Taylor's Twins Talk

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

Sunday, July 27, 2008

To Trade or Not to Trade

After today's win over the Indians and Chicago's loss to the Tigers, the Twins sit 2.5 games back in both the Central division and the Wild Card race (although a Yankees win tonight would get them a half game closer). Twins fans have been clambering for a trade throughout most of the month of July, with lots of talk about Adrian Beltre, Xavier Nady, Brian Fuentes, and Garrett Atkins being bandied about in various places. I've stayed relatively quiet, but with the non-waiver trade deadline just a few days away I figured it was time to break my silence.

Up front, I want to say that I'm not really going to identify potential targets or discuss specific names. I just don't think it makes any sense to go into a lot of detail on a specific deal when there's been very little actual discussion about specific names. Instead, I'll talk generally about whether it even makes sense for the Twins to pursue upgrades right now.

The first point that I think everyone needs to keep in mind is that the Twins aren't supposed to be where they are. The Indians and Tigers both suffered extreme collapses from what they were expected to do (although the Tigers seem to be improving). On top of that, the Twins rotation was filled with young starters and the lineup experienced drastic turnover from the year before. At best, the Twins were supposed to finish third -- and there were some pundits predicting that a last place finish wasn't out of the question. Expectations, in other words, were low.

Actual results early on didn't do a lot to change expectations. The Twins got virtually nothing out of most of their off-season acquisitions, with Craig Monroe, Mike Lamb, and Adam Everett all being clear busts. Livan Hernandez had a very solid start to the season, but he has been only marginal since then. Centerfielder Carlos Gomez has gone from goat to hero to goat and back several times. Michael Cuddyer has either been injured or bad all year. Pat Neshek was ineffective before suffering a season-ending injury. Juan Rincon finally self-destructed. Delmon Young became the butt of derision for many fans when he showed a complete lack of power for most of the first half. Francisco Liriano was so bad he got busted back to AAA, and still hasn't re-emerged. Many of the results on the field, then, fit perfectly within the low expectations for this team.

Despite all of this, the Twins are now in position to make a run. Upgrades to the bullpen and third base would clearly be welcome. A legitimate bat off the bench would be a nice find, as well. I fully agree with the legion of fans who have identified these areas of concern and who think improvements can be made. By no means do I think the Twins are perfect.

The question, however, is whether it makes any sense to swing a deal right now. I personally think the answer is no -- this team is not good enough, in my opinion, to do anything even if they make it into the playoffs. The rotation is too young and unproven, and the offense is just not good enough to compete regularly with teams like the Angels and Red Sox. I know that for some people, making it to the playoffs is an end in itself. After all, if you make it to the playoffs, then luck can go your way and bounce you right into the World Series. I don't disagree with that -- obviously, if you don't make it to the playoffs you have no chance, while getting in at least gives you some chance. To what extent do you really want to mortgage the future for what is likely to be an extremely short-lived playoff run, however?

Look at the Pirates/Yankees deal involving Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte, for example. They don't perfectly fit the Twins needs, but they provide a good example of what you have to get up to get good players right now. The Yankees gave up three solid AAA pitchers and promising AA outfielder Jose Tabata to get Nady and Marte. The Twins probably would have had to give up something similar -- so we're looking at something like trading Brian Duensing, Kevin Mulvey, Nick Blackburn and Ben Revere to get a comparable deal in place. That's probably on the high side, because Revere has upped his stock significantly this year and because Blackburn has more big league experience than anyone the Yankees gave up. Still, seeing those four names together should give you pause.

It sounds like the Twins discussed some deals, especially the Adrian Beltre swap. In the end, Bill Smith seems to have determined that the price was too high, and I don't doubt it. Teams recognize how value prospects are, and squeeze every bit that they can out of seemingly desperate teams. Every time I see fans commenting that Bill Smith is an idiot for sitting pat and not making a deal to shore up the team, I wonder whether the realization has set in that many of the prospects he'd be asked to give up are probably more valuable down the road than the acquisitions would be now.

The way I see it, the Twins have already over-performed. They're just 2.5 games behind the White Sox, a team that I think is just as flawed for the Twins. If I were Bill Smith, I'd sit pat unless an offer blew me away, and I'd see if this young team could find a way to get it done. That's not to say I wouldn't make internal improvements -- Francisco Liriano should be on the team in some capacity (my preference, as always, would be for him to replace Livan Hernandez). Denard Span should be in the lineup every day even when Michael Cuddyer returns, even if it means being creative with you use Delmon Young, Carlos Gomez, and Michael Cuddyer. Adam Everett should never, ever be brought back to the Twins. Mike Lamb should be released when Matt Tolbert is ready to come back. I see no reason, however, to give up major prospects to go get somebody's castoff third baseman or a reliever.

I suspect I'm in the minority. Most of you can taste the post-season, and you'll be convinced that if Bill Smith does nothing by the deadline that he made the wrong decision. For me, this just isn't the year to go all in.

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13 Comments:

  • At Sun Jul 27, 03:42:00 PM , Anonymous jim said...

    I think your conclusions are right on almost all counts, with two exceptions:

    1. MAking the ploayoffs is valuable, not so much for the "anything can happen argument," but because as we develop the team to a potential world series run in 2010, getting playoff experience for our young guys is an important part of the process. Simply getting playoff experience is a good thing. Trades that help us get to the playoffs are good, and we may have some extra prospects, but if we jeopardize our future by making the trade then the trade is counterproductive.

    2. The young pitchers are learning from Livan. Gaining that knowledge is more important than this year's record. That doens't mean we should bring Frankie up, just not at the expense of learning from Livan.

     
  • At Sun Jul 27, 05:52:00 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Jim,

    From my position on point 1 I am in a different row. To get a now player that will have a impact on todays games you would need to sacrifice some player for that 2010 wold series run. Why trade away 3 or 4 players for a rent a player for 3 months.

    Playoff experience may be over rated if you look at the past few years on teams that go to the big show. 2007 Rockies, 2005 Astros & White Sox, 2004 Cardinals & Red Sox, 2003 Marlins and 2002 Giants and Angles. So what 3 or 4 prospect need to be sacrificed for 4-7 playoff games. (On a side note: Playoff games make personal salaries rise very fast. Who will need to be sacrificed in 2009 and 2010 for any free agent or arbitration player for a few games in the 2008 play off season?)

    On point number 2: I long have been laughed at saying young kids need a bull elephant. I like and respect that point of view. Anybody that opposes that view is somebody that is under the age of 26. JT's main point is that Livan with a 5+ ERA would have a win loss record of 6 and 10 on any other team and would be gone anyway. With Frankie knocking on the door somebody will need to go. Who will that be? Put name here. If Livan can play this month well and we can get to September call up that will be the best situation. I respect the Bull Elephant theroy however Livan is horrible on the road and guess what, we have more games on the road than in the baggy.

    One question I do have with Livan; did he with his veterans choice skip the Yankees after the all star break? We will never know however the Bull Elephant would take them on regardless.

    Jeff Straub

     
  • At Sun Jul 27, 07:24:00 PM , Anonymous toby said...

    I don't for a second disagree with what you're saying about trading the future for a rental given the team's overperformance. But it also must be said there's been serious emergence on a couple counts that WASN'T counted on by most people, viz. Casilla and Span and (against RH pitching) Buscher. (I was high on Span and Buscher and disappointed they were left in AAA at the start, but that's not the point.) The Twins are legitimately a couple pieces from a very potent lineup and, unless you believe young starters necessarily always and everywhere = playoff collapse, a reasonable shot at a playoff run. I haven't for a second pimped going after rentals. The two guys I'd like to see them going after are Jason Bay and Andy LaRoche. Bay would definitely help immediately with any potential post-season run and is also under contract through next year, and LaRoche is a gamble that may or may not make an impact against left-handers this year but will absolutely solidify the hot corner for years to come regardless (i think he's under arbitration until 2013 or something like that). In other words, I want a maybe now/definitely next year and thereafter type move. We are loaded with young AAA/AA pitching. Mulvey, Duensing, Swarzak, Mulvey: none of these guys have done in the minors what the guys up with the big club (with the arguable exception of blackburn) did in their time on the farm, but they all look promising enough to have value. I'd rather not lose Mulvey as I think he's the best of the bunch, but sometimes you gotta give to get. Livan's value as a learning tool, if you buy that business (and I'm not saying there's not some perception on the part of the 4 starters that he's been valuable to them; I'm just questioning what that's meant in reality vs. a theoretical sans Livan season), is pretty much done. I mean, there may be alot to be learned initially, but with each passing week there's less and less hidden wisdom left in his bag o' learnin (if you even think he has one). I don't call Bill Smith a toolbox for not making a pure-short-term move; I call him a toolbox for not going after LaRoche and for his offseason atrociousness.

     
  • At Sun Jul 27, 07:54:00 PM , Anonymous TT said...

    The Twins are competitive now. They may not be next year. They may not get the same breaks, players may get hurt, any number of things can change to make them less competitive.

    The other thing is that even if the Twins are better next year, the rest of the division may be better as well. The fact that Detroit and Cleveland are having down years does not mean they don't still have the talent to be much better next year. The Twins need to take of the opportunity they have now.

    The real problem with a trade is finding someone who will actually improve the team. Replacing Buscher's bat with a right hander means giving up his .340 average or finding someone who hits like he has. That obviously isn't going to happen, so you may well be making the team weaker.

    They could use a setup guy, but how many reliable middle relievers are there? Now how many are available? I think that list is pretty short if there is anyone on it. And remember, they need to be more reliable than the guys the Twins already have. A lot of teams would be happy with Crain or Guerrier.

     
  • At Sun Jul 27, 08:01:00 PM , Anonymous toby said...

    Buscher ABSOLUTELY still needs to hit against right-handed pitching no matter what they do.

     
  • At Sun Jul 27, 08:02:00 PM , Anonymous toby said...

    And they need to call up Ricky Barrett and end this Bass absurdity.

     
  • At Mon Jul 28, 09:04:00 AM , Anonymous Kyle said...

    What is the best way for young pitchers to prove themselves? Pitch. At some point the Twins are going to have to stop saying they have a young and unproven rotation, which has been the story since, well a long time ago. I think to some degree the phrase “unproven rotation” is propaganda for the fans, protecting the team against high expectations and not putting too much pressure on the rookies. It doesn’t mean anything other than they are an unknown quantity. But at this point in the season, how can we continue to use that same phrase? They all have proven they can win right now but I also know that the playoffs are a different story. If they keep saying they can't win in the playoffs with a young rotation, then they need to put some money down on some of these guys to make them stay as veterans and not just be a farm system for the Yankees and Red Sox.

    There is no reason why anyone cannot have a fantastic rookie year without the proper seasoning in the minors and the right mindset going into the season. Look at Blackburn, he has been mostly good all season long, the only thing I am worried about, is that 1) he is a fluke, since his numbers in the minors don’t add up to what he is doing now 2) he'll get tired or worn down by the end of the season.

    Having a “Veteran rotation” isn’t always the best either, they can get hurt, too old, underperform, not get run support, have bullpens blow games. Baseball is a TEAM sport, it is about the whole team, if anyone isn’t doing their job, then they won’t win, but if at anytime, anyone (including “young, unproven rotations”) can play together, make a run and win it all (see ’97, ’03 Marlins, ’07 Rockies-almost). The best team doesn’t always win (see ’08 Tigers).

     
  • At Mon Jul 28, 09:22:00 AM , Anonymous TT said...

    Bass pitched 19 innings in June and gave up 16 hits and three walks with and a 2.45 ERA. His resuls when he pitching in July aren't far off if you take away one bad outing in Boston when everybody else struggled.

     
  • At Mon Jul 28, 10:03:00 AM , Blogger David said...

    Cuddy is obviously untradeable at this point. What about Kubel highlighting a trade for a decent 3B? Shift Span to left, Delmon to DH. Kubel would bring in a fortune b/c he's so inexpensive right now and is seen to have enormous upside.

    Of course, this is motivated by both a need for a 3B and a need for places for everyone to play. And with that is the uncomfortable Gomez question - to ship him to AAA or keep him around? I personally think he should spend a year in AAA.

     
  • At Mon Jul 28, 11:32:00 AM , Anonymous toby said...

    tt: Bass doesn't strike anybody out and he walks people at an average rate. This means his OBA/OOBP will always be high. His ERA might be a shade unlucky or it might reflect that he's truly a sub-MLB level guy who's gonna give up home runs at a rate around the 22.3%/OFFB he's yielded thus far. I look at it and ask: Can't strike anybody out? Below average IF/FB rate? That shows no dominance and I put my money on the latter. But even if it's the former and he's just occupying the crap end of the HR/FB curve, he's no better than mediocre. With an xFIP (FIP assuming league average HR/FB rate) of 4.45 I don't see what the Twins lose by moving on to the next candidate.

    Kyle: Blackburn's done in the majors pretty much what he did in the minors, which is walk nobody (his OOBP is thus instantly 40-50 points lower than average), tilt groundball enough to keep the home runs down and strike out enough guys to keep his OBA respectable. Also, given the finances of baseball the Twins will always to some extent be a farm system for the Yankees/Red Sox, which is why they should make gambling type moves when the pieces come together as they have this year in order to make a run at the series while also looking to the future (i.e. LaRoche).

    I want to believe (and actually think it's totally understandable) that Smith et al. are waiting to see how the first 3 games of the White Sox series go. If the Twins win all three, they make a dramatic move. If they lose all three, forget it. I can see that point of view, I guess. I *FEAR*, though, they will take losing in the way I've just stated but use winning to justify standing pat.

     
  • At Mon Jul 28, 11:47:00 AM , Blogger Nick N. said...

    The first point that I think everyone needs to keep in mind is that the Twins aren't supposed to be where they are. The Indians and Tigers both suffered extreme collapses from what they were expected to do (although the Tigers seem to be improving).

    This seems rather unfair to the Twins. Any time you maintain a record 10 games above .500, there's a good chance you're going to be in the playoff hunt. To play their competitiveness off as simply a result of other teams failing to meet expectations isn't giving the Twins enough credit.

     
  • At Mon Jul 28, 12:46:00 PM , Blogger JST said...

    Nick -- that's not quite what I meant when I said they shouldn't be where they are. Part of it, yes -- if the Indians and Tigers both had had the type of season that was expected, the Twins would not be 2.5 out right now. Overall, though, what I meant was that the Twins weren't supposed to be good enough to win the number of games that they've won. All I was really getting at is that the Twins have exceeded expectations.

    The reason I think that point is important is that I think the Twins have in many respects played above their heads. I'm the last person to play down the Twins chances, but with the litany of things that have gone wrong (cited in the post), the Twins probably shouldn't be where they are right now.

    That's essentially my way of saying that I'm not particularly comfortable making expensive upgrades for half a season with a team that may revert to less than stellar play. I don't think this Twins team can be competitive with the Red Sox and Angels in the post-season, and I don't think a new third baseman or extra reliever would change that.

    Of course, I'd love it if I were wrong. And none of this is to say that the Twins shouldn't leap at the chance to make themselves better if the price is right. Unfortunately, the price is very rarely right at this time of year.

     
  • At Mon Aug 04, 11:05:00 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Nick,
    I cannot share your view that the Twins do not deserve more credit because the Tigers and Indians blew up ... The Twins have a losing record against the AL East and AL W. The have picked up wins to a weaker AL Central and Week NL W

    Jeff S

     

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