Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Remembering Brad Radke

No, he didn't die. I thought about changing the title to make it seem less eulogy-like, but I couldn't think of anything. He didn't die; instead, I found out today that this is Radke's first year of eligibility for the Hall of Fame and given the other people on this year's ballot, he might actually have a shot...just kidding. I thought it would be fun to revisit Radke's career, first inning struggles and all.

Brad William Radke was drafted in the 8th round of the 1991 MLB Amateur Draft at the young age of 18. He was a product of Jesuit High School in Tampa, FL which also produced other Major Leaguers such as Lou Piniella, Al Lopez (HOF), Dave Madagan and Jason Michaels. Radke had early success in the Minors, throwing well in Rookie Ball and A-league ball before a promotion to AA towards the end of the '93 season. Radke spent all of the 1994 season at AA posting a very good 2.66 ERA in 186.1 innings - enough to turn some heads in the Twins front office.

Given that '94 was a strike-shortened season, the 1995 season started late and Radke was actually able to make the team out of Spring Training. He made his Major League debut on April 29th, a relief appearance in which he allowed 3 earned runs (4 runs overall) to the Baltimore Orioles in a game the Twins went on to lose 13-7. After that game, the rest of his appearances that year were as a starter and he managed to do OK considering he was on a team that lost 88 games that season (only 144 played that year). He won 11 games against 14 losses, gave up a league-high 32 homeruns, and threw 181 innings for the Twins...not bad for a 22-year-old rookie who's pro-career, to that point, had not extended past AA ball.

Even in that first year, Radke began to show a pattern which would plague him for his entire career - he had trouble getting out of the 1st and 2nd innings without giving up runs. In '95, his 1st inning ERA was 6.43, his 2nd inning ERA was 5.53 and after that, it settled in the low-4s. Though subsequent seasons were not nearly as terrible, the trend of early-inning struggles continued for most of Radke's career. He also gave up a TON of homeruns. He led the league in homeruns-allowed in both 1995 and 1996 and finished in the top 5 in that category 4 times during his career. For his career, he allowed 326 home-runs which ranks 35th all-time among MLB pitchers...this despite the fact that Radke had a relatively short 12-year career.

Brad Radke's career was not without highlights however. In 1997 he had a pretty lucky season that saw him win 20 games for the hometown club...especially impressive given the fact that the Twins lost almost 100 games that season. In that same year, he also won 12 consecutive games (consecutive starts), becoming only the 3rd pitcher since 1950 to do that (courtesy: wikipedia). Radke's career saddled the Twins transition from perennial loser to perennial contender perfectly; the team has 6 losing seasons and 6 winning seasons during his tenure as a Twin.

Radke was inducted into the Twins Hall of Fame in 2009, the team's last season in the Metrodome. He the poster child for the pitching "mold" that the Twins have become famous for...low strikeout rate, low walk rate. Radke ranks 32nd all-time in BB/9IP ratio (min 1,000 IP), ranking ahead of other famously walk-stingy pitchers like Roy Halladay and Greg Maddux. Radke will, I think, always be fondly remembered by Twins fans. He was quiet, he wasn't a distraction, he was a work-horse and he was reliable - that's about as much as you can ask of any player. In a way, he was kind of a paradox - he possessed pin-point control, yet gave up a lot of home-runs. My personal favorite memory of Radke isn't exactly a good one (if your name is Brad Radke). My favorite player growing up, aside from Kirby Puckett who was done playing by the time I was 12 years old, was Ken Griffey Jr. I begged my dad to take me to see him when the Mariners were in town during the '99 season and in the game we saw, Radke started and gave back-to-back home-runs to Griffey and A-Rod in the 1st inning. Classic.

Monday, November 28, 2011

What DO the Twins Have?

With the baseball winter meetings coming up in a week or so - the baseball hot-stove fires are about to be stoked into a blazing inferno here in the next 1-2 weeks. Up to this point I've done my fair share of speculating about what the Twins will do and in looking around other Twins blogs, you'll find no shortage of others who tried their hand at the same thing. With this piece, I want to take a different tact...I want to take a look at the pieces the Twins have right now that we can be assured of seeing on Opening Day (barring pre-season injury of course). All of us have a pretty good idea of what the holes on this team are - but laying out what the team has right now may make it crystal clear where the team should start in addressing their weaknesses.

Infield (arbitration eligibles in red, backups in parentheses):

C - Joe Mauer (Ryan Doumit/Drew Butera)
1B - Justin Morneau
2B - OPEN (Alexi Casilla)
SS - Jamey Carroll (Tsuyoshi Nishioka)
3B - Danny Valencia
DH - Ryan Doumit/ ?

This infield situation is complicated by unknowns. In a perfect world, the Twins would bring in a Kelly Johnson or a Aaron Hill type to fill the hole at 2nd base and your infield would be set with Morneau & Valencia on the corners with Carroll and Johnson/Hill up the middle. Reality is far from that though as the Twins have still not addressed second base and only God knows what Justin Morneau's availability will be come Opening Day.

Outfield (arbitration eligibles in red, backups in parentheses):

CF - Denard Span (Ben Revere)
LF - Joe Benson? Trevor Plouffe?

To me, the outfield situation is just as dire as the bullpen situation. If the Twins do nothing to address the outfield situation, the Twins will have a couple of guys (Revere and Benson) with less than a full-year of Major League experience as your starting Right and Left fielders. Not only that, Denard Span is coming off a 2nd-half which saw him miss significant time due to a concussion. He has said on Twitter that he's been feeling good lately, but with Morneau's cautionary tale, I don't think there's any counting on Span. I would like to think they'll bring back Jason Kubel, though I view his role as more of a DH if he returns, filling the void left by Jim Thome's departure. Aaron Hicks stands to get a look in Spring Training, but as a 22-year-old who spent all of last year a Fort-Myers (A-ball), I don't know that his chances are all that good. The Twins have announced that they are going to make Trevor Plouffe an outfielder, but even if he makes the transition defensively, I don't know that he has much staying power in the lineup (.697 OPS in 286 PAs last season). In short, the Twins have a lot of outfield question marks and not a lot of answers, though I did discuss a few potential free-agent answers in my last post.

Starting Pitching (arbitration eligibles in red):

#1 Francisco Liriano
#2 Carl Pavano
#3 Scott Baker
#4 Nick Blackburn
#5 Kevin Slowey? Brian Duensing?

Some people have seen a lot of question marks here too, but to me the starting rotation is pretty much set with the only question mark being who the Gardenhire and the Twins will decide to install as their 5th starter. As expected, Duensing's permanent move to the rotation last season exposed him and I wouldn't be surprised if they move him back to into the bullpen and give Slowey his old spot back. Then again, Slowey is (and has been) in the dreaded Gardenhire dog-house for awhile, so there are certainly no guarantees there. I would love to see the Twins go out and grab another starting pitcher, but those tend to be expensive, especially in a market like this year's when there are not many good ones available. As far as help from the farm goes, the Twins have nothing in the Minors that inspires much confidence in terms of starting pitching. There are a couple of arms (Hendriks, Salcedo), but they don't seem close.

Bullpen Pitching (arbitration eligibles in red):

Glen Perkins
Jose Mijares
? Jeff Manship ?

Ok, I take that back about the outfield rivaling the bullpen as the Twins most pressing issue. Holy smokes. The Twins have a bunch of garbage arms they could use including (but certainly not limited to): Alex Burnett, Scott Diamond, Jim Hoey, Jeff Gray, etc. With around $69.5M already committed to next year's payroll, and another $15M or so wrapped up in arbitration eligible players...the Twins have about $15M to spend to fill holes in the infield, outfield and bullpen. It's going to take every cent of that money, in addition to some GM wizardry, to field a competitive Twins team in 2012, but I feel that Terry Ryan is up to the task. Capable bullpen arms don't need to be expensive, and as Aaron Gleeman talked about in his most recent column, the Twins shouldn't feel the need to spend a lot of money on a closer either...a closer doesn't need to be "proven" in order to be dominant.

I think if I were Mr. Ryan, I would focus on the outfield first because useful outfielders are likely to be snapped up a lot more quickly than useful bullpen arms will be. Aside from that, I wouldn't overreact or overpay for marginal talent. The Twins have enough quality pieces (especially if Mauer and Morneau are healthy) that they can afford to have a few duds in the lineup). I would rather see good money spent in the bullpen than money needless thrown at replacement level infielders and outfielders.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Looking to the Outfield

Hats-off to Terry Ryan. In his first couple of weeks back on the job he has already addressed two significant areas of weakness on the ballclub using minimal funds. I could take a few minutes and talk about the Ryan Doumit acquisition, but others have already done a good job of that, particularly Nick Nelson  and Parker Hageman - both of them wrote excellent pieces about Doumit and his fit with the Twins, check out both pieces.

Because Terry Ryan has been so thrifty so far, he has left himself with a good chunk of funding left to fill other holes on the team, particularly in the outfield, starting rotation and bullpen. I want to look to the outfield to see what the Twins options are. I'm operating from the assumptions that the Twins lose either Cuddyer or Kubel, or they lose both of them. I don't see the Twins being able to keep both and I find a situation in which Kubel stays to be much more likely. If the Twins keep either Cuddyer or Kubel they will likely only "need" to add one outfielder to the mix because I'm also assuming that Ben Revere and/or Joe Benson will make the Major League club out of Spring Training. I put "need" in quotes because if they Twins keep Kubel, they could technically get away with not adding an OFer at all, but unless you're willing to make Kubel and Revere full-time outfielders, they're going to have to add someone. Moving along...

**By the way, it has been reported that the new collective bargaining agreement in Major League Baseball does away with compensation for Type-B free agents meaning the teams with Type-Bs will receive nothing if the player signs with another club. I haven't seen any sources confirming that this is set in stone so I'm leaving the designations there for now...just keep in mind that it may be utterly meaningless if it's true that MLB did away with "Type-B" designations.

Jason Kubel (Type-B) - 2011 Salary: $5,250,000
I've talked about Kubel before, particularly about how I think he has unique value. Kubel, like most other Twins' players, was injured for a large portion of the season, missing a total of 63 games. Through the first two months of last season he was pretty much the only bright spot in the lineup posting a .310/.355/.465 line through the end of May. He was looking like his 2009-self until being sidelined for all of June and most of July with a sprained foot. Anyway, we all know the story. Kubel is unique in the sense that he's a left-handed power hitter. Prior to the 2011 season, he had 3-straight 20+ HR seasons and during those three years he had a .821 OPS. His defense isn't great, but sans-Thome, the Twins could really use a competent hitter in the DH spot, a role Kubel would be able to fill quite competently. Kubel has been a consistent performer when healthy and at 29-years-old, extending him a 2-4 year deal makes sense.

Cody Ross (Type-B) - 2011 Salary: $6,300,000
Ross is an intriguing option from a few different angles. First, he can (and has) play all three outfield positions. Most of his playing time has been spent in centerfield, but he's also played appreciable time in right and left. With as many interchangeable parts as the Twins have (a catcher that needs frequent breaks from catching, no established DH, etc), having a versatile outfielder could be a major positive for a club that needs to move players around on a regular basis. In addition to that, Ross has some decent power (career .456 slugging %) from the right-side which is lacking in the current Twins lineup.
Ross has a couple of downsides as well. His ability to get on-base leaves something to be desired (career .323 OBP) and he doesn't really hit for average either. Fielding-wise he's very average though for the Twins, "average" is probably an upgrade, especially in right-field. There's also the fact that in each of the last 5 season, Ross' OPS has dropped...from 1.064 in 66 games in '07, to .730 in 121 games last season. At 30-years-old Ross definitely has something left in the tank, but unless Ross sits out there on the free-agent market for awhile, the price tag will likely be too high to make it worth the risk.

Ryan Ludwick (Type-B) - 2011 Salary: $6,775,000
It's scary when you look at how similar Ryan Ludwick and Cody Ross are offensively. Ross' career triple-slash is .261/.323/.456, Ludwick's career triple-slash is .261/.332/.455. Pluses for Ludwick are slightly better plate-discipline and slightly better defense, but other than that the two have very similar career stories. Ludwick, much like Ross, has even seen a decline over the last 4 seasons. After an All-Star season in '08 which saw him hit 37 HRs and drive in 113, his OPS and overall production have declined in each season since. Given his poor 2011 season, I'm guessing that Ludwick could probably be had for a discount and would definitely be an upgrade defensively - I think he's in line for a bounce-back of sorts.

Brad Hawpe (Outright FA) - 2011 Salary: $2,000,000
The Padres had a $6M option on Hawpe but after a dismal 2011 season, they understandably decided to opt for the $1M buyout making Hawpe an outright free agent. From 2006 to 2009 Hawpe was a very consistent hitter for the Colorado Rockies posting 4-straight 20+ HR seasons and a .902 OPS over that time. Ever since, he's looked nothing like that while splitting time between 3 different ballclubs. Defensively, Hawpe is nothing special at all with a career-.978 fielding% and a career -18.9 UZR/150 -- and my 'nothing special' I mean he's pretty terrible. Hawpe might be worth a flier - but if I were Terry Ryan I wouldn't offer anything more than a one-year "let's see" type deal.

Josh Willingham (Type-A) - 2011 Salary: $6,000,000
It's hard to say how realistic it is that the Twins could land Willingham. For one thing, he's certainly going to be making more than $6M per year with whomever he ends up signing. His OPS has been north of .800 for the past 6 seasons and at 32-years old, he has miles left on the tires. Offensively he's probably the best of the mid-tier options out there and defensively he sits somewhere between Cody Ross and Ryan Ludwick. I would be ecstatic if the Twins went out there and got him, but given their self-reported payroll goals, I find it improbable that he ends up in a Twins uniform. Michael Rand over at the Star Tribune wrote an interesting piece about Willingham and how the Twins fans might be focusing too much on him, can't say I disagree - check it out.

I think we'll continue to see the Twins regularly add pieces as we go through the next couple of months - not all of them are going to be household names, but I would be surprised to see one bigger name in there somewhere - I think it will most likely it will be a starting pitcher or reliever.

I haven't mentioned this in a post before (I don't think), but if you want, follow me on Twitter (@thebatshatters). I try to keep it almost 100% sports and Twins related - unlike some people who choose to share their political views on a regular basis. Also, on this Thanksgiving Week, I want to say a big THANK YOU to all of you who are regular readers of this blog, I really appreciate the time you take to read and comment.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

If It Ain't Broke, Don't Fix It

Leave it to the Astros to go and screw everything up. I'm not sure exactly HOW it happened, but the new owner of the Astros (Jim Crane) got Bud Selig and Major League baseball to sign-off on moving the team to the American League as part of his deal to buy the team. In addition to the Astros' move from the NL Central to the AL West, MLB will be adding a second wild-card team to each league and will, most likely, implement a one-game playoff between the two wild card teams in each league (a play-in game, if you will). Oh, and because each league now contains the same odd amount of teams (15), 'Inter-league Play' will now be a regular, every-day part of the baseball schedule.

My first reaction to these changes is all negative. Wasn't this past season's September and October evidence enough that what baseball has/had is working? You had two teams make the playoffs on the very final day of the regular season, you had several compelling and interesting playoff series and you had a 7-game World Series for the 2nd consecutive year. I know it's not like this every year, but even in recent memory there has been plenty of similarly exciting stuff happening at the end of the season (back-to-back Game 163s in 2008 and 2009 for the Twins comes immediately to mind). I can't help but feel that one change in particular hasn't been purely media motivated, and the change I'm referring to is the addition of a second wild-card in each league.

For years now, the Eastcoast Sports Programming Network (ESPN) talking heads have been bitching about the fact that there are three playoff-worthy teams in the AL East and only two of them can make it into the post-season. Other lesser AL East teams like the Orioles and Jays have publicly stated that they don't feel they can realistically compete with the payrolls in their own division and thus cannot field teams that can compete for precious few playoff spots. In swoops Bud Selig to save the day! Make no mistake, these moves are motivated PURELY by revenue opportunities...not for the betterment of the game of baseball. The game is fine the way it is/was.

My second reaction to this news was more rational. It's going to happen, might as well accept it. I do like it in one aspect and one aspect alone. I feel as though the wild-card teams should have a disadvantage of some sort. They didn't win a division and not having home-field advantage is not disadvantage enough. If you have a one-game playoff between the two wild-card teams, then each wild-card team will likely (but not necessarily) be forced to use their respective aces...this will give them a distinct disadvantage, especially in the first round of the playoffs where the series' are only a maximum of 5 games in length. I actually like the change from that perspective, but from every other perspective I think it is a needless change.

I also an idea for one further change MLB might as well make to go along with all of the other changes they're talking about. Do away with the Designated Hitter OR do away with pitchers hitting in the National League. Now that you're going to have year-round Interleague Play, why play with two sets of rules? Year-round Interleague Play is already going to further disrupt the precious idea of a "balanced schedule" so why compound the problem by continuing to hold on to separate rules in each league? DH's are already worthless for 10 games of the season as things currently stand and now they're adding several Interleague games to every team's schedule...

Like I said earlier, all of these changes are motivated purely by revenue - I just wish that Bud Selig and MLB would come clean about it. To say that these changes will "improve the game of baseball" is like slapping every baseball fan in the face. We all know how great baseball has been over the past few months. Nobody even once broached the subject of adding extra wild-card teams to the mix until the Tampa Bay Rays started winning...and adding another wild doesn't even guarantee extra drama. As Bill from The Platoon Advantage pointed out on Twitter (@Bill_TPA), the two sudden-death wild-card teams in the American League in 2001 would have been the Oakland Athletics (102-60) and the Minnesota Twins (85-77) - hardly would have seemed fair to make the A's play a one-game playoff...

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Crazy Thoughts: Twins Should Pursue Reyes

I've been thinking a lot about the Twins lately, specifically what I think the expectations should be for this off-season and for the 2012 campaign. While I celebrated the re-installation of Terry Ryan as Twins GM, I was equally disappointed to hear that the team plans on dropping it's 2012 payroll to around $100M. Imagine my surprise when I saw many fellow Twins' bloggers support this decision; I figured the reaction would be the opposite. Here's my logic, and I'm going to present a case that the Twins should go after Jose Reyes.

Two Aprils ago, on a mild night in Minneapolis, the Twins played their first regular-season game in the new Target Field. That 2010 season was a dream of sorts with the squad tallying 94 wins and easily winning the AL Central crown. The playoffs left a poor taste in all of our mouths, but there was hope for 2011 because a majority of the team was returning...except for the middle-infield and half the bullpen. Things didn't work out the way most of us thought they would. In 2011, the Twins had their worst season in 12 years on their way to losing 99 games and finishing dead-last in the AL Central. Bill Smith was fired. Terry Ryan was re-crowned GM...and now the Twins want to reduce the payroll?? Only 2 seasons after opening their brand-new stadium...a large portion of which was paid for by taxpayers in Minnesota? This may seem crazy, but I think that rather than pulling back, this team should be doing all it can to put a competitive team back on the field next year. The holes are obvious and the potential fixes for those holes are out there in the form of free-agents.

In my opinion, when you fight for 10+ years to get a new stadium built and then it gets done, and then in only your 2nd year in said stadium the team has a bad DON'T give up. I think the Twins owe it to the fans to put as good of a product as possible onto the field, even it is means raising the payroll to $120M or $130M. Here are some other reasons why now is a bad time to reduce payroll and "re-build" for a couple of years: 

a) Joe Mauer isn't getting any younger, neither is Justin Morneau. I realize that both players have had their injuries and that neither is a "sure thing" for the 2012 season, especially Morneau. That said, Mauer is turning 29 shortly after the 2012 season starts and Morneau will turn 31 next May. If you doing the re-building thing for the next season or two, you may be missing out on the last couple of "prime" years from two of your current superstars. Say what you will about Mauer, I know there's a lot of question marks there, but he is going to have a few more great seasons during his career. 

b) The Twins have nothing in the Minors that inspires much confidence, especially in terms of pitching. As this last season showed, the Twins farm depth is no where near what many of us thought it was. Many of the Triple-A players that were called-up as a result of injuries last year were over-matched or were just not very good. Of particular concern was the lack of middle-infield depth and the lack of capable bullpen arms in the farm system. Nothing has really changed on that front. The Twins have a few decent prospects (Hicks, Sano, etc), but NONE of them are fact the one elite pitching prospect they had (Kyle Gibson) will likely not even pitch in 2012 due to Tommy John surgery. Liam Hendriks, who was thought to be one of the Twins better Minor League arms, took a huge step back in 2011 and pitched to a 6.17 ERA in 4 September starts with the Major League club at the end of the year. According to Baseball Prospectus' new prospect rankings, the Twins have ZERO pitching prospects that even rise to the level of "3-stars". No matter how you look at it, the Twins are going to be getting much rotation help from the Minors any time soon and we've all seen what they have for potential bullpen arms and, well, it ain't good. 

c) Re-building isn't going to put butts in the seats. The reason the Twins are talking about reducing payroll is because the team is anticipating a loss of revenue as a result of the team's poor play on the field in 2011. Less season-tickets have been sold, there was less revenue from vendors in the 2nd half of last season, and on and on. That said, spending less on the team and risking a couple more losing seasons isn't going to increase revenue. If anything, it will simply make the problem worse which will result in continued payroll reductions. This has been the Pohlad's M.O. all the way back to when Carl was owner of the team. The Pohlad's want the team to be profitable and they will reduce payroll to the point where, at the very minimum, the Twins are a break-ever proposition. To hear front-office people say, "oh, we might raise the payroll again in a few years" is insulting. The Twins increased their payroll number after every winning season during the 2000's and dropped it following the 2007 after the club had a sub-.500 record that season. The only reason the payroll went up in 2009 was in anticipation of the club's move to Target Field.

You always hear sports media people talk about "windows" for a given team winning a championship. Usually they are talking about how the "window is closing" on a team...and in the Twins case, the window is already closed or, at best, it's almost closed. This is why the Twins put a stopper on the window and try and get Jose Reyes. Landing Reyes would address a number of issues the Twins have. 

a) Shortstop-play is perhaps the Twins most glaring weakness. The position has been a black-hole of offense for them for a majority of the past 20 years and though they have been able to put capable defenders there, they haven't been able to find the complete package (aside from the one season of JJ Hardy).
b) As was made obvious last season, middle infield defense can be directly correlated to the success of the pitching staff. There are a lot of factors at play here, but good middle infield defense can save A LOT of runs which translates directly to wins. Reyes is a very capable defender with a large range when healthy.
c) Ron Gardenhire wants speed? Reyes is speed. He stole 39 bases last season in only 126 games. When he has played full seasons, he's led the National League in steals 3 times (2005, 2006, 2007).
d) There has been talk of the Twins trading Denard Span, some say to the Nationals. If they managed to do that and picked up either Espinosa or Desmond, they could put either one at 2nd base, and by acquiring Reyes, you have a bonafide lead-off man to replace Span. Reyes has more pop, more speed, and a better eye than Span.

Reyes isn't going to be cheap. He made $11M this past season and projects to be making at least $15-$20M/yr depending on the length of the deal. That represents a SIGNIFICANT investment for the Twins, yes, but it also fills a hole that the organization clearly has right now and will probably have for awhile if it is not addressed soon. Reyes is 28-years-old, so he is by no means old, and if you could entice him with a short-term deal, like has been rumored to the be the case with the Marlins (reported that they offered him 3-years @ $20M per), you could hedge your bets a little with regard to age.

I don't expect the Twins to be players in the Reyes sweepstakes, especially considering their recent announcement about payroll, but it's fun to dream. I really don't understand the reduction in payroll and I don't understand the support for it either. This team has set of circumstances RIGHT NOW (in terms of the age of certain star players) that it will not have 2 or 3 years from now. I think the Twins should either try like hell right now to win, or it's going to be awhile before we see a truly competitive team on the field.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Some Thoughts on Bill Smith

It was one of those rare moments where I was actually on Twitter when some big Twins story broke and I was so surprised I had to read it twice. Bill Smith has been fired as GM by the Twins and has been offered another position within the organization...which I'm guessing is one he will likely turn down. His replacement, at least on an interim basis, is former Twins' GM Terry Ryan who was captain of the Twins ship from 1994 to 2007.

This is some pretty exciting news. Calls for Bill Smith's head have been going around the Twins blogosphere for awhile now and he has been rightfully (IMO anyway) blamed for the current state of the team and for a dreadful 2011 season. Terry Ryan certainly has quite a big job ahead of his for this off-season, but my level of trust in his decision-making abilities is far-higher. When Terry Ryan was the Twins GM, he consistently made good trades and good free-agent pickups using a limited payroll AND he also helped build a powerhouse farm-system that churned out many of the starters on the current Twins roster (Mauer, Morneau, Kubel, Cuddyer, Span, Valencia, etc). He also executed several trades, some of which are among the best in recent memory (Liriano and Nathan for Pierzynski and he acquired Johan Santana in the Rule 5 draft). He wasn't immune to bad deals (brought Drew Butera to the team in 2007) but more times than not he made good decisions that brought quality players to the Twins organization and ultimately turned the team back into a winner in 2001.

As a fan of the team, this is a great way to start the off-season in my opinion. I feel comfortable knowing that it is Terry Ryan rather than Bill Smith who has $20-$30M to spend this off-season and I think Ryan will make deals that will benefit the Twins both in the short-term and the long-term.

That said....

Terry Ryan is by no means a savior. Let's not forget that Terry Ryan was a Sr. Advisor with the Twins during the entire time that Bill Smith has been the GM. I don't know to what degree he was involved in making decisions, but he was definitely involved and yet the Twins made bad move after bad move during that time. Additionally, the Twins have a number of holes they need to address this off-season and even with $20-$30M to spend, any Twins GM is going to need to be extremely savvy to fill those holes. On top of that are the health concerns with Mauer, Morneau, Liriano, etc that are mostly out of Ryan's hands, but will ultimately go a long way in determining the outcome of the 2012 season and beyond. Oh, and the farm-system is mostly depleted of near-Major-League-ready talent. Make no mistake, it's a big job. Like I said though, I feel better knowing that Terry Ryan is making the final decisions, here's hoping for a good off-season.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The SS/2B Dilemma

Tonight is the night (any Dexter fans out there?). As the clock strikes midnight, MLB free-agents everywhere will be eligible to sign a contract with any club that makes them an offer. Some are Type-A free-agents, others Type-B, but all of them free to go to any team that will have them. If I'm Bill Smith and the Twins, I have a lot of work to do this off-season. I need half of a bullpen, I need a couple of middle-infielders, I might even need a starter...I've gotta get going. Earlier this week I talked about the Twins bullpen needs and now I want to focus on another somewhat pressing need of theirs and that's the middle infield.

Tsuyoshi Nishioka was a disaster last year. Alexi Casilla was pretty much who we thought he would be. The others were just minor-league fill-ins in what was a dismal season up the middle. Last year's experiments highlighted just how much of a mistake it was to let JJ Hardy and Orlando Hudson go without having a whole lot to fall back on. 5 players saw 15 or more starts at 2nd base. 4 players saw more than 30 starts at SS. 44 errors we committed between the two positions and an overall .970 fielding percentage (league average for the positions combined was .979)...and that's not even counting the 20 errors at 3B. Last year's Twins team was essentially a real-life example of how much of a difference a good (or bad) defensive middle-infield makes.

Given that free-agency is literally right around the corner, here are a couple of free-agents that would be a good fit for the Twins. Some of them are more expensive, others not so much - though for a lower salary you often have to compromise on offensive production.

#1 Candidate: Kelly Johnson (2B) - Type-A
MLBTR thinks that Johnson is headed to the Dodgers, but there's no reason to think that the Twins couldn't get in on this free-agent. I've talked about Johnson here before on this site, but in my opinion he really is the cream of the crop when it comes to free-agent 2nd basemen. Johnson is 29-years-old, he has a career .260/.343/.441 triple-slash, and he's a good 2nd baseman (.981 career fielding % and career 10.9 UZR). While Johnson is perhaps one of the more expensive middle-infield candidates out there, he also is probably looking for a long-term contract which the Twins would be smart to offer him given the lack of middle-infield depth within the organization. Johnson made $5.85M last season and could probably be had for a 3-5 year deal worth about $7-9M per year (worth the picks you'd have to give up due to Johnson's Type-A FA status). Johnson would be an instant upgrade on Alexi Casilla and would allow the Twins to either move Casilla to SS or find someone else to play shortstop and make Casilla a utility option.

#2 Candidate: Clint Barmes (SS or 2B) - Type-B
I actually wouldn't mind seeing the Twins pursue both of these guys, but my gut tells me that's unrealistic. Barmes in not much to look at offensively, but he is intriguing from a defensive standpoint. Barmes has played more SS in his career than 2B, but has a solid (not spectacular) glove and a little pop in his bat. He made $3.92M last year and if offered some sort of multi-year deal, would probably only command a salary in the $4M-$5M per year range, maybe even less. At 32 years old Barmes is probably only to get slower from here, but as a short-term fix, he's worth a look.

#3 Candidate: Aaron Hill (2B best, can play SS) - Type-B
Hill would most likely be a 2B candidate only, but again, it's a need the Twins have so he's worth a look. After being traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks last season, Hill showed that he's still got it carrying a .315/.386/.492 line in 33 games to end the season. Hill has a career 21.7 UZR score at 2B to go along with his .987 fielding %. Hill and Johnson are very similar...both are solid defenders who bring a bat with them to the plate. Within the spacious confines of Target Field, Hill is likely to be more of a doubles hitter than Johnson but either of them would be a vast upgrade offensively from what the Twins have in-house. Aaron Hill made $5M last year and would be the "middle-of-the-road" option between these three, likely commanding a $5-7M salary over a 2-3 year deal.

There are other options out there, Furcal, Betancourt, etc., but these are the three options I like best based on price, age and ability. I would love to have Kelly Johnson, I think he would make a great fit for the Twins, but my gut tells me I'm dreaming which is really too bad.