Offseason Handbook Greatest Hits: Part 2
THE 2013-14 OFFSEASON
Mauer Makes His Move
Ahh, what a prescient cover design this turned out to be from our guy Brock Beauchamp: Joe Mauer, staring pensively off into the distance with his catcher's mask pulled over his head, symbolically walking off the field as backstop for the last time (well, not quite last, it turns out).
When we published the 2014 Offseason Handbook, it wasn't yet known whether Mauer would change positions in the wake of a serious concussion with lasting effects. When questioned on the topic in our interview with him (Parker wasted no time), Terry Ryan responded with the following:
TD: Are you preparing for a season in which Joe Mauer is catching less and playing the field more in 2014?
TR: Not really. I’m not preparing for anything different than we prepared for last year. That decision’s still coming down to whether or not he wants to catch for sure. The good thing is he’s, I would say he’s 95 percent right now, which is good. That’s a decision that’s going to come down on whether or not he wants to stay back there, and how much he wants to stay back there. But right now I’m preparing for him to be back there.
It wasn't long before Mauer did indeed make the call, smartly recognizing the serious health hazards of remaining behind the plate.
"When I kept gathering information, to be honest with you, it wasn't really even a decision," Mauer told reporters in mid-November. "I kept searching to see if it was going to be OK, if it was going to be safe for me to go back there and catch, and I just wasn't finding that."
Ryan obliged and changed course.
In Comes Kurt
Although he got a big feature image on his respective page in the Free Agent Catchers section, it's safe to say we didn't think a ton of Kurt Suzuki heading into this offseason, dedicating him this entire in-depth scouting report: "Hasn't had an OPS above .700 since 2009."
It was true: Suzuki had settled in comfortably as a light-hitting gamer capable of maybe helping out in a part-time role.
Signed on the cheap ($2.75 million) to fill an unexpected need, Suzuki was a classic bargain-bin find by TR, and one of his finest. Out of nowhere, the veteran catcher emerged as an All-Star in his first year with the Twins, sparking a mid-career renaissance with the bat. He would go on to post an OPS above .700 in four of the next five seasons, and now has become – against all odds – a legitimate slugger for the Braves. Wild stuff.
Here's what we wrote in our free agent profile on Ricky Nolasco, a 31-year-old righty hitting the open market for the first time:
Nolasco has been a decidedly average pitcher over his career. In terms of ERA+, where the stat is equalized and 100 is average, Nolasco has a career ERA+ of 94. His value comes in the form of innings pitched; he throws approximately 202 innings per season. He misses some bats but not a ton, though he is coming off a career-best strikeout rate and he has been stingy when it comes to serving up the long ball. He hasn’t had many injuries lately so a long-term deal isn’t out of the question, but he really is more a No. 3 starter.
Estimated Contract: 4 years, $52 million
The Twins signed Nolasco to a four-year, $49 million deal and boy did he come up well short of that entirely underwhelming forecast.
Nolasco was lousy in his first year (6-12, 5.38 ERA), and threw only 37 innings amidst injury woes in the second. Midway through Year 3, the Twins were ready to wipe their hands clean, trading Nolasco alongside Alex Meyer to the Angels.
Getting Their Phil
Coming off a mediocre season with the Yankees, Phil Hughes was another of the free agent starters we wrote up:
Hughes is sort of the darling among the stat people. Yes, he suffered in Yankee Stadium (.909 OPS, 6.32 ERA in ’12) versus the road (.735 OPS, 3.88 ERA), which may suggest that he would be a different pitcher in, say, spacious Target Field and its fly ball-killing gaps. Plus, he’s so full of youth he knew what “twerking” was long before you Googled it. On one hand he has never been consistent; on the other he has been jerked around by the Yankees his entire career. A change of scenery could get him on the right track.
Estimated Contract: 3 years, $30 million
A change of scenery did just that. Hughes signed with the Twins for three years and $24 million, a deal that looked like a bargain even before he turned in a career year in 2014. The combination of an ill-advised extension and debilitating shoulder issues would turn Hughes' contract from gift to hindrance, and Minnesota will still be paying on the tail end of it in 2019 (about $6.5 million), but this was a tremendous initial signing.
The letter grade assigned to Glen Perkins coming off what'd prove to be his best season. It remains the only time this Report Card score (traditionally on an A-F scale) has ever been awarded.
THE 2014-15 OFFSEASON
When Parker conducted this year's interview with Terry Ryan for the Handbook, Ron Gardenhire had been dismissed but his replacement hadn't yet been hired. I found this portion of the Q&A session, regarding the lines of questioning with candidates for the gig, quite interesting in retrospect:
PH: Do you ask them if they use defensive shifts?
PH: Is that an emphasis on the next manager?
TR: Defensive shifts?
PH: Defensive shifts. Strategy.
TR: It’s a piece. Strategy is more important than some. Yeah, that would be important. The most important thing out of many managerial interviews is how they handle the pitching staff.
As it turns out, the guy Ryan selected – Paul Molitor – was big on shifts and strategy, but perpetually questionable in his handling of the pitching staff.
The Twins entered this offseason with a pretty clear need for a starting corner outfielder. Torii Hunter was among the options we highlighted:
Still producing at age 39, Hunter has become something of an ageless wonder. He took a bit of a step back in 2014 after back-to-back seasons with an 800-plus OPS, but still batted .286/.319/.446 with 17 homers and 83 RBI. His numbers over the years have been extremely consistent but his defensive skills have diminished, even in the corners. The Twins might like the idea of a familiar veteran joining their young outfield group, but would Hunter be interested in joining a non-contender?
Estimated Contract: 1 year, $8 million
Hunter was indeed interested, inking a one-year deal worth $10.5 million. And with his help, the Twins returned to (fringe) contender status, broaching the .500 mark for the first time in five years. But while he was credited with making a big clubhouse impact, Hunter's production took another step backward as he finished with a .702 OPS, lowest since he was an overmatched rookie in Minnesota 17 years earlier. After the season, Hunter hung up his cleats.
Swervin' Toward Ervin
In the two preceding offseasons, our Handbooks had identified Ervin Santana as a logical free agent target, but in both cases he signed one-year deals elsewhere (Kansas City, then Atlanta). This time around, as if by fate, the two sides finally met with Erv signing a four-year, $55 million contract that was very close to what we projected in sizing him up:
After that abysmal season in 2012 with the Angels, Santana has posted two quality seasons with the Royals and Braves on one-year deals. This past year in Atlanta, he reduced the number of long balls allowed and used his deadly slider more effectively against an unsuspecting group of National Leaguers. He also pitched inside with his fastball more, helping to lower his home run totals -- allowing just six dingers on his heater after averaging 18 a year the past three seasons. The Braves will likely submit a qualifying offer of $15.3 million which, odds are, he will turn down to seek a multi-year deal after the one year with the Braves. Nobody wants to part with draft pool money -- especially a rebuilding franchise -- but Santana could provide solid pitching depth.
Estimated Contract: 4 years, $50 million
Recipient of the most lucrative free agent investment in franchise history, Santana's anticipated debut with the Twins would ultimately be delayed by an 80-game PED suspension. But he pitched well in the second half of 2015 and then performed like a frontline starter over the next two seasons with a 3.32 ERA over nearly 400 innings. His 2018 was a complete loss, but when Santana was actually healthy and on the mound, he was arguably the best starting pitcher Minnesota's had since the last guy to sport the same name on his jersey.
(The story of this Twins offseason has yet to be written, but you'll be ready to expertly follow along with the 2019 Offseason Handbook. Order your copy of this digital product now!)