenario during game seven of the ALCS. As the Twins look to follow up a postseason berth this year, they'll no doubt have sights set on a deeper venture towards the World Series. While relief pitching has become the sexy topic in the playoffs, the reality is a complete team still trumps everything. The Astros won a World Series with a bullpen that was virtually on par with Minnesota in 2017, and that's worth keeping in mind.

Getting to Iglesias in a vacuum, the Reds current closer is a soon-to-be 28 year old from Cuba. He is not a free agent until 2022, and is currently signed on a team friendly contract through 2020. Across 76.0 IP in 2017, Iglesias picked up 28 saves and posted a career best 2.49 ERA. His 2.70 FIP was also a career best and he cracked 10.0 K/9 for the first time in his big league career. As a starter during the 2015 season, Iglesias sat around 93 mph with his fastball. In relief last season, he was pushing 96 mph on average and dropped down to 85 mph on his slider.

Despite being a bit of an older player, Iglesias quickly ascended to the big leagues. After signing out of Cuba, he pitched just 29 innings at Triple-A prior to his 2015 debut. Raisel only threw three seasons in Cuba before taking his age 23 year off to go through the process of getting stateside. Even at 28, you'd like to believe his body is a bit better for the wear.

Should Minnesota choose to pursue him, the asking price would probably be substantial. Wade Davis was just a one year rental at 31 years old for the Chicago Cubs, and he required the Royals receiving Jorge Soler in return. Still under team control, and with age on his side, I'd imagine the Reds would ask the Twins for at least one top six prospect. If I'm Minnesota, it's a hesitant place to start, but something I'd be interested in hearing out.

As a general philosophy, I believe it makes sense for teams close to winning to parlay either picks or prospects into immediately usable assets. Obviously this isn't a practice you can repeatedly employ or you run the risk of depleting your long term viability. Tracking guys with qualifying offers or dealing top prospects will eventually leave you in a barren place on the farm. That being said, Minnesota finds themselves in unique territory given the current organizational landscape.

Following a strong season, most of the club's top prospects from the past few seasons have reached the big leagues. They won't hold an enviable draft pick having finished as one of the final teams playing as well. If the Twins can entice Cincinnati with someone like Nick Gordon or Alex Kirilloff, they could get a solid return for someone that may be an expendable piece.

Closers are a fickle beast, and I'd hate to see the Twins acquire Iglesias only to use him in the 9th inning of games they lead. Ideally, bringing him in would involve him being relied upon to get high leverage outs regardless of where in the game that is. Also, if Gordon or Kirilloff generate that much interest, I'd probably see what other starting pitching they may be able to net as an alternative. If this is the only level of return that seems viable though, it's tough to pass up.

The reality is that the Minnesota Twins aren't too far away, and raising the water level of the big league roster is a must. There's some really strong impact prospects in the farm system, but some of them are representative of the next wave. While you'd love to see everyone you draft come through your system, sometimes the best tradeoff is matching them elsewhere and turning a prospect into an immediately usable player.

With the GM meetings ready to kick off, and the Hot Stove warming up, we'll get plenty more exciting nuggets in the weeks and months ahead. Derek Falvey and Thad Levine seem to know they have something exciting on their hands, and I feel comfortable with the direction the seem to be running in.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Buxton With the First Of (How) Many

As the Rawlings Gold Glove Award winners were announced of the night of November 7th, Byron Buxton was a lock. Yes, there were surprises among the finalists, but it was a certainty that the Twins centerfielder would win his first. There wasn't going to be a Mauer-esque snub, or a Dozier-like surprise, Byron Buxton is the best centerfielder baseball currently has to offer. With the Gold Glove solidifying that belief as reality, the question now becomes, how many more follow it?

To recap a bit, Buxton was nothing short of exceptional in the outfield for the Twins this season; you don't need sabermetrics to inform you of that. Looking at the numbers, he posted 24 DRS, a 9.9 UZR, 12.6 RngR, and a 13.1 UZR/150. In short, it was both his speed and his routes that made him the most impressive centerfielder in the game. Statcast (via Baseball Savant) came out with a new metric, Outs Above Average, for 2017 as well. Buxton's 25 OAA led all of baseball, and was also better than the total any other team (Rays 2nd with 23) could muster. For his efforts, Buxton's ability added 6 percent to expected catch percentages on balls hit his way.

It seems that each time Statcast puts forth a new defensive metric, it's Buxton that finds himself at the top. The 26 four-star outs he recorded in 2017 were an MLB best, and the 92.9% conversion rate on those outs (26-28) were also tops in the major leagues. With a 30.2 ft/s sprint speed on the basepaths, Buxton has also taken the crown as the fastest player in The Show. You'll likely be looking for a while to find something he doesn't excel at in the field.

Whether just watching him from afar, or taking a deeper dive into the advanced analytics, it's apparent that the kid from Baxley, GA is special.

So, with one Gold Glove now is his trophy case, the question becomes how many join it? Knowing what we do at this moment about his career, and what we can project going forward, I think there's a couple places we can point to in making an educated guess.

First and foremost, there's going to need to be a level of offense that follows Buxton's path. While the Gold Glove is a defensive award, Joe Mauer was left out for bigger offensive names, and Brian Dozier was included (and won) for his prowess with the bat. A guy like Buxton, so far beyond normal realms in the field, is going to be given more of a pass with his bat. For both the Twins and Buxton going forward though, the dish can't simply be a place where he punts. The good news is that a rebuilt swing under James Rowson has made it seem like that won't be the case.

Buxton ended 2017 with a career best .728 OPS despite hitting below the Mendoza Line for the first two months of the year. Across his final 82 games of 2017, Buxton owned an .801 OPS with a .278 AVG and a .332 OBP. In a full season, those numbers elevate Buxton to All-Star status, with at least a couple of MVP votes along the way. For a guy that's hit at every level of his career, I think we've only begun to see the offensive production begin to blossom, and that's quite the comforting development.

Outside of what Buxton can do in the field or at the plate, it will be integral for him to stay healthy as well. While there are times that routes are less than crisp, or closing speed allows for miraculous catches, the Twins centerfielder often finds himself acquainted with immobile objects. Finding a way to balance the ability to save games, but also not miss them will be a must as his career goes on. Outfield walls are far from forgiving, and missing stretches of play from crashing into them is hardly an ideal tradeoff. Some of Buxton's biggest highlights have included physical altercations with field dimensions, but he'll need to take care of himself from a longevity point of view.

Finally, how much can Buxton unlock from his arm. With advanced metrics measuring all aspects of defensive output, Byron has an opportunity to push the envelope with his throwing ability. A strong arm that can touch the mid-90s, accuracy seemed to leave him at points during 2017. Whether throws sail up the line, or miss cutoffs in certain scenarios, cutting down runners with more pinpoint accuracy is only going to enhance his defensive offerings as a whole.

Looking across the landscape of centerfielders, and specifically those that played for the Minnesota Twins, I'm comfortable putting Buxton Gold Glove over/under at nine. It's the same number that Torii Hunter won, and three more than Kirby Puckett tallied.

As a betting man myself, I'll take the under, but only slightly. My fear is that Buxton's reckless abandon costs him time at some points during his career, and that will hold him back from putting up the counting stats. If healthy however, Buxton is easily the best centerfielder I've ever seen, and watching him reach double-digits in the Gold Glove department would be an absolute treat.

Monday, November 6, 2017

The Judge Rules The Show

Expected to be announced later this evening officially, it appears that Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge will grace the cover of MLB The Show 18. The New York phenom, who a shoe-in for the Rookie of the Year award, will give a polarizing presence to the cover of the upcoming iteration from Sony's San Diego Studios.

This season, Aaron Judge went from a 27 game sample size with a .608 OPS, to a major league record in home runs for a rookie. His 52 longballs led all of the American League, and there's a legitimate argument for him to be made the American League rookie of the year. While strikeouts were also a part of his game, a good command of the zone also led to a league-leading 127 walks.

Over the course of the season, Judge attribute changes than anyone in The Show 17. Starting on March 28, Judge was a lowly common player in the Diamond Dynasty mode of the game. At 68 overall, his power numbers were just 60 vs righties and 68 vs lefties. A early season surge was met with incremental boosts across the board, and it wasn't until June 23rd that he reached the gold tier (85 OVR) with an 87 OVR. After seeing a slight dip in August, Judge was given a one point boost back up to 88 OVR in the final roster update of the season. Thanks to Daddy Leagues (@DaddyLeagues) for providing the portal to look back at Judge's 2017 The Show changes.

Thanks to a 22 game April that resulted in a 1.161 OPS with 10 homers, Judge received one of the first flashback Player of the Month cards in The Show 17. That card was hit with an 88 OVR rating, his eventual Live Series OVR, and quickly became one of the most sought after cards in the game. Proving his ability to keep a consistent level of production over the entirety of the season, it only makes sense that both his Live Series and flashback card would virtually mirror each other statistically.

After another early season stumble out of the gates due to server issues, and more than a few gameplay complaints over the game's life cycle, San Diego Studios needs a near flawless release for The Show 18. While there's plenty of anti-Yankees fans out there, there's no denying the polarizing nature of Judge. He's got an incredible ability to destroy the baseball, won the Home Run Derby, and plays the game with an infectious smile.

Look for Sony San Diego to make the announcement official later this evening, and thanks to Twitter user @AquaX107 for his sleuthing capabilities. It should also be pointed out that T.J. Lauerman (@ThatSportsGamer) has given us a glimpse of the three different editions of the title. MLB The Show 18 is set to release on March 27th, 2018.
Details from the game's editions (via Reddit) are as follows:

Pre-order now and get:
• Three days’ early access
• 10 Standard Packs
• One Legend Starter
• Exclusive Aaron Judge Rookie Flashback in The Show 17™
• 5,000 Stubs
The MVP Edition includes:
• MLB® The Show™ 18
• 5,000 Stubs
• Gold Mission Starter
• One Sponsor Pack
• 10 Standard Packs
• 30 PS4™ themes
• One Classic Stadium
The Digital Deluxe Edition includes:
• MLB® The Show™ 18
• 11,000 Stubs
• One Gold Season Starter Mission
• One Diamond Season Starter Mission
• Digital Deluxe Lead Off Pack
• One Sponsor Pack
• 20 Standard Packs
• 30 PS4™ themes
• One Classic Stadium

The Case For Carlos

With Major League Baseball free agency ready to get underway, general managers and organizations will begin pitching to players why they should sign with their respective teams. For the Twins, pitching will once again remain a focus, but for a team looking to take the next step, a nice offensive additional may not be a bad play. There's multiple options out there, but a former divisional foe should be the place they turn first. That guy is Carlos Santana.

The former Cleveland Indians slugger is out on the open market, and while he'll almost certainly have a qualifying offer attached to him, it makes sense for a competitive organization to part with a draft pick for his services. The soon-to-be 32 year-old is coming off a season in which he posted an .818 OPS and launched 23 long balls for the Indians. Even if Derek Falvey didn't have previous Cleveland ties, a match here seems to make a lot of sense.

Judging the Twins needs on offense, the most glaring area last year was a right-handed power bat. If that player could offer something on defense, that would only further the notion of it being a well-found pairing. Santana is a switch hitter, and while he hit righties better in 2017, he's been a tick better (.815 OPS vs .809 OPS) from the right side over the course of his career.

Defensively, he's long since moved out from behind the plate, having not caught a game since 2014. Outside of a seven game stint in right-field during 2017, Santana has honed his craft at first base and designated hitter. While he can be a hitter only, serving as the Indians DH in 92 games during 2016, his first base abilities have generally led him to play the game with a glove at his disposal as well. Over the course of 140 games at first base this season, Santana was among the premium defenders at the position. He posted 10 DRS, a 4.8 UZR, and 1.4 RngR. While Eric Hosmer is a laughable inclusion among the Gold Glove finalists, Santana should be considered a real candidate to win the award along with Mitch Moreland.

For Minnesota, the acquisition of Santana would likely make Robbie Grossman expendable. Whether or not the Twins tender a contract to the switch hitting outfielder, Grossman served as a capable bat in the DH role. For the club to take a step forward next season however, pushing for more than just an on-base machine would be a good practice. Grossman's .741 OPS wasn't the .828 mark he produced in 2016, but the .361 OBP was again respectable. However, he combined to hit just 20 homers over the past two seasons, and put up a total of just 41 doubles.

In Santana, the Twins would be adding to a lineup that has already proven capable of winning games, and doing so without hurting their defense. Santana would be able to spell Joe Mauer at first base, giving the Twins two very good defensive options. Grossman's production would be expanded upon, and a guy like Kennys Vargas would no longer need to surface in the starting lineup. Santana has clubbed 57 homers over the past two seasons, while averaging over 20 in each full season of his career. Add to that the consistent doubles production of around 30 a season, and Minnesota would find themselves with some additional thump to the middle of the order.

Along the lines of priority, I've suggested that the Twins add a starting pitcher and two relievers prior to adding a bat. In reality though, I think a productive offseason consists of each of those four acquisitions becoming a reality. Whether or not Santana is the first domino to fall or the last, it doesn't preclude the club from making the other necessary decisions to put their best foot forward for the 2018 season.

At this point, the door for competitive baseball has begun to open for Minnesota, and as young players like Miguel Sano, Jose Berrios, and Byron Buxton continue to blossom, supplementing them with other proven threats is a must. The Indians are going to remain the team to beat in the AL Central, but counting the Twins out for the division and beyond is probably a foolish decision. Derek Falvey and Thad Levine can make this club even more of a contender by being aggressive as the time appears right.