Can The Twins Better Their Bench?
Image courtesy of © Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY SportsAs things stand right now, the Twins appear to be content opening the season with a bench of Robbie Grossman, Eduardo Escobar, Ehire Adrianza, Mitch Garver and Kennys Vargas. Considering the possible (see: likely) suspension for Miguel Sano, Zack Granite could also find his way into this group out of the gate. Of the names above, it's Vargas who is likely the most on the bubble. Out of options, and having bounced between Triple-A and the big leagues a season ago, he's probably the first to go if space is needed.
Under the assumption that Vargas is the quintessential 25th man, the question revolves around whether or not he can be improved upon. From a construction standpoint, Vargas almost certainly needs to be replaced by a bat first player. Grossman figures to see regular time as the designated hitter, while Adrianza and Escobar have similar skill sets despite Eduardo toting the more capable bat. Garver is entrenched as the backup catcher, and should serve as a platoon option for starter Jason Castro. Bringing in another utility man means Minnesota relies solely on Grossman as the outfield option (which is currently the case), and the lack of a true bat could expose Grossman being heavily reliant on his on-base prowess.
In an ideal world the Twins greatest addition to the bench would be in the form of a right-handed hitting outfielder. Offering the potential to pair with Max Kepler (should his facing left-handed pitching continue to be an issue) as well as play in a rotation across the corner spots makes a lot of sense. Between Adrianza, Escobar and Garver, each of the infield positions has a true and capable backup. After posting a -21 DRS in 630+ innings in the outfield during 2016, Grossman shored things up somewhat totaling a -3 DRS mark across 350+ innings a year ago. There's still plenty to be desired with the glove, but he showed that he can be less of a liability than he had previously been.
Among the options, former Twins center fielder Carlos Gomez has an intriguing profile. He would give the club positional flexibility across all three positions, and posted a .340 OBP in 2017 with some pop. At 32 the hope would be that he could be had on a short-term deal, and that could be intriguing to Minnesota. Another more elderly option comes in the form of Jose Bautista. This would be a relative leap of faith given his age (37) and 2017 season. After posting a .674 OPS there's reason to believe that he's simply cooked. Bautista is just one year removed from an .800+ OPS however, and if you could get him on a minor-league deal or something incentive-laden there would be a level of intrigue.
If you want to go more of an unconventional route, a versatile super-utility type could be a fit. Noted as a possible fit by Zone Coverage's Brandon Warne on Twitter, former Minnesota shortstop Eduardo Nunez has some appeal. Nunez played 20 games in the outfield a season ago for San Francisco, and he got some time out there for the Twins in his first stint with the club. His career -3 DRS across 322 OF innings slots in line with 2017 Grossman, and I'm not a big fan of non-traditional outfielders playing the position. That said, Nunez's .801 OPS from 2017 is more than enticing. He's posted a .778 OPS over the last two seasons while playing in at least 110 games during each. It seems if given semi-regular playing time, he can be an offensive asset as well.
At the end of the day Kennys Vargas should probably be given a final shot. His career .748 is far from abysmal, and the .833 OPS in 47 games during the 2016 season was exciting. Vargas hasn't proven to be much of an OBP guy (just .311 for his career), and the 251/65 K/BB ratio is more than concerning. All of his eggs remain in the power basket, and if he's not taking free bases then he needs to be accumulating power numbers in bunches. At 27 he's no longer a prospect, and the Twins likely have a significant amount of information to feel comfortable with their evaluation of him.
This seems like a no-lose scenario, with a slight opportunity for a win. Vargas is hardly a red flag on the 25-man, and you could do much worse. What Minnesota could also do is look for some competition or even to supplant him completely, and in turn, raise the water level as a whole. There are a few more weeks for us to see how this all plays out, but it'll be a story line worth watching this spring.
Originally published at Off The Baggy.
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