by Troy M. Olson
My monthly check in on the Minnesota Twins offseason…so far.
Byung Ho Park signed to play DH
While this complicates matters in terms of where Miguel Sano is going to play, I think it is important to have him play a position until he proves otherwise. Park has hit a video game level amount of home runs the past few season in the Korean Baseball Organization. Twins fans looks ridiculous in allowing comparisons to Nishioka (a bust of an international signing to try and fill out shortstop hole 4 years ago after foolishly trading J.J. Hardy for next to nothing). First, Nishioka was a shortstop and had a completely different skill set. Second, he played professional baseball in Japan. Third, he had less of a successful track record compared to Park. Finally, Park could end up being a steal, and while he is unproven at the MLB-level, lets say the KBO is equivalent to AA or AAA: I think just about every Twins fan would get excited over a prospect who has hit 173 home runs over the last 4 seasons. That’s right, 173 home runs, and a batting average of .343 last season. Park not only replaces Torii Hunter’s bat in the lineup, it is conceivable he could immediately be an upgrade.
Aaron Hicks-J.R. Murphy swap with the Yankees.
The Twins dealt from a position of relative strength (organization depth in the outfield, especially at CF) to fill a position of organizational weakness (catcher). I was always a big Aaron Hicks fan, and I am worried about our ability to get on base going forward, and how much we strike out. However, we still are bringing back our two best on base guys (Sano by a mile, followed by Mauer), and despite Hicks fundamentally sound plate approach, he had always seemed a bit timid and lacked aggressiveness at the Major League level. I still think Hicks will have a nice career as he has historically been slow to adjust to each new level in his professional career but he appears to have turned the corner this past year. That being said, whatever we would have received from Hicks playing CF and potentially leading off someday we should also get (and hopefully, then some) from the top prospect in baseball, Byron Buxton.
J.R. Murphy meanwhile, not only matches the likely output of most catchers we could have had on the open market (who disappeared quite quickly and forced Terry Ryan’s hand in making a move to fill this positional need), Murphy differs in that he is just entering his age-25 season. In conversations locally with Yankee fans, they liked Murphy a lot and viewed him as a future long time starting catcher. In 2015, his first significant amount of plate appearances at the major league level, Murphy hit .277/.327/.406. If he can replicate that over 350-400 plate appearances, he should be a great fit. It also should be noted that his defense profiles as better than anyone in the Twins system. Expect a positional platoon with Suzuki in 2016, and Murphy taking over as full time starter after that. Also of note, Murphy is not arbitration eligible until 2018, and is not a free agent until 2021. So we will have him for his prime years. Solid trade. Should work out well in the long run for both teams.
Miguel Sano is going to be moved to the outfield.
I’m mixed on this, but I have to grade this out as a good move at the moment. Miguel Sano is already, easily, the best hitter in the Twins lineup (sorry Joe Mauer, just get on base at a good clip and I’ll be happy), but he spent nearly every game of his rookie season at DH. While it is reasonable to look at certain players as DH-only from the start, Sano is too athletic to be considered one of those players.
It would be preferable that he plays the position that he has been playing throughout the latter half of his minor league career, but that isn’t in the cards right now. Because…
Trevor Plouffe will more than likely, not be traded.
Plouffe is what he is at the plate. He flashes the occasional power outbursts, has decent on-base skills, but his low-average will always keep in the serviceable, but not great category of player. He is a wait and see player. Where Plouffe brings the most amount of value to the Twins right now is that he has become one of the better defensive third baseman in the league. It’s preferable to keep what has become a decent defensive infield intact, and keep both bats that at worst grade out as league average. The Twins were right to look at this as a good problem to have. There was no need to trade Trevor Plouffe just because Miguel Sano plays 3B. Defense is a big part of the game, and for a pitching staff like the Twins, it should always be half of the focus. Twins pitchers do not strike out a lot batters which places a lot of pressure on their fielding. There is no guarantee that Sano figures out RF (with Rosario likely in left) right away but that matters a lot less with someone like Byron Buxton in CF, who will cover a lot of ground from day one even if his bat isn’t quite MLB-ready.
Twins seem to be going all-in with the youth movement.
Replacing the retired Torii Hunter with still-in-his 20’s Byung Ho Park and swapping out a 25 year old CF for a 24 year old C, as well as resisting the urge to go after proven mediocrity in the free agent market as they often have the last few off-seasons shows me that Twins GM Terry Ryan gets it. He knows the resurgence of the team last year was primarily youth-oriented. Going all-in on a talented youth movement is preferable to adding to rotational logjams of mediocrity or corner OF/1B/DH-type power hitting, low defense, low speed logjams.
Which brings me to…
Doing nothing about our corner OF/1B/DH-type logjam so far.
Between Sano, Park, Mauer, Rosario, Oswaldo Arcia (remember he is a season removed from 20 homers in 350 or so at bats), and Kennys Vargas, the Twins have a lot of corner OF/1B/DH-players but only 4 positions in which to play them. Once again, not a bad problem to have per se, but they do need to figure out what role everyone fits into. It’s possible that Arcia and Vargas never take that next step forward but it would be a shame to see them go elsewhere for nothing and see them flourish.
The key to this problem not festering is leaving all options on the table. One option that is surely not on the able though is potentially considering Mauer a bench player role. While he is not there yet, and hopefully never will be during the life of his current contract, any further regression from Mauer at 1B should at the very least, result in batting him 7th or 8th and at most, making him a part-time player. Bad contracts happen. Unforeseen injuries happen. Scholarships are avoidable though. I still think Mauer is the best player to play 1B for the Twins right now, and the best to bat 2nd even (mostly be default), but players like Ricky Nolasco should have to earn their spot no matter how much they are getting paid in 2016. The Twins should put the best team on the field based on the talent they have available.
Going further away from defense and speed (with the trading of Hicks).
I alluded to this earlier, I’m a bit worried about any regression in their team defense or speed. Aaron Hicks provided both defense and speed which made him a near-five tool player during that 6 week stretch of solid hitting from him in 2015. The great thing about players like Hicks is even when they don’t hit they still provide defensive value and speed to the team. Buxton in CF, Plouffe at 3B, and Murphy in C should help mitigate this a bit defensively, but two of those players are unproven at the MLB-level offensively, and Plouffe is proven to be a very streaky hitter that grades out to either league average offense with slightly above league average power.
Not signing a RP yet, and many of the top relief arms are already off the market.
Simply put, we needed to address the back of the bullpen given Perkins’ health the last few years. We have depth and a lot of high quality, high upside arms in AAA but whether those arms materialize into high leverage, quality MLB relievers will be one of the big question marks entering spring training.
Leaving Zack Jones unprotected, off the 40-Man roster, which left him exposed to the Rule 5 Draft. Not surprisingly, he was drafted.
Unfortunately, one of those high upside arms, Zack Jones was lost to the Rule 5 Draft for no reason. They had room for him on the 40-Man roster. There is just no excuse for this.
Hopefully, between (potentially) keeping Trevor May in the bullpen, and the emergence of one or two of the following RP prospects: Alex Meyer, Nick Burdi, Jake Reed, J.T. Chargois, or Mason Melotakis, the bullpen will be a strength again in 2016. Because if the Twins are going to take the next step forward, they will need a better bullpen and a healthy, full-season of play from Glen Perkins.