Thursday, November 7, 2013

Twins Off-Season Primer

2013 was, as expected, another dud in Minnesota. It ended as a near carbon copy of 2012, and for that matter 2011. Three years of utter futility has me and most other Twins die-hards feeling less than optomistic for the upcoming 2014 campaign. And rightfully so, the team is composed of Joe Mauer and a bunch of scrubs. 

Here's the good news: they have bottomed out. They've reached the bottom of the parabola and are beginning the ascent. Unfortunately, and to keep with with the math imagery, the slope is as small as Florimon's batting average (jokes !!). Nevertheless, there is light at the end of the tunnel, it comes in the form of 2015 and it rests on the broad shoulders of Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton. 2014 is just a bridge year. It's a year to build a team that will complement the phenoms when they're ready. This is the goal.

With that goal in mind, what can Terry Ryan and company do in the months leading up Opening Day?

The first step is to make an honest appraisal of the current roster. First let's take a look at the position players:

Opening Day Starter
Joe Mauer
Ryan Doumit, Chris Herrmann, Josmil Pinto (AAA)
Chris Colabello
Chris Parmelee
Brian Dozier
Eduardo Escobar, Eddie Rosario (AAA)
Pedro Florimon Jr.
Trevor Plouffe
Escobar, Miguel Sano (AAA)
Josh Willingham
Darin Mastroianni, Herrmann
Alex Presley
Mastroianni, Aaron Hicks (AAA), Byron Buxton (AA)
Oswaldo Arcia
Mauer, Plouffe, Willingham, Arcia, Parmelee

Starting with catcher, Joe Mauer is the one player in the organization who will be here for the long term, no matter what. That's a good thing, as he just won his fifth silver slugger and isn't showing signs of slowing down. Behind Mauer, Doumit is an abysmal defender who shouldn't be allowed behind the plate but inevitably will see some time there. Herrmann isn't quite as bad defensively but isn't a Molina either. Herrmann might have a future as Doumit type of player if he can hit Major League pitchers the same way he has on the farm. The long-term option will be Josmil Pinto. By mid-season he should be the full-time backup and essentially split time with Mauer behind the plate. He is the best defender of the three backups and could provide an average bat, which is huge behind the plate.

First base is a trainwreck but it's not as complicated as catcher. Colabello is currently slotted in to get the majority of the time with Mauer and Parmelee playing significant time as well. The only potential long-term answer here is Mauer, but hopefully that won't be for a few years.

Brian Dozier was one of the few bright spots on the Twins last year and solidified himself as a legit starter at second base. I wouldn't be surprised if he took a step back, but the Opening Day job is unquestionably his. Eduardo Escobar will back him up but shouldn't be considered more than an emergency back up. Eddie Rosario will push Dozier as he's likely to start in the high minors (AA or AAA), meaning there's a lot of pressure on Dozier to repeat his 2013 to keep his job in the long term.

As a default, Pedro Florimon Jr. will be the shortstop. He's a terrible option who can't hit, but he's the only guy who can play a passable defensive shortstop on the 40-man roster right now so the job is his. Escobar is just a utility-type back up here too, so they're aren't really other options. In the high minors, Danny Santana could get a shot, the Twins hope he can be the future at shortstop. He's very fast and can hit well enough to not be counted as an automatic out.

Third base is actually kind of exciting. No, not because of Trevor Plouffe. Plouffe is an okay stopgap and will make a swell back up going forward. But MIGUEL SANO. He'll be playing in Target Field by the end of May and hopefully won't stop for a decade.

In the outfield, Josh Willingham and Oswaldo Arcia will hold down the corners. They should provide some power in the lineup and LOL's on defense. Alex Presley will likely get a shot at the center field job at least for a few weeks. Darin Mastroianni will reprise his role as an acceptable fourth outfielder (one that Presley should also be in and no doubt will find himself in eventually). But a change is coming, Aaron Hicks should get another shot to claim a spot and we should see Uber prospect Byron Buxton in the majors by season's end. 

That about sums up the offense, two or three consequential starters, a handful of players who would be decent bench options, another handful of incompetent stopgaps and three or four top prospects that should get a shot.

The two positions that should be most urgently pursued are first base and shortstop. Both of these positions are currently filled with slightly above replacement level talents and don't have an obvious future option, depending on your Mauer outlook.

Beyond that, the Twins could sign another backup catcher, a designated hitter type or a third baseman to improve the team. Mauer's not going to catch more than 100 games this year and I doubt the pitching staff would appreciate 62+ games of Herrmann and Doumit. While Pinto is still an option, he needn't be rushed, so I would understand signing a veteran to a one year deal. DH is occupied by Ryan Doumit by default, and will be a space for Willingham and Arcia to rest their legs. That said, signing a veteran bat in the mold of Eric Chavez, Travis Hafner or Luke Scott would add some much needed power and depth to the bench. Lastly, third base. If Plouffe doesn't improve, it's going to be an issue. And while I'll entertain the idea that Sano would be ready to start Day One, there's no reason to put that kind of pressure on him. But in the meantime, Terry Ryan would do well to make this team slightly more watchable with a competent third baseman.

The outfield and second base need not be addressed because of a combination of the incumbents and the nearness of top prospects to the majors. 

Now, on to the pitchers:

Starting Pitcher
Steamer IP
Steamer ERA
Steamer WAR
Kevin Correia
Samuel Deduno
Vance Worley
Andrew Albers
Kyle Gibson
Scott Diamond
Liam Hendriks

Looking through this list, I'm really only interested in seeing what Gibson and Worley have to offer. Both have the chance to develop into good middle of the rotation guys a la Scott Baker or Matt Garza. They're different pitchers, but I think they have the potential to offer that kind of value. All that said, neither has earned a spot in the 2014 rotation and will have to do so in spring training.

A couple guys who have earned spots in the rotation, at least in my best estimation of the Twins' estimation, are Kevin Correia and Sam Deduno. Both elicit emphatic meh's from me (if there is such a thing). But for now, it's fair to pencil them into the rotation.

Beyond those four, I think everyone is on the same page with Albers, Diamond and Hendriks. They're all good pieces to have in the organization, but should never be relied on to hold down a rotation spot.

I envision a spring training battle between these seven, with Correia having a nearly guaranteed spot and Deduno, Worley and Gibson having a slight edge going in.

The number of spots they'll be competing for will be determined by the number of pitchers acquired in the off-season. Right now, I'd set the over/under at two. Especially given the lack of internal options outside of Alex Meyer, it would really surprise me if the team didn't splurge on at least two fresh arms for the rotation.

Now for the least depressing facet of the roster! The bullpen:

Steamer K/9
Steamer BB/9
Glen Perkins
Jared Burton
Casey Fien
Caleb Thielbar
Brian Duensing
Michael Tonkin
Anthony Swarzak
Edgar Ibarra
Ryan Pressly
Duke Welker

Perkins is a premier reliever right now. And he has help: with Burton and Fien holding down the 8th inning, Thielbar and Duensing doing fantastic work on lefties, Swarzak as a very good long man and Tonkin and Welker potentially developing into very good relievers.

Not to say this bullpen is as good as it could be, but it really shouldn't be a concern for the Twins in the coming months. For example, an 8th inning guy with a longer track record of consistency and health would be an asset. 

The marginal increases from adding bullpen pieces is simply dwarfed by any addition to the rotation or the offense.

I'll wrap this up with a ranking of the objectives I would prescribe for the Twins:

1. Good starting pitcher.
2. Competent shortstop.
3. OK innings-eating starting pitcher.
4. Cheap option for first base and DH.

Any thing else is gravy.

I realize that all these objectives are vague and of varying difficulties to actually achieve. Andy and I will get into the nitty gritty of potential real life fits in the coming week. Until then, this is where Minnesota's roster stands and where their investigation should be focused.

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