Monday, May 22, 2006

Trading Up

by Twins Geek

The following is from the Dugout Splinters in GameDay for the current series against Cleveland.

They were officially roster moves, but they might be better evaluated as trades. Try it. Imagine the Twins trading Carlos Silva for a young left-handed fireballer who nearly everyone agreed could be the next Johan Santana. Or that the Twins had traded Kyle Lohse for a 24-year-old right-hander who was dominating AAA in both ERA and strikeouts. Both would be both be viewed as phenomenal trades, to the point of being unrealistic, because no major league GM would likely touch the other half of those deals.

It’s probably a good idea to lower expectations a little, especially for Boof Bonser. It was a great first start, but Bonser is not the prospect that Liriano is. In some ways, Bonser is a star that has fallen and is rising again. He was highly prized in the Giants farm system, and was a top 50 prospect as a 20-year-old. In fact, he first reached AAA as a 21-year-old in 2003. It took him three years to graduate to the majors, though in most organizations last year’s performance (including leading the AAA International League in strikeouts) would have earned him a ticket to the majors earlier. His ceiling is the pitcher we hoped Lohse could become – a solid #3 starter who has a couple years where he performs at a higher level.

Francisco Liriano is totally different. He was available because he had been hurt a lot during his career with the Giants. In fact, from 2001 through 2003, he pitched a total of 159 innings for the Giants. Right now, that’s the only thing that looks like it can stop him from stardom. His first year with the Twins, he raced through High A ball and into AA ball. His second year, he sped from AA through AAA to the majors. And this year he overcame expectations that he would start the year in AAA, dominated in the bullpen, and is now replacing the Twins #3 starter in the rotation. And throughout that professional career, he’s struck out more than a batter per inning. Every time. This guy can be a monster.

If Liriano, Bonser and Scott Baker pan out, the Twins are going to face a new challenge – they might need to learn how to spend money on hitters. Even during their recent run of division championships, the first priority for payroll was starting pitching. Whether it has been agreeing to long term, big dollar contracts with Brad Radke, Eric Milton and Joe Mays or taking on ludicrous big money contracts like that of Rick Reed, Terry Ryan has never shied away from earmarking up to 50% of his payroll for five starting pitchers.

Having all that money available to spend on hitting may not be great news. For all of Ryan’s strengths, he hasn’t had much success in identifying high value offensive players. The Twins have given into the temptation to sign their own mediocrities like Cristian Guzman, Doug Mientkiewicz, and Jacque Jones to multi-year contracts. They’ve never been rumored to be chasing any of the real impact players that might be available in an offseason. Their chosen free agents, whether it has been Juan Castro, Tony Batista or Rondell White, just haven’t produced.

The money will come in handy for paying some of the Twins better young players. Joe Mauer starts getting legitimately expensive next year, in his first year of arbitration. Michael Cuddyer’s production will cost the Twins a couple million dollars extra next year, and if things break right for Justin Morneau, he’ll get a few million dollars raise.

That’s a nice core, especially if Jason Kubel starts to show he belongs this week. It would also be nice if they could shake their man-crush over Castro and give Jason Bartlett a chance to claim shortstop through the end of the decade. But for the Twins to challenge for a division title again, they’re going to have to fill holes like they attempted to do this offseason, only they’re going to need to do a better job. That’s going to require a different financial philosophy and a different mindset than they displayed in the first half of this decade. That’s a trade they might struggle to make.


Nick M. said...

I think the idea of considering those "trades" differently is great. I mean, the value you get from just getting Lohse or Silva out of the rotation is high as it is. ERAs of 8.80 and 8.92 aren't hard to out do. But being able to see what Liriano and Bonser, and for that matter, Baker is important. We need to look at the future at this point and see what we can get. That means not sending Kubel back to AAA again (waste of time) and finally calling up Bartlett. Six errors and a .225 average isn't being a "productive" shortstop.

Moss said...

Have you considered going by John "Boof" Bonnes??

SBG said...

I would have preferred an actual trade of Lohse in the off season when he had at least some trade value instead of paying him $4 million to pitch for Rochester.