Front Office Flop for the Twins?
Image courtesy of © Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY SportsWhen searching for answers, the Twins could build an extensive laundry list of things that haven’t gone their way. Two of the most integral figures when it comes to defining future success aren’t currently on the big-league roster (despite being healthy), the staff ace of a season ago (along with a host of others) has missed significant time due to injury, and the team leading second basemen has provided next to nothing of merit. If you were to break it down by percentages, the impact those issues have had on the bottom line this year would make up more than 75%. What sliver is left falls on two separate places: Paul Molitor and the front office.
After the dust settles on the year, it’d probably be a shock if Molitor wasn’t handed his walking papers. He was never the guy chosen by his bosses, and without the wild card game or Manager of the Year nod a season ago, he would have already been out the door. Managers impact games on a very minute scale, but you’d be hard pressed to argue that there isn’t opportunity to get more out of the position than Minnesota currently is. A fresh face doesn’t signify an immediate fix, but it’s an area where action can be taken.
Looking higher than the clubhouse though, the real questions should start to come into play. This offseason, Derek Flakey and Thad Levine couldn’t have hit more of a home run than they did. Free agency is a complete crapshoot most years, and banking on big ticket players to be the backbone of a club instead of stellar to prospects is generally a losing bet. With the Twins having graduated many of their brightest stars, supplementing a team that over-performed a season ago was a necessity, and there’s no way to argue against it having been accomplished.
Despite missing out on Yu Darvish, the premier name of the winter, Minnesota brought in talent all over the place. Lance Lynn and Jake Odorizzi were clear upgrades to the middle of the rotation, while the bullpen was bolstered by the likes of Addison Reed, Fernando Rodney, and Zach Duke. A late acquisition of Logan Morrison to top it all off was a nice bow on top of the package. No one was a superstar on their own, but the collective could fairly be expected to provide significant value.
Here we are, past the halfway point of the season and it’s all blown up. Nothing has gone to plan, and none of the offseason acquisitions have made a lick of difference in the grand scheme of things. The most unfortunate development however, is that the front office has seemingly gone from a sound process to one that makes what appears to be little sense.
The bullpen was an area of weakness a season ago. While it’s been better in 2018, finding the next Trevor Hildenberger should be the goal on a yearly basis. Acquired (by the former regime) in exchange for Alex Meyer, Alan Busenitz has dominated Triple A. He’s been given no real opportunities to showcase his abilities and was recently snubbed in favor of veteran retread Matt Belise. Speaking of Belisle, Minnesota just outright released 2017 Top 20 prospect Felix Jorge (who’s 24) after he was DFA'd.
Moving away from the bump, we’ve seen Jake Cave (who was acquired by this regime) be looked over in favor of guys like Ryan LaMarre and Robbie Grossman. Cave isn’t an uber prospect, but he’s 25 and has projectable upside. Grossman is 28 and a failing on-base guy, while LaMarre was a spring training story that ran out of pages months ago. Assuming Molitor has complete control of his starting lineups, it’s hard to pin the egregiously poor usage of Mitch Garver on the front office. That said, at some point common sense would hopefully suggest that the 27-year-old prospect with a capable bat be playing more than 25% of the time instead of favoring a 35-year-old veteran struggling to stay above a .400 OPS.
Maybe the most unfortunate situation of all, is the handling of their incredibly integral center fielder. Despite a broken toe, the Twins decided Byron Buxton’s defense was so necessary that they ran him out in lineups for multiple weeks. Knowing he couldn’t swing without significant pain, Minnesota allowed him to continue to play with the injury before ultimately DL'ing him. Following the healing process, it was then decided that his offense was slacking so bad, he didn’t even deserve to regain his starting role at the big-league level.
At the end of it all, it’s really process that this comes down to. Garver may never be an all-star, Cave may never be a regular, Jorge may never be missed, and Buxton will be back. How all the scenarios work out in their own way isn’t really the issue here. Going into the season, the Twins had a very obvious opportunity and took a sensible approach to capitalizing on it. As the season got underway, games have taken place, things have fallen apart, and Falvey and Levine have doubled down to make the questionable move much more often than not.
Going into the 2019 season, the Twins will have a nice opportunity to hit the reset button. Players will have a clean slate, lots of one-year contracts will be filtered out, and new bodies will be brought in. With the AL Central trending down as a whole for the immediate future, a division crown still doesn’t seem like a longshot. The biggest obstacle right now however, seems to be whether this front office can blueprint a process that enhances their opportunities instead of squelching them. The winter was good, but as the weather warmed up, Falvey and Levine went as cold as the lineup they’ve constructed.
The honeymoon phase is over for this duo, and having process drive results is the practice of any successful venture. Getting on board with that sooner rather than later would be incredibly welcome.
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