Trading Season Opens: Prepare For Disappointment

It seems ridiculous at this point to suggest Twins fans need to be prepared for disappointment. We’ve been getting slapped in the face by disappointment for going on two years, after all, and we’re pretty much resigned to this team continuing to disappoint us at least through the rest of this season. A lot of fans are already accepting disappointment as a near-certainty in 2013.

How much more prepared for disappointment do we need to be?

A bit more, I believe, and soon.

Terry Ryan

Our collective eyes and ears are focused on Twins General Manager Terry Ryan, in anticipation of the deals he’s going to make to improve the future rosters of his team. Fans seem prepared, at this point, to part with pretty much anyone in a Twins uniform as they dream of the top prospects Ryan will extract from his fellow GMs in return. After all, if Ryan could get Joe Nathan and Francisco Liriano (not to mention Boof Bonser) for AJ Pierzynski, just imagine the load he should pull in for Denard Span, right?

The Star Tribune put out a good piece a few days ago that gives some insight in to the mind of Terry Ryan. There’s a case to be made that with the extra wild card in each league this year, there should be plenty of interest in the players Ryan has to offer. But while it’s true that there are more teams that consider themselves contenders than there may have been in the past, there are also some factors working against the Twins.

The biggest problem for the Twins is that a lot of contending teams want the same thing they do… good starting pitching. Of course, the difference is that contenders are looking for arms that can help them immediately, while the Twins are happy to take on talent that isn’t quite ready for the big stage yet. Still, top shelf starting pitchers, whatever their age and level, are hoarded like gold by teams these days so it takes some combination of talented front line players and desperation on the part of the trading partner to extract that kind of talent in a trade.

The other thing working against the Twins now is the new collective bargaining agreement. In past years, a team could take on a half-year rental player who is going to be a free agent at the end of the season and, at the very least, the “buying” team might be able to get a draft pick or two in compensation when the player bolts after just a couple of months. Now, not only is it more difficult to get compensation picks, but those picks aren’t available at all unless the player wore your uniform all season.

This means that, for example, if the Twins don’t trade Francisco Liriano, they have to offer him something like $12 million on a one year deal in order to get a compensation pick for him if he turns them down. But if they trade Liriano, his new team doesn’t even have that option. So guys like Liriano and Matt Capps and anyone else not locked up beyond the end of this year are truly just rental players for any team acquiring them. That team is just getting their services for the rest of this season, where in the past they may have received those services PLUS compensation picks. Think about it… how much would YOU give up for 2-3 months of Liriano’s services?

That should temper fans’ expectations for the return that Ryan is likely to get for Liriano and Capps.

Denard Span

It demonstrates why Denard Span and Josh Willingham are likely much better trade chips. For that matter, the contract extension Ryan Doumit recently signed moved him from the “rental player” category and on to the list of players that could return something of more value.

But the Twins can’t just trade away everyone of value on the market. They need to put a team on the field next season and it needs to be a pretty good one.

I agree with Howard Sinker’s view that the Twins can’t just tear this team down and start over. Fans are not going to accept that and they shouldn’t. The everyday line up the Twins put on the field is close to being good enough to compete. What’s missing is exactly what everyone knew was missing last offseason… pitching. Specifically, at the top of the rotation. It should have been addressed last season and it MUST be addressed before Opening Day 2013. Being “penny wise” this off season won’t be “pound foolish”, that foolishness will be measured by the ton.

Since Target Field opened, the Twins have been the hottest ticket in town. For the past year or more, that’s been as much about the Vikings, T’wolves and Wild being less than highly competitive as it has been the quality of the product the Twins put on the field and the remaining luster of their new digs in the Warehouse District.

But that’s about to change. The Wild made blockbuster signings, the Vikings got their new stadium approved and even the Pups look like they may be getting more serious about fielding a real basketball team right next door to Target Field. If Terry Ryan and his bosses don’t want find out just how quickly the Twins can become an afterthought at the bottom of the area’s list of major entertainment options, they need to get this team turned around starting in 2013, not years beyond that.

Francisco Liriano

That process starts now. I believe Francisco Liriano has quite possibly pitched his last game in a Twins uniform. His value will likely not get any higher than it is right now after his 15 K performance Friday night. He won’t bring back anyone likely to be a top of the rotation guy next year, but he should fetch a role player that can improve the roster or a higher pitching prospect that perhaps is still down in the Class A ranks.

I would love to see Denard Span stay a Twin for years to come. I really like the way he goes about the game and he’s a quality individual. But he’s the one guy on this roster that offers the combination of the ability to bring immediate help to the rotation in the form of Big League ready starting pitching AND he plays a role with the team that they arguably have in-house replacements available to step in and play in his absence. Ben Revere can lead off and play centerfield. He’s not Denard Span, but maybe he’s close enough to do the job adequately.

Beyond that, if the Twins can get useful returns for Capps or anyone else not penciled in for a major role in 2013, fine. Just don’t expect to be overjoyed with the return coming back. Willingham and Doumit could get  something of value, but they shouldn’t be dealt unless someone offers an absurdly one-sided deal. Justin Morneau isn’t going to be in great demand unless the Twins agree to eat pretty much all of his remaining contract and honestly, the Twins don’t have a replacement for him yet anyway. All three of these guys fill roles that you would just have to go back on the market to replace over the off season and I guarantee that replacing Willingham’s production and Doumit’s versatility will be more expensive this time.

Of course, if anyone wants any of the remaining pitchers on this roster bad enough to offer anything of real value in return, as unlikely as that may be, TR should probably make the deal before that other GM comes to his senses. There’s nobody on the pitching staff that can’t be replaced. Even Scott Diamond, who’s been incredibly successful, has to be available for the right price. I have a suspicion you might be selling high on him. As much as I like him, I’m still having trouble believing he’s going to maintain this kind of success over time.

Yes, trading season is upon us and it’s almost certain that Terry Ryan is going to be right in the middle of it. Just keep expectations in check. It’s not like he’s the chip leader at the table and the rules have changed enough this year to make everyone just a little less certain about how to play the game.

- JC

 

WWTD? (What Will Terry Do?)

Six weeks ago, I put up a post here arguing that it was much too soon to “pull the plug” on the Twins’ 2012 season. I argued that, despite an admittedly dismal start, the Twins were performing fairly well on most fronts, with the glaring exception of their starting pitching, and that they were just about to begin playing their own Division rivals on a regular basis. Feel free to go back and read the whole article, but here was my conclusion:

If the Twins only win 10 of their next 34 games, then I’m on board with everyone else… put up the Yard Sale sign and sell off any asset you can get a fair return for.

But the more I look at the schedule… and what other teams in the AL Central Division have done… the less I feel like there’s any real rush to make drastic and irreversible decisions. The starting pitching needs to be better than it has been… pure and simple. But if that can be accomplished, I see no reason this Twins team shouldn’t still be able to live up to our limited expectations of them before the season started.

We could still have a little fun this summer.

Terry Ryan

A few days ago, in the comment section of one of our GameChat posts, regular reader/commenter “frightwig” pointed out that, since I authored that post, the Twins had gone 17-17 and had not cut down the number of games they trailed the Division leaders. (Following the series win over the Reds, that record is now 19-18 since May 14.) He asked if my opinion of the Twins’ outlook and what General Manager Terry Ryan should do had changed at this point.

That’s a fair question. The answer is, “no, not really,” and the reason is that the situation really hasn’t changed all that much. In fact, just as was the case on May 14, the Twins are once again about to embark on several intra-divisional series that could be fun to watch and very few games against contenders in other divisions. Between now and the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, the Twins have 8 games with the White Sox, 7 with the Royals, 4 with the Tigers, 4 with the Orioles, 3 with the Indians, 3 with the Rangers and 3 with the A’s.

On top of that, the Division-leading White Sox have started their annual “trade for big name washed up former All-Stars” exercise, so you know that’s a sign they’re about to tank.

Bear in mind, even six weeks ago, I never argued that Terry Ryan should sit on his hands all year and make no moves, nor did I suggest the Twins were likely to become “good” any time soon. I merely pointed out that the Twins had some things going for them that could make them entertaining to watch and potentially even more than just entertaining if they could do something about the starting rotation. I don’t think that’s changed.

Nor do I think things have changed much since I posted my most recent argument against having a full-out fire sale.

Still, I’ve written a lot about what I DON’T think Terry Ryan should be doing as we enter the “trading season,” but what do I think Ryan SHOULD do?

  1. As I wrote on May 14, Ryan should be listening to any offer. Nobody on this roster is untouchable, though one or two players are likely untradeable.
  2. Any player that does not figure in the team’s plans for 2013 should be traded as soon as decent value of any kind is offered. This would include Francisco Liriano and Carl Pavano, certainly, as well as Alexi Casilla and Ryan Doumit (unless the rumored extension talks prove fruitful).
  3. Ryan should not be in a hurry to trade any productive player that is under contract for 2013 and beyond. Players like Denard Span, Justin Morneau, Josh Willingham (particularly Willingham) and even Jamie Carroll should only be traded this summer for solid starting pitching that are good bets to be no worse than #3 starters as soon as next season. (Of course, in this rotation, it doesn’t take a lot to be considered a #3 starter.)

I still question whether the Twins will find anyone willing to part with a potential top-of-the-rotation pitcher in July, but I could be wrong. For example, with the Twins playing a series against the Pirates last week, I couldn’t help but notice that, for a team sitting at or near the top of their Division as June comes to a close, their offense really isn’t very good after you get past CF Andrew McCutchen. They are where they’re at because of their pitching.

Of course, they aren’t likely to give up anyone in the top half of their rotation at this point and any Twins fans who think they’d consider trading uber-prospect Gerrit Cole are kidding themselves. But guess what… their AAA affiliate, Indianapolis, is also leading THEIR division and they’re likewise doing so because of strong starting pitching. The Pirates appear to have some remarkable depth in the starting pitching department. I’m certainly no expert on the Pirates’ minor league system, but I can’t help but think either Rudy Owens or Jeff Locke, both lefties, would make the Twins’ rotation better as soon as next year and for several years to come (heck, probably THIS year, for that matter).

But why would they trade any of their young pitching now? Do you have any idea how long it has been since the Pirates sniffed the playoffs? No? Me either, but I think it was when Barry Bonds was skinny.

With Cole rising fast up through their organization, there’s going to be a logjam in Pittsburgh’s rotation before long. That’s why they may be more likely to give up some of that pitching for offensive help from one of the few teams without realistic playoff hopes in the coming weeks, rather than wait until the offseason when there will be more potential trade partners and they arguably could get a better return. In other words, they have the potential to be a little stupid with their trades over the next few weeks.

The question is whether the Twins would match up well with the Pirates in a trade discussion. With McCutchen in CF, their need for Denard Span might not be as great as a team that has a need at that position, but Span could certainly play one of the corner OF spots and he would certainly improve their lineup. Then again, just about any position player on the Twins roster, down to and including Drew Butera, could improve the Pirates lineup at this point.

I still don’t think trading players like Willingham or Morneau would be smart, because you’re going to need to replace them in a few months if you let them go. But there’s a case to be made that replacing them would be easier than acquiring starting pitching this winter. I’m not sure I’m convinced, but I’m willing to consider the possibility.

I’m sure the Pirates aren’t the only potential trade partner, but I mention them only by way of acknowledging there may be a stronger market out there than I think there is. The extra Wild Card spots this season and the relative balance of competitiveness in both leagues has the potential to mean a lot more buyers in July and fewer sellers. In any industry, that means a “sellers market,” and if the Twins can capitalize on that market to improve their team as soon as 2013, they’d be foolish not to do so.

Just don’t come at me with salary dump trades for any wannabe prospects. There’s no financial reason for the Twins to pull that kind of crap on their fans when they’re continuing to look at just below 3 million in attendance this season.

- JC

Will Past Be Prologue?

I’m kinda confused.

I am getting the overwhelming sense that far too many so-called Twins “fans” are actually rooting against the team right now. Why? Because they’re apparently afraid that if the Twins continue to win games at their recent rate, they’ll pull themselves up out of the AL Central Division cellar and perhaps even within shouting distance of whatever sorry excuse for a Division Leader happens to be sitting atop the Division as July nears. These “fans” think that might cause General Manager Terry Ryan to exercise undue restraint when other GMs come calling to inquire about the availability of current Twins players on the trade market.

Yes, that’s right… a significant segment of the fanbase doesn’t want to see the Twins win TOO much because they think the Twins can get significantly better in 2013 or 2014 by trading veterans for prospects this summer and they don’t give a damn how bad the resulting product on the field is for the rest of 2012.

My goodness, how things have changed in Twinsville.

Luis Castillo

I could have sworn we all (both fans and Twins players, themselves) spent most of the early to middle part of the past decade complaining that the front office was always looking toward “next year” when it came to making mid-season deals. Does anyone else remember the reaction from fans and the clubhouse when Luis Castillo was dealt to the Mets in 2007 with the Twins only a handful of games out of the Division lead? The players and many fans believed Torii and Johan and the others still had another run in them, but Terry Ryan dealt the team’s leadoff hitter anyway. Many people felt Hunter and Santana eventually left via Free Agency after that season in part because they didn’t believe the Twins would ever play for “now.”

With the limited revenue that the Twins’ Metrodome lease allowed, Terry Ryan always had to have one eye on the bottom line as he crafted his roster from one season to the next, but the promise of a new ballpark and the additional revenue streams that would come with it changed that perception. Finally, the Twins would be able to afford to pay for enough talent to make a run whenever they were on the edge of contention at mid-season.

So here we are, mid-way through the third season in that new ballpark and fans want Terry Ryan to hold a fire sale?

There are two reasons for teams to trade away veteran ballplayers at midseason. One is because someone who needs instant help this year is willing to give up prospects that the selling team believes will play key roles when they’re finally able to turn things around and contend themselves. The other is to shed payroll, which is often necessary because a bad team is not generating attendance and other revenue streams as had been hoped when the roster was built in the spring.

I hope we can all agree that the latter simply is not an acceptable reason for the Twins to trade anyone. There’s no shortage of cash in the Twins checking account right now. They did their payroll slashing before the season even started and that economizing, rather than paying to bring on better starting pitching, is the main reason this team isn’t living up to hopes this season.

That leaves the only reason for “selling” being to bring in high upside prospects that can play critical roles later. But how realistic is that, really?

I’m afraid some of these people clamoring for the Twins to sell off parts are significantly overestimating what Ryan can get for those parts. Remember the return he got for what was still a very productive leadoff hitter and second baseman in 2007? Castillo was batting .304 with 9 stolen bases, 54 runs and a .356 on-base percentage when he was traded to the Mets… for Dustin Martin and Drew Butera. How do you think people are going to feel if THAT’S the kind of return the Twins get for Denard Span? I, for one, will be pissed!

The Twins’ primary need, in their efforts to rebuild a competitive team, is starting pitching. Their hitting is fine. Their defense could be better, but it’s improved over last year. Their bullpen has been surprisingly solid. They need good starting pitching.

Does anyone really believe there are contending teams out there with such a surplus of good starting pitchers that they’re going to be willing to trade one of them for a Denard Span, a Ryan Doumit, or even a Justin Morneau? I don’t believe it for a heartbeat.

I also believe people are underestimating how competitive this team could be over the next year and a half. The biggest need is for better starting pitching and, unfortunately, that’s something that’s just not easy to come by. It’s certainly unlikely to be something acquired in a mid-season trade with a team looking to improve their ability to contend this season.

That being the case, I simply do not believe that you tear down other areas of your roster when you’re unlikely to improve the area most in need of help… not when there’s no economic reason to do so.

If there’s a GM out there willing to part with a high-ceiling starting pitcher that’s likely to contribute to the Twins at the Major League level in 2013 or at least by 2014, fine… see what it takes to get that player. But I don’t think it’s likely. More likely, potential trade partners will be offering up more of the Dustin Martin/Drew Butera level of prospect or simply offering to take on contracts without giving up any kind of prospects at all.

If that’s the best Terry Ryan can do, I’d rather just keep watching the guys wearing Twins uniforms right now for the rest of the season and see what they can do if a couple of these young pitchers keep getting hitters out the way they have been lately.

I know many fans disagree. But for those who are prevailing on the Twins to trade their veterans over the coming weeks , I have just a small bit of advice. Be careful what you wish for. Based on Terry Ryan’s history, you may just get it.

- JC

Stop With the Premature Trade Talk Already

I know Twins fans aren’t quite accustomed to dealing with having their team be uncompetitive right out of the gate, but that’s no excuse for being rediculously stupid.

It seems like some folks just don’t know how to enjoy the rare good performance when they see one. No, it has to be immediately followed by, “Let’s trade him!”

Justin Morneau

Justin Morneau’s wrist is feeling good and he’s hitting the ball well! Let’s trade him NOW!

Ryan Doumit’s had some clutch hits! He should be traded while he’s hot!

Denard Span is getting on base and playing a decent center field! Trade him for a boatload of pitchers, right now!

Josh Willingham hit a walkoff home run! It’s time to trade him, NOW!

Listen carefully, please… May 30 is never “the time” for a non-contending team to trade productive veteran players for prospects. Why? Because Major League GMs are not idiots… in May. They aren’t going to see one home run in May and think, “Wow. I want that guy and I’ll trade away my best pitching prospect to get him!”  At least not for another several weeks.

Ryan Doumit

Should Twins General Manager Terry Ryan be listening to offers for most of his productive veterans? Absolutely. There’s nobody on this roster that should be “off limits” right now. Some of the contracts may make certain players (that would be you, Mr. Mauer) untradeable for all practical purposes, but that doesn’t mean Ryan shouldn’t listen if a fellow GM thinks he has an idea that would work.

But May 30 is for listening… for determining which teams might have interest in certain players… but not for trading.

Frankly, nobody is desperate (read: stupid) enough to give enough in return, yet.

The Red Sox, Tigers and Angels are off to slow starts, but they are far from being desperate… yet. The Indians and Orioles, although finding themselves in better positions than they perhaps expected heading in to the season, still have some holes to fill. But they are far from desperate… yet.

It’s desperation that makes for unequal trades and we all know that fans… Twins fans in particular, it seems… tend to overvalue their players and thus expect more for them in return for a trade than other teams are likely to be willing to give up. There is simply no trade Ryan could make on May 30 that would make anyone in Twinsville happy, unless it happened to involve a player that a particular fan has some screwy personal grudge against.

First, you have to at least get past the upcoming draft. Until then, neither the Twins nor potential trading partners know for sure what their respective organizatinal needs are, nor where they have sufficient depth to afford the luxury of trading away a decent prospect or two.

Perhaps more than any other professional draft, the MLB draft is a crapshoot. Players can’t be counted on to make an immediate impact at the Major League level and, in fact, they can’t really be counted on to ever play Big League ball. So, despite all the fan chatter about how teams need to draft pitching or power hitting or speed because of the perception that the organization’s current MLB roster is short on that particular talent, teams almost always draft what they believe is the “best player available” when their turn comes around. You simply don’t know with any level of certainty what your organization’s needs will be by the time a particular kid is ready to play Big League baseball.

As a result, it’s only after the draft is over that you can judge with any precision what kind of talents you should be targeting in the trade market… and it’s only after the draft is over that you or potential trade partners can accurately judge which talents they may have a surplus of and can thus afford to send off in a trade.

That’s when phone lines between GMs start to warm up.

Denard Span

Even then, real interest doesn’t often reveal itself until July rolls around and desperation doesn’t kick in until later that month. That’s when teams convince themselves that they need a toolsy lead-off hitting center fielder or a versatile switch-hitting back up catcher with a little pop, especially if they’ve got team-friendly contracts.

For guys with big contracts, the “time” to trade them might not come around until August, after the non-waiver deadline passes. That’s when desperation really sets in and teams become willing to take on big contracts and overpay in prospects, if they think the guy could help them bring home some sort of championship this year.

I think we all understand the reality of 2012. Every GM in baseball will have Terry Ryan on speed dial and Ryan is going to make some deals. I don’t especially like that, but it’s the reality that comes with being an underperforming last place team. But that doesn’t mean I want him giving away every veteran on the ballclub without getting guys who are pretty damn close to being Major League ready in return.

Some people may be willing and even eager to ship current players off for a couple of “organization players” who will never be more than roster fillers for Rochester or New Britain (or whoever next year’s AAA and AA Twins affiliates are). I am not one of those people.

I want… I expect… to see a much better product on the field next season and if Ryan can’t get players in trade that should be expected to contribute to this team being more competitive in 2013, then I’d just as soon see the Spans, Doumits, Morneaus and Willinghams still wearing Twins uniforms next year.

And nobody is offering that level of talent, especially the potential top of the rotation pitching talent the team desperately needs most, on May 30.

So how about we just stop with the, “Twins need to trade so-and-so right now,” crap? No, they don’t.

- JC

(All photos: Jim Crikket, Knuckleballs)

Winter Meetings Chat: Day 2 (7:00-9:00 pm)

On the first day of Winter Meetings, Terry Ryan gave the Twins a new-old pitcher, Matt Capps, and a minor league shortstop out of the Baltimore organization, Pedro Florimon.

While the Capps debate rages on, here we’re ready to move on to Day 2. Let’s talk about what Terry Ryan has doing for an encore during the second day of baseball’s Winter Meetings. (We’ll open up the Chatroll window from 7-9 pm, then we encourage everyone to move on over to Seth’s and Jack’s Blogspot Radio podcast for additional arguing about the Twins’ moves.)

Kevin Slowey

  • The Twins started the day by announcing they’ve traded pitcher Kevin Slowey to Colorado for a “player to be named later”. This one had been discussed for a while as reports have floated around since before the season ended about the Rockies liking Slowey. Slowey was rumored to be a non-tender candidate, so chances are the Rockies aren’t giving up a significant player in return. For now, the Twins probably need the open roster spot, so it may be a while before we hear who’s coming over from the Rockies.
  • Not directly Twins-related but with the trade of Sergio Santos to the Jays, White Sox GM Kenny Williams has finally tipped his hand. He’s going to blow up the roster and rebuild. I’ve read comparisons to the Twins situation, but I think they’re very different. The White Sox didn’t have near the money coming off the books to work with in order to add pieces to remain competitive and, conversely, they have a lot more veteran players with significant trade value than the Twins do.
  • Jeff Francis’ agent will be meeting with the Pirates and Twins this week, in addition to the Mariners and, perhaps, others.
  • Mark Buehrle has “narrowed” his list of possible landing spots to five teams. Supposedly, the Twins are one team with an offer in to Buehrle. Here’s a question… if you were Buehrle, would you prefer to pitch for a team in the same division as the White Sox, where you have a significant amount of experience facing the hitters in that division, or would you prefer to go to a team where the opponents have little experience facing you (perhaps even to the NL)?
  • Not exactly Twins-related, but congratulations go out to Howard Sinker and the rest of the Star-Tribune staff who make their online content among the best in the business. The Star-Tribune web site has been awarded a “Top Ten” award by the Associated Press Sports Editors (APSE) in the large market category (over 2 million average monthly unique users).
  • Speaking of congratulations being in order, Michael Cuddyer tweeted today that his wife, Claudia, gave birth to twin girls (Chloe & Madeline) today. The Twins also reportedly have offered Cuddy a 3 year deal for $24-25 million. Having “twins” on the date you get an upgraded offer from the “Twins” must be a sign, right? Is this a proud daddy, or what?
  • Since multiple sources have been posting most of the news coming out of the Twins suite at the Anatole, I haven’t been crediting specific sources very often, but the Strib’s LaVelle E. Neal III added a few little factoids to the end of his blog post this afternoon that I haven’t read elsewhere (yet, anyway). According to LaVelle, the Twins have had zero conversations thus far with the agents of pitchers Edwin Jackson and Jeff Francis and their interest in Japanese pitchers Hisashi Iwakuma and Tsuyoshi Wada is “almost zero”.

Winter Meetings Chat: Day 1 (7:00-9:00 pm)

As promised, we’re opening up our live Chat window for a couple of hours tonight (beginning at 7 pm CT) and plan to do the same throughout this week’s MLB Winter Meetings.

Everyone who’s anyone in professional baseball (and a few hundred people who, frankly, aren’t anyone in professional baseball, but would like to be) are buzzing around the Hilton Anatole Hotel in Dallas this week and we’re going to try to keep up with whatever business gets accomplished (it has to be difficult to concentrate on work with a Medieval Times dinner tournament right next door, doesn’t it?).

When we’ve wrapped up our chat here, we suggest you move over to the podcast being broadcast by Seth Stohs and Jack Steal over at their Blogspot Radio site, beginning at 9 pm every night during the Winter Meetings.

Just to give us some ideas for discussion, here’s a brief rundown of some of the news items coming out of Dallas on Day 1:

  • Starting with the latest news first, it finally happened… after all the conjecture, the Twins did in fact come to an agreement to re-sign Matt Capps. Capps gets a one year deal with an option. I’m sure the details will be coming out soon. UPDATE: The deal is $4.5 million for 2012 and an option for $6 million in 2013 with a $250K buyout. Makes it a guarantee of one year and $4.75 million. That’s overpaying a little, but not worth all the crying about it going on elsewhere. If he performs at career averages, it’s fine… and better than shelling out $7-8 million for a “closer”.
  • The day started out with the bad news that both Jim Kaat and Tony Oliva failed to garner the necessary 12 votes to be elected to the Hall of Fame by the “golden era” veterans’ committee. Kaat was 2 votes short and Oliva fell 4 short. Only former Cub Ron Santo was elected. I suppose that was to be expected, but it’s disappointing, nonetheless.
  • It’s hard to tell information from misinformation during these meetings, since it’s become important for GMs and agents to use misdirection to keep other parties as uncertain as possible concerning their true intentions. That means that today’s “rumor” that the Twins may be likely to re-sign Michael Cuddyer for a more modest contract (in years, if not dollars) than previously assumed could be either an indication that Cuddy is on the verge of remaining a Twin or that someone is just trying to give that impression.
  • The Twins reportedly are one of nine teams that have “made a call” regarding OF Josh Willingham. Reports indicate the Twins have set up a meeting with his agent for Thursday, unless the Twins sign Cuddyer before then.
  • Conjecture is that the Twins are still interested in Edwin Jackson, however he’s not likely to sign until the market has been set by CJ Wilson and/or Mark Buehrle. Waiting is probably fine with the Twins, since they’re still waiting on a Cuddyer decision and whatever slim chance there is that they’d open the wallet for Jackson would disappear if Cuddyer is re-signed.
  • Parker Hageman, at Over The Baggy, does a good job of explaining why the Twins might be interested in pitcher Jeff Francis. That said, the Pirates and Mariners are now talking to Francis’ agent, as well, and I sure wouldn’t want to see the Twins get in a bidding war for him.
  • Another report has the Twins inquiring with the Rangers about the availability of OF David Murphy. He’s not a bad ballplayer but I’m just not sure that adding yet another left handed hitter is the best idea. If this deal happens, then I’ll be very surprised if it isn’t followed with another trade of either Revere or Span.
  • The Twins did claim shortstop Pedro Florimon from the Orioles. 24 yo switch-hitter hit with a little pop at AA Bowie but not much at all in a short cup of coffee with the O’s. The Twins added him to their Major League roster, filling the 39th spot and leaving one spot open for a Major Leaguer the Twins trade for (or player they pick up in the Rule V draft) before they would have to start making corresponding roster moves to clear spots for other acquisitions. Our friend Thrylos provides some details about Florimon over at The Tenth Inning Stretch.
  • ESPNDeportes reported that the Twins are one of five teams interested in Carlos Guillen. Going to have to take someone’s word for that since I don’t speak Spanish.
  • Later in the afternoon, we heard that the Twins, Nationals, Marlins and Rangers are “in on” Mark Buehrle, but that the Twins’ offer isn’t as strong as the offers from from the other three teams (now THERE’s a surprise, right?).
  • One interesting comment coming out of the Twins’ late afternoon session with the media came from ESPN1500′s Phil Mackey who Tweeted “I asked Terry how much #Twins consider draft compensation w/ FA decisions: “Not that much. We’ll take it. But we’d rather have the player.”

Considering how quiet the Twins usually are during the Winter Meetings, that’s an awful lot of stuff to chat about tonight!

- JC

Hump Day “Hmmmmm”s

Today was hump day and here’s a rundown of a few things that made me go “hmmmmm” today.

Matt Capps

Matt Capps

There’s been a lot written in Twins blogdom about the pros and cons of re-signing Matt Capps. There’s certainly room for fair debate since Capps’ history with the Twins has been inconsistent.

But here’s what makes me go “hmmmmm”… Since the announcement that the Twins would get a supplemental round draft pick in 2012 if Capps signs elsewhere, without having to offer him arbitration, there’s been almost unanimous opinion expressed that this settles the question on the side of, “don’t bring him back.” Yet, it’s not as if giving Terry Ryan extra high draft picks to work with guarantees he’ll turn them in to productive Major Leaguers.

As Nick Nelson reminds us, in 2004 Ryan had a boatload of high picks which he turned in to shortstop Trevor Plouffe and pitchers Glen Perkins, Kyle Waldrop, Matt Fox and Jay Rainville. I’m not intending to pick on any of those players or on Ryan, but merely to remind everyone that even high draft picks face long odds against becoming productive Major Leaguers.

The bottom line is that I agree that the draft pick compensation the Twins can get for Capps does make it less likely that they re-sign him, but I’m not so certain that it should.

Twins Winter Meeting Trade Market

I opined in an earlier post that the period between now and the end of the Winter Meetings may determine the Twins’ 2012 fate. Even earlier than that, I published a couple of posts containing “blueprints” for how I would go about assembling a roster for 2012 if I were GM. In fact, November has been pretty much non-stop chatter about what Terry Ryan (and before him, Bill Smith) should do. But the more I hmmmmmm, the more I’m convinced that I know what Ryan and the Twins will do over the next two weeks.

Absolutely nothing.

He doesn’t have the money to sign a Mark Buehrle or Edwin Jackson or Josh Willingham (or even a Michael Cuddyer, though he won’t come right out and say it). Most of the second and third tier of free agents aren’t going to sign anywhere until some of the top tier start signing and establishing the market rates.

Ordinarily, Ryan could make a trade or two to free up some payroll space, but he really can’t even do that for a while. There are two times you want to make meaningful trades… one is when the player(s) you are offering are at peak value and the other is when the player(s) you are offering play positions that are in high demand compared to number of options on the market. Quick, off the top of your head, how many players does Ryan have that fit either of those criteria?

If you make a list of the players Ryan could look to trade to shed salary, almost all of them are coming off “down” years. He’d be selling low on Mauer (who has a no-trade clause anyway), Morneau, Baker, Liriano, Span, Nishioka, Blackburn, Slowey… almost every player earning more than $1 million a year. Except Carl Pavano.

Pavano might bring fair value, but it’s not going to happen within two weeks. There’s no shortage of teams who want the kind of rotation help Pavano would bring, but almost all of them still think they’re in the mix for Wilson, Buehrle, Jackson and others. Only when those players land elsewhere will teams be likely to consider trading away meaningful talent for Pavano. Ryan needs to wait until the demand for Pavano rises before even considering a trade.

“Experienced Closer”

The last thing a team with serious doubts concerning their expected competitiveness needs to do is spend more than $4-5 million for a “closer”.  If it’s a questionable use of resources to overspend for guys who have racked up “saves” when you’re a contender, then it’s insanity to do so when you probably aren’t. Hold auditions in Spring Training and if they carry over in to April, that’s fine, too.

As for the rest of the bullpen, I’m perfectly fine with not spending $2-3 million per arm to fill out the pen. I was similarly fine with that approach last off-season. It wasn’t the plan that was faulty last year, it was the execution of that plan. The problem was that the players the front office brought in were not good pitchers.

And by the way, the people who made the decisions about which pitchers to sign and invite to Spring Training were the same people in charge now. Bill Smith didn’t make those evaluations, Terry Ryan and the scouting staff did. Then Gardy and Andy decided which pitchers to take north to start the season. All of those people are still making those decisions. Just sayin’.

Anyway, I just don’t see Terry Ryan as likely to do anything any time soon. He’s just got pretty limited options right now.

Twins Hall of Fame

The Twins are lettng the fans have a say in who the next inductee(s) might be to the organization’s own Hall of Fame. It’s not clear to me how much weight the fans’ votes carry, but it doesn’t really matter because it is clear that to vote you have to broadcast your votes via Twitter or Facebook. I don’t care enough to do that.

For what it’s worth, though, I’d strongly support Camillo Pascual and Cesar Tovar for induction. Frankly, it’s rediculous that they aren’t already in. You could also make the same statement about Chuck Knoblauch if all you base the determination on is his performance on the field while he was a Twin. That said, given all that happened with Knoblauch toward the end of his time with the team and on through the disclosure of his use of steroids, I’d also be perfectly fine with not inducting him right now. Let’s face it, he wouldn’t show up for the induction anyway, so why bother? Give the honor to someone who truly would appreciate it.

Programming note:

Jack Steal (Fanatic Jack Talks Twins) has returned to Blogspot Radio and he’s asked me to be a guest on the podcast tonight (Nov 30). The podcast starts at 9:00 pm and I’m tentatively scheduled to join about 20 minutes after the hour.

Figuring out why anyone would care to listen to me is truly something to hmmmmmm about.

- JC

JC’s 2012 Offseason Twins Blueprint… Redux

Let’s try this again, shall we?

First, let me say for the umpteenth time that I think the Twins still have done nothing to make their case to the public in support of their contention that the payroll must be slashed. Last week, Twins president Dave St. Peter Tweeted that they are projecting lower revenues in 2012. If he’s talking about lower attendance, then the only reason for anticipating such would be if they’re anticipating once again putting a non-competitive product on the field.

But since those of us who have already published “blueprints” did so in anticipation of payrolls at least remaining relatively level, it’s worth the exercise to see exactly what kind of roster can actually be assembled for $100 million.

For reference, you might want to glance back a week or two ago at my earlier effort, which anticipated roughly a $119 million payroll.

The gaps that need to be filled remain. Rotation help. Shortstop. Designated hitter. Bullpen. Back up catcher.

Ryan wasted no time before starting to put his stamp on the 2012 roster, signing Dodgers middle infielder Jamey Carroll for what’s reported to be $7 million over two years, plus an option year. Not many people are questioning whether Carroll is an upgrade over the shortstops the Twins trotted out there in 2011, but his age (38 before Opening Day) does leave some people wondering whether Ryan might be overpaying for Carroll. Only time will tell.

Now, as Ryan and his fellow GMs begin their annual meetings in Milwaukee, let’s get out our copies of the TwinsCentric 2012 Offseason GM Handbook again and take another whack at that roster.

We’ll start with the same 11 players from those currently on the Twins roster that I felt relatively certain would be on the Opening Day active roster. Here they are, along with their projected 2012 salaries (where estimates are needed, I am using the estimates the TwinsCentric guys used in their Handbook):

Joe Mauer (23 mil), Justin Morneau (14 mil), Carl Pavano (8.5 mil), Scott Baker (6.5 mil), Francisco Liriano (6 mil), Nick Blackburn (4.75 mil), Denard Span (3 mil), Alexi Casilla (2.5 mil), Glen Perkins (1.8 mil), Danny Valencia (500K), and Brian Duensing (500K). Now, add Carroll’s $3.5 million (though we don’t know for sure yet whether that’s an accurate number for 2012).

Also, the Twins will be on the hook to Tsuyoshi Nishioka for $3 million.

That adds up to $77.55 million, but instead of having almost $42.5 million to spend assuming a reasonable $120 million cap, we would have just short of $22.5 million of room under the new $100 million austerity program.

$22.5 million won’t do the job, folks, so we’re going to trade away some of the guys on the list above before Opening Day.

The rotation still needs a major overhaul, but we can forget about Mark Buehrle or even Edwin Jackson. In fact, here’s where I see Terry Ryan can practice a little “addition by subtraction”. Carl Pavano has one year left on his contract and it’s tough to see the Twins including him in their 2013 plans. The market for starting pitchers right now has more buyers than sellers and that means there very well may be teams willing to take on Pavano’s $8.5 million contract in return for something of value.

I’d still like to see Brian Duensing in a lefty set-up role in the bullpen and Nick Blackburn should not be in the rotation, either. But without Pavano, we now have three rotation spots to fill.

I still like the idea of taking a flyer on Rich Harden, despite his injury record. Let’s add Paul Maholm, as well, as our second left handed starter. Maholm is just 30 years old and, while his numbers weren’t great and he finished the season with shoulder issues, he’s the kind of “pitch to contact” thrower that the Twins are attracted to and in Target Field, he could thrive. Admittedly, we’re going to be hoping these guys can stay healthy, but they should both be available for reasonable 1-year deals, especially if they have to wait around for a while the market for starting pitching sorts itself out.

But what about the fifth starter?

We need to go cheap and there are two ways to do that, trade for someone cheap or promote from within. My Plan A would be to see what Atlanta would need for lefty Mike Minor. Knowing how Terry Ryan feels about trading away the kind of prospects the Braves would likely demand in return, we’ll need a Plan B. That would be Liam Hendriks. He’ll likely get his brains beat in a little bit, but what the hell… better it happens in 2012 than the following year when we’re going to want to be in position to be serious players in the AL Central.

The Twins will not be going in to Spring Training with a firmly established rotation, in any event. That being the case, they’d be just the sort of team that guys like Scott Kazmir and Brandon Webb might be looking to sign with in efforts to restart their careers. If you can get one of these guys on a minor league contract, why not give them an opportunity?

The bullpen: The Twins have no reason to pay anyone big money to be their closer. While I originally said I would take Joe Nathan back if he would agree to a 2 year deal for $7 million per year, I still suspect he’ll do better elsewhere and, frankly, I think Terry Ryan is less likely to pay him that kind of money.

By and large, I’ll stick with most of the bullpen options I suggested last time. Jonathan Broxton is still worth a shot, but you’re probably only going to be able to afford one of Todd Coffey or Matt Capps. I’d prefer Coffey, but wouldn’t mind keeping Capps at a reduced rate.

In July, Bill Smith was negotiating with the Nationals for young reliever Drew Storen. Denard Span was reportedly close to joining Washington’s outfield. Reportedly, the Nats still are in the market for a good defensive centerfielder, but Span’s concussion means his trade value is down. What about Ben Revere? Revere’s time with the Twins is probably going to be short-lived, with guys like Benson, Hicks, and others getting closer to The Show. It may take a bit more than Revere to get Storen, but how much more?

That makes my bullpen consist of Perkins, Broxton, Coffey (or Capps), Storen, Duensing, Blackburn and Burnett or perhaps Swarzak. Heck, you could even let Jose Mijares compete for that last spot if you really aren’t convinced he’s a lost cause.

I still think the Twins will probably trade Kevin Slowey, rather than pay him the $3.3 million he’s likely to get through arbitration. If they do, at least I have more confidence in Ryan to get some prospects with potential value than I had in Smith. If they don’t trade Slowey, I’m perfectly fine with letting him compete for a rotation spot in Spring Training.

Most of the position players I originally targeted are still quite affordable, but we’ll need to make a few tweaks.

DH: Derek Lee is still my guy. If reports are true about Morneau wanting to primarily DH, it’s even more important to get a guy like Lee on board. Without Cuddyer, his righthanded bat is even more important, too.

Middle Infield: In signing Carroll, Ryan spent more than twice what my original blueprint projected be spent on Ramon Santiago, but Ryan is telling the media that he may not be done looking at middle infielders. I wonder if we can fit the trio of Carroll, Santiago and Casilla in to the budget. Probably not. There should still be room for Nick Punto if he can be had for the $750K that TwinsCentric projected he’d get. If that’s not possible, maybe the Twins give Brian Dozier a chance to prove his Arizona Fall League performance wasn’t a fluke.

Up until the Carroll signing, I was kind of hoping Ryan might talk to the Braves about what it would take to get Martin Prado. From what I can tell, Prado is essentially a younger, cheaper, Michael Cuddyer. He’s a RH hitter who has played enough 1B, 2B, 3B and LF to be considered a legitimate option at each of those positions. He’s likely to get something north of $4 million through arbitration after a bit of a down offensive season (his .260/.302/.385 slash line is a solid 40 points lower than he’s historically put up in each statistical category). He’ll also hit a dozen or so home runs each year.

The Braves are reportedly shopping Prado and some of their pitching in an effort to shore up their outfield and if there’s one position that Ryan could deal from a bit of depth, it’s outfielders. I was steadfastly opposed to Bill Smith’s plan to trade Denard Span for relief pitching last summer, but for a more versatile player of a similar age and making similar money… that would at least be something to think about.

Back-up catcher: If Ryan can get Jose Molina for the $1.1 million that TwinsCentric projects, I still sign him and move on to other issues. There’s been some talk of a Slowey for Chris Iannetta trade and I’d be OK with that, but it would mean spending a couple million dollars more than what Molina projects to command.

The outfield: Trading Revere means we need to make at least one adjustment here and, while Terry Ryan and Jim Pohlad insist that a reduced payroll does not rule out affording to bring Michael Cuddyer back, it would be a challenge. Denard Span is still my centerfielder, but between Joe Benson and Rene Tosoni, one of them is going to have to prove he can play a Major League left field, while the other fills the 4th OF spot.

The Twins may not be able to afford Cuddyer, but they very well may be able to pay Jason Kubel enough to return, if he wants to. I don’t think Kubel is going to be nearly as in demand as Cuddyer, so it’s possible that the 3 year/$20 million contract that TwinsCentric projects will be enough to keep Kubel in Minnesota.

Here’s my revised final “blueprint”. Even if you count Joe Nathan’s $2 million “buy-out” against the 2012 payroll, I’m now spending just $101 million. (Some of the back up plans would result in costing a few bucks more, but not all that many more.)

That’s not likely going to be enough to field a contending ballclub, but if Mauer, Morneau, Span and others manage to stay healthy, they could surprise some folks through the first half of the season. If so, Ryan should be able to make a solid case to the Pohlads for spending a few extra bucks at mid-season. If the Twins have fallen back by that time, you should be able to get something in trade for some of the veterans, while you promote Parmelee and Dozier.- JC

PLAYER Salary ($ mil)
C Mauer 23
1B Morneau 14
2B Casilla 2.5*
3B Valencia 0.5
SS Carroll 3.5*
OF Span 3
OF Benson 0.5
OF Kubel 7*
DH Lee 5*
C J Molina 1.1*
4thOF Tosoni 0.5
UtIF Punto 0.75
Bench Plouffe/Hughes 0.5
SP-L Maholm 4*
SP-R Baker 6.5
SP-R Harden 3*
SP-L Minor/Hendriks .5
SP-L Liriano 6*
RP-R Broxton 4*
RP-R Coffey 2.1*
RP-L Perkins 1.8*
RP-R Storen .5
RP-R Blackburn 4.75
RP-L Duensing 0.5
RP-R Burnett/Swarzak 0.5
Nathan (option buy-out) 2
Nishioka (Rochester) 3
 *estimated salaries Total: $101,000,000

The Watch has ended… for Thome at least.

The word has come down the pipeline that a deal has been reached with the Cleveland Indians for Jim Thome and that he has waived his No-Trade Clause in order to facilitate the return.

I’m sure there will be a LOT of stories reporting on the various aspects – since we don’t know what we’re getting in return yet – but Mackey has the known details over at ESPN 1500.

I have to admit, I’m kind of a sucker for the story going this way. I really do want him to have the opportunity for a ring. He’s a fantastic guy and I think he deserves it. This is the team where he started and it’s kind of cool that he’ll likely end his career there… of course, he may surprise us all and keep going for awhile yet. Given how my “not-quite-40-year-old” body feels when I get up in the morning, I honestly don’t know how he still gets out there but I wish him the best of luck and at least I’ll have someone to cheer for in the off-season since the Twins won’t be there – and I’m pretty sure that the Indians still kind of count as an underdog since they still have to get past the Tigers.

Thank you, Jim Thome, for the incredible service you gave to Minnesota and the work ethic and class you brought to our organization no matter for how brief a time. You will be missed and we wish you well (even if it IS in the division!)

************

Just wanted to add my 2 cents… and to also thank Jimmer for the class he showed during his time with the Twins. I’ll be rooting for the Tribe to catch the Tigers and give Thome a shot at a ring.

The worst part of losing him is that the current batch of young Twins won’t have him in the clubhouse for the rest of the season. Then again, if they haven’t learned from him what being a Major League ballplayer is supposed to be all about by this point (and I see no indication that many of them have), the lesson is probably not going to to sink in with these guys.

Anyway… best of luck, Mr. Incredible! – JC

Waiver Watch – Thome & Kubel

Once again, in trying to figure out exactly how this waiver situation works for different players given their specific situation, I was trying to do a little research. I figured I would then assemble the various input and spit it back out to you once I hopefully understood what might happen. 

Happily, LENIII over at the StarTribune did a BEAUTIFUL job putting together exactly what kind of factors will come into play and how much power Thome actually has to decide which team he gets to go to.  For that reason, I’m going to just share his article in its entirety – with full credit of course – and link you there.

Kubel, Thome deals may be near

Article by: LA VELLE E. NEAL III , Star Tribune – Updated: August 25, 2011 – 12:52 AM

Twins designated hitter Jim Thome, always the gentleman, smiled as he said, “I have no comment.”

Reports on Wednesday had the Chicago White Sox as one of the teams placing a waiver claim on the Twins slugger, raising the possibility he could jump out of a Twins ship that’s taking on water for a life raft headed for the Windy City, where the White Sox were 6 1/2 games out of first place in the AL Central.

An ESPN report also had Twins outfielder Jason Kubel claimed as well. As of Wednesday night, it was not known if Chicago had won the claims or not.

Thome said that he didn’t know what was going to happen to him over the next two days. At least he knows that, ultimately, nothing will happen unless he says so.

That’s the power that comes with having a no-trade clause, which Thome has in his $3 million contract with the Twins for this season.

Thome can’t be moved unless he agrees to waive the clause, which allows him to leap into a pennant race if he wants to. And, based on comments after he hit his 600th career home run — the one thing he’s missing is a World Series title after losing the series twice with the Indians.

How far the Twins are willing to go to accommodate Thome is not clear. But there is some concern in-house that owner Jim Pohald wouldn’t be comfortable signing off on an elaborate veto-release maneuver that could allow Thome to become a free agent and sign with the team of his choice, which could be the Phillies, where he would be reunited with manager Charlie Manuel.

Thome could veto a deal (Chicago is not a lock for the postseason and neither is Cleveland). The Twins would then put Thome on release waivers, and Thome could reject a move to any team that tried to claim him. That would make him a free agent, able to sign wherever he wants. And, since he’s about to turn 41, Thome likely wants to be on a sure thing for the postseason, which the Phillies are.

If Thome is willing to go to Chicago, the Twins and White Sox could work out their first trade since 1986, when the Twins received Juan Agosto and Kurt Walker for Pete Filson. And who knows? Another team could be in play.

Don’t expect a big-time prospect in return for Thome if he does agree to be traded. Chicago sent Thome, who had cleared waivers, and cash to Los Angeles on Aug. 31, 2009 for infielder Justin Fuller, who is 28 years old and still in the minors.

Another thing to consider is that a team like Chicago puts in a claim on Thome and Kubel just to block other teams from getting them. The Twins then would pull them back off waivers and they can’t be traded.

If a deal is possible, the Twins could get more for Kubel who, like Thome, is a free agent after the season.

“We’ll see what happens,” Kubel said. “Maybe something will happen, Maybe nothing will happen.”

Kubel didn’t show signs of the reports affecting him, as he broke a 0-for-14 skid Wednesday with a double off the right-center field wall.

Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said his concern is how players handle trade rumors.

“It happens,” Gardenhire said. “Just like the [July]trade deadline happens. You just have to live with it and move on.”

The next two days will be interesting. If the Twins have a chance to negotiate a trade, they have until noon on Friday to make it happen.

It just so happens that Friday is Jim Thome Wind Up Walker night at Target Field.

Maybe, when you wind it up, it will walk all the way to Chicago. Or Cleveland. Or Philadelphia.