November 19, 2011

Twins sign catcher/outfielder Ryan Doumit to one-year, $3 million deal

For the second time in a week the Twins moved quickly to fill a hole with a low-cost free agent, signing Ryan Doumit to a one-year, $3 million contract after previously signing Jamey Carroll to a two-year, $6.75 million deal. Doumit, like Carroll, was a player I recommended targeting in my position-by-position breakdown of inexpensive, realistic free agent options and $3 million is an absolute bargain for the flawed but very useful 30-year-old.

Doumit has been a catcher for most of his career, making 403 starts and logging 3,513 innings behind the plate during seven seasons with the Pirates, but his defense has always been a weakness. His arm is decent enough, as Doumit threw out 24 percent of steal attempts this year and 25 percent for his career, but his passed ball and wild pitch totals aren't pretty and a study by Mike Fast of Baseball Prospectus showed Doumit as MLB's worst at framing pitches.

Ideally he'd see minimal action behind the plate, but if Joe Mauer spends time on the disabled list again and his backup is forced into an extended role Doumit will allow the Twins to sacrifice defense for offense with a better alternative than Drew Butera. And if Mauer can stay mostly healthy the Twins can keep Butera in a limited backup role and plug Doumit into the lineup as a corner outfielder, first baseman, and designated hitter.

Doumit isn't going to be a standout defender away from catcher, but he's logged 489 innings in right field and 251 innings at first base and should be passable at worst in either spot. And his bat is strong enough to be an asset anywhere, as Doumit is a switch-hitter with a career .271/.334/.442 line and batted .303/.353/.477 this year. For comparison, Michael Cuddyer is a career .272/.343/.451 hitter and batted .284/.346/.459 this year.

Doumit's overall numbers and Cuddyer's overall numbers are almost identical, but within that are very different hitters. Cuddyer destroys left-handers and is mediocre versus right-handers, while Doumit is very good against righties and mediocre off lefties. That means Doumit doesn't fit quite as well in a Twins lineup heavy on lefty bats, but even in a different form production is still production and a poor man's Cuddyer who can also play catcher is a great fit for $3 million.

Along with shaky catching his injury history is another reason Doumit was available so cheaply after the Pirates declined his $7.25 million option. He broke his ankle this year, broke his wrist in 2009, and has had concussions. However, the fractured ankle came when a runner plowed into him at the plate and the concussions stemmed from foul tips to the mask, so transitioning away from catching regularly should significantly increase Doumit's odds of staying healthy.

And if Doumit can stay healthy he's capable of posting some very nice numbers. He's been an above-average hitter in four of the past five seasons, batting .280/.337/.454 during that time while averaging 20 homers and 37 doubles per 500 at-bats. He's a free-swinger, drawing just 43 walks per 600 plate appearances over that four-year span, but Doumit also leans into quite a few pitches to boost his on-base percentage and doesn't strike out much.

Doumit is far from a perfect player, but he hits well enough to replace Cuddyer or Jason Kubel if they go elsewhere as free agents, can also fill in at first base if Justin Morneau's concussion symptoms persist, has enough catching experience to be far better than Butera if needed to replace Mauer behind the plate, and brings some much-needed versatility to a roster filled with health questions. For a modest one-year commitment that's some good shopping on a budget.

  • http://tenthinningstretch.blogspot.com/ thrylos98

    Doumit’s passed ball rate last season was better than that of both Mauer and Butera. Interesting analysis about the receiving part and the called strikes, but I’d love to see it normalized by plate umpire to make it valid ;)

  • http://jszym2write@yahoo.com jfs

    I don’t see a lot of benefits with this signing. I would rather stick with Butera as Mauer’s backup, as we already know that Butera is a decent defensive catcher. Sure, Butera can’t hit his weight, but that is passable if he’s only in the lineup twice a week.

    The $3 million cost in the previous two off-seasons would have been understandable, as the team’s payroll was increasing. Ryan has already stated that the 2012 payroll will range between $95-105 million, or $7-17 million less than 2011′s. So, Doumit’s $3 million deal, while appearing to be cheap, is not really affordable for a player whose defense is shoddy and whose left/right offensive splits are not very even. That said, if Gardenhire can use Doumit effectively, capitalizing on Doumit’s strengths, the one-year deal may work well for the Twins, as Doumit will essentially be in a walk year and will be, barring injuries, playing for his next contract.

    Finally, Kubel and Cuddyer should have been signed to extensions a year ago. They should be Twins for the remainder of their careers. String a few “small” $3 million deals together on marginal players like Doumit and you have essentially precluded signing Kubel and/or Cuddyer.

    Let’s get back to getting value in signings and through trades.

  • grubah

    Sorry jfs, but your points don’t hold water. Extensions for Cuddy & Kubes were going to cost WAY too much, especially Cuddyer. And the thought of seeing Butera at the plate more than 50 times next year makes me nauseous. Signing Doumit (who can play multiple spots) likely means we can keep Butera on the bench, and rotate Doumit/Mauer/Morneau through the C/1B/DH spots.

    I find this signing to be a great signing.

    One final thought:

    Aaron, do you think Terry Ryan is using your analysis? Sure seems like he’s shopping off your grocery list.

  • http://jszym2write@yahoo.com jfs

    Aaron’s piece mentioned Doumit’s concussions. Concussions. Plural. A huge warning sign. Have we not learned anything from Morneau’s multiple concussions? Forget about the implications multiple concussions have on a player’s contributions to the team. What about the welfare of the player? Maybe 20 years from now, we’ll realize how inhumane it is to trot a professional athlete out to play a physical game every day, while dealing with a brain injury.

  • JustinCB

    Butera can’t hit HALF his weight. This was a good signing, no question. It’s a ONE YEAR DEAL.

  • http://jszym2write@yahoo.com jfs

    I know this is off topic, but I just read that the Twins have outrighted Bromberg to Rochester. He was injured this past season, but has worked hard to get back on track. Does this mean he’ll be exposed to the Rule 5 draft?

    Does it make sense to tie up roster spots on the likes of Maloney and Gray, while demoting a home-grown player with considerable upside?

  • Jeff

    I love it. It’s a cheap one year deal on a player who isn’t old and can play a few different positions.

  • spoofbonser

    Does it make sense to tie up roster spots on the likes of a guy who has worked hard to get back?

    Doumit is a great signing. It’s very low risk contract in a market where catchers are signing quickly The Twins got one of the top 2-3 hitters available without giving anything up. If he can stay healthy and log a bunch of at bats, he has a chance at being a type A free agent next year. So if he walks, the Twins could potentially get a 2013 first round draft pick and a 2013 supplemental first round draft pick in return. (rules may change)

    In other words, add 2 potential prospects when weighing his upside.

  • spoofbonser

    also, it makes me think less of losing Wilson Ramos……..too bad for that trade……there I go again

  • Brian

    Butera is not a major league baseball player. period. He’s a nice guy who works hard and is a good teammate, but seriously… he’s never hit. even in the minors. I would hope if we view Doumit as a fielder and emergency catcher, that we’re still looking for an upgrade at backup catcher. It’s just not that hard or expensive to do it when you consider what you’re upgrading from.

  • Sean

    I agree with Brian, we still need a backup catcher. Mauer should be playing first relatively often, Morneau should be DH’ing, and Doumit should be shifting from catcher to first to left field as necessary. Ramon Castro or another catcher that can crush lefties would be a nice add-on — a guy willing to play once a week for a specific pitcher, and Mauer and Doumit split the other 4 starters. Sounds like money in the bank to me, especially if they can all stay healthy from the reduced role at backstop.

    Great signing. What a difference a GM makes. Bill Smith = night, Terry Ryan = day.

  • Sean

    By the way, the doomsday comments about the Twins cutting payroll needs to stop. Rumors are the Twins are going to be around $100 million. Well, they were $113 million last year. Right now, Nathan, Cuddy, Kubel, and Capps are off the books, and those players collectively cost $34 million last year. $113 million – $34 million = $79 million, plus $3.5 million (Carroll) and $3 million (Doumit) = $85 million. We still have holes, but there’s $15 million left to spend, and that leaves two or three reasonable bullpen arms to sign plus about $8 to $10 million for either an outfielder or 5th starter (and we do have Slowey and a bunch of other guys that could suffice as 5th starters). Things are looking up for this franchise, and it didn’t take more than two weeks. Very impressive work, Mr. Ryan.

  • Matt

    Doumit has his warts, but for 1 year, 3 million, the Twins really have nothing to lose. If his defense as a catcher is so bad, just put him out in the outfield and he’ll at least be as good as Delmon Young was.

  • LaBombo

    Brian summed it up perfectly. No. More. Butera.

    He’s a terrible ballplayer. He’s one of the worst hitters in the history of the game of baseball. His defense is ok, but clearly inflated by Nichols’ Law of Catcher Defense. He made it to high A ball because of who his dad is. He made it to the majors because the Twins have been stupid about evaluating and handling talent the past few years.

    If the Twins can’t find a better backup catcher than Drew Butera for roughly the league minimum, they deserve to Wander in the Wilderness for 40 years, or at least until Butera is released.

  • http://fieldoftwins.blogspot.com/ Shane

    This is a fantastic signing. It’s a one-year deal for a guy who is almost like two signings in one given his versatility. He’s a backup at three positions.

  • http://fieldoftwins.blogspot.com/ Shane

    I would prefer Danny Lehmann to Drew Butera if the Twins are going to have three catchers.

  • Josh

    Like this move quite a bit. Doumit adds positional flexibility and a quality bat to the team. He’s solid as a spot starter and excellent as a bench player, which is a major need for this team, which has injury questions. I wish he mashed lefties a little better than he does, but he’s a quality pickup.

    Most importantly, he buries Butera, who just isn’t a MLB player. I don’t care how great his defense is, it’s not enough to make up for being such an unbelievably bad hitter. (and I do think his defense is a bit overrated. He’s good, but let’s not pretend he’s Pudge Rodriguez or anything)

  • Jeff H

    He NEVER caught regularly – that was the point. There’s nothing to transition away FROM because he was never healthy enough to stick. I suppose this move is better than the usual “nothing”, but mark my words, this guy will frustrate the hell out of fans.

  • http://fieldoftwins.blogspot.com/ Shane

    Words are marked . . .

  • Elvus

    Good sign. Inexpensive, versatile player with a solid bat. Two good moves from Ryan so far.

  • Greg

    It’s a shame the manager refuses to platoon. If he was more flexible, the Twins could make good use of a free agent like Cody Ross (.282/.349/.563 career vs LHP and good defense in RF or LF). A guy like that could be signed cheap and is another versatile piece similar to Doumit.

  • Pedro Munoz

    The grown-ups are back in charge.

  • Son of Shane Mack

    I don’t see a lot of benefits with this signing. I would rather stick with Butera as Mauer’s backup, as we already know that Butera is a decent defensive catcher. Sure, Butera can’t hit his weight, but that is passable if he’s only in the lineup twice a week.

    The second sentence invalidates the first. Given what we’ve seen from Mauer, whomever is the backup catcher won’t be only in the lineup twice a week. It’s entirely possible that whomever it is will in the lineup a lot.

    I’m sure Doumit isn’t brilliant back behind the plate, but he’s not going to be an embarrassment at the plate.

    Butera isn’t a major league player. Even the Astros wouldn’t have brought him up. The Twins, with the recent inability to actually understand what makes a major league player, for some reason thought that he would be passable. He’s not. Only in the Twins organization would he have made it past AA.

    The Twins had needs in backup catcher, first base, and outfield. This addresses them all.

    Cuddyer is overrated. He’s had a few good years and lots of league average years. He’s a good ballplayer but nothing special beyond his “clubhouse presence.”

    If you don’t sign Hunter to an extension a few years back, you certainly don’t sign Cuddy. The last thing you want to do is saddle yourself to an aging ballplayer with a four year deal when he’s basically an average player to start with.

    Kubel, I’d sign. Guy can hit, plus he’s younger.

  • http://twitter.com/achester99 Alex

    One small question that I haven’t seen anyone else address: Given the dramatic difference in performance we’ve seen from other players who jump from the AL to the NL (and vice versa), shouldn’t we be a tad worried about the Twins signing AAAA players and expecting them to produce similar numbers in the major leagues? Seems to me that Caroll and Doumit’s NL-performance should be lowered by 10%, and I hope the Twins’ expectations is based on that at least somewhat…

  • Josh

    Isn’t it mostly pitchers who have struggled to make the transition from NL to AL? I’m not really that concerned about it. Carroll’s biggest asset at the plate is his discipline, and that won’t change much even if the pitching is better. Doumit might see a little drop-off, but should still be a very solid hitter and real asset for this team.

  • Andrew

    Aaron, after reading your endorsment of the Twins signing the “flawed but very useful” Ryan Doumit, who the Pirates (the Pirates!) did not want to keep, it makes me wonder why you don’t declare free agency yourself and move to a bigger market like Chicago, Philly, Boston, or New York, where you could write about teams who go after bigger game than Ryan Doumit.

    You know what, maybe the Twins can’t do any better than Doumit, but don’t make any mistake people. Doumit fills a few needs, but his versatility won’t mean jack unless he can hit at least his career average.

    Yes, you have listed Doumit’s many, many defiencies, but then you adroitly adopt an accuenate the positive approach and list all the ways Doumit can help the team. It’s very well written and you put forth a good argument that Doumit will be worth the price. And even if he isn’t, it’s only $3 million anyway.

    Pardon me for not having any confidence in a guy who Baseball Prospectus said in their 2011 edition: “Doumit still has some uses as someone who can be deployed (with varying degrees of ineffectiveness) behing the plate, at first, and in right field.” Not exactly an ringing endorsement. If Doumit was better than mediocre, the Pirates would have exercised their option for 2012 on Doumit. But they didn’t, why? What do the Pirates know that the Twins brush aside?

    BP also added the caveat that Doumit has an unpleasant personality. I wonder how well he’ll get along with the guys, since apparently that was a significant factor (along with their money demands) as to why the Twins didn’t retain Hudson and Rauch, 2 guys the Twins could have used last year. I guess personality might not matter as much for Terry Ryan as it did for Billy Boy.

  • http://twinkietown.com steve hoffman (SHS)

    CAN DOUMIT STAY HEALTHY ENOUGH TO PLAY IN OR BE A PART OF 50 games?

    I HOPE SO PLEASE RYAN GO TWINS!!!!!!!!

  • Wyatt

    Drew Butera 2011, -.8 WAR
    Ryan Doumit 2011, 1.8 WAR

    Jamey Carroll 2011, 2.2 WAR
    Nishioka, Plouffe, and Tolbert -2.5 WAR combined

    If you’re scoring at home, that’s a combined 7.3 WAR difference, for approx 6.5 million next year. Ask any major league GM, and they would take that improvement in a heartbeat. Even if you think Doumit and Carroll struggle, and put up 1 WAR a piece, that’s still a combined 5.3 WAR improvement from last year. Also, each player would only have to be worth about .6 or .7 WAR to be worth their contracts, very reasonable.

    With the team’s financial restraints and roster questions marks, they have no other options than to pick up versatile, undervalued guys like this on the cheap. I applaud TR for going out and making two savvy pick ups.

    Now, I hope for his next move he lets Cuddyer and Kubel walk, goes and gets Josh Willingham (who’s a better player than both, and who I expect will be much more affordable) and another cheap outfielder like a Cody Ross (who would be a good platoon candidate with Doumit and/or Revere if Gardy knew what platooning was, but i digress). The other move I would make is to take a note from the Tampa Bay Rays, and sign cheap relief pitchers. Relief pitchers are a very fungible asset and it makes little sense to sink a ton of money into the bullpen when you’re in a financial situation like we’re in.

  • Wyatt

    One more thing, to serve as a comparison to the Doumit & Carroll roster moves: a hypothetical comparative 5.3 WAR upgrade for the Twins would be to replace Valencia at 3B with Evan Longoria.

    If you could tell the twins they could have Evan Longoria for $6.5 million (the combined salary of Carroll and Doumit) next year, they would think they were committing robbery.

    So, although Carroll & Doumit are not big names, when you consider their ability and who they are replacing, they make a massive roster improvement that is completely affordable, and for that i applaud TR.

  • toby

    Having watched several hundred Pirates games over the past few seasons: harbor no illusions about his suitability as a fill-in at 1st base or right field. He’s a terrible defensive catcher who showed glimmers of improvement (not sure it could’ve gotten worse) last season, but his stint at first was one of the unfunniest jokes I’ve ever had the misfortune of witnessing.

    But he does use Danzig as his walk-up music, so that’s something.

  • Jeff

    Wyatt – good point. It looks like shopping for baseball players is like shopping for anything else – the best values are not at the high end of the price range, and you’re better to spend on a few decent players than one star, which is what Ryan is dong.

  • Andrew

    Will someone please answer my questions: Why did the Pirates not pick up Doumit’s option for 2012? Why should the Twins go after players that a loser team does not want? If Doumit is a poor-man’s Cuddyer, that’s how he’ll perform, like a poor-ass version of Cuddyer. That makes the team better?

  • Jeff

    @Andrew and jfs: I am not enough of a baseball nerd to follow more than one team but different teams have different needs and it’s clearly illogical to imply that any player whose option was declined has no value to any other team. As far as comparisons to Cuddyer, it appears he hits almost as well and plays the same positions but also catcher. So yes, having a catcher who can hit makes the team better. And having Cuddyer-like performance for less than half the price, making money available for other improvements, also makes the team better.

    Seriously, this is not that complicated. Is it just me, or is it getting dumber around here?

  • thegeneral13

    Here you go, Andrew:

    1) Because his performance in 2012 likely won’t warrant a $7.25 mm salary.
    2) Because the quality of a player is unrelated to the quality of his team.
    3) Yes.

  • AaronK

    I have one more reason for Andrew. The DH spot in the AL increases his value because he doesn’t always have to play a defensive position to start.

  • AaronK

    Aaron,
    Very nice writeup and I agree this is a very good signing by Ryan. He is almost the perfect signing based on the injury questions we have at first and catcher. Like it a lot.

    Wyatt,
    Thx for the WAR analysis, nice work.

  • TMW

    Terrific signing. Low risk, low commitment, very big potential rewards. Aaron said the rest, but this is quite obviously a solid move. Let’s just hope the outcome follows the sound thought process.

  • D-Luxxx

    Jeff,

    I’ve noticed the same thing. I blame the paywall at the Strib for the increase in inane and uninformed comments.