Is There a Magic Wand(y) Out There?

I find myself in unfamiliar waters these days.

Despite what some may believe, I tend to be pretty supportive of the job the Twins’ front office does. I know the organization is a business and understand they aren’t going to spend more money than they take in. I know they aren’t going to go out and overpay for free agent talent the way the Yankees do. Unlike many Twins fans, I’m not one who constantly finds fault with the owner or the GM or the manager. I consider the lack of recent success in the playoffs to be a source of frustration, but not abject organizational failure.

Yet, I’ve been quite up front about my impatience with regard to the Twins seeming lack of progress toward making any sort of real improvement in the make up of the roster so far. And Day 1 of the Winter Meetings did nothing to make me feel better. Bill Smith indicated that the only non-pitching positions that are undecided already are SS and 2B. And while he didn’t come right out and say that JJ Hardy would be traded once Tsuyoshi Nishioka is signed, that is clearly where the signs are pointing.

I also understand that my Zack Greinke wish is not going to come true. In fact, given that the Royals would clearly demand from the Twins a premium of prospects over and above the premium of prospects that they’re going to demand from teams that AREN’T in their own division, I’m willing to admit it would probably be foolish for Smith to pay the Royals’ asking price.

So given that the Twins won’t be bidding on the lone remaining top of the rotation pitcher (Cliff Lee) and probably shouldn’t be bidding on the next best starting pitcher (Carl Pavano) because of his expectations regarding a three-year contract, what does constitute a reasonable expectation for a fan who strongly believes the Twins need another strong starting pitcher?

Let’s try this scenario on for size.

Near the bottom of a column he wrote on December 1, Jayson Stark mentioned that the Houston Astros were in the market for a reasonably priced, left-handed hitting outfielder. If the Twins re-sign Jim Thome, they will, coincidentally, have an arguably superfluous lefty-hitting outfielder floating around in the person of Jason Kubel.

Wandy Rodriguez

The Astros, in return, have a certain lefty starting pitcher who’s going to start getting a bit expensive very soon. Wandy Rodriguez lost his arbitration contest with the Astros last year and ended up pitching for $5 million and now he and his agent are trying to work out an extension that will buy out his last year of arbitration and first couple of years of free agency.

Shortly after Rodriguez overmatched the Twins in a 4-1 Astro win in June, the Twins reportedly tried, unsuccessfully, to trade for the lefty prior to the trade deadline at the end of July. They should try again.

I’ll be the first to admit that I know very little about the Astros. (I think they play in Houston, right?) But what I do know is that they are reportedly for sale and they’re trying to cut payroll while remaining at least competitive enough not to screw up their sale price.

I have no idea whether Houston would want Kubel. I have no idea whether they might be interested in a shortstop like JJ Hardy. Maybe, instead, it would take prospects or maybe the Twins would have to eat part of Kubel’s or Hardy’s 2011 salary. Smarter people than I would have to figure out exactly what a fair exchange would be.

I don’t even know if Rodriguez would be available, but given the current state of that franchise, it’s hard for me to believe he’s going to be an Astro beyond 2011, his final arbitration year. In any event, the purpose of writing this is simply to demonstrate that there ARE options out there, other than Lee, Pavano, Greinke, et al. The Twins need to improve their rotation and the time to do it is now, before other teams beat the Twins to the punch.

I’ve heard enough about middle-weight infielders and middle-inning relief pitchers. I don’t want to hear that we should just be satisfied to replace most of the talent being lost to free agency. If you’re standing in place, you’re falling behind and there are options out there that can, and would, actually improve the Twins roster now and in the future. The Twins have some highly compensated businesspeople who should be able to turn over a few rocks and find those options.

Either that or they should find another line of work.

-JC

A Brief Look Back at Twins History

Regular readers of our little blog here will recall that during the season, we ran a weekly (yes I know, I missed a week or two here and there… get off my back!) “Twins History Lesson” feature where we looked back at notable events in Twins history*. We haven’t done that since the season ended because, frankly, there aren’t many dates that warrant reviewing during the off-season. But on the heels of news that the Twins won the bidding for negotiating rights to Japanese infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka, it may be worth noting that the Twins have, in the distant and not-so-distant past, acquired new players the old fashioned way… by trading for them.

Back in 1967, the Twins had just finished a season winning 91 games and finishing one game behind the AL champion Red Sox. They were also just a couple of seasons removed from their first World Series, having dropped the 1965 Series, four games to three, to the Dodgers. Zoilo Versalles had not only won the AL MVP Award in 1965, but hit .286 with an .833 OPS in the World Series and Jim “Mudcat” Grant started three games, winning games 1 and 6 with complete game efforts, and posted a 2.74 against the Dodgers after winning 21 games during the regular season. But in 1967, both players’ productivity dropped off considerably (Versalles hit just .200 and Grant went 5-6 on the year) and on this date, November 28, they found themselves traded to their old WS opponents, the Dodgers.

In return, the Twins received catcher John Roseboro, along with pitchers Bob Miller and Ron Perranoski. The Twins definitely won that deal. Versalles and Grant each played one season with the Dodgers without distinction. Miller and Roseboro both put in two productive, if unspectacular, years with the Twins. But the star of the trade turned out to be Perranoski, who recorded 71 saves over the next three seasons for the Twins and led the AL in that category in both 1969 and 1970, helping the Twins to Division championships both seasons.

But we don’t need to go back 33 43 (oops) years for a notable trade on November 28. Just three years ago on this date in 2007, rookie GM Bill Smith made a deal that Twins fans are still debating today when he sent SS Jason Bartlett, SP Matt Garza and minor league RP Eddie Morlan to Tampa Bay in return for OF Delmon Young, IF Brendan Harris and minor league OF Jason Pridie. The two minor leaguers, Pridie and Morlan didn’t distinguish themselves for either of their new teams, while the four major leaguers have had varying degrees of success over the past three years.

Jason Bartlett

While it’s generally perceived that the Rays got the best of this deal so far, it’s interesting to note that both Bartlett and Garza have been frequently mentioned as possible targets to be traded this off-season by the Rays. Meanwhile, Young had a break out season for the Twins after a couple of somewhat disappointing years, while Harris spent the season in Rochester after the Twins signed him to a two-year extension last off-season.

Today, the Twins find themselves in need of a top-of-the-rotation starting pitcher and some relief arms to replace those departing via free agency. They could also use some more speed in the outfield, in my opinion. While there are plenty of relievers on the open market, any significant improvements to the rotation and outfield may have to come via trade. So, on this, the anniversary of a couple of major trades in Twins history, I feel compelled to ask…

What’s next, Mr. Smith?

- JC

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*As with much of the Twins History information we recounted during the season, we pulled this information from “Twins Trivia”.

About The Twins Outfield Situation

As we continue examining the options available to the Twins’ brass with regard to the formation of the 2011 roster, I think it’s worth taking a look at the outfield. I know that, on the surface, this appears to be one unit (perhaps the only one) where many people expect to see little or no change, other than seeing it revert to the unit as it was before Michael Cuddyer had to shift to first base to replace Justin Morneau.

Delmon Young

Going in to 2010, the Twins clearly decided they would be willing to sacrifice some OF defense in return for making sure they had the sticks necessary in the line up to score more runs. The hope was that Denard Span would have the range to cover not only centerfield, but left-center and right-center as well. We don’t need fancy advanced defensive metrics to know that Delmon Young, Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel are not exactly candidates for gold gloves in the outfield.

Delmon certainly held up his end of the bargain, having his most productive year as a Twin (and winning the Knuckleballs Boyfriend of the Year Award, in the process!). But outside of DY, the outfielders simply did not live up to their expectations.

To be fair, Jason Kubel wasn’t supposed to have to play rightfield every day. He was supposed to DH. Maybe he’d have had a better year with the bat if he had been able to simply play the role intended. Maybe. And Michael Cuddyer certainly wasn’t supposed to play 1B for half a season. Maybe if he had been able to just play his more familiar role in RF, he’d have hit better, too. Maybe.

Denard Span

But then there’s Denard Span. I like Denard. I like him a lot. I expected great things from him in 2010. Maybe too much. It’s not his fault, I suppose, if my expectations were elevated and, in the end, unmet. He just simply did not get on base as reliably as a lead off hitter for a contending team needs to. And I don’t even want to discuss how often he got picked off once he did get on base. In short, he needs to do better… much better. I also was disappointed with his defense. No it isn’t fair that he has to cover half the outfield instead of just a third of it, but life isn’t fair sometimes. I also was less than impressed with the way he covered his own third of the field. He seemed to get poor jumps and appeared timid any time he got within 10 feet of a fence. Maybe it was just a matter of getting comfortable with the new ballpark. Maybe.

That’s a lot of maybes, folks.

Jason Repko did a nice job as a late inning defensive replacement and he gave the Twins a CF option when Span needed a day off, but he’s really not a consideration as a starting outfielder on a regular basis. Still, the Twins will need him, or someone like him, on the roster in 2011. That means five roster spots taken up by outfielders.

Jason Kubel

Obviously, the outfield spots are also influenced by the decisions made with regard to the DH, since one could argue not only Kubel, but Young and even Cuddyer might be better DH options than outfielders. Given that, does it make sense to bring Jim Thome back, even if he’s again available at a discounted price? Yes… of course it does.

Come March, most people would probably bet that we’ll see all of these familiar faces in Twins uniforms, once again. We can hope that Kubel, Cuddyer and Span bounce back and have better years with the bat, that Delmon continues to build on this season’s success, and that we all get to witness Jim Thome belting career HR #600 in a Twins uniform in 2011.

Then again… if I were Bill Smith, I would be looking for a top of the rotation pitcher and if it takes one of these outfielders to get that need filled, I wouldn’t hesitate to make such a deal. That could result in “addition by subtraction” if it means Thome returns and gets more DH opportunities than he might otherwise and if an outfielder can be added to the line up that can both cover decent ground in a corner position and play CF on occasion.

Michael Cuddyer

It’s unlikely that the Twins would find a trade partner willing to take on Cuddyer’s contract or Span’s extension (which starts getting pricier in 2012), leaving Kubel (who’s reasonable $5.25 million option was picked up by the Twins last week) and Young (who is still locked in to arbitration) as the most likely trade chips.  I think both players have several very productive offensive years ahead of them in Major League Baseball and if those are in Twins uniforms, that’s fine. But the Twins arguably have a surplus of talent in the outfield and to shore up other needs, sometimes you have to give up good ballplayers and the Twins definitely have a couple of positions that need shoring up.

The Twins front office is not exactly known for making dramatic trades, but Bill Smith has proven he doesn’t just go in to hibernation in the off-season, either. I think this organization knows they need to improve their roster from the outside before Opening Day 2011 and I think that means Jason Kubel or Delmon Young will be wearing a different uniform in 2011.

Do you want or expect to see changes in the Twins OF next season or do you think they should keep this unit intact as is? Please use the comment section to let us know your thoughts! – JC

Let’s Build a Twins Roster

Last week, we took a glance at all of the players that we may have to be willing to say good-bye to by Opening Day next season.Today, let’s try to figure out how we (or more specifically, Twins GM Bill Smith) can find room for at least some of those players on next years’ roster.

Unfortunately, the first thing we have to talk about is money. The Twins front office doesn’t like to talk about money. (Have you ever noticed, the people who HAVE money are always the people who don’t like talking about money?) The Twins’ reluctance (refusal?) to disclose details about their financial status makes the exercise of trying to figure out who they can afford to bring back (never mind add) to the roster this off-season.

This is when Bill Smith earns his paycheck

This season, the Twins had about a $98 million payroll to start the season and, with the midseason additions, apparently barely broke through the $100 million mark.I’m not sure it’s realistic to expect revenues to increase significantly (although I’m sure they’ll raise ticket prices) and if revenues don’t increase a lot, neither will payroll.

The bottom line is that the Twins are not going to allow their payroll to increase like it did this season. I’m hoping we see Bill Smith set a goal to open the season with a Major League payroll at or above $115 million, but that may be wishful thinking. (If you think the Twins are going to escalate payroll more dramatically, keep in mind that the Angels broke the $100 million payroll mark in 2004… and didn’t escalate past $120 million until just this year.)

Let’s see what that means in terms of who we can expect to see in a Twins uniform in 2011. To do that, we have to do some guesswork concerning the team picking up various player options and likely arbitration awards. Players in bold have guaranteed contracts.

Catchers: Joe Mauer ($23mil) and a back up ($500K) getting the league minimum. Total $23.5 million.

Infield: Justin Morneau ($14mil), Brendan Harris ($1.75mil), Alexi Casilla ($1mil), Danny Valencia ($500K), Matt Tolbert ($500K). Total $17.75 million. (We’ll talk about Nick Punto, JJ Hardy and Orlando Hudson later.)

Outfield: Michael Cuddyer ($10.5mil), Denard Span ($1mil), Jason Kubel ($5.25mil), Delmon Young ($5mil). Total $21.75 million. (We’ll talk about Jason Repko later.)

Starting pitchers: Scott Baker ($5mil), Francisco Liriano ($4.5mil), Nick Blackburn ($3mil), Kevin Slowey ($3mil), Brian Duensing ($500K). Total $16 million. (We’ll talk about Carl Pavano later.)

Relief pitchers: Joe Nathan ($12.5mil), Matt Capps ($8mil), Jose Mijares ($500K). Total $21 million. (We’ll try to fill in the rest of the bullpen later.)

What do you do about Jason Kubel's option?

That’s exactly $100 million for those 19 ballplayers. If we use that $115 million figure as our “payroll budget”, we have $15 million to spend on the remaining half dozen players to fill out our roster. If they want to spend more than that, they can make room by trading one of these 19 (assuming the trade partner is willing to take on all of that player’s salary), by buying out Kubel’s option year (saving a little under $5 million), or not offering arbitration to Capps, Young, Liriano, Slowey or other lesser-compensated players and letting them become free agents.

Assuming the Twins would carry a 12-arm pitching staff, four of the remaining six spots would be pitchers and the other two would be somehow accounted for by an infielder, an outfielder and/or a DH.

If you’re going to shop first among the players who wore Twins uniforms this season, here are your options… and their estimated price tags:

Pitchers:

Carl Pavano (likely to command a 2-3 year contract at about $10 million per year as a free agent)

Jesse Crain (made $2 million this year and likely to command a multi-year contract for at least $3 million per year as a free agent)

Matt Guerrier (made $3.15 million this year and likely to get at least that much next year as a free agent)

Glen Perkins, Pat Neshek, Ron Mahay, Randy Flores are probably going to cost somewhere just south of $1 million.

Alex Burnett, Anthony Slama, Rob Delaney, Kyle Waldrop would make the league minimum $500K.

Position Players:

Orlando Hudson (likely to command $6 million as a free agent).

JJ Hardy (likely to earn $6 million or more through arbitration).

Nick Punto (Twins have a $5 million option that almost certainly won’t be picked up. They could buy it out for $500K and try to bring him back for something closer to $1.5 million).

Jim Thome (likely to command $4 million as a free agent).

Jason Repko (likely available for something less than $1 million)

Trevor Plouffe and Ben Revere would be options at the league minimum $500K.

Will the Twins be outbid for Jesse Crain?

So, you say you want to bring back Pavano, Crain, Guerrier and one of the rookies, along with Hardy and Thome? That’s $26.5 million… or $11.5 million more than you have available to spend.

Maybe you’re willing to let Pavano go and stick with the home grown rotation, if it means keeping Crain and Guerrier and filling out the rest of the pen with kids. That could leave you $9 million to spend on position players, perhaps allowing you to keep Hardy and Thome.

But you say you want to see Nick Punto stay in a Twins uniform? OK… which are you saying good-bye to, Jim Thome or JJ Hardy? (Not exercising Nick’s option wouldn’t necessarily preclude the Twins from signing him to a more reasonable “utility player” contract… maybe $1.5 million or so.)

Maybe you’d try to trade Jason Kubel. That’s fine, but that leaves you with just 3 outfielders, unless Punto or Hardy can move out there.

See… being a General Manager isn’t so easy, is it?

And we haven’t even discussed the possibility that there might be someone out there on the free agent market that you think might help improve your team.

I’m still trying to decide what I’m going to recommend to Bill Smith when he calls to ask for my advice. I want a top of the line starting pitcher for the rotation and I’d like to add an outfielder that can hit AND field a position. I just haven’t figured out how to pay for all that and bring back a couple of guys I don’t really want to lose.

But don’t wait for me. Feel free to use the comment section to play General Manager and let us know how you’d fill out the roster AND stay within your budget. – JC

M is for Monday (and Manny) and More

Next weekend, the Iowa Hawkeyes open up their 2010 season hosting the mighty Eastern Illinois University Panthers and, being a Hawkeye football season ticket holder, I’ll be in Iowa City Saturday for the game. Likewise, my Saturdays for the next few months will be at least partially focused on the Hawkeyes. (I realize that it’s difficult for those of you in Minnesota to understand that level of dedication to college football. That’s understandable. Perhaps if there’s ever a Big Ten football program in Minnesota, you’ll understand the feeling better.)

But this weekend was still all about baseball and there have been so many interesting things going on in and around Major League Baseball lately, that my mind has had trouble focusing on writing about just one or two items. It seems like every day, I see a couple of things in the news and think, “Oh, I need to write about that!” So that’s what I’m doing today… I’m just tossing out my views (and perhaps a few links) about several things. If you came here looking for in-depth research and thoughtful commentary, boy did you come to the wrong place today. Instead, you get my ramblings.

MLB and Money

There has been a whole lot written, both in the traditional media and the blogosphere about the financial statements for several MLB organizations that were released over at Deadspin this past week. Among the teams for which documents were released were the Pirates, Marlins, Rays, Mariners, Angels, and Rangers.

In a nutshell, what the disclosure demonstrates is that even teams that have had very low payrolls, like the Pirates and Marlins, have managed to show a profit (thanks to MLB’s revenue sharing program). What I don’t understand is the extreme reaction in some circles to this revelation. But isn’t that exactly what revenue sharing is intended to accomplish? Sure, ideally, it provides competitive balance, but I would argue that it largely has done just that (with the glaring exception of the financial advantage the Yankees are allowed to maintain).

Did the Marlins use revenue sharing dollars to pay down debt instead of increase payroll? Yes. Bad boys. But they also got their wrists slapped by MLB for it and they’re now coughing up money on payroll AND let’s not forget, the Marlins have been a lot more competitive than a lot of other teams with much higher payrolls. So whether they used the revenue sharing dollars to do it or not, they HAVE been competitive.

Did the Pirates make $10-15 million a year in profits while taking revenue sharing dollars and selling off their top players? Yes. But they’ve been investing heavily in the international market and developing their minor league organization. And let’s face it… does anyone REALLY think spending an additional $10-15 million on major league players would have made the Pirates any more competitive?

There are changes that need to be made to make MLB more competitively balanced and if these disclosures lead to that, terrific. But I suspect all it does is give a bunch of fans more reason to bitch and moan about the big bad rich owners not being willing to spend more money than they take in on their teams. One thing is clear from the little bit I glanced over the documents. Teams that had good attendance had more money for payroll. Owners seldom jack up payroll in the hope of generating more attendance. It just doesn’t work that way no matter how much some fans wish it did. You want the owner to spend more? Go to more games.

Memories

I don’t like the White Sox.

AP Photo

That said, even I’ve got to appreciate Frank Thomas. The Whities had a ceremony Sunday where they honored Thomas by including his face on their outfield “wall of fame” (or whatever they call it… I don’t pay attention to that kind of thing). In my opinion, Frank Thomas is singularly responsible for elevating that organization in to relevancy during the 1990s. You think the Twins had some bad years? Check out the White Sox history before Thomas showed up.

I don’t know the man. Maybe his actions and words toward the end of his time in Chicago warranted how he was treated (some would say mistreated) there at the end. I know he and GM Kenny Williams had some pretty harsh public disputes. I don’t care about any of that, actually. What I do know is that I absolutely hated seeing Frank Thomas come to the plate against the Twins. He deserves to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer and I’m glad the White Sox are finally showing him the love and respect he deserves.

Muscle (is it really a good thing?)

Stephen Strasburg’s 2010 season is finished. So is his 2011 season. He’s going to be spending the next 12-18 months recovering from Tommy John surgery.

A lot of Twins fans (myself included) have lamented the fact that the Twins don’t have an “ace”… a starting pitcher with arm strength to generate upper 90s velocity, with good control, who can “miss bats.” There are complaints that the Twins don’t even draft guys like that.

Ignoring for the time being that most guys who have that kind of “velo” AND control are not available by the time the Twins get to draft, I’m starting to wonder if it’s really such a bad thing that they don’t spend a lot of bonus money on those guys. Whether it’s a starting pitcher like Strasburg or relievers like Detroit’s Joel Zumaya (who can’t seem to stay healthy), it just seems like those hard throwers break down sooner or later (or both). Do you REALLY want to spend millions of dollars on guys who are almost certainly going to blow out their elbow before you see any value from them?

The human arm is not built to throw a baseball overhand that hard. And as this column points out, even though organizations are beginning to be ultra-conservative about their pitchers’ innings and pitch counts, the truth is that with all of the innings kids as young as 12 years old are throwing as they play year-round in multiple leagues, there’s a good chance the damage has been done long before draft day.

Moves (of the roster variety)

Loek Van Mil

UPDATE (September 1, 2010): The Twins announced that Loek Van Mil is the “Player to be Named Later” in the Brian Fuentes deal, meaning Loek now becomes the property of the Angels. Best of luck to Loek! – JC

The media keeps telling us that we’re down to the wire on roster moves. I suppose that’s true to a degree, in that a player coming in from another organization has to be on the new team’s roster by September 1 to be eligible to play for them in the playoffs. To make room for Brian Fuentes, the Twins had to designate minor league pitcher Loek Van Mil for assignment. Van Mil may or may not have a major league future ahead of him, but I hope the Twins manage to hang on to him if for no other reason than it would keep alive the possibility of seeing a pitcher even taller than Jon Rauch on the mound (Van Mil is 7′ 1″).

As this article over at the Pioneer Press indicates, the Twins are going to be using the Disabled List to maximize their flexibility in building their playoff roster. So don’t be surprised when Clay Condrey and Joe Nathan are on the Twins “official playoff roster” announced this week.

Manny

So Manny Ramirez is taking his show on the road to Chicago this week. That’s going to be fun to watch. I personally don’t think there’s anything Ramirez can do to enable the White Sox catch the Twins. If the Twins don’t win the Central Division, it will be because they totally fell flat on their collective faces (I think after last year, we can call that “pulling a Tiger”… though that could be confused with the sort of self-destructive behavior for which a certain pro golfer has recently become notorious), not because Manny came in and turned the Southsiders in to a real baseball team.

I enjoy watching Manny. I enjoy watching him hit when he wants to. I enjoy watching him be totally oblivious about anything going on around him. I enjoy the way others are so fixated on him. He’s a phenomenon that I simply am entertained to follow… as long as he’s not part of MY team. That said, I’ve noticed a lot of White Sox fans are willing to say, “If this is what it takes to help us win, I’ll welcome him.” Interestingly, however, I don’t think I’ve read or heard a single Sox fan suggest that the team should bid for his services beyond the rest of this season.

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I was going to include some thoughts about all of the Twins’ pending free agents after the season and how I think they may try to juggle roster spots with available payroll, but I’ve decided there is plenty of time for that later. For now, let’s just enjoy the final month of the regular season and hope for a successful postseason! – JC

When is a Trade Deadline Not a Trade Deadline?

Are you confused about the whole “July 31 was the trade deadline but it wasn’t REALLY the trade deadline” thing? Does thinking about the ins and outs of waiver trading give you a headache (or make you yawn) worse than UZRs, BABIPs and OPS+s all rolled in to one?

We here at Knuckleballs are going to try to make it all simple and easy to understand. After all, we’re nothing if not simple around here. So here are our “Waiver Rule Q&As for Dummies Knuckleballs.”

Q: I thought the trade deadline was July 31. Now I hear it’s August 31. Is there really a trade deadline at all?

A: No. There’s really no such thing as a trade deadline in Major League Baseball. A player can be traded any time. BUT (isn’t there always a “but”?) there are hoops that teams have to jump through that change on July 31 and August 31 that lead media types to confuse us simple folk by using the term “deadline”.

Q: So what are those hoops?

A: Here’s a rundown on the way the rules change on July 31 and August 31:

  • Through the deadline on July 31, teams could trade players to any team. July 31 is commonly referred to as the “non-waiver trade deadline.”
  • After July 31 and through the remainder of the season, players must first go through “revocable waivers.” This process involves:
    1. placing the player on waivers. At this point, any team may place a waiver claim on that player.
    2. If the player IS NOT claimed by any other team, his team can trade him to any other team.
    3. If the player IS claimed, his current team has 47 business-day hours to choose one of three options.
      • revoke the waiver and keep the player.
      • let the player go to the team winning the waiver claim for the waiver price of $20,000. The new team takes on the player’s current contract.
      • take up to an additional 48 1/2 hours to work out a trade with the team winning the waiver claim.
  • Any player acquired in a trade after August 31 is not eligible to be a member of his new team’s playoff roster that season.

Q: 47 hours and 48 1/2 hours? What idiot came up with those numbers?

A: I have no idea who came up with those numbers, but when it comes to idiotic things MLB does, I look first, last and always at Bud Selig.

Q: If more than one team claims a player, can his team can try to make deals with all of them?

A: No. The claim of any team in the same league gets priority over claims by any team in the other league. If that rule doesn’t determine who wins the claim, then the next criteria is based on current winning percentage of the teams making the claim. Lowest winning percentage wins the claim.

Q: Can a team just keep putting the same player on waivers and revoking those waivers over and over?

A: No. A team can only pull a player back from waivers once. If they revoke the waivers once and put him back on waivers again before the end of the season… and he is claimed by another team, then that team automatically gets the player (and his contract).

Q: Do teams only put players they want to get rid of on waivers?

A: No. Almost every player on every MLB roster will be placed on waivers in August.

Q: WHAT!?!?!? The Twins are going to waive Joe Mauer?!

A: Maybe. You see, every General Manager thinks he is clever, crafty, and really smart… and that every other GM is a total idiot. So they think that if they put ALL of their players on waivers, the dumb GMs on the other teams won’t be able to tell which players they want to keep, which ones they might want to trade, and which ones they might want to dump on another team stupid enough to take on an overpaid washed up pitcher who couldn’t strike out your great-grandfather.

Q: And this works?

A: Amazingly, sometimes… yes. You see, not many GMs are all that smart. At least not nearly as smart as those of us who blog about their teams.

Q: Can players with no-trade clauses in their contract get waived or traded in August?

A: Yes. A lot of them actually want to get he heck off of the sinking ship they’re currently playing for and get in a pennant race. But if a player is claimed by a team to which he has the right to reject a trade, his team is required to revoke the waiver unless the player agrees (usually for a hefty price) to waive the no-trade rights and join the new team.

Q: So do teams just automatically put all of their players on waivers August 1?

A: Some might.

That way they find out quickly who might be interested in making a deal for which of their players. They also think there might be a chance teams will be so overwhelmed by the volume of waived players that they might overlook some players, making it more likely those players will completely pass through unclaimed and thus able to be traded to any team.

But other teams, especially those that are still deluding themselves (and their fans) in to thinking they still may have a shot at the playoffs, may wait until later in the month when even the most delusional GM has to admit his team sucks and he should start sending through waivers the dead weight he gave obscene contracts to two years ago.

Q: Do teams really want every player they claim or do GMs sometimes claim players just to keep another team from getting that player?

A: GMs do occasionally make preventive claims. They may claim a player they don’t really want in order to keep a team with a better win percentage at the time from getting him. If they win the claim, they won’t make any attempt to make a trade for the player and assume the player’s current team will simply revoke the waiver and keep the player. Sometimes it backfires, though, and the GM gets stuck with a player (and a contract) he and his manager (and owner) didn’t really want. Oops.

Q: You said you would make this simple to understand. You lied. My head still hurts.

A: That’s not a question, but maybe we can come up with an example that will help.

Let’s say the Angels put closer Brian Fuentes on waivers 47 hours ago. If nobody has claimed him, the Angels can trade him to anyone they can make a deal with.

But let’s say he has been claimed by several teams who think he could help their bullpen this month and in the playoffs… the Phillies and Rockies in the NL and the Rangers, Rays and Yankees in the AL. Now what happens?

First, forget the Phillies and Rockies because teams in a player’s current league get priority over teams in the other league, regardless of their records. Their only shot was to hope no AL team claimed Fuentes.

Next, we look at the winning percentages of the Rangers, Rays and Yankees. The lowest is currently the Rangers so they win the claim on Fuentes.

Now the fun starts.

What do the Angels do? If they think they’ve gotten all the use they can out of Fuentes this year, they may simply let Texas have him (and shed the $3 million or so still owed on his 2010 contract). If they aren’t willing to just let him go and get nothing but the claiming price of $20K in return, they revoke the waivers.

If the Angels believe they’re still in the playoff hunt and don’t want a team in their own division to have Fuentes, they pull him back and keep him. But if they are ready to concede they have no shot this year, they’ve got 48 1/2 hours to finalize some kind of trade with the Rangers.

If Texas really does want Fuentes, they’ll offer some sort of package of low level minor leaguers and probably try to get the Angels to eat some of Fuente’s remaining salary in a trade. If their intent was simply to keep potential playoff opponents from getting Fuentes, they’ll just tell the Angels, “No thanks.”

Let’s assume the Angels end up keeping Fuentes. Now fast forward 3 weeks to the last week of August and see that the Angels are so far back that even the rosiest colored glasses in Anaheim recognize there’s no shot in 2010. They see playoff contenders still out there who need bullpen help and they have no use for a closer to whom they still owe about $2 million. What do they do?

They may put Fuentes back on waivers. Now, any team that claims him knows that there’s a reasonable chance they may get him. If one of the contenders really feels he’ll help their bullpen and has $2 million burning a hole in their pockets, they’ll make a claim. Otherwise, he’ll go unclaimed and the Angels are free to try to get whatever they can for him in a trade with any team. Whether by claim or trade, if he becomes a member of his new team by August 31, he’ll be eligible for the playoffs with his new team.

Q: Did you say something? My eyes glazed over after, “Now the fun starts.”

A: Yeah… I said the Twins just put Joe Mauer on waivers.

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This information was gathered from Cot’s Contracts and various other sites. If any of it is wrong, it’s not the author’s fault. It’s never the author’s fault. Ever. – JC

Twins Are “Losers”? Say It Ain’t So!

I’m still trying to get my head around all the trades that went down over the last few days. The folks over at MLBTradeRumors always do a terrific job of keeping up on who’s doing what and they put together a recap of the moves, by contending team. Here’s the AL Central:

So who were the winners and losers after all of this past week’s trades? That depends on who you ask.

ESPN’s Jason Stark:

Winners: Rangers, Padres, Yankees, Astros, Phillies, Nationals, D’Backs, Cards, Dodgers

Losers: WhiteSox, BlueJays, Orioles, Giants, Twins, Rays, Mets

MLB Fanhouse (AOL):

Winners: Yankees, Astros, Rangers, Nationals (“may have pulled off the heist of the entire trading season” by getting Ramos for Capps)

Losers: RedSox, Giants, Tigers

Hardball Talk (NBC):

Winners: Angels, Rangers, Phillies, Yankees, Pirates (honorable mention: Nationals, Padres, Dodgers)

Losers: WhiteSox, Twins, Giants, Cardinals, Rays (dishonorable mention: Astros, DBacks, Tigers)

Yahoo Sports:

Winners: Rangers, Angels, Yankees, Phillies, BlueJays, Mets, Dodgers

Losers: WhiteSox, Giants, Tigers, Twins, Cardinals, Rays

So to summarize… it seems most of the national media is agreement with most of the Twins blogosphere in that they feel the Twins overpaid for Matt Capps and overvalued the ‘save’ statistic. The good news is that the Twins AL Central competition is not viewed has having improved themselves much at the deadline. It’s hard to imagine Jhonny Peralta being a true “difference maker” for the Tigers and the WhiteSox appear to have a much higher opinion of Edwin Jackson than… well… pretty much anyone else.

In addition to feeling the Twins gave up too much for Capps, the media also seems to feel the Twins inability to acquire starting pitching help moves them in to the “trade deadline loser” category. But before we all retire to our caves sobbing hysterically about being fans of the “loser” Twins, let’s remember a few things.

First… the Twins Major League team IS better with Matt Capps. Those of us who want to see the Twins win THIS YEAR can look past the cost and point out that while Jon Rauch did a nice job of stepping in for Joe Nathan, Capps (and the extra 3-4 MPH he has on his fastball) is likely going to be more reliable at the end of games and Rauch makes the group of quality set up relief pitchers much deeper.

Second… keep in mind that the nonwaiver deadline has become a very soft deadline. All Much of the help that Bill Smith brought in to push the Twins toward the playoffs in 2009 (Cabrera, Pavano, Rauch, Mahay) was obtained after July 31 last summer. [Correction made thanks to commenter Deb who correctly pointed out that Cabrera was obtained pre-July31 last year and Pavano should have been included in the post-July 31 group. My bad.-JC]

The biggest improvements that can be made to the Twins at this point are the additions of Justin Morneau and Orlando Hudson. Hopefully, they’re both on their way back toward rejoining the team and in the mean time, I doubt Bill Smith plans to take the month of August off.

Oh… and as for the whole trade deadline winners and losers thing, keep in mind that the Yankees were on Jason Stark’s ESPN “trade deadline losers list” last year. They managed to find a way to overcome that label and finish the season in good shape.

So let’s not fold up the tent quite yet. – JC

Let’s Not Rush to Judge “the Trade”

Matt Capps

As I went to bed last night, I still wasn’t sure how I felt about the Twins trade of premier catching prospect Wilson Ramos along with minor league pitcher Joe Testa to the Nationals for closer Matt Capps and half a million dollars cash. This morning, I’m still not sure how I feel about it.

I admit I haven’t had time yet to read many of the reactions from the rest of the Twins blogosphere, but I do feel most of this community tends to overvalue the Twins’ prospects, so I’m guessing the reaction in the blogs will be largely negative. TwinsGeek John Bonnes found eight things he didn’t like about the trade, while over in Section 219, Howard Sinker seemed to offer a conditional thumbs up to the deal.

I’m not a terribly patient person, by nature, but I’m going to suggest we all try to exercise some patience here. There’s no doubt in my mind that this trade makes this year’s Twins better. How much better? That’s certainly a fair topic for debate. Capps is probably a moderately better closer than Jon Rauch, but that’s only part of the story. Adding a reliever at the top of the bullpen food chain has a ripple effect which means (or should mean, anyway) that the Twins would actually be replacing their LAST arm in the pen with Capps.

Who you feel that person is depends on how you personally feel about Ron Mahay, Jose Mijares and Nick Blackburn. Mahay and Mijares are lefties and with Brian Duensing in the rotation, it seems unlikely they’ll be sent packing. There’s also an argument to be made that Blackie, if he’s ever going to regain his effectiveness, needs to pitch regularly in Rochester rather than waiting around for a long relief spot in Minnesota. But if he leaves, who exactly IS the Twins long reliever who can go 3+ innings if the starting pitcher struggles early? [EDIT: I realized I should have also included Anthony Slama on the list of guys that could be bumped to make room for Capps. Sitting here thinking about it, unless they decide Blackburn needs regular starts, he's probably the guy on his way out for now.-JC]

Then there’s that $500,000 that the Twins are getting back from the Nationals. What’s that all about? We can certainly all speculate about just how close the Twins are to being maxed out on their payroll for the year, but it just seems odd that half a mil would have a major bearing on that issue. I mean, that’s a good chunk of change for you and me, but for a Major League Baseball team?

Weighing all of this brings me to only one logical conclusion. Bill Smith isn’t done yet.

I realize MLB Trade Rumors is reporting that the Cubs and Dodgers are talking about a deal to send Ted Lilly to LA and they mention that the Twins (and other teams) have “cooled” on Lilly. But whether it’s Lilly or someone else, I’m betting (or at least hoping) Smith is fairly certain he’s going to land a lefty starting pitcher. It may or may not be before Saturday’s non-waiver deadline, but that’s really a pretty soft deadline these days because of the size of contracts the players involved have. They pass through waivers pretty freely.

If the Twins do pick up a LH starter, it frees them to push Duensing back in to his role as the team’s long reliever AND top lefty out of the pen. That sends either Mahay or Mijares packing (I’m guessing Mijares to Rochester). Of course, the Twins don’t have Ramos around to deal for a top lefty SP any more, but I have to figure the teams they’re talking to about such players weren’t after Ramos (if they were and Smith dealt him for a reliever, then I’m completely baffled at the logic). And maybe that $500K gives the Twins some flexibility in terms of taking on more of the next trade target’s salary and thus not having to part with as much talent in the deal? I dunno. Just spitballing here.

So I’m holding off on passing judgment… for now. If it turns out this is it… and the Twins spent arguably their top trade chip for a relief pitcher, then that’s going to be tough for me to swallow. I was all for trading Ramos, but it just seems like that’s not a fair return, given Capps’ contract situation (he’s going to start getting very expensive the next year or two… probably too expensive for the Twins to keep). But after the series of deals Bill Smith made in August last year that, despite not all being widely popular at the time, turned out very well for the Twins, I’m going to sit back and hope this is all part of a larger plan to strengthen more than one area of the roster and prepare the Twins for a playoff run. – JC

Poll: Trade Deadline – What Should Bill Do?

With time running out before the non-waiver trade deadline Saturday, we’re still looking for the white smoke to flow from Bill Smith’s Target Field office indicating he’s made a deal that will assure the Twins a championship. Yet, strangely, virtually nobody outside of Twins Territory seems to be mentioning the Twins as a buyer at the deadline. Not Tom Corcoran at SI. Even his peer at SI, Jon Heyman, barely mentions the Twins in his trade deadline article.

Click on the Twins summary at MLBTradeRumors.com and outside of old posts about Dan Haren, it’s slim pickings. A casual mention of interest in the Jays’ reliever Scott Downs, the Nats’ closer Matt Capps and the Cubs’ starter Ted Lilly. (Of course, this could all change at any moment!)

Of course, some folks locally are still riding Smith and the Twins pretty hard about making a move to improve the team.

Seth Stohs mentioned a number of the Twins’ minor league arms who are stepping up their games perhaps just at the right time in his Twins Centric post. However, the much-maligned back end of the Twins current rotation (Baker, Slowey, Duensing) have picked things up a bit if you’re willing to discount the fact that they did so against the lowly Orioles.

So I thought it would be a good time to take the pulse of the Knuckleballs community (we aren’t quite big enough to be Knuckleballs Nation yet, are we?). What do you think the Twins should do with regard to the impending trade deadline? As always, feel free to expand on your votes in the comments section. – JC

So, What’s Next?

UPDATE: OK so maybe I was premature in handing Lee to the Yankees, since NY Post reporter Joel Sherman is now (at 2:44 pm) tweeting that the Ms are going in “another direction.” the Rangers have acquired Lee from the Mariners in a deal that is somewhat puzzling, but sure looks to me they paid a VERY high price. Nevertheless, while my comments about the Yankees below are now virtually irrelevant, my views about the Twins needing to just get busy and move on to other targets remain as strong as ever. – JC

UPDATE #2: Interesting stuff. Seems the Yankees are pissed off. This is interesting, in that the Yankees were frustrated with the Ms just a year ago when they were trying to trade for Jarrod Washburn. The Ms did get two of the Rangers top 20 prospects in addition to two lesser minor leaguers, one of which (2B Josh Lueke) has some past “character issues” (to say the least). -JC

I’ve always been a big fan of TV’s “West Wing” series. Throughout the seven seasons that Martin Sheen portrayed the fictional President Bartlet in that series, I’m pretty sure he uttered the question, “What’s next?” more than any other phrase. It virtually became a catch phrase. In one episode, he expounded on the phrase in a terse admonition to his staff. “When I ask, ‘What’s next?’, it means that I’m ready to move on to other things. So, what’s next?”

I’m not sure I can describe my feelings about the impending Cliff Lee to the Yankees trade much better than that.

Yes, I was all in favor of making a deal to bring Lee to the Twins, even if it meant overpaying in prospects a bit. But Cliff Lee is going to be a Yankee. OK, fine. I’m ready to move on to other things. So, what’s next?

There are a couple of things you can do when you don’t get what you want. You can whine and cast blame on those who made the decision to deprive you of getting what you want (we’ll call this the Dan Gilbert approach, named for the Cleveland Cavaliers owner who pretty much provided a prime example of it with his reaction to being jilted by his prize free agent player last night). You can also throw a tantrum and set things on fire.

I’m just not sure those approaches are altogether productive and, fortunately, I can’t quite envision Twins GM Bill Smith going with those options either.

I prefer the “What’s next?” approach because, let’s be honest, the Twins need some help and the sooner, the better. So if Lee is not coming to town to help former team mate Carl Pavano deliver us all to the Promised Land (which, in this case, would be the World Series), then let’s focus on other options to get us there.

I know we’ve said a few times that it would be nice to have another option at 3B, but like it or not, I think Michael Cuddyer has become that “other option”. I’m not thrilled, but if it means we get more 420 foot HRs out of Jim Thome’s bat in the lineup, I’ll try to live with it. Frankly, the available 3B options on the market right now don’t exactly excite me anyway. So do your best out there, Cuddy, and try not to hurt yourself.

But for goodness sake, someone please find us some pitching. A top of the rotation starting pitcher like Dan Haren or Roy Oswalt? Terrific! The Cubs are supposedly about ready to start selling off spare parts, so let’s give them a call about Ted Lilly. He’s a rung below these other guys, but on this team, he’d be a marked improvement (but then, the list of pitchers that would constitute marked improvement over what we’ve seen on the mound lately wouldn’t be a short one).

Maybe we shouldn’t be content to settle for just getting one of those guys because, as long as we’re being honest, I think we have to admit we have more than one starting pitcher who isn’t exactly giving his team a great chance to win very often lately. And while we’re in a shopping mood, maybe we should think about a little bullpen help, too.

Is that asking for too much? I don’t think so! A year ago, there was a great deal of debate (and considerable skepticism) concerning whether Smith would make any deals significant enough to really be difference makers. In the end, he brought in Jon Rauch, Ron Mahay, Orlando Cabrera and Carl Pavano. While we could quibble about each player’s ultimate contribution to the Twins winning the Central Division title, there can be no questioning that the Twins were uncharacteristically active in their effort to strengthen their roster for the late season push.

I fully expect Bill Smith to be even more aggressive this month. The Twins can still contend for their Championship rings this season and if you take the time to really look at what their payroll and roster could look like next year and beyond, you recognize that this opportunity could be the best it’s going to get for a couple of years.

“But what about the F’ing Yankees?”, you ask, “Haven’t they wrapped up the World Series by trading for Cliff Lee?”

No. In my mind, they’ve not increased their chances of advancing in the playoffs much at all. What they HAVE done is increase their chances of reaching the playoffs. But wasn’t that pretty darn good anyway? Adding Lee to a rotation that already includes Sabbathia, Pettitte, and Hughes will make them tougher competition for the Rays and Red Sox over the second half of the season, but really what they did was save themselves a first round draft pick which they would have lost to Seattle (or whatever other team Lee ended this season with) by signing Lee in the offseason instead of trading for him now. Bully for them.

But once in the playoffs, they were going to have a tough starting pitcher every game, with or without Lee. It’s not like they were going to be trotting Javier Vasquez out there to start any games, anyway.

So frankly, if the Twins weren’t going to get Lee, I can’t think of many places (at least in the AL) where he would have a less problematic effect on the Twins than with the Yankees. The Twins are done playing the Yankees during the regular season and he’s not going to result in nearly the kind of upgrade to their rotation that he would have to the Rays, Rangers or, God forbid, the White Sox or Tigers.

So the proper response to this turn of events is not to wail about how the Yankees always get what they want (though they do) or to cast aspersions toward the Mariners for getting the Yankees to overpay in prospects even more than the Twins would have (though they did).

Instead, let’s fix our gaze toward Bill Smith and simply ask, “So, what’s next?”  -JC