Archive for the ‘Minnesota Twins’ category

San Francisco Giants Outfield Churn Continues

March 23, 2019

The Gints are still trying to improve their outfield mix as the regular season rapidly approaches, but they keep bringing in more of the same marginal players.  They released Cameron Maybin, and traded for Michael Reed and Mike Yastrzemski, while trading John Andreoli for Reed and RHP Tyler Herb for Yaz.

Reed is going into his age 26 season, and he was really good in 53 games at AAA Gwinnett last year (.997 OPS).  In that sense, he looks a lot like Connor Joe, whom the Giants just brought in yesterday.  Reed can apparently play all three outfield positions and is expected to split playing time with Steven Duggar in center field, assuming Reed makes the major league club out of Spring Training.  For the Twins this spring, Reed went 5-for-18 with a home run.

While Reed seems like an improvement over Andreoli, he’s obviously not much of an improvement.  The recent spate of moves feel very much like a grass-is-greener-on-the-other-side-of-the-mountain situation, with the has-beens and never-have-beens the Giants started camp with mostly underwhelming and now being replaced at the last minute with a new crop of perhaps, marginially better has-beens and never-have-beens.  None of it inspires much confidence.

Yet another outfielder we could signed by the Giants in short order is former Giants prospect Adam Duvall.  The Braves gave Duvall a $2.88 million contract for 2019 in spite of how poorly he played late last season in Atlanta.  If the Braves release him before the regular season starts, the team will only be on the hook for slightly less than $700,000 of the $2.88M total as severance pay.

Duvall would be a natural fit for the Giants, who can always use a another right-handed power bat in left field (where Duvall’s defense is great), and the Giants have been collecting marginal outfielders like Duvall all off-season.  I’d certainly like to see the Giants give Duvall a shot on a minor league contract if the Braves release him, particularly as it seems more and more clear the team has no intention of bringing in anyone significantly better.

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Is Corey Kluber a Legitimate Hall of Fame Candidate?

February 12, 2019

I was looking at Corey Kluber‘s career stats the other day, and I wondered if what he has accomplished in the last five years has made him a legitimate Hall of Fame candidate.  The short answer is no, not yet.

The player Kluber currently looks most like is Johan Santana.  Santana was MLB’s best pitcher for the five seasons between 2004 and 2008.  However, arm problems then ruined his career, and he finished 139-78.

Santana appeared on the 2018 Hall of Fame ballot for the first time, but he received only 10 votes and was dropped from the 2019 ballot.  I definitely think that in 25 or 30 years, the Hall of Fame’s Veteran’s Committee (or whatever they call it now or then) will notice that Santana’s career record looks an awful lot like Dizzy Dean‘s and maybe even Sandy Koufax‘s.  However, Santana might be hurt by pitching in the heart of the PEDs ERA.

Corey Kluber will be 33 this upcoming season, but he’s bigger than Santana, so maybe his arm will hold out better.  He’s probably only one more CY Young caliber season (i.e., on a par with four of his last five seasons) and another 55 career wins from what it would require for him to be a sure thing to reach the Hall of Fame eventually.

Yasmani Grandal’s Shocking One-Year Deal with the Milwaukee Brewers

January 10, 2019

The Brewers have reportedly reached agreement on a one-year contract with Yasmani Grandal for $18.25M, well less than the four year deal at $64M guaranteed that mlbtraderumors.com projected.  It’s obviously a pillow contract for Grandal, who after turning down a four year offer from the Mets with at least a $50M guarantee couldn’t find any other similar offers.

It’s still a tremendous surprise.  Grandal is only 30 years old, and his average annual value for the Dodgers the last four seasons (according to fangraphs.com) is $22.48M, topping out at $28.7M in 2018.  It’s shocking he apparently couldn’t get a three-year offer for the same average annual value he’s getting on his one year deal with the Brewers.

The deal is obviously a coup for Brew-Crew and makes up (in my mind at least) for not taking a risk on bringing back Jonathan Schoop on a one-year deal.  Clearly, Grandal’s thinking must be that because he can’t receive another qualifying offer next off-season, a big year in Milwaukee will result in a much better offer next off-season than he received this off-season.  Now, Grandal and his agent need to pray for good health and a hot, hitter-friendly summer in Milwaukee.

Another Slow MLB Off-Season

January 10, 2019

It’s been another slow MLB off-season, and this baseball blogger is finding it hard to find much to write about except how slow the off-season free agent signing period has been.

Is it collusion? Maybe, maybe not.  Given the past history, I’m am always justifiably suspicious when teams stop spending on free agents.  Player salaries were down in 2018 for the first time since 2010.  However, things aren’t exactly rosy for MLB in spite of a currently booming economy.  Post-season TV ratings are down, and eleven teams failed to draw two million fans or average 25,000 fans per game in 2018, with attendance in Tampa and Miami absolutely dreadful by recent standards.

Add to these trends are the fact that analytics have given teams a reason not to spend quite so much on free agents.  Mainly that seems to be playing out in shorter free agents contracts, rather than lower annual averages.

I have been particularly impressed with the accuracy of mlbtraderumors.com’s contract predictions for its list of the top 50 free agents this off-season, at least in terms of the amounts of the contracts that have signed so far.  The main difference between the predictions and the actual contracts signed so far is that many of the contracts are a year shorter than predicted, but actually feature higher average annual salaries.  As such, it really could be possible that teams have simply gotten smarter about giving long-term deals to the majority of free agents, who are not reasonably likely to any good in those last additional seasons.

[As an aside, I noticed that mlbtraderumor’s predictions piece got many comments criticizing the fact that it hadn’t accurately predicted most of the actual signing teams.  In my opinion these criticisms are kind of stupid and fairly typical of a lot of the negative comments people like to write.  With 30 MLB teams, the vast majority of the top 50 free agents are going to have three to five teams serious about signing them, with numerous other teams who see the player as a Plan B if the free agent they really want signs with someone else and also a few bottom-feeders like the Twins last off-season willing to jump in at the last minute if the free agent can be signed as a relative bargain.  That makes it pretty hard to accurately predict which team signs which free agent.  The contract-length-and-amount predictions, and the relative accuracy thereof, feels a lot more pertinent and significant to me.]

It’s also worth noting that we could expect Bryce Harper and Manny Machado to go into January unsigned, as both are trying to wring record-setting deals out of their respective suitors.  Neither Harper (injuries, inconsistency, maturity level) or Machado (maturity level, post-season performance) is without his faults, which means it’s going to take some work to get them the deals that they and their agents dream about.

Like last season, some of the players who haven’t signed yet are going to get squeezed, particularly if they aren’t Harper and Machado — these two will get paid no matter what — it’s just a matter if they are guaranteed $200M+ or $300M+.  Of course, none of the still free agents is going to go to bed hungry anytime soon.

As a final note, I appreciated the creativity of the most recent big free agent signing, that of Zach Britton.  While it guarantees Britton $39M, which was just a little more than mlbtraderumors.com predicted, it provides tremendous flexibility to both the Yankees and Britton.  Britton can opt out after two years and $26M, and after year three the Yankees have a $14M team option for 2022.  Although I have a problem with Scott Boras’ conflicts of interest and his Trumpesque puffery, he is extremely creative in terms of working out the best possible deals for his most elite clients.  I can’t imagine that Britton doesn’t feel pretty good about this deal.

This Year in the Australian Baseball League

January 4, 2019

With this off-season’s MLB free agent signing period slow going indeed, this baseball blogger has been somewhat hard-pressed to come up with topics to write about.  Thus, you, gentle reader, have been subjected to numerous posts about Asian baseball, where the signings of foreign players have been more forthcoming.  Besides, the fringes of the professional baseball world interest me and seem like a ripe topic that few other baseball blogs cover.

Thus, it feels like a good time for a post on the action in this year’s Australian Baseball League.  The ABL isn’t in the same class as the big four Caribbean Winter Leagues (Mexico, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Venezuela), but is probably better than the Winter Leagues in any of Panama, Nicaragua or Colombia.  It plays a short season, even by Winter League standards, of about 40 games.

The ABL is heavily subsidized by MLB as a way to develop interest in baseball in Australia and to help generate a continuing supply of Aussie prospects for MLB.  I could not help but notice earlier today that, while the ABL’s website provides very detailed box scores, including game temperatures and wind speeds, it does not report attendance numbers, a sure sign that the games are not well attended by the standards of even this level of professional baseball and must be subsidized by someone to keep the league afloat.

The ABL draws an interesting mix of Australian players and Independent-A American players not quite good enough during the summer to secure work in the Big Four Caribbean Winter Leagues.  The Circuit also draws a smattering of pro players from Taiwan, South Korea and Japan.

The top pitcher in the ABL this season is Shota Imanaga.  Imanaga is a potentially a world class NPB pitcher, who is coming off a brutal 2018 summer season and apparently pitching in the ABL this winter to get himself back on track.

After the 2017 season, Imanaga looked like a potential future MLB prospect, as I mentioned that off-season.  In 2018, however, he went 4-11 in NPB with a brutal 6.80 ERA.  His command deteriorated significantly from the prior two seasons, and he seems to have hurt by the rise in NPB home-running hitting this past season.  He still managed to strike out 80 batters in 84.2 innings pitched, and his performance in the ABL this winter suggests there is nothing fundamentally wrong with his pitching arm, always a concern for a pitcher listed under 5’10” and 180 lbs.

Against a much lower level of competition, and limited so far to six starts and 35 IP, Imanaga has posted a 0.51 ERA and 57 strikeouts while allowing only 14 hits, one home run and one walk.  If nothing else, Imanaga’s foray to the ABL should certainly boost his confidence going into the 2019 NPB season.

Frank Gailey, Ryan Bollinger, Mikey Reynolds and Zach Wilson are examples of typical North American players playing in the ABL this winter.  Ryan Bollinger pitched pretty well in the Yankees’ system last summer, mostly at the AA level, and he struck out 97 batters and 111.2 IP.  He has been signed by the Padres this off-season with an invitation to Spring Training, but will most likely start the 2019 season at AAA El Paso.

Needless to say, the ABL is a refuge for Australian players who just can’t give up the enjoyment they get from playing professional baseball.  Former major leaguer Travis Blackly, for example, is still around at age 36 pitching effectively Down Under (and in the very low Indy-A Pacific Association during the Northern Hemisphere summer).  He’s now pitched professionally in at least seven countries (U.S., Canada, Mexico, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Australia).

Steve Kent and Luke Hughes are a couple of old Aussie war horses who have played in the MLB system and the ABL for many years.  Hughes played in the majors for the Twins and the A’s from 2010-2012.

More recent major leaguer Gift Ngoepe, originally of South Africa, is playing well in the ABL this season.  After a brutally bad 2018 season mostly for the Blue Jays’ AAA team in Buffalo, which caused him to get released in mid-August, Ngoepe is obviously hoping a strong winter in Oz will get him contract to play baseball somewhere next summer.

Pete Kozma and Josh Collmenter, two other familiar major league names, are in basically the same boat as Ngoepe — Kozma is trying to resuscitate his career after a rough year in the Tigers’ organization, and Collmenter is trying to come back from injuries that kept him out of action throughout the 2018 regular season.  Kozma, at least, has signed an minor league contract to return to the Tigers’ organization with invitation to spring training in 2019.

 

Oliver Drake’s Ongoing Odyssey and Other Minnesota Twins Notes

December 29, 2018

In the aftermath of the Twins’ signing of Nelson Cruz for $14.3 million for 2019, I was looking at the Twins’ now surplus of right-handed power bats, and I happened to notice that Oliver Drake had a very successful 19 relief appearance run (2.21 ERA) for the Twins last season but is no longer with the team.

Drake played for five different major league teams last year and six since the start of the 2017 season.  The reason for this is obvious: Drake has great stuff and has success in AAA, but he has command issues and was awful at the major league level last year until the Twins selected him off waivers.  Drake started the season for the Brewers, was ineffective and then sold to the Indians, probably for a box of crackerjack.  He pitched poorly in Cleveland, and the Angels selected him off the waiver wire on May 31st.  Drake didn’t pitch well in Anaheim, and was selected off waivers by the Blue Jays in July 26th.  Ditto in Toronto, and the Twins claimed him off waivers on August 3rd.

Despite finally pitching well in the Twin Cities, the Twins tried to pass him through waivers again in late October/early November, and the Rays grabbed him.  The Rays tried to pass him through waivers at the end of the month, and the Blue Jays once again grabbed him.  At least once the regular season ended, Drake’s subsequent travels were virtual, rather than real, and Drake is presumably sitting at home waiting to see whom he ends up with in its time to start Spring Training.

With service in parts of four major league seasons now, but only about 2.5 years of major league service time, Drake isn’t yet arbitration eligible but is certainly out of minor league options.  What that means is that, unless he is first released, the last team to claim him off waivers will likely have to give him a major league contract in the $565,000 to $575,000 range.

Well, that’s small potatoes in today’s game, particularly for a pitcher with his potential.  However, the Twins didn’t think he was worth that modest guarantee, and the Rays didn’t think so either once they obtained somebody they liked better for their 40-man roster, almost certainly because he can’t be sent down to the minors if he’s ineffective without passing him through waivers yet again.  He’s also going into his age 32 season, so many teams may doubt he’ll ever have sufficient command to take advantage of his plus stuff at the major league level.

Drake was originally a 43rd round draft pick out of the U.S. Naval Academy.  He now has a career major league ERA of 4.59 with 151 Ks in 137.1 innings pitched and a WHIP of 1.46.  He’s good enough that a lot of teams want him at the right price, but don’t seem to be willing to give him any guarantees.

With the signing of Nelson Cruz and the earlier claiming off waivers and signing of C.J. Cron for $4.8M, the Twins are now officially overloaded with defensively challenged, right-handed hitting sluggers.  Cruz and Cron will get plenty of playing time because of their 2019 salaries unless either gets hurt, but the Twins also have Miguel Sano, who is too young and has too much potential to give up on yet, and also Tyler Austin, who came over from the Yankees when the Twins traded Lance Lynn at the 2018 trade deadline.  With the corner outfield slots taken up by young lefty hitters Eddie Rosario and Max Kepler, one would have to think the Twins would be willing to listen to trade offers for Austin.

Austin is already 27 and hasn’t established himself as a major league regular yet.  He doesn’t hit for average or draw many walks, but he sure has right-handed power with 24 HRs in only 404 major league plate appearances.  He wouldn’t be a bad fit for the San Francisco Giants, who could use another corner outfielder with right-handed power.

Because Austin is out of options, maybe the Twins would be willing to trade him to Giants for minor league reliever (and personal favorite) Tyler Rogers.  Tyler’s twin brother Taylor has had three successful seasons as a reliever for the Twins, and the Tyler has been mighty good at AAA the last two seasons.  Obviously, there would be some great PR for the Twins to have twin relievers pitching on their major league roster to start the 2019 season.  That said, the Twins will probably hold on to Austin since he cheap and provides insurance if Cruz, Cron or somebody else gets hurt.

I have to say that I like the fact that the Twins are active every off-season, seeking out deals at the right price that might reasonably make the team better.  It didn’t work in 2018, but if you keep trying every off-season, it may well work eventually.

Christian Villanueva and Alan Busenitz Taking Their Talents to Japan

November 23, 2018

Not much is happening right now in MLB’s off-season, but Asian teams are kicking their signings of foreign players into high gear.  The Yomiuri Giants have signed former Padres 3Bman Christian Villanueva, and the Rakuten Golden Eagles have signed former Minnesota Twins reliever Alan Busenitz.

I didn’t predict either player going to Asia in my most recent post on this subject, because I thought that both players would be seen as too valuable to their now former MLB teams to allow them to depart for Asian baseball.  In fact, it’s pretty usual to see a player like Villanueva, who establishes himself as an MLB major league regular one year leave for Japan the next.  Almost all such players choose to stay in MLB, where the upside for successful performance is so much higher.

MLB teams will usually let players like Villanueva and Busenitz who have each just finished their age 27 seasons go off to Japan’s NPB for more money, but usually because the MLB team doesn’t think the player has enough future value to prevent the player from having the opportunity to make a lot more money in Japan.  I’d guess the Yomiuri Giants gave the Padres $1M for Villanueva’s rights, and I’d guess the Rakuten Golden Eagles gave the Twins somewhere between $500,000 and $1M for Busenitz’s rights.  That’s not a lot of money for players who reasonably appeared to have MLB major league futures.

It does seem clear, however, that the Padres saw Villanueva as a place holder until they can develop a longer-term option at third base, like possibly Ty France, who reached AAA last year at age 23.  Villanueva was a little below average as a starting 3Bman with both the bat and the glove as a rookie last year, but he strikes out a lot, doesn’t walk much, and players who establish themselves as major league regulars in their age 27 season don’t typically go on to have long and successful major league careers.

Although NPB teams don’t report contract amounts, Villanueva is believed to be receiving around $2M from Yomiuri in 2019, with some reports suggesting the contract could be for as much as $3M if all performance incentives are met.  That’s a lot more than the guaranteed $600,000 major league contract Villanueva would have received from the Padres.  However, I doubt more than $1M of the Yomiuri contract is guaranteed.

Busenitz pitched poorly for the Twins in 2018 (7.82 ERA) after pitching extremely well for them in 2017.  He also pitched very well in AAA the last two seasons.  The fact that Busenitz will also be 28 in 2018 isn’t quite as important as it is for Villanueva, given that Busenitz is a middle reliever with a live arm.  He has less than a full year of major league service, so like Villanueva, he had many years of low price, team control ahead of him.

Busenitz was likely to get a split contract after his poor 2018 performance, and he appeared to have another year of minor league options left, so he’s definitely going to make more money in Japan in 2019 than he would in the U.S.  He’ll have a shot at being the Golden Eagles’ closer — if he’s successful in that role, he’s likely to get a good pay raise to stay in Japan for 2020.