January 18, 2011

Twins Notes: Fuentes, Rauch, Morneau, Casilla, Pavano, and Thome

• The offseason bullpen exodus is now complete, as Jon Rauch signed with the Blue Jays and Brian Fuentes signed with the A's to join Matt Guerrier and Jesse Crain in leaving the Twins after that quartet combined to throw 45 percent of the team's relief innings last season while posting a 2.98 ERA. The rest of the Twins' bullpen had a 3.90 ERA. Here are the contracts each reliever got on the open market:

- Crain: $13 million for three years from the White Sox

- Guerrier: $12 million for three years from the Dodgers

- Fuentes: $10 million for two years from the A's

- Rauch: $3.75 million for one year from the Blue Jays (with a $3.75 team option for 2012)

Tough to blame the Twins for failing to bring Crain, Guerrier, Fuentes, and Rauch back at those prices, but it would've been nice to get more than one draft pick as compensation for letting all four guys leave as free agents. It's also worth noting that Matt Capps will probably make more than any of those four departing relievers this season and the Twins traded one of their top prospects in Wilson Ramos for the right to pay (or overpay) him $6 million or so in 2011.

UPDATE: Make that $7.15 million for Capps. Yeesh.

• As noted last week plenty of veteran middle relievers have signed for reasonable money this offseason, but the Twins have yet to add any potential 2011 bullpen help beyond Jim Hoey, a hard-throwing but erratic right-hander acquired from the Orioles in the J.J. Hardy trade. They reportedly were among the half-dozen teams to offer right-hander Jose Veras a minor-league contract, but he opted to sign with the Pirates instead.

Justin Morneau told Joe Christensen of the Minneapolis Star Tribune that he's yet to "do any hitting or baseball activities" this offseason and doesn't plan to do so until next month, which seemingly means Morneau and the Twins still have no idea whether he'll be ready to play this season. General manager Bill Smith also hinted that Morneau continues to experience at least some symptoms more than six months after his concussion, saying:

In July, August, and September the protocol was if he had any concussion symptoms, he needed to back off. Now I think the doctors have given him a little more of the go-ahead. If you have mild symptoms, you need to work through it, play through it.

Smith also stressed to Christensen that the Twins "are very hopeful and very optimistic he'll be ready to go for spring training," but it's tough to trust that anyone really knows anything when Morneau still hasn't engaged in baseball activities without symptoms. Until he takes that step there's only so much anyone can know, good or bad.

Alexi Casilla and the Twins avoided arbitration with a one-year, $865,000 contract, leaving Capps, Francisco Liriano, Delmon Young, Kevin Slowey, and Glen Perkins on the arbitration docket. Today is the deadline for teams and players to exchange salary figures for hearings next month, but expect the Twins to work out deals with everyone before then. They haven't actually gone through with an arbitration hearing since losing to Kyle Lohse in 2005 and 2006.

• Various sources still expect Carl Pavano to re-sign eventually, but Christensen reports that the two sides "appear to be in a temporary holding pattern" while the Twins focus on dealing with the aforementioned arbitration eligible guys. I've heard some speculation that the market for Pavano was overstated because few teams were willing to actually forfeit a first-round pick to sign the Type A free agent, especially once the Brewers got Zack Greinke and bowed out.

Mark Simon of ESPN.com crunched the numbers on Jim Thome's domination of right-handed pitching and found that Thome has the third-highest OPS in baseball versus righties during the past five seasons, behind only Albert Pujols and Ryan Howard. And he was as great as ever against right-handers last year, clobbering them to the tune of .302/.455/.698 to rank second in the league behind MVP winner Josh Hamilton. Not a bad guy to keep for $3 million.

Tsuyoshi Nishioka was signed by the Twins to replace Hardy or Orlando Hudson, but how will the Chiba Lotte Marines replace Nishioka in Japan?  Patrick Newman of NPB Tracker looks at the other side of the Japan-to-MLB move.

January 15, 2011

Welcome back, Jimbo: Thome re-signs with Twins

Jim Thome shopped around this offseason, with his agent floating talk of a two-year contract and the Rangers emerging late as legitimate suitors for the 40-year-old slugger, but yesterday Thome turned down Texas' offer and returned to Minnesota for one year and just $3 million in upfront money. Signing him for $1.5 million plus incentives was the best move any team made last winter and the same may be true of keeping him for $3 million plus incentives this winter.

As a left-handed hitter who struggles versus left-handed pitching Thome isn't quite the perfect fit for the Twins' lefty heavy lineup, but ultimately handedness should take a clear backseat to overall production and Thome batted .283/.412/.627 with 25 homers and 60 walks in 340 plate appearances last season to join Justin Morneau, Josh Hamilton, Miguel Cabrera, Joey Votto, and Albert Pujols as the only MLB hitters with a 1.000 OPS in at least 300 trips to the plate.

Thome is unlikely to repeat that MVP-caliber production because no 40-year-old hitter has ever come within even 100 points of the 1.039 OPS he had at age 39, but he could lose 200 points of OPS this season in what would be the worst full season of his career and still be the Twins' third-best hitter. He's an elite bat coming off an amazing year in a part-time role and the Twins re-signed him for less than they paid Nick Punto last season. Perfect fit? No. Great move? Yes.

Thome started just 34 of 84 games prior to Morneau's concussion on July 7, so Thome's return combined with a healthy Morneau would create the same lineup logjam with five good hitters (Thome, Morneau, Delmon Young, Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel) for just four spots. And if healthy Morneau is going to play nearly every day, so that would mean one of Thome, Young, Cuddyer, or Kubel on the bench for each game.

Against right-handed pitchers the simple solution would be to bench Cuddyer, who batted just .265/.307/.393 versus righties last season and hit a combined .261/.319/.423 off them during the past three years. In theory sitting Cuddyer against most right-handers should be an easy call, but Ron Gardenhire has shown nothing to suggest he'd be willing to platoon him and in fact Cuddyer has almost never been a healthy scratch at any point in the past five seasons.

My hope is Gardenhire will realize Thome is so spectacular versus righties--clobbering them to the tune of .302/.455/.698 last year and .266/.396/.543 from 2008-2010--that he must be in the lineup whenever one is on the mound, but that certainly wasn't the case before Morneau's concussion forced Thome into a bigger role. Assuming everyone is healthy, any game Thome is not starting versus a righty is a game the Twins likely didn't put their best lineup out there.

Choosing a lineup against righties will be tough for Gardenhire because of the logjam created by Thome's return, but choosing a lineup against lefties will be tough because the Twins simply don't have enough capable right-handed bats right now. Thome hit .228/.321/.481 off lefties from 2008-2010, which is mediocre at best for a designated hitter yet dwarfs Kubel's measly .233/.312/.351 line off lefties during that same time.

Much like Jacque Jones before him Kubel should almost never be in the lineup against lefties, but he started 38 of the team's 56 games versus a left-hander last season and had 183 plate appearances off southpaws overall. Thome is a far better option than Kubel versus lefties, but doesn't actually qualify as a good option versus them and sitting Thome when southpaws start would make it easy to keep the 40-year-old well rested as he joins the 600-homer club.

Bringing back Thome for $3 million in guaranteed money is a no-brainer, but the Twins will only receive the full benefit of the great move by actually playing him over Cuddyer against righties. And while bringing back Thome at a bargain price doesn't do anything to balance their lineup versus left-handed pitching, the Twins should have been looking for a right-handed bench bat anyway and can still address the issue by signing any number of free agents at minimal cost.

He's not the perfect fit, but retaining a middle-of-the-order monster for the 100 games started by righties is a lot more important than finding a solid right-handed bat capable of beating up lefties for the other one-third of the schedule. And the great move can become even better if Gardenhire starts Thome against righties more often than he did prior to Morneau's concussion and the Twins add a righty bench bat decent enough that Thome isn't needed versus lefties.

January 14, 2011

Breaking news: Twins re-sign Jim Thome

I'll have more later, but for now you can read my analysis of the Twins re-signing Jim Thome that was written for a non-Minnesota audience at NBCSports.com. Short version: Great move.

Do you think Thome feels guilty about upstaging Link-O-Rama? I'll bet he does.

Link-O-Rama

• After years of campaigning on behalf of Bert Blyleven, blogger Rich Lederer and the Hall of Famer finally met in person at the Twins' fantasy camp in Fort Myers.

• Based on this picture, Dr. Dre will never be voted into the baseball Hall of Fame.

• If this ever reoccurs, my chances with the Official Fantasy Girl of AG.com will skyrocket.

• Making an unsuccessful movie in 1998 sent Oprah Winfrey into what she called "a massive, depressive, macaroni-and-cheese-eating tail spin." Or as it's called in my life: "Tuesday."

• On a related note, I'm responsible for approximately $265 billion of this total.

• No matter how good your week has been, it can't possibly be complete without seeing this:

Not sure if that shows pure joy or pure insanity, but I'm certain I've never had that much fun.

Christina Hendricks was in Playboy way back in 1999. Sort of.

Next thing you know I'll admit to "trying" donuts.

• Some pretty big news in the world of online sportswriting. I'm a huge fan of quite a few AOL Fanhouse writers, including must-reads Clay Travis, Michael David Smith, Ariel Helwani, Jeff Fletcher, Mike Chiappetta, and Tom Krasovic, so hopefully everyone lands on their feet.

• In retrospect, the original casting wish list for Modern Family is pretty amusing.

Kim Kardashian is "having a lot of fun" with Kris Humphries.

• Breaking this habit was a tough one for me, but blogging has made me a one-spacer for life.

• Judging from his 67-yard touchdown run against the Saints last weekend, Marshawn Lynch is the third Super Mario brother:

That's called "Beast Mode."

Ryan Howard listens to The Cranberries. Of course he does.

• Earlier this week I suggested the Twins should sign reliever Chad Qualls for $2 million, but yesterday the Padres did it instead.

Bill Murray is, as always, the man.

• After hearing some intriguing word of mouth, I watched Catfish this week. While certainly not a great movie, as someone whose social interactions occur online about 99 percent of the time I found it extremely interesting/unsettling. Definitely worth checking out.

• If you haven't seen Men of a Certain Age on TNT, you're missing one of the most underrated shows on television.

• In fairness, A.C. Slater probably had it coming.

• If you're familiar with Twins outfield prospect Rene Tosoni or the concept of "icing" someone, odds are you'll enjoy this video from his wedding:

Just for that, I moved him up three spots on my upcoming ranking of Twins prospects.

• My latest podcasting discovery: "The Long Shot" with Sean Conroy, Eddie Pepitone, Jamie Flam, and Amber Kenny. Lots of funny, laid back conversations and lots of good guests from the stand-up comedy world.

• Rules are rules, but Trevor Mbakwe wrote the nicest note to ever get someone arrested.

Bobby Valentine is apparently the new king of Stamford, Connecticut, which is home to the NBCSports.com offices.

Blake Griffin is a bad, bad man, as Mario Chalmers can attest to.

• Here are some highlights from my NBCSports.com blogging this week:

- Twins are "optimistic" that Justin Morneau "will be ready for spring training"
- All-times saves leader Trevor Hoffman announces retirement
- Mariano Rivera could pass Trevor Hoffman for all-time saves lead this season
- Kevin Kouzmanoff thought "where do I fit?" while A's pursued other third basemen
- Armando Galarraga could be odd man out for Tigers' rotation
- Jose Tabata "worked out in the gym every day this winter"
- Can Mike Stanton hit 40 homers in his first full season?
- Cornering the market on scrappiness, Diamondbacks sign Willie Bloomquist

• Finally, this week's AG.com-approved music video is Marvin Gaye doing an a capella version of "I Heard It Through The Grapevine":

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.

« Newer PostsOlder Posts »