KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Luis Arraez is off the crutches. Now he’s on the clock.
The Twins must inform MLB which 25 players will face the Yankees in the AL Division Series by 9 a.m. Central time Friday, and Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said Sunday he plans to wait out every one of those roughly 6,000 minutes before deciding whether Arraez will be one of them.
“We’re going to take this roster decision all the way up to the very end. There’s no reason not to,” Baldelli said before the Twins lost to the Royals 5-4 on the final day of the 2019 regular season. “We’re going to do as much treatment as you can possibly do on someone between now and this Friday, and then we’ll see where we’re at.”
Arraez collided with Willians Astudillo while trying to catch a popup on Saturday, an incident that has put the rookie infielder’s availability in question for at least the first round of playoffs. Arraez underwent a magnetic resonance imaging test Sunday morning, and the results sparked renewed optimism in the Twins’ clubhouse: No structural damage in his right leg, knee or hamstring, and only minor damage to his ankle. The injury was diagnosed as a Grade 1 sprain, the least severe.
“It wasn’t a situation where we found any [more damage],” Baldelli said. “So he’s going to basically be working on flexibility and getting to a point where he’s weight-bearing, hopefully, in the near future.”
He wasn’t there yet on Sunday. Arraez, whose .334 batting average broke Tony Oliva’s club record for a rookie, had ditched the crutches he used to leave the ballpark one night earlier, but he was far from recovered. The 22-year-old Venezuelan was limping badly in the team’s clubhouse, walking slowly and gingerly to keep the weight off his leg.
“Fingers crossed,” Baldelli said. But Arraez’s status creates some complications for the manager as he deliberates over his roster.
Under major league rules, once a playoff team turns in its roster, it cannot make changes during the postseason series unless an active player gets hurt. If Arraez’s ankle isn’t healed enough for him to play on Friday, the Twins must decide whether to carry him anyway, in hopes of using him later in the best-of-five series, or rule him out completely.
And there’s another wrinkle: If the Twins gamble and place him on the roster, but Arraez’s ankle is slow to heal or he reinjures it, removing him wouldn’t be an easy decision to make, either. That’s because the rules state that a player taken off the roster mid-series becomes ineligible for the next series as well. A wait-and-see approach, in other words, could keep Arraez out of the AL Championship Series.
“It becomes very challenging because of those reasons,” Baldelli said. ‘You have to think long and hard about placing a person on the roster if you’re not sure he’s capable.”
Of course, Baldelli, his staff and the Twins’ front office have other challenging decisions to make as well. Do they give Martin Perez, who allowed three runs on five hits over 5 ⅔ innings against the Royals on Sunday, a start in the postseason? A lefthander would seem to be desirable in Yankee Stadium, but Perez owns a 9.97 ERA in five career starts against New York. And if he’s not a starter, is he certain of a roster spot?
For that matter, if Perez and Kyle Gibson, who has made four relief appearances in the past two weeks, are not starting, who is? Randy Dobnak, who has posted a 1.59 ERA in nine career appearances, five of them starts, seems a strong candidate, and the Twins could choose to go all-bullpen for a game if necessary.
Which spare outfielder to carry, how many catchers make the team, and who would replace Arraez are all still up in the air, too. As is the health status of Max Kepler, Marwin Gonzalez, Ehire Adrianza and now Arraez.
Some decisions have already been made, however. The Twins have carried 37 active players for much of this month, and Baldelli this weekend began informing some of them of their postseason status.
“Our group will be smaller for the playoffs. There will be a group that will go to [the Twins’ headquarters in Fort Myers] Florida and we’ll ask them to continue to work out [there]. There will be a group that won’t go to Florida” and will be sent home for the winter, Baldelli said. “And there will be our group that we will travel with, larger than 25 players.”
The extra players will prepare to keep playing, just in case of an injury or a roster change between series, Baldelli said. But there may be another reason, a more sentimental one, for a few.
“There will be some players that have been here, and they’ve been here for much of or all of the year, that maybe aren’t on the active roster,” Baldelli said. ‘That’s possible, too. But of course they are going to continue to be with us and join us the entire time.”