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  • Miguel Sano And The Dread Of 'What If'


    Nick Nelson

    It can be hard not to get caught up in 'what ifs,' especially if you're a Minnesota Twins fan.

    What if Joe Mauer didn't shred up his knee meniscus in his second major-league game, setting the stage for a career hampered by chronic leg issues?

    What if Francisco Liriano didn't tear his UCL as a rookie? What if Justin Morneau didn't suffer that career-altering concussion in 2010 while charging toward MVP honors?

    And now? What if Miguel Sano is in the process of becoming this franchise's next painful 'what if' case study?

    Image courtesy of Mark J. Rebilas, USA Today

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    This dynamic is already at play for the young slugger, to some extent.

    What if he hadn't torn his elbow ligament in 2014, forcing him to miss an entire season at the crux of his development? What if he'd been able to stay healthy through the second half this year?

    As he faces daunting rehab from an operation to address the injury that sidelined him, the scariest question is this: What if Sano is never the same?

    Stressful Circumstances

    Even in this age of technological enlightenment, medicine remains an inexact science. Much mystery surrounds the ailment that sidelined Sano during the final weeks, but the bottom line appears to be this: he suffered damage to his shin bone that, while vaguely diagnosed as a stress reaction, turned out to be something more nefarious.

    In theory, a stress reaction is less alarming than a fracture. It's the weakened precursor to a break, and the idea is that by catching it you can prevent something more serious from happening. The Twins did all the right things in this regard, giving Sano plenty of rest and treatment, but the thing just never seemed to heal.

    If we're being honest, Miggy probably did himself no favors in his eagerness to get back on the field. After initially sustaining the injury when he fouled a ball into his shin during a Friday night game, Sano tried playing through it on Saturday. He had to be removed when his severe limp made it obvious to everyone in the ballpark something was wrong.

    Six weeks later, he gave it another go in the final series of the regular season, desperate to help his team in a playoff push. Much like his decision to take the field a day after the injury, this one doesn't look good in retrospect.

    Do I hold either against him in the least? Absolutely not. But they likely contributed to our reaching this point:

    In Rod We Trust

    Last Monday, Sano underwent a procedure to have a titanium rod implanted in his lower leg. Make no mistake, this is a pretty serious deal and you will rarely see the technique called upon for a stress reaction. Most often these rods are inserted to help broken bones heal properly.

    He now faces a 6-to-8 week rehab window, and GM Thad Levine acknowledged that Sano might be "on a slow track at the beginning of spring training."

    There's reason for optimism that this solution will finally end his series of recovery roadblocks. The greater concern, at this point, may be the 24-year-old's ability to condition and prepare properly for the upcoming season as he looks to check his rising number on the scale.

    The Elephant in the Room

    Like many others, I felt Jim Souhan's column hinting at Sano's weight and conditioning issues, published just days after he first hit the disabled list, struck a bad note. And I still believe that piece could've been handled a lot better, but at this point it would be stubborn to not more seriously recognize Souhan's core points, and consider how they'll factor going forward.

    People within the Twins organization have long harbored concerns about Sano getting too big, too fast. These opinions have been filtered out to the public through multiple local columnists. And it's fair to be worried, especially in light of what's played out since Souhan first wrote that column.

    Without question, this injury has impacted Sano's ability to get on his feet, exercise and train. He'll be dealing with that for at least a while longer after the surgery. Sure, a guy can still find ways to break a sweat with one good leg, but obviously it's pretty limiting. Anyway, the prime focus for Sano this winter will rightfully be getting that shin back to 100 percent, with conditioning now secondary.

    So it's fair to wonder what kind of shape he'll be in when he arrives in camp three months from now. He surely played well above his listed weight of 260 this season. If he's in the 300 range at age 25 it's tough to see him playing a whole lot of third base. In fact, DH starts to feel imminently inevitable.

    I've always felt the consternation around Sano's weight was largely misguided – he's a big kid, and it's part of what makes him great. Nitpicking his diet, or tying his physique to an ostensible lack of commitment, is dumb.

    But it's not about any of that anymore. Sano's ability to bounce back from this and resume his ascending career arc as a 24-year-old All Star third baseman is now somewhat in doubt, for reasons that have nothing to do with desire.

    The amazingly talented batsman will no doubt continue to be a great hitter, but his lofty potential surpasses that unextraordinary description. As one of his biggest believers – one who has been more inclined to ask "What if he keeps getting better at the plate, cuts down the strikeouts, and becomes the game's best cleanup hitter?" – a question now creeps into my mind that never really has in the past:

    What if he never reaches that potential because these bad breaks keep piling up?

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    It is a good point to consider.  Our son had a rod put in his leg after a femur break in Alaska.  Years later it still gives him pain and they had to go in a year ago and remove it.  I have two artificial hips and an artificial knee.  All of these are great for living life better, but are not perfect for athletes who demand more out of their body.  I spend the summer guiding hiking trips and need these to work for me, but I know that you must be realistic and your column leads to important concern.  This is a serious issue. 

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    Right on article Nick, thanks.

     

    I am of the opinion that the right course for the Twins is: 1) Get Sano 100% healthy; 2) give him time to be as productive as he can...hopefully better than the 1st half this year; and then, 3) Trade him for a BIG return, including one top young starting pitcher (not a prospect, rather someone with a year or two in the major leagues).

     

    In addition to the concerns you stated above, I am concerned with what his conditioning will be like as he ages and his contracts get bigger and longer.  I am also concerned with his desire to spend more time in one of the more glamorous market.  

     

    Finally, I am concerned with the amount he will demand and IF that fits with what the Twins can pay when you also consider all the other contracts they will need to extend for the rest of the team.

     

    Don't know when the right time will be to pull the trigger, just know it isn't now.  Will it be this July?  Or maybe next winter?  Will it come before or after you do that first extension?

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    The fear is signing him to a longterm contract. And then we have the Guzman factor. When you make all-the-money-in-the-world what is the incentive to be a superstar. Of course, if you are a superstar, you make even more money.

     

    The David Ortiz factor. At what point do you question the monetary worth of the player compared to arbitration or possible free-agent salaries, and you let him move onto another team,not realizing that the player may/will stabalize and become a longterm solid player, at least as a designated hitter.

     

    What is the depth in the organization. if he does DH, can he cut down on strikeouts and can he run the bases. Shades of Jason Kubel, you don't want someone limping on and off the field constantly.

     

    Again, depth. Who plays third base in 2018 (Escobar?). What is the longterm look at the hot corner come 2019 and beyond.

     

    Sano has to watch his weight. Has to watch his conditioning. Has to work extra hard at the plate as teams have s much video review these days. Can he escape bad habits? Will he WANT to play, even if there is pain?

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    He has blown out his arm and now his leg, both times requiring major surgery. This leg issue might be one that bothers him for the rest of his life.

     

    He was signed for his bat. His bat has a nearly limitless ceiling. The Twins can get his defense anywhere and his defense is an afterthought.

     

    DH him. Forget about convention, forget about his age. This is a case where what is best for HIM is to DH, AND what is best for the TEAM is for him to DH. 

     

    If he manages to still be injury prone after a year of DH, package him in a blockbuster trade and let him be someone else's problem.

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    Nitpicking his diet is dumb?  IT'S PART OF THE JOB OF BEING A MAJOR LEAGUE  PLAYER!!

    Ok. Do you have a full, detailed breakdown of his eating habits, and the nutritional expertise to analyze their impact on his health and performance? Because that's something I might be interested in reading. Not vague disapproving allusions to his occasionally eating fast food in the clubhouse, a la Souhan. 

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    Ok. Do you have a full, detailed breakdown of his eating habits, and the nutritional expertise to analyze their impact on his health and performance? Because that's something I might be interested in reading. Not vague disapproving allusions to his occasionally eating fast food in the clubhouse, a la Souhan.

    Concerns about Sano's diet have come from multiple sources, which I would think reflects a real concern for the organization.

     

    Seems an appropriate assumption to have as a fan.

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    Ok. Do you have a full, detailed breakdown of his eating habits, and the nutritional expertise to analyze their impact on his health and performance? Because that's something I might be interested in reading. Not vague disapproving allusions to his occasionally eating fast food in the clubhouse, a la Souhan. 

     

    Exactly. We have no idea what Sano eats. He probably has his share of low-sugar protein shakes like the rest of the team.

    Sano didn't grow up in a culture that had a McDonald's on every corner, so it's difficult to buy into the idea that he is stuffing himself with double quarter pounders five times a week.

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    Concerns about Sano's diet have come from multiple sources, which I would think reflects a real concern for the organization.

    Seems an appropriate assumption to have as a fan.

    I don’t know for sure about his diet, but I for sure have concerns about weight.

     

    In the end, the weight is what matters anyway.

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    Exactly. We have no idea what Sano eats. He probably has his share of low-sugar protein shakes like the rest of the team.

    Sano didn't grow up in a culture that had a McDonald's on every corner, so it's difficult to buy into the idea that he is stuffing himself with double quarter pounders five times a week.

     

    Someone of his size and muscle mass HAS TO HAVE a high calorie intake to keep that going otherwise his body will start breaking down accumulated muscle and fat to compensate for the lower calorie intake.  This is why starvation diets are so bad for you.    

     

    I don't think it's unreasonable to think he over indulges in high calorie meals based on what we've seen and heard.  The key is for him to find the right balance moving forward.  I for one would like to see him drop 30 pounds and slim down to a more lean figure.  It will help him fight of injuries and extend his career.

     

    I think this next spring recovering from that surgery will give us a big clue as to what his makeup is.  If he comes in at a decent weight, i'd be okay with that, but if he gains a lot that's not a good sign long term IMO.  

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    Concerns about Sano's diet have come from multiple sources, which I would think reflects a real concern for the organization.

    Seems an appropriate assumption to have as a fan.

    Honest question: Could you point me to any examples of this? I do know there are concerns about his weight trends, in general, but I don't think I've ever seen a sourced remark about his diet in particular.

     

    In fact, the only thing I could dig up is this quote from Souhan's article: "I’ve seen clubhouse attendants carrying in large bags of fast food before games. The lifestyle dictates that players are often up late, while hungry and with lots of money to spend."

     

    That's not reporting. It's conjecture, from a man who speculated shortly thereafter that most "untethered" bloggers sit in their basements in Kimonos eating Cinnabon.

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    Someone of his size and muscle mass HAS TO HAVE a high calorie intake to keep that going otherwise his body will start breaking down accumulated muscle and fat to compensate for the lower calorie intake.  This is why starvation diets are so bad for you.    

     

    I don't think it's unreasonable to think he over indulges in high calorie meals based on what we've seen and heard.  The key is for him to find the right balance moving forward.  I for one would like to see him drop 30 pounds and slim down to a more lean figure.  It will help him fight of injuries and extend his career.

     

    I think this next spring recovering from that surgery will give us a big clue as to what his makeup is.  If he comes in at a decent weight, i'd be okay with that, but if he gains a lot that's not a good sign long term IMO.  

     

    He's a big guy, that's true. Just look at his neck. Are you suggesting if he eats less, his neck will regress to a normal size? I'm betting no. He's just a huge guy, the Shaquille O'Neal of baseball. Yes, there are dietary requirements that huge people have that we don't.

    We have to be open to the idea that he needs to eat in order to feel well because of the sheer size of his frame. So if we want dingers, the boy has to eat. The Twins signed him to hit dingers, not to sprint.

    Edited by Doomtints
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    Honest question: Could you point me to any examples of this? I do know there are concerns about his weight trends, in general, but I don't think I've ever seen a sourced remark about his diet in particular.

     

    In fact, the only thing I could dig up is this quote from Souhan's article: "I’ve seen clubhouse attendants carrying in large bags of fast food before games. The lifestyle dictates that players are often up late, while hungry and with lots of money to spend."

     

    That's not reporting. It's conjecture, from a man who speculated shortly thereafter that most "untethered" bloggers sit in their basements in Kimonos eating Cinnabon.

     

    Come one, no one in the front office is going to go on record and criticize a player like this. But when multiple media people mention this through a variety of mediums, it is clearly something that is coming up in informal/off the record/background conversations. It's not something that they are continually hammering, and it something they are interested in keeping in house, but it is a concern of the front office, and it absolutely should be.

     

    I'm aware of the big, lame fight going on between bloggers and writers (at least some of them) over this issue, but this is one of the benefits of increased access for writers that are around the club and front office officials.

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    He's a big guy, that's true. Just look at his neck. Are you suggesting if he eats less, his neck will regress to a normal size? I'm betting no. He's just a huge guy, the Shaquille O'Neal of baseball. Yes, there are dietary requirements that huge people have that we don't.

    We have to be open to the idea that he needs to eat in order to feel well because of the sheer size of his frame. So if we want dingers, the boy has to eat. The Twins signed him to hit dingers, not to sprint.

     

    I'm not suggesting "if he eats less, his neck will regress to a normal size".  That's all you. 

      

    As a big guy myself 220+lbs and 6'-5" I know with some certainty that you have to eat quite a bit to maintain your bulk (assuming your not a beanpole).  What I AM saying is that he HAS TO eat a lot to maintain his curtain weight and muscle mass compared to the "rest of us" as you put it.  If he significantly reduces his calorie intake and runs a deficit he WILL loose weight and muscle mass eventually. 

     

    I think we all want him to hit dingers but i'd rather he be lighter which will extend his career and help reduce injuries / wear and tear.  Not a difficult concept to understand. 

    Edited by laloesch
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    I don’t know for sure about his diet, but I for sure have concerns about weight.

    In the end, the weight is what matters anyway.

    In this day and age where athletes have contract provisions that keep them from many activities unrelated to their profession, ie baseball players not allowed to play basketball or hockey, I don't think it unreasonable to have contract provisions concerning weight.   I always thought Hrbek's lack of conditioning might have kept him from the HOF.    I think an agrees upon condition at various points in the season with monetary incentives or penalties is reasonable.   Diet and workout regiment is related to that but as you say, its the weight that is the best indicator with a guy like Sano.

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    The obvious is that Sano is a large man, who isn't getting any smaller. Add to that some suspicion as to his work habits and his discipline. Everyone wants and hopes he stays at third, healthy and productive. And if he doesn't? What is plan B? That he will likely have an elite bat is not in question. But what will his mindset be if moved to 1B? Or worse, full time DH. While it may be totally acceptable to him, he didnt exactly embrace RF. Falvine and Molitor have far more insight than we do. But for me, any hint of recalcitrance over a position change,and I am looking for a nice return in the pitching market. His utmost value is as a third baseman, and I am not sure that's sustainable.

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    I don't get the Sano and weight thing. In pictures he looks very trim and appears to be in great shape. There are tons of photos of him. Google is our friend.

    very trim?  Yeah, about 5 years ago.  He doesn't look trim now.

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    According to Baseball Reference, the 10 comps for Sano at the same age are an interesting, and less-positive than expected, group. Harmon Killebrew is the best player on the list, and he’s a a fantastic comp, and it also includes Mark Texeira at #10, but others include Wily Mo Pena, Jesse Barfield, Pat Burrell, Phil Plantier, and Pete Incaviglia, all of whom had varying degrees of success, but also ended up with careers that were more disappointing than expected, with very few good seasons after their thirtieth birthdays.

     

    It’s too early to read too much destiny in this list, which also includes other current young players, like Conforto, Grichuk and Domingo Santana, but it would be nice to have more players with longer careers. Two major injuries and a body that declined noticeably during the season (he looked a lot more fit during Twins Fest and the opening weeks than he did when he got injured) raise the risk level.

     

    P.S. when I’m talking about how he looked, I’m speaking from relatively close in-person views. He looked awesome at Twins Fest, fit and strong during the opening weeks, and like a big guy in July. It’s somewhat an exaggeration, but think of his going from Adrian Peterson to Kyle Rudolph to Matt Kalil, in their primes. All good athletes, but a different level of athletic ability.

    Edited by Deduno Abides
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    Ok. Do you have a full, detailed breakdown of his eating habits, and the nutritional expertise to analyze their impact on his health and performance? Because that's something I might be interested in reading. Not vague disapproving allusions to his occasionally eating fast food in the clubhouse, a la Souhan.

     

    Nick, I think we've all heard the allusions to weight. Weight is pretty universally related to activity and diet. He's a pro-athlete. Activity isn't the problem. He's also at an age where this shouldn't be a problem. If there is an issue, it will only get worse without change. Your asking for specific sources is fair, but the posters are just the messengers. You've read the numerous vague accounts same as everyone else. You can say there is reason for concern without having 100% proof.

     

    For instance, I remember distinctly reading an article on the team website a few years back where he started his interests are fishing and eating. It made me nervous. Don't know if it's an issue or not, but my concern is real, and it's based on my wanting to see him succeed. Not because I want to pile on or shame.

     

    Lastly, what if... our expectations were skewed from the beginning. His k's and contact never suggested Cab or Pujols. He's put up great power numbers but not elite. And his k's and contact are where you'd expect given his history. I think it's far more likely that a player will gain power with age than contact and average. This limits his potential and has been a limit from day 1. I'll still cheer for the guy. I still love the guy. He just makes me nervous!

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    Nick, I think we've all heard the allusions to weight. Weight is pretty universally related to activity and diet.

     

    This is not true for everyone. That is my biggest issue with this debate. I can personally attest to being unable to lose weight while running 20+ miles a week (while training for a marathon and adding interval training) while consuming under 1500 calories a day, and I doubt I'm the only one.

     

    I don't know Sano at all personally. I have no idea how much he does or does not consume or how much he does or does not work out. Neither do you. My point is that there is a lot about weight management that we do not understand.

     

    The danger is making conclusions based on assumptions. I suspect, like it or not, that Sano is probably one of those guys who won't lose weight easily. It doesn't mean he's lazy.

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    This is not true for everyone. That is my biggest issue with this debate. I can personally attest to being unable to lose weight while running 20+ miles a week (while training for a marathon and adding interval training) while consuming under 1500 calories a day, and I doubt I'm the only one.

     

    I don't know Sano at all personally. I have no idea how much he does or does not consume or how much he does or does not work out. Neither do you. My point is that there is a lot about weight management that we do not understand.

     

    The danger is making conclusions based on assumptions. I suspect, like it or not, that Sano is probably one of those guys who won't lose weight easily. It doesn't mean he's lazy.

     

    Genetics (metabolism, hormones, etc) certainly play a role.  For the record, the rumors I've heard about his work ethic have been more regarding his dedication to right field before 2016 season and his willingness to work on his game during batting practice more than working out.  I've heard general concerns about his weight, rumors about his eating, and the one comment I related regarding loving to eat.  Some of the questioning, I think, regarding the BP HR Derbies and the preparation for playing 9 seemed somewhat fair.  

    Bottom line, whether he has an eating problem, a gland problem, or an elliptical aversion, the undiscriminating and sometimes cruel equalizer of Major League level competition will identify the weakness, highlight, and attack it.  The end result, weight, may well be a limitation for Sano, whether in terms of productivity, longevity, or durability.  I suggested that if some organizations still think he's the next Miggy Cabrera, Giancarlo, or Pujols, we should work a trade.  Ultimately, I really like the kid, and I hope he does get to that level wherever he is.  Especially if it's with us!!

     

     

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    "What if Joe Mauer didn't shred up his knee meniscus in his second major-league game"  

     

    What if the cheap builders of the dome had installed a dirt track around the field instead of rubber.  RUBBER!!!  Name another ballpark that ever had this as part of the playing surface (pitching mound excluded).

     

    So when Joe ran to the backstop to get the wild pitch, instead of tearing up his knee when reflexively going down to get the ball, his shin guards slide across the dirt.  No injury.

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    People ripping on him because of his weight really bothers me.  There are people who are "overweight" who eat healthy and exercise.  Sometimes genetics play a part.  If you are expecting Sano to get down to a "lean" 220 you are not going to be happy.  He is a professional athlete who is a large man.  There will always be a balancing act on diet and exercise to maintain at his size and strength.  So the conjecture about his weight and diet needs to stop.  The only people who can realistically be having this conversation with actual facts are him and the training staff, dieticians, etc. 

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    People ripping on him because of his weight really bothers me.  There are people who are "overweight" who eat healthy and exercise.  Sometimes genetics play a part.  If you are expecting Sano to get down to a "lean" 220 you are not going to be happy.  He is a professional athlete who is a large man.  There will always be a balancing act on diet and exercise to maintain at his size and strength.  So the conjecture about his weight and diet needs to stop.  The only people who can realistically be having this conversation with actual facts are him and the training staff, dieticians, etc. 

     

    "Why?  Because you say so?  Personally i see no problem talking about this.  It's not like anyone is attacking him personally or "ripping on him".  I think everyone here wants to see him maximize his potential and avoid these injuries.  

     

    I think many here realize there is a real concern about his weight, yet some here vehemently disagree and feel that they need to squash the discussion which i don't get.  I applaud Jack Morris for being the only one who stood up and had the courage to tell the truth.  The FO and most of the press seemed to have locked arms last spring concealing and denying his actual weight, which was around 280 bs. (not 255-260).  Jack received a lot of flak for this, but he was correct. When i look at Sano I think of Kent Herbek and where his career might have gone if he had been more disciplined with his weight.  Perhaps not much of a difference, but you never know.  

    Edited by laloesch
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    People ripping on him because of his weight really bothers me. There are people who are "overweight" who eat healthy and exercise. Sometimes genetics play a part. If you are expecting Sano to get down to a "lean" 220 you are not going to be happy. He is a professional athlete who is a large man. There will always be a balancing act on diet and exercise to maintain at his size and strength. So the conjecture about his weight and diet needs to stop. The only people who can realistically be having this conversation with actual facts are him and the training staff, dieticians, etc.

    I tend to agree with this about his body being what it is. My concern is he doesn’t and never will have the body we want or expect for a modern era baseball player, no matter what he does and that it will shorten his career.

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