Baseball Means Saying Good-bye

I admit that Saturday night I was ready to forcibly and forever remove the Twins logo from the chest of almost every member of the Twins’ starting lineup. I’ve regained my perspective since then. Well, most of it.

We’ve begun to see writers/bloggers discuss various topics related to the issue of the makeup of the Twins’ 2011 roster. Some look at payroll figures and possible free agents. There’s also some good material about Twins minor leaguers who may be ready to step up on to the big stage next year.

My first reaction to reading this stuff was that it’s a bit early for all that. My team just “died” and I’m not sure I’m quite ready to look at who I’m going to be rooting for next season. But it was the first week of November last year when Bill Smith sent Carlos Gomez to Milwaukee for JJ Hardy. No doubt, the Twins’ GM is already working on piecing together the 2011 Twins, so I suppose a devoted blogger should start doing the same thing.

This is going to be a long process, however. I’m simply not prepared to ask and answer every roster question yet, so let’s do this in stages, shall we?

We’ll start with what is, perhaps for some of us, the most painful question to ask… who are we willing to say good-bye to?

To many of us, the players that make up our favorite team become pseudo-family members. This is especially true for the sort of players that traditionally make up the Twins roster. They’re good guys and they each have their own devoted following among fans. But every year, we have to say good-bye to some of them. Last year, in addition to Go-Go, we said farewell to Mike “Naked Batting Practice” Redmond, Joe Crede and Orlando Cabrera. Crede and Cabrera weren’t really with the team long enough to build much of a following, but Redmond and Gomez, despite being reserves, each had their own loyal fan base.

This year could see more dramatic changes. In fact, the number of players who are virtual locks to be on the team next year, whether because of performance or contract status, are very few. I would put Mauer, Morneau, Cuddyer, Span, Valencia, Liriano and Nathan (assuming all are healthy) in this category. That’s it.

So let’s look at the rest.

A year ago, the Twins had five players eligible to file for free agency. In addition to Cabrera, Crede and Redmond, pitchers Ron Mahay and Carl Pavano also filed. While they followed different paths, both pitchers eventually found their way back to the Twins roster in 2010.

Will Thome hit #600 as a Twin?

This off-season, not only is the number of players eligible for free agency higher, but we’re talking about some guys who made major contributions this season. Pavano and Mahay are eligible again and they are joined by Orlando Hudson, Jim Thome, Matt Guerrier, Jesse Crain, Jon Rauch and Randy Flores. While I think we can all agree that re-signing Flores and Mahay won’t be high priorities for Bill Smith, that still leaves half a dozen significant contributors that can walk out the door and sign with the highest bidder. The truth is, some of them will not be in Twins uniforms next year. In fact, it’s possible that none of them will be.

Other players, while technically still under Twins control, still present some tough decisions for Bill Smith in terms of deciding whether to exercise team options or offer arbitration.  Is Hardy worth $7 million to keep or do you let him become a free agent, too? Jason Kubel would make $5.25 million in 2011, the final year of his current contract… but the Twins can buy out that year for just $350,000, making him a free agent, as well.

Will Nick Punto and Orlando Hudson be back?

What about Nick Punto? The Twins have been paying him “starter” money and have an option for 2011 to do the same (at $5 million). They’ll certainly pay him the $500,000 buy out instead. Does he re-sign with the Twins for less money or will his agent find him a deal with a team offering more money, more playing time, and less blogger abuse than he’ll get with the Twins?

If you offer Delmon Young and Matt Capps arbitration, they’re going to get something between $5-6 million (Young) and up to $9 million (Capps) for 2011. If you don’t offer them arbitration, their agents will find someone more than willing to pay those amounts, or more. Don’t think you need both Capps AND Brian Fuentes with Joe Nathan coming back? OK… but keeping Fuentes from free agency means picking up the team’s $9 million option for him, too.

And we haven’t even discussed possible trades yet. In addition to the possibility that the Twins could trade any of the players mentioned above who are still under team control, you have to wonder if any of the five starting pitchers not named Pavano would be trade bait in the off-season. I don’t think any of them are untouchable except Liriano.

Finally, there are a handful of guys that may just be gone next year because, even though the Twins technically still control them, their performance levels make them candidates to either be traded or simply beaten out for jobs in Spring Training. I’m looking at you, Brendan Harris, Matt Tolbert, Alexi Casilla, Drew Butera, Jason Repko, Jose Mijares and Pat Neshek.

By my count, that’s 25 players who may be playing elsewhere in 2011. A small number are almost certainly gone. A couple are almost certainly staying. Most are somewhere in between. Off the top of my head, I’d break it down like this:

Almost certainly gone: Mahay, Flores, Rauch, Fuentes

Probably gone: Guerrier, Crain, Hudson, Pavano

Virtually a toss-up: Punto, Thome, Repko, Butera, Neshek, Harris, Tolbert

Probably staying: Kubel, Hardy, Capps, Baker, Blackburn, Duensing, Slowey, Casilla

Almost certainly staying: Young, Mijares

We’ll share our own thoughts about what Bill Smith should or shouldn’t do with regard to roster changes in future posts, but for now, please use the comment section to let us know your opinions.

Who are you willing to say good-bye to? Who do you think the Twins MUST bring back? – JC

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25 thoughts on “Baseball Means Saying Good-bye

  1. Oh yeah…Brendan Harris. I forgot about him.

    I would also add to your “Almost Certainly Gone” list Glen Perkins and Clay Condrey (funny, I wouldn’t know Clay Condrey if he walked into my cubicle and stole my best pen).

  2. I think you have some folk pretty goofy in your list there… can’t imagine that Mijares is anywhere near that safe… and I don’t see them saying goodbye to both Guerrier and Crain – one of them is staying for sure.

  3. Ok, ignore my second comment. Morales is certain to stay as he’s not yet arbitration eligible.

    I’m going away now. Sorry to take over your comments section.

  4. Well Brendan is easy to forget about… except that Bill Smith can’t forget about him because he’s got $1.5 million guaranteed contract next year that the Twins may have to just pay off and walk away from if Harris doesn’t bounce back.

    I suppose Condrey could get a spring training invitation but I would agree he’s almost certainly gone. Morales, I didn’t include because I guess I still consider him a minor leaguer until he proves otherwise. I expect him to remain in the organization in to spring training and compete for the back up catcher spot with Butera.

    Perkins I simply didn’t think about. He’s an interesting case. I’m not sure if he has another minor league option year left or not so I’m not sure what sort of decision the Twins are forced to make on him. If it doesn’t mean having to guarantee him a roster spot, I would imagine he showed enough to be considered for either a bullpen or rotation spot next year. Of course, that also means he showed enough that he could be attractive to other teams as a trade piece. I’ll have to look deeper in to his contract situation before I get that annual call from Bill Smith asking for my advice.

  5. Babs, what makes Mijares relatively certain to be back, in my mind, is a combination of still being cheap, being left-handed and being (at least occasionally) dominant. I’ll be shocked if Mijares isn’t on the opening day roster as long as he’s healthy, hasn’t ballooned to 400 lbs in the off-season AND remembers to get his visa renewed. OK, now that you mention it, the chances of all of that happening might not be so certain after all. Still, I think he’ll be there.

    I think Crain could have been in the “almost certainly gone” category. He’s going to get offers to be someone’s closer and get paid accordingly… and he’s earned that. I just don’t see the Twins being willing to pay that much. Guerrier might be a bit more likely to be signable for a reasonable amount, but again, I think someone will be willing to pay him more than the Twins will, either in money or guaranteed years. I won’t be surprised to see one of the two back with the Twins, but I don’t expect it.

  6. Like I said, I think you are overly generous of their feelings towards Mijares. I honestly think that acquiring additional lefty pitching is most certainly on the list for the winter and I don’t think either Perkins or Mijares are LIKELY to be here. The trouble is finding the right deal to send them on.

  7. That’s OK Babs, you’re entitled to your opinion… regardless of how wrong it may be :)

    Sounds like we have the makings of an interesting future post concerning what Bill Smith and the Twins SHOULD do!

  8. don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that they SHOULD (although my lack of attachment to either of those pitchers is well-known). I’m saying that when Bill Smith signed both Fuentes AND Flores, he was sending a signal that he’s just not comfortable relying on either of the lefties he already had. I don’t think that has changed and I expect that he’ll be working on that. I’m just following the actions he’s already made and trying to make an interpretation and how it could be extrapolated for expectations…

  9. I was hoping the Twins could scrape up the money to keep Fuentes, but he’s been quoted as saying he really wants to be a closer and doesn’t see that happening here. So…oh my! The thought of losing Guerrier, Crain, Rauch, and Fuentes is really scary. Nobody can be confident about the return of Nathan, the “dominance” of Mijares and Capps. Neshek? Never going to be good enough. So now we’ve got several months to worry about this…in addition to Morneau’s head.

  10. I agree, millie, the Twins have had a pretty impressive bullpen and it’s going to take some work (and probably some luck) to put together anything remotely close to this year’s talent.

  11. Well you know me…I don’t ever want to say goodbye to anyone. Really. Not even Kubel, I swear. Once they are in the fold, they are considered mine :) I always think it won’t be the same without soandso…or so&so. But there are always new guys I learn to love who make me forget all the guys who moved on. And in the end …. they all move on in one way or another. Cesar Tovar (my old school bf) moved on. So did Carew. Even Killer moved on.

    Sorry. I don’t add much to the discussion do I? :)

  12. It wouldn’t shock me to see Cuddyer return next year, because the Twins need righty hitters, but I don’t think he’s a “virtual lock” to be back. $10.5 million is a lot to pay for a fairly ordinary hitter (.270/.342/.450, 109 OPS+) at a corner position, at age 32, who hasn’t rated as a good defender at any spot in the field.

    Fangraphs says he was worth 0.4 WAR this year, which means most of his salary was a waste. He has had a few years when he was valuable enough to justify a $10m salary; but if I could find another GM willing to bet that Cuddyer will bounce back with a 2.5 WAR season at age 32, I’d make a deal this winter and look for a cheaper, possibly younger, replacement.

  13. jamar, of course you add to the discussion… you’re the resident “collect players like we do beanie babies and never, ever, let any of them go” person! Ah, if only there weren’t those pesky roster limits and payroll issues to deal with, huh?!

    frightwig, Cuddyer’s contract plays a large role in exactly why I consider him a “lock” to be back. Nobody is going to be willing to trade for him without the Twins having to eat a significant portion of his 2011 contract and if they’d have to do that anyway, they might as well hang on to him and see if he has a solid year when he’s playing for a new contract. I suppose maybe someone would make a deal if they had someone the Twins were willing to take back in trade who had an equally bad contract, but I think the odds are long on that happening. I’ll be very suprised if Cuddy isn’t a Twin in 2011.

  14. Neshek and Punto must stay. I will have it no other way.

    (And yes, that is a point-of-view expressed for purely emotional reasons.)

  15. Oooo…sports-star-beanie-babies works for me in a way that bobble-heads do not.

    Somebody get to work on that :)

  16. Stacey, I suspect your emotional attachments to the Tiny Superhero and Sideshow are shared by many others, as well.

    jamar… two problems… the MLB/MLBPA licensing fees would make those “babies” pretty darn expensive and how would you get them autographed? On the tags maybe? That said, the more I think about it, I’m surprised nobody has done this yet. Maybe instead of “sports star beanie babies” we could do “sports star knucklebabies”? Hmmm… Who’s in charge of marketing and promotions around here?

  17. The only one that really matters is already getting an extension.

    The Twins are one of the last, if not the only market in baseball (and perhaps pro sports) to cling to an existing manager, despite repeated failures in the playoffs. Bobby Cox was one of the others, until he announced 2010 as his final season.

    Cox and his teams were perennial playoff clubs. 14 straight division titles, 5 Pennants, and 1 W.S. title made Cox a legendary manager in his own time.

    But for me, he is legendary not for his success, but his failures. The last Pennant came in 1999, and since then, making the playoffs and getting knocked out early quickly became less of an aberration and more of an alarming fact. In the last 11 seasons Cox was good enough to get his boys to the playoffs, but not good enough to win it all.

    Ron Gardenhire is walking that same path. At least Cox has Pennants and a Title to show for his early career postseason efforts. Is Gardenhire destined to be the best regular season manager in Twins (and MAYBE Major League) history and nothing more?

    Let’s face it, the Twins can go forward with any number of personnel changes on the field over the next 5 months, but the one change that won’t happen is the one that HAS to happen.

    Tom Kelly did more with less in his 15 years, and when he made the postseason only twice, he made it count each time. By contrast, Twins fans, players and coaches have been spoiled by multiple playoff appearances, to the point where it has nearly become meaningless. So what if they win a Division title (remember the Braves and how their attendance suffered in the first round of the playoffs each year), they don’t do anything with it anyway.

    Fire Gardenhire and bring in someone to push and motivate the players, not coddle and protect them. They are there to win the W.S., not have their egos stroked for only being able to throw 89 pitches in a start, or have to “rest” because of their bruised knee/wrist/shoulder/stats.

    I wish Herb Brooks were still alive…and a baseball manager.

  18. Corey, I’ve got a Gardenhire-related post percolating in my head so I’m not going to respond much directly here (and I’ve already personally accounted for 7 comments, beyond authoring this post). For now, I’ll just say that, while I’m far from being a huge fan of Gardy (and even less of a fan of Cox), I generally disagree with your conclusions regarding the manager for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that managers like Kelly and those who managed in his era did not face the single biggest disadvantage that American League managers face today… the inherent, systematic, and MLB-sanctioned financial advantage given to the Yankees.

  19. After Delmon’s very good year from an offensive perspective, I’m sure the Twins will love to keep him around. They can certainly use his bat next year. Hopefully he can focus on his hustle and coordination defensively to improve as an outfielder.

    Kubel will probably get his option as he’ll be a regular DH and good insurance in the event that Thome doesn’t come back. With Morneau likely returning next year, that moves Cuddyer back to the outfield and gives Kubel some breaks. He’s matured in a lot of ways with the team.

    As for Punto, his fate seems iffy. His defense is good but his bat leaves a lot to be desired. I think whether or not he comes back next year or the Twins buy out his contract depends on what happens with Valencia. If he gets traded, Punto’s option is picked up. If the Twins decide to keep Valencia then they could end up buying out Punto and putting him on the FA market.

    And then with Pavano, it’s entirely up to him. He really enjoys being on the Twins and being in Minnesota in general, but it’s no secret that he would like a multi-year deal. If the Twins can make him an offer that he thinks is fair, he may very well take them up on it. Otherwise, he’ll be in a different uniform next year. Truthfully, I’m not sure how many teams would be willing to make him a hefty offer given his history of injury. And he’ll most likely have the ‘stache again next year unless his wife forces him to shave it off.

    If the Twins have another season next year like they did this year, with high revenues due to games selling out and healthy merch sales, the payroll will continue to increase and they will be able to keep and sign both budding and seasoned talent for a long time.

  20. Jim, I agree with your position regarding the literal financial advantage that the Yankees have benefited from over the past 15 years. From that standpoint alone, competitive balance will never happen in the A.L. so long as there is no hard salary cap, or other mechanism to prevent the Yankees and other clubs from excessive spending.

    When I argue that Gardenhire should be fired, it’s primarily because he had a generally better ballclub both talent and depth-wise than any of his previous teams–and definitely better than anything T.K. had during the lean years from 19993-2001–and yet he cannot get that caliber of talent to win in the playoffs. Heck, Gardy’s boys went three and out versus the stinking Athletics in 2006 and their payroll is usually LESS than the Twins.

    Is there blame for the players? Absolutely. They found ways to win games during the season which proved their ability as a team to overcome major obstacles. That’s why I was so shocked at the lackluster effort put forth vs. NY last week. Much of the blame does land squarely on the shoulders of that lineup for not elevating their game against an experienced and postseason-hardened opponent.

    At the same time, fingers need to be pointed at the folks who prepare those players to face such an opponent. The last “major” coaching change the Twins have had was Vavra replacing Ullger as hitting coach 4-5 years ago and it was a definite improvement.

    So far, there has been no rumbling of dissatisfaction from the ownership, or front office about either Gardenhire’s or Anderson’s performance in their respective roles. In many other markets, one or both would likely have been handed their pink slips on Sunday morning after tanking Game 3. The Twins have been lauded for their consistency in having only 2 managers over nearly 25 years, and the whole “promoting” from within concept.

    To me, this is why the Twins can’t beat the Yankees. Sure, money is a big deal. It affords a team players that others cannot. The difference though, lay in the belief of the players that the “rich” teams can be beaten. That comes from the manager. And more than that, so does strategy, attitude, work ethic, etc. If the players are getting the same message year after year from the same guy who came up managing through the same organization…the message will become hollow, and even insular after a while.

    A friend mentioned to me the other day, “If we had Ozzie in the dugout, we beat the Yankees this year. Guaranteed.” Now, I don’t fully agree that Ozzie would be THE guy, but the point was well taken. Ozzie doesn’t take crap from anyone. He gets his players to do the same thing. They find a way to win. That’s a big reason why Chicago has a W.S. title in the last 5 years.

    Big payrolls can be beaten. It takes a tough, creative, no-nonsense manager with a solid understanding of strategy and the stakes to manage a team to victory in the playoffs. To me Gardenhire basically lets his players go out and decide completely on their own, and it doesn’t work that way, especially in the postseason, and especially against the Yankees.

    So until baseball gets around to instituting a salary cap, small and mid-market teams like the Twins will have to find alternative ways of advancing in the playoffs.

  21. We need to get rid of as many Utility Infielders as possible. Take away Gardy’s toys. Punto must go, and preferably Tolbert. Casilla can fill the job if we don’t lose Hudson. Or else Harris can. We’re paying him enough.

    We should try to keep Fuentes before Capps. I know he wants to be a closer – but is Nathan ready to come back? Maybe we DO let him be a closer, at least for a while. He’s better than Capps, and far less scary.

    Our top priorities should be a top-line starting pitcher, a right handed DH to platoon with Kubel/Thome, and a centerfielder.

    Yes, a centerfielder.

    Move Span to a corner OF slot, where he goes from being a defensive liability to a defensive plus. Cuddy stays at first if Morneau is gone, giving you an OF of Young-CF-Span. If Morneau comes back, trade Kubel. Young moves to DH, where he belongs, really. Span to RF. Span-CF-Cuddyer. Revere might be that CF, but maybe we get someone better.

    If you lose Thome and Morneau is out, then keep Kubel, but in either case, PLATOON with a good RH hitter when Thome or Kubel is DH.

    Best case: Morneau is back, Thome stays. Kubel is traded.

    C – Mauer
    1b – Morneau
    2b – Hudson/Casilla
    SS – Hardy
    3b – Valencia
    LF – Span
    CF – Revere / FA / Trade
    RF – Cuddyer
    DH – Young / Thome

    Young serves as 5th outfield, the way Kubel did before, and we go into the season with a similar plan to last year – Thome DH when any of the OF or Morneau takes a day off. Or Valencia, if we consider Cuddyer a viable backup at 3b.

    Assuming that CF is a strong defender and at least a replacement level hitter, I’ll take that offensive hit to get Young and Kubel out of the outfield. That OF looks defensively STRONG.

  22. I think Crain will be back with the Twins next year. Punto, nope because Matt Tolbert is cheaper and the same player
    I think the Twins will sign Kubel then trade him (in a package) for a stud pitcher
    I think Perkins is under 1 more year of Arb, so the Twins will either non tender him or sign him and trade him for something…maybe a 2Bman

    I think Billy Smith and the FO will be very active in the offseason with signings and trades

  23. If Ozzie’s team so rarely gets to the postseason due to total collapse at some point during nearly every season, I’m totally uninterested in what it would be like if he were managing the Twins during the postseason. He and his players are constantly distracted by the media and perceived conflicts with other teams and players, and it hurts them as a team, on the field as well as off. The guy’s a firebrand, but that’s not the same thing as a leader.

    I agree something is terribly wrong with the team’s approach to the postseason, and that starts with Gardy. I’m not ready to fire the guy, though, and I’m sure not willing to consider it to replace him with someone who can’t get through the regular season successfully.

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