2015 Season Previews: Minnesota Twins

Over the next several weeks, The Baseball Haven will be creating season previews for all 30 MLB teams. You’ll find their projected records (based on PECOTA records from Baseball Prospectus, as of 2/15/2015), each team’s top three players (based on Steamer WAR projections from FanGraphs), and some valuable notes on each team, including likely bounce-back candidates, potential breakout players or fantasy sleepers, as well as a look back at offseason transactions which led to each team’s projections. Stop back frequently to see where your favorite team ranks! 

Minnesota Twins

Twins
Courtesy: MLB.com

2015 Projected Record: 70-92 (5th in AL Central, 29th in MLB)

Manager: Paul Molitor (1st season – no prior experience)

Top Three Players: 2B Brian Dozier (2.8), RHP Phil Hughes (2.6), 1B Joe Mauer (2.3)

Bounce-back Player: RHP Ricky Nolasco

When the Twins signed Ricky Nolasco to a four-year, $49 million deal last winter, he was expected to anchor a staff that was downright awful in 2013 (5.26 team ERA and the 29th ranked rotation ERA of 4.81). Nolasco never met those expectations, going just 6-12 with a 5.38 ERA and 1.52 WHIP over 27 starts and 159 innings, complaining of an elbow injury three months into his horrible performance. Needless to say, with Nolasco’s contract and the Twins “small-market” financial situation, he isn’t going to be traded or forced into the bullpen; however, he won’t need to be, as the 2015 season will likely see a huge improvement. A .351 BABIP (.312 career) is an easy first qualifier to that statement. Additionally, his FIP was 4.30 in 2015, which shows that it wasn’t quite as horrific as the ERA showed. While he won’t ever be an ace, he could settle in nicely within the middle of the rotation as an innings-eating veteran as the Twins slowly add Alex Meyer and Jose Berrios to the mix in the coming season or seasons.

Twins OF Oswaldo Arcia: Slugger Extraordinaire? Courtesy: twincities.com
Twins OF Oswaldo Arcia: Slugger Extraordinaire?
Courtesy: twincities.com

Fantasy Player to Watch: OF Oswaldo Arcia

Though he has parts of two seasons and 788 plate appearances under his belt, Arcia will be just 24 in May. He already has 33 doubles, 34 home runs, and 100 RBI on his resume, but it’s the 244 strikeouts and 31 percent strikeout rate that some may focus on. Sure, he strikes out way too much, but there are positives in his game. He obviously has big power, which is huge for the Twins when you consider that the face of the franchise and payroll paper weight, Joe Mauer, offers so little power production. Arcia, obviously a free-swinger, saw slight improvements in his walk rate in 2014, as well, improving from 6.1 percent in 2013 to 7.6 percent last season. His ISO would have ranked in the top 15 in MLB in 2014, as well, so Arcia appears on his way to being an offensive asset for a team that will see quite a few positive changes in production in the coming seasons, as the arrival of Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton to the major league roster will help to make the Twins an offensive juggernaut, and Arcia will help in that charge.

Offseason Overview: The Twins added more veteran leadership to the team this winter, signing OF Torii Hunter to return in right field, while adding RHP Ervin Santana to shore up the top of the rotation, which was lacking in production outside of Phil Hughes’ breakout last season. While the club lost a couple of bullpen arms to free agency, they weren’t really getting much out of them (Anthony Swarzak and Matt Guerrier). While the Twins didn’t go crazy in spending this offseason, they added value without crippling their future, as they are paying Santana slightly more than what they are paying Nolasco per season, while only signing Hunter to a one-year deal.

The Verdict: The Twins only added two major pieces this winter to a team that finished last in the division. Hunter is a nice stopgap in right and will be gone soon to open up another spot for the Twins’ youngsters. The team has a tremendous farm and a very solid core of talent in Dozier, Hughes, Santana, Arcia, and Kennys Vargas to build around; however, it won’t be enough to get this team out of the cellar in 2015. They should be a little better than they were in 2014, even though their PECOTA record suggests an identical record, as they hope to get a better idea of what they have on their MLB roster, while getting looks at Sano, Buxton, Meyer, Berrios, and Trevor May over the course of the 2015 season. This will appear to be another lost season by the end of 162 games, but it will go a long way in the future of the franchise, and this will likely be a better team that what they’re projected to be.

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The Hot Stove Has Caught On Fire

It certainly hasn’t taken long for teams to begin dishing out large contracts that they’ll probably regret in a couple of years with free agency well under way. However, the last 24 to 48 hours have supplied the greatest number of gifts, with a lot of examples of “huh”, “why”, “seriously”, and “come again” worthy reactions.

The Trades

The Doug Fister Trade

Detroit Tigers get: 2B Steve Lombardozzi, LHP Ian Krol, and LHP Robbie Ray

Washington Nationals get: RHP Doug Fister

FisterIt has to be called the Doug Fister trade because no one really cares about any of the players that the Tigers got back, right? If this wasn’t a total salary dump, I don’t know what it was, as the “prize” return for the Tigers is Ray, who was a 10th round pick in 2010 and had a 6.56 ERA in 2012 in his first attempt at High-A Potomac before bouncing back and having a solid season between High-A and Double-A in 2013, really doesn’t seem like a tremendous prospect; though, we have been proven wrong by Dave Dombrowski before. After the Tampa Bay Rays received one of the top young prospects in baseball, Wil Myers, in return for two controllable seasons of James Shields, you would think that the Tigers could have received more for Fister, who had managed to post an impressive 32-20 record to go along with a 3.29 ERA and 1.19 WHIP in 440.2 innings with Detroit. Fister now joins Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmerman, and Gio Gonzalez within the Washington rotation, making the Nationals strong contenders for first-year manager Matt Williams in 2014.

Winner: Washington Nationals.

Smelling Fowler

Houston Astros get: CF Dexter Fowler

Colorado Rockies get: RHP Jordan Lyles and OF Brandon Barnes

Fowler1Fowler seemed to be on the trading block for some time, but he was finally dealt on Tuesday. The Astros get two affordable seasons (two-years, $11.6 million) of Fowler while they wait for George Springer to prove himself ready, or…they just acquired a nicer trade chip than what they gave up. Jordan Lyles may still be just 23 years old, but he hasn’t put it together in 377 major league innings, posting a 5.35 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, and a 6.2 K/9, and it seems very unlikely that shifting to Coor’s Field is going to assist his progression to sudden success. Brandon Barnes has some ability, but it isn’t as an everyday player, as his atrocious 127:21 K:BB and .635 OPS over 445 plate appearances goes to show. Barnes could be a fourth outfielder for the Rockies, with Carlos Gonzalez sliding over to center and Charlie Blackmon and Corey Dickerson battling it out for the left field job, or Colorado could look to free agency to upgrade in center. This deal didn’t make a whole lot of sense for the Rockies unless they saw something in Lyles and didn’t feel that Fowler would ever live up to his hot start from 2013, when he posted a 1.032 OPS and then fell off of the face of the earth. Even if Fowler doesn’t live up to those numbers, he is the most valuable piece in the deal.

Winner: Houston Astros.

The Unimpressive Three-Way

Cincinnati Reds get: LHP David Holmberg.

Tampa Bay Rays get: RHP Heath Bell and cash from Arizona, and C Ryan Hanigan from Cincinnati.

Arizona Diamondbacks get: RHP Justin Choate and a PTBNL

The Rays are always viewed as a smart club and they were able to land another potential closer after losing Fernando Rodney to free agency, leaving the club with Heath Bell and Juan Carlos Oviedo to battle it out for the gig. On top of that, they received an excellent framing catcher in Hanigan, who has proved to be quite valuable to Cincinnati over the last several years in game-calling, while inking the backstop to a three-year extension upon the completion of the deal. The bad part, though, is that both Bell and Hanigan weren’t very good last season, with Hanigan, in particular, looking like a nightmare offensively, posting a .198/.306/.261 line over 260 plate appearances, leading to the Reds leaning on Brayan Pena, who was signed to a two-year deal earlier this winter, and Devin Mesoraco, the young, power-hitting catcher who will finally get a full-time look in Cincinnati. The Diamondbacks dumped some salary while dealing Bell for a young, breathing body. Choate pitched in the New York-Penn League in 2013 at the age of 22 and he isn’t much of a prospect. The Reds dumped Hanigan, who was arbitration-eligible, while getting a 22-year-old left-handed starter, who posted a 2.75 ERA in 26 Double-A starts in 2013 with a 116:50 K:BB in 157.1 innings. While Holmberg wasn’t as sexy as Tyler Skaggs or Archie Bradley within the Diamondbacks system, he could become a solid back of the rotation arm or a Sean Marshall-like relief pitcher for the Reds. The good news for Cincinnati is that Mesoraco gets his shot and Holmberg adds some near-ready pitching depth after the likely departure of Bronson Arroyo via free agency.

Winner: Everyone looks like a winner here, as the deal worked well for all three teams, but the Rays received the most help in assisting the team win in 2013.

Why Did Beane Make That (Michael) Choice?

Texas Rangers get: OF Michael Choice and 2B Chris Bostick

Oakland A’s get: OF Craig Gentry and RHP Josh Lindblom

ChoiceThis seemed like an odd deal for Oakland and GM Billy Beane, as Gentry is arbitration-eligible for the first time this winter and Lindblom has been pretty terrible since being traded from the Dodgers to the Phillies in the 2012 Shane Victorino deal, as he has posted a 5.10 ERA and 1.50 WHIP over 54.2 innings since leaving Los Angeles (2.91 ERA and 1.18 WHIP in 77.1 innings prior to the trade). Maybe a return to the west coast is what Lindblom needs to be a useful reliever, but by getting the elite defensive skills and increasing salary of the light-hitting (.280/.355/.366 in 763 plate appearances), 29-year-old Gentry, and giving up the potential that still exists in the bat of Michael Choice, who is 24 and isn’t arbitration-eligible until 2017, Beane showed that he may be looking beyond three years from now and that he could be putting the A’s in win-now mode. Bostick is a nice second base prospect, having posted a .282/.354/.452 line over 555 plate appearances as a 20-year-old in Low-A in 2013, but the Rangers have quite a few young, up-the-middle prospects (Rougned Odor, Jurickson Profar, and Luis Sardinas) and they don’t seem to have a need there, while the A’s have run Jemile Weeks out of town in a trade with Baltimore and Eric Sogard was very…meh…in 2013 at the major league level. Winning now is important, but it doesn’t seem like the A’s really acquired anyone who can really help them in 2014 to get over the hump.

Winner: Texas Rangers.

The Free Agent Splashes

The Yankees Spend Like Crazy…Again.

Who They Signed: C Brian McCann (five-years, $85 million); OF Jacoby Ellsbury (seven-years, $153 million);

McCannWhy It Matters: Notice that the Yankees have committed nearly $240 million after having been rumored to be on a mission to avoid the $189 million threshold of the payroll luxury tax, while not having signed their All-Star second baseman, Robinson Cano, just yet. And, don’t forget, the team is rumored to be interested in signing Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka, who could be had at a lesser amount after the posting fee was limited to a maximum $20 million bid on Wednesday. McCann is a huge upgrade over the combined .213/.289/.298 triple slash that Yankees’ catchers posted in 2013, while Ellsbury provides great defense and speed as the Yankees try to move on from all of the injuries that suffocated their success this past season. Even if the Yankees are done with the big name signings, including Cano, they should be a better team in 2014.

Twinkies Filled Their Rotation

Who Minnesota Signed: RHP Phil Hughes (three-year, $24 million); RHP Ricky Nolasco (four-year, $49 million);

Why It Matters: The Twins starting pitchers posted a 5.26 ERA and a 1.54 WHIP in 2013, worst in the majors, and the ERA was a whopping 0.45 points higher than the Toronto Blue Jays’ starters (4.81), who finished 29th. Hughes still has youth and potential, but he needs to start tapping into that potential after posting a horrific 5.19 ERA over 29 starts and 145.2 innings. Shockingly, Hughes’ numbers would have made him a solid number three starter for the Twins in 2013…they were that bad. Adding Nolasco was special, but he isn’t an ace. He will likely be the Twins’ Opening Day starter in 2014 by default and he should make the rotation slightly better; although, it couldn’t get much worse.

Kazmir Rejuvenates and Cashes In Athletically

Who Oakland Signed: LHP Scott Kazmir (two-year, $22 million)

Why It Matters: Signing Kazmir to a lucrative contract could lead to another movie about the Oakland A’s after the success of Moneyball. While Kazmir’s resurgence was quite surprising, an eight-figure deal, after making all of one total appearance in the majors in 2011 and 2012 due to severe shoulder woes, was even more surprising. Possessing a mid-90’s fastball and a left arm appears to be all that it took to find a big deal. Kazmir’s story is worthy of attention and praise, but it is a story that needs to be monitored to see if he can maintain the same success in Oakland over the next two seasons. His presence will allow the A’s and Beane to shop LHP Brett Anderson at the winter meetings next week, which could net the club some additional win-now resources.

The Tigers No Longer on the Prowl for a Closer

Who Detroit Signed: RHP Joe Nathan (two-year, $20 million)

Why It Matters: Detroit needed a lockdown closer after shuffling through Jose Valverde, Phil Coke, Jose Veras, and Bruce Rondon at closer before Joaquin Benoit took over and did a nice job over the rest of the season. They got their man after signing Joe Nathan away from the Texas Rangers. Nathan closed 80 games out the last two seasons, while posting a 2.09 ERA and 0.98 WHIP, and at 38 years of age, he doesn’t look to be slowing down after missing the 2010 season due to Tommy John surgery. After dealing Prince Fielder to improve at second base with Ian Kinsler, moving Miguel Cabrera back to first, and plugging Drew Smyly into the rotation (after dealing Fister), the Tigers will have a completely new look in 2014. With their strong rotation, Nathan’s shutdown ability makes them quite dangerous.

Fish Hook Their Catcher and the Red Sox Snag Another

Who Miami Signed: C Jarrod Saltalamacchia (three-year, $21 million)

Who Boston Signed: C A.J. Pierzynski (one-year, $8.25 million)

Why It Matters: With a lot of focus heading towards catcher defense and framing, highlighted by the Rays commitments to Jose Molina and Ryan Hanigan this winter, other clubs continue to look towards offensive-minded catchers, and the Miami Marlins and Boston Red Sox locked down their backstops this week. The Marlins seem to have very little hope for a quick turnaround and Saltalamacchia isn’t going to be the other piece to help Giancarlo Stanton and Miami to an NL East title, but it is a start…as long as they don’t trade him before the 2014 season starts. Pierzynski will be on his fifth organization and, despite being hated by some of his competition, he could be a tremendous asset to the character and chemistry that existed within the Boston World Series clubhouse. I guess he is better to have on your team than to play against him.

 

 

2014 MLB Free Agency: Pitching: What’s Out There For Your Team

Another season has finished and with only ten teams having successful, playoff-bound seasons, it is time for the other 20 teams to look forward to the 2014 season. After 162 games, you probably have a pretty good idea of what your team needs. Below, you’ll find a list of upcoming free agents. Who would you like your team to sign? Comment away!!!

TanakaTop Tier Starting Pitchers

Matt Garza, RHP, 30; Ubaldo Jimenez, RHP, 30; Josh Johnson, RHP, 30; Scott Kazmir, LHP, 30; Tim Lincecum, RHP, 30; Ricky Nolasco, RHP, 31; Ervin Santana, RHP, 31; Masahiro Tanaka, RHP, 25;

Needless to say, it is a weak, weak market this offseason. The Wild Card is Tanaka, who could be posted by his Japanese club. The youngest of the group, Tanaka has a 1.44 ERA over the last three seasons in 580.1 innings. At 6’2″, 205 pounds, Tanaka is more Yu Darvish (6’5″, 225) than Daisuke Matsuzaka (6′, 180), but he should fall somewhere in between. Garza wasn’t really all that productive after moving to Texas in a mid-season trade, and after battling elbow issues prior to the deal, his market may be very weary in its development. Johnson had an absolute nightmare of a season in Toronto, posting a 6.30 ERA over 16 starts (81.1 IP) before being shut down in late August with a forearm strain. Lincecum has shown some positive signs of his former self, but his fastball velocity continues to decrease and his previous contract (two-year, $40.5 million) seems highly unattainable. The remaining four, Jimenez, Kazmir (who sat in the mid-90’s all season, stayed healthy, and is young enough to produce through an extended contract), Nolasco, and Santana, had the best seasons of those reaching free agency in the coming months, but none of them are elite. On a good team, none of them should be more than a No.3 starter.

JimenezVeteran Starting Pitchers

Bronson Arroyo, RHP, 37; A.J. Burnett, RHP, 37; Bartolo Colon, RHP, 41; Freddy Garcia, RHP, 37; Roy Halladay, RHP, 37; Hiroki Kuroda, RHP, 39; Ted Lilly, LHP, 38; Roy Oswalt, RHP, 35; Jake Westbrook, RHP, 36; Barry Zito, LHP, 36;

This group is full of guys who have performed very well at times over the last few years. Burnett has been lights out for Pittsburgh this season (209 K, 3.30 ERA in 191 IP), Dan Haren had a 3.29 ERA over his final 16 games (87.2 IP), Kuroda has a 3.40 ERA over his first six seasons in America, and Arroyo hasn’t missed a start in his career. The rest of the group is kind of all over the place, some battling through various injuries and others battling through inconsistencies that come with aging and the loss of stuff. This group could be pretty affordable due to their age and limitations, but they could be very valuable for whoever signs them, tossing useful innings or providing leadership within a rotation and clubhouse.

Reclamation Projects

Scott Baker, RHP, 32; Gavin Floyd, RHP, 31; Phil Hughes, RHP, 28; Colby Lewis, RHP, 34; Shaun Marcum, RHP, 32; Mike Pelfrey, RHP, 30; Edinson Volquez, RHP, 30; Chien-Ming Wang, RHP, 34;

Several guys here coming off of injuries, while some have just long been ineffective, like Hughes and Pelfrey (who seemed to find a tick on his fastball late in the year). While none of these guys are locks to fill a rotation spot, they could become the 2014 version of what Kazmir provided to the Cleveland Indians. An incentive-laden contract for any of these pitchers is a worthy gamble by an intelligent club.

MujicaClosers

Grant Balfour, RHP, 36; Joaquin Benoit, RHP, 36; Joel Hanrahan, RHP, 32; Edward Mujica, RHP, 30; Fernando Rodney, RHP, 37;

Considering the young, affordable, internal options that have stepped up and become useful in the closer’s role over the last several years like Craig Kimbrel, Greg Holland, and Kenley Jansen, as well as the highly-paid closers that have bombed (Francisco Cordero, Francisco Rodriguez, and Jose Valverde, for example), maybe the expensive, long-term deals that used to be handed out to closers in free agency could be a thing of the past. Not one of these free agents have maintained a closer’s job for the last three straight years without interruption, and, for that reason, should sign at a relative discount when compared to deals in years past.

ChamberlainUseful Relief Pitchers

Matt Albers, RHP, 31; Joba Chamberlain, RHP, 28; Jesse Crain, RHP, 32; Jason Frasor, RHP, 36; Rich Hill, LHP, 34; J.P. Howell, LHP, 31; Matt Guerrier, RHP, 35; Boone Logan, LHP, 29; Javier Lopez, LHP, 36; Oliver Perez, LHP, 32; Francisco Rodriguez, RHP, 31; Joe Smith, RHP, 30;

More pitchers who are all over the place in production and health, the relief pitcher is probably the most confusing position in all of baseball. Some dominate every year, like Mike Adams, and others, like Rodriguez, have been about as consistent as a politician. A tremendous bullpen typically happens due to gambling and winning on a risk, and being very, very cautious with how much money is given to free agents. None of these guys should receive more than $5 million per season, but it wouldn’t be surprising if some unintelligent front office makes the bold move and sets the market way too high.

Big Z to South Beach

The Miami Marlins just gambled by spending $3 million on Carlos Zambrano when they traded Chris Volstad to the Cubs for the big right hander on Wednesday night.  The Marlins are officially loaded now, and while they didn’t get Albert Pujols, they have enough talent on the roster that they could overtake an aging Phillies team in 2012.  Zambrano may do well in the Latin community, keeping his butt on the team and his head in the game with fellow Venezuelan, manager Ozzie Guillen.  It’s a huge risk given his “headcase” past, but he will be just 31 in June and he is a career 125-81 (.607) with a 3.60 career ERA.  Zambrano may have had issues, but this deal makes all of the sense in the world, and I’m banking on Zambrano becoming relevant again.

With the addition of Zambrano, the Marlins now have Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Ricky Nolasco, Anibal Sanchez and the “Big Z” in the rotation.  If Johnson stays on the mound (just 37 starts the last two seasons combined), Buehrle continues being a consistent innings eating winner, Sanchez builds on his 202 K 2011 season, and Zambrano is a .500 pitcher, then they can afford for Nolasco to be the weakest link with his career 4.50 ERA.  It’s a long season and a lot of changes to the roster, but with Logan Morrison and Mike Stanton slugging the speedy Jose Reyes around the bases, the Marlins shouldn’t be a surprise team in 2012, as they look like the team to beat now.