Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Letting Mauer Tell the Story

With this week signifying the last of the 2018 Major League Baseball regular season, we very well could be watching the final games of Joe Mauer's career. Yet to indicate or announce his intentions for 2019, the Minnesota Twins longtime star has compiled quite a resume. Over the course of this season, he's surpassed plenty of the legends and greats before him throughout Twins history. Trying to narrate that tale is one I'd fall short of, but the numbers do some significant justice.

Although the meat and potatoes of Joe's career is how he's been a lunch pail type player, that's come to work every day, and simply got the job done. He put together a 7-10 year stretch in which he was on par with Johnny Bench for the title of greatest catcher the game has ever seen. He reinvented himself and became a defensive wizard at first base. He's had ups, and he's had downs. Wherever along the journey you'd like to examine though, the final tallies are nothing short of impressive.

Joe is who he has always been, and the living legend isn't ever going to acknowledge his rightful place in Twins Territory. We can do that for him though, simply by using his merits.

  • .306 career average- 3rd all time for the Twins. Behind Carew and Puckett
  • 1011 runs- 3rd all time for the Twins. Behind Killebrew and Puckett
  • .388 on-base percentage- 3rd all time for the Twins. Behind Carew and Knoblauch
  • 2,114 hits- 2nd all time for the Twins. Behind only Puckett
  • 599 extra-base hits- 4th all time for the Twins. Behind Killebrew, Puckett, and Hrbek
  • 1,852 games- 2nd all time for the Twins. Behind only Killebrew
  • 3,073 times on base- 1st all time for the Twins.
  • 2009 American League Most Valuable Player
  • 3-time (2008-10) American League Gold Glove Winner- Catcher
  • 5-time (2006, 2008-10, 2013) American League Silver Slugger Winner- Catcher
  • 3-time American League Batting Champion- Only AL C to ever do so. Only C to ever do it 3 times.
  • 6-time (2006, 2008-10, 2012-13) All Star- American League Starting Catcher
  • 2009 Sports Illustrated MLB All-Decade Team
  • Baseball America Major League Player of the Year (2009)
  • Career 49.1 fWAR 
  • Career valuation of $306.9MM compared to $218.025MM career earnings
  • Career .995 Fielding % as a C ranks 8th all time
  • Career .996 Fielding % as 1B ranks 5th all time
  • 2006-2013 hit .327/.410/.473 with a 139 OPS+
  • Would be third 1st Overall pick to make Major League Baseball Hall of Fame, joining Ken Griffey Jr. and Chipper Jones.
Selfishly, I hope this isn't the end. I want to see Joe back in 2019 for what should be a competitive season in Twins Territory. Regardless what happens, the list above is otherworldly, and it's been a joy to watch it unfold.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Ranking the Rookies

The Minnesota Twins are now in the final week of their 2018 Major League Baseball season. With a Postseason berth eliminated from reality, the final seven games will be of little significance. Given the opponents coming to Target Field include the Detroit Tigers and Chicago White Sox, opportunity to play spoiler isn't present either. That said, these contests remain a proving grounds for players looking to crack the 2019 Opening Day roster.

Right now, there's some intrigue as to whether or not we're witnessing the end of Joe Mauer's heralded career with the hometown team. These could be his final days in a major league uniform, and although I believe he'd be of service to the club in 2019, it appears that no decision has been reached at the present time.

For the guys that are significantly Mauer's junior, they are still looking to make a final imprint on the organization in hopes of vaulting themselves into a more secure position next spring. While the final week may be somewhat of a slog for the battle tested veterans, no opportunity can be taken for granted when looking to stay at the game's highest level.

This season, the Twins have trotted out more than a handful of rookies. Here's a look back at how they've all performed.

Mitch Garver - C

Somewhat unfortunately for the organization, Garver was turned loose relatively early this year. Instead of being able to serve as Jason Castro's understudy, he was pushed into a starting role after a knee injury ended Jason's season. While Mitch looked raw behind the plate early on, it's been more than apparent that he made strides as the season went on. Working with veterans like Bobby Wilson, and briefly Chris Gimenez, his glove work improved dramatically.

On the offensive side of this, his .734 OPS was more than welcomed behind the dish for Minnesota. He was easily the most productive offensive asset as a backstop, and there appears to be some legitimate pop in his stick. Over a full season, he's a likely double-digit longball guy, and he's pushed himself into the conversation for more work next season. It remains to be seen if Minnesota will make changes at catcher, but Garver didn't hurt his positioning at all.

Jake Cave - OF

Maybe one of the most shrewd moves in the early tenure of the Twins new front office, Jake Cave was acquired as outfield depth from a Yankees system that simply didn't have room for him. With Byron Buxton having a lost year, and Zack Granite falling out of the picture, Cave harnessed the opportunity presented to him.

Early on, Cave should've gotten more run than veteran retread Ryan LaMarre, but that didn't stop him from turning heads on a near daily basis. In 85 games this season Cave owns a .771 OPS and has ripped 12 homers. At 25 years old, he's somewhat of an elder rookie, but there's plenty of reason to believe that this is just scratching the surface. He's easily Minnesota's 4th outfielder to open up 2019, and it's been apparent than he can start for stretches when need be as well.

Willians Astudillo - UT

After over 630 minor league games, Astudillo finally graced Major League Baseball with his presence. The folk tale of a chubby catcher than picked off runners without looking and never struck out came to the big leagues and initially started as an outfielder, third basemen, and second basemen. Now settled into a utility role, and backup catcher, Astudillo has seen regular run down the stretch.

It's just a 23 game sample size, but the .877 OPS is certainly eye opening. It's hard to imagine Minnesota carrying three catches on Opening Day next season, but there's worse ways to use a 40 man roster spot early on in November. This could very well end up being the last we hear of Astudillo, or he could continue to be an out-of-nowhere spark for a Twins team eyeing the Postseason a year from now.

Fernando Romero - SP

First it was Jose Berrios, and then it was Fernando Romero. When it came to Twins starting pitching prospects, those were the cream of the crop. Romero's electric fastball has pushed him into the conversation of a true ace, and he looked the part in small bursts this season.

The numbers themselves are all unremarkable, and he didn't light Triple-A on fire after returning. That said, the 55.2 IP in the majors as a 23 year old should prove invaluable when setting him up for future success. I'd imagine the Twins front office will be looking to upgrade the rotation again this winter, and that likely keeps Fernando at Rochester on Opening Day, As a first man up however, that's a heck of an arm to turn to.

The Best of the Rest- Zack Littell, Stephen Gonsalves, Kohl Stewart, and Adnrew Vasquez

None of these guys got much time to really cement any sort of significant expectations for the year ahead. Littell, Gonsalves, and Stewart should all open 2019 in the Triple-A rotation, and getting a look at big league talent could do wonders for their offseason preparation. While none of them have dominant stuff, honing in on command and pitchability should continue to remain a key focus for them. Again noting the Twins depth, there's at least one capable big league starter in this trio, and Minnesota having them to turn to next season isn't a bad thing at all.

Vasquez was the lone rookie to get a relief chance this season. Working just 2.0 IP despite entering six games, manager Paul Molitor obviously displayed a short leash. Over such a small sample size you can't draw any definitive conclusions, but it's more than apparent that the meteoric rise from High-A to start the year was impressive. At every level, Vasquez posted massive strikeout totals and tended to keep his walks in check. If he can replicate a portion of that for the Twins, they'll have developed a nice pen piece.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Buxton's Greatness Knows No Bounds

Recently, the team behind MLB's Statcast came up with another visual and defensive metric for our perusal. It's still astonishing to me that the Baseball Savant platform is a free database to the average fan. That's the reality we live in however, and they've now introduced a Directional Outs Above Average leaderboard. In 2018 Byron Buxton obviously isn't on it. Looking back at least year though, the numbers are extraordinary.'s David Adler broke down some of his findings using the new tool today on Twitter. Notably, the White Sox Adam Engel has been the most valuable outfielder in baseball this year when it comes to tracking down balls behind him. Quantifying anything above +5 as elite, Engel has tracked down baseballs behind him and to his glove side as good as anyone in baseball this season.
That's all fine and well, but the high water mark this year is +5. The Twins centerfielder won the Platinum Glove last season, and watching him play, it was easy to see why. Among players with at least 25 opportunities, Byron Buxton's 29 outs above average was eight clear of his closest competition (Ender Inciate 21). Generating those outs though, Buxton's play behind him is what sets him apart.
Working in centerfield, Buxton generated elite totals (+10 and +7) on balls to the left and right field gaps. With 81 home games a year played at Target Field, getting to baseballs towards the high wall in right center or the bullpen fence in left center, saved his pitcher's ERA significantly. With 20 OAA behind him, only the White Sox Engel came close (owning an 18 OAA mark on balls behind him).

During 2018, the Twins have gotten just 28 games from Buxton at the big league level. Due to injuries, rehab, and now service time issues, he simply hasn't been on the field for a team that took a significant step backwards. Max Kepler has been one of the most consistently available outfielders for Minnesota in his place, and his nine OAA total is quite the dropoff.

As you may expect, this reality has caused quite the problem for the Twins defensively. In 2017 Minnesota outfielders combined for a 24 DRS total, which was good enough for 4th in all of baseball. Fast forward to today and Minnesota owns just a 2 DRS total this season, ranking 17th in the big leagues. There's no doubt it has also contributed to the Twins sliding from 19th to 23rd year-over-year in terms of pitching ERA.

There really isn't anything groundbreaking about the concept that Byron Buxton is an immense talent on defense. That premise alone is why the Twins rushed him back from his initial injury this season, and why they were willing to sacrifice both his health and offensive game for the betterment of their team as a whole. That said, it's plenty refreshing to see new metrics reflect just how exceptional Minnesota's center fielder appears through the eye test.

Getting a healthy Buxton back next season should do wonders for Minnesota, and he should continue to be a best friend for Twins pitchers.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Handing Out the Hardware: 2018 Edition

As a member of the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America, or IBWAA, each year the group is tasked with voting on end of season awards. Having now been a part of the voting process for the past few years, it's always fun to see where we stand in comparison to the BBWAA. In 2018, there's been so many strong seasons from veterans and rookies alike, this one of the most exciting ballots to fill out in recent memory.

Ballots are due back to the IBWAA by September 30, but I have already filed my vote. Despite their being a couple of weeks left in the 2018 Major League Baseball season, I'm comfortable with my suggestions for who should take home each award. I'll revisit my selections upon the announcement of final totals later this fall, but here's who I have in each of the ten categories.


Mike Trout- Angels

Others receiving votes- Mookie Betts, Jose Ramirez, Alex Bregman, Francisco Lindor, Matt Chapman, J.D. Ramiez, Chris Sale, Justin Verlander, Trevor Bauer

While Mookie Betts has had an incredible season of his own, there's no player in baseball whose team suffers more when they aren't on the field than Mike Trout. He's a revolutionary talent, and with a relative tie in statistical categories compared to Betts, the "Most Valuable" definition came into play for me here.

AL Cy Young

Chris Sale- Red Sox

Others receiving votes- Justin Verlander, Trevor Bauer, Gerrit Cole, Corey Kluber

In his third season with the Red Sox, Sale should finally nab his first Cy Young Award. Having came up short many seasons previously, this campaign is one for the ages. He's got a career high strikeout rate, and has paired that with a career low ERA. One of the greatest we'll ever see pitch, Sale takes home the hardware.


Shohei Ohtani- Angels

Others receiving votes- Miguel Andujar, Joey Wendle

There was a time that it appeared Miguel Andujar had this award wrapped up, then Ohtani returned from injury. The two-way phenom has put up nearly identical numbers to the Yankees third basemen, despite 40+ less games. Oh, and he was also an ace level pitcher over the course of 10 starts this season. Shohei will need surgery after 2018, but the award should help to legitimize how special this season was.

AL Manager

Alex Cora- Red Sox

Others receiving votes- A.J. Hinch, Aaron Boone

Sure the Red Sox have a ridiculous amount of talent on their major league roster, but Cora is still tasked with having it all come together. In his first season, Cora has Boston over 100 wins and looking like the team to beat in all of baseball.

AL Reliever

Edwin Diaz- Mariners

Others receiving votes- Blake Treinen, Craig Kimbrel

Diaz is breathing down the neck of Francisco Rodriguez's single-season saves record (62), and hasn't gotten there by any cheap measure. The strikeout rate, walk rate, and ERA are all elite. Although the playoffs are out of the picture for the Mariners, this is going to be a year to remember for the closer.


Javier Baez- Cubs

Others receiving votes- Christian Yelich, Nolan Arenado, Lorenzo Cain, Paul Goldschmidt, Matt Carpenter, Trevor Story, Jacob deGrom, Max Scherzer, Scooter Gennett

This season, the National League has quite a group at the top of the leaderboards. Although they all fall short of the American League race, this collection is tightly contested among themselves. Baez jumps off the page as a difference maker for the Cubs, and is a large part as to why they own the best record in the NL.

NL Cy Young

Jacob deGrom- Mets

Others receiving votes- Max Scherzer, Aaron Nola, Patrick Corbin, Mike Foltynewicz

Wins be damned, there's really no argument to make against the Mets ace taking home the NY Cy Young. deGrom hasn't been gifted run support in virtually any of his outings, but his level of dominance transcends the final tally in the box score.


Ronald Acuna- Braves

Others receiving votes- Juan Soto, Walker Buehler

Given the meteoric rise Atlanta has seen in 2018, it's almost fair to wonder whether Acuna belongs in the MVP discussion. Despite missing some time during the middle of the year, Acuna has been nothing short of exceptional while on the field. At just 20 years old, this should be the first of many awards coming to him over the course of a long career.

NL Manager

Joe Maddon- Cubs

Others receiving votes- Brian Snitker, Bud Black

The Cubs haven't been the dominant team they were back in 2016, but the best record in the National League is going to send them to the postseason nonetheless. This collection has a shot to bring another championship to Chicago, and Joe Maddon continues to be best suited in helping them achieve that goal.

NL Reliever

Josh Hader- Brewers

Others receiving votes- Adam Ottavino, Jeremy Jeffress

Following up a strong rookie debut season, Hader hasn't slowed down at all in 2018. The dominant lefty fans batters at an incredible rate, and has helped to give Milwaukee one of the fiercest relief duos in all of baseball.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Minnesota and the Arms Race

Over the past few seasons, it's been fun to watch the emergence of a few arms for the Minnesota Twins. While starting pitching is obviously the premium you'd like to corner, talent in the relief corps is where some unusual suspects have emerged. From Ryan Pressly to Trevor Hildenberger, the 2018 culprit is a guy that already showed some promise a season ago.

Lefty Taylor Rogers has become a mainstay in the Twins bullpen, and after a 3.07 ERA across 55.2 IP during 2017, that was a realistic expectation. As a 27 year-old without much prospect fanfare though, it was safe to question whether the numbers could hold. Utilized best as a lefty on lefty specialist last year, the 3.4 BB/9 provided some reason for pause. While Rogers enjoyed a sparkling ERA, the 4.09 FIP told a different story, and the 7.9 K/9 was nearly a 2.0 K/9 dropoff from his rookie campaign.

Fast forward to 2018 and Rogers looks the part of a difference maker. On the year, he owns a 2.92 ERA across 61.2 IP. His 9.9 K/9 is a career high while the 2.0 BB/9 is a career low. In a credit to Taylor, he's also handled himself very well against batters from both sides of the plate this season. Seeing 136 plate appearances versus righties, he's given up a .675 OPS. Against lefties in 102 plate appearances opponents have tallied a .439 OPS. Those numbers are both down nearly 100 points from where they were in the same situations a season ago.

Judging by the splits, it's safe to suggest that Taylor can be much more than a LOOGY for Minnesota. The former 11th round pick probably wasn't assumed to be a back end of the bullpen option, but he's certainly pitched himself into the high leverage conversation. Despite not being cut from the blazing fastball cloth, Rogers has turned to pitch quality in order to get big league batters out.

Improving on his pitches as a whole, batters have helped to advance his cause on the mound as well. A 32% chase rate is a new career high, and he is now getting swinging strikes 10.9% of the time (a 3% jump from his rookie season). The former Wildcat is seeing contact against him at the lowest rate of his career, and batters are generating hard contact only 31.2% of the time (which has also led to a career low 6.7 HR/FB).

With Minnesota having transformed the bullpen yet again this year, 2019 is going to be rip with new opportunity. Trevor Hildenberger, Addison Reed, and Rogers are among the few certainties. From there the front office will need to acquire or decide upon internal options once again. Having a guy like Rogers step up into a role that can provide accountability from the get go is a very nice development.

No matter what level of loss is experience during a down season, being able to generate productivity and some level of certainty for the future is a must. Minnesota has a few areas they can point to along that thread from 2018, and Rogers should be chief among them.

Monday, September 10, 2018

A Gift for all Twins Groups

Heading into the offseason, the Minnesota Twins will once again have the luxury of spending some money. With very little committed to the 2019 payroll, I’d imagine the front office will target something close to the 2018 Opening Day number when the dust settles. Having the luxury of a team composed of players still in arbitration years helps to provide financial flexibility. It’s worth wondering where it will be allocated this time around.

Last offseason, it was hard to suggest that Derek Falvey and Thad Levine did anything short of knocking the ball out of the park. They were in on the most premiere free agent talent, and began the season with a strong influx of ability. As we saw this season, many of those acquisitions didn’t work out, and that’s why the year went as it did. While each player had their own shortcomings, one thing worth coming back to is the talk of one-year deals.

It has been brought up multiple times down the stretch that the Twins clubhouse was somewhat toxic this year. Having signed multiple guys on one-year deals, it’s worth wondering if there wasn’t more of a focus on a “me” game intended to land the next real paycheck. This winter, I’d imagine Minnesota would be more focused on landing guys believed to help the organization in the long term, and given a financial commitment to do so.

Although there’s plenty still up in the air as to how the 2019 Opening Day roster will look, here’s a free agent addition for each position group that could make a whole lot of sense:

Starting Pitcher- Patrick Corbin

To the casual observer, Dallas Keuchel is likely the big name when it comes to the 2019 free agent pitching crop.  He’s not the Cy Young winner he was a few years ago, and he’s settled into more of a number two type role. What Keuchel does present is a good deal of consistency and reliability. I’d imagine he’ll be paid handsomely, and think there’s probably a better option out there.

Corbin is a year younger than the Astros starter, and he has had an incredible 2018. His 3.01 ERA and 11.2 K/9 are more than worthy of salivating over. What’s holding the Diamondbacks starter back is the lack of a true track record. He was pretty mediocre in 2017, and downright poor the season before that. Over the course of his career though, strikeouts have been a thing he can generate, and limiting walks has been a pretty safe bet. Teams will need to push down his ask a bit by noting that lack of consistency, but he’s the guy I’d pay for.

The Twins have run out more than a handful of starters once again this season, and only Jose Berrios and Kyle Gibson should be 2019 rotation locks. Fernando Romero should be a mainstay and take another step forward, while the emergence of an arm from the group of Zack Littell, Stephen Gonsalves, Chase De Jong, and others would be a nice realization. Bringing in another top half hurler on a long-term deal makes sense for the Twins, and this could be their guy.

Other possibilities: Keuchel, Nathan Eovaldi, Hyun-Jin Ryu

Relief Pitcher: Kelvin Herrera

In 2019, Minnesota shed a ton of talent out of the bullpen. Guys like Fernando Rodney and Zach Duke were brought in on one-year deals making them expendable. Ryan Pressly, one of the best relief arms in baseball, was capitalized on in the form of a nice prospect return. Regardless of where they’re at now, the reality is that the Twins will need to re-tool.

Addison Reed will be in the final year of his deal, and the hope would be that he could rebound from a disastrous 2018. Taylor Rogers and Trevor Hildenberger look the part of developed talent, and should be able to bolster the back end of ball games. From there though, it’s a significant amount of question marks. Alan Busenitz, Tyler Duffey, and John Curtiss are getting to the point where feeling them out needs to produce results. Jake Reed and Nick Anderson should’ve already had a look, and Gabriel Moya must show more stuff than deception.

While signing relievers to long-term deals is never an ideal scenario, one or two coming in on two-year pacts makes some sense. In Herrera, the Twins would be getting a guy that throws hard, and knows the division. Kelvin has previous closer experience, and would be an immediate boost to the back end of the pen. There are a few other names that could be a fit, but this is the combination of stuff and results that jumps off the page for me.

Other possibilities: Jeurys Familia, Zach Britton, Adam Ottavino

Starting Lineup: Eduardo Escobar

Trying to decipher how the Twins will line up to start 2019 is quite the question mark. There are plenty of bodies to put into positions, but the reality is that expectations are left unfulfilled all over the place. Miguel Sano needs a committed offseason, and Byron Buxton needs a bill of health. Does Joe Mauer return in a limited role, and what are the thoughts behind the plate?

From where we sit today, I think we can safely consider Eddie Rosario, Jorge Polanco, and Miguel Sano to be starters. Byron Buxton and Max Kepler should be the second wave of near certainties, and that leaves just a handful of openings. What Minnesota does at first base remains to be seen, and the options aren’t ideal. Second base is open, and Nick Gordon doesn’t appear ready. Jason Castro should be back behind the plate with Mitch Garver spelling him, but it’s worth considering an upgrade.

As crazy as it sounds, the best fit from a constructive standpoint is superstar Manny Machado. He moves Sano to first, gets a mega deal from a team with money to spend, and becomes a cornerstone for a budding organization. It’s hard to live in that reality, so the next step down (and an obvious significant one) is the return of Eduardo Escobar. He can play second or third regularly, and his midline is one that still remains above league average.

The Twins front office probably has some relationship equity to regain here, but that’s not something that will be new to them this winter.

Other possibilities: Manny Machado, Yasmani Grandal, D.J. LeMahieu, Wilson Ramos

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

A Rift at the Top in Minnesota?

The Minnesota Twins front office is sure making a habit of blundering important decisions here in September. With respect to Byron Buxton, and the late season promotions, there's plenty of head-scratching and hand-wringing to be observed. At this current juncture, it's maybe worth speculating if everyone isn't on the same page?

Over the course of the 2018 major league season, I have found myself as a supporter of the new front office. Derek Falvey and Thad Levine had an exceptional offseason, and they positioned this Twins club for success in the current season. As everything has gone up in flames however, their responses have seemed less than satisfactory. Now as real adversity creeps in, we may be seeing some cracks in the armor as well.

Obviously the biggest misstep thus far has been the handling of Byron Buxton. This isn't the space to rehash that situation, but I believe I did a good job of explaining the situation here. Looking back at it however, something has stuck out to me, and that's the quote from Thad Levine to Mike Berardino. Minnesota's GM said, “Their recourse has not been laid out to us. They’re certainly entitled to whatever they think is in the best interest of Byron Buxton. From this day forward, I think we recognize a responsibility to make amends and that we’re going to need to invest in the relationship with Byron Buxton. We understand this is a blow to the player, a potential blow to the relationship."

In analyzing that quote, it's hard not to wonder why the Twins GM is being so open and candid about the situation as a whole. He talked about service time implications to the media as well, and the suggestion that this team decision could be potentially damaging to a long term relationship speaks volumes. As the only member of the front office to speak on the decision thus far, it's hard not to speculate as to whether Thad is simply acting as the orator here, and there's some dissension in the room.

Derek Falvey is 35 years-old and holds the title of Chief Baseball Officer for the Minnesota Twins. His top rank previously was the title of Assistant General Manager for the Cleveland Indians. While he's obviously skilled and qualified for the role in which he's been enlisted, there's also an equally capable and qualified network of support around him. When making such delicate decisions, it's more than fair to wonder whether or not his peers all jump onto the same page.

When it comes to head-scratching options, Minnesota embarked on another when they revealed their full list of September call-ups. On top of the egregious missing name in Buxton, neither Nick Anderson or Jake Reed saw their names included among the group either. The Twins are currently 63-74, 14.0 games out of the AL Central, and have nothing left to play for in 2018. With those parameters, September immediately becomes a breeding ground for acclimation and assimilation with talent that could prove useful on the 2019 Opening Day roster. Except the Twins chose to forego that route.

It's great that John Curtiss, Chase De Jong and Tyler Duffey found themselves recalled, but so too did Chris Gimenez, Gregorio Petit, and Johnny Field. The latter three players represent veteran retreads that have no real value on a big league bench. Given the current state of the team in Minnesota, Mitch Garver or Jake Cave losing at bats to that duo seems counter productive. On top of that, the Twins left a stocked cupboard and closed the door. There's two spots still open on the 40 man roster, and of the 40 spots available on the active roster in September, only used 34 of them.

Anderson, a Minnesota native, turned in a 3.30 ERA, 13.2 K/9, and 2.9 BB/9 across 60.0 IP for Triple-A Rochester this season. Jake Reed posted a 1.89 ERA and 9.4 K/9 in 47.2 IP, and owned an even better 1.16 ERA in his last 31.0 IP. After signing multiple relief arms to short term deals this winter, squeezing out all the available talent within the organization seems like a smart blueprint. Given that neither now have an opportunity at the major league level in September, their afforded sample size will be a minimal one during big league camp (assuming they are invited, and still around).

Without being behind closed doors, it's impossible to know what Derek Falvey's impact on each decision is. It's also unfair to assume how he is viewed by his peers. What is absolutely certain though, is that there's a danger to always believing you're the smartest person in any given room. If the operating tactics are less collaborative than the amount the term has been used by the head honcho, it's hard to see how lackluster buy in is a positive.

Maybe Levine's comments surrounding Buxton are nothing more than they appear on the surface. Maybe no one in the front office saw the idea to waste the opportunity September roster expansion provides as a bad thing. Maybe everyone truly is on the same page. If that's the case though, we might be in even more trouble than it seems.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

So...This IS How We Baseball?

After recently writing a piece at Twins Daily about the Twins doing the unthinkable and playing the service time game with Byron Buxton, Thad Levine came out and said that's exactly what's going to take place. Minnesota's horrible "This is how we baseball" has been mocked all season long, thanks to lackluster performance and confusing decisions, but I really didn't expect something to take the cake in September.

I have been quite vocal about my support of the Twins new front office. Derek Falvey and Thad Levine had a stellar offseasons. They've acquired some very shrewd talent in trades, and they've helped to infuse an organization with new trains of thought. Where I've disagreed, also vocally, has been on the handling of in season roster decisions. Everything from Ryan LaMarre playing in 40 meaningful games, to Matt Belisle being valued for leadership and throwing out ability, to Paul Molitor still looking like a fish out of water when it comes to any form of strategy. All of those situations are trumped by this Buxton decision however.

Thad Levine attempted to prepare us for this self-sabotage by suggesting that Byron was still "playing through" thinks, and Molitor was non-committal when it came to his September plan. When Darren Wolfson dropped the bomb officially though, no amount of preparation helped to ease the lunacy.

Although Levine tried to gray out his obvious admission of guilt when it came to service time manipulation, his quote to Mike Berardino was all that needed to be said, "I think part of our jobs is we’re supposed to be responsible to factoring service time into every decision we make. ... We wouldn’t be doing our jobs if we weren’t at least aware of service-time impacts on decisions we make."

So, now that there's finality to this ridiculous move front the front office, here's shooting down every sensible retort coming out of Twins Territory:

Manipulating service time makes sense, the Cubs did it with Kris Bryant and the Blue Jays are currently doing so with Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

In and of itself, nothing about the above situation is wrong. Garnering extra service time from your elite prospects is something every franchise should look to stretch out. However, comparing Buxton to those situations is one that suggests a lack of understanding surrounding contracts and how baseball development takes places. Uber-prospects having service time manipulated takes place BEFORE they debut at the big league level. Whether trying to stretch out another year of arbitration or avoid Super 2 status, it's in or before major league debuts that this stuff takes place. Byron Buxton was an uber-prospect, but he's currently 300-plus games into his big league career. You aren't manipulating in hopes of what could be coming at this point.

Buxton is actually hurt, and Minnesota wants him to start 2019 healthy.

That's a really convenient avenue for a franchise to take after Buxton missed a large portion of the 2018 season because the Twins didn't care. After breaking his foot, the Twins needed their Platinum Glove winner back so badly that they allowed him to play in 17 games despite an inability to swing without pain. On top of that, Buxton still being hurt hasn't shown up in the box score at Rochester. He owned a .996 OPS since his activation following the wrist injury, and was being asked to play on nearly a nightly basis. Unless there's some injury that occurs when crossing state lines, merit is nowhere to be found on this one.

Has Buxton actually earned anything? He owns the 3rd lowest OPS among MLB hitters with 90 PAs in 2018, and had just a .787 OPS in 35 games for Rochester.

Defining whether or not a player has earned or is owed something is likely a reflection of personal preference. From this vantage point though, healthy players play, and the best ones get the most run. Buxton is an elite outfielder, and is no doubt one of the most important pieces to the Minnesota lineup. He was awful to start the year, and then was hurt for a significant portion of the rest. With a month left to go, allowing a guy to catch up with as many imperative at bats as possible seems like common sense. Sometimes though, those things aren't so common.

Getting another year of team control for Byron in 2022 is more important than a month's worth of ABs during a lost season.

Here's another one that has real merit when viewing the sentiment in a vacuum. Yes, when Buxton is a superstar in all facets of the game in 2022, it'd be great for Minnesota to have contractual flexibility with their player. Unfortunately, the thought that a guy with 300-plus games under his belt needs a reset, has to get going at Triple-A, and isn't worthy of MLB at bats in September doesn't jive with said player being a superstar. In short, if you're worried about how good Buxton is in 2022, then you should absolutely be all in on him being provided every avenue for development in the here and now. Contradiction doesn't get to be separated for the purpose of sensibility.

On top of Derek Falvey and Thad Levine making such an error in judgement, they've continued to double-down with the poor public disseminations. Levine suggested that Byron is still very much a part of the Twins future, and the front office hopes to "make amends" with him soon. It's very true that money talks and a hefty arbitration raise could do wonders for smoothing things over. It's also entirely plausible that Buxton laughs at the thought that the organization is again suddenly looking out for his best interested after entirely screwing him over.

Then there's the manager, Paul Molitor. When addressing the media prior to their game on September 2nd, Molitor suggested it isn't a given that Buxton is the 2019 centerfielder for the Twins. He went on to note lots of competition and a bit more political jargon. Maybe Molitor forgot that this is the reigning Platinum Glove winner, and the best defensive centerfielder in baseball. Jake Cave has been a great addition to Minnesota's stable, but he's not supplanting Byron's future. This also reverts back to the contradictory suggestion that 2022 is an important year of team control, despite a lack of belief in 2019 and beyond.

With Rochester having two games left on their schedule, the resident major leaguer packed up his bags and began his offseason. Byron has become the face of public ridicule for a decision derived from a poor front office decision. He's not bailing on anyone, it isn't a "me first" mentality, and questioning his team attitude is shortsighted. His bosses left him out to dry, and then went on allowing him to twist in the wind as the fruits of their failure come to light.

I'd imagine that Buxton's agents have made calls to the front office already. MLB Players Association Executive Director Tony Clark should be helping Byron to draft a grievance as we speak. This isn't a decision that can come down without recourse, and siding with billionaire owners never should sit right with millionaire players.

At the end of the day, the hope should still be that Byron Buxton turns into the superstar his prospect status alluded to. While that chapter is yet to be written, there's going to need to be a significant amount of relationship capital built back up for the player to trust an organization that no longer looked out for his best interests.