The Twins will attempt to tell you that the baseball season is a long one and that with 68 games left there is still time for them to make a playoff run. That sounds good but not all that realistic.
A year ago, the Twins were a feel-good story. A franchise coming off a disastrous 103-loss season rebounded in the second half to make a run to the AL wild card game. But that team came out of the All-Star break with a 45-43 record, dipped in the second half of July and then, after management made a few deadline deals that showed they thought the club was dead, rallied to finish 85-77.
The 2018 Twins have been far more frustrating than feel good. Yes, the Twins went 9-2 during their homestand before the All-Star break, but six of those wins came against the embarrassingly bad Orioles and Royals. Minnesota will resume play on Friday night in Kansas City sitting at a less-than-impressive 44-50 and 7.5 games behind first-place Cleveland in the American League Central.
Unlike a year ago, the Twins aren’t going to grab the second wild card. Manager Paul Molitor’s team is 12.5 games back in that race. This means the only way to get into the postseason will be to beat out the Indians and that became far more difficult on Thursday when Cleveland acquired much-needed bullpen help by getting closer Brad Hand and reliever Adam Cimber in a trade with San Diego.
So with the Twins needing a miracle to make the playoffs — an unlikely to get one — chief baseball officer Derek Falvey and general manager Thad Levine can spend the remainder of the summer focusing on a to-do list that will benefit this club for 2019 and beyond.
Here are three things on that list that will be of the utmost importance in the remaining months of the regular season.
Get Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano on track
This one is obvious but it’s critical that the Twins get these once super prospects prepared to be major contributors next season. This season has been a lost one for both Buxton and Sano and that’s a big part of the reason that this has been a lost season for the Twins.
Buxton has battled injuries — he’s back on the seven-day disabled list at Triple-A Rochester — and has looked awful at the plate when he’s been in the big leagues. Sano arrived in the majors in 2015 appearing to have a solid approach at the plate, but he was out of shape and clueless this season.
Sano was sent all the way to Single-A Fort Myers in June in an attempt to get him back into shape and so he could work on improving at the complex where the Twins hold spring training. He was promoted to Triple-A Rochester on Friday and could be back in the big leagues soon.
As for Buxton, he has to recover from a wrist injury before any decisions about his progress can be made.
Buxton’s dedication to his craft is not in question, but what has become a huge concern is whether he can hit in the big leagues. If he can’t, he will be one of the biggest busts, maybe the biggest, in Twins history.
Sano could join Buxton in the bust category, but if that’s the case it’s going to be because of Sano’s lack of commitment. He has the tools to be great, but does he want to apply himself?
Whether Buxton and Sano get back to the big leagues this season isn’t important. Buxton has been up here late in the season before and impressed only to fall apart at the plate. Sano reportedly has lost 20 pounds but the question isn’t can he lose weight? It’s does he want to keep it off?
The Twins need Buxton and Sano in their Opening Day lineup in 2019 and they need them contributing for an entire season.
Let’s make a deal, or several of them
As the Twins entered the All-Star break on Sunday, Brian Dozier expressed optimism this team might be kept together so they could make a run at the postseason.
Listening to Dozier would be a huge mistake and the Twins’ second baseman is one of the first players who should be dealt as the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline approaches. Dozier, who is set to be a free agent this offseason, reportedly could be headed to Milwaukee since the Brewers failed to land shortstop Manny Machado.
Eduardo Escobar, who is having a fantastic season, also is set to become a free agent and should be dealt. The Phillies, another team that lost out in the Machado Sweepstakes, is another team looking for infield help and could use the versatile Escobar.
Falvey and Levine shouldn’t stop there.
Pitchers Lance Lynn, Zach Duke and Fernando Rodney also could have value. The most interesting trade chip could be starter Kyle Gibson, who finally has emerged as a quality starter after several years of being a disappointment, and who might get a nice return from a pitching-starved club. The decision on Gibson is going to come down to this question: Is the guy we are seeing this season really him or is he going to take a step back in 2019?
The Twins’ brain trust needs to consider all options as they look to stock the system with quality prospects.
Does Joe Mauer have a future with the Twins?
I can hear half of you right now saying, “Hell no, get him out of here.” The other half, of course, is wondering how I can ask such a stupid question, considering Mauer is a hero to many and those fans can’t imagine him not returning.
Mauer is in the final season of his eight-year, $184 million contract and will turn 36 next April 19.
Mauer got off to a solid start this season — he was hitting .283/.404/.355 at the end of May — and has turned himself into a Gold Glove-caliber first baseman. But he also again has dealt with concussion-like symptoms that landed him on the disabled list and that has to be considered a significant concern.
If Mauer struggles in the remaining months, or gets hot at the plate, that could help to influence the decision-makers at Target Field.
Owner Jim Pohlad could mandate that Falvey and Levine retain Mauer, but if this is a pure baseball operations decision it will be interesting to see what the Twins do. It also would be interesting to see if Mauer retires or tries to go elsewhere, if the Twins decide they aren’t going to bring him back or if he doesn’t want to take the massive pay cut he almost certainly will be asked to accept.
As easy as this decision might seem to some, it isn’t going to be and there is a case to be made that the Twins might want to move on rather than bring back Mauer as a part-time player.