July 23, 2014

What are the Twins’ trade deadline options?

kurt suzuki and ricky nolasco

As the Twins stumble toward a fourth consecutive losing 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.


Kurt Suzuki: Signed for $2.75 million to, in theory, split time behind the plate with Josmil Pinto and mentor the rookie, Suzuki instead immediately became the primary catcher and then decided to have the best season of his career at age 30. If you trust pitch-framing numbers and/or simply look at the pitching staff's overall ineffectiveness his impact hasn't been quite as profound as the Twins would have you believe, but either way Suzuki has been fantastic.

Of course, the reason he was available so cheaply is that Suzuki hit .237/.294/.357 in 477 games from 2010-2013, and in general investing in catchers on the wrong side of 30 is iffy. Signing him to a contract extension would be the Twins' style, but unless Suzuki is willing to accept similarly inexpensive terms on another deal it would make sense to cash him in for a decent prospect if that's a possibility. One good half-season and a useful prospect for $2.75 million would be ideal.


Josh Willingham: I've been suggesting the Twins shop Willingham since the middle of his first season in Minnesota, when he was a 33-year-old having a career-year and seemed to have a decent trade market among contending teams. Two years later he's a struggling 35-year-old impending free agent who's looked so washed up of late that he might not even have a place in the Twins' lineup, let alone anything resembling trade value.

He can still draw walks and smack the occasional homer, but Willingham has zero business seeing the field defensively and has been one of the worst hitters in baseball since mid-June. Going back even further, since the beginning of last season he's hit just .211/.349/.384 in 163 games. He has $3 million left on a three-year, $21 million deal and while the money saved probably wouldn't be re-invested in the team anyway his at-bats could go to someone with a future in Minnesota.


Kendrys Morales: Signed for $7.5 million two months into the season because the Twins thought they were close to contending and assumed he'd be a sizable upgrade over Pinto, but instead their thoughts of relevance quickly vanished and Morales has been terrible. It's possible that once he shakes off more of the rust Morales will be his usual self, but it's also possible that he won't and either way it won't really do the Twins much good.

Pinto looks capable of being as good or better than Morales right now and at age 25 certainly has a brighter future even if the Twins determine he's purely a designated hitter. Why give playing time to a 33-year-old impending free agent when you can give those at-bats to a 25-year-old who might be better anyway? If any of the teams that wanted Morales in June still want him now the Twins should take whatever they can get and chalk the whole experience up to a misguided flier.


Trevor Plouffe: Coming into the season it seemed likely that the Twins would have parted ways with Plouffe by now and handed his job to stud prospect Miguel Sano, but instead Sano is out for the year following Tommy John surgery and Plouffe has been a decent starting third baseman. And because Sano's future at third base is now very much in question, keeping Plouffe around for next season now seems like a reasonable option.

Plus, it's not like Plouffe is going to fetch much in a trade anyway. He's a 28-year-old career .241/.303/.412 hitter who should probably be platooned and is at best not-horrible defensively at third base. He'd be a decent fit for a lot of teams in a part-time role, knocking around lefties at a few different positions, but teams don't give up significant prospects for those types of players and Plouffe could always fill a similar role for the Twins in 2015 if Sano makes a flawless comeback.


Glen Perkins: In theory trading a closer is almost always a good idea if there's good value to be had because they tend to be overrated. This is a much more complicated case, because Perkins has been one of the dozen or so best relievers in baseball since moving to the bullpen full time in 2011, he's a lifelong Minnesotan beloved by the fan base, and he just signed a contract extension through 2018 in which he'll never make more than $7 million in a season.

Would it make sense to trade a really good 70-inning pitcher for a top prospect or two and try to re-start the whole cycle by replacing him in the closer role with a different former starter or setup man? Sure. But the Twins will never do that and Perkins is good enough and cheap enough that moving him for prospects is hardly guaranteed to look smart a few years down the road anyway. This isn't a Matt Capps situation. Perkins is a legitimately elite reliever, closer or otherwise.


Ricky Nolasco: This offseason there was presumably enough interest in Nolasco as a free agent that the Twins had to pay $49 million to sign him. A half-season later the Twins would surely be thrilled to hand the remainder of his contract over to another team and would probably pay a big chunk of the 2015-2017 bill just to wash their hands of the situation. It's a moot point because he's on the disabled list with an elbow injury that's apparently been present since spring training.


Jared Burton: Whatever trade value Burton had peaked in 2012, but much like Willingham the Twins stuck with him and now there isn't really anything left to trade. His velocity, strikeout rate, and walk rate have all declined to the point that Burton now profiles as a run of the mill middle reliever rather than an elite setup man, and at age 33 exercising the $3.6 million team option for 2015 no longer even looks like a no-brainer decision.


Brian Duensing: He stood out as a potential non-tender candidate this offseason, but the Twins brought back Duensing for $2 million via arbitration and he's been his usual self. Which is to say not good enough versus lefties to be a southpaw specialist and far too weak versus righties to be a trustworthy setup man. He has a nice-looking ERA and one more year of team control, so if the Twins can squeeze a mid-level prospect out of some team for Duensing they should jump at it.


Kevin Correia: One of MLB's worst starters since the Twins gave him a two-year contract last offseason, Correia's durability and innings-eating only appear to be strengths because he's on one of the few teams that wouldn't have dumped him from the rotation by now. He's close to being a replacement-level starter and giving that type of player $10 million and two full seasons worth of starts would be replacement-level decision-making. His rotation spot is more valuable than he is.


This week's blog content is sponsored by Uber, which is offering a free ride to first-time users who sign up with the promo code "UberGleeman."

July 18, 2014

Reviewing the Twins’ first half: Pitchers

perkins and suzuki

For all the talk about and money spent on improving their starting pitching the Twins' rotation ranks 28th in ERA among the 30 teams. Last year they ranked 30th. Two years ago they ranked 29th. Three years ago they ranked 26th. And even with some pretty good relief work included the Twins' pitching staff has the fewest strikeouts in baseball for the fourth consecutive season. Before the second half gets underway here's a pitcher-by-pitcher look at the individual performances ...

Phil Hughes: .283/.297/.410 in 501 plate appearances

When the Twins signed Phil Hughes to a three-year, $24 million contract this offseason the idea was that getting him away from homer-inflating Yankee Stadium would fix his biggest problem of serving up long balls. That's played out exactly as hoped, with Hughes allowing just nine homers in 122 first-half innings after averaging 19 homers per 122 innings from 2010-2013. Beyond that there was also another big but unexpected change: He stopped walking anyone.

Hughes has always had mediocre control, averaging nearly 3.0 walks per nine innings for his Yankees career, but this season under Rick Anderson's coaching his walk rate is a miniscule 0.8 per nine innings. Not only is that the second-lowest rate in all of baseball--sandwiched between Hisashi Iwakuma and Clayton Kershaw--it's the second-lowest walk rate in Twins history behind only Carlos Silva's ridiculous 0.4 per nine innings in 2004.

Hughes' velocity and strikeout rate remain nearly identical to his Yankees days and he's still one of MLB's most extreme fly-ball pitchers, but switching home ballparks has made those fly balls less of a weakness and refusing to walk anyone has turned him into a different pitcher. He walked zero or one batter in 17 of 19 first-half starts (89 percent) after doing so in 61 of 132 starts (46 percent) for the Yankees. He's been a souped-up version of the Twins' long-preferred pitching mold.

Kevin Correia: .292/.335/.439 in 478 plate appearances

Kevin Correia got off to a horrendous start, put together a nice stretch heading into the All-Star break, and just like last year finished the first half as one of baseball's worst starters. Offensive levels dropping across MLB have kept his numbers from being as gag-inducing as bad pitchers from 5-10 years ago, but among the 93 qualified starters this season Correia ranks dead last in strikeout rate, second-to-last in xFIP, and 84th in ERA. He also leads MLB with 11 losses.

Last year when Correia tossed 185 innings with the league's second-worst strikeout rate and seventh-worst ERA the Twins portrayed it as successful, but that was spin and now with several good prospects knocking on the door to the majors there's little value to be had in letting Correia finish out his two-year, $10 million contract. Since the beginning of last season the only two MLB pitchers with more innings and a higher ERA than Correia are Kyle Kendrick and ...

Ricky Nolasco: .330/.368/.538 in 459 plate appearances

Signed to a four-year, $49 million deal this offseason to front the Twins' rotation, Ricky Nolasco was the worst starter in the league for three months and then revealed that he'd been pitching through an elbow injury since spring training. Within his terrible performance was some poor luck on balls in play, even by Nolasco's often "unlucky" standards, but his velocity, strikeout rate, and walk rate were also all worse than the 31-year-old's career norms.

Based on secondary numbers Nolasco performed more like a 4.50 ERA pitcher than a 5.90 ERA pitcher, but that's still awful in a year when the average starter has a 4.05 ERA. Justin Morneau hit .321/.375/.559 in his MVP-winning 2006 season. This year opponents have hit .330/.368/.538 off Nolasco. Thankfully for the Twins adding Hughes to the rotation has worked out well, because the decisions to sign Nolasco and re-sign Mike Pelfrey have gone about as poorly as possible.

Kyle Gibson: .251/.303/.356 in 423 plate appearances

Kyle Gibson returned from Tommy John elbow surgery without bat-missing raw stuff, generating just 4.7 strikeouts per nine innings since going under the knife. That limits his upside and means he'll always be in danger of a rapid collapse, but his ability to induce grounders has remained with the rebuilt elbow and his ground-ball rate of 54.6 percent ranks seventh among all MLB starters. And after some early control problems he issued just nine walks in his final 10 first-half starts.

Throwing strikes and keeping the ball on the ground is a recipe for success, but without strikeouts that success likely tops out in the middle of the rotation. Which is fine, of course. The last Twins starter to log 150 innings with a higher ground-ball rate than Gibson's current mark was ... no one, at least not since 2002 when the data begins. Still, fewer than 5.0 strikeouts per nine innings is Silva, Nick Blackburn, and Scott Diamond territory, which is a dangerous place to be.

Sam Deduno: .260/.344/.370 in 305 plate appearances

Once presumed to be a member of the rotation, Sam Deduno began the season in the bullpen before shifting into starter mode to replace the injured Pelfrey in May. After an ugly June 14 start he moved back to the bullpen, where he finished the first half by throwing 13 scoreless innings. His sample size of relief work is too small to draw any conclusions, but with a 4.51 ERA and 4.5 walks per nine innings in 41 career starts there's no need to see more of Deduno in the rotation.

Anthony Swarzak: .265/.323/.359 in 198 plate appearances

Nearly all of the gains Anthony Swarzak made last season have vanished this year, as his strikeout and walk rates have regressed to the pre-2013 levels that made him look like a marginal big leaguer. His durability has value in a bullpen-saving role, but Swarzak is now 28 years old with a 3.69 ERA and just 5.8 strikeouts per nine innings in 132 career relief appearances. He doesn't miss enough bats or throw enough strikes.

Glen Perkins: .230/.264/.375 in 163 plate appearances

I'm not sure people fully appreciate just how good Glen Perkins has been since moving to the bullpen full time in 2011. During that four-year span he's posted a 2.54 ERA in 235 appearances, compiling 269 strikeouts compared to 49 non-intentional walks in 234 innings. And since taking over for Matt Capps as closer in mid-2012 he's converted 74 saves at an 89 percent success rate. By comparison, Mariano Rivera converted 89 percent of his career save chances.

Among all MLB relievers with at least 200 innings since 2011 he ranks seventh in strikeout-to-walk ratio, eighth in average fastball velocity, and ninth in Win Probability Added and xFIP. He's been one of the 10 best relievers in baseball since becoming a reliever and Perkins is actually getting better, as this year's 49/7 K/BB ratio in 39 innings represents the best strikeout and walk rates of his career. He's the third-best reliever in Twins history behind Joe Nathan and Rick Aguilera.

Jared Burton: .236/.306/.396 in 160 plate appearances

It'd be easy to point to his 3.34 ERA in 35 appearances since back-to-back ugly April outings as proof that Jared Burton has been his old self of late, but the truth is that a 3.34 ERA isn't even much better than this season's MLB average of 3.60 for relievers and his 24/10 K/BB ratio in 32 innings during that span is hardly vintage Burton. His velocity and strikeouts are down, his walks and fly-ball rate are up, and after a helluva run for the Twins he's in decline mode at age 33.

Casey Fien: .215/.242/.347 in 155 plate appearances

Extreme fly-ball pitchers always make for tricky late-inning relievers and Casey Fien has had a few home run-based blowups, but he's also got a 2.95 ERA and fantastic 137/27 K/BB ratio in 137 innings since the Twins signed him as a minor-league free agent in 2012 and then called him up with zero expectations that July. During that three-year span Fien has been superior to Burton in strikeout rate, walk rate, opponents' average, ERA, and xFIP. He's the Twins' best setup man.

Brian Duensing: .260/.327/.382 in 148 plate appearances

Compared to last season his ERA looks much better, but Brian Duensing's secondary numbers are actually much worse and in particular he's managed a poor 21/13 K/BB ratio in 36 innings. Duensing continues to be decent versus left-handed hitters, but he's walked more righties (10) than he's struck out (9). For his career righties have hit .297/.356/.462 off Duensing and he's not nearly dominant enough against lefties to make up for it.

Mike Pelfrey: .305/.419/.505 in 119 plate appearances

Pelfrey was terrible in 2013, going 5-13 with a 5.19 ERA in 29 starts, but for some reason the Twins felt compelled to give him a two-year, $11 million contract. He went 0-3 with a 7.99 ERA in five starts, got shut down with a dubious groin injury, and later underwent elbow surgery. He's probably done for the season, but Pelfrey will be back in the mix for a rotation spot next season because he's still owed another $5.5 million.

Caleb Thielbar: .231/.271/.413 in 118 plate appearances

Last season Caleb Thielbar came out of nowhere to emerge as the Twins' secondary left-handed setup man and he's filled the same role relatively well this year. At age 27 the former independent leaguer lacks long-term upside, but through 76 innings as a big leaguer he's got a 2.23 ERA and 60/22 K/BB ratio without extreme platoon splits. He's been used in low-leverage situations, but that could change in the second half if the Twins start auditioning him for Duensing's gig.

Matt Guerrier: .245/.295/.324 in 113 plate appearances

Signed to a minor-league deal and then promoted to Minnesota one day before the mid-May opt-out clause in his contract, Matt Guerrier has posted a nice-looking 2.67 ERA with just one homer allowed in 20 appearances. He hasn't quite been his old self, however, with just 12 strikeouts in 27 innings and an average fastball velocity of 89 miles per hour. At age 35 he's a low-leverage reliever, which is exactly how the Twins have used the former setup man.


This week's blog content is sponsored by Uber, which is offering a free ride to first-time users who sign up with the promo code "UberGleeman."

July 9, 2014

Twins Notes: Nolasco, Buxton, Sano, Gordon, Parmelee, and Dozier

ricky nolasco and ron gardenhire

• In signing Ricky Nolasco to a four-year, $49 million contract the Twins touted his durability as a major selling point, as the 31-year-old right-hander had started at least 30 games and logged at least 185 innings in five of the previous six seasons. Now, just four months into his Twins career and with an ugly 5.90 ERA in 18 starts, Nolasco has been shut down with elbow soreness that he's apparently been pitching through since spring training.

If everyone involved is to be believed that news came as a surprise to the Twins, which means either Nolasco went out of his way to hide the injury from trainers and coaches or those same trainers and coaches went out of their way not to investigate his season-long struggles. Or maybe a mixture of both. Certainly if he was hiding the elbow injury that has to be very frustrating for the Twins and Nolasco is absolutely at fault.

However, it's also worth noting that the Twins--from the front office to manager Ron Gardenhire and his coaching staff--have created and repeatedly fed into a culture in which acting like a tough guy and playing through pain is considered noble rather than stupid or irresponsible. Even in discussing how Nolasco hid the injury from the team Gardenhire almost couldn't help acting as if there was something positive about the so-called "old school" approach taken by the pitcher.

Meanwhile, seemingly every season one or two key players try to tough their way through injuries with disastrous results and no one ever seems to learn a lesson from it. Who knows whether that played a role in Nolasco pitching through pain, but it certainly didn't play a role in convincing him to do otherwise. When can we end this outdated, shortsighted approach of letting hugely valuable athletes risk their short- and long-term health and productivity in the name of being tough guys?

If you're a player and you're hurt, tell someone in charge. And if you're someone in charge and a player tells you he's hurt, don't let him continue playing. As simple as those two directives sound, they've been sadly lacking for the Twins in recent years. This time around it led to their trotting out an injured pitcher for 18 horrible starts and putting at risk a $48 million investment. If that's "old school" then everyone flunked out.

• Worst single-season adjusted ERA+ in Twins history among pitchers with 100 or more innings:

68 - Jim Deshaies, 1994
66 - Ricky Nolasco, 2014
71 - Boof Bonser, 2008
72 - Ray Corbin, 1974
72 - Joe Mays, 2003
72 - Jim Hughes, 1976

Helluva list.

• MLB starting pitchers have a combined 3.90 ERA. Twins starters have the following ERAs:

3.70 - Phil Hughes
4.17 - Kyle Gibson
4.79 - Kevin Correia
4.98 - Yohan Pino
5.90 - Ricky Nolasco
6.52 - Sam Deduno
7.99 - Mike Pelfrey

As a group Twins starting pitchers rank 29th among MLB teams in ERA, ahead of only the Coors Field-inflated Rockies. Last season they ranked 30th in ERA and in 2012 they ranked 29th in ERA, also ahead of only Colorado.

Byron Buxton finally returned from a wrist injury after sitting out the first three-plus months of the season and despite all the missed time Baseball America's midseason update still ranked him as the No. 1 prospect in all of baseball. Miguel Sano also ranked No. 9 even though the Twins just announced that he'll miss the entire season following elbow surgery and pitchers Jose Berrios, Kohl Stewart, and Alex Meyer also cracked Baseball America's updated top 40.

• Meyer looks to be back on track at Triple-A after some struggles last month. He struck out 10 last night and has a 2.00 ERA with 20 strikeouts in 18 innings over his last three starts.

• No. 5 overall draft pick Nick Gordon has hit .359/.408/.500 with five extra-base hits and four stolen bases through his first 15 pro games for rookie-level Elizabethon.

Chris Parmelee is 26 years old and has batted .235 with a .299 on-base percentage and .370 slugging percentage in 677 plate appearances since his big September debut, so it's probably time to stop getting excited whenever he has a decent week.

• His batting average isn't pretty, but Brian Dozier's current 112 adjusted OPS+ is the best by a Twins middle infielder since Todd Walker in 1998 and Chuck Knoblauch in 1994-1996.

• He's a deserving All-Star, but it's odd to hear Kurt Suzuki endlessly praised for "handling" a pitching staff that ranks 28th in ERA, especially when pitch-framing stats show him as poor.

• This offseason the Twins were believed to be deciding between Suzuki and John Buck as their veteran catcher addition. Buck hit .226/.293/.286 for the Mariners and just got released.

• I looked this up after watching him leg out a single Monday evening: Kendrys Morales has 48 career infield hits, including at least 10 in three different years. Imagine that.

Eduardo Escobar was hitting .314/.357/.473 on June 15. Since then he's 9-for-66 (.136) with 17 strikeouts and 2 walks. Track records: Trust 'em.

Hisashi Iwakuma owns the Twins, with a 5-0 record and 0.00 ERA in five starts against them.

Vance Worley has a 2.28 ERA and 18/5 K/BB ratio in four starts for the Pirates, who think they've fixed whatever ailed him with the Twins last season.

Pat Neshek, who has a 2.39 ERA since being waived by the Twins in 2011, made his first All-Star team at age 33.

Lew Ford, now 37 years old, is hitting .372 with a .445 on-base percentage and .568 slugging percentage in the independent Atlantic League. And he's the team's hitting coach too.

• One-time Twins minor leaguer Yangervis Solarte turned back into a pumpkin after a big April and May for the Yankees.


This week's blog content is sponsored by Uber, which is offering a free ride to first-time users who sign up with the promo code "UberGleeman."

January 29, 2014

Twins Notes: Nolasco vs. Garza, Suzuki vs. Pinto, Buxton vs. The World

matt garza twins

• In moving quickly to sign Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes early in the offseason the Twins seemingly signaled two things: One is that they really liked Nolasco and Hughes, believing they both represented good value within the context of this offseason's free agent starters. Beyond that, it also suggested that they felt the consensus top-tier starters from the class weren't worth parting with a draft pick to sign or would end up being out of their price range. Or both.

And yet two months after signing Nolasco to a four-year, $49 million contract the Twins watched as Matt Garza--considered by most people to be a more desirable free agent target--signed with the Brewers for a nearly identical four-year, $50 million deal. Garza, like Nolasco, didn't require forfeiting a draft pick to sign and at age 30 he's a year younger. But who's actually the better pitcher? Here are their numbers from the past three seasons:

           GS     IP     ERA    SO/9    BB/9    OAVG     GB%    xFIP     MPH
Garza      73    457    3.62     8.4     2.7    .245    43.8    3.46    93.5
Nolasco    97    596    4.29     6.6     2.1    .279    44.9    3.76    90.1

Garza missed some time with arm problems in 2012 and 2013, so Nolasco has a large innings edge from 2011-2013, but in terms of actually preventing runs Garza was much better. During that three-year span Garza posted a 3.62 ERA, compared to 4.29 for Nolasco, and within that he struck out 27 percent more batters while holding opponents to a batting average 34 points lower in less pitcher-friendly environments. His fastball velocity was also 3.4 miles per hour higher.

However, a lot of Nolasco's somewhat bloated ERA during that time stems from a .314 batting average on balls in play, which was the second-highest among all 84 pitchers to throw at least 400 innings from 2011-2013. By comparison Garza had a .293 batting average on balls in play during that same time, which was right in the middle of the pack. If you assume that the defense behind Nolasco was mostly to blame for all those extra hits falling in the two pitchers look much closer.

Expected Fielding Independent Pitching (xFIP) attempts to remove luck from the mix by focusing on the factors a pitcher can control and Garza had a 3.46 xFIP from 2011-2013, compared to 3.76 for Nolasco. In other words Garza was still clearly better than Nolasco during the past three years, but it wasn't as large of a gap as their ERAs suggested and the gap shrinks even further once you account for durability. With that said, for the same price tag I'd rather have Garza than Nolasco.

• When the Twins signed Kurt Suzuki to a one-year, $2.75 million deal I noted that the biggest worry was Ron Gardenhire falling in love with the veteran and choosing to play him far more often than his performance warrants. Turns out it may not even take Gardenhire falling in love with Suzuki for that to happen, as Terry Ryan has already gone from hinting that Suzuki rather than Josmil Pinto will be the starting catcher to basically saying Suzuki has the job locked up.

Pinto may prove incapable of being a decent defensive catcher, but his offensive upside is sizable and at age 25 there's a chance that he could develop into a good all-around catcher. Meanwhile, in the past three seasons Suzuki hit .235/.290/.353 while throwing out just 25 percent of stolen base attempts and rating very poorly in pitch-framing analysis. Suzuki hasn't been a starting-caliber catcher since 2009 and the Twins are likely to be mediocre at best, so why not let Pinto play?

• This week MLB.com, Baseball Prospectus, and ESPN.com all published their annual top 100 prospect rankings and Byron Buxton holds the top spot on each list. Buxton will also soon be named the No. 1 prospect by Baseball America when their list comes out. My annual series ranking and profiling the Twins' top 40 prospects kicks off next week, covering five prospects each day in countdown form.

This week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode was recorded live in front of a 300-person crowd at Twins Daily's inaugural "Winter Meltdown" event, with special guests Twins president Dave St. Peter, former Cy Young runner-up Scott Erickson, and Miguel Sano documentary filmmaker Jon Paley. Come for St. Peter getting laughs at my expense and stay for Erickson telling dirty stories.

December 3, 2013

Twins sign Phil Hughes to three-year, $24 million contract

phil hughes yankees

Three days after signing Ricky Nolasco for $49 million over four years the Twins added another veteran free agent starter to the rotation, signing former Yankees right-hander Phil Hughes to a three-year, $24 million deal. Nolasco and Hughes are now the two largest free agent investments in Twins history, surpassing the $21 million given to Josh Willingham two winters ago, and along with Kevin Correia three-fifths of the rotation has been built via multi-year free agent contracts.

Hughes was a first-round draft pick out of high school in 2004 and emerged as an elite prospect, rising to No. 4 on Baseball America's list for 2007. As a 21-year-old rookie he started 13 games for the Yankees, after which Hughes was targeted by the Twins in the Johan Santana trade talks. New York hung onto him and after an injury wrecked 2008 season Hughes thrived as a reliever in 2009 before making the All-Star team as a starter in 2010.

Unfortunately he hasn't been the same since. Hughes posted a 4.90 ERA in 15 starts after the All-Star break that year and from 2011-2013 he threw 412 innings with a 4.85 ERA and MLB's fifth-highest homer rate. Some of that is due to pitching half his games at Yankee Stadium, which is a terrible home ballpark for an extreme fly-ball pitcher like Hughes. On the other hand, he also had a 4.34 ERA on the road from 2011-2013 and his career ERA away from New York is 4.10.

Hughes, like Nolasco, has generally pitched better (or at least less badly) than his ERA suggests and it's encouraging to see the Twins target that type of pitcher rather than someone whose ERA overrates his performance. However, similar to Delmon Young a few years ago one-time elite prospect status can overstate a player's current ceiling and aside from long-ago scouting reports there's little in Hughes' track record to suggest that he still has significant upside at age 28.

Hughes is young for a free agent and certainly looks durable at 6-foot-5 and 240 pounds, but he's topped 175 innings in a season just twice partly because of nagging injuries and partly because it's difficult to throw a ton of innings with an ERA nearing 5.00. And while Hughes joins Nolasco in having better secondary numbers than ERAs, unlike Nolasco his secondary numbers still aren't particularly good.

Expected Fielding Independent Pitching (xFIP) attempts to remove randomness and luck from a pitcher's performance, isolating what he can control (strikeouts, walks, ground balls) as opposed to what he can't control (batting average on balls in play, bullpen strand rate, homers per fly ball). Hughes has a lifetime 4.43 xFIP as a starter, including 4.36 this year and 4.35 in 2012. He does everything pretty well except limit homers, but that's an awfully big exception.

For his career Hughes has averaged 92.3 miles per hour on his fastball, including 92.4 miles per hour this year, and none of his off-speed pitches have ever consistently been assets. His career strikeout rate as a starter is 7.3 per nine innings, with a single-season high of 7.8. And among the 145 pitchers to log at least 500 innings as starters since Hughes' debut in 2007 he ranks 140th in ground-ball rate.

If not for the fact that he was once a stud prospect Hughes would likely be viewed as just another mediocre starter rather than a disappointing bust. Of course, if not for the fact that he was once a stud prospect Hughes may have had to settle for less than $24 million coming off a year in which he went 4-14 with a 5.19 ERA. As usual reality is somewhere in between. He's a decent pitcher capable of faring better than his recent ERA, but his flaws should keep expectations in check.

Fans have been rightfully clamoring for the Twins to actually spend some money after slicing $40 million off the payroll in two years, including leaving approximately $20 million in approved payroll unspent this year. Spending a combined $73 million on Nolasco and Hughes isn't ideal, but they're both reasonable investments within the context of rising MLB revenues and current spending. In other words, this is what it looks like when the Twins finally go swimming in the free agency pool.


For a whole lot more about the Nolasco and Hughes signings, plus what it means for the future of the Twins' starting rotation, check out this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode.

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