Monday, February 08, 2010

An Offseason for the Ages

I find myself at something of a loss. It seems I've grown so accustomed to being disappointed with the frugal Twins and their aimless winters that when an offseason as exciting and well executed as this one comes along, I don't even know how to react. From trading for J.J. Hardy to re-upping Carl Pavano to signing Jim Thome and now adding Orlando Hudson, there's not one move I can take issue with. These were good, aggressive steps aimed at addressing legitimate needs.

I've written in the past about this organization's tendency to become complacent after successful seasons. Shortly after the 2009 campaign concluded, I drew a comparison between the '09 and '06 seasons, noting that the team's lack of foresight following that impressive but clearly unrepeatable 2006 season led to a disappointing finish in '07. It would have been no huge surprise to see the Twins take care of their internal business and sit back on their laurels this winter, given that they made the playoffs last year and will be getting a few key players back from injury in the upcoming season. Instead, they have aggressively sought to address areas of need while showing an uncharacteristic lack of hesitation to open the pocket book. While this is doubtlessly attributable in no small part to looser financial restrictions from the ownership thanks to the increased revenue that will come along with the new park, credit should also be given to the embattled general manager.

Bill Smith got off to a rough start in his capacity as Twins' GM. During his first offseason in the role, he traded Johan Santana, Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett for extremely underwhelming returns. He dealt for Craig Monroe and spent way too much money to employ the outfielder as a marginal bench player. He also handed out ultimately regrettable free agent contracts to Livan Hernandez, Mike Lamb and Adam Everett. I think that in some circles Smith shoulders too much of the blame for the early blunders, as he walked into an awfully tough situation, but there's no question that poor judgment was exercised by the front office on numerous occasions during his early days as head honcho.

Lately, though, Smith has been on a hot streak. Since the middle of the 2009 season, Smith has displayed a level of aggressiveness that we rarely saw during the Terry Ryan era, and the results have been strong. Midseason trades for Orlando Cabrera, Ron Mahay, Jon Rauch and Pavano helped propel a middling club to an improbable playoff berth, and two of those players (Rauch and Pavano) figure to be key contributors once again this season.

Now, Smith has played this offseason to damn near perfection. He snatched up Hardy, who had been widely viewed as one of the hottest trade chits on the market this offseason, before any other team really had a chance to enter the bidding. He wisely offered arbitration to Pavano, locking up a solid but injury-prone pitcher on a somewhat spendy but still low-risk one-year commitment. And perhaps most impressive in light of this organization's historical ineptitude in free agency, he slow-played the market and jumped all over opportunities to acquire Thome and Hudson at bargain prices. Those signings have been hailed by analysts as two of the best by any team this winter.

It seemed there was a good chance that the Twins were essentially done spending when they signed Thome to his deal a couple weeks ago, but my sense is that they decided to push the budget a little more than planned when the Hudson opportunity emerged and made all the sense in the world. With the payroll now hovering around $95 million (a whopping $30 million increase over last year's Opening Day mark) I suspect the Twins are finished done adding salary at this point. And that's OK. The Joe Mauer contract situation still needs to be resolved -- and I think it will -- but at this point Smith has done plenty to shore up holes and satisfy this particular fan.

In the October article I linked above, I concluded with the following assessment: "Adding solid depth and filling lineup holes with adequate supporting players could go a long way toward protecting the Twins against the type of drop-off that struck that 2007 team." Smith's moves this winter have done just that, and as a result, this is shaping up to be one of the best offseasons in the history of the franchise. With a new stadium set to open and a roster that features several superstar core players amidst their primes, the timing could not be better.

20 comments:

Anonymous said...

Should be an awesome first year at Target Field!!!

rghrbek said...

Nick,

Great post, your first paragraph sums up how I feel.

I think it's hard to laud the Pavano deal however. No question the Twins need starting pitching depth, and I guess we didn't really think Pav would accept arbitration.

As well as Pavano pitched last year at times, by biggest concern is his health. We've locked up 7 mil, to a guy who has been healthy, 1 out of the last 6 years?

I would've loved to see him go out on the market and see what kind of deal he would've have gotten. My guess is we still could've had him for cheaper. Again, I thought the Twins did the right thing though offering him arbitration.

Regardless, that one move still could have plenty of upside, and I really feel this has been a strong offseason. Keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

Don't forget all of the cash that the Twins put into signing internatinal players and a pretty impressive draft.

TT said...

"I find myself at something of a loss."

I wouldn't worry. Just be patient. A couple of these guys won't work out and you will get your narrative back.

The Twins haven't actually done very much this off-season, its just that they didn't have much to do. They didn't lose anyone to free agency. They are essentially counting on a bunch of young players to improve or at least not take a step back.


There have been no deals on the scale of trading away AJ Pierzynski. They didn't pick up a Shannon Stewart or even a Rick Reed last season. They didn't deal an Eric Milton for Carlos Silva or Nick Punto.

What they did was trade a part of the Santana trade for a shortstop who spent part of last year at AAA because of his poor performance. I think that is a risk worth taking, primarily because Gomez was a risk himself. But it is a ganmble and we shouldn't be counting our winnings on it just yet.

We at least need to recognize Hudson is a guy who was named an allstar and then lost his job at the end of last season. It may turn out Joe Torre saw something in watching Hudson every day that the Twins scouts missed. He is a risk, albeit a small one since he is only signed for one year.

Pavano is clearly a risk. He could turn out to fill as holr. It could also turn out the Twins would have been better off with Perkins back in the rotation.

Thome is a pinch hitter. He may or not be any good when playing irregularly. No one seems to want to acknowledge that can make a difference. But it usually makes a substantial difference. And Thome has never done it before.

What we have is several high profile deals with players who have some celebrity. Celebrity doesn't win any games.

I think the potential development of Liriano into an ace is more important to the Twins success than these deals. The Twins weakness is its pitching staff. That was true last year and it is still true this year.

Anonymous said...

The reason Torre played Belliard over Hudson at the end of the year was because Ronnie was on fire. He hit .351 as a Dodger last year and Torre went with the hot bat. While Hudson's defense is a little overrated, he is much better than what we have had in the past and his OBP the last four years is around .360, which is great to have between Span and Mauer. Seems like a pretty solid move to me.

Tyler said...

TT what are you taking about that the wins didn't have anything to do. We lost Redmond, Cabrera, Mahay, and Crede to FA. I will give you that we didn't have a major trades and that the success of Cisco kid is important but don't say the Twins didn't have anything to do. They only had to solidify the bullpen, address the infield problem of 2nd, SS or 3rd. Once Gomez was traded find a backup outfielder for Span and find a veteran for the rotation. That isn't too much?

Pulverized Concepts said...

Is there going to be a Twin at the All-Star game playing third base?

TT said...

"We lost Redmond, Cabrera, Mahay, and Crede to FA."

I think it would be more accurate to say the Twins didn't keep them because they weren't in their plans.

We are talking about replacing four over-the-hill players, a backup catcher, a part-time third baseman, a situational lefty and a range-challenged shortstop. The only off-season move they made that had anything to do with those guys was the deal for Hardy and that was driven as much by choice as by any need.

Steven Ellingson said...

TT,

It's not that we've done more than ever before, it's that they ended up signing guys for good value who fit exactly into the Twins' needs. No, they didn't make a huge trade, but they played the market well and signed guys for bargains. They traded a part-time player (you can argue that he shouldn't have been a part time player, but the fact is, he was) for a shortstop who should be somewhere between league-average and all-star caliber.

The Twins made 4 smart moves that will improve our club greatly. They did this cheaply, while not making multiyear commitments to anyone. They found a way to add value to an all ready very good team, which isn't always easy to do without breaking the bank. Yes, other offseasons have provided more future assets (such as the AJ trade you mention), but never before has an offseason produced such a talented and deep squad.

There have been complaints every year about the Twins decision not to "go for broke" and try to win a World Series at all costs. They managed to put together a World Series caliber team, without hamstringing the future.

Whether you're a stat person, a traditionalist, or something else, I just can't imagine how you could look at this offseason and not think it was one of the best, if not the best, in Twins history.

TT said...

"never before has an offseason produced such a talented and deep squad. "

My point is that if they are more talented and deep now, its because never before have the Twins started the offseason with such a talented and deep squad. They were contenders before they made any moves.

If their pitching doesn't improve, the off-season moves will not make that much difference. If JJ Hardy hits and fields like he did last year, the Twins are weaker at shortstop. If Delmon Young doesn't improve, their outfield is weaker. If Hudson continues his decline, he won't replace the offense lost at third base if the rest of the infielders continue their struggles.

In short, people in the blogsphere have been obsessing about second base and the number two spot in the order for so long, they are taking their best hopes about other positions as givens.

I think the Twins have done a good job this offseason, as they always do. They have fewer holes to fill and more resources to use in filling them. I think they did that wisely. But I expect a month from now the past critics will be just as critical as ever.

As I said elsewhere, the last time Bill Smith has gotten this much love was right after he traded Garza for Young.

Nick N. said...

In short, people in the blogsphere have been obsessing about second base and the number two spot in the order for so long, they are taking their best hopes about other positions as givens.

I thought that Smith had done well this offseason even prior to the Hudson signing, so your theory doesn't really fly. Keeping Pavano and adding Thome/Hardy were good, logical moves.

I think the Twins have done a good job this offseason, as they always do. They have fewer holes to fill and more resources to use in filling them. I think they did that wisely. But I expect a month from now the past critics will be just as critical as ever.

To claim that the Twins do a good job every offseason is pretty silly. Their free agent signees almost never make it through an entire year with the team because they're so bad (Ayala, Everett, Lamb, Batista, White, Ponson, Ortiz, Hernandez and plenty more serving as examples of this). Claiming that signings like this represent a front office doing a "good job" is completely out of touch with reality. Sure, it's possible that the guys the Twins have brought in this year won't work out, but I sure as hell won't be ripping Smith or the front office if that happens. Moves like the signings mentioned above were, for the most part, obviously misguided when they were made and members of the blogosphere wrote so at the time they were made.

Your assertion that all criticism of the Twins' front office has been leveled in hindsight is just blatantly untrue. I have acknowledged that the Garza trade was a bad one for the Twins but I've never criticized Smith for it because he had the right idea. Just didn't work out, as calculated risks sometimes don't. There is a difference, though, between a good calculated risk and wasting money on washed up veteran players who have almost no chance to meaningfully help the team.

Anonymous said...

Torre benching O-Dog isn't something we need to worry about. Torre platooned Kemp with pierre and Ethier with vastly inferior players, showing that his eye for the Dodgers lineup is suspect at best.

TT said...

Here is what you had to say about Lamb at the time:

"As the Twins struggled to field an offense that could even be considered respectable for much of the 2007 season, I often mused that if they could just upgrade from "awful" to "average" at a few positions, they'd have a shot at competing. Bill Smith has accomplished that, in earnest, by adding Lamb at third base. "

Here is Rondell Whites re-signing for the 2007 season:

"If White can retain the form that he showed in the latter months of the '06 season and some other players can build on the success they had last year, the Twins should have a pretty decent offense in 2007."

Here is Rondell White at the beginning of 2006:

"After nine games, Rondell White is hitting .088. He has not drawn a walk while striking out 10 times in 34 at-bats and grounding into two double-plays. I remain confident that White will come around and become a good hitter ..."

Then there was this:

"it makes much more sense to have this lineup:

Stewart
Castillo
Mauer
White
Morneau
Hunter
Kubel (if he plays, another left-handed bat)/Cuddyer
Batista
Bartlett"

I also liked this comment about trading Kyle Lohse:

"... its not like the Twins don't have options. They are knee deep in pitching. They have Boof Bonser, Willie Eyre, and J.D. Durbin waiting at Triple-A and many others working through the system."

Its not like you are always wrong, its just that you actually believe you will get it right. We don't know yet how this year's signings will turn out. When you compare people's optimistic expectations to reality, reality always looks bad.

Nick N. said...

I would never deny that I supported the signings of White and Lamb, which is why I specifically said in my comment: "Moves like the signings mentioned above were, for the most part, obviously misguided when they were made and members of the blogosphere wrote so at the time they were made."

I liked the signings of White and Lamb -- why wouldn't I? They were good players coming off productive years that filled areas of need for the club. I don't think anyone could have really predicted that both those players would see their production absolutely drop off a cliff in such a manner. That doesn't change the fact that those stand as but two of many examples of ill-fated free agent signings by this front office over the past decade. And while you managed to conveniently pluck out two examples of logical and sound moves from the group while glossing over many others of which I was far less glowing in my assessment, this team has made a habit of signing washed up players who no one could have reasonably expected to be very good.

Basically all you've done here is downplay the Twins' moves this offseason by pointing out that they were pretty good last year and didn't really lose any significant pieces. Frankly, that argument doesn't strike me as being particularly poignant. Any team -- particularly one that barely won a bad division and got swept right out of the playoffs -- should be looking to shore up weaknesses and improve during the offseason, and the Twins have done that as far as I'm concerned. Whether you agree or disagree with me, I think I've provided plenty of evidence and analysis to support my rationale.

Not every move is going to work out, but if the Twins are going to whiff I'd much rather see them doing it while pursuing quality players with reasonable upside, like Hudson and Hardy (and, yes, even Young and White and Lamb) rather than wasting money on wash-outs like Hernandez, Ortiz and Ponson (or Jarrod Washburn and Rob Quinlan, for that matter).

TT said...

Nick -

First you deny its 20-20 hindsight and then you pick examples that are supposed to demonstrate that but don't. You have an entire diatribe on this blog criticizing the Twins for standing pat after the 2006 season for decisions you were praising at the time. Its 20-20 hindsight.

How about some examples where you were right at the time? You didn't praise Everett's signing, but you should have. Its pretty clear that when healthy he can still be the shortstop on a winning team.

Here is a list of players not on your list:

Mike Jackson
Tony Fiore
Kenny Rogers
Chris Gomez
Hney Blanco
Terry Mulholland
Mike Redmond
Dennis Reyes
Jason Tyner
Jeff Cirillo
Joe Crede

You are the one doing the cherry picking here. Not all those guys were great - but as a group they made the difference on at least a couple of championship teams and all of them contributed.

"I'd much rather see them doing it while pursuing quality players with reasonable upside, like Hudson and Hardy"

You thought stiffs like White and Lamb or Everett were "quality players with reasonable upsides too. And that the Twins were up to their knees in pitching because they had Bonser, Eyre and Durbin.

Why should we think the judgments on Hudson and Hardy will turn out any better? More importantly - why do you think they will? How many times do you have to repeat a mistake before you learn something from it?

"Any team -- particularly one that barely won a bad division and got swept right out of the playoffs"

The Twins finished last year 29-13 to win the pennant with some key players on the DL. And
no one else did that much better against the Yankees even if they squeaked out a couple wins. The Twins would be favorites in the division even if they had made no off-season additions at all.

TT said...

To put it succinctly - I don't expect to look back on this season and say Hudson and Hardy made the difference in this team's success.

Nick N. said...

You are the one doing the cherry picking here.

Yes, how dare I cherry-pick around Chris Gomez and Henry Blanco. You've got me.

You have an entire diatribe on this blog criticizing the Twins for standing pat after the 2006 season for decisions you were praising at the time. Its 20-20 hindsight.

The only moves I was praising during that offseason were the ones that involved locking up internal players with contract extensions, which while important doesn't qualify as improving the club. The only outside additions during that offseason were Ponson and Ortiz, which I graded C and F, respectively. Indeed, I didn't think the Twins' lack of activity at that time would kill them, but the purpose of my "diatribes" over their complacency is to point out that they should learn from the mistake.

(Also, this stuff was written two years ago. I was still in college. Come on. I like to think I've come a long way since then as a writer and analyst. I would never argue that I'm always right or that I know everything at this point, but I sure know a lot more now than I did then. You need to remember that I'm only 24 and didn't get into serious baseball analysis until college.)

The Twins finished last year 29-13 to win the pennant with some key players on the DL. And
no one else did that much better against the Yankees even if they squeaked out a couple wins. The Twins would be favorites in the division even if they had made no off-season additions at all.


That's pretty much irrelevant. They're a better team now after these moves, so they were good moves. If you think a team should stop improving because they'll be favorites to win the division (and by the way I'd have probably favored the White Sox if not for the Twins' moves), then I'm sure as hell glad you're not in charge of this club.

TT said...

"The only moves I was praising during that offseason "

... and included the signing of Rondell White who was on your list of examples critically contrasting this off-season with past Twins off-seasons.

The problem is that you have been perpetually critical after the fact. And you perpetually contrast your optimistic projections with the actual results that fell far short of your optimistic convictions. You are doing it again here.

"If you think a team should stop improving because they'll be favorites to win the division "

This discussion started when you denied my observation that "the Twins have done a good job this offseason, as they always do." You either can't read or can't stay on subject or don't want to stay on subject. I am not sure which.

"I like to think I've come a long way since then as a writer and analyst."

In order to learn from mistakes you have to first acknowledge them, then understand why you made them and finally determine how you can avoid the same mistake in the future. I am not sure you have done any of those things.

Hudson, Thome and Hardy are all high-profile signings. They are also all gambles. Condrey is a gamble too. If any of them fail on a Rondell White scale, they will be on your list of poor off-season moves a couple years from now.

And the fact that you still think Henry Blanco was a bad signing is just an indication of how far you have to go.

Nick N. said...

And you perpetually contrast your optimistic projections with the actual results that fell far short of your optimistic convictions. You are doing it again here.

Except for the numerous signings which I did not give optimistic projections for, like Ortiz, Ponson, Crede, Ayala and many others. There wasn't much reason to think those guys were going to help make the Twins a better team, and they didn't. There's plenty of reason to think Thome, Hudson and Hardy will. These players are high-profile for a reason.

In order to learn from mistakes you have to first acknowledge them, then understand why you made them and finally determine how you can avoid the same mistake in the future. I am not sure you have done any of those things.

Acknowledge what mistake? That I was overly optimistic about the Twins' chances in 2007 despite their extremely limited activity following the '06 season? I'm fully willing to admit that, and the reason I was so strongly advocating against complacency this offseason is because I learned my lesson. It seems the Twins did too.

Hudson, Thome and Hardy are all high-profile signings. They are also all gambles. Condrey is a gamble too. If any of them fail on a Rondell White scale, they will be on your list of poor off-season moves a couple years from now.

Every acquisition is a gamble on some level. If any of the moves from this offseason turn out like Rondell White, of course I will label them failed moves because that's what they will be. That doesn't mean the moves weren't made on the basis of good, sound logic and intelligent management, unlike Ortiz and players of that ilk. That's really all I can ask for.

And the fact that you still think Henry Blanco was a bad signing is just an indication of how far you have to go.

I never said it was a bad signing. I was just amused that it was one you accused me of cherry-picking around. The guy was a no-hit defensive catcher who batted .206 in his one year with the Twins.

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