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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

 

"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.

His FIP was up a half run as was his xFIP. His Ks were slightly down and his BABIP was very low while his LOB% was very high.Yeah, lucky, but part of that luck was due to the quality D behind him.

    • SF Twins Fan likes this
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tarheeltwinsfan
Feb 11 2018 07:51 PM

 

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.

Where is Chris Giminez when we need him?

Thanks for a great article, Nick.

 

Hopefully, you can have a beer and go to bed to rest your head.It has to be a bit sore right now from all the pounding you have taken.  

 

No one will know, but there is a good chance the Twins were always the pawn Darvish's agent was using to drive up other offers.Had no one moved, he may have come here but along with Milwaukee...was probably his last choices.

 

And the Twins have something they didn't have a year ago.They have Trevor May coming back in May.So with Santana, they could/should have two quality starters added to the rotation six to eight weeks into the season.   

 

There are also several ok prospects who got a bit of experience last year...Jorge, Slegers and Enns.Who knows, maybe one of that trio will shock the hell out of us and EARN that 5th spot out of ST.Personally, would love to see it.

    • Nick Nelson, Riverbrian, tarheeltwinsfan and 1 other like this

 

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

 

Can he pitch?

    • tarheeltwinsfan likes this
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RaymondLuxuryYacht
Feb 11 2018 08:10 PM

Oh the humanity!!!

    • Carole Keller and Riverbrian like this
The Twins could have frontloaded the contract a little. Say 25 million the first 2 years and year 3 and 4 at 21 and 5 at 18 with 6 at 16. With opt out after 2 years.

If he opts out, he was worth 25 million. We get a draft pick with QO and someone else gets risk of decline years. This is most likely scenario.

He doesn't opt out, he won't be as big a drag the end years because we front loaded the contract.

How much spread is there between Darvish opting out and not opting out that we risk losing?

I thought this FO was statistically inclined to optimal options. Also how are we afraid to go 6 years and be afraid he may be good for 6 years so we won't include an opt out?
    • Twins33, Oxtung and SF Twins Fan like this
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TheLeviathan
Feb 11 2018 08:17 PM

"Don't worry about the ship sinking, I hear the life rafts stay afloat for at least ten minutes!"

    • Twins33, Sconnie and SF Twins Fan like this
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Carole Keller
Feb 11 2018 08:20 PM

"Don't worry about the ship sinking, I hear the life rafts stay afloat for at least ten minutes!"


But are there enough of them?
    • Riverbrian, Sconnie and SF Twins Fan like this

 

"Don't worry about the ship sinking, I hear the life rafts stay afloat for at least ten minutes!"

maybe there will be a nice sturdy wooden board to float on.

    • Mike Sixel, Riverbrian, TheLeviathan and 2 others like this
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TheLeviathan
Feb 11 2018 08:25 PM

 

But are there enough of them?

 

Of course!

 

Until there isn't.

 

Then we can talk about how death by shark isn't as bad as you've heard.There's always another way to spin things!

    • Carole Keller, Twins33, Riverbrian and 2 others like this

But are there enough of them?

. Next year, don't worry
    • Carole Keller, Sconnie, SF Twins Fan and 3 others like this

 

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.

The end result is you have Jordan Zimmerman rather than Sherrzer.If the player does not take the opt out it means they have busted. Hence a team is worse off with a player with an opt out. You have 2 years of a great player or a bust. A situation like Cueto could also arise. One good year and then a very questionable one

 

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.

980x.gif

 

 

 

    • Carole Keller, ashburyjohn, tvagle and 1 other like this
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Carole Keller
Feb 11 2018 08:33 PM

. Next year, don't worry


Yeah, I’m rowing off and leaving you to deal with that.
    • Mike Sixel, Oldgoat_MN and SF Twins Fan like this
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Carole Keller
Feb 11 2018 08:34 PM

Of course!
 
Until there isn't.
 
Then we can talk about how death by shark isn't as bad as you've heard.There's always another way to spin things!


Well, better than polar bear or alligator.
    • Riverbrian and Hosken Bombo Disco like this
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Nick Nelson
Feb 11 2018 08:35 PM

 

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??

Ah, I thought you were referencing a different article. My bad.

 

Who's to say the Twins didn't attempt to sign Gimenez or include an opt-out? We don't know what they offered, only that they did make an offer. I'm not going to deal in hypotheticals for the sake of lament and self-pity. They didn't get him. Being beat out by the Cubs is not incriminating, it happens. Time to move on.

 

Contrary to all the grumbling on this thread, there are other upgrades still available. Arrieta or Cobb or Lynn, on the right terms, could easily be a better fit than Darvish at 6 years. Tons of trade candidates out there.

 

Nowhere did I say anything was "fine," despite your choice to put it in quotes. These are bad things that happened, as was clearly acknowledged (in the title!), and I'm just looking for silver linings to take forward. I don't see any value in brooding over presumptions about what played out or what's going to play out. 

The end result is you have Jordan Zimmerman rather than Sherrzer. If the player does not take the opt out it means they have busted. Hence a team is worse off with a player with an opt out. You have 2 years of a great player or a bust. A situation like Cueto could also arise. One good year and then a very questionable one


Isn't that true if there is no opt out?

I will try to explain what I think chief is saying.

People don't want old players
If you give an opt out...
If he's good, he opts out, and you don't have an old player
If he's bad, he stays

If you don't give an opt out
If he's good or bad, you have him when he's old.

If you fear old players, an opt out should be viewed positively, especially if offering one reduces the salary...
    • USAFChief, diehardtwinsfan, Twins33 and 4 others like this
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TheLeviathan
Feb 11 2018 08:41 PM

You know what might help alleviate some of the brooding and pessimism?  

 

If we weren't trying to force feed optimism and understanding into this.If we just accepted, even for a day, that this sucks.No one pretending it's fine.No one making excuses.We all just accept it stinks.

 

Then move forward with what's next. 

 

It's like watching your house start on fire and turning to your spouse to talk about how nice the fire makes your landscaping look. 

    • Mike Sixel, Twins33, Sconnie and 5 others like this
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Hosken Bombo Disco
Feb 11 2018 08:57 PM

Ah, I thought you were referencing a different article. My bad.

you have so many good articles keeping this site going, easy to understand how you might get them confused :)

True, we don't know the details. Maybe the Twins were warming to an opt-out but were slow to the draw. Who knows. The Twins really did hype the possibility of Darvish signing here, and it's been the topic of discussion all winter, so I don't think it's a big thing to spend 24-48 hours blowing off steam now that it's over. The Twins could still make something of this offseason. We'll see.
    • Riverbrian likes this
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Nick Nelson
Feb 11 2018 09:03 PM

 

People don't want old players
If you give an opt out...
If he's good, he opts out, and you don't have an old player
If he's bad, he stays

If you don't give an opt out
If he's good or bad, you have him when he's old.

If you fear old players, an opt out should be viewed positively, especially if offering one reduces the salary...

It's not that people don't want old players. They don't want old bad players. That's more or less the only one the Twins could end up with in 2020-2023 under these terms.

 

The likelihood of Darvish becoming an old bad player is more palatable to a team like the Cubs, who won't be restricted by his salary in the same way as the Twins will – at a time where they're trying to retain their emerging core players, many of them (hopefully) established stars by then knocking on free agency's doors. 

 

If you truly believe in Darvish, then yeah you take that risk. Maybe the Twins tried it and still got reneged. Who knows. Levine saying in December that he prefers not to engage in opt-out discussions is not the same as him ruling it out. 

It's not that people don't want old players. They don't want old bad players. That's more or less the only one the Twins could end up with in 2020-2023 under these terms.

The likelihood of Darvish becoming an old bad player is more palatable to a team like the Cubs, who won't be restricted by his salary in the same way as the Twins will – at a time where they're trying to retain their emerging core players, many of them (hopefully) established stars by then knocking on free agency's doors.

If you truly believe in Darvish, then yeah you take that risk. Maybe the Twins tried it and still got reneged. Who knows. Levine saying in December that he prefers not to engage in opt-out discussions is not the same as him ruling it out.

All those people are saying pitchers will decline. If now they won't be bad, then why not sign them? You can't say don't sign pitchers to long term deals because they will be bad for sure at the end, then say they only don't want bad players. Are you now seeing it isn't inevitable he declines?

Ah, I thought you were referencing a different article. My bad.

Who's to say the Twins didn't attempt to sign Gimenez or include an opt-out? We don't know what they offered, only that they did make an offer. I'm not going to deal in hypotheticals for the sake of lament and self-pity. They didn't get him. Being beat out by the Cubs is not incriminating, it happens. Time to move on.

Contrary to all the grumbling on this thread, there are other upgrades still available. Arrieta or Cobb or Lynn, on the right terms, could easily be a better fit than Darvish at 6 years. Tons of trade candidates out there.

Nowhere did I say anything was "fine," despite your choice to put it in quotes. These are bad things that happened, as was clearly acknowledged (in the title!), and I'm just looking for silver linings to take forward. I don't see any value in brooding over presumptions about what played out or what's going to play out.


Falvine wanted Gimenez and couldn't get THAT done?

Even I don't think they're that incompetent.
    • nicksaviking, Riverbrian and spycake like this
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ashburyjohn
Feb 11 2018 09:44 PM

especially if offering one reduces the salary...

It reduces the salary, while at the same time reducing the upside of the contract. I thought we weren't trying to win the War-per-dollar Pennant.

Panic is the wrong word. Disappointing and hoodwinked are the words.

The Pohlads told us that the new stadium would bring us into the 'big world' of contending, major free agency signings etc. 

But nope, the city gets put on the hook for a ton of money they will never see again>

We were told that Falvine and co would change things, it's a whole new Twins front office and a brand new day!

Over 365 days in and I don't see any real 'move' that makes them a whole lot different then the last regime.

Reed and Castro are ok signings, other than that it's been a pretty big bag of 'meh'

It reduces the salary, while at the same time reducing the upside of the contract. I thought we weren't trying to win the War-per-dollar Pennant.


I'd rather have the long term deal. Many here fear old pitchers. I'd think they would like opt out. I would have offered 6 150. And let Mauer walk next year.

Plus, I was explaining chief's point, I think.

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