Deadline Primer: Are Twins Buyers Or Sellers?
Image courtesy of Brad Rempel, USA TodayFirst, let's quickly take stock of a first half that's been tremendously redeeming for the organization and its fans.
Where Things Stand
Last season's mess was a painful slog for all involved. The Twins entered the break with a 32-56 record, already long erased from any kind of relevance. Setbacks and struggles were vastly outweighing any positive developments.
What a difference a year makes.
This season hasn't been without its misfortunes and letdowns, but everywhere you look, there are fun, energizing storylines.
Ervin Santana is approximating an ace with his performance; he's already tied his career high with four complete games, giving him more than any other team in the league.
Miguel Sano is fulfilling his immense potential, showing prodigious power that makes him a favorite in Monday night's Home Run Derby.
Closer Brandon Kintzler will join the two in the All-Star Game on Tuesday, as one of the best current stories in baseball.
In 2016, the team's play was characterized by poor fundamentals and losing streaks that extended into agonizing droughts. In 2017, we have seen vastly improved defense and a newfound resilience.
A year ago by this time the Twins already had already endured four losing streaks of five or more games; this season it hasn't happened once.
Beyond the improved competitiveness, this club has simply been entertaining to watch. Sano hits the baseball as hard as anyone I've ever seen. Jose Berrios is electrifying on the mound. Byron Buxton is turning himself into a human highlight reel by doing things like this and this and this and this:
Yes, just as Buxton scampered 270 feet from first to home in seemingly the blink of an eye, the Twins have come a long way in 12 months. But are they ready to make a real push for the playoffs?
The answer will dictate their strategy over the next three weeks.
The Case For Buying
Opportunities like this don't necessarily come along often. The Twins are getting career years from players in key spots – namely, at the top of their rotation (Santana) and back end of their bullpen (Kintzler). Given the lack of quality depth in those units, and the lack of future assurance for either, this is a fortuitous alignment that should not go to waste.
Any talk of a theoretical timeline in which young players continue to mature and more prospects join in seems to overrate the likelihood of such outcomes reaching fruition, while underrating the value of guys like Santana and Kintzler doing what they are doing.
Neither is the prototype for his role. The Twins aren't the prototype for a World Series contender. But they are getting it done, and they continue to do so. The combination of a scrappy young club, finally coming into its own, with a front office showing a refreshing quickness to react and willingness to experiment, builds intrigue over what could happen the rest of the way.
More prospects could enter the fold. Perhaps Minnesota catches lightning in a bottle with someone like Dillon Gee or Bartolo Colon. But there's no doubt about this: the Twins need some outside help in order to shore up inhibiting weaknesses.
Provided they can acquire players with control extending beyond this year, and can avoid parting with assets critical to their continued emergence, heading into the deadline as buyers doesn't necessitate sacrificing the future.
The Case For Selling
Derek Falvey and Thad Levine came into their jobs with a big-picture focus. If that meant building the best possible clubs for 2018, 2019, and beyond, then things have certainly played out favorably for them during the first three months.
Whereas last year's deadline didn't bring much drama due to lack of attractive saleable parts, this year the Twins have trade chips of legitimate interest to top contenders. Pitching is at a premium, as always, and the Twins have a pair of All-Star arms capable of helping anyone.
While the ride has been fun thus far, an analytical front office will recognize that this club is not really equipped for a championship run. Their postseason odds are at 20 percent, they're outperforming their Pythagorean W/L record substantially, and their flaws glare against quality teams.
The fact that they're on the fringe of contention, and hardly motivated sellers, gives the Twins leverage in negotiations that didn't exist last year. If they can identify and acquire either young MLB pitchers or prospects on the brink, it's a savvy long-term strategy.
Why The Next Two Weeks Will Decide Everything
Here's the problem with the savvy strategy mentioned above: if things stay as they are, it is not really an option in practical terms.
A reader of Twins Daily might be sold on the wisdom of waving a white flag in order to bolster future odds and supplement the pitching pipeline. But the casual fan, or the actual players who have worked to get to this point? Not so much.
This franchise has endured a demoralizing run over the past half-decade, and making moves that optically resemble giving up just won't play. Of course, this could all change over the next two weeks.
The Twins come out of the break with a very tough run. They first head to Houston for a three-game series against the American League's best team. We all remember what happened when the Astros came to Target Field. Minnesota follows up that challenge with a homestand against the Yankees and Tigers, two offenses capable of dismantling a weak pitching staff. Afterwards, it's off to Los Angeles for a daunting matchup against the NL's best team, the Dodgers.
It's entirely possible that the Twins find themselves well below .500 after running through this gauntlet. At that point, the decision sort of makes itself. So really, if the players in this group want to make a push, they hold their destiny in their own hands.
Make sure to visit Twins Daily regularly over the coming weeks. We promise to cover the deadline – with all its rumors and speculation – more exhaustively than any other spot. Follow us on Twitter for up-to-the-minute updates. And if you aren't already, please join the conversation by creating an account and sharing your own thoughts.
Will the Twins act as buyers at the end of the month? It's hard to know right now. But that sure would beat the alternative.
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