Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Nick Gordon and the Tea Leaves

As February comes to a close, and the calendar turns over to March, spring training is well underway for the Minnesota Twins. After an 85 win season took them to a Wild Card tilt in the Bronx, Paul Molitor's club is looking to make waves in the year ahead. Looking to make waves on his own, Nick Gordon seems to have been given a handful of opportunity from the get go this exhibition season.

As of this writing, Minnesota will have played five games in Grapefruit League action, and Gordon has competed in three of them. He's started twice, manning the middle of the diamond with Jorge Polanco flanking him at shortstop. Playing second base in all of his action, Dee's brother and Tom's son has provided some interesting messages to read into.

At Double-A Chattanooga in 2017, Gordon played 104 games at short, while manning second base in just 14 contests. Drafted as a shortstop out of high school, the hope was that his glove would allow him to stick at the position. Now through 415 minor league games, he's started 374 of them at short. Although the expectation was that the bat needed to develop, the early belief is that the glove and arm could stick. With defensive metrics being tracked much more lightly on the farm, we're forced to look at much more archaic forms of measurement. Spanning all of his game action, Gordon owns a .960 fielding percentage to go with 69 errors. The past two seasons, he's committed 24 and 19 errors respectively.

Multiple prospect experts see Gordon needing to slide over to second at the next level. While he has the speed and range at short, the glove and arm have left him susceptible to miscues. If that ends up being the case, the likely outcome is an up-the-middle-pairing with Jorge Polanco. Unfortunately, both of those players would be somewhat miscast for an every day role at short, but Polanco did make strides a season ago. After being worth -8 DRS and posted a -10.9 UZR in 406 innings during 2016, Jorge played over 1,110 innings in 2017 and compiled a -1 DRS and -4.3 UZR.
Gordon's bat has been on a nice trajectory however. After compiling a .699 and .696 OPS in his first two seasons, Gordon has surpassed the .700 OPS mark in each of the past two years. His .749 OPS in 2017 was a career best, and still reached that height despite a final 30 games (8/1-9/4) that equated to just a .593 OPS. Over the course of his first 92 games last season (4/6-7/31), Gordon posted a .287/.362/.439 slash line with 24 doubles, seven triples, and seven homers. As a 21 year-old at Double-A, those numbers are glowing.

Currently in Fort Myers at the Twins spring training complex, John Bonnes spoke with Minnesota second basemen Brian Dozier. In his comments, he makes it relatively clear that he's looking forward to his impending free agency. At 31 years-old, he'll be somewhat difficult to hand a long-term, big-money deal. If Derek Falvey and Thad Levine decide to go a different direction, letting Dozier walk could open the door for Gordon to run with the role for good.

There's no reason to believe Gordon's early action in spring training suggests he's got a legitimate shot to break camp with the Twins. Right now, the top prospect isn't even on the 40 man roster. What I do think we are seeing is an early-and-often approach that suggests Minnesota knows he's close. Gordon will probably spend the bulk of 2018 at Triple-A, and could see time at the big league level later in the year. The more he plays alongside potential future teammates however, the easier it is for him to integrate when called upon.

Over the course of recent Twins seasons, there may be no bigger shoes to fill than Brian Dozier's. Nick Gordon isn't ever going to hit anywhere near 30+ home runs in a season, but he could be called upon to take the baton from the Twins All-Star. The more he plays in starting lineups during 2018 spring training should only fuel the fire to make that a reality on a nightly basis when the games count.

It seems to me that Minnesota believes Gordon is very close, and for the player, that should be motivating enough to make 2018 a season to keep an eye on.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Who Goes North for the Twins

With the Minnesota Twins now involved in spring training action, and exhibition games well under way, it's a good time to take a look at the 25 that will head north with the club at the end of March. Having had significant turnover and uncertainty throughout seasons in recent memory, 2018 brings a breath of fresh air. This club should be relatively simple to project, and that's the mark of a strong team.

Following up a Postseason berth and a strong showing over the course of the 2017 Major League Baseball season, the Twins had a few key areas to improve in order to take the next step. This offseason, Derek Falvey and Thad Levine have executed a near flawless blueprint, and they have the product on the field positioned to make a run for the AL Central division title.

Although not set in stone, there's significant clarity when it comes to deciphering the Opening Day 25 man, and here's a good bet at what it could look like:

Infielders (9)

  • Jason Castro C
  • Mitch Garver C
  • Ehire Adrianza Util
  • Brian Dozier 2B
  • Eduardo Escobar Util
  • Joe Mauer 1B
  • Jorge Polanco SS
  • Miguel Sano 3B
  • Logan Morrison 1B
Both catcher positions are all but locked in, and the starting combination up the middle should be set. Joe Mauer is inked at first, and Logan Morrison will back him up while serving as the full-time designated hitter. Although Adrianza could be pushed by Erick Aybar for a job, I think the former's best chance to get on the roster is a potential suspension to Miguel Sano. Sano is already set to play the field in spring training games, so his injury recovery should be all but over. Major League Baseball has yet to speak with Miguel in regards to allegations, and no matter what the outcome, I'd think a 30 game suspension is the max penalty. Outside of the third basemen, there really is no level of intrigue here.

Outfielders (4)
  • Byron Buxton CF
  • Robbie Grossman LF/RF
  • Max Kepler RF
  • Eddie Rosario LF
This group is virtually locked in as well. The trio of "Nothing falls but raindrops" is a given, and their rotational fourth should end up being Grossman. Zack Granite is a significantly better defender, and would provide a nice speed option on the bench, but he has options remaining and is available to Minnesota at any point in time. I could see Granite forcing his way onto the roster this spring, but the more likely scenario is that Grossman sticks until it no longer works. The Twins would need to DFA him, and doing that before necessary doesn't seem like a pressing matter.

Pitchers (12)
  • Jose Berrios SP
  • Tyler Duffey RP
  • Zach Duke RP
  • Kyle Gibson SP
  • Trevor Hildenberger RP
  • Phil Hughes SP
  • Adalberto Mejia SP
  • Jake Odorizzi SP
  • Ryan Pressly RP
  • Addison Reed RP
  • Fernando Rodney RP
  • Taylor Rogers RP
Despite not having Ervin Santana available to them out of the gate, I'd still imagine the Twins go with a full five-man starting rotation. That group would include Berrios, Odorizzi, Gibson, Mejia, and Hughes. The last two spots are somewhat up in the air, but Hughes' contract should afford him an opportunity, and Minnesota would need to see significant improvement from Anibal Sanchez this spring to pencil him in. The relief corps is vastly improved, and that group should be relatively set in stone. If Minnesota is serious about using Duffey as a starter, I suppose a trip to Triple-A could make some sense, in which case Alan Busenitz takes his spot in the bullpen.

Again, in comparison to recent years, this Minnesota Twins squad has the least amount of question marks when looking at Opening Day. Obviously that's a great thing, and a testament to the talent available to Paul Molitor. Having defined roles and positions from the get go is a good place to be, and allows the club to work from depth as situations present themselves.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Building Has Begun In Minnesota

A year ago, in January to be specific, I penned a piece suggesting that the Minnesota Twins time to rebuild was over and that the new focus should be around building and supplementing the core. From that point, the organization experienced an 85 win season and a postseason berth. Heading into 2018, Derek Falvey and Thad Levine are all systems go in regards to the building effort.

When the dust settled following a one game defeat in The Bronx, Minnesota had a few clear cut avenues for improvement. They needed a starting arm, at least one. Paul Molitor needed a revamped bullpen, and a bat remained a relative luxury. As the hometown nine remains on a collision course with Opening Day, they've checked off all of the boxes and then some.

Going the relief route first, Addison Reed was the first surprise move to take place. Arguably among the best relievers, not named Wade Davis, to be available this winter, he provides a huge boost for Minnesota. Fernando Rodney and Zach Duke come in on one year deals and both provide significant upside with little room to be a disaster. On top of being outside additions, Paul Molitor now also has the luxury of using the reinforcements to strengthen the overall depth at his disposal. Names like Alan Busenitz and John Curtiss are now on the outside looking in, despite being more than capable of producing at the highest level. When it comes to relief, check off that box.

In the rotation, the goal was to bring in a pitcher that would slot among the Twins top three. With Ervin Santana and Jose Berrios at the top, Minnesota has two quality options and a bunch of question marks behind them. In solidifying three-fifths of the rotation, the names bringing up the rear are in a position to force only the best performers an opportunity to consistently be considered. The front office flipped Jermaine Palacios, a nice player that wasn't going to factor in at Target Field, for a pitcher that fits the mold in Jake Odorizzi. Sure, it's still somewhat deflating that Minnesota couldn't land Yu Darvish, but the reality is that he was the top player on the market and someone like that landing with the Twins is a long shot at best. As things stand right now, the rotation box can also be marked off, but a surprise addition of Lance Lynn or Alex Cobb would take things to an even higher level.

Finally, and least important, a bat looked like an avenue for improvement. In a steal of a deal, Logan Morrison joins Minnesota. Coming off a breakout season with 38 homers and a slugging percentage north of .500, he adds an incredible amount of thump to an already potent lineup. Minnesota has an opportunity to bat five players in the top two-thirds of their lineup that accounted for just under 150 home runs a season ago. Morrison removes the uncertainty of Kennys Vargas from the equation, and if Miguel Sano can consistently be ran out at third base, things get even more enticing. If this was the optional box to check, Falvey and Levine made sure to cross it off as well.

If we've seen anything this offseason, it's that there should never be a point in which you expect what comes next. The dollars have been depressed, but the deals have still come. When it appears Minnesota may be done making moves, another announcement is on the horizon. With some money yet to spend, Lynn or Cobb would seemingly be the final piece to a well constructed puzzle. No matter what though, the landscape has been navigated wonderfully.

While bringing in a significant amount of talent, the front office has managed to commit only to situations in their favor. Only Addison Reed has a guaranteed contract into 2019 of the new acquisitions, and there's plenty of options on the table that allow for the Twins to capitalize on the upside available to them. Not only has it been a strong blueprint for talent acquisition, but the savvy spending shouldn't be overlooked either.

As the Twins embark on one of the most promising seasons in recent memory, they'll do so following one of the best offseasons in organization history. With the growth and development of a core capable of winning, Minnesota's front office has put their faith behind them and helped to build a contender. Cleveland is still where the division winner must go through, but Minnesota is hardly a far cry from wrangling that title away. If a 2017 postseason berth wasn't going to get you excited for what lies ahead, the off the field action should absolutely do the trick.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Handicapping The Twins Rotation

The Minnesota Twins are set to kick of spring training action with their first exhibition against the University of Minnesota on Thursday February 22. Following Stephen Gonsalves' first pitch in that tilt, the club will then play a full month's slate of games before embarking on Target Field. There's some certainties in the rotation, but there's some serious question marks too.

Before digging into some of the more uncertain options, it makes some semblance of sense to start with what we know. Right now, there's two locks, and they include:

Jose Berrios RHP

In line to get his first Opening Day start of his career, Berrios will serve as the Twins de facto ace while Ervin Santana is on the shelf. Coming off what was nearly a full year at the big league level, the Puerto Rican shined. His 3.89 ERA was in line with the 3.84 FIP. His 8.6 K/9 was a breath of fresh air for the Twins, and the 3.0 BB/9 was hardly detrimental. There's room for growth here, and expecting Berrios to push the ceiling of a true number two starter is hardly a bat bet.

Jake Odorizzi RHP

After being acquired for Jermaine Palacios, Odorizzi immediately slots in among the Twins top three pitchers. A strong middle-of-the-rotation arm, there's reason to believe he's much better than his 2017 output. Even with a career worst 5.43 FIP, he kept the ERA in check at 4.14. Home runs have been an issue on a three year trend, but there's a strike out pitcher here that is a few small tweaks away from taking the next step.

After those two guys, the Opening Day rotation gets murkier. Given the Twins schedule, there's opportunity to skip a 5th arm and get more work in for the top dogs. If they do decide to round out the group and go with five hurlers as long as Santana is sidelined, the list is long and plentiful.

Kyle Gibson RHP

Back on a one-yea, $4.2 million arbitration deal, Gibson is probably the next closest thing to a lock. While there was a significant period in 2017 where he looked like a non-tender candidate, it was his performance down the stretch that played a large part in getting the Twins to the Postseason. From July 16 on, he posted a 3.76 ERA and .701 OPS against. Across his final eight starts of the year, Gibson owned a 2.92 ERA and .684 OPS against. It's hard to imagine Kyle living up to the hype generated as a 1st round pick in 2009, but if he can replicate his late season surge, he'll be more than valuable for Paul Molitor.

OD Rotation Likelihood: 99%

Adalberto Mejia LHP

His first extended taste in the big leagues had a significant amount of ups and downs for the 24 year old. After being a top-100 prospect, Mejia was seen as a nice get for Minnesota from the San Francisco Giants. His 4.50 ERA in 2017 is hardly anything to write home about, but he showed flashes of a durable starter with the potential to miss bats. In 2018, decreasing the 4.0 BB/9 will be huge, and should play a large part in helping to extend his outings as a whole (avg start was just 4.2 IP in 2017).

OD Rotation Likelihood: 75%

Phil Hughes RHP

There's a good deal of reasons as to why Phil Hughes is the leader in the clubhouse for the 5th and final rotation spot, 26 million to be exact. Minnesota is still on the hook for two-years and $26 million thanks to the extension Terry Ryan prematurely handed the former Yankees pitcher. Hughes was great in year one for Minnesota, and serviceable in year two. Since then, he's made a combined 20 starts over the past two seasons, and owns a 5.91 ERA. The walk rate has doubled (although is still solid), and injuries have mounted. Coming back from another surgery in relation to his Thoracic Outlet procedures, he'll have to prove he's healthy. If he can make it through spring training with some semblance of effectiveness, he should get the final nod. There's also a chance he begins the season on the DL.

OD Rotation Likelihood: 50%

Anibal Sanchez RHP

Given a current 40 man spot and no other assurances, Sanchez's deal is interesting. He's only guaranteed $2.5 million if he makes the club, and can earn up to double that. The 2.57 ERA leading Detroit Tiger from 2013 is a far cry from the pitcher he's been the past three seasons. With a ballooning ERA (5.67) and a HR/9 that surpassed the 2.0 mark a season ago, the Twins have to make some changes. Working down in the zone is an area that seems of benefit to the former Tigers, and if the Twins think they've unlocked something while in Fort Myers, he could squeak his way in.

OD Rotation Likelihood: 20%

Aaron Slegers RHP

Making his MLB debut on August 17th against the Indians, Slegers turned in a quality start against the division winning Cleveland Indians. From there, he put up a clunker in St. Pete, and fizzled in relief against the Blue Jays. His 2017 ended with an outing somewhat in the middle, giving up three runs across 4.1 IP against the Tigers. At Triple-A last year, a 3.40 ERA, 7.2 K/9, and 1.8 BB/9 looked like numbers of a guy ready for a new challenge. Now with the goosebumps out of the way, Slegers looks like a decent, strong floor, fallback option for the Twins.

OD Rotation Likelihood: 10%

Stephen Gonsalves LHP

For the second straight season, Gonsalves is seen as a top-100 prospect across baseball, and viewed by many as the Twins best pitcher on the farm. Spending another half season at Double-A Chattanooga, he posted a .268 ERA across 87.1 IP. The 9.9 K/9 was a bit down from his 2016 total, but he halved his 4.5 BB/9 all the way down to 2.4 BB/9. The knock continues to be a third pitch, but Gonsalves has a good feel for the fastball and changeup. Minnesota will probably try to slow-play him a bit at Triple-A, and continued command development will only push his ceiling higher.

OD Rotation Likelihood: 5%

Fernando Romero RHP

As a new 23 year-old, Romero has officially been listed on his first top-100 prospect lists. He's been the recipient of a significant amount of praise over the past season and a half, and the national scene has taken notice with another strong year. Hitting Double-A for a full season, his 125.0 IP turned into a 3.53 ERA and an 8.6 K/9. Walks did rise back above the 3.0 per 9 mark, which is something he controlled better in 2016. The ceiling is a potential ace with velocity topping out near triple digits. There's also some level of concern that Romero may end up being just a good reliever, which is hopefully at least a few years from becoming a reality. Like Gonsalves, Romero would need a handful of things to break in his favor this spring, but a nice showing would set up a promising Triple-A tour.

OD Rotation Likelihood: 1%

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Sano Going To Let It Eat

With big expectations, there are big responsibilities. It's fair to say that since signing with the Minnesota Twins as a teenager, Miguel Sano has been the focal point of some very big expectations. His massive power potential has long been the narrative, and despite being signed as a shortstop, the feeling was always that his bat and frame would push him from the position. Fast forward to 2018 and we've got a near-25 year-old who's toyed with those expectations, but has overlooked some of the responsibilities.

Entering the regular season, Miguel Sano finds himself in somewhat of a limbo. After being accused of sexual assault over the offseason (from an incident stemming years earlier), he awaits his fate as MLB conducts their investigation. My assumption is that some sort of discipline will be handed down, and given previous league decisions, it should come in somewhere under 30 games missed. Coming off a year in which he played 114 games for the Twins, he should still have opportunity to top that output. That being said, it's yet again another responsibility he's failed to make good on.

With reporters embarking on Fort Myers for the beginning of Spring Training, it's once again came to light that Sano is significantly overweight. Derek Falvey hinted at that notion suggesting the Minnesota third basemen's recovery from injury has gone well, but that he needs  to now focus on getting to where he needs to be with his conditioning. That is a politically correct way of putting it, and in previous seasons Patrick Reusse has called it what it is. Miguel Sano is overweight.

Looking back to Reusse's column in March 2016, I had an issue with their seemingly being a suggested link between Sano being hurt because of being fat. While that may not have been fair, the Star Tribune columnist has been spot on when it comes to pegging the poundage for young Miguel. Once again, he's entered camp staring at 300 pounds and comes in around the 290 mark. To suggest that hampers relative production is unfair, but there are more than a few takeaways when it comes to what the scale is telling us.

First and foremost, there's a real lack of accountability to Minnesota for Sano. Having invested in him heavily as a player, and his development, the Twins have worked with him to stay on the infield dirt far earlier than the new regime's days. While shortstop was never going to be a reality, positional value at third base is significantly higher than having to be moved across the diamond as Joe Mauer's heir, or worse, a sole designated hitter. Despite having employed nutritionists in the clubhouse, and undoubtedly using offseason check-ins, Sano hasn't accomplished the Twins goals in multiple seasons when it comes to his habits.

Secondly, there's the fallout in regards to the lack of accountability. Because of allowing his weight to balloon, the reality is that Sano's long term value is sapped exponentially. Forget the reality that an increase to injury potential is a by-product of being overweight, the loss of a position makes one of the Twins greatest assets on dimensional. Even if he heads to first base, which is far from a foregone conclusion, Sano isn't viewed as the asset he could be if he was able to stick at the hot corner. Recently, KSTP's Darren Wolfson noted what was suspected all along, Sano wasn't going to entice the Rays into dealing Archer when seen as a one dimensional player.

At the end of the day, there are a few hard and fast realities for the Twins and Miguel Sano. First and foremost, they have a 24 year old that's failed to hold himself accountable, and has done so on multiple occasions. Secondly, they also have an extremely good ballplayer, who's capable of producing some of the greatest power outputs the game has seen on a year-by-year basis. I believe that in 2018 and beyond, Miguel Sano will put up multiple 30-plus homer seasons, and that he'll be of significant value going forward. I do also believe that the only person deflating his ceiling is himself.

No matter how his assault case shakes out, it seems as if there are multiple aspects of growing up to do when it comes to the opposite sex. No matter what his weight gets to, it's apparent there's a significant level of responsibility that can yet be adhered to. For both Miguel Sano and the Minnesota Twins, a stronger commitment to oneself from the player benefits all involved. Right now, there's a very talented ballplayer that can compete and produce at a very high level. If that's a comfort situation where a point has been reached that improvement isn't demanded to unlock superstar potential, well then, we'll only be able to wonder what if?

Monday, February 19, 2018

2018 AL Central Division Preview

With free agency being a bit slower moving (to put it nicely) this offseason, this piece comes out a few weeks later than in previous years. At this point, there's still a handful of quality major league talent unemployed. For the most part, I think the AL Central is looking towards the year ahead as opposed to who else can join them in competing during 2018.

Projection systems have started to run win totals for the upcoming season, and major sportsbook Bovada has also posted over/under win totals for each team. Rather than hold out for the last of the remaining free agents to leave IMG Academy in Bradenton, it's time to throw numbers out for the Twins and their competition.

Here's how I see the AL Central in 2018:

1. Cleveland Indians (98-64)

The team at the top of the division seems to have taken a slight step backwards over the offseason. Carlos Santana left for the Phillies, and key pen arm Bryan Shaw is no longer in the mix. Yonder Alonso will have to recapture his Oakland magic if he's going to remove the memory of Santana, and it'll be lightning in a bottle if Melvin Upton or one of the MiLB deals pans out well.

That said, the Indians are still the team to be in the division, and it's largely on the backs of a strong pitching staff. Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco remain lights out at the top, with a strong duo of Danny Salazar and Trevor Bauer behind them. The bottom half of the Central getting weaker should help add some additional wins to offset some of the talent losses.

2. Minnesota Twins (87-75)

If you asked me to take a bet on what was more likely, the Twins win 90 games or lose 81, I'd take the former. After making a Postseason appearance a season ago, Derek Falvey and Thad Levine accomplished what they set out to do this winter. Although the club didn't land the big fish in Yu Darvish, Jake Odorizzi is a top three starter for them, and helps to supplement the roation. The relief corps was strengthened with the addition of Addison Reed, and both Zach Duke and Fernando Rodney should play a big role for this club.

With so many players still looking for jobs, it's fair to wonder if Minnesota doesn't aim a bit higher than Kennys Vargas or Robbie Grossman for the DH role. I'd expect Miguel Sano to miss a handful of games due to suspension, but still think he'll have a shot at surpassing the 114 contests he got into a season ago. Another year of growth for the youth, plus some key veteran additions, make the Twins the most improved team in the AL. Their record is a reflection of battling back against regression, as well as a division that should have plenty more wins to be had from the doldrums.

3. Kansas City Royals (72-90)

If there's a team that lost more than the Indians over the offseason, it's definitely the Royals. Unfortunately for Kansas City, they don't have near the ability left to overcome it. Exits from Eric Hosmer and Lorenzo Cain will be felt mightily, and even if Mike Moustakas is brought back, the core just isn't there any longer. Jason Vargas played a key role in the first half for the Royals, and he's now in New York. Combine the exits with a lack of internal talent ready to step up and you've got somewhat of a doomsday scenario.

Right now, the Royals are treading water but don't have much of a direction. The farm doesn't have anything in terms of top prospects, and there's a lot of fliers at the top that can play fill in roles. Without much in terms of capital to deal for future talent either, it could be a bit before the Royals find themselves relevant again.

4. Chicago White Sox (69-93)

Arguably the most talent deprive 25 man roster in the division, the White Sox are in a full rebuild situation, but at least they know it. Having moved on from players in return for a good group of prospects, there's a plan in place here even if it takes a few more years to come to fruition. Over the winter, Chicago handed out a few low-risk veteran deals that should also be able to net them some pieces throughout the upcoming season.

Yoan Moncada should be a staple at the big league level this season, but guys like Eloy Jimenez and Michael Kopech aren't there yet. Lucas Giolito needs to be a big arm for the South Siders, and players like Luis Robert, Blake Rutherford, and Dylan Cease have to develop in the year ahead as well. Most of the names Chicago will build its future around won't show up in 2018, but fans should be checking the box scores on the farm frequently.

5. Detroit Tigers (66-96)

The bottom three teams in the division provide nice comparisons to each other. If the Royals are treading water without a plan, and the White Sox are stripping it down to rebuild, the Tigers are old and stuck in some level of purgatory. Miguel Cabrera still has six-years and $184 million left on his deal, and I'd suspect no one would take on Cabrera's contract at this point. Michael Fulmer is a nice young piece, but he probably isn't going to be around by the time Detroit finds itself relevant again.

For new skipper Ron Gardenhire, the club is going to have to find a direction sooner rather than later. The club should hang around in the early going, but fading down the stretch and holding somewhat of a fire sale seems like a good bet. Gardenhire was let go around the time Minnesota could see the rebuild bear fruit, so he'll be navigating some similar waters in Motown with 90 loss seasons checking off the past four years of his resume.

One Day Makes Twins Difference

Over the weekend, Minnesota Twins fans felt the full gambit of emotions. After announcing that Anibal Sanchez had been given a major league deal, frustration was felt in full force. A bounce-back candidate that has ugly numbers of late wasn't going to gain much confidence for a revamped starting rotation. Then, a day later, Jake Odorrizi was acquired from the Tampa Bay Rays and the tide felt like it had turned. Putting a bow on the Minnesota offseason, it's hard not to like where this team is headed.

Going into the offseason, the Twins had one focus in hopes of returning to Postseason play, fix the pitching. The 4.60 team ERA in 2017 came in 19th among MLB clubs, and the 7.31 K/9 was better than only the Texas Rangers. Both in the rotation and the pen, Paul Molitor's club needed better names and the ability to miss more bats. From the jump, Derek Falvey and Thad Levine knew this was where the focus had to be, and it appeared they had a plan to execute on.

Signing Fernando Rodney and Zach Duke, the Twins bring in two arms with little risk and a relatively high upside. Rodney is an experience, but his 10.6 K/9 is an asset, and he allows arms like Trevor Hildenberger to be deployed outside of the 9th inning. Duke isn't just a LOOGY, and he too is a punchout pitcher when healthy. There's little arguing that Addison Reed was the pen headliner this winter however. After signing a 2yr/$16.75M deal with Minnesota, Falvey and Levine had somehow landed one of the premier options on what looked like a budget deal. Yet to hit 30, Reed owns a career 9.5 K/9 and a 2/3 BB/9 that makes him arguably the best arm in Minnesota's relief corps.

While it's hard to overstate the importance of the three relief acquisitions on their own merits, it's also big to note what their inclusion does for Paul Molitor as a whole. Instead of rounding out the pen with toss in names, the Twins can now rely on arms like Hildenberger, Taylor Rogers, and Ryan Pressly as complimentary pieces. Again, with the goal being a raised water level across the board, the front office accomplished that to a T in the pen.

From the outset of the winter Minnesota was tied to starter Yu Darvish. Given all of the factors, a union of the two sides made an immeasurable amount of sense from the home town perspective. Unfortunately, Darvish chose to sign with the Chicago Cubs in the end. Falvey and Levine may have ruled themselves out by failing to match the Cubs offer, but the likelihood always remained that the former Rangers ace wanted a bigger market than the up and coming Twins. While a tough blow for sure, there's no sense of settling either.

With Lance Lynn, Alex Cobb, and Jake Arrieta all having their warts, the remaining top tier free agents left a decent bit to be desired. Draft pick compensation was tied to each of them, and the dollar ask would likely not be in the line with the expected level of production. Although I'll always be of the stance that you should spend from an unlimited cash pool as opposed to dealing from a limited talent pool in acquiring players, Minnesota found a way to make things look better the opposite way.

Netting Jake Odorizzi from the Tampa Bay Rays, the Twins gave up little more than a flier middle infielder. Jermaine Palacios went on a tear to start the 2017 season at Cedar Rapids, but struggled mightily as a 20 year-old at High-A Fort Myers. Odorizzi is a soon-to-be 28 year-old under team control for two more years, and immediately slots in among Minnesota's top three. Despite tallying his worst season as a pro in 2017, the numbers still equated to a 4.14 ERA and an 8.0 K/9. For the former Rays hurler, a 5.14 FIP and 3.8 BB/9 leave plenty of room for growth. His HR/9 rate spiked to 1.9 a season ago, and there's been plenty made about the idea that getting down in the zone could be a key to expanded success.

Not the headliner that Odorizzi is for Minnesota, Anibal Sanchez being brought in as a depth signing looks much better than when it was originally reported. I still think it's odd the deal needed to be of the MLB sort, guaranteeing a current 40 man roster spot despite it being uncertain that he'll make the opening day roster. The ERA there is awful, but the 8.9 K/9 and 2.5 BB/9 are great marks. Sanchez posted a 2.52 FIP in his first two seasons with the Tigers, and then ballooned to a 5.01 mark the past three years. After never allowing home runs, he's gotten worse the last three seasons going from 1.7 to 1.8 to 2.2 HR/9. If Falvey saw a correctable adjustment to keep the ball in the park, that contract could end up being a steal for the Twins.

As with the bullpen, the goal in the rotation was to raise the overall water level. Now with Jose Berrios, Jake Odorizzi, and Ervin Santana locked in as the top three, Minnesota has an enhanced level of depth to fill out the back end. Nothing is guaranteed for Adalberto Mejia, Kyle Gibson, Phil Hughes, or Sanchez in terms of a rotation spot. They'll all be pushed by the likes of Stephen Gonsalves, Fernado Romero, Zack Littell, and Dietrich Enns. For a club that used way too many arms, and saw a vast level of ineffectiveness at times a season ago, the situation as a whole looks much better entering 2018.

Given the current roster construction, I'd imagine the Twins are done adding arms. They probably have room for a bat on a minor league deal, and 1500 ESPN's Darren Wolfson has been suggesting that could be Mike Napoli for weeks now. The Rays recently DFA'd Corey Dickerson, and he'd be a huge addition for Minnesota as well. Regardless, if another move is coming, it's probably a less noteworthy offensive addition.

With the dust now settled, it's hard to look back on the offseason with any sort of displeasure. There was one ace out there, and the Twins chance was always a long shot. They added significant pitching in the bullpen, grabbed a good arm for the rotation, and added a couple of fliers along the way. While the division, including the Cleveland Indians, got worse, Minnesota retained it's talent and added pieces. The American League is going to be tough in 2018, with teams like the Yankees an Angels both getting better. For Minnesota, the Postseason may have to come through their own division, and you have to like how they positioned themselves for this season and beyond.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Twins To Love In 2018

Valentine's Day is here, and the highlight is simply that the Minnesota Twins have begun their first workout. While the Hallmark holiday suggests you go all out for those you love today, pitchers and catchers are active on the diamond in Fort Myers. Rather than get all sappy or dole out presents, I thought it a fun idea to check out some Twins possibilities I love to take place in 2018.

Looking back at the year that was in 2017, and what numbers a handful of Twins players came up with, here's a look into some projections before Vegas sets their marks. While these aren't true over unders, as I'll be looking solely at marks I believe are able to be eclipsed, the same general principle remains.

Let's get into it:

Byron Buxton has his first 20/20 season

20 steals in a full slate is something that Minnesota's centerfielder could likely accomplish running backwards. His elite speed, arguably the best in the game, is more than likely going to swipe 40 bags in the year ahead. It's the homers that are a leap, but I don't think we're diving in too far here. Coming off a season with 16 homers and wasted months, Buxton's true power stroke is real. His 27% hard hit rate has been consistent over the course of his career, and the 14% HR/FB ratio remains relatively static. Buxton's power is probably more predictable than his contact, but it's a gap type drive that produces more line drive longballs. Over the course of his career, multiple 20/20 seasons is something I'd hang my hat on.

Miguel Sano hits 35 homers

Despite having an incredible amount of power, Sano has yet to surpass second basemen Brian Dozier for the team lead in longballs over the course of a given season. In just 114 games last year, he launched 28, and that came on the heels of a 25 homer output the year prior. Sano is going to miss time at the beginning of the year due to a likely suspension, but I'd imagine it'll be 30 games or less. Coming off a leg surgery, it should give him extra time to ramp up and get conditioning to where it needs to be. As a regular in the field, Sano is probably going to be up against it on a yearly basis when asked to contribute for 162 games. As he trends closer to that number however, expect the moonshots to skyrocket.

Max Kepler arrives with an .800 OPS

Call it a breakout, but don't call it a breakthrough. The talent has been there for Max Kepler, and it's time he puts it all together. While he's scuffled at times against lefties even dating back to the minors, 2017 was an abysmal showing. Kepler shouldn't be relegated to a platoon player, but everything needs to continue developing for that idea to be pushed aside. Over the last two years, Kepler's .734 and .737 OPS has shown little growth, but the .947 OPS across 112 Double-A games prior to his promotion in 2015 can't be ignored. Kepler has the potential to be a Christian Yelich type player, which is a strong combination of power and average. At 25 years-old, and two full major league seasons under his belt, the time is now.

Jose Berrios goes sub 3.50 ERA but over 9.0 K/9

Gaining on 50 big league starts, Jose Berrios has yet to show what the best version of himself looks like. As a 23 year-old a season ago, he posted a 3.89 ERA along with an 8.6 K/9 and a 3.84 FIP. Those numbers are already impressive, but there was still command issues that reared their head, and a couple of clunkers that raised the overall water level. Another offseason of refinement, and his first big league season from the get go, should boost Berrios into another level. He'll end up taking over the title as the Twins ace this season, and seeing him post some of the best numbers since Francisco Liriano or Johan Santana should absolutely be the expectation.

Stephen Gonsalves arrives, and sticks

This offseason, Thad Levine has commented that the goal with both Gonsalves and Fernando Romero is for them not to yo-yo. The organization doesn't want either pitcher coming up to make spot starts, or see promotions and demotions in less than ideal succession. While there's a lot to like with Adalberto Mejia getting an extended leash this year, the back portion of the Twins rotation still leaves plenty to be desired. Phil Hughes' contract affords him some time, but the impressive lefty has been knocking on the door for some time. Gonsalves probably isn't getting his shot early (unless the door opens on its own), but I expect him to pitch his way up by late summer. Although he may not have ace potential, his stuff profiles with an ability to be a consistently reliable arm every fifth day for some time to come.

Whether enjoying Valentine's Day or not, there's more than a handful of things to love about the 2018 Minnesota Twins, and baseball officially being back is chief among them.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Some Storylines For Spring

It's back, baseball is finally back. On February 13 the Minnesota Twins pitchers and catchers officially report to Fort Myers for Spring Training, and the club will hold it's first workout on Valentine's Day. With position players largely following them, and expected to arrive en masse shortly, it's time to take a look at a few storylines worth monitoring over the exhibition slate.

Coming off of a Postseason berth, and a Wild Card appearance, Paul Molito's squad is looking for an opportunity to take the next step. With the young core another year older, they should be expected to carry an even larger part of the load. While results can be scrutinized and picked apart in Grapefruit League action, it's what takes place beyond the box score that's generally the most telling. Those scenarios are what highlight the early slate, and that's what we'll take a look at below:

Does Kennys Vargas survive the roster crunch?

Currently slotted in as the backup first basemen and rotational bench bat, Vargas is out of options for the Minnesota Twins. The power stroke is very real for Vargas, but he's fallen a bit short when putting it all together. After an .833 OPS across 47 sporadic games in 2016, Vargas dipped back to a .758 OPS across 78 sporadic outings in 2017. In 2018, it's do or die time, but it may already be too late.

You have to go back to 2015 to find what I think may be a turning point in Vargas' production. After making the roster out of the gate, Vargas slumped mightily through April. In 12 games from May 1-17 though, he put forth a .956 OPS and was among Minnesota's hottest hitters. With just two homers through that time period however, Terry Ryan set him back to Triple-A searching for power. Since that point, Vargas has seemed to settle in, and his opportunities have been limited at best. In a reserve role, his bat has to be consistently ready to go, and the glove needs work. Right now, the Twins probably don't have anyone ready to come in and take his job, but it's hardly a given that they don't find a suitor by the end of March.

Grossman, Granite, or your best guess?

Looking at how the 25 man is shaping up from a 1,000 foot view right now, it appears Minnesota will carry just four true outfielders. With Robbie Grossman being extended a new contract for 2018, he's the front runner for the designated hitter and rotational outfield role. While his performance wasn't abysmal in the grass a season ago, 2016 could rear it's head at any moment. There's no doubt that the position is Grossman's to lose, but the emergence of other names is a real possibility.

On the 40 man roster, only Zack Granite is on the outside looking in among the outfield group. His .611 OPS in his first 40 MLB games leaves plenty to be desired, but should also be expected to rise. At the minor league level, Granite was an average hitter, and also an on-base asset. Postin a .347 OBP at Double-A, and a .392 OBP last season at Triple-A, his speed was allowed to be unleashed on the basepaths. Grossman has more pop than Granite does, but expecting Zack to contribute at a similar OBP level is hardly a reach. The dark horse in this competition is LaMonte Wade, and while he has yet to play above Double-A, he could make a big leap sooner rather than later.

Rotation, staff, and the Alston advantage.

At this moment, the Twins have yet to address their most glaring need of the offseason, a starting pitcher. By the time the team breaks from Fort Myers, I expect that scenario to have been handled. The Twins will be rolling with Jose Berrios, Kyle Gibson, Adalberto Mejia, an acquisition, and a question mark when the regular season opens. The 5th spot in the rotation is up for grabs, and while Phil Hughes' contract will afford him first crack, the emergence of Aaron Slegers, Stephen Gonsalves, Fernando Romero, or a host of other names would be welcomed competition.

The bullpen has been shored up, and Addison Reed was one of the best gets of the offseason across the entire landscape of the league. New pitching coach Garvin Alston will begin to put his philosophies on display both in game and off the field of play. Watching the bullpen take shape, as well as its usage and construction will be worth monitoring. As the Twins seek more strikeouts, and a pitching staff that climbs the league ladder, it will be extremely important for Alston to make a more significant mark than his predecessor.

Homegrown gems making their mark.

Each year, there seems to be a few players that come in without a big league job, that end up leaving a lasting impression. Looking at the group of 13 non-roster invitees for 2018, there's a trio of homegrown prospects that have me intrigued. 

Starting on the mound, you have to look at reliever Jake Reed. The hard thrower was left unprotected and went undrafted in the Rule 5 draft. He has the makings of a strikeout reliever with strong velocity, and an ability to kick the door in to the highest level. He got just 4.0 IP during spring training last year allowing four runs on six hits with a 3/2 K/BB ratio. His season also started with an injury occurred during the last game in Fort Myers. A strong showing could put him right back on the radar for an early season promotion.

In the infield, you look no further than former 1st round pick Nick Gordon. Heavily scrutinized as a shortstop, Gordon has yet to be pushed over to second base. He'll get his first real big league test in March this year, and should spend the majority of the season at Triple-A. After a hot start at Double-A, his season took a dive down the stretch and he posted a .749 OPS when things were said and done. How he handles big league pitching this spring, as well as what he shoes with the glove, could go a long ways to give us an idea of what and how he'll contribute for the Twins.

Wrapping up the group is a guy behind the plate that deserves more attention, Brian Navarreto. While the bat has lagged significantly for the 2013 6th round pick, he's been great as a defender. Across 127 stolen base attempts in his 290 games behind the dish in the minors, he's thrown out a ridiculous 50% of runners. Regarded as a strong receiver and a trustworthy game manager, Navrreto will get a chance to showcase his worth as a potential big league backup down the road.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Breakout Or Break Off With Max Kepler

Over the weekend, the Minnesota Twins missed out on Yu Darvish as he joined Chris Gimenez and the Chicago Cubs. While I feel a bit disappointed Derek Falvey and Thad Levine didn't position themselves better with a six year offer, it's now a moot point. At this juncture a pivot to available free agents and the trade market has become a new reality. On the latter point, Minnesota's most available asset seems to be Max Kepler. It's worth wondering though, is that a good thing?

A season ago, Kepler put up his highest OPS in the big league (.737), and got in his first full major league season. Coming into the 2016 season, Kepler debuted on all three (Baseball America, MLB, and Baseball Prospectus) Top 100 prospect lists, and ranked 30th, 44th, and 60th respectively. After putting together a steady upward trend in the minors, the belief was there that Minnesota had a real big league talent on their hands. While the .737 OPS is more than serviceable, it also leaves a bit to be desired. What I'm nearly certain about, is that Kepler is capable of harnessing that ability.

In 2017, Kepler became a platoon player down the stretch. With the Twins in the midst of a postseason race, Paul Molitor decided he simply couldn't have a player with a .453 OPS against left-handed pitching garnering significant at bats. Despite the .828 OPS against righties, only two of Kepler's 19 homers came off of southpaws, and he racked up a 40/7 K/BB ratio. Looking back to 2016, the numbers improve but hardly jump off the page. In his rookie year, Kepler compiled a .595 OPS against lefties with two of his 17 homers and a 34/10 K/BB. In short, Kepler owns a 74/17 K/BB against same-handed pitchers in the big leagues, and he's hit just four of his 36 longballs off of them.

You'd be hard pressed to argue Kepler deserves more than a platoon situation with those numbers (though I did find it frustrating at times in 2017). What's also fair to suggest is that he's a 25 year-old unfinished product who's shown an ability much better than what the big leagues have seen. Having never played Triple-A, Kepler's two best seasons in the minors came at Double-A in 2015, and High-A in 2014. Against lefties in those two campaigns he posted an .863 OPS (1 HR 15/12 K/BB) and a .691 OPS (1 HR 26/3 K/BB) respectively. The Double-A numbers are inflated some due to a season with 13 triples, but they are also buoyed by an approach that saw him walk more times than he struck out for the first time in his big league career.

During 2017, Kepler slightly decreased his chase rate, with slightly increasing his swinging strike percentage. His contact slipped slightly, but was on par with his career averages. His hard hit rate remained static, and the only notable dip among batted balls was a 3% drop in HR/FB ratio. What could be an untapped area of improvement is one of contention for Kepler, his launch angle. In 2016, the average on base hits fell at 10.4 degrees. That number came in at just 8.8 degrees a year ago. Parker Hageman of Twins Daily actually looked in depth on this topic as it pertain to Kepler last March. Kepler's approach is to line the ball, with backspin, or get right with ground balls. With the power and stroke he has, a heightened launch angle would likely bring a good deal more success.

What should be somewhat common sense is that a 25 year-old, highly regarded prospect, is far from a finished product. For Kepler to maximize his output in Minnesota however, the results will first need to change against pitchers attacking him from his side of the plate. There's a few keys for him to get there, with contact and launch angle being two of the avenues. What wouldn't be shocking is if it came together relatively quickly, and the German born big leaguer had a breakout season in front of him.

After making his way through Elizabethton at age 19, it took him stops at Cedar Rapids and Fort Myers before truly settling into his own. It wasn't until 2015 as a 22 year-old at Double-A that Kepler posted his first full season .800 OPS on the farm. That's hardly a knock on ability as much as it is a highlight of a growing process. Entering his third season with the Twins, and just the second as a regular out of the gate, seeing another leap forward would hardly be a miracle. That's where the crossroads of what to do next comes in.

Although there's still ample arms available on the market, Minnesota has been heavily connected to the trade market. With names like Chris Archer, Julio Teheran, and Jake Odorizzi among those thrown about, Kepler could be an enticing return. Derek Falvey and Thad Levine will have to decide what they see going forward however. In any trade scenario, you're going to have to give to get, but is the breakout coming for Max and just how big will it be.

For me, I'm still a bigger believer of Kepler's long term future than I am of Eddie Rosario. Kepler's trajectory suggests one of growth, while Rosario's has some gaping holes that can continue to be exploited. If Minnesota is to deal Max for pitching, I'd hope the return is also substantial and that he's viewed as a cornerstone piece. Zack Granite and LaMonte Wade are both nice fallback options, but I'd hesitate to put them in the same realm as Kepler projects to be. With just over a month until meaningful games get started, I assume we'll have clarity which direction this narrative falls soon enough.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Making Most Of Ervin's Mishap

The Minnesota Twins were dealt a significant blow on February 6 when they found out the timetable for staff ace Ervin Santana's recovery. After undergoing surgery on his middle finger on his throwing hand, the club had to grasp the reality that he'll be on the shelf for the next 10-12 weeks. Putting his return sometime around late April or early May, Paul Molitor will have to make due in the meantime.

With that in mind, Minnesota's focus now has to be on where to go from here. At the current moment, the only starting locks remain Jose Berrios and Kyle Gibson. From there, Adelberto Mejia and Phil Hughes seem like good bets to claim a spot. The fifth and final spot should be up in the air for any number of arms to slot into. Names like Tyler Duffey, Dietrich Enns, Stephen Gonsalves. Fernando Romero, and Aaron Slegers should all be in the fold. Down in Fort Myers, Derek Falvey and Thad Levine will have to work with Molitor to figure out who gives them the best shot going forward.

Entering the offseason, the Twins needed to sign at least one top three arm. Someone that could slot in with Santana and Berrios was an absolute must for this roster. With a window of competitiveness opening, while the division itself got weaker, it simply made too much sense. That sentiment still rings true at this juncture, and the front office may even be looking at bringing in two arms to help pick up the slack. One thing is certain though, Santana's injury shouldn't change the course of the season.

At 35 years old, Santana has a ton of mileage on his arm. He's doled out more than his fair share of sliders, and he's contributed over 2,300 innings at the big league level in his 13 year career. Yesterday, Twins Daily contributor Tom Froemming noted that the track record for pitcher's over the age of 35 is far from spectacular. In 2017, only seven pitchers were able to post seasons with at least 100 IP while being at least 35 years of age. In short, the expectation for Santana to miss time could've been high from the onset. If we're looking for a positive here, it could be spun to suggest it's better than the time missed happens in April as opposed to September.

In 2017, Santana's 3.28 ERA was the second best mark of his career, and lowest since 2013. He posted a career high five complete games, and his 7th place finish in the Cy Young voting marked just the second time in 13 years that he's received votes. To put it simply, Santana was every bit the horse Minnesota needed a year ago.

Looking ahead to 2018, there should be significantly more help for the Twins pitching staff. First and foremost, the relief corps has been vastly improved. Additions like Zach Duke and Fernando Rodney both have tremendous upside, while Addison Reed is one of the best gets over the course of the entire offseason. Add in that the youth has another year of development under its belt, and the water level as a whole should be raised.

When all is said and done, injuries are going to occur for the majority of teams across Major League Baseball. The timing of Santana hitting the shelf is suboptimal, but there's significant points in the season in which the result could be much more detrimental. This team is still relatively void of superstar players and a next man up attitude should continue to be the mantra. Whether a rookie grabs a job out of spring training, or an established vet commands more from themselves, someone has an opportunity to fill Santana's shoes from the get go.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Can The Twins Better Their Bench?

With just a handful of days left until pitchers and catchers officially report to Fort Myers for Spring Training, Minnesota is nearing the end of its offseason. The main focus when it comes to additions was starting pitching, and due to the market, that remains the one area left unattended at this point. Whether before or after spring training officially kicks off I expect that to be dealt with. What remains to be seen is whether or not Derek Falvey and Thad Levine have interest in adding a bat to supplement their bench.

As things stand right now, the Twins appear to be alright opening the season with a bench of Robbie Grossman, Eduardo Escobar, Ehire Adrianza, Mitch Garver, and Kennys Vargas. Considering the possible (see: likely) suspension for Miguel Sano, Zack Granite could also find his way into this group out of the gate. Of the names above, it's Vargas that is more than likely the most on the bubble. Out of options, and having bounced between Triple-A and the big leagues a season ago, he's probably the first to go if space is needed.

Operating under the assumption that Vargas is the quintessential 25th man, the question revolves around whether or not he can be improved upon. From a construction standpoint, Vargas almost certainly needs to be replaced by a bat first player. Grossman figures to see regular time as the designated hitter, while Adrianza and Escobar have similar skillsets despite Eduardo toting the more capable bat. Garver is entrenched as the backup catcher, and should serve as a platoon option for starter Jason Castro. Bringing in another utility man means Minnesota relies solely on Grossman as the outfield option (which is currently the case), and the lack of a true bat could expose Robbie being heavily reliant on his on-base prowess.

In an ideal world the Twins greatest addition to the bench would be in the form of a right-handed hitting outfielder. Offering the potential to pair with Max Kepler (should his facing left-handed pitching continue to be a detriment) as well as play in rotation across the corner spots makes a lot of sense. Between Adrianza, Escobar, and Garver, each of the infield positions has a true and capable backup. After posting a -21 DRS in 630+ innings in the outfield during 2016, Grossman shored things up somewhat totaling a -3 DRS mark across 350+ innings a year ago. There's still plenty to be desired with the glove there, but he showed that he can be less of a liability if need be.

Among the options, former Twins center fielder Carlos Gomez has an intriguing profile. He would give the club positional flexibility across all three positions, and posted a .340 OBP in 2017 with some pop. At 32 the hope would be that he could be had on a short-term deal, and that could be of intrigue to Minnesota. Another more elder option comes in the form of Jose Bautista. This would be a relative leap of faith given his age (37) and 2017 season. Posting a .674 OPS there's reason to believe that he's simply cooked. Bautista is just one year removed from an .800+ OPS however, and if you could get him on a minor-league deal or something incentive-laden there would be a level of intrigue.

If you want to go more of an unconventional route, a versatile super-utility type could be a fit. Noted as a possible fit by Zone Coverage's Brandon Warne on Twitter, former Minnesota shortstop Eduardo Nunez has some appeal. Nunez played 20 games in the outfield a season ago for San Francisco, and he got some time out there for the Twins in his first stint with the club. His career -3 DRS across 322 OF innings slots in line with 2017 Grossman, and I'm not a big fan of non-traditional outfielders playing the position. That said, Nunez's .801 OPS from 2017 is more than enticing. He's posted a .778 OPS over the last two seasons while playing in at least 110 games during each. It seems given semi-regular playing time, he can be an offensive asset as well.

At the end of the day Kennys Vargas should probably be given a final shot. His career .748 is far from abysmal, and the .833 OPS in 47 games during the 2016 season was exciting. Vargas hasn't proven to be much of an OBP guy (just .311 for his career), and the 251/65 K/BB ratio is more than concerning. All of his eggs remain in the power basket, and if he's not taking free bases then he needs to be accumulating them in bunches. At 27 he's no longer a prospect, and the Twins likely have a significant amount of information to feel comfortable with their evaluation of him.

This seems like a no lose scenario, with a slight opportunity for a win. Vargas is hardly a red flag on the 25 man, and you could do much worse. What Minnesota could also do is look for some competition or even to supplant him completely, and in turn, raise the water level as a whole. There's a few more weeks for us to see how this all plays out, but it'll be a storyline worth watching this spring.

Monday, February 5, 2018

The Show 18 Goes All Out

With Aaron Judge following up his incredible rookie season by landing the cover of MLB The Show 18, the most limited edition has been dubbed "All Rise." If there's anything to glen from the gameplay release trailer that dropped today, it's that the team at Sony San Diego is going all out.

While much of the gameplay is hard to deduce from the trailer, it looks as crisp as we've become accustomed to. The more necessary tweaks include tagging animations, hitting analysis, and overall refinements to the experience. That being said, there was more than a few big bits of excitement from the trailer debut, and most of them center around the Diamond Dynasty game mode.

After having Ken Griffey Jr. act as the cover boy a season ago, and make his debut on the virtual diamond, a handful of former greats enter the fold for the year ahead. First and foremost, Babe Ruth becomes the headliner. With an epic teaser sequence including his called shot, Ruth being prominently featured in a game highlighting Judge made all too much sense. The Hall of Famer will be joined by the likes of Doc Ellis, Don Sutton, Pee Wee Reese, Lee Smith, Troy Percival, and Benito Santiago. With this just being the first bit of information put forth for the new iteration, we could have a few more legends yet to be unveiled.
On top of the additions to the card collecting game mode, the trailer also showed off the Judge's Chambers in Yankee Stadium. After including stadium specific areas such as King's Court in Seattle and The 7 Line in New York a season ago, it's nice to see the presentation get expanded upon. There was also a tease of an airplane scene that would likely coincide with the popular Road to the Show mode. After being turned into somewhat of an RPG style narrative a season ago, expanding on the created player journey to the big leagues is a nice touch.
The official release date of MLB The Show 18 remains March 27, although a preorder will get you the game a few days earlier. Expect plenty of live streams and content drops in the coming weeks to further highlight what's new in the upcoming version.

Also here at Off The Baggy, I intend to do a regular hit on who to monitor for investment purposes in The Show 18 this season. Combining the allure of virtual baseball along with real life statistics in order to profit in the game is something that was great fun a year ago. Not looking to be a content creator, a regular blog post detailing where to keep your eye both on the diamond and in the game seems like a great crossover. See you all in The Show.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

MLB Shift Driving Market Realities

This offseason free agents across Major League Baseball have felt a squeeze of sorts. Now into February, more than 50 quality big leaguers still remain out in the cold with respect to playing destinations for the upcoming season. While I will always argue in favor of millionaire players over billionaire owners, the complaints of the job seekers seem to be somewhat shallow given the current marketplace.

Looking at the list of the top 25 free agents for 2018 from, only four of the top 10 players available have been inked to deals. Shohei Ohtani chose the Los Angeles Angels in a deal that was never going to reflect true market value. Wade Davis inked the largest relief contract ever with the Rockies, Jay Bruce rejoined the Mets, and Lorenzo Cain entered the National League with the Milwaukee Brewers. However, the battle cry continues to be that money is scarce on the market, and players demand better.

In a tweet from agent Brody Van Wagenen, threats regarding a strike were made, and indications of former $200 million and $300 million deals were alluded to. It's absolutely fair on one hand to see players band together; being represented by a union, that's what should take place. That being said, the threat of a strike while failing to realize market indications seems somewhat like misplaced frustration. First and foremost, a strike would effectively squash all positive momentum the sport has, which is currently experiencing popularity at its peak. The players stand to gain nothing in the long run from a strike, and comparing the current landscape to that of 1994 couldn't be further from level ground. The second part of the equation however, is what both market factors and available commodities are telling us.

There's two real situations at play this offseason in my mind. Situation number one is that the crop of free agents is, for lack of better descriptors, rather week. Jay Bruce was a top ten name, Yu Darvish is truly the only ace, and as good as he is, J.D. Martinez as a true designated hitter becomes a top three get (this coming from someone who genuinely supports the DH, and believes it ought to be universal). No doubt owners have revenues to disperse, but there's a lack of players worthy of the funds to be allocated in a sense.

The second situation is that the impending free agent class represents one of the greatest to ever hit the open market. Brian Dozier, Josh Donaldson, Manny Machado, Charlie Blackmon, Byrce Harper, A.J. Pollock, and Andrew McCutchen highlight the bats. On the mound, names like Gio Gonzalez, Clayton Kershaw (likely), Dallas Keuchel, Klevin Herrera, Craig Kimbrel, and Zach Britton all get the engine running. As harsh of a reality as it may be, the money allocated for those players should be significantly more than what's currently available.

I'm absolutely in favor of a player being paid whatever they can get, and your worth as far as a contract goes should be whatever someone is willing to pay you. However, it seems that agents are overreaching while players are lulled into a false sense of reality. When it comes to a free market structure, it's generally the market that dictates valuations. One player commanding an unrealistic amount would effectively throw off the valuations surrounding the entirety of a current class or one in the future.

We have heard reports of Darvish seeking something north of seven years and $175 million, while someone like Hosmer has been reported to have seven year deals on the table, but holding out for eight. There's been notes reporting Martinez is looking for $200 million, and Arrieta could be commanding equally as much. Sure, given the current availability of free agents, those numbers might not be ridiculous in a vacuum. The problem however, is that organizations are trying to create a culture of consistent winning. By offering Martinez $200m or Hosmer eight years, the correct structure of a Machado or Harper deal becomes $600m or 15 years. At some point, there has to be reality to the sliding scale matching talent or return, with valuation.

Throw into the equation that front offices are also now more intelligent than ever before. Analytics may not have entirely taken over the on field product, but you can bet that algorithms are ran for virtually every dollar amount thrown into a discussion. No longer does a team want to get stuck paying Albert Pujols $240m over 10 years, while he limps through two-thirds of the deal. The Zack Greinke's and Giancarlo Stanton's over the world make the money easier to wrap your head around given the age factor (similar to what Machado and Harper will experience), but massive paydays spread across significant time commitments for players into their 30's has long been a negative proposition.

At the end of the day, I expect a dam to break, and it's the players that probably need to do some budging. Sure, there's absolutely money to be spent, and the sport should continue to foster payroll growth. What can't happen however, is for talent to hold money hostage until market inefficiencies are forced. The future viability of contracts relies upon a level of consistency year over year. Baseball being an uncapped sport leads to an interesting economic study created entirely by its own doing. The sport needs Darvish and Hosmer thrilling fans, but it also needs them doing it in a scenario that makes sense for future markets as well.

We may have had one of the most boring off-seasons in recent memory, but there's a time crunch coming, and the craziness could just be about to start.