Winter Meetings Day 1: Twins News & Rumors

Day one of baseball’s Winter Meetings in Nashville is drawing to a close and while the Twins rotation still sucks, there wasn’t a complete lack of Twins-related news coming out of the Gaylord Opryland Resort. OK, calling it Twins “news” might be a stretch, but at least the Twins were mentioned here and there among all the rumors floating out of Nashville.

The Grand Ole Opry… Nashville’s second biggest attraction this week.

I spent the better part of my day refreshing various web sites that track the latest rumors and reading Twitter messages being posted by all of the Twins beat reporters representing  various media outlets. After all, I had to make sure I didn’t miss anything interesting. I was keeping up pretty well, too, at least until someone with a pretty screwed up set of priorities scheduled me in to back-to-back conference calls starting at 3:00 pm.

Speaking of those hard-working reporters down in Nashville, you really should be following them on Twitter, if you aren’t already: Rhett Bollinger of MLB.com (@RhettBollinger), Phil Mackey of 1500ESPN (@PMac21), Ben Goessling of the Pioneer-Press (@BenGoesslingPP) and LaVelle E. Neal III of the Star-Tribune (@LaVelleNeal). Of course, MLBTradeRumors.com is a must-follow this week (and most weeks), as well.

Anyway, here’s a rundown of what I saw and heard around this here interweb thingy today:

  • Terry Ryan stated that the Twins have checked in on every available free agent pitcher, but that some are more realistic than others. (Yeah… I bet.)
  • Ryan also indicated the Twins would almost certainly participate in Thursday’s Rule 5 draft. They have the 4th pick so not participating would be pretty stupid.
  • The Twins remain interested in right-hander Brett Myers. They may or may not have competition for Myers from the Orioles, depending on whose rumor you believe.
  • Other lesser (and in some cases, much lesser) pitchers that the Twins have been linked to include: Joe Blanton, Kevin Correia, Mike Pelfrey, John Lannan. Mike Pelfrey and Vicente Padilla. Blanton and Lannan, in particular, are reportedly high on the Twins’ list.
  • Ryan Dempster is the only pitcher remotely close to being considered a top-half-of-the-rotation option that I’ve seen even mentioned in connection with the Twins today.
  • While the Twins have indicated they’re likely to be focused on free agents during the winter meetings, other teams have continued to check in with them about the availability of both Ben Revere and Josh Willingham.
  • Terry Ryan stated that Joe Mauer will not be traded.
  • In addition to pitching, the Twins are likely to acquire a third baseman to provide competition for Trevor Plouffe during Spring Training. However, it’s unlikely they’ll add more middle infielders, which means Brian Dozier, Pedro Florimon, Jamey Carroll and Eduardo Escobar are most likely going to be manning SS and 2B, for better or… you know… worse.
  • Pitcher Liam Hendriks had some elbow surgery to remove bone chips and won’t pitch for Australia during the World Baseball Classic. Nick Blackburn had a similar procedure done at about the same time. Both should be ready to go by Spring Training.
  • Joe Mauer (USA) and Justin Morneau (Canada) do plan to participate in the WBC for their respective home countries.
  • Manager Ron Gardenhire commented to media about his time in the Twins’ “War Room” at the hotel: “I’m listening to them all and they’re trading my whole darn team!” He was kidding. (We think.)
  • Chris Parmelee may be the early contender for the Twins’ RF job, but Darin Mastroianni and Ryan Doumit could compete for the job.

I’m posting this a bit before 8:00 pm CT Monday night and suffice to say I’m pretty disappointed in Day 1, so far. Joe Blanton is the top pitcher the Twins have been connected to in any manner more than just having “checked in on.”

Newsflash for Terry Ryan: Joe Blanton will not solve your problems, sir. Nor will additions of that caliber bring fans back to Target Field. You can do better.

You must do better.

- JC

 

Who “Aces” the Twins test? (poll)

This is another long winded JimCrikket post. If you want to skip all of JC’s BS… I mean all of his in-depth and well thought out analysis… and just respond to the poll, scroll on down to the bottom and let us know what you think.

We’ve had our share of debates here, whether in the comments sections or during our GameChats, about whether adding Cliff Lee or another starting pitcher is needed, desired, a good idea at the right price, or none of the above. Lee seems to have resulted in the most divisive responses, particularly when we mentioned Bleacher Report’s contention that a Lee for Ramos/Duensing/low prospect deal had been made before Ramos’ recent injury.

But the Twins have been linked in the media with a few other possibilities as well, notably the Astros’ Roy Oswalt and the D’Backs’ Dan Haren.  In fact, I read somewhere over the weekend that the Mariners were now going to hold on to Lee until closer to the trade deadline because the offers they were getting didn’t provide the value they wanted  and they felt the market would improve if they waited. Reportedly, this was because of the significant number of other potential top-of-the-rotation guys on the market now.

All of which got me to wondering. Who are these “aces” that are supposedly available and, most importantly, which of them would look good in a Twins uniform? So, I set out to find out which ace we’ll be watching lead the Twins to a World Series title this fall.

To begin with, it seemed to me that I needed to set some parameters on the search. First of all, I don’t think many of us are interested in adding another middle-of-the-rotation pitcher. If we’re going to cough up Wilson Ramos and/or other players at or near the top of the Twins’ prospect list for a starting pitcher, it has to be someone with a legitimate ace-type pedigree. But where do you find those guys?

Aces get to be aces by missing bats, plain and simple. Pitching to contact is all well and good. You can have yourself a nice little career inducing lots of ground balls and not walking hitters, especially if you have some decent gloves behind you. But if you want to sit at the top of my rotation, you need to sit a lot of hitters down. I decided that if you aren’t currently among the top 40-50 in baseball in Ks, you aren’t likely to qualify to be the ace of my favorite team.

The next criteria I considered was availability. Again, simplicity required an arbitrary decision. I decided that no team that was currently less than 10 games out of their division’s lead was likely to start cleaning house and, conversely, any team that IS at least 10 games out would at least listen to offers at this point. This narrowed the list of potential trade partners for the Twins to nine teams. That seemed convenient, since I was hoping to come up with about 10 potential targets.

Even more conveniently, when I went down the list of pitchers with the most strikeouts this season and looked for those currently toiling for one of the nine potential trade partners, I reached 10 names with the 40th pitcher on the K list… just barely allowing Cliff Lee to squeak his way on to my list!

In addition to Lee, the other candidates for future Twins ace include: Dan Haren (DBacks), Ryan Dempster (Cubs), Felix Hernandez (M’s), Roy Oswalt (Astros), Zach Greinke (Royals), Ian Kennedy (DBacks), Edwin Jackson (DBacks), Kevin Millwood (Orioles), and Brett Myers (Astros).

Yes, I know… there are guys on that list that will certainly NOT be wearing a Twins uniform any time soon. But including a pitcher like King Felix as we do a little more analysis does, if nothing else, provide a bit of perspective in terms of the quality of whatever arm the Twins would actually bring in.

Likewise, I added an 11th name to the list before going beyond just looking at strikeouts. I added the 13th name on the K-list, one Francisco Liriano. The idea is that we’re looking for an ace and that means whoever we bring aboard should, at the very least, be as valuable in that role as the current Twin pitcher who comes closest to being a legitimate ace (and no, mustache or no mustache, I just can’t get my head around Carl Pavano being “ace” material). For comparison purposes, I also included numbers for Nick Blackburn since he would likely be the current starter bumped from the rotation (yes, I could have used Kevin Slowey instead, but for this purpose, trust me, it doesn’t matter because they’ve both been, shall we say, mediocre).

Now comes what either constitutes the fun part or the part that makes your eyes glaze over, depending on how you feel about statistics. I don’t particularly enjoy debating them for hours, myself. But as much as some of you would like to, we just can’t decide who the Twins should trade for based on facial hair, stirrups, or what their butts look like in baseball pants. We have to look at a few stats. Sorry.

Again, I chose to look at a few that would indicate to me that the pitcher is more than just successful. Those that indicate some level of dominance this year (after all, this may be the only year we have the guy and we want to win it all this year). In addition to total stikeouts, I also chose to look at Innings Pitched (IP), Earned Run Average (ERA), Walks+Hits/Innings Pitched (WHIP), Strikeouts per 9 innings (K/9), Strikeouts to Walks ratio (K/BB) and Wins Above Replacement player (WAR). (All stats were through Sunday’s games. For the sake of brevity, I’ll explain my reasons for choosing these stats in the ‘comment’ section.)

Name and strikeouts IP WHIP ERA K/9 K/BB WAR
Haren 109 108.1 1.31 4.65 9.1 5.19 0.9
Dempster 105 110.2 1.17 3.58 8.5 2.84 2.2
Hernandez 105 112.2 1.19 3.28 8.4 3.00 1.6
Oswalt 97 104 1.13 3.55 8.4 3.34 2.3
Greinke 89 104 1.19 3.72 7.7 4.45 1.4
Kennedy 89 100.1 1.23 3.77 8.0 2.23 1.9
Jackson 85 107 1.38 4.63 7.1 1.89 1.3
Millwood 81 101 1.51 5.22 7.2 2.61 0.4
Myers 77 100.1 1.36 3.20 6.8 2.20 2.5
Lee 76 86.2 0.91 2.39 7.9 19.00 2.5
Liriano 100 92.2 1.22 3.11 9.7 4.00 2.7
Blackburn 26 79.2 1.67 6.10 2.9 1.18 -0.5

So just at a glance, what can we see?

First, the obvious, every one of these guys would be a significant improvement over our current #5 starter.

Second, a little more surprising, Liriano actually is leading all the others in two of these categories… Ks per 9 innings and Wins Above Replacement. Does this mean we already have our ace? (Granted, it didn’t look like it Monday night!)

Third, there’s a reason a lot of people like Cliff Lee. He’s the best (or tied for the best) in this group of potential additions in four categories… WHIP, ERA, K/BB and WAR. You could make a pretty good case that he would likely also lead in Ks and IP if he hadn’t gotten a late start to his season.

Now, it’s time to thin the herd a bit. Let’s remove the pitchers that (a) the Twins have no realistic shot at obtaining, or (b) the Twins shouldn’t even want because they aren’t truly top-of-the-rotation guys.

The Mariners aren’t going to give up Hernandez and the DBacks aren’t going to let go of Kennedy (who’s still working for MLB’s minimum wage). Despite his recent no-hitter, Jackson’s numbers just don’t stack up well neither do Millwood’s (though either might be worth adding for the right… much lower than what people have been discussing… price). Admittedly, the odds of the Royals and Cubs letting go of Greinke and Dempster, respectively, aren’t very good, but we’re just spitballing here anyway.

Now things get trickier. We have half a dozen guys who could lead the Twins to the Promised Land.  But at what cost… in trade and in dollars?

Let’s assume, for our purposes, that the trade would involve Wilson Ramos, one other “major league ready” prospect not currently on the active 25 man roster (think Manship, Swarzak, etc.) and one lesser prospect from the A-AA level. That settles the trade “cost.”

Here’s the hard money cost and contract situation for each of the six still in consideration (assumes existing team would not pay any of remaining contract):

Haren(RH): half of $8.25 mil for 2010. $12.75 mil for each of 2011 and 2012. $15.5 mil club option for 2013 with $3.5 mil buyout. Total commitment:  $33.125 mil (if buyout exercised)

Dempster(RH): half of $10.5 mil for 2010. $13.5 mil for 2011 and $14 mil Player Option for 2012. Dempster agreed to defer $3 million of his $13.5 mil 2010 contract to make room for the Cubs to sign Xavier Nady this offseason. As a result, his 2010 salary is $10.5 million and he gets $1 million by Feb 1 of the next 3 years. That amount gets added to what the Twins would have to pay out. Total commitment: $35.75 mil (if player option exercised)

Oswalt(RH): half of $15 mil for 2010. $16 mil for 2011. $16 mil club option for 2012 with $2 mil buyout. Full no trade clause. Total commitment: $25.5 mil (if buyout exercised)

Greinke(RH): half of $7.25 mil for 2010. $13.5 mil for each of 2011 and 2012. Total commitment: $30.625 mil.

Myers(RH): half of $3.1 mil for 2010. $8 mil mutual option for 2011 with $2 mil buyout. Total commitment: $9.55 mil (assumes player exercises option)

Lee(LH): half of $9 mil for 2010. Type A free agent in 2011 (team gets 2 compensation draft picks). Total commitment: $4.5 mil

So if you’re the Twins, what goes in to your decision-making process?

If you want a lefty, the decision is pretty easy. Cliff Lee is the only southpaw among our ‘final 6’.

Do you want to minimize your total financial commitment? Again, Lee makes sense, but Myers also becomes an interesting option. With Lee, you know he’s leaving at the end of the year and you get your draft picks. With Myers, he’s most likely going to opt for free agency after the season (and would, at best, be a Type B FA, netting the Twins one supplemental pick if they offer him arbitration) so he likely would only cost the Twins about $1.5 million for half a season. if he DOES exercise the option for 2011, you’re still only on the hook for less than $10 million and you have him around for next year, too. I would add that, since everyone would assume he would be a half year rental, the cost in trade should be less than the package we assumed above, as well.

Do you want more than a half year rental? Then toss out Lee and Myers and focus on the other four options. Greinke can be yours through 2012. Oswalt, too, and if he bombs, you can walk away after 2011 by buying out 2012 for a couple mil. You’d have Haren for the same two years plus an option on his 2013 season. Dempster would be around for at least 2011 with a possibility that you’d be stuck paying him a fair amount in 2012 if he exercises his option (players generally only exercise a player option if they think their value on the market has decreased).

Add it all up and who do I think the Twins should pursue? I went through all this exercise and I still want Cliff Lee (but I could live with some of the others).

But you’re all smarter than I am, so what say you? Play Bill Smith for a day and tell us what you do. Make a choice in the poll below and feel free to leave a comment, as well. – JC