September 10, 2014

Twins Notes: Santana, Escobar, St. Peter, Thorpe, Mauer, and May

Danny Santana Twins

Danny Santana picked a bad season to be a .320-hitting rookie center fielder, because White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu is hitting .317/.378/.590 with 33 homers and will run away with the Rookie of the Year award. However, assuming that he doesn't go into a prolonged slump down the stretch Santana's performance would be enough to make him a deserving Rookie of the Year winner in quite a few previous seasons. Last season, for instance.

Last season's winner, Wil Myers of the Rays, hit .293/.354/.478 in 88 games as a right fielder. Santana has hit .320/.358/.475 in 84 games as a center fielder/shortstop. They've been nearly identical as hitters and Santana has large edges in base-running, defense, and positional value. Looking at Twins history, Marty Cordova won the award in 1995 while hitting .277/.352/.486 in 137 games as a left fielder in a much higher era for offense.

Here's where Santana currently ranks among Twins rookies in Wins Above Replacement during the Ron Gardenhire era of 2002-2014:

                    YEAR     WAR
Francisco Liriano   2006     4.5
Lew Ford            2004     4.5
Denard Span         2008     4.3
Bobby Kielty        2002     2.7
DANNNY SANTANA      2014     2.7

Longtime readers of this blog will probably remember that I thought Bobby Kielty was destined for stardom. He was not.

• Santana was thrust into center field without ever playing there regularly before and has done reasonably well, but assistant general manager Rob Antony recently said: "I think he's going to be our shortstop of the future. Any opportunity we get to play him at shortstop is a good thing." Which is fine, except with Aaron Hicks back in the majors the Twins are still going out of their way not to play Santana at shortstop, even using Eduardo Nunez there instead of him.

• On a related note: Since a strong start Eduardo Escobar has hit just .247/.292/.365 in his last 85 games. He's now a career .253/.299/.363 hitter in 761 plate appearances as a big leaguer.

• For most of the past four years the Twins' bullpen has been a strength amid the team's overall struggles, but now the relievers are struggling too. In the first half the bullpen had a 3.21 ERA with a 13-10 record. In the second half they have a 4.92 ERA with a 6-10 record, including a 5.81 ERA during the past month. Their season totals now include ranking 22nd in ERA, 29th in xFIP, and dead last in strikeout rate. Of course, the rotation has still been worse.

• Twins president Dave St. Peter apparently didn't mind Keith Olbermann ripping the team to shreds on ESPN, but he predictably did mind me saying their brand survey was "tone deaf." On a related note, we spent a large portion of this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode discussing the Twins' increasing assurances of "we get it" in the face of mounting evidence that they don't.

• Pitching prospect Lewis Thorpe, an 18-year-old left-hander from Australia with 144 strikeouts in 116 career innings and one of the highest-upside arms in the Twins' farm system, has been diagnosed with a sprained ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow. For now the Twins are insisting he'll be fine, but UCL injuries are what lead to Tommy John surgery.

Jose Berrios had one of the 10 best starts by any pitching prospect this season, according to Baseball America.

Joe Mauer has a .405 on-base percentage with more walks than strikeouts in 28 games since returning from the disabled list. During that time he's got an .848 OPS. His career OPS is .861.

Kurt Suzuki has hit .235/.279/.337 in 27 games since his two-year, $12 million extension. He hit .237/.294/.357 in 477 games from 2010-2013.

Tommy Milone allowed 21 runs in 21 innings for the Twins after coming over from the A's in exchange for Sam Fuld and now he's hurt. (Fuld has hit just .218/.269/.307 in 35 games since the trade.)

• Since his disastrous MLB debut Trevor May has a 24/12 K/BB ratio and three homers allowed in 27 innings. It'll take a while for his ERA to not be hideous, but he'll be just fine.

• After nine seasons as the Twins' minor-league hitting coordinator and 14 total seasons in the organization Bill Springman has been let go.

• At one point this season the Twins were 23-21. Since then they are 39-61.


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August 13, 2014

Twins trade Josh Willingham and Kevin Correia

willingham and gardenhire

Any realistic potential for the Twins to make a major move at the trade deadline likely revolved around dealing away All-Star catcher Kurt Suzuki, but instead they signed the impending free agent to a two-year, $12 million contract extension and chose only to make a handful of minor deals to remove veterans from the margins of the roster. And it's possible they may still make another minor deal or two before the end of the August waiver trading period.

Prior to deadline day they sent massively disappointing 31-year-old midseason signing Kendrys Morales to the Mariners for 25-year-old rehabbing reliever Stephen Pryor. On deadline day they shipped 32-year-old outfielder Sam Fuld back to the A's team from which they recently claimed him off waivers for nothing in exchange for 27-year-old starter Tommy Milone. And after the deadline they parted ways with 35-year-old Josh Willingham and 33-year-old Kevin Correia.

Correia was traded to the Dodgers for a player to be named later or cash considerations, and how many innings he logs for them as a spot starter/long reliever will probably determine whether the Twins receive a non-prospect minor leaguer or the equivalent of a bucket of baseballs. Correia had $1.5 million remaining on a two-year, $10 million deal, so the Twins save some money and more importantly clear a rotation spot for a starter who might actually have a future in Minnesota.

Similarly, by trading Willingham to the Royals for right-hander Jason Adam the Twins shed the $1.8 million remaining on his three-year, $21 million deal and open up at-bats for younger corner outfielders. As an added bonus Adam isn't totally devoid of potential. Drafted in the fifth round out of high school in 2010, he struggled as a starter at Double-A last season and this season before being shifted to the bullpen at Triple-A recently.

Apparently the Twins plan to send Adam back to Double-A and make him a starter again despite his 5.18 ERA and poor secondary numbers in 45 career starts there. At age 22 he's certainly still young enough to develop further and perhaps they simply want to get a first-hand look at what he's capable of as a starter, but based on Baseball America's scouting report of decent velocity and iffy off-speed stuff if Adam makes it to the big leagues it'll likely be as a reliever.

Ultimately, though, Adams and whatever the Twins get in return for Correia are merely icing on the cake of removing two mediocre veterans from a non-contending roster that didn't need them. At this point Willingham's spot in left field and Correia's spot in the rotation carried more value to the team than they did, although to actually benefit from that value the Twins need to fill those spots with players who possess upside and help those players develop with the playing time.

Correia had a 4.50 ERA in 54 starts for the Twins compared to a 4.10 ERA for the average AL starter. Among the 138 starters with at least 150 innings since 2013 he ranked 131st in xFIP and dead last in strikeout rate with 4.7 per nine innings when no one else was below 5.0. His only real value came from being not-disastrous and not-injured, and if the Twins ever truly needed to pay $5 million per season for that at any point it certainly ceased being the case now.

Willingham looked like a spectacular investment one season into his three-year contract, having a career-year at age 33 by hitting .260/.366/.524 with 35 homers. Rather than trading him then the Twins hung onto Willingham and he's been injured and ineffective since, hitting .209 with a .380 slugging percentage dating back to last season while sitting out 35 percent of the team's games. Toss in terrible defense and he was among MLB's least valuable players.

Correia was an example of a signing that carried only downside, because he pitched as well as the Twins could realistically have hoped for based on his track record and was still barely better than a replacement-level starter while earning 10 times the minimum salary. Willingham was an example of why signing mid-30s players to multi-year deals carries so much risk, as well as an example of why selling high is sometimes the right decision even if it's also a tough decision.

Of the four 30-somethings traded away only Fuld had a chance to be part of a future team and that wouldn't have been as more than a backup outfielder for a season or two, so to shed about $8 million in salaries, clear playing time for younger players, and receive the potentially useful trio of Milone, Pryor, and Adam in return is a job well done for the front office even if the moves came about in part because the Willingham, Correia, and Morales signings were all less than successful.


For a lot more about the Twins' deadline and post-deadline deals, plus Trevor May's ugly debut, check out this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode.