Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Season Insurance

The Twins have invested $99M in their 2012 team.

Whether you think they'll be competitive or not isn't the point. (I do.) Whether you think they should have cut payroll or not isn’t the point. (I don't.) The point is this: the Twins have invested $99M in their 2012 team.

Now they need to spend a tiny fraction of that to insure it.

You would think that would be obvious to the Twins, who have traditionally been a risk-adverse organization, especially under Terry Ryan. They demonstrated that again this offseason. They could've waited to sign their free agents, gambling that the market would go down and they wouldn't be left without competent players. Instead, they reversed course from the last few seasons, aggressively signing almost their entire roster before Christmas.

But they also have a tradition of being extremely tied to a budget, and it appears they've hit it. But to stop now, when the free agent market is so affordable and they still have two enormous risks on the roster would be the definition of pennywise and pound-foolish.

They created the first of these risks earlier this week when they signed Joel Zumaya to a super affordble one-year deal, heavy with incentives. The contract is awesome. Zumaya's health history isn't.

Zumaya has failed to stay healthy for the last five consecutive seasons. The question isn't if he'll stay healthy. The question is when he'll break.

When he does, the Twins are right back where they were a week ago - without a dependable right-handed arm in their bullpen other than Matt Capps. (Let's let the irony of that last sentence settle in for minute.)

Zumaya has the potential to be a great signing or a dubious choice depending entirely on whether the Twins go out and sign someone else. There are a half-dozen competent right-handed relievers on the market, all of whom are likely to cost between one and two million dollars. That's how much it would take to transform the bullpen from “mess” to “average with upside.”

The second risk was made clear last week on the MLB Network in an interview with Justin Morneau.

"Most days, I wake up I feel pretty good. Usually after I get done, really exert myself, really working out hard after a long day, your brain gets tired and everything gets so worn down. It's not functioning the way it's supposed to be, and you kind of get done with the day and you go, 'Something's not right.' And you end up going home and taking a nap for a couple hours or whatever it is, and you wake up and the headache's still there and you kind of grind through it. But it's been a lot better lately.”

“A lot better.” That’s an in interesting phrase. Not “good” or “fine.” Just “better.”

Last year the Twins had a backup plan for Morneau: Jim Thome. He wouldn't play first, but manager Ron Gardenhire could move around the lineup and have Thome play designated hitter. He can do the same this year, except that the bats he is going to turn to are Trevor Plouffe and Luke Hughes.

Meanwhile, one of the stories of the free agent market is how many designated hitter are looking for work. Vladamir Guerrero, Hideki Matsui, Johnny Damon, Raul Ibanez, Magglio Ordonez and even Carlos Guillen are available and several of them are going to be available for about the same amount the Twins paid Thome.

For $2-4 million, the Twins could pick up two key insurance policies on their #5 hitter and their bullpen. To not do so, to instead roll the dice on two critical areas that already look dubious, is foolhardy.


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TT said...

There is a difference between buying insurance and a second lottery ticket. None of the affordable bullpen guys are reliable set up guys. They would just be one more roll of the dice.

As for another DH, they already have one in Doumit. And they don't really have room for a second one on the roster. If Morneau can't play first, they have Doumit, Mauer and Hughes who can play there. And Parmelee at AAA.

The place they lack a backup plan is third base. Hughes is probably the backup at third right now, but he is really only a stop gap. You wouldn't want him out there every day if Valencia got hurt.

And to make room for another DH, you would have to let Hughes go on waivers. That would be a terrible gamble. You don't just give up a relatively young player to make room for a guy you may or may not have any use for.

Josh said...

If the twins feel Chris Parmelee's cup of coffee in MLB is indicative of his real ability, (regressed some, I'm sure) then maybe, just maybe we have our next 1B in-house.

I like the idea of picking up another bench bat, but that would require the Twins to make the sensible move of only carrying 11 pitchers, something Ron "I don't know how to use a bullpen" Gardenhire won't do. And I'm just not sure I see Terry Ryan overruling Gardy on this one.

Jim H said...

I tend to agree with TT on this topic. The Twins already have more relief guys coming to camp then they will have innings for. Unless he is a proven set-up guy without all sort of question marks, which they likely can't afford, there is little reason to bring in another guy.

I can't quite see bringing in a DH either. It is possible that Morneau might have to be a full time or nearly full time DH. If Plouffe and or Tosoni can handle RF, Willingham could get a lot of time at DH. You may need to use Mauer there and Doumit could certainly see a lot of time at DH. Heck, they may even use Valencia at DH if he doesn't field better then he did last year.

I had hoped that the Twins would acquire a reliable top end starter. That would of helped the bullpen as much as anything, by reducing their innings. Since they didn't or perhaps couldn't, given their other issues, it would probably be best to see how spring training shakes out.

Anonymous said...

And to make room for another DH, you would have to let Hughes go on waivers. That would be a terrible gamble. You don't just give up a relatively young player to make room for a guy you may or may not have any use for.

Luke Hughes is not young at this point in his career. He turns 28 this season. Given his limited major league experience at this point and the fact that he doesn't have a position, I'm not sure the Twins would be too concerned about losing him via waivers.

TT said...

" I'm not sure the Twins would be too concerned about losing him via waivers."

I would not be "too concerned" either. But Hughes plays three positions, albeit none of them all that well, and the Twins really have no one else who is a third baseman.

As for his not being young, Hughes is actually only 27 which is younger than the average Twins batter last year. You might not expect him to get a lot better, but you also shouldn't expect him to get any worse for the next couple years. The fact that you don't really know what you have just adds to the gamble.

Lance said...

So . . . Let me get this straight - You get a new stadium, after whining about it for years and years, and then you CUT the payroll????????? WTF????

Anonymous said...

It's come to this: Not only does Luke Hughes, who can neither hit nor play 3rd or short, have a chance to make the 2012 Twins roster as utility infielder, there are actually fans wringing their hands over the possibility that he might be claimed if placed on waivers, leaving a significant hole that's hard to fill.

Three words: Ho. Ly. Crap.

A baseball franchise that loses a Luke Hughes in the morning and doesn't have an equivalent replacement by the end of the day deserves to be contracted, plain and simple.

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