November and December have passed by, and with only a month until the first Spring Training game, now is a good opportunity to grade the performance of Terry Ryan and the front office. I decided to give out letter grades based on four criteria:
- Improvements for the 2013 season.
- Improvements for 2014 and beyond.
- Navigating the off-season markets.
- Loss/Gain relative to teams in the division.
Improvements for 2013 Season: C
As I wrote a few weeks ago here, the Twins have ample opportunity to improve both the starting and relief pitching for 2013. As Terry Ryan indicated early in the off-season, he has gone about stockpiling arms to fill out the Twins pitching staff for 2013: Vance Worley, Kevin Correia, Mike Pelfrey and Rich Harden. While none of these pitchers can be expected to be anything more than league-average, that would be a significant improvement over last season. In addition, deepening the starting rotation will allow Brian Duensing and Anthony Swarzak to remain in the bullpen, where they are both significantly more effective.
By trading away Denard Span and Ben Revere, the Twins are now positioned go into 2013 with a significantly less productive outfield. While there is a chance that Chris Parmalee's offense may make up for Revere's defensive and baserunning prowess, it is unlikely that anyone will match Span's production in center. There is the potential that the outfield defense will be very, very bad as a result of these trades, and it is not clear that the overall offense will be any better, either. The current options for the infield are basically the same as last season, even though there is plenty of room for improvement.
With the roster in its current composition, it is clear to me that strides have been made in improving the pitching staff, but the lineup will be worse than last season, both offensively and defensively. This is why I am giving the Front Office a middle-of-the-road C grade.
Improvements for 2014 and Beyond: B+
After the Twins picked up Alex Meyer, Trevor May and Vance Worley via the Span/Revere trades, I was all set to give the Twins an A+ in this category. After more consideration, however, three items forced me to lower my initial rating.
First, the fact that the only long-term deal the Twins have given out is to Kevin Correia drops the grade a bit. If a multi-year deal is required for a pitcher, I would hope it would be for someone better than Correia.
Second, further analysis of the list of pitching prospects that have been traded during this offseason shows that Meyer and May are on the lower end of most prospect ratings. For example, here are the pitchers who were traded with their November rankings from John Sickels:
Trevor Bauer (6) Arz -> Cle
- Noah Syndergaard (11) Tor -> NYM
Jake Odorizzi (16) KC -> TB
- Justin Nicolino (20) Tor -> Mia
- Alex Meyer (28) Was -> Min
- Trevor May (32) Phi -> Min
Sure, it is great that the Twins managed to acquire two of these pitchers, but it is clear that other, potentially better, prospects were available for the right price. In particular, I am very disappointed that the Twins were not able to make a deal with Arizona to acquire Bauer. There are many potential reasons for this: they didn't like Bauer as a prospect, they traded Span and Revere prior to Arizona getting serious about trading Bauer, or they don't do three-way trades. Regardless, it is a little disappointing that the Twins were not able to acquire the best pitching prospect on the trading block when the price (Shin-Soo Choo and change) was so low.
Finally, I am docking the Twins for not trading Josh Willingham this offseason. I am very concerned that his trade value will never be higher than it is right now, and the Twins are missing out on a sell-high candidate.
Navigating the Off-season Markets: D
Like many Twins fans, I have been confused by the off-season moves by the front office. There was a lot of talk early on about how the team was going to make moves to be competitive in 2013, and that payroll was not going to be a major impediment to signing good players. Hearing that, I expect the Twins to sign three pitchers: a $10m+/yr above-average starter (Dan Haren, Edwin Jackson, Anibal Sanchez, Ryan Dempster), a $5m-$10m/yr starter with some upside (Brandon McCarthy, Carlos Villanueva, Brett Myers, Joe Blanton), and a starter coming off injury (Scott Baker, Mike Pelfrey, Rich Harden). Now, there is no indication of any additional moves to help the team, which leaves us in a situation very different than what I expected at the beginning of November.
There has already been plenty of ink spent discussing the Twins moves this off-season, so I do not feel that it is necessary for me to re-hash the moves made. Instead, I am going to compare and contrast the Twins' moves with that of another franchise. The franchise in question was just as bad as the Twins in 2012, and also had a terrible starting rotation. Yet they made the exact type of signings that I had hoped and expected the Twins to make. The franchise I am referring to is the Chicago Cubs.
The Cubs have only two effective starters returning from last season: Matt Garza and Jeff Samardzija. With Garza coming off an elbow injury, the Cubs basically needed to fill three and a half spots in their rotation. They ended up adding four pitchers: Scott Baker (1yr/$5.5m), Scott Feldman (1yr/$6m), Carlos Villanueva (2yr/$10m) and Edwin Jackson (4yr/$52m). The total commitment in 2013 salary for these pitchers is approximately $30m, which granted is a bit beyond what most observers had predicted the Twins budget would be. However, removing Feldman from the equation puts the total within reason. This almost exactly mimics the plan I had hoped the Twins would follow back in November, and it basically fits within their budget. It really frustrates me that despite all their talk, the Twins weren't able to execute their plan, even though another franchise showed that it was definitely possible.
In the end, the Twins did three things to deserve this D grade. First, they set high expectations at the beginning of the off-season. Second, they failed to meet those expectation by making signings that were underwhelming at best. Third, another franchise did the EXACT moves that the Twins had indicated they were going to make.
Loss/Gain Relative To Teams In Division: D
I can't argue that the Twins gained ground on any team in the division this off-season. There have been articles here and here about what the rest of the division has been up to since November, and it doesn't look pretty for Twins fans. Every other team has done more for their pitching staffs than the Twins, and offensively and defensively the Twins have taken steps backward for 2013 by trading away Span and Revere.
The only saving grace is that the Twins unquestionably have the best farm system in the division right now, and a lot of that has to do with the acquisition of Meyer and May. Official farm system rankings won't be available until later in the winter, but right now Baseball America and John Sickels have the Twins ranked in the top-10 while the Indians, White Sox and Detroit are all in the bottom 10. Additionally, the Royals vaunted farm system has thinned in recent years due to call-ups and trades.
Overall, this has been a disappointed off-season for me. I had high hopes in November, and was initial buoyed by the Meyer, May and Worley trades. However, the subsequent signings have disappointed both me and the fan base at large, and trades made by other teams around the league have put the Span and Revere trades into perspective.
I'm interested in hearing what other people think about these categories and grades, as well as any suggestions for additional moves that could salvage the off-season.