A Twins fan and longtime friend of mine texted yesterday with a question, which I will clean up for publication: “Just out of curiosity, what … are the Twins doing? I don’t get anything that’s happened in the last week or so.”
What my hirsute friend is referring to, of course, is the Twins’ winning bid for strikeout-prone Korean slugger Byung-ho Park and Wednesday’s trade that sent Aaron Hicks — a young outfielder with all the tools — to the Yankees for catcher John Ryan Murphy.
We won’t be able to tell how good these moves turn out for a while. But for now, we can at least evaluate what they mean about how the Twins are thinking about their master plan:
1) They are confident that Miguel Sano can play the outfield: With Park likely to join the mix as a 1B/DH, he adds to the glut of corner infielders/hitters that already included Trevor Plouffe, Joe Mauer, Sano and potentially Kennys Vargas. Terry Ryan said after the Park news was announced that he expects Sano to play the outfield to relieve that glut, and the Hicks trade (to go along with Torii Hunter’s retirement) only reinforces that notion.
When considering whether Sano can do this, it’s helpful to remember that he used to be a shortstop. It’s also helpful, on the flip side, to note that Sano no longer looks like a shortstop. He’s a big man — quick for his size and with a very good arm — but projecting him as a corner outfielder is still very much a speculative thing.
2) There is at least hope that Byron Buxton is ready to start the year in center field: You *probably* don’t trade Hicks unless you’re pretty sure Buxton can be the guy at the beginning of April. Because what’s your outfield otherwise? Eddie Rosario, a converted Sano and ??? Maybe the Twins still make a move for a veteran outfielder to provide some depth. Hopefully they just roll with the young guys, at least with the bulk of the playing time (which includes Max Kepler’s permanent arrival at some point in 2016 as well).
3) The Twins feel like they’re selling high on Hicks: This is a guy who started to maybe figure it out last year. He could end up being like Hunter, who went on to have a very nice career once he finally figured it out. Or Hicks could be a guy who had a nice month and will never fully realize his potential on a consistent basis.
4) They’re probably not going to trade Trevor Plouffe: It seems odd to do all this shuffling around of Sano just to keep Plouffe — a professional hitter and improving fielder but not a franchise player — but if the idea is to add and not subtract then it looks like he stays based on the Hicks trade and Sano going to the outfield. Now Plouffe stays at third, Mauer stays at first (most of the time) and Park is the DH most of the time.
5) They were serious about upgrading at catcher: The organizational depth at catcher is not great, at least at the upper levels. Kurt Suzuki had a down year in 2015. The free agent market for catcher is rough. That left the trade market, where the Twins clearly felt Murphy was a good enough get to let go of Hicks. Murphy’s ceiling is lower than Hicks’ ceiling, but he’s a young catcher who isn’t even arbitration-eligible until 2018, meaning he will be a low-cost option for a while. He projects as solid all-around, particularly on defense.
6) Hey, what about pitching? Yeah, that’s a good question. Neither of these moves address pitching directly, though you could say the loss of Hicks hurts them on defense while the acquisition of Murphy has the potential to improve them at that position. My guess is the Twins’ rotation is what it is: Phil Hughes, Ervin Santana and Ricky Nolasco are still under contract for relatively big money. All three will get every chance to pitch. Kyle Gibson is established. Tyler Duffey was a very nice surprise in a small sample size. Jose Berrios is ready. Trevor May was an effective starter and reliever last year.
I think the Twins need to keep the hard-throwing May in the ‘pen and add at least one (ideally at least two) hard throwers to that mix. Minnesota’s bullpen was 13th in innings pitched in 2015 and dead last in MLB in strikeouts. Guys that miss bats in the 7th, 8th and 9th are gold. That’s where the Twins still have plenty of work to do — and what should constitute the next wave of activity after a busy week.