Fire Gardy

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How long will Mauer last?

The Twins have Mauer under contract now for the next nine years; it’s my opinion that signing this deal was completely necessary for the Twins, despite the much-talked-about downside risks inherent in any long term contract and compounded by Mauer’s position, height, and injury history.

Fangraphs has already pointed out that Mauer’s bat is good enough to play anywhere on the diamond, but the Twins wouldn’t have felt quite as pressed to make this deal for a first baseman as they were for a catcher. The question today, though, is this: how long will Mauer stick at catcher?

Colin Wyers takes a look at this over at ESPN’s TMI blog (insider only), and takes a somewhat interesting tack. He finds that the average catcher stays at the position for 10 years, and has a total career lasting 11 years; they don’t last long in the league once they leave the position. But Wyers acknowledges that Mauer isn’t average, so he narrows it down to just the catchers who had a career after catcher, and finds that they played an average of 7 years at catcher and a total career of 12 years.

Mauer’s already been in the league for six years, and the Twins are banking on his career lasting at least 15 years. According to Wyers’ analysis, this would be so far above the average that you simply can’t expect it to happen.

the odds are that Mauer won’t be able to remain a full-time catcher much more than halfway through this contract, so by then the Twins had better have a contingency plan in place.

I’m going to go ahead and disagree with his conclusion here. This is a very simplistic look at things, and basing it on the average career is a major problem to begin with — Joe Mauer is a singular talent, and what an average player does simply has no bearing on what he might do.

Secondly, he limited the pool of players he looked at pretty strictly. Their careers had to start in 1974 or later, and they must have retired by now. That ignores most of the historical comparisons to Mauer, including Yogi Berra, Johnny Bench, Carlton Fisk, Jorge Posada, Jason Varitek, and others. I’m basically throwing out a list of the greatest catchers ever for a reason — Mauer is one of them.

If you decide to judge Mauer’s potential career against those of other great catchers, as opposed to the average catcher, would you really come to the conclusion that the odds are against him lasting past age 32? Posada is still going strong at age 37; Varitek was never as good as Mauer and stopped being any good at age 35; Bench was still great at 33 but was done by 35; Fisk was still great at age 42 (despite a couple down years at 38-39, from which he rebounded); Berra was good through age 36, and even posted a 138 OPS+ in limited action at 38.

Barring a major injury, there seems to be little reason to believe that Mauer’s catching career will end in his early 30s. In fact, judging by more recent players who, like Mauer, have been able to take advantage in modern advances in nutrition and exercise, he may even be worth a multi-year contract at age 36 when he hits the market again. Posada was.

There are no guarantees in life, or in baseball. But the assumption that Mauer’s career is already on the brink of collapse because he’s pushing up against the limits of the length of the average catcher’s career is naive and unhelpful.

Mauer is on track to be an inner circle hall of famer, and there is almost no reason to think he’ll be anything but one of the best players in the game for at least the next five years; by then, he will have virtually assured himself a plaque in Cooperstown with a TC on his hat.

At the end of the day, no, we don’t know how long Mauer will be crouching behind the plate at Target Field. But it shouldn’t be too much of a task to sit back and enjoy the show, however long it lasts.

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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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Souhan wants to trade Mauer? He’s not COMPLETELY crazy.

Jim Souhan is renowned in these parts for making coherent arguments about baseball, cutting metaphors about life and food, and truly understanding the ins and outs of this game called baseball. He’s at it again today, wondering if the Twins should trade Joe Mauer.

A trade could yield a closer to replace Joe Nathan and would protect the franchise in the future from having one player on their roster consuming 20 to 25 percent of their payroll, a formula that rarely works in baseball.

This is mind-bogglingly dumb, of course, and Rob Neyer is quick to tell us why:

You know what’s an even better idea: Not targeting a reliever when trading your single most valuable commodity. Trading for a reliever would be a terribly short-sighted move, designed to net an extra two or three wins in one season (granted, two or three wins might make a difference this season). Trading Mauer, if it simply must be done, should be designed to net the Twins twice that, at the very least.

The disposition of this situation will go a long way toward determining the future of this franchise. Signing Mauer would be good. Trading Mauer for a scad of talented young players could be good. Trading Mauer for a reliever might set the franchise back five years.

But let’s assume that Bill Smith is smarter than Souhan, and wasn’t planning on trading the best player in baseball for a relief pitcher. Can we reasonably assume, though, that he’s smart enough to get more than two draft picks’ worth of value in a trade?

Don’t forget about the Garza/Bartlett for Young trade, which has looked pretty bad so far. Perhaps the better comparison, though, is the Santana trade,* which has also looked awful.

* It’s kind of remarkable, actually, that the Twins had the best pitcher in the league and were essentially forced to trade him — and then, just two years later, they have the best player in the league and may well be forced to trade him too.

I wouldn’t be too confident in Smith’s ability to land any mega-prospects in return for Mauer; the same problem that cropped up in the Santana negotations could crop up here too: namely, teams will be unwilling to give up much in a trade* because they also want to spend a huge sum on a long-term contract for Mauer.

* Is it just me or does this scenario only seem to happen to the Twins? When other teams are trying to unload a star in a rent-a-player type deal, they actually get prospects in return as opposed to having to thank a richer team for giving their best player some money and taking him off their hands for nothing.

Obviously, the best thing for the Twins would be to sign him to a team-friendly contract … but that’s unlikely. Given Smith’s trade-making ability, it’d probably be best to just wait out this season and take the draft picks. But what if they did sign him?

If the Twins signed Mauer to a deal worth $25 million a year — which might be what it takes — what might they have to pay to keep Morneau, who was considered the more valuable player until last season?

Okay, first of all, “considered more valuable by whom?” Morneau only beat Mauer for the 2006 MVP because writers like Souhan don’t understand that the only reason Morneau’s RBI totals were so lofty was because Mauer was always on base in front of him. I don’t need to go over this argument again, I hope, but the point is this: Mauer is more valuable than Morneau, and everybody knows it.

Secondly, Morneau is already under contract through 2013. He’ll be 33 years old the next time he’s on the market. It’s really not worth thinking about right now, since it’s a few years away, but have you seen what’s happened to the market for sluggardly sluggers who are past their prime? Let me give you a hint: Morneau probably won’t be signing a Mauer-sized deal when he’s 33 years old in 2014.

Plus, everyone’s making a bunch of noise about Mauer’s $25M salary taking up too large a percentage of the team’s payroll. But the Twins have been contending for a decade with payrolls of $60M — is it unrealistic to think that they could raise the payroll to $90M or so (which they’ve already done), pay Mauer his huge salary, and continue to contend?* It’s not the ideal model, probably, but the Twins have shown that they can build a 25-man roster for $60M and contend; wouldn’t you expect them to be able to build a 24-man roster for $60M, add the best player in the game, and still be able to contend?

* I’m using the word “contend” here, because I think it’s accurate. If the Twins have such a huge chunk of their payroll tied up in Mauer, and he’s healthy, I believe they’ll be a contender in basically every year of Mauer’s contract. But if he gets hurt or becomes ineffective, this all goes out the window. The Twins are basically screwed — and that’s a gigantic risk for a team that simply can’t afford to make big mistakes.

It’s a tough decision, another one for Bill Smith, who’s had plenty of these franchise-altering decisions to make in his brief tenure at the top of the Twins. On the one hand, do you take the biggest PR hit any team could possibly suffer, while simultaneously taking a huge step back for the current season (when you’re moving into a new taxpayer-funded stadium, no less), by trading your homegrown superstar? Or, on the other, do you sign him to a deal you can’t afford, for more years than you’re comfortable with, and risk having to explain to those same fans 8 years from now that the payroll is basically sunk because we’re paying $25M for an injured 3B/1B who doesn’t hit home runs? Or do you go for broke now, let him go to free agency at the end of the year, and move on without him, letting the payroll peak in 2010 and dwindle afterwards once The Hope Named Mauer has left the state?

It’s easy for us, as fans. We’re going to be fans either way, and the only thing that’s really at risk is our enjoyment during September and October — that’s not a lot at risk. For Smith, it’s his reputation, his career, his life that hinges on this decision, and on others like it. It’s not an easy choice, or an obvious choice.

But he kind of has to get it right.

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Holy crap, Posnanski linked to us!

You know what they say about publicity, right? That any publicity is good publicity — I thought, perhaps, that I should remind you about that so we’re clear on what I meant. Well, when Posnanski links to you, that’s some pretty serious publicity.

The problem, though, is the context of that link. He did it in a post called “HireGardy.com” in which he lumps us in with a bunch of crazed anti-Gardenhire internet people. He defends Gardy, who he likes as a manager, against the attacks of bloggers and commenters around the world. And he calls us the “informal” anti-Gardy blog, which is funny given that of the other two sites he points to, one is hosted on blogspot and the other is just a one-page site that complains about Gardenhire but has no other content or usefulness. I guess that means he didn’t spend much time reading.

My dad has frequently told me that I should change the name of the blog — that people are turned off when they hear that the site is called “Fire Gardy,” and perhaps don’t even visit (thus discovering that we don’t actually want Gardy to be fired). He also made the valid point that Gardy will someday not be the manager any more, thus making the website pointless. Those are all good points, of course, but I think the name has a nice ring to it.

I actually think Gardy is a good manager — in the past I’ve tried to quantify the contributions a manager makes and found that Gardy is consistently one of the top managers. It seems like every year, he’s voted 2nd or 3rd in the AL Manager of the Year voting, and I’ve never had reason to quibble with the selection.

Of course, I have a bunch of reasons why I don’t like the things Gardy does — the name doesn’t exist solely because it sounds good. For a team that’s consistently one of the youngest in the league, he has far too much of a preference for veteran players (despite talent). The players in whom he places his undying trust — like when he says Punto needs his at bats because he’ll bat with the game on the line a lot and he needs to be ready for it — well, let’s just say they’re not the players I would choose to trust. I think I’d handle the bullpen differently, with less of an emphasis on predefined roles and faith in the magic of the later innings … but I suppose you can’t really argue with his results.

He rips apart one comment, taking it down point-by-point; that comment basically touched on every weak argument people have against Gardy, which is presumably why Posnanski picked it.

I don’t mean to pick on one comment — the point is we get a LOT of seemingly angry anti-Gardy stuff like that around here. And a lot of it just seems petty to me. Look, I think he’s a great manager. A lot of people think he’s a fraud. That’s fine. I can point to five division champions. A lot of people can point to his weak division and playoff failure. That’s fine. I can point to a team that has consistently won and players who consistently play well for him as the season goes along. A lot of people can point to Gardy’s bizarre individual decisions and they would rather credit other people for the Twins’ success. That’s fine too.

And yes, I think it’s funny that people seem to go to Posnanski to complain about Gardenhire. Maybe it’s because he likes Gardy, and is one of the few people to admit that on the internet. Maybe it’s because he’s just the biggest person to admit it on the internet.

I wish Gardy were better at dealing with young players — it happens to be my opinion that he destroyed Alexi Casilla and would have destroyed Carlos Gomez if he hadn’t been traded. I wish he cared more about “getting outs” than “eating innings” … perhaps saving us from watching guys like Carlos Silva, Sidney Ponson, Ramon Ortiz, and Livan Hernandez go out and lose baseball games. I wish he at least gave the impression that he’s thought through how he wants to handle a pitching staff, rather than just leaning against the conventional wisdom — after all, conventional wisdom isn’t going to help you win when you have fewer resources than your competitors. You have to do something new!

But without a doubt, something Gardy does is working. And it’s working great. And anyway, if Gardy did everything the way I would, then what would I hve to write about? My favorite thing about Gardy — aside from, you know, all the winning — is that he’s a constant, undying source of fun things to write about.

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Killebrew: Cuddyer is capable of hitting a lot more homers

Harmon Killebrew has remained interested and somewhat active with the Twins over the years,* and recently John Shipley asked him about young power hitters in baseball.

* And that seems to be increasing in recent years, though part of that could just be due to more reporting during the winter and spring thanks in large part to the internet, and also to the ever-increasing demand for Twins-related information by the team’s excellent fanbase.

He showed his age, I think, by bringing up Michael Cuddyer — who’s not young — but his thoughts were interesting.

“Now,” Killebrew continued, “the real secret in this game, with hitting, is to be consistent. Can you come back and have a better year than you did the year before? That’s the tough part of the game. I hope Michael is still healthy. I know he can. Physically, he’s capable of hitting a lot more than he did last year.”

As everybody knows, Cuddyer put together a great season in 2009, putting up a career high 32 home runs. If anything, Cuddyer has seemingly shown himself not to be particularly consistent, as the perception is that he put together a pair of disappointing seasons in between his two great ones,* but Killebrew’s theory that Cuddyer is “capable” of hitting a lot more homers than he did last year warrants further investigation.

* He broke out in 2006 with a 3.1 WAR season, and 2009 was highly regarded but worth just 2.0 WAR. His 2007 was actually better, worth 2.1 WAR, though a big part of that was probably positional; in 2009, he filled in for Morneau at 1B for a month, which brought down his positional adjustment and counteracted some of the awesome work he did with the bat. He produced a career high 23.2 batting runs in 2009, vs 22.6 in 2006 and 10.5 in 2007. His 2008 was mostly a throwaway year, lost to injury.

Of Cuddyer’s 32 homers in 2009, 13 of them were “no doubt,” according to Hit Tracker — tied for 3th in the AL, behind Mark Teixeira, Miguel Cabrera, and Carlos Pena. And that was my impression as well: when Cuddyer connected with a ball, it went a mile. 11 of his homers were “plenty,” which means he got enough of them to get it out of basically any park; these are the standard home runs. Just 8 of his homers were “just enough,”* or balls that barely cleared the fence.

* Compare that to Mauer, whose 11 “just enough” shots were good for 5th in the AL.

But hitting “just enough” homers is not a criticism — you basically need to hit a bunch of them in order to rack up a big HR total. Prince Fielder had 16 of them, Albert Pujols and Mark Reynolds had 14, Kevin Youkilis had 13, Kendry Morales had 12, Alex Rodriguez had 11 … these are all pretty big home run hitters.

What Cuddyer needs to do is put more balls in the air, to give himself a better chance of a handful or two of them carrying just over the fence. If he can do that, while continuing to make the good solid contact he made in 2009, Killebrew could very well be right about his ability to hit more homers. I just don’t know what he means by “a lot more.” It could be similar to what he means by “young,” which apparently includes guys who are 31 years old.

Plus, with the addition of Jim Thome and JJ Hardy to the lineup as well as the potential for an emergence by Delmon Young, Cuddyer could see even more protection than he’s been accustomed to. That can only help.

One final note

in his first time in the cage, Cuddyer laid his bunts down, then immediately drilled a hard liner to center. Thome, with 564 homers in a 19-year major league career, looked up and said, “How do you do that?”

Dear Jim Thome: you don’t care! If Gardy’s plan for you as a pinch hitter involves any bunting whatsoever, that’s his fault. Not yours. Just focus on what’s made you a potential (probable?) hall of famer: smashing the crap out of the ball.

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Perception, Reality, and the Twins

Dave Cameron of FanGraphs, who has historically been a big Twins-hater, loves what the team has done this offseason. He’s as bullish as we are about the additions of Hardy, Hudson, and Thome, likes the Pavano deal, and thinks good seasons from Delmon Young and Francisco Liriano are within reason. I bring this up, because he has no idea what Vegas is thinking.

Apparently, Vegas thinks that people with money hate the Twins. If there’s one over/under that stands out like a sore thumb, it’s Minnesota at 82 wins. 82 wins – the same as the White Sox, one win more than the Tigers, tied for the seventh best record in the American League. Really? Seriously?

In addition to listing the Twins’ additions, he lists the Tigers’ subtractions, and is confused as to why Vegas would have both teams dropping by the same number of wins.

CHONE has the Twins as an 86 win team, and there’s certainly upside beyond the expected performances of guys like Young, Liriano, and Hardy. My back of the envelope calculations have them at something more like 87 or 88 wins.

I don’t have a projection system of my own,* so I generally don’t like to pull numbers out of my ass … but if I were going to do just that I’d say 87-91 wins sounds about right.

* Maybe I should make my own projection system, though. That could be a really fun project.

That said, Vegas sure isn’t alone in projecting a sour season for the Twins. Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA system* projects the Twins to “win” the division with 83 wins, just one more than Vegas projects.

* Yes, this is the same projection system that thought Matt “God” Wieters would bat .850 in his rookie year, be immediately elected to the Hall of Fame, and then rise into heaven on a cloud of virgins. So take from it what you will.

Perhaps this interview with Howard Norsetter, specifically when he’s talking about Dutch pitching prospect Tim Stuifbergen, will shed some light on the divergence of perception and reality surrounding the Twins.

This year, some of his control numbers were other-worldly. One game, he threw his fastball 41 times — 39 of them were strikes. He didn’t even make the top 30 lists for some pundits, which is weird.

Part of the problem is that he is an international player without a draft round associated to him, or a high bonus pedigree. At the World Junior Championships in Cuba a few years back, he was named the Most Valuable Pitcher. He pitched successfully against the Cuban senior team when he was 17.

That’s a salient point, and one that gets to the heart of the point. Without a way to accurately measure how good these young players are, analysts have to fall back to indirect measurements, like draft round and signing bonus. Since the Twins rarely even try to compete in that arena, it leaves people wondering “how in the world can the Twins compete when they have so few players we consider important?”

I personally don’t think that’s the whole reason, especially when it comes to PECOTA,* but it stands to reason that it could be part of it. And remember, we’re talking about Vegas here — which bases their picks not on what they think about baseball, but on what they think most people think about baseball.

* I’ve said it before, but I remain convinced that Baseball Prospectus’ roots on the south side of Chicago and ongoing loving relationship with the White Sox cloud its views of the AL Central, and the Twins in particular.

When I was younger, I used to think the national analysts were actively “against” the Twins, which in retrospect just seems foolish. It seems to me now that for the Twins, perception and reality are simply widely divergent; everyone’s opinions are honest and well-formed, but are simply based on information that doesn’t apply, or ignores important data that does. So if you were a gambling man — and for the record, I’m not — you may well be wise to take advantage of this perception gap and take the “over.”

Oh, and one more thing: if you were looking for a new young player to be excited about, Stuifbergen just may be the one. If only because of this:

The first words out of his mouth when he walked off the mound in Holland’s historic win against the Dominican Republic in the WBC last year were “I’m gonna take Papi off my fantasy team — he can’t hit an inside fastball.” And at the World Cup in Europe last year he was outstanding.

Oh yeah. I’m a fan of this guy already.

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We might be back to Wild Bill

Lately I’ve been feeling optimistic about the upcoming season, to the point of worrying that I’m over-optimistic. But I sure don’t feel like I’m exaggerating Bill Smith’s job this offseason.

So when someone like Dave Cameron raves about the offseason and the team in general — calling them clearly the class of the division with a chance at a superb rotation — it makes me a little less concerned about how excited I am, and how impressed I am with Smith.

With Hudson, Hardy, and Thome, the Twins have improved their offense significantly. By retaining Pavano and watching Francisco Liriano return to form in winter ball, their pitching rotation has the chance to be among the best in baseball. Their bullpen is still good, anchored by a relief ace and some quality arms in front of him.

It’s hard to imagine the Twins could have had a better winter. They used this off-season to upgrade the team, and while the roster isn’t perfect, they are clearly the class of the AL Central at this point. Adding Hudson is just the cherry on top of what was already a very good winter.

Wow. I think I’m going to have to go back to calling him Wild Bill.

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Getting overly optimistic about Liriano

One of the major questions facing the Twins coming into Spring Training* is what exactly they can expect from Francisco Liriano. Everybody knows his story, and everybody also knows that part of that story is that every year, around this time, word comes out of the Twins’ offices that Liriano looks great, is throwing the living fire out of the ball, and we should be set at the top of the rotation, so nobody worry!

* It’s just two weeks away now, by the way.

Of course, those prognostications have been totally false in the past; notably, in 2008 Gardy said he had reports of Liriano easily hitting 97-98 MPH on the gun, with a wicked slider that was as good as it was in 2006 … and then he got to camp and was throwing in the high 80s with no command, and was a total mess. So are they changing their tune about Liriano this time around?

It’s funny you should ask, because the answer, of course, is … of course not!

The swell of positivity surrounding the lefty is the result of his successful offseason in the Dominican Republic, where he led his winter league team, the Leones del Escogido, to the Dominican League championship. After a flurry of dominance throughout the postseason — 3-1 with a 0.49 earned-run average in his seven playoff starts — Liriano reached his pinnacle moment in the championship game, striking out 10 and allowing just one hit in five shutout innings.

‘That’s me. That’s how I know to pitch,’ Liriano said of his winter ball results. ‘I feel like in ‘06. I have my focus back; my arm feels great. (I’m) physically and mentally ready to go.’

Liriano reported that his fastball consistently hit 95-96 miles per hour this winter and that he located that pitch as well, something that’s troubled him since his return from surgery. His slider, he said, regained its previously menacing form. Backing up the pitcher’s assertions are his results — over seven postseason starts, Liriano struck out 47 batters in 37 innings.

Alexi Casilla faced Liriano in the Dominican championship series this year while Liriano was dominating everyone; Casilla hit .344 in the series* but struck out 4 times in 8 PAs against Liriano. He confirmed that Liriano’s slider “looks like a different pitch” and is more menacing than ever. For what that’s worth; I imagine that Casilla thinks every major-league-caliber pitcher is about as good as Nolan Ryan. After all, how else would they all make him look so bad out there?

* Some say he would have won the MVP if his team had won; unfortunately they had to face Liriano in the deciding Game 9. Also … I love that they play a best-of-nine series down there. Those guys know how to play baseball.

So is Gardy going to tell us that all is finally right with the world, and we’ve got our ace?

‘All the reports are that he’s really, really throwing the ball well,’ Gardenhire said of his pitcher who was 5-13 with a 5.80 ERA for the Twins in 2009. “This guy is potentially a No. 1 guy, “Gardenhire said. “Everybody’s always looking for a No. 1 guy. I don’t want to put the pressure on and say he’s a No. 1 guy. He’s had No. 1 stuff, and he’s had No. 1 success before. He could be very entertaining.”

Well, I wouldn’t call that saying everything’s going to work out perfectly. I think Gardy did a good job here of not going overboard with a Liriano projection. Apparently, Gardy has learned his lesson from being burned by these reports from the Dominican Republic over the last few years.

But pardon me for not learning my lesson here, because I’m getting excited. I absolutely cannot wait for Spring Training to start so I can see Liriano unleash the ball again. And if he’s back to normal* the Twins will have basically locked up the AL Central before the season starts.

* And by “normal” I mean “superhuman, like in 2006″ … I felt that needed clearing up.

And since this is the internet, I feel I should make a prediction. I think Liriano’s ERA will be under 3, and I think he’ll strike out 200 people this year. Yes, you can call me wildly optimistic.

Anybody else have Liriano predictions they want to share?

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What the Washburn talks said about the Twins’ financial situation

Frequent reader rghrbek posted a comment on yesterday’s Washburn post that I think is worth quoting and discussing in a new post:

I have this impending doomed feeling that the Twins will “get their man” and sign washburn right before spring training for 5 mil.

The twins could offer Lopez 10 mil over 2 years with a 5.5 mil option on the 3rd year, with a mil buyout. That is money well spent.

Bill Smith said that the reason the Washburn talks broke down was that Boras wants a multi-year deal, but — and this is important — the Twins feel they can’t commit any new money beyond 2010 in anticipation of the Mauer contract.

If that’s true, that would explain* why they’d consider themselves unable to offer such a contract to Felipe Lopez. If they can’t commit money beyond 2010, then they certainly can’t offer him a 2 year contract with an option for year 3.

* Which is to say that it would “explain it in such a way that it’s much more satisfying to me than the idea that the Twins don’t consider Lopez a viable 2B candidate for performance reasons.” Thought I should clarify that.

And if that’s really the case, it’s a disaster. Do they think Mauer isn’t tapped into the news surrounding his contract negotiatons? Mauer’s repeatedly said he wants to be in position to win, and he doesn’t want to sign a long contract with a team that’s not going to build a championship-caliber team around him. This offseason, I’d thought it looked like the Twins were doing everything they could in 2010 to show Mauer that they’re committed to winning.

But if they start sending signals that if they have Mauer’s big contract on the books then they can’t spend any money, all that work is thrown out the window. If Mauer even thinks the Twins aren’t willing to pull out all the stops to win a championship, it just got a whole lot more difficult to sign him. He won’t have such reservations about the Yankees and Red Sox, which will work in concert with their presumably much larger contract offers to convince him to leave the Twins.

I see this as another reason to try to get Lopez on a contract like the one proposed by rghrbek, beyond the simple fact that it’d be a good deal for both sides in a vacuum. I’m not at all confident in the Twins’ front office, though.

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More thoughts on the changing baseball economy

I basically wrote about this earlier this afternoon, but Sheehan’s article about salary arbitration this year is worth quoting:

These decisions, taken as a whole, reflect the evolution of a market. Not every team sees it the same way, but by and large, the industry is valuing experience less, valuing common talents less, and recognizing one of the first principles of performance analysis: talent in MLB isn’t a bell curve, but the right edge of that curve, with a few tremendous talents, and then a large pool of similar ones. There’s nothing special about Randy Winn or Jermaine Dye or Jon Garland, and what separates them from comparable players—experience—isn’t something worth paying millions of marginal dollars for. The industry is getting smarter, and it’s going to make for better baseball for all of us.

That’s exactly right.

This isn’t an issue of “stats vs scouts,” which is apparently how my last article was viewed. This is simply the market for baseball players evolving due to a change in player evaluation in front offices.

Part of that change is certainly due to a difference in evaluation methods — more teams are using statistical analysis to attempt to value both free agents and internal options. Another part of that change is probably economic: the guys signing the checks would rather their employees don’t throw their money around as much as they have in the past.

But, as Sheehan points out, another part of it is that front offices are simply getting smarter. They’ve realized that there really are only a small handful of players worth committing a large amount of resources — either in dollars, years, or roster spots. Beyond those few stars, everyone else in the majors (or, to a lesser extent, the high minors) is pretty close to equivalent. Why would you spend many millions of dollars on one when you can have another for half a million? It makes no sense.

Right now I think the front offices have swung too far in the opposite direction of their free-wheeling ways of yesteryear; this market, like any other, is operating like a pendulum on the way to equilibrium. But even still, the idea that this sort of analysis shows that “all free agents are basically worthless” is disingenuous at best; it smacks of sportswriter-like thinking, that “things were better back then,” and is clearly in opposition of change, no matter how inevitable or beneficial.

Ultimately, I agree with Sheehan (on this). This is going to make baseball better for everyone.*

*Except, of course, for the aging veterans who are no longer the beneficiaries of foolish contracts — but how much do you feel for those guys?

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