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Article: 2018 Twins Highlights: Longest Home Runs

Minnesota Twins Talk Today, 02:13 AM
Eddie Rosario led the Twins with 24 home runs, followed by Max Kepler with 20 and Brian Dozier with 16, but neither of those three are re...
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2018 MLB Postseason Discussion Thread

Other Baseball Today, 12:01 AM
How about a postseason game thread? Any MLB postseason discussion can just go here.
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Article: What if This is the Max for Kepler?

Minnesota Twins Talk Yesterday, 09:24 PM
At the end of the 2018 Major League Baseball season the Minnesota Twins had a trio of main narratives. First and foremost, this was a tea...
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Article: Offseason Primer: Who Needs a First Baseman Anyw...

Minnesota Twins Talk Yesterday, 05:56 PM
The Twins are still waiting for the official word from Joe Mauer on whether or not he’d like to continue his playing career, but anybody...
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Article: 2018 Twins Highlights: Top Pitching Performances

Minnesota Twins Talk Yesterday, 01:44 PM
One of the strange things about the 2018 season for the Twins was that the one thing that seems to be a constant organizational weakness...
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Offseason Primer: Twins Need to Be Prepared to Pivot from Buxton and Sano

Looking ahead to 2019, it certainly appears any hope of the Twins reaching their potential will once again rest upon the shoulders of Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano.

Does it really need to be that way?

Of course not. It seems to me the lessons to be learned from the 2018 season are 1) Be as prepared as you can for injuries, and 2) Don’t devote time to players who show no signs of progress. Both of those lessons need to be applied to how the Twins proceed with Buxton and Sano.
Image courtesy of © Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Note: This is basically a B-side from the upcoming 2019 Offseason Handbook, which you can now preorder. If you like this piece, you’ll LOVE the handbook. Claim your copy today to get it before its official release.

Maybe the solution to getting the Twins turned around isn’t making big, sweeping changes as much as it is knowing when to stop pouring plate appearances into guys who are struggling. Logan Morrison (359 PA, 74 wRC+), Ehire Adrianza (366 PA, 82 wRC+), Ryan LaMarre (109 PA, 75 wRC+) and especially Bobby Wilson (151 PA, 40 wRC+) all got a lot more opportunities than the average team trying to compete would have provided to them.

Buxton and Sano were both very bad at the plate last year as well, but both have shown potential and still possess untapped upside. If the Twins intend to be contenders in 2019, the leash needs to be short, however, and the team needs to prepare itself with replacement options should things go poorly again.

The Twins appear to already have some viable backup plans if Buxton fails to blossom. Max Kepler has proven to be a capable center fielder and the emergence of Jake Cave creates some additional flexibility.

At third base, on the other hand, the Twins are paper thin behind Sano. Finding some insurance at the hot corner needs to be high up on the list of priorities for the front office.

Last offseason, Derek Falvey & Co. built in flexibility, creating a team that had the potential to contend, but at the same time would be easy to tear down in the event things didn’t go so well. They added some pieces in the short term without getting too tied down in the long term.

They may want to aim to set up a similar flexibility with Buxton and Sano.

It’s depressing to have to admit this, but at this point it would be foolish of the Twins to expect Buxton and Sano to realize their potential in 2019. Contingency plans need to be in place, but at the same time it may be equally as foolish to completely give up on those two or sell them off at their lowest value.

Everything should be set up to put Buxton and Sano in the best situation to succeed, giving them plenty of opportunities in the early going, but the team also needs to be built with the ability to pivot if those two come out of the gates slumping.

The baseball season is so long, so the “take it one day at a time” mantra is usually golden wisdom. Cliches become cliches for a reason. That line of thinking can be dangerous, however, as the games in April and May count every bit as much as those in August and September. Considering how early teams make their buy/sell decisions, one could argue that those early games are even more important.

Both Buxton and Sano possess a profile that provides potential flexibility. If Sano comes out slumping, there’s nothing wrong with him shifting to the bench for a spell. As a corner infielder who mashes lefties, it’s not like he’d be out of place as a bench bat/platoon DH. Similarly with Buxton, he could provide plenty of value off the bench as a late-inning pinch runner and defensive replacement. They both have specialized skills that would make them attractive even in a temporary reserve role.

We’ve seen plenty of players have several false starts on the road to becoming everyday players. It seemed like Eduardo Escobar flip-flopped from being on the bench to being counted on as a starter every other season. Aaron Hicks also experienced several failures to launch. Doug Mientkiewicz, Torii Hunter and David Ortiz are just a few of the many other names that fit into this category.

We’ve been talking about these two guys for years and have seen them up in the big leagues for several seasons now, but it’s so easy to forget that Byron Buxton is only 24-years-old and Miguel Sano is 25.

There’s no reason to give up, but the Twins would be wise to hope for the best and prepare for the worst.

Hungry for more? Preorder the Offseason Handbook, which will include loads more speculation and analysis.

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104 Comments

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Winston Smith
Oct 03 2018 09:30 PM

I think you need to include Kepler in "those showing no signs of progress".

    • glunn, Thrylos, Mike Sixel and 10 others like this
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theBOMisthebomb
Oct 04 2018 12:15 AM
This. Hurts... Badly, it hurts. I am not ready to punt on Buxton-Sano. They need at least two more years. There is no other future at third base and Buxton's defense is enough alone to play him every day.
    • Kelly Vance likes this

Wouldn't signing Escobar be a perfect answer to the question you raised?If Sano needs to be on the bench half or two-thirds of the time, EE could step in at third as he did this past summer.Adrianza at second or short isn't ideal, but also not a total void in the lineup.So their goal during the off season should be to have someone at Rochester ready to move into a utility role should Adrianza be needed as a starter.

    • LA VIkes Fan likes this

 

This. Hurts... Badly, it hurts. I am not ready to punt on Buxton-Sano. They need at least two more years. There is no other future at third base and Buxton's defense is enough alone to play him every day.

Not if his OPS is southof .600.

    • ashburyjohn, Thrylos, Jerr and 8 others like this

It seems like the Aaron Hicks message has not been received here.Buxton and Sano need to step up, but giving up on them too soon and selling low is a recipe for disaster.It is also a good way to get fired.If these two players do not produce, we are back to a rebuild in place if not worse.

    • gil4, Mike Frasier Law, Craig Arko and 6 others like this
Maybe, but not in 2019.

Seldom do teams have two players so highly regarded rise to MLB at the same time like Buxton and Sano, then struggle and fail at the rate that they did.You are right about the need to keep working with them, to let them rise - we know that 27 is usually the time of maximum production - but there really needs to be a plan for how to help them succeed.So far the hit and miss and miss system that we have employed with their development and major league career has been a disaster. 

    • adorduan and caninatl04 like this

Tom's statement, "If the Twins intend to be contenders in 2019" is a key point to consider.

 

The roster that was put together in 2018, with several short-term free agent contracts to veteran players, was an obvious attempt by the front office to bridge a gap while young major leaguers matured, minor leaguers developed, and large contracts came off the books. But I suspect that contention in 2019 was not the goal of that strategy, rather, I think the club was looking at 2018 and 2019 as "competitive" years with 2020 as a contention year.

 

2018 became a disappointing, non-competitive year when the free agents didn't perform as expected and the young major leaguers lost time due to injury and suspension. Now the best that can be hoped for in 2019 is a development year for the youngsters. That means lots of at bats for an every-day outfield of Rosario, Buxton, and Kepler. Polanco shifting to second base to see how his glove will play there. Sano and Austin splitting time at first base and DH. Any plan that leaves Buxton on the bench until the late innings minimizes his true value as a player, which is helping out the pitchers and his fellow outfielders (and infielders!) by providing platinum glove level fielding for nine innings.

 

I will also take the opposite side of Tom's argument that there's nothing wrong with putting Sano on the bench if he starts the season slumping. As long as he is physically able, he belongs in the lineup, primarily as a DH. In his first year with the club, he provided plenty of value of the DH spot. I would argue that moving him around the diamond since then has taken away from his focus on hitting.

 

Grossman and Cave have done all they can to fill in where needed. I've got no complaints about their effort or character. I just don't see either of them as a starting-caliber DH or outfielder on a contending team. And with 25-man roster spots for position players so scarce these days, I don't see how you can keep carrying players with little positional flexibility. Maybe you can carry Cave as a lefty swinging DH/1B/OF for platoon purposes.

    • dbminn and caninatl04 like this

I have no idea what Buxton's and/or Sano's plans are for the off season but they had best show up next February ready to reassert that they belong in the Major Leagues. This has nothing to do with talent. It has everything to do with attitude and desire and physical/mental makeup. I have no idea about Buxton's background but its easy to believe that Sano could be very comfortable going back to his home country and playing the rock star role. Maybe he doesn't have the makeup to face bases loaded 2 outs tying run on second base for the rest of his young adult life. This needs to be resolved by their performance and only their performance and the Twins need to head north next March with the decision made. Unfortunately, I think they both have fragile physical and mental makeups. Who ever heard of a player going on the DL with headaches and then fouling a ball off his toe in a rehab game and missing the entire season? Sano seems to be too big for his physical frame makeup and will remain injury prone.

    • ewen21 likes this
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Carole Keller
Oct 04 2018 07:48 AM

I have no idea what Buxton's and/or Sano's plans are for the off season but they had best show up next February ready to reassert that they belong in the Major Leagues. This has nothing to do with talent. It has everything to do with attitude and desire and physical/mental makeup. I have no idea about Buxton's background but its easy to believe that Sano could be very comfortable going back to his home country and playing the rock star role. Maybe he doesn't have the makeup to face bases loaded 2 outs tying run on second base for the rest of his young adult life. This needs to be resolved by their performance and only their performance and the Twins need to head north next March with the decision made. Unfortunately, I think they both have fragile physical and mental makeups. Who ever heard of a player going on the DL with headaches and then fouling a ball off his toe in a rehab game and missing the entire season? Sano seems to be too big for his physical frame makeup and will remain injury prone.


Ever had a migraine or a broken toe? I’m not trying to say Buxton gets a pass for his performance as he definitely has things to work on, but migraines are debilitating. It’s not just a headache. And he didn’t miss an entire season due to a broken toe. He was rushed back up too soon after that and the toe wasn’t healed. So he was sent back down. Where he had wrist issues. He was also not really performing at the plate until the very end so there was no rush to bring him back up.

That said, I do hope he works hard during the off season. His defense does not make up for his bat as it was.
    • Jerr, USNMCPO, bluechipper and 7 others like this

This is depressing but accurate. 

 

You cannot count on those two next year. They have to have a plan that involves neither of them realizing their potential. I don't know what that is (Buxton, at least, could serve as a defensive replacement/pinch runner ... Sano? Don't know). But they can't count on them.

 

That said, a healthy and productive Byron Buxton is literally the difference between contention and non-contention. He is, what, a 7-10 WAR player if he does what he should for the full year? That would have kept the Twins in contention around the trade deadline and would have kept the Twins from trading Escobar, Dozier, etc., and instead the team maybe acquires a piece or two. Given the weak teams the Twins faced at the end of the year they would have had a legitimate shot at Cleveland.

 

I'm convinced of it. But the fact that this one, single player could have had that much of an impact is clear evidence that this team needs to have a different plan. 

    • birdwatcher, ChrisKnutson, chpettit19 and 1 other like this
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birdwatcher
Oct 04 2018 08:21 AM

These two disappointments have put the organization between a rock and a hard place. Their talent is just too immense, in both cases, to do anything but attempt to identify and remove every performance obstacle you can and put them back out there for one last try. Because if they perform remotely close to expectations, they totally transform this team into contenders IMO. As long as the players demonstrate an intense willingness to succeed through their actions and behavior (I remain skeptical about Sano in that regard), you have to "count" on them for 2019 and move on after that if they fail you again. This team is going nowhere in 2019 without them, BOTH of them. I don't know how much of the problem is between the ears for either of them, but it doesn't matter. Whatever the problems are, you either solve them or move on after this year. As for how much leash to give them? You make a judgment call.

 

My guess is part of the decision-making that's taken place so far (Chad Allen, Molitor, et al) is about finding some new eyes to focus on this, because solving it is THE game-changer for this club.

    • Carole Keller, Jerr, beckmt and 5 others like this

Agree on Buxton and Sano.They're always hurt too.Buxton's injuries are understandable because of the way he plays.I can't say that for Sano.Sano needs to start in AAA, and I'd probably only bring Buxton in for defense at the end of a game, or base running.  

 

I'd take Cave over Kepler, and if Austin is in the lineup too, I think it improves the Twins against the Yanks. 

 

As far as who replaces Sano, I want Escobar.

Sano and Buxton are dirt cheap players. Yes, the Twins should NOT be dependent upon them. The two of them should be supplementing (and continuing to learn from) other good players who are being paid what they are worth.

 

This doesn't mean Sano and Buxton are not important parts of the team, cornerstones of the foundation and the future. It means that with the two of them and their low salaries, you can pick up other people too.

    • Twins33, Riverbrian, tarheeltwinsfan and 2 others like this

 

It seems like the Aaron Hicks message has not been received here.Buxton and Sano need to step up, but giving up on them too soon and selling low is a recipe for disaster.It is also a good way to get fired.If these two players do not produce, we are back to a rebuild in place if not worse.

 

Where did it say give up on them? It said, be prepared in case they flop again.....NO ONE is saying give up on Buxton, and few are saying it on Sano. But, the FO should have a legit plan for a backup 3B.....they appear set at CF backup for now (though I'd be good if they followed the Brewer's path and added a legit OF to the mix somehow).

 

But no one, not in that article, or most other places, is saying punt on these guys. But, please, at least have a backup 3B available.......

    • Twins33, tarheeltwinsfan, Taildragger8791 and 2 others like this
I concur with Frank that the key sentence (clause) is “if the Twins intend on competing in 2019”. I’m not sure if the new FO intended to tear this team down to the studs. Nor do I know if they have imposed some kind of internal clock. Also, even if the Twins repeated with 85 wins, I think they would have ended up 12 games out of a wild card berth. I don’t think 85 wins equals competitive.
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diehardtwinsfan
Oct 04 2018 09:36 AM

I believe Sano is out of options, so there's no starting him in AAA. Buxton, on the other hand, has one... and I'd probably start him in AAA. I agree that signing Escobar makes a ton of sense. Only real issue is that we would need 2B insurance if Escobar takes over for Sano. 

    • Sconnie likes this
Unfortunately, Tom is right that a lot hinges on these two young men. But, fortunately, there remains tremendous upside for both of them.

I've also argued, as have many, as to why Escobar is such a perfect target for this team to bring back. He could start multiple areas, and take over at 3B again if necessary. (I've also recommended another decent utility type in case Adrianza ends up having to play more often).

I hope the new manager, and his staff, are good communicators as well as good baseball guys. Buxton and Sano, in particular, just need to be healthy and have a half way decent approach at the plate. Any reasonable contact from either of them, with their natural talent, makes them a good player.
    • tarheeltwinsfan and gagu like this

Of 458 MLB players who had 90 PA or more, Buxton was 457th in OPS.

He was 458th in wRC+ and wOBA. Dead last.

He is a great fielder, but something extraordinary needs to happen with his bat in order for him to be an asset to this team. No team in the AL can afford to have an automatic out in the lineup.

 

*edit - he was 457th in all 3 categories. Alas...

 

    • birdwatcher, Mike Sixel, Riverbrian and 2 others like this

The toe injury for Buxton seems to get less attention than it should.Check out how a toe injury ended the career of HOF Dizzy Dean - https://www.fangraph...injury-cascade/https://www.fangraph...injury-cascade/

 

I can only hope healthy bodies allow the team to coach the basics and concentrate on BB. 

 

Of 458 MLB players who had 90 PA or more, Buxton was 457th in OPS.

He was 458th in wRC+ and wOBA. Dead last.

He is a great fielder, but something extraordinary needs to happen with his bat in order for him to be an asset to this team. No team in the AL can afford to have an automatic out in the lineup.

 

*edit - he was 457th in all 3 categories. Alas...

So in the middle 99.99 percent. What's the problem?

    • ashburyjohn, Oldgoat_MN and snap4birds like this

The Twins are building towards the Future. They have to be looking at who will be playing for them in 2020 and 2021.

 

The Big Three right now: Buxton, Kepler, Sano.

 

Sano. Where does he play. 1st Base or DH or both, of keep him at third (but until when). 

 

Buxton was injured. Yes. But he also wasn't hitting. The Twins had hitting coach James Rowson. Plus Buxton could call upon the services of Oliva, Carew and Torii Hunter. Not to mention the hitting skills of Paul Molitor. What is going wrong.

 

Kepler is just fine IF you are getting bigger production elsewhere. He shows some punch, hasn't settled into who he hits best against totally. You do want a better all around guy, sure.

 

The bigger question on all three of the above is what to do if they put together a premiere season in 2019. Do they become tradebait and someone else's problem for a long-term contract (Sell Soon, Future Payback) or do the Twins extend.

 

Do the Twins push rookies like Gordon? Will they add Wiel and Arraez to the 40-man. Can they fit into the mix in 2019?

 

Cave and Grossman will both be here in some capacity in 2019 because of cost and they pretty much earned a chance to stay and why throw money at more one-year contracts of free agents.

 

But right now 2019 is looking at a rebuilding year. 2020 is also a time we might see some of the guys at A+ ball from the last season. 2021 the Twins might be making a BIG free agent plunge. 2022 is when they should be winning fer sure.

 

Ugh? Well, that's baseball.

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Wookiee of the Year
Oct 04 2018 11:39 AM

It's a provocative point, but I just can't agree. If Buxton and Sano don't perform in 2019, the Twins will not be contending in 2019. Period, full stop. There's just no way a contingency plan for these two struggling next year can be strong enough to produce a playoff berth.

    • birdwatcher, DocBauer, Vanimal46 and 3 others like this
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ashburyjohn
Oct 04 2018 11:56 AM

It's a provocative point, but I just can't agree. If Buxton and Sano don't perform in 2019, the Twins will not be contending in 2019. Period, full stop. There's just no way a contingency plan for these two struggling next year can be strong enough to produce a playoff berth.

I agree. To acquire a free agent to fill either of these players' best roles, with an actual difference maker in terms of seriously contending, means a long-term financial commitment to an asset destined to decline. Then, if our two young guys prove to be solid after all, you have roster problems, because it won't be easy to trade the free agent you just acquired (auction winner's curse), and yet you probably can't get full value in trade for the young guy. A prospective free agent can see the same dilemma as we can, and will say no thanks unless overwhelmed by the financial package, and maybe not even then.

 

I don't know how to solve this dilemma, except for the FO's talent evaluation team to make a really hard decision in the coming month or so. Commit to Sano or trade him. Commit to Buxton or trade him. Two independent decisions. Moves afterward depend on those decisions.

 

Maybe a blockbuster trade for a young and controllable 3B or CF, in preference to a FA. That would ease the roster management later on - after things shake out, you could more easily make another trade.

 

I wish I had greater confidence in those talent evaluation processes, because the past couple of years has been pretty checkered.

    • DocBauer, Platoon, wsnydes and 1 other like this

Sano and Buxton are two different cases and should not be treated the same. 

 

Sano's career numbers: 1612 PA, 117 OPS+, .347 wOBA, 116 wRC+. 

Buxton's career numbers: 1074 PA, 80 OPS+, .289 wOBA, 76 wRC+

 

Sano had a disappointing season, and despite that he has been a much above average major leaguer.The key for him is that he should be able to get in shape and stay healthy.He has proven that if he does so, he can hit.

 

Buxton, other than single months, has had a disappointing career as a hitter.In addition to health, the key for him is that he learns how to produce consistently as a hitter, something that Sano, when healthy, has mastered.

 

Apples and pineapples.

    • Mike Sixel, Blackjack, TheLeviathan and 4 others like this

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