Friday, November 25, 2011

Twins Bullpen

Joe Nathan's signing by Texas and Matt Capps free agency has the Twins looking outside the organization for next year's closer. Capps may still be a candidate for that job, but the Twins would have to sacrifice the draft choice they will receive if Capps signs elsewhere. But the larger question is, who do the Twins have for the other 6 or 7 spots in the bullpen?

Veterans (over 28):
Glen Perkins
Phil Dumatrait
Brian Duensing

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

Esmerling Vasquez
Jeff Gray
Matt Maloney

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)
Jose Mijares
Alex Burnett
Anthony Swarzak

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):
Kyle Waldrop
Jim Hoey
Lester Oliveros
Scott Diamond

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):
Tyler Robertson
Carlos Gutierrez
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

New Deal a Mixed Blessing for Twins

The new player agreement changed the rules for free agent compensation. The temporary changes this year probably work to the Twins advantage. They will get a supplemental choice in compensation for Capps without offering him arbitration. And its likely they will still get the same draft choices for Cuddyer and Kubel.

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

Hicks, Dozier and the AFL

When Brian Dozier got off to a hot start and Aaron Hicks an ice cold one in the first couple weeks of the AFL season it confirmed the opinions of people who think Dozier might take the Twins shortstop job next spring. It added fuel to those who have started to question Hicks status as a top prospect.

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:

Hicks .294/.400/.559
Dozier .296/.358/.454

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

The "37 Player" Twins Roster

The Twins announced they were adding three players to the major league roster. Carlos Guttierez, Oswaldo Arcia and Tyler Robertson. They also removed David Bromberg.

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

Trevor Plouffe in Outfield

One of the questions raised by Terry Ryan's suggestion that maybe Trevor Plouffe would end up an outfielder is whether his bat plays at an outfield corner. There are a lot of people who have been complaining about Plouffe's development for several years now. As a first round choice, they expected Plouffe to be a major league star by now. Instead he got to AAA at age 22 and spent three years there, never hitting over .260. Then in 2011, he broke out hitting .323 with 15 home runs in about half a season at Rochester. He hit another 8 home runs in the major leagues for a total of 23 on the season.

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.

Terry Ryan's First Move - Twins Infield Defense

The current rumor is the Jamey Carroll has agreed to a two year contract with the Twins and the Twins intend to use him as their everyday shortstop. In the past Carroll has been a utility infielder who can play 2nd, 3rd and outfield, in addition to shortstop. In the past, he has been very durable although he is now in his late 30's. At $7 million for two years, he will be making about $1 million more than Tsuyoshi Nishioka over the next two years.

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

All those Cuddyer Rumors

There is something to remember about all the rumors we will be hearing in the next few months of the hotstove league. There are really only three sources for actual information:

The Twins;
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

Who is the Twins Closer in 2012

One of the interesting stories about Terry Ryan's revival as the Twins GM was that he had called all four of the Twins free agents. Those would be Cuddyer, Kubel, Nathan and Capps. While it may be just a courtesy, it may also mean that Capps leaving is not as much a done deal as the local media seem to think. Capps lost his job as closer this summer, but that may or may not mean the Twins front office has dramatically changed its evaluation of him. They seem to have four choices for the closer position:

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.

Twins Prospect Allstar Team

Here is the Twins Prospect Allstar Team, based on how they project as major league players.

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

Kyle Gibson
Alex Wimmer
Liam Hendrick
Adrian Salcedo
Matt Bashore

Carlos Gutierrez
Delios Guerra

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

How much are those Compensation Draft Choices Worth?

The Twins currently have three free agents for whom they will receive compensation if they sign elsewhere and are offered arbitration. I thought it would be helpful to look at the players the Twins received as supplemental picks over the last decade:

First lets look at the first round picks they received from signing teams, the most compensation they might receive for Cuddyer and Capps:

Plouffe (20-Twins)*,
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:

Matt Fox(35),
Jay Rainville(39)
Hank Sanchez (39)
Shooter Hunt (31)
Matt Bashore (46)
Travis Harrison(50),
Hudson Boyd(55)

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:
Brian Duensing
Glen Perkins

Have played in Major Leagues:
Kyle Waldrop
Matt Fox

Still in Development:
Carlos Gutierrez
Shooter Hunt

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

Comparing Ryan and Smith

Let pick a few comparable player decisions made by Ryan and Smith over the past decade:

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.

Pohlad's Firing Smith is a Bad Sign

Over the years the Pohlad family has not been very popular with Twins fans. Unlike some owners, Carl Pohlad treated the Twins as a business that was expected to make money, not an expensive hobby for him to spend his money on. But the flip side of running the Twins like a business is that he let the baseball people he hired run the business. They were accountable to him of course, but he wasn't trying to manage the team.

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

Bill Smith Firing - Past or Future?

There are a number of comments around the internet by people who thought Bill Smith was doing a poor job. But comments at the news conference seemed to indicate the problem was more differences about the future. As was to be expected, they refused to be specific about those differences. But there were some clues:

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.

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