Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The All-Decade Team

Here are my picks for the Twins' All-Decade Team. These are the best individual seasons at each position, min. 500 PA for starters, 180 IP for the rotation, 50 IP for relievers, and 150 PA for bench players - backup C or guys who played multiple positions (because they deserve some love, too!).


C - Joe Mauer, 2009: .365/.444/.587, 28 HR, 94 R, 96 RBI, 4/5 SB, 8.8 WARP, 170 OPS+
Didn't have to think too hard about that one...

1B - Justin Morneau, 2006: .321/.375/.559, 34 HR, 97 R, 130 RBI, 3/6 SB, 4.4 WARP, 140 OPS+
Maybe he didn't deserve league MVP, but still his best season to date.

2B - Luis Castillo, 2006: .296/.358/.370, 3 HR, 84 R, 46 RBI, 25/36 SB, 2.4 WARP, 91 OPS+
Pretty nice table-setting OBP and a very good .991 fielding %, but otherwise kinda underwhelming. Turns out there was only one season in the decade in which a qualifying MI had an OPS+ over 100...

SS - Christian Guzman, 2001: .302/.337/.477, 10 HR, 80 R, 51 RBI, 25/33 SB, 3.9 WARP, 110 OPS+
...and here it is. Guzman led the AL in 3B and had one of his best defensive seasons, too.

3B - Corey Koskie, 2001: .276/.362/.488, 26 HR, 100 R, 103 RBI, 27/33 SB, 5.9 WARP, 120 OPS+
What a fantastic all-around season - look at the SB! And he played great defense at the hot corner as well. He has never been replaced.

LF - Jacque Jones, 2002: .300/.341/.511, 27 HR, 96 R, 85 RBI, 6/13 SB, 4.2 WARP, 123 OPS+
The SB% was about the worst of his career, and he struck out in over 20% of his PA, but the rest of his game was at its peak.

CF - Torii Hunter, 2002: .289/.334/.524, 29 HR, 89 R, 94 RBI, 23/31 SB, 1.5 WARP, 124 OPS+
All of Hunter's tools were on display, as he set career highs in SLG%, SB and Assists. (The rather low WARP, which comes from Baseball Prospectus, is based on what they rate as a well below average defensive season. UZR does not agree - FanGraphs has his WAR at 4.1.)

RF - Michael Cuddyer, 2006: .284/.362/.504, 24 HR, 102 R, 109 RBI, 6/6 SB, 3.1 WARP, 124 OPS+
It was a tough call between this and last year, but I was swayed by the higher OBP, perfect record on the bases, and slightly better OF defense.

DH - Jason Kubel, 2009: .300/.369/.539, 28 HR, 73 R, 103 RBI, 1/2 SB, 4.0 WARP, 136 OPS+
Even when David Ortiz was on the team, DH was never really a strength until last season.


C - Mike Redmond, 2006: .341/.365/.413, 0 HR, 20 R, 23 RBI, 0/0 SB, 1.6 WARP, 103 OPS+
A lot of teams would've been thrilled to get production like that out of their starting catcher.

OF - Bobby Kielty, 2002: .291/.405/.484, 13 HR, 71 R, 57 RBI, 4/5 SB, 2.2 WARP, 136 OPS+
He played all 3 OF positions and 1B, and was sure to give you a tough AB as a PH. Too bad he peaked that year at age 25.

IF - Nick Punto, 2006: .290/.352/.373, 1 HR, 73 R, 45 RBI, 17/22 SB, 2.7 WARP, 90 OPS+
That's pretty close to the year Castillo had at 2B. His excellent fielding in 88 games at 3B was one of the keys to the Twins' turnaround that season.

UT - Denny Hocking, 2000: .298/.373/.416, 4 HR, 52 R, 47 RBI, 7/12 SB, 0.9 WARP, 97 OPS+
All that while playing every position except pitcher and catcher.


1P - Johan Santana, 2004: 20-6, 2.61 ERA, 228 IP, 265 K, 54 BB, 0.92 WHIP, 8.4 WARP, 182 ERA+
He had 3 great seasons in a row, but this was the one in which he was most unhittable (6.2 H/9, 10.5 K/9).

2P - Brad Radke, 2004: 11-8, 3.48 ERA, 219.2 IP, 143 K, 26 BB, 1.16 WHIP, 4.8 WARP, 136 ERA+
Career bests in ERA, HR/9 and K/BB, and yet he still got only 11 W. If he'd only been able to stick around for the run support the offense provided in 2008-2009.

3P - Joe Mays, 2001: 17-13, 3.16 ERA, 233.2 IP, 123 K, 64 BB, 1.15 WHIP, 5.6 WARP, 145 ERA+
Alas, the only good year of his career.

4P - Carlos Silva, 2005: 9-8, 3.44 ERA, 188.1 IP, 71 K, 9 BB, 1.17 WHIP, 2.5 WARP, 129 ERA+
If you're going to serve up 1.2 HR/9 while getting only 3.4 K/9, you'd better not walk anybody, and he didn't.

5P - Rick Reed, 2002: 15-7, 3.78 ERA, 188 IP, 121 K, 26 BB, 1.16 WHIP, 2.2 WARP, 118 ERA+
Served up 1.5 HR/9, but led the league with 1.2 BB/9.


CL - Joe Nathan, 2006: 7-0, 1.58 ERA, 68.1 IP, 95 K, 16 BB, 0.79 WHIP, 6.7 WARP, 283 ERA+
Lots of good stuff to choose from, but I'll take the season with career bests in WHIP, K/9 and BB/9.

RHP - Juan Rincon, 2004: 11-6, 2.63 ERA, 82 IP, 106 K, 38 BB, 1.02 WHIP, 3.7 WARP, 180 ERA+
Rincon at his most unhittable, with career bests in H/9 and K/9. Notice that he earned as many wins as Bradke - offense obviously took their time that season.

RHP - LaTroy Hawkins, 2003: 9-3, 1.86 ERA, 77.1 IP, 75 K, 15 BB, 1.09 WHIP, 3.7 WARP, 243 ERA+
Too bad it took the Twins so long to figure out that Hawkins was meant to be a setup man.

RHP - Matt Guerrier, 2007: 2-4, 2.35 ERA, 88 IP, 68 K, 21 BB, 1.05 WHIP, 2.8 WARP, 182 ERA+
Last year was similar, but in 2007 Guerrier gave up 1 fewer HR in almost 12 more IP.

LHP - Eddie Guardado, 2003: 3-5, 2.89 ERA, 65.1 IP, 60 K, 14 BB, 0.98 WHIP, 3.5 WARP, 157 ERA+
The best WHIP and K/BB year of Guardado's long, successful career.

LHP - JC Romero, 2002: 9-2, 1.89 ERA, 81 IP, 76 K, 36 BB, 1.21 WHIP, 3.8 WARP, 236 ERA+
Too many BB (and it got worse from there), but just 3 HR allowed in 81 IP.

LHP - Dennys Reyes, 2006: 5-0, 0.89 ERA, 50.2 IP, 49 K, 15 BB, 0.99 WHIP, 2.5 WARP, 504 ERA+
Held LH batters to .148/.219/.205 with just 3 XBH allowed in 96 PA. But he also got RH batters out that year (.640 OPS against).

Looking over this list, a couple of things strike me. The Twins have been pretty weak at SS for awhile, and have been terrible at 2B since Todd Walker left. They really only had 2 great starting pitchers, Radke for 7 seasons, Santana for 6. They haven't had a good 3B since 2004. Their most consistent areas of strength have been the bullpen and the bench, where, year after year, they got exceptional performances out of youngsters and journeymen. Look at what Redmond, Punto and Reyes gave them in 2006. Look at what they got down the stretch this season from Matt Tolbert, Ron Mahay and Bobby Keppel. Somehow, when the rest of the division is falling apart, the Twins manage to come together. That's a trait I hope they'll take with them into their new ballpark and a new decade.

Sunday, December 20, 2009


Everybody's starting to put together Best of the 2000's stories at the major sports websites. I'd been oblivious to this milestone (having a baby will do that to you), but now that I've been reminded, I can reflect on the what the Twins have accomplished over the last ten years.

This has been the the franchise's most successful decade since the '60's, by just about any standard. They had a .532 winning percentage, the best since it was .540 in the '60's (I'm not including 1960, the last season in Washington). They won the division 5 times, and finished 2nd twice. Their players won 2 MVPs, 3 batting titles, 2 Cy Youngs and 3 strikeout titles. They drew over 2 million in attendance 5 times, a feat that had been achieved just 6 times in franchise history prior to this decade, and they came within 100,000 of that mark 3 other times. They channeled that popularity into a new ballpark, which promises to draw even more fans over the first few years of the teens.

To think that all of that success could have been erased before it had a chance to develop. Thank goodness for that judge who held up the contraction plans of the 2002 offseason. I don't know what I would have done with myself all these years without the Twins to obsess over.

My favorite team of the decade has to be the 2006 squad. They sleep-walked through the first 58 games, starting 25-33. Then three wonderful things happened at roughly the same time: Gardy and Terry Ryan finally chucked the plodding veterans and turned loose the piranhas, Justin Morneau got his head together, and Francisco Liriano got his pitch-count up to full game length. Before we knew it, that team had unleashed the most extraordinary stretch of winning baseball we'll probably ever see: 71-33 for the remainder of the season, including a 21-2 run in June. Everybody they plugged into the lineup seemed to be locked in: Mike Redmond, Jason Tyner, Josh Rabe, Pat Neshek, Glen Perkins. They had the Cy Young, the MVP, the Batting Champ, and would have surely had the Rookie of the Year had Liriano survived the season. Their run differential (+118) was the best of any Twins team this decade, as was their 96-66 record.

There were a lot of moments of elation that stick out for me. Some of my favorite memories:

Torii Hunter's HR-robbing catch off Barry Bonds in the All-Star game in Milwaukee. I had a friend from DC call me up in the ensuing commercial break to gush about how awesome our guy was. That catch alerted the rest of the country to the fact that, for the first time since Chuck Knoblauch was dealt, the Twins had some people worth watching again.

AJ Pierzynski's 2-run HR in the top of the 9th of Game 5 of the 2002 LDS off Billy Koch. I was going to be able to attend games 1 & 2 of the LCS if the Twins won. That HR turned a tense 2-1 lead into a 4-1 lead, and felt to me like the clincher. Luckily, the Twins added one more run in that frame, as the bottom of the 9th was far too exciting, and the final score was 5-4. Still, as AJ's drive smacked off the wall above the yellow line in RF, I slapped the floor with excitement. A great feeling.

Hunter's diving catch to end a 3-game sweep over the White Sox in Chicago in early August of 2004. Hunter had also plowed over the Sox' catcher to score a run earlier in the series. Everybody, especially Ozzie Guillen, knew after that series that the Twins were going to win the division.

Liriano spoiling Roger Clemens' un-retirement in 2006. All anybody in the sports media could talk about was the Rocket. But those of us who'd been following Liriano's progress over the previous few weeks had a suspicion that our guy was going to be the better pitcher that night.

Denard Span's 3B off of Bobby Jenks to score Carlos Gomez, tying the score in the bottom of the 8th in the final week of the 2008 regular season. I like that play more than Alexi Casilla's game-winner a couple of innings later. It completed a comeback from a huge early deficit, putting all the momentum behind the Twins. But most of all, it showed why the Twins were more fun to watch: 2 young players with plus-plus speed flying around the bases while the Sox' fielders were too plodding to cut off a grounder over 1B. The exuberance of Gomez' unnecessary head-first slide across the plate, of Span pumping his fist at the Twins' dugout - infectious, thrilling.

Casilla's walk-off single to win game 163 with the Tigers. Gomez again, sailing around the bases and diving into home far ahead of the throw. What a release after nearly 4 hours of back and forth. Like the 1991 World Series all over again.

Next time I'll have my picks for the Twins' All-Decade Team.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Fall Guys

Not a lot going on for the Twins right now, and I wouldn't expect much for awhile. They're probably wise to see how the free agent market shakes out now that it has been inundated with non-tenders. I'd still like to see something at 2B or 3B, at least for the short term, but that deal could conceivably wait until spring training, as it did with Crede last year.

Still, there is baseball going on all over the Caribbean, and several prominent members of the Twins organization are active there. But before I focus on those leagues, which are only just getting going, I should look at the results of the Arizona Fall League, which concluded its season last month.

The Twins sent 7 prospects to the AFL. Two things to keep in mind: while many teams send guys who are nearly MLB-ready, the Twins have elected to send much less advanced prospects the past couple of seasons. Of the 7, only Rene Tosoni had spent more than half a season above A-ball. So the Twins' players had a bigger adjustment to make than a lot of the other guys in the league. The other thing is that the AFL's numbers are grotesquely skewed in favor of the hitters. The average batter this fall hit .281/.361/.443 (about .040 points of OPS higher than the AL), while the average pitcher was flogged for a 5.35 ERA and 1.59 WHIP. Understanding that context, here's how everybody did:

Chris Parmelee, 1B/OF .250/.337/.550
For me, his performance is the most outstanding. Just 21 years old, with no experience above A+ Fort Myers, Parmelee managed to more than hold his own. The BA was below average - typical of Parmelee's career so far. But he maintained his strong isolated discipline while showing far above average power. He'll start 2010 in AA, and presently projects to take over the DH position once Jason Kubel's contract expires after 2011.

Steve Singleton, 2B .289/.291/.500
As nice as it is to see plus power from a 2B, I find Singleton's performance to be pretty disheartening. In an environment in which the average hitter put up an .080 IsoD, he managed to draw just 1 BB in 79 PA. Really? Such an utter lack of patience can only be overcome by outstanding defense and/or speed, and Singleton didn't attempt a SB in the AFL while committing 5 E in 19 G. He'll probably go back to New Britain next year, but unless he figures out how to take a walk immediately, I don't know that he'll be able to rise much higher.

Rene Tosoni, OF .218/.310/.333
After a breakout campaign at New Britain, Tosoni brought some rather high expectations into the AFL, and he did not deliver. Still, Danny Valencia was lousy in the AFL last year, and it didn't hurt him come the following spring. Tosoni will be in the OF mix at AAA.

Alex Burnett, RP 3.38 ERA, 1.50 WHIP
A starter through the lower levels, the Twins decided that Burnett's rather small frame (6'0", 190 lbs.) wasn't going to hold up in that role, so they shifted him to the bullpen. He thrived there for 78 IP between A+ and AA, and continued to stand out in the AFL. His ERA was about 2 runs better than average, and he held opponents to a .162 BA, while keeping the ball in the yard (he was the only member of the Mesa team not to allow a HR). He's on the fast track now - I don't see why he wouldn't start 2010 at AAA.

Spencer Steedley, RP 4.50 ERA, 2.14 WHIP
An emerging LOOGY, Steedley's splits were as severe as could be in the AFL. That ghastly WHIP was almost entirely the result of his appearances vs. RH batters, who collected 12 H and 10 BB off him in just 6 IP, including both HR allowed. But he held lefties to a .143 average and 1.00 WHIP in 8 IP. He'll return to AA to start 2010, and, used properly, should be an effective reliever.

Mike McCardell, SP 7.27 ERA, 1.61 WHIP
McCardell was off to a pretty good start in the AFL before he got rocked in his 3rd GS. He complained of shoulder soreness and was shut down. He should begin next season in New Britain.

Steve Hirschfeld, SP 11.17 ERA, 1.96 WHIP
A standout performer at Fort Myers last season, Hirschfeld got lit up in just about every other start in the AFL. He had 10 K/9, however, so that's at least something to build on. He'll get his first taste of AA next spring.


Chris Province, RP 3.46 ERA, 1.08 WHIP
The player to be named later in the Boof Bonser trade, Province is a sinker-ball specialist who allowed just 3 HR in 79.2 IP in the Eastern League last year. He gave up 1 in 13 IP in the AFL, and actually allowed more flies than grounders, but held opposing hitters to a .200 BA and was very effective against lefties. He'll join AFL alums Burnett, Anthony Slama and Rob Delaney in what is suddenly a pretty intriguing Rochester bullpen.

Now, a few highlights from the Caribbean...

One of the most exciting developments there has been the play of C Wilson Ramos, ranked by many as the Twins' #3 prospect. His numbers in AA were good this year, but a couple of injuries limited him to just over 200 AB, and he didn't show very much patience (6 BB) or power (4 HR). He's up to 191 AB in Venezuela right now, hitting .346/.411/.597 with 20 BB and 11 HR. His winter league performance almost certainly means he'll begin 2010 in AAA. If the Twins can't re-sign Joe Mauer, he becomes the C of the future. If they can re-sign Mauer, do they really need a backup C this good? What kind of MI or SP could Ramos bring in a trade?

I was high on Dustin Martin after his AFL performance last year, but he hit just .254/.319/.351 with a 92/39 K/BB ratio in Rochester. So I was glad to see him carrying an OPS of around .900 with a nearly 1/1 K/BB rate for most of his time in the VWL. His patience tailed off at the end, as he struck out 9 times without a walk over his final 10 games, but his BA was .350 and he slugged .575 over that stretch, so I can't complain too much. Overall, he hit .298/.395/.477 with a 37/25 K/BB ratio. He still might be a decent option if Delmon Young disappoints again.

Francisco Liriano has headed to the Dominican Republic to try to work through the poor fastball command that ruined his 2009 season. Early returns are very good. Through his first 3 GS, spanning 11.2 IP, he has a 1.54 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, and 17/2 K/BB ratio. I'll be following his exploits with great interest throughout the remainder of the winter.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

My Parallel Universe: 2009

In the first installment of my fanciful retelling of the last 2 years with me as the Twins' GM, I coasted into October with this team:

1. Denard Span, CF
2. Jason Bartlett, SS
3. Joe Mauer, C
4. Justin Morneau, 1B
5. Matt Kemp, LF
6. Jason Kubel, DH
7. Michael Cuddyer, RF
8. Andy LaRoche, 3B
9. Alexi Casilla, 2B

Mike Redmond, C; Kenny Lofton, OF; Nick Punto, Brian Buscher, IF; Randy Ruiz, PH

1. Johan Santana
2. Scott Baker
3. Francisco Liriano
4. Nick Blackburn

Joe Nathan, CL; Jose Mijares, Dennys Reyes, Craig Breslow, LHP; Jesse Crain, Matt Guerrier, Boof Bonser, RHP

with Kevin Slowey joining the rotation if we got past the Divisional round. Hopefully, the rotation anchored by Santana was enough to get us deep into the playoffs, but just getting there was certainly worth keeping him.


Looking forward to 2009, we are incredibly well-positioned. We're able to return our entire starting lineup and 4/5 of the rotation. Santana, Lofton, Punto and Reyes are the only free agents. Only Kubel and Guerrier are eligible for arbitration. Obviously, it's a step down from Santana to Liriano. But Baker and Liriano appear to be a pretty competent #1-#2 combination, and Slowey, Blackburn and Perkins look like they can fill out the rotation strongly. With the exception of Guerrier, the bullpen found its footing down the stretch, and Guerrier can be expected to have way better numbers in 2009.

Heading into the offseason, we have payroll totally under control, so there's room to spend in free agency. We don't really need any pitching, maybe just some NRIs who can provide some depth/competition in spring training. Though we'd like LaRoche to seize the everyday 3B job, platooning him at least 1/2 time with Buscher looks as though it will be better than anything available on the market. Revising my real-world offseason priorities from last year to reflect the changes I've already made, my objectives would be:

1. Re-sign Reyes

This turns out to be relatively easy. The market for veterans gets worse and worse as the weeks go by. Reyes hopes for better than the 2-year, $7M contract I offer him in late November (based on Jeremy Affeldt's deal with SF), but by the time he's ready to come back to us, the price has dropped by almost half. He finally comes back to us for 2 years, $3.6M ($1.75M in '09 and '10, with a $2 M option for '11 or $100K buyout).

2. Improve the lineup

This is trickier. Mauer, Morneau, Kubel, Bartlett and Cuddyer are all veterans in or about to enter their peak years. I believe that a healthy Cuddyer will return to something close to his 2006 production, so I don't sweat RF. Kubel has been getting stronger every year, though I'll still provide someone to caddy for him vs. LHP.

Span, Kemp, LaRoche and Casilla are all highly regarded young players with less than 2 years of big league experience. I expect each of them to make adjustments in 2009 that will improve upon their 2008 performances and bring them closer to their ceilings. LaRoche will still have a lefty to split time with should he struggle. Casilla should have a veteran backup as well.

Looking around at possible trades and free agents, it's difficult to find a situation in which the price of the player (dollars, draft pick, talent to be traded) is worth the amount of upgrade he'd provide to the lineup. That's until I notice that Orlando Hudson is still hanging around unsigned in February. He's a proven major league switch hitter with a career OBP around .350. He plays excellent defense at 2B. He's not the base-stealer Casilla is, but he has about twice the pop. I wouldn't have given him a $30M+ contract like we all expected him to get at the beginning of the offseason. But it's a bad economy, and a strange market. Even though I have to give up our first round draft pick to sign him, it's OK - we got a higher pick when the Mets signed Santana anyway. I sign Hudson to a 2-year, $10.5M deal ($5M in '09 and '10, $6M in '11 or a $500K buyout). Casilla still has options - we'll plan on him playing every day at Rochester. If everything goes well, we'll have someone to trade later...

3. Improve the bench

This boils down to getting the most options we can. I'm very high on Jose Morales, and I love that he could be a switch PH as well as a backup C. But I still pick up Redmond's option. I keep Ruiz on the roster and bring him back to camp. I re-sign Nick Punto in early December to be a super-utility player for the deal he's got now. I expect Buscher to improve as he continues to adjust to big league pitching. Matt Tolbert is about as versatile as Punto, and continues to be a good bench option.

It's time for Lofton to hang it up, though. Between Kemp and Span we've got CF covered, and Cuddyer and Kubel can play the corners in addition to those two. I'd like to have another corner person in camp, though, preferably a veteran SH who plays average or better defense and also has high OBP and some pop for PH situations. We finished 2008 with such a guy in Rochester: Bobby Kielty. He doesn't hit RHP very well anymore, but generally fits the bill. I give him an NRI.

4. Acquire a true #1 starter

I try to make this happen in order to take us to the next level - Baker, Liriano, Slowey, Blackburn and Perkins is good, but Ace, Baker, Liriano, Slowey and Blackburn/Perkins is even better. Also, we've got money to spend, and we're used to having one of the best pitchers in the league. However, I don't really want to commit $80M or more to pitchers in their 30s - we're still a small market and we can't get stuck with lousy contracts. So I make inquiries into Jake Peavy, who is one of the best pitchers in baseball and is under contract for $63M through 2012 with an option for 2013.

I offer Blackburn, Casilla, Anthony Swarzak, Bobby Korecky and Danny Valencia. They insist on having either Ben Revere or Aaron Hicks headline the package. I'm feeling pretty good about Kemp, but I'm not so positive that Span is the real deal (he's only had 1.5 good seasons, after all) that I'm willing to part with Revere just yet, and including Hicks makes it too big a price to pay for the improvement that Peavy is going to provide over a developing Glen Perkins. So it doesn't get done.

5. Lock up the core players

But that leaves plenty of money to sign our peaking players to long-term deals. Once again, the market is in our favor, as Kubel signs his 2-year, $7.2M contract (w/ $5.25M option for 2011) and Scott Baker signs for $15.25M over 4 years with a $9.25M option for 2013. Those are great contracts, but they're not the main objective.

We've got to sign Mauer now so we don't wind up in the Santana situation all over again next year. And Mauer's pre-season injury status makes him all the more willing to accept some guaranteed money. Since he's been comparably valued to Morneau in terms of awards and All-Star appearances, and they're buddies, and Mauer's a nice guy, we can offer him a similar deal to Morneau's. So he signs a 4-year, $63M extension ($14M in 2011-2014, + $16M option for 2015 or $2M buyout) including a $5M signing bonus and all the same incentives as in Morneau's deal. This makes him the highest-paid C in MLB history by almost 10%. He is about to become a perennial All-Star, Gold Glover, Silver Slugger and top-5 MVP finisher - those will add a couple 100K to his annual earnings. He's now got 6 years of guaranteed 8-figure income, though it will be many weeks before he's healthy enough to step on the field. We've got the league's premiere C locked up through at least his age 31 season.

We get bad news when Pat Neshek is lost for the year with Tommy John surgery. But the bullpen we finished with still provides 7 quality guys for the bullpen. When Boof Bonser is lost early in spring training as well, we're forced to bring in someone else to provide middle relief innings. Luis Ayala is about all that's left - we sign him for $1.3M and bring him into camp.

Spring Training

We're certainly apprehensive about Mauer's sustained back trouble. Morales doesn't have a great spring, but his track record with the bat gets him the call to start the season. Gardy insists that the young rotation needs a 7-man bullpen to cover it. Mijares shows up for camp shamefully out of shape and gets lit up - we can't take him north, and a spot opens in the 'pen. To everyone's amazement, RA Dickey, signed to fill out the Rochester rotation, has a brilliant spring and earns it. Because of the shortened bench, versatility is a must, so Bobby Kielty wins the final bench spot and we trade Randy Ruiz to Toronto for Darin Mastroianni, a RH speedster to compliment Revere at Fort Myers.

Scott Baker gives up an alarming number of HR, then goes on the DL the last week of the spring. Brian Duensing joins the team to briefly take this spot. Anthony Slama and Rob Delaney both begin the season at Rochester. This is our opening day roster:

1. Span, LF
2. Hudson, 2B
3. Kemp, CF
4. Morneau, 1B
5. Cuddyer, RF
6. Kubel, DH
7. LaRoche, 3B
8. Redmond, C
9. Bartlett, SS

Punto, Busher, IF; Morales, C; Kielty, OF

1. Liriano
2. Blackburn
3. Slowey
4. Perkins
5. Dickey

Nathan, CL; Guerrier, Crain, Ayala, RHP; Reyes, Breslow, Duensing, LHP

Opening day payroll is about $71M, the 3rd straight season it's come in right around there. We had budgeted for the payroll to reach up to $85M, so there's room to add salaries over the course of the season if necessary...

Regular Season
1st Half

Things get off to an exceptionally rocky start as better than half of the pitching staff really struggles in April. Baker and Liriano each lose their first 4 decisions, generally being bludgeoned in the process. Slowey is only winning thanks to a ton of run support. Crain, Breslow, Ayala and Dickey all struggle with control, yielding huge numbers of baserunners. When Baker comes off the DL, Duensing returns to Rochester. When Crain gets hurt, we bring up Mijares. The offense helps us slug our way to a couple of wins, and we complete a Mauer-less month with .500 record.

Mauer returns on May 1st (Dickey is sent down) to key an offensive explosion - virtually the entire lineup is hot as we finish 2nd in the league in scoring for the month. But it's barely enough to keep the team above water. Though Baker starts to find it, Liriano and Perkins appear to be losing it. Crain returns from the DL (Morales is sent down), but has the worst 6-week stretch of his career. Breslow continues to struggle, but I am adamant that he is a good pitcher, that this period is unprecedented in his career, and that he'll work his way out of it. By Memorial Day, he does. At least Reyes can be relied upon to bail us out of jams vs. LH batters. Perkins hits the DL after the Yankees series; we call up Anthony Swarzak, who gives us five pretty good starts to begin his career. May is also a .500 month.

The offense cools off a bit in June, but the pitching is starting to come together. Perkins is solid in his first few outings back from the DL. Span hits the DL for a stretch (we replace him with Dustin Martin), but the other OF cover for him just fine. Baker, Slowey and Blackburn are all reliably pitching deep into games. Crain is optioned to Rochester and Dickey (who has been lights out this whole time) is recalled. Ayala pisses Gardy off and is released; we fill that roster spot with Bobby Keppel. We lose a couple of tough ones in which things get away from Blackburn in the bottom of the 8th, but it's otherwise a good month at 17-10.

We draft all the same people as in the real world, using the 1st-round and compensation picks we got from the Mets to draft Kyle Gibson and Matt Bashore.

July gets off to a sour start as Slowey is placed on the DL, necessitating a recall of Swarzak, who is much less successful in his second stint. We lose 3 in a row to the Yankees, as usual. LaRoche has fallen off after a torrid May, though he continues to draw walks, mash LHP and play plus defense at 3B. The same cannot be said for Buscher (except for the BB), as he has shown neither power nor range throughout the season. The remainder of the lineup has been outstanding. We hit the All-Star break tied with Detroit at 9 games over .500.

2nd Half

We open the 2nd half on a 10-game west coast road trip that is nearly disastrous as our pitchers are repeatedly annihilated. We even came close to losing a game we were leading by 12 runs! Jesse Crain returns from his demotion (Dickey is sent down) and soon shows that he is back to his old self. It becomes clear that Slowey will be lost for the season; we need to replace him for the last 2 months of the year. I feel like the guy trying to stick his finger in the dam: every time I plug one hole in the pitching staff, a new one opens up. Liriano and Perkins are pitching better, but now Blackburn is struggling. Our poor performance vs. the likely playoff teams also has me worried about how far we can get with the pitching staff as constituted.

I'm now confident enough in Span that I'm willing to put Revere on the trade block, especially since Mastroianni has essentially matched Revere's production and earned a mid-season promotion to AA. Furthermore, with Mauer playing nearly every day and being incredibly awesome (and reasonably under contract for the next 5 years), and Morales performing splendidly in all his AB so far, I'm feeling like Wilson Ramos is expendable, too. And though LaRoche hasn't yet reached his potential, he's shown improvement over last year, and at the moment is no worse than an average all-around 3B - Danny Valencia doesn't project to be much more than that.

I'm ready to offer the blockbuster trade package I wouldn't give in the offseason. Toronto is actively shopping Roy Halladay. I get him for a package of Revere, Ramos, Valencia and Swarzak, our #2-#5 prospects according to Baseball America (now that Mijares is in the Majors). This compares quite closely with the deal Philadelphia gave Cleveland for Cliff Lee, who is also under contract for 2010. Toronto saves about $20M and has a CF, C, 3B and mid-rotation starter to rebuild around, all of whom should be on the roster by no later than opening day 2012. Our rotation now has Halladay at the front end.

Perkins returns to the DL after his start on August 2nd. All of a sudden, we need to trade for another guy. We grab Carl Pavano from Cleveland in exchange for Johan Pino. Pavano basically mimics Slowey's pitching performance, so he's a good fit. Liriano goes down 2 weeks later; we recall Duensing to replace him. Blackburn struggles the remainder of August, but Duensing solidifies Liriano's spot, and Halladay beats the hell out of Swarzak. I still want to do better in the bullpen than I can with Keppel, and neither Korecky, Slama or Delaney has had a strong enough year at Rochester to assure me that they can be the answer for the postseason (though they all get a September call-up). So I trade Jeff Manship to the D-Backs at the deadline for Jon Rauch. The Twins finish August 16-12, 4.5 games ahead of the Tigers.

A shocking 9th-inning loss to the White Sox on September 2nd sends us into a bit of a tailspin, during which time the Tigers get hot. They catch us on September 6th, before going into a 5-game slide that puts them 1.5 games back a week later. At that point, we get our final setback of the season: Justin Morneau has a stress fracture in his back and needs to sit out the remainder of the year. Our ostensible replacement, Justin Huber, quickly injures himself and is also out. So Cuddyer moves to the IF and turns into Albert Pujols-light for 3 weeks. Kubel and Kielty form a platoon in RF, with Jose Morales as the everyday DH, unless Mauer needs a breather from catching, in which case they switch - Redmond is basically done playing. LaRoche heats up and has his best month as a pro.

Finally, everything goes right. When we need good pitching in a tight game, we get it. When we need a ton of runs in a slugfest, we get them. Every member of the pitching staff is reliable over this stretch, and the lineup is clicking. We clinch the division by beating Detroit in the first game of a double-header on September 29th, and finish the season 92-70. Our playoff roster looks like this:

1. Span, LF
2. Hudson, 2B
3. Mauer, C
4. Cuddyer, 1B
5. Kubel, RF
6. Kemp, CF
7. Morales, DH
8. LaRoche, 3B
9. Bartlett, SS

Redmond, C; Punto, Buscher, IF, Kielty, OF

1. Halladay
2. Baker
3. Blackburn
4. Pavano

Nathan, CL; Rauch, Guerrier, Crain, RHP; Reyes, Breslow, Mijares, Duensing, LHP

Would that team have been able to defeat the Yankees? I don't know - nobody else was. Could we have won a game or 2 at least? You'd like to think so.

Also, in September, we use the remaining payroll surplus to sign international prospects Miguel Jean and Max Kepler, among others, adding some high-ceiling talent to the bottom of the system.

Next time: We catch up to the present day...

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Boof DFA

With Carl Pavano coming back to the Twins next season via salary arbitration, somebody had to be trimmed from the 40-man roster. Bill Smith's choice: Boof Bonser. He had rejected a 1-year contract offer earlier in the week, and so probably had ideas about making a little more than the Twins had in mind. Still, as a first-year arbitration-eligible player who missed all of 2009 and was largely ineffective in 2008 (5.93 ERA in 118.1 IP), the difference couldn't have been more than a couple 100K - chump change, even for the Twins.

Boof was no lock to be a contributor in 2010, though his rehab from offseason shoulder surgery evidently went well enough that he was ready to pitch in September, if needed. He struck out better than a batter per inning during his 52 IP bullpen stint in 2008, and had a reasonable 2.7 BB/9. It was his BABIP that got him into trouble, as well as an inability to strand runners. Those are the sorts of things that can fluctuate a lot year-to-year. With such solid peripherals, Boof was a decent bet for the bullpen in 2010, and he was probably going to get a shot at the final rotation spot in spring training.

For the trivial sum he would cost, even had the Twins lost their arbitration case, it's hard to believe that the decision was motivated by money. And yet, what else could be the reason for choosing to DFA Boof, while preserving a place on the 40-man for Bobby Keppel? Just about anybody in the upper levels of the Twins' system, as well as any number of guys who are about to be non-tendered on Friday, can do what Keppel does: provide replacement level relief. Not everyone can put up a K/9 over 9.0. Keppel certainly can't. So what could be the reason to prefer him, other than to save an extra $0.5M? I hope it's not because he figures into the Twins' plans for 2010. Lord knows, they should be able to do better.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Pavano Back for More

The Twins offered arbitration to Type B free agent Carl Pavano in order to get a compensation pick in next year's draft when Pavano signed a multi-year deal with another team. Nothing controversial about that move. But, surprise! Pavano wasn't finding a better offer anywhere else, so he's decided to accept arbitration, ensuring that he will be a member of the Twins' rotation in 2010.

Pavano was not a part of my plans for next season, mainly because I see him as an older clone of Kevin Slowey. They're both RH with decent stuff that plays up because of their superlative command. They're going to strike out about 7 guys per 9 IP and give up rather a lot of HR. When healthy, each should be able to keep the team in the game most of the time. In a good rotation, they're the #3 starter.

So, the Twins now have 2 #3 starters. If they had a legitimate #1 & #2, that would be cool - I like a rotation where the #4 is good enough to be a #3 and the #5 is really a #4 (Nick Blackburn). But that's not the situation here. Scott Baker can be an ace - we saw it in the 2nd half of 2008 especially - but he wasn't consistent enough in 2009 to hold that role for me last year. He gave up too many big innings, and he frequently failed to make it deep into games even when he was pitching effectively. He's definitely a #2, but he's a bit stretched as a #1 right now.

But that's the slot he's going to have to step into next season, because the Twins don't have anybody else on the roster who's even close to filling it right now. And with Pavano now certain to make $7M-ish next season, and a rather large raise likely coming Joe Mauer's way, I don't think the Twins will be able to afford anybody else with ace stuff. Even the high-upside/high-risk guys like Rich Harden, Erik Bedard and Ben Sheets will likely be too rich for a payroll that is quickly approaching the $90M mark.

That means the Twins will probably have to stretch either Slowey or Pavano into the #2 slot, and that their #5 starter will be a true #5. It's just not as sexy a rotation under those circumstances. The one thing that could save it is a rebound season from Francisco Liriano. The performance he gave between Rochester and the Twins in the summer of 2008 was easily worthy of a #2 starter. If he can regain command of his fastball, he still gets enough swings and misses to be a force at the front end of the rotation. But that's a big "if." He should certainly get every opportunity to win the final slot this spring, but it's nothing we can plan on.

Another effect of the Pavano development is that it makes Glen Perkins, Brian Duensing and Anthony Swarzak even more expendable - er, tradable. The Red Wings' rotation will be littered with back-end starters, many of whom will never get to have a significant impact with the Twins. Let's put together a package of some of the higher-value members of that group and see if we can't turn them into something we're lacking...

Other observations:

Dodgers 2B Orlando Hudson was not offered arbitration, and so his Type A status will not be a hindrance to the team that signs him. Placido Polanco's 3-year, $18M deal with the Phillies sets the market for players of this type. Hudson is a high-OBP switch-hitter who plays above-average defense at the keystone. This is precisely the sort of guy the Twins should be looking for to upgrade their IF. I'd offer him Polanco's deal immediately. Then Punto can keep 3B warm until Danny Valencia is ready, or they can still sign Crede and send Punto back to super-utility land. Get Hudson and call it an offseason.

As the Blue Jays shop Roy Halladay, their primary needs are for high-ceiling up-the-middle guys, particularly a CF and C. If the Twins could be sure Joe Mauer would sign an extension, they could start to build a package around CF Ben Revere, C Wilson Ramos and SP Anthony Swarzak that would have to look pretty good to the Blue Jays. After all, Toronto doesn't want to end up settling for mediocre quantity like the Twins had to do with Johan Santana. I don't think that the Twins could afford to take on Halladay's contract now that Pavano has signed. I just noticed that we've got what they need...

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Alternate Reality: I'm the GM

Every year at this time Twins fans discuss the moves they'd make to improve the team were they the GM. Then the actual GM makes a move in real life, and we adjust. Bill Smith has made a few prominent mistakes in the first 2 years of his tenure, moves that many (most?) of us would not have made. Where would the team be today had someone else taken over for Terry Ryan? Someone

2007 Offseason

I wanted to keep Torii Hunter. I felt like he had a few more good offensive seasons in him, and would still be an asset in the field when he was eventually moved to a corner spot. I was going to offer him a 6-year, $72M contract that paid the bulk of the money up front ($18M for '08, $15M for '09, $12M for '10, then $10M, $9M and $8M over the final 3 seasons, when he was, presumably, in decline and moved to RF). My pitch to him would have been several club records and a retired #48 if he remained a Twin for his entire career. Anyways, the Angels' offer clearly blew mine away, and off to Anaheim he went.

I might have picked up Craig Monroe to be a platoon partner for Jason Kubel. His friendship with Hunter would have been another enticement. Hopefully, I would have waited for him to be non-tendered so that I wouldn't have to pay him $3.82M, but maybe not. He should have been an adequate LF/DH option vs. LHP, but, as it turned out, he was awful. We'll let his situation play out just as it did in reality.

With Hunter gone, Monroe not an everyday player, and Denard Span's potential uncertain, there would have been a need to trade for a young, RH-hitting OF. The starting rotation was pretty deep, so a highly-rated prospect like Matt Garza who was having his conflicts with the manager and pitching coach was a good chip to move. I would have used Garza as the centerpiece of a trade for my favorite young OF: Matt Kemp. Compare his numbers through 2007 with those of Delmon Young and Kemp's teammate, Andre Ethier:

Kemp looks like the best man to me, though not so much better than Ethier that the Dodgers wouldn't part with him, particularly when they'd committed 8-figure salaries to OF veterans Andruw Jones and Juan Pierre, and had a lineup that featured RH hitters Jones, Russell Martin, Jeff Kent and Nomar Garciaparra. Looking to Win Now with an aging roster, the Dodgers probably would have been keen on turning a bench/platoon guy into a SP of Garza's caliber - he was certainly an upgrade over the remains of Esteban Loaiza.

But that's not all: I also want the Dodgers' long-suffering 3B prospect, Andy LaRoche. He'd been highly rated for years, but was always blocked by Garciaparra or some other veteran. He was also about to be caught on the depth chart by Blake DeWitt, another top prospect. At that point, Baseball America had him rated as the Dodgers' #2 prospect. I'd offer them our #2 prospect, Joe Benson, as well as Juan Rincon, an original piece of the Delmon Young trade. Benson was coming off a season in which he'd held his own (.255/.347/.368) in the Midwest League (.255/.324/.372 average) as a 19 year old. With their OF ostensibly set for the next 2 seasons, the Dodgers could afford to wait until 2010 or so when Benson would (presumably) be reaching the upper levels. As for Rincon, he was coming off a poor 2007 campaign, but it was the first bad season of his career. Though his peripherals were showing warning signs of decline (K/9 steadily decreasing, BB and HR way up), he was only 29, and could be believed to have something more left. I wouldn't want anything to do with him for 2008, however.

So my winter blockbuster is Matt Garza, Joe Benson and Juan Rincon for Matt Kemp and Andy LaRoche. The trade depends on Kemp and LaRoche being a bit undervalued by the Dodgers, which they were (signing Jones showed they didn't believe in Kemp, and LaRoche was dealt later that summer) and on Rincon being overvalued. However, considering they gave Jones a 2-year, $36.2M deal, overvaluing declining players was something the Dodgers were in the mood to do that winter. In my world, the deal gets done.

Now I've got years worth of team control of a couple of talented young RH hitters that I can sandwich around Mauer/Morneau and Kubel. Most importantly, I still have my SS, Jason Bartlett. I do not need Mike Lamb. I do not need Adam Everett. Delmon Young is still Tampa's problem.

Since we weren't sure what to expect from Span, we sign Kenny Lofton to be a mentor in spring training, then be the leadoff OF to start the season. Though 40 years old, Lofton had managed to post OBPs north of .360 in 3 straight seasons while playing about average OF defense and continuing to steal bases at a high percentage. Given the way the market for his services developed that offseason, Lofton would have signed for a very reasonable 1-year deal - let's say $3.5M.

There's still the little matter of Johan Santana. It was never clear how serious the Red Sox were about their superior offer: Coco Crisp, Jon Lester, Justin Masterson and Jed Lowrie. We'll assume they weren't. By late winter, it was evident that the only team in the running was the Mets, and that their offer was low-balled because of it. Santana is under contract for 2008 at $13.75M, though his marginal value is probably somewhere around $20M. I can have the best pitcher in baseball at a bargain price for 1 year + 2 high draft picks in 2009, or I can trade him for a quartet of highly ranked prospects who all have serious question marks.

And it comes down to this: I think we can win in 2008. There were a lot of down years and injuries in 2007, but I expect those numbers to bounce back. Despite 17 ill-advised starts from Sidney Ponson and Ramon Ortiz, the Twins managed to keep their run prevention in the neighborhood of their 2002-2004 division title run. Having had their Major League baptism, I believe that Scott Baker, Boof Bonser and Kevin Slowey are ready to provide the same level of production we got from Brad Radke, Kyle Lohse and Carlos Silva (collectively) in 2006. The outstanding bullpen from that year is basically intact (minus Rincon). It's the offense that needs to improve the most over '07, and we're poised to do that with the personnel we have. Kemp should be able to closely match Hunter's typical numbers, Lofton should be able to set the table as well as Luis Castillo, LaRoche should be a huge upgrade over Nick Punto/Jeff Cirillo at 3B, and most of the rest of the lineup should have better numbers in 2008.

So I play it the way the Indians do with CC Sabathia - I'm going to keep my free agent-to-be ace pitcher to lead what I believe will be a competitive team into the 2008 season. None of this Livan Hernandez nonsense. But since we know we'll lose him after the season, and we want to show the fans that we're committed to keeping our star players around when we can, we sign Justin Morneau, Joe Nathan and Michael Cuddyer to the same long term deals they got in the real world.

2008 Spring Training

The Grapefruit League brought us a couple of most welcome surprises. The greatest of these was the evidence that Denard Span was indeed ready to take over as the everyday leadoff hitter/CF. This enabled us to leave Lofton on the bench, a role much better suited to a player of his age. Nick Blackburn earned a spot at the back of the rotation. Brian Bass took the long relief spot in the bullpen. And Randy Ruiz showed that he could be a RH bench bat.

Andy LaRoche avoided the wrist injury that he suffered in the Dodgers' camp. But Scott Baker's slow start forced a late shuffle to the rotation. I'm not a fan of 12-man pitching staffs, so I hold the line there. The opening day 25-man roster looks like this:

1. Denard Span, CF
2. Jason Bartlett, SS
3. Joe Mauer, C
4. Justin Morneau, 1B
5. Michael Cuddyer, RF
6. Jason Kubel, DH
7. Matt Kemp, LF
8. Andy LaRoche, 3B
9. Nick Punto, 2B

Mike Redmond, C; Kenny Lofton & Craig Monroe, OF; Matt Tolbert, IF; Randy Ruiz, 1B/DH

1. Johan Santana
2. Boof Bonser
3. Nick Blackburn
4. Kevin Slowey
5. Scott Baker

Joe Nathan, CL; Pat Neshek, Matt Guerrier, Jesse Crain, Brian Bass, RHP; Dennys Reyes, LHP

Our opening day payroll is just a smidge over $72M, right about where it was in 2007. I'm including the signing bonuses for Morneau and Cuddyer in that figure - I can afford to pay them up front, and by not pro-rating them, I'll have that much more payroll to play with in future seasons.

2008 Season

Injuries strike quickly as Kevin Slowey and Michael Cuddyer are injured in the 4th and 5th games of the season. Francisco Liriano comes up to take Slowey's spot in the rotation. Lofton and Monroe split Cuddyer's PA with Kemp moving to RF when Kenny is in the lineup and staying in LF when it's Monroe. We recall Brian Buscher to balance what had been a rather OF heavy bench to start the season, and he gets a few starts vs. RHP, spelling LaRoche. Liriano doesn't have it, and is demoted after 3 GS. Buscher goes back down when Cuddyer returns at the end of April.

No sooner does Kevin Slowey recover than Scott Baker goes on the DL. Glen Perkins comes up to take his spot. Pat Neshek goes down a few days later - Bobby Korecky fills in for a couple of weeks until we can claim Craig Breslow off waivers. We lose Punto and Tolbert in quick succession, replacing them with Buscher and Alexi Casilla, who proves to be a revelation at 2B. When Punto comes off the DL, he resumes his super-utility role. Bonser pitches himself out of the rotation when Baker comes off the DL at the beginning of June.

That month, the team hits its stride, and shows that it can be a contender for the division title. It's apparent, however, that Monroe is washed up, and that Bass is over his head. LaRoche is struggling (not as badly as he actually did coming back from the wrist injury and getting inconsistent playing time, but still not great), so he splits 3B about 50/50 with Buscher. Punto comes off the DL as Cuddyer goes back on it. At about this time I promote both Rob Delaney and Anthony Slama to New Britain.

As July wears on, we dump Bass in favor of Francisco Liriano. Lofton has basically become the full time LF since Cuddyer went down again - Monroe is eventually replaced as the 5th OF by Darnell McDonald. Glen Perkins is shifted to long relief when he begins to struggle in early September, clearing a rotation spot for the still fresh Liriano. Jose Mijares eventually emerges as the 8th-inning guy to spell the collapsing Guerrier. However, we have the luxury of resting some people in the closing days of September. That's because the 2008 Twins team I built is way better than one that Bill Smith made.

All of Delmon Young's AB go to Kemp; we pick up 3.7 WARP there. All of Everett's and Brendan Harris' AB go to Jason Bartlett; that adds about 1.0 WARP. By avoiding an injury in spring training and getting consistent playing time early, I find it unlikely that LaRoche would have performed as poorly as he did in '08. At the least he plays plus defense. Still, I'll call it a wash. Span gets all of Gomez' PA, adding 50% to his WARP of 3.3 and ultimately creating about 3 wins over Gomez. Lofton gets Span's PA, turning in something close to 1.0 WARP, about 1/3 of a win below what Gomez provided. The net gain is still pretty good there.

But the biggest difference comes from retaining Santana. In 2008, the difference between the AL and NL in terms of ERA and BAA was negligible - so Santana's stats with the Mets come back to the Junior Circuit intact: 34 GS, 234.1 IP, 7.9 K/9, 1.15 WHIP, 2.54 ERA. Just 4 of those 34 GS weren't QS. He finished the season on a string of 14 straight QS. Given the run support afforded to Livan and Liriano in that slot in the rotation, Santana likely would have finished with a record of around 22-7, and would have been a sure top-3 finisher in Cy Young voting.

Instead of topping out at 88 wins, this team wins at least 93, and clinches the division no later than the final Wednesday of the regular season.

2008 Postseason

We head into October having afforded significant rest to our sputtering pitching staff and first baseman. Cuddyer starts every game during the last week of the season and gets his timing back. Refreshed for the playoffs, here's the team we take into the divisional round:

1. Denard Span, CF
2. Jason Bartlett, SS
3. Joe Mauer, C
4. Justin Morneau, 1B
5. Matt Kemp, LF
6. Jason Kubel, DH
7. Michael Cuddyer, RF
8. Andy LaRoche, 3B
9. Alexi Casilla, 2B

Mike Redmond, C; Kenny Lofton, OF; Nick Punto, Brian Buscher, IF; Randy Ruiz, PH

1. Johan Santana
2. Scott Baker
3. Francisco Liriano
4. Nick Blackburn

Joe Nathan, CL; Jose Mijares, Dennys Reyes, Craig Breslow, LHP; Jesse Crain, Matt Guerrier, Boof Bonser, RHP

Slowey sits out the divisional round recovering from the liner he took in his final start vs. the White Sox.

How far could they have gone? Who knows? But it would have been interesting.

Next time: I divorce myself even further from reality in 2009.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Balance the System: Assets

For about 5 years I worked as an audio engineer for Marketplace Money. It's a personal finance show, and while I was recording, editing and mixing, I couldn't help learning a few things about economics and investing. I've been a bit surprised to find how well many of those principles translate to the baseball world (or should I call it a sector?). I made one of the most basic of those tenets - Buy Low, Sell High - one of the fundamental guidelines of my offseason blueprint for the Twins. The final step in my plans involves another: a prudent investor should periodically rebalance their portfolio.

Basically, you set out with an asset allocation that suits your comfort level, say, 20% bonds, 80% stocks, and, of those, maybe 85% domestic and 15% international companies, 35% big, 20% small, 25% energy, 20% tech, whatever. You buy your stocks, and you hold them. At the end of some pre-determined interval, at least once a year, you check how their values have changed. For example, the gains the stock market has experienced this year might mean that your stocks are now worth 86% of all your investments instead of 80%. So, you sell enough stock and buy enough bonds that your stocks get back to 80%. You not only maintain the diversity you're comfortable with, you also most likely sell investments for a higher price than when you bought them - you're making money.

This is a great thing for a baseball team to do each offseason with the talent in its system. I want an organization with as much total talent as possible, but that talent exists to provide wins to the major league team. The guys at the upper levels who may be called upon to fill in for injured players need to be replacement level or better. Each position should be represented by either a quality major leaguer under contract/team control for years to come, or by a high-ceiling prospect, or both (should the projected arrival time of the prospect coincide with the impending free agency of the starter). Where this is not the case, we should make an effort to trade from our surplus in order to alleviate our deficiencies. Then we can go into 2010 with an organization that can be an asset to the Twins' campaign.

The Upper Levels

As I pointed out a few weeks ago, the system did not have quality depth at AAA last season, at least not in time to make an impact. When Philip Humber, Kevin Mulvey and Rule 5 pickup Jason Jones failed to distinguish themselves, the Twins were forced to rush Anthony Swarzak, Jeff Manship and Armando Gabino into the rotation before any of them had had adequate time to establish themselves in the International League. Journeymen Sean Henn and Bobby Keppel were having good springs for Rochester, but were too old to be considered decent prospects, and didn't help very much once they made the show. Alexi Casilla, Jason Pridie and Dustin Martin all disappointed.

The prognosis is much better for 2010, thanks to the graduation of a slew of Rock Cats. New Britain enjoyed strong performances at nearly every position and throughout the bullpen. Adding those folks to the nucleus at Rochester should provide for a pretty strong team, particularly if we can hang on to all of them through the Rule 5 Draft and free agency. Highly-rated prospects Wilson Ramos (C) and Danny Valencia (3B) will be good call-up candidates, and continued adjustments from strong finishers Trevor Plouffe, David Winfree and Brock Peterson could make them viable as well. The only major holes I see are the lack of an ace-caliber SP and an outstanding LHP in the 'pen. New Britain should begin the season with more or less the same group of Fort Myers players that paced the Florida State League last season. The Rock Cats should be pretty good throughout the roster, particularly if Deibinson Romero can have a bounce-back season.


Are there parts of the system in which we're going to have trouble finding enough innings or ABs for somebody? Do certain players at more or less the same level have such similar skill sets/projections that they are essentially interchangeable? Where the answer is "yes," we've got some moves to make. (Exception - I'm not sure you can ever have too many live arms in the bullpen.) Here are some possibilities:

The Prototypical Twins Pitcher

You know the traits: works fast, efficient, throws strikes, pitches to contact. That tends to result in very good BB/9 and rather unimpressive K/9 and HR/9. Pitchers like that project to be back-end starters. And we've got a slew of them: after the big-league #3-#5 of Kevin Slowey (1.5 HR/9, 1.4 BB/9, 6.9 K/9), Nick Blackburn (1.1 HR/9, 1.8 BB/9, 4.4 K/9) and Brian Duensing, (0.8 HR/9, 2.2 BB/9, 6.4 K/9), there's:

Glen Perkins (1.3, 2.4, 4.6)
Anthony Swarzak (0.9, 2.8, 6.2 - AA and up)
Jeff Manship (0.4, 2.4, 7.3)
Jason Jones (0.9, 2.1, 5.3)
Ryan Mullins (0.8, 2.7, 7.7)
Matt Fox (0.8, 2.9, 7.8)

These are just the guys I project to be ready for AAA next spring. Kevin Mulvey was in this scrum until he was traded for Jon Rauch late in the season. As it is, the Red Wings are set up to field a rotation of mid-to-back-end starters and still have one left over. I get rid of Jones any way I can - at 27, he's no longer a prospect. Perkins is in a bit of hot water now, but if we dealt him, we'd be selling low. I'm more inclined to deal Duensing, whose stellar stretch run with the Twins has his stock as high as it will ever be (given enough innings, I don't think he'll be a lot better than Perkins). Swarzak has tailed off a lot since reaching AA, but as long as he keeps getting high rankings from Baseball America, he's got trade value. Manship does a great job of keeping it in the yard - let's stick with that. Mullins took a huge step forward in his second year at New Britain, dramatically increasing his K while slashing his HR and BB allowed. Fox has a high enough K rate to stay in the mix.

Summary: Put Manship, Mullins and Fox in the Rochester rotation. Look to trade Swarzak, Duensing and Jones. Keep Perkins around until he can sort himself out and raise his value.

Middle Men

In my plan, the Twins' starting MI are JJ Hardy and Nick Punto. Behind them are Alexi Casilla and Swiss-Army Knife Matt Tolbert, and then these gentlemen (Minor League Numbers) - assuming they all survive the Rule 5 Draft:

Brendan Harris (.294/.365/.458, 43/68 SB)
Trevor Plouffe (.256/.318/.385, 38/64 SB)
Steven Tolleson (.276/.368/.400, 67/102 SB)
Brian Dinkelman (.281/.365/.424, 37/50 SB)
Steve Singleton (.289/.334/.421, 22/42 SB)

2 things to understand about this list:

#1. Harris played all his AAA ball in the hitter-friendly PCL, while the others have played in the pitcher-friendly IL, and
#2. Plouffe has always been young for his leagues, while the rest of these guys have been on the older side.

#2, in addition to the strong 2nd half I mentioned above are enough to keep me high on Plouffe. Dinkelman, though a little old for a prospect at 26, had a fantastic year at AA and is the only credible base-stealer on this list - he's my Red Wings starter in April. Singleton has only had half a season at AA and has no patience whatsoever - he's staying in New Britain. Tolleson and Harris are pretty similar - they're both RH batters with a little gap power and so-so gloves and speed. But Tolleson has a much better eye, is three years younger, and works for the league minimum. I don't need Harris on the Twins' bench: the IF I've put together has pretty good power (except Punto) but really needs speed and OBP in a pinch. Casilla and Tolbert are my backups to start, and Tolleson is on my short list if somebody gets hurt.

Last season, the Twins' top 2 prospects, according to BA, were Aaron Hicks and Ben Revere, both CF. Revere did nothing to hurt his prospect status in the FSL, finishing 1st in H, 2nd in BA, 3rd in SB and 4th in OBP. He's a slappy LH batter/thrower with a disappointing SB% and defensive rating for his speed, and almost no power to go with his stupendous OBP. Here's the thing - the Twins already have one of those: Denard Span. He's just entering his peak years and will be under team control until 2014. Do we need both of them in the lineup when Revere is ready for the Show in 2012? Is Revere, at 5'9" and 166 lbs. ever going to develop the power that Span has at 6'1"/180? As good a prospect as he is, is Revere really that valuable to the Twins? Is he ever going to be worth a lot more than he is right now?

My answer to all those questions is: I doubt it. Revere is the premium prospect that we can offer in exchange for a similarly-rated talent at a position of need in the organization without hurting our long-term plans.

Despite an injury-shortened season at AA, Wilson Ramos is raising his stock thanks to good numbers when he was on the field (.317/.341/.454) and a ludicrous performance so far in winter ball (.374/.431/.642), all while rating as a plus defensive C. He's a RH batter, so the possibility of having him share duties with Joe Mauer beginning in 2011 is most appealing: Mauer could DH more without us sacrificing defense, thus saving wear and tear on our franchise player (who will no doubt be guaranteed a lot of money for a verrrrry long time). However, that scenario is a luxury - Jose Morales can be an above-average hitter on the few days Mauer needs a rest. So, assuming Mauer is locked up long-term, I would consider trade offers for Ramos - but I'd have to be blown away.

Summary: It's Dinkelman, Tolleson and Plouffe at Rochester, Singleton at New Britain. Revere is a premium trade piece, as is Ramos (if I feel like it). Harris is a throw-in.


A month ago this area was a bit more crowded, but the moves we've made so far this offseason have clarified matters a bit. The Gomez/Hardy trade likely puts Jason Pridie on the Twins' bench, moving Dustin Martin to CF at AAA. Rene Tosoni can play all three OF spots, David Winfree (assuming he returns) will be in RF, and I would guess that Luke Hughes will play a lot in LF. Hughes has been passed on the depth chart by Valencia, but after Romero's struggles in Fort Myers, I'm not quite ready to deal Hughes away, no matter how poor his 3B defense. With Justin Huber departing for Japan, there shouldn't be any trouble splitting 1B/DH time at Rochester between Brock Peterson and Erik Lis, with Hughes getting some PA there as well. At AA, those positions will be filled by Whitney Robbins and Chris Parmelee.

So the list of upper-level guys I'd consider moving includes Swarzak, Duensing, Jones, Harris, Revere and maaaybe Ramos. I want to wait to see how some outside analysts rank the Twins' system before I propose any specific players I'd want to get for them.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Most Valuable Player

Today, Joe Mauer won the AL MVP award, having led the league in BA, OBP and SLG%. He was the first player to do that since George Brett in 1980. The vote was nearly unanimous.

Up to this point, talks between Mauer and the Twins about a contract extension beyond the 2010 season have been quiet. This is probably because, if the Twins have been bothering to call, Ron Shapiro has most likely been letting it go to voice mail. Why even start negotiating before your client earns the most prestigious individual award in the game? Now they have all the leverage: Mauer has added power to his league-leading hitting, he's earned a 2nd consecutive Gold Glove and Silver Slugger, he'll be in his peak if he hits the Free Agent market at age 28 in 2011, and the large market teams should all be in the market for a catcher at that time. Plus, with a publicly funded new stadium set to open in the spring, the fans won't stand for seeing their native superstar dealt or lost because of payroll concerns. So, sure, Mauer will sign with the Twins, but it will be on his terms, for the years and dollars that make him comfortable.

That Bill Smith and the Twins could have let it get to this point is a staggering failure of planning and risk management, not to mention a disturbing inability to learn from the recent past. It was only 2 years ago, after all, that the Twins were forced to unload the game's best pitcher, Johan Santana, to the lowest bidder - a situation brought about by Santana's unwillingness to settle for a home-town discount when somebody from the East was sure to give him more dollars and years than the Twins could comfortably guarantee. They locked up former MVP Justin Morneau that spring, ensuring that he'd be a Twin throughout his peak years.

Was there any question that they'd want Mauer around for those years as well? With him coming off of 2 batting titles in 3 years, there shouldn't have been. Was there some reason to think that he'd sign for less money at some point in the future? Letting him play another season only made it more likely that he'd pile up great numbers and increase his value. It wasn't as though the Twins were pushing the limits of their payroll going into 2009, what were they saving the money for? They just signed Morneau for 6 years, why not extend Mauer for 4 and essentially match that deal? As of a year ago, there were still a lot of people who valued Morneau more highly (as evidenced by his #2 MVP finish to Mauer's #4). Offering Mauer a deal equivalent to that of his good buddy would have looked pretty equitable.

Had Mauer had a normal offseason, he might have tried to hold out for more. But when he was slow to recover from his back trouble, and spring training started to slip away with no timetable for his return, he would have been in no position to turn down a contract guaranteeing him an 8-figure salary through 2014. 2009 was going to be the 3rd time in 6 seasons that he'd miss considerable playing time to injury, and he plays the most physically demanding position on the field. Had he been offered a 4-year, $56M extension with a $4M signing bonus last February, I can't imagine him passing on it.

That deal, had it been offered, would have been ideal for the Twins. Catchers have been known to see a drop-off in productivity shortly after they turn 30. Signing Mauer through 2014 gets him through his age 31 season - re-evaluate his condition from there and see if he's really going to be able to stick behind the dish. Now, they'll probably have to sign him through at least 2017, when he'll be 34. Chances are much better that he won't be worth the price tag by then. At $14M/year, Mauer is a bargain, allowing significant money to be allocated to other parts of the team and organization. Now, he's probably going to cost $20M/year or more, and for more years. That extra $6M could be the difference between a good player and a replacement player, or a good player and a great player. It could go toward signing top-flight prospects like Max Kepler and Miguel Angel Sano. Now, it's gonna go to Joe Mauer, and that's all.

We won't know until the deal is completed how much Mauer's extension will cost the Twins. But as far as I'm concerned, that amount minus $60M is the price they'll pay for failing to offer the extension a year ago. Maybe this time the lesson will sink in.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Offseason Blueprint (cont.)

Last time I was imagining what moves I'd make were I in Bill Smith's shoes. I started with a list of organizational principles:

1. Develop from within
2. Do the little things right
3. Buy low, sell high
4. Accumulate depth at all positions at the upper levels

then gave the first 5 steps of my offseason plan:

1. Sign Joe Mauer to an extension at 6 years/$120 million
2. Decline Michael Cuddyer's 2011 option
3. Renew Joe Crede's contract
4. Let the other free agents walk
5. Offer contracts to all arbitration-eligible players

Picking up where I left off...

6. Settle the 40-man roster

There's already been a lot of action on this front in the real world. Carlos Gomez is off, JJ Hardy is on. The free agents are off. Boof Bonser, Pat Neshek and Kevin Slowey came off the 60-day DL and are back on the 40-man. Brian Buscher, Justin Huber and Armando Gabino were removed, and Gabino was claimed off waivers by the Orioles. Juan Morillo has been added, but David Winfree has not, enabling him to become a minor league free agent.

I love Gomez for Hardy straight up, so I'm cool with that move. The FA/60-day DL stuff was automatic. As for the other moves so far, I would have also removed Huber while adding Winfree, since I see Winfree as the most capable corner OF replacement should something happen to Cuddyer or Delmon Young. Because Smith picked up Cuddyer's option, I can understand leaving Winfree off the roster - he's blocked at both positions - but he's still a more polished call-up option than some of the other guys who will be at Rochester this spring. I was inclined to hang on to Gabino and Buscher; Gabino looks like a decent swing man and Buscher's discerning eye at the plate makes him a pretty useful PH, even when he's got a low average and shows zero power like he did in 2009. If I only had a 4-man bench, he probably doesn't make the cut, but if we go with 11 pitchers (always my preference), he'd be in the running for that last spot.

The other guys I'd clear off would be Deibinson Romero, Drew Butera, and Bobby Keppel. Romero had an unimpressive season at Fort Myers, so I doubt there's much interest from other clubs in snatching him. 2 catchers would have to get hurt before we'd need Butera - I'll worry about adding a 4th C to the 40-man only if that comes to pass. With Bonser and Neshek back from their injuries, I don't see a spot for Keppel except as AAA filler. That's because I want to make room for higher-upside additions, like Alex Burnett and Rob Delaney. I give Huber's slot to Brock Peterson, a better fit to back up Morneau because he's a RH hitter. I expect Danny Valencia to make his MLB debut when Crede gets hurt or when the rosters expand in September, whichever comes first - he gets Romero's spot (and Crede is back on). The final spot goes to Brian Dinkelman, a more advanced prospect than Steve Singleton, for this year at least.

My 40-man has 3 C, 6 OF, 5 CI, 5 MI, 3 utility IF, 8 SP and 10 RP (and at least one of the LHP I've listed as a starter - Francisco Liriano, Glen Perkins or Brian Duensing - will end up in the bullpen). It'd be nice to have one more OF, but otherwise I think it's a good balance.

7. Acquire JJ Hardy to be the starting SS

This has happened, and for less than I thought it would take. I was going to start the process by offering Duensing, who for his career hasn't been any more impressive than Glen Perkins, but whose stock will probably never be higher after the way he finished the season in the Twins' rotation. And the Brewers need pitching. Instead, they opted for Gomez' defensive ability and tools. So we get an everyday SS who rates as one of the better defenders at the position in the majors, and who has shown as recently as 2008 the ability to hit 25 HR and 30 2B in a season. Hardy is entering his peak years, and he's still under team control through 2011. And all we had to give up was a bench OF. Nice.

8. Acquire an ace

Since Santana was traded, the Twins haven't really had a bona fide ace - someone who consistently wipes out opposing hitters while sparing the bullpen and giving the team a strong chance of winning every five days. Baker is close, but I think he matches up better with other #2 starters. Kevin Slowey, when healthy, is a rock-solid #3, and Nick Blackburn has been a solid #4 or very good #5. I'm going to give Liriano a spot in the rotation next spring - he had a bit of bad luck on balls in play, and mostly needs to make a mechanical adjustment when he pitches from the stretch. If those two things get back to normal, I think he's a decent back-end starter. If he adds command of his fastball to the equation, he's back to the front-end. But those are big "ifs."

There is no true ace on the roster, nor is there one anywhere in sight in the system. We've got to go get somebody to fill this void. Preferably someone we can get under contract for at least the next 3 seasons. Unfortunately, none of the guys with Ace stuff in this year's FA pool have reliably made 33-34 starts over the past few seasons. The best option is John Lackey, who is expected to receive a contract similar to AJ Burnett's (5 years/$82 M). With escalating salaries from other core Twins players over the next few seasons, I'm not sure I want to go that far, even if I thought we could outbid the big markets for Lackey. And we want to always buy low, anyway.

So, from the available FA, my first choice would be Rich Harden. He has scintillating stuff, with a 9.4 K/9 for his career. Unfortunately, he's been very injury-prone, exceeding 30 GS and 150 IP just once in his career, though he was able to make 25+ starts in each of the last two years. The other trouble with him is that he's inefficient: he's averaged better than 6 IP/GS only twice in his career, and not since 2005. However, he's only about to turn 28, so he should still have some good years ahead of him if he can stay healthy. As far as bang for the buck goes, he looks like the best option, particularly since the bullpen figures to be pretty deep in 2010 and should be better able to absorb some short starts.

I'd offer Harden a contract for 2010 similar to what Pavano got in 2009, though, since Harden has made 25 starts in each of the past 2 years, and his stuff is so fantastic, the base is going to have to be a lot higher than Pavano's. I'd propose a $6 M guaranteed base salary. Because I want to encourage better efficiency from Harden, the escalators are based on IP rather than GS: I'd raise him $0.5 M for every 10 IP beginning with 140, so that the overall value of the contract would be $9.5 M if he reaches 200 IP. Furthermore, it would have a guaranteed $12 M option for 2011 that would vest once he reached 200 IP. Similarly, he'd get vesting options for $13.5 M for 2012 and $15 M for 2013 at the 200 IP mark. Plus, it would have bonuses for All-Star appearances, post-season success, and top-5 Cy Young finishes.

Under those terms, if Harden can lower his pitches/IP and keep himself healthy, he can effectively make this into a 4 year, $50 M contract - far more than anyone is likely to guarantee him based on his career so far. My 2nd choice for this sort of deal would be Erik Bedard. My 3rd choice would be Ben Sheets.

Trading is an option, too, but aces cost a lot. Getting a Josh Johnson would likely have to be something similar to the Dan Haren deal 2 years ago. The D-Backs had to give up their #1, #3, #7 and #8 BA-rated prospects, plus Greg Smith and Dana Eveland in order to acquire Haren and minor-league pitcher Connor Robertson. That would mean the Twins would have to give up something like Aaron Hicks, Wilson Ramos, Anthony Swarzak, Carlos Gutierrez, Glen Perkins and Mike McCardell for Johnson and a Philip Humber-type pitcher (good pedigree, but starting to run out of time as a prospect).

The other possibility would be for a shorter-term but even more impactful ace, like Roy Halladay. He's got just one year left on his contract at $15.75M. The Blue Jays are keen to dump that salary, but it will take an offer somewhere between the C.C. Sabathia deal with the Brewers (#1 prospect + 3 others) and the Cliff Lee (#2, #3, #4, #10)/Jake Peavy (#2, #3 + 2 others) deals. Maybe Ben Revere, Ramos, Swarzak and Duensing. It's not a horrible prospect, and we'd get 2 high draft picks back in 2011, but then we're still looking for an ace again this time next year. That may be the situation should Harden or whoever succumb to injuries once again. But I'd rather take the high-reward play and save my surplus prospects for other purposes.

9. Clarify the OF situation

Before the Hardy trade, I was going to prefer that the Twins stick with Gomez, hoping that he'd develop enough offense to be respectable, then give the Twins' pitchers 2 CF in their OF. That would mean trading Young somewhere, for whatever we could get. But with Gomez heading for the land of cheese, the OF situation I've been advocating for awhile can come to be. That is, had the Twins opted to give Gomez some regular AB at AAA, Jason Pridie could have been recalled to fill precisely the role that Gomez had at the end of the season: late-inning defensive upgrade for Kubel or Young in games the Twins are leading, PR in situations where the Twins need a run to tie or take the lead. Pridie isn't as exceptional as Gomez in those regards, but he has plus speed and OF defense and is a high-percentage base stealer. And like Gomez, he's a bit of a hacker with a lousy OBP. However, his left-handedness will have some extra utility on the days Cuddyer and Young get a rest - make sure the opposing starter is a RHP, and Pridie shouldn't be totally useless hitting out of the #8 or #9 spots.

Overall, exchanging Orlando Cabrera and Gomez for Hardy and Pridie should be a big net gain for the Twins.

10. Make trades to balance the system

This is something that will be ongoing from now to Opening Day next April. I'll get into it another day...

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Offseason Blueprint

(I'm just going to post this before something else happens. I'll fill in the blanks at the bottom in the coming days...)

Organizational Principles

1. Develop from within

The Twins have been savvy when it comes to acquiring prospects and training them to be contributors at the Major League level. Players that come up through the system have an investment in the Twins, and the fans become invested in them. Wherever feasible, positions on the 25-man roster should be filled by players who have been brought up as Twins.

2. Do the little things right

Catch the balls you're supposed to catch. Know when to take the extra base (and when not to!). Keep pressure on struggling pitchers by taking a few pitches. Make sure that, when you make an out, you've at least had a productive AB, either advancing a runner or making the opposing pitcher work. Attack the strike zone, especially against weaker hitters. Be cautious with your location, especially when facing an elite hitter with RISP late in the game.

These are the sort of things the Twins have gained a reputation for doing. If that reputation is to be deserved, any players filling the roster must be inclined to execute all the little things that make such a big difference over the course of the season.

3. Buy low, sell high

Despite promising revenue trends in recent years, the Twins are still a small-market club, and must be wise about how they spend their resources. They cannot afford to overpay for free agents (as Toronto did in recent years). Nor can they afford to throw away players whose value is temporarily low (Craig Breslow). They must instead be brutally honest about what sort of production every considered player is capable of, and then target the ones who may be undervalued at the moment for whatever reason.

4. Accumulate depth at all positions at the upper levels

Rochester was pretty thin last season in terms of MLB-ready pitching, 3B and MI prospects, and that lack of depth held the Twins back for most of the summer. The offseasons that really caught my attention last year were those of the Red Sox and Dodgers, who each made sure to pick up multiple veterans (like Takashi Saito, John Smoltz and Brad Penny) even though they had promising youngsters available to fill those roles (like Justin Masterson and Clay Buchholz). Some of those moves paid off more than others, but when something went wrong, those teams had plenty of options to fill in. And they still traded for more depth at the deadline. I think depth was a big reason those teams won 90+ games last year. The Twins can't spend as much as those guys, but they'd be wise to try to accumulate as much depth at each position as they can afford.

With these principles and the organizational review from last month in mind, here is what I would do were I in Bill Smith's shoes:

1. Sign Joe Mauer to an extension at 6 years/$120 million

This represents a bit of a conflict between Principle #1 and #3. Had the Twins been proactive about extending Mauer last offseason, I think he might have settled for something similar to Morneau's deal. Not anymore. Mauer has earned his 3rd batting title and will likely pick up his second gold glove and first MVP award. And he's only just entering his peak years. While I'd try to keep him to as few years as possible, since he plays a brutal position and has already spent significant time on the DL, I think it's realistically going to take at least 6 guaranteed years at nearly $20 million/year to get this deal done. So I propose to pay Mauer $19 million a year from 2011-2015, $20 million in 2016, and have a $20 million option for 2017 with a $5 million buyout. Perhaps it will be possible to defer some money as the Cardinals were able to do on Albert Pujols' current contract.

It's a ton of money, but Mauer may well be worth even more than that to the Twins, particularly if he's able to repeat his 2009 numbers in any of the upcoming seasons. And the loss in revenue and goodwill among the fan base if Mauer were allowed to walk or traded probably wouldn't be worth the savings. We've got to suck it up and get it done.

2. Decline Michael Cuddyer's 2011 option

This kinda sucks, because Cuddyer's been a good player for a long time and is coming off not only one of his best seasons, but one in which he helped carry the team into the postseason. It's unfortunate that his contract is structured in such a way that this decision has to be made within 5 days of the end of the 2009 World Series. If we knew how much Mauer was going to cost in 2011, I might feel differently. But without any cost certainty there, the sensible thing is to decline Cuddyer's $10.5M option.

Hopefully, he has another great season and, if things look favorable, we can offer him a contract for 2011 anyway. Certainly, we'll offer arbitration at the end of next year, making ourselves eligible for compensation draft picks should he sign elsewhere. And realistically, with his peak years behind him by then, we can probably expect about as much production from David Winfree or Rene Tosoni or some other prospect instead.

3. Renew Joe Crede's contract

This is for #2 and #4. Crede provided a few big hits for the Twins while playing exceptional defense at 3B. He only managed to play in about 60% of the games, but the Twins knew going into the season that he was injury-prone, so they signed him to a contract with a low base salary and incentives for more playing time. I think he provided reasonable value for what he was paid in 2009.

Someone is needed at 3B to start the season because Danny Valencia, one of the top prospects in the Twins' system, isn't quite ready for The Show. He demolished AA to the tune of .284/.373/.482, but gave back nearly .100 points of OPS in his 3 months at Rochester. But that's been his pattern as he's split levels over the past 3 seasons. As he moves up, he initially has trouble with strike zone control, but makes the adjustment by the following spring. In his first go at Fort Myers, he had a 3/1 K/BB ratio - that tightened to 3/2 when he came back in 2008. Then he went to New Britain and posted a 4/1 K/BB ratio, which he improved to 4/3 in 2009. He had about a 4/1 K/BB ratio in his first months at Rochester - we'll expect that to turn around this spring. When it does, he'll be ready for his MLB debut.

So I re-sign Crede to the same contract he had last year. If he does no more than in 2009, he'll buy Valencia a little more development time and make a solid contribution to the lineup for a portion of the season at a reasonable price. If he gets hurt, Valencia gets called up. But if he stays healthy, he's capable of performing at a level that will earn every bit of the extra money we'll owe him.

4. Let the other free agents walk

With the emergence of Jose Morales and Wilson Ramos set to start 2010 at AAA, we now have 3 above-average catching options at the upper levels. Which is to say, there are now 3 guys who could outperform a 39-year-old Mike Redmond. His offensive numbers have been in steep decline since 2006, and his catch-and-throw skills have deteriorated as well. He's been a marvelous asset to this team over the past 5 seasons, and I'd welcome him into the coaching ranks if he has any interest, but I don't think his body will allow him to have a positive impact on the field any more.

Ron Mahay gave the Twins a great month of September. He was available because the Royals released him after he had a terrible month of August. He see-sawed between lousy and great all season long. That meant his overall numbers were only OK, and his splits vs. lefties were only OK. He's just a couple of months younger than Redmond, so I wouldn't anticipate anything better from him next year, and it's more likely that things will get worse.

Carl Pavano gave the Twins 12 pretty good starts: he averaged 6 IP, 4.64 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 7.2 K/9 and just under 2.0 BB/9. Kevin Slowey, who should be 100% recovered from his wrist injury, averaged 5.2 IP, 4.86 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 7.4 K/9 and 1.5 BB/9. And it was a bit of an off year for him. Pavano is in position to get some pretty good guaranteed money and perhaps a multi-year deal, though 2009 was the first year since 2004 that he'd thrown more than 100 IP. About to turn 34, a big injury risk, duplicates Slowey (i.e. #3 starter) and we'd be buying high, which is a no-no.

Orlando Cabrera was as hot as anyone down the stretch, but he'll be 35 next year and is showing signs of physical decline. His OPS dropped for the second straight year, and he made a ton of mistakes at SS. His career OBP is just .322, which is not what you want in the #2 spot in the lineup. If I thought his defense were solid, I might try to get him for just one year. But it's not, and he'll probably be looking for more than we'd offer, so we wish him well...

5. Offer contracts to all arbitration-eligible players

This list includes Boof Bonser, Jesse Crain, Matt Guerrier, Francisco Liriano, Pat Neshek, Delmon Young, Brendan Harris and now JJ Hardy. As you'll see later, I'm inclined to try to trade some of these guys. But none of them will be so expensive that they couldn't perform up to the value of their contracts. I'm particularly keen to keep a roster full of quality bullpen arms, so Bonser, Crain, Guerrier and Neshek all come back with a chance to make the team next spring. Liriano had poor control last year, but had a ton of bad luck as well - he'll get every opportunity to make the rotation. Just 24 years old, Young still has time to improve. I'd only consider non-tendering Harris, but it's better to hold onto him for at least the first part of the offseason as I see how other pieces fall into place.

6. Settle the 40-man roster

7. Acquire JJ Hardy to be the starting SS

Check that one off the list.

8. Acquire an ace

9. Clarify the OF situation

Check on that one, too.

10. Make trades to balance the system

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Opting for Cuddyer

Yes, it was a good thing I got my position out in the open when I did, because by the next morning, Bill Smith had pulled the trigger on Michael Cuddyer's $10.5 million option for 2011. Here is the passage in my increasingly obsolete Offseason Blueprint post explaining why I thought the Twins should decline:

This kinda sucks, because Cuddyer's been a good player for a long time and is coming off not only one of his best seasons, but one in which he helped carry the team into the postseason. It's unfortunate that his contract is structured in such a way that this decision has to be made within 5 days of the end of the 2009 World Series. If we knew how much Mauer was going to cost in 2011, I might feel differently. But without any cost certainty there, the sensible thing is to decline Cuddyer's $10.5M option.

Hopefully, he has another great season and, if things look favorable, we can offer him a contract for 2011 anyway. Certainly, we'll offer arbitration at the end of next year, making ourselves eligible for compensation draft picks should he sign elsewhere. And realistically, with his peak years behind him by then, we can probably expect about as much production from David Winfree or Rene Tosoni or some other prospect instead.

Those arguments didn't dissuade Mr. Smith. I want to be clear that Cuddyer absolutely earned this - he's been a terrific presence off the field for years, even when he's struggled on it. Now that we've seen what he can do when he's healthy, I don't think it's unreasonable to elevate the expectations for what he'll produce in the near future somewhat. A lot of teams pay a lot more than $10.5 M for a lot less than what Cuddyer did last year.

Still, they'd better have saved plenty of money for Mauer...

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Go-Go Gone

The general state of business I've found myself in over the last few weeks has made it difficult to complete my ambitious Offseason Blueprint entry, wherein I spell out every move I'd make as Twins GM from here to Spring Training. Bill Smith is quickly making such a gesture obsolete. He outrighted Brian Buscher earlier this week, and yesterday sent CF Carlos Gomez to the Brewers for SS JJ Hardy, straight up.

Had I managed to post my Blueprint entry by now, you'd have seen that I wanted the Twins to trade for Hardy. He is a highly-rated defender at SS, first of all, and defense is something I think the Twins should be emphasizing as they build their team for 2010. He is also one of the better power threats from that position, averaging 30 2B and 25 HR between 2007-2008. He had a terrible season last year, batting just .229/.302/.357 with 11 HR in 115 games before being sent down to AAA in order to clear space for defensive whiz-kid Alcides Escobar. (Even that isn't terribly worse than the .263/.309/.374 with 10 HR that all Twins SS produced in 2009.) That move delayed Hardy's eligibility for free agency until after 2011, so the Twins will control him for the next 2 seasons, and he's just entering his peak. Even though his average and slugging plummeted, Hardy's walk rate improved for the 3rd straight year. If his hitting rebounds, and his defense remains consistent, the Twins will have one of the best SS in the AL.

In exchange, they part with Gomez. I always preferred Denard Span, but Gomez was without peer as a defender in CF and saved the Twins a ton of runs with his spectacular range. However, his skills at the plate are severely lacking, and he probably should have spent at least one of the last 2 years at Rochester. Maybe it would have made sense to send him there this season - his talent certainly is worth developing. In any case, his role with the Twins turned into nothing more than legs for Jason Kubel or a defensive upgrade over Delmon Young. Jason Pridie is perfectly capable of providing that for the Twins. Turning a bench OF into an everday SS is a pretty good trade for the Twins, just as turning a bench SS into an everyday CF is good for the Brewers.

One obvious implication of this move is that Delmon Young is going to be in the lineup everyday, at least to start the season. That means he has to get a lot better, in just about every facet of his game. He showed a nice uptick in power, particularly after the All-Star break, but his BB rate went backward, he suddenly wasn't an effective base stealer, and his defense in LF remained very poor. But he's just 24, so there's still time.

I was going to suggest that the Twins trade Brian Duensing and a role-player for Hardy. I like this deal - well done, Bill Smith. And, in case I don't get it posted in the next couple of days, let me go on record as saying the Twins should decline Michael Cuddyer's option. Details to come...