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Players Make Plays

Posted by Hosken Bombo Disco , 06 May 2019 · 1,187 views

minnesota twins free agency front office
It’s April 16, 2018. The Twins own a 7-4 record. The front office has added free agents at several key positions to complement an 85-win team from the previous year that earned its first post-season berth in seven years.

It's April 16, and despite a string of postponements due to an early spring snowstorm, the team is playing well, and flying to Puerto Rico for an unusual two-game series against their division rivals.

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Minnesota Twins and Puerto Rico, April 2018 (copyright Brace Hemmelgarn, for Twins/MLB)

After dropping the first game of the series, native Puerto Rican Jose Berrios pitches 7 shutout innings in the second game, and the Twins win in the 16th inning on a Ryan LaMarre base hit. LaMarre was a minor league signing prior to the season who won a spot on the team with a good spring.

With the win, the Twins reclaim first place with an 8-5 record and prepare to fly to Tampa to play a series against the Rays.

Then it fell apart.

In the first game of that series, free agent relief pitcher Zach Duke failed to touch first base on a toss from Joe Mauer that would have ended the 10th inning; instead, the winning run scored all the way from second base. The Twins lost to Blake Snell in the second game of the series, and in the final game, free agent addition Addison Reed surrendered a 9th inning, walk-off home run to Carlos Gomez.

Then the Twins flew to New York for a four game series in Yankee Stadium.

After losing the first three games in their typically inept Yankee Stadium way, the Twins had a chance to salvage the series finale. Starter Kyle Gibson held the Yankees to just one hit over 6 shutout innings, and the Twins entered the bottom of the 9th with a 3-1 lead. The first Yankees batter reached when first baseman Logan Morrison, yet another offseason free agent addition, failed to scoop a not-too-difficult short hop throw from Miguel Sano. That baserunner gave the Yankees life. Two batters later, free agent closer Fernando Rodney surrendered another game winning, walk-off home run, a three-run shot by Gary Sanchez.

The Twins flew home from New York on a seven game losing streak. They tacked on another dismal loss to the Reds, extending their losing streak to eight. Their record sank to 8-13 and they would not climb back to .500 for the rest of the 2018 season.

The free agent acquisitions prior to 2018 were meant to complement the young corps of players that had been developed internally in the organization, but instead, the free agents seemed to torpedo the season.

This season, so far, is different. Much different. Those players from 2018 are elsewhere, and the players brought in by the front office for 2019 are making the plays.

First baseman C. J. Cron, coming from Tampa Bay, has proven just as adept at first base as Joe Mauer, making all the scoops and showing more pop at the plate. Many fans (I was one of those) thought that the front office should encourage Mauer to sign an extension for 2019, but Cron appears to be performing just as well.

Second base pickup Jonathan Schoop gives the middle infield youth and arm strength that Brian Dozier did not have. Here is his throw from shallow left in Houston April 22 to nab Josh Reddick at the plate:

And, “super utility” player Marwin Gonzalez, despite his slow start at the plate, is making the plays in the field, while filling in at third base, at first base, and in left. His sliding catch in the first inning against the Astros on April 29 saved perhaps two runs, in a game the Twins won with only a single run, 1-0.

All of this, while free agent designated hitter Nelson Cruz is hitting even better than advertised.

The additions to the pitching staff for 2019 did not seem impactful; however, Ryne Harper and Blake Parker have been assets in the bullpen, and Martin Perez has now strung together four good starts. It’s a group of pitchers who are far outperforming last season’s acquisitions Zach Duke, Fernando Rodney, and Lance Lynn. After 30 games in 2018, the Twins had already suffered five walk-off losses. Here in 2019, none as of yet.

While it’s yet to be seen whether the pitchers will continue to protect leads, the new additions to the every day lineup are providing enough offense and defense to keep the team in the win column more often than not.

As Jonah Keri, writing for The Athletic, summarized it: The combination of up-and-comers in their 20s, big-hitting veteran imports and managerial guidance [from Rocco Baldelli] has borne fruit. A lot can be said of Baldelli as well, the new Twins manager and perhaps biggest offseason acquisition of all. But that's another article for another day.

Prior to the 2018 season, the front office might have thought they were acquiring the final complementary parts to a team that won 85 games the previous season. It did not work out that way. The acquisitions for the 2019 season, however, are working out incredibly well so far.

And I haven’t even mentioned Willians Astudillo yet. :)

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