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.

September 18, 2013

Who will the Twins purge from the 40-man roster this offseason?

parmelee hendriks duensing

At the beginning of each offseason every team goes through the ritual housecleaning of shedding players from the 40-man roster to prepare for a winter of adding new players and protecting new prospects. As one of baseball's worst teams for a third straight year the Twins have no shortage of dead weight on the 40-man roster, plus plenty of marginal talents clinging to spots, so here's my breakdown of the players most likely to be shed and where they stand (in alphabetical order):

Andrew Albers: Odds are Albers' early success after being called up is enough to keep him on the 40-man roster for next season, but as of about two months ago he was nowhere to be found in the Twins' plans and soft-tossing former independent leaguers tend to always be close to the chopping block. Extreme strike-throwing could allow Albers to survive as a fifth starter for a bit, but he's totally lacking in upside and has predictably struggled to miss bats.

Doug Bernier: Signed to a minor-league deal this offseason, Bernier had the best season of his dozen-year career by hitting .295/.370/.407 in 95 games as Rochester's starting shortstop. That earned him a call-up in July when the Twins demoted Eduardo Escobar from the utility infielder role and Bernier has played sparingly. As a 33-year-old career .249/.347/.341 hitter in 600 total games at Triple-A there's no reason to keep a marginal utility man on the roster.

Chris Colabello: He crushed Triple-A pitching to be named MVP of the International League, but Colabello has hit just .196 with a 51-to-16 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 47 games for the Twins and 29-year-old rookies signed out of independent leagues often don't get second chances. He's shown some pop and based on his Triple-A destruction Colabello seems capable of being at least a useful platoon first baseman against lefties, but it's hard to imagine his roster spot being secure.

Cole De Vries: As a local guy and undrafted free agent De Vries making his big-league debut last year at age 27 was a great story, but he was never particularly deserving of the call-up in the first place based on his track record and this year he was injured and ineffective at Triple-A. De Vries is exactly the type of pitcher who will be available on minor-league deals every offseason and there's zero reason for the Twins to keep him on the 40-man roster like they have since mid-2012.

Brian Duensing: After a miserable first half that saw him demoted from setup man to mop-up man Duensing has quietly turned things around in the second half. His overall numbers are solid, including a 53-to-20 strikeout-to-walk ratio and just three homers allowed in 56 innings, but he'll never be trustworthy versus right-handed hitters and with a raise to at least $2 million coming up via arbitration he's a non-tender candidate.

Eric Fryer: Added to the 40-man roster and called up two weeks ago because the Twins simply needed another warm body behind the plate after Joe Mauer and Ryan Doumit suffered brain injuries, Fryer got the nod despite a .215/.339/.365 line in 65 games at Triple-A. His track record is similarly poor and at age 27 there's no upside to be had, so it seems safe to assume that Fryer will be dropped from the 40-man roster as soon as the season is over.

Liam Hendriks: Being rushed to the majors slightly ahead of schedule in 2012 hasn't helped and giving up on Hendriks at age 24 would be a drastic move. On the other hand underwhelming raw stuff and mediocre strikeout rates always made him a second-tier prospect, his results for the Twins so far have been brutally bad, and this year his Triple-A performance also ceased being encouraging. It all depends on how long the Twins want to wait for a potential fourth starter.

B.J. Hermsen: Terrible strikeout rates and poor fastball velocity stopped Hermsen from being a quality prospect despite nice-looking ERAs in the low minors. He was named Twins minor league pitcher of the year in 2012, but ranked just 29th in my prospect rankings coming into the season and then got knocked around at Double-A for a 4.81 ERA and .328 opponents' batting average with just 35 strikeouts in 86 innings. He's still only 24 years old, but has very little upside.

Pedro Hernandez: Acquired from the White Sox in the Francisco Liriano trade, Hernandez is a soft-tossing left-hander who likely struggles too much against right-handed hitters to succeed as a starter. Righties have hit .331/.400/.587 off him through 57 innings in the majors and also did a lot of damage off him in the minors. Hernandez fares well enough versus lefties to possibly carve out a bullpen niche, but that's true of most southpaw pitchers and his value is pretty limited.

Shairon Martis: Much like Fryer on the position player side, adding Martis to the 40-man roster and calling him up earlier this month would have warranted a lot more criticism if it didn't seem so obvious that the Twins will cut him loose as soon as the season ends. Martis is 26 years old with a 5.24 ERA in the majors and a 4.40 ERA at Triple-A, which includes a mediocre performance after shifting to the bullpen in Rochester this year. He has no business in the big leagues.

Darin Mastroianni: It's tough to evaluate Mastroianni's season because he got hurt during spring training and initially tried to play through the injury before undergoing ankle surgery that cost him four months. However, even before the lost season he was a marginal major leaguer ticketed for a bench role and he can't afford to lose any speed considering it's his primary skill. If healthy he's a useful backup outfielder, but he's a fairly fungible player type.

Chris Parmelee: There have been a few brief flashes of big-time production, both for the Twins and at Triple-A, but Parmelee simply hasn't hit enough. He's at .225/.299/.371 in 152 games for the Twins since an impressive September debut in 2011 and hit just .231/.318/.380 in 45 games at Triple-A this year. Going back further he hit just .282/.355/.416 at Double-A and will be 26 years old before spring training, so at the very least the clock is winding down on Parmelee.

Mike Pelfrey: Signed to a one-year, $4 million contract coming off Tommy John elbow surgery, Pelfrey was terrible early, decent in the middle, and terrible again recently. Add it all up and you get 28 starts of a 5.34 ERA with just 96 strikeouts in 147 innings and a .300 opponents' batting average. His fastball velocity doesn't help much without a usable off-speed pitch and a slow pace on the mound makes watching him torture. Free agency will take him off the 40-man roster.

Wilkin Ramirez: The latest example of the Twins overreacting to a strong spring training by a mediocre player, Ramirez won an Opening Day job despite a decade-long track record of terrible plate discipline and poor overall production in the minors. He's a career .255/.310/.430 hitter at Triple-A and hit .272/.302/.370 with an ugly 23-to-2 strikeout-to-walk ratio for the Twins before multiple injuries wrecked his season. He's also not a true center fielder defensively.

Josh Roenicke: Claimed off waivers from the Rockies last fall, Roenicke has done about what should have been expected by eating some low-leverage relief innings with too many walks and not enough strikeouts. He's basically a replacement-level middle reliever and at age 30 with a raise via arbitration eligibility ahead Roenicke wouldn't be missed in what looks to be a relatively deep right-handed bullpen mix for 2014.

Clete Thomas: Aaron Hicks' struggles and Mastroianni's injury led to Thomas getting a second shot with the Twins after struggling mightily last year in a brief look. He stuck around much longer this time, logging more than 300 plate appearances, but Thomas has hit just .219/.291/.314 with a ton of strikeouts and is simply overmatched as a regular. Decent range in center field is enough to make Thomas a usable backup outfielder, but the Twins should be able to do better.

For a lengthy discussion about what the Twins' roster will look like next season, check out this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode.


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August 8, 2013

Twins Notes: No trades, botched moves, nice debuts, and bye bye Butera

drew butera twins

Catching up on the Twins happenings while I was in Philadelphia for the SABR convention ...

• Essentially giving away Drew Butera wasn't supposed to be the full extent of the Twins' trade deadline activity, but aside from Glen Perkins they simply didn't have much to offer. It's certainly surprising that they didn't move Justin Morneau, especially given various reports suggesting that multiple teams expressed at least some level of interest, but they weren't going to get more than a marginal prospect for a below average 32-year-old impending free agent anyway.

Morneau has shown improved power recently and it's still possible to find a taker for him between now and August 31, but the waiver system limits options and every game he plays is one fewer game another team can acquire. For the third year in a row the Twins failed to make a significant move to swap veterans for long-term help before the trade deadline, which is rare for a rebuilding team and in several cases stems from their inability to pull the trigger at the right time.

• Butera spent parts of four seasons with the Twins, lasting long enough to get a $700,000 salary for this year via arbitration, which is amazing considering he hit .215/.287/.324 at Double-A and .218/.268/.307 at Triple-A. Plenty of terrible-hitting catchers have solid MLB careers because of defense, but Butera was several steps below terrible-hitting. He hit .182 with a .494 OPS, which is the lowest by any position player with 500-plus plate appearances in the past 30 years:

                    PA      OPS
DREW BUTERA        534     .494
Angel Salazar      932     .500
Brandon Wood       751     .513
Tom Lawless        590     .521
Kevin Cash         714     .526

Comparing across eras can be difficult, but there's a strong argument to be made that Butera is the worst hitter of the past three decades and if nothing else he's the only hitter with 500-plus plate appearances and an OPS below .500 during that time. And based on his minor-league track record that .494 OPS might actually count as out-performing expectations. Not surprisingly the Dodgers sent Butera to Triple-A immediately after acquiring him from the Twins.

• It's tough to look at Aaron Hicks' rookie season and not conclude that the Twins botched things at just about every step along the way. Instead of furthering his development and suppressing his service time by having him open the year at Triple-A they all but handed Hicks the center field job before spring training and rushed him from Double-A to the majors. Based on his 2-for-48 slump to begin the season and subsequent struggles, it's clear that they misjudged his readiness.

In early July they had another opportunity to send Hicks to Triple-A following his disabled list stint for a hamstring injury, but instead abruptly ended his minor-league rehab assignment and rushed him back to the majors after Josh Willingham's knee surgery. He again struggled, giving him a .194 batting average and 84 strikeouts in 81 games overall, at which point they finally demoted Hicks to Triple-A four months into the season.

Being overmatched as a 23-year-old rookie jumping from Double-A is hardly a death sentence for Hicks' long-term potential, although not many struggles are that extreme and allowed to go on for that long. Ultimately he needs to figure out how to maintain a patient approach while also being aggressive within the strike zone, which has been a career-long issue. Because of the demotion he won't use a full year of service time, but this was probably the worst path to that destination.

Andrew Albers joined Chris Colabello and Caleb Thielbar in going from independent ball to the Twins' roster and as if that wasn't already a good enough story the 27-year-old left-hander tossed 8.1 shutout innings against the Royals in his debut. Based on Game Score it was the best MLB debut in Twins history, topping Bert Blyleven's seven innings of one-run ball on June 5, 1970 and Anthony Swarzak's seven shutout innings on May 23, 2009.

Blyleven went on to become a Hall of Famer and Swarzak went on to become a long reliever, so a great debut certainly doesn't guarantee anything. With that said, Albers is definitely an intriguing player. His fastball tops out in the high-80s, which is particularly worrisome when combined with extreme fly-ball tendencies, but Albers is a strike-throwing machine and managed 7.3 strikeouts per nine innings between Double-A and Triple-A. He's still a long shot, but could be useful.

• Albers is getting his big chance because the Twins sent Scott Diamond to Triple-A, completing a dramatic decline for a pitcher many people were extremely excited about this time last season. Diamond's awful strikeout rate always suggested that most of the excitement was overblown and he missed even fewer bats this year along with more walks and fewer ground balls. There are 122 pitchers with at least 300 innings since 2011 and Diamond ranks dead last in strikeout rate.

To have sustained success while striking out 4.3 batters per nine innings a pitcher needs to have spectacular control and induce tons of ground balls. And even then Diamond's realistic upside at age 27 is a lot closer to a left-handed Nick Blackburn than any kind of long-term building block. In fact, comparing Diamond's numbers through three seasons to Blackburn's numbers through three seasons is eerily similar:

               ERA    SO/9    BB/9    HR/9     OAVG
Diamond       4.39     4.3     2.2     1.0     .292
Blackburn     4.14     4.4     1.8     1.1     .293

At least the Twins haven't signed Diamond to a long-term contract extension yet.

Tim Wood, who was signed to a minor-league deal in November and then added to the 40-man roster two weeks later because the Twins suddenly felt worried about losing a 30-year-old Triple-A reliever in the Rule 5 draft, will miss the remainder of the season following shoulder surgery. He never threw a pitch this year in the minors or majors.

Chris Parmelee has hit .301/.409/.466 with a 15-to-13 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 20 games at Triple-A since his demotion. Not as spectacular as his 2012 breakout there, but the guy can hit International League pitching.

Kevin Correia has a 5.90 ERA and .329 opponents' batting average in 17 starts since May 1.

Parker Hageman of Twins Daily interviewed Jared Burton and wrote an interesting article about the right-hander's fantastic changeup.

• For a lot more about the Twins' lack of trade deadline activity and Hicks' demotion, check out this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode.


This week's blog content is sponsored by the Twins Daily light rail pub crawl/Twins game, where you can join Aaron Gleeman, John Bonnes, Parker Hageman, Nick Nelson, and Seth Stohs for a day of bar-hopping and baseball on September 14. Space is limited, so book your spot.