Your place for Minnesota Twins and New Britain Rock Cats coverage, analysis and opinion.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Ryan Doumit: Now this Makes Sense

I wasn't too terribly excited about the Jamey Carroll signing. Don't get me wrong - - he's an upgrade. But he's no all-star, and he is not a long-term solution to the Twins' chronic middle infield problem. The Twins overpaid a little for Carroll, and he is definitely not what I would call a "difference-maker." Still, though, he should be a stop-gap between what the Twins have going into 2012 and what they hope to have going into 2014 in terms of homegrown shortstop talent. At least they did something.

Word is breaking that the Twins signed catcher Ryan Doumit to a 1-year, $3 million deal, with the possibility of more money based on certain performance bonuses. This deal is smart and necessary. Doumit catches and can play first base, and apparently even the right field, which is convenient, because we have health issues at catcher and first base, and our right fielder may be departing for greener, more easterly pastures. So with one signing and one roster spot, all at a fairly low price, the Twins bought insurance on Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau, and are getting the flexibility of being able to rest those players on a regular basis even if they are healthy. Further, this hopefully will give Chris Parmelee the ability to get a little more seasoning in the minors. Don't forget -- he was a AA call-up, and has never suited up for Rochester. I expect good things from Parmelee, but most would probably agree that at least a few months of AAA might be best for his development. Additionally, Doumit should lessen the need for Drew Butera. Sure, maybe he calls a good game, but he has no place on the roster of a team that should be competing for the playoffs. To be sure, Doumit's 2011 line of .303/.353/.477 looks pretty good right now.

Terry Ryan was smart to make this move. I would like to think that Bill Smith would have made the same move (in fact, I wouldn't be surprised if talks had initiated between the parties before Smith was fired). If the Twins can get another few smart signings like this, I think they can have a respectable 2012. Admittedly, I'm not all that excited by the Hot Stove season. I enjoy reading what others have written about, and suggested for, the Twins in 2012, but just haven't had the desire to make my own offseason "blueprint." That's probably why I haven't been writing more often lately. But when the organization does something to fill a glaring need, that must be acknowledged. Well done, front office.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Get Ready for the End of the Cuddyer Era

Reports are that Michael Cuddyer was in Philadelphia yesterday meeting with Phillies' brass and manager Charlie Manuel. This should come as no surprise to those who have been following baseball's hot stove thus far. The Phillies, among other teams, had expressed interest in Cuddyer early on, and are usually pretty aggressive when it comes to acquiring the talent they want. If I had to make a wager right now, my bet would be that Cuddyer will be suiting up for the Phillies next March, instead of re-signing with the Twins or going elsewhere, such as Colorado. Philadelphia is a good fit for Cuddyer for several reasons.

First, let's get the obvious out of the way: The Phillies spend money on the players that they want, they have deep pockets, and they will offer Cuddyer more years and more money than will the Twins. I had always thought that, if it was a difference of, say, $1 or $2 million a year, Cuddyer is the kind of guy who would stay in Minnesota just to have a legacy as having played his entire career for one organization. I think it's a safe guess that Philadelphia is willing and able to pay Cuddyer probably $3 or $4 million more a year than Terry Ryan would, and that the Phillies would go to a third or fourth year at that salary to land Cuddyer.

Second, the Phillies need a flexible player, and Cuddyer is nothing if not flexible. If signed, Cuddyer would see playing time at first base in place of the injured Ryan Howard, in the outfield of course, and perhaps even an infield position such as third base. As we know, Cuddyer can play many positions, none exceptionally well, but versatility with a solid bat is a marketable commodity, and he fits some needs for the Phillies.

Third, Cuddyer is a native of the Chesapeake, Virginia area, which, although not exactly next door, is about a 5 hour drive from the Philadelphia area. Cuddyer makes his off-season home in his native state, so he clearly has set his roots on the eastern seaboard. Though not the determinative factor, I'd imagine that Cuddyer views playing nearer to his home as a "plus." Aside from playing in Baltimore or Washington, D.C., this is about as close to a homecoming as Cuddyer could get.

Fourth, Jim Thome, one of Cuddyer's favorite teammates, is a new Phillie. Jerry Manuel, a well respected "players-manager," is at the helm. Cuddyer will not only be looking for a winning team, but also a clubhouse culture in which he would be a good fit. With Manuel, Thome, and others such as Ryan Howard and Chase Utley as seasoned Phillies veterans, Cuddyer would most certainly enjoy the the home clubhouse atmosphere at The Bank.

Fifth, and probably most important to Cuddyer, the Phillies are poised to win -- now. Their pitching is deep, players such as Ryan Howard and Chase Utley can practically carry the team when healthy, and the fan base is . . . rabid. It will be an exciting environment in which to play, and the Phillies will most likely start the season as favorites to win the NL East division, and possibly the World Series. If Michael Cuddyer wants to play October baseball and win a championship, Philadelphia might be his best bet.

Sixth, the Twins are in a very confusing state: They just fired their general manager. Are they rebuilding, re-tooling, or somewhere in-between? Are they going to surprise fans and get a couple big free agents, or are they going to be dumpster diving this winter? It took a confluence of events for the Twins to lose 99 games in 2011, and it's going to take a confluence of events for them to even have a shot at winning the AL Central in 2012. If the Twins were to match the Phillies' offer for Cuddyer, it would certainly be the only notable free agent acquisition in Minnesota this winter; Cuddyer might end up playing alongside rookies, Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, and some "pitch to contact" starters for the duration of his career. I'm not saying that things can't be fixed in Minnesota; I am suggesting, however, that if Cuddyer wants to win a World Series now, it probably won't happen in Minnesota in 2012.

So, one of these Sundays, don't be surprised if you open the Star Tribune only to find a full-page paid for by Michael Cuddyer, thanking the Minnesota fans for their support over the last 14 years. Cuddyer's a classy guy, and I wouldn't expect much less from him. And if the Phillies do offer $50 million over 4 years, I couldn't blame the guy for taking his 4 baseball gloves, media availability, and penchant for low-and-outside sliders to the City of Brotherly Love.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Re-Tooling vs. Rebuilding: Is There a Difference?

Well, I'm back. Thanks to that damn storm Albert that ravaged my Connecticut town, I had no power for 4 days. Then, the wife and I packed it up and went to Key West, Florida, for some much needed relaxation (and electricity and hot water). Last night, I had a pleasant surprise when I turned my phone on after arriving back in Connecticut, namely, that the Twins did indeed make a front office move by "replacing" (MN nice term for firing) GM Bill Smith with Terry Ryan. Of course, for many fans and bloggers, this was good news. -- not that you personally like the idea of a man losing his job, but that the move represents a level of accountability within the Twins' executive ranks. Someone had to take the fall for 2011, and it was Bill Smith.

Equally as interesting as Smith's departure were Terry Ryan's comments concerning payroll, in which he indicated that payroll would be around $100 million for 2012. For those keeping track, this is approximately $15 million lower than the 2011 payroll. If this is indeed the case, it likely means that Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel and Joe Nathan (or at least 2 of those 3) will be playing elsewhere in 2012. It also means that the front office will be unlikely to sign a quality veteran starting pitcher, a marquis reliever, or talented middle infielders. Keeping in mind that about $38 million alone in payroll is devoted to the M & M boys, you can see that the $100 million figure will be easy to hit without actually doing anything to improve the 2011 team.

Does that mean we have again entered a rebuilding phase in Minnesota? I sure as hell hope not. The fans that packed Target Field for the first 2 years of its existence, and that will again in 2012 notwithstanding the horrendous preceding season, deserve better. Make no mistake: I do not believe that payroll should be decreased; rather, I think a modest increase is warranted. As Jim Crikket at Knuckleballs has noted, there has been neither a justification given nor an apparent compelling need to lower the Twins' payroll. It scares me considerably to think that the "lean years" could be coming back to the Twins after only 160 games played at Target Field.

It's one thing to rebuild an organization; it's another to re-tool for a brief and definite time period. Up until a few months ago, most of us thought that Kyle Gibson was going to be a starting pitcher in the Twins' 2012 rotation. That's no longer that case. Justin Morneau's athletic career is very much in doubt; for the 15th consecutive year, the Twins have no settled shortstop and second base; Michael Cuddyer is looking for a $52 million commitment during years in which he almost certainly will decline; Denard Span, once viewed as a relative bargain, is a question mark physically and possible trade piece; Joe Mauer may never catch more than 100 games in a season again, and the Twins don't have a reliable back-up catcher. If the 2012 Minnesota Twins are a paragraph, the sentences comprising that paragraph conclude with many more question marks than periods. And there are probably some frowny-faced emoticons in there, as well.

Does this mean the Twins shouldn't try to be competitive, to sign free agents, to improve the club in 2012? Absolutely not. Does it mean that perhaps some money that might normally be expended on expensive veteran free agents (like Michael Cuddyer or Joe Nathan) or other above-average players might be better allocated -- this year -- to things such as making sure you sign the second overall pick in the amateur draft? Perhaps. To me, it means that any deals that happen this off-season are going to be equally, if not more, about 2013 and 2014, as they are about 2012. It's a frustrating position to be in, as a Twins fan, and I'm sure as a player and a member of the front office. Re-tooling -- being competitive in 2012, with an eye on 2013 and 2014, I can live with; rebuilding -- cutting costs and perpetuating the stereotype that Pohlads are parsimonious when it comes to their ballclub, I cannot stomach.

I like that Terry Ryan is back in charge, but I'm unsettled by the payroll estimate he gave. If it's true, fans are in for a long winter. I'm going to give him the benefit of the doubt, which he deserves as a result of his track record. He produced more with less in the past, so I'm anxious to see what he can do this time around.