January 22, 2014

Twins Notes: Arbitration, Korea sales, Molitor shifting, and drugs of abuse

Philadelphia Phillies v Minnesota Twins

• As usual the Twins avoided arbitration with all of their eligible players, agreeing to pre-hearing 2014 deals with Trevor Plouffe for $2.35 million, Brian Duensing for $2 million, and Anthony Swarzak for $950,000. They previously non-tendered Josh Roenicke rather than paying him approximately $1.5 million via the same process. Following the Plouffe, Duensing, and Swarzak signings the Twins' payroll sits at $83 million, which is nearly identical to last season's spending.

Here are their payroll figures since moving to Target Field in 2010:

2010: $98 million
2011: $113 million
2012: $100 million
2013: $82 million
2014: $83 million

When the Twins signed Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes there was a lot of talk about how they were finally spending some money--and certainly within the context of free agency they opened their wallets like never before--but in the grand scheme of things nothing has really changed despite revenue across baseball rising rapidly. Barring a late acquisition their payroll will likely rank among the bottom third of MLB in 2014.

• It's not official yet, but Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports that the Twins are finalizing an agreement to sell Andrew Albers to a Korean team. Albers reaching the majors at age 28 and tossing 17 scoreless innings in his first two starts was a helluva story, but a mid-80s fastball and lack of missed bats made it tough to envision a scenario in which he was anything more than a back-of-the-rotation starter.

Once the Twins re-signed Mike Pelfrey in addition to signing Nolasco and Hughes it became clear that Albers wouldn't be getting another extended opportunity this season unless a ton of injuries struck the rotation. Going to Korea allows him to pitch regularly somewhere other than Rochester, New York and gives Albers a chance to make big-league money as opposed to Triple-A wages. And for a guy who was in an independent league a few years ago, that ain't bad.

• As part of his new job on the Twins' coaching staff Paul Molitor will be in charge of positioning the infielders defensively during games and Rhett Bollinger of MLB.com has an interesting note about his approach to those duties:

Molitor has already got a head start on positioning, as he met last week with Sean Harlin, the club's major league video director, and Jack Goin, the club's manager of major league administration and baseball research, to learn more about the club's video system and the advanced defensive statistics available for infield shifts.

The Twins haven't been a club that leans heavily on shifting aggressively in the past, but Molitor believes that baseball is trending that way and that it can help the Twins, especially given that the club has several ground-ball pitchers.

"The game has changed so much; we're seeing more overshifts and people not afraid to give up space based on tendencies, so it's something I'm excited about learning about and applying to the way we play defense," Molitor said. "They showed me the capabilities of not only pregame information but how we can use whatever data we have, including our in-house cameras at Target Field, to try to line up the defenses based on the pitcher's capability of executing pitches and the hitter's tendency of where they might hit the ball."

Those are the type of open-minded, analysis-driven quotes that we've rarely seen from anyone involved with the Twins over the years, which is awfully encouraging.

• Twins prospect Eddie Rosario received a 50-game suspension after a second positive test for a "drug of abuse." On one hand that means it wasn't a performance-enhancing drug. On the other hand that means Rosario tested positive once already and couldn't stop himself from continuing to use the unnamed drug. As a 22-year-old trying to make a position switch to second base the lost development time could be costly, but he remains a very good prospect.

Yohan Pino, who the Twins traded to the Indians for Carl Pavano in mid-2009, is back in the organization on a minor-league deal. Pino posted great numbers in the low minors before a lack of velocity caught up to him and now he's 30 years old with a 4.27 ERA in more than 800 innings between Double-A and Triple-A.

Joe Benson, who was released by the Twins in the middle of what proved to be a lost season, is now with the Marlins on a minor-league contract. Benson is still just 26 years old, but injuries and the inability to make consistent contact at the plate have turned him into a non-prospect.

• Just as I feared at the time of the signing Terry Ryan has already dropped some hints that Kurt Suzuki could be the Opening Day catcher, with Josmil Pinto heading back to the minors.

• For a lot more about the arbitration process and how it works, plus a lengthy discussion about Molitor and embracing analytics, check out this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode.

  • Mitch

    Is it certain that the drug of abuse was pot? I got the impression that it was some kind of pain killer he had a prescription for left over from when he injured.

  • Whatever

    Hey, at least they didn’t trade Pinto for an overpriced reliever!

    Anyway, who cares who starts at catcher in 2014? They’re not going anywhere. Letting Pinto improve in the minors and delaying his service time isn’t the worst case scenario.

    Though Suzuki as a starter…okay, I feel your pain. Just not as much as you do, because I won’t be watching!

  • Ben

    Is that the wrong Suzuki/Pinto link? I didn’t see anything about opening day starters. All that article says is performance will dictate who gets the bulk of the starts.

  • McGivey87

    As long as he’s still with his wife Olivia, I whole-heartedly endorse Trevor Plouffe being in the organization.

  • CBC

    “Well, Pinto needs a bit more seasoning with his defense and handling the pitching staff. Suzuki is a veteran, so we’re gonna see how he can do. He really battles out there, takes quality at bats.”

    Get ready to hear that exact quote sometime mid-March.

  • GagneWithASpoon

    Why does it matter for the Twins’ spending that “revenue is rising across the sport”? This is a recurring and misleading theme on this site; what’s relevant is that the Twins have a bad television deal and Target Field can’t make up for it.

    Given that the Twins are not the Dodgers, they are spending appropriately for a team in their position. Their position is this: they have a bad (but improving) MLB-ready core and a top-shelf farm system. Spending more on the MLB core will result in a few wins — marginal gains — but not in a playoff run. Large cash commitments for marginal gains in 2014 just aren’t going to happen, and they shouldn’t.

    The Twins’ rebuild will take time, but contention isn’t far away if you can look past 2014. They’re taking the right steps.

    • D-Luxxx

      That’s bullshit. First off, the Twins are in the bottom half of TV deals, but they still have a better deal than 12 other teams and they rank 9th in terms of TV money covering their percentage of payroll (http://www.awfulannouncing.com/2013/may/how-mlb-splits-your-tv-dollars.html). Add to that the fact that MLB has pretty much doubled the TV money that teams receive (that’s an extra $26 million in TV money for each team this year) and basically the Twins are getting an extra $25 million this year that they aren’t spending on the team. The Twins got rid of a bunch of money and signed two new pitchers and resigned another to keep their payroll pretty much exactly the same. They haven’t put any of that money into improving their roster.
      Is spending that money going to make them more competitive? Maybe by a few games. I agree that they aren’t going to compete with what they’re fielding, but don’t defend them for not spending when they said they were going to when they moved to Target Field. Or, if you’re going to defend them, don’t talk about TV money.

    • D-Luxxx

      Looking further down, the Twins will make around $96 million in TV revenue, and they’re one of 4 teams that are expected to cover their payroll with gate revenue alone. So seriously, they’re going to make $10 million in TV revenue profit, and could field another team with their gate revenue. That doesn’t include concessions, advertising, merchandise, etc. Basically, they’re effin cheap, and you should be ashamed of defending them.

      • GagneWithASpoon

        Thanks for your comment, D-Luxxx. I’m no shill for Twins’ management, but I still have to disagree with the assertion that they’re being cheap right now. Instead, I think what we’re seeing is careful planning for the future. If anyone’s still interested, I’ll try to defend my case.

        Looking at the Forbes numbers (http://www.forbes.com/mlb-valuations/list/), the Twins’ operating income of $10.8M is slightly below the MLB average ($13.1M, if my math is correct). If I’m right about what operating income is, it’s profit before taxes — income after the expenses of fielding the team, running the stadium, and so forth. The $10.8M figure would suggest that the Twins made a profit but aren’t profiteering. They have expenses beyond MLB player salaries. Moreover, they have been generous with signing bonuses to international players and draft picks in the past two years. That’s exactly the kind of spending we should want to see, not additional spending on free agents who will age out before the team is competitive again.

        The years of the late ’90s are still fresh in my mind — I’ll never forget what it felt like to learn that the Twins had been “sold” to North Carolina businessman Don Beaver, or that Carl Pohlad was asking Bud Selig to contract the team after that deal was exposed as a sham — so I’m not looking at the team through rose-colored lenses here. These Twins have a plan and are trying to field a team that can make it through 2014 without imploding, then build on home-grown, controllable talent. That plan is the same plan executed by the model franchises of baseball in the past decade, notably the Tampa Bay Rays (who had around the same operating income in 2013 as the Twins, by the way).

        In short, the Twins’ MLB payroll is where it should be this year. They’re not going to field a great team not because they’re cheap, but because Bill Smith did significant damage throughout the system. The repairs are taking hold, though — they’ll be better this year than in 2013 and in 2015 I think we will actually have a shot to compete!