The big Twins news out of Florida on Tuesday is that Miguel Sano's recovery from a right heel injury isn't going as well as hoped, and he likely won't make his 2019 debut until May.
That's a blow for the Twins' hopes of a surge up the standings, since a healthy Sano at least in theory gives Minnesota a better chance for a true breakout year. If Sano and Byron Buxton are the keys to the season and the franchise's overall fortune over the next several years, this isn't a good start to 2019.
It's a bigger blow for Sano, who by all accounts had a strong offseason and is trying to rehabilitate his career after a disastrous 2018 season in which he hit .199. He'll have to work hard just to get back to where he was in late January when a celebration in the Dominican Republic led to the injury.
Unfortunately for the Twins, they've become pretty accustomed to life without Sano. He played just 71 games last season for a variety of reasons, and that was after appearing in only 114 the year before — with many of the missed games coming down the stretch as the Twins battled for and eventually claimed a wild card spot.
But interestingly and perhaps fortunately for the Twins, they have become pretty good at playing without Sano. Owing perhaps to a combination of good fortune and replacing Sano's fluctuating performance with equal or better production, the Twins have a significantly better record from 2015-18 when Sano doesn't play than when he does.
Here is the year-by-year breakdown:
• 2015: 42-40 without Sano, 41-39 with him. That was the year he arrived at the midpoint and tore up the second half of the season and helped the Twins stay in the wild card race until the final weekend. No complaints with that year.
• 2016: 16-30 without Sano, 43-73 with him. Lousy either way, but his diminishing production played a role in the "Total System Failure" season.
• 2017: 27-21 without Sano, 58-56 with him. He was an all-star that year after a monster first half, but he cooled down in the second half before being derailed by an injury. Eduardo Escobar filled in wonderfully for him down the stretch, belting nine home runs and posting an .888 OPS from Sept. 1 forward.
• 2018: 50-41 without Sano, 28-43 with him. It wasn't all his fault, but hitting .199 in the 71 games he played certainly didn't help the team's bottom line. It wasn't hard for his lineup replacements to give the Twins a better chance to win than Sano did last season.
• Overall: 135-132 without Sano (.506 winning percentage, three games over .500), compared to 170-211 with Sano (.446 winning percentage, 41 games under .500).
Again, it's far too simple to just isolate on Sano's presence in the lineup in determining cause and effect. A healthy and locked-in Sano makes the Twins better and more dangerous.
But when the Twins haven't had that in the last four years, they've been just fine.
I suspect that with Marwin Gonzalez and a bunch of guys who can DH or play first base already in the mix, they'll hold down the fort again with Sano out.