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How the Twins Have Hedged Against Elevated Injury Risks

Andrelton Simmons and Byron Buxton missing significant time is more a question of ‘when’ than one of ‘if’. That truth informed several moves the Twins made this winter, and will continue to shape their choices over the coming days and weeks.As I wrote yesterday, Simmons and Buxton rate as the two hitters facing the greatest injury risk, according to new models built by Sports Info Solutions for predicting injuries. It wasn’t the focus of yesterday’s article, but the same model also marks Josh Donaldson (unsurprisingly) as a source of above-average injury risk, thanks to his age, the chronic nature of his recent calf injuries, and his hard-nosed defensive style at third base. All three of those guys are talented enough to be worth the roll of the dice, but the Twins couldn’t rely on the trio without giving themselves more than the usual allotment of backup options.


Starting second baseman Jorge Polanco is the chief backup shortstop, of course. Still, once Royce Lewis turned up with a knee injury (as it turned out, a very serious one) to open camp, the team gave a spring audition to Andrew Romine. After exercising the release clause in his deal, Romine is now a free agent again, but the Twins are comfortable with that partially thanks to Polanco’s apparent health and ease of movement this spring. Riddle does not have an immediate release clause in his minor-league deal, though, so the team can keep him around as emergency depth at that position.


Keeping Luis Arraez out of left field, at least at first, was also a response to the risks associated with the infielders starting ahead of him. It was an expression of the organization’s belief (which probably still holds, for the most part) that playing time would open up for Arraez on the infield sooner than in the outfield.


Speaking of the outfield, though, the team needs to have a more qualified medium-term answer for a Buxton injury than sliding Jake Cave or Max Kepler into center field. To that end, they have Keon Broxton in camp. Broxton’s non-roster deal includes a release clause, but it doesn’t kick in until midseason. That means that the Twins can carry him at the alternate site, and then as a member of the Triple-A St. Paul Saints, until the summer, unless they need him sooner. Once he’s called up, however, he can’t be optioned. For that reason, don’t expect Broxton to make the Opening Day roster; he’s being kept as dry powder for the inevitable exigency of Buxton going down.


Travis Blankenhorn provides a very different shape of offensive value than Arraez, but he can be a solid left-handed batter and play a couple of infield spots if needed. Gilberto Celestino could use a healthy chunk of playing time to continue his development in the minor leagues, but he’s already on the 40-man roster. In Polanco, Arraez, Blankenhorn, Celestino, Cave, Riddle, and Broxton, the Twins have cobbled together sufficient depth to weather the injury trouble they’re likely to encounter as a result of having Simmons, Buxton, and Donaldson crowded onto one roster.


That doesn’t make them invincible. Arraez or Polanco could get hurt at an interval that overlaps with the absence of Simmons or Donaldson, forcing Riddle into action early and forcing the team to waive him once everyone gets healthy. Buxton could get hurt almost right away, prompting a Broxton call-up and a subsequent DFA, leaving Celestino as the sole firewall for the rest of the year.


Still, despite the significant additive, individual risks the club faces, the front office has put together a sufficiently deep and versatile crew to withstand the risks they’ve chosen. It’s tempting to think of health as a matter of pure luck; the new models from SIS belie that notion. If a team methodically assesses their health risks and builds redundancies to soften them, then it really does take a horrific streak of bad luck to turn things sour. If the Twins edge out the already-depleted White Sox in this year’s AL Central race, it might well be because they were more proactive about thwarting the likely impact of injury luck.


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Very good article Matt, I enjoyed it. Because SS and CF is so crucial and demanding we need an excellent supply of players in the wings ready to be called to duty. But I'd wouldn't coin them as redundant because to me redundance is impractical, being deep in SS and CF is very intelligent. All elite teams are, always substituting starters with 1st class replacements, short or long term.

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Regardless of probability he team would be incredibly foolish not to have a solid backup plan  for Buxton and Donaldson. A simple look at the player’s recent history would tell a team that. There have been 2 catchers of starting caliber long before the informatics people. Plan B,C,D and E for starting pitchers. They hope no never have to go to “Oh eff “ or Pedro Hernandez. AAAA outfielders keep a job because of potential need.  Probability of injury is nice, the preparedness for it is there regardless 

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Very nice article and depth is always a question and hard to analyze.  I am partial to Celestino if Buxton is down for a prolonged period.  

I have to say that covering all the spots with sufficient backup is a real difficulty.  You laid out a good plan and of course Sano and Cruz are backed up by Larnach, Rooker, Kiriloff. 


3B is the weakest of the positions for a long term solution.

Luckily the starting pitching depth seems to be in place with Thorpe and Dobnak, I just wish I had more faith in Happ and Shoemaker.

The BP is the weakest and the backups that I watched in today's ST RP game do not give me as much comfort as the other position backups. 

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If anyone thinks Cave is a poor choice for a 4th OF, and a CF option along with Kepler, then you just haven't watched enough baseball to realize roster limitations. And you are somehow naive enough to believe every team should have a high quality stud backup just waiting in the wings.


I'd like to have Broxton around. But athletic talent and a poor ML career except for his first couple of years makes him some MUST? Huh? He might excell as a fill-in or suddenly re-invent himself, and it would be awesome if he did, but he's a milb FA because this was his best option but somehow he's so much better than Cave? Again, huh?


Garlik has a legitimate arguement. But how in hell do you keep him over the younger prospect Rooker?


The FO has brought in a bunch of bullpen arms that most paid little attention to. Some haven't looked so good. Some have looked pretty awesome. That's what they are SUPPOSED to do. If the biggest problem with our pen is figuring out how to add a guy to the 40 man roster to be brought up, then the FO has done their job well.


40 man to about 50, the depth on this team is what you hope for. When you really have no idea how to keep everyone, much play them, how is this a bad thing?


Depth is NOT an issue! The only question is the top 26-30+ being healthy enough to perform to ability. The depth looks outstanding to me.

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