We’re only a few weeks into the MLB season, so as with anything — Byron Buxton’s strikeouts, the Twins’ woeful record, Eduardo Nunez’s pursuit of Ted Williams — we must remember that we’re dealing with a small sample size. If someone has a three-week slump in the middle of the year, people notice but not in the same way they do when there are no other stats to help cushion the fall.
Consider that a preamble for a discussion of a trade this past offseason: the Twins dealt supposed outfield depth (Aaron Hicks) to the Yankees for a position of need (catcher John Murphy). Both player are young (Hicks is 26, Murphy is 24) and have plenty of years of low-cost labor remaining.
At the time of the trade, Twins assistant GM Rob Antony said, “I hope this is a good trade for both sides.”
But three weeks into the season, the deal is one of those that, instead of helping both teams (or at least one team) looks to be backfiring on both teams — the Twins in particular.
Consider: Murphy, who some thought would challenge Kurt Suzuki for primary playing time even this year, is hitting .094 (just 3 for 32) and has yet to knock in a run. It has appeared at times that he and Twins pitchers haven’t been on the same page in their approach to attacking hitters, and on Sunday Murphy’s two-out throwing error in the 15th inning allowed Washington to tie a game the Nationals eventually won in the 16th.
But Hicks has been just as bad, at least offensively. While he does have two runs batted in, he’s hitting just .091 (2 for 22). Some of that might be a little bad luck since he’s only struck out three times, but it’s still an ugly start. Adding to his misery: Hicks hurt his shoulder diving for a ball Friday and hasn’t played since then. There’s a chance he will have to go on the disabled list.
The absence of Hicks on the Twins has been felt since Day 1, even if he hasn’t been hitting with the Yankees. He’s a strong fielder who has made some highlight-level plays for New York. Had the Twins chosen to find a different position than right field for Miguel Sano and held onto Hicks, their outfield defense would be upgraded. Add to that the struggles of Byron Buxton — who was sent to Class AAA Rochester on Monday along with Max Kepler, another prospect who isn’t ready yet — and the Twins could sure use Hicks in the short term.
Antony said in November of Hicks, “He turned a corner in 2015.” Yankees GM Brian Cashman told reporters after the trade that the Twins “got themselves an everyday catcher.”
Small sample sizes being what they are, we can’t rule out either thing being true. Murphy and Hicks both started slowly last season before rebounding.
For the first few weeks of 2016, however, it sure doesn’t look good.