October 31, 2011

Twins Notes: Nathan’s option, Thome’s options, releases, and single ladies

• As expected, the Twins declined their $12.5 million option on Joe Nathan and instead paid a $2 million buyout, making the 36-year-old a free agent. General manager Bill Smith has said repeatedly that they're interested in re-signing Nathan for a lesser salary, but doing so may require a two-year deal and there's no shortage of closers available this offseason. Declining the option was a no-brainer, but the wisdom of bringing Nathan back depends on the price.

Nathan looked nothing like his old self upon returning from Tommy John surgery and ended up going back on the disabled list with more elbow problems in late May. He came off the shelf a month later and reclaimed closer duties within a few weeks, posting a 3.38 ERA and 28-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio in his final 29 innings. Those numbers aren't quite pre-surgery Nathan and his velocity remained several ticks below his peak, but he looked very good.

With about $30 million to spend and at least a handful of holes to address coming off a 99-loss season the Twins would be smart not to commit tons of money to a 70-inning pitcher, let alone a 70-inning pitcher who'll soon be 37 years old and has just 29 innings of success since elbow surgery that cost him miles per hour. Nathan's price tag rising any higher than one year and $7 million or so should push the Twins to strongly consider cheaper, younger bullpen options.

• Smith has indicated that the Twins are unlikely to pursue Jim Thome as a free agent, citing their desire to have a more flexible roster that doesn't include a 41-year-old designated hitter who can't run or field. All things being equal that makes sense, particularly since they already limit the bench options by carrying 12 pitchers, but if Thome is available for $1 million it would be silly to rule him out completely.

There's a lot he can't do, but Thome still hit .256/.361/.477 with power and patience this year and slotting him into the DH spot for a minimal investment would give them a much-needed big bat while leaving most of their money to patch other holes. Roster flexibility is nice, especially given the Twins' many health issues, but if you can add an .800-OPS hitter for $500,000 more than the minimum salary it's probably worth living with some bench limitations.

Matt Eddy of Baseball America notes that the Twins released 12 minor leaguers: Kyle Wahl, Nick Alloway, Marcus Limon, Bobby O'Neill, Nick Cicio, Justin Parker, Sam Spangler, Matt Tone, Jamaal Hawkins, Nick Romero, Brandon Henderson, Derek McCallum. Most of those guys were late-round picks and organizational depth, but Romero was the Twins' fifth-round pick in 2008 and McCallum was their fifth rounder in 2009.

McCallum was the first Gophers hitter with a .400 batting average since Brent Gates in 1994, broke Robb Quinlan's single-season school RBI record, and led the Big Ten in hits, home runs, slugging percentage, and RBIs during his final season, but struggled with injuries as a pro and simply never hit. McCallum was never considered a good defender at second base and hit just .215/.295/.302 with 179 strikeouts in 201 games while failing to advance beyond Single-A.

• I'm still holding out some hope that Alex Burnett can develop into a solid setup man despite a 5.40 ERA through his first 107 appearances, but Parker Hageman of Over The Baggy passed along a discouraging stat: This season Burnett got a swinging strike on just 5.4 percent of his pitches, which is the lowest rate of any reliever in baseball. By comparison Jonathan Papelbon led baseball at 16.8 percent and Glen Perkins led the Twins at 11.2 percent.

• Last winter the Twins reportedly finished runner-up in the bidding for Japanese right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma, who ultimately failed to sign with the A's after they bid $19 million for his exclusive negotiating rights. Oakland got a refund and Iwakuma went back to Japan, where he posted a 2.42 ERA and 90/19 K/BB ratio in 117 innings at age 30. Iwakuma is now an outright free agent and requires no bidding, so it'll be interesting to see if the Twins try again.

• Last but certainly not least, here's Ben Revere singing (sort of) "Single Ladies" by Beyonce:

Apparently a bunch of Rochester players showed off their pipes, because there's also YouTube evidence of Brian Dinkelman singing "Wanted Dead Or Alive" by Bon Jovi and Andy Baldwin singing "Rock With You" by Michael Jackson.

  • http://www.iowabaseballconfederacy.com jryager

    The sneer at about the 0:33 mark is what makes the Ben Revere song art.

  • http://twinkietown.com steve hoffman

    I’m beginning to feel like the Hisashi Iwakuma is becoming true if he ends up agreeing to a non-ridiculous posting fee.

    My BLUEPRINT; Gleeman and Bonnes’ may not love it but listening to all the podcasts…I’m as anxious as John B to see Gleeman’s BP.

    C – Joe Mauer (3rd)
    1B – Justin Morneau (6th)
    2B – Alexi Casilla (2nd)
    SS – Reid Brignac (9th)
    3B – Danny Valencia (7th)
    LF – Ben Revere (8th)
    CF – Denard Span (lead-off)
    RF – Jason Kubel (clean-up)
    DH – Chris Parmelee / Jonny Gomes (5th)
    — bench—
    Gomes/ Parmelee
    SS/2B – Tsuyoshi Nishioka
    C – Pudge Rodriguez
    OF – Rene Tosoni
    —-
    :top 40 Man roster guys: to bring up :::
    Drew Butera(AAA), Joe Benson(AAA) , Brian Dozier(AAA), Yangarvis Solarte(UTL./AAA), Luke Hughes(AAA), Brandon Roberts(OF/ AAA), Chris Herrmann(C/ AA), Oswaldo Arcia? (OF/ A+)

    Rotation:
    SP Scott Baker
    SP Francisco Liriano
    SP Mark Buerhle (3 yrs… $27M with incentives to spike)
    SP Carl Pavano
    SP Hisashi Iwakuma
    —-
    -Relief-
    Joe Nathan, Glen Perkins, Michael Wuertz, Brian Duensing, Nick Blackburn, Adam Russell, Carlos Gutierrez.
    —-
    ::other 40-man guys to bring up:::—
    Liam Hendriks (AAA) , Scott Diamond (AAA), Lester Oliveros (AAA) , Kyle Waldrop (AAA) , Tyler Robertson (AAA), Dave Bromberg (AA) , alex burnet (aaa)

    *** the 1 big trade is (T.B.)’s Reid Brignac and Adam Russell (Rays like B. Gomes, C. Ramos from bartlet deal over Russell) for Kevin Slowey, Anthony Swarzak, Trevor Plouffe + rights to Slama if they want.

  • http://twinkietown.com steve hoffman

    I should say I strongly think Cuddyer will get 3 to 4 years at 11 Million per or more and the Twins should not do it!!!!

    He’s type A from Elias and the Twins will get decent Compensatoin in return especially if the Rockies or team with better winning % sign him.

    Kubel could be had at 3 years at $6 – 7.5MM per IMO better bet then Cuddyer, even though he lacks the defensive skill to an already over valued defender in Cuddyer.

  • Caleb

    Hi Aaron,

    I found your blog a year or so ago and have enjoyed it. I am actually from Omaha, NE but am a Twins fan because my grandparents live in MN and I was actually staying with them at age 7 during the ’91 WS.

    I’ve been listening to your podcast now too and my opinion on the one or two-part is if they go over 1:15 or so you should break them up. I have to listen to your 90 minute ones in two sessions anyway.

    QUESTION FOR PODCAST (I don’t have Twitter…I know, so 2005 of me): What do you think of Brian Duensing’s future? Reliever or starter, etc? As you know, Duensing is from Omaha and played his college ball at Nebraska, and his college career has actually paralleled his majors career. From what I remember, he first flourished as a long reliever mostly on Sundays bailing out the always poor no.3 starters before being finally given a starting role when our ace went down and some success there. He then had TJ surgery and missed most of 2 yrs but then in ’05 started only part of the year as Joba Chamberlain was our ace. He actually wasn’t successful enough as a started and ended being a long reliever, a role in which he was very good. I guess I said all that to say that the major league Duensing repeated that cycle but without the injury. He initially had success as a starter but now struggled in 2011. I think he’ll be better as a reliever in the 6th/7th innings especially getting out lefties. Thoughts?

  • Jim H

    I disagree with you on Thome. I don’t think he should be brought back under any circumstances. The roster/bench considerations are part of it but most of the problem is that rate stats overvalue his contributions.

    There were times when Thome was used as a DH against less than favorable match-ups. The reason-the bench. If you have a guy out with the flu and another with a minor injury, you virtually have to DH him because he can’t play in the field even in an emergency. You couldn’t use him even as a PH unless there was somebody to go into the field for him. So unless major league baseball goes to a 27 man roster, you always have that potential problem with Thome.

    The major problem with Thome, however is that is value is almost entirely tied to the home run. If he doesn’t hit a home run in a game he appears in, you might as well have a weak hitting infielder like Punto as your DH or PH. Even 2 years ago when he hit over 20 HR’s that means that he contributed virtually nothing in 140 games. Even his walks don’t help as much as they might since he can’t run at all.

    Now, I really like Thome and appreciate his contributions to baseball and the Twins. I just think his value(home runs, basically) is overwhelmed by all the other negatives he has,at this stage of his career.

  • Pedro Munoz

    Realizing that he is going to cost at least $15M a year (and not $9M) is there any chance the Twins would go after Bueherle? That seems like a better investment than throwing the same money on the defensively challenged Kubel and Cuddyer.

  • mike wants wins

    I’m not sure how John didn’t understand your “appeal to authority” statement at all….

  • http://twinkietown.com steve hoffman

    Like The Maloney Claim , HATE the Jeff Grey claim.

    hopefully Grey gets re-released or put back to the M’s before he fills an otherwise open spot on the 40-man.

  • ewen21

    It’s nice to see the boys down in Rochester had some fun signing last season. I certainly wouldn’t want these young lads to dwell on the fact that they were the worst team in their league for two years straight. And as a matter of fact, why not reward a whole bunch of these same players by calling them up? We’ll have a ton of ‘injuries’ anyway. We can always fall back on that as an excuse. In the meantime we can complain about how this new crop of young players don’t play sound fundamental baseball. Never mind the fact that most of these guys were drafted and raised in our own system. Since they are now gone we can throw the now vanquished coaching staff in Rochester under the bus. It will take a good year or two to clean up the mess those incompetent boobs made. They no longer wear the uniform so they are now dead to me.

    Good find by the Twins STEALING Gray and Maloney from the wavier wire, btw. This should bolster our young staff. It will give Gardy lots of ‘options’ while constructing his roster. I just hope team chemistry is held intact and we resign Nathan and Cuddyer to multiyear contracts. These guys should retire as Twins as they are truly leaders in that clubhouse. Their presence will most certainly be important in the development of the young players the Twins have now. Cuddyer & Nathan could show them how to ‘get after it’ and ‘do some stuff good’ ……..who better than Mr. Twin to impart the Twins way to these young and impressionable ballplayers? This is why Cuddyer should get (if there is any justice) a five year 60 million dollar deal.