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  • There's No Easy Way Out of This for the Minnesota Twins


    Tom Froemming

    As we start to consider how the Minnesota Twins might make a better future for the franchise, it’s easy to consider tanking as an option. It seems like the talent-acquisition cheat code. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy.

    Image courtesy of Seth Stohs, Twins Daily

    Major League Baseball isn’t like other sports. The degree of difficulty in the draft is extreme and one player, no matter how good, can only make so big of an impact.

    Joe Mauer is the fourth-best No. 1 overall pick of all-time, according to Baseball-Reference WAR, behind only Alex Rodriguez, Chipper Jones and Ken Griffey Jr. Those top four combined to help bring one World Series championship to the teams that drafted them (Jones with Atlanta in 1995). Even when you get this pick right, there’s so much else you have to do correctly to build a successful team.

    Know who the 10th-best top overall pick is? B.J. Surhoff. He had a nice long career, but when we’re talking about one of the best top picks that’s not a very encouraging guy landing in the top 10.

    Since the turn of the millennium, we’ve seen busts such as Bryan Bullington (2002), Delmon Young (2003), Matt Bush (2004), Luke Hochevar (2006), Tim Beckham (2008), Mark Appel (2013) and Brady Aiken (2014). There’s been more misses than hits. This is the first overall pick we’re talking about!

    Twins fans should have the best grip of anyone on how long it can take for draftees to materialize. The 2016 season is long in the rear-view mirror yet we’ve only seen 51 plate appearances (Brent Rooker) and four innings pitched (Bailey Ober) from that draft class. Royce Lewis would have likely been on the verge of contributing, but the tricky thing with these draft picks is they're human beings subject to injuries. 

    And that’s just the draft, MLB’s international signings might be the ultimate crapshoot in all of sports. It seems for every $4 million Wander Javier there’s a $100,000 Ronald Acuña Jr.

    It seems like the idea of tanking really took off after the Cubs and Astros won back-to-back World Series championships in 2016 and ‘17. Both franchises had long down periods before reaching the top. Chicago was led by 2013 No. 2 overall pick Kris Bryant and Houston by 2012 No. 1 overall pick Carlos Correa. It was easy to believe there was a simple formula to follow but what’s overlooked is how good (or fortunate) both those organizations were with many of their other transactions that had nothing to do with tanking/draft picks.

    The Cubs made excellent trades for Anthony Rizzo, Kyle Hendricks and Jake Arrieta. The Astros originally signed José Altuve for $15,000, got Dallas Keuchel with the 221st pick of the 2009 Draft and paid just $25.97 for an invaluable trash can from Home Depot (sorry, I couldn’t resist). That’s definitely oversimplifying things — those teams did benefit from tanking — but you have to do so many other things right than just get high draft picks and big international signing bonus pools.

    Just look at teams like the Orioles, Reds, Tigers, Marlins, Mariners, Rangers and Pirates. They are in varying states of extended rebuilds and have little to show for it. Meanwhile, the Cardinals have 13-straight winning seasons, Dodgers are at 10 years of winning and Cleveland, despite all their (mostly self-imposed) limitations, has eight consecutive seasons with a winning record. Those teams haven’t had to lose, let alone bottom out, to stay competitive.

    People like to marvel over the fact that Mike Trout was the 25th-overall pick. But Mookie Betts was the 172nd, Shane Bieber was the 122nd, Jacob deGrom was the 272nd … we could go on and on. Any team in baseball could have had all four of those guys at the same time. Think about that for a second!

    There is no limitation that counts as an excuse for not being successful. There is also no monetary or talent-acquisition advantage such as draft position that is a silver bullet for success.

    So how do the Twins ensure a successful future? Same as always: Be elite in player acquisition and player development.

    Hey, I said it wasn’t that easy.


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    41 minutes ago, Tom Froemming said:

    Be elite in player acquisition and player development.

    I would sharpen up the terminology to suggest being elite in talent evaluation, and the acquisition part will follow.

    And you are right, it's not easy, particularly where it comes to projecting 18-year olds and younger.  You have to be elite in the evaluation, and aggressive (to the point of overkill) in the acquisition by every means available.

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    Teams like the Twins have a smaller margin of error for mistakes in basically every facet of their talent development.  Whether it be injuries or a guy just not panning out, high revenue teams can absorb that more easily.  Some of that is luck, but there is some control there.  Talent evaluation and development is key to longevity to an organization like the Twins, and most other franchises.  They've done a decent job in the last decade, but it's still not enough.  And even to that extent, like the 2000's teams, they were built to win divisions and nothing more.

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    56 minutes ago, ashbury said:

    Surely they do.  But doing something abrupt that kills the revenue stream is an opposite pitfall they can not ignore.

    Arguably, the revenue stream impacts would be lessened in 2021? Fans should come out in decent numbers as allowed capacities increase, even with an "indecent" team?

    Obviously, some moves would affect 2022 as well (Donaldson, Buxton, Berrios), but rental deals could be on the table right now.

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    13 minutes ago, spycake said:

    Arguably, the revenue stream impacts would be lessened in 2021? Fans should come out in decent numbers as allowed capacities increase, even with an "indecent" team?

    You could make that assumption in some markets, but my impression of the Twin Cities is that the fans are willfully punitive - "I'll withhold my support, THAT'LL help 'em to get better."   Probably the MBAs in the front office have numbers reflecting Demand Elasticity or whatnot.  Not much can prevent a collapse of day-of-game ticket sales after late July when the white-flag trades no longer can be deferred, but every dollar not reaped between now and then (falling short of projections, say) likely comes out of the FO's hide in one form or another.

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    9 minutes ago, ashbury said:

    You could make that assumption in some markets, but my impression of the Twin Cities is that the fans are willfully punitive - "I'll withhold my support, THAT'LL help 'em to get better."   Probably the MBAs in the front office have numbers reflecting Demand Elasticity or whatnot.  Not much can prevent a collapse of day-of-game ticket sales after late July when the white-flag trades no longer can be deferred, but every dollar not reaped between now and then (falling short of projections, say) likely comes out of the FO's hide in one form or another.

    And I just realized the team has had artificially constrained revenue the past year-plus, so they may not be so keen on a self-inflicted revenue reduction for  the rest of 2021.

    Then again, the team is playing so poorly right now, that punitive fan revenue drop may happen whether they start selling players or not?

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    10 minutes ago, spycake said:

    Then again, the team is playing so poorly right now, that punitive fan revenue drop may happen whether they start selling players or not?

    I guess I should let this tangent drop after this, because I have no data one way or the other compared to other markets, but my impression of the TC fan base (present company most definitely not included)  is not good.  "Low Information Consumers"  might sum up a sizable proportion, particularly from outstate.  Some arrive wondering why Mauer isn't in the day's lineup.  The steady drip-drip-drip of a losing season may be only vaguely registering; but when there are headlines in the straight news section of the paper that the nearest team is trading off their assets, the tour buses may stop rolling in from points south and west of the cities.  If they're gonna be low-information, you don't want to push the information faster than you have to.

    Which wasn't to say that early trades can't be made.  Just that it's an additional challenge for the FO to pull off.

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    1 hour ago, Thegrin said:

    Falvine is supposed to be excellent at pitcher development  Its time for some pitchers to develop. :).

    Excellent point.  Time to see results.  Will be very interested to see what decisions are made over the next 6 weeks.  Duran should be promoted within the next 2 weeks to take Shoemaker's spot.  Promotion of Josh Winder from Wichita to St. Paul also, imo, should happen within the next month (or earlier).  I'll be very interested to see how Balazovic performs tonight in his 1st start for Wind Surge.  

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    The Twins spent big this year, at least for them, thinking they had a good team.  I suspect they will do what they can to move salaries for Happ, Simmons and Cruz.  That would allow them to recoup some of the money invested.  Most of the players on this team are so bad though they have little to no trade value (i.e. Colome, Robles, Shoemaker) so I don't see them getting any prospects that help that much back unless they are willing to trade guys that have more years left.  They probably don't want to trade Jose thinking they can try and fix the rotation in the offseason and they have to hope one or two of their young pitchers will look ready to start next year they just won't want starting pithing to be too bare heading into the offseason.  I don't think they will get a return for Buxton that they like enough to move him either so I doubt we get much out of this season other than heart ache.

    If they can't work the trade angle then they are pretty much stuck with what they have on the farm.  Their two top rated pitchers Duran and Balazovich  don't look ready now maybe by the end of the season.  Their two best hitters Larnach and Kirilloff are already essentially a part of the MLB team but the only potential elite hitter behind them is Miranda.  If you squint you can say Rooker, Celestino and Palacios but they all seem more like they might be replacement level players than elite players.  Anyone else looks years away and honestly it doesn't feel like they have elite hitters in the system anymore, more like guys that hit the ball hard and K a lot, they are mostly slow players as well.  Unless guys suddenly perform at extremely high levels the system doesn't look all that great to me unless some of those international signings come through for them.

    On the Pitching side there seems like lot's of options as there are several prospects who are performing well.  Most all the guys they have coming up are hard throwers and have good K rates.  With all the pitching coming up they might be OK in that area but to this point no one they have picked has made it other than Dobnak and he hasn't been that great this year.  So we have no idea if any of those guys will have what it takes to make it.  They have had several guys try (i.e. Thorpe, Smeltzer, Dobnak etc) but they all have faltered and barely can be called 5th starters.

    This way this team is constructed right now reminds me of the old White Sox.  A team who generally managed to be average to slightly below average every year despite having some elite players just not enough to make a difference.  Unless the Twins can make some moves to move the needle I think the mediocrity is likely here to stay.

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    So hit and miss on high draft picks. For every Denard Span or Ben Revere there is a BJ Garbe or Matt Moses. Tyler Jay, Kohl Stewart, Carlos Gutierrez, Ryan Mills.

     

    Sometimes you get Matt Garza or Kyle Gibson, or you get Adam Johnson or Kyle Waldrop.

     

    Of course development is the key. And the best players in AAA and AA ball are often the backend players on a major league roster, when the need arrives, because they can be plugged in to play the game for a year or three.

     

    Such a juggling act. The Twins could open their 2021 roster for prospect tryouts, but the players getting the call would have to be those needing protection for the 2022 season. You don't promote someone really not ready to even get a consideration in 2022 if you may be forced to replace them with others who might be showing a spark of life.

     

    Yet you can't have 15 spots on the 40-man held by guys who are just minor league guys. Except for this season, Celestino never would've gotten the call...and he is going on year two. You can argue about the two remaining players on the 40-man who have not seen major league action that they are preventing you from signing minor free agents (or cut players) and that they probably wouldn't see action if the team was winning. With the current Twins, they will get the chance before the season is done. But are they up to the task for 2022, and can a roster full of prospects improve the Twins chances of winning in 2022.

     

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    I believe the Twins have a slightly better than .500 roster this season...if they were healthy. Gotta admit the injuries have been brutal. Then add to that, most all the big dollar acquisitions are 'enjoying' maybe a career worst season. And top it off with even the ones the Twins rely on, when healthy, are all under-performing. Its a perfect storm of failure. So it might be hard to know if this really is a 'bad team'. Would be nice to see their 'A' lineup playing together for a span of a month to see what they have.

    Try to imagine what a healthy Buxton might add to this ballclub. So far, we have never enjoyed that luxury. He just can't stay on the field.  Imagine what we expected from Kepler, that we aren't getting. Donaldson, Simmons, Arraez. Sano. Recently Polanco and Garver were stepping up...but now Garver is lost for several weeks.

    Did we really think our pen was going to be this awful...night in and night out? Did we expect the starters to win accolades when they were able to get thru 5 innings?

    One guy I won't 'blame' is Cruz. Father Time is running alongside him this season. Don't know how much more we can squeeze out of him. Baseball draft picks don't have the same weight as hockey or football. Expecting great things from grabbing a prospect/suspect isn't 'all that' in baseball.

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    Hindsight is always perfect 20/20 so I think a good deal of perspective needs to be taken in discussions like this and future ones that will take place in the future. Call me foolish or overly optimistic, but I felt this was a legitimate 94-95 win team that MIGHT be a few games better thzn that if a Shoemaker, Robles and a couple others stepped up. (At least for the first half when some additional talent would/might be ready for the second half). I NEVER saw this many injuries or virtually the entire team getting off to such a poor start.

    But it is time to cease finger pointing and blame and "whoa is us as fans" complaints and address tomorrow, and the days after that.

    This team, as constructed, has holes to be sure. And it reminds me a lot of 2018 when it felt like the Twins were ready to turn a corner before a poor '18 slide. But the nucleus of that team was in place for the 2019 and 2020 seasons. And most of those guys are still here, and still under 30yrs old. And while there are questions, serious questions in some cases, I don't believe these players have suddenly quit caring, quit trying, or suddenly lost their ability to play baseball. I hate to say it because it will come off like a poor excuse, but sometimes s**t happens. Guys get hurt. Guys have a bad start, or a bad year. Sometimes a FO, even a smart and successful one, put a plan together and it JUST DOESN'T WORK, even if it looks generally good on paper.

    What was CLEARLY supposed to happen, IMO, was a very solid team with a few question marks, that was preparing to win/contend while still having the luxury of re-tooling some on the fly. For example: a healthy Shoemaker being solid for the first half as a back end SP and Duran being ready to step in later. Example: multiple arms, some signed and some prospects, doing what we saw in both '19 and '20 and filling in/being promoted when called on. Example: Kirilloff ready for daily duty, or nearly ready, and Larnach to follow later in the year and Rooker building on his milb performance and SSS in '20 before injury robbed him of finishing the year, as a solid role player.

    These are just a few examples of how this team was built and how things were supposed to go, more or less.

    But to "blow up" and re-build a team with so many under 30yr old players who just brought in back to back ALC  divisions is foolhardy as well as short-sighted. And I'm NOT saying to NOT trade or promote and audition. But to just dump guys tomorrow is a little silly as someone has to play the field and take the mound. The milb season started late, in case you forgot. As 2021 luck would have it, two of our top SP prospects had a delayed start. A kid who might already be in the pen, Colina, may be out for most of the year. Lewis is definitely out for the year.

    But yes, very soon, they will need to move some expiring contracts and get what you can for them, whether it be a decent A flier or maybe a potential bullpen arm at AA on the rise. 

    5yrs in, barely, and we want to complain about the system producing or not producing....forgetting the past 2yrs and injuries...Kirilloff and Larnach aren't going anywhere. We've seen what Jeffers might become, though he was pushed a bit. Rortvedt and Celistino, also pushed, are getting their feet wet. So has Ober and now Jax. Duran has only 3 or 4 starts so far, but could be ready by July. Winder has looked great as has Canterino. Both should be ready for promotions soon. Same with Miranda. And these are just kids at the upper levels who could all be ready soon. Hopefully sooner rather than later. 

    Financially speaking, an actual full year of "normal" baseball helps the team's pocketbook. There will be expiring contracts, some traded, to allow for additional trade or FA signings next year to re-tool the roster. (Though there are a couple potential extensions to still consider). But any tanking idea or dismantling of the roster, despite 2021, is just naive.

    The Twins need to promote and audition in a lost season. They need to cut bait here and there to be sure. But as a whole what the roster needs is a re-tooling, not a re-build. The problem is said re-tooling was supposed to take place during a very different 2021 and the off season and not begin now.

     

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    The window has closed. This is the White Sox division. They White Sox lost some key players to injuries but have the depth to win games. I don’t think the 2022 Twins can come close to matching them. 
     

    The Twins the oldest average pitching age in the AL and the batters are older than league average. If they don’t retool the greatest likelihood is a team that might be competitive in 2002 but not a contender. After losing Buxton, Berrios and Rogers 2023 seems pretty dismal. 
     

    Trade anyone who they can’t extend on the team for 2023. They also should look to move Garver, Donaldson and Maeda. 

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    4 hours ago, ashbury said:

    The steady drip-drip-drip of a losing season may be only vaguely registering; but when there are headlines in the straight news section of the paper that the nearest team is trading off their assets, the tour buses may stop rolling in from points south and west of the cities.

    There are already headlines in the papers of Minneapolis every day to slow the roll of tour buses into this city. A bad baseball team is just another one. At this point, It’s highly likely the rebound in 2021 attendance will be plenty muted. How severe and how the organization responds...we’ll see.

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    Correct, there is no easy way out. Trading players in their walk year for nothing is a waste. If the Twins thought their team was built to win, they need to roll to July 30th to see what the schedule has dealt them this year. Watching this team, listening to the radio for this team is a struggle. Everything is off. 

    To some degree I would parrot what Doc Bauer has written. I too thought the Twins could win 90-92 games. I disagreed with the choices for the bullpen and pitching and wanted some more aggressive off-season moves. However, the team looked competitive and I found myself listening to the game again today and wondering if there might be a run or two in this team in the next 48 games. Nobody is going to gamble a real prospect in early June for any Twins player, but crazy things can happen at the trade deadline. In the meantime sixty years of following the Twins has taught me to keep things in perspective and relax. I'm still hoping they can play some good baseball this summer and am hoping for improved fundamentals in the field, on the bases, contact at the plate when called for, and more competitive pitching. Today seemed like a start, even with the problems that need to be eliminated. I'm hoping for better in a season where comparisons to Ron Davis emerged and that was a really low point in Twins history. Playing better baseball is the only way out.

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    8 hours ago, ashbury said:

    You could make that assumption in some markets, but my impression of the Twin Cities is that the fans are willfully punitive - "I'll withhold my support, THAT'LL help 'em to get better."   Probably the MBAs in the front office have numbers reflecting Demand Elasticity or whatnot.  Not much can prevent a collapse of day-of-game ticket sales after late July when the white-flag trades no longer can be deferred, but every dollar not reaped between now and then (falling short of projections, say) likely comes out of the FO's hide in one form or another.

    Shouldn't the fans do that? Shouldn't they not give them money for a terrible product? 

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