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.

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