MLBPipeline.com is breaking down how each of the postseason teams was built, looking at the composition of their projected Division Series rosters.
Taking over a team that finished last season with the worst record in baseball might sound similar to buying a foreclosed house. Both cases might be extreme fixer-uppers.
But when Derek Falvey and Thad Levine came to run the day-to-day operations of the Twins in the fall of 2016, they were pleased to find out the organization had, to borrow a real estate term, pretty good bones. There was a foundation there they felt they could build on.
"Not a day goes by where Derek and I aren't thankful for Terry Ryan, Deron Johnson, Mike Radcliff, Rob Antony and Vern Followell, the architects for what the Twins had been for quite some time," said Levine, the Twins' general manager. "We feel we've inserted some personnel, but by and large, the roster was in place before our arrival. If we've enhanced people's chances to succeed by a skosh, then we've contributed."
Levine is well aware that the Twins' return to the postseason for the first time since 2010 is unexpected to say the least. The last, and only, time a team that had the No. 1 pick in the Draft (courtesy of having baseball's worst record the previous year) and went to the postseason that same year was when the 2008 Rays made it to the World Series. The Twins are the only team ever to lose 100 games and reach the postseason the following season.
Add in the fact there was a change at the top of the organization and it seems even more unlikely. And this year, there are two teams like that, with the D-backs joining the Twins as surprising Wild Card participants.
"It's rare to have two potential playoff contenders with new regimes," Levine said. "For things to go wrong to warrant a change, then to go that right to earn a playoff berth is pretty rare."
The new regime obviously hasn't been able to add in any of its own homegrown talent to the big league roster yet, seeing that it just went through its first Draft and international signing period this year. But as Levine's tip of the cap to Ryan and company points out, this new group certainly leaned heavily on a core of players signed and developed in house.
It can be broken into two groups. There are the veterans, starting obviously with Mauer, the Twins' No. 1 pick in 2001 and the only player who was around when the team last went to the postseason. He and Dozier are two draftees who have provided the kind of leadership teams need to get to October.
Then there are the young kids, many of whom who have been asked to develop on the fly in the big leagues. The biggest example of that, of course, is Buxton, the No. 2 overall pick from the 2012 Draft. Initially rushed to the big leagues and slowed by injuries, things really started to click for the super-toolsy center fielder in the second half, with his .300/.347/.546 line after the All-Star break not coincidentally aligned with the Twins turning it on to reach the postseason.
"It's a blend of a very talented young group of players maturing simultaneously at the big league level," Levine said. "That's really given us a meaningful talent boost to our overall team. We did give a little more attention to interspersing players with really good character and veteran leadership, building off of guys like Mauer and Dozier."
Player, year, acquired from, bWAR (3.6):
+Ehire Adrianza, 2017, Brewers, 0.9 Alan Busenitz, 2016, Angels, 0.7 Eduardo Escobar, 2012, White Sox, 1.3 Adalberto Mejia, 2016, Giants, 0.8
*Ryan Pressly, 2012, Red Sox, -0.1
*Acquired via Rule 5 draft
+Acquired via waivers
At the Trade Deadline, the Twins did not look or operate like a postseason-bound team. Yes, they had acquired lefty Jaime Garcia from the Braves, but he was gone after just one start. They also traded away closer Brandon Kintzler following a stretch that saw the Indians and Royals play very well at the same time the Twins faded. It wasn't a full-on fire sale, but it certainly wasn't a push for October. The end result was a team dealing an All-Star away, only to make the postseason.
"We're trying to blaze a trail here," Levine joked. "The best we can do is to make decisions with information based on what we have on hand. Admittedly, when we acquired Jaime Garcia before the Deadline, we were looking at a shorter 2017 shorter lens. A week later, the landscape looked a little different.
"But as vital as Kintzler was to us in the first half, and I have the utmost respect for what he did, I don't think we view that trade as pulling the plug on the 2017 season. Part of what the industry didn't expect, and us too, was how well the back end of the bullpen would respond.
"It was eyebrow raising when we sold and it was eyebrow raising when we stayed in the race," Levine said.
Santana, signed as a free agent following the 2014 season, has also become part of that veteran core. Levine and Falvey knew they needed to add more, especially after consulting with manager Paul Molitor.
When the braintrust sat down with Molitor to discuss what happened between 2015, when the team was over .500, and 2016's 103-loss campaign, the Hall of Famer pointed to the retirement of Torii Hunter and the resulting void in leadership as a big contributing factor. Hunter was hired along with former Twins LaTroy Hawkins and Michael Cuddyer to assist. Each was given a list of veteran free agents, with the task to circle guys they thought had plus makeup and leadership qualities.
"Among the three of them, they had either played with or played with someone who played with most of the guys on the list," Levine said. "Matt Belisle and Chris Gimenez were both on multiple lists. We thought they could help the maturation process."
They were also committed to adding a steadying presence behind the plate. While they relied largely on recommendations for the other vets, the front office studied all the metrics they could find to hone in on Jason Castro.
"The pursuit and acquisition of Castro was a greater scientific endeavor," Levine said. "Castro has been referred to as a pitching coach on the field. We got him for leadership skills on the field, his impact on the pitching staff, and that he's regarded as one of the best framers in the game. We've been extremely pleased with what he's done behind the plate and that's exactly what we were investing in."