Twins

#AskBW (4/23): Impending Free Agents, Abbreviated Seasons and Analyzing Small Samples

Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been a minute since we’ve done one of these, and a lot has changed since then. In fact, near as I can tell, it was late January.

Josh Donaldson had just signed with the Minnesota Twins and hadn’t yet played in a regular-season game — well, I guess that’s still the same — but the MLB world was still raging against the Houston Astros and their 2017 cheating scandal. Jeff Luhnow and AJ Hinch had only been fired for about two weeks, and we were still multiple months away from the Boston Red Sox being disciplined for their role in a peripherally-similar scandal a year later.

And so we don’t have any current MLB action to analyze, but friends, you all still have questions — and so we have a mailbag.

Let’s dive in:

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So according to Cot’s Contractsthe following players are up for free agency after the 2020 “season” if we can truly call it that:

That’s a really, really difficult group to rank.

My assumption is that Odorizzi would be the least likely to return because of his desire for a long-term deal, but if there’s no baseball in 2020, how likely is it that he’d be getting a better contract than those he was looking at before accepting the qualifying offer this past offseason? It would probably make sense for him to take a one-year, prove-it deal in that case — and if that happens, why not Minnesota?

Cruz, I think, would return but barring some kind of miracle, he’s going to turn 40 during this stoppage and frankly, it’s unreasonable to expect him to do what he did in 2019 in any subsequent year, no matter how long or short the schedule is.

Gonzalez is a well-paid luxury and I just can’t see him returning. In fact, I could imagine a scenario in which the Twins moved him in 2020 at the deadline or something to that effect because they just have so many infielders to sort through in the years to come. If Royce Lewis comes up to play short or second base, Luis Arraez could take on a Marwin-like role. Travis Blankenhorn could be that kind of guy. So, too, could Nick Gordon possibly.

There’s really no reason for Bailey, Avila and/or Clippard to not return — if you can call it that without playing a single game for the Twins — in 2021 but again, valuing players their age after a year off might prove difficult. Of course, that’s true no matter what team they agree to play for in 2021.

Hill is a bit of a difficult case much in the same way Cruz is. Hill turned 40 right at the beginning of the league taking action against COVID-19 — March 11, that is — so he’s on borrowed time with or without considering the health of his left elbow. And while this time off in the near term means he’s missing as little action as possible as he recovers, missing a full season at his age for any reason is obviously not ideal.

The Twins would have all the reason in the world to want to work out a deal with May, whose last 90ish innings since Tommy John surgery have been really good, but that’ll come down to what he’s looking for heading into his age 31 season in 2021. He’d be right to value himself as one of the better relief options available in the marketplace — though to be fair, a crowded one expected to include Alex Colome, Ken Giles, Shane Greene, Liam Hendriks, Keone Kela, Joakim Soria, Blake Treinen, Kirby Yates, Sean Doolittle and others — but his age and short runway to this success would mean the Twins might prefer to stick to a shorter-term deal, which he may not be amenable to.

Adrianza played well enough in 2019 that he might want to hit the market and see if a team in transition might give him a look as their starting shortstop or maybe as a Swiss Army knife, and the Twins might be willing to let that happen. Again, they have a bunch of infielders to potentially work into their rotation and they also identified Adrianza for this role in the first place.

Adrianza had a .605 career OPS in 154 big-league games after 2016; in three years with the Twins, he’s boosted that to .711 with a respectable .260/.321/.391 line. If a team believes he can play short on a daily basis — analytics suggest maybe not but his reputation was always as a very good defensive shortstop — he’s probably going to find work elsewhere.

Oh, yes…so to rate them by likelihood of returning? In terms of a top three, I’d go with:

  1. Cruz
  2. May
  3. Bailey

At first, I thought Bailey would be tied with Clippard and Avila from that same boat, but in all honesty, he’d have a larger role than a middle reliever or second catcher, so he gets the gentle nod ahead of them.

First of all, this question speaks to the amazing power of social media. Joe and I were fifth-grade classmates in elementary school in Roseau, Minn. and hadn’t spoken to one another since until shortly before this interaction.

Anyway, I think this feeds back into my notion that they wouldn’t have been the Bomba Squad again in 2020. I’ve always believed things need to change year to year in this respect. The Piranhas didn’t really have a sustained shelf life after the 2006 season, and I just think this is a similar deal.

So…a nickname for this year’s team? That’s a tough one. I still think they should be dubbed Baldelli’s Bangers, though it sounds like manager Rocco Baldelli wants to keep a very clear gap between his role and the players’ when it comes to hitting balls very far. Still, it’d be a cool homage to the 1982 Milwaukee Brewers, who were managed by Harvey Kuehn and known as “Harvey’s Wallbangers.”

If there is one, it’ll be like nothing we’ve ever seen. There are just so many logistical hurdles to clear that it feels unlikely, but one might envision four weekdays with regular nine-inning games and seven-inning doubleheaders on weekends, maybe? It’d have to be consistent like that for teams to map out a pitching structure, but at the same time, the wrinkle is that there would be most likely 15 teams in each league.

An odd number of teams can’t play a consistent schedule without intermingling — just like season-long interleague had to be added when the Astros moved from the NL to the AL.

This is my shortish way of saying I’m not sure I see a resolution here.

I’ve been thinking this for a while, but Michael Pineda‘s suspension should be wiped out. Why double punish him for the pandemic that nobody had any control over?

Sure, there may be some logical holes that smarter people can and would shoot holes through there, but I just don’t think it makes sense to come back on say….July 1 and then force Pineda to sit out until mid-August. One could say it isn’t fair to players who have to sit out actual games under other suspensions, but nothing about this situation is parallel to how baseball usually works. Adjustments will need to be made, and I think suspensions are part of that.

I have no inside knowledge, but I’m admittedly pessimistic. I would love to see a 60-game spring to the finish line starting on Aug. 1, but I’m also preparing myself in life and work as though there won’t be a 2020 season.

Blessed is the man who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.

I think if there’s no 2020 season, the Twins will bring back Cruz on a one-year deal for fairly good money with the realization that if things go sideways it won’t be a long-term thing. There’s no reason to doubt Cruz’s skills or preparedness, but Father Time is undefeated.

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From Ryan Turnquist: Assuming baseball is played this year, who is your choice for a breakout player in each league?

Ohhhhh, I rather like this one. Also, you should follow Ryan on Twitter here. He’s been a contributor to Midwest Swing in the past and always has good thoughts on the timeline.

I don’t think I’m being a homer when I say I think Max Kepler is still only scratching the surface, but I’ll go another step and look outside the Twin Cities for the sake of this exercise.

There are two shortstops who had nice seasons in 2019 who I think are on the verge of blowing up — Amed Rosario of the New York Mets and Willy Adames of the Tampa Bay Rays.

And honestly, both show how hard it is to acclimate to the big leagues for prospects and why a lot of times the first act is an unfair barometer of what’s to come. Rosario hit .255/.290/.384 in his first 200 MLB games in his age-21 and -22 seasons. Then last year at 23, he hit .287/.323/.432 and started to show some of the shine lost from his top-10 prospect status. Heading into 2017, he was globally a top-10 guy across all platforms. That 100 percent can go away in time, but not typically when a guy is only 22 — as Rosario was before his 2019 breakout.

He’ll still have some questions about plate discipline and base-stealing efficiency, but the nice thing is there isn’t a massive strikeout problem even though he’ll swing and miss fairly frequently (12.9 percent career), and he reined that in a bit in 2019 (11.6 percent).

Adames’ numbers took a step back in 2019 as he posted a 97 wRC+ — down from 2018’s 110 — but he’s a good defender who has hit at every level he’s been and he won’t be 25 until September — just a couple months ahead of Rosario. By comparison, Adames has fanned more than a quarter of the time in the big leagues with a lower swinging-strike rate (11.6 percent) than Rosario, so it’s clear there’s no right or wrong way to approach hitting on the route to a potential breakout.

I think both guys are on that path.

From Geoff Discher: How are you, as a respected columnist, adjusting to having no MLB to cover/research? Also, are you dying to try any wing flavors you’ve heard about recently?

In all honesty, it’s difficult. It’s been nice to spend more time at home with my family and my relationships have been strengthened with them as a result, but there’s just something to the rhythm of a workday that is difficult to adjust to when it’s interrupted.

And man….I could really go for some bone-in wings right about now. The new Bonchon in Maple Grove is my jam there.

From Cody Warne: How likely is it that a shortened season played in select ballparks will happen?

It’s very low for me. Maybe 20 percent. I just think there are way too many logistical hurdles to clear, and the optics of players having repeated testing when it’s not available to the general public in the same way are just not good.

From Sam Jerome: What’s your favorite part of your job?

It’s extremely simplified, but watching baseball and writing and talking about it. That’s pretty much it. There’s something to be said about allowing your hobby or passion to turn into work — and it’s definitely that — but you still have to remind yourself that it’s watching baseball for money.

From Mike Gasser: Since we are being forced to relive the old days right now….if MLB had the rules 20 years ago that they do now for spending money on draft picks, how do you think that 2001 draft would have played out?

I don’t think it’d change for the Twins. Even in the capped era, the No. 1 overall pick never signs for slot value. I also think the value of a dollar in the eyes of the Twins in 2001 wasn’t going to be changed by the MLB allocating pool values, which is still money the teams have to come up with on their own, after all.

From Mike Benke Sr.: Do all players get full pay if they don’t play at all? Do players buy insurance if they cant collect 20, 30 mill a year?

According to Jeff Passan of ESPN, the agreement between the union and the league in late March dictated that the players prioritized getting a full season of service time rather than pushing for a full season of salary. Players agreed to cash advances over the next two months but not full salaries, and my suspicion is that they’ll make only a fraction — and not a high fraction — of their deals if the season is completely lost.

Even if the season is salvaged in Florida and Arizona, it’s going to be hard to justify paying the players their full going rate with no gate revenue or concessions. TV deals will only go so far. But I can’t envision an insurance policy that would cover that. Not only would it have to have been purchased in advance of this whole situation, but I just don’t know that it would have ever been offered in the first place.

From Will Carroll: It seems the public has discovered how valuable Josh Kalk is to the Twins. Who’s the next “hidden gem” that’s making the Twins a better team?

I don’t have a lot of details right now, but my suspicion is that it’s Ezra Wise, who is the team’s coordinator of amateur scouting research and development.

From Lance Rinker: How will the Josh Donaldson contract be viewed if the Twins miss out on the first year of it this season?

Fair or not, probably pretty poorly. The general public is already not particularly well-equipped to gauge these sorts of things — gestures in the general direction of the Joe Mauer extension — and he’s going to possibly be 35 before he gets on a baseball field again. It’s like the Cruz dilemma rolled back a few years, but with much higher stakes. Year 1 was going to be pivotal in making sure that Donaldson’s contract delivers good overall value. He still can and may deliver that based on the impeccable work ethic he shows, but it adds another layer of uncertainty to the whole thing.

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