Meet Delmon Young, Franchise Cornerstone

November 29, 2007

Wednesday the Twins pulled off a blockbuster trade with Tampa Bay, acquiring OF’s Delmon Young, Jason Pridie, and IF Brendan Harris (all ML level) for SP Matt Garza, SS Jason Bartlett, and minor league P Eduardo Morlan. Earlier rumors suggested that MR Juan Rincon would be included rather than Morlan, but that fell through when the Rays expressed concerns regarding the condition of Rincon’s elbow. Operating under the idea that you know all you need to know about Garza, Bartlett, and company, here’s what you should know about your new Twins:

What should be taken from the deal? Well, for the Twins, they gain an incredibly talented 22 year old OF who may or may not be capable of playing CF in Young. Whether or not Young can play CF doesn’t really change the value of the trade, primarily due to the fact that LF/DH was another spot the Twins needed to fill with a quality regular, something that Young would appear to do. There is a chance, however, that the Twins fell in love with a name. Young is a former first overall pick, back in the 2003 amateur draft. That alone can gain a player some instant notoriety, and a veritable plethora of undeserved chances to prove yourself. Think Dewon Brazelton. As for Delmon, Young’s Triple Crown stats of .288 13 HR and 93 RBI will make the less informed baseball fan feel warm inside, but there’s little in the way of positives to glean from an overall mark of .288/.316/.408. Add to the fact that he’s got a history of less than stellar isolated discipline (.047 in 1413 minor league AB would be a pretty good indicator here), and he’s probably going to have to post a .320 average year in and year out (nearly impossible to do) to have an OBP worth telling mom about. Is he still a potential, perhaps even probably franchise cornerstone, especially given that next season will be his age 22 season? Heck yes, but perhaps we should temper the enthusiasm for next year, anyway.

Brendan Harris poses an offensive upgrade and a defensive downgrade to Bartlett. This is, of course, if the Twins view him as a SS going forward. Harris graded out nearly 30 runs below replacement level last year, but apparently projects well at either 2B or 3B. While producing a .286/.343/.434 line, Harris smacked 50 extra base hits and drove in just a shade over 60 runs. He would probably look pretty good in the 2 hole, and would be a smart solution for the 2B or 3B problem if the Twins felt Casilla could handle the load at SS at least for now. It’s a real shame Plouffe isn’t a bit closer, otherwise he’d provide some stiff competition for Casilla in camp.

Jason Pridie was property of the Twins for a short time prior to the 2006 season, having been selected by the club during the 2005 Winter Meetings. Pridie was strangely stronger in AAA last year in AA, especially since his AA numbers (.290/.331/.441) are pretty much exactly in line with his minor league numbers to date (.279/.327/.432), especially more so than his AAA numbers (.318/.375/.539). This was the first time since Pridie was an 18 year old in Rookie Ball back in 2002 that he posted an OPS higher than 900 in any significant amount of time. Sounds an awful lot like Brian Buscher. Pridie could make a good, cheap option to start in CF (certainly light years better than Tyner and Span) as long as the Twins don’t stop here with the additions, and make an upgrade at the 3B/2B spot, whichever isn’t filled by Brendan Harris.

From this writer’s standpoint, the deal is pretty good for both clubs. The Rays have a horde of young, useful OF, so it makes sense to thin the herd by dealing for a weak spot. Strangely, though, they dealt their seemingly most valuable asset, a very, very cheap and talented OF who could be the next Twins OF darling, on the coattails of Torii Hunter and the late Turkey Bucket, *ahem* Kirby Puckett. Garza looks to be a solid 2 or at worst a 3 in this league with a ceiling rivaling perhaps Ian Kennedy, and perhaps a bit higher than fellow prospect pitchers Jon Lester, Glen Perkins, and Kevin Slowey. It remains to be seen if Garza will live up to the hype, but he’s joining a stable of SP anchored by Scott Kazmir that is young and improving. Don’t sleep on the Rays this year.

For all your sports discussion needs, hit up http://www.prosportsdaily.com/forums and join me (brandonwarne52) on the Twins, Vikings, Wild, and Timberwolves boards and support your local clubs. GO TWINS!

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The State of Play

November 29, 2007

First off, sorry for the lack of posting. It’s been a difficult term at school. Now it’s the holidays, and I’ll be good.

The Mariners, as things stand, are not a good team. They might not even be an OK team – they fluked their way into a nice little season last year, but now the big worry is that the front office sees us as a true 88 win roster that needs minor tinkering to make the playoffs. This would be a pretty horrific mistake to make.

Where are the problems with our roster?

LF, 1B, DH, and 2 starter slots. If we accept Jose Vidro as essentially unmovable, we then have 4 problem spots on the roster. Not good.

Raul Ibanez is a liability in left field. He makes the occaisional spectacular (looking) play, sure, but he’s not very fast and takes some Byrnesian routes out there. Most defensive metrics have him as one of the worst left fielders in the game (and we’re talking Adam Dunn/Manny Ramirez territory). Replacing Ibanez in left with a merely average defender is probably a two win move by itself. However, rumours of the demise of Raul’s bat were heavily overstated. He absolutely carried the team from early August onward, and he’s exactly the sort of hitter that can thrive in Safeco – left handed and with reasonable pop, helped out immensely by the short porch in right. The Mariners really cannot afford to lose that from the lineup, unless someone seriously thinks Ben Broussard is the left handed sock for which we’ve been yearning.

At first, we have the much maligned Richie Sexson, who had the misfortune of slumping for the entire season, whilst playing first like his feet had been nailed to the ground. Will he bounce back offensively next year? Yep. He might even put up an OPS+ of over 100. But he’s being paid like a star, and if we’re really lucky he might end up as a below average first baseman next year.

As for the starters, is there anyone who wants Jeff Weaver or Horacio Ramirez back next year? No? Well, let me make a few points in their favour. Weaver first.

Jeff Weaver is a known commodity, and historically bad start aside, he was a decent #5 pitcher for us last year. Another point in his favour? He’d come really cheap, which is always nice.

Horacio Ramirez is young, relatively cheap, and left handed. If he magically acquires some talent this winter, I’d be all in favour of bringing him back. As it stand right now, he’d make an excellent ligament bank in case some of our players get hurt.

So what do we do?

Here’s my ideal scenario:

Milton Bradley on a 2 year deal, with Jeremy Reed/Wladimir Balentien as injury backup. When healthy, Bradley’s an excellent defensive outfielder with a good arm, and a very solid switch hitter. Unfortunately, he’s crazy and has a habit of breaking all the time, most recently while being tackled by his own manager. I still think he’s worth the risk: getting three centrefielders in one outfield would give us a defense the likes of which we haven’t seen since 2003, and they can all hit a bit too.

Richie Sexson to San Francisco, with us eating $8M of the contract, for whatever we can get. I know there’s a lot of scepticism around the blogosphere about Richie’s trade value, but if Brian Sabean doesn’t jump at the chance to add Sexson to his team for $6.5M, I’d be really surprised. That frees up some payroll to play with and also opens up first base for Ibanez to slot into. One think we have to watch out for here is getting a bad contract back – if you can’t completely get rid of him without getting something useless in return, keep Sexson on the bench and let him walk at the end of the season. Ibanez is a terrible defensive outfielder, and he’ll probably be a pretty bad first baseman, but that’s still a better package than Big Richie.

Re-sign Jeff Weaver for to two year $4M deal. No, I’m not insane, or at least I don’t think I am. This isn’t a huge investment. If he sucks again (I don’t think he will with the defense improved), just DFA his sorry ass and make him go away. If he doesn’t, well we’ve just bought low and patched up a spot in the rotation in an offseason where everyone’s clamouring for pitchers. RRS would be my first choice to replace him if things go pear shaped, and to that end he’d assume the long-guy role in the ‘pen. Morrow’s in AAA in this little dream-world of mine.

Explore some trade possibilities with the Rays (have you seen their new stadium, by the way?It’s absolutely gorgeous). Dave Cameron favours J.P. Howell, and I agree. I’d love Sonnanstine too, but that would be a bit of a stretch. The Devil Rays have a lot of starting depth, but they need a bit more bullpen help and perhaps a catcher too. I’d start at Eric O’Flaherty and Rob Johnson and see where that ended up (Clement, however, is off limits).

On paper, that’s a much better team than last year, and done without mortgaging the future away. We’d still be relying on Ichiro, Beltre, and Felix (and now Bradley’s health) to get us into the postseason, but I reckon that if Bavasi could execute the plan above, it’d be a very successful offseason.

Will he? Of course not. Hopefully nothing goes too badly wrong.

Feel free to flame me over the Weaver thing.

-Graham


Market Realities

November 24, 2007

Two days and three eyebrow raising signings.

1. Angels ink Torii Hunter to a 5 year 90 million dollar deal

2. White Sox sign Scott Linebrink to a 4 year 19 million dollar deal

3. Reds sign Francisco Cordero to a 4 year 42 million dollar deal.

 The (almost) universal reaction has been to call the GM’s responsible for these signings idiots. This nothing new, every offseason baseball fans and scribes discuss the latest round of “terrible” signings. These signings of course end up working out and as a whole aren’t the reason a team fails to compete.

 This leads me to believe two things: Major League General Managers are good at what they do and the market realities are far different than what most of us on the outside realize.

1. Major league teams have placed a premium on club controlled players

Prospects like Adam Jones are viewed as about as valuable as superstars like Johan Santana. I realize that this is an exaggeration but in order to trade a top prospect for a superstar, that team is going to make sure that a number of other factors have aligned before the team pulls the trigger on such a trade. Teams don’t trade top prospects for rent a players anymore. As a result, the only way to get young cheap talent is to grow it yourself.

2. Teams are flush with cash

Major League Baseball is quietly sneaking up on the NFL is the biggest cash cow in professional sports.  I’m not sure if the MLB will ever pass the NFL, but I am pretty sure that each major league team has tons of cash to spend. Each team enters every offseason with a ton of cash to spend on the open market.

3. Teams are pretty good at keeping homegrown stars at below market rates.

Ichiro signed a hometown discount to stay in Seattle for about the same amount of money that Torii Hunter just signed for to play in LA-Anaheim. Ichiro is clearly superior to Hunter so does this make the Hunter signing a disaster? My answer is no, but I will explain this later.

4. Teams enter the free agent signing period with the previous 3 factors in place, and Free Agency is easiest way to get better

Teams have lots of money to spend in order to improve themselves. Free Agency is pretty much the only way to do it. The open market contains a bunch of left overs. These leftovers can still help ballclubs win games so they are throwing enormous sums of money at these players because it is the only way they can get better.

 Players like Torii Hunter and Francisco Cordero can be a big part of winning a division pennant (Hunter more than Cordero), and major league GM’s realize this so they dump considerable sums of money into the free agent pool. This isn’t going to change until big name players start refusing to give hometown discounts and demand market value contracts in free agency. Almost all the top free agents in this (thin) free agent class took themselves off the market before they hit the open market. As a result, any team hording cash in hopes of landing Mark Buehrle or Ichiro must now spend that money on Carlos Silva or Torii Hunter. More supply would lower the demand on free agents.

 In light of this I view the Torii Hunter trade as an overpay but a justifiable one. Anaheim has a window to compete and they have decided to take advantage of it. They are in a good position to win the division for a few more seasons before the team gets old and before that happens they can make a few moves to blunt the impact of father time. They will need to be aggressive, but I can see this team becoming the long term dominant force in the division. Too bad the Mariners didn’t do this at the beginning of the decade.

Scott Linebrink is a signing that hurts because it is a four year deal. Relief pitchers are probably the easiest thing to find in major league baseball and relief pitcher implosions are just as common managers bringing in the lefty to face Ichiro. I don’t like giving long term deals to RP’s unless they are truly relief aces and I’m not sure Linebrink qualifies.

Fransisco Cordero hurts. This is a contract I would never do because it has far too much downside. The arsenal of a relief pitcher is far less refined than that of a starter. If a starter flops, their is always the chance they can become a good relief pitcher. If a reliever flops they are done being an effective major league player until they get better. I think it is a much wiser use of resources to use the trial and error method in the bullpen (which provides many opportunites for trial and error).

Lots of contracts handed out this offseason will cause us to shudder, but lets not be too hard on the GM’s. Remember, bloggers try to sound smart while GM’s try to win pennent races.


Twins Acquire Craig Monroe; Kick Tires on Tony Clark

November 23, 2007

Twins acquired outfielder Craig Monroe from the Cubs for a player to be named.

Leave it to the Twins to find a guy with a worse OBP than anyone else on the market. We hope this is being done with the idea of non-tendering Monroe if he’s not willing to accept less than the $4.8 million he made last season. The Cubs were going to non-tender him before the Twins decided it was worth giving up a low-level prospect to acquire his rights. Monroe, who turns 31 in February, hit .219/.268/.370 in 392 at-bats for the Tigers and Cubs last season. He’s a career .256/.303/.446 hitter. He’d be a nice guy to have around as a left fielder against lefties and a backup against right-handers, but the Twins can’t afford to pay a guy $5 million to play less than regularly and there were better options for that kind of money. We wonder just how much this has to do with his career .322/.356/.544 line versus Minnesota. The Royals are the only team he’s been better against.

 

-and-

 

According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the Twins will owe the Cubs a player to be named later from Tuesday’s trade only if they sign Craig Monroe for less than he made in 2008.

The Twins can negotiate with Monroe until December 1, which is the deadline for non-tendering players. Monroe is stretched as an everyday player and would be overpriced at his 2007 salary of $4.8 million, but could be an asset off the bench at less than that.

 

Minneapolis Star Tribune via Rotoworld.com

 

There are varying schools of thought on this deal for the Twins. Pessimistic fans see this as the big move of the offseason, and that the Twins will to little to nothing else on the market, via trade or free agency. So what positives, in addition to the negatives, are there to draw from this move?

 

Positives: Monroe has a career OPS v. LHP of .814, and a huge split disparity from 2007 (.555/.805 OPS v. RH/LH), and the guy he’d likely platoon with, Jason Kubel, struggles with lefties, posting a career .675 mark. If Monroe is only called on as a LF or DH against lefties, and the occasional start here or there, this probably isn’t so bad. Also, he has a career OPS of .871 in 125 AB at the Metrodome. It is important to note, however, that those numbers were posted against Twins pitching. Another positive is if the Twins do not sign Monroe for less than the $4.8 million he made last year, the Twins are not obligated to give the Cubs the PTBNL. In addition, he’d be a semblance of a power bat to a bench that had no discernible power to speak of last season. Yes, even slugging .400 would make him an improvement to our current bench.

 

Negatives: Well we don’t have to search far for negatives on this guy. How about a .638 OPS? How about that righties absolutely beat him into submission, limiting him to a .555 OPS? How about that his OPS+ numbers have declined consistently the last 4 seasons, from 116, to 104, to 99, to a paltry 65 last year? He’s not a defensive wiz, and isn’t a sure bet to even return to .700 OPS status. That said, if the Twins can negotiate a much smaller deal, perhaps non-tendering him and signing him to a 1 year incentive laden deal worth a base salary of around 2-3 million, then it won’t be such a huge loss.

 

Now, on the Tony Clark front:

 

The Twins are showing interest in free agent first baseman Tony Clark.

Low OBP? Check. Over 30? Check. Likely to sign for no more than 0.1 percent of Carl Pohlad’s net worth? Check. Looks like the perfect Twin to us. If inked, he could DH against some righties, with Craig Monroe hopefully taking a seat.

 

Minneapolis Star Tribune via Rotoworld.com

 

Well isn’t Rotoworld pretty sassy lately? They also used the Twins in a jab about John Ford-Griffin lately, leading me to believe that Jim Souhan has taken on a gig part time at Rotoworld.com in case the Strib starts cutting jobs again.

 

But I digress; Clark probably could be a decent gamble for the Twins. Even despite his .310 OBP, he managed a rather nice .821 OPS, thanks to an above average .511 SLG. He has a career OPS v. LHP of .841, so he could spell Justin Morneau from time to time at 1B against tough lefties, or he could be used as part of a platoon at DH. That said, maybe Gardenhire will learn what platoon means in the near future, because otherwise none of these moves will matter.

 

As long as Clark and Monroe are more the ‘after party’ rather than the ‘headliners’ (obscure Outkast reference), this still can shape up to be a solid offseason. As the Twins have shown in recent years, it’s not a bad idea to have solid bench options, either. Here’s to hoping they follow through.

 

Next Time: The previously promised Johan Santana and 2B article.

For the latest on all pro sports, check out http://www.prosportsdaily.com/forums!

 

 


The Value of Defense

November 18, 2007

Defensive Sabermetrics
As Sabermetrics progress, stats become more accurate and cover more ground. Recently some of the best out there have been turning their attention to defense.

Usually when people talk about defense, they like to phrase it in the following format:
Player X is (an all-star, above average, an asset, terrible) because his defense is worth (exactly the amount of runs it would take to prove the point in question), didn’t you see (one random play in a sample of hundreds that is indisputable evidence of player x’s greatness/deficiency). It’s an exercise in selective memory and egregious misuse of numbers

Recently, a few people have begun to think that defense is the next OBP. As it becomes more and more quantifiable people say that it is the most undervalued stat around. Defense is a skill that contributes to a team’s success. Not quantifying it into an evaluation of a player is foolish if there is a way to quantify it. Luckily, there is.

But how much is defense worth????
As the Mariners found out, on a team basis this is very valuable, on an individual basis, it is still worth a good amount. The Bill James Fielding Bible lists all players on a plus/minus scale. The info is compiled by Baseball Info Solutions. They describe the methodology on the site, but it appears that each play is painstakingly reviewed, and all plays a player makes that at least 1 player missed is worth +1, all plays a player misses that at least one player made is worth -1. While objective, this has been hailed as the best system ever, as a masterpiece, I’d say it really adresses the problem with things like zone rating and would say this is one of the best systems available now. The +/- system does what many people would say is ideal the way to evaluate defense, but wouldn’t even dream of investing the time to actually compile. Overall, a play is valued as slightly less than half of a run (no explicit formula stated). So what does it say???

At every position there are a few guys worth at least a win over the average defender. Albert Pujols (+37 plays) is worth about 17 runs, or 1.7 wins just with is glove. Derek Jeter (-34) is at -15 runs. (I use +/-*.45 and round). For a majority of players the results are pretty small.

Mariners players in the top 10 or bottom 5 at their positions
Player +/- approx. runs
Richie Sexson -15 -7
Adrian Beltre +7 +3
Raul Ibanez -23 -10
Ichiro! +4 2

All players are not listed (only the top 10 and bottom 5), but it is pretty safe to assume that all other players are worth between -2 and +2 runs, and at that level I wouldn’t feel confident saying a player was below or above average. Next time you compare Ibanez to the average player, subtract 10 runs, his defense cost the team a win. His Base Runs Above Average rated him at 32 runs; you can factor his defense down to 22 runs above average. Still a good player, but that difference is quite a few OPS points.

Can it be used?
Defense matters. There is likely to be improvements as with all stats, but the numbers at the fielding bible site are pretty good numbers to apply to players, and I would have no problem using them. It should be noted that the baseline is a .500 defender, while replacement level is I believe in the .350 range, so combination with VORP is not applicable, only metrics against the average player. I think defense can be used as an advantage in roster construction, like OBP was. OBP wasn’t used to figure out that Albert Pujols was a good player; it was used to discover Scott Hattebergs. It is possible that some team could garner an advantage this way. Suppose you have two guys, one is +10 runs with his bat and average with his glove, the other is average with his bat and +10 with his glove. Both players would rate as equal in your system, but the first player is going to be more expensive, and even if he was rated slightly higher, the salary difference would likely make the second player a much more money-efficient choice. As defensive metrics improve and more and more teams jump on the bandwagon, it is likely that teams will in fact add accurate defensive numbers like these to their ratings. As with OBP, the first teams to do so will a) run the risk of this whole thing being bologna and blowing up in their face and b) run the risk that they will have more accurate rating systems and will find many players at salaries that are much lower than their values and reap the advantages while other teams catch up.

Conclusions
1. I am willing to say that BIS’ ultra-thorough method of looking at every single play is good enough for me to consider this a good start, and I am willing to say you can put a run value to defense and that this is a pretty close approximation.
2. As with all statistics, more data is good, using 3-year aggregate data is going to be a better way to evaluate a defender, unless you have reason to believe (injury, age decline) that he is not the same defender.
3. If defense is quantifiable, and I believe it is, than teams that incorporate defense into their player evaluation methods, whether on data from BIS or their own, stand to take a competitive advantage over the teams that do not.


Bavasi’s 5 Best trades (and 5 Worst)

November 12, 2007

With Free Agency starting today, I’ve decided to look back at Bavasi’s best and worst trades in his tenure. Free Agency is going to sort itself out and the Mariners are probably going to need to look to the trade market to fill some of the holes that will need to be filled in order to compete next year.

It’s probably best to mix the two lists to ease the pain of this article. The bad trades have hurt more than the good trades have helped.

5. Good- Marcos Carvajal for Jose De La Cruz

Like I said this list not going to be a happy article. De La Cruz at least has a shot at becoming a major league relief pitcher someday. He at least gives the Mariners some shot of getting something out of the Randy Winn trade of 2005.

Bad- Randy Winn for Jesse Foppert and Yorvit Torrealba

Classic example of trading a player that didn’t need to be traded in exchange for two players that your trading partner know are worthless. I forget why the Mariners were so eager to get rid of Randy Winn (all I remember is that I wanted him gone as well). As a result the Mariners spent 2006 trying to find someone to plug his spot in the order. The Carl Everett era can be blamed on this trade. Randy Winn might not have been cheap up he was better than Carl Everett.

4. Good- Dave Hansen for Jon Huber

This is an example of the Mariners doing what they do best: finding cheap young bullpen arms. Huber was always a long shot at the rotation, but he wasn’t worthless. His value was as a relief pitcher. The Mariners are one of the best organizations in baseball at converting failed starters into relievers before they reach the big leagues.

Bad- Freddy Garcia for Miguel Olivo, Jeremy Reed and Mike Morse

I know a lot of people really liked this trade this trade at the time and still like this trade as a result. Freddy Garcia was on his way out of town at the end of the year and Bavasi was given the opportunity to acquire some major league ready talent in some of the teams black holes. Unfortunately, the players acquired weren’t very good. This is another example of another GM being one step ahead of Bavasi. Olivo lacked the plate discipline and defensive skills to be an asset behind the dish. Jeremy Reed was an extremely overrated prospect (who then made some terrible adjustments and tanked his game). Mike Morse was a roider.  The M’s failed to get anything close to the value of Freddy Garcia.

3. Best- Aaron Taylor for Sean Green

Finally something we can cheer about. The Mariners struck gold on a low risk move involving a groundball pitcher with low strikeout rates. Green figured out how to strike batters out and he figures to be a force, at below market value, for the next few years.

Worst- Asdrubal Cabrera for Eduardo Perez

Eddie Perez is a talking head on baseball tonight while AsCab is at the very least going to give a good OBP from second base for the league minimum. If he ever developes power he is going to be the American League All Star teams starting 2nd baseman more than a few times over his career. This move hurts because it was made at a time when the Mariners overrated Jose Lopez. Now, when the M’s should be looking to replace Jose Lopez with a better option, they are stuck hoping for a veteran retread as opposed to shipping Lopez off and promoting Cabrera.

2. Good- Shin Soo Choo and Shawn Nottingham for Ben Broussard

The Mariners for once correctly identified Choo and Nottingham has having very little value and in return acquired a decent lefty bat. I’m not a big fan of Ben Broussard, but this was a good trade.

Bad- Rafael Soriano for Horacio Ramirez

I’m not opposed to trading good relievers for back of the rotation starting pitchers, but I am opposed to trading them for pitchers who can’t major league caliber. Horacio Ramirez had a bunch of warning signs like: 1) He walked a lot of batters 2) He didn’t strike out a lot of batters and 3) He ran the following rates even though he faced a pitcher once every trip through the order 4) The Braves were going to non tender him. The Mariners thought that Soriano would never be the same again after getting hit in the head by a Vlad Guerrero line drive. This is an example of the Mariners overrating another teams player while at the same time underrating there own guy. It was the perfect storm and it is a miracle that this isn’t the no. 1 item on the list.

1. Worst- Carlos Guillen for Ramon Santiago and Juan Gonzalez

This beats out the rest of the field because it failed on every level except for the teams goal to get Guillen out of town. Guillen became an All-Star in Detroit, Santiago and Gonzalez were of no use to the big league club, and the money saved by the Mariners was dumped into Rich Aurilla. The moral of this story is to never make a trade because “we need to trade player X”. These trades almost always result in getting less value than a player is worth.

Best- Bavasi has made no good trades

I kid, I kid.

Chris Snelling and Emiliano Fruto for Jose Vidro

Before you burn me at the stake for heresy, let me have my say. The Mariners had a black hole at DH and they acquired a decent regular for two players who had no future with the big league club. Including one that was a fan favorite but had serious injury concerns. Maybe it wasn’t the most cost effective trade (yeah, it wasn’t) but Vidro’s option hasn’t vested yet and the Mariners are a team with money so adding payroll to plug a hole isn’t the end of the world.


What the Twins could do/should do/probably will do for the upcoming 2008 season.

November 11, 2007

There are few ‘sure things’ in life. This also applies to baseball, and as we’ll see today, the Minnesota Twins prospective 2008 roster.  The ‘sure things’ at this point are catcher Joe Mauer, first baseman Justin Morneau, shortstop Jason Bartlett, left fielder Jason Kubel, and right fielder Michael Cuddyer.

 

As I see it, here’s how the Twins roster shapes up for 2008:

 

Batters-

 

C: Joe Mauer

1B: Justin Morneau

2B: Open competition between Alexi Casilla, Nick Punto, Matt Tolbert, and possibly FA/Trade

SS: Jason Bartlett

3B: TBD

LF: Jason Kubel

CF: TBD

RF: Mike Cuddyer

DH: TBD, with potential of moving Kubel here if a better LF defensive option arrives.

 

Bench Options-

 

C: Mike Redmond, Jose Morales, Chris Heintz*

IF: Nick Punto, Brian Buscher, Matt Tolbert, Alexi Casilla, Matt Macri, Chris Basak

OF: Jason Tyner, Darnell McDonald*, Denard Span

Both IF/OF: Garrett Jones

 

Rotation-

 

Johan Santana-Matt Garza-Boof Bonser-Kevin Slowey-Scott Baker

 

Other options-

 

Francisco Liriano- Nick Blackburn-Glen Perkins-Matt Guerrier

 

Bullpen-

 

Dennys Reyes-Matt Guerrier-Glen Perkins-Jesse Crain-Pat Neshek-Juan Rincon-Joe Nathan

 

Other Options-

 

Boof Bonser-Carmen Cali-Ricky Barrett-Jose Mijares-Julio DePaula

 

* Denotes uncertainty on minor league free agent status

 

As you can see, some pitchers are options for both the rotation and the bullpen, such as Glen Perkins, Matt Guerrier, Boof Bonser, and perhaps Francisco Liriano as he recovers from Tommy John Surgery. Only one hitter, Garrett Jones, is really an option in both the OF and IF, and realistically I don’t like him as an option for either.

 

So where does that leave holes for this team? Primarily, the biggest holes are 3B-DH-CF, but we also can not ignore the possibility of adding a useful 2B, at least for next year if we decide Alexi Casilla needs a little more time at Rochester. So let’s take a little time to dissect each position and what we could do (who the options are), what we should do (the best option given all factors considered), and what we probably will do (a prediction of the final result).

 

3B- 3B has been a trouble spot for the Twins ever since Corey Koskie fled the country to play for his homestead Blue Jays. Mike Cuddyer played their briefly with mixed results, and the Twins have since gone with Nick Punto, with mixed but mostly negative results. So where should we look to find the next Twins 3B? Well, the free agent market at 3B isn’t very strong. Mike Lowell could be a good addition, but there’s prevalent wisdom that his career was resurrected by the Green Monster, and that he’d become a flyball machine elsewhere. Also, he’s been offered a relatively lucrative deal (rumored at 3/36) to stay in Boston. So, scratching off Lowell from our short list, what else do we find on the market for 3B via trades and free agency.

 

Miguel Cabrera (Marlins): Keep dreaming. Upcoming contract demands and the overall cost to acquire him don’t make him a good fit for the Twins. Buyer beware, he’s looked awfully puffy lately….

 

Scott Rolen (Cardinals): A brief rumor surfaced sometime last week suggesting the Twins had voiced interest in the 32 year old injury prone defensive wiz, but that was quickly squashed when the Minneapolis Star Tribune suggested that Minnesota GM Bill Smith and his colleagues never even inquired about Rolen. At 3 years and 11+ million per remaining on his contract, and coming off a .729 OPS (89 OPS+) season, no thanks!

 

Garrett Atkins (Rockies): Atkins name has been a real buzzword for Twins fans lately, with almost all message board trade scenarios leading to the starting 3B for the defending NL Champion Rockies. While solid offensively, Atkins is not what you would call stellar defensively (Fielding Bible lists him as the 2nd worst defensive 3B in the ML last year), and he’s not much of a hitter outside of the hitter-friendly confines of Coors Park (.936/.773 Home-Road OPS splits). He’s also rumored to be looking for an extension in the near future, perhaps as high as 5/75, so the Twins might be better off abstaining here. There’s also a chance the Rockies hold onto him and move super prospect Ian Stewart to 2B, especially if they’re unable to retain FA Kaz Matsui.

 

Other options include Rangers 3B Hank Blalock, Mets 3B David Wright (in a Santana trade of course), Blue Jays 3B Troy Glaus, White Sox 3B Joe Crede, Indians 3B Casey Blake, Devil Rays IF’s Evan Longoria and B.J. Upton, FA Corey Koskie, FA Morgan Ensberg, and FA Russell Branyan.

 

Best Case Scenario: The Twins manage to swing a deal for uber-prospect Evan Longoria. Longoria has some real big time pop, hitting 44 minor league home runs and slugging a solid .546 in 733 career minor league at bats. His most recent stop at Durham resulted in a .269/.398/.490 line, suggesting he’s not too far from making a serious impact at this level. Another awesome idea would be to acquire B.J. Upton, but it’s really hard to say if he’d be available at all (same goes for Longoria, really) or if he could handle 3B. (Likelihood of this scenario: Probably about 5%)

 

Reasonable Scenario: Twins sign 3B Casey Blake or Corey Koskie. Blake has been solid if unspectacular for the Indians, with OPS digits ranging typically in the high .700s to low-mid .800s. If we could pull him in on a 2 or 3 year deal averaging 6 million dollars a year, I’d be 100 percent down for it. That’s really hard to say, given the market this year. As for Koskie, I’d love nothing more than to see him get a shot in spring training to show he’s healthy, and return to the club as full-time 3B. He’s usually good for an .800 OPS and very, very good defense. Even if he’s lost a bit, and drops to .750 for his OPS, he still provides a HUGE upgrade. I imagine we can snag him on a 2-4 million dollar non-guaranteed contract with an invite to ST.

 

Prediction: Twins sign Corey Koskie to 1 year, 3 million dollar non-guaranteed contract. This is a very good deal for us, especially if he proves healthy. Teams like the Twins need to find guys to succeed on below market value contracts, and he seems to be a good bet. Koskie then posts .250/.340/.440 season, and is well worth 3 million dollars.

 

DH/LF: The DH spot was real sore for the Twins last year, seeing names like Jason Tyner, Mike Redmond, Jeff Cirillo, and such pass through it on a regular basis. This is another spot where just a simple decent upgrade will make a huge difference. The reason I have DH/LF here is that if we acquire a solid LF type player defensively, I have no qualms about moving Kubel to DH. I’d rather see Kubel play LF everyday, but as long as he gets his AB, I’m happy. Personally, I’d LOVE to see Barry Bonds brought in to the Twin Cities. As a DH, he could play almost every day. If he comes close to replicating his 170 OPS+ last year, he might post the best season for a Twins hitter EVER. That said, there seems to be some prevalent detraction to the deal by most Twins fans, suggesting he’s not a “Twins type of player.” Who knew that the Twins weren’t about winning? Not me. In addition to Bonds, here are some other intriguing LF/DH options:

 

Luis Gonzalez (FA): Since Joe Torre signed on as the new skipper at Chavez Ravine, Gonzalez has changed his tone and is interested in another go round in LA. However, it’s unknown if the interest is mutual. Gonzalez is aging like a fine wine; he still managed a solid .278/.359/.433 (101 OPS+) last season. That would be perfect in the Twins DH slot, but his left handedness might not be as great. He’s not likely to command a huge deal, nor a multi-year deal, which is why I feel he’s a good fit.

 

Mike Piazza (FA): Piazza slipped into slight mediocrity last year, compiling 309 AB of .275/.313/.414 (96 OPS+) baseball. He didn’t catch a single inning last year, and can no longer be viably relied on to even be a backup, and maybe not even an emergency option. There is a chance that he could rebound a bit if given enough playing time, as he rebounded in 2006 from a couple below par seasons in 2005 and 2004, but it’s relatively unlikely. He’s near his end.

 

Sammy Sosa (FA): While many people point to his 92 RBI to talk of a great rebound season for Slammin’ Sammy, his .252/.311/.468 (102 OPS+) line as a whole is not so impressive, especially considering he’s asking for 7 million dollars to play next year. This is not a good move for the Twins, and it’s not a good move for anyone. Even if he withdraws that demand, he’s still not a good option for the Twins, unless it’s on a minor league contract with an invite to spring training. Very, very unlikely scenario there.

 

Cliff Floyd (FA): The Cubs declined their 7.5 million dollar option on Floyd, making him a free agent after he posted a .284/.373/.422 line in 282 at bats on the North Side this year. Floyd was sort of a man without a spot last year, considering the Cubs had Matt Murton, Alfonso Soriano, Jacque Jones, Felix Pie, and Angel Pagan to find playing time for as well as Floyd. Cliff appears to be a good bet to go to the AL and prolong his career as a DH, but it’s uncertain if that’s what he’s most interested in doing. He’d be a good fit for the Twins at DH, but like Gonzalez, he also is a left handed hitter and the Twins are very, very left handed. I personally like Floyd better than Gonzalez due to age, and slightly better OBP, but I think they’re both good options.

 

Other options include Cubs OF Jacque Jones, Phillies OF Pat Burrell, FA OF Shannon Stewart, FA OF Kenny Lofton, FA OF Jose Guillen, and FA OF Milton Bradley.

 

Best Case Scenario: Twins sign Barry Bonds to a 1 year deal, somewhere in the 12-15 million dollar range if needed, less if possible. Bonds still has some left in the tank, and coming to the AL would allow him to DH and probably get 500 AB rather than the 300 or so he was getting in the NL. He would add instant legitimacy to the Twins 2008 playoff run, and despite the fact that he’s a left handed hitter, he’s still murdered lefties in his career at a .984 OPS clip. He would look VERY nice in between Mauer and Morneau in the cleanup spot.

 

Reasonable Scenario: Twins sign Milton Bradley to 2 year, 18-20 million dollar deal. Bradley will need some time to recover from his torn ACL, but he may be able to return more quickly to the DH role while easing him back to health, and then perhaps once healthy he could take over full time in CF. He’s got a career OPS of .797, and Torii Hunter’s career mark is .793. Certainly it makes more sense to pay Milton 9 or 10 per year than it does to pay Torii 18 million per year, does it not? We could/should probably add Jacque Jones to play CF in the meantime in this scenario.

 

Prediction: Twins choose between Luis Gonzalez and Cliff Floyd, signing one of them to a 1 year, 5 million dollar deal. This turns out to be a good flyer, as I can see either player going .270/.340/.440 and stabilizing a very, very unstable DH spot for the Twins.

 

CF: Let’s face it, Torii Hunter is gone. That’s not going to hurt very much if the Twins can simply fill their other holes (and CF too) with simply useful (.750-.800 OPS types) players. See, when you have absolute black holes in some spots (it’s never good to have a .562 OPS at any place), it can really overshadow having solid players at C, 1B, SS, LF, and RF. So, while everyone is crying over the loss of Torii Hunter, GM Bill Smith and his comrades have the task of filling the CF hole with something productive. I think we can all agree that Denard Span and Jason Tyner are NOT that option. Both of them profile as 4th outfielders who catch the ball, run well, and in Tyner’s case, make good contact. You can count the Twins out on the Kosuke Fukodome sweepstakes, and the Aaron Rowand race as well. So, who can we expect to roam CF for us as the Dome next year?

 

Jacque Jones (Cubs): Jones is due 5 million dollars in 2008. This is a total bargain when you consider that Torii Hunter and Jacque Jones are more or less clones. The two players may have a 9 million dollar difference in what they get paid next year (or more), but I don’t believe that you should paid 1 million dollars per OPS point. Translated: Torii Hunter’s career OPS is .793, Jacque’s career OPS is .784. They both catch the ball, and Torii has a markedly better arm. I think this is a good potential move for the Twins, allowing the club to see if anyone in the farm system emerges as an option, or buying another year to see what’s on the free agent market next year.

 

Milton Bradley (FA): See above.

 

B.J. Upton (Rays): B.J. had a fantastic season last year, posting a .300/.386/.508 (136 OPS+) line while spending time at both 2B and CF. He appears to be a better option in CF, and it looks like that’s where he fits long term on the Rays. Now, if we come calling with Matt Garza, I think they’ll listen. They have Baldelli, Dukes, Young, Gomes, and Crawford in their OF stable as is, so I think we could manage to get one of them.

 

Rocco Baldelli (Rays): Baldelli hasn’t played a full season since 2004, but at age 26 he’s still a good gamble for the Twins, especially if he doesn’t cost Anthony Swarzak, Matt Garza, or Kevin Slowey. While Baldelli’s career mark of .282/.332/.443 (102 OPS+) probably sells his talent level short, it’s really tough to know what type of player is beneath all that undoubted rust. I still feel it’s a good gamble, though.

 

Other options include Astros OF Luke Scott, FA OF Kenny Lofton, FA CF Mike Cameron, Red Sox CF Coco Crisp, and Yankees CF Melky Cabrera (likely in a Santana trade).

 

Best Case Scenario: Twins bring in an OF from Tampa Bay, namely B.J. Upton. Upton is an offensive stud whose rights are controlled for the next 4-5 seasons, and would provide a great right-handed middle of the order bat for this club for years to come. He’s also got good speed, so he should be sufficient to roam the Dome in CF.

 

Reasonable Scenario: I would say the two most reasonable scenarios are the Milton Bradley scenario posed in the DH slot, or adding Rocco Baldelli into the mix by dealing Brian Duensing or Nick Blackburn, or perhaps both.

 

Prediction: Twins trade for Coco Crisp. Twins wind up dealing minor league pitching, and Crisp comes in and hits either leadoff or second with Bartlett filling the other spot. Crisp hits .280/.350/.425 and stabilizes the top of the order, making this a good move for the Twins.

 

To sum everything up, I feel the Twins will continue to talk a big game, but probably will wind up making some moderately conservative moves. This would be fine with me, as long as we have no black holes on the club.

 

Next time: Trading Johan Santana and the 2B spot.