January 26, 2015

Arbitration settlements and taking a guess at the Opening Day roster

brian duensing twins

Last time the Twins actually completed an arbitration hearing with a player was Kyle Lohse in 2005 and 2006, so not surprisingly they reached pre-hearing settlements with six of their seven arbitration-eligible players and released the seventh, Anthony Swarzak. They'll pay a total of $14.225 million to Trevor Plouffe, Tommy Milone, Brian Duensing, Jordan Schafer, Casey Fien, and Eduardo Nunez, bringing their projected 2015 payroll to around $106 million.

That slots in between their franchise-record $113 million payroll in 2011 and $100 million payroll in 2012, representing a sizable increase from the sub-$90 million payrolls of 2013 and 2014. After back-to-back seasons in which general manager Terry Ryan declined to spend big chunks of the allotted payroll space approved by ownership it's a positive step, although there's room to quibble with the value of dropping about $17 million on Torii Hunter, Duensing, Milone, and Nunez.

With revenues across MLB skyrocketing past $9 billion in 2014 and the Twins trying to avoid a fifth straight 90-loss season amid plummeting fan interest it's at least nice to see ownership spending a reasonable amount of their revenue instead of simply pocketing it while giving the "we don't want to spend money just to spend money" excuse. And thanks largely to long-term contracts handed out to veteran starting pitchers they already have $70 million committed to six players for 2016.

In addition to pushing the payroll past $100 million the six arbitration settlements also put into focus the likely Opening Day roster, although there are definitely a few places where the Twins could surprise. Below is my best current guess at the 25-man roster, with the caveat that they're able to release any of the arbitration-eligible players during spring training while being on the hook for only 30 percent of their salary. First, the position players:

   LINEUP
C  Kurt Suzuki
1B Joe Mauer
2B Brian Dozier
SS Danny Santana
3B Trevor Plouffe
LF Oswaldo Arcia
CF Aaron Hicks
RF Torii Hunter
DH Kennys Vargas

   BENCH
C  Josmil Pinto
IF Eduardo Escobar
IF Eduardo Nunez
OF Jordan Schafer

New manager Paul Molitor has made it clear that he views Danny Santana as a shortstop and not as a center fielder, and since it's hard to imagine the Twins benching Santana or demoting him back to the minors after he hit .319 as a rookie that means he's the favorite to supplant Eduardo Escobar at shortstop. Based on his 2014 performance alone Escobar certainly doesn't deserve to lose the job, but his track record suggests a part-time role might be a better fit anyway.

Escobar slotting into a utility man role makes retaining Nunez look even iffier, but they seem to think all the evidence showing him as a poor hitter and poor fielder are wrong. Schafer played his way into the 2015 plans with a good 41-game stint after being claimed him off waivers and using him in center field is possible if they pull the plug on Aaron Hicks. Josmil Pinto is the presumed backup catcher, but they bailed on him in that role quickly in 2014. Now the pitchers:

   ROTATION
SP Phil Hughes
SP Ervin Santana
SP Ricky Nolasco
SP Kyle Gibson
SP Tommy Milone

   BULLPEN
CL Glen Perkins
RH Casey Fien
RH Tim Stauffer
RH Ryan Pressly
RH Mike Pelfrey
LH Brian Duensing
LH Caleb Thielbar

Milone is signed for $2.775 million when the Twins had the option to non-tender him and Mike Pelfrey is under contract for $6 million, so my assumption is they'll fight for the final rotation spot and the loser will wind up in the bullpen. Trevor May and Alex Meyer are higher-upside options for the rotation or bullpen, and in general there are no shortage of alternative bullpen options including Michael Tonkin, Blaine Boyer, Lester Oliveros, and Rule 5 pick J.R. Graham.


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 21, 2015

ZiPS: When bad projections for the Twins aren’t so bad for the Twins

Sano and Buxton

Dan Szymborski of ESPN and FanGraphs has a projection system called ZiPS that is consistently among the best and most detailed around. As discussed on this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode, he published the Twins' projections for 2015 and ... well, it ain't pretty. I'm sure most fans will focus on that, because the thing about projections is that every year every team's fan base thinks they're too low. Doubly so in this case, since ZiPS thinks very little of the Twins.

But here's the thing: Who really cares about the 2015 projections? Certainly everyone wants to see the Twins show significant improvement on the way to hopefully avoiding a fifth consecutive 90-loss season and maybe even approaching a .500 record. But in the grand scheme of things it matters little whether the Twins win 72 games or 78 games in 2015. They're unlikely to be a very good team, may continue to be a very bad team, and remain focused on rebuilding.

It'd be nice if ZiPS (or other projection systems) pegged Brian Dozier for an .800 OPS instead of a .720 OPS or had more faith in Ervin Santana being worth a $55 million investment or thought Torii Hunter was worth any kind of investment, but the numbers are the numbers and even an optimistic set of 2015 projections would probably have the Twins looking like at best an 80-win team. And deep down most fans presumably knew that, with or without the projections.

What matters more in the big picture is how their young talent develops and within the ugly 2015 projections there are actually positive signs. For instance, even after missing all of last season following elbow surgery Miguel Sano is projected to hit .218/.288/.441 if he reaches the majors. Obviously the batting average and on-base percentage stink, but a .441 slugging percentage and .223 isolated power for a 22-year-old prospect coming off a lost season is extremely promising.

Here's a list of every 22-year-old to surpass a .425 slugging percentage and .200 isolated power since 2010: Mike Trout, Yasiel Puig, Giancarlo Stanton, Jason Heyward. That's it. That's the entire list. Sano has played a grand total of 67 games above Single-A and played zero games last season, yet ZiPS still thinks he has that kind of elite power potential at a time when power is down across baseball.

ZiPS projects Byron Buxton to hit .251/.315/.386 if he reaches the majors in 2015. Those aren't eye-popping numbers until you consider he's a 21-year-old center fielder with exactly one career game above Single-A and, like Sano, injuries wrecked his 2014. Or, put another way, if Buxton is called up to the Twins this season and hits .251/.315/.386 everyone should be thrilled because 21-year-old center fielders who hit .251/.315/.386 usually become stars.

According to ZiPS' projections for the overall offensive levels in MLB for 2015 a .251/.315/.386 line translates to an adjusted OPS+ of 95. Here's a list of every 21-year-old center fielder to top an adjusted OPS+ of 90 since 1980: Mike Trout, Rocco Baldelli, Andruw Jones, Ken Griffey Jr., Barry Bonds. So that's two inner-circle Hall of Famers, one near Hall of Famer, the current best player in the world, and a good player whose career was derailed by health problems.

Sano and Buxton need to get healthy, stay healthy, and pick up developmentally where things left off for any of it to matter, but if their big-league careers start the way ZiPS projects the Twins will have accomplished something in 2015 no matter the standings. Quibbling with projections is fine and comes with the territory of being a fan, but the numbers simply represent the team's current lack of high-end talent. And those same projections suggest that's about to change soon.


For a lengthy, player-by-player discussion of this year's ZiPS projections for the Twins, check out this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode.

January 19, 2015

Gleeman and The Geek #178: Arbitration, Extensions, and Projections

Topics for this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode included hanging out at 612 Brew, the Twins' arbitration settlements and non-settlements, whether to offer Trevor Plouffe a long-term deal, FanGraphs' unfavorable projections for the Twins in 2015, Byron Buxton compared to Carlos Gomez, David Price's record-breaking arbitration salary, and next weekend's "Winter Meltdown" event.

Gleeman and The Geek: Episode 178

In addition to the direct download link above you can also subscribe to the podcast via iTunes.


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 13, 2015

Gleeman and The Geek #177: Jacque Jones and Meeting the Parents

Topics for this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode included Jacque Jones' career and his upcoming appearance at the Twins Daily "Winter Meltdown" event, Joe Mauer's contract, crying babies, adding Blaine Boyer to the bullpen mix, Scott Erickson's good time at last year's event, staying away from Nick Punto, mailbag questions, and meeting the parents.

Gleeman and The Geek: Episode 177

In addition to the direct download link above you can also subscribe to the podcast via iTunes.


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 5, 2015

Gleeman and The Geek #176: Hughes and Stauffer

Topics for this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode included signing Phil Hughes to a $42 million extension, adding Tim Stauffer to the bullpen, payrolls rising across MLB, being forced to take birthday shots at Stella's, planning for the second annual Twins Daily "Winter Meltdown" event, saying goodbye to Chris Parmelee, mailbag questions from listeners, and why everyone should go to spring training.

Gleeman and The Geek: Episode 176

In addition to the direct download link above you can also subscribe to the podcast via iTunes.


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."

Older Posts »