January 12, 2011

Twins Notes: Thome, Pavano, relievers, and invites

Joe Christensen of the Minneapolis Star Tribune is among multiple sources reporting that the Rangers are making a strong push for Jim Thome, which is surprising considering Texas spoke publicly about shifting Michael Young to designated hitter after inking Adrian Beltre to an $80 million deal last week and announced they were no longer interested in re-signing their 2010 designated hitter, Vladimir Guerrero.

Thome has talked about wanting to return to Minnesota and general manager Bill Smith told Christensen that the Twins still hope to re-sign him, but clearly the two sides are far apart on money or contract length. Thome's projected role could also be a factor, because if he re-signs and Justin Morneau is healthy the Twins would have five hitters for four lineup spots, which is the same logjam that led to Thome starting just 34 of 84 games prior to Morneau's concussion.

If the Twins are offering him only a part-time gig and won't pay a premium or make a two-year commitment it makes sense that other teams have entered the mix for Thome, who was one of the most valuable hitters in the league last season while earning just $2 million. Thome also isn't an ideal fit for the Twins' lefty heavy lineup because he's a left-handed bat who should be on the bench versus most left-handed pitching.

However, handedness is a secondary concern that should come well behind overall production and Thome is the best bat available. For instance Guerrero, who Thome would be replacing as the DH in Texas, is a right-handed hitter, but his OPS was 200 points worse than Thome's and he slugged just .426 in the second half before struggling mightily in the playoffs. Swapping out Thome for a righty might make the Twins' lineup more balanced, but it won't make it better.

• For much of the offseason the Nationals were believed to be the Twins' main competition for Carl Pavano, but last week general manager Mike Rizzo downplayed Washington's interest in Pavano, claiming "we haven’t talked to his agent since the winter meetings." Shortly after that reports began to surface that Pavano and the Twins were closing in on a two-year deal, but no new developments have emerged yet this week.

Pavano is a 35-year-old with an extensive injury history and the second-lowest strikeout rate in baseball last season among all pitchers with more than 180 innings, so even a two-year deal is a big risk for a team that could let him walk and fill the rotation with Francisco Liriano, Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey, Brian Duensing, and Nick Blackburn. Beyond that, by re-signing him the Twins would be passing on two compensatory draft picks.

I'd probably let Pavano walk, take the draft picks, spend the money on relief help or a veteran bat, and head into the season with the above five-man rotation and Kyle Gibson waiting in the wings at Triple-A, but re-signing him for two years and $15 million or so would be palatable enough. Bringing back Pavano could also enable the Twins to move one of the other starters to the bullpen or use them as trade bait, although those aren't necessarily good things.

• Most of the relievers I highlighted early in the offseason as potential low-cost bullpen targets are now off the market and many of them signed cheaply enough that they would have made sense for the Twins. Here are the statuses of the 13 relievers I suggested the Twins pursue:

D.J. Carrasco - Signed two-year, $2.5 million deal with Mets
Todd Coffey - Unsigned
Octavio Dotel - Signed one-year, $3.5 million deal with Blue Jays
Frank Francisco - Accepted arbitration from Rangers
Bobby Jenks - Signed two-year, $12 million deal with Red Sox
Will Ohman - Signed two-year, $4 million deal with White Sox
Hideki Okajima - Signed one-year, $2.75 million deal with Red Sox
Chan Ho Park - Signed with Korean team
Joel Peralta - Signed one-year, $925,000 deal with Rays
Chad Qualls - Unsigned
George Sherrill - Signed one-year, $1.2 million deal with Braves
Koji Uehara - Signed one-year, $3 million deal with Orioles
Dan Wheeler - Signed one-year, $3 million deal with Red Sox

Aside from perhaps Jenks' two-year, $12 million contract every one of those relievers would've made sense for the Twins at those prices, but instead they've essentially done nothing to plug the bullpen holes left by Jesse Crain, Matt Guerrier, Brian Fuentes, and Jon Rauch. Jim Hoey is an intriguing pickup from the J.J. Hardy deal and there are some minor leaguers capable of stepping in, but it would've been nice to see the Twins sign one or two of the above relievers.

Coffey and Qualls are the only unsigned relievers from my low-cost list, and yesterday Buster Olney of ESPN.com wrote that Qualls "is looking for a one-year deal to re-establish his value before going back out on the market." Here's what I said about Qualls in recommending him as a low-cost target a month ago:

With a 7.32 ERA in 59 innings between two teams Qualls had a dreadful season, but most of that can be blamed on a .399 batting average on balls in play that was the worst in all of baseball among the 327 pitchers who logged at least 50 innings. In fact, Qualls was one of just two pitchers with a BABIP above .375. Qualls could be unlucky again in 2011 and that number would still probably drop by 40 points, and his career mark is .309.

Thanks to a solid strikeout rate and high percentage of ground balls he posted a nice-looking 3.91 xFIP that would've ranked second on the Twins behind only Francisco Liriano and both his xFIPs and ERAs were consistently in the 2.75-3.50 range from 2004-2009. He's maintained good velocity on a fastball-slider combo and if the Twins can avoid being scared off by his ugly ERA there's a quality setup man to be found in Qualls' track record and secondary numbers.

There's no indication that Qualls is even on the Twins' radar, but I'd feel a lot better about the middle relief corps if they could sign him for $2 million or so.

• Yesterday the Twins announced non-roster invites to spring training, which are players not on the 40-man roster who'll report to big-league camp in Fort Myers. Six of the 19 non-roster invitees are catchers, which is common since teams need battery mates for the extra pitchers in camp. Beyond all the backstops the list includes minor-league veterans given invites as part of their deals and three legit prospects in Gibson, Carlos Gutierrez, and Kyle Waldrop.

Here's the full list:

Hitters                  Pitchers
Jeff Bailey              Yorman Bazardo
Matt Brown               Phil Dumatrait
Ray Chang                Kyle Gibson
Brian Dinkelman          Carlos Gutierrez
Brian Dozier             Chuck James
Jair Fernandez           Kyle Waldrop
Chris Herrmann
Steve Holm
Justin Huber
Chase Lambin
Danny Lehmann
Danny Rams
Rene Rivera

Odds are that none of those guys will crack the Opening Day roster, but there are certainly a handful of non-roster invitees with a chance.

  • Ian

    Any chance Jon Rauch comes back?

  • Jeff

    While I appreciate your strategic thinking on the matter, I think it would be good to get Thome back just because everyone loves him. It was simply fun to watch the guy play, and at the end of the day, that’s what brings people to baseball games.

  • Trevor

    The one place you can trust the front office knows what they’re doing in is the bullpen. They’ve always been able so find guys to fill enough roles to have a good pen.

  • Pedro Munoz

    Does anyone know what Thome is looking for?

    The Twins are right not to overpay for Pavano.

  • Sam

    Dinkelman! He made the preseason game fun last year. I hope to be able to drunkenly shout his name this year again.

  • Dose of Thunder

    Twins only need Thome if they don’t think Morneau will make it through a full season in 2011. Thome doesn’t play defense and runs the bases slower than the Molina brothers. They’d be better off using the money on Pavano, or for bullpen depth & a veteran 3B that can step in for Valencia if he proves to be a one-yr wonder.

  • Jeff

    I haven’t heard anything about Morneau lately but it seems that’s an important element to the discussion.

  • Son of Shane Mack

    The one place you can trust the front office knows what they’re doing in is the bullpen. They’ve always been able so find guys to fill enough roles to have a good pen.

    They often do, eventually. Sometimes it just takes them a couple of months to realize that they’re fairly thin because some of their project turned out to be pumpkins.

    2004 – the Twins finally stumble upon Balfour (before he got hurt) and Crain in the waning weeks of the season to supplement the trio of Nathan, Rincon, and Romero. This is after enduring the likes of Seth Greisinger, Aaron Fultz, Carlos Pulido, and Joe Roa (though he came up big in one extra inning game). Matt Guerrier also arrived for a short stint.

    2005 – actually, a pretty good year for the pen, and for the pitching staff as a whole. Sadly the rest of the team was a big disappointment. The “Brett Boone experiment” took place for a few days this season, which tells you everything you need to know about it.

    2006 – Pat Neshak arriving mid-season and shutting people down really solidified the pen.

    2007 – Rincon became fairly ineffective and Neshak was overworked, but the bullpen held it’s own while the team floundered during Hunter and Santana’s last season as Twins.

    2008 – Aside from Gardy getting a bit too fond of Brian Bass, the bullpen chugged along fine.

    2009 – The Twins eventually put together a successful pen. However, it took until late in the season to do so. People remember John Rauch, Ron Mahay, and Brian Duensing filling in quite well. They’ve forgotten Luis Ayala, Bobby Keppel, and Sean Henn – who made those fill-in necessary.

  • mike wants wins

    I’d still like them to sign Francis and Pavano, then deal one to two starters and Kubel or Young for a couple of legit prospects/players. Go get a real SS or LF or RF or more. That’s a high risk strategy that they will not pursue….

  • TMW

    Bonnes made a great point that Pavano’s ability to eat innings is crucial considering the amount of turnover this bullpen has faced. Scott ’9 pitch at-bat’ Baker doesn’t go deep as often as he needs to, Blackburn will probably turn in his 3 good months and 3 bad months, and Slowey is pure uncertainty at this point.

    I’d love to have those picks, but I worry that even if they do load up on cheap options for the pen, the back end going to be really taxed without some rotation stability.