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Saturday, May 26, 2012

Twins June Decisions

It has been a good week for the Twins, despite a blowout loss to the White Sox Friday night they finished up a successful 5-3 road trip which featured improved play all over the field and some outstanding individual performances, most notably P.J Walters complete game win in Chicago and Justin Morneau swinging a hot stick.

Despite this good run, the Twins are running into significant injury problems, with Carl Pavano missing his start Saturday and Nick Blackburn on the DL. Coupled with the loss of Jason Marquis (demoted due to ineffectiveness) times are desperate for the Twins pitching staff. The current rotation features Scott Diamond, Walters, Anthony Swarzak, and U of M graduate Cole De Vries, who despite possessing only limited stuff danced around a serious shellacking at the hands of the White Sox on Friday night.

Moving forward into June the Twins roster may undergo even more alterations as the trade deadline approaches and the Twins begin to set their roster and minor league systems up for 2013 and beyond. Most of the conjecture I have read has surrounded trading Denard Span, which is certainly still a possibility for teams looking for outfield help. Span has been consistent this year and provides a steadily high OBP at the top of any order as well as a solid base-running threat. For the development of their big league roster now and in the future however, the Twins would do well to try and avoid trading Span. The Twins have Span signed through 2014 with a $9 million option for the 2015 season and looking at that deal as a whole (5 years - $16.5 million) Span is signed to a team friendly contract which provides the Twins with plenty of financial flexibility, especially given the large proportion of the Twins payroll committed to Mauer and Morneau. Coupled with the fact that Span is still only 28, he is a player the Twins should continue to build around.

Looking at the Twins payroll for 2013 they will be working with approximately $ 90-100 million (so far this season, attendance is down around 5,000 per game) accounting for the potential drop of around $10 million from this years payroll. The Twins have two significant contract options to consider for 2013, Scott Baker and Matt Capps. Scott Baker has a $9.25MM option for 2013. Despite Terry Ryan’s comments after Baker’s season ending injury was announced in which he affirmed an expectation of seeing Baker in a Twins uniform in 2013 the club would do well to decline this option. Despite Baker’s outstanding numbers in 2011 before he was shelved late in the season, he is far too fragile to commit that amount of money to on a team that will likely be far from competing next season. Capps will be an interesting decision; he has a $6MM option for 2013 with a 250K buyout. Capps has performed well this season, especially in save situations and with the sheer amount of major injuries to significant closers this season (see Rivera, Madson, Soria) Capps may become trade bait for a fringe playoff team seeking mid-season relief help.

Will Capps remain a Twin throughout the 2012 season?
Carl Pavano will be one of the Twins significant free agents at the end of 2012. If nothing else, Pavano has provided stability, if not excellence for the Twins rotation over the last few seasons. Despite a low strikeout rate and average ERA and WHIP, if Pavano can stay healthy and keep his ERA in the low 4s through June, the Twins could seek to trade him to a team needing pitching help at the bottom of their rotation. The X-factor in the Twins free agent pool for 2013 is Francisco Liriano, who has shown limited improvement since his demotion to the Twins bullpen. If Liriano can re-remerge successfully into the Twins rotation he may also be moved before the trade deadline. That would perhaps be the best-case scenario for the Twins as since his excellent 2010 season Liriano has not shown he is capable of maintaining his status as an elite major league pitcher.

The Twins position in the upcoming draft will undoubtedly be one of the keys to rebuilding an ailing franchise. In the meantime the front office needs to start making some bold decisions to weed out the occasional bad contract, free up some payroll, bring in prospects where possible and begin catalyzing the transition from a struggling franchise to one that has the young arms capable of making them a contender again in the next five years.

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