The Twins have been busy this off-season. They started with a bang, signing Jason Bartlett to a minor league deal. From there, they made some minor additions to the starting rotation, adding Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes. In all, the Twins suddenly seemed committed to contending and shockingly committed to spending some Pohlad dough. The Twins have continued to be busy, so I thought it would be fun to recap some of their recent moves.
Liam Hendriks designated for assignment
This move surprised me, but didn't bother me. It was very similar to the Joe Benson DFA during the 2013 season. I had high hopes for the player once upon a time, but those hopes had waned and their losses will almost certainly have no effect on the Twins in the short- or long-term. Hendriks was the Twins' 2011 Minor League Pitcher of the Year and had looked like a potential back-end starter. He made his MLB debut in that 2011 season, at the ripe age of 22.
His brief MLB career has been somewhere between a tire fire and a blimp explosion, depending on how you use the "terrible things" spectrum. In 156 innings, Hendriks has a 6.06 ERA, 100 strikeout and 46 walks. His 2 and 13 record means little, but looks really, really bad. Hendriks shuffled between AAA and Minnesota for most of 2012 and 2013 and never found a groove in the Majors.
He'll be just 25 next year and he has had some success with AAA Rochester. His 3.61 ERA in 254 innings looks nice, but last season he had a 4.67 ERA in 16 starts. In addition, his AAA strikeout rate is a paltry 16.9%, significantly below the MLB average and likely much higher than he could ever actually produce against Major League hitters. In the Minors, Hendriks walks just about no one. In the Majors, he walks some guys. With his stuff and lack of a strikeout pitch, that difference is massive.
I like Hendriks, but I'd say there is a roughly 0.0001% chance the Twins ever regret this move.
Jason Kubel is signed to a Minor League Contract
Welcome back, Kubes! Just two seasons ago, Kubel hit .253/.327/.506, good for a 116 wRC+. He was basically 16% better than the average offensive player. One season later, he posted a .216/.293/.317 line, good for a 61 wRC+. He was roughly 16% better than the average 8th grader. The Diamondbacks shipped him off to the Indians for a PTBNL in late August and did so with absolutely zero regret. He barely played in Cleveland.
How could he fall so far in one season? He hit 30 home runs in 2012 and just 5 in 2013. Kubel did sport an outrageously high 19% home run to fly ball ratio in 2012, which likely aided his home run total. That said, most of his other peripheral numbers were right in line with his 2009-2011 averages, including walk rate, line drive rate and fly ball rate. However, in 2012, his strikeout rate actually jumped about 5 points. Then, it jumped another 5 points in 2013.
It's very hard to hit consistently when you strikeout 30% of the time. As a Twin, Kubel never had a strikeout rate above 21.4% (2011). This rate has climbed in each of his last four seasons and it could be the reason why he was available on a MiLB deal. That said, it's a low-risk, medium-reward deal. Kubel has a clear avenue to the DH job (especially considering the Twins most recent move) and could even find time in the outfield as the Twins seem to be completely punting outfield defense right now. If Kubel can get his contact issues under control, he could hit .250/.310/.400 or something around there and provide nice value as a DH/OF. That's basically what Ryan Doumit provided last year. More on him later.
Mike Pelfrey is signed for 2 years, $11 million
I did not like this move. My knee-jerk reaction was to create a satire piece where teams thank Terry Ryan for taking Pelfrey off the market. It's right here, if you missed it. After thinking about the move more, I don't dislike it as much.
I don't mind Mike Pelfrey in theory, I just don't like watching him pitch. He works really slowly and I've got things to do. That said, he had been very durable in his career, prior to his TJ surgery. If he can get back to being a reliable 200-inning starter, he'll have tons of value at his rate. Getting back to that durable starter might not be the slam dunk that some Pelfrey defenders think it will be though. He did have major surgery. However, the success rate for guys after TJ is pretty high and he'll be just 30 next season. I imagine he'll be back to his durable, slow, chapped lip self in 2014.
I have warmed to this move. By definition, fifth starters are not sexy. Reliable fifth starters are probably undervalued though. Pelfrey isn't sexy, but he's tall. That's something.
Ryan Doumit is traded to the Atlanta Braves for Sean Gilmartin
Wow, this move is pleasantly surprising. As I stated earlier, it's possible that the Twins could replace Doumit's production with a guy they just signed to a Minor League contract. The Twins wisely signed Doumit for 3 million bucks in 2012 and got a 114 OPS+ from him. They extended him for two more years during that season, at a reasonable rate. However, he regressed offensively in 2013 and posted just a 96 OPS+. In addition, he consistently rated as one of the worst defensive catchers and one of the worst at pitch framing.
The Twins were able to find a suitor, and in an NL park no less! Getting anyone for Doumit is impressive considering his age and defensive limitations. Getting a 2011 first-round pick and the number 4 prospect in a system is very impressive. Sean Gilmartin is a left-handed starter with a high 80s fastball, three secondary offerings and good command/control. Sure, a hard-throwing lefty would have been nice, but those guys are superstars or super prospects. Ryan Doumit is a role player, so you can't expect the World.
Gilmartin has a AAA strikeout rate of 15.5%, a number that Liam Hendriks scoffs at. Gilmartin is just 23, he doesn't need to be added to the 40-man roster for a couple years and has less AAA experience than Hendriks. Advantage/scoffs, Gilmartin! Plus, maybe he can learn a cutter or something and become a big star. If you're going to load up on young starters who don't throw hard, they should be left-handed and they should have good command.
I like this move for baseball reasons, but I will miss Doumit. There was something about those black eyes that just hypnotized me. I hope he plays well for the Braves. The Twins have been active this off-season and I'm excited to see what comes next. Personally, I think the Twins are batting 1.000 right now. Each move helps in some way and that's really all you can ask for.