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.

Much Ado About Nothing

Yes, it’s true… “Much Ado About Nothing”, the title of a Shakespearean comedic farce, could well be an apt description of the comedic farce that has become the entire Twins season. In this case, however, its use is being applied to the fan angst over Jim Thome and Jason Kubel getting sent through waivers by the Twins.

Jim Thome in Spring Training... when there was still hope

I think the problem is that Twins fans have become a bit spoiled. We’re accustomed to trade deadlines being among the times of the year when we’re wondering which key veteran “spare parts” GM Bill Smith would/could/should snatch from non-contending teams in return for a prospect or two. This, ladies and gentlemen, is what trade deadline life looks like from the other side of the looking glass. Sucks, don’t it?

A year ago, I authored a post here entitled “When Is A Trade Deadline Not A Trade Deadline”, in which I gave a bit of a rambling, not-so-serious look at the waiver-trade process that teams go through in August. Go back and read it if you care to. It wasn’t my best writing, but I thought there was a line or two that worked. I admit, however, that it seemed a bit more humorous last season, when the Twins were “buyers” this time of year. Maybe I was just in a better mood at the time.

But here’s the deal. A team in the Twins’ situation (hopelessly and painfully going through the motions and desperately trying to find someone… anyone… who they think might be a capable MLB baseball player that can help their team in 2012) is going to put a lot of their roster through waivers in August. Most of those players will finish the season with the Twins. Perhaps, some won’t. 

Jason Kubel

Any player that isn’t under contract for 2012 is a likely candidate to be put on the waiver wire. Thome and Kubel are both pending free agents, so why shouldn’t the Twins see if there’s a contender out there who might give up something potentially useful in return for renting their bats for a few weeks? If the Twins want them back next season (and for some unfathonable reason, they would want to return to this crappy organization), they can bid for their services again this offseason, which they would have had to do anyway. Similarly, fans shouldn’t be surprised if Michael Cuddyer and Joe Nathan are put on waivers.

Teams also waive players under team control beyond this season that they think may be overcompensated, in the hope that someone will relieve them of the remainder of that contract. Delmon Young was such a player, as manager Ron Gardenhire pointed out yesterday. He told the media that Young was likely to be “non-tendered” (which is what you do to a young player instead of offering arbitration when you don’t want to pay anything close to what an arbitrator might decide he’s worth). A guy like Carl Pavano might also fit this category. The Twins have him under contract for 2012, but if another team claims him, the Twins may just let him go and let the new team pick up responsibility for the remainder of the contract.

Remember, though, just because a team puts a player on waivers, it doesn’t mean he’s going anywhere. He may not get claimed, which on the one hand, means nobody in either league was certain enough that he’d be any help that he was worth taking a chance on having to pay off the rest of his contract, but on the other hand, means he can then be traded to any team. The terms of the trade could then involve the Twins agreeing to eat some contract.

Also, if a player IS claimed, the Twins can pull him back off of waivers one time. This is where the speculation gets interesting.

I don’t think most Twins fans would begrudge letting a guy like Jim Thome get another shot at the post-season. This may (or may not) be his last such opportunity. Similarly, why should we be upset if Kubel, Cuddyer or Nathan get a little unexpected taste of the post-season? At least it would give us someone to root for in October, because nobody else on this team is going to be playing late baseball.

But what if the first team to have the opportunity to grab one or more of these guys off the waiver wire is the White Sox? Would the Twins really do anything to aid the Bitch Sox in their effort to catch the Tigers?

Hell, yes, they would.

Kenny Williams is notorious (among White Sox fans, themselves) for overpaying to acquire veteran players. If he’s stupid enough to give up highly regarded prospects for the Twins’ spare parts, Bill Smith would be an absolute fool NOT to take advantage. OK… so maybe that means it’s not so likely after all, but he SHOULD take advantage.

It’s not very fun being a Twins fan right now. It’s not fun envisioning the players who have brought so much excitement over the past several years suiting up for other teams the rest of the season. But, as they say, baseball is a business. And while our friend Seth Stohs is trying to cheer us up by pointing out that the Twins minor league system is not totally useless, the fact is that it could use some shoring up (by the way, I firmly believe Seth knows more about the Twins minor leaguers than anyone within the Twins organization itself… I’m just not sure whether that says more about Seth or the people actually getting paid by the Twins). When you’re out of the race and you have the opportunity to get something useful for players that have expiring or expensive contracts, you do it. You have to, if you want to have any hope of getting competitive again any time soon. It’s how the business works.

And hey… look at the bright side… the team, as currently constituted can’t seem to score more than 1 run a game WITH Thome, Kubel and Cuddyer, so how much worse can the offense really get without them? Besides, think about how much cheaper tickets on StubHub or on the street corner the day of games are going to be for a while!

- JC

Delmon Young Traded to Tigers

DY is done as a Twin.

Cole Nelson

In a rare intra-divisional trade, the Twins sent Delmon Young to the Tigers in return for high-A minor league pitcher Cole Nelson and a “player to be named later”. Nelson, a native of Edina MN, I believe, has mediocre (at best) stats for the Tigers’ Lakeland affiliate this season. He was a 10th round pick of the Tigers in the 2010 draft out of Auburn.

I’m hoping the PTBNL is the key in this deal. Often, that indicates the player has been identified but was signed less than a year ago. (Players can’t be traded by their original team until 1 year has expired.)

On the surface, it certainly doesn’t look like a strong trade for the Twins, but until the PTBNL is identified, it’s premature to cast a final judgment.

- JC

 

Is It Too Early To Look At 2012?

(NOTE: The silver lining to the Twins struggles of late is that Joe Nathan still hasn’t broken the team career record for saves and that means you still have time to enter our contest for a chance to win a set of 1991 Twins WORLD SERIES CHAMPIONSHIP DVDs! Click HERE to enter!)

There’s still some baseball to play over the next two months and we can still fantasize about the Twins making another late season surge in the standings similar to what we saw in June. But with no help being brought in at the non-waiver trade deadline, hopes are fading.

If this team somehow pulls off a miracle and works its way back in to the AL Central race, I’ll have no trouble focusing 100% of my interest on the current season. But as things stand, I can’t help but take a little peek at 2012.

A lot was made this year about the Twins’ payroll growing to a record $113.2 million. With their shiny new ballpark and a guaranteed 3+ million fans filling those seats this season, GM Bill Smith had pockets deeper than ever before to work with in constructing a roster. He made some peculiar (and ultimately questionable) choices, but nobody could argue that the Twins were being “cheap”.

The Twins are, and will likely continue to be, among the more fiscally conservative teams in Major League Baseball. MLB clubs are not supposed to incur debt in excess of 10 times their annual revenues. That doesn’t seem like it would be a difficult standard to meet, does it? Well, apparently nine teams currently think it is. It should come as no surprise to anyone that the Twins are nowhere to be found on that list. (That’s a good thing, by the way.)

Will Jason Kubel be back in 2012?

What will the Twins’ roster and payroll look like in 2012? I find that to be a very interesting question. Matt Capps, Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel and Jim Thome will be free agents and, despite his return to effectiveness, it’s still likely that the Twins will opt out of Joe Nathan’s $12.5 million option, making him a free agent, as well.  How many, if any, of those players will be brought back?

Let’s look at their existing 2012 contractual obligations (from Cot’s Baseball Contracts):

PLAYER Salary (mil)
C Mauer 23
1B Morneau 15
IF Nishioka 3
3B Valencia 0.5 pre-arbitration
IF Casilla 1.5* 2nd year arbitration
OF Span 3
OF Young 7* 3rd year arbitration
SP Baker 6.5
SP Blackburn 4.75
SP Liriano 7* 3rd year arbitration
SP Pavano 8.5
SP Duensing 0.5 pre-arbitration
Nathan 2 Buy-out of option
*estimates

That’s around $82 million being spent on less than half of your ultimate 25-man roster. Your entire starting rotation is accounted for (though let’s be honest, it could stand to be improved) and all but one of your eight defensive positions.

Of course, there’s no assurance all of these players will return in 2012. Bill Smith might have been unsure whether to be a buyer or seller in July, but if the Twins fall back in the standings this month, there’s a very good chance he’ll listen to offers for just about anyone who clears waivers (at least those not named Mauer) and anyone not traded in August could still find himself on the trade block during the next offseason. Also, would Casilla, Young and Liriano all be offered arbitration? I don’t think so.

It also would surprise nobody if the Twins made an attempt to keep some of their free agents. Kubel, Cuddyer and Nathan are having solid seasons. Would any of them accept a little less money to stay in Minnesota? We kind of assume Jim Thome may be ready to hang up the spikes if he reaches the 600 HR mark this season, but if he decides to play another year, would the Twins invite him back?

And then there’s the curious case of Denard Span. Despite being a productive CF and leadoff hitter, the Twins were obviously open to trading him at the end of July. If they were open to offers then, you have to figure they would be similarly open during the offseason.

I won’t be disappointed if the Twins bring back some of the current familiar faces fans have grown to know and love, but I will be disappointed if they bring back all or most of them. This team’s performance in 2011 has been less than expected and it hasn’t all been due to injuries. As Howard Sinker pointed out in this post over at Section 219, some of these guys failed to live up to past levels of performance.

The point is, the Twins are going to have an enormous amount of flexibility between now and the start of Spring Training, 2012. If they decide their revenues are likely to drop off in 2012, you could see an awful lot of these guys who have been doing the Rochester Shuffle this season playing significant roles in 2012 (not to mention a few that we’ve yet to get a look at in a Twins uniform). On the other hand, if the organization is confident that they can sustain a payroll close to what this season’s is (and with a waiting list of fans who want season ticket packages, there’s no reason to think they shouldn’t be confident), they should be able to afford to be significant players in the free agent market and if they are serious about regaining a place at the top of the AL Central Division, they’ll need to upgrade several positions.

It should make for interesting discussions.

- JC

WWYD? (What Would You Do?)

(Contest update: With Joe Nathan’s save Tuesday night, he needs just one more save to pass Rick Aguilera and become the Twins’ career saves leader… and that means you’re running out of time to submit your entry for a chance to win a set of Twins 1991 World Series DVDs!)

As has been written and said by many a professional baseball “expert” the last week or so, “This is when GMs earn their money.”

July 31, the non-waiver trade deadline, is just four days away. Some teams are clearly shopping for players that can help them in their push for the playoffs over the final two months of the season and some teams have absolutely no shot, so they’re looking to sell off veterans in return for prospects and/or payroll relief.

And then there are the Twins.

A few games ago, the Twins were only five games behind the AL Central Division leaders and all media reports indicated GM Bill Smith was shopping for players to help manager Ron Gardenhire make his team’s traditional late-season surge.

Since then, the Twins have not only been losing ground to all three teams ahead of them in the standings, but, despite Tuesday’s win over the Rangers, have looked pretty bad in doing so. I wasn’t sure they could play any worse than they did in April, but the evidence is shaping up to indicate I was wrong.

So I pose the question… if you were Bill Smith, what would YOU do?

To help you sort through the question, let me try to lay out the arguments on both sides. Let’s start with…

REASONS TO BUY

  • This is still the AL Central Division and as bad as the Twins look lately, nobody else is really, really good.
  • Seven games simply isn’t all that much to make up, even in just two months. The Twins have overcome bigger deficits in the past and all three of their Division competitors have histories of late season fades. In fact, reports are that the Sox GM is already waiving the white flag and is looking to sell players.
  • Two of the Twins most productive offensive players, Denard Span and Justin Morneau, should be rejoining the team over the course of the next month. Not many other teams will add two players with the potential to add comparable offensive stats.
  • The Twins’ rotation has been inconsistent, but that means they won’t continue to be as bad as they have been for the past week. Don’t overreact to one bad… very bad… very, very bad… week of starting pitching.
  • There’s no need for the Twins to slash payroll. Unlike many “sellers”, the Twins don’t have to worry about ticket sales falling off if the team doesn’t catch fire to stay in the race. They’re already guaranteed over 3 million in paid attendance. Sure, some fans with tickets may not show up, but they’re likely to sell their tickets, even if it has to be at a discount, so there isn’t likely to even be a loss in concession sales. There’s no risk of income falling off to the point where it can’t support not only current payroll, but a couple of extra relief pitchers and bench bats.
  • Even if you suspect the team won’t stay in contention, you don’t want to send the message to your clubhouse that this organization is going to establish a habit of giving up in July.
  • The non-waiver deadline is largely a faux deadline. Often, the first thing teams do on August 1 is send their entire roster through revocable waivers. Almost the entire roster goes through unclaimed. Worst case scenario, you get an indication of which teams might be interested in those players that DO get claimed. If things continue to go downhill, there’s still a good chance you can trade most of the players with any value before the end of August.
  • If you make a deal for a “rental” player that you like, you’ve got a couple of months to convince him that he should stick around and sign an extension with you.
  • Hey… the team COULD catch fire again and give us all another pennant race to get excited about. Stranger things have happened!

On the other hand…

REASONS TO SELL

  • It’s not just the seven games they need to make up, it’s that they have to pass THREE other teams. The chances of getting that hot again AND all three teams ahead of you faltering enough to pass all of them are simply not very good.
  • The core of this team has so many flaws that (a) it is almost impossible to imagine they could pass three teams in the standings over the last two months; and (b) it will take more infusion of new (and better) talent to regain competitiveness next season than can be done simply by tweaking around the edges in the offseason.
  • The top prospects in the Twins organization are either not good enough or not advanced enough (or both) to contribute at the MLB level by next season and now is the time to acquire some MLB-ready talent from other organizations.
  • Throwing in the towel on this season would allow the Twins to get their younger players two months of MLB competition and allow the decision-makers in the organization to evaluate them at that level. This is pretty much what the Royals are doing (but then again, it’s what they do every season at this time).
  • Even if the Twins catch lightning in a bottle again over the next two months and win the Division again, they’ve proven they would do nothing but embarrass themselves and their fans in the playoffs… again. It would be better to make some deals that could make the team a stronger contender in 2012 and beyond than to try desperately to pull one more miracle out of this core group of players.
  • Trading pending free agents like Cuddyer, Nathan, and Kubel would not necessarily preclude the Twins from re-signing them next season if the price is right.
  • A lower finish would give the Twins a higher position in the 2012 amateur draft than they have had in a while and would also likely mean they could sign other teams’ Type A free agents in the offseason without giving up their first round pick (the top 15 spots in the draft only lose their 2nd round pick when they sign a Type A FA).
  • Whether by trading veterans for prospects or through higher draft picks, there’s a better chance that the Twins will end up with a pitching prospect with true “ace” potential… something the team doesn’t have now anywhere in their organization and a team must have to be considered a serious contender for a World Series Championship.

So there you have it. Have I missed anything? What factors would guide you to making a decision to buy or sell if you were the Twins GM for the rest of the month? Let us know in the comments.

- JC

 

Let The Trade Rumors Begin: Denard Span

And so it begins.

This afternoon, the Twins hit the rumor wire as word spread that they were talking to the Washington Nationals about a trade involving centerfielder Denard Span.

Denard Span

At first, I thought this had to be some kind of joke. Certainly Bill Smith wouldn’t be looking at the results of the past two series and think, “We seem to have too much offense on this team right now, especially at the top of the order… there’s no way we have room for Denard Span when he’s ready to return.” Would he? Ken Rosenthal at FOX seems to think so.

Is it possible Smith has looked at Ben Revere’s hitting lately and figured he’s just what a contender needs leading off? Yes, the guy is great to have in the outfield, but he’s almost been the worst looking hitter in the Twins’ batting order lately.

Almost.

The worst, of course, has been shortstop Tsuyoshi Nishioka. I’m 55 years old and I’d be willing to bet I would at least look better swinging lefthanded than Nishi has and I’d have almost as many hits. NONE would be “almost as many” as Nishi’s had lately. In last night’s game wrap-up, I mentioned that if I were the GM, I’d be looking for a shortstop who might sniff at getting a hit occasionally. And therein lies the rub.

The Nationals need a centerfielder and they apparently feel they have an extra middle infielder. Word is, they’re shopping shortstop Ian Desmond and would shift their current second baseman to shortstop in order to make room for a rookie they think is ready to come up to the Big Leagues. (That rookie’s name is Stephen Lombardozzi, by the way… a name that should sound familiar to Twins fans. Yes, he’s the son of THAT Steve Lombardozzi). The Nats also have a couple of right handed relief pitchers that they may be willing to part with.

So… if you got Desmond and a productive reliever for Span, would you make the deal?

Not me.

First of all, if the Twins don’t score more than two runs a game, all the relief pitching in the world won’t help. They need more offense and the most likely way they can get it is to get Span back in the line up and let Revere take over 4th outfielder duties. Second, Desmond’s stats aren’t all that much better, if at all, than Nishioka’s and they certainly are nowhere near Span’s. Rosenthal mentions that Desmond’s .584 OPS is the lowest in the National League… but I guess it’s still better than Nishi’s .544 OPS, right?

I don’t blame the Nationals for wanting to make a deal with Bill Smith. They clearly are fondly recalling the deal they got in return for Matt Capps a year ago and if you’re in their front office, there’s no reason to think you shouldn’t be able to get a favorable return from Bill Smith and the Twins again.

That doesn’t mean Smith has to oblige them.

Ben Revere may be a legitimate full time MLB player some day. Joe Benson could, too. Rene Tosoni has similar potential. Aaron Hicks and Angel Morales? Sure… some day.

Some day, the Twins won’t need Denard Span in their line up. Today is not that day, unless Bill watched the half-assed efforts his guys put forth on the field against the Tigers over the last few games and has decided it’s time to hold a fire sale. In that case, Denard’s name won’t be the only one we see showing up in MLBTradeRumors this week.

- JC

ABC’s of Righthanded Relief Options

There seems to be consensus across Twinsville that a bit of help in the righthanded relief pitching category may be called for. Since the Twins online community rarely reaches anything resembling “consensus” on any subject, this much agreement must mean there’s a real need, right?

I know we keep reading about how Twins GM Bill Smith and his staff are discussing options for addressing the team’s bullpen issues.

So what’s the hold up? I guess I could understand if Bill decided to wait until this stretch of games against the Indians and Tigers is finished before giving up even a bit of minor league talent in trade, you know… just in case the Twins were going to lose eight straight. Then again, perhaps that bullpen help might make that kind of losing streak less likely.

Maybe it’s just too difficult to identify pitchers who could help the Twins?

In any event, here at Knuckleballs, we’re always trying to help out. So, with a little research (in fact VERY little research), I’ve come up with a list of righthanded relievers for Bill and his buddies to peruse.

The word on the street is that it should be a “buyer’s market” for shoppers in the market for righthanded relievers. With that in mind, I went “shopping”… and to keep it simple, I tried to come up with one option for each letter of the alphabet, looking pretty much only at guys who are currently toiling for teams that are likely “sellers”.

Let me say up front that I was not successful. There are simply no legitimate (or even somewhat less than legitimate) options for righthanded bullpen arms beginning with the letters O, T, V, X or Y. (Hey, I came up with a U and a Z, whaddya want?!) To make up for that, I threw in a few extras for some of the other letters.

No, not all of these pitchers are likely to be available. Some of them are young enough and cheap enough that their current teams will want to hang on to them. Some of them would come with high price tags (either in talent to be exchanged or salary… or both) that the Twins aren’t likely to want to meet. And no, I’m certainly not advocating for all of them.

But with a very few exceptions, you could make a case that these guys would be an improvement over the long line of ugliness that has traipsed to the mound from the Twins bullpen lately. Don’t believe me? Look up the stat lines on these guys and compare them to Alex Burnett and the other righties that Gardy’s tried to get some middle innings out of this season.

(By the way… if it turns out a couple of these guys are lefties, are on the DL, or retired 12 years ago … well… sorry. There were a lot of names to come up with here!)

Let’s begin.

A – Mike Adams SD

B – Grant Balfour OAK or perhaps Matt Belisle COL

C – Tyler Clippard WAS would be nice, but he won’t come cheap. Fortunately, the Nats have another “C”… Todd Coffey

D – Octavio Dotel TOR

E – Marco Estrada WAS

F – Jason Frasor TOR

G – Matt Guerrier LAD (hey, if people seem to want Jon Rauch back, why not Shaggy?)

H – Blake Hawksworth LAD or perhaps Greg Holland KC

I – Jason Isringhausen NYM

J – Jim Johnson BAL

K – Hong-Chih Kuo LAD (yeah I had to REALLY stretch for a K)

L – Matt Lindstrom COL or maybe Wilton Lopez HOU

M – Ryan Mattheus WAS or Mark Melancon HOU or even Edward Mujica FLA

N – Leo Nunez FLA yeah… I know, it’s not gonna happen. Guess we could always get back Pat Neshek SD

Jon Rauch

O -Nada

P – Bobby Parnell NYM

Q – Chad Qualls SD

R – Jon Rauch TOR or, if you just can’t get your head right with that, Fernando Rodriguez HOU

S – Drew Storen WAS or Jeff Samardzija ChC (but we know we’d rather have Joakim Soria KC)

T -Nope

U – Koji Uehara BAL

V -Uhuh

W – Michael Wuertz OAK (a Minnesota boy, I believe) or maybe Blake Wood KC

X -YeahRight

Y – Surprisingly, nobody… seems Cy Young is no longer pitching

Z – Brad Ziegler OAK

So, there ya go Bill… Happy shopping!

- JC