Thursday, December 1, 2011

November Notes

Twins sign IF Jamey Carroll for 2-years, $6.75M

I felt the Twins ought to add the best available FA defender to bolster their middle infield. That would have been Clint Barmes. However, there are a lot of things Carroll does better than Barmes:
  1. Get on base (.356 career OBP vs. .302)
  2. Steal bases (26/32 over the last 3 seasons vs. 18/31)
  3. Hit RHP (.695 career OPS vs. .671)
  4. Catch the ball (.987 career fielding % at SS and .991 at 2B vs. .971 and .982)
  5. Sign for 7 figures ($6.75M over 2 years vs. $10.5M)
Barmes has a big edge in range, though, and that would have been very valuable to the Twins' ground ball pitchers. And, though he's aged gracefully the last couple of years, Carroll is getting a bit long in the tooth. If he degrades physically, this is a big overpay. And if Tsuyoshi Nishioka gets his act together and Alexi Casilla puts together a full, productive season, this is a lot to pay for a utility guy. But Carroll is just about an ideal #2 hitter to place between (the hopefully healthy) Denard Span and Joe Mauer. His lack of power won't be a problem if the big boys hit behind him. Considering that several of the other MIs on the FA market are getting even more money, it doesn't look too bad. It's certainly a move that improves the team.

Twins sign C/RF/1B Ryan Doumit for 1-year, $3M.

I was hoping that a bat-first backup C would be better at, you know, catching. Doumit is more of an insurance policy against prolonged absences from Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau. But such a thing was absolutely necessary, and Doumit's positional flexibility makes him a good fit. In good times, he'll DH or play RF while hitting about as well as Jason Kubel, all for only $3M. Pretty good signing.

Texas Rangers sign CL Joe Nathan for 2-years, $14.75M

This bummed me out. Texas gave Nathan just about exactly the deal I wanted the Twins to offer him. It sounds as though Nathan's decision wasn't so much a matter of money as preferring to play for the Rangers, a team that is at the peak of its competitiveness right now. Basically, in what could potentially be the last contract of his career, he figured he had a better chance at a ring with them. It's an endorsement of their organization, but it's also a vote of no confidence in the Twins. This is part of why I thought it was important for the front office to make one or two impact moves (probably trades) very early in the offseason: it would have showed the free agents around the league that this team is serious about competing in 2012. Carroll and Doumit, though nice pieces, don't send that message clearly enough. Based on the present state of the Twins' and Rangers' rosters, Nathan made the right decision.

Oh well. We'll show him.

The new Collective Bargaining Agreement

There were big changes with free agency and the draft, most of which will benefit the Twins, especially this year. The Elias ranking system was abolished, replaced by a more limited system in which only a handful of superstars will cost a signing team a 1st-round pick (with only the bottom 10 finishers from the previous season exempted). Effectively, this means that Michael Cuddyer will not cost a new team a draft pick, while still providing the Twins the same compensation. It also means that Matt Capps will provide the Twins a supplemental pick even if they don't offer him arbitration. Letting Cuddyer, Capps and Kubel walk, added to the #2 draft position the Twins "earned" with their abominable 2011 season, should net the Twins something like 6 of the top 50-60 picks in next summer's draft, including 2 of the top 30. If I'm Terry Ryan, I'm not even talking to those guys right now.

The draftees have been utterly stripped of leverage by a draft tax so severe I can't imagine many teams will dare to go over slot. And the signing deadline was moved up to mid-July. So now the Twins can confidently select the best talent available with each pick, offer them slot, and send them to the minors for at least 6 weeks. An influx of so much top young talent should make it a little easier for the Twins to part with some bankable prospects while attempting to bolster the major league roster through trades.

The Arizona Fall League

Apart from the ascendant Brian Dozier, the Twins didn't appear to be sending much help to the Mesa Solar Sox. Aaron Hicks was the big name in the contingent, but he has yet to have an impressive full season in A-ball. Brett Jacobsen, Bruce Pugh and Dakota Watts lived up to my low expectations, but the remainder of the group used the opportunity to raise their stock. Keep in mind that the AFL is an extreme offensive environment - the average hitter slashed .286/.362/.454, and pitchers had a 5.53 ERA, 1.58 WHIP and 2/1 K/BB.
  • Dozier completed his breakout campaign with a .296/.358/.454 performance - essentially league average. However, if you add his 1 for 2 with a HR from the Rising Stars game, his line puffs up to .300/.361/.482. Looks like he'll be a better hitter than Casilla and Nishioka, and possibly Carroll. He remains firmly in my plans for 2013.
  • Chris Hermann appeared in just 15 games but made a huge impact when he was out there. He hit .380/.456/.620 with a 6/7 K/BB ratio. A catcher at the upper levels who can hit! I hope the Twins will start him in Rochester next year.
  • Stalled as a starter, the Twins sent MN native Cole DeVries to the bullpen in 2010. It took him a year to get comfortable, I guess. After a pretty good regular season, he turned in one of the best pitching performances in the AFL, with a 3.12 ERA, 0.92 WHIP and 19/3 K/BB in 26 IP. Could he be the next Matt Guerrier?
  • Best of all, Hicks finally took a step forward. His .294/.400/.559 line was good for the 13th best OPS in the entire league. In fewer than 1/4 the ABs he had in Fort Myers, he maintained his 2B pace, quadrupled his 3B rate and nearly tripled his HR rate. Prior to the fall, it was probably a bit iffy whether he would be promoted to AA next April, but the display of in-game power he put on should be enough to ensure that he progresses. That keeps him potentially on pace to join the Twins by 2014.

Here's how Joe Christensen breaks down the 2012 roster with the guys on the 40-man at this point. It includes a bench of Nishioka, Trevor Plouffe or Rene Tosoni, Luke Hughes and Drew Butera, and a bullpen of Glen Perkins, Brian Duensing, Alex Burnett, Lester Oliveros, Jose Mijares, Esmerling Vasquez and Jeff Gray.

Plenty of work still to do, Mr. Ryan.

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