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Seth Stohs, Nick Nelson, Parker Hageman and John Bonnes

TwinsCentric: From key cogs to September call-ups

Danny Santana and Kennys Vargas were both in Minnesota's Opening Day lineup this year, batting leadoff and fifth. Following impressive rookie campaigns, both were viewed as important young staples for the rebuilding Twins.
 
Now, nearing the end of tumultuous sophomore seasons, both return from the minors as September call-ups, needing to prove that there's still a place for them in the team's plans.
 
Regression was widely expected for Santana and Vargas in light of some ominous statistical indicators that came along with their overall outstanding production in 2014 – namely a lack of plate discipline exhibited by each.
 
Yet, few could have anticipated that the dropoff in both cases would be so dramatic. Vargas was demoted twice, first to Triple-A and then to Double-A. Santana was given an extremely (some might say overly) long leash and still couldn't do anything to justify his place in the lineup. He was optioned at the end of July with a miserable .541 OPS and 16 errors at shortstop.
 
Now, both players return to the fold as September call-ups, and with some momentum behind them. Vargas has shown tremendously improved patience at the plate since his latest demotion, drawing 42 walks against 52 strikeouts in 56 games between Double-A and Triple-A while hitting .277/.418/.492. Santana ended the month of August on a blistering tear at Rochester, with six straight multi-hit games and a .403 batting average in his last 15 contests.
 
Despite their fine work in the minors, neither player is going to be in line for regular playing time this month, and maybe not even a substantial role.
 
Eduardo Escobar has excelled at short since Santana's removal, hitting .295/.375/.577 in August with much sharper defense and surprisingly strong plate discipline (14 strikeouts and 10 walks in 88 plate appearances). At this point the Twins need to be planning around Escobar as their shortstop. Santana can help out this month as a pinch-runner and bench guy, but I think his opportunity is gone.
 
For Vargas, there appears to be a bit more hope. For one thing, his improvement in the minors was more encouraging in that he clearly improved his approach, as opposed to Santana whose 15-game torrid stretch came attached to a 12-to-0 K/BB ratio. Obviously Miguel Sano is entrenched at DH for the time being but long-term the Twins would like to find a place in the field for him. If Vargas can demonstrate the same adjustments that he made in the minors when he gets his chances, he can re-establish himself as a legit DH option going forward, although I don't think there's anything he can do at this point to ensure himself a spot on next year's Opening Day roster.
 
Ultimately both players are going to have their work cut out for them this month, because they've dug themselves pretty deep holes and their sporadic playing time will make it tougher to maintain the grooves they've found in the minors.
 
The Twins have put themselves in position to contend for a postseason berth without getting much of anything from two players that were viewed as key cogs at the outset of the season. Now both will have a chance to contribute to a contending team – albeit in significantly reduced roles.
 
Can Vargas and/or Santana end a negative season on a positive note?

TwinsCentric: Nolasco is in no man's land

Yesterday at Twins Daily I posed a question for readers about Trevor May, noting his spectacular numbers as a reliever and pondering whether the Twins should view him as a solution to their bullpen needs going forward.

The comments section featured a lively discussion and there wasn't much consensus on the best course of action. One thing did appear to to be unanimous, however, and has for some time: No one seems to want Ricky Nolasco in the 2016 rotation, blocking May or any other talented youngster.

The distaste for Nolasco amongst Twins fans is certainly understandable. As we all know, his contract has been an unmitigated disaster up to this point. In his first season with the club after becoming the highest-paid free agent in franchise history, he went 6-12 with a 5.38 ERA and 1.52 WHIP, both career-worst marks.


This year, his numbers didn't look any better on the surface before he went down with an ankle injury that ended his season after just two months. In seven starts, he had a 5.53 ERA and 1.65 WHIP.

However, there were some positive signs hidden within those bloated numbers, and I'm not talking about his irrelevant 5-1 win/loss record. In 32 2/3 innings, Nolasco had a solid 28-to-10 K/BB ratio, and he was showing slightly improved velocity on his fastball. His FIP checked in at a shiny 2.82.

His main problem was that he was giving up a ton of hits, but the .394 BABIP looks awfully flukish when you consider that he gave up only one home run and 13 total extra-base hits in those seven starts. Nolasco wasn't getting pounded, he was giving up singles in bunches, with an unsustainably low 59.7 percent strand rate. That kind of misfortune tends to even out over extended time, but the righty never had the chance for normalization to set in because he has been on the disabled list since the end of May.

His ankle issues have been frustrating, undoubtedly for him as much as anyone. It was apparently an old injury that resurfaced, and Nolasco took a cortisone shot before ultimately going under the knife in July to try and correct it.

While he's unlikely to throw another pitch this season, Nolasco will have a full offseason to heal up and return next year. At that point, his quality peripherals, along with his track record and his not-all-that-advanced age (he'll turn 33 in December), offer plenty of reason to believe that he can rebound and return to being the useful starter that the Twins thought they were signing in the first place.

That's why all the talk I keep seeing about Nolasco being a "sunk cost," and the suggestions that he should simply be cut outright this winter, strike me as a little ridiculous. He is owed $25 million after this season. I know it's not our money, but does it really seem wise to just flush it down the drain when we've barely had a chance to see what Nolasco can do when he's right physically?

It's not, and it's not realistic. Nolasco will be here at the start of the 2016 season. If things get off to a similarly brutal start, then at that time I could perhaps see the Twins taking the rather drastic step of cutting ties and eating many millions of dollars. But they won't do so before then, nor should they.

However, it is not unthinkable that another club could take interest in the veteran starter during the offseason and flip another bulky contract for his, or take on a share of what he's owed with the Twins picking up the rest. There were some rumblings of the Twins and Padres working on something with Nolasco and James Shields leading up to the deadline, though nothing materialized.

If you're looking to see a Twins rotation next April that doesn't include Nolasco – and who could blame you, since there figure to be several more trustworthy options available – that might be your best bet.

~~~

Once you're done here, head over to Twins Daily for our Tuesday minor-league recap, information on our upcoming annual pub crawl, the latest No Juice Podcast, and more!

Bottom 6th R H E
Chicago White Sox 61-69 0 3 0
Minnesota 68-63 1 3 1

Today's Scoreboard

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