On to your questions:
Who will be the Twins starting rotation on Opening Day? [@MichaelRHerman]
As the Twins have said since the season started winding down in September, Scott Diamond is the only pitcher guaranteed a spot in next year’s rotation. Outside of Diamond, here’s what I envision happening at this point: I see the Twins re-signing Scott Baker, signing one mid-to-low free agent and then trading for a starter.
Best optimistic guess at this point? Here’s what I would like to see:
1: James Shields
2: Scott Baker
3: Shaun Marcum/Jeremy Guthrie/Joe Blanton
4: Scott Diamond
5: Internal candidate (Liam Hendriks/Kyle Gibson/Samuel Deduno/Brian Duensing)
Think there’s any real chance of trading for a strong starter like Buehrle or Shields? [@christopherokey]
More so this year than in previous years.
I believe the front office is under some pressure from ownership to improve the team in order to avoid seeing a historic decline in revenue during the first five seasons of a new ballpark. Now, I do not believe these to be Steinbrenner-esque directives (“Go out and get be the best-damn pitcher available, money is no object.”) from ownership but Terry Ryan will likely wind up trading a long-time Twin (Denard Span, possibly) and/or someone from the farm system in order to get that piece.
Of course, it also matters too what the opposing teams thinks their commodities are worth in return.
As much as people like to think the Rays need to unload Shields, they are already shaving off a substantial portion of their payroll (upwards of $20 million), so there is not a need to jettison the pitchers who has thrown the third-most innings in the last three seasons. Rays will likely be looking for a solid return for Shields who has a reasonable $10.25 million left on his contract in addition to a $12 million 2014 team option. I personally like the idea of a Shields acquisition (as you can see by my prediction above) but I just don’t know if the Twins have enough or are willing to part with enough to get him.
On the other hand, Buehrle, who has been amazingly consistent and durable for his career, could come less of a ransom than Shields. However, the Marlins have him locked in through 2015 and -- while he is owed a reasonable $11 million in 2013 -- he has $18 million and $19 million coming to him in 2014 and 2015, respectively, as he enters his late-30s. I’m not sure the Twins want to trade away a prime asset for those latter years.
Why does Mauer hate hitting home runs? [@DanaWessel]
Like most real Minnesotans, Joe Mauer would love to put his head down and just go about his business without all the hoopla. Home runs clearly put undue attention on him while circling the bases from all those cheering fans at the game. Real Minnesotans like Mauer would prefer to slap singles and avoid the showboating.
In reality, there is a lot that goes why the sudden spike in 2009 and the complete inability to poke a few shots in to the stands every now and then.
First is the external factor of the ballparks which played a significant role in both the increase and the decline. At the Metrodome in 2009 Mauer was feasting on the front row of the left field bleacher seats – hitting 16 of his 28 home runs in that direction. When the Twins moved to Target Field, the outdoor elements and dimensions became extremely restrictive for that kind of power. A ball hit to the right-center gap or center field has difficulty leaving the park. Secondly, his on-going knee issues have undoubtedly drained some power, reducing the amount of drive produced from his lower-half.
One interesting note: three of Mauer’s home runs this year have been right down the right field line, not far off of the foul pole. Only one of his home runs dating back to 2008 had been in that region. Perhaps he is starting to figure out what needs to be done in order to hit home runs at Target Field. With another offseason to heal and the additional time away from catching could equate to more “dingers” in 2013.
That said don’t expect a big jump, maybe 15 at the most next year. That’s not what most fans want to hear, but Mauer still provides plenty of value with his ability to avoid making outs in over 40% of his plate appearances (one of four hitters in the league this year to do so).
Why do former Twins do better outside of the Twins system? (Dickey, Hardy, Lohse, etc) [@brandon_mack]
I don’t think this is necessarily true. Yes, there are some players who realize their potential after leaving the organization but it is not because of something the team is or is not doing with these players. Most of the time it the improvement is up to the individual not the organization.
What’s more is that in the case of the three players you named, other organizations could also claim the same thing.
In the case of R.A. Dickey, he was still very much attempting to refine his knuckleball – a pitch he had just picked up two seasons before arriving to the Twins. He did not have his mastery of knuck then, rarely getting opponents to chase the pitch out of the strike zone or induce silly-looking swings. Both the Rangers and the Brewers gave up on Dickey.
J.J. Hardy was not completely healthy (which may or may not have been a testament to the training staff) and he did not focus on pulling the ball (which may or may not have been hitting coach related). When he got to Baltimore, he got healthy, got focused on turning on pitches and was in an environment that was more conducive to hitting home runs.
With Lohse, both the Reds and the Phillies had Lohse without reaping the same benefits that the Cardinals just had with his 2012 season.
In short, I do not believe there is some internal issues that is causing the Twins to fail to identify future performance – at least, no more so than any other team.
Who is the best long-term option at 1B? Morneau, Parmelee or other. [@MikeAmundsen12]
With Justin Morneau in his early 30’s and teeming with various injuries, it’s not him. Hulking first baseman with injury tendencies do not age well – in fact it typically accelerates.
Take Travis Hafner, for example. Until the age of 30, Pronk was having an outstanding career and even receiving MVP votes. After 30, his big body began to breakdown rapidly and frequently, resulting in a significant decline in his numbers:
Age 31-35: 86 games per year, .259/.353/.436, 59 HRs
Because of that, I do not see the Twins retaining Morneau beyond his current contract.
Parmelee is still young, intriguing but is unproven over the course of an entire season at the major league level. His 2012 season at Rochester -- one in which he had the league’s second-highest isolated power average (minimum 250 plate appearances) – raising eyebrows that he can develop into a player with some legit power. As Terry Ryan said in the Offseason Handbook, the Twins appear committed to putting Parmelee in the lineup somewhere this year. It may be in right to begin with, but after next season, he could be the team’s first baseman for the next several years.
Of course, the real key to the Twins long-term plans at first base will be Mauer. Already seeing some time at first, he has looked comfortable at the defensive-side of the position and could eventually be there for the duration of his contract once squatting is out of the question.
Who are the number one suitors for [Denard] Span? Does Gibson start the season with the big league club? [@dropshotbob]
It looks like the Rays maybe the top suitors for Span. Tampa has not outright expressed interest, but Span is certainly a logical fit, what with his good defense, good plate discipline and good contract, plus, because B.J. Upton is likely to leave via free agency, Span is almost a natural target. If he doesn’t end up there, Atlanta is another team looking for center field help.
Unless something happens to Kyle Gibson between now and spring training, he’s likely on an inside track to start the season with the Twins – probably in the bullpen where the team can limit his innings and monitor his progress as he adapts to major league hitters and wraps his head around pitching in double-decker stadiums.
If Buxton doesn’t pan out as a positional player, chance #Twins try him as a pitcher? Reports were mid-hi 90’s in HS. [@Aaron_jenkins]
This topic has come up with Aaron Hicks as well, who purportedly threw in the low 90s in high school like Buxton.
So far, there are no indications that Buxton is headed for a bust – after all, he was both the Gulf Coast League and Appalachian League’s number one prospect overall as an 18-year-old. However, if for whatever reason, he winds up unable to climb up the system as a hitter, I would definitely want the Twins to consider seeing if he can be converted to a pitcher.
In fact, any and all positional prospects who have an arm should be given the opportunity to see if they can throw off a mound before being given their walking papers.
In a piece at Deadspin.com, Jack Dickey spoke to St Louis Cardinals’ farm director John Vuch and that organizations methods for dealing with prospects with great arms who end up unable to catch on as a hitter:
If he's at 85 or 86 miles per hour, as many strong-armed position players are, the Cardinals don't bother putting him through the conversion process. If he's at 89 or 90, there's something there. "Your hope," Vuch said, "is that he can throw a near-average fastball." Those who survive that initial test get a season to prove themselves in extended spring training and A ball.”
Much like the Twins, the 2012 Red Sox had extensive troubles with their pitching staff – at least in the earned runs department. Boston allowed 754 earned runs, finishing one behind the Twins in that category and third most in the American League.
And, like the Twins, things didn’t quite work out as planned, either. Two of their starters, Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz, had down years. Lester’s season was much more unexpected as the lefty had emerged as the team’s number one-type arm but a decline in strikeouts and an increase in his average on balls in play resulted in more runs. Josh Beckett’s fastball velocity dropped from 93.1 in 2011 to 91.4 in 2012 which opponents made much better contact on. So they wind up dishing out 94 innings to guys like Aaron Cook, who never met a bat he couldn’t hit. In fact, Cook’s 4.9% strikeout rate was the lowest among any starter with a minimum of 90 innings dating since the Mariners’ Glenn Abbott posted the same rate in 1979.
But, unlike the Twins, the Red Sox have a ton of financial freedom – and that gives them the ability to fix things quick. In addition to an already high revenue stream, thanks to the unloading of Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez and Josh Beckett (and I suppose Nick Punto too), this has freed up approximately $60 million of payroll to rectify the pitching problem, grab an outfield bat and perhaps bail out the auto industry as well. So far, the Sox have been tied to a bevy of free agent including Dan Haren and Scott Baker among others, who would go along with the existing arms of Lester, Buccholz, Felix Doubront and John Lackey. And rumor is the Sox are looking at former Twin Torii Hunter as well.
By the way, if you would like to participate in the next round of questions, follow me on Twitter (@OverTheBaggy) and fire me any or all Twins/baseball-related inquiries.