Talk to Contact Episode 42: Miguel Sano’s 1st Double-A Home Run

Episode 42 of the Twins baseball podcast,  Talk To Contact (@TalkToContact), is now available for download via iTunes or by clicking here.

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Eric and Cody talk with noted Twins blogger Andrew Walter from http://twinsfanfromafar.blogspot.com/ to get an update on Twins uber prospect Miguel Sano and teammate Eddie Rosario.  Along the way they go Down on the Pond and talk about MiLB pitcher Pat Dean.

They have a lot of fun talking Twins news, beer, and general baseball weirdness.  They’re kind of a big deal.

88 more minutes of pleasure.

 

You can follow Cody on Twitter (@NoDakTwinsFan) or read his writing at NoDakTwinsFan.  You can follow Paul on Twitter (@BaseballPirate) or read his writing at  Puckett’s Pond.  And of course, you can find me on Twitter (@ERolfPleiss) and read my writing here at Knuckleballs!

– ERolfPleiss

Minnesota Twins Podcast – Talk to Contact – Episode 16

Episode 16 of the Twins baseball podcast,  Talk To Contact (@TalkToContact), is now available for download via iTunes or by clicking here.

Ben Revere rides to Philadelphia!

This week the Pleiss Twins discuss happenings from the winter meetings and are joined by Alex Kienholz of www.BeyondTheBoxscore.com to discuss the Twins/Phillies trade that sent Ben Revere to Philly in exchange for Vance Worley and prospect Trevor May, the Rule 5 draft and about his interested in sabermetrics. After Alex departs Eric and Paul get into the Jared Burton extension, Tom Kelly‘s Twins career, beer, prospects and a whole bunch of questions from the interwebs.

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

Hey Twins Fans, Meet Vanimal!

(Image: timokreations)

Now that we’ve had a day to absorb the news of the Twins trading Ben Revere to Philadelphia, it’s time for us to get to know our newest member of the Twins MLB family, Vance Worley… aka “Vanimal.”

In an effort to do a little advance scouting on behalf of the Twins fanbase, I did a little Vanimal hunting on the internet. I have to say, so far I’ve liked what I’ve found.

All of the initial reports provided the basics. He had a great rookie year in 2011 as a 23-year-old, during which he finished 3rd in National League Rookie of the Year balloting, but his sophomore year in 2012 was a bit bumpy and ended with some “clean up” surgery on his pitching elbow in September. He’s back to throwing now and is expected to be ready to roll in time for Spring Training.

You can read all about Worley’s pitching record any number of places (though you might want to start with Parker Hageman’s excellent break down of Worley by clicking here). We’ll strive to bring you more here at Knuckleballs.

The Asian-American pitcher (his mother is Chinese) apparently had the “Vanimal” moniker bestowed upon him by a weightlifting coach in the weight room during his freshman year at Long Beach State University (or Cal State Long Beach, if you prefer). I guess Worley must have hit the weights pretty hard, because the nickname has stuck.

(Photo: Len Redkoles/Getty Images)

Here’s something else you should know… Vanimal has a reputation for having some swagger. We’ll definitely know when Worley is on the mound. The distinctive Oakley goggles are one clue and he’s got a bit of a strut coming off the mound after a strikeout. And then, of course, there’s the mohawk haircut (though word has it he may be tiring of that trademark hairstyle and might just let his hair grow long… so we have that to look forward to).

He also talks to himself on the mound… and parents of small children might want to be prepared to answer some awkward, “what did he say, daddy?” questions from the young fans in the family. It’s not personal, just all about self-motivation, but lipreading could be entertaining this season.

Vance Worely

Like most professional athletes, Worley values his privacy away from the workplace. Don’t hassle him if you see him at a movie theater and if you happen to discover where he gets his haircut, don’t Tweet it to everyone in cyberspace. That kinda thing ticks him off. But on the job, he has a reputation for being friendly and accessible to fans and media (and even to the occasional blogger). While he wasn’t a fan of any particular MLB team while growing up in Northern California, he has grown in to a hobby of sorts that he shares with many fans… he collects autographed baseballs from many of his peers in the game.

I’m looking forward to getting to know Worley better next season. He’s got personality and, frankly, that’s something I’ve thought the Twins clubhouse could use a bit more of lately. I’m not sure how the largely staid local fanbase will react to the Vanimal persona, but I suspect a lot of that will be determined by how well he gets… what do they call them?… oh yeah… outs.

If you’d like to read more about our newest Twins pitcher, I suggest clicking here. He granted weekly access to Ed Condran, a columnist/blogger for www.metro.us, an online news publication. Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer also wrote a couple of interesting background pieces on Worley during his rookie campaign in 2011, which can be found here and here.

– JC

Revere Traded to Phillies!

Wow did I pick the wrong day to forget my cell phone at home this morning! It’s the only way I have of accessing social media sites like Twitter or any of my personal email accounts from my office. As a result of that (and actually doing some work today), I’ve been a bit slow to catch breaking news. Any other day, that wouldn’t have been a big deal, but today it’s a very big deal!

Many of us have talked in recent weeks about how the Twins need to trade from a position of strength, such as their outfield depth, to fill a position of need (that would be starting pitching, for those who haven’t been keeping up). Today, the Twins doubled down on the gamble they made a week ago in trading CF Denard Span by also trading CF Ben Revere to the Phillies.

Span brought “just” a minor league pitcher with top-of-the-rotation upside. Revere, however, not only brought a very highly rated minor league starting pitcher (Trevor May), but also a Major League starting pitcher (Vance Worley) who, if healthy, could arguably slot in above Scott Diamond in the 2013 rotation.

I’m going to miss this smile!

While I don’t think the Twins went to Nashville intending to trade Revere, the market for CFs seemed to almost explode once they got there and Terry Ryan took advantage of that.

My reaction to the Span trade last week was something along the lines of, “that’s too bad, I really like Span, but the Twins absolutely need pitching that has ‘ace’ potential, so this is a fair deal.”

My reaction to the Revere trade today was more like, “I’m really going to miss Revere’s smile and his overall approach to playing baseball, but HOLY CRAP the Twins got a great return for him!”

This deal didn’t come out of nowhere, but it certainly seemed to fall in place quickly.

Last night, there were rumors that Revere’s name was being mentioned and that the Twins were open to listening to proposals.

This morning, the Strib’s LaVelle E. Neal III posted in his blog that the Twins spent the night isolated in their suite working on a Revere trade and had recalled their PR guy from the airport where he was getting ready to fly back to Minnesota. Obviously, this was not just idle chat, but we all can point to multiple deals the Twins have “almost” pulled off over the years at the Winter Meetings.

By mid-morning, there was speculation that the Twins might be targeting high upside pitching prospects, but I personally wondered how that would sell with most Twins fans. I felt they would need to get some kind of immediate help in any further trades of current MLB starting position players, including Revere.

By noon, we had our answer. The Twins not only landed a young, talented Big League pitcher who’s under team control for several more years, but also another AA level starting pitching prospect who immediately would have to be considered one of the team’s top 10 prospects (MLB.com had him ranked as the #2 prospect in the Phillies organization).

I hope Ryan isn’t done getting pitching help for 2013 and beyond, but despite the fears of many people (myself included) he certainly is not returning from Nashville empty handed. Congratulations to the Twins front office certainly appears to be in order today.

– JC

Winter Meetings Day Two: Twins Face Stiff Competition for Starting Pitchers

It is a tough time to be looking for starting pitchers.  According to Jon Heyman, at least 15 teams are actively seeking starting pitching:

The reality is that the other 15 teams are not going to pass up an opportunity to sign starting pitching either, as evidenced by the Nationals’ Day 2 signing of Dan Haren on a one-year $13 million dollar deal.

Unless the Twins are willing to spend dollars and years (a notion promoted by our own Jim Crikket), they’re going to have trouble finding free agents that want to sign with a ball club that doesn’t have an immediate opportunity to contend for a postseason birth.  The Twins likely have an edge on some low-end free agent pitchers looking to rebuild their value on a one year deal, as the Twins play in a pitcher friendly park and generally face lesser offensive opponents (playing each AL Central opponent 18 times) than many of the other teams mentioned in Heyman’s tweet.  But low-end free agent pitchers are easily had (Carl Pavano, John Lannan, etc.). With each passing hour it becomes less and less likely that the Twins make a move before the end of the Winter Meetings, but after talking with just about every free agent pitcher with a pulse, they should have at least laid the groundwork for a signing or two later this winter.

After a day of rumors and meetings, this is what Terry Ryan had to say at his end of day presser regarding making a move at the Winter Meetings, “That’s always a tough question. You never know. We could. We may not.”   Don’t hold your breath, Twins fans.

PhotoCredit: NBC Sports, Hardball Talk

Other Notable Rumors/Deals/Signings from Day Two:

And of course, these, any many other, Winter Meetings happenings are all nicely chronicled over at MLB Trade Rumors, should you desire to fully immerse yourself in Winter Meetings maddness.

-ERolfPleis

OVERNIGHT UPDATE: Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports tweeted overnight that Ben Revere’s name is coming up as a possible trade target. He also speculates that, because they traded Denard Span, the Twins may need a CF in return.

First, if indeed CFs are in high demand right now, the Twins have to be willing to listen when teams call. It wouldn’t be ideal for someone like Aaron Hicks to have to skip AAA and be baptized under fire at the Big League level, but if he can’t hack it Darin Mastroianni could probably fill in at CF until Hicks or someone else steps up.

I’ve always figured Revere was probably a short term bridge in CF to get to Hicks or one of the other stud OFs coming up through the organization. If the Twins think the same thing, then you trade Revere whenever you feel his value is at its highest, even if that is one week after you’ve traded Span.

I think the idea of the Twins needing a CF in return is pure speculation on Morosi’s part. That makes no sense at all. You get the best starting pitcher you can and you don’t take a lesser pitcher in order to get a stopgap CF, as well.

In other Twins news, LaVelle E. Neal III of the StarTribune tells us that the team doesn’t see Ian Stewart as a fit to provide the competition at 3B for Trevor Plouffe. I find that odd. To me, that’s exactly the kind of player that would fit that role. Maybe they just want to push Plouffe, not really threaten him.

Stay tuned… maybe Day 3 will be more exciting than the first two days. Then again, because Zack Greinke’s indecision is keeping the rest of the free agent pitching dominoes from falling, I’m not counting on much for excitement today.

- JC

Minnesota Twins Podcast – Talk to Contact – Episode 15

Episode 15 of the Twins baseball podcast,  Talk To Contact (@TalkToContact), is now available for download via iTunes or by clicking here.

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This week Paul and I are joined by Twins prospect guru, Seth Stohs, of TwinsDaily.com to discuss the Twins trade with the Nationals, his blogging career and Travis Harrison. After Seth departs we take a quick look at the Rule 5 draft, Twins HOFer Brad Radke and a lengthy discussion on the 2013 BBWAA Baseball Hall of Fame ballot, specifically Barry Bonds and the steroids era. We also talk about beer, of which it becomes evident that I had several, along with a few other Twins news items and notes.


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

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

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

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

Will Twins Strike Quickly for Pitching?

Twins General Manager Terry Ryan has made no secret of the fact that his top priority this offseason is to rebuild his team’s pitching rotation. He’s also described the free agent class of potential starting pitchers to be, “thin.” Whether we agree with that assessment or not is of really no concern, because only Ryan’s opinion matters at this point and if he feels that’s the case, it stands to reason that he’s going to be looking at his trade options.

Terry Ryan

That being the case, the question probably isn’t, “Will Terry Ryan trade for starting pitching?” so much as it is, “WHEN will Terry Ryan trade for starting pitching?”

I don’t think we should be all that surprised if the answer turns out to be, “Right now.”

The reason for moving quickly is that a couple of teams with arguably surplus arms that could be considered close to “top of the rotation” quality (certainly, at the very least, top of the Twins’ rotation) have to make some decisions this week concerning whether or not to exercise team options on those pitchers or let them walk as free agents. Even if they let them walk, in some cases, those teams have relatively expensive buy-out payments to make. Of course, there’s nothing to stop the GMs from picking up the options and then trading the pitchers later in the offseason, but right now, they have to be thinking they’d be better off getting the best deal possible in return for those pitchers before the option deadline is reached later this week.

So who might the Twins be looking to acquire? Three pitchers with impending options come immediately to mind.

The Angels have two pitchers with options that must be exercised or bought out this week: Dan Haren and Ervin Santana. Haren’s option is for $15.5 million but the buyout is a lofty $3.5 million. Santana’s option is for $13 million and comes with a $1 million buyout.

The Rays have a similar decision to make with James Shields. The perennially cash-strapped Rays paid Shields $7 million this year and his contract has a $9 million option for 2013, as well as a $13 million option for 2014. The buyouts for 2013 and 2014 are $1.5 and $1 million, respectively. Media reports indicate the Rays intend to exercise his 2013 option but that doesn’t make him any less of a trade possibility.

Of course,  the Twins aren’t the only team looking for starting pitching, so why should we expect them to end up with one (or dare we hope, two?) of these pitchers? The answer, of course, is that we shouldn’t “expect” any such thing. But it’s possible because the Twins can make players available in a trade that the Angels and Rays may want.

To my mind, Shields would be the preferred target from among this group. The Rays could be looking to cut payroll (aren’t they always?) and one way to do that would be to part ways with BJ Upton. The Twins certainly have centerfielders that could fill that void. The Rays also are among the teams who could stand to upgrade at 1B. Would they take on Justin Morneau’s contract? Not likely, but Chris Parmelee might be of some interest to Tampa Bay. Anyway, the “how” is Terry Ryan’s business, but the point is that Shields could be in play this week.

Angels GM Jerry Dipoto is probably feeling more inclined to move his pitchers quickly. He wants to re-sign Zack Greinke. Combine that factor with the more significant buyout price of Haren’s contract, and you realize he may be feeling a bit more of sense of urgency than the Rays are feeling with regard to Shields.

But do the Twins have anything the Angels would want? After all, they’ve got a pretty decent centerfielder already and their first baseman is no slouch, either.

The answer, as pretty much any fan of one of the Angels’ minor league affiliates could tell you, is, “absolutely yes.” The Angels farm system is a mess. I’d have to go back and check for sure, but I recall that about half of their minor league affiliates finished dead last in their respective standings in 2012. I don’t know exactly what Dipoto is asking for in return for Haren and Santana, but even marginal prospects would likely jump several spots on a “top prospects” list by switching to the Angels organization.

Having Shields under team control for two more years is another reason he’d be the best acquisition for Terry Ryan to make, from among this group. But if he can get Haren or even Santana in a deal that doesn’t cost him any of his best prospects and/or get the Angels to kick in some cash to offset their 2013 salaries, I’d welcome either of those pitchers, as well. As a matter of fact, since the Angels and Rays would be looking for different types of players in return, there may be no reason Ryan couldn’t be talking to both teams.

Finally, let’s be honest about addressing the question of whether the Twins can afford to pay between $9 million and $15 million for a pitcher in 2013. The answer is yes, they certainly can. There’s no reason in the world why the Twins shouldn’t be able to start the season with a $100 million payroll. None whatsoever. I think Ryan already knows this, but he’s smart enough not to say so publicly. Why let the agents of potential free agent signings know how much money you really have to work with?

A couple of big deals early in the offseason will generate some enthusiasm among the fanbase and perhaps even jumpstart some season ticket renewals. It may also make a few mid-level free agents more inclined to sign on with you in coming months if they think you’re really committed to competing in 2013. If things don’t go the way you hope the first half of the season, Ryan could no doubt turn around and deal any of the three pitchers mentioned here to a contender (assuming the pitcher’s healthy, of course).

While I’m not “expecting” any of these pitchers to be Twins by the end of the week, I won’t be all that surprised if one of them (or perhaps even more likely, some other pitcher I haven’t even thought about yet) is brought in to the fold relatively soon by Terry Ryan. I believe he has nothing to lose and much to gain by striking quickly.

– JC

If you’d like more information about Shields, Haren, Santana and a whole host of other potential acquisitions (not to mention an excellent interview with Terry Ryan by the TwinsGeek, John Bonnes) you really should consider purchasing TwinsCentric’s Offseason GM Handbook. It’s available for purchase and download now!