The_Phantom reacted to Cody Pirkl for an article, Trading Gio Was A Mistake
We’ve received more straightforward news on the Max Kepler front these last few days. After speculation grew regarding the Twins possibly keeping the left-handed outfielder, Dan Hayes reports that Kepler sticking around is likely at this point. It’s been discussed how Max Kepler still has value in the right role to help the Twins if he stays. This news does make us second guess parting with Gio Urshela earlier this winter, however.
The Twins decision to trade Gio Urshela was straightforward at the time. Jose Miranda is getting a fair crack at being the everyday third baseman, and Urshela’s projected arbitration salary was a bit high for a player whose role wasn’t certain. They followed it up by signing Joey Gallo to a one-year, $11 million prove-it deal. This all but cemented the fact that Max Kepler was on the way out, as six left-handed corner outfielders on the 40-man roster is beyond excessive. With the addition of Gallo and Kepler apparently staying around, however, the Twins may have misplayed their hand.
It appears the plan with Kepler still being in the mix is for Joey Gallo to play a lot of first base in 2023. With Alex Kirilloff’s health being in question and Gallo having some experience there, it makes sense given the state of the current 40-man roster. Consider however that given Joey Gallo's recent offensive struggles, a fair bit of his floor value comes from his defense in the outfield. Perhaps his offense rebounds to passable levels for a first baseman, but his ability to cover ground and throw out runners on the base paths would be all but nullified by a move to first base.
Make no mistake, the debate didn’t have to be Urshela vs Gallo for the first base platoon role. It seemed that the plan was to trade Max Kepler for much of the offseason. The Twins asking price appeared to have been high all along, but given the level of player Kepler is at this point and the context of the roster, it’s confusing why they’d play hardball on his price on the trade market.
Urshela was a far more valuable player than Kepler in 2022 by any Wins Above Replacement measure and was essentially given away for free because of his redundancy with Miranda moving over to the hot corner. The irony in this is that the Twins now have Gallo, Larnach, Gordon, Wallner, Kirilloff, and Kepler as left-handed corner outfield options and it appears they haven’t lowered their asking price at all. Kepler has a $10 million option for 2024, but do the Twins really plan on paying that if Kepler’s performance from the last two years continues?
The Twins current roster includes a massive left-handed logjam with players like Joey Gallo out of position where his skillset isn’t being maximized. Several young players such as Trevor Larnach and Matt Wallner who should be nearing their chance to show what they can do are now pushed further down the line by the excessive outfield depth chart. They could have a better platoon partner for Kirilloff and one more right-handed bat in Gio Urshela for less money, but instead, they traded this scenario away for a 19-year-old pitching prospect in the low minors.
It’s hard to say there weren’t miscalculations on the Twins part this offseason. Looking at the roster now, it becomes clear that Urshela’s value to the team exceeded the value he carried on the trade market. This is further exacerbated by the Twins appearing to overvalue Kepler on the trade market despite the obvious lack of need for him on the roster. If they valued Kepler this highly, why sign Joey Gallo at all as opposed to keeping Gio Urshela or designating that $11 million to a right-handed hitter with more experience at first base?
It’s possible Max Kepler is still traded before the season and that the roster makes a lot more sense on Opening Day. As things stand now, however, it sure looks like dumping Gio Urshela for anything they could get was a mistake. Do you agree?
The_Phantom reacted to Matt Braun for an article, The Twins' Road to Nowhere
One-year deals are an admission of fault. Either the market lacked quality, all trade routes fell through, or the internal options were so hideous that the team felt it necessary to promise a player pay for just a single year of their time.
For the athlete, a one-year-deal represents one of two things: an opportunity to bounce back from a dreadful season, perhaps re-inflating one’s value before hitting the free market with a prettier sheen, or an acceptance of age, an understanding that father time’s inevitable march will render your talents useless. No team wants to lose out in a nebulous contract musical chairs, so the player Nelson Cruz’s it and agrees to one-year pacts before slithering away into retirement. Or he’ll sign with Pittsburgh.
Teams love diving into these waters. If the contract busts, they don’t have to be the poor souls legally stuck to an albatross, and their job security only takes the slightest hit. It was a good bet, after all. If the deal works, they look like genius, clairvoyant decision-makers who can reap the benefits of a productive player while raking in compliments. In a land where Xander Bogaerts signs for 11 years, that’s a reasonable pool to visit.
There’s an emptiness to these deals, though. While professional sports is a business, we like to create connections with players, perhaps fooling ourselves into ignoring the massive amounts of money that exchange hands to allow their athletic ability to shine. When Max Kepler mans right field for the millionth time in a Twins uniform, our shared experience builds a connection, one that draws people closer to their romantic idea of a hometown sports team. What relationship will we have with Joey Gallo? How can we fully love a player destined to leave?
The player’s intentions become evident in this scenario. While Carlos Correa may become hands-on—which may not reflect well on him given the 2022 Twins’ record—other athletes may embody their hitman spirit, poisoning the clubhouse spirit with a selfish demeanor.
The Twins, oddly, acknowledged this issue. Following the disappointing 2018 season, Derek Falvey admitted that their clubhouse grew a funky stink stemming from grouchy veterans on short-term deals. Logan Morrison and Lance Lynn were whiny and bad—that was what he wanted to say.
In response to their problem, the Twins turned around and acted like they didn’t hear their own words. Nelson Cruz, Jonathan Schoop, and Martín Pérez signed up for a ride on the 2019 Twins bus—a booming home run tour of the United States—but that season appears fluky. A hyper-juiced ball? Two full seasons of below .500 play afterward? The only thing right about that year was the Yankees immediately spanking them the second October entered the equation.
Once COVID neutered the 2020 season, the Twins hopped back onto the ball, signing a litany of average talent to one-year deals, setting themselves up for a disastrous season the team is still reeling from. J.A. Happ almost threw 100 innings for the team. He made Dylan Bundy sound like a good idea.
The ultimate question is this: what’s the end goal? One-year contracts are supposed to plug holes, not dominate the team's structure; imagine a dam constructed out of duct tape. The guess is that the team is saving for some future move, but few long-term deals of that nature have come to fruition, and the only significant splash players—Josh Donaldson and Carlos Correa—are no longer Twins. Ehire Adrianza entered the batter’s box donning a Minnesota jersey more times than either of those players.
They were able to nail down a Byron Buxton contract, although they seemed disappointed that they couldn’t trade him to Philadelphia for scraps beforehand. The Twins deserve credit for that signing, but his deal pays him $15 million a season—far less than the market rate for superstar talent. If anything, the agreement should fuel a spending spree: they have their star locked down for relatively little, add as many great players as you can.
Even with little tied down in their books, the Twins remained hesitant to drop enough money to coax Correa back home. There’s no purpose to their choices. They’re saving money for a future in which they save more money. Maybe they’re looking even further forward, but there’s no guarantee that free agents down the road—enjoy all that money, Rafael Devers—actually become available.
Until that big, non-opt-outable deal occurs, they’ll remain in this loop, always saving for a someday that never comes.
The_Phantom reacted to Nick Nelson for an article, The Top 20 Minnesota Twins Assets of 2023: Part 4 (1-5)
If you like, you can quickly catch up on the ground rules for this exercise in the first installment. The short version is this that we're attempting to rank Twins players and prospects through a big-picture lens in asking: Which current players in the organization are most indispensable to fulfilling the vision of building a champion?
Here in this fourth installment, breaking down my picks for #1 through #5: the cornerstones upon which the Twins will aim to orchestrate their success in the coming years.
First, a recap of the list as it stands, as covered in Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3:
20. Matt Wallner, OF
19. Louie Varland, RHP
18. Sonny Gray, RHP
17. Jorge Lopez, RHP
16. Alex Kirilloff, OF/1B
15. Ryan Jeffers, C
14. Trevor Larnach, OF
13. Austin Martin, SS/OF
12. Connor Prielipp, LHP
11. Simeon Woods Richardson, RHP
10. Luis Arraez, 1B
9. Jose Miranda, 3B/1B
8. Emmanuel Rodriguez, OF
7. Jhoan Duran, RHP
6. Bailey Ober, RHP
Top 20 Twins Assets of 2023: 1 through 5
5. Royce Lewis, SS
2022 Ranking: 4
In some ways, Lewis' 2022 season was obviously a huge setback. To come out on the other end of a long, grueling recovery from reconstructive knee surgery, only to reinjure the same ligament and recommence the very same process ... it's an almost unthinkable level of bad fortune.
But that's not to say his season was a loss. Far from it. In 46 games between Triple-A and the majors, he showed plenty to solidify his status as a top-five asset in the organization. In 194 total plate appearances he batted .310 with 16 doubles, seven homers, and 12 steals. That includes a debut stint in the majors, filling in for COVID-stricken Carlos Correa, that was so impressive the Twins flipped Lewis' role – from shortstop to utilityman – on the fly in order to rush him back.
As we all know, calamity struck soon as soon as he returned. And two straight serious injuries to the same knee, with the latest expected to keep him out until midseason, certainly diminishes his stock. But the talent, the electricity, the youth (still only 23), and especially his future importance cement him as a central asset of this franchise. It's really hard to doubt the kid at this point.
4. Jorge Polanco, 2B
2022 Ranking: 2
Polanco's value mainly derives from his steadiness: he's been a reliable, durable, clutch, consistent fixture near the top of the Twins lineup for years, and likely will be for several more. The 29-year-old is entering his final guaranteed year under contract, at a very reasonable $7.5 million price tag, but Minnesota has team options for 2024 ($10.5M) and 2025 ($12M).
This is more favorable to the Twins than a straight three-year deal because they have the ability to pull out and save millions should Polanco collapse. One could argue there are some concerning signs on that front. He posted a career-high K-rate in 2022, causing his batting average to plummet to .235, well below his career .270 mark. He also ended the season on the injured list, with a knee issue adding to his medley of historical ankle injuries.
But at the same time, Polanco showed signs of adapting his game to stay productive. His spike in K-rate came attached to a huge increase in walk rate, with an elite 14.4% mark more than doubling his 7.0% rate from 2021. As a result, Polanco posted the second-highest OBP of his career (.346). And while the stat sheet shows a drop-off in power, his batted-ball data was very strong, helping the second baseman produce a stellar .358 xwOB, which suggests his offensive approach is exactly where it needs to be.
Polanco's getting older and a little more expensive, but remains an excellent star-caliber player and cornerstone for this franchise.
3. Joe Ryan, RHP
2022 Ranking: 7
In large part, these rankings are about upside and ceiling – as you'll see reflected in the top two choices. Players with a real chance to be cost-controlled superstars and top-tier performers at their position are the primest of assets, generally speaking.
But you also need to weigh the probabilities and assign proper value to those who can reliably provide essential services to the team. Thus, Ryan finds himself in the top three.
Is he an ace-caliber arm with the tantalizing potential of a Connor Prielipp? No. But what's great about Ryan is that he has no more rungs to climb, no more hurdles to jump, nothing left to prove. He's a bona fide major-league starter with a tremendous track record of durability and consistency on the mound across all levels.
For an organization that has no other young pitchers who can rightly say the same, and no veteran starters under control beyond the 2023 season, these qualities make Ryan – who won't be eligible for free agency until after 2027 – an indispensable building block for the rotation going forward.
2. Brooks Lee, SS
2022 Ranking: NR
To say the Twins think highly of Lee would be a mighty understatement. They were thrilled to get him with the eighth overall pick in last year's draft, and were so eager to move him through the organization that he concluded his half-season pro debut at Double-A.
The baseball world at large is also taking notice. His stellar performance as a 21-year-old pro fresh out of college – .303/.389/.451 with a 20-to-16 K/BB ratio in 139 PA between three levels – quickly earned him distinction as the organization's top prospect in the eyes of many.
Not only is the Cal Poly product flashing advanced hitting skills that could push him to the majors quickly, but he's also showing the defensive ability of a guy destined to play at least some shortstop once he gets there.
No matter where he ends up on the diamond, Lee figures to be a central contributor on the Twins for many years.
1. Byron Buxton, CF
2022 Ranking: 1
The 2022 season was, in many ways, more of the same for Buxton. Many people would say that in a derisive way – immediately pointing to the injuries that sidelined him for much of the second half – but I mean it in a positive way. When on the field, the center fielder continued to solidify his status as a premier MLB player, earning his first All-Star nod and turning in the third 4+ fWAR season of his career (and second in a row). He set a career high in home runs with 28 while posting a 135 OPS+ and continuing to grade as one of the league's best defensive outfielders.
Since 2019, Buxton ranks 36th among all MLB position players in fWAR, which is remarkable when you consider that he's played in literally half of his team's games during that span. (51%, to be exact.) He's one of the highest-impact players in baseball, without question.
I am mindful of the factors detracting from Buxton's value as an asset, of course. Namely the injuries, which came roaring back in full force last year, as well as the steps being taken to mitigate those injuries (more days off and DH duty), which take away a bit of what he offers.
But, as the aforementioned stats illustrate, he's still offering plenty. And as I wrote last year, his highly favorable contract accounts for all that risk. Even as his annual base salary escalates to an ongoing rate of $15 million annually this year, that's still a huge bargain for what he already provides, let alone the massive upside he brings to the table. I mean, we just saw the White Sox sign Andrew Benintendi to a five-year deal with the same annual rate. Benintendi has once in his career (2018) posted a 4.0 fWAR or better, which Buxton produced in 92 games last year.
If the knee issue that tormented Buxton throughout 2022 proves chronic and recurring, that will impact his ability to remain atop this list going forward. For now, I'm keeping that possibility on the back-burner. If he can finally find a way to shake off the injuries and stay somewhat healthy, Buxton will rise to become one of the most valuable player assets in all of baseball.
The_Phantom reacted to Matthew Taylor for an article, Note to Falvine: Please DON'T Make a Trade This Offseason
The two areas that the Minnesota Twins had an immense need heading into this offseason were starting pitcher and shortstop. Now, the cupboards are all but bare in each of these areas with 13 of Aaron Gleeman’s top 15 free agent starting pitchers and four of Gleeman’s top six free agent shortstops off the board entirely.
Aside from signing one of the star free agent shortstops (not likely) or Carlos Rodón (possible), the Minnesota Twins will need to utilize the trade market if they want to bring in any difference-making talent this offseason.
Doing so, though, would not be wise.
I’m not breaking any news here, but the Minnesota Twins were not a good baseball team last year. The Twins just had their worst season since 2016, and did not show at any point in the season that they were on the verge of being a successful team. In only one full month in 2021 did the Minnesota Twins finish with a record above .500, when they went 14-13 in the month of August. On top of that, the Twins traded away their best starting pitcher since Johan Santana and their best power hitter since Jim Thome.
The most likely path for the Minnesota Twins to acquire difference-making talent via the trade market would be by packaging one (or multiple) future prospects to a rebuilding team in exchange for a win-now player. Trade ideas as proposed by Twins Daily writer, JD Cameron, include Trevor Larnach for Chris Bassit or Jordan Balazovic and Ryan Jeffers for Sonny Gray. While the exact prospects that the Twins would need to part with in these trades could be different, the core idea remains the same…the Twins would need to part with key future prospects if they want to acquire top-shelf talent.
The problem, and why they should avoid making deals this offseason, is that the Twins have not shown that they are close to competing and that adding a starting pitcher like Bassit or Gray (or both, even!) would suddenly turn the Twins into contenders. The Twins finished last in the American League Central last season and got worse, while the White Sox, Tigers and Royals all figure to improve. Trading away future pieces such as a Trevor Larnach or a Jordan Balazovic only to marginally improve a still-bad baseball team could prove catastrophic in terms of rebuilding efforts down the line.
The other option that the Twins could look at on the trade market would be to trade away a non-prospect batter for some top-line pitching talent. Names like Max Kepler or Luis Arraez could potentially be expendable on a team with more hitting depth than pitching. While this type of trade would prove more palatable for an underwhelming Twins team, they are very difficult to come by. The teams that are looking to add MLB-ready bats are typically not the teams that are willing to part with MLB-ready arms. While it’s possible, I don’t see the Twins making this kind of trade.
The best path for the Minnesota Twins to follow in 2022 would be to round out their pitching rotation this offseason with number three or four starting pitchers such as Michael Pineda or Danny Duffy. Then, simply let the season play out. If the Twins’ young arms show that they are the real deal and in turn the Twins prove to be more competitive in 2022 than predicted, Minnesota can then move prospects for win-now arms at the trade deadline.
Making a trade now, though, could prove extremely costly.