Monday, July 21, 2008

Shopping List: Right-handed Third Basemen

Just ten more rumor-mongering days until the trade deadline. If the Twins truly scribbled a right-handed third baseman at the top of Santa's list, it's nice to know he has some options beyond the overpriced Adrian Beltre. Let's see what we come up with and rank them in terms of likeliness. But first, the rules:

1. The player needs to be a third baseman.
2. The player needs to bat right-handed.
3. The player needs to be on a struggling team.

#4 Garret Atkins - Colorado Rockies
At first glance, he looks like the cream of the crop, and perhaps a better acquisition than Adrian Beltre. He's 28, he's hitting .305 with 14 home runs, and he won't be a free agent until after the new ballpark opens. But there are two issues.

First, it isn't clear the Rockies want to trade him. There were plenty of rumors about him being available (mostly to the Indians) early in the season. But that seems to have changed because he's having a great year and his supposed replacement, Ian Stewart, is only hitting .238 while the Rockies try him out at second base. (Oh, and forget about Stewart. He bats left-handed). Plus, the Rockies, despite being dismal, are only six games back in the even more dismal NL West.

And the second issue is that Atkins hasn't been the same player away from Coors (Is it still called that? I don't care. I'm going with it.) Field. Over the last three years he's posted a 948 OPS in Coors and a 792 OPS at other ballparks. This year those differences are even more pronounced. So to acquire Atkins, the Twins would need to dig deep, and there are enough doubts about him that I can't picture them doing that.

#3 Kevin Kouzmanoff - San Diego Padres
Kouzmanoff appears to be the kind of guy that is only rarely available. He's cheap (won't be eligible for arbitration until 2010), he can hit(.276 with 12 home runs), and most importantly for the Twins, he brings back the tradition of having a long name with a "z" on the lineup card every day. He's only available because the Padres have another young stud prospect third baseman named Chase Headley that Kouzmanoff is blocking.

Also, the teams match up fairly well. Just yesterday Ken Rosenthal reported that the Padres would conceivably trade him for a young outfielder. And if Cuddyer gets healthy you could argue that the Twins have one too many of those. You could also argue that the Padres could use some young pitching with both Greg Maddux and Randy Wolfe on the roster.

The concerns? Well, just what is Kevin Kouzmanoff? He's 26, so he's not young. He's brutalized left-handed pitchers so far, slugging over .500 for his career. But he hasn't hit or even got on-base enough versus right-handers (just a .309 career OBP), and he now has over 640 at-bats against them. That doesn't seem like a guy you turn over third base to full-time, let alone trade Carlos Gomez or Denard Span for. And if you're going to acquire a guy to platoon at third base with Buscher, why not go with the devil you know....

#2 Matt Macri - Rochester Red Wings
A funny thing happens when you pull up the stats of all MLB third basemen and sort in descending order by OPS. Matt Macri ends up 5th on that list. Macri fits our criteria and he's in the organization, and he's 26 years old, and he hit .409 with a 1000 OPS vs. left-handers over 22 at-bats during his June call-up.

Strangely, that dominance versus southpaws has been completely absent at Rochester this year. There, he's hitting just .219, and has a much better average against right-handed batters. Both numbers seem like anomolies, but I can't tell you what the actual figure is likely to be.

If a trade is not made, it will be interesting to see if Ron Gardenhire would rather have Lamb as a left-handed pinch-hitter or Macri as a right-handed platoon at third base. I suspect he would pick Macri, mostly because he hates benching a veteran like Lamb, and would just as soon release him. But I'm not sure that would be the right call.

#1 Casey Blake - Cleveland Indians
We always talk about how interdivisional trades are rare, but this might be the kind that could make sense. The Indians aren't going anywhere, and Blake will be a free agent at the end of the year. If anyone would balk at a trade, it would likely be the Twins, for fear that the player they lost to the Indians would come back to bite them several times every year. You know, kind of like Casey Blake has.

Of the players on this list, Blake is the most seamless fit. He doesn't need to be much more than a platoon player, so the Twins can continue to use Buscher. He also has some positional flexibility, even playing shortstop once this year. And he's socking lefties silly. He's hitting .323 against them this year, and slugging over .500, and while the batting average doesn't match his track record, the slugging does. Over the last three years he's slugged .509 versus left-handers in 411 at-bats.

Odds are, someone is going to end up with Blake on the trade deadline. Considering how good a fit he is, I'll be a little suprised if that team ends up not being the Twins.

Sunday, July 20, 2008


I'm personally of the opinion that rumors about the Twins being interested in Adrian Beltre are a red herring, meant to distract us and the league while they search for a dominant eighth inning arm. But (and The Voice of Reason will certainly back me up on this) I am absolutely emminently distractable. I am the definition of Short Attention Span Theater.

Which, by the way, nobody mentions, but was fantsatic. Is also launched Jon Stewart's career, and rightly so, because that is not the kind of show that just anyone can pull off. And why does MTV get blasted for no longer having videos, but Comedy Central gets off scott-free for no longer having anything liks SAST?

See what I mean? Absolutely, emminently, distractable.

Adrian Beltre
So let's start with the rumur du jour, er, week. I gotta say, assuming there is at least a little truth to it, this rumor should be encouraging as hell to Twins fans. This sort of rumor was in short supply the last couple years, and it's further evidence that Bill Smith isn't afraid to spend some money and take some risks. Terry Ryan got a bum rap in that regard for the most part, but Smith has made some bold and creative moves. Plus, it's comforting to see that the extra money that the team didn't spend on free agents might be available for a mid-season pickup, and isn't sunk into paying overruns at the new ballpark.

Beltre hasn't been the superstar the Mariners expected when they threw $64 million at him in 2005. That probably shouldn't be a surprise, because prior to 2004, Beltre was the poster boy for the young, incredibly talented but dissappointing athelete. Then came 2004, Beltre's contract year, in which he suddenly showed some plate discipline and slugged .629 (blink. blink.), earning him a second place finish in the National League MVP voting. He hasn't shown that discipline since. Nor has he slugged over .500.

You might think that the Mariners would be looking to jettison a contract like that, just like they did with Richie Sexson. But salaries have rocketed upwards since 2004, so that $12 million a year he makes per year is easier to justify, especially with third base being a thin position. Add in his defense (he won a gold glove last year), his age (he's only 29 years old), and the fact that 2009 would also be a contract year like 2004 was, and he starts to make more sense.

The Package
Of course, the $12 million question is what you give up for him. La Velle E Neal suggested that the price might be similar to what the Athletics recently received for Joe Blanton, which he interprets as being equivalent to one of the Twins young starters and some other prospects.

I'm not sure how he draws that comparison. Two of the players are prospects only in a nominal sense. Josh Outman is a Double-A pitcher who has already been switched to the bullpen. And Matt Spencer is an outfielder in High A ball whose career trajectory is aimed towards being a decent left-handed fourth outfielder for someone's bench.

And the "prize" player the Athletics received? Second baseman Adrian Cardnenas is certainly a prospect, but he is only in High-A ball. Last year he ranked #76 on Baseball America's Top 100 prospect list with a note that his ETA to the majors was 2010. For comparison purposes, Deolis Guerrara, the 18-year-old pitcher the Twins received as the fourth player in the Johan Santana trade, was listed as #35 on the same list with the same ETA.

I'm pretty sure that if Bill Smith can have Beltre for Guerrera and a couple of the Twins nominal prospects, that deal would already be done.

Brian Buscher
You can bet that the package the Twins offered Seattle included Brian Buscher, because there is no longer room on this team for Buscher if the trade is made. Beltre isn't a platoon player, and his contract goes through 2010, by which time Buscher is almost 29 years old, which is, well, even older than Brian Buscher is now, which is saying something.

The Mariners probably don't have much interest in Buscher. Buscher might be attractive to some teams, but the Mariners seem to be pushing Matt Tuiasosopo fairly quickly. He's just 22 years old and has graduated to AAA this year, and his .256 batting average disguises that he does some good things in terms of getting on base and having a little power.

One the one hand, that looks to me like someone they might like to season a bit before throwing onto the major league grill. They could afford that luxury with soemone like Buscher on the roster, especially because Buscher is left-handed and could allow Tuiasosopo some platoon time at the beginning of his major league career. Of course, the same could be said for holding onto Beltre for another year. Or for signing a low-end free agent to provide an insurance policy at third base for 2009. Now that Bill Bavasi is gone, I suspect they have thought of those options.

So the Twins ideal package probably isn't something the Mariners are interested in. But I'd be shocked if the Twins didn't have a combination of minor leaguers that could entice the Mariners to save themselves the $16 million that Beltre is owed for the remainder of his contract. How far the Twins are willing to go is likely dependent on their other options, and there are some, and a few might even be a better fit than Beltre.

Which, strangely enough, is what this entry was supposed to be about. Instead, it's been about Beltre and the Athletics trade. See what I mean about distractable?

(But that means that we get to research some of the other options later this week. Yeay. See you then.)