Willingham, Twins Agree to Three-Year Pact

Ron Swanson would be proud. On Thursday, the Twins and GM Terry Ryan helped themselves to a heaping plate of amenable bacon, officially inking outfielder Josh Willingham to a three-year, $21 million deal. The deal, which includes a plate appearance-based incentive in 2014 ($1 million for 525 PA in ’13), was announced after Willingham passed what pretty much amounted to a two-day physical in Minneapolis.

As Chris Cwik noted yesterday, the Twins did well to ink Willingham and — despite the club’s latest insistence that this doesn’t disqualify it from the Cuddyer race — choose to pocket whatever two draft choices come on the heels of Michael signing elsewhere. This is excellent news for a club whose farm system is starting to see some of the luster rub off after back-to-back miserable campaigns for Triple-A Rochester. No, those picks wouldn’t go directly to Rochester of course, but building a better system from the ground up should be the modus operandi for a club coming off its first 90-loss campaign since 2000, and worst season record-wise since 1982.

In many ways, Willingham is a much better fit for the Twins. For one, Willingham accepted an offer that was $1 million per season less than the reported offer that is still allegedly on the table for Cuddyer, who appears to be seeking around $30 million in a three-year deal, or perhaps a guaranteed fourth year. This savings shouldn’t be understated, as it was expressed at Bill Smith’s dismissal press conference that the Twins may be up against a tighter budget than in 2011. Fixing an offense that sputtered to a .295 wOBA (down from .334 in 2010) on a more fixed income was destined not to be easy, but with the additions of Willingham, Jamey Carroll, and Ryan Doumit, TR would appear to be on the right track.

Additionally, since the emergence of Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau nearly a decade ago, the Twins’ lineup has long been lefty-heavy. And while Willingham replacing Cuddyer isn’t exactly re-inventing the wheel in that respect, Willingham brings a much more balanced approach to this much-improved Twins attack. Willingham’s OPS splits versus righties and lefties (.827/.862) are far less disparate than Cuddyer’s (.760/.869). Certainly Willingham doesn’t have the positional flexibility that Cuddyer could boast, but Cuddyer didn’t exactly field adeptly at any of the spots anyway. It’s also possibly worth noting that the long-time third musketeer to Mauer and Morneau, Jason Kubel, made it known recently that the Twins were likely no longer in the running for his services, according to Pioneer Press Twins beat writer John Shipley. That takes another left-handed hitter out of the mix.

Just as Willingham is a good fit for the Twins, Target Field may be a better fit for him, too. According to StatCorner, Target Field suppressed home runs by five percent in 2011, whereas O.co Coliseum carried an astonishing 20% suppression rate. Given that Willingham distributed his dongs relatively equally last season (15 home-14 away), there’s a fairly good chance that he could cross the 30 home run plateau for the first time in his career. Only one Twin, Cuddyer, had even 20 home runs last season on a Twins club that only popped 103. Adding Willingham should only help an offense that was last or second-to-last in the AL in runs scored, home runs, OPS, OPS+, and total bases, and well below league-average in pretty much everything else in 2011.

What will be interesting to note will be what outfield arrangement the Twins employ in 2012. Willingham noted on a call with KSTP’s Chris Long that he figured he’d play some left field and some right field. The most sabermetric-friendly layout that would exist would likely be Ben RevereDenard Span-Willingham, especially since Revere and Span are real go-getters when it comes to fly balls, and the Twins pitching staff is likely to induce just as many bird chasers this season as it has in years past, even without Kevin Slowey in the mix. Another saber-friendly layout would be to go with Willingham-Revere-Span, though manager Ron Gardenhire typically keeps veterans in one spot while shuttling the younger players around. A final layout, and this one seems less likely, would include some mix of Doumit and Trevor Plouffe in right field. Nonetheless, this is a Twins team with much more depth than the one that nearly dropped 100 games while employing players such as Brian Dinkelman, Rene Tosoni, and STEVE HOLM!

Let me be the first to say it: Health willing, it will be a great disappointment if this Twins team doesn’t contend for the AL Central title.

Other required Willingham reading:
*Parker Hageman of TwinsCentric/Over the Baggy explains how Willingham and Twins were match made in heaven.
*Jeff Zimmerman of RotoGraphs explains Willingham’s philosophical shift.
**Thanks to Eno Sarris on the StatCorner tip.



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In addition to Rotographs, Warne is a Minnesota Twins beat reporter for Cold Omaha as well as a sportswriter for Sportradar U.S. in downtown Minneapolis. Follow him on Twitter @Brandon_Warne, or feel free to email him to do podcasts or for any old reason at brandon.r.warne@gmail-dot-com


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Perceptron
Guest
Perceptron
4 years 9 months ago

Joe Benson and Chris Parmalee also figure to battle for playing time, most likely as injury replacements. I figure they are just as relevant as Plouffe.

Brandon Warne
Guest
4 years 9 months ago

I like both of them long term better than Plouffe, but Plouffe is the surer bet to make the opening day roster (out of options, IIRC).

Parmelee should be alright, but not nearly as good as he was last season. Benson was obviously overmatched with breaking stuff. Both have nary a plate appearance at Triple-A. In another organization, maybe they’d be up for good. Not the Twins, though.

Craig in MN
Guest
Craig in MN
4 years 9 months ago

I’ll have some of whatever Brandon is having…..it must be strong stuff. Willingham & Doumit replace Cuddyer & Kubel, with maybe the slightest upgrade. Swapping Revere for Young is another slight upgrade. Jamey Carroll as a competent infielder is the only clear upgrade they’ve made. Meanwhile there are no notable improvements in the pitching staff, only the departure of Slowey & Nathan. This team is no better than the one they ended the year with. They still need a lot of things to go right to compete for a playoff spot.

gaweenbob
Member
gaweenbob
4 years 9 months ago

Hence the qualifier, “health willing.” If the Twins had been healthy last season they almost certainly would have contended, and they’ve improved their roster since then. That said, they definitely still have work to do if they want to have a competent pitching staff and bullpen.

Brandon Warne
Guest
4 years 9 months ago

Thanks to both of you guys for reading. Simply adding a competent infielder should help solve the 30 point gap the infield saw on groundball BABIP. I think that’s an underrated storyline.

Theo
Guest
Theo
4 years 9 months ago

Signing Willingham is stupid since they were supposed to try to save money, improve their defense, and get younger. They just done the complete opposite of these things.

Why did they trade Delmon Young for next to nothing? This makes even less sense now.

Brandon Warne
Guest
4 years 9 months ago

Save money for what? A rainy day? Baseball teams don’t play on rainy days.

The Twins have almost $40 million committed to two players; you have to build around them because rebuilding just isn’t an option. One bad apple (2011) shouldn’t ruin about eight good ones (2001-2010). The team still is talented enough to win the division if players can get healthy.

And yes, DYB (my pet nickname for Dmitri Young’s Brother) is worth next to nothing. He would have been slated to make about as much as Willingham, a vastly superior player, in arbitration this year.

Theo
Guest
Theo
4 years 9 months ago

Willingham gets about 30 more walks a year than Young. Other than that, Willingham is going to be worse than Young in about everything. Young, who was 25 years old, is trending up. Willingham, who is 33, is on the decline.

haha
Guest
haha
4 years 9 months ago

LOL, what? Willingham hit 29 bombs last year to Delmon’s TWELVE. The most HRs Delmon’s ever hit is 21. Please explain why you think Delmon Young is “trending up.” He has awful plate discipline, not nearly enough power for a corner OF, and plays terrible defense. Please tell me you aren’t basing anything on Young hitting a few home runs in the playoffs.

Kolbe
Guest
Kolbe
4 years 9 months ago

Maybe because Delmon Young is worth next to nothing..

Ronin
Guest
Ronin
4 years 9 months ago

Dont tell the Tigers that, DD is likely to sign Young to a 7 year deal to avoid arbitration. DD is a huge proponent of parity, even if he has to inflict it upon himself by signing crummy players to balance out his great players.

Theo
Guest
Theo
4 years 9 months ago

You know that for sure? Want to bet on it?

haha
Guest
haha
4 years 9 months ago

Yes.

adohaj
Guest
adohaj
4 years 9 months ago

STEVE HOLM is a bastard. He doesn’t even know his own father

drewcorb
Member
drewcorb
4 years 9 months ago

What are you referring to?

Dwight S.
Guest
Dwight S.
4 years 9 months ago

It’s a line from the show Arrested Development, except instead of Steve Holm the character’s name was Steve Holt.

drewcorb
Member
drewcorb
4 years 9 months ago

Okay. I thought there was some interesting story about Steve Holm I was unaware of. But I should have known better.

Anthony
Guest
Anthony
4 years 9 months ago

Please do not assume that the Delmon Young in the ALDS is the one you’re getting for a full season next year.

mutuelle familiale
Guest
4 years 9 months ago

This is indeed excellent news for a club whose farm system is starting to see some of the luster rub off after back-to-back miserable campaigns for Triple-A Rochester.

Brandon Warne
Guest
4 years 9 months ago

I agree. Which is why I wrote it.

YazInLeft8
Member
4 years 9 months ago

A Parks and Recs reference. I love it.

Mattwithanh
Guest
Mattwithanh
4 years 9 months ago

With Cuddyer and Willingham essentially providing similar types of production, saving a few 3 million in salary and gaining the value of the draft picks ($4-5 million?) I think going after Willingham was the correct choice if and only if the Twins won’t try to stick Willingham at second or third base on D for 10-15 games.

Brandon Warne
Guest
4 years 9 months ago

Exactly. To save what amounted to $10 or so million was a big win.

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