Welcome to the New School
In building out their coaching staff, the Twins embraced ultra-modern ideologies at every turn. Every new hiring reflects a recognizable larger shift that's either already underway, or on the verge.
Young manager with no experience in the role, known for his sharpness, relatability and communication skills? Check. Rocco Baldelli follows directly in the footsteps of guys like Dave Roberts, Alex Cora and Kevin Cash.
Technology-driven pitching coach pulled straight out of the collegiate ranks? Check. Wes Johnson is actually the first to be hired straight from college in this era, but as Baseball America noted last week, there's been budding momentum in that direction. (The Twins also hired Billy Boyer out of Seattle University to become their minor league infield and baserunning coordinator, after adding Duke's Pete Maki as minor-league pitching coordinator a year ago.)
Bullpen coach who is more peer than mentor? Check. Jeremy Hefner is 31 and will almost certainly be younger than some of the pitchers he's overseeing next season. The thinking here is similar to Baldelli, with his intelligence and resonance superseding formal experience as an instructor. Hefner represents a different kind of coach: not the seasoned conveyor of anecdotes and sage wisdom, but rather the readily available source of digestible information, eye-opening data and actionable insights.
These selections further exemplify the organization's all-in commitment to cutting-edge methods for team-building. I think we can fairly assume the same will translate to their roster construction efforts this offseason, with the flexibility to do pretty much whatever they want in charting a new course. What might that look like?
The Twins have all kinds of budget available, but – while the idea of a free-spending offseason is fun to dream on – this front office wasn't brought in to dole out FA mega-contracts. Instead, they're tasked with uncovering hidden values and gaining advantage by outsmarting the pack. I suspect we'll see a team built to the specifications of the modern winner: deep on situational arms and specialized role players.
With several needs to fill, I also believe we'll see GM Thad Levine try stretch his dollars as far as he can. Last week Jon Heyman put together a list of under-the-radar free agents that may end up being cost-efficient additions – worth a look if you want to size up some likely Twins targets, especially because it includes a number of middle infielders and relievers. Jed Lowrie and Josh Harrison, the top two names listed, strike me as very plausible matches.
During his September Q&A with Baseball Prospectus at Target Field, Levine said the following: "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."
Making predictions on this front is tricky business. "The trade market is a mysterious beast," as Tom Froemming astutely put it when patching together a theoretical trade-heavy offseason blueprint last month. Who would've guessed that last winter, the Twins would be able to acquire Jake Odorizzi – who gave them 165 solid innings as a starter and is now penciled in for 2019 – for one fringey Single-A prospect? From a Rays organization they are tailoring themselves after, no less!
As I see it, there's a strong chance Minnesota deals away at least one of its "core players" in the coming months, pivoting after the established plan ran awry. Which player they choose, and what they get in return, will tell us a lot about how the "new market" values these assets.
If last year's precedent holds, we may not see Hot Stove activity ramp up for a while yet; the Winter Meetings are still three weeks away, and it was long afterward that dominoes really started to click.
Then again, if we look back one year further, Falvey and Levine struck quickly on their first big move, signing free agent Jason Castro before Thanksgiving. And while this year's MLB market has yet to see any major movements, there are signs of Hot Stove percolation (for instance, it sounds like a Sonny Gray trade is imminent for the Yankees).
We'll be watching with great curiosity around here. And I think the baseball world at large will also take a keen interest in seeing how things unfold with this brazen excursion into (we hope) the future of baseball.
- brvama, Monkeypaws, dbminn and 2 others like this