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Don't Panic Over Bad Breaks For Twins Rotation

If you're freaking out about the Twins rotation right now, that's understandable.

The past week has brought a couple of seemingly grave developments. Ervin Santana will probably miss the first month of the season, and Minnesota has officially lost out in the Yu Darvish sweepstakes. No one could deny that the present layout of the rotation looks grim.

But there are some silver linings at play here.
Image courtesy of Brad Rempel, USA Today
First, let's talk about Santana. Losing your top starter for a chunk of the season hurts, there's no other way to slice it.

It's troubling to imagine where the Twins might have been at the end of May last year without Santana carrying the staff through the first two months, when he logged 77 innings with a 1.75 ERA over 11 starts.

But here's the thing: Minnesota absolutely should NOT have been counting on the same impact in 2018. For a variety of reasons, Santana was all but certain to see regression this year. I've been banging that drum all offseason, and the recently released PECOTA projections from Baseball Prospectus express similar reservations, forecasting Erv for a 4.76 ERA and 1.41 WHIP.

Even before this injury news came out, expecting the same Ervin Santana from 2017 to return in 2018 was folly. If the Twins held any such expectations (and their lack of urgency to add rotation help would seemingly suggest it), those are now out the door.

Even if the right-hander rejoins the team after a relatively short absence, there's no assurance his surgically repaired middle finger will enable him to throw sliders with the same superior spin and command. Any diminishment for that pitch – easily the most critical in his arsenal – would be very bad news. The Twins have to recognize this risk, and it should theoretically increase their motivation to add another high-caliber starting pitcher.

That's good.

Also, the timing of Santana's missed time could be viewed as a hidden blessing. Some fans have expressed frustration that the issue wasn't dealt with surgically last fall, but getting it done ahead of spring training should minimize his lost regular-season time, and might even prove helpful in ways for him and the club.

For a veteran player like Santana, spring training doesn't have much value. Obviously he needs to ramp up his pitch counts and prepare for the summer's workload, but as far as actually competing in games? He's just throwing hundreds of meaningless pitches, and taking away innings from younger players who have something to prove, and to gain.

Now, Santana will rehab and ramp up on his own terms. The team's official statement asserts that the hurler's "expected return to Major League game activity is 10-12 weeks" from the date of the surgery. That phrasing is a little odd, but if we take it at face value, then the Twins anticipate having Santana back on the mound starting games before the first of May.

Meanwhile, his innings in spring training can go to others, and Santana's well-traveled arm gets an extra break to open the campaign, potentially keeping him fresh later on.

That's good.

One final thing to note: Santana has a clause in his contract that would have guaranteed his $14 million salary in 2019 if he reached 200 innings this season. That was a possibility Twins decision-makers needed to account for in their planning, and it might've made them more hesitant to commit payroll for next year. Now, as it it will be virtually impossible for Santana to eclipse the 200 mark, Minnesota has a true team option for 2019, when he'll be 36.

That's good.

Of course, as mentioned above, the Twins absolutely do need to add at least one more starter to the mix. And sadly, the dream of Darvish has ended. The most coveted player on the free agent market finally found a home on Saturday, agreeing to terms with the Cubs on a six-year deal worth $125 million plus incentives.

In terms of total money, that sure looks like a figure the Twins could have responsibly beat, leading to some familiar lamentations. But when you zoom out, and look at all that Chicago's contract for Darvish entails, you see an arrangement that is far from team-friendly.

The Cubs are now committed to the righty through 2023. He'll be 37 when the pact expires. Although $21 million in annual salary is lower than most expected but it still becomes a hindrance quickly if he underperforms or battles injury. And those are legitimate apprehensions since Darvish is arguably a bigger long-term health risk than many of his peers.

Darvish's huge pitch counts in Japan were a much-discussed topic when he initially came over to the States. As recently as last season, writers in Texas were noticing his workload – especially the heavy slider usage – and wondering if it was cause for concern.

He was healthy and throwing hard last summer, quieting any serious alarm sirens, but Darvish was pretty clearly wearing down by the time the World Series rolled around. And the fact remains: he hasn't reached 190 innings since 2013.

Darvish reportedly has an opt-out built into his deal after just two years, so if he does outperform his pay in 2018 and 2019, there's not really much upside for his team. He'd go back to the market in pursuit of more money and the Twins would be once again in search of a frontline starter to replace him, at the crux of their winning window.

To be clear, I certainly wouldn't have been disappointed by any means if the Twins gave Darvish the same deal he got from Chicago, because in my mind the upfront benefit outweighs the overall downside. But I can't fault them for refusing to match it – and that's IF he'd have signed here on the very same terms, which... probably not.

For all the consternation we're seeing right now, it's important to keep in mind that Minnesota still has plenty of options left on the table for addressing its rotation. They have money to spend and prospects to dangle in trade talks. They won't get a pitcher as good as Darvish, probably, but they can still find a decisive upgrade who gives them more flexibility.

The combination of Darvish signing and finally setting a high-end market baseline, along with spring camps getting underway this week, should put things into motion quickly. These ought to be an interesting few days ahead before team workouts kick off in Ft. Myers on Wednesday.

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214 Comments

I shouldn't panic over missing Santana because he's not going to be that good? That's part of the good news?

They have no number two, or three, starter right now. When should fans worry?

If Darvish is worth more than 21 million the first two years, do we only count the latter years for judging the deal?
    • Twins33, Riverbrian, TheLeviathan and 6 others like this
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ashburyjohn
Feb 11 2018 03:18 PM

I'm sure the Twins front office will make the best of it, but there is simply nothing good about losing out on the chance to hire the best starting pitcher available, nor about losing several starts this season from a guy you are counting on. All of the "blessing in disguise" kinds of outcomes could happen at the expense of pitchers further down the pecking order.

    • Carole Keller, USAFChief, birdwatcher and 11 others like this
If darvish opts out in 2 years there will be a QO attached to him. He didnt have that this time around. So the Cubs dont loose if he does. They just wont have to pay for the decline years.... genius. And yes the Twins could have beat those numbers and thought they could get a deal. Instead its the Cubs. And there are 2 parts that make this upsetting. 1. We heard all winter how he was their top priority. Then to find the Team was too cheap to be under expected market contract by 20 percent. 2. Darvish still signed a way below market value contract. Based on comps should have been closer to 160 million. And Darvish was the best option by far at our most critical need during our contention window. And we were still to cheap to step up.
    • frightwig, h2oface and SF Twins Fan like this
Won't those meaningless ST innings "that can now go to a young player that actually needs them" just go to some non-roster invitee that we've never heard of?
    • Mike Sixel, Twins33, TheLeviathan and 4 others like this
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diehardtwinsfan
Feb 11 2018 03:28 PM

I actually think the opt out would have been beneficial to us as well. I don't know if I agree with our FO on not allowing for that personally. If he's opting out, that likely means he out performed the contract and just gave us the following years back where the risk is much higher. With a nice stable of arms in AA/AAA, we would likely have a decent replacement in waiting. This gets us through the "wasting the prime of Buxton/Sano" concerns and let's the farm system replace him.

 

Just my two cents. If the opt out was the reason he's not a Twin right now, then I think our FO didn't think it through.

    • USAFChief, Thrylos, frightwig and 8 others like this

 

it should theoretically increase their motivation to add another high-caliber starting pitcher.

That's good.

Exactly what other high-caliber starting pitchers do you see available, because I don't see any.

 

I don't know how Santana missing a big chunk of the season to keep him more well rested for a playoffs we probably won't reach is a good thing. 

 

None of this stuff is good. Nothing we have done in regards to our starting rotation this off season has been good. I'm not sure why you're basically writing a PR puff piece for the Twins when our starting rotation looks like one of the worst in the league even if we do add one of the available arms like Cobb.

    • Mike Sixel, frightwig, Twins33 and 2 others like this
I’m sorry, but I just don’t see any way to view any part of Santana’s injury as a positive. None. Including the 2019 option vesting.

Also, I completely don’t understand any consternation over the opt out. Any.

Who here would’ve been opposed to 2/$42 for Darvish? That’s what you’d have if he opts out, and he’s not doing that unless he’s pitched well enough he’s confident he’ll get more than what’s left. And I don’t see how having him for two good years, and then losing him, is worse than not having him for those two good years in the first place.
    • Thrylos, Blake, Mike Sixel and 12 others like this

Exactly what other high-caliber starting pitchers do you see available, because I don't see any.

I don't know how Santana missing a big chunk of the season to keep him more well rested for a playoffs we probably won't reach is a good thing.

None of this stuff is good. Nothing we have done in regards to our starting rotation this off season has been good. I'm not sure why you're basically writing a PR puff piece for the Twins when our starting rotation looks like one of the worst in the league even if we do add one of the available arms like Cobb.


Yeah, IMO there was exactly one "high caliber" starting pitcher available in FA this year, and he's gone.
I see a few mid caliber pitchers left.
    • frightwig, Riverbrian, Vanimal46 and 1 other like this

 

I actually think the opt out would have been beneficial to us as well. I don't know if I agree with our FO on not allowing for that personally. If he's opting out, that likely means he out performed the contract and just gave us the following years back where the risk is much higher. 

 

Also, I completely don’t understand any consternation over the opt out. Any.

Who here would’ve been opposed to 2/$42 for Darvish? That’s what you’d have if he opts out, and he’s not doing that unless he’s pitched well enough he’s confident he’ll get more than what’s left. And I don’t see how having him for two good years, and then losing him, is worse than not having him for those two good years in the first place.

This is what upsets me so much over the FO's vocal disdain for the opt out. No one opts out of their contract if they just put up some garbage seasons. They opt out of their contract if they pitched spectacularly and they think they can get even more money. Everyone wishes they could get a great pitcher on a short contract with none of the fall off on the tail end, but instead our FO is out there saying how they aren't interested in even offering the opt out. It's one thing if you're trading a bunch of prospects for a guy with an opt out, but in this case we had absolutely nothing to lose in offering it, unless you consider possibly having to shop for a pitcher again in 2 years as a loss.

    • USAFChief, frightwig, Riverbrian and 4 others like this
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Nick Nelson
Feb 11 2018 03:51 PM

 

Also, I completely don’t understand any consternation over the opt out. Any.

Who here would’ve been opposed to 2/$42 for Darvish? That’s what you’d have if he opts out, and he’s not doing that unless he’s pitched well enough he’s confident he’ll get more than what’s left. And I don’t see how having him for two good years, and then losing him, is worse than not having him for those two good years in the first place.

I get why people tend to jump to this seemingly great outcome. But from a strategic standpoint, this kind of arrangement is just a real drag.

 

You can't plan around him opting out, so in practical terms there isn't much benefit to the possibility of a 2 year/$42 million deal. They WOULD, however, have to plan around the reality that if he doesn't opt out, it probably means they're stuck with a declining and not super-effective pitcher consuming ~20% of their payroll for four more years. 

 

You know I'm with you in being put off by extreme risk-aversion, but I don't think this exemplifies that.

 

 

    • HitInAPinch and MN_ExPat like this
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Nick Nelson
Feb 11 2018 03:55 PM

 

Won't those meaningless ST innings "that can now go to a young player that actually needs them" just go to some non-roster invitee that we've never heard of?

What would lead you to believe this? When is the last time the Twins had this much quantity of MLB-ready (or extremely close) pitching prospects?

 

 

If darvish opts out in 2 years there will be a QO attached to him. 

This is a good point I hadn't considered. 

 

As I said in the article, I'd have been fine with signing Darvish to the same deal he got from the Cubs. But it's not at all hard for me to say the downside. 

 

 

They have no number two, or three, starter right now. When should fans worry?

Opening Day? I don't think there have been any signals that the Twins are content to go forward with what they've got now. 

    • luckylager, Danchat, HitInAPinch and 1 other like this

kGNO7neSeurDmB2GegDi_remain%20calm%20all

    • USAFChief, wagwan, Twins33 and 6 others like this
Opening day? Like, if they do nothing between now and the day before opening day, no biggie?

They have also shown no ability to fix the rotation. They didn't last year, and they didn't during the season, and they have not this year.

I also fail to see anything good about losing their second best pitcher for at least five starts....
    • SF Twins Fan and jud6312 like this

They WOULD, however, have to plan around the reality that if he doesn't opt out, it probably means they're stuck with a declining and not super-effective pitcher consuming ~20% of their payroll for four more years.

.

As opposed to being GUARANTEED to be stuck with a declining and not super effective pitcher if there is no opt out?

Again...the only real negative possibility is he exceeds expectations and departs. And I don’t see that as much of a negative.
    • Thrylos, Twins33, Riverbrian and 8 others like this

 

I get why people tend to jump to this seemingly great outcome. But from a strategic standpoint, this kind of arrangement is just a real drag.

 

You can't plan around him opting out, so in practical terms there isn't much benefit to the possibility of a 2 year/$42 million deal. They WOULD, however, have to plan around the reality that if he doesn't opt out, it probably means they're stuck with a declining and not super-effective pitcher consuming ~20% of their payroll for four more years. 

 

You know I'm with you in being put off by extreme risk-aversion, but I don't think this exemplifies that.

What do you really need to plan for? If he pitches great in the first season and starts off the second season well, you start thinking, "well, decent chance he's going to opt out after this season, so lets start planning our options for if he does." If he doesn't pitch great, he's likely still better than any pitcher we have besides Berrios or Santana. Or you can go with option 3 where the Pohlads pocket that ~20% of payroll because its not like we're going to use that extra money to sign Kershaw next offseason, and the FA pitchers outside of him for next season are not impressive.

    • diehardtwinsfan, frightwig, Riverbrian and 1 other like this
Oh boy...
    • HitInAPinch and SF Twins Fan like this
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Nick Nelson
Feb 11 2018 04:07 PM

 

As opposed to being GUARANTEED to be stuck with a declining and not super effective pitcher if there is no opt out?

Again...the only real negative possibility is he exceeds expectations and departs. And I don’t see that as much of a negative.

I'd like to at least have the possibility that he pitches really damn well and plays out the deal he signed. This setup basically eliminates it. 

 

IMO when a guy pushes for a contract like this he's betting against himself, and it doesn't strike me right. We all know he could easily sign a 3/4-year deal worth ~33% more annually and have yet another shot at getting paid afterward. He's looking for a team to take on all his risk, and now the Cubs are doing so. 

    • MN_ExPat likes this

 

I'd like to at least have the possibility that he pitches really damn well and plays out the deal he signed. This setup basically eliminates it. 

 

IMO when a guy pushes for a contract like this he's betting against himself, and it doesn't strike me right. We all know he could easily sign a 3/4-year deal worth ~33% more annually and have yet another shot at getting paid afterward. He's looking for a team to take on all his risk, and now the Cubs are doing so. 

And the rest of us would at least like the possibility of 2 years of a really good pitcher, but not signing him completely eliminates that possibility. And just like always, we aren't using that "saved" money on anything else worthwhile.

    • USAFChief, Twins33, jimmer and 2 others like this
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Hosken Bombo Disco
Feb 11 2018 04:12 PM
Nick, your December article on Darvish was spot on. The Twins whiffed on a huge opportunity to sign him. Thoughts?
    • USAFChief, Vanimal46 and SF Twins Fan like this
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ashburyjohn
Feb 11 2018 04:15 PM

Also, I completely don’t understand any consternation over the opt out. Any.

Suppose the FO has crunched all the numbers on a 5-year contract for an over-30 player, and feels like it barely is acceptable. It includes a risk that the player's performance is bad in year 1, another risk that he's what they hoped for in year 1 but drops off the cliff in year 2, and so on and so forth. Lots of combinations, flips of the coin so to speak, adding up to about the value they are offering.

 

Now, add an opt-out, and suppose 2 years later when the opt-out can be exercised that the player does indeed leave. That means, as we're all agreeing, that the team has done very well for itself and should be pleased with the return on investment so far.

 

However, what has this new information, about 2 more years of performance, done to the computation of risks going forward? Almost certainly, it means that the risk of a sudden decline to worthlessness in year 3 has become reduced greatly, ditto the succeeding years. But the team doesn't get to reap the benefits of these flips of the coin. The player has walked. Those "good" coin flips were part of the original computation.

 

Conversely if the player doesn't walk, the universe of outcomes relating to the remaining risks for years 3-5, respectively, have gone upward from the initial estimates. Because, if he doesn't walk, something bad has happened in years 1-2. All the "bad" coin flips remain on the club's debit sheet.

 

The risk doesn't remain static. It changes as you see the actual outcomes. That's the flaw in the argument.

 

It is the essence of the "heads I win, tails you lose" game, to the player's advantage. I have a hard time believing it's only a small difference in dollars. He can't earn less than $126M now, but if he does well for two years and the market goes nuts in some way (or just normalizes to what he thought he'd get), he could receive a lot more. And it leaves essentially unchanged the odds of the Cubs having to work around dead money, while reducing the positive value they potentially can receive from a mutually guaranteed contract instead. It helps the player, it costs the team. It probably puts the Cubs contract as an actuarial equivalent to, say, what a normal guaranteed $140M contract would bring him - close to what was originally forecast.

    • Nick Nelson, bdodge22, Danchat and 3 others like this
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Nick Nelson
Feb 11 2018 04:25 PM

 

And the rest of us would at least like the possibility of 2 years of a really good pitcher, but not signing him completely eliminates that possibility. And just like always, we aren't using that "saved" money on anything else worthwhile.

I guess my issue here is the idea that Darvish is drastically more likely to "really good pitcher" than anyone else the Twins still have access to. Why are we being so presumptive about what they're doing with their "saved" money? And why are we all treating Darvish like he's a bona fide ace?

 

 

Nick, your December article on Darvish was spot on. The Twins whiffed on a huge opportunity to sign him. Thoughts?

Thanks, and good question. I realize I've swung quite a bit since writing the piece you mentioned.

 

While I was clearly optimistic a month ago, through talking to some people around the team as January progressed, it became fairly clear to me that Darvish wasn't gonna happen. So I'm past the denial and anger stages. And now, seeing the deal he ended up with, it's easier to find acceptance. I get why people disagree, but to me that's an unattractive contract for a team in Minnesota's position.

 

Seems to me they made a solid effort to get him and came up short against a legendary big-market franchise. Doesn't necessarily reflect poorly on the Twins nor doom them. 

    • Blackjack, Hosken Bombo Disco, bcs4 and 1 other like this

 

Opening day? Like, if they do nothing between now and the day before opening day, no biggie?

They have also shown no ability to fix the rotation. They didn't last year, and they didn't during the season, and they have not this year.

I also fail to see anything good about losing their second best pitcher for at least five starts....

Like, if they do nothing between now and just before opening day, that's a very big biggie. Then it would be time to panic.

 

I don't think we've seen a big enough sample size to say they've shown "no ability" to fix the rotation. They stuck with Santana, used Santiago and Mejia (of whom were acquired at the 2016 deadline), plugged Berrios back in a month in the season, and got mixed results from Gibson. Was it a failure that they added nobody to the rotation last season? I wouldn't say so, but they probably should have added one arm as they needed Colon down the stretch. Getting Berrios and Mejia innings last year was more important than giving a mediocre starter a spot (the biggest deals for starters last year was Rich Hill 3/$48M and Ivan Nova 3/$26M).

 

Free agency has been slow as molasses so far, but if the Twins fail to get Cobb/Lynn and don't trade for Archer/Odorizzi, then this has been a failure of a offseason for the rotation - but we definitely have not arrived at that point yet.

The goalposts keep being moved.Every time we go into an offseason, we read people who constantly defended the organization say 'well, if THIS offseason they don't do anything to truly address the rotation as it needs to be, THEN I'll complain'Then the team's lack of doing anything meaningful to address THE major concern we've had for years once again gets defended or even lauded as the right move after all, or as no biggy. And with Santana out for awhile, our rotation is even worse.

 

It gets old.

 

I understand this is a new FO, and it has done some things to help the bullpen as needed, but the rotation is just as much in shambles and nothing has been done, and two days from now, pitchers and catchers report.Maybe we sign a #3 or #4 type to add to our ever growing list of uninspired options. These kind of moves don't get it done.

 

And it's not like I ever thought we'd get Darvish, that's not my point.NOTHING has been done. But then, I'm sure NEXT offseason, they'll really address the rotation.Just wait...

    • TheLeviathan, Hosken Bombo Disco, Vanimal46 and 2 others like this

 

I guess my issue here is the idea that Darvish is drastically more likely to "really good pitcher" than anyone else the Twins still have access to. Why are we being so presumptive about what they're doing with their "saved" money? And why are we all treating Darvish like he's a bona fide ace?

Honest question, who else do the Twins still have access to that has the same ceiling as Darvish?

 

I don't think anyone is treating him like a bona fide ace (or I certainly don't see him that way), but he was the closest to an ace that we're ever likely to sign in free agency. There is no way we're signing someone like Kershaw in FA and we'd have to gut our entire farm system to trade for someone who is already an established, bona fide ace. And we clearly haven't been doing a very good job of developing our own bona fide aces.

 

The presumption with the saved money is based off of history. The Twins are not taking the money saved from the last decade of not signing big FAs so they can throw 300 million at Kershaw next year. They're not stockpiling that money for future signings. They are putting that money back in their pocket and then its gone. There isn't some saved up reserve from all our unimpressive offseason or anything like that. I mean, sure, they can take some of the money they "saved" by not signing Darvish and go sign Cobb or whoever this offseason but I don't consider that a serious win or something that is going to give us a great chance in a wild card game or a playoff series against a real contender. 

 

Edit: I should add, of course not signing a big free agent gives you more flexibility with money down the line, but what big name pitchers are we really going to be in the running for next offseason? David Price? No thanks. Every year we delay going for it, we lose time on our current young, reasonably priced, offensive core. The longer we delay, the more expensive that young core gets. And then some of them are going to go elsewhere and some of them are going to age and decline and at some point if you want to really contend you have to stop worrying about, "well, what about the impact that might have on our payroll in 5 years?" because your window of contention may be long gone by then.

    • Twins33, TheLeviathan, jimmer and 2 others like this

Its over with.The only thing worth discussing is what we are going to do with the assets we have of the players we can still sign or trade for.I was tired of the Darvish posts already, please lets stop - the Cubs have him.What will we do?

    • Danchat, jud6312 and terrydactyls1947 like this

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