August 31, 2013

Twins trade Justin Morneau to Pirates for Alex Presley and Duke Welker

justin morneau trade

Waiting until the last moment just hours before the August 31 deadline for postseason eligibility, the Twins traded Justin Morneau to the Pirates for Alex Presley and a player to be named later believed to be Duke Welker, saying goodbye to one of the best hitters in team history after 11 years. Morneau passed through waivers unclaimed two weeks ago, meaning the Twins were able to trade him to any team, but interest in the 32-year-old impending free agent was minimal.

Picked by the Twins in the third round of the 1999 draft out of a Canadian high school, Morneau emerged as a stud prospect in 2001, made his MLB debut in 2003 at age 22, and replaced Doug Mientkiewicz as the starting first baseman in mid-2004. After some initial growing pains he was one of the elite left-handed bats in baseball, hitting for both average and power with low strikeout rates while racking up huge RBI totals behind on-base machine Joe Mauer.

He was named AL MVP in 2006, finished runner-up for the award in 2008, and hit .298/.372/.528 with an average of 30 homers, 40 doubles, and 120 RBIs per 150 games from 2006-2010. That includes hitting .345/.437/.618 with 18 homers through 81 games in what was shaping up to be a career-year in 2010, until Morneau slid into second base trying to break up a double play against the Blue Jays on July 7 in Toronto and took a knee to the helmet.

Morneau suffered a concussion, missed the final three months of the season, and has never been the same, hitting just .256/.316/.412 in 330 games since returning from the brain injury in 2011. It's a damn shame, because Morneau was an exceptional all-around hitter at the absolute peak of his skills and formed a near-perfect pairing with Mauer in the middle of the lineup. Mauer got on base, Morneau knocked him in, and the Twins boasted two of baseball's top dozen hitters.

Unfortunately it's been three years since Morneau was even an above average first baseman, let alone an impact bat, and watching him hit .230/.282/.467 with a 36-to-12 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 41 games since the All-Star break provided little reason to believe that's going to change. He still has some value, particularly if the Pirates shield him from left-handed pitching, but Morneau simply hasn't produced enough at an offense-driven position to remain in the Twins' plans.

Rather than watching him leave for nothing a month from now as a free agent the Twins picked up potentially useful players in Presley and Welker, saved some money, and sent Morneau to a team with a chance to make a deep playoff run. Just in case you weren't already rooting for a team that hasn't had a winning record since 1992, the Pirates have Morneau as their starting first baseman and Francisco Liriano as the No. 1 starter.

alex presley trade

Presley and Welker are a modest return for a big name, but accurately represent the type of diminished value Morneau has at this point thanks to his remaining salary, mediocre production, and impending free agency. Presley turned 28 years old in July and was drafted in the eighth round out of the University of Mississippi in 2006, so he's a non-prospect whose most likely fit is a fourth outfielder with plus speed and experience in all three spots defensively.

Presley had a nice 52-game stretch for the Pirates as a 25-year-old rookie in 2011, but struggled in an expanded role last season and has spent most of this year at Triple-A. Overall he's played 285 games at Triple-A in parts of four seasons there, hitting .309/.377/.460 while averaging 13 homers and 28 steals per 150 games. He draws a decent number of walks, doesn't strike out much, and shows a fairly typical platoon split for a left-handed hitter.

In his various stints with the Pirates totaling 204 games Presley hit .261/.299/.419 with an ugly 138-to-33 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 699 plate appearances. He'll need to control the strike zone much better to have any kind of sustained success in the majors, but he showed decent power and while the on-base percentage isn't pretty a .718 OPS isn't that far below the .750 average for MLB outfielders. Given the current state of the Twins, he could be a regular for a little while.

Welker is a 6-foot-7 reliever with a mid-90s fastball and was the Pirates' second-round pick in 2007 out of the University of Arkansas, but he's already 27 years old and has all of one career appearance in the majors. During the past two years Welker struck out 94 batters in 93 innings at Triple-A, which is good but not great for a hard-throwing reliever, and his control is terrible with 4.6 walks per nine innings.

He also has a 2.91 ERA and .219 opponents' batting average with just three homers allowed in 385 plate appearances at Triple-A, so it's easy to see why the Twins would take a flier on the big, hard-throwing right-hander, but for now Welker is merely a bullpen lottery ticket. He could fill a middle relief role next year, although the Twins were already pretty deep in right-handed bullpen options and will soon need to find room for Michael Tonkin too.

Because of how things ended with Morneau in Minnesota and because the concussion (and other injuries) robbed him of a typical decline phase it's somewhat difficult to evaluate his place in team history. It's natural to wonder what could have been if Morneau hadn't suffered a brain injury, but what actually was ... well, it was pretty damn good for a long time. Here are the Twins' all-time leaders in adjusted OPS+ among hitters with at least 3,000 plate appearances:

                     PA     OPS+
Harmon Killebrew   8018     148
Rod Carew          6980     137
Joe Mauer          5060     135
Tony Oliva         6880     131
Bob Allison        4643     131
Kent Hrbek         7137     128
Kirby Puckett      7831     124
JUSTIN MORNEAU     5350     121
Corey Koskie       3257     116
Chuck Knoblauch    4573     114

Even with the concussion cutting his peak very short and hastening his decline Morneau's adjusted OPS+ ranks eighth in Twins history at 121. His adjusted OPS+ was 128 before the concussion and 99 after it. His other all-time Twins ranks include second in slugging percentage, third in homers, fifth in doubles, extra-base hits, and RBIs, sixth in total bases, seventh in games and hits, eighth in walks, and ninth in runs.

I'll always imagine what could have been had Morneau stayed healthy, but I'll also remember his incredible raw power, his ability to do damage spraying line drives from foul pole to foul pole, the little inhale he took in the moment just before bat met ball, and the corkscrew follow-through that ended with the bat raised above his head. Morneau was a helluva player for the Twins, but it was time for both sides to move on. Here's hoping he gets some big hits for the Pirates.


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August 21, 2013

Twins Notes: Gibson, Morneau, Butera, Carroll, Mientkiewicz, and Liriano

kyle gibson final start of 2013

Kyle Gibson's first taste of the majors likely came to an end Monday, as the Twins demoted him back to Triple-A immediately following his poor outing against the Mets. Gibson pitched well in his Twins debut on June 29, but was mostly a mess after that and returns to Rochester sporting an ugly 6.53 ERA in 10 starts. His secondary numbers are only slightly more encouraging, including just 29 strikeouts in 51 innings and a .327 opponents' batting average with seven homers allowed.

Gibson got knocked around by big-league hitters and looked worn out at times, so considering the expected workload limit in his first full season since elbow surgery shutting him down soon made sense. He's thrown 144 total innings between the majors and minors and by shutting Gibson down after optioning him to Triple-A the Twins keep him from accumulating MLB service time while not pitching, although certainly the demotion could be purely based on performance.

There are some positives to be taken from Gibson's first 10 starts, including an average fastball of 92.2 miles per hour and a ground-ball rate around 50 percent, but the questions about his ability to generate strikeouts remain and overall he looked like anything but a top prospect. Hopefully he can come back strong next season, because Gibson will be 26 years old in a couple months and the Twins desperately need someone to emerge as more than a back-of-the-rotation starter.

• When the Twins traded Drew Butera to the Dodgers on July 31 for a player to be named later or cash considerations my assumption was that their return would be cash and the considerations would be approximately the cost of a bucket of baseballs. Instead they ended up getting Miguel Sulbaran, a diminutive 19-year-old left-hander with a solid track record in the low minors since signing out of Venezuela as a 16-year-old.

As one of the youngest pitchers in the Midwest League this season Sulbaran has a 3.26 ERA and 86-to-26 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 97 innings. For comparison, J.O. Berrios has a 3.45 ERA and 92-to-34 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 94 innings facing the same low Single-A hitters at the same age. Last year the Twins drafted Berrios with the 32nd pick and he has much better raw stuff, so they're hardly prospect equals, but to get any sort of useful player for Butera is shocking.

Sulbaran hasn't cracked any Baseball America or ESPN rankings, but Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com recently rated him as the No. 14 prospect in the Dodgers' farm system. Mayo wrote that Sulbaran "has a good feel for his low-90s fastball" and "his curveball is his best offspeed pitch and both his slider and changeup show promise." Butera is arguably the worst hitter of the past three decades, so any deal would get the "great trade ... who'd we get?" treatment, but this is a nice haul.

• Parting with Butera is the only move the Twins made before the July 31 deadline, but trades can also happen in August via the waiver wire system and they swung another deal by sending Jamey Carroll to the Royals for the familiar player to be named later or cash considerations. If the Twins get anything decent in return for Carroll that would be even more shocking than the Butera deal, because as a 39-year-old impending free agent he had zero value to them beyond this season.

Carroll didn't work out quite as well as the Twins hoped when they signed him as a free agent in November of 2011, but the reasoning behind the two-year, $6.5 million contract made sense. As usual the Twins' infield options were severely lacking and Carroll was a good, versatile defender with strong on-base skills. He did what he was supposed to do in 2012, drawing the third-most walks on the team to get on base at a .343 clip and starting 30-plus games at three positions.

When signing a 37-year-old to a multi-year deal rapid decline is always a risk and unfortunately this season Carroll's usually outstanding strike-zone control vanished and the Twins no longer trusted him to play shortstop at age 39. He was a worthwhile pickup who couldn't hold off father time long enough to provide a great return on a fairly modest investment. And yet among all the middle infielders in Twins history to appear in 150 games only 10 had a better OBP than Carroll.

• As expected, Justin Morneau passed through waivers unclaimed because he's a 32-year-old impending free agent first baseman with a $14 million salary and a .430 slugging percentage. At this point it's unclear if any contending teams are interested in Morneau, but at the very least no teams were interested in Morneau and the possibility of being stuck with the remaining $4 million on his contract.

Clearing waivers means Morneau can be traded to any team, with August 31 as the deadline for postseason eligibility. However, don't expect much if he's moved. Despite a confusing number of fans and media members continuing to act as if Morneau is an impact player he's been a below-average first baseman since the 2010 concussion, batting .257/.317/.409 in 320 games. This year there are 216 major leaguers with at least 300 plate appearances and he ranks 115th in OPS.

Josh Willingham returning from knee surgery followed by Ryan Doumit coming back from a concussion left the Twins with a roster crunch and they decided to make room by demoting Chris Colabello back to the minors. It's a shame, because Colabello's monstrous Triple-A production warranted an extended opportunity at age 29 and he was just starting to show some promise by hitting .286/.397/.551 with four homers and nine walks in his last 16 games.

Most of the talk surrounding a possible Morneau trade centers on what the Twins might get in return and whether they should try to keep him past this season, but one side effect is that not trading him takes at-bats away from guys like Colabello who could prove useful on a minimum salary for 2014 and beyond if given a chance. Instead, after hitting .354/.432/.652 at Triple-A he got a grand total of 96 plate appearances in the majors.

UPDATE: Well, the good news is that Colabello has already been called back up. Unfortunately it's because Joe Mauer was placed on the concussion disabled list after taking multiple foul tips to the mask Monday. Mauer was dizzy during batting practice Tuesday, which is an awfully scary thing to write following several paragraphs about Morneau being a shell of his former self since a concussion. Brain injuries are impossible to predict, so it's breath-holding time.

• Fort Myers manager Doug Mientkiewicz got into a brawl with the opposing manager Saturday, video of which you can see below courtesy of the Fort Myers News Press:

Because the beginning of the brawl wasn't captured on video it's tough to tell exactly what went on, but by all accounts Mientkiewicz escalated the situation in a huge way by running out of the dugout to tackle the other manager. Twins minor league director Brad Steil issued a statement saying "that's not the example we want him to set for our players" and "he realizes that's not how we want him to represent the Minnesota Twins."

However, general manager Terry Ryan explained that the Twins left any discipline to the Florida State League, saying: "Doug was apologetic. I think it's taken care of." And the FSL merely fined him, providing quite a contrast to the Twins allowing Double-A manager Jeff Smith to bench Miguel Sano four games for showboating on a homer and reacting poorly to being scolded. It's obviously apples and oranges, but imagine Sano tackling another player and only being fined.

Francisco Liriano is 14-5 with a 2.53 ERA and 126 strikeouts in 121 innings for the first place Pirates, allowing two or fewer runs in 15 of 19 starts while throwing fastballs far less often than he ever did with the Twins. Jenn Menendez of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette wrote a lengthy, quote-filled article about Liriano's post-Twins turnaround, including this comment from Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage:

Because that's Frankie. If I try to make Frankie pitch like [someone else], we wouldn't have what we got. That's force-feeding him to do something that he's not comfortable doing. Frankie does pitch the way he pitches. So just let him be him. That's what we did.

Maybe he simply needed a fresh start somewhere else, but "just let him be him" certainly isn't something Twins coaches said often about Liriano and his improvement can be linked to a clear change in approach that runs counter to what the Twins preached regarding fastball usage. He's averaged 9.4 strikeouts per nine innings for the Pirates, whereas the Twins have used 10 different starters this year and none have averaged more than 5.4 strikeouts per nine innings.

• Whatever slim chance Nick Blackburn had of pitching for the Twins again is over following season-ending knee surgery. Blackburn's contract still includes an $8 million team option for next season, but that will obviously be declined. In signing Blackburn to a misguided long-term deal in March of 2010 the Twins ended up paying $14 million for 408 innings of a 5.56 ERA from a guy who would have been under team control through 2013 even without the guaranteed contract.

Darin Mastroianni wound up spending four months on the disabled list with an ankle injury that was initially deemed so minor that the Twins let him play through the pain for several weeks. He eventually underwent surgery, but now that Mastroianni is healthy again the Twins activated him from the disabled list and optioned him to Triple-A. In other words, Mastroianni lost his job because of the injury. And his 40-man roster spot might be in danger this offseason.

• For a lot more about Morneau going unclaimed on waivers and a look at the Twins' options for improving the rotation in 2014, check out this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode.


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August 8, 2013

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

drew butera twins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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 24, 2013

Chris Colabello needs a chance to show if Triple-A numbers are for real

Terry Ryan, Chris Colabello

Chris Colabello's first taste of the majors was brief, but now he's back with the Twins for what figures to be the 29-year-old's first and perhaps only extended chance. Undrafted out of college, Colabello spent seven years playing independent ball in the Canadian-American Association and then signed with the Twins after winning MVP honors in 2011. He was assigned to Double-A last season and was good but not great, hitting .284/.358/.478 with 19 homers in 134 games.

Colabello moved up to Triple-A this season and absolutely destroyed the International League, hitting .354/.432/.652 with 24 homers, 24 doubles, and 43 walks in 85 games. At the time of his call-up Colabello led the league in batting average, slugging percentage, OPS, homers, extra-base hits, and RBIs. Here's where Colabello ranks among all Rochester hitters with at least 150 plate appearances since the Twins moved their Triple-A affiliate there in 2003:

                   YEAR      PA      OPS
Chris Parmelee     2012     282    1.102
CHRIS COLABELLO    2013     375    1.084
Trevor Plouffe     2011     220    1.019
Justin Morneau     2004     326     .992
Jason Kubel        2004     390     .958
Brian Buscher      2008     214     .915
Denard Span        2008     184     .915
Randy Ruiz         2008     456     .902

In terms of upside and prospect status Colabello is closer to Randy Ruiz and Brian Buscher than Justin Morneau and Jason Kubel or even Chris Parmelee and Trevor Plouffe, but in terms of production he stands out as much as anyone on that list. Looking beyond Rochester to the entire pitcher-friendly International League, here are all the hitters to top a 1.000 OPS in 300 or more plate appearances during the past 10 years:

                   YEAR      PA      OPS
CHRIS COLABELLO    2013     375    1.084
Dan Johnson        2010     426    1.053
Marcus Thames      2005     314    1.106
Roberto Petagine   2005     336    1.088

There's some selection bias at play, because most of the time when a hitter posts an OPS above 1.000 at Triple-A they get called up to the majors before reaching 300 plate appearances. But the three guys to join Colabello in the 300/1.000 club fit a similar description as journeymen looking for a chance. Dan Johnson and Marcus Thames both had nice runs in the majors as solid role players and Roberto Petagine was one of the original stat-head favorites back to the 1990s.

Every season unheralded hitters who're too old to be prospects crush minor-league pitching and very few of them go on to do anything in the majors, often for good reason. Colabello may prove to be just another name on that long list of so-called Quadruple-A players, but I'm a big believer in non-contending teams like the Twins giving opportunities to previously ignored players who've performed extraordinarily well in the minors.

Most of the time those guys simply die on the vine without getting a shot, with Anthony Slama being the most recent Twins example, but once in a while they get a chance and take advantage like Pat Neshek or Lew Ford. No one ever mistook Neshek and Ford for superstars and even in the most optimistic scenario that's true for Colabello as well, but his following in their footsteps by becoming a valuable major leaguer would be a big help to the Twins.

There's really no significant downside, because Colabello struggling wouldn't set him apart on a roster full of hitters who aren't hitting this season. And if his Triple-A success translates to the big leagues even a little bit then the Twins will have found a useful, cheap right-handed bat who can provide the lefty-heavy lineup with a solid platoon option against left-handed pitching or take on a bigger role at first base and designated hitter.

All of which is no sure thing, of course. Colabello spent seven seasons playing in an independent league because no one with the ability to give him an opportunity thought he was worthy and while his Triple-A production is spectacular it's still just 85 games. He also struck out a lot and has an odd batting stance, standing very far away from the plate in an effort to drive outside pitches, which adds another layer of skepticism to Colabello's numbers.

Colabello is never going to be confused for an in-his-prime Morneau, but the question is whether he can provide similar production to the post-2010 version of Morneau and do so at a fraction of the cost. During the past three seasons Morneau has hit .259/.321/.402 in 293 games while being paid $15 million per year, so it's not a particularly high bar for a minimum-salaried Colabello to clear. Hopefully the Twins give him enough of a chance to see what they have.


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.

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