Saturday, February 18, 2006

Offseason in Review

The offseason is, unfortunately, for all baseball fans a difficult time. What to do with so little action? I bide my time with school, writing the occassional post on signings, and some basketball if the Wolves aren't too awful. But now, with spring training around the corner, it's time to get excited. I'd like to this time to reflect on the offseason in two different ways. For one, I'd like to take a general look at the Twins' own offseason. And, secondly, I'd like to overview the entire offseason, from great trades to astonishingly overpaid players who were signed by the highest bidder.

Twins Offseason:

Grade: B

Fox Sports' Dayn Perry gave the Twins offseason a C, but I tend to think that's a rather low rating. For one, Perry is just an example to show the that the Twins seem to be perceived as an underdog. Perry thinks that Luis Castillo was the only really good move this offseason, while signing Rondell White was marginal, as he has "platoon issues" (which I can't see affecting him at DH), and taking on Tony Batista was worst due to his OBP.

White, as we posted, was a good signing for many reasons. For one, White will be DH full-time it appears, which is a good thing since his injuries have almost always occured playing the outfield. And secondly, White brings his professional bat to the table. White may not be the most intimidating hitter in the biz this year, but when you hit .364 (2005) with runners in scoring position, you're off to a good start. With Stewart, Castillo, and Mauer in front of him and hopefully gett on base consistently, he should have plenty of opportunities. If he plays 135 games or 140 DHing, 110-115 RBIs isn't a remote possibility. And 25-30 HRs may yet come with it. That may overestimate White a bit, since he may still get hurt and he could put up 20-25 HRs and only around 80-90 RBIs, but that's still a vast improvement since White hits for a good average too.

Batista, on the other hand, I agree is not a great signing. But it is what it is. Batista projects to be a 7th or 8th hitter with good power and a good arm. Beyond that, he doesn't hit for average, draw walks, or have any mobility at third base. Is he a huge improvement? Unlikely. Could we have done better? Probably not, unless we really thought giving up Liriano for Blalock was a good idea. I am not big on it, but when its all added up, I see Batista neither really adding or taking away from the lineup in comparison to last year. Some big three-run HRs at the bottom of the lineup could help. He may be another Jacque Jones or he may be another Bret Boone. We'll have to see, but his signing doesn't make it the offseason a C.

The other signing noted was that of Ruben Sierra. Sierra was signed just a few weeks ago to be a possible lefty off the bench. Perry discounts Sierra as a bad signing, but I say, as a minor-league contract, it isn't that bad of a deal. Sierra hit 21 HRs and drove in 92 runs the past two years in around 400 ABs. Granted, thats in a Yankees lineup and its unlikely he'll reproduce it here, but thats significant power we wouldn't otherwise have of the bench.

So, where did the Twins miss? Although I can give the Batista signing some positives, it isn't a great solution at third base. It's likely we'll still have to rely on Juan Castro and Glenn Williams off the bench as defensive replacement and it's entirely possible one of them could end of there full-time. The issue, thus, is that Ryan didn't really sign any good alternatives at third base. I dont know that there were that many other than Russell Branyan or the miffed Corey Koskie trade, but it may have been a good idea to have those options, if not just to push Batista.

for the LOOGY situation, I don't think its the problem so many people say it is. I just don't think its all that necessary to have a lefty in the bullpen when your righties are good against lefties anyways. Is Gabe White really a better option than Crain or Rincon? There's a chance and I'm ok if White ends up in the pen (especially over May or Reyes), but there really isn't a big issue here since we have such a strong bullpen. Its not like JC Romero helped out that much last year anyways. I say getting rid of him was addition by subtraction.

As Nick Nelson said Thursday, with Castillo and White on board, Hunter, Stewart, Silva, and hopefully Radke healthy, the Twins stand to improve big time over last year. The offense can really only get better. Even if Batista does "suck up outs," as many have pointed out, it won't take away that much from the lineup with a few three-run homers from him, Mauer and Morneau's improvements after a year of seasoning, Hunter and Stewart's healthy returns, and the arrival of White and Castillo, that is sure to be better.

Oh, and let's not forget, we have a starting staff that includes should-be two-time Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana, Brad Radke, Carlos Silva, Kyle Lohse, Scott Baker, and if anyone is injured or Lohse is finally traded, number one pitching prospect Fransisco Liriano. Plus a bullpen with Joe Nathan, Juan Rincon, Jesse Crain, and any number of our great arms in the Twins system.

Basically, the Twins have only reasons to improve on last year. Only in the worse circumstances would they end up losing more games than last year. They may not win 95 this year, but I expect them to compete in the Central as much as the Indians, the White Sox, and possibly the Tigers. Ryan may have missed some opportunities (many people point to Koskie, but who knows if we actually could have gotten the deal the Brewers did), but with his budget and based on the way the Twins have operated in the past, he made significant moves this offseason. If not for a few things, the grade would be higher.

With that, let's take a look at the league overall:

Top Free-Agent signings:

1) Johnny Damon, New York Yankees: 4 years, $52 million

At first, I viewed this signing with skepticism. In a way, I still do. But this wasn't a great offseason in terms of free-agents. Actually, it was pretty bad. With that in mind, a 4 year, $52 million dollar deal for Damon, especially if you're the Yankees, is a steal. Why? Because it takes away from your biggest competitor, the Red Sox, while improving your already murderous offense. Damon is 32 and he probably won't be great throughout the deal, but it's the Yanks and they can absob that kind of deal for a championship (anyways, it was much better than the seven years Boras demanded). Now, with Damon in front and Jeter in the two spot, A-Rod, Gary Sheffield, Hideki Matsui, Jason Giambi, and everyone else will have more opportunities to drive in runs. They may go over 1000 again. Murderor's row anyone?

2) Billy Wagner, New York Mets: 4 years, $43 million

This is another addition by subtraction deal, except it goes two ways: They took from the Phillies, their divisional opponent, and they got rid of "inherited-runners-score!" Braden Looper. I can't rate Wagner any higher, though, because he's already 34 going on 35 and who knows how much longer he can hit 100 MPH on the radar gun.

However, it's a big improvement nonetheless. Last year, for the Phillies, Wagner had 38 saves, a 1.51 ERA, a .84 WHIP, a .165 OBA, and 87 Ks. Those are some of Wagner's best numbers for his career. He seems to have learned to use his slider well and the pitch has become more than a solid backup for his dominant fastball. He may yet still be great for a while.

3) Sammy Sosa, Rafeal Palmeiro, Juan Gonzalez not signed, all MLB Teams

Sorry, but the "steroids" class of former stars had to be mentioned. All teams have to get a pat on the back for not bothering with any of these guys. Sosa was offered a contract by the Nationals, but lets not be foolish. It was all pride, guys. But that's okay. None of these guys will go out and embarass themselves on a last-place team for some record or numbers.

Worst Free-Agent Signings:

1) Jarred Washburn, Seattle: 4 years, $37 million

I'd like to say all of them, since this year's market was just ridiculously overpriced. But Washburn? It's just not way too much money or years. That's an effect of negotiating badly with Scott Boras. But he's not the solution. It's just another awful signing by Seattle. It seems they are totally aimless and keep signing Boras agents who had one good season (see Adrian Beltre) in the hopes of another good season. I'm not sure if they understand the concept of rebuilding, but they are just not going to win this way. They have no starting staff beyond Jamie Moyer and Felix Hernandez.

2) B.J. Ryan, Toronto: 5 years, $47 million

I understand that Toronto had to overpay to get big free agents up there, but this was ridiculous. Ryan has less saves in his career than Kelvim Escobar or Estaban Yan, yet he gets a bigger contract than Wagner. Ryan is a good reliever with some great stuff, but he's also 30 and suddenly has much bigger expectations put on him. If he's a bust, he's a huge bust that a mid-market team like Toronto can't handle.

3) Braden Looper/Kyle Farnsworth/Bobby Howry/Scott Eyre/set-up men in general

For some reason, the prices on set-up men flew up this offseason. I'm not sure I can really figure out why. None of these names are that great. Looper was an awful closer who lets tons of inherited runners score. Farnsworth goes to New York, the pressure cooker, when the guy seems to never handle any pressure well. Howry and Eyre were good set-up men, but not worthy of the money the Cubs threw at them. And the list goes on. Jose Mesa (why Colorado? Why?), Julian Tavarez (broke down the stretch last year), and so on. None of it really makes sense.

Best Trades:

1) Carlos Delgado to the Mets for Mike Jacobs, Yusmeiro Petit, and Grant Psomas

The Mets traded a decent first-baseman and two likely back of the rotation starters, if anything, for the RBI machine they needed up front. I have to agree with Jayson Stark here. I really know that the Mets are going to win this year, but thats more a product of their other not-so-great moves, from jettisoning their starting pitching depth to trading their best prospects for guys like Paul Lo Duca. Delgado will hit 35-40 HRs and he'll make the lineup a lot better, and hopefully, will have a positive effect on Beltran. We'll see, but either way, it was a steal.

2) White Sox trades (Javier Vazquez, Jim Thome)

The Rob Mackowiak trade was good, but these other two are questionable moves by Kenny Williams. I know everyone loves the guy and are praising him for his action this year, but it seems to me he made too many moves. Giving up Aaron Rowand, a centerpiece of the team last year, and his two best pitching prospects for an aging slugger may not be a very good idea. Giving up your best center-fielding prospect who should replace Rowand for a starter with bad success under pressure and a guy who gives up too many home runs (and bringing him to a home-run haven) is not a good idea either. I am not sure that these moves are really that great, but I rank them here because they are good news for the Twins and the other teams, the Phillies and the Diamondbacks.

3) Luis Castillo to the Twins for Travis Bowyer and Scott Tyler

An excellent move for the Twins. Bowyer was a pitcher with a great fastball, but little control or a complement pitch, and Tyler was a pitcher who had never lived up to his potential. Castillo is a guy who can change the structure and abilties of the whole lineup with his presence. This has Shannon Stewart, a la 2003, written all over it. Not a big name, but big impact. With a guy who can get on base and get hits, he changes the dynamic of the lineup, not to mention his effect on a young guy like Joe Mauer behind him.

The offseason was basically symbolized by big out of control contracts. I didn't even get to Kevin Millwood, Esteban Loiza, or Matt Morris, among others, but the point is these guys were vastly overpaid. The Twins fans should be happy Terry Ryan did not partake in any of this zaniness. Not overpaying for Thomas or Blalock were good moves not to make. There were good signings and trades this offseason, but way too many bad moves. Needless to say, its hard to say much about what will happen with the teams (Blue Jays, Mets) who made big moves. Will they improve greatly and go to the playoffs? In some ways, I learn towards no. Never discount the Braves or the Yankees and Red Sox.

But above all, it was still an interesting offseason, but now we have spring training and the season to look forward to. Let's get ready everyone. And go Twins!