Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Polanco Crush

One of the more interesting things about writing the TwinsCentric Offseason GM Handbook was the internal debates that raged. The obvious ones are about Twins players. For instance, Nick Nelson and I have never seen eye-to-eye on whether Carlos Gomez or Delmon Young should be the Twins starting outfielder. I believe Young should play simply because the Twins have a substantial investment in both players and Gomez can play in Rochester. Nick believes Gomez should play because Nick is terribly, almost tragically, wrong.

A smaller debate flared up about the value of Placido Polanco during our meetings, mostly because I have a man-crush on Polanco, and have ever since he was with the Phillies. To me, he's a top-notch defender and a terrific #2 hitter. Polanco's career batting average is .303 and his ability to avoid strikeouts borders on legendary. In my offseason blueprint, I wrote:

"The market for second basemen is so thick you can take your pick. I’m budgeting up to $7 million for Placido Polanco, Freddy Sanchez, Mark DeRosa, Orlando Hudson or Felipe Lopez. Heck, I’ll even jump on Akinori Iwamura if his option isn’t picked up. I’m not that concerned about which one, and I’m not hesitant to offer a multi-year deal."

I wrote that I didn't care which one we got, but if you look at my final grid, the name that's in the slot for second base is "Polanco." And the Twins stealing him from their main division rival would only add to the impact. Mmm - sticking it to the Tigers. I recognize that warm feeling inside is a little ugly. It's still pleasant.

My feelings waned a little bit the final week of the season. Watching the Tigers, the 34-year-old Polanco looked old and tired. His defense, which has always been praised, looked limited. (Though I should mention, his UZR metric is +12.1, which is very, very good.) And while he looks like Chase Utley compared to what the Twins trotted out there last year, his OPS has fallen from 846 to 767 to 727 over the last three years. Of the available free agent second basemen (and there are a lot of good ones) he had one of the worst years.

There's also some question about whether Polanco will be available. The Tigers have a 24-year-old prospect named Scott Sizemore who hit over .300 this year in AA and AAA. He just broke his ankle in the Arizona Fall League, but that shouldn't affect his status for next year. So a possible replacement is in place.

Which means the Tigers have a decision to make. Although Polanco is a free agent, they essentially have a $6-7 million option on him for next year. That's because Polanco will be a Type A free agent, which means that if the Tigers offer him arbitration and he doesn't accept it, he'll cost a signing team a first or second round draft pick. Lots of younger second basemen last year with better years found out how tough it is to sign with a team with that artificial price tag hanging around their neck. If Polanco is offered arbitration, he would likely need to accept it.

The Tigers surely know this, and need to decide if their bloated payroll can handle another $6-7 million for Polanco. Detroit spent over $120 million last year while playing in the most economically depressed city in major league baseball. And they're going to have some raises to give, like to pitchers Justin Verlander and Edwin Jackson. To be honest, I don't know how they could afford their team last year, and I don't know how they can afford it next year, so I'm not about to rule anything out.

We'll know on December 1st if the Tigers are offering Polanco arbitration. I have until then to try and talk some reason into myself. 34-year-old second basemen whose OPS has dropped 120 points over the last two years are not a good investement. They're certainly not a good investment if you need to offer a multi-year contract. I know this, just like I know that it isn't 2007 anymore.

But I still need to get over this Polanco crush.


Nick N. said...

I don't think we really know for sure that Polanco is a Type A free agent. He's listed as the very last member of the Type A group on the unofficial listings that we look at, but as far as I know Elias has not released their official rankings. When I initially wrote up my blueprint suggesting that the Twins bring in Polanco, he was projecting as a Type B, and if that changes then so too does my recommended course of action.

That said, I don't think the Tigers will be bringing Polanco back (they've hinted pretty strongly at this publicly), and if he doesn't cost the Twins a draft pick -- either because he's a Type B or because Detroit doesn't offer arbitration -- I still think he's the guy the Twins should be targeting. His age might bring with it somewhat decreased production (I don't think the aging effect is likely to be as significant as you make it out to be, for a number of reasons), but this will also suppress the number of years on his deal and the annual cost. A guy who has hit at least .285 in each of the past 10 seasons, has a little power and almost never strikes out would be a terrific fit for that No. 2 spot and his defense remains excellent. If he was showing decline in the field, I'd be concerned, but I think he's going to be just fine for the next couple years.

Topper said...

I'm actually most intrigued by another name on your list of 2nd basemen: Felipe Lopez. He hits lefties quite well -- that's something we need.

J. Lichty said...

Palanco, or not, I guess, i'm most relieved at the number of solid options there, limiting the chance that the Twins will either make a wrong move or do nothing.

With this crop of upgrades, we have a lot to look forward to.

Nick N. said...

With this crop of upgrades, we have a lot to look forward to.

True. When John interviewed Bill Smith for the Handbook, the Twins' GM readily admitted that the 2B free agent crop this year is very deep.

TT said...

It seems that second base is about fourth on the list of priorities for improvement behind a starting pitcher, a shortstop and a third baseman. Didn't Smith also mention Casilla in that interview - saying he was a better player than he showed this year? I am not sure we are going to see the Twins persuing a second baseman unless it is a solid number two hitter. And they will probably start with trying to fill that position at shortstop.

Bryz said...

"Polanco Crush"

Sounds like something an anime character would scream out loud.

Matthew said...

although they are looking to upgrade the left side of the infield, Punto easily slides over and plays SS and you do not lose much; the thing is - the 2B crop is far and away better than the SS crop of FAs, so I think Smith and Co should look there first. Polanco or felipe lopez would be perfect, both of which can pick it and hit in the 2 spot.

StreetGirl said...

I think PP could be a great pick-up.

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