Thursday, January 28, 2010

Touching Base with Second Base

There are six names below, four of whom are gone, leaving....three?

Second Base - 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. In fact, I'd love to not worry about that spot for the next few years. Sorry Alexi. You're on my bench for now.

That's from my blueprint in the TwinsCentric GM Handbook, and it looks like that $7 million budget was more than enough to nab most of these guys:
  • Iwamura was traded to someone else though it looks like the Twins were poised to get him, and he'll be paid just $4.25M this year.
  • Sanchez stayed with the Giants when both sides agree to $12 million over 2 years.
  • Polanco signed with the Phillies for 3 years and $18 million, but that was to play third base
  • DeRosa also signed with the Giants, presumably to play third base, for $12 million over 2 years.
That leaves two guys and the sentiment above still applies - I'm not that concerned about which one. That doesn't mean they're the same guy.

Orlando Hudson is perceived as being the safer bet because he's been so consistent. For instance, here are his on-base percentage of the last 4 years (the league average is about .340): .357, .367, 376, .354. He's also won a Gold Gloves at second base in 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2009. That's the kind of consistency that edges a player over the other mediocre free agents. By most accounts that's where Hudson is right now: considering offers, making a choice, and setting the market for several remaining free agents.

The biggest concern about Hudson, a late-season benching, is likely overblown. He was benched at the end of last season in favor of Ronnie Belliard, who the Dodgers had acquired in a last second trade. The story was spun that Hudson was benched because L.A. didn't want to pay him various plate appearance incentives in his contract, but Hudson reached all those incentives anyway. It's more likely that he was benched because Belliard was white-hot (he posted a 1.034 OPS with L.A.) and Hudson was brutal (batting just .227 after August 31st).

The concern shouldn't be whether Hudson had a bad year. He didn't. He posted respectable numbers, made more respectable because Dodger Stadium depresses hitting statistics. The concern should be about why Hudson was brutal at the end of the season. It looks like he was hurt, missing time with a strained groin a couple of seeks before Belliard was acquired. Injuries have nagged at Hudson throughout his career. And now he's 33 years old, and second basemen lose their legs quickly, and the defensive metrics say that his reputation is higher than it should be at this age.

That doesn't mean he's done. It just means that even with all that consistency there is some risk too.

Felipe Lopez, in some ways, is exactly the opposite. Once upon a time he was a potential star, even hitting 23 home run as a shortstop for the Reds as recently as 2005. Then he was traded to Washington where he struggled for years. As soon as he left that team he was seemingly reborn putting up positive offensive numbers for the last two years, even exceeding Hudson last year.

The promise of being a power-speed combo shortstop is long gone, but Lopez has settled into a second baseman who hits a half dozen home runs and steals a half dozen bases but whose ability to get on base varies from year to year. Defensively, he's hard to judge. We know he was a bad shortstop, but he seems to be at least passable at second base. Metrics like UZR don't help much since they've been wildly inconsistent. But last year they were very positive, far outpacing Hudson, though he has nowhere near the defensive reputation of Hudson.

You lose the consistency with Lopez, but he's on a 2-and-a-half year upswing. He's also two-and-a-half years younger than Hudson, meaning you could sign him for a two-year contract and when he finished it he would still be younger than Hudson is right now.

Neither of these guys are all-stars. Neither of these guys are without risk. You could even argue that given their middling offensive production, neither is that appealing unless you are a team desparately needs a right-handed hitting, good-fielding second baseman that can get on base a lot. Which, of course, the Twins are.

And now we're hearing a third name, one which Twins fans are more familiar with. A few months ago I wrote that there was zero chance Orlando Cabrera returned to the Twins to play second base. I was wrong. Major League Baseball has collectively decided that Cabrera is no longer a shortstop, and he and his agent have switched their focus to second base.

(As an aside, trading for JJ Hardy might go down as one of the best offseason moves by any GM of any team. The free agent shortstop market was every bit as brutal as it looked to be, and worse in fact. After Marco Scutaro, the top signing shortstop was....John McDonald who re-signed with the Blue Jays for two years and three million dollars. We might end up talking about that Hardy trade the way we talk about the Shannon Stewart-Bobby Kielty trade.)

Cabrera is right-handed, but he's older (35) than these guys. He's worse and getting on base (.313 last year). He hasn't played more than three innings since 1998. There is no way I can rank him at the same level as Hudson or Lopez.

But we need to recognize that statisticians don't have the market cornered on what wins ball games. Cabrera has now appeared in five postseasons over the last six years, consistently finding himself on successful teams, and to me that counts for something. He also had a significant impact on the Twins playoff run last year, both anecdotally and statistically.

So he's making my list of guys I'll be thrilled to see added to this team. And more than a little bitter if they don't.

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Twins Takes
  • First, a reminder - you can follow me on Twitter at Twitter.com/twinsgeek. And I say that because I hope to tweet from TwinsFest this weekend. I'm afraid I don't know exactly when I'm going, but I'll tweet when I'm there.
  • Last night was the deciding game nine for the Dominican Winter League Championship. And taking the hill for the winning team was our own Francisco Liriano. He's been putting up ridiculous stats this winter. And every time we want to talk about them, we feel obliged to point out that this is just winter league, and the success might not translate, blah, blah, blah.

    No more. I got to watch last night's start on ESPN 360 and let me tell you - it's gonna translate. People have been talking about his velocity and how it's come back, but we hear that all the time. What was really eye-opening was his slider. It was ridiculous, absolutely unhittable. I couldn't believe the break it was getting. It wasn't just good. It was...

    It was 2006. Like when I would sit in the dome, and he would come in for relief, and you would watch a batter that didn't have a chance, and then turn to a total stranger a row away and both be just shaking your heads with these $hit-eating grins on your face. It was like that.

    I'll say it - my expectations are sky-high for him this year. I'm more of a "show me" guy when it comes to prospects and winter leagues, but Liriano showed me tonight. Don't tell me about the competition there. It wouldn't have mattered if he was facing AA ballplayers or the Yankees. Nobody was going to do much with those pitches.

  • There have been some rumors going around that maybe a deal for Joe Mauer could get done soon. Just so we set expectations a little, I thought it might be a good idea to see what the top free agent hitters were paid over the last four offseasons.

    This year - Matt Holliday - 7 years, $17+ million per year
    Last year - Mark Teixera - 8 years, $22.5 millin per year
    2 years ago - Alex Rodgiguez - 10 years, $27.5 million per year
    2 years ago - Torii Hunter - 5 years, $18 million per year
    3 years ago - Alfonso Soriano - 8 years, $17 million per year

    So where would you rank Mauer in that list? He's younger than any of them, so he could get as long a deal as anyone. He certainly outranks the guys who didn't clear $20 million per year. But it's probably not feasible for the Twins to pay him as much as the Yankees paid their free agents.

    It sounds to me like a nine or ten year deal is feasible, and it would average at least $20 million per year. That's probably the minimum of what he's worth.

    The next question is "How much is too much?" But I don't think I want to think about that just yet.

9 comments:

MC said...

Now I'm geeked about Liriano... But his slider was a big plus pith last year. Isn't it all about his fastball comand?

Anonymous said...

If his velo is up to 93-94, that fastball will be much more difficult to hit, even if the command isn't there. If that velo is up, he's going to generate many more grounders too.

TT said...

In Casilla, the Twins have a young second baseman with the tools to be outstanding both offensively and defensively. In Punto, the Twins have an outstanding defensive second baseman whose offense is good enough to make him adequate overall.

With that combination, filling second base with a declining veteran doesn't make much sense at any price. Its too early to give up on Casilla when you have a good alternative if he doesn't step up.

I would take reports from winter ball with a huge grain of salt. Clearly if Liriano comes fully back from his injury, we will all be excited. But lets wait to see how he does against major league hitting. As a lot of minor league pitchers have to learn, throwing harder if you can't locate your pitches doesn't help much against major league hitting.

Anonymous said...

Too much algebra in this post. What'd you get for X?

Aaron Fix said...

What's with all the X's? Is lower case x different than upper case X?

John said...

Doh! Sorry about the Xs. Fixed!

(I wanted to be as exact as I could on some things so I put Xs to come back and verify them later - and then forgot. Shaking head.)

John said...

TT,
I touted Casilla coming into next year, predicting a breakthrough year. He was dreadful, and now has been mostly dreadful over the last three years. I'm not giving up on him, but he's worked his way to the bench. He's not a player a contending team can hand a spot to.

And, of course, the real problem is third base, which will be a mess. Signing a 2B allows Punto to play 3B up until Valencia is ready.

TT said...

"I'm not giving up on him"

If they sign a second baseman, I think the Twins are giving up on Casilla. He has no role on the team and will have to get a chance somewhere else.

I am not making any predictions about a breakout, I just think this is a case where the downside (Punto) is not that low and the upside (Casilla) could be quite high.

If you move Punto to third, then the offense bump is the difference between your second baseman and Harris, not Punto. Punto is going to be a little better glove than Harris at third, but the second baseman is likely to be a little worse.

Jesse said...

"I am not making any predictions about a breakout, I just think this is a case where the downside (Punto) is not that low and the upside (Casilla) could be quite high."

Punto was the worst non-Twin 2B in the league last year offensively. Regardless of your quality of defense you cannot be the worst offensive player at you position and stay a starter in this league with the possible exception of SS.

http://espn.go.com/mlb/stats/batting/_/position/2b/sort/OPS/count/41/minpa/225

The only people worse then him are Matt Tolbert and Alexi Casilla. People are fooling themselves if they think anybody in that collection of crap is something worth having. Tolbet/Punto are ok in a catchall role like Al Newman or Denny Hocking but that is it. If the Twins want to use Punto to keep 3B warm for Valencia or Hughes then I am fine with that but we have no long term options for 2B in our system and giving guys like Hudson or Lopez a 2 year deal with a vesting 3rd year worth $5-6 million a year makes financial and baseball sense where relying on the least offensive turd in the Punto/Tolbert/Casilla pile does not.