Friday, December 02, 2005

Twins Get Castillo

It seems Terry Ryan was tired of idly sitting around and watching White Sox GM Kenny Williams make moves to improve his championship ballclub. Earlier today, Ryan pulled the trigger on a deal with the Florida Marlins to bring second baseman Luis Castillo to Minnesota. In return, the Twins shipped off pitching prospects Travis Bowyer and Scott Tyler.

Bowyer had a phenomenal year in AAA last season, becoming one of the best prospective closers in baseball. He appeared in eight Major League games during a September call-up. He didn't look great, posting a 5.59 ERA and allowing three home runs in 9.2 innings, but there is little question that he is going to be a very good reliever and he could become Florida's closer as soon as next season. Tyler, on the other hand, is a low level prospect who is still a few years away.

The Twins, however, are in a position where they can afford to lose some good minor league pitchers, as they still have several pitching prospects waiting in the wings. Granted, Bowyer was the most polished and Major League-ready of these prospects, but it's hard to question the trade as Castillo fills several major areas of need for the Twins. He gets on base, he can run, and he hits lefties supremely well. These factors will make him a perfect candidate to wedge between Shannon Stewart and Joe Mauer at the top of the lineup. Castillo posted a .423/.467/.650 line against left-handed pitchers last year, meaning he'll nicely off-set Stewart's and Mauer's weakness against southpaws. He also posted a .391 on-base percentage, so he should nicely set the table for Mauer and whoever hits clean-up. On top of all that, Castillo is a reigning three-time Gold Glove winner with excellent range.

There are a few things to consider when looking at Castillo's transition to the Twins, the first Major League club other than the Marlins he will have played for. First of all, there is the transition to turf. Due to the dearth of National League indoor ballparks, Castillo has very little experience playing on artificial grass (he played only 3 games on turf last year). That said, there is no reason to think that his game will not translate well, as players have generally been complimentary of the Metrodome's new turf and Castillo has the type of game that usually excels on artificial turf.

One other factor of note with Castillo is his apparently dwindling base-stealing proficiency. He was once a supremely excellent base-stealer, swiping 50 bases on 67 attempts in 1999, 62 on 84 attempts in 2000, and 48 on 63 attempts in 2002. However, in 2003 he stole only 21 bases while being caught 19 times, and since then he just hasn't attempted to steal as much. Only 25 attempts in 2004 (successful 21 times) and only 17 attempts last year (successful on 10). The indication is that Castillo has lost some speed, or else perhaps it is a reflection of a change in the Marlins' style of play under Jack McKeon. Whatever the case, it will be interesting to see if the Twins run him aggressively on the bases and if he can gain back a little speed on the artificial turf.

With the Twins rumored to be very interested in former White Sox slugger Frank Thomas, the starting lineup for 2006 is shaping up to be heavily improved over the meager group put out last season. If the Twins sign Thomas, and assuming Jason Kubel's knee is well enough for him to play the field by the start of the season, this is what the lineup might look like:

LF Stewart
2B Castillo
C Mauer
DH Thomas
1B Morneau
CF Hunter
RF Kubel
3B Cuddyer/Mueller?
SS Bartlett

Obviously there are some serious questions about this lineup. Thomas is getting old ans has had serious injury problems the past few years, Bartlett needs to improve on a disappointing rookie season, Morneau needs to be more consistent, and Terry Ryan has stated definitively that Cuddyer will not be starting at third base (though it's hard to visualize another option unless they sign a free agent like Bill Mueller or Joe Randa).

In any case, it is nice to see Ryan make a major move to show that the Twins will not bow down and hand the division over to Chicago. Right now, all signs point to this being a very good move for the Twins, and chances are they're not finished yet, as they still need to address third base and hopefully unload Kyle Lohse and JC Romero. We'll continue to keep you updated as the off-season progresses.