Baseball managers used to say they wouldn’t know what kind of team they had until July. Modern executives say the first two months identify a team’s problems, the second two months are for fixing those problems and the last two months are for making a run.
With the 2019 Twins, such sentiments about patience seem silly. We already know this team. It’s a powerhouse lineup featuring an exceptional defensive outfield supported by a could-be-good-enough rotation and a mystery bullpen.
The Twins may be one or two arms away from winning the division and presenting a challenge in the playoffs. They beat up Baltimore again on Saturday, 9-2, hitting five home runs and holding onto first place.
So they should sign Craig Kimbrel, right?
Yes. Twins should sign the All-Star closer. They should go back to February and sign him then for what he is asking today.
The latest rumors are that Kimbrel wants a three-year deal worth $45 million. If the Twins sign him, they would forfeit a draft pick.
Kimbrel has been a dominant closer, but he asked for close to $100 million this winter while coming off a season in which his fastball command waned and he struggled in October.
In Minnesota, when the baseball team needs a player and the player isn’t signed, the words “Pohlad” and cheap become synonymous. Kimbrel’s case is more complicated than that.
Would he help the Twins? Yes, if he’s healthy, fit and motivated. Which is why the Twins, if they were going to sign him, needed to do it this winter.
The problem is that this winter Kimbrel was asking for a deal that 30 general managers thought was a joke. That’s 30 general managers who will be fired if their team doesn’t win enough games, sneering at a chance to sign one of the most dominant closers in recent years. Do you really think that’s coincidence or conspiracy, given that teams spent $630 million on Bryce Harper and Manny Machado this winter?
Kimbrel’s original team, Atlanta, could use a closer. His second team, San Diego, spent $300 million on a shortstop who didn’t hustle in the World Series. His third team, Boston, watched him perform poorly in the postseason for the fourth year in a row. None of the three teams that knew him best signed him.
The common fan blames the Pohlads for not signing Kimbrel. The intelligent fan blames Lance Lynn.
On March 10, 2018, the Twins signed Lynn, an accomplished starter, to a one-year deal worth $12 million. This looked like a smart move — getting a quality player at a bargain rate.
Lynn came into camp out of shape and grumpy about having to be forced to settle for such a pittance. He had a lousy attitude, pitched poorly and helped bury a promising team. The Twins front office learned that bargains can be costly.
Fans (and writers) look at player upside, because we don’t bear the costs or responsibilities of bad signings.
Derek Falvey and Thad Levine have to justify their expenditures to ownership. If Kimbrel signed late, cost them a draft pick and either took a long time to round into shape or injured himself rushing to do so, the Twins would have committed a costly error.
Saturday, the Twins bullpen excelled, pitching three shutout innings in relief of the-ever-resolute Jose Berrios. Entering the game, the Twins bullpen ranked 21st in ERA. This group needs a boost, whether from Kimbrel or someone like the promising Fernando Romero.
“I think our bullpen has done a nice job,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “We’ve seen several runs of games where our bullpen has picked us up in some great ways and carried us.”
That’s the way you talk about a young and unsettled group. Put a real closer at the end, and the bullpen could be a strength rather than a mystery.
That’s why, despite Kimbrel’s negatives, I’d still like to see the Twins sign him. But I understand why they, along with 29 other teams, haven’t.