Twins Should Follow Blue Jays Bold Lead

Grumpy blogger

I’ve been feeling under the weather the past couple of weeks and that tends to make me grumpy. I’m feeling much better, but apparently the grumpiness is not wearing off quickly. The Toronto-Miami trade announced Tuesday didn’t help my mood much, either.

We really should have seen this coming. It’s not like Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria has never cleaned house before, right? True, in the past, he’s dumped his high-priced stars after winning World Series Championships and pleading poverty because he didn’t have a shiny new stadium like other teams did. But in retrospect, we really can’t be surprised that he is once again overseeing the complete dismantling of his roster. What did surprise us, however, was that this time he unloaded almost his entire remaining cadre of recognizable stars on to one single team and that team was the Toronto Blue Jays!

All-Stars Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle and Jose Reyes are now Blue Jays, as are Emilio Bonifacio and John Buck, who’s actually returning for a second engagement in Toronto. The Marlins are also sending a few million dollars in cash along, but not enough to even make a dent in what I’ve seen estimated to be $160 million of remaining salary owed to the new Jays players. In fact, it appears the cash included in the deal is primarily just to cover most of Buck’s salary.

In return, Toronto sent the Marlins Yunel Escobar and several young (read: cheap) players that are several years from their first big paydays. A couple of those players are legitimate prospects that could eventually play major roles on a Big League roster, so it’s not like Toronto didn’t give anything up in the deal.

But this is a Minnesota Twins blog, so what does any of this have to do with the Twins? Simply this… the Blue Jays, like the Twins, saw themselves at or near the bottom of their Division after yet another disappointing season and faced some choices concerning how to change their fortunes. They could promote young talent from within the organization to fill some of their needs and look to fill a few other holes via trade or fringe free agents… or they could find top-shelf talent available on the trade market and use some of their better young prospects to acquire it. They obviously chose the latter path.

As Twins fans, I think we’re entitled to pose the question, “Why shouldn’t the Twins do the same thing?”

I know we’ve been brainwashed for years by the Twins to the point where we now believe that the only way for the Twins to become competitive again is to trade away established stars like Denard Span, Justin Morneau and/or Josh Willingham for the starting pitching so desperately needed and middle infield help that certainly could stand to be upgraded, while replacing the departing players by backfilling with young guys. That’s what the Twins have always done. It’s a much more accurate description of “The Twins Way” than is the long-established myth that they play sound fundamental baseball between the lines.

The Blue Jays, however, have examined a very similar set of circumstances and decided instead to be bold. Of course, it helped that they found a crazy-assed owner who overpaid for several stars a year ago and now wanted to dump them all.

So let’s return to the question posed… what would keep the Twins from doing the same thing the Blue Jays did (other than the obvious… an ultra-conservative management team)?

Do the Twins not have young talent comparable to what the Jays had? I find that hard to believe. Most of the Major League ready players sent to Miami appear to be nothing more than temporary fillers to replace the guys they gave up and only two of the prospects appear to be even potential above-average ballplayers. One of them is a Jake Marisnick, a “five tool” outfielder who’s probably going to repeat AA and the other is lefty starting pitcher Justin Nicolino, who has only had one year of full-season minor league ball. Nicolinao is arguably a better pitching prospect than the Twins have in their pitching-poor organization, but the Twins appear to have several outfielders with greater value than Marisnick.

Is it a money issue? Let’s put it this way… it probably IS a money issue in that the Twins under current management have never been inclined to take on the kind of salary commitments that Johnson, Buehrle and Reyes represent. However, it SHOULDN’T be a money issue. The Blue Jays had an opening day payroll in the mid 80 millions a year ago, without the benefit of a ballpark like Target Field. They barely cracked the 2 million mark in attendance and even that was about a 10% increase over 2011.

But here’s the thing. The new national media rights deal for Major League Baseball is going to put something like an additional $25 million in revenue straight in to the pockets of every MLB team starting in 2014. Does that mean that teams like Toronto and Minnesota should just go indiscriminately crazy and overpay a bunch of has-beens and never-weres? Of course it does not. But it should open the door for teams to rethink their past operating models.

The Twins have historically told the public that their model is to spend about 50% of revenues on their Major League payroll. That goes back all the way through the old Metrodome days when the team had one of the worst revenue streams in MLB and it has continued through the “boom” years of their new ballpark. If they hold to that model, only half of the “new money” from the media deal will see its way in to their payroll budget.

But why should that be the case? What additional expenses come with that $25 million in additional revenue? Absolutely none. It is simply “found money” that comes with no strings attached and if the Twins have indeed been realizing revenues at twice their MLB payroll, it represents at least a 12.5% increase in revenues! I’m sorry, but I simply can’t buy any excuse that might be proffered for why the team should not sink most, if not all, of that money in to putting a better product on the field.

But wait… the Jays, while not drawing as many fans as the Twins lately, are at least seeing their attendance rise over the prior year while attendance at Target Field is dropping off dramatically. So shouldn’t the Twins be more conservative? Heck, no!

Don’t you think the phone lines going in to Toronto’s offices are heating up today with people signing up for 2013 ticket packages? Reasonable debate may be offered as to just how many additional wins the new Blue Jays players can be expected to add to their record, but the Jays front office sent a clear message to their fan base that they intend to get serious about ending their also-ran status in the AL East. I refuse to believe the same wouldn’t be happening at the Target Field offices of the Twins today if it had been Terry Ryan who had pulled off a similar deal yesterday.

I’m fine being patient for a few more weeks to see what kind of improvements Ryan can make to the Twins roster. After all, even if he did want to follow the Blue Jays’ lead and pull off a similar monster deal, there aren’t many crazy owners like Jeffrey Loria out there. Even the A’s, who can almost annually be counted on to trade away anyone with a pulse, are reportedly looking to add talent this offseason rather than trade away what they have.

But Twins fans should not have to listen to more crap from the front office about how payroll doesn’t matter and how $85-90 million is more than Terry Ryan ever used to have at his disposal so there’s no reason to spend more than that now. That’s complete and utter bullcrap.

If the Twins want more people to attend games in 2013 instead of fewer, there’s one way and one way only to accomplish that. It’s not by adding pitching at the expense of having to trade away a number of your best position players and it’s sure as hell not just by adding a drink rail in right field.

You get more fans at the ballpark and more viewers on television and more sales of your merchandise by making bold moves to improve the crappy product you’ve put on the field for the past two years.

The Blue Jays finally seem to get that. I’m not sure the Twins ever will.

– JC

Minnesota Twins Rookies

Last night, Bryce Harper and Mike Trout were awarded the Rookie of the Year awards, in the National and American League, respectively.  Harper and Trout did amazing things as rookies, and in the case of Mike Trout, had the best season a rookie has ever had.  Harper helped the Washington Nationals win their division, and Trout did his part to keep the Los Angeles Angels relevant until the final week of the season.  Minnesota Twins, on the other hand, had plenty of rookies suit up for them in 2012, but outside of Scott Diamond, none of them did much of anything to help the Twins win games (in fairness, the rest of the team was not exactly doing a lot to help the Twins win games either).

Scott Diamond (photo: Genevieve Ross/AP)

MLB classifies rookies as any player with less than 130 at bats or 50 innings pitched  or any player with less 45 or less days on the active roster during any part of the season other than September).  Using the at bat and innings pitched limits, the Twins used 16 different players in 2012 that qualified as rookies: Brian Dozier, Chris Parmelee, Darin Mastroianni, Pedro Florimon, Matt Carson, Eduardo Escobar, Erik Komatsu, Chris Herrmann, Scott Diamond, Liam Hendriks, Sam Deduno, Cole De Vries, Tyler Robertson, Lester Oliveros, Kyle Waldrop, and Casey Fien.  That’s 16 out of 47 total players used in 2012 for the Twins, or a little bit more than 1 out of every 3 Twins.  That is a lot of youth especially considering the Twins only called up a limited number of players in September, and just two rookies (Herrmann and Escobar).

As a group, those 16 rookies accounted for a grand total of 4.1 Wins Above Replacement.  They were led by Scott Diamond with 2.2 WAR, and at the other end was Liam Hendriks, -1.2 WAR.  In between the Twins saw surprisingly positive performances from waiver claim Darin Mastroianni(.8 WAR) and defensive specialist Pedro Florimon (.8 WAR).   The Twins were also disappointed by break-out candidate Chris Parmelee (-.6 WAR) and would-be lefty-specialist Tyler Robertson.

Here, alphabetically, is a closer look at each of the Twins’ 2012 rookies, including their status heading into 2013, as several players will still retain their rookie eligibility.

Matt Carson – 31, OF, .227/.246/.242 (BA/OBP/SLG) – Carson exhausted his rookie eligibility in 2012, which is pretty impressive for a guy that is 31 years old and had played in parts of two previous seasons.  The Twins called Matt Carson up late in the season when they were a little short on outfielders and Ron Gardenhire really seemed to enjoy having him around.  He’s unlikely to return to Minneapolis in 2013, as he is off of the 40 man roster, and the Twins have plenty of young outfielders just waiting to break onto the Major League roster.

Cole De Vries – 27, RHP, 87.2/4.11/58/18 (IP/ERA/SO/BB) – Cole De Vries was the right guy in the right place at the right time in 2012.  After signing as an undrafted free-agent in 2006 out of the University of Minnesota, De Vries spent the better part of the last six years quietly working his way through the Minnesota’s farm system.  De Vries struggled in 2010 (after being converted to a bullpen guy) between AA New Britain and AAA Rochester, but in 2011 he turned things around and despite starting the year back in Double-A, he finished the year in Rochester with a combined 3.40 ERA.  De Vries started 2012 in Rochester (once again as a starting pitcher) and when the arms were falling off of every Twins starting pitcher with a hear beat, he was called up to the big leagues and performed better than many had expected.  De Vries has lost his rookie eligibility heading into 2013, but he remains on the 40-man roster and has an outside chance of being the Twins’ 5th starter this spring.

Samuel Deduno – 29, RHP, 79.0/4.44/57/53 – Deduno was having himself a very surprising 2012 campaign until a string of bad starts toward the tail end of the season ballooned his ERA over 4.  Deduno is a guy that has great movement on his pitches, but unfortunately not even he knows where the ball is likely to end up and as a result, Deduno finished the year with almost as many walks as strike outs.  Deduno seemed to get a handle on his wildness about half way through his season, and will need to show increased control this spring but could battle De Vries for that 5th spot in the rotation.  Deduno is on the 40-man roster and has exhausted his rookie eligibility.

Scott Diamond – 26, LHP, 173.0/3.54/90/31 – He turned out to be the Twins’ most effective starting pitcher in 2012, leading the team in innings, and providing the Twins with a reliable performance every fifth day.  Without Diamond the Twins’ best starter would have been Samuel Deduno, certainly not anyone’s idea of a staff ace.  Diamond is the only starting pitcher from the 2012 staff that has been guaranteed a spot in the 2013 rotation, and if the Twins can do enough in free agency, Diamond slots in as a solid number 3.  Like Deduno, Diamond remains on the 40-man roster and is no longer eligible as a rookie.

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Knuckleballs Read Too

I’ve had this idea for a while, but I’ve been so busy settling into a new job (not so new now; I started it in mid-July) that it wasn’t quite ready when the off-season began, as I had planned.

But now the idea is ready for you. The idea? Off-season baseball book reading group. This whole past year or so has been a difficult one for me for various reasons, and I’ve become a bit disconnected from baseball. As I look forward to reconnecting in 2013 (including the first time I might just be able to attend spring training!), I thought it might be fun to start the process by reading a few baseball books this winter, and I’d love for you to join me.

I’ve set up a group over at Goodreads.com, with a thread set up where you can nominate books you’d like to read this off-season. I’ll put up a poll next weekend, we’ll have a week to vote, then a week for everyone to find a copy of the first book we choose. The plan will be to start reading our first book about December 1.

Questions or concerns? Please let me know here, at the Goodreads group, or by email (see “Contact Us” page).

Hope to see you at Goodreads!

Minnesota Twins Podcast – Talk to Contact – Episode 12

Episode 12 of the Twins baseball podcast,  Talk To Contact (@TalkToContact), is now available for download via iTunes or by clicking here.

Mail Call!
This week on the podcast Paul and I discuss Jim Kaat’s place in the Twins Hall of Fame, we take a look at the high-A ShortStop prospect Daniel Santana and we dive into a dozen or so questions we received from listeners covering a wide variety of topics from the best Patrick Swayze movie, to a romantic business proposal and a whole slough of Twins topics. We also take a look at the Twins radio and TV broadcast teams and give them a ranking on the 20-80 scale. A special thanks to @Jessicann713@BransonWerner@Nimi_badger@youcancallmeAde@mntwinsforever@mntwinsisters@mikeywaldo and @sideburg for submitting questions to this week’s podcast.
Once again thank you to Egon’s Unicat for letting us use their music on the podcast.

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

– ERolfPleiss

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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)

Alexi Casilla – A Twins Career in Retrospect

Alexi (Lora) Casilla was signed by the Anaheim Angels as an amateur free agent in 2003.  He played for the Angels’ Minor League affiliates for two seasons before being traded to the Twins in 2005 for left-handed reliever J.C. Romero.  Casilla started the 2006 season in High-A Fort Myers playing for the Miracle and by September had earned himself a Major League call-up and played in nine games to close out the year.  For the next six seasons Casilla was at least a part time player for the Minnesota Twins, though he never really became the reliable middle infielder that many expected him to become.  And then last week, after losing the starting second base job and struggling to live up to even the meager offensive standards he had set for himself following 2010 and 2011 (the first time in his career he put up two relatively similar offensive seasons back to back), the Twins waived Casilla and he was claimed by the Baltimore Orioles, ending his lackluster career in Minneapolis.

Alexi Casilla, Credit: Knuckleballs Blog

In parts of seven seasons in Minnesota Alexi Casilla hit .250/.305/334 (BA/OBP/SLG), and only in his initial nine games in 2006 did he record an above average offensive season by OPS+ (clearly, some small sample size bias).  All told, he was worth 57 runs LESS than an average hitter in Minnesota.  In terms of Runs Created, among Minnesota Twins players with at least 1500 plate appearances, Casilla ranks 71/76, ahead of only Hosken Powell, Scott Leius, Jim Holt, Al Newman and Jerry Terrell.

Defensively, where most Casilla Apologists would pin most of his value, Casilla falls short of average in almost every defensive statistic. He’s been worth -21 runs in Total Zone Total Fielding Runs Above Average, -1 in BIS Defensive Runs Saved Above Average, and his fielding percentage (arguably a poor predictor of true defensive value) was just .976 compared to a league average of .985.  Again, against other Twins with 1500 plate appearances, Casilla compares poorly coming at 53/76 with -3 runs created from fielding.  Though he’s ahead of some other big name Twins, Joe Mauer (57th), Kirby Puckett (59th), Jason Kubel (68th), Harmon Killebrew (75th) and Michael Cuddyer (76th).  Unlike many of the Twins below him on the all time list, as noted above, Casilla’s bat did little to justify his continued presence on the Twins roster.

The only place where Casilla compares favorably to Twins of the past, is his ability to effectively steal bases.  Casilla’s 71 stolen bases are good enough for an 18th best in franchise history (though 71 is a fairly low total, as Ben Revere, with 700 fewer plate appearances, is already ahead of him with 74).  However, Casilla is the most efficient base stealer in Twins history (min 25 SB attempts), swiping bags in 88.75% of his attempts.  Why Casilla doesn’t have more stolen bases is probably the result of not getting on base frequently enough and playing for Ron Gardenhire, who doesn’t typically push runners to steal bases.*

Casilla leaves the Twins as a fairly successful Major Leaguer, if not a successful Twin, simply because he was able to collect so many plate appearances.  Not counting his September call-up in 2006, only 241 MLB players have more plate appearances since 2007, putting him in the top 10% of players since the start of 2007 (2,447 players had plate appearances between 2007 and 2012.).  And while that list contains players who may have since retired, Casilla still ranks in the top 15% for plate appearances by active players during the same time period.  Whether it was the Twins’ lack of viable middle infield options, or their continued belief in Casilla as a project, he has more plate appearances than all but 57 other Twins players putting him ahead of 92% of players to play for the Minnesota Twins.  He might not be missed, but he was certainly a big part of the ball club for a little more than six years.

*Only three Twins have more than 100 SB attempts since Gardenhire took over as skipper, Torii Hunter, Nick Punto and Denard Span.  And only Ben Revere has a chance to join that group in the next several years.  For a quick point of comparison, Tom Kelly had seven different players attempt at least 100 SB, and Chuck Knoblauch attempted 353 (2nd in team history to Rod Carew).  

-ERolfPleiss

This is a Big Day!

Do you know why Election Days are on such a weird time as the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November?

Yeah, because it used to be a LOT harder to vote! People sometimes needed to travel overnight to get to their polling place. Given the culture at the time, scheduling a vote on Tuesday did not conflict with Sunday days of worship and hopefully allowed the participants to be back for Wednesday Market Days. Scheduling for November after the first Monday also provided that it was after All Saints Day, and harvesting was completed or nearly so allowing farmers to be away.

My point is this: standing in line for a few minutes is NOT a hardship. Do your part. It’s not a just a right and privilege, it’s a responsibility. 

/off soapbox]

Minnesota Twins Podcast – Talk to Contact – Episode 11

Episode 11 of the Twins baseball podcast,  Talk To Contact (@TalkToContact), is now available for download via iTunes or by clicking here (Sorry for throwing this up a few days late, I was out of town this past weekend and totally spaced).

This week the Brothers Pleiss discuss the Gold Gloves and any perceived snubs, the Twins Diamond Awards and Paul’s feelings on photos of peoples children clogging up his Facebook/Twitter timeline. We also spend a few moments looking at Twins prospect J.O. Berrios, Twins Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett and some early happenings in the off-season before getting into a few other topics including a traveling stuffed banana. 

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

– ERolfPleiss

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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)

Congratulations(?) Red Dog!

I guess congratulations are in order for former Twins catcher Mike Redmond. He’ll be announced as the new Florida Marlins manager at a press conference on Friday and there are only 30 of those gigs out there, so getting one of them after just a couple of years of managing at the Class A level in the Blue Jays organization is a big deal!

But there’s a part of me that feels bad for Redmond that he’s getting this opportunity with an organization as dysfunctional as the Marlins. I won’t go in to all of the issues with their ownership and front office, but suffice to say that Red Dog will have his work cut out for him. At least he’s getting a three year contract (then again, his predecessor, Ozzie Guillen, was dismissed after one year, despite having a four-year contract).

Redmond is certainly a familiar face in Miami, having come up through their organization. He also won a Championship ring with the Marlins, before moving on to the Twins, where he spent five seasons backing up Joe Mauer. Redmond finished his playing career with the Indians.

Despite being a backup catcher with the Twins, he was clearly a leader in the clubhouse during many of the Twins better seasons over the past decade. It comes as no surprise that he’s getting an opportunity to manage in the Big Leagues, though it’s happening a bit sooner than might have been expected.

Of course, the entire baseball world will anxiously wait to find out if Redmond imports his unique “naked batting practice” approach to his new club.

In any event, best of luck to Mike Redmond with his new opportunity!

– JC