Thursday, October 02, 2008

First Draft - The 2009 Offseason

It's hard to compare the "challenges" the Yankees face to the challenges the Twins face most offseasons, but this offseason is the exception. The Yankees don't need to worry about fielding a competetive core of ballplayers - they can buy that simply enough. Instead, they need to worry about finding the right pieces to build an exceptional ball club, one that will meet or exceed the loftiest expectations.

Suddenly the Cute Little Franchise That Could is facing that same challenge. They don't need to worry about fielding a competetive core of ballplayers - their farm system produced a bumper crop of talent last year. Instead, they need to worry about pulling the right levers to propel that team into the postseason, and hopefully beyond.

And this offseason, the Twins have something else in common with the Yankees - they have a bunch of money. With up to $35 million worth of payroll room and just two lineup positions to fill, the Twins could actually be players for the best free agent at both positions. And still have $10 million to spend on washed up veterans that they can release mid-year. (1)

Of course, the Twins had the same payroll room last year, and their biggest offseason acquisition was Mike Lamb. (2) This is where they differ from the Yankees. They might have the money to spend this year, but top free agents also tend to have the longest guaranteed contracts, and the Twins aren't willing to commit to the length of contracts for these players. When you're only willing to offer one or two year deals, you tend to wind up with lots of fairly replaceable players.

This year might be different. The top free agent 3B, Casey Blake, is 35 years old and won't get a deal longer than 3 years guaranteed, and the Twins can do that. Ditto Orlando Cabrera, who is 33 years old, though he'll cost quite a bit more. Both of these guys are right-handed, too.

But instead of making a play for either of them, I explore trades and I explore them right away, so I can look at either of these as a backup plan. To me, the prize acquisition is Brewers shortstop JJ Hardy, because he's such a good fit. He's young, just turning 26 years old in August. He's a right-handed bat who hits fifth in the Brewers lineup, hit 24 HR with 74 RBI last year, and he absolutely mashed left-handed pitching. He won't turn into a free agent until 2011, and the Twins might well be able to use some of that extra cash to buy out some of his early free agent years beforehand.

And the Twins and Brewers are good fits for a possible trade. Besides needing young pitchers, it's worth noting that the Brewers have a one-year $10 million option on 35-year-old center fielder Mike Cameron, who hit .243 last year with 142 K and declining defense. Offering them either Denard Span or Carlos Gomez clears a glut in the Twins OF next year, upgrades the Brewers outfield defense, and gives them $10 million they can spend on re-signing Ben Sheets or CC Sabathia.

As for third base, I love the idea of trading for Beltre in a contract year, and I'd certainly be willing to part with Glen Perkins or Nick Blackburn, and possibly another minor league asset, to do so. But I can't part with Scott Baker, Francisco Liriano or Kevin Slowey, or at least not stright up. I also like Blackburn and Perkins, but I also have faith that the farm system and Rick Anderson will produce another arm. Plus, when the Twins sign their annual veteran starting pitcher, it will mean he won't have to bump one of them from the rotation.

If the Mariners want more than that, I probably stick with the Brian Buscher/Brendan Harris platoon. I don't trust Garret Atkins and I really don't trust Kevin Kouzmanoff. Instead, I'll continue to look at other solutions, because I'm not buying that Danny Valencia is going to fill the gap at third base long-term. He's 24 years old, played in AA, and struck out 70 times in 246 at-bats (compared to just 18 walks).(3) And I'm supposed to believe that he's the future? I'm puzzled by this.

And that's a good enough first draft for day two of the offseason. We'll continue to explore possibilities, analyze players and participate in destructive rumor-mongering throughout the offseason, so stop by often. See you on Monday.


(1) That's obviously become an offseason tradition. Really, everyone benefits. The GM gets to pretend he's picking up depth, even though he knows the manager will start the veteran. The bloggers get to stick pins into their own eyeballs. The manager gets to relish the veterany goodness of it all. And the radio call-ins get to slam the whole bunch.

Oh, and the prospects get to wait another couple of months and get called up mid-year. Since the veteran sucks, the prospect gets to play with almost no pressure. All he has to do is be a bit better than the guy that sucks. Hell, even if he sucks just as much, at least he's cheaper. Listen up kids - the key to a solid career is to make sure you always replace the guy that sucks.

(2) That was a move I fully endorsed, by the way. Remember that as you read today's thoughtful insights about offseason moves. And as you savage my choices on the comments section.
(3) Sorry Danny. But, I look forward to you proving me wrong.


Topper said...

There's no chance the Brewers bite at a corner outfielder like Cuddyer/Kubel/Young along with someone like Blackburn and maybe a prospect centerfielder like Hicks/Revere is there?

It's going to be tough to watch either Span (our consummate leadoff hitter), or Gomez (our exciting promosing young speedster) leave and man centerfield in Miller Park, EVEN if we get a stud like Hardy in return to fill that shortstop void.

But I know big trades usually mean it's going to need to hurt (i.e. losing Garza to get Young). Still, if the Brewers salivate over Span/Gomez, which one is more expendable? Span is much more polished it seems and fills that leadoff void we've had, and Gomez is such a huge asset with a ceiling I can even begin to fathom right now.

tborg said...

Would you trade two of the starting pitchers if necessary? That is, if you used one of them to get Hardy, would you use another one to acquire Beltre? Personally, I wouldn't. I really just hope that they bring in one infielder that allows an upgrade, whether that be Hudson, Hardy, Beltre, or a similar player. I might even be satisfied with Ellis. I just hope they do something.

Elliot said...

What about a guy like Dan Uggla and move Casilla over to SS. Marlins have a lot of Arbitration eligible players and are probably going to be trading some. Not sure what it would take to get him but hes a 28 year old RH bat averaging 30 HR a year.

Anonymous said...

If Hardy doesn't work out, how about Ryan Zimmerman, 3B for the Nationals? He might be untouchable, but the Nats might consider trading him for prospects. They need to rebuild and Zimmerman is entering arbitration.

Zimmerman brings above average D, 20 homer power, and a lifetime .803 OPS produced in a dreadful lineup.

Anonymous said...

Perkins and Blackburn are absolutely expendable...

I disagree about giving up Span. Gomez I am fine with, even with his super star upside, I just don't think he will be anything but a .250 hitter.

Cruddy would be my first choice to move. Big dumb salary, below average outfielder (with an above average arm), with little power. His season 2 years ago was not the norm. He was batting between Mauer and Morneau, while both had career seasons. We found out in 2007 he could bat there if either of those other two struggled for a bit.

Of course, who in their right mind wants a outfielder who is going to bat .250, hit 10-15 bombs for 8 million? So we are stuck with Cruddy until the Joe Mays type contract is over.

TT said...

If the Twins are going to improve, it needs to be on the pitching and defense side. They were third in the league in runs scored, their offense isn't the problem.

I don't think there is very much the Twins can do to improve over the winter without reducing the depth that got them close to the playoffs this year.

They don't really have anyone who is ready to step in if one of their starters fails. They have some pitchers who might earn the opportunity next year, but no one who earned it this year. Humber is the number six starter, if you assume Bonser is in the bullpen.

malete said...

Actually, the offense could be a problem. They're not going to hit .305 with RISP again in 2009. They're going to have to turn some of those singles into doubles and home runs to make up for it. Maybe that extra power could come from within - I'm looking at you, DY, and you, Cuddy. But finding a way to acquire Hardy would solve two problems - good power from the right side and good defense at short.

TT said...

Actually, the offense could be a problem. They're not going to hit .305 with RISP again in 2009

I don't see any reason why not. With a batting order that has 5 or six guys capable of hitting over .300 it does not seem at all unreasonable. In any case, it really depends on how often then get into scoring position and they do that pretty well.puhpkgr

2ndCityTwinkie said...

Even if it were true that they were likely to hit over .300 with RISP again (and it's really, really not), it's almost always a fallacy to say "Our offense is fine, we need pitching." Or, "Our pitching and defense are fine, we need hitting." Or whatever. You win baseball games by scoring runs and preventing the other guys from scoring runs. Even if your hitting is better than your pitching to begin with, adding runs on offense while your pitching and defense stay the same will always lead to more wins.

And it's not like you've got nine good hitters and are talking about improving one spot marginally while leaving a huge hole at the front of the rotation. There are gaping black holes in this lineup--four or five of them--and filling one or two would be a good idea. And they've got at least four good starters who are young and figure to get better, and a bullpen full of guys who had off-years (or were injured) and figure to bounce back. I'd still like to add a good bullpen arm if possible, but definitely not at the expense of the...underwhelming left side of the infield.