December 20, 2011

Jason Kubel leaves Twins for two-year, $15 million deal with Diamondbacks

Jason Kubel's expected departure became official yesterday, as he agreed to a two-year, $15 million deal with the Diamondbacks. Kubel has been a solid player and should thrive moving to the NL and Arizona's hitter-friendly ballpark, but he's also a 30-year-old should-be designated hitter with a modest .259/.327/.430 line during the past two seasons and the Diamondbacks already had a younger, cheaper, and arguably better all-around left fielder in Gerardo Parra.

Kubel had a standout 2009 season, hitting .300/.369/.539 with 28 homers at age 27, but was otherwise a pretty ordinary corner outfielder/designated hitter. He hit .271/.335/.459 overall in 753 games for the Twins, who refused to platoon Kubel and gave him more than 25 percent of his career plate appearances versus left-handed pitching despite a measly .239/.313/.365 line against southpaws.

Kubel's production (.271/.335/.459) is nearly identical to Jacque Jones, who hit .279/.327/.455 in 976 games for the Twins and also should have been platooned, with the difference being that Jones was an outstanding defensive corner outfielder who would've played center field if not for Torii Hunter's presence. Kubel was far from a butcher in the outfield and had a strong arm, but lacked the range to be anything but below average.

Of course, that wasn't always the case. Kubel was a very promising prospect, hitting .352 with 22 homers, 42 doubles, and nearly as many walks (53) as strikeouts (59) in 127 games split between Double-A and Triple-A as a 22-year-old in 2004. He even stole 16 bases, played some center field, and ranked 17th on Baseball America's annual list of MLB's top prospects. And then a brutal outfield collision while playing in the Arizona Fall League wrecked his left knee.

Kubel tore three ligaments, missed the entire 2005 season, and came back as a shell of his old self in 2006, hitting .241/.279/.386 in 73 games for the Twins while displaying below average speed. To his credit Kubel transitioned successfully from toolsy prospect with a blown out knee to lumbering designated hitter, batting .273/.339/.466 from 2007-2011, but much of his upside vanished that day in Arizona and sadly the Twins never got to see his full capabilities.

We'll never know what he would've done with a healthy knee and uninterrupted development, but the player Kubel became following the injury was much closer to average than a star. He certainly had plenty of value, but poor defensive corner outfielders who hit .275 with 20 home runs and an .775 OPS shouldn't be terribly difficult or expensive to find for teams willing to use a platoon or at least go year-to-year with the role.

And the Twins have basically done just that by replacing Kubel with Ryan Doumit, who'll make $3 million in 2012 and has a Kubel-like .271/.334/.442 career line with similar struggles versus lefties. Kubel perhaps has more upside than Doumit, but he also has less defensive versatility and would've required a multi-year commitment for more than twice as much money per year. Plus, by swapping Kubel for Doumit the Twins gain a supplemental first-round draft pick.

Much like with Michael Cuddyer it would've been nice to see Kubel start and finish his career in Minnesota, but also like Cuddyer the Twins were able to replace him with a similar, arguably superior player for a fraction of the price while adding value in a draft pick. Smart decisions are often tough decisions and while a segment of the fan base is no doubt upset about Cuddyer and Kubel leaving the Twins made the right move in both cases.

December 19, 2011

Reassessing the Twins’ roster and payroll

Where do we go from here? Where do we go?
And is it real or just something we think we know?
Where are we going now? Where do we go?
Cause if it's the same as yesterday you know I'm out, just so you know

- Fink, "Yesterday Was Hard On All Of Us"

I examined the Twins' roster in early October to see which holes needed filling and how much money was available to fill them, but in the two-and-a-half months since then they've filled out the lineup with Josh Willingham, Ryan Doumit, and Jamey Carroll, dumped Kevin Slowey and Jose Mijares, and indicated that the payroll will drop from $115 million to $100 million or so. With all that in mind, here's an updated look at where the Twins' roster and payroll stand:

    LINEUP                                      BENCH
 C: Joe Mauer - $23.00 million               C: Drew Butera - $0.48 million
1B: Justin Morneau - $15.00 million         IF: Tsuyoshi Nishioka - $3.00 million
2B: Alexi Casilla - $1.50 million           IF: Luke Hughes - $0.48 million
SS: Jamey Carroll - $2.75 million           OF: Trevor Plouffe - $0.48 million
3B: Danny Valencia - $0.48 million
LF: Ben Revere - $0.48 million
CF: Denard Span - $3.00 million
RF: Josh Willingham - $7.00 million
DH: Ryan Doumit - $3.00 million

There's still some talk of the Twins re-signing Jason Kubel and I'm sure they haven't ruled out acquiring various other position players via free agency or trade, but it shouldn't shock anyone if the Opening Day roster includes the above nine starters and four bench players. Their three lineup holes back in October were shortstop, right field, and designated hitter, and those were filled by Carroll, Willingham, and Doumit for $12.75 million. Here's my projected batting order:

1. Denard Span, L
2. Jamey Carroll, R
3. Joe Mauer, L
4. Josh Willingham, R
5. Justin Morneau, L
6. Ryan Doumit, S
7. Danny Valencia, R
8. Alexi Casilla, S
9. Ben Revere, L

Terry Ryan also revealed that the Twins no longer plan to use Trevor Plouffe as an infielder and his switch to the outfield clears up the bench picture somewhat. Ben Revere can serve as the backup center fielder while starting in left field and Doumit is capable of playing an outfield corner, leaving Plouffe as the bench's lone outfielder. Tsuyoshi Nishioka sounds likely to get a second chance as utility man, Luke Hughes is out of options, and they still love Drew Butera.

If those are the 13 position players on the Opening Day roster they'll combine to earn around $60.5 million, depending on Alexi Casilla's raise in arbitration. That would leave approximately $40 million to spend on what is all but guaranteed to be a 12-man pitching staff, which at the moment still has at least a couple holes to fill (and makes it tough to envision Kubel returning unless his price really drops). Here's how the rotation and bullpen look right now:

    ROTATION                                    BULLPEN
SP: Carl Pavano - $8.50 million             RH: Matt Capps - $4.75 million
SP: Scott Baker - $6.00 million             LH: Glen Perkins - $2.00 million
SP: Francisco Liriano - $5.50 million       LH: Brian Duensing - $0.48 million
SP: Nick Blackburn - $4.75 million          RH: Alex Burnett - $0.48 million
SP: [UNKNOWN]                               RH: Anthony Swarzak - $0.48 million
                                            RH: Terry Doyle - $0.48 million
                                            RP: [UNKNOWN]

As the No. 2 pick in the Rule 5 draft I'm assuming that Terry Doyle will make the Opening Day roster, in which case they'd have 10 of the 12 spots filled for around $33.5 million. They also bought out Joe Nathan for $2 million, which leaves just $4.5 million or so for a fifth starter and a seventh reliever. Brian Duensing and Anthony Swarzak are options to start, but Duensing is needed in the bullpen and the Twins have been linked to moderately priced free agents.

Presumably signing a starter like Jeff Francis or Paul Maholm to an inexpensive one-year deal would leave enough payroll space to add some right-handed bullpen help. Duensing and Glen Perkins are a solid duo from the left side, but relying on Swarzak and Alex Burnett to get key outs from the right side seems crazy. And the Twins had MLB's worst bullpen ERA in 2011, so merely losing Nathan and re-signing Matt Capps doesn't exactly address that huge weakness.

UPDATE: Kubel got a two-year, $15 million deal from the Diamondbacks, which is an odd fit.

November 28, 2011

Twins Notes: Capps, Perkins, Cuddyer, Kubel, Glynn, Valencia, and Chen

• Changes in the new collective bargaining agreement inked last week benefit the Twins in the short term, as offering Matt Capps arbitration is no longer required to receive a compensatory draft pick for the free agent. Under the old system they wouldn't have risked offering Capps arbitration because he could have simply accepted and locked the Twins into a one-year deal for around $8 million, but the changes basically equal a free, no-risk draft pick for the reliever.

Assuming, of course, that the Twins don't re-sign Capps themselves. Not only has Terry Ryan already ruled out Glen Perkins replacing Joe Nathan as closer, he's repeatedly talked about wanting the role filled by someone with previous closing experience and the Twins have made no secret about attempts to re-sign Capps. For the right price and the right role Capps would be fine, but re-signing him makes much less sense now that his leaving would net a draft pick.

Perkins can potentially be more valuable as an all-purpose setup man, so not handing him the closer job is fine, but Ryan's quotes about searching for an experienced closer bring back bad memories of the Twins talking up Capps as a "proven closer." I noted last week that the three best closers in team history each had zero experience before taking over as Twins closer, so you'd hope that and Capps' failure would have taught them to value ability over experience.

Nathan, who has the most saves in Twins history, was 29 years old and had one career save when they made him a closer. Rick Aguilera, who has the second-most saves in Twins history, was 27 years old and had seven career saves when they made him a closer. Eddie Guardado, who has the third-most saves in Twins history, was 30 years old and had never saved even 10 games in a season when they made him a closer. Closers are created, not born.

Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel also saw their free agent statuses change slightly as part of the new collective bargaining agreement, but unlike with Capps the end result is basically the same. If they sign elsewhere the Twins get two draft picks for Cuddyer and one draft pick for Kubel, and in both cases arbitration still had to be offered to be eligible for compensation. They'd gladly welcome Cuddyer or Kubel back on one-year deals, so the Twins happily offered.

Cuddyer's leverage is even stronger under the new system, because teams no longer have to forfeit their first-round pick to sign the Type A free agent. Instead the Twins would receive the same first-round pick and supplemental first-round pick for his leaving, but the first-rounder is now created from scratch rather than taken from a signing team. That should lead to an even stronger market for Cuddyer, but his odds of re-signing already seemed pretty slim.

Gene Glynn, a 55-year-old Minnesota native who spent the past five years as a scout for the Rays, is the Twins' new Triple-A manager. He hasn't managed anywhere since 1992 and never managed above rookie-ball, but Glynn spent 13 years on major-league coaching staffs under managers Don Baylor and Felipe Alou. Glynn also grew up a Twins fan, was Minnesota's first "Mr. Basketball" in 1975, went to Mankato State, and played seven seasons in the minors.

Joe Christensen of the Minneapolis Star Tribune notes that Glynn scouting Twins players for the Rays played a big part in the trade that sent Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett to Tampa Bay for Delmon Young, and minor league director Jim Rantz revealed that the Twins tried to hire him multiple times in the past. Toss in all the glowing reviews from various big names he's worked with over the years and on paper at least Glynn is an ideal fit.

Rochester fired manager Tom Nieto and hitting coach Floyd Rayford after going 102-186 over the past two seasons, losing 90-plus games in back-to-back years for the first time since 1904. Pitching coach Bobby Cuellar held onto his job and will join new hitting coach Tom Brunansky on Glynn's staff. They won't have many top prospects to work with next season, but the Twins have signed a slew of minor-league veterans in an effort to make Rochester competitive again.

Daryl Thompson is the latest of those Triple-A pickups, agreeing to a minor-league deal with the Twins after spending the past six seasons in the Reds' system. Thompson was originally the then-Expos' eighth-round pick in 2003 and was sent to the Reds as part of an eight-player swap in 2006. Cincinnati's general manager at the time was Wayne Krivsky, who rejoined the Twins' front office as a special assistant and has brought in several of his former players.

Thompson is a 26-year-old right-hander with 17 innings in the big leagues and 711 innings in the minors, primarily as a starter. He was never considered a particularly good prospect and fits the Twins' mold as an extreme fly-ball pitcher with a low-90s fastball and good control. This year between Double-A and Triple-A he had a 123-to-40 strikeout-to-walk ratio and 4.26 ERA in 137 innings, allowing 18 homers and a .280 batting average.

• Deadspin posted a lengthy and not-safe-for-work article on Dan Lozano that included many unsavory allegations about the agent whose client list includes Albert Pujols, Alex Rodriguez, and other big names. Buried near the bottom of the piece was this Twins-related tidbit, which seems downright quaint compared to the various other details:

When Rodriguez signed with Lozano in May, it raised questions: Rodriguez's contract runs through 2017, and his endorsement deals are handled by another agency, so there's little a new agent could do for him. But Rodriguez is reportedly doing plenty for Lozano. According to agents familiar with the South Florida baseball scene, Lozano has repeatedly used Rodriguez as a recruiter for young talent.

Over the winter, even before Rodriguez made it official with Lozano, he was seen hanging out with a trio of highly ranked Miami-based prospects: the Orioles' Manny Machado, the Reds' Yonder Alonso, and the Twins' Danny Valencia. A South Florida-based agent says Rodriguez was the elder statesmen showing the kids a good time: parties, events, and just chilling at his condo. In February, all three left their current agencies and signed with Dan Lozano.

Deadspin alleges that Rodriguez got a piece of Lozano's agency in exchange for helping recruit Danny Valencia and others. None of which suggests Valencia did anything wrong, of course. Well, other than choosing an agent who's now being called "the king of sleaze mountain."

• Kansas City re-signed Bruce Chen to a two-year, $9 million deal, which seemed funny until Jon Heyman of SI.com reported that the Twins and Cubs "were the main other teams showing interest" in the 34-year-old southpaw. If true the Twins dodged a bullet and the fact that they even targeted Chen is disappointing. He posted some decent-looking ERAs, but throws in the mid-80s with poor secondary numbers, including xFIPs of 5.22, 4.79, and 4.68 from 2009-2011.

Javier Maymi of ESPN.com notes that Ivan Rodriguez and Dereck Rodriguez "became the first father-son tandem in history to play for the same team in the Puerto Rico winter league." Dereck was the Twins' sixth-round pick this year and Maymi reports that they're thinking about switching the 18-year-old from outfielder to pitcher. He debuted in rookie-ball and hit just .156 with zero homers and a 35-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 29 games.

November 21, 2011

Twins Notes: Carroll’s contract, Kubel’s compensation, and minor moves

Jamey Carroll's deal was initially reported as two years and $7 million, but the actual details are slightly different. Carroll will get $2.75 million in 2012 and $3.75 million in 2013, and there's also a $2 million team option or $250,000 buyout for 2014 that becomes a player option with no buyout if he tops 400 plate appearances in 2013. Most likely it'll wind up being a two-year, $6.75 million deal, but it could become a three-year, $8.5 million contract.

Obviously committing multiple seasons to a 38-year-old middle infielder isn't ideal, but Carroll's deal seemed like a fair one to me at the time and looks even better now compared to a pair of middle infielder signings that followed. Mark Ellis got two years and $8.75 million to basically replace Carroll on the Dodgers. They're similar players, but Ellis hasn't played shortstop since 2005 and is coming off a career-worst season that saw him hit just .248/.288/.346 at age 34.

Clint Barmes got two years and $11 million from the Pirates, who'll use him as their everyday shortstop. All things being equal Barmes might be a better choice than Carroll for the next two seasons because he's five years younger and an elite defender with 15-homer power, but the money isn't close to equal and Barmes has also hit just .230/.275/.360 away from Colorado. Even with Coors Field included his .302 on-base percentage is 54 points below Carroll's mark.

Reported changes in the soon-to-be-signed collective bargaining agreement would eliminate compensation for Type B free agents, meaning the Twins would receive nothing if Jason Kubel signs elsewhere. Getting rid of the Type B free agent designation and lessening the number of Type A free agents qualified for compensation seems like bad news for the Twins long term, as they lose more free agents than they sign and rely heavily on the extra draft picks.

Not trading Kubel was a questionable decision when the Twins assumed they'd be receiving a supplemental first-round pick if he left as a free agent, but if that compensation for Kubel and other Type B players is eliminated they'll obviously regret the non-move. Instead of cashing him in for a decent prospect or two they'd get nothing, although certainly you can't blame the Twins for not being able to predict the future of collective bargaining changes.

Phil Dumatrait re-signed with the Twins on a minor-league deal after being trimmed off the 40-man roster. Dumatrait's track record shows that even his limited success involved pitching way over his head, but as Triple-A depth he's fine. Along with Dumatrait (and Brian Dinkelman and Jared Burton, who signed last week) the Twins also inked minor-league deals with Jason Bulger, Brendan Wise, Matt Carson, Wilkin Ramirez, Samuel Deduno, and Luis Perdomo.

When the Angels acquired Bulger from the Diamondbacks for Alberto Callaspo in 2006 he was a potential late-inning reliever, but injuries and control problems have held him back and now he's 32 years old with just 133 career innings in the majors. On the other hand he has a 4.33 ERA and 138 strikeouts in those 133 innings and throws in the low-90s with a good curveball, so the right-hander could be a midseason bullpen option.

Perdomo throws hard and spent 2009 in the Padres' bullpen with a 4.80 ERA and 55/34 K/BB ratio in 60 innings, but the 27-year-old righty has been mediocre at Triple-A since then and mostly just adds to the sudden collection of relievers with big velocity and little else. Wise and Deduno don't fit that mold, topping out in the low-90s. Wise's pretty ERA at Triple-A hides poor secondary numbers and Deduno is a ground-ball guy who doesn't miss bats or throw strikes.

Carson and Ramirez are both journeyman outfielders with brief stints in the majors who'll add some speed and right-handed pop to Rochester's lineup. Carson has hit .280/.343/.515 in 378 games at Triple-A, including .279/.337/.533 with 24 homers and 11 steals in 112 games this year at age 29. Ramirez is 27 years old and has hit .247/.308/.431 in 270 games at Triple-A, including .267/.307/.458 with 11 homers and 19 steals in 81 games this season.

• Bulger, Burton, Dumatrait, Dinkelman, and Carson are examples of the type of guys available on minor-league deals every offseason, which is why it's so confusing that the Twins decided to give 40-man roster spots to similarly mediocre talent like Matt Maloney and Jeff Gray. They can always drop Maloney and Gray from the 40-man roster, of course, but in the meantime the deadline to add prospects newly eligible for the Rule 5 draft came and went.

Oswaldo Arcia, Carlos Gutierrez, and Tyler Robertson were the three additions, protecting them from being selected in next month's draft, but the Twins also left decent prospects Angel Morales, Manuel Soliman, and Tom Stuifbergen unprotected and changed David Bromberg from protected to unprotected by outrighting him off the 40-man roster. Odds are that none of those four will be Rule 5 picks, but it certainly wouldn't be shocking if the Twins lost someone.

Bromberg was named Twins minor league pitcher of the year in 2009, but saw his stock drop with the jump to Double-A and Triple-A in 2010 and missed most of this year after a line drive broke his forearm in May. He ranked No. 13 on my list of the Twins' best prospects coming into this season and will probably drop into the 20-30 range for 2012, which is also where Morales, Stuifbergen, and Soliman will likely end up if they remain in the organization.

Delmon Young's postseason power surge caused some people to overreact about the Twins dumping him in mid-August, but now Jon Paul Morosi of FOXSports.com writes that the Tigers are trying to deal him because they're "concerned about his defense." They apparently offered Young to the Braves for Martin Prado, but were turned down. And if the Tigers keep Young for 2012 they'll likely be paying him at least $7 million in his final season before free agency.

November 1, 2011

Twins Notes: Maloney, Gray, roster spots, and free agent rankings

• Last week I commended the Twins for trimming a half-dozen replacement-level players from the 40-man roster, but yesterday they filled two of the newly created spots with others teams' replacement-level players. By virtue of a 63-99 record the Twins have the No. 2 waiver position and it makes sense for them to take advantage of that as teams remove players from 40-man rosters and pass them through waivers in bunches to prepare for the offseason.

Unfortunately neither Matt Maloney nor Jeff Gray possesses any kind of significant upside or has a particularly intriguing track record, and for the Twins to give 40-man roster spots to the caliber of talent they could simply sign to minor-league contracts is strange. Last offseason they made similar moves to add Eric Hacker and Dusty Hughes to the 40-man roster and the results were predictably poor based on their underwhelming resumes.

Maloney, who was claimed off waivers from Cincinnati, is a former third-round pick whom the Reds acquired from the Phillies for Kyle Lohse in mid-2007. He's a 27-year-old left-hander with a 5.40 ERA in 80 career innings as a major leaguer and averaged just 87.1 miles per hour with his fastball. Maloney has very good control and some nice-looking ERAs in the minors, but he's an extreme fly-ball pitcher and doesn't miss many bats.

Maloney served up 18 homers through his first 80 innings in the big leagues, which works out to 2.0 homers per nine innings and would be the highest homer rate in Twins history. He also gave up 19 homers per 200 innings at Triple-A, which is a lot for an experienced pitcher in the power-deflating International League. Along with all those homers Maloney also managed just 6.1 strikeouts per nine innings in the majors and 7.6 strikeouts per nine innings at Triple-A.

Gray is a 29-year-old reliever joining his fifth team in two years. He was originally picked by the A's in the 32nd round of the 2004 draft and they traded him to the Cubs in a 2009 deal for Aaron Miles and Jake Fox. He left the Cubs as a minor-league free agent and signed with the White Sox last offseason, only to be claimed off waivers by the Mariners in May of this season. Bouncing around doesn't preclude Gray from having upside, but his track record isn't pretty.

Gray has spent at least some time in the majors during each of the past four seasons, logging 89 total innings with a 4.57 ERA, 50-to-31 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and .286 opponents' batting average. In theory averaging 93.5 miles per hour with his fastball and 86.7 miles per hour with his slider should allow Gray to miss more bats than Maloney, yet that hasn't been the case in the majors so far and he had just 142 strikeouts in 199 innings at Triple-A (with a 3.94 ERA).

Maloney and Gray aren't totally without value and certainly every team needs pitching depth, but for the Twins to choose them as waiver targets and give them each 40-man roster spots is hard to understand. Maloney is a 27-year-old fly-ball starter with a high-80s fastball and Gray is a 29-year-old journeyman reliever with iffy control and few strikeouts. Every winter dozens of pitchers just like them are available for minor-league deals that don't require 40-man spots.

• MLB Trade Rumors got its hands on the free agent compensation ratings ahead of the official release and the Twins' free agents are ranked as expected. Michael Cuddyer and Matt Capps qualified as Type A and Jason Kubel qualified as Type B. Capps' rating is irrelevant, because in order for the Twins to receive compensation for him leaving they'd have to offer him arbitration first. And if they did that he'd simply accept and force them into a one-year, $8 million deal.

Obviously the Twins would welcome both Cuddyer and Kubel back on one-year deals, so they'll be offered arbitration and will each decline. Any team signing Cuddyer would have to give their first-round pick (or second-round pick, if their first rounder is in the top 15) to the Twins, who'd also receive a supplemental pick between the first and second rounds. Teams are able to sign Kubel without losing a draft pick, but the Twins would receive a supplemental pick if he leaves.

MLB's compensation system has always vastly overrated relievers, which is why Capps is rated Type A while superior players like Kubel, Mark Buehrle, Aramis Ramirez, and Hiroki Kuroda are Type B. Because of the disconnect between ratings and actual value some Type A players have their free agent options limited when teams don't want to forfeit a pick to sign them, but in Cuddyer's case contenders are likely willing to surrender a pick as part of a multi-year deal.

• We're recording this week's episode of "Gleeman and The Geek" a day later than usual, so if you have any questions, comments, or topic ideas for us to cover on the show feel free to post them in the comments section or send them to me via Twitter.

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