Thinking the Unthinkable: Trade Joe Mauer?

This is what happens when the offseason rolls around and I really have no rooting interest among the four remaining MLB teams in the respective League Championship Series. I write 2000 words about something that will never, ever happen. At least that’s what happened to me Sunday.

But it’s not my fault. I’m blaming Eric and this Sunday morning Tweet:

@ERolfPleiss Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe says Red Sox should target Mauer and/or Morneau this winter. #MNTwins http://www.bostonglobe.com/sports/2012/10/13/few-ideas-shore-red-sox-roster/npiJ3r49NrtnhnGInPoQ1L/story.html …

Having nothing better to do, I clicked the link to Cafardo’s article, which goes through several possible moves the Red Sox could make to get their team back on track, starting with trading for Joe Mauer. Cafardo mentions that the Red Sox are reportedly a bit gunshy about taking on more expensive long-term contracts and wonders if the Twins would eat some of his salary. On the other hand, if you’re the Twins, the only reason to deal Mauer would be to get out from under that contract. Putting those factors together, you quickly conclude that any such deal is beyond unlikely and bordering on unthinkable.

But this is the offseason and what’s the offseason for if not to think about the unthinkable?

I’m not surprised to see a Boston writer bring up Mauer’s name as a possible target for the Red Sox. In fact, given how old and fragile the Yankees line up is looking, I’d be shocked if Mauer’s name didn’t appear in more than one New York writer’s “How to Fix the Yankees” column in coming weeks, as well.

Joe Mauer (Knuckleballs photo)

But there are any number of logical reasons why Joe Mauer won’t be going anywhere. Local boy. Popular with local fans. Historically great hitting catcher. Huge contract. No-trade clause. The list goes on.

But if you’ll promise not to misinterpret this as an article suggesting that Mauer either should or will be traded, let’s at least take a look at whether there are any circumstances under which Terry Ryan might actually consider a discussion.

Let’s just say, for the sake of argument, that Boston GM Ben Cherington places a call to Ryan and asks the simple question, “Can we talk about Joe Mauer?”

Understand, it’s unlikely that question would even be asked. Cherington is unlikely to be looking to take on $23 million per year long-term contracts. Still, as Cafardo points out, Mauer would fit nicely in to a line up that would accommodate a catcher/1B/DH like Mauer. He might also set some kind of modern-day record for doubles in Fenway Park. Bringing in a legitimate superstar would send a strong message to Red Sox Nation that the team has no intention of taking several years to rebuild their brand. And let’s be honest, the Red Sox can afford to pay Mauer his money. They freed up a lot of payroll space with their late-season deals and if they decide to let David Ortiz walk away, they’ll have even more money to play with.

So just maybe the Red Sox could see themselves calling about Mauer. But should the Twins even answer that call? That answer may not be as obvious as many fans think.

The Twins gave Mauer an excessive contract before the 2010 season because they could not afford, from a public relations standpoint, not to sign him at any price he and his agent demanded. Opening a new stadium built largely with public funding, with virtually every seat bought and paid for through season tickets (and a waiting list of people willing to replace any holder who drops out), there was no way the Twins could allow themselves to be seen as letting the local hero get away because they didn’t want to pay for him. For the first time in franchise history, money really didn’t matter.

But those days are nothing more than a misty memory today. The Twins are coming off of consecutive seasons of more than 95 losses and attendance is dropping. Put those factors together and it wouldn’t be unrealistic to expect the Twins to slash payroll for the second straight offseason. Today, money does matter. Paying one player $23 million dollars when your total payroll is $110 million is one thing. Doing so when your total payroll is $85 million is something else, altogether.

Still, it’s not like the Twins are destitute, either. With the money coming off the books after the past season, Terry Ryan has enough payroll to work with to make improvements to his team. There aren’t a lot of top of the rotation pitchers out there, but there are plenty of more reasonably priced arms on the market and he even has a couple of trade chips he can afford to flip for pitching if he wants to go that direction. Also, despite what some folks might think, Joe Mauer is still really, really good at baseball and he’s likely to stay good for a number of years. You don’t just give that kind of talent away for a handful of magic beans (or in this case, for just a few million dollars of payroll space).

What this all means is that if, as Cafardo suggests, Cherington asks TR whether the Twins would eat any of Mauer’s contract, the answer would be (or at least should be), “hell no!” But what if Boston agrees to take on that contract?

Conventional wisdom in these kinds of trades is that the team trading a big contract either gets high level prospects back by eating some salary OR gets marginal prospects back while dumping the entire contract. That’s considered “fair return.”

Yet the Red Sox themselves managed to not only unload more debt owed to less talented players on to the Dodgers a couple of months ago, but got legitimate talent back in return, as well. They should be congratulated for that. They should also be reminded of that when they call the Twins about Joe Mauer. “Fair” is a relative term. “Fair” depends on how badly you want what I have. If you don’t want Mauer that badly, that’s fine. If you do, then shut up about “fair” and let’s get serious.

There are 3-4 players in the Red Sox system that the Twins would have to target as possible players they’d need in return. I’m not any kind of expert on minor league players, but fortunately I know how to read things written by people who are. I also have a pretty good idea what the Twins need (then again, who doesn’t at this point?).

Any discussion with the Red Sox about Mauer would have to start with the Twins dumping his entire contract AND getting at least one of the following players in return:

Allen Webster: 22 year old right-handed starting pitcher that the Sox got from the Dodgers in the Crawford, et al, trade. He’s got a mid-90s fastball and strikes out nearly a batter per inning. He pitched in AA this season and should be a AAA arm to start 2013. He was the #2 prospect in the Dodgers organization prior to the trade.

Matt Barnes: Righty starting pitcher was the Sox first round pick out of UConn in 2011 and covered both levels of A-ball in 2012. Barnes also has a mid-90s fastball and strikes out a ton of hitters. He’s likely to be a year behind Webster in terms of being Major League ready, however.

Garin Cecchini: 21 year old 3B had a .305/.394/.433 split in high-A ball in 2012. He also stole 51 bases in 57 attempts. He hasn’t shown a lot of power yet but hits a ton of doubles. With Will Middlebrooks perhaps entrenched at 3B for the Red Sox, Cecchini could be blocked unless he’s converted to a 2B. The Twins could use help in either spot.

Speaking of third basemen being blocked by Middlebrooks, the Red Sox top prospect is reportedly Xander Bogaerts. Bogaerts is playing shortstop and the Sox hope he can stay there but scouts have doubts about whether he will be able to do that. They think he will more likely need to move to 3B or, perhaps even more likely, a corner OF spot or 1B. He was just 19 years old through the past season but has already shown both an ability to hit for average and power through Class A and even in a month of games at AA. It sounds like Boston has their own version of Miguel Sano, but it’s unlikely they’d trade him for anyone. I wouldn’t.

With Cecchini and Bogaerts knocking on the door, maybe Boston should consider trading Middlebrooks?

A step below these guys would be someone like Henry Owens, who is a 20 year old string bean of a pitcher with what appears to be a lot of potential. He’s 6’7” and a bit over 200 pounds and only throws in the low 90s at this point. But he had 130 strikeouts in 101.2 innings at Class A in 2012 and that would certainly move him to the top of the Twins’ starting pitching prospects list in a hurry.

If the Twins could score one of these top prospects from Boston in addition to shedding Mauer’s contract, Ryan could then be free to have conversations with his peers about Major League level pitching without being as concerned about salary. Would a trade for someone like James Shields (who has a $9 mil club option with the Rays in 2013) then be something worth considering?

Terry Ryan (Knuckleballs photo)

But even if Ryan and Cherington could come to some kind of agreement, what about that pesky no-trade clause in Mauer’s contract? Would he even consider giving approval? Let’s just say I no longer believe it’s necessarily a certainty that he’d say “no” to such a deal.

On the one hand, Joe’s a very private person and it would seem that moving to a large-market team that is as dysfunctional as the Red Sox has been would be counter-intuitive. On the other hand, he’s a really big fish in a mid-market fishbowl and you wonder if he might not welcome the opportunity to be just one of many mega-stars in the New England sports scene. As Cafardo points out, Mauer also lives in Fort Myers in the offseason. Guess who, besides the Twins, has their Spring Training facility in Fort Myers? Yep… the Sawx.

Let’s also be honest about something else. Despite the colossal belly flop of a season that the Red Sox had in 2012, if you were Mauer and were weighing the Sox against the Twins as to which organization was more likely to field a Championship level team over the remaining six years of your contract, there’s no doubt who you would see as being more likely. Boston may not always make the right decisions, but their clear goal every year is to win it all. And every year, they make moves they believe will give themselves a better shot at doing so. You simply can not say that about the Twins.

Joe Mauer is not a naïve little boy any more. Family is important. But he already lives in Florida half the year and the life of a MLB ballplayer during the season doesn’t leave much time for family anyway. With Boston training in Fort Myers, I think they might just be one team he would consider waiving his no-trade deal for.

So, IF the Red Sox call… IF Terry Ryan will listen… IF the Red Sox would take on the entire contract… and IF the Twins could also get a top prospect (or two?) in return… would Mauer agree to a trade?

Let’s just say that if, like me, you are one who never wants to see Joe Mauer in anything but a Twins uniform, we should probably hope it doesn’t come down to that last factor.

– JC

[EDIT: Changes have been made above to correct original errors regarding the timing of Mauer’s contract.]

A New Old Reason For Disappointment

I’m not one to usually say, “I told you so,” but… yeah… I did tell you so. I told you to prepare to be disappointed at the trade deadline so it comes as no surprise to me that most Twins fans seemed to come away from the July 31 non-waiver deadline disappointed in the lack of moves by the Twins.

Many of us do understand why the roster remained intact, except for the trade of Francisco Liriano. The new CBA dampened enthusiasm for players who will be free agents at the end of the season. Justin Morneau’s contract is too big to get other teams excited about trading something of value for him. Other teams are understandably hoarding their top “high ceiling” young starting pitchers and weren’t willing to part with them for any of the Twins players Terry Ryan had to offer. Logically, we know there will remain interest in those same players this off-season.

But even knowing and understanding all of that, there’s disappointment all over Twinsville. I’m disappointed in the aftermath of the deadline, too. But not necessarily for the same reasons others are.

Terry Ryan

Some people are disappointed that Ryan didn’t just take the best offer on the table for a player like Denard Span, for whom the Twins arguably have a suitable replacement for already in Ben Revere. Some felt Josh Willingham, who at age 33 is having the best year of his career, will never be more valuable than he is now and should have been traded for the best deal offered, simply for that reason. I don’t happen to agree with either of these positions, so I’m not disappointed that Span and Willingham are still Twins. In fact, when the deadline passed Tuesday with no deals by the Twins, I wasn’t really disappointed at all.

No, my disappointment came a little later.

Phil Mackey of 1500ESPN posted a couple articles with quotes from Terry Ryan in the aftermath of Tuesday’s trade deadline and it was Ryan’s comments, taken all together, that provide the groundwork for my disappointment.

“There’s a lot of players on this ballclub that people would like to have on their team. I don’t think there’s any question about that. I don’t think there’s any shock that people putting up the numbers on this ballclub would be desirable for other organizations. If you’re going to do something with that you’d like to think that you’re getting equity back. We didn’t see it.”

“Everything that we do here right now probably includes some sort of pitching. In particular, starting pitching. I think we’ve shown some resiliency in that bullpen out there.

“It is difficult to come out with starting pitching, especially the younger controllable-type guys that organizations covet, where they have control. That’s exactly the types of people we were looking to bring back in any sort of deal, and we just couldn’t get what we were looking for today.”

“We have holes. And some of it is pitching. And some of it is not. There are other areas we need to address.”

“Some of it will be injury. Some of it would be chemistry and some of it is execution. We’ve cracked in a few areas this year.”

So much there to digest, isn’t there? Yet, I can’t see anything there I disagree with at all. There certainly was no shortage of players other teams were interested in having.

It’s also good to see the Twins recognize their biggest problem, whether short term or long term, is their rotation. They needed good young high-ceiling pitchers in any deal and apparently didn’t get that kind of talent offered.

Ryan is also correct in saying that pitching is not the only hole they have to fill. The middle infield remains less productive than you would like it to be, for example. They certainly have “cracked” in more than one area over the course of the season.

But then there were these additional quotes.

“As you know, I don’t worry too much about the payroll. We had all kinds of money this year and we didn’t get it done. It’s not a payroll issue. It’s personnel and making sure we put the right people in the right place.”

“I’m not banking on free agency, to be honest. If you keep banking on free agency, you’ll end up chasing your tail. This is not going to be a free agency approach. This is going to be no shortcuts and doing the job the way it’s supposed to be done. And that’s usually that’s with young, development, scouting and picking the right people.”

Sigh.

If he had just said, “It’s not just a payroll issue,” and, “I’m not banking strictly on free agency,” I’d have felt a little better because I do agree that you can’t, “keep banking on free agency.”

But he didn’t.

So, taking his words exactly as quoted, we all have to be disappointed, because Terry Ryan is just wrong. It is partially about payroll and free agency is a perfectly legitimate “shortcut” to fielding a better baseball team than you currently have. Shortcuts are not necessarily mutually exclusive from, “doing the job the way it’s supposed to be done.”

Have you ever been to San Francisco and decided to take a little day trip across the bay to Sausalito? It’s not very far away and there are multiple ways to get there. The most direct route is by boat, but of course that costs you some cash. If you have the cash, I think it’s the best option. If you are on a budget, you can drive across the Golden Gate Bridge. Then again, that’s a toll bridge, so even traveling that way comes with a cost, too.

Both are shortcuts, though, because you do have another option. You can travel east a ways then north a longer ways, then west a ways, then south a ways and get to Sausalito that way. Not many people do that, because people recognize their time has value, too, and it takes a lot of extra time to get where you want to go that way (and if you’re directionally challenged, you may take a wrong turn and never get exactly where you wanted to go).

There was a time, during Terry Ryan’s first tour of duty as GM, when the Twins had no alternative to taking the long way toward building a competitive team. They simply couldn’t afford the free agency shortcut. They had no choice but to flip veteran players for prospects as soon as they got expensive and then develop those prospects and hope they turned in to good Big Leaguers. They had moderate success doing that, too.

But they don’t have to do that now. Not exclusively, anyway. Is developing from within still the best way to fill out most of your roster? Abso-friggin-lutely, it is. But utilizing free agency to augment that process… to fill those “holes” Ryan referred to… in order to maintain a level of competitiveness, is not wrong just because it’s an option you didn’t have five years ago. I would have hoped that their experience with Josh Willingham would have demonstrated that to the Twins front office.

If the Twins had traded off most of their veterans Tuesday, I’d have been disappointed. I’m in the group of fans that believes the line up is capable of competing within their division in 2013 if they fix the rotation. That said, if they’d gone the route of trading off the veterans, I’d have at least understood that Terry Ryan has a plan and I’m just going to have to be more patient to see how it unfolds. But he didn’t do that.

The result is that he seems to be caught in between… not embracing the new “shortcut” available to him to get the team back on track quicker through free agency, but also not fully executing the old “flip veterans for top prospects” method of building a competitive team over a longer period of time, either.

This is not what Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau signed up for (Photo: AP/Tom Olmscheid)

It’s that purgatory in between that appears to indicate a lack of any real plan that disappoints me more than anything else today. Then again, it’s the same disappointment I felt last year when the Twins made no attempt to improve their rotation through free agency, so this isn’t exactly new disappointment.

I would think it would have to be disappointing Joe Mauer and the other veteran players, as well. These guys are here because they felt they would have a legitimate chance to play for a winner in Minnesota and it’s hard to see how that will happen for anyone who’s already approaching or past his 30th birthday if the Twins are unwilling to tap the free agent market for serious rotation help.

If the “free agency approach” is not an option, it seems to me that the right thing for Terry Ryan to do would be to call those guys together… Mauer, Morneau, Span, Willingham, Doumit, Perkins… and say, “Guys, here’s the plan. We’re not going to spend money for top free agent pitching, so we’re probably going to continue to struggle with the rotation. That means we’re probably going to have to win a lot of 8-7 games to even come close to being a .500 team for the next couple of years. That’s not what any of you signed up for. We’d like to give our fans some familiar faces to root for and our young pitchers some semblance of offensive support, so unless we get bowled over by an offer, we’d like to keep most of you around. But if you would prefer, we will see what we can get for you on the trade market this off-season. We won’t give anyone away for a handful of magic beans, but if we can get legitimate prospects in return, we’ll try to give you a better shot to play for a contender. Talk to your agents and have them give me a call. Either way, thank you for what you’ve given the organization already and no hard feelings.”

When he’s done with that chat and after he hears back from their agents, he could communicate something similar to the fan base. Would there be disappointment? Yes. But the honesty would be refreshing, everyone would know what to expect and at least there would be some rational hope for the future.

As it is now, all we’ve got is the disappointment, even if we can’t all agree on why we’re disappointed.

– JC

P.S. To be fair, Jim Pohlad sounded at least slightly more positive about the Twins participation in the free agent market in this Pioneer Press article. The money quote:

“We will definitely look at the free-agent market,” Pohlad said Tuesday, July 31. “We probably won’t sign the most expensive free-agent pitcher that there is. Terry (Ryan, general manager) is committed to doing everything (to improve the team).”

Pohlad said the Twins, who are 12 games behind the first-place Chicago White Sox, will be able to afford some free agents. The Twins’ payroll this season is about $100 million.

“We’re happy at the level (of payroll) we’re at right now,” the Twins CEO said.

Frankie Joins AJ on the South Side

Francisco Liriano

Not surprising really that the White Sox released the news before the Twins did so, but regardless, Francisco Liriano is now a Chicago White Sox (Sock?).

In return, the Sox sent two young players who have primarily been minor leaguers, though both have already spent some time in the Big Leagues with the BitchSox.

Lefty pitcher Pedro Hernandez recently made his MLB debut with a four-inning start. He gave up 8 runs (3 homers). I guess his 18.00 ERA is bound to improve, right? The 23 year old Venezuelan has been a starting pitcher pretty much his entire minor league career. He’s got a 3.42 career MiLB ERA and a 1.240 WHIP in his six minor league seasons. In rookie leagues, he was striking out about a hitter per inning, but that rate has dropped as he’s progressed through the levels. Thus far in 2012, with time in AA and AAA, he’s sporting a 5.7 K/9 rate and walking 2.2 hitters per 9 innings. Hernandez is just 5′ 10″, but he weighs in at an even 200 pounds.

The other player coming to the Twins is also a 5′ 10″ 23 year old Venezuelan. However, infielder Eduardo Escobar is just 165 pounds. That’s a good thing, because if he carried Hernandez’ weight, he wouldn’t be “hitting his weight” this season (he’s hit .195 in 32 games for Chicago this season). He has just 99 career plate appearances for Chicago (92 this season). He appears to essentially be a utility infielder, but he’s going to have to learn how to do something with the bat if he’s going to have any kind of career. Escobar has a .270/.315/.351 split in 6 minor league seasons.

I’m sure we’ll learn more about these players in the coming hours and days. Frankly, if Hernandez turns out to be at least a replacement level starting pitcher, then this return is about all I was expecting for Liriano. There’s no doubt in my mind that his implosion in hs last start cost the Twins something in trade value.

Thanks for the memories, Frankie. I wish I could wish you good luck in the future, but given where you’ll be playing, I just can’t bring myself to do so. I do thank you for the good times and I’ll try not to think too much about the bad times.

– JC

 

Denard Span’s Playing Time

On the most recent episode of Gleeman and the Geek they noted that Denard Span has been getting a lot of days off recently.  But just how many days has Span had off recently, and is that enough to cause alarm?

Denard Span has played in 87 of 95 games so far in 2012, and started 84 of those games.  He played in 28 of the Twins games to start the season, and despite missing 3 more games in the middle of May with a minor injury, he remained the Twins’ everyday center fielder and lead off man, getting just one more day off between May 18 and June 30.  However, dating back to the 2nd game of the double-header against the Royals, Denard Span has been out of the line up 3 times,  only came in as a pinch runner on July 20 in extra innings, and had to be removed from Saturday’s game with dizzyness (caused by the heat).  Now, 4 scheduled off days (ignoring the appearance to pitch run) in an 18 game stretch is not necessarily alarming, and his batting line is virtually unchanged from the .275/.344/.391 it was at before he started getting extra time off (.275/.340.378 going into last night’s game) but carried out over a 162 game season that’s at least the equivalent of two extra trips on the 15 day DL every year.

If the Twins are serious about finding a potential trade partner for Span before the August 31 trade deadline they should be doing everything they can to increase his value.  Maybe the Twins are thinking that giving Span a day off every 6th day will allow him to stay healthy and fresh, increasing his offensive and defensive permanence, thus increasing interest in acquiring his services.  However, opposing GMs might also wonder what is going on with his playing time, wondering why an everyday player like Denard Span is suddenly out of the lineup more than 15% of the time.  Is he injured?  Is he having recurring concussion and dizzyness issues that plagued him in parts of 2010 and 2011?  Moving him in and out of the lineup is certainly raising a lot of questions.

If Denard Span is nursing some sort of injury, then the Twins are walking a tight rope as they head to the trading deadline.  Obviously moving him onto the 15 day Disable List would give him time to recover, but it also takes him out of trade consideration.  Instead the Twins would be stuck trying to move him, along with Carl Pavano and Matt Capps, through a waiver trade, severely limiting the leverage of the Twins to field competing offers.  I would not expect the Twins to be playing fast and loose with the health of one of their key assets, regardless of trade value, so that makes his current spike in days off all the more intriguing.

-ERolfPleiss

Who’s Going To Be Dealt First?

Twins General Manager Terry Ryan reportedly told a radio audience over the weekend that nobody is untouchable. Making that clear to every other GM (not to mention everyone in his own clubhouse) is the right thing. It’s not about WHETHER this guy or that guy can be had in a deal, it’s about HOW MUCH the trade partner is willing to offer.

Of course, some players have no-trade clauses in their contracts, such as Joe Mauer (full) and Justin Morneau (limited), but if you were playing for a team as bad as this one, wouldn’t you pretty seriously consider waiving that clause? Yeah… me too.

I suspect other players, such as Josh Willingham and Ryan Doumit, would at least be consulted before being traded. It would not be good for Ryan and the Twins to get a reputation for immediately trading away players that they’ve signed as free agents to reasonable multi-year contracts. You know other teams would use that against you in offseason negotiations with players the Twins might be interested in bringing in (“You can sign with the Twins, but you know they tend to use you as trade bait as soon as their season goes south.”)

The new Collective Bargaining Agreement is going to play a bit of havoc with the trade market, too. Players like Francisco Liriano that are about to be free agents don’t bring a compensation draft pick to the Twins after the year unless the Twins make a “qualifying” offer (about $12.5 million). And if they make that offer and still lose the player, they only get one “sandwich” pick between the first two rounds. Then again, if they trade Liriano, the team getting him can’t even get that sandwich pick since a player has to be on a team’s roster the whole year for that team to get compensation.

Still, you have to believe the Twins are going to deal some players either before the end of the non-waiver period at the end of July or the waiver trade period in August. I still believe most of Twinsville will be disappointed in what Ryan gets in return for his players, but he’s going to make some trades anyway. But who?

With Matt Capps and Carl Pavano both laid up until after the non-waiver trade deadline, their chances of being traded are significantly reduced. That said, it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see either or both change teams via the waiver wire in August.

Here’s my “top 5″ players I expect Ryan to be most likely to trade yet this summer:

  1. Francisco Liriano: Frankie’s value will probably not be any higher than it is right now. There are a lot of teams looking for starting pitching help, but there are a lot of better pitchers than Liriano on the market, too. He’s a free agent at the end of the year, so he’s just a rental arm, but I think he’s the most likely player to be traded of those currently on the Twins 40-man roster.
  2. Denard Span: Span would not be a rental player, as he’s still under a reasonable multi-year contract. SI.com recently published an article listing all of the best centerfielders in the Big Leagues right now and Span’s name wasn’t even mentioned. It’s true he isn’t currently considered “elite,” but he’d be an upgrade for a lot of teams and the Twins have current and future replacements in their system that make Span more expendable than any other position player that would be in similar demand.
  3. Danny Valencia: Remember him? Valencia was supposed to claim the Twins 3B job for a few years anyway. Then he stopped hitting. Then Trevor Plouffe started hitting. Then it became “Danny Who?” Valencia hasn’t exactly lit up AAA this summer, but there’s no room for him any more in Minnesota and I think the Twins will find a new home for him while he still has at least a little value.
  4. Alexi Casilla: There are bound to be teams that are looking for middle infield/utility infield help and I just suspect that Lexi is not part of the Twins’ plans for 2013, making him likely to be dealt this summer.
  5. Josh Willingham: I don’t expect Willingham to be traded, but I had to list someone “5th” on a Top 5 list. Maybe it would be a guy like Jared Burton, but I put Willingham here because there’s no doubt he’s going to be the first player that contenders ask about. Just the fact that there will be so much demand means his chances of getting dealt are higher than guys who most teams don’t care about at all.

In reality, I expect three of the top four players listed above to be gone by the end of August.

But what say you? Who do you most expect to see wearing a different uniform before the end of the summer? Let us know in the poll below (like I did, you can choose up to five players).

Which Twins player(s) do you think are most likely to be traded yet this summer? (choose up to 5)

  • Francisco Liriano (88%, 42 Votes)
  • Denard Span (69%, 33 Votes)
  • Danny Valencia (46%, 22 Votes)
  • Matt Capps (38%, 18 Votes)
  • Alexi Casilla (31%, 15 Votes)
  • Carl Pavano (29%, 14 Votes)
  • Justin Morneau (17%, 8 Votes)
  • Jamey Carroll (15%, 7 Votes)
  • Jared Burton (13%, 6 Votes)
  • Ben Revere (8%, 4 Votes)
  • Josh Willingham (4%, 2 Votes)
  • Ryan Doumit (4%, 2 Votes)
  • (other - add comment) (0%, 0 Votes)

Total Voters: 48

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Trading Season Opens: Prepare For Disappointment

It seems ridiculous at this point to suggest Twins fans need to be prepared for disappointment. We’ve been getting slapped in the face by disappointment for going on two years, after all, and we’re pretty much resigned to this team continuing to disappoint us at least through the rest of this season. A lot of fans are already accepting disappointment as a near-certainty in 2013.

How much more prepared for disappointment do we need to be?

A bit more, I believe, and soon.

Terry Ryan

Our collective eyes and ears are focused on Twins General Manager Terry Ryan, in anticipation of the deals he’s going to make to improve the future rosters of his team. Fans seem prepared, at this point, to part with pretty much anyone in a Twins uniform as they dream of the top prospects Ryan will extract from his fellow GMs in return. After all, if Ryan could get Joe Nathan and Francisco Liriano (not to mention Boof Bonser) for AJ Pierzynski, just imagine the load he should pull in for Denard Span, right?

The Star Tribune put out a good piece a few days ago that gives some insight in to the mind of Terry Ryan. There’s a case to be made that with the extra wild card in each league this year, there should be plenty of interest in the players Ryan has to offer. But while it’s true that there are more teams that consider themselves contenders than there may have been in the past, there are also some factors working against the Twins.

The biggest problem for the Twins is that a lot of contending teams want the same thing they do… good starting pitching. Of course, the difference is that contenders are looking for arms that can help them immediately, while the Twins are happy to take on talent that isn’t quite ready for the big stage yet. Still, top shelf starting pitchers, whatever their age and level, are hoarded like gold by teams these days so it takes some combination of talented front line players and desperation on the part of the trading partner to extract that kind of talent in a trade.

The other thing working against the Twins now is the new collective bargaining agreement. In past years, a team could take on a half-year rental player who is going to be a free agent at the end of the season and, at the very least, the “buying” team might be able to get a draft pick or two in compensation when the player bolts after just a couple of months. Now, not only is it more difficult to get compensation picks, but those picks aren’t available at all unless the player wore your uniform all season.

This means that, for example, if the Twins don’t trade Francisco Liriano, they have to offer him something like $12 million on a one year deal in order to get a compensation pick for him if he turns them down. But if they trade Liriano, his new team doesn’t even have that option. So guys like Liriano and Matt Capps and anyone else not locked up beyond the end of this year are truly just rental players for any team acquiring them. That team is just getting their services for the rest of this season, where in the past they may have received those services PLUS compensation picks. Think about it… how much would YOU give up for 2-3 months of Liriano’s services?

That should temper fans’ expectations for the return that Ryan is likely to get for Liriano and Capps.

Denard Span

It demonstrates why Denard Span and Josh Willingham are likely much better trade chips. For that matter, the contract extension Ryan Doumit recently signed moved him from the “rental player” category and on to the list of players that could return something of more value.

But the Twins can’t just trade away everyone of value on the market. They need to put a team on the field next season and it needs to be a pretty good one.

I agree with Howard Sinker’s view that the Twins can’t just tear this team down and start over. Fans are not going to accept that and they shouldn’t. The everyday line up the Twins put on the field is close to being good enough to compete. What’s missing is exactly what everyone knew was missing last offseason… pitching. Specifically, at the top of the rotation. It should have been addressed last season and it MUST be addressed before Opening Day 2013. Being “penny wise” this off season won’t be “pound foolish”, that foolishness will be measured by the ton.

Since Target Field opened, the Twins have been the hottest ticket in town. For the past year or more, that’s been as much about the Vikings, T’wolves and Wild being less than highly competitive as it has been the quality of the product the Twins put on the field and the remaining luster of their new digs in the Warehouse District.

But that’s about to change. The Wild made blockbuster signings, the Vikings got their new stadium approved and even the Pups look like they may be getting more serious about fielding a real basketball team right next door to Target Field. If Terry Ryan and his bosses don’t want find out just how quickly the Twins can become an afterthought at the bottom of the area’s list of major entertainment options, they need to get this team turned around starting in 2013, not years beyond that.

Francisco Liriano

That process starts now. I believe Francisco Liriano has quite possibly pitched his last game in a Twins uniform. His value will likely not get any higher than it is right now after his 15 K performance Friday night. He won’t bring back anyone likely to be a top of the rotation guy next year, but he should fetch a role player that can improve the roster or a higher pitching prospect that perhaps is still down in the Class A ranks.

I would love to see Denard Span stay a Twin for years to come. I really like the way he goes about the game and he’s a quality individual. But he’s the one guy on this roster that offers the combination of the ability to bring immediate help to the rotation in the form of Big League ready starting pitching AND he plays a role with the team that they arguably have in-house replacements available to step in and play in his absence. Ben Revere can lead off and play centerfield. He’s not Denard Span, but maybe he’s close enough to do the job adequately.

Beyond that, if the Twins can get useful returns for Capps or anyone else not penciled in for a major role in 2013, fine. Just don’t expect to be overjoyed with the return coming back. Willingham and Doumit could get  something of value, but they shouldn’t be dealt unless someone offers an absurdly one-sided deal. Justin Morneau isn’t going to be in great demand unless the Twins agree to eat pretty much all of his remaining contract and honestly, the Twins don’t have a replacement for him yet anyway. All three of these guys fill roles that you would just have to go back on the market to replace over the off season and I guarantee that replacing Willingham’s production and Doumit’s versatility will be more expensive this time.

Of course, if anyone wants any of the remaining pitchers on this roster bad enough to offer anything of real value in return, as unlikely as that may be, TR should probably make the deal before that other GM comes to his senses. There’s nobody on the pitching staff that can’t be replaced. Even Scott Diamond, who’s been incredibly successful, has to be available for the right price. I have a suspicion you might be selling high on him. As much as I like him, I’m still having trouble believing he’s going to maintain this kind of success over time.

Yes, trading season is upon us and it’s almost certain that Terry Ryan is going to be right in the middle of it. Just keep expectations in check. It’s not like he’s the chip leader at the table and the rules have changed enough this year to make everyone just a little less certain about how to play the game.

– JC

 

WWTD? (What Will Terry Do?)

Six weeks ago, I put up a post here arguing that it was much too soon to “pull the plug” on the Twins’ 2012 season. I argued that, despite an admittedly dismal start, the Twins were performing fairly well on most fronts, with the glaring exception of their starting pitching, and that they were just about to begin playing their own Division rivals on a regular basis. Feel free to go back and read the whole article, but here was my conclusion:

If the Twins only win 10 of their next 34 games, then I’m on board with everyone else… put up the Yard Sale sign and sell off any asset you can get a fair return for.

But the more I look at the schedule… and what other teams in the AL Central Division have done… the less I feel like there’s any real rush to make drastic and irreversible decisions. The starting pitching needs to be better than it has been… pure and simple. But if that can be accomplished, I see no reason this Twins team shouldn’t still be able to live up to our limited expectations of them before the season started.

We could still have a little fun this summer.

Terry Ryan

A few days ago, in the comment section of one of our GameChat posts, regular reader/commenter “frightwig” pointed out that, since I authored that post, the Twins had gone 17-17 and had not cut down the number of games they trailed the Division leaders. (Following the series win over the Reds, that record is now 19-18 since May 14.) He asked if my opinion of the Twins’ outlook and what General Manager Terry Ryan should do had changed at this point.

That’s a fair question. The answer is, “no, not really,” and the reason is that the situation really hasn’t changed all that much. In fact, just as was the case on May 14, the Twins are once again about to embark on several intra-divisional series that could be fun to watch and very few games against contenders in other divisions. Between now and the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, the Twins have 8 games with the White Sox, 7 with the Royals, 4 with the Tigers, 4 with the Orioles, 3 with the Indians, 3 with the Rangers and 3 with the A’s.

On top of that, the Division-leading White Sox have started their annual “trade for big name washed up former All-Stars” exercise, so you know that’s a sign they’re about to tank.

Bear in mind, even six weeks ago, I never argued that Terry Ryan should sit on his hands all year and make no moves, nor did I suggest the Twins were likely to become “good” any time soon. I merely pointed out that the Twins had some things going for them that could make them entertaining to watch and potentially even more than just entertaining if they could do something about the starting rotation. I don’t think that’s changed.

Nor do I think things have changed much since I posted my most recent argument against having a full-out fire sale.

Still, I’ve written a lot about what I DON’T think Terry Ryan should be doing as we enter the “trading season,” but what do I think Ryan SHOULD do?

  1. As I wrote on May 14, Ryan should be listening to any offer. Nobody on this roster is untouchable, though one or two players are likely untradeable.
  2. Any player that does not figure in the team’s plans for 2013 should be traded as soon as decent value of any kind is offered. This would include Francisco Liriano and Carl Pavano, certainly, as well as Alexi Casilla and Ryan Doumit (unless the rumored extension talks prove fruitful).
  3. Ryan should not be in a hurry to trade any productive player that is under contract for 2013 and beyond. Players like Denard Span, Justin Morneau, Josh Willingham (particularly Willingham) and even Jamie Carroll should only be traded this summer for solid starting pitching that are good bets to be no worse than #3 starters as soon as next season. (Of course, in this rotation, it doesn’t take a lot to be considered a #3 starter.)

I still question whether the Twins will find anyone willing to part with a potential top-of-the-rotation pitcher in July, but I could be wrong. For example, with the Twins playing a series against the Pirates last week, I couldn’t help but notice that, for a team sitting at or near the top of their Division as June comes to a close, their offense really isn’t very good after you get past CF Andrew McCutchen. They are where they’re at because of their pitching.

Of course, they aren’t likely to give up anyone in the top half of their rotation at this point and any Twins fans who think they’d consider trading uber-prospect Gerrit Cole are kidding themselves. But guess what… their AAA affiliate, Indianapolis, is also leading THEIR division and they’re likewise doing so because of strong starting pitching. The Pirates appear to have some remarkable depth in the starting pitching department. I’m certainly no expert on the Pirates’ minor league system, but I can’t help but think either Rudy Owens or Jeff Locke, both lefties, would make the Twins’ rotation better as soon as next year and for several years to come (heck, probably THIS year, for that matter).

But why would they trade any of their young pitching now? Do you have any idea how long it has been since the Pirates sniffed the playoffs? No? Me either, but I think it was when Barry Bonds was skinny.

With Cole rising fast up through their organization, there’s going to be a logjam in Pittsburgh’s rotation before long. That’s why they may be more likely to give up some of that pitching for offensive help from one of the few teams without realistic playoff hopes in the coming weeks, rather than wait until the offseason when there will be more potential trade partners and they arguably could get a better return. In other words, they have the potential to be a little stupid with their trades over the next few weeks.

The question is whether the Twins would match up well with the Pirates in a trade discussion. With McCutchen in CF, their need for Denard Span might not be as great as a team that has a need at that position, but Span could certainly play one of the corner OF spots and he would certainly improve their lineup. Then again, just about any position player on the Twins roster, down to and including Drew Butera, could improve the Pirates lineup at this point.

I still don’t think trading players like Willingham or Morneau would be smart, because you’re going to need to replace them in a few months if you let them go. But there’s a case to be made that replacing them would be easier than acquiring starting pitching this winter. I’m not sure I’m convinced, but I’m willing to consider the possibility.

I’m sure the Pirates aren’t the only potential trade partner, but I mention them only by way of acknowledging there may be a stronger market out there than I think there is. The extra Wild Card spots this season and the relative balance of competitiveness in both leagues has the potential to mean a lot more buyers in July and fewer sellers. In any industry, that means a “sellers market,” and if the Twins can capitalize on that market to improve their team as soon as 2013, they’d be foolish not to do so.

Just don’t come at me with salary dump trades for any wannabe prospects. There’s no financial reason for the Twins to pull that kind of crap on their fans when they’re continuing to look at just below 3 million in attendance this season.

– JC

Will Past Be Prologue?

I’m kinda confused.

I am getting the overwhelming sense that far too many so-called Twins “fans” are actually rooting against the team right now. Why? Because they’re apparently afraid that if the Twins continue to win games at their recent rate, they’ll pull themselves up out of the AL Central Division cellar and perhaps even within shouting distance of whatever sorry excuse for a Division Leader happens to be sitting atop the Division as July nears. These “fans” think that might cause General Manager Terry Ryan to exercise undue restraint when other GMs come calling to inquire about the availability of current Twins players on the trade market.

Yes, that’s right… a significant segment of the fanbase doesn’t want to see the Twins win TOO much because they think the Twins can get significantly better in 2013 or 2014 by trading veterans for prospects this summer and they don’t give a damn how bad the resulting product on the field is for the rest of 2012.

My goodness, how things have changed in Twinsville.

Luis Castillo

I could have sworn we all (both fans and Twins players, themselves) spent most of the early to middle part of the past decade complaining that the front office was always looking toward “next year” when it came to making mid-season deals. Does anyone else remember the reaction from fans and the clubhouse when Luis Castillo was dealt to the Mets in 2007 with the Twins only a handful of games out of the Division lead? The players and many fans believed Torii and Johan and the others still had another run in them, but Terry Ryan dealt the team’s leadoff hitter anyway. Many people felt Hunter and Santana eventually left via Free Agency after that season in part because they didn’t believe the Twins would ever play for “now.”

With the limited revenue that the Twins’ Metrodome lease allowed, Terry Ryan always had to have one eye on the bottom line as he crafted his roster from one season to the next, but the promise of a new ballpark and the additional revenue streams that would come with it changed that perception. Finally, the Twins would be able to afford to pay for enough talent to make a run whenever they were on the edge of contention at mid-season.

So here we are, mid-way through the third season in that new ballpark and fans want Terry Ryan to hold a fire sale?

There are two reasons for teams to trade away veteran ballplayers at midseason. One is because someone who needs instant help this year is willing to give up prospects that the selling team believes will play key roles when they’re finally able to turn things around and contend themselves. The other is to shed payroll, which is often necessary because a bad team is not generating attendance and other revenue streams as had been hoped when the roster was built in the spring.

I hope we can all agree that the latter simply is not an acceptable reason for the Twins to trade anyone. There’s no shortage of cash in the Twins checking account right now. They did their payroll slashing before the season even started and that economizing, rather than paying to bring on better starting pitching, is the main reason this team isn’t living up to hopes this season.

That leaves the only reason for “selling” being to bring in high upside prospects that can play critical roles later. But how realistic is that, really?

I’m afraid some of these people clamoring for the Twins to sell off parts are significantly overestimating what Ryan can get for those parts. Remember the return he got for what was still a very productive leadoff hitter and second baseman in 2007? Castillo was batting .304 with 9 stolen bases, 54 runs and a .356 on-base percentage when he was traded to the Mets… for Dustin Martin and Drew Butera. How do you think people are going to feel if THAT’S the kind of return the Twins get for Denard Span? I, for one, will be pissed!

The Twins’ primary need, in their efforts to rebuild a competitive team, is starting pitching. Their hitting is fine. Their defense could be better, but it’s improved over last year. Their bullpen has been surprisingly solid. They need good starting pitching.

Does anyone really believe there are contending teams out there with such a surplus of good starting pitchers that they’re going to be willing to trade one of them for a Denard Span, a Ryan Doumit, or even a Justin Morneau? I don’t believe it for a heartbeat.

I also believe people are underestimating how competitive this team could be over the next year and a half. The biggest need is for better starting pitching and, unfortunately, that’s something that’s just not easy to come by. It’s certainly unlikely to be something acquired in a mid-season trade with a team looking to improve their ability to contend this season.

That being the case, I simply do not believe that you tear down other areas of your roster when you’re unlikely to improve the area most in need of help… not when there’s no economic reason to do so.

If there’s a GM out there willing to part with a high-ceiling starting pitcher that’s likely to contribute to the Twins at the Major League level in 2013 or at least by 2014, fine… see what it takes to get that player. But I don’t think it’s likely. More likely, potential trade partners will be offering up more of the Dustin Martin/Drew Butera level of prospect or simply offering to take on contracts without giving up any kind of prospects at all.

If that’s the best Terry Ryan can do, I’d rather just keep watching the guys wearing Twins uniforms right now for the rest of the season and see what they can do if a couple of these young pitchers keep getting hitters out the way they have been lately.

I know many fans disagree. But for those who are prevailing on the Twins to trade their veterans over the coming weeks , I have just a small bit of advice. Be careful what you wish for. Based on Terry Ryan’s history, you may just get it.

– JC

Stop With the Premature Trade Talk Already

I know Twins fans aren’t quite accustomed to dealing with having their team be uncompetitive right out of the gate, but that’s no excuse for being rediculously stupid.

It seems like some folks just don’t know how to enjoy the rare good performance when they see one. No, it has to be immediately followed by, “Let’s trade him!”

Justin Morneau

Justin Morneau’s wrist is feeling good and he’s hitting the ball well! Let’s trade him NOW!

Ryan Doumit’s had some clutch hits! He should be traded while he’s hot!

Denard Span is getting on base and playing a decent center field! Trade him for a boatload of pitchers, right now!

Josh Willingham hit a walkoff home run! It’s time to trade him, NOW!

Listen carefully, please… May 30 is never “the time” for a non-contending team to trade productive veteran players for prospects. Why? Because Major League GMs are not idiots… in May. They aren’t going to see one home run in May and think, “Wow. I want that guy and I’ll trade away my best pitching prospect to get him!”  At least not for another several weeks.

Ryan Doumit

Should Twins General Manager Terry Ryan be listening to offers for most of his productive veterans? Absolutely. There’s nobody on this roster that should be “off limits” right now. Some of the contracts may make certain players (that would be you, Mr. Mauer) untradeable for all practical purposes, but that doesn’t mean Ryan shouldn’t listen if a fellow GM thinks he has an idea that would work.

But May 30 is for listening… for determining which teams might have interest in certain players… but not for trading.

Frankly, nobody is desperate (read: stupid) enough to give enough in return, yet.

The Red Sox, Tigers and Angels are off to slow starts, but they are far from being desperate… yet. The Indians and Orioles, although finding themselves in better positions than they perhaps expected heading in to the season, still have some holes to fill. But they are far from desperate… yet.

It’s desperation that makes for unequal trades and we all know that fans… Twins fans in particular, it seems… tend to overvalue their players and thus expect more for them in return for a trade than other teams are likely to be willing to give up. There is simply no trade Ryan could make on May 30 that would make anyone in Twinsville happy, unless it happened to involve a player that a particular fan has some screwy personal grudge against.

First, you have to at least get past the upcoming draft. Until then, neither the Twins nor potential trading partners know for sure what their respective organizatinal needs are, nor where they have sufficient depth to afford the luxury of trading away a decent prospect or two.

Perhaps more than any other professional draft, the MLB draft is a crapshoot. Players can’t be counted on to make an immediate impact at the Major League level and, in fact, they can’t really be counted on to ever play Big League ball. So, despite all the fan chatter about how teams need to draft pitching or power hitting or speed because of the perception that the organization’s current MLB roster is short on that particular talent, teams almost always draft what they believe is the “best player available” when their turn comes around. You simply don’t know with any level of certainty what your organization’s needs will be by the time a particular kid is ready to play Big League baseball.

As a result, it’s only after the draft is over that you can judge with any precision what kind of talents you should be targeting in the trade market… and it’s only after the draft is over that you or potential trade partners can accurately judge which talents they may have a surplus of and can thus afford to send off in a trade.

That’s when phone lines between GMs start to warm up.

Denard Span

Even then, real interest doesn’t often reveal itself until July rolls around and desperation doesn’t kick in until later that month. That’s when teams convince themselves that they need a toolsy lead-off hitting center fielder or a versatile switch-hitting back up catcher with a little pop, especially if they’ve got team-friendly contracts.

For guys with big contracts, the “time” to trade them might not come around until August, after the non-waiver deadline passes. That’s when desperation really sets in and teams become willing to take on big contracts and overpay in prospects, if they think the guy could help them bring home some sort of championship this year.

I think we all understand the reality of 2012. Every GM in baseball will have Terry Ryan on speed dial and Ryan is going to make some deals. I don’t especially like that, but it’s the reality that comes with being an underperforming last place team. But that doesn’t mean I want him giving away every veteran on the ballclub without getting guys who are pretty damn close to being Major League ready in return.

Some people may be willing and even eager to ship current players off for a couple of “organization players” who will never be more than roster fillers for Rochester or New Britain (or whoever next year’s AAA and AA Twins affiliates are). I am not one of those people.

I want… I expect… to see a much better product on the field next season and if Ryan can’t get players in trade that should be expected to contribute to this team being more competitive in 2013, then I’d just as soon see the Spans, Doumits, Morneaus and Willinghams still wearing Twins uniforms next year.

And nobody is offering that level of talent, especially the potential top of the rotation pitching talent the team desperately needs most, on May 30.

So how about we just stop with the, “Twins need to trade so-and-so right now,” crap? No, they don’t.

– JC

(All photos: Jim Crikket, Knuckleballs)

Winter Meetings Chat: Day 2 (7:00-9:00 pm)

On the first day of Winter Meetings, Terry Ryan gave the Twins a new-old pitcher, Matt Capps, and a minor league shortstop out of the Baltimore organization, Pedro Florimon.

While the Capps debate rages on, here we’re ready to move on to Day 2. Let’s talk about what Terry Ryan has doing for an encore during the second day of baseball’s Winter Meetings. (We’ll open up the Chatroll window from 7-9 pm, then we encourage everyone to move on over to Seth’s and Jack’s Blogspot Radio podcast for additional arguing about the Twins’ moves.)

Kevin Slowey

  • The Twins started the day by announcing they’ve traded pitcher Kevin Slowey to Colorado for a “player to be named later”. This one had been discussed for a while as reports have floated around since before the season ended about the Rockies liking Slowey. Slowey was rumored to be a non-tender candidate, so chances are the Rockies aren’t giving up a significant player in return. For now, the Twins probably need the open roster spot, so it may be a while before we hear who’s coming over from the Rockies.
  • Not directly Twins-related but with the trade of Sergio Santos to the Jays, White Sox GM Kenny Williams has finally tipped his hand. He’s going to blow up the roster and rebuild. I’ve read comparisons to the Twins situation, but I think they’re very different. The White Sox didn’t have near the money coming off the books to work with in order to add pieces to remain competitive and, conversely, they have a lot more veteran players with significant trade value than the Twins do.
  • Jeff Francis’ agent will be meeting with the Pirates and Twins this week, in addition to the Mariners and, perhaps, others.
  • Mark Buehrle has “narrowed” his list of possible landing spots to five teams. Supposedly, the Twins are one team with an offer in to Buehrle. Here’s a question… if you were Buehrle, would you prefer to pitch for a team in the same division as the White Sox, where you have a significant amount of experience facing the hitters in that division, or would you prefer to go to a team where the opponents have little experience facing you (perhaps even to the NL)?
  • Not exactly Twins-related, but congratulations go out to Howard Sinker and the rest of the Star-Tribune staff who make their online content among the best in the business. The Star-Tribune web site has been awarded a “Top Ten” award by the Associated Press Sports Editors (APSE) in the large market category (over 2 million average monthly unique users).
  • Speaking of congratulations being in order, Michael Cuddyer tweeted today that his wife, Claudia, gave birth to twin girls (Chloe & Madeline) today. The Twins also reportedly have offered Cuddy a 3 year deal for $24-25 million. Having “twins” on the date you get an upgraded offer from the “Twins” must be a sign, right? Is this a proud daddy, or what?
  • Since multiple sources have been posting most of the news coming out of the Twins suite at the Anatole, I haven’t been crediting specific sources very often, but the Strib’s LaVelle E. Neal III added a few little factoids to the end of his blog post this afternoon that I haven’t read elsewhere (yet, anyway). According to LaVelle, the Twins have had zero conversations thus far with the agents of pitchers Edwin Jackson and Jeff Francis and their interest in Japanese pitchers Hisashi Iwakuma and Tsuyoshi Wada is “almost zero”.