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Awkward Decisions

Joe Mauer is the best player in modern (post-2000) Twins history. Byron Buxton could be in line to succeed him as face of the franchise.

These are very important players, not to mention very likable players. So it creates an awkward situation when their own best interests conflict with those of the Twins.

But the team must come before the player. And that's why it should not be a given that Mauer returns in 2019, nor that Buxton returns in September.
Image courtesy of Dan Hamilton, USA Today
Let's start with Joe Mauer.

Mauer has been climbing toward the top of franchise record books this season. Most recently, he became the third Twin ever to reach 1,000 runs scored, days after passing Rod Carew for second on the all-time hits list.

As the 35-year-old checks off these estimable accomplishments, it's easy to get caught up in the nostalgia of his former greatness. But the truth is that Mauer hasn't been a great player in five years. The closest he came was last year – a genuinely solid season – but in 2018 he has returned to the same mediocre rate of production that's been customary since his move to first base.

Watching him play, one can't be blamed for exaggerating Mauer's impact. He has legitimately been one of the best clutch performers in baseball this year. Almost every hit he collects these days seems to knock out another milestone. Plus, there's the exemplary plate approach, and the sterling defense.

But from an objective standpoint, Mauer just hasn't been much of a difference-maker. At all. Both Fangraphs and Baseball Reference have him pegged at less than one win above replacement level. His .729 OPS ranks 111th in the majors. His raw strength, never a true asset, is clearly diminishing – Mauer has gone long stretches of this season with absolutely no power output. His middling walk rate doesn't make up for the lack of bat.

Other than wishful thinking, I'm not sure what'd make anyone expect this to change for the better in 2019. Realistically it seems far more likely he'll lose a little more bat speed, and a little more reaction time. Mauer is not a net negative to the team right now but he isn't far off, and there will be ample opportunity to find a significant upgrade during the offseason.

Yet, so many people are deferring to Mauer completely on this decision. I've seen it from fans and media. I've seen it (more understandably) from coaches and teammates. If Joe wants to come back, and will accept a reasonable contract, he's back – so goes the prevailing wisdom. Conspicuously, it's not a stance that has been openly taken by Derek Falvey or Thad Levine.

Personally, if he'll come back on a low-cost one-year deal, and is open to a more limited role, I'm not opposed to Mauer coming back. But his well-earned status shouldn't dictate the club's path. Why do so many otherwise logical folks feel it should?

Now, as for Byron Buxton.

I laid out my feelings regarding the Buxton situation two weeks ago when he came off the disabled list at Triple A. But he became a topic of discussion again on Wednesday night when Paul Molitor stated that a decision hasn't yet been made regarding his fate for September.

My thought when he was activated was that Buxton should be able to earn his way back up. Has he? Well, he's been hitting for a ton of power at Rochester, with nine extra-base hits and a .659 in 10 games. It's absolutely been his best burst of offense all year.

But he also has drawn one walk in 46 plate appearances, with 10 strikeouts. And when talking to reporters, Molitor notably pointed out that Buxton's been "pulling the ball at a high rate." That hasn't always been a great indicator for him in the past.

Buck's results are obviously back where the Twins want them; one wonders about the process.

Again, it can't be overstated how valuable that extra year of service time will be in 2022, when Buxton is 28 (for relevant perspective, Aaron Hicks is 28 now). Whether the front office is running out the string on his service clock, or engaging in extension negotiations, or discussing trades with another team – from any perspective, it's just really key.

So I can see why this is a much trickier equation than some make it out to be. Especially when you consider the inherent questions around Buxton's health (which would seemingly benefit from an extra month's rest tacked onto his offseason), and the lack of available playing time in the Twins outfield.

When asked, Falvey said they're not factoring Buxton's team control into their thinking (what else are ya gonna say), but the truth is that even negating that, there's still a case for holding off – albeit a slightly weaker one if his average is still close to .400 in a week.

I'm happy not to be the one making the call.

The fan in me wants to see Buxton in September and Mauer in 2019. But the more analytical side, thinking strategically and strictly for the good of the team, feels more conflicted – especially with regard to Mauer.

When Falvey and Levine were brought aboard, the hope among so many of us was that they'd be guided less by sentimentality, and more by data, logic, shrewd reason.

Because of this, I'm a little surprised by the unpopularity of either scenario – opting to part ways with Mauer this offseason, or leave Buxton out this September – even among people I almost always find myself in agreement with.

... Awkward.

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265 Comments

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yarnivek1972
Aug 30 2018 06:55 AM

I have always felt it was not fair to Harmon Killebrew, nor to the Twins' fans, that Harmon did not finish his career as a Twin. I felt that for all the wonderful gifts Harmon gave to the Senators/Twins and the fans, he deserved to end his career as a Twin. I wanted him to be a Twin for life. I didn't want to share him with the Royals. I feel the Twins owed it to him to keep him, even if he only hit .199 with 14 home runs his last year, when he was a Royal. I would hate to see Joe Mauer end his career as a Royal or a Tiger. I may be the only one, but my love of the Twins is about so much more than winning. It is about family.


Maybe he would have if he had had enough people telling him that it was time to hang em up.

I’ll grant that it was a much different time and that the decisions aren’t comparable. The Twins in Killebrew’s era didn’t have roster constraints that would have prevented them from rostering Harmon. They did have a notoriously cheap owner though and Harmon’s status would have made him prohibitively expensive (in Calvin’s mind).

It’s worth noting that the Twins let Harmon hang on for two seasons as a shell of his former self. I admired him a great deal, but to expect the Twins to do so for a third was a little selfish IMO.
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lukeduke1980
Aug 30 2018 07:09 AM

What are the options for Buxton to keep seeing pitching if isn't brought up in September?  

3) Perhaps most importantly (and an issue no one advocating for his return has bothered to address), how do you fit essentially a half time player who plays only first base onto a roster that has 3 position players per game that don’t start?


This is what I was thinking too. Mauer is starting 86% of games that he is on the active roster this year. He can be a starting 1B/DH, paired with another starting DH/1B, and if he gets hurt, he goes on the DL and you call up someone else. It doesn't really cause a roster crunch.

But to put Mauer in a backup/bench role most definitely would. That extra player couldn't just come up when Mauer was on the DL, he would have to be here all the time. Reminds me of the Kennys Vargas years -- if there wasn't a starting 1B or DH job available, he really just cluttered the roster. Fortunately we were able to send him to AAA.
    • LA VIkes Fan likes this

If you wish to watch Mauer's career a little longer, see him move closer to Puckett on the all time Twins hit list, pretend that 90 games of his defense at 1b are actually valuable, and wax nostalgic on that 2009 season, then by all means, sign Mauer.

 

If you want to see the Twins compete at the highest levels, then it's time to move on and find a real answer who can be an asset in 2019 and beyond.

 

"He doesn't really hurt us" and "he takes good ABs" are the best anyone's come up with so far in this thread. There's your answer.

 

 

 

 

    • Nick Nelson, glunn, Mike Sixel and 2 others like this

 

This is what I was thinking too. Mauer is starting 86% of games that he is on the active roster this year. He can be a starting 1B/DH, paired with another starting DH/1B, and if he gets hurt, he goes on the DL and you call up someone else. It doesn't really cause a roster crunch.

But to put Mauer in a backup/bench role most definitely would. That extra player couldn't just come up when Mauer was on the DL, he would have to be here all the time. Reminds me of the Kennys Vargas years -- if there wasn't a starting 1B or DH job available, he really just cluttered the roster. Fortunately we were able to send him to AAA.

In the age of 12 and 13 man staffs, carrying two 1B/DHs, who only 1B/DH, necessarily causes a roster crunch.

 

And if you try to platoon them, it only gets worse. 

If Joe wants to come back, and will accept a reasonable contract, he's back – so goes the prevailing wisdom. Conspicuously, it's not a stance that has been openly taken by Derek Falvey or Thad Levine.

...

When asked, Falvey said they're not factoring Buxton's team control into their thinking (what else are ya gonna say),


Don't you think "what else are ya gonna say" would apply to the Mauer situation too? There is really no benefit to publicly disclosing their offseason/2019 plan for Mauer right now, so I don't see the absence of any such comment as conspicuous at all.

Joe Mauer does have a wRC+ of 116 vs LHP, which increases his value to the Twins because of their futility against lefties at times this season. That being said, Tyler Austin needs to hit against lefties too, and therefore somebody needs to hit against righties (Logan Morrison, anyone?)

 

It wouldn't 100% shock me to see the Twins bring somebody else in for first base next year. Mauer only has a wRC+ of 92 vs RHP, Austin has a wRC+ of 161 vs LHP and only 90 vs RHP. Clearly, there is a need for a bat vs RHP. I doubt it will be Logan Morrison...

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Hosken Bombo Disco
Aug 30 2018 07:20 AM

I’ve heard lots of people say bring Mauer back in a “more limited role”. He’s going to play fewer than 90 games at first this year and he’s likely going to start fewer than 115 games total.
So, my awkward questions for anyone who cares to answer are
1) How much more limited would you expect his role to be in 2019 (and beyond)?
2) How much do you think that amount of playing time coupled with his subpar offensive production is worth?
3) Perhaps most importantly (and an issue no one advocating for his return has bothered to address), how do you fit essentially a half time player who plays only first base onto a roster that has 3 position players per game that don’t start?
Someone said in one of the Forsythe threads that a championship team doesn’t have Logan Forsythe on it. IMO, a championship team doesn’t have 36 year old Joe Mauer on it.

Between 1B and DH (leadoff) and some PH, I see Mauer as a 3/4 time player. That's how he has been used in recent seasons so no need to change that. I really have no problem with that. I have come around 180 degrees on Mauer since 2013-2014 when he was not hitting and struggling to learn the position (more like 90 or 120, but whatever).

If you insist he only be a half time player, then that works too. Mauer could be available to late PH and defense sub in more games. That has value. Mauer/Austin is the best platoon arrangement since Mauer moved to first. It's too much of a risk in my mind to confer 1B to Austin full time yet, or promote Rooker, or exercise Morrison's option and use a Morrison/Austin platoon. And we are talking one year contracts. I wouldn't fault the front office for balking at a multi-year deal request. Hope that helps.
    • LA VIkes Fan likes this

I bring Buxton up. The decision affects not just him but the perceptions of every player in the system, and those on the outside we might someday want to bring in. Good play must be rewarded, otherwise anyone with a choice in the matter will avoid the franchise. One roster decision alone won't cause that, but you don't want to start going that direction with someone high-profile.

 

I find it hard to justify Mauer for 2019. The 25-man roster has never been more restrictive to teams as regards position players, so if he needs diminishing time then it's a problem. If he's on the DL when not playing, that's one thing, since a replacement player can be added. But a "limited role" by a 1B/DH hampers the manager. A lower salary doesn't sway me at all - indeed a low salary to a veteran is a red warning flag as to his value to this or any team, except to a cellar-dweller. There's no pennant handed out for most wins per dollar.

    • SQUIRREL, USAFChief, glunn and 1 other like this
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Hosken Bombo Disco
Aug 30 2018 07:25 AM
So what are the alternatives at first if the front office cuts ties with Mauer?
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Old Twins Cap
Aug 30 2018 07:25 AM

If Buxton has a new batting stance, a leg-kick, or whatever he's been working on -- I don't see why you wouldn't bring him up and have him give a try against MLB-level pitching.

 

Extra year of control is just not a thing this far out on a guy who has under-performed and been injured.

 

 

    • Doctor Wu likes this

 

So what are the alternatives at first if the front office cuts ties with Mauer?

I'd sign Josh Donaldson for third, and Sano is my first baseman (hopefully for the next decade).

    • Ben Noble likes this

In the age of 12 and 13 man staffs, carrying two 1B/DHs, who only 1B/DH, necessarily causes a roster crunch.

And if you try to platoon them, it only gets worse.


If one player starts 86% of the time when active, and the other player starts even more -- I don't see how there is a roster crunch. It is effectively the same as having a full-time 1B and a full-time DH. Having Sano as your 3B, who you also want to get starts at DH and 1B, makes it even moreso.

I'm not suggesting a strict platoon either, although if you rest Mauer for 14% of starts, you can certainly try to time them vs LHP.

I'd sign Josh Donaldson for third, and Sano is my first baseman (hopefully for the next decade).


That is a reasonable alternative to Mauer for sure, but it doesn't really change the composition or usage of our bench either. You still need a starting DH and a utility infielder, same as the Mauer plan.
    • SF Twins Fan likes this
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Hosken Bombo Disco
Aug 30 2018 07:34 AM

I'd sign Josh Donaldson for third, and Sano is my first baseman (hopefully for the next decade).

Hasnt Donaldson been hurt, with dead arm? Would Sano at 3B and Donaldson at 1B would be better than what you proposed? Don't know, just asking
    • USAFChief, TheLeviathan, Vanimal46 and 1 other like this
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Hosken Bombo Disco
Aug 30 2018 07:41 AM

That is a reasonable alternative to Mauer for sure, but it doesn't really change the composition or usage of our bench either. You still need a starting DH and a utility infielder, same as the Mauer plan.

Agree there must be a reasonable alternative to Mauer, but it just adds one more thing to do this offseason, for gains that are uncertain. (Think Morrison signing).

 

If one player starts 86% of the time when active, and the other player starts even more -- I don't see how there is a roster crunch. It is effectively the same as having a full-time 1B and a full-time DH. Having Sano as your 3B, who you also want to get starts at DH and 1B, makes it even moreso.

I'm not suggesting a strict platoon either, although if you rest Mauer for 14% of starts, you can certainly try to time them vs LHP.

86% is extremely misleading. 

 

Mauer has started 67 games at first base this year. 67. Another 26 at DH. Even when healthy, he gets one game per series off from first base. And I certainly don't know the chances he spends time on the DL again next year, but they're not insignificant. He'll be in his mid 30s with a history of concussions, leg problems, and back problems.

 

Keeping him around means you need someone else who can play first base, which limits the possibilies for the other two bench spots. Or means you spend a lot of time with weak position players, like ending up with Ehire Adrianza making starts at first base and the outfield. 

 

Not to mention...I'd like to see more out of 1b/DH than a .727 OPS with zero power.

 

The simple truth is, you have to make excuses for Mauer to keep him on the roster. I had too much of that in the TR days. That's how you end with with Jason Tyner at DH.

    • nicksaviking likes this

 

Hasnt Donaldson been hurt, with dead arm? Would Sano at 3B and Donaldson at 1B would be better than what you proposed? Don't know, just asking

Donaldson has been hurt, which is attractive to me in terms of reducing salary demands next year.

 

My thinking is, Sano is going to move off 3rd soon, might as well bite the bullet and get it over with.

    • Hosken Bombo Disco likes this
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Hosken Bombo Disco
Aug 30 2018 07:49 AM

Donaldson has been hurt, which is attractive to me in terms of reducing salary demands next year.
 
My thinking is, Sano is going to move off 3rd soon, might as well bite the bullet and get it over with.

If you can stomach the learning curve Sano would need to play first, then all the better. I don't think I can. I'd rather have Mauer hand off to Austin or Rooker after another season or two. Also, Sano is a wildcard himself.
    • Oldgoat_MN and SwainZag like this

 

If you can stomach the learning curve Sano would need to play first, then all the better. I don't think I can. I'd rather have Mauer hand off to Austin or Rooker after another season or two. Also, Sano is a wildcard himself.

If Sano can play 3rd, he can play first.

 

True about him being a wild card though. It's a card the Twins are going to play for at least another couple years, though, come what may.

    • nicksaviking likes this

Again, it can't be overstated how valuable that extra year of service time will be in 2022, when Buxton is 28 (for relevant perspective, Aaron Hicks is 28 now). Whether the front office is running out the string on his service clock, or engaging in extension negotiations, or discussing trades with another team – from any perspective, it's just really key.


2 things:

1. I think it can be overstated. That extra year of control is clearly less valuable now than at previous points in Buxton's career. (Same for Sano too, which I suspect is why they didn't try to option him earlier this year than they did.) Maybe the extra year is still valuable enough on its own, but I think we should keep that relative value in mind -- there is clearly not the same imperative to securing the extra year now as there was, say, back in Buxton's rookie year.

2. This was addressed in the earlier thread, but for those that missed it: seeing Buxton in September and securing the extra year are not mutually exclusive. The Twins still have a minor league option on Buxton, which they could use for ~29 days in 2019 to achieve the same thing. He'd be up before May 1st.

Frankly, if he is healthy, Buxton needs reps, not rest. At least when high-level reps are available, and he's about to get 4+ months of offseason rest anyway. My plan would be to play him in Minnesota after the AAA season ends, but also plan on someone else being the opening day CF in 2019 while Buxton gets some extra reps at AAA to open the season. We need to prepare for the possibility that Buxton won't be the 2019 answer in CF, just as much as we should want that extra year of control.
    • USAFChief, glunn, diehardtwinsfan and 5 others like this
Buxton - bring him up. He has shown that he can dominate AAA; both in the past and with this latest run. Find out if it works at the MLB level; at least in September.

Mauer- help him decide to retire. The 1B/DH role is too valuable to fill with Joe. They need to find out what they have with Austin, Rooker, Vargas, Raley, ... not to mention the Sano/Kepler option in that role.
    • ashbury, glunn and beckmt like this

 

2 things:

1. I think it can be overstated. That extra year of control is clearly less valuable now than at previous points in Buxton's career. (Same for Sano too, which I suspect is why they didn't try to option him earlier this year than they did.) Maybe the extra year is still valuable enough on its own, but I think we should keep that relative value in mind -- there is clearly not the same imperative to securing the extra year now as there was, say, back in Buxton's rookie year.

2. This was addressed in the earlier thread, but for those that missed it: seeing Buxton in September and securing the extra year are not mutually exclusive. The Twins still have a minor league option on Buxton, which they could use for ~29 days in 2019 to achieve the same thing. He'd be up before May 1st.

Frankly, if he is healthy, Buxton needs reps, not rest. At least when high-level reps are available, and he's about to get 4+ months of offseason rest anyway. My plan would be to play him in Minnesota after the AAA season ends, but also plan on someone else being the opening day CF in 2019 while Buxton gets some extra reps at AAA to open the season. We need to prepare for the possibility that Buxton won't be the 2019 answer in CF, just as much as we should want that extra year of control.

Do you know off the top of your head if Buxton is arbitration eligible after this season regardless of whether the Twins call him up in September or not? I'm assuming that he will be Super-2 if he is not called up...

86% is extremely misleading.

Mauer has started 67 games at first base this year. 67. Another 26 at DH. Even when healthy, he gets one game per series off from first base. And I certainly don't know the chances he spends time on the DL again next year, but they're not insignificant. He'll be in his mid 30s with a history of concussions, leg problems, and back problems.

Keeping him around means you need someone else who can play first base, which limits the possibilies for the other two bench spots. Or means you spend a lot of time with weak position players, like ending up with Ehire Adrianza making starts at first base and the outfield.

I have tried to be very clear about the 86%, no intent to mislead. It is the number of games Mauer starts, at 1B or DH, while he is on the active roster.

If we are carrying another DH/1B anyway who starts the rest, which is what we did with Morrison and what we are doing now with Austin and what we could do with Sano, what does it matter how the 1B starts are divided up? You don't need a third 1B on the roster, and indeed the Twins haven't kept one (aside from wanting reps for Sano over there, which as you suggest could be a separate consideration). Adrianza didn't start at 1B this year until the front office was readying to punt (July 14) with Sano still in the minors and Morrison on the DL -- it wasn't because of Mauer. (FWIW, Mauer started that game at DH, and Garver was on the bench, as was Astudillo and Grossman. I am not sure exactly what was going on that day, but I don't think you can really fault Mauer for Adrianza starting at 1B. Belisle and Astudillo both pitched that day too, so maybe it was something in Molitor's coffee. :) )

Mauer's health time on the DL should absolutely be a factor in the decision whether to re-sign him, but it really has little to do with causing a short bench. His replacement at 1B can take his roster spot when he is on the DL. And the team can be more aggressive about putting him on the DL when he is day-to-day, if they haven't started that already.

Now, if you want to acquire a new starting DH who doesn't double as a 1B, that could be an issue with a Mauer pairing. But it would be just as much of an issue with a Sano pairing, as he's not starting significantly more than 86% of the games at 1B either. Likely the same for Austin.
    • ThejacKmp likes this

Do you know off the top of your head if Buxton is arbitration eligible after this season regardless of whether the Twins call him up in September or not? I'm assuming that he will be Super-2 if he is not called up...


Correct, Buxton is Super-2 regardless, since he is just shy of 3 full years. If he is called up for 13 days, he will hit 3 full years service time.

He'd remain in the same 3 years service time group following the 2019 season, if we option him for ~29 days next season.
    • glunn likes this

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