November 19, 2014

Arbitration-eligible Twins: Tender or non-tender?

trevor plouffe twins

December 2 is the deadline for teams to tender 2015 contracts to arbitration-eligible players and the Twins have seven such decisions to make this offseason. There are some no-brainers to keep, some no-brainers to non-tender, and some calls that could go either way. Below you'll find MLB Trade Rumors' projected 2015 salaries for the Twins' arbitration-eligible players and my thoughts on what they should do and/or will do with them.

Trevor Plouffe ($4.3 million projected salary): This time last year the thought of the Twins non-tendering Plouffe rather than paying him around $4.3 million for 2015 via arbitration would not have surprised anyone, but he played well enough that keeping him around for another year seems like a no-brainer. Plouffe played a career-high 136 games and set personal best marks in batting average (.258), on-base percentage (.328), doubles (40), and walks (53).

He hit .258/.328/.431 for a .751 OPS that easily topped the .715 OPS produced by all MLB third basemen and perhaps more importantly Plouffe's defensive numbers improved dramatically. He was above average on both sides of the ball, ranking among the dozen best third basemen. His place in the Twins' plans beyond the first half of next year will be determined largely by Miguel Sano's recovery from elbow surgery, but in the meantime $4.3 million is an easy call.

Tommy Milone ($2.8 million projected salary): When the Twins acquired Milone from the A's in exchange for Sam Fuld on July 31 he seemed all but certain to be part of their 2015 rotation, but then he allowed 21 runs in 21 innings before being shut down with shoulder and neck problems. Prior to the trade Milone had a 3.84 ERA in 443 innings for the A's, but a pitcher-friendly ballpark and strong defenses masked a performance that was closer to a 4.25 ERA in quality.

Milone is 28 years old and under team control through at least 2018, so even if he's a 4.25 ERA guy keeping him around for $2.8 million makes sense, but with his post-trade struggles, injury issues, and lack of upside thanks to a mid-80s fastball and poor strikeout rates it's possible the Twins will decide to cut bait. Their overall starting pitching obviously needs work, but they aren't lacking in back-of-the-rotation options.

Brian Duensing ($2.5 million projected salary): On the surface a 3.31 ERA suggests Duensing had a good season, but in reality he managed just 33 strikeouts versus 20 walks in 54 innings and as usual got knocked around by right-handed hitters by allowing them to slug .494. Duensing has neither the velocity nor the bat-missing ability typically desired in a late-inning reliever and his career-long struggles against righties make him ill-suited for more than a lefty specialist role.

There's often a place for southpaw specialists, but Duensing doesn't dominate lefties enough to thrive in that role. Combined from 2012-2014 lefties hit .265/.307/.383 off him. This season all lefty vs. lefty matchups in MLB resulted in a .240/.302/.345 line. Righties hit .289/.351/.442 with 48 walks and 70 strikeouts off Duensing from 2012-2014, which is terrible for a reliever. He's had a solid, useful run with the Twins, but for $2.5 million Duensing is no longer really needed.

Jordan Schafer ($1.5 million projected salary): After claiming Fuld off the waiver wire and getting surprisingly good value for 53 games before trading him the Twins nearly repeated the process with Schafer. Claimed off waivers from the Braves following Fuld's departure, Schafer hit .285/.345/.362 with 15 steals in 41 games while shoring up the outfield defense. Rather than trading him the Twins' option with Schafer is whether to bring him back for $1.5 million.

Based strictly on his 41-game trial the answer would be yes, but even with that included Schafer is a career .229/.311/.310 hitter in 436 games and hit just .225/.278/.294 at Triple-A. An extra million dollars isn't going to make a dent in the Twins' payroll space, so the decision should come down to who they want pushing Aaron Hicks in center field and/or seeing action in left field on days when manager Paul Molitor focuses on outfield defense.

Anthony Swarzak ($1.4 million projected salary): Moved to the bullpen after flopping as a starter, Swarzak had a nice 2013 in long relief and resumed struggling in 2014. He posted a 4.60 ERA compared to the MLB average of 3.58 for relievers and struck out 4.9 per nine innings for the second-worst rate among all relievers with 60 or more innings. Just how little do the Twins trust Swarzak in games that aren't already lost causes? They are 36-111 when he pitches since 2012.

He's now 29 years old with a 5.87 ERA in 32 starts and a 3.66 ERA in 149 relief appearances, and the bullpen work comes with a lowly strikeout rate of 5.8 per nine innings. Swarzak is a standard low-leverage reliever with the ability to soak up some innings, but there's no upside to be had in keeping him in that role and the Twins would be better served letting a younger reliever or maybe even a starter prospect get his feet wet in the majors with those same innings.

Eduardo Nunez ($1.2 million projected salary): Acquired from the Yankees in early April, the Twins oddly talked up Nunez's offensive ability despite a track record full of poor production and overlooked his awful defensive numbers. Then they gave him 213 plate appearances, including 17 starts at shortstop, and he hit .250/.271/.382 with a 31/5 K/BB ratio. To make matters worse the prospect they traded for him, Miguel Sulburan, pitched well at high Single-A as a 20-year-old.

Nunez is 28 years old. He's hit .264/.305/.380 in 342 games in the majors and .272/.316/.366 in 722 games in the minors. Ultimate Zone Rating has him 31 runs below average per 150 games at shortstop and several other defensive metrics see him as even worse. The bar for "decent utility infielder" is extremely low, but Nunez can't field well enough to play shortstop and can't hit well enough to be an asset anywhere else.

Casey Fien ($1.1 million projected salary): Signed to a minor-league contract three offseasons ago, Fien initially emerged as a dependable middle reliever and then overtook Jared Burton's as Glen Perkins' primary setup man. As an extreme fly-ball pitcher he's always at risk for a home run-based blowup, but Fien has generally been good enough at everything else to make up for allowing 19 homers in 160 innings for the Twins.

He has a 3.54 ERA in three seasons with the Twins, including a 156/31 K/BB ratio in 160 innings and a .234 opponents' batting average, and Fien has actually been slightly more effective against lefties than righties. Ideally he's better suited for a middle relief role than eighth-inning duties and at age 31 he's not someone the Twins need to worry about retaining long term, but for now $1.1 million is a bargain.


For a lot more about the Twins' arbitration-eligible players and a discussion of their potential free agent targets, check out this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode.

November 17, 2014

Gleeman and The Geek #171: Free Agent Outfielders

Topics for this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode included breaking down Torii Hunter and the free agent outfielders available to the Twins, explaining the arbitration process and this offseason's decisions, Starflyer 59's latest album, the latest (in-house) additions to Paul Molitor's coaching staff, donating to Aaron Purmont's family, drinking at Devil's Advocate, and reviewing Fritos Chili Pizza.

Gleeman and The Geek: Episode 171

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."

November 12, 2014

Examining the Twins’ free agent options: Outfielders

Most teams coming off four straight 90-loss seasons have obvious holes all over the roster, but the Twins' lineup is pretty well set for 2015. Kurt Suzuki has a new two-year deal at catcher and first baseman Joe Mauer is signed through 2018. Brian Dozier isn't going anywhere at second base and shortstop will be filled by Eduardo Escobar and/or Danny Santana. Trevor Plouffe played well enough to stay at third base, at least until Miguel Sano is ready after elbow surgery.

Santana or Aaron Hicks will do the same type of seat-holding for Byron Buxton in center field and Oswaldo Arcia will man an outfield corner, presumably right field. Designated hitter can be filled by Kennys Vargas and/or Josmil Pinto. All of which leaves left field as the only clear spot that needs filling for 2015 and making a big splash with a long-term solution seems unlikely since post-surgery Sano, Eddie Rosario, or another prospect may be there by 2016.

Finding a veteran outfielder to provide 2015 help without blocking younger options and eating up future payroll would seemingly be a smart approach for the Twins and in looking over this year's free agent crop quite a few players fit that bill reasonably well. Here, in alphabetical order, are nine free agents who strike me as a worthwhile option or strike me as someone the Twins will view as a worthwhile option. Or both.


Norichika AokiNorichika Aoki: He's hit .287/.353/.387 in the majors, going 3-for-3 in solid seasons since coming over from Japan at age 30. Aoki had MLB's third-lowest strikeout rate from 2012-2014--one spot ahead of ex-Twins contact machine Ben Revere--and draws a decent number of walks while having the speed to steal 15-20 bases. All of which would make his left-handed bat a nice fit atop the lineup. During the playoffs Aoki's shaky routes in right field for the Royals stood out, but his defensive numbers have been just fine in all three outfield spots. At age 33 and unlikely to command big money, he seems like an ideal stop gap until the Twins decide who they want in left field long term.


2013 San Diego Padres Photo DayChris Denorfia: After a nice four-season run as a very productive part-timer Denorfia slipped to .230/.284/.318 in 121 games for the Padres and Mariners last season and at age 34 the risk is that his decline is permanent. However, from 2010-2013 he hit .280/.338/.414 in 484 games despite calling the majors' most pitcher-friendly ballpark home. Denorfia is also a plus defensive corner outfielder with the ability to handle center field if needed and has the speed to swipe 10-15 bases. Ideally he'd be used in a platoon role versus mostly lefties, but as a short-term solution Denorfia could be a regular if the Twins were willing to sacrifice offense for defense in a corner.


2014 Seattle Mariners Photo DayCorey Hart: Who knows. Hart was one of the best right-handed power hitters in baseball for the Brewers from 2010-2012, batting .279/.343/.514 with 31, 26, and 30 homers. Then he missed all of 2013 with a knee injury and was a mess for the Mariners this season, hitting .203/.271/.319 in 68 games. Hart is 6-foot-6 and was known for having great speed and range for his size, starting 41 games in center field and twice stealing more than 20 bases. Knee problems, time off, and normal aging may have ruined that skill set and it'd be crazy to offer Hart significant guaranteed money, but as a bounceback candidate he wouldn't be the worst idea as a cheap pickup.


Detroit Tigers Photo DayTorii Hunter: Not surprisingly the Twins have reportedly expressed interest in a reunion with Hunter, who left as a free agent in 2008. Hunter was 31 years old at the time, but his hitting actually improved after leaving. Even this season, at age 38, he hit .286/.319/.446 with 17 homers in 142 games. Defensively, however, Hunter has gone from being an elite center fielder to being one of the worst right fielders. During the past two seasons he was 22 runs below average in Ultimate Zone Rating and 28 runs below average in Defensive Runs Saved. Hunter and Arcia as the corner outfielders could be ugly, although the haze of nostalgia might keep a lot of people from realizing it.


Baltimore Orioles Photo DayNick Markakis: As a top-10 draft pick and stud prospect who had some big years early in his career Markakis looked like a long-term star, but now he's 31 years old with a .435 career slugging percentage. Combined during the past three seasons he hit .279/.342/.396. By comparison, Aoki hit .287/.353/.387 over that span. Markakis has a great defensive reputation, including a pair of Gold Glove awards, but the numbers do not view him as especially strong in the field. He's a superior all-around player with far more upside than Aoki, but you get the idea. He'd be a fine fit for the Twins, but my guess is that Markakis is going to get paid for his reputation rather than his actual production.


michael morseMichael Morse: After an injury wrecked 2013 season Morse was his usual self, hitting .279/.336/.475 with 16 homers in 131 games for the Giants to nearly match his .281/.335/.473 career line. Morse swings at everything, but doesn't strike out a ton and has hit above .275 in four of the past five seasons. And few right-handed bats have more power. Unfortunately he's a butcher defensively. Among all left fielders since 2011 he's dead last in Ultimate Zone Rating at 22 runs below average per 150 games. For some Twins-related context, Jason Kubel is -14, Josh Willingham is -10, and Delmon Young is -10. He should be a designated hitter, which the Twins don't need.


2013 Toronto Blue Jays Photo DayColby Rasmus: His production has varied wildly and he has a reputation for being a doofus, but Rasmus is an under-30 center fielder with 25-homer power and a .751 career OPS. It remains to be seen if new manager Paul Molitor is more open-minded to platooning than Ron Gardenhire, but Rasmus is a career .257/.323/.465 hitter off righties and struggles against lefties. Rasmus in left field would go a long way toward improving the defense without sacrificing any power and if he balks at that using him in center field until Buxton is ready may not be a bad idea either. I'd avoid any sort of major commitment, but Rasmus' skill set at age 28 is very intriguing.


2014 Texas Rangers Photo DayAlex Rios: For nearly a decade Rios was one of the better, most underrated corner outfielders in baseball. His lack of big-time power kept him under the radar, but Rios was a solid hitter who averaged 20 homers and 25 steals per 150 games from 2006-2013 and had center field-caliber range defensively. His offense and defense have slipped at age 34, causing the Rangers to decline his $13.5 million option, but Rios has been right around an average hitter for the past two seasons and could still get to plenty of fly balls in left field. Injuries sapped his production in 2014, but Rios played 145 or more games every year from 2007-2013 and is one season removed from 18 homers and 42 steals.


Milwaukee Brewers Photo DayRickie Weeks: I have no idea if Weeks would be willing to play left field. He was the Brewers' starting second baseman from 2005-2013 and then turned down a chance to play left field after losing the job to Scooter Gennett. He's never been a good defender and has struggled to stay healthy, so perhaps at age 32 he'd be more open to a position switch. Weeks hit .274/.357/.452 in a part-time role this season and has averaged 20 homers and 65 walks per 150 games for his career to make up for poor batting averages. If he's interested in trying to re-establish himself as a corner outfielder offer Weeks a one-year deal with the promise of an everyday role.


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."

November 10, 2014

Gleeman and The Geek #170: The New Regime

Topics for this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode included Paul Molitor officially being hired as Twins manager, a Torii Hunter reunion, Tom Brunansky returning as hitting coach, last week's impromptu chat with Tim McIntosh, drinking and talking beer at Town Hall Brewery, thoughts from Molitor's press conference, bad newspaper columnists, good bourbon, and being woken up by Molitor on a Saturday morning.

Gleeman and The Geek: Episode 170

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

Here's what it looked like at Town Hall Brewery during the podcast:

town hall brewery podcast


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."

November 5, 2014

Twins hire Paul Molitor as manager

Paul Molitor and Ron Gardenhire

It took five weeks and interviews with at least a half-dozen candidates, but in the end the Twins' new manager is the guy everyone always assumed would get the job: Paul Molitor.

Molitor is a Minnesota native with a long history in the organization and spent this season on the coaching staff, so hiring him isn't exactly the massive change many people envisioned when the Twins fired Ron Gardenhire after 13 seasons as manager and 27 seasons in the organization. For a decade fans and media members clamored for Molitor to join Gardenhire's staff and as soon as Gardenhire's job security looked shaky Molitor became the presumed manager-in-waiting.

None of which means he's the wrong choice for the job now. He lacks managing experience at any level and went nearly a decade without being a full-time coach at any level, but during his Hall of Fame playing career and in retirement Molitor has established a reputation for being an incredibly smart baseball mind. He's also earned praise for working with young players, communicating well, and walking the thin line between being likeable and being respected.

Hall of Fame players rarely go into managing, presumably because they're satisfied enough with their legacy, financial standing, and post-career options to stave off whichever competitive juices continue to flow. And when Hall of Fame players have gone into managing the results have been underwhelming to say the least, with the most frequent criticism being that a great, immensely talented player has trouble managing and relating to lesser talents.

Molitor's legacy is a spectacular one, especially in Minnesota, and after earning more than $40 million in salary as a player he could have easily filled his time with various media opportunities and part-time coaching roles. And for years he did just that, filling in for fellow Hall of Famer Bert Blyleven occasionally on television broadcasts and spending spring training in Fort Myers as a roving instructor.

However, something within Molitor clearly kept pulling him back toward baseball in a major way. Outsiders like me could hear it in his voice whenever he talked passionately and expertly about something as potentially mundane as getting a great jump off a pitcher on stolen base attempts and insiders almost without exception raved about his passion, intelligence, and hard work. And they did so often.

For instance, while recording this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode Saturday, shortly after news of Molitor getting the job began making the rounds, we spotted someone a few bar stools down wearing a Yankees World Series ring. It turned out to be Tim McIntosh, who played for the Gophers, was the Brewers' third-round draft pick in 1986, and played parts of five seasons in the majors.

Not only did McIntosh play with Molitor in the big leagues, he also had experience with Molitor the mentor and Molitor the coach. And after being told the news of Molitor's impending hiring by two strangers in a bar McIntosh's eyes lit up. He talked to us for 30 minutes on the microphone and another 20 minutes off the microphone about how thrilled he was for Molitor and how he strongly believed Molitor is a fantastic choice uniquely qualified to thrive despite a lack of experience.

And that's essentially the argument in favor of choosing Molitor. He lacks experience, there are questions about how he'll handle the day-to-day grind of the job on and off the field, and as the favorite in-house candidate the decision seems like more of the same for the Twins in many ways. But you'll be hard-pressed to find people who've seen Molitor in action as a player, as a coach, or as a guy simply hanging out to talk baseball who doesn't rave about his expertise and intelligence.

Red Sox bench coach Torey Lovullo finished runner-up to Molitor, with speculation he may have gotten the job with more support from ownership, which is interesting given how different their resumes look. Lovullo was a journeyman player with 308 games in the majors and 1,433 games in the minors, plus a season in Japan. He managed nine seasons in the minors, winning division titles at Single-A, Double-A, and Triple-A, and has coached in the majors in a variety of roles.

Lovullo is also known for being analytical, well versed in modern stats, and genuinely interested in sabermetrics, which along with his vast experience working his way up through the coaching and managing ranks is what intrigued me. Molitor doesn't have quite the stat-head reputation, but it's worth noting that he played a big role in getting Gardenhire's staff to finally dip their toes in the analytical pool this season and was credited with the team's dramatic increase in defensive shifts.

Molitor may not be a full-blown stat-head like Lovullo, but he's smart, intellectually curious about how new-school knowledge can help a team win, and at age 58 showed more of an open mind in one season than the 57-year-old Gardenhire showed in 13 seasons. He's now at the helm of a young team that will likely get younger and almost can't help but get better, so he'll be learning on the job just like many of his key players.

Managers with a decade-plus on the job can be extremely tough and perhaps even impossible to evaluate, with Gardenhire being a prime example of the wide ranges of opinion. Predicting how a first-time manager will fare ... well, that's somewhere between an educated guessing game and a coin flip. Molitor will need to choose his coaches wisely and get help from a front office that has done more harm than good of late, but he seems like a sound choice.


For a lot more about the Twins hiring Molitor, including an impromptu interview with his former teammate, check out this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode.

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