The Twins come home for Memorial Day owning the third-best record in the American League. This would be a good time for General Manager Terry Ryan to start doing that thing he used to do.
In the next six weeks, Ervin Santana, the most expensive free-agent signing in franchise history, will return from suspension, and top prospects Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano might force their way to the big leagues.
At Class AAA Rochester, Tommy Milone has a 0.28 ERA. At Class AA Chattanooga, Jose Berrios has struck out 63 in 56 innings.
One year after Andrew Albers used the Twins rotation to audition for a job in Korea, and two months after the Twins handed the starting center field job to journeyman Jordan Schafer, the Twins might have an overloaded big-league roster for the first time since Ryan traded catcher A.J. Pierzynski to make way for Joe Mauer after the 2003 season.
Ryan will soon be choosing between Trevor Plouffe, perhaps his second-best all-around player, and Sano at third base. He could move Sano to left field or designated hitter, or leave Sano in Class AA for the rest of the season. He can’t move Plouffe as long as Plouffe is a key player on the Twins’ first winning team in five years.
If Buxton makes it to the big leagues, Aaron Hicks, Oswaldo Arcia, Eddie Rosario and perhaps even Sano could be competing for playing time in left.
When Santana returns, he will force Mike Pelfrey, Trevor May or Ricky Nolasco out of the rotation. Milone and Berrios could keep pressuring the others the rest of the year.
With a loaded farm system and a winning big-league team, Ryan will soon have a rare problem: too many worthwhile players.
When the Twins became playoff regulars between 2002-2010, it became a cliché around baseball to praise the Twins’ drafting and player development. In reality, the Twins were not exceptional in those departments, and actually failed to draft and develop many good starting pitchers.
They won because of Ryan’s trades.
Ryan traded for Cristian Guzman, Luis Rivas, Francisco Liriano, Joe Nathan, Lew Ford, Eric Milton, Joe Mays, David Ortiz, Kyle Lohse, Johan Santana, Rick Reed, Jason Bartlett, Shannon Stewart, Carlos Silva, Nick Punto and Luis Castillo.
Since Ryan returned as general manager, he has overseen the rebuilding of the farm system and the restructuring of the major league staff. The farm system is now one of the best in the game. The field staff is led by Paul Molitor, who, if voting were held today, would probably finish second in the American League Manager of the Year polling to Houston’s A.J. Hinch.
Ryan has presided over the Twins’ surge into contention but has yet to make the kind of trade during his second tenure that he made annually during his first.
This summer, that should change. Ryan will have tradable assets and a chance to push this team toward the playoffs in an American League devoid of powerhouses.
He could trade Plouffe, but he shouldn’t, not this summer. Plouffe is too valuable. Sano is remarkably talented but shouldn’t be asked to learn how to play in the big leagues if the Twins are in contention.
Ryan could trade Nolasco, not for value, but just to get him out of town. During the 2000s, Ryan excelled at trading players he didn’t want for Class A prospects who would turn into big-leaguers.
By July, the Twins rotation could be Santana, Hughes, Gibson and May, with Nolasco, Pelfrey and Milone in play for the fifth spot. The lineup could look something like this: Buxton, Brian Dozier, Mauer, Plouffe, Torii Hunter, Sano/Rosario/Arcia, Kennys Vargas, Kurt Suzuki, Danny Santana.
The Twins have been anticipating that lineup for years. What’s strange is that they starting winning before it took shape.
After the 1987 World Series, then-Twins Vice President Bob Gebhard said, “We were just trying to get organized — and we won the thing.”
Once again, the Twins are winning while getting organized.
After four years of holding open tryouts, Ryan can deal from a position of strength.