The Twins and the rest of baseball have decided that the asking price for the two best free agents is not worth immediate action. Bryce Harper and Manny Machado are still looking for work as spring training opens around the league. But what would happen if Manny Machado was done looking for a new employer, and was instead starting his prep for his first season in a Twins uniform?
The stats and projections website 538 has at last settled the debate heard in Minnesota bars all winter:
Manny Machado would make the Twins a lot better, the simulation found.
So there you have. Startling revelation, that.
The author of a column published recently at fivethirtyeight.com, Neil Paine, ran a fun thought experiment, and then backed it up with a little artificial intelligence and computer simulations. The website teamed up with “Out of the Park Baseball,” described as a strategic simulation game for baseball, to simulate the rest of each respective career for Manny Machado and Bryce Harper, the allegedly prized young free agents in this year’s unemployment line.
Where will they sign? The team behind the column ran “a bunch” of simulations for different possible outcomes – all the rumored teams got a seat at the table, and some appeared in the sims just because of the perceived fit based on the club’s need. The supply and demand of the game, it seems.
“Think of it as the multiverse,” Paine wrote, “of MLB possibilities that still could play out, depending on where these two superstars end up signing.”
In that run of simulations, Machado found himself on a handful of teams with a number of different outcomes. The two primary landing spots considered were the Padres and the White Sox. After that, it also included him on the Phillies, Yankees and Twins. Here’s an excerpt on Manny signing in Minnesota, complete with the appropriate dose of Minnesota Sports Pessimism.
“As for the Twins, they would be very successful with Machado, winning 90.2 games per season in his five years in Minnesota, including a World Series berth in 2021. But he would also opt out of that contract as early as possible, moving on to sign a massive deal with the Giants. Such is the way of Minnesota sports.”
A World Series berth. That’s good! Maybe it’s not the ultimate prize for this Twins front office. But I’ll bet that looks like a pretty enticing path for most every Twins fan right now. (You can read the full range of outcomes in the original post.) Without getting caught up in the details, let’s just assume they put Machado on the Twins in a handful of scenarios because he’d be a clear upgrade over what they’ve got. Maybe it forces Miguel Sano off third base and creates competition for plate appearances at first base and DH. Or maybe Machado would take over shortstop, leaving Jorge Polanco in a bit of utility limbo until second baseman Jonathan Schoop is a free agent at the end of the year.
Take these simulations and their conclusions for what they’re worth. It’s a fun thought experiment, this multiverse concept — even if we inhabit the universe in which the Machado and Harper Sweepstakes are NOT coming to Minnesota on one of those rich, 10-year contract extensions. Justin Verlander wants it. Many Twins fans want it, too. But it’s not happening, if you believe the tea leaves laid out by Twins general manager Thad Levine two weeks ago at TwinsFest.
A young fan asked the Twins’ GM at a townhall-style Q&A inside Target Field: Have you guys even thought of signing Harper or Machado?
“To answer your question very bluntly, yes,” Levine said, before laying a trail of bread crumbs that would lead you to believe there is a 0% chance that it will actually come to pass.
Levine later added: “I think we’re going to be able to play on players like that, but realistically maybe one at a time. So we’ve got to make sure we get the ‘who’ right.”
Provided the player in question has checked that box – and we can guess that the Twins have decided that Machado and Harper are both good at baseball, and are likely to continue to be that for the next several years – Levine said the Twins also have to ask the “when” question internally.
“Is now the most appropriate time for us to be doing this?” Levine said. “And I would just tell you my view of it is, the best time to acquire players of that magnitude is when your window to win is wide open – not when you’ve got your fingers underneath the window and you’re trying to jam the window open. I want to do it when we are projected to win the [American League] Central and we are ready to put our foot on someone’s throat. That’s the time to make those types of moves. I think we’re really close to that,” Levine said.
So, evidently the Twins are not ready to step on anyone’s throat. And if you’re a subscriber to Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA projections, the Twins indeed have a lot of work to do to catch up to the Indians. Cleveland is projected by that system to win 97 games this year; the Twins are staring down an 81-81 season, based on the same educated guesses.
It’s worth noting that the mock scenarios never put Bryce Harper in a Twins uniform. Thad Levine has already said that they probably can’t pitch two signings with that type of player. But it’s also interesting that the computers said Machado would help the Twins get to (and lose) a World Series in the length of his contract here.
OK, maybe only interesting in the way we use the word in the Midwest, but it’s all just a fun speculative meal for thought.