Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Grudzielanek Twist

If you like dramatic twists, you had to love Sunday afternoon.

Seth Stohs broke the news on Sunday that the Twins had signed Mark Grudzielanek to a minor-league contract. And for the most part, I think Twins Territory stood around in stunned silence, formulating questions. Like, "Um, what was that middle part again?"

Well, that's why the Twins blogging community is always at the ready. First to break the news (Way to go Seth! I'm proud to say I knew you back when...). And second to break down the news. That's my job. So let's dive into some of the questions, starting with the most important....

Is this it? Is this the big move? Are we done?
On second thought, let's work on our dramatic pacing a bit and get to this question a little later. Instead let's start with...

Mark Grudzielanek? Is this another Bret Boone signing?
No, it's not. Grudzielanek has been very good, and I'd go as far as saying this is a complete steal. Or even a big middle finger to the rest of the GMs in major league baseball. If you're a fan of evaluating a guy objectively with some statistics, then you're likely a fan of Grudzielanek.

Up and down the line he has the traits that we've claimed the Twins were looking for. Let's count them: he's a right-handed(1) second baseman(2) who has primarily hit second in the order(3), hitting .299(4) last year with a 744 OPS(5). Over the last three years those numbers are consistent, as he's hit .300 with a 751 OPS.

To put that in perspective, those numbers are quite a bit better than Casilla gave last year. They're similar to what Delmon Young provided in 2008, except of course that Grudzielanek did it at second base.

He also did it while playing sound defense. One might not expect a 38-year-old to be exceptional at a position where you need quick feet, like second base. But the defensive metrics like UZR show Grudzielanek sported above average defense last year, and the year before, and every year since 2002. He's hasn't been a liability with the glove.

If you're looking for more subjective opinions, you could ask the Royals. After starting him for the last three years, they offered him arbitration, exposing themselves to a $4-5 million paycheck if he accepted. He didn't, stating at the time that he wanted to play for a team with a chance at playing in the World Series.

Ok, so is this it? Is this the big move? Are we done?
Easy does it. Dramatic pacing, remember?

Grumble. So if this guy was so good, how come he was available?
Injuries might have played into it. Grudzielanek only played in 86 games last year due to some back and ankle problems. He hasn't exactly been an ironman in his time in Kansas City, averaging about 110 games.

It's also worth noting that the market for second basemen this offseason was truly depressed. The top guy, Orlando Hudson, didn't sign until after spring training had started. He's been the bargain of the free agent season. A quality guy like Adam Kennedy had to settle for a minor league deal with the Devil Rays. He eventually had to catch on in mid-April with the Athletics, where he's being called their MVP.

It isn't inconceivable that Grudzielanek, with his injuries, was put in a position similar to Kennedy. Considering he had turned down a guaranteed $4-5 million deal, he might have hoped for another break. Or maybe he really was waiting for that last chance at a World Series. I don't know.

Here's what I do know. If Grudzielanek was playing in 2009 like he did in 2008, and the Twins traded for him, we would be a lot more excited about it.

Is this it? Is this the big move? Are we done?
It breaks my heart to say it, but yeah, this is probably The Big Move.

It probably shouldn't break my heart, because Grudzielanek compares pretty well to most of the other names we were considering. He's certainly better than Julio Lugo, the other freely available talent. I like him better than Jack Wilson. He's comparable to Kennedy and Cristian Guzman. I would only put him a shade below Felipe Lopez.

That leaves two guys who he is clearly worse than. Yunel Escobar of the Braves would almost certainly require a king's ransom, considering the Braves are publicly stating they would NOT give him up for Matt Holliday. In fact, since he was being dangled for a bit bat, he might not be available given that the Phils are racing away from the rest of the NL East.

The other guy, of course is Freddy Sanchez, who is a perfect fit for the Twins, even if his rather expensive contract vests next year. I don't believe the rumors reported by Sid Hartman that the Pirates were asking for Francisco Liriano in return, but Pirates GM Neil Huntington is no stranger to the art of leverage and public relations. He spent this week giving low-ball offers to Sanchez and Wilson, which simultaneously cleared the way for a trade while reminding rival GMs that he can keep these guys.

So the optimist looking for a deal might suggest that Grudzielanek at least provides leverage in this little game. A skeptic might wonder, given Grudzielanek's availability, why the Twins didn't make this move a couple of months ago. Or at least back in mid-June when they sent Casilla down for the second time. The timing of it looks an awful lot like Smith trying to get himself one more bargaining chip.

But I doubt it. Grudzielanek waited eight months to sign with a team that has a chance at the World Series. I'd be shocked if the Twins didn't make it clear to him that he would be their preferred starting second baseman. For better or for worse, this is the final twist the front office will be giving us. Time to sit back, and try to enjoy the rest of the show.

Update: I just heard Bill Smith talk about this on his show, and he's considerably less definitive about this trade than I thought he would be. It also sounds like the font expect Grudz to be available until mid-August. That gives Casilla one more chance, limits the impact of this deal and leaves the door wide open for a trade in the next week or so.


The Twins may or may not make another move to fill their needs at second base, but let's not forget the bullpen, or maybe you would like to see what our competitors are up to? You can get a ton of information about all of that, including previews of the Twins payroll situation in 2009 and possible other minor league call-ups in the TwinsCentric Trade Deadline Primer 2009 Edition. You can download it IMMEDIATELY and be neck-deep in this trading pseudo-season.


thrylos98 said...

I think that this is a great no-risk deal. An additional point:
Even though so far as a team in 2009 the Twins have improved their hitting against LHP compared to 2008, Grudz last season hit .395/.459/.523 (.982 OPS) against LHP. Worse case scenario, I would not mind having him on the bench to PH for Kubel late in a game against tough LOOGYs or start at the DH against some LHSs.

As far as whether the Twins are done dealing, is seriously suspect that they are not, since having 4 long men (Keppel, Duensing, Mulvey, Dickey) in the pen will be a recipe for disaster (and I suspect that they know it.) With Mijares posting numbers of a great but typical LOOGY (RHB OPS .909, LHB OPS .300), they need another late inning guy and I am not sure that Crain (or Morillo/Delaney/Slama) might be the answer (and I suspect that they know it)

Jesse H said...

Not to be negative but doesn't Gruczielank's unavailability until min august make it more unlikely that we make a trade. If Grudzielanek was here and obviously failing with either under-performance or injuries then Bill Smith would have a disgruntled fan base and an approaching trade deadline in which he could still do something. With Grudzielanek in the Minors Bill Smith can just respond to ineffective play by Punto, Tolbert, and Casilla by saying we are just waiting until Grudzielanek comes up from the minors. In effect the Grudzielanek makes it so there is no possiblity of a middle infield trade now because we can't evaluate this move until August.

Avenir labs said...

I think its Great.

James78 said...

Agreed with Thrylos98. Low/no-risk deal with a potential upside that could prove to be more of an asset than a liability.

Pure specualtion here, but what if the Twins made this move as a prelude to a Casilla trade for, say, Houston Street? Grudzielanek could fill in nicely.

BeefMaster said...

One other potential freely available talent (a la Lugo) who wasn't mentioned in your post - Ray Durham. He's a mediocre defender (-1.8 UZR/150 since 2002, ranging from -10 to +5) and is likely still a good hitter (OPS+ over 100 every year since 1998, except a ghastly 65 in '07). I guess I could've missed it if he retired or something, but as far as I can tell, he's another of those second basemen who just couldn't find a place to play this year and could likely be had for a song.

For what it's worth, I like the Grudz signing, although I do agree with Jesse that it likely precludes a Sanchez trade. My main complaint is that I'd have liked it to happen a month or so ago, when they sent Casilla back to the minors.