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?