Sunday, October 30, 2011

2011-12 Offseason Blueprint

This is my answer to the question of how to compose the 2012 Twins roster as inspired by the Twinscentric bloggers in their Offseason Handbook. All estimated salaries are derived from there.

I begin with first principles:
  1. If you haven't got your health, you haven't got anything. Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and Denard Span together account for $40M of the Twins' payroll. They comprise 3 of the first 4 spots in a productive offensive lineup, and each plays average to outstanding defense in the field. Coming off of injury-ravaged 2011 seasons, they are huge question marks looking ahead to next year. Any stable roster for 2012 must include viable backup options for each of them. But, realistically, if at least 2 of the 3 can't provide a full season of playing time at their respective positions, we're screwed.
  2. If you're going to pitch to contact, you've got to catch the ball. And the Twins are going to pitch to contact. Full seasons of Scott Baker and good Francisco Liriano would help, but with Carl Pavano, Nick Blackburn and Kevin Slowey under contract or team control for 2012, there are going to be a lot of balls in play. Whoever I bring in to try to bolster the lineup had better be at least an average defender.
  3. No free passes. The Twins' pitchers had their worst K/BB ratio in over a decade, and I didn't like it. Whoever I bring in to bolster their pitching staff must have a proven track record of avoiding walks.
  4. Don't block the kids. Some good prospects are finally reaching AAA next year. Joe Benson, Chris Parmelee and Brian Dozier are in my plans for 2013, with Kyle Gibson, Alex Wimmers, Tom Stuifbergen, Aaron Hicks and Chris Hermann on the radar for sometime between then and 2014. As I bring in free agents, I don't want to give out contracts that would force me to overpay aging veterans for the same production I could be getting out of home-grown talent for the league minimum.
  5. How could they be so shallow? The lack of quality depth on the 40-man roster was an absolute killer for the Twins in 2011. I'll be looking for every opportunity to upgrade from the replacement-level dreck that has been residing there. I'll scour the waiver wire and the minor-league free agent pool for castoffs who may yet have some upside.
With that established, here's what I would do with the current roster and a budget of about $115M:

Free agent decisions

I let Matt Capps walk with no offer of arbitration - there's no question he'd make more there than on the open market. I let Jason Kubel and Michael Cuddyer walk as well, though I offer each of them arbitration. I think they're in line for multi-year deals, which would violate #4 above. Kubel doesn't offer enough versatility - he basically whacks RHP but is a liability in the field, on the bases, and vs. LHP. Cuddyer won't be as good in 2014 as Joe Benson will be, but he'll be making 20-25 times as much. No thanks. If, however, either one of them for some reason accepted arbitration, I'd happily take them back on a one-year deal.

I would bring Joe Nathan back for a 2-year, $14M contract with a $7M option for 2014. A lot of people have noticed that he was much better after his DL stint in June. But, really, it was only his April that was awful. That month he allowed 10 ER in 9 IP on 9 H (2 HR) and 7 BB with only 7 K. From then on: 35.2 IP, 29 H, 14 ER, 5 HR, 7 BB, 36 K. He came to the mound with the lead 20 times and only gave it up once. It's a bit of a premium to pay, but it's worth it to keep around a real Twins star who has already established himself as one of the franchise's all-time greats. A lot of the truly elite relievers have held up well through their 30s, and Nathan is in that league.

Arbitration Eligibles

I'll offer contracts to Francisco Liriano, Glen Perkins, Kevin Slowey, Alexi Casilla and Jose Mijares. Phil Dumatrait and Matt Tolbert will not get contracts. Jason Repko has his uses as a speedster who can play solid D at all three OF positions. I'd still be interested in keeping him in the system, but on a minor league deal.

40-Man Roster

I am going to cut everybody who no longer has a semblance of upside. I wouldn't have dropped Anthony Slama, but the other real-world cuts so far (Tolbert, Repko, Dumatrait, Rene Rivera and Brian Dinkelman) are a good start. I'd also jettison Jeff Manship and Luke Hughes. I'd add Angel Morales, Tyler Robertson, Yangervis Solarte and Tom Stuifbergen. Pending the second half of the Arizona Fall League season, Cole DeVries looks like somebody worth protecting, while Bruce Pugh does not. I'm not the slightest bit worried that the organization will permanently lose anybody in the Rule 5 Draft who hasn't yet reached AA.


I want to act as quickly as possible on these, because they'll determine what I'll need to pick up in free agency and how desperate I need to be to get it.

Acquire SP James Shields and C Kelly Shoppach from the Rays for SP Liam Hendriks, OF Ben Revere, RP Carlos Gutierrez and OF Oswaldo Arcia.

I really need to be aggressive on this one. The Rays have until Monday night to make a decision on Shields' $7M and Shoppach's $3.2M options, and they'll almost certainly decline Shoppach's. It may be possible to sign him (or a similar player) for less in free agency, but I don't mind the price tag of the option. He's a buy-low throw-in for the Rays, and the $300K they'll save on his option would no doubt be put to good use elsewhere. And he helps me save face a little, because giving up 4 good prospects looks better when you get 2 veterans in return instead of just 1. Over the past 3 seasons, Shoppach has been a roughly average defender. Against RHP he's Drew Butera, but vs. LHP he's had an OPS well north of .800.

Shields is the prize, and here we're buying high. The Rays surely would love to keep him, with his 3 reasonable option years, but with their under-attended stadium, they can ill-afford to devote 15% of their payroll to one player. Even without Shields, they'll have an elite rotation, and they already have 2 more quality starters stashed in AAA Durham. Plus, the Rays are run by former Wall Street guys, and they must understand that Shields' value will never be higher than it is right now. That's why it'll take a huge package to bring him to MN. But he's the 2nd coming of Brad Radke, a relentless strike-thrower with a plus changeup and a propensity to serve up the long ball. I'll make sure that when I part with him in a couple years, he's a Type A who's sure to decline arbitration, thus recouping picks to replace half of this trade package.

Revere has been expendable for me for a couple of years now. No power, no arm - I just don't want him in the same lineup as Span. He's a useful backup, but I'll look to cover that another way until the wave of OF prospects reaches the upper minors. Revere will be an upgrade for the Rays over Sam Fuld, who didn't outperform Revere by much as a 29-year old, and doesn't project to get any better. Revere will fit right into the Rays' super defense and crazy base-stealing.

Hendriks is tough to part with, but he's the only man standing with any value at the upper levels. The Rays won't let go of Shields unless they can maintain the depth of their SP. Hendriks can go right into line and be ready to contribute for them by the 2nd half of 2012 if injuries should decimate their rotation.

Gutierrez has a great sinking fastball, but he doesn't control it well enough for me to think that he'll be a great contributor to the bullpen. Kyle Waldrop and Guerra get plenty of grounders, too, but they throw a lot more strikes. I'll count on them to step up instead. For me, Arcia is the least appealing of the Twins' OF prospects. At 20, he's already filled out to the point where there's not much chance of him becoming useful in the field. All the other kids can run. By shipping these two, I don't have to protect them in the Rule 5 draft, and save a couple of roster spots.

Acquire C Chris Iannetta, OF Seth Smith and RP Rafael Betancourt from the Rockies for SP Carl Pavano and 3B Danny Valencia.

This is why I really need Shields. The Rockies are looking for an innings-eater and someone to platoon with (or possibly replace) Ian Stewart. They have catching depth at the upper levels and have never really loved Iannetta. Smith becomes expendable if they sign a free agent OF (Cuddyer, perhaps?). They're rumored to have some interest in Pavano. I think Valencia is likely to be at least a league-average 3B for the next couple of seasons, but he's especially good against LHP, and Troy Tulowitzki's spectacular range could make up for some of his defensive shortcomings.

Iannetta is an average catcher with outstanding patience and plus power. He loses a lot of slugging while facing RHP, but his OBP remains high against them. And he looks like Albert Pujols when you compare him to Drew Butera.

Smith is basically another Jason Kubel, but with a better glove, some baserunning ability, and 3 years of team control. He's scorched RHP in his career (.881 OPS) but has struggled against southpaws.

Any reliever who can thrive in the rarefied air of Denver is worth a look. Betancourt absolutely refuses to walk anybody (1.2 BB/9 over the last 2 seasons) and has averaged 9.6 K/9 for his career. He adds a RH option to compliment Glen Perkins in the setup role.

Free Agents

I'm going to assume that the M&M boys and Shoppach are going to get the lion's share of the time at DH, so I'm not going to hire a regular there. Between Iannetta and Shoppach, I've got Mauer covered. Mauer will be Morneau's backup at 1B until Parmelee is ready to stick. I'll move Plouffe over to 3B - the .262/.317/.401 line he posted from August 15th on is pretty close to the league average for the position, he's got plenty of arm for the hot corner, and his not-quite-enough for SS range might be OK there. But I still need some Span insurance, a good-fielding SS, a backup IF who can excel at 3B, and a corner OF to platoon with Smith.

Sign OF Coco Crisp (3-years, $24M), SS Clint Barmes (2-years, $8M), IF Nick Punto (1-year, $1M) and OF Andruw Jones (1-year, $2M).

Crisp is a switch-hitter with range enough to excel in any OF position. He's an elite base-stealer. And he's got just a little more pop than Span. I like him a lot more than Revere. I'm skeptical that he'd command a 3-year deal this offseason (I'd shoot for 2 + an option), but I'll do what I have to do in order to get him. 3 years buys Aaron Hicks some extra development time at the upper levels, and if Hicks progresses, Crisp always seems to be a coveted trade piece.

Barmes is the best defender at SS who doesn't suck with the bat. He doesn't offer anything as a base stealer, but hopefully between Span, Casilla and Crisp I've got that covered. With him on board I'll have the luxury of sending Tsuyoshi Nishioka to the minors if he doesn't show improvement this spring.

We all know what Punto can do. He'll give a good PA as a PH, he's an asset as a PR, and he'd be a defensive upgrade in the late innings. Hopefully the projected starters play well enough to keep him in a bench role.

There are a number of guys available to fill the RH corner OF slot. Jones would be the best combination of bat, defense and baserunning. If I can't get him, Reed Johnson, Cody Ross, Johnny Gomes or Juan Rivera would be fine substitutes. This is potentially an area in which I can wait to see what the market brings in December or later.

The Result

Catchers: Mauer ($23M), Iannetta ($3.55M), Shoppach ($3.2M)
Infielders: Morneau ($14M), Casilla ($2.5M), Barmes ($4M), Nishioka ($3M), Punto ($1M), Plouffe ($420K)
Outfielders: Crisp ($8M), Span ($3M), Smith ($2.6M), Jones ($2M)
Rotation: Shields ($7M), Baker ($6.5M), Liriano ($6M), Blackburn ($4.75M), Slowey ($3.3M)
Bullpen: Nathan ($7M), Betancourt ($4M), Perkins ($1.8M), Mijares ($700K), Duensing ($500K), Swarzak ($450K), Waldrop (or Hoey, Oliveros, Vasquez, etc.) ($420K)

Including Nathan's buyout, that comes to just under $115M. A typical lineup:

vs. RHP: Span, Crisp, Mauer, Morneau, Iannetta, Smith, Plouffe, Casilla, Barmes
vs. LHP: Span, Crisp, Mauer, Jones, Iannetta, Shoppach, Plouffe, Barmes, Casilla

I'm counting on bounce-back years from the holdovers and typical production from the new faces. If that happens, we're in business. If the injuries and ineffectiveness persist, hopefully there are few pieces I can cash in before the trade deadline next summer.