Editor’s note: It is rare that The Next Ten Words will publish a sports-related column for a specific fan base, but freelance writer Andrew Tellijohn’s observances in this piece are so in line with the values and opinions of our publisher that we decided to make this exception.
During the week or so leading up to the July 31 trade deadline, I’m as guilty as anyone out there of mashing the refresh button on MLB Trade Rumors. I’m always curious about the latest rumors associated with Twins baseball – who is going to stay and who is going to go.
I made the mistake this past weekend of also spending a significant amount of time checking various comment sections – MLB Trade Rumors, Bring me the News and the Star Tribune sported hundreds of comments regarding the team’s latest moves, which were trading Eduardo Escobar to Arizona and Ryan Pressly to Houston.
The comments no longer astound me, but they show an incredible level of ignorance about how baseball has to work these days, particularly for mid-market teams like Minnesota.
Among the public’s chief complaints:
- Why would the team sell on this season? Didn’t the team prove last year that you have to let things play out over the course of the season?
- Derek Falvey and Thad Levine need a kick in the backside.
- Why do they always make these moves for prospects – why not major league ready talent?
- Escobar is a fan favorite/one of the guys who actually shows up to play, why get rid of him, etc.?
- Management (Pohlads and/or Falvey and Levine) won’t spend the money to compete.
First off, I get that watching another Twins team sell at the trade deadline. It’s frustrating, year after year, to watch the team throw in the towel early. And I know this team has the worst record in baseball dating back to its entry into Target Field in 2010. But this is the reality the organization is facing and it is actually, for the first time in years, doing the right thing in taking a few in-demand commodities and turning them into assets that may help them down the line.
(Note: The comments regarding this evening’s trades – Lance Lynn to New York and Zach Duke to Seattle – have been received decidedly more positively, but the overall theme remains.)
Let’s examine those complaints.
First, with respect to letting the season play out, this team was 47-53 after 100 games. Its two-best long-developing prospects, Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano, were in the minor leagues, one because he can’t consistently stay healthy and/or hit major league pitching and the other because he can’t avoid hitting the all-you-can-eat buffet. Your catcher is out for the year, most of your offseason free agent signings have been disappointments and, most importantly, you’re seven games behind division-leading Cleveland, which just went and strengthened its one weakness by adding Brad Hand to its bullpen from San Diego, and, equally as importantly, you’re about a dozen games behind the second wild card spot. There is no more letting this season play out – when you are facing those odds on a team that is winning at a 47 percent clip after 100 games, the season is over. It’s time to sell.
So, let’s blame Derek Falvey and Thad Levine. … Wait, WHAT?!?!?!?
You’ll recall that, while the Twins overachieved in 2017, they were coming off a 103-loss season in 2016. That result got Terry Ryan fired and brought in this new duo with a new approach. The 2016 run, without a doubt, was fun, but it also was a surprise. This team is on its way to its sixth losing record in eight seasons. But that’s not on Falvey and Levine. That, to this point, is on the previous regime, which left an underperforming minor league system in place along with the struggling major league operation. How can you blame Falvey and Levine for this season’s struggles? After the pleasant surprise of 2017, they went out and signed Fernando Rodney, Addison Reed and Zach Duke to complement a bullpen that was the team’s biggest Achilles heel
in 2017. They signed Logan Morrison to a nice value deal to add a bat when he was coming off of his best season. When Lance Lynn didn’t find the market he was looking for, Falvey and Levine signed him to a one-year deal.
Now, it is fair to say that most of these signings haven’t paid off. But the “experts,” heading into the season, largely lauded these deals. Why? Because each of those players is a quality major leaguer who had a chance to fill a significant need for the team. And because those deals were done in a manner where, if the team followed up 2017 with a big 2018, the team would be in good shape. But if 2017 went to hell, as it has, they were short-term deals that would not handicap the long-term process this team needs to go through in order to become a real competitor for not just the playoffs, but a world championship.
Those who want to be critical about the team not spending money will then, perhaps, cite the team’s going after second-tier free agents, etc. Well, the Twins were all in at the end on Yu Darvish before he decided to sign with the Cubs. Would you rather the team was saddled with a long-term, $100 million deal for a guy who is 1-3 with an ERA just under 5 who has been able to throw just 40 innings on the season?
If you truly wish they went to that level with Darvish, you better not be one of the guys criticizing management for the $184-million deal Joe Mauer signed in 2010. And, also, you’re a fool.
Short-term deals leave flexibility
The beauty of the deals Falvey and Levine cut this offseason was the short-term nature and the ability to trade out of them in the event 2018 proved 2017 a fluke – which it has.
No matter the results last season, this season or even next season, this still needs to be a long-term rebuild. The farm systems need a couple years’ worth of infusion. They may be ranked among the upper-middle of Major League Baseball’s farm systems, but let’s be honest – who has come from this system and excelled in recent years? Eddie Rosario looks like he’s figuring it out. But Sano and Buxton, who were the top two prospects in the system before they were promoted to the big leagues, are closing in on bust territory.
The Twins got started on that rebuild with the deals made for Escobar and, particularly, for Pressly. The two guys coming back for Pressly, a middle-reliever who was acquired as a Rule 5 pick for just about zero in 2013, reportedly include the 10th and 15th best prospects in a strong Astros system – one, Jorge Alcala, consistently throws in the high 90s with a work-in-progress change-up and slider. The other, Gilberto Celestino, was a sought after Dominican prospect with speed, arm strength and a solid bat.
Does that guarantee they will translate to the majors? No. But the more prospects you have in the minors, the better your chances, in a couple years, of a true turnaround.
Why not major league ready talent?
Okay, so, they have to sell. Why can’t they get back major league ready talent? I love this one. So, you decide the major league talent you have right now isn’t going to get you anywhere. It’s time to make some deals. You know, you’re not the only team that is going to be a seller at the deadline. Other bad teams want to make trades too. That leaves the good teams – the playoff contenders – who are willing to make deals. But … if they are in the playoffs, why would they trade the guys on their major league rosters to pick up your guy? Doesn’t that just leave another hole they have to fill for their playoff run?
Besides, most bad teams that go the seller route aren’t going to be made good by one or two major league ready players. That includes the Twins. They clearly aren’t as bad as the 103-loss team from 2016, but they also have consistently proven in recent years to not be as good as the slightly-above-.500 model they ran out in 2017 either. Over the long haul, this team needs an overhaul, not a tweak. It sucks. It’s hard to watch at times. But look no further than the 2017 Houston Astros, the 2016 Chicago Cubs or the 2015 Kansas City Royals to see what the benefits can be of trading off your stars for minor league talent and focusing on developing those players and drafting well. The Royals got two World Series appearances out of that strategy. They’re back into rebuilding mode now, but put yourself in those shoes – would you not take a couple seasons like the ones they just experienced?
And the Cubs and Astros both are young, deep and primed for long runs among the league’s best contenders.
So, moving Escobar, Pressly, Duke and Lynn is a good start. But it should be just a start. If, or hopefully when, the Twins get solid offers on Brian Dozier, Ervin Santana or even Joe Mauer, if they can get him to say yes, they should jump.
In the meantime, show some patience with this process. Count the prospects and think about what an overhaul to the minor league system could mean for the future.
It might make for an ugly on-field product at Target Field for a few more years. But in major league baseball, especially for the mid-market teams that don’t have billion-dollar television deals to build from, this is how you build teams that can truly contend over the long haul.
Andrew Tellijohn is a Twin Cities feelance writer who, among other projects, operates an insightful NFL centered blog, Zoneblitz.com. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org