• The Elephant in the Room

    Earlier this week, Charley Walters of the Pioneer Press asked Terry Ryan whether the team's recent run of success has affected the way he's preparing for the offseason.

    "Regardless of what you look like right now, you still look at the club and figure out where you're headed and where you need to add," Ryan told Walters. "My focus and our focus will always be, as you go through a season, to look at what you've got and what you've got coming up."

    What the Twins have got and what they've got coming up are one in the same: bats.Their lineup is looking strong, and everyone is locked in for next year and beyond. In the offings, you've got Chris Parmelee obliterating Triple-A, while Aaron Hicks and Oswaldo Arcia thrive in Double-A.

    Where they need to add, clearly, is pitching. Everyone agrees on that. Opinions differ on the scope of the project.

    Should they focus solely on adding young, high-upside arms, even if it means disassembling their current core and delaying their window of contention by a few years?

    Or should they try to keep this group largely intact, picking up pitchers wherever they can and hoping for some good things to happen in 2013?

    From my perspective, there are a number of ways to work toward putting a contending team on the field next year that don't jeopardize the organization's long-term outlook. And not doing so would be an injustice to the franchise's most valuable (and highly-paid) asset: Joe Mauer.

    You may have noticed that Mauer has been rather awesome this year in spite of the club's struggles. After a sluggish start, he's turned it on the summer months and is back to ranking among the elite in batting average and on-base percentage while logging significant time at catcher.

    The likelihood that Mauer keeps playing at this level diminishes a bit next year. And a little bit more the year after that. And so on. That's because he'll turn 30 next spring, and historically baseball players have often started to show decline as they age into their fourth decade of life. Particularly guys with substantial injury histories.

    The time to build a championship-caliber team around Mauer is now, while he remains in his physical "prime." As the years pass, it becomes more difficult to center plans around him, and as long as he's consuming close to a quarter of the payroll there's really no other choice.

    As the Twins ponder whether to take a long-term approach in putting a competitive product back on the field, what they need to ask themselves is whether biding their time and stocking the farm is worth wasting the best years of Mauer's career.
    This article was originally published in blog: The Elephant in the Room started by Nick Nelson
    Comments 64 Comments
    1. BrentMpls's Avatar
      BrentMpls -
      Which route do you think they will go Nick?
    1. Nick Nelson's Avatar
      Nick Nelson -
      Hard to say. Ryan has been very vague when discussing his offseason plans. If they're serious about keeping payroll steady going forward, though, I don't see how it would really be possible to not at least make a modest effort at fielding a decent team. They'll have around $25M to spend and few holes to fill outside of the rotation.
    1. Twins best friend's Avatar
      Twins best friend -
      I think they'll stick in the grey area between the two unfortunately. I see them picking up a veteran starter this offseason who has the potential to and has been in the past a number 2 type starter but will most likely produce as a number 3 starter but I also see them making a trade for promising pitcher who won't be MLB ready till the 2014 or 2015 season. I'd really rather them go at one or the other with gusto but the Twins don't tend to make and sort of organizational moves with gusto. My pessimism tastes sour.
    1. twinstalker's Avatar
      twinstalker -
      They weren't willing to build a championship team when they had Mauer, Morneau, Santana, and Nathan as centerpieces, what makes you think they'd do the appropriate things when the really only have Mauer as someone who can be counted on to be well above average at his position?
    1. glunn's Avatar
      glunn -
      It seems to me that they need to play the cards that are dealt as time passes.

      There has been lots of talk in the forums about signing Greinke and other starters who will be coveted by the Yankees and other free spending teams. I think that is pure fantasy. The Twins don't get into bidding wars against the high spending teams. Their favored approach seems to be looking for players who are undervalued, like the Hammer. If they can get a pitcher who they feel is undervalued, then I think that they will go for him. That pitcher might turn out to be as good as Pavano was in his first year with the Twins or as bad as Marquis was this year. Or maybe they will get lucky.

      For me the good news is that the home-grown pitching for next year may be at least at league average. In my opinion:

      -- Diamond seems fairly solid. I would be happy if he could start the first postseason game next year,

      -- Deduno may be a disaster waiting to happen (with his WHIP of 1,58), but he is a joy to watch and if he can fix his "fastball" and cut his walk rate, he could be a legitimate #2.

      -- DeVries is not flashy but he is getting the job done -- WHIP of 1.12.

      -- Kyle Gibson may be ready to contribute next year.

      -- Blackburn will be in a contract year and may get his act togther.

      -- Hendriks could use a strikeout pitch, and maybe he just needs to learn to relax and just throw the damn ball like he does at AAA.

      -- P.J. (the "Wall") Walters has shown flashes of competence.

      -- Esmerling Vasquez (now in Rochester) has a WHIP of only 1.13 and has more strikeouts than Hendriks (77 strikeouts in 81.1 innings for Vasquez versus 72 strikeouts in 92.1 innings for Hendriks). Vasquez is almost 30 years old, but maybe he could have a few good years in the majors as a #4 or #5 starter.

      These are all pitchers who I would like to see given a chance next year. And remember that if Butera becomes a pitcher next year, then he will bat only in interleague games.

      Nick, am I wrong to have hope that at least 4 or 5 of these guys could be equal or exceed league average next year?
    1. twinswon1991's Avatar
      twinswon1991 -
      Quote Originally Posted by glunn View Post
      It seems to me that they need to play the cards that are dealt as time passes.

      There has been lots of talk in the forums about signing Greinke and other starters who will be coveted by the Yankees and other free spending teams. I think that is pure fantasy. The Twins don't get into bidding wars against the high spending teams. Their favored approach seems to be looking for players who are undervalued, like the Hammer. If they can get a pitcher who they feel is undervalued, then I think that they will go for him. That pitcher might turn out to be as good as Pavano was in his first year with the Twins or as bad as Marquis was this year. Or maybe they will get lucky.

      For me the good news is that the home-grown pitching for next year may be at least at league average. In my opinion:

      -- Diamond seems fairly solid. I would be happy if he could start the first postseason game next year,

      -- Deduno may be a disaster waiting to happen (with his WHIP of 1,58), but he is a joy to watch and if he can fix his "fastball" and cut his walk rate, he could be a legitimate #2.

      -- DeVries is not flashy but he is getting the job done -- WHIP of 1.12.

      -- Kyle Gibson may be ready to contribute next year.

      -- Blackburn will be in a contract year and may get his act togther.

      -- Hendriks could use a strikeout pitch, and maybe he just needs to learn to relax and just throw the damn ball like he does at AAA.

      -- P.J. (the "Wall") Walters has shown flashes of competence.

      -- Esmerling Vasquez (now in Rochester) has a WHIP of only 1.13 and has more strikeouts than Hendriks (77 strikeouts in 81.1 innings for Vasquez versus 72 strikeouts in 92.1 innings for Hendriks). Vasquez is almost 30 years old, but maybe he could have a few good years in the majors as a #4 or #5 starter.

      These are all pitchers who I would like to see given a chance next year. And remember that if Butera becomes a pitcher next year, then he will bat only in interleague games.

      Nick, am I wrong to have hope that at least 4 or 5 of these guys could be equal or exceed league average next year?
      You are crazy unfortunately. Diamond has a decent shot at being average and the rest will need a miracle to be average. If Twins rotation consists of only 1 league average starter and a FA in the Liriano mold we will lose 90 for the 3rd year in a row.

      Who cares about Mauer? If you ever want to actually win a playoff game you need to endure the pain o blowing this thing up and building thru the minors. Stuck in the middle is the worst place to be.
    1. DPJ's Avatar
      DPJ -
      Would if really be an injustice to Mauer, hell the team has fielded playoff caliber teams with or around Joe on them in 2004, 2006, 2008, 2009, 2010. Hell he's missed the postseason in 3 outta the 8 seasons he's been in the majors...pretty good run even if they **** the bed everytime in October.

      If they Twins want to gear up for a run and not just a AL Central run that involves winnings actually postseason games I think it's gonna take a few years to aquire all the pieces needed for that.
    1. Cap'n Piranha's Avatar
      Cap'n Piranha -
      Quote Originally Posted by twinswon1991 View Post
      Stuck in the middle is the worst place to be.
      Are there Clowns to your left, Jokers to your right, here you are?
    1. Blackjack's Avatar
      Blackjack -
      Quote Originally Posted by glunn View Post
      It seems to me that they need to play the cards that are dealt as time passes.

      There has been lots of talk in the forums about signing Greinke and other starters who will be coveted by the Yankees and other free spending teams. I think that is pure fantasy. The Twins don't get into bidding wars against the high spending teams. Their favored approach seems to be looking for players who are undervalued, like the Hammer. If they can get a pitcher who they feel is undervalued, then I think that they will go for him. That pitcher might turn out to be as good as Pavano was in his first year with the Twins or as bad as Marquis was this year. Or maybe they will get lucky.
      I think that you hit it on the head, it will be a 'cattle call' of starting pitchers next spring, all the guys you mentioned plus a couple of marginal free agents, and hope that several will step up. Thats the way the Twins have always done it, they've never had powerhouse teams, their margin for error is always slim, if most players don't have good years, with a couple of great ones thrown in, and they don't avoid injury, they lose.

      I think the real elephant in the room is Target Field, the Twins brass has seen what happened in Cleveland, the new stadium draws people for a few years, but without a competitive team, they don't draw fans. And that means less $8 beers and $6 hotdogs sold. They're not going to blow up the team, they've got a pretty good nucleus, adding a couple of good starters will go a long ways to making them competitive.

      My prediction is that Terry Ryan will do what he always has done, trade from a position of strength, which is the glut of outfielders, he'll trade one of them, most likely Span, for a starting pitcher.
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      Quote Originally Posted by twinswon1991 View Post
      If Twins rotation consists of only 1 league average starter and a FA in the Liriano mold we will lose 90 for the 3rd year in a row.
      You do realize that there's a pretty good chance the Twins won't lose 90 this season, right?
    1. Winston Smith's Avatar
      Winston Smith -
      Joe Mauer has never played in a playoff game the Twins won. Not saying it's his fault but it does indicate how long ago Henry Blanco was the catcher in the last win, and AJ the win before that. I think Blackjack has it right they will attempt to field a team that can stay close next year, they want people to stay interested, buying tickets and beers.
    1. Don't Feed the Greed Guy's Avatar
      Don't Feed the Greed Guy -
      My hunch is that the Twins will look to free agency for that 1-2 starter, stand pat with Mr. Diamond, hope for Mr. Kyle Benjamin Gibson's arm to hold up, and pray for a bunch of rain-outs. If they wanted to gut the team for a bunch of young arms, they would have done so before the trade deadline. It would also be nice to upgrade the middle infield.

      It won't be pretty, but the Central is a weak division. The Twins should finish third this year, and perhaps less than 10 games out. I just want our boys to be playing meaningful games in August and September. I love to troll for walleyes in the evening and listen to a competitve game on the radio. This year they were out of it before I even got my boat in the water...

      With this lineup, and the 15-20 more wins that two good starters could bring, we'll be okay--maybe make the playoffs--or duplicate a once-in-a-lifetime, catching lightning in a bottle postseason like 1987. Or, maybe .500. That's about all...
    1. stringer bell's Avatar
      stringer bell -
      "Cattle call" was precisely what the Twins did for their bullpen this year. They kept Burton and Maloney (didn't pan out, now had TJ surgery), but weve also seen Deduno (as a starter), Perdomo, and Fien. I liked what the Twins did and if they can snare a guy by signing minor league free agents, sign one higher profile guy and get help from the farm (Hendriks, Gibson) they can be OK. I'll grant that is a lot of "ifs", but I do believe that after everything had gone wrong for about 18 months, the Twins were/are due a bit of good fortune. This is probably Terry Ryan's real strength--finding hidden nuggets in other people's systems--so perhaps there is a little better shot because of that.
    1. diehardtwinsfan's Avatar
      diehardtwinsfan -
      Quote Originally Posted by Nick Nelson View Post
      Hard to say. Ryan has been very vague when discussing his offseason plans. If they're serious about keeping payroll steady going forward, though, I don't see how it would really be possible to not at least make a modest effort at fielding a decent team. They'll have around $25M to spend and few holes to fill outside of the rotation.
      I think they can do the best of both worlds on this one. I suspect Ryan is going to trade one of Morneau, Span, or Revere this offseason for some starting pitching help, though I wouldn't be surprised in the least if that's a higher upside AA type starter as opposed to a ML ready one now. The Reds seem to be a bit of a natural fit here as they could definitely use one of Span/Revere and have a surplus of pitching. The drop off to losing one of these guys should be minimal, and if Parmelee shows he isn't a fluke, we might even see a small upgrade in the lineup.

      In the free agent market, I suspect he's going to plow a good chunk of that 25M into a decent starters, but at the same point, he's going to have to sign a few one year prove it type deals to guys like Baker, potentially bedard (though I think he might get a multi-year deal), or other high upside pitchers... He may go takea flier on a MI player too...
    1. Shane Wahl's Avatar
      Shane Wahl -
      Vasquez (he has been very good since a bad April) working as a starter now does add to his value and I would like to see him get a chance. It *is* true that 2-5 next year (at least by June) could be Gibson-Diamond-Hendriks-Vasquez (or Walters). I would guess that the Twins will go that route and spend legitimately on one very good starting pitcher (Marcum, for instance). I would prefer two of them though. One option in between a $10+ million and a AA prospect who won't be ready in 2013, is to trade instead for guys in their arbitration years right now who have been good this year. The Twins could perhaps get Marcum for $4/50 and one younger arb pitcher for $2/$4 million . . . etc. or whatever.

      Pitchers in arbitration, team, year of FA:

      Chris Sale, CHW 2017
      Jarrod Parker, OAK, 2018 (?)
      Matt Harrison, TEX, 2015
      Tommy Milone, OAK, 2018
      Jason Hammel, BAL, 2014
      Jeremy Hellickson, TB, 2017

      Jordan Zimmermann, WAS, 2016
      James McDonald, PIT, 2016
      Wade Miley, WAS, 2018
      Lance Lynn, STL, 2018
      Vance Worley, PHI, 2018
      Clayton Richard, SDG, 2015
    1. JB_Iowa's Avatar
      JB_Iowa -
      Quote Originally Posted by diehardtwinsfan View Post
      I think they can do the best of both worlds on this one. I suspect Ryan is going to trade one of Morneau, Span, or Revere this offseason for some starting pitching help, though I wouldn't be surprised in the least if that's a higher upside AA type starter as opposed to a ML ready one now. The Reds seem to be a bit of a natural fit here as they could definitely use one of Span/Revere and have a surplus of pitching. The drop off to losing one of these guys should be minimal, and if Parmelee shows he isn't a fluke, we might even see a small upgrade in the lineup.

      In the free agent market, I suspect he's going to plow a good chunk of that 25M into a decent starters, but at the same point, he's going to have to sign a few one year prove it type deals to guys like Baker, potentially bedard (though I think he might get a multi-year deal), or other high upside pitchers... He may go takea flier on a MI player too...
      I hope you are right. I just don't see the Twins ever investing the money and years to "buy" a #1 starter. If I'm right about that, they have to find another way to acquire a #1 -- since kidnapping is probably out, that means trade or draft. I hope that he can somehow finesse his way through trades over the next 1 1/2 years to get a couple of prospects with #1 - #2 potential (hoping that one pans out).

      As for next year, I don't think he'll spend $25 million unless he gets Morneau's salary off the books. If Morneau is on this team, I believe that he'll spend $15-$19 million (at most). Targeting one #2 -#3 type starter (a solid innings eater) for no more than 3 years. Plus taking a 1 year "flier" on someone like Bedard or Baker (although I have a hard time seeing Baker really ready before July).

      I understand their need to keep people in the stands but it is hard for me to see Ryan spending the money to acquire (2) #2-#3 types. I hope they are saying a lot of prayers -- and making some voodoo sacrifices -- to try to get what they have in the system to solidify.
    1. gunnarthor's Avatar
      gunnarthor -
      I think the Twins can make more Bullock/Diamond moves. Diamond is obviously a "Twins" pitcher and the Twins seem to have a good understanding on the importance of control type pitchers. Those pitchers seem to be underrated by other clubs (maybe Pedro Hernandez gets a shot next year). I could see Ryan trying to add one of those guys fairly cheaply.

      I do think he'll trade Span for one starter to go along with Diamond and Hendriks. Gibson will come up at some point next year but will be on limited innings, maybe he starts in the pen?. I'm not sure if Ryan will spend much on a free agent but he could get a guy like Joe Blanton. Obviously, I'd like the team to add Grienke, Marcum or even Sanchez but i don't think that's likely. I wonder if a guy like Dan Haren, injured, sorta bad year, might be available on a one year deal to get his value up.
    1. cr9617's Avatar
      cr9617 -
      Quote Originally Posted by glunn View Post
      It seems to me that they need to play the cards that are dealt as time passes.

      There has been lots of talk in the forums about signing Greinke and other starters who will be coveted by the Yankees and other free spending teams. I think that is pure fantasy. The Twins don't get into bidding wars against the high spending teams. Their favored approach seems to be looking for players who are undervalued, like the Hammer. If they can get a pitcher who they feel is undervalued, then I think that they will go for him. That pitcher might turn out to be as good as Pavano was in his first year with the Twins or as bad as Marquis was this year. Or maybe they will get lucky.

      For me the good news is that the home-grown pitching for next year may be at least at league average. In my opinion:

      -- Diamond seems fairly solid. I would be happy if he could start the first postseason game next year,

      -- Deduno may be a disaster waiting to happen (with his WHIP of 1,58), but he is a joy to watch and if he can fix his "fastball" and cut his walk rate, he could be a legitimate #2.

      -- DeVries is not flashy but he is getting the job done -- WHIP of 1.12.

      -- Kyle Gibson may be ready to contribute next year.

      -- Blackburn will be in a contract year and may get his act togther.

      -- Hendriks could use a strikeout pitch, and maybe he just needs to learn to relax and just throw the damn ball like he does at AAA.

      -- P.J. (the "Wall") Walters has shown flashes of competence.

      -- Esmerling Vasquez (now in Rochester) has a WHIP of only 1.13 and has more strikeouts than Hendriks (77 strikeouts in 81.1 innings for Vasquez versus 72 strikeouts in 92.1 innings for Hendriks). Vasquez is almost 30 years old, but maybe he could have a few good years in the majors as a #4 or #5 starter.

      These are all pitchers who I would like to see given a chance next year. And remember that if Butera becomes a pitcher next year, then he will bat only in interleague games.

      Nick, am I wrong to have hope that at least 4 or 5 of these guys could be equal or exceed league average next year?
      That is a seriously underwhelming list of pitchers.
    1. birdwatcher's Avatar
      birdwatcher -
      I hold out hope that Ryan will sign one #2-3 starter via FA (Marcum type), trade for another #2-3 starter (Leake type), sign Baker, and fill out the rotation with Gibson and Diamond, leaving a very acceptable set of options in the wings: Hendriks, DeVries, Walters, Deduno, Bromberg, Hermsen...and? Nope, bye bye Blackburn. This would cost one of Span and Morneau, most likely. If Ryan settles for one #2-3 starter, I'll be dissappointed, and ready to criticize him as I did regarding this year's failed gamble with the rotation. If he gives us no new #2-3 starters, I'll join in the outcry for his head.
    1. drivlikejehu's Avatar
      drivlikejehu -
      My concern with the rebuilding approach is that the Twins have so little pitching in their system... even a couple trades can only do so much. Say you get 3 'B' pitching prospects somehow... a reasonable outcome will be one getting hurt, another being a reliever, and one making it as an OK starter. That's just not going to make a difference.

      They really need 3 legit starters, which is an extremely tall order. Usually impossible, but between a solid group of free agents and the possibility of a trade or two, I guess it's theoretically possible. It may make more sense financially than trying to rebuild without much in the way of pitching prospects.
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