Thursday, December 16, 2010

No Relief

Jesse Crain signed a three-year, $13 million contract with the White Sox yesterday, officially ending a seven-year tenure with the Twins that was filled with ups and downs.

"Kenny Williams said I had been a pain in their butt the last couple of years and wanted to get me on their side," Crain told Charley Walters of the Pioneer Press. 

I bet I can pinpoint the exact moment that the White Sox decided they wanted to add the right-handed reliever. It was mid-September, and they were facing the Twins in Chicago while clinging to very slim postseason hopes. Trailing by one in the seventh, the Sox had loaded the bases with one out for their No. 4 and 5 hitters. Crain, amidst the best four-month stretch of pitching in his career, unleashed a barrage of nasty sliders and 95 mph fastballs on Paul Konerko and Manny Ramirez, striking them both out to end Chicago's threat and essentially their season. 

Two days later, I penned an article about Crain labeling him the team's "bullpen ace." It's what he was for the Twins from mid-May to the end of the year -- a guy you could rely on to come in and get outs in the most sticky of situations. On the surface, that's a very tough piece to lose. 

This isn't necessarily a traumatic development, though. In fact, it might ultimately benefit the Twins. They'll get a supplemental pick in the 2011 draft since Crain was a Type B free agent, and meanwhile one of their top divisional rivals is committing $13 million in guaranteed money to a guy who was rightfully being called "Crainwreck" by fans as recently as May of this year.  

When Crain's going good, he's a powerful weapon in the bullpen. But he's been prone to stretches of abysmal performance and 2010 was the first time he's posted a WHIP below 1.37 since 2006. He was a non-tender candidate last offseason, had a 7.31 ERA in mid-May of this year and now he's getting a three-year deal in a deep relief market? I'd have liked to bring Crain back, but with the Sox offering a contract like that the Twins were wise not to even consider matching it. 

Matt Guerrier also came off the market yesterday, signing a three-year deal with the Dodgers. He's been mostly effective over the past four years but his arm has seen more wear than any other reliever in baseball during that span. While his durability will be missed, it's tough to justify the kind of contract Guerrier got from Los Angeles. 

Right now, the Twins' bullpen situation looks bleak, yet I'm probably less concerned about the depth of this unit than the rotation or lineup. The market for relievers is flush this winter, unlike starting pitchers and middle infielders, so the Twins can afford to show patience and wait until January or even February when solid arms will still be available and likely without the need to make dangerous three-year commitments.


Kelly said...

Crain gave up so many gopher balls, but finally seemed to get the slider down. Still, that guy made you hold your breath whenever he came in and he flat out lost games for us. Matty was a horse and we rode him a long ways. But I think his arm was worn out last year. Wish them both well.

We may have to use Blackburn or Slowey in the pen. But I think we can find younger arms that may be solid. Maybe even those Orioles.

ScottyB said...

As you say bullpen options are flush. If I were the Twins I would consider adding Hideki Okajima or Takashi Saito to help Nishioka ease into MLB and make him feel more at home in Minnesota. (if the price is right)

Matt said...

Good post, Nick.
Crain always was pretty inconsistent. And though he finished the season very very strong, he choked in game 1 of the ALDS, brought in to clean things up and utterly failed... Although I won't be so callous as to point to that soley as a reason to let him walk (but I was pretty emotional and wanted him to sit the rest of the series at the time haha).

But really, 3 years $13 million (not as crazy as Capps or Nathan, mind you, but crazy for Jesse)? That's nuts. The Sox have really been on a spending spree, no? They might kick themselves when several other teams get good deals on relief help, and Jesse has his trademark slump month or more...

Dave said...

Its been quite the Crain-ride since he came up in the org. I will always have fond memories of Crain due to his 12 win first (full) season which helped me win my first ever fantasy baseball championship cash. Never mind his dismal k-rate that year, 12 wins from a reliever? Yes please!

I still remember clamoring to trade Nathan and promote Crain. I still maintain it was the right choice. It is curious to see Crain go to the sox. He always maintained he wanted to be a closer, but the closer of the present and distant future should be South Side Sale. Yes, I just penned the soon-to-be official nickname of the sox closer, and yes it is awesome.

Anonymous said...

Man, the Sox are putting some money up in the offseason. Smith better get off his ass and expand payroll. We're staring at 3rd place right now. Gardy has benefitted from being the "best of the rest" in the AL Central for nearly a decade. That may be coming to an end. We know we can't compete with the AL East...but now the AL Central is becoming more ominous. I would probably take the Sox and the Tigers both hitting and pitching-wise over us at this point.

Beth said...

Here's the thing: Crain has a good minor league record, and was great to start his career. I think most of his difficult years were relating to his injury/recovery. I think he could be very good, like we saw after May of this year. And that scares me a lot, especially now that he's a rival..

As for Guerrier, he might still be good, but I was coming to the point of not being sure anymore. Still love the guy, and wish him the best.

Ed Bast said...

Hm, trading the guy who should be our backup catcher for a guy who may or may not help us 4 years from now. Keep it up Billy, that 2014 bullpen has a potential to be decent.

I'd be worried if our starting catcher had a history of injuries and our backup catcher wasn't capable of hitting at a major league level. Thankfully neither of those is true.

Matt said...

I'd be worried if our starting catcher had a history of injuries and our backup catcher wasn't capable of hitting at a major league level. Thankfully neither of those is true.
You should have heard the sports commentator on Channel 9 news last night. Something to the tune of "Twins traded Morales for bullpen help because he just couldn't cut it defensively. Drew Butera will backstop Joe Mauer."
Yup, I can see it now...
Game three, chance for a sweep, Butera goes 0-4 and the Twins lose by a run. But hey, they "took the series" right?

cy1time said...

Nice article on about Crain's tranformation from fastball-slider guy to slider-fastball guy. If the's throwing the slider for strikes, he's pretty tough. Interesting lifetime numbers, Crain vs. Sox:

Paul Konerko: 2-for-18, one walk, 10 strikeouts.
A.J. Pierzynski: 2-for-13, one walk.
Alexei Ramirez: 1-for-10, one strikeout.
Mark Teahen: 0-for-9, five strikeouts.
Total: .156/.222/.278 over 100 plate appearances.

As many times as it seemed that he was pouring gasoline on the fire, it apparently wasn't against the Sox. Hopefully the Twins will be able to hit Crain a little better than the Sox did.

Ed Bast said...

Matt, I'd be more receptive to the trade if they actually received MLB bullpen help. The bullpen help they received was for Fort Myers. That guy aint helping the Twins for years, if ever.

Again, they traded a guy that could help the team this year for one that might help a few years down the road. Par for the course: the Eternal 5-Year Plan.

Josh said...

Crain was a quality arm and will be missed, but paying $4M/year for a set-up man is generally a bad idea. Guerrier was good for a lot of years, but fell victim to overwork and misuse by Gardy who prefers to "go with his gut" and use "his guys" over looking at matchups, which isn't always good for a bullpen guy. (Yes, I'm thinking about the A-Rod case) And with him in decline a bit, paying him the money he got from the Dodgers would have been another bad move. Thanks for the good years, Matty, but time to move on.

I'm totally fine with assembling a bullpen on the cheap. It'd be easier if we had more power arms in the minors, instead of strike-throwers, but as Nick has said, there are a lot of relievers on the market (and will be every year). there's just too many of them, and there's little value in giving relievers big, long-term deals.

It'll suck facing Crain in the fall with the BitchSox, but maybe he'll return to his "Crain-wreck" ways when removed from the comfort zone of MN.

Disgruntled Guy said...

What the FO is trying to do this offseason is starting to come into focus. Really, it's brilliant from a business standpoint - these guys are master manipulators. Follow with me on this.

The team made a boatload of cash last year. They really want to keep making boatloads of cash. The ALDS taught them they need some pitching and RH power to seriously contend for a WS. Well, those things are expensive. So they decide they aren't going to do those things.

And they might as well start cutting some salaries too, basically go into semi-rebuilding mode so that the squad hovers enough around average that the fans will still come out to Target Field and spend cash. But some fans (not many) are fed up with the playoff losses and don't want to go into rebuilding. So they start trimming depth while professing to be bettering the team by adding "speed" (genius; fans aren't going to say they want a slow team, but speed is cheap and does nothing for you come October).

Being a "shallow" team is doubly great for the front office: one, it's cheap; two, it gives them a built in excuse next year that all the Twins apologsts will just eat up: well, we had injuries, what can you do? This was the ultimate excuse in 2010, more popular even than the time-honored "big bad Yankees" excuse. Even a minor injury, to an infielder or a bullpen guy, could be catastrophic - imagine Matt Tolbert getting 300 ABs, or Glen Perkins getting 60 appearances. Injuries are going to happen, so the Twins are pretty much preparing their excuses for next year's inevitable failures now.

Man, this organization is absolutely brilliant when it comes to public relations, manipulation of their fan base, and profit maximization. They are completely inept as baseball people, but it isn't about baseball to them anyhow.

The question is, when are fans going to realize all this and stop lining the Pohlad's pockets with TF cash?

For a precedence, you need only look across the river at the Wild. Took 7 years to realize they weren't the model organization everyone thought they were and demand change in the front office and 9 years to stop selling out games to watch a mediocre product. Now the Wild are in 13th in the conference (2nd year in a row!) and years away from contending.

How long are we going to tolerate it out of our baseball club? Up to you, fans.

Dave said...

You sure are disgruntled. No, the Twins don't have some master plan to fail, no they aren't abusing Target field for profit, yes they have made dubious moves this offseason. Some fans sure have moved from mad to paranoid.

The Nishi signing actually could be a savvy deal. The word was about 10 mil 3 years, so with the transfer fee thats 5 mil a year. Not bad if he can hit .275 and play decent defense. Plus 5 mil of that was frontloaded in the transfer fee so he is awesome trade bait two years from now if we decide to go in another direction.

Disgruntled Guy said...

Dave, have you ever worked for a Pohlad company? I have. Trust me, it's ONLY about the bottom line. Do you really think they built Target Field as a present to fans?

Disgruntled Guy said...

And I never said they have a master plan to fail. They don't really care about winning or losing, their plan is to spend just enough to make sure people keep spending money on the team. A bad team doesn't draw well, you know that. Average teams who are able to compete in weak divisions draw well due to the allusion of importance attached to reg season games.

Dave said...

There is a difference between using and abusing. Of course they are using it for profits, why wouldn't they? You are accusing them of intentionally tanking a team and relying on Target field to make them undeserved money. Thats just insane. Why increase the salary to this point? Why make those deals last year?

And what about post season revenues? Going deep into the playoffs makes a boatload of money for the owners. The Pohlads sure are greedy, thats not up for debate. But they aren't stupid either. You make more money out of a good team if your stadium is capable of generating money.

Ed Bast said...

Wow and I thought I was pessimistic.

Disgruntled Guy said...

Not accusing them of tanking a team. They just aren't making the team better, and time is running out for this team to be legitimate world series contenders.

And I am so sick and tired of hearing about the payroll this year. The Twins put themselves in this payroll problem. They signed players to terrible contracts. Nobody put a gun to their head and signed Cuddy to a player-option $11 mil contract. It's their fault salaries are bloated. We're supposed to accept this and be okay if they don't improve the team because of it? Absolutely not. They screwed up, they need to be held accountable for their mistakes and spend a few extra bucks to help this team, not start dumping salaries to make it worse.

Dave said...

I'm becoming disgruntled with your sideways circular logic.

You say the team isn't tanking, it just isn't spending the right amount of dough. You say that they should stop making excuses, and that what would have been the right amount of money now isn't enough because they made bad deals and they should now spend more. You say they are doing all this to make money.

Why exactly would a team make poor contract decisions that inflate their payroll in an attempt to make more money? And how is a team not tanking if they are (in your opinion) making deliberate steps to not improve? I get it, you are frustrated, and you have no idea what will happen or indeed what should happen. But to make various contradictory comments insinuating conspiracy/incompitancy

Disgruntled Guy said...

Last year was Year 1 of Target Field. Any marketing student will tell you that when you unveil a new product hype is huge. They needed to hike up payroll last year, they'd been telling us for 10 years that they needed a stadium to compete financially. So they did, they got a buzz going around the team, they needed the team to be competitive and it worked. They sold a s&*$ton of tickets. But when it was time to go all in to make a real run at the series, they didn't get an ace pitcher because they wanted to keep a guy who might be decent in 5 years, and they traded for a closer because he had an option for 11. Moves not for this year but some year down the road.

Look, any businessman will tell you, you have to spend money to make money. The Twins know this. The Pohlads are fantastic businessmen. They know how to make money in droves. They just don't care about winning in the postseason - you also have to spend money to win a world series (one year you might actually have to put fifty FIVE percent of revenues into payroll - gasp!), and the Twins simply won't do this.

It's frustrating because they lie to the fans and pretend to care about the playoffs, like the notion that the Hardy deal was about speed and Bill Smith's quote that he hopes to play the Yanks again in the playoffs.

I'm a season ticket holder, so basically an investor in the team, and I want to see the club win a world series. Publically they say they do too, but then they make moves like this offseason and it's pretty clear the front office doesn't give a s$#@ about the playoffs.

Disgruntled Guy said...

Oh and Dave, you think the team is taking steps to improve? How so, exactly? By your definition they are absolutely tanking. They shed Hardy's payroll and let Hudson, Crain, Guerrier, Rauch, Fuentes walk instead of re-signing them, and the only player they added is supposed to be like Kaz Matsui only worse. This is improvement? How else to you explain their moves this offseason?

Dave said...

The Twins haven't improved the team. They have definately done the opposite. But they haven't done it to intentionally maintain some mediocre level of play, they just haven't been smart with their moves.

Any business person will tell you that new stadiums sell themselves out the first year. Pittsburgh had great attendance at PNC the first year despite having a terrible team with zero chance of improvement. What they can't do is sell themselves out the second year and beyond. You have it in reverse; if the Twins did have some sinister plan, it should actually have been to ditch salary last year and steadily add on over the years to prop up the fading appeal of Target field.

Disgruntled Guy said...

"it should actually have been to ditch salary last year and steadily add on over the years to prop up the fading appeal of Target field."

C'mon, ditching salary last year would have been a PR nightmare. If only the front office understood/cared about baseball like they do PR...

Again I don't think they're intentionally trying to be mediocre. I just think from a business perpective they don't want to spend the money to really make a postseason run and would rather be just good enough year in and year out to keep people interested. To be clear it's really a solid way to run a business, but like somebody else here said, I know baseball is a business but the fans are the team's customers, and if the fans can spend their hard earned money on county tax hikes and Twins tickets and concessions, can't the organization spend some of their hard earned money on a chance for a World Series every 10-15 years or so?

Matt said...

The Cubs sell out almost soley because of the mystique of Wrigley.

Winning a WS? How many fans were still interested in '94 and '95, just a few years later? Not many.

If this is indeed a business plan, it's a damn good one.

Rather than pay for lots of high priced TF tickets, I'll just watch my $1,200 HDTV. That'll show 'em!

Disgruntled Guy said...

It's a great business plan. It's a frustrating baseball plan, because they get so close but stop short of going all in for a deep postseason run. I'm a baseball fan, not a business fan. Last year I really thought they were going to change the way they run things now that they had a deeper wallet. But now it's back to salary dumps disguised as speed upgrades.

jay4paz said...

I'm OK with letting Crain go, but I wish it wasn't to a division rival and especially to the Sox. I'm afraid this may come back to haunt us.

Anonymous said...

Disgruntled, Shut up. Man, you whine like a little girl. What a baby.

The FO will come through like they always do. You wanna give up your tix, then do it and shut up.

What a wuss.

Disgruntled Guy said...

Another Twins apologist. Man this site is full of them. Just so you know, Anon, this front office (under Bill Smith) has "come through" with zero playoff wins. I guess you and me have a different definition of success.

Polish Sausage said...

So in Nishi we're getting a guy who in his best season hit as well as Matt Murton and who has one less Japanese Gold Glove than Kaz Matsui? My god.

Gardy's uncle said...

Disgruntled, not a Twins apologist. Just tired of your pessimism. Give up your tix and move to Brewer country/ You whine like a two year old.