April 10, 2013

Twins Notes: Extensions, saves, prospects, and premature press releases

Justin Morneau

LaVelle E. Neal III of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports that Justin Morneau approached the Twins during spring training about a contract extension and they weren't interested, which is the right stance to take. Morneau is an impending free agent, but even setting aside his extensive injury history signing a good but not great 31-year-old first baseman to a multi-year contract isn't a great idea unless he were to take significantly less than his current $14 million salary.

Morneau hasn't topped an .800 OPS while playing more than 100 games since 2009 and while his .267/.333/.440 production in 134 games last season was encouraging after back-to-back years ruined by a concussion it was mediocre for a first baseman. Among the 29 regular first basemen he ranked 14th in batting average, 15th in on-base percentage, and 16th in slugging percentage. Toss in the health question marks and that's an awfully shaky investment.

There's also a chance of Morneau upping his production to pre-concussion levels, but even then they'd have an appealing option of tendering him a one-year "qualifying offer" that was worth $13.4 million this winter. If he accepts they get Morneau back for his age-32 season at a similar salary without a long-term commitment. If he declines and signs elsewhere they get a first-round draft pick. If he isn't traded by then, of course, which is another reason to avoid an extension.

Scott Diamond's delayed comeback from December elbow surgery created an opening in the rotation before the season had even started and Samuel Deduno's groin injury ruled him out, so the Twins turned to Cole De Vries ... and he had to be placed on the disabled list with a strained forearm before his first turn came up. Already scrambling for starters, the Twins called up Triple-A left-hander Pedro Hernandez, who had the benefit of being on the 40-man roster.

Hernandez was acquired from the White Sox along with Eduardo Escobar for Francisco Liriano in July and ranked 35th on my annual list of Twins prospects. He's a soft-tossing control artist with extreme platoon splits that could make it tough for him to stick as a starter, but the 23-year-old fared well enough in his Twins debut. Assuming that Diamond avoids further setbacks Hernandez may not be needed again for a while.

• One side effect of Ron Gardenhire holding Glen Perkins back for "save situations" that may not actually arrive is that lesser relievers are forced into pressure-packed spots. For instance, in the eighth inning Friday left-handed Orioles slugger Chris Davis came up with the bases loaded and one out in a tie game. Situations don't get any more important and if there was no such thing as the "save" statistic Perkins--being the best reliever and a lefty--would be the obvious choice.

Instead, with the game in the balance, Gardenhire called on 25-year-old rookie Tyler Robertson, who served up a grand slam and was promptly demoted to Triple-A the next day. He barely made the team out of spring training, has yet to show he can consistently get big leaguers out, and was apparently one bad pitch from going back to the minors, yet the manager chose Robertson to face Davis while Perkins watched. And people say guys like me are obsessed with statistics.

Since taking over for Matt Capps as the Twins' closer Perkins has converted 18 of 20 saves with a 2.01 ERA and 45-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 45 innings. That's incredibly good pitching, but the role change has also made Perkins less of a weapon thanks to such strict usage. And because the Twins' overall bullpen depth is weak and their only other standout reliever, Jared Burton, needs regular days off holding Perkins back for save situations will lead to some ugly matchups.

J.J. Cooper of Baseball America put together a list of the youngest prospects at each level of the minors, which includes Miguel Sano as the youngest player in the Florida State League and Oswaldo Arcia as the sixth-youngest player in the International League. Age relative to the level of competition is an extremely important factor in evaluating prospects, so keep that in mind when looking at their raw numbers this season.

• Here's where the Twins' top 20 prospects are beginning the season (Rochester is Triple-A, New Britain is Double-A, Fort Myers is high Single-A, and Cedar Rapids is low Single-A):

 1. Miguel Sano      Fort Myers       11. Max Kepler       Cedar Rapids
 2. Byron Buxton     Cedar Rapids     12. Luke Bard        Cedar Rapids
 3. Oswaldo Arcia    Rochester        13. Travis Harrison  Cedar Rapids
 4. Aaron Hicks      Minnesota        14. Mason Melotakis  Cedar Rapids
 5. Alex Meyer       New Britain      15. Jorge Polanco    Cedar Rapids
 6. Kyle Gibson      Rochester        16. J.T. Chargois    Cedar Rapids
 7. Eddie Rosario    Fort Myers       17. Niko Goodrum     Cedar Rapids
 8. Trevor May       New Britain      18. Hudson Boyd      Cedar Rapids
 9. J.O. Berrios     Cedar Rapids     19. Levi Michael     Fort Myers
10. Joe Benson       Rochester        20. Chris Herrmann   Rochester

No big surprises, although Byron Buxton moving to low Single-A and full-season ball at age 19 instead of spending more time in rookie-ball is noteworthy, as is Trevor May repeating Double-A at age 23 after spending all of last season there in the Phillies' system. Max Kepler will eventually join Buxton in the Cedar Rapids outfield, but for now he's rehabbing an injury in extended spring training. And some of the pitchers, including J.O. Berrios, will have their 2013 debuts delayed.

Wilkin Ramirez making the Opening Day roster as the designated "bench bat" based on a good spring training was an odd choice because he's 27 years old with a decade of awful plate discipline and underwhelming overall production in the minors. In adding Ramirez the Twins needed to clear space on the 40-man roster and they did that by designating Alex Burnett for assignment, which exposed the 24-year-old reliever to the waiver wire and got him claimed by the Blue Jays.

I'm hardly a big Burnett fan and praised the Twins for finally deciding he was better off at Triple-A, but losing him for nothing in order to add Ramirez is different. They thought Burnett was worthy of a bullpen job in 2010 at age 22 and worth keeping in the bullpen in 2011 and 2012, but in 2013 he's not worth a spot on a 40-man roster that includes Drew Butera, Caleb Thielbar, and Tim Wood? All so they could add a 27-year-old corner outfielder who's hit .255/.310/.430 at Triple-A.

• Tuesday morning the Twins sent out a press release announcing an "early entry program" at Target Field offering fans the chance to pay an extra $15 for the ability to get in 45 minutes early to watch batting practice. About five hours later they issued another press release retracting that offer because it was "not fully vetted across the Twins organization" and "we apologize for a lack of internal communication which led to the premature release of this misinformation." So ... yeah.

• Through eight games Twins pitchers have the fewest strikeouts in baseball with 38, which is 4.9 per nine innings. They also ranked dead last among all teams in strikeouts in 2011 and 2012 while averaging 6.0 and 5.9 per nine innings.

Josh Willingham has already been plunked twice and is well on his way to extending his streak of ranking among the league's top 10 in hit by pitches every season since 2007. Willingham has a career on-base percentage of .362, but if you removed the hit by pitches it would drop to .346.

Kevin Correia isn't missing any bats, but he induced 12 and 15 ground-ball outs in his first two starts after getting 12 or more ground-ball outs just three times in his final 13 starts last season.

Joe Mauer moved past Gary Gaetti for sixth place on the Twins' all-time hit list with 1,277. In getting those first 1,276 hits Gaetti made 1,077 more outs than Mauer. Seriously.

Aaron Hicks joined Rich Becker in 1993 and Butera in 2010 as the only Twins position players to strike out three times in their MLB debut.

• Butera broke his left hand at Triple-A, so now he'll make $700,000 on Rochester's disabled list.

• "Roy Smalley's Fist List" is a thing, apparently.

Ben Revere is learning some very important things in Philadelphia.

• On this week's "Gleeman and the Geek" episode we talked lots about Hicks' slow start, Perkins' excellence, and Gardenhire's decision-making.


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19 Comments »

  1. Revere’s cheesesteak hat looks like he’s wearing a huge vagina on his head. Just sayin…

    Comment by D-Luxxx — April 10, 2013 @ 9:09 am

  2. Would it kill you to mention something positive? The Twins pitchers might lead the AL in lack of strikeouts, but they’ve also only given up 2 home runs all year, tops in the Majors.

    Comment by Allen — April 10, 2013 @ 9:33 am

  3. It’s going to be a long season if you are already this negative after the first week of games.

    Comment by Stevie — April 10, 2013 @ 10:35 am

  4. Yeah Aaron, can’t you put a postitive spin on things, like instead of saying the Twins rank “dead last” in strike outs per 9, you could say that the Twins “lead the entire league” in fewest K’s per 9. Also, would it kill you to not report stats and facts, but instead offer up opinions derived from the opinions of others, like Gardy, Ryan, Lavelle, PMac and others working for the Twins?

    Comment by spoofbonser — April 10, 2013 @ 10:53 am

  5. Tyler Robertson facing Chris Davis against Baltimore while keeping Glen Perkins in the pen for a possible save was only the first of many occasions of this that I fear from Ron Gardenhire. Gardy did it again on Monday, letting Kevin Correia go back out for the eighth inning after having thrown seven surprisingly good innings. With the Twins clinging to a 1-0 lead, Correia gave up a leadoff double and after a sacrifice bunt put the runner on third with one out, the obvious move would be to bring in a lefthander to face the lefty hitting Alex Gordon, preferrably a lefty who could get a strikeout. With the game on the line, this is exactly the time for Perkins to come in (if not Perkins, at least lefty Brian Duensing!). Gardy inexplicably left Correia in the game to give up a game-tying single to Gordon AND a go-ahead double to Alcides Escobar before finally bringing in relief, but the damage was done. It is apparent that Gardenhire will only use Perkins in “closer” situations instead of having his best pitcher in the game in high-leverage situations. This is right in line with the thinking of other big league managers, but it is disappointing nonetheless.

    Comment by CoachFSCB — April 10, 2013 @ 10:56 am

  6. spoofbonser wins for comment of the day!

    Comment by BC — April 10, 2013 @ 12:13 pm

  7. Aaron is the only Twins blogger/beat writer I follow precisely because he isn’t a sunshine pumper. He tells it like it is: which often involves harsh truths. Everyone knows this isn’t going to be a good year. We don’t need to pretend otherwise because of a 4-2 start.

    But it can go the other way as well. Aaron supported Joe against the numerous illogical complaints about Joe and Joe’s contract over the last couple years.

    Please keep keeping it real Aaron. Someone has to hold this organization’s feet to the fire. The fact that they went back to Ryan after canning Smith and that Gardy is still in charge shows they just don’t get it yet.

    Comment by Brian — April 10, 2013 @ 1:24 pm

  8. And to be constructive: strikeout rate is a lot more meaningful for predicting pitchers’ future performance than # of homeruns allowed, especially over such a small sample.

    Strikeouts are much more under the pitcher’s control. Therefore strikeout rates stabilize quickly. On the other hand pitchers can suppress fly balls somewhat but have almost no control over their HR rate per fly ball. Therefore overall HR rate or HR/fly ball take much longer to stabilize.

    It is very worrisome that the Twins rank last in K rate. Although not at all unexpected considering their results the last two years. And now they don’t have Liriano.

    The fact that the Twins have given up only two HRs over 8 games (small sample alert!) has almost no predictive value.

    Comment by Brian — April 10, 2013 @ 1:37 pm

  9. The Correia situation is the thing that drives me the most crazy about Gardy. When a guy is pitching well for 6 or 7 innings and then starts to give up hits, that’s when you take him out. I’m ok with sending Correia out for the 8th, but I pull him after the lead off double, or at least after the game-tying single. I think Gardy is still looking at pitch counts instead of watching and seeing that what was working for awhile isn’t working. Sometimes a guy can go 70 pitches and sometimes 110, and who knows why. But to pretend that 100 pitches or whatever is the magic number is just dumb.

    How long is Hicks going to lead off? Because that is not really working.

    Comment by Pedro Munoz — April 10, 2013 @ 2:41 pm

  10. To have any chance of reaching 68 wins this year, we need a manager that makes the absolute best use of his resources. Not bringing in a strong relief corps after a great 7 innings. Not using your best pitcher in the highest pressure situations. Hicks leading off. This season is getting ugly, I mean Gardy-ugly really fast. New meme: “There ain’t no ugly like. Gardy-ugly.” Ok, it’s weak….

    Comment by Gregg — April 11, 2013 @ 6:06 am

  11. I think that flows better if you use his full name: There ain’t no ugly like a Gardenhire ugly.

    Comment by Gregg — April 11, 2013 @ 6:14 am

  12. I figured it out – Gardy is going to keep Hicks batting first to show everyone that batting Mauer second doesn’t work. Dozier or Florimon cam drive in nobody just as well as Mauer can.

    If Gardy had been managing the Red Sox in 2003, he would have kept Pedro in until the Yankees were up 10 runs.

    Comment by Pedro Munoz — April 11, 2013 @ 7:35 am

  13. So…when does Hicks get sent down to AAA? I’m not saying this as a Hicks hater, I’m saying this because I want him under team control for another year when he’s 29 and hopefully really productive, instead of a month or two now when he’s, uh, not so productive. I get that the twins “had” to start him this year, he was clearly the best from spring training. But now, after his horrible start, don’t they have an out? Gardy even ripped Hicks last night for not hustling….

    Comment by Phil — April 11, 2013 @ 7:58 am

  14. Speaking of Gardy ripping Hicks … when is he (Gardy) going to stop ripping (insert whipping bot of the day) publicly, and keep it in the clubhouse? Drives me crazy. I guess Hicks is this years Danny V.

    Comment by Jeff — April 11, 2013 @ 8:20 am

  15. make that whipping boy, not bot. more coffee needed.

    Comment by Jeff — April 11, 2013 @ 8:22 am

  16. Twins relievers are averaging 7.28 K/9. That’s still not great, but not as embarrassing as the overall 4.9. The starting pitching (3.42 K/9) doesn’t have anyone with strikeout stuff and takes the quick outs, weak contact philosophy. With the rotation being respectable in the middle of the pack for IP at 47.1 IP, that’s dragging the overall average down.

    Still it’s 9 games into the season.

    Comment by TMW — April 11, 2013 @ 9:30 am

  17. The Gardy ripping Hicks for not hustling thing is just stupid. He’s clearly not ready for the majors–you don’t need to be a professional scout to know that if you’re just going to look at first-strike fastballs with the bat on your shoulders, and then too often the same with a second strike fastball, the pitcher can just throw you breaking stuff you can’t hit, and then gun you down with another fastball at their leisure.

    None of his stats have stabilized, they’re meaningless. He just doesn’t pass the eye test, even for someone with no scouting expertise. He’s got a tremendous eye, but it’s almost too good. Especially since there have always been questions about his hit tool.

    As for strikeout rates now showing better predictive value than homeruns, we’re nowhere near either stat showing any signs of stabilizing. Both are essentially meaningless right now too.

    Comment by Ben — April 11, 2013 @ 10:10 am

  18. Speakeng of Hicks, Oh!oh! http://www.mlbtraderumors.com/2013/04/twins-kicking-tires-on-julio-borbon.html#disqus_thread

    Comment by adjacent — April 11, 2013 @ 12:14 pm

  19. Ben,

    Except we have career stats to look at for each individual Twins pitcher. Out of the Twins starting rotation, only Worley exhibits any ability to make opposing batters swing and miss. Correia did about 5 years ago as well.

    The fact that Twins starters ranked last in K/9 is entirely to be expected. That is why the complaints about Aaron being negative are ridiculous. Is he supposed to ignore the Twins’ obvious deficiencies and pretend they are fielding a competitive ballclub?

    Comment by Brian — April 12, 2013 @ 4:01 pm

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