At some point, in a playoff race, a team has to take a few risks. For world series contenders, that may mean mortgaging part of the future for a shot at a ring. For up-and-coming teams like the Twins, there’s a more delicate balance of keeping the future in place while still trying to improve the present, and attempting to do so effectively is nuanced and tricky.
In my opinion, Twins CBO Derek Falvey and GM Thad Levine have been masterful in their decision making all year, both in terms of objectively assessing where the team is in the playoff race (trading Jaime Garcia and Brandon Kintzler was the logical move at the time), and in roster management. In signing Bartolo Colon and giving starts to a team record 16 different pitchers, they’ve gotten creative in piecing together the back end of a rotation decimated by injuries and ineffectiveness. They deserve a lot of credit for the team’s 64-60 record.
Nevertheless, a team that sits in sole possession of the second wild card in late August is worthy of taking a few calculated risks on; of at least heading in the general direction of “going for it.” In my opinion, the Twins missed an opportunity to do that by bringing up journeyman pitcher Tim Melville, rather than Stephen Gonsalves, for Monday’s start against the White Sox.
Melville’s a good story, as are several of the Twins who’ve debuted this year. At 27, he found himself out of affiliated baseball at the beginning of the year, pitching for the independent Long Island Ducks of the Atlantic League. He had a 3.45 ERA for the Ducks in nine starts before the Twins signed him, presumably as Triple-A depth. In 11 games for the Red Wings, he pitched well, with a 2.70 ERA, 1.065 WHIP and 8.6 K/9.
It’s a testament to Melville’s hard work and perseverance that he made it back to the big leagues after being out of affiliated ball, and he should be commended for it, but I question whether bringing him up was the right decision for the Twins.
On Sunday, before Melville gave up 5 earned runs over 3.1 innings in a 7-6 loss, I wrote that I was surprised the Twins opted to go with him over the top prospect Gonsalves, because Melville’s track record in the minors is mostly mediocre.
Prior to Monday’s start, he’d pitched 9 total big league innings, amassing an 11.00 ERA. He has a career minor league ERA of 4.58. There’s really nothing in his history—other than a solid 2 month run with Rochester– to suggest he’d be an effective big league pitcher.
Gonsalves, despite getting rocked on Sunday after the Twins decided not to call him up, has been outstanding all year (3.05 ERA, 1.074 WHIP, 9.8 K/9). Unlike Melville, he has a strong track record of success in the minor leagues and is a consensus top 100 prospect.
The Twins may not deem Gonsalves fully ready, and that’s fair. He’s only pitched 16 innings above Double-A. But he’s a talented pitcher who’s thrived at every level. In a tight playoff race where every game is now critical, I believe Gonsalves gives the Twins a better chance to win a ballgame than Melville.
Now, there are a couple of caveats. The first is that Monday was a spot start. Adding Gonsalves to the 40-man roster, having him start the game, and sending him back to Rochester would burn an option year, and the Twins likely want to avoid that. To me, though, that’s easily remedied by simply keeping Gonsalves up through the last 9 days of August until rosters expand on September 1, thus preserving the option. He could be inserted into the rotation if he pitched well, or work in long relief–a role in which the Twins have struggled to find consistency all season. Remember, too, that Gonsalves needs to be added to the 40-man after the season, regardless.
The second is they may feel it’s putting too much pressure on him to debut in the middle of a playoff race. That’s a fair critique, I suppose, but they showed a willingness to dip down to Double-A to grab Felix Jorge for two starts earlier this season, who’s younger than Gonsalves and not as highly-regarded of a prospect. Gonsalves certainly wouldn’t be the first highly-regarded minor leaguer to debut late in the season for a contender. Raul Mondesi Jr., for example, made his major league debut for the Royals in the 2015 World Series.
In my view, it’s now time for the organization to roll the dice a bit in an effort to maximize their chances over the last quarter of the season. In the Twins’ case, that doesn’t, and shouldn’t, mean mortgaging the future in trades, and they’ve wisely avoided that route. Calling up Stephen Gonsalves, though, is a relatively low risk move that could have a tangible impact. At worst, he fails and reboots next year. At best, he helps the team win a game or two more than they otherwise would; wins that could push them over the top in a congested wild card race. Either way, in my view the team’s current standing suggests it’s time to take a chance and find out what he can do.