Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Thome, the Twins and Free Agency

With the month of January nearing it's end and the Twins still quiet on the free agent front, many fans have been getting itchy. The team seems well poised to make a run this season, but there are a few holes remaining that many would like to see addressed through external avenues. The team's reported $5 million offer to Jarrod Washburn earlier in the offseason seemed to signal that there is some wiggle room left on the 2010 budget, so fans have been hankering for a big splash in free agency. The splash came yesterday, but it wasn't exactly a cannon ball.

The two remaining free agents who have garnered the most discussion as potential solutions to the Twins' infield opening are Orlando Hudson and Felipe Lopez. Both are quality hitters who play second base and seem like logical fits given the team's needs. Yet, both of these players seem to be seeking multi-year deals and given that they are both relatively young and coming off strong seasons, it seems reasonable to believe that both might eventually get their wish. But it almost certainly won't be with the Twins.

Right or wrong, the Twins have made clear over the years that they don't view free agency as a viable way to build a team. Their dabbling in free agency has been almost exclusively restricted to low-cost one-year deals with little upside, and the results have been predictably pitiful. Looking back through the team's free agent signings over the past several years, from Adam Everett to Livan Hernandez to Sidney Ponson to Ramon Ortiz to Rondell White and so forth, we repeatedly find players who performed so poorly that they didn't last through the entire year with the club -- at least not in the capacity they were signed to fill. Only once over this span have the Twins extended a multi-year deal to an external free agent. It was Mike Lamb, and considering the disastrous results of that experiment (Lamb was so bad the Twins had to cut him in the first year of his deal and eat nearly his entire salary the second year), it's not likely to have warmed the organization up on the idea.

Now, granted, the Twins are in a better position financially than they have been in the past. But I still can't envision them offering multi-year contracts to any free agents, particularly considering how murky the payroll situation becomes in 2011. If either Hudson or Lopez eventually becomes more open to a one-year deal, it's possible that the Twins would pursue one of them, but plenty of teams will be bidding for those guys if all it takes is a single-year commitment.

That's why Jim Thome, who signed with the Twins yesterday on a one-year deal worth $1.5 million plus incentives, was a far more realistic target. Is he as appealing as an everyday second baseman like Hudson or Lopez? Of course not, which I suspect explains a lot of fans' lukewarm reactions to the signing. But Thome will help the Twins. He'll provide a quality veteran bat off the bench that the roster had been lacking, and if used optimally he can frequently start at DH against right-handed pitchers, with Jason Kubel sliding to left field. Thome, 39, might be long in the tooth and incapable of playing defense anywhere on the field, but he was still a productive hitter last year and he has a 1043 career OPS against right-handed pitchers. Plus, he'll be a threat to come off the bench and hit the ball out of the park; the Twins currently have no one that fits that mold. In a division that features some of the American League's best right-handed pitchers (Justin Verlander, Jake Peavy, Zack Greinke, Rick Porcello, Gavin Floyd and Max Scherzer, just to name a few) and also features all right-handed closers, Thome will have plenty of chances to make a serious impact.

At the price the Twins got him, this signing was a no-brainer. It's a great addition and while he might not be the everyday player a lot of people were hoping to add, he's a Hall of Fame player who still seems to have something left in the tank.

As for Hudson and Lopez, I don't expect the Twins to make a serious play for either one of them unless we get to mid-February and one of them essentially falls in Smith's lap, much like what happened with Joe Crede a year ago.

More likely is that Smith simply waits for Crede himself to fall into his lap again.

10 comments:

rghrbek said...

Nick,

Unfortunately, I think you are right on the 2nd basemen. It's not happening.

Thome, at this price, was an ok pickup. I just hope Gardy gives Delmon every chance to either do well or stink it up so we finally, for sure know what we have in him.

Crede is all but assured to come here.

Jesse said...

You made some very good points about how multi year deal year is not wise for the Twins and that will probablly make Lopez/Hudson not possible. In this same vein please explain how it make more sense to sign an immobile, non-fielding LH hitter like Thome rather then spending the $4.5 million more on the RH 3B Tejada? Both are 1 year deals but Tejada actually fills a need in the field and balances our lineup which is overloaded wth LH.

Anonymous said...

Last I knew Tejada is a Short-stop and not a 3b. I don't think he willing to move either.

DK said...

Anonymous,

Tejada signed with Baltimore to play third.

ScottyB said...

Am I missing something here? Does no one else see how this hamstrings the bench? Twins will not add Crede or anyone else now. Harris has to start at 3rd. If he is moved to the bench by acquiring a new player, that moves out Tolbert or Pridie. The Twins bench right now will be Tolbert, a catcher (Butera, then Morales), an outfielder (probably Pridie, to keep the budget in check), and Thome.

We would have to immediately put any injured player on the DL, no more waiting a day or 2 to see if they can play through it. We wouldn't have that luxury. And heaven help us if Harris and Punto came down with the flu on the same day. Our lineup would have to include Tolbert at 3rd, Cuddyer at 2nd, Kubel in RF and Thome at DH. I wouldn't want to pitch that day.

Nick N. said...

In this same vein please explain how it make more sense to sign an immobile, non-fielding LH hitter like Thome rather then spending the $4.5 million more on the RH 3B Tejada? Both are 1 year deals but Tejada actually fills a need in the field and balances our lineup which is overloaded wth LH.

If the Twins wanted to sign Tejada, I don't think committing $1.5M to Thome prevented them from doing so. It's far more likely that either the Twins didn't want Tejada or Tejada didn't want to come here. And if you're looking for a misuse of a couple million dollars, Jesse Crain is probably a better example than Thome.

Am I missing something here? Does no one else see how this hamstrings the bench?

See tomorrow's post.

rghrbek said...

ScottyB

I think many, many people are missing the actual bench implications.

For the money, it's not a terrible signing. But it is not without ramifications, as you pointed out.

The need off the bench is for a quality hitter, who can deliver late in games, who works counts and gets on base. Thome strikes out much but gets on base. However, as soon as he gets on base, he is a liability and we have to go to our bench again.

Gardy likes his veterans though and Thome is built like Babe Ruth

Steven Ellingson said...

I don't see how this hamstrings our bench. We were all looking for a 4th OF who could be a defensive replacement and pinch hit. Instead, we have that in two players, Thome and Pridie. Between the two, they are better than any 4th outfielder we could have gotten. If we end up signing Crede, then we still have room for a versatile guy like Harris. There was no reason to have both Harris and Tolbert on the bench. There isn't really anything that Tolbert does much better than Harris.

It might limit some flexibility, but overall, this was better than signing someone like Winn, because we now have a legitimate pinch hitter and defensive replacement for only 2 mil. If that means that we only get one utility infielder, I think that's a fair trade off.

Matthew said...

For me I want this to be a way to slide Young out of an everyday role. I'm tired of waiting for him to become what the Twins want him to be.

This will be a perfect way to use Thome as a DH against tough righties and make our lineup that much stronger. We can do this by moving Kubel to left on those days as it's not like Kubel is any worse than Delmon in the OF. In fact Kubel's bat makes up for his lack of defensive ability where Young's doesn't.

I'm not saying Thome is an everyday DH, but I'd like to see him 3-4 days a week in the lineup.

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