What Can Duda Do for You?
Image courtesy of © Dale Zanine-USA TODAY SportsThe reality is that there’s a decision looming on Tyler Austin. Of this trio, he’s the guy out of options and has the shortest track record. Acquired from the Yankees in exchange for Lance Lynn last season, he performed admirably in 35 games with Minnesota down the stretch. The .782 OPS was hardly otherworldly, but it was enough to warrant a longer look. Through three big league seasons, Austin has just 404 plate appearances to his credit and has never gotten consistent playing time. For that to change with the Twins in the year ahead, we’d probably be in for some sort of surprise.
C.J. Cron is the expected heir to Joe Mauer at first base. The .816 OPS he posted during 2018 was a career high, and it came during his age-28 season, his first and only with the Tampa Bay Rays. After launching 16 long balls in three consecutive seasons, he turned in 30 over 140 games as a regular. Batting right handed, Cron doesn’t have traditional platoon splits. He owned a .767 OPS vs righties and a .930 OPS vs lefties in 2018. While it’s obvious that he performs better against southpaws, the power was almost entirely skewed the opposite way. Only eight of his 30 home runs came against lefties, though the doubles production was more evenly distributed. As an arbitration player, Cron will make $4.8 million this season.
Minnesota’s front office grabbed Duda on a non-guaranteed pact that will pay him $1.75 million if he’s on the big-league roster. Per Jon Heyman, there are incentives in the deal that could push it north of $3 million in total compensation. At 33-years-old, and a traditional platoon player, that could push the Twins bill north of $7 million if they go with this combination. Given the production though, it could be a nice tandem.
A down year last year saw Lucas own just a .731 OPS, coming off an .818 mark in 2017. From 2011-2015, he owned an .803 OPS and averaged right around 20 bombs per season. On Rocco Baldelli’s squad there isn’t room for him to be a regular, but the left-handed side of a platoon makes sense. Last season he saw 265 plate appearances vs righties and put up an .813 OPS with 12 of his 14 home runs. Over the course of his big-league career, the split disparity plays out as well. Duda owns an .839 lifetime OPS against righties as opposed to just a .642 OPS against lefties.
Should the Twins go this route, it would also need to fit into their current roster construction. Assuming the starting lineup is composed of the usual suspects, we should have a pretty good idea of the bench as well. Mitch Garver is going to be the backup catcher, with Ehire Adrianza acting as the utility infielder and Jake Cave operating as the fourth outfielder. This blueprint leaves only a spot for a fourth bench bat should the Twins begin season with 12 pitchers. Not needing a fifth starter until into April, that seems like a pretty good bet. Garver bats right-handed, while Cave is a lefty, and Adrianza can do both. Garver is the only guy in that trio with any semblance of being a power bat however, so Duda can bring that dynamic as well.
If I had to put odds on it right now, I’d imagine that both Cron and Duda are teammates out of the gate. Austin would hurt to lose, so I think the Twins would be best served finding a trade partner, but he’s semi-redundant playing behind C.J. The likelihood of just a three-man bench doesn’t seem like great roster management either, so thinking both players are on the outside looking in would strike me as odd.
We’ll see how each player is deployed throughout February and into March. At 33 and off a down year, Duda could be cooked and this all becomes clearer. For now, though, the speculation is all we’ve got.
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