Standing Pat as a Strategy
Image courtesy of Benny Sieu-USA TODAY SportsTo their credit, the Twins have been proactive in addressing their needs this offseason. Already they have filled their two clearest positional vacancies. Granted, they've done so by gathering up castoffs non-tendered by other organizations, but C.J. Cron and Jonathan Schoop are hardly scraps. They're legitimate starters and intriguing flyers for a rebuilding team.
It is that last part that stings. Every indication I've seen signals a conservative approach this offseason, as the front office continues to bide time and see how things shake out with its inherited volatile assets.
"The Twins have indicated that next season will be about allowing their young core to continue to develop," La Velle E. Neal III wrote in forecasting a quiet week at the Winter Meetings.
Derek Falvey himself echoed that sentiment during a Friday interview with 1500 ESPN.
"I do believe that you build championship teams around an internal core," Falvey said. "In our particular situation I think we’re really attentive to how we impact that core with complementary pieces."
"You have to be thoughtful, the more years out you go, how it impacts your club."
This isn't a new narrative from Falvey's baseball ops group, and the strategy thus far has aligned.
Schoop on a one-year deal allows the Twins to wait and see what happens next year with Nick Gordon, added to the 40-man roster last month. Gordon had an awful season in 2018 but he's 22, a former top-10 draft pick, and a fixture on national Top 100 prospect lists. Any kind of long-term answer at second base would have amounted to waving the white flag on this highly touted and talented youth.
As far as stopgaps go, Schoop's a damn good one. He's 27 and one year removed from an All-Star campaign that earned him MVP votes.
The Cron situation is similar. The Twins don't quite have a Gordon-level prospect coming up at first base but Brent Rooker looks like a player and could be ready by midseason. Minnesota also is accounting for the very real possibility that Miguel Sano will be relegated to first base in the near future. Cron gives them flexibility and offers a fairly high floor; he's almost certain to be a significant improvement over Joe Mauer v.2018. Plus, the Twins can control Cron in 2020, which will look great if he backs up his breakout campaign.
So, like I said, I get the rationale for these moves. They're very defensible. But they're not bold or particularly ambitious. They don't point to an outright aspiration for serious contention in the division next year. At best, the Twins are hoping they catch fire with these low-wattage additions while things coalesce elsewhere.
Even with solid returns on Cron and Schoop, and moderate improvements among the incumbent crowd, this position-player unit still doesn't look all that well designed. The offense is desperately lacking for on-base percentage. An infield alignment of Sano, Jorge Polanco, Schoop and Cron will likely be very poor defensively. Mitch Garver's status is basically a mystery at this point.
The team is caught in flux, and that's not really anyone's fault so much as just the way things have played out. Most other positions on this roster are similar to first and second base – unestablished at present, but with too promising or undecided an outlook for drastic changes in direction.
An offseason spent more or less standing pat makes sense for the Twins. But for fans – even those who fully understand and accept the thought process – it stinks nonetheless.
Cron and Schoop are logical in the rebuilding framework because they're young and capable enough that either could turn into parts of the go-forward vision – or at least deadline trade chips to further supplement the pipeline. But they are probably not the kind of decisive difference-makers who help Minnesota take the next step, in the event that Buxton and Sano rebound.
We all know they are at the heart of the matter – Buxton and Sano – and that neither of those outcomes can be fully counted upon, but it's almost as if the Twins are planning around it not happening, turning their gaze already to the next hot prospect wave led by Royce Lewis and Alex Kirilloff.
Which brings me back to that Horace quote from the outset about the unrelenting passage of time. "As we speak cruel time is fleeing. Seize the day, believing as little as possible in the morrow." We can all hope Lewis, Kirilloff and the next group are up to the task of pulling this franchise from the dredges, but no one can be blamed for pessimism as we watch an endless rebuild carry on in perpetuity, with Buxton and Sano entering their theoretical primes.
Falvey and Thad Levine have made some nice moves with the coaching staff and behind the scenes (where some would argue the real war is being waged), but those moves don't put fans in the seats, nor do savvy buy-low investments like Schoop and Cron. The Twins drew their lowest attendance this year since 2004 at the Metrodome, and while that's partially attributable to weather, it also speaks to growing fan apathy, which I fear will only worsen in 2019 if Minnesota stays on course to field a low-payroll, low-profile club.
Fans have endured nearly a decade of mediocre or worse play at Target Field. Even if the current rhetoric and ensuing actions are perfectly reasonable and valid, the whole "building a sustainable long-term winner, eventually" model doesn't do much to energize or excite a base that could really use some energy and excitement.
Right now, the real focus is on 2020. At various points in the past, it's been on 2018, 2017, 2016, etc. No one wants or expects a rebuild to take eight-plus years, but here we are.
If you've been conditioned into believing as little as possible in the morrow, that's more than fair. Especially because of the unique window of winnability in the AL Central, which won't last forever.
At the same time, if you put yourself in the shoes of the team's decision makers, with all they must account for, hopefully you can see why – from their view – it's not quite time to seize the day.
But as we speak, cruel time is fleeing...
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