Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Denard Span

Things I'm Not Worried About Part 1

Over the course of what I hope will be a rather uneventful offseason, I want to try to dispel some of the hysteria around the way the Twins finished the 2010 season. At the start of their final road trip, the Twins were 92-60, tied for the best record in the Majors. Even their lackluster finish couldn't prevent them from claiming the 4th-best record over the full season. A very good team, with very good players. I'm going to argue that several of those players are even better than the average fan seems to realize. Leading off: Denard Span.

I've been a Span booster ever since I first saw him play in the spring of 2008. Nothing about his game was flashy, but he showed solid fundamentals and an approach at the plate that was appropriate for his skill set. But his performance the previous two seasons was underwhelming, as he hit .285/.340/.349 and .267/.323/.355 with a high K rate at the upper levels. So he was sent back to AAA at the start of the season in favor of the much less polished Carlos Gomez. Span blew up to .340/.434/.481 in 40 games with the Red Wings, and eventually took over the Twins' leadoff spot by hitting .294/.387/.432 for the remainder of 2008 and .311/.392/.415 in 2009. Finally having reached his potential, the Twins rewarded him with a 5-year, $16.5M contract.

Then, in 2010, he hit just .264/.331/.348, essentially the same as his 2006-2007 performance in the minors. We've been had! 2008 & 2009 were a fluke - the real Denard Span is the same nobody we saw in the minors all those years!

The hell he is.

Though the slash numbers line up pretty well with his minor league track record, a deeper look shows that Span's offensive game was much closer to what it was in 2009 than 2007. In his younger days he had a poor understanding of the strike zone, with K/BB ratios of about 2/1. Last year, it was about 5/4, essentially the same as his excellent 2009. His distribution of liners, flies and grounders was only slightly different from last year. He hit a few more grounders, but for a guy with his wheels, that's not a bad thing. He cut his rate of IF flies - essentially automatic outs - and reduced his strikeout rate for the 3rd straight season. Those components combine to suggest that he should have been on his way to even better numbers in 2010.

So why didn't it happen? Check out the play made by Toronto SS Alex Gonzalez at the end ofthis highlight package from May 17th. This AB is a pretty good encapsulation of Span's season. He took the 1st pitch for a strike. He fouled off the second. Down 0-2, he made contact with a pitcher's pitch dipping down out of the strike zone. Span was exceptionally good at making contact this year - 11 out of every 12 swings got at least a piece of the ball. In this case, he put the ball in play - with the lowest BB and K rates of his MLB career, he put more balls in play than ever before (in fact, he was 5th in all of MLB in total balls in play). This one resulted in an out, thanks to a highlight-reel catch. At the time, I had this to say about it:

Lately it seems like something like that happens to Span at least once a series. When are those going to start falling in?

Answer: never.

Look at the liner that ended Span's dreadful 2 for 30 west coast trip from the 1st week of June (about 2:00 into the game summary). How about this play by Gabe Kapler from July 3rd?Span hit a ball on August 3rd that was ruled a FC because it forced Jose Morales at 2nd even though it hit the turf in RF. Span's 0 for 4 on August 24th included a lineout to the pitcher and a sliding catch of another liner to CF.

Those are just the ones I mentioned specifically in the blog. My impression from observing the Twins this year was that Span's season was a litany of bad luck at the dish. And the numbers bear that out. Here are the components of his BA (ground balls, fly balls, line drives and bunts) from each of his big league seasons and compared to the league as a whole (2008/2009/2010/2010 MLB totals):

GB: .257/.287/.223/.235
FB: .343/.257.205/.219
LD: .655/.763/.677/.724
BU: .300/.667/.214/.388

In 2008 he was really unlucky on liners but made up for it with good luck on flies. In 2009 he was lucky across the board. 2010 was just the opposite. The liners were unfortunate, but not the real problem. After all, everybody whacks a few bullets right at defenders over the course of the year. Had Span enjoyed league average luck on his line drives, it would have been worth just 5 more base hits. The regression to slightly below average on fly balls isn't a big deal either - he was due for that.

What really jumps out is the poor performance on grounders and bunts. Speedy guys like Span should always have a higher BA on grounders than the league as a whole. That's because the play that gets Jason Kubel by half a step is going to be too late to get Span. So to see a BA on grounders below the league average shows that not only did fewer than expected balls off Span's bat trickle into the OF, he beat out fewer IF hits than we would expect someone with his wheels would.

All those below average pieces led to a BABIP collapse in 2010. In his first 2 big league seasons, he hit .339 and .353 on balls in play - not outlandish for someone with his speed, but probably a little on the high side, especially in 2009. But even in his underwhelming minor league seasons, his BABIPs were .330 and .322. In 2010, his BABIP dropped to .294, by far a career low.

What would have happened if Span had enjoyed the BABIPs he'd put up in the minors? Let's split the difference between 2006 & 2007 and give him a .326 BABIP. He put 564 balls in play in 2010 (PA - K - BB - HBP - HR). A .326 BABIP would have given him 184 H, 18 more than he had. For the season, 22% of his H went for extra bases. That gives him 4 more XBH - let's call them 3 doubles and a triple. The higher BABIP then gives him 23 extra total bases for the season. Leaving his BB and HBP numbers the same, his line with his minor league luck would be:

.293/.357/.385, 27 2B, 11 3B, 3 HR

That's down a bit from his first 2 seasons, but would anybody really be complaining about it? Particularly in a year in which the average MLB leadoff man hit .264/.329/.382? We'd love to see more walks, but .357 still would have been the 3rd-highest OBP among qualified CF in the Majors. Just for having a more or less ordinary year with BABIP. If he'd had the good fortune he'd had in 2009, the line would have been something like this:

.316/.378/.415, 29 2B, 12 3B, 3 HR

Not quite as many BB or HR, but more H and XBH. Overall, it's basically the same season he had in 2009. That would have easily led all qualified CF in OBP, and placed around 6th in OPS right next to Chris Young, Curtis Granderson and Alex Rios. (His actual 2010 OPS placed him 3rd from the bottom among regular CFs.) 2009 was lucky. 2010 was unlucky. But Span was mostly the same hitter in each campaign.

Why the drop in HR? Need I say more than... Target Field? Span hit 3 HR on the road this year, the same number he hit on the road in 2009. But where the Metrodome had been good to him, yielding 7 HR in 437 AB, Target Field was stingy. Other than the unofficial exhibition blast that christened the new stadium at the end of spring training, Span wasn't able to get a ball out of his home park in 304 AB. He'll probably get a couple at home each year going forward, but we may never see his total HRs approaching double digits as we did in his 1st 2 years.

That's OK, because Span isn't paid to hit the ball out of the park. His job is to get on base. I think that's the biggest reason a lot of smart people are on his case right now. Span's BB rate has declined in each of the past 2 seasons, down to 8.5% of his PA in 2010. That's about half of what Jim Thome did. Patience is slump-proof, and a double-digit BB rate would have kept Span's OBP in the upper .340s at minimum. Where did the BB go?

So far, Span has reached in 100% of his career PA that ended with a 3-0 count. He always takes there. In 2008, a little under 2% of his PA resulted in 4-pitch BB. In 2009, it was a little over 2.1%. For all Major League hitters last season it was 2.1%, but only 9 of Span's 705 PA resulted in 4 straight out of the zone - not quite 1.3%. That has nothing to do with him - it's all about the opposing pitchers. Had they thrown ball 4 there at the normal rate, the rate he'd basically seen in his first 2 seasons, he would have had 15 BB in those situations. I'll assume that he eventually would have walked in about half of those PA anyway, so the net would have been 3 extra BB.

That leaves him about 8-10 BB short relative to 2009. Span is partially to blame for the decline, of course. Compare his full count PA between 2009 and 2010:

2009: 94 PA, 34 BB, 19 K, .225 BABIP (10 for 41)
2010: 92 PA, 26 BB, 14 K, .115 BABIP (6 for 52)

Clearly, there's some more horrendous luck there - the guy had BABIPs over .300 in every other 2-strike count. But there's a huge shift in general outcomes as well: upwards of 56% of his 2009 PAs in this situation resulted in a BB or K; in 2010 that dropped to 43.5%. As with his overall game, he made a lot more contact with the count full than he had previously. That could be the pitchers throwing him more strikes. But I think it's more likely a reflection of a change in approach. Instead of taking that two-seamer under the hands for ball 4 or strike 3 (depending on the umpire), Span put that pitch in play, and almost always made an out.

Is it better to put the ball in play in that situation? Depends. If there's no one on base, I think he might as well take the close pitches and try to work the walk. If there's a RISP with 2 outs and Matt Tolbert on deck, I'd rather have him take a hack and see what happens. Generally, he probably should only put a ball in play about half the time there, far less than he did in 2010.

During the season, there was a report that Span had become more aggressive because opposing pitchers were giving him more 1st-pitch strikes than before. That seems to be true, as his 1st strike percentage went up by about 1 point. But I wouldn't say it was necessarily because he was seeing more early strikes than usual. The proportion of 1-0 counts to 0-1 counts remained basically identical between 2009 and 2010. However, when you swing at the first pitch, it's always a strike, whatever the umpire might have called it. Excluding sacrifices, Span put the first pitch in play just 8.3% of the time in 2009, but that jumped to 11.2% last year. That alone can account for the increase in first-pitch strikes Span saw in 2010. He also saw about a 14% increase in ABs that ended on the 1st or 2nd pitch compared to 2009.

According to FanGraphs, Span actually saw 2% fewer pitches within the strike zone this past season overall. But the counts he found himself in were about the same as the year before, because he swung at more pitches outside the zone. And he made more contact outside the zone. And things tended not to go well when he made contact this year. For all the extra contact, he hit a significantly lower percentage of foul balls, about 9% below his first 2 seasons and the league average. That got me thinking: how many of those 2009 choppers to Jerry White in the coaches' box turned into choppers to Paul Konerko at the bag in 2010? Enough to ruin his ground ball BABIP? The difference in position of the ball in the hitting zone at the point of contact is minute, but the impact on the BA is huge.

So why did Span really get so much more aggressive? I go back to the Gonzalez play I cited above. If I noticed how often he was being robbed, it must have been on Span's mind, too. Maybe he thought those almost-hits would be going off the bat just enough harder if he weren't trying to protect with 2 strikes. Can't let them get to 2 strikes, gotta swing earlier.

That approach worked, at first. At the end of that Toronto series, Span was batting only .259, but he had a .359 OBP thanks to 24 BB in his first 39 games. Beginning with the Boston series the next day, he finished the month by hitting safely in 11 of the last 12 games, going 22 for 49 (.449), but with just 2 BB. His luck ran out on the west coast trip, as he began June with just 1 H in his first 6 games. And, since he was hacking at everything, he drew just one BB to go with it.

So Span has some things he can work on over the winter and spring. He should cut his 1st-pitch swings back down under 20%, and try to sustain the patience he has leading off the game in more of his subsequent PAs. He should be encouraged to keep taking the borderline pitches, especially with nobody in scoring position. If his overriding mentality is always to take 2 strikes, I don't think he can go wrong. He's great at making contact - he shouldn't be afraid to be behind in the count.

On the bases, Span set a career high with 26 SB in 2010 even though his attempts/SB opportunities was the lowest of any of his 3 MLB seasons. He had never been an efficient base-stealer in his earlier seasons, a frustrating deficiency for someone with such impressive speed. He hadn't had a full-season SB% above 69% since rookie ball, generally resulting in net SB in the low teens. 2010 was a breakout in this regard, as he officially succeeded in 86.7% of his attempts, resulting in 22 net SB.

That improved efficiency was tarnished by a high number pickoffs. Span was picked off in about 3% of his SB opportunities. The league average is 0.8%. Since only 2 of the 9 PO resulted in CS (meaning that Span was CS by catchers only twice all season), we have to assume that 7 of them came in situations in which he wasn't actually planning on stealing. Laziness? Lack of focus? I don't have an answer. It seemed like a lot of the pickoffs came in a cluster in the middle of the summer. It could have been a slump, just like pitchers and hitters go through. Whatever the reason, this is an area he will have to clean up next season.

In the field, it's easy to remember the far too frequent balls that dropped harmlessly between Span and one of the corner OF. That's a combination of passiveness and poor communication that he should be able to correct for 2011. He also failed to hold onto an exasperating number of balls at the fringes of his range, balls that he reached with long runs, slides, stretches and dives, but that fell to the outfield grass despite touching leather. Some of that was luck again, but if I were him, I'd ask to get some extra reps on those types of plays in spring training.

In spite of those shortcomings, many of the new defensive metrics ranked Span as an above-average CF. Baseball Prospectus' new system has him as one of the very best defensive CF in 2010. He'll never have a great arm, but his quickness and accuracy with his throws minimizes that weakness. With some continued work with the coaches, he could elevate himself to a universally recognized asset in the OF.

As his luck normalizes, and his excellent approach from 2008-2009 is reinforced, and he makes incremental improvements in his focus on the basepaths and assertiveness in the OF, Span will see excellent results in all facets of his game. He has the determination to work out the things he can control. The wheel of fortune will take care of the rest. I expect Span's 2011 to place solidly within the upper tier of CF/leadoff men in the majors. He's certainly nothing to worry about.

Monday, November 8, 2010

It Ain't Broke

2010-2011 Offseason Blueprint

Congratulations to the San Francisco Giants on the occasion of their first World Series title in 50+ seasons on the left coast. They join the 2006 Cardinals and 1987 Twins on the short list of weakest rosters to lift the trophy. Their pitching was elite, but their lineup basically consisted of an outstanding rookie and a bunch of past-their-prime castoffs who all managed to have one last good half season at the same time. Of the 8 teams that made it to the postseason, I would have ranked them 7th or 8th, yet they come away with the rings. They are proof that anything can happen in October. The hard part is getting there.

Nobody had an easier time getting to October than the Twins, who clinched their division with 11 games still left on the schedule. However disappointing their ALDS showing against the Yankees, they were by far the class of the AL Central. Whatever moves the front office makes between now and opening day have to be in support of maintaining the dominance over the division this team has already shown.

The Twins are facing some major payroll constraints, thanks mostly to a pair of poor decisions Bill Smith made on either end of the 2009 season. The first was when he chose not to offer Joe Mauer an extension in the spring. Coming off a batting title and gold glove in 2008, Mauer had established himself as the face of the franchise. But he was hobbled by a back injury which wound up costing him all of spring training, his 3rd major DL stint in 6 MLB seasons. Mauer's leverage was never going to be lower. Smith should have offered him a 4-year, $60M-ish extension (including $16M option for 2015) at that time. That's more than Jorge Posada got, and similar to what Justin Morneau got. In the midst of his sacroiliac drama, there's no way Mauer turns that down. But Smith decided to let Mauer come within a year of free agency, and now he's paying him $23M for 2011 instead of $14-15M.

The other misstep came in early November, when Smith exercised Michael Cuddyer's 2011 option based on his 2009 season. I never saw the sense of that. Even if Cuddyer had managed to repeat his career year in 2010, and the Twins wanted him back in RF in 2011, he wouldn't have cost a lot more than $10.5M. A duplicate of 2009 would have likely made Cuddyer a Type A free agent. Offer him arbitration, and if he declines, you've got another high pick in what's projecting to be an especially high quality draft. If you can't resign him, Jason Kubel is your RF and you just need to sign a platoon partner for him for a pittance. Instead, Cuddyer had a pedestrian 2010, but is locked in for something around double what he'd command on the open market.

Those significant constraints notwithstanding, the Twins aren't in bad shape heading into 2011. Here's a potential opening day roster one could assemble from the guys who are currently on the 40-man roster and under team control for next season (click to enlarge):

Bad news: the Twins could replace every departing free agent with a pre-arbitration farmhand and still have a payroll about 10% above what they started with last season.

Good news: This team would still be solidly average or better, almost across the board. The only weak spot in the lineup is Casilla, who has put up league average 2B numbers in 2 of the last 3 seasons. Of the pitchers, only Nick Blackburn is below par, though he, too, has put up above average numbers in 2 of the last 3 seasons. Even with a bevy of rookies on the bench and in the bullpen, this team can contend in the AL Central.

However, there are a tremendous number of what ifs associated with this roster. Can Nathan and Morneau (and Neshek, Hardy, Baker and Slowey) shake off their injuries to deliver performances in line with their career numbers? Can Span, Kubel, Cuddyer and Blackburn bounce back from down years? Can Young, Valencia, and Duensing sustain their breakouts? Can aging prospects like Hughes, Slama, Morales, Tolbert and Delaney finally stick on a big league bench? Can young prospects like Revere and Burnett overcome a lack of experience at AAA to have an impact with the Twins?

The answer to many of those questions will probably be no. But, in many cases, it could be yes. If we knew which areas wouldn't work out, we could focus our offseason personnel decisions around strengthening those positions. But we don't know, and likely couldn't make any definitive determination until the first part of June.

That being the case, my recommendation for this offseason would be to upgrade this roster around the margins while retaining as much talent and payroll flexibility as possible for the trades we'll need to make at the beginning of the summer. Specifically:

1. Let the FA go, but be courageous about offering arbitration.

Carl Pavano, Jim Thome, Orlando Hudson, Brian Fuentes, Randy Flores, Jesse Crain, Matt Guerrier, Jon Rauch, Ron Mahay and Nick Punto are all free to pursue deals elsewhere. Only Flores, Mahay and Punto are in poor position to expect a multi-year deal from their new team. As it stands now, the Twins can expect to get only 1 of the top 60 or so picks in next year's talented draft class. If they're bold with their arbitration offers, though, they could get as many as 8 picks in that range.

Fuentes, Crain and Rauch are Type B free agents, and all have closer aspirations. They should each be a relative bargain for other clubs looking for "proven" closers. Those clubs don't lose any picks for signing them, though the Twins would gain supplemental first round picks should they offer them arbitration. Any of them would be worthwhile additions to the bullpen should they accept. In fact, if the payroll weren't already so high, I'd actively try to bring back Fuentes and/or Crain. But I'm guessing all of them will test the market, and thereby earn the Twins 3 supplemental picks.

Pavano should be looking for something like what Randy Wolf got from the Brewers last year (at least $30M over 3 years). At the least, he'll be expecting what Joel Pineiro got from the Angels (2 years, $16M). Either way, he's declining arbitration this time around. I have a feeling he'll wind up with one of the bottom half finishers such as the Mets, meaning the Twins would only get a high 2nd round pick and a supplemental pick for him. But that's still a nice tradeoff for a low-risk arbitration offer.

The tricky case is that of Guerrier. Non-closer relievers tend to be a tough sell as Type A's. Guerrier wouldn't be worth giving up a top 30 pick for. But 50th or later? Sure. And there are plenty of scenarios in which that could be the case. Guerrier is the sort of veteran Dayton Moore can't resist signing; KC's 2nd round pick should be around 50th overall. How about a return to his native Cleveland? Or Pittsburgh? Or what about some of the bigger spending teams who could be signing multiple Type A's? After the Yankees grab Cliff Lee and Carl Crawford, would they have any qualms about dropping their 3rd round pick on Guerrier? Better still, what if the team that lands Adam Dunn decides to give up their 2nd-rounder for Guerrier? The Twins would get the 1st-round pick, because Guerrier is actually ranked higher by Elias. The upside could be outstanding. The downside if he accepts arbitration is minimal. I would want to bring back one of the bullpen veterans for 2011. If it has to be Guerrier at $3.5-4M, that's hardly a disaster.

With some cajones and a few good breaks, the Twins could be turning their 2010 veteran sell-off into a pool of talent that will be the core of their team for the 2nd half of the decade. Let's go for it.

2. Use multi-year deals to keep the arbitrator away.

In addition to 10 FA, the Twins have 10 players who are eligible for arbitration. I would non-tender Glen Perkins and Clay Condrey. Casilla, Repko and Neshek get 1-year deals for $1M or less. By offering multi-year deals to 4 of the others, we can trim a few million dollars off the estimated payroll, leaving some headroom with which we can add bigger salaries later in the season.

Quick note: I'm taking my baseline salary estimates from the Twins Centric guys, so there won't be any controversy about the numbers. However, they're way off base with their $2.75M estimate for Slowey. There's no way he gets a lot more than Liriano did in his 1st year of arbitration. He'll get $1.75M at the most.

Hardy's situation is the easiest. The Tigers and Jhonny Peralta just set the market for late 20's, RH SS with some power but no SB: 2 years, $11.25M, with a $6M option for 2013. Compare their 3-year averages:

Peralta: .260/.319/.414, 49 HR, 4/7 SB in about 1900 PA
Hardy: .262/.324/.419, 41 HR, 3/6 SB in about 1450 PA

Hardy is the better fielder, but Peralta has been more durable. They're the same age. Basically, there is no justification for Hardy to expect anything different than what Peralta got, which pays $5.5M in 2011.

Liriano's best comps are Zach Greinke and Josh Johnson, budding aces who missed a considerable chunk of early 20's development time to various ailments. Greinke got 4 years, $38M following his 1st arbitration year in which he was paid $1.4M. Johnson got 4 years, $39M the next year, also after earning $1.4M in his 1st arb year. Liriano just made $1.6M. The other 2 had better numbers in the season before the contract, though, so the Twins could hopefully get away with a bit less, say 4 years, $36M. The others made $3.75 in the 1st year of the deal; I'll structure it so Liriano gets $3.5M next year.

Young should get at least what Matt Kemp got: 2 years, $11M. It might make sense to take it out to 4 years, similar to Mauer's 1st big contract, which paid him $23M over the final 2 years of the deal. Either way, Young makes $4.5M in 2011.

Capps is the backup closer, so we don't want to pay him like the 1st-string guy if he's only setting up. I'd offer him a 3-year deal with a $5M base salary and some pretty massive incentives for Games Finished. Something like an extra $0.5M for every 5 he racks up after 20. That way, if he's out there for 50 save situations, he earns $8M - real closer money, but not so rich that he wouldn't be tradeable to just about anybody. If he stays in the setup role, he's a bit overpaid, but not as much as he would have been on a 1-year deal.

If Guerrier accepts arbitration, he would fall into this category, too. I'd try to get him for 2 years, $8M but pay him just $3.5M of that this season.

All of that shaves around $6M off the payroll, leaving perhaps around $12M to play with over the course of the season.

3. Don't sign anybody until late January.

4. At that time, fill out the roster with some bargain veterans.

Repko will be the bench OF, giving Revere at least a couple hundred PA to continue his development as an everyday player in Rochester.

If Guerrier didn't accept arbitration, here's when we go after Crain (if he's still available) or somebody comparable to give Gardy a little more security at the back end of the 'pen. Between Nathan, Capps, Mijares and Crain, he should be feeling pretty good about the close ones. Burnett will head back to AAA for more seasoning.

I'd like to pick up another LHP, a true LOOGY if no one more versatile is available. Could be Randy Choate, could be our old friend Dennys Reyes. Neither should cost much more than $1M, especially at this stage of the offseason. This gives the Twins the luxury of filling out the 'pen with just 2 of Neshek, Slama and Delaney, leaving the odd man at Rochester as call-up depth.

This was around the time the Twins signed Jim Thome for 2010, the most astute FA signing of the offseason. They have to pull that off again, this time with a RH batter. My choice would be Troy Glaus. Last season proved that he can't hack it as an everyday fielder anymore, but also showed that he has plenty of power left when healthy. As a DH/PH and occasional (say, twice a month) fill-in at 1B, I bet he'd hold up over the season at least as well as Thome did, and for about the same price. He's better against LHP, but not useless against RHP, so he could suitably fill the broader role of "Power off the Bench" whenever we need that 3-run HR but Casilla is coming up.

All that adds up to a little under $107M. Plenty of potential from that roster, but room enough to add some premium talent during the season should there be a need. And it's accomplished without trading any top prospects from the system, leaving those players as potential minor league depth or as pieces of midseason transactions. Good enough for now.

Monday, November 1, 2010


The 2010 Twins were measurably better than the 2009 version, virtually across the board. They had a stronger rotation, a more even lineup, and a deeper bullpen. Those improvements showed up in 8 more regular season wins, and home field advantage in the ALDS against their nemesis, the Yankees.

It all meant nothing. If anything, the 2010 Twins gave a worse effort against a weaker opponent than the 2009 World Series champs were. They managed to play even for the first 6 innings of Games 1 & 2, but showed little life once they fell behind in the 7th. They hardly showed up for Game 3. New faces, new places, but still the same result. The Twins were swept again, running their postseason series losing streak to 6, home losing streak to 10, and overall losing streak to 12.

They should have been able to do what the Rangers did. After dropping Game 1 of the ALCS in similar fashion, Texas came back to win the next 3. Perhaps the Twins' pitchers couldn't have been expected to shut down the Yankee hitters as effectively as the Rangers' starters did. But the offense should have been able to do just as much damage to the lesser members of the NY rotation. Instead, they were utterly shut down by Andy Pettitte and Phil Hughes. Michael Cuddyer fired all his bullets in Game 1. Jim Thome and Jason Kubel did essentially nothing.

So what's the lesson here? Did the Twins lose because their pitchers don't miss enough bats? Should they be trying to trade for Zach Greinke or Jonathan Sanchez or some other strikeout machine? I don't think so. Anybody could have lost with the offense producing like that. That series was about the Twins failing to hit with RISP. Bad luck? Mental block? Just one of those slumps you can get into over any given 3-game stretch?

Whatever it was, it's nothing to panic about. A 94-win team that won its division conclusively does not need to be retooled. Especially when it was competitive against the 5 other playoff teams it encountered during the regular season:

vs. Yankees: 2-4
vs. Rays: 3-5
vs. Rangers: 7-3
vs. Braves: 1-2
vs. Phillies: 2-1
Total: 15-15

Had the Twins drawn the Rays in the 1st round, it might have been a different story. Who knows? I'm not one to give more weight to 3 games against one particular team in October than I do to 162 games against a diverse schedule over 6 months. I'm proud of the 2010 Twins. They accomplished a lot, and with 2 of their elite, All-Star players unavailable for all but half a season.

Many players won't be coming back for 2011, but the core will. I would be very deliberate about breaking that group up with any trades. The payroll will be a challenge, but it's surmountable with patience and creativity. I hope to have more time to post my specific ideas about how to do that in the coming days. In the meantime, my advice to the front office is simply this:

Hold your cards.