November 17, 2009

Twitter Mailbag: Answers

Last week I asked for mailbag questions submitted via Twitter and you guys sent me a whole bunch of them, so here are some answers ...

Where do you expect J.J. Hardy to bat in the lineup?

This is tough to say before knowing who'll be playing second base, because history suggests that Ron Gardenhire will want to use a middle infielder in the second spot. J.J. Hardy wouldn't be a very good fit there because he has a poor .323 on-base percentage and grounds into a lot of double plays, which isn't the skill set that you want hitting directly in front of Joe Mauer. Ideally sixth or seventh would likely be the best spot for Hardy, taking advantage of his 20-homer power while minimizing the lack of OBP.

What are your favorite non-Twins baseball blogs?

Circling the Bases on, but you knew that already. Some others, in no particular order:

- U.S.S. Mariner (Dave Cameron, Derek Zumsteg)
- Al's Ramblings (Al Bethke)
- MLB Trade Rumors (Tim Dierkes)
- Sweet Spot (Rob Neyer)
- Big League Stew (Kevin Kaduk, David Brown)
- From the Dugout (Sam Miller)
- Major League Bastian (Jordan Bastain)
- The Zo Zone (Todd Zolecki)
- Ball Star (Sam Mellinger)
- Dodger Thoughts (Jon Weisman)
- Extra Bases (Peter Abraham)
- Obviously, You're Not a Golfer (Matthew Leach)

There are over 100 baseball blogs in my RSS feed for news-gathering purposes, so I'm surely leaving out a bunch of good ones, but those are a dozen that I consistently enjoy.

Does Alexi Casilla have a future with the Twins?

My sense is that the Twins aren't ready to give up on Alexi Casilla yet, but there's no real reason to hold out much hope. While it's tempting to remember how good he's been for various stretches, at the end of the day Casilla is a career .244/.301/.314 hitter through 243 games in the majors and also hit just .278/.352/.350 in 169 games at Triple-A. He's still just 25 years old, but that track record offensively and a lack of elite defense makes me very pessimistic about his long-term value.

Could Dan Uggla be a solution at second base or is he too pricey?

I'm not particularly high on Dan Uggla for the Twins, although certainly as a .257/.344/.486 career hitter with 30-homer power who draws lots of walks his bat would be a huge upgrade. However, he's also a bad defensive second baseman who's unwilling to change positions and figures to make at least $7 million via arbitration for 2010. Toss in the prospects to get him from the Marlins and the price is likely too high. Probably a moot point anyway, because the Twins don't target guys with 160 strikeouts a year.

Which of the Twins' championship teams was your favorite?

Definitely the 1991 team, because that was the first season that I remember watching. Helluva year to start being a hardcore baseball fan. At the time it seemed obvious to an 8-year-old me that the Twins would be in the World Series every year and I recall keeping overly detailed stats in a notebook during each game. Shocking, I know.

If Joe Nathan were to be traded, what kind of value could the Twins expect?

That's really difficult to predict. Joe Nathan has been an elite closer for his entire time in Minnesota, but he's also 35 years old and owed $11.25 million in each of the next two seasons, with a $12.5 million option or $2 million buyout for 2012. Even if they wanted to not many teams are in a position to give up significant value and take that kind of payroll hit for a guy who pitches 60-70 innings per season. Plus, there are a handful of other closers available via free agency or trade this winter, flooding the market.

If the Twins did trade Nathan, who in the bullpen could take his place?

For the most part any very good setup man can be a good closer, so the question is basically whether or not the Twins have any very good setup men. Jon Rauch has previous closing experience and prior to his injury Pat Neshek certainly looked capable of doing the job, but right now the Twins certainly lack a dominant setup man. Still, few people pegged guys like Eddie Guardado or even Nathan himself as an obvious closer success story before they were handed ninth-inning duties. It's a role, not a position.

Realistic thoughts on Ben Sheets?

I actually just wrote something about Ben Sheets over at Circling the Bases. He'd be an intriguing flier to take, because the demand doesn't figure to be particularly high coming off a lost season and prior to the injury he was consistently one of the best pitchers in baseball. My interest in Sheets would depend entirely on the price, but I'd certainly rather give him an incentive-laden one-year deal than hand out a multi-year contract to someone like Jarrod Washburn.

What's the story with Glen Perkins? Should he stay or should he go?

Glen Perkins has a 4.73 ERA and mediocre secondary numbers through 281.2 innings in the majors while missing a bunch of time with injuries and butting heads with the Twins over the handling of those injuries, so it wouldn't surprise me to see him traded this offseason. When healthy he's a solid fourth or fifth starter, but at 27 years old his upside is limited. There's certainly no need to trade him, but if the Twins can get decent value despite the injuries they should be willing to make a deal.

Where is a good place to learn about baseball stats in layman's terms?

This is a good question, but I'm not sure that I have a great answer. Fan Graphs, Baseball Prospectus, The Hardball Times, and all have very useful glossaries that explain various stats, although not always in tremendous detail. I'd start by doing some digging at those links and then Google topics that interest you most, but also try to read the analysis being done at Fan Graphs or THT to see how the stats are being used in context.

What's the probability that Francisco Liriano returns to his 2006 form?

Basically zero. Francisco Liriano was the best pitcher on the planet in 2006, albeit briefly, but has lost a significant amount of raw stuff since elbow surgery. I'm certainly not ready to give up on him being an impact starter long term and in general people are far too quick to criticize Liriano for what is no doubt an incredibly difficult situation for a young pitcher, but the guy from 2006 just doesn't exist at this point.

If Liriano doesn't return to 2006 form, what is his role with the Twins?

If he can't rediscover his control and learn to better command his fastball now that it's low-90s instead of mid-90s then Liriano is destined for a bullpen role. While coming up through the minors many felt that he'd end up as a reliever anyway, and Liriano certainly still has the stuff to be very effective there if things break right. Command and control are less important when you're going all-out for one inning.

With the money equal, would you rather the Twins sign Orlando Hudson or Placido Polanco?

Orlando Hudson, definitely. Similar recent value, but Hudson is two years younger and hasn't started to decline yet. But as noted in my look at realistic free-agent options for second base, I'd be in favor of the Twins pursuing either of them.

Same question, but with Jarrod Washburn or Carl Pavano?

I'd say Carl Pavano, but I'd be against giving either pitcher a multi-year deal unless the annual salaries were very reasonable. Pavano is probably a better bet for 2010 though, so he gets the nod.

What happened to the Fat-O-Meter?

Sadly, it might be a lost cause. I'm fatter than ever and busier than ever, which is a bad combination for any hope of jump-starting a weight-loss program. Losing over 90 pounds and then gaining it all back is probably the most depressing, pathetic, embarrassing thing that I've ever done. And that's really saying something. I might need to go on the Biggest Loser or have someone bet me $100,000 or something, because clearly just not wanting to be a fatso isn't working.

Keeping other potential acquisitions in mind, would you start Nick Punto at second or third base? The bench isn't an option.

All things being equaled I'd rather have Nick Punto playing second base, because his bat is less awful relative to the position and his glove has a shot to make a bigger impact up the middle. With that said, if you assume that Gardenhire is going to start him somewhere regardless of what other infielders the Twins add, then the best spot for Punto suddenly depends on whether the second baseman available to them is better than the third baseman available to them.

What do you think the Twins' plans are for Wilson Ramos?

Wilson Ramos is one of the Twins' best prospects, but after missing most of this season with injuries while at Double-A he's still far enough away from the majors that there's no need to really adjust plans for him quite yet. With that said, he's a 22-year-old catcher with the potential to be an asset offensively and defensively, and obviously the Twins already have someone like that behind the plate. He's likely still a couple years from potentially pushing for a big-league job, and a lot can happen in that time.

Do the Twins have any shot at Chone Figgins or Pedro Feliz? Would either even be a good fit for the team or the payroll?

Chone Figgins would be a nice fit, but he's going to be significantly out of the Twins' price range. Pedro Feliz is a possibility. I actually wrote about him as part of my look at the realistic free-agent options for third base, noting that he's either a poor man's Joe Crede or a healthy man's Crede, but then decided to publish only five options and he was the sixth choice. Very good defense, but not much else.

Once you're done here, check out my blog and Twitter updates.

November 15, 2009

Twins Notes: Washburn, Buscher, Huber, Crede, Neshek

  • Joe Christensen of the Minneapolis Star Tribune notes that the Twins "are expected to pursue" free agent Jarrod Washburn, which certainly isn't surprising. At various points over the past two years the Twins have been linked to Washburn in trade rumors, and depending on who you believe they were on the verge of acquiring him from the Mariners two seasons ago. However, based on his likely price tag signing Washburn would be a mistake for the Twins.

    An extreme fly-ball pitcher who took advantage of the Mariners' power-deflating ballpark and historically great outfield defense to post a 2.64 ERA through 20 starts this year, Washburn allowed 35 runs in 43 innings for the Tigers following a midseason trade. His struggles in Detroit can perhaps be blamed on a knee injury that required post-season surgery, but regardless of that he's a soft-tossing 35-year-old with mediocre control and a horrible strikeout rate who hasn't thrown 200 innings since 2003.

    Since that last 200-inning season Washburn has posted the following Expected Fielding Independent Pitching (xFIP) totals: 5.06, 5.01, 5.35, 5.30, 5.11, 4.97. Not surprisingly xFIP doesn't think very much of extreme fly-ball pitchers who lack pinpoint control and don't miss any bats, and once you add in his age and knee surgery Washburn is the epitome of a bad free-agent target. If he ends up with the Twins they better pray that Denard Span's early defensive ratings are fluky and the new ballpark plays very big.

  • Removed from the 40-man roster last week, Brian Buscher opted for free agency rather than re-sign with the Twins on a minor-league deal. Buscher is a tweener in that he's not strong enough defensively to be a regular third baseman and not strong enough offensively to be a regular first baseman, which makes him merely a decent bench player. He hit .266/.343/.356 with eight homers, 22 total extra-base hits, and a 93-to-53 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 502 plate appearances for the Twins.

    Plucked from the Giants organization via the minor-league phase of the Rule 5 draft three winters ago, Buscher hit .309/.385/.493 in 103 games between Double-A and Triple-A in 2007 and .319/.402/.514 in 53 games at Triple-A last year, but showed an extreme lack of power with the Twins and ultimately isn't much of a loss. Buscher's patient, relatively high-contract approach could make him a solid pinch-hitter and backup at both corner infield spots, but at 29 years old there isn't much upside to be had.

  • Justin Huber initially agreed to a minor-league contract with the Twins after being trimmed from the 40-man roster, but the Hiroshima Carp of the Japanese League are reportedly close to acquiring him. Huber is the type of player who Japanese teams often target, because he has a lengthy track record of minor-league success without a big-league future. In fact, he's accumulated a grand total of 175 plate appearances in the majors despite hitting .283/.375/.484 over 3,533 plate appearances in the minors.

    UPDATE: Seth Stohs reports that Juan Morillo has also signed with a team in Japan despite the Twins adding him to the 40-man roster last week.

  • Bill Smith indicated that the Twins are still open to re-signing Joe Crede, but view him as more of a fallback option than they did at this time last year. He recently underwent a third back surgery, but will be ready for spring training and no longer has any pretense of getting anything but an incentive-laden one-year contract. He's hardly an ideal target at third base, but as noted in last week's "Realistic Free Agent Options" look at the position Crede for $2 million or so wouldn't be an awful last resort.
  • After missing the entire season following Tommy John elbow surgery, Pat Neshek recently blogged that he's throwing fastballs, changeups, and sliders off a mound at "max effort" and "feels great." What to expect from Neshek in 2010 is anyone's guess, because for every pitcher who bounces back quickly from the surgery there's a Francisco Liriano who leaves his dominant stuff on the operating table, but before going down he had a 2.91 ERA, .188 opponents' average, and 142 strikeouts in 120.2 innings.
  • Joe Mauer won his second straight Gold Glove, which might be somewhat meaningful if not for the fact that Derek Jeter also won his fourth Gold Glove and Franklin Gutierrez failed to capture his first. Yet another award that, for me at least, has lost all meaning thanks to years and years of bad choices.

  • Once you're done here, check out my blog and Twitter updates.

    November 12, 2009

    Twitter Mailbag: Any Questions?

    I'm having some computer problems that rule out putting together a decent Link-O-Rama for this week, but it does give me the opportunity to try something new. I've been on Twitter for a few months now and it recently occurred to me that putting together an mailbag entry consisting entirely of questions submitted via Twitter could be interesting. Plus, one issue with the traditional mailbag columns that I've done here in the past is overly long questions that are difficult to re-print, and Twitter forces brevity.

    Here's how it'll work: If you have a question (or questions) about the Twins or the blog or really anything that someone might find interesting or amusing, go to my Twitter page and send me @ replies. And if you're not on Twitter and have no clue what an @ reply is, this will give you a chance to check it out. Or you can just let everyone else ask questions via Twitter and wait to read the mailbag when it shows up here next week. Pretty simple, right? If there's a decent response we'll make it a regular thing, so try it.

    To submit questions for the mailbag, send them to @aarongleeman on Twitter.

    November 11, 2009

    Realistic Free Agent Options: Third Base

    Projecting which free agents the Twins will go after is difficult because their pursuit of low-cost options depends upon how the market shakes out and who drops into their price range. In the past five years they've also wasted money on a lengthy list of washed-up veterans like Tony Batista, Livan Hernandez, Ramon Ortiz, Craig Monroe, Juan Castro, Sidney Ponson, and Luis Ayala (among others) with only an occasional worthwhile signing like Joe Crede or Dennys Reyes sprinkled in.

    For the most part the Twins have targeted only bargain-basement options while far more often than not choosing badly, which makes it kind of pointless to predict which free agents they'll pursue. So, instead I'll focus on which free agents they should pursue. I'm trying to be realistic with the recommendations, highlighting guys who may actually sign modest one- or two-year deals rather than dreaming about the top-tier free agents. With that in mind, here are five third basemen the Twins should look into ...

    Adrian Beltre: It makes sense for the Twins to go after Beltre as a free agent after trying to trade for him in the past, and missing 50 games while hitting .265/.304/.379 has his value lower than ever. Shoulder problems make Beltre a risk and he's seemingly been banged up constantly in recent years, but this season was actually the first time since 2001 that he failed to play at least 140 games. Despite being around forever Beltre won't be 31 years old until April, so if healthy he's capable of a nice bounce back.

    He'll never repeat the monster 2004 season that got him a huge contract, but in five years with Seattle he hit .266/.317/.442 despite playing half his games in a ballpark that wreaks havoc on right-handed power hitters. Long one of the game's elite defensive third basemen, Beltre's glove has been as good as ever during the past two seasons. Despite this year's injuries and poor production Beltre may still be out of the Twins' price range, but he'd be an ideal target if the market proves lacking.

    Mark DeRosa: After a career-year in 2008 the Cubs traded DeRosa to the Indians for a trio of mid-level prospects. He had a nice first half as Cleveland collapsed, hitting .270/.342/.457, and was then dealt to St. Louis for two nice relief prospects. Unfortunately for the Cardinals he suffered a wrist injury almost immediately and batted just .228/.291/.405 in 68 games while spending time on the disabled list, and DeRosa underwent surgery last week.

    Between the wrist problems and turning 35 years old DeRosa is a risk, but he's hit .281/.356/.448 over the past four seasons while playing everywhere but center field and catcher defensively. His glove isn't particularly good anywhere, but if healthy DeRosa is passable at third base and plenty productive from the right side of the plate, offering solid batting averages, 20-homer power, and good plate discipline. If a rough finish to 2009 has dropped him into the Twins' price range, a two-year deal might work.

    Troy Glaus: Struggles returning from offseason shoulder surgery followed by back problems left Glaus on the sidelines until September and he played just 14 games overall, basically making it a lost year for the four-time All-Star. His health remains a huge question mark, but Glaus hit .270/.372/.483 with 27 homers in 151 games for the Cardinals last year to top an .800 OPS in a ninth straight season. For the 2000s he leads all MLB third baseman with 274 homers and ranks third in adjusted OPS+.

    Glaus' ability to play third base is certainly in doubt, because in addition to the shoulder problems he's 33 years old, stands 6-foot-5, and weighs around 250 pounds. However, he was originally a shortstop and his glove has graded out reasonably well at the hot corner, rating as a positive in 2007 and 2008. In terms of risk versus reward Glaus has the highest upside of any free agent third baseman, because if healthy he's an elite right-handed power hitter with good plate discipline and a decent glove.

    Melvin Mora: Baltimore officially made him a free agent last week by declining an $8 million option for 2010 and Mora isn't likely to be very picky coming off a career-worst season. He'll also be 38 years old soon, so there's good reason for teams like the Twins to stay away, but Mora would be a worthwhile pickup on a one-year deal. Despite hitting just .260/.321/.358 this year he remained decent defensively at third base and Mora hit .285/.342/.483 with 23 homers as recently as last season.

    In fact, this season was the first time since 2001 that Mora failed to post an above average on-base percentage and he's hit a combined .276/.340/.427 in the five years since his monster 2004 campaign. I'd hang up the phone as soon as his agent mentioned anything more than a one-year deal, but it'd be worth a few million bucks to see if Mora can hit .275 with 15 homers, a solid on-base percentage, and average defense while the Twins wait on prospect Danny Valencia to take a step forward.

    Joe Crede: When he signed with the Twins last winter Crede was coming off a year in which he played just 97 games because of injuries and hit .248 with 17 homers and a bad on-base percentage. Now he's coming off a season in which he played just 90 games because of injuries and hit .225 with 15 homers and a bad on-base percentage. In other words Crede performed more or less like the Twins should have expected and was worth the incentive-laden investment with his great defense factored in.

    So will the Twins offer him another one-year contract? Probably not, but he makes just about as much sense now as he did last offseason and may even be cheaper this time around. When healthy Crede hits in the low .200s with good power and plays excellent defense at third base, but he's missed 234 of a possible 488 games in the past three years. He clearly can't be counted on, but if the Twins don't feel that Valencia is quite ready and miss out on the aforementioned options Crede for $2 million isn't bad.

    Once you're done here, check out my blog and Twitter updates.

    November 9, 2009

    Twins Notes: Hardy, Gomez, Cabrera, Pavano, and Cuddyer

  • Before settling on Carlos Gomez the Brewers were apparently deep in J.J. Hardy trade talks with an assortment of teams. For example, the Boston Globe reports that they turned down the Red Sox's offer of Michael Bowden, insisting instead on either Clay Buchholz or Daniel Bard. According to the Toronto Globe and Mail they requested either Adam Lind or Travis Snider from the Blue Jays, but new general manager Alex Anthopoulos wouldn't bite.

    Hardy is coming off arguably the worst season of his career, so there's no doubt that the Brewers sold low, but obviously he still had plenty of value around baseball and Milwaukee clearly wasn't just looking to dump him. Bowden is a solid pitching prospect, and guys like Buchholz, Lind, Bard, or Snider are all very promising young building blocks. Gomez got a bum rap in Minnesota and is underrated in terms of current value and future upside, but I'd probably have traded him for any of those four players.

  • As you'd expect, Ron Gardenhire had some good and some not-so-good things to say about Gomez following the trade:

    He irritates people. Sometimes me. We've been trying to get him to calm down and get him to control the situations, and sometimes the situation controls him. There are times when you're like, "Go-Go, you have to see what we're trying to do here." We just had a 25-pitch inning from our pitcher, and he goes up and falls down swinging on the first pitch.

    Those things get you irritated as a manager, because we want him to recognize what we're doing in a game. But he can play, and he's fun to watch. He's very, very talented and has a lot to learn, yes, but like I said, when you see him out there in center field covering all that ground and then some of the offensive things he can do that other people can't do, that's why the guy is in the big leagues.

    Sounds about right. I'd have loved to see how differently things may have turned out for Gomez had he spent 2008 and perhaps even part of this season at Triple-A, but thanks to the Mets rushing him to the majors and the Twins feeling like they needed something immediate to show from the Johan Santana trade we'll never know. Certainly many of those issues that Gardenhire brings up would've been worth working on against International League pitchers. Oh well.

  • One of the bonuses of trading for Hardy was seemingly that it would keep the Twins from re-signing Orlando Cabrera, but we may not be out of those woods quite yet. Sid Hartman's latest column quotes Gardenhire as saying that he'd still like to bring Cabrera back to play second base, with Nick Punto at third base. Seriously. Ideally the Twins would demote Punto to a backup role, but if Gardenhire intends to start him somewhere second base is the lesser of all evils. Punto and Cabrera is just a bad idea.
  • Yesterday the Elias Sports Bureau released the annual compensation rankings for free agents, with some potential points of interest for the Twins. Cabrera qualified as Type A, but under the terms of his contract the Twins can't offer him arbitration and thus aren't eligible to get draft picks if/when he signs elsewhere. Possible middle-infield targets Orlando Hudson, Placido Polanco, and Marco Scutaro are also Type A, which no doubt lessens whatever odds the Twins had of signing them.

    Carl Pavano ranked as Type B, which is good news. Based on reports that the Twins are interested in re-signing him they seem likely to offer Pavano arbitration if needed, in which case they'll receive a draft pick between the first and second round if he opts to leave. Possible infield targets Felipe Lopez, Mark DeRosa, Adrian Beltre, Ronnie Belliard, Troy Glaus, and Melvin Mora are all also Type B, so the Twins could potentially pursue them without putting their first-round pick at risk.

  • Michael Cuddyer's contract forced the Twins to make a decision on his 2011 status within five days of the World Series and as expected they exercised his $10.5 million option. He's unlikely to actually be worth $10.5 million as a 32-year-old in 2011, but if healthy he should be worth something reasonably close to that and either way there was zero chance of the Twins choosing a $1 million buyout instead. If you're curious, Fan Graphs pegs Cuddyer as being worth about $9 million this year.
  • Baltimore claimed Armando Gabino off waivers after the Twins dropped him from the 40-man roster. When the Twins added Gabino to the 40-man roster a year ago I wrote that it was "confusing" because he "doesn't induce tons of ground balls or miss tons of bats and his control is spotty, which makes him look like a potential middle reliever at best." Since then he put together a solid season at Triple-A as a 25-year-old, but he flopped in a spot start for the Twins and isn't worth protecting with a roster spot.

    Justin Huber was also removed from the 40-man roster, but unlike Gabino he passed through waivers unclaimed and may choose to remain with the Twins on a minor-league deal. Huber is a useful player to have around as organizational depth and hit .273/.356/.482 with 22 homers in 121 games at Triple-A this season, but players like him are readily available for the most part. He's more or less the definition of a replacement-level first baseman.

  • In addition to dropping Gabino and Huber the Twins added Juan Morillo to the 40-man roster, which is interesting given that they claimed him off waivers from the Rockies in April only to pass him through waivers unclaimed two weeks later. Morillo racked up 87 strikeouts in 67 innings at Rochester and has a rare legitimate high-90s fastball, but his career-long control problems led to 51 walks in those same 67 innings and teams have had plenty of chances to claim him already. He's intriguing, but a long shot.
  • Hardy and Joe Mauer have apparently been friends since playing together on a junior national team as 15-year-olds and he seems very happy to be coming to Minnesota. He'll have to change his uniform number, though.
  • Stumbling across this stuff is always fun: Six years ago I ranked the top 50 prospects in baseball for The Hardball Times, and Hardy and Delmon Young were back-to-back at 30 and 29. Also of interest to Twins fans from that list? Huber at 44, Jesse Crain at 34, Justin Morneau at 12, and Mauer in the top spot with a write-up that began: "This is what a great prospect looks like."

  • Once you're done here, check out my blog and Twitter updates.

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