Monday, October 30, 2006

Trade Review

If there's one thing Terry Ryan has shown a great knack for in his time as general manager of the Minnesota Twins, it's getting great value out of trades. While his track record in free agency may be far from spotless, he has been responsible for some of the most noteworthy trades of the last decade, which can often be described as nothing short of a "steal." While the A.J. Pierzynski trade that brought in Francisco Liriano, Joe Nathan and Boof Bonser may be his crowning achievement, you can't overlook the trades that produced players like Nick Punto, Jason Bartlett, and Shannon Stewart.

Now, I'll take a look at the major trades that Ryan made over the course of this season as well as the previous offseason, and an analysis of how they're looking so far. As you might have guessed, a couple are looking like definite steals.

Travis Bowyer and Scott Tyler to Florida for Luis Castillo

Ryan has generally made it a rule of thumb to avoid parting with good pitching prospects. He made an exception to this philosophy last offseason went he sent Bowyer, along with low-level prospect Tyler, to the Marlins in return for a veteran second baseman in Castillo.

Bowyer, a 20th-round draft pick by the Twins in 1999, was coming off an excellent 2005 campaign in which he posted a 2.78 ERA in 74 1/3 innings at the Triple-A level as a 24-year-old reliever. He struck out 96 and walked 40. The Marlins acquired him and it seemed that he could be the team's full-time closer as soon as this year. Unfortunately for Florida, Bowyer missed the entirety of the 2006 season with shoulder problems. He had surgery last month and is expected to miss the beginning of the 2007 season.

Tyler, on the other hand, had an interesting season in the Marlins' system. He also struggled with injuries at times, but did manage to throw 61 1/3 innings, all at the Double-A level. During that span, Tyler posted a solid 3.67 ERA but struggled mightily with his control, walking 44 batters while striking out 52. Because of this, Tyler posted an ugly 1.63 WHIP despite allowing just 56 hits in those 61.1 IP.

Castillo was not sensational in 2006, but he was a tremendous upgrade both offensively and defensively from anything the Twins have had at second base for the past several years. His batting line of .296/.358/.370 was right around his career averages (.293/.369/.358). While his patience was a little disappointing early in the season, he came around near the end and finished with a nearly even strikeout-to-walk ratio (58:56). Castillo also stole 25 bases and led the major leagues in infield hits, taking advantage of the Metrodome surface.

Even if you're not a huge fan of Castillo (which I wouldn't say I am), you have to like the way this trade has turned out for the Twins so far. It's too early to stick a fork in Bowyer, but his career prospects have definitely taken a major hit. As for Tyler, it's tough to visualize a guy who posted a 6.46 BB/9 IP in Double-A as having a particularly bright future.

J.C. Romero to Los Angeles Angels for Alexi Casilla

This was a more traditional Ryan trade, both in its make-up and in its results. Ryan traded a guy whose value was probably higher than it should have been for a prospect who was likely undervalued in his respective organization, and the result is what appears to have been a major steal.

Although he posted good numbers in 2005, it was fairly clear to anyone who watched the Twins that Romero had some serious issues. On the exterior, his 3.47 ERA and .235 BAA from that season looked pretty nice, but when you looked deeper there were some troubling peripherals. Romero's numbers were far worse in the second half of the season (4.94 ERA) than the first (2.43). He struggled greatly with his control against right-handed hitters (20 K, 29 BB). Also, it is well-documented that he was horrible at holding inherited runners on base.

This year, those problems ballooned for Romero in Los Angeles, and the results were disastrous: a 6.70 ERA, .298/.382/.450 opponents' line, and a 31:28 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 48.1 IP. Righties hit .382/.455/.578 against Romero.

Over in the Twins' organization, Casilla turned in an extremely impressive 2006 campaign. After hitting .331/.390/.406 over 78 games at Ft. Myers, he was bumped up to New Britain, where he hit .294/.375/.382 in 45 games. Between both levels, Casilla stole 50 bases while being caught just 10 times, and posted a solid 56:48 strikeout-to-walk ratio. His performance impressed the Twins so much that he earned a September call-up, during which he picked up one hit and two walks in six plate appearances.

Casilla has turned himself into the Twins' top infield prospect, while Romero has turned himself into a sub par LOOGY with no ability to get right-handed hitters out. On top of all that, the guy who the Twins signed to replace Romero as their lefty specialist, Dennys Reyes, was arguably the best southpaw reliever in baseball. Another great trade for the Twins.

Kyle Lohse to Cincinnati for Zac Ward

Ryan resisted the urge to trade Lohse at the deadline in 2005, and then did so again during the last offseason. These turned out to be grave mistakes. Lohse was absolutely horrible early in the season for the Twins, posting a 7.07 ERA before they traded him in late July. He pitched pretty well upon arriving in Cininnati, posting a 2.78 ERA in August, but then fell back into his old habits and finished up the season with a terrible 6.46 ERA in September. For the season as a whole, Lohse posted a career-worst 5.83 ERA and opponents hit .298/.358/.444 against him. Those numbers are not good, but they're not really off-line with his career norms (.285/.342/.453). Lohse just generally seems to get hit hard, which leads me to believe his prognosis in Cincinnati is not great. He is a pain in the clubhouse and he earns more money than he deserves, and now he's Wayne Krivsky's problem to deal with.

For his part, Ward struggled for the Twins, going 1-4 with a 5.93 ERA in six starts for Beloit. That's pretty disappointing, particularly since he had pitched so well (7-0, 2.29 ERA. 0.97 WHIP) for Cincinnati's Low-A affiliate in the first chunk of the season. Ward will turn 23 in January, which is starting to get a little old for a Low-A ball prospect. It's hard to predict what will become of him, but at the very least this trade was nice because it got Lohse's salary off the books.

Still, it's saddening to think about how much more Ryan could have gotten in return for him had he traded him earlier.

Juan Castro to Cincinnati for Brandon Roberts

I would not rank Castro as one of the better backup shortstops in the league, so the fact that he started for the Twins for almost three months is an embarrassing blemish on the judgment records of Ryan and Ron Gardenhire. Nonetheless, they eventually woke up and yanked him in the middle of June, around the same time they cut bait on the Tony Batista experiment. Those two players were replaced by Jason Bartlett and Nick Punto, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Since Castro was hitting .231/.258/.308 and nearing his 34th birthday when they traded him, anything the Twins got in return was going to be a bonus. That bonus turned out to be Roberts, a 21-year-old speedy outfielder playing for Sarasota, the Reds' High-A affiliate. When he came to the Twins organization, Roberts was hitting an unimpressive .267/.325/.308 in 60 games on the season. Once he started playing in Ft. Myers, however, Roberts broke out, hitting .316/.370/.396 in his 71 games there. Like Casilla, Roberts can terrorize on the basepaths; he stole 50 bases between Sarasota and Ft. Myers while being caught just 14 times. He doesn't have much discipline or power, but the high batting average and the stolen bases are encouraging for a young kid who is a versatile defender.

Castro did finish the year pretty well for the Reds, hitting .284/.320/.421 in 95 at-bats in Cincinnati, but I think it's safe to say the Twins didn't (and won't) miss him that much. This was another very good trade.

***

I decided not to review the Adam Harben-for-Phil Nevin trade in this article, because it's simply too early to make any judgments. If the Twins release Nevin during the offseason and Harben goes on to have a decent career, it will probably end up as a bad trade. On the flip side, the Twins might bring back Nevin for next year, and if Harben continues to pitch like he did this year for the rest of his career, the trade will look pretty nice.

The analysis of these trades is still early and subject to change, but at this point it's looking like another successful season for Terry Ryan in the trade department. I'll certainly be interested to see what he can pull off in the coming months.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the interesting topic. I hope TR can still do well this year. I imagine most other GMs besides Krivsky is afraid of dealing with him now.

p2 said...

What do you guys think the Twins should go after in the off-season: a left fielder, DH, another veteran starter. Is their anyone on the trading blocks the Twins go out and get?

Beth said...

Thanks for the review of the 2006 trades, as well as the immediate impacts on the various clubs. J.Ro/Alexi Casilla has been my favorite so far. It still amazes me any managers leaves Romero in to face a right-handed batter.

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