Monday, October 17, 2011

Incremental Upgrades

The Twins got their offseason roster renovations underway last week by outrighting Jason Repko, Matt Tolbert, Rene Rivera and Anthony Slama. This created four openings on the 40-man roster, though two of those spots are now filled by Nick Blackburn and Alexi Casilla, who were reinstated from the 60-day disabled list.

Repko and Tolbert were both set to be arbitration eligible this offseason, so this decision confirms what many already believed: that the Twins had no interest in employing those players next year at more than the league minimum.

Repko was a fifth outfielder and Tolbert was a utility infielder. Neither held a particularly significant role for the club. Still, both were exceptionally awful hitters in 2011, even by the low standards that accompanied their titles. Among all MLB players who made 200 or more plate appearances, Tolbert's .518 OPS was sixth-worst. Meanwhile, Repko's .555 mark fell nearly 100 points below his already poor career mark.

Replacing these two with more competent options would qualify as "incremental upgrades." It's a term I first used a couple weeks ago when talking about bringing back Nick Punto as a bench player, and you're likely to hear it often from me over the course of the offseason. Given their circumstances, the Twins shouldn't be looking to land one or two superstars; rather, they should be seeking to trim fat from the roster and build better depth across the board.

Unlike different casino games, dumping Repko and Tolbert in search of better options isn't much of a gamble. What do you think?


Anonymous said...

I think you're spot on. This team is not playoff caliber in 2012 no matter what we do within budget. Spend money wisely and fill holes with incremental upgrades until we've got a reasonable strategy to get the right players to make a run.

TT said...

The idea that the Twins aren't a playoff caliber team next year is silly. Despite all their problems the Twins were still contenders at the allstar break. Now they are certain losers because they couldn't win the last two months with their AAA roster? I don't think so.

The Twins have a lot of uncertainty going into next year. They could be anything from a very good team to terrible. That depends, in part, on the health of Mauer, Morneau and Span. If those three are healthy and play up to their ability the Twins will score a lot of runs. But that hasn't happened in the last three years.

In that situation you don't roll the dice investing in expensive veterans to get you over the top. At least not until next July, when you know where you are.

Mike said...

I definitely think incremental upgrades are the way to go for this team. I've seen quite a few Twins' fans on various sites who think the Twins should try to sign Reyes and CJ Wilson, which doesn't make any sense to me. For one, I just don't think they have the budget to do so in the first place. And two, even if they could/would sign those players, that's a lot of money to tie up in not very many players. If anyone underperforms (due to injury or any other reason), the season is essentially lost.

If the Twins make smart moves, I think they are a playoff caliber team next year. In one of the few occasions where I agree with TT, a lot of it hinges on Mauer, Morneau, and Span. But a lot of it hinges on how they fill some weaknesses. They need to upgrade the bullpen without signing a mediocre at best closer to a $7.15 million one year deal. They need another catcher. Even if Mauer is "healthy" next year, I sincerely doubt he catches more than 30-40 games. His primary position will be elsewhere, and I don't think the Twins can afford to run Butera out there four or five games a week.

And I don't know what needs to happen with Nishioka. Hopefully he learned something from the past season that will let him develop into a SS that isn't a complete liability in the MLB. But if he didn't, the Twins need a better backup option than they had this year.

It'll be a very interesting offseason.

NX said...

I definitely don't think the Twins downfall this year can be blamed on the role players. When the superstars like Mauer and Morneau have the types of year they did it's easy to blame the utility type players because they were forced into the everyday players roles. If the star players do their jobs and can play more than 100 games a year it wouldn't force the bench players to play so often. There's a reason they are called role players and are making the league minimum.

The entire season comes down to the fact the star players didn't play like star players and injuries ravaged any chance the twins had to be competitive. If the twins really hope to bounce back and be AL Central contenders again maybe they should rebuild the bullpen, get some starting pitching help, and quit trying to blame to "Role" players.

Bill Smith hasn't done his job the last year and half. Quit blaming Tolbert and Repko for under performing. No matter how good those two play they weren't going to change the outcome of the season.

Nick N. said...

No matter how good those two play they weren't going to change the outcome of the season.

No, but replacing them with better players can change the outcome of next season. Obviously the team's chances of rebounding are tied to Mauer, Morneau, Span and some pitchers getting back to previous levels of health and productivity, but even if that happens the Twins need to surround them with better players if they want to be legitimate contenders.

NX said...

Our 5th outfielder probably isn't going to matter. If the starters are healthy how often are we really going to get to the 5th outfielder? And Tolbert never played significant time like Punto did so he isn't even a candidate that should even be discussed. I'd be more worried about our current shortshop and 2nd baseman.

Mike said...

@NX- Tolbert had 226 PA's this past season. And he appeared in 87 games. I would call that playing pretty significant time. It isn't like he was a September call-up.

I also disagree that the 5th outfielder isn't important, although that could change. We have to consider that Morneau won't be capable of playing in the field and Mauer will be doing more catching/time on the DL than anticipated. Cuddyer (assuming he's re-signed) likely shifts to 1st base. Then MN would have Revere and Span in the field with? Kubel, if he's re-signed. Benson, if he's ready for the MLB, which I think is unlikely even after his overall pretty solid stint as a September call-up.

There are obviously bigger concerns than a backup utility infielder and a backup outfielder, but the Twins showed this year that they need to get better across the board and that they had little to no depth at virtually every position. Maybe there was outfield depth for a while; at the same time, we did see Plouffe and Mauer in right this past season.

Mike said...

Although, yes, if all the starters stay healthy, there really is no need to worry about depth. But the key for that is that all the starters need to remain healthy.

TT said...

I suspect the most likely replacement for Tolbert is Nishioka. Whether that is an improvement or not remains to be seen.

The rest of the bench is a complex puzzle. They need a right fielder, a DH and a backup at first base. They also are looking at shortstops and offense oriented catchers. And they have guys like Plouffe, Parmelee, Tosoni and Dinkelman who may fit in somewhere. All four can play the outfield. Butera might be in the mix if they decide to keep three catchers. In addition Luke Hughes may have a role.

With all the health concerns, I am not sure any position is set other than Revere out in left field. I don't think even Valencia's job at third base is completely secure.

Nick N. said...

With all the health concerns, I am not sure any position is set other than Revere out in left field.

Which itself is not settled since Revere may be needed in CF. Who knows what's going to happen with Span.

I'd try Plouffe in one of the corner OF spots, while spending some of the offseason funds on a hitter for the other side (whether that's Cuddyer, Kubel or an external FA). Ideally, Revere should enter next season as a fourth OF who can fill in at all three spots and serve as insurance for Span.

Nick N. said...

If the starters are healthy how often are we really going to get to the 5th outfielder

Are we really going to play the "if the starters are healthy" game after the season we just witnessed?

Josh said...

It's always good to make upgrades to any part of the roster, IMHO. Repko was a player I kinda liked, but the hitting wasn't there and the fielding wasn't near enough to make up for it. He might have had a shot if he played for a manager that understood platooning, but basically he's a marginal MLB player.

Tolbert went from looking like he might be the poor man's Nick Punto (when Nick was making $4M and a top utlity player) to being a starving man's Nick Punto. Can't hit, D is average, no room on the roster.

The Twins CAN find better players to fill these slots without breaking the bank. If they do, they strengthen the team because when injuries inevitably strike, marginal or worse players won't be pressed into service. A deeper roster helps the entire club, even if they only get limited use. These are good moves, especially since both players probably would have been getting paid something resembling real money next year (not just league minimum).

TT said...

"Which itself is not settled since Revere may be needed in CF."

Good point. Although I think there is little chance Revere does not take one of the three outfield spots.

Nick N. said...

Although I think there is little chance Revere does not take one of the three outfield spots.

You're probably right, although I don't necessarily agree with the thinking. I believe he can be a fine starter at some point but he didn't show this year that he's there yet and the Twins can afford to be patient with him since he's still only 23.

TT said...

As you said, Revere is only 23. He needs to play, not watch. The alternative to playing him is to send him back to AAA. I think he will be an adequate regular to start the season and may be better than that by the end of it.

Laches said...

"Given their circumstances, the Twins shouldn't be looking to land one or two superstars; rather, they should be seeking to trim fat from the roster and build better depth across the board. "

---Tough to argue with that. I can't remember seeing a roster so full of question marks. Everywhere you look we've got guys who we don't know if they'll be coming back healthy, or if they'll be coming back at all. Is there any position you can say we're set at for next year?

You make a big splash for a big name or 2 when you're 1-2 players away from being a legit contender. The Twins, most likely, are not. Sure, it's possible if a bunch of guys bounce back strong. But you can't make that your operating assumption.

Even if you could sign a few average major league players to man some of these spots, it would be an enormous improvement over what we had in 2011, where Gardy was forced to thrust some well below average players into duty every night.

USAFChief said...

the Twins shouldn't be looking to land one or two superstars; rather, they should be seeking to trim fat from the roster and build better depth across the board.

I think the Twins can, and should, be looking to do both.

Even if Mauer, Morneau, and Span all have excellent 2012 seasons, I doubt that's enough for them to be legitimate WS contenders. Improving at the margins isn't going to be enough either.

Adding an impact player or two would go a lot farther, IMO. Jose Reyes for 140 games at SS will do more than adding a little better 5th OFer.

In any case, a competent GM should be able to do both, with the money the Twins have to spend this winter. It doesn't take a genius to improve on the likes of Repko, Tolbert and 1/2 the bullpen, nor should it take a lot of money.

If Mauer and Morneau aren't in the lineup and producing next year it's probably meaningless. If they ARE in the lineup and producing, adding another impact player or two improves the team more than anything done on the margins.

Anonymous said...

I agree with USAF Chief about adding major talent like Reyes and Wilson - this team is in need of a major talent infusion and adding a few role player upgrades isn't going to do it. Think of a top of the order that goes: Reyes, Span, Mauer (1B), Cuddyer (RF), Morneau (DH). Let's not slip back into the small market mediocre thinking. There are some good pieces here to work with, but glaring holes in the middle infield and top of the rotation. Doing a little tinkering might get you 80 wins - but is this now considered good enough??

Josh said...

The idea that this team can realistically add either Reyes or CJ Wilson is ridiculous.

First, let's look at the budget issues: to add either makes it almost impossible to seriously address the team's other needs. Would I love Reyes at SS? You bet, but we still need another starter for the rotation, several bullpen arms, a real backup catcher, and at least 1 OF. We're gonna do all of that on the $6-8M we'd have left after we get Reyes?

Second, let's look at the odds of signing either of them. What's the incentive to play here right now for a big-time free agent? The team is coming off a horrendous season, its best 2 players are looking at uncertain futures, and it's in what is commonly derided by agents and national media as fly-over territory. Agents like MN for 1 things when it comes to top free agents: using us to get a better deal from a team in a bigger media market. When the Twins were winning, it was an easier sell, but this disastrous season makes it a lot harder.

Third, think about the size of the contracts these guys want. Wilson is going to want at least 5 years and Reyes probably wants 6 or more. Is that a good plan for a team that is uncertain about where it is right now?

A better plan is to increase depth in the roster so we have more MLB-calibre players at the back end instead of useless hitters with overrated defense and soft-tossing back of the rotation/bullpen arms. Find value in a veteran or three and work towards getting the younger players ready while hoping for better health.

This team is in trouble if Morneau and Mauer can't get healthy, there's no way around it. Signing another big star won't fix that.

Mike said...

@Josh- Thank you. I wish more people would realize that adding either one of those players is nearly impossible for the Twins. They won't want to come to Minnesota, and even if they would want to be here, they won't because the FO can't afford to sign them to the kinds of deals they'll want and can get elsewhere.

Reyes would make me especially nervous, with his injury history. We already have injury prone Mauer signed to big-money. I like Mauer and I think he'll bounce back at a position other than catcher next year. But this team can't afford to sign two injury-prone big money players.

Ed Bast said...

I'd like to think we're due for some incremental upgrades in the training staff as well...but Bill Smith said yesterday the ol' boys club won't be making any changes there.

It would appear my fear that the AAA manager/pitching coach would be the lone scapegoats for your 2011 season is likely to come true.

Doing things the same way but expecting different results: the definition of insanity.

USAFChief said...

First, let's look at the budget issues: to add either makes it almost impossible to seriously address the team's other needs.

Well, I disagree. Signing Reyes shouldn't take up more than about 1/2 of what the Twins should have available this winter, leaving plenty of room for a smart GM to make other 'incremental upgrades.'

Paying for quality is usually worth it.

Josh said...

USAFChief, how much do you think Reyes is going to command? I'm betting he goes for $16M per at the low end, $20M per at the high. For the Twins to get him, they'd have to be bidding at the high end. The Twins will have roughly $32M to spend, assuming Slowey is dealt/non-tendered, but that also assumes no Cuddyer, no Kubel, and no Nathan.

After spending $20M on Reyes, that leave us $12M to find a starting OF, a closer, a starting pitcher, a DH, additional bullpen help, a backup catcher, and a bench bat. And that's assuming we're willing to go into training camp with Casilla or Nishioka as the guy at 2B. Just the starting pitcher and the OF are going to wipe out the rest of the money, and then the Twins will again be stuck with no DH, no bullpen depth, no bench depth, Butera as the backup catcher, and hoping and praying some of the young guys can fill the slots. Too much risk, considering the health of Mauer/Morneau.

Bottom line: a top free agent isn't realistic unless the Twins go to a $125M payroll, and I don't see that happening.

Ed Bast said...

Let's remember, what the Twins should or could do often bears little resemblance to what they actually do. So while both Chief and Josh make interesting points, it's an irrelevant debate, because there is absolutely zero chance the Twins sign Jose Reyes or CJ Wilson. Not saying I agree with it necessarily, but it just aint happening.

Mike said...

Again, it isn't realistic to think that Reyes would even want to come to Minnesota, so I think the whole debate is pointless. All the same, I would love to have him on the team, assuming the Twins had an unlimited amount to spend on payroll.

But if you add Reyes, like Josh said, that's pretty limiting for the team when trying to sign other quality players. It's not impossible (at least I don't think it would be) to sign other quality players. But then the Twins would be set up with three very highly paid players with significant injury histories that they're counting on to (1) not get injured and (2) not have a down year.

Even if Reyes signs for $16 million, Mauer is making $23 million and Morneau is making $14 million. That's $53 million in high risk players locked up for next year in that scenario.

They already have $62.75 million tied up for next year without a potential Reyes signing with seven players. Assuming Reyes would sign for $16 million puts it at $78.75 million. And that doesn't include a contract for: Joe Nathan, Cuddyer, Kubel, Liriano, Slowey, Casilla, Perkins, Duensing, Mijares, Valencia, Hughes, or Butera. And that doesn't fill out the entire roster, either.

Some of those guys will be back with the team for relatively cheap. Some of them will be expensive to retain or expensive to replace. Assuming payroll will be about $110 million, they have quite a bit of room to work with, but quite a few players to sign. Reyes is certainly a quality player, but I don't know if he's good enough to justify preventing useful upgrades at other areas of need- bullpen, catcher, and outfield (assuming they can't/won't re-sign Cuddyer and Kubel).

Anonymous said...

I'd start with a new manager that will light a fire under these guys. No one one the team played with any heart and to many of them were allowed to sit games out with marginal injuries. From what I understand in some situations agemts were dictating if a playyer was well enough to play without consulting team trainers or physicians. This team has consistantly laid down every post season and they laid down as soon as they clinched last year with out even attempting to clinch home field and they haven't gotten back up since.

USAFChief said...

Again, it isn't realistic to think that Reyes would even want to come to Minnesota, so I think the whole debate is pointless.

I guess I don't see why players wouldn't consider signing with the Twins.

If no free agents of any merit will even consider playing on the Twins, then you're right, there's no point discussing the offseason. Not to mention, it's time to figure out why no free agents of any merit will even consider playing for the Twins.

Ed Bast said...

"I guess I don't see why players wouldn't consider signing with the Twins. "

Because they'd have to take about half as much they'd make elsewhere? I'm sure if we started throwing cash around folks would consider it...but that's not the Twins Way, remember? Even though we are a big-market team now, we don't operate that way. What significant free agent has this organization ever signed?

Josh said...

First off, the Twins have about $83M committed to payroll for next year, which includes $2.7M for Slowey (who I expect to be traded or non-tendered) and a $2M buyout for Nathan. $83M, not $63M.

Right now the Twins have a big-market payroll in a medium-sized market. But the stadium revenue is helping push us higher, so it's sustainable and the ownership isn't being asked to take a $10-$20M operating loss every year.

Signing Reyes would tie up about 45% of the team's payroll in 3 players who have injury issues, and do so for several years. Or do we really think Reyes could be brought here for anything less than $18M per? (Sorry, not seeing it. Frankly, I would expect us to have to shell out $20M per to get him, which would push the commitment to 3 players at 50% of payroll)

We've seen what happens when you tie up all your money in a few players, those guys get hurt, and the rest of your roster is really low-rent. It goes poorly!

I'd love to have Reyes or Wilson, but it's not realistic. And it doesn't mean this team is being cheap or back to the bad old days, it just means that the decisions to keep 2 of our own guys in Mauer/Morneau has limited our ability to go get a top free agent.

$115M is a BIG payroll. Last season it underperformed badly, mostly due to poor health, but somewhat due to bad play. For better or for worse, this team is built around Mauer, and to a lesser extent Morneau. Let's see if we can find the right complements to make that work and insure against health breakdowns.

Mike said...

They have $65.75 million tied up next year with a handful of arbitration eligible players, including Slowey, and that doesn't include filling out the 40 man roster with players like Revere, Tosoni, Swarzak, Parmelee, etc. Maybe that site's wrong, but I found very similar information on a different site yesterday. Like I said, they're going to have to fill the roster and that mid-60 million range doesn't cover that much of the roster.

There are multiple reasons why a lot of players don't want to come to Minnesota:

(1) It's not a "sexy" city.

(2) It isn't the biggest market. It isn't small, but it isn't NY, LA, Chicago, etc.

(3) The Twins can't afford to give out big contracts to big time players. Mauer has one and that prevents them from signing any top-tier free agent for the most part. Reyes won't want to come to Minnesota because they wouldn't be able to offer him the $16-20 million per year multi-year deal that other teams will beg able to offer him.

(4) And for this upcoming year, the Twins are coming off a 99 loss season. Throw in that, while they've made the playoffs frequently over the last decade, they've been only as far as the ALCS what? Once, in 2002? Reyes played for the Mets, so maybe he wouldn't mind as much. CJ Wilson has pitched in the last two world series. I doubt very much that he would want to come to Minnesota after a 99 loss season when the team has a ton of question marks.

I've never said that there is no point in discussing the offseason. But there's no real point in discussing Jose Reyes or CJ Wilson. Sure, it might be fun to think about what those two players could add to the team, but fantasy is about as far as it gets.

anthony schlagel said...

Have you analyzed Clint Barmes as a possible off-season signing for the Twins? His defensive ratings seem stellar and his hitting while not great is not ugly. What kind of contract might he looking for? Three years for $15 million? Seems like a bargain as long as he can vacuum up the easy ones and make the hard ones look easy (that was my impression of JJ Hardy; when the ball was hit to him I had confidence in his Vacuum Ability).