Hints of a New Twins Paradigm?

I’m one of those people who likes to look beyond whether a decision is good or bad to determine the underlying reason a particular move was made. So while most of Twinsville spent last night debating whether the Twins’ decision to re-sign Matt Capps was good or bad (or apocolyptical), I’ve been trying to figure out WHY Terry Ryan made that decision.

I know they like Capps. I do too. I’m a little surprised more fans don’t, but fans are weird. And inconsistently hypocritical. The same fans that trash Joe Mauer for being soft and not playing through aches and pains, even if he wouldn’t have been at 100% also trash Matt Capps (and Michael Cuddyer, too, for that matter) for doing exactly that. Basically, fans apparently want players to perform at 100%+, regardless of their physical condition.

Matt Capps

But the reason the Twins are bringing back Capps can’t just be because they like his toughness and his presence in the clubhouse. Can it?

Terry Ryan has indicated he’s expecting payroll to come down considerably. He knows he has other needs to fill, so that $4.5 million he’s paying Capps is no small thing. But beyond that, Ryan is also turning his back on a supplemental draft pick. That’s not really as big a deal to me as it is to a lot of other people, but it certainly seems like the kind of thing that would be a big deal to Terry Ryan.

Ryan seems to be one of those baseball guys that loves the challenge of identifying and obtaining young talent more than just about any other phase of the game. The Twins, historically, have hoarded draft picks like they were gold. They didn’t sign Type A free agents. The didn’t often re-sign their own Type A or Type B free agents. They LOVED high draft picks.

Until now.

During a pre-Winter Meetings chat with local media, Ryan was asked about whether a compensatory pick was a consideration as they pursued deals with Capps, Jason Kubel and Michael Cuddyer. I was struck at the time by how un-Twinslike his response was. “We’ll take it, but we’d rather have the player.”

I’ve seen that quote in two different reliable sources (Phil Mackey and LaVelle E. Neal III) now, so I have no reason to question its accuracy. Questioning whether the ghost of George Steinbrenner has taken over Terry Ryan’s body has remained a viable option, however.

When the Twins no longer are as concerned about high draft picks when determining whether or not to sign a player who isn’t a superstar, something has changed.

As I skimmed through our blogroll this morning to read what those fine Twins bloggers had written overnight about the Capps deal, I think I may have found at least one possible answer. At least it makes more sense to me than anything else I’ve considered.

Over at Baseball Outsider, Edward Thoma wrote:

“I don’t believe for a moment that the Twins don’t take the value of compensation picks into serious consideration. Their historic reluctance to give up first round picks to sign Type A free agents is evidence of that.

“But I wonder if they are uncertain today of the real value of those picks under the new labor agreement and the formalized, enforceable restrictions on spending. I haven’t seen any explanation of how the spending ceilings are to be set, but if the ceilings are too low, it may be difficult to get high school prospects to sign— which will push teams to overdraft collegians and thin out the quality choices by the time the sandwich picks come up.

“If that’s a realistic possibility, then Ryan has a good point about preferring the player to the pick. Draft picks are hardly a sure thing.”

It makes some sense when you think about it. If the new bonus ceilings are low enough that teams are going to be reluctant to draft high school players in the first round and risk having them decide to go to college instead of playing Rookie Ball, it won’t take long before the best college players are off the board. That could leave teams with supplemental round picks having to decide between choosing from the college leftovers that in prior years would have been 2nd and 3rd rounders, HS players that you can no longer offer “above slot” money to, and HS players that you think are “signable” (who also probably would have been lower round picks in previous years).

So, if you’re the Twins, you have to be asking yourself just how good the prospect is that you’re losing by signing one of your own free agents. It’s impossible to know for sure, but it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to foresee that the quality of those supplemental round picks could take a nosedive under the new system.

Which brings us back to the original point. Is it possible that the Twins have given more thought to this possibility than fans have? Is it possible that Terry Ryan knows more than we do? And if high draft picks turn out to be less likely to turn in to contributing Major League players (and it’s not like it’s a guarantee already), is it possible that this is evidence of a significant shift in Twins philosophy?

I, for one, am willing to admit that it’s not only possible, but likely, that Ryan is smarter than we are. The rest, only time will tell.

In the end, none of us will know for a while whether the Capps deal turns out to be a good one. By spring, we’ll know if he’s healthy. By draft day, we’ll know what the compensation pick would have been like, and by this time next year we’ll know if it all worked out.

For now, we just see how Day 2 of the Winter Meetings plays out. It seems it’s starting with a small bang as Kevin Slowey has been traded to the Rockies for the infamous “player to be named later.” In other words, the Twins cleared a roster spot and are in no hurry to fill it.

Best of luck to Slowey. I hope he finds success in Colorado.

- JC

6 thoughts on “Hints of a New Twins Paradigm?

  1. “The didn’t often re-sign their own Type A or Type B free agents. They LOVED high draft picks.”

    Perhaps that is the wrong conclusion. Instead they just didn’t want to spend the money. Afterall, a 30+ draft pick is not all that high. Most of those guys never play in the big leagues. The new rules are not going to make much difference, most guys taken that low will still never play in the big leagues.

    Here are the supplemental picks for the Twins in the last decade:

    2004:
    Matt Fox(35),
    Jay Rainville(39)
    2005:
    Hank Sanchez (39)
    2008:
    Shooter Hunt (31)
    2009:
    Matt Bashore (46)
    2011:
    Travis Harrison(50),
    Hudson Boyd(55)

    No one is going to lose any sleep over those guys – except people who over-value draft choices and think those last three are destined to be stars. That isn’t to say they won’t be, its just not very likely.

    ” By draft day, we’ll know what the compensation pick would have been like, and by this time next year we’ll know if it all worked out.”

    Well, no we won’t. No more than the Twins winning the division in 2010 settled the value of the Capps for Ramos trade. Because, no matter who is drafted, they won’t be ready for the big leagues for several years in the unlikely event they get there at all. And the folks who think closers are overvalued, will think Capps is overvalued even if he never blows a save.

  2. Some supplemental picks the Twins didn’t get in those years:

    2004
    J.P. Howell, Gio Gonzalez, Huston Street

    2005
    Travis Buck, Luke Hochevar (DNS), Clay Buchholz, Jed Lowrie

    2006
    Chris Coghlan, Joba Chamberlain, Chris Perez

    2007
    Clayton Mortensen, Brett Cecil, Tommy Hunter, Cory Luebke

    2008
    Lance Lynn, Wade Miley

    2009
    Rex Brothers

    2010
    Chance Ruffin

    That’s limited to players who have reached the majors, already, as I don’t feel like sifting through the minor league stats of every supplemental pick to judge which ones still look like decent prospects. But, I’m sure we’ll see a few more sandwich guys from 2008-10 come up and make a mark in the near future. Some good players have been taken in that round in recent years. The Twins have just failed to get any of them.

    The truth is, the Twins drafts have been below-average for several years. If anyone doubts it, check out the chart in this article: http://www.letsgotribe.com/2011/12/2/2603851/are-the-indians-getting-better-at-drafting-players

    A club that depends a lot on the draft to stock the big league roster really has not been good at drafting many quality prospects for quite some time. And, who knows, maybe it has started to affect the way that the front office braintrust thinks about building the roster.

    Then again, having a $100 million budget, giving Terry Ryan the freedom he never had before to throw money at mid-level free agents, could make a front office change its philosophy and do some silly things, too.

  3. “giving Terry Ryan the freedom he never had before to throw money at mid-level free agents, could make a front office change its philosophy and do some silly things, too.”

    Terry Ryan practically made a living throwing money at mid-level free agents, unless we forgot the likes of:

    Rondell White, Tony Batista, Ruben Sierra, Terry Muhlolland, Jim Deshaies, Kevin Maas, Roberto Kelly, Bob Tewksbury, Greg Swindell, Otis Nixon, Mike Morgan, Butch Huskey, Bobby Ayala, Michael Jackson, Juan Castro, Dennys Reyes , Jeff Cirillo, Sidney Ponson. Ramon Ortiz.

    Exactly the same MO, just different times.

  4. “I, for one, am willing to admit that it’s not only possible, but likely, that Ryan is smarter than we are. ”

    Two words: David Ortiz

    (and now 2 more, unfortunately: Kevin Slowey)

    Ryan has made way more bad decisions than good and for every Johan Santana there were about 2 David Ortiz. They Twins would have actually had a pretty killer bullpen last season, for example, if Ryan did not get rid of the likes of Grant Balfour, Peter Moylan, Evan Meek and Randy Choate…

  5. I guess if every decision a GM makes is judged based on: (a) subjective criteria of one person’s view of that decision, AND (b) with perfect 20-20 hindsight, then it’s pretty easy to find fault with anyone.

    And I think you need to employ a pretty low standard for “mid level free agent” to include the likes of Tony Batista and virtually every other name on that list.

    During his first term as GM, Ryan was limited to sifting through virtual dregs of free agency after any team with a nickel to spend had their shot. You can choose not to acknowledge that and prefer to simply criticize everything, of course. That’s pretty easy to do.

  6. A common rumor long before he admitted it a year or two ago, or whatever it was, was that the Twins had dumped David Ortiz due to strong suspicion of steroid use. It sure would have been nice to have a bat like that in the lineup, but I’ve gotta respect that position, too, if that rumor is true. They didn’t want that in the clubhouse. (And I don’t like to see that wearing Kirby’s number in homage, now that it’s out there.)