What a difference half a season makes.
The Twins are now two games beyond the halfway point of the season and find themselves eight games ahead of the Indians, who were widely considered the favorites to claim another American League Central crown before the season began. With the calendar turning
What a difference half a season makes.
The Twins are now two games beyond the halfway point of the season and find themselves eight games ahead of the Indians, who were widely considered the favorites to claim another American League Central crown before the season began. With the calendar turning from June to July, this now means that the Twins will turn their focus to the trade market, and a month from Monday, the roster could look quite different as the Twins reinforce their roster for the stretch run.
With this in mind, this week's Twins Inbox both looks backward at a successful first half and forward at what the second half could hold for this team.
There are many different ways to look at "value" as far as this team is concerned, but as far as pitchers go, Jose Berrios has taken another step forward into the upper echelon of starters in the league and seems to relish in the biggest moments. Consider, for example, his Opening Day performance against Corey Kluber that set the tone for the season, his eight-inning start against the Red Sox or even Friday, when he saved a depleted bullpen by gritting out 7 1/3 innings.
As a whole, I think there are arguments to be made for Berrios, Taylor Rogers, Max Kepler, Jorge Polanco and Marwin Gonzalez, and for position players, I'm ultimately settling on Byron Buxton, who has had as strong of a bounceback and all-around season as the Twins could have hoped entering 2019.
Buxton has set career-bests around the board in offense with a .262/.319/.519 batting line, already has a career-high 22 doubles and is on pace to set a new career high in homers, with nine at the halfway point of the season. Given the supreme value that he adds on defense, he only really needs to be a league-average hitter to provide plenty of value to these Twins -- and he has absolutely outdone that. Having Buxton in the No. 9 hole serves to balance the lineup well and creates opportunities for Kepler and Polanco when the lineup turns over.
As far as the coaching staff goes, I don't think it's possible -- or fair -- to single out one particular coach's contributions. The work of Wes Johnson, Jeremy Hefner, Josh Kalk and all of the other pitching personnel have been well-documented (look at Tyler Duffey, Ryne Harper, Berrios and Jake Odorizzi, for example), but James Rowson and Rudy Hernandez are also the architects of the league's best offense.
If the Twins were to target a starting pitcher, it would make more sense in my mind for them to focus on those with remaining years of team control -- say, a Marcus Stroman, Trevor Bauer or Matthew Boyd -- as opposed to a true rental like Madison Bumgarner.
This is for two reasons. Firstly, this should only be the beginning of the Twins' window of contention, which means that the resources allocated to trades for rentals could be better spent considering more sustained additions to the team. And secondly, keep in mind that the Twins' starting rotation is set to come apart at the end of the season, with Kyle Gibson, Odorizzi and Michael Pineda all set for free agency.
Lewis Thorpe, Devin Smeltzer and Sean Poppen have shown the Twins signs of promise this season, and Brusdar Graterol shouldn't be far behind. But for a team that should contend again in 2020, addressing that rotation need with a strong candidate that might emerge now as opposed to during the offseason certainly wouldn't hurt. And after stockpiling several intriguing prospects during their sell-off at last season's Trade Deadline, the Twins definitely have the prospects to deal to make a splash.
In general, I would expect a greater focus on locking up the team's young core pieces for the long-term at controllable prices than for signing veteran players to one-year or two-year extensions to keep them around. Polanco and Kepler have already shown the benefits this season of cost control through what would have been their arbitration years after they both inked long-term extensions during the offseason.
The Twins have already locked up Polanco and Kepler, and Buxton, Berrios and Eddie Rosario might not be far behind. Keeping this successful young core together is going to be the most important part of this run of contention -- and the short-term deals to build around them are just the finishing touches.
As for those you mentioned, I'd be surprised if Jonathan Schoop in particular were to return based on the price tag he could put on himself after his bounceback campaign this season on a one-year, "prove-it" deal -- especially given what Luis Arraez has shown the Twins this season. (Of course, this assumes that Arraez isn't traded by July 31.)
Cody Allen, who was signed to a Minor League deal after his release by the Angels, is currently with Class A Advanced Fort Myers, where he threw a clean inning with a strikeout on Saturday. The Twins have potential ideas about how he might regain his previous form, and for now, he's getting the chance to work at the club's Minor League facilities in Fort Myers, Fla. He could get a callup if those things work out, but I can't really put a timeline on that.
Do-Hyoung Park covers the Twins for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @dohyoungpark and on Instagram at dohyoung.park.