Last season, Twins Chief Baseball Officer Derek Falvey and General Manager Thad Levine often talked about how they were comfortable being patient in the free-agent market to add pieces to their club.
For the past two seasons, Major League Baseball teams have seemed to agree and become more patient, especially about giving out big contracts to premier free agents. So far this season, star pitchers such as former Red Sox reliever Craig Kimbrel and former Astros starter Dallas Keuchel are still unsigned.
But it seems like the decision by Falvey and Levine to go after players earlier this past offseason is really paying off. The Twins have the best record in baseball at 23-12 through 35 games, compared to 17-18 last season.
Last season the Twins’ primary free-agent signings were Michael Pineda, Fernando Rodney, Zach Duke, Addison Reed, Anibal Sanchez, Erick Aybar, Logan Morrison and Lance Lynn. They also traded for Jake Odorizzi from Tampa Bay.
They signed Pineda on Dec. 13, 2017, followed by Rodney on Dec. 15 and Duke on Dec. 26.
Reed was signed January 15, but Sanchez, Aybar, Morrison and Lynn were all signed after Feb. 20.
Pineda didn’t pitch last season as he recuperated after Tommy John surgery. Rodney struck out 50 over 43⅔ innings and went 3-2 with a 3.09 ERA before being traded to Oakland on Aug. 9.
Duke went 3-4 with a 3.62 ERA in 37⅓ innings before being traded to Seattle on July 30.
Reed posted a 4.50 ERA and went 1-6 in 55 games with only 44 strikeouts in 56 innings. The word is that the Twins will try and find a way for Reed to get another big-league shot as he works his way back from a thumb sprain. He’s being paid $8.5 million this season, the fourth-highest contract on the team.
Sanchez and Aybar didn’t make the roster out of spring training. Morrison hit only .186 with 15 homers in 95 games. Lynn went 7-8 but posted a 5.10 ERA in 20 starts.
Most of those free-agent acquisitions didn’t accomplish much, and the Twins finished with a 78-84 record.
Aggressive in 2019
The Twins’ major moves for this season started Nov. 26 when they picked up first baseman C.J. Cron off waivers from the Rays. They signed Jonathan Schoop as a free agent on Dec. 6 and added Nelson Cruz, Blake Parker and Martin Perez in January. The only player they really waited to sign was former Astro Marwin Gonzales, who agreed to a deal on Feb. 25.
It’s amazing to think what this group of players has accomplished so far without Joe Mauer on the roster, following his retirement last year.
Cron is hitting .234 with seven homers, 19 RBI and 13 runs scored in 32 games.
Schoop is back playing like the All-Star second baseman he was with Baltimore, hitting .284 with six homers, 10 doubles, 17 RBI and 20 runs scored in 32 games.
Cruz, at 38, has been as advertised if not better with the Twins. His current on-base percentage of .362 is 20 points above his career average and he has seven homers, eight doubles, 21 RBI and 17 runs scored in 31 games as the designated hitter.
Parker has appeared in 13 games as a late-inning reliever and allowed a run in only two of them.
And Perez might be the biggest surprise of all. After posting seven shutout innings against the Blue Jays this week, the fifth starter is now 5-0 with a 2.83 ERA.
A lot of the front office’s faith in their coaching staff and their ability to turn these players around has really proven correct.
Draft helps Gophers
Gophers football coach P.J. Fleck said that even though the team graduated few seniors, having linebacker Blake Cashman drafted in the fifth round by the Jets and players such as offensive lineman Donnell Greene (Jaguars) and kicker Emmit Carpenter (Bears) picked up as rookie free agents is just the start of the Gophers getting more notice from the NFL.
“First of all, congratulations to [Cashman] being drafted,” Fleck said. “That is tremendous for our program, tremendous for him. It’s a wonderful opportunity for him as well as other players for us. He has earned it. He’s a really talented football player and he has a great story. A former walk-on from Eden Prairie, earned a scholarship, now he’s a fifth-round pick. Really happy for him and his family.”
Right now there are officially 12 former Gophers in the NFL: Cashman, CB Briean Boddy-Calhoun, LB De’Vondre Campbell, LB Jonathan Celestin, T Ra’Shede Hageman, SS Eric Murray, CB Jalen Myrick, P/PK Ryan Santoso, CB Marcus Sherels, TE Maxx Williams, LB Damien Wilson and T Nate Wozniak.
Fleck said he believes some of his current players will make good NFL prospects.
“We didn’t have a lot of seniors, but as we keep going forward, I think more and more Gophers fans are going to be tuning into that draft over the next few years,” he said.
Praise for Bradbury
There is no doubt the Vikings got the man they wanted when they drafted North Carolina State center Garrett Bradbury with the No. 18 overall pick. Even though he remains unsigned, the Vikings will get that done soon.
NFL.com recently ran a list of rookies they expect to make the All-Rookie team and Bradbury was on it.
Vikings coach Mike Zimmer told me last week that Bradbury absolutely can improve the line. More importantly, he’s a great fit for the new scheme the offense will run under line coach/run game coordinator Rick Dennison.
“Bradbury is obviously going to be, we feel like, a big-time player in this league,” Zimmer said.
• The Gophers football team has eight commitments for the Class of 2020, which ranks 31st in the country, according to 247Sports.com.
• Former Burnsville standout Chase Roullier figures to be the starting center for the Redskins this season after being a sixth-round draft pick last year.
• Former Twins manager Ron Gardenhire has the Tigers off to a 16-18 start this season, compared to 14-20 a year ago. The Tigers looked improved as they come to Target Field for a four-game series beginning Friday after going 64-98 last year during Gardenhire’s first season with the club.
• Eduardo Escobar, who was traded by the Twins to the Diamondbacks last season, is hitting .285 with seven home runs, nine doubles, 21 RBI and 21 runs scored in 36 games this season.