Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Twins Show Poise in Winning Deadline

For weeks we’ve heard talk of the big names. Madison Bumgarner, Will Smith, and Noah Syndergaard were all assets expected to be moved at the July 31 trade deadline. Because the Minnesota Twins are one of the best teams in baseball they were consistently linked to the best gets, and so too were every other major market. In the end, that trio went nowhere, but it’s in how Minnesota executed on their moves that makes the maneuvering something to get behind.

Without hammering out more thoughts on Sergio Romo, it’s hard to see that move as anything but a come up. I already wrote about the move when it happened over the weekend, but they turned a guy who was going to be lost during the Rule 5 draft into a strong reliever and an equal or better prospect. Knowing the goal was relief help, Derek Falvey struck early on the former Marlins close.

As the deadline neared on Tuesday afternoon, apprehension began to set in. Hours faded away, they turned into minutes, and the 3pm CT mark came and went. Then there was a tweet Darren Wolfson sent simply saying, “Stay tuned.” As long as deals are finalized with the league office prior to the cutoff, they go through. Having not yet been reported, Minnesota was in fact making a move.

All along it was thought that Smith was the San Francisco Giants reliever on his way out of town. Stringing together some victories of late however, Bruce Bochy’s club is going to make one more run and held onto their top starter and reliever. In doing this, Falvey likely pivoted to what can be argued as a better get.

Sam Dyson is a 31-year-old reliever with closing experience. Having familiarity with Thad Levine from his Texas days, Dyson closed out 38 games for the Rangers in 2016. This year he’s posted a 2.47 ERA 2.74 FIP 8.3 K/9 and 1.2 BB/9. He doesn’t still throw upper 90’s like earlier in his career, but he sits in the middle and doesn’t give up free bases. Under team control through next season as well, this move plays into the future.
Going into the deadline I opined that the Twins could do no worse than two relievers with a starter pushing someone to the bullpen as gravy. None of the big relief names moved and Dyson represents the best arm to switch teams. Outside of Chris Martin, who is an impending free agent, Romo likely comes in above the rest as well.

If you find yourself disappointed that the likes of Thor, MadBum, or Greinke won’t be in the home dugout any time soon I’d like to offer some perspective. First and foremost, neither of the first two players switched teams. The Mets asked for the most important player on the Twins roster in the middle of a season, while the Giants we’re holding a big name with declining performance back for a king’s ransom.

Houston did well to land Greinke, and coming in after the buzzer he certainly provided the big bang to end the day. The former Diamondbacks starter would’ve been an ideal candidate for Minnesota as adding salary is certainly an avenue they could’ve went down. He would’ve helped to solidify the rotation and also is under contract. He is 35-years-old though, and most importantly had a full no-trade clause. It was his choice where he went, and that wasn’t here.

Almost as what the Twins got at the deadline is what they held onto. With the big names floated for weeks, so two were prospects like Royce Lewis, Alex Kirilloff, Brusdar Graterol, and Trevor Larnach. Falvey added talent in the most necessary part of the roster without giving up a single top 20 prospect. Lewin Diaz was the highest ceiling moved, and he was unquestionably buried behind some better depth. Jaylin Davis is having an incredible 2019, but it’s come out of nowhere and again is in an area of depth.

You want to see a team start to push chips in when a window opens, but you must be certain that it isn’t just cracked. The Astros have made waves the last two seasons now in the midst of a third straight 100 win campaign. The Cubs traded Gleyber Torres in a final piece World Series move after winning 97 games the year prior, and are now looking at a fifth straight 90 win campaign. Those types of moves are risky but were beyond substantiated.

Minnesota should win 100 games this year but it comes on the heels of a losing season. This core looks the part of a team that should be a Postseason and World Series contender for at least the next five seasons. They have no less than 15 players that are impact talent and will be 32-years-old or under four years from now. Rocco Baldelli’s 25-man roster is good enough right now to beat anyone in the Postseason. In 2020 and beyond, some of the additional depth can be turned into more talent, as the opportunity stays present.

To summarize the past few weeks that led up to a frenzied couple of hours today, Derek Falvey and Thad Levine showed poised perfection in how they handled talent acquisition. The big league club got substantially better. The farm system did not get any worse. Sustained winning is still a probable outcome and the team from Twins Territory is as dangerous as it’s ever been.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Shiny Cards Galore with Topps Chrome

Each year there are certain products from Topps that collector's circle on their calendar. While there's products that come in all across the pricing spectrum, it's the flagship design that typically draws the most interest across the board. Making an appearance with a shiny finish is the allure of Topps Chrome, and the slight border should provide plenty of unique looks for the 2019 offering.

From a checklist standpoint, Topps Chrome is traditionally about the big name rookies. These are some of the cards you'll want to hold in hopes of rising value down the line. Unfortunately for Twins fans neither Jake Cave or Willians Astudillo represent that contingent, but on your search you could certainly land a Vladimir Guerrero Jr. or Fernando Tatis Jr.

Typically in this space there's an avenue to break down base, insert, and hit offerings targeted towards the Minnesota Twins. This time around there's not an opportunity to do that as the checklist is extremely light. Nabbing seven different base cards the subjects include rookie cards for Astudillo and Cave, with the veterans being Kepler, Polanco, Buxton, Berrios, and Rosario.

Just four insert sets are included in the product, so it's not a huge change of pace. No Twins make it into any of those groupings however, so it's simply base and hits. From an autograph standpoint Cave, Astudillo, and Stephen Gonsalves are all signers in the rookie autos checklist.

The one other hit inclusion is an interesting one. At one per case the Debut Gear Relics are somewhat of a chase card. Limited to 140 total cards plus an assumed four printing plates, Brian Dozier appears in this checklist. Now with the Washington Nationals, the chrome offering of what should be something to do with his 2012 memorabilia could be a nice little offering.

Releasing during the first day of the 2019 National Card Collector Show, 2019 Topps Chrome Baseball will again be a product to seek out. Simple yet attractive design makes rainbows in this product some of the most attractive to go after.

Monday, July 29, 2019

Old Dude Still Rakes: Nelson Cruz Edition

This winter two free agents jumped out at me as being obvious fits for this Minnesota Twins team. Marwin Gonzalez with his positional flexibility and Nelson Cruz for his big bat seemed like perfect fits for a lineup needing to fill some holes. Despite Cruz getting up there in age, he hadn’t shown any signs of slowing down and the only question was whether that would carry over into 2019. Now beyond the halfway point I think we have all the answers necessary.

After a National League swing in early April a handful of Twins fans popped up questioning whether the long-time designated hitter still had it. Through the first game of an April 20th doubleheader against the Baltimore Orioles Cruz owns a .268/.412/.415 slash line. He’d hit just one home run and wasn’t looking like the guy that blasts 30 dingers with ease. If the 17-game sample size wasn’t enough to suggest it was too soon, then the four-hit nightcap that day should have been. After game two of the doubleheader Minnesota’s DH owned a .326/.446/.609 line and the rest may be history.

With 78 games under his belt the newly turned 39-year-old has posted a .980 OPS for the Twins. That’s the best mark over any full season in his career. Slugging over .600 for the first time he’s got a career high there as well, and the .375 OBP is even with his high-water mark set in 2017 with the Seattle Mariners.

ZiPS projected Cruz to post an .848 OPS in 2019 and saw him hitting 30 home runs. While the slash line will remain in flux through the end of the season, he’s already at 26 and is tracking towards 40 long balls for the fourth time in his career, and first since 2016. Obviously, the golf ball-esque baseball doesn’t hurt anything for a big-time power hitter, but Cruz is still doing plenty of this on his own.

You don’t have to search far to find Nelson’s name on hard hit leaderboards. His 12.3 barrels per plate appearance are second in baseball behind only the Yankees Gary Sanchez. His 94.2 mph average exit velocity trails only Aaron Judge and his 54.4% hard hit rate is the best in the sport. Roughly one-third of the balls he puts in the air leave the yard, and a good portion of them seem to go into orbit. If there was an expected decline to come, Cruz himself seemed to miss the memo.

Looking at the body of work really isn’t to suggest this is uncharted territory for Cruz, he’s had better seasons. In 2015 and 2016 with the Mariners he combined to post a total of 9.4 fWAR. It’s fair to assume production would slow as you age, but this is going to be a better year than he had as a All Star for the 6th time last season and could conceivably reach a 4.0 fWAR baseline.

The Twins got Cruz for $250k less than the Mariners paid him a season ago, and the $12MM option in 2020 looks like a forgone conclusion at this point. He’ll be 40 next July and if we can take performance in this campaign as any indicator, the only thing going over the hill will be a boatload of bombas.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Twins Swing Strong Deal for Romo

For weeks it's been apparent that the Minnesota Twins need bullpen help. As we've gotten closer to the trade deadline the certainty that moves would be made has only become more clear. Tonight while in the midst of a battle with the Chicago White Sox, Derek Falvey was working the phones and landed RHP Sergio Romo from the Miami Marlins.

Romo was a free agent this offseason and signed with Miami on a one-year, $2.5 million pact. He was someone I liked for the Twins but the front office decided to stand pat after the acquisition of Blake Parker. Romo was abysmal to start the season for Miami but has been lights out of late, and his dominant slider remains as good as it's ever been.

Since May 22nd Romo has pitched in 22 games going 21.2 IP. He has a 2.49 ERA and a .585 OPS against. The strikeouts have been down this year and he was at just 16/3 K/BB over that stretch, but the stuff may be as good as it's ever been. Right now he owns a whiff rate near 14% in 2019 and his 40% chase rate is a career best.

When you've been doing this for as long as Romo has, and without ever being a velocity pitcher, it's the offspeed stuff that must work. Sergio throws his slider nearly 60% of the time and it's continued to be an incredible offering. His slider posts an RPM of 2852 which is 9th best among sliders in baseball this season.

Falvey obviously had to part with an asset in trade, and choosing Lewin Diaz makes a lot of sense here. He's a 22-year-old that posted a sub-.600 OPS at Fort Myers last season. Having put in significant work to get his body right this winter, he's having a breakout campaign with 19 HRs and an OPS north of .900 split between A+/AA. That's really where the good news for the Twins and Diaz ends however.

Lewin would need to be added to the 40 man roster this winter or be subject to the Rule 5 draft. He went unprotected and unchosen last year, but that wasn't going to happen after the results this year. In that scenario the Twins lose him for nothing. He's a great defender at first and a nice power bat, but he's also behind at least Miguel Sano, Brent Rooker, and Alex Kirilloff for major league reps at first base in the not-so-distant future.

This wasn't a one for one trade either. Minnesota also got back 2018 5th round pick Chris Vallimont from the Marlins. He's pitching at Low-A currently as a starter and the righty has been a high strikeout, low walk hurler in his young pro career. He too is 22-years-old but is not subject to 40 man necessity yet and gives the Twins depth on the mound, where they need it more. Reports have also suggested Minnesota picks up a PTBNL in the deal.

It would be hard to see a Diaz for Vallimont swap as anything but a win for Minnesota. They get a more usable asset and the expiration date is pushed out. If the assumption was that Diaz could be packaged to net a bigger return that's one thing, but you'd have to imagine Falvey explored those options as well. This isn't going to be the Twins only move, and probably not even their only move for the pen. As a first deal though, they smashed this one out of the park.

Friday, July 26, 2019

How Good Is Noah Syndergaard?

The Minnesota Twins are going to be scouring the trade market for the next few days as they look to supplement their big-league club. Relief pitching will be the main focus, but adding a starter makes some sense too. I am out on trading real assets for rentals, but a controllable arm could be more than enticing for Derek Falvey. The premiere name out there is the New York Mets Noah Syndergaard. 2019 has been a down year, but just how good is he?

Commonly known as Thor, Syndergaard is a controllable asset through the 2021 Major League Baseball season. He’s costing the Mets just $6 million this season on an arbitration deal, and that figure will rise slightly each of the next two campaigns. After posting a 2.93 ERA through his first four big league seasons he owns a 4.33 mark in 2019. Much of that is on the Mets being the worst defensive team in baseball however, as his FIP is 3.64.

Drafted out of high school there’s a lot to like with Syndergaard. He has worked in the majors since his age 22 season and has consistently been among the best pitchers in the sport. Yet to win a Cy Young or make multiple All-Star teams, his best years are likely yet to come. Unfortunately, he’s never been completely healthy and has pitched over 180 innings in a season just one time during his five-year career. When he’s on the mound it’s must watch action, but you have to believe in his ability to stay there.

Looking under the hood we can generate a better idea of what Thor actually brings to the table. His 98.2 mph average fastball velocity is right in line with career norms, and he’s one of the hardest throwing starters in the game. The career 13.2% whiff rate is solid and while he’s down to 12.5% this season, that’s still a strong floor. Generating a ground ball roughly 50% of the time over the course of his career and giving up hard contact less then 30% of the time, it’s a batted ball profile that should generate success.

To address some of the 2019 concerns we can probably start first and foremost with the slider. Although Syndergaard can blow his fastball by many big-league hitters, it’s the breaking pitch that keeps them off balance. For whatever reason he went from utilizing the slider 20% of the time all the way down to 12% in 2019. He’s throwing his fastball more than at any point since 2016, and he’s sprinkled in a bit more changeup usage. Working with him on what is a dominant secondary offering is probably part of the puzzle here.

Because he’s gone to a straighter offering more often, batters are more than likely able to hone in on the zone. We some evidence of that in his chase rate this season. Down to a career low 31.5%, opposing hitters simply aren’t offering at pitches outside of the strike zone. Despite not being egregious by any means, that input has also led to a career high 73.8% contract rate.

At the end of the day it’s pretty difficult to argue against the merits of a 26-year-old fireballer that throws a ton of strikes and limits walks. Sure, the overall numbers are down some in 2019, but it appears that all the stuff is still there. Expecting Wes Johnson to help unlock everything all at once is a pretty good bet and getting a guy like this that can be worked with for a significant period of time would really bear some fruit.

Organizations like the Twins really have to determine their path when looking at how to best position themselves for an ace. Derek Falvey swung for the fences on Yu Darvish as a free agent a year ago, but ultimately stopped shy of matching the Cubs offer. Regardless of that deal now looking bad, the Twins being the frontrunner on the premiere free agent starting option seems like a foolish bet on an annual basis. You can certainly draft and develop talent, but that’s also not a straightforward process and one that takes an incredible amount of time. That only leaves the trade route.

Dealing for a guy like Syndergaard is going to hurt in the form of prospect capital. The Star Tribune’s Lavelle E. Neal suggested that New York has asked for both Alex Kirilloff and Royce Lewis, which should not happen, but any deal is going to be steep. At some point it becomes whether the front office wants to deal in dollars or prospects, and for Syndergaard the latter may be worth genuinely exploring.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Twins Takeaways are Twofold

Arguably the most exciting game the Minnesota Twins have played in nearly a decade, the home team dropped a 14-12 affair last night (err this morning) at Target Field. It’s in these last few games against the Oakland Athletics and New York Yankees that two very real truths have been exposed. For the duration of 2019 it will be how each storyline unfolds that ultimately determines the fate of the season.

First and foremost, the Twins are good and can hang with anyone in baseball. There was a narrative earlier this year that Rocco Baldelli’s club was only beating bad teams. While “teams with a .500 record” is an inexact science given the fluidity of records, Minnesota is playing at something like a 90-win pace against other teams in or around Postseason contention. Yes, they’ve beat up on bottom feeders, but they’ve also more than held their own against stiff competition.

As of today, both the Yankees and Athletics are slotted into American League Postseason positions. The Twins split their four-game series with Oakland posting an even run differential over the set. In five games against New York, Minnesota owns a 2-3 record and has come up just two runs short of an even run differential. With a rubber match game looming tonight, this split could get even tighter.

In winning games against good teams it’s been the offense that has gotten the job done. Although the lineup has slumped from the blistering pace it started 2019 on the Bomba Squad is still pounding extra-base hits at a healthy clip. Over the course of a full 162 game schedule this collection is far too good to stay down for long. As pitching, both starting and relief, regresses towards statistical parallels it’s the bats that should be expected for a continued rebound.

On the mound we’ve seen a confirmation of what we already know. In the past week Minnesota’s bullpen has blown late leads on no less than four occasions. Cody Stashak worked important innings during his MLB debut last night, and Lewis Thorpe was there the night before. Kohl Stewart was tasked with keeping a big game tied in the 10th, and any number of arms have been called upon from the Rochester pipeline.

Derek Falvey knows full well that he needs to get this team relief help. Rocco Baldelli is playing Russian Roulette on a nightly basis, and the result continues to be Band-Aids on a bullet wound. The front office can’t afford to skimp on an ok veteran in the pen, this roster needs difference makers. While the long-term vision remains important, wasting a team and opportunity this good by making a safe move can’t be the plan of action.

We’re on a collision course with two pivotal points in the Minnesota schedule. A week from now the trade deadline rears its head, and in just a few days the opposition gets incredibly light. Minnesota knows how this book has begun, but it’s on them to write the final chapters.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Yankees Enter and No Twins Care, Literally None

Every single time the New York Yankees square off against the Minnesota Twins you hear the statistics. Minnesota has been dominated by the Evil Empire. Ron Gardenhire’s division winning teams consistently found their season cut short by Yankees lineups. Whether at Target Field or the Metrodome, Twins fans have long looked at these series and circled them to highlight impending doom. Now leading the AL Central, I can all but assure you that when the Yankees filter into the opposing dugout this evening the number of Twins players caring about historical relevance will be zero.

Two years ago, a Paul Molitor Twins squad popped up out of nowhere to win 85 games. Not much was expected from that group and grabbing the Wild Card spot was a surprise to plenty within the organization. Jumping out to a 3-0 lead after their first at bats the Twins quickly gave back the runs only for the dust to settle with an 8-4 defeat. That starting lineup included just four regular starters from this current squad. The leadoff batter moved to the National League while the number two batter has retired to his couch.

It’s in the turnover that this discussion of history really goes to die.

Rocco Baldelli currently manages a very good Minnesota Twins squad. They lead the majors in longballs, have pitched above their heads for over half the season, and even with a slight downtick in production, employ the third best offense in the sport. All those things are factually true right now, today. C.J. Cron, Jonathan Schoop, Nelson Cruz, Mitch Garver, and Marwin Gonzalez have never faced the Yankees in a Twins uniform. Each of those players are directly responsible for the great season Minnesota is having and that impact will be felt much more than the numbers Justin Morneau or Michael Cuddyer compiled against New York.

If there’s a significance in this series, it’s that the two teams are good and playing against good opponents should provide somewhat of a measuring stick for a club. The Yankees have taken over the title of best record in the American League and having won five of their last six contests. Aaron Boone’s team hasn’t been on the road since the All-Star Break, but they do own a solid 26-17 record away from Yankees Stadium. Minnesota is an even 30-19 both at home and away, but having dropped the series 1-2 in the Bronx, will look to at least end the season total with a split.

There’s also a get right opportunity here for the Twins in that the Yankees employ just the 13th ranked starting unit in baseball. New York has scheduled two lefties in the matchup and that plays into the hands of the righty bombers for the Twins. Producing a full run less per game over the past couple of months, favorable pitching matchups should be something this group salivates over.

At the end of the day this series is a big one for both clubs. Each of these teams is looking to improve their positioning for the stretch run, and they’ll be looking to notch quality wins against quality competition. Call the Twins and underdog if you’d like, but no one on either side of this matchup is worried about what has taken place in previous years. Minnesota has tracked towards one of the best teams in organization history, and while that’s uncharted waters on its own, so is the writing of their story against the club leading the AL East.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Baseball Gets Goofy with Ginter

Each year Topps goes outside of the baseball realm with the Allen & Ginter product line. Yes, it’s still a baseball card set, but the product explores avenues off the diamond as well. Ranging from standard base cards to mini tobacco type offerings, there’s a little something for everyone here. Allen & Ginter has long had a unique following and give the consistent non-baseball inclusions that shouldn’t change any time soon.

From a collecting standpoint baseball cards are generally about the big-name stars. In Ginter it’s always interesting to see what random offering pops up as a chase card. A year ago, there was a cryptocurrency depiction that saw base cards jump well over the expected value point, and the market explosion didn’t take place until months after the product release. Movie stars, presidents, and plenty of other big names will be found in this product as well.

What’s great for Twins fans is that Minnesota is well represented this season. Let’s look at everything there is to go after.


The Twins lands eight subjects on the base checklist. Continuing to emerge as a popular figure in the hobby this year Torii Hunter has a card here. Willians Astudillo lands another rookie card, and teammates Jose Berrios, Eddie Rosario, and Byron Buxton join him. The trio of retired stars include Rod Carew, Tony Oliva, and Harmon Killebrew. You can also find parallel versions of some base subjects among the mini, cloth, metal, and newly introduced stained glass checklists.


Traditional inserts aren’t the highlight of Ginter as much as the obscure non-baseball offerings are. That said Carew is noted as both a “Baseball Star” and “Ginter Great.” Killebrew lumps in to the Ginter Greats checklist as well. Those three are the only traditional insert cards Minnesota places in the product.


Minis are the name of the game in Ginter. Whether it be relics, framed cards, or autographs the tobacco craze is high and mighty in this product. Eddie Rosario is the Twins lone signing among the framed mini checklist. Lending their signature to 20 total book cards, Berrios and Hunter are present. Berrios is the only relic subject, while the elusive Rip Cards feature the likeness of Carew and Killebrew (with a more limited dual offering as well).

Monday, July 15, 2019

Making a Move for MadBum

The Minnesota Twins are one of the most well positioned franchises in baseball to acquire serious assets this month. Needing help on the mound, the optimal plan would be in acquiring two relievers and a starter. Without knowing how it will shake out, we do know that Derek Falvey's club has been connected to the San Francisco Giants and Madison Bumgarner. Should a deal be struck, what may that look like?

Given the Giants current standing, and free agency looming for the pair, both Bumgarner and Will Smith have been the focus of numerous trade discussions. Any selling organization would almost certainly prefer packages for players that part out one asset at a time. While Minnesota could use both Smith and Bumgarner we can separate the two of them for the sake of this exercise.

In his latest piece for The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal noted that Giants GM Farhan Zaidi prefers to get prospects closer to the majors. Not wanting lottery tickets and looking for an expedited rebuild, that's certainly an understandable plan. Prior to making any move, Minnesota must be convinced of what they'd be acquiring.

Bumgarner's name is one inviting all of the stories. He's a former World Series hero and has been included in the ace discussion over the course of his career. Right now he's a pitcher with a 3.86 ERA backed by FIP and xFIP numbers that suggest the mark is true. His velocity is in a similar place to what it's always been and despite major injuries in recent years, consistency has been relatively reliable.

There's no reason to think that any big league organization is trading for a player solely based on name recognition or pedigree. Falvey won't be lulled into the belief that this is the same guy who picked up a World Series MVP nod in 2014. If the scouting process reveals the soon-to-be 30-year-old has enough ability to bolster the rotation then a merit based acquisition would make plenty of sense.

Now we get to the cost of a deal. This is a rental Minnesota would be taking on in hopes of a deeper Postseason performance yet this season. He's not going to slot in ahead of staff ace Jose Berrios and any belief that Bumgarner would cost the Twins one of their top three prospects seems absurd. Excluding Royce Lewis, Alex Kirilloff, and Brusdar Graterol from this deal gives us a clearer layout of what assets to look for.

Factoring in the Giants desire for players at the upper levels of the organization we can target players currently sitting at Double or Triple-A in the Minnesota system. Having such a deep and strong farm system the Twins can part out pieces and still be well set up for the future.

Minnesota Twins acquire SP Madison Bumgarner. San Francisco Giants acquire OF Brent Rooker, INF Nick Gordon, and RHP Sean Poppen.

With this return the Giants are getting a bit of everything. Rooker has a legit bat and would be in the big leagues for a significant amount of organizations right now. He plays on the corners, and there's questions about whether a move to first could happen with his current footwork. Swing and miss tendencies have slowed over the season with Triple-A Rochester and the power should play fine in any park. The Giants would be smart to ask for Trevor Larnach here, but he's further off and Minnesota should want to protect the upside there if they can.

Former first round pick Nick Gordon has regained some of his promise. No longer a top 100 name, he is posting a .788 OPS during his second trip through the International League. Gordon isn't likely ever going to hit for power, but he's got a .291 average across 55 games at Rochester this season and is doing that with a serviceable .335 OBP. Speed is one of his best assets, and while he's not brother Dee, Nick can turn it on around the bases. You'd like to see a more even K/BB ratio, and he's more 2B than SS at this point, but there's a 23-year-old regular here.

Poppen fits the mold of a solid trade candidate. He's 25 and at Triple-A for Minnesota, but there's more than a few arms slotted ahead of him for long term consideration. He had a mediocre start to the year at Double-A but has turned it on big time with Rochester. Posting a 10.1 K/9 and 3.5 BB/9 in 49 innings at Triple-A this season, his 2.39 ERA is a career best. Sitting mid-90's with his fastball, this is a guy that can bolster the back end of a rotation and gets another boost pitching on the junior circuit.

Obviously the names and talent included in this deal shifts if Will Smith is indeed paired with Bumgarner, but this seems like a decent framework to begin the process with. Over the coming weeks we'll find out what comes to fruition, but the certainty of a move for Minnesota seems imminent.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Making the Stroman Deal for Minnesota

At this point the Minnesota Twins are undoubtedly amping up their efforts to acquire big league assets for the stretch run and Postseason. I've been on record multiple times suggesting I'd like to see at least to moves made, and a starter coming more as a luxury. Unless the starting pitcher is under team control, go big on expiring relief help and call it a day. The most realistic name I'm intrigued by in that vein is Marcus Stroman. So, how does Derek Falvey pry him away from the Toronto Blue Jays?

Although the idea of acquiring Stroman is significantly more enticing than grabbing a rental like Madison Bumgarner, the cost will also represent a more substantial amount. I'd hope that Minnesota could go into talks with the idea that Royce Lewis, Alex Kirilloff, and Brusdar Graterol are all off limits. Understanding that may not be completely realistic we'll progress with two different possibilities.

Option A: Minnesota Twins acquire SP Marcus Stroman and RP Ken Giles. Toronto Blue Jays acquire OF Brent Rooker, SS Wander Javier, RHP Jorge Alcala, and OF Akil Baddoo

Something like this is where Minnesota should want to be. I'm not certain that this will be enough for Toronto to pull the trigger, but there's two legitimate top 10 prospects from a very good system included here. Trevor Larnach could be swapped out for Rooker depending on preference, and any number of similar prospects could be had in the place of Baddoo. Hanging on to the top trio will cost more bodies, and there would likely be a larger premium placed on the secondary additions in this case.

Option B: Minnesota Twins acquire SP Marcus Stroman and RP Ken Giles. Toronto Blue Jays acquire RHP Brusdar Graterol, INF Travis Blankenhorn, and RHP Edwar Colina.

If Minnesota is willing to part with any bit of that top trio then it should be the only player in their top 10 necessary of inclusion. Graterol could draw skepticism from opposing teams as he's currently dealing with a shoulder injury, and there still remains a possibility he winds up in the bullpen. I'd hesitate a significant amount if the ask is to swap him out for Kirilloff, but that could be the cost of doing business.

Reality is that the Twins haven't had a perfect storm like this in quite some time. This club needs a big boost down for the stretch run, and they are well positioned to make serious Postseason noise. On top of that, they have legitimate openings going into next season and a controllable starter like Stroman isn't just a short term play.

Signing big ticket free agents hasn't always been the optimal path to roster construction, and it's one the Twins have avoided as recent as this season. There will be a 40 man roster crunch coming, and a 25 man shakedown beyond that. Hording prospects is a good thing, but realizing some are best utilized as moveable assets, and which ones specifically, is part of what makes a good front office.

Things are about to get very interesting in Twins Territory over the next few weeks. Whether on the field or in the back office, you won't want to look away.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Minnesota’s First Half MVP

As the door closes on the first half of the 2019 Major League Baseball season the Minnesota Twins sit in sole possession of first place in the AL Central Division. They have a 5.5 game lead over the favorited Cleveland Indians and find themselves with Postseason odds north of 96%. This drastic turnaround is because of the work both Rocco Baldelli and the front office has put in, but one player on the field has made an incredible impact as well.

After being cast aside by plenty of Twins fans due to failed expectations thus far in his career Byron Buxton has emerged as a national presence. Losing virtually all of 2018 due to injury, Buxton returned this year with plenty to prove. Still just 25 years-old it was undoubtedly weighing on him to make this the breakout campaign. The Athletic’s Dan Hayes provided some great insight into Buck’s offseason and it appeared those words had some serious weight behind them.

To this point Buxton has played in 73 of the Twins 89 games. He has missed some time needing an IL stint, but his 2.5 fWAR ranks third among hitters on the club. In over 235 at bats he has an .816 OPS, will hit double-digit homers, and is on pace to set career highs virtually across the board. Offensively Buxton has arrived. Likely never projecting as an average hitter, inching closer to .270 with sneaky power is where he’ll ultimately settle in. Combining that with his defensive profile makes him an irreplaceable asset.

It’s because of that combination that naming anyone else the Twins first half MVP seems like a misstep. Buxton has been worth 10 DRS this year (2nd in the American League) and trails only Victor Robles and Kevin Kiermaier in Outs Above Average (10). He’s made more five-star outs than anyone in baseball and it’s visually obvious how impactful he is patrolling centerfield.

Even if Baldelli had better options to run out while Buxton was shelved, the ripple effect was always going to be felt. Max Kepler is in the midst of a breakout season as well, and defensively he’s been an incredible asset. Moving him to centerfield worked out wonderfully during Byron’s absence but you cannot simply replace someone as valuable as the Georgia native is.

Right now, the Twins have multiple All Stars, a pitching staff among the best in baseball, and a lineup that’s providing thump at an otherwise unseen pace. Despite all of that, it’s the 9-hole hitter that makes his presence felt most with his glove, who’s consistently provided a level of value propelling the Twins to their current standing.

We’ve waited nearly five years for this to all come together and seeing Byron do it on a team that’s now so good has been enjoyable to say the least.

Monday, July 1, 2019

The Come Up and Buy in for Odorizzi

Needing a starting pitcher, the Minnesota Twins front office send minor leaguer Jermaine Palacios to the Tampa Bay Rays for Jake Odorizzi. Palacios had some hype but was never a top prospect, while Odorizzi had been largely mediocre and was set to turn 28. It’s hard not to see more upside in a big-league starter under team control, but this leap forward has been immense for the former Tampa starter.

Odorizzi was often chided for his efforts by Twins fans last season. He posted a 4.49 ERA backed by a 4.20 FIP. The 8.9 K/9 and 3.0 BB/9 were right in line with career norms. On a bad team he was hardly a large issue and generally pitched better than the surface level numbers suggested. In 2019 he’s gone gangbusters though, and he’s made his first All Star game to show for it.

Cooling off some over the last few weeks, Odorizzi still owns a 2.73 ERA and 9.9 K/9 across 85.2 IP. His FIP and xFIP suggest a bit more regression could be coming, but there’s a visible change that’s been made by the pitcher Minnesota trots out as their number two starter. Having been a low 90’s guy his whole big-league career, Odorizzi has added two mph of velocity under the tutelage of Wes Johnson and is now averaging 93.1 mph on the pitch this season. Not only is he throwing harder, but Odorizzi has shifted his repertoire to flip a career high number of sinkers, taking away from both his cutter and splitter.

This new version of Odorizzi is giving up a career high percentage of hard-hit balls, but he’s missing bats at record marks as well. The 12.4% whiff rate is a new high-water mark, while his contact rate is down to just 74.3% and the zone contact rate stands under 80% (78.5%) for the first time in his career. A slight jump in hard hit rate could be explainable through the increased velocity, but even still with that development, missing more barrels is the key component here.

Over the course of his career Odorizzi has averaged 1.2 HR/9 and has never been below the 1.0 mark. Through his first 16 starts he’s allowed just eight homers and is at 0.8 HR/9 on the season. Shedding hits and walks as well, the 1.074 WHIP stands out on its own. Having been integrated into the Twins system a year ago, and now working with a pitching thinktank that’s been overhauled, he’s reaping the rewards.

Next season Odorizzi will find himself on the open market for the first time in his career. The Twins have a couple of holes in their rotation that they’ll need to commit arms to. We don’t yet know how the club will navigate the trade market but extending a guy they already have in house may certainly make some sense.

Last season Jake Odorizzi was getting his feet wet with Minnesota and simply going through the motions he had always practiced to compete. This season he’s been given a few new tools that have taken his game to the next level and everyone involved has benefitted from it.