Tuesday, December 20, 2011
One reason the Twins have avoided, until last year, big losing seasons is that they do rebuild each off-season, replacing aging players who were likely to get worse with younger ones who are likely to get better. Letting guys like Guerrier, Rauch and Hardy go after last season made sense as part of that strategy.
What is disturbing about this off-season is that is not really what is happening. Instead the Twins are signing aging players to fill gaps. That was the pattern of the late 1990's, a period of futility. When you see the Twins signing old guys like Willingham and Carroll and letting young players like Slowey, Mijares and even Kubel leave, you wonder if those moves really make sense for the future of the team.
North Dakota Fan for this information.):
"Minnesota Twins 2012 MLB Draft Order
First Round: 2nd pick
Supplemental Round: 1st pick (32nd overall), 11th pick (42nd overall)
Second Round: 3rd pick (64th overall), 12th pick (73rd overall) "
I thought it would be interesting to look back and see what players got taken in those spots. The last time the Twins picked near the second spot in the draft was in 2001, the Joe Mauer draft. Mauer, of course was the first pick although a number of people at the time critcized the Twins as cheap for taking him instead of the guy taken in the number two spot. Here are the players who were taken in each of the positions listed above:
As it turned out, Prior was the only one of these choices that played in the major leagues. So I looked at the next couple years:
Besides the guys taken in the number two spot, Brian McCann is the only player here that would be called a success. Murton and Costa, supplementary choices taken in 2003, also had brief stints in the big leagues.
Finally I looked at 2004 and 2005, the last two times the Twins had this many extra choices:
This creates a lot more optimism about the prospects for those later draft choices. Once again the best players by far were the guys taken in that number two spot. But Hunter Pence is a solid major league player, Clay Buchholz is a solid major league starter and Slowey has some success as well.
To put this in perspective here are the draft position and player taken in 2004 and 2005 by the Twins:
I am not going to try to evaluate that list except to point out that we don't really know what we got from the 2004 draft even seven years later. I suppose Perkins established himself last year, but Waldrop, Plouffe and Swarzak are all still question marks. You might say the same thing of Duensing, at least to whether he is a starter or just a bullpen arm.
If you look at that list of number two picks, I think the Twins would be happy to have any of them on the roster, with the exception of Prior who was derailed by an injury. If you look at the rest of the choices, its a long shot that any of them will be contributors at the major league level.
You can get a perspective on relative worth by looking at signing bonuses in each slot. Every one of the first 8 picks in last year's draft got a bigger bonus than the combined bonuses paid to the three Twins first round picks. And the Twins paid Harrison and Boyd over slot. By that measure, Twins second choice may be more valuable than all the rest of their choices combined.
Sunday, December 18, 2011
The Twins now have Ben Revere slated to play left field. But his best position is center field, where his defensive prowess makes his offense less critical. That makes Span expendable in some ways. Where Span isn't easily replaceable is in his role as leadoff hitter. The Twins do not really have anyone else with his combination of skills.
One of things that gives Span value is that the Twins have him under contract through 2015 (including an expensive option). That makes him a lot more valuable as trade bait. Closer to Chuck Knoblauch than Johan Santana. If the Twins can get a quality starter in return, they would probably be willing to let Span go. That possibility would make their continued pursuit of Cuddyer and Kubel after signing Willingham more understandable.
Liriano is a tougher sell. He is a free agent after next season, so the Twins interest in moving him is understandable. The real issue is whether they can get anything of value in return. I think this would have to mostly be a salary dump for whatever they can get. I doubt the Twins are going to go there.
Friday, December 16, 2011
According to current news reports, they are now making a renewed effort to sign Jason Kubel. Willingham is currently slotted as the Twins right fielder, but he has very limited experience there. His range is not good to begin with and a less than stellar arm will be exposed in right field. That was probably at least part of the reason the Twins kept their offer to Cuddyer active after signing Willingham. Kubel could fit into that spot along with some DH duties.
Right now, Ben Revere is slated to be the Twins left fielder. But, while Revere likely has a bright future, he may or may not be ready to play every day. With Kubel in the outfield, Revere's playing time can match his performance with Kubel, Willingham and Doumit sharing the DH duties when Revere is in the outfield.
The most obvious need the Twins have is for another starting pitcher. With Slowey gone and Duensing slated for the bullpen, Pavano, Baker, Liriano and Blackburn are the only experienced starters. Swarzak is a potential 5th starter and there are some minor league players who will get a look. But that really isn't how you want to start spring training. The problem is that starting pitchers are not cheap. They may be able to grab someone who was non-tendered, but more likely a quality starter is going to require giving up some value in a trade.
They have a LOT of players signed who can fill out the bullpen. But the top three spots right now are Capps, Perkins and Duensing. They really need a right handed setup guy to pair with Perkins in the 8th inning. With Swarzak and Duensing working the 7th then the bullpen could be a team strength. But without another solid pitcher to get to Capps, the bullpen looks very weak. Its going to be a very long season if we see Capps warming up again in the 8th inning the way we did last spring.
Tuesday, December 13, 2011
Lets start with the players who are gone. Kevin Slowey and Jose Mijares were both candidates for non-tender. The Twins had decided they were not worth the money they would have to be paid as a result of arbitration. Slowey was traded for a minor league relief pitcher. They couldn't even get that much for Mijares and they finally just made him a free agent. You can call these salary dumps and that would be partially true. But the other reality, I think, is that nothing either one did in spring training was going to relieve the manager's doubts about them based on the last couple years. They needed to go somewhere else if they were going to have a chance to make a major league roster next season.
Jim Hoey came over in a similar deal last year for JJ Hardy. Hardy was a non-tender candidate and the Twins got a couple relievers from Baltimore for him. Hoey's value was he threw hard. His problem was that he didn't throw over the plate often enough. The Twins tried to send him through waivers and the Blue Jays, probably seduced by that fastball, decided he was worth the waiver cost and a roster spot.
The Twins had earlier this fall claimed Pedro Florimon on waivers. They put him back out on the waiver wire and every other team passed on him so they were able to assign him to Rochester. He will probably be invited to spring training. He looks like minor league middle infield depth, something the Twins lack.
Terry Doyle was claimed from the White Sox in the rule 5 draft. Doyle is 26 years old and looks like either a back of the rotation starter or a swing man in the bullpen. There are reports, rumors really, that his fastball was in the mid-90's in the AFL last fall. There are reasons to doubt that, since it has topped out around 90 for most of his career. But the fact that he was still throwing hard after a full minor league season is probably part of his appeal. A big, durable pitcher who can pitch deep into games or pitch out of the bullpens on consecutive days. Either way, he will keep the pressure off the bullpen by pitching a lot of innings. Unlike many rule 5 drafts, this is not a guy they are going to try to hide on the roster for the future. He needs to win a spot.
The result of all these machinations is that that Twins now have three spots open on their roster. One of those is set aside for Michael Cuddyer or someone else to play right field. I suspect the Twins are still looking for another starting pitcher. Terry Ryan said he was going to be looking carefully at players other teams non-tendered. What's a bit of a puzzle is why they needed that third roster spot. The most likely target would be another bullpen pitcher. With a new group of non-tendered free agents available, the rumor mill will be grinding out a lot of flour the next few days.
Monday, December 05, 2011
There are a bunch of folks who will be upset at the loss of a supplemental draft choice, but players taken that late in the draft don't usually amount to much. And, of course, there are the "closers are overpaid" folks who keep insisting that the closer role isn't really that important. For anyone who remembers Latroy Hawkins' late season meltdown in 2001 that likely cost the Twins the division, that is hard to agree with.
For the Twins the end of the 2013 season is also the end of Justin Morneau's contract. It seems pretty clear the Twins are moving forward with a strategy to compete for the next couple years, not to rebuild. And its also clear, Terry Ryan is still not going to be intimidated by the opinions of sports writers, bloggers and fans.
Sunday, December 04, 2011
On the free agent front, the Twins continue to talk to their remaining free agents, Capps, Cuddyer and Kubel. Of course, other teams are probably talking to them too. Its possible the Twins would make a trade or sign a different closer than Capps, but I think its likely any other outfield deals will wait until Cuddyer and Kubel are out of the picture. I have to admit I am sort of hoping Cuddyer goes elsewhere. They need a right handed bat, but signing an aging outfielder to a multiyear contract is a step in the wrong direction. Kubel is younger and may be available for a shorter contract, as well as less money. The most likely free agent signings are bullpen arms.
On the trade front, a starting pitcher would be the likely target. In terms of players leaving. I think Kevin Slowey would be the most likely player dealt. Jose Mijares would also be on a short list of potential trade targets, given he is arbitration eligible. Francisco Liriano would probably be available for the right price, but I doubt anyone will pay that price.
I expect the Twins to take someone in the rule 5 draft. People talk about start taken like Santana et al, but its important to remember draft eligibility has changed since the Twins took Santana. With an extra year of development the chances of finding a diamond in the rough are even slimmer than they used to be. Given the Twins bullpen situation, I would expect they add a more experienced pitcher they think can help this year, rather than someone with huge upside.
You may remember the Twins traded Jarret Camp for Santana and cash after taking him just ahead of Santana. Camp was seen as the player in the draft who was most likely to provide immediate help. Florida, drafting after the Twins, wanted him. So they paid a bit of cash to make sure they got him, while the Twins got the guy they wanted This year the Twins are more likely to be the team getting Camp.
In any case, I would not be surprised if nothing much happens this week on the Twins end. Lots of talk, but no decisions is par for the course.
Friday, December 02, 2011
You can see that in the evaluations of Matt Capps. Some people have even claimed that the Ramos-for-Capps trade has already been a net loss for the Twins. To arrive at that conclusion you have to believe that Matt Capps had nothing to do with the Twins winning the division in 2010. Because that is the only way Wilson Ramos would have contributed more as a backup catcher on a losing team last year is if Capps contributed almost nothing to the Twins in 2010. In fact, you could make the case that Capps had more value in 2011 than Ramos would have provided as a backup catcher, given the alternatives. Which is not to claim the trade will turn out that way. Ramos may eventually become a star, but that hasn't happened yet.
If you look at the prices being paid for closers signed to multi-year agreements, the one-year commitment to Capps last year is looking better and better. Far from being overpaid, Capps was relatively cheap for a proven closer. Joe Nathan cost Texas a $14.5 million guarantee. That's more per year than Capps made last year and double the total financial commitment. Whether Capps can get a similar deal after his performance last season is questionable. Its important to remember Nathan is almost 10 years older than Capps and coming off an injury, but he has a longer track record of success.
Some people have suggested the Twins would be better off to take the draft choice they will receive if Capps signs elsewhere. There is no doubt that is true on one level. But only if they think they can sign someone else who is comparable at the same overall cost. Given that supplemental draft choices cost money in the form of a bonus and often don't work out despite investment in their development, that draft choice probably is not a major factor in the decision.
It looks like Capps, as a known quantity, is the Twins first choice. I suspect they will move on only if it looks like he is going to command more than a two year contract at a Nathan-level annual salary.
Friday, November 25, 2011
Veterans (over 28):
These three are all left handed. Perkins had a great year last year and should be set as one of the go to guys in the 8th inning. Dumatrait is not a setup guy, but he will give you innings over the course of the year. Brian Duensing has been in the rotation, but pitched effectively out of the bullpen before that.
Update: Waiver Claims
These three were all made available because they were released by taken off the roster of their previous club. We shouldn't really expect much from any of them, but they have a cahnce to win a place in the bullpen.
Young Veterans (under 27) not (under 25)
These three have all had some success, but have yet to really establish themselves. Swarzak was the swing man and long reliever last year, a role he is likely to continue in assuming he doesn't win a spot in the rotation. Mijares has not been at all consistent and is getting past the point where you can blame that on youth. He is arbitration eligible this year and its possible he won't be back. Burnett is only 23 and has talent. Whether he is ready to be consistent at the major league level remains a question. Jeff Manship, who was on the minor league DL most of last year, may also belong on this list. Its hard to know what to expect from him.
Prospects (with major league experience):
Jim Hoey may or may not belong on this list. He came over in the JJ Hardy trade and is a very hard thrower who can't find the plate. You always hold out hope for those guys, but he is 28 and if he has a future its now. Kyle Waldrop is a former first round draft choice who was injured in the minor leagues and has had a very long comeback. Lester Oliveros came over in the Delmon Young Trade. He could quickly turn into a bullpen mainstay. Scott Diamond was the Twins rule 5 draft choice last year. He has been used as a starter and it is unlikely, but not impossible, the Twins would convert him to a reliever.
Prospects (no major league experience):
Update: Delios Guerra
Gutierrez is a first round draft choice with a great sinker. He needs to get control of it and refine his other pitches, but he may be ready to take a right handed setup role. Tyler Robertson is was a third round choice in 2006 and is still only 23 years old. He has been a starter in the past, but was converted to the bullpen at AA this year with great success. He may be ready to help this season. Both these guys will need to prove something to win jobs out of spring training. But the opportunity is there and they have the talent to take it.
Update: Guerra is the only player left from the Santana trade. He was seen as a potential ace pitcher when the trade was made, but he was moved to the bullpen last year. He did very well out of the bullpen at AA, is only 22 and still has the potential to be a top flight major league pitcher, but probably not next year.
That is 16 (12) pitchers competing for 6 spots. The Twins will no doubt add some additional pitchers to the mix via either free agency or trade. With Perkins the only guy who was successful last year in the setup role, the Twin probably need to add an established pitcher as a right handed partner for Perkins. But I would expect a hot competition in spring training between the other pitchers listed above.
Tuesday, November 22, 2011
The permanent changes are bit more dicey. In order to get compensation a team will have to offer a guaranteed one year contract at the average salary of the 125 top paid players the previous year. This year, that would be slightly over $12 million. That would be the third highest salary on the present Twins after Mauer and Morneau. The Twins would not have made that kind of offer to any of their free agents last year. Cuddyer is probably the only candidate from this year.
It appears, the compensation was changed to only include a supplemental draft choice after the first round. The new twist on this is that it appears the signing team will have to forfeit its first round choice if it is not in the top ten (they forfeit their second round choice if it is), instead of giving it up to the team being compensated. This means those supplemental choices will all move up a notch every time a player is signed. That seems convoluted, so maybe I am just misreading the reports.*(see update below)
The bigger issue is that there will also be a drawing for supplemental picks for teams in low budget and/or small markets. The Twins are no longer in that category. There will be a budget for both signing draftees and for international signings based, in part, on the previous year's standings. If a team goes over that budget, they will be penalized both financially and by losing draft choices if they go over by too much. So successful teams will be placed at a disadvantage in several different ways when it comes to drafting and signing players. For the Twins, whose model relies on player development, this will be a much bigger hit than for teams that look at prospects as little more than trading chips.
Of course, that assumes the Twins continue to be successful, if they aren't some of the new rules would work to their advantage. But the ability to sustain success through the draft and player development has been made harder. Ands that is not a good sign for the Twins.
The process for dealing with the forfeited draft choices is actually even more convoluted than I described. They will be put into a lottery in which all teams who have not gone over budget for signing draft choices are allowed to participate.
Saturday, November 19, 2011
Well, the season is now over and the numbers show Hicks doing better offensively than Dozier, despite his ice cold start and never having hit above A ball. Hicks had 120 plate appearances and Dozier 119:
This is obviously a limited number of plate appearances, so any conclusions are at best tentative. But, as in all evaluations of minor league performance, you are looking for improvement as the season goes on. That happened with Hicks, it didn't with Dozier. If Hicks shows up in New Britain next year performing at that level, we may see him in a Twins uniform a lot earlier than anyone imagined when his season ended at Fort Myers. In any case, he seemed to confirm his status as a top prospect.
The third Twins player, Chris Herrmann, has been an outfielder/catcher but was used as a catcher in the AFL. He demonstrated why the Twins have kept his position options open. He did very well offensively, albeit in less than 60 plate appearances. So even if it turns out his defense doesn't play at catcher in the major leagues, his bat may play at a corner outfield spot. Obviously, if he can catch, he becomes a lot more valuable.
In any case, the AFL results are an encouraging sign for the Twins farm system.
Friday, November 18, 2011
Guttierez was a 2008 first round choice with a good sinking fastball. They tried to turn him into a starter, but he is now projected as a reliever. He is probably a set up guy but has a shot at being a closer.
Oswaldo Arcia is a guy who hit very well at Elizabethton last year. This year he was sent to Beloit and dominated before he got hurt. When he recovered they left him at Fort Myers where he continued to thrive. They obviously think a lot of him if they are afraid a team could carry him on a major league roster all year.
Tyler Robertson is a left hander who pitched well at New Britain. He is likely at the point where he will get a shot at a bullpen spot this spring.
Bromberg was hurt last year and really struggled at AA after being solid there the year before. He passed through waivers, so he will remain in the organization.
That puts the Twins roster at 37 players by my count. They still need a closer, a right fielder and a frontline starter. One or more of those positions could be filled in trade that doesn't require an extra roster spot. So they could consider a rule 5 pick if someone they like turns up.
Monday, November 14, 2011
A lot of people seem to think this is a fluke. But his major league numbers don't look that far off from Michael Cuddyer or Jason Kubel at the same age. I suspect Terry Ryan was more saying that Plouffe is NOT a shortstop, than that he thought he was going to be a huge asset somewhere else. But its not really impossible for Plouffe to develop into a serviceable right handed bat with enough pop to play in one of the corners. He could turn out a little like Cuddyer.
There are also some rumors that Terry Ryan, talking about the middle infield, suggested he wasn't necessarily through with the middle infield. Apparently, Ryan indicated that questions about Trevor Plouffe's defense make him more a candidate for an outfield spot or DH. Neither Hughes nor Nishioki demonstrated a lot of defense in the middle infield last year either, so it would make sense that the Twins would be looking for more depth there.
It seems very likely that the Twins will start the year with Carroll and Casilla as their double play combination with Casilla at second base. Nishioka will be given a chance to take one of those spots or end up a utility infielder. Carroll's ability to play third base also gives the Twins some flexibility with Valencia. In many ways, Carroll is a perfect fit for a team trying to make sure no one comes to spring training guaranteed a job.
Friday, November 11, 2011
The team they are rumored to be trading with;
The agent for the player they are rumored to be signing.
None of these have any real interest in the accuracy of the information you get. While they have no interest in misleading fans either, sometimes they do have an interest in putting out misinformation in public that will reach the ears of their negotiating partners.
The Twins do not seem to play that game. Instead they hold things very close to the chest. But the other people in the negotiations may have different strategies. Remember that the next time you hear about offers and can't comprehend why the Twins aren't jumping at them.
The other source of rumors is people who don't really know what's going on. Some people just make stuff up. Others believe things are true but are simply unreliable.
Within any organization the size of the Twins there are going to be people who occasionally want to puff up their importance by appearing to know more than they do. And its not really in the interest of the sports writers to question their knowledge. Afterall, they are sources for interesting tidbits of information, accurate or not. That guy who has a clear id of what the manager or GM thinks is invaluable to getting an interesting story, whether s/he knows what they are talking about or not.
The other thing is that some people, including bloggers, lie. They make stuff up if they think they can't get caught. And it is very difficult to get caught making stuff up about the Twins because they refuse to discuss negotiations in public.
Rumors are just rumors. How widely they are repeated has more to do with how interesting they are then how much substance there is to them.
Just to put the above into a current rumor: Michael Cuddyer may or may not be close to a lucrative deal with the Phillies. But his agent certainly has an interest in everyone thinking that is the case.
Thursday, November 10, 2011
1) Go outside the organization. I put this up at the top because I think it is by far the least likely. They are more likely to do that in July if they are winning, but to start the season I think they will go with pitchers already in the organization.
2) Sign Joe Nathan. This is probably the most likely move with cost and years being the likely reasons he won't be back. There is one other reason, if he decides to go somewhere with a better chance at the playoffs.
3) Here is where Matt Capps fits in. The question is how much Capps can demand on the free agent market. My guess is not that much. The Twins would need to offer him $5.6 million in arbitration. He could ask for more, but he has gone from being a closer on a winning team to a setup guy on a team that lost 99 games. Its hard to argue that doesn't warrant a paycut. If the Twins can't sign Nathan, I can see them deciding a one year contract to Capps is a good alternative.
4) Glen Perkins, Jose Mijares, Carlos Gutierrez, Anthony Swarzak, Lester Oliveros ... These guys are all longshots to be effective in the closer role. Perkins obviously had a good year, but he did well a couple years ago as a starter and then couldn't follow it up.
This is the reason I think Capps remains at least a longshot. Because, absent Nathan, they are back to trying to add a closer from outside the organization. That is going to be expensive in players, dollars or both.
2 - Danny Rams
3 - Chris Parmelee
4 - Brian Dozier
5 - Miguel Sano
6 - Nikko Goodrum
7 - Angel Morales
8 - Aaron Hicks
9 - Eddie Rosario
DH - Orlando Arcia
UT - James Beresford
The outfield positions and DH are pretty random. All those guys project as decent defenders and good enough with that bat to DH. I think Hicks is the only one who will be a plus centerfielder.
The pitching is not in any particular order and the rotation looks really thin. There are a number of pitchers who could end up filling out the bullpen, but I don't think any others stand out as potential closer material.
I wouldn't make too much of this in the short run. There were several young Twins who were playing in the major leagues because of injuries this year that otherwise might be on this list. Revere, Plouffe, Hughes, Tosoni, Diamond and Oliveros.
Wednesday, November 09, 2011
First lets look at the first round picks they received from signing teams, the most compensation they might receive for Cuddyer and Capps:
Perkins(22-Seattle for Guardado),
Waldrop (25-Cubs for Hawkins)
Gutierrez (27- Angels for Hunter)
* I included the Twins own choices to put the other choices in perspective of the overall Twins draft.
Supplemental first round picks are given out for type B free agents like Jason Kubel and also in addition to the signing teams draft choice in the case of type A free agents:
Hank Sanchez (39)
Shooter Hunt (31)
Matt Bashore (46)
In addition, the Twins got some draft choices later in the draft where the signing team had also signed higher rated players or under the different compensation rules at the time.
Paul Kelly (54 from Blue Jays),
Drew Thompson (80),
Brian Duensing (84 from Nationals for Guzman)
I think we can safely ignore the 2009-2011 drafts since we don't really have any idea how those guys will turn out. from 2001-2008 the Twins got 11 players as compensation.
Major League Contributors:
Have played in Major Leagues:
Still in Development:
So, unless Shooter Hunt surprises everyone, less than half these players will have become major league players and only two have, as of now, made significant contributions to the Twins.
While some people may believe this indicates the Twins have not been very successful with their drafts, these percentages are about what you would expect. I think a lot of major league scouting directors will tell you that the real differences in scouting show up in guys like Danny Valencia and Jason Kubel who haven't been as intensely scouted as all the players in the top 100. The truth is baseball draft choices are longshots even at the very top of the draft. There are a lot of chances to fail along the way between the draft and being a successful major league player.
We need to be careful not to overvalue those extra draft choices. Most of them are likely to turn out to be essentially worthless.
Tuesday, November 08, 2011
Smith: JJ Hardy and Brendan Harris for Joey Hoey and Brett Jacobsen;
Ryan: David Ortiz for ...
Smith: Delmon Young for Oliveros, Cole Nelson
Ryan: Aj Pierzynski for Nathan, Liriano and Bonser
Ryan: Hawkins, Guaradado for ...
Smith: Guerrier, Crain for ...
Smith: Matt Garza for Delmon Young
Ryan: Kyle Lohse for Zach Ward
Smith: Santana for Gomez, Mulvey, Humber and Guerra
Ryan: Milton for Punto and Silva
Ryan: Luis Castillo for Drew Butera and Dustin Martin
Ryan: Matt Lawton for Rick Reed
Ryan: Todd Walker for Todd Sears
Ryan: Doug Mientkiewicz for Justin Jones
Ryan: Bobby Kielty for Shannon Stewart
Smith: Carlos Gomez for JJ Hardy
Smith: Kevin Mulvey for Jon Rauch
Smith: Orlando Cabrera for Tyler Ladendorf
Smith: Wilson Ramos for Matt Capps
As I remember the reaction to Bill Smith, everyone loved him to start. His trade of Matt Garza for Delmon Young was a "breath of fresh air" in the eyes of one local blogger. That lasted until the Santana trade when he didn't deliver the value people perceived in Santana. I think Terry Ryan will have a pretty short honeymoon period. It won't take long for people to remember some of his clunkers when he starts making moves they don't agree with. The idiots who thought Bobby Kielty was a better baseball player than Shannon Stewart are still out there waiting to remind us.
Much of the Twins success for the last decade has been based on that hands off approach. When one of Pohlad's cronies wanted to get rid of Terry Ryan and Tom Kelly after the disastrous (in won/loss record) 1999 season, Pohlad got rid of his cronie instead. Pohlad's patience and loyalty to his employees paid off with a decade of success. They had a stable front office with little turn over, they hired a manager they believed in and, when things went wrong, they did the hard work of replacing players instead of using the manager's position as a scapegoat.
What is disturbing about the firing of Bill Smith is not the fact of that decision, but the timing and reasons given. The idea that Jim Pohlad had "philosophical" differences with Bill Smith should be irrelevant. Carl Pohlad might, as a fan, have thought Smith was on the wrong track. But he wouldn't for a moment have thought to substitute his own judgment Smith's.
It sounds like Smith was surprised to lose his job. And he should have been. It is totally out of character for the Twins organization. Last season was a disaster, but it certainly wasn't a disaster because Smith had a bad plan going into the season. It doesn't make sense to reject his plan for next season based on what happened this season.
As Jim Pohlad admitted at the press conference, for next season no one knows whose "philosophy" was right. But its surefire the case that its more likely to be Bill Smith's than Jim Pohlad's. Of course, Pohlad is the one with the power to make the decision. He owns the team. But this is no longer the operation that Carl Pohlad created.
Terry Ryan or no Terry Ryan, with Jim Pohlad injecting himself into baseball decisions, we are in for a rough ride. Jim Pohlad seems to want an operation that is as cheap as his fathers, but where he can exercise the Steinbrenner-like interference that made the Yankees track record so uneven despite its lavish spending.
Monday, November 07, 2011
1) Terry Ryan was clearly unhappy about how injuries had played out. He talked about the inability to get guys with a sprained ankle back on the field. And he made a comment about he was in Forty Myers and "saw what these guys went through" and that Smith had certainly heard from him about it. We may see some changes in the training and medical staff.
2) Ryan made a comment that some of this years problems were bad luck, but not all. Then he said they didn't pitch, they didn't pick up the ball and the offense had problems. This brought a laugh, and he was clearly annoyed by that. He did say improving the fielding would help the pitching.
3) Ryan went out of his way to rebuff the suggestion that the Twins farm system lacked talent. But then he made a comment that "he certainly believed in the farm system, more than most" other GM's. But went on to say if the players weren't there you had to go out and find them. It sounded like he was acknowledging there were not immediate internal solutions.
4) When asked how much any of the trades had been a factor, they said none. That every GM had some good ones and bad ones, and joked that Terry Ryan had some bad ones.
The repeated message of the news conference was this was about the future, not the past. And it seems likely, based on the fact that they are making a major change, that Smith plan was to stand pat and see what happened with the players they had. The Pohlad's and Jerry Bell, and probably others in the organization, didn't think that was the direction they wanted to go. The team needed significant changes, not minor tweaks. Most of Ryan's comments reinforced that.
I would expect to see some moves. Whether those are in a rebuilding mode or aggressively filling holes to compete next season. Most likely, if Ryan sticks to past patterns, they will be moves with an eye on both.
I would expect Ryan to try to move players with less than stellar defense. A focus on defense probably also means not bringing Kubel back in the outfield. The other players who don't fit well on defense are Valencia, Plouffe and Hughes.
I don't think Smith did a bad job. Lets hope Terry Ryan hasn't lost anything in the four years since he left the job. In some ways, its a different organization than the one he ran. He joked about the fact that he was going to have more money, albeit he expected the budget to drop back to around $100,000.
Monday, October 31, 2011
Of course, no one criticizes the David Ortiz trade that sent him to Boston, because there was no trade. The Twins tried to trade Ortiz and couldn't find anyone to take him. In fact, Ortiz was released only after being passed over by every major league team who could have had him for the waiver price if they were willing to offer him arbitration. Ortiz ended up signed by Boston for considerably less than he would have received if they had claimed him on waivers. But the other 29 teams clearly made a mistake, since it turned out Ortiz was well worth what he would have been paid. The point here, however, is the Twins ended up getting nothing for Ortiz.
Compare that to the JJ Hardy deal. The Twins got a couple of live arms, albeit with control issues. In addition they got rid of Brendan Harris's salary. Since, like Ortiz, the Twins had decided they weren't going to offer Hardy arbitration. This was a "something for nothing deal."
The same is true of Delmon Young. The Twins were not going to get anything for him if they non-tendered him. The decision to trade him to Detroit was another case of getting something for nothing.
Its important to remember that a players ability is only one factor in their trade value. Even when they still have value, it may not match their performance very well. When Johan Santana was traded, it wasn't "something for nothing", but it wasn't really a "Cy Young award winner" for prospects either. The Twins were only giving up Santana's last year with the team and a couple draft choices. The players they got in return had many season's ahead of them that the Twins controlled.
We may see some other deals this fall where the baseball value of the players traded doesn't seem to match. But you need to look at their value through the eyes of a GM. Sometimes trades are made to get something for nothing.
Thursday, October 27, 2011
There has been a lot of discussion about the Twins need for another options at shortstop and better offense from their backup catcher. But the real issue for the Twins, as always, is their pitching staff. Regardless of what else happens next year, without better performances from their pitching staff the Twins are not going to be competitive.
One of the difficulties with evaluating a team's pitching is that it is more than the sum of its parts. The outs a team will need over the course of a season is relatively fixed around 1450 innings pitched (more if the team win a lot on the road, fewer if they lose a lot). That means the fewer outs a team's starters get, the more outs will have to come from the bullpen.
While there are exceptions, in general the more a pitcher pitches, the worse their performance will be. This is true for individual games and, for relievers, over periods of games. Whether it is true over the course of a season is a little more questionable, but it appears to have at least some effect on the bullpen. What that means is when starters pitch only a few innings in a game, the bullpen performance will start to suffer. There is a flip side to that effect that I think we saw happen with the Twins this year. When the bullpen is unreliable, the manager tends to leave starters in longer.
Overall, compared to 2010, in 2011 the Twins pitchers faced more batters and used more pitches for each batter they faced. The result was that they threw more pitches over the course of the season. The Twins starters threw 100+ pitches 68 times in 2011 compared to 61 times in 2010. In short, by almost every measure the work load on the Twins pitching staff was higher last year than the year before. That extra work was likely done by tired pitchers on the downside of their performance curve.
The point of all that is that, like a lot of things in baseball, the relationship between pitching ability and results is non-linear. Bad pitching tends to snowball into worse pitching. So what needs to happen to avoid the same problems next season? Where do the Twins get those 1450 innings pitched without relying on worn out pitchers?
The Twins have two starters set. Carl Pavano and Scott Baker both performed about as expected this year. Pavano has pitched over 200 innings the last two years and can probably be counted on to do the same again next season. Baker pitched well last season until he got hurt. Baker has pitched 200 innings only once in his career. He may do that next year, but I wouldn't count on it. Lets say 180 IP is a reasonably optimistic performance. It appears the Twins will go into spring training expecting Francisco Liriano to be in the rotation, although he could pitch his way out of that role. He can probably be counted on for 180 IP if he stays healthy and is reasonably effective. The fourth starter is probably a competition between Blackburn and Slowey (if the Twins decide to offer Slowey arbitration). Either one could pitch 160 innings even if they struggle, 180 if they are effective.
It sounds like the Twins plan to add another top starter - a guy you would project to give you 200+ innings. With that move, their starters would be projected to give them 940 innings. Diamond, Hendricks, Swarzak and Duensing are also possibilities. But it appears Duensing is going to end up in the bullpen and I don't the others are likely to win a starting spot unless someone else falls on their face. We can expect some combination of those guys to get a few spot starts for maybe 30 IP in 6 starts, many more if any of the starters are injured.
Those 970 innings from starters (that's about 6 IP per start) leave the bullpen to get somewhere around 480 innings pitched. To call the Twins bullpen "thin" right now is an understatement. Glen Perkins is the only reliable reliever returning. Mijares (who, like Slowey, is rumored a possible non-tender) and Alex Burnett are the only other two relievers who were significant parts of the 2011 bullpen. There is a possibility that Nathan will be back or, perhaps even Capps if Nathan goes elsewhere. Duensing, Swarzak, Diamond and Blackburn are all starters who may fall into the bullpen. They also have a handful of minor league arms that could fill in. But after Perkins, there is no one you would have any real confidence in.
In summary, the Twins need an established starter, a closer and at least one setup guy. Those are all much higher priorities than another shortstop, catcher or right fielder.
Monday, October 24, 2011
Nonetheless, there are a lot of things that management has no control over and would help make the Twins a contender. In fact, most of them will probably have to happen no matter what else is done:
The obvious one is that the Twins need to get and stay healthy. If Mauer, Morneau and Span can't start in over a quarter of the games, the Twins are going to have a hard time being in contention. You can add Alexi Casilla to that list as well. The Twins lack of infield depth makes Casilla a critical component. He not only needs to stay healthy, he needs to settle in as a consistent presence in both the infield and the lineup.
They also need Baker to give them 180 IP, minimum and Pavano to approach 200. Some of the other Twins starters need to step up their game. Liriano, Blackburn, Duensing and Slowey are all candidates if they are still on the roster. Although it sounds like they may non-tender Slowey and move Duensing to the bullpen.
They need Ben Revere to hit a little and they need Danny Valencia to hit a lot more. They also need Valencia to improve in the field. Unless they are thinking about moving Plouffe to third, they really don't have any alternatives to Valencia. Revere is set as one of the three outfielders. His defense will be fine, but he needs to hit enough for his speed to be an offensive threat.
They need Glen Perkins to repeat his performance. And they need one or more of those hard throwers they have added to the bullpen to discover how to find the plate consistently.
The Twins might not need every single one of those things to happen. But they will need most of them to be competitive, regardless of the moves management makes. Of course management has a long to-do list as well.
Thursday, October 20, 2011
The example below is more complicated, but probably even more pernicious because the problem is less obvious. Let me give an example to start the converstion with a question. Which of the following two players would you rather have come to bat with runners in scoring position given these career "slash" numbers with runners in scoring position*, AVG/OPB/SLG:
Player 1- .322/.383/.496
Player 2- .310/.527/.594
I think most of us would quickly choose Player 2 based on his superior power and OBP. In fact, it isn't really very close based on those numbers. But let me add these two non-standard stats:
Player 1- .278
Player 2- .200
Player 2 gets a hit 1 in 5 times he comes to the plate with runners in scoring position and Player 1 gets a hit over 1 in 4 times. And a similar thing happens when you look at total bases:
Total Bases/Plate Appearances
Player 1- .429
Player 2- .384
So which one would you rather have heading to the plate with runners in scoring position now? I think its Player 1 and not particularly close. What is happening is pretty obvious, Player 2 is walking a lot. Those walks reduce his at bats so that his AVG and SLG are both very high. Certainly an argument can be made that all those walks have value, even with runners on base. But I think what you are really looking for in that situation is a hit, not a walk.
BTW, Player 1 is Kirby Puckett and Player 2 is Barry Bonds. To some extents they are extreme examples. Bonds is way over the top in terms of walks and Puckett swung at, and could hit, almost any pitch anywhere near the plate. But if someone tells you batting average measures "how often" a batter gets a hit, that isn't really true. And if someone suggests that AVG does not reflect walks, that isn't really true either. The impact is indirect, but it is sometimes significant.
Sunday, October 16, 2011
There has been some discussion of aging current and former Twins players recently. The question is at what point does age really start to become a factor in predicting future success.
The generally accepted development curve suggests that players are likely to peak around 27 or 28. If you look at players with 300 or more at bats the largest number of players are age 27 followed by 28. About 1 in 3 of the players who got 300 at bats at age 28 will match that number at age 32. The other two thirds of players will get less than 300 at bats, because they are playing less, hurt or out of baseball.
What this means is that the General Manager of a veteran team is going to be running in place just to keep up with his teams natural tendency to get worse each year. If a team signs most of its best players to long term contracts when they are 28 or 29, they will likely find themselves saddled with a lot of underperformers before those players are 32 or 33.
This, I suspect, is one reason the Twins got rid of JD Hardy. Based on his performance in 2010 he did not look like a good gamble for the future. But it also raises serious questions about the Twin wish to sign "one or both" of Jason Kubel and Michael Cuddyer. Cuddyer is already 32 and Kubel will be past that point before any long term contract expires.
Baseball Reference has a formula for judging teams age weighted for how much players play. By their measure the Twins everyday players were the second youngest in the American League last year. Only the Royals put younger players on the field.
The Twins pitching staff, by contrast, was older than average. The pitching formula looks at starts, games and saves. Which means it may be putting too much weight on Nathan and Pavano. But if you look at the Twins rotation, Blackburn and Baker were 29, Duensing was 28, Liriano and Slowey were 27 . Those guys are moving into the downside of their careers or soon will be. None of them look like guys you want to extend long term contracts to - although they already have Blackburn and Baker under contract.
The key thing here is as I said in an earlier post, the Twins success depends on them replacing older players with younger players. There is always a risk in that. One reason teams prefer veteran players is that projecting their performance is a lot less volatile. But the price for that lack of volatility is almost certain decline.
Mauer and Morneau are both heading into decline. But they probably have a several productive years ahead of them if they can stay healthy. They may still be the core of the team. But the team isn't going to get better because they improve. That is going to have to come from young players taking other positions on the team. That means they shouldn't be adding a lot of veterans on long term contracts or resigning a bunch of their own free agents to long term contracts.
Friday, October 14, 2011
The STRIB is reporting that the Twins have removed four players from their roster. These include Matt Tolbert, Anthony Slama, Jason Repko and Rene Rivera. I discussed the 40 player roster decisions earlier.
The only surprise here is Matt Tolbert and it probably shouldn't have been. The Twins have several younger players in the middle infield who share Tolbert's ability to play multiple positions adequately.
The Twins now have 38 players on their roster. With Cuddyer, Kubel and Capps becoming free agents they will have 35 players left on the roster before considering which minor league players they need to protect from the rule 5 draft. There is also a possibility Nathan will become a free agent.
Of course the Twins apparently have targeted several positions for upgrades that might require roster spots. And they have said they plan to try to sign one or both of Cuddyer and Kubel. So not all five of those spots will necessarily be filled by prospects.
Update: Twins have also removed Dinkelman and Dutrait from the roster
Its interesting to read all the bloggers who continue to criticize Twins GM Bill Smith for his trades. Those complaints focus on Matt Capps, Delmon Young, Johan Santana and JD Hardy. As I have pointed out here, those trades, on balance, worked out by contributing to two division championships.
But there has been relative silence on the biggest disaster under Smith's leadership, the decision to sign Tsuyoshi Nishioka. They paid $5 million for the negotiating rights and then guaranteed him $3 million per year for three years.
Nishioka was a Japanese League batting champion and gold glove winner. He was expected to solidify the Twins middle infield playing at either shortstop or second base. In fact, he looked over-matched both in the field and at the plate. In fact, he looked worse than over-matched. And, of course, he spent a good portion of the season on the DL.
The DL issue was not really predictable, but there is still the question of what he was doing on a major league field in the first place. How did that happen? Did the Twins not scout him? Did they underestimate the differences in the game? Was Nishioka intimidated by the cultural transition. Is there a better player there that still might surface?
That last question will no doubt get answered over the remaining two years on Nishioka's contract. But if what we saw this year is what we get, Bill Smith needs to be asking some hard questions of the people who endorsed this move. Because the flaws in Nishioka's game seem to be manifestly obvious. They go well beyond the problems with young prospects like Trevor Plouffe, who struggle to make the transition from AAA.
Thursday, October 13, 2011
One of the things the Twins organization has done better than other organizations is staying young while continuing to be competitive. Over the past decade, they have largely avoided the ups and downs that go with keeping a core of veteran players until they go into decline and then rebuilding with young players who struggle to play at a major league level.
If you look at the 2002 Twins, there are no players left in the organization from that core group. Michael Cuddyer got a few at bats that year, but he is the only player on the current Twins left from that era. Many of the core players however are still in baseball. That includes players like AJ Pierzynski, Torii Hunter, Kyle Lohse, David Ortiz and Johan Santana.
Of course part of that success is that the transition to young players included Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau. It helps when you add players who turn into superstars. But there have been a lot of young players who contributed who were anything but superstars. Some like Nick Punto, Matt Guerrier and Carlos Silva came over in trades for major league regulars. Others, like Jason Bartlett and Alexi Casilla were developed by the organization after aging major league role players were traded for low level prospects. And, of course, some were prospects from the draft.
There were also a lot of failures. Young players who were given a chance to win a job and didn't quite do it. In some cases, the Twins were able to trade those players for someone useful. But there is a long list of young players auditioned for jobs who only contributed briefly, if at all.
In some cases, the Twins let veterans go and then had young replacements fail. Michael Cuddyer is actually one of those. He was originally slotted to replace Corey Koskie at third base.
Of course, some of what forced the Twins to stay young was their status as a low budget team. They were constantly forced to replace players as they got expensive with younger, cheaper versions. The new stadium has not eliminated budget constraints, but it has made them a lot less a factor.
Nonetheless, last winter the Twins let a number of veterans leave, while looking to younger replacements. JD Hardy, Orlando Hudson, Jesse Crain, Matt Guerrier and Jon Rauch all left during the offseason with the idea that they would be replaced with younger players.
What we have to hope is that this season's disaster is not taken as a lesson that was a mistake. The Twins need to continue to make room for young players and take the risk of giving them opportunities to play. One of the silver linings in the Twins late season collapse is that it gave them a chance to see a lot of young players. Now they need to decide which ones deserve extended auditions next year.
Its understandable the Twins want to keep Michael Cuddyer. But it would be a poor move to give him a three year contract that commits them to playing him at age 35 instead of giving their promising young outfielders an opportunity.
The Twins were forced by budget constraints into discovering a successful strategy for ongoing success. They ought to stick with that strategy. They need to get continuously younger.
Tuesday, October 11, 2011
2006 Draft - Tyler Robertson was eligible last year, I don't see much reason to think he is more likely to be taken in the rule 5 draft this year.
Here are the players eligible for the first time this year:
2007 Draft - Danny Rams, Angel Morales
2008 Draft - Carlos Gutierrez, Bruce Pugh
2007 FA - Oswaldo Arcia
There will be three roster spots open when the following players become free agents: Cuddyer, Kubel, Capps
A fourth spot will be opened if the Twins don't picky up Nathan's option.
There are two players currently on the 60 day DL who don't count toward the current 40 players but will have to be added: Casilla and Blackburn.
That leaves the Twins with one or two open roster spots and 5 or 6 candidates to be added to the roster. There are a number of players who might be taken off the roster and assigned to Rochester. They would need to pass through waivers first. Here is a list of more or less likely possibilities with a comment on each:
Manship - He was hurt this year and was not that good when he was healthy last year. He might pass through waivers.
Slama - See Manship
Dumatrait - He is a mediocre lefty. That is a reason both to let him go and to keep him.
Waldrop - Waldrop might be able to pass through waivers.
Rivera - The Twins are talking about finding an offense oriented catcher. That isn't Rivera, who is really a duplicate of Butera only not as good.
Nishioka - The Twins have Nishioka signed for 3 years. It is very doubtful any team is going to claim him on waivers and take on that contract.
Dinkelman - He passed through waivers once already this year. Its not hard to see him doing it again.
Repko - With Revere on the roster and able to back up Span, its not clear Repko fits as the Twins 4th outfielder any more. Pinch hitting skills might be a more important priority.
Twins waive one or more of the above players and add Gutierrez, Arcia and Morales to the roster.
Update 1: The Twins removed Tolbert, Rivera, Repko and Slama from the roster.
Update 2: Brett Jacobson who came from Baltimore in the Hardy trade is also eligible for the rule 5 draft this year. He seems like a likely addition to the roster.
Update 3(10/20/2011): Twins removed Dinkelman and Dumatrait from their roster
Saturday, October 08, 2011
In fact, as the Twins discovered this year, the better someone is at their job, the more difficulties they create when absent. The more they contribute, the more you have to spend to have someone else who has the skills to do their job available when they aren't there.
For the Twins, that's the situation now with Joe Mauer. They are going to have to find a backup catcher they are comfortable with as a starter if Mauer is hurt. That means you have a relatively valuable asset sitting on the bench when Mauer is playing. If the Twins didn't have Morneau at first, it might make more sense to think of Mauer as the second catcher and go find someone who is going to start 120 games.
In addition, Mauer is not just the Twins catcher, he is also the Twins number three hitter. With Delmon Young gone, the Twins don't really have any good alternatives with the potential to take the three spot in the lineup when Mauer is hurt either.
I am not one of the folks who is critical of Mauer. But the Twins need to think through the question of whether they can rely on him to fill his current roles. That is not just a question of a better backup catcher. It means finding an alternate starting catcher and an alternate number three hitter. They don't have to be the same person, but they need both.
Morneau and Span, in addition to Mauer, have durability issues going into next year. Those are probably the Twins three best players. Span can be replaced in center field by Revere, but Revere did not look ready to be a leadoff hitter on a championship team. Morneau can be replaced at first by Mauer or someone else. But the Twins do not have anyone else who is a legitimate cleanup hitter.
In short, the Twins need to look at next year and ask themselves whether durability trumps ability. If they build a team around Span, Mauer and Morneau, they may find they came up with the wrong answer. But worse would be a decision to straddle the issue. Unless they address the backup issues for leadoff, number three and cleanup hitters, they aren't going to win with better backups at catcher, first base and in the outfield.
Wednesday, October 05, 2011
Bullpen - Smith mentioned that the Twins were interested in moving a couple of starters into the bullpen. Gardy raised that possibility for Duensing and Blackburn. Smith also said the Twins wanted to bring Nathan back.
With those moves, the Twins apparently would have four spots in the bullpen set. There would be a competition for the final three spots between Swarzak, Burnett, Mijares, Dumatrait and whatever AAA players and prospects you want to add to that list. While I can't say I am excited about that solution, it has a chance to work.
Starters - The Twins still have the same six starters they started last year with. But if Duensing and Blackburn are moved to the bullpen there are, tentatively, four left - Pavano, Liriano, Baker and Slowey. They have Swarzak and Diamond as candidates for the 5th spot. But under this scenario, its likely the Twins would be looking to pick up a quality starter either in trade or as a free agent.
Infield - Smith mentioned the Twins have three possible shortstops, Plouffe, Nishioka and Casilla. He also said they needed someone with enough range to help Valencia at third base. Smith seemed to suggest Nishioka and Plouffe would have he chance to win playing time. If they bring in a quality veteran at shortstop, there is no room for competition. So they may be thinking adding a slick fielding guy to the competition.
Catcher - Smith said they couldn't have their backup catcher's hit .150 if they were playing 100 games per year. With the questions about Mauer's health it appears they are going to be looking for an offense oriented catcher. One suggestion was a guy who could DH when not catching. They might also end up with a DH who can catch and carry three catchers on the roster, at least until they know how much Mauer can play there.
First base - Smith sounded like he was worried about health issues with both Morneau and Mauer. He mentioned that if Morneau had to move to DH, they might move Mauer to first base. That just adds to the idea of a DH/C as a target in the off-season.
Outfield - It sounds like they really want to bring Cuddyer back.
This sounds like Smith's current off-season priorities:
A starting pitcher to allow existing starters to be moved to the bullpen
A shortstop with plus range to add to the shortstop mix.
Tuesday, October 04, 2011
We have reached the off-season where every free agent will become a potential target for the Twins to sign. But free agents are only rarely good investments. There are several problems with most evaluations of this option.
Quality free agents are looking for a multi-year contract. Many fans think in terms of annual payroll, but smart general managers evaluate contract costs based on the total amount guaranteed.
A couple examples from current Twins players make this clear. Carl Pavano is notorious in New York for how little value the Yankees got from his multi-year contract. They paid him over $40 million to compile 145 IP. The Twins paid Joe Nathan $47 million to compile a total of 180 IP.
By contrast, the Twins paid Pavano $7 million in 2010, based on arbitration, for 221 IP. Re-signed as a free agent, he has produced 221 innings so far on his contract worth $16.5 million with one season to go. Even if he is hit by a car in the off-season and never pitches again, the Twins have got more value from him than the Yankees did at a much lower cost.
The second problem with signing free agents on the open market is you are almost guaranteed to overpay. If the only thing you have to offer a player is more money, then you are paying more than any other team in baseball is willing to offer. Chances are actually pretty good that you are overvaluing the player unless your circumstances are VERY unique.
If you look at the winners in the free agent market it is usually guys like David Ortiz who are undervalued because of injuries or poor performance. They are players with very few suitors and are looking for opportunity more than money.
So when people criticize the Twins for grabbing players in the bargain bin of free agents, realize that those are usually the players who will bring the greatest value at the lowest risk. That is a "moneyball" strategy.
Monday, October 03, 2011
The Arizona Fall League (AFL) season begins tomorrow. For anyone unfamiliar with it, the AFL is a league of six teams made up of prospects from all 30 major league organizations. These are often some of a team's best prospects and it is an opportunity for them to play against other top prospects. The Twins, at least, usually send a mixture of top prospects and borderline prospects they want to see more of against better competition. In general, teams do not send their top pitching prospects to the AFL and it tends to be a hitters league.
This year the Twins have seven players assigned to the Mesa Solar Sox. Here is a brief review of each of them:
Dakota Watts is a 24 year old who was drafted in the 19th round in 2009. He caught people's attention with his strike outs in 2010, but he was not able to repeat those numbers while splitting his 2011 season between A and AA.
Cole Devries is a native of Minnesota and former Gopher pitcher the Twins signed in 2006 as a free agent. He is now 26 years old and split his season between AA and AAA. He has been used as a swing man in the minor leagues.
Brett Jacobsen came to the Twins from the Orioles in the JJ Hardy trade. He was drafted in the 4th round in 2008 by Detroit before being traded to the Orioles. He is now 25 and was used as both a reliever and starter at AA in 2011. He struggled mightily in July, but was very effective after a bad outing on August 4th.
Bruce Pugh was drafted by the Twins in the 19th round in 2008. At 23, he is the youngest of the Twins' pitchers in the AFL and split the 2011 season between A and AA. He missed the entire month of August.
None of these pitchers project as a top prospect. In fact, Jacobsen is the only one who is at all likely to contribute much at the major league level. The other three probably top out as AAAA players providing bullpen depth at AAA. This is a chance for them to test themselves against players who have major league tools.
Chris Herrmann (c,of) Its not clear whether Herrmann will catch in the AFL, play the outfield or both. Since being selected by the Twins in the 6th round of the 2009 draft, Herrmann has split time between the two positions. He is 24 and split his 2011 season between A and AA. His bat does not project as anything special as an outfielder but may be good enough to play there in the big leagues. His offense would be a plus behind the plate. Where he plays in the AFL may be an indication of how the Twins see his future.
Brian Dozier (inf) was drafted by the Twins in the 8th round of the 2009 draft. He was invited to spring training in 2011 at age 24 despite having never played above A ball. That is an indication the Twins see a future for him in the big leagues. He rewarded the Twins confidence in him with an outstanding offensive season split between A and AA. Like many minor league shortstops, he will likely end up at second base in the major leagues. Again, it will be interesting to see where he plays in the AFL.
Aaron Hicks (of) was the Twins first round draft choice in 2008. He has been at or near the top of most Twins prospect lists ever since. He is an outstanding defensive center fielder with great range and a plus arm. His bat and power also project as having outstanding major league potential. You will notice "project" and "potential". Hicks was a raw prospect when drafted and his slow development has frustrated some fans (and probably the Twins and Hicks himself as well.) At 22, he is the second youngest player on the Mesa roster, although there are several players effectively the same age.
All three of these players are true prospects. Hicks is clearly the best of the bunch, with Dozier being the closest to contributing at the major league level. The AFL is always fun to follow, especially this year when the Twins are out of the playoffs. Its important not to get too excited about the results. Its a short season and there is an imbalance of good hitting compared to the pitching. And sometimes individual players are worn out from a long minor league season.
Saturday, October 01, 2011
Its helpful when talking about the Twins off-season to have a starting point. What would the Twins roster look like if everyone was healthy and they made no moves in the off-season? Here is a projection:
8 - Span
4 - Casilla
3 - Morneau
5 - Valencia
6 - Plouffe
9 - Tosoni
DH - Hughes
7 - Revere
The order of Valencia, Plouffe, Tosoni and Hughes is probably arguable. Its also possible Revere and Casilla would flip spots.
C - Butera
Utility - Nishioka, Tolbert
OF - Repko
You could easily flip Duensing and Blackburn or Swarzak between the rotation and the bullpen. I think players with major league experience would have priority, but there are also a few players that I am projecting at AAA. but would have a chance to take a spot in spring training.
Rivera, Parmelee, Dinkelman, Benson
Waldrop, Oliveros, Diamond, Hendricks, Slama, Gutierrez, Guerra
Of course, this isn't how the lineup will really look. It assumes that everyone eligible is offered arbitration and the Twins make no trades and sign none of their own free agents. But I think it gives a clearer idea of where the Twins are starting from.
My take is after the first four batters, the lineup is very weak. The bench lacks any offense. The starting rotation is mostly question marks. And the bullpen may be less question marks than bad answers. As it stands, this is not a very good team and it isn't one or two players away from becoming one. Not only do the Twins need to stay healthy, but they need some of their young players to really step up their games.
Friday, September 30, 2011
My guess is this is going to be another rather quiet off-season for the Twins. Despite their terrible season, the uncertainty created by all the injuries makes major moves for next year unlikely. Here are the priorities by position:
1) Right field - The Twins are going to try to sign Cuddyer and/or Kubel to fill out the outfield. The internal options if those two leave is putting Tosoni, or maybe Plouffe, in right. I don't think Tosoni is ready for the everyday spot, so they will need to bring someone else in.
2) Closer - It seems unlikely the Twins will pick up Nathan's extension. Unless they can sign him to a multi-year extension instead, I think that is a mistake. They need a closer next year and there is no one else in the organization ready to take that role. If into the free agent market, it will use up most of the savings from Nathan.
3) Shortstop - The candidates for starting shortstop, Nishioka and Plouffe, both showed some pretty big flaws this year. The Twins, at minimum, need to find another candidate to compete with them.
4) Pitching -
The bullpen has a lot of questions. Perkins is probably the only certainty for next year. Capps is most likely gone as a free agent. Mijares and Dumatrait are both arbitration eligible. The Twins will have to decide whether they are worth paying next year. Like last off-season, this is likely to be a numbers game with the Twins trying to pick up players off the scrap heap and hoping some of their prospects develop.
Another option is to go out and get another proven starter and move Duensing and/or Blackburn to the bullpen. The problem with that approach is finding a starter who will be a certain improvement over the other candidates for the rotation. Whether a free agent or in trade, that is likely to be expensive.
The rotation is probably the biggest question mark. They have three spots to fill after Pavano and Baker. They again have Liriano, Duensing, Blackburn and Slowey competing for the remaining three spots with Diamond and Swarzak as long shots.
If they can add an "ace", that would be great. But spending much on guys who are similar to what they have makes little sense. If none of the other guys are any good, adding one more pitcher isn't going to matter.
There is a lot of expectation I think that the Twins are going to do major retooling in the off-season. I think that is unlikely. The 2011 season was a lost season except for the opportunities it gave some young players. But with all the injuries its not really clear how close the Twins are to competing.
Thursday, September 29, 2011
I thought it would be helpful to evaluate the actual lineup the Twins had on the field for most of the season. Here it is:
2- Butera (75)
I included the second player when the difference was less than 20 starts. As you can see, only Valencia and Revere actually started over half the games at the listed position.
So where should we see improvement next year, assuming there are no changes during the offseason? For purposes here, I am going to assume Kubel and Cuddyer return or the Twins find similar alternatives.
Catcher - If Joe Mauer can start 100+ games next year it will be a major improvement at catcher.
First Base - Morneau full time, rather than for 1/3 of the season, will be a major improvement at first base.
Second Base - Casilla full time won't have the impact of Morneau and Mauer returning, but it will still be a big improvement over this year.
Third Base - Valencia struggled a bit in his second year. I think its likely he will either improve or be replaced by Plouffe or Hughes. In either case there should be a slight improvement.
Shortstop - I think Plouffe is the likely shortstop. But either Nishioka or Plouffe will only win the job if they are better than the combination was this year.
Left field - Revere is the likely left fielder. I think this is a wash compared to Young. Young was a better hitter, but he didn't produce much this year. Revere will be a huge improvement on defense.
Center Field - Span is a better center fielder than Revere. He may not have the range, but he has a better arm and more experience. And his bat at the top of the order is also an improvment.
Right Field - I think its likely there will be some fall off here in one sense. Cuddyer is going to be a year older. But with Kubel also healthy, the combination is still going to be better than some of the guys the Twins ran out there while Cuddyer played other positions.
DH - Kubel full time will be an improvement over the combination this year. The loss of Thome will have more impact on the bench than the everyday lineup.
The conclusion is that the Twins should be a better team next year at every position, even in the unlikely event they make no moves to improve the team. Of course, its unlikely that will happen. The Twins probably won't try to get both Cuddyer and Kubel back. However, they may try to sign Thome.
The shortstop options are not the best. The logic above is based on the idea that the best of the two guys available will still be better than this year's hybrid version. My guess is the Twins are going to try to find at least one additional candidate before spring training.
But that doesn't change the reality that when you look at the lineup position by position, the Twins start the offseason looking like a lot better team than just finished the season.
Wednesday, September 28, 2011
This is a tag line from a Twins fan's signature:
"When you get Jim Hoey, Brett Jacobsen, Kevin Mulvey, Deolis Guerra, Cole Nelson, Lester Oliveros, Matt Capps, Jason Pridie, Brendan Harris, and 20,000 dollars for a half dozen key intrical parts to you're organization eveybody hurts. "
Lets look at where these players came from and consider the total cost:
The Twins gave up:
One season from Johan Santana and several seasons from major league players Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett. They also gave up two prospects, Eduardo Morlan and Wilson Ramos.
3.5 major league seasons from Delmon Young , 2 major league seasons from Carlos Gomez and Brendan Harris, 1.5 seasons from Matt Capps and Jon Rauch (for Mulvey), and one major league season from JJ Hardy (for Gomez). During those seasons the Twins won 2 ALC championships.
Capps will likely leave as a free agent after this season. What the Twins will have left is the future production of Jim Hoey, Brett Jacobsen, Deolis Guerra, Cole Nelson and Lester Oliveros.
Frankly, that list of pitchers looks like a bunch of bullpen guys. A couple of them could turn out to be quality setup guys. But that is probably off in the future.
What this does not evaluate is salary issues. Most of the seasons the Twins received from players were at the low end of the salary scale. Capps would be the exception to that. The players traded away were all moving up the salary scale. So somehow you need to consider how the money saved got spent. For instance, the savings from Hardy's salary apparently allowed the Twins to sign Pavano. Does that mean they got Pavano for Hardy? I don't think so. I am not sure how you DO evaluate the salary issue but it needs to be part of the equation.
What's important here is that the Twins traded away only the one season they still had under Johan Santana's contract. You need to consider the past value you got from players while they were here, not just the future value of the players that remain. And you need to consider what the Twins results were from those contributions. My assessment is that, when you look at all those, these trades actually worked out to the Twins benefit. Even if the 5 players they have left all fail.
Tuesday, September 27, 2011
The Twins have three players who will be free agents after the season. Two of them play the outfield, Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel. The Twins have two outfield spots set, likely Span in center field and Revere in left. But competition for the third outfielder is wide open. The Twins have said they are going to try to sign at least one of the two. If they don't, its likely they will have to go outside the organization. The only real alternative on the roster is Rene Tosoni and he is a long shot at best.
Both Cuddyer and Kubel are going to be looking for multi-year contracts. Kubel probably has more value than Cuddyer. He is three years younger and a slightly better hitter. While his defense is not as good right now, its not unlikely it will be better than Cuddyer's three years from now.
Cuddyer has two things going for him with the Twins. One is that he is right handed and the Twins need right handed bats in the lineup. The other is that Cuddyer has been a clubhouse leader.
Because Cuddyer is older, it is also possible he will have to accept a shorter contract than Kubel. Kubel may be able to demand four years from some team, while Cuddyer may have to settle for two. With young outfield prospects like Hicks, Acia and Morales likely moving up to AA next year, the Twins will likely want to keep the number of years to a minimum.
Both Cuddyer and Kubel are type B free agents. That means other teams can sign them without giving up a draft choice, but the Twins will get a supplemental first round choice if they are offered arbitration and sign elsewhere. So if they decide to keep either one, in addition to the cost of signing them, the Twins will be giving up a supplemental first round draft choice. Its a bit ironic that designating a player a type B free agent actually results in a higher signing cost to the current team than to other teams.
My take is the Twins should go after Cuddyer as a priority. Its likely Kubel will see more offers early in any case and the decision of which may be taken out of their hands. With no real alternatives in right field, they need to keep one of these two.
With Mauer and Morneau possibly needing more time in the DH role, the need for full time DH diminishes. In fact, it opens an opportunity for Chris Parmelee if he is ready to take it. Still, if they could sign both Cuddyer and Kubel to two year contracts, or even better, get both to accept arbitration, that would be ideal. That isn't likely.
Monday, September 26, 2011
Earlier, I reviewed the players who are auditioning for positions with the Twins this summer and fall. There have also been several young pitchers that have been given the chance to pitch in the big leagues as a result of injuries. Here they are in order of their likely contributions next year and in the future:
Scott Diamond - Diamond was a rule 5 draftee that the Twins traded Billy Bullock for in order to keep him in the organization. That trade looks better as Diamond has shown he is a lefty with the stuff to pitch in the big leagues. He may not win a rotation spot next spring, but he will be in the mix.
Lester Oliveros - Oliveros was one of the pitchers the Twins got in return for Delmon Young. He has looked like a good one who will be given every chance to take a bullpen spot next spring. He projects as a late inning setup guy once he has some major league experience.
Anthony Swarzak - Swarzak is not really a rookie since this is his second chance to show he can pitch in the big leagues. He started out this year as the swing man in the bullpen, but has had the chance to start more often recently as a result of injuries. He looks like a swing man.
Jim Hoey - Hoey was one of the players in the trade for JJ Hardy. He throws very hard. Unfortunately, he doesn't locate the ball consistently. That leads to both walks and hittable pitches. His work this fall doesn't show much indication he made any progress at AAA this year. His fastball will continue to entice, but he will likely be a backup guy at AAA.
Liam Hendricks - Hendricks has had very good numbers in the minor leagues. It appears that he is a guy with limited stuff who has been effective by polishing those limited tools. Its doubtful that is going to work very well at the big league level.
Kyle Waldrop - Waldrop is a former first round draft choice who has never really fully recovered the stuff he had before being injured. Last year he was a minor league free agent and resigned with the Twins. I think his September callup is as much a reward for his loyalty to the organization as it is an audition for the big league club. That said, he is likely to hang around as a AAAA bullpen backup.
None of these pitchers are all that exciting. Diamond, as a left handed starter, probably has the most value. Oliveros may have the best potential to be a core part of the team's pitching staff. The others look like valuable spare parts.