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."

December 29, 2014

Twins sign Tim Stauffer to one-year, $2.2 million contract

Tim Stauffer Padres

When the Twins declined their $3.6 million option on Jared Burton for 2015 it seemed like the first step toward a possible bullpen overhaul designed to usher in some younger, harder-throwing arms to surround closer Glen Perkins. Instead they tendered arbitration eligible Brian Duensing a contract for a projected $2.5 million, keeping the low-upside lefty around for another year, and now they've signed 33-year-old right-hander Tim Stauffer to a one-year, $2.2 million contract.

Stauffer was the fourth overall pick in the 2003 draft that saw the Rays select Delmon Young in the top spot and was viewed as a potential top-of-the-rotation starter coming out of college. He moved quickly through the Padres' farm system, debuting in 2004 at high Single-A before moving up to Double-A after just six starts and then spending the second half at Triple-A as a 22-year-old. Overall he posted a 2.89 ERA in 28 starts, but it came with just 113 strikeouts in 168 innings.

Stauffer stayed at Triple-A to begin the 2005 season and was called up to San Diego for his MLB debut on May 11, tossing six innings of two-run ball to beat the Reds three weeks before his 23rd birthday. He stayed in the Padres' rotation until a pair of poor starts in late July led to a demotion back to Triple-A. Stauffer finished the season with a 5.33 ERA in 81 innings for the Padres and a 5.14 ERA in 75 innings at Triple-A.

He spent most of the next two seasons at Triple-A, making just three total appearances for the Padres, and then missed all of 2008 and part of 2009 following shoulder surgery. He worked his way back to the big leagues and pitched well for the next three seasons, establishing himself as a full-time member of the Padres' rotation ... and then he missed nearly all of 2012 following elbow surgery. This time when Stauffer returned from injury it was as a reliever.

Serving a low-leverage, multi-inning bullpen role similar to the one Anthony Swarzak filled for the Twins before being non-tendered this month, Stauffer made three mostly poor starts and 84 mostly good relief appearances for the Padres between 2013 and 2014. As a reliever during that two-season span Stauffer threw 126 innings with a 3.21 ERA and 121/39 K/BB ratio, holding opponents to a .242 batting average and 10 homers.

Nice-looking numbers, but less impressive when placed within the context of where he pitched. And that's really the story of Stauffer's whole career as a major leaguer. He's called MLB's most pitcher-friendly locale, Petco Park, home for his entire seven-season career and not surprisingly Stauffer has a lifetime 3.07 ERA at home compared to a 4.64 ERA on the road. His road ERA was 4.28 in 2013-2014, during which time the average NL reliever posted a 3.51 ERA.

If you look only at Stauffer's raw totals you may see a logical replacement for Burton as Perkins' primary setup man, but adjusting for context shows him as more of a mediocre middle reliever. Which is fine, of course. Signing a mediocre veteran middle reliever for $2.2 million is reasonable, but the Twins have plenty of young arms to potentially fill that role for a fraction of the cost and with much more upside than a 33-year-old with a lengthy injury history and a 91-mph fastball.

Stauffer joins Perkins, Duensing, and Casey Fien as locked into the bullpen, with Caleb Thielbar likely to have a spot as well. That leaves two spots up for grabs, one of which may go to the loser of the Tommy Milone vs. Mike Pelfrey fifth-starter battle. Rule 5 pick J.R. Graham has to stay in the majors all year or be offered back, Michael Tonkin, Ryan Pressly, and Lester Oliveros deserve chances, and Alex Meyer and Trevor May may need somewhere to get their feet wet.

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."

December 24, 2014

Twins sign Phil Hughes to three-year, $42 million contract extension

Phil Hughes Twins

Last offseason the Twins signed free agent Phil Hughes to a three-year, $24 million contract in the hopes that a change of scenery would help get his career back on track after an inconsistent, disappointing, and ultimately sub par seven-season run with the Yankees. They got that and so much more in the first season of the deal, as Hughes made 32 starts, threw 209.2 innings, and struck out 186 while walking 16 for the best strikeout-to-walk ratio in the history of baseball.

It was the best performance by a Twins starter other than Johan Santana or Francisco Liriano during the Ron Gardenhire era of 2002-2014, and Hughes ranked as one of the 10 best starters in the league and was my choice for team MVP. He was great and better yet he was great in such a way that suggested Hughes had not simply lucked into a fluke season and had instead genuinely changed his approach to better fit his skill set after years of unfulfilled potential in New York.

Clearly the Twins agreed, because Monday they signed Hughes to a three-year contract extension worth $42 million. As part of the extension his salaries for 2015 and 2016 will rise from $8 million to $9.2 million and then Hughes will get $13.2 million per year from 2017-2019. He's under team control through age 33 and Hughes, not Joe Mauer, is now the Twins player signed farthest into the future.

By having a breakout, potentially career-altering season in the first year of a three-year contract Hughes put the Twins in position to make a tough decision. If they left his contract alone and he had a similarly fantastic 2015 season the price tag for an extension would have risen dramatically and at that point it's possible Hughes and his agent would have balked at any extension talks with the ability to test the open market as a free agent just one year away.

Trading him was another option, but the time to trade veterans coming off career-years was 2-3 seasons ago and the Twins ignored that route. Given the current readiness or near-readiness of many top prospects and the investments in Torii Hunter and Ervin Santana the Twins seem to think they're close to turning things around after four straight 90-loss seasons and in that case Hughes is the type of player they should be looking to acquire not looking to trade away.

Ultimately it comes down to whether you believe Hughes' improvement is sustainable, or at least mostly sustainable. Odds are he's going to regress after posting the best strikeout-to-walk ratio of all time, because that's just how things tend to work, but if Hughes continues to pound the strike zone after years of mediocre control and continues to rely on his newfound cut-fastball after years of leaning heavily on a mediocre slider the improved results should be permanent.

And here's the thing: Even if Hughes regresses a lot and even if many of the strides he made in 2014 prove temporary the Twins have committed to paying him Santana/Ricky Nolasco money for an extra three years. He doesn't have to be the 2014 version of Hughes to make that a decent investment because that's more or less the going rate for veteran mid-rotation starters. He could be the 2010 version or the 2012 version and they'd still be getting reasonable value.

Extending a player one year into a three-year contract and one season removed from his value being at an all-time low due to poor performance is definitely a risk, but in this case it's a risk that won't break the bank if it goes poorly. Obviously the Twins are betting on Hughes, but they're also betting on the rapidly increasing revenues across MLB making it so that $14 million per season for a starting pitcher in 2017, 2018, and 2019 will be a relative drop in the payroll bucket.

And the upside to that same gamble is massive. Hughes' breakout season was worth around $30 million and the investment needed to acquire a different under-30 pitcher capable of that type of performance starts at about $150 million via free agency or multiple top prospects and a large salary via trade. This extension is a bet on Hughes not being who he used to be and $14 million not being what it used to be, and in both cases the Twins have a chance to be right in a big way.

For lengthy discussion about where the Hughes-led Twins rotation stands for 2015 compared to the rest of the AL Central teams check out this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode.

December 22, 2014

Gleeman and The Geek #175: Ranking Rotations and Buying Bars

Topics for this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode included how the Twins' rotation compares to the rest of the AL Central, a promotion for Doug Mientkiewicz, buying and running a bar with special guest Michael Curry of Mac's Industrial, Alex Meyer's potential as a reliever, whether or not the Twins will make any other offseason moves, bad decisions on Christmas night, and how not to be a foodie.

Gleeman and The Geek: Episode 175

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."

December 17, 2014

Twins Notes: Parmelee, Graham, Gilmartin, and Morales

Chris Parmelee Twins

• Needing to make room on the 40-man roster for Torii Hunter and Ervin Santana the Twins first dropped Chris Colabello--who was claimed off waivers by the Blue Jays--and have now designated Chris Parmelee for assignment. Parmelee was previously dropped from the 40-man roster during spring training, but passed through waivers unclaimed, stayed in the organization, and was eventually re-added to the roster.

Parmelee was the Twins' first-round draft pick in 2006 and as a California high schooler his power potential received lots of hype, but that simply never developed. His path to the majors stalled at Double-A, where he repeated the level and hit .282/.355/.416 with 19 homers in 253 total games, but Parmelee got a September call-up in 2011 and came out of nowhere to hit .355/.443/.593 in 21 games for the Twins. Unfortunately that proved to be a mirage.

In three seasons since then Parmelee logged 813 plate appearances in the big leagues, including several stints as a lineup regular, but hit .238/.304/.371 with 20 homers and a 197/63 K/BB ratio in 252 games. During that same period his Triple-A numbers were a lot more promising and at age 27 he still has time to become a productive major leaguer, but Parmelee got a fair shake in Minnesota and just never hit enough for a mediocre defensive first baseman/corner outfielder.

• Selected by the Twins in the Rule 5 draft, J.R. Graham is a one-time top prospect whose career has been derailed by shoulder problems. Graham was the Braves' fourth-round draft pick in 2011 out of Santa Clara and moved quickly through their system, advancing to Double-A in his second pro season. He fared well there at age 22 and that offseason Baseball America ranked Graham as a top-100 prospect, praising his mid-90s fastball and ability to generate ground balls.

However, the diminutive right-hander broke down in 2013, making just eight starts, and last year Graham posted a 5.55 ERA while being limited to 71 innings back at Double-A due to more arm issues. Once on the fast track, Graham is now 25 years old and has yet to advance past Double-A, spending three years there with increasingly poor results. His fastball has dipped into the low-90s and the Braves thought so little of Graham's upside that they left him off the 40-man roster.

Rule 5 picks must remain in the majors for the entire season or be offered back to their original team. Graham has been a starter throughout his career, but shifted to the bullpen last year and could be stashed by the Twins in a middle relief role pretty easily. They did that with Rule 5 pick Ryan Pressly in 2013, giving him 49 low-leverage appearances, and shifting to the bullpen full time could help Graham stay healthy too.

• As part of the Rule 5 draft the Twins also lost left-hander Sean Gilmartin to the Mets. Acquired from the Braves last offseason in exchange for Ryan Doumit, the 24-year-old former first-round pick turned mediocre prospect fared well at Double-A and then struggled at Triple-A. He doesn't throw hard or generate many strikeouts and now has a 5.03 ERA in 38 starts at Triple-A, so it's tough to see Gilmartin developing into a useful starter in the majors.

However, he may still have some value in the bullpen as a situational southpaw. This past season righties hit .285 off Gilmartin, but he held lefties to a .201 batting average with zero homers and a 49/4 K/BB ratio. Once the Twins decided to keep Brian Duensing via arbitration for around $2.5 million there wasn't much room for Gilmartin in their plans and losing a potential lefty specialist in the Rule 5 draft generally isn't worth fretting about.

• As a free agent last winter Kendrys Morales turned down a one-year, $14.1 million qualifying offer from the Mariners and then found zero teams interested in forfeiting a draft pick to sign him. He sat out until after the draft, signing with the Twins for $7.5 million. Morales was terrible, first for the Twins and then back with the Mariners, hitting .218/.274/.338 in 98 games as a DH. And now the defending American League champs have given him a two-year, $17 million contract.

This week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode featured tons of Santana talk, plus our attempt to figure out Eduardo Escobar rumors and Ricky Nolasco's place in the Twins' plans.

This week's blog content is sponsored by Harry's Razors, which has a special offer for "Gleeman and The Geek" listeners who use the promo code "GleemanHoliday" on their order.

« Newer PostsOlder Posts »