Central Concerns: Twins set stage for battle of budget starters

The Minnesota Twins needed at least two credible starting pitching additions to offset the losses of José Berríos (traded), Michael Pineda (free agency) and Kenta Maeda (Tommy John surgery). They made an uninspiring early signing in Dylan Bundy, then made their fans sweat until they traded for Sonny Gray after the lockout.

But given that Bundy is coming off a 6.06 ERA for an Angels team that also had designs on contending, the Twins still seemed one arm short, even if you think Joe Ryan and Bailey Ober get more out of their fastballs than they should.

So here comes Chris Archer, who hasn’t been a rotation-bolsterer since 2018. He missed all of 2020 recovering from procedures for thoracic outlet syndrome and a torn labrum in his hip, and the hip acted up on him in a 19-inning return to the Rays last year, along with some forearm tightness for good measure. That’s how he only required a $3.5 million base salary for his purposes, although incentives can add up to $6 million to his compensation.

On one hand, he was the last pitcher remaining that Eno Sarris identified as having plus stuff…

… on the other hand, the Twins had a miserable time with identifying buy-low pitchers last year, what with J.A. Happ, Matt Shoemaker and Alex Colomé all being disasters, so this could be this year’s Minnesota equivalent of the White Sox’s right field situation.

Still, given that the White Sox signed Vince Velasquez for $3 million and Michael Kopech is only starting his Cactus League action this afternoon, this is a head-to-head signing that’s worth filing away for later comparison. That later comparison may yield the kind of poor results that one-year starters typically produce, but still.


Speaking of the Twins, Robert Orr at Baseball Prospectus took a good look at Max Kepler, who was an under-the-radar reason why the Twins disappointed so greatly in 2021. Kepler looked like a fixture when he blasted 36 homers as part of the Bomba Squad in 2019, although Mitch Garver’s 31 homers in 93 games suggest that the super bouncy ball wasn’t properly taken into account.

Since then, Kepler has hit just .216/.311/.420 with 28 homers over 169 games, even though he has no issues with plate discipline (above-average walk and strikeout rates) and athleticism (13-for-13 in stolen-base attempts).

The problem is BABIP, and in a way that can’t be written off as bad luck.

The league average hovers around .300, but Kepler’s hasn’t even reached .250 in any of the last four seasons. It turns out that he’s a fly ball hitter, but he often hits the wrong kinds, with double-digit pop-up rates in each of the last five seasons. He also might be uniquely punished by his home park.

Using BP’s three-year park factors for LHB, it becomes a little clearer why players like Kepler and Kiriloff–those trying to do damage with extra base hits—are disadvantaged by Target Field compared to Luis Arraez, who mostly just wants to knock one in front of the outfielders for a single:

The Twins home park plays pretty neutral for lefty singles but damages their chances of getting any kind of extra base hit, especially home runs. This is anathema to a hitter like Kepler who lifts the ball attempting to slug for power. To some extent, Kepler’s swing and approach are at odds with the park he plays half his games in.


Baseball America surveyed the league to gauge the likelihood of upward mobility for four rebuilding teams, including the Tigers and Royals. With Detroit, the vaunted Rival Executives are wary of their strike-zone control, especially with Javier Báez bringing his sizable strikeout-to-walk disparity to a lineup full of them. Spencer Torkelson and Riley Greene give them plenty of upside, but there’s a short-term downside in that they might not have anybody to hide behind.

The Royals inspire a little more fear because they’ve accomplished that seemingly Sisyphean task of improving plate discipline at the minor-league level, which has given a universally adored prospect like Bobby Witt Jr. plenty of surprising company.

Of key import, Royals minor leaguers improved their walk rate from 9.4% in 2019 to 11.3% in 2021. That organization-wide improvement in plate discipline not only fueled turnaround seasons from Melendez and Pratto, but gave rise to a substantial number of players who give the organization newfound prospect depth, with names including outfielder Kyle Isbel, first baseman Vinnie Pasquantino, shortstop Nick Loftin and second baseman Michael Massey.

“I think they’ve done a really nice job up and down the system with guys who are not really names yet,” a veteran NL talent evaluator said. “They have these guys all of the sudden where it’s like good at-bat, good defender, not mistake-makers. They can play. And you go, ‘Wow, this guy controls the zone better than you think,” and, ‘This guy is a little better than you think.’”


The Cleveland Guardians haven’t done much of anything this winter and spring, unless you count this glorious Cleveland Scene article about unsold tickets for the home opener. It’s 353 words long, and 336 of them come in the first sentence.

They have made recent rumblings in the form of rumors regarding a contract extension for José Ramirez.

GOODYEAR, Ariz. — Cleveland’s front office and José Ramírez’s camp have exchanged proposals on a potential contract extension for the All-Star third baseman. Discussions are expected to soon reach a critical point as an artificial deadline of Opening Day approaches next week, sources said.

The Guardians are motivated to secure a foundational piece of their roster beyond his two remaining years of team control. They are prepared to hand out a contract that would almost certainly more than double the largest in team history, the three-year, $60 million pact granted to Edwin Encarnación five years ago.

Ramírez is content to spend the rest of his career in Cleveland, both he and those close to him have expressed.

For Guardians fans, it beats the rumors earlier this spring, in which the Blue Jays were reportedly trying to pry him loose. It also eases the talk about the Guardians wasting the remaining months of Ramirez in a Cleveland uniform, while giving them a fixture to build a next lineup around.

But an extension doesn’t add wins to this year’s team, and so it’s running in a distant third place behind the White Sox and Twins whether you’re looking at FanGraphs or PECOTA.

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Jim Margalus

Writing about the White Sox for a 16th season, first here, then at South Side Sox, and now here again. Let’s talk curling.

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ParisSox

so this could be this year’s Minnesota equivalent of the White Sox’s right field situation.

When you put it that way, I’d much rather have a hole in RF than SP. But with that said, the SP hole is tough to fill at this point, but there’s a big glowing solution for the RF hole.

670WMAQtheElder

According to MLB Trade Rumors, Conforto has a shoulder injury, incurred in January. Also MLBTR reports the Padres have excess catchers and SPs available for a trade for a LF.

HallofFrank

Isn’t it amazing how a Conforto signing would shine a different light on every move the Sox have made this whole offseason?

a-t

shoulder injury before the lockout ended makes a lot of sense as to why no one’s signed him, depending on severity. makes too much sense for everyone to not just wait until midsummer when he’s both recovered and doesn’t cost a draft pick, as opposed to paying extra $ and the draft pick for him to sit on the IL or be ineffective for the first half of the season

calcetinesblancos

Sox must have loved that it went public. But sorry, I’m still angry.

Trooper Galactus

Yeah, anybody trying to “I told you so” over Conforto ignores multiple free agent right fielders over multiple offseasons that Hahn’s taken a pass on.

Augusto Barojas

He’s healthy now though and has been hitting for 5 weeks supposedly, just a bit behind schedule and obviously no spring games without a team. So the shoulder is only a partial explanation as to why he has not signed. Blows my mind that they have not even talked to the guy, and probably won’t.

To Err is Herrmann

With the AL Central generally noncompetitive — WhiteSox.com had a post that the Sox were picked to win the AL Central! — there’s no reason, in the Sox front office’s “mind,” that the team needs to do anything more to add to the roster at this time. I assume Hahnsdorf is open to making some trade deadline moves if necessary, and they might get better deals at that point than now, esp. if Kimbrel is halfway good. Conforto isn’t coming here, unless it’s the cheapest contract possible at his most desperate point, like July. Should have taken the QO from the Mets.

dwjm3

We are two weeks out from opening day and there is still a lot of tickets available. I would suggest the PTB get a Conforto deal over the finish line. It is pretty clear the fanbase is not happy.

jhomeslice

An unhappy fanbase has never meant anything to Jerry. But it just doesn’t make business sense. I would have gone to several games if they had made reasonable improvements that addressed their weaknesses. I will attend zero unless that changes. I’ve talked to other fans who feel about the same, and are not excited about the season.

And the thing is, they upped the payroll anyway. They just did it so stupidly that it arguably didn’t make the team better, and they won’t reap the benefits of better attendance like they would have if they actually improved their chances of a better playoff outcome. They might not even draw what they did last year – even with a higher payroll.

Last edited 4 months ago by jhomeslice
mikeschach

I don’t like the offseason moves either, although having a very deep bullpen might turn out to have been very smart in light of the lockout shortened spring training. But to go from disappointed in the offseason to not excited about the actual season, the week that mlb.com ranks us with the 2d best bullpen, the 3rd best lineup and the 4th best rotation in all of baseball, I dunno…
We could have been/should have been better, deeper, etc. but this is an exciting team!

Augusto Barojas

A few things could go right and make their weaknesses better. Vaughn/Engel could be a productive RF tandem much better than last year. Eaton/Lamb had 300 at bats, that’s a pretty low bar to improve on. Kopech could be good, Keuchel way better than last year. Sheets could be an improvement at DH that helps vs RHP.

If they surprise positively, it could generate excitement even among fans disappointed in their winter. Maybe not likely, but possible. But if they look like basically the same team and struggle against RHP, and look weak against good teams, then yes attendance will no doubt suffer.

peanutsNcrackerjack

And while we are thinking positively, even with a meh off season, the numbers for Chris Widger, backup catcher for the 2005 WS champs were as follows: .241 BA .296 OBP .383 SLG on 154 plate appearances. No excuse for not addressing the Seby/Zach weakness, but not necessarily a death sentence.

dwjm3

AJ wasn’t coming off two knee surgeries heading into 2005. I don’t think that comparison is particularly apt.

Augusto Barojas

To me not addressing backup catcher is the most inexcusable thing of the offseason. Grandal might not catch 100 games. Collins/Zavala combined for a -0.7 WAR. Neither should be in the majors. Tell me they couldn’t have found a replacement for the 3M that they are throwing away on Velasquez. Plus 24M on Kimbrel/Kelly, who might be lucky to prove worth 1/2 that. Egregious incompetence.

Trooper Galactus

Except Chris Widger could actually catch.

NDSox12

They’ll easily outdraw last year’s total. Keep in mind that there were capacity restrictions until late June last season. That said, they could be jeopardizing reaching the attendance figures of the last time they were competitive w/out any such limitations (2012).

jhomeslice

Good point, they will obviously outdraw last year. But less than what they could have if they had made better moves this winter.

Augusto Barojas

A team that is not competing for anything other than 2nd place in the Central has equivalent issues at SP that a team that lost in two straight playoffs still has in RF. Is this supposed to make Sox fans feel better about this wasted offseason?

Augusto Barojas

ok, I should have said “Should this make Sox fans feel any better…”

dwjm3

I wonder if that ball Eloy hit ever landed.

Right Size Wrong Shape

Let’s go!

a-t

Minnesota has several interesting ready or near-ready starting pitching prospects, many of whom have been highly successful statistically in the minors but who don’t pass the eye or scouting test as well. Joe Ryan has a highly unusual extremely flat backspinning fastball, and he’s ridden that (~75% usage) to REALLY strong K/BB rates in the minors. He’s also an extreme fly ball pitcher who is going to be in trouble if major leaguers manage to get on top of that ~91mph heater and spike his HR/FB, because the secondaries don’t look great.

Bailey Ober is similar, in that he succeeds bc his fastball shape is so strange and he doesn’t walk anyone, but dinger issues have so far kept him from being more than a backend, 4/5 SP. that’s still not bad though! I think Minnesota is unlikely to be truly terrible in the rotation, but they also don’t look to have any ABOVE average starters besides Sonny Gray.

Trooper Galactus

That was about my assessment of the Twins’ staff when I did my writeup on them. There’s some decent mid-to-back end talent, but not a whole lot of upside to hang their hats on. What they do have isn’t bad, per se, but they’re really gonna be scraping for innings from their rotation as nobody after Gray has really established a strong workload except Bundy, who may not last the season if he can’t turn things around.

Augusto Barojas

For 1/2 a million more guaranteed than what the Sox gave Velasquez, I like the chances of Archer doing something positive a lot more. I would have been down with the Sox getting him instead. Way, way more upside.

Trooper Galactus

I don’t know that I would have necessarily been a whole lot more enthused, but it we’re gonna look at it as an either-or proposition I don’t know that either has a whole lot more merit over the other and it’s just one of those things, as Jim states, that we’ll probably have to revisit after the season.

As Cirensica

That Scene’s article gave me a headache.

jorgefabregas

TA’s suspension was reduced from three to two games.

Foulkelore

Shoot, I completely forgot that was hanging out there. It’s nice that it got reduced, but he’ll miss the first two games this year.

LamarHoyt_oncrack

If the weather is anything like it’s been (Detroit not much different than Chicago), he won’t be missing much.

rhubarb

We’re talking about the TWINNNZ? Like the 90’s Coors Light commercial.