Jeff K reacted to Cody Christie for an article, Jorge Polanco’s Twins Tenure is Approaching an End
Jorge Polanco debuted with the Twins 10 seasons ago, but he only appeared in nine games over his first two seasons. Minnesota had an infield need in 2014, and he was the only option on the 40-man roster. He became a regular for the Twins in the second half of 2016 and played over 100 games for the first time in 2017. Polanco started the 2019 All-Star Game at shortstop, and Twins Daily named him the team’s MVP in 2021. He will play his 800th game with the Twins this season, and the club will likely induct him into the team Hall of Fame following his retirement.
Polanco has dealt with mounting injuries in recent seasons that have had a negative impact on his performance. Ankle injuries slowed him down during the 2019 and 2020 seasons, resulting in back-to-back offseasons where he needed surgery. He went on the IL for the first time in his career on June 16, 2022. Injuries limited to 46 games after his IL stint in 2022, and a knee injury delayed his start to the 2023 campaign. He’s played fewer than 50 games for the Twins this season, making his team option a tough decision for the front office.
The Twins signed Polanco to a five-year, $25.7 million contract extension before the 2019 campaign, which turned out to be team-friendly. According to FanGraphs, Polanco has provided the Twins with $82.2 million worth of value since he signed his extension. Minnesota has two team options left on his current deal for $10.5 million per season. In 2023, injuries have limited his playing time, and he has been worth .$5.1 million. The Twins and the team’s medical staff know Polanco better than anyone, and his injury history might make it difficult for the club to pick up his option.
Organizationally, younger players are performing at the big-league level and are prepared to step into Polanco’s role. Edouard Julien has been one of the team’s best hitters this season while regularly playing at second base. Royce Lewis and Brooks Lee are also expected to fit into the team’s infield picture for the foreseeable future. Minnesota’s ideal line-up by midseason next year likely includes Lee and Lewis, along with Carlos Correa and Alex Kirilloff. Health can always influence how the front office constructs the roster, especially with how the team has tended to value depth.
If Polanco’s Twins tenure ends, fans should remember him as one of the best infielders in team history. Only three shortstops have accumulated more fWAR than Polanco, including Roy Smalley, Zoilo Versalles, and Greg Gagne. Rod Carew, Chuck Knoblauch, and Brian Dozier are the lone second basemen with more than fWAR than Polanco. All those infielders are among the best in team history, and each accumulated at least 150 more games than Polanco during their Twins tenure.
Polanco has given the Twins tremendous value during his career, including being a leader on multiple playoff-contending teams. However, his Twins tenure seems to be coming to an end, with younger and cheaper options ready to step into the infield. There is a possibility that the Twins exercise his $10.5 million team option, but that seems like a fleeting chance at this point.
Should the Twins exercise Polanco’s option? Can the team try and work on a restructured deal? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.
Jeff K reacted to Hans Birkeland for an article, Twins Number One Starter? Bailey Ober.
The Twins rotation has been a pronounced strength all season despite an underperforming offense and injured bullpen dampening its results. Sonny Gray and Pablo López were both All-Stars, while Joe Ryan very well may have been if he hadn’t pitched the Sunday before the break. Kenta Maeda has pitched incredibly well in four of five starts since returning from the IL and carries a strong track record of effectiveness. But the Twins’ best starter at the moment didn’t even start the year on the active roster. I’m referring, of course, to John Bailey Ober.
That may seem like a hot take, but Ober has been truly impressive this year, posting a 156 ERA+ (meaning 56% above average) while throwing a quality start in 11 of his 16 turns in the rotation. For what it's worth, he is the only system-developed starter pitching for the Twins right now.
He also offers a unique skillset: At 6’9” his extension at release is in the 99th percentile among MLB starters, allowing his 91-92 MPH fastball to be a legitimate weapon when paired with an effective slider and changeup that he, most days, commands quite well. He walks very few hitters and has a 93rd percentile chase rate that results in a lot of weak contact. He also has the intestinal fortitude to rebound from rough innings, such as last week in Seattle (three runs in the first) or in May against the Giants (four runs in the first). In both outings he lasted at least five innings and didn't allow any further damage, saving the bullpen and keeping the deficit at a minimum. But when he's at his best, such as his start in Baltimore, he can be dominant:
But saying Ober is the best of the bunch right now isn’t all about his individual success; it’s also about the flaws of the other starters and how they have been amplified recently. Let's go through those individually.
Gray was great in April, but let's be honest, he hasn’t been great since. In broad terms, he is not only winless since that opening month, but he has had only three quality starts (out of 14). One of them, in Baltimore, happened when he exited the game after six innings, saying he was gassed (to date the only time Gray has ever agreed with a manager’s decision to remove him). That may have been a revelatory moment, as he wasn’t allowed to go back out and have his worst inning. In every start he makes, he cruises through about four of his innings, commanding his breaking pitches and confounding hitters with his vast repertoire.
Also in every start, he completely loses his command for a brief period. Sometimes he rebounds, like in his start at Target Field against the Orioles right before the break where he allowed six hits in the second inning, and none in any other inning. Sometimes he can’t get through a lineup a third time, like against Cleveland on June 3rd, where he looked dominant through six innings. In the seventh, however, he gave up his first homer of the year, and the lead, to light-hitting Will Brennan in a game the Twins eventually lost. His home run rate is elite, and that keeps his overall numbers solid (although his walk rate is an elevated 3.6 per nine innings), but it's hard to trust a pitcher who completely loses his ability to command the ball once per game.
It stems, I believe, from his refusal to give in to hitters, something Twins starters of the past didn't do enough of. During the past few decades, Twins’ starters would be so afraid to walk guys that they would seemingly rather give hitters a cookie down the middle than a free pass, which has hurt them in the playoffs and possibly in the development of pitchers like Jose Berrios.
Gray, by contrast, is so willing to walk guys rather than let them get a home run pitch, that he has given up four bases loaded walks already this year. It’s cool to see a guy paint the corners on a 3-2 pitch with men on base, but if you’re missing your spot by an inch or two, that can lead to lots of traffic, which we’ve seen over and over from Gray. I’m not sure if he is unable to get weak in-zone contact, or if he’s just too stubborn to pitch any other way. Either way, his winless streak is looking less and less like a mirage.
López has been average on the surface (in terms of ERA and wins), elite one level below the surface (strikeout to walk ratio, baseball savant page), and then pretty bad when it comes to combating the approaches opposing teams roll out against him. You can dink and dunk him into submission, and when he’s at that point, he can allow hard contact. Sometimes the dinks and dunks don’t fall for hits and he looks incredible, but when they do and he gets put into high stress situations, he tends to unleash his worst pitches of the day.
That was definitely the case in Oakland on July 15th when he coughed up a six run lead against a Triple-A caliber lineup. On June 24th against Detroit, he allowed three singles and a walk before a 0-2 mistake pitch to Zach McKinstry scored two on a sharp single that decided the game (it shouldn’t have, but it did). On June 1st against the Guardians, he cruised through five, saw the offense give him a 3-1 lead, and then promptly gave up six singles after a leadoff walk to blow the game. He’s good overall, and you have to love the strikeout rate, but if offenses like the Royals, Tigers and Guardians can get under his skin, that doesn't portend well for a playoff matchup.
Ryan has been legitimately good overall, but as the summer has heated up, so has his opponents’ home run rate. He has given up thirteen home runs in his last seven starts, and although we would all like to believe it was due to tipping pitches, making the change to wearing sleeves during his starts hasn’t helped much. Opponents are hitting .354 off of his sweeper/slider with four home runs, so it looks as though only one of his Driveline-sourced pitches has been worth the hype (his split-change has still been effective).
Unlike Gray and López, it seems as though working through trouble is a strength of Ryan’s, as he is the only one of the three to post an OBP under .300 with runners on (Gray at .342, Lopez at .324), which definitely passes the eye test. But he has yet to come up with a way to punish hitters who are looking to ambush him, particularly his fastball early in counts. He has a great strikeout to walk rate, amazing pitch values and a shutout against Boston, but his ERA since the end of May is 5.65 and opponents are slugging .493 against him in that time period. It's a thin slice, but he just hasn’t been that good since May outside of that shutout. Teams have adjusted to him and he needs to adjust back.
Meanwhile Ober simply has not had a bad start, and that has proven more and more valuable to a team that isn’t getting as many top-notch pitching performances as it did in April and May. It is fair to wonder if the team has an innings limit placed on Ober, as he has never pitched more than 109 innings in a season at either the college or professional level. Injuries have played a part in that, with nagging soft tissue injuries the main culprit, so it may be logical to find extra days of rest for him. Hopefully, the team isn’t considering a shutdown at a specific innings threshold, ala Stephen Strasburg in 2012.
If Ober pitches the rest of the year, he would be in line for about thirteen more starts. He is averaging nearly six innings per start, so even if you round that down to five and a half innings on average going forward, he is on pace for over 70 additional innings to the 112 he has already pitched between the majors and minors this year. It will be an interesting story to watch, as he offers the best combination of deception, command and ability to pitch through adversity of any of the Twins starting five. Perhaps a six man rotation featuring Dallas Keuchel could spread those innings out a bit.
Let's hope Ober is available in October, since he may give the team their best chance of winning game one of a playoff series.
Jeff K reacted to Cody Pirkl for an article, The Twins Should be Shopping Sonny Gray
The idea to trade Sonny Gray in 2023 does not come from the same thought process as the calls to trade Carlos Correa in 2022. At least not entirely. The Twins have reached a point of extenuating circumstances where they should at least be fielding calls on the All-Star right-hander, and it took a few steps to find themselves at this point.
For starters, the Twins are not a playoff-caliber baseball team. The possibility of them accidentally finding themselves in the postseason is there, but what is that really worth? Typically the thought is that you just have to make it into the playoffs and anything can happen, but having watched this team thus far, it’s hard to argue that they’re capable of putting together a stretch of winning baseball for any period of time, let alone when it matters most against the highest level of competition.
Not only would one of the most strikeout-prone teams in baseball history be facing the game’s best pitchers in October, but teams have the ability to bring in any left-handed pitcher on the roster and completely shut them down, as evidenced by the Twins' .218/.289/.365 slash line against southpaws. They’ve shown that for how good their pitching staff is with Sonny Gray and company, the offense is bad enough to cancel it out on a regular basis.
The Twins season-high win streak is four games, a testament to the team’s ability to go on any kind of run to this point in the season. They’ve been unable to separate themselves from the worst division in baseball. The postseason is unpredictable, but what are the odds that this team can go on any sustained run across multiple series against the best teams in baseball?
If this were the only argument, it would be worth keeping Sonny Gray, but Sonny has dropped some interesting quotes the last few days that should have the Twins really considering their next move.
The plan all season has been very straightforward with Sonny Gray. A free agent after 2023, the Twins have the ability to extend him the qualifying offer of around $20 million. Recent free agent history is ripe with examples of similar pitchers getting strong enough multi-year deals to decline this offer, leaving their previous team with a high compensation draft pick. If Sonny were to sign elsewhere with the qualifying offer attached for at least $50 million, the Twins essentially get another first round pick in the 2024 draft. If he signs for less, they’d get a competitive balance pick at the end of the second round, a much easier value to beat in a trade return from a pitching-desperate contender at the deadline.
For this reason, it can be argued that the value may skew towards a trade return rather than offering him the qualifying offer and having him potentially sign a one-year deal at best. If Gray won’t be pursuing the Chris Bassitt-type three-year, $60m deal next winter, the Twins should be weighing that value against what they could potentially get in trade.
It’s not always best practice to make these types of decisions based solely on what is considered on paper value, but the Twins have put themselves in a position where they should consider it. In a vacuum, a contending team shouldn’t be parting with their All-Star starting pitcher in the middle of a playoff race. That being said, even with Sonny Gray, the Twins are a below .500 team whose playoff aspirations likely hinge more on their opponent's poor play in the second half than their own success. As they’ve crossed over the halfway point, their mediocre play is no longer a slump.
They could make the playoffs even without Gray should the rest of the Central continue at their current pace. Should they make it to October, they still have Pablo Lopez, Joe Ryan and Bailey Ober for a playoff series. It’s still a formidable rotation and admittedly would be an even better one with Gray. As we’ve seen though, if this is the brand of offense the Twins employ, the pitcher on any given day doesn’t matter unless we believe they’re riding shutouts all the way to a world series title.
The Twins don’t need to go full-on fire sale. They’ve established enough pitching depth to continue to compete in the pillow fight that is the AL Central race without Sonny Gray if an offer blows them away. While the 2023 season is still up in the air, they should still have an eye on 2024 and beyond given what we’ve already learned about this team. In what should be a pitching-thin market, they could have an opportunity to get a difference-making return on a 33-year-old All-Star who may not be in the league next year, let alone with the Twins. Should they seize the opportunity?
Jeff K reacted to Cody Pirkl for an article, Could Bailey Ober Still Win A Rotation Spot?
Bailey Ober has found himself on the outside looking in regarding the Opening Day rotation. With the additions the Twins have made the last few seasons and the return of Kenta Maeda, the 6-foot-8-inch right-hander seemed to have lost his job. It’s certainly about health more than performance, but Ober’s spring thus far may push the Twins into making a difficult decision.
Bailey Ober is the one homegrown starting pitcher the Falvey regime has produced that can be considered anything near “established”. That definition has to be used loosely, as his health has been a significant question mark. Ober’s size and frame have cost him significant time in his six professional seasons, topping out at 108 innings in 2021. It’s those health issues that have factored into the Twins trading for five starting pitchers during the last two seasons. The team’s inability to count on any significant amount of innings is a concern. He’s showing this spring that he’s at 100%, and that could and probably should force the Twins to bring him north with the big league club for Opening Day.
His velocity is up, and his offspeed pitches look dominant thus far this spring. With a track record of such a limited workload in his career, it can be argued that healthy innings shouldn’t be burned in St. Paul. So how could Ober find his way onto the Opening Day roster?
Injury Opens A Spot
It’s worth noting that finding space for Ober isn’t an issue as of now with plenty of spring training time remaining. We can’t forget the injury-riddled 2022 season in regard to the possibility that a starting pitcher could still find their way to the Opening Day IL, including Ober. Many times when we ask where someone fits in, the problem solves itself. Hopefully, it doesn’t, but Ober is insurance for the possibility that it does.
He Outright Wins The Job
The Twins haven’t alluded to any kind of formal rotation battle going on, but if there was, it would likely be between Ober and Kenta Maeda. We’re talking about a ridiculously small sample of spring training stats, but it would be hard to argue that Ober hasn't looked much sharper this spring. Having only thrown six innings in three outings, Ober has struck out six and only allowed two baserunners with his velocity up across the board.
Maeda on the other hand has looked rusty as should be expected following his Tommy John recovery. In his 5 2/3 innings. He’s struck out four and walked five. His velocity continues to sit in the danger zone of around 90 mph.
Could the Twins be swayed into going with Ober and pushing Maeda out of the rotation? It’s worth noting that he showed signs of falling off in 2021 before injuring his elbow. Maeda has also pitched effectively out of the bullpen before where his offspeed pitches could be used more effectively. It may be a long shot, but it may be a possibility worth keeping in mind during the last few weeks of spring training. Six-Man Rotation
The Twins are considering a six-man rotation more seriously than ever. While it would cost them an arm in the bullpen, the concept makes a lot of sense in order to give an extra recovery day to a rotation full of health-related landmines. The question in this scenario becomes “How long do they stick with it?”. This could also answer itself very quickly due to either health or performance.
In this situation the Twins keep all six of their possible Opening Day starters stretched out to ensure they still have five viable arms should one go down with an injury. While it’s a bit unorthodox, a six-man rotation would give an opportunity to start to all six pitchers who at this point are deserving. While Maeda’s spring has been questionable thus far, it’s hard to put much stock in the numbers he’s putting up, and this would give him an opportunity to show what he has left in the tank. It seems to be the best option for all parties involved if the Twins are willing to sacrifice a relief pitcher.
How it all will play out remains unclear, but the Twins had a very simple solution to their unusual stash of depth in the rotation, and Bailey Ober has shown up to camp and made it complicated. Should Ober go to Triple-A and wait for an opening in the big leagues? Should he earn an Opening Day spot should his good performance continue? Let us know below