Monday, March 18, 2019

Cron vs. Austin

A debate of sorts broke out Sunday night on LaVelle Neal's Twitter feed, with respondents demanding that the beat writer justify the Twins' intent to have C.J. Cron at first base over Tyler Austin.

Part of this is small sample size theater. Austin, in 41 exhibition plate appearances, has hit three homes and hit. 390. (He also has zero walks). Cron hasn't been bad -- two homers and .367 in 34 PA -- but the Twitter yellers say Austin is outperforming Cron. There's no room on the bench for a 1B-only bat, and Austin is out of options.

It feels weird to say this, as my immediate reaction to Cron's addition was What does he give the Twins that Austin doesn't? But the reality is, spring training has not given the Twins a legitimate reason to change plans at first base.

Point one: Seventy-five plate appearances don't mean a while lot at any time. Seventy-five plate appearances are particularly shy of meaningful in March.

Point two: Even if they are indicative of current level of ability, Cron has the higher OPS -- on-base plus slugging -- against a slightly higher level of competition as Baseball Reference measures it.

Point three: For whatever reason, the Twins decided during the offseason that they are better off with Cron. Maybe it's because new manager Rocco Baldelli knows Cron from last year with the Rays. Maybe it's because Austin has a history of nagging injuries. Maybe it's because they see Cron as having a higher floor. Whatever the rationale, they made a measured, non-impulsive decision during the winter to add Cron. They aren't going to change course on a March whim.

The Twins have, for now, an embarrassment of riches in right-handed first base-only sluggers. That suggests a trade, but the market on such players has not been generous. Unless there's a team that really wants C.J. Cron, he's going to be the first baseman in Minnesota, at least when Marwin Gonzalez is playing some other position.

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