The Twins entered the All-Star break in great position in the American League Central and then had the good fortune of going right to their rivals’ place after the midsummer respite. The Indians wanted nothing more than to take 3 games and make it a race again. Instead, Cleveland had to settle for losing 2 of 3 at home, dropping another game in the division standings, and clapping loudly for All-Star Game MVP Shane Bieber.
This column presents 5 thoughts on the Twins, with two weeks to go before the MLB trade deadline.
Well, it’s open season for trading Major League players to contending clubs. First Edwin Encarnacion joined the Yankees, then Andrew Cashner went to the Red Sox, and on Sunday the A’s added Homer Bailey.
We’ve all wondered how instituting an earlier hard deadline on trades would impact July. Will contenders pounce earlier? Will sellers be more motivated to find a dance partner?
Now we’re asking the question: Will these three trades impact the rest of the market? Is this a set-the-dominoes-in-motion kind of week?
On one hand, a couple contenders have begun to fill some holes. On the other hand, is there really a straight-line link between what the Royals do with Homer Bailey and, say, the Tigers do with Matthew Boyd?
My stance all along has been that whether they’re addressing the starting rotation or the bullpen in a trade, the Twins should aim at the top of both. With two weeks to go before the July 31 trade deadline, my opinion hasn’t changed.
You could make the case that the Red Sox and A’s made their starting pitching deals with an eye on July and August. Those teams still need to punch their ticket to the postseason. The Twins, meanwhile, won 2 of 3 in Cleveland out of the break and look to be the A.L. Central’s best team, putting them in the driver’s seat to play home games comes playoff time. (Get ready for postseason baseball at Target Field.)
Good for Boston and Oakland for addressing a need, even if it’s a little low-wattage as far as July trades go. But I don’t think the early market movement necessarily forces Minnesota into immediate action. The Twins shouldn’t worry about the market for help-you-get-to-October pitching; The Twins should be fishing in the help-you-win-a-World-Series pond.
A recent example came on our own SKOR North Twins Show, in which Levine was forthright about a few things. He talked on how the season to date has exceeded expectations, how the Twins have a window to win that came earlier than expected, and at the end of the conversation you can’t help but to believe that the Twins will be buyers and they’ll be serious about it.
“In the offseason, when we’re not playing games, we lay out plans that we feel could be productive towards playing in the playoffs in the upcoming season – and almost never in my career have those plans gone [according to] plan,” Levine told SKOR North. “When we spoke this offseason about our 2019 season, we were trying to improve the 2019 team as best as we could without necessarily doing harm to the team’s 2020 and beyond because we felt like that was the window, really, for us to succeed. Well, we may be a year ahead of plan. That really drives our decision making.”
Though things don’t always go exactly as planned, Levine said, “we have to be willing to make adjustments.”
Here’s more of what Levine had to say. The emphasis is mine.
“We have to honestly look at our team and feel if it’s ready to strike right now. And if it is then we can’t miss on those opportunities. … So, I think a lot has changed from this offseason to now, and a lot has changed from, quite frankly, June to now, as far as our needs as a team. We do feel very strongly that our offensive unit has been a strong contributor on this team; our starting pitching has been great; our bullpen continues to battle,” he said.
Levine said that the “next line of defense” is deeper with position players than it is with pitching right now, and so Twins will look to bolster pitching, and hope a few more bats get healthy (Byron Buxton, Eddie Rosario and C.J. Cron, to name a few).
“When we’re going into the deadline, we have to look at how the team is performing – both from a record standpoint, but also a little bit more sophisticated. What are the underlying metrics suggesting? Are we exceptionally lucky? Has every ball bounced our way or do we feel the team is as good as the record suggests?” Levine asked.
“We feel this team is every bit as good as the record indicates. And while we’ve had some good fortune, the run differential certainly indicates that this is an extremely strong, contending team.”
Kepler, you’ve heard by now, hit a home run in 5 consecutive at-bats against Indians ace Trevor Bauer.
Bauer’s self-deprecating response on Twitter was something special.
Warning: The following short clip is Not Safe For Work unless you’re wearing headphones. The J Cole song Bauer used does have swears in it. If that offends you then mute it until the Rocky theme song comes on.
It’s not about how you start, it’s about how you finish. I think. Maybe. pic.twitter.com/Y94Ni2cpDp
— Trevor Bauer (@BauerOutage) July 14, 2019
The Twins over the weekend got some good news that forced a difficult decision. All-Star pitcher Jake Odorizzi was ready to return from the Injured List, and the Twins needed a roster spot. No problem, you might think, since the Twins have been playing the minor-league-options game with relievers all season long, and surely they’d have a spot.
But this time, rather than optioning out one of their relief pitchers who was free to move – Zack Littell, Tyler Duffey – they designated Adalberto Mejía for assignment or release.
Was this the right move?
We can say one thing for sure, the Twins were willing to buck the recent MLB (and Twins) trend of clearing the spot by optioning a reliever – or finding a use for the Injured List or Paternity List, etc. To add Odorizzi back to the roster they didn’t go with the ol’ “fresh arm” tactic this time around.
The move tells you exactly what they think of Mejía, at least in relation to Duffey, Littell and the rest of the bullpen out there. Another way to read into this move is that it’s go time. No more fiddling around with the bullpen, constantly turning over half the group and hoping that somethings sticks behind Taylor Rogers.
The way I’m seeing this play out is that Rocco Baldelli and Co. are not only looking for their group for October (like the rest of us), the Twins are more inclined to have their best unit at the ready right now. It’s time to put the Indians away, run away with the division, and get ready for that postseason push.
For all their earned compliments on the pitching development side under Derek Falvey and now Wes Johnson, the Twins couldn’t make it work with Mejía. Now, he’s likely gone in favor of relievers who had minor-league options. Oh, and don’t be surprised if the Twins add another lefty to the bullpen in the next two weeks.
Regular readers of 5 Thoughts will excuse the exasperation. You’ll also note that I’m not saying that the Twins shouldn’t add an arm or two – like I’ve been saying for months – to target an upgrade at the back end of their bullpen. What I am saying is that sometimes we need to chill on our collective Bullpen Anxiety. Twins relievers are not perfect. No team in MLB history, in fact, has perfectly optimized for zero-run relief over a full season. Hasn’t been done yet.
Why does that seem to be the standard?
Since the start of June, Minnesota’s relievers rank 3rd in the American League in earned-run average. That’s the tried-and-true measurement of their runs allowed, even if it’s imperfect sometimes for our purposes.
1 – Oakland, 3.58 ERA
2 – Cleveland, 3.81 ERA
3 – Minnesota, 3.91 ERA
4 – Tampa Bay, 4.20 ERA (likely skewed because of their practice of using an Opener)
5 – Toronto, 4.43 ERA
*A.L. Average – 4.69 ERA
The Yankees (4.46), Red Sox (4.98) and the Astros (5.19) are the teams that frequently draw comparisons in this region.
By all means, as observers of this first-place club let’s continue to think on ways to improve the bullpen for an October run. I just want us all to have some context before we lose our marbles in the Panic Attack over whether Reliever X is good enough to get the final out of the World Series. (He gave up a couple of runs in June; how could he be?)