Next for Twins Offseason? Hopefully Not Much

Last week, Minnesota Twins General Manager Terry Ryan went back-to-back-to-back making three deals in three days in an effort to improve his club, winning the bidding for the right to negotiate with Korean slugging first baseman/DH Byung-ho Park, trading backup catcher Chris Herrmann for a prospect, which cleared the way for catcher John Ryan Murphy to be added via trade.

After one or two more roster adjustments, Ryan should R-E-L-A-X. (Photo: SD Buhr)

After 1 or 2 more roster adjustments, Terry Ryan should R-E-L-A-X. (Photo: SD Buhr)

It has been almost a week since the last of those deals was announced, so the question has become, “Now what?”

I felt the catching situation was the most glaring need that had to be addressed this offseason and Ryan & Co. appear to have resolved that situation with the addition of Murphy.

Now, where should the GM turn his focus?

Given the state of the Twins the past four offseasons, it seems odd to say it, but I think Ryan’s offseason work should be about done already.

Let’s take a position-by-position look at where the Twins stand right at this moment, with some thoughts as to how they could still be improved.

Between incumbent catcher Kurt Suzuki and the newly-acquired Murphy, the position appears to be set. If Ryan could find a taker for Suzuki, they could just hand the starting job to Murphy and look for another backup, but that seems highly unlikely.

Joe Mauer is at first base and isn’t going anywhere. The Twins added another first baseman in Park, which was surprising to most of us, so the odds are stacked high against seeing another one added. Kennys Vargas remains on the periphery of the 1B/DH mix and now we’re seeing reports that he could make a good sized payday in Korea or Japan if the Twins are willing to sell his contract.

Brian Dozier will play second base. If the Twins get an offer they can’t refuse for Dozier, Jorge Polanco would likely get his shot at a permanent promotion to the big leagues. It’s hard to imagine the Twins adding someone else to the mix. James Beresford performed well in Rochester, but he’s a minor league free agent again this year and is at least an even bet to sign elsewhere after the Twins didn’t even give him a look in September.

Eduardo Escobar did everything anyone could ask of him at shortstop in 2015 and appears to have given the Twins the stability they’ve lacked at the position since the ill-advised trade of J.J. Hardy to the Orioles. The Twins will also have Danny Santana around as a utility player, should Escobar falter. It’s unlikely the Twins will go looking for another shortstop.

Everyone seems to think that third base is already crowded. Trevor Plouffe is still manning the hot corner, but is looking over his shoulder at the hulking figure of Miguel Sano. This has led many to recommend that the Twins trade Plouffe this offseason and hand the position to Sano.

While that might make sense, providing that Ryan could get fair value for Plouffe on the market (I’m not all that certain would be the case, but it’s possible), making that deal would mean putting all of the club’s third base “eggs” in the Sano basket. That makes me nervous.

Maybe Sano can play third base competently every day, but that’s hardly a certainty. If Plouffe is sent packing, Ryan had better have a reliable Plan B ready to step into the position. With Plouffe gone, who would that be?

There are few internal options that manager Paul Molitor could plug in. Do we want to see Eduardo Núñez as the Twins’ starting third baseman? Polanco and Santana have rarely played the position, even in minor league ball, but maybe one or both could do it.

Could a Plouffe trade be followed by the acquisition of a stop-gap type? Conceivably, yes. The Twins Daily Offseason Handbook projects 37-year-old Juan Uribe to sign a one-year deal for $3 million. That sounds a little high, to me, for Uribe, but if it’s in that neighborhood, it wouldn’t be a bad price for this particular situation.

Trevor Plouffe in a Twins uniform, where he should stay, at least for now (Photo: SD Buhr)

Trevor Plouffe in a Twins uniform, where he should stay, at least for now (Photo: SD Buhr)

Unless Ryan is really wowed by an offer for Plouffe, however, I think he’s better off keeping the status quo. Let’s see how Sano handles the position (and how he handles his sophomore season at the plate) before running the risk of turning the third sack back into the black hole it was between the departure of Corey Koskie and the arrival of Plouffe.

Likewise, the outfield appears pretty full, even with the departure of Aaron Hicks to the Yankees in the Murphy deal.

Eddie Rosario will be in one corner and the Twins are hoping Byron Buxton claims centerfield right out of spring training. They’ve expressed their intention to teach Sano to play a corner outfield spot, especially now that Park seems likely to get most of the DH at-bats. Oswaldo Arcia is another internal outfield option, but the Twins won’t (or shouldn’t, anyway) consider any option that results in Arcia and Sano sharing the same outfield, no matter how good the man in centerfield is. Max Kepler earned the opportunity to impress coaches and the front office enough in spring training to claim an Opening Day roster spot, but I suspect they’ll start him in Rochester, especially if the alternative is a fourth-outfielder role with the Twins.

And then there’s the pitching staff.

The predominant theory seems to be that the Twins have plenty of internal options to fill out their rotation, but need to look to the free agent and/or trade market to improve their bullpen.

I disagree. Not that the bullpen wasn’t bad (it was), but I disagree with that approach to fixing it. I would prefer to fix the bullpen by improving the rotation even more.

There are four pitchers that you have to figure should be locks to open in the Twins’ rotation. Ervin Santana, Tyler Duffey, Kyle Gibson and Phil Hughes will, unless traded or injured before then, open the year as Twins starters.

Trevor May, Alex Meyer, Tommy Milone, Jose Berrios and Ricky Nolasco all have starter pedigrees, in the minors and/or Major Leagues, and any of the five could earn the Twins’ fifth rotation spot. But if the Twins are set on being more than just a borderline contender in the American League Central Division, you have to ask yourself whether they could do better than those five pitchers in that final rotation opening.

Now, I’m a Zack Greinke fan from way back. After the 2010 season, I advocated here for the Twins to engineer a trade with the Royals to acquire Greinke. Five years later, I’d still love to have him at the top of the Twins’ rotation, but the Twins are not going to shell out the $25+ million per year over 5+ years that is being projected as being what it will take to sign the free agent – alas, nor should they.

Likewise, you can pretty much rule out names like Price, Cueto, Samardzija and Zimmerman, all of which are likely to garner $100+ million/5+ year deals on the open market. That’s an awful big commitment to make to pitchers who, in each case, come with some significant question marks about their abilities to perform at “ace” levels for the next half-decade. Only Price, in my view, is worth that kind of money. Unfortunately, he won’t be had for that kind of money – it will likely take over $200 million to get him. Ouch.

Berrios is a future Twins starter. May and Meyer could very well be future rotation fixtures, as well. The big unknown, in each case, is the definite arrival time of that future. We just don’t know. It could be April, 2016, and if it is, for just one of those pitchers, then the rotation question is asked and answered.

Trevor May - Bullpen or rotation in 2015? Answer: yes (Photo: SD BUhr)

Trevor May – Bullpen or rotation in 2015? Answer: yes (Photo: SD BUhr)

However, like the situation with Sano as a full time third baseman, relying on any of the five possible fifth starters currently on the roster to be good enough to help propel the Twins into an elite-level team in 2016 is pretty risky.

If Ryan decides to take that risk, it’s fine with me, but I wouldn’t mind seeing the Twins take a one-year flyer on Doug Fister, who certainly will be looking for a make-good contract to rebuild his value with an eye on trying free agency again next year. Two years ago, Fister was traded to Washington after 2 ½ successful years in a Tigers uniform. Had he been a free agent a year ago after notching a 2.31 ERA over 25 starts for the Nationals, he’d have undoubtedly been near the top of every team’s free agent starting pitcher wish-list.

But he was Washington property for another year and he did not live up to expectations in 2015, to put it mildly. He lost his starting rotation spot as the dysfunctional Nationals faltered and he finished the season working out of the bullpen.

Could a return to the familiar AL Central spur a revival of Fister’s starting career? I don’t know, but I wouldn’t mind if the Twins spent $10-15 million or so to find out. At that price, they can afford the risk. If it works out, he’s more than just another fifth starter. If it doesn’t work, all they’ve lost is a few bucks and they move on with whoever is looking the best from among the internal options.

With a rotation of Santana, Duffey, Gibson, Hughes and Fister, you are left with a lot of pretty strong options to improve your bullpen.

Glen Perkins and Kevin Jepsen will be there. You have to be concerned with the way Perkins pitched the last half of 2015 and I’m not certain Jepsen is really as good as he looked after being acquired from the Rays, but those two will be cornerstones of the 2016 relief corps, if they’re healthy.

Now, just for fun, plug the following five arms into the bullpen: Trevor May, Alex Meyer, Tommy Milone, Jose Berrios and Ricky Nolasco.

Jose Berrios and Tony Oliva chatted during a spring training game in March. They should be able to have chats like this at Target Field in 2016 (Photo: SD Buhr)

Jose Berrios and Tony Oliva chatted during a spring training game in March. They should be able to have chats like this at Target Field in 2016 (Photo: SD Buhr)

Yes, that leaves just Perkins and Milone as lefty arms, so I’d like to see Logan Darnell make the team, meaning Nolasco is cut loose or one of Meyer/Berrios is kept in Rochester to stay stretched out in case there’s an early hole to plug in the rotation.

No team survives a season without running 7-10 pitchers through their rotation during the year and all five of these guys could work their way into starting roles either by their own performance or attrition among those who open the year as starters.

But the point remains that the Twins have pitching that is capable of bolstering their bullpen and I’d  spend $10-15 million to take a chance on Fister improving the rotation. Then, as the dominoes fall, quality internal pitchers are pushed to the bullpen.

To me, that’s preferable to making multi-year commitments to one or more of the flavor-of-the-month relief arms available in free agency when the Twins have guys like Nick Burdi, Jake Reed, J.T. Chargois, Taylor Rogers, Zach Jones, Alex Wimmers and Mason Melotakis (to name just a few), any of which could become high-quality internal bullpen options before 2016 is over. Even 2015 top draft pick Tyler Jay, who will be given an opportunity to work in a minor league rotation somewhere to start the season, could be called on for a big league relief role, if needed at some point.

The best free agent bullpen arms will command large, multi-year deals, which the Twins should not invest in, and the next tier on the open market are no more likely to provide consistent quality relief innings than the Twins’ own internal options.

The bottom line, for me, is that Terry Ryan can get Park signed, make a deal with Fister, then go on vacation, as far as I’m concerned. If he can get someone to take Nolasco’s contract off his hands, terrific, but otherwise, I’d be content to head to spring training with that roster.


Episode 79: Brian Dozier is Robinson Cano and Other Lies

Happy birthday to our very own Jay Corn!  As a birthday present to Jay, Paul skipped the show!  Without him Eric is free to heap all of the praise in the world on Brian Dozier, and he does. You can download the new Talk to Contact (@TalkToContact) episode via iTunes or by clicking here.

Dozier at bat

Jay Corn revisits his prediction that Josmil Pinto will hit 25 home runs (which is not looking so bad right now), and we wonder what might happen to Pinto’s playing time when Josh Willingham and/or Oswaldo Arcia return from the DL and Chris Herrmann goes back to AAA.  The jabbering continues with Logan Darnell, one of three AAA Left Handers in the Rochester starting rotation.  Lots of beer talk this week, and Eric is a little over excited about his “bready beer” and then the gang goes Around the League.

Enjoy the show!

You can follow Cody on Twitter (@NoDakTwinsFan) or read his writing at NoDakTwinsFan, you can find Paul on Twitter (@BaseballPirate) and read his writing at, and you can find Mr. Jay Corn on Twitter (@Jay__Corn)!

If you enjoy our podcast, please take a couple extra minutes and rate and review us on iTunes. Ratings and reviews are like syrup for our metaphorical banana walnut pancakes.

Minnesota Twins Arizona Fall League Selections

The Minnesota Twins are sending seven players to the Arizona Fall League (AFL).  For those of you that are unfamiliar with the AFL, it is a six team league in (big surprise) Arizona that generally features some of the top prospects from the Minor Leagues.  Of the seven players the Twins sent to the AFL in 2011, three have played a significant role for the MLB club this season, Cole De Vries, Scott Diamond and Brian Dozier.

The crop of youngsters looking to make their mark in 2012 are Evan BigleyLogan Darnell, Kyle Gibson,  Chris HerrmannNate RobertsCaleb Thielbar and Michael Tonkin.  Outside of Gibson, and maybe Herrmann, many of these names are likely unfamiliar to all but the most hardcore Twins fans.  What follows then, will be a brief introduction to some of the Twins’ top Minor League prospects.

Evan Bigley Photo Credit: Seth Stohs, Twins Daily

Evan Bigley, 25, Right Field, Started 2012 at AA New Britain, Currently at AAA Rochester
Evan Bigley was drafted by the Twins in the 10th round of the 2008 draft out of Dallas Baptist University, alma mater of former Minnesota Twin  and current Baltimore Oriole Lew Ford.   Bigley started the year back in Double-A, his third consecutive year in New Britain, and while his batting average was slightly higher than it was in 2011, his on-base skills were exactly the same as they were the year ago (.311 OBP).  However, in 2012 he was hitting the ball with a lot more authority, slugging almost 70 points higher in 2012 before being promoted to Rochester.   Bigley has struggled to adjust to AAA pitching, hitting just .211/.241/.328, the worst batting line of his Minor League career.  As a corner outfielder in the Twins system Bigley is going to need to adjust to high-level pitching or he’ll quickly become an afterthought in an organization filled with high-upside outfield talent like Aaron Hicks, Oswaldo Arcia, and Joe Benson.

Logan Darnell Photo Credit: North Dakota Twins Fan

Logan Darnell, 23, Left Handed Starting Pitcher, AA New Britain
Logan Darnell was drafted by the Minnesota Twins in the 6th round of the 2010 draft out of the University of Kentucky.  Darnell profiled as a reliever coming out of the draft, but the Twins have used him exclusively as a starter the past two seasons.  In 2011, despite mediocre numbers, Darnell moved quickly through the system advancing from Low-A Beloit all the way to AA New Britain.  He’s spent all of 2012 at New Britain and really struggled to find success.  While his ERA is down in 2012 (5.21 from 5.28), his WHIP, HR/9  and BB/9 all went up while his SO/9 and SO/BB rates went the other way.  Darnell is on pace to pitch more than 150 innings for the 2nd consecutive year, so he certainly has the arm strength to remain a starting pitcher, but if he cannot find greater success against talented hitters he’ll need to move to the bullpen to extend his career.

Kyle Gibson

Kyle Gibson, 24, Right Handed Starting Pitcher, Started 2012 rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, Currently at AAA Rochester
Kyle Gibson was the Twins’ first round draft selection (22 overall) in the 2009 draft out of the University of Missouri and went from High-A Fort Myers to AAA Rochester in his first year in the Minor Leagues in 2011.  In 2011 Gibson pitched fairly well in the first half of the year before being shut down with elbow inflammation before eventually requiring Tommy John surgery.  Gibson rehabbed for the first 2/3 of the 2012 season spending time with the Twins Gulf Coast and High-A squads before returning to Rochester earlier this August.  Reports on Gibson are that he’s throwing the ball as hard, if not harder, than he was before his surgery and his control is as good as it has ever been.  Gibson was rated as high as the number 34 overall prospect by Baseball America before the 2011 season, and if he pitches well in the AFL could have a chance to compete for a spot in the starting rotation when the Twins leave Spring Training in 2013.

Chris Hermann Photo Credit: Jim Crikket

Chris Herrmann, 24, Catcher, AA New Britain
Chris Herrmann was drafted by the Twins in the 6th round of the 2009 draft out of the University of Miami (along with teammate David Gutierrez, who did not sign in 2009,but signed in 2010 when the Twins drafted him again).  Herrmann spent most of 2011 in New Britain and has been there for the entire 2012 season.  Herrmann is probably the Twins best hitting catcher in the system, but he’s also been getting playing time as an outfielder and DH in order to keep his bat in the lineup for the Rock Cats.  He’s hitting .268/.342/.385 with a career high 10 HR and 23 2B.  The Twins will likely be watching how Herrmann calls games in the AFL and how his bat plays against some higher-level pitching.

Nate Roberts Photo Credit: Jim Crikket

Nate Roberts, 23, Corner Outfielder, Low-A Beloit
Nate Roberts was drafted by the Twins in the 5th round of the 2010 draft out of High Point University.  High Point University has only produced 1 Major League Players,  RHP Cody Allen, who made his Major League debut in 2012 for the Cleveland Indians despite being drafted a year after Roberts.  Roberts is repeating Low-A Beloit in 2012 after spending all of 2011 there despite posting a .302/.443/.446 line in his first year above rookie ball.  Roberts has posted another impressive line in 2012, .306/.438/.438, but he’s 23, about a year older than the average player in the Midwest League, so with his success at Low-A he’ll likely be promoted to Fort Myers for the 2013 season, regardless of how he preforms in the AFL.

Caleb Thielbar

Caleb Thielbar, 25, Left Handed Relief Pitcher, Started 2012 at High-A Fort Myers, Currently at AAA Rochester
Caleb Thielbar was drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers in the 18th round of the 2009 draft.  Thielbar failed to get past Low-A in the Brewers system and found himself playing Independent Baseball in 2011 for the Saint Paul Saints.  The Twins plucked Thielbar from the Saints at the end of 2011 and he made 3 appearances for the Fort Myers Miracle before the season came to an end.  According to Seth Stohs of, Thielbar throws between 88 and 91 MPH with a good slider/curve.  As a 25 year old starting the 2012 season, Thielbar was two years older than the average High-A Florida State League player.  He’s moved quickly through the season posting SO/9 rates of 11.7 at High-A, 9.4 at AA, and while he is struggling a little bit at AAA, he’s still managing 7.1 SO/9, a strike out rate that would make half of the Twins’ current bullpen green with envy.  Thielbar will likely need another year at AAA before he has a chance to be a realistic option for the Twins, but as a 25 year old with just barley a year in the Twins’ system, the Arizona Fall League gives the Twins additional opportunities to see what Thielbar can really do.

Michael Tonkin Photo Credit: Jim Crikket

Michael Tonkin, 22, Right Handed Relief Pitcher, Started 2012 at Low-A Beloit, Currently at High-A Fort Myers
Michael Tonkin was drafted by the Twins in the 30th round of the 2008 draft.  Tonkin signed quickly and spent the end of 2008 and all of 2009 in the Gulf Coast League.  In 2010 Tonkin split time between the Elixabethton Twins in the Appalachian League, and ended the season with the Low-A Beloit Snappers.   Tonkin was promoted to Fort Myers about midway through the 2012 season and he’s continued to strike out more than 12 batters per 9 innings.  According to Kevin Goldstein, Tonkin has a big fastball that sits in the mid 90s and a low 80s slider that helps him reach those lofty strike out numbers.  It will certainly be worth following Tonkin in the Arizona Fall League against significantly more advanced hitters.  A solid showing in the AFL and Tonkin could start 2012 in AA as a 23 year old.

And that’s about it.  I’m certainly not an expert in the Minor Leagues or scouting, but hopefully this gives you a little bit of information about the Twins 2012 Arizona Fall League participants.


PS: For those of you interested in listening to another Twins podcast, I recently started one.