- The Twins will place right-hander Phil Hughes on the disabled list to begin the season, manager Paul Molitor told reporters (including The Athletic’s Dan Hayes). Hughes is still recovering from a left oblique strain, and there is a chance he could be ready to return when the Twins need a fifth starter on April 11. Hughes is looking to rebound after two seasons marred by thoracic outlet syndrome procedures, and if he doesn’t end up in Minnesota’s rotation, he could potentially step into a long relief role.
The Twins have announced that first base/DH Kennys Vargas was outrighted to Triple-A after clearing waivers. He did not have the choice of refusing the assignment.
Vargas was re-claimed recently from the Reds. The Cincinnati organization had snagged the power hitter off waivers and attempted to stash him on the farm and off the 40-man roster.
In the end, the result is as if Vargas had simply cleared waivers the first time around. He’ll head to Triple-A Rochester to open the season. The switch-hitter really does not have anything left to prove in the upper minors, but he’ll need to await a new MLB opportunity.
Over four seasons in the majors, Vargas carries a .252/.311/.437 slash with 35 long balls in 859 plate appearances. In his 764 trips to the plate at the highest level of the minors, he’s a .248/.370/.444 hitter with thirty bombs and 123 walks against 181 strikeouts — quite a different plate discipline mix than the 29.2% strikeout rate and 7.6% walk rate Vargas has in the majors.
- The Twins have released right-handed reliever Michael Kohn, Mike Berardino of the Pioneer Press tweets. Kohn was in the majors with the Angels and Braves from 2010-15, a 115-inning stretch in which he overcame a 6.18 BB/9 and a 26.4 percent groundball rate to post a 3.52 ERA and 8.69 K/9. Kohn then missed all of 2016 with rotator cuff problems before signing with the Twins last summer. While Kohn returned to log 13 minor league innings in the Twins’ system in 2017, yet another injury – a “nerve issue” – derailed the 31-year-old’s tenure with them this spring.
Red Sox starter Chris Sale left today’s start after being struck by a comebacker off the bat of J.D. Davis. Chad Jennings of the Boston Herald was first to tweet that the club called it a hip contusion. Thankfully for fans in Boston, the X-rays on his hip came back negative (according to Pete Abraham of the Boston Globe). For his part, Sale himself has said that he feels fine and that it “looked a lot worse than it actually is.” The lack of serious injury to their prized left-hander brings a sigh of relief to the Red Sox, as they need him now more than ever; Alex Cora announced today that both Eduardo Rodriguez and Drew Pomeranz will begin the season on the DL (h/t Sean McAdams of the Boston Sports Journal). With Steven Wright set to face a 15-game suspension, that leaves Brian Johnson and Hector Velazquez at the back end of the club’s rotation. With David Price no sure bet to stay healthy, any questions surrounding Sale would have been wildly unsettling for a club hoping to compete with a tough Yankees ballclub for the AL East crown.
Other injury-related news from around the league…
- Luke Gregerson, who was projected to be the Cardinals’ closer on opening day, will instead begin the season on the DL. Ben Frederickson of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch outlines the news, which comes as a result of a hamstring strain. The usually-durable Gregerson had also dealt with an oblique injury earlier in the spring, and it’s unclear when he’ll be able to return to major-league action. According to Jon Morosi of MLB.com, the club has said that Dominic Leone or Tyler Lyons will receive closing opportunities. They do not appear close to any sort of deal with free agent closer Greg Holland at this time, Morosi adds.
- Speaking of right-handers who’ll begin the season on the DL, Tim Lincecum’s blister issues will put him in that company as well. Lincecum joined the Rangers on a one-year deal with a $1MM base salary just weeks ago and didn’t pitch competitively in 2017; by his own words, he was unlikely to be ready for opening day anyway. Still, the blister issue will delay The Freak’s comeback bid, which will be an interesting story to watch as the season progresses considering how much he impressed scouts in a February showcase. Lincecum’s last MLB stint was with the Angels in 2016, when he posted a 9.16 ERA across 38 1/3 innings (nine starts).
- Twins right-hander Phil Hughes has a mild oblique strain, according to a tweet from Mike Berardino of the Pioneer Press. Berardino adds that a DL stint would give him more time to build up arm strength following surgery, though I’d add that Hughes might simply be utilized in a long relief role anyway. For the time being, the Twins will continue to evaluate Hughes.
The Twins have claimed Kennys Vargas off waivers from the Reds, says Dan Hayes of The Athletic. The Reds had claimed the first base/DH type off waivers from the Twins just two days ago, but it’s possible that they designated him in order to make room for infielder Cliff Pennington, who was added to the roster just earlier today, and possibly reliever Kevin Quackenbush.
The intriguing transaction puts Vargas right back with the organization with whom he’d spent his entire career up until Thursday. As MLBTR’s Jeff Todd noted at that time, it was difficult to see how Vargas would make Cincinnati’s roster, since he’s out of options and can only play first base (where Joey Votto will be firmly entrenched on a daily basis). Though he’d have made an interesting pinch-hitting option, it seemed as though the Reds might be able to use the roster spot more efficiently.
Still, it seems as though many around the league believe there to be some upside for the 27-year-old Vargas, who hit .253/.314/.444 last season. He has some reasonable power upside; Vargas homered 10 times and made hard contact at a 41.7% clip in 177 plate appearances during the 2016 campaign. He also owns a walk rate over 15% in his career at the Triple-A level, though the Twins are still waiting for that to translate to the MLB level at which he owns a .311 career OBP.
- The Twins are likely to look for a right-handed hitter with some pop, Phil Miller of the Minneapolis Star Tribune writes, as teams make their final Spring Training cuts and veteran players can opt out of minor league contracts. Robbie Grossman, Zack Granite, and Ryan LaMarre are competing for two of Minnesota’s remaining bench spots, though none of that trio has much power. The Minnesota organization was connected previously with Napoli, though after signing Logan Morrison as the primary DH it seems reasonable to anticipate that the club would prefer any new addition be capable of spending time in the outfield.
- In other news out of Minnesota, the Twins have renewed young center fielder Byron Buxton at a $570K rate, Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer-Press reports on Twitter. The 24-year-old entered the winter as a 2+ service-class player who was under consideration for an extension, but the sides have thus far failed to see eye to eye on both a near-term and long-term arrangement. From the outside, at least, it still seems possible that the Twins could strike a deal with a player who finally showed the output to match the hype in an outstanding second half of the 2017 season. Of course, his less-than-smooth transition to the majors could also create divergent opinions on value.
Twins third baseman Miguel Sano will not be suspended by the league in relation to a recent allegation of assault, according to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic (links to Twitter). A league statement indicates that “insufficient evidence” was uncovered during an investigation.
Late last year, as detailed in full in the above link, the claims of assault led to the league to begin an investigation under the MLB-MLBPA Joint Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Child Abuse Policy. Per the league, the efforts including a series of interviews — including of both Sano and the alleged victim — as well as a review of certain “available documents.”
Upon review of the evidence, the commissioner determined that the evidence was lacking to apply any discipline, citing “conflicting and inconsistent witness accounts and the absence of contemporaneous substantiation.” While details are understandably not available, it is perhaps also fair to note that there was some potential question — based upon the allegations as stated — as to whether the sexual assault prong of the policy would be deemed to apply to this situation.
Here’s the full definition from the policy itself:
“Sexual assault refers to a range of behaviors, including a completed nonconsensual sex act, an attempted nonconsensual sex act, and/or nonconsensual sexual contact. Lack of consent is inferred when a person uses force, harassment, threat of force, threat of adverse personnel or disciplinary action, or other coercion, or when the victim is asleep, incapacitated, unconscious or legally incapable of consent.”
Barring any new evidence that might come to the league’s attention, it would appear that Sano will be able to open the 2018 season with the Minnesota organization and play without limitation.
Shortstop Erick Aybar is no longer in the Twins’ spring camp, LaVelle E. Neal III of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports (Twitter link), thus indicating that the veteran has decided to opt out of his minor league contract with the team. Today was Aybar’s opt-out date for his deal, and the infielder was told yesterday that he wouldn’t be making Minnesota’s Opening Day roster.
Rather than accept an assignment to the Twins’ Triple-A team, Aybar will now again test free agent waters to see if he can find a job with another team. The 34-year-old hasn’t provided much at the plate over the last three seasons (as a member of the Angels, Tigers, Braves, and Padres), and also posted just a .636 OPS for the Twins over 33 Spring Training plate appearances. His once-solid glovework has also been on the decline, with below-average UZR/150 and Defensive Runs Saved totals since 2015.
Given his recent track record and the glut of other free agents still on the market, Aybar’s decision to opt out is somewhat surprising, as he could’ve potentially had a path back to the big leagues due to the Twins’ lack of middle infield depth. Jorge Polanco’s 80-game PED suspension meant that Eduardo Escobar is now in line for regular shortstop duty, leaving Ehire Adrianza as Minnesota’s only utility infield option on the MLB roster. Third baseman Miguel Sano could also still be facing a suspension on assault charges, which would further leave the Twins thin on infielders, though Taylor Featherston and Gregorio Petit are also still in the organization on minor league contracts.
Veteran shortstop Erick Aybar has been informed he will not make the Twins roster, tweets Mike Berardino of the Pioneer Press. Aybar seemed to have at least an outside shot of making the club out of camp in light of Jorge Polanco’s 80-game PED suspension, but after managing just a .621 OPS in 35 spring training at-bats, Minnesota couldn’t find room for him. Aybar signed with the Twins late in February on a minor league deal; He can choose to opt out of it on Friday. We’re now three years removed from Aybar’s last season playing above league average; since a 4.2 fWAR campaign in which he hit .278/.321/.379 while playing sterling defense at shortstop for the Angels, Aybar has severely declined. Over the past three seasons, his glovework has been average at best, and he sports a wRC+ of just 73.
Other Twins-related items…
- There are other changes afoot in Minnesota, too, as Berardino reports. Righties Alan Busenitz and Tyler Duffey were each shipped out of camp on optional assignment. Both struggled this spring, as Berardino notes, while other developments — particularly, the desire to carry Rule 5 pick Tyler Kinley and oft-injured starter Phil Hughes in the pen — have tightened things on the MLB roster. As per the conditions of the Rule 5 Draft, the Twins must keep Kinley on the major league roster for an entire season or else offer him back to the Marlins. The 27-year-old righty has allowed five earned runs while striking out eleven hitters in ten spring training innings.
- Chris Heisey has been granted his release by the Twins, tweets Phil Miller of the Star Tribune. The 33-year-old outfielder played in 38 games last season for the Nationals (79 plate appearances), and hit a dismal .162/.216/.270. In the early stages of his career, Heisey played in a reserve outfielder role for the Reds; he’s since played for the Dodgers in addition to the aforementioned Nats. He owns just a .444 OPS this spring, so it would be tough to imagine him latching onto an opening day roster spot with an MLB club.
The Reds have claimed first baseman/DH Kennys Vargas off waivers from the Twins, per an announcement from the Minnesota organization. He had been designated for assignment recently.
It’s a bit difficult to see how Vargas will fit into the Cincinnati organization’s plans at first glance. He’s out of options and limited on a National League roster to pinch-hitting or playing first base, where Joey Votto is an everyday presence.
Unless there’s some unknown issue that would warrant the move, it could be that the Reds are simply utilizing their waiver position to grab a player they like but won’t carry on their active roster. Vargas could be traded to a team further down the priority line — just four teams are higher than the Reds at present — or put back on waivers in hopes that he’ll clear and can be stashed at Triple-A.
All indications have been that the Twins anticipated another organization claiming Vargas, despite the fact that a trade could not be sorted out. It seems there’s some optimism around the league for the 27-year-old switch-hitter.
Though Vargas has not yet shown that he can be a consistent on-base threat at the game’s highest level, with a .311 OBP in 859 career plate appearances, though he has drawn tons of walks in the upper minors. Vargas isn’t exactly a prodigious home run hitter but has shown good power output both at Triple-A and in the majors (.185 ISO) and perhaps has some more in the tank if he can tap into his raw strength.
*The initial version of this post incorrectly suggested that American League teams all passed on a chance to claim Vargas. Outright waiver priority is determined by winning percentage, lowest first, without reference to league except to break a tie in recor.