When Derek Falvey inherited control of the Minnesota Twins over the offseason, he took hold of a team that won 83 games in 2015, and lost 103 in 2016. Their division has produced four of the last five American League pennant winners, and has done so for three years running.
It’s fair to say he’s not in an enviable position entering 2017, with a hodgepodge of brimming potential, lackluster everyday players, a diminishing farm system and a nostalgic shell of a former superstar eating about a quarter of the team’s payroll.
In some ways though, Falvey isn’t bettering his circumstances this winter. His big addition so far, Jason Castro, meets a need and satisfied the Twins’ analytically-inclined new direction. His pitch framing abilities are well-noted and can benefit a sub-mediocre pitching staff, but beyond that the Twins and Falvey haven’t made a significant improvement to present or future.
Falvey could be hesitant with the trigger if he’s considering the odd dichotomy of the of 2015 and 2016 — a quiet admission that he believes the former wasn’t the fluke. If 2015 was the year everything went right, and 2016 the year everything went wrong, what is there to make of 2017?
One shouldn’t blame him for holding some optimism toward the young, possibly star-studded core of Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano and Max Kepler. Another year of improvement here can put Minnesota in a good spot, but there’s warning signs.
Kepler, 23, had a huge summer and gradually regressed in August and September, but displayed better power with 17 home runs and a .189 ISO. Overall he’s still a raw talent that probably projects into an everyday outfielder that’s better than their current everyday outfielders. Buxton had one of hell of a finish to 2016 with nine home runs, a .344 wOBA and 114 wRC+ in the second half at age 22. Not many 22- and 23-year-olds show this level of talent, and if nothing else, is a very intriguing starting off spot in 2017.
Sano, meanwhile, is starting to throw up red flags all over. Sure he hit for power and produced a 107 wRC+, but continues to strikeout at ridiculous rates, more than 36 percent last year. Improvement for any of these three players isn’t guaranteed.
Pitching in Minnesota is the recurring struggle. In 2016, the Twins finished 28th in pitcher WAR, 27th in K/9 and 27th in FIP. Falvey hasn’t made a step here. He could wait out the market more for a low-cost veteran like Jason Hammel or Doug Fister as a marginal upgrade. There isn’t a No. 1 starter at the big league level or in the system. Jose Berrios is proving to have more of a No. 2 ceiling with, like Sano, a pretty deep floor. Prospect Stephen Gonsalves had a nice 2016 in the minors and could be an under-the-radar top-half piece of the rotation soon.
That brings us to the elephant in the room: Brian Dozier. There’s no hurry to trade Dozier with two years left on his contract, but if Jose De Leon is on the table from the Los Angeles Dodgers, is he worth passing up for a secondary prospect snag? Probably not. De Leon has No. 1 potential, much higher than the Twins’ current options.
So what is Falvey waiting for? He could wait for Dozier to continue his production and sell at the deadline, or next winter. That’s risky considering Dozier’s first half mediocrity and lack of history as a 30-homer hitter, much less 40. In theory, his value may never be higher.
Projections suggest the Twins aren’t a 100-loss team again in 2017 — barely a 90-loss team. So perhaps he’s waiting out for the perfect offer, and in the meantime plans to go ahead with the team as is and hope for 2015 results. It’s viable, though with several “what-ifs” that need to go right: What if Sano and Buxton are stars? What if Berrios turns out to be really good in the big leagues?
There’s worse spots to be in, but it can’t stay undetermined long. Soon enough baseball will learn if Falvey and company are going to develop talent, or start collecting talent.
Jerry Burnes is a contributor Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @jerryburnes.