AL Notes: Twins, McCullers, Rays, Zunino, Orioles

Center fielder Byron Buxton and third baseman Miguel Sano were among the Twins’ best performers during their 2017 playoff season, but both players took massive steps backward during the team’s disappointing 2018 campaign. Now, the down seasons the pair endured are affecting the Twins’ offseason plans, Dan Hayes of The Athletic explains (subscription required). Had those two remained strong contributors last season, Minnesota would’ve been more willing to go “full speed ahead” this winter in an attempt to catch the AL Central rival Indians, Hayes writes. Instead, the Twins’ primary focus right now is to help those two bounce back in 2019. If Buxton and Sano do rebound, Twins ownership would give the team’s front office “the green light to take more of an aggressive step forward with this unit of players,” general manager Thad Levine said, adding he and chief baseball officer Derek Falvey “would feel much more emboldened to take that step forward.”

Here’s more from the American League:

  • Even though the Astros’ Lance McCullers Jr. pitched in September and October, the right-hander tells Jake Kaplan of The Athletic (subscription required) that he was aware by then that he needed Tommy John surgery. McCullers revealed that he received the news when he met with surgeon Dr. Neal ElAttrache on Aug. 30, but the 25-year-old – with the blessing of ElAttrache and the Astros – put the procedure on hold until the offseason. While pitching through a partially torn UCL was “painful,” McCullers wasn’t going to make the injury worse by doing it, and he knew he’d miss 2019 no matter what. McCullers ended up going under the knife this past Tuesday, and is aiming for a spring 2020 return. Kaplan’s full piece is worth checking out for more from McCullers.
  • Catcher Mike Zunino, whom the Rays acquired from the Mariners on Thursday, looks like a solid addition from an on-field standpoint. The Rays also place a great deal of value on Zunino as a person, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times writes, noting he should help fill the veteran leadership void left by free agents Sergio Romo and Carlos Gomez. Indeed, GM Erik Neander said that “[Zunino’s] somebody that we see that could take a leadership role with our group.’’ In terms of what Zunino provides as a defender, Neander offered a rave review, pointing to “how he navigates a staff, how he manages people, what kind of teammate he is, the care factor, the confidence that he is putting down the right fingers.”
  • Unsurprisingly, the Orioles won’t be big players in free agency, Roch Kubatko of hears. However, Kubatko relays that they will prioritize adding infielders, likely on short-term deals. Assuming the rebuilding Orioles don’t contend in 2019, they could then try to trade those additions over the summer, Kubatko notes. Of the infield options currently on Baltimore’s 40-man roster (Chris Davis, Tim Beckham, Jonathan Villar, Renato Nunez, Breyvic Valera, Steve Wilkerson and Engelb Vielma), only Villar and Nunez offered passable major league production last season.

from MLB Trade Rumors

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