The Twins’ 2017 season had been over for only a few minutes when Miguel Sano made a commitment for 2018.
“He was one of the first guys in my office after the final out [of the AL wild-card game]. He said he was sorry he couldn’t help us and he was going to come back better than ever, and he’s going to be ready to play every day,” Paul Molitor said Tuesday, a day after he signed a three-year contract to remain as Twins manager. “He was emotional. [The loss] was a little hard for him to watch.”
The offseason may get even harder, though. Sano, sidelined for the season’s final six weeks by a stress reaction in his left shin, might require surgery to insert a permanent rod to help support the bone, General Manager Thad Levine said.
“We’re still evaluating what the best course of action is, and our first hope would be to avoid surgery,” Levine said. “A procedure would come with a six-to-eight week recovery period before he could transition back into baseball activity. So we’re inclined to evaluate all other options first, because we have a little bit of runway to work with here.”
Still, even if surgery was ultimately the course that’s chosen, Levine said he is confident that Sano, who hit a career-high 28 home runs before fouling a ball off his foot on Aug. 18, would be healthy again by the time spring camp opens in mid-February.
“The recovery time would not preclude a clean bill of health before we arrive in Fort Myers,” Levine said. “The question we’re looking at is whether Miguel would be better served, particularly in the long term, by following a less invasive course of treatment.”
The Twins plan few subtractions to their minor league staff, Levine said, but plenty of additions — starting right at the top.
Jeremy Zoll, who spent the past two seasons in the Dodgers player development department, has been hired as the new Twins farm director, the team announced. Zoll replaces Brad Steil, who moves to the newly created position of director of professional scouting, after five seasons in charge of the minor league system.
“In this time of transition and change, we sought the virtue of bringing in outside perspectives. And his willingness to collaborate and learn stood out,” Levine said. “It’s an opportunity to tap into the best of what the Dodgers are doing. He’s had a chance to work with guys like Gabe Kepler and Jerry DiPoto and Scott Servais — guys with a lot of experience in player development. He’s been exposed to a lot of different perspectives.”
The 27-year-old Zoll — “I was as shocked as you that he’s 27. Goodness sakes,” Levine joked — will be implementing new programs to help develop successful staff members as well as players, and to individualize instruction. “The concept of ‘one Twins way’ — the goal is a little bit broader. It’s a vision of being able to teach different players differently, to maximize their ability,” Levine said.
The Twins fired Fort Myers manager Doug Mientkiewicz, pitching coordinator Eric Rasmussen and Rochester trainer Larry Bennese last month, but Levine said he doesn’t anticipate any other departures in the minor leagues. “We’ve made the changes we intended to make,” he said. “We’re now ready to augment our staff.”
• An X-ray and a CT scan found no fracture in center fielder Byron Buxton’s ribs following his collision with the fence in Yankee Stadium last week. “Had we been blessed to play another round, I think he would be back on the field by now,” Levine said.
• Pitchers Trevor May and Ryan O’Rourke are in Fort Myers this week to continue their recovery program from elbow surgery, and they will return to Florida intermittently this winter. The Twins project both being cleared to pitch by spring training.
• The search has begun for a new head athletic trainer, but like other departments, more than one person will be hired. “We hope to augment the resources we put there,” Levine said. “Medical treatment, strength and conditioning, nutrition, mental skills — those will be a focus of ours this off season. One person may be designated as head trainer, but we envision that staff growing.” Longtime trainer Dave Pruemer retired from baseball at the end of the season.
• Molitor, asked whether he believes first baseman Joe Mauer will be with the Twins for the length of the manager’s new three-year contract: “I’d be surprised if Joe doesn’t want to continue to play” after his contract expires after next season. “I have a little experience [that proves] players in their late 30s can have good years. But that’s not my call.” Mauer is entering the final year of his eight-year, $184 million contract signed in 2010.