Saturday, December 09, 2006

Recent Developments

As most Twins fans know, the Twins have been seriously lagging behind in the offseason. It's tempting to say thats a good thing, considering how insane the market is. It was recently reported that Jason Marquis signed a three-year deal with the Cubs worth between $20 and $28 million. The guy, if you remember, had a 6.02 ERA last year. It used to be that if you were that awful, you had to do an incentive-laden deal.

There is another guy much like Marquis, who had one good year with a 3.71 ERA a few years back, that the Twins reportedly have interest in: Sidney Ponson. This, apparently, is Terry Ryan's solution to the off-season need of a pitcher. As Kelly Thesier, the Twins beat reporter, tells us, "with Ryan's reluctance to deal any of the organization's talented young arms or some of the club's bullpen depth, it could be another year of testing the lower tiers of free agency to find a fit." Instead of pursuing Colorado right-hander Jason Jennings, the Twins are instead looking at the veteran Ponson, whom the Twins want to sign to a minor-league deal with an invitation to spring training.

Like Marquis, Ponson was simply awful last year. He pitched 85 innings, allowing 108 hits, a 6.25 ERA, a 1.69 WHIP, and a 48/36 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Yikes. Sure, he had one good year in 2003, going 17-12 with a 3.75 with the Giants and Orioles, but his control was never particularly great, even in that year. The Twins would likely point to pitching coach Rick Anderson, who may be able to help him with control and pitching in general, but a 29-year-old pitcher with alcohol issues and no control is not exactly a solution.

Pursuing Jennings was the best option for the Twins and they should know it. Hiding behind the logic of protecting young pitchers and bullpen depth is fine most of the time, but it doesn't really work in this situation. As a major league team, you have to take chances in order to get to the World Series. The ALCS debacle against Oakland exposed a need that for starting pitching beyond Johan Santana and Boof Bonser as well as a need for some more offensive depth.

Jennings would give the Twins innings and a solid ERA, something Ponson certainly can't be counted on for. And Carlos Silva isn't the solution either, even if he comes at a discount price considering this year's insane contracts. Giving up a rapidly aging and growingly mediocre Juan Rincon and a prospect like Scott Baker is not such a bad thing. Especially when the Twins have Matt Garza, Glen Perkins, Kevin Slowey, and plenty of others waiting in line.

As for bats, the Twins plan is also not so great. At this point it sounds like it will be Jason Kubel at DH and Rondell White in left field. Unless Kubel miraculously gets a "new conditioning" program, it's doubtful he'll be healthy enough to go all year at the position and put up good numbers. And White, though he hits fine, is an awful defender in left. Settling because of the market is incredibly naive and probably won't work in the end. There are deals to be had out there.

For one, replace Jason Tyner with a guy like Kenny Lofton. Lofton is 39, but he plays defense basically the way Tyner does, he stole 32 bases last year (unlike Tyner, who never uses his speed on the basepaths), and Lofton has occasional power. Lofton also hit .301 last year, so the Twins wouldn't lose Tyner's precious batting average. At DH, there is 34-year-old Cliff Floyd. Floyd has had a bad injury history, but he has had a few good years and DH suits him well. He is basically this year's Rondell White.

There is also third baseman Jeff Cirillo, whom the Twins are also reportedly interested in. He was great years ago, but has no power left. He'd been fine for infield depth, but he won't give the Twins what they need. And don't even mention Shea Hillenbrand. Sure, Lofton and Floyd would cost the Twins $7-8 million, about all they have to spend, but it would be better than standing pat.

As it stands, the only offensive signing the Twins have made this off-season was the acquisition of Royal wash-out Ken Harvey. They signed him a minor-league deal yesterday, and apparently view him as a potential answer at DH. Harvey was a good minor-league hitter, posting a .330/.390/.508 line, but he hasn't shown enough power at the major-league level to be a legitimate DH-type and back injuries have limited him to 12 games total over the past two seasons.

Also, the Twins lost several players in the recent Rule V draft without picking up much of anything. The Twins had pitchers Justin Jones, Kevin Cameron and Levale Speigner snagged away, as well as outfielder Erold Andrus. Of course, all four players would have to spend the entire 2007 season with the major-league clubs in order for the Twins not to get them back, which is unlikly in most of those cases. I could see Jones sticking with the Nationals though, who are a cellar-dwelling team that is badly in need of left-handed pitching. Who did the Twins get out of the Rule V? Most notably, Alejandro Machado from the Washington Nationals, who batted .260 with 12 doubles, four triples, four home runs and 32 RBIs in 116 games with Boston's Triple-A club. Great. Another shortstop who plays defense and can't hit and has no power.

Here's what Vern Followell, the Twins' pro scouting coordinator, had to say: "He's a middle infielder and a veteran player, which is a different sort of player than we usually take in the Draft...He has a lot of experience and is more of a defensive guy. But we are looking for backup help at the Major League level and we're hoping that he can fit." Sounds like a Juan Castro clone.

This is yet another example of the problem with the Twins offseason: more of the same. Didn't the organization learn from last year's issues? The team needs more infielders who can't hit and they need more consistent power throughout the order. They need better pitchers than Ponson to round out their rotation. The Twins are right to avoid the ridiculous free-agent signings, but there are good deals to be had out there and that is what they should be pursuing.

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