Offseason Diatribe – Minnesota Twins

November 16, 2009 at 2:13 pm Leave a comment

The Twins enter this offseason on the heels of a rather astounding comeback story. What happened was, several pitchers overachieved, and every single hitter on the team got hot at the same time. Basically, the whole team played beyond its actual abilities, so to repeat as division champions, they will require some remodeling. Especially since the White Sox suddenly have a tremendous pitching staff (See below).

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Offense:

Catcher – The Twins are good here. Hopefully they’ll be good here for many years to come. It does give me hope that Joe Mauer has the same agent as one Kirby Puckett. As a backup, they have Jose Morales, someone who is capable of hitting .300 and OBP’ing .360 at the major league level with no power and average defense. Any team would take that backing up someone who could be the best catcher in history. Hopefully Mike Redmond hangs it up. He has done the Twins a lot of good in his time, but he’s in serious decline on both sides of the ball and needs to be a coach somewhere.

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1st Base – Justin Morneau is an above average first baseman capable of being well above average if he doesn’t fly into some ridiculous slump like he does every year. He played well down the stretch in ’06, so he clearly has it in him. If he’s healthy the whole year, I could see him slamming 40+. It has to happen eventually; although he does love to swing at pitches outside the zone, he has tons of power. He can also go the other way for singles when needed, or when down in the count; a very useful skill set. Cuddyer is a useful backup, but he shouldn’t be needed at 1st base next year. Hopefully.

2nd Base – Here’s the fun part. I oh so strongly suggest the Twins sign Felipe Lopez. Here’s a man who has shown he can hit .300 with a .380 OBP the past year and a half, with speed and some power. At a premium position. A position in which the Twins haven’t had a power bat since Chuck Knoblauch probably took steroids. Other options inculde Placido Polanco and Orlando Hudson; internally we have Nick Punto, Brendan Harris and Matt Tolbert. Placido Polanco is historically one of my most hated players ever. He is TREMENDOUSLY disgusting looking, with his alien head and umpa luma body. He also looks like a total prick in the batter’s box. And he loves getting weak little opposite field grounders through the hole to score important runs against the Twins. However, from a practical perspective, he’s a plus defender who can get on base 35% of the time. I will never root for him no matter what uniform he puts on, however. Hudson is in decline defensively, but is a better bat than Polanco, with more power and less grossness. He’s not very signable, however (Although if the Dodgers do not offer arbitration, that would change). Punto is who probably ends up starting when Target Field opens next year. Say what you will of him, but he can play above average defense, take a lot of pitches (He led the Twins in that stat last year), and get on base at a decent enough clip. At 2nd, that’s acceptable, at 3rd, it’s not. Harris and Tolbert should be bench players, and nothing more.

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Ewww no thanks.

SS – Yay for J.J Hardy! The Twins finally made a trade that made good sense, from almost any perspective. Any power he provides will be a bonus; as long as he can OPS .700, Twins fans should be happy with him given his solid to stellar defense. And they gave up a man who was never going to get it. Carlos Gomez can’t really play baseball, he can only play run fast. That’s why he’s so good out in center field, and has value because of that. But not nearly as much as a power hitting plus defender at SS who happens to be entering his prime years.

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3B – It seems strange to say, but I think the best case scenario for the Twins has Punto starting at third. Because that would mean that they signed a 2nd baseman, such as Lopez, and had to move Punto to third. Ideally, of course, Minnesota would sign a Joe Crede or Pedro Feliz type player, but I doubt that scenario very much. They have the money to sign one decent player, not one and a half, given that most of their money should be allotted to a certain star catcher.

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LF – Looks like it’s gonna be ol’ Delmon. I don’t think he’ll improve in any drastic way, ever. What will happen, however, is that he slowly improves due to his entering his prime years and peaks at hitting something like .300/.320/.470. That’s fairly average, but given Young’s atrocious defense, is well below average overall. He’ll eventually snag a nice contract for hitting .300 at some point, because he likely will, but whoever ends up paying hm will be a very stupid franchise. I don’t mean to pick on the Royals, but they seem like exactly the sort of club that would misguidedly sign Young. Well, if Dayton Moore is still around, I mean.

CF – Denard Span is turning into quite a hitter. He’s shown an admirable ability to get on base at the top of the order. If he can improve his center field defense and stolen base success rate, he should be an all star. And at his age, I think improving in those areas is very possible. I suppose the Twins will have someone like Jason Pridie backing him up, and unless Span get’s seriously injured, that shouldn’t be a problem.

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RF – Michael Cuddyer should be traded. But he can’t be. That would be a TERRIBLE public relations move for Bill Smith. Cuddyer is the longest tenured Twin, he’s the most vocal with the media, he does magic tricks, and he just hit 32 home runs and carried the Twins to a division title. Selling high on that would be prudent, but I’ve made my peace with him sticking around for two more years. If he can hit .260/.340/.480 like he’s shown he can, I think that’s the baseline of what Twins fans should expect from him. No he’s not a skilled fielder, and he’s not a prolific hitter, but umm.. well basically I hope he attains type A status and we end up getting draft picks for him after the 2011 season. The Twins have a glut of nice outfielders in their farm system, so more than two more years of Cuddyer would be a poor move on Bill Smith’s part.

DH – Hey it’s Jason Kubel. Remember when Gardy started Craig Monroe over him to start the ’08 season.. versus a righty? Oh, hopefully we’re past that. Kubel put up an OPS over 1.000 versus righties in ’09. Which was good for a 158 OPS+. Versus lefties, his OPS+ was 84. I admit, that’s not super. That’s pretty bad. But I still don’t understand the demands that Kubel be platooned. The man needs to stay in the lineup. He’s probably our 2nd or 3rd best hitter depending on if Morneau is hot or if he’s in the midst of going 0 for 37. Kubel actually improved against lefties last year. Don’t you think it’s possible he could improve against them even more if he were given a chance? He’s 27. And for the record, Brendan Harris’ OPS+ was 77 last year. Kubel should be the full time DH. When he’s 33, and has just registered a 45 OPS+ against lefties the year before, it will be a different story. For now, stop Kubel hating. Just because he’s not athletic, and he has a creepy grin, and he’s kinda slow (But not really any slower than Delmon), doesn’t mean he’s not privy to the same sort of evaluation as everyone else on this team.

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Someday they’ll understand, Jason. Someday.

Overall evaluation: This could be a real solid lineup with the right additions. The ’09 Twins scored a respectable 817 runs; I see no reason why they can’t expand on that in 2010, barring injury.

The Rotation:

Scott Baker – He’s close enough to being an ace. He can pitch in big games, has a decent strikeout rate, is capable of giving up fewer hits than innings pitched, and has impeccable control. I’ll take that in a #1 and I don’t understand the hesitancy in the media to accept him as one…

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Kevin Slowey – I think in Slowey, the Twins have a clone of Baker who is capable of being even better. A poor man’s Greg Maddux. When Slowey is right, and he’s not giving up tons of home runs (He’s had stretches where he’s been great in that regard), he can be an ace in his own right. No walks, plenty of strikeouts, and the capability to limit hits. And he’s still young with the chance of improvement as he learns the league a little better.

Nick Blackburn – A big game pitcher, Blackburn will never be great, but as a #3, I think he works just fine. He gives up tons of hits; I can see him leading the league in hits given up at some point in his career, but he’s not Carlos Silva. Carlos Silva was kind’ve a dick, and never attained the extra gear that Blackburn has. Their statistics are similar, but makeup matters in baseball. Blackburn has confidence, Silva always seemed kind’ve frightened. That’s why Silva is the bane of Seattle’s existence currently, and Blackburn is shutting down the Yankees in the playoffs.

Brian Duensing – No he’s not as good as he was down the stretch. He may never have a stretch like that again. But he’s capable of being a solid #4. I think he’s shown that. Anyone who can attain an ERA under 3 for nine starts is certainly capable.

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Joel Piniero? I think so. Piniero sucked hard for most of the decade, as his fastball lost velocity and he started serving up more and more hits and home runs, a wretched combination. But then this year he developed a two seam fastball, and all of a sudden, he stopped giving up fly balls, and dramatically reduced his walk rate. Is his success sustainable? All signs point to yes. And with the Twins infield defense looking to be a point of strength (Hardy, Punto and Morneau are all above average to good at their positions; whoever is the fourth infielder looks to be at least servicable in this regard when the various options are evaluated), Pinieros’s ground ball tendency would fit well. Especially considering that the Twins should have a terrible outfield defense next year. The more ground ball pitchers, the better.

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To the A.L Central, minions!

Overall Evaluation: The addition of Piniero would be PERFECT. I don’t see why he isn’t discussed more often. His FIP in ’09 was significantly lower than any incumbant Twins starter. With Piniero, or someone like him, on board, the Twins have a playoff ready rotation. Duensing might be overexposed as a #3 or #4 starter, but as a 5, he could be very useful. And if things don’t work out, they have a developing Anthony Swarzak, an enigmatic Francisco Liriano, and perhaps that douchebag Glen Perkins, as well.

Bullpen:

Jose Mijares – He was pretty good last year. He’s a little crazy, so that will always be a concern, but his numbers at the major league level have been good to great thus far. And he’s young.

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Jesse Crain – He awoke from his slumber of suckiness in the second half last year, and reminded us that he was once the league’s premier closing prospect. He’s never duplicated the strikeout numbers of his minor league career, but he’s shown an ability to sport a K/9 around 7, with an acceptable WHIP. He seems recovered from shoulder surgery, so I predict a decent season from him, perhaps reminiscent of 2006, when he had a K/9 of 7.04, a FIP of 3.38, and a 3.33 K/BB ratio.

Jon Rauch – As a seventh inning guy, I consider Rauch servicable. He’s in decline, in terms of velocity and peripherals. I wouldn’t doubt that he implodes in 2010, but it also wouldn’t surprise me if he had one more 3.75 ERA season left in him, which is still valuable.

Matt Guerrier – I don’t really trust Guerrier in big situations, but his numbers are usually pretty good when his arm stays attached. Still, his FIP in his awful 2008 year was 5.03. In 2009, although his ERA was reduced to a marvelous 2.36, his FIP was actually 4.35. This is an obvious case of good luck versus bad luck. His BABIP in his solid ’07? A tidy little .256. In ’08?A robust .315. And in ’09 he had his lowest yet, a BABIP of .222. His ground ball rate is also in decline, which combined with the Twins shift to a terrible outfield defense, doesn’t mean great things for Guerrier. Although that’s not to say he can’t pull a 3.50 ERA out of his weird goat beard.

Pat Neshek – Neshek used to be awesome. He also used to claim his unusual arm slot prevented elbow injuries. Well… anyway he’s on board to return to the Twins after essentially missing two seasons with Tommy John surgery. How good will he be? If he’s anywhere near where he was, that will be just fine, because at the back of the bullpen the Twins have..

Joe Nathan – The best or second best reliever in the league since 2003, Nathan is awesome. Yankees are his kryptonite, but everyone has a weakness. Maybe if the Twins have to play the Yankees in the playoffs again, they’ll have a contingency plan involving moving Crain, Guerrier or Neshek to the closer’s role temporarily. In any case, last year was Nathan’s best K/9 (11.67) since 2006. Although his FIP has risen every year since his remarkable 2006 campaign. But it was still just 2.88. He’s gonna be okay for a few more years.https://i0.wp.com/joenathan.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/09/joe-nathan-celebrity-waiter4.jpg

I see no reason to upgrade, unless injuries arise. Twins fans have every reason to believe the bullpen will post an ERA under 3.50, and with Anthony Slama and Robert Delaney waiting in the wings, there is depth here, as well.

Yeah, I have some optimism about the Twins next year.

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