March 25, 2009

Twins Notes: Mijares, Duensing, Floyd, Baker, and Koskie

  • Between showing up to spring training out of shape and coughing up 10 runs in eight innings, Jose Mijares has done just about everything he can to wipe away an impressive September debut. All winter Ron Gardenhire and Bill Smith insisted that Mijares was hardly a lock to make the Opening Day roster, and he now looks likely to begin the year at Triple-A. Mijares' big-league debut certainly made it seem like he was ready to thrive, but prior to last year his minor-league track record was far from spectacular.

    In fact, based on his multi-year track record Mijares is projected by Baseball Prospectus and Baseball Think Factory to have ERAs of 5.51 and 6.23 this year. He's a pretty good bet to beat those projections, but Mijares has thrown 19 career innings above Double-A and giving him six weeks at Triple-A makes sense if the Twins think it would help him shed 20 pounds or start throwing strikes again. Meanwhile, as Mijares pitches and eats his way off the roster Brian Duensing is emerging as a bullpen alternative.

    Duensing has made all of five relief appearances in four seasons as a pro and projects as a potential back-of-the-rotation starter long term, ranking 25th on my annual list of the Twins' top prospects. On the other hand he's already 26 years old, took a big step backward at Triple-A last season, and seemingly has little chance of claiming a rotation spot in the near future, so if the Twins think he has the potential to be an effective middle reliever that may be the best path for Duensing at this point.

    However, his high-80s fastball doesn't figure to play a whole lot better as a setup man and left-handed batters hit .283 against Duensing last year, so he doesn't profile as a situational southpaw. Of course, baseball history is littered with mediocre starter prospects who had something click after a move to the bullpen and for better or worse Duensing is likely about as close to MLB ready as he ever will be. If the Twins go with 12 pitchers, it will come down to Duensing, Mijares, Jason Jones, or R.A. Dickey.

  • Gavin Floyd and the White Sox recently agreed to a four-year, $15.5 million deal that includes a team option for 2013, which is extremely similar to the four-year, $15.25 million contract that the Twins inked Scott Baker to earlier this month:
    YEAR     SERVICE TIME              BAKER        FLOYD
    2009 Pre-Arbitration $0.75 $0.75
    2010 Arbitration Year 1 $3.00 $2.75
    2011 Arbitration Year 2 $5.00 $5.00
    2012 Arbitration Year 3 $6.50 $7.00
    2013 Free Agent Year 1 $9.25 $9.50

    Both deals cover one year of pre-arbitration and three years of arbitration with a team option for the first year of free agency, and the money is essentially identical. Floyd is 16 months younger than Baker, so he may have more room to improve, and on the surface their 2008 seasons were comparable. Baker had a 3.45 ERA over 28 starts in a pitcher-friendly ballpark, while Floyd had a 3.87 ERA over 33 starts in a hitter-friendly ballpark. However, their Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) tells a much different story:

    FIP                 2008     2007     CAREER
    Scott Baker 3.79 3.89 4.05
    Gavin Floyd 4.77 6.07 5.40

    Floyd won 17 games last year and tossed 206 innings with a 3.87 ERA, but he also walked 70 batters while allowing the AL's most homers (30) and unearned runs (19). FIP suggests that his performance was more in line with an ERA a full run higher and his pre-2008 track record is even worse. Meanwhile, Baker has posted a sub-4.00 FIP in back-to-back seasons and has a career mark of 4.05 compared to his actual 4.23 ERA.

    Floyd showed some definite signs of improvement after the All-Star break and could easily prove to be worth $25 million over the next five seasons, so the deal is hardly a bad one for the White Sox. With that said, Baker has clearly been the superior pitcher and from the Twins' point of view his deal now looks even better than it did three weeks ago. Interestingly, the White Sox also offered the Baker-Floyd deal to John Danks, who has the same service time, and he turned it down. Danks had a 3.44 FIP last year.

  • After nearly three years of struggling through post-concussion syndrome, Corey Koskie's comeback attempt with the Cubs unfortunately lasted all of three games. Koskie felt "weird" after diving for a ball at third base last week and decided to end his comeback rather than risk his health any further:
    I really have no doubt in my mind that I would have made this team. The guys over here were impressed. I don't feel my skills were diminished. I don't feel there was much of a rust factor at all. It actually made it harder, but I know that was the right thing to do.

    I kind of decided, after every play, do I want to be looking over my shoulder, [wondering] how do I feel? And with everything I've gone through the last 2 1/2 years, I know I don't want to go back there.

    For the last 2 1/2 years, I've been talking to kids, talking to parents, telling all those people, "Is it really worth it, sending their kids back out to play?" I made the decision that this time it wasn't worth it. The risks outweighed the rewards of the situation.

  • A favorite of teammates and reporters alike who is one of the best, most underrated position players in Twins history, Koskie finishes his nine-year career as a .275/.367/.458 hitter and All-Star prankster.

  • LaVelle E. Neal III reports that shortstop prospect Paul Kelly has suffered yet another setback in his recovery from 2006 knee surgery. Kelly twice cracked my list of the Twins' top prospects, ranking 14th in 2007 and 24th in 2008, but has played a grand total of just nine games during the past two seasons and has now been "sent home for 2-3 months" after doctors determined that his knee still "is not ready for action." The only good news is that despite the lost seasons he won't be 23 years old until October.

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