With the Gopher basketball season now essentially over and spring training getting started, I have begun starting to kind of think about baseball. Usually when I think about baseball I think about the Twins, unfortunate as that is. So to start, I'll take a look at the roster changes vs. last year, which you should have probably guessed because of the title of this post.
- OF Torii Hunter. I was really pissed about this signing and although I still think it's pretty stupid I'm not nearly as hot as I once was. In the long run it doesn't really make much difference since the team is going to be bad with or without him (Vegas over/under for season wins is 70.5), he's only on the hook for 1 year, and if they used that $10 million to sign someone like Jason Hammel that wasn't really going to make much of a dent in the win column anyway. I'm not sure I buy that he can really help Aaron Hicks, but I suppose it's possible and Hicks can't really get any worse. Hunter isn't much of a fielder anymore, but he's still an above average bat (well, he was last year at least) and I suppose somebody has to play outfield. It seems I've upgraded from hating this signing to ambivalence.
- SP Ervin Santana. Speaking of ambivalence, it's quite strange for a signing of this length and this much money but I really have no opinion on it. It's just like a shrug. The Twins signed a competent major league pitcher on a slight overpay for the next four years. Ok, great. Sure. I suppose knowing that even if Santana is great this year it won't really mean much. The important thing is when the Twins put themselves into contention again, assuming it happens in 2016 or 2017 like they seem to be planning, he'll likely be a part of the rotation so hopefully he doesn't fall off an age cliff.
- P Tim Stauffer. I've always liked Stauffer because he was featured in The Last Best League, an awesome book you should read, so it's cool that the Twins signed him to 1 year, $2.2 million deal. At one point he was thought to be a future top of the rotation type starter for San Diego, but a shoulder injury that caused him to miss all of 2008 pretty much derailed that. He returned, and was a decent starter for the Padres for a couple of years before another injury (elbow this time) knocked him off course again. For the past two seasons now he's been a pretty good reliever in San Diego, putting up a 3.63 ERA and 1.26 WHIP in 134 innings.
Helping his effectiveness has been a solid uptick in strikeouts since the move to the bullpen, going to 8.8 per nine innings compared to 6.2 in his starting days. Though his velocity hasn't changed, since the elbow injury he's abandoned his slider and started throwing a change up a lot more, which has proven to be his best pitch each of the last two seasons, per Fangraphs. His overall numbers look good for a prominent place in the bullpen, but they do come with one caveat: Petco Park. The Padres' home stadium is well known as the most friendly pitchers' park in the league, and Stauffer's home/road splits are not pretty. We'll find out how much that stadium really mattered soon enough.
- P Stephen Pryor. Picked up last year in the great Kendrys Morales trade, I added Pryor in here because he's on the 40-man roster which means there's at least a decent chance he ends up pitching in the bigs at some point. I wrote up Pryor here after the trade, and to sum up he's a formerly intriguing prospect who is now a gamble after injuries wrecked him. He was a big time strikeout pitcher (and wild, as many of those are) with a big time fastball, but post injury was only throwing in the low 90s. If he can get the heater back up to 95+ where it used to be he could be a useful bullpen arm.
- P J.R. Graham. The Twins picked up Graham from Atlanta in the Rule 5 draft, which means he has to stay on the major league roster or be offered back to the Braves. Like Pryor, Graham has been derailed by injury, but at one point he was good enough to crack some Top 100 prospects lists so the potential is still there, though he was awful at AA last season. The Twins did the same thing with Ryan Pressly two years ago, keeping him on the roster and having him pitch in mostly lower leverage situations and he seems to have worked himself into a serviceable reliever, so this kind of move has worked out before (Johan Santana, if you recall, was also a Rule 5 pick-up). Pressly's minor league numbers were quite a bit better than Graham's so I'm not all that optimistic, but Graham's potential was much better at one time so it's probably a wash. Hopefully he's back all the way from injury and the Twins stole a good one.
- OF Josh Willingham. Yeah he was traded last year but I'm including him here because he was around for a while, nobody was paying any attention to the Twins at the end of last season, and I guarantee you somebody is going to ask you this season "Hey what happened to Willingham?". If you recall, the Twins traded him to the Royals post non-waiver trade deadline because nobody claimed him off waivers because really nobody wanted him at his salary and because he was too injured to be of any value. That sucked because two years ago they could have gotten a ton for him when he was healthy and hitting bombs. The Royals took a chance because they desperately needed some pop in right field but Willingham didn't hit particularly well for them and then went 0-2 with two whiffs in the World Series (the guy the Twins got pitched all of 7 innings for New Britain before their season ended. Stay tuned). Willingham then retired from baseball at age 36. Why not.
- SS Pedro Florimon. He was actually claimed off waivers in late September by the Nationals which I either never heard or didn't remember, and then was claimed this offseason by the Pirates. Pittsburgh already has an all glove no hit shortstop in Jordy Mercer, Mercer looks like a slugger next to Florimon. Remember when he hit .096 last year? That was neat.
- RP Jared Burton. Signed a minor league deal with the Yankees after the Twins turned down his $3.6 million option, the right call by the Twins considering he kept getting worse. Dynamite in his first Twin season as a set-up man and pretty good in his second, last year his strikeouts fell off a cliff, he started walking too many people, and he stopped being a groundball pitcher. Good time to part ways, and given all he got was a minor league deal it seems the league wasn't exactly clamoring for his services.
- 1B Chris Colabello. Selected off waivers by the Blue Jays, he was then designated for assignment and has been assigned to their Triple A affiliate in Buffalo. Always a AAA masher, Colabello never really did much with the Twins outside of his torrid start to 2014 (then crashed back to earth). Toronto is a good spot for him, considering (if he makes the big club) he'll be backing up Justin Smoak who has pretty much struggled since he broke into the league despite his lofty prospect pedigree. With the Twins having Kennys Vargas now, they're all set at 1B/DH. Hopefully.
- RP Anthony Swarzak. Filled the long, long relief role well for the Twins the past three years after failing as a starter though last year was pretty rocky, Swarzak was released by the Twins and signed a minor league deal with the Indians. Cleveland has a pretty solid rotation and a ton of candidates to fill in if someone goes down, but it wouldn't surprise me to see Swarzak catch on in the bullpen, likely in the same role he filled with the Twins
- OF Chris Parmelee. The Twins opted not to resign Parmelee, making him a free agent, and he recently signed a minor league deal with Baltimore. Like Colabello, Parmelee has always hit well in the minors but never had that success translate when given a chance in the big leagues. He was given every opportunity to win an outfield job win the Twins, but in three years of semi-regular play he put up a line of just .238/.304/.371. When you combine that with some absolutely atrocious defense, well, you can see why the Twins were done with him. He has a chance to win a role with the Orioles as a fifth outfielder.
- SP Kevin Correia. He was actually traded last year late to the Dodgers who wanted him for some reason, in exchange for a player to be named later or cash. It ended up being cash because Correia was terrible. He was awful as a Twin, getting knocked around regularly, and then somehow managed to be even worse with a move to the National League. He lasted just three starts with the Dodgers before being pulled from the rotation, and then lost three games in extra innings as a reliever the rest of the way. All in all, his ERA as a Dodger was 8.03 in 24 innings. The Dodgers opted not to sign Correia. Neither has anyone else. I am so glad we don't have to watch him anymore.
- SP Sam Deduno. Nabbed off waivers by the Astros late last year, and he's the only one on this list I'd probably rather have than not have. I realize still believing in a 30 year old pitcher with chronic control issues who has struggled to crack a rotation as terrible as the Twins the last few years is not a real good strategy, but I never said I was a smart man. He may very well never amount to much more than an inconsistent spot starter or a middle reliever, but man you remember how good he was in the World Baseball Classic? Remember that 7-inning, no runs, 2 hits, no walks, 9 strikeout game? Man when he had it going he really looked like a big league pitcher. Houston mostly used him out of the bullpen after they got him, but his final appearance of the year was his only start as an Astro and he went 4 innings, allowing 2 hits, 1 walk, and no runs while striking out four. Most of Houston's starters are pretty crappy, so he could snag a rotation spot or at least a spot start here and there. I hope we don't regret his leaving.
- RP Matt Guerrier. Seems weird, since he's always on the team, but this year he's finally gone. If you recall last year they signed him after three crappy and injury filled years in the National League (3 years? Wow). Then they released him in Spring Training to avoid paying some kind of bonus before signing him back again the next day. He was awful in 28 innings with the Twins before they designated him for assignment, but because of his veteran status Guerrier had the option to refuse the minor league assignment and become a free agent - which he did. Nobody signed him and he remains unsigned to this day.
The Twins also have a new manager in Paul Molitor with an all new staff, but what the hell do I know about how Molitor or those other guys coach? I'm just glad they moved on from Ron Gardenhire because although he did some good things here and seemed to be a good locker room type leader, his constant getting kicked out of games and his unwillingness to think outside "the book" drove me crazy. This team needed new blood.