Thursday, May 17, 2007

Time is Money (II)

You’ll recall that when Matt Garza was sent down we researched his service time and found out that it would behoove the Twins to call him up very late in May to bump his free agency back a year, and until the all-star break to bump his arbitration back a year. Let's do the same with Kevin Slowey, Glen Perkins, and Scott Baker.

(By the way, if you want some of the specifics, click on that Garza link. It talks about how the service time is set up in more detail.)

Glen Perkins
Service Time coming into the year: 13 days
Free Agency Clock: The Twins called up Perkins about 10 days into the season. Ouch. That means if he stays on the roster all season he'll be eligible for free agency after 2012, whereas if they send him back down for about a week, he'll be eligible after 2013. That's not a bad reason to not want to rush him into the rotation.
Arbitation Clock: If he stays in the league for the whole year, he'll be eligible for arbitration after 2009. To bump it back to 2010, he would need to spend aproximately 11 weeks back in AAA.

Kevin Slowey
Service Time coming into the year: 0 days
Free Agency Clock: Because Slowey didn't start the season with the Twins, he won't be eligible until 2013 whether he's called up now or called up at the end of September.
Arbitration Clock: If Slowey is called up now and sticks, he'll be eligible for arbitration after 2009. If he isn't called up until the end of June, he'll be eligible for arbitration after 2010.

Scott Baker
Service Time coming into the year: 165 days
Free agency clock: If Slowey is called up any time prior to the middle of September, he'll be eligibile for free agency after the 2012 season, so there is no real impact.
Arbitration Clock: There also is no real impact on his arbitration clock if Baker is called up now. He's alreay missed the 30 days he likely needed to be a "Super 2", so if he's called up and stays, he'll be eligible for arbitration following the 2009 season. To bump it back a year, the Twins would need to wait until May of 2008.

As I mentioned already, there are also two good reasons to keep Garza down a bit longer. This shows there is a good reason to delay Slowey's debut by another month, and a good reason to keep Perkins in the bullpen and send him back down when they face interleague play in a month.

But Baker is a different story. His critical time is over for both clocks. It'll be interesting to see if the Twins deem him the "most ready".

Monday, May 14, 2007

Get To Know: Edwin Encarnacion

"Timing is everything," or so they say. The older I get, the more I'm becoming convinced that timing is a fundamental skill that some people have, some people learn, and some people don't. AndI wonder if timing isn't what is hurting the Twins most at third base right now.

A couple of days ago, I talked about possible options at third base, but there is another name out there, one that's damn intriguing, and I missed it because I just didn't know that much about the guy. The sad truth is that when I heard about an "Encarnacion" on the Reds, I thought people were talking about the older outfielder, Juan Encarnacion, who I couldn't believe was still in the league. Turns out, he is, and he just returned, but that isn't the Encarnacion that's intriguing.

Instead, the guy on the Reds is Edwin Encarnacion, a 24-year-old right-handed third baseman with some pop in his bat, about a year's worth of major league experience, who was recently replaced in the Reds lineup. Yes, the same Reds that are run by ex-Twin assistant GM Wayne Krivsky, who has already swung a couple of deals with the Twins and who seems to covet Twins pitchers.

At first blush, that seems like a pretty good fit. It's fun to speculate about upgrading all kinds of positions, but the one place the Twins look like they really will need to upgrade long-term is third base. The Twins will give Jason Kubel every chance to find himself, and Rondell White every chance to find his health, because both of those guys can be middle-of-the-order talents. There are no such delusions about Nick Punto or Jeff Cirillo.

Unfortunatly, Encarnacion is not without hit blemishes, and they're blemishes the Twins might pay more attention to than most. For starters, his defense at third base is cringe inducing. He was also benched earlier this season for not running out a popup. And he hasn't hit a lick this year, which is why he lost his job and in now in AAA.

On the other hand, he's been young for nearly every level he's been in. Last year he hit .276/.359/.473 as a 23-year-old, and it doesn't look like he was protected much from facing right-handed pitchers. He also didn't show a significant split one way or the other. The biggest concern with him is whether he can hit away from Cincinatti's bandbox, as his road numbers were significantly lower.

But probably the thing that would shoot down any deal for Encarnacion in the short term is the timing. A trade for Encarnacion, perhaps for a minor league pitcher or one of the Twins relievers, is exactly the kind of deal that might be made during the offseason. But to make it now reeks of panic.

After all, it isn't like Encarnaion is a sure thing, and it isn't clear that a platoon of Punto and Cirillo couldn't outhit him for this year. That platoon might be possible once White returns from the DL. Plus, Punto also isn't likely to be this bad. Finally, the Twins just committed to Punto for a two-year contract, and targeted and brough in Cirillo this offseason. Isn't it kind of early to reverse course after six weeks, even if the results so far have been putrid?

Six weeks from now, if Encarnacion doesn't work out, Twins Territory will be pining for a different change in direction. And then we'll also be wondering why our organization can't stay the course, and ride out a rough stretch, and stick with a plan.

A player like Encarnacion, if the Twins think he has a future, might be a great addition, especially this offseason. But right now, the timing is wrong. And timing, they tell us, is everything.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

The Move We've All Been Waiting For

Minnesota Twins designate Sidney Ponson(P-RH) for assignment and promote Garret Jones(DH-L) from AAA-Rochester.

Well, this is the move. This is The Move We've All Been Waiting For, except that it isn't. It's just removing the obstacle that allows the Twins to make the move that we've all been waiting for. (That Jack built?)

Expectations were low, but to be fair, Sidney Ponson ended up being considerably better than was advertised in several ways. There were no hints of off-the-field issues. He took responsibility for every start, and he didn't always need to, because the Twins played very poorly behind him a couple of times. Finally, he didn't work himself into trouble too often, such as being afraid to attack the strike zone. He pitched like a professional, throwing his pitches and daring hitters to hit it.

Unfortunately for Ponson, they obliged. The oft cited statistic about giving up twice as many baserunners as innings was bad, but not as bad as the 54 hits in 37.2 innings. With that kind of hittability, it's damn commendable for him to pitch like he did. Ponson looks like he needs to rediscover his stuff at AAA right now.

The beat reporters are saying that's unlikely to happen as a Rochester Red Wing, though it is a possible result of being designated for assignment. I'm not as sure. It must be apparent to Ponson that he needs to redefine himself at that level, and the Rochester staff could use a veteran presence. And it's not like the Twins would hesitate to turn to him again if he were to find success there. Terry Ryan also has a track recrod of making veterans like him available to another team that's looking if there isn't an opportunity.

But like I said, this isn't truly The Move We've All Been Waiting For (TMWABWF), unless you're a Twins fans who likes to play the lottery. Garret Jones is essentially a Twins Scratch Game ticket, and it's one the Twins have saved for a while because it didn't look like a winner.

Remember Dustan Mohr, who came up through the Twins system despite not being drafted by them? Jones is similar. He's has been with the organization since 2002, but he was originally with the Braves who let him go (I think he was released) because he swung and missed too often. He continued that trend with the Twins, until 2004, when he was finally promoted out of A ball, and had some real success in AA-New Britain, hitting .311.

For the last two years, he's been in Rochester, hitting 45 home runs, but batting just .241 with 230(!) strikeouts. This year he's hitting .316, but has struck out 25 times already, so it's not apparent much has changed. On the other hand, Tom Kelly reportedly met with Twins management this weekend, which bodes well for Jones, because Kelly is the last guy who would recommend promoting a player like Jones if Jones wasn't adjusting.

My best guess is that his role will be that of designated hitter versus right-handed pitchers, though it's worth noting he hit lefties well in limited (just 22) at-bats this year. He'll practice in the outfield outside of games, but this is the first year he's ever played there, so I wouldn't expect him to replace Jason Kubel or Jason Tyner there. This may just be an example of the Twins finding themselves with an open roster spot and deciding to see if this guy they held back for a couple of years can prove them wrong.

TMWABWF is likely happening much later this week, since the Twins don't need to fill Ponson's spot in the rotation until next Saturday night. Everyone will focus on who the Twins want to call-up, but the real problem is going to be who the Twins send down.

This latest swap means the Twins are down to eleven pitchers, which is as many as they want for interleague play. So the obvious move would be to move Glen Perkins from the bullpen to the rotation. The beat reporters seem to think that's not likely, because Gardenhire like Perkins in his left-handed bullpen role, but then what are the options? The obvious choice to send down would be the seventh bullpen arm, but that's Perkins again. So why not move him into the rotation?

If Gardy wants his two bullpen lefties, he's going to need to shorten his bench. But that makes Jones the obvious choice to be sent down, just four days after being called up? Maybe Luis Rodriguez, but that leaves the bench without a true middle infield backup. Or Tyner, but that means more Kubel in left field. Or Ford, but he was just called up, too.

So unless the Twins get an injury, I still think it's going to be Perkins starting that game next Saturday. He's stretched out a bit after Saturday night, he's been having success, and there just isn't another great option. It's also probably the least satisfying option for TMWABWF. After all, we've seen Perkins, and he has been far from dominant.

You might want that last sentence to sink in a bit, because it serves as a reality check on TMWABWF. Young pitchers are like recent graduates - their potential is what makes them exciting, not necessarily their immediate performance. Whether it's Perkins or Kevin Slowey or Scott Baker or Matt Garza that is pitching on Saturday night, we may be getting what we've been waiting for, but not neceesarily what we want.