How to fix the Twins, Part 3: Could Braves, Rays be good trade fits?
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Part 1: Outlining key issues and payroll obligations
Part 2: Identifying potential free agents and trade candidates
Part 3: How a last-place team can get back to relevancy
Whatever the Minnesota Twins ultimately decide to do this offseason, they must absolutely be aggressive.
Most of the core hitters in the Twins' lineup are in their primes -- Joe Mauer is 29 years old, Justin Morneau 31, Josh Willingham 33, Denard Span 28 and Ryan Doumit 31. Their window to win is open right now. Ben Revere (24), Trevor Plouffe (26) and Chris Parmelee (24) are a bit younger, but the lineup is built to win right now, and it's a window that isn't guaranteed to stay open for much longer.
The back of bullpen seems to be set with Glen Perkins (age 29) and Jared Burton (31).
It took only 88 wins to sit atop the American League Central in 2012, but that total will likely rise next season. The Detroit Tigers will bring back the same pitching staff that was historically dominant for most of this year's playoffs. They also get Victor Martinez back next season. The Chicago White Sox still have Chris Sale, and they plan on having John Danks (shoulder surgery) return to the rotation as well.
The good news for the Twins is they likely have enough resources to get back into contention next season, if they stay healthy and make some shrewd moves.
• The five American League teams that made the playoffs in 2012 all allowed 707 runs or fewer. The Twins allowed 832. The goal this offseason is to shave that run total down as close to 700 as possible, mostly by fixing the pitching staff (the Twins' defense was fairly solid last season).
• The Twins scored 701 runs offensively last season, which ranked mid-pack. That figure likely would have been closer to 750 had 15% of the team's plate appearances not been swallowed up by black holes (Brian Dozier, Pedro Florimon, Danny Valencia, Alexi Casilla).
• The Twins need starting pitchers who pitch deeper into games.
• The Twins also need pitchers who tally more strikeouts -- a category they ranked dead last in, by far, last season.
• For the Twins to acquire pitching, it's likely they'll need to trade from their surplus of outfielders.
• The Twins need to get younger while also working toward getting back to 90 wins.
The (realistic) moves I'd make
• Trade Span to Atlanta or Tampa for a good, young starting pitcher... The Twins have a surplus of outfielders, and Span has a team-friendly contract ($4.75 million in 2013, $6.5 million in 2014, $9 million team option in 2015) that makes him a valuable trade chip.
The Atlanta Braves and Tampa Bay Rays are two teams that could lose good center fielders to free agency (Michael Bourn, B.J. Upton). Tampa, which is also Span's hometown, has a plethora of good, young pitchers -- Jeremy Hellickson, Alex Cobb, Matt Moore, David Price, Chris Archer and Wade Davis, just to name a few. James Shields is 30 years old and more expensive.
Atlanta might have just as much good young pitching in Tommy Hanson, Kris Medlen, Mike Minor, Randall Delgado, Brandon Beachy (Tommy John surgery), Julio Teheran and even Jair Jurrjens, who has fallen off the map the last couple years. The Braves also picked up 2013 options on Tim Hudson and Paul Maholm, further crowding their rotation.
Delgado, Teheran, Hanson and Medlen would be the most appealing options, as all have top-of-the-rotation potential. Minor (4.15 ERA, 145 strikeouts, 56 walks in 179 1/3 innings in a year that started poorly and ended with a string of great starts) probably makes the most sense. Minor, a lefty, still hasn't reached arbitration, so he makes only $500,000, and he turns just 25 years old in December, so there's still upside.
If the Twins traded Span, they'd likely be committing to an outfield of Willingham, Revere and Parmelee -- a huge downgrade defensively, considering the lack of range in the corner spots. But Span's departure would also allow Parmelee a full season of at-bats and more playing time for Darin Mastroianni.
• Sign RHP Shaun Marcum... He won't be mistaken for Justin Verlander, but Marcum has a career strikeout rate of 7.3 per nine innings, which is nearly two full strikeouts per nine higher than Twins starters averaged collectively last season. The elephant in the room here is Marcum's elbow. He underwent Tommy John surgery in 2009, bounced back to pitch nearly 400 innings in 2010 and 2011 combined, then ran into elbow discomfort that sidelined him for two months last season. Marcum returned to make his final eight starts, albeit on mostly limited pitch counts. If he's healthy, he'd be a very solid addition at, say, $12-14 million over two years (~$6-7 million annually).
• Bring back Scott Baker... on an incentive-laden deal. Baker (recovering from Tommy John surgery) is hoping to be ready for game action by the time spring training rolls around. Both sides are interested in continuing their relationship, but the Twins officially declined Baker's $9.25 million option, making him a free agent. When speculating on what Baker could earn, look no further than Colby Lewis, who -- after undergoing season-ending elbow surgery in July -- re-signed with the Texas Rangers for $2 million guaranteed and $4 million in incentives. Baker and Lewis share the same agent, and it's likely Baker will command more than Lewis -- perhaps $3-4 million base with an extra $4 million in incentives. If Baker pitches 170-plus innings, he'll be worth the money.
Projected hitters (and their projected numbers)
The following projections are based on three-year track records of batted ball data (line drive, groundball, fly ball rates, strikeout and walk rates, power rates, etc.), and they are modest numbers for the most part. For the sake of brevity, only the hitters' slash lines (AVG/OBP/SLG), home runs and a few other items are included below.
CF Ben Revere (700 plate appearances): .288/.333/.339... 0 HR... 48 SB
C Joe Mauer (610): .320/.405/.445... 10 HR
LF Josh Willingham (580): .250/.346/.480... 28 HR
1B Justin Morneau (575): .279/.353/.496... 25 HR
DH Ryan Doumit (500): .267/.326/.443... 16 HR
RF Chris Parmelee (620): .260/.338/.432... 20 HR
3B Trevor Plouffe (550): .239/.306/.444... 24 HR
2B Brian Dozier (450): .257/.306/.367... 8 HR... 13 SB
SS Pedro Florimon (340): .238/.293/.336... 4 HR... 10 SB
Util Jamey Carroll (400): .270/.346/.315... 0 HR... 8 SB
OF Darin Mastroianni (250): .262/.340/.383... 4 HR... 26 SB
Additional bench guys (600)*: .211/.272/.319... 12 HR... 15 SB
* Additional bench guys are just random players who play throughout the season, like Drew Butera, Matt Carson, Eduardo Escobar, Brian Dinkelman, etc.
If we include everything else not listed -- singles, doubles, triples, steals, caught stealing, double plays grounded into, etc. -- the above projections add up to 6,175 plate appearances, a .262/.330/.404 batting line, 151 home runs, and an estimated a total of:
The Twins scored 701 last season, mostly due to severe lack of production from role players.
* The team run total is derived by using David Smyth's base runs estimator formula -- a formula that is generally accurate within 10-15 runs.
Projected pitchers (and their projected numbers)
LHP Mike Minor (195 innings): 4.02 ERA... 166 K... 62 BB... 23 HR
RHP Shaun Marcum (180): 4.08 ERA... 145 K... 50 BB... 22 HR
LHP Scott Diamond (200): 4.15 ERA... 119 K... 47 BB... 21 HR
RHP Scott Baker (120): 4.05 ERA... 102 K... 32 BB... 15 HR
RHP Kyle Gibson (100): 3.81 ERA... 83 K... 26 BB... 11 HR
RHP Liam Hendriks (75): 4.25 ERA... 51 K... 18 BB... 10 HR
RHP Samuel Deduno (40): 4.59... 29 K... 20 BB... 4 HR
LHP Glen Perkins (65): 2.93 ERA... 74 K... 18 BB... 5 HR
RHP Jared Burton (61): 3.64 ERA... 55 K... 18 BB... 5 HR
LHP Brian Duensing (66): 3.89 ERA... 45 K... 17 BB... 4 HR
RHP Alex Burnett (66): 3.94 ERA... 42 K... 24 BB... 4 HR
RHP Casey Fien (52): 4.18 ERA... 44 K... 15 BB... 7 HR
RHP Anthony Swarzak (71): 4.06 ERA... 48 K... 20 BB... 7 HR
LHP Tyler Robertson (40): 4.21 ERA... 40 K... 17 BB... 5 HR
Other pitchers (118 innings): 5.22 ERA... 80 K... 60 BB... 16 HR
If we project a middle-of-the-road defense (.296 batting average on balls in play allowed), the above pitcher projections yield:
• If the Twins scored 755 and allowed 720, as presented in the scenarios above, history says they would likely finish with right around 84 wins.
• Per the above pitcher projection scenario, the Twins would also tally 7 strikeouts per nine (up one full K per nine from 5.9 in 2012), 2.7 walks per nine (fewest in American League), and 159 home runs (mid-pack).
• If guys like Dozier, Florimon, Gibson and Hendriks break out and turn into reliable every-day players -- or every-fifth-day pitchers -- the Twins' ceiling obviously goes up.
• If Trevor Plouffe improves his third base defense (he was among the worst in MLB last year according to plus/minus data), the Twins' ceiling obviously goes up.
• Minor is only 24, and Marcum is 30, so the Twins would be getting slightly younger.
• Morneau is obviously a trade candidate too, but the feeling around the league is his injury history and large contract make him less appealing.
Room for another big splash
We've outlined a realistic scenario in which the Twins get back to playing above-.500 baseball, but there's room for more...
Bringing Minor and Marcum on board while losing Span, re-signing Baker and non-tendering Casilla would likely put the payroll somewhere between $80-84 million.
That would seemingly leave plenty of money for another big splash.
What would the projections look like if they also signed, say, Anibal Sanchez (four years, ~$40 million)? Or if they traded for Dan Haren ($15 million team option)?
Replacing Hendriks, Deduno and some of the extra reliever innings with 200 innings of Sanchez (3.64 ERA, 166 strikeouts, 54 walks) or 200 innings of Haren (3.84 ERA, 179 strikeouts, 45 walks), the Twins' opponent run projection drops to around 710.
Teams that score 755 and allow 710 historically win 86 or 87 games.
Point is, the Twins appear to have the resources to turn this thing around with a few shrewd moves.