In 2016 the Minnesota Twins finished with a record of 59-103. It was the worst record in all of Major League Baseball. But the following year the Twins shocked many with an 85-77 season and an American League Wildcard playoff berth.
That 2017 Twins team of a year ago were led by a number of exciting young players such as 24-year-old third baseman Miguel Sano, 23-year-old center fielder Byron Buxton, 25-year-old left fielder Eddie Rosario, and 24-year-old right fielder Max Kepler.
On the mound the Twins received a major boost when 23-year-old rookie right-hander Jose Berrios entered their starting rotation in the middle of May. Another rookie, 24-year-old Adalberto Mejia, provided the club with 21 mostly solid starting outings.
There were key veteran contributions mixed in from players such as Brian Dozier (30), Ervin Santana (34), Kyle Gibson (29), closer Brandon Kintzler (32), Minnesota native and favored son Joe Mauer (34), and even 44-year-old pitcher Bartolo Colon.
Though AL Manager of the Year Paul Molitor‘s club went down to the powerful New York Yankees in the AL Wildcard Game, they had set the stage for what appeared to be a regular run of contending seasons.
And then the 2018 season got underway. Injuries and poor performances plagued key youngsters Sano and Buxton all year. A Gold Glover last season, Dozier slumped in his free agency year and was dealt to the Los Angeles Dodgers at the July trade deadline. Kepler didn’t necessarily regress, he just failed to step up.
The struggles throughout the lineup have produced a 66-78 season that can be considered nothing less than a disappointment.
In the 2017 season the Philadelphia Phillies went 66-96, the third-worst record in Major League Baseball. It marked a fifth consecutive losing campaign from the Phillies, and the club’s third last-place finish in the division in four years.
But then the 2018 season got underway and the club appeared improved. They jumped to a 16-9 start by April 27, and then to 29-20 by May 26. By the MLB All-Star Game break the Phillies were at 53-42 and had taken over first place in the NL East.
On July 26, a third straight win pushed them to what would be a season-high 2.5 game lead in the division. Continuing to fight through ups and downs as they tried to learn how to win, the Phillies reached their apex on August 5 when a fifth consecutive victory raised their record to 15 games over the .500 mark at 63-48.
Since August 17, when back-to-back wins left them still 14 games above .500, the Phillies have collapsed. In the past month the club has gone just 6-16, and losses in eight of their last 10 games have virtually eliminated them from the postseason conversation.
However, there is no denying that this is going to be considered a step forward season for the Phillies. They are going to finish 10 or more games better in the standings than a year ago. They will be at or near the .500 mark for the first time since 2012 and could have their first winning season since the record-setting 2011 club.
Though they won’t reach the postseason as the Twins did a year ago, they will in many ways have replicated Minnesota’s worst-to-first climb.
There will be some who look over their roster and see young players such as Rhys Hoskins, Scott Kingery, Nick Williams, Aaron Nola, and Maikel Franco and think many of the same thoughts as were hung on this year’s Twins prior to the season.
The lesson of the 2018 Twins for the 2019 Phillies should be one of failure to significantly improve the roster with additions from the outside, relying almost solely on perceived natural growth and improvement from young players already here.
In Minnesota, the resources are simply not as great as they are here in Philadelphia. Twins ownership and management did not have the financial wherewithal to go out and add impact talent.
Twins general manager Thad Levine certainly did try. He signed 41-year old closer Fernando Rodney to an affordable one-year deal last December. He got veteran starter Lance Lynn to ink a one-year deal in the middle of spring training. And Levine made a trade with Tampa Bay to bring in starting pitcher Jake Odorizzi.
Rodney and Lynn ended up being dealt to Oakland and the Yankees respectively after the Twins season fell apart. Phillies GM Matt Klentak cannot think that small when putting together his 2019 Phillies roster.
Yes, the Phillies will have taken a step back towards respectability and even contention this year. Yes, there is some young talent on hand that should continue to grow and improve.
But the Phillies are also one of the worst defensive teams in the game by any metric. They are just 11th of the 15 teams in the National League in both OPS and runs scored. As I outlined just yesterday, their back-end starting pitching has largely collapsed over this past month.
Klentak is going to need to find a way to land two proven, impact run-producers for his everyday lineup. He is going to also need to bring in at least one proven, impactful starting pitcher.
The Phillies GM will have plenty of his financial assets with which to work. With less than $70 million in contract commitments the club can afford to take on three big contracts if they so wish. Perhaps more if Klentak can find a way to unload some of the $20 million currently budgeted to be wasted on a 33-year old Carlos Santana.
Those big contracts could take the form of any number of free agents. Bryce Harper and Manny Machado are the two most frequently mentioned. They would actually be perfect fits at shortstop and in right field, joining Hoskins to form as formidable a 3-4-5 lineup combination as the game would offer for years to come.
The list of free agent starting pitchers could include Patrick Corbin, Dallas Keuchel, J.A. Happ, Matt Harvey, Gio Gonzalez, and more. At the right price for the right number of committed years, any of them could help the rotation.
With a controlling owner in John Middleton who is hungry to win, getting ownership to lay out that financing will not prove to be a problem. It will be squarely on Klentak this winter to make the right moves, convincing the right players to come to Philadelphia in order to ensure that next year’s Phillies do not resemble this year’s Twins.
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