In this edition of the Twins mailbag, topics included Minnesota's new coaching staff, free agency, Joe Mauer's future and much more.
Jim Mone/Jim Mone/Associated Press
MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Twins finally have a manager, and free agency is now underway. What better time than now to post my offseason mailbag? I received plenty of questions about the Twins as they prepare for 2015. There were a few common themes, so I did my best to answer similar questions together. Thanks to everyone who submitted your questions. Now without further ado, here are my answers to your questions.
Q: Exciting times for the Twins with Molitor becoming manager, but what is the plan for a pitching coach? — Shawn, Mt. Rushmore, S.D.
A: That’s an excellent question, and one that I unfortunately don’t have a good answer to. When Paul Molitor was hired, it became apparent that his pitching coach would be the most important hire he makes. He and the Twins have already announced that Tom Brunansky will return as hitting coach in 2015, and Triple-A Rochester manager Gene Glynn will become Minnesota’s third base coach. Meanwhile, Rudy Hernandez was also added as an assistant hitting coach, and the Venezuela native will also fill the role of a Spanish-speaking coach who can connect with the Twins’ young Latin players.
There are several more vacancies to be filled, and pitching coach is the most glaring.
Molitor has admitted that pitching isn’t his strong suit. Sure, he was a Hall of Famer with 3,319 hits and 504 stolen bases in his career. But Molitor never threw a pitch. He’ll rely quite a bit on whoever his pitching coach is. Ideally, I think it makes sense to hire someone who has previous experience as a major-league pitching coach. I haven’t been able to get a good read on who that might be, but I’d anticipate the hiring taking place within the next week or two.
Q: Will there be a point when the organization cuts its losses with the large contract holding, lackluster-performing Mauer? Should there be? — Doug, Little Canada, Minn.
Q: Will Molitor have the courage to bat Mauer lower in the batting order when he is not productive? — Paul, South Dakota
Q: When is Mauer gone? Can’t stand to watch him. He is an anchor dragging down the ship. He is uninteresting and not worth 1/3 what he is paid. — Hugh, Minneapolis
Q: What is the short and long term future for Joe Mauer? Where do you see him playing? It seemed like they moved him to 1B because they didn’t see a future 1B at the time but with how Vargas turned out last year, he could be our long term fix at 1B. So where can we put Mauer? — Adam, Bloomington, Minn.
A: Looks like Twins first baseman Joe Mauer was the most popular topic of conversation for this offseason mailbag. I’m going to tackle all four questions here to avoid getting redundant.
First of all, Mauer isn’t going anywhere, nor should he. Yes, I realize that he had a disappointing year in 2014 after making the switch from catcher to first base. He hit .277, which was low by his lofty standards but was still good for third-best on the Twins last year. Mauer’s OPS (on-base plus slugging) of .732 was a bit more troubling than his dip in batting average. But let’s keep in mind, too, that Mauer missed time with an oblique injury, something that can still linger even after a player returns to action.
I know fans often complain about Mauer’s contract — he’ll make $23 million a year through the 2018 season. And you could argue that now that Mauer isn’t catching, he isn’t as valuable. That may be true to an extent, but Mauer is still one of the best hitters in the game. And we saw him get more and more comfortable at first base as the season went on. He was more willing to stray from first base to make plays, and he eventually looked more natural on grounders hit to first base. Mauer is a gifted athlete, and the Twins were pleased with the way he made the transition. Yes, Minnesota also has Kennys Vargas capable of playing first base, but I think Vargas will profile well as a designated hitter who occasionally plays first base. Vargas’ defense is a bit raw still, but he’s capable of playing here and there to give Mauer a day off if needed.
Doug asked about Molitor potentially batting Mauer lower in the lineup if his star first baseman is struggling. How Molitor handles the lineup on a daily basis remains to be seen, and it’s something the first-time manager has never had to do before. Molitor did have plenty of praise for Mauer, who like Molitor grew up in St. Paul and starred at Cretin-Derham Hall High School. With 3,319 career hits, Molitor knows a thing or two about hitting. So I wouldn’t be shocked if he tinkers with the lineup on occasion — even if it includes moving Mauer around in the batting order.
Q: Which minor league players have the best chance to be in the ‘Show’ in 2015? — Bruce, Tea, S.D.
A: I’d anticipate several guys will have the chance to make their major-league debuts in 2015, but there are a few in particular that will be worth noting.
Twins fans have heard about pitcher Alex Meyer since Minnesota dealt Denard Span to the Washington Nationals to get the right-hander. Heralded as one of the team’s top pitching prospects, Meyer spent the 2014 season at Triple-A Rochester and appeared to be on the doorstep of pitching in the major leagues last year. Instead, though, the Twins called up right-hander Trevor May, and not Meyer, late in the season. Meyer finished the year 7-7 with a 3.52 ERA in 27 starts for Rochester. If he doesn’t make the team out of spring training, there’s a good chance we see Meyer at some point in 2015 — probably sooner than later.
Jose Berrios is another name to watch. The 20-year-old right-hander is quickly climbing the minor-league ranks. After a solid year at High-A Fort Myers and Double-A New Britain, Berrios was promoted to Triple-A Rochester at the end of the year and made one start for the Red Wings. The Twins need pitching help, and Berrios is one of the most promising arms in Minnesota’s minor-league system. Though a long shot to break camp with the Twins out of spring training, I’m sure fans will be clamoring for Berrios to get called up during the season. It’s possible he may debut later in the year.
And I can only guess that more people will continue to ask about Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano, the Twins’ two best position players in the minors. Sano missed all of 2014 after having Tommy John surgery, and Buxton had a few injuries that sidelined him for most of the year. The big-league debut watch is on for both of them, as Twins fans eagerly await their arrivals. But given their injury histories, both will need more time in the minors before coming up to Minnesota. Neither has spent a day above Double-A, which is where both might start the 2015 season.
Q: Are they going to bring up Buxton and Sano before they get hurt again? — Jay, Brainerd, Minn.
A: As I mentioned in my response to the previous question, I wouldn’t anticipate either Buxton or Sano starting the year in the majors. That’s a pipe dream. Sano didn’t play at all in 2014, while Buxton played just 31 games in the minors last year — and got injured again in the Arizona Fall League. The Twins will make sure both players are healthy and productive before they call either of them up to the majors.
Sano’s injury was bad news for Minnesota when it was announced during spring training that the young third baseman would need Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. That kept him out for the whole season. It was a rare occurrence of a position player having the elbow reconstruction surgery that is usually reserved for pitchers. Sano still has a bright future ahead of him, but his path to the big leagues was definitely delayed by that stroke of bad luck.
Buxton, meanwhile, had a flurry of fluky injuries in 2014 that included a wrist injury he suffered while diving for a ball. In his first game at Double-A New Britain, Buxton collided with a teammate in the outfield and didn’t play again the rest of the year. He also dislocated his finger during an Arizona Fall League game last month. Many still view Buxton as the No. 1 prospect in all of baseball, but it will be important for him to prove he can stay healthy.
Q: So now that free agency is underway who are the starting pitchers the twins looking at.? Also what is the chance they go and sign Michael Cuddyer or Torii Hunter as would be a great homecoming and great way to go out with their home team..thoughts?? — Donald, Inver Grove Heights, Minn.
Q: I know why the Twins would be interested in Torii Hunter (vocal leader in the clubhouse and on the field, who can still hit even though his defense is nowhere near what it used to be), but why would Torii possibly be interested in coming back to Minnesota now, when he has mulled retirement and only wants to keep playing if he has a chance at a ring, which seems extremely unlikely this season in MN, even for the most optimistic dreamers/fans? — Liz, Buffalo, Minn.
Q: Why are the TWINS (Pohlad’s) not make major strides to correct how uncompetitive and/or frustrating this team has been for the fans for 4 plus years? This team needs major changes and a veteran presence in clubhouse like Torii Hunter. There are rumors of Twins reaching out to Hunter’s agent. Is there any truth to these rumors? — Christopher, Savage, Minn.
A: Three questions about Torii Hunter, who remains a popular guy in Minnesota even eight years after leaving the Twins. First, though, to address Donald’s question, Cuddyer has signed a two-year deal with the New York Mets after declining his qualifying offer from the Rockies. (Obviously, that happened since your question was submitted.) At any rate, a reunion with the 35-year-old Cuddyer never seemed all that likely.
I understand why Twins fans might be interested in seeing Hunter return to Minnesota. He was a fan favorite during his playing days, has a great personality in the clubhouse, and was a productive member on some Twins playoff teams. There have been multiple reports, including one by FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal, that the Twins are one of several teams who have expressed interest in the veteran outfielder. But let’s keep in mind that he’ll turn 40 next July. Yes, he was still productive offensively with the Tigers this past season, batting .286 with 83 RBI in 142 games. But his range defensively in the outfield isn’t what it once was when he roamed center field at the Metrodome. Minnesota could use some depth in the outfield, but I’m not sure a 40-year-old Torii Hunter is the best solution.
(From a media standpoint, though, I’d totally be on board with the idea of Hunter returning to Minnesota. Not many players compare to Torii in terms of great interviews.)
Q: Do you think the addition of Paul Molitor as manager will be a great step in the right direction, or is it quite possible we’ll see more of the same in the next season? — Garret, Owatonna, Minn.
A: I’ve been asked quite a bit by friends and family about my thoughts on the Molitor hiring. Overall, I do think it was a good hire. It’s hard to argue with Molitor’s track record as a Hall of Fame player, and he’s one of the most knowledgable baseball minds I’ve ever talked to. He picks up small details within a game that most others wouldn’t even think about. Players have raved about him, too. He was key in helping guys like second baseman Brian Dozier improve on base running, as well as infield defense.
With that said, the biggest knock on Molitor is that he hasn’t managed before. Sometimes that isn’t a problem for first-time managers, while other times we see guys get in way over their heads. I don’t think that will be much of an issue for him. He’s spent the better part of the last decade as a roving instructor in the minor leagues and has been in a coaching capacity during that time. Others also may not like the fact that the Twins made an internal hire instead of grabbing a manager from outside the organization — like Torey Luvollo, for example. I don’t have a problem hiring an internal candidate. (For the record, one of my top choices would have been Doug Mientkiewicz, who is the manager of Minnesota’s High-A affiliate in Fort Myers.) Because Minnesota hired internally — and Molitor’s three coaching hires so far are internal as well — I think we will see some similarities from previous teams. But Molitor’s baseball IQ and the way he goes about preparing for games will certainly bring some noticable differences, too.
Q: What positions do you think the Twins will look to upgrade in free agency? — Eric, Minneapolis
A: Pitching, pitching and pitching! Obviously the starting rotation was a top priority in free agency last winter, and the Twins went out and got Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes in an effort to bolster the rotation. While the Hughes signing looked like a bargain in 2014 (or at least the first year of his three-year, $24 million deal), the Nolasco deal hasn’t panned out just yet. Whether or not Nolasco’s four-year, $49 million contract will make the Twins gun shy when it comes to signing free agent pitchers remains to be seen, but there’s little question that pitching will be a focus this offseason.
It’s unlikely the Twins will be in the running to land big-name free agent starting pitchers like Max Scherzer, Jon Lester or James Shields. Instead, it’s a bit more realistic — as I wrote about earlier this week — to hope that someone like Brandon McCarthy, Brett Anderson or even former Twin Francisco Liriano might consider coming to Minnesota. None are as big of names as the previously mentioned starters, but those three and others would be solid additions to a Twins rotation that had the worst ERA in all of baseball in 2014.
On top of starting pitching, I’d expect outfielder to be the other position of need/want in free agency for Minnesota. The Twins’ infield looks pretty settled at this point, as does catcher. But outfield was somewhat of a revolving door a year ago. Minnesota played Danny Santana out of position in center field, and new manager Paul Molitor has said he sees Santana as a shortstop, not an outfielder. Guys like Oswaldo Arcia and Aaron Hicks had mixed results defensively (Arcia) and offensively (Hicks). And it appears center field prospect Byron Buxton is still a little bit away from making his big league debut. The Twins will need some outfield depth in the meantime. As I mentioned earlier in response to another series of questions, Torii Hunter’s name has been mentioned as Minnesota has reportedly expressed interested in the veteran outfielder. He clearly wouldn’t be a long-term solution in the outfield, but he’d bring a presence to the clubhouse the Twins need. But there are other, younger options that may make more sense for Minnesota to look at as it tries to solidify the outfield in 2015.
Q: Do you think that the Twins might trade for Matt Kemp? — Noah, Minnetonka, Minn.
A: The Dodgers outfielder’s name has been thrown around in trade rumors lately, but I don’t see any scenario in which the Twins would deal for him. He’s due $21 million in both 2015 and 2016, and then $21.5 million annually from 2017-19. True, Kemp had a bounceback year in 2014 after playing in just 73 games in 2013 due to injuries. But trading for a guy with that type of contract doesn’t seem logical for Minnesota right now.
Q: I really hope they are really checking into Bert Blyleven for pitching coach. He does have experience coaching with the world games. — Jerry, Silver Lake, Minn.
A: Like Molitor, it’s hard to argue with Bert’s pitching credentials. The former Twin (and Pirate, Ranger, Indian and Angel) and current FOX Sports North broadcaster won 287 games in his 22-year Hall of Fame career and posted 3,701 strikeouts during that span. And as you alluded to, he does have a bit of coaching experience in the World Baseball Classic, although it’s not much. I’ve seen Blyleven’s name floated around a bit as people speculate who Molitor’s pitching coach will be.
As I mentioned earlier, the hiring of a pitching coach will be vital for Molitor’s success. It may also be one of the last positions he fills, as I’m guessing Molitor will want to do his due diligence to find the right guy. Blyleven is certainly an appealing candidate, no doubt. Whether or not he’ll be the choice remains to be seen, but he should at least be discussed in the conversation.
Q: Why don’t the Twins just go to their awesome 1961 uniforms full-time at home? I don’t know anyone who doesn’t love those. The new uniforms look depressingly bland and empty (and the gold is really tacky, in my opinion) . . . But, come to think of it, I guess that is quite fitting for the product they’ve put on the field in the past few seasons. Carry on. — Jimmy, Eden Prairie, Minn.
A: I agree with you that the 1961 uniforms — the cream-colored jerseys with pinstripes — are great. They still mix those in from time to time as alternate uniforms. A few years ago after Harmon Killebrew died, the Twins wore them for every home game the rest of the season. As much as I like the look of those uniforms, I think they’re even more special if they’re only worn on occasion.
I’m not really sure how I feel about the new uniforms yet, to be honest. I actually liked the pinstripes on the previous home whites, so that part is a big shock to the system with the new jerseys. The gold is an interesting touch. I think it’s cool how they’re incorporating the limestone color from target Field into the uniforms, but the look of gold on the uniforms is still throwing me off a bit. Maybe I’ll warm up to them more when I see them in person and in action.