June 9, 2011

Twitter Mailbag: Answers

Last week I asked for mailbag questions submitted via Twitter, so here are about 2,000 words worth of me answering 140-character queries ...

@mabreen: Can the Twins trust Bill Smith to get quality returns at the deadline?

That's definitely a big worry and probably an overlooked aspect of the looming sell-off. Can the general manager and front office whose poor trades have contributed to the team's decline be counted on to capably rebuild through trades? They've never been in clear-cut "seller" mode before, so it's tough to know until it happens, but the thought of the Twins making several big trades definitely makes me very nervous.

@natesleeter: What's the best trade Bill Smith has made?

In-season trades to get Carl Pavano, Jon Rauch, and Brian Fuentes for mid-level prospects were good moves and dealing Carlos Gomez for J.J. Hardy was a strong offseason move. It certainly hasn't been pretty overall, though.

@brandonwarne52: Bigger mistake, dealing J.J. Hardy for pennies or forgoing the Type A compensation for Carl Pavano?

In retrospect trading Hardy and re-signing Pavano for two years both look like mistakes, but at the time I hated the decision to get rid of Hardy and had no problem with the Pavano deal.

@every108minutes: What's the easiest way to explain WAR to my wife?

The simplest explanation is that it measures how many wins a player is worth compared to the caliber of players teams can easily acquire on waivers or as minor-league free agents. And if your wife's eyes don't gloss over as you say that her Wins Above Replacement Wife (WARF) is obviously off the charts.

@kinsky21: Kevin Slowey is almost certainly a goner, but who do you think is the second most likely player to be moved?

Delmon Young seems like the obvious answer, but that assumes he has some semblance of trade value remaining and I'm not so sure that's the case at this point.

@commnman: Time to just cut bait on Delmon Young?

I've never been a Young fan and tried to emphasize how overrated his performance was last season, but at this point between the lack of production offensively, embarrassing effort, and a projected 2012 salary of at least $6 million his value is marginal at best. Unfortunately the other 29 teams have likely figured that out too.

@auzzie_02: What moves would you make at the trade deadline?

I'd look to trade Young, plus Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel, Jim Thome, Kevin SloweyMatt Capps, Joe Nathan, and Pavano.

@djjlav: How's the diet coming along?

So far so good. I'm down about 70 pounds since March 7, although I was thrown for a loop the other day when I moved the scale a few inches and my weight went up nearly 10 pounds. So now I'm not sure what to believe and it's probably not a great long-term sign that my reaction to the scale issue was to immediately think, "Screw it, I should order pizza and chicken wings."

@bertrecords: Are the Twins' medical reports credible?

At this point I assume a player will need 2-3 weeks on the disabled list any time the Twins say someone is "day-to-day" with an injury and most longer timetables can safely be doubled. For example, Tsuyoshi Nishioka was initially given a 4-6 week timetable and the Twins noted that he was "ahead of schedule" a few weeks in ... and he's already been out for nine weeks. And obviously the entire Joe Mauer situation has been a mess.

@SkiUMahGopher: What's going to happen with the 40-man roster when Joe Mauer and Tsuyoshi Nishioka come off the 60-day disabled list?

In the past--and even early on this year--the Twins have made decisions based on the 40-man roster management, but now they have plenty of dead weight that could either be passed through waivers unclaimed or wouldn't hurt to lose anyway.

@kinsky21: Assuming Joe Mauer doesn't attend the game, who's the Twins' representative for the All-Star game?

Ron Coomer? I have enough issues with the way All-Stars are selected that I won't attempt to predict who'll actually get the nod, but through around one-third of the schedule Denard Span has clearly been the Twins' most valuable player and Kubel is really the only other guy playing at anything close to an All-Star level. And of course now Kubel is on the disabled list and Span is out of the lineup with a potentially serious issue.

@Capt_Yossarian: What's the best show on television right now?

Right now my DVR is set to record more than 30 shows, so it wouldn't seem right to name just one. For comedy I like Parks and Recreation, Community, Louie, Curb Your Enthusiasm, 30 Rock, It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia, Modern Family, The Office, and Childrens Hospital. For drama I like Mad Men, Friday Night Lights, Parenthood, and Men of a Certain Age. And for non-fiction I like Chopped, Poker After Dark, and Top Chef. Watch all of those or just buy a DVR of The Wire.

@jgbaskin: Defense has been bad. Is it an aberration or are most Twins playing to their historical Ultimate Zone Ratings?

Defensive numbers through one-third of a season are barely worth looking at, but Span and Young have rated surprisingly well. However, the Twins have clearly gotten away from their focus on defense. Young, Kubel, and Cuddyer are a horrendous defensive trio in the outfield corners, the middle infield has been a mess no matter the combination, and Danny Valencia seems slightly off compared to last year. It's just not a good defensive team.

@RyanHyde10: Who are potential 2012 top prospects to watch for who the Twins would consider drafting?

It looks like there's no clear-cut Bryce Harper- or Stephen Strasburg-type No. 1 pick for 2012, although I'm assuming the Twins will turn things around enough to avoid finishing with MLB's worst record anyway. In terms of (very early) favorites, I asked ESPN draft expert Keith Law about that last month and he pointed to Stanford shortstop Kenny Diekroeger, Arizona State shortstop Deven Marrero, and high school pitcher/outfielder Lance McCullers Jr.

@commnman: What does the 2012 outfield look like and is Denard Span, Ben Revere, and Joe Mauer out of the question?

There's no indication that the Twins or Mauer are ready for him to switch positions, but if that changes an outfield with Span flanked by Mauer and Ben Revere would be a very interesting possibility. Unlikely though, at least in 2012. I'm not entirely sold yet on Revere's bat because his offensive upside is so limited, but I'm hoping the Twins make him the primary left fielder in 2012. At worst pairing him with Span would dramatically improve the outfield defense.

@jessejames3ball: Can Ricky Rubio play catcher?

Let's see if he can play point guard first.

@kinsky21: Ben Revere made it to the majors in 2010. Will Aaron Hicks, drafted a year later, see the majors in 2011?

Revere made it to the majors last season, but not until mid-September and only because Ron Gardenhire requested speed off the bench. Getting his first extended taste of the majors this year is more likely what the Twins had in mind for Revere's timetable and following those footsteps would have Aaron Hicks debuting in 2012, which is possible. I'd be shocked to see him this season. Hicks has more tools to develop than Revere and is on a slower path.

@dan_rausch: With no good internal options, who should the Twins target for shortstop in 2012? A young plus defender for Matt Capps?

Hardy? Jason Bartlett? On a less snarky point, it's difficult to say without knowing who might be available for trade this winter, but as has been the case for most of the past decade the Twins would be well served to look outside the organization for a shortstop. Jed Lowrie of the Red Sox might make sense for both teams, but suffice it to say I don't think they could get him or any other "young plus defender" for Capps, or at least not one with much offensive upside.

@zzhang33: Is Philip Humber for real?

Depends on your definition of "for real." He certainly looks much better now than he ever did in the majors or minors for the Twins, but he's also been extremely fortunate with a .223 batting average on balls in play. He hasn't been nearly as good as the 2.87 ERA suggests, but even a 4.03 xFIP is a pretty amazing accomplishment for White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper. Just remember, Garrett Jones looked good for a while after rightfully being dumped by the Twins.

@jessejames3ball: Is Phil Mackey really wearing pants?

I saw Patrick Reusse's co-host Friday night and (surprisingly? luckily? unfortunately?) he was wearing pants. No white belt though, which was the real shocker. On a related note, thanks to Lindsay Guentzel and the TwinsCentric guys for organizing the get-together downtown. We watched a Twins game and then I drank too much while more attractive people danced, lost a staring contest, wore nametags, and had to be driven home by Seth Stohs. Good times.

@bhenehan: Might be early for this, but is it the worst season-to-season collapse in Twins history?

Without question. In fact, it's one of the worst season-to-season collapses in baseball history, as the Twins are on pace to go from division winners at 94-68 last year to MLB's worst record at 61-101 this year. Tough to decline by a whole lot more than 33 games.

@PLUnderwood: At what point is Ron Gardenhire's job on the line?

I've been plenty critical of Ron Gardenhire over the years and didn't think he deserved the Manager of the Year award last year, but he didn't turn into a terrible manager overnight and you'd have to go pretty far down on the list of this season's problems before getting to his name. Ultimately it's tough to win with a roster full of Triple-A players.

@KirkMcKinley: Who would you place most of the blame on with the Twins?

First and foremost, with the incredible number of injuries there's a pretty strong chance they wouldn't have been able to contend regardless of their decision-making. With that said, you can point to the front office along with any of the top handful of highest-paid players. Plenty of blame to go around with offseason moves, roster construction, and player performance. As the late, great Mitch Hedberg would say, this mess has been all-encompassing.

@TwinkieTown: What kind of a timeline would you work on for the Twins' sell-off?

I'm sure they're still holding out some hope for a turnaround after winning six of the last seven games, but realistically they should be willing to make trades immediately if teams are showing strong interest. In some cases the trade deadline could provide leverage, but the flip side to that is also possible and impending free agents should have more value with 100 games left on their contracts than they will with 60 games to go.

@kwdrake: Who's the most depressing (not necessarily worst) Twin of all time?

In the decade-long history of AG.com no player has annoyed and frustrated me more than Luis Rivas, although that had as much to do with the widely held but misguided perception that he was a promising young player as it did his actual performance.

@jgleeman: Is Ben Revere related to Paul Revere?

First of all, that question comes from my cousin. Second, the two being related seems unlikely. And third, has anyone thought to ask Sarah Palin what she thinks about Ben Revere?

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February 4, 2010

Twins Sign Orlando Hudson To One-Year Deal

I'm sometimes accused of being overly critical of the Twins' front office, but my response is usually that it can't help but look that way when my "job" here is to analyze and give opinions about their moves and the "bad" have simply outnumbered the "good" since Terry Ryan stepped down as general manager in September of 2007. In other words, Bill Smith's first 18 months on the job just didn't feature a whole lot of moves to praise.

He dealt Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett for Delmon Young and Brendan Harris, got a mediocre return for Johan Santana, and gave out millions to Craig Monroe, Livan Hernandez, Nick Punto, Mike Lamb, Adam Everett, Juan Rincon, and Luis Ayala. Was every move a bad one? Of course not, but the entire body of work was pretty damn ugly and I said so as the moves rolled in, without the benefit of hindsight, which understandably comes across as "overly critical" at times. But thankfully, times have changed.

Smith's second season on the job was sort of a mixed bag, but certainly included several moves worth praising, and this offseason the front office has basically been flawless from trading for J.J. Hardy and signing Jim Thome to retaining Carl Pavano and letting Orlando Cabrera leave. And now the icing on the offseason cake is inking Orlando Hudson to a one-year, $5 million deal, which in addition to simply being a very good move is also something that I've long been campaigning for in this space.

Operating under the assumption that Ron Gardenhire will do everything he can to play Punto regularly somewhere, the Twins' early moves left them with essentially one lineup opening at either second or third base. Gardenhire's tendency to use a speedy infielder as his No. 2 hitter also made it likely that one of the two guys playing those positions would slide into the lineup between Denard Span and Joe Mauer. Hudson capably checks both boxes as a good all-around second baseman and nice No. 2 bat.

Last year Twins second basemen ranked dead last in all of baseball with a combined .209/.302/.267 line, so Hudson's career .281/.348/.431 mark represents a massive upgrade and his adjusted OPS+ has actually improved in four straight seasons despite the fact that he turned 32 years old this winter. He doesn't really stand out in any one area offensively, but per 150 games Hudson usually bats around .285 with 10 homers, 50 total extra-base hits, 60 walks, and 5-10 steals. He's just a good, solid player.

Among guys who played at least 100 games at second base Hudson's adjusted OPS+ ranked 9th, 7th, 13th, and 7th during the past four seasons, so even accounting for some potential age-related decline he's likely to be among the position's top 10 hitters in 2010. He's posted an on-base percentage above .350 in each of those four seasons and is a switch-hitter with similar production from either side of the plate, both of which make him a particularly good fit in the No. 2 spot.

Hudson teams with Span to put two strong on-base threats directly in front of the lineup's big boppers and also provides a potential right-handed bat in the midst of lefties Span, Mauer, Justin Morneau, and Jason Kubel. He also gives the Twins a pretty decent chance to have above-average hitting from eight of the nine spots in the lineup, with only third base looking like a clear weak spot (assuming that Hardy bounces back). Of course, while a very good fit for the Twins at $5 million Hudson still has some flaws.

Defensively he has an excellent reputation built by winning four Gold Gloves in the past five years, but a look at some advanced metrics suggests that his range began slipping around age 28. Ultimate Zone Rating pegged Hudson as right about average defensively in both 2006 and 2007 before falling to five runs below average per 150 games between 2008-2009. In other words we'll constantly hear praise for Hudson's glove this season, but given his age and UZR numbers he's likely to be average at best.

Another potential problem area is Hudson's high ground-ball rate. He had the fourth-most grounders in baseball last year at 56 percent and is at 50 percent for his career, which along with good but not great speed and Span constantly being on first base could equal a ton of double plays. He's hit into a DP in 16.5 percent of his DP chances over the past three years. To put that in context Mauer is often criticized for frequent double plays, yet has done so in only 12.4 percent of his DP chances during that time.

So he's fairly old, not as good as his reputation defensively, and likely to hit into a bunch of DPs batting second, but let's be very clear: Hudson is an excellent acquisition in an offseason full of sound moves and represents a massive all-around upgrade over the various options the Twins could have trotted out at second base. Smith, Rob Antony, and the rest of the front office deserved any criticism they received for their 18 months on the job and now they deserve credit for what has been a fantastic offseason.

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

January 26, 2010

Twins Sign Jim Thome To One-Year Deal

As the legendary Ron Burgundy once said: "Boy, that escalated quickly."

Just days after rumors started swirling about the Twins' interest in Jim Thome, the two sides agreed to a one-year deal worth $1.5 million in guaranteed money and another $750,000 in potential incentives. At that price the signing is an absolute no-brainer move for the Twins and should end any debate about whether he's a worthwhile addition. Now the biggest question revolves around Thome's role, which the Twins insisted yesterday will be fairly minimal.

Bill Smith, Ron Gardenhire, and company really like the notion of having Thome available off the bench as pinch-hitter in the late innings. And they ought to, because the guy topped an .840 OPS last year for the 16th time in 17 seasons. Of course, as long as they're shifting players into unnecessarily limited roles Joe Mauer would probably be an even better pinch-hitter, Denard Span would likely be a fantastic pinch-runner, and Scott Baker would surely fare well as a long reliever.

All of which is a long way of saying that Thome is still far too dangerous offensively to limit him strictly to pinch-hitting duties. Against right-handed pitching he hit .262/.383/.498 last season and .274/.402/.551 over the past three years, which is basically the same as Justin Morneau's production versus righties during that span. Seriously. Morneau hit .272/.379/.526 against righties last season and .293/.385/.529 from 2007-2009, which is at most marginally better than Thome's numbers.

Now, he's 39 years old and has certainly declined from his MVP-caliber peak as a 1.000-OPS monster, so some further slippage can be expected from Thome in 2010, but the notion that he's just another in the line of washed-up veterans to join the Twins via free agency is silly. He's only an emergency option at first base and has always struggled with lefties, but remains a legit middle-of-the-order bat versus righties. So why are the Twins indicating that he'll be used merely as a bench bat? Delmon Young.

By trading Carlos Gomez to the Brewers for J.J. Hardy the Twins committed to Young as their starting left fielder. Certainly giving a 24-year-old everyday playing time is a good idea for his development, but the problem is that Young has done nothing to warrant that many at-bats and has been vastly inferior to Thome against right-handed pitching. In fact, Thome's mediocre-for-him 2009 numbers beat Young's career line versus righties by 66 points of on-base percentage and 102 points of slugging percentage.

That's an awful lot of production to forfeit in the name of aiding the development of a guy who's been an absolutely terrible all-around player through 1,851 plate appearances in the majors, so my hope is that Gardenhire eventually sees the benefit of getting Thome into the lineup regularly against righties, using him at DH while Jason Kubel shifts to left field and Young goes to the bench. That would significantly upgrade the lineup and Young is a horrible defensive left fielder anyway, so there's no big dropoff there.

One of the criticisms that I've seen lobbed at the Thome signing is that he does nothing to address the infield, where right now Nick Punto and Brendan Harris are the projected starters at second and third base. While true, those are separate issues and paying Thome about $1 million beyond the minimum salary can't possibly change their plans that much. If they were going to make a run at Orlando Hudson or Felipe Lopez they still can and if they weren't then at least adding Thome improves them elsewhere.

Another criticism is that Thome adds to what was already an overly left-handed offense. There's some truth to that, yet for all their lefty bats last season the Twins had a higher OPS against lefties (.785) than righties (.768) and even I'm not advising Thome take starts away from Young versus southpaws. Plus, with as few as four lefty starters and zero lefty closers on the AL Central's other four teams the division is a place where a lineup stacked with Denard Span, Mauer, Morneau, Kubel, and Thome can thrive.

Even if they stick to the stated plan of using Thome off the bench he's worth the modest investment, in part because he can still do plenty of damage in a couple hundred at-bats and in part because should Morneau, Kubel, or Michael Cuddyer get hurt the Twins now have a viable replacement. However, the potential is there for Thome to make a much bigger impact if the Twins are willing to give him a sizable chunk of Young's starts versus righties. Give him 350 plate appearances and this can be a great move.

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

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