Baseball

The Alternate Universe Minnesota Twins

Inspired by JKJ’s recent lament on the St. Louis Cardinals, combined with my First Year Player Drafts informed by The Prospect Itch and Hobbs, as well as noted scout John Sickels’ “Shadow Twins” series of articles, I wanted to reveal my own mourning process for my beloved tolerated local sports team, the Minnesota Twins. More than just an elegy to the Midwest Monsters that could have been, the Minnesota Twins stand as an example of a team that dynasty fantasy managers might want to avoid, and the reason is rooted in the “real world” dynamics of the Twins’ ownership and management over the past century.

This is all in fun, and we know that this sort of exercise could be applied for any team. However, people perceive the Twins to be developers of internal talent, when in reality, they’re missing massively on talent that other teams recognized and snagged. Since 2008, I would argue that the Twins “hit” on only two of their draft picks: Kyle Gibson and Jose Berrios. You’ll see below who the Twins missed when they took Gibson, though. Byron Buxton, Eddie Rosario and Max Kepler — of course, favorites of mine — are in the discussion as well, but so far their real-world production from 2018-2020 has been just outside the top-10 of MLB teams. Because they are also “homegrown” talent, I suppose I should give them their dues. Maybe I’ll do that on a sunnier day in a happier time.

That said, like JKJ’s lament over the playoff-heralded Cardinals, the Twins are also a successful team despite all of their misses. That said, the Twins hold the record with 17 straight playoff losses, and they have not won a playoff game since 2004. Imagine, the millions of dollars on players, scouting, and a brand new stadium paid for by tax dollars, and not a single playoff win to show for it. There are readers out there who weren’t born when the Twins won their last playoff game and are now driving on the frozen Minnesota roads. That is an impressive losing streak. Meanwhile, since the time of that last playoff win, the Twins’ AL Central compadres — the Royals, Indians, Tigers and White Sox — all made World Series appearances and the White Sox and Royals took home championships.

Overall, the vast majority of first and second round picks during that time period never played in the majors in any significant manner. What this means for you, the fantasy manager, is that you might want to be suspicious of prospects like Alex Kirilloff, Brent Rooker, and Royce Lewis. The Twins’ front office underwent a major overhaul in the past few years, and things may be changing now that the Twins have hired Team President Derek Falvey, and General Manager Thad Levine has finished his fourth season. In the spirit of fun, let’s take a look at the Twins’ roster that could have been.

C: Wilson Ramos

  • The Twins signed Wilson Ramos in 2004, and he spent the late 2000s crushing minor league pitching with a 120 WRC+. In 2010, the Twins traded Ramos to the Washington Nationals for reliever Matt Capps. Matt Capps played 2.5 years for the Twins and garnered over 40 saves in about 100 appearances, which was statistically good but not useful to the last place Twins. The Twins let Capps walk in free agency, although he never pitched again at the MLB level. Ramos, meanwhile, was the 15th best catcher in MLB by WAR over the past decade. He led all MLB catchers in wRC+ in 2018 and was 13th in 2019. His 2020 was underwhelming, and the New York Mets declined his team option a few days ago, making him a free agent. Still only 33 years old, Ramos could be a bounce back option in deep leagues or a backup catcher in best ball formats in 2021. His launch angle is geared towards grounders, but his exit velocity and hard hit percentage were right in line with career norms. Ramos could be a sneaky late round catcher that finds his way into your 2021 RazzSlam lineup.

1B: Miguel Sano (but playing at a less-demanding position)

  • Of course, I could write David Ortiz, but he’s retired now. Simply put, the mid-2000s Twins invested a ton of money into catcher Joe Mauer and first baseman Justin Morneau, each of whom were MVPs. After a concussion derailed Morneau’s career and Mauer fell victim to “bilateral leg weakness,” the Twins put Mauer — their most expensive player who took up nearly 60% of the team’s salary some years — at 1B, where he blocked prospects for years until he retired after the 2018 season. Despite spending 2015-2019 primarily playing third base, Miguel Sano was not a good third baseman, costing the Twins over five runs per year at the hot corner. Sano always struggled with making contact at the Major League level, and many commenters in the Twin Cities lamented that the young prospect was too good for the minors (where he had a K rate of only 23% in his last full year) but needed real playing time in the Majors to get on track. Finally, in 2020, the Twins put the 27-year-old Sano at 1B, where he K’d a ridiculous 44% of the time. He did, however, crush the pitches he made contact with, posting an ISO of .301, an average exit velocity of 95 MPH, and an average launch angle of 20 degrees, meaning he’s primed for a HR-heavy 2021. With Josh Donaldson signed to the real Minnesota Twins for a few more years to man the hot corner, Sano can finally be comfortable at first base.

2B: Luis Arraez 

  • The Twins hit with this one, but it came in a sneaky way. Arraez is carving out his spot in the Twins’ lineup but the team may not even realize the young second baseman as truly skilled player. Signed as an amateur free agent in 2013, Arraez is only 23 and has a career wRC+ of 122. With a career OBP of .390, he’s a nice pick for late-round best ball drafts for his floor. He’s defensively competent and would probably make a good leadoff hitter, where he’s batted over .340 in the leadoff spot during his career. In a more roundabout way, Arraez came to the Twins’ MLB squad through desperation. The mid-2010s Twins — thinking they were always a player or two away from contending — held onto Brian Dozier far too long, ultimately trading him away in 2018 for a bunch of minor leaguers. The next 2B in line for the Twins, Travis Blankenhorn, will be 24.5 years old when the 2021 season starts, and he’s never played above AA (outside of a very small cup of coffee in 2020), although he has put up impressive hitting stats in his minor league career.

SS: Fernando Tatis Jr

  • OK, OK, it’s actually a pick from John Sickels’ Shadow Twins, but when the Minnesota Twins were grabbing players like Arraez, their division counterparts, the White Sox, took Tatis for a mere $700,000. In 2015, the same year that the White Sox signed Tatis for $700K, the Twins spent $4 million on Wander Javier, not to mention another $4 million on Byung-ho Park in 2016. Javier will be 22 at the start of next spring training and hasn’t cracked the Twins’ top 10 prospect list; he batted .177 in Single-A ball in 2019 and is now Rule 5 eligible. Park gave the Twins 250 at bats in 2016 and never saw MLB action again. Meanwhile, the Twins have been using Jorge Polanco at the shortstop position. Polanco has a lower career WAR than Brock Holt, bee-tee-dubya. Remember that come 2021 draft season. Sure, a ton of teams missed on Tatis, but the Twins were one of the most aggressive teams in that 2015 international free agency session, and you’ll see several more misses below.

3B: Edwin Rios

  • Another pick from the esteemed John Sickels, who took Edwin Rios in his 2015 Shadow Twins draft. Rios debuted for the Dodgers in 2019 and spent most of 2020 at the hot corner, where he performed acceptably in terms of defense. For his bat, though, he posted a .645 SLG, a 13% barrel rate and a 45% hard hit rate. In real life, Miguel Sano floundered at third base while the Twins waited out Joe Mauer’s contract at first base through the majority of the 2010s.

OF: Mike Trout

  • In 2009, with the 22nd pick of the first round, the Minnesota Twins selected: Kyle Gibson. With the 25th pick of that same draft, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim of California of these United States of America selected Mike MF’in Trout. I really don’t need to write anything more here, do I?

OF: Andrew Benintendi

  • With the 6th pick of the 2015 draft, the Minnesota Twins selected Tyler Jay. Tyler Jay isn’t in Major League Baseball anymore. One guy who is, was the next pick of the draft, Andrew Benintendi. At 26 years old, Benintendi has already played four full years of baseball, even after missing most of 2020 due to injury. With a career wRC+ of 108, Benintendi has the same WAR and a higher offensive production than Twins’ treasured prospect, Byron Buxton. Will Buxton or Benintendi be the better player in the long run? We’ll find out. Feel free to discuss in the comments which player you’d rather have on your imaginary team.

OF: Juan Soto

  • That 2015 international free agent class was stunning. The Nationals signed Soto in 2015 for $1.5 million. Again, the Twins went Wander Javier for $4 million. Tough to believe that the Twins (or really any other team) could have hit on Tatis, Soto, and Rios and still have nearly 50% of their international free agency limit left to go. Sigh.

DH: Vladimir Guerrero Jr

  • If the Twins hadn’t spent $4 million on Javier in 2015, they could have spent $4 million on Vlad Jr. Of course, they couldn’t have Vlad, Soto, Rios, and Tatis all on one team due to spending limits. I’m putting Vlad here mostly to point out that several teams snared the future of their franchise in 2015 international free agency. The Twins, as mentioned, sank nearly $10 million in 2015-2016 into players who returned zero value.

SP: Aaron Nola

  • With the fifth pick of the 2014 draft, the Minnesota Twins selected Aaron Nola. No, wait. The Twins picked Nick Gordon at five, and Aaron Nola went seventh to the Phillies. Whereas the 25-year old Gordon is ranked in the 30s in the Twins’ farm system and had a .344 wOBA and a 102 wRC+ in 2019, Aaron Nola has pitched nearly 850 MLB innings since 2015, K’d 922 batters, and won nearly 60 games with a 19.2 WAR. The closest comparison the Twins have is Kyle Gibson, who had half the WAR of Nola in about the same number of innings. Sigh.

SP: Noah Syndergaard 

  • Syndergaard went 38th in the 2010 draft class, so plenty of teams missed on him. With the 21st pick of the 2010 draft, the Twins picked Alex Wimmers, who pitched a total of 24 MLB innings before leaving organized baseball after 2018. Looking back at Wimmers, it’s baffling the Twins’ front office didn’t promote him to the MLB level until 2016. In Wimmers’ 2014 minor league campaign, he threw 80IP in mixed usage with a K/9 above 11 and and a K:BB ratio of almost 3:1. By the time he made the majors, he had lost his confidence and his command. Despite injuries, Syndergaard put up over 700IP as a starter and raked up 18.8 WAR from 2015 onward.

SP: Jon Lester 

  • This is a throwback and doesn’t matter too much for 2020, but way, way back in the day, the Twins were going into full rebuild by trading away their ace, Johan Santana. The Twins turned down offers from the Red Sox and Yankees, packages which included Jacoby Ellsbury, Ian Kennedy, Melky Cabrera, Coco Crisp, and Jed Lowrie. Probably the biggest miss on that list was Jon Lester, the promising young starter for the Red Sox. Ultimately, the Twins traded Santana for Carlos Gomez and a bunch of other minor leaguers who didn’t do anything. The Twins traded Gomez to the Brewers for one year of service from shortstop J.J. Hardy; Gomez went on to be a two-time all-star and gold glove winner with the Brewers. All of that, of course, is shadowed by the 40 WAR that Lester put up with the Red Sox and Cubs after the Twins bypassed his trade package. Although Lester is off the fantasy radar in most situations, he still put up a positive WAR value in 2020 and is *only* 36 — the same age as Zack Grienke and Charlie Morton and younger than Justin Verlander, J.A. Happ, and Rich Hill. That’s definitely usable in best ball leagues like the RazzSlam.

SP: Kenta Maeda / Jose Berrios 

  • The Twins hit on these guys, and Berrios was internally developed, and Maeda was brought in from the Dodgers at the cost of [checks notes] World Series champion, Brusdar Graterol. We’ll have to see if Maeda continues to click in full-season form. But after garnering Cy Young votes in 2020, Maeda really should be looking to adjust his contract. Maeda makes about 3.125 million per year (with the Dodgers still paying a chunk of that contract), with his lengthy 8-year contract the real kicker in terms of team control. Maeda is the 97th highest paid starter in MLB, behind the likes of Daniel Norris and Tyler Anderson. We all know Maeda is a jovial guy, but given that the Twins control his contract through the next presidential election, Maeda could very likely seek to restructure his contract. The Twins being, well, the Twins, might let another team do that.

SP: Lance Lynn

  • Lynn had started 159 games from 2012-2017 when the Twins signed him in 2018. With the team playing below .500, they traded Lynn to the Yankees for what ultimately were two minor leaguers, one of whom is the intriguing Luis Rijo, who ranks 20th on the Twins farm system but also has never played above A-ball. Lynn, meanwhile, has been one of the most valuable starters in MLB since leaving the Twins. Almost like it’s causation, not correlation.

RP: SAGNOF! Actually, Liam Hendricks.

  • Liam Hendricks signed as an international free agent with the Twins in 2007 before being released in 2013. The Athletics picked him up in 2016 and he was reliever of the year in 2020. Also: Ryan Pressly, Brusdar Graterol, the list goes on. Sigh.

 


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