Thursday, November 11, 2010
Readers Write; Bloggers Respond
Has Twins success hurt minor league system?
Last week, I posted a question/comment that I received from a reader and then responded to it. Reader interaction is one of the great things about blogging. I always tell people that I really enjoy when people disagree with me, as long as they tell me why and give me some reasons to counter my point. That kind of educated dialogue is fun for me because I definitely donít claim to always be right. I barely claim being smart. There have been times where Iíve written something and after a great debate, I change my mind, or at least maybe an aspect of my thinking. And thatís what this is all about, right? You come here to read an opinion from me. I donít expect you to necessarily agree with me, certainly not all the time. We are all baseball fans, and most of us are Twins fans. In the end, we all want the same thing, for the Twins to win and to put a great product on the field. I may believe in doing it one way. You may believe in doing it another way. When we have discussions about things, we can alter our opinions. And then we can talk to other people and gain their thoughts. You should hear the discussions, erÖ arguments, when the TwinsCentric guys get together for beverages and baseball!!
So again, I welcome your e-mails, and I enjoy the educated discussion and questions in the comments section. I try to respond in a timely manner when possible. And sometimes, I may even use your e-mails if it really got me thinking (and if it is OK with you!). It would be great if I could post a Reader Question of the Week each week, especially during some of the slow periods of the years.
Today I am posting a question from Jarod Waltner to several Twins bloggers. I responded to the question and it created a good discussion that we wanted to share. Hopefully you enjoy the discussion:
From Jarod Waltner:
My question is: Are the Twins hurting their farm system
by being perpetually competitive in a weaker division?
I've been wondering about this since 2008 when they made a run at the division but it was strongest in 2009 right before the mad dash to the division title. Being competitive is great, don't get me wrong, but in 2009 with Michael Cuddyer production at its highest, would the Twins have moved him to a contender looking for a right-handed bat if they were mired in 3rd place thus making his oversized contract a non-issue for 2011 and adding some depth in the farm system? The same could be asked of Joe Nathan's huge contract and relative market desirability pre-injury. When they were signed they were veteran core players but everyone could see that when Morneau and Mauer became veterans they would be the new core. Instead of having our two core stars signed at about 40% of the proposed payroll we have 4 players signed at about 60% of the proposed payroll and what seems to be a farm system thin on major league ready non-pitchers.
Mid-market teams almost have to go through a youth movement every decade or so in order to keep an attainable salary. Unless the Pohlad kids are planning a Steinbrenner like money glut I think the Twins are better off having a down year every now and then.
Perhaps I'm off base, maybe it's just happenstance that all of these big contracts are on the books in 2011 and the Twins just let Cuddyer and Nathan walk after the season and the youth movement will come through that sort of attrition. I'm interested in your thoughts.
Response by Seth:
Maybe it's just me, but 1.) being competitive year in and year out is generally
considered a good thing and for a mid-market team means that the farm system
has generally done its job, and 2.) winning division titles
is always a positive thing, no matter what division you're in. It's really
all you can do.
I like having four core players rather than having two core players. I think that is a good thing as well. Maybe if Nathan was healthy and had a typical Joe Nathan year in 2010, we wouldnít be asking that. But in reality we would. A year ago, we all blogged on whether or not the Twins should trade Nathan, a key cog and yet no one wants to pay a closer that much. So yes, they could have considered trading him. They could have traded Cuddyer last offseason. But who knows, if he plays just one position in 2010, maybe he adds another 20 points of BA, 30 points of OBP and hits for a little more power and we aren't all worried about it. Is Cuddyer a great player? No. Is he a pretty solid player who defines 'team' and 'Minnesota Twins'? Absolutely. On the open market, he probably would have made somewhere between $8 and $9 million for 3-4 years last offseason. Is $10.5 million next year high? Sure, maybe by a million or two. Not enough to get too worked up about.
The Twins have $60 million committed to those four players... which is a lot. It would have been a huge deal 3 years ago when the team payroll was about $70 million. But when the team payroll will likely be around $110 million, you can still get some pretty good players for the remaining $50 million.
And yes, Rochester and New Britain were horrible in 2010 as teams. Most of the Twins best, highest upside prospects are in the lower levels of the minor leagues. But what did they need in 2010? A 3B? Iíd say they developed a pretty solid one in Valencia who came through. Luke Hughes was called up and contributed in the two games he played in. Jeff Manship wasn't good in Rochester, but he was working on things and during his 5 stints with the Twins, he generally did well.
Looking to 2010, we don't yet know what the needs will be or what vacancies will need to be filled. Hughes could be a valuable bat off the bench. Plouffe could contribute more in 2011 if necessary. Ben Revere will never be a big OPS guy, but he has game-breaking type of speed. If they need a pitcher in 2011, David Bromberg and Kyle Gibson could get an opportunity. Who knows? Maybe even Alex Wimmers. If Justin Morneau never is able to come back (which would be awful, but certainly not due to any fault on anyone's part), Chris Parmelee isn't terribly far off. In the bullpen, Burnett and Slama and Delaney all now have big league experience to draw off of, Pat Neshek will hopefully regain his velocity, and Billy Bullock and Carlos Gutierrez probably aren't far away either. How many of those guys are All-Star caliber? Maybe one, possibly two. But they could all complement Mauer, Morneau, Cuddyer, Hardy, Liriano, Baker, Duensing, Slowey, Span, etc. (all of which were developed in the Twins system - exception Hardy). I didn't even mention the likes of Joe Benson, Rene Tosoni, Liam Hendriks, Angel Morales, Aaron Hicks, Oswaldo Arcia, Miguel Sano, Max Kepler and several other guys that have a chance to be really good players in the future too.
In 2011, Mauer jumps from $12 to $23 million. That's a one-time hit because he stays at $23 million the next eight years. Morneau's contract is stable for a few more years. And you're right, Cuddyer and Nathan could come off the books at the end of the year, or brought back at reduced dollars, if it makes sense.
As most of us have said, it's just really hard to be upset at a team that won 94 games in 2010 despite not having Nathan for the whole year, Mauer for some time early, Morneau for the final 3 months, Hudson and Hardy for significant time, a month-long period where 60% of the starting rotation was terrible, concerns in the bullpen, and other issues.
Your initial question before I rambled: Has the organization been hurt by the Twins always winning and being competitive because they can never purge some payroll and pick up minor leaguers? I mean, I understand what you're saying... and I don't completely disagree with the theory. But I think that the perennially competitive thing far outweighs any of the rest...
Just my 2 cents... I mean, my 2000 cents.
Response by Parker from Over the Baggy:
My opinion is that no, they are not "hurting" their farm system by being competitive. We can look no further than the Royals to tell us trading off valuable commodities does not necessarily ensure a good bounty of prospects in return. Outside of the Central, we find that Orioles and Blue Jays have continually handed over those types of players and often with little in return.
As Seth indicated, the Twins have compiled quite a system while continuing to win at the major league level. Eventually, the Twins will have to have a season in which the roster is turned over (I do not see the Twins resigning Morneau past his current contract), but they have built a system strong enough to support losing key players, which alleviates rebuilding mode.
Good topic to mull over.
Response from John, the Twins Geek:
"My question is: Are the Twins hurting their farm system by being perpetually competitive in a weaker division?"
Yes. But I would liken the question to "Are you hurting the amount of gas in your tank by driving?" Of course you are, but the whole purpose of having a tank of gas is to go someplace. You don't scale back your driving just so you have extra gas. What are you going to do with that gas, other than drive?
The farm system is hurt for multiple reasons. Not only do they value major league players more than minor leaguer (because they value the present position they are in more than a tenuous future position) but because their success hurts their draft position. But that is the whole point of having a strong minor league - to promote them to the majors so the minors are once again depleted. Just like the point of a tank of gas is to burn it up.
I suppose one could argue that a different and better strategy for winning championships would be to really suck for a long time, stock the farm system, and then burn it up fast. The problem is that for every team like the Rays where this might work, there are several teams where it absolutely hasn't. And even for the Rays, it's not like it's done them a ton of good.
Bottom line: I'm not a fan of any philosophy that starts with "We rebuild" because it's really a code. What it's really saying is "First, we get worse." and that's rarely a good plan.
Follow Up by Jarod:
I would like to add another layer
though. It's not only that the Twins decided to hang onto potential trade
pieces (were not sellers) because they have been so competitive but, in fact,
they were buyers because they were competitive. My initial question involves a
lot of 'what if' scenarios that aren't necessarily productive but what about Loek Van Mil, Tyler Ladendorf,
Kevin Mulvey, Mark Hamburger, Yohan
Pino, and Wilson Ramos?
Personally, I'm not hurt by any of those except maybe Ramos but, he was expendable for obvious reasons. I don't really know what's happened with Ladendorf, Hamburger, or Pino but that could also be an indication of the lack of significance of those moves.
Response by Seth:
Letís just take a quick look at those players that the Twins, as buyers, have traded away:
∑ Loek Van Mil Ė The Twins had just removed Van Mil from the 40 man roster when they claimed Randy Flores from the Rockies. As much as we heard reports that he had thrown 97 mph in 2009, he just canít stay healthy.
∑ Tyler Ladendorf Ė The shortstop prospect and former 2nd round pick of the Twins was sent to Oakland in exchange for SS Orlando Cabrera. ďOCĒ is not very good at baseball, but he was credited with helping the Twins in their unlikely run to the AL Central title in 2009. Ladendorf spent this year in Hi-A ball, playing for Stockton in the California League. The 22 year old hit .274/.326/.385 with 30 doubles, four triples and five home runs. He was 20/24 in stolen base attempts. I think heíll be a big leaguer.
∑ Kevin Mulvey Ė The Twins acquired Mulvey in the Johan Santana deal. He was used in two games for the Twins before Gardy bashed him and he was sent out of town quickly in exchange for Jon Rauch. With the Diamondbacks AAA team in† Reno, Mulvey went 7-8 with a 4.65 ERA. He also pitched two games and three innings for Arizona. Heíll likely be a AAAA type of pitcher.
∑ Mark Hamburger Ė The Twins signed the hard-throwing Hamburger out of a tryout camp at the Metrodome in 2007. He pitched well, and in 2008, he was the closer for Elizabethton. But in 2008, just as the E-Twinsí playoffs were set to begin, Hamburger was traded to the Rangers for Eddie Guardado. Guardado was terrible for the Twins over the last month, and Hamburger remains a very hard-throwing pitcher in the Rangers system. He had a terrific 2010 season. He pitched 37 games in Hi-A, and 13 games at AA, and combined, he went 4-2 with 21 saves, and a 2.20 ERA. In 65.1 innings, he walked 26 and struck out 69 batters while holding hitters to a .236 batting average. He will be 24 years old during the 2010 season and definitely has a future.
∑ Yohan Pino Ė Ah, I remember when we found out that the Twins had traded Pino to Cleveland as the Player to be Named Later in the Carl Pavano trade. Well, I think itís fair to say that the deal worked out quite well for the Twins! Pino had been 53-22 in his nearly six full season in the Twins organization, including 2-2 with a 2.82 ERA in AAA Rochester. He went to the Columbus Clippers and went 2-0 in two starts. But in 2010, he went 10-9 with a 5.75 ERA in 26 starts. Pino was a very under-the-radar prospect with the Twins.
∑ Wilson Ramos Ė This one could be hard to get over, and yet, we wonít know for a few years exactly what the negative effect of the Ramos for Matt Capps deal will be. Capps did a solid job for the Twins this year and will make a ton of money next year to be a Rauch-like closer. Ramos could be a terrific big league catcher, but we donít know for sure. To be Determined.
Would it be nice to still have Hamburger and Ladendorf and especially Ramos in the organization? Sure. That would be great. But competing for division titles for those five seasons, and losing just three players that MAY potentially become quality big leaguers is not exactly an organization depth eliminator.
Again, when I first read Jarodís question yesterday, I was taken aback. But the more you think about it, and the second phase of it, the more I realize what a great question it is. So, to continue the discussion, please feel free to e-mail me or participate by leaving comments here.