Phil Miller covered three seasons of Twins baseball, but that was at a different ballpark for a different newspaper. Now Miller returns to the baseball beat after joining the Star Tribune as the Gopher football writer in 2010, and he won't miss the dingy dome for a minute. In addition to the Twins and Gophers, Miller covered the Utah Jazz and the NBA for six years at The Salt Lake Tribune.
After climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, former Twins pitcher Kevin Slowey never did get a chance to pitch for the Rockies. Colorado traded the starting pitcher to Cleveland last week, along with $1.25 million in cash, for righthanded reliever Zach Putnam.
Around here, this begged questions about whether the Rockies had outfoxed the Twins in the Dec. 6 deal that sent Slowey to Colorado for righthanded reliever Daniel Turpen. The answer is complicated.
For insight, I called a talent evaluator from another MLB club who is very familiar with all three pitchers. In short, he thinks the Rockies acquired a decent relief prospect in Putnam, but he doesn't think the Twins got fleeced because of all the variables involved. Here's the background:
* The Twins were probably going to non-tender Slowey, so they finally just took the best deal they could get. Slowey, 27, went 0-8 with a 6.67 ERA last year and was viewed as a clubhouse lawyer by the team's decision makers. The team liked him enough to make him a second-round draft pick in 2005, but by the end, everyone involved knew it was time for a change of scenery.
* Turpen, 25, is a big, strong righthander whose fastball sits about 93-95 mph, but his slider is inconsistent. He posted an unimpressive 4.83 ERA last year for Class AA Tulsa (with 33 K and 35 BB in 59.2 IP). He's been traded twice (first from San Francisco to Boston for Ramon Ramirez) and was also taken in the 2010 Rule 5 draft by the Yankees (before returning to the Red Sox), so other teams have seen his potential.
* The Rockies tendered Slowey a contract and avoided arbitration, signing him to a one-year, $2.75 million contract. But they kept on acquiring starting pitchers, including Oakland's Josh Outman and Guillermo Moscoso in this month's trade for outfielder Seth Smith.
* The Indians developed a sudden need for an established big league starter last week, when Fausto Carmona was found to be playing under a false indentity. He's actually named Roberto Heredia and 31, not 28. That gave the Rockies more leverage in those negotiations.
* Putnam, 24, was named Cleveland's tenth best prospect by Baseball America this month. He posted a 3.65 ERA for Class AAA Columbus last year (with 68 K's, 23 BB's in 68 IP) and then had a 6.14 ERA in eight games as a September call-up for the Indians. He and Turpen are actually quite similar. Putnam's fastball is about 90-94 mph, and he's inconsistent with his slider. The difference is, Putnam has a pretty good split-fingered fastball and was viewed as a potential starter as recently as 2010.
Bottom line: Most scouts would take Putnam over Turpen, but they have similar upsides as middle relievers and need to command their sliders better before they'll be effective in a major league relief role. The Rockies ended up with a better relief prospect but paid $1.25 million to get him. The Indians, meanwhile, will be paying Slowey $1.5 million, hoping he can rediscover the form that helped him go 13-6 with a 4.45 ERA in 2010.
MILWAUKEE -- With the Twins searching for a backup catcher, I wrote in this story about two options from the free agent market -- Jason Varitek and Pudge Rodriguez.
Obviously, those aren’t the only two choices the Twins have. Aaron Gleeman highlighted several options here, including Ryan Doumit, who batted .303/.353/.477 last season for Pittsburgh. Besides catcher, Doumit has played first base and right field, which would seem to make him an even better fit for the Twins, considering the questions they uncertainty they currently have at all three positions.
But the Twins put a lot of value on defense at catcher, which is why Drew Butera continued to get chances despite his struggles at the plate. The pitchers love throwing to Butera, and that adds to his value. Doumit is not a good defensive catcher, so perhaps that’s why we haven’t heard more about the Twins being interested.
One name we heard late in the season was Miguel Olivo, who batted .224/.253/.388 with 19 homers in 130 games for the Mariners. But from what I’ve gathered, the Mariners aren’t eager to trade Olivo, who has one year and an option remaining on his contract. That could change if the Mariners acquired another catcher, but for now they have no obvious in-house replacement.
Another option fell off the board for the Twins last week when the Pirates signed Rod Barajas to a one-year, $4 million deal with an option for 2013.
Eventually, the Twins might wind up turning to Varitek or Rodriguez, two former All-Stars who have shifted into backup roles late in their careers.
Last week, in an interview with Patrick Reusse and Phil Mackey on 1500ESPN, Twins president Dave St. Peter said the team’s 2012 payroll “will end up at the end of the day being relatively comparable [to last season].”
Just so we’re all clear moving forward, the Twins official 25-man Opening Day payroll was $113 million. According to insiders, the team wound up spending closer to $118 million by season’s end, even with the money saved on the Delmon Young and Jim Thome trades. Keep in mind, players collect their salaries on the DL, and their replacements cost money. It adds up, even when the replacements are making the major league minimum ($414,000).
When interim GM Terry Ryan was asked about next year’s payroll on Monday, he said, “I think our payroll is going to be south of where we were last year.”
How far south?
“What was it last year?” Ryan said.
A reporter answered that it was $115 million, a common estimate.
“I don’t know if that’s accurate, but I think it’s going to be somewhere around $100 [million],” Ryan said.
Ryan downplayed the importance of payroll in determining a team’s success, and we all know he won four division titles with significantly less in his first tenure as GM.
St. Peter has a slightly different view
I caught up with St. Peter after the press conference and asked him about Ryan’s $100 million comment.
“Terry and I, frankly, have not had one discussion about our payroll for next year,” St. Peter said. “He’s been privy to it because nothing has changed from what we had been telling Bill [Smith]. ... I think it can be a fluid number. I’m hoping we can find a way to inch it forward."
"I think it’s also important what Terry said: Nobody here has ever viewed payroll as the end-all," St. Peter added. "Frankly, whether it’s $100 million, $95 million, $105 million, I think we can be successful next year. That’s certainly the belief that we have.”
The Twins are trying to draw a line. The Opening Day payroll jumped from $71 million in 2007 -- the final year of Ryan’s first GM tenure -- to $113 million last season. Obviously the jump was made easier because they appear to be printing money at Target Field, but that doesn’t mean they’ll continue to increase spending.
St. Peter told Reusse and Mackey that last season’s payroll was “frankly, north of where I wanted it to be, or where we thought it should be relative to our percentages of revenue. But we made a decision, obviously, to try to bring back [Carl] Pavano, bring back [Jim] Thome, and I don’t think anybody here regrets that. I think we thought they were the right decisions at the time.”
Big difference in revenue sharing
On the radio, St. Peter also gave a clear answer to a question many of us have had: How has the team’s revenue sharing picture changed since it left the Metrodome? St. Peter said the Twins were collecting about $20 million in revenue sharing money in their final years at the Dome. After a one-year grace period that teams get when they move into a new ballpark, the Twins paid $10 million into the revenue sharing pot this year.
That’s a $30 million swing, when comparing the Twins revenues in 2009 and 2011.
Ryan knows Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau will combine to make $38 million next year (and again in 2013). It’s going to be tough to fill 23 other roster spots for $62 million. By our calculations, even if the Twins let all four of their free agents leave -- Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel, Joe Nathan and Matt Capps -- the Twins would still pay $83 million to return the rest of the club for next year.
* Here's how we got to that $83 million number. They've cut some of the players listed from this late-September chart, but the numbers won't change much.
Maybe Ryan has a few tricks up his sleeve -- such as trading away Pavano, Francisco Liriano, Scott Baker or another medium-salaried player -- but the hunch here is the Opening Day payroll will land closer to $110 million. Every team sets a budget and then builds in flexibility so money can be spent if the right opportunity arises.
Maybe the Twins wanted to send a message: The gravy train is over. Yes, they’ve handed out some bloated contracts in recent years (to Mauer, Morneau, Baker, Nick Blackburn, Denard Span and Tsuyoshi Nishioka) but under Ryan, they intend to squeeze value out of every dollar spent.
CHICAGO -- The Twins passed Joe Nathan through trade waivers, but he won’t be traded before tonight’s deadline for teams to set potential playoff rosters.
The Twins checked with Nathan on Tuesday night to see if he wanted to be traded to a contender, much as they did with Jim Thome last week. Team officials insist they had no specific offers but wanted to know Nathan’s preference, just in case.
Nathan, who notched his 12th save in Wednesday's 7-6 victory over the White Sox, decided to stay with the Twins.
He has 10-and-5 rights (10 years in the majors, five with the same team), so he has veto power over any trade. Players with 10-and-5 rights must sign a consent form at least 24 hours before being traded. On short notice Tuesday night, Nathan declined to sign the consent form, which means he’ll likely be with the Twins through season’s end.
“It seemed the smart decision for us to say we’re not going to waive [the 10-and-5 rights],” Nathan said. “It’s nice to be here and have a chance to possibly be with this club again next year. We’ll see what that brings."
Nathan, who is 9-for-9 in his past nine save chances, cleared waivers at some point in August because, to claim him, a team would have been making a short-term investment of at least $4 million.
Nathan has about $2 million in salary remaining this year and a $12.5 million option for next year with a $2 million buyout. A claiming team would have had to accept the rest of Nathan’s contract, and it's only been recently that he has started to look like his pre-surgery self.
The Twins sent minor-league pitcher Loek Van Mil to the Angels today, completing their trade for reliever Brian Fuentes.
When that trade was made Saturday, the teams agreed that the Twins would send the Angels a player to be named or cash by Oct. 15. We were told the Twins would surrender a mid-level prospect, not a top prospect, and Van Mil fits that description.
Van Mil, 25, had been designated for assignment and dropped from the 40-man roster to make room for Fuentes. A a 7-foot-1 righthander from The Netherlands, Van Mil was 1-2 with a 6.37 ERA in 23 games for Class AA New Britain this year.
Van Mil's stock was on the rise last year, and he was invited to big league camp this spring. When healthy, he has a powerful righthanded arm, but injuries have slowed his development.
With less than two days to Saturday's non-waiver trade deadline, I don't mean to sound like a wet blanket, but it's time to remind you how rare a Twins move is at this time of year.
The Twins have made just 12 July trades since 2000. According to Major League Baseball, the only teams with less July movement in that span are the Tigers (11 trades), Astros (11), Angels (10) and Blue Jays (10).
The busiest July teams have been the Padres (34), Pirates (28), Red Sox (26) and Cubs, Rockies, Dodgers, Yankees (24 apiece).
The Twins have made just four July trades since 2005, and that includes the Brett Boone-for-Box of Balls deal. A complete list, compiled from MLB's release:
July 15, 2000 – Rockies traded 1B Todd Sears and cash to Twins for 2B Todd Walker and OF Butch Huskey.
July 31, 2000 – Twins traded 1B Mario Valdez to Athletics for C Danny Ardoin.
July 3, 2001 – Cardinals traded 1B-OF Larry Sutton to Twins for IF Hanley Frias.
July 28, 2001 – Tigers traded P Todd Jones to Twins for P Mark Redman.
July 30, 2001 – Mets traded P Rick Reed to Twins for OF Matt Lawton. (Note: Omitted this one earlier.)
July 12, 2002 – Twins traded OF Brian Buchanan to Padres for IF Jason Bartlett.
July 16, 2003 – Twins acquired OF Shannon Stewart from the Blue Jays for OF Bobby Kielty and a player to be named.
July 31, 2004 – Cubs acquired SS Nomar Garciaparra, OF Matt Murton and cash considerations from the Boston Red Sox. Acquired 1B Doug Mientkiewicz from the Twins in exchange for minor league LHP Justin Jones. Traded Mientkiewicz, INF Alex Gonzalez, INF Brendan Harris and RHP Francis Beltran to the Boston Red Sox in exchange for Garciaparra and Murton.
July 11, 2005 – Twins acquired 2B Bret Boone and cash from the Mariners for a player to be named later. (Note: No player was ever named.)
July 31, 2006 – Reds acquired RHP Kyle Lohse from the Twins in exchange for RHP Zach Ward
July 30, 2008 – Mets acquired INF Luis Castillo from the Twins for C Drew Butera and OF Dustin Martin
July 31, 2009 – Twins acquired SS Orlando Cabrera from the Athletics for INF Tyler Ladendorf and cash considerations.
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