Marrying Expectations and Opportunities in 2019
Image courtesy of © Brad Rempel-USA TODAY SportsHere's what we know about the rest of the division at this point: The Kansas City Royals are bad and have a farm system that will have them getting even worse. The Detroit Tigers are old, and without direction. Chicago has done the most to rebuild their system, and there’re some potential superstars in the making. At this point, however, no White Sox prospects are ready to turn the tide for the team. That leaves Minnesota and Cleveland to fend for the division the next two seasons. Or does it?
Plenty of reports this summer have come out regarding a new direction for Cleveland. Despite the postseason success, that team draws worse than a hapless high school badminton club. The Indians are looking to move assets, and the talk is of names in their starting rotation. Michael Brantley is gone from the outfield, and Lonnie Chisenhall has moved on as well. Unless there’s a dramatic shift in the replacements, a substantial step backward for the least talented division winner is coming.
Now, how do Derek Falvey and Thad Levine choose to go about inserting themselves into this scenario? At this point, a white flag from Cleveland all but vaults Minnesota to the top spot on its own. Obviously getting more from Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano is a must, but there’re plenty of wins to be had within the division even before the top dog starts taking its lumps. A year ago, the front office brought in multiple guys on one-year deals, and a year from now the Twins will be supplemented by a duo of high-ranking prospects. Marrying everything together in 2019 will help to give a clearer indication of direction going forward.
I’ll forever be of the mindset that there’s no such thing as a bad one-year deal. Josh Donaldson to the Braves looks like a steal, even if he isn’t fully healthy. It’s too bad Minnesota couldn’t swing that contract, but there were plenty of location factors in Atlanta’s favor that likely trumped the competition as well. When looking back at the likes of Lance Lynn, Logan Morrison, Zach Duke and Fernando Rodney last season, the duo at the top needs to figure out the reasons why the plan went poorly, and how the clubhouse suffered because of it.
Last winter we saw a free agent market that was slow moving, and the Twins (like other teams) made the most of capitalizing on the down dollars. Lynn and Morrison were acquired well into spring training, and that could’ve rubbed both players the wrong way. Entering a new situation feeling scorned and with something to prove, the focus could’ve been on the next payday from the get-go. We’ll never know what the components of a perfectly negative storm was, but we can certainly assume that the level of buy-in by the players wasn’t the same as with a traditional pact.
When looking to bring in reinforcements this next season, I imagine Minnesota will be looking to pair talent with future assets in the form of multi-year deals. If there’s belief these unnamed acquisitions can help in 2019, Royce Lewis and Alex Kirilloff should benefit from a richer roster as well. Of course, we’ve seen a slow trend toward fewer years and higher AAV begin to show its face, so the right pacts will need to be struck.
Internally the Twins must hope the current infrastructure is set up to support whatever 2019 talent there is. Not unlike 2017 with Brian Dozier, Kyle Gibson is staring at the final year of team control. Without an extension in the last arbitration year he’d be set to become a free agent when the snow flies, just like Dozier. Gibson has proven to be a very team-oriented individual, and he’s done well to assume more of a leadership role as his career has matured. There’s room to wonder if he’d be as bought in, or feel scorned, if he’s left with future uncertainty going into this coming spring, however.
There’s a lot to unpack here as we’re dealing with more than just new talent being brought in. Falvey and Levine need to decide to what level they’d like to supplement, and how it will all come together. The AL Central is playing toward Minnesota’s favor regardless, but determining if that is enough or if the organization would like to take the bull by the horns has yet to be seen.
If I had my way, 2019 would be the launching point for 2020 and beyond. Rocco Baldelli has some solid influencers within the clubhouse and on his staff. Finding high-end talent to make two- or three-year commitments would be priority number one. Adding in a one-year deal to bolster a specific area of production would be a welcomed revelation, and the message would be that this thing is ours to lose. Minnesota can win the division in the year before Lewis, Kirilloff,
and the next wave arrive, and have those holdovers there in 2020 to show the kids how it’s done.
You could make a pretty decent bet that the World Series winner in 2019 isn’t coming from the AL Central, but the Twins doing more than limping into the postseason sets them up nicely for future success. Putting together a core that supports its manager, meshes in the clubhouse, and invites the next group of can’t- miss prospects puts Minnesota in a position to grip the top of the division for years to come.
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