November 21, 2011

Twins Notes: Carroll’s contract, Kubel’s compensation, and minor moves

Jamey Carroll's deal was initially reported as two years and $7 million, but the actual details are slightly different. Carroll will get $2.75 million in 2012 and $3.75 million in 2013, and there's also a $2 million team option or $250,000 buyout for 2014 that becomes a player option with no buyout if he tops 400 plate appearances in 2013. Most likely it'll wind up being a two-year, $6.75 million deal, but it could become a three-year, $8.5 million contract.

Obviously committing multiple seasons to a 38-year-old middle infielder isn't ideal, but Carroll's deal seemed like a fair one to me at the time and looks even better now compared to a pair of middle infielder signings that followed. Mark Ellis got two years and $8.75 million to basically replace Carroll on the Dodgers. They're similar players, but Ellis hasn't played shortstop since 2005 and is coming off a career-worst season that saw him hit just .248/.288/.346 at age 34.

Clint Barmes got two years and $11 million from the Pirates, who'll use him as their everyday shortstop. All things being equal Barmes might be a better choice than Carroll for the next two seasons because he's five years younger and an elite defender with 15-homer power, but the money isn't close to equal and Barmes has also hit just .230/.275/.360 away from Colorado. Even with Coors Field included his .302 on-base percentage is 54 points below Carroll's mark.

Reported changes in the soon-to-be-signed collective bargaining agreement would eliminate compensation for Type B free agents, meaning the Twins would receive nothing if Jason Kubel signs elsewhere. Getting rid of the Type B free agent designation and lessening the number of Type A free agents qualified for compensation seems like bad news for the Twins long term, as they lose more free agents than they sign and rely heavily on the extra draft picks.

Not trading Kubel was a questionable decision when the Twins assumed they'd be receiving a supplemental first-round pick if he left as a free agent, but if that compensation for Kubel and other Type B players is eliminated they'll obviously regret the non-move. Instead of cashing him in for a decent prospect or two they'd get nothing, although certainly you can't blame the Twins for not being able to predict the future of collective bargaining changes.

Phil Dumatrait re-signed with the Twins on a minor-league deal after being trimmed off the 40-man roster. Dumatrait's track record shows that even his limited success involved pitching way over his head, but as Triple-A depth he's fine. Along with Dumatrait (and Brian Dinkelman and Jared Burton, who signed last week) the Twins also inked minor-league deals with Jason Bulger, Brendan Wise, Matt Carson, Wilkin Ramirez, Samuel Deduno, and Luis Perdomo.

When the Angels acquired Bulger from the Diamondbacks for Alberto Callaspo in 2006 he was a potential late-inning reliever, but injuries and control problems have held him back and now he's 32 years old with just 133 career innings in the majors. On the other hand he has a 4.33 ERA and 138 strikeouts in those 133 innings and throws in the low-90s with a good curveball, so the right-hander could be a midseason bullpen option.

Perdomo throws hard and spent 2009 in the Padres' bullpen with a 4.80 ERA and 55/34 K/BB ratio in 60 innings, but the 27-year-old righty has been mediocre at Triple-A since then and mostly just adds to the sudden collection of relievers with big velocity and little else. Wise and Deduno don't fit that mold, topping out in the low-90s. Wise's pretty ERA at Triple-A hides poor secondary numbers and Deduno is a ground-ball guy who doesn't miss bats or throw strikes.

Carson and Ramirez are both journeyman outfielders with brief stints in the majors who'll add some speed and right-handed pop to Rochester's lineup. Carson has hit .280/.343/.515 in 378 games at Triple-A, including .279/.337/.533 with 24 homers and 11 steals in 112 games this year at age 29. Ramirez is 27 years old and has hit .247/.308/.431 in 270 games at Triple-A, including .267/.307/.458 with 11 homers and 19 steals in 81 games this season.

• Bulger, Burton, Dumatrait, Dinkelman, and Carson are examples of the type of guys available on minor-league deals every offseason, which is why it's so confusing that the Twins decided to give 40-man roster spots to similarly mediocre talent like Matt Maloney and Jeff Gray. They can always drop Maloney and Gray from the 40-man roster, of course, but in the meantime the deadline to add prospects newly eligible for the Rule 5 draft came and went.

Oswaldo Arcia, Carlos Gutierrez, and Tyler Robertson were the three additions, protecting them from being selected in next month's draft, but the Twins also left decent prospects Angel Morales, Manuel Soliman, and Tom Stuifbergen unprotected and changed David Bromberg from protected to unprotected by outrighting him off the 40-man roster. Odds are that none of those four will be Rule 5 picks, but it certainly wouldn't be shocking if the Twins lost someone.

Bromberg was named Twins minor league pitcher of the year in 2009, but saw his stock drop with the jump to Double-A and Triple-A in 2010 and missed most of this year after a line drive broke his forearm in May. He ranked No. 13 on my list of the Twins' best prospects coming into this season and will probably drop into the 20-30 range for 2012, which is also where Morales, Stuifbergen, and Soliman will likely end up if they remain in the organization.

Delmon Young's postseason power surge caused some people to overreact about the Twins dumping him in mid-August, but now Jon Paul Morosi of FOXSports.com writes that the Tigers are trying to deal him because they're "concerned about his defense." They apparently offered Young to the Braves for Martin Prado, but were turned down. And if the Tigers keep Young for 2012 they'll likely be paying him at least $7 million in his final season before free agency.

November 19, 2011

Twins sign catcher/outfielder Ryan Doumit to one-year, $3 million deal

For the second time in a week the Twins moved quickly to fill a hole with a low-cost free agent, signing Ryan Doumit to a one-year, $3 million contract after previously signing Jamey Carroll to a two-year, $6.75 million deal. Doumit, like Carroll, was a player I recommended targeting in my position-by-position breakdown of inexpensive, realistic free agent options and $3 million is an absolute bargain for the flawed but very useful 30-year-old.

Doumit has been a catcher for most of his career, making 403 starts and logging 3,513 innings behind the plate during seven seasons with the Pirates, but his defense has always been a weakness. His arm is decent enough, as Doumit threw out 24 percent of steal attempts this year and 25 percent for his career, but his passed ball and wild pitch totals aren't pretty and a study by Mike Fast of Baseball Prospectus showed Doumit as MLB's worst at framing pitches.

Ideally he'd see minimal action behind the plate, but if Joe Mauer spends time on the disabled list again and his backup is forced into an extended role Doumit will allow the Twins to sacrifice defense for offense with a better alternative than Drew Butera. And if Mauer can stay mostly healthy the Twins can keep Butera in a limited backup role and plug Doumit into the lineup as a corner outfielder, first baseman, and designated hitter.

Doumit isn't going to be a standout defender away from catcher, but he's logged 489 innings in right field and 251 innings at first base and should be passable at worst in either spot. And his bat is strong enough to be an asset anywhere, as Doumit is a switch-hitter with a career .271/.334/.442 line and batted .303/.353/.477 this year. For comparison, Michael Cuddyer is a career .272/.343/.451 hitter and batted .284/.346/.459 this year.

Doumit's overall numbers and Cuddyer's overall numbers are almost identical, but within that are very different hitters. Cuddyer destroys left-handers and is mediocre versus right-handers, while Doumit is very good against righties and mediocre off lefties. That means Doumit doesn't fit quite as well in a Twins lineup heavy on lefty bats, but even in a different form production is still production and a poor man's Cuddyer who can also play catcher is a great fit for $3 million.

Along with shaky catching his injury history is another reason Doumit was available so cheaply after the Pirates declined his $7.25 million option. He broke his ankle this year, broke his wrist in 2009, and has had concussions. However, the fractured ankle came when a runner plowed into him at the plate and the concussions stemmed from foul tips to the mask, so transitioning away from catching regularly should significantly increase Doumit's odds of staying healthy.

And if Doumit can stay healthy he's capable of posting some very nice numbers. He's been an above-average hitter in four of the past five seasons, batting .280/.337/.454 during that time while averaging 20 homers and 37 doubles per 500 at-bats. He's a free-swinger, drawing just 43 walks per 600 plate appearances over that four-year span, but Doumit also leans into quite a few pitches to boost his on-base percentage and doesn't strike out much.

Doumit is far from a perfect player, but he hits well enough to replace Cuddyer or Jason Kubel if they go elsewhere as free agents, can also fill in at first base if Justin Morneau's concussion symptoms persist, has enough catching experience to be far better than Butera if needed to replace Mauer behind the plate, and brings some much-needed versatility to a roster filled with health questions. For a modest one-year commitment that's some good shopping on a budget.

November 18, 2011

Offseason shopping on a budget: Right-handed bats

Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel potentially both departing as free agents has the Twins in the market for help in the form of corner outfielders, designated hitters, or first basemen, and Cuddyer's exit would leave them even shorter than usual on strong right-handed bats. Below are 15 free agent options--some everyday guys, some platoon guys--who could help balance the lineup from the right side of the plate without costing a ton.

Josh Willingham: Normally the Twins would never forfeit their first-round pick to sign a Type A free agent, but because next year's top pick is protected it might be an option. They've been linked to Willingham, who's quietly posted an OPS above .800 in six straight seasons despite playing in pitcher-friendly ballparks. Over the past three years Cuddyer has hit .276/.341/.465 and Willingham has hit .257/.360/.479. It all depends on price, but he wouldn't be a dropoff.

Derrek Lee: Last offseason Lee signed a one-year, $7.25 million deal with the Orioles and he should be even cheaper this time around after playing 35 fewer games with a nearly identical OPS compared to 2010. Lee is no longer a middle-of-the-order threat and his plate discipline vanishing this season is worrisome for a 36-year-old, but even a repeat of his .267/.325/.446 line with solid defense at first base would be worth a one-year investment.

Andruw Jones: Jones looked completely washed-up at age 30, but he's gotten back on track enough to be a solid bench player for the past three seasons, batting .228/.338/.478 in 881 plate appearances spotted mostly versus lefties. If you focus on the Hall of Fame-caliber player Jones was in his twenties he's sure to disappoint, but as a 34-year-old corner outfielder who's hit .254/.374/.492 off southpaws since 2009 he's still plenty useful.

Jonny Gomes: Strikeouts, poor defense, and flailing away against righties have limited Gomes to part-time roles, but he's always fared very well versus lefties and batted .298/.383/.492 off them during the past three years. As an everyday player he's overmatched, but as a platoon player and bench bat Gomes would be worth adding and figures to be cheap. He has big-time power, draws plenty of walks, and at age 31 might be helpful beyond 2012.

Cody Ross: Ross predictably resumed being a mediocre hitter after his out of nowhere playoff breakout in 2010, but as a right-handed bat with 20-homer power and enough range to play center field in a pinch he'd be a worthwhile pickup at the right price. During the past three years Ross hit .272/.342/.521 versus lefties and his .258/.316/.404 line off righties is passable enough to not be a total disaster if pushed into extended action, assuming he's cheap.

Magglio Ordonez: Ordonez finally stopped hitting at age 37 and two fractured ankles in two years means he may simply be finished, but he's also just a year removed from a decade-long run as one of the elite right-handed hitters in baseball and has always destroyed left-handed pitching. Limiting him strictly to designated hitter duties could help keep Ordonez healthy and prior to the first fractured ankle in mid-2010 he hit .303/.378/.474 in 84 games for the Tigers.

Ryan Ludwick: Since batting .299/.375/.591 with 37 homers in a 2008 breakout Ludwick has seen his OPS drop from .966 to .775 to .743 to .674. He was terrible this season against both righties and lefties, but was an above-average hitter in 2009 and 2010 despite poor batting averages and is a solid defensive corner outfielder. If a team still wants to pay Ludwick like a middle-of-the-order bat the Twins should bow out, but as cheap right-handed pop he's decent.

Reed Johnson: Johnson has always been an ideal fourth outfielder because he can handle all three spots defensively, puts up strong numbers versus left-handed pitching, and isn't totally overmatched versus right-handers once in a while. At age 34 his range has slipped some and his strikeout-to-walk ratio over the past two years is laughably bad at 113-to-10, but he also hit .303/.327/.467 off lefties during that time.

Scott Hairston: He never really developed as expected or found an obvious home defensively, but Hairston is a .274/.328/.486 career hitter versus southpaws and has outfield experience in all three spots. He's a free agent after hitting .235/.303/.470 in 79 games for the Mets on a one-year, $1.1 million deal and Hairston has averaged 23 homers per 550 at-bats throughout his career despite calling pitcher-friendly Petco Park home for half that time.

Vladimir Guerrero: At age 36 his knees are shot, he looks lost in the outfield, and his bat is no longer anywhere near elite, but Guerrero hit .304/.319/.456 in the second half to finish with an above-average OPS overall for the Orioles. He shouldn't be playing every day or batting in the middle of the lineup, but for a one-year deal and a part-time job focused mostly on lefties the former MVP still has some value.

Xavier Nady: As a 29-year-old Nady batted .305 with 25 homers in 2008, but multiple injuries have limited him to 208 games in three seasons since and he's hit just .254/.299/.359. Prior to all the injuries Nady consistently knocked around left-handers and he has lots of experience as a first baseman and corner outfielder. Assuming he's willing to accept an inexpensive one-year contract and a part-time role Nady would fit as a backup and platoon player.

Mark DeRosa: Injuries derailed DeRosa's career, limiting him to 71 unproductive games during a two-year, $12 million deal with the Giants. He's also 37 years old, which adds to the risk, but DeRosa is a career .297/.370/.481 hitter versus left-handers and has started games at every position except catcher and center field. On a cheap one-year contract he'd make sense and a part-time role might help him stay off the disabled list.

Marcus Thames: Thames has quietly been one of the most powerful bats of the past decade, ranking sixth among all active right-handed hitters in Isolated Power. He's actually had slightly more raw pop versus righties, but low batting averages and little plate discipline mean Thames should be limited to facing mostly lefties. He's also 35 years old and terrible defensively, but figures to be available on the cheap after being cut loose following a 36-game Dodgers stint.

Aaron Rowand: San Francisco finally gave up on Rowand four seasons into his five-year, $60 million contract, releasing the 34-year-old outfielder in September with $12 million still on the books for 2012. Rowand was a bust for the Giants and has hit just .231/.277/.363 during the past two seasons, but the former Gold Glove winner still covers enough ground to be a fourth outfielder and could be reasonably productive if spotted versus left-handed pitching.

Conor Jackson: Once upon a time Jackson was a top prospect who hit .287/.367/.443 through his first three seasons, but valley fever threatened his career in 2009 and he hasn't been the same since. It'd be worth a minimal investment to find out if Jackson can still be productive in a part-time role and he's played lots of right field, left field, and first base in addition to being an emergency option at third base.

November 16, 2011

“Gleeman and The Geek” #15: Carroll, HOF, and New Media

This week's episode of "Gleeman and The Geek" was recorded at Park Tavern in St. Louis Park and our special guest was Minneapolis Star Tribune online sports coordinator and Twins blogger Howard Sinker, who went with Blue Moon as the beer of choice. Topics included the Jamey Carroll signing, backup catcher options, candidates for the Twins' Hall of Fame, getting married at Target Field, and the evolving state of blogs, newspapers, and new media.

Gleeman and The Geek: Episode 15

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

November 15, 2011

Offseason shopping on a budget: Relievers

For the second straight offseason the Twins need relief help. Last winter they ignored the free agent market, trusted various in-house options, and wound up with a fire-starting bullpen that had the worst ERA in baseball. Joe Nathan and Matt Capps are free agents and Glen Perkins is the only reliable holdover, so here are 14 worthwhile bullpen targets who figure to be cheap enough to fit into the Twins' budget assuming they don't bust it on Nathan or another closer.

Frank Francisco: If other teams pursue Francisco as a closer the Twins should bow out, but if he's available for setup man money it could be a nice fit. He can't be counted on for more than 50 or 60 innings, but over the past four seasons Francisco has a 3.54 ERA, 10.5 strikeouts per nine innings, and a .226 opponents' batting average while averaging 94.1 miles per hour with his fastball. If the Twins are serious about adding power arms, he's an obvious target.

Jonathan Broxton: After a four-year run as one of baseball's most dominant relievers Broxton began struggling in mid-2010 and fell apart this season, missing the final five months with an elbow injury. He underwent minor surgery in September, but is expected to be fully recovered by spring training and is still just 28 years old. Broxton had a 2.92 ERA with 11.9 strikeouts per nine innings through his first five years. He's a big risk, but the reward could be just as huge.

Mike Gonzalez: After a long history of arm problems Gonzalez is recovering from knee surgery, but if healthy he's an elite left-handed reliever. Gonzalez had 51 strikeouts in 53 innings this season and has averaged 10.3 strikeouts per nine innings for his career, which ranks second among all active lefties. His control can be shaky and offering more than a one-year deal would be a mistake, but Gonzalez is capable of getting high-leverage outs versus lefties and righties.

LaTroy Hawkins: At age 38 and eight years after leaving the Twins as a free agent Hawkins posted a 2.42 ERA and 28/10 K/BB ratio in 48 innings for the Brewers, giving him a 3.43 ERA in 444 total innings since exiting Minnesota. He's lost fastball velocity, but Hawkins still averaged 92.6 miles per hour this season and served up just one home run while inducing more than 60 percent ground balls for the second time in his career.

Brad Lidge: Once an elite closer with a devastating mid-90s fastball and high-80s slider, Lidge averaged just 88.9 mph on his fastball and 80.9 mph on his slider this year while being limited to 19 innings following elbow surgery. At age 35 his velocity likely isn't coming back, but Lidge still racked up 10.7 strikeouts per nine innings throwing in the high-80s and his slider remains one of the best pitches in baseball. If the price is right he'd be a nice boom-or-bust pickup.

Octavio Dotel: I suggested signing Dotel last offseason, when he got a one-year, $3.5 million deal and logged 54 innings with a 3.50 ERA and 62/17 K/BB ratio. He has the highest strikeout rate of all time among right-handers with 800-plus innings and even at age 37 got more than 10 strikeouts per nine innings for the fifth straight season. Dotel struggles against left-handed power hitters, but if spotted mostly versus righties he can be a major late-inning weapon.

Joel Peralta: Another of my suggested signings last winter, Peralta got a one-year, $925,000 deal from the Rays and tossed 68 innings with a 2.93 ERA and 61/18 K/BB ratio. His raw stuff has never been particularly impressive and Peralta is a 35-year-old extreme fly-ball pitcher, but his secondary numbers have always been excellent and he's got 110 strikeouts versus just 20 non-intentional walks in 117 innings since the beginning of 2010.

Takashi Saito: Saito is 41 years old and missed nearly the entire first half with hamstring and back injuries, but was his usual unhittable self after returning in July with a 1.46 ERA and .186 opponents' batting average in 25 innings. After a brilliant career in Japan he's played six years in the majors, posting ERAs of 2.07, 1.40, 2.49, 2.43, 2.83, and 2.09. Aging and injuries make him a risk, but Saito remains incredibly effective and would surely accept a one-year contract.

Jon Rauch: Rauch pitched much better than he got credit for as Nathan's replacement in 2010, converting 21 saves in 25 chances before the misguided deal for Capps bumped him back into a setup role. He left as a free agent last winter and had a mediocre season for the Blue Jays on a one-year, $3.5 million contract, but Rauch posted a 2.82 ERA and 60/20 K/BB ratio in 73 innings during one-and-a-half years for the Twins and remains a capable setup man.

Chad Qualls: Also on my list of suggested bullpen targets last winter, Qualls inked a one-year, $2.55 million deal with the Padres and threw 74 innings with a 3.51 ERA and 43/20 K/BB ratio. Because he called pitcher-friendly Petco Park home that ERA isn't as impressive as it appears and Qualls' strikeout rate was the worst of his career at age 32, but aside from a fluky 2010 season his annual ERAs are 3.55, 3.28, 3.76, 3.05, 2.81, 3.63, and 3.51 dating back to 2004.

Dan Wheeler: Yet another reliever I suggested last offseason, Wheeler signed a one-year, $3 million deal with the Red Sox and threw 49 innings with a 4.38 ERA and 39/8 K/BB ratio. Much like Dotel he's susceptible to left-handed power hitters, but righties hit just .200/.233/.379 off Wheeler during the past three seasons, producing a 104/18 K/BB ratio. As an extreme fly-ball pitcher Target Field is a good fit and at age 33 he should be available for a one-year deal.

George Sherrill: Before missing the final six weeks of the season with elbow problems Sherrill tossed 36 innings with a 3.00 ERA and 38/12 K/BB ratio, and if healthy the 35-year-old would fit nicely as a left-handed specialist. Combined over the past three seasons lefties hit just .192 with two homers and an 80/17 K/BB ratio off Sherrill, who has a 3.68 ERA and 320 strikeouts in 323 career innings.

Todd Coffey: With his sizable gut and sprint to the mound Coffey seems like a sideshow, but over the past three seasons he posted a 3.68 ERA and 167/64 K/BB ratio in 206 innings. That includes a 3.62 ERA and 46/20 K/BB ratio in 60 innings for the Nationals, who signed him to a one-year, $1.35 million deal after Coffey was non-tendered last offseason. I wanted the Twins to sign him then and he'd make sense again now as a hard-throwing righty setup man.

Michael Wuertz: Wuertz was injured and ineffective this season, convincing the A's to decline their $3.25 million option on the 32-year-old right-hander. When healthy the Minnesota native was an extremely effective setup man from 2004-2010, throwing 381 innings with a 3.45 ERA and 9.7 strikeouts per nine frames. His velocity has declined recently, so anything more than a modest one-year deal would be too risky, but Wuertz's fastball-slider combo is worth a flier.

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