Monday, October 24, 2016

Following The Cubs' Blueprint

Photo Credit: Jon Durr, USA Today Sports
Only two short seasons the Cubs were in the midst of five straight seasons of 87 losses or more. This included a 101-loss season in 2012. Flash-forward to the present day and the Cubs have been rebuilt and are four wins away from their first World Series title in over 100 years.

Minnesota is in a similar spot to the Chicago teams from 2010-14. Can the Twins mount a similar turnaround in the years to come? How can Derek Falvey, the Twins new chief of baseball operations, follow the Chicago blueprint?

Find Pitching
One simple message is plastered across the conference room wall for Chicago's baseball operations staff... "FIND PITCHING." Three-fifths of the Cubs rotation was signed as free agents. NLCS co-MVP Jon Lester signed a six-year, $155 million in December 2014. Jason Hammel signed a two-year deal ($32 million)in the same off-season as Lester and John Lackey joined the rotation this past off-season.

Two of Chicago's best starting pitchers joined the team in very favorable trades. Jake Arrieta, the 2015 NL Cy Young winner, was acquired for catcher Steve Clevenger and right-handed pitcher Scott Feldman. Kyle Hendricks, the hero of the NLCS clinching game, came to Chicago for right-handed pitcher Ryan Dempster. A change of scenery and new coaches helped both of these pitchers develop into front of the rotation arms.

Minnesota's recent search for pitching has left plenty to desire. Ricky Nolasco signed a four-year, $49 million deal before the 2014 season. During his three years in Minnesota, he posted a 5.44 ERA and a 1.47 WHIP while being worth a -0.3 WAR. Phil Hughes looked great in his first season in Minnesota so the Twins signed him to a long-term deal. He struggled in 2015 before missing most of 2016 with an injury. Ervin Santana, another free-agent signing, was the team's best pitcher this season but there weren't many options.

Falvey and the team he assembles are going to have a mission and that mission will be to find pitching.

Youth Movement
When a team is playing poorly, it's easy to say let the young prospects play. This isn't always the best strategy as there are plenty of ups-and-downs and sometimes patience can be the key. The Cubs have a young core including Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, and Javier Baez. Some patience has been required along the way.

Baez, the NLCS co-MVP, spent most of 2014 and 2015 going back and forth between the minor leagues and the big league roster. Bryant lead the National League in strikeouts a year ago and he will likely win the 2016 NL MVP award. Russell has yet to hit over .242 in a season but raised his OPS from .696 last year to .738 this season. Patience seems to have paid off.

Epstein has even referenced Kansas City's approach with young players to build a World Series roster. Players like Alex Gordon, Mike Moustakas, and Eric Hosmer took years to develop into solid everyday players. "You experience a lot of valleys along the way, whether it's being demoted or having a difficult month or year," Epstein told Sporting News. "In the end, they were rewarded for their patience."

Minnesota will need to follow a similar strategy with their young core. Miguel Sano finished third in the 2015 AL Rookie of the Year voting before struggling through parts of 2016. Byron Buxton has been demoted multiple times before a strong final month of the season. Jose Berrios has dominated Triple-A but his MLB starts have been disappointing.

Twins fans have waited for this young core to show promising signs. However, fans will need to continue to show patience.

Managerial Switch
When the Twins let Terry Ryan go, ownership made it clear that Paul Molitor would be the Twins manager entering the 2017 season. Molitor surprised many during his rookie managerial season by leading the Twins to the cusp of the playoffs. This ended a streak of four straight 90 loss seasons. Things got worse in 2016 as the Twins lost a team record 103 games which was the worst record in baseball.

Since Epstein joined the Cubs in 2011, Chicago has employed three different managers. Dale Sveum averaged over 98 losses per season. Rick Renteria posted a more respectable 73-89 record but he was only given one season to turn the team around. Joe Maddon, considered by many to be one of baseball's best managers, took the reigns last season. In both seasons, he's had the Cubs in the NLCS with an average of 100 wins per season.

Molitor might be the right man for the job but Falvey could want his own man at the helm. Even if Molitor survives the coming season, it's hard to know what the future will hold. Changing managers worked in Chicago but Maddon isn't going to come knocking in Minnesota.

This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the blueprint for changing things in Minnesota. Epstein has worked his magic with multiple organizations and his ideas have spread throughout baseball. What do the Twins need to do? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

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