Smeltzer and Duran Are A Reminder That the Twins Occasionally Have To Be Ruthless – Zone Coverage

Imagine being Devin Smeltzer. You throw five innings of one-run ball against the Cleveland Guardians and Kansas City Royals, only to have the Minnesota Twins send you down to Triple-A after both starts. Then, you spin seven scoreless innings against the Royals in your third start and lobby to stay in, only to be told your night is over. You spend 60 days on the IL with elbow inflammation, recover from a herniated disk in your neck, and end up shuttled between Minneapolis and St. Paul.
Such is life for a player on a team with a fluid roster.
COVID still lurks. Byron Buxton, Alex Kirilloff, and Chris Paddack are among many players who have suffered injuries. Jhoan Durán has emerged as an electric reliever, but the Twins are constantly searching for the right mix of bullpen arms around him. They’re winning, but they’ve had to scramble daily to do so.
The executives at 1 Twins Way aren’t hard-bitten, old-school suits. Derek Falvey is upbeat and chummy. Thad Levine is calculated and charismatic. Rocco Baldelli is a Phish-loving soccer fan who cares about player wellness. Together, Minnesota’s seamhead triumvirate emphasizes chemistry, culture, and health. Falvey and Levine hardly carry themselves as C-Suite authoritarians. Rocco isn’t ripping heaters while criticizing his players after tough losses.
Still, there are times when Falvey and Levine will upset the masses to improve the team. They should hold onto stars like Royce Lewis and Buxton, but they also need to be one step ahead of aging stars and popular utility players. You had to love Brian Dozier and Eduardo Escobar unless you have a heart that’s two sizes too small. Therefore, it couldn’t have been fun for Falvey and Levine to deal two popular players. Trading them was also an admission that things hadn’t quite gone to plan.
Falvey and Levine took over after the 103-loss “total system failure” season in 2016. The Twins won 85 games in 2017 and lost to the New York Yankees in the AL Wild Card game. It was only Minnesota’s second winning season since 2010 and the first time they had qualified for the postseason in any capacity since the first season at Target Field. Paul Molitor won Manager of the Year, and Falvey and Levine looked like they had things on the right track.
A 78-84 season in 2018 was a reality check. The Twins traded Escobar and Dozier that July and fired Molitor in October. They traded Escobar first, receiving Durán in a package from the Arizona Diamondbacks on July 27. Then they sent Dozier to the Los Angeles Dodgers four days later and received Smeltzer, Logan Forsythe, and Luke Raley. Minnesota is benefitting from those trades four years later, but they still stung a little at the moment.
The Twins traded Francisco Liriano for Escobar and Pedro Hernandez in 2012. Hernandez made 12 mostly forgettable starts in 2013, but Escobar became one of the most beloved players in the locker room for seven years. Known as “La Caballo,” he was a fun-loving utility player who kept the clubhouse light during the lean years.
The Twins traded Escobar when he was 29, meaning he was still in the prime of his career. But he was in the last year of his contract, and there was no guarantee he would re-sign. As beloved as he was, Minnesota would make that trade again. The two other players they received from Arizona, Ernie De La Trinidad and Gabriel Maciel, are no longer in the organization. But Durán has closer stuff and the Twins fast-tracked him into a high-leverage role this year. He’s become an anchor in a bullpen that lost Taylor Rogers before the season and one of the only pitchers in team history who can regularly throw 100 mph.
The Dozier trade was easier to process. He was a more popular player among fans, especially after hitting 42 home runs in 2016. A Rubik’s cube-twistin’, country-music singin’ renaissance man from Elvis’ hometown, Dozier immediately endeared himself to the fans.
He also was a late-bloomer. The Twins took him as a senior out of Southern Miss in the eighth round of the 2009 draft. Dozier didn’t reach the majors until 2012, and they moved him from shortstop to second base in 2013. But he became an All-Star in 2015, hit 42 homers in 2016, and hit .271/.359/.498 with 34 bombs in 2017.
However, he didn’t become a free agent until after 2018, his age-31 season, and the Twins traded him to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the final year of his contract. The Dodgers reached the World Series that year, but Dozier struggled, hitting .182/.300/.350 in 47 games. He won the World Series with the Washington Nationals the following year but only played seven games for the New York Mets in 2020 and retired.
After recovering from his neck injury, Smeltzer owns a 1.04 ERA in three starts this year. He has a career 3.62 ERA (120 ERA+) with the Twins, a valuable fill-in for a rotation that needs one. He may not become an ace, but Minnesota got fair value in the Dozier trade. Logan Forsythe may have only played 50 games with the Twins, and Raley is back with the Dodgers, but Smeltzer could be a mid-rotation starter this year.
Chemistry, culture, and patience are all essential values for front offices and managers in baseball. But there are times when the Twins will have to be ruthless. It’s something to remember with the Rogers trade, which looks worse now that Paddack is injured. But it’s also worth considering once Falvey and Levine trim around the edges of the roster to maintain a pipeline of prospects.
They may end up trading players like Jose Miranda, Nick Gordon, or Max Kepler – guys who have had success with the Twins or in their system. It’s normal to become attached to players, especially when they’re associated with the Bomba Squad or look like promising prospects. But to keep waves of young players crashing into the majors, the lifeblood of any successful team, they will have to make painful decisions along the way.
As the baseball world rounds third, heading into their beloved College World Series, it’s easy to look back at this time four years ago with fond memories. […]
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