Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Are Twins Rebuilding?

The answer to this question is always yes, during every off-season. One of the folks over at the STRIB points out that six of the players who were in the starting lineup for the playoffs in 2010 are gone two years later. But that 2010 playoff lineup had only 5 players from the 2009 lineup. In other words 4 players were gone the next season, not two years later. And Justin Morneau wasn't in either of those playoff lineups.

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.

Beyond Verlander, what can we expect from the draft

Here are the Twins 2012 draft choices, at least as currently projected (thanks to
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:

2001 Draft:
Mark Prior
*Michael Woods
*Jon Skaggs
Justin Gillman
*Cole Barthel

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:

2002 Draft:
B.J. Upton
*Luke Hagerty
*Blair Johnson
Brian McCann
*Taber Lee

2003 Draft:
Rickie Weeks
*Matt Murton
*Shane Costa
Estee Harris
*Jake Fox

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:

2004 Draft:
Justin Verlander
*Zach Jackson
*Brett Smith
Hunter Pence
*Jeff Frazier

2005 Draft:
Alex Gordon
Chaz Roe
Clay Buchholz
Kris Harvey
Kevin Slowey

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:

(20) Plouffe
(22) Perkins
(25) Waldrop
(35) Fox
(39) Rainville
(61) Swarzak

(25) Garza
(29) Sanchez
(54) Kelly
(73) Slowey
(80) Thompson
(84) Duensing

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

Trade Span and Liriano?

Pat Reusse suggests that the Twins may deal Denard Span and Francisco Liriano. Both of these moves have been talked about before and make some sense.

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

What Next for Twins

With Michael Cuddyer gone and Josh Willingham signed, the Twins still have three potential areas to add players before spring training. They need outfield depth, a starting pitcher and multiple openings in the bullpen.

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

Twins Roster Moves

The Twins moved three players off their roster, losing two of them in the process. This is in addition to trading a fourth player and adding a guy from the rule 5 draft. How does all this add up and where do the Twins go in the future?

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

Matt Capps

Terry Ryan is back. The Twins signed Matt Capps to be their closer for $4.75 million this year. If he's successful, they can keep him for the 2013 season for another $5.75 million. That's a pretty good deal for a guy who is 27 and moving into the prime of his career. Assuming, of course, that he stays healthy and pitches like 2010, not 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

Winter Meetings

There are really only two things that happen at the winter meetings that are of any interest to fans. One is a lot of talk that might lead to free agent signings or trades. The other is the rule 5 draft. The Twins will likely be involved in both.

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

Twins Closer - Just Ignore Those Bloggers

The discussion in the Twins blogsphere is all about what the Twins should do about a closer for next year. Many of these bloggers start with the idea that closers are overpaid, not that important and misused. Ignore them. Whether they are right or wrong, all their ideas about what the Twins should do flow from this basic disagreement with baseball professionals responsible for putting together a team. They are almost guaranteed to be disappointed by the ultimate decision.

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.

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