Friday, September 30, 2011

Twins Off Season Priorities

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

Evaluating the 2011 Twins Lineup

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)

3- Morneau(55)/Cuddyer(41)

4) Casilla(53)/Hughes(34)

5) Valencia(146)

6) Nishioka(59)/Plouffe(45)

7) Young(75)

8) Revere(88)

9) Cuddyer(73)

DH) Thome(59)

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

Understanding Trade Value

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.

They received:

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

Cuddyer or Kubel

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

Ranking the #Twins Rookies - Pitchers

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.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Twins Clinch Second Draft Pick Next June - What to Expect

The Twins have clinched the ignominious prize of the second place in next June's free agent player draft. So here is what can we expect from that exalted position based on the Baseball Primer .
2005 1 FrRnd 2 Royals Alex Gordon (minors) 3B

University of Nebraska (Lincoln, NE)
2004 1 FrRnd 2 Tigers Justin Verlander (minors) RHP

Old Dominion University (Norfolk, VA)
2003 1 FrRnd 2 Brewers Rickie Weeks (minors) 2B

Southern University (Baton Rouge, LA)
2002 1 FrRnd 2 Devil Rays B.J. Upton (minors) SS

Greenbrier Christian Academy (Chesapeake, VA)
2001 1 FrRnd 2 Cubs Mark Prior (minors) RHP

University of Southern California (Los Angeles, CA)
2000 1 FrRnd 2 Twins Adam Johnson (minors) RHP

California State University, Fullerton (Fullerton, CA)
1999 1 FrRnd 2 Marlins Josh Beckett (minors) RHP

Spring HS (Spring, TX)
1998 1 FrRnd 2 Athletics Mark Mulder (minors) LHP

Michigan State University (East Lansing, MI)
1997 1 FrRnd 2 Phillies J.D. Drew (minors) OF

Florida State University (Tallahassee, FL)
1996 1 FrRnd 2 Twins Travis Lee (minors) 1B

San Diego State University (San Diego, CA)
If the Twins past is any reference, we can't expect much. Adam Johnson was a bust and while the Twins didn't sign Travis Lee, he didn't really develop into anything special. But if you look at the players other teams took, the Twins have a pretty good chance at a player who will be part of the team's core. Certainly Verlander, Beckett or Mulder would be a real addition to the rotation.

MLB Twins Updates