5 Challenges The Twins Should Be Prepared To Face In 2018
Image courtesy of Mark J. Rebilas, USA Today1 ) 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