July 10, 2013

Old friends in new places: Catching up with former Twins pitchers

nathan liriano crain

I've been getting lots of e-mails, comments, and tweets about seven former Twins being named All-Stars and ex-Twins in general thriving for other teams, so let's examine that notion. Like all teams the Twins cycle through tons of players every season, making it impossible to keep close tabs on everyone, but I've tried to narrow things down a bit by focusing on relatively prominent and/or oft-discussed players who departed the organization within the past handful of seasons.

Even then the list is a very long one, so today let's stick to the ex-Twins pitchers ...

Joe Nathan: By declining a $12.5 million option the Twins made Nathan a free agent after 2011 and he signed a two-year, $14.5 million contract with the Rangers. At the time it would have been tough to justify a big two-year deal for a 37-year-old reliever still rounding back into shape after elbow surgery and his departure led to Glen Perkins emerging as closer, but Nathan has been amazing in Texas with a 2.25 ERA and 120/23 K/BB ratio in 104 innings.

Francisco Liriano: Traded to the White Sox in mid-2012 for Eduardo Escobar and Pedro Hernandez as an impending free agent, Liriano wasn't much good down the stretch and then signed a two-year deal with the Pirates that was later reworked due to an offseason injury. He's been brilliant for the Pirates with a 2.20 ERA and 74/27 K/BB ratio in 70 innings, relying on his fastball less than ever before.

R.A. Dickey: Dickey spent a thoroughly unmemorable 2009 season in Minnesota, serving as a mop-up reliever for 64 innings before refusing an assignment to the minors and leaving as a free agent. There was nothing promising about his performance, which included a 4.62 ERA and 40/32 K/BB ratio, and the Twins were hesitant to even use the knuckleballer with men on base. He inked a minor-league deal with the Mets at age 35 ... and turned into a Cy Young winner.

Matt Guerrier: Guerrier exited as a free agent following the 2010 season for a three-year $12 million deal with the Dodgers after seven seasons in Minnesota. At the time Guerrier was 32 years old and showing obvious signs of decline, so the decision to let him walk was a sound one. He's struggled with injuries while posting a 4.20 ERA and was recently designated for assignment with a half-season left on the three-year deal, going to the Cubs in a swap of unwanted contracts.

Jesse Crain: Crain followed Guerrier out the door after 2010, signing a three-year, $13 million deal with the White Sox. Despite a modest strikeout rate of 6.2 per nine innings he threw 382 innings with a 3.42 ERA in seven seasons in Minnesota, but Crain has racked up 10.6 strikeouts per nine innings while posting a 2.10 ERA in 150 innings for the White Sox. At the time I'd have re-signed Crain over Guerrier, but didn't blame the Twins for avoiding a three-year deal.

Scott Baker: Baker missed all of 2012 following elbow surgery and then became a free agent when the Twins declined his $9.25 million option. They wanted to re-sign him to a cheaper deal, but balked when Baker refused to include a team option for 2014. He ended up signing with the Cubs for $5.5 million plus some incentives and has yet to pitch. Meanwhile, the Twins spent $4 million on a different pitcher coming off elbow surgery and Mike Pelfrey has a 5.63 ERA.

Matt Capps: Capps went from making a combined $12 million as the Twins' closer in 2011 and 2012 to not even being able to get an MLB contract this offseason, settling for a minor-league deal with the Indians. Overall in two-and-a-half seasons in Minnesota he threw 122 innings with a 3.61 ERA and 5.4 strikeouts per nine innings, for which the Twins parted with the Nationals' starting catcher, Wilson Ramos, and $14 million while also forfeiting a compensatory draft pick.

Kevin Slowey: Slowey's status a solid mid-rotation starter from 2007-2010 unraveled when he got pushed out of the rotation in 2011. Slowey didn't want to be in the bullpen, pitching horribly and getting injured, and the Twins did their best to tear him down while the local media was all too willing to lend a hand. He was traded to the Rockies for a non-prospect, missed most of 2012, and has returned the majors with a 3.99 ERA and 72/18 K/BB ratio for the Marlins.

Jose Mijares: Cut loose after 2011 because the Twins decided a 27-year-old reliever with a 3.16 career ERA wasn't worth paying $750,000 via arbitration, Mijares wound up signing with the Royals for more money and then moved on to the Giants. Since leaving the Twins he has a 2.51 ERA and 88/30 K/BB ratio in 86 innings and still hasn't made more than $1.8 million in a season. Dropping him made little sense to me then and is certainly even more regrettable now.

Jason Marquis: Marquis was as awful as a pitcher can be after signing a one-year, $3 million deal with the Twins last offseason, starting seven games with an 8.47 ERA and more walks than strikeouts while allowing opponents to hit .371 before they released him in late May. He quickly latched on with San Diego, where he pitched well and then re-signed for this season at $3 million. Overall for the Padres he's thrown 201 innings with a 3.90 ERA.

Carl Pavano: Pavano had a good two-and-a-half season run for the Twins, but fell apart last year while unsuccessfully trying to pitch through a shoulder injury. He was finally shut down in June with a 6.00 ERA and didn't throw another pitch, leaving as a free agent. Pavano was looking for work as a back-of-the-rotation starter this offseason when he fell while shoveling snow and ruptured his spleen. He won't pitch this season and at age 37 might be done.

Pat Neshek: Waived by the Twins in the spring of 2011 after struggling to come back from elbow surgery, Neshek was claimed by the Padres and split that season between Triple-A and San Diego with mediocre results. Last year he toiled away at Triple-A for Baltimore before a trade to Oakland, where Neshek has thrived again with a 1.91 ERA in 47 innings. There was really no good reason for the Twins to cut bait on Neshek, who now has a 2.91 career ERA in seven seasons.

Craig Breslow: Breslow was a shrewd waiver wire pickup by the Twins in mid-2008, but after pitching well for 39 innings that season he struggled in early 2009 and they waived him. Not only was it an overreaction to a small sample of bad work, Breslow was cut loose so the Twins could call up a different left-handed reliever, Sean Henn, who lasted all of 11 innings for them. Since being lost on waivers Breslow has thrown 280 innings with a 2.93 ERA.

Jon Rauch: Rauch was briefly the Twins' closer in 2010, filling in fairly well for a rehabbing Nathan by converting 21 of 25 saves with a 3.05 ERA. He lost the job when the Twins decided they had to overpay for a so-called "proven closer" in Capps and then left as a free agent that offseason, signing a one-year, $3.5 million deal. Rauch was decent in 2011 and 2012, posting a 4.12 ERA in 110 innings, but struggled this season and was recently released by two teams.

Billy Bullock: Back in 2011 the Twins picked Scott Diamond in the Rule 5 draft, didn't want to keep him in the majors all year, and traded Bullock to the Braves for the right to send Diamond to the minors. I hated the deal at the time, because Bullock was a hard-throwing second-round pick and the Twins could have just kept Diamond as a mop-up man for nothing in return, but Bullock never harnessed his raw stuff and got released this month. Diamond has a 4.32 career ERA.

Alex Burnett: For three seasons the Twins stuck with Burnett in their bullpen despite an increasingly poor performance, only to waive him this spring for no pressing reason. In the four months since then Burnett has been claimed three times off waivers, going from the Twins to the Blue Jays to the Orioles to the Cubs. Most recently he passed through waivers unclaimed and is now at Triple-A for the Cubs.

Philip Humber: Acquired from the Mets as part of the Johan Santana trade, Humber never made a start for the Twins and appeared in just 13 total games before leaving as a minor league free agent. He had a good run for the White Sox in 2011 and threw a perfect game in April of 2012, but overall since leaving the Twins he has a 5.28 ERA in 322 innings. Humber is currently at Triple-A for the Astros after passing through waivers unclaimed.

Jeff Gray: Gray won a spot in the Opening Day bullpen last year despite a lengthy track record of mediocrity and remained there for most of the season despite a 5.71 ERA and 26/22 K/BB ratio in 52 innings. When the Twins finally came to their senses and waived Gray he went unclaimed by the other 29 teams, became a free agent, and signed a minor-league deal with the White Sox. He's spent all of this season at Triple-A.

Jim Hoey: Back in 2010 the Twins traded Carlos Gomez for J.J. Hardy and then a year later they traded Hardy for Hoey and Brett Jacobson. Whatever you thought of the Gomez-for-Hardy swap the Hardy-for-Hoey trade was a terrible, misguided idea that looks even worse now. Hoey threw 25 awful innings for the Twins, who lost him for nothing on waivers a year after the trade, and Jacobson was released from Double-A. Hoey is now playing independent ball.


This week's blog content is sponsored by Curt's Salsa, a locally owned salsa company that believes in fresh ingredients and rooting for the little guy. Please support them for supporting AG.com.

May 8, 2013

Revisiting the best Twins prospects of the 2000s

mauer and morneau rookie

Coming into the season the Twins were universally regarded as having one of the truly elite farm systems in baseball, boasting plenty of star-level talent and impressive depth. I called it the best crop of Twins prospects in my decade-plus writing about the team and nothing has changed since then, as consensus top-25 prospects Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton are off to amazing starts and most of system's other significant prospects have played well.

I've written plenty about the Twins' prospects as part of my annual rankings, so there's no sense in revisiting everything a month into the season, but I thought it would be interesting to examine the recent history of Twins prospects. This year the Twins had six prospects in Baseball America's top 100 list, including Sano and Buxton in the top 10 and Oswaldo Arcia in the top 50, but what exactly has it meant to be a Twins prospect in the Baseball America top 100?

I wanted to focus on how prospects were perceived nationally at the time, rather than local hype or how I personally viewed them or how they actually turned out--no Johan Santana, in other words--so I relied on BA's list. On a season-to-season basis prospect crops vary wildly, so not all rankings are created equal, but below you'll find my best estimate of the highest-rated and/or most-hyped Twins prospects since 2000 (minus current prospects) and where they stand now.


1. Joe Mauer: #7 in 2002, #4 in 2003, #1 in 2004, #1 in 2005

Joe Mauer was basically as good as prospects get. He was a multi-sport superstar in high school, got drafted No. 1 overall, had immediate success hitting .400 at rookie-ball, thrived at every stop in the minors despite being young for the level of competition, was named Baseball America minor league player of the year, and reached the majors two weeks before his 21st birthday. Mauer was arguably the best MLB prospect of the 2000s and has obviously lived up to the hype.


2. Francisco Liriano: #83 in 2003, #6 in 2006

When the Giants traded Francisco Liriano to the Twins he was a former top 100 prospect who'd fallen off the list due to arm problems in the low minors, but two years later he re-emerged as the best pitching prospect in baseball. He showed why with one of the most dominant rookie seasons ever, but that was cut short by elbow surgery. Liriano has found some post-surgery success, but he was never the same and is a prime example of the volatile nature of pitching prospects.


3. Justin Morneau: #21 in 2002, #14 in 2003, #16 in 2004

Coming up in the same farm system at the same time as Mauer made Justin Morneau somewhat overshadowed, but he was definitely an elite prospect. Not only did Morneau rank among Baseball America's top 25 prospects in three straight seasons, he put up big numbers at every level in the minors and debuted in the majors a month after his 22nd birthday. Injuries have unfortunately kept Morneau from realizing his full potential, but he obviously lived up to the hype.


4. Michael Cuddyer: #36 in 1999, #18 in 2000, #55 in 2001, #27 in 2002, #17 in 2003

Michael Cuddyer was the ninth overall pick out of high school and cracked Baseball America's top 50 a remarkable five times, peaking at No. 17 the same year Mauer was No. 4 and Morneau was No. 14. He doesn't have an MVP, but Cuddyer has played 13 seasons as an above-average corner outfielder and occasional infielder, hitting .272/.342/.457. Everyone should be thrilled if similarly hyped prospects turned out as well as Cuddyer.


5. Jason Kubel: #17 in 2005, #58 in 2006

Oh, what could have been. Jason Kubel hit .352/.414/.590 with 16 steals between Double-A and Triple-A at age 22, hit .300 in a 23-game September debut, and ranked 17th on BA's list. Then a gruesome collision destroyed his knee, knocked him out for an entire year, and turned Kubel from an athletic, high-average hitter with good speed to a plodding slugger. And yet Kubel has still managed a decade-long career as an above-average corner outfielder not far off from Cuddyer.


6. Matt Garza: #21 in 2007

Matt Garza made just one Baseball America top 100, but that's because he went from first-round pick to the big leagues in one year. After some initial struggles Garza made 15 starts with a 3.69 ERA as a 23-year-old, at which point the Twins traded him for Delmon Young. Young is one of the biggest prospect busts of the 2000s whereas Garza had a five-season run as a solid No. 2 starter, but injuries have derailed him at age 29.


7. Michael Restovich: #50 in 1999, #26 in 2000, #63 in 2002, #37 in 2003

Drafted in the second round out of a Minnesota high school, Michael Restovich was a 6-foot-6 slugger who put up big power numbers in the minors and ranked among Baseball America's top 100 prospects four times. He debuted with the Twins at age 23 after hitting .286/.353/.542 at Triple-A, but never got an extended chance despite generally faring pretty well. He was lost on waivers in 2005, bounced around a ton, and ended up with just 297 career plate appearances.


8. Carlos Gomez: #60 in 2007, #52 in 2008

Carlos Gomez twice cracked Baseball America's top 100 in the Mets' system and was arguably the centerpiece of the Twins' haul for Santana. He debuted at age 21 and was the Twins' starting center fielder at 22, but rushing Gomez through the minors left him as mostly a mess offensively. Traded to the Brewers for J.J. Hardy after the 2009 season and now 27, he's finally becoming an impact hitter to go along with what was always excellent defense.


9. Adam Johnson: #41 in 2002, #85 in 2002

Adam Johnson was the No. 2 pick in 2000 draft out of Cal-State Fullerton, but Baseball America projected him as a mid-first rounder and the Twins were criticized for making a "signability pick." Johnson predictably fared well in the low minors against less experienced competition and cracked the top 50 in 2002, but things fell apart once he advanced past Single-A. He posted a 10.25 ERA in 26 innings as a major leaguer, washing out at age 23.


10. Luis Rivas: #70 in 1997, #55 in 1998, #63 in 1999, #86 in 2000, #93 in 2001

Luis Rivas ranked as a top 100 prospect in five straight seasons, but in the early days of this blog I wrote often about how his actual performance never matched the hype. He never hit well in the minors, yet the Twins made him their starting second baseman at age 21 and stuck with him as a regular for five seasons despite a .262/.307/.383 mark and iffy defense. He played 565 games for the Twins through age 25, but totaled just 83 more games after they finally let him go.


11. Wilson Ramos: #71 in 2009, #58 in 2010, #96 in 2011

While never quite an elite prospect Wilson Ramos typically ranked among the top five catchers and was a good enough prospect for long enough to create questions about how the Twins could make room for him and Mauer in their long-term plans. Ramos was a top 100 prospect three times and debuted with the Twins at age 22, but was traded to the Nationals for Matt Capps later that season. He's still just 25, but looks headed for a lengthy career as an above-average catcher.


12. Glen Perkins: #91 in 2006, #66 in 2007

Glen Perkins starred for the Gophers, made the top 100 twice, and debuted for the Twins two years after they made him a first-round pick. He was billed as a mid-rotation starter and looked the part as a 25-year-old rookie, but then struggled for two seasons as injuries derailed him. Perkins was demoted to the minors at age 27 and returned as a reliever, throwing harder than ever and quickly moving into the closer role.


13. J.D Durbin: #66 in 2004, #70 in 2005

J.D. Durbin threw hard and talked a good game, nicknaming himself "The Real Deal." He debuted in 2004 with all kinds of promise at age 22, but didn't make it back to the majors until 2007 and all that prospect shine had worn off by then. His strikeout rates and overall numbers in the minors never quite matched his hype and once he got to Triple-A poor control further did him in. Last year Durbin spent his 13th season in the minors, compared to 73 total innings in the majors.


14. Deolis Guerra: #35 in 2008

Deolis Guerra is technically still a prospect in that he's only 24 years old and hasn't reached the majors, but between his on-field struggles and recent health problems he's looking like a long shot to have a big-league career. Once upon a time many people felt that Guerra, not Gomez, was the best prospect in the Santana package, but like Gomez he wasn't helped by being rushed through the minors in the Mets' system and has had little success above Single-A.


15. Matthew LeCroy: #44 in 2000

Matthew LeCroy was a first-round pick out of college and crushed minor-league pitching while moving quickly through the Twins' system, debuting as their Opening Day catcher in his third pro season. He struggled offensively and proved to be a liability behind the plate, but after a demotion back to the minors he returned as a good platoon bat versus left-handed pitching at designated hitter, first base, and occasionally catcher.


16. Kevin Slowey: #71 in 2007

Kevin Slowey was an oft-debated prospect because his ridiculously great numbers in the minors didn't match his underwhelming raw stuff. Baseball America tends to skew heavily toward stuff over stats, so the fact that Slowey still made the top 100 shows just how silly his numbers were. He debuted at age 23 after posting a 2.28 ERA and 159-to-31 strikeout-to-walk ratio between Double-A and Triple-A, and split the difference by becoming a decent mid-rotation starter.


17. Ben Revere: #59 in 2009

Ben Revere was viewed as a reach in the first round of the 2007 draft, but started to get some prospect hype after he hit .379 at low Single-A in 2008. That was his only year appearing in the top 100, which isn't surprising considering prospect rankings are all about upside and Revere's complete lack of power and arm strength limited that even in optimistic scenarios. He's more or less become the flawed but useful player his minor-league track record suggested.


18. Jesse Crain: #89 in 2004, #63 in 2005

Jesse Crain was a college reliever and second-round pick who moved quickly through the Twins' system, debuting at age 23 after 162 innings in the minors. While the shape of his performance has changed over the years, Crain was a good setup man immediately and has remained so for a decade with a 3.18 ERA that includes just two seasons above 3.60. Relievers are rarely considered elite prospects, but Crain's career has gone almost exactly as hoped.


19. Matt Moses: #81 in 2004, #75 in 2006

Billed as a "pure hitter" coming out of high school as a first-round pick, Matt Moses got by on that reputation for quite a while before everyone finally realized that he couldn't actually hit. He cracked Baseball America's top 100 twice, peaking at No. 75 on a 2006 list that had Jay Bruce, Dustin Pedroia, and Kendry Morales in the next three spots, but never advanced beyond Double-A and hit just .249/.304/.374 in the minors overall before washing out at age 24.


20. Nick Blackburn: #56 in 2008

I disagreed so much with Baseball America ranking Nick Blackburn as the Twins' top prospect in 2008 that I made a bet with the magazine's editor, John Manuel, that Blackburn wouldn't get 70 career wins. I'm feeling pretty safe about the bet now with Blackburn stuck on 43 wins and his career at a crossroads, although in retrospect he did turn out better than I expected even if 819 innings of a 4.85 ERA is nothing special.


This week's blog content is sponsored by Curt's Salsa, a locally owned salsa company that believes in fresh ingredients and rooting for the little guy. Please support them for supporting AG.com.

April 25, 2011

Nevermind, I’ll find someone like you

Catching up with old friends in new places ...

Matt Guerrier signed a three-year, $12 million deal with the Dodgers and got off to a great start in Los Angeles with 11 straight scoreless innings before coughing up five runs Saturday. Guerrier has filled largely the same role with the Dodgers that he did with the Twins, working the seventh and eighth innings setting up closer Jonathan Broxton while recording more than three outs in five of his first 10 appearances.

Brian Fuentes has been filling in for the injured Andrew Bailey as the A's closer, converting six of seven save chances with a 4.09 ERA and 10-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 11 innings. He was unable to find a full-time closing opportunity as a free agent and settled for a two-year, $10.5 million deal at age 35. Bailey is due back early next month, at which point Fuentes will slide into a setup role alongside former Twin and original AG.com favorite, Grant Balfour.

Jon Rauch also stumbled into a brief stint filling in as Toronto's closer with Frank Francisco sidelined to begin the season. Just as he did for the Twins last year Rauch did a perfectly solid job in the role, converting all three save chances before Francico returned 18 games in, and he has a 2.25 ERA and 6-to-4 strikeout-to-walk ratio in nine innings overall. Dating back to last year Rauch has converted 24-of-28 saves with a 2.98 ERA and 52/18 K/BB ratio in 66 innings.

• Obviously the three-year, $13 million contract helped, but Jesse Crain also talked about the opportunity to be in the mix for saves as one of the reasons for signing with the White Sox. Chicago's bullpen has been a mess, with closer Matt Thornton blowing four saves already and manager Ozzie Guillen trying all kinds of different combinations late, but Crain has yet to get a crack at closing duties despite a 1.93 ERA and 11-to-2 strikeout-to-walk ratio in nine innings.

Orlando Hudson got off to strong start in San Diego while oddly batting third in the Padres' lineup, but a recent slump has knocked his overall line down to .229/.349/.271 in 21 games. Of course, even that .620 OPS is still much higher than the Twins have gotten from Alexi Casilla (.485), Matt Tolbert (.469), Luke Hughes (.448), and Tsuyoshi Nishioka (.519) in the middle infield and Hudson is playing half his games in the majors' most pitcher-friendly ballpark.

• I didn't like the Twins' decision to trade J.J. Hardy after he was above par offensively among shortstops and outstanding defensively in the 101 games he was healthy enough to be in the lineup, but they have to be smiling after he lasted just six games with the Orioles before being placed on the disabled list. Hardy is out until mid-May with a strained oblique and one of the two minor-league relievers the Twins got for him, Jim Hoey, has been thrust into a setup role.

Brendan Harris was also traded to Baltimore in the Hardy swap or more accurately dumping $1.25 million of his $1.75 million salary on the Orioles was part of the Twins' side of the deal. No one will ever be able to explain why the Twins handed Harris a two-year, $3.2 million deal last January, but after spending most of last season at Triple-A he failed to make the Orioles out of spring training and is once again struggling in the International League.

Wilson Ramos has overtaken Ivan Rodriguez as Washington's starting catcher and all of a sudden articles have popped up explaining how the Twins don't regret trading a 22-year-old top catching prospect for the right to pay $10 million for one-and-a-half years of Matt Capps. I'm sure the timing is purely coincidental. Ramos is hitting .351 with surprisingly decent plate discipline early on, giving him a .302/.347/.414 career line through 34 games.

Dealt for Single-A reliever Paul Bargas in December after the Twins settled on Drew Butera as their preferred backup catcher, Jose Morales is now backing up Chris Iannetta in Colorado and playing sparingly in the early going. He owns a career line of .295/.374/.358 in 81 games, but the Twins never trusted his glove. Bargas unfortunately has been hospitalized due to a neurological condition, with general manager Bill Smith describing him as "very sick."

Nick Punto's one-year, $750,000 contract with St. Louis got off to a rough start when he underwent hernia surgery within days of reporting to spring training, but he's healthy now and already starting regularly in place of injured second baseman Skip Schumaker. I thought the Twins should have re-signed Punto as long as the money was no more than $1 million and the projected role was minor. For all his faults, he'd be their best middle infielder right now.

Pat Neshek not only won a spot in the Padres' bullpen out of spring training after being lost on waivers for nothing by the Twins, he threw eight innings with a 2.25 ERA and .222 batting average against. However, while I'm happy to see Neshek doing well and didn't understand cutting him loose, his 7-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio is anything but impressive, his average fastball has clocked in at just 85.6 miles per hour, and now he's been optioned to Triple-A.

• Traded to the Braves for Rule 5 pick Scott Diamond last month in one of the most confusing Twins moves in a long time, Billy Bullock has struggled at Double-A with a 12.15 ERA through 6.2 innings. He thrived at Double-A in the second half of last season, but his shaky control has been a big problem with six walks. Diamond, meanwhile, has a 3.48 ERA and 13-to-8 strikeout-to-walk ratio in three starts at Rochester.

Rob Delaney was lost on waivers to Tampa Bay in late January when they Twins dropped him from the 40-man roster to make room for Dusty Hughes. Delaney failed to make the Rays out of spring training, but has a 2.45 ERA and 14-to-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 11 innings at Triple-A and will likely get a chance in Tampa Bay at some point this season. Hughes has been a mess so far, living up to his mediocre track record by allowing seven runs in seven innings.

Ron Mahay left the Twins as a free agent, signed a minor-league deal with the Dodgers only to be released in the final week of spring training, and has latched on with the Diamondbacks at Triple-A, continuing a career-long pattern of having to prove himself anew seemingly every season despite consistently solid numbers. He might finally just be out of gas at age 40, but Mahay has a career ERA of 3.83 that includes a 3.49 mark in the previous five seasons.

Dennys Reyes beat out Hideki Okajima for the left-handed specialist role in the Red Sox's bullpen coming out of spring training, turning a minor-league deal into $900,000 in guaranteed money, and then got demoted to Triple-A one week into the season after four shaky outings. Reyes cleared waivers and accepted an assignment to Pawtucket, but the $900,000 salary is locked in whether "Big Sweat" gets called back up to Boston or not.

Yohan Pino, a right-hander the Twins swapped to the Indians for Carl Pavano in mid-2009, was traded to the Blue Jays last week for cash considerations. Pino was a mid-level prospect when the Twins dealt him, posting standout numbers in the minors despite mediocre raw stuff, and now he's organizational filler at age 28. Pavano was an impending free agent back then, but went on to re-sign with the Twins twice and has a 4.09 ERA in 326 innings since the trade.

December 16, 2010

Matt Guerrier and Jesse Crain leave Twins for three-year deals

After seven seasons in Minnesota apiece Matt Guerrier and Jesse Crain both officially left the Twins yesterday. Guerrier is heading to the National League on a three-year, $12 million deal with the Dodgers, while Crain will be remaining in the division and relieving for the enemy after agreeing to a three-year, $13 million contract with the White Sox. Neither departure comes as a surprise, although Crain going to Chicago adds a little extra sting to the bullpen losses.

Guerrier was remarkably reliable and generally very underrated throughout his seven seasons in Minnesota and ranks as one of the best waiver-wire pickups in team history. Claimed from Pittsburgh in November of 2003 after the Pirates acquired him from the White Sox in a March of 2002 trade for Damaso Marte, he went on to throw 472 innings with a 3.38 ERA and allowed opponents to hit just .247/.308/.387 while earning a grand total of just $6.6 million.

He twice led the league in appearances, worked 70-plus games in each of the past four years, is one of just three MLB relievers to log more than 450 innings since 2005, and had a sub-3.50 ERA in five of his six full seasons. Johan Santana, Al Worthington, and Rick Aguilera are the only pitchers in Twins history to throw more innings with a better adjusted ERA+ than Guerrier. And the Twins were right to let him go.

Guerrier has shown some signs of decline, as his strikeouts per nine innings dropped from 7.0 in 2007-2008 to 5.4 in 2009-2010 and he lost a full mile per hour off his peak fastball velocity. And simply by virtue of being a 33-year-old relief pitcher with less than overpowering raw stuff and secondary numbers that never quite matched the sparkling ERAs his performance is likely to crumble before the Dodgers are done paying him like a top-of-the-line setup man.

Similarly, it's difficult to fault the Twins for failing to top the White Sox's bid for Crain when they demoted him to Triple-A less than 18 months ago and never fully trusted him as their primary setup man prior to this year. To his credit Crain returned from Rochester pitching better than ever with a 3.00 ERA and 92 strikeouts in 102 innings following the month-long demotion and was nearly unhittable down the stretch this year by allowing four runs in a 42-inning span.

Crain's second-half dominance can be traced to an increased reliance on his slider, as he used it a career-high 46 percent of the time after previously never topping 26 percent. His mid-90s fastball didn't go anywhere, but by throwing it just 42 percent of the time after never before dipping under 60 percent Crain became a more dangerous, unpredictable pitcher. Whether he can thrive long term throwing nearly 50 percent sliders, however, remains to be seen.

His change in approach and being four years younger than Guerrier made Crain my preferred choice to retain, but committing to three years for either pitcher would have been a misstep by the Twins. Their departures leave a pair of big holes in a bullpen currently in flux, but rarely do three-year deals for setup men work out well for the teams handing them out and if the Twins stay patient there will be capable relievers available at a fraction of the cost soon enough.

Crain is a Type B free agent, so the Twins will receive a compensatory draft pick between the first and second rounds for losing him (Crain was a second rounder himself in 2002). Guerrier is a Type A free agent, but by not offering him arbitration the Twins forfeited his new team's first-round pick, plus the same sandwich pick Crain brings back. Letting both Crain and Guerrier walk was the right call, but the decision not to offer Guerrier arbitration was less clear cut.

Receiving a three-year deal from the Dodgers and reportedly drawing two-year proposals from several other teams makes it seem like offering Guerrier arbitration should have been an easy call, but the situation is much more complicated. Offering him arbitration would've dramatically altered Guerrier's market value, as few teams are willing to forfeit a high pick for a 33-year-old reliever and in the past some lesser Type A free agents have struggled to drum up interest.

If the Twins offered arbitration and Guerrier found the market lacking it's possible he may have re-signed for a much more reasonable price, but it's also possible his agent would've advised him to simply accept, forcing the Twins into a one-year commitment worth around $5 million. I tend to think it was worth that risk, because bringing Guerrier back on a one-year, $5 million deal would hardly be disastrous and two compensatory picks carry millions of dollars in value.

With that said, it's tough to predict whether Guerrier would've accepted arbitration and even tougher to determine how many teams, if any, would've been willing to lose a first rounder to sign him. Offering arbitration to Crain was a no-brainer, because Type B free agents don't cost their new teams a pick, but unfortunately Guerrier was tagged as Type A by a ratings system that drastically overrates relievers and it forced a risk-versus-reward choice upon the Twins.

Guerrier and Crain will be hard to replace, as they combined for an average of 135 innings with a 3.40 ERA in the past six seasons, but out-bidding 29 teams for the right to give three-year deals to middle relievers is the wrong way to build a bullpen. Right now the bullpen's outlook may be grim, but smart teams rely on the fungible nature of relievers and the Twins are better off trying to find the next Guerrier and Crain than paying a premium to retain the originals.

December 1, 2010

Twins Notes: Pavano, Crain, Hudson, Hardy, Nishioka, and Pimentel

• As expected Carl Pavano, Jesse Crain, and Orlando Hudson each declined arbitration offers from the Twins ahead of last night's deadline. Pavano and Crain had no-brainer decisions, as they're both drawing significant interest as free agents and should have no trouble securing multi-year deals, and Hudson was only offered arbitration in the first place because he agreed ahead of time to decline.

Assuming all three sign elsewhere the Twins will get a total of four compensatory draft picks. Pavano is a Type A free agent, so he'd fetch a first rounder and a supplemental pick between the first and second rounds. Crain and Hudson are both Type B free agents, so they'd fetch one supplemental pick apiece. Brian Fuentes, Matt Guerrier, and Jon Rauch weren't offered arbitration and Jim Thome didn't qualify as Type A or B, so there's no compensation attached.

• In reporting on Hudson officially declining arbitration yesterday Jon Heyman of SI.com called him a "fine player who could help any clubhouse." Heyman is basically just parroting the same national media perception of Hudson that ESPN, FOX, and TBS announcers repeated whenever they broadcast Twins games, but in reality little or no effort is being made to re-sign Hudson in part because the team specifically didn't like his presence in the clubhouse.

None of which is to suggest that Hudson is a terrible person or anything, but multiple sources affiliated with the Twins told me throughout the season that his outspoken jokester persona grew tiresome even though national media members like Heyman continue to constantly tout it as a positive trait treated as fact. Hudson will soon be playing for his fourth team in four years despite consistently solid performances on the field, so you can probably do the math there.

• The next key deadline for the Twins arrives tomorrow night, when they must decide whether to tender a 2011 contract to J.J. Hardy. Doing so would essentially guarantee him a one-year deal worth at least $6 million via the arbitration process. Because the Twins have seemingly soured on Hardy despite his above-average performance this season and are now negotiating with Tsuyoshi Nishioka to possibly replace him at shortstop non-tendering him is an option.

However, based on various reports there are multiple teams interested in trading for Hardy. That means even if the Twins are no longer interested in keeping him for 2011 they can tender him a contract and later deal him for some value rather than just cutting him loose and making him a free agent with a non-tender. Of course, I'm still holding out a slim hope that they keep Hardy at shortstop, sign Nishioka to play second base, and use Alexi Casilla as a utility man.

• Speaking of Nishioka, here's a lengthy highlight video that his representatives at the Beverly Hills Sports Complex put together:

Like many Japanese hitters Nishioka has a pronounced leg kick that precedes his swing, so it'll be interesting to see if the Twins would ask him to ditch it. Also of note after years of watching Nick Punto is that Nishioka appears to always slide first first.

• Last year the Twins spent a ton of cash in the international prospect market, landing Miguel Sano and several other high-upside players, and they've followed that up this year by possibly spending around $15 million on Nishioka. Ben Badler of Baseball America reports that they also recently signed 17-year-old Dominican shortstop Javier Pimentel for $575,000. Here's part of BA's scouting report on Pimentel:

Pimentel is a skinny shortstop with a projectable body who has shown good hands and arm in the field. He's a solid-average runner. He isn't a huge threat at the plate right now, but he could grow into more power as he fills out his lanky body.

I'm a big fan of investing heavily in international prospects. They're younger and typically less advanced than American high school and college prospects, but that added risk is mitigated by a lower cost to sign them and the value of draft picks. For instance, Pimentel signed for what is basically second-round money and the Twins were able to acquire him without actually using a second-round pick that, by itself, is worth several hundred thousand dollars.

• Not adding Kyle Waldrop to the 40-man roster and exposing him to next week's Rule 5 draft struck me as an error, but I'm pleased that the Twins did also clear a spot by dropping Estarlin De Los Santos. De Los Santos was a questionable 40-man addition last offseason and ranked just 30th on my annual list of the Twins' prospects. Since then he's hit .225/.294/.295 in 123 games between high Single-A and Double-A, so he had no business being protected.

Mike Redmond left the Twins as a free agent last offseason after five years as Joe Mauer's backup, spent a half-season with the Indians while hitting .206/.242/.270, and announced his retirement. Throughout his time in Minnesota he was regularly mentioned as manager material and sure enough Redmond has been hired to manage the Blue Jays' low Single-A affiliate that plays in the Midwest League with the Twins' team in Beloit.

• Thome being drafted as a shortstop is a known, albeit nearly unbelievable fact, but here's an even harder-to-believe fact discovered while poking around Baseball-Reference.com: Through his first 247 games in the minors Thome stole 24 bases at a 71 percent success rate. In his 2,559 games since then between the minors and majors Thome has stolen a total of 20 bases while being thrown out 25 times, including no more than one steal in any season after 1996.

• While the Twins decide what to do with Hardy, this should be good for a chuckle.

Older Posts »