With no Twins baseball to help pass the time this winter, Terry Ryan provided the team’s fans with a juicy mystery instead Tuesday: What does he have in mind for Miguel Sano?
In an hourlong season-wrapup media session at Target Field, the Twins general manager dropped a series of seemingly mutually-exclusive clues about his plans for the team’s lineup in 2016, and specifically what Sano might do when he doesn’t have a bat in his hand. The rookie slugger, who turbocharged Minnesota’s offense with 18 home runs and a team-high .915 OPS as the team’s designated hitter, was a third baseman in the minors — “He’s capable of handling the position,” Ryan judged — and has the size of a first baseman.
But he’s also only 22, so “Sano cannot get into the mind-set that he’s going to be a DH,” Ryan insisted. “We have aspirations for him to be a good position player.”
In practically the same breath, however, Ryan said Trevor Plouffe won’t be moved off third base, and Joe Mauer is the team’s first baseman.
“A lot of things could change over the course of the winter, but it’s fair to say Plouffe and Mauer should be our third and first basemen coming into camp — as we sit here today,” he said.
Those last five words could be the most important, since Ryan and his staff have six months to sort out this three’s-a-crowd problem. Does he contemplate a trade to open a position for Sano? Might the rookie inherit a job in the outfield, though that’s another spot where there are more potential candidates than places to put them? Could some time-sharing arrangement work, giving Sano more frequent chances to play in the field when he’s not serving as DH?
Ryan laid out all the pieces but refused to solve the puzzle. Even more intriguing: He doesn’t intend for this to be wait-till-next-April cliffhanger.
“I would like to [determine his future] this winter, so he can prepare for it,” Ryan said. “[Sano] is athletic enough to make [a] transition, whatever we do.”
Ryan’s session covered a wide range of other Twins’ topics, too, from the coaching and medical staff (they’re all invited back) to his own retirement (hasn’t thought about it; “I’m on a year-to-year ordeal here,” he said).
Among the highlights:
• Brian Dozier will undergo an MRI to make sure his sore hip is structurally OK, though the problem isn’t expected to require surgery.
“I don’t think that’s anything other than a cleanup situation,” Ryan said. “I think it’s just something he wants to make sure, psychologically, he doesn’t have any issues.”
There were no other problems discovered in the players’ exit physicals, he said.
• Trevor May will have an answer before training camp opens in February about whether he will remain a reliever or return to the starting rotation, his preference. “Finality on that will be quick, but right now, when we left him, we told him, ‘Make sure you come in stretched out,’ ” Ryan said. “It depends on what we do over the winter, but I don’t want to let it get too deep into the winter.”
• Jose Berrios and Alex Meyer will both be in major league camp next February for what shapes up — pending any offseason trades — as another crowded competition for starting pitching jobs. Phil Hughes, Ricky Nolasco and Ervin Santana are under contract for 2016, Kyle Gibson, Tommy Milone and Tyler Duffey earned front-of-the-line status with their pitching, and Berrios, Meyer and May could be in the mix as well.
• Ryan has not spoken with any of the team’s five free agents — Mike Pelfrey, Brian Duensing, Blaine Boyer, Neal Cotts and Torii Hunter — about next year but plans to soon.
• The presence of two closers on his roster, with Glen Perkins and his fill-in, Kevin Jepsen, is “a good problem to have,” he said. He didn’t sound inclined to trade either one. His biggest concern: “Keeping [Perkins] healthy all season.”
• He doesn’t know what the Twins’ 2016 payroll will be, “but payroll has never been an issue for me.” The Twins spent roughly $108 million on their opening day lineup last year, and have several arbitration-eligible players in line for substantial raises.
• Ryan believes Mauer will rebound from a so-so 2016, which saw his strikeouts soar to 112 and his batting average plunge to .265. “The [defensive] shift might have gotten into him a little bit,” Ryan said. “I certainly think he can get back into the .300s.”
• Byron Buxton shouldn’t be judged on his .209 average because “I had to rush him” to the majors, Ryan said.