Wednesday, January 30, 2008

A Cold Day in Minnesota

The Twins have been known to surprise us before. Who would have thought that the prospects received back in the Frank Viola trade would help push them to a World Series championship just two years later? Who could have known that the prospects brought over in the Chuck Knoblauch deal would help form the foundation for putting them back into contention after a horrible dry spell in the late '90s? How could anyone have predicted that two of the relatively unknown pitchers received back in the A.J. Pierzynski trade would transform into elite All-Stars, while the third became an important member of the rotation?

Let's face it, the Twins have a track record of success when trading away star players amidst their primes, even if the results initially seem heavily skewed in favor of the other team. Maybe that will be the case with yesterday's deal that likely sends Johan Santana to the Mets in return for four unspectacular prospects. Unfortunately, that seems rather unlikely.

According to reports, the Twins made a final offer to Santana for five years and $100 million. Santana turned the offer down, and he and his agent pressured the Twins to make a decision as soon as possible. With the Red Sox and Yankees both reportedly having backed off with their offers, Bill Smith was forced to take what he could get from the Mets. It ended up being a package that includes center fielder Carlos Gomez and pitchers Deolis Guerra, Kevin Mulvey and Philip Humber.

All that's left is for Santana to pass a physical and for the Mets to reach an agreement with the left-hander on a contract extension for the deal to become official. Since Santana is in tip-top shape and the Mets have the fiscal resources to give him the kind of money he's seeking, it seems very likely that this deal is as good as done.

There was really no way the Twins were going to get equal value for the best pitcher in baseball, and each of the rumored offers from the Yankees, Red Sox and Mets was underwhelming in its own way. Yet, almost each of those deals included at least one player who could be considered a relatively sure bet to produce at the major-league level, a quality which this Mets package lacks. Perhaps it is unfair to compare this package to the rumored superior deals from the Red Sox and Yankees (or even the rumored superior deals from the Mets that included Fernando Martinez and/or Mike Pelfrey) and to accuse Smith of overplaying his hand. After all, there were continual rumblings that Yankees' GM Brian Cashman was unwilling to part with Phil Hughes, and many believed that Boston's only real interest in this sweepstakes was keeping Santana out of the Bronx. Additionally, it is entirely possible that the Mets were never truly considering parting ways with Martinez or Pelfrey. Still, it seems awfully hard to believe that this is the best offer the Twins officially received for Santana, and it's not clear to me that this course of action will be more beneficial to the team than simply hanging onto Santana for another year and taking the draft picks when he departs for free agency following the 2008 season.

In fairness, the players received from the Mets in this deal aren't bad. There's just a lot of questions surrounding them. I first discussed the players involved in the deal a couple weeks ago, when Joe Christensen first reported that the Mets had made the offer. When breaking down the players, I noted that I'm higher on Gomez than most, but that he will need to overcome his alarming plate discipline issues and gain some power to develop into a solid major-league starter. Gomez is a superb athlete with the ability to steal 60+ stolen bases and he has the tools to become an excellent defender in center field with more experience. He could be a star, but he has a long way to go. He was overwhelmed in the majors last year and would likely start this season in Rochester.

I imagine that the Twins view Guerra as the type of pitcher who could eventually transform into a Santana-type talent. At age 18, he has already developed a plus change-up, which will likely become more effective as he adds velocity to his fastball. But there are major concerns. His breaking pitches aren't strong, he's already experienced some shoulder issues, and he still doesn't turn 19 until April, which makes him fairly difficult project. Scouts view Guerra as the type of pitcher who could develop into a star in the major leagues, but he has so many hurdles yet to overcome before that point that it's very difficult to factor him into the Twins' plans, short-term or long-term.

The other two pitchers in the deal, Mulvey and Humber, don't project as anything more than middle-of-the-rotation starters, but then again they also seem like the types of players that could end up surprising us, given the Twins' history. Mulvey is probably being underrated by some -- he has had success at each stop in the minors and reached Triple-A last year in just his first professional season. Unfortunately, it's difficult to get excited about him because he lacks a dominating arsenal. Humber was a terrific pitcher in college and a first-round draft pick, but he underwent Tommy John surgery in 2005 and has been unspectacular since then. Humber does know how to pitch, however, and he's a guy I could see making a name for himself in the Twins' bullpen.

In order for this deal to really work out for the Twins, Gomez and Guerra need to take some significant strides and make good on their considerable potential. Mulvey and Humber aren't likely to separate themselves from the numerous solid pitching prospects already littering the Twins' system, but if they can, it would certainly be an added bonus and would take the heat off of Smith in what appears to be a situation that could have been handled a lot better. The odds aren't necessarily stacked against these four players becoming productive contributors to the Twins, but the fact that the package lacks a relative sure bet like Hughes or Ellsbury, or even Martinez or Jon Lester, makes the swap a rather disappointing one from the Twins' standpoint. Smith has traded an exclamation point for several question marks, and in dealing Santana he has also likely mortgaged the Twins' chances of competing in 2008 with an eye toward the future. Time will tell whether the gamble pays off, but I'm not overly optimistic.

30 comments:

Maher said...

so basically we got a lot of question marks for santana. great. just great.

Anonymous said...

I'm pretty down on this too.

Gomez has quite a few question marks on him, and I'm not that high on him. I'm worried he never learns sufficient plate discipline to get an OBP over .350 and becomes a light-hitting CF with good speed that never gets on base enough to use it.

Mulvey & Humber don't excite me; I'm worried these are guys that Joe McIlvane snowed us on. The upside on them doesn't look any better than a Blackburn or Slowey and could be worse. What good does it do us having a few more #3-4 starters?

Guerra might be something, someday, but he also might be a complete bust. Hard to get excited about a guy that might already be having shoulder trouble.

Blegh.

No Worries! said...

If $100 Million over five years was not enough to keep him here in Minneapolis, surrounded by a strong group of young players and even friends, peace out homie!

I do not see it a cold day, we enter every year as the underdog. This is just an open door of opportunity for someone who wants to step up and be the man.

neckrolls said...

I wanted to see that the Twins offered Santana 5 for $100 million before giving up - looks like that's the case. I'm just disappointed that the guys we got, though good prospects, don't really fill any of the holes in the organization.

I agree that Gomez should probably start the year at Rochester, as should Span and Pridie, ideally. That's three CFs who could potentially be ready by the summer, at least one more than necessary.

I don't see Mulvey and Humber as being a lot different than Blackburn, Slowey, Perkins, Duensing. Guerra could be good in a few years, but so could Pino, Robertson, Manship, Berlind.

I'd feel a lot better about this if the Twins had gained some players who added depth to some of the spots it is lacking. Hopefully, Smith will trade some of this surplus of pitchers and CFs and accomplish just that.

Nick N. said...

I do not see it a cold day, we enter every year as the underdog. This is just an open door of opportunity for someone who wants to step up and be the man.

Fair enough. "Cold day" was supposed to be something of a double entendre, since it was absolutely frigid out yesterday in MN.

I wanted to see that the Twins offered Santana 5 for $100 million before giving up - looks like that's the case. I'm just disappointed that the guys we got, though good prospects, don't really fill any of the holes in the organization.

Right, that's another major problem that I didn't really address in the post. The Mets are far from ideal as trading partners because, as Twins Geek noted in his post yesterday, their farm system is extremely similar to ours. They have some solid speedy outfielders, some promising hitting prospects that are nowhere close to major-league ready, and a bunch of mid-tier pitching prospects. If Ben Revere continues to develop and is major-league ready in a couple years, what happens with Gomez? Chances are his bat won't play in a corner outfield spot.

Matt P. said...

It seems after all this hype this trade ended up being kind of a let down. While I do feel like it has the potential to be better than the deals the red sox and yanks tossed around, right now it kind of sucks. At least with the options given from those teams we would of had a player capable of filling holes in the system, ideally a CF. I will say i'm up on Gomez, he does have a lot of talent and could carve out a niche for himself in the squad, but after that things start to go south.

One of the real deal breakers for me in this trade is that we didn't get anywhere near face value for Johan. Ideally I would have liked to see the Twins wait until the trade deadline and wait for teams that weren't in the mix for Santana originally start to feel the pressure of not having a lights out starter. Maybe the Mets would have been locked in a fierce race with the Phillies with a key injury to their rotation. They would have certainly dealt Martinez or Pelfrey. The same thing could have happened out in the NL west via the Dodgers. It's all speculation but it would have been nice to see some better offers.

You adressed the issue before of young pitching being harder to judge than position players and that seems to be the situation we're in now. Granted the giants didn't think much of Nathan, Bonser and Liriano but the trio we got in this deal doesn't seem to have the same intrigue surrounding it. You get a very raw pitcher in Guerra and while I don't expect him to spend his tenure here in the minors, it's hard to predict what kind of impact he'll have in the long run. Mulvey will find a spot somewhere in the pen or in AAA but Humber is where this deal really starts to go south for me. It seems to me like we might have just signed a kerry wood type player. Sure he was good before his surgery, but after he lost movement on his pitches. We all know what the results of that can be via the departed Silva.

This trade is far from being fairly analyzed and who knows what Bill Smith has in store for us. Maybe he picked up some prospects to entice another team into a trade. The real upside about trading to the Mets is that he's playing in the NL, thank god.

Bill Smith - you gotta know when to hold em, and you just folded em.

TT said...

"It seems after all this hype this trade ended up being kind of a let down."

I think that is most of what is going on. A lot of folks looked at Hughes and Ellsbury and saw players who were immediate stars. None of the players the Twins got are likely to be stars this year. But I remember the same criticism of the Twins for not getting Ricky Ledee in in Knoblauch deal. The hype, especially out of New York and Boston, often doesn't reflect reality.

Guerra = Liriano in the San Francisco trade. Lots of upside but lots of risk.

Gomez may turn into a role player if he doesn't hit, but he projects to develop power as he gets old. He could be the next Torii Hunter.

You never have too much pitching. And the Twins certainly don't at this point. They are going to need to take a couple years to sort through which of the prospects are for real. That was true no matter who they got in return for Santana. This adds a couple more arms to the mix, and Humber has a pretty high upside if he ever gets back to where he was when drafted.

The upside of this deal looks like it is higher than either the Red Sox or the Yankees offer. But it is going to take a couple years for that upside to show itself. Given the Twins pitching, without a single established starter, looking at long term value probably makes sense.

Anonymous said...

Are you still going to wear your Santana jersey in NY?

SteveAV said...

The ironic/bizarre aspect of this offseason is that the Twins acquired more in trade value for Garza than they did for Santanna.

If that does not underline how truly screwed up Baseball economics are, then we are sadly mistaken.

Steve in Apple Valley

Nick N. said...

Are you still going to wear your Santana jersey in NY?

Heck yeah!

Guerra = Liriano in the San Francisco trade. Lots of upside but lots of risk.

Not sure that comparison works. What was the risk with Liriano? He was basically a toss-in in a trade for A.J. Pierzynski. If he panned out, great, but if not no one was going to make a fuss.

Guerra is -- depending on how you look at it -- either the No. 1 or No. 2 piece coming back in a trade for Johan freakin' Santana. There's a lot more risk there. Also, I would argue that Liriano was a more promising pitcher when the Twins traded for him than Guerra -- he had been dominant in A-ball as a teenager (whereas Guerra has just held his own there) but the Giants sold low because of his injury problems.

In any case, you can't exactly count on a raw 18-year-old turning into Francisco Liriano. Even Terry Ryan has admitted that he got pretty lucky in that instance.

Gomez may turn into a role player if he doesn't hit, but he projects to develop power as he gets old. He could be the next Torii Hunter.

Well I don't think there's any chance Gomez is going to be racking up 30-HR seasons a la Hunter. A better comp is probably Jose Reyes, who had very little power coming up through the minors but developed into a speedster capable of punching out 15-20 home runs after a few years in the majors. That's probably the best-case scenario for Gomez, and I wouldn't be unhappy with that (even though Reyes is somewhat overrated). But he's got a ways to go before he's in Reyes' league.

You never have too much pitching.

No, but you can have too little offense and too little front-line pitching.

The ironic/bizarre aspect of this offseason is that the Twins acquired more in trade value for Garza than they did for Santanna.

Ain't it nutty?

Edward said...

Pohlad is a shrewd, shrewd man. He gets a stadium from the taxpayers, and then cant even give them Johan Santana. Unreal. good writeup on him here...check it out:

http://mlbfleecefactor.com/2008/01/29/off-field-fleeces-billionaire-carl-pohlad-fleeces-twins-fans-again/

WWCD said...

I don't get it. Bill Smith stared down the Yankees and their silly deadline and the winter meetings. But an agent gives him a deadline and he folds. Do 4 question marks beat 2 draft choices and one season of Santana? Smith should have laid it out for Santana and said "I'm going with the draft choices, now you can sign the extension we've offered or you can take on the risk of injury and become a free agent." This is the "What Would Calvin Do" philosophy, of course.

Oh well, on to Nathan.

TT said...

What was the risk with Liriano?

He was a low A-ball player who had been injured. He was definitely was not a "throw-in" any more than Guerra is. As you note, the reports at the time said Liriano might be the best player in that trade.

he had been dominant in A-ball as a teenager (whereas Guerra has just held his own there)

I know some fans think low minor league results tell you a lot. But they really don't. And I wouldn't call Liriano's numbers in low A or rookie league "dominant". He had ERA's around 3.5 which is good, but not dominant.

Well I don't think there's any chance Gomez is going to be racking up 30-HR seasons a la Hunter.

His power numbers in the minors are not much different than Hunters. Actually they may be a little better since he has been younger at each stop. Typically power develops late. Look at Kirby Puckett's power numbers.

A better comp is probably Jose Reyes

Reyes was 24 last year, do you really think his full power has developed?

Nick N. said...

Do 4 question marks beat 2 draft choices and one season of Santana? Smith should have laid it out for Santana and said "I'm going with the draft choices, now you can sign the extension we've offered or you can take on the risk of injury and become a free agent." This is the "What Would Calvin Do" philosophy, of course.

I tend to agree. Ah well.

He was a low A-ball player who had been injured. He was definitely was not a "throw-in" any more than Guerra is. As you note, the reports at the time said Liriano might be the best player in that trade.

That's simply untrue. The meat of that trade was Joe Nathan, a proven major-league reliever, and Boof Bonser, a former first-round pick with a solid minor-league track record. Shoulder problem had limited Liriano to just nine innings in 2003.

Read this USA Today story, if you don't believe me. Here's the relevant portion:

The Giants, not knowing if Liriano would fulfill his potential, didn't blink when the Twins asked for him in trade talks that winter for All-Star catcher A.J. Pierzynski. The teams had already agreed on reliever Joe Nathan and minor league starter Boof Bonser.

With the San Diego Padres and Chicago Cubs also expressing strong interest in Pierzynski, the Giants didn't offer any resistance when the Twins asked to include Liriano.

"We got flat-out lucky," Twins GM Terry Ryan says. "If we had any idea he'd be this kind of pitcher, we would have pushed much harder for him. If the Giants had known, they would have resisted. It was just one of those trades that fell our way."


And the most important point here is that Liriano was the third piece in a trade for Pierzynski, who was a solid catcher. Guerra is the first or second piece in a trade for Santana, who is the single best pitcher in all of baseball. There's a LOT more risk with him than Liriano... period.

I know some fans think low minor league results tell you a lot. But they really don't. And I wouldn't call Liriano's numbers in low A or rookie league "dominant". He had ERA's around 3.5 which is good, but not dominant.

When I talk about dominance, I am talking about strikeout rates. Liriano was at Single-A as an 18-year-old in 2002, facing hitters that were almost uniformly older and more experienced, and he struck out over a batter per inning. Guerra wasn't able to do that. Strikeout rates are extremely important and very telling in the low minors.

Reyes was 24 last year, do you really think his full power has developed?

Yes. And for every Hunter or Reyes who develop power as they move into their 20s, there are dozens of guys like Rivas and Guzman and Pierre and so forth that never really develop any power.

TT said...

Liriano was ranked 83rd on BA's 2003 top 100 prospect list. Which I believe was better than Nathan or Bonser. His value had dropped because of injury, but that kind of prospect is not a throw in any deal.

meat of that trade was Joe Nathan, a proven major-league reliever

No, Nathan was just the major league ready part of the deal. He was described as "bullpen help". BBA Report

Guerra is the first or second piece in a trade for Santana

I don't see it that way. Guerra can fail and the Twins still come out ahead in the trade, just as the Nathan deal worked even if Liriano never returns to form.

Strikeout rates are extremely important and very telling in the low minors.

No, they aren't. They are just one indicator, especially in the low minors. As I said above, Liriano was a top prospect. But that was because he had the kind of stuff that made him a top prospect. That may show up in the results, but not always.

The fact is that Guerra had a 2.15 ERA in the Sally League at age 17, Liriano had a 3.49 ERA at age 18 in the same league, same city.. Liriano gave up 61 hits while getting 80 IP. Guerra gave up 59 hits while pitching 82 innings. Guerra walked more batters and struck out fewer. But the idea that Liriano was clearly more dominant is a gross exaggeration.

there are dozens of guys like Rivas and Guzman and Pierre and so forth that never really develop any power.

Of course there are but none of those guys ever projected as having power. You are comparing apples and oranges.

Nick N. said...

Liriano was ranked 83rd on BA's 2003 top 100 prospect list. Which I believe was better than Nathan or Bonser. His value had dropped because of injury, but that kind of prospect is not a throw in any deal.

You have no evidence to support that claim though. I have a direct quote from Terry Ryan indicating that the Twins weren't pushing particularly hard for Liriano and the Giants weren't all that hesitant to part with him. To me, that is the definition of a "toss-in" in a trade. Liriano had ranked toward the back of BA's prospect list, and that was BEFORE he was limited to nine total innings during the 2003 season.

No, Nathan was just the major league ready part of the deal. He was described as "bullpen help".

Nathan was more than just major-league ready bullpen help. He had posted a 2.96 ERA and 9.46 K/9 out of the Giants' bullpen. He was an established dominant major-league reliever, and the Twins didn't just bring him in as "bullpen help," they pretty clearly acquired him with plans of making him their closer. There's simply no denying that he was the centerpiece of this deal from the Twins' standpoint.

I don't see it that way. Guerra can fail and the Twins still come out ahead in the trade, just as the Nathan deal worked even if Liriano never returns to form.

The Twins would have an extremely difficult time coming out on top on this deal if Guerra doesn't plan out. Keep in mind that they are trading their ace pitcher right now, now a solid catcher who had a superior replacement waiting in the wings. Even if Liriano never recovered from his injury troubles, the Twins were still getting an established above-average reliever to make their closer, and a pitching prospect in Bonser who was a former first-round pick and who had ranked No. 29 on BA's Top 100 Prospects list in 2002.

If Guerra busts, the Twins will need Gomez to turn into a star, and one or both of Mulvey and Humber to overshoot their generally-accepted potential as No. 3 or 4 starters. If the Twins trade the best pitcher in baseball and end up getting one or zero above-average players out of the deal, then I don't see how you can view this trade as a success. Much more rides on Guerra in this deal than rode on Liriano in the Pierzynski deal.

But the idea that Liriano was clearly more dominant is a gross exaggeration.

I never said Liriano was "clearly more dominant," but it wouldn't be a gross exaggeration. Generally, if guys have good stuff, this miss bats and strike people out. Guerra has not posted a K/9 higher than 7.05, whereas Liriano never had a K/9 below 9.52 in his entire minor-league career. If you compare scouting reports of Guerra now to those of Liriano when he was at that age, it is quite clear that Liriano's stuff was mored developed at that point in his career. That's not to say that Guerra's stuff can't develop and he can't turn into a dominant pitcher, but it's hardly something you can count on. It seems to me like the Twins are counting on it, though, in order to come out looking good in this trade.

Nick M. said...

I think its too easy to forget the larger point Nick is making. There is a difference between the expectations you have for prospects in a deal for a good catcher versus a deal for the best starting pitcher in baseball. The Twins weren't counting on Liriano to be great in order for the deal to work out. They are, on the other hand, counting on a lot more to work out in this deal and it looks fairly shaky at the moment.

TT said...

have a direct quote from Terry Ryan indicating that the Twins weren't pushing particularly hard for Liriano

You are reading way too much into that. Ryan has said much the same thing about Santana. I can't imagine Terry Ryan saying - "Yeh, I really took Sabean to the cleaners." In fact, show me a trade/deal where Ryan said anything other than he was lucky.

The reports at the time talked about Liriano's upside and that he wouldn't have been available except for his injury history. He was not a surprise.

Bobby Evans, the Giants director of minor league administration, said, "Liriano has electric stuff but has only pitched in Double-A, while Bonser is right on the cusp of being a Major Leaguer."

And another contemporaneous account:

Bonser and Liriano were considered two of the Giants' top prospects. Still, Sabean said he didn't hesitate to trade for a proven commodity at catcher because of the risk of what those players may turn into.

"They are all talented in their levels of development, but it wasn't that hard to cross that bridge. It's not often when you can give up a middle reliever and two unproven minor-leaguers for a left- handed hitting catcher."


Here is a blogsphere comment:
"Aaron Gleeman is not sure Mauer is ready yet. The Twins have to be hoping that Nathan isn't going to drop off the earth and that one of the young pitchers pans out. Neither has advanced far enough to even discuss when they will be ready for the bigs.
"


Now does that sound familiar?

Liriano had ranked toward the back of BA's prospect list

The 83rd best prospect in baseball is not at the "back" of any list.

Keep in mind that they are trading their ace pitcher right now

They are trading one year of a very high priced pitcher. The Twins already used up most of the value they had in Santana. Santana, not the Twins, controls his value after this season.

the Twins were still getting an established above-average reliever

Nathan had one good season as a setup guy after coming back from injury and a career ERA over 4.00. They were giving up a young, left handed all-star catcher in his first year of arbitration.

whereas Liriano never had a K/9 below 9.52 in his entire minor-league career

You mean in his 160 IP of rookie and low A ball? He also never had an ERA under 3.50 during those seasons. Gurrea has.

Gurrea is no more a long shot to be a major league star than Liriano was. Which is still a long shot for any A ball player. But those are the sorts of gambles that pay off if you make enough of them.

one or both of Mulvey and Humber to overshoot their generally-accepted potential as No. 3 or 4 starters.

Generally accepted by who? The problem here is that the Twins have consistently demonstrated themselves as better evaluators of talent than the blogsphere. Or most other teams for that matter. If the Twins end up with two guys in their rotation and a 30-30 gold glove outfielder, no one will care what happened with Guerra.

TT said...

There is a difference between the expectations you have for prospects in a deal for a good catcher versus a deal for the best starting pitcher in baseball.

I think there is a more important "larger point". There is a huge difference in what you can expect to get for a young allstar catcher just entering arbitration and a starter with one year left on a no-trade contract and demands for a very large multi-year contract to waive his no trade agreement.

Nick N. said...

The blurbs you posted above are really just rehashes of articles written on the subject. They don't tell us much. The basic fact is that the Giants pretty much threw in Liriano as a final piece to improve their offer and get Pierzynski. Meanwhile, Guerra is almost undoubtedly one of they key pieces of the Santana deal for the Twins.

Gurrea is no more a long shot to be a major league star than Liriano was. Which is still a long shot for any A ball player. But those are the sorts of gambles that pay off if you make enough of them.

This is my essential point. The Twins could afford to gamble on Liriano because he was the third piece in that trade and little was expected of him. They could have been relatively comfortable with Nathan and Bonser because those two would have made a serviceable return for Pierzynski alone. Conversely, this Santana deal is likely a failure if Guerra busts, unless Gomez magically learns some plate discipline or starts pounding home runs, both of which are pretty unlikely. Don't get me wrong, I like Gomez, but viewing him as a 30 HR guy or a .360+ OBP guy is a huge stretch at this point, and he really has to do at least one of those things to become a real offensive force.

The 83rd best prospect in baseball is not at the "back" of any list.

It's toward the back of a Top 100 list. For comparison, the No. 83 prospect on BA's Top 100 list for 2007 was Boston's Michael Bowden, a guy who was being mentioned a potential fourth piece in a trade with the Red Sox.

Generally accepted by who? The problem here is that the Twins have consistently demonstrated themselves as better evaluators of talent than the blogsphere.

Yeah, like when they handed 40 percent of their starts to Ramon Ortiz and Sidney Ponson during the first chunk of last season.

If you really think Mulvey or Humber is destined to be anything more than a middle-of-the-rotation starter, you're dreaming. Not that it's impossible, but neither has done anything to indicate their ceiling is higher than that (unless Humber can regain his pre-TJ surgery form, which seems unlikely at this point). The Twins grabbed those two pitchers because they wanted to restock their system with some arms after losing three pitchers during this offseason that might have been their 1-2-3 starters next year. The deal is built around Gomez and Guerra, and that's what scares me.

brianS said...

Nathan was more than just major-league ready bullpen help. He had posted a 2.96 ERA and 9.46 K/9 out of the Giants' bullpen. He was an established dominant major-league reliever, and the Twins didn't just bring him in as "bullpen help," they pretty clearly acquired him with plans of making him their closer. There's simply no denying that he was the centerpiece of this deal from the Twins' standpoint.

While he may have been the "centerpiece" of that deal, in the sense that he was already a big-league pitcher, I think it's a pretty big stretch to say he was "an established dominant major-league reliever"

He entered in the 7th or earlier in 48 of his 78 appearances that year. It wasn't until mid-August that he was clearly established as the setup guy (entering in the 8th or 9th in 18 of his last 23 appearances). Yes, he struck out 83 (walked 33) in 79 innings in 2003. But he got shelled repeatedly in May and June of that year (12 runs on 16 hits in 13 May innings; 8 runs on 8 hits and 9 BBs in 13.3 June innings).

He wasn't exactly Joel Zumaya (2006 edition) in 2003.

TT said...

The blurbs you posted above are really just rehashes of articles written on the subject.

Well "hashes" anyway, they are articles written at the time, not looking back with 20-20 hindsight. Here's another one from Seth Speaks":

"Francisco Liriano is another top 'prospect' type. He is just 20 years old and throws 98 mph from the left side. There is no questioning his tools. His control and his health are the two question marks with him. The last two seasons, he has pitched a combined 9 innings. If he is healthy again, this could be the key to the trade." emphasis added

The only relevance of this discussion is that it is the same discussion that happens every time the Twins do a deal like this. And it is these kinds of deals - going after potential stars rather than mediocre major league ready players with big reputations - that have made the Twins successful.

Anonymous said...

I know this is blasphemy but I want to point out that "the best pitcher in baseball" went 1-7 against Cleveland and Detroit last year, with 5 of those losses coming after 1 July. In addition, his ERA went from being 1.98 in June to 3.44 in July, 3.60 in August and 4.94 in September.

His contract situation would have been nothing but a distraction this coming season. Better to pay big money to players who play every day than $20 million a year to someone who plays at most 35 games.

But obviousl it's time to spend some of the money that is freed up for a decent starting pitcher to hold things together, otherwise it's what, Baker-Slowey-Liriano-Bonser-Perkins?

(shudder)

Chris Smith said...

I wrote about this on my blog on Thursday - as a Mets fan, I can't even fully enjoy this, because I feel like the game is getting more and more unbalanced between the large and small market teams. As for the prospects, Guerra will be the key - he has a chance to be really special, but he's so far away that it's hard to project. I'm curious what everyone's thoughts are...

sploorp said...

Someone on this blogs said, "The hype, especially out of New York and Boston, often doesn't reflect reality."

There is so much truth in that statement. You just can't ignore the New York spin machine. Hughes, Cabrera and the rest always get such a huge push from the New York press.

I live in Los Angeles. I have to hunt to find Twins news, but even out here I'm bombarded with Yankee hype. After the Dodgers and, to a much lesser extent, the Angels, everything seems to be Yankee news. Even more so than any of the other California teams. The Mets are also a New York team, but I almost never hear anything about them. Even with them leading their division for most of last year, they barely registered a blip on the Los Angeles radar.

While I don't think the hype is quite as huge in Boston, they did win the world series and that is a huge stage to perform on. Ellsbury had a good series and did well in the games leading up to it, far exceeding expectations. Lester won the final game four. We all saw it. We all watched the replays over and over. We all heard the announcers go on and on about these guys' "tools" and their "bright futures".

The New York hype and the World Series media onslaught has definitely made these guys more familiar and that tends to make them loom much larger in our minds then maybe they deserve. I would have to wonder if Hughes, Lester and the rest would be nearly as familiar or appealing if they were being offered up from someone like Toronto or The Nationals. What if they were players with little to no media hype? Same stats, but no hype. Would they still be nearly as appealing? Would we still be as misty eyed for what might have been?

Which, finally, brings me to the trade …

I must admit to being more then just a little disappointed, but then my expectations were also very high. In my mind, this trade was somehow going to be the one that filled in all the remaining holes in the current line up and help the Twins give Detroit a run for their money - not to mention give us a little extra depth down at AAA. It was going to do it all. How could it not? We were putting the best pitcher in the majors up for grabs.

I certainly thought there was a chance the Sox would cave and we would get Ellsbury AND Lester. Or maybe the Yanks would finally come to their senses and fork over Hughes, Melky AND Kennedy. Hell, I thought it wasn’t a matter of if, it was a matter of when. The whole time these teams were going on and on about paying twice and luxury taxes and all the rest, I kept thinking it was all a bluff. I kept logging on to the blogs and sports news sites day after day expecting to read about the big lopsided trade that was going to make the Twins a contender.

I keep hearing all this talk about what Smith could have got, but that is just a whole lot of speculation. In hindsight, I don’t really think they had anything better on the table at any point. I mean, does anybody really truly believe a Red Sox deal was ever really out there for the taking? I don’t even think their goal was to keep the Yankees from getting him as it much as it was to keep them from getting him cheap. If the Twins ever decided to go for it, I think the Sox would have looked at the total costs and backed down. Those deals were really only ours for the taking as long as the Sox thought we would never actually take one of them.

And what about the Yankees so called offer? Was it ever really out there? All I ever read was Hanky Panky shooting off his mouth and changing his mind every other day. I never once got the sense that anybody else in that organization was ever behind it. If they were, it would have been a done deal. Names would have been swapped around and/or added until the both sides had a deal they could live with. The Twins may not have gotten Hughes and Kennedy, but something would have went down. The fact that it didn’t happen tells me that it probably was never really out there to begin with.

After that, all that was left was the Mets.

If I'm disappointed, I only have myself to blame for it. My expectations were way too high. I would have to wonder if any trade could live up to what I was hoping Smith would eventually get regardless of the team he wound up dealing with.

But a funny thing happened over the past few days that put the trade in a whole different light for me. The Mets were having problems signing the guy. After everything that went down, they still couldn’t close the deal. For a while there, it looked like a deal wasn’t going to get made at all.

A part of me was gleeful at the thought of the Twins competing in the central for another year, the other part wondered about what was going to happen once the season was over. As disappointed as I was when the trade was announced, I was suddenly faced with the prospect that we weren’t even going to get that. As gleeful as I was at the thought the Twins might be able to make another run at the division, I realized that excitement would have been tainted by endless trade speculations and rumors. And as the season drew to a close that would eventually give way to wondering how much Santana would get when he eventually left via free agency. With all that distraction, I would have to wonder if the Twins could even compete at all.

Suddenly, those four players started looking pretty good to me. I found myself rooting for Omar to give Santana whatever he wanted. Just make the thing happen. End this thing and give me and all the other Twins fans closure whether we liked it or not.

While the trade may not have the upside that I was hoping for, I don’t think it was necessarily a bad trade per say. As much as a lot of people might like to think otherwise, these are not bad players. I don’t think it’s unrealistic to believe that all four of these guys could work their way into everyday roles with the Twins at some point in the near future. In my mind that is something a bit more than taking whatever you could get. And it‘s certainly a lot more then settling for draft picks. Even if it’s unlikely they will become superstars, it’s just as unlikely any of the other names attached to this thing will either. As good as Hughes, Kennedy, Lester, Ellsbury and the rest may seem, none of them have really proven anything. The jury is still out on all of them. And that is if we could have even gotten them in the first place, which, as I have said earlier, I seriously have my doubts on.

I would have loved to see Santana play out his career as a Twin and I can’t imagine a Twins fan who wouldn’t want to see that as well. While I do believe they could have afforded it, in the end, the potential downside was just too great. It ultimately wasn’t a smart baseball move. If the Yanks and Sox with all their resources didn‘t want to take that risk, how can anybody expect the Twins to do it? Signing Santana will affect every decision the Mets make for years to come.

I think Smith has done a tremendous job since taking over as GM. Talk about trial under fire. I can’t fault him for anything that has happened so far. If blame has to be placed (and I don’t think it needs to be) it should be placed on those who didn’t lock up Santana when they had the chance. It should have never gotten this far. Even then, our only real chance at locking up Santana was if he felt any real ties to the team that stood by him and nurtured him and gave him the opportunity to become the player he has become. Clearly that was not the case. And if that wasn’t the case, then we never ever even had a prayer to begin with. Santana leaving was inevitable and it could have gone down much worse then it did.

And now that Santana has finally gone, what do we have left? We have a team with a whole lot of potential and a lot to root for. Not just two or three years down the line, but right now in 2008. We have Morneau and Cuddyer locked up long term. We have a very talented young group of starting pitchers on the verge of blossoming into something special. We also have Liriano back. The jury may still be out on how good he will actually be after such an invasive operation, but everything I’ve read so far has been positive plus. We have one of the best bullpens in the majors to help keep a lead until the end and make sure that all those young arms don’t get overused and worn down going down the stretch (I hope all the Yankee fans read that). We have an awesome corner outfielder on the verge of stardom. We have a big increase in power at 3rd and 2nd base, plus one of the best defensive shortstops in the majors. And last, but not least we have real depth. Players that can come off the bench and contribute or give extra production as a DH. And all this was accomplished while lowering the team payroll, so management will able to keep more of this team around longer then they could have otherwise. It’s also money that can be used to get a little extra help right now if need be.

The jury may still be out on Gomez, but the kid is far from what I would consider a wash. He has solid defense and speed and they say he might even develop some power eventually as well. Yes, he strikes out a lot, but plate discipline can be learned and improved on. And everything I’ve read on the subject has said that hitting is usually one of the last skills a player develops. The kid was also rushed by the Mets. He never had the chance to develop and adjust to any level before being moved on up to the next. We also have Pridie who has a bit more experience and may be even closer to an everyday job than Gomez. If neither are ready, the team can still look outside the organization for temporary help. There may still be a hole at CF, but it’s not nearly as gapping as a lot of people might perceive.

The Twins won the division four times with more holes and a lot less offense then we have now. A lot also went wrong last year to cause the team to finish where they did. Even without Hunter and Santana, this is still a team that could very well surprise a lot of people. While I admit it may be hard to imagine them challenging Detroit or Cleveland for the division, I don’t see them laying down and letting them have it either. Detroit and Cleveland won’t be able to coast their way past this team, they will have to work for every win they get. Detroit and Cleveland also don’t have the upside that this team has. Individually, their players are about as good as they will ever get. This Twins team will only get better as time passes.

I think the future of the Twins is still very bright, it’s almost too bad that Hunter and Santana won’t be around to be a part of it.

Nick N. said...

sploorp: Great comment. I agree with most of what you said, but I'm not sure I'd agree that Hughes and Ellsbury are necessarily overrated because of their market. It might be the case with some fans, but certainly not with me. The guys' numbers speak for themselves. Hughes would have been the best pitching prospect in baseball for the past couple years regardless of what organization he belonged to. I do agree that Ellsbury is overhyped because he's from Boston and because he had some success in a small sample size late last year. Still, the kid has hit throughout the minors and would have been a very safe acquisition. I like the upside in this Mets package, but we're not getting their best hitting prospect or their most advanced pitching prospect. There's just so much risk, and such a realistic chance that this package could completely flop.

sploorp said...

Agreed on Hughes and Ellsbury. They are both solid players and I was perhaps a bit rough on both of them. Though I still feel Ellsbury is over hyped. He should develop into a solid everyday player and is already a fan favorite, but All-Star might be pushing it a bit. He’s also very popular with the ladies. Early on, I did a search for his stats, but forgot to include the word stats in the search. I got page after page of my space hits like “does Ellsbury have a girlfriend” and “cute pictures of Ellsbury.”

I spent a lot of time on Mets, Yankee and Red Sox blogs and there is a mass euphoria surrounding these players and you just can’t talk these fans down. There is no reasoning with them. Ellbury is a shoo in for a batting title and it’s too bad they don’t give out three Cy Young awards so Hughes, Kennedy and Joba can all win one. Working with Yankee fans I also tend to be a little hyper-sensitive to anything in pinstripes.

In the case of Kennedy, Hughes and Joba I think there is a real danger that they will get overused. I think the Yankees bullpen is very weak. Even more so this year as it looks like Joba will be moved to the starting rotation. When they’re pitching well, it will be hard to fight the temptation to leave them in there an extra inning or two. I can easily see them having a lot of problems in the second half.

The Yankees also have a number of aging vets in their line up with declining defensive ranges. Those gaps are just going to keep getting bigger as time goes by.

All these guys (Ellsbury included) are still what I would consider prospects. None of them have really spent a whole lot of time at the major league level. While they have all done well in the short time they’ve been up, they will all get figured out eventually and have to make adjustments. There will be struggles. The Yankee fans and front office can be very harsh when a player starts to struggle. It could get very ugly.

Anyhow, the main points I was trying to make in my earlier long winded post was first of all, any trade the Twins finally made was bound to pale in comparison to what we thought we could get. In hindsight I think we may have all been setting ourselves up for a big disappointment the whole time. Secondly, playing the would have should have could have game with Yankee and Sox players is pointless since I don’t really believe any of those guys were ever really ours for the taking. Thirdly, the players we got aren’t as bad as a lot of people want to believe. We had almost no leverage going into this thing and it could have been a lot worse. And Finally, there is still a bight future in Minnesota and plenty left to root for.

Anonymous said...

For what it's worth from Lindy's Baseball Preview which picked the 3 Mets most likely to breakthrough in 2008 as being.....

Gomez
Mulvey
and Humber

"Gomez offers premium defensive skills in CF and the ability to hit for power, but he'll likely compete for time in RF to start the season. If he doesn't win a starting job right away, he can play all three OF positions as a reserve.

Mulvey has produced impeccable results since the Mets made him a second round pick in 2006. He has a 3.02 career minor league ERA. WHile he may not win a rotation spot out of spring training, he could get called up by midseason.

Humber's star has dimmed since the Mets made him a first round pick in 2004, thanks in large part fo having Tommy John surgery in July 2005. He still has an outstanding curveball and the stuff to pitch in a major league rotation if he can sharpen his command. He's a longshot to make the rotation out of spring training, but should get a chance at some point during the season."

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