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  • These Ain't Your Old Twins

    Answering the same question over and over again had to be growing tiresome for Twins officials.

    Because baseball fans in general are becoming increasingly analytical in the way they watch the game (this site serves as a great example), and because the organization has earned a reputation for taking a more traditional, scouting-based approach, seemingly every interview with an exec or front office member has included some query on the Twins' progress in the area of statistical analysis.

    This placed Terry Ryan, or Rob Antony, or Jack Goin, or whoever, in the tough position of needing to reveal enough about their internal process to satisfy skeptics while withholding enough so as not to give away any kind of competitive advantage.

    The refrain has always been the same: We do have a statistics department, they do have influence and we are not as behind the times as everyone seems to think.

    Yet, while that all sounds nice, it's been hard to buy into because the actions simply have not matched the words. With a pitching staff that was already drastically out of line with the league-wide proliferation of high-strikeout arms, the Twins last year signed two more contact-heavy hurlers whose peripheral numbers suggested little upside.

    This year has been a much different story. Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes aren't superstars, but they are certainly the type of pitchers that a club leaning on deeper statistics might be expected to target.

    Nolasco's career 4.37 ERA isn't too impressive, but for many years he has been a darling of the sabermetric community because of his consistently strong fielding independent marks. In all but one of the past six seasons, his xFIP has been lower than 3.70, thanks in large part to his outstanding K/BB ratios.

    The superior secondary numbers haven't frequently translated into top-tier performance, but if you're going to take a chance and make a large investment in a guy, he's a sound choice based on the underlying indicators.

    The same can be said for Hughes. He's got his obvious warts -- he's exceeded 150 innings in a season only once, he has been extremely homer-prone and he's coming off a 5.19 ERA -- but there's plenty to like about this signing.

    As a fly ball pitcher, Hughes was miscast in Yankee Stadium, where pop-ups seem to sometimes find the seats. This was reflected by a 1-10 record and 6.32 ERA in the home yard this past season.

    Pitching in spacious Target Field should alleviate some of the righty's gopher ball issues while hopefully allowing his strengths to manifest. A former first-round draft pick and top prospect, Hughes throws in the mid-90s and is capable of missing bats, albeit not at a spectacular rate. Much like Nolasco, his secondary numbers are the most appealing thing about him.

    These signings weren't about simply getting guys who can go out and throw 180 innings, as we've seen too often in the past. These were about bringing in established arms with real, meaningful upside.

    That's precisely what needs to be done at this point. I've been as disenchanted with the front office as anyone over the past couple years, but this past week has really restored a lot of my faith. I like the aggressiveness, I like the approach, I like the decisions.

    Are these moves guaranteed to work out? Of course not. But if they don't, the Twins can say they tried and based their investments on good science. And they've still got lots of offseason left to continue demonstrating their seriousness.

    If Ryan is walking with a bit of a strut when he shows up at the Winter Meetings in Orlando next week, he'll have earned the right.
    This article was originally published in blog: These Ain't Your Old Twins started by Nick Nelson
    Comments 64 Comments
    1. USAFChief's Avatar
      USAFChief -
      Quote Originally Posted by Major Leauge Ready View Post
      Thank you for this last series of posts. I just don't have the energy to explain these things over and over. I do it for a living so it is not fun to do it here. Fans think in terms of now and there desire to have stars on their teams. You would think the situation with players like A-Rod, Pujlos, Hamilton, Teixeria, Howard, and many free agent SPs who have been train wrecks would slow this roll. The top market teams can afford to have several of them fail and have the Twins budget left over. You would think what the As and Rays have done would leave an impression as to the best practices for a mid market team but fans want big names. Just look how often fans want us to sign guys because they used to be good. And, somehow people understand the cost associated with long-term contracts is that the player likely will significantly underperform the contract in the final years. Yet, the reality that the cost of adding a few wins now while there is no hope of contending will be the inability to pay for additional talent when it will count is somehow lost.

      GMs and others who have P&L responsibility have an entirely different way of viewing these things. It is a relatively rare skill set but I am saying nothing you don't already know.

      Thanks for participating.
      You explain things over and over for a living?
    1. johnnydakota's Avatar
      johnnydakota -
      Quote Originally Posted by Brock Beauchamp View Post
      What happens if they need a 30 year old version of Garza in 2016 but have already committed $16m to a 33 year old version of that player?

      Good free agents are available every offseason. There's no reason to stack the deck with 30 year olds in 2013, players that will be 33-34 year olds in 2016 when the bulk of the Twins' young players should be coming into their own.

      I think too many fans have knee-jerk reactions to signings and don't stop to think of the repercussions of fielding an 85 win team in the here and now instead of considering the potential to have $20m on hand in 2-4 years to push the team into 100 win territory as the farm matures into a solid MLB core.
      Then why not use some of that money to improve the team now on 1 or 2 year contracts? Couldnt we improve the team by adding solid defense at 3b,even if it was only a part time player, couldnt we add an outfielder or catcher on a short contract, or maybe stacking our roster with a couple more relievers?

      These players would use the money this year , but come off the books in time to use when we expect to compete , or sooner if we flip them mid season as trading chips for prospects?
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      Quote Originally Posted by johnnydakota View Post
      Then why not use some of that money to improve the team now on 1 or 2 year contracts? Couldnt we improve the team by adding solid defense at 3b,even if it was only a part time player, couldnt we add an outfielder or catcher on a short contract, or maybe stacking our roster with a couple more relievers?

      These players would use the money this year , but come off the books in time to use when we expect to compete , or sooner if we flip them mid season as trading chips for prospects?
      Absolutely. I'm not giving Ryan a pass for last offseason. I hated it as much as anybody.

      So far, he's done pretty well this offseason but I hope he's not done. I'd like to see them try to move a bullpen arm or two and clear room for Diamond/Worley/Deduno/Hendriks, pick up a veteran catcher, and explore another option at third base.
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      Quote Originally Posted by goulik View Post
      I agree with the idea of giving the franchise the ability to adapt to new situations as they arise. I agree that we need to keep the budget flexible so that we can add free agents down the road. 30 million to Nolasco/Garza + Joe Mauer = 53 Million. The rest of the expensive players will be off the roster leaving you with 11-15 million tied to low salary young players at 500k salaries and 50-60 million for those other free agents you want to sign. I don't see the concern.
      I can guarantee you that in the next 2-3 seasons, the Twins are going to need to fill holes with players... And I don't know about you, but I've seen enough Mike Pelfreys, Ramon Ortizes, and Jason Marquis to fill a lifetime.

      When the time comes to start putting the finishing touches on the roster around Buxton and Sano, I want Ryan to have a free agency floor of Josh Willingham and a ceiling of... Well, no ceiling.

      It's not reasonable to expect every youngster to develop. A couple are going to fail... And you're going to want at least $6-10m at each position to fill it with a competent player. No more of this $1m "fill the hole with a player who has no business being on a MLB roster" crap.

      And that takes money. Again, I just don't understand the rush. The Twins are not going to be legitimate contenders without the farm and the farm ain't ready yet. That doesn't mean Ryan should have sat on his hands like he did last offseason but it also doesn't mean he should go out and spend money like Rob Ford at a Hookers & Blow convention just because he has money.
    1. 70charger's Avatar
      70charger -
      Quote Originally Posted by USAFChief View Post
      You explain things over and over for a living?
      Must be a teacher.

      Right?
    1. Willihammer's Avatar
      Willihammer -
      Quote Originally Posted by Major Leauge Ready View Post
      Fans think in terms of now and there desire to have stars on their teams. You would think the situation with players like A-Rod, Pujlos, Hamilton, Teixeria, Howard, and many free agent SPs who have been train wrecks would slow this roll.
      Not only is this a cherry picked group of FAs but I don't think these players have been as bad as you think.

      Arod? 21.5 WARs since 2008.

      Pujols? 6.4 in 2 years.

      Teixeira? 16.3 in 5.

      And for every one of these less than stellar values, I can point to a Manny Ramirez, CC Sabathia, CJ Wilson, Adrian Beltre who are workring out splendidly.
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      Quote Originally Posted by Willihammer View Post
      Arod? 21.5 WARs since 2008.

      Pujols? 6.4 in 2 years.

      Teixeira? 16.3 in 5.

      And for every one of these less than stellar values, I can point to a Manny Ramirez, CC Sabathia, CJ Wilson, Adrian Beltre who are workring out splendidly.
      Past two seasons, WAR and money earned:

      A-Rod: 2.6 WAR, $57m (!)

      Teixeira: 3.7 WAR, $45m

      Pujols is still early in the contract but has scuffled badly by his standards, which does not bode well for the second half of the contract.

      No one is arguing that these players were bad signings in the first 2-3 years of their deals. What kills you is the second half of the contract, as illustrated by A-Rod and Teixeira's dollars per win value, which is atrocious.

      Beltre still has two years left on his deal while Wilson has three left. Hey, they may provide good value all the way through their contracts... But they probably won't.

      CC Sabathia is a rubber-armed freak. I wouldn't use him as a baseline for anything... I thought the chubby bastard would have broken down already but he's still chugging along, throwing solid season after solid season.
    1. thetank's Avatar
      thetank -
      Quote Originally Posted by johnnydakota View Post
      Then why not use some of that money to improve the team now on 1 or 2 year contracts? Couldnt we improve the team by adding solid defense at 3b,even if it was only a part time player, couldnt we add an outfielder or catcher on a short contract, or maybe stacking our roster with a couple more relievers?

      These players would use the money this year , but come off the books in time to use when we expect to compete , or sooner if we flip them mid season as trading chips for prospects?
      There has been some years where there haven't been any good FA contracts that were longer than one year. If Nolasco and Hughes do poorly in 2014 and 2015 this could be a long spell of 90 loss seasons. The offense needs to score 100 more runs and the pitching needs to give up 100 less runs to get to 85 wins. That is likely a couple of years away on the offense side.
    1. Willihammer's Avatar
      Willihammer -
      Quote Originally Posted by Brock Beauchamp View Post
      No one is arguing that these players were bad signings in the first 2-3 years of their deals. What kills you is the second half of the contract, as illustrated by A-Rod and Teixeira's dollars per win value, which is atrocious.
      We could go round and round. The bottom line is, you need superstars to win championships. Superstars don't sign 2-3 year contracts. The Twins might have a couple coming up the pipeline, they might not. What's far more certain IMO is that Tanaka, Garza, Santana, or Cano will be a superstar or something very close to one next season. Whereas Buxton could just as easily be the next Colby Lewis - good, but not quite the guy we were hoping for. And Sano could be the next Pedro Alvarez. Then there will have been no point giving 80% in 2014-2015, especially if the Twins wind up finishing 4-5 games out of a wildcard spot.
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      Quote Originally Posted by Willihammer View Post
      We could go round and round. The bottom line is, you need superstars to win championships. Superstars don't sign 2-3 year contracts. The Twins might have a couple coming up the pipeline, they might not. What's far more certain IMO is that Tanaka, Garza, Santana, or Cano will be a superstar or something very close to one next season. Whereas Buxton could just as easily be the next Colby Lewis - good, but not quite the guy we were hoping for. And Sano could be the next Pedro Alvarez. Then there will have been no point giving 80% in 2014-2015, especially if the Twins wind up finishing 4-5 games out of a wildcard spot.
      There is absolutely nothing stopping the Twins from picking up a superstar midseason if they're surprised by a playoff run and need a piece for a push toward the playoffs.

      On the other hand, you can pretty much be sure that if they sign someone to a 5+ year deal right now, that player is going to be some degree of mediocre or bad by the time the farm is peaking.

      And you just illustrated why I think incremental FA signings are the right course of action. What happens if Buxton gets injured or falls on his face but Sano is good? Wouldn't it be nice to have $10m a year to sign the next Michael Bourn and give Sano/Mauer a complementary player in the lineup? Sure, he won't be Byron Buxton but he won't be Darin Mastroianni, either.

      Given your strategy, that's not possible. Any failure on the farm cannot be fixed through any measure other than trade because there is no payroll flexibility to shift assets on the fly.
    1. Willihammer's Avatar
      Willihammer -
      Quote Originally Posted by Brock Beauchamp View Post
      And you just illustrated why I think incremental FA signings are the right course of action. What happens if Buxton gets injured or falls on his face but Sano is good?
      You cross that bridge if/when you get to it. I don't believe this contingency should have any bearing on the 2014 plans, since that's not yet happened.
    1. spycake's Avatar
      spycake -
      Quote Originally Posted by Major Leauge Ready View Post
      You would think the situation with players like A-Rod, Pujlos, Hamilton, Teixeria, Howard, and many free agent SPs who have been train wrecks would slow this roll.
      The players you listed signed for $125 mil - $275 mil. I think you're safely in the consensus here by opposing those deals for the 2014 Twins.

      More likely, folks here have been advocating one additional 4/60 or 5/75 type deal. A $15 mil AAV would have ranked somewhere around #53 in MLB for 2013. I don't think having two of those on the Twins (Mauer + the new acquisition) would bankrupt or handcuff us, given our paucity of other payroll commitments for the next 5 years.

      As always, there are plenty of other arguments against such a contract, but this ain't one of them.
    1. goulik's Avatar
      goulik -
      Glancing at the R&P page I noticed something that should relieve Brock a little... Nolasco has a $250,000 buyout each year. We will not have to be tied to him if he becomes a declining player...
    1. ashburyjohn's Avatar
      ashburyjohn -
      Quote Originally Posted by goulik View Post
      Glancing at the R&P page I noticed something that should relieve Brock a little... Nolasco has a $250,000 buyout each year. We will not have to be tied to him if he becomes a declining player...
      That can't be right; must be an artifact of how the spreadsheet was set up, dividing $1M by 4 for some reason. Everything else I've read has it as a $1M buyout for the fifth year.
    1. goulik's Avatar
      goulik -
      Quote Originally Posted by ashburyjohn View Post
      That can't be right; must be an artifact of how the spreadsheet was set up, dividing $1M by 4 for some reason. Everything else I've read has it as a $1M buyout for the fifth year.
      That would definitely make more sense. Dang it Jeremy, I trusted you.
    1. johnnydakota's Avatar
      johnnydakota -
      Quote Originally Posted by Jim Crikket View Post
      I don't disagree that there's still payroll room now. That said, I'm simply not all that in love with a lot of the remaining FA pitchers this year. I liked Kazmir's potential, but he's gone now. I think Arroyo's a significant overpay risk, but for the right price, he'd be fine. A trade for someone that has a contract his team wants to get rid of might be the best shot at further improvements to the rotation. I'm good with spending some money on a catcher.

      I just don't think you spend excessive money for someone you really don't think will be worth it and that's how I feel about most of the guys at the top of the FA list right now. I'd make sure I've got room to add significant payroll at mid-season or, more importantly, next off-season.
      Couldnt we add a couple of contracts on 2-3 years , that we would flip come july to help continue to build a farm system? The money is there to use, If we would bank some of that love for the future It wouldnt bother me , but like most government jobs , if you dont use it you lose it. So lets target a couple of players in the mid tier range that we can flip for prospects
    1. Major Leauge Ready's Avatar
      Major Leauge Ready -
      Quote Originally Posted by spycake View Post
      The players you listed signed for $125 mil - $275 mil. I think you're safely in the consensus here by opposing those deals for the 2014 Twins.

      More likely, folks here have been advocating one additional 4/60 or 5/75 type deal. A $15 mil AAV would have ranked somewhere around #53 in MLB for 2013. I don't think having two of those on the Twins (Mauer + the new acquisition) would bankrupt or handcuff us, given our paucity of other payroll commitments for the next 5 years.

      As always, there are plenty of other arguments against such a contract, but this ain't one of them.
      You are segmenting the point and then interpreting it to meet your needs. No these are not parallel examples. I was responding to a whole series of posts made by Brock about long-term commitments or trading for players with 2 years of control left at this stage of rebuilding. Everyone is in a big hurry to get mediocre and are willing to make moves that are likely to be impediments when this team is ready to contend. In the case of trading assets like Rosario for short-term contribution is absolutely certain to be detrimental when our top prospects should be contributing to this team contending. That is the appropriate context. I used extreme examples to amplify the point. Do you think Jimenez is less risky? I guess I could have used BJ Upton if you want 5/75 examples. His OPS last year was .557. How about Edwin Jackson? BTW ... Epstein admitted in an interview with ESPN that move was premature.

      $15M is roughly 12% of the Twins max budget. These 5/75 players are still going to be in decline when this team is ready to compete and $15M/year is still a very significant portion of this team’s payroll.
    1. spycake's Avatar
      spycake -
      I guess I have no idea why you'd bring up $125+ mil contracts then. No one's denying there's risk involved in a free agent contract, and that risk increases as the money increases.

      However, the Twins are actually in an interesting position in regards to such risk (money only, not trading prospects). Assuming they can afford $100 mil in player salaries, they are still ~$20 million under that budget for 2014, and ~$40+ million under for 2015-2018.

      Now, I certainly understand the argument that the 2014 Twins don't need another pitcher, as such a pitcher could be "wasted" on two non-competitive seasons. Waiting to add that pitcher in 2016 could mean he's joining an instantly competitive team, and could effectively delay the "decline phase" of that investment by a couple seasons.

      But, a 5/75 contract signed now will expire before any of our young players see significant salary increases. If we wait 2 years to sign that pitcher, he might participate in more legitimately competitive seasons, but the last few years of his deal -- when he will be in decline phase and all that -- will overlap with years when Sano, Buxton, etc. could be due significant raises. We've got the payroll the next 5 years; beyond that, I'm not so sure. That, to me, seems more significant than the risk of a FA pitcher's "decline phase" not syncing perfectly with our prospect's breakout years.

      It's also sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy. By avoiding that 5/75 pitcher now because we're not competitive, we are helping ensure that we won't be competitive. I don't like the idea that 4-5 years is the minimum length of a rebuild, not when a team has strong revenue and a lack of contractual commitments like the Twins do.

      To sum up, I don't mean to imply that we HAVE to add such a pitcher now, but we should definitely be checking them out, and if we find a guy we like, bid competitively. Don't rest on the laurels or mild rotation upgrades like Nolasco and Hughes, or shy away because you're chasing some success cycle perfection.
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      Quote Originally Posted by spycake View Post
      But, a 5/75 contract signed now will expire before any of our young players see significant salary increases. If we wait 2 years to sign that pitcher, he might participate in more legitimately competitive seasons, but the last few years of his deal -- when he will be in decline phase and all that -- will overlap with years when Sano, Buxton, etc. could be due significant raises. We've got the payroll the next 5 years; beyond that, I'm not so sure. That, to me, seems more significant than the risk of a FA pitcher's "decline phase" not syncing perfectly with our prospect's breakout years.
      By the time Buxton and Sano are due large raises, Joe Mauer's contract comes off the books.

      That's why incremental signings are a good idea. You constantly have guys coming off the books, freeing up money to sign more players.
    1. spycake's Avatar
      spycake -
      Quote Originally Posted by Brock Beauchamp View Post
      By the time Buxton and Sano are due large raises, Joe Mauer's contract comes off the books.

      That's why incremental signings are a good idea. You constantly have guys coming off the books, freeing up money to sign more players.
      Good point on Mauer's contract. Sometimes it's easy to forget that his contract will someday end, despite being a "Twin for life."

      Still, our starting budget and commitments were so low, we have room for another incremental signing this offseason within our budget, and we'll get back more "wiggle room" next offseason with a few expiring contracts too. Another Nolasco type contract or even something a little bigger won't slow us down in the least.

      Think of it this way: we've barely made any significant contractual commitments since 2010. Take 3 years off any incremental process, and the next increment can (and perhaps should) be larger.
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