In his first two seasons as the chief baseball officer of the Twins, Derek Falvey hasn’t had a lot of easy choices at the trade deadline.
Last season, the Twins went 2-7 over a nine-game stretch in late July, moving them from one-half game out of first place in the AL Central to seven games out, so Falvey decided to make some moves, trading closer Brandon Kintzler to the Nationals and starter Jaime Garcia to the Yankees.
After those trades, the Twins surprised everyone by going 35-24 the rest of the way and earning a wild-card playoff spot.
This season, it appeared the Twins would be deadline sellers — possibly moving players such as second baseman Brian Dozier, utility infielder Eduardo Escobar and others — after they went 1-8 on a road trip and fell to 12 games behind first-place Cleveland.
But then the Twins went 9-2 on an 11-game homestand to move 7½ games out of first place going into the All-Star break, with 10 games still remaining against the Indians and the third-easiest schedule over their final 68 games, according to the Baseball Prospectus website.
“I like the word resilience. I like a team that is resilient,” Falvey said. “We talked about it last year. That’s what these guys showed over the last week. Over the last week to week and a half, we have played more complete baseball. There have been times [this season] that we didn’t run the bases as well as we probably should, we haven’t swung the bats the way we need to, we haven’t pitched. We’re doing all those things together now.
“[Twins manager] Paul [Molitor] talked about how some days we hit and we didn’t pitch, some days we pitch and we didn’t hit, now we’re putting it all together at the same time.”
Trade or not trade?
Falvey was asked about Dozier, who has started to heat up at the plate heading into the second half of the season.
Over the past 15 games, Dozier has hit .298 with a .369 on-base percentage, five homers, 17 RBI and 14 runs scored.
“Brian has actually kind of settled in,” Falvey said. “It looks like he’s feeling good after fighting through some things earlier in the season. But he’s a guy that I think when he goes good — we have all seen it — and it can go pretty good for a while.”
So does he think he will trade the second baseman, who was an All-Star in 2015?
“As we approach the trade deadline, we’re going to have to continue to fight,” Falvey said. “We’re not in a great position, still, with respect to standings and that’s just reality. We put ourselves in this place. But if our guys keep fighting, who knows where it goes by the end of the month?”
Falvey added that with nearly two weeks left before the July 31st trade deadline, the team can take a wait-and-see approach.
“It’s still early,” he said. “The reality of the trade deadline, and I looked at this recently, 80 percent of the trades happen in the last five days. I think we’re still going to wait this thing out and learn more.”
Team can be better
The Twins (44-50) didn’t play their best baseball earlier in the season, but that could be changing. Falvey commented on players currently playing great and who could be difference-makers in the second half.
On the return of shortstop Jorge Polanco from his 80-game suspension for performance-enhancing drugs: “Jorge is an underrated guy in our lineup. [He gives us] a quality at-bat. He grinds out a pitcher. He plays good defense. I think he’s somebody that while he’s not too vocal, he is a big part of our team.”
On Jake Cave’s great job of filling in as the center fielder, including hitting .312 in his first 26 major league games: “He has been great. I think he’s an energy guy. I think he fits our lineup really well. He’s swung the bat well. He has a chance to really help us.”
On first baseman Joe Mauer, who hit .378 with eight RBI over his past nine games: “We all know he’s a professional hitter, takes great at-bats, takes a really solid approach, fits well in our lineup. We dealt with those concussion [symptoms] that can make a guy go a little bit slower for a period of time. But he has come back fully and is in a really good place.”
On the potential return of starter Ervin Santana, third baseman Miguel Sano and center fielder Byron Buxton, who are all currently with minor league teams: “Santana threw the ball really well and he’ll get another shot down at [Class AAA] Rochester, he’s not quite all the way back to where he needs to be, but we’re seeing good signs. Sano continues to progress down in [Class A] Fort Myers. We anticipate seeing him more in the near turn. Byron unfortunately had a wrist strain and was put on the DL. That has been less than ideal but hopefully we get all three of those guys in the next week aimed back towards here.”
The Twins return from the All-Star break with a 10-game road trip to Kansas City, Toronto and Boston. After that, the Twins play Cleveland seven times in 10 games, beginning with three games at Target Field.
“Those are going to be important, no question about it,” Falvey said. “When you’re trying to chase down a division leader, those games are even more important. We’re going to have to come out of the break as hot as we went into it.”
Dozier ready for a run
When asked if the Twins proved something with their recent play, Dozier said there’s no question.
“We knew coming into this homestand that we had to make hay, and a 9-2 homestand is pretty dang good,” he said. “Baseball is a unique game. You don’t play it in three months or in stretches, you play it down to the end and maybe the first half of the season hasn’t gone particularly all that great, but the last time I checked, we have a lot of games left to make up ground.”
Dozier often has hit better in the second half of the season in the past. Last year, he hit .242 in the first half with 13 homers and 41 RBI in 81 games, then .304 in the second half with 21 homers and 52 RBI in 71 games. He said all he wants to do is help lead the team to a better record.
“All I’m focused on is trying to win games for this organization,” he said. “Whether that implies more homers or being a leader, we just want more runs than the other team at the end of the night.”
Does Dozier want a trade at this point?
“I’m not the one that makes them,” he said. “At the same time, no, we’re in a position to do something great here and I’m excited about it.”
When asked if the Twins have a real chance to catch Cleveland, Dozier didn’t hesitate.
“One hundred percent,” he said. “It’s going to be a fun second half.”