Warne Out: Pressing the Reset Button

It was the Brian Dozier show, as his three home runs were the sole positive on an otherwise dreary day for the Twins. (Photo credit: Brian Curski)

I posted the question on Twitter on Wednesday about what fans would do if they could press the proverbial reset button on this Twins season, what ONE move or change would they have made going in?

As you might guess, it was a mix of rude answers with some pretty good ones, and I promised the good ones a mention here with a little bit of analysis. So here goes:

Not an unreasonable take. I’ve suggested all season long that the Twins didn’t want to give away Trevor Plouffe for anything less than the value they felt he provided them — a reasonable idea in isolation, I think — but at the same time it has turned into a pretty tough situation with Miguel Sano playing right field rather poorly.

The troubling thing is that the trade market and overall offseason market wasn’t great for third basemen. Todd Frazier — an otherwise elite player at the position — didn’t bring back a whole lot when he was traded to the White Sox. He’s a far better player than Plouffe. A similar player in David Freese was available all winter long, and had to settle for a very small deal in March with the Pirates.

So in that vein, moving Plouffe didn’t make a ton of sense for the Twins if he wasn’t going to bring back some sort of difference maker.

Photo credit: Cumulus Media
Photo credit: Cumulus Media

But it’s worse now. If you try move Plouffe at this point in the season — let’s be clear, there’s no proof that is the case but we’re just talking hypothetically based on where we are on the calendar — most teams are either a) set at third base or b) not in the race and otherwise not apt to move much, if anything for one. And worse yet, if teams know you need to unload a guy, what’s their incentive to give you a whole lot?

Roster management and sequencing is hard. That’s why being a general manager is hard. But it’s part of the job. That’s why it’s a sought after, in-demand position.

Another spot where I agree, but here’s where the logjam comes into play on the pitching side of things. If I remember anything from the 90-loss era, it was fans clamoring for better starting pitching. No more Kevin Correias (granted); no more Mike Pelfreys (stayed, then granted). So the Twins aimed a little higher. Signing Phil Hughes to a three-year, $24 million deal was smart. Adding three years and $39.6 million on the back end after one incredible, almost certainly unsustainable season? Less so.

I liked the Hughes signing from the get-go. Bad teams should do one of two things in the free agent market, and maybe this applies to all teams: stay the heck out, or go on the high end. Maybe stay the heck out is a bit of a misnomer, because you still have to sign players. But in that case, I’d aim for the higher-end minor league free agents, and then angle for some of the under-30 guys who still have some potential, and maybe some of the tarnish rubbed off. Hughes was that guy that year, and I openly wanted the Twins to sign Colby Rasmus the next. That might have worked out, too.

Photo credit: Cumulus Media
Photo credit: Cumulus Media

But anyway, when you start dabbling in the middle tier of free agency, you’re asking for trouble. You end up spending too much money and committing too many years to guys who are over 30 and who don’t have any ceiling left. A deal like that is all downside; you need a guy to defy father time in his 30s to be just as good as he has been while paying them what the market dictates for maybe two or three years more than you’d prefer.

You can argue that situation has panned out with Ervin Santana and I wouldn’t fight you. But it has not whatsoever worked out with Ricky Nolasco, and still may not yet with Hughes, who turns 30 here this summer.

Beyond that, here’s the additional rub: now you’re dead committed to 60 percent of your rotation. You’ve gone from having not enough bodies and starting guys like Esmerling Vasquez and Andrew Albers to having too many with too much money committed. And as a result, you’re sending pop-up success stories like Tyler Duffey back to Rochester to start the season, and keeping guys like Jose Berrios in the minors probably longer than you’d like to. It’s a weird recipe.

And my question is this: was the plan to contend during the four-year window with Nolasco or the window with Santana?  I don’t know the answer to that, honestly, but if they were there to provide stability, that seems like a high price to pay for that.

Two reasonable takes and not as much hindsight as I think people might believe. I was surprised to see as many “noooooo” tweets as I did when Aaron Hicks was moved in the offseason for John Ryan Murphy. I stopped dead in my tracks on the treadmill — hold the jokes please — when my pal Ryan Turnquist texted me to say the deal was done.

Murphy? The guy who took Glen Perkins deep at Target Field? I guess I didn’t know much more about him. I knew he’d been roadblocked behind Brian McCann and was unlikely to leapfrog Gary Sanchez in that chain of succession, and there’s always a chance a guy can blossom from being a backup to starting someplace else. The sports situation that I’m reminded of most there is Matt Schaub, who was backing up Michael Vick before he became a pretty good quarterback in his own regard — at least before he started throwing pick-sixes one after the other.

So maybe the Twins saw something in Murphy that could blossom long-term at catcher. The big man upstairs knows the Twins need an answer there moving forward, and maybe the club felt they could cash in the Hicks chip when the value was at its relative peak? Most of his damage last year came in one month — 1001 OPS in July, .701 or lower in every other — and there’s still no guarantee he’ll ever hit right-handed pitching.

Photo credit: Cumulus Media
Photo credit: Cumulus Media

And frankly the deal fell flat for both teams, as both hitters started off very poorly. Hicks has rebounded to hit .203/.246/.322 through 27 games, but he was neck-and-neck with Murphy there for a while, and Murphy started out 3-for-40.

So while I see the argument for outfield defense right now, I think an equal one can be made for the team needing even more help at catcher long term. With such a murky catcher market this past offseason — with or without Matt Wieters, honestly — I can see why the Twins tried to get creative. This offseason, they should look into the piece Matt Trueblood recently wrote for Baseball Prospectus, where he outlined a pair of really good defensive catcher who will hit the market: Francisco Cervelli of the Pirates (and also formerly of the Yankees) and Jason Castro of the Astros.

Castro would be more of a buy-low guy but he has hit in the past. Cervelli strikes me more as a poor-man’s Russell Martin, whom he incidentally replaced in Pittsburgh.

Not unreasonable points. I didn’t like the Suzuki extension at the time and loudly proclaimed that I’d have moved him at the break that first year, but honestly he signed a below-market extension if you ask me. I highly doubt he’d have signed for less than that on a market where Martin got five years and over $80 million. Keep in mind that Suzuki was still not even 30 when he signed the deal. I think it’s fortunate that he and the Twins agreed on two years, and honestly $6 million isn’t the kind of deal where you can’t fade a guy like that into the background.

The issue was not finding a more capable caddy for him last year or heading into this year. I guess I just don’t view Murphy as a backup or a platoon mate. The trouble with finding one of those for Suzuki is you need to find a guy who compliments what he does and doesn’t do well. Suzuki’s had his struggles across the board over the last year and a half. A couple names I floated were Dioner Navarro and Jarrod Saltalamacchia, but I don’t know that either made much sense in a strict platoon. So what do you do? I don’t know.

Photo credit: Cumulus Media
Photo credit: Cumulus Media

The Hughes extension is hard to get behind, but I guess I sort of get it with how good he was that first year. Still….why not let one more year play out? His existing deal would be expiring after this season, which I think the Twins would not mind about now. Don’t get me wrong, I think Hughes is a great guy and I still think he has plenty of potential to pitch better. He’s still just 29. It just hasn’t been a great year there.

With Dozier I don’t mind the deal. It really only made his costs certain into the end of his arbitration years, and I don’t think any of those salaries are untenable. It’s a much better deal than say, Jedd Gyorko’s and he’s still just signed through age-31.

Touched on this in Friday’s column but this is too many moving parts for me. The outfield move for Sano is temporary; he’ll be back at third as soon as Plouffe is moved or moves on, and beyond that the Twins will want to put Kepler or Arcia in right field for the medium- to long-term future. So you move the youngest guy who is probably the best athlete — even at his size, maybe that’s debatable — for one season or part of one season to avoid moving too many pieces. I think the Twins view Sano as the long-term third baseman, which I agree with.

Too much hindsight for me but not an unreasonable view. Entering this season, Buxton had only played 13 games at Triple-A — though with a 986 OPS. But if Danny Santana gets hurt like he did in Kansas City, are you bringing Buxton up then? I don’t know if that moves the needle for his development, either. Maybe not making the Hicks trade plays here too, I’m not sure.

I’ve been pretty outspoken in my defense of this bullpen. Not because it’s good — it isn’t — but because building a bullpen isn’t as easy as just grabbing ‘better’ guys. The two left-handed options on the free agent market the Twins had interest in reportedly — Antonio Bastardo and Tony Sipp — have pitched worse than minor league free agent Fernando Abad. Those guys have three seasons committed to each of them; the Twins own Abad’s rights for this year and next with no obligation if they don’t choose. They could non-tender him this offseason with no issue.

So I don’t really mind building a bullpen on the cheap. I also think their efforts to trade for Justin Wilson from the Yankees — as illustrated by the intrepid Mike Berardino of the Pioneer Press — were smart, if rebuffed. The Twins reportedly thought they offered the better deal.

Anyway, I also don’t mind that the Twins have tried things out with Ryan Pressly and Michael Tonkin. I’d much rather they get those innings than say….Brian Duensing or Blaine Boyer. Of course, I also wish that’d been true a year ago, so that Tonkin wasn’t out of options and forced to sink or swim at his own peril this year. Pressly got hurt last year so that’s a different story. But I’m not giving up on those guys to go after someone for multiple years and too much money on the free agent market. Shawn Kelley would have made a lot of sense, but other than him the only real needle-moving reliever would have been Darren O’Day, who wasn’t signing with anyone other than Washington or Baltimore due to family obligations.

An interesting thought, and one I hadn’t seen when I initially sent the tweet out. But who fits the bill? You have to keep in mind eventually wanting Buxton out there, so that limits your options a fair amount.

Are you giving Denard Span three years and $31 million? He fits the bill and has been OK but not great for the Giants. And then again, you’re in that age-30 free agent range. Nori Aoki is interesting and signed for just one year and $6 million, but he really isn’t a center fielder. He has very little pop but can get on base. He’s like the outfield version of Jamey Carroll right now. Gerardo Parra was available, but he’s miscast in center. He leads the NL in doubles right now, but he got a wild contract from the Rockies for how good he is (three years, $26 million with a 2019 option).

I guess I’d be interested in a follow-up tweet on who you might have liked there. Not a bad idea, just not sure how to execute it.


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