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Week 11: Vikings at Bears

Minnesota Vikings Talk Today, 07:21 PM
This is pretty much a must win in my opinion. We need to go to Soldier Field and take them... which means we won't. 
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Article: Offseason Blueprint: Bargain Bin Shopping (Part 1)

Minnesota Twins Talk Today, 07:05 PM
The last thing Twins fans want to hear is the benefit of moving forward with a frugal payroll. However, creating an offseason plan around...
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Off Season BluePrint: Money Laundering

Minnesota Twins Talk Today, 07:04 PM
Seeings how it's not my money and I'd just as soon see a major shakeup of any of our Pro Sports teams, rather than be stuck in the middle...
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What does Arizona take for Greinke?

Minnesota Twins Talk Today, 07:05 PM
OK, so we know that they have some salary issues. We know we have money to spend (and yes, I'm concerned that the FO may handcuff this te...
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Article: Twins Add To Coaching Staff

Minnesota Twins Talk Today, 06:19 PM
On Friday afternoon, the Twins announced most of their 2019 coaching staff. While they are still looking to fill one spot on Rocco Baldel...
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Offseason Primer: Can Minnesota Mimic Milwaukee's Success?

There are more things tying the Twins and Brewers together than geographic proximity.

Both are mid-market teams with finite resources. Both have struggled in recent years to get over the hump in their respective divisions. And in attempting to do so, both franchises have reinvented themselves, under the leadership of baseball's two youngest head executives.

This year, we've seen Milwaukee's vision come to fruition. As general manager David Stearns and the Brewers extend their run into late October, Derek Falvey and the Twins are looking on.
Image courtesy of Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
This story helps set the stage for a truly pivotal offseason ahead. It's just a taste of what you'll find in the 2019 Offseason Handbook, which is currently available for preorder. If you wanna learn more about it, and the benefits of preordering, check out our FAQ. Also, we just shared our list of guest contributors you might find familiar.

~~~


In December of 2011, the Cleveland Indians named Falvey and Stearns – both still in their mid-20s – co-directors of baseball operations. One year later, Stearns would be fished away by the Houston Astros, who made him their assistant GM under Jeff Luhnow. And after three years in that role, Milwaukee hired Stearns to run its front office.

Falvey, still holding a pivotal role in Cleveland's baseball ops, was promoted to assistant GM in 2016. One year later the Twins poached Falvey from their division rivals and named him Chief Baseball Officer. They even went through the same search firm (Korn Ferry) that aided the Brewers in finding Stearns.

Milwaukee's results in Years 1 and 2 under Stearns were nearly identical to Minnesota's under Falvey – one non-competitive season and one fairly competitive season that showed promise. Here in Year 3, it all came together for Stearns' Brewers: they won 96 games and now they're playing for a World Series bid.

Next year will be Falvey's third in Minnesota. Can the Twins take a similar step forward under his guidance?

In addressing this question, let's reflect on some components of Milwaukee's 2018 rise and how the Twins are implementing them in their own ways.

Major Makeover

In his first offseason at the helm, Stearns overturned half of Milwaukee's 40-man roster, a thorough house-cleaning in the wake of a 94-loss campaign.

Falvey's initial tweaking was not quite as aggressive, in part because his early focus was more on changes behind the scenes, but two years after taking the job he and GM Thad Levine have reshaped the roster plenty.

These newly hired execs weren't equipped for a complete overhaul out of the gates, due to inherited commitments. But with Joe Mauer, Brian Dozier and Ervin Santana presumably moving on, the team will be forging an entirely new identity.

It seems likely next year's Opening Day 40-man roster will feature, at most, seven holdovers from the version Falvine took on two years ago: Max Kepler, Eddie Rosario, Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano, Jorge Polanco, Kyle Gibson and Trevor May.

Innovative and Malleable Manager

Like Stearns, Falvey kept his incumbent manager rather than replacing him, in what was more or less a mandate from ownership. Milwaukee's Craig Counsell, who'd been tabbed during the season to replace Ron Roenicke, was an internal hire with no formal managerial experience, much like Paul Molitor. But at 45, Counsell was considerably younger, and only a few years removed from his playing days.

It's nigh impossible to quantify or definitively analyze a manager's impact, but Counsell sure seems to be a positive difference-maker. He embraces a discerning new-school mentality (we've seen plenty of creative tactics deployed here in October, especially with pitching usage), and perhaps most importantly, strikes a note of relatability and resonance with his players, having been in their shoes not so long ago.

That's a trend we see around the game. Look at the other playoff teams and you see several skippers with profiles similar to Counsell: recently retired players with zero formal experience in the role. Dave Roberts (Los Angeles), Alex Cora (Boston), Aaron Boone (New York) are all under 50, and all stopped playing within the past decade. The same is true of guys like Gabe Kapler (Philadelphia) and Kevin Cash (Tampa), whose underdog squads exceeded expectations and flirted with contention.

Now that Falvey and Co. finally have the chance to handpick their own man for the job, I suspect we'll see them follow this emerging paradigm.

Relentless Bullpen

One thing that's enabled Milwaukee's stunning success – especially here in October – is a deep and cleverly utilized relief corps. It helps offset an unspectacular rotation, and places the Brewers on even footing with today's high-powered bullpen units. They have perhaps the game's most dominant reliever in Josh Hader, and complement him with plenty of other high-caliber arms like Jeremy Jeffress, Corey Knebel, Dan Jennings, Brandon Woodruff, Corbin Burnes and Joakim Soria.

In the playoffs, Counsell has been leveraging this depth to prevent his starters from seeing lineups multiple times, or even bypassing them completely – Milwaukee went with a full-on bullpen game in the first NLDS contest, defeating Colorado on the strength of its six best relievers.

The Twins have a long way to go before boasting such bullpen strength, but they've at least got some key pieces in place. Falvey and Levine demonstrated their seriousness last winter by signing Addison Reed to the largest contract for a free agent reliever in franchise history, and while that one hasn't worked out so well, they'll doubtlessly be active again on this acquisition front.

Subtle Additions Add Up

Whereas deadline waffling was a signature characteristic of the Terry Ryan era, this new front office has proven bold and decisive. Taking honest stock of teams that lacked championship viability, Falvey and Levine have repeatedly seized opportunities to capture intriguing talent from other organizations.

Stearns has benefitted hugely from one such move that took place before his arrival – in July of 2015, his predecessor Doug Melvin dealt Carlos Gomez and Mike Fiers to Houston in exchange for, among others, Hader and slugging outfielder Domingo Santana. (Ironically, Stearns was assistant GM for the Astros at the time.)

Since taking over, though, Stearns has savvily acquired key pieces through many avenues. He claimed Junior Guerra off waivers from the White Sox. He picked up top prospect Lewis Brinson from Texas at the 2016 deadline, in exchange for Jonathan Lucroy and Jeffress, then later flipped Brinson into the headliner of the Christian Yelich trade. Stearns signed Eric Thames out of Korea, landing a cost-effective top-tier slugger. He acquired young standout starter Freddy Peralta from Seattle in the low-key Adam Lind trade of December 2015.

"Opportunistic" is a credo that Falvey recites often, and his regime has largely lived it. That same mindset has served Stearns and the Brewers well, and as we've seen, the payoff can be huge even if not immediately apparent.

Key Offseason Pickups

Stearns also has some marquee acquisitions under his belt, and a couple of slam dunks last offseason have largely fueled his team's elevation here in 2018. Maybe it's just a short memory, but I have a hard time recalling two players immediately moving the needle in their first year with a new team like Yelich and Lorenzo Cain have.

Both are credible candidates for National League MVP. Yelich is actually the odds-on favorite, having led the NL in WAR (7.6). Cain was close behind in fourth place (5.7). That's more than 13 wins added by two additions, according to FanGraphs; if the Twins were somehow able to inject a similar boost while receiving at least modest turnarounds from their internal core, a leap from 78 wins to 90+ is very feasible.

Milwaukee's high-profile acquisitions were of a sort that Minnesota could realistically pull off this winter.

Cain was a free agent, signed by the Brewers to a five-year, $80 million contract that now looks beyond reasonable in hindsight. The Twins have plenty of spending flexibility for such a move.

Yelich came in a trade, which required Stearns to part with some of his most prized minor-league talent – Brinson was Milwaukee's top prospect, and among the highest-ranked in the game, while Monte Harrison and Isan Diaz also were among the organization's Top 10 – but in return the Brewers got a 26-year-old superstar under reasonable control through 2022.

The Twins possess one of the best farm systems in the game, with premier talent at the top and plenty of depth throughout. They are well positioned to deal from this cache for assets that can make both immediate and long-term impacts. During his late-August interview with Baseball Prospectus at Target Field, Levine suggested that this route was appealing to him:

"As we sit here today, it’s not to say we’re not going to get aggressive in this free agent market, but we may actually shift our attention to the trade market. This might not be the perfect time for us to invest in a guy who’s 30 years old and would need to perform today in order for us to realize his true potential."

In Yelich, Milwaukee got the best of both worlds.

As far as free agents and trade targets go, there are plenty of big names out there this offseason, making for a wealth of intrigue given Minnesota's circumstances. You'll be able to explore all of the possibilities in our 2019 Offseason Handbook, which is available for preorder. Claim your copy now, get it before its official release. Today we revealed the front cover and our star-studded lineup of guest authors.

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46 Comments

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TheLeviathan
Oct 14 2018 08:54 PM

I hope the Twins are active with one big trade this offseason.This is a good time to leverage someone like Nick Gordon into an impact player on the 25 man roster.

    • Mike Sixel, Twins33, DocBauer and 2 others like this

I give Stearns credit for his trading for Yelich but it was something that doesn't come along to often a team dumping talent to reduce payroll which the Marlins did last year.I look at talent Miami traded away this past year they had club that could have been playing right now to get into the world series. The amount of talent they traded away is unbelievable and look at the impact it has made on the clubs that acquired that talent. Yankees became better team, Brewers, and St. Louis some of the teams that traded with Miami off the top of my head. I don't see this happening with the Twins our 40 man roster 25 to 40 is simply one of the weakest group of players I have seen for the Twins. This leaves us with the top 30 prospects mostly down in A ball that is reported to have a lot of talent. The problem with this its hard to trade A ball players for proven talent because putting it simply only a few of these people make to majors and even fewer become major league stars. So we are faced with either trading some proven talent with these prospects for young player that looks ready to become a star or looks like they are going to make the majors. The problem here is were already thin on proven talent so it will be calculated risk what we ever trade for will be better than what were trading. I just think were in for another year of seeing if our young core develops and probably signing couple of free agents to fill in the holes this club. I still believe were in total rebuild and come trading deadline were going to trade bunch of this young core for more prospects but higher than before probably in Double A range or better. This club will not make a run until 2020 or more likely 2021 when there A ball players should be coming upto the team. I will believe they are making a commitment when they decide when they start locking up some this young core group to some longer contracts. Right now I here nothing on that front. We have no pitcher signed long term and we have 3 of the 5 projected starters in last year of arbitration for next year. I know all three have had major flaws to signing them in the past but it also means that trading deadline if we don't have commitment on them we will be trading them. The pipeline for the Twins is not exactly full high end minor league prospects to fill in. We do have couple that look like they will make here at major league level but that is still to be determined. Also we have not made a single commitment to any of this young core we have now so this is just another sign I believe why were still in total rebuild. This front office has never believed in these players we have now and will not have any trust until the players they have drafted and developed reach here. I just think because Twins were flawed when they arrived here everything here was flawed even the existing players. I hope I am wrong but this is what my gut feeling is telling me about this front office.

    • mikelink45 likes this

Interesting that Houston, with Stearns as the assistant GM, gave up Hader for Gomez, and then Stearns became the ultimate beneficiary of the move as the GM of the new team.

 

I hope that Falvey can rival what Stearns has done, and not be the co-director that turns out to be the weak link. The Brewers are pretty damn impressive. I really enjoy watching them play. I keep thinking that the Pressly trade and the Reed signing (among others) don't signify a good start, but what is a Twins' fan to do, but hope for the best in the new season. 

 

This was my favorite article of the year. Great job, Nick.

 

    • Nick Nelson, Mike Sixel, peterb18 and 4 others like this

A lights out bullpen with spending less than 15 million.Carl Pohlad would be proud

 

    • peterb18, SF Twins Fan and rdehring like this
First of all great article, Nick. Two observations: One....the Presley trade makes one wonder, or contemplate if it was solid thinking on Falvey’s part. And second....the “finite” resources part. The Twins until the new Dodger ownership group came in the Twins were considered one of, or the richest ownerships in all of baseball. So the resources are there. In conclusion what has held the Twins back over the the years is ownership and interest.

Good article. Both Milwaukee and Oakland had successful seasons even with starting pitching woes (plenty of injuries on both teams). Butboth had great bullpens and Milwaukee especially acquired some quality pieces via trades and free agency. Hey, it's always a bit of dice roll, and I give credit to those teams for making the right moves. But can the Twins do likewise? Gotta say I'm less than confident right now.

    • Mike Sixel likes this
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SF Twins Fan
Oct 15 2018 09:23 AM

With how deep the Twins farm system is I truly hope they make some trades to improve the major league team. I would say the only two untouchables are Royce Lewis and Brusdar Graterol. It would hurt to trade Alex Kiriloff since he could be fast tracked from AA to AAA and then eventually the Twins, but if he brings back a significant return I'd do it. It's too bad Nick Gordon had such an awful year in AAA because his trade value has to be at an all time low at this point. 

There is a lot of luck involved. No one expected Yelich to do what he is doing this year.

 

You mention Lorenzo Cain and he's doing well but the #2 is really Jesus Aquilar, with his .890 OPS and 35 home runs.

 

Much of the bullpen and the aforementioned hitters were acquired via trades and free agency, Twins fans.

    • Nick Nelson, h2oface and MN_ExPat like this

Stop being down on Nick Gordon. He COULD be better than he was at AAA.

 

Don't expect our front office to do the exact same thing as Milwaukee. First off, season one they came in late and dealt with holdover issues.

 

Season two, they revitalized the minors and built their own crop of prospects but had to play the game of competition for the Wild Card and sign free agents and stick with the Manager of the Year.

 

This is the first full season of them doing what they want. Of course, Sano and Buxton (and Kepler) are still works in progress. The bigger question is do they push prospects out of spring training or mid-season.

 

I see them entering the free agent market for REAL holes bigtime in 2020.

 

UNLESS, they can sign some solid longterm pieces this of-season, but will the players come to the Twins AND NOT field better offers elsewhere.

 

I felt they did a wonderful job at the trade deadline. I want to see who starts at AA and AAA next season. Hopefully a limited amount of minor league free agents filling out the AAA roster. 

 

But Job One! Hire the Manager of Choice. Figure out the coaching staff and strength/condition staff. Make a couple more changes in minor league staffs.

 

Yes, it MAY be a boring Hot Stove League season. But the Twins will still be stronger than three other teams in their division and will have money to spend if they can make hard decisions on internal players.

    • chpettit19 and MN_ExPat like this

I am rooting for the Brewers, but I have some reservations about the success formula as I see the last relievers blowing up the first two games.A few more innings by the starters is a better formula and if you think Molitor overused his pen - think about how many innings the Brewers relievers have pitched this year.Or more important how many games each of them has pitched in. Jeffress 73 games, Jennings 72, Knebel 57, Williams 56, Hader 55, Barnes 49. I am still in favor of starting pitchers.Imagine how good they would be if their opening game starter had gone 5 -6 -7 innings instead of 2. The Dodgers top six relievers pitched in Alexander 73. Jansen 69, Baez 55, Fields 45, Hudson 40, Chargois 39.  

 

 

    • notoriousgod71 likes this

I want to believe this is possible for the Twins. I really do.I really, really do.But, I live in Minnesota.I grew up in Minnesota.And besides the improbable titles in 1987 and 1991, Minnesota sports fans just don't seem to get "nice things".Hope springs eternal and I'll always be hopeful.Forgive me for being slightly jaded by the past failings of our beloved sports teams....LOL

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yarnivek1972
Oct 15 2018 10:51 AM

First of all great article, Nick. Two observations: One....the Presley trade makes one wonder, or contemplate if it was solid thinking on Falvey’s part. And second....the “finite” resources part. The Twins until the new Dodger ownership group came in the Twins were considered one of, or the richest ownerships in all of baseball. So the resources are there. In conclusion what has held the Twins back over the the years is ownership and interest.

It certainly flies in the face of being competitive in 2019. Why trade arguably your most dominant and most experienced reliever, especially when he was still cheap and likely agreeable to a multi-year extension?


I can pretty much guarantee that replacing Pressly will cost more than he will get in arbitration.
    • USAFChief, Mike Sixel, h2oface and 2 others like this

 

There is a lot of luck involved. No one expected Yelich to do what he is doing this year.

 

You mention Lorenzo Cain and he's doing well but the #2 is really Jesus Aquilar, with his .890 OPS and 35 home runs.

 

Much of the bullpen and the aforementioned hitters were acquired via trades and free agency, Twins fans.

 

Well, I bet Stearns expected what Yelich (and Cain) did this year, and that is why he traded for him and gave up what he did. It doesn't really matter what no one thinks, in the end, just what the one that makes the move thinks. Good fortune is always part of it, but Stearns was just doing his job better than most others. I have to give him credit. Calling the right shots and his analysis of the move to make was hard work realized, and nothing to do with luck, but process.

    • USAFChief, Mike Sixel, Teflon and 2 others like this
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SF Twins Fan
Oct 15 2018 11:59 AM

 

Stop being down on Nick Gordon. He COULD be better than he was at AAA.

 

Don't expect our front office to do the exact same thing as Milwaukee. First off, season one they came in late and dealt with holdover issues.

 

Season two, they revitalized the minors and built their own crop of prospects but had to play the game of competition for the Wild Card and sign free agents and stick with the Manager of the Year.

 

This is the first full season of them doing what they want. Of course, Sano and Buxton (and Kepler) are still works in progress. The bigger question is do they push prospects out of spring training or mid-season.

 

I see them entering the free agent market for REAL holes bigtime in 2020.

 

UNLESS, they can sign some solid longterm pieces this of-season, but will the players come to the Twins AND NOT field better offers elsewhere.

 

I felt they did a wonderful job at the trade deadline. I want to see who starts at AA and AAA next season. Hopefully a limited amount of minor league free agents filling out the AAA roster. 

 

But Job One! Hire the Manager of Choice. Figure out the coaching staff and strength/condition staff. Make a couple more changes in minor league staffs.

 

Yes, it MAY be a boring Hot Stove League season. But the Twins will still be stronger than three other teams in their division and will have money to spend if they can make hard decisions on internal players.

 

Why shouldn't I be down on Gordon? Two seasons ago he was great for the first half and then faded drastically in the second half. Last season he was good for a month when he started in AA and then was awful in AAA. Yea, maybe he'll rebound in 2019 but will he ever put up a full season of numbers? He'll be 23 on October 24, so he's still fairly young but until he puts up a full seasons worth of solid to good numbers I just don't see him lasting in the majors.

    • Twins33, Original Whizzinator, rdehring and 1 other like this

One team added legit OF, even though they had some OF already, the other did not. One team built a great bullpen, the other did not (and even traded maybe their best RP for some reason). One team really tried to improve, the other was complimented for finding great value on mostly entirely one year deals (meaning even if they worked, they'd have to replace all those guys again).

 

I prefer the Milwaukee strategy of finding long term MLB players, frankly.

    • USAFChief, Teflon, h2oface and 4 others like this
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RatherBeGolfing
Oct 15 2018 12:22 PM

Maybe if our leadership was willing to take an actual chance or an actual risk

    • Mike Sixel and Twins33 like this
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TheLeviathan
Oct 15 2018 01:07 PM

Milwaukee definitely had some flukes help them too, as in the case of Aguilar.He was a waiver wire pick-up and a guy they had no intention of playing (as evidenced by the Thames signing) but given playing time he had a breakout year.

 

It's why it's so critical to give long looks to players on the bubble.You never know what you might have.

    • Twins33, ChrisKnutson and Original Whizzinator like this
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Nick Nelson
Oct 15 2018 01:44 PM

 

Milwaukee definitely had some flukes help them too, as in the case of Aguilar.He was a waiver wire pick-up and a guy they had no intention of playing (as evidenced by the Thames signing) but given playing time he had a breakout year.

 

It's why it's so critical to give long looks to players on the bubble.You never know what you might have.

Good point. One wonders if the Twins might've found their own version of Aguilar in Tyler Austin. It's not unthinkable...

    • birdwatcher, Twins33, 70charger and 2 others like this
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Nick Nelson
Oct 15 2018 01:45 PM

 

Maybe if our leadership was willing to take an actual chance or an actual risk

What evidence exists showing they are unwilling to take chances or risks?

    • birdwatcher, 70charger, MN_ExPat and 1 other like this

 

What evidence exists showing they are unwilling to take chances or risks?

 

Zero long term contracts last off season, one minor trade. No big effort to add to the team last trade deadline, just a tweak here and there. What evidence is there that they will take risks? Until they do, they haven't. So far, they've only taken the risk of trading away players for minor league players.....

    • Teflon likes this

 

Milwaukee definitely had some flukes help them too, as in the case of Aguilar.He was a waiver wire pick-up and a guy they had no intention of playing (as evidenced by the Thames signing) but given playing time he had a breakout year.

 

It's why it's so critical to give long looks to players on the bubble.You never know what you might have.

Was it a fluke, though? They obviously weren't counting on him, but they liked him enough to give him a 40-man spot despite not having any options left, which says a lot for a NL team when talking about a 1B only player.

 

More generally, the Brewers have made a lot of roster moves since Stearns took over, and they have hit on a lot of them. There are probably ten quality players that they acquired either for free via waivers or for very little via trade:

Travis Shaw

Jesus Aguilar

Manny Pina

Hernan Perez

Jonathan Villar

Keon Broxton

Chase Anderson

Junior Guerra

Freddy Peralta

Jeremy Jeffress

 

Plus they hit on their biggest moves this past offseason. Plus they hit on moving Hader to the bullpen. I think they have a long enough track record of successful moves - for multiple season across all levels of the organization - that I'm willing to say that it is less about "luck" or "flukes", and more about successful player analysis and development. And it is something I really wish the Twins could emulate: the ability to grind out team improvements in transactions across all levels (veteran-for-prospect, veteran-for-veteran, wavier pickups, rule-5, free agency).

    • chpettit19 and Original Whizzinator like this
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Major Leauge Ready
Oct 15 2018 02:42 PM

 

First of all great article, Nick. Two observations: One....the Presley trade makes one wonder, or contemplate if it was solid thinking on Falvey’s part. And second....the “finite” resources part. The Twins until the new Dodger ownership group came in the Twins were considered one of, or the richest ownerships in all of baseball. So the resources are there. In conclusion what has held the Twins back over the the years is ownership and interest.

 

Resources = Revenue less operating expenses (basically). The relative net worth of ownership has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with the relative financial resource of a team. For example, if Tampa's ownership group had 10X the Pohlad's net worth, they would still have half the financial resource of the NY Yankees.

    • chpettit19 likes this
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TheLeviathan
Oct 15 2018 02:59 PM

 

Was it a fluke, though? They obviously weren't counting on him, but they liked him enough to give him a 40-man spot despite not having any options left, which says a lot for a NL team when talking about a 1B only player.

 

There is a wide gulf between "Yeah, we like you well enough to not cut you" and getting his level of production.

 

It absolutely was a fluke, the kind of flukes teams get when they offer opportunity.Dozier was a guy like that for us not that long ago.

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TheLeviathan
Oct 15 2018 03:07 PM

 

Good point. One wonders if the Twins might've found their own version of Aguilar in Tyler Austin. It's not unthinkable...

 

Jake Cave would be another.

 

And in the recent past - Dozier, Pressley, and Escobar.Good things can happen when you give upside an opportunity.Sometimes that means cutting loose a marginally better player to create the opportunity.

    • Twins33 likes this

 

Well, I bet Stearns expected what Yelich (and Cain) did this year, and that is why he traded for him and gave up what he did.

 

I bet he didn't. What you are saying is this conversation happened:

"Yelich, I like that guy. He is going to have a 1.000 OPS this year for sure."

 

Of course, no such conversation happened because no one predicts such things. They would be run out of town if they did.

 

The Brewers were looking for consistent a .800 - .850 OPS hitter, which is still cream of the crop, and that's why they gave up what they gave up to get him.

So I repeat: No one expected Yelich to do what he did this year. My point still stands: The Brewers had a nice bit of good luck with this trade.

    • Original Whizzinator likes this