Monday, January 03, 2011

Three Bagger: Pavano, Thome & D-Lee

Apologies for the lack of updates here over the past two weeks. I decided to take a bit of a holiday respite, and fortunately the Twins made that easy by doing absolutely nothing. To get back into the groove, I'll touch on a few different subjects here in the first entry of 2011:

* Both Carl Pavano and the Twins are running out of options, so a return to Minnesota for the veteran right-hander is beginning to seem all but inevitable.

Since my last writing, Zack Greinke has been traded to the Brewers and Brandon Webb has signed with the Rangers. That's two potential destinations for Pavano effectively off the table, and also two potential rotation additions for the Twins erased. It's hard to believe that the team would enter the 2011 season with only five viable starting options -- none of them older than 29 -- so one would think a veteran acquisition has to be on the way. The Twins' patient approach has seen many potential options land elsewhere, so who else would they go with?

It's not hard to see why the front office would see fit to invest in Pavano. He was an ideal fit last year, personifying everything this organization loves in a veteran starter. He threw strikes, ate innings and greatly lessened the bullpen's burden.

But I'm wary of an expensive multi-year deal for Pavano. He turns 35 this week, and the fact that he's been healthy and durable over the past two seasons does not by any means ensure that he'll repeat it next year; especially not the year after. Let's not forget that two years ago Pavano was considered one of the most fragile pitchers in the league.

Even if he stays healthy Pavano could just as easily post the 5.10 ERA from 2009 as the 3.75 from 2010; the rest of his numbers weren't all that terribly different. I guess I just see a big contract for Pavano right now as buying high, especially when you consider that the Twins would be losing the high draft pick that would come to them should Pavano sign elsewhere.

A return to Minnesota for the mustachioed righty is starting to look highly probable, but I question the wisdom of investing so much in the hope that an aging player will be able to repeat a surprisingly excellent season. Which brings me to my next talking point...

* Jim Thome's name hasn't been bandied about much this offseason. After amazingly piecing together one of the best seasons of his Hall of Fame carer at the age of 39, the slugger expressed interest at season's end in returning to the Twins. Given the uncertainty surrounding Justin Morneau and the tremendous popularity of Thome, the team would undoubtedly like to bring him back. It's just not clear how feasible that will be, as beat writer La Velle E. Neal III speculated this weekend that Thome's camp could be thinking "that it's time make up for what he didn't earn last season while he swats career homer No. 600 in a Twins uniform."

Thome is the definition of a luxury. He's a great hitter, even in the likely event that he regresses some from last season, and was perhaps the best value in baseball with his meager contract. Yet, a substantial pay raise (Neal noted in the aforementioned article that Thome's camp "raised its eyebrows" when Lance Berkman signed a one-year, $8 million deal with St. Louis) ups the ante. How much can Bill Smith really justify paying a 40-year-old part-time player who can't field a position and could succumb to his problematic back at any time?

* One intriguing alternative option for the Twins came off the table over the weekend, as Derrek Lee signed a one-year, $8 million deal with the Orioles. While 2010 was a down season by the first baseman's standards, he still hit 19 home runs and posted a higher OPS than Michael Cuddyer. Over the ten years prior, Lee had posted an OPS of .820 or above in all of them and hit 20-plus homers in all but one. On top of all that, he is a right-handed hitter with great career numbers against lefties, and he's considered an outstanding fielder.

Seemingly, Lee would have been an ideal fit in Minnesota. As both an insurance policy at first base and a platoon partner for Jason Kubel at DH, you couldn't do much better. Now, Lee has signed with another team (the Orioles, no less, who seem intent on making my offseason as miserable as possible).

Perhaps he wasn't a feasible target. Maybe he refused to sign somewhere he wasn't guaranteed a starting job, and maybe the Twins don't have $8 million available in the budget. All I know is that operating under the assumption that Morneau is certain to return and play a full season would be foolhardy, and the Twins had better find a contingency plan that doesn't involve subjecting fans to a full year of Cuddyer as a regular starting first baseman and Kubel as a regular starting outfielder.

Thome doesn't do that.


SethSpeaks said...

D Lee would have been great fit for the Twins, but the Twins would not have been a great fit for the D Lee. With Baltimore, he will play 1B pretty much every day, and get a chance to show that last year was a fluke. With the Twins, he would have DHd occasionally, play 1B once in awhile, and pinch hit.

Matt said...

Lots of teams need pitchers. That being said, Smith might have backed himself into a wall by ignoring other options out there; he'll likely be forced to sign Pavano to a three year deal or watch him go elsewhere for three years.
But hey, we need to overpay someone when Cuddy comes back to earth in terms of earnings...

Jim H said...

I like Thome a lot. It is hard not to root for him or not to wish for him to return. But, he is certainly a luxury. Especially if you expect the Twins to go with a 12 man pitching staff again. He can't play in the field, he can't really run, his bat speed has diminished to the point where if he doesn't homer he becomes a low 200 hitter. He is also unlikely to be available for much more than 100 games because of his back, even if he never goes on the DL.

When you are looking at a 4 man bench, Thome is the definition of luxury, especially if there are uncertainies at any of the regular positions. If you end with another player such as Crede, a couple of years ago, or Hardy last year, who don't go on the DL but still miss a bunch of games, all of sudden you have a 2 man bench a lot of times.

Anonymous said...

Hi Nick,

Welcome back and Happy New Year!

Pavano - I wouldn't go more than 2 years and maybe $17M if I were the Twins. If he won't sign for that, I'd go after Blanton from the Phillies.

Thome/D.Lee - Lee was always too expensive and also the definition of luxury. I think a better option would be Marcus Thames. He crushes lefties and would be cheaper option and could play a little OF too. I would then tell Kubel to bring a 1B glove with him when he reports to Ft. Myers. He can't really run any more so it seems like a better fit for him when he's not DH'ing - and as insurance in case Justin isn't ready to play.


Nick N. said...

Lee was always too expensive and also the definition of luxury.

I'd argue that a player like Lee is more necessity than luxury. The Twins need a player who can shield Kubel from LH pitching and a player who can provide a legitimate insurance option in the event Morneau can't go. Right now, they don't have either of those, and Lee would have covered both. Time to look elsewhere, but leaving the issues unaddressed is not a palatable solution.

rghrbek said...

Signing Big Jim is concerning.

If we do, our bench is Thome, Tolbert, Butera, and Repko.

Outside of Thome, that is putrid. If we do go with 12 pitchers, this is what we will have, above.

I like the comment about Marcus Thames (although we have not had real good luck with washed up former Detroit Tigers as our DH/platoon outfielder).

USAFChief said...

...he'll likely be forced to sign Pavano to a three year deal or watch him go elsewhere for three years.

I think it was unlikely Pavano was ever going to get 3 yrs, and I think it's even more unlikely now.

I would be OK with a 1 year deal for Pavano, but even that doesn't do much to improve the rotation, IMO. I'd rather see that money invested in the bench and the bullpen, both of which have the potential to be really, really weak.

Josh said...

Part of the problem is the Twins need to deal with a platoon situation when they have a manager who has NEVER shown any interest in playing to severe platoon splits. So while a guy like Thames would be nice to protect Kubel and mash on lefties...what's the odds that Gardy actually plays to their strengths?

I'd love to bring back Thome, but I think there's a reason people aren't beating down his door with $5-$6M offers. He can't play the field, so no NL team wants him. And he's still a major injury risk for any AL team that wants him to DH. I'm also assuming he wants to play for a not a lot of options.

I'm hating our bench right now. Bunch of no-hit "gritty" guys, whose defensive prowess is probably seriously overrated. Yuck. Thome helps some, but the team really needs a RH bat with some pop on the bench that can play OF or INF.

VodkaDave said...

The last thing the Twins need to do is invest 8 million a year in a part time player, so pass on Derek Lee.

I would like to bring Thome back, but would be hesitant to offer him a penny over 4 million guaranteed. Maybe put some incentives in the contract where he can get up to 6 million with PA's or something.

Polish Sausage said...

Gee we're still a couple months from spring training and pretty much the only possible moves the Twins have are...resign two aging players who will want far more than they will likely provide in value. This is a team who was swept in the playoffs last year. When are folks going to start calling for the head of Bill Smith?

Jim H said...

Really Polish Sausage, we should be calling for Bill Smith's head? That seems harsh.

I don't know the right answer about Pavano. A multi year contract is probably a mistake but I would like to see him back for one more year. The right answer for Thome is not resign him, but like most other fans, I would like him back.

The Twins like a bench that can play defense. It would be nice if they can play offense too but versatile defensive players are more important. Ideally you would like to have sitting at AAA or AA a near ready future everyday player at every position. That doesn't happen too often. The Twins had maybe 2 last year in Valencia and Ramos. This year Revere and perhaps a couple more who aren't that near ready plus Plouffe who the jury is out on.

I expect some of the AAAA signings this off season was to provide backup depth. Guys who can come up and play once in awhile. Again the Twins realize that you can't really replace keys starters offensively but you must replace them defensively to give yourself a chance.

Anonymous said...

so're a BLOGGER. why should anyone care what you think about the twins. or baseball in general for that matter? Just because you're a "blogger" that means you're an expert or something? and to think that there are actually people out there who really take your comments as insightful? sheesh.I think that everything you have written here about the twins is pure nonsense. first and foremost, Zach Greinke and derrick lee weren't ever options the twins were exploring.The Twins are looking to REDUCE their payroll not INCREASE their payroll. The Twins have ALWAYS been "signers on the cheap" when it comes to filling holes in their roster.Greinke and Lee were never "on the table" to begin with. Carl Pavano will stay here not because he wants to be here, but because no one will give up a high draft pick to take him. HE'S UNWANTED!heres some true insight from someone who has followed the twins for 35 years. look for Delmon Young to be traded, Thome will sign with someone in the west,and Trevor Plouffe will make the opening day roster. nuff said.So nick......find some better use of your time.

Anonymous said...

wow seth speaks! way to state the obvious!!

Anonymous said...

I'm naming this season the "Bill Smith make-up season for shitty contracts". Cuddy, Mauer, Nathan...gotta cut every corner now. What irks me is that the damn money is there now...the Pohlads bought low and are sitting on one of the better franchises in baseball. The park was sold out last year, and will be again this year. Expand payroll for 1 year until Cuddy and Nathan are off the books. Avoid Thome like the plague. It was cute while it lasted, but won't be repeated. I'd say the biggest miss that the Twins should've found a way to sign is Greinke. He was relatively affordable, and was so desperate to get out of KC, that he would've signed a longer-term deal cheaper. I think Greinke, Liriano, Duensing, Blackburn and Slowey would've made a decent starting 5. Instead, I get Nish.

AP said...

Jeez,tone it down a bit. It just makes you look kind of foolish to be so harshly critical to someone you've never even met on a blog. As for the Pavano situation, I'm in agreement that a long-term deal spells danger. I feel as though the high draft pick in compensation would at the very least help to alleviate some of the team's farm system woes. But as far as the Thome situation is concerned, I'd actually like to see him signed again, and not just because I like the guy (although that does contribute). Yes, he's not a position player, and yes, he's prone to missing games due to his back. That being said, he has proven that even as he gets older he is still capable of hitting the deep ball consistently in the plate appearances he does get. And let's not forget that his bat was a game-changer in late innings this year on many occasions in tight divisional games (a walk-off against one Matt Thornton comes to mind). It's a tough sell, but I still believe he can contribute mightily as he did this year. Not saying that it's critical to the team's success or failure, but I still believe the man's got it. And, like anyone else who has opinions, I could be wrong, but hey, why else would we write about it then? =]

Kelly said...

Thome. Look at it this way. They paid him a couple million ( I think 1.5) and they won 94 games. So if we had a 100 million payroll, that equates to roughly a million bucks per win. Thome hit 25homers. I supose some stat freak can fiigure out exactly how many, but it feels to me like he maybe won us five or more games by himself. So Thome paid dividends.

Pavano. Won 17 games. Discount by 1/2 because pitching is just half of the story in any game. He was worth 8.5 million last year. Give him that guarantee this year and next and boost him a mil for every game he wins over 17.

and Sign Vlad.