Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Tough Call

We must be made of stone. Because there's just no two ways about it - you need to be tough to be a Twins fan.

Start by withstanding decades of losing. Follow that by gazing stoically at botched stadium and broadcast negotiations. Then trust in mercurial young talent. And then wave goodbye to old friends. And finally, bear the playoff losses, knowing that a return next year is never a given.

Now, as we face a possible end of the Twins competitive cycle, we find a fresh new hell - the gamble. Faced with an impending doom, our team must start rolling the dice for one more shot at glory, picking up players whose only guarantee is that they’ll provide some sleepless nights. Whether we want to face it or not, the Twins entered that phase two years ago, when players like Tony Batista, Rondell White, Sidney Ponson and Ramon Ortiz made their way onto the roster.

Oh, sure, there are always good reasons. He just needs a change of scenery. He's off the sauce. He contributes with his glove. And my favorite: he looked pretty good in Japan.

But the most dangerous reasons, and the most seductive, are usually about health. Extrapolate his statistics for a full year, and he would have 25+ home runs. He's taken longer to recover than we thought from that freak accident, but he could become that star he was supposed to be. Plus, he's adjusting his offseason regimen to keep those hamstrings healthy for the whole year.

You might want to start getting accustomed to those last three examples, because I didn't just make those up. Or rather, I did, but I did it unintentionally, as rumors started swirling about the Twins talking to the Devil Rays about centerfielder Rocco Baldelli. It was a reflex. A seductive, damning reflex.

If he can stay healthy, Baldelli has the potential to be a dream pickup for the Twins. He's just 26 years old. He was once the top prospect in the game. He held his own as a starting centerfielder when he was just 21 years old. He posted a 872 OPS (.302/.339/.533) in 2006.

Oh, and for the Twins, his contract is especially delicious, as he makes just $2.25 million next year, and the Twins have three more years of team options. He could replicate Torii Hunter's offensive production at a fraction of the cost, and would be under contract through 2011. If he can stay healthy, he's perfect.

Of course, if he could stay healthy, he wouldn't be available. He hasn't been remotely close to healthy for three years running. First, he tore up his ACL in a backyard ballgame in October of 2004. When that healed, he developed elbow problems that led to Tommy John surgery. (So much for 2005.) His elbow was basically healed and he was throwing during spring training before the 2006 season.

That's when the hamstring injuries started. They limited him to 374 at-bats in 2006, but he put up Hunteresque numbers as a 24-year-old. During the offseason, he proclaimed that those injuries were likely behind him. They weren't. In fact, last year he was out most of the year, getting just 137 at-bats, and hitting just .205.

So, in true tough guy fashion, you really need to ask yourself - are you feeling lucky, punk? Because the team that is giving him up is the freaking Devil Rays. If ever there was a franchise that was able to accept risk, this is that franchise. This is the team that carried Elijah Dukes into the season - and he was a legitimate threat to kill a random bystander at some point during the season. The D-Rays eat risk for breakfast.

But Rocco Baldelli and his amazing hamstrung hamstrings? Apparently that's just crazy.

And it's not like the Twins can point to a lot of recent success in this area. Rondell White leaps immediately to mind. Jason Kubel has taken a year longer to recover than anyone thought. And the Metrodome's concrete underbelly has taken its toll on Cristian Guzman's back, Joe Mauer's knees and Jason Bartlett's neck. Hell, our manager went in for surgery last year. When the coaching staff needs to play through pain, it’s not a good sign.

On the other hand, the clich├ęd secret is to buy low and sell high. Baldelli's stock may well sink lower. It can always sink lower. But it’s pretty damn low. At this time last year, trade rumors surrounding him included names like Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who was the primary chip that landed Mark Teixeira at the trade deadline. The Devil Rays apparently wanted more than that. Now? The Twins are likely dangling a young pitcher that isn't Matt Garza or Francisco Liriano.

Which brings us to another factor that makes this deal so seductive - it precludes almost nothing. If the Twins made this trade, they would still have plenty of money to spend. They'd still have plenty of pitching to deal. They could still re-sign Hunter and play Baldelli at DH (where he presumably could stay healthier). And they would have insurance if Hunter left. And that insurance would be very young, very cheap, and provide plenty of payroll flexibility.

But it's a huge gamble, and precisely the sort of move over which bloggers and the local media have feasted (see Ortiz, Ramon and Ponson, Sidney). That isn't likely to stop if Baldelli ends up on the DL for a month, which means Bill Lee is going to need to be every bit as tough as his fans.

But the Twins are at a point where gambling makes sense, whether we want to admit it or not. And if you're looking to gamble on toughness, who better than a guy named Rocco?


SoCaltTwinsfan said...

This would be way better than Ortiz or Ponson because they were gambling on bad pitchers becoming mediocre. At least with Baldelli, you could actually hit a jackpot.

Anonymous said...

I was going to say the same thing. You cannot compare Baldelli to guys like Batista. It really isn't a comparrison. Baldelli has a ceiling that the others never had. This is the type of gamble Ryan should have been making 2 years ago. If he can be had for a mediocre or lower level pitching prospect, we ought to pull the trigger.

John said...

I think you can make a comparioson. The odds of Baldelli staying healthy and productive for one year are almost exactly the odds of Rick Anderson making a productive pitcher out of Silva/Ponson/Ortiz. Which is to say it's roughly one in three. Actually, that might be being kind to Baldelli.

John said...

So what do we define as a mediocre pitching prospect? Kevin Slowey? Scott Baker? Boof Bonser?

I'd trade Bonser and Rincon (you'll recall the DRays had some interest in him at the trade deadline) for Baldelli.

Nick N. said...

I'd trade Bonser and Rincon (you'll recall the DRays had some interest in him at the trade deadline) for Baldelli.

I think that's a deal that would make sense. Both teams would be buying low on guys that are relatively young and have the potential to be star players if they get past certain issues.

I wouldn't give up a Slowey/Garza/Perkins for Baldelli, but I'd listen on some of the second-tier prospects.

J. Lichty said...

I think the comparison here is Rondell WHite. White had pretty good numbers and pretty bad injury history coming into his first season with the Twins.

That did not turn out so well. I am fine with Baldelli as an option so long as there is a plan B and obtaining him does not cost too much.

Anonymous said...

Start by withstanding decades of losing.

Lets see look at those decades:

1960's - AL pennant
1970's - division championship
1980's - world series winner
1990's - world series winner
2000's - division champions x 4

I think mostly Twins fans suffer from an inferiority complex.

Anonymous said...

Isn't Baldelli already a "plan B" for if they can't sign Hunter? He can certainly play one of the corners and DH some if Torii is resigned. He has the potential to be the additional right-handed bat they need.

But I don't think you can expect them to have a second B-plan in place if he gets hurt. Plan C in center is going to be Tyner, McDonald, Span etc. I think what a lot of people really want is two plan-A's.

walter hanson said...

A couple of points that seemed to be overlooked:

You have Michael Cuddeyer a credible right handed bat, You have Jason Bartlet a good right handed hitting short stop with little power.

On the other side of the plate your best average hitter is Joe Mauer lefty, two of your most credible power hitters on a team of little power are left (Kuebel and Justin), the best prospects Jones and the third baseman are left,

A good right handed bat is needed!

* On days when a lefty was thrown we sometimes had Redmond being the DH. I like Mike. I think he might get a clutch hit, but a DH should be power and run production. Just having Baldei in will be an improvement.

* I like that comment Baldei is plan B. This team might sign Hunter and bend down to the price. One idea if the Twins read this website give Hunter more money per year, but max it out at three years. That will give Hunter thoughts that if stays productive he might get a couple of good extra years at the end of the contract.

* Part of the problem is we dream that the Twins will bring in some big time free agents to make the team instantly better. I remember this year when one of the top free agent pitchers was signed and one of the top free agent hitters was signed by the Twins (Morris and Davis) Back than their signings were big. The biggest signings since then have been a couple of functional DH hitters with local ties. Build up good will with the fans will be met by that criteria.

* Wildcard question is what will the Twins do with Hunter's salary if they let him go. It's twelve million. We have some savings if Silvia goes and we count on the Liranio comeback (hey that's the gamble I want to work!) There's the money to bring in a high price free agent or resign Hunter.

* Okay this sounds like the same story, but some of these cheap injury plague free agents work out for at least one year. Aren't we due to have a hit?

* And Twins Geek I heard there is a free agent that you're highly interested (at least you were at one time in the past) Koskie. When I argued the injury situation with him you kept ignoring that part of my arguement. Are you selective on what injured plague players to worry about?

Walter Hanson
Minneapolis, MN

Anonymous said...

I think its important to remember neither Davis nor Morris were that highly sought after. Morris was 36 coming off two bad years. Davis bumped his HR output from 12 to 29 for the Twins before dropping back the next year. These guys were gambles that worked. They had both had very good years for the Twins. Better than they ever did again.

I think that shows what it really takes to win a World Series. You need good players who play at the top of their game. You can't predict that, but the more good players you have the more likely you are to have some that turn it up a notch. That makes Baldelli a good gamble if he comes cheap enough.

I think Koskie is a good gamble if the Twins are going to hold tryouts at third base. If he can still play he is another player capable of putting up a good year. But he is not the guy who is "the answer" going into spring training. They need a second "plan A" competing with him.

Kyle Eliason said...

I think you can make a comparioson. The odds of Baldelli staying healthy and productive for one year are almost exactly the odds of Rick Anderson making a productive pitcher out of Silva/Ponson/Ortiz.

I call foul on this. I was completely wrong on Silva, but Ortiz wasn't a gamble. It was just plain stupid. Stupid from the moment the Twins began talking to him in the offseason. The guy gave up more than 30 bombs in less than 200 innings pitching his home games at RFK the year before coming to Minnesota. He was going to be 34. He had the flattest fastball in the game.

Is shooting myself in the foot with an eight gauge slug a "gamble" that might make me run faster?

The Twins counting on anything other than plus-five ERA pitching from Ortiz was the same kind of "gamble" I like to offer to a friend of mine named Polowski, when I wager him $20 that he's still a Polock.

Anonymous said...

I was completely wrong on Silva, but Ortiz wasn't a gamble. It was just plain stupid.

Ortiz was available because he struggled, but he also pitched 190 innings. And, in fact, he pitched pretty well in April before falling apart. If he had pitched as well as he did for the Nats, he wouldn't have lost his spot in the rotation.

Has it occurred to you that you were just plain stupid when it came to Silva? His success was not much of a surprise.

Kyle Eliason said...

Ortiz was coming off four years in which his posted a plus-five ERA three times. The exception was 2004 when the majority of his appearances came in relief.

That Ortiz was given 190.2 innings in 2006 is a shameful indictment of the worst rotation in baseball that season. It wasn't an acomplishment. The 2007 Twins didn't subject themselves to half that much self-inflicted pain.

You don't see a great number of 34 year-old pitchers break out coming off four bad seasons.

Kudos to Rick Anderson for his work with Silva. I'll admit that overlooking a pitcher's track record was foolish and short sighted, even if you won't.

Since Silva's success was no surprise, I take it you're on record somewhere stating something along those lines prior to the season starting? When a sinkerballer serves up 38 dingers and has his hitrate increase significantly, I wouldn't grant success the next season as a given.

KEN said...

"decades of losing"? Really? Which decades? The 80's and 90's? Okay, but they won two World Series in there. Are you just adding up the losing seasons since they arrived in 1961 to get "decades"? Honestly, I think it's been a pretty successful franchise since its arrival. Heck, compare it to any other Minnesota team except Gophers hockey and it comes out looking like the Yankees.