- With the Twins in the thick of a Wild Card race, Michael Rand of the Minneapolis Star Tribune takes a look at the first season of work from new front-office tandem Derek Falvey and Thad Levine. Rand notes that the team’s show of faith in in-house young talent like Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano, Eddie Rosario, Jorge Polanco, Max Kepler and Jose Berrios has proven to be shrewd, as as their emphasis on improving catcher defense and adding high-character veterans. The Twins, however, failed to sufficiently address the bullpen despite it being a clear point of need this winter, Rand opines, and the decision to tender lefty Hector Santiago for $8MM looks especially questionable with the benefit of hindsight.
The Twins are currently 1.5 games up on the Angels for the second Wild Card spot and have a favorable remaining schedule — seven games against the rebuilding Tigers — but they may be without their top slugger over the final 11 games. Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press and Rhett Bollinger of MLB.com write that Miguel Sano looks to be running out of time to make a regular-season return.
Sano hasn’t played since fouling a ball into his shin on Aug. 19 — a seemingly innocuous incident that ultimately caused a stress reaction which has prevented him from running without pain. It’s been previously suggested that Sano wouldn’t play third base again this season even if he did return, instead serving as the Twins’ primary DH due to the difficulties that the shin issue could present with his mobility at the hot corner. But, with 11 games remaining, Sano has yet to run the bases, and it’s now a question of whether he will take another at-bat at all.
“My biggest concern now is even if he gets to the point where we get him on the field in any capacity, how much of a challenge is it going to be for him to have any type of timing at all?” manager Paul Molitor said to Twin Cities media. “…It’s hard to speculate until we get to where someone tells me he’s going to give it a shot and he’s got clearance and he feels good enough to be able to run 75 percent and let’s see where we’re at. I don’t know if that’s going to happen.”
Eduardo Escobar has ably filled in for Sano over the past month, moving from a utility role to everyday third baseman and a surprisingly powerful middle-of-the-order bat. In Sano’s absence, the switch-hitting Escobar has batted .248 with just a .297 on-base percentage but a gaudy .530 slugging percentage as well (109 wRC+). Escobar has homered eight times and also chipped in three doubles and three triples with Sano on the shelf.
It remains to be seen whether the Twins would press the issue and try to work Sano back into the lineup for a theoretical Wild Card berth of American League Division Series appearance, should they advance that far. Even with Escobar showing surprising pop at third base, Sano’s absence is a significant blow for a team that is within arm’s reach of its first playoff appearance since the 2010 campaign — the inaugural season of Minneapolis’ Target Field. In 111 games and 475 plate appearances this year, Sano slashed .267/.356/.514 with 28 homers, 15 doubles and a pair of triples — good for a 126 wRC+.
- Byron Buxton and Zach Granite were among the Twins players that were disappointed to hear of the team’s firing of minor league skipper Doug Mientkiewicz, writes Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. The longtime Twins first baseman has been managing in Minnesota’s minor league ranks for the past five years and enjoyed his fair share of winning (four playoff appearances), but the team won’t bring him back for a sixth season. “He knows how to bring out the best in players,” Buxton tells Berardino. “He was very fiery. When you did things right, he would let you know, and when you did things wrong, he’d let you know as well — and he’d tell you ways to correct. … He was more of a brother to us.” Granite, the Twins’ minor league player of the year in 2016, credits Mientkiewicz for teaching him ho to drive the ball and taking his game “to the next level.”
Though right-hander Kyle Gibson at one point looked like a clear non-tender candidate for the Twins this offseason, his revitalized performance in the season’s second half makes it look far likelier that he’ll return. The 29-year-old former first-rounder limped to a ghastly 6.29 ERA with 5.9 K/9, 4.3 BB/9 and a 51.1 percent ground-ball rate through the season’s first half and was even optioned to Triple-A Rochester back in May. However, he’s logged a brilliant 2.83 ERA with 7.3 K/9, 1.8 BB/9 and a 50.6 percent grounder rate in 54 innings across his past nine outings.
Asked by 1500 ESPN’s Darren Wolfson on his latest podcast if Gibson would be tendered a contract this winter (audio link, with Levine joining around the 27-minute mark and discussing Gibson at 37 minutes), Levine replied: “Starting pitching — and quality starting pitching — is at a premium. … Depth is tantamount. We are aspirational of being a playoff-relevant team moving forward. Those types of teams need to have a wealth of starting pitching options, and I think Kyle Gibson has established himself as very much a part of that equation moving forward for the Minnesota Twins.” Gibson is earning $2.9MM in 2017, and while there’s still of course time for things to change, it sounds like he’ll be retained and earn a slight raise on that figure for the 2018 campaign.
3:13 pm: Vielma has been claimed by the Giants, Darren Wolfson of KSTP News reports via twitter.
The former Twins infield prospect adds a bit of depth to a Giants team that has been in dire need of a defensively-minded backup infielder lately. Both Kelby Tomlinson and Orlando Calixte have been underwhelming with the glove this season, so if Vielma can develop even a replacement-level offensive skillset, his defensive wizardry could make him a solid utility option for San Francisco.
2:54 pm: Recently-designated Twins infielder Engelb Vielma has been claimed off waivers by an unknown National League club, tweets Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
Vielma was designated for assignment by the Twins on Tuesday in order to clear a spot on the 40-man roster for lefty reliever Gabriel Moya. The switch-hitting shortstop has yet play in the majors. In 314 plate appearances at AAA this year, he put up an unimpressive .206/.233/.260 batting line.
In spite of his poor hitting, it makes sense that an organization would have interest in Vielma. He has been rated as the Twins’ best defensive minor-league infielder for multiple years, and could serve as an excellent defensive replacement or utility option. It’s possible he could still carve out a path to the majors, but he’d need to make major improvements with the bat.
Vielma, a 23-year old native of Venezuela was first added to the Twins’ 40-man roster this past offseason in order to protect him from the rule five draft after he managed to get on base at a .344 clip between High-A and Double-A in 2016.
With just a few weeks left in the season, we have a pretty clear idea of which Rule 5 draft picks will stick with their drafting teams. At this point, having already carried the player this far and with expanded rosters easing any pressures, teams are quite likely to stay the course. Here’s how this season’s Rule 5 group has shaken out thus far:
It isn’t official yet, but these
- Miguel Diaz, RHP, kept by Padres (via Twins) from Brewers: As part of the Pads’ unusually bold Rule 5 strategy, the club kept three youngsters this year. Diaz, 22, has managed only a 6.21 ERA with a 31:22 K/BB ratio over 37 2/3 innings. But he is showing a 96 mph heater and will remain with the organization, quite likely heading back to the minors next season to continue his development.
- Luis Torrens, C, kept by Padres (via Reds) from Yankees: The youthful backstop — he’s just 21 — has struggled badly on offense in limited action. Through 133 plate appearances, he’s slashing just.169/.246/.212 — with just four extra-base hits, none of them home runs.
- Allen Cordoba, INF, kept by Padres from Cardinals: And then there’s Cordoba, who’s also just 21 years of age. He faded after a hot start at the plate, but on the whole his output — a .209/.284/.304 batting line and four home runs over 215 plate appearances — is fairly impressive given that he had never before played above Rookie ball.
- Dylan Covey, RHP, kept by White Sox from Athletics: Technically, owing to a DL stint, Covey has only compiled 83 of the minimum 90 days of active roster time required to be kept. But he’s going to make it there before the season is up, meaning that the Sox will be able to hold onto his rights and option him back to the minors in 2018. Covey, 26, has struggled to a 7.90 ERA with 4.9 K/9 against 4.4 BB/9 over 54 2/3 innings, allowing 18 long balls in that span.
- Stuart Turner, C, kept by Reds from Twins: Turner has seen minimal action, appearing in just 33 games and taking only 77 trips to the plate. And he’s hitting just .141/.184/.268 in that sporadic action. Clearly, though, the Reds have seen enough to believe he’s worth the trouble to hang onto.
Still In Limbo
- Kevin Gadea, RHP, selected by Rays from Mariners: Gadea has not pitched at any level this year owing to an elbow injury. He’ll remain with the Tampa Bay organization for the time being, but will still need to be carried on the 40-man roster over the offseason and then on the active roster for at least ninety days for his rights to permanently transfer.
- Armando Rivero, RHP, selected by Braves from Cubs: It’s the exact same situation for Rivero as for Gadea, though he has had shoulder problems.
- Josh Rutledge, INF, selected by Red Sox from Rockies: This was not your typical Rule 5 move. Boston snagged the veteran infielder after he signed a minors deal with Colorado. He ended up seeing minimal MLB time owing to injuries and his season ended recently with hip surgery. Rutledge is eligible for arbitration this fall and isn’t likely to be kept on the 40-man roster regardless.
- Anthony Santander, OF, selected by Orioles from Indians: Since he only made it off of the DL late in the summer, Santander can accrue only 45 days on the active roster. If Baltimore wants to keep him, then, it’ll need to put him on the Opening Day roster next year. Santander has seen minimal playing time thus far, recording two hits in twelve trips to the plate, though he put up impressive numbers on his rehab assignment.
Kept By Other Means
- Daniel Stumpf, LHP, signed with Tigers after electing free agency upon return to Royals: This is another unusual situation. As a previous Rule 5 returnee, Stumpf was eligible to elect free agency upon being returned to his original organization. That’s just what happened when Detroit sent him back to Kansas City; the southpaw then turned around and re-signed a MLB deal with the Tigers. He has ended up turning in a rather productive year, posting 32 1/3 innings of 2.78 ERA ball with 8.6 K/9 and 3.9 BB/9 at the major-league level and showing even more impressive numbers during his time at Triple-A.
- Tyler Jones, RHP, returned to Yankees by Diamondbacks: Jones has thrown rather well at Triple-A since going back to the New York organization, posting 10.7 K/9 against 2.8 BB/9 in 63 2/3 innings, though he has also allowed 4.38 earned per nine.
- Caleb Smith, LHP, returned to Yankees by Brewers: Smith ended up earning a 40-man roster spot and spending some time in the majors after showing quite well as a starter in the minors. But he has been knocked around in his 18 2/3 MLB frames on the year.
- Justin Haley, RHP, returned to Red Sox by Twins (via Angels): The 26-year-old didn’t stick with Minnesota, allowing a dozen earned runs in 18 innings before being returned to Boston. But he has thrown well since landing back at Triple-A Pawtucket, posting a 2.66 ERA with 7.2 K/9 and 1.4 BB/9 in 44 innings over seven starts.
- Tyler Webb, LHP, returned to Yankees by Pirates: Webb also gained a 40-man spot with the Yankees after showing some intriguing K/BB numbers at Triple-A. He was ultimately dealt to the Brewers.
- Aneury Tavarez, OF, returned to Red Sox by Orioles: Tavarez played his way back up to Triple-A upon his return to his former organization, but has hit just .244/.292/.400 in 145 plate appearances there.
- Glenn Sparkman, RHP, returned to Royals by Blue Jays: Sparkman was bombed in his one MLB appearance and has been limited to just 30 1/3 minor-league frames due to injury.
- Hoby Milner, LHP, returned to Phillies by Indians: Another player who has risen to the majors with the organization that originally let them leave via the Rule 5, Milner has turned in 24 1/3 frames of 1.85 ERA ball in Philadelphia. Of course, he has also managed just 15 strikeouts against ten walks in that span.
- Mike Hauschild, RHP, returned to Astros by Rangers: The 27-year-old righty struggled badly in his eight MLB frames. Upon returning to the rotation for Houston’s top affiliate, Hauschild has uncharacteristically struggled with free passes (5.3 per nine).
- Miguel Sano’s return from a stress reaction in his left shin has been slow to progress, though the Twins slugger did some running drills Monday and took batting practice Tuesday, as Chad Graff of the St. Paul Pioneer Press writes. If and when Sano is ready to return — which could come in the next week, per Graff — it’s likely that he’ll be back in the lineup as the designated hitter. Manager Paul Molitor told reporters that he’s more concerned about the absence of Sano’s bat from the lineup than he is about his ability to return to the hot corner. The Twins are 11-10 in Sano’s absence, Graff points out, though certainly the Twins must be eager for the return of Sano’s .267/.356/.514 batting line and 28 homers as they look to hang onto the American League’s second Wild Card slot.
The Twins announced today that they’ve selected the contract of left-handed reliever Gabriel Moya from Double-A Chattanooga and designated minor league shortstop Engelb Vielma for assignment in order to clear a spot on the 40-man roster.
Vielma, 23, was added to the 40-man roster last offseason to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft despite a lack of offensive track record in the Majors. The Venezuelan native has drawn praise for defensive abilities in the past, though Fangraphs’ Eric Longenhagen wrote last offseason that he may not have enough bat to even profile as a utility option. Baseball America rated him 25th among Minnesota prospects in the offseason, calling him the system’s best pure shortstop but expressing similar concerns about his offense.
Minnesota put him on the 40-man last offseason after he hit .265/.344/.310 between Class-A Advanced and Double-A, but he’s taken a step back from even that modest level of output in 2017. This year, Vielma split the season between Double-A and Triple-A, where he batted .229/.273/.280 through 455 plate appearances.
The 22-year-old Moya has posted video-game numbers in Double-A this year, working to a combined 0.77 ERA with 13.4 K/9 against 2.3 BB/9 with a ground-ball rate of about 41 percent through 58 1/3 innings between two organizations. Acquired from Arizona in late July for catcher John Ryan Murphy, Moya would have been added to the 40-man this winter as well, so this move will just give Minnesota an earlier chance to evaluate him for a future role.
A couple of 40-man additions to kick things off Tuesday morning…
- The Phillies will add not only Henderson Alvarez to the 40-man roster — as was reported yesterday — but also right-hander Victor Arano, according to CSN Philly’s Jim Salisbury (Twitter link). The hard-throwing 22-year-old, who ranks 27th on MLB.com’s list of the Phillies’ top 30 prospects, spent the season pitching against older competition with Double-A Reading and posted a 4.19 ERA with 8.8 K/9, 2.6 BB/9 and a 38.9 percent ground-ball rate. MLB.com’s Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo note in their free report on him that a move to the bullpen in 2017 and a focus on his slider as his primary breaking pitch have both allowed Arano’s stuff to play up in the bullpen. Arano needed to be added to the 40-man this winter anyhow in order to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft, so the Phils will add him a bit earlier and take a few looks at him against MLB pitching down the stretch. He opened the year with an arm injury — reportedly a sprained UCL — but made his way back to toss 38 2/3 innings this season.
- The Twins look set to add lefty reliever Gabriel Moya to their 40-man roster. Venezuelan journalist Dessiree Castro tweeted that Moya was promoted to the Majors, and Moya’s former pitching coach in the D-backs’ minor league system did the same. Moya rated at the back-end of the Twins’ top 30 at MLB.com before the trades of Jaime Garcia and Brandon Kintzler added a couple of new names to that list. The 22-year-old has posted video-game numbers in Double-A this year, working to a combined 0.77 ERA with 13.4 K/9 against 2.3 BB/9 with a ground-ball rate of about 41 percent through 58 1/3 innings. Acquired from Arizona in late July for catcher John Ryan Murphy, Moya would have been added to the 40-man this winter as well, so this move will just give Minnesota an earlier chance to evaluate him for a future role.
With the offseason looming, it’s easy to focus on the top free agents this winter will have to offer. We at MLBTR reinforce that line of thinking with monthly Free Agent Power Rankings that profile the top names slated to hit the open market and ranking them in terms of earning power.
Settling for a one-year contract isn’t an ideal route for most free agents, but that doesn’t mean that those (relative) bargain pickups can’t bring significant on-field impact to the teams with which they sign. While none of the players on this list received all that much fanfare when signing, they’ve all provided some notable benefit to the teams that made these commitments:
- Kurt Suzuki, $1.5MM, Braves: Suzuki languished in free agency for several months as players like Jason Castro, Matt Wieters and Welington Castillo all generated more attention from teams and fans. However, it might be Suzuki that has provided the most bang for buck on last winter’s catching market. The 33-year-old has had a surprising career year in Atlanta, hitting .266/.344/.507 with 15 homers to date. Some have been quick to suggest that Atlanta’s new homer-happy stadium has benefited Suzuki, and while that may be true to an extent, he’s hit for more power on the road than at home. He’s put himself in position for a possible two-year deal this winter, but if he has to settle for one yet again, it should come at a higher rate.
- Adam Lind, $1.5MM, Nationals: An awful 2016 season and an overcrowded market for corner bats created some questions about whether Lind would have to settle for a minor league contract late last winter. He ultimately secured a guaranteed deal, but it came with just a $1MM base and a $500K buyout of a mutual option. For that meager commitment, he’s given the Nats 267 plate appearances with a .297/.352/.490 slash to go along with 11 homers. Like Suzuki, that might not land him a starting role, but it could land him multiple years as a complementary bench piece.
- Chris Iannetta, $1.5MM, Diamondbacks: Iannetta has not only rediscovered his power stroke in 2017 — he’s made it better than ever. The 34-year-old’s .249 ISO is a career best, and he’s slugged 14 homers. While that’s still four shy of his career-best with the 2008 Rockies, Iannetta’s 14 big flies this year have come in just 272 PAs, whereas he needed 407 to reach 18 back in ’08. He’s also bounced back from a down year in the framing department and been above average in that regard, per Baseball Prospectus.
- Jhoulys Chacin and Clayton Richard, $1.75MM each, Padres: The Friars signed four starters for $3MM or less last winter — Jered Weaver and Trevor Cahill being the others — and have received a combined 345 innings out of this pair. Chacin’s run-prevention (4.06 ERA) and strikeout rate (7.44 K/9) have been better, while Richard has 13 more innings (179 total), superior control (2.6 BB/9) and superior ground-ball tendencies (59.1 percent). Neither is going to be mistaken for much more than a back-of-the-rotation stabilizer, but both have done enough to garner larger commitments on the upcoming open market.
- Brian Duensing, $2MM, Cubs: I doubt I was alone in being surprised to see Duensing, 34, land a Major League deal last winter on the heels of a lackluster season in the Orioles organization. Duensing, though, has quietly been outstanding for the Cubs. In 54 2/3 innings, he’s logged a career-high 9.05 K/9 rate with 2.30 BB/9 and a 47 percent ground-ball rate en route to a 2.63 ERA. He’s held lefties in check reasonably well, but the first time in his career he’s also striking out right-handed batters at a lofty rate. In fact, the .211/.276/.317 that righties have posted against him is actually weaker than the .256/.300/.388 slash to which he’s limited left-handed bats.
- Matt Belisle, $2.05MM, Twins: Belisle’s inclusion is arguable; he’s posted a pedestrian 4.36 ERA with 8.55 K/9, 3.69 BB/9 and a 42.2 percent ground-ball rate. Those numbers are largely skewed by a putrid month of May, however. Since June 3, Belisle has a 2.25 ERA with nearly a strikeout per inning and improved control and ground-ball tendencies — all while stepping into higher and higher leverage roles. He’s now serving as the Twins’ closer and has a 1.54 ERA with a 29-to-5 K/BB ratio since July 1. He’ll be 38 next season, so the earning power here isn’t sky-high, but he’s probably earned a raise, barring a late collapse.
- Logan Morrison, $2.5MM, Rays: Few players have benefited more from one-year, “pillow” contracts in recent memory than Morrison, who has parlayed his $2.5MM deal into a .248/.355/.529 batting line and a 36-homer season campaign to date. Morrison only just turned 30 years old, so he’ll have age on his side this winter as well. A three- or four-year deal seems plausible for Morrison even with the diminished recent market for corner bats.
- Alex Avila, $2.5MM, Tigers: Avila hasn’t been as excellent with the Cubs as he was with the Tigers, but he’s still among the league leaders in hard contact and exit velocity — both of which have beautifully complemented his always-terrific walk rate (15.9 percent in 2016). With 14 homers under his belt and a batting line that grades out roughly 25 percent better than the league average, per context-neutral metrics like OPS+ (124) and wRC+ (127), Avila could vie for a multi-year deal and/or a starting job this offseason.
- Joe Smith, $3MM, Blue Jays: Smith’s K/9 has nearly doubled, from 6.92 in 2016 to 11.86 in 2017, and he’s posted a dramatically improved 1.82 BB/9 this year as well. Smith has also served up just three homers in 49 1/3 innings of work, and his 3.10 ERA, while solid, is actually representative of some poor fortune in the estimation of fielding-independent metrics (1.97 FIP, 2.35 xFIP, 2.34 SIERA). He’ll be 34 next year but should top that $3MM mark and could net the second multi-year free-agent deal of his career.
- Andrew Cashner, $10MM, Rangers: MLBTR’s Jeff Todd recently took a more in-depth look at Cashner, noting that his strong 3.19 ERA isn’t backed up by his K/BB numbers. Cashner’s complete lack of missed bats — he has the lowest swinging-strike rate and second-lowest K/9 rate of qualified MLB starters — is going to limit his earning power. But, he’s undeniably been better than he was in 2016, his velocity is comparable to last season and he’s limited hard contact quite well. A multi-year deal is certainly a possibility this offseason.
- Carlos Gomez, $11.5MM, Rangers: Gomez’s production hasn’t reached the star levels it did in 2013-14, but he’s been a better performer at the plate this season. A spike in his OBP (from .298 to .337) is due largely to a massive increase in the number of pitches by which he’s been hit, which is less encouraging than if he’d upped his walk rate considerably. However, Gomez has also shown quite a bit more power in 2017 than he had in recent seasons (.208 ISO in ’17 vs. .153 in ’15-16 combined), and Defensive Runs Saved feels he’s improved in center field as well. Gomez won’t see the massive payday he looked to be on pace for after 2014, but he’s still young enough to notch a multi-year deal this winter.
Notable exceptions: Neither Welington Castillo nor Greg Holland is included on this list, though both have provided good value to their new teams (Castillo in particular). While their contracts are often referred to as one-year deals with a player option, that type of contract is no more a one-year deal than Jason Heyward’s eight-year, $184MM deal with a third-year opt-out is a three-year deal. Both players were guaranteed the possibility to be under contract for two years, and those agreements are considered two-year deals for the purposes of this list.
Jerry Blevins has also given the Mets terrific value on his one-year, $6.5MM deal, but the club option attached to that deal is a veritable lock to be exercised, so he’s unlikely to hit the free-agent market again following the season.