5 Twins Players Most Impacted by MLB's Suspended Season
Image courtesy of David Dermer-USA TODAY SportsI feel for each of these guys, who will be dealing with shutdown disruption at critical junctures.
Nelson Cruz, DH
The veteran slugger's 40th birthday, July 1st, is a pretty reasonable over-under at this point for Opening Day – if not a tad optimistic. He looked incredibly good last year, giving no warning of imminent decline, but his age puts him up against the clock.
This delay will remove a significant portion of the remaining games Cruz has left in the tank. And given how brilliantly he's still playing (including this spring, where he mashed three homers and two doubles in 23 at-bats), that's a shame.
Trevor May, RHP
It's been a long journey for May. He was a fourth-round pick of the Phillies in 2008, traded to Minnesota in 2012. He debuted in the majors in 2014 as a starter, transitioned fully to relief in 2016, then lost basically two full seasons to Tommy John surgery. Last year, at age 29, May finally broke through, posting a stellar 2.94 ERA and 11.1 K/9 rate as one of the team's highest-leverage relievers.
This included a 1.38 ERA in 23 appearances between August and September. May was carrying a full head of steam into the biggest season of his career, with free agency coming at the end.
Due to his ill-timed elbow injury and role-switching, the right-hander has burnt through most of his team service time without truly establishing himself, in spite of his immense talent, dedication, and intelligence. That's why he finds himself looking ahead to the open market already, with fewer than 300 total MLB innings. He's yet to earn a salary over $1 million.
The 2020 season represented a huge opportunity for May to make his case on a big stage. And yes, that opportunity should still be awaiting him whenever baseball resumes. But I sure would've liked to see him ride all that built-up momentum. After putting it all together at long last, being forced to wait has gotta be especially painful for him.
Rich Hill, LHP
One might argue that Hill actually stands to be the beneficiary of a suspended season. He wasn't expected back until June at least, so a months-late start could make him available for the Twins from the jump. And should the season get extended later into the year to include more games, it's possible the Twins could get more starts from Hill than they ever expected upon signing him.
But any theoretical notion of Hill joining the club midseason, in classic form, was always steeped in hopeful optimism. The reason he and his immaculate track record were available to the Twins at such a fine value is that Hill is a longshot. He turned 40 a week ago and is trying to come back from rarely utilized elbow surgery.
In a situation like this, you need a lot to go right. Like all players, Hill will have to deal with the auxiliary impacts of a total league shutdown, including the loss of access to his team's world-class trainers, equipment, and rehab regimens. The southpaw will certainly stick to his own program but there's no replacement for the steady, organized ramp-up process with assorted milestones and benchmarks.
If the entire season is lost, this could very well be it for Hill's career.
Jake Odorizzi, RHP
Much like May, Odorizzi is heading into a pivotal year. In accepting Minnesota's qualifying offer, he opted to bypass a multi-year contract in favor of the short-term payday. Coming off an All-Star campaign, he was set to make $17.8 million and then hit the open market. Now, his plan is in flux.
In a shortened season, would players receive prorated salaries? It stands to reason. And in such a scenario, Odorizzi's perfectly logical gamble stands to backfire. He wouldn't earn the full 2020 figure that enticed him, and he would end up auditioning for his next contract in a weird, partial campaign.
Maybe that's not how it plays out. Hopefully baseball can find a way to ease the relative burdens for players in such tough positions. While these examples all obviously pale in comparison to the thousands of less-wealthy individuals who work at ballparks and fill their stands, there's an unmistakable difference between a player in Josh Donaldson's position of total security, and one in Odorizzi's. Not to mention a fringe player trying to seize what might be his biggest chance.
Randy Dobnak, RHP
His 2019 season was one of the best real-life underdog stories in memory, and there was more to Dobnak than just a fun narrative. He pitched extremely well, displaying poise and precision beyond his years. From undrafted independent-leaguer to ALDS starter, the right-hander is on a journey like no other.
He was set to continue it under favorable circumstances this spring. A spot in the Twins rotation was for the taking, and his case was strong coming off a dazzling debut. But a delayed start shifts those circumstances. Suddenly, the starting corps could become crowded much more quickly, with Hill and even Michael Pineda potentially entering the fold sooner, and no injuries to open up spots.
Minnesota's 2020 roster was meticulously built for the rigors of a 162-game season, loaded with depth and contingencies. A shortening of the season wouldn't negate this strength, but it would be costly for players like Dobnak on the fringes. Everyone knows how difficult it is to carve out a niche at the highest level of this game. Hard-working young men who are at the apex of their opportunities will lose time they can't get back.
That's just one of many harsh realities rippling from this occurrence. But to look on the bright side, baseball will be back eventually. And when that happens, so many of its players – these five especially – will be poised for inspiring tales of perseverance and success in the face of adversity.
I can't wait to write about them.