Taylor's Twins Talk

Focusing on the Twins, with a few ramblings on other things that catch my attention

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Remaking a Team Through Free Agency

UPDATE: It's been pointed out to me that Chris Britton was traded to the Yankees in exchange for Jaret Wright. I somehow missed that, so I've updated some parts of the post below to reflect the fact that Britton is no longer an option out of the bullpen for the Orioles.

As wonderful a tool as free agency is for teams that need an extra piece, I usually think that it's a sham for teams like the Baltimore Orioles, or the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, or the Kansas City Royals. Teams that are just not that close to having a competitive team in place aren't likely to benefit too much from the guys on the market - even if they make a splash and sign a player like a Miguel Tejada, as the Orioles did a few years ago. The reason is relatively simple: these teams have much, much more wrong with them than can be cured by a high-priced free agent superstar, or even a few moderately priced (no longer) average players. Developing prospects, working out beneficial trades, and retaining the talent that you develop is the best way for most bad teams to get out of their slump (e.g. Minnesota Twins).

But, if you're going to try to spend your way out of the bottom half of your division, maybe the way to do it is being demonstrated by the Baltimore Orioles. Indications are that the Orioles tried to sign Carlos Lee, which would have been a huge mistake in my mind, because it would have tied up significant amounts of money in an aging player who won't dramatically change the teams fortunes. But the Orioles lost out on Lee, and seem to have decided to invest that money in the team anyway - through middle relief.

Granted, the middle relief binge that the Orioles have been on started before Carlos Lee signed with the Astros. Nevertheless, it continues to grow, and I have to assume that the recent signings of Danys Baez, Chad Bradford, and Scott Williamson (to join the already signed Jaime Walker) would not have happened, or would have been dramatically complicated, by signing Lee.

Normally, I would ridicule a team for investing this much money in middle relief. But look at what the Orioles threw out there for a bullpen last year:

Chris Ray - 61 games / 2.73 ERA / 51-27 K-BB
Chris Britton - 52 games / 3.35 ERA / 41-17 K-BB
LaTroy Hawkins - 60 games / 4.48 ERA / 27-15 K-BB
Sendy Rleal - 42 games / 4.44 ERA / 19-23 K-BB
Todd Williams - 62 games / 4.74 ERA / 24-19 K-BB
Kurt Birkins - 35 games / 4.94 ERA / 27-16 K-BB
Bruce Chen - 40 games (12 starts) / 6.93 ERA / 70-35 K-BB

There were others, but none of them pitched over 30 games, so I'm not going to discuss them. The point is, the Orioles bullpen left something to be desired, finishing with a 5.27 team ERA out of the pen.

How does the new pen stack up? Well, removing LaTroy Hawkins (he's a free agent) and Chris Britton (traded to the Yankees) from consideration, the new bullpen should look something like this (first ERA number is last season, second is career)

Chris Ray - 2.73 (2.70)
Danys Baez - 4.53 (3.79)
Jaime Walker - 2.81 (3.95)
Scott Williamson - 5.72 (3.32)
Chad Bradford - 2.90 (3.40)
Sendy Rleal - 4.44 (4.44)
Kurt Birkins - 4.94 (4.94)

The Orioles are making three assumptions: they're assuming that Baez and Williamson will return to form (check out the departure from career ERA last year for Williamson, especially), and that Jaime Walker didn't have a fluke season last year for Detroit. But if you look at those career ERA's, you see the makings of a very solid relief corps that should significantly improve the Orioles chances of holding leads late in games and getting to closer Chris Ray.

If you're going to try to rebuild your team through free agency, totally making over one of the worst bullpens in the league is propably the best place to start. It gives the Orioles the most bang for their buck, because while this guys are getting more expensive, they're relatively affordable. I don't necessarily agree with the approach of spending your way to success, but this version of the Orioles plan makes a lot more sense to me than signing Carlos Lee would have.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Hall of Fame

I'm going to split my thoughts on the Hall of Fame into several posts, spread out between now and the announcement on January 7 of who got in and who didn't. Today, with the announcement of the ballot, I'm going to talk about the criteria that I would use to identify Hall of Famers if I somehow found my way into a bizzaro world where I was given a vote. Sometime in the next month, I'll post a list of the players I would actually vote for - translating my criteria into cold hard votes - as well as the players I would kick off the ballot and those who I would keep around for further consideration in future years. Then, on January 5 or 6, I'll post my thoughts on who I think will actually get in. Of course, sometime on the January 7, I'll make one more post on the subject, talking about what actually happened.

So, for this point, no names will be mentioned. Instead, I want to discuss where I stand on the big issues of the debate.

Issue #1: Steroids
Buster Olney and Jayson Stark have both delved into this on ESPN in the last few days, and it's been discussed in detail at least since Mark McGwire's fateful testimony on Capitol Hill. I could probably cut this short by just saying that I agree whole-heartedly with Buster Olney (Insider Account required), who points out that there just is no way to know who did what during the so-called "steroid era," and so to convict those, like McGwire, who have been most discussed as steroid abusers while giving a free pass to the guys that got away with it is just plain wrong. I would add to that two further considerations:

(1) It wasn't just hitters who were taking steroids - pitchers were too. While two wrongs don't make a right, the fact that players on both sides of the game were engaging in this activity at least suggests that there was some moderate measure of balancing going on. And with steroid abuse rates as high as 40-50% (or higher, depending on who you ask), you can conclude that there was a whole lot of balancing going on. This doesn't make up for things like increased recovery time, but it does suggest that the cheaters were close to the norm. If the whole game was involved, then everyone essentially was running in place.

(2) Players have been taking things for as long as chemists could come up with them. Are you telling me that none of the previous Hall of Famers cheated in any way that increased their statistics? Certainly, steroids took this to a whole 'nother level, but players have been seeking to increase their competitive edge for the whole history of the game.

Ultimately, the fact that we just can't separate the guilty from the innocent is a big problem for me; maybe it's because I'm being trained as a lawyer. In a situation like this, where there is just not enough evidence either way, I would say that the steroid issue should be ruled out entirely, with one exception: If the evidence against a player ever becomes so overwhelming that it cannot be ignored, then the steroid factor should at least be considered as one of the factors that go into determining whether that player is a hall of famer. However, I would also argue that such evidence is almost impossible to come by. Consider also the problem of choosing how much steroid use is too much - if a player posted Hall of Fame worthy numbers for the first 15 years of his career without using steroids, then used them to stay dominant for 3 years before retiring, what do we do with that?

Ultimately, I think the issue should be avoided. Acknowledge that steroids were a part of the game during this era, and that stats from this era cannot be adequately compared with stats from earlier eras, and call that enough.

Issue #2: Raw Stats or Dominance
This is a very tough question. A player can compile some amazing stats simply through longevity, but is that Hall of Fame worthy? As an example, if a pitcher sticks around for 20 years, has 1 or 2 very good years and 18 ok years, but puts up great raw numbers, does he belong in the Hall? My general answer is no - I don't think the Hall should be composed of players who happened to hit certain milestones. The Hall of Fame should be reserved for players who were truly great. This is subjective, however - and a large number of really good years might make up for no truly dominant seasons. If a player dominates for at least three years, however, and is at least ok or pretty good for the rest of his career, he probably qualifies in my mind. Of course, this needs to be looked at player by player, so consider this just a general set of guidelines that I would apply.

Issue #3: Who to Compare?
Baseball in the 1980's was not the same as baseball in the 1960's. The players considered the best from the 1980's might not (and usually did not) put up the kind of raw numbers that the best players from the 1960's put up. But when trying to decide who belong in the Hall of Fame, I don't think you simply say that nobody from the '80's measured up to the guys already in the Hall, and avoid electing anyone. Players need to be compared against their peers for Hall of Fame purposes, not against Statues.

Issue #4: Reconsideration
I've read articles suggesting that a player either "is" or "is not" a Hall of Famer, and that Hall of Famers should be elected on the first ballot or not at all. I sympathize with this argument, but I disagree. While my personal choices are unlikely to change too much from year to year, there is a possibility that, over time, I could come to realize that a player either is, or is not, worthy of the Hall. Reading remarks from other fans, looking carefully re-examining the evidence, all of these things could potentially result in my changing my mind. I don't think there's anything wrong with a voter deciding that a player finally makes the cut during year number 2 or 7 or 15. This is why I'm supportive of the current system, which allows players to hang on the ballot for up to 15 years so long as they can receive at least 5% of the vote each year.

Issue #5: A Guy's Year
There have been suggestions that Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken, Jr. are special players who deserve to go in together, and without anyone else. This is silly to me. I would never withhold a vote from a player so that someone else could go in alone, or as part of a perfect tandem. If I concluded that a player was worthy of the Hall, I would vote for him.

So, there's a basic overview of the considerations that would go into my Hall of Fame decisions. Sometime in mid-December I'll actually apply these - and it'll be interesting for me to see who I actually think should make the cut.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

This Week

I plan on making several posts over the course of the next week, and thought I'd provide a bit of a road map for what I expect to comment on this week:

1.) At the request of a reader, I'll comment on the contracts that have been signed this winter, and what I think it means for the Twins.

2.) I'll take a look at what the Twins need to do the remainder of the off-season, considering that the free agent market has spiraled far, far out of control.

3.) I'll discuss the moves that have been made so far by other teams, and provide some extremely early analysis of which teams seem to have improved - and which are in trouble. Consider it the earliest of early predictions for 2007.

4.) As promised earlier, I'll take a look at Twins prospects who I think might be vulnerable in the upcoming Rule 5 Draft.

Of course, I'll also comment on anything else Twins-related that develops over the course of the week. Hope everyone enjoyed Thanksgiving - I spent my time reading about Administrative Law in preparation for my first final of the season. Such is the life of a law student . . .

Arbitration Eligibles, Non-Tenders, and More

Some of the important dates and deadlines of the off-season are creeping up on us now that Thanksgiving has passed, and it seems like a good time to go through those dates and discuss what, if anything, may be about to happen with the Twins.

December 1 - Arbitration Offer Deadline
For players who have become free agents, but have not yet signed with a new team, December 1 is the deadline for the player's former team to offer arbitration for the next year. There are several possible reasons for teams to offer arbitration, but things have become a bit simpler under the new CBA. For starters, a team may be interested in bringing the player back, and offering salary arbitration is one way to increase the options - the player may decide that accepting arbitration and sticking around for a year isn't such a bad option. In the past, teams had to offer a former player arbitration in order to continue negotiating with him (or else lose the right to sign the player until May 1 of the next year). That requirement has been eliminated, so that consideration is no longer relevent when deciding whether or not to offer arbitration. The single biggest remaining reason, however, would be to preserve the ability to get draft pick compensation for the player if he should choose to sign elsewhere. With the reduction in draft pick compensation (no compensation is now given for "Type C" free agents), the incentive to offer arbitration has been reduced in a significant number of cases - and this is especially true with the Twins.

The Twins have 4 (and really, just 3, if you believe that Brad Radke's career has ended) free agents. Of the three primary free agents (Shannon Stewart, Phil Nevin, and Rondell White), all are classified as Type C free agents. As a result, there is no reason to offer any of these players arbitration by the December 1 deadline. Even if they wanted to bring one of these guys back (and there are some rumblings about Rondell's imminent return), the elimination of the May 1 date makes offering him arbitration unnecessary.

As a result - expect no offers of arbitration to be offered at the deadline (with the possible exception of Brad Radke, if the Twins decide to take a stab at convincing him to return).

December 4-7 - Winter Meetings
Expect a lot of significant deals to be made during the Winter Meetings - and expect the Twins to possibly be involved in one or two. The rumored Jason Jennings trade may be consummated at the Winter Meetings, and there may be another, less expected, move up Terry Ryan's sleeve as well. He'll undoubtedly listen to offers - the question is whether there will be anything good enough to force him to pull the trigger.

December 7 - Rule 5 Draft
I'm going to talk more about this in a separate post later in which I'll discuss players who could possibly be drafted from the Twins. As for whether the Twins will draft anyone - there's a good chance they will. The odds of that player actually making the opening day roster (and thus staying with the Twins) is very slim, however.

December 7 - Arbitration Acceptance Deadline
This is deadline by which free agents who have been offered arbitration have to accept or decline the offer. Since the Twins are unlikely to make any offers of arbitration, this isn't a significant deadline for Twins fans.

December 12 - Contract Tender Deadline
Arbitration eligible players have to be offered a contract by this date, or they become non-tendered free agents. The Twins have 7 players eligible for arbitration this off-season:

RP - Juan Rincon
C - Joe Mauer
1B - Justin Morneau
3B - Nick Punto
RF - Michael Cuddyer
OF - Lew Ford
OF - Jason Tyner

Of those, the first five are clearly going to be kept around by the Twins. Mauer, Morneau, and Cuddyer are all due for significant raises through arbitration, and the Twins likely will try to sign at least one of them to a long-term deal rather than go through the arbitration process - however, there is no question that they will keep these guys around as long as they can, and money is not going to be a factor leading to a non-tender for any of them.

The more interesting question is what happens with Ford and Tyner. We'll start with Ford, and the signs don't look good. After posting back-to-back seasons of over 500 at-bats in '04-'05, Ford regressed significantly last year, and it showed up in his playing time - he was given just 234 at-bats. His batting average fell to just .226, which means that over the course of his 4 season career, his batting average trendline looks like this: .329 ('03), .299 ('04), .264 ('05), .226 ('06). Every significant offensive stat has suffered a similar fate. In other words, Ford is regressing - and drastically so. He's also now 30 years old - so it's rather unlikely that he's going to get any better. Ford made just $425,000 last year, but even with his poor performance, he's likely to get a raise through arbitration. With young alternatives like Josh Rabe (or even Denard Span) available, the Twins should not offer Ford a contract. He's a popular player, but he's a bad popular player. It's time to cut him loose.

Jason Tyner is a more interesting question. He was signed as a minor-league free agent last off-season, and seems to have finally acquired enough service-time to become arbitration eligible. He probably would cost as much as Ford would, but Tyner at this point is a better, more valuable player for the Twins to keep around. For one thing, he's about 6 months younger - that's not a huge difference, but it's something. More importantly, however, is the fact that Tyner hit .312 for the Twins last season. He doesn't exactly have a serious Major League track record - but I'd be much more willing to give a contract to a guy that seems to be on his way up as opposed to a guy on his way down. The Twins don't need both Ford and Tyner, but having at least one of them around would be a positive. Tyner is clearly the best choice for the Twins in that regard, and they should keep him around.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Finally . . .

About 3-4 months ago, I posted my stadium rankings for the current ballparks. Someone suggested in the comments section that I should post a list of places where I would have liked to see a game, and I said I would. Other things have prevented me from getting to that task - until now. I'm not going to go into much detail, but here are the five ballparks in which I would most have liked to see a game.

#1 - Metropolitan Stadium - Minnesota Twins (1961-1981)
It sure doesn't look like much in the pictures I've seen. But that's really not the point - this is the ballpark that my dad first went to a game in. This is the ballpark that my beloved Twins first played in when they moved to Minnesota. Harmon Killebrew, Rod Carew, Tony Oliva, Jim Kaat - so many great players called this place home. If I could pick one ballpark to visit on a crazy time travelling jaunt, this would be the place.

#2 - Forbes Field - Pittsburgh Pirates (1909-1970)
Forbes Field was located on the ground on which the building I spent the majority of my time as an undergraduate at the University of Pittsburgh is located. The building is Forbes Quad (or Wesley W. Posvar Hall, for the younger set), and you can see home plate on the ground floor (moved slightly so as not to be in a supply closet). The fact that, had I gone to school 30-35 years earlier, I could have rolled out of my bed and walked across the street to see a major league ballgame is kind of cool. The setting is fantastic, with the landscape-dominating Cathedral of Learning providing a backdrop. Plus the place had a hill in left-field before hills were cliche (I'm talking about YOU, Minute Maid!).

#3 - Ebbets Field - Brooklyn Dodgers (1913-1957)
Simply one of the most reminisced about ballparks out there. It has to be on the list.

#4 - Polo Grounds - Several New York Teams (1883-1911)
There were several versions of the Polo Grounds, but all of them were weird. I think at one point, there was a 500-ft. distance to the Center Field wall. The place was built for polo, not baseball. But wouldn't it be fun to watch a game played in such a weirdly shaped monstrosity?

#5 - Tiger Stadium - Detroit Tigers (1912-1999)
Lot of history in this ballpark. Of the now-defunct stadiums that survived into my lifetime, this is the one that most intrigues me, what with the overhanging upper-deck seats in right field, and the ability to actually hit the ball completely out of the park (and forget about Fenway for such purposes - that's just not nearly as much of a challenge). I loved watching games from Tiger Stadium on TV, and I regret that I never got to see the place in person.

Last Post on MVP Stuff - Really

In case you still have a hankering for discussion on the MVP voting, Seth from Seth Speaks has put up his thoughts along with a collection of comments from bloggers (including myself) and journalists. You can check it out here.

My last word will be this - whether you think Justin Morneau deserved to win the MVP award or not, he deserves congratulations for winning the award. This is a little like Mario Williams going #1 in the NFL draft over Reggie Bush - even if it wasn't deserved, it wouldn't be Williams/Morneau's fault that other people placed him in the position he's in. I happen to think that he deserves the honor, but if you don't, you should blame the voters, not Morneau.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

More on Morneau

For yet another take, here's MSNBC's Mike Celizic's take on the MVP award.

Celizic basically admits that he would give the MVP to Jeter this year as a "lifetime achievment award." Again, though, this rings hollow to me. Either Jeter deserves to win the MVP in a given year, or he doesn't - and frankly, what he's done in past years just isn't relevent to the question.

Incidentally, the MVP story is being headlined on MSNBC as "Jeter denied his first MVP Award." Nice.

For a Different View . . .

Keith Law at ESPN comes out and says that "Morneau is an awful choice for MVP." It's actually the name of the post on his blog. So, I don't think there's a lot of wiggle room on his position. Interestingly, I'm the kind of person that Law thinks is a baseball idiot - someone who doesn't understand what's going on with the game. Maybe he's right - or maybe he takes himself a little too seriously. I can't get too mad at Law - he seems to like Joe Mauer an awful lot. But, personally, I think that it's Law who doesn't understand what's going on.

So, here's why I think Law is wrong, looking just at his own comments:

1.) "The reality of baseball is that a great offensive player at an up-the-middle position is substantially more valuable than a slightly better hitter at a corner position."

"The AL's voters couldn't even identify the most valuable Twin, never mind wrapping their mind around the whole league."

Essentially, Law is saying that Joe Mauer was a better choice for MVP than was Morneau, because Mauer is a much, much better catcher than Morneau is a first baseman. This is an interesting point, and matches what I do when I draft a fantasy baseball team - I take a guy like Alfonso Soriano, who had 2B eligibility last year, because he was miles better than the next best 2B out there.

BUT - the award is called the "Most Valuable Player" award, NOT the "Best Player Above Replacement Player" award. When you're looking at the MVP, you don't look at how the catchers in the league play. You don't look at how the second basemen play. You look at how the players on any given TEAM play. Look at the stats these guys put up:

Morneau: .321 BA / 34 HR / 130 RBI / 97 R
Mauer: .347 BA / 13 HR / 84 RBI / 86 R

OK, I love Joe Mauer. He's a great, great, great catcher. He did something no catcher has ever done before. BUT, because he's a catcher, he didn't play every day like Morneau did. And because he didn't play every day, he drove in 46 fewer runs, and scored 11 fewer. While Law is correct that it would be easier to find another Morneau than to find another Mauer, he completely misses the point that THIS YEAR, to THIS TEAM, Morneau was more valuable. So, I guess I don't understand "the first thing about baseball," according to Law. But you know what? I'm in pretty good company with the 15 guys who named Morneau as first on their MVP ballot who do this for a living.

Back to Law: "Even going by the stats that the dinosaur voters have favored for as long as the MVP award has existed, Morneau's season wasn't that impressive." In other words, Law is smart for believing in stats like OBP over things like RBI, while the rest of us are "dinosaurs." More on that in a bit. But first, Law again misses the point. Morneau's season wasn't that impressive? Well - again, this award is not named "Player with the Gaudiest Stats Award," it's the "Most Valuable Player" award. Morneau accounted for a far, far greater percentage of his teams runs than did Mauer, or Derek Jeter, or anybody else in the American League, for that matter, other than David Ortiz. If the award was based sheerly on stats, it would have been Ortiz's, hands down. Strike two for Law's analysis, in my opinion.

But there's more: "It's time for some of these voters to put aside their fantasy baseball mentality - one that assumes RBI measure something important . . . "

OK, hold up. Now, I agree, RBI is not the best stat in the world. But you know what? It does measure something important. It measures whether you are hitting the ball with runners on base. Granted, RBI values are going to vary depending on where you hit in the lineup - but driving runners in is what the game is all about. Law would have us be ruled by on-base percentage - but do we really want to give the MVP award to guys who draw a lot of walks and single a lot? His worldview (RBI is meaningless and OBP rules) is just as arbitrary as my worldview (RBI is important and OBP is useful, but only to a point). The problem here really stems from the fact that baseball is a team game - one that needs guys with high OBP as well as guys who drive in a lot of runs and hit a lot of homers. Yet, the team award is given on the field, and is better known as the World Series trophy. Trying to name a winner of an individual award is going to be arbitrary - and once again, Law misses the point.

His vitriol is out of place, and assumes that he is clearly right. Law misses the point that this is designed to be an interesting discussion - one with no right answer.


Congratulations to Justin Morneau, who edged out Derek Jeter of the hated Yankees for the 2006 AL MVP. The final vote was 320-306, with David Ortiz finishing a distant third with 193 votes.

I think the voters got this one right - I just was not convinced that Derek Jeter had an MVP caliber year, despite pundits (including Jayson Stark) suggesting that this was Jeter's best year. Even if it was Jeter's best year, the guy isn't entitled to the MVP award, and just because he "had his best year" shouldn't make him the MVP.

I'm frankly a little stunned that Morneau won this thing, but he absolutely deserved it. I analyzed the AL MVP race in this post from back in late September, and I feel vindicated for the analysis I put together.

On the downside - how much money is Morneau going to get now that he's the reigning MVP? Perhaps we should avoid arbitration . . .

Monday, November 20, 2006

Pierre v. Hunter

I've been waiting eagerly for Juan Pierre to sign, because I wanted very much to compare the deal that Pierre would get with the option that the Twins picked up on Torii Hunter. The reason was simple - there was some thought out in the Twins universe that picking up Hunter's option was sheer folly, and I viewed Pierre as the ultimate gauge of market for center fielders this off-season. Because I've gone into it in exhaustive detail in the past, I'm not going to discuss Hunter's option individually - I'll just reiterate that I think the Twins made the right decision on that front.

So, the Pierre deal - it looks like the Dodgers have decided to spend $44-45 million on Pierre for a 5 year deal. Because the math is simple, I'm going to figure the deal as being for $45 million total, which means Pierre is getting $9 million a year. In comparison, Hunter is getting $12 million for 2007.

Last season, Pierre hit .292, with 3 HR's and 40 RBI's, while stealing 58 bases and scoring 87 runs. He also had what I feel was a spectacular defensive season, making no errors. In comparison, Hunter hit .278 with 31 HR's and 98 RBI's, while stealing 12 bases and scoring 86 runs.

Now, you need to understand a little bit of my philosophy of player value in order to follow where I'm going with this argument, but the nice thing is my philosophy is pretty simple. Essentially, I view the really important things as being RBI's and Runs. Why? Well, because the name of the game is scoring runs, period - without them you cannot win. Steals help teams, sure - but why do they help? Well, because they put runners in scoring position. Players with high steals totals should score more runs. Same with batting average - a higher BA will lead to more RBI's more Runs scored. Homeruns help in both categories. Of course, some allowance must be made for playing on bad teams, etc. This is where homers and steals and such can be useful - if Juan Pierre stole 58 bases for the Yankees, he'd score a lot more than 87 Runs, for example.

So, looking at these numbers, it's quite clear who the more valuable player is. Torii Hunter "produced" 184 runs for the Twins last year. Pierre produced 127. That's a substantial difference, and I would suggest that $3 million/year is a bargain for that kind of increased production.

Now, onto some more "Twins-centered" arguments. First, I don't think the Twins plan on keeping Hunter around 5 more years. Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Michael Cuddyer, and before you know it Francisco Liriano will all be earning substantial sums of money. As a result, the Twins will need to free up money, and the money being used in 2007 to pay Hunter will be a substantial source of these funds. Had the Twins parted ways with Hunter and gone after Pierre, paying him the same amount the Dodgers just did, they would have been comitting the bulk of that money to Pierre rather than being free to spend it elsewhere. Of course, a replacement center fielder will be needed, and hpefully Denard Span will be able to fill that role. But no matter what happens, the Twins will be able to address that later on.

Also, the Twins don't need a lead-off hitter right now, they need a power-hitter/run producer. Luis Castillo will continue to serve as the leadoff hitter for the Twins next year. Adding another slap hitter to the lineup would do - what? Can you imagine a lineup with Pierre, Castillo, Punto, and Tyner? I can't imagine that three of these guys will (likely) be regulars or semi-regulars in the lineup. Somehow, it works. But - I'm not about to turn yet another precious spot in the lineup to a fourth piranha.

Conclusion? The Pierre signing reinforces my conviction that the Twins did the right thing in picking up Hunter's option. Good alternatives weren't available, and Terry Ryan made a move worthy of the "GM of the Year."

40-Man Roster Set . . . For Now

The Twins had to make the final decisions today on who they were going to add to their 40-man roster. Players not placed on the roster by today are eligible in the Rule 5 Draft (providing that they meet the requirements of having been drafted 4 or 5 years ago, depending on age when signed). The Twins added 4 players to the roster, leaving one space open. The players are:

P - Ricky Barrett
P - Alexander Smit
P - Oswaldo Sosa
OF - Denard Span

There are a number of things that have to be considered by a General Manager who is filling out a roster. For one thing, once added, a player can only be removed by outrighting them from the roster (allowed just one time in a player's career), or by placing them on waivers and hoping they clear. In other words, it's not a decision that should be taken lightly. Additionally, the clock starts ticking as soon as the next 25-man roster is due in, because players who don't make that roster have to be optioned to the minor leagues, and any given player only has 3 option years - so Barrett, Smit, Sosa, and Span can be optioned in 2007, 2008, and 2009 before they have to make the active roster. In other words, there's a tradeoff involved with adding a player to the roster.

I'm not surprised at all by the additions to the roster of Span and Sosa. Span is probably only a year or a bit more away from being asked to contribute at the Major League level - and certainly the Twins are hoping that he establishes himself next year as Torii Hunter's eventual replacement. Sosa is yet another strong pitching prospect, who performed well enough last year to make the Twins think he might be a sleeper pick in the Rule 5 Draft for a team desperate for starters. Barrett and Smit are lefties, so I guess that's explanation enough for their addition.

I'm going to look more closely at the names of guys who didn't get added, and see if there's anybody who I thought was obviously missing from the list. For now, though, I'll just say that these names make a good deal of sense.

Soriano and Denial

"There was, in retrospect, not a thing to do differently." - Stan Kasten, Washington Nationals President.

Really? Back at the trade deadline, I suggested that Kasten and National's GM Jim Bowden's decision not to trade Soriano would be judged based on the ability to sign Soriano to a long-term deal. I was frankly skeptical about Soriano's willingness to stay in Washington, but I wanted to give the Nats the benefit of the doubt on this one. After all, maybe they knew something that I didn't know.

Turns out, not so much. The Nationals best offer for Soriano was apparently 5 years, $70 million. That looks ludicriously small when compared to the 8 year, $136 million deal Soriano just picked up from the Chicago Cubs. While the Cubs deal was off-the-charts crazy (more on that in a bit), the Nats should have been aware that their $70 million offer would get topped by someone, easily, and that Soriano wasn't going to give them any kind of discount. In other words, there really was no way that he was going to stay in Washington for that kind of money.

Now, the Nationals will be getting 2 draft picks as compensation for Soriano. These will include a sandwich pick (between the first and second rounds, and therefore no higher than 31st overall), and also the Cubs second rounder.

Think about this from the standpoint of a team making a trade - would you, would ANY GM in baseball, trade Alfonso Soriano straight up for two draft picks? You don't know who these people are, you don't know how deep the draft will be, you don't know ANYTHING about what you'll be getting in return. As moderately high picks, these guys MIGHT be ready for the Major Leagues in, oh, 2010-2011. Then again, they could just as easily wash out - the success rate for draft picks isn't particularly high. (As an example, look at the second round from 2003 - I recognize 4-5 names on this list, and I follow this stuff pretty closely).

Instead, the Nats should have realized that they weren't going anywhere in 2006, and that Soriano wouldn't be around in 2007. They should have stopped demanding the most lopsided trade in the history of sport (indications at the time were that Soriano was available - if a team wanted to offer 4-5 legitimate prospects or so) and settled for something, anything, better than the 2 draft picks that they'll be receiving. From an economic standpoint, they made a pretty stupid decision here. This is the last time that I'll mock the Nationals, Stan Kasten, and Jim Bowden for this particular course of action. But it's quite clear to me that mistakes were made, and if I were the Nationals ownership group, I would seriously consider finding someone other than Jim Bowden to run my team.

As for the Cubs and their signing of Soriano - it's insane. It's as insane as the Red Sox bid on Daisuke Matsuzaka, although at least they're paying money to actually get the player on their team. Buster Olney at ESPN makes the point that I had been thinking about since I heard about this deal - Soriano is 31. The deal is for 8 years. Soriano is going to make $17 million/year when he is 37 and 38 years old. In-Sane. Maybe things will work out, and Soriano will be like Barry Bonds (no, not in that way) - a player who can keep going into his late 30's with no sign of a let-down. But, based on the history of players with long-term contracts (A-Rod, Manny, Albert Belle), I don't know why anybody would do this anymore. For the Cubs sake, I hope they win the World Series in the next 3 or 4 years, because that would probably make this deal worthwhile for the fans if it turns into an albatross at the end of the contract.

Anyone who doubted that this was going to be a ridiculous off-season, by the way, needs to start eating crow pretty quickly. Have we seen the end to the insanity? I doubt it. But at least the biggest fish has landed, so speculation can ramp on guys like Carlos Lee and Barry Zito.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Jason Jennings on the Horizon?

The Star Tribune is reporting that the Twins and Rockies are discussing a deal that would bring SP Jason Jennings to the Twins, likely in exchange for some young pitching. Let's take a look at the deal for a little bit.

First, Jennings is not a bad pitcher, he just plays one on TV. Last year, he went just 9-15, but he was pitching for the Rockies. His ERA of 3.78 was solid, and he struck out significantly more batters than he walked. But . . . if you look at his three-year averages, his ERA is a significantly higher 4.71 - he posted a 5.02 in 2005, and a 5.51 in 2004. The question for the Twins, then, is whether Jennings as a Twin would be more like the pitcher who was pretty solid last year, or the pitcher who has been a bit erratic over the majority of his career. I'm going to give him the benefit of the doubt here - Jennings is just 28 years old, meaning he's young enough that it's very possible something finally clicked. I still expect that his 3.78 ERA was an outlier, but if the Twins could get an ERA of around 4.00 from him, they'd probably be something close to satisfied. He would cost $5.5 million and be a free agent at the end of 2007.

So, does it make sense to do a deal? Let's start by looking at the alternatives. With Jennings, the Twins rotation would probably look something like this:

1.) Johan Santana
2.) Jason Jennings
3.) Boof Bonser
4.) Carlos Silva
5.) Glen Perkins/Matt Garza

I'm just guessing here, but I think that Perkins would beat out Garza in spring training for the fifth spot, since he's a lefty. And the Twins might decide to use him as the #4 starter to keep the two lefties in the rotation from going on back-to-back days. But, this rotation looks fairly deep, and while Silva would worry me a little bit, I'd be pretty comfortable with the top 3 guys on the list. Now, without Jennings:

1.) Johan Santana
2.) Boof Bonser
3.) Carlos Silva
4.) Glen Perkins
5.) Matt Garza/Scott Baker

Now I get a little more worried. I like everybody on that list, but there are question marks at 3-5, and as good as Bonser was late last year, he's not exactly a proven commodity yet.

The point is that it probably makes sense for the Twins to do something, and adding Jennings for the relatively low price of $5.5 million (especially in this off-season market, which is turning absolutely ridiculous very, very quickly) for just a one-year commitment is probably a good way to go.

But what to give up? The Strib article mentions that the Rockies want young pitching, and throws out the names Bonser, Garza, Perkins, and Baker. Well, some of that is just ridiculous. The Twins won't be parting with Bonser - he's already clearly part of the plan for the rotation, so the Twins wouldn't be shoring up the rotation at all - just exchanging one pitcher for another. I also don't see the Twins dealing Garza - they refused to include him in any packages that would have brought them an impact bat for the playoff run last year, so why would they include him for a starter now? As for Perkins - at one point I thought he might be tradeable - he seemed less on the radar than the other young guns moving through the system, so there seemed to be at least a chance that he would be on his way out. But he was very impressive when he came up late last year, and it seems unlikely now that the Twins would be interested in moving him. As for Baker? If I were the Rockies, I wouldn't take Baker - he's on the verge of losing his status as a prospect, so he's expendable for the Twins, but he also hasn't shown that he's a Major League caliber pitcher just yet. In other words, the Rockies are going to have to settle for one of the Twins younger, less-ready prospect pitchers if this deal is going to be done, and I'm not sure if they'll be willing to do that. Either that, or the Twins will have to suck it up and part with someone (most likely Perkins) that they really don't want to give up.

I'd say there's a 33% chance that this thing gets done. We should find out fairly soon, because the Rockies want to move Jennings and the Twins probably don't want to wait for someone else to grab him.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Congrats to Johan!

Well, it wasn't exactly a suspenseful run to the Cy Young, but the news that Johan Santana won the Cy Young Award is worthy of a big mention anyway. This is of course Johan's second time around the "best-pitcher-in-the-world" circuit, and is fully deserved; he was far and away the best pitcher in baseball this year.

Honorable mention also goes out to Ron Gardenhire, who finished second in the AL Manager of the Year balloting - but really, there was no question who was going to win, and congratulations go out to Jim Leyland and Joe Girardi.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

NL Cy Young

So, Brandon Webb (Ari) emerged from the rubble to win the NL Cy Young. This doesn't surprise me, as I picked Webb (my second-place prediction didn't fare so well - I thought Carlos Zambrano (ChC) would be the next most logical choice, and he finished a very distant fifth). Was Webb's victory deserved?

The top five vote-getters were Webb, Trevor Hoffman (SD), Chris Carptener (StL), Roy Oswalt (Hou), and Zambrano. To me, closers should only win the award when they have absolutely phenomenol years, and no starters blow them away. While none of the starters in this batch had amazing years, Hoffman didn't have the kind of year where I think it's justified for a closer to win.

That leaves four starting pitchers, and their "important" numbers looked like this:

Webb: 16-8 / 3.10 ERA / 178-50 K-BB / 235 innings
Carpenter: 15-8 / 3.09 ERA / 184-43 K-BB / 221.2 innings
Oswalt: 15-8 / 2.98 ERA / 166-38 K-BB / 220.2 innings
Zambrano: 16-7 / 3.41 ERA / 210-115 K-BB / 214 innings

Alright, forget about Zambrano - his is the outlier (to the bad side) on ERA, and while he struck out substantially more batters than anyone else, he also walked a ton more.

Now, I'm pleased that I got it right on Webb - but looking at these numbers again I'm not sure why he won. If I'm going to be consistent, I have to admit that I normally don't think wins are a very valuable stat, and ERA and K-BB are more valuable indicators of a pitchers success. While Webb is not far behind Carpetner and Oswalt in ERA, he is behind. This could be partly because of the stadia that these players call home - some ballparks just give up more hits. But a .12 point difference between Webb and Oswalt seems substantial enough to be viewed as real.

Ultimately, I think this race is a toss-up. I'll stand by Webb because he played for the worst team amongst the three, so he was more important to his team. But, the Cy Young Award is NOT the Pitcher's MVP Award, so that logic doesn't suit me that well either. I guess I'll have to settle for just saying that nobody in the National League really stood out enough to deserve to win, and Webb is at least one of the top 3 available candidates.

Monday, November 13, 2006

$42 million???

UPDATE: Forget about $42 million - the Red Sox bid was actually a staggering $51.1 million. This convinces me more than ever that this bid was not made in good faith, and that Matsuzaka will still be in Japan next year. And if I'm wrong - well - then Theo Epstein and whoever else is running the Red Sox don't deserve to stay employed. Unless, that is, Matsuzaka turns into Cy Young, Part Deux. Here's the original story:

Ok, so I'm sure Daisuke Matsuzaka is a great starting pitcher. His numbers would seem to support that, as he hasn't posted an ERA above 3.00 since 2002, and has ERA's of 2.30 and 2.13 over the past two seasons. He also strikes guys out at a rate of more than 1/inning. So, I fully support his plans to pitch in the United States, where he can face the best baseball players in the world.

However, I seriously question the decision by the Boston Red Sox to place a bid of $42 million just for the right to negotiate with Matsuzaka. He's going to want a contract in that pays him at least $15 million/year, I would assume. That means if the contract is for 3 years, the Red Sox will effectively be paying $30 million/year for Matsuzaka. It's an insane amount of money.

In fact, it's so insane that I don't think Matsuzaka is going to end up in Boston at all. This strikes me very much as a move designed to prevent the Yankees from getting Matsuzaka, and ensuring that he becomes a free agent next year. The way the posting system works, if a contract isn't worked out within 30 days after the bid is accepted, then the team gets their money back, Matsuzaka goes back to Japan for a year, and becomes a free agent next season. I think the Red Sox made a bid so outrageously high so that they would be assured of winning the bidding process, but I don't expect much legitimate action to go on over the next 30 days. They've kept a great pitcher out of the clutches of the Yankees, and will probably bid furiously on him as a free agent next yeaer, when they don't have to post a fortune just for the right to negotiate. I could be wrong, but I'd be stunned if Matsuzaka becomes a Major League player this year.

Rookies of the Year

AL - Justin Verlander (Detroit Tigers) - SP
NL - Hanley Ramirez (Florida Marlins) - SS

My predictions can be found here for this years post-season awards. I didn't do so well on the Gold Gloves, but I did ok here - I went with Jayson Stark and predicted that Verlander would win (what with injuries to Papelbon and Liriano essentially taking them out of consideration), but I thought Ramirez's teammate, Dan Uggla, would win ROY in the NL. I'll take 50% happily.

Congrats to Verlander and Ramirez - hopefully they can avoid the sophomore slump.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Pitching Free Agents

Today is the last day for players to file for free agency, which means that as of tomorrow players can begin signing with new teams. You'll notice that I didn't get up a free agent post on the pitchers available on the market like I did with the other positions, and there is a simple reason for this - I just haven't had the time. So, instead, I'll link you directly to Cot's Baseball Contracts free agent pitchers page, where you can peruse the names. I think we'll see a flurry of activity this coming week, because the market is pretty thin. As a result, teams are going to want to get the players that they've targeted under contract as soon as possible to avoid losing them.

I'll have more to say as players get signed. Until then - enjoy your Sunday!

Saturday, November 11, 2006

AFL Update

Remember how I said I was going to do this yesterday? Well - I didn't get around to it. And I'm cheating this week. The Twins website wrote up a pretty good summary of what's going on with the AFL (I don't remember them being this consistent with reporting on the AFL last year, but maybe I just wasn't paying as much attention as I am now). As a result, I'm just going to point you there for a good AFL update, including discussion of how recent addition Doug Deeds is off to a great start. As a bonus, the article also mentions Twins prospects playing in Venezuela.

Sometime next week (probably Wednesday or Thursday) I'll be posting another update. If the Twins website hasn't beat me to it, then I'll go back to my regular format. If they have, then I'll just provide another link.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006


For anyone who stopped by earlier and noticed political ranting on this blog, my apologies. I write two (well, three I guess but one which I never update) blogs, one of which covers politics and one of which covers the Twins. I didn't pay close attention when I posted earlier, and the result was posting political thoughts on here.

Hopefully it didn't bother anybody, or convince anyone that I was moving the blog to politics rather than baseball. I'll do my best not to do it again.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Michael Restovich

Remember Restovich? He was a 2nd round draft pick of the Twins, and for several years was right up there with Michael Cuddyer on the prospects list. But, prior to the 2005 season, the Twins had to make a decision on Restovich - he was out of options, and would have had to be placed on the 25-man roster to start the season or clear waivers to be sent to the minor leagues. I think the Twins made a mistake with that decision - they kept Corky Miller (remember him?) on the roster as a third catcher instead.

Restovich has had quite the odyssey since the spring of 2005*. First, he was claimed off waivers by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, on March 31, 2005. Then, 6 days later on April 6, 2005, he was claimed off waivers again, this time by the Colorado Rockies. He stayed in Colorado for a whopping 36 days before sent as part of a "conditional deal" (and I have no idea what the condition was) to the Pittsburgh Pirates, where he spent the rest of the year. They released him in November, and he was signed by the Chicago Cubs, with whom he spent last season. Now, there is word that he's signed with the Washington Nationals, and has been added to the 40-man roster because the Nationals are worried he'd be picked up by another team in the Rule 5 Draft.

I hope Restovich figures out how to succeed at the Major League level, and maybe Washington will provide the opportunity - after all, that isn't exactly a great franchise, and they have holes all over. I wish him the best.

* Transaction information by way of Baseball-Reference.com.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Belated AFL Report

Life is getting crazier, and I didn't have a chance to put anything together for the AFL last week. Consider this the "week 3" report, and I'll put up a "week 4" report on Friday.

Kevin Slowey - 7 games (2 starts) / 16 inn / 2.25 ERA / 9-2 K-BB
Errol Simonitsch - 5 games (5 starts) / 15.1 inn / 4.70 ERA / 12-5 K-BB
Jay Sawatski - 10 games (0 starts) / 8.1 inn / 15.12 ERA / 7-5 K-BB
Kevin Cameron - 7 games (0 starts) / 8.2 inn / 5.19 ERA / 10-5 K-BB

Kevin Slowey continues to pitch well, maintaining his low ERA while doubling his number of innings pitched and continuing to strike out significantly more batters than he's walking. Jay Sawatski, meanwhile, continues to look completely overmatched; while 8.1 innings isn't a huge sample size, he's pitched very poorly - at least he still has a positive K-BB ratio. Errol Simonitsch buckled down this week, improving his ERA and K-BB ratio, and Kevin Cameron also made a slight improvement in his ERA.

Position Players
Matt Tolbert (SS) - 14 games / .339 BA / 1 HR / 7 RBI
Matt Moses (SS/3B) - 18 games / .275 BA / 1 HR / 11 RBI
David Winfree (3B) - 13 games / .143 BA / 1 HR / 9 RBI
Doug Deeds (1B) - 4 games / .267 BA / 1 HR / 2 RBI

Doug Deeds was added to the Mesa roster as a replacement player, and so far has made the most of his opportunity by already knocking in his first AFL homerun. Matt Tolbert continues to hit well, and Matt Moses maintained his previous clip. Unfortunately, David Winfree seems to be overmatched, with an atrocious batting average - at least he's driving in runs, though.

Friday, November 03, 2006

The Other Shoe Drops

This is as close to official as it gets - and we now can be virtually certain that Francisco Liriano will be sitting out the 2007 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery this off-season. I don't want to talk a lot about this - frankly it's too depressing. However, I expected it, and have been encouraging fans (and the Twins front office - although I'm pretty sure they have better things to do than read my blog) to prepare for a Liriano-less 2007. That's why I advocated picking up Carlos Silva's option - the Twins are going to have rotation spots aplenty to give out to young guys in the spring, and having a veteran option like Silva will be a positive.

One disquieting thought on the whole Liriano situation - is it possible that the Giants knew Liriano had a potentially serious problem with his arm? One that wasn't a problem (yet) at the time the trade was made but which was likely to cause a problem in the future? If so, it's possible that they discounted Liriano's value and threw him into the Pierzynski trade knowing that they were placing less value on him than the Twins. I'm not saying that it was wrong for them to do that - I'm just putting forth the suggestion that maybe, just maybe, it wasn't as bad a trade on their end as it looked. Of course, even if it were just Bonser and Nathan for Pierzynski, it would still have been a steal - so it doesn't exonerate them of extremely poor decision-making. It just might make things slightly less egregious.

Awards Part 2: NL Gold Gloves

Here are the NL Gold Glove results:

C - Brad Ausmus - Houston Astros (3)
1B - Albert Pujols - St. Louis Cardinals (1)
2B - Orlando Hudson - Arizona Diamondbacks (2)
3B - Scott Rolen - St. Louis Cardinals (7)
SS - Omar Vizquel - San Francisco Giants (11)
OF - Carlos Beltran - New York Mets (1)
OF - Andruw Jones - Atlanta Braves (9)
OF - Mike Cameron - San Diego Padres (3)
P - Greg Maddux - Los Angeles Dodgers (16)

Well, 4 out of 8 is better than 3 out of 8, so I guess I know NL fielders better than AL fielders. Once again I made no pitcher picks. See the original predictions here. A few things - first, how does Juan Pierre, he of the 1.000 fielding percentage (that's a perfect score, for those of you unfamiliar with these things) not win a gold glove? And how can Omar Vizquel still be this good? Ah well - hopefully I'm better on predicting the major awards than I have been so far on the post-season results and with the Gold Gloves. Clearly I'm not a psychic...

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Awards Part 1: AL Gold Gloves

The results are in on the AL Rawling's Gold Glove Awards:

C - Ivan Rodriguez - Detroit Tigers (12)
1B - Mark Teixeira - Texas Rangers (2)
2B - Mark Grudzielanek - Kansas City Royals (1)
3B - Eric Chavez - Oakland Athletics (6)
SS - Derek Jeter - New York Yankees (3)
OF - Torii Hunter - Minnesota Twins (6)
OF - Ichiro Suzuki - Seattle Mariners (6)
OF - Vernon Wells - Toronto Blue Jays (3)
P - Kenny Rogers - Detroit Tigers (5)

So, how'd I do? Not so good, as it turns out. In fact, I got just 3 out of 8 (I didn't select a pitcher). I was right on Rodriguez, Teixiera, and Hunter, but made different picks in the other five categories. For the record, you can go back here to see my original, woefully inaccurate picks.