NOTEBOOK: Hey Twins! It’s Time to Spend Some Money!

Written By Brandon Warne (ZoneCoverage.com)

Any baseball analysis worth consuming makes note — implicitly or explicitly — that nuance is a huge part of the game.

And while the title of this column probably doesn’t give the same level of credence to that notion, please be aware that I’m totally on board with the idea that A. the offseason is still young and B. a lot can still happen.

And for the record, when I say “It’s time to spend some money!” I’m saying this winter, not at this second. I totally get the offseason dynamics that asking prices come down as the winter progresses, and that it’s not like a video game where teams don’t get a chance to match offers before a player signs, etc.

I get all that. I do. I’m just saying to spend some money this offseason.

But I’ve observed over the last few weeks a great disdain from Minnesota Twins fans on how the offseason has gone, and I think it’s emanating from the fact that Joe Mauer has retired and that money hasn’t been plunged back into the team — at least not yet.

And if Patrick Reusse is to be believed, it might not be this winter. While the actual reference escapes me — be it Twitter or in a column — he reported that he was hearing the payroll may come in on the wrong side of $100 million this coming season. That’s down from roughly $130 million last year.

That’s not just a Mauer-sized gap in payroll; it’s Joe….and then some.

Now is the winter of our disinterest — in spending money, as an entire league, that is.

But it shouldn’t be that way for the Twins, and I outlined four reasons in a tweet I shared with a few friends, and I’d like to expand on them in detail here.

These are the reasons why I think it’s time for the Twins to open things up a bit, budget-wise:

So for the first point, maybe Manny Machado and Bryce Harper are holding up the marketplace, right?

Eh, I don’t really think I buy that. Patrick Corbin — the consensus No. 1 available starter — has already signed, and we’re going on an offseason and probably another one-third of one where we see teams hesitant to spend money for whatever reason.

In the interest of honesty, the Twins attacked late in the offseason last year and got what at the time appeared to be solid deals on Logan Morrison and Lance Lynn. It didn’t pan out that way, but the process on both was sound — and anyone who suggests otherwise doesn’t understand how process works.

Laying in the weeds certainly has its benefits, but the drawbacks are that you’re left with what everyone else decided they didn’t want — for one reason or another.

That’s not why the Twins weren’t good last year — and I don’t buy that the one-year-deal chemistry stuff was all that bad in the clubhouse, either — but it’s also hard to rely on filling exact needs by this method. If the Twins wait out the market this year and it’s just a bunch of decent second basemen available, they’ve already shot their shot with Jonathan Schoop.

That also ties into the second point a bit — that there are still some really good players left.

The A’s have basically closed the door on re-signing Jed Lowrie by trading for Jurickson Profar. Why not give him a call and see if he’d play third base? The Twins need a leadoff hitter, Miguel Sano can move over to first base and switch off between there and DH with C.J. Cron — probably eliminating them from the Nelson Cruz sweepstakes, but whatever — and he’s not likely to break the bank as he’s in his mid-30s.

It also embraces the popular roster-building structure of successful teams right now, as they’re relying on positional fluidity to stock their teams.

Do the Twins need a long-term answer at third base? Not necessarily. Second base? Not really. But by signing Lowrie, they could hedge against a Schoop slump — like last year — Nick Gordon not being ready to take over at some point and also any sort of issues with Sano.

The same can be said for signing an outfielder like A.J. Pollock — one of the best position players left — and using Max Kepler like the Minnesota version of Cody Bellinger, who is a throwback to Nick Swisher playing first base and some center field.

Why is this important? Well not only does it allow players to be used to their strengths — say, sitting Kepler against some tough lefties and that sort of thing — but it also can be used as a quasi-extension of the roster with another good player who doesn’t have to be sold on a bench role, but rather gets at least 450-500 plate appearances with proper lineup tinkering.

It also helps build insulation against what happened last year, like having to go with Ehire Adrianza at shortstop early in the year when Jorge Polanco was suspended, force-feeding the catcher spot to Mitch Garver on the fly, giving 100 more plate appearances to Robbie Grossman than Morrison, etc.

As far as the third and fourth points are concerned, the popular sentiment seems to be letting Sano and Buxton assert themselves, then supplementing around them.

And while that makes sense, we’ve also seen over the last two years just how volatile of assets they can be. Sano hasn’t provided much value in either of the last two years, and Buxton’s 2018 was a complete wash. Adding talent around them isn’t going to necessarily make them better — though who knows what a mentor like Cruz could mean to Sano — but again it takes some of the sting out of that volatility.

Waiting until Sano and Buxton stabilize isn’t a winning proposition for a few reasons. First of all, if they never stabilize, that’s five lost years waiting to build a team around them. This is unlikely to be the case, but so was pretty much everything that happened in 2018 — and those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

If Buxton and Sano stabilize in the middle of the season, the free-agent talent pool no longer exists. There aren’t readily available assets to help the team like a Pollock, Yasmani Grandal or a Dallas Keuchel out there waiting by their phones.

And on top of that, the further into the future that a team goes waiting for assets to appreciate moves them further into that player’s club control, when the prices start to go up.

Waiting another year for Buxton and Sano to perform makes sense on the surface, but after this year there are only two more years of club control with Miguel and Byron has a bit more, but is also more likely to have his price spike since he affects the game in more ways. He’ll also go to arbitration four times, so his last year will be fairly expensive — no matter what.

And it’s not just that those guys will get more expensive. So too will Kepler, Jose Berrios, Eddie Rosario and possibly Polanco as well.

And if the hesitance to go long on any sort of deal is any sort of preparation to have money to keep all those guys long-term, that’s an awfully hard pill to swallow for fans in the now — without any semblance of October baseball at Target Field in nearly a decade.

This could all be flipped on its head with a Keuchel/Grandal/Pollock signing; heck, even a Lowrie/Cruz signing moves the ball in the right direction.

But the natives are getting restless. Apathy is bad; extended apathy is disastrous.

I still believe fans will flock to the gorgeous stadium when the team is good, but the temperature of the water right now is freezing — and it isn’t the weather.

The Triple-A Rochester Red Wings announced the coaching staff for the 2019 season this week.

Joel Skinner returns for his second season managing the Red Wings. Skinner briefly managed the Cleveland Indians in 2002 after Charlie Manuel was fired in July, and has worked 13 seasons as a minor league manager dating back to 1995, with stints in the White Sox (Winston-Salem, Charlotte) and Indians (Akron, Columbus) organizations as well as serving as the bench coach for the 2006 Indians, third base coach in three separate stints, catching instructor in 1994 as well as the bench coach of the Oakland A’s in 2011, per team release.

Also returning are pitching coach Stu Cliburn, bullpen coach Mike McCarthy and athletic trainer Chris Johnson. Cliburn has been the pitching coach in each of the last three seasons, and is entering his seventh season overall with the club. He’s also worked with Double-A Chattanooga and New Britain, Single-A Fort Wayne and Fort Myers and Elizabethton at the rookie level.

McCarthy was new to pro ball in 2018, but came over as a former draft pick of the Boston Red Sox (14th round, 2011) who reached Triple-A in 2016. He also studied pre-med and got his MBA from the University of Phoenix in 2016.

Johnson has been in the organization 16 years, and 2019 will be his second at Rochester. He’s also spent time with Chattanooga and New Britain, and even interned with the Kansas City Chiefs back in 2005.

Former Twins catcher Javier Valentin will take over as hitting coach for Chad Allen. Valentin played for the Twins from 1997-2002 and saw time with the Devil Rays and Reds, and has been coaching in the Minnesota system in the same role for the last four years — two with the GCL Twins and two at Chattanooga.

Also new to the team is strength and conditioning coach Jacob Dean. Dean was with the Miracle last year, and got his master’s degree in Human Performance and Exercise Science from the University of Alabama in the winter of 2016.

The Twins signed a pair of veterans with big-league time to minor-league deals this week — right-handed pitcher Mike Morin and infielder Dean Anna.

Morin, who turns 28 in May, was born in Andover but went to high school in Overland Park, Kan. He went to the University of North Carolina, and was a 13th round pick of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in 2012.

Morin has spent parts of the last five seasons in the big leagues, totaling a 4.66 ERA (3.32 FIP) in 174 innings with 166 strikeouts and 49 walks (11 intentional). That comes out to nearly a strikeout per inning, about 2.5 walks per nine and its paired with a groundball rate of 41.6 percent — about 3 or 4 percent below league average.

Morin sits in the low-90s with his fastball — he’s touched 95-96 mph in the past but not for a couple years — but the real story here is his changeup, which has induced a 22.2 percent whiff rate and a collective line of just .207/.230/.258.

August Fagerstrom — then of Fangraphs, now of the Milwaukee Brewers — termed it “Baseball’s Silliest Changeup” in a 2016 article. Faithful Twins fans will remember lefty Fernando Abad and the eephus-like changeup he threw — which had an 18 mph split off his fastball — but as Fagerstrom shows in the article, Morin’s was an even wider gap (19.6 mph).

Morin’s changeup induces a ton of popups (19 percent was the second-highest mark on record behind #oldfriend Pat Neshek), and as Fagerstrom shows with videos of a plate appearance by then-Texas Rangers first baseman Prince Fielder, the righty is able to shape the pitch to suit his needs.

This has a chance to be another really wise pickup by the Twins, in the mold of guys like Casey Fien, Jared Burton, Brandon Kintzler, Matt Magill and others in recent seasons.

Anna, meanwhile, will serve as this year’s “break-glass-in-case-of-emergency” infielder on the wrong side of 30, much like Doug Bernier, Matt Hague, Tommy Field and Gregorio Petit before him.

Anna broke into the big leagues with 25 plate appearances in 2014, and got only one more in the interim with the Cardinals in 2015. Overall, he’s bounced between six organizations in his 11 professional seasons, and has hit a respectable .276/.374/.389 with nearly as many walks (523) as strikeouts (542).

Anna has played at least 100 professional innings at second, third, short and both left and right field, and has even thrown 4.1 innings off the mound.

#OldFriends

  • Infielder Gregorio Petit signed a minor-league deal with the Phillies.
  • Chris Gimenez retired and joined the coaching staff of the Dodgers.
  • Chris Herrmann signed a one-year deal with the A’s.
  • Lance Lynn signed a three-year deal ($30m) with the Rangers.
  • Tommy Milone signed a minor-league deal with the Mariners.
  • Wilson Ramos signed a two-year deal ($19m) with the Mets.
  • Shane Robinson signed a minor-league deal with the Phillies.
  • Anibal Sanchez signed a two-year deal ($19.5m) with the Nationals.
  • Kurt Suzuki signed a two-year deal ($10m) with the Nationals.
  • Bobby Wilson signed a minor-league deal with the Tigers.
  • The following former Twins are still listed as free agents (via MLBTradeRumors):
    • Matt Belisle
    • Blaine Boyer
    • Drew Butera
    • Bartolo Colon
    • Brian Dozier
    • Zach Duke
    • Logan Forsythe
    • Carlos Gomez
    • Robbie Grossman
    • Francisco Liriano
    • Logan Morrison
    • Rene Rivera
    • Ervin Santana
    • Hector Santiago
    • J.B. Shuck
    • Yangervis Solarte
    • Denard Span
    • Danny Valencia

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