Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Pulling Out All the Stops

The Twins' amazing run over the first three weeks of June collectively rejuvenated the fan base, making believers out of doubters as the club moved 10 games closer to first place in less than a month's time.

The subsequent six-game losing streak -- punctuated by a humiliating 15-0 loss at Target Field on Monday night -- erased much of the team's progress, while also bringing the "It's Happening" meme to a screeching halt.

In reality, the Twins aren't totally out of it. They're nine games behind in a mediocre division and the season isn't quite halfway over.

Of course, there's a lot of ground to make up. Many things would need to happen for the Twins to surmount their deficit in the AL Central standings and charge into the playoffs.

First and foremost, they need to start playing at full strength. They need injured players to come back and produce quickly, they need Francisco Liriano to get back to pitching the way he was prior to his last outing, and most of all they need Mauer to come alive.

They also need both the Indians and Tigers to play sub-.500 ball in the second half, but I don't think anyone will have too much trouble envisioning that.

All the factors mentioned above are basically out of the front office's and manager's control. If the team's stars can't get healthy and contribute, or if another club in the division wins 90-plus games, the Twins are toast.

If those things break right, though, the Twins will still need to pull out all the stops and maximize what they've got if they're serious about making it happen. Below is a list of four moves I would make to give them their best shot at pulling off an improbable second-half comeback:

1) Replace Tsuyoshi Nishioka at shortstop with Trevor Plouffe.

Nishioka is a 26-year-old foreign player learning a new culture and a new league. His struggles up to this point have been understandable, and it's too soon to give up on him. With that being said, he's looked ridiculously overmatched in the major leagues.

Plouffe was demoted for his sloppy play in the field earlier this year, but Nishioka has committed seven errors in 18 games. And unlike Nishioka, Plouffe has hit. He leads the organization with 14 home runs this year, and he's raking at a blistering .303/.374/.627 clip in Rochester.

Plouffe has earned his shot. Nishioka has not, and frankly could probably benefit from adjusting to the stateside brand of baseball in a less pressure-packed situation.

2) Move Brian Duensing to bullpen, replacing him in rotation with Kevin Slowey or Kyle Gibson.

As expected, Duensing has been a perfectly adequate back-of-rotation starter this year, though not the front-end guy that his superficially impressive core numbers over the past two seasons would have suggested.

I don't think his production in the rotation (5-7, 4.69 ERA, 1.49 WHIP) would be that difficult to replace. In fact, there are two starters readily available who would likely match or improve upon Duensing's results: Slowey and Gibson.

Meanwhile, Duensing would drastically improve the bullpen, giving the Twins a legitimate situational left-hander with Jose Mijares proving totally untrustworthy. It's really the role Duensing is best suited for; he's holding port-siders to a .530 OPS this year while righties have tagged him for a .318 average and .857 OPS.

3) Replace Phil Dumatrait with Chuck James.

While relatively minor, this is a no-brainer. If the goal is to win games, James should be in the bullpen over Dumatrait. It's blindingly obvious that he's a better pitcher.

4) Identify a reliable right-handed reliever.

Ideally, this would be Joe Nathan. If he can't round into shape, the Twins need to go out and find a quality righty to add to the bullpen, because right now they've got nothing outside of Matt Capps. Hopefully they learned their lesson last year about overpaying for relievers in deadline deals, but if the Twins can spin an unwanted part or find a good value in August (like they did with Jon Rauch and Brian Fuentes the last two years), they'd be wise to pull the trigger quickly.


USAFChief said...

Plouffe's not even playing SS on an everyday basis in Rochester any more. I have to believe if the Twins were considering reinstalling him as the every day SS, he'd be playing there every day in AAA.

Whether they should shelve Nishioka and give Plouffe another shot is a legit question, but it doesn't appear the Twins are in any hurry to give it a shot, does it?

Nick N. said...

True, he played right field again tonight. Maybe the Twins have simply given up on him at short. Seems like odd timing.

al-exx said...

Right with you on Nishi, Mijares, and Plouffe.

I was at the game tonight and Nathan appeared dominant. He inherited a runner, then struck out two and stranded him. He said he feels great and he looked it tonight.

I think Plouffe deserves another chance. Considering that his main weakness is his throw, could he be tried out at 1B? If so, then Hughes could fill in at short and Plouffe could share duties with *gasp* Joe Mauer.

Nishi seems to have promise, but send him to AAA for a couple months so that he can catch up with the pitching. But I don't think the organization will take the hit to their pride by demoting their major off-season signing.

amr said...

Chuck James! Chuck James! Chuck James! Free Chuck James!

I'm of the mind that CJ is finally better and ready to be a high-level Major-League pitcher again, perhaps even with the potential to be a #3-type starter. My guess is that unless they sign him to an extended contract, he'll be a FA after the season. Do you think that James has a shot of being an impact pitcher for some years? If so, what should the Twins do to keep him for the future?

Matt Groff said...

Not sure I like the move of Nishi yet, he really hasn't had time to get stretched out at SS. We knew it'd take time for him to get up to speed in the Majors.

I love the move for Gibson, put him in the rotation, he currently averages over 9K per 9ip in AAA. I think Duensing would be ok with a move to the bullpen, obviously keeping him in case a starter gets hurt.

Trade Slowey, trade Thome... No use for either of them. We've established OF depth with Revere so Kubel can be full time DH and maybe play RF when Mauer needs to DH. Having Thome come back for nostalgia was a good idea before the twins went 17 under .500.

Slowey needs to go, he has no role on the team, does he start, does he relieve? Who do we move for him? Do we delay Gibson for Slowey who is disgruntled anyhow? Just move on.

Chuck James will be a viable #3 for years to come, put him in the pen now.

Give Nathan a few more innings at he 8th slot to see his stuff, then trade capps and move Nathan back to closer. If Nathan isn't right, then this bullpen is in shambles anyhow, he is necessary for this team to go anywhere, so it's either ride him to the playoffs as your closer or ride him to a high pick next year and write this year off.

agleck7 said...

I think we should still be selling at the deadline. It's a long shot to win the division, and even if we somehow managed to, this is not a team hat could go deep in the playoffs. We should make the best of this year by trying to unload our trash (ie D Young) and bad contracts and maybe get some solid prospects while giving some new guys chances.

Ed Bast said...

Should we really "pull out all the stops" to make a run at a division title where the most optimistic outcome would be to steal the crappy division and get absolutely embarrased yet again in round 1 by NY/Boston/TB? I mean, at least last year we were competitive for 6 innings in the ALDS. With this year's club it would be a bloodbath. I don't think a 4th straight sweep does the organization any good in the long run - and if it comes at the expense of not getting anything for these upcoming free agents (or worse, contemplating resigning them), it will definitely hurt us long-term.

Why not take this season to regroup and refocus the organization? Dump the old/expensive/apathetic/ incompetent players/front office members and get some fresh air in here.

Adam Krueger said...

Hard to argue with you Ed. At best, the bevy of injuries have saved the Twins front-office from themselves as they would likely have sold way to low on Delmon Young and Kevin Slowey. That said, the Twins might as well get something for Michael Cuddyer before they lose him at the end of the season anyway.

We can keep playing the "well, if all these thing happen..." game, but the chances of the Twins finishing 4th in the division this year are probably better than their chances of finishing 1st, and even if they did fight and claw for 1st place, I can't see them being able to compete with powerhouse AL East teams.

cornfed said...

I agree with all those moves. Nishioka can benefit from some time in the minors, and Plouffe's bat is worth bringing up. Slowey should be healthy enough to replace Deunsing in the rotation. If he's not, get Gibson up here. Otherwise, maybe put Gibson in the bullpen and send Dumatrait down. Bring in Chuck James cuz he can't be worse than what we have in there now. After watching Nathan last night, HE IS OUR SET-UP MAN! Maybe he can ease into the closing role again, if we trade Capps at the deadline, but I like him setting up. A quality set-up man with a quality (albeit low) closer shortens your game to 7 innings. Yanks did this with Joba and Mo, remember? If Capps and Nathan can be our "Mo and Joba", then we'll be in good shape.

J Smith said...

Wow this Ed Bast guy is a total pessimist. Yes it does the Organization good to climb out of this pit and win the Central, that always does an organization good. It not only strengthens the fan base, but gives the team a whole lot more pride in what they can accomplish, I'd take that if I was in the front office.

As for the suggestions: The Twins won't be replacing Nishi with Plouffe, so I'll just dismiss that, it's a pipe-dream of yours at best. However, your other moves I do agree with very much. I never understood sending Chuck James back down when he was posting the BEST ERA of anyone in our bullpen, our pen is terrible and Mijares/Dumatrait/Hoey are terrible. I'm almost more inclined to say get rid of Hoey and keep Dumatrait, but I haven't crunched those numbers. I like the combination of James/Duensing/Nathan/Perkins/Capps, has potential. Also, Gibson's ready to come up and he's got great potential as a starter.

amr said...

Hoey get sent back to the Red Wings when Nathan was activated.

Ed Bast said...

J Smith, for the record, at the beginning of last year in this space I predicted the Twins would win the division and lose 3-1 to the Yankees. This year I predicted another division title. If anything I'm optimistic about this club.

More likely though I'm being realistic. I don't know how losing a 15th straight playoff game would give the team more pride. If anything it would do the opposite. And our minor league system would still suck and we'd almost be forced to sign our overpaid veterans to ridiculous contracts just to field a team for '12.

Look, in addition to the myriad front office blunders and organizational flaws that have reared their head this year, they've flat-out been snakebitten by injury. It just isn't going to happen this year. They have some talent at the core of this team - why not take this 1 year to rebuild via veteran trades and go at it again next year?

Put it this way: how many times have you ever seen the worst team in the league be a buyer (or even a holder) at the deadline? Injuries or not, this is who the Twins are. It would be hubris or ignorance to think otherwise.

Anonymous said...

Not sure why Nishioka should get replaced by Plouffe who can't field the position. Nishioka hasn't even played 20 games. He makes 9 million of the next 3 years it's stupid to bench him or send him to the minors based on the above. I guess the "pulling out the stops" argument is Plouffe is going to be an upgrade. It's not. Yeah if you want to dump Tolbert and bring up Plouffe to play OF/PH why not... Agree with Phil Dumatrait. Not sure why they keep him around. Chuck James is okay but Anthony Slama is better.
Brian Duensing hasn't pitched well latley but Kevin Slowey isn't an upgrade or answer. Slowey isn't even ready to come back yet. Kyle Gibson would be nice to see though and Duensing is effective against lefties when Mijares is a distraction and shoudl be cut.


Anonymous said...

Hey Ed - So your point is that the Twins should rebuild not because they are out of contention but because they will just lose in the Wild Card anyway? Bravo for that one. If the Twins make the playoffs that's awesome and any time you make the playoffs in baseball you have a chance. I wouldn't bet on the Twins beating the Yanks or Sox but it's possible. Any team in the majors can win a 5 game series against another. Luck is a big factor in the playoffs.


USAFChief said...

either ride (Nathan) to the playoffs as your closer or ride him to a high pick next year and write this year off.

Minor point, but there is zero chance the Twins get draft pick compensation for Nathan next year. You have to offer arb, and be turned down by the player, to receive compensation.

1) The Twins would never offer arb to Nathan and expose themselves to that salary and 2) they have an option on Nathan for 2012 anyway. They can't decline the option, pay the buyout, and then turn around and offer arb.

Nick N. said...

Not sure why Nishioka should get replaced by Plouffe who can't field the position. Nishioka hasn't even played 20 games.

Plouffe played 15 games at SS. The hypocrisy of your statement is rich. I don't really trust either of these guys with the mitt but unfortunately the TWins traded one of the league's best shortstops for peanuts during the offseason so they'll have to make do.

This much is clear: Plouffe can hit. Nishioka cannot. The Twins need offense.

Anonymous said...

Ha, The difference is that Nishioka makes 3 million a year and is a prospect. He needs to play. They paid him to play and he was a solid player in Japan which would probably be AAA ball in the United States.
Plouffe is not a prospect and has never played well at any level. Plouffe doesn't even play short in the minors anymore and he CAN'T hit. 50 games at Rochester compared to 4 other years of him not hitting doesn't make him a hitter. Nishioka has proven on a professional level that he has the ability to hit and play well. If Plouffe continues to hit well for more than a lucky period of time then maybe he will get another shot as a utility guy or maybe a 4th ourfielder.


Anonymous said...

I want to emphasis once again. It's NOT clear Plouffe can hit.
AAA Ball - 4 Seasons!
AVE 259
OBP 312
(Yeah you should get a chance with those numbers! You can hit!) Which those numbers are inflated by his unsustainable AVE303, OBP 374 line this year.
Or how about 153 errors at short in over 677 games at short plus a nice -13 runs below average at the position in the minor leagues. Not even at the majors. That doesn’t count his total of 172 errors when you add in his horrible play at 2B or 3B in case we really wanted him as a utility infielder.
No… I apologize you are right we need this guy to turn the season around, or maybe you were just goofing and meant we need him to help the Twins get the worst record in the Majors so we can get the 1st pick in the 2012 draft? Yeah I can dig that. Even with all of that, yeah I’d take him over Tolbert.


USAFChief said...

Or how about 153 errors at short in over 677 games at short plus a nice -13 runs below average at the position in the minor leagues. Not even at the majors. That doesn’t count his total of 172 errors when you add in his horrible play at 2B or 3B

Without even bothering to look it up, I'm going to go out a a limb here and say I don't believe Plouffe has 325 errors in his career.

Nick N. said...

The difference is that Nishioka makes 3 million a year and is a prospect. He needs to play.

Yeah, in Triple-A. I couldn't care less how much the Twins mistakenly overpaid him during the offseason. He doesn't belong in the major leagues right now.

Or how about 153 errors at short in over 677 games at short plus a nice -13 runs below average at the position in the minor leagues.

No one said Plouffe is a good defender, but his UZR score in a handful of MLB games is meaningless and it's amusing that you'd point to his error total in arguing that he's a worse option than Nishioka.

It's NOT clear Plouffe can hit.

You're right, I'm sure his consistently strong offensive performance this year is nothing but a fluke, because lord knows no minor-league player has ever turned a corner at the ripe old age of 24.

I don't think Plouffe is a very good player and he's almost certainly playing over his head in Triple-A, but he also had the highest slugging percentage of any Twins hitter when he was up earlier this year and he's been in Triple-A for three seasons.

Even if you haven't taken notice of what a massive liability Nishioka is at this point, other teams have, as evidenced by the Dodgers' decision to intentionally walk the mighty Ben Revere to get to him in a big situation today.

Mike said...

People complained that there was too much talk about JJ Hardy at the beginning of the season, and I'm most over it, but still. That was an awful trade by the Twins and it still ticks me off.

I'm not sure how he got the injury label when he played 151 and 146 games respectively in 2007 and 2008 (without the benefit of DH'ing) and played 115 at the MLB level (while playing a month or so in AAA) in 2009. The only real time he missed due to injury was 2010 with MN when he played 101 games, even with a wrist injury in 2010. He did miss about a month earlier this year as well, but everyone spends some time on the DL eventually.

Anyway. The guy's a good defender, and despite a somewhat slow start to the year, he's hitting .303 with a .367 OBP and .548 slugging. Throw in 11 homeruns and just 1 error, that's someone you want on your team.

That's someone the Twins could have had on their team and should have had on their team instead of worrying if an unproven and overpaid Japanese player was ever going to develop in the majors or if their weak farm system infielders would amount to something. I'm not writing off either Nishioka or Plouffe, but I haven't been impressed by either in the slightest.

Anonymous said...

Sean, I think I am gonna have to chalk this one up to Nick.

- Gardy

Anonymous said...

I only compare errors because that’s what you did in your actual column! Except I show a massive amount of errors. Plouffe’s UZR in a handful of games in the majors I didn’t point out. I pointed out that he is -13 runs under in his minor league career which is a huge sample. He can’t field at SS. Ben Revere was intentionally walked today because he was 2-3 on the day and Nishioka was 0-3 with Revere hitting well in the series. That’s a no brainer and it doesn’t mean anything. Some people rank Nishioka as a top prospect for the Twins (Aaron Gleeman for one) and he has proven himself in what you could call the minor leagues. The only point I concede is the fact that it’s very possible the Twins overvalued and overpaid for Nishioka. You give more than 19 games to Nishioka thought to find that out especially if there is nobody to replace him, which there is not.


Mike said...

In response to the last anonymous post- Revere was intentionally walked because Nishioka has been awful all year. That wasn't a decision based on one game. The guy isn't hitting .200, looks like he can't compete at the MLB level, and hasn't shown any indication that that will change- obviously it might, but it doesn't look like it's coming any time soon.

Anonymous said...

Mike - All Year? He has played 19 games. But your analysis is that he can't play? Put this in perspective Nishioka has 62 ABs if he had two more hits in his 19 games he would have a 260 average. But no under 200 average it's obvious. Several years of excellent play in Japan. No he can't play. Revere would have been walked for a lot of guys this year. The Twins have been bad at hitting their major problem. With a guy in scoring position and a hot hitter up you pitch to the guy struggling. That doesn't mean he can't play or should go to triple A.

Anonymous said...

Correction - 4 not 2 hits. But same point. He doesn't have enough ABs to show anything not to mention coming back from a broken leg and playing across the World. Might give him a few more games instead of sending him to Rochester.

Unknown said...

Ed Bast,
I do agree with you that we shouldn't be buyers and I do think we probably should be sellers, but not radical sellers. I think you sell Thome, regardless of if he gets to 600--someone will give us something for him. And then you toss up between who to sell: Kubel, Cuddyer or Young. When Span comes back I would like to see them move him to RF and keep Revere at CF, you can't move Revere at this point, he's been WAY too important to this team's success. So then we have just an overflow of OF's, not to mention a few guys in our system (Aaron Hicks, who's turned it around big time as of late) that will be getting a call in the next couple years. I don't think they'll move Cuddyer, but Kubel and Delmon could both be shipped.. I wouldn't cry about that.

What we should really do is see what it would take to get Jesus Montero from the Yankees, I'm willing to bet it's not much.

Anonymous said...

I agree with 2-4 but after putting all their eggs in the Nishioka basket, I think he needs more of a chance. Unfortunately the organization's best SS happens to be their starting 2B. I would move Casilla back to short and then platoon Hughes and Nishioka at 2B. Or just let Nishi be a utility or bench guy for a while. Get rid of Tolbert. He gives them nothing. And then bring up Plouffe to pinch hit and fill in at the infield positions. He might be a good option at 3B if Valencia keeps sucking.

TT said...

For Nick and the other math-challenged fans, if Detroit and Cleveland play at their current +.500 rate the rest of the year they will end up with 86 wins. If, over the rest of the season, the Twins win at rate the Phillies have so far, they would end up with 86 wins.

And Frank, if the Twins win at that rate the second half their chances in the playoffs are going to be pretty good. There are plenty of reasons to think this team can be pretty good if they just get and stay healthy.

Plouffe has played 25 games in the major leagues at shortstop, 10 last year. His problems at shortstop may be correctable with more time at AAA, but I am not sure the Twins believe that any more.

Far from "pulling out all the stops", the suggestions here are just rearranging the furniture to no purpose. Sending Duensing to the bullpen, releasing Dumatrait and sending either Hatcher or Mijares to the minor leagues in order to make room for Slowey and James is just plain stupid. It reduces the the bullpen in order to make at most marginal improvements in long and middle relief. (Hoey is already in the minor leagues.)

As for right handed relievers, Burnett has had a .556 WHIP in June and Nathan just got back. Obviously if the Twins think they can get a good, cheap right handed set up guy for a marginal prospect they should make that deal. In fact, they should ALWAYS make that deal. Unfortunately, most teams don't trade good pitchers away at all, much less for next to nothing.

TT said...

"It reduces the the bullpen in order to ..."

Something got lost in that sentence It should say:

"It reduces the depth in both the rotation and the bullpen in order to..."

TT said...

And one more correction - it should be "Swarzak" not "Hatcher (whoever that is)" who would need to go to AAA.

Mike said...

@anonymous (again)- I don't think my assessment of Nishioka is unfair at all, even given the small sample size. His tremendous play from Japan has resulted in bad fielding and abhorrent hitting.

Sure, he played well in Japan and I'm sure he has a lot of potential. But right now he's a black hole and looks totally overmatched. I don't think the Twins should have to watch him mess up in the field and fail to produce at the plate all year before letting him catch up to MLB style of play in AAA. It isn't like he's hitting the ball fairly well and is just about to turn the corner- he's all about the weak grounders.

And if we need to cut him some slack because of the leg injury, then maybe he needs to get back into form somewhere where he isn't hurting the parent club. If he's physically ready for the MLB, he can be here. If he isn't, send him to AAA.

Anonymous said...

I actually agree with Nick on all counts, not that any of them will happen. I believe Nishioka will be better than Plouffe, but it sure seems that he's flustered mentally and it seems some time in Rochester would settle him.

The problem I have with the idea of selling is that with Smith our odds of improving our team for the future as a good as our chances of winning the division this year.

Anonymous said...

Couldn't agree with numbers 2 or 3 more, i've been thinking this for weeks.

rhunt2323 said...

Funny he posts this yesterday and today Nishi drives a 2 run single to the right field wall and Duensing goes 8 effective shutout innings. Tomorrow post that we need to trade Mauer and maybe he will hit a home run!

mgraves said...

Two points/questions:

A. TT--speaking of math challenged: the Twins have the worst run differential in the League, and this is with 35 one run games. They spend a lot of time not even being close. Their expected winning percentage, based on their run differential, is under .400. What makes it likely that they will be able to go from that, to over .600 ball?

B. Duensing is tied with Baker for the best Quality Start percentage on the team. Why move one of your most effective starters to the bull-pen? The bull-pen is not good--although Perkins gives hope for the future--and moving one of your most effective starters from a role where he throws 6 or 7 innings into a role where he throws 2/3 of an inning seems to be a rather poor use of personnel resources.

mgraves said...

Re: Previous
Replace "effective" with "consistent".

Anonymous said...

Nick, your stance on Duensing has been a repeat track all season. It's almost as if you wait to replay that same line again.

Duensing has been a staple in the Twins rotation. One start doesn't prove he's amazing, but he had a good outing after you wrote this, maybe he reads your blog.

Plouffe isn't an everday SS and has zero upside as an everday SS.

I don't see why we have an eager desire to trade Thome. Unless the price is higher than I expect, I doubt we'll get much for him.

Matt said...

I like how you go "all out," Nick, in your speculations, they're nice to read.

My only take is that they sell and look forward to the future. This year is a wash, even though they theoretically have a shot.