Much Ado About Nothing

Yes, it’s true… “Much Ado About Nothing”, the title of a Shakespearean comedic farce, could well be an apt description of the comedic farce that has become the entire Twins season. In this case, however, its use is being applied to the fan angst over Jim Thome and Jason Kubel getting sent through waivers by the Twins.

Jim Thome in Spring Training... when there was still hope

I think the problem is that Twins fans have become a bit spoiled. We’re accustomed to trade deadlines being among the times of the year when we’re wondering which key veteran “spare parts” GM Bill Smith would/could/should snatch from non-contending teams in return for a prospect or two. This, ladies and gentlemen, is what trade deadline life looks like from the other side of the looking glass. Sucks, don’t it?

A year ago, I authored a post here entitled “When Is A Trade Deadline Not A Trade Deadline”, in which I gave a bit of a rambling, not-so-serious look at the waiver-trade process that teams go through in August. Go back and read it if you care to. It wasn’t my best writing, but I thought there was a line or two that worked. I admit, however, that it seemed a bit more humorous last season, when the Twins were “buyers” this time of year. Maybe I was just in a better mood at the time.

But here’s the deal. A team in the Twins’ situation (hopelessly and painfully going through the motions and desperately trying to find someone… anyone… who they think might be a capable MLB baseball player that can help their team in 2012) is going to put a lot of their roster through waivers in August. Most of those players will finish the season with the Twins. Perhaps, some won’t. 

Jason Kubel

Any player that isn’t under contract for 2012 is a likely candidate to be put on the waiver wire. Thome and Kubel are both pending free agents, so why shouldn’t the Twins see if there’s a contender out there who might give up something potentially useful in return for renting their bats for a few weeks? If the Twins want them back next season (and for some unfathonable reason, they would want to return to this crappy organization), they can bid for their services again this offseason, which they would have had to do anyway. Similarly, fans shouldn’t be surprised if Michael Cuddyer and Joe Nathan are put on waivers.

Teams also waive players under team control beyond this season that they think may be overcompensated, in the hope that someone will relieve them of the remainder of that contract. Delmon Young was such a player, as manager Ron Gardenhire pointed out yesterday. He told the media that Young was likely to be “non-tendered” (which is what you do to a young player instead of offering arbitration when you don’t want to pay anything close to what an arbitrator might decide he’s worth). A guy like Carl Pavano might also fit this category. The Twins have him under contract for 2012, but if another team claims him, the Twins may just let him go and let the new team pick up responsibility for the remainder of the contract.

Remember, though, just because a team puts a player on waivers, it doesn’t mean he’s going anywhere. He may not get claimed, which on the one hand, means nobody in either league was certain enough that he’d be any help that he was worth taking a chance on having to pay off the rest of his contract, but on the other hand, means he can then be traded to any team. The terms of the trade could then involve the Twins agreeing to eat some contract.

Also, if a player IS claimed, the Twins can pull him back off of waivers one time. This is where the speculation gets interesting.

I don’t think most Twins fans would begrudge letting a guy like Jim Thome get another shot at the post-season. This may (or may not) be his last such opportunity. Similarly, why should we be upset if Kubel, Cuddyer or Nathan get a little unexpected taste of the post-season? At least it would give us someone to root for in October, because nobody else on this team is going to be playing late baseball.

But what if the first team to have the opportunity to grab one or more of these guys off the waiver wire is the White Sox? Would the Twins really do anything to aid the Bitch Sox in their effort to catch the Tigers?

Hell, yes, they would.

Kenny Williams is notorious (among White Sox fans, themselves) for overpaying to acquire veteran players. If he’s stupid enough to give up highly regarded prospects for the Twins’ spare parts, Bill Smith would be an absolute fool NOT to take advantage. OK… so maybe that means it’s not so likely after all, but he SHOULD take advantage.

It’s not very fun being a Twins fan right now. It’s not fun envisioning the players who have brought so much excitement over the past several years suiting up for other teams the rest of the season. But, as they say, baseball is a business. And while our friend Seth Stohs is trying to cheer us up by pointing out that the Twins minor league system is not totally useless, the fact is that it could use some shoring up (by the way, I firmly believe Seth knows more about the Twins minor leaguers than anyone within the Twins organization itself… I’m just not sure whether that says more about Seth or the people actually getting paid by the Twins). When you’re out of the race and you have the opportunity to get something useful for players that have expiring or expensive contracts, you do it. You have to, if you want to have any hope of getting competitive again any time soon. It’s how the business works.

And hey… look at the bright side… the team, as currently constituted can’t seem to score more than 1 run a game WITH Thome, Kubel and Cuddyer, so how much worse can the offense really get without them? Besides, think about how much cheaper tickets on StubHub or on the street corner the day of games are going to be for a while!

- JC

Delmon Young Traded to Tigers

DY is done as a Twin.

Cole Nelson

In a rare intra-divisional trade, the Twins sent Delmon Young to the Tigers in return for high-A minor league pitcher Cole Nelson and a “player to be named later”. Nelson, a native of Edina MN, I believe, has mediocre (at best) stats for the Tigers’ Lakeland affiliate this season. He was a 10th round pick of the Tigers in the 2010 draft out of Auburn.

I’m hoping the PTBNL is the key in this deal. Often, that indicates the player has been identified but was signed less than a year ago. (Players can’t be traded by their original team until 1 year has expired.)

On the surface, it certainly doesn’t look like a strong trade for the Twins, but until the PTBNL is identified, it’s premature to cast a final judgment.

- JC

 

Is It Too Early To Look At 2012?

(NOTE: The silver lining to the Twins struggles of late is that Joe Nathan still hasn’t broken the team career record for saves and that means you still have time to enter our contest for a chance to win a set of 1991 Twins WORLD SERIES CHAMPIONSHIP DVDs! Click HERE to enter!)

There’s still some baseball to play over the next two months and we can still fantasize about the Twins making another late season surge in the standings similar to what we saw in June. But with no help being brought in at the non-waiver trade deadline, hopes are fading.

If this team somehow pulls off a miracle and works its way back in to the AL Central race, I’ll have no trouble focusing 100% of my interest on the current season. But as things stand, I can’t help but take a little peek at 2012.

A lot was made this year about the Twins’ payroll growing to a record $113.2 million. With their shiny new ballpark and a guaranteed 3+ million fans filling those seats this season, GM Bill Smith had pockets deeper than ever before to work with in constructing a roster. He made some peculiar (and ultimately questionable) choices, but nobody could argue that the Twins were being “cheap”.

The Twins are, and will likely continue to be, among the more fiscally conservative teams in Major League Baseball. MLB clubs are not supposed to incur debt in excess of 10 times their annual revenues. That doesn’t seem like it would be a difficult standard to meet, does it? Well, apparently nine teams currently think it is. It should come as no surprise to anyone that the Twins are nowhere to be found on that list. (That’s a good thing, by the way.)

Will Jason Kubel be back in 2012?

What will the Twins’ roster and payroll look like in 2012? I find that to be a very interesting question. Matt Capps, Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel and Jim Thome will be free agents and, despite his return to effectiveness, it’s still likely that the Twins will opt out of Joe Nathan’s $12.5 million option, making him a free agent, as well.  How many, if any, of those players will be brought back?

Let’s look at their existing 2012 contractual obligations (from Cot’s Baseball Contracts):

PLAYER Salary (mil)
C Mauer 23
1B Morneau 15
IF Nishioka 3
3B Valencia 0.5 pre-arbitration
IF Casilla 1.5* 2nd year arbitration
OF Span 3
OF Young 7* 3rd year arbitration
SP Baker 6.5
SP Blackburn 4.75
SP Liriano 7* 3rd year arbitration
SP Pavano 8.5
SP Duensing 0.5 pre-arbitration
Nathan 2 Buy-out of option
*estimates

That’s around $82 million being spent on less than half of your ultimate 25-man roster. Your entire starting rotation is accounted for (though let’s be honest, it could stand to be improved) and all but one of your eight defensive positions.

Of course, there’s no assurance all of these players will return in 2012. Bill Smith might have been unsure whether to be a buyer or seller in July, but if the Twins fall back in the standings this month, there’s a very good chance he’ll listen to offers for just about anyone who clears waivers (at least those not named Mauer) and anyone not traded in August could still find himself on the trade block during the next offseason. Also, would Casilla, Young and Liriano all be offered arbitration? I don’t think so.

It also would surprise nobody if the Twins made an attempt to keep some of their free agents. Kubel, Cuddyer and Nathan are having solid seasons. Would any of them accept a little less money to stay in Minnesota? We kind of assume Jim Thome may be ready to hang up the spikes if he reaches the 600 HR mark this season, but if he decides to play another year, would the Twins invite him back?

And then there’s the curious case of Denard Span. Despite being a productive CF and leadoff hitter, the Twins were obviously open to trading him at the end of July. If they were open to offers then, you have to figure they would be similarly open during the offseason.

I won’t be disappointed if the Twins bring back some of the current familiar faces fans have grown to know and love, but I will be disappointed if they bring back all or most of them. This team’s performance in 2011 has been less than expected and it hasn’t all been due to injuries. As Howard Sinker pointed out in this post over at Section 219, some of these guys failed to live up to past levels of performance.

The point is, the Twins are going to have an enormous amount of flexibility between now and the start of Spring Training, 2012. If they decide their revenues are likely to drop off in 2012, you could see an awful lot of these guys who have been doing the Rochester Shuffle this season playing significant roles in 2012 (not to mention a few that we’ve yet to get a look at in a Twins uniform). On the other hand, if the organization is confident that they can sustain a payroll close to what this season’s is (and with a waiting list of fans who want season ticket packages, there’s no reason to think they shouldn’t be confident), they should be able to afford to be significant players in the free agent market and if they are serious about regaining a place at the top of the AL Central Division, they’ll need to upgrade several positions.

It should make for interesting discussions.

- JC

WWYD? (What Would You Do?)

(Contest update: With Joe Nathan’s save Tuesday night, he needs just one more save to pass Rick Aguilera and become the Twins’ career saves leader… and that means you’re running out of time to submit your entry for a chance to win a set of Twins 1991 World Series DVDs!)

As has been written and said by many a professional baseball “expert” the last week or so, “This is when GMs earn their money.”

July 31, the non-waiver trade deadline, is just four days away. Some teams are clearly shopping for players that can help them in their push for the playoffs over the final two months of the season and some teams have absolutely no shot, so they’re looking to sell off veterans in return for prospects and/or payroll relief.

And then there are the Twins.

A few games ago, the Twins were only five games behind the AL Central Division leaders and all media reports indicated GM Bill Smith was shopping for players to help manager Ron Gardenhire make his team’s traditional late-season surge.

Since then, the Twins have not only been losing ground to all three teams ahead of them in the standings, but, despite Tuesday’s win over the Rangers, have looked pretty bad in doing so. I wasn’t sure they could play any worse than they did in April, but the evidence is shaping up to indicate I was wrong.

So I pose the question… if you were Bill Smith, what would YOU do?

To help you sort through the question, let me try to lay out the arguments on both sides. Let’s start with…

REASONS TO BUY

  • This is still the AL Central Division and as bad as the Twins look lately, nobody else is really, really good.
  • Seven games simply isn’t all that much to make up, even in just two months. The Twins have overcome bigger deficits in the past and all three of their Division competitors have histories of late season fades. In fact, reports are that the Sox GM is already waiving the white flag and is looking to sell players.
  • Two of the Twins most productive offensive players, Denard Span and Justin Morneau, should be rejoining the team over the course of the next month. Not many other teams will add two players with the potential to add comparable offensive stats.
  • The Twins’ rotation has been inconsistent, but that means they won’t continue to be as bad as they have been for the past week. Don’t overreact to one bad… very bad… very, very bad… week of starting pitching.
  • There’s no need for the Twins to slash payroll. Unlike many “sellers”, the Twins don’t have to worry about ticket sales falling off if the team doesn’t catch fire to stay in the race. They’re already guaranteed over 3 million in paid attendance. Sure, some fans with tickets may not show up, but they’re likely to sell their tickets, even if it has to be at a discount, so there isn’t likely to even be a loss in concession sales. There’s no risk of income falling off to the point where it can’t support not only current payroll, but a couple of extra relief pitchers and bench bats.
  • Even if you suspect the team won’t stay in contention, you don’t want to send the message to your clubhouse that this organization is going to establish a habit of giving up in July.
  • The non-waiver deadline is largely a faux deadline. Often, the first thing teams do on August 1 is send their entire roster through revocable waivers. Almost the entire roster goes through unclaimed. Worst case scenario, you get an indication of which teams might be interested in those players that DO get claimed. If things continue to go downhill, there’s still a good chance you can trade most of the players with any value before the end of August.
  • If you make a deal for a “rental” player that you like, you’ve got a couple of months to convince him that he should stick around and sign an extension with you.
  • Hey… the team COULD catch fire again and give us all another pennant race to get excited about. Stranger things have happened!

On the other hand…

REASONS TO SELL

  • It’s not just the seven games they need to make up, it’s that they have to pass THREE other teams. The chances of getting that hot again AND all three teams ahead of you faltering enough to pass all of them are simply not very good.
  • The core of this team has so many flaws that (a) it is almost impossible to imagine they could pass three teams in the standings over the last two months; and (b) it will take more infusion of new (and better) talent to regain competitiveness next season than can be done simply by tweaking around the edges in the offseason.
  • The top prospects in the Twins organization are either not good enough or not advanced enough (or both) to contribute at the MLB level by next season and now is the time to acquire some MLB-ready talent from other organizations.
  • Throwing in the towel on this season would allow the Twins to get their younger players two months of MLB competition and allow the decision-makers in the organization to evaluate them at that level. This is pretty much what the Royals are doing (but then again, it’s what they do every season at this time).
  • Even if the Twins catch lightning in a bottle again over the next two months and win the Division again, they’ve proven they would do nothing but embarrass themselves and their fans in the playoffs… again. It would be better to make some deals that could make the team a stronger contender in 2012 and beyond than to try desperately to pull one more miracle out of this core group of players.
  • Trading pending free agents like Cuddyer, Nathan, and Kubel would not necessarily preclude the Twins from re-signing them next season if the price is right.
  • A lower finish would give the Twins a higher position in the 2012 amateur draft than they have had in a while and would also likely mean they could sign other teams’ Type A free agents in the offseason without giving up their first round pick (the top 15 spots in the draft only lose their 2nd round pick when they sign a Type A FA).
  • Whether by trading veterans for prospects or through higher draft picks, there’s a better chance that the Twins will end up with a pitching prospect with true “ace” potential… something the team doesn’t have now anywhere in their organization and a team must have to be considered a serious contender for a World Series Championship.

So there you have it. Have I missed anything? What factors would guide you to making a decision to buy or sell if you were the Twins GM for the rest of the month? Let us know in the comments.

- JC

 

Let The Trade Rumors Begin: Denard Span

And so it begins.

This afternoon, the Twins hit the rumor wire as word spread that they were talking to the Washington Nationals about a trade involving centerfielder Denard Span.

Denard Span

At first, I thought this had to be some kind of joke. Certainly Bill Smith wouldn’t be looking at the results of the past two series and think, “We seem to have too much offense on this team right now, especially at the top of the order… there’s no way we have room for Denard Span when he’s ready to return.” Would he? Ken Rosenthal at FOX seems to think so.

Is it possible Smith has looked at Ben Revere’s hitting lately and figured he’s just what a contender needs leading off? Yes, the guy is great to have in the outfield, but he’s almost been the worst looking hitter in the Twins’ batting order lately.

Almost.

The worst, of course, has been shortstop Tsuyoshi Nishioka. I’m 55 years old and I’d be willing to bet I would at least look better swinging lefthanded than Nishi has and I’d have almost as many hits. NONE would be “almost as many” as Nishi’s had lately. In last night’s game wrap-up, I mentioned that if I were the GM, I’d be looking for a shortstop who might sniff at getting a hit occasionally. And therein lies the rub.

The Nationals need a centerfielder and they apparently feel they have an extra middle infielder. Word is, they’re shopping shortstop Ian Desmond and would shift their current second baseman to shortstop in order to make room for a rookie they think is ready to come up to the Big Leagues. (That rookie’s name is Stephen Lombardozzi, by the way… a name that should sound familiar to Twins fans. Yes, he’s the son of THAT Steve Lombardozzi). The Nats also have a couple of right handed relief pitchers that they may be willing to part with.

So… if you got Desmond and a productive reliever for Span, would you make the deal?

Not me.

First of all, if the Twins don’t score more than two runs a game, all the relief pitching in the world won’t help. They need more offense and the most likely way they can get it is to get Span back in the line up and let Revere take over 4th outfielder duties. Second, Desmond’s stats aren’t all that much better, if at all, than Nishioka’s and they certainly are nowhere near Span’s. Rosenthal mentions that Desmond’s .584 OPS is the lowest in the National League… but I guess it’s still better than Nishi’s .544 OPS, right?

I don’t blame the Nationals for wanting to make a deal with Bill Smith. They clearly are fondly recalling the deal they got in return for Matt Capps a year ago and if you’re in their front office, there’s no reason to think you shouldn’t be able to get a favorable return from Bill Smith and the Twins again.

That doesn’t mean Smith has to oblige them.

Ben Revere may be a legitimate full time MLB player some day. Joe Benson could, too. Rene Tosoni has similar potential. Aaron Hicks and Angel Morales? Sure… some day.

Some day, the Twins won’t need Denard Span in their line up. Today is not that day, unless Bill watched the half-assed efforts his guys put forth on the field against the Tigers over the last few games and has decided it’s time to hold a fire sale. In that case, Denard’s name won’t be the only one we see showing up in MLBTradeRumors this week.

- JC

ABC’s of Righthanded Relief Options

There seems to be consensus across Twinsville that a bit of help in the righthanded relief pitching category may be called for. Since the Twins online community rarely reaches anything resembling “consensus” on any subject, this much agreement must mean there’s a real need, right?

I know we keep reading about how Twins GM Bill Smith and his staff are discussing options for addressing the team’s bullpen issues.

So what’s the hold up? I guess I could understand if Bill decided to wait until this stretch of games against the Indians and Tigers is finished before giving up even a bit of minor league talent in trade, you know… just in case the Twins were going to lose eight straight. Then again, perhaps that bullpen help might make that kind of losing streak less likely.

Maybe it’s just too difficult to identify pitchers who could help the Twins?

In any event, here at Knuckleballs, we’re always trying to help out. So, with a little research (in fact VERY little research), I’ve come up with a list of righthanded relievers for Bill and his buddies to peruse.

The word on the street is that it should be a “buyer’s market” for shoppers in the market for righthanded relievers. With that in mind, I went “shopping”… and to keep it simple, I tried to come up with one option for each letter of the alphabet, looking pretty much only at guys who are currently toiling for teams that are likely “sellers”.

Let me say up front that I was not successful. There are simply no legitimate (or even somewhat less than legitimate) options for righthanded bullpen arms beginning with the letters O, T, V, X or Y. (Hey, I came up with a U and a Z, whaddya want?!) To make up for that, I threw in a few extras for some of the other letters.

No, not all of these pitchers are likely to be available. Some of them are young enough and cheap enough that their current teams will want to hang on to them. Some of them would come with high price tags (either in talent to be exchanged or salary… or both) that the Twins aren’t likely to want to meet. And no, I’m certainly not advocating for all of them.

But with a very few exceptions, you could make a case that these guys would be an improvement over the long line of ugliness that has traipsed to the mound from the Twins bullpen lately. Don’t believe me? Look up the stat lines on these guys and compare them to Alex Burnett and the other righties that Gardy’s tried to get some middle innings out of this season.

(By the way… if it turns out a couple of these guys are lefties, are on the DL, or retired 12 years ago … well… sorry. There were a lot of names to come up with here!)

Let’s begin.

A – Mike Adams SD

B – Grant Balfour OAK or perhaps Matt Belisle COL

C – Tyler Clippard WAS would be nice, but he won’t come cheap. Fortunately, the Nats have another “C”… Todd Coffey

D – Octavio Dotel TOR

E – Marco Estrada WAS

F – Jason Frasor TOR

G – Matt Guerrier LAD (hey, if people seem to want Jon Rauch back, why not Shaggy?)

H – Blake Hawksworth LAD or perhaps Greg Holland KC

I – Jason Isringhausen NYM

J – Jim Johnson BAL

K – Hong-Chih Kuo LAD (yeah I had to REALLY stretch for a K)

L – Matt Lindstrom COL or maybe Wilton Lopez HOU

M – Ryan Mattheus WAS or Mark Melancon HOU or even Edward Mujica FLA

N – Leo Nunez FLA yeah… I know, it’s not gonna happen. Guess we could always get back Pat Neshek SD

Jon Rauch

O -Nada

P – Bobby Parnell NYM

Q – Chad Qualls SD

R – Jon Rauch TOR or, if you just can’t get your head right with that, Fernando Rodriguez HOU

S – Drew Storen WAS or Jeff Samardzija ChC (but we know we’d rather have Joakim Soria KC)

T -Nope

U – Koji Uehara BAL

V -Uhuh

W – Michael Wuertz OAK (a Minnesota boy, I believe) or maybe Blake Wood KC

X -YeahRight

Y – Surprisingly, nobody… seems Cy Young is no longer pitching

Z – Brad Ziegler OAK

So, there ya go Bill… Happy shopping!

- JC

If The Price Is Right

If it’s the All-Star Break, then it must be time for fans to start talking about trades. We are, after all, just past the mid-point of the season and the non-waiver trade deadline is less than three weeks away.

At this point there are three kinds of teams… obvious buyers, obvious sellers and everyone else. The Twins are in that “everyone else” category because they haven’t established themselves as an obvious contender nor have they fallen so far back in the standings that they have virtually no chance of becoming contenders.

So, that means everyone is (or soon will be) posing the question, “Should the Twins Buy or Sell?” To me, the answer is… “Yes, if the price is right.”

What’s that you say, it wasn’t a “yes or no” question? Too bad.

Bill Smith

July trades generally are made between two parties, one a contender and one… well… not. The contender (or “buyer”) has a spot or two to fill to help push them to the top of the standings and/or prepare them to be a stronger playoff team. Their GM has to be willing to do one of two things… or both… (a) give up highly rated prospects or young (read: cheap) MLB-ready players; and/or (b) take on significant salary owed to an established (and often overcompensated) veteran player.

The other party to these trades (the “seller”) has some highly paid veteran players that are either having good seasons or have put up good numbers recently enough that a contending team might be willing to bet they could help put their team over the top this season and that team is looking to restock with young players that will help next season… and for several years to come. They also are likely looking to shed some salary because they recognize attendance is going to be dropping the rest of the season.

I think the Twins, thanks to the very weird season they’ve endured, find themselves in a unique position… they’ve pressed a lot of young players in to Major League action and many of them have performed well enough to demonstrate that they fit the “MLB-ready” criteria that “sellers” are wanting in return for established players. They also find themselves with an abundance of veteran outfielders and pitchers… many of whom will be free agents at the end of this season… that could be attractive to contending “buyers”. Finally, they’re already certain to exceed 3 million in paid attendance, so there’s no need at all to consider shedding salary to be a factor.

Denard Span

It amazes me how many suggestions I’ve read that the Twins trade a Denard Span or a Delmon Young for established relief pitching. That’s absurd on two levels. First, nobody who has top veteran relief pitching to trade is likely to look for expensive veterans in return. They’re going to want young players they can continue to pay the league minimum to for a while. Also, you simply don’t trade players of the quality of Span, Young, Cuddyer, etc., for relief pitching. Ever.  MAYBE you trade your Rene Tosonis and Trevor Plouffes… legitimate prospects (but not future superstars), guys you can (and likely will) find a way to live without in the future… for relief pitchers. The Twins SHOULD be “buyers”… they SHOULD get relief help… and they have enough decent young talent to use for that purpose. There are a lot of decent relievers (meaning better than what the Twins have been trotting out there for middle relief) on the market so it should be a buyer’s market. There’s no need to overpay.

At the same time, the Twins have demonstrated that they can compete without the likes of Delmon Young, Denard Span, and Jason Kubel in the line up. The question is… should they trade away a veteran or two and continue to try to compete without them? If the price is right, sure, why not?

Delmon Young

Of course, you do not just give any of these guys away. Even those who are going to be free agents are likely to be good for compensatory supplemental draft picks if they walk away at the end of the season. But because guys like Ben Revere, Luke Hughes, Anthony Swarzak, and Glen Perkins have demonstrated they can be relied upon to play a role with a contending team, the Twins CAN afford to deal SOME of their veterans and still remain in contention in the AL Central Division. If Twins GM Bill Smith can get real prospects in return for one of his outfielders or one of his pitchers, he should go ahead and do it. Would that mean running a risk in the event the Twins get hit with more injuries? Absolutely… but a GM’s job is to evaluate and take acceptable risks.

But what if the Twins do none of this? What if Smith takes a summer vacation and leaves his phone in the Twin Cities? Can the Twins compete if they do nothing at all?

Well, I still think getting some relief help is important, but otherwise… yeah… the Twins could stand pat and make a serious run the second half of the season… and in to the playoffs. How is that possible?

Justin Morneau

It’s possible because, even if Bill Smith takes that long summer vacation, he will be adding three quality veteran players by the July 30 deadline and another… a former MVP… by the August 30 waiver-deal deadline. Delmon Young has been reactivated and Denard Span sounds like he won’t be far behind. Jason Kubel should be returning not long afterward. Justin Morneau’s recovery seems on target for mid August. Name me a contending team that wouldn’t give a boatload to get four players like that over the next 5 weeks! And Smith doesn’t have to give up a thing.

And here’s the bonus, in my mind… many teams (including past Twins teams) expend so much emotion and energy trying to make the surge necessary to dig out of a deficit in the standings that their tank is empty in September and October. They’re worn out mentally and beat up physically. But most of the Twins top players shouldn’t be feeling worn down. Mauer, Morneau, Young, Kubel, Span… they’ll all be far fresher than most players at that point in the season.

The Twins also have enough starting pitching, with Swarzak, Kevin Slowey and Kyle Gibson (again, we’re assuming the GM makes no deals) ready to step in, that any member of the current rotation who gets as much as a hangnail could be DL’d for 14 days, allowed to get rested up, and come back strong.

This is not the time for Bill Smith to overspend. He doesn’t need… in fact can’t afford… another trade where he gives up a top prospect for a relief pitcher, like the Ramos-for-Capps deal a year ago. He can afford to wait for a trading partner who’s willing to overspend and, if necessary, settle for a moderate deal for middle relief help.

I hope he shows patience because God knows the blogging world is likely to urge otherwise.

- JC

40 Days And 40 Nights

We’ve all heard the saying… “It’s a long season, anything can happen.” If any season has demonstrated the truth in that cliche to Twins fans, it’s this one.

The Twins started the season as at least one of the favorites to win the AL Central Division title. It took them less than a month to fall flat on their faces. They spent the next month digging themselves deeper in to a hole, to the point that, on June 1, they may not have been dead, but they were certainly on life support. While I resisted the urge here, there were already plenty of other places you could read about which pieces of the Twins were likely to be made available at the trade deadline. There was certainly little doubt that the Twins would be “sellers” for the first time in quite a while.

Then things turned around again. I’m not sure how you manage addition by subtraction, but just at the time Jim Thome, Jason Kubel and Denard Span were added to the list of the Twins’ walking wounded, they started winning games. Lots of games. To the point where, now, even the national media isn’t so sure that the Twins will be selling players at the deadline.

That deadline (July 31), by the way, is 40 days from now. That’s the non-waiver trade deadline.

So the Twins have those 40 days to decide who they are this year. The players will play the greatest role in that decision. If they keep closing ground on the teams ahead of them, they’ll keep making the case that they’re contenders and GM Bill Smith should be looking to see if there are pieces he could add to the roster that would help this season. If they start giving up the ground they’ve gained, they’re likely going to be saying good-bye to some team mates over the next 40 days.

Yet, I’m not so sure this is an “either-or” situation for Smith.

Ben Revere

If Ben Revere doesn’t start to tank, the Twins could find themselves in a very unique position… that is, they could have a veteran corner outfielder to trade for good prospects and/or players that can improve their chances yet this season (but let’s not do the “closer” thing again, OK Bill?) and not be viewed as giving up on 2011.

When you look at the standings, it’s tough to identify many teams that will clearly be looking to trade away talent. It’s shaping up as a seller’s market and the Twins might be wise to take advantage of the situation.

If Span, Kubel and Thome all come back, I’d love to have Span and Revere manning two OF spots (as would, I’m pretty certain, the Twins pitching staff). That would leave the Twins with Delmon Young, Michael Cuddyer, Kubel and Thome with really no more than three roster spots available for them. Smith could certainly afford to trade one of them and arguably two, and not be seen as “giving up” on the season. With the way the market is forming, even Jason Repko might have some trade value.

The same could be the case with starting pitchers. Every one of the Twins current starters is looking good right now. They also have Anthony Swarzak apparently ready to step in to a rotation spot, they have Kyle Gibson pitching well in Rochester, and if Kevin Slowey comes back healthy, that makes EIGHT starting pitchers who could/should be holding down Major League rotation spots somewhere.

Might someone make an interesting offer for Carl Pavano? If the Twins are willing to eat some of his two-year contract, they might. Or maybe there would be interest in Nick Blackburn? Will Slowey have some value on the market? I’d be relunctant to trade a lefty because I think they want two of them in the rotation, so I’d probably hang on to Liriano and Duensing, but if the offer is right, there are arms apparently ready to step in without killing all chances of continuing to close the gap on the leaders.

The Twins obviously don’t have a lot of infield talent to spare, but I wouldn’t rule out the possibility that a team might look at the way Trevor Plouffe hits the ball and decide they’re a bit more willing to overlook his defensive shortcomings than the Twins have been. If the Twins don’t see him playing a role with the big club any time soon, now may be the time to get something for him.

The Baseball Prospectus site that calculates each team’s chances of making the playoffs still lists the Twins as only having a 5.9% shot. That’s not good. Then again, I think I read that it was .1% (yes, that’s one-tenth of one percent) back at the beginning of the month, so progress is being made. In fact, it’s up 1.1% since yesterday… and the Twins didn’t even have to play a game on Monday to make that move! With the way their AL Central rivals are playing, maybe the best idea would be for the Twins to just stop playing baseball and wait for everyone else to drop below them!

Bill Smith

The Twins are 7.5 games out of the AL Central lead. As tough as it is for us to get our heads around it, given all that’s gone on and how full their Disabled List still is, the Twins ARE contenders. But that doesn’t mean Bill Smith should sit on his butt for the next 40 days. There are deals to be made that can help the team in the future AND leave them in position to continue to contend this season. All it takes is a front office with a penchant for identifying talent, the ethic to work night and day to negotiate good deals, and the guts to pull the trigger on those trades.

The next 40 days and 40 nights will tell us if the Twins have that kind of front office.

- JC

The Kevin Slowey Dilemma

I don’t often listen in via the internet to Ron Gardenhire’s Sunday morning appearances on ESPN1500, but I did yesterday. If you’ve been reading or listening to any Twins-related news in the past 24 hours, you’re probably already aware of his comments with regard to Kevin Slowey. If not, let me give it to you in a nutshell:  Gardenhire and Slowey met together to discuss Kevin’s role with the Twins and there appears to be some agreement between them that Slowey has not worked out as a relief pitcher, so they need to get him innings in a starting role… somewhere.

Gardenhire mentioned possibly sending Slowey to Rochester to be used as a starting pitcher. Slowey hinted to reporters that perhaps the Twins are no longer a “fit” for him.

Assuming Gardy is not going to go “Ozzie Guillen” on us and implement a six-man rotation the way the BitchSox have, there really are only three options for dealing with Slowey at this point: Insert him in to the Twins rotation to replace one of the five arms already there, send him to Rochester, or trade him to another team.

Sounds simple, doesn’t it?

If the Twins would decide to simply move Slowey in to the rotation, say for example in place of Brian Duensing, and have Duensing take Slowey’s bullpen spot, then I suppose it is relatively simple. But the Twins don’t really need a long reliever in the bullpen and that’s pretty much what Duensing would be. They need an arm they can use in critical set up situations. Maybe Duensing could do that, but it’s hardly a sure-thing.  

This swap would also result in the Twins having just one left hander in the rotation and while it’s easy to pick on Duensing because he hasn’t had a lot of success in the past month or so, a glance at his stat line shows us that opponents have a .381 BABIP (batting average on balls in play), which is well above normal, indicating that he may be the victim of a little bit of bad luck. That particular stat, after all, was the one that fans of Francisco Liriano liked to trot out there every time a discussion about Frankie’s abilities took place over the off season (and his BABIP was only .335 last season).

So why not just send Slowey to Rochester and bring up someone else for the bullpen? Makes sense, I guess, but let’s be honest… the Twins haven’t exactly had a lot of good fortune with the bullpen arms they’ve brought up from Rochester already. Yes, Chuck James has performed well in Rochester’s pen and has arguably earned a promotion opportunity. But James is not currently on the Twins’ 40-man roster, so promoting him means someone currently on the roster has to be jettisoned. Would the world come to an end if the Twins lost Eric Hacker, Jim Hoey, or Scott Diamond? No. But I’m not sure the Twins are ready to give those guys up just to find out if James can pitch effectively at the Big League level.

That leaves us with some sort of trade scenario and the internet is abuzz today with “Twins will trade Slowey” stories. Heck, it may even happen before I can post this!

A lot of people thought the Twins should trade Slowey or one of their other starting pitchers before the season started. I disagreed, because it’s not at all unusual for a team to end up needing that sixth starting pitcher at some point during the first couple of months of the season. It turns out, the starting five stayed relatively healthy so the need to insert Slowey in to the rotation has not materialized. Certainly, none of the five guys in the rotation have been consistently effective, but despite the contention of his fans (and those fans who for one reason or another just dislike one of the current rotation members), there’s no solid evidence at all that Slowey would be an improvement over anyone currently with a starting rotation spot.

The assumption all along has been that the Twins would promote top pitching prospect Kyle Gibson from Rochester in June, once the risk of accelerating his eligibility for arbitration passes. Gibson hasn’t exactly set the International League ablaze this season, but he’s held hitters to somewhere around a .250 batting average and has a nice 41/8 strikeout-to-walk ratio, while striking out almost one hitter per inning. The point being, we’re almost at the point in the season where the Twins can afford to trade one of their six pitchers with credentials as a Big League pitcher.

I’m just not sure that should be Slowey.

If it is, so be it. It’s not like he’s demonstrated that he’s irreplaceable. But I’m just not sure that’s the direction I’d go if I were the General Manager.

Slowey is making just $2.7 million this season, so there’s bound to be a market for him. Maybe the Twins could even get a serviceable middle infielder in return. But they aren’t likely to get anyone significantly better than the mediocrity they’ve been sending out to man 2B and SS so far and adding a MLB infielder means they’re still left with the dilemma of how to fit James on to the 40-man roster so they can promote him. In any event, while I’m not ready to give up on the 2011 season yet, if I’m running the Twins, I’m not going to feel inclined to trade one of my cheaper starting pitching options.

For the same reason, you don’t trade Brian Duensing either. He’s still barely making above the MLB minimum salary.

Nick Blackburn and Scott Baker are both roughly in the $5-6 million per year range through 2012. The Twins won’t (and shouldn’t) trade Baker, but if you can get some decent prospects for Blackburn, I suppose you listen to offers. I just doubt that Blackburn’s performance has done much to create significant demand for his services, given his contractual agreement.

Does Francisco Liriano still have significant trade value? He’s making $4.3 million this year but he’s likely to get more expensive next year. Still, I suspect there are teams who would be very tempted to give up something of value for the chance to see if Liriano can grow in to a consistently dominant lefty. If so, I’d be very tempted to make him available because I just don’t see it as being likely to happen in Minnesota. Blame Liriano or blame the coaches/manager, but either way, I don’t see him ever being worth what the Twins would have to shell out to keep him beyond this season.

And then there’s ‘Stache. Carl Pavano is getting $8 million this season and is guaranteed $8.5 million in 2012. Has anyone who’s been watching the Twins seen anything in Pavano’s performance to make them feel like he’s worth that deal? He certainly has not been the “innings eater” he was last year, having averaged just about 6 innings per start. I don’t know what he’s worth on the market, but I would imagine someone would give up something for him, even if the Twins do have to eat a little of that contract.

Trading one of these guys for decent prospects would clear a roster spot for James  (or for Gibson or possibly RP prospect Carlos Gutierrez next month) without leaving the Twins significantly short-handed in the starting pitching department.  If I could get something of real value in prospects for either Pavano or Liriano, I’d make that move right now.

That said, it will probably be Kevin Slowey sent packing. If and when it happens, I suspect most of us will be underwhelmed with talent received in return.

- JC

(Over)reactions to JJ Hardy Trade

If you aren’t one of those people who stay up in to the wee hours of the morning during MLB’s Winter Meetings, you may have awoken to the news that some time after midnight that the Twins and Orioles had agreed to a trade that sends JJ Hardy and Brendan Harris to Baltimore in return for two minor league relief pitchers, Brett Jacobson and Jim Hoey.

It appears that the two pitchers have good velocity and could contribute to the Twins sooner, rather than later and I’m sure we’ll get more details on the trade during the course of the day Thursday. Still, I’m a bit disappointed in the return obtained for a very solid Major League shortstop. Of course, eliminating both Hardy’s estimated $6-7 million salary and the $1.75 million owed to Harris in 2011 does free up payroll room to be used elsewhere.

But, while I hoped to either keep Hardy around or get more in return for him, I’m not sure what surprises me more… that the Twins would trade JJ Hardy for no more than they are getting in return from the Orioles or that Twins fans/bloggers are so universally up in arms over the trade.The large and diverse Twins blogging community, by and large, has trouble agreeing on anything. No matter what moves Bill Smith makes, some people will like it, some people won’t like it, and some people (you know who you are) will think it’s the dumbest move ever made by any MLB front office since the last move made by the Twins… because every move made by the Twins is, by definition, the worst move made by any team, ever.

But long before this trade was finalized, the blogs, podcasts and Tweets were lighting up with almost unanimous criticism of the deal. There was some acknowledgment that the limited return the Rays got for Jason Bartlett on Wednesday indicated that Twins fans should be prepared to see similar limited returns for Hardy, but that hasn’t kept the complaints from pouring through cyberspace in the first hour or so following the announcement. That’s pretty incredible, when you think about it. How bad must a deal be to get all of us to agree that it’s bad?!

Hardy

The assumption seems to be that the Twins simply needed to dump Hardy’s estimated salary to make room for Japanese infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka… that having scored too many runs last year, Gardy longed to return to the “piranha”  game that he enjoys managing. I’m on record of being skeptical about the prospect of turning over a middle infield position to Nishioka before he’s taken a single ground ball in Spring Training and dispensing Hardy to Camden Yards certainly is risky, to me.

That said, we’re talking about JJ Hardy here, not Joe Mauer or Justin Morneau. I get that he’s developed a certain loyal fan base (largely among the womenfolk, for some reason), but let’s keep in mind this is a guy who the Brewers demoted to the minor leagues just 18 months ago and traded for Carlos Gomez just over a year ago. (Gomez is now available on the trade market again, by the way.)

If we want to take an honest look at why the Twins moved Hardy just a year after trading for him, we should take a step back and recall why they traded for him in the first place. A year ago, the Twins were intent on adding offense, even if it meant sacrificing some defense. Jim Thome and Orlando Hudson were brought in for their bats. They traded away their best defensive outfielder for a shortstop that they hoped might hit a few home runs. And the Twins, at that point, couldn’t really know how their new home, Target Field, would play.

Now fast-forward a year and put yourself in the Twins post-season organizational meetings. You know, now, that your new shortstop essentially has warning track power in Target Field (like pretty much everyone else). He’s not fast. He’s not quick. He’s an above average defensive shortstop in much the same way Cal Ripken was an above average shortstop. He positions himself very well. He just seems to get to the ball very well.

With the general dearth of quality middle infielders on the open market this winter, now might have been the Twins’ best opportunity to get anything of value for Hardy. While it may be difficult to make that argument with a straight face, given the return received from the Orioles, what we don’t know today is what Hardy’s performance level will be in 2011.

In the grand scheme of things, however, the Twins’ fortunes in 2011 aren’t likely to be significantly determined by having Nishioka and Casilla in the middle of the infield instead of one of those two paired with Hardy. And if one of them gets hurt or underperforms, it’s not like the Twins don’t have a couple of hundred middle infielders in their system that could step in.

I’ve felt from the beginning that the key to the Twins improving their roster for 2011 is improving the top of their starting rotation. Other than the fact that devoting so much of their time to the Nishioka/Hardy issue has kept them from focusing their attention on improving their rotation, I just can’t get all that worked up over this trade. In fact, part of me feels like anything disliked so much by so many of us must have a pretty good shot at turning out well!

I like JJ Hardy and I even like the Orioles. I hope he does well there.

And I hope the Twins and their scouts are right about Nishioka, not to mention Jacobson and Hoey.

-  JC

P.S. It appears that I can pretty much forget all about my off-season “blueprint”. Not only is it virtually impossible that the Twins would be able to get my preferred “ace”, Zack Greinke, but now my suggestion for a flyer in the outfield is off the table as well. Melky Cabrera has reportedly agreed to terms with Greinke’s Royals. Ah well.