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Wetmore’s 5 thoughts: The Nelson Cruz domino, dead ball and manager qualities

1. As a Twins fan, are you rooting for the Yankees or against them this ALCS?

I asked this question in a recent video and the answers are overwhelmingly one-sided. Most Twins fans, especially of this generation, simply hate the Yankees. I thought the room would be a little more divided given that Houston has been one of the recent superteams. And given that a Yankees title would change the way we look at the 2019 ALDS for the Twins.

But it’s been fairly clear from an informal poll of my friends and from a more formal informal poll of the twitter audience that Twins fans are pulling hard for the Astros. Most forms of the answer just called out the premise of the question for being idiotic, and that’s OK, since that probably communicates the raw feelings as well as anything. Some are pulling for New York, but they’re far outnumbered by their counterparts who are booing the Bronx Bombers.

Source: @SKORNorth

And as a rooting interest, the Astros are interesting. They’ve got former Twin Ryan Pressly. They have a team full of stars and a couple of superstars. The Twins actually had that offensive model down pat except they don’t have an Alex Bregman on their current roster. The starting pitching side is an entirely different matter but that’s a column for another day.

Here are some more ALCS musings with the 2019 Twins in mind.

2. How would 2019 had been different if Nelson Cruz had chosen to play elsewhere?

I’ve heard a couple different times that Cruz’s list of finalists came down to the Twins, the Rays and the Astros. Imagine, then, if last winter had played out differently.

What if he’d signed with the Astros? There are dozens of unanswerable questions but I just got caught in a thought spiral the other day while watching Game 2 of the ALCS. For instance, if Houston nabbed Cruz on a 2-year deal, would they still have pursued Michael Brantley? (And if not, where would have ended up?) What would have become of Yordan Alvarez, the American League’s most impressive rookie hitter.

And what of the Rays? If they could have come up with the cash to get that deal done, would they have cut elsewhere? Would they have still found a way to make the Austin Meadows-Tommy Pham-Avisaíl García-Yandy Diaz group function in the same ways? Would Cruz have supplanted somebody? Do they make a stronger push for Craig Kimbrel? Do they still trade for Jesús Aguilar?

And shudder to think what would have been of the Twins if not for team MVP candidate Nelson Cruz. Would Miguel Sanó still have developed in the ways that he has? Would the clubhouse simply have found another leader? Would the team still hit an MLB-record 307 bombas without his 41? What would the Twins have done instead with that extra 2019 cash? It’s hard to imagine them getting greater value elsewhere than what they got in return for paying Cruz his $14 million

If nothing else, I think this leaderboard might have looked different.

3. How could MLB think it was a good idea to tinker with the baseball again?

If you haven’t read by now, Rob Arthur at Baseball Prospectus presented a compelling case that in the era of “juiced” baseballs, the MLB postseason is … not using them. Rob presents the idea that the league has made a wholesale equipment change that has impacted every pitch of every game — and most glaringly turned some would-be home runs into warning-track fly balls.

To be clear, both teams in every game this October use the same equipment. So in that way, even if this dramatic change is true and intentional, you could successfully argue that it’s not unfair, on its face. And yet, if I was the 2019 Bomba Squad I’d be mad as heck.

An excerpt from BP: Baseball fans this October are left “wondering why a pitch that [Max] Muncy pulverized only made it five feet shy of the fence when so many similar hits left the park. Whether intentional or accidental, changes to the baseball appear to have shaken up the game again–and this time at the most crucial and decisive point in the season.”

We could rewatch the three games vs. the Yankees with this in mind. Or we could look at the batted-ball data for every hitter in the series. I think that probably misses the point.

Most of us have had friendships and relationships that didn’t last as long as the news cycle surrounding the rule-bending New England Patriots and a few deflated footballs. And now a league is going to change the equipment universal to every game and apparently without warning? I honestly don’t know where this story goes next but it’s worth tracking from a Twins point of view.

4. Is Didi Gregorius going to get it going at the plate against anyone besides the Twins?

I wrote about Gregorius as part of the “what-if” game that we sometimes allow ourselves to play. He had a rough year, and that’s no secret. But then he came alive against the Twins — again — and he hit the grand slam that ended the series in the minds of many Twins fans.

So far against the Astros he’s 1-for-8 with four men left on base.

After that amazing series in July at Target Field, when the Yankees and Twins traded punches in a heavyweight postseason preview, the Yankees shortstop hit .199/.248/.408 against teams that aren’t the Twins.

Didi vs. the Twins:

*30 RBI in his past 13 games
*Got the Yankees back in the game in the 2017 Wild Card game in New York;  the Twins took an early 3-0 lead and had bounced starter Luis Severino from the game, but Gregorius answered right back with a 3-run shot to tie the score.
*Scored on the bases-clearing double that put Game 1 out of reach — from 7-4 to 10-4 in the 7th inning.
*More or less ended Game 2 with a Grand Slam in the Bronx
*2 RBI singles in the Game 3 elimination

Twins will have plenty of options if they want to sign MLB starting pitchers in free agency

5. What makes a great manager?

There are 8 clubs in the Majors that should be asking themselves this question right now because they have a vacancy. There are 22 other clubs that should be asking that because it’s a difficult question that deserves an answer.

How many good managers are their in Major League Baseball right now? How many run the show at good teams? How many good teams are there that are good despite their manager not because of their manager? What makes a good manager, anyway? How close or far away are we from the ability to attribute Manager Wins? As in, how many fewer games would the Twins have won in 2019 with John Q. Fan or Jane Q. Media Member steering the ship?

Is it tactical skill that makes a good manager? Understanding of matchups? Is it the ability to represent the organization like a CEO? Is it managing egos? Is it reaching staffers, connecting with players, bridging gaps? How much luck is involved? It just seems to me like a soft science if ever I’ve seen one, and I bet you’d hear a bunch of different explanations from many of the presidents and GMs around the league if you asked for their honest feedback.

When asked for their honest feedback of Rocco Baldelli’s competence, Twins CBO Derek Falvey and GM Thad Levine gushed. (Baldelli was in the room at the time, it must be noted.) They spoke mostly of the soft skills and of leadership style.

“We couldn’t be happier about the job [Baldelli] did,”  Falvey said after Year One with the Twins.

“How he wanted to operate and connect with staff — It’s a really easy thing to say in an interview process … To see it manifest on a daily basis and the way he led that group and the way he empowered everybody on the staff to do their jobs was incredible to watch,” Falvey said. “I think everybody in that room benefited from Rocco’s investment in that person individually. … He cared about every person who walked through that door to help them do their job to the best of their abilities. That’s what I think his leadership style showed to be.”

And Levine said it’s more than buzzwords for the benefit of the media: “I think there are a lot of truisms about coaching staffs. In the offseason, people in our shoes ask everybody to be collaborative, include people in conversations. By and large, coaches do. Then once the season starts, you retreat to your sandboxes because people like us will fire you if you don’t do well,” Levine said. “The fact that the conversations were always inclusive and that he always empowered his guys and delegated to his guys was exceptional.”

Source: @dwetmore on Instagram

The other thing that came up as a ringing endorsement was the breakdown of in-game decisions after the fact. A frequent question from Baldelli when Falvey and Levine would stroll down to the manager’s office postgame to question a decision: “What did you guys think of that? Here’s the way it played out as we see it, what’s your view?”

“He was always asking those questions of everyone around him for that feedback,” Falvey said.

Added Levine: “The attention to the post-mortem after each game, what were the key decision points? What went right? What went wrong? What were the alternatives? I think it was just exceptional to watch. Of course, you can’t publicize that to the fans or the media, but I think if they ever saw that they would be so encouraged as to the leadership — and whose hands the franchise’s [future] success is in — because of how he’s handling it.”

The sum of the parts is a quality manager, in my book, and he’ll be a strong candidate to win Manager of the Year award.

If you liked this column, find me on…

Instagram: @dwetmore
Twitter: @derekwetmore

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Previous Story Will Rocco Baldelli get consideration for A.L. Manager of the Year? Next Story What a hit: Nelson Cruz named Twins’ MVP, takes home multiple honors