In comedy, they say, timing is everything. It turns out that the same thing is true in sports journalism.
Yesterday, I suggested that the Twins would likely turn to Glen Perkins to fill the void left by the recently departed Joe Nathan. While I still think Perkins is one of the better options out there that won’t cost a fortune, the Twins feel that he’s better served remaining in his current role rather than taking over the closing job. In fact, citing a lack of depth in the current bullpen, General Manager Terry Ryan indicated that the team would fill the vacancy with someone from outside the organization.
I think it’s extremely likely that this means the return of Matt Capps to the team, but there is a small group of other players out there that could be had for relatively similar amounts of money and will likely be on the team’s radar. Ryan Madson is still a pipe dream for Twins fans, but if the team is committed to building the bullpen from the outside, perhaps they’ll be willing to invest more in a closer than I had originally estimated.
The favored option of fellow Fangrapher Brandon Warne, Francisco has one of the highest strikeout rates of the available closers at 24 percent, something the Twins could surely use in their bullpen. Francisco converted 17 of the 21 save opportunities he had in 2011 as part of the Blue Jays’ myriad options at the end of games.
He struggled with home runs, as a HR/FB rate of nearly 13 percent pushed his ERA up to 3.55 while playing against the rest of the AL East in the fairly hitter-friendly Rogers Centre. If he were to move to Target Field, there’s every reason to believe his home run issues would diminish substantially. He can be a bit flyball prone, a trait that the Twins can afford to indulge, but a career LD% of 21 percent and rising has to be something of a red flag as that’s an awful lot of hard contact to be allowing at the end of games. An 11 percent whiff rate is a good thing, but when hitters don’t miss, they really do square the ball up well.
Another high strikeout arm who could be looking to rebuild his value after an injury-shortened 2011 season. The move from Citizens Bank Park to Target Field has to be something of an appealing idea for Lidge, though if his groundball-heavy tendencies are going to persist, the team’s infield defense ought to be more important to him than the ample outfield spaces. If Jamey Carroll is an effective recruiting tool for potential relievers, full marks to Ryan for making that move sing, but I have to think that Lidge will get offers from teams with a more effective defense than the Twins. However, Lidge has said that he’s willing to set-up if need be, so a chance to close might make the Twins a more appealing option than some of the offers he’ll get.
He’ll be 35 this season, and his velocity is nowhere near where it used to be — his fastball averaged 95-96 in 2005 and 2006, but has fallen down to 89-90 over the last two seasons — which is worrisome. He’s throwing his slider a lot more often now than he had in any season before, and it still grades as an effective pitch, generating an 18 percent swing-and-miss rate last year. I have concerns when any pitcher becomes one dimensional, but I don’t think it’s out of line to think that he may see his fastball velocity tick upwards this year if he stays healthy.
I see Lidge as a better fit for a team looking for one last piece, which I don’t think describes the Twins per se, though it’s entirely possible that they see themselves differently.
Is it a move that would excite a fan base? Good heavens no, and yet, signing Rauch would certainly leave money available for other moves and he’s not tremendously different than Capps. Both were below replacement level in 2011, both were worth just over 1 WAR in 2010, neither strikes out a lot of hitters, and both are going to see their success determined highly by the defense put in place behind him.
Rauch strikes out a few more hitters (16 percent in 2011 compared to Capps’ 12 percent), while Capps gets a few more groundballs (41 percent to Rauch’s 35 percent). Neither is going to really make a big fantasy impact or bring fans to the ballpark. Assuming their price is about the same, the fact that they are so similar gives Capps the leg up; he’s younger and he has some momentum on his side since he was with the team last year. Rauch’s biggest advantage only comes if someone else bids up Capps’ price, leaving the Twins to decide if they want to sink another $7 million or more into a reliever who performed so poorly for them last year.
I wanted to include Jonathan Broxton here, but I just don’t see it happening. The Twins can’t be blamed if they’re a little gun shy about adding a player who missed a ton of time last year, and if the rumored 10 suitors are actually there, getting a big discount is going to be virtually impossible. Broxton is an interesting option for someone, but I really don’t see the Twins being the team to take the plunge.
I queried Assistant General Manager Rob Antony about whether Denard Span was healthy enough to potentially pass a physical, and while he did confirm that the team fully expects to have Span healthy and ready for the start of spring training, he also wrote that the team plans to have Span leading off next year. Things could certainly change between now and opening day, but knowing that the team is moving forward and dreaming on a healthy Span makes me that much more skeptical that Drew Storen is on the team’s radar.
Andrew Bailey could be available from the A’s, the Rockies are fielding offers on Huston Street, and I’m sure the Twins will do due diligence on both. That said, if they acquire their closer by trade, I don’t think it will be because they won a derby for one of the names that has been floated out there for a while.
One name that has always intrigued me as a potential closer is the Cubs’ Sean Marshall. The team’s previous administration was unwilling to move Marshall, but it is possible that Theo Epstein and his new crew will be more amenable to trading him. He obviously has a ton of value for the Cubs setting up — and occasionally covering for — Carlos Marmol and a team-friendly $3.1 million contract for 2012, but if the Cubs think they can get a prospect for him that makes them better in 2013-2014, perhaps they’ll be willing to let him go with his free agency looming after the 2012 season. He may not be a Proven Closer, but he has a number of high-leverage innings to his credit, and he gives the Twins another left-handed option within a pitching staff that leans right.
The Twins announced today that they are not offering Capps arbitration, which I expected, but I’d still put good money on the fact that he’ll be the Twins’ closer next year, which would make him a very low-tier fantasy option. He doesn’t strike out enough hitters to be an asset there, and could be a drain on your WHIP if the team’s defense isn’t substantially better. Francisco would seem to be the most realistic fantasy-relevant option, but even he isn’t particularly compelling. If you’re dying for saves, do what you have to, but unless they make a blockbuster trade from out of left field, consider the Twins’ closer likely a back up option at best.