Saturday, December 01, 2007

Vin de Idaho

Kermit: I took the liberty of ordering us some wine. Oh waiter!
Steve Martin: Yes, may I help you?
Kermit: The wine please?
Piggy: Hmmm - you mad impetuous thing, it's Champagne!
Steve Martin: (taking the bottle from a table-side ice bucket) Not exactly - Sparkeling muscatel - one of the finest wines of Idaho!
Kermit: Well, you may serve us now please.
Steve Martin: Oh! May I?
(Steve Martin examines the bottle. You can see the bottle says Vin de Idaho on it, with a block image in the shape of Idaho on the label.)
Piggy: look how he does that!
Kermit: Yup. Very suave.
(Steve Martin reaches to his apron and takes a bottle opener. Then he pops off the bottle cap and holds it over to Kermit.)
Steve Martin: Don't you want to smell the bottlecap?
Kermit: (hesitantly sniffing) Smells good.
Steve Martin: Would you like to taste it first?
Piggy: (to Kermit, trying to help out as Kermit hesitates) I think he's supposed to.
Kermit: Would you taste it for us please?
(Steve Martin reluctantly gives it a taste, and then wildly spits it out to the side in disgust, making nasty faces. Composing himself, he turns back to the pair.)
Steve Martin: Excellent choice.
Kermit: Should be for 95 cents.

I gotta admit, as I reviewed the latest rumors flowing out of New York dailies, I couldn't help but mimic Steve Martin. The Yanks have decided after a series of conference calls to include Philip Hughes?

Oh! May I?

Uh, welcome to the party boys. But the most amusing part of offering the Twins Vin de Idaho is that The Big Apple can't believe that this $0.95 bottle of Hughes, Melky Cabrera and some random minor league pitcher isn't to our liking.

Here's the thing: that still isn't particularly close to Boston's offer of Coco Crisp, Jon Lester, Jed Lowrie and some other low minors pitcher. To be brutally frank, including Ian Kennedy STILL might not get it done.

I know it's against your inbred instincts, but you might want to gaze past the Hudson and ask who you're dealing with. Hint: it ain't the Pirates. The Twins don't need pitching. Check out Baseball Prospectus Top 11 Twins Prospects (I'll assume Hank can spring for the subscription) and you'lll see a team silly with pitchers. And they aren't counting Scott Baker, Boof Bonser, Kevin Slowey, Glen Perkins or Francisco fricking Liriano.

Hughes makes the rotation. But he's gonna need to bump someone out. And Kennedy gets to compete with that guy along with Jeff Manship and Nick Blackburn and Anthony Swarzak, so don't tell me how invaluable Ian is.

Excellent choice.

Listen, we enjoy you Yankees guys, cause your ignorance to the power of the dollar is kinda endearing in a childish way and all, but you gotta understand that you're not dealing with the Royals here. The Twins have made the playoffs four of the last six years and frankly we're looking to knock that smug little oblivious grin offa your mug. And if that means riding the best pitcher of the decade into next year's playoffs (and letting him choose his own team thereafter), so be it.

So don't expect us to go all ga-ga after some overhyped right arm that you guys have cooled on. Show us some bats, boys. Because if (besides Hughes) all you're offering is some middle-level CF (Melky) and some other pitcher that isn't going to rank in the Twins Top 10, well, you might want to save yourself the dime.

Hell, even if includes some guy at High A ball (Austin Jackson), you may want to reevaluate exactly what you think you're so excited about. Because so far you're nowhere near Boston.

And frankly, we're not terribly impressed with your mad, impetuous offer.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Checking out the Sense of It

Hey, if it doesn't need to make sense for them to publish it, then it sure as heck doesn't need to make sense for us to talk about it.

Some local and national sources reported yesterday that the Twins were talking to the Red Sox about a package of players and prospects for Johan Santana. The lists were remarkably consistent, with both of them reporting that Coco Crisp, Jon Lester and Jed Lowrie were included. They differed in the fourth player, though it hardly matters since they seem to basically be the same guy.

From a Twins fan's perspective, they were also consistent in that neither was nearly a good enough offer. Both substituted quantity for quality. Both plugged holes instead of provided championship caliber players, and they didn't even do that great of a job at plugging holes.

Or at least that was my impression at first glance. But it's fun to get acquainted with these guys, and it might be downright valuable in the near future. So let's get started:

Coco Crisp – Two years ago he was a cheap, 26-year-old center fielder with over 1500 major league at-bats with an above average bat. Now he’s a somewhat fragile 28-year-old center fielder with a below average bat and a two-year, $10.5 million contract.

So what will he be over the next two years? Well, he’s always had speed, providing around 20 stolen bases. He has some power, and can probably be penciled in for at least 10 home runs. His batting eye is pretty good, and the key is for him to hit around .300 like he did in 2004-2005 instead of the .260 he hit in 2006-2007.

To me that adds up to be a hole-filler, not a difference-maker. That’s not terribly unappealing when your other options are Denard Span or Jason Pridie. But nobody should be excited about getting Crisp.

Jon Lester – Well, we know he’s a cancer survivor. That’s important, because he’s quite a bit more valuable to the Twins than if he wasn’t. But other than being a young pitcher (he’s 23), I don’t know that much more about him, other than he’s not Clay Buchholz.

Turns out he’s left-handed, which is awfully nice, and he’s struck out 110 batter in his 144.1 innings in the majors so far, but that’s only been good for a 4.68 ERA. He put up some absolutely obscene numbers in AA-Portland a couple of years ago and has spent a little time in two season in the majors despite his bout with non-Hodgkins lymphoma.

He looks like a good young pitcher, possibly as high as a #2 guy. He’s not dissimilar to the cadre of young pitchers the Twins already have.

Jed Lowrie – The hidden player that the Twins are likely quietly lusting for. He’s 23 years old, but he’s also a Stanford alum who exploded through AA-Portland and AAA-Pawtucket last year. He moved from second to shortstop last year, though I haven’t seen any reviews of his defense.

But we know that he can hit. At both levels he hit about .300 and slugged about .500 (though it looks to be mostly doubles). His plate discipline slipped a bit at AAA, but it was still good for a .356 OBP. He only had 160 at-bats at AAA, so he would likely start the year in Rochester and be promoted in mid-June, like the Twins love to do.

Michael Bowden and Justin Masterson – We’ll put these guys together since they’re both pitchers who show promise but haven’t advanced beyond AA. They’re both right-handed, both have high strikeout rates (around 1 per IP) and were both born about the time I was losing my virginity. Hmmm. You know, that's not as depressing a thought as I thought it would be.

So the package includes a not inexpensive plug-in center fielder, a young #2 starter, a middle infielder who could be somewhere between above average and very special in a year, and starting pitcher who will find himself towards the middle of the Twins minor league depth chart.

That's better than I thought, mostly because of Lowrie. But it still means 2008 looks pretty ugly. The offense isn't much different, the pitching is likely worse, and the holes left to fill (particularly third base) can't be easily fixed.

We're beyond the point where where the Twins just need to get talent back. That talent needs to fit together like a big jigsaw puzzle. These rumored deals with the Red Sox doesn't get them there.

BTW, make sure you check out GameDay's Writers' Blog today. We have a special guest. And I don't know if you know it or not, but she's kind of a big deal.

Also, if you think you're getting all the info on the Delmon Young trade or the latest rumors/info about moving Johan, and you're not checking out, I think you're a sad little person. Seriously, I posted the above story last night at 9:00 PM, and I now count twelve posts since then. And it's the middle of the night.

I mean, honestly, you have some certifiable Twins writers out there, some of whom are super-talented like Nick Nelson, and all they ask for is a click or two. What else are you doing exactly?

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Magic 8-Ball Answers: The Tampa Bay Trade

OK, it's happened. And even if it wouldn't have, we could still talk about it. After all, this is the internet! If we're going to be lambasted by corporate media, we might as well have some fun with this stuff, right? And if we're going to be consulting our dubious sources we had better include Mattel's omniscient fortune teller. Enlighten us, oh dark one!

Q: Should I be excited about this trade?
A: Without a doubt.

And that's true whether you're a Twins fan or a Rays fan.

If you're a Twins fan, you came out with the best player in the trade, which isn't likely to happen again this offseason. Delmon Young is the kind of talent that can almost never be traded for - young, cheap and limitless. For instance, Young is more desirable than any player who has been mentioned in a possible deal for Johan Santana. You could make an argument that he is more desirable than any of the packages being offered. He's that good. If you can't get excited about getting Young, you probably also sleep in on Christmas morning.

Which doesn't mean this was a steal for the Twins. In fact, they probably come out a little behind on the deal in talent. On most GM's desirability scale, the players (including contracts, etc.,) probably rank like this:

1. Delmon Young
2. Matt Garza
3. Jason Bartlett
4. Eduardo Morlan
5. Branden Harris
6. Jason Pridie

I suspect I'll catch some grief for Harris' rank, but you need to recognize that prior to his performance this test he was viewed as Nick Punto without the glove. Over the last year, he looked considerably better that that, but so did Punto at this time last year.

What's more, the pieces the Rays receive fit their puzzle better than that Twins. This move give them the top-of-the-rotation starter they need, upgrades their shortstop both offensively and defensively, leverages their surplus of outfielders, and makes room for stud prospect Evan Longoria if Akinori Iwamura replaces Harris at second base. That franchise can sit on their hands for the next four months.

Q: Does this trade mean a trade for Johan Santana is more likely?
A: Cannot predict now.

Yesterday you heard both sides of the argument. One side would say if the Twins trade Garza, they couldn't afford to also trade Santana. Another side would say that the Twins traded Garza because interested teams were mostly offering pitchers.

But the bottom line is that this trade doesn't tie their hands either way. They currently still have a surplus of young pitching. Whether or not they trade Santana depends on what kind of offers they get for Santana, and nothing else.

However, they're sure going to be making some additional moves, because the pieces they received don't fit together too nicely. Delmon Young, despite playing 29 games in center field, is nothing more than insurance for the spot. He doesn't have the speed for the position. Branden Harris, despite playing 89 games at shortstop is thought of as a below average fielder at second base, let alone shortstop.

With this trade, the Twins essentially filled their DH position and opened up on in the infield. They still have plenty of work to do.

Q: Did the Twins blink at the last minute in this trade?
A: Signs point to yes.

Mid-afternoon yesterday this trade included Juan Rincon instead of Eduardo Morlan. But last night reports came out saying that the Rays had held up the deal due to concerns about Rincon's elbow and the deal was finalized shortly thereafter with Morlan in his place. Just yesterday Baseball Prospectus ranked Morlan as the fourth best prospect in the Twins system, and he'll likely play a role in the Rays bullpen in 2008. He could become dominant.

There may be some gnashing of teeth about this late change, and I'll agree that this is a slightly worse trade for the Twins. But it isn't a difference maker.

For starter, Rincon is better than you think. He finished fairly strong last year. Yes, his strikeout rate isn't what it used to be, but that's the case will all pitchers who have been in the league a few years. It's a reliable indicator for young pitchers coming into the majors. It isn't as effective judging veteran pitchers.

Also, even without Morlan, there is plenty of young talent to plug into the bullpen. The young starters that the Twins will have in AAA this year will still provide plenty of fuel for this year's bullpen, even without Morlan. And Rick Anderson and Ron Gardenhire have consistently shown that building a strong bullpen is something they can consistently do.
Finally, the $4 million that Rincon will cost next year isn't going to hurt the Twins offseason plans. The Twins still have $20 million to spend this offseason, and another $13.5 million if they move Santana. For a team that is allergic to long-term deals, that's an enormous amount of money.

Q: What do you think of Bill Smith so far?
A: Outlook good.

The man has some balls, that much is clear.

You never see a trade like this. Trading young talent for young talent is a challenge trade, virtually designed to get a guy fired. If Garza becomes a stud and Young tears up his knee, Smith is dead meat. Ditto if it goes the other way for Tampa Bay's executives.

And this is an aggressive move in other ways. By moving Garza, it's clear that Smith is more open to moving surplus talent at one position than Ryan was. He traded that asset which the organization has traditionally fawned over (starting pitching) and got back something that the organization needed (offense) even though it meant downgrading their defense. On this team, swimming upstream like that looks a lot like leadership.

And maybe more impressive is that we're again seeing a creative solution. By moving Bartlett, it looks like Smith recognizes surplus talent even when it isn't obvious to others. After all, for the last two years, Nick Punto has fielded like a shortstop and hit like a shortstop. Now he likely IS a shortstop, where he's not a liability. With him around, Bartlett became expendable, for the right player.

And Delmon Young looks an awful lot like the right player.

OK, that's it for tonight. I think I could write about 2000 more words tonight on this trade, but the 8-Ball is tired. Instead, I'll suggest that you head over to and check out the Twins Blogs and News feed in the lower left-hand corner. There will be lots of good stuff by people that deserve your attention. And I guarantee you'll get your fill of great info and Twins takes.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Sucking the Joy Out of a Santana Trade

This Santana thing is loads of fun, isn’t it?

The speculation, I mean. After all, that’s what we like to do in the offseason. And that’s especially true for us saberbloggers and rotogeeks, who are only too happy to show off our knowledge of minor leaguers and sleeper candidates. But the real appeal is that it fires up the imagination, both for the fans lusting for that shining star and for the fan base looking for that deal that rebuilds a title shot.

But it’s not likely to stay fun, not if you’re a Twins fan, and especially not for a Twins executive. A very thin and straight line is going to need to be walked due to the impact of the no-trade clause that Santana seemingly has until…when exactly? Most sources indicate that it’s until the end of his current contract, which is the worst possible news for the Twins. That no-trade clause significantly changes their leverage, and likely makes a lot of the speculated player packages out of reach.

The sad truth is that the Twins are in a tough position even if there wasn’t a no-trade clause. With Santana’s impending free agency, there are two ways this trade can go down. It can either be a straight trade, in which case the receiving team only gets Santana for one year. Or it can be a “sign and trade” which means the Twins and another team would make a trade contingent on the other team agreeing to a contract extension with Santana within 72 hours.

For both the Twins and a trading partner a straight trade makes very little sense. Nobody is likely to offer a monstrous rebuilding package for a single year of Santana. In fact, you could argue that Santana is worth more to the Twins next year, a contending team with a young pitching staff, than he is to any other team in the majors. There’s just very little common ground for a deal. That might change as the trade deadline approaches next season. Or it might not.

But from Santana’s standpoint, the sign and trade approach doesn’t make much sense. He is already very rich, and he’s going to get richer. A year from now he’ll be courted and have his choice of teams and incredible paydays. That will all probably happen whether he is traded or not. So from Santana’s standpoint, there is only one reason to sign a new deal – he’ll get his big contract a year earlier.

That’s not a totally trivial incentive for a player, and one might think it’s even more tempting for a pitcher, because they tend to be more fragile than position players. But one doesn’t become a major league ballplayer without being comfortable with risk. Virtually nothing is guaranteed for most of these guys for the first half dozen year of their professional career. Don’t expect them to get cold feet as they approach their big payday. Especially when they already have millions in the bank.

Believe it or not, that’s not the bad news. But we’re getting closer.

Because even if Santana is willing to sign with a specific team a year early, the moment that realization hits, Santana’s allegiances change. If he chooses the team he wishes to sign with, he can just refuse to sign with any other team. The Twins will be in a position of either accepting his choices for a sign and trade deal, or another team’s straight trade deal. It’s an uneven playing field.

And now we get to the bad news.

Because the Twins can’t even do that. They can’t get the minimum return they might receive if they trade Santana to a different team. They can’t send him somewhere at the trade deadline to a team desperate for an ace. Because of the no-trade clause they can’t do any of that without Santana’s approval, and once he settles on the team he wants, there is no point in granting that approval. The Twins will be in an “or-else” position with Santana’s chosen trading partner. And the only incentive the other team has for making the deal early is they’ll have Santana for some portion of next year.

So if you’re a team that wants Santana, what should your strategy be? Put together a list of killer talent to offer the Twins? Hell, no. The winning strategy is to lobby Santana without actually getting charged with MLB’s tampering charges. You can bet that some players from the Red Sox, Dodgers, Mets and Yankees are offering to take Johan on some vacations this winter.

And the Twins strategy? It sounds like they’re doing it:
Open negotiations and as part of those negotiations, get a counter-proposal. They desperately needed to have some idea of what Santana and his agent have in mind for money and what else he might be looking for. Now they need find a couple of teams that can fulfill those wishes and play them off against each other. In theory, if the Twins can find a team that satisfies Santana’s wishes, they at least have a decent chance that a deal will get done.

Keep this on the QT. The larger the media circus that surrounds this, the harder it will be to be to enforce the non-tampering rules, and that is the single most important strategy the Twins have. If Santana, who shouldn’t be talking to anyone, chooses a single team, the battle is lost.

Understand that the Twins have a no-trade clause, too. This is important in two ways. First, they don’t need to trade this guy, which theoretically puts them on even ground with Santana. If they don't make a deal, Santana will need to stay healthy and put up huge numbers for another year. There’s some leverage in that.

But it's equally important when talking to other teams. As they quietly approach potential trading partners, the Twins need to make it VERY clearn that if they even get a whiff that the other team is dealing with Santana directly, they're out. After all, the Twins have incentives to keep Santana too, like a chance at winning in 2008 and the draft picks that will come back as compensation if he walks as a free agent.

This is a tough situation for the Twins. It requires some creativity, persuasion and serious poker skills. And for Twins fans, it’s going to require some patience, trust and probably lower expectations. Because it’s not likely to turn out the way we’ve pictured so far. And if the tightrope act falters, it has the potential to be a full-blown disaster.

So, are you still having fun?