Monday, November 02, 2009

For Twins, Doing Nothing is a Great Option

Over at www.TwinsCentric.com a group of bloggers has created a handbook for amateur GM's to use in their hot stove league discussions. They also have a contest for people to put together a roster to start next season. The blogs are alive with the argument that the Twins have to DO SOMETHING in order to be competitive next year. 

"Doing nothing" is never really an option in the off-season because there are players' contracts to negotiate, options to be picked up, free agents to re-sign and other decisions to make. But the SOMETHING demanded by bloggers and fans is usually a trade, free agent signing or other action that will result in significant changes to the Twins roster for next year. But this year, just avoiding significant  changes would leave the Twins a very strong contender. The Twins roster at the end of the season was very solid, as they demonstrated with their winning streak even with several key players injured. It is hard to see how they improve on that roster if all their injured players are healthy.

Of course just "standing pat" is going to require some activity. Pavano, Cabrera and Crede are all free agents and probably hoping to get a multi-year contract from someone. With a solid core of young players, I don't think the Twins should hand out a lot of multi-year contracts to players in the downside of their career. But the Twins ought to do their best to sign any, or all, of that trio for the 2010 season.

With those three signed you have, a bevy of potential starters competing for one or two open spots in the rotation with others filling out an already deep bullpen. In the infield, you have several players competing for time at second base and providing depth for the inevitable injuries elsewhere. And the outfield returns with the same mixture as last year. In short, you have a team that is much stronger than the team that is starting the year much stronger than the team that won the division last year.

The Twins off-season ought to be focused on keeping what they have,  including getting a long term deal done with Joe Mauer.

17 comments:

Nick N. said...

Saying "the team was good at the end of the year" and becoming complacent is a recipe for disaster, as illustrated by the 2007 season.

Smith needs to be proactive and realize that the team's impressive late-season run was fueled by strong performances from guys like Matt Tolbert, Nick Punto, Brian Duensing and Delmon Young -- performances that shouldn't necessarily be expected again in 2010. I also have a hard time believing that the entire core of the Twins' lineup (Mauer/Morneau/Cuddyer/Kubel/Span) are all going to repeat what they did this year, meaning that the Twins will need more production from other spots in the order if they want to achieve similar offensive success overall.

Letting the team's strong finish distract him from addressing holes that relegated this team to complete mediocrity for the majority of the season would be a big mistake for Bill Smith.

Jack Steal said...

I completely agree with Nick Nelson's analysis and urged GM Bill Smith to take action this winter at my blog fanaticjacktalkstwins.blogspot.com.

TT said...

Nick -

There were more than a few changes in the Twins from 2006-2007. To begin with, Radke retired and Francisco Liriano ws injured and didn't pitch at all. To replace them, the Twins added Sidney Ponson and Ramon Ortiz to the pitching rotation. Those changes, not complacency, lead to a team that was still only 4.5 games out of first in mid-August and over .500 in early September. I don't think the September swoon in 2007 can be blamed on hot stove league complacency.

As for players repeating their performances, I doubt they will. Some will be worse and others better. The same is true of any players that are added. The trick is knowing which ones and I don't see a crystal ball that tells us that.

Since the Twins were one of the younger teams in baseball last year, the normal progression would be more improvement than decline. Still the Twins were 22-11 after September 1st, I doubt anyone expects them to do that over the entire year.

Nick N. said...

You can point to changes in the pitching staff all you want, but the fact is that a major offensive decline -- from 4.94 R/G and a 101 OPS+ in to 4.43 R/G and a 93 OPS+ -- is most largely responsible for the Twins' drop-off from 2006 to 2007. Even with the losses of Liriano and Radke and with the cruddy veteran output early in the year, the Twins still ranked fourth in the AL in ERA during the 2007 season.

Why did they drop off so dramatically from '06 to '07? Mauer, Morneau and Cuddyer all failed to reproduce their career-best campaigns. Punto went from adequate to dismal. Bartlett followed up a great season with a rough one. The team had no depth.

These things happen from year to year and are tough to predict, as you point out. But it's the general manager's job to show foresight by filling holes and adding depth up and down the roster, so the team isn't completely sunk in the event that their catcher can't pull off another historic campaign or their DH has his knees act up again.

TT said...

"You can point to changes in the pitching staff all you want, but the fact is that a major offensive decline.."

So its not that the Twins did nothing after the 2006 season. Its that, in retrospect, they didn't do the right things?

Maybe they should have known that their young catcher was not going to hit as well and gone out replaced Mauer? Morneau? Cuddyer? Kubel? Castillo? Bartlett? Hunter? Punto? - ding ding ding!

There was exactly one position player who might have been a candidate to be replaced and he was a slick fielder who had just hit .290 with a .352 OBP.

"it's the general manager's job to show foresight by filling holes and adding depth up and down the roster, so the team isn't completely sunk"

No, it isn't. In fact it would be stupid for a General Manager to try to turn a team where every player is having an off-year into a champion.

In any case, that is irrelevant to the Twins this year. Because this Twins team does have depth. That's why they had numerous injuries and still made the playoffs. Mauer and Morneau both missed a month of the season. If you spend to much time staring at stats you can forget that..

Nick N. said...

There was exactly one position player who might have been a candidate to be replaced and he was a slick fielder who had just hit .290 with a .352 OBP.

You're right. Surely there was no reason to think Rondell White would be anything less than stellar. And Lew Ford was coming off such a tremendous campaign in 2006, there was of course no reason to think he'd be a liability over 160 plate appearances. And, in the event that a corner outfielder got injured, you can't beat Jason Tyner as a fallback option! Heck, the guy was a DH in the '06 playoffs!

In any case, that is irrelevant to the Twins this year. Because this Twins team does have depth. That's why they had numerous injuries and still made the playoffs. Mauer and Morneau both missed a month of the season. If you spend to much time staring at stats you can forget that..

Look, I'm as proud as anyone of what the Twins accomplished this year, but let's get real: they won 87 games, came out on top of a bad division and got swept out of the playoffs. And that's with an MVP player who had one of the greatest seasons of all time, as well as completely healthy career years from Cuddyer, Kubel and Span.

If all those things happen again, sure they can probably make the playoffs with a 569 OPS from the 2B position and a 683 OPS from the SS position. But it's not all that costly to upgrade those spots, and I'd sure feel a lot more comfortable with adequate production from the MI and fewer glaring holes in the lineup, just in the event that one of those core guys gets hurt or drops off (not unlikely, I'm sorry to say). I'd particularly feel more comfortable taking a complete lineup into the playoffs, where the Twins have gone 0-6 while averaging 2.2 runs per game in their last two appearances.

TT said...

No doubt about it. The Twins offensive failures in 2007 were caused by the 250 combined plate appearances by Rondell White and Lew Ford.

Jason Tyner did play too much, largely because White was toast. But he whad hit 3as actually more.312 in 2006 and was actually more productive than Kubel in 2007. So I guess you can add Kubel to the list of players the Twins should have replaced. Unless you read the howls of anguish directed at Rondell White because he was going to take at bats away from Kubel.

"And that's with an MVP player who had one of the greatest seasons of all time"

Only in hour imagination. Mauer missed a full month of the season. He had a great five months.

"a 569 OPS from the 2B position and a 683 OPS from the SS position."

Where do those numbers come from? Are you still pretending the Twins didn't make any changes from April through September? They did.

But if that is your standard, I guess it leaves out a deal for JD Hardy.

"But it's not all that costly to upgrade those spots"

Renting a mediocre shortstop for a month was pretty expensive.
I wonder whether Ladendorf for Cabrera will eventually be held up as an example of a bad trade.

"Twins have gone 0-6 while averaging 2.2 runs per game in their last two appearances."

This team lived on home runs, they didn't hit one against the Yankees. Its not surprising they didn't produce many runs.

But you can't complain about counting on players who had career years to repeat them and then try to justify changes based on how produced in the playoffs. Morneau wasn't even on that team. Neither was Crede.

The biggest holes in the playoffs were Kubel and Young and Punto was the most productive hitter the Twins had. You seem to have a solution, DO SOMETHING, and are looking for a problem to justify it.

"just in the event that one of those core guys gets hurt or drops off (not unlikely, I'm sorry to say)"

I actually agree its no unlikely. The question is which one. Adding middle infielders isn't going to solve the problem in the outfield if Kubel and Young hit next year in the playoffs the way they did this year. Or if Mauer gets hurt again and is lost for the season.


I think there is a basic flaw in all the DO SOMETHING analysis. It assumes that the Twins can make themselves potentially stronger in one place without potentially making themselves weaker somewhere else. It doesn't work that way. So the starting point for DO SOMETHING is to answer the question what of equal value do you want to give up.

Trading Blackburn or Baker or Slowey for another option at shortstop will not make this team better. And no one is going to trade you a slick fielding established veteran infielder who can bat second for Carlos Gomez or some long list of guys you have given up on.

Nick N. said...

The argument here is more simple than you're making it out to be. Reducing holes in your lineup (and regardless of what Tolbert and Punto did in the final weeks of the season, they are going to be holes if they're starters next year), reduces the likelihood that your entire lineup will slump should one or two of your big bats get injured or hit a rut. Even though Punto played out of his mind in that ALDS series, the offense was still paltry overall because the team got almost nothing from guys like Tolbert, Young and Cabrera, who just aren't very good hitters at this point.

It assumes that the Twins can make themselves potentially stronger in one place without potentially making themselves weaker somewhere else. It doesn't work that way.

Uh, yes it does. There is this avenue called free agency which allows a club to sign players without losing other ones as a result, and if they're being honest about increasing spending as revenue increases with the new ballpark, the Twins have room to spend this year. Explain to me how signing Polanco (assuming he doesn't cost a draft pick) or Beltre hurts this team anywhere else.

Your belief that this offense will succeed with an infield alignment of Punto, Casilla and Plouffe is absurd to the point that I wonder if you're actually being serious or just trying to stir the pot.

TT said...

"The argument here is more simple than you're making it out to be"

You are right, it never occurred to me that the argument as simple as having better players at any position would make the Twins better.

"There is this avenue called free agency which allows a club to sign players without losing other ones as a result"

Except that isn't the way it works unless you have an unlimited budget. Giving money to a free agent means it is money you don't have to keep your own young players in the future. And there are only 40 spots on the roster.

To understand how that plays out just look at David Ortiz. Would the Twins have been better off if they had spent the money to offer him a contract? I think so. Maybe they would have if they hadn't had to pay Rick Reed.

"Your belief that this offense will succeed with an infield alignment of Punto, Casilla and Plouffe is absurd"

I don't know why not. With Cabrera at shortstop and Crede at third, having the choice of Casilla or Punto at second is exactly the kind of depth the Twins need. I don't know where Plouffe comes in to that picture unless Cabrera gets hurt.

But I suspect you never really read this post. You are just taking the opportunity to repeat your mantra of "DO SOMETHING!"

Nick N. said...

I was going by the blueprint posted under the name "TT" at the TwinsCentric contest page, which you referenced in this very post that I supposedly didn't even read. I don't know anyone else who goes by that nickname so I presumed your conclusion that doing "their best" to retain the three you spoke would only result in Pavano coming back.

The Twins would probably be better off with Punto at short rather than Cabrera and could spend the money that would be used on a declining, aging Cabrera to bring in a legitimate second baseman.

So, are you not responsible for this blueprint (which bears your name and follows the philosophy laid out in this post), or are you just talking out of both sides of your mouth?

Nick N. said...

Also, the vague "DO SOMETHING" references are getting old, given that I've laid out a specific offseason plan in numerous different places and have directly addressed the areas where I feel the Twins need to improve.

When your team wins 87 games and gets swept right out of the playoffs, and is moving into a brand new taxpayer-funded stadium, I think it's more than fair for fans to advocate for the club to make a move or two, even if that means an expansion of payroll to the upper half of the league.

TT said...

Of course that's my "blueprint".

The point of the post, if you would just read it, is that if the Twins could even just hold together the roster they ended the year with it would be an accomplishment. And it would put them in a pretty good position for next year.

I think I am clear that Crede and Cabrera are going to be looking for multi-year deals and the Twins probably shouldn't go there. So no, I don't expect them to both be signed. I also don't really expect my blueprint to be right either. Its just the best case scenario.

Based on your "blueprint", you are better off just saying DO SOMETHING, because when you get specific you sound really silly.

Your plan apparently calls for trading Jesse Crain, Glen Perkins, Jason Kubel, Anthony Swarzak, Jeff Manship and Alexi Casilla for:

Iwamura, an expensive 31 year old second baseman coming off a knee injury who becomes a free agent, without compensation, after next year if he isn't signed to an extension.

Hardy, a shortstop who spent a month at AAA last season because he was actually hitting much worse than the Twins shortstops or second basemen, while being marginal defensively. Even at that, his annual numbers are inflated by one good month.

An average, at best, 33 year old starting pitcher in Arroyo who is signed for one or two years at a cost of $13 million to $24 million.

And lets not leave off signing Mike Sweeney, a 35 year old RH DH who has not had 300 at bats in the last four seasons. And Eri Hinske a 33 year old LH DH, apparently to platoon with Sweeney despite the fact that Sweeney hits righties better than lefties.

You have jettisoned players with over 1800 at bats and replaced them with players who had less than half that between them last year.

And of course you hand third base to Danny Valencia who hit so poorly the last half at Rochester that he made Tolbert look like Babe Ruth by comparison. And the Babe probably would have made fewer errors at third base too.

The fact is the team you propose, based on actual performance last season rather than projected improvements by players at or past their prime, is much worse than the current team. Even factoring in all the injuries the Twins had. In fact, its worse than the 2007 team. I don't see how a bunch of what are essentially other teams' rejects is competitive at all.

Stick to DO SOMETHING. Because your proposal is the formula band organizations use for getting worse. Adding age instead of talent.

And Iawamura is not free. Who is the "free" second baseman you are going to sign for less than it will take to sign Cabrera to a one year contract? I don't see one.

Nick N. said...

I just have no idea what you are looking at. My blueprint did not suggest that the Twins get rid of Kubel, nor did I suggest that they add Iwamura or Hinske or Arroyo. Given that your representation of my ideas is so astonishingly off-the-mark, I can't really respond to your comment. Whoever you're attacking, it ain't me.

Also, if you think that Hardy is "marginal defensively," I can only assume that you have no idea what you're talking about. Scouts, stats and fans all agree that he is well above average in the field. I'm sure Plouffe would do better, though.

TT said...

Sorry - I guess those astonishingly bad ideas on the TwinsCentric site are from a different Nick. Whose to know?

As for Hardy, if you look at scouting reports from two years ago, he is a star. But as I understand it, part of the reason he was demoted to the minor leagues this year is that, while his offense was atrocious, his defense had fallen off as well. He wouldn't be the first guy who lost some of his quickness and athleticism as he matured in his mid-20's.

If Plouffe is going to be the Twins shortstop next year, he will have to win the position with his performance in spring training. I have no idea whether he is a better defender than Hardy. But he is a lot younger, doesn't cost anything and his bat the last half of the season at AAA was certainly better than Hardy's.

Jesse said...

JJ Hardy had a 6.6 UZR that ranked 8th in the Majors last year (http://www.fangraphs.com/leaders.aspx?pos=ss&stats=fld&lg=all&qual=y&type=0&season=2009&month=0) which is 14 spots better then Orlando Cabrera (-9.9) and was also better then Nick Punto (1.6). Not sure where you are getting your info on defense but I don't think the facts show anything other then the fact that JJ Hardy is an above average defender.

TT said...

UZR is basically meaningless as a measure of a players defense.

Jesse said...

Just out of curiousity, do you think any statistic measures defense in a meaningful manner or do you follow more the "I know good defense when I see it" mentality? Two guys can argue all days about the feel of a players defense but if there is a statistic you do trust I would be interested in seeing how Hardy, Cabrera, and Punto compared.

MLB Twins Updates