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Great News! Mauer Signs.

The Twins have agreed to terms with starting catcher Joe Mauer. The deal is reportedly 8 years, $184 million with a full no trade clause.   A press conference is scheduled for Monday night at the Twins complex in Ft. Myers. This is great news people.  The average annual value is $23 million, a hair more than Texiera is making in New York.  If there was a hometown discount, there wasn’t much of one.  I would imagine he would be getting $25ish from the New York/Boston team. 8 years is a long time, but it will cover Mauer’s age 28-35 seasons which are his prime years.

What does everyone else think?  We will break it down further once more details come out at the press conference tomorrow.


Nathan plays catch, makes a decision about surgery

Bad news, everyone!

Joe Nathan played catch with Rick Anderson this morning, to determine if he could pitch through his injury and get by without having Tommy John surgery. His conclusion? No.

“Didn’t go like we hoped,” Nathan said. “We knew it was a long shot, but what this did do is clear my head. Definitely was no gray area. Definitely was on the black side, where it didn’t go as well as we like, and we know now we’re going to have to go in and get some surgery done, get this thing fixed up.”

Joe Christensen watched the throwing session, and said Nathan was “making some strong throws before it ended,” and that he couldn’t tell whether it had gone badly.

“As we kept throwing, it became clear that it was getting harder and harder to play catch,” Nathan said. “It became clear that it didn’t feel great. This was going to be an easy answer for me to know I wouldn’t be able to pitch without getting this thing taken care of.”

I’m glad there’s no gray area for him in this, and that it was such an easy decision. This is not something Nathan should be second-guessed about all summer, every time a lesser reliever struggles in the 9th inning. I think we all knew this had to be done, and this just makes it official.

Given that the estimated recovery time is 12 months, we now await the news as to when he’s having the surgery; Nathan himself said “as soon as possible,” and hopefully he’s going by his own definition of the words “soon” and “possible,” rather than the Twins’ version which would undoubtedly have him wait until November to have the surgery.


Valencia’s demotion, explained

Yesterday, Danny Valencia homered off Johan Santana, and was rewarded by being cut from major league camp — it seemed pretty abrupt to me. But thanks to Joe C, we have an explanation:

Players on the 40-man roster who did not finish the previous year in the majors need to be optioned before today (16 days before Opening Day), or, in the event of an injury, they must be kept on the major league DL.

Since Valencia was expected to contend for the starting third base job, his cut seemed particularly abrupt.

I don’t know if I’d use the word “expected” here. A better choice, I think, would be “hoped.” I believe Valencia is almost ready for a promotion to the majors, and a half-season or so in AAA to make some adjustments to his approach at the plate would definitely do him good.

Even more than that, though, is the fact that Gardy is still the manager around here, and there’s nothing he hates more than:

  1. Young, talented players
  2. Anything that might cut into Nick Punto’s playing time

That’s why I was so interested to read even the most cursory scouting report from Gardy, about Valencia.

Asked what impression Valencia made this spring, Gardenhire said, “He was fine. He moved around just fine. A good arm. He’s still got to learn where to play guys defensively and all those things. His bat seems good, there’s things he’s going to have work on, hitting the breaking ball and all those things. We saw teams that knew him down here they were spinning a lot of balls. … But I guarantee you one thing: He can hit a fastball, and if he sits on a breaking ball, he can hit that, too. … We’re going to go away here with our infield, and if anybody has any issues, he’ll get a chance.”

Of course, no mention of the thing Valencia actually needs to work on: plate discipline. I’ve talked about this before, but throughout the minors Valencia has struggled to draw walks in his first half-season or so at each level, but then adapts and his OBP jumps up, leading to a promotion and the cycle starts over. Also, it’s probably more important that he learn to a) avoid swinging at breaking balls, and b) foul them off when there are two strikes, but that’s not Gardy’s game.

In fact, there’s little surprise Gardy didn’t talk about Valencia’s strike zone control or plate discipline. There’s just about no evidence that he’s aware that either of those things exist.

So there’s nothing wrong with Valencia being sent down, and the Twins essentially waited until the deadline to do it. And he’s just a heartbeat away from a promotion.

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Heath Bell?

According to the always excellent Craig Calcaterra (via Bob Nightengale), the Twins are scouting Padres closer Heath Bell.  I don’t think Joe Nathan can avoid TJ surgery, so kicking the tires on some proven closers won’t hurt.  As I recall the price for Bell was pretty steep last year, so I can’t imagine it going down after his strong 2009 campaign. 

However, if the price is reasonable, the Twins should pull the trigger.  Bell isn’t making much this year ($4 million according to the article) and would fit nicely in the back of the bullpen.  The two major red flags on Bell are he is coming from an extreme pitchers park in the NL, so who knows how that will translate to Target Field.  Like I said, it can’t hurt to kick the tires on some proven guys to replace Nathan, but I don’t see any fire behind this smoke.

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Let’s take a look at Span’s new contract!

This weekend, the Twins signed Denard Span to a five year extension for $16.5M guaranteed — it covers two pre-arbitration years and all three of his arbitration years, plus an extension for his first year of free agency in 2015.

The terms of his deal are as follows:

  1. $0.75M (second pre-arbitration year, age 26)
  2. $1M (final pre-arbitration year, age 27)
  3. 3M (first arbitration year, age 28)
  4. $4.75M (second arbitration year, age 29)
  5. $6.5M (third arbitration year, age 30)
  6. $9M (team option for first free agent year, age 31)

I’ve always read on Fangraphs that the arbitration years are typically set at 40%/60%/80% of a player’s market value; but that doesn’t seem to be the case here. If the option is his full market value, this contract gives him 33%/52%/72% … but if the option represents a 10% discount (which would not be unusual at all), his arbitration years are paying him just 30%/47%/65%. At first blush, this contract seems like a highly team-friendly deal even before considering how Span is being valued.

But that raises the interesting question: How is Span being valued? We’re all familiar with his story by now: a minor league track record that looked a lot like a first-round bust, a fourth-outfielder; shows up in the majors and has a breakout rookie campaign, compiling 2.6 WAR in a partial season; establishes himself as a star-caliber player with 3.9 WAR in his first full season. It’s possible that 2009 was a career year, and he can’t keep up that pace … but he was 25 years old and it’s also possible that he hasn’t even reaching his peak yet.

CHONE projects him at 3.3 WAR, which would peg the market value of a win in this contract at $3M/win. If CHONE is being optimistic and he’s actually, say, a 3 WAR player, the Twins are paying $3.3M/win. If CHONE is being way too conservative and Span’s true talent level is actually 4 WAR, then the Twins are paying just $2.5M/win (which is way too low, I think, implying that Span is being paid as a 3.3 WAR player at most).

I’ve seen mixed reactions to this contract since it first hit Twitter yesterday. Many people are thrilled that the Twins have “locked up” Span for the next 5 years, ignoring that he was already under team control for all five of those years. I saw one opinion, from Thrylos98, claiming that the Twins are paying him too much (I can’t understand how he could back that claim up, though). And I’ve seen others who seem to think this deal is pointless except for the option year covering his first free agent year, giving the Twins none extra year of control over Span’s career.

But let’s take a look at it from the perspective of risk — risk is the reason players sign extensions like these, and it’s also what teams have to worry about when offering them. Span could have simply declined to sign this extension and go year-to-year through his arbitration years, trying to maximize the amount he gets paid,* though by doing so he’d risk a career-ending injury or a collapse of his skills. So he gives up some money in return for the security of the long-term contract — but typically not that much.

* And given the low percentages of his value he’s being paid, it’s a good assumption that he’d make quite a bit more year-to-year even if you don’t think that either he’s going to continue producing star-level 4 WAR seasons OR the economy will recover even a little bit over the next five years.

From the team’s perspective, there are more risks involved. If they didn’t offer the extension and were going to go year-to-year, they’d still have Span on the team for the next five years, but would be risking the following:

  • 2009 was not Span’s peak, and he continues to improve in his age 26 and 27 years
  • The economic environment in baseball improves, driving up the cost of wins so they’d have to pay him more even if he stops playing as well
  • He successfully adapts to CF, driving up his value (a CF is a lot more valuable than a corner OF)

On the other hand, by offering this contract they open themselves up to these risks:

  • 2009 was Span’s peak, and his 4+ WAR upside is an illusion
  • He gets injured and can’t play (or can’t play at his normal level)
  • He can’t handle CF and has to move back to a corner, causing personnel problems or at least reducing his actual value

Obviously the downside here is bad — you don’t want to be stuck paying a guy millions of dollars not to produce. But I think it’s fair to say that the Twins determined that the upside outweighs the downside. The Twins get cost certainty, they ensure that Span will be affordable for the next six years, through his age 31 season. If they want to cut payroll in the future, it’s very likely that this contract will be extremely tradeable — teams would love to snap up a CF in-or-near his prime on a team-friendly contract.

Instead of looking at this as the Twins having locked Span up, it’s better to see it as having him locked in. But how much money did they just save, over what would have happened if they’d gone year to year?

Assuming Span is a 3.3 WAR player and standard 40%/60%/80% arbitration and $3.5M/win, his arbitration years and first year of free agency would have looked like this:

  • $4.6M
  • $6.9M
  • $9.2M
  • $11.5M

Or, if he keeps putting up 4 WAR seasons:

  • $5.6M
  • $8.4M
  • $11.2M
  • $14M

So the Twins saved themselves somewhere between $9M and $16M over 2012-2015, not taking economic recovery or salary inflation into account. Whether you think that amount of money is worth taking on the risk of the longterm contract is a judgement call, and obviously the Twins’ front office thought it was worth it.

Me? I think this is an even better deal than the Blackburn contract, and I’m glad to see the Twins locking in their players at affordable salaries for years to come. This is yet another sign that the team expects to contend for the foreseeable future; they’re using their assurance of steadier revenue for good rather than simply lining their pockets; they’re taking advantage of the economic climate to get good deals and lock in a lower cost per win than normal.

But perhaps most of all, Denard Span will be a Twin for at least 5 more years. I think it’s time to make my “Span Fan” t-shirts that I’ve been thinking about for a while.


Metrodome is better……

Just kidding.  For those who don’t know, I went on a tour/open house of target field last night.  To say the least, it was awesome.  Everything appeared to be complete, and that joint is pretty fancy.  Here are some pictures I took. I don’t remember where each one was taken, but I’ll try to “narrate”.

View from behind the plate. I could get used to watching games from here.

Pretty sweet scoreboard


Inside of a suite. Not too shabby

One of the club rooms

People camping out for tickets


View from the pressbox

Inside the pressbox

The Harmon Killebrew club

This is where the bat Killebrew used to hit #573 will go. When they find it.

Minneapolis skyline

One of the many bars in Taget Field. Ballpark tavern I believe.

View from the party deck. PARTY!

Back to the Future? No. Fire pit on the party deck

Party deck. Backwards

Not a bad way to watch a ballgame.  Not a whole lot of narration, so just drink it in folks.  Outdoor baseball in a month.


Overreacting to the Nathan injury, sending Gutierrez to the bullpen

The Twins are obviously scrambling for ideas in the wake of Nathan’s injury, desperate to find a guy they can call their “closer” in 2010. One of those ideas, apparently, is to move Carlos Gutierrez back from the rotation to the bullpen.

“This might change our thinking,” said Jim Rantz, the Twins director of minor leagues. “For now, he’s a starter. We might have to revisit that.”

Gutierrez was drafted in the first round, and was a closer in college; however, the main reason he was a closer in college was because he had had Tommy John surgery and they were limiting his innings. I think it’s likely that the Twins wouldn’t have drafted him so high if they thought he was just a reliever.

So it made perfect sense to make him a starter and see if he could stick; he has a worm-killing sinker, but needs to develop a secondary pitch (or two) to really have a legitimate shot. He shouldn’t have been on the Major League radar for this season; 2011 at the earliest.

But now, the Twins are letting their trepidations about 2010 interfere with their plans for the future. That’s a serious problem.

It was more than possible that Gutierrez eventually returned to the bullpen — in fact, it was likely. One possible reason they have him starting in the first place is just to let him face more batters. But it’s important to let a player’s performance dictate whether his role changes, especially at this stage in his development.

The Mets make mistakes like rushing their prospects — and it wrecked Gomez and Guerra before we ever got our hands on them. The Twins should avoid those same mistakes. I mean, if there’s one thing we can all agree on, it’s that the Twins should not try to emulate the Mets.

I’m probably overreacting to this news. But I think about trends a lot — I’ve been encouraged by the trend that the Twins seem to be targeting high-upside talent more than they had in the past — and this seems like something we should keep an eye on.

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Nathan tears his UCL

Well, it looks like Nathan’s injury is much worse than we’d hoped. FunBobby was out of town this weekend, and so he didn’t hear about the injury when it happened; he asked me for an update, which looked like this:

He came in in the 3rd inning, struck out the first batter, then walked the next two and was taken out with right elbow soreness. He’s gone back to MN to get an MRI.

One theory is that this is just a normal setback after his offseason surgery to break up scar tissue in that elbow. Another is that it’s a more severe injury. There’s no real information about it, but it’s definitely a reason to worry.

My optimism was invalid, though, now that we’ve learned that Nathan actually has a torn UCL, which is the very same ligament that needs to be repaired in Tommy John surgery.

They’re not certain if it’s a full tear or a partial tear — Gardenhire called it “significant” — and Gardenhire says it’s the sort of thing you can’t tell until you get in and do surgery. Tommy John surgery.

Apparently, they’re saying it’s “totally Nathan’s decision” as to whether to have surgery or not. The plan, for now, is to try to avoid surgery:

While surgery certainly looks to be imminent, Nathan will take two weeks to let the swelling in the area subside. He’ll work with the trainers to strengthen the muscles around the elbow. And then he will try to pitch. He’s prepared to pitch in pain – given the huge expectations placed on the 2010 Twins – and is prepared to tests the limits of his tolerance level.

Personally, I’d be shocked if he’s able to pitch with a torn UCL … and perhaps more shocked if the Twins even let him. The Twins famously prefer to let pitchers do several months rest & rehab prior to doing the surgery that was obviously necessary from the start (see Crain, Neshek, Liriano, Bonser) … and that looks like what’s going to happen here. I kind of expect them to string us along until June, when they finally have the surgery they should be having now, delaying Nathan’s eventual return to the second half of 2011, at which point he still won’t even be full strength. Nathan should have the surgery now, and Nathan won’t be part of it.

Or at least, that’s my opinion. I know the Twins don’t share it. But that raises the question about what the Twins should do for a closer this year. Here are the options, as I see them:

  • Blindly hope Nathan is okay
  • Neshek
  • Rauch
  • Crain
  • Mijares
  • Slama or Delaney
  • Someone else from the minors
  • A new acquisition
  • Closer by committee

Alright … so I’m guessing most teams who lose an elite closer like Nathan don’t have so many internal options to choose from,* so the Twins probably aren’t totally screwed here.

* It’s worth noting that there aren’t very many teams with an elite closer like Nathan, and that they are probably really deep. The Yankees and Red Sox probably do have similar bullpen depth … only the Royals have a closer of Nathan’s caliber without a bunch of bullpen arms behind him. Maybe the Mets. So maybe I’m wrong to make that statement.

I think Mijares is out, given that Gardy doesn’t trust him and he’s a lefty, which will be more useful in a non-closer role. I don’t think much of Crain at the moment, and I don’t think Gardy does either.

If it were me, I’d go with the committee. La Velle disagrees:

I don’t think the Twins will go with a closer-by-committee. They had all kinds of trouble in 2008 when they tried a set-up man by committee, and Gardenhire regretted doing that. We’ll be on the watch for any signals that point to whomever fills that role.

And that’s a good point, though it explains more why the Twins won’t than why they shouldn’t.

So I don’t know what the Twins are going to do. We’ll keep you posted on the news as we know more. But I don’t believe this sinks the Twins’ playoff hopes; regardless of how great Nathan is, the Twins have a deep bullpen, some good arms, and even the best relievers don’t make a huge difference. Given the same innings and leverage, Nathan isn’t much more valuable than a healthy Neshek, for example.


A look at Nick Blackburn’s new contract

Apparently all this talk of a Mauer contract has got Bill Smith’s negotiative juices flowing.

According to a tweet from Joe C:

The #Twins have signed Nick Blackburn to a four-year, $14 million contract. The deal includes an $8 mil club option for 2014.

At the moment, that’s all the details I have on his deal. But let’s take a look at it, shall we?

He has two years of service time, which means he’s currently entering his third and final pre-arbitration year. Thus, this 4-year deal buys him out through all three arbitration years, plus an option for his first year in free agency.

Normally, arbitration salaries are set at 40%/60%/80% of your free agent value in each year. Blackburn produced 2.5 WAR in 2008, and 3.0 WAR in 2009 (and is currently projected for 2.5 WAR in 2010). If we set his true talent level at 2.5 WAR, this four year contract should look something like this:

  1. $1M (typical value for final pre-arbitration year, this could go up or down by a few hundred K)
  2. $3.5M (2.5 WAR x 40% == 1 WAR … free agent salaries are $3.5M/win this winter)
  3. $5.25M (2.5 WAR x 60% == 1.5 WAR at $3.5M/win)
  4. $7M (2.5 WAR x 80% == 2 WAR at $3.5M/win)
  5. $8M team option (2.5 WAR at $3.5M/win is $8.75M)

As you probably noticed, these values add up to more than $14M. Normally, players give a discount for the security of a long-term contract. This deal is about 83% of what Blackburn could have expected if he’d gone year-to-year (and performed as well as he has the last two years every single time). That seems like a larger-than-normal discount, which means the Twins did a good job at the negotiating table (even the option is discounted from his expected value).

It’s possible that the Twins have managed to value wins at an even lower rate than this discounted winter shows … the value of this contract makes sense at about $3.2M/win.

So the Twins negotiated themselves a good, team-friendly contract here. Maybe all that practice trying to deal with Mauer has been good for them. But is the value of the contract really the most important consideration here?

For starters, they’ve now locked up perhaps their most consistent starting pitcher for four seasons; Blackburn has also shown himself capable of stepping up in big games (which can’t be measured, but teams and teammates and managers and fans all love those guys). Blackburn is the team’s only groundball pitcher, during an offseason in which they’ve re-upped on infield defense with the addition of Hardy & Hudson. If they expect to make a commitment to Hardy, it makes sense to lock up Blackburn. Plus, this will lend some consistency to the starting rotation. They’ve got a solid, consistent starter for his age 28-31 seasons, which are often a pitcher’s best.

Of course, there are downsides — Blackburn could get hurt or be ineffective. He hasn’t shown much risk of injury, but that could happen at any time for a pitcher. Plus, it blocks the pipeline of pitching talent. With both Baker and Blackburn signed to long-term deals, the space in the rotation for younger (perhaps more talented) pitchers is pretty thin; especially until Baker and Blackburn are considered “veteran presences,” thus removing the need to sign a guy like Pavano (or Livan Hernandez, or Ramon Ortiz, or whatever other guy they feel will give them a 5.95 ERA every 5 days).

I think you can’t be too worried about injuries in this situation. They could happen, but if you go by that logic you’d never sign anyone. And if a group of young pitchers starts knocking hard on the door and Blackburn seems like he should be the odd man out, plenty of teams are looking for consistent workhorses who are groundball machines, excel in big moments, and are signed to team-friendly deals — it shouldn’t be hard to find a taker in a trade and get something back for Blackburn. Especially if he pitches well, besting his 2.5 WAR valuation.

I didn’t really expect to like a long-term deal for Nick Blackburn, but I do. This was a good move for the Twins, and hopefully is an indication of the kind of successful negotiations they can execute, when it comes to the Mauer deal.


Roster update 2/9/10

The Twins signed Jacque Jonesto a minor league deal today.  They also cut ties with Jason Pridie, to make room on the 40 man for Orlando Hudson. This is an odd move since Pridie projected to make the team as a backup OF, and Jones hasn’t played in the majors since 08. Oh well, no big loss.  Speedy outfielders who can’t hit are pretty easy to find on the scrap heap, so I’m sure the Twins will find some cheap player who can fill in at all 3 OF spots and pinch run occasionally.

Does anyone have Jason Tyner’s number?


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