In targeting Free Agents to bring into the Minnesota Twins, I think we have to look at our history and figure out how we can get out of the first round of postseason play.
When we look at players with success in the postseason, I think its hard to not look past Nelson Cruz and find a way to bring him back? He has a strong work ethic, he has been around the league, he can continue to mentor players like Miguel Sano, and most importantly he can hit in those clutch spots which seems like such a unique thing for a guy in a Twins uniform in my lifetime!
However, the case for not bringing him back would be that he locks up the DH spot. And that is a spot that that could be super valuable for crop of young talent who are coming up as well as players just coming back from injured reserve who need to see some big league pitching. So for that reason... I understand why we wouldn't want to bring him back (even for his locker room presence).
But a name that has been coming up and a player that could fill this void for the Minnesota Twins with position flexibility to boot... is Kyle Schwarber.
One of my favorite writers for everything baseball is Tom Verducci, and in his book The Cubs Way, he talks about why Theo Epstein pursued him and why Joe Maddon gave no hesitation in inserting him into the Game 1 World Series Lineup IMMEDIATELY after coming back from a blown out knee that sidelined the 23-year-old for six months (not having scene a pitch since April 7).
In leading up the 2014 draft, Theo Epstein called his scouts off the road because they were drafting Kyle Schwarber. "I don't care who pitches for us, we're going to let him play leftfield for a decade and put up Big Papi numbers." (Verducci 62)
And at that time the stats were there! He hit an Indiana University record of 18 HR with a .366 AVG. And then from a makeup standpoint, Theo loved him. When he finally got to meet him, he was direct in saying: "Hey, some guys even out here in our own organization don't think you can catch."
Schwarber's response: "Well I look forward to proving those F***in' people people wrong" (Verducci 63).
And for a young player to come out and say that to the guy whose thinking about hiring him, says as much about his drive as it does about his confidence. And to me he has kind of Herb Brooks edge to him which we can use a lot more of!
And the Twins front office felt that we needed a similar type of edge when they pursued Josh Donaldson this last offseason.
In the 2020 Sports Illustrated Baseball Preview (Volume 131 - No. 3), Stephanie Apstein wrote a great piece on why the Twins pursued this Minnesota Nice Counter Culture that was Josh Donaldson.
In an interview with LaTroy Hawkins, he was quoted saying "[Donaldson] has no problem calling guys out - Hey, you need to be better,' And he doesn't just say that after a guy goes 0-4. He'll say that after [he goes] 3 - 4" (pg 32.).
We saw glimpses of that competitive edge with him in 2020, and I am excited to see more of that fire in 2021.
I want to double down on that competitive fire that we got with Donaldson and get Kyle Schwarber. The Twins have a unique opportunity to create new culture that has a fire and an edge that has that second gear in the postseason, and with guys like Kirilloff, Lewis, and Larnach on deck in our minor league system... the time to build that culture is now!
Now to return to the story of Joe Maddon starting Kyle Schwarber after missing 201 days of competitive baseball... how the story ended?
He finished that World Series with a .412 AVG and a .971 OPS against the 2016 Cleveland Pitching Staff. And throughout his entire postseason career, he's batted .288 AVG with a .981 OPS.
That is the player the Twins are missing in the Postseason and that is who I want our young guys to be around.
- Joey Almars