Published on October 7th, 2014 | by Thompson0
Minnesota Twins 2015 and Beyond: Non-tender, Extension, and Trade Candidates
With Dave St. Peter saying the Minnesota Twins’ payroll won’t be “going down significantly” in an interview with Mike Berardino, the time has come to determine how significant the payroll decrease will be. With season ticket sales due to drop without the lure of the MLB All-Star Game and the “honeymoon effect” of shiny, new Target Field wearing off, I argue the Twins’ payroll will go down significantly.
Right now, the Twins have nearly $60 million in commitments. They started the season with a payroll of $85 million, but dumped about $10 million when they traded Kendrys Morales, Josh Willingham, and Kevin Correia midseason. Aaron Gleeman assures us on this week’s episode of Gleeman and the Geek that we won’t be seeing that money again, and it won’t be invested into 2015. I know, it’s stupid, but let’s evaluate the non-tender candidates and see what we’re left with.
Originally, I had assumed the Twins would make a splash in the deep starting pitching market this offseason, but that’s looking more and more unlikely, despite Mike Berardino’s support of my idea to sign Ervin Santana. Berardino suggests Jason Hammel as a cheaper yet effective option, which is reasonable, but I think the Twins intend to keep Tommy Milone around now that they’ve seen him pitch one shutout inning. The Twins’ front office likes to take a small sample-size and extrapolate it into some form of unhinged hope. I mean, he’s a free poker chip, and Terry Ryan probably thinks of him that way. Ryan’s subconscious will also play a role. I imagine it’s saying, “When that kid turns it around and starts throwing like he was in Oakland, people in Minnesota will be calling you a genius again.” That could very well be, and with team control until 2018, Milone could end up a free poker chip that pays off. He’ll be around.
There is no way I see Swarzak returning to the Twins. His strikeouts per nine innings were down 1.5 from 2013, and he walked nearly one guy more per game than the previous year. I see Mike Pelfrey filling this role, since there’s no place else to put him.
If Terry Ryan picks up Burton’s option for 2015, I’ll throw a bigger tantrum than Aaron Gleeman did when Pelfrey was given a two-year deal. If it happens, there’s no way Ryan has a job in 2016.
I was on the fence on Duensing when I reviewed the Twins payroll last month, and his community involvement made me leave him on the roster, but that’s no longer the case. Duensing’s strikeout rate has dropped significantly, from 8.3 in 2013 to 5.5 in 2014, but his 3.31 ERA will keep him in the running for an increase in pay this year. I guessed he’d make $3.2 million in 2015, which is too much considering Duensing can’t get righties out. They had an .843 OPS off him in 2014.
Like Gleeman, I don’t see the value in Nunez. He never could hit, and he’s the worst defensive shortstop in the game. For some reason Twins Daily fans seem to think he’ll be back, but I don’t see it. Eduardo Escobar is a more versatile utility option that can hit, and according to Mike Berardino, he’ll be $1 million cheaper than expected. His average was 25 points higher, his on-base percentage was 44 points higher, and he can play six positions, albeit just below average. Nunez is well below average everywhere he plays except the outfield, which may be why some people think he’ll be back, but he can’t hit enough to stick at a corner outfield spot, and with Miguel Sano pushing Trevor Plouffe to a new position, I doubt the Twins tender Nunez a contract. There’s room for only one Eduardo on this team. The Twins also have a new guy that will get a good look next season.
I don’t think there’s any way the Twins don’t tender a contract to Schafer, and not because he hit the hell out of the ball and got on base at a .345 clip when he came over from the Braves. I don’t think Schafer’s numbers at the plate are sustainable, but in 262.1 innings in left field, Schafer was worth 21 runs above the average left fielder’s range defensively. It was his best position in Atlanta, too, as he was worth 14 runs above average. Schafer is under team control until 2017, and gives Terry Ryan a reason not to sign a free agent left fielder this offseason. It also gets Ryan’s subconscious talking about how Schafer will make him look like a genius.
Plouffe had a career year at the plate and in the field. He improved his defense and walk rate. He hit the same number of homers as he did in 2013 and nearly doubled his double total. His on-base percentage was up 19 points, and his OPS was up 50 points from 2013. His WAR was 3.9! All that being said, he is not an extension candidate, but a trade candidate in 2015. This will be Plouffe’s first year of arbitration eligibility, and he’s due a sizable raise. I’ve predicted he’ll make around $3.8 million next year, and if he continues what he did in 2014, he’ll be a valuable trade chip at third base or better learn to love left field. I think he’ll be dealt by the trade deadline next year to make room for Sano.
Dozier is obviously a candidate for an extension after raising his on-base percentage 33 points in 2014, and that’s the route Terry Ryan may very well take, but it won’t be this year. He likes to reward guys for past performance, and Dozier has arguably become the face of the franchise. He’s a fan and media favorite, and he’s certainly Ryan’s most valuable asset. He had a WAR of 5.2, best on the team and fifth amongst MLB second basemen. But he’s even more valuable if you don’t extend him. Dozier is under team control until 2019. He’ll be 32 and declining when he signs his first free agent contract, and given the depth at middle infield positions the Twins finally have, I suspect Dozier will be dealt…eventually. Mike Berardino expects Jorge Polanco to be competing with Dozier for MLB time by the end of next season, and I suspect we haven’t heard the last of Eddie Rosario. Marijuana isn’t a drug that ruins careers. By August 2017, the last year of Nolasco’s deal, Dozier will be gone. Hopefully the Twins can make some noise in the playoffs before then, but a top-5 player at any position is worth an ace and some change in return. And Minnesota needs pitching more than it needs a top-5 second baseman. You can’t afford to have a heart in this game.
Phil Hughes is the man I most want to extend, but I wouldn’t do it until after next season. Hughes hasn’t been able to string two good seasons in a row yet, and I’d like to see some consistency before extending him three more years. I think this is the approach Terry Ryan will take as well.
So how much does the payroll go “down significantly” from 2014? Well, if Terry Ryan signs Jason Hammel and does what I expect him to with the rest of the non-tender candidates, the 2015 payroll will be almost exactly the same as 2014’s – roughly $85 million. Without Hammel, though, we’re looking at a payroll that’s around $75 million, significantly down from 2014, regardless of what Dave St. Peter says.