Wednesday, January 31, 2007


Yesterday, Mr. Nelson wrote up an article discussing a potential opening day roster for the Twins and which players are likely to be there. While reading this post, it occurred to me that there are a few players that might not be necessary. For instance, Lew Ford essentially duplicates what Jason Tyner does on the bench. Same for Juan Rincon in relation to Jesse Crain.

The difference between each is that one (Crain, Tyner) is still pretty cheap, while they other costs a pretty penny for this small-market team (Ford wants $1.3 million, Rincon is looking for $3.2 million).

Both Ford and Rincon disappointed last year. Ford was an absolute mess at the plate, hitting .226/.287/.312 with 4 home runs, 18 RBI, and 9 stolen bases. Tyner hit .312/.345/.353 with no homers, 18 RBI, and 4 stolen bases. Ford's advantages are his better plate discipline, power, and base-running ability. But he isn't significantly better in any of these departments to make him essential to the team's success. His defense and ability to play center and right is important, but Tyner can step over and do just as well as Rondell.

Rincon was 3-1 with a 2.91 ERA, but his strikeout rate was down to 65 in 74 1/3 innings, while allowing 76 hits. Crain, on the other hand, was 4-5 with a 3.52 ERA, striking out 60 in 76 2/3 innings while allowing 79 hits. The difference is that Rincon started well and ended terribly, while Crain had a disastrous April (like the team) but was much better and struck out a lot more hitters in the second half.

Why mention these two players? Because its clear that many teams are desparate for outfielders and relievers and the Twins have a few redundant players on the team. Look at this story in the Miami-Herald (credit CarterHayes from over at SBG for coming across this story):
(Shannon) Stewart, who turns 33 next month, could be considered an option to play center field. But he has played just 98 games at the position during a career that began with Toronto in 1995, none since 2000. And he has been plagued by ailments in both feet in recent years.
Florida is apparently so desperate for a center fielder that they'll give Stewart, who should only be a DH at this point, a shot. Now, the Twins wouldn't get the Marlins' top prospects or anything, but they certainly might give up a decent or potentially good prospect for a guy like Ford. Of course, there's always a good market for good relievers, and Rincon's good overall numbers from last year probably mean he has some trade value and could bring in a hitting prospect or two. Since it's apparent that the Twins lack a ton of hitting in their minor league system, they could use it. And the money saved by trading Ford or Rincon (or both) of these players may help to make up for the $3.1 million wasted on Ramon Ortiz.

Now, it's apparent that Terry Ryan and the Twins aren't looking to make any big moves before spring training. But they might want to consider using other teams desparation to their advantage by getting rid of some of their extra pieces they can afford to lose.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Opening Day 25?

With about a month left before spring training really kicks into gear, there isn't a whole lot to discuss relating to baseball except for outside observation and speculations. With that in mind, I thought I'd spend today's post making a very preliminary prediction about what the Twins 25-man roster will look like when they open the season on April 2. Of course, I reserve the right to make revisions to this list over the next two months, as several of these players' futures will likely be dictated by their performances in spring training. Anyway, here's how I envision the opening day Twins' roster at this point in time:

Joe Mauer, C
Justin Morneau, 1B
Luis Castillo, 2B
Nick Punto, 3B
Jason Bartlett, SS
Rondell White, LF
Torii Hunter, CF
Michael Cuddyer, RF
Jason Kubel, DH

Mike Redmond, C
Alejandro Machado, IF
Jeff Cirillo, IF
Lew Ford, OF

Johan Santana
Boof Bonser
Carlos Silva
Ramon Ortiz
Matt Garza

Matt Guerrier
J.D. Durbin
Jesse Crain
Pat Neshek
Dennys Reyes
Juan Rincon
Joe Nathan

Now, there are a few things about this roster configuration that might strike you as odd. One such aspect is the presence of seven pitchers in the bullpen and only four bench players. Here is my reasoning:

I see six members of the Twins' bullpen as set in stone, barring injury (Guerrier, Crain, Rincon, Neshek, Reyes, Nathan). Durbin is out of options, meaning that the Twins will almost undoubtedly lose him if they don't keep him on the major-league roster out of spring training. I don't think the Twins are anxious to lose a guy who has been such a highly touted prospect and who posted such solid numbers last season before going down with an injury. With that in mind, I could see them bringing Durbin north as a reliever, filling a similar role to the one Willie Eyre filled last season. Of course, seven relievers is overkill, which is why it would make a lot of sense to trade Rincon or Crain before the season begins.

A four-man bench might seem a little short-handed, but this bench does provide a backup at every position. A seemingly glaring omission is Jason Tyner, who had a pretty good year in 2007. If all three starting outfielders are healthy, I see Tyner's role as redundant with that of Ford, and the Twins already have their left-handed hitting OF/DH-type in Kubel.

Meanwhile, the Rule V pick Machado provides the Twins with the sure-gloved middle infielder they love to have, while Cirillo can back up first and third and occasionally DH against southpaws.

So that's how I see the Twins' 2007 opening day roster shaping up at this point. Like I said, it's subject to change. If anyone else would like to contribute their own preliminary version, feel free to jot it down in the comments section.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Wherefore Art Thou, Romero?

The signing of Ramon Ortiz to a $3.1 million deal is a decision that has been admonished throughout the Twins blogosphere, including here. Many complaints have rightfully focused on the fact that Ortiz is simply not a good pitcher, and rarely has looked like one throughout his career. A number of people have also complained heavily about the fact that the Twins decided to part with a solid prospect in outfielder Alex Romero in order to make room for Ortiz on the 40-man roster. The Twins waived Romero and he was claimed by the Arizona Diamondbacks. Romero is a nice player, but I believe these complaints are overstated.

Romero, a 23-year-old switch-hitter out of Venezuela, has hit .293/.365/.410 over his five-year minor league career. He climbed aggressively through the Twins' system, and started the 2006 season in Triple-A. He struggled at that level, hitting just .250/.300/.301 before finishing the year back at Double-A and hitting a solid .284/.381/.461 there.

Essentially, Romero projects to be a versatile backup outfielder in the majors with good speed and little power. The Twins have at least three guys like that in their system already (Denard Span, Trent Oeltjen, Brandon Roberts), and they have two on their major-league roster (Lew Ford, Jason Tyner). This is all to say that Romero is hardly a unique player and he likely won't be missed as much as some people seem to believe.

One thing that will be missed in Romero is his plate discipline, which was very good throughout his minor league career. He posted a 214/203 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 1,901 minor-league at-bats, and that balanced K/BB is something that many of the other players mentioned above do not possess. However, he has hit only 32 home runs in those 1,901 at-bats and he's not an exceptional base-stealer.

Furthermore, I have heard (admittedly unsubstantiated) rumors indicating Romero had attitude problems that may have alienated him from his coaches.

Personally, a corner outfield prospect that I prefer is Doug Deeds, an Ohio State product who the Twins picked up in the ninth round of the 2002 draft. Deeds is considerably more strikeout-prone than Romero and he doesn't possess the same type of mobility, but he has also shown a much better ability to draw walks and he's a better power threat. Deeds, who holds a .298/.385/.472 line over 1,586 minor-league at-bats, has found himself stuck in Double-A for the past two years but should start the 2007 season in Triple-A and could make an impact in the majors as soon as this year.

Many people felt that it would have made more sense for the Twins to waive 33-year-old catcher Chris Heintz instead of Romero. The fact is that the Twins are more comfortable with a third catcher on their 40-man roster in case Joe Mauer or Mike Redmond should suffer an injury, and they clearly feel that Heintz is the most suitable one in their system. While he is far from an offensive weapon, the Twins seem to believe that he is a competent defender who can run the pitching staff, and that is more valuable than some people give credit for.

In summary, I think that Romero may be missed to some extent, but he tends to be a little overrated as a prospect, especially when people start making outlandish comparisons between him and Grady Sizemore or Shannon Stewart. The Twins still have several speedy outfielder types in their system, and they have a player in Deeds who projects as a better major-league hitter in my opinion. Losing a solid prospect in order to add a player like Ortiz is never a good thing, but if they had to part with someone, the Twins could have done a lot worse than Romero.

Saturday, January 27, 2007


As I did last year, I paid a visit to TwinsFest 2007 today. However, Mr. Nelson did not accompany me this time around, so I represent the blog in this facility. As expected, people are still very exicited about this club despite the way the off-season has gone.

One of the things I enjoyed the most last year was listening in on live interviews on Twins radio. As I did last year, I briefly met Terry Ryan before listening to the interview. Ryan seemed to understand the issues at hand for the Twins, mainly with starting pitching. The unfortunate thing is that, unlike last year, the fans weren't asking questions and instead the discussion was guided by Dan Gladden.

Thus, no one asked why Ryan was so eager to give Ortiz a one-year, $3.1 million contract or his feelings on Sidney Ponson. However, Gladden did prompt Ryan on the youth and their role in the previous year, specifically referencing Matt Garza. Ryan responded that Garza was somewhat "arrogant," but very confident, has four good pitches, and can be a top-of-the-line starter in the very near future. He said that we haven't "seen the real Garza yet."

Ryan seemed to imply that Garza may have a good chance in spring training to get a rotation spot, as he said that the only real focus he and his advisors will have during spring training will be the starting rotation. Let's hope that at least one of the younger pitchers will get a "fair shake," as Ryan would put it.

Ryan also discussed the future of Johan Santana. A recent ESPN article suggests that Santana may be looking for a very big pay-day. His agent Peter Greenberg was quoted as saying, "You're not going to tell me that the Royals have more money than the Twins... Carl Pohlad is one of the richest men in the world."

Many Twins fans, and this site in particular, have been concerned with Santana's future. The article suggests that the Twins have only this off-season to extend Santana's contract or they will have to trade him. Ryan seemed optimistic about the chances of getting extensions done for Santana and others, as he said that players deserve their "fair shake" and that many had outstanding years deserving of high raises.

Ryan, in other words, continued his trademark honesty that makes him so respected amongst his GM peers, who voted him Executive of the Year for the '06 season. I'm not sure the optimism is easily shared after seeing the kind of contracts awful or mediocre pitchers like Gil Meche and Jason Marquis got this off-season, but there is always the chance that Ryan can get Pohlad to drop a little more cash when the potential rewards are considered.

TwinsFest was once again a fun and interesting experience. Personally, I enjoyed my Dome Dog and acquiring Johan Santana, Joe Mauer, and Brad Radke rookie cards on the cheap. Needless to say, its time to get excited about Twins baseball.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Will Span Pan Out?

It wasn't long ago that the Twins' future replacement for Torii Hunter seemed set in stone. As recently as a last year, it appeared that Denard Span would unquestionably be taking over the reigns from Hunter perhaps as soon as the 2007 season. However, after a failure to show progress in the '06 season, Span's future is very much in doubt, and unless he can turn things around he may not project as anything better than a speedy backup outfielder in the majors.

The Twins drafted Span out of high school with their first-round pick in the 2002 draft, making him the 20th overall selection. He was the prototypical Twins' offensive draft pick: an athletic and toolsy player known for his defensive prowess. Span came onto the scene in 2003 with a decent pro debut, hitting .271/.355/.319 in the Appalachian Rookie League as a 19-year-old. His 2004 season was nothing special, but it was 2005 when Span put himself on the map and started to look like the franchise's future center fielder. After cruising to a .339/.410/.403 line with 13 stolen bases and a 25/22 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 49 games at High-A Ft. Myers, Span was promoted to Double-A where he hit .285/.355/.345 in 267 at-bats. Span started 2006 back in New Britain, but it seemed certain that his season would end in Triple-A, if not in the majors.

Sadly, Span failed to show any progress. He spent the entire year in Double-A, where he hit .285/.340/.349 over 536 ABs. That line might not look terrible, but it was extremely discouraging for a few reasons. For one thing, it was almost identical to the line he put up in the same league a year before. Secondly, his patience at the plate showed no improvement, as he struck out 78 times while drawing just 40 walks in 581 plate appearances. Span stole 24 bases, which was good for a season-high in his pro career. While 24 swiped bags in a season isn't necessarily bad, it's not exactly earth-shattering and it's fairly disappointing for a guy with lightning speed like Span. (For comparison, Alexi Casilla amassed 50 stolen bases between Ft. Myers and New Britain last year.)

As a speedy slap-hitter with almost no power whatsoever (of his 153 total hits last season, just 24 went for extra bases), Span is in a position where he needs to get on base frequently and use his legs to hurt the opposition in order to be an effective offensive player. With a .340 on-base percentage, he wasn't getting on base enough, and with just 24 stolen bases on 35 attempts, his speed wasn't making him dominant on the base-paths. At this point, it's hard to see him projecting as anything better than a Jason Tyner in the major leagues.

The main thing Span has going for him right now is that he'll turn 23 next month, so he's still young enough to get things turned around and get back on track to start in the big leagues. Because he's getting older and because Hunter will almost certainly be gone following the 2007 season (or perhaps before it's over), this will be a crucial season for Span and he'll have to show some improved discipline at the plate and a readiness to take his game to the next level. Right now, it seems that a prospect like Trent Oeltjen or Brandon Roberts would be a more sufficient starting center fielder for the Twins come 2008.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

The Return (Plus Trade Discussion)

As mentioned in the last post, I have reportedly gone missing or I've simply been lazy. Although some of this is true, it doesn't dispute the fact there haven't been many Twins stories to cover this winter, and I've been extremely busy in trying to get into law school. (I believe that in some ways, to be a great blogger, you need to be a lawyer. See this site and this site.)

However, after a long wait, I have returned. Though there aren't many things to talk about before we get started with spring training and the usual round of analysis and predictions before the season, there is a subject I haven't heard much about. That is the possiblity of trading Luis Castillo this season.

After a crazy off-season that has seen money flying around in a way that should scare the Twins, the organization has to consider its future. Castillo isn't making a ton of many and is most definitely a discount in this market at $5.75 million. However, as with Torii Hunter, I don't see it being highly likely that Castillo returns after 2007.

Last year, Castillo ranked third amongst AL second basemen in batting average at .296 and was second in OBP at .358. His lack of power hurt him, though, as his OPS of .728 ranked seventh among ten qualifiers. However, selling another team on a guy who can play solid defense (it would seem, at least, when he is motivated to), hits for average, and has patience at the top of the order shouldn't be hard.

The good news for the Twins is that they seem to have a guy waiting in the wings in Alexi Casilla. Casilla might not be quite ready at this point, but that doesn't seem like an issue since Terry Ryan likely won't consider trade options until the middle of the season anyways.

Hopefully Ryan considers the option soon, while teams get increasingly desperate for players below market price. It's highly unlikely that the Twins will keep Castillo and they may not have the requisite pitching and hitting required to compete in the AL Central. No offense to any optimists out there, but Sidney Ponson and Ramon Ortiz are a long way from serious solutions to making a playoff rotation. You don't round out a pitching rotation for a competitive team by getting three of the worst starting pitchers in the majors from the previous year all together.

Having said that, the Twins may be able to get some minor league pitching prospects for the future or some of the hitting they desperately need by trading Castillo. Since the team seems desperate to trust experience over youth, they may not even consider such a trade. But at this point it seems that it may be worthwhile to look to 2008 for a realistic run instead of 2007.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

How'd We Do?

It's becoming a tradition around here for Mr. Mosvick and I to make spring predictions for the upcoming season regarding which teams will head to the playoffs and which players will win the big awards. It's still a little early to be doing the Nicks' Picks for the 2007 season, but it's always interesting to go back and take a look at how we did the year before. With that in mind, I'm going to take a look back at our pre-season predictions from last year and see how we did. For a competitive twist, we'll each get a point for a correct prediction, and the winner can brag for a day.


Nick M. said: Oakland
Nick N. said: Oakland

Actual winner: Oakland

Fairly easy prediction. +1 each.


Nick M. said: Cleveland
Nick N. said: Cleveland

Actual winner: Minnesota

Well, at least we were both idiots.


Nick M. said: New York
Nick N. said: New York

Actual winner: New York

Huge surprise. Tied at two.


Nick M. said: Minnesota
Nick N. said: Minnesota

Actual winner: Detroit

This would have been correct if not for that crazy last day of the season. For what it's worth, several people in the comment section thought we were crazy for predicting the Twins to make the playoffs at all.


Nick M. said: Los Angeles
Nick N. said: Los Angeles

Actual winner: San Diego

So far, we had both been very creative and independent. Still knotted at two.


Nick M. said: St. Louis
Nick N. said: St. Louis

Actual winner: St. Louis



Nick M. said: New York
Nick N. said: Atlanta

Actual winner: New York

Crud. Mosvick takes the lead, 4-3.


Nick M. said: Atlanta
Nick N. said: New York

Actual winner: Los Angeles



Nick M. said: Alex Rodriguez
Nick N. said: Alex Rodriguez

Actual winner: Justin Morneau

This is the least disappointed I've ever been about being wrong.


Nick M. said: Albert Pujols
Nick N. said: Albert Pujols

Actual winner: Ryan Howard

We should've been right on this one.


Nick M. said: Johan Santana
Nick N. said: Roy Halladay

Actual winner: Johan Santana

Halladay had a good year, but Santana was unquestionably the best. Mosvick takes a commanding 5-3 lead.


Nick M. said: Jake Peavy
Nick N. said: Carlos Zambrano

Actual winner: Brandon Webb

The NL was as tough to predict one day before the results were announced as it was before the season started. No one exactly ran away with this award.


Nick M. said: Joel Zumaya
Nick N. said: Francisco Liriano

Actual winner: Justin Verlander

Liriano could've won it if he'd stayed healthy.


Nick M. said: Matt Cain
Nick N. said: Jeremy Hermida

Actual winner: Hanley Ramirez

Swing and a miss.


Alas, it wasn't a very great year for predictions on either part, but Nick M. did a little better to pick up a 5-3 victory. The predictions for 2007 will be coming in March at some point, and hopefully we can get some readers involved in the contest this year as well.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Getting Back Up To Speed

First off, let me apologize for the relative lack of updates this off-season. Be assured, it has more to do with the Twins' inactivity and less to do with us neglecting our duties. As for Mr. Mosvick... he hasn't posted anything since Dec. 20 and is at this point presumed dead. Or lazy.

Anyway, as the calendar rolls into February and spring training draws near, the updates should start to kick up around here, and we can start whining about the sad state of the Twins' 2007 pitching rotation.

Meanwhile, feel free to check out the Q&A we did with our good friend Seth Stohs over at

Friday, January 19, 2007

Picking at the Scrap Heap

Some things are just painfully predictable.

On Jan. 2, I wrote an article called The SP Dilemma that weighed some of the Twins' options to fill their need for help in the rotation. When addressing the subject of free agency, I mentioned two names as good possibilities: Sidney Ponson and Ramon Ortiz. Shortly I made that post, the Twins went out and signed Ponson. Today, it has come to light that the team will be handing Ortiz a one-year contract worth $3.1 million.

Like Ponson, Ortiz was a disaster last season. Playing in a pitcher-friendly park in Washington, Ortiz went 11-16 with a 5.57 ERA, striking out 104 and walking 64 in 190 2/3 innings. He posted a 3.77 ERA for the Angels during their championship season of 2002, but in the four years since he has posted a 5+ ERA three times, and at age 33 it's fairly unrealistic to expect a bounce-back.

Alas, the Twins continue to pick at the free agent scrap heap. This deal has to be seen as worse than the Ponson signing because it's for considerably more money and Ortiz is pretty much just as bad. Throughout his career, Ortiz has lacked control, he's been homer-prone, and he's been utterly hittable. There are few positive things to say about him, although I'm sure we'll hear the term "innings eater" get thrown around (despite the fact that he hasn't thrown 200+ innings since '02).

The distressing thing about these signings is that they represent a sad trend that the Twins are continuing to follow, which is showing a complete lack of faith in their young talent and opting instead for over-priced veterans who are mediocre or worse. Last year they decided to go with Juan Castro, Tony Batista and Kyle Lohse over Jason Bartlett, Nick Punto and Francisco Liriano. Those foolish decisions nearly ruined their season. This year, it looks like they might go with Ponson, Ortiz and Carlos Silva over quality young arms like Matt Garza, Glen Perkins and Kevin Slowey. My hope is that Ponson and Ortiz have been brought in simply to compete in spring training and that the Twins will go north with the best pitchers, but we've seen in the past that gaudy spring training numbers sometimes still aren't enough to detach the Twins from their vet obsession (like when Bartlett hit .360 in spring training last year and still couldn't beat out Castro for the starting job).

I'm not saying that all three of the young guys I mentioned are ready to be full-time major-league starters, but the fact that all three might have to start the season in the minors in favor of a bunch of guys that posted ERAs upward of 5.50 last season is absurd. I'm pretty sure that anyone from the group of Garza, Perkins, Slowey and Scott Baker could post an ERA like that (at worst) and they'd at least be gaining big-league valuable experience while doing it.

It's unclear at this point what the Twins are going to do with these new players they've signed. Perhaps a bad showing in spring training will keep them out of the 2007 rotation. Whatever the case, I know this much: the thought of Silva, Ponson and Ortiz in the same rotation is extremely painful. It could be a lonnng year.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The Future of Santana

Back in the late '90s, I remember lamenting about the fact that the Twins had few, if any, nationally recognizable names. The team never got coverage in the big media because they simply didn't have players people got excited about.

Oh, how things change. By the end of the 2006 season, the Twins' roster was chock full of star power. There was a Major League batting champion in Joe Mauer. An American League MVP in Justin Morneau. A Rookie of the Year candidate in Francisco Liriano. An elite closer in Joe Nathan. And, most importantly, a two-time Cy Young Award winner in Johan Santana.

Of course, the problem with boasting this many big-name players is that they all eventually command a large salary to coincide with their super-star status. It presents an especially vexing dilemma for a small-market team like the Twins, whose budget does not enable them to cut mega-deals with numerous players. With the free-agent market going crazy this off-season, there really couldn't be a worse time for the Twins' roster to be brimming with rising stars who are just hitting their arbitration years. Hammering out multi-year deals that will keep players like Mauer and Morneau around will be difficult, yet doable. Accomplishing those tasks while keeping Santana around, however, is starting to look like an impossible proposition.

Santana, who has been baseball's best pitcher over the past three years, has two years left on the four year, $40 million contract he signed prior to the 2005 season. There was a time when it seemed like the Twins might be able to re-sign Santana near the conclusion of this deal and perhaps keep the dominant left-hander in a Twins' uniform for the entirety of his career; unfortunately, recent events might have put thoughts of such a plan out of reach.

I suppose I should say there is one particular recent event may have crushed these dreams, and that was the contract that Barry Zito signed with the San Francisco Giants near the end of December. Zito's deal is for seven years and it averages out to $18 million/year -- an absolutely absurd contract that puts an exclamation point on an off-season that has been full of outrageous deals for over-valued starting pitchers.

Zito is a very good pitcher with a relatively impressive track record, but he is not even close to being on the same level as Santana. Zito, 28, sports a 3.55 career ERA and is a three-time All Star. He also won a Cy Young Award in 2002. His strongest points are his endurance and durability -- he has pitched 200+ innings in each of the last six seasons. Santana, who currently holds a 3.20 career ERA, will be 29 when his contract expires and could well have three or four Cy Youngs sitting in his cabinet by that time. He has averaged 231 innings per season since becoming a full-time starter in 2004. In those three years, Santana has led the American League in ERA twice, wins once, and strikeouts three times. That's a résumé that makes Zito's look pretty wimpy, even if you ignore the fact that Zito has been a full-time starter for six years compared to Santana's three.

With all that in mind, it's frightening as a Twins fan to think about how much Santana could command as a free agent. If Zito is worth $18 million, how much does that make Santana worth? $25 million? More?

The sad fact is that Santana will likely be completely unaffordable for the Minnesota Twins once his current bargain contract is up. With a hometown discount and a payroll increase based on the approach of a new stadium, re-upping Santana might be possible, but it would cripple the team financially. And with that in mind, Terry Ryan may have to start thinking about the possibility of trading Johan within the next couple years.

Just typing out such a thought makes me sick. Santana is probably my favorite player -- a historically great pitcher without much of an ego. He seems like a genuinely nice guy, and it is a joy to watch him work each five days. Still, if it comes down to a choice between keeping him for an extra season/half-season and letting him walk away for nothing, or dealing him early for a wealth of near-ready prospects, the latter option makes a lot more sense. writer Bob Klapisch created some waves among Twins fans a couple weeks ago when he made the following statement in an article he wrote:
"Of course, it's possible the Yankees' sudden accumulation of young, cheap talent that would be acquired in both the Johnson and Gary Sheffield deals is leading to a mega-swap with the Twins, who've undoubtedly calculated (and fainted at) the cost of keeping Johan Santana after he becomes a free agent in two years. Cashman's army of youngsters might be the escape the Twins would need, given that Barry Zito is now earning $18 million per year."
The Yankees have always seemed like a natural eventual destination for Santana, what with their massive payroll and their perpetual need for great pitching to complement their monstrous offense. And while I don't think that any of the prospects the Yankees have acquired this off-season are good enough to pry away Santana (with the possible expection of the impressive yet highly injury-prone Humberto Sanchez), there are a few players in the New York's system that could be packaged in a reasonably fair deal.

The obvious name for those who follow baseball prospects is Philip Hughes. At 20 years old, Hughes found himself already in Double-A by the end of last season, where he went 10-3 with a 2.25 ERA and 0.91 WHIP over 116 innings, racking up 138 strikeouts while walking just 32. Hughes is one of the brightest prospects in baseball, and is so good the Yankees would no doubt be extremely hesitant to part with him, but it seems that his name would almost have to be involved in a deal for Santana.

Another player in the Yankees' system that would intrigue the Twins is Jose Tabata, an 18-year-old outfielder from Venezuela who has hit .303/.379/.419 in a pair of seasons as a pro. Acquiring Tabata would give the Twins an extremely promising future player at a corner outfield spot, which would be nice with Jason Kubel's future uncertain and Cuddyer set to become expensive within the next few years.

One other particularly interesting name in the Yankees system is the young pitcher Dellin Betances. At 6'9" and 215 pounds, Betances is a unique prospect who has been tagged with the nickname "Baby Unit." Baseball America ranks Betances as the third-best prospect in the Yankees' system behind Hughes and Tabata, and there's a chance that the Twins could ask for him instead of Hughes as the potential ace that would have to be included in a Santana deal.

Additionally, there are a few young players already on the Yankees' major-league roster that would fit well with the Twins, including second baseman Robinson Cano and outfielder Melky Cabrera.

So at this point it appears that New York would be a logical destination for Santana if the Twins were to decide to trade him before the conclusion of his contract. The Yankees have the type of payroll that would allow them to sign Santana to a monster deal, and they have plenty of young talent to piece together an attractive offer to pry him away from the Twins. And while the thought of opening that new ballpark in 2010 without Santana as the team's ace is fairly depressing, the thought of having a rotation that potentially includes Hughes, Liriano and Matt Garza is awfully exciting.

There is no assurance that the Twins will trade Santana, and even if they do it would almost undoubtedly be at least a year away. Still, Klapisch's mention of the Yankees as a potential trade partner makes a lot of sense (though not necessarily by his reasoning) and in a slow off-season like this, it's enough to merit discussion. The Twins have traded a star player in his prime to the Yankees for a crop of prospects before (see: Knoblauch, Charles) and by the time 2008 rolls around we could see them do it again. For the future of the franchise, it might be the wisest choice.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

An Inadequate Answer

On Tuesday I wrote on this blog about the dilemma the Twins have found themselves in, badly needing a starting pitcher with just six weeks remaining until players report to Ft. Myers for spring training. One day after I wrote this article, the Twins made news by signing Sidney Ponson to an incentive-laden one-year contract that could be worth up to $3 million.

In the article I wrote Tuesday, I brought up Ponson as a possible signing for the Twins and said the following:
Ponson has intrigued scouts because he can throw hard and he had a few solid years with the Orioles. Ponson is still only [30], but he has poor control and his numbers over the past three seasons have been exceptionally ugly. At this point, it's unrealistic to expect him to put up better numbers than Silva did last year.
It is an unfortunate truth. No doubt there will be optimists who look at Ponson's 2003 campaign (216 IP, 17-12 record, 3.75 ERA, 134 K/66 BB) and see no reason why he can't return to that form with a fresh start in Minnesota, especially with a pitching coach in Rick Anderson who has proven himself as a magician time and time again. Sadly, that simply isn't very likely. Ponson has had just one good season outside of his '03 campaign (that one coming in 2002) and he has shown steady decline in his numbers over the past three years.

On top of his poor on-the-field performance, Ponson has struggled with alcohol and legal issues for the past several years. He has been arrested for driving under the influence on multiple occasions and in 2004 was arrested in Aruba for assaulting a judge.

The contract that Ponson signed was a minor-league deal, meaning there is no promise of a major-league roster spot. This is potentially good news, because it indicates that Terry Ryan is keeping his options open. The question now is whether Ryan signed Ponson as a backup plan in case one of the young guys (or another signing or trade) doesn't pan out, or as a legitimate member of the 2007 rotation. My guess is that much will depend on what Ponson looks like in spring training, and if he looks as bad as he did last year, he won't make the roster.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

The SP Dilemma

With the annual Winter Meetings out of the way and spring training just a couple months away (already... can you believe it?), the Twins have filled a few holes in their roster and seem dedicated to keeping things the same as last year as much as possible. They made moves to bring back Carlos Silva, Torii Hunter and Rondell White; they added some depth to their infield by signing Jeff Cirillo; and they signed a couple long-shots to minor-league contracts. They also brought in a kid in the Rule V draft by the name of Alejandro Machado, who I think has a good shot at making the roster as a utility man.

The case can be made that the Twins' roster is pretty much set offensively (although certainly not in ideal terms). Each starting position is filled, with Justin Morneau, Luis Castillo, Nick Punto and Jason Bartlett manning the infield; Joe Mauer returning at catcher; and the trio of Rondell White, Torii Hunter and Michael Cuddyer occupying the outfield spots. Jason Kubel appears to be the top choice at designated hitter at this point in time. The bench will likely comprise Mike Redmond, Cirillo, Jason Tyner and Lew Ford, with the last few spots remaining up for grabs.

Likewise, the bullpen seems essentially set in stone, with each hurler from the phenomenal 2006 unit set to return.

While these aspects of the roster appear to be in relatively good shape, one unit remains in a major state of flux: the starting rotation. With Brad Radke retiring and Francisco Liriano gone for the year in the aftermath of his elbow operation, the Twins are left with at least one gaping hole in their rotation. Finding a reasonably priced starter via free agency or trade was Terry Ryan's top goal coming into the off-season, and during the first couple months he has been unable to take care of it. During that span, many options have come off the market. Mid-level starters like Vicente Padilla, Gil Meche, Ted Lilly and Jason Marquis have signed (albeit ridiculous) contracts, and a few potential trade targets, such as Jason Jennings, have already been moved.

At this point, three spots in the rotation appear to be locked up by Johan Santana, Boof Bonser and Carlos Silva. Another spot may go to Matt Garza, who has good stuff and may be ready after getting some seasoning last year. That final spot in the rotation, however, remains a question mark. It is possible that Ryan will not make a move, and he will look at another of the younger and inexperienced pitchers in the Twins system, such as Glen Perkins or Kevin Slowey. Scott Baker is another possible option, but his stock has dropped considerably after an extremely disappointing 2006 campaign.

Since Perkins and Slowey (or any other of the Twins promising minor league starters for that matter) have almost no major league experience, it's tough to see Ryan going into the season with one of them occupying a spot in the rotation. Clearly, Ryan is a guy who values experience (Juan Castro over Jason Bartlett, anyone?), so the notion that be content with a rotation that included Bonser, Garza AND another inexperienced youngster is almost unthinkable.

The more likely outcome remains a veteran acquisition. As was noted above, many possible targets are no longer available, but there are still a few guys out there that Ryan might take a look at. One such pitcher is free agent Sidney Ponson, who posted a 6.25 ERA in 85 innings between the Cardinals and Yankees last season. Ponson has intrigued scouts because he can throw hard and he had a few solid years with the Orioles. Ponson is still only 29, but he has poor control and his numbers over the past three seasons have been exceptionally ugly. At this point, it's unrealistic to expect him to put up better numbers than Silva did last year. Another free agent the Twins have reportedly spoken to is Ramon Ortiz, a 33-year-old right-hander who pitched for the Nationals last season. Like Ponson, Ortiz has not pitched well over the past several seasons, although his numbers have not been quite as bad. Having either of these pitchers in the same rotation as Silva could be a recipe for disaster, and might be a stretch to expect pitching coach Rick Anderson to work his magic and orchestrate a career revival for any of them.

While free agency bears little promise for the Twins' starting pitching dilemma, a trade always remains possible. I haven't heard any serious rumors pop up since the Jennings trade failed to materialize, but the Twins do have some valuable trade nuggets that they could afford to part with (such as Juan Rincon and Baker).

However they go about it, it is important that the Twins add another arm to their rotation if they expect to contend this season. Ryan should probably look to make a move in the near future before all of his options evaporate.