Wednesday, December 26, 2018

The Dangers in Waiting for Minnesota

We’re quickly approaching the close of the 2018 calendar year. While there’s still multiple months before Spring Training commences in sunny Fort Myers, the Minnesota Twins talent acquisition has come in the form of two moves. Both players found themselves on the free agent market by way of non-tender decisions from their previous ballclubs. We saw a patient strategy in 2017 but employing it again could be to the team’s detriment.

Despite how the Lance Lynn and Logan Morrison signings worked out for Falvey and Co. last offseason, there’s no denying that both moves made a ton of sense. Morrison represented a power bat the lineup could certainly use, and Lynn allowed the starting rotation an ability to be bolstered by one of the premiere names on the market. Both players were inked to team-friendly dollars, and there’s no such thing as a bad one-year deal.

It appears that the Twins are content employing a similar level of patience this time around. The problem, however, is that the circumstances had them in a position ripe to jump the market. We’ve heard that a $100 million payroll could be the bar to clear, and much has been made about the uncertainty of both Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton’s development. The former is a number that should represent an embarrassing effort towards competitiveness, while the latter strikes this blogger as a backwards way of thinking.

Right now, we’ve yet to see Sano and Buxton put it all together over a consistent period. Minnesota obviously has reservations about whether it will happen for the two former top prospects but planning for anything other than full speed ahead comes with quite a few issues.

First, Sano and Buxton will never be cheaper than they are right now. Whether they explode or not, arbitration raises will continue to increase their rate of pay. Should things go according to plan, the dollars will mount considerably in the next few seasons. Waiting for the next wave of prospects would signify something like a ten year rebuild and comes with the same caveats as to whether the prospect status matures at the highest level. Pairing the current duo with external talent is also just a drop in the bucket in terms of dollars at this point, and nothing hamstrings an organization with zero dollars committed to 2020 and beyond.

You can certainly look at the free agent landscape as it stands today and wonder where those extra dollars would be spent. Craig Kimbrel isn’t the most appealing reliever at his ask, and Bryce Harper probably wants little to do with Minnesota. However, we’ve heard about plenty of relievers that the Twins were in on to this point and they simply didn’t want to extend a second year. These are the avenues that strike me as poor planning. Outpacing the competition by showing a willingness for an extra season, or a few extra millions, is something this team is in the perfect position to do. The Twins shed a ton of salary prior to 2019 and have literally nothing on the books for the season after. By being aggressive on some second-tier names, there’s no denying the impact could have been felt in the wins column. At this juncture, there’s a dwindling list of those types left, and the suitors remain a vast and competitive field.

As referenced from the get-go, there’s still time left to sort this all out. If Nelson Cruz, Cody Allen, and Zach Britton all end up in Twins Territory the panic button can be put away. When C.J. Cron and Jonathan Schoop are joined by the like of a Zach Duke or Matt Belisle type however, we’ll be vindicated in wondering what was taking place at 1 Twins Way.

Regardless of any team’s payroll flexibility, it’s always fair to view deals through a sensible market value meter. That said, there’s nothing wrong with being the aggressor in acquiring talent when you have resources on your side. For years the Twins have been in a situation that extra spending didn’t make sense because a level of competitiveness wasn’t going to be impacted by anything but a total overhaul. Now is not that time, and each additional acquisition can play a key part in a result greater than expected.

Waiting for something to fall into your lap has its purpose, but dictating your future often bears greater fruits.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Resurgent Relief for Allen with Twins?

After signing Jonathan Schoop and C.J. Cron to deals earlier this month, the Minnesota Twins have been largely quiet. Despite having been linked to a few big bats for the lineup, there’s been no new acquisitions for Rocco Baldelli to pencil into his Opening Day 25-man roster. Looking at where Derek Falvey and Thad Levine can upgrade this club, there’s no denying some relief pitching help is a must. A familiar face could be the key acquisition in that area.

Cody Allen is the 30-year-old former Cleveland Indians closer. During their peak, it was Allen that often trotted in behind the efforts of Andrew Miller. While Miller was considered the fireman that came on to escape big jams, it was Allen who was routinely asked to close the door. Since 2014 he’s accumulated 147 saves and has surpassed the 30 mark on three separate occasions. In each of those years he tossed at least 67 innings, and his 11.8 K/9 over that stretch is nothing short of impressive.

While we aren’t yet into the advanced stages of the offseason, Allen’s market really has yet to take shape. He may eventually see the money expected to come his way entering the 2018 regular season, but the reality is that the latest campaign was a step backwards. Allen posted a career worst 4.70 ERA along with a 4.56 FIP. The strikeout totals dipped to 10.7 per nine, and his 4.4 BB/9 was also a low water mark for his seven-year big league tenure.

In trying to deduce what could be next, you must look at Allen’s inputs under the hood. His fastball velocity average 94 mph last season, which was down 0.6 mph from 2017. Allen sat in the mid 96 range back in 2014 and has lost roughly 2 mph on the pitch over the past four seasons. Primarily a two-pitch pitcher, using a fastball and curveball, he went back to being fastball reliant after briefly (and starkly) reversing that trend during 2017. The results yielded more hard contact, less swinging strikes, and an ever-climbing HR/9 tally.

This is where the Twins can find opportunity. At 30 years-old, it’d be somewhat shocking if Allen was running out of steam. There’re just over 400 innings on his arm at the big-league level, and he tallied under 100 total innings during two minor league seasons. Allen was drafted and groomed through the Indians system, meaning Falvey should have a rather intimate understanding of his health and ability. Bargaining against his recent performance, future results could be captures at somewhat of a discount.

Baldelli likely needs at least two relief arms brought in to shore up the back end of his pitching staff. Minnesota, as you’ve heard, has plenty of cash flow ready for allocation. It’s fair to assume that Allen could be had for a contract like that of Addison Reed a season ago, which then would leave roughly that same amount for another arm to be brought. The Twins acquiring two relievers at something like $8 million a year should lead to a considerable talent influx out of the bullpen.

There’s no denying that we may have become enamored with saves years ago, but they don’t tell the story of a pitcher’s true efficiency at this point. Allen however is more than a late inning statistic when he’s right, and if Minnesota determines that 2018 was a fluke, the opportunity to allow him an ability to thrive in a familiar division is more than appealing.

We have yet to see the direction Minnesota’s front office is going to take on the mound, but this would be one that should be easy to get behind.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Bring on the Boomstick

With the Winter Meetings well underway, signings and reports are flying in from every direction. The Minnesota Twins made their initial splash with the acquisitions of Johnathan Schoop and Ronald Torreyes. Now having the middle infield gaps covered, some thump in the lineup can be addressed. Rocco Baldelli’s projected starters have plenty of power at their disposal, but none look the part of true on-base threats. Nelson Cruz would change that.

On Tuesday evening Hector Gomez reported that the two teams left vying for the services of the former Seattle Mariners DH are the Twins and Tampa Bay Rays. Cruz hits the market as a 38-year-old that will be playing 2019 at the age of 39. Despite nearing his forties, there doesn’t yet appear to be much slowdown in terms of production. During 2018 with Seattle, Cruz watched his average dip to .256 (a career low), but it was bolstered by an .850 OPS and 37 homers.

There wasn’t ever a point in his career that Cruz was an ideal outfielder, but at this stage in the game he’s become a full time DH. Luckily with the Twins, there’s no need for him to ever be inserted into the outfield. On the premise of his bat alone, Cruz is among the most intriguing names for Minnesota to consider offensively. Dating back to 2014, he’s hit no less than 37 longballs, and he’s had a .356 OBP over that stretch.

Right now, Jorge Polanco looks destined to be the leadoff hitter for Baldelli, and some combination of Miguel Sano, C.J. Cron, and Eddie Rosario will fill out the top half of the lineup. That group has plenty of ability to lose balls in the seats, but Polanco’s .325 OBP over the past two seasons paces them. As baseball has trended towards the launch angle revolution, and adaptation for power, a remaining necessity to get on base is ever present. Even if everything breaks right from a homer standpoint for the current Twins group, there stands a reasonable expectation that many of them could be hollow, solo shots.

It’s not just on-base skills that make Cruz an ideal candidate to join the Twins clubhouse, however. As a veteran who has not bounced around, he’s been someone that no doubt displays a certain presence within the clubhouse. Minnesota has been big on veteran leadership surrounding their young and upcoming stars in recent years, but that role has often been filled with aging players offering little value (Torii Hunter, Matt Belisle, etc.). In Cruz, Baldelli gets a Spanish speaking veteran than can lead by example for many of the impressionable minds he’s looking to mold. Doing so by example on and off the field must have a bit more merit.

There’s little doubt that Cruz is approaching the end of his time as a professional ballplayer. Whether that means three years or five years, age always wins out. At this point in time there isn’t much reason to believe the production will dip, and that should calm any fears of agreeing to a one- or two-year deal. He’ll get paid a hefty sum, but with the open cash flow that the organization has, there will still be plenty of dollars to allocate towards pitching.

Whether this pact gets done while the Twins contingent is in Las Vegas or not remains to be seen, but it would be hard to swallow a scenario in which Minnesota was just “in the hunt” again. There’s not going to be a long-term commitment here, and the dollars won’t be a showstopper. There’s a serious fit from multiple angles, and a deal is something Derek Falvey and Thad Levine should be adamant about.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

2019 Minnesota Twins Top 15 Prospects

We’re amid the Winter Meetings, and the Minnesota Twins are putting together their active roster for the 2019 Major League Baseball season. Having turned the page on a less than stellar year, an overhaul of the coaching staff puts Rocco Baldelli as the new man in charge. Although the Twins have yet to break through at the top of the AL Central to this point, the hope is that they’re not far off. If that’s going to be a sustainable reality the farm system will need to bear fruit.

Last touched mid-way through 2018, my top 15 Twins prospects is due for some updating. If you’d like to see where things stood then, look here. Below you can also find the Top 15 Prospect lists dating back to 2016. Entering the 2019 season, here’s how the list shakes out:

15. Jorge Alcala RHP

Minnesota acquired Alcala when dealing Ryan Pressly to the Houston Astros in the middle of the 2018 season. He got in 20 innings with Double-A Chattanooga last season and it didn’t go great. The strikeout numbers were there, which isn’t a surprise for a guy who can threaten triple digits, but command became a larger issue. He’s still working as a starter, but the transition to relief could happen as soon as 2019. He’ll be 23 this season and could be an asset in late inning relief work for the Twins. As a guy who was acquired in exchange for Pressly, dominant relief work would be the situation coming full circle.

14. Luke Raley OF/1B

It was Logan Forsythe that was acquired to replace Brian Dozier when Minnesota struck a deal with the Dodgers. Raley was the prospect that looked the most intriguing in the package though. He’s getting old for his level now at 24, but he should start at Triple-A in 2019. Brent Rooker is the prospect that gets the power fanfare, but Raley is looking like he should be in that conversation as well. There’s plenty of swing and miss here and refining the approach at the dish is a must, but he could profile as a fourth outfielder or nice bench bat going forward.

13. Gilberto Celestino OF

The other part of the Pressly deal, Celestino is just going to be 20 in 2019. He played in rookie ball for Minnesota last year, but a progression to Cedar Rapids for the year ahead makes sense. Celestino held his own in the New York Pen league while in the Astros system, and driving an OPS back up around .800 would be a very nice development. He’s raw and yet to fill out, but this is a prospect worth monitoring.

12. Jhoan Duran RHP

Picked from the Diamondbacks system when the Twins sent Eduardo Escobar to Arizona, Duran has plenty of exciting peripherals. He put up a highlight reel after joining Cedar Rapids, and his strikeout numbers only continued to rise. He’ll likely move up to Double-A at the beginning of 2019 and getting a guy that may have had his minor league breakout last year is an exciting add.

11. Blayne Enlow RHP

It was Enlow that was the beneficiary of some shrewd draft strategy by Minnesota in 2017. Despite going in the 3rd round, he was a targeted draft pick and with good reason. He played all of 2018 at Single-A Cedar Rapids despite being just 19, and the numbers were plenty respectable. He did miss some time, but that’s not abnormal for a kid in his first full pro season. He needs to continue developing and the hope would be the strikeout stuff continues to play. Enlow has a shot to be a mid-level or better piece of the rotation.

10. Lewis Thorpe LHP

Having returned to the mound in 2017, Thorpe turned in his first full season since 2014. With the injuries and illness behind him, he threw over 100 innings for the first time in his career. Although he’s a lefty, Thorpe isn’t just a soft-tossing contact pitcher. With strong command of his arsenal, he posted nearly 11 strikeouts per nine at both Double and Triple-A last season. Expecting him to be a depth option for the big-league club in 2019 is more than realistic.

9. Wander Javier SS

Without a missed season, Javier is probably even higher on this list. Signed out of the Dominican Republic, Javier has been one of the must-see type prospects in the system for a while. He underwent Tommy John surgery and missed all of 2018, but he will be healthy when 2019 kicks off. Javier showed well in his Appy League debut during 2017, and as he fills out, should only become more exciting.

8. Akil Baddoo OF

I’ve raved about Baddoo at different times in this space. His body has matured greatly, and he did a great job as a regular for the Kernels in 2018. Although his average wasn’t where it sat during rookie ball, the .770 OPS continues to be reflective of a guy with great plate discipline. He takes a ton of walks and started to show power with the muscle he’s put on. Baddoo is quick enough to stay in centerfield but could profile as a bopper on the corners as well. This is an exciting mix of tools to monitor.

7. LaMonte Wade OF

Although lacking some of the power Baddoo may possess, Wade is another guy that can play all three outfield positions and does a great job getting on base. He owns a career .391 OBP in the minors and forces pitchers to work in order to get him out. He probably won’t start 2019 in Minnesota, but he could claim a spot as soon as needed. This is a non-switch-hitting Robbie Grossman with a much better glove.

6. Nick Gordon SS/2B

We could’ve been writing a different story here had Gordon’s 2018 continued like it did at Double-A Chattanooga. Through his first 42 games of 2018, the former 1st round pick has a .906 OPS and was on his way to Triple-A. Nothing went right in Rochester, and now both Johnathan Schoop and Ronald Torreyes have been brought into the mix. The goal would be for Gordon to still take over for the Twins up the middle, but that will come after a level of mastery in Rochester is shown.

5. Trevor Larnach OF

Picked by the Twins following a College World Series victory in June 2018, Larnach made it to Cedar Rapids in his professional debut season. Positing an .890 OPS split between two levels, Larnach’s bat has always been his calling card. He isn’t a centerfielder, but there’s no reason the glove won’t be good enough for the corners. As with all power guys, a strikeout tendency could be a worry, but Larnach’s 28/21 K/BB in his first 42 games is a great jumping off point.

4. Brent Rooker OF/DH

Slow starts can be doom and gloom for some, but Rooker turned it on after stumbling out of the gate. He finished with a .798 OPS at Double-A in 2018 and posted a .900 OPS for a matter of months. He swatted 22 homers and all the comments regarding how much power he possessed were absolutely for real. It sounds like there’s no belief he’ll have the footwork to play first base, so he’s a left fielder or DH at this point. That said, he was drafted as a quick mover and highlighted for his bat. Minnesota could call upon him in 2019 and I’d expect him to be more than ready.

3. Brusdar Graterol RHP

Following in the footsteps of Fernando Romero, Graterol is the next Twins fireballing prospect. There is some reason to believe he could end up in the bullpen, but if he harnesses his skills as a starter, he’s a top of the rotation guy. Making it to High-A Fort Myers as a 19-year-old is no small feat, and he had little problem laying waste to hitters quite senior to him. The fastball sits near triple digits, and he’s yet to experience much issue with walks. If there’s a Twins ace of the future, it could be Brusdar.

2. Alex Kirilloff OF

Known as a bat first prospect out of high school, it was unfortunate to see Kirilloff miss a year of development due to injury in 2017. You’d be hard pressed to believe action wasn’t seen in a year after the 2018 he had, however. Splitting 130 games equally between Cedar Rapids and Fort Myers, Kirilloff owned a ridiculous .970 OPS. He posted 20 homers and owned a .392 OBP. The Pittsburgh native has all the makeup you’d want, and the tools on the field take it to another level. He’ll enter 2019 as one of the best prospects in the game.

1. Royce Lewis SS

Maybe the only thing to slow the Royce Lewis hype train in 2018 was the season Kirilloff had. On his own however, the 2017 1st overall pick looks every bit as good as hoped. On top of being an incredible human being, he should enter 2019 as one of the top three or four prospects in all of baseball. His defensive ability has taken steps forward at shortstop, and his .803 OPS was more than impressive for being his first full year of pro ball. There’s no reason to expect a trip to Pensacola for Double-A won’t be in short order, and a future Twins superstar could emerge from there.

Monday, December 10, 2018

The Scoop on Schoop, and His Twins Fit

Entering the offseason Derek Falvey and Thad Levine were tasked with finding infield help. They needed to replace the retired Joe Mauer, and the flipped Brian Dozier. Internal options put pretty much any infield position as an acquirable target, but in the end, second base and first base were the routes traveled. Now with Jonathan Schoop joining C.J. Cron, Minnesota has filled both needs, but there’s plenty to question here.

Schoop was acquired by the Brewers during the 2018 season. The intention in Milwaukee was to keep the 2017 All-Star around for the 2019 season. With a year of team control left, his arbitration contract was almost certain to be tendered. Unfortunately for Schoop, he owned just a .577 OPS in 46 games with the Crew and find himself out on the free agent market.

After making $8.5 million in 2018, the Twins getting a bounce-back candidate in his age-27 season at a paltry figure of $7.5 million, it’s hard to be disappointed. When viewing Schoop through a vacuum we can see a power hitting middle infielder that’s just a year removed from an .841 slugging percentage. He plays better defense than the Twins have employed at the position in some time, and the market itself wasn’t rich with ideal options.

It’s when you look at the fit with the Twins specifically that Schoop becomes a bit more of an odd fit.

Gone from the 2018 team are the likes of Dozier, Mauer, and Robbie Grossman. That trio was a mainstay in Paul Molitor’s lineup, and even with the down year from Dozier, the group provided an ability to get on base. Looking at the projected starters for Rocco Baldelli, the best OBP mark over the past two seasons comes from Eddie Rosario (.326). Given that the front office wound up with both Cron (.316 OBP 2017/18) and Schoop (.307 OBP) it’s worth considering that there may be a shift for power as opposed to plate discipline and on-base skills.

There’s an argument to be made that slugging percentage can begin tipping the scales away from OBP, but you’d like to have some sort of marriage throughout the lineup. Being too heavy on one side of the spectrum seemingly would lead to a feast or famine type of offensive output. Certainly, a rebounding Miguel Sano (.352 OBP in 2017, .385 OBP in 2015) would help matters. A designated hitter that can marry on-base skills and slugging prowess could also be an avenue of opportunity.

At the end of the days, Minnesota got one of the better second basemen on the market. Schoop has plenty more to like than players like Daniel Murphy or Jed Lowrie when considering all factors. At his best though, he’s a downgrade from even 2017 Brian Dozier (who wasn’t and shouldn’t have been considered by Minnesota), and the skillset that the Mississippi native used display in Twins Territory. If this is going to work swimmingly, Schoop needs to make 2018 a mirage and see the rest of the lineup help to hide his deficiency.

I’d bet the Twins are done with offensive additions unless a designated hitter falls into their lap, and now it will be up to the ability of the front office to raise the water level of the rotation and bullpen. Cleveland willingly taking steps backwards for 2019 helps this organization, and although the club doesn’t appear to be kicking the door in, beginning to pry it open would be a nice sign of things to come.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

2019 IBWAA Hall of Fame Ballot

On December 1, 2018 the IBWAA sent out Hall of Fame ballots for the 2019 cycle. Participating in now my fourth voting process, I continue to find this a privilege each and every season. While the BBWAA is obviously the recognized party that drives induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, many of the practices are fine tuned through the IBWAA process.

Along with ditching the traditional mailing of ballots, the IBWAA ballot is also open to 15 candidates (as opposed to the BBWAA's 10). Having voted for the max, or more in previous seasons (find my 2018 ballot here), I now find myself at somewhat of a crossroads. Having been vocal about the need for BBWAA voters to fill their ballots and even expand beyond 10, my 2019 entry falls short of all the numbers.

Thanks in part to the work done by other IBWAA members, multiple injustices have found themselves corrected on the ballot. There isn't the same backlog in this voting cycle because of inductions for Barry Bonds, Rogers Clemens, Edgar Martinez, and Mike Mussina all having taken place. I genuinely hope that the BBWAA gets there someday. For now though, the focus turns to my seven selections for 2019, including two players who appear on the ballot for the first time.

Curt Schilling: 79.7 fWAR

Bloody sock nonsense aside, Schilling is a three time Cy Young runner-up, and six-time All Star. He struck out 3,116 batters in his career and owns a 3.46 ERA while totaling more than 200 wins. Three World Series rings, an MVP, and a 2.23 postseason ERA do him favors as well. Since voting for him last year, Schilling has made plenty of splashes in the media. He's not well liked off the field, but the character clause is among the most dated pieces of inclusion into the Hall of Fame. On baseball merit alone, he's worthy of the nod.

Scott Rolen 70.1 fWAR

Vastly under appreciated, Rolen started as a Rookie of the Year winner, and went on to tally eight Gold Glove awards. He was a seven time All Star and among the best to ever field the Hot Corner. With an .855 career OPS, his bat more than does enough to supplement what was an exceptional defensive career.

Larry Walker: 68.7 fWAR

Although he played the field plenty, Walker also turned in a nice run spending time in both the infield and outfield. He was the 1997 NL MVP and made five All Star games. His glove netted him seven Gold Gloves and his bat produced three Silver Slugger awards. Walker finished his 17 seasons with 383 homers and drove in over 1,300 runs.

Andruw Jones 67.1 fWAR

Jones's 17 year career is often going to be questioned as he held on for five uninspiring seasons to closer out his time as a big leaguer. That aside, the 10 year stretch from 199-2007 was one for the ages. With 10 Gold Glove's and five All Star appearances, he was easily among the greatest in the game for a decade.

*Roy Halladay 65.2 fWAR

There should never have been any doubt that Doc wouldn't be a first ballot Hall of Famer, but the tragedy in this is that he won't be here to witness it. The two-time Cy Young winner posted a 2.98 ERA over an 11 year period from 2001-2011. He was never a high strikeout guy, but with a career 1.9 BB/9, there wasn't an at bat that would come easy. At 34 in 2011, Halladay turned in a 163 ERA+ to set a new career best, and was beat out for a third Cy Young in favor of Clayton Kershaw winning his first. Doc will always be remembered as one of the best to ever step on the mound.

Fred McGriff: 56.9 fWAR

The Crime Dog spent many of his early season among MVP discussions. Despite never winning won, he finished fourth in 1993. He was elected to five All Star games and won three Silver Slugger awards. It's his 493 career home runs that get him over the top and into the Hall however.

*Mariano Rivera 39.7 fWAR

We've gotten to the point in which saves are no longer considered a valuable statistic. Putting Mo into a bucket that categorizes him solely based upon that metric would be a disservice however. The 652 saves are a big league record, and so are the 952 games finished. Where Rivera separates himself however, is the level in which he did it. A 2.21 ERA along with a career 205 ERA+ are both utterly astounding. Rivera was the cutter, and his Postseason 0.70 ERA is the stuff of legend. We may eventually see a shift in how relievers are remembered, but it won't start here.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Tyler Austin Just Visiting Minnesota?

In one of their first moves this offseason, the Minnesota Twins plucked C.J. Cron off waivers after he was jettisoned by the Tampa Bay Rays. Following a 30-home run breakout campaign and having established relationships with the likes of Rocco Baldelli and Josh Kalk, the slugging first basemen seems like a decent gamble. What’s worth wondering though is whether Cron slots in as Joe Mauer’s replacement, or just another body on the 25 man. No matter what his role, the Twins do have Tyler Austin to worry about, and what’s next could be described as some uncertainty.

The Twins acquired Austin and pitching prospect Luis Rijo in exchange for Lance Lynn at the 2018 trade deadline. After seeing little playing time with the Yankees over the past three seasons, Austin got in consistent run with Minnesota down the stretch. From August through the end of the season, he played in 35 games for Paul Molitor’s club. His .782 OPS was a career best, and the nine longballs were also reflective of his power stroke. Now recently turned 27 years-old Austin looked to be in line for an expanded role with the Twins, but that may not be guaranteed.

Projecting the possible roster openings, we can guarantee that nine players fill out the lineup with another five in the starting rotation. A 13 man pitching staff has been customary for the organization of late, so an eight-man bullpen also seems probable. In that scenario there’s just three bench spots up for grabs, likely taken up by backup catcher Mitch Garver, utility man Ehire Adrianza, and fourth outfielder Jake Cave. At this point we’ve yet to consider Austin’s place meaning he’d need to start at either first base or designated hitter.

Although the Twins aren’t locked into Cron to start the season, a $4.8 million deal tendered to the former Ray suggests he’s in their plans. Whether that means he starts at first base or takes the bulk of the designated hitter reps remains to be seen. It would be my hope, and a logical expectation, that Minnesota is not yet done adding bats. Obviously, Jorge Polanco needs an up the middle partner, but a higher ceiling fit for first or DH still has plenty of promise. The duo of Cron and Austin would be passable, but the front office would also be plenty open for criticism if such a low reward avenue was embarked upon.

Next week the Winter Meetings commence in Las Vegas and we’re almost certainly (err, hopefully) going to see the free agent market pick up. Minnesota may let some of the chips fall first, but they’ll need to fill the necessary holes (middle infield, bullpen) at some point. Another bat entering the picture would only further signify what could be a suboptimal development for the one-time Yankees prospect.

For a guy like Austin these situations are never ideal. We saw him produce at a higher level down the stretch when given consistent playing time. He’s out of options however and could be up against a numbers crunch in a position Minnesota stands to benefit from improvement. A Cron and Austin tandem in the lineup would signify somewhat of a disappointing effort to acquire talent, but an improvement could make the stay in Twins Territory a quick one for Tyler.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Spending is Coming, Right?

Going into the offseason the Minnesota Twins had more free cash flow than any point in recent memory. Multiple free agents inked to one-year deals are gone, Joe Mauer’s mega contract ended (as well as his big-league career), and the front office is left with something like a $60 million gap between current dollars and the 2018 Opening Day mark. From this we should be able to deduce a windfall of dollars being spent right? Maybe not.

On Friday local columnist Patrick Reusse was a guest on the Mackey and Judd show at 1500 ESPN. The discussion turned to the Twins and he noted hearing that the hometown nine are aiming for a payroll below $100 million to start 2019. This would be a $25 million step backwards from 2018, and with the considerable gaps to fill, a barrel scraping blueprint in order to fill out the active roster. You can bet that Reusse is more plugged in than this lowly blogger, and he’s forgotten more baseball contacts than I’ve ever made. There are some reasons to pump the brakes, however.

First and foremost, C.J. Cron’s addition to the organization suggests a willingness to commit some uncertain dollars. Robbie Grossman was always headed towards a non-tender with a $4MM-plus price tag, and an inability to do much of anything outside of getting on base. That type of player is extremely replaceable, but the safe assumption would’ve been to do so at a lower valuation. Minnesota tendered Cron a deal at $4.8 million, and that’s plenty trusting for a guy coming off a career year and 30 home run production out of nowhere.

Looking at the current structure of the roster, there’s no denying that the Twins need at least one middle infielder, no less than two relievers, potentially a starting pitcher, and maybe another bat. By those assumptions, you’re looking at no less than four more additions to this squad. While acquisitions can come through the trade market (which would still carry obvious contract obligations), four players averaging $10 million pacts over any period seems like a tough ask. Staying below the $100 million threshold from a numerical standpoint would take a concerted effort.

Ok, so now that we’ve outline this reality being a difficult ask, it’s time to question why this would be a reasonable decision. As the Cleveland Indians continue to take steps backwards this offseason, it’s becoming more apparent that opportunity is beginning to present itself for the Twins in 2019 and beyond. While there’s reason to wait for a full explosion with Royce Lewis and Alex Kirilloff in 2020, prospects are unpredictable and getting the most from both Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano should remain the chief concern. No matter what waiting game is played, marrying upcoming talent with producers currently in the fold is an absolute must.

Should the front office decide to sit out of the market this winter, the largest counter argument would be an effort to lock down arbitration eligible talent to long term deals. Getting commitments out of Sano, Buxton, Jose Berrios, Eddie Rosario, and Max Kepler then all becomes a “must do” type of strategy. If you aren’t willing to spend money on the open market, but also aren’t paying for the control of your own internal talent, you’re visibly announcing a lack of care to improve or compete.

That’s really where we find ourselves should this scenario play out. For far too long, there’s been griping about the Twins payroll. Looking back over the recent landscape however, you’ve got plenty of losing seasons and even less controllable talent. Spending big dollars on one player here or there would have never advanced the envelope enough for Minnesota to make any real mark. We are no longer in that period. Top prospects have graduated, the division presents opportunity, and money is plentiful for the proper allocation. Should the Twins fail to be in the same tier of payroll when 2019 kicks off, the front office, organization, and all involved are deserving of the lashing they’ll take.

We haven’t yet reached a point of concern given the lack of market movement thus far. The hopes would be that the Winter Meetings would blast the stove to hot, and we wouldn’t see players grasping at last minute deals well into spring training. Should Derek Falvey and Thad Levine welcome the Cleveland Indians to Target Field on March 28th with a payroll less than $110 million though, forget the cold and just burn it all down.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Robbie Nearing His End in Minnesota?

By Friday the Minnesota Twins will need to decide if they are going to tender contracts to all their arbitration eligible players. The names include guys like Kyle Gibson, Eddie Rosario, and Miguel Sano. Among the ten possibilities, nine of them are near-certainties. If there’s a guy with an uncertain future however, it’s none other than Robbie Grossman.

Grossman came to the Twins in 2016, under the Terry Ryan regime, after opting out of a minor league deal with the Cleveland Indians. His career had sputtered with the Houston Astros and never really got off the ground. That 2016 Twins team was a bad one (103 losses), and Grossman was brought in for depth purposes. The day after his acquisition, Eddie Rosario was demoted to Triple-A and Grossman made his Minnesota debut on May 20.

Robbie’s first season with the Twins was a coming out party. Despite being on a team playing terrible baseball his offensive production was a bright spot. At 26 years-old he’d eclipsed prospect status, but posting an .828 OPS doesn’t get glanced over, and he was every bit the on-base machine expected of him. Now looking back on his production, the narrative hasn’t changed much. In 347 games with the Twins Grossman owns a .711 OPS buoyed by a .371 OBP. Offensively, he’s a guy that has a little pop, takes strong at bats, and gives opportunity to the hitters surrounding him in the lineup.

Unfortunately, the offensive prowess is where things end for Grossman. As good as he was in 2016 at the plate, the defensive output was enough to make either Delmon Young or Josh Willingham blush. Being worth -21 DRS with a -13.8 UZR in just 637 innings is nothing short of an abomination. Spending his time patrolling left field for Paul Molitor’s club, there’s no arguing that his abilities in the outfield aided heavily into such a terrible year.

Being used more sparingly in 2017, and then making improvements in 2018, Grossman does deserve somewhat of a pass on such an outlier of a year during his debut in Twins Territory. The reality however is that Robbie isn’t someone this Twins squad wants in the outfield, and it’s arguable as to whether any big-league club would see that as an ideal fit. Without a real defensive position, that’s where things get a bit dicey.

MLB Trade Rumors projects Grossman’s arbitration value at $4MM. That number isn’t a significant amount in the landscape of salaries today, but it’s also one that makes him more than expendable. Serving primarily as a designated hitter or bench bat, there’s likely better out there equal to or lower than that valuation. The Tampa Bay Rays just DFA’d C.J. Cron coming off a 30 HR season and an .816 OPS. Both players made similar figures in 2018, and Cron is a capable defender.

Knowing that the Twins are looking to upgrade their corner infield spots, have depth in the outfield (and recently acquired another OBP guy in Michael Reed), and have some desire to bring in thump to the designated hitter role, there’s plenty of factors working against Grossman. If this is the end, and it’s trending that way, it’s hard to look back at the tenure and not be happy for both sides. Grossman jumpstarted a career that failed to launch, while the Twins got a bat for the lineup that proved more serviceable than anyone could’ve imagine. At some point we all become expendable as the scales tip in favor of opportunity cost. Grossman will find work and the Twins will fill his role. Going forward, there’s just not the same ideal fit.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Twins Telling in Tea Leaves

Recently there were two rather significant developments regarding the 2019 Minnesota Twins roster construction. With the deadline to add Rule 5 Draft eligible players to the 40-man roster now in the rearview mirror, we know how the organization handled the situation. Also, in the early stages of free agency, Jon Morosi reported that the Twins have had discussions with the Arizona Diamondbacks about dealing for Paul Goldschmidt. Both of those scenarios could be hints at what’s next from the front office.

Concerning the 40-man roster and Rule 5 decisions, the Twins added Nick Gordon, LaMonte Wade, and Luis Arraez to the fold. The first two were givens while Arraez makes a ton of sense as a great contact and average hitter for a team currently lacking talent up the middle. Still having two open spots on the 40 man, the front office decided to trade reliever Nick Anderson instead of keeping him around. Jake Reed, who was deserving of a September call up, will again be exposed to the Rule 5 draft, and former 1st round pick Tyler Jay was left out in the cold as well.

Given the openings on the roster there would have been no downside for Minnesota to add the likes of Reed and Jay, even if more moves necessitated their removal in the coming months. Bullpen help has been assumed to be a key area of focus this offseason, and the internal options being passed over could be somewhat of a hint.

The reality is that the Twins certainly could benefit from some top tier relief help. The starting rotation is in a much better place than any time in recent memory, but it’s still void of a true ace. The depth is there but expecting the group to compete with the best in baseball is probably a bit far-fetched. Add in the reality that the game has shifted to being reliever dominated, and Rocco Baldelli would certainly benefit from some elite arms out in the pen.

By deciding to forego adding internal options that would have signified depth, we may be able to assume that the intention is to truly aim high in relief. If the front office was going to target more middle-of-the-road relievers, having players like Reed, Anderson, or even Jay to slot in should things go south seems like a solid backup plan. If Derek Falvey and Thad Levine are shooting for the stars though, there should be a reasonable expectation that a backup plan becomes much less necessary.

Working from a place of familiarity the Twins and Diamondbacks were trade partners just last season when Eduardo Escobar was shipped out. Goldschmidt is the premiere first basemen available at this point, and even in the final year of his deal, would be an exciting option to replace Joe Mauer. The free agent market at the position is beyond underwhelming, and exploring a trade there sends a few signals.

Minnesota is clearly starting at the top by inquiring on Goldschmidt, and they’re also obviously exploring the trade market. Carlos Santana remains an ideal fit a rung down and comes with a bit more longevity provided to the club. What we can glean is that all options are being explored, and that the immediate sense points to Miguel Sano staying at third base.

Both discussed situations above help to provide some clarity with regards to how Minnesota may be viewing the 2019 season. Goldschmidt fits oddly as he’s on a one-year deal, but maybe the intention is to go for it and reload. While Royce Lewis, Alex Kirilloff, and the next wave of big prospects don’t seem to factor in before 2020, there’s plenty of talent here to make a run in the year ahead.

With the Cleveland Indians clearly approaching the end of their run, Minnesota is positioned to be next in line for consistency within the division. The infrastructure has been put in place by the front office and executing on the personnel would be the next logical step. There’s a ton of money to be spent this offseason, and there will be more to go around in 2020 and beyond. Putting the pedal down now could have the Twins looking like the 2018 Milwaukee Brewers, and that’s a team who made significant noise in the Postseason.

Monday, November 19, 2018

A Different Advantage for the Twins

Last summer during a late season Minnesota Twins game Thad Levine sat on stage with Aaron Gleeman during the now annual Baseball Prospectus event at Target Field. There was a myriad of topics discussed but on point stood out to me. The general manager quipped that while Minnesota may not be able to outspend the competition in the form of player acquisition, they were committed to adding talent and spending dollars in other facets of the organization. Fast forward to today, and we’re beginning to see that all take shape.

Recently announced skipper Rocco Baldelli certainly is a step outside of the typical candidate pool. He’s just 37 years-old and has no previous managerial experience. While that is something that would’ve been unheard of years ago, it’s a decision that has become more common recently. Alex Cora just won a World Series with the Boston Red Sox in his debut season, and Aaron Boone faired well with the Yankees out of the same division. It’s not just the managerial role that the Twins have committed to a different structure though, and it’s felt throughout the organization.

Behind the scenes Minnesota has beefed up its analytics department, adding bodies in the front office that should be expected to push the needle. Formerly of Baseball Reference, Hans Van Slooten was brought into the fold prior to the 2018 season. A glance through his timeline will highlight the multiple intern, baseball operations, and baseball research positions the organization has committed to. It’s not just off the field talent though, and that has really played out as Baldelli’s staff has been named.

After working with the Twins as an Advance Scout, Jeremy Hefner has been added to the field staff for 2019. He’s just 32 years-old and was pitching professionally as recently as 2017. Despite a lack of coaching experience, he has been named the Assistant Pitching Coach. The man he’ll be working next to is green in the big leagues as well. Wes Johnson was plucked from Arkansas after a successful stint with Mississippi State. He’s well regarded as a forward thinker using TrackMan and Rapsodo technologies, as well as being billed a velocity savant.

On the diamond during play, Tony Diaz joins the Twins organization at the age of 41 after holding a base coaching position with the Colorado Rockies last season. Tommy Watkins is just 38 and joins the field staff after serving as a minor league manager and drawing rave reviews from all those he interacted with. Bringing both diversity as well as youth to the highest level of Twins baseball, there’s a very visible shift in dynamics taking place here.

It was assumed that Paul Molitor would’ve been on his way out following the 2017 season had he not won Manager of the Year. Not handpicked by the front office, the collective obviously had plans of how they wanted things run and see those interacting with players as an avenue to get more production in the box score. Looking at how this new staff has been filled out, it’s plenty apparent to see that Molitor (by no fault of his own) wasn’t anywhere close to the ideal profile.

From a top down view, and before the games begin to matter, it’s plenty fair to suggest that this whole blueprint has a very real chance to go up completely in flames. With so many coaches lacking experience at this level, and youth being a very common thread among them, it will be necessary to overcome hurdles in the process. However, the Twins are very clearly going out on a limb in the vein of innovation. If their competitive advantage isn’t going to come through outspending, looking to exploit market inefficiencies is a very astute way to go about gaining ground.

We will still need to see if everything comes together and this formula ends up being worthwhile. That said, innovation doesn’t happen for those unwilling to take the first step, and the Twins front office has committed to a process that bucks the trend of retreads being selected as new hires first. Investing in the opportunity to pioneer a new process, and hopefully benefit both the 25-man active roster as well as the organization, the Twins could certainly be venturing down a path that helps to ever-so-slightly tip the scales in their favor.

There’ll come a point in which we can look back and judge how it all worked out, but that remains at least a couple of years in the future right now. Reasoning and process alone make this plan appealing, and there’s little reason to cast aside the hope that it works.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

A First Basemen with Familiarity

On Monday morning the legendary career of Minnesota Twins great Joe Mauer came to an end. While it's obvious that his exploits behind the dish were far superior to what he did at first base, the reality for Derek Falvey and Thad Levine is that they now have a hole in their infield. Heading into free agency the first base market is pretty ugly, but a familiar name could make a ton of sense.

Last winter Carlos Santana signed a three-year, $60 million pact with the Philadelphia Phillies. Now according to Ken Rosenthal, they are "shopping the hell" out of their newly acquired first basemen. Of course the optics of such a move don't look great for the Phillies, but there's much more to it than meets the eye. Everything boils down to the fact that Rhys Hoskins is a bonafide stud, but he cannot play in the outfield. Serving as the regular left fielder last season he was worth an abysmal -24 DRS. The best configuration for Gabe Kapler's squad has the young star back at first base.

For the Twins (and any other suitors) there's somewhat of a perfect storm brewing. Santana had a down year in 2018 (not terrible however), and his team is motivated to move him before the start of the 2019 season. With those two factors at play it'd be fair to assume that leverage may be on the side of the acquiring ballclub. At 33 next year, Santana is owed $20.3MM with a $20.8MM commitment in 2020. There's a $17.5MM team option for 2021 but the buyout is a measly $500k. For teams interested in corner infield help, Carlos Santana at two-years and $40 million doesn't sound like a bad ask. Trading prospects and taking on the deal though, you're probably looking at asking the Phillies to eat something in the range of $10 million.

Right now you'd like to believe that the Minnesota Twins have Miguel Sano inked at third base to open 2019. A position change across the diamond could be in the not-so-distant future, but keeping him in his current role as long as possible is the most optimal scenario. As he transitions across the diamond though, a sort of mentor could be a great addition to the process. Santana has dabbled at third base in both 2014 and last year. He knows the position well enough to understand Sano's process, and Carlos has been a league-average at worst first basemen since coming out from behind the plate.

Offensively there isn't a box that Santana doesn't check for the Twins. Sure he had a down 2018, but even that included a respectable .766 OPS. In his final two seasons with Cleveland (yes, not the Falvey connection) Santana owned an .842 OPS. He has a career .363 OBP and has routinely split walks and strikeouts at the dish. With three straight seasons of at least 23 homers the ability to lose the ball in the seats is also present. Of course the best ability is availability, and Santana has been incredibly reliable as a big leaguer. Dating back to 2011, he's played in no less than 143 games and has gotten in 152-plus in all but one of those seasons.

Despite playing Gold Glove caliber defense at first base dating back to his positional change, Mauer's greatest detraction on the right corner was the ability to hit for power. Santana brings that to the table, combining his efforts with Sano on the other side. Minnesota's lineup also needs an infusion of on-base ability as Joe (and likely Robbie Grossman) has been subtracted from the mix. On paper this is certainly a perfect fit.

According to 1500 ESPN's Darren Wolfson, Santana is "on their radar" and that's a great sign for Twins fans. While the Phillies are motivated to move him, this is a team considered front-runners for one (or both) of Manny Machado or Bryce Harper. They aren't going to take pennies on the dollar and Carlos' services will be coveted by more than a few clubs. If there's a deal to be made in Minnesota this offseason involving prospects however, this is the one I'd like to see get done.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Well Played, Mauer

Sitting in the Charleston International Airport at 12 pm eastern time, I grabbed my phone and watched as Joseph Patrick Mauer delivered a 17 minute speech to announce his retirement from playing professional baseball. This is a man who had been in the Minnesota Twins organization for nearly 20 years, and spent 15 seasons at the Major League level. Sandwiched between two magazine covers emblazoned with his image, there was nothing left to say except, "Well played, Mauer."

For two straight seasons, in 2010 and 2011, Sony used Joe Mauer as their coverboy for the popular MLB The Show franchise. On the heels of his 2009 Most Valuable Player season he was the focal point of a limited Nike shoe and countless commercials to promote the game. As the premiere virtual offering to baseball fans around the world, the iconic line "Well played, Mauer," grew plenty of steam. As the dust settles it's incredible how fitting those three words were.

At this point we know that the incredible year peak will be his calling card to the Hall of Fame. Three batting titles (a feat in which no other catcher in 118 years of American League Baseball has accomplished once), six All Star games, three Gold Gloves, five Silver Sluggers, and an MVP in tow, the resume is impressive in and of itself. That alone doesn't define the career of the Minnesota Twins legend however. Mauer's reach was felt far beyond his impact behind the dish.

Being the incredible athlete he is, and one that could've been a first round NFL draft pick or likely selection in the NBA draft as well, Joe adapted better than anyone could've expected. Following his career altering brain injury he transitioned to a new position and was snubbed of a deserved Gold Glove there. Despite being miscast as a power hitter due to his incredibly 2009, the leadoff prowess always displayed through his on-base skills only gained momentum as his tenure drew on. Regardless of what he set out to do, Mauer played it, and well.

Through all of the accolades, thanks, and tears Joe displayed up on that stage there was one statement that got me the most. During the media portion of his press conference Mauer was asked how he wants his legacy to be remembered. This is one of the most decorated Minnesotans ever; a guy that did it all at the highest levels. If there's a loaded question with the ability to draw out an answer filled with never-ending glory, that one was it. His response, "Respect, and the way I played the game."

All of the time I find myself suggesting that athletes, celebrities, and public figures are not people to look up to. They're human, have faults, and are unnecessarily placed in the spotlight. This man however, gets it at every level. The last playing embodiment of the legendary Johnny Bench, Joe Mauer wanted his legacy to revolve around respect and the way in which he carried himself. In a landscape starved for great human beings, we didn't deserve what Joe Mauer gave us.

The clock now begins, with 2024 being the first time Mauer is eligible for enshrinement into Cooperstown. We'll have to wait and see how the vote shakes out, and it may take a few tries, but make no mistake that the St. Paul native will be the fourth member of the city voted into the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame. In the meantime, we'll need to look back with fondness of what was, and enjoy the continued involvement of a man that has given of himself in every avenue possible.

1,868 games, 15 seasons, one press conference...It was all "Well played, Mauer."

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Donaldson to Fix Twins Hot Corner?

Bryce Harper has the best hair on the open market this winter, but Josh Donaldson may not be far behind. The oft-injured third basemen is a free agent and coincidentally plays a position that the Minnesota Twins could be looking to rectify. Joe Mauer should provide clarity to the club soon, and that could leave Miguel Sano with an opportunity to swap sides on the diamond. Transitioning from the division-rival Indians, Donaldson could be an answer to the Twins questions.

When the 2019 season gets underway the former Oakland and Toronto third basemen will be 33 years old. He's got just shy of 900 big league games under his belt, and has eight years of MLB service to his credit. Talent is undeniable when looking at what Donaldson possesses, but he's also played in just 165 games across the past two seasons.

Last season the Donaldson made $23 million in the final year of arbitration eligibility. He enters the market at an odd time, looking for a long term payday but also having to calm fears of recent injury concerns and the reality of being an aging commodity. While a one-year deal may be more team friendly this is probably his last chance to get paid, and some level of stability will be hard to pass up.

From a dollars and cents standpoint, something like three years and $75 million seems like fair market value. Donaldson would be 36 at the end of that deal, and $25 million is a steal for a guy that has owned a .931 OPS dating back to 2015. There's obviously the risk that injuries derail things from the get go, but he played in 16 games down the stretch for Cleveland and was healthy enough to act as an impact bat in the Postseason.

The Minnesota Twins have to decide how they are going to handle both their corner and middle infield spots during the first year under Rocco Baldelli. Manny Machado is a perfect fit solely from a positional standpoint, but in that same vein, so to is Donaldson. The latter comes in at a far lower price point, and given the spending flexibility, is still well within the realm of Derek Falvey and Thad Levine's reach.

At his absolute best Miguel Sano is probably a league average defender at third base. Moving over to first puts him in a spot where defense is less of an issue, but also allows him the opportunity to take strides forward at a less demanding position. In Donaldson an acquiring team is getting a player that has never posted a negative defensive season in terms of DRS. With over 7,000 innings to his credit he owns a 53 DRS total and has a combined 30.3 UZR. Although he's never been rewarded with a Gold Glove, the leather is plenty strong with this one.

If there's another avenue that Donaldson plays up for the Twins, it's a middle-of-the-order bat that checks off every box. Not only is he a real power threat, having hit 29 or more home runs in each full season since 2014, but he's not a strikeout machine either. On-base threats are something Minnesota's lineup could use, and his .383 mark since 2015 is beyond impressive. Allowing Sano to see that kind of production, and likely learn from it, could pay dividends in more ways than one.

The reality is that when dealing with free agents the marriage has to be an ideal fit for both sides. No matter how much money the Twins could throw at the likes of Manny Machado, there's plenty of other big hurdles to overcome. Going into contract talks with Donaldson hoping for a one-year pact may be enticing for the Twins, but it probably doesn't move the needle or position them well amongst competing markets. Should the front office push their chips forward and believe the injury issues are behind him, this could be the opportunity to land a superstar talent through a perfect storm.

Pairing the likes of Donaldson with a lineup that includes Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton should be mouth-watering for Twins Territorians. You're never going to avoid risk when ponying up this level of cash, but being able to make a move like this doesn't often present itself so perfectly to organizations like the Twins. Whether Mauer returns or not, Donaldson fits and the iron is hot.

Monday, November 5, 2018

The Case for Cutch

Going into this offseason the Minnesota Twins have some very clear needs. Deciding what to do in the infield, and adding a few relief arms are chief among them. If there's a position that isn't immediately on the radar it's adding a body in the outfield. That being said, we don't know what the offseason will bring, and there's a free agent of intrigue on the market.

After being the 11th overall pick by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 2005 Major League Baseball draft, Andrew McCutchen spent the first nine years of his big league career with the same organization. Traded to the Giants prior to 2018, he was then shipped to the New York Yankees down the stretch. This isn't the same perennial MVP candidate that Pennsylvania natives came to love from 2012-2015, but there's something left in the 32 year-old's tank.

At 29 in 2016, there was a real fear that McCutchen was hitting the skids and looking at the downside of his career. A .766 OPS and awful centerfield defense brought plenty of questions heading into the 2017 season. He responded by moving to right field and putting up an .849 OPS which was bolstered by a near-career high home run total. 2018 saw Cutch post a .792 OPS that was buoyed by a strong .368 OBP and a very nice 25 game stretch for the Yankees.

Coming off a $14.75 million salary in 2018, and a long term deal with the Pirates, McCutchen gets to test the waters for the first time in his career. His market will be interesting, but I'd think that logic suggests years may be the greater focus than a high AAV. If he could be had for something like three years and $30 million you'd certainly find teams willing to play the role of suitor.

With Byron Buxton, Max Kepler, and Eddie Rosario in tow for the Minnesota Twins there isn't an immediate opening. However if I'm Derek Falvey and Thad Levine, two of those players should absolutely be made available on the trading block. Max Kepler likely has the lower value at the moment given his statistical output, but I'm fine in believing he could end up being the superior player.

In 2018 Eddie Rosario was deserving of being Minnesota's representative at the All Star game. He was on fire in the first half and finished with an .803 OPS. Playing in 138 games, he displayed power and production at the plate. From where I sit however, I think we're seeing the absolute peak of what Rosario can bring to the table. If there's a partner out there willing to match the Twins asset with real value, that's a guy to move with certainty.

Never mind that despite the All Star caliber start, Rosario put up lower numbers in 2018 than he did the year prior. His plan at the plate has always been to work as a bad ball hitter, and that didn't change last season. He chased 43% of the pitches he swung at, and he whiffed nearly 13% of the time. On top of that, his walk rate remained at an ugly 5%. When the lumber connects things go well, but that's a trio of numbers just begging for a chance to fall off the table.

Since his debut, Rosario's outfield defense has also taken a dip. As a rookie the outfield assists piled up and were a number to recognize. While his arm strength is a known commodity at this point, he sees himself tested less. Although he did perform positively in 2018, there's still more than a handful of blunders due to routes and decision making that have negative impacts on the scenarios at play.

Make no mistake, there should never be a suggestion to move a 27 year-old Rosario for a 32 year-old McCutchen. Looking at how this could play out however, we aren't operating in a vacuum. If another team wants to bring Rosario on board in exchange for pitching help or something of equal value to the Twins, it's a swap that needs to be heavily considered. At 27 Rosario isn't a kid anymore, and his approach doesn't lend itself to production heights much higher than what we've seen. If the Twins can cash in before things go belly up, it'd be a move you'd need to applaud.

The front office needs to inject this current roster with a bit of leadership, some significant on-base prowess, and talent that can challenge the Cleveland Indians in the very weak AL Central. There's more than one way for them to get that done this winter, and it will be interesting to see how it all takes place.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

First Round Fall on Minnesota 40 Man

With the regular season and Postseason now in the books, the Minnesota Twins are joined by every other major league team in the offseason. Joe Mauer is a free agent for the first time in his career, and the front office has plenty of 40 man roster decisions to make. Prior to bringing in new talent the organization must decide who will be kept from within. At this juncture, there's a very real possibility a first round pick could see his time come to an end.

Recently on Twins Daily, Seth Stohs did a great job highlighting the minor leaguers with impending 40 man additions looming. Although the Twins don't have much in the form of guaranteed adds, there's a couple of big name prospects that are part of the group. Nick Gordon and LaMonte Wade will certainly be added to the 40 man roster, but there's zero certainties given to former 6th overall pick Tyler Jay.

Set to follow in the footsteps of Phil Hughes and Matt Harvey, Jay was destined for surgery to address Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. After getting in just 11.2 IP during 2017, Jay opted to pass on the surgical route and believed rest and rehab had addressed the issue. Returning for Arizona Fall League action, Jay got in 9.2 innings before his offseason began. In 2018 Jay returned to Double-A and spent the entire season there. Pitching just shy of 60 innings, he turned in a lackluster 4.22 ERA that was bolstered by a career worst 7.4 K/9.

Selected by Terry Ryan in the 2015 Major League Draft, Jay looked like an odd fit from the get go. He was a dominant closer at the University of Illinois, but had never worked as a starter, and the frame didn't suggest great things would be in store. Ryan had made a habit of going with relievers early in drafts during the final years of his tenure as Minnesota's GM, but the track record in developing them was poor at best.

Prior to the front office change the Twins attempted to work Jay as a starter. He made just 18 starts, and while the numbers weren't bad, the quality of his stuff sagged across the board. As a reliever the velocity and strikeouts were his best assets, but the unfortunate shoulder issues changed things significantly as well.

At this point in the game shoulder problems are significantly more damning to the effectiveness a pitcher will display as their career continues. While Tommy John surgery carries the name recognition and the lengthy timetable, the reality is that it's a standard operation and pretty well understood. Shoulders and the injuries related to them, are a much bigger wildcard, and we see a minefield of guys that will look back and wonder what could've been.

It's really too bad that Jay is going to be at this crossroad, but the climb through minor league baseball is not an easy one. He'll be 25 next season, and hasn't been a top prospect for three years. Having relievers like Jake Reed and Nick Anderson more deserving of the roster spots, it's hard to make a case based solely on pick pedigree.

On the flip side, there is a decent possibility that the Twins may not lose Jay through the Rule 5 draft. The same hurdles in front of him for Minnesota are present anywhere else. He wasn't good last season, health remains a question mark, and jumping up to the big leagues likely doesn't provide ideal results. Another year in a system he's grown acquainted to could be a good thing for both the player and the organization.

Looking back it would've been great if Terry Ryan's run on early round relievers would've worked out. It was a low ceiling with an even lower floor approach though, and it's a process that yielded projectable results. Adding Jay to the list of misses would be the final nail in the coffin, but we could certainly be embarking upon that reality soon.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Aggressive Moves on the Twins Radar?

Looking ahead to the 2019 Major League Baseball season, it’s relatively apparent that this is a year that looms large for the Minnesota Twins front office. Embarking on year three, and with their hand-picked managerial candidate soon to be announced, the impact of change must be felt at the major league level. Derek Falvey and Thad Levine have done a good job revamping the organization, but the fruits of their labor must start to show promise. In an offseason of massive proportions, some aggressive moves could be on the table.

I’m not sure how to categorize each of these scenarios other than to catalog them as realistic possibilities. Without attempting to venture down a hot take hole, each of the following situations could play out, but shouldn’t necessarily be banked on either. Minnesota has a significant amount of money to spend, and new talent should flood onto the 25 man roster this year. Noting both of those things as definitive truths, we could certainly see some interesting avenues explored when blueprinting how things look in March.

Eddie Rosario Doesn’t Play for Minnesota in 2019

If the Twins want to make a big move on the trade market, dealing from the outfield could be the option they explore. Max Kepler could be had by an opposing team, but obviously brings back a significantly muted return. Byron Buxton combines a low value and high ceiling to find himself in a relatively untouchable form. In Rosario Minnesota would be capitalizing on a player at his peak. Eddie would bring back the most talent and would be of benefit to another organization for the next few seasons.

At this point we’ve seen Rosario establish himself as a near All-Star caliber type of player. I don’t think the ceiling is much higher, but he’s also helped to cement the floor as being respectable as well. It would hurt the Twins to lose him, but there’s other avenues to make up the loss in outfield ability. Should the Twins pull off a big swap, I’d much prefer to see it include this name as opposed to some of the top prospects.

Nick Gordon Gets Dealt This Winter

Thinking along similar lines to any Rosario deal, Gordon is the prospect I’d try and entice another organization with. He’s still entrenched among Top 100 lists, and he’s just 23 years old. To be frank, that’s where the good news ends. Gordon has played 556 minor league games and owns just a .704 OPS. His only solid offensive output came over the course of 42 Double-A games while repeating the level to begin 2018.

At this stage of his career it doesn’t seem like Gordon will stick at shortstop either. Destined for second base, light hitting, and lacking ideal on-base skills, he seems like a decent type of prospect to include in a trade to sweeten the deal. Should the Twins sign a middle infielder this winter (and they need to) Gordon falls further down the depth chart as well.

Miguel Sano Is Done at Third Base

There’s a lot of assumptions built into this one, but I don’t think any of them are a relative leap. Joe Mauer appears to have player his last game in the major leagues, and that leaves the Twins with an opening at first. The free agent market for the position is beyond ugly and dealing for some thump could prove to be an unwise endeavor. Reports on Brent Rooker in the outfield aren’t good, and they aren’t much better at first.

Miguel has looked passable at times when it comes to his defensive ability, but it almost solely falls on his drive to be great. There’s a lot riding on how he prepares this offseason, and a move to first could allow him to slack further. That said, Minnesota can upgrade at the hot corner and grab the best bopper for first base from their own team. Both Mauer and Justin Morneau could help Miguel (if he’s willing) take to his new role this spring.

Addison Reed Rebounds in Year 2

Going the one-year contract route on a few relievers, it was Reed who grabbed $16.75MM from Minnesota on a two-year deal prior to 2017. The numbers looked good for the home team, and Reed was expected to be every bit worth of that contract. Fast forward to today, and we saw a guy be both bad and hurt most of the season.

Reed’s average velocity dipped to 91.3mph last year, which represented a career low and third straight season of decline. He’ll be just 30 years old  however, and a clean bill of health should help significantly when it comes to righting the ship. Missing bats was the biggest problem for Reed last year, and that was evidenced by a career worst 7.1 K/9. Ticking the velocity back up and staying in front of hitters, he should see an ERA more in line with the 2.66 mark put up between 2015-17.

Once the offseason gets started the Minnesota Twins are going to be a team with plenty of intrigue. The front office knows what is expected of them, and there’s more than one way they can execute upon vast improvement for the year ahead. After a winter where baseball mostly froze out free agents, I’d expect a significantly different couple of months this time around.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Mr. Miami in Twins Territory?

Right now, the most pressing question for the Minnesota Twins revolves around who will be managing the club during the 2019 Major League Baseball season. Beyond that however, the questions revolve around how the club will allocate something like $50 million in salary dollars to round out their squad for the upcoming season. Two names highlight this free agent class, and one of them is worth taking a deeper look into. The stage is yours Mr. Machado.

Entering free agency for the first time in his career, Manny Machado will have just experienced a new clubhouse for the first time as a big leaguer. Being traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers, he’ll have some knowledge as to what awaits him in acclimating to what could end up being his third team in the last calendar year. With just over $34 million in career earnings to date, the massive payday awaiting him is one that should destroy historical precedents.

Given the level of talent Machado possesses, and combined with the expected digits on a check presented to him, it’s fair to wonder why the Twins in this scenario. There’re more than a few reasons in which a marriage of the two makes a good deal of sense.

Minnesota Needs a Shortstop

Jorge Polanco has dedicated himself to his craft, and the strides he’s made at short have been admirable. Having initially been nothing short of a complete abomination, he’s embarked upon the category of passable. The reality though is that his arm still plays better at second base, and he could end up being the answer to who replaces Brian Dozier is he moves over to the right side of the diamond.

Yes, the best prospect in the Twins system is a shortstop, and there’s ever reason to believe that Royce Lewis is destined to be a superstar. You don’t pass up franchise altering players for the possibility of how a prospect may round out. Lewis looks like a better bet to stick at short now than he did at the time he turned pro, but there’s plenty of positional flexibility to be had. Two or three years from now is when the alignment should enter the equation.

The Dollars Make Sense

Joe Mauer and his $23 million average annual value are removed from the books. Even if Machado were to command something like 10 years and $300 million, Minnesota has the financial flexibility to absorb the deal. In an uncapped sport, there’s always going to be money to spend, but the reality is that payrolls are reflections of revenues driven largely by TV contracts. Yes, the Pohlad’s are rich, but so is every other owner in the sport. Sticking within logical spending parameters Minnesota can add Machado and still afford multiple other upgrades.

There’s little reason to believe that the Twins wouldn’t need to slightly overpay in acquiring Machado’s services, but we aren’t talking about a bottom of the barrel organization here. Minnesota plays in a poor division and is embarking upon a window of contention. Machado didn’t have a choice in his Orioles assignment but will go to a much better place this time around. Also, should he be coming off a World Series victory, priorities regarding winning or financial capital could also be impacted.

A Trial Run

Last season Derek Falvey and Thad Levine were in the running for premiere starting pitcher Yu Darvish. At this point, it certainly looks like a good thing that the Twins lost the contest, but they were right near the finish line according to reports. Given that they were involved with the “must have” free agent a season ago, this green front office isn’t afraid or unaccustomed to making a big move.

At 26, and looking for a mega-deal, Machado would be in an entirely different category. The practice and knowledge gained from last offseason certainly isn’t going to hurt the Twins front office however, and it could better position their tactics this time around. Looking to find players worthy of long-term commitments appears to be part of the goal as well, and this is about as long as it gets.

I could make a list of positives as long as I’d like, but there’s no denying that the detractors would dwarf the total. Any time the New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers, or Boston Red Sox are going to be involved on a player, everyone else is put on notice with a wait a see plan of action. Fortunately for Twins, the biggest market players are relatively set at the position Machado would most like to play. That won’t stop them from flashing cash, but it could temper the level to which the pursuit is made.

When the dust settles, the Minnesota Twins are always going to face long odds when it comes to landing the biggest fish. There’d be some irony in it happening following the retirement of their last big fish however. Joe Mauer provided the hometown team with an inside edge and replicating that type of a contract would be contingent upon an incredible sell. If there’s an opportunity to make it happen however, Falvey and Levine are staring it right in the face.