Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Another Move Possible?

I read yesterday in an article in The Cincinatti Enquirer that the Reds are still in the hunt for more pitching, and may be willing to part with an outfielder in order to get it. This should raise the interest of Twins fans, who are no doubt aware that the Reds' new GM, Wayne Krivsky, is a former Terry Ryan assistant who is certainly very familiar with the abundance of pitching talent in the Twins' organization.

While Ryan has given every indication that he is done tinkering with the team's roster and will make no more moves before Opening Day, he isn't exactly the easiest guy in the world to read. The move he made this offseason to acquire Luis Castillo seemed to come out of the blue, and I don't recall hearing any speculation that he was interested in signing Tony Batista.

The Reds are well-stocked with young, quality outfielders. The Twins have no apparent need in the outfield entering the 2006 season, seeing as how they have Shannon Stewart and Torii Hunter firmly entrenched in left and center field and one player from the Michael Cuddyer/Lew Ford/Jason Kubel group should be able get the job done in right field. However, Stewart's contract expires after this year and it is unlikely the Twins will bring him back, as he is 31 and showed serious decline and limited mobility last year. Hunter, on the other hand, has an option for the 2007 season but it would cost the Twins $12 million, so they may instead opt to exercise their $1.5 million buyout on his contract following the season.

This would leave the Twins with some significant holes in their outfield for the foreseeable future. Alex Romero hit well at the Double-A level in New Britain last year (.301/.354/.458), but he is still likely a year or two away. Denard Span is probably the center fielder of the future for the Twins, but he is also a few years away and far from a sure thing. Neither of those guys have great power.

As Seth Stohs noted in his entry on SethSpeaks.net yesterday:

Boof Bonser may be just as important as either of the top-level prospects. Why? Well, if those two both perform well throughout Spring Training, the Twins would be more willing to trade Kyle Lohse if Bonser proves himself ready in case of an injury.

It's a very relevant point when it comes to this topic. While the Twins seem to currently feel that Kyle Lohse is needed so that Francisco Liriano can remain in the minors and be ready to step in if someone gets hurt, Lohse potentially becomes expendable if Liriano and Scott Baker both pitch well enough in spring to earn a spot in the Major League rotation and Bonser pitches well enough to be considered a solid option to fill in during an injury. Even if that is not the case, the Twins have plenty of young pitchers in the minor leagues who Krivsky would no doubt like to have in his new system in Cincy, such as Adam Harben, Matt Garza, Glen Perkins, Kevin Slowey, or Bonser himself.

The Reds, meanwhile, may have a glut of outfield talent, with Ken Griffey Jr., Austin Kearns, Wily Mo Pena, and Adam Dunn all warranting a starting position. They seemed to have solved this problem when they traded Sean Casey, opening first base for Dunn, but they recently signed Scott Hatteberg and Krivsky has stated that he plans on using Hatteberg as "more than a role player." Since Hatty-berg primarily plays first base, this would seem to insinuate that one of the aforementioned outfielders is indeed expendable.

It is unlikely the Twins would go after Dunn, the big slugger who just signed a 2-year contract worth about $17 million with the Reds. Aside from the high price tag, the package they would have to put together to bring in Dunn would likely be too costly. I could see the Twins going after him next year, however, if Morneau can't get it done this season. Hunter, Stewart, and Brad Radke leaving would free up a ton of salary, and Dunn is a proven slugger who has hit 40+ homers and driven in 100+ runs in each of the past two seasons. The problem with him is that he strikes out an obscene amount and has trouble keeping his batting average over .250.

Pena is a more likely scenario. The 24-year-old right-fielder has yet to prove he can be a great all-around hitter at the Major League level, but he's definitely got legitimate power. He hit 26 homers in 336 at-bats in 2004 and hit 19 HR in 311 AB last year. Pena has made it clear that he wants to be starting somewhere this year, so if the Reds intend to start Dunn, Griffey, Kearns, and Hatteberg, they might need to move Wily Mo.

The Reds might be more eager to part with Kearns. His performance has dipped significantly in each season since his outstanding rookie year in which he hit .315/.407/.500. He's had trouble staying healthy and some have referred to him as a right-handed version of Jacque Jones (not good). Still, I think Kearns is a solid player and he probably wouldn't cost the Twins too much in terms of prospects or salary. Also, he's only 25.

Another guy who is not an outfielder but who the Twins might be tempted to look at in a trade situation is Ryan Freel. If neither Tony Batista nor Glenn Williams can rise to the challenge and grab the starting third base job in spring training, Freel wouldn't be a bad option. While he has essentially no power, he is a great OBP guy and has a ton of speed. Another possibility to fill a third base need for the Twins would be Edwin Encarnacion, but the Reds would probably be unwilling to part with him as he is only 23 and was phenomenal in Triple-A last year.

I'm not going to hold my breath for a trade of some sort to happen between the Twins and Reds this spring, but it's certainly not out of the realm of possibility. Krivsky knows that he needs some serious pitching help, and they can afford to lose an outfielder to get it. The Twins, meanwhile, are going to be looking for any offensive help they can get this year.


Anonymous said...

Regarding the Twins starting pitching, everyone assumes that the reason Lohse was kept was that would allow Liriano to start the season in the minors. Nobody seems to remember that Silva and Radke both ended last season on the DL and maybe just maybe, the Twins will need Lohse to step in for one of them in the event they are not ready or their injuries have a long term effect on their abilities.

Nick N. said...

I understand that point, and that's what I was getting at with the Boof Bonser comment. If Silva or Radke get hurt, you could potentially have a guy like Bonser step in and fill out the rotation. Otherwise, a guy like Guerrier is not a bad option to fill in if someone gets hurt. He pitched really well in the first half last year.

I have been a proponent of keeping Lohse because I think depth in the rotation is very important, and I don't think trading him would be a good idea unless at least three of our young guys perform really well in the spring.

Nick M. said...

Its true we have to worry about injuries, but every team does. Lohse is a decent back-of-the-rotation starter and Ryan feels the need to have him there for injury concerns and because he feels Liriano lacks experience right now. I don't know if Bonser is ready, though. Ryan seems to have been cautious with bringing him up and they may be because he's a flyball pitcher who allows has allowed a lot of homers in the minors. The issue is, other than Liriano, Ryan doesn't have any ready-to-go prospects waiting in the minors. It will likely be another year before the next class is ready to go. Thats probably why he kept Guerrier on last year too. It wasn't just for mop-up duties.

Anonymous said...

I wish we could pry Lopez away from the Reds. I'd give up Lohse+Cuddyer/Prospect for him easily. It might take more than that. I have no idea. But I'd love to have Lopez at SS.

Anonymous said...

Btw, Hunter's buyout is 2 million. If he's *worth* 10 million, we might as well pay the 12 million rather than throw 2 million into the air just to watch him leave.


Nick N. said...

Yeah, Lopez would be a nice upgrade too, but I get the feeling that the Reds want to build their infield around him and Encarnacion... both very nice young players.

And you're right about Hunter's buyout, it is 2m not 1.5m. I agree that it would be a waste of money to just throw that away in a buyout, but you are still saving 10 million dollars which is a lot of money to a team like the Twins.