December 5, 2013

Twins Notes: Morneau, Nathan, Kazmir, Pierzynski, and Saltalamacchia

joe nathan and justin morneau twins

Justin Morneau is joining Michael Cuddyer and LaTroy Hawkins in Colorado, agreeing to a two-year, $13 million deal with the Rockies. Morneau is smart to try to resurrect his career in the majors' most hitter-friendly ballpark and calling Coors Field home for half his games should lead to decent-looking raw numbers even if he doesn't actually improve any, but that's a whole lot more money than I'd feel comfortable investing in him at this point.

Joe Nathan is coming back to the AL Central, signing a two-year, $20 million contract with the Tigers that also includes a team option for 2016, when he'll be 41 years old. Nathan was brilliant in two years with the Rangers, saving 80 games with a 2.09 ERA, 10.5 strikeouts per nine innings, and a .198 opponents' batting average, and then shrewdly declined his $9 million player option for 2014 knowing that he could get a multi-year deal for similar annual money on the open market.

Scott Kazmir signed a two-year, $22 million contract with the A's, which is interesting within the context of Phil Hughes' three-year, $24 million contract with the Twins. Both signings seem reasonable to me, but as noted last month in my breakdown of free agent starters I think Kazmir has more upside than Hughes. Kazmir is perhaps also at considerably higher risk to provide zero value at some point, but there's only so much that can go wrong during a two-year commitment.

• There was quite a bit of buzz linking the Twins to free agents Jarrod Saltalamacchia and A.J. Pierzynski, but now both catchers are off the board. Pierzynski signed a one-year, $8 million deal with the Red Sox and it sounds like he passed up multi-year offers to join the defending champs. Saltalamacchia got a three-year, $21 million deal from the Marlins, which is pretty reasonable and suggests he really wanted to play in Miami and/or the Twins' reported interest was overstated.

• As expected the Twins tendered contracts to all of their arbitration-eligible players: Anthony Swarzak, Trevor Plouffe, and Brian Duensing. All three are due for raises to around $1.5 million, so there were no monetary reasons to let any of them go. Last month the Twins parted ways with another arbitration-eligible player, Josh Roenicke, because they didn't think he was worth that type of money for a low-leverage middle relief role.

Caleb Thielbar, Andrew Albers, and Chris Colabello worked out well, so the Twins dipped back into independent ball to sign right-hander Jon Velasquez. He spent a couple seasons in the Phillies' farm system before moving on to the Canadian-American Association (where Colabello was MVP) and Atlantic League. Velasquez's track record was nothing special as a starter, but in shifting to the bullpen this year at age 27 he threw 74 innings with a 1.95 ERA and 82 strikeouts.

• They also signed career minor leaguers Brandon Waring, Chris Rahl, and Matt Hoffman to minor-league deals. Waring is a 27-year-old corner infielder with lots of power and strikeouts who hit .214/.317/.449 with 25 homers and 148 strikeouts in 109 games this year. Hoffman is a lefty reliever with just 117 strikeouts in 148 innings at Triple-A. Rahl is a 30-year-old outfielder who's hit .292/.328/.445 at Triple-A. Depth for Rochester, mostly.

Ron Coomer, who does television work for FOX Sports North during Twins games and co-hosts a daily radio show on K-TWIN, is one of two finalists for the Cubs' radio analyst gig.

Adam Platt interviewed Twins owner Jim Pohlad for Twin Cities Business magazine.

This week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode might be the most baseball-focused show we've ever done, with an hour of non-stop talk about the Hughes and Ricky Nolasco signings.


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October 25, 2013

Link-O-Rama

• Watching the evolution of the most popular girls names since 1960 is very fascinating and a little freaky. And there's a boys version too, although it's not nearly as interesting.

• Remember that "Twin Cities ladies you've probably dated" article from last week? There's a "Twin Cities guys you've probably dated" follow-up version, but as expected it doesn't include a "Blogger Guy" because none of us have ever actually had a date.

• Bloggers must be the coolest people in Japan.

• Twins Daily just posted their annual "Offseason Handbook" for the low, low price of $6.95, which includes a lengthy interview with Terry Ryan that I found maddening.

• Wednesday night Minnetonka police shot and killed a man less than a mile from my house.

• I took Time.com's "which state matches your personality" test and it said Wisconsin, which makes sense because I've always hated myself.

• I swear this is a headline from 2013: "Mase denies beef with Cam'ron."

• And in other 1990s rapper news, Ja Rule wants to write a cookbook of microwave recipes that he learned in jail and he broke that news to "Chopped" favorite Geoffrey Zakarian.

• I'm going to tonight's Jason Isbell concert at Varsity Theater. If any AG.com readers are going, let me know and I'll buy you a drink.

This week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode was recorded while sitting outside in the rain with a bunch of people staring at us and I sang a cappella Boyz II Men during the mailbag segment.

• My future wife sang another song, mashing up "The Middle" by Jimmy Eat World and "Cough Syrup" by Young The Giant:

I'm committed to linking to her videos until she marries me or becomes super famous.

• What should the Twins do with Trevor Plouffe and will they actually do it?

• On a related note, Plouffe doesn't seem too broken up by me saying he shouldn't be a starter.

Meatsauce from KFAN is hosting "Singles Night" at Xcel Center after a Wild game next month, which sounds like something I'm going to have to attend.

• I've become obsessed with reading about other people's dates and locally the woman behind "Meeting Flannel" is writing some really entertaining stuff.

• And of course Christina Walkinshaw remains the queen of date blogging. Are there any other good date recappers I should be reading and/or following on Twitter?

• My favorite excerpt from Maureen O'Connor's article in New York Magazine titled "There Is No Difference Between Online Dating and 'Real-Life' Dating":

Though most adults have never used a dating website, 30 percent of those who dated sometime in the last decade admit to using social media to research potential dates. One in five have asked someone on a first date online. Though only one in three "single and looking" adults use dating websites, half have used the internet to flirt.

I use the internet exclusively to flirt.

• Aw, dang. They're not even going to blow up the Metrodome, it turns out.

Thanks to Dodgers.com now you can carve Vin Scully's face into a pumpkin for Halloween.

• Congratulations to Lenovo for becoming the first people interested in buying a Blackberry in at least five years.

• I had a college teacher from North Carolina and it was one of my favorite classes just because I liked hearing her talk, so I'll sign off on a study rating "southern" as the most attractive accent.

• I dare you to find a sexier picture:

aaron kfan coors

Well, maybe this one from earlier in the night.

Giddy up.

• Multiple people sent me this same GIF, which tells me I've properly established my persona.

• I do my "manfluencing" every Sunday night at Cub Foods. Also: Men are dumb and predictable.

• Speaking of which, the manager at Cub Foods in Minnetonka is campaigning for us to record a podcast there and I'm actually thinking about it. Gonna give Knollwood some time to step up.

• I want to be at Thanksgiving dinner when the researchers' parents ask what they've been up to and they explain figuring out that men walk slower when they're on a date with women.

Good news for "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" and Chelsea Peretti fans.

• I think Bill Withers is probably the most underrated musician of all time and Jesse Thorn got him to do a rare interview.

• My favorite quote from Esther Povitsky's chat with Lauren Greenberg: "I've been having to see a lot of doctors and dentists lately because I'm Jewish."

DMX and Snoop Dogg combined for one of the sweetest tweets you'll ever see.

Francisco Liriano was named Comeback Player of the Year by The Sporting News.

• Very proud to say I'm a part of this, although I guess it means I need to start writing.

• Some of this week's weird and random search engine queries that brought people here:

- "Paul Molitor speaks Spanish"
- "Jim Thome net worth"
- "Doug Bernier new and exciting for the Twins"
- "What kind of diet should an 87-pound person be on?"
- "Best workout for a 29-year-old on an elliptical machine?"
- "Joe Nathan hot tub commercial"
- "Lean Cuisine diet success"
- "Link-O-Rama qualifications"

• Finally, this week's AG.com-approved music video is "Alabama Pines" by Isbell:


This week's blog content is sponsored by Twins Daily's new "2014 Offseason Handbook" featuring everything you need to prepare for the Twins' winter moves for just $6.95. Please support them for supporting AG.com.

October 23, 2013

Offseason Outlook: Trevor Plouffe

trevor plouffe twins

Trevor Plouffe spent seven years in the minors as a light-hitting shortstop, never cracking a .750 OPS in a season, but then in 2011 during his first extended big-league opportunity it turned out he couldn't actually handle shortstop defensively. He shifted to third base in 2012 and got everyone's attention with a midseason power surge, which along with two months of power hitting at Triple-A in 2011 had people questioning if "light-hitting" was just as inaccurate as "shortstop."

Plouffe was handed the third base job with little in the way of potential competition and stayed in the starting lineup all year except for a disabled list stint for a strained calf. He started 126 of 140 games when not on the DL, logging 522 plate appearances and 1,036 innings defensively. And he was terrible. For all the power potential Plouffe showed in 2011 he managed just 14 homers and 22 doubles and his plate discipline remained ugly with 112 strikeouts versus 34 walks.

He also continued to look awful defensively and the numbers backed up that view for the second straight year, as Ultimate Zone Rating pegged Plouffe as 8.6 runs below average per 150 games. In a season when MLB third basemen as a whole hit .260/.324/.412, he hit .254/.309/.392 with poor defense to essentially rate as a replacement-level player. And at age 27, with 1,351 plate appearances in the majors, there's little reason to think Plouffe is likely to improve.

As a former first-round draft pick who took six years to reach the big leagues, almost immediately proved incapable of handling the position he'd played nearly that entire time, and showed flashes of turning into a completely different hitter Plouffe's journey to the majors was certainly an odd one. Ultimately, though, his .240/.300/.411 line in 351 games for the Twins is nearly identical to his .258/.320/.405 line in 839 games as a minor leaguer.

Plouffe simply isn't a starting-caliber player, offensively or defensively. That doesn't make him useless, but unfortunately the Twins' longstanding unwillingness to give flawed hitters a better chance to succeed by platooning them really hurts Plouffe. He's a career .278/.346/.495 hitter versus left-handers, which is enough production to have a place on most rosters. But he's also a career .227/.284/.382 hitter versus right-handers, which should be nowhere near the lineup.

If a team limited Plouffe's weakness offensively by playing him almost exclusively against lefties and limited his weakness defensively by using him strictly as a corner outfielder, first baseman, and designated hitter he could carve out a solid role as a part-timer. However, when asked to hit every day regardless of pitcher handedness and field a position he can't handle Plouffe becomes a liability. Given his track record, if that continues don't blame Plouffe, blame the Twins.

So where does that leave him for 2014? There are several left-handed hitters with whom Plouffe could platoon, but expecting that from Ron Gardenhire is wishful thinking. It's possible that the Twins could look to trade Plouffe or even non-tender him rather than hand out a small raise via arbitration, but more likely is that he'll remain atop the third base depth chart until stud prospect Miguel Sano is deemed ready to take over, which might be as soon as Opening Day.


This week's blog content is sponsored by Twins Daily's new "2014 Offseason Handbook" featuring everything you need to prepare for the Twins' winter moves for just $6.95. Please support them for supporting AG.com.

September 25, 2013

Twins Notes: Mauer shut down, rotation spending, and no platooning

joe mauer catching mask

Joe Mauer continues to have post-concussion symptoms more than a month after suffering a brain injury, so Monday the Twins shut him down for the final week of the season. Mauer hasn't played since taking a foul ball off the mask on August 19 and experienced setbacks when he tried to ramp up workouts during the past few weeks, with Phil Miller of the Minneapolis Star Tribune writing that he "still feels sensitivity to light and noises, and has trouble outside confined spaces."

Shutting him down is absolutely the correct decision and by the time spring training rolls around Mauer will be six months removed from the concussion, but sadly as the Twins and so many other teams have learned in recent years there are no guarantees with brain injuries. And now, much like with Justin Morneau and Denard Span, the only thing the Twins can really do is wait and hold their breath hoping that time and rest do the trick.

In making Monday's announcement both Mauer and general manager Terry Ryan stressed that they expect him to remain at catcher next season, but whereas that seemed like a questionable stance at the time of the concussion last month it now seems borderline crazy to me. I've spent a decade writing about how much of Mauer's value comes from catching and have always argued against a position switch, but the question has changed and the old answers cease to apply.

There's no way to stop a catcher from taking foul balls off the mask on a regular basis, along with all the other physical dangers that come with the position, and if he were to suffer another brain injury it might be too late to avoid major long-term consequences on and off the field. As a first baseman Mauer's odds of remaining an elite player into his mid-30s are much lower, but he'd still provide plenty of value there and Josmil Pinto is a potential replacement with upside.

(Note: I went into a lot more depth analyzing the Mauer position switch decision last month.)

• There seems to be considerable disagreement within the organization about how much focus to put on acquiring pitching via free agency. Nick Nelson of Twins Daily wrote a breakdown of the situation, with the short version being that Ron Gardenhire is basically begging for rotation help and owner Jim Pohlad says he's willing to spend big for reinforcements, all while Ryan downplays free agency much like he did last winter before settling for Kevin Correia and Mike Pelfrey.

Every team would love to build a rotation full of young, cheap pitchers and for many years the Twins did that well enough to avoid having to swim into the deep end of the free agency pool. And generally speaking free agent pitching is typically overpriced and requires making risky long-term commitments to players on the wrong side of 30. However, their current lack of MLB-ready arms with more than back-of-the-rotation upside makes Ryan's usual approach a tough one to pull off.

Despite his rookie struggles Kyle Gibson still has a chance to develop into more than a fourth or fifth starter and Alex Meyer remains a potential top-of-the-rotation starter if he can stay healthy, but neither can be counted on to make a huge 2014 impact and even if they do surrounding them with the likes of Correia, Scott Diamond, Vance Worley, and Samuel Deduno is going to leave the rotation well short of decent.

Last season Twins starters had the second-worst ERA in baseball at 5.40 and this season Twins starters have the worst ERA in baseball at 5.26. Based on those numbers and the in-house options who can realistically be rotation members in 2014 there's little chance of building even an average rotation without bringing in outside help. Ryan would surely prefer trades to free agency, but my fear is that his real plan involves a third straight season with a terrible rotation on the cheap.

• One of my frequent complaints about Gardenhire is his unwillingness to platoon hitters, which he's basically never done. Most prominently Jacque Jones and Jason Kubel played no matter the pitcher, but versus lefties Jones hit .231/.286/.355 and Kubel hit .239/.313/.365. For a more recent example on the other side of the plate, Trevor Plouffe plays no matter the pitcher despite hitting .223/.280/.381 off righties. And there are no shortage of maddening day-to-day examples.

Many of the best managers in baseball history regularly employed platoons and current examples in Gardenhire's own league include former Manager of the Year winners Joe Maddon of the Rays, Bob Melvin of the A's, and Buck Showalter of the Orioles. It's hardly a new-school approach and it's hardly a complicated thing to make sense of, yet Gardenhire has never budged and said the following when asked about it by Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press:

I don't recall ever having a platoon. I'm not against it. I'll tell you that. I wouldn't have a problem having a platoon if it fits. If it makes sense numbers-wise and it works, then you go with it.

"I don't recall ever having a platoon" and "I'm not against it" are statements that don't fit together coming from a manager in his 12th season on the job. Gardenhire may not be against it in theory, but his actions over nearly 2,000 games have certainly shown that he's very much against it in practice despite having plenty of opportunities to improve the lineup via platooning. And for his part, Ryan told Berardino that he's fine with the manager's lack of platooning:

I don't think he likes to platoon players at all. I don't either. Put guys out there that are everyday players, then you don't have to platoon. You're always looking for players that can play 162 games, right? That's what I'm looking for. I don't go out looking for platoon players.

Obviously every team would love to find nine everyday players and trot them out there 162 times, but that's an impossible goal and instead leads to so-called "everyday players" like Jones, Kubel, and Plouffe flailing away against same-sided pitchers they have no business facing. Over the past three seasons the Twins have scored the fewest runs in the league, making "I don't go out looking for platoon players" sound awfully tone deaf coming from the GM. It's nothing new, though.

• Mauer hasn't played since August 19, but according to Win Above Replacement and Fan Graphs' valuation system he's still been worth more than his salary this season.

• This year the Twins have been out-scored by 158 runs, which is the second-worst run differential in baseball. The worst run differential in Twins history belongs to the 1995 team at -186.

• Since taking over for Matt Capps as Twins closer Glen Perkins has converted 90 percent of his save chances (52-for-58) with a 2.31 ERA.

LaTroy Hawkins left the Twins for a two-year, $8 million deal with the Cubs as a 31-year-old free agent and a decade later he's still rolling along.

Francisco Liriano is lined up to start the Wild Card playoff game for the Pirates.

• For a lot more about Mauer's future and the Twins' roster options for next season check out this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode.


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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.

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