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Twins Target - A Minnesota Twins blog | Page 15

Written by Andrew Kneeland | 25 July 2010

Hours after I wrote about why the Twins could go after Dan Haren, it's announced that the 29-year old pitcher was traded to Anaheim. Oh, well. Here are my thoughts on the trade from Arizona's perspective, if you're interested.

As for Minnesota, it has become quite clear that they are either unwilling or unable to take on additional payroll. Los Angeles acquired Haren for two good prospects, one fringe reliever, and a poor starting pitcher. The Twins could have easily matched that, but were obviously hesitant due to Haren's (very reasonable) contract.

It's not July 31 yet, but I'd say Minnesota is prepared to stand pat and compete with the talent already on their roster this season. Let's hope they have enough to get the job done.

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Written by Andrew Kneeland | 25 July 2010

With inconsistency taking a death-grip over Minnesota's starting rotation this year, the Twins are rumored to have been interested in just about every pitcher on the market. Unquestionably, Dan Haren and Roy Oswalt are the two most coveted trade targets this season, and the Twins would no doubt love to bring in some pitching help.

Rumors are one thing; feasibility is a whole different animal.

Adding a player like Oswalt or Haren would almost certainly tack a few extra wins onto Minnesota's record, which would significantly increase the Twins' playoff chances. But could Minnesota commit to a large contract without crippling the team for the next five years?


Pardon the ambiguity, but there is a way to take on an expensive contract without going bankrupt. But first, here are a few points that need to be understood:

  • Roy Oswalt is not a realistic option for Minnesota. Not only does the 32-year old Mississippi native seem to be positioning himself for a trade to St. Louis, but his salary is significantly higher and more unreasonable than Haren's. The Twins wouldn't be able to afford one year of Oswalt, even if Houston contributed a few million.

  • If Minnesota were to acquire Haren, they could trade him again if they found themselves unable to keep up with the right-hander's increasing salary. The prospects they receive in return may not equal the ones they give to Arizona, but the added wins would mostly offset the small hit in both the farm system and payroll.
The Twins' payroll is already well beyond what many thought possible. I don't have any idea how well Target Field is performing from a revenue-generating standpoint, but even if you assume that Minnesota will increase their payroll from this season you still need to account for some often-overlooked expenses, most notably Joe Mauer's $10.5 million raise next year.
Mauer, Morneau, Cuddyer, Kubel, Nathan, and Punto are due to receive a combined $70 million in 2011. Young and Liriano will both demand large arbitration increases, and both Baker and Blackburn are slated to receive multiple millions. Add it all up and you find yourself fiscally stretched.
I won't pretend to know if the Twins are prepared or willing to throw an extra $8-10 million into the player payroll department next season. As a fan of the team, I can't expect a significant increase. From a fan's perspective, the Pohlads would ideally take on a large contract, push for the playoffs, and solve financial problems later. As much as I'd like to think the Pohlad family values a World Series run as much as I do, the Minnesota Twins are a money-making entity. The bottom line is considered in all decisions.
If you were tasked with making expensive decisions, would you pay $10 million for a ten percent increase in playoff probability and a chance to display loyalty to your fanbase?

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Written by Andrew Kneeland | 24 July 2010

I haven't been able to think much about the Twins these past few days -- much less write about them -- and for that I apologize. But I had the opportunity to take three family members to a Diamondbacks game last night (thanks, wonderful employers!) and wanted to share a few thoughts, in convenient bullet-form for your reading pleasure.

  • You know you're in for a good night when a game ball finds its way into your hands before a pretzel or hot dog. Thanks to some agile maneuvering from the papa (and a hefty dose of "right place, right time"), the little brother was awarded with a batting practice ball two minutes after arriving in the ball park and a good half hour before we parked ourselves in Section 122, Row 35.

  • Even though Arizona left a gazillion runners on base during the game, they were still within striking distance in the seventh inning. Then Kelly Johnson dropped an easy out and the flood waters were loosed. Jonathan Sanchez couldn't find the strikezone to save his life tonight, yet the Diamondbacks still managed to lose. Sadly, this is the norm for Arizona in 2010.

  • While the home team did their best imitation of a JV squad, my sister and I had fun finding people in the half-empty stadium to make fun of. A kid to our left couldn't decide who to root for, so he simply booed everyone in sight. A large, very intoxicated male San Francisco fan to our right kept shouting indecipherable somethings to anyone who would listen. Seriously, I think I understood about one in every ten words he uttered. It was a fun evening.

  • Despite playing awful baseball, the Diamondbacks did have a few rallies during the game. Chase Field's insistence on playing "rattlesnake sounds" during tense situations, though, is baffling and, quite frankly, makes me question the sanity of whoever started that ritual. The rattling noise -- which sounds more like leaking gas -- came close to a vuvuezuela-esque level of annoyance. If Chase Field's intent was to make fans cringe when the Diamondbacks loaded the bases, they succeeded. Very much so.
  • With Pablo Sandoval stepping into the on-deck circle, me to my sister: "Know what his nickname is?" Sister: "Fatty?" It's actually "Kung Fu Panda," but I think her answer is better.

  • As should be obvious, I'm a big baseball fan. Watching a baseball game is one of the funnest things in the world for me. Yet, for some unknown reason (I had an impressive nine hours of sleep the night before), I nearly found myself nodding off during the first half of the game. This wasn't simply the standard "I'm going to sleep well tonight" kind of tired. I wasn't even in the "I may nap on the way home" category. No, I was firmly planted in the "Keeping my eyes open is a constant struggle and I may go comatose in my seat at any moment" territory. Luckily, a $5 Pepsi (sans ice) provided the shot in the arm that I so desperately needed.
  • Despite Johnson hitting for the cycle, Arizona lost. They're now 20 games behind the division-leading Padres, are about to trade away their best pitcher and hitter, but a good time was had by all. Thanks for the fun night, Chase Field!

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    Written by Andrew Kneeland | 20 July 2010

    This was originally posted over at The Daily Something. The fine proprietor of that blog, Bill, had his second child this past week and is taking some time off. Be sure to head over there to see many other fine guest writers!

    With a brand new ballpark and an infusion of fresh talent, Minnesota was given immense expectations at the beginning of the year. Expected to breeze through the American League Central, the Twins were a popular candidate for a deep postseason run.

    Ninety-three games into the 2010 season, though, the Twins are failing to live up to the hype.

    An ailing rotation, a spotty bullpen, and honest-to-goodness rotten luck have kept Minnesota from achieving their potential. While finger-pointers can blame just about every member of the team, Delmon Young refuses to be a scapegoat. Quietly churning out the best season of his career from deep within the Twins' lineup, Young will not be ignored for much longer.

    In terms of wOBA, Young has been the second-best hitter in Minnesota's lineup among those with at least 200 plate appearances. Better than Michael Cuddyer. Better than Jason Kubel. Yes, even better than Joe Mauer.

    And yet, Young is still stuck in the bottom third of manager Ron Gardenhire's batting order.

    Young's .313/.348/.510 triple-slash line this season is far better than the league-average No. 7 hitter: .256/.323/.412. That's 123 OPS points, or the difference between Angel Pagan and Rajai Davis. Young has even managed to lead the team in RBI despite his low position in the lineup.

    Throughout his career, Young has managed to maintain an impressive batting average, empty and devoid of power though it was. This year, Young has boasted plenty of power. On pace to hit 18 home runs this year, Young's .510 slugging percentage is the 18th-highest in the league. Young is also on pace to knock 45 doubles this season, nearly three times more than he hit last season.

    But what has Young done different this year to transform him from a draft bust to a premier young talent? He's walking more, striking out less, and even his fielding skills have taken a turn for the better. More importantly, though, Young has gotten smarter, taking better swings which result in a much higher contact percentage.

    His batted ball ratios aren't far off what they were last year, but Young's eight point increase in contact percentage has given him a significant power boost, despite the fact that he's still swinging at everything in sight.

    The 24-year old slugger has been especially hot in the month of July, hitting .404/.433/.684 in 15 games. If he keeps this up, Young will soon move up to fifth in the batting order.

    And a much deserved promotion it will be.

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    Written by Andrew Kneeland | 16 July 2010

    I had the opportunity to chat with John T. Meyer, the Twins MVB, this morning. You can find it below. (I need to calibrate my mic better, as I was very loud. Sorry about that.)

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    Written by Andrew Kneeland | 15 July 2010

    After starting the season with most everything clicking, the Minnesota Twins have experienced a rough couple of months. Injuries, rotten luck, and even simple incompetence has contributed to the Twins' drop to third in the AL Central, and the future doesn't look any better.

    Of course, as does every blogger, I know exactly how to fix the team. Here are three steps Minnesota needs to take in order to have a successful second half of the season.


    1. Send Kevin Slowey, Aaron Hicks, Carlos Gutierrez, and Yangervis Solarte to Arizona for Dan Haren

    There were two major consequences of the Cliff Lee trade, and both aren't beneficial to the Twins: Lee will not be in a Minnesota uniform in 2010, and his trade significantly raised the current going rate for starting pitchers.

    Texas essentially gave up a switch-hitting Justin Morneau for two or three months of Lee, which is far more than the Twins would have been willing to surrender. Now that a precedent has been set, Arizona will demand much more for Dan Haren.

    The Diamondbacks need tons of help, especially in the pitching department. Slowey has proven to be an adequate middle-to-end of the rotation starter in the American League, and could be a solid #3 option on the Senior Circuit. Gutierrez has plenty of upside and will be a great relief option in a year or two. And Hicks' incredible amount of unproven upside will be very appealing to Arizona's depleted minor league system.

    Minnesota gives up plenty, but will receive at least two and a half seasons of an above-average starting pitcher. (Possibly three and a half; Haren has a $15.5 club option for the 2013 season.) Haren's switch from the National League to the American League should cause some concerns, but the 29-year old has three years of AL experience under his belt.

    Haren spent the 2005-2007 seasons with the Oakland Athletics and posted a combined ERA of 3.64. He struck out an average of 7.2 per nine innings, and walked just 2.1 per nine. Stats such as HR/FB, BABIP, and LOB percentage show that Haren wasn't benefitting from many lucky breaks, either.

    Despite his slow start to the 2010 season, Haren would be a good top-of-the-rotation starter with the Twins and could help Minnesota re-take the division.


    2. Move Delmon Young up to fifth in the batting order

    Delmon Young has played in all but seven of the Twins' games so far this season. In 83 percent of the games he has played in, though, Young has batted in the 6-7-8 positions. Now, Young is no superstar and is certainly not worthy of usurping Morneau from the clean-up role, but there is no reason why the 24-year old isn't batting fifth.

    In five of the six most common lineups this season, the Twins have batted Young seventh, behind both Jason Kubel and Michael Cuddyer. Young (842 OPS) has been a better player than both Kubel (787) and Cuddyer (766) this season, and should be moved up to the 5th spot in the batting order in order to give him more RBI opportunities.


    3. Sit back and wait for the magic of regression to take effect.

    I'm not excusing poor performances when I say that the Twins have suffered from a great deal of bad luck so far this season.

    It's a fact that the Tigers and White Sox have benefitting from outstanding and very unsustainable performances from Paul Konerko, Alex Rios, Austin Jackson, Brennan Boesch, and Miguel Cabrera. These players' performances will almost certainly decrease to something more along the lines of what they have put up over the course of their careers.

    The Twins, meanwhile, have dealt with poor performances due to bad luck (see: Mauer, Joe) and poor performances due to injury (see: Hardy, J.J.; Hudson, Orlando).

    There are still a lot of games left in the season, and there is a good chance things will eventually even out. Minnesota is still the most talented team in the division.

    But adding a front-line starting pitcher would make things a whole lot easier.

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    Written by Andrew Kneeland | 12 July 2010

    Jesse Crain is a polarizing figure among Minnesota fans. Outside of Nick Punto, there perhaps isn't a player who so divides Twins Territory. Either you want to give the flame-throwing right-hander a second chance or you want him cut.

    Back when he first came to be with the Twins, Crain was a ground-ball machine, relying almost solely on his blazing fastball. After he recovered from rotator cuff and labrum surgery, though, Crain was a different pitcher. The velocity of his fastball was still excellent, but he was extremely hitable.

    While still relying on his fastball the vast majority of the time, Crain saw his ERA and home run rate go sky-high. Crain was even demoted to Rochester for a few weeks last year, putting Minnesota's Crain Experiment in jeopardy of an abrupt end.

    Minnesota gave Crain an extension for the 2010 season, though, giving the 28-year old former second-round pick one more year to stick in the Big Leagues. It was an ultimatum, of sorts. If Crain didn't prove to be a useful reliever in 2010, the Twins would need to pull the plug. The pieces were in place for a World Series run, and the team simply doesn't have time to invest in developmental projects.

    Judging from his results so far this season, Crain apparently got the message.

    Through 34.1 innings, Crain has an acceptable 3.93 ERA with a healthy strikeout-to-walk ratio. He's certainly not pitching like the guy who finished 8th in Rookie of the Year voting in 2005, but Crain has escaped the danger of being cut – at least for now.

    How is the young right-hander succeeding after so many years of being known as the “Crain Wreck?” Increased reliance on off-speed pitches.

    Through his career, nearly 65 percent of Crain's offerings have been fastballs. Someone must have told him that those fastballs, while fast, are simply too straight to fool opposing batters, as that number is down to 48.2 percent in 2010. His fastballs are being utilized less, and Crain's slider is being thrown much more often.

    According to FanGraphs, Crain's slider – thrown 207 times this year – is the 10th-best among relievers with at least 30 innings pitched. His curveball – tossed 58 times – is the best in the major leagues, according to FanGraph's algorithm.

    Now, there are flaws with FanGraph's pitch value stat, it puts far too much value on the deciding pitch in an at-bat, but it is clear that Crain's off-speed pitches have been excellent this year. His success has largely been due to a decreased reliance in his fastball and an increase in his off-speed offerings.

    If Crain can keep up this success and continue fooling opposing batters, he will solidify his place in a Minnesota bullpen in need of a reliable late-inning option.

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