January 30, 2012

Matt Capps, Axl Rose, and the Twins’ bullpen

Back on December 5 when the Twins re-signed Matt Capps my objection to the move focused on three things. One was that he just isn't a closer-caliber pitcher. Two was that $4.75 million is far too high a price, particularly given their payroll constraints this offseason. And three was that in re-signing him they forfeited a supplemental first-round draft pick that would have been worth more than $1 million while aiding the much-needed rebuilding process.

There was a fourth issue, which is that this year's free agent class was as packed with quality veteran relievers as any in history and for a team that had baseball's worst bullpen last year there were far better ways to address that weakness for $4.75 million. However, at the time that was mostly an assumption, as many of those relievers had yet to sign and exactly what the Twins could have gotten instead for that same $4.75 million was purely hypothetical.

Eight weeks later the free agent reliever market has proven to be every bit as buyer-friendly as expected and then some, with quality veterans being forced to settle for modest one-year deals or even minor-league offers. And the Twins spending $4.75 million of their limited payroll space on Capps actually looks even worse now than it did then, as they've watched reliever after reliever come off the board for discount prices while mostly sitting on their hands.

At the beginning of the offseason I highlighted 14 veteran relievers who were worth targeting and figured to be reasonably priced. One of them, Frank Francisco, secured a multi-year deal. One of them, Joel Peralta, never actually hit the open market. And the other 12 either agreed to one-year contracts for less than Capps--and in some cases significantly less--or still remain unsigned with spring training right around the corner.

Jonathan Broxton      $4.00 million
Octavio Dotel         $3.50 million
Jon Rauch             $3.50 million
LaTroy Hawkins        $3.00 million
Takashi Saito         $1.75 million
George Sherrill       $1.10 million
Brad Lidge            $1.00 million
Dan Wheeler           Minor-league deal
Todd Coffey           Unsigned
Mike Gonzalez         Unsigned
Chad Qualls           Unsigned
Michael Wuertz        Unsigned

None of those dozen relievers got as much as Capps and in fact for the same $4.75 million the Twins could have signed two, three, or even four of them while also gaining a draft pick. And those are just the relievers I projected as bargains in November. It turns out the market was so saturated with quality veterans that Francisco Cordero, who saved 37 games with a 2.45 ERA last season, had to settle for a one-year, $4.5 million deal and a setup role.

I've never understood the Twins' infatuation with Capps, who cost them Wilson Ramos to get in mid-2009 and $7.15 million to keep for 2010, but the decision to re-sign him for $4.75 million is particularly baffling given the assortment of other, cheaper options. Not only did they vastly overrate Capps for the third time, they seemingly did so while failing to recognize how flooded the reliever market was. They couldn't wait to re-sign Capps and that impatience hurt them.

Cordero signed for less than Capps. Octavio Dotel and Brad Lidge combined to sign for less than Capps. Heck, for that same $4.75 million the Twins gave Capps there's a decent chance they could have built an entire bullpen of similarly valuable veterans like Lidge, Dan Wheeler, Todd Coffey, Chad Qualls, and Michael Wuertz. And that doesn't even factor in the draft pick they forfeited for the privilege of overpaying Capps in what was clearly a buyer's market.

Maybe the Twins still have a bullpen move up their sleeve and if they can sign, say, Coffey to a cheap one-year deal or add Wuertz on a minor-league contract the decision to overpay for a mediocre Capps in a reliever-rich market won't appear quite so bumbling. It still won't appear smart, of course, and the entire decision-making process has been flawed to say the least. For some reason that's standard operating procedure when it comes to the Twins and Capps.

January 27, 2012

Link-O-Rama

Rihanna seems like fun.

• In retrospect, Kevin Garnett had the right idea in this picture.

• If she wasn't already an Official Fantasy Girl of AG.com candidate this quote would put Lizzy Caplan in the mix: "What I like to do every single night is fall asleep watching Larry Sanders."

Joe Mauer is engaged now, so perhaps there's a similar explanation for last year's injuries.

• One of my favorite comedians, Todd Glass, came out of the closet on Marc Maron's podcast and it was incredibly compelling stuff.

• Speaking of Maron, this article about podcasting quotes me right alongside him, which was a big thrill. And coincidentally the writer, Gaby Dunn, conducted the interview with Jewish porn star James Deen that appeared in Link-O-Rama last month. As always, life is weird.

• We had a first on this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode, as a random drunk woman interrupted the podcast to show us her bra for no apparent reason.

• Imagine a world in which Prince Fielder, Miguel Cabrera, and Delmon Young are all on the same American League team and someone else is the designated hitter.

Jimmer Fredette's transition to the NBA is proving to be a difficult one and Sebastian Pruiti of Grantland has a very detailed, interesting analysis of his early struggles.

• Speaking of NBA rookies, I bought one of these.

Katy Perry unfollowed Russell Brand on Twitter after their divorce, which is no doubt where this is headed too some day.

• I was talking about wrestling on Twitter, so my mom dug up this picture of me with Sergeant Slaughter in 1985:

I apparently inherited his jaw line from that one brief meeting.

• Fat-O-Meter update: This is day 330 of my diet and I'm down 140 pounds.

• This is absurd, of course, but he almost deserves it for not getting a prenup.

• I wonder what Justin Morneau and Corey Koskie think about this.

• Two great tastes that go great together: Kate Beckinsale and Maria Menounos.

• Stuff like this fascinates me: Back in 1995 the Mariners turned down a deal with the Yankees for a 23-year-old catching prospect named Jorge Posada.

Moneyball was nominated for six Oscars, including "best actor" for Brad Pitt, "best supporting actor" for Jonah Hill, and "best picture." I liked these outtakes better than the actual movie.

• Not only is new Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow sabermetrically inclined, he announced via Twitter that Baseball Prospectus analyst Mike Fast is joining the front office.

Bill James used to write the occasional guest piece for The Hardball Times when I was there and it was a big honor, so Grantland talking him into being a regular is quite a get.

• As a Sarah Hyland fan, I might have actually tuned into the Golden Globes for this.

• I have some mixed feelings about this, but it's an interesting story and an important lesson when it comes to baseball rumors and reporting.

Zooey Deschanel, describing her college experience that sounds an awful lot like mine: "My specialness is not appreciated in this place." With the main difference being that mine still isn't.

• I've always said there's a little Gilbert Gottfried inside all of us:

 If you don't think that's funny we probably can't be friends.

• Official Fantasy Girl of AG.com candidate Aubrey Plaza on meeting Ryan Gosling: "I think he has a girlfriend, but maybe I'll murder her someday and we'll be together forever."

Flip Saunders got fired by the Wizards, who hilariously replaced him with Randy Wittman.

JaVale McGee's mom seems a lot like my mom.

Harris Wittels, who once left a comment here, was cast in Sarah Silverman's new show.

• I watched all 10 episodes of Bar Rescue despite not really enjoying it and thinking the star is like Gordon Ramsay without the charm, charisma, and hair. Is that a recommendation?

• Showtime is following the Marlins for Season 2 of The Franchise, which leaves the door open for Ozzie Guillen to appear on Shameless. I'll bet he has great chemistry with Emmy Rossum.

• For anyone with HBO: Make sure to watch the documentary series about Freddie Roach.

• Speaking of great sports documentaries, the final episode of the series following MMA fighter Allistair Overeem is spectacular and features his recent win over Brock Lesnar. Great stuff.

• As always I'm proud to be a very, very small part of MinnPost, which saw its readership grow 21 percent in 2011.

• If you haven't already, go buy Seth Stohs' annual Minnesota Twins Prospect Handbook for 190 pages of hardcore prospect profiles, analysis, interviews, and rankings.

Nick Nelson's old blog-mate, Nick Mosvick, has a new blog all his own.

• Finally, this week's AG.com-approved music video is "Work" by Gang Starr:

January 25, 2012

“Gleeman and The Geek” #25: AL Central and Cleavage

This week's episode of "Gleeman and The Geek" was recorded at the Wild Boar in Hopkins and my beer choice was Leinenkugel Honey Weiss. Topics included Kevin Slowey returning to the AL Central, Prince Fielder signing with the Tigers, how we react to a drunk woman showing us her bra in the middle of the show, Justin Morneau's health status, what to expect from the Tigers, White Sox, Indians, and Royals, and why re-signing Matt Capps keeps looking worse.

Gleeman and The Geek: Episode 25

In addition to the direct download link above you can also subscribe to the podcast via iTunes.

January 24, 2012

Twins Notes: Morneau, Slowey, Turpen, Putnam, French, and Tolbert

Joe Christensen of the Minneapolis Star Tribune traveled to Arizona to see Justin Morneau's workout routine and wrote a lengthy article about his latest comeback. Morneau revealed that he had concussion symptoms as recently as last month, which is awfully worrisome considering his initial brain injury occurred nearly 18 months ago and he still hasn't begun taking batting practice or fielding ground balls. Here's more of what Morneau said:

I wouldn't say the head's perfect yet ... but what I was able to do today is miles ahead of where I was at this time last year. I've had problems with focus. Your mind kind of wanders, I guess, because your brain's so exhausted from trying to interpret what your eyes are seeing.

Not exactly encouraging with spring training around the corner, and lost in all the concussion concerns is that he also underwent neck, knee, foot, and wrist surgeries in 2011. Christensen writes that Morneau still lacks feeling in his left pointer finger, needs treatment on scar tissue in his knee, and has a big bump on his foot. And oddly the wrist injury has somehow flown under the radar despite being the official reason for his trip to the disabled list in June.

At the time little was said about the actual cause of the wrist injury and that remains true, as Christensen says that "his left wrist began bothering him in May" and "when he returned two months later, the wrist was still a big problem." Morneau eventually had surgery to "stabilize a tendon." And that's about it, except Nick Nelson of TwinsCentric reported way back in June that "Morneau's wrist injury was the result of a locker room tirade after a strikeout."

• Last month the Twins traded Kevin Slowey to the Rockies for minor leaguer Daniel Turpen, dumping him for a marginal pitching prospect following a drama-filled year during which neither side came off looking good. At the time he was slated to be Colorado's fifth starter and Slowey avoided arbitration by signing a one-year, $2.75 million contract, but the Rockies later traded outfielder Seth Smith for two potential starting pitchers and decided Slowey was expendable.

Six weeks after acquiring Slowey the Rockies traded him to the Indians, who wanted rotation help in case Fausto Carmona's legal situation in the Dominican Republic keeps him from being approved for a visa. Not only is he returning to the AL Central after the Twins banished him to the NL and the worst possible environment for a fly-ball pitcher, the Rockies managed to swap Slowey for Zach Putnam, who's a better prospect than they gave the Twins to get him.

Putnam is far from elite, but he's a 23-year-old former third-round pick with strong numbers in the minors and Baseball America ranked the right-handed reliever as the No. 10 prospect in the Indians' farm system. Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus has a lower opinion of Putnam, ranking him No. 20 in Cleveland's system, but still likes him more than Turpen. In fact, you'll be hard-pressed to find a prominent prospect analyst who doesn't have Putnam ahead of Turpen.

So how did the Twins trade Slowey for a marginal prospect only to see him swapped six weeks later for a younger, better prospect? Well, for one thing the Rockies sent $1.25 million to the Indians along with Slowey, whereas the Twins simply wiped him from their books. Beyond that Carmona's legal issues presumably meant the Indians were willing to give up more for Slowey than six weeks ago. And the Twins may have balked at trading him within the division anyway.

Ultimately the odds are against Putnam or Turpen having a significant impact in the majors and it's tough to place a value on how much of a prospect upgrade $1.25 million can buy, but given how the Twins mishandled the situation from start to finish their trading Slowey with his value at an all-time low becomes doubly frustrating when another team got more by letting him sit on their roster for a month. There wasn't even time for Slowey to piss off the Colorado media.

• In trying to figure out how much room the Twins have under their self-imposed $100 million payroll limit my assumption has been that Joe Nathan's buyout was part of the 2012 money. However, according to Christensen the Twins actually view the $2 million as part of "last year's books." If true, that means they should have more than enough payroll room to add a veteran right-handed reliever like Todd Coffey or Dan Wheeler or Brad Lidge or Chad Qualls.

• They won't be among the 25 non-roster players invited to spring training, but Luke French and Brad Thompson are the latest minor leaguers collected by the Twins. French was a decent enough prospect to be traded for a half-year of Jarrod Washburn in mid-2009. He's struggled in the majors with a 5.00 ERA and 79-to-57 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 155 innings and got killed at Triple-A last season, posting a 6.27 ERA with 30 homers allowed in 146 innings.

Thompson briefly had some success as a middle reliever for the Cardinals in 2005 and 2006, but struggled after that and the Twins are his fourth organization since 2010. He's still just 29 years old, but Thompson's fastball tops out in the high-80s and his career strikeout rate is 4.2 per nine innings. To put that in some context, Nick Blackburn has averaged 4.3 strikeouts per nine innings. French and Thompson are both destined for Rochester.

Matt Tolbert, who the Twins dropped from the 40-man roster shortly after the season, inked a minor-league deal with the Cubs.

• We're recording a "Gleeman and The Geek" episode tonight, so if there are some questions you'd like to hear answered on the podcast leave them in the comments section.

January 20, 2012

Twins Notes: Arbitration, invitations, compensation, and reconsideration

• Tuesday night was the deadline for players and teams to submit salary figures for arbitration hearings to be held next month, but the Twins avoided that with Francisco Liriano and Glen Perkins by signing them to one-year deals. Liriano got $5.5 million for his third and final year of arbitration eligibility, which is exactly what I projected as his salary last month. Perkins got $1.55 million for his second arbitration year, which is slightly less than my $2 million projection.

Alexi Casilla did not agree to a pre-deadline deal in his second arbitration year, filing for $1.75 million while the Twins countered at $1.065 million. If the two sides fail to reach a compromise they'll go to a hearing, present their cases, and have someone choose which salary he'll get for 2012, but given that the Twins haven't actually gone to arbitration with a player since Kyle Lohse in 2005 and 2006 odds are they'll split the difference on a one-year deal before then.

• Last month the Twins non-tendered Jose Mijares rather than retain him via the arbitration process, with general manager Terry Ryan explaining that "we didn't want to go there" with a salary bump. That struck me as very odd, because Mijares was paid $445,000 last season and projected to make about $725,000 in 2012, whereas the new minimum salary is $480,000. No team cuts a player they think has any sort of value over $250,000. Or at least they shouldn't.

Mijares didn't spend much time as a free agent and ended up with more money than he would have gotten from the Twins, quickly signing with the Royals for $925,000. He was bad enough last season that bouncing back is certainly no sure thing, but considering Mijares' modest cost and the fact that he's 27 years old with a 3.16 ERA and .243/.310/.381 opponents' line in 154 career innings makes letting him go for nothing a questionable move.

Mijares was an easy target for criticism because of his weight and supposed poor work ethic, but the oft-repeated notion that he was an ineffective pitcher who failed in key situations isn't supported by facts. In addition to his 3.16 ERA in 154 innings Mijares held opponents to a .219 batting average and .590 OPS in high-leverage situations and had a positive Win Probability Added, which measures performance in context to reward doing well in crucial spots.

• Fort Myers will be crowded after the Twins signed 25 players to minor-league contracts with invitations to spring training. I've written about most of those players, but neglected to cover J.R. Towles, Steve Pearce, and Aaron Thompson when they signed last month. Towles is the most interesting of that trio, both because he was once a top-ranked catcher prospect and because a decent alternative to Drew Butera as the Twins' third catcher would be nice.

After hitting well in the minors Towles hit .375 in a 14-game debut with the Astros in 2007 and was No. 53 on Baseball America's prospect list going into 2008. He flopped as a rookie, hitting .137 in 54 games, and has repeatedly failed in other brief chances with the Astros, hitting .187 in 155 career games spread over parts of five seasons. However, he's still just 27 years old and never ceased producing in the minors, batting .286/.389/.443 in 152 games at Triple-A.

Pearce was also once a top prospect, albeit briefly, ranking 89th on that same Baseball America list for 2008 after a monster 2007 season in which he hit .333/.394/.622 with 31 homers and 40 doubles in 134 games between three levels. He was already 24 years old at the time, his OPS dropped 300 points the next season, and Pearce hit just .232/.302/.366 in 185 games for the Pirates, but his Triple-A numbers remained strong and he's useful first base/outfield depth.

Thompson was the 22nd overall pick in the 2005 draft by the Marlins, but the left-hander's career never got enough traction to crack any top prospect lists. He pitched well in the low minors, but struggled some with injuries and has a 4.91 ERA in 473 career innings between Double-A and Triple-A. Thompson made his MLB debut last season, appearing in four games for the Pirates, but got knocked around and seems like a poor bet to make it back to the majors.

Phil Mackey of 1500ESPN.com did some digging and found that the Twins recently extended their television contract with FOX Sports North, signing a new deal worth approximately $29 million per season. That may sound like a lot and it's certainly a big improvement compared to their previous television revenue, but relative to many other teams it actually puts them at a significant disadvantage.

For instance, the Angels were able to hand out massive long-term contracts to Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson this offseason because their new television deal pays around $150 million per season and that pales in comparison to the estimated $400 million in revenue the Yankees get per season from their own network. Even the Rangers, who weren't previously viewed as a big-market powerhouse, inked a new television deal worth a reported $80 million per season.

• Speaking of which, Patrick Reusse of the Minneapolis Star Tribune spit some truth about the Twins' television broadcast as it relates to an overall trend in local announcers:

It was uncomfortable listening to Twins telecasts last season as Dick Bremer and, to a lesser extent, Bert Blyleven spent most of the three hours nightly trying to explain away the 99 losses as something other than a disaster wrought upon the public by the front office.

Apparently, they did have permission slips to denigrate Kevin Slowey. Injuries and Slowey's attitude--those were about the only factors that could be identified by the long-serving duo for this fine baseball organization to have fielded the worst team in the American League.

And we can't forget that a Bremer-Blyleven telecast is always rich with the fable that there's a Twins Way of playing baseball: exceptional fielding, being smart and aggressive on the bases, and throwing strikes. No matter that you have to go back to 2006 to find a Twins team that stuck to those principles.

Amen. I'd guess that my television was muted for about 90 percent of Twins games last year.

• Cutting payroll by $15 million luckily hasn't stopped the Twins from spending on prospects, as they signed 16-year-old pitcher Mauricio Silva out of the Dominican Republic for $370,000. Ben Badler of Baseball America praised Silva's fastball-curveball combo and calls the 6-foot-2 right-hander "one of the more promising Latin American pitching prospects" eligible to sign in 2011. And this will make you feel really old: Silva was born in Brad Radke's rookie year, 1995.

• They'll also be spending big in the draft, because in addition to having the No. 2 overall pick by virtue of their 63-99 record the Twins are projected to receive the No. 32 and No. 67 picks as compensation for losing Michael Cuddyer and the No. 41 pick as compensation for losing Jason Kubel. Toss in their own second-rounder and the Twins will likely have five of the top 70 picks in June's draft, which makes for one incredibly important day in their rebuilding process.

• Back in early 2008, when the Twins were in the process of trading Johan Santana, various reports had them seeking Fernando Martinez from the Mets as the centerpiece of a deal. At the time Martinez was a 19-year-old center fielder who twice ranked among Baseball America's top-20 prospects, so the Mets balked at including him and eventually the Twins settled instead for a four-player package of Carlos Gomez, Deolis Guerra, Kevin Mulvey, and Philip Humber.

Four years later none of those four prospects panned out as hoped and Guerra is the only one who remains in the Twins organization, but it turns out they wouldn't have been any better off with Martinez. Chronic knee issues and mediocre hitting caused his stock to plummet and last week the Mets placed him on waivers, giving up on Martinez for nothing. He didn't make it far, as the Astros used their No. 1 waiver priority to claim Martinez ... directly in front of the Twins.

• Of course, the Santana trade didn't work out particularly well for the Mets either. He missed all of last season following shoulder surgery, remains a question mark for the beginning of this season, and is owed $55 million over the next two years. Santana did at least give them 600 innings of a 2.85 ERA prior to going down in late 2010, which is even better than his 3.22 ERA in 1,309 innings with the Twins.

Ron Gardenhire's son, Toby Gardenhire, has retired after playing seven years in the minors for the Twins and the former 41st-round pick is the University of Wisconson-Stout's new coach.

Seth Stohs' annual Minnesota Twins Prospect Handbook is now available and as always I can't recommend it highly enough. Well worth the price, for the 180 pages of content and to support all the free blogging Stohs has provided over the years. Go buy it, you'll be glad you did.

• For a lot more on how the whole arbitration process works, plus analysis of the Joel Zumaya signing and talk about what moves the Twins have left to make this offseason, check out this week's podcast with special guests Nick Nelson and John Bonnes' horrible beard.

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