Monday, November 25, 2019

Twins Certainly Giving Fans What They Want

Although we have grown accustomed to slower offseason activity when it comes to Major League Baseball free agency, that doesn't make the reality any more exciting. Sure, the Minnesota Twins have spent $30 million already in retaining Nelson Cruz and Jake Odorizzi, but the true free agents are still out there. Before adding new talent to Twins Territory the franchise gave fans something else they've been clamoring for over the past few years; the baby blue's.

In 2020 Majestic is being replaced as the official Major League Baseball jersey provider. Initially Under Armour was set to take over the contract, but that deal fell through and now the Maryland based company has a whole different set of problems on their hands. At any rate, it's always been Nike that has pushed the boundaries and set the standard in trends. Before Minnesota made any moves, we got to see this in action.
First up it was the San Diego Padres unveiling some new threads. Brown has made cameo appearances on their Swinging Friars jerseys for some time, but it is in 2020 that we'll see it in full force. I remember seeing these come across my timeline on Twitter and thinking that Nike was making a very nice first step.
When news leaked that the Milwaukee Brewers would be going back to the ball-in-glove logo for the 2020 season it only made sense there'd be a new configuration. I'm a big fan of the alternate logo as well, depicting an "M" within the state of Wisconsin outline. The absolute highlight of that reveal though was the navy blue offering that set the stage ablaze.
Not to be outdone by their eastern neighbors, the Minnesota Twins have decided to bring back the baby blue alternates for the upcoming season. Arguably the most-talked about jersey, and the one reminiscent of everyone from Kirby Puckett to Kent Hrberk, they'll be worn early and often in the upcoming season. Officially a home and road alternate, there is no stipulations as to where the new uniforms can be donned.

On top of the colorway itself, the Twins are including patches on both sleeves. Minnie and Paul return to the jersey, as well as a 60 year anniversary logo. Both are very well done and should provide some added flair to a product that will likely fly off the shelves at 1 Twins Way. Although the cream alternates were a fan favorite as well, there's nothing more Minnesota Twins baseball than the baby blues.

There has been a slight amount of pushback regarding the chest Swoosh, as opposed to the sleeve Majestic logo. As someone generally opposed to jersey advertisements, this seems hollow at best. The Swoosh is both iconic and aesthetically pleasing. Nike has and will continue to put the right foot forward when it comes to brand design, and there's certainly a company in New York (Hi, Topps!) that will enjoy another uniform patch.

I don't think Nike will be controlling the Pohlad's pocketbook any time soon, but here's to hoping the jerseys are just the first of many new additions to debut at Target Field in the year ahead.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Did Schoop Work for the 2019 Twins?

In early December 2018 the Minnesota Twins found their replacement for Brian Dozier. With the fan-favorite having been traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers prior to his free agency, Derek Falvey and Thad Levine needed to find another second basemen. Replacing Dozier’s pop wouldn’t be easy, but they tabbed a former All Star to do so when they inked Jonathan Schoop to a one-year deal. Now with the season behind us we can evaluate how it turned out.

At the time of his signing I wasn’t too terribly interested in the pact. Dozier provided a significant amount of power, but also displayed strong on-base skills. For a Twins team also losing Joe Mauer, getting guys that could fill the basepaths seemed like a must. Schoop owned just a career .294 OBP and he was coming off a poor .682 OPS. After being dealt from the Orioles to the Brewers for the stretch run, things got even worse.

Obviously, it was the goal of Minnesota to rekindle the 25-year-old All Star that picked up MVP votes in 2017. He’d played all but two games from 2016-2017 and could be counted on as an everyday contributor. Although range wasn’t his greatest asset at second base, there was a howitzer attached to his shoulder and the arm would help to substantially upgrade the defense that Dozier brought to the position for the Twins.

We didn’t know that Major League Baseball was going to juice the pill for 2019, but it helped a guy like Schoop to launch dingers at a relatively significant rate. With so many power hitters around him in the lineup however, his skillset became somewhat redundant and the emergence of Luis Arraez made him replaceable. The 23 longballs in just 121 games was plenty respectable, and the .777 OPS checked in as the second highest mark over the course of a full big-league season. At the end of the day though, it was the .304 OBP that likely did him in.

The bulk of his 2019 was spent batting in the final three spots of the lineup. Even outside of run production lineup positioning, Schoop became a punchline due to the times in which he would come through. Late and close situations saw him post just a .658 OPS while he owned just a .618 OPS with runners in scoring position and two outs. By leverage, he was at his best (.813 OPS) in the lowest stress scenarios. If you needed a hollow home run it seemed that Schoop became a lock.

Having just turned 28 there is plenty of runway ahead for the Curacao native. It obviously won’t be with the Twins, and I’m not entirely sure he’s rebuilt his value on the back of his 2019 exploits. Power at second base isn’t exactly guaranteed, but the sport has also shifted much more towards an on-base production model. It was that skill Minnesota appeared to need most, and ultimately that downfall that led to him being replaced.

There’s no reason to categorize the $7.5 million Minnesota handed to Schoop as foolish, but I think we can effectively say it worked out as planned. That’s a bit more than you’d like for a replaceable asset, but given the dollars paid to Arraez it should be considered as a wash. Minnesota’s offense was otherworldly in 2019, and whatever Schoop provided became a relative footnote.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Everyone Wins on Odorizzi’s Payday

Prior to the 4pm deadline to decide on the qualifying offer presented to Jake Odorizzi by the Minnesota Twins, a decision was made. The 2019 All Star made the choice to return to Wes Johnson and Rocco Badelli’s staff on a one-year pact. This one will be lucrative at $17.8 million, but in the end all sides win.

In 2020 Odorizzi will be just 30 years old and is coming off a career year. He had a mechanics breakdown and blister issue mid-season for the Twins but bookended that performance with excellence. He was tied to draft pick compensation in this cycle, and though that would have worked in Minnesota’s favor, it wasn’t going to earn him any favors in the form of a larger paycheck. Odorizzi could have returned to Minnesota on a multi-year deal (or went elsewhere) but instead is banking on himself with time to cash in.

The Twins had only Jose Berrios under team control for 2020 among rotation options. Needing to beef up the unit, the front office immediately suggested that they would be targeting impact pitching this offseason. Bringing back an All-Star you’re familiar with is hardly a bad place to start. Knowing that they can also build off this foundation is more a relief than having four uncertainties.

I still believe that the Twins need to sign someone better than Berrios and Odorizzi, while acquiring a second arm with a value able to slot in between them. The open market has ample arms that can be paid to top the rotation, and dangling pieces to acquire that 3rd starter makes a whole lot of sense.

When the dust settles, we’ll know how this decision worked out for both sides. Odorizzi is hoping to turn a second strong performance into a three or four year deal that would push over $50 million. If he’s able to put up a repeat performance working with coaches he’s grown accustomed to, then there’s no denying the payday will come. Given the spending flexibility Minnesota has, even the large AAV does little to hurt their overall building blueprint for 2020. The player is taking all the risk here, and both sides come up looking rosy.

Welcome back to Twins Territory Jake, it’s like you never left.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Will Twins Double Down on Extension Excellence?

It hasn’t quite been a year, and unfortunately, we aren’t yet to the point of embarking upon Fort Myers for Spring Training, but the Minnesota Twins signed Max Kepler and Jorge Polanco to contract extensions last offseason. Both deals felt incredibly team friendly at the time, but Ozzie Albies and Ronald Acuna Jr. already had preconditioned us for those feelings. Now after the first season into their extensions with the Twins, Kepler and Polanco have already paid for themselves.

For two straight seasons the Twins were looking for Kepler to take the next step forward. First, he didn’t hit lefties, and then he didn’t hit righties. After toiling to the tune of a low .700 OPS for his first three big league seasons, the German native broke out with an .855 OPS in 2019. His 36 home runs nearly surpassed the previous two seasons combined, and he took on a bigger role than one may have ever predicted.

Like his teammate and extension partner, Jorge Polanco finally arrived as well. There were glimpses of the bat, and that was always his calling card, but inconsistent playing time over his first three years didn’t result in ideal production. Getting into 153 games during 2019, Polanco parlayed the exposure into an .841 OPS that was only watered down by some late season slumping. He finished with a .295 average and was in contention for a batting title through June.

When the dust settled Kepler had accumulated 4.4 fWAR which Fangraphs estimates being worth $35.3 million. Polanco posted a 4.0 fWAR, valuing his production at $32.3 million. Both players, in the first years of their $35 and $25 million extensions respectively, outproduced the total contract valuation. It’s that sort of performance that Minnesota was undoubtedly hoping for when offering up both deals, and although Polanco’s sagged in part because of a previous suspension, the reward was an immediate payday in exchange for belief of future production.

This offseason the Twins opportunities are less certain. Miguel Sano looks the part of a star slugger, but his defensive acumen leaves much to be desired. Derek Falvey could instead choose to go year-to-year on that type of player, leaving the flexibility to move on if and when things hit the skids. Eddie Rosario is a power hitter that does little else at the plate, and he looks more destined to be jettisoned than act as a future cog in this wheel. It’s Jose Berrios that’s most desirable to lock down, but does a guy knocking on the door of the upper tier really want to give away his earning potential?

Then there’s the case of Byron Buxton, a transcendent talent that only remains in the way of himself. Injury has cost him time on the field, and that’s really been the only downfall over the course of his career. Even when the offense lagged behind the exceptional fielding, he was so good in center that it allowed for his lackluster production at the plate to be overlooked. If there’s any sort of belief in keeping him on the field consistently, then 2019 was the embodiment of a turned corner and complete player ready to blast off. Like Berrios, Buxton has plenty of future earnings at stake here, but the injury situation could cloud the future before it ever arrives.

Minnesota’s front office made conscious decisions when it came to wrapping up foundational pieces last offseason, and they nailed both. They’ll have similar opportunities this time around, and being flush with cash, there’s little reason for them not to support the belief in their own assessments. These things take two sides to consummate any action, but the Twins certainly would love to come up on the winnings side in year one for the second season in a row.

Monday, November 4, 2019

Planning the Twins Winter Moves

Today officially marks the beginning of free agency for the 2020 Major League Baseball season. The Minnesota Twins have some serious work to do with four-fifths of their starting rotation up for grabs, and a 100-win season to replicate. Rocco Baldelli will be angling for a second straight AL Central Division title, and the goal for the foreseeable future in Twins Territory will be Postseason berths.

While working through a full blueprint to outline a 25-man roster for the Twins I found myself getting hung up on a few key areas. I think we’re going to see a handful of moves that may come as a surprise, and rather than trying to pinpoint each, a better plan of action seemed to come with a top down view. While remaining somewhat specific, here’s how I’d handle things going into 2020:

Start with the Rotation:

Jose Berrios is locked in. I’d try to get him extended on a long-term deal again. Minnesota has approached his camp previously, but talks have not moved forward. He’s a few steps from a Cy Young arm, and at that point, he won’t have interest in avoiding the open market. Even if the Twins offer Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg significantly over market rate, I’d imagine both say no. Falvey should be all in on both arms, but the lure of a bigger market or home on the west coast probably proves too strong. This is where you pivot.

Zack Wheeler is the best pitcher available in the Twins wheelhouse, and he’s a very good one. Make him a priority and get that done as soon as possible. Two 2019 options should also be leveraged as possible returnees. Minnesota should offer both Jake Odorizzi and Michael Pineda a qualifying offer. The former could turn that into a two or three year deal while the later could then be had at roughly $13 million accounting for his remaining suspension.

The final rotation spot would then be filled out by a trade. There’s too much firepower on the Twins farm not to execute something, and Eddie Rosario represents an expendable big-league asset. Utilize the depth to go and get someone like Jon Gray, Joe Musgrove, or Matt Boyd. Aiming even higher to a proven commodity as Twins Daily’s Nick Nelson suggested might be interesting as well.

Add to the Lineup:

It’s fair to assume that regression is going to hit for the 2020 Twins. What’s also worth noting is that any changes to the baseball will have a widespread impact. Minnesota hit bombas because of a strong plate approach, and that will play regardless of what composition the baseball encompasses. That being said, a great deterrent to a step backwards offensively is adding more offense.

The Twins have a boatload, something like $70 million, to spend this offseason. With Wheeler being the likely high-water mark on the mound, there’s going to be plenty to go around. Instead of overpaying similar candidates on the bump, choose the guy(s) that makes the most financial sense add allocate the funds towards high impact help elsewhere.

I’ve talked myself into this, look at Anthony Rendon. The Twins could bring back C.J. Cron, and barring better wrist health, he should see a nice boost. They could also move Miguel Sano across the diamond and angle for a substantial upgrade at the hot corner with some intriguing options. Rendon is an MVP-type superstar and has plenty of good years ahead of him. I’m not as keen on 34-year-old Josh Donaldson as I was last year, because he’ll now want a multi-year deal, but that’s not a bad option either. If the Cubs are truly inclined to move Kris Bryant, and there’s a belief in his health, I’d absolutely explore that scenario as well. At the end of the day it comes down to this; if you can’t spend the money on pitching, you need to spend it elsewhere and aiming high is far better than adding quantity.

Rounding out the offense would include an additional outfielder and a catcher. Whether or not Eddie Rosario is traded a guy that could be had on a one-year deal makes sense. I like the idea of Corey Dickerson as a corner outfielder with on-base skills and some pop. It doesn’t hurt that he’s also a very strong defender, which is a facet of the game Minnesota needs to improve on. Cameron Maybin is also somewhat intriguing with the ability to play some centerfield.

Behind the plate you operate with Mitch Garver as the starter. He needs to play more often than he did in 2019, but there could be a decent amount of truth to him being at his best with significant rest. Pairing him with a nice defender that can also hit makes sense and going the route of former Houston Astro Robinson Chirinos is to my liking. He’s got good on base skills, hits better than a traditional catcher, and isn’t a hack behind the plate.

Shore up the Bullpen:

Coming out of the winter and into Spring Training there was nothing more problematic than Minnesota’s bullpen. It looked the part of a dumpster fire that was going to struggle getting anyone out. Then the development of some internal arms took place and Baldelli’s group was one of the best in baseball down the stretch. Zack Littell, Tyler Duffey, and Trevor May have all worked their way into a circle of trust. Wes Johnson will still need three or four other arms to complete the group, however.

Rather than pushing Lewis Thorpe or Brusdar Graterol to the pen full time, bringing in some hired guns is the way to go. Sergio Romo should be welcomed back, but there’s no reason to pigeonhole that move either. Drew Pomeranz could be a nice second lefty, and any number of arms make sense to round out the group. Will Smith is the cream of the crop, but Will Harris and Jake Diekman types have purpose as well.

To summarize how I’d plan I’ll say this: For the first time in a while, spend. The window is open, you know what you have, and the prospect depth is coming close to maturation. Whether you can land the big fish on the mound or not is always going to be tough with plenty of suitors and a less-than-ideal-destination, but those resources need to go elsewhere then. Minnesota should clear $140 million in payroll this winter, and $150 million is far from unrealistic. Do as much as you can on the mound, and then look to make the additional impact throughout the roster.

Minnesota is no longer in a wait and see mode. The capability of youth has been understood, the veterans have provided plenty of production, and the circumstances are now on your side. There’s been complaints for years that have been somewhat misguided without that trifecta being a reality. In 2020, there’s nothing holding the organization back but itself, and it’s time to remove that barrier.