December 3, 2014

Twins sign Torii Hunter for $10.5 million

Torii Hunter Tigers

Torii Hunter took a "re-sign with the Tigers or retire" stance shortly after the season ended, but once it became clear that Detroit wasn't interested having him back a reunion with the Twins was all but inevitable. Hunter talked about wanting to finish his career with a contender and reportedly had interest from 2014 playoff teams and potential 2015 playoff teams, but in the end he chose a one-year, $10.5 million deal with a full no-trade clause to return to Minnesota.

Hunter was the Twins' first-round draft pick in 1993, debuted in 1997, and spent 1999-2007 as a power-hitting, quote-giving, Gold Glove-winning center fielder who frequently turned home runs into spectacular outs at the Metrodome. He left as a free agent following the 2007 season, signing a five-year, $90 million deal with the Angels that doubled the Twins' half-hearted attempt to retain him for three years and $45 million.

Hunter was 32 years old at the time and his defense had already shown major signs of decline, so the worry was that further slippage combined with good but not great offense would make him overpaid. Sure enough his defense slipped dramatically, to the point that he was not a center fielder by 2010, but his offense actually got better after leaving. With the Twins his OPS was 23 points above the league average, but after leaving the Twins it was 73 points above average.

He returns now at age 39 and as a completely different player. Hunter hit well this past season, batting .286/.319/.446 with 17 homers in 142 games for the Tigers, producing an adjusted OPS+ of 111 that would have ranked as his fourth-best mark for the Twins. But not only did he play a grand total of nine innings in center field during the past four seasons, Hunter's defense in right field has been horrendous according to nearly every prominent defensive metric.

Combined between 2013 and 2014 he graded out 22 runs below average in Ultimate Zone Rating, 25 runs below average in Plus/Minus, and 28 runs below average in Defensive Runs Saved. And in 2014 alone he rated as poorly as any outfielder to receive regular playing time. Surely the Twins will insist their scouts disagree with the numbers and perhaps they're right to an extent, but he's a bad defensive corner outfielder and that's one area that screamed out for them to improve.

Instead, with Hunter in right field, Oswaldo Arcia sliding over to left field to accommodate him, and a center fielder to be determined later the Twins have almost no chance of avoiding being a well below average outfield defensively and could easily rank among the very worst in baseball. For a low-strikeout pitching staff in a spacious ballpark that's a recipe for runs-allowing disaster, as we've unfortunately already seen for the past few seasons.

Make no mistake, the Twins are paying for nostalgia here. Even if Hunter exactly duplicates his 2014 performance--which is always unlikely at age 39--he'd be average offensively for a corner outfielder and well below average defensively. Any further decline on either side of the ball would make him a liability and as with most 39-year-olds there isn't a whole lot of upside to balance out the potential for a major dropoff.

The good news is that it's a straight up one-year deal, which makes it easier to cut bait on Hunter if necessary and doesn't lock the Twins into anything beyond 2015. And while $10.5 million is way too much money to spend it's not as if the Twins were going to spend money elsewhere anyway. In each of the past two seasons they've left massive amounts of payroll unspent and there's zero indication they planned to make a real effort to sign any front-line free agents this offseason.

In the best-case scenario Hunter hits .275 with 15 homers and merely bad defense, allowing the Twins to keep a corner spot warm for Eddie Rosario or Miguel Sano or another prospect. In the worst-case scenario Hunter struggles offensively, proves totally washed up defensively, and takes playing time from better, younger players while the haze of nostalgia keeps media fawning. For an organization stuck in the past a reunion with Hunter almost seemed too obvious, but here we are.


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 26, 2014

Twins’ “new” coaching staff has a very familiar look

Paul Molitor and Joe Vavra

When the Twins fired Ron Gardenhire after 13 seasons as manager the idea of blowing up the coaching staff and rebuilding everything from scratch with outside hires sounded appealing given the organization's struggles, but choosing Paul Molitor over Torey Lovullo as the new manager squashed that notion. Molitor is the epitome of an in-house hire and in filling out his coaching staff the Twins have continued to lean heavily on current and former members of the organization.

Bench coach seemed to be a very important hire considering Molitor's complete lack of managing experience and the overall lack of big-league experience throughout his staff. Instead of stepping outside of the organization for a veteran with previous managing experience the job went to Joe Vavra, a longtime member of Gardenhire's staff who was reassigned from hitting coach to third base coach two years ago and has no professional managing experience above Single-A.

Tom Brunansky, who was on Gardenhire's staff with Molitor and Vavra, stays on as hitting coach after the Twins ranked fifth among AL teams in scoring. Brunansky replaced Vavra as hitting coach in 2013 after working his way up through the minors amid praise for his coaching of Double-A and Triple-A hitters. If any member of the coaching staff deserved to stay it was Brunansky, whose presence was one of the few major coaching changes made under Gardenhire in the first place.

Brunansky's assistant hitting coach is Rudy Hernandez, who was promoted from rookie-league manager after 14 years in the organization. Hernandez is the first assistant hitting coach in Twins history, as teams began adding the position a few years ago. He's coached many players on the current roster as well as many prospects soon to arrive in Minnesota and the 46-year-old's ability to speak Spanish is a welcomed addition that had been severely lacking with Twins coaches.

Gene Glynn joins the staff as third base coach after spending the past three seasons managing the team's Triple-A affiliate in Rochester. He interviewed to replace Gardenhire, but unlike fellow interviewee Doug Mientkiewicz the Twins felt the Minnesota native was worth adding to the staff after passing on him as manager. At age 58 he's definitely paid his dues, managing, coaching, and scouting in the minors and majors for numerous organizations.

Eddie Guardado, who has zero coaching experience since retiring in 2009, takes over as bullpen coach. He's certainly familiar with the Twins' bullpen, spending a dozen seasons there, including back-to-back 40-save seasons as the team's closer in 2002 and 2003. As a player Guardado was boisterous, jovial, quotable, and well-liked, which is probably a decent recipe for success in a role that generally doesn't receive much attention.

With first base coach the lone vacant position, Neil Allen is the only true outside hire, beating out former Twins reliever Carl Willis for the pitching coach job after filling the same role at Triple-A in the Rays organization from 2007-2014. Former pitching coach Rick Anderson was Gardenhire's right-hand man for the entirety of his 13-year tenure and became the target of heavy criticism when the pitching staff ranked 29th, 29th, 28th, and 29th in runs allowed from 2011-2014.

Allen preaches many of the same things Anderson did, chief among them limiting walks, but unlike Anderson he has a long history of helping to develop successful young pitchers that have been the lifeblood of the Rays' low-payroll success. He pitched 11 seasons in the majors as a reliever--and actually had poor control himself, walking 3.8 batters per nine innings--and at age 56 he's been praised for the same open-mindedness, intelligence, and innovation the Rays were built on.

In hiring Molitor the Twins made it clear that they don't view lack of experience as a negative and in filling out his coaching staff they made it equally clear that they continue to view staying in-house and promoting from within as positives despite four straight 90-loss seasons. I have no major issues with any of the individual hires, but I feel silly for believing they might actually go outside of the organization to find a new manager and new coaches. Should have known better.


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 24, 2014

Gleeman and The Geek #172: BS’ing with Stu

On this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode we welcomed special guest Steve "Randball's Stu" Neuman for beers at Summit Brew Hall and topics included filling out the Twins' coaching staff, having Torii Hunter feelings, Miguel Sano and 40-man roster additions, good charities and $100,000, Curt Schilling spouting off, "The Sportive" podcast, and trying out for "The Voice."

Gleeman and The Geek: Episode 172

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

Summit Brew Hall


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 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."

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