Tuesday, December 30, 2008
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
I'm tickled by the irony of that statement, particularly in light of yesterday's announcement that the Yankees have inked Mark Teixeira to a staggering eight-year, $180 million contract. Between Teixeira, C.C. Sabathia and A.J. Burnett, the Yanks have now committed 20 years and $423.5 million to three premium free agents, handing out massive contracts that few other teams could even consider offering. Ol' George is no longer in charge, but the free-spending philosophies that watermarked his tenure clearly persist. Through a sheer ability to outspend everybody else, the Yankees have made themselves favorites for the AL pennant, nearly ensuring that they'll return to the playoffs in 2009 after seeing their 13-year streak come to an end in '08. Is it any wonder so many people dislike the Yankees?
Perhaps I'm being melodramatic. Anything can happen, of course, but it's awfully hard to see a lineup anchored by Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez miss the playoffs when hitting for a rotation highlighted by Sabathia, Burnett and Joba Chamberlain. The Rays have a good young team that seems poised to return as a strong force next year, but the Yankees' purchase of all these top free agents certainly stacks the odds against any small-market team forced to rely on internal development to succeed.
Of course, it's been a much quieter offseason for the Twins, who've made no moves outside of re-signing Nick Punto. Fortunately, the Twins aren't burdened with the great misfortune of playing in the same division as the Yankees, so an offseason of little movement doesn't spell doom for our hometown club.
This will probably be my only post this week. I'd like to wish everybody a wonderful holiday, and I'm sure I'll have something for next week as we review the 2008 year that was and look ahead to another great year in 2009.
Thanks, as always, for reading.
Thursday, December 18, 2008
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
There is one name that continues to be connected with the Twins on the rumor circuit. That would be Ty Wigginton, who recently became a free agent when the Astros declined to offer him arbitration. Wigginton is a right-handed power bat who would ostensibly fill the team’s hole at third base.
In theory, Wigginton presents an opportunity for the Twins to pick up what they missed when the Dodgers outbid them on Blake. Wigginton (who is five years young than Blake) is capable of manning several different positions, and he has a history of mashing left-handed pitching. He has averaged 23 homers and 68 RBI over the past three seasons, and actually tends to hit for pretty decent batting averages though he lacks patience at the dish.
The distinction between Blake and Wigginton is that while the former is a substandard defender, the latter is an absolute disaster in the field. Wigginton is among the worst defensive third baseman in all of baseball, which helps explain why he’s been shuttled between four different organizations in the past five years despite solid offensive production, and why he’s found himself playing in the outfield frequently. Using Ultimate Zone Rating, an advanced fielding metric which Fangraphs.com recently began carrying, we find that Wigginton has accumulated a UZR of -51.9 over the course of 4,239 big-league innings at third base, which is far worse than the -14.0 mark Blake has posted in 5,072 career innings at the position. Wigginton is so lacking as a third baseman that I’m rather skeptical the Twins would be willing to play him there on anything close to a full-time basis.
So now we’re left to decide whether it’s worth spending $6-$7 million dollars over a few years on a part-time righty slugger and bench bat. Seems to me that the Twins already have a player who fits that bill to some degree in Brendan Harris. While he’s pretty clearly an inferior offensive player, Harris is far more valuable in the field -- he plays a decent third base and is passable at the middle infield spots, which really cannot be said about Wigginton.
I don’t think Wigginton would be a terrible acquisition at the right price, but he doesn’t get me particularly excited. The Twins entered this offseason with a sizable surplus in their budget and it will be unfortunate if they end up sitting on their excess rather than using it to add players who can help them win, but having the money to sign Wigginton is not reason enough to sign him. When all aspects of his game are taken into account, I don’t think he adds much to this club. Even if it’s not particularly exciting, sometimes holding steady makes sense.
If you're not sick of me yet, you can check out the latest addition of the Twins Offseason Round Table series at Twins Territory, where as usual I answer questions alongside Alex Halsted, Jesse Lund and Seth Stohs. Or you can check out Seth's podcast from last night, where I was a guest along with Phil Miller of the Pioneer Press.
Friday, December 12, 2008
The Twins inked Punto to a two-year deal yesterday, just after Ron Gardenhire had told reporters, “If we sign Nick Punto, he would be my starting shortstop.” Guess that takes care of that.
Punto’s contract will pay him $4 million over each of the next two seasons, with a $5 million team option for 2011 that can be negated with a $500K buyout. The deal seems reasonable and shouldn’t hurt the Twins much financially.
There is a large segment of fans out there who remain disenchanted with Punto after his dismal 2007 campaign and are no doubt disgusted to hear that he’ll be around for at least two more years with the promise of a spot in next season’s Opening Day lineup. Realistically, though, Punto is a pretty reasonable option. The free agent crop for shortstops is quite weak, and the J.J. Hardy/Yunel Escobar trade rumors were never very realistic. When it gets to the point that Jack Wilson is being looked at as a viable target, you know the market is bare.
I expressed my concerns about the defensive makeup of the left side of the Twins’ infield on Wednesday, and now the team can take comfort in the fact that they’ll at least have a steady defender at shortstop. It’s difficult to predict what kind of offensive performance Punto will put forth, but I find it likely that he'll hit enough to avoid being a total liability at a middle-infield position.
This signing ostensibly allows the Twins to turn their attention to third base, although there really isn’t a whole lot out there at this point. Adrian Beltre reportedly now has the Twins on his no-trade list, providing another obstacle in what already was a pretty unlikely trade scenario. The rest of the names being bandied about -- such as Garrett Atkins and Kevin Kouzmanoff -- are not particularly inspiring. Mark DeRosa is intriguing, but I question whether the Cubs are really shopping him and, if they are, whether the Twins have the right pieces to bring him in. I would not be at all surprised to see the Twins stick with a Brendan Harris/Brian Buscher platoon in 2009.
Rolling into 2009 with the same group of infielders as the they sported last year is a pretty questionable plan for the Twins given how flawed those players are, but I’m starting to think that -- for better or for worse -- management wants to go forward with the guys who brought the team within a game of the playoffs last year.
I’ll touch on yesterday’s Rule 5 draft very briefly. I don’t want to talk about it much because, frankly, I find the Rule 5 draft to be mind-boggling. Most of the decisions make no sense to me. The Twins had a chance to recoup a valuable asset when Eduardo Morlan remained available at their 14th pick, but they passed on him and instead selected the Yankees' Jason Jones, a 26-year-old with only 11 innings of experience above Double-A and a very mediocre minor-league track record. If the Twins didn’t want to take a risk on Morlan, that’s fine, but I don’t see any wisdom in bringing in a low-upside guy like Jones when the big-league bullpen is already inhabited by Philip Humber and Boof Bonser, both of whom figure to be much better relievers than Jones this year. The Twins must either plan on swinging a deal to bring Jones into the organization as a minor-leaguer, or else they don’t expect either Humber or Bonser to be around much longer. Or they saw a soft-tossing right-hander who throws strikes, got needlessly excited and threw logic out the window.
Compounding my confusion over the Rule 5 draft is the that opposing clubs passed over numerous viable prospects left off the Twins’ 40-man roster, and the only guy to get selected was Jose Lugo, a 24-year-old lefty reliever who posted a 4.04 ERA in Ft. Myers last year and who I’ve never heard of before.
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
Atkins, who turns 29 on Friday, is poor defensively and figures to post above average – but not great – offensive numbers outside of Coors. Certainly he’d provide an upgrade over a Brendan Harris/Brian Buscher platoon, but perhaps not to the extent that he’d be worth giving up a starting pitcher for, which seems to be what the Rockies are demanding.
In the same article I linked above, La Velle E. Neal III notes that it is “coming to light … that the Twins really want to hold on to their core of young starters,” which I was pleased to read. Some have accused me overvaluing the Twins’ young rotation, which I’ve termed The Fab 5, but I think that having five starting pitchers who figure to give you league-average production or better at less than a million dollars is a wonderful thing to have in a market where the Carlos Silvas and Kyle Lohses of the world are signing long-term deals for exorbitant amounts of money. I also think many people are far too hasty in assuming that one of the Twins’ marginal starters in Triple-A will be able to step in and replace a guy like Glen Perkins or Nick Blackburn.
So if Rockies GM Dan O’Dowd is in fact asking for any member of that group in return for Atkins, Bill Smith should politely tell him to take a hike. If the Mariners are seeking a guy like Perkins in return for Adrian Beltre, it merits more consideration. (Though it’s worth noting that all the “young starter for Beltre” speculation might be off-base, because the more I look at their roster, the more I realize that the Mariners really don’t need any more starting pitching.)
If the Twins are indeed still trying to acquire a third baseman, Beltre seems like the only reasonable option anymore at this point. Why do I say that? Because Phil Miller reports that the team only intends to upgrade one of the two left infield positions, with the indication being that acquiring a third baseman would lead to a Harris/Matt Tolbert platoon at short. That the Twins only plan on upgrading one of the two positions doesn’t come as a real surprise, but now that I’ve read it and mulled it over I’m thinking more and more that the club should be pursuing a shortstop. A Harris/Buscher platoon at third is far more appealing than a Harris/Tolbert platoon at short, particularly if that shortstop duo were to be accompanied on the left side by one of the defensively challenged third basemen that the Twins have reportedly been chasing this offseason (Casey Blake, Atkins, Kevin Kouzmanoff, etc.). I could maybe live with the sub par defense provided at shortstop by a Harris/Tolbert platoon if a strong defender like Beltre was manning the hot corner, but combining the two with another defensive liability at third would signal a total abandonment of infield defense.
All of which is why I think the Twins probably should re-sign Nick Punto. He plays sound defense at shortstop and probably will hit enough not to be a total liability there, and tabbing him to a reasonable two-year deal gives the team some flexibility to go after a third baseman. I’d also be open to bringing in a more potent shortstop and sticking with a Harris/Buscher platoon at third, but J.J. Hardy doesn’t seem realistic and I don’t know what else is out there.
If this post seemed like a rambling, circular cluster of thoughts, I apologize. It’s just a very tricky situation.
Tuesday, December 09, 2008
Friday, December 05, 2008
First of all, Opening Day is still four months away. A lot can change over that time, and the notion that Gardenhire’s stated preference during an informal Q & A session in Fargo sets in stone Young’s role on the bench seems awfully misguided.
It could be that Gardenhire truly has lost taste for Young and has no problem letting this negative sentiment be known to the public. But there are a couple other possibilities that are being overlooked here.
One is that this was a calculated move to play up the value of Michael Cuddyer, who has battled injuries over the past two years and whose contract is much more of a liability than Young's. If other teams get the sense that Cuddyer is of more value to the Twins and that the manager has lost faith in Young, doesn’t Cuddy immediately become the more valuable trade piece?
Another possibility is that we are simply seeing an example of a manager trying to light a fire under an under-performing player. Early last season, Gardenhire wrote Young’s name into the lineup on a daily basis and the coaching staff continually sang the outfielder’s praises to the press. In Young’s 2007 season in Tampa Bay, he literally played every game. In neither of those seasons did Young have any prolonged periods of excellent play, or any tangible signs of significant improvement. There is little evidence that working to increase Young’s confidence leads to improved production, perhaps because confidence was never an issue for him in the first place.
So, if the coaching staff believes that Young’s problems are at least partially mental or due to a lack of motivation, perhaps a change in approach is necessary. Perhaps the very public reports of Young being on the trading block and now the manager’s public assertion that Young is not viewed as one of the team’s top three outfield options are deliberate moves intended to challenge Young to live up to his potential. According to La Velle E. Neal III, Young already “has hit the gym big-time this offseason and has lost weight.” It is entirely possible that this is a response to the way the Twins have presented him during this offseason so far.
If you follow Young’s career from high school to minor leagues to major leagues to present, you see a pretty clear and steady trend. He is on a path, and if he stays the course, he is on his way to a very unremarkable career as a mediocre corner outfielder with attitude problems. Something needs to change, and perhaps all these trade rumors and this public “diss” from his manager are calculated maneuvers aimed at that exact goal.
Thursday, December 04, 2008
This year seems like a prime opportunity for Blyleven to gain entry to the Hall and, as a staunch believer that he belongs, I'm very hopeful that he's able to get in.
If you'd like to read (or take part in) some entertaining debate on the subject, head over to Granny Baseball, where our old pal TT seeks to dispel five "myths" about Blyleven's candidacy.
A few other notes as we chug toward the end of the week...
* Happy birthday shout outs to our good friend Karlee, author of the OMG Twins blog, and to Mr. Carlos Gomez, who turns 23 exciting years old today.
* Make sure to stop by and check out the re-designed Twins Most Valuable Blogger site!
* Yesterday, the Twins reportedly made a two-year offer to Casey Blake at about $6M/yr with an option for 2011, though Blake's agents wants a guaranteed third year to seal the deal. The Twins and Dodgers are both reportedly in hot pursuit of the 35-year-old third baseman, but it seems like there's a fairly good chance the Twins will land him (much to the chagrin of a certain semi-retired SBG citizen).
Here's my question. If the Twins sign Blake, does that basically guarantee that Nick Punto will be re-signed to play short? I cannot imagine that a defensive-minded club such as that would possibly go forward with Blake and Brendan Harris as the left side of their infield, and Punto is a stout defender whom they are comfortable with at shortstop.
Wednesday, December 03, 2008
* The White Sox offered arbitration to Orlando Cabrera, which is good news to those of us who feared the thought of the Twins offering him a long-term deal. Cabrera qualifies as a Type A free agent, meaning the Twins would have to surrender a first-round pick in order to sign him, and as Joe Christensen has noted, the team has no interest in giving up draft picks in order to bring in free agents.
You can read my thoughts on Cabrera here.
* On Monday, the Twins offered Dennys Reyes arbitration, which the lefty reliever will almost surely decline as he seeks a multi-year deal from some other club. Since Reyes qualifies as a Type B free agent, the Twins will receive a supplemental second-round pick when he signs elsewhere. I was very impressed with the way the Twins drafted this past June. They didn’t shy away from good talent due to the price tags, and even went over-slot on a few players. If they carry that same aggressive plan forward into next year’s draft, that extra pick could prove valuable.
* Strangest thing that I've read all week and perhaps that I'll read all offseason, from the blog of former Tigers beat writer Danny Knobler (emphasis mine):
Now the Rays are willing to trade him, according to a baseball official who has spoken to the Rays. Not only that, but the Rays have also discussed trying to reacquire Delmon Young, the outfielder who they traded to the Twins last winter to get Bartlett and Matt Garza.
By all accounts the Rays were pretty ecstatic to get rid of Young and his attitude. Now they want him back after he put up a crappy season in Minnesota and they improved their record by 30 wins without him? Whatever