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.

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