Don’t Blame “Those Damn Yankees”

The Twins, according to legend, are afraid of the Yankees. And you know what, after some quick post-season exits at the hands of the Yankees, that is a pretty easy narrative to build.  Add in the fact that the Twins have struggled to beat the Yankees in the regular season, despite the Twins having fairly successful regular season teams for most of the 2000’s, and you begin to see how that narrative continues to grow.

Johan Santana

Johan Santana

In the 11 years between 2000 and 2010 the Twins compiled a .537 winning percentage, going 957-826.  During that same span the Twins went 25-57 against the New York Yankees, a .325 winning percentage.  Take out the 77 games against the Yankees and the Twins are 163 games above .500 instead of just 131.  That is a significant bump.  During that same time period the Twins played the Yankees four times in the post-season, managing to win just two games, while losing 12, swept in 2009 and 2010.  That brings the Twins’ 11-year record against the Yankees to 27-69 (.281).  That is bad, almost as bad as the 2003 Detroit Tigers (43-119), the worst team of the last 50 years.

During that same 11-year span the Yankees were 1060-718, only had a losing record against one American League team (Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, 45-54), and won two World Series titles (and losing in the World Series two other times).  So clearly the Yankees were a better team than the Twins over that same time period, but the Yankees’ .596 winning percentage is not so much larger than the Twins’ .537 that you would expect the Twins fail so miserably against the Yankees during the span.

Assuming each team’s regular season winning percentages represented their true talent over those 11 years, the Yankees should have beaten the Twins only about 53% of the time, not the nearly 72% clip they had over that same span.  So what gives?  Why did the Yankees perform so well against the Minnesota Twins, especially in the post season?

For me, it comes down to roster construction, and specifically the postseason pitching rotations, where teams often turn to only their top three or four pitchers.

2003

Game (score, winner) Twins (starting pitcher) Yankees (starting pitcher)
1 (3-1 Twins) Johan Santana Mike Mussina
2 (1-4 Yankees) Brad Radke Andy Pettitte
3 (1-3 Yankees) Kyle Lohse Roger Clemens
4 (1-8 Yankees) Johan Santana David Wells

The Twins, with a lack of depth in their starting rotation chose to go back to their ace on four days of rest, facing elimination in Game 4.  The Yankees, alternatively, felt strong enough to run out David Wells (4.14 ERA, 4.3K/9, essentially a league average pitcher in 2003 despite his 15-7 W/L record) knowing that should they be pushed to a decisive Game 5 they could turn to Mike Mussina, their ace, against Brad Radke (4.49 ERA and a pitch to contact friendly contact rate of 82.2%).

So while you would certainly expect the Twins to score more than 3 runs over their final 3 games in this series, outside of Santana the Twins certainly did not have a rotation that could even dream about keeping up with New York (and remember that the Kyle Lohse of 2003 (4.61 ERA) is a far cry from the pitcher he has been over the past three seasons).

2004 Continue reading

Catching Up On All Things Twins

Sometimes you take a little business trip and pull back from the blogging thing for a few days and almost lose track of what’s going on with the Twins. Fortunately, there’s no shortage of great Twins blogs and podcasts to help bring you back up to speed. Of course, there also are some great Twins beat reporters that also keep us abreast of Twins news. So now that I’ve had a couple of days to get caught up, I’ve got some thoughts to share.

About those beat reporters

When one local newspaper announces a change in assignments for its Twins reporter, you don’t really give it much thought. When a second newspaper does the same, it may or may not raise an eyebrow.

But, while I don’t really keep close tabs on who is or isn’t covering the Twins for which traditional media outlet, I think a third Twins beat reporter took a different assignment last week… and I’m not sure he ever really started covering the Twins full time before he got his new gig.

Now Phil Mackey of 1500ESPN also is dropping the Twins beat, in favor of a switch to afternoon drive-time slot for his radio show. I understand that “drive-time” is a big deal to radio folks, since for many of us, the only time we even listen to the radio any more is during our commutes to/from work. And of course, the fact that 1500ESPN won’t be carrying Twins games going forward might have a little something to do with this change at Mackey’s station.

In fact, I’m sure there were plenty of good reasons for each of these moves… some apparently at the request of the respective reporters themselves, but FOUR beat reporters dropping the Twins beat? If it’s all a coincidence, it’s one heck of a coincidence, isn’t it?

By January, I’ll officially be following more FORMER Twins reporters on Twitter than current Twins reporters.

And some people say bloggers tend to come and go quickly.

Twins Moves… And Lack Thereof

When I boarded my flight for St. Petersburg FL about a week ago (which, as it turned out, did not actually land in St. Petersburg, but that’s not important here), Terry Ryan had recently traded away his second center fielder, Ben Revere, for another pitching prospect and for Vance Worley, who projects to slot in ahead of Scott Diamond in the Twins rotation. Not many were excited about losing Revere, but Ryan was generally praised for the bold move because, unlike his trade of Denard Span, this deal also helped address the 2013 pitching rotation.

We also tried to guess what Ryan’s next move would be. Certainly, he would need to wade in to the free agent pitching market if he intended to make good on his public promises to add enough starting pitching talent to assure the Twins can at least be competitive in 2013.

Worley was just the start. Of course Ryan would add more pitching, but we had to be patient. After all, Zack Greinke hadn’t signed anywhere yet, so the market for pitching hadn’t been set. Once that first domino fell, Ryan would know what the going rate for second tier pitching would be and he’d make his moves. Yes, more pitching help was coming. We just needed to be patient.

Since that time, Greinke has signed with the Dodgers, Anibal Sanchez has agreed to terms with the Tigers (and, perhaps the Cubs, too?), Ryan Dempster has signed with the Red Sox, Brandon McCarthy has joined the D’Backs, Joe Blanton has become an Angel, and Dan Haren has been inked by the Nationals… just to name a few. All in all, you’d have to say the market has now been set.

Even the Royals pulled off a big trade this week, sending a boatload of prospects to Tampa Bay in return for TWO starting pitchers. Say what you wish about how wise or unwise the Royals were for giving up what they did, but they made one thing clear to their fans… they are planning on competing in 2013.

Kevin CVorreia

Kevin Correia

The Twins? Well they haven’t stood idly by either. They signed Kevin Correia to a two-year contract. He wasn’t exactly what I was hoping for and my initial reaction was pretty much as negative as most others, but I actually have little problem with the Twins signing Correia. I think they overpaid, but as we’ve mentioned before, they’re the worst team in the AL and that means they will have to overpay for pretty much any free agent.  Correia doesn’t have good “peripheral stats” so he’s certainly not a darling of the saber-metric community, but I do think he could well be better than most of the in-house options the team has.

My problem at this point isn’t with signing Correia, it’s with NOT signing other… better… pitchers.

Right now there’s no indication that the Twins are even thinking about Shawn Marcum, Edwin Jackson or anyone else of any quality. They are being linked to various has-beens, never-will-bes, and long-shot reclamation projects. The consensus seems to be that they’ve been scared off by the high prices being demanded by the remaining pitchers who could actually be… well… good at pitching.

In other words, they waited for the market to set the price of pitching and then decided that price was too high. What a surprise that is, right? How un-Twinslike! Now aren’t you glad we were patient?

Twins Hall of Fame

While the General Manager’s office has been busy dumpster diving this week, the PR folks have opened up public voting for this year’s Twins Hall of Fame inductions. I haven’t quite figured out how much say the fan voting has in determining who eventually garners enough support to be added to the club’s HoF, but if nothing else, the ballot certainly brings back a lot of memories. You should check it out.

If you follow me on Twitter, you probably already saw who I voted for, but here’s the list of my choices: Dave Boswell, Dave Goltz, Mudcat Grant, Chuck Knoblauch, Shane Mack, Cesar Tovar.

There were others I could certainly support. Dean Chance, Corey Koskie, Jeff Reardon, Roy Smalley and Al Worthington are quite possibly worthy… some perhaps even more worthy than a couple of guys I voted for.

Cesar Tovar tries to score

Cesar Tovar tries to score

I personally feel Tovar and Mack are among the most underrated players in Twins history and deserve to be in the Twins’ Hall, but I’m not sure voters will agree. The one player that is, as always, the most controversial is Knoblauch.

Knobby certainly didn’t endear himself to Twins fans during his messy exit from Minnesota and he has the PED thing tarnishing his image further. Maybe some people don’t like voting for “cheaters”, but I’ll bet all my money against all of yours that the Twins HoF has several players already in it that were aided by taking amphetamines and if you don’t think those are “performance enhancing” drugs, you’ve never taken them.

Knoblauch was the best second baseman in club history this side of Rod Carew and he was a critical member of the 1991 championship team. So, yeah, he wanted out of Minnesota in the end. But frankly, the Twins showed absolutely no interest in fielding a competitive team in the mid 1990s and if I had been a member of the Twins then, I almost certainly would have done anything I could do to get out of town, too.

It’s too bad Knoblauch wasn’t born a few years later. Think of how much more fun he would have been having with the Twins now, what with the organization’s new commitment to competitiveness.

– JC

Kevin Correia and the 2013 Minnesota Twins

According to Jerry Crasnick, the Twins have signed Kevin Correia to a two-year, $10 million dollar contract.  The savvy Twins fan might liken this deal to the Jason Marquis signing from a year ago, but with an extra year tacked on, just for fun!  Correia has been a below average starter in the National League over the past two years for the Pittsburgh Pirates.  In 2012 the Pirates (not known for the pitching depth) decided that they had better starting options and demoted Correia to the bullpen.  On a one-year deal, signing Correia would not seem half as bad, as the Twins are likely in the midst of a serious rebuilding effort after trading Denard Span and Ben Revere over the past couple of weeks.  The second year of the deal could be tricky as Correia is not likely to improve coming to the American League for the first time in his career where he’ll have to face the designated hitters instead of pitchers.

Twins #3 Starter, Kevin Corriea, Source: Jared Wickerham/Getty Images North America

 

Correia joins the Twins and is instantly their third best starting pitching option in 2013 behind Scott Diamond and Vance Worley.  That’s how bad the Twins pitching is right now, they are turning to the Pirates’ bullpen for starting pitching help.  While the Correia signing gives the Twins a much needed are in 2013, his role in 2014 is less clear.  With Kyle Gibson another year removed from Tommy John surgery, and Liam Hendriks with some additional Major League experience (and perhaps some confidence boosting time at Triple-A), Correia’s best option for 2013 is as the Twins fifth starter.  But five million dollars for a fifth starter, when guys like Cole De Vries, B.J. Hermsen, Sam Deduno and Esmerling Vasquez are all equally qualified to fill that spot, is harder to stomach.

If you’re a glass half-full type of person, it is possible that the Twins could flip Correia in 2014, maybe even eating some of his salary, in hopes of bringing back a low-level prospect.  But it seems more likely to me that he ends up in the bullpen filling the long relief role that Anthony Swarzak currently fills, or becomes the swing-man that Brian Duensing has occupied the past couple of years.  All in all, Correia is a Major League veteran that fills a roster spot for 2013, just keep your fingers crossed that he does not turn into another Nick Blackburn.

-ERolfPleiss

Span Traded to Nationals!

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

Alex Meyer (Photo: Jeff Roberson/AP)

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

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

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

– JC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Old Man Jamey Carroll, Photo Credit: CapitalBabs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-ERolfPleiss

Twins Should Follow Blue Jays Bold Lead

Grumpy blogger

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– JC

Alexi Casilla – A Twins Career in Retrospect

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

Alexi Casilla, Credit: Knuckleballs Blog

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

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

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

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

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

-ERolfPleiss

Looking Back… and Ahead

I have a poor memory.  I have trouble remembering names and all sorts of other things. I need to be reminded of appointments and family events I’m supposed to show up at. This may well be indicative of some pretty unpleasant final years of my life, but for right now I’m trying to look at the positive side to having a bad memory.

For example, I can tell you I don’t remember predicting before the season started that the Twins would come through with an 86-76 record for 2012.

I can tell you I sure as hell don’t remember predicting Francisco Liriano would be the Twins “pitcher of the year,” before the season got underway or that Liam Hendriks was likely to be the team’s “rookie of the year.”

The problem is that Eric went and made all of those predictions public back in April, so there’s a record of my preseason bout of insanity. Then again, maybe he just made that stuff up?

Scott Diamond

The reality is that the Twins pitcher of the year was probably Glen Perkins and when your best pitcher is a member of your bullpen, that’s probably not good. I suppose Scott Diamond should get some consideration for this award, as well, however. He certainly was the lone bright spot in the rotation (though I suspect he just seems brighter because of how totally dull the rest of the rotation was, by comparison).

Eric and I both apparently thought Justin Morneau was poised for a huge rebound season and predicted he would be the team’s hitter of the year. Justin certainly bounced back well, but Josh Willingham had a huge season and Joe Mauer is once again leading the league in on-base percentage and fighting for the batting title. Either of those two would be legitimate choices for the Twins hitter of the year, but I’d go with Willingham.

I predicted Denard Span would be the team’s defender of the year and I could make a pretty good case for that having turned out to be accurate. But Ben Revere would probably get my vote at this point.

I’m a bit fuzzy on who’s eligible to be considered a rookie and who isn’t, but assuming they’re both eligible, my choices would be Revere and Trevor Plouffe, in that order.

Morneau didn’t turn out to be a bad choice for Twins comeback player of the year, but I’d probably vote for Mauer.

Twins MVP would come down to Willingham and Mauer, but I’d probably go with Mauer because he contributed so much more than Willingham defensively. Then again, does anyone really want to be considered the most valuable player on a 90+ loss team?

I did get one prediction right. I said up front that the Tigers had to be the favorites to win the AL Central Division, but that their defense was going to be bad enough that they’d struggle more than a lot of experts were predicting. I did not, however, expect the White Sox to be the team that challenged them. It does appear that I was slightly overly optimistic about the Twins doing the challenging. (OK, more than slightly.)

But enough about the past, let’s look ahead a bit.

The big question being tossed around these days seems to be whether the Twins will (or should) blow up the roster and rebuild with an eye toward competing in 2016 and beyond or try to improve enough to get competitive again as early as next year.

It’s a fair question. But there’s only one realistic answer.

In a fantasy world where revenue streams are secondary to strategy, you could make an argument that the Twins should blow off the next couple of years and plan for the days when some of their current Class A and AA prospects are arriving at Target Field. But this is the real world and the Twins are a real business.

If they trade away Willingham, Span, Morneau and anyone else with any value who might not be expected to be around in 2016, attendance over the next couple of years will continue to drop even more dramatically, right along with television ratings. That means lower revenues. That means lower payrolls.

Granted, those prospects we’re counting on will be playing for the league minimum for a while, but even by 2016, this team will still be paying $23 million a year to Joe Mauer through the 2018 season. The bottom line is that, regardless of how good prospects look in the Eastern League, Florida State League and Midwest League, the odds are that more than half of them will never become above average MLB ballplayers. That means that blowing the team up now is just as likely to result in bad teams in 2016 and beyond as it is championship caliber teams. Taking that risk might be gutsy to some, but to me it would just be stupid.

Terry Ryan

Building from within with young players is necessary. But it’s not necessary to do so exclusively. Terry Ryan has told media and fans that he and his front office simply need to do better. They need to scout better. They need to trade better. They need to do better at finding the right free agents. He may not have come right out and said it, but he’s certainly hinted that the front office needs to take a very close look at the coaching and training staffs throughout the organization and make better decisions concerning those positions, as well.

Ryan is right. The Twins can’t be satisfied with two or three more seasons of bad baseball while they wait for their top prospects to be ready for prime time. They need to spend the next couple of years improving every. single. year. They need to reinstitute an expectation of competitiveness among their fan base AND in their clubhouse. They obviously need to start that search with their rotation, but whether by trade or free agency, they do need to improve the product on the field immediately.

That may not be the popular approach with some fans, but it is the right approach.

– JC

GameChat – Yankees @ Twins #2, 7:10pm

so.. Phil Hughes has kind of been on a roll lately – he’s trying for win #17 this season. I would love to see him not quite get there.

Of course, that means our offense will have to do something about that..

and who knows what we’ll get from Vasquez up against the Yankee lineup.

Let’s try this again. It might really be a good idea to win this game tonight because I don’t think we want to rely on the chances of beating Captain Cheeseburger on Wednesday to avoid a Yankee series sweep.

If there was any roster news today, I’m unaware of it… just haven’t been in the loop on news today, sorry. – JC

NY Yankees

@

Minnesota
Jeter, SS Span, CF
Suzuki, I, RF Revere, LF
Rodriguez, Al, 3B Mauer, C
Cano, DH Morneau, 1B
Swisher, 1B Doumit, DH
Granderson, CF Parmelee, RF
Martin, C Plouffe, 3B
Ibanez, LF Carroll, 2B
Nix, J, 2B Florimon, SS
  Hughes, P, P   Vasquez, P
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
NY Yankees 0 0 0 2 0 0 1 0 1 4 9 0
Minnesota 0 0 0 1 0 0 4 0 x 5 8 0

Yes, I know the Twins have lost 90 games and are playing out the season, but it’s still fun to beat the Yankees, right?

Esmerling Vasquez threw a nice six innings of baseball. The bullpen wasn’t perfect tonight, but they managed to keep things from getting out of control long enough for the bats in the lineup to put together a four-run 7th inning and hang on for a 5-4 Twins win.

Denard Span had a big two-out double in that inning, followed by an RBI single by Joe Mauer. Mauer had three hits in the game. I was apparently the only person in GameChat still awake at the end of the game and I couldn’t decide between the two for the BOD award so we’re going to let them split it. – JC

Denard Span

GameChat – White Sox @ Twins, 7:10pm

So this is the second start in a row, if I recall correctly, for DeVries against the White Sox. I have to wonder if that plays with a guys head just a little bit. Or if the fact that we’ll be facing Liriano tomorrow..

All together, the guys are all probably feeling pretty good about the sweep of the Indians while there are probably some just as much a bit at a loss about Liriano. And whatever else might still happen..

One game at a time, one day at a time. Let’s see if we can get the guys a victory against the WS at home in TF. That would be good..

Chi White Sox

@

Minnesota
De Aza, CF Span, CF
Youkilis, 3B Revere, RF
Dunn, A, DH Mauer, C
Konerko, 1B Willingham, DH
Rios, RF Morneau, 1B
Pierzynski, C Doumit, LF
Viciedo, LF Valencia, 3B
Ramirez, Al, SS Dozier, SS
Beckham, 2B Carroll, 2B
  Quintana, P   De Vries, P
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Chi White Sox 4 0 0 1 0 0 0 1 0 6 10 3
Minnesota 4 0 2 0 0 0 0 0 1 7 12 1

You can’t get a sweep if you don’t win the first game of the series (and you can’t get swept if you DO win the first game of the series) so it’s always good to pick up a W in game 1.

Things didn’t get off to a very good start with Cole DeVries spotting the Sox a 4-0 lead in the top of the first inning, but the offense came right back and evened the game in the bottom of the inning. From that point, Cole did just fine through the rest of his five innings. After that, the bullpen took over. Jared Burton gave up the tying run in the 8th, but otherwise, the pen did just fine.

It’s tempting to give AJ Pierzynski BOD honors for throwing Brian Dozier’s bunt down the RF line to set up the winning run in the 9th, but then we’d have to discount AJ’s 3-run HR in the 1st.

That said, we’ll go with co-BODs again tonight. Denard Span had two web-gem worthy plays in the field to go with a pair of hits. He’ll share the award with Danny Valencia who also had a pair of hits and a pair of RBI that tied the game in the first inning. His other hit was a first-pitch line drive to lead off the 9th inning and set the table for the walk-off victory. – JC

Denard Span

Danny Valencia