The Twins have gotten a lot of praise for the free-agent class they brought in this year, and they should.
Nelson Cruz is performing just as well as he has the past five seasons. Jonathan Schoop has been great at second base and looks more like the player he was in Baltimore. And before he landed on the injured list, Marwin Gonzalez was also coming on strong with the bat while playing at nearly every position.
Pitchers Martin Perez and Blake Parker have both had major roles, even as they have struggled recently.
But compare that group to the free agents that Chief Baseball Officer Derek Falvey and General Manager Thad Levine brought in last year and you can see how lucky you have to get when it comes to player scouting.
In 2018 the Twins brought in Addison Reed, one of the worst signings in club history, along with Lance Lynn, Logan Morrison, Zach Duke, Fernando Rodney and Anibal Sanchez. Morrison and Reed were the only ones with the team all year, and both are gone now.
Levine was asked how one group can perform so well when another one with similar expectations struggled.
“Every offseason when we make moves we put a lot of thought into it,” he said. “We look at our scouting reports, we look at analytics and we try to make the best moves that can impact the Minnesota Twins, and certainly some of the moves we made last year didn’t work out as we had planned and we had hoped. Some of that was due to injuries, some of that was due to some regression in performance and there probably were other factors involved as well.
“This offseason I think we’ve had such great success with some of the players we brought in, and I just give a ton of credit to the coaching staff for putting these guys in position to succeed, and then the leadership around the team that I think has really supported the players very well.”
Surprised by power
Did Levine ever think that this group of free agents would come together to post such historic power numbers?
“I would be misleading if I said we envisioned this team to be performing at the level it is with regards to power,” he said. “I certainly think when we added guys like Nelson Cruz and Jonathan Schoop and C.J. Cron [off waivers] — they were very well-known for their power production.
“But we have seen such great power production spikes out of guys like Max Kepler and Mitch Garver and Jason Castro in addition and really just a banner season so far by Jorge Polanco. Eddie Rosario is a guy we knew he had power. He delivered that last year. But he is also on a career pace. I think there is something to be said for power is just spiking in our game right now. But it has been infectious in our lineup.”
Ex-Twins relievers shine
With the Twins, like many teams, looking for bullpen help, it’s notable that there’s a number of former Twins relievers who are succeeding elsewhere.
Most obvious is Ryan Pressly, dealt to Houston last July. He lost for the first time with the Astros last weekend, but he entered Saturday with a 1.31 ERA and 39 strikeouts in 34⅓ innings.
The previous July, the Twins dealt All-Star closer Brandon Kintzler, a pending free agent, to Washington. Now a setup man with the Cubs, he had a 2.06 ERA in 35 innings.
And if you want to go way back, Liam Hendriks, who began his career with the Twins but was let go on waivers in 2013, has built a good career since then as a reliever. This year, he had a 3-0 record with a 1.42 ERA and 54 strikeouts in 44⅓ innings for Oakland.
First-time deadline buyers
Falvey and Levine have been open about their thought process when it comes to adding or subtracting players. But for the most part since they have come to Minnesota, they have been trade deadline sellers.
In 2017, when the Twins made the wild-card game, not only did they move Kintzler, but they also dealt Jaime Garcia only days after acquiring him. Last year, they dealt Pressly, Duke, Lynn, Rodney, Eduardo Escobar and Brian Dozier.
This year, they will be buying. One thing to keep an eye on is that the club has a lot of players who, if they don’t make the 40-man roster next season, will be eligible for the Rule 5 draft.
Some of those players are top prospects, including Brusdar Graterol (their No. 3 prospect, according to MLB.com), Wander Javier (6), Jhoan Duran (8), Jorge Alcala (19), Griffen Jax (23), Luke Raley (26) and Travis Blankenhorn (28). Some of these players could be prime trade candidates as the club tries to get some pitching help.
Another thing for fans to keep an eye on, Levine said, is that the trade deadline has been completely altered.
It used to be that deals could still be made in August, but players first had to be put on waivers. Rodney was sent to Oakland last Aug. 9. That’s not the case anymore.
Now, the unitary trade deadline is at 3 p.m. July 31, meaning no players can be traded after that, period.
“This is the first year with the hard trade deadline, there are no trades after July 31,” Levine said. “So the teams that are riding the fence right now are going to have to make a decision within the next five or six weeks as to which direction they’re going to go. I can assure you we’re monitoring those teams extremely closely as a function of them still being in the race, they have a lot of really attractive players if they decide to sell at that time.”
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• Former Twins infielder Eduardo Escobar should be named an All-Star reserve on Sunday for his play with the Diamondbacks. But more importantly last week, he was in attendance when his two sons, Eduardo Jr. and Raul, received their green cards. Escobar entered Saturday hitting .287 with 18 homers, 18 doubles, five triples, 63 RBI and 55 runs in 82 games.
• Pro Football Focus wrote this past week that Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousinshad the fifth-highest amount of pressures last season when he dropped back to pass, getting pressured 38.9% of the time. They did give the Vikings a slight edge over the Bears in their prediction of who will win the NFC North.
• Meanwhile, PFF ranked the Vikings’ Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks as the fifth-best linebacker duo in the NFL heading into 2019.
• CBS Sports wrote this month that Gophers wide receiver and Minneapolis North product Tyler Johnson would be a perfect fit for the Detroit Lions when it comes time for the 2020 NFL draft. They said Johnson could be a good tandem with Kenny Golladay, Detroit’s star receiver.
• Look for former Gophers guard Amir Coffey to play Agua Caliente of the NBA G League. The Ontario, Calif.-based team is an affiliate of the Clippers, with whom Coffey signed a two-way contract.
• ESPN updated its basketball rankings for the Class of 2020: Jalen Suggs of Minnehaha Academy is No. 12, Dawson Garcia of Prior Lake is No. 46, Dain Dainja of Park Center is No. 50 and Ben Carlson of East Ridge is No. 86. For 2021, Chet Holmgren of Minnehaha Academy is No. 7 and Kendall Brown of East Ridge is No. 22. The Gophers have offered all of these players a scholarship.