Max Kepler didn’t look like himself in the American League Division Series, going hitless in three games against the Yankees. His three-week layoff heading into the postseason might have been to blame.
But the Twins want to make certain the problem isn’t physical.
“Muscle strains take awhile to heal, and they could ultimately take a couple of months to heal for certain types,” Twins Chief Baseball Officer Derek Falvey said of Kepler, who felt a nagging pain in his upper back in early September, an injury that prevented him from hitting after Sept. 14. “We don’t believe there’s anything in there that’s problematic. We believe rest is the best prescription. [But] we’re going to have an additional follow-up with another specialist just to make sure we’re not missing anything.”
While Kepler should be OK next spring without any further treatment, the Twins fear the same might not be the case for first baseman C.J. Cron. At a season-ending roundtable with reporters, Falvey said surgery is a possibility on Cron’s sore right thumb.
“He is going to see another doctor and surgeon for another opinion on that, [to learn] whether or not there’s a potential course of action,” Falvey said. “He is in the process of doing that now. … There could be potential for a procedure to help alleviate some of the stuff he’s been dealing with.”
Cron’s thumb grew sore a couple of months into the season, but he continued to play until the pain became too acute. A couple of stints on the injured list didn’t completely solve the problem, and the effect on his season was obvious. Cron, 29, batted .285 with 17 home runs over the season’s first 10 weeks, but his production fell to .213 with eight homers after that.
Byron Buxton already has undergone surgery, and Falvey said the Twins are confident the center fielder will be ready for spring training.
“So far, so good, no setbacks,” Falvey said of Buxton, who required surgery in August to repair a torn tendon in his shoulder. “We fully anticipate he’s in a position where the month of January and going into February, he’s capable of doing a lot of things that would be baseball-oriented. … Hopefully, we’re not behind when he shows up in Fort Myers.”
The Twins plan to bring back every member of Rocco Baldelli’s coaching staff for 2020, Falvey and General Manager Thad Levine said. Well, unless some other team poaches them.
“Obviously there’s a lot of offseason left, and a lot of openings at a lot of places,” Falvey said, “so who knows?”
The Padres, Angels, Giants, Cubs, Mets, Pirates and Royals all are looking for managers, and after helping the Twins surge to 101 victories this season, bench coach Derek Shelton and hitting coach James Rowson could be interviewed by one or more for those openings. And even Falvey — a Lynn, Mass., native — has been mentioned in Boston media reports as a potential candidate to replace Dave Dombrowski as president of baseball operations for the Red Sox.
“We think extremely highly of that group,” Levine said of the coaching staff. “We also [realize] that other people in the industry are probably taking better note of them as well. But we’d like to have everybody back.”
There’s no doubt the Twins are frustrated by their quick playoff exit and 16-game postseason losing streak. They intend to address that this offseason, and the first method will be by observing teams that advance.
“The last couple of years, I haven’t really watched attentively every postseason game after the team I was working with was eliminated,” Levine said. ‘But I’m going to be watching a little more attentively. I want to see how those teams are doing it. I want to learn more, as much as I can, about what are the gaps between us and the teams that continue to play.”
Free agency begins shortly after the World Series ends, and the Twins have a half-dozen players who can shop for new teams: pitchers Kyle Gibson, Jake Odorizzi, Michael Pineda and Sergio Romo, catcher Jason Castro and second baseman Jonathan Schoop.
A 5-1 loss to the Yankees in Game 3 made it moot, but Baldelli announced his probable starter for the Game 4 that never happened: Jose Berrios, pitching on three days’ rest.
“Jose was ready to start Game 4 if we needed him. He was ready to go, he was feeling good,” Baldelli said. Berrios threw 88 pitches in four innings of Game 1, allowing three runs, two of them unearned, and striking out six.