Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Return on Investment

After losing 11-0 last night to an Orioles team that had dropped eight straight, the Twins sit at 6-11 on the season. They have been outscored 83-50 in 17 games, averaging less than three runs per contest. They rank last in the major leagues in runs, walks, home runs and OPS.

Things are as grim as can be.

They will get better. Even with the injuries and the presence of offensive black holes like Alexi Casilla and Drew Butera, the Twins are not going to remain the worst-hitting team in baseball for long. They're too talented.

But the inevitability of improvement for their mind-numbingly bad offensive start does nothing to erase the more legitimate long-term concerns that have manifested in the early going.

In analyzing the 2011 squad as the season approached, the one thing that most deeply concerned me was the precariousness of the club's principal investments. Yes, the Twins pumped payroll up to an all-time high $112 million, but much of that money was tied up in significant question marks.

It wasn't the cheap role players like Casilla and Butera who would determine this team's fate. It was the hobbled veterans whose bulky salaries forced the team to part with quality players like Orlando Hudson and J.J. Hardy, not to mention the entire bullpen.

So far, those pricy question marks have not fared well.

Joe Mauer, earning $23 million, struggled to a .554 OPS with one-extra base hit in nine games before landing on the disabled list with a bizarre assortment of ailments. There's no firm timetable in place for his return.

Justin Morneau, earning $14 million, has admirably returned to the field after a long battle with post-concussion syndrome, but has not been at all effective. He managed 11 hits -- no homers -- and three walks in 56 plate appearances before missing the last three games with the flu.

Joe Nathan, earning $11.5 million, also earns respect points for his recovery from serious injury, but it is evident that he does not belong on the major-league roster at this point. He is only hurting the club by occupying a spot in a bullpen that is already lacking trustworthy options.

The underrated Michael Cuddyer, earning $10.5 million, owns a .608 OPS with no homers, and still hasn't driven in one run in 16 games.

Those four players account for nearly half the payroll, and none have yielded any meaningful production up to this point. Throw in the struggles of moderately expensive players like Carl Pavano, Francisco Liriano, Delmon Young and Matt Capps, and it shouldn't be difficult to see why the team is struggling so mightily.

The front office invested a lot of money into this 2011 roster and so far they've been ripped off by the hideous product on the field. Hopefully these players can get over their illnesses, rust, slumps and mental blocks in a hurry, because these dismal performances are getting harder to watch for fans and harder to justify for a $112M team that should be amidst a window of contention.


Durt E. Sanchez said...

Good Blog Nick, all of that is very true. IMO Cuddyer is being hurt offensively by his defensive position uncertainty. We've seen is several times now, when he is playing several different positions he does not hit. This team has a problem in that they have 10 everyday players (when everyone is healthy) and the outfield/DH situation is hurting the club.

They need to do one of two things to resolve this: 1, they can pick a starting 9, stick to it as much as possible, stop moving OF around like a shell game and let them get settled in defensively. 2, and this may be a cause and effect thing with #1 but they can make a trade. To me, Delmon Young or Jason Kubel are the two most logical options to be traded. In return you would be looking for a new SS or pitching help. You could also try to package one of those two along with Liriano to land a top prospect, MLB ready SS or SP or some combination of both or even, dare I say, a Catcher who can hit over .250!

Baseball players are incredibly superstitious and creatures of habit. Give them some stability with their defensive positions and I truly believe we'll see a major turnaround at the plate. As you said, they're way too talented to keep this up.

Keep up the good work buddy.

Anonymous said...

that guy is a fucking idiot

Large Canine said...

Durt, not sure I agree on the Cuddy changing positions. Everyone points to his 32 HR's a few years ago. Onomoly! He is a below average hotter with some power. Way over paid. Keep Kubel and Young. Next year when Thome and Cuddy are gone Kubel and Young will be your RH-LH DH combo playing in the outfield when they are not DHing. Next year we will lose Thome, Cuddy, Nathan. That right there should free up some cash for some mid level FA's. I'm not writing this season off because I enjoy them all regardless. But, I am getting excited for 2012 already.

Ben said...

On the bright side, the AL Central is bizarro world, and the Twins aren't in an insurmountable hole. The Twins have some good things going for them in that they can expect the offense to improve vastly and the starting pitching has shown some very good things so far.

My only concerns are how quickly the injuries will be overcome and the bullpen.

Anonymous said...

"Next year we will lose Thome, Cuddy, Nathan"

Will we? I'm not sure if I trust the Twins not to resign Cuddy at another overpaid salary. He is the team MVP after all.

Karl said...

Last nights lineup was unbelievable.

D Span CF .313/.352/.418
M Tolbert 2B .214/.214/.321
J Kubel LF .311/.354/.492
J Thome DH .171 .261 .293
M Cuddyer RF .250/.308/.300
D Valencia 3B .220/.313/.288
L Hughes 1B .190/.190/.238
D Butera C .174/.174/.217
A Casilla SS .128/.190/.179

Span leading off - if this was his final slash line to the season, I bet everyone would be happy - right?

Tolbert(!) in the 2 hole. So let me get this straight, things are so dire that we need to bat a career backup #2, who when his moment to shine as a starter when Nishi went down came, the Twins thought so little of his game they called up Hughes to play everyday 2B.

3) Kubel. Say what you want about the others - Kubel is the teams best hitter right now and his defense while still below average has met expectations. Playing LF because Delmon is sick now too.

4) Does anyone else think that with a shower cap and a space suit Jim looks like Buzz Lightyear? His hitting is as abysmal as anyone's right now.

5) I would break the internet if I wrote everything I thought about Cuddy in this space. Let's just move on.

6)D Valencia 3B .220/.313/.288 Trend or Mirage?

7)Luke Hughes 1B. Yikes.

8)Butera. Roundly critcised as the "Worst MLB hitter in the game". If you belive that that's ok...

9) Casilla. However, Gardy does not - by batting Casilla 9th he is effectively saying he thinks Butera is a better hitter than Casilla. Would any other manager in MLB bat Butera 8th over another everyday player?

Polish Sausage said...

Cuddy: poor man's Tolbert in ability, at Josh Hamilton's salary.

Josh said...

The only mildly good thing about the failures of the team so far is it should reduce the risk of the team re-signing Cuddy for $10M+ next season, Nathan for $12M+, Capps for $7M+, etc.

Displaced Twins Fan said...

Large Canine - Onomoly? Really? With an exclamation point no less.....nice work. Anomaly is the word you were searching for. While I respect and enjoy the casual nature of blogging and response posts, I can't help but chime in on that. Sorry to all.

Good post Nick, I agree wholeheartedly that the hitting will not remain in the dumps and Ben made a good point by stating that the AL Central is in disarray which leaves the door open for a mid to late season surge (sound familiar). It is a long season and while you cannot win it in April, you can certainly lose it. We will just have to wait and see.

Anonymous said...

The Twins should have kept Hardy and let Cuddyer leave or tried to sign him for less than 10.5 million. That would have been the better decision this offseaon.

Bill said...

Karl, I was with you until the end there. Yes, another manager would bat Casilla 9th behind Butera. More than one NL manager has had the pitcher hit 8th rather than 9th, the theory being that the 9th hitter kind of becomes a second leadoff hitter, so you don't have a total black hole immediately before the top of your lineup. It's one of the few old-school ideas that actually holds up; they're slightly better off with Butera 8th rather than 9th.
So no, I don't think Gardy is saying Butera is a better hitter than Casilla.

Marshall Garvey (MarshalltheIrish) said...

Great post. This is a frustration I had all offseason, that the team would bump payroll significantly but still take a step back because of all their awful contracts. I can't complain about all of them (the M&M boys were musts), but like you've said, the overall investments have been awful. Not writing off the season at all, but the team has just been hard to watch thus far. Definitely a step back from how consistent they were last year. If they can't get better, hopefully they'll have a great offseason and get some better pitching and hitting as some of these awful contracts start coming off the books.

Also, as someone else said, it's true we shouldn't expect the team to part with Cuddy just yet. I've generally liked Michael, don't get me wrong, but the guy will probably become the next Nick Punto in that the team will invest in him no matter how much he disappoints.

Ben said...

Depending on how much they pay him and what they decide to do with Thome, Kubel, and Delmon, there is a place for Cuddyer on this team. He's not automatically a bad choice.

I don't expect Thome back next year, and I'd really prefer if only two of Cuddyer, Young, and Kubel come back (1 DH and 1 RF). If it was up to me, I'd probably choose Young and Kubel. It will be time to start introducing some of the talented young outfielders in at CF/LF.

Karl said...

Bill -

Point conceded.

General baseball strategy does prevail there.

I guess my head is still ringing reading from banging my head so hard into the keyboard after realizing the Twins are trying to dig their way out of the hole they have made while trotting out a batting order with 6-7 automatic outs.

Dan Gausman said...

Remember late last year after the Twins clinched the division in 152 games and threw a few junkyard lineups out there for the remaining 10 games? Every single one was better than last nights.

Matt said...

I got rid of cable last year, and now can barely stand to listen to this club on the radio. I can only imagine how much more frustrating it must be to watch them live.
Luckily there will still be fan support after this year and when the big underachievers are unloaded, new talent can come in and maybe do something positive.

Ed Bast said...

Matt, they are simply unwatchable these days. I can't watch more than an inning or two at a time. It's far worse than watching those crappy mid-90s teams, because these guys have loads of talent and are squandering it, without appearing to be bothered about it; with those old teams they were terrible to begin with and played right around their talent level.

Anonymous said...

First of all, there has only been 18 games played. This is not enough of a sample size to start writing off players/ teams... The team has played 12 road games and 5 home games... almost every hitter is batting below their career slash line, meaning they will eventually start to hit- like Nick said "They're too talented" The division leader is the Indians folks- a team that only won 69 games last year... way too early to start looking at 2012. If this trend continued up to game 60, then we have a reason for concern... not at game 18.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Ed Bast; I could only watch 2 innings last night, and then changed the channel in disgust. They remind me of the '81Twins, for those of you who remember that sad lot.

Nick, I think you are a bit harsh on Drew Butera, and I also think it unfair to lump him in with Alexi Casilla. Butera is what he is: a back-up catcher. Casilla, on the other hand, is our starting shortstop, which is both unbelievable and inconceivable. He had a few good months in '08 but has otherwise been a .200 hitter who suffer lapses in concentration.

How on God's green earth could the franchise make him a starter, and have no contingency for his inevitable failure?

Polish Sausage said...

"How on God's green earth could the franchise make him a starter, and have no contingency for his inevitable failure?"

Front office incompetence.

Matt said...

To the above guys:
It makes you wonder if they actually had confidence in Casilla, or if they simply knew he was the best/most experienced at the MLB level option for 2011?

If either of those cases are true, yes, I agree it's total front office incompetance

Jack said...

My god people, it's freaking April. The twins are two games behind the tigers and one game behind the white sux. The Indians and Royals aren't going to run away with this.

The bullpen has been better than expected, the starting pitching looks like a plus and the bats will hit at some point. The fact that the Twins are winning games with their 2,3,4 and 5 hitters out shows that while our bench is not a strength, they can find a way to win.

I am hugely optimistic about this team and can't wait until they start winning more games so all the doomsayers will shut up. What's sad is that all of you will be back on the bandwagon then, applauding Cuddy for a hot homestand, lauding Pavano for a string of good starts and forgetting your rant about Mauer needing to move to third.


Polish Sausage said...

"The fact that the Twins are winning games with their 2,3,4 and 5 hitters out shows that while our bench is not a strength, they can find a way to win."

Splitting a series vs. Baltimore is not "finding a way to win." Dont celebrate it.

"applauding Cuddy for a hot homestand"


Jack said...

Polish Sausage:

Why wouldn't you? Look at that lineup, it's terrible. It's impressive to win with all scrubs against any team.

If the Yankees didn't have their 2, 3, 4 and 5 hitters they would be missing Jeter, Texiera, Cano and A-Rod. I think they would consider splitting a series with those guys out a good thing.

If the Red Sox didn't have their 2, 3, 4 and 5 hitters they would be missing Pedroia, Gonzalez, Youkalis and Ortiz. I think they would consider splitting a series with those guys out a good thing.

We're two games back of the Tigers, one back on the White Sux and we're in the midst of playing our toughest month as far as schedule goes. If I told you that's how the standings would be with those guys missing time and the batting averages we have, you'd be ecstatic.

It's time to stick behind the Twinkies - now is not a time to panic.

Anonymous said...

JJ Hardy. Let it go. Could we go an entire week without reading his name? He would have added 0 additional wins to this team to date, given he's out yet again with sand in his V.

Newsflash. The offseason is over. Pretending to be GM is fun Nov-Feb, but it's Apr. Sure, Casilla as an every-day player is no good, but every team in the Central has gaps. Let's focus on what our 9 should be doing, rather than what our front office could have done.

In general, people confuse bad results with bad decisions. Could this team just as easily be 12-7 (given the talent)? Absolutely. And if they were, would that have made the same roster moves 'good' decisions? No more than they should be considered 'bad' now. Outside of Cuddyer making about $3MM more than he's worth, I don't see any bad deals. Nathan was a good deal when he signed it. Capps was market value. And the M&M boys needed to be retained/paid. There are NO teams out there with $100+MM payrolls with 100% of said dollars devoted to 'good' deals. If you're right ~90% of the time, you're doing pretty damn well.

Let's cool it on Bill Smith & Co and focus our angst where appropriate:
1) yoshi's poor verticle jump
2) mauer's back, legs, viral infection, height, contract, target field
3) morneau's baby
4) delmon's hand-washing habits
5) cuddy's disgusting wart
6) thome's blue ox
7) danny's tempered ego
8) alexi's skill set
9) frankie's lack of cojones
10) johnny f'n damon


Matt said...

JJ Hardy. Let it go. Could we go an entire week without reading his name? He would have added 0 additional wins to this team to date, given he's out yet again with sand in his V.

Thank you.

Polish Sausage said...

Jack, funny you mentioned the Sox, considering they spent last year without pedroia, youklis, ellsbury, beckett, martinez, etc. being healthy and still "managed" 89 wins. To finish 16 games over 500 despite all the injuries, Im sure they didn't celebrate splits against really crappy teams. So no, I DON'T think they would consider splitting a series with those guys out a good thing, nor should we.

Winning 2 straight vs. Cleveland, now that we can call a good thing.