Monday, August 31, 2009

Breaking Down a Busy Weekend

The Twins notched their third consecutive series victory over the weekend by taking two of three from the Rangers at home, but that was hardly the only newsworthy occurrence for the organization from the past few days. Bill Smith has suddenly begun wheeling and dealing, as if he woke up on Friday morning and looked at the AL Central standings, and said "Hey, we could actually win this thing." Not only did the Twins acquire a pair of veteran relievers to upgrade their weak bullpen, they also were reportedly awarded a waiver claim on Cubs starter Rich Harden, and Smith has until later today to try and work out a deal for the filthy right-hander.

Let's start from the top. The Twins signed Ron Mahay, who had cleared waivers after being released by the Royals, for a prorated portion of the major-league minimum. This means they'll pay him only about $80,000 for the remainder of the season. While the 38-year-old left-hander had posted a 4.79 ERA along with a hideous 1.79 WHIP over 41 1/3 innings while in Kansas City this season, many of his peripherals look similar to last year, when he was a very effective reliever. Mahay has been victimized by an inflated home run rate and a .341 BABIP, so if his luck evens out the rest of his numbers should come back down. He also was not used very effectively by manager Trey Hillman, who had him facing right-handed hitters (who have posted a 1033 OPS against him) far too often. Mahay has held lefty hitters to a .235/.309/.397 line over the course of his career and should be a solid second southpaw out of the bullpen over the final month of the season.

The Twins also acquired Jon Rauch from the Diamondbacks for a player to be named later. Rauch is probably best known for being the tallest man to ever throw a pitch in the majors at 6'11", but he's also a pretty solid pitcher, as his 3.87 career ERA will attest. Rauch doesn't have devastating stuff (although he did throw a few nasty breaking balls in his Twins debut on Sunday), but hitters who aren't accustomed to facing him are at an extreme disadvantage due to the unique trajectory stemming from his height. His release point is closer than any other pitcher in the league and comes at a very different angle than batters are used to seeing. This makes Rauch a great bet to succeed down the stetch against AL hitters who largely have never faced him before. He's also good enough to carry some of that success forward to next season, when he remains under contract.

The final move to discuss is the one which carries the most potential excitment, and that is the Twins' waivier claim on Harden. I will preface my analysis on this by stating that I think there's maybe a five percent chance any trade actually materializes, since he'd be a costly acquisition and it's extremely likely that the Twins only claimed him to block the Tigers and White Sox from getting a shot at him, but Harden would be an excellent fit in Minnesota. Despite a tough first half this year, he's one of the best pitchers in the game when healthy and that has been on display recently, as he has posted a 1.80 ERA, 60-to-16 K/BB ratio and .150 BAA since the All-Star break. Harden is a legitimate ace-quality pitcher, and a top three consisting of him, Scott Baker and Carl Pavano would give the Twins a fairly decent shot at overcoming the Tigers during the next five weeks and even succeeding in the playoffs.

The problem is that Harden won't come cheaply. His contract expires at the end of this season and he'll qualify as a Type A free agent, so the Cubs would need to receive a pretty substantial package to be enticed to part with him. On the surface, it would seem that sending away multiple highly regarded prospects while also taking on Harden's sizable salary for what might just be a five-week rental doesn't make a whole lot of sense, but there are some serious benefits involved with such a move. As mentioned above, Harden would significantly improve the Twins' chances of a postseason run down the stretch, and at year's end they could offer him arbitration, which would result in either having Harden next year for about $10 million or receiving a pair of high draft picks as compensation for losing him to free agency. The Twins could also try and work out a multi-year extension with Harden (some reports have in fact indicated that the completion of a trade hinges on this stipulation), which I'd be fully supportive of. One cannot understate how large of an injury risk Harden is -- he hasn't pitched 150 innings in a season since 2005 and has never thrown 200 innings -- but he's a real front-line talent and only 27 years old. Signing him to a multi-year deal would be an extremely risky gamble, but the top of the Twins' rotation suddenly looks rather shaky going forward, especially after the disappointing campaign Francisco Liriano has put together this year, and it's just not often that you get a shot at bringing in someone with Harden's ability. If he'd be willing to sign a reasonable, incentive-laden contract, Harden would be a good gamble for this team.

Last week I tried to temper excitement over the Twins' recent winning streak and climb in the standings by noting that, as it currently stood, "this pitching staff just isn't good enough to win the AL Central. Period." The Twins front office is making some late furious efforts to overhaul that staff here with the clock ticking down on the waiver trade deadline, and while the additions of Rauch and Mahay might be the very definition of "too little, too late," one must be pleased to see the front office showing a clear desire to win now by becoming active and taking on salary. Perhaps even more importantly, some key players on the team must be pleased by these developments.

If Smith can somehow find a way to make Harden a Twin under reasonable parameters, "pleased" would be an understatement for my demeanor and I might even be willing to rescind some of the unkind things I've said about the front office recently..

7 comments:

David84 said...

I'm pretty excited about the potential Harden acquisition as well. I wonder how much the arbitration situation is going to affect his value, though. Are the Cubs really going to want an injury-prone starter for 10 million next year? Isn't there a decent chance they wouldn't want to offer him that and would therefore not get the two draft picks? Ditto the Twins, were he to be traded. Seems to me if neither side would be willing to offer him such a sum and thereby lose out on the draft picks, his trade value would be substantially lowered.

Anonymous said...

Good breakdown 'graph on Harden, bud. Well done.

Judd

Nick N. said...

Guess 5 percent was optimistic.

lookatthosetwins said...

David,
I tend to disagree.
10 mil sounds like a lot, but this is a CC Sabathia type pitcher when he's healthy. According to fangraphs, he's been worth over 9 mil/season, and that's counting years when he's pitched 21 and 46 innings. I think its definitely a gamble a team with a large payroll like the Cubs would and should take.

The Twins, on the other hand...

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