The Minnesota Twins are home from their final road trip of what’s been a dreadful 2018 season. It began with postseason expectations. It will end this weekend with the conclusion of the final homestand of the year. The season was marred by injury and underperformance, and it’s fair to say that it’s cast doubt on some of the players that Twins fans were hoping would be the nucleus of a championship-caliber club as early as this season.
It hasn’t been that. It’s my contention that even for all that bad news that the Twins have endured this season, the club can once again compete in 2019. It’ll take a big winter to catch up to the Indians. But the Twins should also have a lot of money to spend. That’s another column for another day.
Before we look too far ahead, I wanted to share 5 free ideas for the Twins as they kick off their final homestand of the season Tuesday. This column will do just that. Some are serious and some are just sort of out there. Take them all or pick and choose.
The premise is this: Joe Mauer is a great baseball player and these might be his final days in a Twins uniform. Maybe the team’s brass knows something that I don’t. But from my perspective it’s not clear if Mauer will play another season or seasons after this one. It’s not obvious that the Twins would have interest. It’s not clear if he’d play for another team if they didn’t want him. All of it’s a toss-up in my mind right now.
My point is this. Are you totally sure he’s going to play another game for you? If not then you need to take a chance to tip your cap to one of the greatest players in franchise history. Mauer would hate it, yes. But it would make for a nice gesture with the future of the relationship looking fuzzy at the moment.
At some point this homestand, Mauer will reach base for the 3,073rd time in his career. With that he’ll surpass the legendary Harmon Killebrew for most times on base in a Twins uniform. That to me is more impressive than 2,000 hits, which Mauer checked off his list earlier this season. He’s still got a ways to go to catch Kirby Puckett in base hits but he won’t get there without additional time tacked onto his contract, which ends this year. He’s a Twins Hall of Famer on the first ballot. His Cooperstown candidacy is a little trickier. But even in that discussion there’s a case to be made for the St. Paul-native.
A career .388 on-base percentage (and .306 batting average) spanning at least 15 seasons, a decade as a catcher, three batting titles and an MVP award. More than 1,000 runs scored, three Gold Gloves and a perfectly Joe Mauer commercial with Scott Van Pelt.
Mauer’s career should be celebrated in what could be the final homestand in Minnesota. And if I held any power, I’d vote to hold it on that Saturday at Target Field. Sunday’s game is, after all, a day game after a night game.
As I’ve watched Jorge Polanco’s evolution as a Major Leaguer over the years, I’ve gone back and forth on his defensive abilities. At the depths of my concerns, I simply didn’t think he had the tools – the range, the internal clock, the arm, the hands – to be a good Major League shortstop.
Then he grew on my a little as I watched him iron out the inconsistencies from his game and learn to hone that clock that every good shortstop must have. He’s no Andrelton Simmons, and he’s not even close, really. But I started to get on board with the idea that he could be a first division shortstop on a winning team, and that feeling was at its most intense in the final two months of the season last year, when Polanco turned heel and transformed from one of the worst hitters in the big leagues to one of the most impressive. That’ll play, I thought.
But this year I’ve seen some of the same questions arise.
The Twins will have some options this winter in free agency and maybe even on the trade market to upgrade their middle infield. Heck, you could even get a third baseman like Manny Machado and ask him to play shortstop, if you felt so inclined.
Whatever the winter plan holds, I’d think the Twins will want Polanco to be part of the finished product, as he’s hit .279/.337/.419 since he returned from the half-season drug suspension. Down the stretch last year he clobbered pitchers, legitimately looking like one of the best hitters in a great lineup. Polanco was 24 years old last season when he hit .316/.377/.553 in the final two months of the year.
The bat plays but you’re not sure about the glove? Try him out at second base.
Maybe a week’s worth of innings doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. But there was a time when the organization viewed him as a future second baseman. Maybe the Twins could revisit that this week, see how it goes, and plan accordingly in free agency this winter? The guess here is that they won’t, although I’m sure the idea – Jorge Polanco, second baseman – will be a tempting thought this winter.
Willians Astudillo is the only reason that people are talking about the Twins, on a national level. And I’m being serious about that.
So this Astudillo-at-every-position idea pretty much has to happen, right?
He made his MLB debut this year on a sweltering day in Chicago against the Cubs, when several players succumbed to heat exhaustion symptoms. Astudillo – all 5-foot-9 and 225+ pounds of him – stood out in left field and later center with a glove on his hand. He’s played third base and second base and pitched in mop-up relief.
He’s a catcher by trade and he’s gotten more playing time behind the plate now that the Twins have Option 1 (Jason Castro) and Option 2 (Mitch Garver) on the shelf — and they traded Option 3 (Bobby Wilson) for a different Option 3 (Chris Gimenez).
Astudillo (Option 4?) has a unique approach and that helps to make him a fun story and internet baseball cult favorite. His bat could play in the big leagues if you can find a position for him. So why not try to get him a look at every spot this week?
This would be more meaningful to a lot people than auditioning, for example, Trevor May as a closer. Look, I don’t care about these things but people do. And right now if you’re the Twins you want people to care.
Give every individual player the floor in a room with the two guys at the top of the front office and Paul Molitor, and just let them speak.
What’d you think of the year? What’s your plan/hope for this winter and next year? Have you talked to Byron Buxton lately?
Maybe skip over that last one. Still, exit interviews definitely should happen with the Twins. It’s standard operating procedure to a lot of teams. Under Derek Falvey, the Twins have made a concerted effort to touch base with a lot of rostered players at points throughout the year, whether it’s at TwinsFest, during spring training, or at the end of the season. And I’d expect that this year will be no different.
Maybe you’ll learn something in those moments of structured honesty. Or maybe you won’t. The only downside is the time and opportunity cost, and the minimum-level upside is that everybody feels like they’ve at least had their voice heard. There’s value in that.
Additional note: From my perspective, guys like Gregorio Petit, Matt Belisle and Chris Gimenez could make valuable assets as coaches or support staff within the organization — if they decide that their playing days are winding down.
This one’s only kind of a joke. The Twins really are having a Timberwolves day. According to the team, they’re giving away a “co-branded” Timberwolves/Twins cap this week, with some of the money from the special ticket package going to support the Positive Coaching Alliance.
It is a good gesture.
It’s also nice, from a Twins perspective, to subtly remind Minnesota fans that even though the 2018 season has been trying…things could always be worse.
Maybe Jimmy Butler’s messy and awkward exit will help fans to forget about how Byron Buxton’s situation was handled. If that’d work, ask Butler to throw out the first pitch.