Friday, January 13, 2012

Stopping Short

It was a busy month of December for Terry Ryan. He re-signed Matt Capps, signed Josh Willingham and Jason Marquis, parted ways with Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel, Jose Mijares and Kevin Slowey, and brought in a crap-ton of NRIs for spring training. I think Brandon Warne of Fangraphs sums up the moves pretty well.

I'm optimistic that Capps will be better in 2012, but not to the point that I would prefer him to, say, Octavio Dotel, $1.25M and a supplemental draft pick. And I think Marquis has a good chance of being a solid back-end starter. As Aaron Gleeman pointed out, you're not going to do much better for $3M. Now, with about $100M committed, 39 guys on the roster and another 25 coming to Fort Myers next month, it appears that the Twins are done acquiring players. That's a shame, because though they've added some good pieces, this team doesn't look like it's going to be good enough to compete. And the $13M cut between the 2011 opening day payroll and the 2012 projection really seems to be holding them back.

The difference between Marquis' and Roy Oswalt's salaries looks like it will be around $5M. Both pitchers have durability questions they need to answer this year. But Marquis' upside is no better than #4 starter, whereas a healthy Oswalt is an ace. The 2010 versions of Oswalt, Francisco Liriano, Scott Baker and Carl Pavano would make for a pretty strong rotation. With Marquis filling it out instead, league average seems like the best we can hope for. For $5M extra, the Twins could have had a good rotation instead of a mediocre one.

The lineup (if healthy) looks solid 1-7. Denard Span, Jamey Carroll, Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Josh Willingham and Ryan Doumit should get on base a lot and make opposing pitchers work. Danny Valencia should bounce back a bit after an usually poor BABIP showing in 2011. But the bottom 2 slots are going to be filled by Ben Revere and Alexi Casilla or Tsuyoshi Nishioka. Added to Span and Carroll, that's one more piranha than I'd want in the lineup. They'll score more runs than last year, but maybe not enough. For $1-2M, they could have picked up a Reed Johnson or Andruw Jones, a veteran with some pop who could have held the position down and given Revere some more PAs in Rochester.

The bullpen will have Capps, Glen Perkins, Brian Duensing, and a bunch of guys who weren't good enough to pitch in the Majors all season last year. There are still quite a few veterans who will be taking cheap, 1-year deals in the coming weeks. It would be great if the Twins could snag one or two of them - it would only cost them a couple million. That would be the difference between a reliable unit and one that could turn into another horror show.

It appears that the bench will consist of Drew Butera, Trevor Plouffe, Nishioka and Luke Hughes. Plouffe and Nishioka might still have some upside, but Hughes didn't show anything last year, and Butera is hopeless. By the start of spring training, there will be at least a dozen catchers accepting backup roles for less than $2M. Virtually anybody who hits the waiver wire would be better than Butera.

Ryan did a pretty good job with the limited payroll space he was given. The Twins will be far less exposed depth-wise in 2012, and that should ensure that they finish the year with a respectable record. Perhaps they're maintaining some flexibility to add payroll by trading for name players during the season. Maybe they need to reserve some money for signing the 5 high draft picks they'll be making. Or maybe they just don't want to invest too much in a hopeless cause - if Mauer, Morneau and Span don't return to health, and if Liriano can't figure out how to throw strike one, no amount of FA signings is going to save the season. But quality veterans signed to 1-year deals are assets valuable to contending teams, and an Oswalt or Jones might have earned a system-bolstering prospect at the trade deadline.

The moves the Twins have made give them a chance to be respectable, but not much of a chance to contend. A payroll more like last year's could have greatly improved their chances. I'm not sure there would have been much harm in trying.

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