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Peter Labuza

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  1. In the midst of a sordid Twins season, one of the few hopeful spots was the potential of a number of excellent bats joining the outfield. Nick Gordon seemed to finally figure things out. Matt Wallner looked solid as he tried to extend the stretch run. Alex Kirilloff and Trevor Larnach remain enigmas but each has shown great ability when healthy. Other young bats are waiting in the wings. So while the Twins might be ready to spend a great deal on Mitch Haniger or Brandon Nimmo, a smart move might be a one-year rental via trade. These veterans could even split time with younger players in need of reps without the worry of having to develop a long-term plan, similar to what might occur over at shortstop. It would also make any other trades the Twins want to make—whether finally parting ways with Max Kepler or using Gio Urshela as a leveraged asset—easier to make. As teams figure out how to approach 2023, they may be looking to move some names that might prove useful on a one-year rental: Teoscar Hernández (Estimated Salary: $14.5 million) Toronto no doubt will be ready to compete again after their disappointing playoff bout with the Mariners, but the rumor mill has suggested the team might part ways with Hernandez to bring in some diversity to their righty-loaded line up. Of course, Teoscar Hernandez is a good problem for any team to have: .267/.316/.491 for a 129 WRC+, which would be better than all but the A-B-C lineup of last year’s Twins. The 2021 All-Star has slowly worked on his strikeout problem and would certainly be a more dangerous bat anytime where a southpaw takes the mound, where he bopped with a .978 OPS against lefties. His defense would certainly be a step down compared to Kepler, but the Dominican-born player would be a natural among the team’s four DR-born players. Ian Happ (Estimated Salary: $10.9 million) It’s a genuine question: what are the Cubs planning on doing in 2023? They are already in pursuit of one of the four top shortstops, but whether they will have the pitching necessary to win the NL Central might make them likely to continue to shed names for prospects. That means Happ, a switch-hitting all-star who hit .271/.342/.440 with a stellar 42 doubles, might be on the market. The Cubs shopped Happ at the deadline but found no deals worth pulling the trigger. However, ESPN’s Jeff Passan has already confirmed the Cubs have thrown his name around. With a 2022 Gold Glove, Happ could be the kind of defensive replacement with real power that would be an easy upgrade for Kepler. Kiké Hernandez (Estimated Salary: $10.0 million) Former Dodger and current Red Sox, Kiké Hernandez is coming off a down year after posting a 3.9 WAR season in 2021. Much of that is due to injuries—a hip strain flexor ailed him through the first few months before finally skipping the high summer months. His return to the lineup was not necessarily splashy, but the 240 average was a vast improvement over what he had shown earlier. Fangraph's projections seem a little unclear as to what the 31-year-old will hit next year, but a solid bat and elite defense would be a huge step up for the Twins looking to give more time for rookies to develop. Whether the Red Sox have a 2023 plan remains the bigger mystery. Cody Bellinger (Estimated Salary: $18.0 million) The Dodgers lineup proved so good throughout their record 111-win season that the team never felt it necessary to remove the former MVP who has crashed down to earth from their lineup. Bellinger has yet to look like his former self since a shoulder injury in 2020, hitting .210 last year with a strikeout rate in the Bottom 10 for qualified batters. Bellinger also induces a hefty projected $18 million in arbitration salary that might not be the kind either the Pohlads or fans will be happy to see for his estimated production. But money is money, and the Dodgers may be ready to part ways for practically nothing (though rumors of a non-tender have swirled since spring). Bellinger also brings elite defense that might make Byron Buxton blush—or at least give Twins fans less anxiety if the bopper needs more time at DH. The question is whether the change in scenery may help him finally demonstrate the 47-homer power that made him a star. Would you be interested in seeing the Twins acquire any of these hitters in a trade? Leave a Comment below.
  2. Should the Twins be looking to the trade market rather than signing a long-term bat in the outfield? Image courtesy of Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports In the midst of a sordid Twins season, one of the few hopeful spots was the potential of a number of excellent bats joining the outfield. Nick Gordon seemed to finally figure things out. Matt Wallner looked solid as he tried to extend the stretch run. Alex Kirilloff and Trevor Larnach remain enigmas but each has shown great ability when healthy. Other young bats are waiting in the wings. So while the Twins might be ready to spend a great deal on Mitch Haniger or Brandon Nimmo, a smart move might be a one-year rental via trade. These veterans could even split time with younger players in need of reps without the worry of having to develop a long-term plan, similar to what might occur over at shortstop. It would also make any other trades the Twins want to make—whether finally parting ways with Max Kepler or using Gio Urshela as a leveraged asset—easier to make. As teams figure out how to approach 2023, they may be looking to move some names that might prove useful on a one-year rental: Teoscar Hernández (Estimated Salary: $14.5 million) Toronto no doubt will be ready to compete again after their disappointing playoff bout with the Mariners, but the rumor mill has suggested the team might part ways with Hernandez to bring in some diversity to their righty-loaded line up. Of course, Teoscar Hernandez is a good problem for any team to have: .267/.316/.491 for a 129 WRC+, which would be better than all but the A-B-C lineup of last year’s Twins. The 2021 All-Star has slowly worked on his strikeout problem and would certainly be a more dangerous bat anytime where a southpaw takes the mound, where he bopped with a .978 OPS against lefties. His defense would certainly be a step down compared to Kepler, but the Dominican-born player would be a natural among the team’s four DR-born players. Ian Happ (Estimated Salary: $10.9 million) It’s a genuine question: what are the Cubs planning on doing in 2023? They are already in pursuit of one of the four top shortstops, but whether they will have the pitching necessary to win the NL Central might make them likely to continue to shed names for prospects. That means Happ, a switch-hitting all-star who hit .271/.342/.440 with a stellar 42 doubles, might be on the market. The Cubs shopped Happ at the deadline but found no deals worth pulling the trigger. However, ESPN’s Jeff Passan has already confirmed the Cubs have thrown his name around. With a 2022 Gold Glove, Happ could be the kind of defensive replacement with real power that would be an easy upgrade for Kepler. Kiké Hernandez (Estimated Salary: $10.0 million) Former Dodger and current Red Sox, Kiké Hernandez is coming off a down year after posting a 3.9 WAR season in 2021. Much of that is due to injuries—a hip strain flexor ailed him through the first few months before finally skipping the high summer months. His return to the lineup was not necessarily splashy, but the 240 average was a vast improvement over what he had shown earlier. Fangraph's projections seem a little unclear as to what the 31-year-old will hit next year, but a solid bat and elite defense would be a huge step up for the Twins looking to give more time for rookies to develop. Whether the Red Sox have a 2023 plan remains the bigger mystery. Cody Bellinger (Estimated Salary: $18.0 million) The Dodgers lineup proved so good throughout their record 111-win season that the team never felt it necessary to remove the former MVP who has crashed down to earth from their lineup. Bellinger has yet to look like his former self since a shoulder injury in 2020, hitting .210 last year with a strikeout rate in the Bottom 10 for qualified batters. Bellinger also induces a hefty projected $18 million in arbitration salary that might not be the kind either the Pohlads or fans will be happy to see for his estimated production. But money is money, and the Dodgers may be ready to part ways for practically nothing (though rumors of a non-tender have swirled since spring). Bellinger also brings elite defense that might make Byron Buxton blush—or at least give Twins fans less anxiety if the bopper needs more time at DH. The question is whether the change in scenery may help him finally demonstrate the 47-homer power that made him a star. Would you be interested in seeing the Twins acquire any of these hitters in a trade? Leave a Comment below. View full article
  3. The Minnesota Twins have made their first move of the offseason, one that should come as a surprise to no one, by picking up an option on Sonny Gray’s 2023 contract for $12.5 million. Unless a long-term deal is reached before then, Gray will become a free agent at the end of 2023 season. Jon Heyman of the New York Post first reported the scoop. If the Twins do not plan on signing any free agent starters (which should not - and will not - be the case), Gray will almost certainly be considered for the top slot of the rotation for 2023. There was little thought within stories from the front office or the Twins community at large that the Twins would part ways with the pitcher. Gray made 24 starts over the 2022 season, pitching just shy of 120 innings. His 3.08 ERA and 1.13 WHIP were the best since 2019. Although his strikeout rate was down, Gray managed to keep his walks to the minimum and generally got out of a number of dangerous jams this season that made him one of the more reliable pitchers on the mound. Of his 24 attempts, Gray posted nine quality starts, defined as six completed innings with three or less runs. He remains particularly strong against left-handed batters, holding them to a .202 BA this season. The question remains whether the Twins may attempt a long-term extension with the pitcher or keep his option open as a trade deadline candidate if the season runs away from the Twins as it did in 2021. Gray’s 119 2/3 innings was the lowest since 2017 in Oakland, dealing with multiple IL stints this season due to lower back soreness. However, the Twins new athletic trainer Nick Paparesta worked with Gray during his time in Oakland. Questions about injuries and recoveries will hang over Gray as much as the entire rotation and thus may play a role in whether such extensions are offered. The Minnesota Twins traded for Gray right after the end of Major League Baseball’s lockout on the players during negotiations for a Collective Bargaining Agreement, giving away their 2021 first-round draft pick Chase Petty to the Cincinnati Reds. Between his strong stuff and age, Gray has formed something of a veteran leader among a pitching staff to likely be dependent on rookies. Although no one could expect otherwise, Twins fans should welcome another year of the ace on the mound. With the World Series now complete, impending free agents are now free agents. Gray is one of several Twins players with a club option for 2023. It is certain that the Twins will not pick up Miguel Sano's option for 2023. And Carlos Correa will formally announce his decision to opt-out of his contract soon too. The news became official on Monday when the Twins announced that Gray's option was picked up. Also, the Twins declined the options on Chris Archer, Dylan Bundy and Miguel Sano.
  4. Only hours after the end of the World Series, the Twins have made the first off season news by keeping Sonny Gray. Monday Update: The Twins made the Gray decision official. They also announced that they have declined the 2023 options for RHPs Chris Archer and Dylan Bundy, and infielder Miguel Sano. Image courtesy of Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports The Minnesota Twins have made their first move of the offseason, one that should come as a surprise to no one, by picking up an option on Sonny Gray’s 2023 contract for $12.5 million. Unless a long-term deal is reached before then, Gray will become a free agent at the end of 2023 season. Jon Heyman of the New York Post first reported the scoop. If the Twins do not plan on signing any free agent starters (which should not - and will not - be the case), Gray will almost certainly be considered for the top slot of the rotation for 2023. There was little thought within stories from the front office or the Twins community at large that the Twins would part ways with the pitcher. Gray made 24 starts over the 2022 season, pitching just shy of 120 innings. His 3.08 ERA and 1.13 WHIP were the best since 2019. Although his strikeout rate was down, Gray managed to keep his walks to the minimum and generally got out of a number of dangerous jams this season that made him one of the more reliable pitchers on the mound. Of his 24 attempts, Gray posted nine quality starts, defined as six completed innings with three or less runs. He remains particularly strong against left-handed batters, holding them to a .202 BA this season. The question remains whether the Twins may attempt a long-term extension with the pitcher or keep his option open as a trade deadline candidate if the season runs away from the Twins as it did in 2021. Gray’s 119 2/3 innings was the lowest since 2017 in Oakland, dealing with multiple IL stints this season due to lower back soreness. However, the Twins new athletic trainer Nick Paparesta worked with Gray during his time in Oakland. Questions about injuries and recoveries will hang over Gray as much as the entire rotation and thus may play a role in whether such extensions are offered. The Minnesota Twins traded for Gray right after the end of Major League Baseball’s lockout on the players during negotiations for a Collective Bargaining Agreement, giving away their 2021 first-round draft pick Chase Petty to the Cincinnati Reds. Between his strong stuff and age, Gray has formed something of a veteran leader among a pitching staff to likely be dependent on rookies. Although no one could expect otherwise, Twins fans should welcome another year of the ace on the mound. With the World Series now complete, impending free agents are now free agents. Gray is one of several Twins players with a club option for 2023. It is certain that the Twins will not pick up Miguel Sano's option for 2023. And Carlos Correa will formally announce his decision to opt-out of his contract soon too. The news became official on Monday when the Twins announced that Gray's option was picked up. Also, the Twins declined the options on Chris Archer, Dylan Bundy and Miguel Sano. View full article
  5. Imagine sitting down on April 6th for the first Twins game of the 2023 season. It’s still a bit cold for baseball, but the warmth of seeing the team again soothes the cold plastic of the seats. The Astros are in town—not the team you exactly want on Opening Day to get fans excited. But the park is packed because of the name on the mound. The Twins have done it. They've gone and got a front-line starter that is worthy of our attention. And guess what: he’s also hitting clean up. Image courtesy of Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports There are plenty of names that Twins fans know are almost entirely out of the payroll desires of the ownership group, making it easy to dismiss that someone like Jacob DeGrom, Justin Verlander, or Carlos Rodón will be in uniform next year. But given this is a long winter, it is never too early to dream up the impossible. This is where I present to you: Minnesota Twins Starting Pitcher and Designated Hitter Shohei Ohtani. Although Aaron Judge is almost certain to win the American League MVP award, Ohtani’s out-of-this-world performance likely made for some hesitancy on many ballots. After all, Ohtani not only continued to be the phenom two-way player that dazzled in 2021; he was genuinely both a better hitter and a better pitcher. In 2022, he slashed .273/.356/.519 with 34 dingers for a 142 WRC+, which would have made him the Twins best hitter had he played for them this season. Of course, what makes Ohtani impressive is that he threw 166 innings of 2.33 ERA ball including a 1.01 WHIP. Twins fans are (rightly) falling head over heels for both Joe Ryan and Sonny Gray, but both their ERAs shot over 3.00 and neither made it to 150 innings. By the way, Ohtani spent the druthers of August and September as the Angels fell out of contention inventing new pitches to throw and came close to a no hitter. If Dave St. Peter wants to complain about falling attendance at the park, what better way to go in on a once-in-a-generation talent? His numbers are already set at a $30 million arbitration, which would be no different than keeping the talents of Carlos Correa. He is Shohei Ohtani. Of course, the question is how exactly would Ohtani fit into the Twins organization, which is not as simple as slotting into rotations and batting orders might suggest. Under Joe Maddon, the Angels employed a six-person rotation to keep Ohtani’s arm loose, which might not be exactly what the Twins want. That being said, much has been made of the apparent depth of the Twins rotation now with a number of prospects finding their legs. That might work well for Ohtani’s needs with some rookies rotating in every month to help fill a void. It would also mean perhaps one less reliever spot, a choice that could certainly backfire. But Ohtani makes up for that too by going long into games as a pitcher, and no longer requiring strategy of DH management after MLB created a specific rule just for him. The trickier part for the Twins would be constructing the lineup. The Twins played around quite a bit with their Designated Hitter position in 2021, trying to use it as much for resting players and in particular as Byron Buxton battled through debilitating pain. The Ohtani equation would almost entirely remove that possibility, which means praying for a healthy Buxton to find a place in the field every day or only coming in for the right pinch-hitting opportunity. The Twins might then also want to pull the trigger on a Gio Urshela trade simply to place Jose Miranda as an everyday third baseman (or have two platoons with Luis Arraez and Alex Kirilloff doing the same over at first). This is perhaps the flaw that made Ohtani so wonderful in Los Angeles while finding himself in a Sisyphean Odyssey of watching batters who might be better fits at DH struggle in the field. Of course, the big question would be how much is an Ohtani trade worth given the Twins average-ish prospect farm (The Twins placed 18th on Keith Law’s 2022 list). For a possible comparison, look at what the Padres gave up to acquire Juan Soto. In order to get the Ted Williams-esque hitter alongside rental Josh Bell, AJ Preller dealt three of the five top prospects to the Nationals. Soto came with two additional years of arbitration time that the Padres will likely mitigate this off-season with an extension, which meant a higher cost than the one year of service left on Ohtani’s already set arbitration numbers. That might make the trades comparable, but the Padres were giving away players near the Top of Baseball America’s Top 100. The Twins would likely have to say goodbye to both shortstop prospects Royce Lewis and Brooks Lee—and that would just be the start for the pitching-desperate Angels. And at a time in which the Twins are desperate for a shortstop once again, they may find themselves watching magic on the mound while slapping their forehead for every swing and miss they place in another one-year low-cost rental in the spot. Then again, what would be more fun than watching a legend in the making? Why shouldn't this front office go into Five Blades Modes? If anything, an Ohtani trade is a good place to understand and evaluate the strength of the Falvey-Levine regime; because he can shift the balance of a team in so many ways, you can see how different a team would have to build in order to fully utilize his talents. But before he starts mowing down Twins players in pinstripes, it is still fun to imagine the opposite future being possible. View full article
  6. There are plenty of names that Twins fans know are almost entirely out of the payroll desires of the ownership group, making it easy to dismiss that someone like Jacob DeGrom, Justin Verlander, or Carlos Rodón will be in uniform next year. But given this is a long winter, it is never too early to dream up the impossible. This is where I present to you: Minnesota Twins Starting Pitcher and Designated Hitter Shohei Ohtani. Although Aaron Judge is almost certain to win the American League MVP award, Ohtani’s out-of-this-world performance likely made for some hesitancy on many ballots. After all, Ohtani not only continued to be the phenom two-way player that dazzled in 2021; he was genuinely both a better hitter and a better pitcher. In 2022, he slashed .273/.356/.519 with 34 dingers for a 142 WRC+, which would have made him the Twins best hitter had he played for them this season. Of course, what makes Ohtani impressive is that he threw 166 innings of 2.33 ERA ball including a 1.01 WHIP. Twins fans are (rightly) falling head over heels for both Joe Ryan and Sonny Gray, but both their ERAs shot over 3.00 and neither made it to 150 innings. By the way, Ohtani spent the druthers of August and September as the Angels fell out of contention inventing new pitches to throw and came close to a no hitter. If Dave St. Peter wants to complain about falling attendance at the park, what better way to go in on a once-in-a-generation talent? His numbers are already set at a $30 million arbitration, which would be no different than keeping the talents of Carlos Correa. He is Shohei Ohtani. Of course, the question is how exactly would Ohtani fit into the Twins organization, which is not as simple as slotting into rotations and batting orders might suggest. Under Joe Maddon, the Angels employed a six-person rotation to keep Ohtani’s arm loose, which might not be exactly what the Twins want. That being said, much has been made of the apparent depth of the Twins rotation now with a number of prospects finding their legs. That might work well for Ohtani’s needs with some rookies rotating in every month to help fill a void. It would also mean perhaps one less reliever spot, a choice that could certainly backfire. But Ohtani makes up for that too by going long into games as a pitcher, and no longer requiring strategy of DH management after MLB created a specific rule just for him. The trickier part for the Twins would be constructing the lineup. The Twins played around quite a bit with their Designated Hitter position in 2021, trying to use it as much for resting players and in particular as Byron Buxton battled through debilitating pain. The Ohtani equation would almost entirely remove that possibility, which means praying for a healthy Buxton to find a place in the field every day or only coming in for the right pinch-hitting opportunity. The Twins might then also want to pull the trigger on a Gio Urshela trade simply to place Jose Miranda as an everyday third baseman (or have two platoons with Luis Arraez and Alex Kirilloff doing the same over at first). This is perhaps the flaw that made Ohtani so wonderful in Los Angeles while finding himself in a Sisyphean Odyssey of watching batters who might be better fits at DH struggle in the field. Of course, the big question would be how much is an Ohtani trade worth given the Twins average-ish prospect farm (The Twins placed 18th on Keith Law’s 2022 list). For a possible comparison, look at what the Padres gave up to acquire Juan Soto. In order to get the Ted Williams-esque hitter alongside rental Josh Bell, AJ Preller dealt three of the five top prospects to the Nationals. Soto came with two additional years of arbitration time that the Padres will likely mitigate this off-season with an extension, which meant a higher cost than the one year of service left on Ohtani’s already set arbitration numbers. That might make the trades comparable, but the Padres were giving away players near the Top of Baseball America’s Top 100. The Twins would likely have to say goodbye to both shortstop prospects Royce Lewis and Brooks Lee—and that would just be the start for the pitching-desperate Angels. And at a time in which the Twins are desperate for a shortstop once again, they may find themselves watching magic on the mound while slapping their forehead for every swing and miss they place in another one-year low-cost rental in the spot. Then again, what would be more fun than watching a legend in the making? Why shouldn't this front office go into Five Blades Modes? If anything, an Ohtani trade is a good place to understand and evaluate the strength of the Falvey-Levine regime; because he can shift the balance of a team in so many ways, you can see how different a team would have to build in order to fully utilize his talents. But before he starts mowing down Twins players in pinstripes, it is still fun to imagine the opposite future being possible.
  7. In a season of slow unraveling, one moment that stuck out as a sign that things were likely not going to work out as Twins fans might hope was the (almost inevitable) call-up of Jake Cave. DFA’d by the Twins after his particularly rough 2021, Cave accepted his assignment with the St. Paul Saints where he could remain mostly in minor-league news tidbits. It was probably not the best hope for a player whose gray beard has always made him look double his age, but at least a home for less ire by a frustrated fan base looking to lay blame. Image courtesy of Jay Biggerstaff, USA Today Jake Cave’s return for 2022 felt frustrating in part when many expected the debut of prospects to be filling those lineup slots. But then an odd thing happened: I didn’t hate Cave this time around. He genuinely seemed to play better every time I expected the worst. And with the season’s doom leading toward more existential questions, a truly odd thought filled my head: Is Jake Cave Good? Let’s cut to the chase: Not particularly. Jake Cave slashed .213/.260/.384 (.624), only a minor improvement on last year’s .189/.263/.400 (.663) with basically the same number of plate appearances. His WRC+ hovered almost to 100—essentially league average—before crashing down to 81. And yet there was Cave hustling to first at Yankee Stadium to put Carlos Correa in position to smash a dinger to give the Twins the lead. In the critical Cleveland series, Cave hit a bomb off Triston McKenzie to provide the Twins an early lead. And if you looked out at the outfield, you could have sworn Buxton had transported himself into Cave’s body as he continually laid out to make a few diving catches. Cave showed significant improvement this year in numerous ways. His Triple-A stint surely helped as he posted a .879 OPS over 85 games, his best since his time in Rochester back in 2019 that eventually landed him on the big-league roster for the last four years. He went on a 49 plate on-base streak, only ended by an unlucky five-inning rain out where he only managed two plate appearances. When Cave first joined the Twins for the San Francisco Giants series at Target Field that gave one last fresh breath of air into the team, he managed to tie the game in the 9th inning with a single, and then the next day smashed a two-run homer and another double in a rousing victory. Cave cooled down into his more expected self, but a few notable stats stick out. First, Cave had become a big strikeout guy, particularly in the 2021 season where he was around 35%. Going back to Triple-A worked wonders. He dropped that to 25% and then only climbed up to 27% when he came back for the majors—still below league average, but an improvement. That came with a sacrifice of power. His BABIP slipped, but there was a big reason for Cave opting for singles: his speed score ballooned from 6.2 after a 3.7 in 2021. To put that into context, only Billy Hamilton and Byron Buxton posted faster speeds for Minnesota this season. I repeat: Jake Cave was the third faster player on the Twins this year. Cave was as fast as new-thorn-for-the-next-seven-years Steven Kwan. And when it came to his defense, his arm strength on Baseball Savant skyrocketed from a mediocre 46% to a shocking 79% within the league Most notably, Cave improved when it mattered. "Clutch" is a unique metric, but it measures your chance at Win Probability against the stakes of the plate appearance as compared to your overall season numbers (to say the least, Carlos Correa demonstrated a high win probability, but his Clutch was -0.91 given his problems delivering with runners on base. Let’s just call it a “heart and hustle” stat). Cave was second on the Twins in the second half of the season in Clutch, just shy of Gilberto Celestino. His dozen barrels doubled what he managed last year, and with his speed, he managed a trio of triples. In the second half, Cave posted a better OPS than Gary Sánchez, Celestino, Max Kepler, and Jorge Polanco. He hit about as well as the aging Nelson Cruz did for the Nationals except on a $800k contract that managed a half point of WAR—essentially quadruple his salary. It may have still been frustrating to see Cave batting fifth in a lineup for a playoff contention team, but Cave was hardly the problem given the improvements he demonstrated. With a huge roster crunch in the coming months, it is likely that Cave once again sees himself in a St. Paul Saints uniform unless another team is looking for some depth in the outfield. But unlike previous years, I have to salute a player who hustled his way into an unfortunate situation and did what he could. Update: The Baltimore Orioles have claimed Jake Cave off waivers. For much more Jake Cave content from Twins Daily, click here. View full article
  8. Jake Cave’s return for 2022 felt frustrating in part when many expected the debut of prospects to be filling those lineup slots. But then an odd thing happened: I didn’t hate Cave this time around. He genuinely seemed to play better every time I expected the worst. And with the season’s doom leading toward more existential questions, a truly odd thought filled my head: Is Jake Cave Good? Let’s cut to the chase: Not particularly. Jake Cave slashed .213/.260/.384 (.624), only a minor improvement on last year’s .189/.263/.400 (.663) with basically the same number of plate appearances. His WRC+ hovered almost to 100—essentially league average—before crashing down to 81. And yet there was Cave hustling to first at Yankee Stadium to put Carlos Correa in position to smash a dinger to give the Twins the lead. In the critical Cleveland series, Cave hit a bomb off Triston McKenzie to provide the Twins an early lead. And if you looked out at the outfield, you could have sworn Buxton had transported himself into Cave’s body as he continually laid out to make a few diving catches. Cave showed significant improvement this year in numerous ways. His Triple-A stint surely helped as he posted a .879 OPS over 85 games, his best since his time in Rochester back in 2019 that eventually landed him on the big-league roster for the last four years. He went on a 49 plate on-base streak, only ended by an unlucky five-inning rain out where he only managed two plate appearances. When Cave first joined the Twins for the San Francisco Giants series at Target Field that gave one last fresh breath of air into the team, he managed to tie the game in the 9th inning with a single, and then the next day smashed a two-run homer and another double in a rousing victory. Cave cooled down into his more expected self, but a few notable stats stick out. First, Cave had become a big strikeout guy, particularly in the 2021 season where he was around 35%. Going back to Triple-A worked wonders. He dropped that to 25% and then only climbed up to 27% when he came back for the majors—still below league average, but an improvement. That came with a sacrifice of power. His BABIP slipped, but there was a big reason for Cave opting for singles: his speed score ballooned from 6.2 after a 3.7 in 2021. To put that into context, only Billy Hamilton and Byron Buxton posted faster speeds for Minnesota this season. I repeat: Jake Cave was the third faster player on the Twins this year. Cave was as fast as new-thorn-for-the-next-seven-years Steven Kwan. And when it came to his defense, his arm strength on Baseball Savant skyrocketed from a mediocre 46% to a shocking 79% within the league Most notably, Cave improved when it mattered. "Clutch" is a unique metric, but it measures your chance at Win Probability against the stakes of the plate appearance as compared to your overall season numbers (to say the least, Carlos Correa demonstrated a high win probability, but his Clutch was -0.91 given his problems delivering with runners on base. Let’s just call it a “heart and hustle” stat). Cave was second on the Twins in the second half of the season in Clutch, just shy of Gilberto Celestino. His dozen barrels doubled what he managed last year, and with his speed, he managed a trio of triples. In the second half, Cave posted a better OPS than Gary Sánchez, Celestino, Max Kepler, and Jorge Polanco. He hit about as well as the aging Nelson Cruz did for the Nationals except on a $800k contract that managed a half point of WAR—essentially quadruple his salary. It may have still been frustrating to see Cave batting fifth in a lineup for a playoff contention team, but Cave was hardly the problem given the improvements he demonstrated. With a huge roster crunch in the coming months, it is likely that Cave once again sees himself in a St. Paul Saints uniform unless another team is looking for some depth in the outfield. But unlike previous years, I have to salute a player who hustled his way into an unfortunate situation and did what he could. Update: The Baltimore Orioles have claimed Jake Cave off waivers. For much more Jake Cave content from Twins Daily, click here.
  9. Do we know at what point Correa needs to announce as free agent before his club option kicks in? I guess before Rule 5....
  10. In the dire straits of September 2021, the Twins fanbase worried about the future of the franchise. The team had justifiably traded away both Nelson Cruz and José Berrios. Negotiations between Byron Buxton and the organization had fallen apart during the summer. A number of the team's exciting prospects were recovering from injuries and likely unavailable to at least start 2022. Plus, a contentious bargaining situation between the league and players had owners acting with caution. Image courtesy of Aaron Josefczyk-USA TODAY Sports Were the Twins to go the way of many teams and begin a long rebuild to return to contention? "I'm not using that word," Derek Falvey told the beat writers. Instead, 2022 would be a year for a reload. But what does a successful reload look like? The Twins set out to return to playoff contention as they had in 2019 and 2020. Doing so would require more money and trades than the team had done in previous years of Pohlad ownership. Teams often reload for playoff contention for several reasons but usually require a strong central core and only a few critical holes to fill. For the 2016 Red Sox, their last year with Hall of Famer David Ortiz and an ascending Mookie Betts, it meant grabbing David Price on a $217 million deal and Craig Kimbrel in a trade with San Diego. The team went from last to first in the division for the next three years, including a World Series ring in 2018. However, a better comparison for teams with smaller payrolls might be those 2005 White Sox. Their opening day lineup only featured three of the same faces from 2004, but none were rookies. Instead, Ozzie Guillén and Kenny Williams tried to rethink what kind of players to build around their core, grabbing AJ Pierzynski, Jermaine Dye, Tadahito Iguchi, and Scott Podsednik. Most of their core pitching returned, with Yankees pitcher Orlando Hernández filling in as their fifth man. Their salary ballooned from $65 million to $75 million, while the first-place Twins remained essentially static in the $50 million range. Of course, it was all worth it: the White Sox were an era-defining team, winning the division by six games, going on one of the all-time great post-season runs, and ending an 88-year-old championship drought. For the Twins going into 2022, there was enough in the revolver for one last go of a core set of players: Jorge Polanco, Byron Buxton, Josh Donaldson, Luis Arraez, Mitch Garver, and Miguel Sano, plus some promise with Joe Ryan, Bailey Ober, Trevor Larnach, and Alex Kirilloff to step up (not to mention the many hopes around the arrival of Royce Lewis). Their bullpen had enough interesting names to build around. So why didn't the Twins work? First, the Twins had too many holes to fill, particularly in the starting pitching realm. Ober and Ryan had less than 100 innings under their belts, and Kenta Maeda was merely a glimmer of promise for a late-season comeback. The Twins needed a Day One starter, but quickly missed names like Carlos Rodon, Marcus Stroman, and Noah Syndergaard, all of who made splashy but not impossible out-of-reach deals for the organization to match. When the market reopened, the Twins rebounded by making the smart move to trade their first-round draft pick for Sonny Gray. But then they went with not one not two but three different "fix me up" projects: Dylan Bundy, Chris Archer, and Chris Paddack. Beyond Gray, that left five essentially unproven starters on opening day. The bullpen additions were equally shaky with the additions of Joe Smith and Emilio Pagán while dealing Taylor Rogers. Most importantly, the Twins essentially committed almost no new money in this realm beyond their trade capital, an odd sign for a team serious about contending. Of course, the Twins put money down this season with a pair of $100+ million contracts: an extension of Buxton and a second in a blockbuster deal to commit $35.1 million a year to Carlos Correa. Bringing in a playoff specialist like Correa was the essential move they needed. It at least felt part of their decision to erase bad clubhouse vibes by flipping Josh Donaldson for Yankees veterans Gio Urshela and Gary Sánchez. Neither Urshela nor Sánchez were the top Bronx bombers, but there was plenty of sense they were the kind of players who understood big spots and big games. And yet, the Twins probably remained slim in other veteran talent to reinforce their lineup. The previous year had demonstrated that the team did not have their prospects ready to go as eight different men took to center field to fill in injury after injury. Whether the Twins expected this year's injury woes to be worse than last year, their decision to depend entirely on prospects to back up Buxton and Kepler felt short-sided with plenty of low-end veterans available on the market (Kevin Pillar for example took a minor league deal with the Dodgers). A strong reload rarely means depending on new players—those 2005 Sox were all veterans beyond their season call-up of closer Bobby Jenks—but the Twins seemingly put a lot of hope on what feels like too many prospects suddenly becoming core players. Jose Miranda, Griffin Jax, and Jhoan Duran, have made themselves essential to this year's success, but others still have question marks about their long term viability (whether injury or ability). Either way, building through prospects is similar to what this year's Mariners have done where team has done after a long rebuild where they plan on years of contention after making a number of high profile trades and signings of known quantities to reinforce any flops of their prospects (Julio Rodríguez and George Kirby has outshined all potential, while Jarred Kelenic has essentially disappeared). Reloads are not just about graduating prospects; it's about building with those who don't need time to figure out their success. In another world, Donaldson was traded for prospects rather than big leaguers, and you could imagine Buxton, Polanco, and even Arraez packing their bags for other ballparks. Watching multiple seasons of poor performance in the hope of a good team down the road is no one's idea of fun, so the fact that the Twins pushed this year remains a blessing. But in retrospect, their approach in the reload feels odd. The Twins did increase their salary by 20% this season, but in the end, they were perhaps not in the place for the reload that wins championships. What was missing from the Twins reload? Sound off in the comments. View full article
  11. Were the Twins to go the way of many teams and begin a long rebuild to return to contention? "I'm not using that word," Derek Falvey told the beat writers. Instead, 2022 would be a year for a reload. But what does a successful reload look like? The Twins set out to return to playoff contention as they had in 2019 and 2020. Doing so would require more money and trades than the team had done in previous years of Pohlad ownership. Teams often reload for playoff contention for several reasons but usually require a strong central core and only a few critical holes to fill. For the 2016 Red Sox, their last year with Hall of Famer David Ortiz and an ascending Mookie Betts, it meant grabbing David Price on a $217 million deal and Craig Kimbrel in a trade with San Diego. The team went from last to first in the division for the next three years, including a World Series ring in 2018. However, a better comparison for teams with smaller payrolls might be those 2005 White Sox. Their opening day lineup only featured three of the same faces from 2004, but none were rookies. Instead, Ozzie Guillén and Kenny Williams tried to rethink what kind of players to build around their core, grabbing AJ Pierzynski, Jermaine Dye, Tadahito Iguchi, and Scott Podsednik. Most of their core pitching returned, with Yankees pitcher Orlando Hernández filling in as their fifth man. Their salary ballooned from $65 million to $75 million, while the first-place Twins remained essentially static in the $50 million range. Of course, it was all worth it: the White Sox were an era-defining team, winning the division by six games, going on one of the all-time great post-season runs, and ending an 88-year-old championship drought. For the Twins going into 2022, there was enough in the revolver for one last go of a core set of players: Jorge Polanco, Byron Buxton, Josh Donaldson, Luis Arraez, Mitch Garver, and Miguel Sano, plus some promise with Joe Ryan, Bailey Ober, Trevor Larnach, and Alex Kirilloff to step up (not to mention the many hopes around the arrival of Royce Lewis). Their bullpen had enough interesting names to build around. So why didn't the Twins work? First, the Twins had too many holes to fill, particularly in the starting pitching realm. Ober and Ryan had less than 100 innings under their belts, and Kenta Maeda was merely a glimmer of promise for a late-season comeback. The Twins needed a Day One starter, but quickly missed names like Carlos Rodon, Marcus Stroman, and Noah Syndergaard, all of who made splashy but not impossible out-of-reach deals for the organization to match. When the market reopened, the Twins rebounded by making the smart move to trade their first-round draft pick for Sonny Gray. But then they went with not one not two but three different "fix me up" projects: Dylan Bundy, Chris Archer, and Chris Paddack. Beyond Gray, that left five essentially unproven starters on opening day. The bullpen additions were equally shaky with the additions of Joe Smith and Emilio Pagán while dealing Taylor Rogers. Most importantly, the Twins essentially committed almost no new money in this realm beyond their trade capital, an odd sign for a team serious about contending. Of course, the Twins put money down this season with a pair of $100+ million contracts: an extension of Buxton and a second in a blockbuster deal to commit $35.1 million a year to Carlos Correa. Bringing in a playoff specialist like Correa was the essential move they needed. It at least felt part of their decision to erase bad clubhouse vibes by flipping Josh Donaldson for Yankees veterans Gio Urshela and Gary Sánchez. Neither Urshela nor Sánchez were the top Bronx bombers, but there was plenty of sense they were the kind of players who understood big spots and big games. And yet, the Twins probably remained slim in other veteran talent to reinforce their lineup. The previous year had demonstrated that the team did not have their prospects ready to go as eight different men took to center field to fill in injury after injury. Whether the Twins expected this year's injury woes to be worse than last year, their decision to depend entirely on prospects to back up Buxton and Kepler felt short-sided with plenty of low-end veterans available on the market (Kevin Pillar for example took a minor league deal with the Dodgers). A strong reload rarely means depending on new players—those 2005 Sox were all veterans beyond their season call-up of closer Bobby Jenks—but the Twins seemingly put a lot of hope on what feels like too many prospects suddenly becoming core players. Jose Miranda, Griffin Jax, and Jhoan Duran, have made themselves essential to this year's success, but others still have question marks about their long term viability (whether injury or ability). Either way, building through prospects is similar to what this year's Mariners have done where team has done after a long rebuild where they plan on years of contention after making a number of high profile trades and signings of known quantities to reinforce any flops of their prospects (Julio Rodríguez and George Kirby has outshined all potential, while Jarred Kelenic has essentially disappeared). Reloads are not just about graduating prospects; it's about building with those who don't need time to figure out their success. In another world, Donaldson was traded for prospects rather than big leaguers, and you could imagine Buxton, Polanco, and even Arraez packing their bags for other ballparks. Watching multiple seasons of poor performance in the hope of a good team down the road is no one's idea of fun, so the fact that the Twins pushed this year remains a blessing. But in retrospect, their approach in the reload feels odd. The Twins did increase their salary by 20% this season, but in the end, they were perhaps not in the place for the reload that wins championships. What was missing from the Twins reload? Sound off in the comments.
  12. I think a good question right now is why isn't Winder being used as a long relief guy or another one of the starters. Rather than go six innings, couldn't he become a third time through the rotation guy and go 3 innings every few days, maybe tie him around Bundy and Archer starts? The Twins currently are using six starters and Ober is on his way back. Seems like there's an essential opportunity to use there.
  13. Just quietly wondering what it would have looked like with Duffy in the 10th last night.
  14. If you go back to the reports around the hiring of Wes Johnson, all of them are data analytic-obsessed articles. Not surprising: as late as 2019, signaling that Big Data was the future of everything still seemed like a good bet. The New York Times headline reads: "The Science of Building a Better Pitcher." Often noted, but still somewhat sidelined, is Johnson and his own personality. “He’s so bubbly, and he just bounces off the walls with energy,” described Texas Baseball Ranch found Ron Wolforth. He was as known for his skills as his nickname creator in college ball. And according to Dallas Baptist University head coach Dan Heefner in 2018, where Johnson often worked with the most scrappy of baseball prospects, it was not about simply reading the charts. "He really understands the numbers, but he can communicate it to a player in a way that simplifies it." The ultimate question of data in sports has been one the entire sport has been grappling with since 2002. There was a traditional way of doing things, and then there was the new way. Even in Joe Maddon’s exit interview with Ken Rosenthal, he had a few key words for upstairs management and their thoughts on how to play the game. This is what made Johnson unique and a critical part of this sports team and perhaps how sports teams continue to build from here on out: good data is only as good as its communication. Johnson, who is leaving for Louisiana State University, was an expert communicator and changed pitchers based not just on what he saw, but how they needed to learn. Going forward, the Twins and other sports will need to find ways to keep coaches like Johnson if they truly want to succeed. Johnson was hired in 2019 in retrospect as part of one particular mistake by the former front office. A struggling Twins team sent Ryan Pressly to the Astros, where his WHIP dropped from 1.33 to a 0.58 as the closer for their World Series contending team. In Ben Lindbergh and Travis Sawchik's The MVP Machine, they reveal some critical details about what was happening in both organizations. The Twins data team knew about the effectiveness of Pressly’s curveball, but for one reason or another, could not find a way to explain it to the young pitcher. Pressly remembers that the Astros did at first throw too many charts with too many axises in trying to explain the effectiveness of his pitch, but the book notes the important role of Brent Strom, the oldest coach in the league and a particular joker as well in telling pitchers what they needed to know. Players might not understand MBAs, but when the right person tells them in the right way, it can transform how they develop. Derek Falvey explained in 2019 that he hired Johnson based on the kinds of data and analytical approaches used in college ball and seemingly hired Johnson on that basis. But in repeated articles of those on the ground since joining the team, Johnson is less a coach than a counselor. Having mentored with young guys barely understanding their mechanics much less how to bathe properly, Johnson had to learn how to talk to kids who might be easily erratic to new information. He developed trust first, and information second. During Sunday's broadcast and before he likely knew of the unexpected news, Chris Archer gushed about how much Johnson had essentially saved his career by developing their unexpected program for him despite the limited workload. As one article on 2020’s Spring Training (before COVID shut it down) suggested, “The key [for Twins pitchers] has been having a coaching staff and analytic department that has worked together to identify and deliver the message to the player in ways that can help them understand how it will help them on the field.” Rather than lead by analytics, he acted as a bridge. More so, what Johnson talks about with pitchers feels very different. Take this Twins Daily profile from 2019: Even though Gibson gets the last word, the joke buried inside is actually revealing of how Johnson connects the body rather than the numbers. It’s one thing to tell a player to throw their slider more and give them the expected batting averages; Johnson sticks close to the thing players understand best: what their body is feeling. A continuing anecdote appears in many of the Johnson profiles: he often let other pitchers do the work for him. This isn’t some lazy choice, but again, thinking about how to create effective communication. As Johnson told FiveThirtyEight in 2019: “I can’t always speak the language that gets them to learn the fastest. When [Martin Perez] first started with the cutter, I said, ‘Hey, you gotta go talk to Jake [Odorizzi].’ Your job as a coach is yes, to coach the guys, but it’s also to close the feedback loop and make it as small as possible.” And with this year’s rotation that barely knew each other, Johnson ensured the team fed of each other’s energy and made them into a family (likely leading to the $500 foul out competition) There is no rule against more coaches. Just ask the San Francisco Giants, who outperformed their projections by a stunning 20 games and the dozen or so they employ (according to a recent interview with Fernando Perez on Effectively Wild, he explained they use a log system to avoid contradictory information). Data has changed baseball, in some ways for the better. But replacing Wes Johnson might not be as easy as it looks, particularly during the midstream moment. These players—just like anyone playing baseball at any level—don't need to know the numbers. They need to know their own bodies. And coaching is a skill that might have changed over the last decades of baseball, but Johnson understood the critical skill: knowing how to tell players in the right moment.
  15. Why was Wes Johnson so critical to this team's recent success? A look back at the changing perception of how he was brought on and how he's leaving. If you go back to the reports around the hiring of Wes Johnson, all of them are data analytic-obsessed articles. Not surprising: as late as 2019, signaling that Big Data was the future of everything still seemed like a good bet. The New York Times headline reads: "The Science of Building a Better Pitcher." Often noted, but still somewhat sidelined, is Johnson and his own personality. “He’s so bubbly, and he just bounces off the walls with energy,” described Texas Baseball Ranch found Ron Wolforth. He was as known for his skills as his nickname creator in college ball. And according to Dallas Baptist University head coach Dan Heefner in 2018, where Johnson often worked with the most scrappy of baseball prospects, it was not about simply reading the charts. "He really understands the numbers, but he can communicate it to a player in a way that simplifies it." The ultimate question of data in sports has been one the entire sport has been grappling with since 2002. There was a traditional way of doing things, and then there was the new way. Even in Joe Maddon’s exit interview with Ken Rosenthal, he had a few key words for upstairs management and their thoughts on how to play the game. This is what made Johnson unique and a critical part of this sports team and perhaps how sports teams continue to build from here on out: good data is only as good as its communication. Johnson, who is leaving for Louisiana State University, was an expert communicator and changed pitchers based not just on what he saw, but how they needed to learn. Going forward, the Twins and other sports will need to find ways to keep coaches like Johnson if they truly want to succeed. Johnson was hired in 2019 in retrospect as part of one particular mistake by the former front office. A struggling Twins team sent Ryan Pressly to the Astros, where his WHIP dropped from 1.33 to a 0.58 as the closer for their World Series contending team. In Ben Lindbergh and Travis Sawchik's The MVP Machine, they reveal some critical details about what was happening in both organizations. The Twins data team knew about the effectiveness of Pressly’s curveball, but for one reason or another, could not find a way to explain it to the young pitcher. Pressly remembers that the Astros did at first throw too many charts with too many axises in trying to explain the effectiveness of his pitch, but the book notes the important role of Brent Strom, the oldest coach in the league and a particular joker as well in telling pitchers what they needed to know. Players might not understand MBAs, but when the right person tells them in the right way, it can transform how they develop. Derek Falvey explained in 2019 that he hired Johnson based on the kinds of data and analytical approaches used in college ball and seemingly hired Johnson on that basis. But in repeated articles of those on the ground since joining the team, Johnson is less a coach than a counselor. Having mentored with young guys barely understanding their mechanics much less how to bathe properly, Johnson had to learn how to talk to kids who might be easily erratic to new information. He developed trust first, and information second. During Sunday's broadcast and before he likely knew of the unexpected news, Chris Archer gushed about how much Johnson had essentially saved his career by developing their unexpected program for him despite the limited workload. As one article on 2020’s Spring Training (before COVID shut it down) suggested, “The key [for Twins pitchers] has been having a coaching staff and analytic department that has worked together to identify and deliver the message to the player in ways that can help them understand how it will help them on the field.” Rather than lead by analytics, he acted as a bridge. More so, what Johnson talks about with pitchers feels very different. Take this Twins Daily profile from 2019: Even though Gibson gets the last word, the joke buried inside is actually revealing of how Johnson connects the body rather than the numbers. It’s one thing to tell a player to throw their slider more and give them the expected batting averages; Johnson sticks close to the thing players understand best: what their body is feeling. A continuing anecdote appears in many of the Johnson profiles: he often let other pitchers do the work for him. This isn’t some lazy choice, but again, thinking about how to create effective communication. As Johnson told FiveThirtyEight in 2019: “I can’t always speak the language that gets them to learn the fastest. When [Martin Perez] first started with the cutter, I said, ‘Hey, you gotta go talk to Jake [Odorizzi].’ Your job as a coach is yes, to coach the guys, but it’s also to close the feedback loop and make it as small as possible.” And with this year’s rotation that barely knew each other, Johnson ensured the team fed of each other’s energy and made them into a family (likely leading to the $500 foul out competition) There is no rule against more coaches. Just ask the San Francisco Giants, who outperformed their projections by a stunning 20 games and the dozen or so they employ (according to a recent interview with Fernando Perez on Effectively Wild, he explained they use a log system to avoid contradictory information). Data has changed baseball, in some ways for the better. But replacing Wes Johnson might not be as easy as it looks, particularly during the midstream moment. These players—just like anyone playing baseball at any level—don't need to know the numbers. They need to know their own bodies. And coaching is a skill that might have changed over the last decades of baseball, but Johnson understood the critical skill: knowing how to tell players in the right moment. View full article
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