Friday, November 05, 2010

Twins Offseason Blueprint

This week, we at TwinsCentric have subjected you to our individual ideas and suggestions to improve the Twins organization for 2011 and beyond. Below, I present my blueprint for next season. As you can ascertain over the past few days, while we are a like-minded group, we all have had different opinions and proposals on how to better this team - not unlike the conversations that undoubtedly occur among the actual front office itself in the off-season.
Like the TwinsCentric team, Bill Smith will listen to his own staff’s recommendations. Some possibly will say to secure starting pitching. Another will say a right-handed bat. Fill the need through a trade. Sign a free agent. More speed. Less Punto. Tastes great. Less filling. In the end, Smith will have to marry their outlines into one cohesive plan of attack and he will have to do so with a real world budget and consequences.
Needless to say, this is just one potential solution to mull over when piecing together the 2011 puzzle. Extract what you will from each and hopefully determine your own blueprint:

The Twins front office has a multitude of problems that need addressing this offseason. Several questions need answers including:
  • Where can we find another number two-hitter?
When the Twins signed Orlando Hudson last offseason they didn’t just obtain a great defensive second baseman, they nabbed a high performing two-hitter that hasn’t worn a Twins uniform since Rich Becker roamed the Metrodome’s clubhouse wearing a Sony Discman and jamming out to some Hootie and the Blowfish. For most of the season, Hudson gave the Twins the medicine they needed (he maintained a .360 on-base percentage as late in the season as August 28th) but faltered greatly in September and October (hitting .202/.252/.253 in 108 plate appearances) and wound up with mundane numbers overall. How do you find someone that helps get those totals back to (I can’t believe I’m going to write this) Becker respectability?
  • Can we realistically replace Carl Pavano with a mid-level earner who eats innings?
Let’s face it, it’s cute and all to believe that Pavano will accept the Twins’ offer of arbitration, and that he’ll buy a little rambler in St Louis Park and work on bettering the community through increased mustache-hygiene awareness and live here forever.
However, his agent will advise him to decline arbitration and wait until the Cliff Lee Singles’ Mixer is over and Lee leaves with the gentleman in pinstripes from the Bronx. Meanwhile, the rest of the aroused owners will be looking around at the remaining talent only to find that it is like an Iowan outlet center filled with damaged goods and irregulars.
When Pavano came back after his tryst with the free market last offseason, there was an understood mutual deal that Pavano needed to prove one more time that he wasn’t a fluke and the Twins needed his services. Now, after two seasons of throwing 420.1 innings with a 264/78 K/BB ratio while winning 31 of his 65 starts, he’s likely one of the top starters on the market and entitled to be compensated as such. In that time, his xFIP has been 3.97, 12th best among qualified AL starters. He’s pitched well enough to be the third-best available pitcher on the market behind Lee and the younger Jorge de la Rosa.
The Twins will need to analyze their options - either hope his replacement can come from an internal source, that a trade can be made to bring someone in or that the team can somehow reach into the bottom of the bin at ShopKo and extract a find like the Pavano.
  • How can we backfill the bullpen?
I had fewer questions at the end of Inception than the Twins have with their bullpen this offseason.
Starting with the closer’s position, Joe Nathan is far from a sure bet in 2011. After all, consider that both Francisco Liriano and Pat Neshek flopped in their first seasons back from Tommy John you have to suspect that this year could be filled with similar trials and tribulations for Nathan. That means a contingency plan needs to be in place.
On top of that, key arms in Matt Guerrier, Jesse Crain and Jon Rauch are free agents. Ditto for Brian Fuentes and Clay Condrey (remember him? That guy who was like your freshman year roommate that you saw once on move-in day then never saw again until the end of the year move out?).
And what about Matt Capps? He’s in line for a raise because he had more saves the past three years than David Hasselhoff had during the entire run at Baywatch. I’m not sure which was more overrated. Capps is clearly a very good reliever - throwing strikes, occasionally missing bats – but he just shouldn’t be compensated like a great one because of one statistic. As someone that was non-tendered last offseason by the Pirates, he’s probably willing to negotiate in exchange for some security.
The bullpen is going to have quite a few layoffs this winter and, frankly, it’s going to be a bloodbath.
  • What about Denard Span’s drop-off?
While most players suffer through sophomore slumps, Span struggled in his junior season. The scouting report emerged that Span was taking regularly on the first pitch so opponents responded by throwing more strikes from the get-go. With more 0-1 counts, Span ultimately drew fewer walks and that, coupled with a sharp regression in his batting average on balls in play, saw his on-base percentage drop precipitously.
On top of that, all things considered, Span’s outfield play was good not great. While his UZR and Plus/Minus are indicative of a rangy player, he routinely stopped short on plays, kowtowing to the corner outfielders, and allowed handful of hits to fall in instead of aggressively pursuing those balls himself.
The Twins may need a true replacement available that can handle both center field duties as well as man the leadoff spot if Span cannot turn his performance around in 2011.
Recommended Solutions:
1. Trade Ben Revere (or similar prospect) to Oakland for Coco Crisp.
The Twins should also look for a fourth outfielder that can contribute in multiple capacities – unlike Jason Repko who was limited to just a defensive upgrade. Coco Crisp can provide the Twins will multiple tools rather than just a late-inning replacement.
Because the circumstances are not clear yet whether the Oakland A’s will be activating Crisp’s 2011 option ($5.5 million), he may be available on the free market (which, as John pointed out, could be dicey as he’s the lone “true” center fielder). However, if the A’s keep him, Trader Beane may be willing to swap Crisp for a prospect or two as he’s got plenty of outfield replacements as is.
The Twins would like an addition like Crisp because he gives them a dynamic player that was missing in 2010. He supplies above-average speed on the bases (32 stolen bases in 35 tries), switch-hits (killed lefties last year), doesn’t strikeout while taking some walks. This makes him a very good replacement for Hudson in the two-spot. On top of that, he gives Gardenhire versatility with his lineup and defense. Crisp can move Span over to left field (a position that is more suited for Span’s arm strength) or play a corner position himself so we won’t have to watchThe New Adventures of Old Delmon Young in the outfield every day.
In any event, Crisp, if able to stay healthy, would improve the Twins on both sides of the ball at a reasonable price.
2. Promote Alexi Casilla to second base, sign him for $800,000.
In his 170 plate appearances this year, Casilla posted a .276/.331/.395 batting line. When all was said and done, Hudson finished with a rather disappointing .268/.338/.372 batting line. Casilla can provide that sort of production (or better) while adding the element of speed.
And for a team that went around the bases like cars on 494 at rush hour, Casilla’s speed is a significant upgrade. After all, Hudson never stole any bases because it meant ending the conversation with the first baseman. Admittedly, as a stats-oriented person I realize that stolen bases are a gamble that isn’t worth taking often, but let’s not forget that a pitcher/catcher tandem increases the number of fastballs thrown if someone is on with a potential stolen base opportunity. So even if the runner has no intention of going, Casilla’s presence just got the subsequent hitters more fastballs over breaking balls.
There’s a reason Casilla was kept around last year despite being a candidate for a non-tendering – he’s got enough of a minor league pedigree and talent to be a big contributor. The Twins need to use him more next season.
Speaking of the infield, J.J. Hardy should be retained (one-year, $6.5 million) to complete the double-play combo. Considering what the shape of the shortstop market looks like, re-signing Hardy for his last season of arbitration appears to be a sound decision. His offensive surge in the second-half, hitting .304/.363/.442 in 206 plate appearances, possibly foreshadowing what his 2011 numbers could be.
Additionally, to save cost, Matt Tolbert will become the new Nick Punto. Nobody will notice.
3. Re-sign Jesse Crain (three-years, $9 million), Matt Capps (two-years, $7.5 million). Every other free agent is excused.
Jesse Crain provided some of the best bullpen work in the second-half of the season, going 33.2 innings with a 2.14 ERA and a 1.01 WHIP in that time. He did that by throwing his AL-best slider that was 14.6 runs above average. Getting that kind of help on the open market might cost the Twins several million dollars more.
As much as I want to cringe at signing Capps over the move attractive options on the market, like J.J. Putz or Grant Balfour, Capps clearly fits in with the Twins philosophy: throw strikes, lets hitters get themselves out. Also, unlike a substantial number of those free market relievers, Capps has no history of injury to speak of (unlike the aforementioned Putz and Balfour who have recently had knee and pitching coach-wrestling injuries, respectively). If Capps’s willing to do so, lock him in a less expensive rate for two years and let him know that he’s the understudy to Nathan if the veteran cannot rebound to form. If Capps doesn’t settle on a two-year deal, go ahead and nab any one of the power arms in the free market that will happily accept that kind of money.
Also, bring back Jose Mijares, Jeff Manship and Pat Neshek while finding a left-handed arm to replace Brian Duensing who has graduated to the rotation. I would recommend seeing what Brian Fuentes is asking as he absolutely tore left-handed opponents a new one, but I suspect he’ll have plenty of suitors. Randy Choate will do just fine (hey, he was with the organization before…).
4. Sign Russell Branyan to a one-year, $2.5M deal.
Replacing Thome’s production (and all-around charm, tater-mashery, etc) will be a chore but given the team’s limited choices, nabbing Branyan at a fraction of the cost to Jimmers could workout swimmingly. He’s Thome Lite.
Although not nearly as impressive as Thome, Branyan has crushed right-handed pitching, hitting .241/.340/.501 in his career. Branyan’s signing would give the Twins a first base replacement for Morneau if the concussion’s effects are still lingering early next season. While the right-handed bat sounds desirable (especially after the whooping those Yankee southpaws put on the Twins) since right-handed pitchers are a larger demographic than their left-handed counterparts, targeting a right-handed killer like Branyan makes sense.
If the team eventually needs a right-handed stick, one could be obtained at the trade deadline or waiver wires (similar to how the Giants nabbed Pat Burrell and the Braves landed Derrek Lee).
5. Offer arbitration to Francisco Liriano (one-year, $4.5M) and Kevin Slowey (one-year, $2.5M).
Liriano is a candidate for a long-term contract but given his injury history and one additional season left under club control, the organization can roll the dice to see if the lefty can maintain the pace he set in 2010. Given that he has performed like an ace, he’ll certainly be compensated like one next offseason.
Likewise, Slowey has some proving to do to live up to expectations. He’ll be a key to the success of this rotation.
C: Joe Mauer ($23M)
1B: Justin Morneau ($14M)
2B: Alexi Casilla ($800K)
3B: Danny Valencia ($450K)
SS: JJ Hardy ($6.5M)
LF: Delmon Young ($5.25M)
CF: Denard Span ($1M)
RF: Michael Cuddyer ($10.5M)
DH: Jason Kubel ($5.5M)
(Approx $67M)
C: Drew Butera ($450K)
IF: Matt Tolbert ($450K)
OF: Coco Crisp ($5.5M)
OF: Russell Branyan ($2.5M)
(Brendan Harris $1.75M for 2011.)
(Approx $10.65M)
SP: Francisco Liriano ($4.5M)
SP: Scott Baker ($5M)
SP: Brian Duensing ($450K)
SP: Kevin Slowey ($2.5M)
SP: Nick Blackburn ($3M)
(Approx $15.45M)
CL: Joe Nathan ($12.5M)
RP: Jesse Crain ($3M)
RP: Matt Capps ($3.75M)
RP: Pat Neshek ($800K)
RP: Jose Mijares ($450K)
RP: Randy Choate ($1M)
RP: Jeff Manship ($450K)
(Approx $21.9M)
The 2011 Twins will be a faster, more versatile roster than their predecessor. The name of the game is depth and this proposal has clearly given the team another level.
By adding Crisp and Casilla to the everyday lineup, we’ll probably see more first-to-third action than a Jersey Shore after-bar party. Likewise, by adding Crisp alone, you have provided the manager with a good amount of depth and the ability to improve the outfield defense in the spacious Target Field. Meanwhile, Branyan also gives Gardenhire options to pinch hit late in games (like Thome did) as well as an insurance policy (albeit a cut-rate one) for Justin Morneau.
The Twins will certainly miss the stability of Carl Pavano but the internal options appear just as competent to acquire his innings. Nabbing another arm to complement Liriano would be ideal however the cost would be substantial either through a trade or on the market.
Similarly, while the bullpen may seem like the biggest concern, the Twins have been particularly adept at finding useful arms that have given the team quality innings at a low cost (Rauch, Fuentes, etc). If things go sour for Nathan and Neshek, I have faith that the front office will react accordingly.