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The Twins Should Make Alex Kirilloff the Opening Day Left Fielder

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#1 Matthew Trueblood

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Posted 23 February 2021 - 03:00 PM

Alex Kirilloff is 23 years old. He’s not a phenom who threatens to hit free agency at 27 and cash in beyond the Twins’ means. If he has a good spring training, he should be on the Opening Day roster.If Minnesota’s front office manipulates Kirilloff’s service time by having him open the year in St. Paul, the year of team control they will gain over their former first-round pick is 2027. That year, Kirilloff will be 29 years old. The chances that Kirilloff will be a valuable player at that age are quite slim, and if he will be, the team will have plenty of time to offer him a contract extension that renders his service time moot.

Let me defend that assertion — that it’s unlikely Kirilloff will be good enough in 2027 to sweat over this decision now — a bit, because it might seem shocking. It’s true, though, and not just because of the inherent uncertainty associated with players who have yet to prove they can hit big-league pitching over a full season. In today’s game, it’s rare to find a player with Kirilloff’s profile thriving past their mid-20s.

I used Stathead, from Baseball Reference, to find the number of players in each season of baseball history who met the following criteria:
  • Batted left-handed
  • Played primarily in a corner outfield spot
  • Qualified for the batting title
  • Had an OPS+ of at least 115
  • Were 29 years old or older
Since the most recent expansion in 1998, there have been some clear trends. From 1998-2002, there were 29 such player-seasons, or about six per year. From 2003-07, there were 25 such player seasons, averaging five per year. From 2008-12, after the league began testing not only for steroids and human growth hormone but for amphetamines (and as the PITCHf/x Era changed the batter-pitcher interaction forever), the number fell to 19, an average of just under four per season.

Since 2013, there have been just 18 player-seasons meeting the criteria above, an average of a bit over two per year. Only Arizona’s Kole Calhoun met these criteria in 2020. Only Charlie Blackmon and Michael Brantley did so in 2019. Brantley is the only guy to make the list in two separate seasons since Andre Ethier, who managed it in 2011 and 2012. That underscores the unpredictability here; even guys who ostensibly attain and cling to a solid everyday job through 29 rarely produce consistently thereafter. For more evidence of that, note the non-tenders of Kyle Schwarber (28 next month) and Eddie Rosario (29) this winter, and the tepid market for the services of Joc Pederson, also 29.

There are many reasons for this, going beyond the ones to which I alluded already. Defensive shifts disproportionately affect the production of this type of player. Accelerating and changing trends in pitcher usage have made it a younger man’s game all the time. So, too, have impressive advancements in the realm of player development. There’s even the fact that, as hitters seek to lift the ball more often, outfield defense has incrementally increased in importance, leading to a stronger preference for young, fresh legs in the corner spots than the industry has had in decades.

If Kirilloff is able to overcome these odds and become such a hitter, obviously, he’s more valuable than ever. By the time he’s even 25 or 26, though, it should be obvious whether or not he has that potential. That’s when the Twins could approach him with a contract extension, and benefit from the goodwill they would engender by giving him a job on Opening Day. The talk of the baseball world is the contract to which the Padres just signed Fernando Tatís, Jr., but not enough attention has been paid to the fact that San Diego set the stage for the deal two years ago.

They installed Tatís, then 20, as their Opening Day shortstop in 2019, even though it cost them control of his age-27 season in 2025. Once he proved to be a superstar in the making, they were happy to shell out huge dollars to keep him (more or less) forever. The Twins wouldn’t even need to go to the same lengths for Kirilloff, for the reasons I explore above.

In fact, I’m not even in favor of the remedy to this dilemma some have suggested, which is extending Kirilloff now. Actuarially (as we have seen), he’s unlikely to be worth much in the latter, most expensive seasons of such a deal. If he and his representatives were willing to consider a deal that reshaped his earning curve, getting him higher salaries sooner but selling his arbitration-eligible seasons at a below-market price, and if the Twins could get multiple team options at the end of the deal, it would be worth their while, but otherwise, they should just skip the manipulation, press pause on any contract considerations, and install him in the majors right away.

To close, let me acknowledge one truth, and stress two others. First, the acknowledgement: Kirilloff has never played in Triple A, and only has limited time in Double A. Because of that, there is some case to be made that having him open the season in St. Paul wouldn’t be manipulating his service time, but rather, the natural choice for a player with his experience. I understand that line of thinking, but reject it. This is 2021. We all know why he didn’t get the reps he’d normally have gotten at the upper levels of the minors in 2020.

We all also know that that justification crumbles the moment the team calls him up in early May, because really, what difference does one month make? What is Kirilloff likely to learn over such a span? Moreover, and here’s the first fact I want to stress and reiterate: Kirilloff is 23. He’s only still waiting to crack the roster because last season was truncated, and because of injury issues earlier in his professional career. If he’s going to be anywhere near as good as the Twins hope he will be, he needs to hurry up and do it. The Twins also need to be able to evaluate him against big-league pitching right away. A month of at-bats in St. Paul proves nothing. A month of at-bats in Minneapolis lets the team start deciding how important Trevor Larnach is to their future, whether Luis Arraez is likely to be needed often in left field, and how they should construct their lineup on a day-to-day basis to maximize its output.

The other thing I want to emphasize is that this is all predicated on Kirilloff having a strong spring training. The indications that he is or isn’t ready for the majors, for which some would have the team look only once he lands in St. Paul, will be noticeable before the end of Grapefruit League play. They won’t place any value on his stats in exhibition games, of course, but they should and will be able to assess his readiness based on data they collect there, the expert judgment of coaches and scouts, and conversations with the player himself.

Since we can’t know whether Kirilloff will have that kind of impressive camp or not, one could argue that the conversation should be put off for a few weeks. I disagree. To get this narrative right, and to shape the argument properly, we need to premeditate upon and look at these threads of argument now. Once one does so, it becomes easier to respond in an informed way if the facts on the ground change. Barring something unforeseen, I’m confident in my belief that Kirilloff belongs on Minnesota’s Opening Day roster.

This article first went out Sunday morning, as a piece for subscribers to my email newsletter, Penning Bull. If you're interested in that newsletter, which costs $11.11 per year and covers the whole league, you can find out more and sign up at penningbull.com.

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#2 MMMordabito

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Posted 23 February 2021 - 03:18 PM

If Scott Boras wasn't his agent, then I'd agree.There is no chance of a reasonable extension with Boras, so take the extra year of control while you can get it.I don't like the service time manipulation, but it's within the rules.As a mid-market team, the Twins need to take advantage of any opportunity for player control they can get.

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#3 High heat

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Posted 23 February 2021 - 03:25 PM

If everyone is healthy coming out of spring training Kirilloff should be sent to ST Paul. If there is an injury and Arreaz needs to be in the starting lineup elsewhere Kirilloff should be considered.

Early on you want to get Rooker at bats and Arreaz playing time why not spend the few weeks and see what you have in those two along with getting Kirilloff everyday at bats at AAA, where he hasn’t played yet.
I want to see Kirilloff Larnach and Lewis as much as anyone but with a lost last season and the CBA as it is some time in the minors while do some good.
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#4 jrod23

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Posted 23 February 2021 - 03:26 PM

I agree he should make the Opening Day roster.However, you're on an entirely different level of thinking and number crunching.Let's just hope he moves to first base, where age 29 wouldn't be as detrimental.

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#5 Major League Ready

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Posted 23 February 2021 - 03:40 PM

 

Alex Kirilloff is 23 years old. He’s not a phenom who threatens to hit free agency at 27 and cash in beyond the Twins’ means. If he has a good spring training, he should be on the Opening Day roster.If Minnesota’s front office manipulates Kirilloff’s service time by having him open the year in St. Paul, the year of team control they will gain over their former first-round pick is 2027. That year, Kirilloff will be 29 years old. The chances that Kirilloff will be a valuable player at that age are quite slim, and if he will be, the team will have plenty of time to offer him a contract extension that renders his service time moot.
 

 

I quit reading when I reached the bolded text. This is a ridiculous statement. Your suggestion is that this player is likely to be far more valuable in their rookie season as compared to their last year of arbitration. Furthermore, you are suggesting that 3 weeks of Kirilloff at the start of the season is more valuable than his age 29 season. 

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#6 chpettit19

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Posted 23 February 2021 - 03:51 PM

Would be interesting to see what taking corner OF out of the data set requirements does. There's already talk of him taking over at 1B for Sano, let alone his being able to DH as he ages. Would also be interesting to see the number of players who fit the criteria before their age 29 season. What's the drop off? Are there fifty 28 year old lefty hitting corner OFers OPS+ing 115+ and it drops to a handful at 29, or is it going from 10 guys to 4? And how much is the drop in their OPS+? Are the 28 year olds who fall to under 115 OPS+ at 29 typically 117 OPS+ players who drop to 114, or are we talking guys going from 140 to 100? Lots of questions need to be looked at in that data set.

 

I want the best players on the field for the Twins as often as possible, but it would be irresponsible team building to not sacrifice a few weeks this year for his entire age 29 season. Even if he's declining then, as you seem to suggest he will be, you still ensure he spends his entire prime with the team and let him walk once you suggest he is simply league average-ish, or worse.

 

MMMordabito also brought up the fact of Boras being his agent. There is no extending Boras clients before they reach free agency. So, unless you think he'll change his representation before he hits free agency, thinking Boras will suddenly do something he has refused to do with any of his other clients seems like bad team management as well. The Tatis comparison just doesn't hold up there.

 

So, while I agree it'd be ideal to have him up on opening day if he's the best player available, none of the arguments made here sway me on sacrificing his age 29 season for 18 days, or whatever it is, of his 2021 season.

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#7 Darius

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Posted 23 February 2021 - 04:29 PM

No question.

It’s just silly for anyone to say he’s ready to start a playoff game against the Astros, but he’s not ready to play opening day.

When he inevitably starts in the minors, I don’t want to hear that line. If the FO can’t be honest and take the heat for the service time manipulation, then don’t do it.

What are we saving that service time for? Is the net present value of that hypothetical year down the road really more valuable than a full season of him when you know he’s in his physical prime? Has that actually paid off for a team in terms of it being the difference for a championship? I say no to both.

You’ve set this team up to try and win something meaningful now. Who’s to say you’ll be competitive during that one hypothetical year down the road, or that Kirilloff will be healthy or any better then than he is today? How does it make sense to sacrifice a year in which you’re legitimately trying to win a World Series, for a year that you hope to be contending for a World Series years down the road? Especially when your division rival is set up much better than you going into the future.

What if you miss home field advantage, lose the division, or even miss the playoffs by one game and he would’ve made the difference, since we’re dealing in hypotheticals?
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#8 Dman

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Posted 23 February 2021 - 04:44 PM

I'll need to see his spring to really say for sure how i would proceed, but right now they have Cave, Arraez and Rooker to pencil in at Left field.The Twins might want to straighten that out before putting Kirilloff there because then you have one less place to play Arraez to start the season and probably need to trade Cave and then there isn't much room for Rooker who looked like he might be good as well.

 

This isn't your typical case of Kirilloff is the best and only option to start the year in MLB.The Twins have a lot of options they will have to choose which way they want to go but it looks like it lines up with Kirilloff at AAA to me.

 

If Kirilloff performs really, really well this spring that could change how the Twins feel about Cave and maybe they can rotate Arraez into the infield and left field to make room for his bat but that would pretty much leave Rooker out of the picture unless there is an injury or they decide to platoon him with Kepler.Lot's of ifs. I think they punt and leave Kirilloff at AAA until they see how guys are playing or they have a greater need due to injury.

 

I get that Boras helps his clients get maybe more than they deserve sometimes but his unwillingness to extend clients hurts his clients in the end because then teams are pretty much forced to use what ever measures they can to retain control longer.If he extended when it made sense he wouldn't have that kind of problem but since he never does his players are most always going to have to play seven years until becoming FA's.At least until they change the service time rules.

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#9 Darius

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Posted 23 February 2021 - 05:01 PM

I'll need to see his spring to really say for sure how i would proceed, but right now they have Cave, Arraez and Rooker to pencil in at Left field. The Twins might want to straighten that out before putting Kirilloff there because then you have one less place to play Arraez to start the season and probably need to trade Cave and then there isn't much room for Rooker who looked like he might be good as well.

This isn't your typical case of Kirilloff is the best and only option to start the year in MLB. The Twins have a lot of options they will have to choose which way they want to go but it looks like it lines up with Kirilloff at AAA to me.

If Kirilloff performs really, really well this spring that could change how the Twins feel about Cave and maybe they can rotate Arraez into the infield and left field to make room for his bat but that would pretty much leave Rooker out of the picture unless there is an injury or they decide to platoon him with Kepler. Lot's of ifs. I think they punt and leave Kirilloff at AAA until they see how guys are playing or they have a greater need due to injury.

I get that Boras helps his clients get maybe more than they deserve sometimes but his unwillingness to extend clients hurts his clients in the end because then teams are pretty much forced to use what ever measures they can to retain control longer. If he extended when it made sense he wouldn't have that kind of problem but since he never does his players are most always going to have to play seven years until becoming FA's. At least until they change the service time rules.

I can buy an open competition between Rooker and Kirilloff, maybe.

But, not wanting to lose Cave shouldnt be a rationale to keep one of the best hitting prospects in the league in the minors.

Also, people overvalue Arraez. His OPS was .765 last year with a .320 batting average. Is he going to continue hit .320 every year? He’s also never been a regular outfielder, isn’t fast, doesn’t have much of an arm, etc. A poor fielding utility man who can’t hit for power should not be blocking one of the elite hitting prospects in the game.

And why is the player’s agent the bad guy for wanting to make his client more money vs. the billionaire wanting to avoid paying market rate to save a few million?
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#10 Major League Ready

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Posted 23 February 2021 - 05:03 PM

 

No question.

It’s just silly for anyone to say he’s ready to start a playoff game against the Astros, but he’s not ready to play opening day.
 

 

What I find silly is to base his readiness on that they started him in a playoff game. The only thing that indicates is that they did not have a better option on that given day. It certainly does not prove he is the best option on opening day. What's really silly is that we have several years of Milb data but not a single person who is calling for Kirilloff to start opening day is willing to make a case based on his Milb performance.

 

Prove your case with his numbers. Shows us other corner OFers who were promoted to the ML level with similar AA numbers and no AAA experience. 

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#11 Dman

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Posted 23 February 2021 - 05:28 PM

 

I can buy an open competition between Rooker and Kirilloff, maybe.

But, not wanting to lose Cave shouldnt be a rationale to keep one of the best hitting prospects in the league in the minors.

Also, people overvalue Arraez. His OPS was .765 last year with a .320 batting average. Is he going to continue hit .320 every year? He’s also never been a regular outfielder, isn’t fast, doesn’t have much of an arm, etc. A poor fielding utility man who can’t hit for power should not be blocking one of the elite hitting prospects in the game.

And why is the player’s agent the bad guy for wanting to make his client more money vs. the billionaire wanting to avoid paying market rate to save a few million?

 

You have a good case there and i don't totally disagree, but we don't know how Kirilloff will perform right away in MLB.Jake Cave had essentially an 800 OPS in 2018 and 2019 what if this is his breakout year and he is ready to be even better?Rooker had a 900 OPS in a SSS last year it would be tough for Kirilloff to improve on that number.Like you said Kirilloff might be better than both of those players but he might be no better or worse too.We don't know yet.That is why each player is a possibility IMO. Do I believe Kirilloff will be better eventually, yes I do.Can I see the Twins starting with guys with MLB experience yes I can see that too.

 

Like you I think they move on from Cave for a few reasons. One there is no room for him especially after this year. Two his service time will be arb'd soon and they have a ready replacement who can be just as good and likely better for less money the next three years. Three I think he is tradable.However, that doesn't preclude them from using him to start the season and fill in if injurie's happen for this year.

 

I agree with you on Arraez but most things I am reading seem to point to the Twins feeling that is a place they can and will play him on occasion. They promised him at bats and he can only spell Polanco so often.If they want him to play and it seems they do he needs to be in Left field some days.

 

I never said the Agent was the bad guy I mentioned his strategy leads to teams doing what they do.The players generally get the short end especially when it comes to service time I am just pointing out what I believe to be a flaw in his strategy for the players he reps.

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#12 Darius

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Posted 23 February 2021 - 05:29 PM

What I find silly is to base his readiness on that they started him in a playoff game. The only thing that indicates is that they did not have a better option on that given day. It certainly does not prove he is the best option on opening day. What's really silly is that we have several years of Milb data but not a single person who is calling for Kirilloff to start opening day is willing to make a case based on his Milb performance.

Prove your case with his numbers. Shows us other corner OFers who were promoted to the ML level with similar AA numbers and no AAA experience.

You prove your case with numbers. I can play that game. Show me a statical analysis that a team benefits on average in terms of wins and losses when they manipulate the service time of a 23 year old to gain his 29 year old season.

You’re trying to tell me that the front office didn’t feel he was ready for the majors, but started him in a playoff game? You think your analysis of that situation makes more sense? Were they throwing the game? You think the cupboard is so bare, despite hearing about the outfield logjam for years that they’re starting overmatched prospects in the ALDS?

That’s quite the indictment of the FOs competence and roster management.

Did Kirilloff look overmatched to you? Prove your case statistically that he’s not ready.

What’s silly is trying to place the burden of proof via statistics on the guy who thinks the 23 year top prospect should be playing. How many top hitting prospects failed miserably at 23, but were world beaters at 24-29? Show me those statistics.
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#13 MMMordabito

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Posted 23 February 2021 - 05:32 PM

 

And why is the player’s agent the bad guy for wanting to make his client more money vs. the billionaire wanting to avoid paying market rate to save a few million?

 

Boras isn't a bad guy for wanting to make his client more money, and the billionaires are more likely the bad guys.

 

However, the CBA does exist, the Twins are a mid-market team and Boras has shown he will advise his clients to wait until free agency to do deals.

 

The question here is will three weeks of Kirilloff in 2021 be more valuable than a full season of Kirilloff when he's 29.

 

Will his absence from the lineup in April 2021 have more detriment to the organization in an expected playoff run season than his absence from the team for a whole season when he's 29 and the quality of team is an unknown?

 

The OP stated that an extension could be pursued, if superstar performance was in play.Tatis was used as a comparable. 

 

I just don't see the possibility of extension or the higher value of three weeks in 2021.Good guy/bad buy isn't being argued.

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#14 drivlikejehu

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Posted 23 February 2021 - 05:59 PM

As much as I'm a fan of Trueblood, this one misses the mark pretty badly. Here are some facts to consider with respect to 2019 -

 

- Of the 53 primary outfielders (per FG) that qualified, 20 were age 29 or older.

- by RC+, a much better measure than OPS+, 8 of those 20 had an RC+ of 115 or more.

- Choo just missed at 112, Merrifield was at 110, and Eaton at 108. 

 

Granted, this includes right-handed hitters and some CFers. But it's not clear to me why aging should only be evaluated against other left-handed hitters. If there's a clear reason for this, it should be noted in the article.

 

Even if one were to accept the highly-misleading take on age 29+ outfielders, it still wouldn't support the argument. If Kirilloff isn't that good, then of course service time doesn't matter. Teams hold guys back *just in case* they turn out to be impact players, of the sort that are usually still good at age 29.

 

The Twins are not going to start Kirilloff in the minors because he might turn out like Rosario or Schwarber. They are going to start him in the minors because he might turn out to be one of the best hitters in the league - something that is seen as quite possible by neutral third-parties (see, e.g., Keith Law, Fangraphs, etc.). 

 

That leaves basically nothing of the article intact except the notion of "goodwill." But as has been pointed out repeatedly, there is zero reason to believe that starting Kirilloff with the Twins in 2021 would do anything whatsoever to help retain him beyond the 6 years of team control. The article also is inherently contradictory on this issue, because if Kirilloff will be toast by 29 anyway, then buying "goodwill" has little value. 

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#15 LA VIkes Fan

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Posted 23 February 2021 - 06:08 PM

As the article itself and several posters point out, the key issue here is Kirilloff’s readiness. The unfortunate thing is that we don’t know what that is nor are we equipped to make that evaluation. His numbers in AA we’re good, not great, but he was called up to start a playoff game. The latter is not in and of itself proof of readiness but it does suggest that the FO believes he is at least close. We also have to deal with a place to play two guys who have played in the majors and have shown readiness, Arraez and Rooker. Arraez has had 487 plate appearances, basically almost a years worth of at bats, and has hit .331 with an .819 OPS, 121 OPS+. He has proved himself to be ready as a major league hitter. Rooker has a much smaller sample size of 19 ABs, but did hit .316 with a .960 OPS, 160 OPS+, in that minuscule sample. In short, both of those guys have shown at the major-league level that they deserve an opportunity to play every day. And that isn’t even counting Cave, who in 594 ABs has hit.254/.321/451 (.772) with a 107 OPS+ and is the best fielder of all 4 of them.

 

The point here is that while I agree that there should be an open competition for the starting LF job with Kirilloff given every opportunity to win, he very well may not win the job on the merits. Sending him to AAA to start the season may have more to do with the way other guys play than the way he plays. Arraez and Rooker are ahead of him based upon actual performance, not projection. We need to avoid the reflexive thinking that sending him down at the start of the season means the team is manipulating his service time. It may well be, and in fact is likely to be, the team wanting him to get at bats while guys that have shown more at the major-league level get their shot to win the job. Let’s be honest, if either Arraez or Rooker consistently hit the way they’ve shown in their initial samples, they need to be playing every day and left field is the open spot on this team.

 

I think the most likely result is that Arraez is the opening day LF with Rooker in a platoon until there’s the inevitable injury to one of our several fragile players at which point Arraez moves and an outfield spot opens up for Kirilloff. That certainly has service time advantages, but it would be based upon performance and is not somehow unfair as others suggest. Love me some Kirilloff and think he has a bright future but he has to win the job and he faces some very stiff competition. Very stiff. And isn't that a great problem to have. 

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#16 SydneyTwinsFan

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Posted 23 February 2021 - 06:26 PM

 

I quit reading when I reached the bolded text. This is a ridiculous statement. Your suggestion is that this player is likely to be far more valuable in their rookie season as compared to their last year of arbitration. 

 

I don't know that it's that ridiculous.You could make an argument that Eddie Rosario's rookie year was more valuable than his last year (by WAR at least)

 

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#17 Major League Ready

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Posted 23 February 2021 - 07:09 PM

 

I don't know that it's that ridiculous.You could make an argument that Eddie Rosario's rookie year was more valuable than his last year (by WAR at least)

 

One guy / one data point provides absolutely no value. The approach Drivlikejuhu used which includes the entire population is the correct approach. The premise that a majority of players will perform better in his first 3 weeks in majors vs his final year of arbitration is ridiculous. If not, why would we every sign a free agent. 

 

More importantly, the value proposition here is not based on relative ability in year 1 vs year 6 or 7. It's the first 3 weeks vs a year of control in a players prime. This is the kind of arguments teenagers make when they want something that is irrational.


#18 SteelDodo

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Posted 23 February 2021 - 07:42 PM

Are we convinced that a few weeks of Kirilloff would even be better than a few weeks of Cave/Rooker/Arraez? (Assuming that once Kirilloff is called up, he'll be a full-time player.)

Service issues aside, I'd put my money on the platoon. Once Kirrilloff kills AAA for a few weeks, then bring him up. What is the downside to allowing him start in the minors for a little while?

 

Also, and this is complete conjecture on my part, but I think that Rooker would have started the playoff game if he had been healthy.

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#19 dougd

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Posted 23 February 2021 - 07:42 PM

The corner OF that I believe (without any evidence) that Kirilloff is most comparable to is Michael Brantley, who continues to be valuable well past age 29. I think that by the end of spring training he will be viewed as a step above the alternatives the first month as well as at age 29. Even if Arreaz is the opening day LF, Kirilloff would play there often besides giving Kepler a day off and Buxton a day off with Kepler in CF.

 

The goodwill argument for an extension in a couple years may be weak, but perhaps disregarding service time (if he is dominant in spring training) may help the Twins with other players.


#20 mikelink45

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Posted 23 February 2021 - 08:28 PM

Nice - I was taking a lot of heat in another discussion thread for my belief that Kiriloff should start the season, then Bonnes said it on Off Season Live, and now you put some stats to the debate.I appreciate it and I further want to emphasize that the latest foot in the mouth output in Seattle makes it even more likely that teams will want to avoid the stigma of this delayed promotion.Baseball has a lot of things to work out - this is an obvious one.Unless Kiriloff trips over first base and can't start the season I want him in the lineup from day one.