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  • The Middle And Its Dangers

    Ted Schwerzler

    It's 2015 and the Minnesota Twins are playing baseball in September. While that happens every season, what doesn't happen often (or at least for the past four seasons), is meaningful September baseball. Paul Molitor's club finds themselves in the thick of a heated wild card race with just over a month to play.

    Image courtesy of Kim Klement- USAToday- Sports Photo of Kevin Jepsen

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    The unfortunate reality is that Terry Ryan and the Twins brass has decided to stay in the middle this season, and it could prove costly.

    For whatever it's worth, the Twins were absolutely not supposed to compete in 2015. Another season eyeing 90 losses was more realistic than one nearing 90 wins. Because baseball happens though, Minnesota finds themselves above .500 and in striking distance of a one-game wild card playoff.

    In order to not sacrifice the future, Minnesota had to navigate their current winning carefully. Having gone through four poor seasons, Ryan and the Twins brain trust have built what can be regarded as one of the best farm systems in all of the big leagues. Knowing that the fruits of their labor are ready to overflow and pay dividends, sacrificing them substantially for what has been a surprise season would seem foolish.

    Pushing the envelope with the talent on the 2015 roster, the Twins looked to improve without going all in. While the Toronto Blue Jays made deals for players like Troy Tulowitzki and David Price, Minnesota shored up a bad bullpen with Kevin Jepsen. It was a low cost acquisition that carried future value as well. In the context of the season and organization, both now and in the future, it made a lot of sense.

    That's where things stop making sense, and the Twins find themselves in dangerous waters.

    During the month of August, the Twins made another acquisition. Neal Cotts, a 35-year-old veteran, was acquired from the Brewers as a rental, knowing free-agency loomed following 2015. The acquisition cost was minimal for the Twins (cash considerations or a player to be named later), but so was the return. Cotts compiled a 3.26 ERA with the Brewers across 49.2 IP, but a 4.72 FIP (fielding independent pitching) and 3.1 BB/9 loomed ominously.

    Regardless of what has or will come to fruition, the move was a sign of the Twins looking to further capitalize on the good fortune of their current wild card positioning. Within striking distance, Molitor needed another bullpen arm capable or bridging the gap to his All-Star closer. Cotts' rental status made him an intriguing option to go for it in 2015, without sacrificing the future.

    Following the two steps forward, the Twins then took two steps back.

    With a starting rotation boasting bloated ERA's (Kyle Gibson 6.00 ERA in Aug., Tommy Milone 5.40 ERA in last 3 starts, and Ervin Santana 9.12 ERA in Aug.), and two injured hurlers (both Phil Hughes and Ricky Nolasco may not contribute the rest of the way), the Twins decided to ignore a glaring weakness. Choosing not to trade for a David Price of their own, or make a significant future-damaging move, Minnesota stood pat.

    Meanwhile, at Triple-A Rochester, Jose Berrios kept rolling. In front of Terry Ryan, Berrios was lights out. In August, he owned a 2.03 ERA and a 48/3 K/BB ratio across 40.0 IP in which batters hit just .203/.232/.324. Despite the performance to the tune of a 2.67 Triple-A ERA, the Twins looked past their top pitching prospect.

    In holding him back, the club doesn't need to face service time implications until 2016 at the earliest. In the meantime, they may have cost themselves much more.

    Berrios' promotion would have started his service time. In the long run, that could have ended up costing the Twins a year of team control, forcing them to pay more down the line. However, they also could have maximized both 2015 and 2016 by being savvy with roster control.

    By promoting Berrios to the rotation now, the Twins would have immediately had another plus option to help carry them through September. The workload has appeared to be well within the Puerto Rican's wheelhouse, and the output would no doubt have benefitted the Twins. Following a postseason run, or whatever may have taken place in 2015, Minnesota could have then addressed 2016 in the spring.

    Having started the service clock in September, a year of arbitration could have been saved in early 2016. Rather than having Berrios start in the rotation out of spring training (which, judging by the Twins handling of the situation, seems like a long shot regardless), he could have made his 2016 debut in mid-May. If promoted during September 2015, and then May 2016, the results on his service time would be as if he had not been promoted this season at all.

    Because of how they handled things, the Twins find themselves in the middle of an uncertain equation. The playoffs are in the picture right here and now. Terry Ryan got Neal Cotts in a move to help get Minnesota there. Instead of making the internal decision with Berrios for the same reasons, he played the opposite side of the fence. Now the Twins must hope that 2016, and the next few subsequent years after, are as good as they are being hoped for. If they aren't or if larger moves need to be made to accomplish a playoff berth (the same goal as 2015), this season could end up being a distant "what if?"

    The business side of baseball is definitely one that isn't traveled without navigating murky waters. In a game with so much uncertainty however (again, were the Twins really supposed to be here), tempting fate and betting against the present is a difficult game to play. More often than not, being in the middle isn't going to produce the results to get you to the top.

    For now, the Twins will have to live with their decision and wait.

    For more from Off The Baggy, click here. Follow @tlschwerz

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    If the Berrios non-move wasn't about service time, I can think of one reason Ryan wouldn't have promoted him- respect for the manager's domain. There's no evidence I can think of that TR has ever told his managers how to use the 25 he gives them. Not who to start, where to play them on the field, how many innings to give them, how much rest to give them, etc. Once he turns over a player, he is hands-off. And I suspect he fears how Molitor might use Berrios in a WC race and in the playoffs. Eg. back to back days out of the pen or worse, slotting him into the rotation which would push his innings well into the 200s in the worst case scenario that the Twins advance deep into the playoffs. Maybe that sounds conspiratorial but it seems consistent with the Twins' MO and its an approach I respect but maybe this is one case where it bit them.

    Edited by Willihammer
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    In a couple of different paragraphs you mentioned the service clock issue. I think Willihammer made a really good point. With Berrios on the 25-man, maybe Molitor would have swapped Berrios into the rotation for Pelfrey, and probably rode Berrios harder than Ryan was comfortable with. It's certainly a plausible explanation, unlike most of the other explanations floated out there. It's also not something Ryan would come out and state directly to the media.


    All of this could have and should have been handled differently. At least we got Duffey somewhere in the middle of all that. 

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    I don't know if they did the right thing or not. But while service time may have been a factor, it was certainly not the only factor under consideration. Also being weighed were his innings limit, his development, his major league readiness, and the cost of losing a player to fit him on the 40 man roster.


    Basically, they could had had Berrios for a very small number of innings at best, and the cost would have been significant. There's no guarantee he would have been better than the options they already had, or than Duffey. They said he needed to work on a few things to really make it in the majors. They may have been right.


    Jerking him between the bullpen and the rotation might have harmed his development and/or health, and since he'd never relieved before, would have been a big gamble during a pennant race. Yet using him as a starter would have meant they only had him for a handful of games. Rookies thrown into a pennant race sometomes do well, sometimes don't -- more often don't. And then when Hughes comes back, who do you sit?  And who do you cut from the roster, and lose forever? How do you know you wouldn't be better off with those two guys than Berrios? 


    I'm very open to the idea that he could and should have been promoted a month or two ago. But at this point, the gains would have been so marginal, if any, that it would not be worth the cost.


    Maybe they waited too long; maybe they thought they were out of it, and now regret it. Hey, I thought they were out of it. Remember, they were sinking like a rock. Now that they weathered the storm, and are still in the hunt, it may turn out they should have gone for it and promoted him six weeks ago.


    But it's not a sure thing either way. Before the focus turned to Berrios, the nonstop clamor and impatience to promote was focused on Buxton, and how did that turn out? He, too, was destroying the minor leagues. But once in the majors he was totally overmatched at the plate. Before that, it was Arcia who was being idiotically ignored -- until he failed to hit AAA pitching any better than major league pitching. Personally, I'm fine with leaving Berrios in the minors till next year. He's 21. Either Hughes, Nolasco, Santana, Gibson, Pelfrey, Milone, May and Duffey are enough, or they aren't. I can't get that exercised about not promoting a kid who was in AA a few months ago into the heat of a pennant race. If your chances at the playoffs depend on a gamble like that working out, your chances aren't very good anyway.

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    Jepsen, Cotts and Hunter were all brought in for a reason. 


    Hunter, to full the gap in development time for Hicks, Rosario and Buxton, provide vocal leadership and easy some of the pain in having both Schaefer and Robinson on the same roster. 


    Jepsen and Cotts were brought in because the veterans that were bought in and Perkins were burning out.  The guys brought up from MiLB kinda sucked as a whole.


    I don't know why anyone is still bringing David Price.  Either Ryan didn't make an offer [building from the minors up] or he made an offer and Detroit countered "Give us Sano and  + + + +".

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    You have to look at the overall Twins team with astonishment and wonder how they have gotten to where they are. Look at the 25-27-33 guys curently in the dugout. How many will NOT have a job next year or be buried in some's minor league system. WHo on the current team are other general managers looking at as a trade possibility. Most of the names are the young guys...period. And they aren't going anywhere. But theya re still uncertain. We have a damaged and expensive (and under contract) rotation. We have a slew of 40-man bullpen guys who didn't cut while potential 40-man adds eitehr went down with injury or backwards. We have a catcher under contract, but no one in the wings. Our first baseman is an enigma. We have no bench, for now, although that could change if we get rid of some deadbeats. How have the Twins risen so far and sustained their winning ways? Great management, excellent coaching, right things happening at the right time compared to previous years where they left guys on base and had to constantly fight from behind. Management may be right. Butts are in the seats. People got excited about a team of no stars except for Hunter's magic and Joe;s disappearing act. Enough new guys are in the mix that people who care think the future is bright. Hey, TC even worked on these hot and humid days! Talk about a Gamer!

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    I don't agree with everything written above. I will agree that the roster is flawed. Their power is almost exclusively right handed, their best position players are above average power, below average batting average guys. They don't have catching depth and the incumbent catcher has a history of being a poor thrower and pitch framer. There is a crying need to get more high-percentage (and high OBP) guys on the roster, hopefully left handed hitters, like Joe Mauer, prior to last year or perhaps like Max Kepler next year or the year after, hitting before or after Miguel Sano.


    As far as the pitching goes, I don't know that it is predictable. Except for the elite of the elite, pitchers are really unpredictable. The Twins have a lot of middle-of-the-rotation arms and maybe one or two will be better than that going forward, but if that happens they are beating the odds. The bullpen didn't get help this year from the ballyhooed power arms that started in Chattanooga this year, maybe next year. Also, they added Jepsen and moved Alex Meyer to the bullpen, so perhaps the Twins will join the hard-thrower movement for their bullpen next year.


    What has changed is defense. Going from Arcia, Schafer, Hunter to Rosario, Buxton, Hicks is huge. Outfield defense might go from biggest weakness to biggest strength. The infield defense is fine, but not particularly rangy and Suzuki is regarded as a good game caller, despite his poor marks throwing out runners and framing pitches.


    As far as the bench, the Eduardos are pretty good bench players, although Escobar seems to have become a regular. Robinson filled his role very well this year, but he can't be overexposed. The thing is that most of the season, they only had three bench guys and one of them was the backup catcher. They didn't have room for a bat-first guy with power potential. I'm pretty confident that will change over the off-season.

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    I find it funny how so many bought into the Royals making the bullpen a priority but discarded another important part of their success:  Quality defense all over the field including corner OF defense. So many discount the defense part of the game, minimizing the importance, but it is important and a game like this is a good example.  Our OF defense shined, their OF defense cost them the game (though the guy who blew it is normally very good).

    Edited by jimmer
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    Something to remember when discussing innings is how much time they had off last winter. Did they play winter ball? Were they off at all? Berrios needs to be ready for next year. Going all in on a wild card one game playoff seems foolish risk for what could be years of division dominance we are hoping for in the future from him and the rest of the team. I've been preaching it all year... We're preparing for next year.


    Finally, I would like to say this. A lot of posters have talked about going all in this year while talking about all our flaws...really?!? You don't go all in and sacrifice the future when you still have this many flaws. You don't go all in to make the playoffs or even to make it to the second round. You go all in when you see you can win it ALL if you go all in. Hopefully that's next year, but at no point was that this year.

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