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Article: Who's on First? Cron's No Sure Thing

c.j. cron tyler austin lucas duda
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#1 Thieres Rabelo

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Posted 17 February 2019 - 02:00 PM

We never expect players signings not to work - but some of them just don’t. Last year was a lesson for Twins fans in that sense, with big splashes like Lance Lynn, Logan Morrison and Addison Reed underperforming. A lot of people would include Jake Odorizzi in that category too, though he was acquired via a trade. So, in a way, sometimes it's wise to lower expectations about new players, in order to be pleasantly surprised down the road.Longtime club hero Joe Mauer officially announced his retirement from baseball on Nov. 9, at age 35. Mauer still was a vital part of the team’s lineup, having a .351 OBP, which ranked second on the team. He also slashed .407/.500/.617 with RISP and .333/.443/.468 with men on while playing Gold Glove level defense. And 2018 was, by far, one of the worst years of his career. So talk about big shoes to fill at first base.

Less than two weeks after the retirement announcement, the Tampa Bay Rays designated C.J. Cron for assignment, even after his career year in which he hit 30 home runs, while also being a LHP’s nightmare. The Twins claimed him off waivers six days later, making him, at least in theory, the new everyday first baseman. But was his career year enough to give him such big job security? Let’s talk about possible backup plans the club may have, in case Cron doesn’t repeat his last year’s performance.

It’s important to explain why my faith in Cron is shaky at this point. Playing for four years with the Angels before heading to the Rays, he had slashed .262/.307/.449 and not once had hit more than 16 home runs in a season. Granted, he had never had more than 445 PA in a season before 2018, so he did make the best when given a real shot. Still, it’s hard to believe that he won’t be back to his old self.

Even having the best season of his career so far, Cron’s secondary numbers weren’t so different from the previous seasons. When talking about his plate discipline, there’s even a considerable drop. He had a career-low Contact% of 72.6, which was 2.1% lower than in 2017 and 3.7% lower than his career average. He also struck out more than any time before, having a career-worst 25.9 K%, 3.3% higher than his career average.

Are all those numbers indicators that he is bound to fail as a Twin? Absolutely not. I just believe that they are evidence that going all in on Cron, parting ways with good possible replacement or platoon options, could turn out to be too costly later on. If the Twins actually choose to go all in on him, could this threaten Minnesota’s chance to contend? Not necessarily. But I don’t think it would hurt them to be extra cautious here.

Before the Cron signing, Tyler Austin was seen as the natural replacement. Now, everything seems to point to the fact that Rocco Baldelli and his staff will have to choose between one or the other, since Austin doesn’t have any minor league options left in his contract. But one thing is absolutely clear as well: if Austin had no chance to at least fight for that position, he would already have been cut.

So, why believe in Austin? For starters, we’re talking about a younger, not so much less productive than Cron alternative. Of course, his track record is much smaller, but his .758 career OPS is not too far from Cron’s .772. Last season, with both of them having their breakout seasons, their performance against lefties weren’t extremely different, with Cron having a .930 OPS facing southpaws and Austin .846. Plus, the former Yankee was able to hit 17 home runs in 2018 despite being given only 268 PA (a career high), while the 30 times Cron went yard came with 560 PA, more than twice as much.

Like I said before, if the Twins thought Austin didn’t stand a chance against Cron, they would have gotten rid of him long ago. It all comes down to what the club has in mind. Cron is the obvious choice if you want an experienced, low risk bet, that might have turned the corner and should be able to help the team now (but it’s worth remembering that we thought the same about Logan Morrison a year ago).

On the other hand, if you have a younger option, with similar production, who could help the team long-term, Austin should be your guy. He’s no kid, but he seems to have more potential. With only 404 career PA, he has produced eight more home runs, 12 more runs batted in and more than twice as many walks as Cron did when he had reached that many PA.

One extra piece of information to the mixture. Minnesota’s current contract with Cron has him earning $4.8 million this season. But according to last week’s “Gleeman and the Geek” podcast, if the club were to decide to cut him before Opening Day, they would only owe him 25% of that amount ($1.2 million). Of course, they would not have claimed him off waivers if they didn’t believe he is their guy, but having that exit possibility sure makes things easier if they don’t like what they see from him in spring training.

And just when we thought this decision couldn’t get any more complicated, the Twins proved us wrong. Less than ten days ago, the club signed a minor-league contract with LHH and former MVP-candidate Lucas Duda. Ted Schwerzler wrote this great piece analyzing how the 33-year old could help Minnesota. It would be tricky to try to fit him in this packed Twins roster, although the team wouldn’t need a fifth starter until mid-April, allowing the bench to have a fourth player. It’s hard to see him making the Opening Day roster and remaining there for the rest of the year. But if Duda were to accept a job at Rochester for most of the year, he could either become a good option in case of injury or even a trade asset eventually.

Since all of their offensive numbers look rather similar, if you’re still undecided on which one is your favorite, you can also look at their defense. But bad news: none of them compares closely to what Joe Mauer was in that department. The future Hall of Famer has had impressive numbers overall in the five full years as a first baseman. Last year wasn’t the best example, but his numbers were still better than the Cron-Austin-Duda trio. Mauer had .996 FP, 3 DRS and 2.7 UZR in 2018, but was even better the year before, posting a.998 FP, 7 DRS and 6.9 UZR. He was shockingly snubbed from the Gold Glove award that year.

But let’s steer clear of the Mauer nostalgia and see where do his successor candidates stand in comparison to his defense. Again, we have pretty similar metrics, when looking at their 2018 final numbers, so you will be the judge:

C.J. Cron - .993 FP, -2 DRS, 1.3 UZR
Tyler Austin - .997 FP, 1 DRS, -1 UZR
Lucas Duda - .995 FP, 0 DRS, -0.1 UZR

Numbers aren’t everything when talking about defense. You have to take into account experience and athleticism. Duda is obviously the most experienced and his defensive numbers aren’t the worst of the three, but he has the smallest odds of making the team, in theory. Austin, of the three, looks like the most athletic, but he’s by far the least experienced. Of the three, Cron has the worst fielding percentage and defensive runs saved. You make the call on which defender you like best.

All we fans can do right now is wait for spring training action. There’s a lot at stake for those three guys.

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#2 Danchat

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Posted 17 February 2019 - 03:04 PM

The more I've thought over the situation, I've started to consider a Austin/Duda combo. With Duda's .839 OPS against righties and Austin's .846 OPS against lefties, you could platoon the two and Austin could play in LF/RF off the bench if needed. But that would ignore the fact that Duda is starting to age and his play has declined, and Cron is younger and coming off a career high season. But it wouldn't make sense to give up on Austin as I believe his best baseball is ahead of him... arg! I don't see a perfect solution here. 

 

Cron did hit .767 OPS against righties last season, so that's not so much of a drop-off from Duda as I thought it would be. ... and now I'm back to square one and going with Cron/Austin.

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#3 Brandon

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Posted 17 February 2019 - 03:51 PM

It is nice to see legit options instead of relying on the Bautista/ Rondell White/ Crede/ past prime player on last leg of career....although Duda is close to that group but still good if platooned.
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#4 Brandon

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Posted 17 February 2019 - 03:51 PM

It is nice to see legit options instead of relying on the Bautista/ Rondell White/ Crede/ past prime player on last leg of career....although Duda is close to that group but still good if platooned.

#5 USAFChief

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Posted 17 February 2019 - 04:40 PM

I'd put the chances of Cron not being the Twins regular first baseman at somewhere between zip and zilch.
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#6 Kelly Vance

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Posted 17 February 2019 - 05:04 PM

Its Cron's job to lose for sure. They didn't sign him to $4.5 million just to exercise an option to cut him and buy him out at $1.2.I think picking up Duda shows more doubt about Austin than it does Cron. 

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#7 jimbo92107

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Posted 17 February 2019 - 05:05 PM

Cron's 2018 stats suggest that he was swinging from the heels to hit more dingers, and thereby to increase his market value. Might even be why Tampa let him go: They want a 1B with a more rounded game, maybe a better fielder.

 

Frankly, I don't see much difference between Cron and Austin, except Austin is younger, cheaper, and possibly a better fielder. Why'd they sign Cron? Competition?

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#8 BoofBonser

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Posted 17 February 2019 - 06:59 PM

It's too bad that Austin is out of options. Cron is definitely a stop-gap type of player, but I think he can contribute, for sure. Falvey basically tabbed him as the starter in his interview with MLB Network.

 

I wonder how much the front office believes in Brent Rooker in comparison to Austin. 

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#9 Thrylos

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Posted 17 February 2019 - 07:10 PM

There is another factor here:Fielding.Lucas Duda at first is just about as good with the glove as Jim Thome was at first when he played for the Twins...

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#10 TheLeviathan

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Posted 17 February 2019 - 07:14 PM

I think acquiring this guy will look like a gigantic mistake by June 1st.

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#11 ahart10

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Posted 17 February 2019 - 07:29 PM

It's too bad that Austin is out of options. Cron is definitely a stop-gap type of player, but I think he can contribute, for sure. Falvey basically tabbed him as the starter in his interview with MLB Network.

I wonder how much the front office believes in Brent Rooker in comparison to Austin.


I’ve wondered the same thing. Why sign Cron for 4 million more than the player they already have in the same mold? It shows zero confidence in Austin. Great trade they made, pay for half a season of Lynn so they can have half a season of a dime a dozen no option first base only player.
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#12 Doctor Wu

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Posted 18 February 2019 - 07:19 AM

My sad prediction: one of those first basemen will get injured the first week of March, making this decision a whole lot easier. And not a one of them will hit 20 homers all season.


#13 Battle ur tail off

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Posted 18 February 2019 - 10:24 AM

 

It is nice to see legit options instead of relying on the Bautista/ Rondell White/ Crede/ past prime player on last leg of career....although Duda is close to that group but still good if platooned.

 

Maybe you aren't looking at the players you are choosing from here. All 3 are castoff players. My choice would have been to go with Sano at 1B and find a 3B. Could have tried to get Escobar back here to play there, or signed Josh Donaldson. 

 

 

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#14 Doomtints

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Posted 18 February 2019 - 12:07 PM

Remember how the team stuck with Logan Morrison last year? Yeah, it's like that.

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#15 ChrisKnutson

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Posted 18 February 2019 - 12:27 PM

I’m comfortable with our 1B options, for now... Although, signing Josh Harrison to play 3B as well as move Sano to 1B wouldn’t be such a bad thing. However, I’m still concerned about the bullpen. Why sign Kimbrel to a high AAV deal when we could possibly have all of Norris, Madson, and Warren for less than one year of him.

#16 Vanimal46

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Posted 18 February 2019 - 12:48 PM

I’m comfortable with our 1B options, for now... Although, signing Josh Harrison to play 3B as well as move Sano to 1B wouldn’t be such a bad thing. However, I’m still concerned about the bullpen. Why sign Kimbrel to a high AAV deal when we could possibly have all of Norris, Madson, and Warren for less than one year of him.


Because Kimbrel has been historically good as a closer over the last 5 years and takes 1 roster spot. Who are you cutting from the 40 man to add 3 relievers that require a spot on the 25 man roster?

Edited by Vanimal46, 18 February 2019 - 12:48 PM.


#17 ChrisKnutson

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Posted 18 February 2019 - 01:23 PM

Because Kimbrel has been historically good as a closer over the last 5 years and takes 1 roster spot. Who are you cutting from the 40 man to add 3 relievers that require a spot on the 25 man roster?


I’d DFA Duffey, Torreyes, and Granite (Littell Austin, and Reed are options too). Also, the fact that Solarte, Dietrich, and Parra all signed minor league deals means that there’s a possibility (maybe even likelihood) that all of those relievers might eventually be forced to sign one as well, unless we swoop in and offer multiple extremely cheap 1 year ML deals ($2-3M). I mean, a closer committee of May, Madson, and Norris could be just as effective as Kimbrel (not better tho).

Edited by ChrisKnutson, 18 February 2019 - 01:35 PM.


#18 Riverbrian

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Posted 18 February 2019 - 01:53 PM

 

Remember how the team stuck with Logan Morrison last year? Yeah, it's like that.

 

I remember... It about Killed me. 

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#19 BJames

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Posted 18 February 2019 - 06:03 PM

I still like Vargas. 1 roster spot to hit left and right hand pitching

#20 Mike Sixel

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Posted 18 February 2019 - 06:53 PM

I'll wager it is Cron.

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