August 30, 2010

Twins Notes: Thome, Fuentes, Kubel, Neshek, Wimmers, and Span

• Not only has Jim Thome switching from the White Sox to the Twins had a massive impact on the AL Central race, Baseball-Reference.com's blog points out that he's having one of the best seasons ever by a 39-year-old (he actually turned 40 over the weekend, but this is his age-39 season). Here are the all-time leaders in adjusted OPS+ at age 39:

AGE 39              YEAR      PA     OPS+
Barry Bonds         2004     617     263
Ted Williams        1958     517     179
Hank Aaron          1973     465     177
JIM THOME           2010     279     161
Babe Ruth           1934     471     161

Thome has fewer plate appearances than everyone else on that list, but he's on pace to finish with approximately 350 and any time you can make a top-five list alongside Barry Bonds, Ted Williams, Hank Aaron, and Babe Ruth you're doing something really right. Paul Molitor is the only other player in Twins history to post an OPS+ above 100 at age 39, hitting .341/.390/.468 in 728 plate appearances for a 116 OPS+ in 1996.

And if you're already thinking about the Twins possibly re-signing Thome for next season, here are the all-time leaders in OPS+ at age 40:

AGE 40              YEAR      PA     OPS+
Willie Mays         1971     537     158
Carlton Fisk        1988     298     155
Edgar Martinez      2003     603     141
Moises Alou         2007     360     137
Dave Winfield       1992     670     137

That's a much different and less impressive list in terms of both names and numbers, which is a good reminder of how tough it is to dominate at age 40. In fact, based on OPS+ no hitter in the history of baseball has ever been as productive as a 40-year-old as Thome has been as a 39-year-old, which is something to keep in mind when it comes to 2011 expectations for the future Hall of Famer. Of course, I loved the signing at the time and would love to see him back.

• I made a rare weekend post analyzing the Brian Fuentes trade, so read that if you missed it Friday night. I wondered how Ron Gardenhire will use Fuentes down the stretch, but so far so good. Gardenhire smartly pulled Nick Blackburn after 8.2 scoreless innings Saturday when he walked speedster Chone Figgins as the tying run in a 1-0 game, bringing in Fuentes to get the 27th out with left-handed slugger Russell Branyan at the plate.

Fuentes dispatched Branyan with ease and in doing so hinted that perhaps Matt Capps won't always get the call in the ninth inning when dangerous left-handed bats are due up. Fans and media instinctively balked at the notion of "closer by committee" when Joe Nathan went down, but if Fuentes isn't needed early in a game bringing him in for tough ninth-inning lefties makes sense. I'm skeptical after the Twins focused on Capps' closing experience to explain that deal.

October 15 is the deadline for the Angels to pick the player to be named later they receive for Fuentes, but all indications are that they're choosing from a list of fairly marginal prospects and some reports even suggest "cash" could be substituted for the player. I already liked the deal when I thought the PTBNL could end up being a mid-level prospect, so a low-level prospect or cash would make it even more of a no-brainer.

There seems to be a lot of confusion about Fuentes' contract status, so let's try to clear it up. He has a $9 million option for 2011 that vests with 55 games finished, but that's a moot point with just 34 so far. He'll be a free agent and get Type A or B status, so in theory the Twins can receive compensation when he leaves. However, that first requires offering Fuentes arbitration and since he could guarantee himself $10 million by simply accepting the Twins won't do it.

Fuentes is a six-week rental, and a good one.

Luke French is the 47th left-handed starting pitcher the Twins have faced in 131 games this year, which means they've been matched up against a lefty 36 percent of the time compared to the league average of 29 percent. Jason Kubel started at designated hitter versus French and has started 34 of the 47 games against lefties despite hitting just .210/.306/.341 off them this season and .232/.312/.352 off them for his career.

Much like Jacque Jones before him, Kubel's career-long ineptitude versus lefties makes him an obvious platoon player who Gardenhire simply refuses to platoon. Even worse, Kubel was in the cleanup spot yesterday, which is the third time he's batted cleanup against a lefty. In fact, he's yet to hit in the bottom third of the lineup versus a lefty this season, batting nine times in the fifth spot and 22 times in the sixth spot along with the three cleanup starts.

And while he was at DH yesterday, Kubel has been in right field for 17 of the 34 starts versus lefties, which means in 13 percent of their total games the Twins have chosen to combine poor defense in right field with a .650 OPS from the middle of the lineup. Not having Justin Morneau since early July has made it impossible for Gardenhire to use his preferred lineups, but in half of Kubel's starts against lefties Morneau was also in the lineup. Platoon him, please.

• Every time the Twins make a change to the bullpen--and there's been no shortage of them recently--I get comments, e-mails, and tweets asking about Pat Neshek. Fans (and bloggers) love Neshek and want to see him succeed after Tommy John surgery, but because the Twins weren't pleased with how he handled his post-surgery finger injury he's become sort of the forgotten man at Triple-A (and is choosing to fly under the radar by not speaking to reporters).

He's pitched well since being sent to Triple-A in early June following a DL stint, going 4-1 with a 3.47 ERA, .263 opponents' batting average, and 24 strikeouts versus six non-intentional walks in 36.1 innings, but certainly hasn't been dominant or close to Rochester's best reliever. He's apparently no sure thing to get a September call-up and based on performance alone--rather than his history and presence on the 40-man roster--no one would be clamoring for Neshek.

Wilson Ramos made his Nationals debut last week, but was only called up for a couple days with Wil Nieves away from the team. Ramos went hitless in his only game before being sent back to the minors, making him 1-for-22 since starting his career with seven hits in his first two games. He has hit .319/.347/.514 in 18 games at Triple-A since being swapped for Capps last month and will be back in Washington when rosters expand later this week.

• After basically taking two months off before signing for $1.3 million a week or so before the deadline, first-round pick Alex Wimmers has been assigned to high Single-A for his pro debut. He's pitched twice so far at Fort Myers, tossing 5.2 scoreless innings with an 8-to-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio and .105 opponents' batting average while on a strict pitch count. By assigning him directly to high Single-A the Twins have set him up to advance through the system quickly.

Denard Span was caught trying to steal third base yesterday, so dating back to last season he now has 42 stolen bases while being thrown out or picked off 31 times. Yuck.

  • http://www.twitter.com/evegoe Eric Vegoe

    Terry Ryan once said there’s no such thing as a bad one-year deal. Why not sign Fuentes in arbitration, get a good solid lefty for next year since they can afford it with TF revenue, who do they have coming up to fill the role? If he doesn’t pan out then they can get something back for him with a type A or B pick in 2012.

  • Neil

    What I’d like to know is how the White Sox failed to claim Fuentes and at least block the Twins from getting him. Is it a matter of when Fuentes was put on waivers? I’m assuming the Angels did this awhile ago, well before the Chisox lost Thornton and Putz.

    Just seems strange the White Sox would have let that go. Of course it seems strange that they passed on Thome, too…

  • Tim

    It seems very silly not to call Neshek up for September, as it’s a very-low-risk/moderate-reward move, and extra bullpen depth in September is always a good thing. It’s not like there are fifteen guys ahead of him and the roster will be full.

  • http://weareoffthemark.wordpress.com Bryz

    Hey Aaron, the “not speaking to reporters” link leads to an article that is no longer available.

    @ Eric Vegoe: $10 million is an awful lot of money, especially for a reliever. I get frustrated when I keep hearing people say that the Twins can spend just about anything they want next year because of “Target Field profit” or “revenue.” Who says that this profit is going to the payroll? Maybe it’s going to upgrade the stadium. Trust me, I work there and there are certainly things that need to be improved.

  • mike

    love the fuentes acquisition. nice assessment.

    sweet analysis re: thome. been one of my favorite players since his days as an indian.

    the reason why i am even responding to this post though is b/c of those SB number’s of span you mentioned. that is just ridiculous, obnoxious and flat out unacceptable for a big league player, let alone a lead off hitter to post. obviously there is no quick fix now, but that does need to be addressed in some way, shape or form this offseason.

  • Neil

    You can complain about Kubel’s numbers vs. LHP, but the flaw is in the team as constructed. Between the overall left-handedness, the injuries and the fact that Mauer has to sit sometime, there were no other options on Sunday.

    And yes, not enough of us are talking about what a crappy year Span’s had. He’s taken a big step back in pretty much every area. Still he’s only 26, so hopefully he can improve in ’11.

  • marietta mouthpiece

    What I find truly amazing is that Winfield got 670 plate appearances in his 40 year old season, and that Molitor got 728 in his 39 year old season. Amazing athletes, to be that old and that productive so as to justify that heavy a workload.

  • Brian

    You failed to mention that Neshek had 15 scoreless outings from the end of July until a week or so ago. The numbers do not always tell the whole story.

  • mike wants wins

    Span has been truly bad at his job this year. Let’s hope something clicks again for him. Brian, didn’t you just use numbers to make your point?

    Wimmers will advance quickly, but the Twins won’t want to use him. He’d be a rookie, and they just don’t like rookies. They’ll say stuff like “he needs to get his innings in”, or “he’s a starter, we like him as a starter, we don’t want him up here if he’s not starting”.

  • Tom

    I like the Fuentes rental, too. Could be as good as the Don Baylor rental in ’87. He didn’t get many at-bats, but he made them count, he was an imposing bat on the bench, provided great leadership to a young team down the stretch, and there was that unbelievably huge, monstrously important home run he hit to tie up Game 6 against the Cardinals. I have still never screamed louder at a Twins game.

  • Dave T

    Gardy and Anderson don’t like Slama, but they gave Mijares a lot of opportunities early. The Twins have an excellent track record at developing young pitchers. Duensing has worked out pretty well, don’t you think?

  • mike wants wins

    Dave, was that aimed at my comment?

    They have no rookies in the bullpen, almost never. They just don’t like putting rookies there. They love themselves those guys that have veteran presence. Remmber, some of the young guys only get a chance when career bad players are injured for the year. I just don’t see any evidence they like rookies in the pen. Look at their comments about “not wanting to put them in that position for a postseaon run”. It just isn’t their style.

    Deunsing is a good pitcher, I agree. For some reason, at the beginning of the season, they had him pegged as their 4th or 5th reliever, that should tell you something about their belief in using young players right there.

    And, they do a much better job developing pitchers than hitters, I agree with that.

  • Neil

    I would expect that Slama and Delaney (and maybe Neshek) get their chance in ’11. Since he’s ascended to the eighth-inning role, you figure the Twins will offer Crain arbitration this winter. But they’ll want to save money somewhere, so I can see them letting Guerrier walk. Rauch leaving seems a forgone conclusion.

  • James M.

    I’m surprised no one has mentioned the biggest story of the weekend: Nick Blackburn’s performance on Saturday. Yes I know, he was facing the worst hitting team in the AL. Even so, a 2 hit shutout with 6 K’s against anybody is a significant achievement. And it comes from a guy whose ERA is still over 6 and who is by far the biggest disappointment of the season. Of course he won’t pitch that well the rest of the way. But is it possible we just re-acquired the Nick Blackburn that earned that big contract?

  • Gendo

    Free Kim Ng.

  • Son of Shane Mack

    With Fuentes contract and the Twins already high payroll (for them) I would doubt that the team will keep Capp, Nathan, AND Fuentes – as nice as that would be in the bullpen. I’m guessing you can pick 2 of the 3. Nathan will be here (at some point) because trading guys coming off surgery rarely happens – Peavy was an exception. The $11 million for a setup/LOOGY guy is money that could be spent elsewhere and that role filled for much cheaper (even if not quite as effectively or possibly as effectively, hard to know beforehand). That’s the sort of thing that the Yankees do, and few other do – because it’s not very cost effective. Everyone’s on some sort of budget, even if some teams are significantly bigger than others. TF will provide more revenue, but might mean that the Twins get less through sharing. Plus, money only helps if you spend it well – look at the Mets.

    As far as rookies in the bullpen – Crain pitched some important innings in the last few months as a rookie in 2004, as did Grant Balfour – remember he pitched 2 important innings in game 4 of the Division series w/ the Yankees (before Rincon surrendered the lead). Matt Guerrier pitched quite a bit as a rookie in 2005. Pat Neshak was a huge contributor to the epic Twins run in the second half of 2006 when he was called up mid-season. There were some VERY big at-bats that he pitched when they were battling the White Sox and the Tigers. I particularly remember him striking out AJ in the 8th inning of a close game in Chicago in late August. So – rookies do sometimes play a role in the Twins bullpen – though they have to work a bit more to earn it or be fortunate in that others are hurt or ineffective when they’re brought up.

  • UGH

    Is Alex Burnett no longer on the radar? He was solid for 3 months . . .

  • Marshall Garvey

    Tim: Spot on. Even with our two new lefties to make up for the recent slew of injuries, there is no conceivable reason to not have Neshek. The DL flap is old news, and especially with the struggles of righties like Guerrier and Rauch, Neshek is a much-needed presence.

  • Son of Shane Mack

    Neshak is a much needed and missed presence – if he’s somewhere near the Neshak of 2006-7.

  • Not David

    Why not sign Fuentes in arbitration, get a good solid lefty for next year since they can afford it with TF revenue, who do they have coming up to fill the role? If he doesn’t pan out then they can get something back for him with a type A or B pick in 2012.

    Horrible idea, HORRIBLE.

    1. The Twins can’t afford to spend $10 million on a non-elite reliever. There are big raises coming for numerous players, the team is going to be strapped for budget room the way it is.

    2. Giving $10 million to a non-elite reliever would be @#$%^& idiotic.

    3. Even if they could afford it, and it wasn’t a horrible idea, you would still have to offer him arb after next season in order to get compensation. He would be foolish to decline, and you’d be on the hook yet again for another $10+ million.

    4. It’s just a horrible idea all-around.

  • Southpaw23

    Great Post, I can’t believe we’ve batted Nick Punto 4-6 in our order vs LHP. Unreal.

  • http://www.cheerfulgivers.org Karen

    Tonight is your last chance to bid on autographed Twins merchandise (Mauer, Morneau & Cuddyer) at http://www.cheerfulgivers.org/social-summer-fundraiser-online-auction-2010/

  • chris

    Crain, Guerrier, Rauch, Capps, Fuentes…are all elite relievers i think…even more as a team!!!

  • batterbox

    I can’t believe Neshek is not already up with the Twins. They call up nobody’s like Delaney who stink, and almost blew a huge lead again tonight. Why do you think he’s not speaking to reporters…all you guys do is seem to slam him in the media. Any other team would love to have Neshek on their team.