Friday, December 28, 2007

Looking at the Current Santana Trade Possibilities

I've been analyzing the Twins for years, and I've been reasonably on the mark, including getting most excited about stealing Francisco Liriano in the AJP deal, decrying the possibility of non-tendering David Ortiz, and calling for Jacque Jones' to be dealt after his breakout 2002 season (it was a career year, I was positive). So since I think so much of myself, I feel it only right that I should evaluate, in a very cursory way, the various options the Twins have in dealing the best pitcher in baseball.

Today we hear again the Yankees have pulled their latest offer for Johan Santana. ESPN's report was that the Yankees had offered pitcher Philip Hughes, outfielder Melky Cabrera, pitching prospect Jeff Marquez and another prospect. I'm neither sure who the prospect was nor aware that was Marquez' first name, which, along with my lukewarm feeling about Melky, leads me to exclaim, "heh?". Who knows what to think of the permanency of this decision, but for now this leave the Red Sox and Mets as the only known suitors with offers on the table.

And while the Yankees offered was pulled, it doesn't mean talks can't continue, so I'll examine the current offers the Twins have, including that of the Yankees. What strikes me as I go out and read message boards and comments from articles (like that linked above) is that fans of the teams in the Santana sweepstakes are afraid of giving up their prospects as if they're undoubtedly going to be star players.

As some Twins fans here have mentioned, the prospects being offered up by various teams are just that, prospects. Realistically, unless you're watching a David Wright hit his way up to the Mets, there are hardly any "can't miss" prospects. To give up three "top" prospects is only a bad idea in the sense that a team doing so losing some trading chips. It's a no-brainer, otherwise, when talking Santana.

The Twins can afford Santana. It would have been tougher to do so had they signed Hunter, but they were smart there. Scoping out Santana deals is a move by the Twins to bring efficiency to their organization. Signing Santana is good, but are they better served by grabbing prospects (including a can't miss), immensely lowering payroll, and using that money to lock up young studs? Let's look at what's out there in trade, both in reality and in theory. We'll go team by team.

Red Sox: Ellsbury, Lowrie, Masterson, and prospect or Lester and Crisp in place of Ellsbury. While Ellsbury, Lowrie, Lester, and Crisp will be major leaguers, only Ellsbury and Lester have a chance to be real good, and neither has a chance to be a real star. Ellsbury should be good in a few years, but the Twins don't like dealing with Scott Boras. Lester is a 3 or 4, and the Twins are looking for someone with a 1 ceiling. I would rather sign Santana than do either configuration of this deal.

Yankees: Hughes, M. Cabrera, Marquez, and a prospect. The Twins like this better because they like Hughes. He's not a sure thing, and his motion induces thoughts of injury, but he does have a 1 or 2 upside, and we think he's nearly there now. Cabrera is a filler who won't hurt the Twins, but neither of the other prospects will sway the Twins unless the Yankees give up Jackson or Tabata or possibly Horne as the TBD. The Twins will do this, possibly. They will especially do this if Cano is thrown in there, though I'm not at all high on the 2B who's had the luxury of hacking in the middle of a star-studded lineup. And that's part of the problem with Melky, too. Personally, I think the Twins are just trying to get the best deal from the Yankees so that they can bring it to the other teams.

Mets: Gomez, Martinez, Pelfrey, Humber, Mulvey. If the Mets want Santana, they'd have to give up a package like this. I'm not sure they really want him, though. Frankly, none of these players is anywhere close to a sure thing to be at least average in the major leagues. They all have baseball defects, and only the Mets being in the NL and the mass quantity of bodies here would entice the Twins. Mets fans should wake up and support this type of deal, because their team can replace the worst two of the pitchers with average (or below) veterans, and Santana will be worth far more than the best pitcher and the OFers.

And now the team who might be under the radar:

Mariners: A. Jones, Morrow, Clement, Balentin. The Twins, assuming Santana would extend with Seattle, should do this, and they shouldn't care whether Balentin is involved. Jones is a star just waiting to happen, while Morrow and Clement show extreme promise. The Twins don't get the "ready" pitcher back here, but they don't with the Mets, either.

Angels: E. Santana, Wood, Willits. Not as good as the Mariners' package, but Santana can be special, Wood can be good and dangerous, and Willits would be filler. Weaver may be substituted for E. Santana. I expect the Angels to have secretly contacted the Twins, who are very discreet about these things, and told them they will top any offer.

Dodgers: Kemp, LaRoche, Billingsley/Kershaw. This would be equal or better the Mariners offer, but the Dodgers don't seem to be interested. If it's there, take it.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Locking Up the Johan

At the end of his column today the NY Times' Murray Chass posed the (probably) rhetorical question about whether the Twins don't have the money to extend Johan Santana. They do have the money, of course, and it's very perplexing to those of us following the team. So I decided to give the question my normal thirty second thought to determine if I could convince myself of what has happened, is happening, and will happen.

We in Minnesota understand the general Twins philosophies that (a) the Twins don't sign a pitcher for more than four years and (b) the Twins don't pay a player 25% of their payroll. What those of us never understood about Terry Ryan is why he couldn't see the trap he'd put himself into by not fully appreciating the reasons for locking up your star players, namely that inflation is always going to be ugly and when a star smells free agency, the chance to sign him reasonably is all but done.

The easy example would appear to be Torii Hunter, and to some extent that's true. However, when the Twins signed Hunter after the 2002 season, I was cautious about the money relative to Hunter's ability and actually thought there would be another CF in place after 2006. The Twins, after all, had drafted Denard Span in June, 2002 and all outlets labeled him the heir apparent to Hunter. The Twins were smart enough to include a club option for 2007, just in case Span wasn't quite ready yet. Little did we know that Span wouldn't Pan (out), and that the Twins would probably had been smart to try to get multiple club options in Hunter's contract.

But let's go back to the fall of 2006, the time at which it became clear to the Twins that Span wasn't close to ready and would very possibly never be a starting CF. The Twins exercised their club option on Hunter for 2007 and had the ability to sign him to what can now be called a reasonable extension, in light of Hunter's five year, $90 million contract with the Angels. The Twins in all likelihood could have signed Hunter for four years and $60 million or even slightly less.

The problem, though, and I hope the Twins saw this and weren't just being their cheap selves, was that Hunter was going to be 33 midway through his first season of his contract, five years older than the hitter's prime age of 27-28. Throw in the constant lack of plate discipline and declining fielding skills, and at the very most Hunter's worth to the Twins was somewhat close to $15 million a year for only 2008 and 2009. In other words, this was not about locking up young talent.

No, where I wanted the Twins to lock up young talent was when their best hitter was an overweight 1B/DH. The Twins, in all their wisdom, non-tendered David Ortiz instead. I wish I had blogged back then to prove it to the doubters, but instead you'll have to go to the archives of the Twins Dickie Thon forum and look for someone with "stat" in the name who hated Ryan, Ron Gardenhire, Jacque Jones, and wasn't totally sold on Hunter. Under whatever Statman or Statguy nickname I had, there is an embarrassing amount of screaming and crying about the possibility of Ortiz being released.

Today it seems obvious that a Twins team looking to lock up its young talent would be signing Justin Morneau, not Michael Cuddyer (age/prime again), and looking closely at Francisco Liriano, Scott Baker, Delmon Young, and even Joe Mauer, whose contract will be ending in three years. Hey, Bill Smith, you've got to be looking at it now, not later.

Where the Twins got themselves in trouble with Santana is waiting far too long. After the 2006 season, Santana had shown himself to be the best pitcher in baseball each of the past three years. He had two years left on his contract, and he would be barely 30 by the time his new contract started in 2009. Age 30 for a pitcher is like age 27 for a hitter, so in essence the Twins in dealing with Santana would be locking up a player six years younger than Hunter.

The Twins ended up offering Hunter a three year contract and were willing to pay $15 million a year for ages 33, 34, and 35. Are they not willing to pay a much, much better player--perhaps the best player in baseball--$20 million dollars a year for comparative (think pitchers relative to hitters) age 27 through 33 seasons? Then consider that the value of the $20 million would be affected greatly, baseball inflation-wise, by the fact that the Hunter contract would have run from 2008-2010, while the Santana contract might run from 2009-2015. Add in there that the Twins would be generating new revenue starting with the 2010 season, that Santana has past the injury nexus that most pitchers deal with, and that $20 million would be a much smaller portion of the payroll in 2015 than it would be in 2009, and you see why it's perplexing that the Twins don't make an honest effort to sign Santana long-term.

The very fact that Carlos Silva just got paid $50 million for four years should tell you that the Twins could go at least 7 and 140 for Santana. I mean, what will $20 million mean in 2015? Will it be enough money for some team like the Rangers to sign Boof Bonser? Meanwhile, the Twins likely would be paying a highly possible Hall of Fame pitcher for the last year of his (pitching) prime.

It makes you wonder. Do the Twins see something, or are they afraid of a dropoff in Santana's effectiveness? It's a lot easier to tell yourself a guy's tipping pitches, losing bite, not throwing the slider, or might get injured when you're asked to pony up $140 million.

Oh, and that number is the minimum, folks.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Twins add filler

The Twins signed 1B Mike Lamb late last week and told us he would be the Twins starting 3B. It's hard to know how to feel about this. If you're in the camp that believes the Twins might compete this year, then the Lamb move should be an intermediate one. He's a nice lefty stick who can play a little third, a little first, and DH some.

The Twins are in need of one more infielder--someone who can play either 2B or 3B. Brendan Harris' versatility allows the Twins more options than they're used to. Unfortunately, the option they are mostly likely to take is "no one." The Twins imply they're done, and that's too bad, but of course there's a decent chance they'll fill that spot in spite of themselves.

Any deal with Boston appears to include 2B Jed Lowrie, the Stanford product the Red Sox stole with a sandwich pick in 2005. Lowrie is close to ready, though it's possible he needs a little more AAA time. If the Twins deal Johan Santana to the Sox, it's likely that Lowrie would get a chance to take over 2B at some point this year. Between AA and AAA this past year, Lowrie put up great offensive numbers: .298/.393/.503 and played a limited shortstop.

What Boston had in mind for this 2B by putting him at SS is anyone's guess. I've heard it mentioned that at SS he'd be more attractive in trade. Perhaps the SS experience would provide needed depth in case of a big-league emergency. Whatever the reason, be assured Lowrie is unlikely to ever play SS in the major leagues. Should he make it to Boston to eventually pair with Dustin Pedroia, put your money on Pedroia to make the move across the bag.

So the Twins, if they deal Santana to the Red Sox for Jacoby Ellsbury, will constitute their 14 position player roster as such:

C: Mauer, Redmond
1B: Morneau
2B: Harris
3B: Lamb (Lowrie)
SS: Everett
UT: Punto, Machado
OF: Cuddyer, Ellsbury, Young, backup CF vs lhp TBD
DH: Kubel, Monroe

Lowrie would replace Machado or otherwise injured infielder, with Harris moving to 3B. Lamb is Ron Gardenhire's emergency catching, and thank god for that. The Twins still need a CF to bat versus tough lefties and spot will be interesting to see who's out there prior to spring training. Should the Twins deal Santana to the Yankees, Melky Cabrera would substitute for Ellsbury, and Lowrie would simply disappear.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Adam Everett, your Twins Savior

The Twins announced today they have agreed to a one year, $2.8 million deal with former Astro Adam Everett. Everett is a slick-fielding shortstop with a career batting line of .249/.299/.357 playing in a hitter's part.

Um, note to Bill Smith: nobody has every complained about Nick Punto's fielding. Two point eight million. Enough said.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Monroe, Tyner, and all things Santana

Yesterday the Minnesota Twins apparently completed their recent mission of solidifying the corner OF/DH block of their lineup with the signing of OF Craig Monroe to a one-year, $3.82 million contract. The price was the minimum the Twins could offer the former anti-Twin, and about $1-2 million more than Monroe would have made on the open market had the Twins non-tendered him today.

Chances are negotiations went something like this for Bill Smith:

Twins: We'd like to have you for 2008 at half your 2007 salary.
CM: I made $4.8 in 2007, you have to offer $3.82.
Twins: True, but if we don't, how much do you think a team will give you?
CM: We'll find out, but since I have no ties whatsoever to the Twins, I doubt that I'll end up with you.
Twins: (Blink)

It's the second time in weeks that Smith has blinked and been bluffed into giving up a lot more than he planned to. Tampa Bay hooked the new GM with Delmon Young and by the end of the negotiations not only got Smith to remove the erratic and expensive Juan Rincon from the equation, but convinced our young pup to give up a top five Twins prospect in Eduardo Morlan.

So now the Twins pay too much for a limited Monroe. Fortunately, Monroe has an upside, and that is his reasonable success against left handed pitchers. His downside, of course, is his horridness against righties. Other than the price, this would seem a perfect move for the Twins. Young and Michael Cuddyer will play full-time, and Jason Kubel should only play against righthanders, leaving Monroe to pick up Kubel's ABs against lefties.

Unfortunately, the Twins have shown themselves under Ron Gardenhire to not fully understand their players' limitations, and to play players in situations with higher risk of failure. Whereas 200-250 (expensive) Monroe ABs against mostly lefty pitching would optimize the Twins hitting and run production, Smith gives Gardy the go-ahead to continue to sabotage the offense by saying:
“We wouldn’t have signed Craig Monroe if we didn’t think he would get enough at-bats,” Smith said.
And so it goes.

--News is leaking out that the Twins are non-tendering Jason Tyner. It's understandable, but it's hard to know how to feel about this. As a starting corner OF or especially a DH, Tyner can't come close to providing the necessary offense. As a fifth OF sort who can run, steal, play all three positions, and get a timely basehit against a righthander, Tyner has some value. It will be interesting to see if the Twins re-sign Tyner, perhaps to a minor league contract.

--Rumors are the Twins are getting closer to a Johan Santana deal with the Red Sox, particularly a deal including Jacoby Ellsbury, Jed Lowrie, Justin Masterson, and another prospect. While this is not a deal the Twins should be accepting at this time, let's not forget the alternatives. It can be worse. Ellsubury is a sure thing to be at least a solid AL CF. Lowrie, if he can play defense well enough, will get on base as well as Justin Morneau does, probably better. There's a Todd Walker similarity there for me. Each of these players will be under the Twins control for at least six seasons.

In terms of this deal, here's how I rank the alternatives:

1. Sign Santana. The Twins have the money. It's more about whether they can build around the $22 million man.

2. Insist on Jon Lester with Ellsbury. It's not like the Twins couldn't sweeten the pot here. If Santana goes to the Red Sox, that pushes Lester back anyway. Maybe throw them back Brian Duensing, who's close yet doesn't need to be protected?

3. Wait for an offer out of nowhere. I would rather have Adam Jones or Philip Hughes as the centerpiece, but the extras added thus far have not impressed me. If the Angels offer Jerod Weaver, Brandon Wood, and Reggie Willits, the Twins have to do this. Likewise, if the Dodgers offer Chad Billingsley, Andy LaRoche, and Matt Kemp. I certainly don't expect the latter, but the former doesn't seem that out of whack for the Angels.

4. Take the deal as offered. Ellsbury himself is a haul, though he may currently be the most overrated player out there. I would not expect him to be more than adequate in 2008. Lowrie has a chance to be a very solid player for years, and the deeper prospects may also turn into useful pieces or even starters. That's a huge bounty compared to:

5. Get two picks as compensation at the end of 2008. The two picks would likely cost $2 million and probably won't ever be key pieces to the Twins. If they are, it will be 5-8 years from now.

There's a vast difference between 4 and 5, bridged only slightly by the unlikely shot Santana gives the Twins of making the playoffs.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Sign him for his name.

Come on, Twins.

Fukudome is your man.

Golden Gopher Point Guard Depth

Today at the Star Tribune site, blogger Myron Medcalf ponders the Golden Gopher point guard situation going forward. It's funny that a number of the comments were such that Medcalf shouldn't even be worried about something so far in the future. I guess a lot of people see freshman Al Nolen and sophomore Kevin Payton as enough talent to hold down the position for the next few years. And hope, of course, that some gifted PG comes to the Gophers in 2010.

I don't think that's a situation that takes care of itself, and it's worth addressing.

Don't get me wrong. I think Al Nolen is a decent ballplayer who will improve enough to be adequate for a middle of the road Minnesota team. But as a fan I've never strived for mediocrity in my favorite sports teams, even when they've hit rock bottom. My thoughts on the issue of the Gophers point guard situation going forward:

1. Nolen will be okay/decent/good but never an impact player for a top team. He should play major minutes until an impact PG can come in to run the show. Nolen, once he gets a couple of years under his belt, is talented enough to play an effective 15-20 per game for a top team, which should be the goal for Minnesota: to be a top Big Ten team in 2-3 years.

2. Incoming recruit Devoe Joseph probably is not a PG and therefore might not make sense there. That he wants to play it is understandable, because he knows that's his best ticket to the NBA. But that's not something you just switch to post-HS. We'll see if he has aptitude there, and if he does, the problem is actually solved. I highly doubt he'll be a better point than Nolen, though.

3. Washington PG Adrian Oliver has expressed some interest in playing for the coach who tried to recruit him to Kentucky. Oliver has no chance of being a Gopher. First, the reports make me think he simply isn't any better than Nolen. Add to that his lack of production, some injury history, and a transfer year (he could play in January, 2009), and this California kid who wants to stay close to home doesn't appear a good fit in any way.

4. Payton isn't good enough. He's clearly shown that he doesn't have the talent to be a decent PG, much less an impactful one. Payton actually would be an ideal candidate to transfer, except that he's already used up his redshirt year. Transferring to another D1 school would leave him with only one year of competition. Transferring to a D2 program, where his talent would make him potentially a big fish, could solve the problem if a top PG were to replace him.

5. As stated, for the Gophers to rise to an elite level 2-3 years from now, Nolen will need to share time with a very good/great PG. One of the most common themes for an elite team is that when its point guard has the ball, the probability of team scoring quickly goes up considerably. That means the PG is a threat to knock down the jumper, drive the lane, pull up from the dribble, get to the basket, finish, and get the ball to his teammates in a position for them to score more easily than if he hadn't touched the ball.

Nolen right now displays all these traits at a very low level for a BCS point guard. He does seem to possess them all, however, and the expectation is that he will improve each of them with experience and confidence. I just don't see that he can improve enough to be more than average, which is fine as a starter for a middling team or as a backup for a top team. I prefer thinking in terms of a top team, and filling the holes necessary under such an expectation.

6. Unfortunately, there are currently only three scholarships available between 2008 and 2009, the Gophers probably need a big man (maybe still this coming year), and the other two scholarships are waiting for local products Royce White and Rodney Williams (both 3's). So I would expect Unknown BigMan, White, and Williams to get the offers. And as we've seen, Tubby Smith can be very enticing with his charm and his quick elevation of the program from the rock bottom to something worth talking about, so I actually expect the the three openings to be filled by these three commodities.

Note that the reason the Gophers need a big guy is that two years from now they will only have then-sophs Ralph Sampson and Colton Iverson, with then-senior Damian Johnson playing a smaller 4 . They need depth up front, and then-junior Paul Carter is definitely not a 4. A team needs at least four 4's and 5's to compete.

So unless we give up on or lose White or Williams (both rated in Rivals top 50), or unless there is a transfer (unlikely, it seems), there is no room for a PG until 2010, and that's troublesome. What's the plan, Tubby?

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Off to Vegas

I have a marathon to run this Sunday, and then I am testing my poker skills at the MGM Grand through Thursday this week. Thus far my tournament finishes (with # of participants) are 3rd (60), 3rd (70), 75th (150), 17th (150). Unfortunately, the money I won in the first two tourneys only paid for my participation in the 3rd and 4th.

This means I will not be blogging for a while, but I will try to address the Johan Santana deal that is sure to happen as soon as I can. Let's hope the Twins can pull the equivalent of Kemp, LaRoche, Billingsley or Ellsbury, Buchholz, Lowrie. Have a great week!

Twins trade Garza for Delmon Young

Twins receive: Delmon Young (rh), Brendan Harris (rh), Jason Pridie (lh)
Rays receive: Matt Garza, Jason Bartlett, Eduardo Morlan (rhp)

Overall this trade does not have me doing cartwheels. I still have no idea how GM Billy Smith goes from giving up inneffectual Juan Rincon to giving up top prospect Eduardo Morlan. That was the last piece to the trade, and it was a blunder by Smith. I will not analyze the trade other than to say I agree with everything Aaron Gleeman writes on the subject.

One thing I will add is that by replacing Rincon with Morlan, the Twins acquired an extra player (in Pridie) who needs to be protected on their 40-man roster. While that may seem harmless enough, there are only so many spots the Twins have available. Morlan is not just a great prospect, but he is a year away from having to be protected. So in essence, the last part of the deal to be completed cost the Twins this:

1) a top five system prospect
2) a player to be determined who will be exposed to the Rule V draft
3) $2.5 million projected difference between Rincon's salary and his replacement's salary.
4) a couple of games in 2008, if Rincon is pitching.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Santana should bring a lot in trade...sorry Joe

In today's Minneapolis Star Tribune Joe Christensen write that Johan Santana's value is not nearly what the Minnesota public perceives it to be:
In any Santana trade, the Twins might want an established star, such as Robinson Cano or Jose Reyes, along with multiple prospects. But that is a pipe dream.

Christensen blogged today that he's been getting nasty emails and such from people disagreeing with him. He defends his column by noting that he's repeating what some major league execs have said: that Santana's pending free agency after 2008 places him in less demand because the team acquiring Santana could lose him after a year. Christensen goes on to say that other pitchers who've been mentioned as available, especially 2007 breakouts Eric Bedard of Baltimore and Dan Haren of Oakland, are not pending free agents and would therefore be more attractive to teams willing to give up prospects for a top pitcher.

The logic is flawed, though Haren/Bedard make it less so. In an attempt to dismiss Haren/Bedard, let me just say that neither has nearly the track record of Santana, nor has either proven to be over the injury nexus that all pitchers must endure. Bedard was shut down this past year, albeit with an oblique injury, and Haren tired considerably in 2007. Santana is through the injury nexus and has proven he can put up amazing numbers all season for five consecutive seasons. They are different products.

As far as the haul made by the Twins and how it's affected by pending free agency, the point is that the Twins are not trading a 2008 FA to be. They are trading a pitcher who will have agreed to a contract extension, and the money, at least for the teams in the hunt, is not all that out of whack for the product.

If the Twins can't make a haul, then there is no reason to trade him. What is wrong with giving Santana the money he's asking for? If the Twins can extend him four years at $20 million per, then they can extend him for six, where that money is even less at the end of the contract (inflation). Who's to say the Twins can't work out a deal that gets rid of the strictest "no-trade" clauses?

Seriously, what risk do the Twins have by adding six years, $126 million without the strict no-trade clause (perhaps have a salary enhancer if dealt)? The risk is an injury risk, and Santana really is past that point, unlike where Joe Mays was when the Twins gave him "big" money.
I see no reason the Twins shouldn't get whatever they ask for.

Oh, and Joe C. keeps mentioning Robinson Cano as a star the Twins might get in trade. He looks good for the Yankees, but anybody who's watch Cano knows that he's a guess hitter who can only hit straight fastballs, unless of course he guesses right. He's hardly a star. Put him in the Twins lineup not surrounded by stars up and down, and you have a different hitter.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Random Friday

Go shopping, eat leftovers. Seriously, it's Black Friday.

  • Tom Powers, columnist for the St. Paul Pioneer Press, is an idiot. Speaking about Torii Hunter leaving the Twins, Powers states
    For the first time, the organization lost a player it didn't want to lose. For the first time, it couldn't come up with a way to keep a key component...(the Twins) clearly wanted to keep Hunter. If they didn't, they wouldn't have offered him $45 million toward the end of last season.
    The Twins did not want Hunter. In fact, they only needed him for another season or two.
    If the Twins really wanted Torii Hunter they would have offered him five years. They offered the right amount of money per season, and offering it for two more seasons would actually have been cheaper, given inflation and accounting for the extra revenue they'll have then. Their three-year offer they knew had no chance of being accepted. And given that, no, Tom, they didn't want Hunter.
  • Congratulations to Tubby Smith on a very nice initial recruiting class. ranks incoming freshmen Ralph Sampson #74, Devoe Joseph #82, and Colton Iverson #136. Junior-to-be Devron Bostic is rated the #4 Juco player, while Paul Carter is not rated due to his current freshman status. The class is by no means a top ten class but could rank in the top 25 when all is said and done. Tubby got off to a late start for the 2008 class, but he quickly made the state of Minnesota notice that big-time college basketball is on its way back to Williams Arena and that the Monson era is so, so over.
  • Remember Nate Garth, Tubby's first commitment? I will admit to watching video on the kid after he committed, and it was so obvious that he would be overmatched at point guard in the Big 10, I prepared myself to wait until 2009 for the first quality Gopher recruits. Tubby must have also noticed, because Garth's offer was quickly yanked.
  • The Gopher football recruiting has gone extremely well so far. Currently Rivals ranks Minnesota as having the #27 class, right between Penn St. at 26 and Wisconsin at 28. While the Gophers are unlikely to catch Penn St., they are also unlikely to fall behind Wisconsin, giving Minnesota the 5th best class in the Big 10 after Ohio St. (9), Michigan (12), Illinois (17) and Penn St. Wisconsin has only one more scholarship to offer, while the Gophers have five left. Rivals uses the highest rated 22 recruits to determine class rankings.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Hunter Signs with Angels

I'm heartbroken.

Well, not really. To me good business sense dictated that Torii Hunter would be elsewhere in 2008. Hunter's age, decreasing fielding abilities, and general quality of hitting make any deal over two years a bad one. That the Twins offered three year is a testament to Hunter's popularity and their gratitude for all his service. Three years would mean Hunter would be the new stadium's first centerfielder.

While Hunter no longer plays an elite CF, he is adequate there and would figure to remain so for the five years the Angels gave him. And therefore his offensive numbers should be held in a CF context. Offensively, for his first seven seasons, Hunter's avg/obp/slg was .267/.321/.458. The slugging number is good for CF, the on-base percentage is bad. Those seven years were highlighted by a .289/.334/.524 in 2002, which, not so coincidentally as it turns out, was the first year his offensive numbers would help determine his salary for the following year. The Twins signed Hunter to a 4 year, $32 million contract, with an option for a fifth year.

Therefore the 2003-05 season would provide Hunter with all sorts of comforts that kind of money could bring, and it would also provide an apparent lack of urgency to learn to hit the breaking balls. Hunter's numbers fell to .262/.325/.460 during the 2003-05 period. With the contract ending after 2006, Hunter bounced back that season to .278/.336/.490, and the Twins picked up his $12 million option. Had the Twins decided not to pay Hunter, he would surely then have been a free agent, and his strong 2006 season would have provided a big payday.

As it was, 2007 was again a year for the free agent salary drive, and Hunter did not disappoint at .287/.334/.505. All told, Hunter's salary drive seasons (2002, 2006, 2007) yielded .285/.335/.506, and his non-salary drive seasons yielded .263/.318/.445.

Does anyone looking at these numbers really think the Twins should have ponied up $75 million for five years? Is this going to be worth $90 million over those five years for the Angels? Since the Angels already had Gary Matthews, Jr playing a fine CF, they need to look at Hunter's numbers as if they were acquiring a LF (regardless of the fact that Hunter will play CF). The average league LF hits .274/.345/.448. If the Angels are able to deal Matthews, then Hunter's offensive numbers should be compared to the average CF: .268/.332/.418/

Hunter therefore is worse in non-salary drive seasons than the average left field the Angels could have plucked for one year, $5 million. If Matthews is dealt, they paid $90 million for an average CF. Anyway you slice it, the Angels made horrendous move, at least until that salary-driven 2012 season gets here.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Another look at the Castillo trade

The Twins traded pending free agent Luis Castillo to the Mets in late July for uninspiring OF prospect Dustin Martin and organization-filling C Drew Butera. At the time the trade drew criticism from both the clubhouse and from Twins fans hoping to exchange the 2Bman for a true prospect.

Martin was a 23 yr old batting 287/358/421 for the Mets High A farm team, while Butera (who turned 24 days after the deal) after a recent promotion was batting 188/208/231 in 117 AA at-bats. Both players were old for High A in 2007, and neither was consider a top Mets prospect.

The alternative, of course, was to keep Castillo with the hope he could lead the Twins to the playoffs and garner the team both a first round and a supplemental pick as a Type A free agent. But the Twins correctly assessed that Castillo would not be enough to help the Twins reach the playoffs, and they further determined that the loss of Castillo would only yield the one supplemental pick that comes with being a Type B free agent.

So what was the trade worth to the Twins compared to what they would have received in compensation?

First of all, it should be noted that Terry Ryan saved nearly $2 MM by dealing Castillo. One way or another that savings will allow the Twins a 2008 budget 2MM higher than it would have been. Carl Pohlad, miser that he may be, most likely would have taken the money off the 2008 budget if Ryan had not basically cured the 2007 overage by dealing Castillo (and dumping Jeff Cirillo).

The acquisition of Martin provided the Twins with a CF prospect at the high A level behind CFers Denard Span (AAA) and Brandon Roberts (AA), neither of whom has yet shown the promise necessary to reasonably replace Hunter. It should be noted that a prospect on the fast track will generally need less than two years from High A to reach his first cup of major league coffee. Whether or not Martin can be that fast tracker is under debate, although he batted 290/361/426 in a pitcher's league (including 4 GCL ABs). These would be very good numbers for an age-appropriate CF in the Florida State League. As it is, the numbers are okay but nothing to get hopeful about.

Butera was an FSL all-star in 2007 before his promotion, yet again his High A numbers 258/348/418 look worse when one considers his age. The Twins needed a AA catcher, and Butera filled that role nicely. While he might someday make it to the bigs, Butera's ceiling is that of a defensive back-up. Martin is the player the Twins actually have some real hope for. He was drafted as a 22 yr old college senior, and his minor league experience has been one of success against younger competiton.

The cost of acquiring the two prospects was $0, outside of negligible minor league player salaries, and the Twins have at least two organization fillers and possibly helpful position players down the road.

Compare that to the alternative of having kept Castillo. Besides the almost $2MM it would have cost the Twins, they would also have had to sign the player drafted with the supplemental pick they would have received as compensation. The Twins will lose Torii Hunter and receive a pick from the team signing him and a supplemental pick between the 1st and 2nd rounds. Supplemental picks are ordered such that the teams drafting in the supp rd will draft in reverse order. The Twins finshish with the 14th worst record in the majors last year, and they have the 8th worst record among team losing Type A or B free agents. So losing Hunter might yield the 38th pick in the draft (along with a first or second round pick from the signing team).

The rule on supplemental draft pick order is one of reverse order, but a team may not draft their second supplement pick until all teams drafting in the supplement round have drafted in that round. There are twenty teams that will lose Type A or B free agents, but some will not select in the supp round due to not offering arbitration to their FA. Teams ahead of the Twins in the round might also have just that one pick. A conservative estimate is that the Twins will select 37th (for Hunter) and maybe 50th for Castillo. The 50th player received a bonus of $620,000 in 2007. So the trade of Castillo saved the Twins approximately $2.5 million and gave them one decent prospect and one organizational filler. Not bad.

One thought looms, however. That 50th player is likely pretty good, and you might liken it to previous 50th (or so) picks. The Royals selected Jeff Bianchi there in 2005 and thought they had a steal. The jury's out still. Outstanding prospects Reid Brignac, Yovani Gallardo, B.J Szymanski, and Brian Bixler were taken between 45-52 in 2004, while top Twins prospect Anthony Swarzak went at 61.

A better indicator might be whom the Twins chose in the 2nd round from 2001-2005, when their picks were somewhat close to #50. A quick look back shows the Twins taking Scott Tyler at #45 in 2001. Tyler, ironically, was traded to the Marlins for Castillo after the 2005 season. Jesse Crain (2002, 61), Scott Baker (2003, 58), Swarzak (2004, 61), and the nice prospect Paul Kelly (2005, 54) show that, at least with the Twins drafting, the 50th pick is a very good player or prospect.

The draft changed in 2006 as the supplemental round grew and the Twins had no supplemental picks. Joe Benson was drafted at 64 that year. For 2007 the Twins drafted Ben Revere at 28 and Danny Rams at 92. Needless to say, these recent draftees need to show more for us to determine their value.

I think what this analysis boils down to is that the Twins saved $2.5 million and received a decent prospect package by dealing Castillo, whereas they would have lost the money and drafted a very good prospect had they held onto him. Given the inherent risk associated with draft picks (although the Twins haven't yet missed), it appears Terry Ryan and the Twins took the safe route.

Somewhere that $2.5 million will come into play, and if you read Aaron Gleeman today, you will see that it might be used to pay newly acquired Craig Monroe (and read the comments to find out how Monroe might take a pay cut to this number).

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Twins trade PTBNL for Craig Monroe

The Twins acquired arbitration-eligible LF Craig Monroe from the Cubs today for a player to be named. Monroes stats over the last three years (avg, obp, slug):

vs left: 281/332/481
vs right: 244/289/425

Monroe is what my friend Bobby O. calls an anti-Twin, right up there with Jim Gantner in the legends of Twin-killers. Monroe batted only .219 in 2007, and his plate discipline is modest, but as long as he's hit well against the Twins, that's all we need to know.

Actually, the PTBNL is likely nothing, and this move doesn't as of yet cost the Twins anything. In fact there are reasons to like this addition:

1. The Cubs would have dumped Monroe.

2. The Twins would have had to compete with some other clubs to sign him.

3. Therefore, the PTBNL isn't anybody of consequence...likely just some organizational filler. Consider that it might be a player the equivalent of the Twins 80th best prospect. The Twins have traded a PTBNL before (think Bret Boone) that turned out to be cash instead, and they've received them before (think Bobby Kielty) that turned out to be Dave Gassner.

4. The Twins *do not* have to offer Monroe arbitration.

5. The Twins have a month or whatever to ask Monroe's agent what he expects to get this coming year if he's a free agent and convince him that a 1 yr, 3.5 million contract with a team option at $5 million ($0.5-$1 mil buyout) for 2009 is the safe route.

6. If they can't come to an agreement, then they non-tender him, losing nothing (usually, the PTBNL is determined by some result down the road).

Negatively, the Twins aren't in much of a position to add a 4th OFer at 3-5 million, so you can expect Monroe to play far more than he should. Platooning with Kubel some and getting a few DH ABs is great, but the extra ABs he gets after that will hurt the Twins (though not RonDL-like).

Overall, given that it's the Twins making this move (i.e., they won't pay him to get 200 PAs), this is not a good addition for a club lean on finances that wants to compete in 2008. On the bright side, Monroe at his worst is *still* better than Lew Ford and Rondell White.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Random Friday

Today some musings:

  • This morning Jim Souhan said a whole lot of nothing about the U of M's new coach Tubby Smith but made some time for digs at football coach Tim Brewster, saying:
    His supporters believe Brewster will become the next rebuilding wizard to alter the college football landscape, but to date he has proven only that he's not ready to coach in the Big Ten.
Not only to does Souhan fail to offer some of that proof, he fails to provide even one example of poor coaching. Heck, even Mack Brown at Texas and Coach K at Duke make mistakes (don't they?), so it shouldn't be that difficult to come up with something to support that statement.
  • Joe Christensen reports on the Johan Santana trade talks, and comes up with this interesting bit:
    Specifically, the Yankees plan on making a strong push if the two-time Cy Young Award winner becomes available. They appeared to be holding back their top prospects in the (Miguel) Cabrera discussions to make a run at Santana.
Forgetting about what the Twins might do with or get for Santana, how messed up is baseball that one team can go after and probably get the very best pitcher and one of the top three hitters, and then pay them in perpetuity? Ok, ok, the Yankees appear to be replacing Arod with Cabrera in this scenario. Still, the gall and balls of it all.
  • Over at Gopher Illustrated, the suggestion was made that Tubby Smith should start Lawrence Westbrook with senior Lawrence McKenzie and frosh Al Nolen. My goodness, what a D II world we live in still around these parts. The previously scatterbrained/scattergunning Westbrook apparently looked good at Minnesota State Southwest St. (is that really the name now?) on Wednesday. Gopher fans expectations are such now that a victory over a small division school is the basis of joy and conclusions on what the coach should do. Is it January 5 that the Gophers open the season at Michigan St.? Now there's your reality.
  • Tomorrow I run twenty miles with my running partner Meantforme. While she tends to motor through this kind of torture, I rarely feel good running that kind of distance. The next marathon is a mere few weeks away, and I'm nowhere near ready for it. Surviving 20 is my only goal right now and, truly, to do that I have to eat right, hydrate right, sleep right. There really is nothing worse than giving up your Friday happy hours. I used to live for those damn things.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Shut up and sign Santana

Count me as one who thinks trading Johan Santana unnecessary. He's the best pitcher in baseball, he'll continue to be worth a lot for a while, and trading quality for quantity is rarely a good idea.

The Twins can make two moves that can make quite a difference. They can sign Santana asap, as harsh as the money is going to be. Then they can take one or more of their pitchers not named Santana/Liriano/Garza/Baker and get a young, promising 3B.

From there they can use Hunter's 2008 money (12-15 mil) to acquire stopgaps in CF and at DH and pay raises to Morneau and Kubel and Cuddyer. Santana starts getting his 20+ mil in 2009 and is always tradeable, really, regardless of no-trade clauses.

For 2008 this isn't perfect, but I think the Twins don't really contend anyway. Liriano is a question mark coming off TJ surgery, and the young pitching needs the extra extra experience 2008 will bring. For 2009 they should have three staff aces in Santana/Liriano/Garza, Baker, Slowey, Perkins, Bonser, Duensing, maybe Blackburn et al, minus who they gave up for the 3B. That gives the team a year to consolidate and more efficiently determine their in-house position player options.

Trying to get it right

The first of perhaps many tests as I try to create my blog on a new site. Bear with me! I'll be posting some sports-related content that may seem incomplete or simply be a copy of comments I've made on other blogs or boards.