I would suggest keeping Buxton and Sano in mind when people get impatient about promoting Gordon, or Gonsalves, or whoever the savior du jour is. I never understood it when people rag on the Twins for taking their time with development. I've seen many cases where people were rushed for what looked to me like marketing reasons, to placate fans who didn't have much reason to buy a ticket otherwise during the down years. And I have seen it backfire. Gomez was brought up too early to placate people angry for losing Santana. Hicks was brought up too early. Then they traded Hicks and Revere and committed to playing Buxton whether he was ready or not. Was that wise? I don't see it. Best case, we've burned through his service time with poor production, sending him to free agency when he gets good. Worst case, we're derailed his development and he may never recover. I'm not saying he won't! But it might not be till he's about to become very expensive.
Personally I'd rather have Sano and Buxton in the minors, learning to recognize and lay off outside curve balls, than watch them struggle up here. It's lose-lose-lose: the Twins' present is worse, their future is more expensive or worse because they leave; and their development seems to be being harmed by it.
My guess is Gordon has plenty to learn still, too. And Gonsalves. I wouldn't mind seeing Romero work on a changeup in the minors a little more, too. I just don't see the harm in playing the long game. That way, every player plays better when he gets here, AND stays here for more of his prime.
Is it really more fun to watch young players looking overmatched, while knowing that even if they do reach their potential, you just traded a year of peak value down the road for a year of AAA-quality play now?
To do that, you have to be pretty damn sure their development will proceed much faster in the majors than in AAA. And I totally concede that might be the case. So If I see someone struggling in the majors, I try to give the coaches the benefit of the doubt. The coaches know much better than I what helps a young player learn.
But I would not join the clamor to bring up someone too early, just to mollify fans of a losing team. If they do rush people because of public pressure, just to sell tickets, we all lose.
I'm not saying I know when a player should be brought up. Who knows, maybe there isn't a single decent curveball in AAA, and the only way Sano and Buxton can learn to lay off them is to face them in MLB. But I highly doubt that.
I think it's much more likely that the team was judged in win-now mode, and a potential stud who wasn't quite ready was seen as having more to contribute right now, even with unfinished development, than the alternatives.
I'm not saying that's wrong, either. But if you trade the future for the present, and you don't win in the present, it's lose-lose. You lose games now, because they can't hit an outside curveball. You lose games in the future, because they are playing for the Yankees a year early, or you're tying up a quarter of your payroll in them a year early. Or, worst case, you stunt their development and they never figure it out.
A mid-market team needs to maximize its assets. Imagine Sano and Buxton were arriving now, with perfectly honed plate discipline, and six years of cheap stardom ahead. Would the past three and a half years have been worth that sacrifice? You could make a case that last year, yes -- they would not have made the playoffs without Sano's first half and Buxton's second half. But man, wouldn't it be nice to see them starting out now, at their peak? Not getting promoted till they proved they could lay off an outside curveball? And learning to do it?
What if Carlos Gomez had not skipped AAA, and instead spent two full learning his craft and earning his promotions by demonstrating consistent plate discipline? What would his career have been like? Are we doing that to Byron Buxton?
It's always nerve-wracking, and you never know what's right: are they waiting too long? Are you bringing them up to early? I think, from afar, there's no way to really know. We don't know what the coaches are working with them on in the minors. We don't know if a plea from a major league manager for help made them grab someone too early. I'm sure that happens. Just as commitment to veterans probably holds back a young player who is ready.
Of the two, the second error has less cost to the team, though, as you still retain their full six years of service time, while milking last remaining value out of the veteran's contract, whereas bringing the up early you sacrifice both the unused value of veteran option, and the best years of the young player's service time on the back end.
But my main point is, no one knows for sure, and the people who have the best idea are the ones who work with them every day, not us. So I just don't ever get it when people express contempt for a team holding someone back too long. How could it be more obvious to us than an actual coach? And what's the downside of erring on the conservative side? You have better odds of making their six affordable years be at a consistently higher level.
Sure, you may get additional years from them. But once they're in free agency, you're paying market value. Whether you pay them, or someone else, it's fungible. The way to outperform other teams with the same money (or in our case, with less money) is to get more than market value production. And that means maximizing the years you have players at below cost. Below-market-rate production is the key to a winning team. And calling up players too early is the single biggest way to blow that. It's almost never a long-term win.
If you're in a playoff race, and you bring up your stud pitcher early from the minors to fortify your bullpen, absolutely! But if you're early in a rebuild, and your fans are getting impatient, no.
If Romero has a major league fastball and can get people out now, and you're in a playoff race, sure. But if the cost is, his command could be better, and his changeup could be better, and one more year of tutelage could be the difference between a guy who can hold his own and a guy who is lights out, bringing him up early has a cost. I'm not saying don't bring him up, when you're a handful of games back of the Indians and the alternative is Phil Hughes. Just, there's a cost.
So don't yell at the Twins for developing their talent slowly if it's too maximize their potential. That could simultaneously give us more years at their peak performance AND make their peak higher. It was worth it last year to go for it -- beating they Yankees in a one-game playoff would have made my decade. But if they continue to fall out of the race, Sano and Buxton are back in AAA in three weeks, I for one would have no problem with that. I'd rather see them later, looking unstoppable, than watch their service time wear down while they're clearly overmatched.
And if Romero starts to get hammered once he gets scouted thoroughly, send him back down, too. Play veterans like May and Duffey and Pineda this year, and bring Gonsalves and Romero and Rooker and Gordon up when their flaws are polished away. If Gordon has nothing left to learn, fantastic. But don't get impatient and grab him just because we're frustrated with the alternatives.
So why do people curse slow development so vehemently? Who are these players who were called up too late from the minors and it ruined a season or destroyed their careers? I'm not being sarcasting, or questioning that it happens. I just honestly can't think of any.
I remember getting really impatient for Anthony Slama, who seemed to have nothing left to prove in the minors. The coaches thought his stuff wouldn't play against major league hitters, and apparently the were right.
I remember calls to free Johan Santana, but that was from the bullpen -- and I agree, once you've started his service time, then use him! You can't argue that working him in slowly from the bullpen harmed Santana's development -- clearly he turned out alright! But you could make a case that we gave up a year or two of Cy Young level Santana because he WASN'T still in the minors during those bullpen years. I would sure love to have had him around in 2008 and 2009!
I remember people getting impatient for people like Adam Brett Walker, who never panned out. And I remember stunningly early promotions for people like Mauer, Kubel, and Morneau, who did. So my feeling is, they probably know what they are doing. And they CERTAINLY know better than me. So my conclusion is, be patient, and don't demand your gardeners harvestfruit before it's ripe.