Where are we now?

10 Dec

also available at www.SethSpeaks.net -

Note – This is also posted at the StarTribune.com TwinsCentric blog today, so you should check out the comments there too. Also, I was on The Dan Hammer Show on Thursday at noon on 740TheFan in Fargo. Listen here to the podcast.

The Twins went into the offseason with double-digit free agents and double-digit arbitration-eligible players. They updated their 40 man roster. They have added a lot of minor league veterans to bolster the Twins Triple-A affiliate in Rochester and their entire system. They had six players that were either Type A or Type B free agents and they offered arbitration to three of them (Carl Pavano, Jesse Crain and Orlando Hudson), and they all declined. They reached agreements with Pat Neshek and Jason Repko and tendered contracts to each of the other players on their roster including all of the arbitration-eligible players. They bid on Japanese pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma, but they did not win that bid. On Thanksgiving, we learned that the Twins were successful in their bid (of $5+ million) to negotiate with Tsuyoshi Nishioka.

On Sunday, the Twins front office arrived in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, and had a ton of meetings and were very active. There were several meetings with Tom O’Connell, the agent of Carl Pavano. There were several meetings with the agent of Nishioka. Bill Smith spent time talking to the local media and the contingent of media from Japan. The Twins were rumored to be interested in many free agents such as Rich Harden, Brandon Webb, Octavio Dotel and many others. They were also believed to still be actively pursuing Zach Greinke. They added left-handed pitcher Scott Diamond from the Atlanta Braves in the Rule 5 draft, and he is certainly intriguing. They did not lose any players in the Major League portion of the Rule 5 draft, but they lost three pitchers (Michael Allen, Jean Mijares and Eliecer Cardenas) in the AAA portion of the Rule 5 draft. And following the Rule 5 draft, the Twins and Orioles finalized their trade. The Twins sent JJ Hardy, Brendan Harris and $500,000 to Baltimore in exchange for two relievers, James Hoey (who could contribute in 2011 and beyond) and Brett Jacobson who could help the Twins as early as 2012.

So there you have to, a quick two-paragraph summary of some of what the Twins have done this offseason. These are things that have been reported somewhere. It is likely only a fraction of the work that the Twins front office has done since so many meetings with teams, agents, GMs and others are discussions that may lead to an actual transaction, but generally only attempt to lead toward a transaction and usually don’t.

The Winter Meetings are over, but there is still work to be done. Major League Baseball moved many of its important offseason dates forward a week to try to help teams and players get signed sooner. In my opinion, it has been successful as I believe that more players signed during the meetings this year than I can remember in previous years. Usually the Winter Meetings are a bunch of rumors and meetings to set up moves that happen later. It is important to rememeber that spring training does not start for over two more months and a lot can and will still happen. So, where are the Twins at the completion of the Winter Meetings? What is left to be done? Let’s look around the diamond and see where we are (in admittedly rambling, stream-of-conscious tone):

  • Catcher – I’d say that the Twins are set with their starting catcher (That Mauer guy is pretty good!), and if Carl Pavano comes back, Drew Butera will certainly be the backup again, right? What happens to Jose Morales?
  • First Base – Although we can’t be certain, we assume that Justin Morneau is the guy. Should the Twins add a right-handed batter that could play some 1B if Morneau is hurt, or is Michael Cuddyer adequate for the role again?
  • Second Base/Shortstop – With JJ Hardy gone, the Twins are relying on Alexi Casilla and Tsuyoshi Nishioka. Both have question marks. Both have upsides. Like it or not, we will find out what each has. Matt Tolbert would appear to be the backup utility infielder, which is not a positive in my mind, but he is adequate with limited playing time. If there was an injury Trevor Plouffe can contribute adequately, and Steve Singleton and Luke Hughes  could contribute if needed.The question has to be asked, though, could the question marks in the middle infield lead to a… re-signing of Nick Punto? Hey, as a utility infielder, he is worth $1-1.5 million for the year. I think we all would like to move on, but frankly, he’s a much better option than Matt Tolbert
  • Third Base – Danny Valencia took over in July of 2010 and ran with it, finishing third in the AL Rookie of the Year voting. Will he hit .330 again? Probably not, but he has done enough to make third base a position that the Twins can call set.
  • Outfield/DH – The front office has acknowledged its confidence in an outfield of Delmon Young (LF), Denard Span (CF), and Michael Cuddyer (RF) with Jason Kubel at DH and Jason Repko as the one of the five that can actually play very good defense. Ben Revere hasn’t spent a day in AAA, so he is not ready. In fact, there would be no harm in letting him spend another half-season in AA in 2011. Young will need to show that his 2010 offensive production was not a fluke. Denard Span will need to get his on-base back to the .390 range it was his first two years after it was down to about .330 in 2010. Michael Cuddyer’s batting average and on-base percentage were fairly similar between 2009 and 2010, but the move to Target Field cut his home run total in half, and dropped his SLG% by .100 points. Is it a perfect outfield? No, but it definitely is one that you can win with. Jason Kubel will also be best served as the team’s primary DH. Jim Thome could come back which would be fun since he’s such a good guy, still a solid player, and could hit his 600th home run in a Twins uniform. But frankly, the team could use a right-handed bat to give Kubel a day off against left-handed pitching!
  • Starting Pitching – As of today, the rotation would be Francisco Liriano, Scott Baker, Brian Duensing, Kevin Slowey and Nick Blackburn. The Twins are said to still be in on Carl Pavano, and if he is brought back, he fits into the middle of the rotation. That is a huge decision, but Pavano would be wise to wait for Cliff Lee to sign before he signs. Once Lee signs, the losing teams in that race will likely be in contact with Pavano’s agent. Zach Greinke would certainly be a good #2 starter ,but the Royals are asking way too much and the Twins should not give up the farm for him. In fact, last night it came out that the Twins are out of the Greinke sweepstakes. But who else might be out there for the Twins to consider. Brandon Webb and Jarrod Washburn’s names show up from time to time. The important thing to remember is that when Carl Pavano signed with Cleveland two years ago, no one could have anticipated 420+ innings over the next two years. If the Twins sign a veteran, maybe he is the next Pavano. But again, that’s why the Twins have to be very careful about negotiating with Pavano. In all likelihood, Pavano will not duplicate his 2010 season. He will most likely post an ERA closer to 5.00 than to the 3.60 he posted in 2010. And, if Slowey is brought back, could the Twins trade one of their other starters? Kevin Slowey’s name has come up. Teams might have interest in his upside, but after two injury-filled seasons, his value may not be real high. Finally, how far away are David Bromberg and Kyle Gibson? Gibson could be ready by July to fill a middle-of-the-rotation spot. And can Jeff Manship or Anthony Swarzak, or even Erik Hacker, make a run at a starting gig?
  • The Bullpen – Alright, here is where there are many question marks. It starts with Joe Nathan. Will he be 100% by Opening Day? What will his role be? Matt Capps is a solid pitcher and good insurance if Nathan isn’t ready. Jose Mijares can be an enigma, but a left-handed enigma with really good stuff. After that, who knows? Pat Neshek. Glen Perkins. Jeff Manship. Anthony Slama. Kyle Waldrop. Alex Burnett. Rob Delaney. James Hoey. I can’t imagine Ron Gardenhire being comfortable with counting on more than two, possibly three, of these guys in his bullpen. So, would the Twins have interest in bullpen arms like Hideki Okajima, Jose Veras, Octavio Dotel, Rich Harden, or one fo the many free agent bullpen arms. Could another trade bring in more bullpen help? Is it possible that Matt Guerrier or Jon Rauch or Ron Mahay could resign with the Twins? We have to assume that Jesse Crain and Brian Fuentes will not be back. There will be good bullpen arms available in January, guys whose expectations have come down and into the appropriate price range. We have seen just how important having a strong bullpen can be to a team. We have also seen that few relievers can be counted on year in and year out. Joe Nathan and Matt Guerrier are two guys that have been fairly consistent the last five years. Jesse Crain has the best upside, but we have seen the good, the bad, the really, really bad, the injured and every aspect. That’s likely the more normal tendency for a reliever. So, this appears to be a fairly inexact science.
  • The Bench – Just to note, the current Twins bench would be Drew Butera, Matt Tolbert, Jason Repko and one more spot. Would that spot go to Jim Thome again? Maybe Jose Morales or Luke Hughes? Could the Twins bring in another bat. With the question marks in the bullpen, I have to assume the Twins will use 12 pitchers most of the year again, so there will only be four bench spots.

So there you have it. You hopefully better understand where the Twins are now, and should see that they are not in a bad position, by any means. This is a solid team. But it is a solid team with several things to take care of yet. Here is a look at the things that the Twins still need to answer during the offseason.

  1. What is going to happen with Carl Pavano?  (and then what subsequent moves, if any, need to be made)
  2. When will Tsuyoshi Nishioka officially sign? (this really seems as though it’s just a formality)
  3. Who is going to fill out the Twins bullpen? (there are several open spots right now, and there are many more questions with all of the candidates.
  4. Does the team bring back Jim Thome? (There are a lot of really good reasons to bring him back, but…)
  5. Doesn’t this team need a right-handed bat on the bench who can give a day off to left-handed hitters against left-handed pitchers? (this seems pretty important to me. If healthy, maybe Luke Hughes can be that guy.)

There are my top 5. What would your top 5 be, and in what priority? The Twins have been incredibly busy throughout the Winter Meetings with a lot of things going on all at once. The whole offseason will be busy and full of difficult decisions. Whether the Twins have a budget of $70 million for payroll or $120 million for payroll, there will always be some tough choices. So, if you were Bill Smith, what would be your plan for the Twins for the rest of the offseason?

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Thank you to the StarTribune.com for linking to the Winter Meetings Podcasts and Live Chats throughout the week. Seth has been hosting the show each night from Sunday through Thursday with the following guests:

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16 Responses to “Where are we now?”

  1. Kunza December 10, 2010 at 7:21 am #

    Bill Smith = Brad Childress
    This management team has no clue what they’re doing right now. They are all over the board with their moves. Last night I heard they are close to a 3 year deal with Carl Pavano -great, at the age of 35, I’m sure that will be money worth-while spent

    Johan Santana for Carlos Gomez, Guttierez, Humber

    Wilson Ramos for Matt Capps

    JJ Hardy for Hoey and Jacobson

    Trying to option out Craig Breslow

    Giving Mike Lamb 2 years – $6.6 million

    Giving Nick Punto 2 years – $8.5 million

    Giving Cuddyer a ton of money

  2. TT December 10, 2010 at 9:23 am #

    1) Valencia’s performance last year was really encouraging, especially because it seemed to result from a conscious change in approach at AAA. But Tom Kelly used to say you didn’t know what you had until a young player had 1000 at bats in the big leagues. I don’t think Valencia is set based on half a season. I remember when people started replacing Torii Hunter with Bobby Kielty and Lew Ford based on hot starts to their careers.

    2) You left the rule 5 guy, Scott Diamond, and Eric Hacker out of the bullpen mix. I think both of them are at least as likely to be in the bullpen as Delaney. I think Hoey is a given, albeit with a high risk of failure.

    3) As of now, the Twins have Guerra, Hoey and Jacobson from the Santana trade. And Rauch and Hardy that came from that trade contributed to playoff teams over the last two years. Three young arms and a couple championships isn’t a bad haul for a guy who has struggled with injuries since being traded. Given the results, I think the Twins are ahead of the Mets on the deal at this point.

    3) Punto may be better than Tolbert, but he is also a lot older. I like Punto, but its time to move on.

    4) I think its likely that the Twins will have to overpay for Pavano, as they would for any realistic alternative. His age makes him a risk. But the risks from relying on the five guys they have are at least as high. They could lose quite a few games running through guys like Manship and Hacker trying to find a sixth starter.

    5) The only left handed hitters you would platoon or use a pinch hitter for are Kubel and, maybe, Thome. While desirable, I am not sure it is a real need.

  3. SteveH December 10, 2010 at 9:28 am #

    The Pavano thing really will define the next steps. I’d offer two years with an option for the third with incentives. If he takes it, you’ve got to shop Slowey or Blackburn…or move Duensing back to the pen where he thrived for the first half of 2010.

    As much as I loved seeing Thome in 2010, I’d really like to find a veteran RH/backup 1B kind of guy. Maybe Derek Lee is that guy if he’s not too pricey. Would give them a backup 1B who could play a lot of Morneau is not 100 percent. If not, he’s a nice bat off the bench. I’m betting he’ll come back from a sub-par 2010.

  4. Wavedog December 10, 2010 at 9:45 am #

    Ugh, we may have the worst bench in the league. If we re-sign Thome, which would help, I think we would need to look at moving Kubel for a need area like RH bat, middle infield depth and/or pitching. Kubel and Thome are too close to the same type of player – and neither has speed that team seems to be targeting this year.

  5. mike wants wins December 10, 2010 at 9:56 am #

    So Tom Kelly would say Casilla is probably, most likely, a bad player then, right? He has around 1000 ABs and his numbers are about the worst they could possibly be and still be on a roster.

    The season hinges on a couple of things in my mind:

    1. health – they now have zero depth. There are no position players that look ready in AAA, and certainly none that look to have any power. Their bench is tissue paper thin.

    2. Young – he has to be the guy that so many people seem to think he’s never been in AAA or MLB so far.

    3. Span and Kubel need to be better than they were last year.

    4. Baker and other SPs need to pitch to their talent, and not seemingly underachieve or be injured.

    5. Casilla has to prove he’s not the horrible player he’s been in 1000 ABs so far. If Toblert/Punto are your every day starters, that will be very bad.

  6. Jesse H December 10, 2010 at 10:49 am #

    “3) As of now, the Twins have Guerra, Hoey and Jacobson from the Santana trade. And Rauch and Hardy that came from that trade contributed to playoff teams over the last two years. Three young arms and a couple championships isn’t a bad haul for a guy who has struggled with injuries since being traded. Given the results, I think the Twins are ahead of the Mets on the deal at this point.”

    Let’s put some facts out there. Santana has averaged 200 innings with a sub 3.00 era over the past 3 years. TT makes it sound like Santana has done nothing these past 3 years. Is his WHIP up slightly? Yes. Are his strikeouts down by 25-50%? Yes. Is he still a good/great pitcher? Yes. Are we better over the past 3 years withotu him and with the players we got? No. Were there better packages out there? Yes, specifically the one which included Lester from the Red Sox.

  7. TT December 10, 2010 at 11:05 am #

    Mike –

    Casilla hit .276 with a .331 OBP as a part time player this year. There is a reason the Twins think he is ready to take on an everyday role.

    As for depth, the Twins actually have pretty good depth if they add Thome. It is largely based on having players who are pretty flexible. The exception is Mauer, they really don’t have depth behind him.

    “Are we better over the past 3 years withotu him and with the players we got?”

    I think it is important to remember the Twins traded away one season of Santana. He wouldn’t have helped at all the last two years. That 2008 season was a good one, but he hasn’t reached 200 innings the last two years and he is costing the Mets a lot of money.

    If you look at the last two years, where Santana would have been gone in any case, the Twins are much better for having made the deal. No one knows whether there were better deals available because we don’t know what offers there were or what the ultimate value of the deal they made will be.

  8. Kunza December 10, 2010 at 11:22 am #

    The Twins would have been way better off taking the two first round draft picks instead of trading Santana. Same thing with Pavano.

    Pavano is a #3/#4 type of pitcher. Giving him insane money instead of taking the two young draft picks is a complete lack of foresight of what is best for the organization. What is Pavano going to give us?

  9. Jeremy December 10, 2010 at 12:05 pm #

    Pavano is going to be the first domino to fall. I think he’ll be a Twin, for 2 years with a 3rd year buyout. Obviously, the Cliff Lee deal may persuade him otherwise.

    If he signs, I think Slowey’s on the move. If he doesn’t, I think the Twins will try to tie Liriano up.

    I think Thome will be back for one more year.

    I think the Twins will kick Cuddy’s tires at 2B, just to see what he can do. (Obviously, Nishi’s ability to play SS would make this more or less realistic.)

    I think I’m going to hold off being critical of the Front Office cause they’ve done a lot of things I like, regardless of how the Hardy deal appears.

    I think I’m less certain of Punto’s Twins career being over than I was 2 months ago… though I still think he’ll move on.

    I think we’ll all clamor for more moves, won’t see them happen, and still celebrate another Division title next year.

    I think all of these feelings may be proved wrong.

  10. TT December 10, 2010 at 1:06 pm #

    “The Twins would have been way better off taking the two first round draft picks instead of trading Santana.”

    They don’t get one pick after the first round and a pick during the first round only if the team that signs Santana picked in the bottom half of the first round. About half the prospects chosen at that level have any kind of major league career, even as mediocre role players.

    I don’t think having a couple more Kyle Waldrop’s in the system is a better deal than the two prospects they have right now from the trade. And that doesn’t even account for Hoey or the contributions at the major league level they have already received. Without Gomez, Rauch and Hardy the last three years the Twins probably wouldn’t have been in the playoffs.

    • Kunza December 10, 2010 at 1:30 pm #

      Thanks for the brilliant deduction. Obviously a pitcher as high caliber of Santana would surely have signed with Pirates. Genius, I say.

      • TT December 10, 2010 at 2:42 pm #

        “Obviously a pitcher as high caliber of Santana would surely have signed with Pirates. Genius, I say”

        Uh – the Mets are drafting in the top of the draft this year. As are the Dodgers, Angels, Tigers and Cubs. The Marlins, the Brewers …
        There are plenty of teams that have picks in the top half of the draft both the budget and the ambitions to sign Santana.

        But you seem to have missed the point. It is unlikely that a couple players chosen after the top half of the first round are going to be any better than the two prospects the Twins have from the trade.

      • Kunza December 10, 2010 at 4:26 pm #

        It’s hard to argue with a great baseball mind. We’re not talking about the draft this year. Three years ago the Mets were division contenders, meaning they would have been drafting at the bottom half of first round. No sense arguing. Building a rocket ship requires more than Legos.

    • TT December 11, 2010 at 11:32 am #

      I think this is the classic overvaluing of draft picks. The difference between a low first round pick and a high second round pick is not all that significant. More likely than not, neither one will even play in the major leagues, much less make a significant contribution.

      Which is not to say draft choices don’t have value. But the Twins have two young prospects from the Santana trade who are at least as likely to contribute someday as a low first round pick, with a higher upside.

      We don’t know who Santana would have signed with, but we know for certain that the Twins would not have received a player in the top half of the first round. If he had signed with the Braves or Giants or Texas after the 2008 season, he would have been playing on a contender in 2009. But the Twins would have received a high second round draft choice since those teams finished the 2008 season in the bottom half of the standings. And that assumes Santana was the highest ranked free agent the team signed, which is likely but not certain.

  11. joelthing December 10, 2010 at 2:10 pm #

    I look forward to the day when a lower-priced Cuddyer becomes the Twins DH and chief utility guy. Maybe in 2012 when Revere or Benson take over one of the outfield spots.

    The Twins NEED a vet presence on the pitching staff, be it Pavano or someone out of the bullpen. SOmeone the players can look up to.

    Both of Baker and Balckburn should be on the bubble before Slowey, due to salary increases in the years ahead according to all-out production. You have to hope that the next 2-3 seasons sees Bromberg, Gibson and Wimmers stepping in, not to mention a dark horse or three.

    It would’ve been ncie if the Twins had gone a bit more with Slama and Delaney last season, a better looksee. Even adding Waldrop to the mix (who will probably have a dynamite spring but not be added, again, to the 40-man).Neshek is the key, with Mijares. Nathan and Caps will be strong. Then you need filler. The Twins also have Perkins (needs to stay or go), Manship, Swarzak as long mop-up guys.

    Seth, who do you see being the ideal 12th-man on the picthing staff in 2011.

    The Twins have to keep Butera and Morales or lose them, and they will lose them to someone. Sure wish Ramos wa still around and Morales had been packaged to the Nationals instead. Do the Twins need a top catching prospect, or will Mauer be around for 5-7 years fer sure?

    Eli Whitside, Corky Miller, Henry Blanco, Kyle Phillips, are all still around!

  12. mike wants wins December 10, 2010 at 10:06 pm #

    I don’t look forward to the day when Cuddy is the DH for this team, not even a little.

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