Wednesday, November 16, 2011

On Handedness, Pudge & Departures

Just a couple of notes to chew on about the Twins….

Or Left-handed. Or Any-handed.

I’ve trumpeted the acquisition of right-handed hitters for the Twins lineup. But did you know that the Twins actually had a higher OPS last year against left-handed pitchers (670) than they did against right-handed pitchers (665)? I suppose all that shows is that the team was equally dismal on both sides.

Of course, most of the better left-handed bats (Justin Morneau, Joe Mauer & Denard Span) also missed several months last year. Any chance the Twins have competing next year starts with an assumption that at least two of those guys are healthy, and if they are, then the Twins will need some right-handed offense.

And Hopefully That Difference Includes Major League Service Time

Joe Christensen wrote a story about the Twins search for a backup catcher the other day, focusing on veterans Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez and Jason Veritek. Pudge’s son is also in the Twins farm system, leading to some natural speculation. And Pudge threw out 13 of 25 base stealers last year, showing defensive skills which the Twins value so highly.

His skills from the side of the plate, though, have deteriorated sharply. Over the last three years, he hasn’t cleared a 663 OPS and things got quite a bit worse last year when he hit just .218 with a 604 OPS. He’s enough of an offensive millstone that we didn’t profile him in the TwinsCentric Offseason GM Handbook, lumping him into the “Other Names” section.

But as bad as that 604 OPS is – and it might be bad enough that he can’t find a job this winter – it is still 150 points higher than what Drew Butera posted last year (449 OPS). By way of comparison, 150 points is about the difference between Joe Mauer last year and Joe Mauer in 2010. Or between Joe Mauer in 2010 and Joe Mauer when he won the MVP award in 2009.

Yes, Rodriguez only hit .218 last year – but Butera couldn’t reach that plateau even if you included all of his walks. My point isn’t that the Twins should rush out and get Pudge. The point is that there is a huge difference between an offensively-challenged catcher and Drew Butera.

Ironically, Cuddyer's Departure Wouldn't Be A Departure At All
One other name that has been bandied about hopefully is free agent Josh Willingham, the right-handed outfielder for the A’s who slugged 29 home runs last year. We listed him in the Handbook as the 3rd most desirable free agent outfielder, just behind Michael Cuddyer. Here was the writeup:

Josh Willingham
Age: 32 (2/17/79) | 2011 Salary: $6M
Stats: .246/.332/.477, 29 HR, 98 RBI
Mr. Willingham, the USS Multi-Year has finally pulled into port. After playing a series of one-year contracts, Willingham looks poised for a big deal. He actually had a better year than Cuddyer, but lacks some of the hype. Still, don’t be surprised if the 32-year-old ends up with a longer deal, or one that includes a playable option year.
Estimated Contract: 3 years, $30 million

In the Handbook his name is in red, which means he was projected to be a Type A free agent, and the A’s will almost surely offer arbitration. That means that for the Twins to sign him, they must give up their second round pick to the A’s, which will be somewhere around the 45th overall. I can’t imagine that the Twins would do that, unless…

Unless that’s part of what the “philosophical differences” were. Willingham is clearly, at best, a backup plan if Cuddyer walks. And if Cuddyer (or Jason Kubel) walks, the Twins would end up with extra draft picks in the same vicinity. I suppose it is possible that they could give back one of those picks to sign Willingham.

But it’s worth noting that the Twins – as far as I can remember – have NEVER given up a draft pick for a free agent. Twins officials like to talk about their core philosophy of drafting, developing and giving opportunities to new players. It would be a major departure from that philosophy for them to sign Willingham.

1 comment:

Shane Wahl said...

At $10 million, the Twins can get a decent backup catcher, a good bullpen arm, and a solid RF/DH. No way they will or should chase Willingham at the expense of filling roster holes.