Friday, February 22, 2008

Offseason in Review

Barring the acquisition of a veteran center fielder or another washed up innings-eater to add to the rotation, it looks like Bill Smith's first offseason at the helm of the Minnesota Twins is complete. It was certainly the most eventful winter we've seen around these parts for some time. The departures of Johan Santana and Torii Hunter and the arrivals of Delmon Young and Carlos Gomez represent a fundamental shift in the team's philosophy -- sort of an "out with the old, in with the new" movement. But how successful was Smith in taking care of business over the past several months? Let's take a look at each move and grade them out.

Joe Nathan's option activated for $6 million.
This one was an absolute no-brainer. Nathan is a terrific bargain at this price. His presence will be extremely important this year with so many questions surrounding the Twins' bullpen.

GRADE: A

Craig Monroe acquired from Cubs for player to be named later.
Trading for Monroe was not a bad idea in and of itself. He's a decent player with some pop and the ability to hit lefties. The problem is that the Twins will end up paying Monroe $3.82 million this season, which is way too much for a guy who hit .219/.268/.370 last year. Granted, payroll is far from an issue for this team, but it still seems ill-advised to throw that kind of money at Monroe when there were several considerably less expensive options available who would have been at least as good.

GRADE: C-

Matt Garza, Jason Bartlett and Eduardo Morlan traded to Tampa Bay for Delmon Young, Brendan Harris and Jason Pridie.
Bringing in a player with Young's upside is always a good thing, and he has a chance to be a very special player for this team for many years to come. Meanwhile, the addition of Harris addresses a lack of offense from the middle-infield positions for the Twins, while Pridie gives the team a potentially solid center field option. The thing that irks me about this trade is how much value the Twins had to give up in it. I understand why a blue-chip pitching prospect like Garza and an established major-league shortstop like Bartlett were included; you've got to give something to get something. Yet, the presence of Morlan in the deal really hurts. He was the organization's best relief pitching prospect, and a guy who might have been Joe Nathan's eventual replacement. If Young really lives up to the hype, this can still be a good deal, but as it stands I wouldn't say this deal favors the Twins much at all.

GRADE: C+

Free agent Adam Everett signed to one year, $2.8 million deal.
With Bartlett gone, the Twins needed an answer at shortstop -- at the very least someone who could serve as a stopgap until Alexi Casilla or Trevor Plouffe is ready to take over. The signing of Everett takes care of that issue, and it's a one-year deal with a relatively reasonable price tag. Everett is one of the worst hitters in all of baseball, but also one of the best defenders. As long as the Twins are able to fill other spots in the lineup with reasonably productive hitters, Everett can be a useful player. However, if he's in the same lineup as Nick Punto and Carlos Gomez, it's probably going to be a tough day for the Twins' pitchers. A hitter as poor as Everett is really the last thing an offense-starved team like the Twins needed, but in fairness they needed a reliable answer at shortstop and his contract is a low-risk one-year deal.

GRADE: C+

Free agent Mike Lamb signed to two-year, $6.6 million deal.
Just a day after signing one former Astro in Everett, the Twins tabbed another one in Lamb. Everett and Lamb, who spent several seasons playing alongside one another on the left side of Houston's infield, is basically a polar opposites. While Everett is a defensive wizard with a very weak bat, Lamb is a productive hitter whose defensive ability is limited. Because of that, and because he tends to struggle against left-handers, I don't think Lamb will be a full-time starter at third base. With that said, he'll get the lion's share of the at-bats there, and will undoubtedly present a massive offensive upgrade over Punto. Lamb is 32, so the two-year deal (with an option for a third year) is reasonable, as is the money involved. Good signing.

GRADE: B+

Justin Morneau signed to six-year, $80 million extension.
Admittedly, the Twins might be overpaying for Morneau. He'll have to be solidly above average with the bat in order to be worth the kind of money he'll be getting during his first three free agent years in this deal, and his career line (.276/.340/.498) is decidedly average for a first baseman. With that said, I think there's plenty of reason to believe that Morneau will be a better hitter than that over the course of this contract. It was also crucially important for the Twins to make a big move and show a commitment to competing during an offseason where they lost three popular veterans due to budget constraints. Signing Morneau, the organization's lone proven power hitter, to the biggest contract in franchise history certainly qualifies as such a move. Morneau might be overrated a bit by Minnesota fans, but there's a reason for that -- he's the only legitimate home run threat to don a Twins' uniform in quite a long time, and there aren't exactly a bunch more percolating in the minor leagues. It is for that reason that locking up Morneau for the foreseeable future was an absolute necessity, even if the Twins are overpaying a bit.

GRADE: A-

Michael Cuddyer signed to three-year, $24 million extension.
Another smart signing. I'm not the hugest Cuddyer fan, but the money here is a reasonable for a corner outfielder who is relatively productive with the bat and a good clubhouse presence. The fact that the contract is for only three years (with a club option for a fourth) is crucial, because it protects the team in the event that Cuddyer proves to be the sub par hitter he was last year, while also leaving the door open for a prospect like Chris Parmelee or Joe Benson to eventually overtake right field.

GRADE: A-

Johan Santana traded to Mets for Carlos Gomez, Philip Humber, Kevin Mulvey and Deolis Guerra.
This was, of course, the doozy. Smith was in a tough spot -- extending Santana was not feasible, the pitcher was threatening to enact his no-trade clause if nothing had been worked out by the start of Spring Training, and there was likely pressure from up top to make a move and avoid the PR backlash that would come along with Santana walking as a free agent at the end of the season. For those reasons, I don't really blame Smith for failing to get anything close to fair value in return for the two-time Cy Young Award-winning left-hander. But there's really no doubt about it: this was not a good trade from the Twins' perspective. At all. They gave up the league's best pitcher -- a guy who is in the prime of his career and well on his way to Cooperstown -- and in return they got four flawed prospects, none of whom could have even been considered the best prospect in his own organization prior to the trade. Unfortunately, that's just how things played out. Santana would need to be signed to a massive contract, and the interest just wasn't there. A disappointing situation where no one can really inherit the blame, but a bad trade nonetheless.

GRADE: D

Free agent Livan Hernandez signed to one-year, $5 million deal.
Hernandez has been trending downward in almost every important category for the past for years, and is switching from the worst offensive division in baseball to a very solid one, so the outlook for him in 2008 is not particularly encouraging. He may not hang in the rotation for the entire year, in which case the $5 million the Twins are paying him could end up being a colossal waste. With that said, Hernandez has thrown 200+ innings just about every year he's been in the league, and his veteran presence could prove important on a staff that is nearly devoid of big-league experience. There's very little chance that he'll end up being for $5 million, but it's only a one-year deal and there's a decent chance he could be useful to this team.

GRADE: C

---

When reflecting on the Twins' 2007 and looking ahead to the upcoming offseason back in early October of last year, I made the following statement:
This offseason is going to be a hugely important one, and I really have no idea what to expect from new GM Bill Smith. I truly hope he's able to make some moves that will get the team back on a competitive track in 2008 while simultaneously setting the organization up for future success.
Clearly, that was the blueprint that Smith followed during this offseason. There was obviously an eye toward the future with acquisitions like Young and Gomez, but also a focus on fielding a competitive team in the short-term with signings like Lamb and Hernandez. The result is a roster with a lot of potential, but also a lot of work to do to reach that potential. If players like Young, Gomez and Guerra end up turning into star players, Smith's first offseason will be looked back at as a huge success. If they fail to progress, we may look back at it as a winter of despair, one that sent the organization spiraling back into those dark days of the mid-'90s. I'm cautiously optimistic that things will work out, but for now it's very difficult to judge this offseason.

6 comments:

halfchest said...

I think you'll have to remember these grades and revisit them either during the season or after it. The only one I think you'll change your mind on is the Santana trade. I think Gomez will make a lot of us forget about Torii sooner than you'd think.

SBG said...

Picking up Nathan's option should have been graded pass/fail.

SBG

ubelmann said...

Picking up Nathan's option should have been graded pass/fail

On a similar note, I think you give too much credit to Smith for the Cuddyer/Morneau extensions. Even if I was more sure these guys are worth that much money, this is the sort of move that basically every GM is making these days. If Smith gets an A- for that, then you're giving a lot of GMs an A- for those moves and I'm smelling grade inflation.

Otherwise I basically agree with your grades.

Nick N. said...

The only one I think you'll change your mind on is the Santana trade. I think Gomez will make a lot of us forget about Torii sooner than you'd think.

That may happen, and I hope it does, but we simply can't ignore the fact that Gomez currently has a number of major flaws in his game at this point. I love his athleticism and the "presence" that Twins beat writers keep referring to after speaking with him and watching him take BP, but none of that will make up for a demonstrative lack of plate discipline and power. He needs to show substantial improvement in both those areas to become an impact player in the major leagues. Some guys show that improvement (see: Jose Reyes), and some guys don't (see: Luis Rivas).

Picking up Nathan's option should have been graded pass/fail.

Probably true. I didn't want to make the grading metric too complex. But really, the only possible grades there were A and F.

On a similar note, I think you give too much credit to Smith for the Cuddyer/Morneau extensions. Even if I was more sure these guys are worth that much money, this is the sort of move that basically every GM is making these days. If Smith gets an A- for that, then you're giving a lot of GMs an A- for those moves and I'm smelling grade inflation.

Nevertheless, a good move is a good move. Smith certainly could have struck one-year mid-point arbitration agreements with both players if he wanted to; it's not like either one was necessarily a no-brainer.

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