Like most Twins fans, when I woke up on Saturday and found out that Miguel Sano needed Tommy John surgery and was going to be out for the year, I prepared to spend the rest of my weekend in a deep existential funk. As one of the top 10 prospects in baseball, the consensus number two prospect in the Minnesota system, and the prospect closest to debuting for the moribund franchise, a lot of hopes and dreams were pinned to Sano. Now, with Trevor Plouffe seemingly guaranteed to spend the full season at third base, it’s awfully hard to get excited about 2014.
After moping around all morning, however, I remembered Monty Python’s enduring lesson to always look on the bright side of your life, and began to wonder if the news isn’t so bad after all. The Twins have subjected their fans to three straight years with more than 95 losses, and with or without Sano, were likely headed to at least another 90 this year. While Sano loses a year of development time, he will be out far less time than a pitcher with the same injury. Carl Crawford, for instance, had Tommy John surgery in late August of 2012 and was in the Dodgers’ Opening Day lineup to start 2013. Sano will probably be recovered enough to play in the winter leagues again and will still only be 22 when the 2015 season starts.
This time off may also encourage the Twins to move conservatively with Sano when he does recover. Last year, eager for good publicity, the Twins talked themselves into breaking camp with Aaron Hicks as their center fielder, despite the youngster never playing above Double A. Hicks started 2-for-48 on the year, lost his job in June, and struggled with both his confidence and his performance upon his demotion to Rochester. Sano’s injury removes the possibility for a redux for at least a full year. Presumably, the club will want their slugger to get time in in the high minors before throwing him to the wolves at the major league level, especially after missing an entire year.
I think Sano’s injury also will encourage the Twins to move more conservatively with fellow prospects Byron Buxton, Alex Meyer and the currently suspended Eddie Rosario, potentially putting off their debuts until September at the earliest or even putting them all off to debut together in 2015. After all, what is there to play for this year? Way back in 1982, the Twins famously debuted Frank Viola, Kent Hrbek, Gary Gaetti, Tom Brunansky and Randy Bush alongside fellow rookie Tim Laudner, which Twins fans will recognize as most of the core of the club that won the 1987 World Series. While that’s more than 30 year ago, it also provides a blueprint for how bringing several prospects along at once can ease that transition for the players involved and build strong bonds in the clubhouse. There’s no evidence that that positive chemistry will help a club win more, but it’s preferable to the alternative, especially as that core tries to decide whether to sign Braves-like long-term extensions.
Finally, and most importantly, Sano’s injury presumably delays his potential free agency by at least another season, giving the Twins more time to lay the foundation for the next great run for the club. Indeed, while Sano sits in stasis, the Twins will have Kohl Stewart, Jose Berrios, Lewis Thorpe, Max Kepler, Jorge Polanco and others another year closer to being able to contribute, and will have another year to build up the stable of pitching at the major league level. They may actually come out of Sano’s injury without harming their chances to compete from 2015-2017, while significantly strengthening their ability to compete for the next three to four seasons beyond that.
It’s entirely possible that I’m completely rationalizing some pretty disappointing news. Obviously, it would be better for everyone had Sano not gotten hurt, or had had surgery in November when his elbow troubles cropped up. But what can you do? Even the great Dr. James Andrews recommended rest and rehabilitation for Sano at that point, and suggesting otherwise is Monday morning quarterbacking of the highest order. So I’m encouraged to accept this fate and look on the bright side. 2014 was going to suck anyway for Twins fans, but maybe 2021 will be better because of it. And, hey! Most of us will still be alive then.