January 3, 2011

Twins Notes: Pavano, Fuentes, Thome, Iwakuma, Nishioka, and James

• With the Brewers out of the free agent starting pitching market following their trade for Zack Greinke various reports have Carl Pavano deciding between the Twins and Nationals. If the speculation about it coming down to which team offers him a three-year deal proves true fans should hope the Twins bow out. Signing a 35-year-old pitcher with an extensive injury history to a three-year pact that would surely be worth at least $25 million is just asking for trouble.

• They made no legitimate effort to re-sign Matt Guerrier or Jesse Crain and seemingly have no interest in bringing back Jon Rauch, but Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports.com reports that the Twins are still talking to Brian Fuentes. Fuentes showed that he still has plenty left in the tank at age 35 and he'd be worth re-signing for, say, $10 million over two years, but it seems likely that he'll be able to get more money or an opportunity to close elsewhere.

• Many people have been assuming that Jim Thome re-signing was only a matter of time, but LaVelle E. Neal III of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports that Thome wants to "make up for what he didn't earn last season." It's tough to blame Thome, because he was certainly worth far more than the $2 million or so the Twins paid him in 2010. On the other hand there aren't many openings for pure designated hitters and he hasn't really been linked to other teams.

Bringing back Thome would be great if the price is reasonable, but it's also worth remembering that he wasn't a regular until Justin Morneau's concussion in early July, starting just 34 of the first 84 games. Thome and a healthy Morneau along with Jason Kubel, Michael Cuddyer, and Delmon Young would give the Twins five players for four lineup spots, and it's hard to imagine Ron Gardenhire benching Cuddyer versus righties no matter how much sense it would make.

• General manager Bill Smith revealed during a recent interview with Patrick Reusse and Phil Mackey on 1500-ESPN that the Twins finished runner-up in the bidding for Japanese starting pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma, which took place about four weeks before they won the bidding for infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka. According to Smith the Twins bid $7.7 million for Iwakuma, which was nowhere near the A's winning bid of $19.1 million. And ultimately he didn't sign.

Based on Iwakuma’s reported asking price the Twins likely would have balked at his demands too, but had the posting fee been $7.7 million instead of $19.1 million it's possible he would've asked for significantly less money or the Twins would've had more room in the total budget for the acquisition to offer him a palatable deal. Whether that would've changed their pursuit of Nishioka is unclear, but Iwakuma is considered an elite Japanese pitcher.

Dan Szymborski is gradually publishing his annual ZiPs projections at Baseball Think Factory and the Twins are his latest release. Before checking out the list keep in mind that no fan base has ever looked at projections for their team's upcoming season and concluded they were too optimistic. So, try not to be a homer. ZiPs projects Nishioka to hit .281/.337/.403 based on his track record in Japan, which is pretty close to my quick-and-dirty projection of .275/.335/.375.

• One interesting name among the Twins' latest batch of minor-league signings is left-hander Chuck James, a former top prospect who found success in the Braves' rotation before injuries sidetracked his career. James went 11-4 with a 3.78 ERA in 119 innings as 24-year-old rookie in 2006 and started 30 games with a 4.24 ERA in 2007, but struggled mightily in 2008 before undergoing surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff and labrum in his shoulder.

He missed all of 2009, but came back very strong last season in the Nationals' system by going 10-1 with a 2.32 ERA and 69-to-11 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 66 innings between Double-A and Triple-A. James was an extreme fly-ball pitcher with a fastball that topped out in the high-80s even before going under the knife, so resurrecting his career is a long shot, but he's still just 29 years old and will be worth keeping an eye on at Rochester.

• After trading Jose Morales to the Rockies for reliever prospect Paul Bargas the Twins signed veteran minor-league catchers Steve Holm and Rene Rivera. They've both had brief stints in the big leagues, but neither can hit and they're definitely Triple-A caliber. Joe Mauer and Drew Butera are the only catchers on the 40-man roster, so presumably Holm and Rivera will vie for the spot behind Butera on the "hopefully he only has to start once a week" depth chart.

December 7, 2010

Winter meetings rumblings: Nishioka, Hardy, Uehara, Thome, and Pavano

I'm not at the winter meetings this year, but my blog-mate Craig Calcaterra is on the scene in Orlando writing lots of good stuff on Hardball Talk and after Day 1 there are even some Twins-related rumblings worth noting ...

Bill Smith met yesterday afternoon with Tsuyoshi Nishioka's agent for the first time and Ed Price of AOL Fanhouse reports that the Twins have offered the Japanese infielder a three-year deal worth $9-$10 million. Last week I crunched some numbers on previous Japanese players signing with MLB teams and concluded: "Based on those precedents ... a three-year deal for around $9 million seems likely." Not bad. Now he just needs to accept the offer.

J.J. Hardy's status remains up in the air, but I expect his situation to come into focus quickly once Nishioka signs. My hope is still that the Twins keep both players and use Alexi Casilla in a utility role, but as many as six teams have reportedly expressed interest in trading for Hardy and if the Twins are going to move him they'll want to do so before the shortstop market gets settled. Right now I'd probably bet on Hardy being traded for bullpen help.

• Speaking of which, according to Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun the Twins are among six teams to express interest in free agent reliever Koji Uehara. A month ago I examined low-cost bullpen options and put Uehara atop the list of my recommended targets, suggesting that he'd "make an ideal setup man" if "available for a reasonable one-year contract." With at least five other teams bidding that may prove difficult, but it's nice to hear the Twins like him too.

• Last week Jim Thome's agent reiterated that he planned to play in 2011 at age 40 and now the future Hall of Famer told Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports.com that he wants to play two more seasons. Thome called the Twins "an awesome organization" and "a wonderful place to play," but stopped short of saying he planned to re-sign. According to Rosenthal, agent Pat Rooney "has received calls from multiple teams expressing interest."

• Smith told ESPN1500.com's Phil Mackey that he hasn't ruled out re-signing Carl Pavano, but given various reports of heavy interest from several teams and speculation about three-year offers his returning to Minnesota seems highly unlikely. Making a three-season commitment to Pavano would be a mistake, so hopefully the Twins will be content to let the 34-year-old right-hander walk and take the compensatory draft picks.

Brian Fuentes is drawing interest from multiple teams, including the Red Sox, and is said to be seeking $6-$8 million per season in a multi-year deal. There's no indication that the Twins are in the mix to re-sign him and by not offering Fuentes arbitration they forfeit compensation for the Type B free agent signing elsewhere.

• After sitting out this season following his third back surgery in three years Joe Crede is now attempting a comeback.

Ron Mahay is reportedly drawing interest from the Red Sox and Mets.

• I'm slated to be the guest on Seth Stohs' podcast tonight, starting at 10:00 p.m.

November 24, 2010

Twins offer arbitration to Pavano, Hudson, and Crain

Last night was the deadline to offer departing free agents arbitration to receive compensatory draft picks if they sign elsewhere and the Twins did so to Carl Pavano, Orlando Hudson, and Jesse Crain, but chose not to tender arbitration offers to Matt Guerrier, Jon Rauch, and Brian Fuentes. Pavano and Crain were no-brainers, as they'll both have plenty of interested teams on the open market and if not the Twins would gladly welcome them back on one-year deals.

Hudson was seemingly a tougher call, as he's had to accept one-year deals as a free agent in each of the past two offseasons and may simply decide to accept the Twins' arbitration offer to ensure another one-year deal for at least the $5 million he earned in 2010. That would hardly be disastrous, as he was certainly worth $5 million, but it's unclear how he fits into the budget for 2011 and I'd heard from several sources that the Twins weren't interested in keeping him.

As a Type A free agent Guerrier signing elsewhere would have brought back a first-round pick and a second-round pick had the Twins offered him arbitration. However, the odds of another team be willing to forfeit their first-round pick to sign a good but not great 32-year-old reliever seem slim and the Twins didn't want to risk Guerrier seeing his lack of other options and simply accepting the arbitration offer because that could have meant paying him $5 million in 2011.

My sense is that the Twins have little interest in bringing back Rauch, so while getting a draft pick when he signs elsewhere would've been nice they didn't risk his accepting arbitration and locking them into a one-year deal for at least $3 million. Fuentes earned $9 million this season, so any arbitration offer to him would essentially have been offering a one-year, $9 million deal and the Twins don't have that kind of payroll space even if they'd like to have him return.

I'm very curious to see how the Hudson situation plays out, especially since it could impact J.J. Hardy, and it'll also be interesting to see if they make efforts to re-sign Guerrier or Fuentes at lesser salaries. Doing so with Guerrier is far more likely, but it's possible Fuentes could also be an option to come back if he can't find any full-time closer gigs on the open market. As general manager Bill Smith put it: "We haven't closed the door on re-signing any of those players."

UPDATE: Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports.com speculates that the Twins may have a gentleman's agreement with Hudson that he'll decline their arbitration offer, which isn't unheard of (Javier Vazquez and Trevor Hoffman are also doing it) and would obviously make the entire situation a whole lot less surprising. If true, the Twins basically get a free draft pick out of the deal.

September 2, 2010

Twins complete Fuentes trade by sending Van Mil to Angels

Technically the Angels had until October 15 to decide on the player to be named later heading their way in the deal for Brian Fuentes, but it turns out they were simply waiting for Loek Van Mil to go through waivers after being designated for assignment to make room on the 40-man roster for Fuentes. He predictably went unclaimed and yesterday the Twins finalized the trade by sending the 7-foot-1 right-hander to the Angels.

Van Mil ranked 39th on my list of the Twins' top prospects this winter, but has been limited to just 33.2 innings due to injuries and posted a 6.15 ERA between high Single-A and Double-A. He's intriguing simply by virtue of standing 7-foot-1 and actually had quite a bit of success prior to this season, but Van Mil will turn 26 years old next month, has yet to throw even 50 innings in a season, and almost surely would've been cut from the 40-man roster by the offseason.

By going through waivers Van Mil was available to any team willing to place him on the 40-man roster and he also would have been eligible to be selected in the Rule 5 draft in December, so giving the Dutchman up as the PTBNL for Fuentes is a no-brainer for the Twins. Because of his size and good fastball Van Mil is perhaps still capable of developing into a quality reliever if he can stay healthy, but he's a pretty fungible commodity at this point.

Fuentes might actually accept and stick them with a $10 million bill for 2011, so I'll be surprised if the Twins risk offering him arbitration in order to receive compensatory draft picks when he leaves as a free agent. Essentially that means they dealt Van Mil and $1.9 million for six-plus weeks of a good left-handed setup man. For a contending team with an obvious bullpen need that's an ideal move, although Fuentes' back problems unfortunately may complicate things.

August 30, 2010

Twins Notes: Thome, Fuentes, Kubel, Neshek, Wimmers, and Span

• Not only has Jim Thome switching from the White Sox to the Twins had a massive impact on the AL Central race, Baseball-Reference.com's blog points out that he's having one of the best seasons ever by a 39-year-old (he actually turned 40 over the weekend, but this is his age-39 season). Here are the all-time leaders in adjusted OPS+ at age 39:

AGE 39              YEAR      PA     OPS+
Barry Bonds         2004     617     263
Ted Williams        1958     517     179
Hank Aaron          1973     465     177
JIM THOME           2010     279     161
Babe Ruth           1934     471     161

Thome has fewer plate appearances than everyone else on that list, but he's on pace to finish with approximately 350 and any time you can make a top-five list alongside Barry Bonds, Ted Williams, Hank Aaron, and Babe Ruth you're doing something really right. Paul Molitor is the only other player in Twins history to post an OPS+ above 100 at age 39, hitting .341/.390/.468 in 728 plate appearances for a 116 OPS+ in 1996.

And if you're already thinking about the Twins possibly re-signing Thome for next season, here are the all-time leaders in OPS+ at age 40:

AGE 40              YEAR      PA     OPS+
Willie Mays         1971     537     158
Carlton Fisk        1988     298     155
Edgar Martinez      2003     603     141
Moises Alou         2007     360     137
Dave Winfield       1992     670     137

That's a much different and less impressive list in terms of both names and numbers, which is a good reminder of how tough it is to dominate at age 40. In fact, based on OPS+ no hitter in the history of baseball has ever been as productive as a 40-year-old as Thome has been as a 39-year-old, which is something to keep in mind when it comes to 2011 expectations for the future Hall of Famer. Of course, I loved the signing at the time and would love to see him back.

• I made a rare weekend post analyzing the Brian Fuentes trade, so read that if you missed it Friday night. I wondered how Ron Gardenhire will use Fuentes down the stretch, but so far so good. Gardenhire smartly pulled Nick Blackburn after 8.2 scoreless innings Saturday when he walked speedster Chone Figgins as the tying run in a 1-0 game, bringing in Fuentes to get the 27th out with left-handed slugger Russell Branyan at the plate.

Fuentes dispatched Branyan with ease and in doing so hinted that perhaps Matt Capps won't always get the call in the ninth inning when dangerous left-handed bats are due up. Fans and media instinctively balked at the notion of "closer by committee" when Joe Nathan went down, but if Fuentes isn't needed early in a game bringing him in for tough ninth-inning lefties makes sense. I'm skeptical after the Twins focused on Capps' closing experience to explain that deal.

October 15 is the deadline for the Angels to pick the player to be named later they receive for Fuentes, but all indications are that they're choosing from a list of fairly marginal prospects and some reports even suggest "cash" could be substituted for the player. I already liked the deal when I thought the PTBNL could end up being a mid-level prospect, so a low-level prospect or cash would make it even more of a no-brainer.

There seems to be a lot of confusion about Fuentes' contract status, so let's try to clear it up. He has a $9 million option for 2011 that vests with 55 games finished, but that's a moot point with just 34 so far. He'll be a free agent and get Type A or B status, so in theory the Twins can receive compensation when he leaves. However, that first requires offering Fuentes arbitration and since he could guarantee himself $10 million by simply accepting the Twins won't do it.

Fuentes is a six-week rental, and a good one.

Luke French is the 47th left-handed starting pitcher the Twins have faced in 131 games this year, which means they've been matched up against a lefty 36 percent of the time compared to the league average of 29 percent. Jason Kubel started at designated hitter versus French and has started 34 of the 47 games against lefties despite hitting just .210/.306/.341 off them this season and .232/.312/.352 off them for his career.

Much like Jacque Jones before him, Kubel's career-long ineptitude versus lefties makes him an obvious platoon player who Gardenhire simply refuses to platoon. Even worse, Kubel was in the cleanup spot yesterday, which is the third time he's batted cleanup against a lefty. In fact, he's yet to hit in the bottom third of the lineup versus a lefty this season, batting nine times in the fifth spot and 22 times in the sixth spot along with the three cleanup starts.

And while he was at DH yesterday, Kubel has been in right field for 17 of the 34 starts versus lefties, which means in 13 percent of their total games the Twins have chosen to combine poor defense in right field with a .650 OPS from the middle of the lineup. Not having Justin Morneau since early July has made it impossible for Gardenhire to use his preferred lineups, but in half of Kubel's starts against lefties Morneau was also in the lineup. Platoon him, please.

• Every time the Twins make a change to the bullpen--and there's been no shortage of them recently--I get comments, e-mails, and tweets asking about Pat Neshek. Fans (and bloggers) love Neshek and want to see him succeed after Tommy John surgery, but because the Twins weren't pleased with how he handled his post-surgery finger injury he's become sort of the forgotten man at Triple-A (and is choosing to fly under the radar by not speaking to reporters).

He's pitched well since being sent to Triple-A in early June following a DL stint, going 4-1 with a 3.47 ERA, .263 opponents' batting average, and 24 strikeouts versus six non-intentional walks in 36.1 innings, but certainly hasn't been dominant or close to Rochester's best reliever. He's apparently no sure thing to get a September call-up and based on performance alone--rather than his history and presence on the 40-man roster--no one would be clamoring for Neshek.

Wilson Ramos made his Nationals debut last week, but was only called up for a couple days with Wil Nieves away from the team. Ramos went hitless in his only game before being sent back to the minors, making him 1-for-22 since starting his career with seven hits in his first two games. He has hit .319/.347/.514 in 18 games at Triple-A since being swapped for Capps last month and will be back in Washington when rosters expand later this week.

• After basically taking two months off before signing for $1.3 million a week or so before the deadline, first-round pick Alex Wimmers has been assigned to high Single-A for his pro debut. He's pitched twice so far at Fort Myers, tossing 5.2 scoreless innings with an 8-to-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio and .105 opponents' batting average while on a strict pitch count. By assigning him directly to high Single-A the Twins have set him up to advance through the system quickly.

Denard Span was caught trying to steal third base yesterday, so dating back to last season he now has 42 stolen bases while being thrown out or picked off 31 times. Yuck.

« Newer PostsOlder Posts »