The second era of Twins GM Terry Ryan began in the offseason following 2011, a disaster for which former GM Bill Smith was largely blamed.
Since then, the Twins have tried to dig themselves out of that hole, with results that, at their kindest, haven’t been seen yet in terms of results. The Twins followed 99 losses in 2011 with 96 losses in both 2012 and 2013, and they could very well lose 90 again this year.
The basic blueprint in recent seasons has been as such: try to figure out which young players can make an impact, bolster the minor league pipeline and try to supplement with free agent talent in the mean time. We’re here to rate that last part: how have the Twins done in free agency for the past three years. We’ll give each player/acquisition a grade and then grade free agency overall:
Josh Willingham: Had a career year in 2012 (35 HRs, .890 OPS) before injuries and regression caught up with him in 2013 and 2014. Even in those last two seasons, before being traded to the Royals, Willingham got on base and had power streaks. If a marginal “win” in baseball costs about $5 million according to many in the sabermetrics game, and Willingham posted a WAR of nearly 5 in his time here, the Twins got decent value for his relatively modest 3-year, $21 million deal. Grade: C+
Ryan Doumit: The Twins ended up paying Doumit $6.5 million over two seasons before dumping another year at $3.5 million on Atlanta. He was below average as a catcher and outfielder, but his offensive production (averages: 16 HRs and 65 RBI in two seasons) was certainly decent. He’s been bad for the Braves, meaning the Twins probably got rid of him at the right time. Grade: B-minus
Jamey Carroll: He was worth $8.8 million to the Twins in 2012, FanGraphs says, and he was only paid $2.75 million. He was less successful in 2013, when his salary was $3.75 million (the Twins traded him to the Royals), but overall he was as advertised. Grade: B.
Kevin Correia: He signed for 2 years, $10 million. FanGraphs says he was worth about $10 million to the Twins in that time. So the value wasn’t bad. That said, it certainly can be argued the Twins could have achieved similar results with a younger pitcher. Grade: C.
Mike Pelfrey: The Twins took a one-year flier on Pelfrey for $4 million. He had a 5.19 ERA in 29 starts, but his FIP was 3.99 per Baseball Reference and somehow FanGraphs thinks he was worth $10.9 million last season (is this thing broken?) The Twins rewarded him with a new two-year deal worth $11 million, and it’s been nothing short of disaster so far. Grade: D-plus.
Ricky Nolasco: The big-money pitcher has been bad when he wasn’t been hurt, and hurt when he wasn’t bad. For $49 million over four years, he has a lot of catching up to do. History suggests he’ll be better in future years. For now, though, this has been a bust. Grade: D.
Phil Hughes: The opposite of Nolasco, Hughes has been the brightest spot in the Twins rotation in years. He’s had top-of-the-rotation stuff, and it’s been paired with top-of-the-rotation production at a relative bargain (3 years, $24 million). Grade: A.
Kurt Suzuki: He was an All-Star and has brought stability to the catching position post-Mauer along with a reliably professional at bat. The Twins extended him for two years at $6 million each season, and even if he regresses some from this season they should wind up getting decent value over the long haul. Grade: B-plus.
Kendrys Morales: Remember when the Twins had a quaint notion of contending this year? That’s why they signed Morales, who was a flop before they flipped him to the Mariners. Not a bad gamble and they got a decent prospect. It just didn’t really work. Grade: C.
Jason Kubel/Bartlett: Did not work. Grade: F.
Overall, 2012-14: The Twins have done decently in free agency with position players (except for the low-cost failures of the Jasons this year), while the pitchers have been spottier. Nolasco and Pelfrey are major black marks right now, and only Hughes’ brilliance is saving the Twins’ foray into the pitching market from being an outright disaster. Ryan and co. have done a fairly good job not locking position players into too long of terms, with the idea that there are minor league players waiting in the wings to take jobs at low costs. One could argue the Twins haven’t done enough in free agency to be competitive these past three years, but one could also argue that a few more wins these last few years wouldn’t have made a difference anyway and that saving their money until the team is (hopefully) more competitive in the future is a fine strategy. The real proof will be in what happens if/when the time comes that the Twins look like contenders again. Will they re-open the wallet?
But that’s a question for another time. The final grade for the Twins in free agency from 2012-14 is a C-plus. There have been failings in the organization, to be sure, but free agency hasn’t doomed them. They just haven’t had enough of the good pieces to build around.
The Vikings released an updated depth chart for the regular season, which has Jasper Brinkley and Robert Blanton as the starting middle linebacker and strong safety.
The depth chart is subject to change but gives a better idea of where both positions stand. Head coach Mike Zimmer didn’t want to name the starters at both positions publicly on Monday, although he already made a decision. Here’s more on the strong safety situation from today’s paper.
Here’s a complete look at the Vikings regular season depth chart.
The Vikings also signed undrafted rookie free agent guard Austin Wentworth to the practice squad. They released cornerback Kendall James to make room for Wentworth, who was waived on Sunday. James was selected in the seventh round in this year’s draft and the only drafted rookie not on the roster.
The best fake sports debates are the ones in which both sides have logical points to be made. And when we say “fake,” we don’t mean bogus. Rather, we mean manufactured — a talking point that need not be raised, but is fun to bring up nonetheless.
As such, we bring to you a fake sports debate this morning: which football team will win more games this season — the Gophers or the Vikings.
On the surface, the Vikings should always have the edge since they play four more regular-season games than the Gophers. Then again, the U gets a chance for a pretty good head start every season with the squishy soft non-conference schedule favored by many BCS schools. A decent year in college football, really, is 7 or 8 wins. Same goes for the NFL.
This year, if you really had to guess, you would say the Vikings are in line to win 6 or 7 games, maybe 8 if they overachieve a little, maybe 9 or possibly 10 with some breaks. You could say the same exact thing about the Gophers.
So who is going to win more games?
Here’s how we’d frame it: The Vikings have more upside since they have more games, and the NFL generally produces surprise teams every season. Minnesota had a comedy of QB errors last season and lost many games by narrow margins thanks to poor QB play and a bad defense. If those problems are even somewhat solved by a few new players and a new regime, this team could be intriguing.
The Gophers are more of the known commodity because they have one unit — defense, yes we know that’s shocking to say — that should keep the team in virtually every game. We still fear that the passing game will come up short against the best teams, but this team won 8 games last year and even against a tougher schedule this season shouldn’t do any worse than 6-6 (and very well should do better than that).
Gut instinct: Gophers win 7, Vikings win 6. But two years from now — when the Vikings theoretically should be better and the Gophers could be ready to contend in the Big Ten — this should be a race to 10 wins instead.