August 10, 2011

Twins Notes: Elbows, elbows, and more elbows

Scott Baker has been fantastic despite ongoing elbow problems, throwing 132 innings with a 3.21 ERA and 120-to-32 strikeout-to-walk ratio, but it sounds like the pain may have gotten to where he can't pitch through it. Baker, who underwent elbow surgery in October and spent half of July on the disabled list with a strained flexor muscle, showed decreased velocity while struggling in his last two outings and was placed back on the DL with the same injury, saying:

I have no problem pitching with some discomfort as long as it's something that's not going to get worse. I'm OK being a little sore, but if you're not effective because of it, then that's a different story. So we've got some things to talk through. It's not as bad as it initially was. It's just really kind of lingered for a while, and it takes a lot of work to get loose. I guess there's never an ideal time for this. It's never easy, but you don't want to be that guy that has to go on the DL, if that's the decision they make.

It's remarkable that he's pitched as well as he has for as long as he has, but with the Twins all but out of the playoff picture and Baker not looking like his usual self lately shutting him down is absolutely the right move. Among all Twins pitchers to make at least 20 starts in the past 20 years Baker's current ERA ranks fifth-lowest behind Johan Santana in 2004, Santana in 2005, Santana in 2006, and Joe Mays in 2001.

• In a surprise move, the Twins decided to replace Baker on the roster and in the rotation with Kevin Slowey, who's been buried in the doghouse and stuck at Triple-A for months. Just days ago reports had Anthony Swarzak getting the nod over Slowey if a rotation replacement was needed, but apparently the Twins came around to the notion that they've totally botched the Slowey situation or agree with me that Swarzak isn't likely to fare well as a full-time starter.

I didn't expect Slowey to ever pitch for the Twins again and thought he'd be traded by July 31, but I'm glad to see them giving him another shot. Slowey was one of their five best starters in March when Ron Gardenhire picked Nick Blackburn and Brian Duensing over him for rotation spots and he's one of their five best starters now. I still expect Slowey to be dealt before next season and it wouldn't shock me if he's moved yet this month, but at this point who knows.

• A healthy Kyle Gibson may have been in line to replace Baker down the stretch, but instead the Twins' top prospect has serious elbow problems of his own. Gibson was shut down after a six-week stretch at Triple-A in which he went 0-5 with a 6.47 ERA and the 23-year-old former first-round pick was diagnosed with a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament. That's the injury repaired by Tommy John surgery, but for now he'll try to avoid going under the knife.

In the past choosing rest and rehab over Tommy John surgery hasn't worked out very well for Twins pitchers, but because having the operation now would likely knock Gibson out for all of 2012 anyway there's a small window in which waiting won't significantly alter his timetable. In other words, he'll be aiming to return in March of 2013 whether the surgery is now or in two months, and in the meantime maybe Gibson will get lucky and avoid the knife altogether.

Anthony Slama will be rehabbing alongside Gibson in Fort Myers after being diagnosed with a strained flexor muscle, but it sounds as though the 27-year-old reliever is far less likely to need surgery. Of course, there's little to suggest that a healthy Slama would have been in the Twins' plans anyway and his odds of securing a long-term spot in the bullpen are pretty slim at this point despite a 2.59 ERA and 135 strikeouts in 118 innings at Triple-A.

• Over the weekend Joe Christensen of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported that the Twins offered Michael Cuddyer a two-year, $16 million extension that he predictably turned down and now Christensen says they "also spoke to" fellow impending free agent Jason Kubel. No word yet on if they made an actual offer to Kubel also, but according to Christensen he shares Cuddyer's desire to "hold off on negotiating until after the season."

• On the other hand, Joe Nathan told Charley Walters of the St. Paul Pioneer Press he hasn't heard "one way or another" from the Twins about their plans for him in 2012. He's technically under contract for next year, but the Twins will surely choose a $2 million buyout rather than exercise their $12.5 million option on the 36-year-old reliever. Nathan has pitched well enough of late to think he can be an effective closer in 2012, but he'll have to accept a pay cut to stay.

Justin Morneau had another big game at Triple-A last night, going 3-for-5 with two doubles, and is now 8-for-14 with four doubles in his last three games in Rochester. Not surprisingly the Twins seem just about ready to activate him from the DL, with Gardenhire saying that Morneau could potentially return as soon as Monday. That would be almost exactly six weeks after neck surgery that was expected to sideline him for at least six weeks.

Jim Souhan, in his most recent Minneapolis Star Tribune column:

Mauer's contract kept the Twins from bolstering their bullpen this winter and it might keep them from re-signing Michael Cuddyer, who has vastly outperformed Mauer over the past two years.

Wins Above Replacement since the beginning of last season: Mauer 6.5, Cuddyer 3.8. (Sigh.)

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  • Stu

    Not that Souhan actually would understand WAR, but c’mon Aaron, cut him a break. Mauer has to rack up elevated stats over, basically, Drew Butera. Considering his positional multitude, I’m not sure who Cuddy’s replacement comparison would be, but he’s gotta beat out Sweet Drew.

    If you take Souhan’s comp verbatim, I’d have to guess Cuddy could get over the 58% threshold in production, as compared to Mauer, that the WAR number pegs him at. Souhan’s a verbatim guy, I’m sure. Only ~50% of this post was tongue-in-cheek.

  • Bill

    At least Cuddy’s earned his money….Mauer not at all. Even last year in the last year of his previous contract, his numbers were down.

    As for WAR, its a good stat, but Mauer is up against Catchers, Cuddy —RF’s, much more talent. Plus, Cuddy is much more of a leader than Mauer.

  • Pedro Munoz

    Unless you give Cuddy credit for playing a number of positions (and playing them all poorly) he sure didn’t earn his money last year. His WAR last year was 0.8. What that means is that the Twins could have picked up some journeyman player, paid him the league minimum, and would have won just under one less game that they did in paying Cuddy $10 million. Mauer’s WAR last year was 5.6, even with his numbers down from the year before.

    Cuddy has outplayed Mauer this year (3.0 to 0.9) but Mauer was hurt much of the year. I wouldn’t be surprised to see that WAR gap close significantly and maybe Mauer even passes Cuddy by the time the season is over.

    Anyway, Souhan is a moron. And if Mauer’s contract prevents us from signing a mediocre defensive outfielder who alternates decent offensive seasons and brutal ones, the correct response is that no one should give a s**t.

  • Mike in SD

    Souhan just wants to be the voice of the common man, whose pulse he monitors on Twitter…yet he has apparently only figured out how to follow Fanatic Jack.

  • Steve J

    …I’m not sure who Cuddy’s replacement comparison would be ….

    It would be someone not all that much worse than Cuddyer was last season.

    but he’s gotta beat out Sweet Drew.

    “Sweetum’s” been a half run worse than a waiver-wire bum, and he’s essentially the second best catcher in the system.

    That’s scary.

  • Freealonzo

    But Cuddy does magic tricks, that’s got to count for at least 2 Wins. Then there’s the fact that Mauer is a pussy singles hitter, deduct one win from his total, viola Cuddy is better than Mauer!!

  • RandyMoist

    Bill you are misunderstanding WAR if you think Cuddyer and Mauer being compared to their respective positions is unfair to one of them. You compare a player to their position because some positions are relatively scarce in talent (an average fielder at a position like catcher or SS is a much weaker hitter than an average fielding corner outfield). Mauer has put up numbers at catcher that are very high relative to catchers of the era (his bat could conceivably play at 1st, think about that when considering how nice having Mauer at catcher is) while Cuddyer has only been a slightly above league average hitter in the corner outfield. When you consider defense, Mauer has looked around average by almost any metric that ranks defense for catchers and Cuddyer is terrible defender at a position loaded with bad defenders.

    So players in Cuddyer’s mold, poor outfielder with a decent bat, are not rare and he is correctly devalued by WAR. Players like Mauer, average catchers with a great bat, are an extremely valuable player. It’s precisely because Cuddyer plays among more talented hitters that he is less valuable. His health has been a plus as well and this is factored into WAR.

    Also WAR is a fairly contentious stats for a number of reasons so it’s kind of funny you’d say IT’S A GOOD STAT BUT. Read up on it more, though, I’m sure I’m not doing it justice.

    And finally, this table (http://www.baseball-reference.com/leagues/split.cgi?t=b&lg=MLB&year=2011#defp) will show you just how big the gap between catchers and outfields can be. Keep in mind it’s just one year but feel free to go back several years and see that generally the difference will still remain humongous.

  • Josh

    Mauer v. Cuddyer 2009-2011

    Cuddyer’s OPS+: 124, 106, 135
    Mauer’s OPS+: 170, 139, 95

    So Cuddyer has out-hit Mauer in exactly 1 year (which isn’t even over yet) and it’s the year where Mauer was hurt. That’s some good researchin’ there, Souhan.

    Look, I like Cuddyer. He’s a nice player to have: solid RH-bat, can play multiple positions, good guy in the clubhouse & the community. Lots to like about Cuddyer. But the only way he’s been better than Mauer over the last 2 years is if you pretend Mauer’s stats from this season were the same last season.

    Souhan is the classic “what have you done for me lately” guy. No memory of anything stretching back more than one season. Mauer hasn’t been good this year, therefore Cuddyer’s better. Talk about a guy stealing his paycheck: Jim Souhan wins this title over Joe Mauer.

  • Tom W.

    Interviews freely given to Souhan over the last two years:

    Cuddyer – 225
    Mauer – 5

    From Souhan’s perspective, Cuddyer has clearly outperformed Mauer.

  • http://jasonwinter.blogspot.com Jason w

    Forget all them crazy, new-fangled stats (kids, these days!):

    Mauer 2010-2011:
    .316/.388/.432, .820

    Cuddyer 2010-2011:
    .281/.346/.445, .792

  • mike wants wins

    I’m a stats guy, largely. But, when even the PR guys in the Strib are saying there are questions about Mauer’s heart and toughness (something implied earlier this year) in the clubhouse, there has to be some value in Cuddy and his role on the team. That said, it is mostly about production, and Mauer is just a better player than Cuddy. I’ve been as critical of Cuddy and the media’s love of him as anyone, but he does have value to this team, I believe.

    As for Slama, he’s an example of the Twins’ obsession with scouting and the eyeball test, over the belief in science and math. He’s an example of small sample size judgements.

  • mike wants wins

    Cliff Lee has more HRs than Mauer…..

  • Wyatt

    I just hope the twins don’t overpay for Cuddyer’s “intangibles” and career year. Giving a 32 year old a big 3 year contract (who will be 33 years old when the contract starts) is risky enough, but when you consider that prior to this season, his peak war seasons were 2.1 and 1.9, it makes it even riskier. His defense(which ranges from below average to really bad, no matter where he plays) will get worse over the next 3 years. Even in his career year, his OPS is only 73 points above league average. Add up poor defense with a slightly above average bat, and in his career year, he is a slightly above average player, and maybe worth $10 million/year. Expecting him to be worth $10 million/year over the next 3 years is highly unlikely. I believe that money could be better spent elsewhere (like building a time machine to go back and resign JJ Hardy, not trade for Delmon & Matt Capps, not hire Bill Smith to be the GM, etc.) A good GM finds good players who are undervalued and will play for less than they’re worth (Anthopolous in Toronto, Friedman in Tampa Bay for example), and doesn’t overpay for players who are somewhat average.

    That said, the Twins love to overvalue intangibles, relief pitchers, defensive catchers, speed, etc. So it wouldn’t surprise me if they offer something along the lines of 3 years/30 million to their roughly league average right fielder.

  • ML

    Cliff Lee has also given up more HRs than Mauer.

    Now THAT’s a meaningless stat.

  • mike wants wins

    I just found it fascinating. It is not a stat that says anything useful other than for entertainment purposes.

  • LaBombo

    Wyatt’s time machine idea sounds good to me. If there’s only enough anti-matter to use it once, set it to Bill Smith’s hire date minus one. That way we’ll take care of the Delmon trade AND the Santana trade in one shot, along with other past and future blunders.

    At least Boston had the decency to send Masterson to Cleveland so that we don’t have to have all three components of the potential Santana deal rubbing our noses in it for this whole series.

    Of course, now that he’s in the division, Masterson will be handing the Twins their butts routinely for years to come, but hey, you can’t have everything.

    Especially when Bill Smith is your GM.

  • frightwig

    It’s also worth pointing out that Michael Cuddyer, in a career year, is this year’s team MVP probably because all of the other likely candidates were hurt. Span was on his way to a 4-5 WAR season when he was taken out by a concussion. Kubel’s OPS/wOBA/wRC+ and fielding are closely similar to Cuddyer’s; they would likely have comparable WAR value if Kubel hadn’t been out a couple months. And of course Mauer and Morneau have not been themselves because of injury. Cuddyer’s final WAR this season probably won’t touch what Morneau was worth in half of last season, or Mauer’s value in any of the last 3 years.

    This actually is the first time that Mauer won’t be the team WAR leader on the season since 2004, when he missed most of that season after tearing up his knee in the first place. Since his debut that year, Mauer has been worth 34.8 WAR. The next-most valuable Twin in that time? Morneau, 20.7 WAR. Cuddyer? 14.3 WAR since ’04, or 14.4 WAR in his whole Twins career. So, yeah, Joe Mauer’s career, so far, has been worth 20 more wins than Michael Cuddyer, and 14 more wins than the next-most valuable guy on the team in the last 8 seasons. Eat a bag of dicks, Souhan.

  • Jake

    Your last sentence is right on, frightwig. I went to the the game last night, and all I hear is people bashing Mauer. It’s just insane. We have been so blessed compared to other small markets in the big names we have had in MN over the years, not just in baseball, but in all sports (KG, Moss, etc.) With all of them, all people can seem to do is nitpick about their failings. These are sure-fire hall-of-famers! Joe Mauer is probably the best catcher in major league history ( I truly believe that), and yet if you listen to Souhan and his ilk we should trade him to new york for Alex Burnett, Ivan Nova, and Joe Girardia’s clear plastic braces. F-in sickening.

  • LaBombo

    Bill James wrote that an almost universal mark of a bad franchise is the tendency to blame their best players when the team doesn’t meet expectations. Apparently, at least with respect to Mauer, that extends to bad fans as well.

    Ironically, one instance in which he referenced that axiom was in defense of Mike Piazza, when the Mets were obsessing over his defensive liabilities while he was on his way to probably the most productive offensive career in the history of his position.

  • Pedro Munoz

    I hooked the flux capacitor up to the Delorean to see what things were like 2014. Cuddyer is in the final year of his 3 year 35 million dollar contract. His defense is now so bad all he can do is DH, and his offensive skills have declined to the point where he shouldn’t be playing at all. He is providing a lot of leadership, though. Now that I have returned, what can be done? No one should be surprised about my report from the future, but that won’t stop Bill Smith from signing Cuddy to a stupid deal.

  • JB_Iowa

    I thought only God was omnipresent until I saw the media’s relationship with Cuddyer. It is quite possible that other players might “fill the leadership void” if Cuddyer is not re-signed.

  • mike wants wins

    So, I should not be displeased with Mauer’s year this year? I should not be concerned that he is owed 20% of the budget the next 6 years? I should not be concerned that his WAR is driven (not insignificantly) by his position, which he may not be able to play in a couple of years?

    Mauer is a great, great baseball player. That does not make him immune from criticism for his lack of leadership, and his lack of production this year. Criticizing his play for this year does not mean we want him traded, nor does it mean we think he’ll suck like this next year, nor does it mean most fans really think Cuddy is more valuable. It means he’s bad this year.

  • LaBombo

    mww- Of course Mauer’s not entirely above criticism for his lack of production.

    But it’s not really his fault that the organization payed him so much, and based that payday on his being able to stay at catcher throughout most of the contract.

    And it’s not entirely his fault if he hasn’t produced due to health issues, especially in a franchise that would have a hard time keeping a pet rock healthy for 162 games.

  • mike wants wins

    sniff, I remember when we had to flush our pet rock down the toilet…..

  • mike wants wins

    Like it or not, if you accept 20% of a team’s payroll (even if the team was wrong to offer it to you, which I’m not arguing the Twins are in this case), a certain responsibility for being one of the best players in your sport, a clubhouse leader, and on being on the field even when you are tired/sore/hurt comes with it. He knew that when he signed his deal. If he and some fans can’t take the heat, then their expectations of others’ behaviors are probably not realistic (even if those behaviors are not good behaviors).

  • brian

    MWW- C’mon. Focus.

  • frightwig

    Even well-paid players might get hurt, and it might affect their performance, and they might have to spend time on the DL, even if they are tough guys. To rake a player over the coals for not meeting high expectations while he’s been legitimately hurt is just crummy and low, particularly when the guy has a track record like Joe Mauer.

    Not only has Mauer been the team MVP over the past 6 seasons, he’s easily the best catcher in the majors (by WAR) in that span, and he had the most plate appearances of all catchers in those years. What sort of fan or analyst wants to stick it to a guy like that as soon as he starts to struggle with an injury, and throw him over for the next personable guy who’s having a good year? To look at what some people write, you’d think that Cuddyer has always been the heart and soul of the team and Mauer was never anything but hype, a softie, overvalued “just because he plays catcher.”

    I get that people are concerned about his contract. Even when he signed it, I thought there was significant risk in committing so much money over that many years to a catcher who has already had knee and back problems. So, there is a legitimate concern, sure. But there’s a difference between concern about the future and attacking your star player over something that’s not entirely within his control, before he’s had a real chance to recover from his injury and show what he can do, going forward.

    Right now, NONE OF US KNOW whether or not Joe Mauer is done as an elite player. But, given all that he’s done for the team over the past several years, he deserves some benefit of the doubt. (And, if it helps, think of a portion of his current salary as back pay. Fangraphs estimates his value from 2004-10 at about $138 million, while he was paid $34 millon. If he’s just a $10 million player each year through 2018, the Twins still ought to just about break even with him on his career, then.)

  • mike wants wins

    All good points, frightwig. Very good points. As for breaking even in salary over his career, nah, doesn’t make me feel better. Because it’s not like they used those savings in the early years to sign players, and they certainly (already this year, with Hardy) will have to cut back on some medium priced players over this contract.

    As for how people feel about Mauer’s toughness and heart, some of that started to come out from the clubhouse for a week or two, before the Twins crushed that coverage again. From what little leaked out, it appears this is not just a fan issue.

    All that said, he’s one of the best hitters in all of MLB, and I hope he recovers his strength next year.

  • loudjon

    I have not bothered to read everybody’s comments, but Cuddyer has played significantly more than Mauer. I think that has to account for something in his value in the average fans mind, and part of me tends to agree. However, Cuddyer has had his lost seasons to injury as well.

    On the flip side of the argument I found it amusing that Kubel’s WAR is BELOW Jason Repko and just ahead of Lil’ Nicky Punto, and Alexi Casilla practically laps him (1.3 to 2.5). Those WAR numbers would indicate we would probably rather offer arbitration, let him walk and take the draft picks.

  • Cap’n TK

    Fire Billy Smith!!!

    Santana for garbage.

    Garza and Bartlett for Young, rumored to be on waivers.

    Hardy for garbage.

    Are there no standards in that organization? The guy is a train wreck as a GM. Aaron, beat teh drum to bounce this guy out the door!

  • frightwig

    Where are you getting your information, loudjon?

    Jason Kubel is currently worth 1.7 fWAR in 293 PA.
    Jason Repko, 0.2 fWAR in 111 PA.
    Alexi Casilla, 1.3 fWAR in 362 PA.
    Nick Punto, 1.4 fWAR in 131 PA (while posting career-best obp/slg, by far)

    If we project Kubel’s fWAR to 469 PA (same as Cuddyer), he’d be worth 2.7 fWAR (compared to Cuddyer’s 2.9). If the Twins had to keep just one guy, Cuddyer or Kubel, I’d rather see Smith sign Kubel for the next few years, and offer arbitration to Cuddyer and take the picks if he signs elsewhere.

  • Zack

    “All good points, frightwig. Very good points. As for breaking even in salary over his career, nah, doesn’t make me feel better. Because it’s not like they used those savings in the early years to sign players, and they certainly (already this year, with Hardy) will have to cut back on some medium priced players over this contract.”

    I don’t know if it’s because of Mauer’s contract per se. Cuddyer was being paid $10 million this year, Joe Nathan was making $12 million, Delmon Young is making $5.5 million, Matt Capps is making $7 million, Carl Pavano is making $8 million. I would’ve rather had Hardy than Capps or Pavano or Young. The Twins should have a budget for 24 players of around $90-100 million. If the front office cannot prioritize that money properly (e.g., overpaying for Saves, paying $8 million for a 5th starter who won’t be replacing the 5th starter, etc.) that’s on them, not on Mauer.

    I think people are far too hard on Mauer, and for stupid reasons. I think that his contract is certainly a risk, but I hardly think his career is over because of a bad season, seemingly due to injury which was caused by rushing back to play instead of resting his injury.

  • Joe

    I’m no sabermatrician, but I divided WAR/Games and got the following results for 2010-2011:

    WAR/Games:
    1. Justin Morneau 0.0083
    2. Joe Mauer 0.0082
    3. Orlando Hudson 0.0061 (!)
    4. J.J. Hardy 0.0067
    5. Jim Thome 0.0071
    6. Denard Span 0.0049
    7. Danny Valencia 0.0041
    8. Jason Repko 0.007
    9. Alexi Casilla 0.0047 (!)
    10. Nick Punto 0.0045 (!)
    11. Michael Cuddyer 0.0032
    12. Delmon Young 0.0026
    13. Ben Revere 0.0022
    14. Jason Kubel 0.0016
    15. Luke Hughes 0.001
    16. Matt Tolbert 0.0007
    17. Rene Rivera 0
    18. Drew Butera -0.0006
    19. Jose Morales -0.0023
    20. Trevor Plouffe -0.0046
    21. Tsuyoshi Nishioka -0.0057
    22. Brendan Harris -0.0075
    23. Rene Tosoni -0.0103

    Nishi’s better than Brendan Harris!

    Feel free to poke holes in this if I am way off base…

  • ewen21

    Michael Cuddyer will be resigned by this team for A LOT of money. No question about it. The way the press, his manager and the announcers gush over him how can Bill Smith let him walk? The Twins Media Machine loves Michael Cuddyer because he has played the game the right way WITH THEM. That is a HUGE. He’s messaged their fragile egos and they reward him for it. It’s all centered around the image he projected to them. He’s really packaged himself very cleverly in this market. If he were somewhat reclusive and had a neck tatoo it would be a whole lot different him. Not that either of those two things are a bad thing, but let’s not kid ourselves–he’d probably have been gone after his terrible ’08 campaign had he not been so whitebread and affable. The fact is, Michael Cuddyer fits in with the image the Twins want to project. All he has to do is not be completely incompetent and he’ll have a job. THe fact that he went on a tear this year scares me. Now the FO will reward him for THIS SEASON rather than pay him based off future expectations. They will ignore his advancing age and his inconsistent production. We really should have sold high on him when we could have a couple of weeks ago.

  • scot

    I am also afraid Twins will over pay to keep Cuddy. Same deal the Twins did for Punto a few years ago. Sign Kubel to long term deal and offer MC arbitration, thats what I would do. Worst case and he accepts and Twins over pay him for one year, NOT 3 or 4 years.