Baseball’s Winter Meetings get in to gear down at the Gaylord Opryland hotel in Nashville on Monday and that’s got me a bit nervous. The Twins, at least at the Major League level, are in a sorry state, having come off a 96-loss season which followed a 99-loss season. It just doesn’t get much worse than this, folks.
A year ago, just ahead of the Winter Meetings in Dallas, I wrote a post here headlined “M&M: Time to Step Up or Shut Up.” The point was that, following a season in which the Twins stars had spent more time not playing baseball than playing baseball, perhaps it wasn’t totally unrealistic for the front office to play a little “wait and see” before spending a bunch of money trying to rebuild the roster to a level capable of contending. Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau, among others, needed to play better in 2012 or it really wouldn’t matter whether the Twins spent money to buy them some help.
To their credit, I believe Mauer and Morneau did exactly what I asked. They both had much-improved seasons, managing to stay on the field and hit baseballs with some regularity. Whatever the reasons were for the Twins dropping 96 games in 2012, those reasons had little, if anything, to do with Mauer and Morneau. The failure can arguably be laid almost entirely at the feet of the pitching staff. And that’s not entirely surprising. We at Knuckleballs posted multiple articles last offseason expressing our disappointment about the Twins failure to add significant pitching help and we certainly weren’t the only people making that point.
So here we are, a year later, on the eve of yet another week of Winter Meetings, and guess what… the Twins need to significantly improve their pitching staff. Terry Ryan made what certainly appears to have been a reasonable trade this week when he sent popular and productive outfielder/leadoff hitter Denard Span to the Nationals for potential future top-of-the-rotation pitcher Alex Meyer. But that deal won’t do anything to make the product at Target Field any more watchable in 2013.
The reports we are reading leading up to these meetings indicate the Twins are expected to be very active and that Terry Ryan is looking to significantly improve the 2013 rotation largely through the free agent market. That’s encouraging to hear, but folks, we’ve heard that before.
Let’s hop in to our time machine and go back just one year ago, shall we? Here’s a summary of what we were reading about the Twins activities during the Winter Meetings last December:
On Day One last year, there was conjecture that the Twins remained interested in Edwin Jackson, but that Jackson was going to wait until CJ Wilson and/or Mark Buehrle set the market. The Twins were said to be interested in Jackson only if they did not spend the money to re-sign Michael Cuddyer. Of course, they signed Josh Willingham for considerably less money than Cuddyer was demanding, but we certainly did not see Jackson in a Twins uniform.
Speaking of Mark Buehrle, reports also came out of Dallas on Day One that the Twins were one of four teams (along with the Nationals, Marlins and Rangers) that were “still in on” Buehrle. He eventually signed with the Marlins and is now a Blue Jay.
So what DID the Twins do on Day One? They re-signed Matt Capps and claimed SS Pedro Florimon off waivers from the Orioles.
On Day Two, we read that Buehrle had narrowed his list to five teams and that the Twins had an offer in. Word also came out that the Twins would be meeting with Jeff Francis’ agent during the Winter Meetings.
On the other hand, the Strib’s LaVelle E. Neal III was reporting that the Twins had had no conversations with the agents of Francis and Jackson.
They didn’t add a pitcher on Day Two, but the Twins did part with one. They traded Kevin Slowey to the Rockies for a “player to be named later.”
And on Day Three, apparently worn out by all the activity the first two days, the Twins front office rested.
Of course, later in the month, Terry Ryan inked Jason Marquis to a one year contract, so it’s not like he didn’t add any starting pitching, right?
So what’s my point?
My point is that, while Terry Ryan and Dave St. Peter are saying all the right things right now about improving the Twins in 2013 by adding legitimate starting pitchers, I’ll believe it when I see it. I’ve heard it before. Just a year ago, the media was being fed reports about how the Twins were in on Mark Buehrle and interested in talking to Edwin Jackson’s agent. But when it came to actually spending money, they signed Jason Marquis.
And make no mistake, it would have been pretty easy to make a case to a top pitcher that their 2011 failures were fluke-ish… that injuries to Mauer, Morneau, Span, and others were responsible for the lousy record… and that with some pitching help and a return to health by their stars, the Twins could contend again in 2012. It won’t be nearly as easy to convince a top free agent that they’d be signing on to a contender in Minnesota this year. Last year, all Ryan had to so was spend money. This year he has to do a helluva sales job AND spend money.
It’s perfectly fine for fans to be hopeful that Ryan will do exactly that. As fans, hope is what we live on in December and January.
It’s also perfectly understandable for us to be skeptical that the Twins are really serious about being willing to spend the money that would be necessary to bring legitimate starting pitching help on board.
As I’ve written this past week, Terry Ryan has been saying all the right things. I’m sure the Twins would like fans to take them at their word when they talk about being willing to spend money to make real and immediate improvements.
But if the Twins really want us to take their words seriously, they need to do more than talk about signing good pitchers. They need to do it.
You’re on deck Mr. Ryan. It’s time for you to step up.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
So Minneapolis is a busy place this afternoon! Vikings are kicking off the NFL season at home hosting the Jaguars while the Twins finish off the series with Cleveland. And of course, I have 15 things going on so all of the above are going to be hit & miss for me to catch.
Given that the this is a rubber match for the Indians, I’m really hoping that Esmerling Vasquez has a fantastic Target Field debut – not that I don’t always hope our starting pitcher is fantastic. It might be a day game but our boys aren’t leaving town since the home stand still has another week to go. I’m hoping that means that the offense remembers that it can hit the ball!
And the weather is absolutely perfect to be outdoors watching baseball while the rest of the Minnesota is indoors watching the Vikings in the Dome. I’ll take the baseball… at least while I’m not going out to pick up my new dryer….
Seems pretty much everyone had other things to do today that were more important than hanging out online during the Twins game, but I made it home just in time to hear Justin Morneau’s walk-off solo shot down the right field line.
Vasquez wasn’t exactly impressive and a couple members of the bullpen weren’t entirely helpful, either, but Casey Fien and Brian Duensing both managed to put out a fire or two and keep the Twins in the game.
But today was a bit of a “throwback” day for the Twins… if you can call going back about 4 years “throwback.” In any event, today it was an M&M day. Joe Mauer had three hits, finishing just a home run short of hitting for the cycle. No problem, though, because Morneau hit a couple of them, including the game winner in the bottom of the ninth inning.
For that bit of heroism, Justin is our Boyfriend of the Day! – JC
I think you can probably guess what all the buzz is about for tonight’s game. Yes, Nishioka is back with the team and yes, he’s in the lineup batting 7th. I don’t dislike him – in fact, if he is able to do the job, then I will be ecstatic! I just have a hard time believing that will be his fate tonight given his numbers in AAA. From what I’m seeing in the fan community, I’m not alone in my trepidation.
Also reported today is that Gardy has said “it’s not a 3 day thing for Nishi”… I don’t know what that means Gardy! Of course, the people who supposedly know claim that it means when Plouffe comes back, it will be someone else going back down to Rochester. I just don’t know how anyone can say that before Nishi has fielded a single ball or had a single AB. Shall we let things play out a little bit and see what we have here folks? yeesh.
Dick Bremer actually had an interesting tweet today related to a different person in the lineup! Apparently the Red Sox, who are no doubt feeling a little stung even though they avoided the sweep, commented that they were glad that they didn’t have to face Scott Diamond. I’m kind of glad that we have him for the Indians since they are actually in the division. I’d like to see him do his thing and help us make up a little ground.. It’s a matter of a little pride at this point. And the Twins don’t seem ready to just give up and let the season end now. Good for them. Play hard, let us enjoy some baseball!
Tonight’s game looked a little ugly in the first inning… started by McAllister mowing through our hitters in a 3 up, 3 down exercise that was over before you had time to blink.. and then Diamond got himself in a little bit of a pickle & Nishioka got his first error in the bottom half. BUT Scott pulled it together, we got out of the first only giving up one run and from there something else happened entirely!
The guys came out in the 2nd and found out how to get to McAllister in a BIG way. Long balls, singles, errors, bloops, it didn’t matter how they got the hit, they got someone across home plate – 10 times. In the process, Ben Revere increased his hitting streak to 20 games – a career high. And that set the stage for Scott Diamond to come back and nail down the Indians hitting for the next 6 innings. That earned him the honor of being the first Twins pitcher to hit 10 wins this season. More than that, it just continues to build the team & fan trust in his ability – especially against the Indians. Stellar efforts are obviously paying off for both of them. Since we’re in Cleveland, I thought it appropriate to award them both in true Major League fashion – Ben Revere gets a pair of shoes worn by Willie Mays Hayes and Scotty gets a ball singed by Ricky Vaughn!! Congrats boys!
However, when you have a win like this, it can be hard to get the chat population to settle on that one individual they thought MOST contributed to the win – our BOD. After much discussion, the winner was the one who hit 2 homeruns in tonight’s game – including his career #200. Yes, that person is Justin Morneau!
And because it really was a team victory with EVERYONE putting forth a good effort this game to bring home this win, we promise not to leave anyone behind in Cleveland… like we did with Danny in Boston.. or Delmon in Detroit.. No really, you all get a plane ticket home.
There can be no doubts that a 63-99 team has plenty of areas for improvement. In 2011 the Twins were 28th in team OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage), ahead of only the Seattle Mariners and the San Diego Padres. Sure, they were playing half of their games in the pitcher friendly Target Field, but even when adjusting for park factors, the Twins posted an OPS+ of just 84 (100 is average), 29th in the MLB, this time behind the Padres. Clearly there were issues with the Twins’ bats a year ago. Part of that was attributable to injuries to Joe Mauer (replaced by Drew Butera and Rene Rivera) and Denard Span (replaced by Joe Benson, Rene Tosoni, and Jason Repko). Another part of the hitting problem was related to dreadful offensive production from the middle infield, as Tsuyoshi Nishioka, Luke Hughes, Danny Valencia, and Matt Tolbert, and the the oldTrevor Plouffe all posted below leave average offensive numbers.
As bad as the Twins’ bats were in 2011, it did not really matter what their pitchers were doing. And maybe that is what the front office was thinking heading into Spring Training. If the Twins could just upgrade their offense, even with a mediocre pitching staff, they were likely to see a big improvement. Unfortunately, the Twins did not have a mediocre pitching staff in 2011, their 4.58 team ERA was 29th, and were one of just two teams (along with the Baltimore Orioles) to allow more than 800 runs. So to go along with their 29th place OPS+, the Twins also had the 29th worst pitching staff, and yet somehow they still only lost 99 games.
After a winter of free agent signings and departures the Twins arrived in Spring Training as optimistic as any team in baseball. After all, they were only a year removed from a 94-win AL Central Championship team, and they were truly healthy for the first time in more than a year. Their franchise catcher, Joe Mauer, had finally recovered from whatever it was that was ailing him in 2011 and caused him to miss almost half a season, and Justin Morneau was finally overcoming his concussion symptoms that cost him the better parts of 2010 and 2011. Ryan Doumit and Josh Willingham were on board to replace Jason Kubel and Michael Cuddyer, and the Twins signed veteran on-base sepcialist Jamey Carroll to compensate for the failures of Nishioka. Alexi Casilla was coming off one of the best offensive seasons of his underwhelming career and looked poised to finally become the everyday player the Twins had been hoping he would be since 2007. Despite all their failures in 2011, the Twins looked like their bats were ready to hit in 2012.*
*And to some extent, they are. The Twins’ 2012 OPS+ is 6th in the American League, and they are scoring runs at an almost league average rate (4.30/4.47).
The Twins, however, did little to improve a pitching staff that was one of the worst in 2011. They inexplicably resigned 9th inning reliever Matt Capps to a $4.75 million dollar deal to step in for the departed Joe Nathan. They also sent starting pitcher Brian Duensing back to the bullpen where he had previously been successful and replaced him in the rotation with free agent acquisition Jason Marquis, hoping that he would rebound from a broken leg that cost him the end of the 2011 season, and become the renaissance man that Carl Pavano had been for the Twins since he arrived in 2009. But with just five real candidates for starting pitching Minnesota was walking a pretty thin line. The Twins also brought in just about every free agent relief pitcher they could find hoping that a couple of them would pitch well enough in Spring Training to head north with the big league team. They even went against their traditionally risk-averse strategy and signed Joel Zumaya to a minor league deal hoping to add a power arm to their bullpen without paying the power arm price. And with that, the Twins were seemingly ready to start the season.
Just five starting pitchers and not a lot of MLB ready pitchers in AAA ready to step in if things went poorly. Among the starting pitchers not in that group of five, only Liam Hendriks and Scott Diamond seemed like realistic replacements to join the Twins if things did not go well in Minnesota.
As you are well aware, things have not gone well for the Twins’ starting pitchers in 2012. Even before leaving Spring Training the Twins were forced to move Liam Hendriks into starting rotation as Jason Marquis was pulled away from the team to be with his daughter while she was recovering from a serious bicycle accident. To make matters worse, Scott Baker did not leave Ft. Myers with the Twins either, dealing with supposedly minor arm issues which ended up as a worst-case scenario as Baker would eventually require Tommy John surgery to repair the UCL in his pitching arm. That meant that Anthony Swarzak would start the season in the starting rotation, leaving with Twins without their regular long-reliever until Marquis would be back with the team. Before long the Liam Hendriks experiment was over and he was back in AAA looking garner some additional seasoning. Now the Twins had to start getting creative. They had already burned through the only two replacement options they’d planned for and with the Twins already well below .500, it was unlikely that they would be playing any meaningful baseball in October. Since that time the Twins have used five additional starting pitchers, none of whom the Twins were counting on in April. P.J. Walters was first, then Scott Diamond, Cole De Vries, Brian Duensing, and finally Sam Deduno.
The Twins still have 63 games remaining in 201. With Francisco Liriano now pitching for the Chicago White Sox the Twins will have to find another arm to step in. While the next pitcher they call upon to start will likely not be a fresh face, they will still be tip-toeing around a problem unlikely to be resolved without the infusion of some fresh arms this winter.
Twins fans should have known that when Minnesota signed Jason Marquis and hoped for the best that the team was just winging it in 2012.
It seems ridiculous at this point to suggest Twins fans need to be prepared for disappointment. We’ve been getting slapped in the face by disappointment for going on two years, after all, and we’re pretty much resigned to this team continuing to disappoint us at least through the rest of this season. A lot of fans are already accepting disappointment as a near-certainty in 2013.
How much more prepared for disappointment do we need to be?
A bit more, I believe, and soon.
Our collective eyes and ears are focused on Twins General Manager Terry Ryan, in anticipation of the deals he’s going to make to improve the future rosters of his team. Fans seem prepared, at this point, to part with pretty much anyone in a Twins uniform as they dream of the top prospects Ryan will extract from his fellow GMs in return. After all, if Ryan could get Joe Nathan and Francisco Liriano (not to mention Boof Bonser) for AJ Pierzynski, just imagine the load he should pull in for Denard Span, right?
The biggest problem for the Twins is that a lot of contending teams want the same thing they do… good starting pitching. Of course, the difference is that contenders are looking for arms that can help them immediately, while the Twins are happy to take on talent that isn’t quite ready for the big stage yet. Still, top shelf starting pitchers, whatever their age and level, are hoarded like gold by teams these days so it takes some combination of talented front line players and desperation on the part of the trading partner to extract that kind of talent in a trade.
The other thing working against the Twins now is the new collective bargaining agreement. In past years, a team could take on a half-year rental player who is going to be a free agent at the end of the season and, at the very least, the “buying” team might be able to get a draft pick or two in compensation when the player bolts after just a couple of months. Now, not only is it more difficult to get compensation picks, but those picks aren’t available at all unless the player wore your uniform all season.
This means that, for example, if the Twins don’t trade Francisco Liriano, they have to offer him something like $12 million on a one year deal in order to get a compensation pick for him if he turns them down. But if they trade Liriano, his new team doesn’t even have that option. So guys like Liriano and Matt Capps and anyone else not locked up beyond the end of this year are truly just rental players for any team acquiring them. That team is just getting their services for the rest of this season, where in the past they may have received those services PLUS compensation picks. Think about it… how much would YOU give up for 2-3 months of Liriano’s services?
That should temper fans’ expectations for the return that Ryan is likely to get for Liriano and Capps.
It demonstrates why Denard Span and Josh Willingham are likely much better trade chips. For that matter, the contract extension Ryan Doumit recently signed moved him from the “rental player” category and on to the list of players that could return something of more value.
But the Twins can’t just trade away everyone of value on the market. They need to put a team on the field next season and it needs to be a pretty good one.
I agree with Howard Sinker’s view that the Twins can’t just tear this team down and start over. Fans are not going to accept that and they shouldn’t. The everyday line up the Twins put on the field is close to being good enough to compete. What’s missing is exactly what everyone knew was missing last offseason… pitching. Specifically, at the top of the rotation. It should have been addressed last season and it MUST be addressed before Opening Day 2013. Being “penny wise” this off season won’t be “pound foolish”, that foolishness will be measured by the ton.
Since Target Field opened, the Twins have been the hottest ticket in town. For the past year or more, that’s been as much about the Vikings, T’wolves and Wild being less than highly competitive as it has been the quality of the product the Twins put on the field and the remaining luster of their new digs in the Warehouse District.
But that’s about to change. The Wild made blockbuster signings, the Vikings got their new stadium approved and even the Pups look like they may be getting more serious about fielding a real basketball team right next door to Target Field. If Terry Ryan and his bosses don’t want find out just how quickly the Twins can become an afterthought at the bottom of the area’s list of major entertainment options, they need to get this team turned around starting in 2013, not years beyond that.
That process starts now. I believe Francisco Liriano has quite possibly pitched his last game in a Twins uniform. His value will likely not get any higher than it is right now after his 15 K performance Friday night. He won’t bring back anyone likely to be a top of the rotation guy next year, but he should fetch a role player that can improve the roster or a higher pitching prospect that perhaps is still down in the Class A ranks.
I would love to see Denard Span stay a Twin for years to come. I really like the way he goes about the game and he’s a quality individual. But he’s the one guy on this roster that offers the combination of the ability to bring immediate help to the rotation in the form of Big League ready starting pitching AND he plays a role with the team that they arguably have in-house replacements available to step in and play in his absence. Ben Revere can lead off and play centerfield. He’s not Denard Span, but maybe he’s close enough to do the job adequately.
Beyond that, if the Twins can get useful returns for Capps or anyone else not penciled in for a major role in 2013, fine. Just don’t expect to be overjoyed with the return coming back. Willingham and Doumit could get something of value, but they shouldn’t be dealt unless someone offers an absurdly one-sided deal. Justin Morneau isn’t going to be in great demand unless the Twins agree to eat pretty much all of his remaining contract and honestly, the Twins don’t have a replacement for him yet anyway. All three of these guys fill roles that you would just have to go back on the market to replace over the off season and I guarantee that replacing Willingham’s production and Doumit’s versatility will be more expensive this time.
Of course, if anyone wants any of the remaining pitchers on this roster bad enough to offer anything of real value in return, as unlikely as that may be, TR should probably make the deal before that other GM comes to his senses. There’s nobody on the pitching staff that can’t be replaced. Even Scott Diamond, who’s been incredibly successful, has to be available for the right price. I have a suspicion you might be selling high on him. As much as I like him, I’m still having trouble believing he’s going to maintain this kind of success over time.
Yes, trading season is upon us and it’s almost certain that Terry Ryan is going to be right in the middle of it. Just keep expectations in check. It’s not like he’s the chip leader at the table and the rules have changed enough this year to make everyone just a little less certain about how to play the game.
Six weeks ago, I put up a post here arguing that it was much too soon to “pull the plug” on the Twins’ 2012 season. I argued that, despite an admittedly dismal start, the Twins were performing fairly well on most fronts, with the glaring exception of their starting pitching, and that they were just about to begin playing their own Division rivals on a regular basis. Feel free to go back and read the whole article, but here was my conclusion:
If the Twins only win 10 of their next 34 games, then I’m on board with everyone else… put up the Yard Sale sign and sell off any asset you can get a fair return for.
But the more I look at the schedule… and what other teams in the AL Central Division have done… the less I feel like there’s any real rush to make drastic and irreversible decisions. The starting pitching needs to be better than it has been… pure and simple. But if that can be accomplished, I see no reason this Twins team shouldn’t still be able to live up to our limited expectations of them before the season started.
We could still have a little fun this summer.
A few days ago, in the comment section of one of our GameChat posts, regular reader/commenter “frightwig” pointed out that, since I authored that post, the Twins had gone 17-17 and had not cut down the number of games they trailed the Division leaders. (Following the series win over the Reds, that record is now 19-18 since May 14.) He asked if my opinion of the Twins’ outlook and what General Manager Terry Ryan should do had changed at this point.
That’s a fair question. The answer is, “no, not really,” and the reason is that the situation really hasn’t changed all that much. In fact, just as was the case on May 14, the Twins are once again about to embark on several intra-divisional series that could be fun to watch and very few games against contenders in other divisions. Between now and the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, the Twins have 8 games with the White Sox, 7 with the Royals, 4 with the Tigers, 4 with the Orioles, 3 with the Indians, 3 with the Rangers and 3 with the A’s.
On top of that, the Division-leading White Sox have started their annual “trade for big name washed up former All-Stars” exercise, so you know that’s a sign they’re about to tank.
Bear in mind, even six weeks ago, I never argued that Terry Ryan should sit on his hands all year and make no moves, nor did I suggest the Twins were likely to become “good” any time soon. I merely pointed out that the Twins had some things going for them that could make them entertaining to watch and potentially even more than just entertaining if they could do something about the starting rotation. I don’t think that’s changed.
Still, I’ve written a lot about what I DON’T think Terry Ryan should be doing as we enter the “trading season,” but what do I think Ryan SHOULD do?
As I wrote on May 14, Ryan should be listening to any offer. Nobody on this roster is untouchable, though one or two players are likely untradeable.
Any player that does not figure in the team’s plans for 2013 should be traded as soon as decent value of any kind is offered. This would include Francisco Liriano and Carl Pavano, certainly, as well as Alexi Casilla and Ryan Doumit (unless the rumored extension talks prove fruitful).
Ryan should not be in a hurry to trade any productive player that is under contract for 2013 and beyond. Players like Denard Span, Justin Morneau, Josh Willingham (particularly Willingham) and even Jamie Carroll should only be traded this summer for solid starting pitching that are good bets to be no worse than #3 starters as soon as next season. (Of course, in this rotation, it doesn’t take a lot to be considered a #3 starter.)
I still question whether the Twins will find anyone willing to part with a potential top-of-the-rotation pitcher in July, but I could be wrong. For example, with the Twins playing a series against the Pirates last week, I couldn’t help but notice that, for a team sitting at or near the top of their Division as June comes to a close, their offense really isn’t very good after you get past CF Andrew McCutchen. They are where they’re at because of their pitching.
Of course, they aren’t likely to give up anyone in the top half of their rotation at this point and any Twins fans who think they’d consider trading uber-prospect Gerrit Cole are kidding themselves. But guess what… their AAA affiliate, Indianapolis, is also leading THEIR division and they’re likewise doing so because of strong starting pitching. The Pirates appear to have some remarkable depth in the starting pitching department. I’m certainly no expert on the Pirates’ minor league system, but I can’t help but think either Rudy Owens or Jeff Locke, both lefties, would make the Twins’ rotation better as soon as next year and for several years to come (heck, probably THIS year, for that matter).
But why would they trade any of their young pitching now? Do you have any idea how long it has been since the Pirates sniffed the playoffs? No? Me either, but I think it was when Barry Bonds was skinny.
With Cole rising fast up through their organization, there’s going to be a logjam in Pittsburgh’s rotation before long. That’s why they may be more likely to give up some of that pitching for offensive help from one of the few teams without realistic playoff hopes in the coming weeks, rather than wait until the offseason when there will be more potential trade partners and they arguably could get a better return. In other words, they have the potential to be a little stupid with their trades over the next few weeks.
The question is whether the Twins would match up well with the Pirates in a trade discussion. With McCutchen in CF, their need for Denard Span might not be as great as a team that has a need at that position, but Span could certainly play one of the corner OF spots and he would certainly improve their lineup. Then again, just about any position player on the Twins roster, down to and including Drew Butera, could improve the Pirates lineup at this point.
I still don’t think trading players like Willingham or Morneau would be smart, because you’re going to need to replace them in a few months if you let them go. But there’s a case to be made that replacing them would be easier than acquiring starting pitching this winter. I’m not sure I’m convinced, but I’m willing to consider the possibility.
I’m sure the Pirates aren’t the only potential trade partner, but I mention them only by way of acknowledging there may be a stronger market out there than I think there is. The extra Wild Card spots this season and the relative balance of competitiveness in both leagues has the potential to mean a lot more buyers in July and fewer sellers. In any industry, that means a “sellers market,” and if the Twins can capitalize on that market to improve their team as soon as 2013, they’d be foolish not to do so.
Just don’t come at me with salary dump trades for any wannabe prospects. There’s no financial reason for the Twins to pull that kind of crap on their fans when they’re continuing to look at just below 3 million in attendance this season.
The Twins need a win today to salvage a season split with their boarder buddies, the Milwaukee Brewers. The Twins will have their work cut out for them this afternoon facing Milwaukee’s ace, Zack Greinke. To make matters worse, if the Twins do manage to scrape out a couple of runs against Greinke, Minnesota will have to rely on a struggling Nick Blackburn to keep them in the game. In his last two starts opponents have hit Blackburn to a line of .310/.370/.452 (BA/OBP/SLG), turning every hitter into the 2012 version of Angel Pagan. And his line is even worse against current Brewers. Tough to win ball games like that.
Matt Capps is out with a sore shoulder until at least Tuesday, but both Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau are in the lineup today for a very “unSunday Lineup” Sunday Lineup.
15 innings take a LONG time to play, 4 hours and 50 minutes with a rain delay thrown in for fun.
Nick Blackburn went just 6 innings, giving up 4 runs, all earned while throwing 101 pitches. The Twins we down 4-1 heading into the bottom of the 7th and erupted for 3 runs to tie the game at 4. That’s the way the score remained for 8 more innings before a Denard Span RBI single in the bottom of the 15th scored Brian Dozier from 3B.
For 9 innings of scoreless work, the Minnesota Twins bullpen (Nearly ALL of them, Burnett, Burton, Perkins, Duensing, Gray and Swarzak) falls just short of Father’s Day BOD honors. As a consolation prize, LeCroy24Fan has agreed to mail them $300 to share. Enjoy it.
His 4/8 performance, with a double and game winning RBI earn Denard Span the coveted BOD.
The Twins are off tomorrow to rest their bullpen, and start a 6 game Inter-League road trip against the Pirates on Tuesday night. Remember, no DH in games played in NL parks, so if Mauer’s leg is still a little beat up he’ll likely get a couple extra days rest and his bat will be out of the lineup all together.