CHICAGO – It’s easy to run a baseball team when it’s winning. But the Twins these days?
The season of difficult decisions has arrived.
Friday is July 1, meaning the end-of-the-month trade deadline, which General Manager Terry Ryan has promised will be busy here, becomes a countdown, not an abstract. The process of testing and winnowing the team’s crop of young players is ongoing, with patience increasingly hard to come by as losses strangle hope.
And as the Twins begin a six-game homestand Friday, a couple more challenging verdicts will likely be settled upon in short order. Miguel Sano, out a month because of a hamstring injury, is healthy again, and the need for his potent bat could not be more clear. Jose Berrios, for three years the Twins’ top pitching prospect, has given up six hits in his past 21 minor league innings and owns a 15-inning scoreless streak. On a team with statistically the worst starting pitching in the majors, the upside of giving him another shot soon appears obvious.
There’s also the matter of whether to keep Byron Buxton in the lineup as he fights to stay above .200, whether Max Kepler’s status is as solid as it appears now, and when Eddie Rosario or J.T. Chargois might earn another promotion.
None of those calls are easy, even when they appear to be straightforward, Ryan said. For one thing, every addition requires a subtraction.
“There are no sure things. There are no sure answers. There are people involved,” Ryan said. “Every decision you make, you just try to get it right, make the call as best you can, and live with the results.”
The cases of Sano and Berrios might be harder than most. To make room for Sano, there are few options. Manager Paul Molitor isn’t ready to reduce the size of the bullpen, and bench players Danny Santana, Eduardo Escobar and Juan Centeno are all needed. Byung Ho Park, meanwhile, is enduring a slump that seems to have swallowed up his home run bat: He is 2-for-38 (.053) with 20 strikeouts since June 10.
Ryan might be forced to send the 29-year-old Korean slugger to Class AAA Rochester.
“I was warned that he may go through some of these phases, yes. This point, where he is struggling now, I was hoping not,” Ryan said. “One thing I didn’t know about Park was his personality. He’s one of the greatest guys on this ballclub, maybe one of the better guys we’ve had here in a long time. But he’s struggling big-time, and everybody acknowledges that, including him.”
Park said Thursday through an interpreter that he “is trying to stay positive. I’m talking to my coaches and players, trying to get some advice and keep working on my game.” Is he prepared, if the Twins made the call, to move that work to the minor leagues? “I have no say in that. If it comes, it’s totally up to the team,” Park said. “I will trust myself and stay strong.”
The Sano hypothetical has another component, of course: Where does he play? If Park is demoted, it would open the designated hitter spot. He repeated his preference for third base this week in Rochester, but that brings the status of Trevor Plouffe into play.
Then there’s the question of Berrios, whose promotion would require that someone be demoted from the current rotation. Ervin Santana and Kyle Gibson are relatively consistent veterans, and Tyler Duffey carried a perfect game into the sixth inning at Yankee Stadium last weekend. That leaves Ricky Nolasco, less effective lately than earlier in the season, and Tommy Milone, who allowed five runs Thursday over 3⅓ innings.
The logjam isn’t simple to unplug; Nolasco, after all, had a 3.25 ERA in April, and while Milone hasn’t been particularly effective in his two starts since returning from Rochester (where he was brilliant), it’s only two starts.
“I haven’t really gone there yet in my head. I want to have discussions with people,” Molitor said of his plans for the rotation. “I’m not sure exactly what the best thing is right now.”