Thursday, November 03, 2011

The OtB 2011 Offseason Blueprint

When we started creating the TwinsCentric Offseason GM Handbook two years ago, the idea was to place the reader in the position of the Twins general manager. We would provide as much information about the organization from top to bottom, as well as the free agent market, for the reader to make the most educated  

It feels as if there is some common misconception that Bill Smith is making all the offseason decisions by himself in a bubble. True, his position is where the buck stops however Mr. Smith is not alone in the process. He has recommendations and suggestions from various sources within the organization. Some may have one solution for shortstop while another may have a completely different answer for the middle infield problem. The general manager must take all of these ideas into consideration and devise a plan of action. In essence, that’s what we at TwinsCentric have attempted to provide you in our Offseason GM Handbooks – the chance to take all of the available information, a handful of recommendations and ultimately make your decision for the 2012 Twins season.

To take it one step further, we highly advise that you jot together what your 2012 roster would be for the Twins. As Nick Nelson outlined earlier in the week, if you send us your blueprint (send to we’ll send a copy of our forthcoming Maple Street Twins Annual 2012 to an entrant drawn at random.  

So pick up a copy of the 2011 TwinsCentric Offseason GM Handbook and study up. Until then, here’s my recommendation from that eBook:

(1) Let Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel walk.

As difficult as it will be for clubhouse morale, the market will likely make Cuddyer’s contract too rich of a deal to keep the aging outfielder around. Outside of his leadership, his versatility and ability to crush left-handed pitching will be sorely missed. Jason Kubel too will be forced out of the club based on his increased pay scale. At just 29 years old, it will be difficult to watch him go as he has raked when healthy. At the very least, the Twins can take comfort in knowing they will receive a pair of supplemental pick in the 2012 draft further rebuilding a pipeline that hasn’t function well as of late.

(2) Offer arbitration to Francisco Liriano, Kevin Slowey, Alexi Casilla and Glen Perkins.

(3) Trade for Colby Lewis.

I don’t recommend building through trades with the current status of the organization – the farm system is gruel thin at the top and sparse in key positions throughout. But Colby Lewis’s ability to throw 200 innings at a pauper’s rate is too attractive to pass up.

Texas is rumored to be looking at Yu Darvish and will also be interested in keeping C.J. Wilson as well. With those two combined with three other young arms it might make the 31-year-old Colby Lewis expendable. Lewis a very good pitchers hidden behind some m’eh numbers the past two seasons (26-23, 4.06 ERA but 56 HRs allowed in 64 games) and owed just $3.25 million in 2012. Arlington’s hitter-friendly environment did not play well to Lewis’s style as the strike-thrower had 22 home runs tagged off him at The Ballpark. A season at Target Field should cure what ails him there.

The Twins made inroads to signing Lewis before the 2010 season after his successful Japan campaign but were thwarted by the Rangers – the organization who gave Lewis his first chance. The question is what would it take for the Twins to acquire him now? For the most part, the Rangers are set for the next several years in both the offense and pitching departments. But they need for space and Lewis’s gopher ball tendencies may help decrease his value in Texas’s eyes. Meanwhile, the Twins don’t have much in terms of MLB-ready prospects so it may take some lower-level prospects to entice Rangers GM Jon Daniels to make a deal. I’d offer Bruce Pugh, the 22 year old relief prospect who struck out 75 in 64 innings split between Fort Myers and New Britain, and Michael Tonkin, 21 year old reliever with 69 strikeouts in 76.2 innings at Beloit. Both prospects have very good upsides but Lewis is a very cheap and reliable starting pitcher.

(4) Trade Kevin Slowey (and prospect) to Colorado for catcher Chris Iannetta.

With Lewis in the mix, this creates an opportunity to move Kevin Slowey whose salary will be, uh, embiggering. From Minnesota’s perspective, right or wrong, Slowey has become what some suggest is a malcontent, a player who rejected his initial assignment out of spring camp and has been constantly dealing with minor injuries. Meanwhile, Iannetta, also sidelined with injuries, is a right-handed catcher who is capable of starting. 

The Rockies need to further improve their rotation for 2012. After trading Ubaldo Jimenez to Cleveland this past year, they may lose veteran Aaron Cook and will be left with a myriad of solid prospects (Drew Pomeranz headlining that group) that might not be ready for the big league role. Slowey’s experience, upside (he has a very good 4.70 K/BB ratio in his career) and two seasons of club control still ahead may be enticing enough to Colorado to move their one-time starting catcher. His shaky outings in 2011 won’t be enough to pry away Iannetta and will like require another prospect.

For the Twins, Iannetta represents the thing that they desperately needed this season when Joe Mauer broke down – a legitimate starting catching option. The right-handed hitting Iannetta has put up outstanding numbers since assuming regular duties in Denver back in ’07. Among those catchers with a minimum of 1000 plate appearances, Iannetta’s offense, with a .347 wOBA, has been the seventh-best trailing such luminaries as Mauer, Jose Posada, Victor Martinez and Brian McCann. Of course, with your home stadium up in the mountains, you can’t ignore the influence of the altitude. For Iannetta, this has meant a home OPS 162 points higher than when he is outside of the Rockies. Admittedly, this doesn’t necessarily bode well for a transition over to Target Field.

What Iannetta does possess are attributes such as patience (a 13.9% career walk rate) and the ability to slaughter left-handed pitching (a career .252/.391/.520 hitter against southpaws). These factors should play well for the Twins who have lost Michael Cuddyer to free agency and can use Iannetta in a DH role versus tougher lefties, if necessary.

It is possible that Mauer is able to catch the bulk of games this season but Iannetta is the insurance policy that they should have had ready in Wilson Ramos.

(5) Sign free agents David Dejesus (1 year, $5.5M), Derrek Lee (1 year, $5M), Clint Barmes (2 years, $8M) and Laynce Nix (1 year, $1.5M).

David DeJesus is coming off a down year as well as two straight with his thumb issue but he is still an elite defender in the corner outfield position. In right field for the A’s last year, his Plus/Minus rating of +21 plays was the second-best in that position. Offensively, he’s a near-perfect candidate for the two-spot as he has a high on-base history (career .356 OBP) and decent speed (Orlando Hudson-ish level). I believe he is primed for a rebound season because he suffered from the dreaded unlucky BABIP year. A line drive hitter by nature (over 20% line drive rate), DeJesus also hits a ton of grounders but held a .183 BABIP on those in ‘11 – well below his career norm of .245. This should correct itself in 2012 and he should hit closer to his career line of .284/.356/.421 once again.

While many thought Derrek Lee was washed up or overmatched by American League pitching early this year, a late season surge has some thinking there is something left in the tank. Following a trade to Pittsburgh, team doctors discovered that Lee had a bone fracture in his hand and sat out most of the month of August. When he returned in September, the healthy Lee went 29-for-83 (.349) with five home runs. He’s particularly attractive to the Twins as he uses the big part of the field, hitting line drives to center over 22% of the time. He can play first well in the event Justin Morneau is unable to go but his main focus should be as the designated hitter.

Yes, the Twins have plenty of internal options at short but all of them are shaky at best. Barmes has been a very good defender at short. When he was the starter in Colorado in 2006, his defense was the second-best according to the Plus/Minus system. Given the starting role again in Houston this year, he finished third among shortstops defensively. His offensive is substandard but for a contact-oriented team like the Twins, 2010 showed how vital it is to have high-caliber defenders.

Finally, the Twins are going to need some depth and versatility on the bench. I am keeping Tsuyoshi Nishioka (plays middle infield, should improve) and Trevor Plouffe (infield and corner outfield) but will add Laynce Nix as a fourth outfielder and pinch hitter. Defensively, Nix has been a decent corner outfielder, has performed well against right-handed pitching (.792 OPS since ’09) and has 123 pinch hits in the past three seasons (fifth-most in that time).

Now on to the bullpen…

(6) Sign Octavio Dotel (1 year, $3.75M) and Michael Wuertz (1 year, $1M)

The Twins skimped on bullpen arms last year. This is fine if they targeted the right individuals but instead they wound up with Dusty Hughes and Jim Hoey. Glen Perkins proved that he is capable of being a high-quality set-up man but the rest of the ‘pen was in shambles. Fortunately, we can retain Joe Nathan, Perkins and move Brian Duensing to the pen to handle left-handed heavy portions of the opponents’ order.

Dotel would give the Twins a strikeout guy and is very effective against right-handed opponents. In fact, since 2009, he has struck out 32.6% of righties faced – sixth-best in that time – while holding them to a .179 batting average against. If able to be locked in for just the one year, he would be a very good compliment to Perkins in the late innings role.

To take a page out of the Rays’ playbook, Wuertz is the kind of inexpensive talent they would roll the dice on. Sure, he’s got plenty of problems, he has suffered shoulder injuries the past two seasons, his fastball’s velocity was down to 88-mph last year and his command was nearly non-existent. However, because of his slider that he favors, he still was able to get a swing-and-miss at a very high clip (12.4%). In the season’s first-half, he was effective, throwing 25.1 innings with a 2.49 ERA and a good 23/12 K/BB ratio. On top of that, he held opponents to a .189 batting average against. From July onward he struggled mightily, throwing 8.1 innings with a 9/14 K/BB ratio and a repugnant .476 batting average against. For a million bucks (or more hopefully a minor league deal), the gamble that Wuertz can regain his early season success is merited.

After these moves, this is what you end up with for the 2012 season:

(Click to embiggen)

This roster addresses some of the team’s more critical needs including middle infield defense, adding professional hitters, bench depth, strengthening the rotation and putting a power arm in the bullpen. With the exception of Lewis and Iannetta, all moves were made without dipping into the farm system. Likewise, payroll was pared down to near $110 million.