Span Traded to Nationals!

GM Terry Ryan didn’t wait until the start of the Winter Meetings next week before swinging his first deal, trading Denard Span to the Nationals for minor league starting pitcher Alex Meyer.

Alex Meyer (Photo: Jeff Roberson/AP)

Meyer, the Nats 2011 first round draft pick, represented Washington in this summer’s Future’s Game in Kansas City. He’s 6′ 9″ and can bring a 98 mph fastball to the table. He immediately will become the Twins top starting pitching prospect, though he’s only pitched as high as the high-A level to this point.

Honestly, I love Span and hate to seem him go. Knowing it was likely, however, I hoped he would be traded for immediate pitching help. All of that said, it’s hard not to be excited about the potential of a guy like Meyer. Nobody can say any longer that the Twins do not have a “top of the rotation” prospect in their farm system. He is certainly that.

Best of luck to Denard in Washington and thank you for all of his efforts as a Minnesota Twin.

– JC

Are We Seeing Bizarro Terry Ryan?

It’s been difficult for me this offseason to, on the one hand, listen to and read Terry Ryan’s comments about what his plans are for addressing the Twins’ obvious needs, while bearing in mind the Twins’ historical approach to offseason roster building. In fact, it brings to mind the “Bizarro World” introduced by DC Comics back in my younger (much younger) days.

Bizarro Superman #1

You remember Bizarro Superman, right? The “perfect imperfect duplicate” of Superman that was essentially the Man of Steel’s polar opposite. He lived, along with Bizarro versions of various other DC Comics superheroes, on Bizarro World… a cube-shaped version of Earth. In Bizarro World, down is up, yes is no, and virtually every uttered word means exactly the opposite of what we’re programmed to think it means.

Ryan’s stated plans for the offseason have pretty much convinced me that the Twins will be represented by Bizarro Terry Ryan at the MLB Winter Meetings in Nashville next week.

Consider, for example, Ryan’s comments in response to questions from Twins Daily’s John “TwinsGeek” Bonnes, as published in TD’s “Offseason Handbook” (which, by the way, you really should order if you haven’t done so yet). In response to a question by John concerning Ryan’s perception of the free agent starting pitching market, Ryan said his view is that the market is, “thin,” but that, “there’s a few guys out there who are pretty darn good.” Given that there appears to be a deeper pool of above average starting pitchers available this year than there has been for years, most of us would only characterize Ryan’s assessment of the pitching market as “thin” to be… well… bizarre.

Then consider Ryan’s response to the following questions:

Bonnes: Are you likely to be chasing some players who are pretty darn good?

Ryan: We better.

Bonnes: Are you willing to give multi-year deals to pitchers?

Ryan: You aren’t going to get a pitcher unless you give a multi-year deal.

That, in itself, is a little bit un-Twinslike. Was Terry Ryan really saying he’s prepared to step up and offer multi-year deals for “pretty darn good” pitchers? But wait… it gets better.

Bonnes: It sounds like you’re sitting back and seeing what in the market comes to you, as opposed to aggressively chasing a couple of targets.

Ryan: If I do that, we’ll probably be holding the bag. You know pitching is going to go off the board. We certainly have to be looking at it.

So, not only is Terry Ryan saying he’ll go multiple years for pretty darn good pitching, but he indicates an awareness that sitting back and waiting for pitching to fall to the Twins won’t get the job done.

Who is this man and what did he do with our GM?

This week, Ryan also was interviewed by Tom Pelissero and Phil Mackey at 1500ESPN and his message remained consistent with what he told Bonnes. Again, he used the term “thin” to describe the free agent pitching market, but he also went on to say the team needed more than one “Mark Buehrle” type pitcher. As he has stated in almost every interview he’s given this offseason, he continued to maintain that the Twins have enough money to fix the rotation and it’s his job to do so.

Add it all up and you have to say that Ryan’s message has been consistent. According to Ryan:

  • The Twins top… and perhaps only… priority is to fix the rotation. In the 1500ESPN interview, he went so far as to point out (accurately) that there’s been nothing published linking the Twins to anything but pitchers and that the only way they’d spend any significant money on anything but pitching would be if efforts to acquire serious rotation help ultimately prove fruitless.
  • Payroll is not an issue and money will not preclude the Twins from fixing the rotation.
  • Ryan intends to do exactly that… fix the rotation… even acknowledging that Scott Diamond, while having the potential to become a #3 pitcher, isn’t likely to be considered at that level in 2013. Ryan has also given every indication that he intends to actively seek multiple pitchers that exceed Diamond’s current talent level.
  • Ryan does not intend to sit back and simply scrape the bottom of the barrel of the available pitching talent. He certainly sounds intent on being aggressive in pursuing what he believes the Twins need.

None of that sounds much like the kind of noise coming out of the Twins front office in recent years. As recently as last offseason, Ryan was bluntly telling us that the payroll in 2012 would be cut considerably from the 2011 level. He played the “lower the fans’ expectations” game and then followed through by assembling a roster that reflected about a 10% decrease in Opening Day payroll, effectively meeting the reduced expectations.

So… what should we expect next week down in Nashville? Will Ryan’s actions (or lack thereof) contradict his newly-aggressive public persona? Or will he back up his words with strong action?

None of the “top half of the rotation” free agent pitchers have come off the board yet, nor have many of those rumored to be available via trade. So long as that’s the case, perhaps we can hold out hope that Ryan means what he’s been saying… that we’ll see a level of aggressive pursuit of pitching help, starting as soon as next week, unlike anything the Twins have demonstrated before. Maybe he’s not going to Nashville with one arm tied behind his back.

I hope that’s the case. But I have to admit that years of watching the Twins steadfastly avoid paying market-rate, multi-year salaries to top-shelf (or even middle-shelf) starting pitchers on the free agent market has me skeptical.

After all, as any true 1960s comic book fan could tell you, in Bizarro-speak, “me am signing good expensive pitching this time,” really means, “I’m going shopping for crap in the bargain bin again.”

– JC

A Full Forty – Dissecting the 40-Man Roster (Position Players)

On Monday I did a quick run down of the pitchers currently on the Twins 40-man roster.  Today I will take a look at the position players, including five catchers, nine infielders, and seven outfielders.  Several of these players will not be on the roster when the Twins head north to start the season.

Catchers (Age, Position, Highest 2012 Level)
Drew Butera – 29, 3rd Catcher, MLB – If Butera is still on the 40-man roster when the Twins break camp, the Twins are doing it wrong.  With Mauer and Doumit handling most of the catching duties, the Twins’ third catcher should be more versatile than Butera (and have some value as a bench bat), pitching ability notwithstanding.

Ryan Doumit – 31, C/RF/DH, MLB – Ryan Doumit might never pass for an average defensive catcher, but his ability to slot in at RF and DH allow the Twins to move Mauer and Morneau around and if he hits like he did in 2012 (.275/.320/.461, 18 HR and 75 RBI) the Twins will continue to reap the benefits of his very reasonable contract extension.

Chris Herrmann – 25, C/LF, MLB – Herrmann lucked into a September call-up when Mauer and Doumit were both a little nicked up and he struggled offensively while he was up.  Herrmann was off to a pretty decent Arizona Fall League performance but an injury ultimately derailed his season in Peoria.  Herrmann is pretty rough as a catcher, but he has a great arm, and like Doumit, has the ability with the bat to play well as a corner outfielder.

Joe Mauer – 29, C/DH/1B, MLB – Joe Mauer’s 2012 went a long way to erase 2011 from fan’s memories.  He led the league in OBP and if you don’t consider his 2009 MVP season, Mauer was back to being Joe Mauer.  He will probably never hit 29 home runs again, especially in Target Field, but the Twins’ flexibility with Mauer has allowed them to keep his bat in the lineup almost every day.

Josmil Pinto – 23, C/DH, AA – Pinto has virtually no shot to make the 25-man roster having barely played any ball above High-A.  The Twins like his bat, but if he’s going to stick as a catcher he’s going to have to catch a lot of breaks.  As Aaron Gleeman said in a recent podcast (I’m paraphrasing heavily), if he’s already splitting time at DH in the lower levels, he could easily be stuck at 1B or DH by the time he’s ready to put on a MLB uniform.

Old Man Jamey Carroll, Photo Credit: CapitalBabs

Infielders
Jamey Carroll – 38, Utility Infielder, MLB – At 38 years-old Carroll is long past his prime as a baseball player, that the Twins might have to use him as a starting infielder in 2013 gives you a pretty good idea about how bad they’ve been at producing middle infield talent with their farm system in the recent past.  Carroll lived up (mostly) to his solid defensive and on-base percentage track record in 2012, but if this team is really building toward the future, Carroll needs to be relegated to utility infield duties by mid-season to give the youngsters more opportunity.

Brian Dozier – 25, SS, MLB – 2012 started off so well for Dozier.  Coming off a red-hot 2011 campaign, Dozier had a great spring and after crushing the ball to start the year in Triple-A the Twins called him up to be their everyday shortstop.  From there things went poorly.  Dozier hung on for 84 games hitting just (.234/.271/.332) while playing sub-par defense before the Twins sent him back down to Triple-A.  Dozier wouldn’t be the first MLB regular who failed in his first Big League opportunity, but some of the luster has worn off and he’ll need another strong spring – offensively and defensively – to play his way back into the good graces of upper management.  He should be on the 25-man roster to start the season, if for no other reason than to make sure 2012 was not a fluke.

Eduardo Escobar – 23, Utility Infielder, MLB – Escobar was obtained from the White Sox in the deal that sent Fransico Liriano to Chicago.  Escobar played sparingly with the Sox over the past two seasons playing all over the diamond (3B, 2B, SS, and LF), but he isn’t a true shortstop.   Between Dozier, Carroll and Florimon, Escobar is probably the odd man out, starting the year in Rochester.

Thomas Field – 25, MI, RF, MLB – Claimed off of waivers from the Colorado Rockies, Field has primarily played shortstop in the minor leagues, but has spent time at second base as well.  He doesn’t have a big bat, even in the Minor Leagues (.264/.359/.414 across five seasons), but he seems to be proficient with the glove.  I don’t expect him to make the 25-man roster, and he’s a guy I could easily see the Twins removing from the 40-man roster to make room for a free agent signing. EDIT: Per MLB Trade Rumors, Thomas Field has been claimed off waivers by the Los Angeles Angles of Anaheim.

Pedro Florimon – 25, SS, MLB – Florimon is entering his second full season in the Twins organization after being claimed from the Baltimore Orioles at the conclusion of the 2011 season.  Florimon played in 43 games with the Twins and hit poorly but showed flashes of spectacular defense, as is Florimon’s MO.  After suffering through a combination of Tsuyoshi Nishioka, Trevor Plouffe, and Brian Dozier at SS the past couple of seasons the Twins like Florimon’s defensive upside, but he’ll have to hit better than .219 to beat out Brian Dozier and earn the starting spot at short.

Justin Morneau – 31, 1B/DH, MLB – Entering the final year of his 6 year/$80 million dollar contract, Morneau will earn $14 million dollars in 2013.  Morneau finally seemed to put his concussion behind him in the second half of 2012 and when he’s healthy he is still a valuable offensive weapon.  He plays above average defense at first base, and if he has another strong half of a year and the Twins are out of contention by the All-Star break, the Twins could easily flip him for a prospect this summer.

Chris Parmelee – 24, 1B/RF, MLB – Parmelee does not have much of anything left to prove in Triple-A after hitting a blistering .338/.457/.645 batting line in 2012, but he’s yet to have sustained success with the Minnesota Twins.  He had a red hot September in 2011, but with almost 3x as many plate appearances in 2012 he hit like a Pedro Florimon, with a little more power.  The Twins will need to find regular at-bats for Parmelee in 2013, but with a crowded outfield, Mauer and Morneau splitting time at first, and a solid rotation at DH, there just is no room for Parmelee on the roster as it is currently constructed.  I do not expect the Twins to trade Parmelee, especially with Morneau unlikely to return in 2014, and Parmelee might have to log a few more months in Rochester before a spot opens up for him on this Twins team.

Trevor Plouffe – 26, 3B, MLB – Was Plouffe’s six-week power surge for real?  Did his thumb injury keep him from succeeding at the tail end of last season?  Or was the real Trevor Plouffe something in between, a guy with questionable defensive ability and occasional power to left field?  Terry Ryan said on Monday night in an interview on 1500ESPN that the Twins want to bring in some third base competition for Plouffe this winter, but the Twins have bigger holes at shortstop and in the pitching rotation, so it seems highly unlikely that that Twins will bring in anyone that could really threaten Plouffe’s hold on the starting third base job.

Daniel Santana – 22, SS/2B, High-A – Santana is widely considered as the best shortstop prospect in the Twins system, but without any playing time above High-A, he’s not making the 25-man roster out of Spring Training.  Santana could move quickly through the system in 2013, probably starting the year in AA, and if he continues to play well and hit he could easily be in Rochester before the season’s end.  Santana just turned 22 years old, so even if he is not Big League ready until 2015, he’d still be just 25 years old.  A lot of upside here, but like many of the Twins’ best prospects, he’s a long way from donning the Twins uniform.

Outfielders
Oswaldo Arcia – 21, RF, AA – Arcia took another big step forward in 2012 posting one of the best batting lines of his career in a full season at Double-A.  Along with Double-A teammate Aaron Hicks, Arcia should be roaming the outfield in Rochester to start 2013, but if the Twins deal Span, Revere or Willingham he could potentially be looking at a MLB tryout in Spring Training.  As a corner outfielder he’ll need to continue to hit at Triple-A to retain his prospect value, but if he succeeds he could be a Twins regular as early as 2014.

Joe Benson – 24, CF/RF, AAA – 2012 was a lost year for Benson.  After a solid 2011 season he was rewarded with a September appearance with the Twins and while he didn’t light the world on fire, he flashed his defensive value and speed, along with a beautiful head of hair.  In 2012 Benson started the year at Triple-A, struggled and was demoted to Double-A, struggled more, was injured, rehabbed in the Rookie League and at High-A, and then struggled again at Double-A before ending the year back on the disabled list with a knee injury.  I think the Twins will put Benson back at Double-A to start 2013, but he could quickly join Arcia and Hicks in what would be a really fun outfield for the Rochester Red Wings.

Aaron Hicks – 23, CF, AA – Formerly the Twins #1 prospect, Hicks was rated as high as the 19th best prospect in all of baseball by Baseball America before the 2010 season, but by 2012 he had fallen all the way off the Top 100 list.  Then, as if motivated by his removal from the list, Hicks had a great 2012 and vaulted his way back up Twins prospect lists and sits firmly behind Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton as one of the Twins’ best Minor League ballplayers.  Hicks hit .286/.384/.460 in 129 games in Double-A last year, and he also hit well from both sides of the plate, something he’d struggled to do for the past couple years, so much so that there was talk that Hicks give up his switch hitting ways.  Hicks combines a high-upside bat with spectacular defense and a great arm.  He likely has all the defensive ability of Ben Revere, but with a bat that could profile well even as a corner outfielder.  If the Twins move Willingham, Span or Revere this winter, Hicks is likely to be the best fit to fill in, but I would be a little more comfortable if he had some time in Triple-A to build on his 2012 success before handing him a starting job in Minnesota.

Darin Mastroianni – 27, CF/RF/LF, MLB – I feel like a broken record here, but if the Twins move one of their starting outfielders this winter, Mastroianni is probably the immediate beneficiary in terms of playing time.  While he’s perfectly suited in his role as a fourth outfielder, he would likely be exposed offensively if given an increased workload.  His defense is good enough for him to play everyday, but his bat would suffer.  Mastroianni’s speed and versatility give him an advantage over Chris Parmelee for a 25-man roster spot, but if the Twins are dead set on finding room for Parmelee, Mastroianni could be squeezed.

Ben Revere – 24, RF, MLB – A year ago Twins fans were clamoring for Revere to earn a full time spot in the Twins outfield, and despite his weak arm, the Twins installed him as their everyday right fielder.  Revere has the range and defensive ability to play center field, but Ron Gardenhire is a manager that frequently defers to his veterans, and even after another year of watching Revere make spectacular plays in the outfield, Gardenhire is unlikely to swap roles with Span and Revere.  The biggest takeaway from 2012 for Revere was his offensive improvement.  He’s always going to be a guy who’s batting average will sit around .300 with plenty of infield hits, and he won’t take a lot of walks, but if he continues to develop extra base power, he’ll be a Denard Span lite (which the Twins would be happy to have in center field if – again- they move Span this winter).

Denard Span – 28, CF, MLB – Span has been the Twin most frequently listed on MLB Trade Rumors, and if the Twins are really looking to bring back a quality starting pitcher, his team friendly contract makes him the most likely candidate to go.  After battling concussion issues in 2011, Denard Span played 128 games in a mostly healthy 2012 campaign and his offensive season was almost identical to his career averages.  The Twins hold a team option on Denard Span for 2015, so if the Twins keep him around, he could still be with the team when they have a realistic opportunity to contend for the AL Central.  Span is a valuable player even if the Twins are bad again in 2013, but with so many holes in their starting rotation it is hard to see Span sticking around until Opening Day.

Josh Willingham – 33, LF, MLB -2012 was a great year for Josh Willingham.  His best as a major leaguer and he was rewarded with a Silver Slugger for his 35 home runes, 110 RBIs and a .260/.366/.524 batting line.  Willingham is unlikely to repeat those numbers in 2013, but even if he’s the player he was in Washington and Oakland, he’s a valuable corner outfielder and the Twins best power hitter (though a healthy Justin Morneau could certainly give him a run for his money).  Willingham is likely locked into his left field role again in 2013, even if the Twins move Span and bring up a talented youngster.  He doesn’t play great defense, but as Babs likes to say, it looks like he’s trying really hard out there, and effort goes a long way in earning forgiveness from the fans (something Delmon Young never got the hang of).

So there they are, TWENTY ONE TWENTY position players.  The Twins are unlikely to carry five catchers on the roster once Spring Training breaks, and of the five, Drew Butera is the most likely candidate to be removed.  Of their nine infielders, I think the Twins could remove Escobar or Field without too much concern of another team claiming either player (or not), and of the two, I think Field is the most likely to be waived.  It would be tough for the Twins to sneak any of their outfielders through waivers and these seven are likely to remain unchanged in the near future.  Mastroianni could become expendable if either Arcia or Hicks join the 25-man roster, but that is likely to happen only if the Twins move one of the current MLB incumbents, likely Span or Willingham, should that scenario arise.

-ERolfPleiss

A Full Forty – Dissecting the 40-Man Roster (Pitchers)

Last week the Minnesota Twins added eight players to their 40-man roster, maxing out their roster with 40 players.  The Twins will likely remove at least one player prior to the upcoming Rule 5 draft, but for now, the Twins do not have room for any additions.  If Spring Training started tomorrow, here are the 40 players that would be competing for a coveted 25-man roster spot and a place on the 2013 Opening Day roster.  We’ll start with the Pitchers today, and look at the position players later this week.

B.J. Hermsen, recently added to the Twins 40-man roster. PhotoCredit: Knuckleballs

Right Handed Pitchers (Age, Position, Highest 2012 Level)

Alex Burnett - 25, Reliever, MLB – Burnett appeared in 67 games for the Twins in 2012 and posted the best ERA of his career (3.52).  Unfortunately, Burnett struck out batters at the lowest rate in his career (4.5/9), while still walking more than three batters per nine innings and his 2012 success is unlikely to continue in 2013, if he makes the 25-man roster, it will be as a middle-inning, low-leverage, reliever.

Jared Burton – 31, Reliever, MLB – Like Alex Burnett, Burton also posted the best ERA of his career (2.18).  Unlike Burnett, Burton’s success came from an increase in stike out rates and a decrease in walk rates.  Burton is almost a lock for the 25-man roster, and will likely be the eighth inning set up man.

Cole De Vries – 27, Starter, MLB – De Vries was a long shot to make the 25-man roster in 2012, but because of a string of injuries and generally poor play from other Twins starters, De Vries started 16 games en route to a 4.11 ERA.  De Vries is a typical Twins-type pitcher, low walks, low strike outs, and is a long shot to make the 25-man roster again in 2013, but unless the Twins acquire multiple starting pitchers through trades or free agency, the Twins do not have a lot of other competent options.

Casey Fien – Casey Fien, Reliever, MLB – Fien returned to Major League action after spending 2011 in the Minors.  Fien had several surprisingly good appearances toward the end of the year, earning a 2.06 ERA to go along with 32Ks in just 35.0 IP.  Fien’s previous MLB performance and Minor League track record does not indicate that he’s likely to continue to perform at a high level, but he’s gained the trust of Ron Gardenhire and has a farily good chance to make the 25-man roster with a strong performance this spring.

Kyle Gibson – Kyle Gibson, Starter, AAA – Gibson spent all of 2012 rehabbing from Tommy John surgery and pitched in four different leagues during his rehab, including the Arizona Fall League where the big right-hander was said to be consistently throwing 93-94 MPH with good control.  If fully healthy, Gibson is in line to be one of the Twins five starters in 2013.

Deolis Guerra – 23, Reliever, AAA – Guerra split time in 2012 between Double-A New Britain and Triple-A Rochester and posted a 4.11 ERA in his first full season as a reliever, with high strike out numbers (9.1K/9) and low walk totals (3.3/9).  At 23 Guerra is still fairly young for AAA and I expect him to start the season in Rochester, though he will have a chance to play in Minnesota before the season ends. Edit: Per John Bonnes, Deolis Guerra is out of options, so he’ll need to make the 25-man roster or risk being claimed off of waivers.

Liam Hendriks – 23, Starter, MLB – Hendriks struggled to turn his Minor League success into Major League succes and spent the better part of 2012 searching for his first big league victory.  Hendriks finished the year 1-8 with a 5.59 ERA and only 50 strike outs over 85.1 innings.  Ideally Hendriks would start 2013 in Rochester, working to fine tune his command against lesser hitters before being asked to join the Twins.  If Hendriks makes the Opening Day roster it will likely be because the Twins lack other viable options rather than their belief in Hendriks ability to succeed at a high level.

B.J. Hermsen – 22, Starter, AA – Hermsen is another Twins-type pitcher with low strike out numbers and in Hermsen’s case, extremely low walk rates (1.6/9).  Hermsen is unlikely to merit serious consideration for the starting rotation in 2013 because he has no experience above AA.  Hermsen has continually put up ERAs around 3, and if he can continue to put up good numbers in AAA he should earn himself a September call-up and, if the Twins do not add a couple of free agents on multi-year deals, could be a candidate to start for the Twins in 2014.

Lester Oliveros – 24, Reliever, MLB – Oliveros had Tommy John surgery in 2012 and will spend most, if not all, of 2013 rehabbing his elbow.  He will be moved to the 60-day DL once Spring Training begins, opening up a roster spot.

Josh Roenicke – 30, Reliever, MLB – Claimed off of waivers from the Colorado Rockies, Roenicke is unlikely to start the season in the Twins bullpen and instead the Twins will probably attempt to pass Roenicke through waivers later this spring and use him as roster depth in Rochester.  However, Roenicke did post an impressive 3.25 ERA last season with the Rockies, so the Twins might be willing to give him a longer look in Spring Training before ultimately relegating him to the Minor Leagues.

Anthony Swarzak – 27, Long Man/Spot Starter, MLB – The Twins have seen enough of Swarzak over the past couple of years (198.2 IP) to know what they have out of the 27-year old.  Swarzak has struggled when he’s been asked to start, but as a long man in the bullpen he’s performed moderately well (5.79 ERA as Starter, 4.03 as reliever).  I believe that the Twins will bring Swarzak back in a similar role in 2013, but if they are intent on finding a spot for B.J. Hermsen, this could be somewhere they’d be willing to make a switch.

Michael Tonkin – 23, Reliever/Closer, High-A – While Tonkin has never pitched above High-A Fort Myers, he posted a 12.6 K/9 in 2012 and followed that up with a spectacular Arizona Fall League performance posting a 2.45 ERA over 14.2 innings with a 0.75 WHIP.  Tonkin will likely start 2012 at Double-A New Britain, but he could certainly be in Rochester by the All-Star break.

Tim Wood – 30, Closer, Reliever, MLB – Wood was claimed off of waivers from the Pittsburgh Pirates after spending all of 2012 in Triple-A.  As a likely closer, Wood does not have the kind of strike out numbers you would typically expect, but he’s posted a 3.49 and 2.19 ERA each of the last two seasons in Triple-A so he’s doing something right.  You have to wonder why a guy with a 2.19 ERA did not get a September call-up with the Pirates as they were once again spiraling their way to another losing record.  Before his successful 2011 and 2012 seasons, Wood struggled mightily in the PCL, splitting time between the Miami Marlins and Texas Rangers systems.  Do not expect to see Wood on the 25-man roster this spring, as he’s likely to spend most of the season in Rochester.

Left Handed Pitchers
Scott Diamond – 26, Starter, MLB – Diamond is the lone Twins starter to be guaranteed a spot in the 2013 rotation, so as long as he makes it through Spring Training without injury he has a secure spot on the 25-man roster.  Diamond is now 2 years removed from being drafted by the Twins in the Rule 5 draft and while his strike out numbers are dreadfully low (12.6% strike out rate), he manages to keep the base paths clear by limiting walks and inducing ground balls.  If Diamond can repeat his 2012 numbers the Twins will be ecstatic.

Brian Duensing – 29, Reliever/LOOGY/Starter, MLB – With the Twins again searching for answers from their starting rotation Duensing given another chance to win a spot as a starter.  He didn’t fare well.  Overall, Duensing has a 4.57 ERA as a starter compared to just a 3.38 ERA out of the pen.  As a starter Duensing is subject to facing a lot more right handed batters (.302/.358/.473, AGV/OBP/SLG), whereas in the bullpen he can be used selectively against left handed batters (.217/.261/.298).  Hopefully the Twins understand who Duensing is at this point in his career and keep him in the pen.  He’s a lock to be on the 25-man roster and should begin the year as the teams primary LOOGY (Left-handed One Out guY).

Pedro Hernandez – 23, Starter, MLB – Hernandez is one of the players the Twins acquired in the Francisco Liriano deal with the White Sox.  Hernandez has just one disastrous Major League start, and has only 52.1 innings at Triple-A.  The Twins should send Hernandez back to Rochester to start 2013, and unless things go poorly for the Twins rotation again this year, he’s unlikely to put on a big league uniform anytime before September.

Glen Perkins – 29, Reliever/Closer, MLB – After signing a 4 year $11.85 million dollar deal this past winter, Glen Perkins went out and had one of the best years of his career, posting a 2.56 ERA to go along with 78 strike outs and just 16 walks in 70.1 innings.  Perkins will start 2013 as the Twins primary closer, a role he shared at times in 2012 with Matt Capps and Jared Burton.

Tyler Robertson – 24, Reliever/LOOGY, MLB – Making his Major League debut in 2012, Robertson performed poorly, but his Minor League performance in 2012,  prior to his stint with the Twins, show the signs of life you like to see from a big left-hander.  He gets plenty of strike outs (10.4/9 innings), and he doesn’t give up a lot of a home runs.  For Robertson the biggest issue is going to be control, as he walked 14 batters in his 25 innings for the Twins a year ago.  Robertson is great against left-handed batters (.190/.268/.317), but if he cannot learn to get out right-handed hitters (.290/.436/.484) he is not going to stick around for long.  Robertson should start the year as the Twins #2 LOOGY and a middle reliever.

Caleb Thielbar – 25, Reliever, AAA – Thielbar made it as far as AAA in 2012, but at the end of 2011 he had never pitched above High-A.  Thielbar likely needs some additional Minor League seasoning before the Twins are ready to put him on the 25-man roster, especially after a terrible Arizona Fall League permanence in which he posted an 11.05 ERA with 8 walks in just 13.0 innings.

The Twins definitely have plenty of arms on the 40-man roster, but they don’t have a lot of talent in the bunch.  If the Twins start the season with this same group of arms they’ll have Scott Diamond, Kyle Gibson, and Liam Hendriks as their one-two-three starters, and will be well on their way to another 90 loss season.  It is more likely that the Twins sign at least two free agent pitchers, and bring in another arm via trade, but until anything happens, there is not a lot of hope readily available in Minnesota.

-ERolfPleiss

 

Minnesota Twins Podcast – Talk to Contact – Episode 14

Episode 14 of the Twins baseball podcast,  Talk To Contact (@TalkToContact), is now available for download via iTunes or by clicking here.

My brother, Grant, procures his own turkey for Thanksgiving. Pretty much killing it, literally.

This week Paul and I are joined by a surprise guest, we take a closer look at Twins prospect Zack Jones, Twins hall of famer Bob Casey and we answer a variety of questions from our listener of the week, Kristine (@MNTwinsForever). We wonder aloud if there is a Gordon Bombay (Mighty Ducks) type of coach in MLB and take a quick look at what we would put on the Twins Christmas list.

If you enjoy our podcast, please take a couple extra minutes and rate and review us on iTunes (ratings and reviews have magical iTunes powers, which help us become warlocks.)

You can follow Paul on Twitter (@BaseballPirate) or read his writing at  Puckett’s Pond.

– ERolfPleiss

Happy Thanksgiving From Knuckleballs

We here at Knuckleballs hope that all of our readers (and everyone else, I suppose) have a terrific Thanksgiving!

I’m feeling thankful today for a lot of things. My family is enjoying relatively good health and those of us who wish to be employed are so. That may not seem like much, but we realize it is a blessing not everyone shares today. So I give thanks.

Above and beyond a healthy family that, for reasons not always readily understandable, seems to love me despite my many faults, I’m also thankful for many other things.

I’m thankful for our men and women in uniform (and their families) whose sacrifices make possible most of the blessings we all enjoy.

Despite the irritating political ads that those of us in “battleground states” endured for most of the past year, I’m thankful to live in a country where we get to choose whether to retain or overthrow our government every couple of years without shedding a single drop of blood in the process.

And I’m thankful for my fellow Knuckleballs writers, Babs, KL and Eric. I’m not sure it would even be possible to maintain this blog without them, but I’m absolutely positive it wouldn’t be nearly as much fun to do as it is with them. Of course, it’s the readers, especially those who take the time to share your own thoughts with us in the comments section and/or join us for GameChats during the season, that make the blogging fun and worthwhile, so I’m thankful for all of you, too.

Finally, I’m thankful that my father passed along to me his great love for the sport of baseball and I’m thankful for those who make being a baseball fan… and specifically a fan of the Twins and Kernels… such an enjoyable and entertaining endeavor. I may not always agree with how teams are run or strategies are applied on the field and there are certainly times I’d like the players to perform a bit better, but I don’t doubt for a moment that everyone concerned are good, hard working people who apply enormous amounts of dedication toward their respective jobs… all so you and I can enjoy baseball more.

I hope all of them and all of you have a safe and blessed Thanksgiving holiday!

– JC

Years Don’t Matter… Much

I’ve never been in favor of giving long-term contracts to pitchers. I thought the Mets would regret giving Johan Santana five years at the salary levels they paid him. I have never advocated that the Twins should get involved in a bidding war for a Cliff Lee or a Roy Halladay or any other pitcher that was obviously going to get 5+ years at a bazillion dollars per year from one of the mega-market teams.

It just doesn’t make sense, does it? Pitchers are so fragile. It just seems like there’s a better than 50-50 chance that any given Major League starting pitcher is going to blow out an elbow, shoulder, knee or other appendage that is pretty important for a pitcher to be effective. With that being the case, it seems like any team signing a pitcher to a four or five year contract should almost assume that they’re going to be paying that pitcher NOT to pitch for them for at least one of those seasons.

Not a lot a lot of teams can afford to pay 10, 15 or 20 million dollars in any given season for a pitcher that never takes the mound. Sure the Yankees can absorb that kind of nonproductive payroll and the Dodgers are certainly headed in to the same category. Even the Red Sox and Phillies can probably deal with that kind of hit from time to time. But a team run on a tight budget like the Twins just can’t afford to take that kind of risk. Right?

No, they can’t… usually.

But these are not usual times in Twinsville and, as hard to believe as it may seem on the surface, right now the Twins actually can afford to take that kind of risk. In fact, I’d argue they almost can’t afford not to do so.

While it may be counter-intuitive for Twins fans who have been programmed by the Twins front office to believe spending any kind of serious money over a period of more than a couple of years, especially for a pitcher, would lead to the financial collapse of the entire Pohlad family, there’s an argument to be made that now is the time to throw caution to the wind and dive in to that free agent pitching market. And I’m just the person to make that argument.

So am I arguing that the Twins should go all out to outbid the Dodgers and Angels for Zack Greinke’s services? No. I haven’t gone quite that mad (though I might argue that it’s not… quite… as absurd an idea as most would claim). I’m also not sure I’d roll the dice on Dan Haren’s iffy back for more than a two year guaranteed contract.

But let’s talk seriously about Anibal Sanchez and Edwin Jackson (and maybe even Joe Saunders) for a moment.

Anibal Sanchez (Photo: Leon Halip, Getty Images)

The Twins Daily guys, in their “2013 Offseason Handbook,” estimate that Sanchez and Jackson should command multi-year deals of about $11 million per year. They project Sanchez to get four years and Jackson to get three. They project Saunders to get three years at $8 million per year.

I’ll say right up front that I don’t believe the Twins can sign any of those three pitchers for those figures. It will take more. First, because with the early deals we’re seeing for Baker, Guthrie, Kuroda (and perhaps others I’m forgetting) it’s apparent that pitchers are getting bigger bucks than the authors of the Handbook (and most of the rest of us) expected teams to shell out. But more importantly, each of these pitchers are going to get offers from teams who did not lose 95 games in 2012 and, all things being equal, they’ll sign with a team that’s been having some level success recently. So if the Twins want any of these guys, they’ll need to make sure all things are not equal.

The way they can do that is to offer a longer term contract than other teams are willing to offer. If other teams will offer three years, the Twins need to offer four. If others will offer four guaranteed years, the Twins need to offer five.

And there are two big reasons why Terry Ryan should do exactly that.

Edwin Jackson (Photo: Jeff Curry, US PRESSWIRE)

The first is that the Twins really… really… need good starting pitching. They need it now. They’re also going to need it in 2014 and they’re still going to need it in 2015 and 2016. Maybe Kyle Gibson will develop in to a solid #3 starter… or even better. Maybe Scott Diamond will do likewise. Heck, maybe even BJ Hermsen will become a reliable member of the rotation during that timeframe. But who else in the Twins organization projects as a reliable member of the rotation by 2016? Maybe JO Berrios. Maybe.

Even if you believe any attempt to try to compete for a postseason spot in 2013 and 2014 is fantasy, you have to admit that there is precious little evidence that the Twins will have even an average rotation in place by the time Miguel Sano, Byron Buxton and Eddie Rosario are roaming Target Field on a daily basis. If you believe that, by 2015, these young studs are going to be ready to usher in the next era of winning Twins baseball, don’t you think they’re going to need some pitching just as badly as Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and Josh Willingham do?

Signing 29 year-olds Jackson and/or Sanchez to long term contracts means they should still be well within their primes in 2015 and 2016.

I know what you’re thinking, though. What if they get hurt? What if one (or both) of them can’t pitch in 2015 or 2016? How can the Twins afford to shell out $11-$22 million for pitchers that can’t pitch? They can’t afford that risk…. can they?

I’m glad you asked. Yes… yes they can. And I’m not just saying that because the Pohlads can technically afford 10 times that much risk without breaking a sweat. Through a very unique set of circumstances, the Twins can actually afford the risk of having over $20 million sitting on the Disabled List all year long without even threatening to crash through their self-imposed “50% of revenue for payroll” limit.

During 2013 and 2014, the risk is minimal anyway, right? Because it appears nobody thinks the Twins should even be trying to field a real Major League team for the next two seasons. If they’re hurt, so what? But if they’re healthy and effective, maybe… just maybe… the Twins could surprise some folks.

But it’s when 2015 rolls around that things get interesting. Even if Denard Span, Josh Willingham and Justin Morneau aren’t traded before the end of 2014, none of them are likely to be around for Opening Day, 2015. Morneau’s contract expires after 2013 and both Span* and Willingham have deals that end after 2014. Given that information, how many of the Twins’ non-pitchers do you think will even be eligible for arbitration in 2015?

*Technically, the Twins hold a 2015 option on Span for $9 million. If you think he’ll still be with the Twins at that point and that the Twins will exercise that option, that’s fine. I think it’s unlikely, especially given all the outfield talent in the pipeline.

Maybe you think Trevor Plouffe and/or Eduardo Escobar will still be around, but I wouldn’t count on it. Maybe Ben Revere will be in his arbitration years… assuming some combination of Hicks, Benson, Arcia, Rosario, Buxton and Kepler haven’t made Ben’s presence unnecessary. If Revere, Escobar and Plouffe have poofed, it’s conceivable that the nine starting position players in the Twins 2015 lineup will be paid a total of $27 million (that’s $23 million for Joe Mauer and the Major League minimum of $500,000 for the remaining eight starters). It’s not unreasonable to assume that the four bench players will similarly be minimum wage earners.

It’s possible that Glen Perkins will still be with the Twins in 2015. If so, his contract calls for him to make $3.75 million that season and the Twins hold a $4.5 million option for 2016. Every other remaining pitcher on the Twins current 40-man roster is either likely to have departed via free agency by then or will still be under team control (either pre-arbitration or arbitration-eligible) in 2015. In all likelihood, much of the Twins bullpen will have been replaced with rookies by then. But just to err on the side of caution, let’s assume that the six members of the bullpen not named Perkins are averaging $2 million each. That would mean a total of $15.75 million devoted to the pen in 2015.

Scott Diamond will be in his first arbitration year in 2015. Let’s go crazy and assume he’ll make $5 million because he’s been so awesome in 2013-14. If Kyle Gibson and either Liam Hendriks or BJ Hermsen are holding down two other rotation spots, that’s another million dollars for the two of them, combined.

By my count, we now have 23 players that the Twins will be paying a grand total of… wait for it… $50.75 million. And that’s perhaps being quite generous.

If the Twins are fortunate to have both Jackson and Sanchez under contract for $11 million per year, each, their total payroll in 2015 could still be less than $75 million.

If one or both of those pitchers is injured, the Twins would still have $25 million with which to attempt to replace the injured pitcher(s) and still keep their payroll below their Opening Day 2012 level.

And we haven’t even mentioned the roughly $25 million of additional national TV revenue that every team in Major League Baseball is scheduled to begin receiving in 2014.

How realistic is this? I don’ t know. One would think (or at least hope) that the Twins wouldn’t rely 100% on “kids” in 2015, but when you look at Hicks, Arcia, Benson, Rosario, Sano, Buxton, Santana, Gibson, Vargas, Kepler, Berrios, Hermsen, Harrison, Polanco, Salcedo, Herrmann… and more… aren’t we realistically expecting those players to have arrived by sometime in 2015, even if not by Opening Day?

Might the Twins sign a veteran utility infielder for a couple of million dollars? Sure. Maybe they even talk Jared Burton in to staying for 2-3 million a year. Maybe there are others.

But the point is, by 2015 every player on the current roster making more than a million dollars a year except Joe Mauer and Glen Perkins is likely to be gone. Morneau, Willingham, Span, Doumit, Carroll, Blackburn. That’s something like $42 million of payroll coming off the books by 2015.

I’m not sure there’s ever a good time to give expensive, long-term contracts to even one pitcher, much less more than one. But if there is, I would think it would be when (a) you desperately need good starting pitchers and expect that desperation to last several years, (b) you’ve got a number of highly talented position players (yet almost no can’t-miss pitchers) within a couple of years of their planned MLB arrival dates, and (c) nearly half your current payroll will come off the books by the time those pitchers enter the third year of their new contracts.

Coincidentally, those are the exact circumstances the Twins find themselves in today.

– JC

P.S. If you’d like to check my math, Cot’s Baseball Contracts has a nifty chart of the Twins’ contractual obligations. Just click here.

Money Matters

I’m constantly struck by how so many otherwise intelligent people suddenly sound like idiots when discussing issues related to money. A number of these people are certainly not idiots… they’re accomplished business owners and/or people who have achieved considerable success at running businesses. So if they aren’t as stupid as the words they’re saying makes them sound, one can only assume that they think the people hearing/reading their words are stupid enough to believe what they’re saying.

Yes, I’m referring primarily to the Twins front office.

Owner Jim Pohlad, GM Terry Ryan and President Dave St. Peter

It was over a month ago that the Twins held a press conference and made owner Jim Pohlad, President Dave St. Peter and General Manager Terry Ryan available to the mainstream media. Predictably, the topic of the team’s potential 2013 payroll came up. Also predictably, the Twins brass was non-committal. Here’s an excerpt from the story written at the time by MLB.com’s Twins beat reporter Rhett Bollinger (click here for the link):

Pohlad said that payroll will not be a concern this offseason, but wouldn’t give a firm number on what that will be. The Twins entered the 2012 season with a payroll right around $100 million.

“We’ve never told anybody they have to spend ‘X’ dollars or that they can’t spend whatever they are recommending,” Pohlad said. “So it could go up, it could go down. It’s whatever Terry tells us. We’ve talked about spending in that 50 percent of revenue, but it doesn’t mean Terry will spend that.”

Ryan said that the payroll situation will be fluid and that it should not hinder him from acquiring the starting pitching the club needs to compete next season.

“I think we can quit fooling ourselves that money is the answer,” Ryan said. “We’re going to have to make good decisions to create a pitching staff that’s going to give us a chance.”

Well, I’m glad they put that question to rest, aren’t you? I’m so glad to know that money doesn’t matter.

We don’t know whether the Twins could have made a deal with the Marlins for the same package of players that they dealt to Toronto last week. There’s absolutely no doubt, however, that the addition of Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle and Jose Reyes would have gone a long way toward addressing the biggest holes in the Twins lineup and the level of players the Jays sent back to Miami certainly could have been made available by the Twins.

So why wasn’t it the Twins that made the deal? I don’t know. But it’s such a friggin relief to know that whatever the reason was, it wasn’t money!

The Twins also lost Scott Baker to the Cubs last week. Baker got a good deal. $5.5 million guaranteed with another $1.5 million in incentives on a straight one year deal. According to the Star Tribune’s beat reporter, Joe Christensen, the Twins were very interested in keeping Baker, but wanted an option year for 2014, which Baker wouldn’t agree to. Again, it makes me feel so much better to know that the reason Baker won’t be wearing a Twins uniform in 2013 had nothing whatsoever to do with money.

Here’s something I’ve learned from working in Corporate America for the past 30+ years: Whenever someone in senior management tells you, “It’s not about the money,” that means that money is exactly what it’s all about.

As Twins fans, we’ve become programmed to just accept the “company line.” We’ve been hearing it since the days of Calvin Griffith and on through the Pohlad era at the Metrodome. Sure, there were hints that having a new stadium and the revenues it would generate might change things, but by and large, the fan base has continued to just accept the, “we’ll spend 50% of revenue on payroll,” line of crap that has always come out of the Twins’ offices.

It has become second nature, to the point where Twins fans seem to almost think that’s how every Major League team does business and we act surprised when other teams behave differently.

The Tigers went to the World Series, but clearly needed to improve at a corner outfield position. They looked for the best option on the market, moved quickly and signed Torii Hunter to a deal that seemed like it was a little excessive, given his age. How can they do that? Won’t that mean their payroll might exceed half of their revenues? Ah, but they’ve got an old owner who wants to win a World Series before he dies, so that’s why they can do what the Twins won’t, right?

The Blue Jays saw themselves needing much the same kind of help that the Twins need. They agreed to take on more years of higher salaries than they might have really been comfortable with, but they made the deal because they want to compete. But that’s ridiculous, right? Boy, they’ll sure regret having Buehrle and Reyes on the payroll toward the back end of those contracts because in a couple of years, their payroll might exceed half their revenues! Ah, but they’re owned by a giant Communications conglomerate and that’s why they aren’t limited as to payroll.

I’ve got a news flash, folks. Every team starts the offseason with a self-examination that identifies what their biggest needs are. The next step for most teams that are committed to being competitive is to identify the best options available via free agency or trades to meet the identified needs. Unless you’re the Rays (who have a whole bunch of financial issues unrelated to the quality of their team), your front office knows that the quality of the product on the field drives revenue.

But if you’re a Twins fan, you’ve been conditioned not to ask who would best fill the team’s needs, but who would fit in to the Twins’ designated payroll limit. That’s because the Twins have historically seemed oblivious to the basic business tenet that product quality drives revenues.

They’ve brainwashed fans in to believing that the only reasonable way to operate a business is by subscribing to the theory that a drop in revenues last year means they must cut payroll next year. It’s time for fans to become deprogrammed from that mindset and let the Twins know that their fan base is not as stupid as the club has treated them as being.

Maybe I’m being premature with this criticism. After all, it’s still early in the offseason and the Winter Meetings are still a couple of weeks away. Terry Ryan may actually sign honest-to-goodness legitimate starting pitchers to fill the Twins’ needs in that area, regardless of the cost. He may make a trade or two that will improve the middle infield, even if it means making his bosses nervous. Maybe he’ll prove that his words about payroll not hindering him from doing his job were more than just more of the same BS we’ve heard for the past decade.

But until the Twins start ACTING like money doesn’t matter, they should stop saying it. It just makes them look like fools… or like they think that’s what we are.

– JC

Minnesota Twins Podcast – Talk to Contact – Episode 13

Episode 13 of the Twins baseball podcast,  Talk To Contact (@TalkToContact), is now available for download via iTunes or by clicking here.

This week Paul and I take a look at Twins prospect (?) Daniel Ortiz and Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew. We again field a bunch of questions from the interwebs. Among the topics discussed form the mail bag: Joe Benson and his mullet, the Miami/Toronto trade, and regular season wins versus playoff success. We also have an update on the email from Larien who wanted to have a relationship and a business proposal. Tune in for Minnesota Twins banter and a whole lot more.

You can follow Paul on Twitter (@BaseballPirate) or read his writing at the  Puckett’s Pond.

Oh, and I am also a guest on today’s episode of the Phil Naessens Show
I talked a little bit about more about the Marlins/Blue Jays trade, and assess the current state of the Twins offseason.

– ERolfPleiss

________________
If you enjoy our podcast, please take a couple extra minutes and rate and review us on iTunes  (ratings and reviews have magical iTunes powers, which help us become warlocks)