January 26, 2015

Arbitration settlements and taking a guess at the Opening Day roster

brian duensing twins

Last time the Twins actually completed an arbitration hearing with a player was Kyle Lohse in 2005 and 2006, so not surprisingly they reached pre-hearing settlements with six of their seven arbitration-eligible players and released the seventh, Anthony Swarzak. They'll pay a total of $14.225 million to Trevor Plouffe, Tommy Milone, Brian Duensing, Jordan Schafer, Casey Fien, and Eduardo Nunez, bringing their projected 2015 payroll to around $106 million.

That slots in between their franchise-record $113 million payroll in 2011 and $100 million payroll in 2012, representing a sizable increase from the sub-$90 million payrolls of 2013 and 2014. After back-to-back seasons in which general manager Terry Ryan declined to spend big chunks of the allotted payroll space approved by ownership it's a positive step, although there's room to quibble with the value of dropping about $17 million on Torii Hunter, Duensing, Milone, and Nunez.

With revenues across MLB skyrocketing past $9 billion in 2014 and the Twins trying to avoid a fifth straight 90-loss season amid plummeting fan interest it's at least nice to see ownership spending a reasonable amount of their revenue instead of simply pocketing it while giving the "we don't want to spend money just to spend money" excuse. And thanks largely to long-term contracts handed out to veteran starting pitchers they already have $70 million committed to six players for 2016.

In addition to pushing the payroll past $100 million the six arbitration settlements also put into focus the likely Opening Day roster, although there are definitely a few places where the Twins could surprise. Below is my best current guess at the 25-man roster, with the caveat that they're able to release any of the arbitration-eligible players during spring training while being on the hook for only 30 percent of their salary. First, the position players:

   LINEUP
C  Kurt Suzuki
1B Joe Mauer
2B Brian Dozier
SS Danny Santana
3B Trevor Plouffe
LF Oswaldo Arcia
CF Aaron Hicks
RF Torii Hunter
DH Kennys Vargas

   BENCH
C  Josmil Pinto
IF Eduardo Escobar
IF Eduardo Nunez
OF Jordan Schafer

New manager Paul Molitor has made it clear that he views Danny Santana as a shortstop and not as a center fielder, and since it's hard to imagine the Twins benching Santana or demoting him back to the minors after he hit .319 as a rookie that means he's the favorite to supplant Eduardo Escobar at shortstop. Based on his 2014 performance alone Escobar certainly doesn't deserve to lose the job, but his track record suggests a part-time role might be a better fit anyway.

Escobar slotting into a utility man role makes retaining Nunez look even iffier, but they seem to think all the evidence showing him as a poor hitter and poor fielder are wrong. Schafer played his way into the 2015 plans with a good 41-game stint after being claimed him off waivers and using him in center field is possible if they pull the plug on Aaron Hicks. Josmil Pinto is the presumed backup catcher, but they bailed on him in that role quickly in 2014. Now the pitchers:

   ROTATION
SP Phil Hughes
SP Ervin Santana
SP Ricky Nolasco
SP Kyle Gibson
SP Tommy Milone

   BULLPEN
CL Glen Perkins
RH Casey Fien
RH Tim Stauffer
RH Ryan Pressly
RH Mike Pelfrey
LH Brian Duensing
LH Caleb Thielbar

Milone is signed for $2.775 million when the Twins had the option to non-tender him and Mike Pelfrey is under contract for $6 million, so my assumption is they'll fight for the final rotation spot and the loser will wind up in the bullpen. Trevor May and Alex Meyer are higher-upside options for the rotation or bullpen, and in general there are no shortage of alternative bullpen options including Michael Tonkin, Blaine Boyer, Lester Oliveros, and Rule 5 pick J.R. Graham.


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  • Kyle

    So, I’ve lurked on this website a long time (at least 8 years), reading regularly, and never commenting. Aaron- nice work on your twins coverage.
    Upon looking at that assumed roster, feeling a slight urge to throw up in my mouth a little bit, I couldn’t help but make a comment. This team is going to suck. I know they sucked for a long time now, but if you’ll remember, we were told two years ago that if could hold on, the youngsters were coming, and the team would be better.
    Well, its not. Whether you want to blame the player or the coach, the team has failed to develop a single player in the last five years (maybe Dozier is the exception to that, but he doesn’t get me that excited).
    Looking at that roster, if I were starting from scratch, I’d take Hughes, Perkins, and give the rest out right releases. This is just garbage.
    So, sorry my first post is so negative, but a fan can only take so much.

    • blindeke

      agree that this team will suck

  • Dave T

    Aaron, I sure hope you are wrong about the starting pitchers. Judging from last year, Milone and Nolasco are expensive mistakes. Maybe they will have a better spring than Berrios, Meyer, or May. But if not, I hope the Twins have the guts to cut/demote them, and begin the season with the 5 best starters.

  • Kavan

    I am also expecting a sub 75 win season with this team, but on a player to player basis I think (hope) you may have overstated our position. I think there is nice, cost controlled value in Arcia, Dozier and Pinto (if he’s a catcher). Santana could regress a lot but if he sticks at SS, he’s also a nice role player. I don’t know what to expect from Vargas but he could be alright. Hughes is a legitimate top 1/2 starter, Santana and Gibson are fine mid/back of the rotation pitchers. I think there is a lot of value in average-ish players pre – (and concurrent-) arbitration. I think we have fair amount of that, and we’re finally trending in the right direction for the first time in years.

    We have more money wrapped up in Suzuki, Hunter and our bullpen than I think we need, but the Twins don’t spend their budget anyway so that doesn’t really matter.

    We’ll have a much better idea about the Twins future when we get to see Sano/Buxton play at the MLB level (hopefully this year). If they fill 3B and CF I think we are a corner outfielder and a top of the rotation pitcher away (maybe even Meyer or Berrios) from contending again. Not that we’ll go out and get those pieces, but I think we’re getting close.

    • Kyle

      I wish I had your optimism. I’m not seeing the trends because the Twins players have shown no ability to take a step forward the last 2- 5 years. Players like Hicks, Arcia, Plouffe, Gibson…. the list goes on.
      Maybe its always darkest before the dawn, but I have to assume a 90 loss season. There a few things that could prevent that, such as Nolasco taking a step forward, or Gibson pitching to potential, but there is no evidence presently to suggest that these things will happen.

      • Kavan

        I share your pessimism on Hicks and Plouffe, but I think it’s much too early to write off Arcia, he’s already accomplished quite a bit given his age, and shows power potential that might be elite. I think Gibson’s main fault is the hype he received upon promotion. I don’t think anyone who took a look at his track record had a serious projected ceiling above 3rd starter, and I think he’ll be a fine 4 or 5 type – cost controlled that’s not a bad piece.

        • Hope4Change

          I have huge doubts on Hicks ever helping the Twins, or anyone. I’m 50/50 on Plouffe, I think he’s a serviceable major league player who’ll play 10-plus years in the league and be decent. I’m more upbeat on Arcia. With power in such short supply in the game anymore, he’s a 23 yr old who already has 34 HR’s in his first 200 games. I know he swings too hard, is maddening in the field and may be borderline crazy, but I’ll take all that for the potential. If Sano hits 34 HR’s in his first 200 games, I think we’d be happy with that, wouldn’t we?

  • Dianne

    Seems reasonable except Suzuki is not going to be leading off.

    • CreepyPockets

      That’s not a lineup, it’s positional order.

  • Furney

    “$17 million on Torii Hunter, Duensing, Milone, and Nunez.” Yikes. I don’t understand why they’re keeping Nunez. Poor bat, and a poor glove.
    I do like the fact that they’ve kept Jordan Schafer. He’s a serviceable outfielder with an above average arm, and good speed. Always nice to have a guy like that on your bench…when you operate on the cheap.

  • Andrew Haider

    Assuming the position players are somewhat correct … I would like to see the following line-up:
    SS Santana, Danny
    1B Mauer, Joe
    2B Dozier, Brian
    LF Arcia, Oswaldo
    RF Hunter, Torii
    DH Vargas, Kennys
    3B Plouffe, Trevor
    C Suzuki, Kurt
    CF Hicks, Aaron
    I like the left right combination that gives. I also gave consideration to the following, but I like the 2, 3, 4 line-up of above better
    SS Santana, Danny
    2B Dozier, Brian
    1B Mauer, Joe
    RF Hunter, Torrii
    LF Arcia, Oswaldo
    3B Plouffe, Trevor
    DH Vargas, Kennys
    C Suzuki, Kurt
    CF Hicks, Aaron