Friday, July 27, 2007

Depressing Early Quote on the 2B Market

A couple of buyer-seller trade deadline deals happened earlier today, and they're significant to Twins fans who think that 'selling' at the trade deadline is going to bring some significant returns. They don't demonstrat much of a market for Luis Castillo.

The first deal sent Tadahto Iguchi to the Philadelphia Phillies for Michael Dubee. The Phillies were one of three teams looking for second basemen at the deadline, with the Mets and the Padres being the other two. Unfortunately for the Twins, there are also plenty of players available:
Castillo is listed there in the middle of the bunch. In actuality, I think he's considered more valuable than Iguchi, and at about the same level as Grudzielanek and Loretta. But he certainly isn't head and shoulders above that crowd.

So what did the White Sox get in return? Dubee is a 21-year-old anA ball minor league reliever. His stats look fine, but that still makes him just an A ball minor league reliever. Kinda like Eduardo Morlan in Fort Myers. Oh, you don't know Morlan? My point exactly. (Actually, it looks like Morlan is significantly better than Dubee.)

The other trade was Kenny Lofton to the Indians from the Texas Rangers. Lofton is definitely having a better year (.303/.380/.438) than any of the guys up there, and he plays center field, a tougher position. The Indians gave up Max Ramirez, a 22-year-old catcher who is slugging the heck out of the ball - wait for it - in A ball. I don't mean to knock Ramirez, who looks like he could be pretty good - wait for it, wait for it again - in 2010.

For Twins fans who think that dumping some of the smaller name players like Silva or Castillo are going to lead to immediate returns next year, this isn't good news. The Twins might - might - be able to turn these guys into some players who can be organizational assets, but immediate help doesn't seem to be the going rate.

Buyer Beware

It’s tempting to turn this site into OTRMC (Obsessive Trade Rumor Mongering Central) this weekend, but the longer I’ve been studying this stuff, the less convinced I am of anything I read. We count on the beat writers and corporate media to use their access to bring us some hints, but I wonder if 99% of their rumors are any more credible than a bunch of sports radio callers suggesting outlandish trade ideas.

For instance, how much have we heard about Tampa Bay corner infielder Ty Wiggington? He’s ‘rumored’ to be going to the Twins or Yankees, but the more I look at the initial reports, the less convinced I am that he’s even on the market. Locally, his name is mentioned because of conversations with members of the team. Like who? Does this mean La Velle E Neal heard Torii Hunter mention his name? And is that based mostly on last year’s Wigginton rumors which, oh yeah, didn’t amount to anything?

He’s also been mentioned several times in the New York papers, usually linked to a trade involving reliever Scott Proctor. But the only time I see him mentioned as a trade candidate in the Tampa Bay papers is when they’re quoting the New York or the Minneapolis papers. Where exactly is this coming from?

And I’ll give an example the other way. Did you know that the Twins were talking trade for Philadelphia Phillies slugging outfielder Pat Burrel? No? Didn’t hear anything about that? Well, they did in Philly. They were going to get Kevin Slowey. But (surprise!) it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen.

Here’s a few tidbits that you might find interesting about Burrel. First, his career batting average is .258. Second, he’s never had a season where he’s struck out less than 130 times (and he only played in 127 games that year). Third, he’s under contract for $12 million next year. Lastly, he has a full no-trade clause, which means that he could use it to negotiate an extension beyond that.

Oh yeah. He looks like exactly the kind of guy Terry Ryan would target.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

A busy "off day" for the Twins (hopefully)...

I’m not sure exactly where the rush to judgment comes from, other than it’s kind of fun. There is no evidence that MLB teams need a lot of time to arrange trades. So I stand by my assertion that Terry Ryan and the Twins have three more days to make up their mind.

But on Sunday afternoon, the Twins will know, and they’re going to want to know what chits they want to cash in. One of those chits is Torii Hunter, and there IS plenty of evidence that negotiations on contracts take a long time. If Hunter is expecting yen like the Mariners threw at Ichiro, or six guaranteed years, or something else that crosses the line from aggressive to irresponsible, the Twins should be shopping him heavily.

I wouldn’t be shocked if the we hear of a Hunter extension within the next few days, or of a Hunter trade. For the first time this season, there is suddenly a need from the Twins side for a hard deadline to these contract negotiations.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007


"These things have a way of working themselves out."

That's pretty close to a mantra for the Twins. It's a quote you're likely to hear several times per season, whether they're talking about the next roster move, the Opening Day lineup, or the next minor league promotion.

And now you can add the decision on which way to proceed at the trade deadline. The Twins have three games left to prove to Terry Ryan that there is any hope for 2007, all against wild-card leading Cleveland. By Sunday afternoon, this thing will work itself out and we'll all know the answer, I suspect. That leaves approximately 48 hours to buy or sell, and it looks like the Twins, or at least the rest of the league, are preparing for both possibilities.

I'll be happy to jump into the fray on Monday, and I'll be hard-pressed not to write more about it sooner, but tonight feels like a night to recharge. So I'm off to the front stoop, where I'm hoping to split of bottle of white wine with The Voice Of Reason™. We'll talk about the weekend, an upcoming vacation, our kids, our lives - anything really so long as it isn't an 11-run 6th inning.

And if you want to talk Twins, well, that's what is for. I count something like 20 posts yesterday from various bloggers that you can find on the Twins Blog Guide. We'll see you tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Silva's Worth

It's a sickness that afflicts Minnesotan sports fans, and the best recent example was the week before the NBA draft. We just can't wait to rebuild. Whether it's the NFL draft, or trading KG, or throwing in the towel before the trade deadline, fans here can easily embrace the idea of giving up on the current year and looking towards next year, no matter how many times we seem to do it.

I resist this temptation as best I can. It's important to note that even with yet another loss to the Blue Jays, the Twins are still just seven games back of the Indians, and they have 13 games to play against them. There's still plenty of opportunity for the Twins to make a run.

But I also just can't embrace giving away a prospect for a rent-a-player right now. The looming series with the Indians will be the turning point, and there are four games prior to that which will also help determine this team's fate. In the meantime, we might want to start preparing for the other option, where the Twins deal some of their impending free agents to acquire some young, cheap offense.

This deadline, you keep hearing that teams are looking for pitching, but quality starting pitching is in short supply. The best available starter right now looks to be John Garland of the White Sox, who is no big prize. In fact, I wonder how he compares to Carlos Silva this year...

A lot of those numbers are mighty close, but I think most people would favor Garland. Certainly you would based on both players stats last year. And the year before that Garland had a great postseason run, though you could argue that Silva had just as good a year.

However, if there's one thing we've learned around here, it's that teams don't just trade players, they also trade contracts. The team trading for Garland will be plugging him into the rotation again next year, to the tune of $12 million. Silva, on the other hand, will be cut loose, facing free agency.

There are probably some teams that would rather have Garland for the race, but would rather trade for Silva for his contract flexibility. Silva might be an especially good fit for the Philadelphia Phillies, except for one thing - they traded him to the Twins in the first place. A team such as the Mariners might also make sense.

It would seem doubtful that the Twins would get a top flight offensive prospect (the Mariners have several) in return. But if Silva looks to be one of the best available arms and if a couple of National League clubs, a bidding war could produce some interesting results. And there might be some clubs a little more interested in today's start than there was a week ago.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Vanity of the Ks

The roof had been closed. It was a hot and humid day. He threw 116 pitches in his last start. And the Jays have a lot of power. There were lots of reasons being thrown around last night for the four home runs that Johan Santana gave up in Toronto's Sky Dome. But there's one we shouldn't ignore: Santana is giving up a lot of home runs this year.

They've been a problem all year. They're up over 50% from his career rate before the season started, and his career rate was only slightly better than average. We're used to seeing Johan's name atop leader boards, but now we find it in third place in home runs against. Second place winner Jamie Shields gave up 10 earned runs on Sunday to be the active leader. First place winner Ervin Santana was awarded a trip to AAA.

It's not necessarily evidence that Santana is somehow slipping - his ERA is still just 2.82. It's not necessarily evidence of anything, but....

Remember how a month ago, Santana threw his first shutout this year? There were lots of strange things about that game. First, there was the fact that he was challenged to do so by a Hall-of-Fame caliber pitcher earlier in the day. Then there was the fact that there was only one strikeout. And I couldn't help but wonder if Santana had changed his approach for that game, like he decided to "pitch to contact".

Could it be that Santana's pursuit of strikeouts is hurting him? And the Twins?

Tonight feels like another data point. The Twins entered the night desperate for a long outing. (Desperate enough to trust a two-run deficit to long reliever Ramon Ortiz, because he wanted to rest more effective pitchers.) They needed a win and they needed innings.

From the first inning, the general agreement is that Santana was struggling with his location. So why continue to challenge the hitters over the plate? Well, he still racked up four Ks in five innings. And gave up four home runs. And lost the game. Oh, and burned a few more innings in the bullpen.

And then there are all these home runs. At exactly the time when he's clearly chasing another pitcher (Baltimore's Eric Bedard) for the strikeout title for the first time in several years. Meanwhile, the Twins face a shortened bullpen, and could consistently use someone to go eight innings at a time, instead of six or seven. But Santana's starts are averaging slightly less than in previous years.

We pay a lot of attention to strikeouts, but we do so because it is an indicator of dominance, not because strikeouts themselves are that impactful. Occasionally a pitcher needs to strike someone out to get out of a jam, but for the most part strikeouts are vanity. Or as Crash Davis would say "fascist".

But they're also valuable financially. They're always referenced in the Cy Young race and a pretty good case can be made that Santana's Cy Young awards would've gone to someone else if he had fewer strikeouts. And besides the value that has for a future contract, a top three finish for Santana automatically kicks in a no-trade clause, which can be handy from a negotiating standpoint.

It's strange to think that fewer strikeouts might lead to better pitching, or a more valuable pitcher. But baseball is a strange game. And if we're going to be exploring the effect of a closed roof or humid air, it may not be so outlandish to look at the pitcher's approach. And the vanity of the Ks.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

The Countdown Begins...10...9...

Sunday morning has become a sports talk junkie's second biggest dream. It's one of the few times that you can tune into three different radio stations and here sports talk. And I'm not talking about the national feeds from ESPN or Fox or whomever. I'm talking about three local station, mostly hosted by local print reporters, talking about Minnesota sports.

(I've said it before and I'll say it again - by any empirical analysis, the Twin Cities is one hell of a wonderful sports town. Sportswriters write about the Twins attendance not being up to par, or how the Gophers can't draw. But try finding another city with this size population that supports four major league teams. Go ahead - I'll even get you started with a list. And that doesn't count Gophers football, basketball and hockey. That's seven season ticket bases located in the 16th largest metropoltan area. That Minnesota somehow doesn't support its sports teams is the single biggest myth perpetuated by Twin Cities sportswriters.)

Anyway, on the one I happened to be listening to (thank gawd for Saturday night Catholic mass) one of the more curmudgeonly ones asked if it was time to quit talking about who the Twins should acquire and just sit back and start watching some baseball. And fortunately his co-host gave the only logical (paraphrased) reponse: "No, but we're almost there. It's called August 1st."

It's certainly a valid point that we've driven trade talk into the ground. And it's even more valid that we've jumped the gun talking it. Most trade deadline deals happen at the trade deadline. To do anything else requires a "buyer" paying through the nose. It's Negotiating 101 - the buyer always has time as leverage. On the 31st, there are going to be host of losing teams with role players looking to salvage something for the future.

Which is why the criticism that Terry Ryan has waited too long is so ludicrous. It takes two people to make a deal. And while every day we wait means another game starting someone like Darnell McDonald in right field or at designated hitter, it also means a better deal for the Twins, and maybe more certainty that a deal will be made.

It will likely not be a big name. The big names, like Mark Teixera or Adam Dunn, come with big price tags - and I'm not just talking about their hyper-expensive conracts. But there is a level just below that of players who aren't superstars but still can provide Ryan's description of "quality at-bats".

Up to this point, it's been assumed that the bat the Twins were looking for is right-handed, though the return of Rondell White might change that. There are at least three decent right-handed bats that are eminently available - Mike Piazza, Dmitri Young, and Reggie Sanders. The question is whether or not there are three teams that would bid against the Twins to acquire that player.

If they are, I don't see them. Either they need pitching or they need a better player than this type of role player. For the first time in several years, the Twins find themselves in a sweet spot for acquiring a significant piece at the trade deadline.

It likely won't happen until the 31st, but the sports talk junkies are going to be treated to their biggest dream.