Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Swapping Sluggers?

It was on this date last year that the Rangers reached agreement on a one-year deal with Vladimir Guerrero, tabbing the former Angel as their designated hitter at a reasonable price following the worst season of his outstanding career.

Guerrero turned out to be a great value for the Rangers. He rebounded as a 35-year-old, posting an .841 OPS with 29 home runs and 115 RBI while helping lead Texas to a division title and World Series berth.

The storyline wasn't all that different for the Twins and Jim Thome, whose value was also down last offseason after a sub par year in '09. Thome signed a one-year contract for $1.5 million guaranteed and made Guerrero's team-friendly deal look like a rip-off, posting a 1.039 OPS while racking up 25 homers and 59 RBI in 108 games with the Twins.

That production, coupled with Thome's resounding popularity, leaves no one wondering why Minnesota's front office has expressed desire in retaining the Hall of Fame slugger. Yet, here we are in mid-January and there have been no indications of serious talks between the Twins and Thome's agent. Yesterday, reports surfaced from ESPN.com's Buster Olney that the Rangers are "actively trying to lure Thome to Texas."

The Rangers are a logical fit for Thome; they will be using right-handed Michael Young as their primary DH with Adrian Beltre signed on to play third. At age 40, Thome shouldn't be looked at as anything other than a bench bat and part-time DH, and as a plodding left-hander who doesn't swing particularly well against southpaws, he doesn't make a whole lot of sense for a club that already employs Jason Kubel.

The Rangers' former DH, Guerrero, might make for a better fit for the Twins. While he's no spring chicken, Guerrero is five years younger than Thome, and although he's not a good option in the field, he can more realistically be counted on for everyday duty. That's important, considering the uncertainty surrounding Justin Morneau.

However, just because Guerrero makes sense for the Twins doesn't mean the Twins make sense for Guerrero. He's reportedly seeking a two-year deal, and in the GM Handbook we guessed that he might get $16 million in such a contract. It's quite possible he'll have to settle for less than that, but with the Angels, Orioles and Rays all reportedly showing interest, he's not likely to come especially cheap.

Having Guerrero around as a part-time DH and powerful right-handed bat off the bench is a nice thought, but my guess is that the Twins don't have the money or guaranteed playing time to entice Vlad.

If Thome does indeed sign with the Rangers or another club, and that seems likely unless he's willing to take a big discount to stay in Minnesota, the Twins will be left with no insurance option at DH in the event that Morneau, Cuddyer or Kubel run into trouble. That's something that will need to be addressed one way or another.


cy1time said...

Nice analysis on Thome to the Rangers, Nick. I hadn't consider how the Beltre signing makes them so right-handed. Surely they can sign Thome cheaper than Vlad, it makes a lot of sense. I don't think Vlad gets a two year deal on those shaky knees, though.

sdakotagreg said...

Thanks for the post. I am glad that someone is finally talking about Vlad to the Twins. I think he makes a lot of sense for all the reasons you posted about. Whether the Twins have the money and the multi year contract is debatable, but I certainly like the idea of running Vlad out against lefties rather Kubel.

Karl said...

There are sooo many things that the "informed" fan doesn't know about when talking about the decision making process regarding the roster. I consider myself an avid fan, yet can also rationalize I am certainly ignorant to the majority of what actually goes into signing/resigning/evaluating a player.

Having said that - The Twins seem to be talking out of both sides of thei mouth this season.

1) Expunging useful everyday/high appearance players such as Crain, Gurrier, Hardy, Hudson; and perhaps Thome, Fuentes and Rauch.

2) Resigning/signing/picking up the option on Pavano, Capps, Nishioka and perhaps Vlad(!?!?).

Now before you go crazy reading this - remember, I fully accept there are other factors such as contract length, age, handedness and the such that factor in, but let'd do some simple "gorilla math" on this current state of affairs.

Losing Crain (5m), Gurrier (5m), Hardy (6m) Hudson (5M) Thome (4M?),
Fuentes (6M?) and Rauch (3M?) for a savings of 34M.

Retaining/adding Pavano (9M?), Capps (7M?) Nishioka (5M) and Vlad (8M?) + the cost of low salary/in house replacements for Crain, Guerrier, Fuentes and Rauch (Likely at least 5M total).

I tend to agree with the notion that if Nishioka can match Hudson's output that would be a near best case scenario, I also agree that is Casilla can match Hardy's output that would be a near best case scenario - If Pavano can match his numbers from last year that would be a near best case scenario and if Vlad could match Thome's output it would be a near best case scenario and if the in house/low cost replacements for the bullpen staff I mentioned could match the 2010 output, then you guessed it - it would be a near best case scenario.

Add the totals from group 1. 34M.

Add the totals from group 2. 34M

To this avid, yet admittedly "ignorant to all aspects" Twins fan, it seems the Twins have allocated their resources in a way that they expect the 2011 Twins to match or exceed the 2010 Twins output. Why else would you make such wholesale changes?

I fail to see the upside of the 2011 replacements. I tend to believe that it would take a ton of things to fall exactly right, with a much greater chance of them being categorically worse at every position mentioned.

For roughly the same amount of money.


SoCalTwinsfan said...

Karl, there are some things you didn't take into account, especially age and cost control. Nishioka is six years younger than Hudson and the Twins have him for three years at $3M per season instead of two years, $10M it would have taken, at least, to bring Hudson back. Casilla is two years younger than Hardy and in his first year of arbitration instead of his last. Casilla would have been on the team anyways, but when he moves up, the utility guy will probably be Tolbert or some other minimum wager that is younger than Hardy. Capps is five years younger than Guerrier and two years younger than Crain. And Vlad is five years younger than Thome and could actually play the field occasionally plus he can play everyday if someone gets hurt. The only way the Twins get older is with Pavano, who is just a year older than last year, so the Twins will be younger and have more players under cost control. It may mean the Twins won't have as much depth last year, but they do have a ton of young relievers to choose from (don't forget Hoey that came over in the Hardy trade) and they will hopefully start the season with Morneau and Nathan healthy and Valencia entrenched at third base. Plus, if Pavano signs, they will essentially have an "extra" affordable major league starter with which to trade for help, if necessary, especially when Kyle Gibson is ready.

Anonymous said...

It's funny...I thought about Vlad a few weeks ago when it became apparent the Rangers weren't going to sign him. Vlad is an OLD 35...he is not in great shape, and he is as slow as Thome. But, his bat is better than Thome's (i.e. he is still capable of .300 with the same power as Thome). I just don't see Vlad going as cheaply as the Twins want him, for basically a part-time DH.

Anonymous said...

I'm gonna say this one more time: Hardy and Hudson were an incredibly mediocre duo, for about 90 games last season. These two guys are easily replaceable.

Karl-Smith is pinching pennies wherever he can...gotta pay for Baby Jesus, Cuddy and Nathan somehow.

If the Twins are looking for a scrappy 1/2 to 3/4 time player, they should've taken a look at Johnny Damon. He fits the ballpark more, and can actually play some defense.

I would let Thome go rather than paying anything over $2 million for him. Last year will not be duplicated. At that age, there is a very predictable, rapid droppoff at some point.

Let's face it...this is the same team as last year with some bullpen question marks. But, this team somehow won the most games in the 2nd half of the season.

I am actually pumped, as I think Duensing and Blackburn will have monster years. If Pav comes back, I see 4 starters winning 15 games.

Large Canine said...

I don't see Vlad a a part time DH. First of all, Kubel should never bat against lefty's. So DH against LH and pinch hitting. Heck, we could even go Cuddy 1B and Vlad RF against a LH pitcher if Justin ever needs a break. I see more AB's in 2011 for Vlad then Thome had in 2010.

Polish Sausage said...

"Smith is pinching pennies wherever he can...gotta pay for Baby Jesus, Cuddy and Nathan somehow."

Smoth signed those guys to those contracts. The Mauer one I understand, but the other two are bad contracts. Smith doesn't deserve a pass this offseason because he screwed up in previous ones.

Some Twins fans just can't give up the "payroll contraints" excuse, even when we are in Year 2 of a cash cow of a stadium and need to make up for some terrible contracts.

Just stop making excuses, Twins fans. Stop it. It's been a terrible offseason. Just like Twins' playoff performance under Gardy has been terrible. No excuses.

Anonymous said...

Socaltwinsfan, there are several factors you didnt take into account either. First, Casilla sucks and nishioka probably sucks. I could reasonably see that infield being 2-3 wins worse than last years and theres a chance it could be a disaster. I dont know that team control of replacement level infielders is all that valuable.

Matt capps is earning twice what his playing time and ability would dictate because hes accumulated saves. So him being young is a benefit because it means we can over pay for more years to come?

If signing pavano gives the twins and extra affordable major league arm then why not just not sign pavano and run with the 5 affordable major league arms? Pavano is coming off a career year he pretty unlikely to come close to repeating. Use that money to fill some holes in the replacement level infield or the replacement level bullpen, not on Carl 'regression' Pavano

Anonymous said...

Besides Smith's shitty contracts with existing players, his 2 moves last year were Capps and Fuentes. Fuentes tore through the AL for 6 1/3 solid innings of meaningless work...Capps is an average closer that we lost our best (and only) carrot for. I would've probably passed on both guys, muddled through last year with Crain replacing Rauch and gone after Soriano this offseason. Come to think of it, the only good contract Smith has signed was Thome last year, and that was pure luck. I'm honestly surprised Smith gets as many accolades as he does...if I were the Pohlads, I'd be nervously watching the window close on this franchise wondering what the hell this guy is doing. He's bidding on the rights to Nish like like he's at Sotheby's going after a Van Gogh original.

Anonymous said...

I think it is funny people get so invested over the idea of adding offence to a team that doesn't need it. who cares if we sign a DH. If we dont find a way to get at least two quality pitchers and a decent set up man in the bullpen it will be another year with no hope of any more then a first round playoff game if we are lucky. Just getting rid of punto is as good as adding offence. I believe with justin,joe,michel and kubel we will be fine in the run department,but we dont have anything close to what we need for pitching to get anything done.

Josh said...

I'd love to add Vlad to this lineup as the impact RH bat, but I suspect Nick is right that he may end up out of our price range. Might be a blessing in disguise, as I doubt he'd be a good influence on Delmon's plate discipline! :p

Can't blame Thome if he hops to the Rangers if they offer him $6-8M. They need the lefty, and Thome would still be playing for a contender, so it's not like he's just chasing money. I'd like him back, but it'd be tough to do it for that cash, especially if his back went out and he had to sit for 6-8 weeks.

How much can Vlad really play in the field these days? 20 games spaced out over the season? 30? 40? and would Gardy ever do it?

I am of the belief that every signing has to be done in through the prism of our entrenched manager. No point in counting Vlad's value in the field if Gardy would never use him there.

Anonymous said...

Karl...did you just make up those contract numbers? many are pure speculation since many of the players have not signed and you are incorrect on the ones that have signed...Nishioka is making 3 mil this year and is under contract for 3 years with a club option for a fourth. Your 'gorilla math' might work if you used accurate numbers. If the Twins are going to restock the bullpen with in house/low cost replacements...that would mean minor leaguers...minor leaguers don't make very much money, you'd have to bring up 6 minor leaguers to get to 5 mil...neshek is making 0.6 mil, Duensing, Burnett and Mijares all made 0.4 mil last year...and with Capps, Mijares and Nathan I don't think there are 6 bullpen spots to be had...shave that 5 down a little.

These 'wholesale changes' have plenty of upside...out of all relievers listed Capps is the one to give money to...he's young, reliable and is in the arbitration process instead of out on the free agent market. Signing Pavano isn't a change since he played for the Twins in 2010, as did Casilla. And if you admit that Casilla and Nishioka can match Hardy and Hudson's production for less money...then isn't that advantageous? Then if we swap Vlad and Thome straight up the numbers are comparable for a younger player and a RH power bat, which the Twins could use. I don't see anything but benefit from these moves....the team won 94 games last year...if you resign Pavano you are returning with the same starting rotation...there need not be 'wholesale changes'.

Anonymous said...

I'd love to see Vlad in the Twins lineup too but you would have to pay him much more than a guy like Thome. And if you gave Vlad all of that money you'd DH him everyday, which would add serious RH pop to the lineup but it would also turn Kubel into a 4 or 5 million dollar pinch hitter. As much as I'd like to see Vlad's bat, putting him in the field would be a nightmare. He's old and getting older fast.

I enjoyed watching Thome last year but wouldn't bring him back as long as Kubel is around. They aren't the same players but they play the same role...Kubel is more versatile because he can play in the field...but it essentially gives the team two lefthanded DHs. What the Twins need is a part-time righhanded DH who could fill in at 1b or 3b from time to time. Maybe a guy like Glaus, Cantu or Lowell (if he has anything left).

Anonymous said...

Anonymous Capps saved 42 games with a 2.42 era..those are not average numbers by a long shot...only 6 other closers reached 40 saves and his numbers only improved once he came over from Washington. Wilson Ramos was overrated...after a hot start in the majors pitchers soon discovered that he had trouble hitting curveballs.

You want Soriano too? How many closers do you want on the team? We already have Capps and Nathan. This isn't a video game or fantasy baseball..you can't just amass closers. I'm all for spending money on players but you need to have some kind of plan.

lvl 5 Charizard said...

"I think it is funny people get so invested over the idea of adding offence"

That's not how offense is spelled.

"Nishioka is making 3 mil this year and is under contract for 3 years with a club option for a fourth. Your 'gorilla math' might work if you used accurate numbers."

They are paying 5.5 mil for the negotiation fee which will probably be deferred over the life of the contract making his deal 3 years 14.5 which is actually fairly close to 5 mil per year.

"And if you admit that Casilla and Nishioka can match Hardy and Hudson's production for less money...then isn't that advantageous?"

Why would anyone admit that? This is really not likely to be the case. Casilla has a 312 game career WAR of 0. While he showed signs last year that he may very well be better than replacement theres almost no way hes average and hes shown the capacity to be one of the least valuable players in baseball.

".out of all relievers listed Capps is the one to give money to...he's young, reliable and is in the arbitration process instead of out on the free agent market."

We are going to pay capps 8 mil in arbitration. Im not sure hed be able to get that as a free agent, and he certainly wouldnt if he hadnt been a closer. We are paying a premium for his save so who cares if hes a free agent or arbitration eligible. As for his consistency, he did have a 5.8 era and was non tendered in 2009. Hes got an track record of success sorta like pav does. They both had career years in 2010 and the twins are stupid enough to pay them for that.

Karl said...

I figured by posting a bunch of self admitted approximations and educated guesses as to contract costs and rationalization about contracts would bring out some oppostion.

I am not going to defend the speculative figures I used - others have done a pretty good job defending some of the projections.

My main point was this - the Twins FO is trying to have it both ways.

Claiming poverty to get rid of certain free agents (group A) is fine - provided you don't spend evry penny you save on (group B) others who make the team fundamentally worse/less deep for 2011 when you window of opportunity is rapidy coming to a close.

Anonymous said...

WAR is the most contrived stat I've come across...designed to make statisticians more important than they really are...I guarantee that Casilla and Nishioka not only match but surpass Hardy and Hudson's numbers...it really shouldn't be very hard to do. And if you cannot see any value in Casilla at all then you really don't follow baseball. He has the potential to be good avg./on base guy who has showed flashes of his talent but hasn't been able to put it all together yet...as is the case with many young players. This will be his put up or shut up year. As for the fielding his problem has not been that he can't make the flashy play but that he loses his concentration on the easy play. So if he comes in motivated and more mature you may be pleasantly surprised with his fielding.

On Nishioka here is the contract question are they paying Nishioka the negotiation fee or are they paying the team he played for the negotiation fee? It would make much more sense that they would pay the team rather than the player the negotiation fee. So does the money really get deferred into his contract or are you just guessing?

Are the arbitration numbers out yet or are you looking into your crystal ball again?

It's very convenient to pick out Capps worst year as a major leaguer. The reality is that the vast majority of his career his era has been 3 or under. And what happened the year after he posted the 5.8 and was non-tendered? He posted a 2.47 era with 42 saves and an all-star appearance. So he probably would command around 6 mil on the market, especially since he's only 27...lots of teams could use a closer of his caliber.

Anonymous said...

I don't hear a lot of poverty talk coming from the Twins...you may just want that to be the case so you can be angry about something. Could it be that the Twins don't think the players they let go are as valuable as the contracts they signed elsewhere? If that is the case it is more along the lines of shrewd business than just being a bunch of penny pinchers. If all you want to do is spend, spend, spend you can have fun watching teams like the Mets and Cubs throw money at the wall in futility.

There is no evidence that they've made the team fundamentally worse for 2011. There are question marks for sure with the health of Morneau and Nathan but all reports have them both coming to spring training this year. The core of the team is in back...Span, Mauer, Morneau, Cuddyer, Valencia, Kubel, Liriano, Baker, Duensing, Slowey, Blackburn, Capps, Nathan, Mijares, Young...and they've added and upgrade in the middle if with Nishioka. And everything coming in from winter ball is that Casilla is playing very well. They also have some youngsters who are pushing for playing time this year...Plouffe, Revere and Gibson to name a few.

How is this team's window of opportunity closing fast? If you look at the current roster (sans Pavano or Thome) they only have 3 players who are 30 or older...Neshek is 30, Cuddyer is 31 and Repko is 30. Plus Mauer is signed through 2018, Morneau is through 2013, Nathan is under control through 2012, Baker is under control through 2013, Blackburn is under control through 2014 as us Nishioka and Span is under control through 2015. It actually looks like the Twins FO is pretty successful. They've been increasing the payroll and getting rid of high priced guys.