MINNEAPOLIS -- Kohl Stewart’s latest stay with the Minnesota Twins was brief. At two days, though, it was twice as long as each of his first two stints with the team this season.
The right-hander was called up Thursday, June 20. That night, he was on the mound throwing four scoreless innings against the Royals at Kauffman Stadium. A night later, he was getting the news: The Twins, for the third time this year, were sending him back to Triple-A Rochester.
Sean Poppen was in the same situation last week. He received the news he had been waiting for his entire career — he was headed to the majors — but his stay was short. After making his debut Wednesday and pitching four innings to help preserve the Twins’ bullpen, he was headed back to the minors.
And earlier this month, a bullpen spot turned from Ryan Eades to Fernando Romero to Zack Littell in a matter of days as the Twins needed fresh arms.
Shuttling optionable players between Triple-A and the majors is common. It happens on every team, but it creates challenges. Players don’t know where they’ll playing — or living — from week to week.
Players with options can go back and forth between the majors and minors without being subjected to waivers. Players who are out of options must clear waivers before being sent back to the minors, meaning the organization could lose them.
“Guys 100 percent look to performance as to being the only reason why they will be here in the big leagues or not be here in the big leagues, when sometimes there are other things that you have to factor in, like the question of do you have options?” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “And guys understand this, and we will sometimes even talk to guys about the realities of the situation.
“I think it’s something that a lot of guys in baseball deal with on a daily basis, and … it makes things tough for them. We totally understand that as staff members, and I sympathize with those guys.”
Perhaps nobody in the Twins organization has felt the ups and downs lately as much as Tyler Duffey, who has been dealing with them since 2015, when he was first called up.
Duffey’s contract was selected by the Twins on Aug. 3, 2015. By Aug. 7, he was headed back to Rochester. A week later, he was back to the majors.
“For someone being called up for the first time, you don’t know what to do in that moment. You don’t get an apartment,” Duffey said. “That’s the last thing you do, especially if it’s your first time getting called up. You’re making more money than you’ve made in a year in a week, and you’ve got to figure out what you’re going to do. ‘OK, now do I get an apartment?’ And then you get optioned and have to pay for that, and it’s very difficult.”
This continued for Duffey throughout the 2016 season. In 2017, he earned some stability, staying with the Twins the whole season.
The next year, Duffey was up and down, recalled four times. This season, he began the year in Rochester, was called up April 16 and sent back down on April 24. He was summoned again May 11, sent down the next day and recalled May 13.
“It’s just a never-ending cycle and as soon as you get settled in somewhere, you’re going to move,” Duffey said. “It’s just the way it goes. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten into an apartment and then left it the next day. That happened in Double-A and Triple-A multiple times.”
Duffey perhaps can rest a bit more comfortably now, having posted a 1.99 earned-run average in 18 games with the Twins this season. Still, he has two apartments: one in Rochester and one in Minnesota.
Last year, he tried to ride it out in a hotel and rent a car in Rochester. He spent enough time in Triple-A that the move wound up costing him more money than a lease would have.
“There’s so many things behind that that a lot of people don’t see and understand and it is tough at times and it definitely will test you, but it’s part of the baseball life and you’ve just got to hope you have somebody with you that can handle it and my wife, she’s one of those people,” Duffey said. “We’ve made it work. She helps me out a ton handling all the stuff away from here … taking care of mail, getting keys to people, God knows what else. It’s not easy.”
Many recently called-up players don’t get a lease, instead opting to stay in a hotel in the likely case they’ll be on the move again soon. As part of the collective bargaining agreement, teams pay for hotel arrangements and meal money for the first seven days while at home.
Often, though, teams aren’t home for seven consecutive days once a player has been called up. Take Luis Arraez, for example. Arraez was recalled on June 18, which was his first night at the hotel. The Twins left town for Kansas City the next night.
They are now back home for four nights, and team travel director Mike Herman is responsible for making sure Arraez is booked for four nights in the hotel. Then the team leaves for a two-city road trip. If Arraez is still with the Twins after that, he would be entitled to two more nights in the Minneapolis hotel in early July when the team returns.
“Most guys who get called up, they’re going to take the seven nights in the hotel and then we go on the road so they’re not going to find an apartment for when we’re on the road and then when we get back home, they might just rather stay in the hotel because it’s close to Target Field,” Herman said. “They don’t have a car yet because their car hasn’t been shipped from Rochester, so a lot of guys just want to stay at the hotel (and) if they know they might not be up there for the rest of the year, then they’re not going to get an apartment.”
Throw a family into the mix, and it gets more difficult, as players might need more space. The whole situation, said both Stewart and Duffey, is often more difficult on their wives than them. Players, after all, expect to be traveling whether they’re in Triple-A or the majors.
“Going into it, you know kind of what to expect. I would say it’s kind of harder on families, having a wife, having a baby on the way, making sure that she’s taken care of,” Stewart said shortly before he was sent back to Rochester. “It’s important to kind of have some sort of a home base at least, so we have that back in Houston so if this becomes too much … she can kind of go back home and be stable there, but it just comes with the territory.”
Outfielder Jake Cave has a girlfriend and young daughter. When it looks like he might be somewhere for an extended period of time — be it Rochester or Minnesota — they come to stay with him. Right now, he said, they’re in Pennsylvania with his girlfriend’s family.
Cave, who started the season with the Twins, has an apartment in Minneapolis and stays at a hotel when he’s in Rochester. When he was sent down this year, he packed up his apartment in case somebody else moved in. He put almost everything from the apartment into his truck, which stayed in Minnesota, and took the rest with him in a big suitcase.
For the time he was in Triple-A, he lived out of his one suitcase.
“It’s just a stressful situation, but whatever, I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else,” Cave said.