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Seth Stohs, Nick Nelson, Parker Hageman and John Bonnes

TwinsCentric: Talking dollars and sense

As we close in on the month of February, the Twins have remained quiet on the Hot Stove front. In terms of spending, it has been one of the most conservative offseasons we have seen from this franchise in some time.

 

Byung Ho Park is the only addition that has really cost them anything. Outside of a few escalating contracts and arbitration raises, they haven't added payroll anywhere. With Torii Hunter and a couple others coming off the books, that leaves them slightly short of last year's Opening Day mark of $108 million, barring further moves.

 

Following a season in which the Twins finally turned the corner and set their long-awaited contention blueprint into motion, the lack of aggressiveness on the market this winter has left many fans scratching their heads. An article by Jack Moore for Baseball Prospectus this week discussing Minnesota's misapplied label as a "small market" rankled plenty of folks, as evidenced by the nine pages of discussion on the topic in our forums.

 

Personally, while I have been critical of the front office's timid approach at times in the past, I'm not too riled up by the sparsity of moves, for a couple of reasons.

 

For one thing, there was Park's posting fee. At $12.85 million, it was very large, in the contexts of both this organization's past and the Korean market standards. While you might not technically construe this as a payroll expense, for all intents and purposes it is. They spent many millions of dollars to add immediate talent to the major-league roster.

 

So if you prorate that money over the four years of Park's contract, the 2016 payroll figure jumps to about the exact same level it was at a year ago. That number ranked the Twins 18th in baseball last season, and while it might rank a bit lower this time around, it'll still be fairly close to the middle of the pack. It's not unreasonable for a club that falls on the lower end of the mid-market category in terms of revenue.

 

The other thing is that the Twins seem to be committing to a more youth-focused approach. While it's difficult to have absolute confidence in the present bullpen array, I'd much rather allow the younger internal options to take jobs and run with them, as opposed to seeing them blocked by mediocrities like Tim Stauffer. Last year, he came in and had just about the worst spring you could possibly imagine, but still made the club and received a relatively long leash, on the basis of his guaranteed contract and veteran status. No more of that.

 

But while we're on the subject, let's talk about Stauffer for a moment. Last offseason, he was Minnesota's most expensive bullpen addition, with his $2.2 million commitment ranking as the 23rd-largest given to a free agent relief pitcher by an MLB club (per MLB Trade Rumors).

 

There is a "you get what you pay for" dynamic in play here. Nearly every reliever who signed a bigger deal than Stauffer last offseason performed better than he did. Given that the Twins missed the playoffs by only a few games, and given that Stauffer performed miserably almost literally every time he took the mound, you could certainly argue that aiming a little higher with their veteran bullpen upgrade might have made a big difference.

 

But instead of aiming higher here in an offseason where the bullpen is an obvious area of need, the Twins haven't really even set their sights, at least not with any urgent intention of pulling the trigger.

 

We're getting the same explanatory arguments as usual: Terry Ryan and the Twins simply don't like any of the free agents that much. Tony Sipp? Too many years. Antonio Bastardo? Overpaid. This is about evaluation, not spending. It's a line that's being echoed by media members.

 

But of course this overlooks the fact that, so many times in the past, those players that the Twins "haven't liked" ended up having successful seasons in which they could have been difference-makers for the club. Meanwhile, many of the players that they liked enough to sign, who invariably ended up being on the second or third tier in terms of monetary commitments, panned out as poor investments.

 

These payroll arguments that come up every year (usually around this time) are tedious and frustrating in part because they become so repetitive but even more so because people on opposite sides tend to cling to outrageous extremes.

 

The fact that the team isn't spending aggressively and adding big contracts does not necessarily indicate a lack of desire to win, nor is it a surefire sign that ownership is interested only in hoarding cash.

 

At the same time, nobody is arguing that the Twins should "spend money just to spend money," and to dismiss the reality that it costs more to acquire more established and coveted players is ridiculous.

 

So if we're going to have these discussions, let's at least try to be reasonable and realistic. I'm on board with what the Twins seem to be doing, but I'm also running out of patience with watching the same conservative strategies come up short. If the front office's decision to eschew the open market and look inward while their competitors pile up relief talent backfires, there needs to be some accountability. 

 

~~~

 

Heading to TwinsFest on Saturday? Looking for something fun to do afterward? Come check out Twins Daily's third annual Winter Meltdown. It kicks off at Pourhouse in Downtown Minneapolis at 5 PM. Featured guests will include former Twins Carl Pavano and Tim Laudner, and we'll be giving away all kinds of door prizes. Tickets are $25 if you buy online ($35 at the door, if there are any left) and your admission includes two free beers from 612 Brew and a commemorative pint glass.

 

It's gonna be a blast. Join us!

TwinsCentric: Is prospect Kepler ready for a starting outfield spot?

With spring training less than six weeks away, the Twins' outfield remains amorphous. We can't say with any degree of confidence who will be starting at any of the three positions and we might not have any real clarity on the matter until camp gets underway.
 
One wild card in this equation is Max Kepler. How, and when, might the ascending young prospect fit into the team's outfield picture?
 
Kepler is, of course, coming off a huge breakout season in which he was named the organization's Minor League Player of the Year after hitting .322/.416/.531 with 54 extra-base hits, 19 steals and a phenomenal 63-to-67 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 112 games at Class-AA New Britain. His campaign ended with a September call-up to the big leagues at age 22.
 
The fast-rising outfielder is featured on the cover of the recently released 2016 Twins Prospect Handbook and could very well be a factor in the 2016 campaign. But how quickly is it realistic to believe he'll become a viable option? Could he make a legitimate play for an Opening Day spot?
 
The fluidity of the outfield situation would appear to leave that door open. Eddie Rosario is basically assured a job, and – barring an unforeseen Trevor Plouffe trade – so is Miguel Sano. With Aaron Hicks gone, that leaves one opening, which could be center or a corner spot. The contenders for that gig are all questionable to varying degrees. Oswaldo Arcia is coming off a wreck of a season. Byron Buxton may need more seasoning. Danny Santana is a less than appealing option. Ryan Sweeney, Darin Mastroianni and Joe Benson? Meh.
 
Kepler certainly has more momentum behind him than any of those names, and there is precedent for a prospect turning the corner at Double-A and overtaking a vacant outfield job the following spring. Hicks did so in 2013, following the trades of Denard Span and Ben Revere. While that obviously didn't end well, Kepler is coming off a considerably more impressive year at Chattanooga than Hicks' 2012 at New Britain.
 
Still, as a kid who was signed at age 16 out of Germany and was always viewed as more of a long-term project, I think the Twins will be more inclined to show patience with Kepler. His hit tool has developed very gradually in the minors and while his 2016 campaign was a very encouraging one, I believe they'll be inclined to give him some time in Triple-A before considering him as anything other an an emergency option in the majors. While he'll be in big-league camp this spring, I suspect that even with a big performance in Grapefruit League play, he'll be ticketed for Rochester out of the gates.
 
How long will he stay there? That will be dictated by what happens in the Twins outfield and of course by his own performance. It isn't difficult to envision Kepler entering the fold by June or July, and perhaps earlier if injuries strike. I also wouldn't be surprised if he spends the entire year at Triple-A, even with solid production, because Buxton is ahead of him in line and it behooves the Twins to give Arcia a good long look this year. 
 
Really, what it comes down to is that the guy standing in front of Kepler is Plouffe. Once he's gone and Sano can return to third, the path becomes much clearer.
 
Whenever Kepler does arrive, he'll have a pretty good chance at quickly establishing himself as the best European player in MLB history -- a highly attainable title given the relatively untapped nature of that market. Sometime this season, a Minnesota Twins lineup could feature representation from Germany (Kepler), Dominican Republic (Sano), Puerto Rico (Rosario), Venezuela (Eduardo Escobar) and South Korea (Byung Ho Park). That's an exciting mix of nationalities that reflects the growing international flavor of baseball as a whole. I love it.
 
When do you expect Kepler to be here?

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