Friday, July 09, 2010

Cliff Lee to Yankees? How? Why?

Joel Sherman reported in the NY Post today that the Yankees are on the verge of acquiring Cliff Lee. He followed up that post with more information on his blog. Both are worth a read, because there are all kinds of things that don't make sense...

1. Why would the Yankees offer up catching prospect Jesus Montero for Lee? Their starting rotation has been one of their strengths this year. Sherman claims it is because they have some concerns about their rotation holding up in the playoffs. He claims it might mean moving Phil Hughes to the bullpen. He (and ESPN apparently) suggest that Javier Vazquez could be traded in the deal, too.

Presumably, Vazquez would be sent back to level out the salaries - because the Yankees don't want to pay too much? Really? Or would the Mariners believe they can trade him and get something for him to a National League team?

And Hughes has been great, but the Yankees recently skipped a start for him, and when he came back he had a bad night. Are they hiding an injury? Or are they so worried about his innings (he only threw 86 last year) that they're really going to move him back to the bullpen? Could that not have been foreseeen when they moved him into the rotation to begin with?

2. Why would the Mariners want Montero over Wilson Ramos AND Aaron Hicks?

You can argue that Ramos is a better prospect straight up than Montero. Montero is younger, both were highly regarded, and both are struggling in AAA, but nobody really knows if Montero can stay at catcher. There is no doubt about that with Ramos.

So either the rumor earlier this week is wrong, or this one is wrong. I'm guessing both, and I thin it's Seattle (along with the Yankees) working to drive Lee's value up.

And if I'm wrong? Well, then you're REALLY going to want the TwinsCentric Trade Deadline Primer that is coming out on Sunday night. Because it lists Montero and Lee as two of the 150 players that might be available. Just like it listed Russell Branyan (already traded to Mariners) and Bengie Molina (already traded to Rangers). And you can use it to find the other few dozen starting pitchers that are available on one of it's handy-dandy cheat sheets. It'll be on sale as an ebook on Sunday night for $9.95.

But I really hope we aren't looking at that starting pitcher list for the next best alternatives by Sunday night. And I don't think we will.

Thursday, July 08, 2010


Matt Guerrier took the loss last night. Again.

You gotta feel bad for him. I think it’s fair to say that he’s currently residing in his own little personal circle of hell. I’m going to go with the fifth circle – Wrath and Sullenness – because I’d be pretty sullen/wrathful if I had been tagged for the loss in the last three games in which I appeared. That also seems kinder than the ninth circle: Betrayal.

But I don’t doubt that a fair amount of fans feel betrayed. In the last week, Guerrier has made three appearances, pitched a total of two innings, and given up the winning run in each of those three games. That’s about as bad a week as one would care to have as a relief pitcher.

But Twins fans who remember 2008 don’t want to hear about a bad week. They don’t want to hear about, well, anything, because they have spend a good deal of time trying to forget about 2008. Particularly about the 8.88 ERA that Guerrier posted that year after the All-star break.

But remember we do, and it appears manager Ron Gardenhire remembers too. After pitching predominantly the 8th inning for most of the season, Guerrier didn’t come in during the 8th last night. He came in during the 7th. That’s different.

Also different: unlike the previous game (in which he gave up four earned runs) Guerrier also had a much shorter leash. He pitched to three batters, one of which walked and two of which hit the baseball very hard. He still managed to be on the mound when both the tying run and the winning run came across the plate. And he wasn’t around when the inning ended.

What Gardenhire and Twins fans are witnessing is a meltdown, pure and simple. In those three games and two innings, he has given up six hits. Three walks. Six earned runs. He doesn’t have a single strikeout even though he’s faced 14 batters. His ERA has ballooned from 1.72 to 3.03.

The last time this happened, back in 2008, the Twins swore it was because Guerrier had been overused. That year, problems began on July 8th, when Guerrier pitched for the fourth time in five games. This year, it began on July 1st, when Guerrier pitched the fourth time in five games.

This time, the Twins seem to have already tried what has often worked in the past – given Guerrier a break. After a pair of disastrous outings against Tampa Bay, Guerrier got three days of rest. It didn’t work.

The natural conclusion is that Guerrier again has a tired arm, or has hit some sort of wall, but I can’t find any evidence of it in today’s pitches. His fastball was consistently 91 or 92, and according to pitch tracking it wasn’t drifting over the middle of the plate. But it caught enough to let Vernon Wells knock the snot out of it. We don’t know if that was primarily because Guerrier is struggling, or because Wells is very good at hitting a baseball.

What is clear is that the Twins can’t, and seemingly don’t, trust Guerrier too much right now. He’s about to get a pretty long rest in the way of the All-Star break. And there are a litany of right-handers in Rochester who might be able to contribute to this season’s division race, if only they could find their way onto the roster. If the Twins and Guerrier really want to overcome this little trend, I wonder if the two sides shouldn’t agree to extend that All-Star break with a short trip to the DL for a “tired arm.” Is that legitimate? Is that really the problem?

I’m not sure, but god knows we’re tired of it.

Lotsa stuff to talk about this morning. First, I had a great time at the TwinsCentric event last night at Park Tavern, despite the loss and only being there for about 1/3 of the game. Thanks to everyone who came out. It was very good to touch base again.

Second, we are now just three days away from being able to by the TwinsCentric 2010 Trade Deadline Primer. It's an ebook only which we were showing on the iPad yesterday, and people really seemed to like it. It is basically a 175-page reference that you can use throughout the next three weeks to really launch yourself into the trade season.

Want to know whether the Reds really would pursue Cliff Lee? It's in there, under the team summaries. Or a list of third basemen the Twins could pursue? Also there, in the list of 150 trade targets. Or what prospects The White Sox have which might impact the second half race? We also have 100+ prospects. There is also an essay about the Twins payroll for 2011 which you need to read. I think that harsh reality is driving a lot of the urgency this year, and I can't believe people aren't talking about more.

I hope you'll take a moment, take a risk, and check it out. You'll be able to start ordering it Sunday night at

Monday, July 05, 2010

Everything Cliff Lee....

It's been way too long since I've updated regularly, and since I'm back from vacation, and since the Cliff Lee rumors are flying, let's just heave all these thoughts into cyberspace and hope it looks a little better than fingerpainting.

So is Seattle starting pitcher Cliff Lee really that good?
Well, yeah, he's that good. The usual sabermetric caveats apply with the big one being: he's very, very good, but that doesn't mean he would be very, very good for the next three months. But all the signs are there.

1. The Twins have to LOVE these numbers - 89:6. That's how many strikeouts and walks Lee has so far this year. Thinks the brain trust would like someone like that in the rotation?

2. He certainly has one heck of a lot of incentive. He's a free agent at the end of the year, and the big money teams are going to care a lot about how he performs in the heat of a pennant race and in the playoffs. He (literally) can't afford to choke.

3. And his history has shown that he shines in the spotlight. What really gets people excited about Lee is his performance in the playoffs last year. Facing the very best teams in the majors, he finished 4-0 with a 1.56 ERA. Excuse me while I swoon a bit.

What would it take to get him?
Considering that he's already been traded twice in the last year, we have a pretty good idea what it might take.

When he was traded from the Phillies to the Mariners, the Mariners traded away:
  • Phillippe Aumont - A 21-year-old pitcher who was the Mariners #1 pick in 2007. Lots of upside (he's 6' 7") but also was converted to a relief pitcher already with the Mariners.
  • Juan Ramirez - Another young pitcher who projects to be a mid-rotation starter.
  • Tyson Gillies - A 21-year-old outfielder who excelled last year in High-A (but has struggled mightily this year in AA.)
Aumont was possibly on par with someone like Wilson Ramos, though I think someone like Carlos Gutierrez might be a better comp. Ramirez was a throw-in (though he's performed the best of the three). And Gillies I would put on par with someone like Joe Benson.

Of course, that's part of the reason that Philadelphia was criticized so vehemently when they made the deal. It just didn't seem like they got enough in return. How about when they traded for Lee? They sent the following players to the Indians (and also got back utility outfielder Ben Francisco):
  • Jason Knapp - A 19-year-old flamethrower who needed arthroscopic shoulder surgery shortly after the Indians got him. He's the high upside guy in the deal.
  • Carlos Carrasco - A 23-year-old who was the Phils top pitching prospect but struggled in 2009 in AAA before the trade, and has struggled since.
  • Jason Donald - A 24-year-old shortstop who was also struggling at AAA when he was traded. He looked like a competent starting shortstop, but now looks more like a utility infielder.
  • Lou Marson - A 24-year-old who looked like he could be a lower-tier starting catcher, or a competent backup catcher.
So, as I go through that list and look for Twins comps, I see Deolis Guerra, Kevin Slowey, Trevor Plouffe and Jose Morales. That's taking some liberties, but it's not too far off.

For either of those packages, I'd pull the trigger.

Would the Twins be giving up too much if they offered Aaron Hicks and Wilson Ramos, as was reported by Jeff Fletcher of AOL FanHouse?
That package, in my mind, is better than either of the ones he was traded for previously. However, it is consistent in one way - both of those guys are struggling this year. The same thing was the case for an awful lot of the guys in the first two trades - they were struggling when they were traded for Lee. And not a lot of them have worked out.

Hicks is repeating Low-A ball as a 20-year-old. He's hitting just .259 with 5 home runs. He had an awful start, a stretch where he was an absolute monster, then another awful stretch and he's now settled in at "underwhelming." So while he was probably a better prospect than any of the other guys on this list last offseason, you can bet he's going to be down one or two "stars" in the same evaluations this next year.

And Ramos had an amazing spring training, a fantastic two-game debut with the Twins, and then a whole lot of nothing. He's still just hitting .208. He has been injured again this year. He's struck out 41 times while walking just 8 times. And in his brief major league debut he threw out exactly 0 basestealers (in four attempts). Will his prospect status next offseason go up or down?

Is that too much? I'm not sure it is. It would be nice if it also included a relief pitcher in return, though it's not like the Twins have any shortage of options. They just don't have room for them all on the roster.

Are there any other teams that could drive the price up?
Hmm, how deep do I want to go on this...

Aw hell, I'm already not sleeping tonight. Let's go deep. Here are the teams likely to be buying at the trade deadline:

Probably Looking for Something Else
Atlanta - is likely looking for offense, not pitching.
Boston - already has plenty of pitching options, too.
Chicago White Sox - also needs offense, not pitching.
Cincinnati - is a possibility, but the bullpen is a much, much bigger concern.
Colorado - needs to focus on offense, especially with the injury to Troy Tulowitski.
New York Yankees - had had great starting pitching and are battling injuries in their lineup. Plus, there is no need to trade for a guy they plan to sign this offseason anyway.
San Diego - needs offense, not pitching.
San Francisco - ditto.
Toronto - won't derail it's long term plans by giving away top prospects.

Could Be Interested But There are Obstacles
Los Angeles Angels - They need pitching and have money, but they're also in the same division as the Mariners. I can't imagine them giving up top prospects knowing they'll need to face them 18 games over the next six years.
Los Angeles Dodgers - They need pitching, but it looks like they don't have any money because of the nasty divorce settlement going on with their owner.
Philadelphia Phillies - Often mentioned, but if they didn't have money in the offseason to pay Lee, why would they have it now? Plus, their starting pitching has been pretty good and has J.A. Happ coming back soon.
Texas Rangers - They are often mentioned, but the starting pitching is pretty good and they also don't have any money to spend, as their creditors (including MLB) would need to approve it.

May Be Worth Worrying About
New York Mets - Their pitching has been really good lately, but it's come from suspicious sources, like RA Dickey. They also have money. But GM Omar Minaya has never really pulled off a big deadline deal, and the bullpen looks like a bigger priority.
St. Louis - I don't think they have the prospects to really draw much interest, but they could use a fifth starter, they have the money, and the trio of Lee, Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter could get that region REAL excited about the playoffs.
Detroit - They seem like a decent possibility. Again, offense seems to be more the need, and they have had luck rehabbing Rick Porcello and Max Scherzer. Still, I'm surprised we never hear them mentioned.
Tampa Bay - They've already got a lot of good pitching, but I suppose they could look for an ace, or simply acquire him as a defense of anyone else getting him. They have the prospects, that's for sure. I bet Seattle would love for them to be interested.

The Twins are a better fit than any other team. They have a bigger need than all but a handful, they have the money, and they have the prospects. They aren't the only game in town, and so they'll need to pony up some decent talent in return, but Lee should be attainable if they're willing to make a fair offer.