It can be easy to overreact to things that happen statistically in a single month. It can be doubly easy to do so when it’s the first or last month of an MLB season.
But at the same time, viewing and understanding trends moving into what’s bound to be a busy offseason for the Minnesota Twins shouldn’t be too difficult. For the most part, they’ve let the kids play this season.
An exception, of course, is Andrelton Simmons at short — but it says more about how the Twins view Nick Gordon and Jorge Polanco right now that neither has commanded the lion’s share of playing time over Simba at the position. Simmons has played very good defense, something that has no doubt helped the pitching staff put together a fairly strong September.
But while Gordon hasn’t gotten much time at short, he’s shown the ability to move around and hold his own offensively — a valuable skill even in the age of 26-man rosters.
What will his role be in 2022? Let’s take a look at that, and some other questions the Twins have been working on answering this month:
* Gordon has a role on this team moving forward
The idea that I have some sort of disdain for Gordon is kind of wild, frankly. Then again, he did block me on Twitter so maybe there’s more to it than I’ve realized.
I don’t think I’ve said anything all that mean about Gordon, though. I just don’t see him as a future big-league starter on a team with contention aspirations. He looks to me like the second coming of Danny Santana — a very valuable utility player who can do some things well but not enough so to hold down a starting spot.
The Twins obviously don’t think of him as a shortstop. He’s not going to push Polanco off second base, and he’ll never hit enough to play third. He’s taking to the outfield better than anyone should have ever expected, but it’s unlikely he’ll ever become enough of a factor out there to play every day based on where he is on the hierarchy and his overall skill set.
Again, that’s just my take on it.
It was really strange to get tweets about once every 7-to-10 days when Gordon would steal a bag, pick up an extra-base hit or make a great play defensively where people would tell me “see, you’re wrong about him!” The frequency of those tweets alone should have proven that.
Right now, Gordon has a 96 OPS+ and has played six defensive positions. If he can do that, he has value on this roster.
The problem is, we don’t have any proof that he can.
This is the one thing about statistics that I think a lot of us miss. He’s never been a 100 OPS+ hitter over long enough of a stretch for us to say definitively “This is who he is.”
Part of that is that he only has 66 games played in the big leagues. That’s not his fault. Not at all.
But look at how things split out for him:
First 49 MLB games, through Aug. 31: .587 OPS
Last 17 MLB games, since Sept. 1: 1.008 OPS
We can probably say neither of those stretches are who he is as a player — so can we say who he has been on the whole is, either? It’s still up in the air.
What he’s done this month is impressive. Incredible, really. He’s shown the ability to adapt at every level he’s played — sometimes taking a little while, but always getting there. He deserves credit for that.
But there’s still just a lot we don’t know about what kind of player he’ll be moving forward.
So that role moving forward will be as the 25th or 26th man. If he’s pushed into a larger role, that could be problematic. With that said, there should be plenty of competition around or in front of him to prevent that from happening — even if the Twins decide to move Josh Donaldson (they shouldn’t) in the form of Austin Martin and Jose Miranda, among others.
But heading into next season, if Gordon is forming a super-utility tandem with Luis Arraez, the Twins are probably in a pretty good place offensively.
* Bullpen clarity is hard to come by
It’s not what one might call a silver lining, but Taylor Rogers not pitching this month has allowed the bullpen deck chairs to be shuffled, so to speak.
A simple analysis would look at the numbers this month — 2.71 ERA, 9.2 K/9, 3.74 FIP — and conclude the bullpen is better off without Rogers. And while that can barely be passed off as any sort of #analysis, it might prove that it’s been good for things to shake out a bit differently in games that have had no playoff implications — note the omission of the word ‘meaningless’ here — with some guys showing they belong as holdovers on the 40-man roster.
With that said, some of the successes have made things actually murkier for this offseason. Guys like Luke Farrell, who were pitching well before September, have struggled, while guys like Alex Colome — who has a fairly sizable option for 2022 — have been great.
The core four of this year’s bullpen was supposed to be Rogers, Tyler Duffey, Hansel Robles and Colome. Colome faltered early, Robles was traded to Boston and Rogers is hurt. Duffey has pitched very, very well of late (2.50 ERA, .547 OPS against, 25-6 K/BB in 28.0 IP since Aug. 1) and is eligible for free agency after next season.
Jorge Alcala has to be pitching his way into Rocco Baldelli’s Circle of Trust. Since Aug. 1, he’s been even better than Duffey: 1.17 ERA, .487 OPS against and 19-3 K/BB in 15.1 innings.
After that, however, it’s guys performing really well without much of a track record of doing so.
Juan Minaya (1.59 ERA, 11.1 K/9 in Sept.) has worked his way into the late-inning mix with a big fastball and solid changeup. Danny Coulombe has been dependable from the left side. John Gant has a big-league track record of being good at times, but also has a fairly sizable possible payday coming in arbitration.
Farrell had a 1.76 ERA and .654 OPS against in 15.1 innings before he got hurt.
Since returning, he has a 6.43 ERA but all five earned runs came in one inning in a spot start against the nasty Blue Jays offense.
I know what this might be leading to. “Hey, the more the merrier!” when it comes to building a bullpen. The only thing I’m thinking about, however, is holdover 40-man spots when the Twins will definitely have some guys to add to protect from the Rule 5 draft to avoid another Akil Baddoo situation.
Guys like Kyle Barraclough are probably easy decisions. Maybe Colome’s $5.5 million option is an easy decision to decline, too (though it’s more like $4.25 million with the buyout figured in). But trying to decide how to cobble together a bullpen that probably needs at least two more dependable arms with all of these holdovers in limbo won’t be easy.
Maybe I’m unwittingly concern trolling here. That’s not the intent. I just get tired of hearing how the Twins let guys get away when relievers are so fickle in this day and age.
* Next year’s shortstop isn’t on the roster right now
This one is pretty simple. If the Twins were convinced at all that Gordon or Polanco could handle the spot, they’d have dumped Simmons a long time ago. Simmons was never going to be a big offensive threat, but a 58 OPS+ is a new low for the 32-year-old shortstop.
It’s a good offseason to need a shortstop, anyway. If the Twins decide the immediate future at the position is neither Martin nor Royce Lewis — to be fair, they both may end up elsewhere position-wise — there should be short-term fixes across different levels for the position. Freddy Galvis, Jose Iglesias or even Simmons himself should come relatively cheaply as stopgaps, while Javier Baez or Trevor Story could be looking for bridge deals to rebuild their value. Maybe not so much for Baez, who has heated up in September.
Chris Taylor is an option very few are talking about, as could be Jonathan Villar as far as 30-somethings who may not require super long commitments.
But if the team opts to shoot for the stars, someone like Baez, Story, Marcus Semien, Corey Seager or Carlos Correa could fit the bill.
The long and short of it is that it’s excessively likely the Twins will look externally for their shortstop in 2022. Now it just comes down to term.
* Bailey Ober should be in the Opening Day rotation
There have been some hiccups along the way, but it’s hard not to be impressed by the total body of work Ober has put together in his first 20 MLB starts.
A 4.19 ERA and more than a strikeout per inning is impressive, and while the home runs have been troublesome (20 in just 92.1 innings) it’s really the only ding on his resume to this point (to be fair, not one that we can just hand wave away).
But perhaps the most impressive thing is how he handled a very potent Blue Jays offense just six days after they hit him pretty hard in Toronto. The Jays chased Ober with a pair of homers and four earned runs in as many innings on Sept. 18, but Ober returned fire on Friday night with 5.1 innings of one-run ball, the sole damage being Semien’s 42nd home run of the season.
Ober fanned six batters in what was his finest effort since fanning seven over five shutout innings against Boston on Aug. 25 in Fenway Park.
Those two starts provide a glimpse into what Ober is capable of. The homer issue is a big one. Like a potentially career-defining thing. But he’s shown enough of an ability to navigate around that which makes me think he can be more than a capable No. 5 starter to open next season.
Ideally, the Twins would have Joe Ryan at No. 4 and Ober at No. 5 and build upwards. That’s not going to be easy. But of those guys are even Nos. 3-4 with an open competition for the No. 5 spot and some help up top, the Twins can make this a short retool instead of any sort of rebuild.
Again, keep an eye on Donaldson. It seems like he’s going to be the pivot point for if the team views this as a short-term setback or something that’ll take a little longer to turn around. It’s not a great time to have to right the ship, though, with Buxton, Duffey and Rogers all eligible for free agency after next season.