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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

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.


And if he does well, the Twins are off the hook for the risk of years 3-6.

Which, BTW, is many people’s big hang up in the first place.

And they could still resign him, even if he does opt out.
    • Twins33, Riverbrian, TheLeviathan and 1 other like this

 

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 can't see where it would be much of a positive if he did not opt out for under performing the contract.

The Twins being willing to take on the last year of Span's contract would give them a leg up on other trading partners interested in either Archer or Odorizzi and also lower the cost to the Twins to acquire either one in terms of players.

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ashburyjohn
Feb 11 2018 05:01 PM

And if he does well, the Twins are off the hook for the risk of years 3-6.

Which, BTW, is many people’s big hang up in the first place.

And they could still resign him, even if he does opt out.

You're looking at the favorable coin flips only.

The Twins being willing to take on the last year of Span's contract would give them a leg up on other trading partners interested in either Archer or Odorizzi and also lower the cost to the Twins to acquire either one in terms of players.


I'm betting anyone willing to trade for Archer will take span's money. I'm betting most teams don't like the other guy all that much.
    • jud6312 and tvagle like this

 

I can't see where it would be much of a positive if he did not opt out for under performing the contract.

If he pitches poorly, the end result is the exact same regardless of if there is an opt out or not. The opt out really only comes into play if he pitches well for 2 years. Maybe I'm misunderstanding Chief, but i think a big part of the issue is that we weren't even willing to offer it.

    • diehardtwinsfan likes this

I can't see where it would be much of a positive if he did not opt out for under performing the contract.

Again...in that case you’re in the EXACT SAME POSITION as if there was no opt out clause. Paying for years 3-6.

Actually, you’re most likely in a BETTER position, since you probably paid less for a contract with an opt out.
    • Twins33 likes this

You're looking at the favorable coin flips only.


Sorry Ash, I disagree. Strongly.

You’re ignoring the negatives of not signing him at all, and strongly overrating the guaranteed years 3-6 that nobody really wants anyway.

Not one person would be opposed to $2/42. But if it’s that because he DID TOO WELL.. now it’s a bad deal?
    • diehardtwinsfan, Twins33, TheLeviathan and 3 others like this
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KirbyDome89
Feb 11 2018 05:17 PM

 

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.

I understand there is a cost for missed opportunity if years 3-5 may have been better than expected, but I think the risk of decline in those years weights heavily as well. The slope of the decline curve isn't necessarily constant. Lets say years 1 and 2 are great, then he walks and has another good season in year 3. There is nothing to suggest his performance can't drop precipitously, especially at a position as volatile as pitcher.

 

I agree that the risk of negative performance hurting the team is the same in either scenario. Poor performance with an opt out guarantees the player stays and a contract without an option does the same. 

 

You're right, the risk is never static, but that works both ways. Really all we can work with is data that says performance dips as players age, when and how rapidly the dip occurs is anybody's guess. 

 

I wouldn't go as far as calling it "heads I win, tails you lose." If that player walks the team has received value beyond what they paid for. In the game of FA you can't ask for better. I wouldn't call that a loss. There is potential to lose out on future performance, but I think getting out from underneath the risk of decline, especially considering Darvish's will be in his late 30s, is at worst a fair trade off. From the player's perspective I would call it "we each win, but me a little more so." 

    • USAFChief likes 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.

Well, if he doesn't opt-out, then they're on the hook for the terms they agreed to this off-season.

In regards to Darvish I think he will produce positive contributions to his team later in his career either in the rotation or bullpen.

If we're talking about bad contracts in general, most every team can afford 1-2 on a team. Is Hughes' relatively dead money hindering the Twins from going after Darvish types in FA?
    • SF Twins Fan likes 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?


This post seems contradictory to the following, which you wrote in your previous article:

"Darvish would be an awesome fit on the Twins and would lift them to serious championship contender status almost instantly."

What FA pitchers remaining do you think lift the Twins to serious championship contenders immediately?
    • USAFChief, TheLeviathan, Hosken Bombo Disco and 2 others like this
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twinssporto
Feb 11 2018 05:26 PM

This is something to consider:  The Twins have been very quiet on the topic of not signing Darvish.  I have looked at numerous web sites, Startrib, Pioneer Press, ESPN, etc...very few comments from the Twins FO.  Has anyone seen a quote or post from the Twins FO?  

 

My guess is there is a lot going on right now.  I'm not thrilled with their plan B or C but something is cooking in a big way.

 

If the FO doesn't do anything the pitch forks will be coming out of the hay stacks (to quote River Brian in another post)...

 

You heard it here first. Trust me. 

 

I'm a Twins fan!

    • Hosken Bombo Disco and MN_ExPat like this
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terrydactyls1947
Feb 11 2018 05:31 PM

The Twins missed out on Darvish:maybe 18 wins at $22M.What if they sign both Cobb and Lynn:maybe 28 wins at $26M???

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KirbyDome89
Feb 11 2018 05:39 PM

 

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. 

What player, when he hits FA for the first time (or any time,) doesn't push for the longest and/or most lucrative contract he can get? I don't think Darvish wanting the security of a long term contract is in any way unique to him, or an indictment on how he views himself going forward. I don't see that as betting against himself. 

 

If the option is the bet you're talking about I would argue he's in fact gambling on himself. If he performs at or above market value he has the opportunity to strike another big deal. 

 

 

The Twins missed out on Darvish: maybe 18 wins at $22M. What if they sign both Cobb and Lynn: maybe 28 wins at $26M???


I'm not sure that's a great way to evaluate their impact. They aren't replacing guys who would have won 0 games.
It's better to try to analyze how much each player gains you over who they would have replaced.
    • Sconnie and Vanimal46 like this

 

I'm not sure that's a great way to evaluate their impact. They aren't replacing guys who would have won 0 games.
It's better to try to analyze how much each player gains you over who they would have replaced.

Not to mention there is no way they sign both.

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ashburyjohn
Feb 11 2018 05:53 PM

Not one person would be opposed to $2/42. But if it’s that because he DID TOO WELL.. now it’s a bad deal?

It is not only a GOOD deal, it's probably the DESIRABLE outcome. I don't discount the value of buying yourself a chance at that.

 

But it is only one (or a conglomeration of several) among the many possibilities, and it represents a multi-stage optimization under uncertainty. I'm repeating myself now, so I'll bow out of this tangent.

Santanna's injury is not good but its at right end of the season and when the Twins need 5 pitchers the least with only couple of dates for the 5 pitcher. Second I think if I remember right Santanna hasn't pitched in colder weather of beginning of the season. This also will let them give some younger pitchers a chance to perform to see what they have if they need to go into minor leagues.

The missing out on Darvish looks like a miss but I truly believe going past 5 years on 31 year old pitcher is just huge mistake. We already can see what happens to pitcher in very short period of time look at Phil Hughes basically same age as Darvish resigned at 29 years of age for 4 more years see what happened. If you had pitcher with Phil Hughes numbers available at age 29 to be locked up people would be hollering at management to get him signed up for the future. Now look at the reaction and public signing of Phil Hughes now. I think it would be better if teams would pay just higher amounts on short term deals when they are in their windowof opportunity. Like paying him close to 30 million plus incentives with creative options both ways for the player and team. Say you have 3 year contract at 30 million with extra incentives to push it to 100 million or little more with opt out after 2 years for the player and option after 3 year for the team to keep the player. Also you add real incentives for getting to world series and then again for winning the world series. Because basically if you look at most of top line pitchers recently in the world Series it has been on rental basis for their services. If you feel your in your window pay high price in that window and doesn't tie up payroll commitments for ever and block path for young pitchers coming up through the system.

The Twins should maybe look at now signing couple of pitchers in level of 3 to number 4 pitchers with idea they hope to hit on one them and other may have to be let go or see if they can clear waivers to minors if they don't pan out. The way the market is shaping up now they could sign them for less money than Darvish would have cost on per year basis and likely could sign them to one year deal with option. I think this what LA has been doing lately just piling up pitching talent. If pitchers are not performing they just rotate until they find who is performing.

But getting back to this management group its still not a lot different than previous management group because they are still working under same business model by ownership and business side of the Twins. They have spent a lot more money on analytics which has had some improvement on who's playing and where they are playing and how they are drafting talent. Terry Ryan wanted to expand scouting department and basically this new management group has done this but with analytical people where Terry wanted more people in the field. We will see if this way of scouting improves quality of players being acquired but this won't be know for at least another 5 years. The adding of Free agents under the Twins ownership philosophy will never will be where the Twins are leaders in signing FA in MLB. They will always will be well run business where they are returning a profit and will be enjoyable place to come watch baseball and every so often they may have chance to win championship if cards fall their way. They will be a team on average just a bit over mid point of major league clubs in long run.

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tarheeltwinsfan
Feb 11 2018 06:07 PM

Can we please attempt to trade for Realmuto!Then we would be solid up the middle. 

    • sftwinsfan and tvagle like this

Santanna's injury is not good but its at right end of the season and when the Twins need 5 pitchers the least with only couple of dates for the 5 pitcher.


Twins play 9 straight days after their first series, then go to Puerto Rico, then 19 straight days into May. Not much opportunity to skip the 5th spot.
    • USAFChief, Twins33, Sconnie and 1 other like this

Twins play 9 straight days after their first series, then go to Puerto Rico, then 19 straight days into May. Not much opportunity to skip the 5th spot.


Skipping the 5th starter is pretty much a thing of the past anyway.
    • Twins33 likes this

 

The Twins being willing to take on the last year of Span's contract would give them a leg up on other trading partners interested in either Archer or Odorizzi and also lower the cost to the Twins to acquire either one in terms of players.

If taking on Span's contract is the piece that gets it done to get Archer, fine.

 

If it's a requirement (along with trading Kepler) to land Odorizzi, no chance.

    • Twins33, Sconnie, SF Twins Fan and 1 other like this
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Deduno Abides
Feb 11 2018 07:32 PM
The biggest silver linings are that the returning team should be better than last year, the bullpen should be much better and the rotation is no worse than it was a week ago. The biggest weakness is potentially having too much hope resting on a 35 year-old starter who just stayed really healthy and outperformed his peripherals. The law of averages suggests that one or both of those factors weren’t going to be as good this year.

I truly know little about the flock of AA and AAA starters from last year, other than their stats and ratings, which are relatively optimistic. Assumedly, management has seen a lot more of them than I have and has a more fully-formed assessment. Also, the music is about to stop in free agency musical chairs, and a decent starter may be left without a seat. The Twins also have some trade chips, more than they have in the past (Zach Granite to the A’s for Jharel Cotton?). Something good could come from one of these buckets.

The Astros didn’t acquire an expensive starter until the end of August last year. (BTW, Darvish is good, but he’s not as good as Verlander or Kuechel.) Let’s see how things play out.
    • Nick Nelson and MN_ExPat like this
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Hosken Bombo Disco
Feb 11 2018 07:39 PM

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?
 
 

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.

No, but nice try :)

In December you wrote the Twins must get creative to lure Darvish. How so? By being open minded to an opt out provision, and even sillier, suggesting that the Twins should consider signing Chris Gimenez too. (The very things the Cubs did.) You concluded the article by projecting Darvish to sign at 5 years, 135 million.

So it really stretches the imagination that Twins Daily, or you, or whoever, is "fine" with Darvish signing elsewhere for 6 years and 126 million. That's right, more years, less money. Not a peep of protest or regret from anyone in there??
    • USAFChief, diehardtwinsfan, Twins33 and 6 others like this

"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."

So he was really lucky last year?His ERA, WHIP and SO/BB were almost identical in 2016.Was that lucky? He keeps himself in really good shape, has great control and apparently is using his slider, which is one of the best in baseball more effectively. You and PECOTA might be right. I put it at about the same odds as you and PECOTA being wrong.


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