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  1. Opening Day Stream Of Consciousness

    However, with those funds, they chose to focus on adding some right-handed power bats. CJ Cron was DFAd by the cost-conscious Rays despite hitting 30 homers in 2018 and only having about a $5 million price tag for 2019. The Twins claimed Cron and happily paid him.

    The Twins also quickly scooped up Jonathan Schoop who had been non-tendered by the Brewers after joining them in a late-season trade from the Orioles. Schoop began the 2018 season hurt and really just struggled the entire season. But in 2017, he received a lot of MVP votes and ws an All-Star. The powerful second baseman is still just 27 years old.

    Next, the Twins outbid several teams to sign slugger Nelson Cruz to a one-year deal with an option for 2020. Cruz has been one of the most prolific power hitters in the game over the past decade and at 38 years old, he should have a couple more strong years in him. Over the last five seasons, his 37 home runs in 2018 was the fewest he’s hit.

    And then as spring training started, the Twins added Marwin Gonzalez to the roster with a two-year contract. The versatile Gonzalez can play all around the diamond and provide average, or slightly above average, offense. The versatility immediately proved valuable when Miguel Sano’s leg injury required another procedure and will cost him the first four-to-six weeks of the season.

    The offense has a chance to be really good. Without really even stretching reality, one could picture a scenario where eight Twins hitters reach 20 home runs in 2018. 200 home runs could almost be an expectation and the team’s record of 225 homers (set in 1963) could be matched.

    And yes, the team is also very likely to set some strikeout records as well.

    The Twins added right-handed pitcher Blake Parker this offseason. He had been non-tendered by the Angels despite being pretty good the last couple of years. He had a terrific, breakout season in 2017 as a 32-year-old. He was reliable for the Angels again in 2018 without quite as strong peripheral numbers. If you’re looking for predictions, I think that Parker will lead the Twins in saves in 2019.

    Twins fans were less than enthusiastic when the Twins announced the signing of Martin Perez. The 27-year-old free agent was long a top prospect with the Rangers who never quite met the potential many assigned to him. Many, likely including Twins GM Thad Levine who was the assistant GM in Texas as Perez climbed the ranks and reached the big leagues. In 2018, he posted a 6.22 ERA in 2018, though he missed a lot of time early in the season with an injury. Twins fans are now at least intrigued by Perez as he flashed a fastball in the 95-97 range throughout spring training and pitched well. Well enough to earn the fifth starter job. Could Perez be 2019s Anibal Sanchez?

    Could the Twins have done more to help bolster their pitching staff? Certainly they could have, and as spring training played out, it looks like maybe they should have. Addison Reed, Matt Magill and Gabriel Moya are all beginning the season on the Injured List. Fernando Romero is beginning the season in AAA Rochester.

    While free agent relievers are a complete crap shoot, one can’t help but wonder how much more confident the fan base might be had they invested in one or two of the many available veteran relievers who got $6 to $10 million for a year or two.

    Of course, we need to look no further than Addison Reed for a reminder of the reality of signing relievers. Reed came into the 2018 season as one of the most reliable relievers in the game of baseball. Consistently good for years, and as important, healthy. In fact, he was still just 29-years-old. That was about as safe as it gets when it comes to signing free agent relievers. Yet, two months into the season, Reed started struggling from overuse (in 2018 but also in previous seasons) and was hurt.

    But to illustrate the you-never-know reality of relief pitcher free agency, Ryne Harper became the story of spring training. He put up Matt Maloney (circa 2013) numbers for the Twins this spring. Maybe more important, he showcased a couple of breaking balls that had hitters completely off balance, even if they knew it was coming. Harper signed with the Twins before the 2018 season. He pitched great in AA Chattanooga last year, earning a spot on the Southern League All Star team. He struggled to an ERA over 5 in 26 games with AAA Rochester. Who knows? He could be the next Matt Maloney, or he could become the next Blake Parker and simply be a late bloomer.

    The Twins will hope to see Taylor Rogers continue what he did in 2018 when he became one of the best, most reliable left-handed relievers in all of baseball. Trevor May ended 2018 really strong and despite some ups and downs in spring will be one of the keys to the Twins bullpen. And despite the move to the bullpen and some spring training struggles, Twins fans should feel really good about the potential Fernando Romero will bring to the Twins bullpen at some point in 2019.

    The Twins also were able to work out a couple of long-term contracts with players that they believe can be part of a core over the next half-decade, or longer. The Twins and Max Kepler agreed on a five-year, $35 million contractwith a couple of option years. The also reached terms with Jorge Polanco on a five year, $25 million contract with a couple of option years.

    Unfortunately, at least at this point, they have not been able to reach a long-term agreement with All-Star and Opening Day starter Jose Berrios or with outfielder Eddie Rosario. Rosario is entering his first season under an arbitration deal while Berrios will be arbitration-eligible for the first time next offseason. So there is certainly time, and there does seem to be mutual interest in a long-term relationship.

    Kyle Gibson figured things out late in the 2017 season and carried it into the 2018 season when he put together the best, most consistent season of his career. He will be a free agent following the season. There were reports that the Twins did talk to him about extending him, but again, sides were unable to reach an agreement.

    Last offseason, the Twins signed Michael Pineda to a two-year, $10 million contract. Last year, they paid him $2 million just to rehab from Tommy John surgery. He was set to make a return to the mound in September, but a knee injury required surgery. But he is healthy now and throwing hard and showing that strong sinker. Twins fans should feel really good about his potential.

    There is a theme to the 2019 season and that is hoping for guys to return to their 2017 form. Along with Pineda, Jake Odorizzi having a solid 2019 season after struggling through much of 2018 will be very important to the Twins hopes. He has to show he can get through six innings most times out.

    But the featured story of the Return To 2017 Form narrative that we have this year is Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano.

    Miguel Sano put in the work after his demotion last year. He carried that into the offseason. He lost some weight and remained very strong. His efforts allowed him the ability to get some at-bats in the Dominican Winter League where his team won a championship… where he was injured in a fluke accident during the team’s celebration. You know that story and we know that he will miss the first four to six weeks of the season. But Twins fans should remain hopeful that all the work he has put in will prove fruitful and that he can return to the All Star form he was playing at in 2017 before his leg injury.

    No one can question the work ethic or desire of Byron Buxton to be great. In the offseason, he worked really hard to become a better player. Whether it was motivation from not being called up in September, or just an internal fortitude that Buxton is known for, he put in the effort. He gained 21 pounds of muscle without losing any speed. He had a strong, solid spring training. And while we all know that spring training stats mean very little, he again put together much better at-bats. And if he can hit something like .250 and get on base 31-32% of the time and continue to show the power that he has, all while playing elite defense, that is a remarkably valuable player. That’s what he did from May 2017 through the end of that season. And that’s why he received MVP votes that year. Last year was a lost year due to injuries. The key for Buxton is to be healthy and play. And getting off to a good start would help too.

    The Twins have a talented team. They may have to out-slug opponents at times, but they have a lineup that is capable of that. They are likely going to need to make some transactions throughout the course of the season, but the team does have some quality depth that will start the season in Rochester.

    In 2018, prospects such as Kohl Stewart, Stephen Gonsalves and Zack Littell came up for their MLB debuts. Frankly, they each took some lumps. The hope is that each learned a little something from those experiences and their offseason work and preparation will make them more ready when they are summoned in 2019. Let’s not forget about the debut season of Jose Berrios in 2016 when he went 3-7 with an 8.02 ERA. I’m not saying to expect those three prospects to jump up to Berrios' All-Star form, but each of them has shown enough to think that he has potential be be a decent MLB pitcher, and we should see that in 2019. And Lewis Thorpe is waiting in the wings for his opportunity as well.

    On the hitting side, LaMonte Wade had a strong showing in spring training again. He struggled some in his AAA debut last year, but he is a guy that can help at all three outfield positions, if needed. In the infield, Ronald Torreyes, who has been really good for the Yankees in a utility role the last three years, will start the season in Rochester, ready when needed. And the Twins were able to bring back infielder Adam Rosales after releasing him at the end of spring training. So there is depth.

    There may not be a lot of MLB-ready depth behind the plate in Rochester, though Tomas Telis has spent parts of four seasons in the big leagues. However, the Twins have their catcher depth. Jason Castro had his best season in four years for the Twins in 2017, but he missed most of 2018 with a knee injury. He returns which is a positive for the Twins and their pitching staff. Mitch Garver was thrust into more playing time because of the injury and over time he earned even more time behind the plate and he improved. He spent the offseason really focused on his defense. He can certainly hit. And Willians Astudillo is just fine as the team’s third catcher, who can also play some third base. And he can stand at several other positions as well. Most important, he can hit.

    There certainly are some questions. The Twins are starting the season with 11 pitchers, but they will certainly add another bullpen arm in a couple of weeks when they first need their fifth starter. They start the season with a five-man bench which includes Tyler Austinwho is out of options. As we know, these things tend to figure themselves out, but what happens with that roster spot at the time will prove very interesting.

    And I am very interested in how the changes in the coaching staff and with the manager will alter the Twins game. Wes Johnsonhas already seemingly had a positive effect on several pitchers. Known for helping guys add velocity, we have already seen that. But there is more going on behind the scenes that we may or may find out about. He’s very positive which certainly can’t be negative.

    Bullpen management was something that Twins fans complained about during the Ron Gardenhire years, and then again through the Paul Molitor years. It’s likely that it would have been something we complained about in the Tom Kelly years too had social media been a thing then.

    How will Rocco Baldelli and Wes Johnson run the bullpen? What will it look like if it is something that we don’t complain about? Molitor was often accused of over-using the guys that were reliable. I mean, thinking about that, it’s an understandable offense. Having a deeper bullpen with more reliable arms in it would certainly help so that pitchers don’t get over-used. Will Baldelli and Johnson be able and willing to put somewhat less reliable guys into more high-leverage situations? It may cost them in the short-term, but it may benefit them in the long-term (both with keeping top arms more fresh and developing other arms into high-leverage guys). What does a well-run bullpen look like? And do the Twins currently have the arms to make Baldelli’s potential decisions look right?

    Will Baldelli be a speed guy and ask for more stolen bases? Will he use hit-and-runs? From observing spring and even in minor league spring training, it sure appeared that the organization believes in running more. But will that happen in the big leagues?

    Baldelli has the analytical background, but he has chosen to focus his managerial style on communication and relationship building. And that’s great. It will be interesting to see how that plays out over 162 games. I think it’s a good thing, but we will see what happens when the Twins go through some struggles, which every team will over the course of the long season.

    I’m also very curious to see how Baldelli is with umpires. My assumption is that he may be even more laid back than Paul Molitor, which I know will both some Twins fans who believe that a “fire in the belly” is an important trait for a manager. Frankly, with replay, there just aren’t a lot of opportunities for a good, old-fashioned argument anymore.

    All right, this stream of consciousness is coming to an end. I think I’ve rambled long enough. But in summary, I am very excited to get the season started. I do think this is a very talented team. I do think they have the talent to compete with Cleveland or at least for a return to the Wild Card game. I am excited to see which players will take a big step forward in their 2019 season (Kepler!). I think that as important as Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano may be to the Twins 2019 season, that Jake Odorizzi and Michael Pineda could possibly have a bigger role in framing the Twins 2019 storyline.

    Again, Happy Opening Day, and let’s enjoy and hope for a great 2019 Twins Season!

    • Mar 28 2019 11:08 AM
    • by Seth Stohs
  2. Twins 2019 Position Analysis: Second Base

    Projected Starter: Jonathan Schoop
    Likely Backup: Marwin Gonzalez

    Depth: Ehire Adrianza, Ronald Torreyes, Jordany Valdespin
    Prospects: Nick Gordon, Luis Arraez, Travis Blankenhorn

    THE GOOD

    Although he's coming off his worst season since learning the ropes as a rookie in 2014, Schoop has every ingredient for a bounceback. He's young, having turned 27 in October. He's hungry, with free agency bearing down at year's end. He's feeling scorned, after being traded and non-tendered in 2018. He's got a new hitting coach who has had some success with free-swinging power hitters (James Rowson's work with Eddie Rosario comes to mind).

    And most importantly, Schoop is working to iron out an ostensibly correctable issue. He was hampered early last year by an oblique injury that, from the view of both the second baseman and his new team, caused him to compensate and alter his swing. Now healthy and highly motivated, the Twins hope to see a return of the player who posted an aggregate .280/.316/.479 line from 2015 to 2017.

    Whether or not he can fully rebound, Schoop is at the very least a good bet to bring the boom. He has hit 15 or more home runs in every season as a big-leaguer, and managed 21 last year while batting just .233 in 131 games for the Orioles and Brewers. That total would've ranked second on the Twins behind Rosario.

    From 2014 to 2018, only one major-league second baseman hit more home runs than Schoop (109). It was Brian Dozier with 148. So in that sense, the Twins have found themselves a very fitting replacement, and Schoop is a better defender than Dozier was – at least toward the end of his Twins tenure. Schoop is renowned for his strong arm and lightning-quick double-play turns.

    The addition of Gonzalez provides a crucial depth boost at several positions, and second base is near the top of the list. Minnesota's depth behind Schoop was rather scant, with Adrianza figuring to be the top backup. He can play second but has done so rarely, and made only three starts there for the Twins last year.

    Gonzalez, meanwhile, has plenty of experience at the position, and logged 183 innings there for the Astros in 2018. His bat is also much more likely to play than that of Adrianza or Torreyes. It's hard to overstate just how much this free agent signing bolsters the outlook at second base by mitigating the risk around Schoop.

    THE BAD

    Schoop is a risk, of course. The rebounding-after-injury narrative is a tidy one, but it doesn't always play out that way. Even if he gets back on top of his game, he offers zero patience (drew 17 unintentional walks in 501 PA last year) and minimal running ability (slower sprint speed than Robbie Grossman, per Statcast).

    Schoop's nonexistent plate discipline tends to hurt his batting average (.258 career), so you are looking at a fairly one-dimensional offensive player here. That's not necessarily the worst thing, because extra-base hits are always good, but it does reduce Schoop's margin for error. When you never walk it's pretty easy to become a drain on the lineup unless you're consistently hitting. As we saw last year.

    Long-term, the big sticking point at second base is Gordon. Minnesota's first-round draft pick in 2014 was on a steady ascent toward the majors up until hitting a wall at Triple-A last summer. Gordon has played mostly shortstop in the system but projects as a second baseman in the majors, and – having been added to the 40-man roster in November – the clock is now ticking on him to stake his claim.

    We should have a much better idea by the end of this year about the "when" and "if" where Gordon is concerned. There's also the fact that Jorge Polanco, newly signed to a five-year extension, profiles better at second than short, and has a few top prospects (Royce Lewis and Wander Javier) coming up beneath him.

    THE BOTTOM LINE

    Just like at first base, the future outlook at second for Minnesota is fluid, which is why a one-year gamble like Schoop makes sense. It's quite rare you can find a player with his track record, at his age, on a one-year deal so Minnesota seems to have done well here, even if his high-power/low-OBP profile is redundant in their lineup.

    By adding Gonzalez to the roster, the Twins made their somewhat risky play on Schoop much more palatable. Marwin's two-year deal also provides some buffer in the event that the next mainstay – be it Gordon, or Polanco, or Arraez (added to the 40-man alongside Gordon) – takes a little longer to reach fruition.

    ***


    Twins 2019 Position Analysis: Catcher
    Twins 2019 Position Analysis: First Base

    • Mar 01 2019 12:31 AM
    • by Nick Nelson
  3. Report From The Fort: Looking For A Bounceback (Part 3)

     This is the third part of a three-part series of interviews with Twins bounceback candidates. Part 1 | Part 2  
    “After I came back from the injury, I was good,” claims Schoop. “I’ve got no excuses. I was good.” But there were after effects unrelated to the pain.

    “Everybody told me that my swing changed a little bit because of the injury,” says Schoop. “But I didn’t feel it. If I’m honest with you, I didn’t feel nothing. So I feel strong, but they say I switched something because my body made me switch.”

    He never did get back on track. Whatever the issue, it robbed the right-handed batting Schoop of batting average, power and the ability to hit southpaws. The problem got even worse after a trade deadline move to the Brewers, which meant leaving the Orioles, the only organization he had ever known.

    “It was tough,” Schoop revealed. “I’ve been with the Orioles since I was 16. Like eight, 10 years, so it was tough to be traded. I got better. I’m a better player because of that. I’m a better man because of that tough time that I’ve been through, after being traded and everything.

    So the offseason was spent working, including a lot of core work, which obviously makes sense when trying to get past the aftereffects of an oblique injury. He thinks his swing is fine now. But his focus for spring training is on building relationships with his new teammates. “Baseball is a good sport,” Schoop says. “You get to know people. You get to be friends. Sometimes you get to be brothers with them."

    The hope is that better health, a tinkered with swing, and a strong team will help Schoop return to the player who was headed for stardom this time last year.

    Nick Gordon

    Nick Gordon had something to prove last year, and for a while, he did. After limping to the end of the 2017 season in Double-A Chattanooga, Gordon returned and conquered, hitting .333 with a .906 OPS over the first two months. The 23-year-old was rewarded with a promotion to Triple-A Rochester, where everything fell apart.

    “It’s about more than just your talent,” reflected Gordon, when I asked him about the experience. Gordon hit just .212 over 99 games in Rochester, with just a .524 OPS. “I can definitely say, I feel like I have some stuff to prove.”

    Gordon’s prospect status suffered as a result of his extended slump. He doesn’t let that affect his view of his future. “I definitely know I can play the game. I don’t think that is something that is questionable,” he says.

    He is rededicating himself to better prepare for the higher level of baseball he experienced. “That’s something I’m definitely more excited about: keeping my routine going better, and preparing myself as a professional,” Gordon says.

    Gordon speaks like a person who knows he got knocked around a little bit by the advancement in levels. But he also sees that as part of the process of getting to the big leagues. “Guys go through things,” he admits. “Great players go through things like that. It definitely humbles you.”

    Perhaps Gordon’s struggles last year, and his resulting attitude, are all part of a ballplayer's maturity process.

    • Feb 21 2019 07:17 AM
    • by John Bonnes
  4. Making Sense of the Lineup Makeover

    Usually I'd hash through everything and make you wait for the conclusion, but this thing got long. So instead, it's choose your own adventure! Here comes the conclusion, stick around for the more detailed analysis if you'd like.

    Nelson Cruz, C.J. Cron and Jonathan Schoop are all right-handed pull power hitters who are comfortably above average against right-handed pitching, making them particularly platoon proof. If you believe Target Field is a great place for right-handed hitters, it seems to make a ton of sense to seek out that profile. Also, if you’re inclined to carry a 13-man pitching staff, as is commonplace in today’s age, filling your roster with guys who can hit same-sided pitching makes a ton of sense. One-dimensional hitters really lose their value when you only have three bench spots.

    Alright, that’s the quick hit take. For those of you interested in a deeper dive, here we go ...

    The OBP Issue
    Take a look at how those new additions stack up against some of the key departures in terms of OBP over the past three seasons.

    OBP 2016-18
    .371 Robbie Grossman
    .366 Joe Mauer
    .359 Nelson Cruz
    .336 Brian Dozier
    .319 C.J. Cron
    .313 Eduardo Escobar
    .304 Jonathan Schoop

    The added pop is welcome from the new faces, but the Twins ranked 16th in OBP last season as it was. They can ill afford a slip further back. This is still definitely a concern of mine.

    The Lefty Issue
    The Twins had a 91 wRC+ against lefties last season, which ranked 21st in baseball. To make matters worse, they also lost their best two hitters against lefties last season in terms of wRC+ (min. 100 PAs vs. LHP). Robbie Grossman led the club with a 147 wRC+ vs. southpaws while Joe Mauer finished second at 106.

    So these new right-handed bats will help solve that problem, right? Well ... it's interesting. Let’s take a look.

    Into the Splits
    Before we continue, I think it’s important to relay the league averages for context. Here are the league batting splits of right-handed hitters from 2018 per Baseball-Reference:

    RHB vs. LHP: .251/.330/.423 (.753 OPS), 21.3 K%, 9.8 BB%
    RHB vs. RHP: .246/.308/.403 (.711 OPS), 23.0 K%, 7.2 BB%

    So how do the new guys stack up? We’re going to first take a look at their career splits. I’ll touch on some interesting single-season trends a bit later, but it's worth pointing out an everyday player may only get around 150 plate appearances against lefties in a season. That’s not a very big sample, so I prefer to look at the bigger picture first.

    Nelson Cruz career
    vs. LHP: .290/.378/.549 (.927 OPS), 20.0 K%, 12.0 BB%
    vs. RHP: .269/.328/.507 (.835 OPS), 23.3 K%, 7.3 BB%

    Cruz has definitely been a lefty killer over his career, but there’s really nothing lacking about his slash line against same-sided pitchers. Last season, the league average OPS for a DH was .774, which he blows out of the water even against right-handers.

    Cruz ranks seventh in wRC+ vs. right-handed pitchers among the 150 right-handed batters with at least 600 PAs over the past three seasons. Even though he's hit lefties much harder, Cruz actually ranks 10th vs. left-handers among the 186 right-handers with at least 250 PAs last three seasons. Point is that Cruz is an uncharacteristically balanced hitter. Was that something the Twins found particularly attractive about him?

    Cruz is a great power hitter, has has a solid OBP and crushes lefties, so he checks all the boxes. But the curious thing to me is the Twins already had some interesting internal options to fill the DH spot. Tyler Austin has a career .937 OPS against lefties and Jake Cave has an .844 OPS against right-handers, making them appear to be perfect platoon partners. But in today’s age of the three-man bench, is it really optimal to try and deploy a platoon? The Twins didn’t seem to think so. Moving on …

    C.J. Cron career
    vs. LHP: .264/.313/.463 (.776 OPS), 21.9 K%, 5.9 BB%
    vs. RHP: .258/.311/.460 (.770 OPS), 22.8 K%, 5.2 BB%

    Take a look at that. Cron has essentially been the exact same guy against either side over his career. There’s certainly been some fluctuation year-to-year, more on that in a moment, but the grand totals are incredibly even. Cron appears to be a very steady option. This only adds steam to the theory that the front office was seeking out balanced hitters who do not need a platoon partner. OK, now let’s get weird …

    Jonathan Schoop career
    vs. LHP: .246/.292/.401 (.693 OPS) 24.9 K%, 5.8 BB%
    vs. RHP: .262/.294/.461 (.755 OPS), 21.7 K%, 2.9 BB%

    Huh? Schoop has actually been a good amount worse against southpaws over his career!? Does not compute. I had to triple check these numbers. Since the start of 2014, Schoop ranks 81st among 86 right-handed hitters in wRC+ vs. left-handed pitching (min. 600 PAs).

    Still, just like Cruz and Cron, Schoop is comfortably better than the average right-handed hitter against same-sided pitching. And there are some interesting things to observe in the single-season splits.

    Schoop has struggled against lefties for most of his career, but he hit .300/.361/.593 (.955 OPS) in 166 plate appearances against them in 2017. That was by far and away Schoop’s best season. The bigger sample doesn’t inspire confidence, but maybe the Twins expect a better performance against southpaws again in 2019.

    Cron has been solid against lefties, but in no means a lefty killer over his career. In 2018, however, he hit .307/.376/.553 (.930 OPS) in 170 plate appearances them. Hmm, so Cron’s best season against lefties also lines up with his career year. That’s an interesting coincidence. Again, keep those sample sizes in mind.

    When I think of Schoop and Cron in terms of their ceiling and floor, I think this splits conversation is a really good place to start. Both have shown the ability to consistently produce against right-handed pitchers. That helps give them a high floor. But what if they destroy lefties again? That’s how they could also have a high ceiling.

    Projected AL Central Rotations
    Let’s take a look around of rest of the division. According to Roster Resource, there are only five left-handed starters projected to occupy the rotation spots of the four AL Central rivals: Matthew Boyd and Matt Moore of the Tigers, Carlos Rodon and Manny Banuelos of the White Sox and Danny Duffy of the Royals. Not exactly world beaters.

    Cleveland is expected to have an all right-handed rotation of Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer, Mike Clevinger and Shane Bieber. And remember, with the unbalanced schedule the Twins play nearly half their games against AL Central foes. So there wouldn’t be much advantage in the Twins adding hitters who just mashed lefties.

    Pull Power
    So why not just target left-handed hitters then? Well, balance for one thing. The Twins already have lefties Eddie Rosario and Max Kepler playing everyday and Jason Castro is expected to return as the primary catcher. Also, the switch-hitting Jorge Polanco has been much better from the left side over his career. That’s already almost half of your primary lineup.

    We’ve also seen right-handed pull power play up at Target Field. According to the data on FanGraphs, the league average pull rate was 40.3 percent last season. Over the past three years, Schoop is at 44.7 percent, Cron is at 41.6 and Cruz at 41.1. That's nowhere near as extreme as Brian Dozier (51.2) or Josh Willingham (49.7), but all three are still above average. Perhaps they'll even be encouraged to pull the ball more frequently this year.

    So How Does the Lineup Look?
    Here’s a list of Twins hitters who are above average versus each side. In 2018, all batters (regardless of handedness) combined for a .731 OPS against right-handers and a .720 mark against lefties.

    Twins hitters who are better than those averages against right-handers over their careers:
    .844 Jake Cave
    .835 Nelson Cruz
    .813 Eddie Rosario
    .802 Miguel Sano
    .776 Max Kepler
    .776 Mitch Garver
    .771 Jorge Polanco
    .770 C.J. Cron
    .755 Jonathan Schoop
    .739 Jason Castro

    That’s 10 guys! This Twins team is going to be able to field a very deep lineup against right-handed pitching.

    Twins hitters who are better than average against lefties over their careers:
    .937 Tyler Austin
    .927 Nelson Cruz
    .846 Miguel Sano
    .776 C.J. Cron

    That’s it. Considering the composition of the other teams in the division, however, this doesn’t seem like such a bad problem to have. While there are fewer guys who hold their own against lefties, those top three can really mash. And just imagine if Cron and Schoop can crush southpaws like they did in their career years. It's also worth noting Byron Buxton had a .792 OPS against lefties in 2017.

    But what about Willians!?!?!? His MLB samples are just so small, less than 100 total plate appearances, so I didn’t include him. But between the majors and minors last year Astudillo had an .800 OPS against right-handers (304 PAs) and an .830 OPS versus lefties (100 PAs). Lucas Duda’s not on the 40-man roster, but it’s worth mentioning he has a career .839 OPS against right-handers but just a .642 OPS versus lefties.

    But What About Those Short-Term Deals?
    That’s the one thing I don’t really have an answer to. I wouldn’t suggest the Twins should have signed any one of Cruz/Cron/Schoop to a long-term pact, but it seems like it would have made some sense to target at least one addition who would be around for the long haul. If not via free agency, then through the trade market.

    After all the one-year deals went so poorly last season, and the front office was open about how that may have been a mistake, I expected them to focus more on long-term assets. Schoop is on a one-year deal, Cruz has an option with a very modest buyout and Cron has one more year of arbitration eligibility after 2019.

    • Feb 13 2019 10:02 PM
    • by Tom Froemming
  5. The Flip Side of Free Agency Frustration

    Here are a few experiences that Derek Falvey and Thad Levine have had with free agency since taking over the Twins front office:

    * In their first signature move, they quickly signed free agent Jason Castro to a three-year contract. He was solid in his first year, and the second was a total loss. Now he enters Year 3 as a fairly significant (and somewhat pricey) question mark.

    * In their second year, they signed Addison Reed, Logan Morrison and Lance Lynn for a combined ~$25 million. Morrison and Lynn were busts, and so to a lesser extent was Reed, who now enters Year 2 as a fairly significant (and somewhat pricey) question mark.

    * They made a serious bid for Yu Darvish last winter, reportedly offering more than $100 million before falling short of the Cubs and watching the right-hander immediately bomb in Chicago.

    * They inherited the contract of Ervin Santana, who qualifies as one of Minnesota's most successful free agent signings ever, but saw the downside of that deal as well with $13.5 million of their payroll dedicated to a guy who provided basically nothing in 2018.

    * They also inherited the contract of Phil Hughes, some of which they're still on the hook for this year. Granted, it was an ill-advised extension rather than Hughes' original deal that went sour, but he's another fine example of the dangers in long-term commitments to veterans – even those that are on top of their games at the time.

    So now we come to the team's approach this year in free agency. With the exception of Nelson Cruz, none of the players acquired by Minnesota were on those lists fans skimmed through in September and let their brains run wild, because none of them were firmly expected to be on the market. And now most players that did occupy the upper levels of those rankings are gone.

    Is this by design? Are the Twins attempting to take advantage of a league-wide aversion to spending by capturing quality players who are being unfairly devalued? It sure seems that way.

    Instead of tethering themselves to expensive, inescapable commitments for players on the higher tiers (which, as we've learned time and time again, carry no assurances) the front office is making deals on its own terms.

    Martin Perez on a one-year deal plus team option is actually a lot more interesting than those standard Terry Ryan flyers of yesteryear, because it has real upside. Perez doesn't turn 28 until April. If the Twins are able to unlock whatever they see in him (and I have to believe it's more than meets the eye, because other teams were interested too), they've actually found themselves an asset. The same is true of Cruz and Blake Parker, though they don't have the same long-term fit potential.

    One that does is Jonathan Schoop. He's probably the player we're not talking about enough. The Twins aggressively signed him one week after his non-tender from Milwaukee. He's an athletic defender, one year removed from an All-Star season, and he's averaged 25 homers in the past three seasons. Most vitally, he's only 27.

    Guys like this don't become available too often. And for teams that want more of a sure thing – such as the Brewers, who elected to move on – maybe he's not the best choice. But within Minnesota's developing strategy, he made all the sense in the world. Unlike the others added this winter, his contract doesn't include a 2020 option, but if he rebounds, blends into the nucleus, and likes it here? Now you might've found yourself a newly minted piece to your core.

    It's tough to knock any of these deals on their own. But when you look at the big picture it's easy to feel a bit underwhelmed. As someone in the forums astutely put it: "the sum is lesser than its parts." I understand and empathize with the lack of enthusiasm some are feeling. But ultimately, it's not Jed Lowrie or Adam Ottavino that's going to put fans in the seats. Winning will.

    You may not be jazzed about the caliber of these names. But don't conflate the current front office with the previous regime. These aren't your garden-variety bargain bin signings of the Kevin Correia or Mike Pelfrey ilk. There's a deeper methodology in place, and I'm sure I'm only scratching its surface.

    From my view, the Twins are hoping they can hit on a few of these gambles while the incumbents rebound enough to keep them hanging in a weak division. Then, around the middle of the season they can more clearly assess their position and their needs. As I concluded on Monday, the silver lining to this resource preservation is that it will give them extreme flexibility leading up to the trade deadline.

    The pessimistic view is that the Twins are treading water until 2020. The optimistic (and I think more realistic) view is that they're treading water until June or July.

    Let us not forget: The most impactful, game-changing transaction in the American League over the past two years didn't happen during the offseason. It happened when Detroit traded Justin Verlander to Houston in August of 2017. Given the league's expected landscape this summer, it's not hard to envision similar opportunities emerging in a sea of non-contenders.

    So, there's something to dream on.

    • Jan 22 2019 08:44 PM
    • by Nick Nelson
  6. The Discard Pile

    You can make cases that C.J. Cron, Jonathan Schoop, Blake Parker and (to a lesser extent) Martin Perez are all logical, savvy additions. But you can't make the case that these players were in any kind of demand. Each was optionally let loose by his former team, and all those teams are looking to compete in 2019.

    The Rays, Brewers, Angels and Rangers deemed these players to not be worthwhile at their projected (non-exorbitant) 2019 salaries, so each made the active decision to move on, via non-tender/DFA/declined option. It is essentially tantamount to the way Minnesota viewed Robbie Grossman.

    Even Nelson Cruz fell to the Twins at a surprising bargain because the market was lukewarm on him, despite his monstrous offensive production. Seattle didn't show much interest in bringing Cruz back, and Minnesota ultimately found itself bidding against only one or two other teams.

    And so, when fans question – or at least attempt to critically analyze – the front office's approach this offseason, it's not so much about the collective expense for these players, which amounts to less than $32 million at a time where the team theoretically had upwards of $50 million to spend.

    It's more about the context of how they were acquired. The Twins have been drawing from the discard pile.

    Does that mean these moves are all doomed to fail? Not by any means. Personally, I have enough faith in the team's current assembly of analysts and baseball minds that I'm inclined to get behind this strategy for the most part. I like the fact that they've added several players under 30, with every signing other than Schoop coming in the form of a one-year guarantee plus team option. Those are good, team-friendly deals that strike a reasonable low-risk/medium-upside balance.

    What's been amiss is that clear, decisive upgrade to the pitching staff. Or that landscape-altering trade that charts a bold new direction for this perpetually stagnating franchise. I can't blame fans who feel underwhelmed with what's been acquired thus far – a collection of cast-offs and a 38-year-old DH who settled for less than almost anyone expected.

    The Twins still have about four weeks before their first full-squad workout in Fort Myers, so there's time yet for further additions, but one gets the sense it'll be more of the same. For better or worse, Minnesota appears content to stand pat and roll with what they've got, mixing in mostly gambles and secondary role players rather than clear-cut difference-makers.

    The upside is that whatever flexibility they end up preserving through these low-wattage free agent signings will potentially put them in an advantageous position around the trade deadline, should things play out as hoped in the first half. The downside is that they might be hurting their chances of reaching such a "buyer" position to begin with.

    • Jan 20 2019 08:32 PM
    • by Nick Nelson
  7. Rundown: Sonny, LeMahieu, Non-Tenders and More

    Other teams Cafardo mentions in the mix for Gray are the A’s, Braves, Padres and Rangers. The main thing that stands out as an advantage for the Twins is they seem to be better suited to take on payroll. So if the Yankees are primarily looking for financial relief, boy does that feel weird to say, the Twins have a great shot. Gray is expected to make somewhere around $9 million through arbitration.

    La Velle E. Neal III of the Star Tribune reported that the Twins “have expressed some interest” in DJ LeMahieu. A three-time Gold Glover at second base, former batting champ and two-time All-Star, LeMahieu certainly has an attractive resume. Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs also highlighted his ability to barrel up balls, speculating a power breakout could be possible with an adjustment or two. Still, LeMahieu’s career .264/.311/.362 (.673) line away from Coors Field scares me.

    I’m pretty surprised the Twins (and every other team in baseball) passed on the opportunity to claim Derek Dietrich. He actually has a higher career OPS+ than Brian Dozier and has hit .272/.351/.465 (.816) away from Marlins Park.

    One non-tender candidate I could see being a target for the Twins is second baseman Jonathan Schoop. The Brewers acquired Schoop at the trade deadline, but he’s expected to make $10 million ins his final season of arbitration eligibility. Tom Haudricourt of the Milwakee Journal Sentinel wrote that Milwaukee is “believed to be somewhat torn about what to do” and that the decision could go either way. Schoop, 27, had an incredible 2017, blasting 32 home runs while posting an .841 OPS, but he came crashing down to Earth last season, hitting just .233/.266/.416 (.682).

    Mark Feinsand highlighted one non-teneder candidate for each team for MLB.com. Schoop was among those listed, but there were plenty of other names I could see fitting nicely on the Twins, including relief pitcher Chaz Roe. Give me all the ex-Rays! Roe, 32, had a 3.58 ERA, 1.01 WHIP and 9.5 K/9 in 50 1/3 innings last season for Tampa Bay.

    The Twins added Nick Gordon, LaMonte Wade and Luis Arraez to the 40-man roster and released Alan Busenitz, allowing him to sign with a team in Japan. We could have some further re-shaping of the 40-man roster coming later this week, as Friday marks the deadline to tender contracts to arbitration-eligible players.

    It’s interesting that the trio of 40-man roster additions could potentially help serve as replacements for the Twins two most logical non-tender candidates. Robbie Grossman and Ehire Adrianza have been fine as role players, but neither offers much upside. It’s not as if those two are expected to break the bank, as they’re expected to cost around $6 million total, but there may be better ways to invest both that money and space on the 25-man roster. Here are the projected arbitration salaries via MLB Trade Rumors. Now that the Twins have added C.J. Cron, things are looking especially bleak for Grossman.

    Michael Achterling of the Pioneer Press gathered what basically amounted to a scrapbook of Joe Mauer highlights from the publication’s coverage of the homegrown star.

    Steve Adams of MLB Trade Rumors passed along some notes on both Zack Greinke and Paul Goldschmidt’s market. Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reported that the Mariners are actively trying to move Robinson Cano. I’d imagine those teams would have to eat a significant amount of the money still owed to those players ($104.5 million to Greinke, $120 million to Cano) in order to make a deal.

    Another name to note on the trade market: Madison Bumgarner. Jon Paul Morosi of MLB.com reported the Giants are “willing to engage teams” in trade talks for MadBum. Bumgarner has built quite the legacy already thanks to postseason heroics, but he’s only under team control for this upcoming season and his FIP has gone up each of the past three seasons.

    Andrew Simon of MLB.com listed nine sleeper free agents to watch. One name I found particularly interesting was Carson Smith. The right-hander only has one healthy season under his belt, but it was a great one. Back in 2015, Smith saved 13 games for the Mariners while pitching to a 2.31 ERA, 1.01 WHIP and 11.8 K/9. Intriguing buy-low option for the bullpen.

    Also from MLB.com, Mike Petriello took a look at the most extreme home runs of 2018. Guess who homered on the pitch the farthest off the plate? Yup, Eddie Rosario.

    Another prospect list! Eric Cross of FantraxHQ revealed his top 25 prospect list for the Twins. He’s particularly high on Akil Baddoo, who he has in the sixth spot. It’s a fun list, and Cross goes into some more detail on each player than a lot of other outlets. Just a friendly reminder: The 11th annual Minnesota Twins Prospect Handbook will be available later this winter.

    Over at Twinkie Town, Thomas Reinking did a deep dive on the value of investing in free agents. The results were not encouraging.

    • Nov 27 2018 11:55 AM
    • by Tom Froemming