Friday, December 12, 2014

Hunter, Ervin and JR Graham

Crazy couple of months, huh? In any other year, $65MM of commitments would be huge news for the Twins. This year it's been pretty swamped by other teams (OK, mostly the Dodgers) wheeling and dealing like never before. I'm going to ignore all that noise and focus in on what the Twins have done and where that leaves them.

There should be no expectations of playoffs this year. But, unlike the past few years, next year might actually be good. Maybe. That's the position the Twins are in. They've spent the last four seasons tearing down the roster and rebuilding from within. The crop of young players developed has either reached the majors or is knocking on the door. Yet, with a young club comes many losses, probably about 90 of them.

Despite Kennys Vargas, Danny Santana, Oswaldo Arcia and Kyle Gibson earning their spot on ML team in 2014, there were still many holes to fill in the off-season. One corner outfielder was needed play opposite of Oswaldo Arcia. At least one starter was needed to prevent from Mike Pelfrey from depressing an entire fanbase. A reliever or two would be great to hold on to the few leads that happen.

Filling 'hole #1' will be Torii Hunter on a 1-year deal. He will likely take over in right field and let Arcia make his inevitable shift to left field. However, this is not the Torii that we remember from 2007 when he last played for the Twins. He's no longer the highlight reel generating centerfielder, he's now an old, quickly deteriorating corner outfielder who realistically, should have his 'glove' taken away from him the same way you might take away Grandma's driver's license. Seriously, it's best for everyone.

The damage in the field is minimized by the fact that he'll only be around for one season and is legitimately a very good hitter. He'll slot in nicely to the back end of the middle of the lineup and provide some nice pop. Especially with Target Field's short left porch, he has a real chance of topping 20 home runs for the first time since 2011. Only five Twins have reached the 20 HR mark in the last 4 years, but with Hunter, Vargas, Arcia and Brian Dozier, there are four guys who have a real chance of reaching that mark this season.

With the outfield corners set and players slotted in at every other position (except centerfield, but I believe that's by design), Terry Ryan and his comrades moved to the pitching staff signing Ervin Santana to the free agency deal the Twins have ever given a pitcher. Now 32, Ervin has been a slightly above average, work horse starter in his career. However, for providing 200 innings year in and year out, he's had very inconsistent results.

For example, 2012 was a complete disaster with the Angels. But he bounced back with an excellent season with Kansas City and then one of his best years ever based on peripherals in 2014. Over those two seasons, he contributed nearly 6 WAR (FanGraphs style). That easily makes him the Twins second best starter, but would probably be a #3 on most playoff teams. Going forward, that's the Santana the Twins are hoping for. Is that the guy they'll get? Who knows, Phil Hughes and Ricky  Nolasco showed us that we don't know anything about predicting success. I'll venture a guess that he has one very good season, one good season, one bad season and one injured season over the life of his contract. In what order? You're guess is as good as mine.

The Santana signing actually helped the bullpen, if you can believe it. It knocks one of the starters, probably Mike Pelfrey, into the bullpen. Starters are a crapshoot when they go into the bullpen. Some failed starters can't hack in the bullpen, but some have their career re-birthed. Andy passed along this tweet from Mike Berardino, with special guest Brandon Warne:

I will say, I don't expect him to be arguably the best reliever in baseball. I don't even suspect him to be very successful at all. But he might be a good replacement for Jared Burton or at least replace Anthony Swarzak in garbage time.

I would love to get into all the implications of rotation moves, but it's still so much up in the air. The only guys, in my mind, who are guaranteed a spot are Nolasco, Hughes and Santana. That leaves two spots for about six qualified candidates. It'll be an interesting topic for spring training but is hard to discuss at this time.

The third move the Twins made happened just today. They selected JR Graham in the Rule V draft. Twins fans may remember another Santana, Johan, who was once selected in the Rule V draft. They may not remember Terry Doyle, Alejandro Machado and Jesse Floyd. Hits are much less common than misses in the draft and it's impossible to expect anything, really, out of one of the picks. THAT SAID, I really like JR Graham! As recently as last off-season, he was considered a future middle rotation starter (think Ervin Santana). He is small, but he has power stuff and throws strikes. Baseball America had his fastball in the mid-90's consistently, with a heavy and very effective two-seamer in the lower 90's, a solid slider and serviceable change-up. The rub is that he injured his shoulder in 2014 and showed diminished stuff throughout the season. The Twins are gambling on some of that velocity to return and if it does, they'll look smart as heck. He's the type that could be an absolute beast out of the bullpen. If he is fully healthy, he may even become a good starting pitcher. There's also the chance that he never does much. He's never pitched above AA and wasn't very good at that level, so there is plenty of reasons for the move to fail. However, it's a good move that has the potential to make the Twins look a lot smarter than Ryan Pressly did in 2013.