Friday, October 29, 2010

Hidden Aces (Part II)

When we last joined our intrepid blogger, he was researching the word "intrepid." Shortly thereafter, he started looking for "aces" beyond Zach Greinke that the Twins could target this offseason. (You can see Part 2 below.) So he was counting down the qualified starting pitchers with the highest strikeout rates and highlighting the ones that might be available. We were up to #21......

21. Roy Oswalt (PHI)
22. David Price (TB)
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Chad Billingsley (LAD)
Another good name to have handy when someone won’t shut up about Greinke. Billingsley struck out 171 guys this year, had a 3.57 ERA and only gave up 8 home runs. He’s also just 26 years old, and has two years of arbitration left – but he’ll still be fairly expensive this year, probably in the neighborhood of $7M. Normally, that wouldn’t phase the Dodgers, but with the franchise hanging in the crosshairs of that divorce, anything is possible right now.

24. Roy Halladay (PHI)
25. Cliff Lee (TEX)
Ha! Unless you have a time machine and can go back to last offseason. (Hold it – you do? Can I borrow it?)

Scott Baker (MIN)
Really? Hold it. Really?

This deserves some comment, but I’m a little stunned. Let me digest this a bit.

27. Ian Kennedy (ARI)
28. Edwin Jackson (CHW)
29. Ted Lilly (CHC/LAD)
Never gonna happen my friend. I think that Jackson is going to be traded somewhere this offseason, just so the White Sox can get his $8.35M salary off their books. After all, he was never supposed to be with them in the first place. The only reason they traded for him was because they thought they were going to trade him to the Nationals. But I can’t see any way they trade him to the Twins.

Tommy Hanson (ATL)
31. Jonathon Niese (NYM)
32. Gio Gonzalez (OAK)
33. Shaun Marcum (TOR)
I suppose Hanson (3.33 ERA, 173 K) could be available, but he’s gonna cost you. He is within two years of free agency, and his agent is Scott Boras, so maybe the Braves would be interested in moving him, but it would be a significant deal.

That goes for the next two guys, too. I could see the Mets letting go of Niese(4.20 ERA, 148 K) for some offense. Ditto the Athletics and Gio Gonzalez (3.23 ERA, 171 K). They’re also both left-handed. I’d mark both off-limits if their respective teams weren’t so flawed.

Finally, Marcum(3.64 ERA, 165K) will be in his second year following Tommy John surgery and is two years from free agency. The Jays are already getting excited about their young rotation, so he might be available in the right deal. I would think high upside prospects would be especially tasty bait, so they can follow the path the Rays have tread.

Are they aces? Gio is probably the closest, but I’m encouraged that we haven’t even got to the next four names, all of whom are generally regarded as aces or still playing in the postseason.

34. C.J. Wilson (TEX)
35. CC Sabathia (NYY)
36. Ricky Romero (TOR)
37. Phil Hughes (NYY)
Save your breath. Romero is signed through 2015. I wouldn’t be shocked if Hughes is made available, just because it would be a classic Yankees overreaction to unload him after his last playoff performance. But you’re trying to get an ace to beat the Yankees. Do you really think Hughes is that guy?

Zack Greinke (KC)
The 27-year-old Greinke didn’t have a down year just because he was on a cruddy team. He just wasn’t fantastic. His ERA was 4.17 almost two full runs over last year’s. He was in the top 10 in strikeout rate last year, and 38th this year. He was very, very good, but he wasn't an ace this year. He’s also thrown a lot of innings over the last two years. Was it just a down year that he’ll surely bounce back from, or would the Twins be trading for past performance?

I’m betting it was just a down year, but that doesn’t mean he should be the only guy considered. The next time someone tells you the Twins have to trade for Greinkie, here are some names to have handy: Wandy Rodriguez, Chad Billingsly, and Shaun Marcum. Maybe it'll get them past the Greinke mantra.

Ok – back to Scott Baker.

First, I should point out that he had the second highest ERA of anyone on this list, second to Jamie Shields. But it’s also worth noting that his strikeout rate and walk rate this year were very, very good. He just gave up too many damn hits. Oh, and led the league in slumped shoulders.

It turns out I could say the same thing about Jamie Shields (#18 yesterday), and I’m fairly confident Shields will bounce back. Would other teams be saying that about Baker? Are they wrong, or would a little distance give us a better perspective? And how much did the elbow problems, on which he had surgery immediately following the season, play into things?

This whole exercise is making me wonder if he is a very good candidate to have that breakout year we’ve been waiting for. He just turned 29 years old. His career strikeout rate is over 7 per nine innings. His walk rate is close to 2 per nine innings. His hit rate was below 1 per inning for the last two years. He is exactly the kind of sneaky good struggling pitcher that I would target just looking at his stats. Oh, plus, he’s relatively cheap.

That doesn’t mean he belongs on a list of possible aces. But he’s exactly the kind of sleeper that suddenly breaks through and everyone looks back and wonders how they didn’t see it coming. Shouldn’t we know better? Didn’t we just go through this with Liriano?

Before today I wouldn’t have given two cares about whether Baker got traded away this offseason. Now, I’d love to see him stick around, because I want to see what kind of year he has. I suspect I’m going to want to see it happen with him as a Twin.

Did you know there is such a thing as a blogging scholarship? Apparently there is, and one of the Twins own bloggers, Andrew Bryz-Gornia of Off The Mark, is a finalist for it. I've met Andrew several times over the last year, and I came away with the distinct impression that he is worth exactly $10,000. But I don't really want to pay him that with my own money, so could you please help me vote him to victory? Just click here and vote for him. Thanks.

Seth has been examining the multitude of decisions the Twins need to make about their bullpen.

Nick takes a look at Bill Smith's greatest weakness.

And over at The Bat Shatters, Adam tries to decide: Thome vs. Kubel.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Hidden Aces

Looking Past Greinke For An Ace.


Good lord, but I’m tired of hearing about Zach Greinke. I get it – he’s a Cy Young winner. He is also going to be a free agent in two years, so it makes sense for the Royals to shop him. But there are approximately a dozen other teams that are going to be just as interested in acquiring him as the Twins, and only one team is going to get him.

It might make sense to have a backup plan.

Furthermore, I consider the Twins baseball writer community to be one of the most thorough and analytical groups of writers any fan base can have. Have we really stopped at that one name? Surely there are others the Twins could consider.

Let’s rectify that. We’re looking for an “ace”, and to me that means a workhorse that can strike guys out when he needs to. So let’s look at the top qualified starting pitchers in the majors by strikeout rate and see if we can find any guys that might be available. Since Greinke comes in at 38th on that list, we’ll look at the 37 guys who ranked higher than him this year. We’ll highlight and examine the guys who might make sense to chase.

1. Tim Lincecum (SF)
2. Jon Lester (BOS)
3. Yovani Gallardo (MIL)
Sorry, not for sale at any price. But seeing last night’s Game 1 World Series starter at the top of the list encourages me that we’re going about this the right way. If you’re wondering about Gallardo, Milwaukee has signed him to a long-term low-cost deal through 2014, so he’s not going anywhere.

4. Jonathan Sanchez (SF)

Nice. We identified Sanchez as a trade target in our TwinsCentric Offseason GM Handbook, so it’s nice to see him here. Sanchez will be arbitration eligible this year, not that is a particularly large disincentive to San Francisco, who has deep pockets. But his control has been shaky, and his postseason performance in the NLCS even shakier. It’s a longshot, but tune into Game 3 on Saturday and root for him to lose his composure a bit more. It would be very nice to see him available on the trade market.

5. Francisco Liriano (MIN)
I’ll agree with you when you say “Liriano isn’t an ace,” but I’ll add the word “yet.” Nick wrote yesterday that signing him to a long-term deal should be a top priority this offseason, and I agree. But I’ll take it even further and say it’ll happen. It makes too much sense to both sides to do a 4-year/$40 million deal. I’ll be shocked if this isn’t announced in March.

6. Jered Weaver (LAA)
7. Clayton Kershaw (LAD)
8. Mat Latos (SD)
9. Josh Johnson (FLA)
10. Cole Hamels (PHI)
11. Justin Verlander (DET)
12. Colby Lewis (TEX)
Yeah - you can’t have these guys. The name that surprises me most is Latos, but he’ll be very cheap for the Padres for a long time. The name above we hear the most is Johnson, but that’s just habit based on last year’s rumors. He’s now signed through 2013. His contract is a great model for a Liriano deal, by the way.

13. Ryan Dempster (CHC)
Well, he’s not cheap. He’ll likely be paid $27.5M over the next two years, he’s 33 years old and his control was a bit shaky last year. But he’s a #1 guy, posted a 3.85 ERA last year, and has a higher strikeout rate than King Felix. The Cubs don’t need to trade him – they have oodles of money – but that doesn’t mean he isn’t available. He’s just not cheap.

14. Ubaldo Jimenez (COL)
So sorry. He, like a lot of these guys on this list, is signed cheap for a long time, like through 2014.

Instead, focus on free agent pitcher Jorge de la Rosa from Colorado. He’s not on this list because he didn’t have enough innings last year, but he’s young, he can strike guys out, and he’s left-handed. He’ll also likely get a four or five year deal for $10+ million per year, so I’m not holding my breath. But this was my primary target in my offseason blueprint in the TwinsCentric Offseason GM Handbook.

15. Max Scherzer (DET)
16. Felix Hernandez (SEA)
17. Adam Wainwright (STL)
18. James Shields (TB)
19. Dan Haren (LAA)
Don’t count on it, sport. The one possible exception is Shields who put up great strikeout and walk numbers but gave up a ton of hits and ended up with a 5.10 ERA. But he’s cheap next year, and the Rays have options on years through 2014, so I expect they’ll give him a year to bounce back. But it’s not totally crazy to think they might shop him.

20. Wandy Rodriguez (HOU)

Hmm. Now THIS is a hidden ace. 3.60 ERA last year, along with 178 K – and those numbers are put up in Houston’s fairly small ballpark. This is his last year of arbitration (probably making about $9M), so he’ll be a free agent at this time next year. He is exactly the kind of guy that Houston probably should be trading, if not now, in July. In fact, it was rumored he was available at the last trade deadline.

The problem? Houston’s owner and management are…well, “eccentric” sounds so much better than “certifiably insane.” They might not trade him for any combination of players – or they might trade him for a box of vintage show tune albums. (Provided No No Nannette is included, of course.)

Monday, October 25, 2010

Trade Target: Cliff Pennington

In the TwinsCetric Offseason GM Handbook (there is still time for you to "preorder") you'll find dozens of pages of trade targets and free agents that the Twins could acquire. But in my blueprint, I parenthetically drop a name I'd like to watch, but that we didn't write about.

That player is shortstop Cliff Pennington of the Oakland Athletics, and I didn't profile him because I'm not sure the A's are likely trade candidates for the Twins. But he's worth looking over.

Pennington is intriguing because I was looking to add some middle infield speed to battle the Yankees. The 26-year-old stole 29 bases this year versus getting caught just five times, and it looks like he's two years away from arbitration. He was also very good defensively, or at least he was according to UZR; I don't remember his defense being particularly noticeable when the Twins played Oakland.

On the other hand, he has absolutely no power to speak of, with a career slugging percentage of .358 in the minors. Worse, this past year he hit just .250 and posted on on-base percentage of .319, driven by 96 strikeouts compared to 50 walks. Twins fans can't expect him to be anywhere near the offensive asset that JJ Hardy was. Or even that Alexi Casilla was. Shudder.

But his minor league numbers suggest he's better than that. He has almost as many walks (286) as strikeouts (297) in his minor league career. He also sports a career minor league on-base percentage of .362, and he's stolen bases at every level.

It's not clear if the A's really value that skill set or not, but they probably should, because they don't have a lot to replace it. There isn't a lot of good internal competition for shortstop within the A's organization, and the shortstop free agent market is brutal. My guess is that the A's will be in no hurry to move him.


A quick (and very late heads up): you have plans tonight. I know, you thought you didn't because the World Series doesn't start until tomorrow, but there is baseball here in the Twins Cities. Tonight, at Bryant Lake Bowl, Salon Saloon is performing The Baseball Show. It includes some local baseball writing luminaries, such as Anne "BatGirl" Ursu and Peter Schilling, author of The End of Baseball. f you play your cards right, you can get your baseball fix AND get date points from the significant other for taking them to a show. Not that I would ever do anything that cynical.

And yes, The Voice of Reason(TM) and I will be in attendance, the baseball gods willing.

The Lantern Bearer: A Tribute To Paul Wellstone

Oiginally published 10/29/2002
A Lantern Bearer's light went out this weekend.

And the world grew darker.

We react to the infinite realities the world holds in a straightforward way. We simplify it by choosing, consciously or not, which reality we care to embrace. But whichever illusion we choose can also constrain us and too often turns into a shadow that we dare not challenge.

How do people react to you when you leave a room? Do they laugh at you? Some might. Of course, some might admire you. And some won't like you and some will and some won't give you a second thought, one way or the other. Which illusion do you subscribe to? And how does that shadow world modify what you say or do before you leave the room? Illusions like that are everywhere. And are so all-encompassing as to be invisible, like water to a fish.

And then comes a Lantern Bearer, who holds up their light to the shadows and walks through them and takes us along. They remind us that we created these shadows, and that we can dispel them. We just have to pick up our lanterns, hold them out in front of us, and walk bravely forward.

Think your idea can never work? That's just a shadow - hold up your light and walk through it.

Think that which you care about cannot be achieved? That's just a shadow - hold up your light and walk through it.

Think you are alone in your passion? That's just a shadow - hold up your light and walk through it.

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy. The world has room for you, your energy, and your passion. Indeed, it desperately needs it.


A Lantern Bearer's light went out this weekend.

And the world grew darker.

Paul Wellstone's death left sizeable holes in our world in many ways. An election, uncompleted. A Senate, undecided. A movement, leaderless. A family, parentless.

But the largest hole might be spiritual. For a slice of my generation, he wasn't just someone who championed their political philosophy, but someone who reminded them of the joy and strength that flows from acting in a fundamentally moral way.

"I lost my Kennedy." one friend told his wife this weekend.

His believers flocked to the Twins Cities and followed him to Washington. They participated in a system that they otherwise might have disdained. And they watched him challenge the shadows.

Think an outsider can't change the system? That's just a shadow - hold up your light and walk through it.

Think voting your conscience will alienate you from the decision makers? That's just a shadow - hold up your light and walk through it.

Think a good man can't hold onto his convictions when clothed with the trappings of power? That's just a shadow - hold up your light and walk through it.

And then the believers started picking up their own lanterns.


A Lantern Bearer's light went out this weekend.

And it happened the way it always seems to with lantern bearers. Suddenly. Tragically. Too damn early.

And, of course, the world grew darker.

When a bright light is suddenly taken away, isn't that always when things are darkest? But that, too, is an illusion. Time passes, the eyes adjust, and one starts seeing the other sources of light.

Because this Lantern Bearer's light has spread throughout this generation. Some lantern bearers are trying to change how politics works. Some are ushering underprivileged kids into college. And if you look around, you'll find hundreds more have raised their own lanterns, found their own path, and chased their own shadows.

Is it still too dark? Sure. So maybe it's time you picked up your lantern.

Think your voice won't be heard? That's just a shadow - hold up your light and walk through it.

Think you're powerless? That's just a shadow - hold up your light and walk through it.

Think YOU can't make a difference? That's just a shadow - hold up your light and walk through it.

A Lantern Bearer's light went out this weekend.

And a thousand more Lantern Bearers strode forward.
I attended Carleton College when Paul Wellstone was there, and even had a class with him. I skew considerably further right from him on the political spectrum, but I always respected him, and I always voted for him out of that respect. But mostly I respected his impact on my friends' lives. On the anniversary of his death, I'm rerunning this story was for them. Back to Twins tomorrow.