Broadly viewed, Terry Ryan’s dismissal as Twins GM a week ago came as a result of bad decisions in talent evaluation. You don’t fire someone at the top of the personnel food chain, after all, if a roster is stocked with complementary, talented pieces.
Narrowing the view, pitching was the critical area with the most missteps, both in terms of organizational development and outside acquisitions.
I’d posit there is another narrow view of what went wrong — much of it, still, in the pitching department but also spread across the roster.
It is this: the Twins under Ryan fell victim too many times to small sample size decision-making, particularly when the small sample was positive. Perhaps it comes from believing too much in your own scouting. Maybe it comes from wanting to believe.
In assembling this year’s club, the Twins overvalued Kevin Jepsen and Trevor May as back-end bullpen guys based on strong performances down the stretch last year. Jepsen’s ERA ballooned to 6.16 this season before he was dumped. May is still battling back from a brutal stretch that has left his ERA at 5.66.
Massive hopes were pinned to Miguel Sano and Eddie Rosario (and to a lesser extent, Byron Buxton). While the Twins were measured in their expectations to a degree, officials also weren’t shy about proclaiming the team could contend for a playoff spot this season. And to do that, it’s pretty clear those guys would have needed to play crucial positive roles.
Going back in time, the Twins rewarded Ricky Nolasco for a decent 2013 season in the National League with a four-year, $49 million deal — never mind that he had been subpar from 2009-2012. Predictably, he’s been subpar since signing. Rather than let Phil Hughes’ initial three-year, $24 million contract play out after he excelled in his first season (2014), the Twins added three years and bigger money to it. Hughes very well might bounce back in 2017 once he is healthy, but right now it’s fair to question the wisdom.
There are other examples, but I’ll stop the long windup here and get to the headline, which is about Sano’s third base defense.
Early on Monday, while mulling Sano’s 10th error at third base in his past 15 games — a pace that would put him at more than 100 for a season, which math tells us is not good — the over-reacting part of me was ready to crank out a post about how maybe it’s time to just give up on Sano being anything but a designated hitter.
Then I calmed down and remembered that it’s bad form to want it both ways — on two different fronts.
First, if one is to advocate that this season became wholly about development after the first two months eradicated any playoff hopes, then it’s incongruous to argue that a young player should be stopped from developing — as Sano is doing, albeit painfully, at third base.
Second, if one is to hold the opinions already stated about small sample size and the failings of the Twins in that regard, it’s silly to demand the organization should draw hard conclusions after a rough two weeks.
This is a guy who came into the year with huge expectations, battled an injury, played out of position and is now back taking 100+ mph ground balls from the shortest distance on the field outside of a pitcher.
In other words: let’s not panic about Sano at third base. Grumble, sure, particularly about those dropped pop-ups. Hope for better days, yeah. But give it some time.
I’ll admit my track record on telling people when or when not to panic … well, it could be better.
There was this post about the Twins on Sept. 29, 2010 — precisely the time it would have been wise to start panicking about the Twins, who would get swept in the ALDS by the Yankees as an appetizer to the free-fall of 2011-present.
Still, that’s hindsight logic, which makes all of us look smarter (well, all of us except one of us in that specific case). Back in the present, Sano could very well prove to be a liability in the field to the point that he needs to be hidden as a primary DH. But we’re nowhere near reaching that conclusion — which is good because we’re nowhere near the point of needing to reach that conclusion.