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.

10 comments:

Patrick said...

In my opinion, Young is much more likely to be a big star than Garza is, and it is at best a 50-50 chance that Morlan will become a good major leaguer. Bartlett for Harris is a wash. I think it was an even trade, and will only be bad on the unlikely chance that Morlan becomes a big star, as Young is likely to be significantly better for a long time than Garza, who has his own attitude problems and has demonstrated much less ability in the major leagues to be a high impact player.

doubleplusgood said...

i saw a "report" listed today about the trade before I went to work and now that I've returned home, it's a done deal. I gotta say that when i first learned of it, i was pretty excited. i hate to lose Garza, but we've got so much pitching. The Idea of a young outfielder who can hit and play defense is exciting. I don't care about his past, because he won't get away with it here.

Trading Bartlett was a bit of surprise, but I was never sure about him. Led the Majors in errors this year, was terrible at the plate until the last 1/3 of the season.

The only thing that changed things for me in this trade came from this blog. I don't know anything about Morlan, but from your words, i wince a little bit when you say the Twins may have given up too much value. Hell yeah, I would have packed Rincoln's bags for him, but alas he's still a Twin.

I agree with Patrick about Garza and his future. Not saying he won't blossom into a good pitcher, but all I heard about him in his time with the Twins is his reliance on the fastball and his refusal to mix his pitches. He's got good stuff, but he needs to learn how to pitch. No knock on the guy, because I liked watching him pitch.

I'm happy the Twins made a move that wasn't dealing away our best players for pennies on the dollar and instead got a good, young outfielder who was considered one of the best prospects in the game a few years ago. Probably not playing centerfield, but I'd take Young rather than overpay Torri.

Anonymous said...

Well time will tell as we've all admitted, but this organization has GOT to stop gripping these "prospects" by the balls like they've got gold bullion and hanging on until they turn into fool's gold. Yes, I know, the Twins have to develop their own talent. Yes, Morlan may well be a very fine reliever. BUT you don't get Delmon Young for Matt Garza. It just doesn't happen. Pridie, I don't really understand in that you have to figure they're going to add a CF (either Cabrera, Crisp, or Ellsbury, or even Gomez from the Mets). I think Harris plugs in at 2b as the Twins won't tolerate his defense at SS. So, you still have holes in CF, SS, 3B, but you have admirably plugged DH with Kubel as Young and he form the DH/LF combo. The Santana deal may well be for Crisp, Lowrie (the big impact SS prospect), Lester, and Masterson(SP a couple years away). I'm betting the Twins are trying to force Ellsbury out of the Sox but I'm betting this one is close. If the Yankees don't step up with Hughes, Cabrera, and either Jackson or Tabata, the Sox will win--we get a STUD shortstop, plus a passable CF, and a mid range SP. All of a sudden I feel weak in SP, but the kids are gonna have to step up if not in 08, by 09 or 10 (you listening, Slowey, Bonser, Baker, Perkins, Tyler Robertson?, Liriano??). It's the first shoe to drop. Let's see how it all configures. If the Boston or NYY deal goes down, then we ship Nathan, probably for a third baseman, if its there. So many moving parts....but bottom line, they got a big impact bat (potentially), and I much prefer this guy to Jason Bay. If Morlan really is the reason everyone suddenly soured on this deal, I think that's a risk I can live with.

Nick M. said...

If the Twins make that trade with the Red Sox, then I think they need to make a few more moves to make it a very successful offseason. If they follow the trade by signing Mark Loretta to help the infield and play third, they should then use the money freed up to extend Nathan and Morneau and possibly Cuddyer as well as looking at signing veteran pitching. A good option would be a stop-gap like Bartalo Colon.

With that, having let the trade settle in, it is a good argument that Garza-for-Young wouldn't have happened, so it may not be a quality analysis to try and separate the trade into three individual trades. A Pridie-Morlan trade isn't a good trade, but we don't know the details. The jump from trading Rincon to trading Morlan is confusing, but we don't know the details. If it is ultimately what it took to get Young, it may well be worth it.

Lee Henschel said...

As for the trade - it was a good deal for both teams. The Twins get a slugger and two other players; the Rays get a pitcher and SS and minor-leaguer.
I see Young fitting very nicely in the Twins’ lineup. But it does create some questions about CF and IF. I think the Twins are still looking for their CF and 3rd baseman, but they now have lots of infield options, with Casilla, Harris, Buscher and even Punto. And they’re not done trading yet. I could see them getting a great 2B, or 3B and slide Harris into either post, and put Casilla at SS. If they can get either a great 3B, SS or 2B AND a good CF AND an established veteran SP for Santana, we will be set.
One thing that is understated in these transactions is the leadership quotent. Every team needs established team leaders - veterans - for pitching, offense and defense.
Hunter’s role as a team leader will be missed far more than his role as a player. True, they pay him as a player, but he’s also a leader.
What the Twins received in this play were two players with basically a year each in the majors. They gave up one SS who was turning into a team leader (if not on the field) and who likely will be looked to as a team leader in Tampa Bay.
If the Twins trade Santana, the same is true. The Twins have very capable young pitchers on this staff, but with Silva gone, they need a veteran SP - one who can lead behind the scenes. Liriano, Bonser, Baker and Slowey all have less than two full years of ML experience. These are very good SP, but are not the behind-the-scenes leader types. We need someone like that - either Santana, or someone else who can provide the leadership these guys will need.
Without it, the Twins will not make the playoffs in 08.
This leader does not have to be the caliber pitcher of Santana (it would be nice) but just someone who can provide the young SPs with experience and leadership.
I think Cuddyer fills that bill in the outfield (unless we get an established CF). Morneau helps in the IF. and Mauer and Redmond are already there at C. The bullpen also has capable leaders. But if we trade Santana, we will need to either get an established veteran pitcher, or will need to sign one.

J. Lichty said...

I think you have a little too much Travis Bowyer syndrome with morlan. Has been excellent, yes.

Make no mistake, the Twins can replace Graza from within (or come very close). Young could replace Hunter's bat.

I also agree that this could portend either a move of Nathan or Santana for a shortstop at least as good as Bartlett. Worst case is that it gives Gardy another chance to feature Nick Punto for over 500 at bats.

Do not agree that this trade hinges on Morlan or Harris. It hinges on Young and only Young being a good player and good citizen.

Anonymous said...

I'm not thrilled about this deal, but maybe it's because of that thrown bat episode, that's a huge red flag. I don't mind dealing Garza but it looks like the Twins have added a hole instead of filling one. Getting a corner OF who can hit is not nearly as difficult as getting a slick fielding SS who can hit. Of course, if Young develops into a monster bat then all will be forgotten, but I'm not sure that the chances of that happening are that much greater than Garza becoming a very good #2 SP. What's worth more, a big corner OF bat or a very good #2 SP? Seems to me the Twins added too much on top of Garza to get the potentially big corner OF bat.

What really bothers me most about the deal was how little the Twins appear to value Bartlett - I hope he gets respect in Tampa and continues making the highlight reel plays. The Twins were also pretty quick to "throw in" another big prospect in place of Rincon, that is a bit disconcerting with the Santana/Nathan trades looming. I hope Bill Smith is not going to get schooled by smart GM's in the next month.

Nick N. said...

Anonymous, I share your concerns, which is why I'm a little wary of this trade. Don't sleep on Delmon though, he can really become a very, very good player.

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