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Minnesota Twins Talk Today, 08:27 PM
ANNND Welcome! To Minnesota Twins Whine Line: Christmas in August Edition! I am your host and gracious elf, Vanimal. Along with my trusty...
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TD Pre-Season Predictions RE-VISITED

Minnesota Twins Talk Today, 08:17 PM
What seems like two season's ago the good readers of Twins Daily were asked to make the following predictions going into this fine season...
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Article: Getting the Twins Bullpen Right for 2019

Minnesota Twins Talk Today, 07:59 PM
It wasn't so long ago that the Twins were flush with quality righties out of the bullpen. Even though the rest of his team was lagging ar...
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Article: Twins Minor League Report (8/16): Every Affiliat...

Twins Minor League Talk Today, 07:18 PM
Rochester and Chattanooga won laughers, Cedar Rapids split a double-header that included the suspended game from Wednesday night, Fort My...
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5 Challenges The Twins Should Be Prepared To Face In 2018

In the history of baseball, no season has ever gone off without a hitch.

To encounter nothing but smooth sailing over the course of six months and 162 games is about as realistic an aspiration as hitting a five-run homer.

The better you can foresee and anticipate hurdles coming down the pipeline, the more prepared you'll be to overcome them. With this in mind, here are five predicaments I believe the Twins should be accounting for, if not counting on, in the 2018 season.
Image courtesy of Mark J. Rebilas, USA Today
1 ) Missed Time for Miguel Sano
Sano is currently under investigation by MLB for an alleged assault that occurred in 2015 but was revealed publicly only last month. It's unclear if he'll be suspended, but given that the league is needing to toughen up its enforcement of personal conduct violations, I'd think a 20 or even 30 game suspension is not out of the question.

Even if Sano avoids such discipline, he's still recovering from a fairly serious surgery. Twins CBO Derek Falvey acknowledged last week that the 24-year-old "won’t necessarily be ready for full workouts when camp opens next month."

Who knows how long it will take Sano to get back to full strength and sharpness. Even then, an offseason spent focusing on rehab – rather than the usual conditioning and mobility training – could easily render him more prone to injury.

In each of his first two full big-league seasons, Sano has been unable to appear in even 120 games. Hopefully this is the year he makes the jump to 150, but Minnesota must be ready to proceed without him. Having Eduardo Escobar on hand helps with that, though it's probably wishful thinking to expect the same kind of production he provided down the stretch in 2017.

Sano is also pegged for significant time at DH. Perhaps that is why I keep hearing rumblings of the team's continued interest in free agent Mike Napoli.

2 ) Quickly Developing Questions at Closer
If Fernando Rodney is pitching the way he did last year, when he held opponents to a .582 OPS with a 10.6 K/9 rate and 3.03 FIP, then I won't be concerned if he experiences a few early stumbles in the ninth. Hopefully Paul Molitor won't, either. However, it is far from assured that Rodney will continue at that level of performance.

For one thing, he turns 41 in March. And for another, those numbers were all his best since 2014.

The only thing that has been consistent for Rodney in his career is his difficulty staying in the strike zone. He's gonna walk people. You can live with that when he's missing tons of bats and holding down a .275 BABIP, but his margin for error is thin. And there are few things more frustrating – for fans, teammates, and especially the manager – than a guy coughing up a late lead because he can't throw strikes.

In line behind Rodney are two fantastic control pitchers in Addison Reed and Trevor Hildenberger. A couple of erratic blown saves in early April will turn the heat up quickly.

3 ) Out-of-Options Drama
There's always an extra element at play when a fringe player comes to camp with no options remaining. By that point, the individual in question has usually been with the organization for many years. The team that drafted and developed him faces an ultimatum: bring him north or risk losing him on waivers for nothing.

Last year, Jorge Polanco's lack of options all but guaranteed him the starting shortstop job, and (fortunately, it turns out) kept him there through a brutal midseason swoon.

Michael Tonkin probably earned a bullpen spot out of camp solely because he was out of options. Ditto for Danny Santana as utility man. Those instances didn't work out as nicely as Polanco.

The Twins haven't always let a lack of remaining options hold them hostage, and something tells me they won't this spring. Kennys Vargas, in particular, would seem to be at risk, and it's not entirely clear he'd even be claimed if they cut him. But, circling back to Sano's question marks, Vargas is currently the de facto slugging DH in the event of a prolonged absence.

Ryan Pressly is also out of options, which probably won't alter the spring dynamic much (I feel he is pretty safe), but could come into play if he struggles early. With his stuff, it'll be tough to sneak him through waivers even if he's in a skid. Maybe, with their substantial bullpen depth, the Twins don't really care.

One interesting factoid that surprised me: As far as I can tell, Kyle Gibson is NOT out of options. The Twins first optioned him in 2013, right after adding him to the 40-man, and didn't need to do so again until last May when his abysmal early performance forced the issue.

Given that he finished 2017 so strong and will be earning upwards of $4 million this season, one might presume he'd be a lock. I have, for the most part. But this new front office has no deep attachment to him. They saw him turn it around nicely after a terrible first four months last season, but still, those four months – coupled with a 4.59 ERA in four years prior – do him no favors.

The Twins seem to be taking a hard-line stance in arbitration with Gibson, the only player they've yet to come to terms with. All signs point to the two sides taking their dispute, over a relatively measly $350K, to a hearing.

There's a fair chance the Twins are still going to add one or even two more starters to the mix before camp opens. I've had Gibson written in with pen but after further consideration, maybe it should be pencil.

4 ) Backup Backstop Uncertainty
Perhaps the team is fully confident in Mitch Garver's ability to serve as Jason Castro's primary timeshare partner. But they don't have any proof of it. Offensive questions notwithstanding – he batted only .196 in 52 plate appearances with the Twins last year, but raked in Triple-A beforehand – Garver has much to prove defensively.

He received high marks for his receiving work in the minors but the big leagues are another story. Last year, despite spending the final six weeks of the season in Minnesota, Garver got only four starts behind the plate. Fifty total innings.

If the Twins have similar usage planned for Jason Castro, whose frequent spellings last summer paved the way for Chris Gimenez to log career highs in plate appearances (225) and starts behind the plate (54), then No. 2 catcher is a major role on this team. Garver may very well be up to the task but at this point the Twins have done little to hedge their bets.

5 ) Erv Regression
Maybe he's an outlier. Maybe Ervin Santana has a particular skill set that enables his ERA to outperform his FIP (3.32 to 4.16 over the past two seasons). Perhaps he figured out something last year that enabled him to defy probability with a .247 BABIP, lowest in the American League.

Prior to 2016, his career ERA (4.16) and FIP (4.26) were nearly identical. And his lifetime BABIP was .288, including .287 through his first two years with the Twins.

Santana struck out 19.3% of hitters last year, ranking him 40th in the league. That's a lot of batted balls left to chance, and while he's got a tremendous defense behind him, which suited him well in 2017, it's awfully tough to sustain a .250-range BABIP. Santana has given up more than 300 home runs in his career. He turned 35 last month. He's logged nearly 2,500 innings on his right arm.

The man was an absolute joy to watch last year, but by any objective analysis he's almost a lock to regress. It won't necessarily be a gigantic drop-off, but Minnesota can ill-afford to rely on Erv as their No. 1 starter. Right now, they are on track to do so.

  • rukavina, Cory Engelhardt, Oldgoat_MN and 8 others like this

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41 Comments

I know gibby had a nice run of a month plus but weren't his last 4 starts bad?  I think we are a little too optimistic about a guy who performed to the same level as the year before in it's entirety.

 

Otherwise good article nick

    • Vanimal46 and caninatl04 like this
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Hollywood42
Jan 23 2018 11:36 PM

Honestly, I don't think any of these are that big of issues or things that we weren't expecting to have to deal with-

 

1. If Sano is out for awhile, be it suspension or injury, Escobar gets the starts at 3rd. It's hard to replace Sano's power, but Esco has proven he deserves consistent playing time. While obviously I'd rather have Sano in the lineup, I'd feel comfortable with starting Esco at third in his absence

 

2. This seems pretty straightforward. It's Rodney's job until he loses it. After that, Reed is the logical next man up. But we also have a few others that we could choose to test out in the closing role if we want to keep Reed available for the highest leverage moments- Hildy, Curtiss, Chargois, Burdi, and a few of the other newer guys to the MLB. The team knows Rodney can be pretty good or pretty bad, I'm sure they already have their plan B in place

 

3. I'd argue that Grossman should be our main DH at this point (though in actuality it'll be a rotation of him, Sano, Escobar, plus Mauer on rest days). Vargas I don't really want to lose, but he hasn't really shown an incredible upside either, so we could absorb it fine, particularly if we sign a Napoli or someone else that can play 1B. Side note, really looking forward to watching Rooker progress through the system, it's super early, but he has a chance to be our next long term 1B, and it's really exciting

 

4. This one is fair, but I think they're pretty ready to test out Garver in the backup role. If he's way over his head and we're forced to try something new, I'm guessing we'd just call someone up from the minors. But I think Garver will be given plenty of time to stick

 

5. Everyone has to know that Ervin will regress. And we already know the rotation is our biggest weakness at this point. I'm 100% positive the FO is actively working on ways to improve the rotation (Darvish plz). The strength of the rotation is obviously a huge concern and something we need to address if we want to become a serious playoff team, but everyone in the league knows it, it's not like we'll all be surprised if Santana doesn't repeat his performance from last year. I'm sure the FO has been working on this from day 1

    • gunnarthor, howieramone2 and Minny505 like this
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KirbyDome89
Jan 23 2018 11:43 PM

Barring a big signing and/or trade I think we can move No. 5 to the top of the list. 

    • nicksaviking, beckmt and mikelink45 like this
I'll add one more...#6. What to do with Phil Hughes if HEALTHY. Don't think he should be considered for the rotation if the Twins fancy themselves as contenders. Also don't think he's a solid fit for the pen either at the expense of others with more swing and miss capability. Tough one to figure out, but Twins better have a plan.
    • mikelink45 likes this
Hughes money is gone, let it go. I can’t imagine a team that hopes to contend would waste a spot on a guy only because they owe him so much money. The money is gone either way. If he is as good an option as another bullpen arm and that other arm can be stashed in Rochester and not accue service time, then fine. But if it means losing Pressly or another guy who has a future beyond ‘18 then he has to be the odd man out.
    • birdwatcher, Jerr and bighat like this

I am not as concerned about Sano.The team showed it can do well without him, which actually should be an incentive for him to work on his conditioning as well as figuring out how to drop his strike out rate to 20% or less.I see him as a powerful figure, but one who has as much potential to shut things down as break things open.I want to see him succeed, but I hope that in addition to healing from his injuries he takes steps to protect his own career.

    • Jerr and brightside like this

I'm not sure how they can suspend Sano unless there's more than just he said/she said. I'm more worried about his injury recovery but like others think Escobar can cover third for a bit.

 

I'm ok with Rodney closing b/c then we have better pitchers pitching in more important situations. Some of our best bullpens had arms equal to or better than our closer not closing. We should continue that.

 

I don't see how they option Gibson out of ST. He's either traded or in the opening rotation.

 

As for Santana, I'm not overly worried about him. I just want innings. I don't expect him to be an all-star again but he should be a capable pitcher. That'll be enough.

    • Mike Sixel, DocBauer, howieramone2 and 2 others like this

 

One interesting factoid that surprised me: As far as I can tell, Kyle Gibson is NOT out of options. The Twins first optioned him in 2013, right after adding him to the 40-man, and didn't need to do so again until last May when his abysmal early performance forced the issue.

This is correct, Gibson still has an option year remaining, and is still 133 service days short of the 5 year service time threshold where he could refuse a minor league option. So we should have free rein to option him as late as August 10th or so.

 

Of course, if Gibson performs poorly enough to require optioning again, he could potentially clear waivers and be outrighted given his likely ~$5 mil salary (and he can't refuse the first outright assignment short of 5 years service either). That would not only get him to AAA, it would also reclaim his 40-man roster spot -- basically what we did with Milone and his $4.5 mil salary back in 2016 (although Milone was indeed out of options).

 

I'm not sure how they can suspend Sano unless there's more than just he said/she said. I'm more worried about his injury recovery but like others think Escobar can cover third for a bit.

 

I'm ok with Rodney closing b/c then we have better pitchers pitching in more important situations. Some of our best bullpens had arms equal to or better than our closer not closing. We should continue that.

 

I don't see how they option Gibson out of ST. He's either traded or in the opening rotation.

 

As for Santana, I'm not overly worried about him. I just want innings. I don't expect him to be an all-star again but he should be a capable pitcher. That'll be enough.

There have been similar situations where MLB has still suspended players:

 

https://www.cbssport...iolence-policy/
https://www.cbssport...iolence-policy/

 

It will be telling if Addison Russell gets any suspension for his incident:

https://www.usatoday...tion/416595001/

 

I'll add one more...#6. What to do with Phil Hughes if HEALTHY. Don't think he should be considered for the rotation if the Twins fancy themselves as contenders. Also don't think he's a solid fit for the pen either at the expense of others with more swing and miss capability. Tough one to figure out, but Twins better have a plan.

Agreed, too many pitchers on the 40 man, what to do with them?

Major League Starters
Ervin Santana
Jose Berrios
Kyle Gibson
Adalberto Mejia
Phil Hughes

Relief Up and down
Addison Reed
Fernando Rodney
Trevor Hildenberger
Taylor Rogers
Zach Duke
Tyler Duffey
Alan Busenitz
Ryan Pressly

Tyler Kinley-?

Relief down
J.T. Chargois
John Curtiss
Gabriel Moya

Minor League Starters
Stephen Gonsalves
Fernando Romero
Felix Jorge
Zack Littell
Aaron Slegers
Lewis Thorpe
Dietrich Enns

Trevor May - DL
Michael Pineda - DL

    • bighat likes this

I think Nos. 1 and 5 are the biggest.

 

Sano is going to be out for at least the first month of the season. At least. I imagine he'll come back healthy and strong and hopefully has reformed. 

 

I don't think Santana matches what he did last year and that emphasizes the importance of signing another pitcher or making a trade. If the Twins aren't going to cough up the $$$ it would take to get Darvish, then maybe they should explore a Chris Archer trade. 

    • bighat likes this
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nicksaviking
Jan 24 2018 09:33 AM

The Twins seem to overcome 1-4 each year, they should be well practiced and prepared for any of those uncertainties.

 

Number 5 is an issue ONLY if this team goes into the season assuming Santana is going to be one of their top two pitchers. It's starting to look like he might though, so that's alarming. This team really should be looking at Erv as a distant 3rd option, even a 4th if they want to aggressively content.

    • Original Whizzinator likes this

 

 

I don't think Santana matches what he did last year and that emphasizes the importance of signing another pitcher or making a trade. If the Twins aren't going to cough up the $$$ it would take to get Darvish, then maybe they should explore a Chris Archer trade. 

 

Sano for Archer, straight up?

    • bunsen82 likes this

 

There have been similar situations where MLB has still suspended players:

 

https://www.cbssport...iolence-policy/
https://www.cbssport...iolence-policy/

 

It will be telling if Addison Russell gets any suspension for his incident:

https://www.usatoday...tion/416595001/

 

In no way are these similar cases.There is a big difference between being fairly certain something illegal happened but having individuals unwilling to cooperate which resulted in no criminal but still significant suspensions and this present case.This is an allegation of an incident from 2 years ago, with likely little to no physical evidence that backs up the claim.All that is there is the complainants version of events.The physical harm expressed in the version of events is no where near as in some of the other cases either.  

 

There have been similar situations where MLB has still suspended players:

 

https://www.cbssport...iolence-policy/
https://www.cbssport...iolence-policy/

 

It will be telling if Addison Russell gets any suspension for his incident:

https://www.usatoday...tion/416595001/

 

I read the link on Norris and suspended for the entire year although he denies the allegation (he agrees to these terms, essentially the same as a "no contest").

 

I think Sano should get 20-30 games as a result of the allegations against him. I read in other posts that Sano caused problems in AA in Chatanooga and the stadium wouldn't allow female ushers to come within talking distance of the dugout.

 

The reason I think this would be a good thing is two fold. First, a precedent is set as far professional baseball players being held to a higher standard (similar but not as vulgar as the NFL Players policies) in which MLB says folks, let's be good role models for our fan base across all levels of pro ball. 20-30 games isn't so severe that is ruins Sano's career, but it is a hard slap on the wrist while holding the line.

 

Second- I think Sano then has a chance to reflect on his past behaviors and commit to making the change all the while he can rehab and heal (both physically and emotionally). In Sano's mind it either "didn't happen," it wasn't a big deal, or he knows that he did wrong. Either way, this will give him a chance for closure on his past decisions and closure to victims and the fan base.

    • Blackjack likes this

 

I think Nos. 1 and 5 are the biggest.

 

Sano is going to be out for at least the first month of the season. At least. I imagine he'll come back healthy and strong and hopefully has reformed. 

 

I don't think Santana matches what he did last year and that emphasizes the importance of signing another pitcher or making a trade. If the Twins aren't going to cough up the $$$ it would take to get Darvish, then maybe they should explore a Chris Archer trade. 

 

I could be mistaken, but I recall Erv dominating MLB from the second half of 2016 through the all star break of 2017 which tells me that it wasn't a fluke.

 

I am hopeful that Big Erv can put the WC game behind him and start out strong.

 

I may be overly optimistic, but I feel like if we don't get Darvish or Arietta and instead drop into the 2nd tier such as Cobb that Erv and Berrios are still #1 and #2 on the depth chart.

 

3. I'd argue that Grossman should be our main DH at this point (though in actuality it'll be a rotation of him, Sano, Escobar, plus Mauer on rest days). Vargas I don't really want to lose, but he hasn't really shown an incredible upside either, so we could absorb it fine, particularly if we sign a Napoli or someone else that can play 1B. Side note, really looking forward to watching Rooker progress through the system, it's super early, but he has a chance to be our next long term 1B, and it's really exciting

 

If this team expects to win, in no way should Grossman be in any large roll on the team.  Grossman is mediocrity, and this team should be moving on from mediocrity.

    • Original Whizzinator likes this
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ashburyjohn
Jan 24 2018 12:24 PM

Sano for Archer, straight up?

Frank Robinson for Milt Pappas, while you're at it. :)

    • gunnarthor, Kelly Vance, jkcarew and 1 other like this

I think the most difficult challenge for 2018 will be threading the needle between development and contending. As some examples:
- Kepler can't hit lefties right now. At some point (let's say June) he still has a sub-.600 OPS against lefties, do the Twins start platooning him?
- Polanco spent a good chunk of the season as one of the worst hitters in baseball. If he starts off like that again, how much leash does he get?
- Mejia was a serviceable back-of-the-rotation arm, and I'm reasonably optimistic that he could potentially be more. But if he struggles in April, how many starts does he get before getting demoted to the bullpen or AAA?
If the Twins were not contenders, the easy answer is to give each of them as many PAs or starts as possible. But this team is a contender (and a weak one who will need every win possible), which makes the decision more difficult.

 

Similarly, the second most difficult challenge will be how long to stick with older players who struggle to start the season:
- Mauer just has his best season since 2013. How much should he play if he reverts to his 2015 form and has a .720 OPS in June?
- How long is Gibson's leash this season? Last year he was given a second chance after a disastrous start, and for the most part he made that decision look good. With a (potentially) deeper rotation this year, does he get another chance like that?
- Castro just has his best hitting season since 2013 at age 30. When do they switch it from Castro-Garver to Garver-Castro if he isn't hitting.

 

Obviously not all of these situations will occur. But the several of them might, and every day the coaching staff and front office will need to make decisions regarding who gives the team the best chance to win.

    • Nick Nelson, glunn, TL and 2 others like this
I think number 5 should be reworded

Barring acquisition, Berrios is counted upon to be the number 1 starter. Santana will regress, that has always been a given. Will Berrios rise to the occasion? Take another big step forward?
    • Original Whizzinator likes this

I can't believe people think it's no big deal if Sano is out for 20-30 games. He's their 2nd or 3rdbest player when he's just a shell of himself. When he's really hitting, he's their first or second best player. He has the ceiling to be one of the top players in all the game. Missing him is a big deal.

 

As for Grossman vs Vargas. Ugh. Here is a weird idea....sign Cain (if they don't sign Darvish they have the money). Have him spell Kepler against lefties, and spell Rosario and Buxton occassionally. Have him DH when he's not in the OF. Have Sano (when he's back) DH when Cain is in the OF. It will never happen, but this team would be much better that way.

    • Carole Keller, USAFChief, glunn and 4 others like this
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nicksaviking
Jan 24 2018 12:41 PM

 

I can't believe people think it's no big deal if Sano is out for 20-30 games. He's their 2nd or 3rdbest player when he's just a shell of himself. When he's really hitting, he's their first or second best player. He has the ceiling to be one of the top players in all the game. Missing him is a big deal.

 

As for Grossman vs Vargas. Ugh. Here is a weird idea....sign Cain (if they don't sign Darvish they have the money). Have him spell Kepler against lefties, and spell Rosario and Buxton occassionally. Have him DH when he's not in the OF. Have Sano (when he's back) DH when Cain is in the OF. It will never happen, but this team would be much better that way.

 

I would have agreed before last year, but the team seemed to play better without Sano.

 

Not saying the team is better off without him, just that the offense still worked quite well with him rehabbing.

    • glunn and Original Whizzinator like this

 

I would have agreed before last year, but the team seemed to play better without Sano.

 

Not saying the team is better off without him, just that the offense still worked quite well with him rehabbing.

 

This isn't he NFL or NBA where the offense is very dependent on teamwork. Would you rather have a guy that might be one of the best hitters in baseball, or Escobar, hitting? That kind of post hoc analysis is how teams and fans make bad mistakes.

    • glunn and gunnarthor like this

 

I can't believe people think it's no big deal if Sano is out for 20-30 games. He's their 2nd or 3rdbest player when he's just a shell of himself. When he's really hitting, he's their first or second best player. He has the ceiling to be one of the top players in all the game. Missing him is a big deal.

 

As for Grossman vs Vargas. Ugh. Here is a weird idea....sign Cain (if they don't sign Darvish they have the money). Have him spell Kepler against lefties, and spell Rosario and Buxton occassionally. Have him DH when he's not in the OF. Have Sano (when he's back) DH when Cain is in the OF. It will never happen, but this team would be much better that way.

His plate discipline seems to have gotten worse with each year that he's been in the show. I would rather have a healthy and focused Sano for 142 games vs an injured and distracted Sano to start the season followed by a suspension. 

 

I would love to see him cut down on his swings and misses. Be more aggressive earlier in counts and then make contact with 2 strikes.

 

    • Circus Boy and Original Whizzinator like this

 

His plate discipline seems to have gotten worse with each year that he's been in the show. I would rather have a healthy and focused Sano for 142 games vs an injured and distracted Sano to start the season followed by a suspension. 

 

I would love to see him cut down on his swings and misses. Be more aggressive earlier in counts and then make contact with 2 strikes.

 

Sure, but that's not what people are posting....they are posting the Twins' offense is fine w/o him.....like he just wouldn't be missed all that much. That is very different than what you just typed.

    • brightside likes this

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