Very reminiscent of a similar situation in 2008
Right before the 2021 season began, I wrote about the Twins’ intriguing mix of veteran players and just-emerging prospects. That article also included this line…
A core group gelling together is a must to compete for the Commissioner’s Trophy.
Little did I know that such a statement would—sadly—prove to be prophetic, as the Twins’ core has largely let them down thus far this season.
Starting in 2015, the Twins built their organization around Jose Berrios, Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano, Max Kepler, Jorge Polanco, & Eddie Rosario. All seemed like solid bets to carry the organization back into competitiveness, ala the Mientkiewicz-Guzman-Koskie-Hunter-Jones bunch of the early 2000s.
Rosie was the first to depart, due to the team being flush with corner outfield prospects, and none of the remaining five have attained their highest potentials:
- Sano: Went from Miguel Cabrera comps to essentially a part time player due to his undisciplined plate approach and extreme streakiness.
- Buxton: He’s Ronald Acuna when healthy—but he’s never healthy. We’re not just talking “120 games a year” territory either. Buck has eclipsed 330 PA exactly twice in his 7-year career, and won’t get to that number in ‘21.
- Kepler: Seems to fade into the woodwork a bit more with each passing year. Sometimes shows great pop and poise (remember when he hit leadoff?!), but now is almost unplayable against lefties and his only .800+ OPS season was the juiced-ball 2019 environment.
- Polanco: Still a solid bat when healthy, but nagging ankle problems seem to crop up at inopportune times. As with Kep, his only OPS over .800 was ‘19.
- Berrios: Will always turn in a solid season—but never a spectacular one. His ERA+ hovers around 100 (league average) year in and year out.
I realize the above blurbs could easily be taken as overly negative, and in a certain sense that’s fair. But those are the guys this organization made the biggest bets on. Blame the front office, blame the players, blame whomever you wish, but none of those bets have paid out as slam-dunk winners (while Sano is dangerously close to outright sucker-bet territory).
This entire situation reminds me a lot of the 2008 Minnesota Twins. Over the course of that calendar year, the Twins essentially “bet the farm” on Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, and a five-man starting rotation (Scott Baker, Nick Blackburn, Kevin Slowey, Glen Perkins, Francisco Liriano) that provided depth and the proverbial “chance to win” every day.
How did that all turn out after ‘08? Well…
- Morneau: Great for a year and a half before an unfortunate concussion robbed him of his peak performance years.
- Mauer: A great investment even with the mega-contract (fight me), but similar concussion issues to those of buddy Justin sapped his performance as well.
- Blackburn & Slowey: Careers ended when pitch-to-contact philosophy in MLB ceased.
- Baker: Oft-injured and may have been failed by the Twins’ organizational pitching philosophy.
- Perkins: Never panned out as a starter, though at least provided some significant bullpen value later on.
- Liriano: Post-Tommy John surgery, he had exactly one good season as a Twin—and 4 horrendous ones. Immediately turned his career around after leaving MN, so perhaps a similar problem as outlined above with Baker.
To a certain extent, every team gambles on a core of talent congealing to push the club to championship caliber. That strategy paid off for the Twins in the early 1980s (Puckett—Hrbek—Gaetti—Gagne—Viola) and again in the early oughts.
But just as many times as a team is able to cash in its chips, it will also leave empty-handed and need to regroup. While the window has not yet completely slammed shut on the current core talent, it is rapidly descending down the frame as time takes its toll and a new bunch (Kirilloff—Larnach—Arraez—Gordon) look to establish their own core. Such is the way of Major League Baseball attrition.