October 15, 2014

How much payroll space do the Twins have and will they actually spend it?

pohlad ryan st.peter

In the Twins' second season at Target Field their payroll rose to a franchise-record $113 million, but that dropped to $100 million the next year and then dipped below $90 million in each of the past two seasons as general manager Terry Ryan declined to spend a significant portion of the ownership-approved budget. Here's what Ryan said recently when asked about the team's lack of spending and self-imposed payroll decline:

Payroll will not be an issue. Our payroll is sufficient to [field] a winning team. There are playoff teams with lower payrolls than ours. We can't use that as an excuse. ... I spent plenty. Our payroll was pretty stiff, very respectable.

The payroll Ryan calls "pretty stiff" ranked 24th among 30 teams and, based on comments from Ryan and Twins president Dave St. Peter, will almost surely rank even lower in 2015. He's right that the Twins' payroll was enough to field a winning team, but suggesting their payroll should be low because "there are playoff teams with lower payrolls than ours" is like suggesting they should hit fewer home runs because "there are playoff teams with fewer home runs than us."

This season MLB teams that spent more than $100 million made the playoffs 47 percent of the time, while teams that spent less than $100 million made the playoffs 20 percent of the time. All six division-winning teams spent at least $105 million and the average payroll of the six division winners was $147 million. When asked about next year's payroll, St. Peter told Phil Miller of the Minneapolis Star Tribune:

We haven't finalized a 2015 budget, [but] I can assure you, we don't see it going down significantly.

So this is where the Twins are at heading into the sixth season of a publicly funded ballpark that was supposed to boost their spending relative to the other 29 teams: "Assuring" their fans who're frustrated and disillusioned following a fourth consecutive 90-loss season that the team's already below-average payroll won't be "going down significantly" at a time when television and internet revenue is skyrocketing across baseball.

More than half of MLB teams exceeded $100 million in payroll this year, including 10 teams above $125 million and two teams above $200 million. After dumping various high-salaried veterans in trades, the Twins ended up spending around $86 million on payroll. St. Peter's comments certainly make it seem likely that their 2015 payroll will once again be below $90 million, which won't leave much room for offseason spending thanks to the following players being under contract:

Joe Mauer          $23.0 million
Ricky Nolasco      $12.0 million
Phil Hughes         $8.0 million
Kurt Suzuki         $6.0 million
Mike Pelfrey        $5.5 million
Glen Perkins        $4.7 million

TOTAL              $59.2 million

Beyond those guaranteed salaries, the Twins also have these players eligible for arbitration:

Trevor Plouffe      $4.3 million
Tommy Milone        $2.8 million
Brian Duensing      $2.5 million
Jordan Schafer      $1.5 million
Anthony Swarzak     $1.4 million
Eduardo Nunez       $1.2 million
Casey Fien          $1.1 million

TOTAL              $14.8 million

Those salaries listed above are MLB Trade Rumors' arbitration projections. At least a few of those arbitration-eligible players should be non-tender candidates, so the Twins could cut them loose at no cost. But if they were to retain all seven arbitration-eligible players their payroll commitments would approach $74 million. Toss in the $7 million or so required to fill out the rest of the roster with minimum-salaried players and the Twins would already be over $80 million.

Front office mistakes led to losing teams, which led to attendance declining, which led to revenue decreasing, which led to payroll dropping. In their final season at the Metrodome they spent $65 million. Six years and one new ballpark later their payroll has settled around $85 million. Whether or not you think spending drives winning, unspent money isn't set aside for future payroll and it's hard to see how that money simply staying with the Twins' owners benefits the team or its fans.


For a lengthy discussion of how preseason expectations translated to regular season success this year, check out this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode.

March 28, 2013

Twins Notes: Setting the Opening Day roster

ron gardenhire spring training

• Barring any changes between now and Monday here's what the Twins' roster looks like:

   LINEUP:                    ROTATION:
C  Joe Mauer               RH Vance Worley
1B Justin Morneau          RH Kevin Correia
2B Brian Dozier            RH Mike Pelfrey
SS Pedro Florimon          RH Liam Hendriks
3B Trevor Plouffe          RH Cole De Vries
LF Josh Willingham
CF Aaron Hicks                BULLPEN:
RF Chris Parmelee          LH Glen Perkins
DH Ryan Doumit             RH Jared Burton
                           LH Brian Duensing
   BENCH:                  RH Casey Fien
IF Jamey Carroll           RH Josh Roenicke
IF Eduardo Escobar         RH Ryan Pressly
OF Darin Mastroianni       LH Tyler Robertson
OF Wilkin Ramirez

If the above 25-man roster sticks there will be a total of 11 holdovers from last season's Opening Day roster: Joe Mauer, Justin MorneauJosh WillinghamRyan Doumit, Chris Parmelee, Trevor Plouffe, and Jamey Carroll among position players and Glen Perkins, Jared Burton, Brian Duensing, and Liam Hendriks among pitchers.

Scott Diamond's elbow problems opened the door for Samuel Deduno to get back into the rotation, but a groin injury suffered during the World Baseball Classic shut that door. Deduno, who was dropped from the 40-man roster and passed through waivers unclaimed four months ago, will head to Triple-A. Cole De Vries, who unlike Deduno is on the 40-man roster, is set to join Vance Worley, Kevin Correia, Mike Pelfrey, and Hendriks in the season-opening rotation.

De Vries held his own in 14 starts as a 27-year-old rookie last season, but he was an emergency call-up when the rotation was wrecked by injuries and has a 4.39 ERA with just 6.7 strikeouts per nine innings in 156 innings at Triple-A. De Vries throws strikes and as an Eden Prairie native who went undrafted out of the University of Minnesota he's a good story, but he's likely to serve up a ton of homers and turning to him already is a bad sign.

Alex Burnett stuck around in the majors far longer than his performance warranted, spending nearly three full seasons in the Twins' bullpen despite a 4.61 ERA, sub par control, and just 5.6 strikeouts per nine innings. On the surface his 3.52 ERA last season may have looked like a big step forward, but it came with a horrible 36-to-26 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 72 innings and the Twins smartly didn't let his experience keep them from sending Burnett to Triple-A.

Barring late additions Burnett's demotion to Rochester means that the four bullpen spots after Perkins as closer and Burton and Duensing as his primary setup men will go to Casey Fien, Josh Roenicke, Ryan Pressly, and Tyler Robertson. Pressly is the biggest surprise after the Twins opted not to keep Rule 5 picks in the majors in both 2011 and 2012, but he throws hard and they clearly like how he's looked since shifting from starter to reliever late last season.

I'm glad Fien is getting another shot after looking good in 35 innings last season. He has a solid enough track record in the minors to think he can be a useful middle man. Roenicke was claimed off waivers from the Rockies in November and has shown the durability to soak up innings, but poor control and sub par strikeout rates aren't an encouraging combo. Rafael Perez not being ready yet following shoulder surgery made it pretty easy for Robertson to be the third left-hander.

Perkins and Burton put the Twins in good shape for the eighth and ninth innings, but beyond that duo Fien, Roenicke, and Pressly from the right side and Duensing and Robertson from the left side isn't particularly promising. Anthony Swarzak, who likely would have made the team as a long reliever, and Tim Wood, who was in the mix for one of the final bullpen spots, will both begin the season on the disabled list.

• Last offseason the Twins signed outfielder Wilkin Ramirez to a minor-league deal and sent him to the minors without any fanfare after he hit .214 in 10 spring training games. He played most of the season at Triple-A and did little to distinguish himself, hitting .276/.316/.451 with 15 homers and an ugly 97-to-18 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 98 games. He became a free agent and re-signed with the Twins on another minor-league deal. And now Ramirez is on the Opening Day roster.

What changed between then and now to make a 27-year-old journeyman with an underwhelming decade-long track record and awful plate discipline worth a roster spot in the majors? Ramirez has had a good spring, hitting .444 with nine doubles in 16 games. And that's basically it. Last year at this time no one gave him much thought and his play in Rochester didn't warrant a call-up, but 45 good at-bats convinced the Twins he's the man for the job.

It doesn't matter much, because backups on last-place teams aren't exactly of vital importance and the Twins failed to bring in many superior options, but trusting 50 plate appearances in spring training over 4,000 plate appearances in the minors generally isn't a sound approach to decision-making and Ramirez is an odd pick to replace Drew Butera following Ron Gardenhire's call to "beef up" the bench. He's a career .255/.310/.430 hitter at Triple-A.

Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press crunched the numbers and calculates the Twins' payroll at $81 million, which is the lowest since it was $65 million during the final season at the Metrodome in 2009. In their first season at Target Field the Twins spent $98 million and in Year 2 that rose to $113 million, but the payroll dropped to $94 million in Year 3 and now it's well below MLB average. Not quite the pattern fans were hoping for throughout the new ballpark push.

• Friend of AG.com Dan Szymborski predicted the American League standings for ESPN.com based on his excellent ZiPS projection system and not surprisingly the Twins are bringing up the rear in the AL Central at 66-96. Only the Astros have a worse projected record in the AL.

This week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode featured a whole bunch of Aaron Hicks talk.


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

February 16, 2012

Twins Notes: Mastroianni, waivers, options, and avoiding arbitration

Darin Mastroianni is the Twins' latest waiver claim, as they snagged the 26-year-old outfielder after the Blue Jays designated him for assignment to make 40-man roster room for Francisco Cordero. Mastroianni is too old to be a prospect and lacks the skill set to have big upside, but he's potentially a useful role player and could be a solid fit on the Twins' roster as a right-handed hitter with speed and on-base skills who can play all three outfield spots.

Mastroianni's patience and strike-zone control are great for a player with almost zero power, as he's drawn 82 walks per 150 games in the minors despite pitchers never being afraid to throw him strikes. He managed just four homers and a measly .379 slugging percentage in 325 games between Double-A and Triple-A, but also hit .283 with a .368 on-base percentage and nearly as many walks as strikeouts while averaging 54 steals per 150 games.

Ultimately most of his value depends on defense and in asking around about Mastroianni's range I've gotten mixed reviews, which along with about half of his action last season coming as a left fielder suggests he's probably not an elite center fielder. However, even if he's merely average in center field and above average in the corners Mastroianni looks capable of being a worthwhile backup behind two lefty-swinging outfielders in Denard Span and Ben Revere.

• To make room for Mastroianni on the 40-man roster the Twins designated reliever Esmerling Vasquez for assignment after claiming him off waivers from the Diamondbacks in early October. Vasquez has a mid-90s fastball, but it comes with awful control and not surprisingly he passed through waivers unclaimed. That means the Twins were able outright him to Triple-A, keeping the 28-year-old right-hander in the organization without taking up a 40-man roster spot.

Alexi Casilla and the Twins avoided arbitration by agreeing to a one-year, $1.38 million deal. He filed for $1.75 million and they countered at $1.065 million, settling just below the midpoint. Casilla will be arbitration eligible again in 2013, but keeping him around for a decent-sized raise would be tough to justify unless he can finally stay healthy and consistently productive. He's never played 100 games in a season and is a 27-year-old career .252/.310/.327 hitter.

• MLB Trade Rumors put together a list of players on 40-man rosters with less than five years of MLB experience and no minor-league options, and the Twins' contingent is Casilla, Glen Perkins, Anthony Swarzak, Trevor Plouffe, Luke Hughes, Matt Maloney, and Jeff Gray. Perkins, Casilla, Swarzak, and Plouffe are locks to make the team and Hughes is a near-lock if the sprained shoulder he suffered playing winter ball in Australia doesn't ruin his chances.

Gray and Maloney lacking options is part of why the Twins claiming them off waivers back in October never made sense to me, with the other reason being that they simply aren't much good. Both pitchers are marginal big leaguers without any sort of real upside, so if the Twins need to trim any more players from the 40-man roster they'd seemingly be atop the list. And if not expect to see them both placed on waivers at some point between now and Opening Day.

Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports calculates MLB's average payroll at $98 million, which is exactly where the Twins stand after choosing not to spend $1 million on one of many decent relievers available. Obviously having an average payroll is much better than the Twins' spending during the Metrodome years, but if they're already merely average in Target Field's third year and have shed $15 million from last season's payroll falling below average soon seems inevitable.

Keith Law of ESPN.com ranked the Twins' farm system 14th among all MLB teams, pegging the strengths as "interesting high school bats and high-impact Latin American prospects."

• I answered some questions about the Twins over at Razzball.

• On this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode John Bonnes and I went through the roster for a player-by-player look at each hitter, from Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau to Drew Butera and Tsuyoshi Nishioka, discussing where they each stand heading into 2012.

October 3, 2011

Twins Notes: Pohlad, payroll, surgeries, power arms, and naked parties

• During a lengthy interview with LaVelle E. Neal III of the Minneapolis Star Tribune owner Jim Pohlad predictably confirmed that manager Ron Gardenhire and general manager Bill Smith will be back in 2012, saying: "We're not a knee-jerk organization." When asked about holding people accountable following one of the worst years in Twins history, Pohlad cited "the perfect storm of injuries and players not performing":

We need to address how can we keep the players healthy. We need to address how can we encourage the players during the offseason to get to a point where they're going to play up to their capabilities. I'm not saying that the medical staff or the training staff has done anything wrong. I'm just saying let's look at the injuries and see how they can be prevented in the future.

Pohlad told Neal that the Twins "are very pleased with the job [Gardenhire] has done" under "very difficult conditions." He stopped short of praising Smith, saying instead that "he also has had a very tough situation" and then citing his 15 years in the organization. Neal brought up Smith saying he's more administrator than talent evaluator and asked if he's "the right man to turn things around." Pohlad initially replied with "what's Billy's title?" and then said:

General manager, so he's in charge of managing the baseball operation. I mean those are his words, like you said. I don't remember reading that, but if those are his words that's really his job, to manage the baseball department. We don't look to Billy solely--I don't know if any organization does, maybe they do at some place--we don't look solely at him as the premier judge of talent. He has a whole bunch of people that he gets input from on the judgment of talent.

Not exactly a ringing endorsement of Smith, but Pohlad is absolutely right that the Twins' front office decision-making involves a lot more voices than just the general manager. When asked how much money Smith and the front office will have available this offseason, Pohlad indicated that the payroll "is going to come down naturally because it exceeded where we wanted it" for this season "but it's not going to be slashed." Hmm. Check out the full interview for more.

Ben Revere, Justin Morneau, and Nick Blackburn each underwent surgeries within days of the final game. Revere's surgery was considered a minor knee "cleanup," as Neal reports that he was "seen with ice on his left knee after games" down the stretch. For a guy whose entire game is built on speed knee problems at age 23 are worrisome, but Revere never missed time and hit .368 with seven steals in his final 15 games.

Morneau underwent surgery to stabilize a tendon in the back of his left wrist, which is actually the injury that initially forced him to the disabled list in mid-June before neck surgery and more concussion issues followed. Morneau also recently had knee and foot surgeries, which means he'll be rehabbing four different operations this offseason along with trying to recover from the concussion that occurred 16 months ago. At age 30 he's clearly at a career crossroads.

Blackburn, who had elbow surgery last fall, underwent an operation to remove pressure from an entrapped nerve in his forearm as part of a radial tunnel syndrome diagnosis. He'll be in a splint for six weeks and can't throw for two months, which makes the timing curious. Blackburn hasn't pitched since August 21 and was shut down on September 4, yet waited until Friday to have the surgery. He's under contract for $4.75 million in 2012 and $5.5 million in 2013.

Denard Span appears to have avoided a major setback in his concussion recovery despite a scary looking collision with the center field wall in Game 161. Span came back too early from his concussion initially, looking lost for nine games and heading back to the disabled list with more symptoms, but he finished the season with some reason for optimism by going 5-for-18 (.278) with four extra-base hits in five games after returning on September 21.

That may not seem like much, but before stringing together those hits late Span went through a brutal 2-for-42 (.048) stretch following the concussion. Span was hitting .300/.367/.392 in 55 games before colliding with Royals catcher Brayan Pena on June 3, yet finished the year with a .264/.328/.359 mark in 70 total games. Hopefully a full winter of rest is better for Span than it was for Morneau, because there's not much the Twins can do besides wait.

Even if the Twins wanted to revisit their July trade talks with the Nationals for Span it's hard to imagine Washington general manager Mike Rizzo being comfortable enough with his status to pull the trigger. If he gets over the concussion symptoms the Twins shouldn't be willing to deal Span for a reliever--even a very good, young one like Drew Storen--and if he doesn't get over the concussion symptoms no team is going to give them anything worthwhile for him anyway.

• Dating back to the end of last year the Twins have talked about adding more "power arms" to the organization rather than continuing to stock the minors and majors with low-90s control artists. Generally speaking that's an excellent idea, but so far that plan has mostly just led to acquiring hard-throwing middle relievers with massive control problems, like getting Jim Hoey from the Orioles for J.J. Hardy and Lester Oliveros from the Tigers for Delmon Young.

Esmerling Vasquez is the latest pickup to fit that mold, as the Twins claimed the 27-year-old right-hander off waivers after he was designated for assignment by Arizona. Vasquez throws hard, averaging 93.7 miles per hour with his fastball, but has managed just 120 strikeouts in 137 innings to go along with 80 walks. And those numbers are actually great compared to his time at Triple-A, where Vasquez had more walks (97) than strikeouts (93) in 121 innings.

Vasquez has been reasonably tough to hit whenever he throws the ball over the plate and his changeup has been much more effective than his mid-90s fastball, so there's some semblance of upside to be unlocked. However, if the Twins are serious about changing the organizational approach to acquiring and developing pitchers they'll need to dig a lot deeper than plucking a few hard-throwing middle relievers with awful walk rates from other teams.

• Even with his strong finish Revere posted a .309 slugging percentage and .619 OPS in 117 games, which are both the lowest marks in Twins history from an outfielder with at least 450 plate appearances. He managed zero homers and just 14 extra-base hits in 481 trips to the plate, and two of those extra-base hits were actually outs as Revere unsuccessfully (but very excitingly) tried to turn triples into an inside-the-park homers.

Revere also stole 34 bases at a solid 79 percent clip. If you add an extra base to his hitting for each steal and erase one time on base for each unsuccessful steal his overall line morphs into .267/.291/.384. I'm not sure if that's more or less encouraging than his actual .267/.310/.309 line, but it does show that all the running didn't make up for the poor hitting. Of course, given his speed and defense Revere merely needs to be not-horrible at the plate to have nice value.

• Not surprisingly Revere led the Twins with 26 infield hits, which is a function of both his elite speed and a 68.5 percent ground-ball rate that was the highest in baseball by a wide margin. As a team the Twins also had MLB's highest ground-ball rate, yet even with Revere boosting the total they were just ninth in infield hits. On the flip side Twins pitchers allowed an AL-high 198 infield hits despite ranking 20th in ground balls, which speaks to the awful infield defense.

Carl Pavano is a prime example of why judging pitchers on their win-loss record or even ERA can be extremely misleading. Last season he went 17-11 with a 3.75 ERA and this season he went 9-13 with a 4.30 ERA. Big dropoff in his performance, right? Well, maybe not:

YEAR      IP      SO     BB     HR      GB%      FIP
2010     221     117     37     24     51.2     4.02
2011     222     102     40     23     50.6     4.10

Pavano pitched slightly worse this year because his already poor strikeout rate fell further, but most of the difference between his 2010 numbers and 2011 numbers can be traced to bad run support and the terrible infield defense behind him. Pitchers who don't miss bats are always at the mercy of their defense and it doesn't necessarily mean the Twins should be happy to have Pavano under contract for $8.5 million in 2012, but his record and ERA overstate the decline.

Rick Knapp left his job as the Twins' longtime minor-league pitching coordinator in 2008 to become the Tigers' big-league pitching coach, but was fired midway through this season. He'll stay in the AL Central, joining the Royals last week as their minor-league pitching coordinator. Knapp got a lot of credit for the Twins' strike-throwing philosophy throughout the organization, so it'll be interesting to see what he can do working with the Royals' stockpile of young arms.

• Hardy finished his first season in Baltimore with 30 home runs and an .801 OPS in 567 plate appearances (which is more than everyone on the Twins this year except Danny Valencia and Michael Cuddyer). In the entire history of the Twins no shortstop has hit more than 24 home runs and only Cristian Guzman in 2001 topped an .800 OPS.

• In ranking second-to-last among AL teams in scoring this season the Twins hit a combined .247/.306/.360. For comparison, Nick Punto is a career .247/.325/.327 hitter.

• One of the Twins' rare September wins apparently came because Gardenhire scratching his chin got confused for the manager giving the steal sign. Seriously.

• Based on this tweet Brian Duensing has already had an eventful offseason:

Probably for the best considering the collective state of the team's immune system this year.