Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Happy Holidays, Twins' Fans!

We're going on hiatus until the end of the year and will back at it full-board in 2010. In the meantime, check out Joe Posnanski's wonderful book about the 1975 Cincinnati Reds, The Machine. It's not too late to put it on your holiday list, and you won't be disappointed. Also check out Hardball Times writer Chris Jaffe's book, Evaluating Baseball's Managers. This wonderful book contains everything you ever wanted to know about baseball's pilots, and has plenty to say about some of the men who have called the shots in the Twins' dugout over the years.
For Twins' fans, 2009 was a fun season, and there's plenty of which to look forward as we move toward 2010:
  • Joe Mauer's extension
  • Inaugural season of Target Field
  • Off-season decisions remaining at second base and third base
  • Spring training beginning in just seven short weeks
We'll have you covered here at BP Baseball, along with our friends on the blogroll. As Twins' fans, we are blessed with some of the best baseball writers and analysts right here in Twins Territory. From Joe C., LEN3, Kelsie Smith, The Twins Geek, Aaron Gleeman, Nick Nelson, Parker Hageman, Seth Stohs, Josh Johnson, and many more, we are lucky to have the best and most level-headed coverage of any team in this market. I am proud to be associated with this group, and I thank you all for your support as I got the ball rolling here in 2009. Thanks for sticking with my sporadic posts on Donny Puck, to my foray with the Examiner, and finally on my permanent home here.

I wish you a joyous holiday season. Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or nothing at all, may the peace of the season be with you all and your family.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Twins Conclude Team's Most Successful Decade

The decade of the "00s" concludes in a few days and the Minnesota Twins have just completed the team's most successful ten-year span since moving to Minnesota in 1961.

The numbers bear this out:
  • Team Record: 853-755
  • Winning Percentage: .530
  • Home Record: 472-335
  • Home Winning Percentage: .585
  • Run Differential: +310
  • Division Titles: Five
  • Attendance: 19,705,865

The team's record is the best of any decade other than the 1960s, when the Twins recorded a winning percentage of .542. Of course, if one includes the team's final season in Washington, 1960, the winning percentage drops to .536, still better than the 00s, but on par. The 853 victories is a decade-high mark for the Twins, as are the 472 home victories and the attendance figure. Although no World Series appearances were made in the 00s, the team won an unprecedented five division titles and lost a tie-breaker game in still one more season. 

For a decade which started out with the Twins riding a streak of seven-consecutive losing seasons, plus still one more sub-.500 season in 2000, the Twins certainly righted the ship. Threats of franchise contraction abounded in 2000 and 2001, but the Twins had a solid core of young players which were given opportunities to learn at the Major League level in 1999 and were emerging by 2001. Players such as Torii Hunter, Jacque Jones, Corey Koskie, Cristian Guzman, Doug Mientkiewicz, Eric Milton, and A.J. Pierzynski (and Johan Santana in 2000) formed a solid nucleus of talent which would lead to three-consecutive AL Central Division titles between 2002 and 2004, plus another in 2006. Manager Ron Gardenhire replaced longtime skipper Tom Kelly after the 2001 season, and the Twins have won five division titles under his tutelage.

The decade of the 2000 also featured just two losing seasons (2000 and an injury-plagued 2007 campaign), which is the fewest in any decade since the team moved to Minnesota.

The Twins of the 1960s featured a potent lineup of Harmon Killebrew, Tony Oliva, Bob Allison, Jim Lemon, and later Rod Carew, and they played a solid brand of baseball in their new market. The 1960s saw the Twins win an American League pennant, the first AL West Division title, and sport the best win percentage (.542) and run differential (+763) in franchise history. However, the 1960s also featured three losing seasons, and three finishes lower than third place. The 2000s featured five division titles, only three finishes lower than second place (I am aware that the 1960s featured no divisions until 1969, while the 2000s had the Twins playing in a five-team division the entire decade. Still, a sixth or seventh place finish in the 1960s compares to a third place finish in the 2000s), and the best home winning percentage (.585) in franchise history. Add to that two AL MVP awards (Justin Morneau in 2006 and Joe Mauer in 2009), two AL Cy Young Awards (Santana in 2004 and 2006), and three batting titles (Mauer in 2006, 2008, and 2009), and the individual awards mirrored the success of the decade.

The Twins of the next decade will move out of the sterile environment of the Metrodome to a spectacular outdoor stadium in Target Field. The atmosphere will be second-to-none, and the Twins should have a good product to feature on the new grass field. However, the Twins of the next decade have a tough act to follow.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

A Look At The Big Deal

The winter meetings were somewhat quiet last week in that the off-season's biggest potential prize, Roy Halladay, remained in Toronto. One week later, the baseball world was rocked by deals involving not only Halladay but Cliff Lee as well.

The Blue Jays sent Halladay to the Philadelphia Phillies for pitcher Joe Blanton and three minor leaguers: pitcher Kyle Drabek, catcher Travis d'Arnaud and outfielder Michael Taylor. The Jays will send Taylor to the Oakland Athletics for third baseman Brett Wallace. The Phillies also signed Halladay to a three-year extension worth $20M annually with a $20M vesting option for 2014, which eliminates his testing the free agent market after the 2010 season.

Drabek and d'Arnaud were first round draft picks for the Phils in the 2006 and 2007 drafts, respectively. Taylor is a power-hitting outfielder who reached AAA for the first time last season. Wallace was a first-rounder in 2008 for St. Louis who was acquired by Oakland last summer in the Matt Holliday trade.

In a companion deal, the Phils sent left-handed starter Lee to the Seattle Mariners for minor league pitchers Phillippe Aumont and Juan Ramirez and outfielder Tyson Gillies. Lee had said he wanted to stay in Philly but wished to test the free agent market after this season regardless.

Aumont is a highly-touted prospect who first received wide attention pitching for Canada in last season's World Baseball Classic. Ramirez is a 20-year-old strikeout machine who reached high-Class A ball last season. Gillies is a career .321/.419/.447 with no power, but stole 40 bases in Class A ball last season.  

ESPN's Keith Law breaks the deal down in this effort and gives the edge to the Mariners and Jays and the disadvantage to the Phillies. Jayson Stark calls the deal historic in this piece, and it's hard to argue. With Cy Young winners effectively being dealt in the same swoop, it is a big deal.

Time will tell whether the prospect acquired by Toronto and Philadelphia will pan out. The Blue Jays will have a very difficult time selling tickets next summer with Halladay as a drawing card, but fans saw this day coming for a very long time, and the Jays managed to snag Kyle Drabek in the process. The Phillies were glad they held Drabek and J.A. Happ in last year's trade for Lee. Blanton will help next year's rotation. The acquisition of Wallace should also be noted, as the Jays may have found their third baseman of the future and turned a more risky prospect (Taylor) into a more polished one (Wallace).

The Phillies get Halladay, along with a three-year extension. The lose Lee, who is only one year younger, but get a potential late-inning guy in Aumont. I agree with Law that the package for Lee is worse than the package they surrendered for Lee one year ago, and definitely not as good as the prospects sent to Toronto for Halladay. The Phillies will be good again in 2010 and adding Halladay to a rotation with Cole Hamels and J.A. Happ will be a plus.

The Mariners get a legitimate ace in Lee to go along with Felix Hernandez to form a formidable top-two. Seattle did surrender Aumont in the deal, but all will be forgotten if they are able to sign Lee to a deal when he hits the market. The Mariners are re-tooling this off-season with the trade for Lee and the signing of free agent Chone Figgins, and should be a factor in the AL West next season.

All and all, it was a blockbuster deal and one which will pay some immediate dividends. A good old-fashioned four-team deal certainly stokes the hot stove fires in the cold winter months. At first glance, the Mariners and Blue Jays come away looking better than the Phillies, but if Philadelphia returns to the World Series again in 2010, that may be revised.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Inside Two Teams' Moves: White Sox and Royals

The winter months have turned cold, but with a market expected to favor buyers, some teams have begun the process of re-tooling their rosters for 2010. Two of the Twins' American League Central Division rivals, the Chicago White Sox and Kansas City Royals, recently made moves which affect their lineups for the 2010 season.

The White Sox signed injured reliever J.J. Putz, late of the New York Mets and made a trade for outfielder Juan Pierre, who spent the past three seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Each move constitutes a low-risk, high-reward scenario the White Sox hope will pay dividends.

Putz was one of the game's elite closers with the Seattle Mariners in 2006 and 2007, accumulating 76 saves in 85 opportunities over those two seasons. He was nearly un-hittable in 2007, allowing just 37 hits and 11 runs (all earned) over 71.2 innings, posting 40 saves in 42 opportunities, notching an ERA of 1.38, and striking out 10.3 batters per nine innings. Not surprisingly, his over-use caught up to him in 2008 and served as a microcosm of the Mariners' disastrous 2008 season in which they became the first team in MLB history to lose 100 games with a team payroll over $100M. Beset by injuries, Putz saved 15 games and blew eight opportunities. He was limited to 46.1 innings.

Signed as a free agent by the New York Mets prior to the 2009 season, Putz's time in Queens was a nightmare. Expected to bridge the gap to new closer Francisco Rodriguez, Putz instead pitched a total of 29.1 innings, allowed 29 hits, and posted a 5.22 ERA. He underwent surgery in June to remove bone chips in his pitching elbow, and returned with no success. He was finally shut down in August and released a few months later.

The White Sox signed him to a one-year, $3M contract, to serve as a bridge to closer Bobby Jenks. He will complement lefty set-up man Matt Thornton from the right side. The key to this acquisition is health. Putz has gone through two seasons of non-stop injuries and the White Sox are counting on him to provide quality set-up work not seen from Scott Linebrink last season. A $3M contract is rather steep for an injury-plagued pitcher who has struggled mightily for the past two seasons, but shows the White Sox are serious about upgrading their bullpen to keep up with the Twins.

The trade for Pierre, for two minor leaguers, was made to effectively remake the Chicago outfield. Starters Jermaine Dye, Scott Podsednik, and backup DeWayne Wise are out of the mix for 2010, and Pierre will join Carlos Quentin and Alex Rios to form a different alignment. The White Sox also signed Andruw Jones to a free agent deal a few weeks ago. Pierre brings no power to speak of to the table. In ten big league seasons, he has a career slugging percentage of .372. He is a career .301/.348/.372 hitter who seldom walks, but can bring speed to the top of the order. He has led the National League in steals twice and has stolen no fewer than 30 bases in each of his nine full big league seasons.

The Dodgers inexplicably signed Pierre to a five-year, $44M deal prior to the 2007 season. After playing regularly in 2007, Pierre was forced to a backup role after the acquisition of Manny Ramirez in 2008. 

The White Sox will only be on the hook for $8M of the $18.5M owed to Pierre over the final two years of the deal. The move is decent for Chicago in that they acquired a true leadoff hitter rather cheaply. He'll hit for average, never walk, hit for no power, steal some bases, and play solid defense (career +5.5 UZR/150 in the outfield) for a changing White Sox lineup.

Over in Kansas City, the Royals effectively swapped catchers this week. The team non-tendered veteran John Buck (who quickly signed a one-year deal with the Toronto Blue Jays) and signed free agent catcher Jason Kendall away from the Milwaukee Brewers. Incredibly, the Royals gave Kendall a two-year, $6M deal. This for a guy who hit .241/.331/.305 for the Brewers last season. This for a guy who hit 10 home runs in 2001 and then has gone on to hit a total of 20 homers since, including a homerless 2005. This for a guy who has managed to hit no higher than .246 in the past three seasons, despite playing no fewer than 134 games. I could go on, but you get the point.

Kendall is a career .290/.369/.383 hitter who has been on a downward plane for the past five seasons. He will be 36 by next year's All-Star break and is, at best, a replacement-level catcher at this point in his career. As Joe Posnanski points out in his blog, the free agent catcher market is thin this winter and the Royals had no obvious move internally staring back at them. Still, why give Kendall a multiple-year deal? It makes no sense. Of course, trading Leo Nunez for Mike Jacobs (and then releasing Jacobs a year later) makes no sense. Trading J.P Howell for Joey Gathright makes no sense, either. The Royals are stuck in neutral. Despite all the lip service of the "improving Kansas City Royals," the team has shown no obvious improvement anywhere - Billy Butler, excluded - on the diamond. Alex Gordon has not panned out at third base, the team has no starting pitching behind Zack Greinke, and they have too many 1B/DH types. GM Dayton Moore may prove to be solid, but is building a puzzling track record while his team continues to reside in the division's basement.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Free Agent Market Strongly Favors Buyers

ESPN's Buster Olney's blog on Sunday noted that there are 266 major league free agents this winter. The staggering amount of available players does not include "big" prizes like Chone Figgins, who signed with the Seattle Mariners during the winter meetings last week in Indianapolis.

The MLB Trade Rumors site noted that 39 players were not tendered contracts before Saturday night's deadline, adding more to the free agent market. Some bigger names were in that list including Yankees' pitcher Chien-Ming Wang, Colorado Rockies' 3B Garrett Atkins, Pittsburgh Pirates' closer Matt Capps, and Oakland Athletics' DH Jack Cust.

The Twins still have holes at third base and second base, and have long had an interest in Atkins. The seven-year veteran has spent his entire career in Colorado and had some solid seasons in 2006 and 2007. However, he hit a paltry .226/.308/.342 last season with 9 HR and 37 RBI and played slightly lower than replacement-level defense at third base. His career URZ/150 at third base is -5.0, but he is a .289/.354/.457 hitter who is much better than last season suggests. At age 30, he made $7M last season on a one-year deal and will certainly make no more than that in this market. He would be worth the risk for the Twins on a one-year deal. He is younger and healthier than last season's 3B free agent signing, Joe Crede, but the Twins lose a lot of defense with Atkins instead of Crede. However, the potential for an offensive bounce back season, coupled with the fact that he will likely not get any cheaper, may suggest the Twins' kicking the tires on Atkins.

The Twins appear to be set in the rotation, having the top four spots filled with Scott Baker, Nick Blackburn, Carl Pavano, and Kevin Slowey. If the Twins wanted to go after someone like Wang as a fifth starter type, he may be worth the risk, given that he is a more proven commodity and has more experience than any of the team's internal candidates. However, he has been injured the past two seasons, is coming off a shoulder procedure this past season, and probably won't be ready to pitch until May at the earliest. Besides, Brian Duensing pitched well enough last season to earn an inside track to the fifth starter's spot. Wang doesn't seem to fit the Twins' plans at this time.

Had the Twins not gone after Jon Rauch at the August deadline last season, Capps would have been a perfect fit. He was the Pirates' closer the past three seasons, notching 66 saves in 79 opportunities since 2007. He is only 26 years-old and probably projects to being a set-up man with his next team. One has to wonder what the Pirates are thinking in letting both Capps and John Grabow (last season at the deadline) go. Of course, that's probably why they have not had a winning season since 1992. Capps is younger than Rauch, but the Twins have Rauch on the hook for $2.9M to fill essentially the same role Capps would fill in Minnesota. Personally, I'd sign Capps and try to trade Jesse Crain, but it's unlikely the Twins will do this.

There are a lot of free agent options for the Twins to consider this winter, and the Twins would do well to pursue either Orlando Hudson or Felipe Lopez to play second base. The team will likely play it cautious for a while and let the market unfold. It's a buyers' market and will likely be a late-developing one to boot. The Twins may well wait until late in the off-season to make a move, and there certainly promises to be some talented players available and looking for jobs late in the winter.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Winter Meetings Over; Twins Still Have Needs

The baseball winter meetings have concluded and the Minnesota Twins left lovely Indianapolis making the following "moves:"
Although it's far too early to determine the importance of losing two young pitchers in the Twins' low minors, the Rule V losses have no impact on this year's roster. Adding Pavano to the rotation solidifies the top four spots in next year's rotation, while cutting Bonser saves the team not only money for the arbitration-eligible Bonser, but eases the crowded bullpen situation somewhat.

Still, the Twins have obvious holes at third base and second base still to address. It was rumored that the Twins were taking the following action in Indy:
Still, one has to be happy that the Twins did NOT do the following:
  • Sign RH set-up man Brandon Lyon to a three-year, $15M contract (What in the world are the Astros thinking? Lyon is a middle-level reliever at best.)
  • Sign LHP Randy Wolf to a three-year, $29.75M contract. The Twins have Pavano for one year and between $7-8M, which is a steal compared to the insane length of contract which the Brewers gave Wolf.
The winter meetings always feature the absurdity of some teams and their inability to analyze statistics to determine player value. As frustrating as it is sometimes when the Twins do not make moves to address obvious needs, it's refreshing to see the organization's conservatism when compared to the stupidity of the two contracts listed above.

Still, the off-season has much work remaining. The Twins have holes at 2B and 3B, and the rumors surrounding players such as Kouzmanoff, Beltre, and Feliz (although Feliz ultimately signed with Houston for a respectable one year, $4.5M deal) show the Twins are actively looking to upgrade at these positions. Of course, the biggest situation to address is Joe Mauer's extension, which makes all moves pale in comparison.

Still, by doing essentially nothing at this year's winter meetings, the Twins came out no worse than their AL Central peers with an eye toward 2010. The Tigers made a good move for the near future in moving Curtis Granderson for some young talent and the other teams remained virtually silent.

The free agent market is still a possibility for the Twins to address their holes. Second base options Felipe Lopez and Orlando Hudson are still out there, although all indications are that the Twins had no contact with their representatives at Indianapolis. Still, the marketplace is in its early stages and look for the Twins to make a move via free agency to address these situations.

The winter meetings are great for rumor-mongers. Heck, I found myself refreshing far more than I usually do. Still, the Twins' measured approach in the fever swamp that was Indianapolis this week was the right strategy.

Now, on to the business of addressing the Mauer, second base, and third base situations.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Rule V Draft Ongoing......

The Twins did not make any selections in the Major League phase of the Rule V Draft Thursday morning, nor did they lose anyone.

The minor league phases will get underway shortly.....

UPDATE:  The Twins lost two players in the AAA phase of the Rule V Draft. Right-handed pitcher Angelo Sanchez was selected by Lehigh Valley, Philadelphia's AAA affiliate. The 20-year-old Sanchez was signed out of Venezuela two seasons ago and spent all of last season with Elizabethton in the Appalachian League. With E-Town, Sanchez posted a 5-1 record but allowed 64 hits and 37 earned runs in 60.1 innings (5.52 ERA). He struck out 64 batters against 20 walks. He pitched with the GCL Twins in 2008, posting a 4-3 mark in 11 starts. He notched a 3.62 ERA in 54.2 innings, striking out 55 batters against 18 walks.

LHP Winston Marquez was selected by Oklahoma, Texas's AAA affiliate. Also signed out of Venezuela, the 22-year-old split last season between E-Town and Beloit, totaling a 1-2 mark in 30 innings spanning 15 appearances. He allowed 29 hits, 15 earned runs, and walked 15 batters in his 30 innings, while striking out an impressive 45 hitters. Although his ERA was high after his promotion (5.21), Marquez struck out 30 batters in his 19 innings with the Low-A affiliate.

The Twins did not select anyone in the AAA or AA portions of the Rule V Draft.

Both pitchers are young and have potential, and both have impressive strikeout totals for their short careers. It's too early to project their careers, but the Twins lost two potential power arms out of their low minor leagues Thursday.

Morning Boof Bonser Update.....

The Twins will receive cash or a player to be named later from the Boston Red Sox for recently-DFAd righty Boof Bonser. The four-year player was DFAd by the Twins after Carl Pavano's acceptance of arbitration earlier this week.

The Twins couldn't have expected much more from a designated player, and Bonser will seemingly compete for a long-relief role in the Boston bullpen this spring. It could be a good move for Bonser. He threw mid-90s before his shoulder surgery, and if his shoulder responds, he could be a quality reliever.

Twins' fans may be left wondering if Bonser was a better option to DFA than Bobby Keppel, especially if his shoulder responds. Time will tell.

Around the Central: Tigers Score Big Win

The first day of the baseball winter meetings at the Indianapolis Marriott (stayed there many times, in case you're wondering) was rather quiet. The second day featured a lot of hot stove talk, highlighted by a major three-team trade involving one of the Twins' AL Central Division rivals.

The Detroit Tigers, New York Yankees, and Arizona Diamondbacks hooked up for a three-team deal in which OF Curtis Granderson ended up in New York, pitchers Ian Kennedy and Edwin Jackson landed in Arizona, and OF Austin Jackson, and pitchers Max Scherzer, Phil Coke, and Daniel Schlereth were picked up by Detroit. The trade was agreed in principle on Tuesday and was finalized Wednesday.

On paper at least, this trade looks to be a winner for Detroit. Giving up Granderson was somewhat of a risk, given his popularity, but Granderson has $25.75M and three years left on his contract. He was miscast as a leadoff hitter for a while in Detroit, but struck out far too much to warrant a place at the top of the order. However, his speed and power made him a solid hitter at the bottom of the rotation. In 2009, he hit .249/.327/.453 with 23 doubles, eight triples, 30 HR, and 91 RBI, and played replacement-level defense in center field (+1.6 UZR/150). In New York, he'll supplant Melky Cabrera in center or move to left should the team decide to let Johnny Damon and/or Hideki Matsui walk. As for Edwin Jackson, he started off well in 2009, but faded down the stretch, including two disastrous late-season starts against the Chicago White Sox in his final two appearances (12.0 IP, 14 H, 13 ER). He finished with a 13-9 record in 33 starts spanning 214.0 innings. He recorded a 3.62 ERA, struck out 161 hitters, and walked 70 men. The 26-year-old will hit the free agent market in two years.

In return, the Tigers get one of the Yankees' top outfield prospects (Austin Jackson, who was one name bandied-about when the Twins were shopping Johan Santana at the 2008 winter meetings), along with three pitchers. The one with the most experience is Coke, who was 4-3 with a 4.50 ERA in 73 appearances out of the Yankee bullpen last season. He'll provide another lefty setup option to Detroit along with holdover Bobby Seay. Right-hander Scherzer and the hard-throwing lefty Schlereth are very intriguing. Scherzer, one of the National League's best young power arms, was 9-11 with a 4.12 ERA in 30 starts for the D-Backs last season spanning 170.1 innings. He struck out 174 men, but also walked 63. His 2009 numbers, wildness and all, compare to Edwin Jackson's, but Scherzer is younger (25) and cheaper (free agency is five years away) than Jackson, and has a much higher ceiling. Schlereth projects to be a future closer. He got a taste of big league life last season with a bad Arizona team and posted a 5.89 ERA in 18.1 innings. He struck out more than one per inning (22) but also walked nearly one batter per inning (15) in his brief big league tenure. He hits free agency in six years.

The cash-strapped Tigers saved themselves a considerable amount of money in moving Granderson but will need to replace him in center field. They replaced Edwin Jackson with a younger and cheaper option, acquired a fireballing bullpen guy six years from free agency, along with a serviceable left-hander.

Give GM Dave Dombrowski credit. He made a good deal to acquire Jackson last winter (sending OF Matt Joyce to Tampa, who spent most of last year in the minors) and then sold him before losing him to free agency to a team desperate for pitching. Yes, Scherzer has some control issues, but the Tigers have a starting rotation top-three of Justin Verlander, Rick Porcello, and Scherzer which shape up to be one of the better young rotations in the league. All three are young, inexpensive, and have great upside.

Although this trade will not make the Tigers better in 2010, per se, it sets them up nicely for the future.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Another Option Thwarted: Figgins to Mariners

Free agent Chone Figgins accepted a four-year, $36M contract offer from the Seattle Mariners on Tuesday, knocking one of the top position player free agents out of this winter's marketplace. The deal also has a vesting option for a fifth year which could end up pushing the total value of the contract to $45M.

Figgins is a career .291/.363/.388 hitter in his eight-year major league career, spent entirely with the Los Angeles Angels. In 2009, Figgins batted .298/.395/.393 with 114 runs, 30 doubles, seven triples, five homers, and 54 RBI out of the leadoff spot. He walked 101 times against 114 strikeouts and stole 42 bases in 59 attempts. He will play third base in Seattle, which is where he has spent the bulk of the last three seasons. With LA last season, Figgins's UZR/150 mark was an impressive 18.8, and he is a positive 8.0 at the position throughout his career.

As ESPN's Keith Law points out here, the Mariners are essentially saying that the power aspect is overrated at third base. They let a good fielder and more productive Adrian Beltre (career .270/.325/.453 hitter; career UZR/150 of +13.9 at 3B) walk in favor of a better OBP and OPS option in Figgins. In an era in which the corner infield spots are viewed as production positions, the Mariners are electing to stray from their past and go for more of a table-setter at third base without giving up much on defense. It will be interesting to see how it shakes out in the Pacific Northwest. As Law rightly points out later on in his post, LA gets Seattle's first round pick in the 2010 draft, which is the 18th overall selection, which should not be over-looked.

Although the Twins were never seemingly in the Figgins market, his contract is not outrageous. A $9M annual salary for a 31-year-old player with a lot of post-season experience and strong track record is certainly not a market-breaker. It seems like a contract the Twins could have probably absorbed. However, the team still needs to pay for someone named Mauer this winter, and throwing $45M at Figgins would be $45M fewer dollars the team could spend on locking up Mauer for the next seven years. As frustrating as the Twins' activity or inactivity may be for some fans, all actions much be viewed through the Mauer prism for the time being until that situation is properly addressed.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Twins Cut Ties With Bonser

The Twins needed a spot for Carl Pavano on the 40-man roster and they created it by designating right-hander Boof Bonser for assignment on Tuesday.

Acquired from the San Francisco Giants with Joe Nathan and Francisco Liriano in the trade which sent A.J. Pierzynski westward, Bonser made his Twins' debut in the 2006 season. Bonser made 18 starts for the Twins that summer and finished with a 7-6 mark with a 4.22 ERA in 100.1 innings. He struck out 84 hitters against 25 walks in his rookie campaign, and was a major reason why the Twins caught the Detroit Tigers on the season's final day for the AL Central Division title. He was the Twins' starter in game two of the ALDS that post-season against Oakland.

He made the rotation out of spring training in 2007 but slumped mightily in 30 starts. He posted an 8-12 record with a high 5.10 ERA in 173.0 innings, striking out 136 hitters against 65 walks. Things got even worse in 2008 as Bonser made only 12 starts and lost his spot in the rotation. He finished 3-7 with a 5.93 ERA that season and never got things going. Viewed as a bullpen option in spring training 2009, Bonser showed up with a sore shoulder and missed the entire season after surgery. 

With Pavano's acceptance of arbitration Monday night, the Twins have four slots filled in the rotation and have many options both for the fifth starter and for the bullpen. Bonser made $450k last season but was arbitration-eligible this off-season. As La Velle E. Neal III points out, the Twins' payroll will likely approach $90M in 2010 and they needed to let someone walk (also, look for Jesse Crain to be another potential casualty as the deadline to offer contracts to non-free agents passes this weekend).  

Bonser would have made an interesting late-inning option for the Twins this spring. Although he is coming off surgery, he still has a fastball capable of hitting the mid-90s. The Twins are crowded in that area, even without Bonser and potentially Crain, with Jon Rauch, Jose Mijares, Matt Guerrier, among others. Bullpen duty is likely his future in the big leagues and someone will definitely take a chance on a 28-year-old with a big fastball, injury or not. Twins' fans may play a little "what if?" with Bonser, but he was a major contributor to that 2006 team but did not provide much else after his rookie campaign.

Pavano Returns to Twins

Right-hander Carl Pavano accepted the Twins' offer of arbitration Monday and will return to the team in 2010.

Acquired from Cleveland in early August last season, Pavano made 12 starts for the Twins, going 5-4 with a 4.64 ERA in 73.2 innings. He won some important games for the Twins down the stretch, including the final regular season game against Kansas City, in which he pitched on three days rest.

In total for 2009, Pavano threw 199.1 innings, finished with a 14-12 record with a high 5.10 ERA, ruined in essence from some very ugly starts early in the season. Especially active against AL Central Division opponents, Pavano made 18 intra-divisional starts last season, finished with a 10-6 record with a 4.34 ERA in 118.2 innings. Against the Detroit Tigers alone, Pavano was 4-1 in 2009.

His performance in 2009 was somewhat of a surprise, given his much-publicized struggles in four seasons in New York. After signing a lucrative four-year deal with the Yankees, Pavano made just 26 starts, won nine games, and missed significant time due to injury. Rebounding with an almost 200-inning performance in 2009 certainly made him a marketable free agent.

Pavano was angling for a multiple-year deal, but instead elected to return to the Twins, confident the team has a good chance to win in 2010 and also comfortable in the clubhouse.

The move is good for the Twins for a number of reasons. First, it solidifies the top four rotation spots for 2010. Pavano will be a #4 starter behind Scott Baker, Nick Blackburn, and Kevin Slowey. Secondly, as the Star Tribune article points out, it opens the door for a trade of malcontented lefty Glen Perkins out of the organization. Perkins has much potential, but he drove the Twins' management and coaching staff crazy with his antics last season, even filing a grievance late in the season over service time. His subtraction will be a plus for the Twins. Thirdly, it gives the Twins a veteran starter at a reasonable price for 2010. Pavano looks to make $7-9M through arbitration, and the Twins will be able to have an affordable presence in the rotation with which they are familiar.

One positive or negative is that it creates a logjam of candidates for the fifth starter position, which will pit Anthony Swarzak, Brian Duensing, Francisco Liriano, Jeff Manship, and Boof Bonser against each other. If nothing else, it gives the Twins some trade options for those who may not stick with the big club next spring.

Having Pavano back in the mix makes sense for the Twins and should pay dividends next season. Provided he stays healthy again, he'll give the Twins a serviceable veteran starter at an affordable price who can eat innings and win some ballgames against divisional opponents.

BP Verdict: Good move by Bill Smith.

All-Time Twins Team: Manager

Every great team needs someone behind the scenes, and my All-Time Twins team is no exception. Tom Kelly is the all-time manager.

I have to admit that selecting Kelly has everything to do with 1987 and 1991. TK managed the Twins for 16 seasons and had a career winning percentage of .478. He averaged almost a fourth-place finish throughout his career, with seven of those seasons coming when the Twins competed in a five-team division (the other nine in a seven-team AL West Division). However, he skippered the Twins to two pennants and two World Series titles, and that warrants a spot overseeing this team.

Kelly was the Twins' third base coach when he was tapped to take over the club for the final 23 games of the 1986 season after the dismissal of Ray Miller. Selected by young GM Andy MacPhail to remain permanently in 1987, Kelly's Twins surprised the baseball world and won 85 games to capture the AL West Division, smoked the Detroit Tigers in the ALCS, and beat the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series. The Twins were better record-wise in 1988 (91-71), but finished second to Oakland in the AL West, and dropped all the way to last place by 1990. In 1991, Kelly's team staged a repeat performance of 1987, winning 95 games and the division title, beating Toronto in the ALCS, and defeating Atlanta in an epic World Series. After five seasons at the help, Kelly had captured two world championships and cemented his legacy in Minnesota sports lore.

The Twins won 90 games in 1992, but then launched into a streak of eight-consecutive losing seasons - all under Kelly. Ownership decided to play budget baseball throughout this period of ineptitude, preferring to sign cheap veteran free agents to compliment a largely lousy core. When the team decided to go young in 1999, Kelly patiently suffered through two disastrous seasons in 1999 and 2000, but the seeds were planted to contend. The Twins did just that in 2001, winning 85 games and challenging Cleveland for the division title into the season's final month. Satisfied that the Twins were on the right path, Kelly retired as manager after the 2001 season at just 50 years of age. Ron Gardenhire took over and the Twins won the next three AL Central Division titles, and have won others in 2006 and 2009 with Kelly as a special advisor. Despite persistent rumors of his return, Kelly has stayed retired.

One cannot look past the 1,244 losses Kelly accumulated throughout his tenure. However, many of those losses were a reflection of the players he had. A manager's job is to get the most out of the players assembled for him. However, during much of the 1990s, Kelly was forced to develop players at the Major League level; essentially being an 'A' or 'AA' manager in a MLB uniform. Any manager, it doesn't matter who, will take his lumps in this situation, and Kelly certainly did during the eight-straight losing seasons.

It's hard to keep Gardenhire off the bench for this all-time team (five division titles in eight seasons, with one tie in addition). However, Kelly's two world championships carry the day.

Also Considered: Ron Gardenhire; Sam Mele; Billy Martin   

Monday, December 7, 2009

Pavano Back? - Evening Update

Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal reports that Carl Pavano is close to accepting the Twins' offer of arbitration. (UPDATE: The Strib's La Velle E. Neal III says it's a done deal, according to sources).

The free agent was offered arbitration by the Twins, which protects the team in case he signs elsewhere. If a team signs Pavano, the Twins would receive a draft pick as compensation since they made an offer of arbitration to their free agent. The Twins are still able to negotiate with him in the process.

Pavano's camp is seeking a multi-year deal, and Pavano is reportedly pushing for two years from the Twins. However, should be accept the Twins' offer, he will remain with the Twins in 2010 at a salary to be decided (likely $8-9M). Although somewhat expensive for a #4 starter, the Twins know what they're getting with Pavano, who went 5-4 in 12 starts down the stretch for the Twins in 2009 and reportedly enjoyed his time here. Given his injury history, multiple-year offers for Pavano are risky and unlikely, even though he was healthy in 2009 and nearly pitched 200 innings.

A decision is expected by the end of the day, so stay tuned for more information....

All-Time Twins Team: Closer

Closing things out for the Minnesota Twins 50th Anniversary All-Time team is the club's all-time saves leader, Joe Nathan.

Drafted as an infielder by the San Francisco Giants out of SUNY-Stony Brook, Nathan was converted to a pitcher and made his major league debut with the Giants in 1999. He worked as a starter for his first two seasons before injuring his arm and missing the entire 2001 season. He bounced back nicely as a reliever and recorded a fine season in 2003, going 12-4 with a 2.96 ERA in 78 games and 79.0 innings out of the San Francisco bullpen. When the Twins acquired him along with minor league pitchers Boof Bonser and Francisco Liriano for catcher A.J. Pierzynski (in one of the most one-sided trades in recent baseball history), the thought was that Nathan would replace the recently-departed Eddie Guardado as the Twins' closer. This was a bit of a stretch, given that Nathan had recorded a total of one save prior to the trade.

Instead, the Twins' thinking was completely validated by one of the best seasons ever posted by a Twins' reliever. In 63 games, Nathan tossed 72.1 innings, pitched to a 1.62 ERA, recorded 44 saves in 47 opportunities, and struck out 89 batters against just 23 walks. For his efforts, Nathan was named to his first All-Star Game and finished fourth in the AL Cy Young balloting. Not bad for a first-year closer.

Nathan continued his dominance in 2005 for a Twins team which finished third in the AL Central. Nathan's ERA jumped from 1.62 to 2.70, but he still recorded 43 saves in 48 opportunities, and was named to his second All-Star Game. Nathan recorded 36 saves in 2006 and 37 more in 2007, and was considered one of the game's elite closers.

Signed to a new contract in 2008, Nathan responded with a tremendous season. In 67.2 innings, Nathan struck out 74 batters against just 18 walks, recorded a 1.33 ERA, notched 39 saves in 45 opportunities, and made his third All-Star Game for a Twins' team which tied the Chicago White Sox for the division title. In 2009, Nathan broke the Twins' all-time saves mark, previously held by Rick Aguilera, and also recorded a club-best 47 saves (in 52 opportunities).

For his career in Minnesota, Nathan has posted a 22-12 mark with 246 saves in 274 opportunities (a staggering 89.8% success rate), notched a 1.87 ERA, has struck out 518 batters in 418.2 innings, and has walked only 120 men in that span.

Despite his problems against the New York Yankees throughout his career, Nathan remains one of baseball's best closers at the age of 35. He will be in Minnesota through 2011 (with a club option for 2012) and the Twins are set knowing that their bullpen issues lie in the innings leading to Nathan.

Also Considered: Jeff Reardon, Rick Aguilera, Eddie Guardado

Friday, December 4, 2009

All-Time Twins Team: The Rotation

Every team needs pitching, and for the All-Time Twins team, we selected a four-man starting rotation as a shout-out to days of yonder. The four pitchers gracing our team are four of the most accomplished starters in Twins' history.

Anchoring the starting rotation is right-hander Bert Blyleven. The Dutchman was a third round draft choice of the Twins in the 1969 MLB Draft and spent just a season-and-a-half in the minor league system before debuting in Minnesota as a teenager in June of 1970. Blyleven looked none out of place in 1970, finishing the season 10-9 with a 3.18 ERA in 25 starts spanning 164.0 innings. He would finish with at least 15 victories in each of the following five seasons, including a tremendous 1973 season in which Blyleven won 20 games for the only time in his career, posted nine shutouts, made the first of two All-Star appearances, threw a staggering 325.0 innings, and completed 25 of his 40 starts. Blyleven was traded to Texas midway through the 1976 season as the Twins were working their way through a decade of mediocrity, and Blyleven also made stops in Pittsburgh (where he won a World Series ring in 1979) and Cleveland.

Traded back to the Twins in 1985, Blyleven was a grizzled veteran but still only 34 years of age. He added experience to a young pitching staff, led by a young Frank Viola. Blyleven won 17 games in each of 1986 and 1987, and led the Twins to the World Series title in '87 with a fine season. He finished 15-12 in 37 starts spanning 267.0 innings, posted a 4.01 ERA, and struck out 196 hitters. He also allowed a MLB-record 46 homers that season. After a disappointing 10-17 season with a 5.43 ERA, Blyleven was traded after the 1988 season to his hometown California Angels and retired three seasons later.

Blyleven's marks in Minnesota include 11 seasons, 149-138 record on some lousy teams, a 3.28 ERA in 345 starts spanning 2,566.2 innings, 141 complete games, 29 shutouts, and 2,035 strikeouts against 674 walks. The debate over Blyleven's Hall of Fame worthiness continues and his credentials are impressive. However, for what he accomplished in Minnesota, Blyleven deserves to anchor the all-time team's starting rotation.

The second spot in the rotation belongs to Jim Kaat. "Kitty" signed and debuted with the Washington Senators and the Twins' inaugural season in Minnesota represented Kaat's first full season in the big leagues. The young lefty finished 9-17 with a 3.90 ERA in 1961, but made 29 starts and threw 200.2 innings as a 22-year-old. Kaat would finish with double-digit wins in each of the following twelve seasons, highlighted by his tremendous 1966 campaign in which Kaat led the American League in starts (41), complete games (19), innings (304.2), and victories (25). Kaat was 25-13 with a 2.75 ERA that season. Also recognized as a superior fielder, Kaat won 12 consecutive Gold Gloves in Minnesota between 1962 and 1973.

Kaat was waived by the Twins midway through the 1973 season and caught on with the Chicago White Sox. At the time, Kaat was 34 years of age and had logged a ton of innings. The Twins obviously thought he was in decline, but the lefty pitched another eleven seasons in the big leagues and retired after being released by the St. Louis Cardinals midway through the 1983 season at the tender age of 44. He went on to a long and impressive career as a broadcaster, including a stint with the Twins. He was one of the game's best analysts before retiring two seasons ago.

Kaat's line in Minnesota was impressive over 15 seasons: 190-159 in 3,014.1 innings, 3.34 ERA, 433 starts, 133 complete games, 23 shutouts, and 1,851 strikeouts. He was solid, but not spectacular for a long time in Twins Territory, and deserves a spot in this rotation.

Coming in third is Johan Santana. The left-hander was a 20-year-old mid-level prospect in the Houston Astros' organization when the Twins selected him in the 2000 Rule V Draft. The Twins were rebuilding and keeping him on the MLB roster for the entire 2000 season was no big deal to the team. Santana predictably struggled as a rookie, posting a 2-3 mark with a 6.49 ERA in 30 games. He made the club out of spring training in 2001 and was 1-0 with a 4.74 ERA in 15 games, but missed a large chunk of time that season due to a left forearm injury. The Twins started him in AAA Edmonton in 2002, where he stretched out as a starter. He returned mid-season in 2002 and appeared in 27 games for the Twins that season, including 14 starts. His 8-6 mark with a 2.99 ERA in 108.1 innings showed flashes of things to come for Twins' fans. The 137 strikeouts he recorded with the Twins that season were evidence of a new changeup he learned at AAA earlier that season, a pitch which would define his career.

Santana split between the rotation and the bullpen in 2003, but recorded a fine 12-3 mark with a 3.07 ERA in 158.1 innings that season. By 2004, he was in the rotation for good and was the league's most dominant pitcher. He finished 20-6 with a league-leading 2.61 ERA in 34 starts spanning 228.0 innings. He struck out a league-leading 265 hitters and won his first AL Cy Young Award that season. He would go on to lead the AL in strikeouts the following two seasons as well. Santana picked up his second Cy Young Award in 2006 after finishing 19-6 with a league-best 2.77 ERA in 34 starts spanning a league-high 233.2 innings.

After the 2007 season, Santana was traded to the New York Mets for a package of players highlighted by outfielder Carlos Gomez, as the Twins deemed they could not afford him given his pending free agent status. Santana's line in Minnesota was one of the most impressive in team history: eight seasons, 175 starts, 1,308.2 innings, 23 complete games, four shutouts, 93-44 record, 3.22 ERA, three All-Star selections, two Cy Young Awards.

The fourth spot in the rotation was very difficult to select, but we decided to go with "Frankie V," Frank Viola. The Twins' second round draft pick out of St. John's University (NY) in 1981, Viola was rushed to the majors to debut on a bad Twins' team in 1982. He struggled on the 60-102 Twins that season, finishing 4-10 with a 5.21 ERA, and rebounded slightly in his first full MLB season in 1983, going 7-15 with a 5.49 ERA in 34 starts. As a 24-year-old, Viola broke out in 1984 as the Twins were a surprising contender in the AL West Division, and the rotation was led by Viola's 18-12 mark with a 3.21 ERA in 35 starts spanning 257.2 innings.

By 1985, Viola was the team's ace, and he led the 1987 Twins' rotation all the way to the World Series. Viola was 17-10 with a 2.90 ERA in '87, starting 36 games, pitching 251.2 innings, and striking out 197 batters. He was MVP of the World Series that season, winning two games, including the clinching Game 7. In 1988, Viola picked up the AL Cy Young Award, finishing 24-7 with a 2.64 ERA in 255.1 innings, while striking out 193 batters. By 1989, the Twins were in a predicament with Viola that they would find themselves 20 years later with Santana: facing free agency for a pitcher they probably could not afford. Knowing this, the Twins sent Viola to his hometown New York Mets for five pitchers, highlighted by Rick Aguilera, Kevin Tapani and David West. Things did not work out well for Viola in New York, and arm injuries plagued the rest of his career. He made stops in Boston, Cincinnati, and Toronto before retiring in 1996 at age 36, but his career as an elite MLB pitcher ended after his first season in New York (1990).

With the Twins, Viola spent eight seasons, made 259 starts, posted a 112-93 mark with a 3.86 ERA, threw 1,772.2 innings, and struck out 1,214 batters featuring one of the game's best circle-changes. Viola won the 1988 Cy Young Award and made one All-Star appearance in Minnesota. There were other good pitchers deserving consideration on the all-time team, but Viola gets the nod due to his brilliance between 1984-1988.

Also Considered: Mudcat Grant, Jim Perry, Dave Boswell, Dave Goltz, Kevin Tapani, Scott Erickson, Brad Radke

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Cross Polanco Off The List.....

Placido Polanco signed a three-year deal with the Philadelphia Phillies on Thursday worth $18M. The Phils also included a mutual option for a fourth year.

The 34-year-old second baseman was not offered arbitration by the Detroit Tigers, meaning that the Type A free agent will not cost the Phillies a first round pick in the 2010 draft. Polanco has been brought to Philly to play third base, given that Chase Utley is firmly entrenched at second.

Polanco hit .285/.331/.396 for the Tigers last season with 31 doubles, 10 HR, and 72 RBI. He also posted a UZR/150 mark of 11.0 at second base last season. A two-time Gold Glove-winner at second, Polanco has not played third since his 95 games spent in Philadelphia in 2005, but has a career UZR/150 mark of 9.9 at third base.

Polanco would have been a great fit for the Twins at second base and hitting second in the order. The Phillies made a reasonable deal for a servicable veteran, even if they are moving him out of position. I wrote last month that signing Polanco would be a fine goodwill gesture toward keeping Joe Mauer long-term and ensures the team's chances of winning again next season. However, I also stated that they should offer him two years, max, given his age. As Aaron Gleeman points out in Thursday's entry, the Dodgers did not offer Orlando Hudson arbitration, so signing him would also not put the Twins' first round pick at risk. Hudson is younger than Polanco, and would be a perfect fit - along with fellow free agent Felipe Lopez - for the Twins for the next few seasons.

All-Time Twins Team: Designated Hitter

Baseball purists will chafe at the presence of a DH on my All-Time Twins team. Some ardent Twins' supporters will blanch because I'm putting a guy on the all-time team who played a grand total of 158 games at DH over his career. However, I am forced to slot Harmon Killebrew, the greatest of Minnesota Twins, as a DH because I cannot put him anywhere else.

Harmon moved around the diamond throughout his 21 seasons with the Senators/Twins franchise. He played 969 games at first base, 791 at third base, and 471 in left field. However, the primary reason why Harmon is remembered so fondly by Twins' fans is because of his offensive exploits. Reason '1a' is because he was, and remains to this day, one of the nicest men to ever put on a uniform.

Killebrew was signed by the Washington Senators as an 18-year-old "Bonus Baby," and was forced to remain with the Major League club due to the rules of the day. As a result, Killebrew spent the 1954 and 1955 seasons in Washington and barely saw any action (93 at bats, 4 HR, 10 RBI in total). It wasn't until 1956 that he was able to gain some seasoning in the minor leagues, and Killebrew spent the majority of the 1956, 1957, and 1958 seasons away from Washington. In the Major Leagues to stay in 1959, Killebrew showed his prodigious power as a 23-year-old, knocking out a league-best 42 homers and adding 105 RBI for an awful Washington club. 

The Senators arrived in the Twin Cities in 1961 and were christened the Minnesota Twins. They had a legitimate star in Killebrew anchoring the lineup. In 1961, Killebrew hit .288/.405/.606 with 46 HR and 122 RBI. This season was incredible by any stretch of the imagination; however, the Yankees' M&M Boys of Maris and Mantle were putting up pretty solid offensive numbers of their own. Killebrew would go on to lead the American League in homers the next three seasons.

During the Twins' magical 1965 season, Killebrew was hurt in the second half of the season with a broken elbow, but returned in time for the World Series. He also was a major contributor to the Twins consecutive AL West Division titles in 1969 and 1970.

Killebrew was simply one of the most feared hitters in the American League. In addition to his power displays, Killebrew also managed to find ways to reach base via the walk. In the eleven seasons between 1961 and 1971, Killebrew walked at least 100 times in seven seasons, leading the AL four times. With the power came the strikeouts, and Harmon was punched-out 1,699 times in his Major League career.

His defense was average at best at first base and below-average at third base, which is also one reason why he is the DH on my team. Had the AL adopted the DH rule in the 1973 season, Killebrew would have likely served in this role far longer than he did.

In 21 seasons with the Senators/Twins, Killebrew's offensive numbers were outstanding:
  • 277 doubles, 559 HR and 1,540 RBI in 2,329 games
  • Six AL home run titles
  • Three AL RBI titles
  • Led AL in walks four times
  • 11 All-Star Game appearances
  • AL MVP in 1969
Harmon signed with the Kansas City Royals after the 1974 season and played one season with the Royals. He retired after the 1975 season with 573 career home runs, which ranked fifth all-time at the time of his retirement. He ranked behind only Babe Ruth in career AL homers and was the leading right-handed-hitting HR man. Why it took him five years to get into the Hall of Fame after his retirement is impossible to fathom, but he was finally inducted in 1984.

Of course, the steroids era has dropped Killebrew to tenth all-time in career HRs, but has also forced baseball historians to re-examine the accomplishments of the man from Idaho who electrified many an upper Midwest night.  

Also Considered: Chili Davis