October 16, 2013

Twins Notes: Roster cuts, post-trade Morneau, attendance, and Big Papi

josh roenicke twins

• Three weeks ago I listed 16 players in danger of being removed from the 40-man roster and so far the Twins have dropped five of them: Josh Roenicke, Clete Thomas, Doug Bernier, Cole De Vries, Shairon Martis. I'd expect at least another 3-4 cuts by the end of the World Series, but in the meantime the Twins already re-signed Bernier to a minor-league contract that keeps the 33-year-old journeyman in the organization without a 40-man roster spot.

Roenicke being cut might have surprised some people simply because he spent the entire season in the Twins' bullpen and logged the same number of innings as Glen Perkins, but he posted a 4.35 ERA compared to the league average of 3.69 for relievers and his secondary numbers were actually even worse with a 45-to-36 strikeout-to-walk ratio. His stats for the Rockies last season were similarly underwhelming and at age 31 he was due for a raise via arbitration.

Thomas started 79 games for the Twins, including 48 in center field, but hit .214/.290/.307 with 92 strikeouts in 322 plate appearances to finish with the same exact .597 OPS as Aaron Hicks. He was a bit better defensively than I expected, but Thomas is hardly a great center fielder and doesn't hit enough to be more than a backup. That player type is always available on waivers or minor-league deals, and Alex Presley's arrival made Thomas especially superfluous.

Bernier, De Vries, and Martis are exactly who baseball analysts are talking about when they refer to "replacement-level players" being readily available. It's important to have them stockpiled at Triple-A heading into every season, but it's also important to bring in a fresh batch every winter without clogging up the 40-man roster and as the Twins have shown recently things get ugly in a hurry when more than a few of them are pressed into extended action.

• Making official what was reported at the time of the trade, the Twins acquired Duke Welker from the Pirates as the player to be named later in the Justin Morneau deal. I wrote quite a bit about Welker as part of my overall analysis of the trade on August 31, but the quick version is that he's a big right-handed reliever with a mid-90s fastball, good strikeout totals, and terrible control. Not a bad flier to get along with Presley, but Welker is already 27 years old.

Including the postseason Morneau ended up hitting .267 with zero homers and a .317 slugging percentage in 31 games for the Pirates. Overall this season between Minnesota and Pittsburgh he hit .260/.325/.413 in 158 games and combined for the past three seasons he hit .256/.329/.406 in 361 games. There are still local media members stumping for Morneau's return to the Twins as a 33-year-old free agent, but it's awfully hard to understand why.

David Ortiz's dramatic grand slam for the Red Sox led to all the usual grousing about why the Twins let him go back in 2003 and it's important to note that it wasn't for a lack of hitting. Ortiz has the fifth-highest OPS in Twins history among all hitters with at least 1,500 plate appearances through age 26, which is when he left. The only Twins with a higher OPS through 26?  Joe Mauer, Kent Hrbek, Morneau, and Lyman Bostock. Ortiz could always hit. And look at that punim.

Speaking of Ortiz's time in Minnesota, here's an interesting Associated Press story from 2001:

Minnesota Twins designated hitter David Ortiz was placed on the disabled list Saturday, a day after breaking his right wrist diving into home plate.

Ortiz was injured Friday night in the fourth inning of Minnesota's 6-2 victory over Kansas City. One inning later, he homered into the right-field bullpen, but rounding the bases he knew the pain was more than discomfort. He then went to a hospital for X-rays. Ortiz is expected to miss six to eight weeks. ...

Twins' trainers at first thought Ortiz hurt a thumb. "We asked David maybe 90 times or 100, I'm not sure, I lost track: Are you all right?" manager Tom Kelly said. "He said he was, so we let him hit. After he hit, the trainers said his wrist was starting to swell, so we got him out of there."

Kelly seemed to take the injury in stride. "We don't cry about injuries," he said. "We never have and we're not going to start now. I had a man go blind one day, a Hall of Fame player. We just move along. Injuries are part of the game."

Ortiz might be out of place in the Twins' lineup these days, but the injury stuff sounds familiar.

• Twins attendance fell by 3,688 fans per game this season, which was the fifth-largest drop in baseball. In their first two seasons at Target Field the Twins averaged 39,000 fans per game, but that dropped to 34,000 last year and 31,000 this year. And those are tickets sold figures rather than actual fans in the seats. In their final season at the Metrodome the Twins averaged 29,446 fans per game, which seems fairly likely to top next year's totals at Target Field.

• Over the years I've criticized Ron Gardenhire and the Twins for their unwillingness to platoon hitters, which is something Gardenhire and general manager Terry Ryan talked openly about last month in a series of somewhat maddening quotes. Jack Moore of Sports On Earth wrote a very interesting article about how the A's among the teams to take the opposite approach to platooning with lots of success.

• In addition to Bernier the Twins also re-signed Triple-A players James Beresford, Jermaine Mitchell, Lester Oliveros, and Virgil Vasquez to minor-league contracts. Beresford could get a look as a potential utility infielder next season and Oliveros was in the majors before missing this season following Tommy John elbow surgery.

Steve Adams of MLB Trade Rumors took a lengthy look at some of the key roster issues facing the Twins heading into the offseason.

• MLB Productions released some old video this week that involved a bit of Twins history.

• For more on Morneau's post-trade performance, plus Twins payroll projections and reviewing over/under picks, check out this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode.


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December 13, 2012

Twins Notes: Burton’s extension, Hicks’ clock, and Mientkiewicz’s return

• It was mostly lost in the shuffle on a day when the Twins traded Ben Revere to the Phillies and selected Ryan Pressly in the Rule 5 draft, but they also signed Jared Burton to a two-year, $5.5 million contract that includes a third-year team option. Arbitration eligible for the final time before becoming a free agent next offseason, the 31-year-old Burton will instead get $2.05 million in 2013, $3.25 million in 2014, and $3.6 million or a $200,000 buyout in 2015.

Burton joined the Twins on a minor-league deal last offseason after several injury wrecked years with the Reds and proved he was healthy in spring training to win a bullpen job. He was fantastic, emerging as the primary setup man with a 2.18 ERA, 55/16 K/BB ratio, and .186 opponents' batting average in 62 innings. Despite barely pitching in the previous two seasons Burton was at his best in the second half, convincing the Twins he can hold up physically.

Given his injury history a multi-year commitment is risky, but because he was set to become a free agent next offseason going year-to-year was risky as well. Another good, healthy season would have meant trying to convince Burton to sign an extension before hitting the open market or trying to out-bid 29 other teams for him, neither of which seem likely. Now if he stays healthy they'll get a bargain and if not $5.5 million isn't a huge commitment anyway.

My assumption following the Revere and Denard Span trades was that the Twins would go with Darin Mastroianni as the starting center fielder, basically asking him to keep the position warm until 23-year-old prospect Aaron Hicks is ready to take over around midseason. However, it sure sounds like the Twins will give Hicks every opportunity to win the Opening Day job and potentially jump directly from Double-A to the majors.

I'm generally not in favor of that scenario, for a couple reasons. One is that by delaying Hicks' arrival by as little as six weeks the Twins could add another full season of team control based on service time rules, basically pushing off his free agency for an extra year. Considering their long odds of contending in 2013 anyway I'd rather have Hicks for 162 extra games at age 29 than 30 extra games at age 23, and that service time tactic is common practice across MLB.

Beyond that, asking a 23-year-old to thrive at Triple-A for a month or two before making the jump to the big leagues seems smart from both development and performance standpoints. If he crushes Triple-A pitching for 30 games there's no harm done and if he struggles in Rochester odds are he wasn't ready for the majors anyway. Plus, nearly all of the best hitters to debut with the Twins in the past decade or so spent at least 50 games at Triple-A:

Denard Span         179
A.J. Pierzynski     167
Justin Morneau      143
Michael Cuddyer     139
Corey Koskie        135
Doug Mientkiewicz   130
Jason Kubel         120
Torii Hunter         81
Jacque Jones         52
Joe Mauer             0

Some of those players spent time at Triple-A, debuted in the majors, and then returned to Triple-A, so I counted the number of Triple-A games played before becoming an established big leaguer. Joe Mauer is the only one to jump directly from Double-A to the majors, but obviously he wasn't your average top prospect. Cristian Guzman also went from Double-A to Minnesota, but then hit .263/.303/.383 for the Twins and doesn't crack the "best hitters" list.

Except for Mauer the best homegrown hitting prospects in recent Twins history all spent at least two months at Triple-A and most of them played more than 100 games there. Some of them surely were ready for the majors before then, but if the "prove it at Triple-A first" approach was good enough for the guys on that list then why not Hicks too? Span and Revere, the two players he'd be replacing, played 179 and 55 games at Triple-A, respectively.

• After spending some time as a hitting coach in the Dodgers' farm system Doug Mientkiewicz is returning to the Twins as the manager at high Single-A Fort Myers, where he began his playing career in 1995. Mientkiewicz, who went to high school and college in Florida, played his 12th and final big-league season in 2009 and is now 38 years old. I'm excited to get a little more use out of my ability to type "Mientkiewicz" without looking. It took years of practice.

Jason Lane spent six seasons as an outfielder for the Astros, hitting .241/.315/.458, but was finished as a big leaguer at age 30. After five seasons in the minors Lane gave pitching a try this year, faring well on an independent league team managed by Gary Gaetti before struggling at Triple-A for the Diamondbacks. And now at age 35 the left-hander signed a minor-league deal with the Twins.

• In addition to Lane the Twins also announced minor-league deals with Brandon Boggs, Ray Olmedo, Bryan Augenstein, Reynaldo Rodriguez, Scott Elarton, Virgil Vasquez, and Michael O'Connor. Odds are none of them will play for the Twins and only Boggs, Olmedo, and Augenstein received spring training invites, but it's an interesting mix of former prospects and one-time big leaguers.

Elarton played 10 seasons in the majors, but was rarely effective after age 25 and hasn't pitched in the big leagues since 2008. Olmedo is a potential utility man. Boggs could be a backup outfielder. Rodriguez is a first baseman with some power. Vasquez is a generic Triple-A starter. Augenstein and O'Connor could be decent middle relievers. Mostly, though, they're all around to help Rochester have a winning record.

• St. Paul native and former Gophers star Jack Hannahan signed a two-year contract with the Reds that includes an option for 2015. Terry Ryan repeatedly talking about wanting some competition for Trevor Plouffe at third base led to speculation that the Twins were interested in Hannahan, but it's unclear if they ever offered him more than a minor-league contract and a multi-year deal wouldn't have made any sense.

Kevin Correia's two-year, $10 million deal with the Twins finally became official Thursday afternoon. He'll get $4.5 million in 2013 and $5.5 million in 2014.

• For a lengthy discussion about the Revere trade and how much the Twins' farm system has improved in the past six months check out this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode.

• Last night I hosted a live chat at TwinsDaily.com. It was supposed to go an hour, but there was a good turnout and we ended up going for two hours. You can read the transcript here.

This week's content is sponsored by DiamondCentric's new "Game Six" shirt, commemorating one of the most exciting moments in Minnesota sports history.