Friday, September 2, 2011

Making Lemonade

There are just under 4 weeks to go until the end of the 2011 season, when the Twins and their fans can finally be put out of their misery. Though the division was lost early last month, there are still some things to hope for in September:

Just Lose, Baby

If the season ended today, the Twins would have the 4th overall pick in next summer's draft. They haven't even had a top 10 pick since they got Joe Mauer with the 1st overall pick in 2001. There's a chance that hard slotting will be a feature of the new CBA to be negotiated this offseason. If that's the case, the Twins could get a consensus stud with their top pick and sign him for a set, reasonable bonus, even if he were represented by Scott Boras. Recent #4 picks who have made good include Brian Matusz, Jeff Niemann, Gavin Floyd and Ryan Zimmerman.

A top 5 pick would also ensure a high 2nd round selection. There are typically between 15-30 supplemental round picks, meaning that the Twins' 4th pick in the 2nd round would still be a pick in the 50s overall. For comparison, thanks to an unusually high number of ranked free agents switching teams, their 2 supplemental round picks this year were #50 and #55 overall - technically 1st rounders.

But why settle for #4? Houston has a commanding lead for the 1st overall pick next year. But right now, the Twins are only 2.5 games behind Baltimore for the #2 pick. Recent #2 picks include Dustin Ackley, Pedro Alvarez, Mike Moustakis, BJ Upton, Rickie Weeks and Justin Verlander. The closer you get to the top of the board, the better your odds of picking up a guy who can become a productive major leaguer in short order. To that end...

Call Up Everybody

Gardy's into it, and why not? They've been fielding a lineup full of fringe major leaguers for most of the season anyway. They might as well go whole hog in September. Jim Hoey and Chuck James both got lit up in their earlier stints in the Twins' bullpen, but Alex Burnett is getting lit up now, so what's the difference?

Denard Span, Alexi Casilla, Scott Baker, Nick Blackburn and Francisco Liriano will all try to return before the end of the season. It would be great to see those guys push some of the scrubs out of the lineup and end the year on a positive note. Then again, what's the point? So what if Baker, Blackburn and Liriano each have 2 more decent starts on a pitch count? Or if Span and Casilla each get through 2 weeks of action without headaches or hamstring soreness? What does anybody prove in so little playing time? I'd just as soon have all of them shut down, conclusively heal their injuries and get to work strengthening themselves for next year.

Are Scott Diamond or Anthony Swarzak any good? I doubt it, but let's see what they can do. AA studs Joe Benson, Chris Parmelee and Deolis Guerra (the Reliever) are on the roster but not ready for The Show. Still, let them get their 1st game jitters out of the way in a low-stakes environment. Give them a taste of what they've been working for, so they can keep that image in their minds when they get after it at AAA next spring. They should be the more confident for it when they're called up under what we hope will be more meaningful circumstances during the 2012 season.

Filling the dugout with the few members of the 40-man roster who weren't deemed good enough to merit a call-up at some point during this injury-riddled season should make for a nice September. Gardy will finally have the long bench he's been struggling to keep all year. But the pups won't necessarily be able to produce the way veterans would when they get thrown out there. A 4th sub-.400 month would give the Twins a great chance of moving up in the draft order. Play the kids! However...

Type A Personalities

Impending free agents Jason Kubel and Michael Cuddyer are both likely to decline arbitration and test the market this offseason. It appears as though both are on the cusp of attaining Type A status. The Twins need to give them every opportunity to do so.

Assuming they want to bring at least one of them back, a Type A ranking would probably put Kubel into the same territory as Carl Pavano last year. Would anybody really want to outbid the open market and give up a 1st-round draft pick for a guy who doesn't hit lefties well, is a minus on the basepaths and in the OF, and has a history of failing to stay healthy? His list of suitors might become quite short, and he might even fall back to the Twins for a relatively modest commitment, as Pavano did. Or, if he is signed by, say, the White Sox, the Twins would pick up another top 20 pick plus a supplemental, giving them 4 of the top 50-60 picks. Fair compensation!

Cuddyer seems to have a deeper market for his services, so I can easily see the Twins being outbid for him. If they have to lose him, I'd rather it be for 2 picks than one. It may be that his status is in doubt because of his mix of time between 1B and RF. If ensuring that he has more OF time is all the Twins need to do to get him firmly into Type A territory, they should make sure he spends all of September away from the IF. Joe Mauer and Luke Hughes can fill in at 1B when Justin Morneau isn't up to it, and Parmelee will be an option there shortly, too.

If anybody's going to play every day from here it out, it should be Kubel and Cuddyer. Though it would perhaps be even better if each sat out 2-3 games against same-sided SP - their rate stats would probably be the better for it. Speaking of Cuddyer...


The Colorado Rockies look like they'll be an aggressive suitor for Cuddyer in the offseason. Currently, they rank #19 in the MLB standings, meaning that they'd only have to give up their 2nd round pick in order to sign him. That wouldn't be so great. They're 5 games behind Toronto for the #15 overall spot, and 5.5 behind Cleveland and the Chisox. They've got a bunch of teams to pass up, but they've played much better than their record shows, and their September schedule is fairly soft. Only 8 of their 25 games are against teams with positive run differentials, and of those, only 2 games vs. Brewers are with contenders. They would need to go 17-8 to finish .500, but they certainly have the talent to do it.

I think there's a good chance at least one of Chicago/Cleveland/Toronto finishes the year with a losing record. The Blue Jays' remaining schedule, in particular, looks rough. If the Rox can slip into the upper half of the standings, they're welcome to sign Cuddyer. The Twins would get back the 16th overall pick, plus another supplemental. Losing both Kubel and Cuddyer under those circumstances could net the Twins 3 of the top 20 picks. To put that in perspective, the Twins have only had 4 top 20 picks in the last 10 years, and 3 of those were exactly #20. The odds of them nabbing at least one impact talent out of that draft would be pretty good. Best of luck to Kubel & Cuddyer's offseason suitors down the stretch!

Final Adjustments

Most of the young guys seeing their 1st Major League action this year have struggled desperately - a lot of OBPs below .300. But that's often the case with newcomers to the league. It takes some guys a little while to get accustomed to the next level. Remember that Alexi Casilla hit just .223/.263/.259 through his 1st 210 PAs, and now he's... well... he's not that bad.

Tsuyoshi Nishioka has been deer-in-headlights helpless out there for most of the season. His 1st 210 PAs were even worse than Casilla's: .214/.256/.240. But since then, he's 4 for 12 with a couple of BB and just 1 K. No one should be getting excited about 4 good starts, but if he can loosen up and have a decent September, it might be an indication that he won't be totally hopeless in 2012.

Luke Hughes was hitting .233/.296/.317 through the end of July, but in August he hit .256/.341/.641. His weak glove and high strikeout rate will likely keep him from becoming a regular, but if he can repeat his August numbers in September, it would go a long way toward proving that he can be a credible bench/platoon bat.

Through his 1st 171 MLB PA, Trevor Plouffe was hitting just .187/.228/.348 with very questionable defense. But since rejoining the everyday lineup on August 15th, he's hit .300/.338/.443 in 75 PA with much steadier glove work. If he can back that up with a strong final month, the Twins might feel comfortable penciling him into one of the MI spots next spring.

I don't have any encouraging recent numbers to point to with respect to Ben Revere. But he has spent almost no time at AAA - just 32 games, where he hit his typical .300+ BA - so it shouldn't surprise anyone that he's struggled this year. A good September from him would show that he might be ready to be the .300/.350/.350 hitter with 50 SB speed that could be a solid contributor to the lineup. If not, it might be best for everyone if the Twins plan to give him some time at Rochester next spring, and sign a short-term corner OF to bridge the gap.

Those are the things I'll be watching for in September. After that, when the Twins don't play for 5 months... As tough as this season has been, those days will be less fun for me.

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