Thursday, December 27, 2007

Back To Work

I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday! I don't have much to write about today, because this is quite simply a quiet time for the baseball world, but I thought I'd at least write up a quick post to let you all know I didn't die of mistletoe poisoning.

The only real story that continues to get ink regarding the Twins is the Johan Santana saga. It doesn't seem like a deal is particularly near, but rumors continue to float around regularly. Murray Chass of the New York Times wrote yesterday about the implications of baseball's luxury tax, relating it to the prospect of the Yankees acquiring and signing Santana. Chass mentions this interesting tidbit:
At one point, the Twins were said to be holding out for Hughes and Ian Kennedy, another of the Yankees’ attractive triumvirate of major league-ready young pitchers (the untouchable Joba Chamberlain being the third), but the Yankees wouldn’t give up both, so the Twins asked instead for [Jeff] Marquez, a 23-year-old right-hander.
A 23-year-old who struck out just 5.45 batters per nine innings in Double-A last year, Marquez is far from a great prospect. Chass mentions later in his article that the Yankees' GM Brian Cashman "wants to hold on to the young pitchers." With that being the case, I don't see why the Twins are really pushing for arms. Getting Kennedy would be nice, but the Twins' organization is already stocked with marginal pitchers like Marquez -- they have very little use for him. I'd much rather see them acquire a hitter with some upside as the third piece behind Phil Hughes and Melky Cabrera in a deal with the Yankees.

On another note, I hunkered down during the long weekend and paged through a book I received several weeks ago to review. It's called "The Best Arguments in Minnesota Sports," and it is written by Pioneer Press scribe Bob Sansevere. Basically it is just a list of 100 different debatable topics with regards to each of Minnesota's sports teams -- from the Vikings to the Twins to the T-Wolves and so forth. I'm not the biggest Sansevere fan and I certainly found myself disagreeing with a few of the stances he takes in the book (Jack Morris is more deserving of a Hall of Fame spot than Bert Blyleven??), but it's an entertaining read. Check it out if you're cooped up in the house on a snowy day and bored.

Friday, December 21, 2007

So Long, Silva

Considering the market that has been established for mediocre starting pitching in recent offseasons, there was never much doubt that Carlos Silva would be pitching in a different uniform next season. It was reported earlier this week that Silva and the Mariners were closing in on a four year deal worth $44 million, but I elected to withhold comment until the deal became official. That happened yesterday, when the Mariners officially announced that they'd signed Silva to a four-year contract, which turned out to be worth a little more than originally thought at $48 million.

It's a little difficult to wrap your head around, isn't it? It was less than three years ago that the Twins signed Johan Santana to a four-year extension worth $39.75M. And now Silva, a pitcher who was arguably the worst in the league two years ago, and who has little chance of being anything more than a solid middle-of-the-rotation starter, is inking a contract that will pay him an average of $12 million per year. The initial reaction is to look at this contract and say, "Man, Seattle got hosed." I don't necessarily think that is the case, all things considered.

Last winter, the Brewers signed Jeff Suppan to a four-year deal worth $42 million. At the time, Suppan was about a week away from turning 32, and -- like Silva -- he was a good bet to provide around 200 innings with a solid but unspectacular ERA. Comparatively speaking, getting Silva for an extra $6 million over the same number of years seems like a decent deal. Silva is only 28 and his career ERA and WHIP are better than Suppan's were. Plus, while Suppan has had some solid years over the course of his career, he's never had a season as good as Silva's 2005, so it could be said that Silva has more upside.

Forty-eight million dollars seems like a lot to spend on a player of Silva's caliber, but the reality is that the Mariners had money to spend and they were badly in need of a reliable arm that they can stick in their rotation. Silva's ERA last year would have ranked second among Seattle's starters, behind only Felix Hernandez. The deal is good for Silva because it puts him in a place where he has a good chance to succeed -- Safeco Field is a pitcher's park and the groundball-inducing Silva will no doubt enjoy the Mariners' defensive proficiency on the left side of the infield with Adrian Beltre at third and Yuniesky Betancourt at short.

Seeing Silva sign this type of contract just re-emphasizes the fact that he is valued more around the league than a lot of Twins fans might have thought. I was quite vocal last season around the trading deadline in stating that the Twins should trade Silva for any kind of value rather than watching him walk as a free agent with no compensation during the offseason. The first team I suggested as a trading partner was, in fact, the Mariners, who were contending for a playoff spot but featured some of the worst starting pitching in baseball. If Silva is worth this kind of money on the open market, it's hard to imagine he couldn't have at least netted a prospect or two from some team looking for a rotation boost down the stretch.

Alas, the non-move by Terry Ryan goes down as another blemish on what was an unimpressive late run for the former GM. I wish Silva the best in Seattle and my guess is that he'll do fairly well there. Let's just hope he gets hit with another tummy-ache when the time comes for him to face the Twins.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Offseason Thus Far

At this point last December, Terry Ryan had made the following offseason roster moves: picked up Torii Hunter's option, picked up Carlos Silva's option and signed free agent Jeff Cirillo to a one-year contract to serve as a backup 1B/3B/DH. As exciting as that flurry of activity was, I think it's safe to say that it pales in comparison to the list of moves Bill Smith has made here in his inaugural winter at the helm of the Twins. Already he has pulled the trigger on a blockbuster deal to bring Delmon Young to Minnesota, signed a pair of free agents who are slated to be starters in the infield, and gotten the Twins involved in trade talks with numerous clubs regarding ace pitcher Johan Santana. At this point, it appears likely that the Twins will have new starters manning at least five positions in 2008, and that's the type of shakeup that was needed for an offense that was one of the league's most stagnant in 2007.

Smith has been aggressive to be sure, but that's not to say I'm wild about the moves he's made. I felt that the Twins gave up too much talent in the trade with the Rays. Adam Everett (or "Neverhitt," as we'll likely be calling him in a few months) is a wonderful defensive player but does nothing to solve this team's offensive problems. Mike Lamb is certainly an upgrade offensively at third base, but there are serious questions about his defense and his ability to produce in the lineup as a regular. Craig Monroe will make more money than any mediocre fourth outfielder rightfully should. With all that being said, I'm not overly upset about any of the moves Smith has made and I think they all fit into an intelligent overarching plan that will give the Twins a chance to compete next year but is more aimed at putting the team in position to succeed in the long-term.

To me, the Twins' chances of competing next season are almost completely dependent on whether or not Santana is traded. Despite the tough nature of the AL Central these days, it'd be hard to count out a Twins team with a talented young rotation led by baseball's most dominant starting pitcher. The Twins can be especially dangerous if their offense is above-average, which would be possible with great campaigns from Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and Young to go along with competent performances elsewhere. If Santana is gone, it's tough to see this team hanging around with the big boys, unless Francisco Liriano is a lot better than I expect him to be.

In most circles, it seems like a foregone conclusion that Santana will be dealt, likely within the next couple weeks. I'm a little skeptical at this point. Unless one of the bidding teams ups its offer, I could see the Twins hanging onto Santana and re-evaluating in July. And as much as I've been opposed to that notion in the past, perhaps it wouldn't be the worst idea in the world.

I guess my feelings about the overall job Smith has done so far this offseason can best be described as lukewarm. He's still got some work to do, and he's got plenty of time to do it. We'll see what else he has up his sleeve.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

On the Lamb

The Twins signed their second former Astro in as many days yesterday, inking third baseman Mike Lamb to a two-year contract worth $6.6 million, with an option for a third year. Joe Christensen reports that while Lamb is a likely candidate to start at third base, assistant GM Rob Antony said, "We don't like to give anything away."

Considering the alternatives, my guess is that Lamb will be the Twins' starting third baseman next season, and that's not really a bad thing. He often struggled to get regular playing time during his eight seasons with the Rangers and Astros, and has never accumulated more than 381 at-bats in a season (EDIT: since his rookie season -- thanks Ryan!). Still, he's posted a solid .281/.339/.427 line over the course of his career, and last season with the Astros he batted .289/.366/.453 with 11 home runs and 40 RBI in 311 at-bats.

There's reason to question why an apparently rebuilding team would make a two-year commitment to a 32-year-old defensive liability, but Lamb is likely to provide at least league-average offensive production from third base next year, which will be a major upgrade from the atrocious .236/.308/.323 line the Twins got from third base last year. Plus, the presence of defensive wizard Adam Everett at shortstop should help offset Lamb's fielding deficiencies on the left side of the infield.

As the Twins struggled to field an offense that could even be considered respectable for much of the 2007 season, I often mused that if they could just upgrade from "awful" to "average" at a few positions, they'd have a shot at competing. Bill Smith has accomplished that, in earnest, by adding Lamb at third base.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Everett's D Has Its Day

The Twins entered this offseason with several holes needing to be filled. They opened another hole when they traded starting shortstop Jason Bartlett as part of a package to acquire Delmon Young, and yesterday they seemingly filled that hole by signing Adam Everett.

The Twins inked Everett, who had been non-tendered by the Astros just a day after a 5-for-1 swap sent Miguel Tejada to Houston, to a one-year deal worth $2.8 million (with an additional $200K possible in incentives). Everett seemingly serves as a stopgap until a guy like Alexi Casilla, Trevor Plouffe or Alejandro Machado is ready to take over the position. The contract is reasonable and it doesn't carry much risk. But is it a good signing?

The Twins came into this offseason badly needing to improve an offense that was one of the league's worst in 2007. As such, bringing in a player who has been one of baseball's worst regular hitters for the past several years seems like a major step in the wrong direction. In the past season, Everett batted .232/.281/.318, which is Nick Punto territory. What's worse is that there isn't much potential for Everett to produce any more than that. Throughout his career, his numbers have always been very consistent with his overall hitting line of .248/.299/.357, which is what you'd expect from a guy who hit .258/.346/.368 in the minor leagues. Everett's career high for on-base percentage is .320; for slugging percentage, .385. On top of all that, he'll turn 31 in February, so he's no spring chicken.

But here's what makes Everett a major-league player: his defense. He's a phenomenal defensive shortstop -- the best, according to many knowledgeable baseball analysts and players. Defense is important -- as Ubelmann notes, perhaps to an underrated degree. This is especially true at shortstop, which is perhaps the second-most important position on the field behind catcher. When he's at his best, Everett can save runs with his glove and help a team's pitching staff tremendously.

But this brings two questions into focus. First, will Everett be at his best? He missed much of the 2007 season after breaking his leg in June, and there's no telling how that will affect his mobility. If Everett loses even a step, his value diminishes greatly. The other question is how helpful he will be to this Twins team -- specifically, how much more helpful will he be in the field than a player like Casilla or Punto who is likely to put up better numbers offensively? With Carlos Silva departing, the Twins don't project to have a very groundball-heavy pitching staff; it is also possible that Everett's range will be less effective on artificial turf than it was on natural grass.

At this point in time, I don't like this signing. Everett is the type of player that can be valuable in the right situation, but I'm not really sure the Twins are a team that can afford the luxury of a superb defensive shortstop who can't hit worth a lick. If Bill Smith manages to fill each of the team's other holes with legitimate hitters, my mind could change; however, that seems somewhat unlikely at this point.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Update: Twins Sign Everett

According to Ken Rosenthal of, the Twins have signed shortstop Adam Everett to a one-year contract. Everett became expendable to the Astros when they decided to trade for Miguel Tejada.

Step one to upgrading an anemic offense: sign a player with a .248/.299/.357 career hitting line to become your starting shortstop. Check.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Monroe's Aboard

Joe Christensen reported yesterday that the Twins have come to terms on a one-year contract with Craig Monroe, an arbitration-eligible outfielder whom they acquired from the Cubs about a month ago. The Twins signed Monroe for the smallest amount they could by rule at $3.82 million - a 20 percent reduction from his salary in 2007. That seems like an awful lot of money for a guy who hit .219/.268/.347 last season.

However, while I'm not overly enthused about the signing, I'm not too upset about it. In essence, what Bill Smith has done with the Twins' outfield so far this offseason is replace Rondell White with Delmon Young and Lew Ford with Craig Monroe, without much fluctuation in cost overall. Those are pretty significant upgrades. Despite his poor numbers last season, Monroe is a solid fourth outfielder who can come off the bench and provide some pop. He also hits well against lefties (.814 career OPS), which should be useful given that the Twins' 2008 lineup will likely contain at least four left-handed bats in Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Jason Kubel and the center fielder (who I'm currently presuming will be either Jason Pridie or Jacoby Ellsbury).

It seems likely that Monroe will be overpaid in 2008, but that's really a luxury that Twins can afford, with have a massive chunk of payroll coming off the books even if Johan Santana isn't dealt. The Twins have continually claimed that they intend to increase payroll in 2008 -- it seems like they'll have a hard time doing so without handing out a few pricey short-term deals.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

All Quiet on the Midwestern Front

I realize it's December in the middle of Minnesota, but I think I just saw a tumbleweed roll by outside. Not much going on in Twins-land right now.

I don't have much to write about today. The Santana trade talks have seemingly quieted down for the time being, and it's tough to analyze any of the Twins' other pressing issues until that situation gets sorted out. I've heard Brandon Inge's name mentioned as a possible third base solution for the Twins... going to have to give that one a big fat no. He's basically Nick Punto with more power -- not worth the money he'll make or the prospect the Twins would have to give up to get him.

Several Mets fans showed up in the comments section on Friday's post and gave some first-hand viewpoints on the prospects being mentioned in Johan Santana trade rumors. If you haven't read through them, it's definitely worth checking out.

Have a good Tuesday. I know I will... officially less than one week left of school this semester!

Friday, December 07, 2007

Wrapping Up a Long Week

This has been a crazy week for Twins fans. The Johan Santana rumors were flying non-stop for about 72 straight hours, and at several points it seemed that a deal was imminent. Yet, here we are; the Winter Meetings have come and gone, and Santana is still a Twin for the time being. I'm of the opinion that Bill Smith's patience in this situation is a good thing. The deals that have reportedly been proposed have been extremely underwhelming, and I have to imagine that some team is going to come to its senses and cough up some real value in order to bring in the best pitcher on the planet. That said, the Twins need to make a decision on Santana in the near future, because the rest of the their moves this offseason will be dictated by what happens with him.

Anyway, here are some notes to wrap up this hectic week:

* Our pal Aaron Gleeman, who kept a running string of Santana updates on his blog on Wednesday and Thursday, noted on Wednesday evening that La Velle E. Neal III had said "it appears unlikely a deal will be reached this week." This prompted Gleeman to state that "the past 72 hours appear to have been a whole lot of nothing. Well covered, widely read nothing, but still nothing."

Not sure I'd agree with that last part. The Santana Saga has been widely read, to be sure, but "well covered"? I'm not real satisfied by the way this whole situation has been covered by the national media. Does reporting every small, unsubstantiated rumor and watching it get picked up by several outlets and subsequently blown out of proportion really constitute good coverage? I wouldn't say so.

I am actually quite satisfied with the way Neal covered the Winter Meetings. As a Twins' beat writer, you might expect him to be the most active reporter in pumping out Santana rumors, but he kept fairly quiet and reserved. I saw many people accuse him of being overly slow or sparse in his coverage, but I'm glad he chose not to contribute to the hysteria by running every unsubstantiated rumor on his blog.

From this point forward, I've chosen to take basically everything I hear regarding Santana with a grain of salt, unless I'm hearing it from a source I truly trust (like Neal). That way, I don't have to get worked up about fabricated rumors of a horrendous three-way deal that would result in the Twins getting Dan Haren and essentially nothing else for Santana. Yuck.

* In yesterday's column I previewed the Rule 5 draft, writing blurbs about the two players I was most worried about seeing the Twins lose: Yohan Pino and Garrett Guzman. Thankfully, Pino is safe, but unfortunately Guzman was grabbed up by the Washington Nationals. If he sticks with the Nats, it's not a crippling loss, because Guzman really doesn't project as anything more than a fourth outfielder at best, but the Twins are not an organization that can afford to be letting quality hitting prospects go for free. Aside from Guzman, the Twins also lost outfielder Rashad Eldridge, and pitchers R.A. Dickey (whom they had just recently signed), Tim Lahey, J.P. Martinez, and Joshua Hill. Guzman, Lahey and Dickey were selected in the major-league portion of the draft, meaning they will need to spend the entire season on the drafting team's 25-man roster or be sent back to the Twins.

* The Dodgers agreed to terms with center fielder Andruw Jones yesterday on a contract worth about $36 million over two years. With the addition of Jones, the Dodgers seemingly have an overloaded outfield, which would perhaps make it more palatable for GM Ned Colletti to part with Matt Kemp, who has always been my favorite player associated with the Santana rumors. Of course, the Dodgers have reportedly been very quiet in the Santana sweepstakes, and there are major questions about whether they would be willing to pony up the cash to sign the star left-hander long-term. Still, my dreams of a Santana-for-Kemp and Clayton Kershaw swap will continue to dance faintly.

* New York Mets GM Omar Minaya told the Associated Press that he thinks he has the players to bring in Santana, even without trading star shortstop Jose Reyes. Most people are skeptical about the Mets' ability to put together a worthy package without Reyes, but I'm pretty high on outfield prospects Carlos Gomez and Fernando Martinez (especially Gomez). The big downside with the Mets is that they lack high-end pitching prospects that might help offset the loss of the Twins' ace.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Rule 5 Day

The annual Rule 5 draft takes place this morning, and I'm a little nervous because the Twins have left several good players unprotected. You may recall that last year, San Diego nabbed pitcher Kevin Cameron from the Twins in the Rule 5, and he went on to post a 2.79 ERA out of the Padres' bullpen. I'd hate to see something like that happen again.

Players become eligible to be selected in the Rule 5 draft in the fourth year after they are originally signed (fifth year for a player who was signed at age 18 or younger). Only players not on a team's 40-man roster are eligible to be drafted. Drafting a player has some risk involved, because in order for a team to keep him, the player must remain on their 25-man active roster for the entire season. Johan Santana (still a Twin!) was perhaps the most notable Rule 5 draftee of all time, but as examples like Cameron and Cincinnati's Josh Hamilton illustrate, smaller successes are possible.

The Twins have left a few notable prospects off their 40-man roster this year, and there are a few guys I could see another team take a shot at. One of those players is Yohan Pino, a skinny 24-year-old Venezuelan who finished up the 2007 season in Class-AA New Britain. Pino holds a 2.87 ERA and 267/59 strikeout-to-walk-ratio over 276 2/3 minor-league innings. Pino cruised through the lower levels of the Twins' system, but struggled a bit in Double-A last year. Nevertheless, ZiPS -- a system that projects players' numbers for a given season based on age and past performance -- posits that Pino would post a 4.46 ERA in the majors next year... that's better than the projected ERAs for Scott Baker, Carlos Silva, Boof Bonser and others. That might be a long-shot, but Pino does have some nice upside.

Another player that the Twins could lose is Garrett Guzman, who is one of the few quality hitting prospects in the organization. A 24-year-old corner outfielder, Guzman hit .312/.359/.453 in Double-A last year, and for his minor-league career he is a .290/.341/.439 hitter. Lacking legitimate power and speed, Guzman is far from a phenomenal prospect, but being that their system is so thin on decent hitting prospects, he's a guy the Twins would hate to lose.

Other Twins prospects who could potentially be swooped in the Rule 5 include SP Kyle Aselton, RP Ricky Barrett and 1B David Winfree.

Of course, analyzing only the players the Twins stand to lose during today's draft is a rather negative focus. The Twins will have their chance to nab another team's forgotten prospect as well, and I suspect they'll select somebody. The Twins haven't made a big splash with their Rule 5 acquisitions in recent years -- last year they selected Alejandro Machado, who spent the season on the disabled list; the year before they selected Jason Pridie, who they sent back to Tampa Bay before the season started. Still, there are some intriguing players out there that might be available when the Twins choose. Baseball America has a good list of Rule 5 candidates here that is worth looking over. Among the names to keep an eye on: outfielder Brian Barton, third baseman Jamie D'Antona, and defensive-minded second baseman Luis Valbuena.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Nothing Yet

I heard on multiple occasions yesterday that a deal with the Red Sox was in the final stages of completion. It never materialized. I'm not unhappy about this, because I found the rumored deal (which was said to contain Jon Lester, Coco Crisp, Jed Lowrie, Justin Masterson and possibly Ryan Kalish) to be quite unsatisfactory. If it comes down to it and that's truly the best offer the Twins receive, I guess they have to take it, because it's almost certainly more value than they'd be able to acquire with the draft picks they'd receive when Santana leaves as a free agent next year. Still... we're talking about the best pitcher in baseball, right? That package doesn't even compare favorably to the one the Rangers got from the Braves for Mark Teixeira last season.

All of this might not even matter anyway. It seems like the Tigers basically have the division locked up for the next several years after pulling off this doozy.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Deal Or No Deal?

Johan Santana is still a Twin as I write this on Monday night. Of course, considering the nature of the current negotiations, I feel like that might change by the time I wake up in the morning.

The annual Winter Meetings are in full swing, and Santana is the hot topic. Numerous details about the Twins' talks with the Yankees and Red Sox have been popping up courtesy of various news outlets: Santana will not accept a trade during the 2008 season, Santana will not accept a trade to any team other than New York or Boston, the Yankees have imposed a 24-hour deadline at which point they will withdraw their offer (that deadline passed last night), so on and so forth. All these publicized details from what are supposed to be private trade discussions make me feel like getting back into my The Departed state of mind from last Friday and paraphrasing Sergeant Dignam: these negotiations have more leaks than the Iraqi navy.

Most of the details that have been leaked have been pretty weakly attributed ("a Twins official"; "a person familiar with the player's thinking"; etc.), so I'm not inclined to take a whole lot of these rumors too seriously. Yet, Yankees head honcho Hank Steinbrenner didn't feel the need to mask his identity when he came out and made the following comments to the New York Times:

“I don’t want to continue this dog-and-pony show, playing us against the Red Sox,” Steinbrenner said. “I’m not going to participate in that. This is our best offer. Minnesota knows it’s our best offer. Everybody knows it is.

“We need to get this done. If we don’t, I certainly won’t be upset about keeping Hughes and Cabrera. I definitely won’t. I don’t think Minnesota wants to be stuck negotiating with just one team.”

. . .

“How can I go any higher?” Steinbrenner said. “What do they want — Hughes, Kennedy and Cabrera? I can’t do that kind of thing. It’s crazy. It’s suicidal. In the past 20 or 30 years, teams have always asked more from the Yankees than they have of anybody else, and that’s going to stop. I’ve made the best offer Minnesota is going to get, and the fact is, it’s an offer we can go away happy and they can go away happy.”
Joe Christensen labeled Steinbrenner's comments "blatant tampering," which was also my first thought when I read them, at least given my understanding of how the league's tampering policies work. I'll be disappointed if Steinbrenner is not disciplined for his comments.

There's a reason people dislike the Yankees, and this is a big part of it. They try to impose their will and intimidate all the smaller market clubs. What exactly gives Steinbrenner and the Yankees the leverage to impose a deadline (on Dec. 3, no less)? They are the buyers in this situation, not the sellers. The Twins have no obligation to trade Santana, as much as Steinbrenner seems to be acting like they do. If he wants to withdraw his deal -- which is far from overwhelming -- then so be it. After the way the Alex Rodriguez situation played out just over a month ago, I don't think anyone is buying into this deadline business anyway.

This period of uncertainty is excruciating for Twins fans, and doubtlessly even more so for the beat writers who have to try to keep tabs on all the rumors flying around. That said, it seems that for the time being it is in Bill Smith's best interest to remain firm and be patient. The decisions he makes here will be crucially important to the future of the franchise. He can't afford to let himself get played by the Big Bad Empire.

Monday, December 03, 2007

The New Players: A First-Hand Perspective

The Twins acquired three new players in last week's trade with Tampa Bay. Most baseball fans are at least familiar with the players' names, but beyond the stats, stories and scouting reports, most of us don't know a whole lot about Delmon Young, Brendan Harris and Jason Pridie. To get a better idea of what types of positives and negatives these players bring with them, I went straight to the source, getting in contact with a Rays blogger to get some hometown perspective.

R.J. Anderson, senior columnist for the blog DRays Bay, was kind enough to get back to me with the following first-hand report on the newest Minnesota Twins:

It’s surreal to see the words “Delmon Young traded,” and not have it written as a rumor; it wasn’t long ago Delmon made his debut, hitting a home run against the White Sox after being pegged in his first at-bat. It felt like a turning point in the franchise’s otherwise pitiful history; this was our golden child – the real one, not Rocco Baldelli or Josh Hamilton or Toe Nash – no this was the real deal. In the past year plus he’d flash his arm – perhaps the best in the league – and his doubles stroke, but also his lack of plate discipline. I know some Twins fans have asked if he can play center, the answer is no! His arm is rendered nearly useless and he doesn’t have the range for it; far too many balls were misplayed by Young in center. He’s got a bit of an attitude issue as well, Joe Maddon benched him for not running out a groundball late in the year, and I believe some reports had him sticking his head into the Twins’ daycare of all places and saying “We just kicked your daddies’ asses!” early on in the season. In the past he infamously threw a bat and stated that he wanted to put in his “six and bolt,” but after that hasn’t had any discipline taken on him. On the field if he just learns to take a better approach at the plate he can become very special, but until he does that Twin fans might get a bit irritated with Delmon coming up against a pitcher who’s walked two straight with the bases loaded and seeing him ground into a double play on the first pitch – something he did quite a bit last year. If he works out the Rays will look like fools.

Harris was a very nice surprise; acquired from the Reds last January for cash he was a dark horse to make the roster but did just that when Jorge Cantu – coincidently with the Reds now – was sent to Durham. He showed some pop in limited action before taking over for the putrid Ben Zobrist at shortstop. Harris is what Joe Magrane referred to as a “trooper”; he doesn’t do anything overly well, but does a lot of stuff decently. I think he was a bit overexposed last year – hence his second half collapse – but otherwise shouldn’t bust next year. Defensively he really shouldn’t be at shortstop, and he’s only slightly better at second; he tries, which is good, but sometimes busting ass doesn’t equate to being good – overall I liked him better than Wigginton and I’d say he’s pretty much a wash with Bartlett with Minny getting the better hitter.

Pridie is a former second round pick with loads of tools, his BABIP for this year seems to indicate he’s not .900 OPS good, but he’s certainly better than Jason Tyner – and I love Jason Tyner – I’ve never seen him field, but all indications are he’s a major league center fielder. I’d like to think he’ll be at least league average and more valuable than putting say Steve Finley in center.

Thanks, R.J.! And everyone should make sure to check out DRays Bay for some good perspective on the trade from the other side.

Friday, November 30, 2007

The Departed

The title of this post is more than just a reference to one of my (and Mosvick's) favorite movies of all time. It's a reference to the three players the Twins lost in Wednesdays blockbuster swap with the Tampa Bay Rays.

There will undoubtedly be much analysis over the next weeks and months of the players the Twins received in this trade: Delmon Young, Brendan Harris and Jason Pridie. There will be plenty of that here, too, but for today I think it's important to take a look at the players who have exited the Twins' organization. Matt Garza, Jason Bartlett and Eduardo Morlan were Twins property on Tuesday, and now they aren't. What are the possible repercussions of losing these players? How will the team absorb the losses? What is the overarching effect?

Make no mistake, this is not a Terry Ryan type trade. Ryan traded A.J. Pierzynski when he had Joe Mauer waiting in the wings. He traded Bobby Kielty when he had a surplus of outfielders. There are a lot of adjectives that could be attached to Ryan's general style when it came to player transactions, but "risky" would certainly not be one of them.

The rookie GM Bill Smith hasn't been on the job for two full months yet, and already he's stepped out and made a move that is riskier than any Ryan made during his lengthy tenure. Smith was dealing from a surplus by trading a pair of pitching prospects, to be sure, but Garza was the only young pitcher in this organization with ace potential written all over him (aside from Francisco Liriano, who is of course a huge question at this time). Meanwhile, Morlan was the only player in the Twins' minor-league system that seemed to be a legitimate candidate to take over the closer role upon Joe Nathan's likely departure following the 2008 season (that is, if he isn't traded this winter). Bartlett was a good defensive shortstop with speed and a solid approach at the plate -- that's a valuable thing to have in this league.

What is it that compelled the Twins to trade these players? Surely the fact that the Rays wanted them had a lot to do with it, but I think the reasoning goes deeper. For whatever reason, Garza and Bartlett never seemed to be held in particularly high esteem by this organization. Both were held back in the minors by inferior veterans at one time or another. Twins coaches were frequently quoted in the papers with criticisms of the attitudes of both players. Bartlett lacked "leadership," and Garza was not "mature" enough to pitch at the big-league level. Indeed, both players have posted major-league numbers that can be viewed as disappointing in relation to what they did in the minors.

Garza has a great chance of becoming an outstanding major-league starter. He throws hard and possesses good secondary pitches. Yet, he always seemed tentative about throwing anything other than his fastball, and in 2007 his control -- which was stellar in his breakout 2006 campaign -- took a turn for the worse. If Garza becomes more comfortable with his breaking pitches and his changeup, he could team up with Scott Kazmir to give the Rays a formidable top of the rotation. If he doesn't, this will look like a good trade from the Twins' perspective.

I don't buy into the organization's criticisms of Bartlett and I think he'll end up being a pretty good player in Tampa Bay. He was a great hitter for three seasons in Triple-A, and he showed what he was capable of in the big leagues in 2006, when he hit .309/.367/.393. With that being said, I don't think Bartlett will be much more than an adequate hitter with a good glove and the ability to swipe a base. Of course, that could be much more than the Twins are able to field at shortstop next season.

As I stated in yesterday's post, Morlan is where I start to go sour on this deal. Selected in the third round of the 2004 draft, Morlan cruised his way through the lower levels of the Twins' minor league system while usually posting an exceptional ERA and always striking out more than a batter per inning. Morlan has the ability to hit triple-digits on the radar gun, and his stuff is electric. He finished last season with a short stint in Class-AA New Britain, where he would have started the 2008 season. Ideally, Morlan could have been pitching out of the Twins' bullpen by the end of next season; unfortunately, he's now Tampa Bay's property.

Losing a few of these players could come back to haunt the Twins. That's something that never happened to Ryan, which is the nature of a low-risk operation. Then again, who knows... perhaps Garza will flop in Tampa and Morlan will fizzle out in the high minor leagues. For whatever reason, the Twins seem to have a sense of things like this when trading their own players. Pierzynski had a major drop-off in his one season with the Giants, seeing his OPS drop by over 100 points from his last season with the Twins. Travis Bowyer, whom Ryan traded to the Marlins two years ago in exchange for Luis Castillo, experienced immediate shoulder problems and hasn't pitched an inning of professional baseball since he left the Twins.

Twins fans might be frustrated if they see Garza leading the Rays rotation with Morlan closing games for them in a few years. But one thing that we never really learned with Ryan around is that you have to give up talent if you want to give it back. Smith wanted Delmon Young, and he was going to do what it took to make him a Twin.

As Frank Costello said: "No one gives it to you. You have to take it."

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Sorting Through the Rays Trade

As you are no doubt aware by now, Bill Smith made his first big move as Twins general manager yesterday, agreeing to a deal with the Rays that sends Matt Garza, Jason Bartlett and Eduardo Morlan to Tampa Bay in return for outfielders Delmon Young and Jason Pridie and infielder Brendan Harris.

This is a blockbuster trade, and likely a prelude of things to come. Losing Garza hurts, but the Twins remain likely to bring back a prized pitching prospect in the seemingly inevitable Johan Santana trade.

Meanwhile, the Twins bring in Delmon Young, who turned 22 in September and was viewed for a couple years as the best prospect in all of baseball. Young likely will take over in left field, with Jason Kubel sliding to designated hitter. Tampa Bay took Young, the younger brother of veteran Dmitri Young, with the first overall pick in the 2003 draft, and he subsequently cruised through the minor leagues to make his major-league debut at the age of 20. Debuting with the Rays in the final month of the 2006 season, Young hit .317/.336/.476 over 126 at-bats. In 2007, as a 21-year-old, Young hit .288/.316/.408 with 13 home runs and 93 RBI while playing in all 162 of Tampa Bay's games. That line might not seem very impressive, but for a 21-year-old with only three years of pro experience, it's extremely encouraging. Young hit 20+ home runs in both of his first two seasons in the minors and projects as a solid power hitter with very good speed -- he has the makings of a 30 HR/30 SB type player. He is also an excellent defensive corner outfielder with one of the best throwing arms in the game.

The one downside to Young's game is that he has almost no plate discipline. He has posted a sub par .319 on-base percentage over 192 major-league games, despite a very good .293 batting average. In his 2006 big-league debut, Young drew only one walk in 131 plate appearances, which is mind-boggling. Last year, he drew only 26 walks in 681 plate appearances, registering a .316 on-base percentage despite his solid .288 average. Of course, as long as Young can hit for good average and power, his lack of patience at the plate will not be a debilitating weakness.

It is somewhat surprising to see the Twins go for a player like Young, who has a documented history of losing his temper. In 2006, he was famously suspended for 50 games after throwing a bat at an umpire, and he was also suspended in 2005 after bumping an umpire during an altercation during a Double-A game. Obviously, that kind of thing won't be acceptable, but there's little doubt that Young brings a fiery and competitive attitude which, one could argue, might be a good thing for this laid-back, happy-go-lucky group of Twins players.

Garza-for-Young is clearly the meat of this deal, and I like that part, but there were a lot of other players moved in this swap as well, which is where things start to get a little less rosy. It's a bit surprising to see the Twins part with Bartlett, who was a solid shortstop both offensively and defensively with good speed. Then again, it seems like the organization never viewed Bartlett that highly, and Ron Gardenhire frequently seemed to take issue with the shortstop's attitude. From that standpoint, I suppose it's not overly shocking to see him go. The Rays' desire for Bartlett is puzzling, since their system contains one of the game's top shortstop prospects in Reid Brignac, but perhaps a position change is planned for him.

The Morlan part is where I start to dislike this trade. The original deal would have sent Juan Rincon to the Rays along with Garza and Bartlett, which would've been just fine. Some believed that trading the former dominant setup man right now would have been selling low, but I'm convinced that Rincon is a shell of his former self. He's also due a couple million bucks through arbitration next year, which he won't deserve. Unfortunately, the original deal hit a snag when the Rays had concerns over the medical reports on Rincon's elbow, and Smith ended up subbing in Morlan, who is by far the best relief prospect in the Twins system. Many had Morlan pegged to replace Joe Nathan as closer in 2009. Losing him is a huge hit, and with him in the deal, I feel like the Twins gave up way too much value in this trade.

The infielder that comes back to the Twins is Harris, who is coming off a career year in 2007 in which he hit .286/.343/.434 while playing primarily shortstop for the Rays. Prior to '07, he hadn't been much of a hitter in the major leagues, but at 27 he's still relatively young and considering his good minor league numbers, there's plenty of reason to think he can continue to be at least an average hitter. Whether he'll be doing that at shortstop remains to be seen, but I'll get to that a little bit later.

The final player involved in the deal is Pridie, a center fielder. Many will recognize the name because he was with the Twins in spring training as a Rule V pick in 2006, although he ended up being sent back to the Rays. The fact that the Twins gambled on him in the Rule V, however, tells us that he's a player they've had their eyes on for some time. In Triple-A this year, Pridie hit .318/.375/.539 with 10 home runs in 245 at-bats, which makes him look like an MLB-ready prospect. However, those numbers are a far cry from his career minor-league line of .272/.327/.432, so it's entirely possible that those outstanding stats were something of a fluke. Regardless, they're pretty good for a 23-year-old in the highest level of the minors, and there's little question that Pridie at least has the potential to develop into a major-league regular.

I said at the top of this post that yesterday's trade was a prelude of things to come, because it seems to be laying the groundwork for future moves. Because of that fact, we can't fully evaluate the trade at this point. At first glance, it would seem that Harris was brought in to replace Bartlett at shortstop, while Pridie could fill the vacated center field spot. However, Harris is a poor defensive shortstop and it's probably a stretch to think Pridie will be ready to take over a regular gig in the majors at the start of next season. It now seems clear that if the Twins trade Santana, they'll be looking to bring back a premier young starter to replace Garza, and a very good infielder. Could a Jose Reyes deal be in the works with the Mets? Can Smith pry Robinson Cano from the Yankees? We shall see what else is in store.

Upon the initial word of this trade, I was happy and I felt like the new GM was off to a great start. The fact that he had to throw in Morlan to get the deal done makes it much less impressive. The Twins needed hitting, and to his credit, Smith went out and got one of the most highly regarded young hitters in the game. That's good. The Garza-for-Young swap is a good one for both sides.

The rest of this deal doesn't look nearly as good and could turn out to be a large mistake. Unless Morlan breaks down, Pridie is going to have to turn out to be a pretty special player for Smith to be vindicated on this move.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Update: Twins/Rays Close To Deal

It appears that yesterday's reports of a deal being imminent between Twins and Rays were correct, although not the part about Boof Bonser being involved. A deal is reportedly in place that will send Matt Garza, Jason Bartlett and Juan Rincon to the Rays in return for outfielder Delmon Young, shortstop Brendan Harris and outfielder Jason Pridie. This is a blockbuster, folks. Much more analysis tomorrow.

Keeping Up With the Rumors

The Twins have been connected to an insane number of trade rumors lately. Let's take a glance:

Supposedly, the Twins and Yankees are in preliminary talks regarding Johan Santana. Meanwhile, the Boston Globe reports that talks between the Twins and Red Sox with regards to center fielder Coco Crisp are intensifying. And then, according to the Devil Rays blog DRaysBay, Boof Bonser has been down in Florida telling people that he is on the verge of being dealt to Tampa Bay. There's even a rumor floating around that the Twins are talking to the Angels about trading Justin Morneau for Casey Kotchman and Ervin Santana (huh??).

Bill Smith must be an awfully busy man to be chatting it up with all these general managers about potential trades. In truth, it's likely that many of these rumors are overblown (or completely fabricated), but such is the nature of MLB's Hot Stove season.

Strap in folks, it's going to be a long winter.


One more thing: Naturally, Bob Sansevere of the Pioneer Press has his own ideas. I'd comment, but Ken Tremendous over at FireJoeMorgan has already taken care of it.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Hot Corner Stopgap

Alex Rodriguez has found his way back to the Yankees. Mike Lowell has re-signed with the Red Sox. The remaining free agent third basemen will be sucked up at a premium by needy teams. The packages required to acquire a guy like Miguel Cabrera or Garrett Atkins via trade may be too steep for the Twins to handle. Whatever is Bill Smith to do about that nasty little situation at the hot corner?

Perhaps this isn't the correct year to push for a permanent answer at third base. Maybe the Twins would be well-served to wait another year, see how internal prospects like Danny Valencia progress, see how the third base market shapes up following the 2008 season.

That course of action might make sense, but some type of stopgap will be necessary. Nick Punto is not an option at third base, and while guys like Brian Buscher and Matt Macri have the potential to perform at a league-average level, it would be foolhardy for a team as desperately in need of offensive improvement as the Twins to enter a season relying entirely on unproven commodities.

So here's a name that hasn't been tossed around much with regards to the third base situation: Mark Loretta. He is more well-known as a second baseman, but Loretta has logged quite a few innings at third over the course of his career. His age (36) and lack of power (12 total home runs over the past three seasons) make him less than desirable, but he's a solid defender and he continues to post solid batting averages and on-base percentages late in his career. Last season with the Astros, Loretta batted .287/.352/.372 in 133 games, striking out only 41 times in 460 at-bats.

If the Twins do believe in Buscher (as I do), Loretta looks like an excellent platoon partner. Last year he hit .317/.395/.423 against lefties, and over the course of his career he is a .305/.391/.409 hitter versus southpaws.

Naturally, Loretta would not be a long-term option, but he wouldn't be likely to cost much more than $2-3 million, and at his age could not command more than a two-year deal, maximum. If Smith wishes to address third base in another manner but feels that Alexi Casilla could use another year to develop, Loretta could be a candidate to keep second base warm as well.

Definitely a guy worth keeping an eye on.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Hunter's Parting Shots

Torii Hunter. His first name famously has two i's. He's made two All-Star appearances. And if there was any doubt, it's now perfectly clear that he's about as two-faced as they come.

Sid Hartman's column in the Sunday edition of the Star Tribune featured several quotes from Hunter, who last week signed a five year, $90 million contract with the Angels just days after promising he wouldn't be signing a contract during Thanksgiving week. His hypocrisy is evident in Hartman's column, in which he openly criticizes the Twins organization on a number of levels and blatantly contradicts several of the stances he has seemingly held over the past few months.

Many of Hunter's quotes in the article are difficult to understand, and I'm not sure if the fault for that should fall on Hunter for failing to speak eloquently, or on Hartman for failing to properly contextualize some of the quotes. Whatever the case, I found myself reading over some of the quotes two or three times to try and discern what they meant.

Let's dissect some of Hunter's statements.
As for his decision to sign with the Angels he [Hunter] said: "It was like a 24-hour decision. I could not leave Anaheim -- that's a nice place, a nice ballpark, they play the game right, they've got a chance to win every year. Because Arte Moreno is that type of owner, he wants to win."
Yes, I'm sure the Twins have no interest in winning. Not like they've posted a winning record six times in the past seven years (one more time than the Angels have during that span). To me it seems like Hunter is associating "desire to win" with "willingness to spend obscene amounts of money on free agents." Whatever.
"Sometimes you're going to ask for a raise or whatever. And it just so happened that in major league baseball the market is up, it's way up." he said. "So, I was going to get what I was going to get. I just wanted to make sure that I was with a team that wants to win, that's going to try to win day in and day out. Whatever pieces to the puzzle that they need, they were going to go out and get it. I just didn't feel the Twins were that ballclub."
Ouch. Hunter may have a legitimate point here; indeed, Terry Ryan was always very timid about trading for the major piece that seemed necessary to make a run. Hunter's comments about a team being willing to go out and get the "pieces to the puzzle that they need" make me wonder if perhaps the Angels indicated to him during negotiations that they planned to make a strong push for Marlins' third baseman Miguel Cabrera, who they have been rumored to have interest in.

Anyway, here's where I really start to get annoyed:

It will be hard for the Twins to attract free agents, Hunter added, because the new stadium lacks a roof.

"People aren't even thinking about this," he said. "I wouldn't play in Minnesota unless my career was at an end and I had to go to Minnesota to play the game. ... People think that's not true -- that's 100 percent accurate. This is coming from a player, so I'm telling you."

Well, well... it seems that iron man Torii Hunter, who openly criticized teammates for not being able to play unless they were 100 percent healthy, would not play in a roofless stadium in Minnesota because the weather would be a little chilly at times. Are you kidding me? Does anyone else find that incredibly ironic?

Let's not forget about this little quote from from Hunter just over a year ago when the Twins exercised his 2007 option:

"I'd just like to play in the new stadium at least the first season," Hunter said. "To see it, play in it and be a part of the hometown. However long it takes to see that, I would be happy."
Nice one. The final Hunter quote in the Hartman column should illustrate what I meant when I said the article was confusing, and it should also illustrate just how delusional Hunter is about his own talents:
"Some people think that in three years, I'll be older ... but I feel like I can play left or right, and still be the best left fielder and right fielder in the game," he said. "Some people think that, but that's a mistake. You shouldn't think like that because that was terrible."
Yes Torii, I'm sure most people think that in three years, you'll be older. In fact, I can just about guarantee it. If Hunter actually thinks that he'll be the best left fielder or right fielder in the game in three years, he's out of his mind -- even at his best, he doesn't rank among the best hitters at either of those positions, and with his rapidly deteriorating defense I strongly doubt he'd be one of the best in baseball at either of those positions defensively.

I've never had a problem with the Angels before, but Hunter's comments give me reason to root against them next year. I liked Hunter just fine when he was here and always enjoyed watching him play, but the classless manner in which he has acted during his departure has left a sour taste in my mouth.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Hunter Gets His Halo

In a move that was surprising for a number of reasons, Torii Hunter agreed to terms with the Los Angeles Angels late Wednesday night on a five-year deal worth $90 million.

Color me dumbfounded. For one thing, the Angels had not really been mentioned as a serious suitor for Hunter. Their outfield was already crowded with Vladimir Guerrero, Gary Matthews Jr., Garrett Anderson, Reggie Willits and Juan Rivera, and now they seem to have compounded that problem. (Someone's got to be available... Willits is an intriguing potential trade piece, as is Rivera.)

Furthermore, it's somewhat shocking that Hunter signed a deal so quickly. In fact, here's what he told the Star Tribune earlier this week with regards to signing a contract:
"I promise you, it won't be this week," he said. "I don't want to think about that while I'm eating turkey. I want to spend the whole weekend relaxing with my family."
Of course, this just confirms something most of us already knew -- Hunter isn't always totally forthright and honest.

The final reason that the deal is surprising is the sheer amount of money involved. Most projections had Hunter signing a deal somewhere in the range of five years/$75 million; for the Angels to commit nearly $100 million to a 32-year-old center fielder seems questionable a best. But hey, it's their problem now.

The writing has been on the wall for some time that Hunter was on his way out the door, and I'm glad he signed elsewhere so quickly so Bill Smith can put his full emphasis on finding a replacement.

I've always liked watching Torii play and I'm happy to see him haul in such a huge contract. I look forward to watching him on March 31, 2008, when the Angels coincidentally open their schedule at the Metrodome against the Twins.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

South Side Hunter

Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times reported yesterday that the White Sox and Torii Hunter could be signing a contract within a week. A lot of people are bothered by the notion of Hunter playing for the White Sox because it makes him "traitor," or because it would be painful to have to watch the Twins face him so many times every season. I don't really feel the same way... I like watching Hunter play and if he signs with the Sox I'll enjoy the opportunity to still see him almost 20 times per year.

What does concern me about the prospect of Hunter signing with Chicago is what it will do to their lineup. The offense of the White Sox was hugely disappointing in 2007, but we can't forget that this offense still features Jermaine Dye, Jim Thome and Paul Konerko. Dye had a down year in '07, but is likely to bounce back. Add Hunter into that mix (along with a solid top-of-the-lineup hitter in Orlando Cabrera, who the Sox acquired from the Angels in exchange for Jon Garland yesterday), and this lineup is looking pretty scary in 2008.

Of course, Chicago's pitching remains a concern, but we'll see what Kenny Williams has planned on that end. He has been very active since taking over as GM for the White Sox.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Monday Notes

A smattering of notes to help pass the time here in the early stages of the offseason...

* I've heard rumors floating around for a while that the Twins have some interest in free agent Tony Clark as a designated hitter candidate, and on Friday La Velle E. Neal III confirmed those rumors on his blog. Clark is 35 and has not had more than 349 at-bats in a season since 2001, so he's hardly an option as a regular, but he's at least mildly intriguing as a part-time DH option.

Like Craig Monroe, Clark has some power but lacks on-base skills. He's gotten on base at an above-average rate exactly once in the past five years, but he did slug .511 last year and in 2005 he hit .304/.366/.636 with 30 home runs and 87 RBI over 130 games.

He's reported to be looking for deal in the area of two years, $4 million. That sounds like something the Twins could afford.

* The Star Tribune's resident geezer, Sid Hartman, wrote in Sunday's edition that the Twins have offered Johan Santana a five-year deal worth $93 million. Considering the source, I'm hesitant to give this bit of news much credence, but in any case it seems like a logical starting point for negotiations from the Twins' perspective. There's little doubt that Santana would reject such an offer, but it's far from an insult.

* I heard rumors from people with "inside sources" last week that Torii Hunter was going to be signing a six-year deal with the Rangers on Friday. Obviously those rumors were false because such a deal never materialized; nevertheless, I continue to believe that Hunter will eventually end up in Texas. Such a deal would make sense, considering the Rangers' history of handing out foolishly lengthy contracts (see: Rodriguez, Alex).

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Twins Killer Becomes a Twin

The Twins made their first offseason addition yesterday, acquiring outfielder Craig Monroe from the Cubs for a player to be named later. Monroe is a notorious Twins killer, having posted a career line of .322/.356/.544 against Minnesota during his years with Detroit which dwarfs his overall line of .256/.303/.446.

While it's not known yet what the Twins will give up for Monroe, it seems clear that it won't be much of anything. The Cubs were almost certain to non-tender the arbitration-eligible Monroe, so they had no leverage to command anything in a trade.

In that respect, this is a low-risk deal. The big problem here is money. Monroe had a brutally bad 2007 campaign, hitting .219/.268/.370 while making $4.8 million. Entering his final year of arbitration, Monroe would likely make a similar amount next season. Speculation is that the Twins will either try to negotiate a deal that pays him less, or they will non-tender him. This much is certain: despite the fact that they will likely have some money to burn this offseason, the Twins can't afford to pay a fourth outfielder $5 million, nor can they afford to depend on Monroe in any sort of significant capacity if they are serious about fielding a more competitive team in 2008.

The acquisition of Monroe has garnered some Tony Batista comparisons, which is frightening yet understandable:

Craig Monroe (career): .256/.303/.446
Tony Batista (career): .251/.293/.453

There are, however, a number of disinct differences between the two situations. When the Twins signed Batista in December 2005, he was a 32-year-old who was three years removed from any type of real productivity in the major leagues (in fact, he had spent the past season playing in Japan, and not particularly well). Monroe is 30, and while his 2007 campaign was abominable, he had been a steadily solid player for the four seasons prior. Between 2003 and 2006, Monroe's home run totals were 23, 18, 20 and 28. His slugging percentages were .449, .488, .446 and .482.

Monroe does not generally hit for a good average and his on-base skills are obviously lacking, but his power is enticing. His .446 career slugging percentage is no great shakes, but had he posted it for the Twins last year he would have ranked fourth on the team in that category. (Of course, one of those who'd have been above him, Torii Hunter, is on his way out the door.) Monroe has hit 20 or more home runs three times in his five-year career; with Hunter and Rondell White gone the Twins have a total of four 20+ homer seasons among players on their rosters (three of which belong to Justin Morneau).

When Bill Smith made his first move as a general manager by dropping a few lesser players on the team's roster, including Lew Ford, I said that the key would be finding superior players to replace the ones that were dropped. Monroe qualifies as a significant offensive upgrade over the departed Ford as a fourth outfielder. This acquisition could be a good one, but it depends on several conditions. If the Twins plan to pay Monroe anywhere close to $5 million or plan on making him a regular player at any position, then this deal could be a disaster of Batista-esque proportions. If they can get his price down to a couple million bucks while using him as a backup and perhaps a platoon-type at DH or left field, he could be a useful player and a much-needed power threat off the bench.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Vikings: Making It Easy To Be a Twins Fan

On Sunday afternoon, the Vikings suffered a demoralizing 34-0 loss to the rival Green Bay Packers. The Vikes fell to 3-6 on the season, and are seemingly headed for another disappointing sub-.500 finish. The team's popularity seems to be dwindling; meanwhile, the Twins remain a hot topic for Minnesota sports fans despite not having found a whole lot more success in their latest season. It's not hard to see why.

I used to be a big Vikings fan. It was hard not to be, with the high-flying offenses of the late '90s and the likable personalities those teams featured -- guys like Robert Smith, Cris Carter and Jon Randle. But recently, the team has become increasingly difficult to watch, and difficult to like.

I think that at this point it's fair to say that Brad Childress was a bad hire. Not only is he a terrible coach, he seemingly has no interest in making the Vikings an exciting or marketable team. He restricts the media from practices. He insists upon running the most boring offensive scheme ever conceived (West Coast Offense), even when his personnel aren't suited for it. He seems to have a generally snide and condescending attitude, even though it's growing more and more difficult to believe that he actually knows what he's doing when so many of his decisions turn out so poorly. It is evident that his players have stopped playing for him; what other conclusion could possibly be drawn from the lifeless performance the Vikings gave at Lambeau Field on Sunday?

The Vikings have gained a reputation as a heartless organization. The franchise has been embarrassed by its players' actions -- from Love Boat to Whizzinator -- and the front office has not come off much better. The latest offensive act from the Vikings' brain-trust was their decision to dock receiver Troy Williamson a game check for attending the funeral of his maternal grandmother. After being lambasted by players, media and fans for this absurd decision, the team elected to change its mind and pay Williamson, but the damage had been done.

The fans are quickly losing interest. On two occasions already this season, companies have had to buy a large number of tickets to prevent a home game from being blacked out on local television. It would seem that there is a very good chance that this week's game against the Raiders will be blacked out; the Vikings reportedly still have 3,500 tickets remaining for the game, and they'll have a nearly possible time selling those with an uninteresting opponent and their only exciting offensive player (Adrian Peterson) out with a knee injury.

Meanwhile, even when the Twins aren't having success, they are still a likable organization. Say what you will about Ron Gardenhire, but he's at least an affable guy and his players seem to like him and respect him. As general manager, Terry Ryan was reserved and sometimes condescending in the same manner that Childress is, but Ryan was much more open and willing to talk to the local media. Unlike the Vikes, the Twins don't repel fans and prospective free agents with their shady business practices.

Is it any wonder that the Twins are selling tickets and gaining fans while the Vikings sink further into despair? Is it any wonder the Twins are building a new stadium in downtown Minneapolis while Zygi Wilf continues to unsuccessfully lobby for one of his own?

The Vikings used to be a nice diversion for me during the baseball offseason, but now I can barely watch the games anymore. In my opinion, Wilf needs to make a coaching change and start changing the image of this organization.

Friday, November 09, 2007

TGIF Links and Thoughts

I'm getting a little sick of writing about unsubstantiated trade rumors that will probably never amount to anything, but I'm essentially confined to that topic since it's pretty much all that's out there right now. For today, I thought I'd take a quick trip around the Web to see what others are saying about the Twins early in this offseason.

* On Tuesday, Aaron Gleeman wrote up an exhaustive list of 25 center fielders that may be available one way or another this offseason, along with pros and cons for each. It is almost guaranteed that the Twins will go outside the organization to fill their vacancy in center field that will open when Torii Hunter departs, and I'd be stunned if the player they bring in is not on that list.

* ESPN's Buster Olney reported yesterday that the Twins have had talks with the Cardinals regarding third baseman Scott Rolen, which is intriguing to say the least. Rolen was a superstar player throughout the first nine years or so of his career, but in the recent past he has struggled with injuries. Still, he's only 32 and in 2006 he was healthy enough to hit .296/.369/.518 with 22 homers and 95 RBI while playing in 142 games for the Cards.

If he can stay healthy, Rolen is a good bet to put up solid-to-great offensive numbers while playing Gold Glove caliber defense. I'm not sure where the Cardinals stand on Rolen right now and I imagine he'd too expensive to be worthwhile for the Twins when the injury risks are taken into account, but if the rumor is true then it's encouraging that the Twins are looking into unconventional and unexpected possibilities like that one.

* Joe Christensen had a nice article in yesterday's Star Tribune in which he discusses an apparent change in philosophy for the Twins as they look to fill their offensive needs this postseason. In the past under Terry Ryan, the Twins have been extremely protective of their pitching prospects, but Christensen states that the organization will likely soften its stance on that position in order to fill needs this offseason. Most interestingly, Christensen writes that "there are strong indications the Twins would be willing to move [Matt] Garza for a top young hitter." The thought of parting with Garza is unsettling considering his unlimited potential, but the idea that the Twins are willing to do what's necessary to improve their horrid offense and pathetic organization position player depth is a positive one.

The team that Christensen discusses most as a trading partner in the aforementioned is the Devil Rays -- a team that is being tossed around quite a bit in connection with the Twins lately. Names that I have heard mentioned most frequently are center fielder Rocco Baldelli and right fielder Delmon Young, along with Padres' third base prospect Chase Headley. I've always viewed the Devil Rays as a highly logical trading partner for the Twins, so I'm glad to hear that the two teams have been communicating.

* After an extremely impressive second half of 2007 that ended with him pitching a few September innings for the Twins, Nick Blackburn has been tearing up the Arizona Fall League, going 3-0 with a 1.59 ERA over 17 innings while striking out 16 and walking only two. I've been hearing speculation that Blackburn could be a serious contender for a roster spot out of spring training next year. He also seems like the ultimate "sell high" candidate...

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Golden Geese

The American League Gold Glove winners were announced yesterday, and Twins fans will notice one very familiar name along with a welcome new one.

Torii Hunter brought home the award for a seventh consecutive time, while Johan Santana won his first Gold Glove at the pitcher position. Is Hunter really still one of the top three defensive outfielders in AL? I'm skeptical. But I have little doubt that Santana is the league's top defensive pitcher -- his ability to fly off the mound and use his athleticism to make plays is unmatched by any pitcher I watched this year. I'm glad to see him recognized by these oft-misguided voters.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Atkins Thoughts

Apologies for the lack of updates lately. There has been literally almost nothing worth discussing in the world of the Twins, although I'm hoping that starts to change within the next few weeks. The annual GM Meetings are currently taking place in Orlando, and the Winter Meetings will hit Nashville in about a month.

One interesting tidbit I thought I'd touch on is something I stumbled across while paging through the latest issue of Sports Illustrated. Joe Sheehan of Baseball Prospectus contributed an article discussing five hypothetical offseason trades. One of those trades involved the Twins:
Rockies trade 3B Garrett Atkins to the Twins for RHPs Anthony Swarzak and Eduardo Morlan. Ian Stewart (.304/.379/.478 at Triple A Colorado Springs) is ready to take over at third base for Colorado, which should be looking to add strikeout pitchers to a staff heavy on contact guys. Minnesota has a glut of young pitchers and desperately needs to add a bat to help Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer. Swarzak, 22, a starter who projects as a mid-rotation guy, is buried in the Twins' system. Morlan, 21, struck out 12.6 men per nine innings as a reliever in high A ball and could be a 2008 version of closer Manny Corpas.
This deal bears a lot of similarity to one I suggested when writing up my offseason wish list back in late September. In that article, I proposed that the Twins send Swarzak and Oswaldo Sosa to the Rockies for Atkins, and at the time I confessed that I pretty much fabricated the deal on my own without having heard any rumors involving those specific names. As such, it is interesting that a well-respected guy like Sheehan would come up with such a similar idea.

When I brought up the Swarzak/Sosa for Atkins idea, several people felt that it was unrealistic because the Rockies weren't getting enough value. In that sense, Sheehan's proposal is a bit more realistic -- Morlan is a considerably better prospect than Sosa. If the deal was on the table, I suppose I'd do it, because I think Atkins would be a great addition; however, I wouldn't be happy about losing Morlan, who looks like a prime candidate to take over as the Twins' closer when Joe Nathan inevitably departs as a free agent after next year.

Then again, recent reports indicate that the Rockies may not be interested in trading Atkins, with the idea being that Stewart can slide over to second base, leaving free agent Kaz Matsui as the odd man out. I'm not sure I buy into Stewart as a second baseman and I still think that if the right deal came along, the Rockies would trade Atkins to add some pitching. We'll see how that storyline shapes up though.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Shooting From the Hip

I'll preface the complaints I'm about to make by saying that I generally like Charley Walters. I did a telephone interview with him for a class a couple years ago, and he was very friendly and interesting. I also like the fact that he once (very briefly) pitched in a Twins uniform many years ago, an experience which would seem to lend him more credibility than some other sportswriters in this town.

Unfortunately, Walters' credibility is dwindling fast, at least in my mind. A longtime columnist of in the Pioneer Press, Walters has always had a habit of inserting seemingly baseless little rumors and tidbits in his columns that never end up containing a shred of truth. Recently, however, his column has been featuring some pieces of information that are so blatantly false that one might be led to question the credibility of the entire publication.

First, Walters reported the following "news" in his column a couple weeks ago
If the Twins can't re-sign free agent Torii Hunter, plans are to trade, sign a free agent or go in-house to find his center field replacement.
This isn't so much false as it is inane. Walters basically was reporting that someone will be playing center field for the Twins next season, which is not the type of information anyone needs to purchase a newspaper to learn.

A few days after that masterful tidbit, Walters reported that the Twins had offered Carlos Silva a three-year contract worth "slightly more than $7 million a season," citing "a little birdie" as his source.

A couple days later, Joe Christensen said he made a call to Silva's agent and was told that the Twins had not made an offer of any kind. "You can quote me on that," Silva's agent told Christensen.

Yesterday, Walters offered up the following piece of breaking news:
The Cincinnati Reds snapped up pitcher Alexander Smit when the Twins took him off their 40-player roster the other day.
This is true, actually, except for the part about the moving take place "the other day." The Reds claimed Smit off waivers from the Twins back in July.

In my classes at the U of M, we are often taught that the central tenant of journalism is to "seek the truth and report it." Is that really happening over at the Pioneer Press? I know that Walters works very hard and makes a lot of phone calls every day, and I also realize that the idea of his column is to plant little rumors that are far from concrete. Still, at some point he and the sports editors over at the St. Paul paper need to take a look at what has been happening over the past few weeks -- much of the content being published in his section is not just unsubstantiated, but blatantly and provably false.

I suppose it may appear that I'm unfairly leveling my criticism at the Pioneer Press in this instance considering that the Star Tribune's own Page 2 columnist, Sid Hartman, has his own ethically questionable journalism practices. I guess I just hold Walters to a higher standard because I actually know him to be a nice guy and I don't believe he's completely senile.

It just seems to me that in cases like the ones listed above, Walters should follow the advice that labels a portion of his column: "Don't Print That."

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Off With a Bang

Over the past couple weeks, there have been few headlines relating to the Twins. Those that have revolved around our hometown team have been incredibly dull: Twins activate Joe Nathan's option, Carlos Silva and Torii Hunter file for free agency, etc. Of course, I can't really complain about the lack of compelling activity; we are just two days removed from the end of the World Series and there are several long months ahead for necessary moves to be made.

That didn't stop the division rival Tigers from getting their offseason started in a hurry though. They pulled the trigger on a trade with the Braves yesterday, sending prospects Jair Jurrjens and Gorkys Hernandez to the Braves in exchange for shortstop Edgar Renteria. The Tigers wasted no time in filling their new hole at shortstop, which was created when the decision was made to move the hobbled Carlos Guillen to first base.

Renteria, 32, is a five-time All-Star who hit .332/.390/.470 with 12 homers and 57 RBI over 124 games in Atlanta last year. He has never hit for a ton of power, but he's still got some speed and is a very solid defensive player. He should prove a nice fit in the Tigers' veteran lineup. In order to get Renteria, the Tigers had to give up a very nice pitching prospect in Jurrjens, who made his major-league debut as a 21-year-old this year after posting a 3.21 ERA over five minor-league seasons. The second prospect included in the deal, Hernandez, is a 20-year-old who spent the entire 2007 season in Single-A. He's far from an established prospect, but he has great speed (74 SB in174 professional games) and could end up being a solid player down the line.

Like with the Gary Sheffield trade last year, Tigers' GM Dave Dombrowski has shown that he has no problem letting go of some promising young players with bright futures in order to help the team in the present. This deal might not ultimately end up being a great one for Detroit, but there is little question that it will make them a better team in 2008, which is bad news for the Twins. I very much doubt this is the last we'll hear from Dombrowski; likewise, I suspect that Kenny Williams will be active this winter as he looks to turn the White Sox back into a competitor. The Indians don't need to do a whole lot of tinkering, but I don't expect Mark Shapiro to sit on his hands.

It's going to be a busy offseason in the AL Central. Let's just hope that Bill Smith and the Twins get in on the action so they don't end up left in the dust next year.

Monday, October 29, 2007


First, let me congratulate the Red Sox on another World Series victory. Boston had a great team this year and they have enough young talent that they should be favorites to repeat next year.

With that being said, the playoffs this year downright sucked. With only two exceptions, every series was a sweep. The World Series was a complete and utter bore, which represents no change from the past several.

In any case, today is a day to celebrate. Whether you're celebrating Boston's championship, the official commencement of the offseason, or my 22nd birthday, there are plenty of valid reasons. Happy Monday everyone.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Friday Notes

Not a whole lot to cover today, so I'll touch on a few different subjects before enjoying my pre-birthday weekend (I turn 22 on Monday!).

* I was surprised to see this story gracing the front page on yesterday. The headline: "Hunter says Twins haven't made any offers since end of season." It must have been a slow news day in the sports world, because that's not really news. Most of us don't expect the Twins to go any further than the three year, $45 million offer they made during the season. And they shouldn't.

* The Twins elected this week to activate Joe Nathan's $6 million option for the 2008 season, which is also not really news since it was obviously coming. Nathan is a tremendous bargain at that price, and he will enter the '08 season as arguably the only known commodity in the Twins' bullpen.

* Infielder Matt Macri, who the Twins acquired from the Rockies in August in exchange for Ramon Ortiz, has been putting together some impressive numbers while playing in the Arizona Fall League. Over 13 games, the 25-year-old Macri has hit .302/.333/.558 with five doubles, two homers and four RBI. This after hitting .296/.345/.511 with 26 doubles and 15 home runs over 331 at-bats this year spread across Double-A and Triple-A. He shouldn't be counted on, but Macri could be a dark-horse candidate to chip in at third base for the Twins. I'd prefer to see Bill Smith go out and acquire a legitimate young third baseman in a trade, but short of that, he could probably do worse than, say, a platoon of Macri and Brian Buscher or Corey Koskie (assuming that Koskie is back in playing shape).

* Non-Twins-related note: if anyone is interested in reading my stuff elsewhere, I write a bi-weekly sports column for the U of M's student magazine, The Wake. You can read my latest column here. This issue's edition previews the men's hockey team, which just recently kicked off its season and last night defeated Ohio State handily.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Coo-Coo for CoCo?

Our friend Seth Stohs over at SethSpeaks wrote an article on Tuesday outlining his ideas for the Twins' 2008 Opening Day roster. Many of the suggestions are ones that have been tossed around elsewhere -- sign Mike Lowell, trade for Jason Bay, etc. -- but there was one acquisition that I don't think I have seen suggested anywhere else. Seth writes that the Twins should bring in Red Sox center fielder CoCo Crisp to replace Torii Hunter.

At first, this struck me as an insufficient answer to the team's center field dilemma. Since joining Boston via trade in 2006, Crisp has been a sub par offensive player. Between 2006 and 2007, he totaled just 14 home runs and 96 RBI while batting .266 and slugging .383. These numbers represented a huge drop-off from Crisp's last year in Cleveland, where he hit .300/.345/.465 with 16 home runs and 69 RBI. That season could hardly be viewed as a fluke, as Crisp had put up very similar numbers the year before, batting .297/.344/.446 with 15 homers and 71 RBI.

Crisp's decline upon leaving Cleveland was rather inexplicable. He was a 26-year-old coming off of a career year and moving into a hitter-friendly park. Yet, whatever the reason for the drop-off in numbers, we know what Crisp is capable of from an offensive standpoint, and if he could even get back to a level somewhere between those good years in Cleveland and the disappointing ones in Boston, he could be an adequate player offensively.

As long as he's hitting a bit, Crisp can be a valuable player, because he has good speed and he is a phenomenal defender. At this point in time, Crisp may have the best range of any center fielder in the majors. For a team like the Twins that likes to build on speed and defense, Crisp seems like a natural fit.

The nice thing about Crisp is that he could hypothetically be available for a relatively cheap asking price. He remains under contract with Boston for two more years (with a club option for 2010), but the Red Sox have little use for him given the emergence of Jacoby Ellsbury in center field. Considering Crisp's unimpressive 2007 numbers and his struggles this post-season, his stock might be at an all-time low. And it's worth noting that while his 2007 season was a very disappointing one as it saw him post a .712 OPS while hitting just six home runs in 526 at-bats, Crisp did set career highs for stolen bases (28) and walks (50), so there are some positives can be drawn from his latest campaign.

I don't think that Crisp is an ideal candidate to take over in center field after Hunter leaves, but assuming the Twins make some significant upgrades at other positions, he could certainly be serviceable. If I had my way, I'd still rather see a guy like Matt Kemp come over in a Johan Santana trade, but I'll be the first to admit that such a move is unlikely. Crisp is a solid, young and cheap player who fits the Twins' mold. Definitely a guy worth keeping in mind over these winter months.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

A Bit on the Low Side

While perusing the Twins official site yesterday, I come across the following headline: "Mailbag: Santana's future plans." Sounds like it's worth checking out, so I give it a click. Now, keep in mind that the people who write into this mailbag are not the brightest folks (one example of a letter sent in and published in this edition: "What are the odds of Jason Tyner getting a starting position in the outfield next year? He would be a good leadoff hitter, he hit near .300 last season, and plays good defense."), so beat writer Kelly Thesier kind of has to work with what she's got. But I was struck by her answer to a query regarding Santana and the possible return on an offseason trade.

The letter refers to a rumor about the Twins trading Santana and Jason Bartlett to the Mets for Jose Reyes, Mike Pelfrey and Carlos Gomez. An interesting thought. Thesier responds that there have been some other musings of what other clubs might offer, "like the Yankees' possibly dangling Melky Cabrera and Ian Kennedy, along with another prospect."

I've never heard this specific rumor before, but if I had I would probably have a lot less hair on my head. Let me get this straight, the Yankees want the best pitcher in the major leagues who is amidst his prime, and in return they are willing to "dangle" their third-best pitching prospect and a guy who projects to be a league-average outfielder? Where do I sign up?!

I really don't know what Santana could garner in a trade this offseason, but I know (at least I pray) that it is more than that. I'm not a believer that some team is going to give up four or five top prospects for one player (I had to roll my eyes yesterday when I heard a suggestion that the Dodgers would give up Matt Kemp, Clayton Kershaw, Andy LaRoche AND Jonathan Meloan for Santana), but with the number of competitive teams out there that are direly in need of an ace, and with the fact that acquiring Santana would also entail exclusive bargaining rights for a full year to work on an extension, there will be a market for him. If the offers were really as underwhelming as the Yankees package suggested by Thesier, I'd probably be more supportive of keeping Santana for another year and taking the draft picks when he leaves as a free agent. What the Twins could get for Santana will really depend on how many teams are serious bidders.

Sportswriters around the nation seem to remain skeptical about the likelihood of a trade actually materializing. The Star Tribune's Joe Christensen said a few weeks that he thought there was a "1-in-5 chance" that the Twins trade Santana, and in a chat on yesterday Buster Olney gave the same odds, opining that there is a 2-in-10 chance the Twins trade their ace.

Nevertheless, Santana's future will be the most interesting offseason storyline in my mind. Let's just hope that future rumors that pop up are a little more enticing that the one referenced by Thesier.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Immovable Object, Unstoppable Force, Etc.

Kudos to the Red Sox for putting the finishing touches on an impressive three-game comeback last night with an 11-2 victory over the Indians. Boston will now head to the World Series for the second time in the past four years, and they will take on a Colorado club that is amidst one of the most amazing hot streaks in major-league history. The question now is whether it is better to be good or hot.

In my opinion, the Red Sox are pretty clearly a superior team to the Rockies in almost every aspect. But with the way that Colorado has been playing lately, that might not matter a whole lot. The MLB playoffs often seem to be all about momentum, and the Rockies have that in spades. In fairness, the Red Sox have some pretty good momentum built up themselves after outscoring the Indians 30-5 in their final three ALCS victories.

It should be a fun series, and I'll be intrigued to see how these two teams match up. If pressed to pick a team to cheer for, I'd have to select the Rockies, if only because those big-market teams have plenty of fanfare as it is. Mostly though, I'll just be cheering for some entertaining baseball.

Friday, October 19, 2007

The Nathan Situation

Johan Santana has one year remaining on his contract with the Twins. I'm on the record as stating that "the absolute worst thing that could happen would be for the Twins to hang onto Santana for another year, miss the playoffs, and then collect a pair of draft picks next winter when he signs a mega-deal with some big-market franchise." The organization faces a similar situation with Joe Nathan, but my feelings when it comes to the dominating closer are dramatically different.

In each of his four seasons as Twins' closer, Nathan has saved more than 35 games. He has blown a total of 14 save opportunities over those four years. Three times he posted an ERA below 2, and his K/BB ratio during his career as a closer is about 4.5-to-1. The numbers speak for themselves, and they show that Nathan has been one of the top closers in the game for the past four years. In fact, one could easily argue that he has been the very best closer during that span. Nathan will make $6 million in the option year of his contract (which the Twins are sure to activate), and afterward he will be eligible to become a 33-year-old free agent unless he signs a contract extension.

The type of money Nathan is likely to command in a new deal could be staggering. While the closer position might be the most overrated in the game, teams seem to value it more and more and the position's stock on the free agent market has risen quite a bit in recent years. A couple contracts signed during the 2005-06 offseason provide us with a good benchmark for contemplating what Nathan could be looking at after next season. That winter, the Blue Jays signed former Oriole B.J. Ryan to a five-year deal worth $47 million dollars. At the time, Ryan was a 30-year-old (he turned 31 about a month after signing the deal) with one year of experience as a full-time closer. At the time, Ryan's contract was the largest ever for a relief pitcher, but the distinction would last only a few hours. On the same day the Jays finalized their deal with Ryan, Billy Wagner and the Mets came to terms on a four-year contract worth $43 million. Wagner was 34 and coming off a season similar to the one Nathan just finished.

If these examples are any indication, Nathan will be very expensive if and when he hits the market. Given their financial situation, the Twins really can't afford to pay a relief pitcher $10+ million per season, especially considering the number of talented young arms that populate their farm system. So, no, re-signing Nathan is not a realistic option for the Twins.

With that being the case, one might guess that I'm a proponent of trading him this offseason to get maximum value in return. Not so. I think the Twins should hang onto Nathan for next year, get one more season of dominant relief at a value price, and then let him walk for a pair of draft picks the following offseason.

Trading Nathan right now would be detrimental to the team's chances in 2008. Many argue that Pat Neshek could step in and close, but I think there have to at least be some questions about that plan of action after Neshek's 4.82 second-half ERA and the late-season revelation that he was experiencing elbow and shoulder issues. Even if Neshek could take over as an effective closer, losing Nathan weakens the bullpen to a devastating degree. Matt Guerrier had a great season in 2007, but it's far from a given that he'll repeat that performance. And there are many questions swirling around Jesse Crain, Juan Rincon and Dennys Reyes. I have long felt that the Twins need their bullpen to be a strength in order to succeed, and if they trade Nathan this offseason, their relief corps will not be a strength in 2008.

Fortunately, by the time Nathan leaves via free agency after next year, some help could be in place. Eduardo Morlan, who is being groomed as the closer of the future and is likely to start next season in Double-A, could be ready by then. Furthermore, a player like Boof Bonser or Glen Perkins may have settled into a relief role. For the time being, however, I just think there are too many questions surrounding the bullpen for the Twins to be able to trade their best reliever and continue to compete. Of course, if they are uncompetitive around the trading deadline next year, the Twins could start listening to some offers.

Nathan has blossomed as a dominant reliever in Minnesota -- consistent almost to the point of being automatic. That's refreshing for Twins fans who had to endure the heart-pounding years of LaTroy Hawkins and Eddie Guardado in the closer role. As much as I'd love for Nathan to stick around and continue to slam the door on Twins' opponents, the numbers show that it's just not feasible. And while his trade value might be pretty high, I don't think the Twins can afford to deal him right now considering their current bullpen situation. Unlike in Santana's case, I think the best choice here is to enjoy one more season of Nathan and then let him walk for draft picks.