Thursday, January 31, 2008
Should be interesting to be in the Big Apple in the wake of this Santana trade and in the days preceding a New York vs. Boston showdown in the Super Bowl. If I come across anything interesting and have Internet access, I'll be sure to blog about it. Otherwise, I'll be back with another post on Monday. Have a good weekend and thanks to all those who shared their viewpoints on the Santana swap in the comments section yesterday.
Wednesday, January 30, 2008
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.
Tuesday, January 29, 2008
It's awfully tough to feel remotely positive about this trade as a Twins fan. Full analysis tomorrow.
As usual, Gleeman's analysis is accurate, and I agree with the core of his argument. On multiple occasions here, I have labeled Cuddyer as a fairly mediocre right fielder (which has often raised some debate), and Morneau's hitting line last year was pretty much in line with his career line, which is nothing special for a first baseman. (On an aside, I am fairly confident that Morneau will be a significantly above-average hitter over the life of his contract -- in his case I think it is fair to put more stock into the past two seasons while overlooking his atrocious 2005 campaign to some degree.)
Monday, January 28, 2008
Anyway, a few notes from over the weekend:
* From the Department of Double Takes, check out this statement that the Pioneer Press' Charley Walters made when wrapping up a blurb predicting that Santana will be traded within the next ten days:
It's clear that Santana, acquired in a Rule 5 minor league draft trade deal in 1999, has become a baseball mercenary who doesn't care where he pitches as long he's paid the optimal amount.I had to read this a couple times because it came out of nowhere within the context of the article. I wouldn't say that Walters' charge is "clear" at all -- at least it is not evidenced by anything he wrote in the article. Perhaps behind closed doors, Santana truly is the type of disloyal and greedy mercenary that Walters makes him out to be, but none of the quotes Santana has given to the media have really illustrated anything to that effect.
* Along with Walters' seemingly unsubstantiated jab at Santana, yesterday's edition of the Pioneer Press also featured an encouraging update on the progress of Francisco Liriano courtesy of Phil Miller. Says Frisco:
"There is nothing to tell anymore, because my arm feels great now. I can't say it hurts this much, or I still have this work to do, anything like that," Liriano said. "I think I'm ready to go, right now. There is no soreness, no pain, nothing. It's the same every time I throw - there's nothing for me to say because I can pitch normally."The article goes on to state that Liriano is now throwing all of his pitches -- including the worrisome slider -- without pain and that he has no plans of making changes to his mechanics.
It's certainly great to hear these things, but I must confess I'm a little wary of taking Liriano's personal medical judgments at face value. As many will recall, Liriano downplayed the significance of his elbow issues during the 2006 season, and it later came to light that he was pitching through some serious pain. Hiding his injury may have worsened the problems for Liriano. With that, said, if what he's saying now is true, and he can continue to pitch pain-free through spring training and into the season, the Twins might have their ace after all even with Santana gone. That'd be great, because as much as I like Scott Baker, the idea of having him featured as the team's No. 1 starter is a bit frightening.
* I didn't make it to TwinsFest this weekend, but I've heard from people that were there and encountered Boof Bonser that the slimmed-down right-hander was barely recognizable. Apparently Bonser responded to challenges from his coaches to lose some weight and shed 20 lbs during the offseason. After a disappointing 2007 campaign, a rebound year for Bonser could be crucial to this rotation.
* Speaking of TwinsFest, be sure to check out the Curlz and Curveballs blog for a nice series of photos from the couple's Friday night trip to the Metrodome gathering.
* Here's a name to add to the long list of people who are fully aware that Michael Cuddyer should not be playing center field: Michael Cuddyer. It seems that the only name not on that list could well be that of the Twins' manager.
Saturday, January 26, 2008
Friday, January 25, 2008
AL catchers: .713
Twins catchers: .750
AL first basemen: .790
Twins first basemen: .812
AL second basemen: .755
Twins second basemen: .640
AL third basemen: .761
Twins third basemen: .631
AL shortstops: .713
Twins shortstops: .656
AL left fielders: .760
Twins left fielders: .677
AL center fielders: .754
Twins center fielders: .836
AL right fielders: .824
Twins right fielders: .764
AL designated hitters: .802
Twins designated hitters: .737
So there you have it. The Twins were well above-average at center field (thanks to Torii Hunter, who is now gone) and marginally above-average at catcher and first base. Outside of those positions, the Twins got substantially below-average offensive production from each position on the field.
Needless to say, getting league-average production at most positions would be a major improvement. And while it doesn't seem like a particularly lofty goal, it's what the middle-market Twins will be shooting for this year. Can they accomplish it? Since positional averages tend to be fairly stable from year to year, we can use last year's numbers as benchmarks going forward. Let's break it down on a position-by-position basis.
This is a particularly weak offensive position -- AL catchers hit only .253/.318/.395 collectively last year. So even though Joe Mauer regressed and struggled with injuries for much of the season and Mike Redmond didn't set the world on fire, the Twins still finished with an OPS 37 points higher than the league mean. It's perfectly reasonable to see Mauer rebounding with a healthy year and putting up numbers somewhere between his 2006 and 2007 campaigns, in which case the Twins should be well above-average at this position.
I'm not sure what to think about Justin Morneau at this point. He had a solid debut in 2004, he was horrible in 2005, splendid in 2006, and fairly mediocre overall in 2007 (thanks to a great first half that was marred by an awful second half). I don't know what happened in the final months last year, and I'd like to believe he'll look more like the 2006 version in 2008, but to be safe I'll predict that he'll finish with numbers similar to his final line last year, making him average offensively.
The likely starter here is Brendan Harris. Last year, with the Devil Rays, Harris hit .286/.343/.434, which was right in line with the AL average for second basemen (.284/.339/.416). I think it's fairly reasonable to expect him to repeat that performance and provide average production at second base in the upcoming season, which would be a huge upgrade for a team that was 115 points below the league average in OPS at the position last year.
This is an interesting one. If Mike Lamb is used as a full-time player here and he receives 500+ at-bats, it's likely that he will post an OPS around his career mark of .761 (which is, coincidentally, identical to the AL league average for third basemen last year). However, if the Twins shield him against left-handed pitchers to some degree, much like the Astros have for the past several seasons, Lamb has a great chance of putting up an OPS in the area of .825, which would be well above-average. This depends on Twins identifying a righty-hitting third baseman who could put up a solid OPS in limited duty against southpaws (Matt Macri might fit the bill). In that case, this team could potentially be very solid relative to the rest of the league offensively. Defense, of course, is another story.
Here's the first position we come across where the Twins are almost guaranteed to be well below-average. Adam Everett has a career .656 OPS and there's little reason to believe he'll be any better than that this year.
This is a tough one to predict. The average AL left fielder hit .275/.335/.426 last year, while Delmon Young hit .288/.316/.408 to fall below that mark. Of course, he was only 22. Many optimists are predicting a huge jump for Young here in his second full season, and he certainly has the tools to do it. However, I think some of the people anticipating Hunter-like numbers are setting themselves up for disappointment. Young played in every single game last year and managed only 13 home runs and a .724 OPS. To add 15 home runs to that total and .120 points or so to his OPS would be a staggering leap. ZiPS, a predictive tool used at Baseball Think Factory, forecasts only a slight improvement for Young next year and sees him hitting .292/.323/.424. That seems pretty conservative and I think he'll do better than, but even that would be league-average so I'd say the Twins are a lock to be average at the very least in left field.
This is a obviously a big question mark. If Johan Santana is traded, it remains likely that the 2008 starting center fielder will be a player received in that trade. As long as Santana is still in Minnesota, the favorite to take the job at this point is probably Jason Pridie. Most agree that Pridie is capable of putting up solid numbers, but it's tough to predict him being an above-average hitter as a 24-year-old rookie with only 245 at-bats above Double-A. I'd say the Twins project to be below average in center field at this point, but not by a whole lot. Obviously, this situation is subject to change.
Michael Cuddyer had a tough year last year, in large part because he was derailed late in the season by a thumb injury. Still, I felt Cuddyer was playing over his head in 2006 and he's realistically probably closer to his career .796 OPS than the .866 OPS he posted in that magical season. Nevertheless, there's no reason to believe Cuddyer won't be at least average in 2008 as long as he can remain healthy.
It's astonishing how little production the Twins have gotten over the past several seasons from a position in which the player's sole duty is to hit. That figures to change this year, with a (hopefully) healthy and adjusted Jason Kubel likely taking over full-time. As a DH last year, Kubel hit .302/.385/.500. If he can even approach that type of production in the upcoming season, the Twins should be very strong at the DH spot, and well above-average.
So we have a couple of positions where the Twins project to be below average, but for the most part it appears that this team should be at least on-par with the rest of the league at every position from an offensive standpoint. That doesn't even take into account the very real possibility that a guy like Mauer or Young busts out with a huge season. Of course, as we've been conditioned to learn around these parts, you can't take anything for granted and there's always a very real possibility of guys having down years. Factoring that into the equation, along with injuries, I'd say it's likely that the Twins have about an average offense overall in 2008 -- perhaps better depending on how the center field situation sorts out. This isn't a lineup that's going to light the world on fire like the Tigers or the Yankees, but with great pitching it should be enough to compete.
Of course, this begs the question as to whether or not the Twins will actually have great pitching. And that is a topic for another day.
Tuesday, January 22, 2008
It's disappointing to see the Twins fail to lock down Morneau and Kubel, yet understandable given the uncertainty surrounding Johan Santana and his future with the team. Plus, longer extensions could be reached with either player in the future. As La Velle noted on his blog last week, "Signing Morneau to a one-year deal doesn’t mean they can’t tear up the contract for a long-term deal. They did that exact thing a few years ago with Corey Koskie." I wouldn't be surprised to see this happen with Morneau after the Santana issue gets sorted out, although I doubt they'll look to sign Kubel to a long-term extension this offseason as much as I think it would be a good idea. I can hardly fault the Twins if they remain a little concerned about Kubel's knees.
The Twins now have two arbitration-eligible players remaining: Matt Guerrier and Michael Cuddyer. Guerrier filed for $1.15 million while the club filed for $750,000; I imagine the two sides will reach a deal right around $1 million in the near future. The gap between Cuddyer and the club is larger, as Cuddyer filed for $6.2 million -- $1.5 million more than the team's offer of $4.7 million. Last year, Cuddyer and the Twins very nearly went before an arbitrator, but reached an agreement at $3.75 million at the last second. Given the disparity between the numbers filed by the two sides this year, it seems quite possible that this case could go before an arbitrator, but the Twins are financially in a position where they can easily afford to pay Cuddyer around $5.5 million, so reaching a mid-point would make sense and save a lot of hassle for both sides.
Speaking of Cuddyer, many feathers were ruffled this weekend when Ron Gardenhire had the following quote in a Charley Walters column in the Sunday edition of the Pioneer Press:
Torii Hunter's successor in center field for the Twins could be Michael Cuddyer.The idea of Cuddyer playing center field is nothing short of horrifying, given the fact that his range is sub par even for a right fielder. However, I think the reaction to this quote has been a little over-the-top. I realize the information is coming straight from the horse's mouth, but I can't imagine that Gardenhire would ever actually pencil Cuddyer into center field. In such a scenario, it would seem that Craig Monroe would be the full-time DH. That's bad enough as it is, because there's no way Monroe should be counted on as an everyday player, but if that's truly what Gardenhire wants to do, it would make a lot more sense to DH Kubel and have Monroe play center field. That's still far from ideal, and one would hope that the Twins can acquire a legitimate center fielder before the offseason is over, or that Pridie can step up and seize the job in spring training.
"With Delmon Young in right and Jason Kubel in left," manager Ron Gardenhire said.
That's a consideration of Gardenhire's if minor leaguers Denard Span and Jason Pridie can't convince the manager during spring training that they're ready to succeed Hunter, who left for the Los Angeles Angels via free agency.
"I'm going to talk to Cuddy about it," Gardenhire said.
Friday, January 18, 2008
* ESPN.com's Buster Olney opined in the Wednesday edition of his daily blog that the best option for Bill Smith and the Twins would be to hang onto Johan Santana, even if extending him is not a possibility. Says Olney:
If I was in Smith's shoes, I'd keep Santana. Because to trade him would be to forgo the opportunity to contend in 2008, when the Twins have a chance to be a good team, with Francisco Liriano returning, with Joe Nathan closing, with Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Michael Cuddyer and Delmon Young hitting in the middle of their lineup.This is a good and -- I think -- often overlooked point. The Twins could potentially have one of the strongest groups of hitters in the middle of their lineup of any team in the American League this year. Olney doesn't even mention Jason Kubel, who in my mind could be the best hitter among the aforementioned group in 2008. Many people look at the big acquisitions by Detroit this winter and a Cleveland team that is mostly intact from its playoff run in 2007, and write off the Twins as a third-place team at best. While that may be where I'd pick the Twins to finish if I were ranking the AL Central teams right now, I think the Twins are are a lot closer to competing for a playoff spot than many people think as long as Santana is leading their rotation.
* Twins minor-league guru Dianna of the blog Rookie Whites noted yesterday that Twins' prospect Jose Mijares was in a traffic accident early Sunday in which he suffered a fracture in his left elbow that required surgery. Dianna relays that while "the operation was deemed a success," it will be two or three months before Mijares is able to throw again. Later in the day, Joe Christensen confirmed the report with Bill Smith, who stated that Mijares could be out of action four to six months.
* File this headline under "Obvious."
* Earlier this week, Joe Sheehan of Baseball Prospectus put together a list of nine young players who are "breakout candidates" in 2008. Fifth on the list is Kubel, about whom Sheehan has this to say:
- Jason Kubel: While playing in the Arizona Fall League in 2004, Kubel, then 22 and considered one of the best hitting prospects in the game, suffered a devastating knee injury that cost him the entire 2005 season. Although he came back and played in ’06, he wasn’t remotely the same hitter. Most notably, Kubel’s post-injury strikeout rate has been much higher—147 in 835 PA, versus 193 in 1770 PA prior to the injury. That’s not just a result of playing at higher levels: that’s evidence of damage to the engine.
What we saw in ’07 was Kubel finally get back to the hitter he was before the injury. In the season’s first two months, Kubel struck out 33 times and walked 11 in 165 PA. In the next two months, those numbers were 21/10 in 148 PA: a big drop in strikeout rate and K/BB. Over the last two months: 25/18 in 153 PA. Kubel, a disciplined hitter coming through the minors, regained that discipline in ’07. His batting average and power followed. He’s 26 this season, and may actually be the Twins’ best hitter during it; better than Morneau, better than Mauer.
What's depressing? The only 2007 Twin that actually ranked in the Top 25 in the AL in LD% was the now-departed Jason Bartlett, who ranked 19th at 20.1 percent. What makes that less depressing? Brendan Harris and Delmon Young ranked 10th and 11th, respectively.
* Sticking with Sheehan's article, as interesting as it was to see Kubel's name halfway down the list of breakout candidates, I was perhaps even more intrigued by the player listed below him:
- Melky Cabrera. Cabrera went backwards in ’07, but not by enough for concern. Remember that he is just 23 years old and has more than 1100 plate appearances in the majors, with average to average-plus defense (good physical tools, but very raw, takes bad routes) and a very good 129/96 K/BB. He is a mature player offensively, patient at the plate and fair on the bases (25-for-35 stealing in his career). One interesting quirk is his G/F ratio, which is 1.63 for his career and was a whopping 1.81 last season. Cabrera is listed at 5’11” and 200 pounds. He’s not Willy Taveras, but rather a player who should be developing power and learning how to drive the ball, rather than hitting the ball on the ground 60 percent of the time.
I’m reminded of Alex Rios, who doesn’t look a thing like Cabrera. Rios was largely disappointing in 2004 and 2005, hitting just 11 homers in more than 900 at-bats, with an isolated power of 117. The problem: Rios was hitting the ball on the ground too much, a 1.82 G/F in those two seasons. Starting in ’06, Rios put the ball in the air more than half the time, and became a star. When you look at Cabrera’s body, his established control of the strike zone, and his ability to hold his own at a young age, you recognize that all it’s going to take is for him to start elevating the ball. Cabrera may not get there in 2008, but he’s going to pop 80 extra-base hits and slug .500 in a season very, very soon.
I'm a fan of Cabrera, and while he doesn't profile as a superstar, I certainly think he can be an above-average outfielder in the major leagues for many years. That's a big part of the reason that, in my mind, the reported Yankees' offer of Phil Hughes+Cabrera+prospect is by far the best one on the table for Santana at this point.
Wednesday, January 16, 2008
VERDICT: NO DEAL
Friday, January 11, 2008
Wednesday, January 09, 2008
Thursday, January 03, 2008
Because Span and Pridie are both lefty-hitting center fielders with good speed and experience in Triple-A, people tend to group them together as options for the Twins' spot in center field. Both players were selected in the 2002 draft (Span with the No. 20 pickl; Pridie with the No. 43), and both will be 24 on Opening Day.