It’s increasingly likely that Josh Willingham has already taken his final at-bat for the Twins this year.
Willingham is currently shut down due to a sprained ligament in his left shoulder suffered when he slammed into the left field fence Monday while trying to catch a home run. John Shipley of the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports that he still felt a “pinch” in his shoulder while trying swing a bat earlier today. With that in mind, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire told Joe Christensen of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune that Willingham could miss the final six games of the season.
“We’re going to be very careful about this,” Gardenhire said. “I have to go by what he says, and right now he can’t play. And I don’t plan on putting him out there until he can do it. If anybody could play, he would play, but he doesn’t feel it right now.”
The Twins are out of the race, so there’s little reason to risk putting him back out there if he’s not 100 percent. Best to just start his offseason early.
Willingham is currently enjoying the best season of his career, batting .260/.366/.524 with 35 home runs, 110 RBI and an .890 OPS in 145 games played. The 33-year-old is owed $7 million in each of the next two seasons.
To the surprise of, well, very few, the Mariners didn’t make the cut for the postseason this year. While they threw their hats in the ring for a wild card berth, their pitching staff just couldn’t stay healthy, from the handful of pitchers who contracted season-ending injuries in spring training to Felix Hernandez‘s shoulder bursitis to structural damage in Hisashi Iwakuma‘s right shoulder. Left-hander James Paxton missed 79 days with a lingering head cold, strained left forearm and pectoral strain. Heading into the 2018 season, the lefty told MLB.com’s Greg Johns that he plans to “nerd out big-time” in order to prepare for a healthy, consistent run with the club.
So far, Johns reports, that entails a new diet and workout program, hot yoga sessions and blood testing. “I just think there’s more I can do,” Paxton said. “I haven’t done the blood testing before. Finding out if there’s something I don’t know about myself. It’s just about learning and trying to find what works for me.”
When healthy, the 28-year-old southpaw was lights-out for the Mariners. He helped stabilize the front end of the rotation with a 12-5 record in 24 starts and supplemented his efforts with a 2.98 ERA, 2.4 BB/9 and 10.3 SO/9 through 136 innings. Despite taking multiple trips to the disabled list, he built up 4.6 fWAR — the most wins above replacement he’s compiled in any season of his career to date. Had he not been felled by a pectoral injury in mid-August — one that came with a five-week trip to the disabled list — the club might have been been able to make a bigger push for the playoffs.
Of course, even if Paxton manages to stay healthy next season, the Mariners still have the rest of the rotation to worry about. They cycled through 17 starters in 2017 and tied the 2014 Rangers with 40 total pitchers over the course of the season. Per GM Jerry Dipoto, their top four starters (Paxton, Hernandez, Iwakuma, and Tommy John candidate Drew Smyly) only contributed 17% of total innings pitched, just a tad below the 40% average. Finding adequate big league arms and compensating for injured aces (both current and former) will be tough. Still, getting a healthy, dominant Paxton back on the mound for 30+ starts would be a huge get for the team — whether or not the postseason is in their future next year.