Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Good-bye (presumably), Cron and Hildenberger

The Twins "celebrated" the contact-tender deadline by turning first baseman C.J. Cron and reliever Trevor Hildenberger into free agents.

That the Twins declined to offer either a 2020 contract is perhaps mildly surprising, although there was plenty of speculation that Cron might be non-tendered. Hildenberger, not so much; the sidewinder isn't, or wasn't, even arbitration eligible. The Twins apparently put a higher value on the spot on the 40-man roster he was occupying than on Hildenberger himself.

I doubt very much that the old regime would have non-tendered these two, but teams are much more aggressive this year about non-tendering controllable players than even last winter.

Passan implicitly sees this as a logical development. I am inclined to view it as evidence that the arbitration system is now as broken as free agency appears to be. Arbitration is supposed to give established players who don't qualify for free agency some leverage. While teams frequently chafed at the large raises the system funneled to arbitration-eligible players, those salaries were generally still seen as lower than they would get on the open market. Non-tenders at this scale suggests that teams don't expect free agents in their upper 20s to be treated any more kindly in free agency than 30-somethings.

That said, there are individual factors in play with both Cron and Hildenberger. Cron is coming off thumb surgery; the public certainly doesn't know his physical status, and it's quite likely the Twins and Cron himself don't know yet how much the procedure will cure his problems. Cron certainly, and understandably, didn't hit much in the second half of 2019. And as a right-right first baseman, he's got to hit.

Cron was a better defensive first baseman than I expected but a step down from Joe Mauer with the glove. And, as I've noted before, right-handed power doesn't seem to draw the interest of current front offices. (Cron himself the last three winters has been traded for a minor leaguer, waived and now non-tendered.) The Twins certainly weren't viewing him as a long-term fixture at first base, but I don't know that  there is a clear front runner among the minor-leaguers who might be that someday -- Alex Kiriloff, Brent Rooker, Luke Raley. 

It may be that the Twins will fill the position out of free agency. It may be that Plan A is to fill first base early with a combo platter of the guys who played there in Cron's absence last year -- Marwin Gonzalez, Ehire Adrianaza (who was tendered a contract), Willians Astudillo, Miguel Sano -- and see if one of the young guys bashes the door down. I like that second route more, but I expect to see a veteran brought in,

Hildenberger has had stretches of utter dominance, and stretches of utter futility. He could re-sign as a minor league free agent, but I suspect his struggles last September after a strong finish at Triple A have put him too far behind other bullpen arms in the Twins arsenal. 

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