Spring Training

Speaking of the Twins, hey, what’s going on down there in Florida?

The big topics for the Twins this Spring are management, pitching, and outfield.

The management issue is all-encompassing. The Twins, with their new ballpark, supposedly would now generate sufficient revenues to “compete in the marketplace.” This was one of the big rationales for the building new stadium. We were tired of being kicked around by the big market clubs. (Well, just the Yankees, really.) We were tired of the Pohlad’s complaining about their stadium not generating revenues. Basically, we were just tired. Okay, okay, okay. Enough. Build it.HSL2 e fr copy

So now, with full seats and bursting coffers, the Twins ventured into the off-season with the desire and wherewithal to address some immediate concerns – namely pitching.

A few years ago, looking at the Twins, I felt fairly good about the pitching. (What was I thinking?) Baker, Liriano, Blackburn, Slowey, I thought all had good potential. Of course there was Crain and Nathan in the bullpen, and there was Glen Perkins too, looking ready to blossom. There was Neshek and Manship and Guerrier, and Mijares. And Pavano.

Well we know what happened. Baker was always injured, and Liriano never came completely back from Tommy John surgery, and was always inconsistent, and always questionable. (And now, it seems, has broken his non-pitching arm this off-season, smacking a door to startle his children?) Slowey was, well, I’m not sure. Wore out his welcome, I guess? (Now a free agent, signed by the Marlins) Crain left. Blackburn lost effectiveness. Pavano was inconsistent. Mijares fell out of favor. The young guns in the minors all misfired. Which leaves us in our present precarious state.

But, no fear! New Stadium! Deep Pockets to the rescue! The Twins have gone to market, and they are looking to buy!

Let’s see now. What do we have, what do we see? Here’s a nice young pitcher. Not too many miles, let’s just take a look. Let’s just see what his price tag might say.

WHOA. Sticker Shock.

What?

How much?

That much? Really?

But you’ve never won more than 11 games and you give up base runners like crazy and your ERA is higher every year, and, because you’re a pitcher, you’ll probably injure your arm signing your contract and need UCL surgery before you pick up a ball!

No thanks! No thank you very much!

There’s gotta be a better deal out here.

How about this one. A few more miles on him, but still. Let me just check his tag here… OUCH! Seriously?

This is just bargaining position. Right? Am I right? No? Okay. Thanks anyway.

Like Captain Renault in the movie Casablanca, the Twins are shocked – shocked – to find prices so high in the market for free agent pitching. Despite the deep pockets, these are still bankers running the team, and they do not like to put their money on the roulette wheel, which is basically what you’re doing with free agent pitchers. Not when they can put that money back in the vault, where it’s safe and sound and earns 1% compounded quarterly.

And frankly, looking at the salaries being raked in by these free agents, I can’t blame the Twins too much. Though surely, as professionals in the game, they must have seen this coming, they must have realized that this would be the case. And perhaps they should have been a bit more circumspect and realistic in talking about their off-season plans. Pitching is at a premium. Any team with a solid rotation is only one or two pitches away from injuries and chaos. No one ever has too much pitching.

Except.

Perhaps.

The Philadelphia Phillies. And the Washington Nationals. Because these are the two teams which traded pitching to the Twins for outfielders. Which leads to our third major topic of the spring, the outfield, and its sub-topic, the lead-off batter.

What is the off-season for, if not to worry about these things?

In their first big move of the off-season, the Twins traded their prized center fielder, Denard Span, for minor league pitcher Alex Meyer. Which says something about the comparative values of outfielders and pitchers. Span is an established veteran, a good lead off hitter, an excellent center fielder, and only 28 years old, “with a team-friendly contract” (i.e. underpaid.) Meyer, however, was the Nationals first-round pick in the 2011 draft. Last year in the class A minors he was 10-6 with a 2.86 ERA.

On the surface, this looks like a good trade for both clubs, but only time will tell. Meyer was the Nats top pitching prospect, he’s 6’9″, and throws, as they say, a 99 mile per hour fastball. It will be awhile before he’s ready, while Span will be leading off for the Nats this year. But that’s okay – because the Twins have young Ben Revere, the center fielder of the future, ready to patrol the vast green carpet at Target Field.

A few days later the Twins stunned everyone by trading  their center fielder of the future, 24-year-old Ben Revere, to the Phillies, for pitchers Vance Worley, 25 years old,  and 23-year-old Trevor May. Revere is young, hit .294 last season,  an excellent outfielder and a base stealing threat, whereas Worley (3.50 career ERA) figures to move into the Twins starting rotation, and May is another prospect who will start the season in the minors.

spring training 13 trades fr sm

I have to give the Twins some credit for making these moves; they needed pitching and they got some pitching. They are looking to the future, as they should. It perhaps would have been nice to see them spend some money on some free agent pitching, but it’s no surprise, really, that they didn’t. Historically they are not dropping money on free agents, and that doesn’t seem likely to change. In addition, given the state of affairs with the Twins, would a free agent be likely to jump at joining them?

The Twins don’t ever rule out any possibilities. Why would they? But it would be pretty amazing and unusual and a highly unlikely set of circumstances that would see them throw top dollar at a free agent. So I don’t ever expect to see that happen.

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