Comments open: 'The truth of the matter is we're not in a good position.' Untangling early speculation over the Twins as MLB trade-deadline sellers

What to make of all this trade speculation? Let's look to the source.

In a one-series-at-a-time world, the Twins beating Baltimore’s best starter in Game 1 after blowing a late lead qualifies as a great sign. Doing so with a 6-run outburst, a monster home run to center field from rookie Trevor Larnach, and all while giving Taylor Rogers and Hansel Robles a night off so they can pitch later this series? The good news just kept coming Monday. Oh, and Byron Buxton could begin a brief rehab assignment by the end of the week.

As I’ve been saying to anyone who will listen, do NOT let this team get hot.

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But there’s a reason that beating a bad Baltimore team has become notable. It’s the unavoidable fact that the Twins got off the the lousiest start in the Major Leagues in the first 7 weeks of the 2021 season. By record, sure, and especially when compared against preseason expectations.

Injuries, highly contagious viral illnesses, bullpen letdowns and straight-up bad baseball at times has led them to where they are right now. And where they are has led the top baseball execs to answer questions about whether the Twins will be sellers at the MLB trade deadline … before Memorial Day.

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Comments are open down below for everyone.

Last week, MLB Insider Jon Morosi floated that he wondered if the Twins would be sellers. Baseball Ops President Derek Falvey was asked about it Sunday on the Twins Radio Network show “Inside Twins.” And GM Thad Levine was quoted in a recent piece for MLB.com.

I have some thoughts on it all and I’ll share a few of them at the end. First, as a way of level setting with more than two months remaining before the trade deadline, here’s what those two baseball decision makers had to say on the subject:

Falvey on the Inside Twins radio show, when Cory Provus asked him for his reaction to the start of the season:

“I’ve been surprised by it at every turn. We feel like this a roster that has talent on it, that has the ability to compete with some of the better teams - not just in our division but across the game. We felt that going into the year. At the end of the day, we haven’t,” Falvey said. “And no one wants to hear excuses. Nobody wants to hear about bad bounces or bad luck. Sure, there’s bad luck in a couple games along the way, that’s happened, but we need to own where we are.  … I think we’ve had some good individual performances along the way but we just haven’t, late in games, been able to close out some close ones, whether those are the extra innings or 1-run games late, which have put us in this position.”

For what it’s worth, Falvey did add that he’s proud that there has been no quit in the group, despite all these early season blows. It would be a bad warning sign if that wasn’t the case.

How do you explain the awful start, especially in those tight games?

“It’s something I think about and lose sleep over -- and probably too much at times,” Falvey said.

“I wish I could tell you there’s one specific answer to it. At times we’ve had a lapse on the defensive side. Or maybe we’re not pitching to a location. But there have been times when we’ve had the opportunity to drive in a run or maybe get 1st and 3rd with nobody out and can’t cash in [during] the top half or even bottom half of the inning,” he said. “It’s a team effort. It’s a team struggle at this point. There’s no other way to put it. We need to continue to find a way to chip away. I don’t think it’s a psychological issue. I think some of this will iron itself out over time. But we need to collectively find a way to cash in those runs when we get them in the extra inning format.” 

To keep things chronological, let’s jump to what Thad Levine said recently in an article published on MLB.com. Both men were asked about trades but the starting point is right here, which is to say ‘Good Team, Bad Record; look at the calendar.’

“We still believe in the team,” Levine told MLB.com. “We think it's very talented, but we're getting close to an inflection point where we're going to need to see some more sustained momentum, as we believe we're in a very competitive division, let alone league.”

Now that certainly is interesting. Wondering aloud, when would that inflection point be? Probably unknowable at this moment.

“We knew this was going to be a very competitive season, even if we were clicking on most cylinders,” Levine said. “The fact that we've gotten off to the start we have, where we haven't necessarily been blessed accordingly, we just have some more work to do here. There's only so much of a hole you can dig yourself.”

Let me cut back in here to say that 1) I don’t think you need to trade on May 25 to maximize the return value, so it’s OK to let this play out; and 2) I believe that if you’re a fan who would like to see the Twins sell off, you’ll be disappointed by returns unless the team gets really aggressive and trades some of its younger players. Anecdotally speaking, in recent years the highest returns come for impact postseason starting pitchers, ace relievers, and young players with multiple remaining years of contractual team control. 

Falvey was asked point blank: Are the Twins sellers?

“Right now, there aren’t many trades. ... We talk to other teams all the time. … By the time May roles around, and particularly late-May, you’re checking in with other teams to see what needs and other fits are,” Falvey said. 

“The truth of the matter is we’re not in a good position right now. Now, we have time. We have time with the talent we have, we think, to get on a run. But we certainly need to prepare ourselves in every possible direction. We wouldn’t be doing our jobs if we weren’t. Right now we continue to focus on what’s happening on the field with our guys, getting them to where they need to get to and not focusing on the conversation of selling, but we need to get our guys on a run here soon.”

Here’s the upshot: 

Dialogue is happening around the league and the Twins are party to that. The stance of the Twins front office is that the group still believes the club is good enough -- even after the disastrous start -- to overcome their place in the standings and compete for a spot in the postseason. But the clock is ticking. And at least the two tasked with speaking for the group, including the one who makes the final calls, haven’t avoided the topic of discussion. 

A few challenges are worth noting here.

With last year’s minor league season wiped out, I’d imagine that prospect evaluation may be tougher in general. Many minor leaguers did not compete last season. And those who did compete did so within the confines of a self-contained “alternate site,” where opposing scouts and evaluators would not be allowed. (Side note: Do you just have to take the other team’s word for it how those guys performed? Do you accept data offered to back up any of those claims? Is there any data made available?)

Another factor with no minor leagues last year, the early-season “rust” trend in the minors on the pitching and hitting sides seem to have had a dramatic impact on performance in the young minor league season. So, for example, if you see a hitter with a really high strikeout rate who makes loud contact when he connects … is he an all-or-nothing slugger at the next level or is he an all-around hitter who shows power and just needs to work off the rust when it comes to approach and pitch recognition? I don’t think it’s stretching to suggest that the difference could be multiple wins per year and tens of millions of dollars in on-field value. This is a made-up example, of course, to illustrate the broader point. There are a thousand questions like this in my mind when it comes to player evaluation and development in 2021.

The rate of injuries, both in the Majors and in the minor leagues, will no doubt affect the “supply” and demand. I know it’s gross to say it like that but it’s the simplest truth, from the perspective of an economist.

And lastly, there’s also room for all sorts of narratives about how Twins players might react to these type of quotes from the top baseball executives. Frustration? Motivation? Non-issue? It’s likely that individuals would respond differently, depending on their circumstances. Anyway, it will be fascinating to see how it plays out. I suppose the Baltimore- and KC-heavy portion of the schedule has come at a good time for Minnesota.

I also wonder: What’s the percent chance that the Twins are being talked about as buyers at this time next month?

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