Off-season Twins Transaction Tally: up to 11/12

The Minnesota Twins have been unusually busy this off-season.    To keep track of them, I will provide occasional updates.   You can find all of them here.  Here is the first one and involves transactions that happened until (and including) November 12th:

  • They signed C Joe Maloney to a Minor League Contract - 10/9
  • Five Twins' major leaguers became free agents 11/2
    •  RHP Blaine Boyer 
    • LHP Neal Cotts
    • LHP Brian Duensing 
    • RHP Mike Pelfrey 
    • RF Torii Hunter ; he officially announced his retirement
  • They released former first round pick RHP Hudson Boyd - 11/3
  • Several minor leagues become free agents, some of them resigned 11/7-11/9
  • C Eric Fryer
  • C Allan de San Miguel
  • C Carlos Paulino 
  • 1B Reynaldo Rodriguez (re-signed)
  • 2B Jose Martinez
  • 2B James Beresford
  • SS Argenis Diaz
  • SS Doug Bernier
  • OF Marcus Knecht (re-signed)
  • LF Xavier Avery
  • LF Danny Ortiz
  • RF Wilkin Ramirez
  • OF Eric Farris
  • OF Shane Robinson
  • RHP Michael Bowden
  • RHP Lester Oliveros
  • RHP Mark Hamburger
  • LHP Aaron Thompson


    • C Jairo Rodriguez
    • SS Heiker Meneses (re-signed 11/5)
    • CF Shannon Wilkerson
    • RHP D.J. Johnson
    • RHP B.J. Hermsen
    • RHP Adrian Salcedo


Dan Runzler, one of the Twins' free agent signees is a dark horse for the bullpen

Earlier this week, and lost among winning the rights to negotiate with Buyng Ho Park, trading Chris Herrmann for Daniel Palka, and Aaron Hicks for John Ryan Murphy, the Twins signed LHP Dan Ruzler to a Minor League Contract.   I broke the news here, but did not have much time for analysis, since the other events happened, so here it is.

The transaction seems pretty unremarkable, reading something like this:  The Twins have signed LHP Dan Runzler from the Sugar Land Skeeters of the Atlantic League and have assigned him to AAA Rochester Red Wings.  Dan Rusler is not Andrew Albers or Kaleb Thielbar, a couple of unremarkable Twins' minor league free agents originating from the independent leagues and playing in the majors during the Twins' recent dark years.   Who is Dan Runzler and why I am so sure that he might actually be a factor?   First things first:

Dan Runzler is 30 years old, listed at 6'4" and 230 lbs (but his physique looks a lot like that of former Twins' Tyler Robertson; think NFL defensive end.)   He is from Santa Monica, CA, and was drafted by the San Fransisco Giants from the University or Riveside, CA, in the 9th round of the 2007 draft.  At Riverside in his junior (last) season, he was a swingman, staring 10 games (including a complete game) and relieving in 12.   He did have an electric fastball in college and added a devastating slider in the Giants' minors, allowing him to make the jump in the majors in 2009, just 2 seasons after he was drafted.  After that season he was listed as high as number 4 in the Giant's prospect lists.  Baseball America had him at number 5 with Buster Posey, Madison Bumgarner, Zach Wheeler ahead of him.  So he was a highly regarded prospect. 

2010, the season that the Giants won it all, he was an integral part of their bullpen and has a World Series ring to prove it.  The local press held him in the same regard (as a potential closer) with Sergio Romo and Jeremy Afeldt.   Not a shabby company to have, especially if you can back it up on the mount with a plus plus 95-97 mph Fastball and a 85-88 mph slider, producing a 25.7% K-rate (resulting to 10.2 K/9) and a 2:1 ground ball to fly ball ratio.  Think of Fransisco Liriano before elbow problems.  That season he had a 3.03 ERA and 3.14 FIP.  So what happened?   A couple of things:  Ruzler has always been somewhat wild and the command of his slider has been inconsistent.  Even in the 2010 season, he had a 5.5 BB/9 and 1.500 WHIP (even with a below average .250 BABIP.)  Later in the season he had a knee injury that made him go to a couple of rehab stints and was caught in the numbers game for a team that was after (and won) a World Series.  By 2011 he was bypassed in the depth charts in a highly competitive team and a bad shoulder and lat injury, in his words, "subconsciously made him change his mechanics".   In the same piece he called his command problems in 2010 and before, "mental issues". 

At that point he was demoted.  Regardless the source of his problems, he never made it back, optioned a couple of times and finally outrighted on September of 2013.  The Giants released him in July of 2014 to play in Japan.   For some reason he never made it.  Last season he hooked up as a free agent with the Diamondbacks where he pitched in 39 games (37.7 IP) for the AAA Reno Aces of the Pacific Coast League.  His ERA was 5.26 (3.86 FIP), WHIP 2.02 (but an outlandish .407 BABIP.)  He walked 28 (6.7 BB/9) and struck out 40 (9.6 K/9.) Encouragingly, his K% was 21.6% and he was close to 3:1 in Ground outs : Fly outs.  He finished the season playing 19 games (17.1 IP) with Sugar Land of the Atlantic league, where he put insane (but almost irrelevant) numbers:  0.52 ERA, 3 BB (1.6 BB/9), 20 K (10.4 K/9), and 0.865 WHIP.   The one number that is of interest here is the walk number, which is stellar.  And this is a number for which competition does not matter than much because you either throw strikes, or you don't. 

I think that Runzler might be a great signing for the Twins.  Clearly, his issues with command are mechanical and mental.  And he admitted that.  The fact that he was not throwing as many balls while playing at Sugar Land, makes me think that he was not thinking too hard, and just throwing in that level.  Can he do this come Spring Training, and hopefully in the majors, for the Twins?  Can the Twins help his mechanics?  Two very important questions to answer, but lefties who throw 97 mph Fastballs and 88 mph Sliders do not grow on trees, esp. when that repertoire results in 11 K/9 and 2-3:1 GB:FB out ratio and a .212/.282/.263 slash line (his career number) from left hand hitters.


I might like the Twins trade of Aaron Hicks to the Yankees for John Ryan Murphy, under one condition

The Twins have been very busy so far this off-season, making moves that netted them Daniel Palka, Dan Runzler, the ability to exclusively negotiate with Byung Ho Park,  and today they traded OF Aaron Hicks to the Yankees for back up Catcher John Ryan Murphy.  There has been a lot written about this trade already, so I will not really get into details that you can read (if you not already have) elsewhere, but just want to analyze its potential effect to the 2016 Twins.

If you cannot tell from the title of this piece, I am very lukewarm (at least) about this trade.  Why?  Here are the reasons:

  • Hicks and his play in the outfield was one of the biggest reasons the 2015 Twins were competitive.   They needed to fix outfield defense, and they did.   Hicks was part of the solution in 2015.  There is talk about replacing Hicks at CF with Byron Buxton (probably the best case scenario if his bat is ready, but will it be ready?)  returning back to Danny Santana, who was part of the outfield problem in 2014, or potentially using Eddie Rosario, which might make sense, but would take a plus corner outfielder away.   Just the fact that they are considering Santana as a replacement (unless it is empty talk) makes me think that Terry Ryan and company have learned nothing.
  • There were personality clash issues between Hicks and Gardenhire's staff, when he was thrown under the bus for "being late in meetings", "not knowing who the opposing pitcher is" etc; but Hicks was fine under Molitor and even though I dismiss those allegations much faster than the Twins dismissed their source, there might be something there
  • Despite Cashman trying to build up Murphy as a starting catcher at this point, actions speak louder than words:  He did not use him as the starting catcher.  And if a player is not good enough to be a starter in a contender, why should he be a starter for the Twins?
  • Of course Murphy is just 24, was rated the Yankees' 4th best prospect in 2014, despite the difficulties with blocking balls and throwing runners out, he is an above average pitch framer (a trade he learned from Tony Pena.)  The other encouraging thing, is that Murphy was an outfielder in High School who has been converted to a catcher and his defense in blocking balls and throwing runners out, even though not up to par, has been improving.  
  • Very hard to tell how Murphy will end up being with the bat as the most-days catcher, because the data we have is from sporadic back up play.  The last couple of seasons in the majors, he had an acceptable slash line, however his BABIP jumped to the mid-high s300s from the high .200s in the minors?  Did he turn a corner and made adjustments or is it an artifact of the small sample?   His K% has been in the low 20s, which is also worrisome.  But he can improve.
  • My biggest objection with this trade, was pretty much part of this analysis: The Twins in 2015 were not good against RHPs, and they need to improve, so if they were looking for a Catcher to platoon with Kurt Suzuki, they need a LHB who will play more (against RHPs) and can hit RHP better than Suzuki.  Murphy is not this; you cannot platoon same-side hitters; you can use them on different situations.  Murphy hits lefties pretty well, but struggles against RHPs; as a matter of fact, Suzuki is better than Murphy against RHPs.  At this point, other than fewer concussions, I am not sure that Murphy is bringing more to a competing team (remember that little detail?) than Josmil Pinto does.  As a matter of fact he might be bringing less to the table at this point.
However, I said that I might like this trade under one condition.  What would this condition be?   If the Twins use Murphy as the (less playing) Right hand side of a platoon against LHPs, let him develop a bit, and get a lefty or switch-hitting starting Catcher to face RHP, cutting ties with Suzuki.  If that happens, that trade might be ok.  The off-season is still young...


Profile of the newest Twins player, Daniel Palka

After signing LHP Dan Runzler to a minor league contract yesterday,  the Twins land a second lefty Daniel in two days by trading Chris Herrmann to the Arizona Diamondbacks for left hitting and throwing OF/1B Daniel Palka.   The trade frees a 40-man roster spot for the Twins.

Daniel Parka just finished his second full professional season, drafted in the third round of the 2013 draft by the Diamondbacks from Georgia Tech where he was a two way player, pitching and playing the outfield and first base.   His last (junior) season at Georgia Tech he hit .342/.436/.637 with 17 HRs and 13 doubles in 237 ABs (This is 1 HR per 14 ABs.)   He also pitched 13 innings out of the bullpen, striking out 11, walking 3, allowing 6 hits and one earned run.   The transition to the wooden bad in the Cape Cod league before his junior season did not hurt his numbers:  in 2012 he hit .272/.346/.519 with 11 HRs and 6 2Bs in 158 AB (14.3 ABs/HR).

After he was drafted in 2013, he was assigned to Rookie Missoula where he hit .302/.386/.502 with 7 HRs in 205 ABs and moved up to Short Season A Hillsboro where he hit .340/.418/.574 with 2 HRs in 47 AB.   The decrease in power was likely because of fatigue (between college and the pros he had 410 ABs).  In 2014 playing for South Bend of the Midwest (A) League, he hit .248/.332/.466 with 22 HRs in 455 AB (20.7 AB/HR) , with a 56:129 BB:K ratio.  Last season he moved to high A Visalia where he hit .280/.352/.532 with 29 HRs in 511 PAs (17.6 AB/HR) and a 56:164 BB:K ratio in his age 23 season.

For comparison's sake, in his second full professional season, Twins' OF Adam Brett Walker, who was drafted at the same round (3rd) a season before Palka, at the same (high A) level (albeit Florida State vs California League) in 2014 hit .246/.307/.436 with 25 HRs in 505 ABs (20.2 AB/HR) and a 44:156 BB:K ratio.  So basically in Palka the Twins get a player similar to Adam Walker, but with better power and contact skills who strikes out and walks at about the same rate as Walker, but is left handed.   In 2015 Palka destroyed RHPs; against them he hit .301/.374/.589 with 26 HRs in 389 AB (15.6 AB/HR) and a 45:118 BB:K ratio.  Power LHBs who can hit RHPs with vengeance are lacking in the Twins' organization;  only Oswaldo Arcia and switch hitting Kennys Vargas might fit the bill.  Palka is more versatile than both on the field, plus he bring a bit of speed as he stole 24 bases in 31 attempts last season.

Here is an interesting statistic:  In 2015 Palka had 24 SBs and 29 HRs.  In the history of the Minnesota Twins, no player in their organization had 24 or more stolen bases and 29 or more HRs in the same season.

Palka is listed at 6'2" and 220 lbs, is originally from Springfield SC, and his grandfather, Eugene, pitched in the Baltimore Orioles' organization.  He was listed as the Diamondbacks' 15th best prospect in 2014 by John Sickel's, and 29th in 2015 by MLB.com.   He majored at Management in Georgia Tech.   Here is a video of Palka from the Arizona Fall League this season where he is hitting .304/.364/.449 with 2 HR in 69 AB and 7:12 BB:K ratio.   Palka would likely start 2016 in Chattanooga.


Making Sense of the Twins winning bid to negotiate with Korean First Baseman Byung-Ho Park

According to several reports that were later confirmed by the team, the Twins have placed the highest ($12.85 Million) bid that was accepted by the Nexen Heros, for the right to exclusive negotiate a contract with 29 year old First Baseman Byung-Ho Park.   On paper, with the presence of Joe Mauer, Trevor Plouffe, Miquel Sano and Kennys Vargas, investing on another 1B/DH bat, and especially right handed, makes little sense.  Why would the Twins do it?  What was Terry Ryan thinking?  Let's examine the possibilities:

First of all what he was not thinking:  Moving Mauer to Catcher, Sano to Left Field, keeping Plouffe at Third Base and potentially use a rotation of Parks and Vargas at 1B/DH, supplemented by a heavy dose of Arcia, is not happening, basically because Mauer is done catching.  This hypothesis should be dismissed before it starts to get formed.  I believe that Terry Ryan saw Byung Ho Park as a unique talent and he thought something on the lines of 'let's get him, and we will figure where he fits later', which is a totally rational and opportunistic approach, albeit the apparent Mauer/Park dilemma has fewer solution than the Plouffe/Sano dilemma.  So, let's figure where he fits later.

How unique is Park?  Park is a player who have been improving each and every season from his age 25 season when he was the starting first baseman for Nexen Heros (was drafted and played his first 4.5 seasons, with a 2 year hiatus from 2007 to 2008 for his Army dury, by the LG Twins who traded him in the middle of the 2011 season as a 24 year old.)  His OPS increased from .866 in 2011, to .954 in 2012, to 1.039 in 2013 to 1.119 in 2014 and to 1.150 last season, when he produced a .343/.436/.714 slash line with 53 HRs and 146 RBI in 140 games.  Those are Bary Bonds on steroids numbers, folks...

How realistic are those expectations and how those crazy KBO numbers may translate into MLB numbers?  I will likely do a more in-depth analysis with several data points when and if Park officially becomes a Twins' player, but right now we have a very good comparable: his former teammate Jung Ho Kang who moved from the KBO to the MLB playing for the Pirates last season.  In 2014, his age 27 season in KBO, Kang hit .356/.459/.739 in 501 PAs with 149 hits, 36 doubles, 40 HRs, 68 BB and 106 K.  Last season with the Pirates, he hit .287/.355/.461 with 121 hits, 24 doubles, 15 HRs, 28 BB and 99 K in 467 PA.  His rates at KBO were:  Hit 29.7%, double 7.2%, HR 8%, BB 13.6%, K 21.1%.  His rates at MLB (with relative fractions to the KBO) were: Hit 25.9% (.87), double 5.1% (.71), HR 3.2% (0.4), BB 6% (0.44), K 21.2% (1).  Utilizing these as guides, we could roughly (very roughly, but it is in the ballpark) expect Byung Ho Park to hit something like: .278/.336/.442 (.778 OPS) with 157 hits, 25 doubles, 21 HRs, 34 BB and 161 K in 622 PAs.  Those numbers (other than the Ks) are definitely better than what the Twins got for Torii Hunter (.702 OPS; whom Park might essensially be replacing) and slightly better than Plouffe's (.742 OPS; whom Park might end up replacing.)

What will it take to sign Park?  We have Jung Ho Kang's contract for a guide.  The Pirates signed him for 4 years / $11 million guaranteed ($2.5M, $2.5M, $2.75M, $3 and an optional 5th for $5.5M with a $250K buyout) and their winning bid was $5 million, so the total guaranteed cost of the contract was 4/$16M.  I think that it will be reasonable for the Twins to sign him to a 4 year ($3M, $3M, $4M, $4.5M) with an optional fifth year at $6 with a $500K buyout.  This will be a 4/$15M contract for the player, and adding the fee a 4/$28M contract for the Twins, most of it front loaded with the posting fee.  The annual cost for the Twins will be at around $7 million, which is $3.5 million annual savings for what they paid Hunter, a little less than what Plouffe will make on arbitration and a considerable $3-5M savings over what they would have take to re-sign/extend Plouffe. 

So in other words, this is likely what Terry Ryan was thinking: Better production than what he had in 2015 at 2/3rd of the cost, and most of it front loaded in a way that he would not have to pinch more pennies when Sano hits arbitration.  Where would he fit? Let them sign him first, and we'll figure where he fits later, but here are a couple of things to think about:  Park is a plus defender at first base with a plus arm and Mauer in the past 2 seasona has a .774 OPS as a DH vs..717 as a first baseman.  Terry Ryan was adamant about Park being the Twins' DH, but you never know. So there might be a plan for that as well, after all... 

Let the negotiations begin and meanwhile enjoy every single home run that Park hit in 2014 in this video:


A catcher the Twins should sign right now

A few days ago, I looked into all 20 free agent catchers and suggested one who was the best fit for the Twins.   The criteria were that he should:

  • be left handed or switch hitting, so he complements Suzuki in a platoon
  • hit RHPs well, because he will be hitting mainly against them; with his performance against LHPs meaningless,  because Suzuki will be facing those
  • and, do not cost a ton, because the Twins have few more holes (LH power, bullpen) which will cost $ to fill
  • be accustomed to be a starter, because he will have more PAs than Suzuki 
  • be a better defender than Suzuki.
 Based on that criteria, the best free agent fit for the Twins was Brayan Pena.

As I indicated back then, there will be more than 20 MLB and high MiLB free agents, since the MiLB free agency is just beginning.   And a very intriguing player joined the ranks of the minor league free agents; and the Twins should sign him to a MiLB contract with an invite to Spring Training as soon as possible.   This does not negate the need to sign someone like Brayan Pena, but there is absolutely no risk in signing 32 year old George Kottaras to a minor league contract. 

Kottaras is a 6'. 200 lbs, left handed Catcher who spend seven MLB seasons with seven teams and has been shuttling between the majors and AAA.   In seven seasons in the majors he hit .215/.326/.411 overall in 313 games (858 PAs) and .223/.323/.439  in 267 games (680 PAs) against RHPs.  Kottaras satisfies the top 3 criteria, and it would be senseless not to try to sign him to a minor league contract, since there is no risk.  His best season in the majors was 2012 when he hit .211/.351/.415 in 85 games between Milwaukee and Oakland.  That season he hit .207/.335/.434 against LHPs (including 9 HRs in 145 ABs,) showing remarkable isoP and isoD against lefties. 

Another remarkable statistic about Kottaras is that he is hitting .230/.378/.492  in high leverage situations (166 PAs), and .208/.381/.393 with Runners In Scoring Position (237 PAs).   He spend all last season in the AAA for Toronto and the Chicago White Sox, where he hit .238/.372/.429 in 47 games (181 PAs), and .257/.423/.514 against RHPs.  He has been cosidered a top defender and was the personal catcher of knuckleballer Tim Wakefield with the Red Sox, the last few years he has been throwing out fewer runners than the average catcher, however his blocking skills are still top-notch.

I see no reason for the Twins not to sign him to a minor league contract with a Spring Training invitation; worse comes to worse, he could start in Rochester replacing departing Free Agents Eric Fryer and Allan de San Miguel.