July 25, 2013

What are the Twins’ trade deadline options?

morneau and perkins

As the Twins stumble toward a third consecutive 90-loss season next week's trade deadline is an opportunity to acquire young talent to aid the ongoing rebuilding effort. But will any of the Twins' obvious trade candidates be in enough demand to actually fetch significant long-term help? And does it make sense for the Twins to shop some not-so-obvious veterans in an effort to make a bigger splash? Here's my view of the players they might deal between now and July 31.


Justin Morneau: Sadly, at this point Morneau is little more than a recognizable name with an MVP trophy and a big salary. He hasn't been the same since suffering a concussion in mid-2010, hitting just .258/.319/.401 in 295 games over the past three seasons. This year he's been healthy after dealing with an assortment of major injuries in addition to the concussion, but his power has vanished and his .726 OPS is 50 points below the MLB average for first basemen.

Contending teams looking to add a left-handed veteran bat cheaply may have some interest, but even if the Twins are willing to cover the remaining $6 million on Morneau's contract they aren't going to get much for the 32-year-old impending free agent. He hasn't been an above-average first baseman since the concussion and has played poorly enough that draft pick compensation is no longer a realistic option, so it's either let him walk for nothing or settle for a modest return.


Glen Perkins: Trading relievers when their value is high usually makes sense because their role only involves throwing 60-70 innings per season and they often burn out sooner than expected. Toss in the "proven closer" aspect potentially inflating Perkins' perceived value a la Matt Capps and the Twins would be making a mistake if they didn't listen to offers. With that said, he's not an example of the closer role making a mediocre reliever look like a great one.

Perkins is legitimately great, with a 2.37 ERA and 194 strikeouts in 171 innings since moving to the bullpen full time, and because the Twins signed him before he became a "proven closer" he's priced more like a setup man. He's under team control at reasonable salaries through 2016, so even setting aside the fact that he's a native Minnesotan and fan favorite there's no reason to trade Perkins now unless they get big-time value back.


Jared Burton: Everything about trading relievers with their value high applies to Burton too, but like Perkins he's under team control for reasonable salaries: $3.5 million in 2014 and $3.6 million in 2015. Burton is also two years older than Perkins and has a lengthy injury history that allowed the Twins to acquire him cheaply in the first place, so there should be quite a bit more motivation to shop the 32-year-old around now.

Burton has a 2.71 ERA and 95-to-34 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 106 innings for the Twins and even after going through a rough patch recently his overall numbers this season remain late inning-caliber. If the Twins can get a solid position player prospect or a young pitcher with some upside for Burton they should absolutely consider it strongly, but he's cheap enough, good enough, and signed for long enough to hang onto unless the market is a decent one.


Mike Pelfrey: His early work coming back from Tommy John elbow surgery was ugly, but Pelfrey has looked much better recently and more or less resembles his pre-surgery self. Of course, he wasn't all that good before going under the knife, posting a 4.45 ERA and 5.0 strikeouts per nine innings in 97 starts for the Mets from 2009-2011. Since a brutal April he's started 13 games with a 4.38 ERA and 6.0 strikeouts per nine innings.

Pelfrey was signed in the hopes that he could eat innings for a rebuilt rotation, but he's gone more than six innings just twice in 18 starts and with the Twins already out of contention a 29-year-old back-of-the-rotation starter on a one-year contract carries even less value than before. He's owed about $1.5 million for the rest of the season, so teams that miss out on bigger targets might view him as an inexpensive fallback option.


Kevin Correia: Correia has been as advertised, posting a 4.17 ERA compared to the AL average of 4.05 while striking out just 5.0 batters per nine innings and serving up 18 homers in 19 starts. He hasn't been horrible, but he certainly hasn't been an asset and because the Twins felt the need to give him a two-year contract at age 32 he's owed $2 million for the rest of this season and $5 million next year.

None of their young rotation options have established themselves as quality big leaguers yet, so bringing back Correia for 2014 wouldn't be a terrible idea. However, there was nothing separating him from the various mediocre starters who signed one-year deals this offseason and the same type of starters will be available again this winter, so if the Twins can get a mid-level prospect in return while wiping his salary off the books that sounds pretty good.


Brian Duensing: After repeatedly flopping as a starter the plan was for Duensing to move back into the bullpen and rediscover his previous success as a reliever. Instead he's mostly struggled, against both righties and lefties, although his secondary numbers versus left-handed bats remain promising. Duensing is a decent middle reliever, but the need to be sheltered from right-handed power hitters will always limit his value.

Beyond that he's 30 years old and being paid $1.3 million this season, with the arbitration process all but assuring him a raise for 2014. If the Twins think he can bounce back to his pre-2013 relief work then Duensing would be worth keeping around for next season and they also have him under team control for 2015, but he's no longer a bargain and no longer has any real upside. If a team in need of left-handed bullpen help is willing to part with a decent prospect they should take it.


Ryan Doumit: When the Twins signed Doumit to a two-year, $7 million contract extension in the middle of last season it seemed like a fair price for an above-average hitter with some defensive versatility and one of the talking points was that the deal would make him easy to trade if needed. Instead he's hit just .237/.297/.388 in 87 games for the worst production of his career at age 32 and has struggled defensively as a catcher and corner outfielder.

Doumit is owed about $1.5 million for the rest of this season and $3.5 million next season, so his contract is hardly an albatross. Still, he was never perceived as being especially valuable to begin with thanks to his terrible defensive reputation behind the plate and Doumit's hitting has fallen off enough that trading him would probably be mostly about unloading the salary. He could be useful next season in a similar but reduced role if there's no market for him.


Trevor Plouffe: Plouffe is sort of the wild card in any trade speculation because he's 27 years old, making the minimum salary, and under team control through 2017. However, the Twins rightfully seem less than convinced that Plouffe's good but not great offense makes up for his awful defense at third base and 20-year-old stud prospect Miguel Sano will hopefully be ready to take over the position relatively soon anyway.

Plouffe could always slide across the diamond to first base, where his defense would be less of a negative and maybe even turn into a positive, but his .242/.305/.442 line at the plate since the beginning of last season would be below average among first basemen. On a good team Plouffe fits best as a part-time player who can fill in at a few positions and get most of his playing time versus left-handers, but if another team views him as an everyday asset the Twins should listen.


Josh Willingham: This time last season Willingham was in the middle of a career-year at age 33 and there were some trade rumors swirling, but the Twins opted against dealing him and then decided not to move him during the offseason either. It's impossible to say for certain what they could have gotten for Willingham in July or December, but whatever trade value he had is gone now and he'll be on the disabled list when the July 31 deadline passes.

Willingham had a strong April, but then hit .213/.338/.343 in 50 games from May 1 until the Twins finally shut him down in late June. In addition to the poor production at the plate he was also even worse than usual defensively in left field, limping around on what turned out to be a torn meniscus in his left knee. Willingham is due back in late August and it's possible the Twins could move him during the waiver trade period, but any chance of getting a significant return is long gone.


Jamey Carroll: Carroll went from useful, underrated role player to washed up in the blink of an eye, which is often what happens to 39-year-olds. His contract includes a $2 million team option or $250,000 buyout for 2014 that becomes a player option if he gets 401 plate appearances, but there's no chance of that happening. He's a goner anyway and might be headed for retirement, so if the Twins can save money or get a random minor leaguer in return it would make sense.


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.

July 18, 2013

Reviewing the Twins’ first half: Pitchers

glen perkins and joe mauer

Last year Twins starters ranked dead last in the league with a 5.40 ERA, but after big talk of fixing the rotation the actual additions were inexpensive and uninspired. This year Twins starters have a 5.23 ERA that ranks dead last in either league and even with surprisingly good work from a largely makeshift bullpen the pitching staff has the league's worst ERA and fewest strikeouts. Before the second half gets underway here's a pitcher-by-pitcher look at the individual performances ...

Kevin Correia: .296/.336/.472 in 472 plate appearances

Signed to a two-year, $10 million contract that didn't make much sense this offseason, Kevin Correia posted a 2.23 ERA in April that had people coming up with all sorts of theories about why he'd turned a corner at age 32. Since the calendar flipped to May he's made 15 starts with a 5.21 ERA, allowing opponents to hit .321 with 15 homers in 74 innings. Since completing at least seven innings in each of his five April starts Correia has done so just once in his last 15 outings.

Overall he has a 4.23 ERA compared to the AL average of 4.08 and across baseball Correia ranks 85th among 89 qualified starters in both strikeout rate and swinging strike percentage, which is some serious pitching to contact. He's been slightly less ineffective than expected thanks to the fast start, but Correia has shown why the multi-year commitment was misguided and if the Twins can trade him before the ERA rises any further they should.

Scott Diamond: .313/.355/.514 in 394 plate appearances

Scott Diamond's miniscule strikeout rate suggested that last year's success would be short-lived and sure enough he unraveled in the first half. His strikeout rate fell even further to 4.2 per nine innings, which is the worst in baseball, and his walk and ground-ball rates declined from excellent to merely good. Toss in a 30-point uptick in Diamond's batting average on balls in play and you end up with an ERA that jumps from 3.54 to 5.32.

Diamond wasn't as good as he looked last season and isn't as bad as he's looked this season, but overall he's a whole lot closer to a left-handed Nick Blackburn than a long-term building block. In fact, through three seasons the comparison between Diamond and Blackburn is eerily close. Diamond has a 4.27 ERA and rates of 4.5 strikeouts, 2.1 walks, and 1.0 homers per nine innings. Blackburn had a 4.14 ERA and rates of 4.4 strikeouts, 1.8 walks, and 1.1 homers per nine innings.

Mike Pelfrey: .313/.359/.478 in 363 plate appearances

All the offseason and early spring training talk of Mike Pelfrey being vastly ahead of schedule in his recovery from Tommy John elbow surgery gave way to his actually having to pitch and it was ugly. Pelfrey had a 6.66 ERA through 11 starts, including a .332 opponents' batting average and 26-to-19 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 51 innings. He then likely saved his rotation spot with a decent five-start stretch to finish the first half, with a two-week disabled list stint mixed in.

Pelfrey wasn't particularly effective before the surgery, serving mostly as an innings-eater for the Mets, and going under the knife didn't fix his inability to miss bats. He relies almost exclusively on a low-90s fastball, which is why Pelfrey is averaging fewer than 6.0 strikeouts per nine innings for the eighth time in eight seasons. That pitch used to at least generate lots of ground balls, but his current rate of 43.8 percent is a career-low and actually qualifies Pelfrey as a fly-ball pitcher.

Samuel Deduno: .262/.327/.371 in 264 plate appearances

Last season Samuel Deduno was relatively successful with a 4.44 ERA in 15 starts despite nearly as many walks (57) as strikeouts (53) in 79 innings. Even that modest success won't work long term with those secondary numbers and somewhere along the way pitching coach Rick Anderson appears to have hammered that point home to Deduno. Prior to this year Deduno had walk rates of 6.1 per nine innings in the majors and 5.0 per nine innings at Triple-A. This year he's at 2.9.

It's a sample size of 10 starts, but Deduno has three or fewer walks in all 10 of them after doing so just half the time last year. His strikeout rate has actually fallen to 4.5 per nine innings, which is among MLB's worst, but he's made up for the lack of missed bats by nibbling less and letting the movement of his pitches induce an AL-high 61 percent ground balls. Or, put another way: Pitching to contact actually works for Deduno. There's more reason to believe in him now than last year.

Anthony Swarzak: .281/.314/.412 in 237 plate appearances

After three sub par years split between the rotation and bullpen Anthony Swarzak has taken a step forward as full-time long reliever. Compared to his first three seasons Swarzak has upped his strikeouts by 28 percent, reduced his walks by 26 percent, and become less fly-ball prone. He's been one of the most effective pitchers on the entire staff, although that's admittedly not saying much and because most of his work comes in long-relief spots his impact has been minimal.

In fact, the Twins are 6-21 when Swarzak pitches. That should be blamed on his role rather than his performance, which includes a 3.55 ERA and 41-to-12 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 58 innings. So far they've resisted the urge to put Swarzak back into the rotation and they've also yet to really move him up the bullpen hierarchy. Considering the overall state of the pitching staff if Swarzak keeps pitching this well in the second half he'd warrant some kind of higher-leverage gig.

Vance Worley: .381/.427/.577 in 234 plate appearances

When the Twins acquired 25-year-old Vance Worley from the Phillies in the Ben Revere trade he was supposed to step in as a long-term mid-rotation starter. Worley had thrown 278 innings with a 3.50 ERA for the Phillies and while there were questions about his many called strikeouts being sustainable there was little reason to expect a collapse. And then he went from Opening Day starter to Triple-A in less than two months, allowing 43 runs in 49 innings.

He generated just 15 strikeouts in 10 starts, got a swinging strike on an abysmal 4.5 percent of his pitches, and allowed a .381 opponents' batting average. Worley has been much better since the demotion to Rochester, but it's hard to be very encouraged by a 3.88 ERA at Triple-A when it comes with 34 strikeouts in 58 innings. He'll be back with the Twins at some point, but Worley hasn't been right since last year's elbow issues and was never a high-upside arm to begin with.

Ryan Pressly: .255/.321/.345 in 185 plate appearances

As far as Rule 5 picks go Ryan Pressly has been a big success. Used mostly for mopping up and long relief, he threw 44 innings with a 3.09 ERA and averaged 93 miles per hour with his fastball. Far less impressive than the shiny ERA is a 30-to-17 strikeout-to-walk ratio and Pressly is unlikely to be as stingy with homers going forward considering his high fly-ball rate, but he's been a useful member of the bullpen and has definitely shown some long-term upside.

Jared Burton: .247/.333/.377 in 184 plate appearances

Jared Burton picked up right where he left off following a fantastic 2012 season with a 2.10 ERA and 26 strikeouts in 26 innings through the end of May. Then he went through a rough patch while dealing with a groin injury, allowing 12 runs in 10 appearances as his ERA ballooned to 4.29 and he was removed from setup duties. Burton recovered to end the first half with six shutout outings in a row, although his usual swing-and-miss stuff still wasn't there.

Last year's .220 batting average on balls in play was always unsustainable and his overall stats remain decent with a 3.67 ERA and 36 strikeouts in 42 innings, but Burton has already walked more batters than all of last year and both his velocity and swinging strike rate are down slightly. Hopefully it's just a blip on the radar, because a healthy Burton can be light outs and he's signed through 2015 at salaries that make him a reasonably priced setup man or good trade bait.

P.J. Walters: .311/.383/.494 in 183 plate appearances

For the second time in two seasons the Twins called up P.J. Walters when their rotation was a mess, got a handful of decent outings from him before things fell apart, and then passed him through waivers unclaimed to keep the 28-year-old right-hander in the organization as Triple-A depth. Meanwhile, he has a 5.79 ERA in 20 starts for the Twins after posting a 4.60 ERA in 133 starts at Triple-A, making Walters the epitome of a replacement-level starter.

Pedro Hernandez: .311/.373/.517 in 169 plate appearances

Acquired from the White Sox in the Francisco Liriano trade, Pedro Hernandez is a soft-tossing, strike-throwing lefty who struggled against right-handed hitters in the minors and not surprisingly big-league righties have crushed him to the tune of .353/.423/.639 with eight homers in 137 plate appearances. He had two first-half stints with the Twins as a rotation fill-in, posting a 6.17 ERA in seven starts, and it's tough to see Hernandez having long-term success as a starter.

Josh Roenicke: .238/.331/.420 in 167 plate appearances

When the Twins claimed Josh Roenicke off waivers in November the story of his career was a big fastball and not much else, including a modest strikeout rate and poor control. His average fastball dipped to 91.2 miles per hour in the first half, but the rest of the story stayed the same with an awful 25-to-21 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 38 innings. And after some initial success he gave up 14 runs in his final 24 innings with as many walks (15) as strikeouts (15).

Brian Duensing: .300/.373/.393 in 159 plate appearances

Brian Duensing flopped as a starter, but has yet to rediscover his previous success as a reliever. Slated to be the primary left-handed setup man, Duensing struggled against lefties and righties while posting a 4.67 ERA and 30-to-16 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 35 innings and spent the final month or so of the first half working mostly in a mop-up role. His inability to handle righties will forever limit Duensing, but the good news is that his trouble with lefties looks like a fluke.

Lefties hit .307 off Duensing in the first half, but that was due to a ridiculously high .408 batting average on balls in play. Delving a little deeper, he posted a great 20-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio versus lefties and held them to just one homer in 82 plate appearances. Despite the rough first half not much has really changed with Duensing, but unfortunately that just means he's still a decent middle reliever who's a bad bet facing righties and a good bet facing lefties.

Casey Fien: .179/.217/.284 in 146 plate appearances

Burton and Duensing struggling as the main setup men pushed Casey Fien into a more prominent late-inning role and he responded by continuing to thrive. Not only did he have a 3.03 ERA and 42-to-7 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 39 first-half innings, dating back to his debut with the Twins last season Fien has a 2.57 ERA and 74-to-16 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 74 frames. Not bad for a guy who joined the Twins as a minor-league free agent last offseason at age 28.

He's probably due to come back down to earth at least a little bit and if that does happen it'll likely stem from serving up too many homers, as Fien was an extreme fly-ball pitcher in the minors and has one of the 10 lowest ground-ball rates in the majors since last season. However, his overall track record in the minors showed someone capable of being a quality middle reliever and so far he's allowed just seven homers in 287 plate appearances.

Glen Perkins: .172/.221/.262 in 131 plate appearances

Glen Perkins' first full season as the Twins' closer has been an overwhelming success except for the part about the team failing to find him consistent work. Perkins converted 21 of 23 saves with a 1.82 ERA and 47-to-7 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 34.2 innings, holding opponents to a .172 batting average. That's about as dominant as a pitcher can be and Perkins was rewarded with his first All-Star selection, yet the Twins used their All-Star closer for just 131 batters in 92 games.

Some of that stems from their lack of late leads, but Ron Gardenhire's refusal to use Perkins in non-save situations is the real culprit. Not only have 100 different relievers thrown more innings than Perkins, six Twins relievers have worked more. It's gotten so bad that Perkins requested more action, but Gardenhire continues to manage the bullpen around the save statistic while calling on lesser relievers in game-changing spots. Perkins is great, but his usage is terrible.

Kyle Gibson: .315/.392/.393 in 102 plate appearances

In his first full season back from Tommy John surgery Kyle Gibson entered spring training in the mix for a rotation spot, but pitched his way out of the immediate plans and then the Twins decided to keep him at Triple-A for three months. He was one of the International League's best pitchers, posting a 3.01 ERA with tons of ground balls and a 79-to-28 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 93 innings, and after going through eight other starters the Twins finally called him up three weeks ago.

Gibson had a very nice debut followed by three mostly poor outings, but looking beyond the ugly 6.45 ERA he induced 51 percent ground balls, generated a decent number of swinging strikes, and averaged 92.3 miles per hour with his fastball. Ultimately the key for Gibson is whether he can get enough strikeouts to be more than a mid-rotation starter who throws strikes and kills worms. At this point the jury is still very much out and his second-half workload may be limited.

Caleb Thielbar: .103/.205/.221 in 78 plate appearances

Twenty straight scoreless innings is an amazing start to anyone's career, let alone a 26-year-old rookie signed out of independent ball in 2011. Caleb Thielbar turned what looked likely to be a short-term call-up into a two-month gig, and while his secondary numbers and inherited runners allowed paint a much less impressive picture than his sparkling ERA he's shown more than enough to stick around with 21 strikeouts in 21 innings and 11 percent swinging strikes.

Note: For a similar first-half review of the Twins' hitters, click here.


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.

May 15, 2013

Twins Notes: Hicks, Arcia, Parmelee, Dozier, Mauer, and mock drafts

aaron hicks gatorade

Aaron Hicks got off to such a dreadful start that his overall numbers are going to look ugly for a long time--and maybe even the entire season--but there's no doubt he's putting together better plate appearances and getting better results. That all culminated with Monday's two-homer game and Hicks is now hitting .215/.333/.431 with three homers and a 15-to-12 strikeout-to-walk ratio in his last 22 games. Before that he was 2-for-43 (.047) with 20 strikeouts and three walks.

Since mid-April or so Hicks has been exactly the type of hitter that his minor-league track record suggested he would be, offsetting a low batting average with lots of walks and some power. Much has been made of Oswaldo Arcia's impressive start, and rightfully so, but since being recalled from Triple-A on April 20 he has an .839 OPS and Hicks has a .764 OPS. There are two rookies playing well offensively in the Twins' outfield right now.

Defensively has been another issue, however. Hicks was billed as a very good center fielder and has shown flashes of that, including robbing Adam Dunn of a homer along with hitting two of his own Monday, but overall he's been shaky with lots of bad reads and delayed reactions. Arcia was billed as a very good right fielder and actually played center field 77 times in the minors, which is almost impossible to believe while watching him stumble around struggling to make routine plays.

• Arcia's arrival initially cut into Ryan Doumit's playing time, but now that Doumit has broken out of his early slump Chris Parmelee is the one finding himself on the bench most often. Doumit or Parmelee is an interesting dilemma. Doumit is a switch-hitter, but since he's typically unproductive from the right side they might as well both be left-handed hitters. Doumit has a far superior track record and is signed through next season, but he's also 32 years old and Parmelee is 25.

In theory a team focused on 2013 should play Doumit and a team focused on the future should play Parmelee, but Doumit being signed for 2014 changes that a bit and the jury is very much still out on whether Parmelee is part of the future anyway. Parmelee had a great September debut in 2011 and crushed Triple-A pitching for two months last season, but he's hit .223/.292/.364 with eight homers and an 81-to-24 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 96 games for the Twins since 2012.

• In terms of age and lackluster performance Brian Dozier is similar to Parmelee, but the major difference is that the Twins don't have Arcia-caliber alternatives in the infield. I've been impressed by Dozier's defense at second base, but today is his 26th birthday and he's hit .230/.267/.324 with an 85-to-23 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 113 career games. He also hit just .232/.286/.337 in 48 games at Triple-A, so it's been a while since Dozier showed any sort of promise.

At the very least Dozier and his .267 career on-base percentage have no business in the leadoff spot, where the Twins have gotten a grotesque .189/.229/.233 line. That helps explain how Joe Mauer has just 13 RBIs despite batting .340 with 17 extra-base hits in 35 games. Jamey Carroll replacing Dozier at second base would likely improve the leadoff spot, but it's sort of a Parmelee-or-Doumit situation because Carroll is 39.

• Mauer has hit .319 with men on base, including .381 with runners in scoring position, but he's had a grand total of just 76 runners on base in his 157 plate appearances. By comparison Justin Morneau has had 126 runners on base in 149 plate appearances because he's got Mauer (.426 OBP) and Josh Willingham (.377 OBP) back-to-back in front of him. And batting Mauer second isn't really the issue, because in the third spot he'd just have two awful OBPs in front of him.

Mauer hit .366 in his first 17 games, then went into a career-worst 0-for-21 slump, and has now hit .431 with 10 doubles and 11 walks in 13 games since snapping his hitless streak. That works out to a .532 OBP and .628 slugging percentage. On this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode we talked about how odd it is for Mauer to be striking out so much, but his overall production is solidly above his career norms and he's also playing much better than last year defensively.

• Saturday night Vance Worley allowed five runs on 11 hits in 5.1 innings against the Orioles and got the win (Mauer, Morneau, and the Twins' lineup really got the win, but old stats die hard). In doing so Worley became just the seventh Twins pitcher in the Ron Gardenhire era (2002-2013) to win a game in which he allowed 11 or more hits:

Vance Worley      5/11/2013     Orioles
Nick Blackburn     5/4/2010     Tigers
Carlos Silva       5/9/2006     Rangers
Carlos Silva      4/29/2005     Angels
Carlos Silva       8/3/2004     Angels
Kyle Lohse         9/2/2003     Angels
Brad Radke        8/24/2002     Royals

Carlos Silva had 47 wins for the Twins and three of them came while allowing 11 or more hits, including a complete-game shutout in 2004. In all there have been 89 wins assigned to pitchers who allowed 11 or more hits in Twins history and Roger Erickson on June 25, 1978 is the only one to get fewer outs than Worley.

• On a related note, Twins pitchers have the fewest strikeouts in baseball with 204. No other team has fewer than 232 strikeouts and 14 teams have more than 300 strikeouts, including the Tigers with an MLB-leading 378. Breaking it down even further, Twins starters have 4.3 strikeouts per nine innings and Twins relievers have 8.0 strikeouts per nine innings, so the bullpen has actually been missing plenty of bats.

Glen Perkins and Jared Burton since the beginning of 2012:

                 IP      ERA     SO     BB     HR     OAVG
Glen Perkins     83     2.71     98     21      9     .216
Jared Burton     79     2.05     74     22      5     .190

I wish Gardenhire would use Perkins a little more in non-save situations, but knowing that duo is looming whenever the Twins have a lead after seven innings is pretty fun.

• With a .500 record through 36 games the Twins have dramatically out-performed expectations so far. Here's how 18-18 compares to their previous records through 36 games under Gardenhire:

2013   18-18
2012   10-26
2011   12-24
2010   22-14
2009   18-18
2008   19-17
2007   17-19
2006   17-19
2005   21-15
2004   22-14
2003   20-16
2002   22-14

During their run of six AL Central titles from 2002-2010 the Twins' average record after 36 games was 20-16 when they made the playoffs and 19-17 when they didn't. Either way, it sure beats the hell out of where they stood after 36 games in 2011 and 2012.

• Last night was the 34th time in 36 games that the Twins have been the gambling underdogs. If you'd have bet $100 on the Twins to win each game so far you'd be up $618, which is on pace for a $2,781 profit over the course of 162 games.

Jim Callis' first mock draft for Baseball America has the Twins taking Texas high school pitcher Kohl Stewart with the No. 4 pick. Callis also writes: "Rumors persist that Minnesota could cut a deal with Washington high school catcher Reese McGuire and spend heavily further down in the draft." Baseball America's current top-100 rankings have Stewart at No. 6 and McGuire at No. 12.

• Baltimore wants Alexi Casilla to give up switch-hitting even though his career numbers don't suggest it makes any sense.

• I love this picture of Hicks robbing Dunn of a homer.

John Bonnes was on vacation, so Parker Hageman stepped in as my co-host for this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode and we got super-nerdy with the hardcore Twins talk.


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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.


This week's blog content is sponsored by Territory Train, which takes the heavy lifting out of planning and executing Twins road trips. Please support them for supporting AG.com.

December 13, 2012

Twins Notes: Burton’s extension, Hicks’ clock, and Mientkiewicz’s return

• It was mostly lost in the shuffle on a day when the Twins traded Ben Revere to the Phillies and selected Ryan Pressly in the Rule 5 draft, but they also signed Jared Burton to a two-year, $5.5 million contract that includes a third-year team option. Arbitration eligible for the final time before becoming a free agent next offseason, the 31-year-old Burton will instead get $2.05 million in 2013, $3.25 million in 2014, and $3.6 million or a $200,000 buyout in 2015.

Burton joined the Twins on a minor-league deal last offseason after several injury wrecked years with the Reds and proved he was healthy in spring training to win a bullpen job. He was fantastic, emerging as the primary setup man with a 2.18 ERA, 55/16 K/BB ratio, and .186 opponents' batting average in 62 innings. Despite barely pitching in the previous two seasons Burton was at his best in the second half, convincing the Twins he can hold up physically.

Given his injury history a multi-year commitment is risky, but because he was set to become a free agent next offseason going year-to-year was risky as well. Another good, healthy season would have meant trying to convince Burton to sign an extension before hitting the open market or trying to out-bid 29 other teams for him, neither of which seem likely. Now if he stays healthy they'll get a bargain and if not $5.5 million isn't a huge commitment anyway.

My assumption following the Revere and Denard Span trades was that the Twins would go with Darin Mastroianni as the starting center fielder, basically asking him to keep the position warm until 23-year-old prospect Aaron Hicks is ready to take over around midseason. However, it sure sounds like the Twins will give Hicks every opportunity to win the Opening Day job and potentially jump directly from Double-A to the majors.

I'm generally not in favor of that scenario, for a couple reasons. One is that by delaying Hicks' arrival by as little as six weeks the Twins could add another full season of team control based on service time rules, basically pushing off his free agency for an extra year. Considering their long odds of contending in 2013 anyway I'd rather have Hicks for 162 extra games at age 29 than 30 extra games at age 23, and that service time tactic is common practice across MLB.

Beyond that, asking a 23-year-old to thrive at Triple-A for a month or two before making the jump to the big leagues seems smart from both development and performance standpoints. If he crushes Triple-A pitching for 30 games there's no harm done and if he struggles in Rochester odds are he wasn't ready for the majors anyway. Plus, nearly all of the best hitters to debut with the Twins in the past decade or so spent at least 50 games at Triple-A:

Denard Span         179
A.J. Pierzynski     167
Justin Morneau      143
Michael Cuddyer     139
Corey Koskie        135
Doug Mientkiewicz   130
Jason Kubel         120
Torii Hunter         81
Jacque Jones         52
Joe Mauer             0

Some of those players spent time at Triple-A, debuted in the majors, and then returned to Triple-A, so I counted the number of Triple-A games played before becoming an established big leaguer. Joe Mauer is the only one to jump directly from Double-A to the majors, but obviously he wasn't your average top prospect. Cristian Guzman also went from Double-A to Minnesota, but then hit .263/.303/.383 for the Twins and doesn't crack the "best hitters" list.

Except for Mauer the best homegrown hitting prospects in recent Twins history all spent at least two months at Triple-A and most of them played more than 100 games there. Some of them surely were ready for the majors before then, but if the "prove it at Triple-A first" approach was good enough for the guys on that list then why not Hicks too? Span and Revere, the two players he'd be replacing, played 179 and 55 games at Triple-A, respectively.

• After spending some time as a hitting coach in the Dodgers' farm system Doug Mientkiewicz is returning to the Twins as the manager at high Single-A Fort Myers, where he began his playing career in 1995. Mientkiewicz, who went to high school and college in Florida, played his 12th and final big-league season in 2009 and is now 38 years old. I'm excited to get a little more use out of my ability to type "Mientkiewicz" without looking. It took years of practice.

Jason Lane spent six seasons as an outfielder for the Astros, hitting .241/.315/.458, but was finished as a big leaguer at age 30. After five seasons in the minors Lane gave pitching a try this year, faring well on an independent league team managed by Gary Gaetti before struggling at Triple-A for the Diamondbacks. And now at age 35 the left-hander signed a minor-league deal with the Twins.

• In addition to Lane the Twins also announced minor-league deals with Brandon Boggs, Ray Olmedo, Bryan Augenstein, Reynaldo Rodriguez, Scott Elarton, Virgil Vasquez, and Michael O'Connor. Odds are none of them will play for the Twins and only Boggs, Olmedo, and Augenstein received spring training invites, but it's an interesting mix of former prospects and one-time big leaguers.

Elarton played 10 seasons in the majors, but was rarely effective after age 25 and hasn't pitched in the big leagues since 2008. Olmedo is a potential utility man. Boggs could be a backup outfielder. Rodriguez is a first baseman with some power. Vasquez is a generic Triple-A starter. Augenstein and O'Connor could be decent middle relievers. Mostly, though, they're all around to help Rochester have a winning record.

• St. Paul native and former Gophers star Jack Hannahan signed a two-year contract with the Reds that includes an option for 2015. Terry Ryan repeatedly talking about wanting some competition for Trevor Plouffe at third base led to speculation that the Twins were interested in Hannahan, but it's unclear if they ever offered him more than a minor-league contract and a multi-year deal wouldn't have made any sense.

Kevin Correia's two-year, $10 million deal with the Twins finally became official Thursday afternoon. He'll get $4.5 million in 2013 and $5.5 million in 2014.

• For a lengthy discussion about the Revere trade and how much the Twins' farm system has improved in the past six months check out this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode.

• Last night I hosted a live chat at TwinsDaily.com. It was supposed to go an hour, but there was a good turnout and we ended up going for two hours. You can read the transcript here.

This week's content is sponsored by DiamondCentric's new "Game Six" shirt, commemorating one of the most exciting moments in Minnesota sports history.

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