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To Tender or Not To Tender: Minnesota Twins Arbitration Cases for 2013

Examining Minnesota's three arbitration-eligible players and their places on the 2014 roster.

Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Around this time last month, the 2013 baseball season hadn't yet ended but it didn't keep us from looking forward. At Twinkie Town, we're foward-thinkers in that way. Why focus for the 433rd time on the mess around you when you can look forward to being one step closing to not being terrible? And so, looking at how the Twins' payroll was stacking up for 2014, we deduced that the team had $53.2 million in contract commitments.

Our arbitration estimates were penciled in at $7.2 million, but that assumed two things:

  1. Josh Roenicke would somehow still be on the roster, and
  2. Vance Worley would still have enough time to qualify as arbitration-eligible.
Neither of those things being the case, we still had taken stabs at what our three other arb-eligible players would be in line for. Here is what we came up with, along with the estimates of a far more reliable source: Matt Swartz' arbitration model for MLB Trade Rumors.

Player 2013 Salary TT Estimate MLBTR Estimate
Trevor Plouffe $520,000 $1,500,000 $2,100,000
Brian Duensing $1,300,000 $2,00,000 $1,900,000
Anthony Swarzak $502,500 $1,400,000 $800,000

Each player has a different role with the Twins and a different amount of service time, which plays into the predicted salaries along with performance.

Trevor Plouffe
Service Time: 2 years, 162 days
Status: Super 2

2013 - Trevor Plouffe 129 477 44 121 22 1 14 52 34 112 2 1 .254 .309 .392

Normally a player isn't arbitration-eligible until he has three years of service time under his belt, but players with more than two years of service with 86 days on the roster the prior season (2012) while also ranking in the top 22% of players with between two and three years of service time will become arbitration-eligible. It means they'll go through arbitration four times instead of three. Worley would have been in this group had he stayed on the roster all year, but as it is only Plouffe qualifies as a Super 2 with the Twins this season.

Plouffe in 2014: Plouffe's projection through Shwartz is higher than what I thought due to factors including his playing time (essentially a full-time player) and performance relative to other similar players.

Regardless of the extra $600,000 he's in line to make next season, Plouffe is more than worth the investment. While far from being a perfect player and, as mentioned numerous times, is worthy of being platooned. His detractors will willingly clamor for a non-tender, but his disappointing power performance aside there really isn't a reason to pass him over.

Relative to cost and production, Plouffe is still a good investment for the Twins. He provides middle-of-fhe-lineup offense against left-handed pitching (.278/.346/.495 in his career), which is something no other infielder on the roster comes close to providing. As a player who has produced 3.0 wins above replacement over the last two seasons (bref), his cost-to-production ratio won't be skewed in the wrong direction until his salary gets into the $5 million-plus range.

The security of his role is also aided by a number of other factors. Miguel Sano will not be ready to break camp with the Twins in 2014. No other player on the roster can provide the value at third base that Plouffe can provide. There are so many holes on this team that a low-cost, league average third baseman is near the bottom of the team's to-do list.

We'll see Plouffe manning third base on an almost daily basis until Sano is ready. Hopefully 2014 proves to be a better season for Trevor.

Brian Duensing
Service Time: 4 years, 104 days
Status: Abr 2

2013 - Brian Duensing 6-2 72 0 0 0 1 3 61.0 68 28 27 4 22 56 3.98 1.48

Duensing's second arb-eligible season sees his salary seeing a $600,000 increase from his first-year total of $1,300,000. While it's $100,000 short of what I thought he'd make, it's still a healthy chunk of change and, for all intents and purposes. the relative value remains unchanged.

The good news is that for the first time in his career, Gardenhire used Duensing exclusively out of the bullpen. Sexy numbers like strikeouts and ERA have responded in an ideal fashion, with Brian striking out 20.1% of batters (versus 15.8% in his career) and posting career lows in FIP (3.24 vs 3.95) and xFIP (3.71 vs 4.14).

A large part of that success has to do with limiting his exposure. Instead of being forced to work through a lineup two and a half times, Duensing's average outing was less than an inning long. But oddly enough, he wasn't a specialist in spite of holding rather drastic splits in his career.

vs RHB: .299/.357/.464, 14.9 K% 
vs LHB: .232/.276/.324, 22.6 K%

Gardenhire and the Twins were smart enough to see that Duensing didn't work well as a starter (.790 OPS allowed, 4.57 ERA) but that he was better as a reliever (.678 OPS, 3.56 ERA), so it's still unclear why Gardy refuses to limit Duensing's exposure to right-handed hitters.

If the Twins chose to use Brian almost exclusively as a highly effective weapon against left-handed hitters, I could get behind tendering him a $1.9 million dollar contract. Unfortunately Gardy refuses to platoon pitchers as well as hitters, and instead of having a very good southpaw option he'll waste Duensing against just as many right-handed batters and the Twins bullpen will be less effective as a result. Yes, the Twins might get more innings for their dollar, but the results per dollar won't be nearly as strong.

It's also worth noting that 2013 was something of an anomaly for Duensing: he was actually worse versus lefties (.786 OPS allowed) than righties (.713). I would look at this as an outlier for the time being and continue to rely on him as a lefty specialist, but if it's a trend that continues then suddenly there isn't something that he does well. Certainly nothing that couldn't be reproduced by a pitcher making the league minimum.

Looking through the 40-Man roster, there are five other left-handed pitchers listed. Scott Diamond and Andrew Albers must be considered starter options until given reason to think otherwise. Glen Perkins is the team's best pitcher and closer. Pedro Hernandez isn't likely to keep his spot on the roster for much longer. That leaves just Caleb Thielbar. He's left-handed, was exceptionally effective in 49 appearances (46 innings), and would be pitching for the league minimum in 2014.

I'm still not convinced that Minnesota tenders Duensing a contract. Partially because of his cost and performance, but also because of Thielbar's emergence as a reliable option. But if they do bring Duensing back, he won't be platooned.

Anthony Swarzak
Service Time: 3 years, 38 days
Status: Arb 1

2013 - Anthony Swarzak 3-2 48 0 0 0 0 2 96.0 89 33 31 7 22 69 2.91 1.16

After having a better year than anyone could have realistically hoped for, Swarzak's salary comes in $600,000 lower than where I thought it would be. This is likely because, like Duensing, Swarzak also didn't start a game for the first time in his career and will be evaluated solely as a reliever.

Swarzak's job as a reliever was unique in that 26 of his 48 appearances were at least two innings long. As a result there was still some of the advantage of being able to just "let it all go", but there were also elements of having to retain a sense of pace in case he was asked to go four innings. As a reliever his fastball is closer to 92mph than 90mph, it's allowed him to see a moderate increase in strikeout rates (17.8 K% in 2013 vs 14.6% in his career), and his command was at its best this season.

Can he continue to do the job as well as he did in 2013? I think it will be difficult from a run prevention standpoint, but he's certainly capable of being a better long reliever than, say, Terry Mulhollad or Brian Bass. And for the cost of $800,000, there is no chance of the Twins cutting bait. While pitchers like Albers or Diamond or Duensing are capable of being the long reliever, there is absolutely zero reason to make a change from Swarzak.

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