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The Twins Need More from First Base Next Summer


As the Minnesota Twins enter the offseason, it's clear that they will seek to address the holes present in their pitching staff and shortstop. However, there is another position in which the team could desperately use an upgrade: First base.

But doing so may not require much change.

The Twins finished 27th overall in production from their first basemen according to FanGraphs' WAR (-0.2) during the 2021 season, with only Cleveland (-0.7), Pittsburgh (-0.9), and Kansas City (-1.0) winding up below them. (These were the only four teams to accumulate negative fWAR.) Despite ranking sixth in home runs (45), Twins' first basemen were 24th in wRC+ (97) and 29th in FanGraphs' defensive runs above average stat (-25.7).

In short, Twins' first basemen, as a group, were terrible this past summer.

Of course, this shouldn't come as much of a surprise to anyone who regularly tuned into the games. Miguel Sanó struggled mightily for most of the season before a hot August, and September resulted in quasi-respectable cumulative stats (30 home runs, 110 wRC+, .778 OPS). Alex Kirilloff shone brightly for 59 games before a wrist injury hampered his power, and the corresponding surgery in July sidelined him for the remainder of the season. As a result, Willians Astudillo appeared far more at first base than the Twins originally planned or his skills warranted.

Arguably the best solution for the Twins' first base woes is also the easiest and most likely: Move Kirilloff to the bag and Sanó to designated hitter full-time. Kirilloff produced a 1.4 UZR in 213 ⅔ innings at first base last season, representing a slightly above average total. On the other hand, Sanó has accumulated -10.0 UZR at first base throughout his career and has never produced a positive value in a season in which he has played more than 50 innings at the position. 

Kirilloff's sample is too small to draw any firm conclusions — FanGraphs recommends at least three seasons of data before seeking to do so — but his early results are encouraging. Moving him to first base full-time would likely boost the team's fWAR and UZR numbers while maintaining a similar level of power at his peak. Sanó's presence at DH would also help fill the void left by Nelson Cruz's trade to the Tampa Bay Rays.

Secondarily, the Twins could make Kirilloff the primary first baseman, move on from Sano, seek backups in either the free agent, waiver, or trade market, or rely on their prospects to fill in part-time. The first base free-agent class is heavy at the top with names such as Freddie Freeman and Anthony Rizzo and lacks overall depth, making an acquisition of that nature unlikely. Likewise, trades for primary backups are rare unless said backup provides value at other positions.

As such, perhaps the most logical solution in this scenario would be to have Jose Miranda serve as a utilityman, filling in at third, second, and first base, assuming Josh Donaldson remains on the roster. Miranda played 225 innings at first base across Double- and Triple-A last summer, committing two errors. Many evaluators — present company included — believe he is best defensively at third due to several factors: arm strength, feel for the glove, and range. Still, he could function well at first base in spot situations. 

Regardless of the path they ultimately take, the Twins need more from their first basemen if they wish to be competitive during the 2022 season. Moving a healthy Kirilloff into the role is most logical and would likely provide a boost both offensively and defensively. From there, it's on the shoulders of Derek Falvey and Thad Levine to make the proper decisions. 

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17 minutes ago, Sconnie said:

I had the Twins moving on from Sano in my off-season plan too. Universal DH seems to be a likelihood in the new CBA which increases the value Sano’s affordable 9.2 mil contract could return in trade.

Sanó is due $9.25 mil in 2022 salary, but he is also guaranteed a $2.75 mil buyout for 2023 too (or a $14 mil team option). So it's really more like one year at $12 mil, or 2 years at $23,25 mil.

I don't know that the universal DH helps Sanó's trade value all that much. A lot of NL teams already have a guy or two they'd like to slot in at DH (or do a DH rotation), and if not, there are enough defensively-challenged slugger types in MLB that guaranteeing ~$12 mil for one isn't much of a bargain. And Sanó just wasn't good in 2021: 0.9 bWAR, 0.5 fWAR, in pretty much a full season of action. Per B-Ref, he would have only gained about 0.3 WAR from trading his negative defense (-8 runs Rfield) for full-time DH duty (an additional -5 or so runs Rpos).

I guess someone might take his salary, hoping for a 2019 bounceback and flipping him, especially if there is some kind of team salary floor implemented in the new CBA, but it's hard to see us getting any player value back for him.

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2 minutes ago, DJL44 said:

I like this idea enough that I would endorse trading Arraez to make it happen. They need pitching more than they need Luis Arraez.

I wonder what kind of pitching we could get for Arraez? He reminds me a bit of Nick Madrigal, whom the White Sox flipped for two reliever rentals (Kimbrel and Tepera).

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I understand that fielding percentages are not the best way to measure fielding ability, but a few weeks ago I looked at the numbers for some Twins' first basemen (suspect the numbers haven't changed materially).

Killebrew    .992

Reese        .992 (this was disappointing to RichReese)

Hrbek    .994

Mientkiewicz   .996

Morneau   .996

Mauer     .996

Sano     .984

 

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1B has a history of big and slow guys filling in the lineup so that their bats could play - when the DH came in 1B became a place where we wanted to have some fielding ability.  Ted Kluszewski was a prime example.  Hrbek was a surprisingly good fielder for his size.  I like Scott's list of fielding pct.  It is still a useful tool and does expose Sano in a way that is easy to understand.

But do not trade or sign for a 1B.  We have Kiriloff, Rooker, Sano, Larnach, Miranda, Arraez, Garver and more in the minors that can fill in their.  Unless we are looking for a glove wiz this is what we have to work with.

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1 hour ago, Otto von Ballpark said:

I wonder what kind of pitching we could get for Arraez? He reminds me a bit of Nick Madrigal, whom the White Sox flipped for two reliever rentals (Kimbrel and Tepera).

Kimbrel has an option at 16 million if the Sox so choose. The White Sox made a move and over payed. The Cubs seem very good at getting people to overpay.

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1 hour ago, mikelink45 said:

We have Kiriloff, Rooker, Sano, Larnach, Miranda, Arraez, Garver and more in the minors that can fill in their.  Unless we are looking for a glove wiz this is what we have to work with.

How much first base has Rooker played? Arraez? I’ve seen Rooker listed as a first baseman, but it seems to me the club has no interest in playing him there. 
 

The consensus seems to be that Miranda, Arraez and Gordon should all be on the roster for most of the coming season. Obviously, injuries will occur, but it doesn’t seem to be workable to have all three as non-regulars (utility players) and still bring in a shortstop from outside the system. Moving Sanó to DH most of the time makes room for Kirilloff, but doesn’t really make room for Miranda and Arraez

 

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Let's say Kiriloff gets healthy from here forward and does well enough at first base to give him the majority of the innings. Could rotate Sano between first, third and DH as needed but the tradeoff is that's a lot of playing time tied up by a player that goes into extended slumps and doesn't have the flexibility of a true utility player.  

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2 hours ago, Otto von Ballpark said:

Sanó is due $9.25 mil in 2022 salary, but he is also guaranteed a $2.75 mil buyout for 2023 too (or a $14 mil team option). So it's really more like one year at $12 mil, or 2 years at $23,25 mil.

I don't know that the universal DH helps Sanó's trade value all that much. A lot of NL teams already have a guy or two they'd like to slot in at DH (or do a DH rotation), and if not, there are enough defensively-challenged slugger types in MLB that guaranteeing ~$12 mil for one isn't much of a bargain. And Sanó just wasn't good in 2021: 0.9 bWAR, 0.5 fWAR, in pretty much a full season of action. Per B-Ref, he would have only gained about 0.3 WAR from trading his negative defense (-8 runs Rfield) for full-time DH duty (an additional -5 or so runs Rpos).

I guess someone might take his salary, hoping for a 2019 bounceback and flipping him, especially if there is some kind of team salary floor implemented in the new CBA, but it's hard to see us getting any player value back for him.

I didn’t think of the buyout in terms of the Guaranteed 2022 money, but you are right. 9.25 mil is a bargain, 12 mil is probably what you’d expect to pay, and the 14 due to Sano for 23 doesn’t look very good right now.

there might be a lot of players in the NL that can fill the DH role, but are there a ton of Miguel Sano’s on benches of other teams? According to fangraphs his career wRC+ is 118, so above average, maybe solidly above average.

I can’t imagine there are 5-10 118 wRC+ hitters on benches across the MLB…

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7 minutes ago, Sconnie said:

there might be a lot of players in the NL that can fill the DH role, but are there a ton of Miguel Sano’s on benches of other teams? According to fangraphs his career wRC+ is 118, so above average, maybe solidly above average.

I can’t imagine there are 5-10 118 wRC+ hitters on benches across the MLB…

You're right, and I didn't mean to be too harsh on him. He'll be starting somewhere, I just don't know if anyone will give the Twins value in return for the privilege.

Sano is a good MLB hitter, but he puts the Twins in a tricky position, because he's not great but he's also not a great value. I think most teams will go internal, aim higher, or aim for better value before they'd give the Twins something decent for Sano.

I see NL teams like the Mets already have their DH -- Cano is coming back, plus they have stone-glove JD Davis on the roster. The Giants have Ruf and Wade plus older players to rotate through. Then there's teams like the Brewers or rebuilding clubs who might be looking for value, like their Vogelbach/Tellez 1B solution.

On the open market for bats without much defensive value, there will be Cruz, Soler, Schwarber, possibly JD Martinez and Castellanos if they opt-out. Also guys like Belt and Canha who can play the field but are getting older.

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Quote

Of course, this shouldn't come as much of a surprise to anyone who regularly tuned into the games. Miguel Sanó struggled mightily for most of the season before a hot August, and September resulted in quasi-respectable cumulative stats (30 home runs, 110 wRC+, .778 OPS).

Well, let's make sure we're being accurate here. Let's look at the OPS:

  • Mar/Apr .555
  • May .737
  • June .787
  • July .829
  • Aug .820
  • Sept/Oct .825

Sano was awful in Mar/April, not all that great in May, but closer to passable, acceptable in June (YMMV), and then good in Jul, Aug, Sept/Oct. He didn't just have a couple of hot months late in the season; Sano had his game together at the plate in July and had already started to round the corner back in June. His first half and second half splits are instructive: .705 OPS in the first half after an almost unfathomly bad start to the season vs .847 in the second half.

If Sano can get off to a reasonable start instead of a god-awful one, Kirilloff and Garver will make fine backups while Sano gets some days off at DH and the production should be ok at 1B. Basically this comes down to who you think  Sano is more likely to be: the guy who missed on almost everything in the first half or the guy who made powerful contact in the second half. Odds are he was probably a bit unlucky in the first half as well; Sano has a career BABIP of .329, but in the first half it was down at .249. Second half it was back up to .331. Dude makes hard contact when he connects his entire career, so the second half seems very repeatable.

Gleeman & Bonnes have been talking about this a fair bit on the pod and I think they're right: early impressions stick. Sano was awful to start the season, so it's easy to keep thinking he struggled most of the year and put it together a little at the end. But that's not really the case, and if you reordered his months a little we'd probably be talking about him differently.

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We've seen what Miguel Sano is.  If they can trade him for pitching help, sign me up.  This team will not compete for a playoff spot in 2022, so I'd like to see Kiriloff and Miranda essentially play all of the 1B innings.

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I can stomach Sano if ALL the other postion players are playing their competitive skillset. But in a team of weak bats, we don't need a solo home run guy when he does hit one, and all his strikesouts when men are on base.

 

If we are stuck with Donaldson, time to say goodbye to Sano and see if Miranda can work into the mix, especially if Garver also can play 1st or be a regular DH. If Sano and Garver were bvoth traded away, I would strongly consider reuniting with Crus for another season.

 

Right now the Twins are like a House, the model home, that has some geat touches (Sano, Donaldson), but wouldn't you rather have something useful than what just looks good on paper.

 

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I have been calling for the departure of Sano, (and Kepler) for some time now. Two holes in the lineup that kill almost every rally that the other guys at the top of the lineup get started. Unfortunately I don't see either of them leaving unless they are packaged with a good prospect in a trade. Let's face it the Twins have a mess when it comes to a few positions. If you want to call having multiple players at those positions a mess. At 1B they have Sano who is over-paid and an upcoming talent in Kirilloff. At 2B they have arguably their best player in Polanco and their best hitter in Arraez and another option in Gordon. SS they have nothing. At 3B they have another over-paid aging Donaldson and an upcoming talent in Miranda. A hole in LF, a part-timer called Buxton in CF who wants to get paid full-time money and a good fielder but no bat with Kepler in RF. Sorry, I don't call guys that can barely hit .200 "good hitters" no matter how often they hit solo home runs or just because they can hit 'em 500 feet. Give me a guy that hits half as many homers and a .275-.300 BA over them any day. I'd be looking at every option to trade Sano, Kepler, and possibly even Donaldson or Arraez for Pitching, SS and a good corner outfielder. 

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2 hours ago, rv78 said:

I have been calling for the departure of Sano, (and Kepler) for some time now. Two holes in the lineup that kill almost every rally that the other guys at the top of the lineup get started. Unfortunately I don't see either of them leaving unless they are packaged with a good prospect in a trade. Let's face it the Twins have a mess when it comes to a few positions. If you want to call having multiple players at those positions a mess. At 1B they have Sano who is over-paid and an upcoming talent in Kirilloff. At 2B they have arguably their best player in Polanco and their best hitter in Arraez and another option in Gordon. SS they have nothing. At 3B they have another over-paid aging Donaldson and an upcoming talent in Miranda. A hole in LF, a part-timer called Buxton in CF who wants to get paid full-time money and a good fielder but no bat with Kepler in RF. Sorry, I don't call guys that can barely hit .200 "good hitters" no matter how often they hit solo home runs or just because they can hit 'em 500 feet. Give me a guy that hits half as many homers and a .275-.300 BA over them any day. I'd be looking at every option to trade Sano, Kepler, and possibly even Donaldson or Arraez for Pitching, SS and a good corner outfielder. 

Batting average matters, but trading homers for singles ends up being a losing strategy. The math matters here:

Cut Sano's HRs in half and get him to that .275 BA requires trading 15 HRs and replacing them with 40 singles. That gets you to a slash line of .276/.355/.391. Is it worth trading 76 points of SLG% for 43 points of OBP? It might be more pleasing to watch, but it's going to take a lot of luck to generate more runs for the team.

Slugging is really important in producing runs. You're denigrating solo home runs, but that's a guaranteed run, whereas you need multiple batters to be successful at the same time to generate a single run via singles. There's more opportunities for failure. If Sano is hitting too many solo shots, it's because not enough guys are getting on base in front of him.

Essentially, you're suggesting we get rid of Sano and replace him with the offensive equivalent of 2021 Luis Arraez at 1B. I don't think that moves the needle in a positive direction.

 

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3 hours ago, jmlease1 said:

Batting average matters, but trading homers for singles ends up being a losing strategy. The math matters here:

Cut Sano's HRs in half and get him to that .275 BA requires trading 15 HRs and replacing them with 40 singles. That gets you to a slash line of .276/.355/.391. Is it worth trading 76 points of SLG% for 43 points of OBP? It might be more pleasing to watch, but it's going to take a lot of luck to generate more runs for the team.

Slugging is really important in producing runs. You're denigrating solo home runs, but that's a guaranteed run, whereas you need multiple batters to be successful at the same time to generate a single run via singles. There's more opportunities for failure. If Sano is hitting too many solo shots, it's because not enough guys are getting on base in front of him.

Essentially, you're suggesting we get rid of Sano and replace him with the offensive equivalent of 2021 Luis Arraez at 1B. I don't think that moves the needle in a positive direction.

 

Is Yuli Gurriel from the Astros a non-productive hitter? Yes it matters having people on base in front of you. But he out produced Sano this season while only hitting 15 home runs. Half as many as Sano. So your argument is weak and flawed. I'll take him batting 4th behind Polanco, Arraez and Buxton over the rally killing K-Sano any day. 

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On 10/28/2021 at 7:56 AM, mikelink45 said:

But do not trade or sign for a 1B.  We have Kiriloff, Rooker, Sano, Larnach, Miranda, Arraez, Garver and more in the minors that can fill in their.  Unless we are looking for a glove wiz this is what we have to work with.

Kiriloff is kind of a glove wiz at 1B...or at least looked it in limited action. On the flip side, he seems terrible in the OF. He does not seem to react quickly and is slow in the OF. 

In short, Kiriloff is an asset at 1B and a liability in the OF.

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3 hours ago, Minny505 said:

Kiriloff is kind of a glove wiz at 1B...or at least looked it in limited action. On the flip side, he seems terrible in the OF. He does not seem to react quickly and is slow in the OF. 

In short, Kiriloff is an asset at 1B and a liability in the OF.

I agree, but I do not know if the Twins will limit him to 1B.  I am confused about how they are going to use their assets this year.

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On 10/29/2021 at 2:00 PM, rv78 said:

Is Yuli Gurriel from the Astros a non-productive hitter? Yes it matters having people on base in front of you. But he out produced Sano this season while only hitting 15 home runs. Half as many as Sano. So your argument is weak and flawed. I'll take him batting 4th behind Polanco, Arraez and Buxton over the rally killing K-Sano any day. 

Gurriel won the batting title. He hit .319, not .275. (Of course, I always find it "interesting" when an Astros player has a career-best season at age 37 these days, but that's a different story.) Yes, you can out produce Sano while hitting half the homers, but you have to do more than hit .275 and we're not exactly swimming in guys who hit .300 these days. If you're saying we should trade Sano out for a guy who won the batting title...sure, that'd be great. But it's also not going to happen, so what are we talking about here?

You seem to be arguing that the Twins need to stop putting sluggers in the lineup and get more guys that hit singles, and play small-ball. In order to actually score more runs than last year (where the Twins were pretty mid-pack, 7th in the AL) you'd need to get major jumps in BA all over the field, which simply isn't realistic. Keep in mind that the Astros & Blue Jays didn't just finish 1-2 in BA, they also finished 1-3 in OBP, and 3-1 in SLG, which is how they finished 1-2 in runs.

If we can upgrade 1B to a guy like Gurriel, that's great...but he ain't available. Turning over 3B to Arraez isn't going to improve the offense (Donaldson was about as productive on offense as Gurriel last season).

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On 10/29/2021 at 2:00 PM, rv78 said:

Is Yuli Gurriel from the Astros a non-productive hitter? Yes it matters having people on base in front of you. But he out produced Sano this season while only hitting 15 home runs. Half as many as Sano. So your argument is weak and flawed. I'll take him batting 4th behind Polanco, Arraez and Buxton over the rally killing K-Sano any day. 

Kind of a one-sided view.  Gurriel also massively outproduced Arraez.  His average was 25 points higher and his slugging percentage was 86 points higher and he hit 15 bombs vs two for Arraez.  They certainly are not the same hitter so it makes little sense to compare them in the way you have here.  There is nothing flawed about JM's argument.  

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On 10/31/2021 at 10:02 AM, jmlease1 said:

Gurriel won the batting title. He hit .319, not .275. (Of course, I always find it "interesting" when an Astros player has a career-best season at age 37 these days, but that's a different story.) Yes, you can out produce Sano while hitting half the homers, but you have to do more than hit .275 and we're not exactly swimming in guys who hit .300 these days. If you're saying we should trade Sano out for a guy who won the batting title...sure, that'd be great. But it's also not going to happen, so what are we talking about here?

You seem to be arguing that the Twins need to stop putting sluggers in the lineup and get more guys that hit singles, and play small-ball. In order to actually score more runs than last year (where the Twins were pretty mid-pack, 7th in the AL) you'd need to get major jumps in BA all over the field, which simply isn't realistic. Keep in mind that the Astros & Blue Jays didn't just finish 1-2 in BA, they also finished 1-3 in OBP, and 3-1 in SLG, which is how they finished 1-2 in runs.

If we can upgrade 1B to a guy like Gurriel, that's great...but he ain't available. Turning over 3B to Arraez isn't going to improve the offense (Donaldson was about as productive on offense as Gurriel last season).

Your argument is that you have to hit home runs to score. Again, you are wrong and a guy like Gurriel proves it. You are missing the point. Sano kills more rallies with his strikeouts, which causes the Twins to lose more games, than games he wins with his home runs. It's all about productivity. 

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20 hours ago, Major League Ready said:

Kind of a one-sided view.  Gurriel also massively outproduced Arraez.  His average was 25 points higher and his slugging percentage was 86 points higher and he hit 15 bombs vs two for Arraez.  They certainly are not the same hitter so it makes little sense to compare them in the way you have here.  There is nothing flawed about JM's argument.  

Sano = 1B Gurriel = 1B 

I'm comparing  two players that play the same position and yes, they are completely different types of players. That's exactly my point. You don't need to hit HR's to be a productive hitter. 

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18 minutes ago, rv78 said:

Your argument is that you have to hit home runs to score. Again, you are wrong and a guy like Gurriel proves it. You are missing the point. Sano kills more rallies with his strikeouts, which causes the Twins to lose more games, than games he wins with his home runs. It's all about productivity. 

I'm saying it's easier to score runs with power and home runs are the ultimate expression of that. Of course you can construct a great offense comprised of guys performing like Gurriel...but he was the freakin' batting champ in the AL. Does Sano kill more rallies that Guriel? Sure, because Sano had an OPS+ of 113 and Gurriel had one of 131, not because Sano strikes out. (BTW, somehow Gurriel actually grounded into more double plays than Sano last year).

I don't really understand the argument you're making. Is it that Gurriel was better than Sano last year? Agreed. Pretty sure no one is going to disagree with you on that one. Is it that Gurriel will be better at the plate than Sano next year? Possibly, probably even likely, but it's important to remember that Sano was actually better at the plate in 2020 and 2019 and is 9 years younger. Is it that the Twins should add more players like Gurriel to the roster and fewer players like Sano? If we get the 2021 version...sure, if you can find him. But if it's that Sano isn't a productive hitter, then...no.

I agree that it's all about productivity, but high average hitters like Luis Arraez aren't necessarily more productive than a player like Sano, because slugging matters too. all of those extra-base hits add up and matter just as much on the positive side of the ledger as the Ks are on the negative side. I'm not going to pretend that Sano is an ideal player; his slumps can be brutal and make him borderline unplayable. But his power is fantastic, he'll work a walk, and can be a productive hitter in the middle of a lineup. Strikeouts aren't worse than any other out, except maybe aesthetically.

 

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