After an extended run atop the AL Central last decade, the Twins turned in their fourth consecutive 90-loss season and saw many of their top prospects sidelined by injury.
- Joe Mauer, 1B: $92MM through 2018
- Ricky Nolasco, RHP: $37MM through 2017
- Glen Perkins, LHP: $18.15MM through 2017
- Phil Hughes, RHP: $16MM through 2016
- Kurt Suzuki, C: $12MM through 2016
- Mike Pelfrey, RHP: $5.5MM through 2015
Arbitration Eligible Players (service time in parentheses; projections via Matt Swartz)
- Trevor Plouffe, 3B, (3.162): $4.3MM projected salary
- Tommy Milone, LHP, (2.164, Super Two): $2.8MM
- Brian Duensing, LHP, (5.104): $2.5MM
- Jordan Schafer, OF, (4.121): $1.5MM
- Anthony Swarzak, RHP, (4.038): $1.4MM
- Eduardo Nunez, SS/3B, (3.090): $1.2MM
- Casey Fien, RHP, (2.143, Super Two): $1.1MM
- Non-tender candidates: Duensing, Swarzak, Nunez
- Jared Burton, RHP: $3.6MM club option with $200K buyout
The Twins’ offseason began with what was a surprising move for many, given the team’s loyalty to its front office and coaching staff, as Ron Gardenhire was dismissed from his managerial role and offered another position within the organization. While Gardenhire weighs that decision, the coaching staff will look markedly different next season, as none of the coaches are guaranteed a spot in 2015. The coaching staff will be determined by the new manager and by GM Terry Ryan once Gardenhire’s successor is appointed. Paul Molitor is the primary internal candidate, though Terry Steinbach is another option. Other names floated from outside the organization have been Red Sox bench coach Torey Lovullo, White Sox third base coach Joe McEwing, Rays bench coach Dave Martinez and former Pirates skipper John Russell.
As Ryan told Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press in late September, the rotation will be the focus of the offseason for the Twins. Hughes has been an unquestionable bright spot — one of the best free agent signings from the 2013-14 offseason — but his acquisition was the only of Minnesota’s three rotation expenditures that paid dividends in 2014. The re-signing of Pelfrey to a two-year, $11MM contract has been an abject failure, and a 5.38 ERA in 159 1/3 innings wasn’t what the Twins had in mind when signing Nolasco to a four-year deal. Perhaps there’s some reason for optimism with him, however, as Nolasco’s .351 BABIP is tied for the eighth-highest single-season mark since 1900 (among pitchers with 150+ IP), and metrics such as FIP (4.30) and xFIP (3.97) feel that his performance wasn’t as bad as that ERA would suggest. Nolasco does have a low career strand rate, which typically keeps his ERA higher than his FIP, but not to this extreme.
The Twins’ internal options didn’t exactly pan out either. Former top prospect Kyle Gibson improved upon a rough debut season but logged a 4.47 ERA in 179 1/3 innings and endured a particularly rough patch from mid-August to mid-September before finishing strongly. Kevin Correia struggled all season before being sent to the Dodgers for a PTBNL, and trade acquisition Tommy Milone didn’t perform any better. Prospect Trevor May posted a cringe-worthy 7.88 ERA, though he showed a propensity for strikeouts and was plagued, to an extent, by a .377 BABIP. Top prospect Alex Meyer didn’t make it to the show but did post solid Triple-A numbers before some shoulder discomfort sidelined him in late August.
The Twins’ rotation problems are tied directly to another team deficiency — their defense. Minnesota’s collective .315 BABIP was the highest in all of baseball this season, and their defense ranked near the bottom of the league in terms of both Ultimate Zone Rating and Defensive Runs Saved. While the infield defense was mostly passable (albeit unspectacular), the team’s -36.2 UZR in the outfield ranked 29th of 30 teams, and no MLB club posted an uglier outfield DRS mark than Minnesota’s -50. The departure of Josh Willingham (via an August trade) and the likely return of converted shortstop Danny Santana to the infield — something the organization has expressed a desire to see — create the opportunity for better outfield defense. (The pitching staff, of course, compounded the defensive shortcomings by finishing with the worst K/9 rate in all of baseball for the fourth consecutive season.)
Minnesota’s bullpen was a relative strength for much of the season, but late swoons by Fien and Perkins, plus some questionable performances from September call-ups, submarined the unit’s collective numbers. Perkins was particularly out of sorts, and his season was eventually cut short due to a forearm strain and some nerve irritation (his UCL is reportedly fine). The Twins will be able to retain the entire group if they wish, though names like Duensing and Swarzak could be non-tender candidates, and I’d expect Burton’s option to be declined. Minnesota drafted Louisville closer Nick Burdi in the second round of this year’s draft, and it’s very possible that he and his 100-102 mph fastball eventually claim a bullpen spot next year. Stephen Pryor, acquired from the Mariners in exchange for Kendrys Morales, could fight for a spot as well. A veteran addition is possible, but the Twins don’t seem likely to spend extravagantly on the relief corps this offseason.
Looking at the team’s arbitration eligible players, Plouffe, Milone, Schafer and Fien seem like locks to be retained, while the others — Duensing, Swarzak and Nunez — are less certain. Cutting ties with those three players would leave Minnesota with about $69MM committed to the 2015 payroll. That would be well south of the team’s $85.5MM Opening Day payroll in 2014 — a figure that grew significantly after adding Morales on a one-year deal in June — so it seems fair to suggest that Ryan could have $20-25MM to spend, should he choose.
History has taught us that the Twins will not be serious players for the likes of Max Scherzer and Jon Lester, both of whom have legitimate shots at landing seven-year contracts. James Shields, the next-best arm on the market, seems too much of a stretch as well. The Twins seem more likely to explore the second tier of starting pitchers, which will include one name they pushed for late last offseason: Ervin Santana. The Twins reportedly made Santana a three-year offer in the $30-33MM range in Spring Training, but Santana preferred a one-year deal in the National League in hopes of cashing in on a bigger deal this offseason. It would make sense, then, to see Minnesota again express interest. Brandon McCarthy’s excellent finish to the 2014 season could make him a desirable target for Ryan as well.
If the team is looking at a buy-low candidate, longtime division rival Justin Masterson seems like a good fit. The Twins’ infield defense was markedly better than the outfield defense in 2014, and Masterson’s gaudy ground-ball rate would minimize the impact of a potentially questionable outfield defense in 2015. His strikeout rate remained strong as well, but the Twins would need to be convinced that the knee injury which plagued Masterson’s 2014 season (and likely played a large role in his fastball velocity dropping from 91.6 mph to 88.9 mph) is now healed. Brandon Morrow and Brett Anderson are another pair of high-upside names that come with injury risk but could make sense on one-year deals. The Twins did show interest in Anderson last year before he was dealt to Colorado. Each of these three arms would give the Twins a legitimate trade chip in July should they remain healthy on a one-year deal and should the Twins again fail to contend. The success experienced by Hughes in 2014 could cause pitchers in this vein to give a bit of a longer look at the benefits of pitching in Target Field.
Looking to the outfield, it’s clear that the Twins could use at least one upgrade. While top prospect Byron Buxton — whose season was all but lost due to wrist injuries and a frightening concussion — will eventually claim center field, Aaron Hicks has failed to do so in the short term. Schafer impressed the Twins after being claimed on waivers and figures to have locked up a spot as a fourth outfielder. A run at Cuban slugger Yasmany Tomas doesn’t seem realistic; the Twins have never bid that highly on an international free agent, and Tomas could clear $100MM.
If the Twins move Santana back to shortstop and non-tender Nunez (leaving the utility role to Eduardo Escobar), they could pursue options at any of the outfield positions (with Oswaldo Arcia occupying one of the two corner spots). Colby Rasmus is an interesting buy-low candidate, but if he’s looking to rebuild value, a pitchers’ park like Target Field probably isn’t the best setting. Melky Cabrera’s price tag could preclude a serious pursuit from Minnesota, and while they had interest in Nelson Cruz late last offseason, his price tag figures figures to be prohibitive as well. A trade for a defensively gifted outfielder such as Peter Bourjos would make sense for Minnesota, in my mind. He could provide elite center field defense while Buxton develops, and he would also improve results for the team’s pitching staff. Bourjos’ modest salary would allow Ryan to focus his resources on improving the rotation.
Other areas such as catcher and designated hitter likely don’t need to be addressed. The Twins opted to sign Suzuki to a two-year extension rather than trade him this summer when a market failed to materialize, and switch-hitting slugger Kennys Vargas looked impressive in a second-half call-up, batting .274/.316/.456 with nine homers in 53 games. It’s possible that the Twins could receive trade interest in Suzuki this offseason, given the weak market for catchers after Russell Martin. The team does have an interesting alternative in Josmil Pinto, but Suzuki is well-liked in the organization and it’d be somewhat surprising to see him moved so quickly after signing that contract. Suzuki doesn’t seem to be worried about the idea, as he said in August that he and his agents at MVP Sports Group didn’t think it was necessary to try for a no-trade clause.
One interesting point to consider (a topic which Andrew Bryz-Gornia noted at SB Nation’s Twinkie Town) is the future of Plouffe. The former first-rounder quietly had an excellent season (3+ rWAR and fWAR) and looks to have found a home at third base. The only problem is that Miguel Sano is the Twins’ heir apparent at third and could force his way onto the Major League roster next season. It’s possible that the Twins could once again shift Plouffe’s position to a corner outfield spot (they employed a similar trajectory with Michael Cuddyer early in his career), but with an in-house stopgap such as Escobar under control, Plouffe strikes me as an under-the-radar trade target for teams in need of help at the hot corner.
The Twins will first have to determine who will succeed Gardenhire, and when they do, improving the rotation as well as the outfield defense should be priorities in what will be a busy offseason for Ryan and assistant GMs Rob Antony and Wayne Krivsky.
I always have to laugh when I see Pelfrey’s contract. No idea what the Twins, who should have been watching their payroll intently, were thinking.
I wonder if Pelfrey would be better suited to a limited bullpen role, like 7th inning or 8th inning guy? I suffered through many years of his inadequacies as a Met fan, and wondered the same thing-what insanity gripped the Twins to sign him…
I thought he was worth a shot. He showed glimpses at times in 2013 and he was coming back pretty quickly from Tommy John. $5.5 million really isn’t anything when it comes to the majors these days and the Twins are certainly making enough money where they could give him a try at that rate.
I guess, having a warm body is better than nothing…
I would say having options is better than nothing. I was fine with them taking another chance on Pelfrey improving than going again with the likes of Andrew Albers, Col De Vries, Liam Hendriks, Scott Diamond, Pedro Hernandez, P.J. Walters, etc.
true enough. He ended up like those guys though, which, sadly, was no surprise to me…
I could see the Twins as a dark horse for Cruz. I doubt they’ll top whatever the Os will pay to keep him though.
Walt in Maryland
I know this might sound like blasphemy to Minnesota fans, but should the Twins explore trading Mauer? He alone accounts for more than half of the guaranteed money on their books. He’s no longer a catcher, and he isn’t hitting for power.
No. No team is going to take on his full salary and he makes the team money through merchandise. He isn’t completely horrendous enough to offset his status as a hometown franchise player.
Maybe this changes in the recent CBA, but don’t all 30 teams share equally in the overall pool of merchandise revenues?
First of all, Mauer has a no-trade clause so a trade is up to him. Second it would be selling his value at its lowest, even if the trade could go through. Lastly, his contact is not getting in the way of the team, as he still is productive and the team has plenty of payroll space to add players if needed. There’s no reason to dump him for the sake of dumping him.
Exactly. Selling low makes no sense and the Twins have enough money to add to their roster even with what they are paying Mauer.
That Joe Mauer contract is horrendous. And I remember Twins fans and many others calling that a hometown discount at the time.
It was a hometown discount at the time. He was having historic years for his position. He has given them a somewhat respectable return thus far, though obviously it isn’t looking great moving forward.
Bad contracts are contextual. Mauer’s is not as bad as some others like Crawford or Howard because people will buy stuff with his name on it.
Still wasn’t a discount. He’s a catcher, to sign him to that high of an AAV for that many years was a market rate contract. That contract bascially pushed Morneau off the Twins sins Mauer took over at first which they should have known was going to happen eventually. If you’re saying 23 million a year wasnt a discount, do you really think Mauer was going to get something in the range of 30 million a year? You have the home discount rate (which this isn’t), the market rate (which this pretty much) and above market rate which some argue this may have been. This contract was made 4 years ago, not at current prices.
That contract didn’t push Morneau off the Twins. Morneau’s health issues pushed him off the Twins. And yes, I do think somebody would have paid Mauer more than what the Twins did. He really is overpaid based off his production lately, but it is worth noting that in baseball you more or less get paid for what you’ve done, not for future performance. He wasn’t making near $23 million a year when he was having his MVP and batting title seasons. So it all balances out in the end. Plus, as much as the Twins are taking a hit now for his contract, it would have been much worse with fans if they had let him walk, especially after promising Target Field would help them keep their talent.
No it really wouldn’t have been market rate at all. There’s a big different between 23 million and 30 over 8 years, but with the Yankees and the Sox involved he would have definitely made more than 180 million.
He would have been a FA the same offseason that Werth and Crawford got their 100m+ deals. And that same offseason he would have been the youngest of the three. AND the Yankees, Red Sox and Tigers were all looking for catching help. If he had made to free agency, he would have made a lot more. Also, his swing would have been a perfect fit for Fenway. A lot of his flyball outs at TF would have bounced off the Green Monster.
An 8 year contract for a catcher… The Twins were paying him at a rate that you would expect him to catch that entire contact for at least 140 games a year.
There’s quite a few very long-term “hometown discount” contracts signed in the 2010-11 timeframe that proving to be major obstacles for teams — not only Mauer, but Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez and Ryan Braun.
It’s definitely not pretty, but the Twins were really handcuffed. Mauer won an MVP in the final season at the Metrodome and would’ve hit free agency a year later. The front office had to weigh that contract against what would be an unimaginable PR nightmare of having their hometown MVP leave to sign in Boston or New York a year after Target Field opened.
I don’t know how they won as many games as they did. You combine a pitching staff of guys that mostly pitch to contact with a lousy defense behind them, and you’re not going to win a lot of games.
I don’t know about about 2015, but after that the Twins should be in fine shape. The article says they have about $25mil to spend, but considering where their payroll was at 3 years ago, $35mil if the Pohlad’s are in a good mood could be reasonable. Let’s say they went out and got themselves a Nelson Cruz type, and a James Shields type (I’m throwing names out here). The opening day lineup for 2016 would look like this…
7 of 9 are 20+ homer guys, with a couple in the middle 30+ homer guys. Heck, your 9th man was an All Star this year.
Trevor May/Tommy Milone
(With Jose Berrios and Kohl Stewert knocking on the door)
Think you are a bit over optimistic with the numbers, but agree that roster has good potential…..now whether or not they reach that potential is iffy. The team made a good first step towards improving on Monday this week and keeping fingers crossed the new coaching staff is able to get the best out of the team.
That’s true, I may very well be off, but if you take the estimated payroll of $70m, they could spend $42m to get it back to the $112m it was back in ’11. Heck, they had 2 years recently where it was $27m higher than it was now. So saying that I could see them spending $35m isn’t that far out…
Unassisted Triple Play
Am I the only one who thinks Joe Mauer is underpaid? Ok, yes, I am the only one. Twins FO – quit messing around and PAY JOE MAUER!
Love your sarcasm.
Unassisted Triple Play
And so am I, love your sarcasm.
Do any of you guys know if the Twins cut Chris Colabello?? Thank you
I haven’t heard anything about it yet, but i’m sure they will try sending him to Korea or something like they did last year before sending Andrew Albers over there. But Colabello has no future with the twins, especially with all the young guys coming up.
Frugal ownership will always be the downfall of this team.
Isn’t Eduardo Escobar also a Super 2?