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

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