Pressbox View: Twins should be looking to 2019 — or 2020
Thank goodness for Eddie Rosario and Eduardo Escobar. Were it not for this dynamic duo, the Minnesota Twins might be having one of the worst seasons in franchise history.
Fans of the late great Kirby Puckett might object to this comparison, but Rosario is using a Puckett-like approach at the plate to produce a dream season. He swings at any pitch he can see and is hitting a team-leading .321. He also leads the club in homers, RBIs and runs scored, and he looks like a lock for his first All-Star Game.
Ditto for Escobar, who has a league-leading 30 doubles and is on pace to drive in more than 100 runs.
But Rosario and Escobar can occupy just two spots in a nine-man batting order, which is why the Twins should already be planning for next year.
With zero chance of a wild-card team coming out of the AL Central, Minnesota’s only hope is to overtake Cleveland for the division title. Pie-in-the-sky optimists will point to the Twins winning a series in Cleveland last weekend as proof that this could happen, but I just don’t see it. Cleveland’s bullpen has struggled, but it will get better, and their lineup top-to-bottom is far superior to Minnesota’s.
The team already took a necessary and obvious first step by getting Miguel Sano out of Minneapolis. He shouldn’t appear in another big-league game this season, as he needs to lose weight, grow up and completely change his approach at the plate. The last thing I want to see is Sano coming up in September, hitting a handful of homers off minor-league call-ups and saying, "I’m back!"
The other decisions the club faces will be more difficult — starting with Joe Mauer.
Mauer will be an unrestricted free agent after this season, but there won’t be much of a market for a concussion-prone first baseman who hits one homer every 40 games and, in terms of RBIs per at-bat, is less productive at the plate than Arizona pitcher Zack Greinke, who has three RBIs in 30 at-bats.
Mauer has 11 RBIs in 151 at-bats. That’s awful.
I hope Mauer makes it easy for the team and hangs ‘em up after this year. He’s made his money, has young children and still has his wits about him. He’ll never be anything close to the hitter he once was, and he could be one dive or collision from a lifetime of headaches or worse.
Then there’s Brian Dozier, who before the season began said he was eager to find out what he could get on the free-agent market in 2019. I suspect that eagerness has faded as Dozier’s production has plummeted.
He’s hitting .223 with just 10 homers and 29 RBIs, and if last year’s slow free-agent market was any indication, teams won’t throw big dollars and a long-term deal at a run-of-the-mill second baseman who struggles to hit for power in a park that is very friendly to right-handed hitters.
Sadly, Dozier’s lack of production is a blow to the Twins, who will likely find few takers for him as the trade deadline approaches. If he were hitting .280 with 25 dingers, the Twins could have demanded a top-notch prospect for him, but now they’ll be lucky to get a career minor-leaguer who is recovering from Tommy John surgery.
Best-case scenario? Dozier sticks with the Twins until season’s end, signs a club-friendly one-year extension and regains his form before next year’s trade deadline.
Finally, there’s the situation with Byron Buxton and Max Kepler. Buxton’s struggles are well-documented, but Kepler’s less-talked-about inability to hit right-handed pitching grows more alarming every week. He’s hitting just .225 overall and has just one extra-base hit in the month of June.
It’s still too early for the Twins to give up on Buxton or Kepler, but with both eligible for arbitration in 2019, the team shouldn’t be generous. Neither player deserves more than a one-year deal, and neither should go into next spring believing that they’re a lock for the starting lineup. When Kepler and Buxton are hot, they are fun to watch, but no one should mistake an occasional hot streak for a career trajectory.
Bottom line? If the opening day lineup next year includes Dozier, Buxton, Kepler and Sano, there’s a good chance that 12 months from now, we’ll already be looking to 2020.