Friday, February 11, 2011

Liriano Furor

So. Apparently, when I saw Joe C's story about "trading Francisco Liriano," I should have thought to myself "Maybe tomorrow isn't the best time to talk about veteran middle infielders."

In case you missed it, Joe Christensen posted a story Wednesday night saying basically two things:
1) The Twins are not interested in signing Liriano to a long-term deal and
2) similarly, the Twins don't consider him untouchable, so we all have his permission to talk about trading him.

And so we did.

But we missed the bombshell here. It isn't that Liriano is on his way out the door. There is nothing in the story that implies anything is at all close, or that the Twins have even attempted to have trade talks with teams. The bombshell is that the Twins, right now, don't value Liriano nearly as high we thought they did (and probably should).

One area that is being misreported is that the Twins turned down a 3-year/$39 million offer from Liriano's agent. That isn't what Christensen reported. What he said was: "From what I've heard, their long-term talks went nowhere, with Liriano's camp hinting it wanted a three-year, $39 million contract."

What's significant about this is that a 3-year/$39M extension is exactly the range where negotiations should have started from Liriano's side. Seth Stohs did a fantastic job of breaking down what a long-term extension for Liriano might look like in this year's GM's Handbook. He noted that two similar deals, by two similar pitchers with similar service time were recently signed. That provides a hell of a template:

If you add up the 8/14/14 for 2012-14 for Liriano, you get $36M, or about $1M less per year than Liriano's camp hinted at. If that figure was a non-starter for the Twins, then they just don't have any interest in signing Liriano long-term, because it's awfully close to his market value.

Now, maybe that changes. Maybe they just want to see more than one full-year out of Frankie, and I wouldn't blame them too much for that. But Christensen's primary point is very clear - right now Liriano is not considered an integral part of the Twins long-term future.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Finding The Right Puzzle Piece

There isn’t much doubt that the 2011 Twins team is still missing some pieces. The trick is finding pieces that fit.

Take middle infield. Nick wrote yesterday about how the Twins could use some additional depth, and that’s undoubtedly true. I’m excited to see if Alexi Casilla and Tsuyoshi Nishioka can become as good as we hope, and like Seth, I’m not anxious to block either of them so I can overpay Michael Young. But a safety net is in order, and there are some good ones – including one I can’t believe we haven’t heard more about.

The most mentioned name, both locally and nationally, seems to be Orlando Cabrera. In many ways, he’s a perfect fit – veteran, winning track record, and he had a very positive impact while here less than two years ago. The problem? He wants to start. Unless he changes his mind, that’s a deal-breaker for either side.

And even if Cabrera says it’s OK to not start, it isn’t clear the Twins would really trust him to maintain that stance. Let’s not forget that the year before he was with the Twins, Cabrera was criticized for being a negative clubhouse presence by the White Sox. Even if he says otherwise, it’s not clear that he’s ready to go gently into that good night.

Another popular name is David Eckstein. Eckstein is 36 years old, hit .267 last year, got on-base at a below-average .321 clip, and has zero power. However, he’s decent defensively (though he played exclusively at second base the last two years) and known for his scrappy, veteran hustle. He’s basically an older Nick Punto – including his fun-sized height. He’s exactly the kind of player that Ron Gardenhire is likely lobbying to add to the team.

Which is EXACTLY why I can’t believe the Twins would sign him. You don’t give a coke addict a vial of crack to store in the closet, and you don’t give Ron Gardenhire a veteran, scrappy, defensive-oriented shortstop to sit on the bench. Gardy will be able to add this to the list of non-moves he can be bitter about.

How about Julio Lugo? The 35-year-old has always been a defensive specialist, which is the kindest term for a guy who can’t hit. That’s a tad overly harsh, considering he hit quite well with both Boston and the Cardinals in 2009. But last year with the Orioles he was dismal, hitting .249 with a sub-.300 OBP while filling various injuries.

But so what if he didn’t hit much? He’s a decent fielder, and he’s not exactly ancient. If he’s not a clubhouse problem, he could be a good overall fit whose hitting will just make him more affordable.

And finally, we get to the name I can’t believe is still out there. He’s played both shortstop and second base recently. He’s only 32 years old. He made $8M last year. He was traded at the deadline, at which point he had a .282/.327/.361 line. And most of all – he’s an ex-Twin All-Star.

I’m talking, of course, about Cristian Guzman, who still hasn’t signed with anyone. He’s absolutely going to need to sign with someone as a utility player if he wants any chance to regain his starter status. The biggest problem might be that his defense has slipped from his time with the Twins, but it’s still not awful. I’m shocked that we aren’t hearing more about him considering the limited options the Twins have in-house.

By most accounts, the Twins have stretched themselves pretty thin with payroll this year, so they might not have much to spend. And let’s not forget that Delmon Young’s arbitration case has not been decided yet, and there’s a $1.6M range between what he’s asking and the Twins are offering. But if the Twins do find some money underneath some couch cushions, there is no doubt the middle infield should be the priority. We’ll see which of these guys they think will be the best fitting puzzle piece.

One week from today, pitchers and catchers begin their first workout AND the 2011 Maple Street Press Twins Annual ships, hopefully to you. There’s a good chance you’ll have it before Jim Thome has a bat in his hands.

At first, it looks like a 128-page magazine previewing the baseball season. But unlike anything else you’re buying, it isn’t half ads. In fact, it doesn’t have any ads. It also isn’t a preview of every team in the league. It’s JUST the Twins. It is like nothing else you have ever read in its breadth and depth of coverage of your favorite team.

That’s one reason I’m so proud of it. Nobody else dares risk something like this. This is our chance to show that a product like this, created for Twins fanatics, can work. Needless to say, if you’ve been stopping by this blog all offseason, this magazine is your payoff.

And like this blog, it’s a product of TwinsCentric. Nick, Parker, Seth and I helped arrange and edit its 19 feature-length stories and player profiles. But unlike our other products, this is old-school: a collectible with paper and great pictures, available on your magazine rack in March.
But who wants to wait until March? Not you. All offseason you’ve been talking about how winter can’t end soon enough. Here’s a chance to put your money where your mouth is. Enjoy your early spring.

You can find out a LOT more about it here.

Get To Know: The Third Basemen

"[Corey] Koskie is a middle-of-the-order presence whose experience and discipline is especially valuable in October. Losing Koskie will be the biggest free agent loss of a Twins player since Jack Morris. It isn't something this organization is going to just shake off.”

- from “Losing Koskie” at, 12/10/2004

It took six years for the Twins to “shake off” losing Corey Koskie. They may have, finally, last year when Danny Valencia was promoted from Rochester and provided Koskie-esque production from the other side of the plate. If he can do it again this year – not a small “if” – and next year, and next year, the Twins will have finally found their replacement.

And it took six years for a very good reason – because good third basemen are hard to come by. I was reminded of that as I was researching the third basemen in the American League. There is a huge range, so the good ones become very, very expensive in what is always a seller’s market. Let’s take a look at them and see where Danny Valencia fits in.


Kevin Youkilis - Red Sox
31 years old, 975 OPS in 2010
This is the guy fans want. Power, patience, and epic facial hair. Remember when there were concerns about him taking too many walks in the minors? Good lord, how stupid was that?

Evan Longoria - Rays
25 years old, 879 OPS in 2010
This is the guy the GM wants. He doesn’t have the stats of several other guys on this list, but he’s also just 25 and signed to an extremely team-friendly contract that might run all the way through the 21st century. I wish I was kidding.


Alex Rodriguez - Yankees
35 years old, 847 OPS in 2010
Why isn’t he in the above group? Partly because he’s the oldest guy on this list. (Which is saying something. This is an elderly group.) Partly because he had a bad year that could be a sign of things to come. But mostly because I’m a bitter, petty man, and I love to tear down Yankees.

Adrian Beltre - Rangers
31 years old, 919 OPS in 2010
If you include defense, Beltre might be the best guy on this list. He was certainly paid like that this winter when he landed a 5-year contract for $80 million – and that was after seemingly everyone thought he had overplayed his hand. See what I mean about how it’s a seller’s market?
The question about him? The last time he signed a deal like this, his OPS fell 300 points.

Jose Bautista - Blue Jays
0 years old, 995 OPS in 2010
Here’s the king of this group: 54 home runs, but it came out of nowhere. Forget the question about whether or not he’s discovered some magic elixir for these superhuman feats. The real question is: however he did it, can he do it again? Because THIS time it’s a contract year.


Chone Figgins - Mariners
33 years old, 646 OPS in 2010
Figgins had the lowest OPS of anyone on this list AND he’s the third oldest on the list, too. That’s not a good combination. What is a good combination is:
a) he was still able to get on base last year (.340 OBP) despite his terrible batting average (.259) and
b) he stole 42 bases for the second year in a row.

Brandon Inge - Tigers
33 years old, 718 OPS in 2010
Good fielder, occasionally very good power, and has never hit for average. Brandon Inge is a switch-hitting Joe Crede, except he stays a lot healthier. He represents the middle of this list, his glove raising his below-average offense. He just signed a two-year deal with the Tigers this offseason that is partly justifiable given what else is available, but he isn’t likely to be better than he has been.


Mark Reynolds - Orioles
27 years old, 753 OPS in 2010
Reynolds was traded from the Diamondbacks to the Orioles this winter after hitting .195 with 223 K last year. However, he also hit 32 home runs. He’s still young, he was battling injuries, he’s just a year away from his breakthrough 2009 (44 HR, .260 BA) and it looks like he was a little unlucky getting hits to fall last year. He’s no sure thing, but there’s more good than bad.

Mike Aviles - Royals
29 years old, 748 OPS in 2010
Aviles has probably overachieved for the last two years, but he shows a nice combination of power and speed that a lot of teams below would envy. More of a utility infielder type, he will likely start the year as the Royals third baseman, but he likely won’t finish it because of…

Mike Moustakas- Royals
22 years old, 878 OPS (in AAA-Omaha) in 2010
He’s the next big thing for the Royals, and has been since Alex Gordon flamed out. Last year he absolutely torched Double-A (1100 OPS in 259 AB) and didn’t back down in AAA. There is no way the budget-conscious Royals promote him to the majors before June so he doesn’t get a jump on gaining Super-2 arbitration status, but after that they’ll want to see if he can be a cornerstone for the latest rebuilding effort.

Brent Morel - White Sox
23 years old, 851 OPS (in AAA-Charlotte) in 2010
He’ll need to beat out Mark Teahan for the job, but that should happen after the first dozen groundballs. Morel is also a bit of a surprise – a guy who has worked his way into prospect status by exceeding expectations the last couple years. He’s got to do the same thing at this level.


Jayson Nix - Indians

28 years old, 705 OPS in 2010 with Cleveland

Cleveland got him off of waivers last year, which should be damning enough. But he is just 28 years old, and he has 20 home run potential. He goes into this group for now, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see him join his AL Central peers in a higher group next year.


Kevin Kouzmanoff - Athletics
29 years old, 679 OPS in 2010
Last year about this time I was being asked over and over if the Twins should try and trade for Kouzmanoff. I sure hope I said “no.”

Maicer Izturis - Angels
30 years old, 684 OPS in 2010
I really respected how the Angels were negotiating with Adrian Beltre this winter – right up to the moment that he signed with their division rival. You can see right here why he would have been such a great fit. Almost the whole AL West was a disaster at the hot corner last year, with the exception of the Rangers Michael Young – and THEY were the team that signed Beltre? Crazy.


Danny Valencia - Twins

26 years old, 799 OPS in 2010

Valencia has always been a bit old for a prospect, but he’s the fourth youngest on this list. He had a very good year, and his OPS ranked sixth, behind the five studs at the top of this list. I’d definitely put him in the “Good Kind of Mystery” group, along with almost all of the rest of the AL Central.

That said, I don’t think we should overlook the “mystery” for the “good.” Valencia hit very well in the majors – quite a bit better than he did in Rochester. His high rate stats were driven by his .311 batting average, but the last time he hit that well in the minors was High A ball.

Which isn’t to downplay his contribution. The Twins have been looking for their new Koskie for six years before Valencia came. He’s exceedingly valuable for the Twins. And he’s exceedingly valuable for the league, after you look at the other options.

Six For Five

Six starting pitchers are showing up in training camp this year, and five will leave. I'm excited about the possibility of a little competition, partly because I'd like to see what Slowey can do when he needs to find a way to work with his catcher. Or how Baker reacts when he faces the possibility of being dropped from the rotation if he doesn't stay healthy through spring training.
It's been a while since I gave a lot of thought to last year's performance of the members of the starting rotation. So as a way of reintroducing myself to each of them, let's take a quick look at how each of them ranked in terms of some statistics. I'm really focusing on the four guys, Scott Baker, Nick Blackburn, Kevin Slowey and Brian Duensing, who are fighting for three spots.

Brian Duensing wins this one with a 3.05 ERA as a starter, better than anyone else, including Francisco Liriano(3.62) and Carl Pavano(3.75). Baker(4.49) and Slowey(4.54) are about even, and Blackburn(5.30) was quite a way behind them.

Quality Starts
I don't think I'm going to find a lot of areas where Blackburn isn't in last place, but I find it interesting that he led the "other four" pitchers in quality starts last year with 14. Baker had 12, and Slowey had nine. You could also award this category to Duensing, who had nine quality starts in just 13 starts, the highest percentage of quality starts on the staff.

Other than Liriano, Baker easily wins this category. He was second on the team in strikeouts(148) overall and in terms of strikeout rate(7.48). Slowey(6.78) is third in rate, Duensing(5.36) was fourth, Pavano(4.76) fifth, and Blackburn(3.76) last.

Eating Innings
Pavano was, by far(221 IP, 32 starts), the leader in this category. Liriano finished second in overall innings, but was actually third in innings per start (6.19 IP per start) behind Duensing(6.54). Blackburn ranked just below Liriano in innings per start (6.08). I'm surprised to find Slowey (5.95) ahead of Baker (5.86).

Oh, hell, let's throw one in for the sabrites out there. xFIP is something that looks like ERA but is derived from a pitcher's strikeouts, walks, and fly ball percentage. It is valuable because it is a better predictor of a starting pitcher's ERA than their ERA the previous year.

Liriano (3.06) and Pavano (4.01) led the team last year, but Baker (4.02) was a very close third. Duensing was also very close to those three with 4.10. Slowey (4.48) and Blackburn (4.62) were quite a bit behind the rest.

WHIP (Walks + Hits/Innings Pitched)
How good is each pitcher at keeping players off the base paths? Pavano was by far the best (1.19) but Liriano (1.26) just missed out on second place. That honor belongs to Duensing (1.25) who is putting together a pretty solid argument for being the third strongest pitcher on this staff by this point. Slowey (1.31) and Baker (1.34) are not too far behind. Blackburn (1.44) is again in last place.

Baker's got "the stuff", with Slowey a close second. Blackburn had some terrible stretches last year, but showed that even when he is terrible, he can eat innings and provide quality starts. But this analysis has really opened my eyes on the year Duensing had. He was among the leaders in ERA, quality starts, eating innings and WHIP. For two years now we've seen what he can do for a half year in the rotation. I think it might be time to see what he can do for a full year.


Seth's Minnesota Twins Prospect Handbook 2011 is now available online. To order today, click here.

Diamond Awards

The Diamond Awards were held last night, which is a banquet where the Twins present awards from the previous season. It is also a fundraiser for the University of Minnesota Medical Foundation, specifically research surrounding muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, and ALS. If you would like to see more about last night’s festivities, you can check out their website.

The Voice of Reason™ and I had a great time, but we’re also seriously exhausted. Middle age stinks. So here are just a few quick notes.

- Kyle Gibson seems like about the most humble, coachable guy in the world. When asked by Dick Bremer what he needed to do to go from AAA to the Majors this year, he admitted that he had no idea, but he was really hoping the coaching staff would let him know, and he would work on it. Good plan, that.

- When Joe Benson came on stage, TVOR’s eyes popped out of her sockets like a cartoon character. “Oh, MY. (pause.) HE’S handsome.”

All right. Note to self. Don’t introduce wife to Joe Benson.

- Jesse Crain was on hand to accept an award for outstanding community service. Yes, the same guy who had no real pressure to be there because he has signed with the White Sox. I can’t say enough about how much class he showed, and it was clear just how much he was going to miss the Twins. It was touching, plain and simple.

- Seriously, these are some terrible, terrible diseases. I’ve seen first hand just how devastating they can be to a family. Give a little thought to supporting neuroscience research at the U of M. You can find out more about what they’re doing here.

- The introductions to many of the award recipients were often done by baseball writers. The best? It was Jim Souhan, who was head and shoulders above the rest. Absolutely full of one-liners. If I ever need to have someone host a roast, it’s him (provided it’s not my roast).

- Michael Cuddyer won a couple of awards, which The Voice of Reason was excited about, because he is her favorite Twin. Which prompted this response:

TG: So, is it safe to say that Cuddyer can’t leave the team until Joe Benson arrives?
TVOR: No, it’s not the same thing. It’s “cute & dimples” versus “Oh, my GOD!”

Glad we got that clarified.

- It appears the nickname that Gardy is going to go with for Tsuyoshi Nishioka is “Nishy.” I had thought maybe Yoshi, so I would be disappointed, but this allows me to spell it “Nietzsche.”
(Honestly Bat Girl, it’s like Gardy is baiting you to come back.)

- Gardy really seemed legitimately upset to see so many of his players leave, mostly because he felt so close to them. He went out of his way to make us understand that he feels like they are his kids, and he really missed them.

- If Bill Smith was trying to make Twins Territory even more nervous about a return by Justin Morneau, he did a heck of a job. He went out of his way to point out that their goal was to have Morneau ready to return by April 1st. He even guarded us against expecting him to come back when players report to spring training. So I think it’s pretty safe to say he’s not yet 100%.

- Danny Valencia: “I couldn’t envision my rookie year going any better than it did.”
We feel the same way, Danny. Now get ready for a roller-coaster of a sophomore year.

- Which Twins player had the best one-liners of the night? You won’t guess. Go ahead. List your top five. List your top 10.

Answer: Delmon Young. I might be more encouraged by that than I was about him losing 30 lbs.

- Good lord but Jim Thome is a big ball of positive energy.

- The only award recipient who didn’t attend was Carl Pavano, who instead filmed an incredibly awkward video from Florida. I wonder how that absence would have been received by Twins fans if it was Young. Or how it would have been received by Yankees fans if it was Pavano.

- Pat Borzi of introduced Joe Mauer by reminding us that he could have been signed by the Yankees this past offseason.

- Michael Cuddyer, in accepting his leadership award, gave a shout out to his wife and all baseball men’s wives for all that they do, their versatility and leadership. At which point TVOR told me that she was counting me as a baseball man and was happy that Cuddy had noticed all she did. And do you know what I said?

“I couldn’t agree more.”

Incidentally, I'm coming up on my 17th anniversary.

- Bert got his lifetime achievement award, and afterwards the Twins announced that they were retiring his number, #28, as a send off to his Hall of Fame induction ceremony.

- And finally, before the ceremony ended, Rod Carew basically walked up to the podium unannounced, and asked that we all think about sending Harmon Killebrew our best wishes. I agree with Sir Rodney. You can leave him your thoughts and comments here.