It's the middle of winter, I have a billion days off, and there's lots going on that I haven't gotten to. So here's some of that.
- First off, the Torii Hunter signing. Ugh. Hate it. Absolutely hate it and it was made for all the wrong reasons. So all the moms and wives and sisters and casual fans will say "Yay! I love Torii Hunter I'm so glad he's back let's go to a game!" even though the team sucks. And they're going to suck this year. The Twins are not going to contend for anything until 2016 at the earliest, and Hunter will be gone so it's a completely pointless signing.
A bridge to 2016 you say? No. He's not good anymore. He's just not. He's turned into a terrible fielder (not his fault, he's just old) and you can find a billion links to in depth studies, more than just advanced metrics, that prove it. He hit the ball alright last year but he's been on a pretty steady downslope. Sure, it's one year so it's pretty low risk, but that $10 million a year could have gone towards another pitcher (Jason Hammel signed for that) and those at bats need to be going towards any of the billion of question mark outfielders the Twins have. Oswaldo Arcia and Aaron Hicks need as many ABs as possible so we can figure out what they are. Even Jordan Schafer may have some future value. Also.....wait......look at this 40-man roster. Look at the outfielders. There are no words. Just horrible.
Ok so Hunter won't steal too many at-bats that he shouldn't, but they still could have used that $10 million better than on a marketing stunt. The Santana and Hughes signings (hold on) showed that they were still going to spend beyond that $10 million, which was a big concern of mine at the time so maybe this isn't quite as bad as I thought. Actually, now looking at everything, as a pure baseball move it's just fine. I just hate the message, and I hate that they signed yet another washed up former Twin because he was a good guy when he was here (just not to the gays). I guess I'm pretty fed up right now, especially watching the Padres (small market) and White Sox (division rival) go all in, right after Kansas City's go all-inedness paid off with a trip to the World Series. I don't want to be patient any more. Let's just move along.
- More promising was the signing of Ervin Santana to a 4-year, $55 million deal. I don't love it as much as some others, but Santana has been a pretty solid pitcher in four of the last five seasons, and although that one bad season was a disaster it's looking like more of a fluke than anything. The $13-$14 million per year may be a bit of an overpay, but it's probably worth it to get a real major league pitcher, especially one who struck out north of 8 batters per 9 innings per last season (a stat which makes me wonder if the Twins had an aneurysm or something and missed the fact that he can actually miss bats).
Santana will be 35 by the end of the contract, which isn't ancient but is a little stomach turning, and who knows what kind of pitcher he'll be by then, but if the plan is to contend for the playoffs in 2016 he should be a key cog. That's the hope anyway. Both Santana and Hughes have some risk (hold on) so counting on them to be your front of the rotation guys is a little dicey, but it's a damn sight better than counting on Mike Pelfrey or Kevin Correia. That may not be saying much, but hey, at least they're spending on potentially quality pitching. Infinitely better than the Ricky Nolasco signing.
- The Twins also signed Phil Hughes to an extension, wiping out the last two years of his current deal and extending him three more in what is essentially a 5 year, $58 million deal. Although there's plenty of upside to the deal, since $11 million per will end up an absolute bargain if he can be the same pitcher he was last season, there are plenty of reasons to be nervous. Five years is a long time, $58 million is a ton of money for a team like the Twins, and prior to last season Hughes was a complete train wreck. I don't really understand why they felt the need to move now considering Hughes was under contract for two more seasons at a totally reasonable price. Why not let him start the year on his existing deal and then, if he looks like the stud he was last season, extend him then instead of taking $58 million worth of risk on one season of proven production?
Then again, there isn't anything in his numbers that suggests last season was a fluke. His BABIP was actually high, his FIP was almost a full run lower than his ERA, his K/BB ratio was an all-time record, and although his HR ratio probably dipped down below where it should be it should be offset by that high BABIP and his overall numbers should be around the same as last year. That kind of season is #1 pitcher territory, and based on WAR and the current rate being paid per win (note: I don't really know how this is calculated) Fangraphs estimates last season Hughes was worth around $30 million. If he pitches anywhere near that well maybe it's harder to extend him or becomes significantly more expensive. Hughes certainly cashed in on his great season, it's a matter of time to see who got fleeced. I'm hoping for Hughes.
- Another newly added Twin is J.R. Graham, a right-handed pitcher the Twins picked in the Rule 5 draft from the Atlanta Braves. Graham was a fourth round pick out of college and rose as high as a top 100 prospect according to both Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus pre-2013 before arm issues derailed him. Last season he pitched in 27 games at Double-A (starting 19) and put up 5.55 ERA and 1.47 WHIP which are yuck. He was a stud at the lower levels before the injuries, so even with the ugly numbers last year he's probably worth taking the chance on. As a Rule 5 draftee Graham has to stay on the Twins Major League roster all season or be offered back to the Braves. Seeing as how Graham hasn't pitched above AA and did so poorly last year it's certainly a risk, but it worked for Ryan Pressly a couple of seasons ago. Expect to see Graham in a lot of blow out, non high leverage innings. Hopefully he does well.
- Last baseball thing I want to mention is how great it is to see San Diego just say "Fuck it" and go for it big time. They've constructed a completely new outfield of Matt Kemp, Justin Upton, and Wil Myers, acquired a new catcher in Derek Norris, and landed a young 3B in Will Middlebrooks. Considering the Padres were a historically horrible offense last year (their team total over/under in Vegas was frequently 2.5) replacing over half the lineup is not a bad idea, and they were able to do it without trading away any of their top 3 blue chip prospects (though they traded pretty much everyone else in the minors away). They also only had to ship out one of their starters, a team strength, and will go into next season with a mostly intact rotation. Two other signees, Josh Johnson and Brandon Morrow, have flashed a ton of talent but neither has had much success staying healthy - perfect signings to fill that #5 slot, really.
Of course, any time you take this kind of risk you are inviting disaster in countless ways. Kemp will be tasked with playing center field and by any metric or the eye test his body really isn't up to that any more. Myers had a really bad sophomore season and the Rays essentially totally gave up on him with questions about his work ethic. Norris is a big bat but is pretty horrendous defensively, and Middlebrooks has been underwhelming at best in his short career. I couldn't find anything bad to say about Upton.
This is all pessimism of course, since I'm a Minnesota fan, and I think these are fantastic risks for a team in need of a shot in the arm and I'd love the Twins to pursue a similar course once they think they're close to being a contender. They also now have an expendable Carlos Quentin, who can still hit the crap out of the ball when healthy - though he hasn't played more than 100 games since 2011 so who knows if he even can be healthy anymore. If he can get through the first half of the season or so healthy and hitting, expect the Padres to aggressively move him to an American League team since he's basically a born DH. It's a fun time to be a Padre fan. I hate them.
- Moving on to NCAA Hoops, uh, how good is Kentucky? My goodness they just overwhelm teams. The scary part is they're really winning with defense, because they have the most talent of anyone, they're incredibly athletic and tall (almost everyone who plays is 6-6 or bigger) and because they're so deep they can give total effort on the defensive end, knowing they won't have to conserve energy because they won't be playing heavy minutes. And everyone is buying into the concept. I'm really not interested in another Kentucky championship, but man I'm not sure how they don't end up winning.
Because they're so good defensively and so deep it's hard to see a team just jump up and beat them on a fluky night. The only two teams I see who could beat them this year are Duke and Louisville. Duke is nearly as deep and nearly as talented as Kentucky, so I could see them beating Kentucky if the Wildcats don't play their best game. Louisville is super talented and can almost match Kentucky's athleticism, and they play a style that could work against the Wildcats if they can speed them up (and we might find out on Saturday). Depressing? Yes, but I mean, watch these guys.
- Looks like the Gophers damn near dropped one to Furman tonight before rallying to win by 10. That's definitely not good, but looking around the Big Ten avoiding the home loss to the crappy opponent seems to be a key this season. I mean, Michigan lost to NJIT and Eastern Michigan, Michigan State lost to Texas Southern, Indiana lost to Eastern Washington, Northwestern lost to Central Michigan, Nebraska lost to Incarnate Word, Purdue lost to Gardner Webb and North Florida, and Rutgers lost to St. Francis and St. Peter's. These are all horrible, horrible losses. These aren't upsets, these are mega-upsets. Avoiding this loss to Furman keeps the Gophers record intact, along with Wisconsin, Iowa, Maryland, Ohio State, Illinois, and Penn State (depending on how you feel about Charlotte).
I can't really write much about tonight's game because I didn't realize the game was on ESPN3 until late in the second half, but I did manage to catch the last ten minutes or so of game time and Furman could not miss. Some of it is on the Gopher defense, yes, but the Paladins (for reals) hit a bunch of shots I'm willing to wager they don't usually knock down as well. Every so often you run into a buzzsaw, not getting chopped down is a good thing. As long as they don't come out and go down to the wire against Wilmington on Saturday you can pretty much just write this one off to a weird night - a weird night that didn't end up in a loss, a rarity in the B10 this year.
- Lastly, fantasy football is stupid.