Wednesday, December 26, 2018

The Dangers in Waiting for Minnesota

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 17, 2018

Resurgent Relief for Allen with Twins?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Bring on the Boomstick

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

2019 Minnesota Twins Top 15 Prospects

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

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

15. Jorge Alcala RHP

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

14. Luke Raley OF/1B

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

13. Gilberto Celestino OF

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

12. Jhoan Duran RHP

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

11. Blayne Enlow RHP

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

10. Lewis Thorpe LHP

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

9. Wander Javier SS

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

8. Akil Baddoo OF

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

7. LaMonte Wade OF

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

6. Nick Gordon SS/2B

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

5. Trevor Larnach OF

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

4. Brent Rooker OF/DH

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

3. Brusdar Graterol RHP

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

2. Alex Kirilloff OF

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

1. Royce Lewis SS

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

Monday, December 10, 2018

The Scoop on Schoop, and His Twins Fit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

2019 IBWAA Hall of Fame Ballot

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

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

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

Curt Schilling: 79.7 fWAR

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

Scott Rolen 70.1 fWAR

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

Larry Walker: 68.7 fWAR

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

Andruw Jones 67.1 fWAR

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

*Roy Halladay 65.2 fWAR

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

Fred McGriff: 56.9 fWAR

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

*Mariano Rivera 39.7 fWAR

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

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Tyler Austin Just Visiting Minnesota?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 3, 2018

Spending is Coming, Right?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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