Thursday, November 15, 2007

Doing The Little Things Right

It used to be a point of pride. Now it's a ridiculed cliche. "The Twins Do The Little Things Right".

Usually that phrase has been applied to on-field play (though not deservedly this last year) but it's also been generally applicable to player personnel moves (though not deservedly this last year). Twins fans hope that attention to detail returns on the field. Twins Geeks hope it returns off the field.

Mabye it is. When I turned a critical eye toward the Monroe trade on Tuesday, it still wasn't a trade, only a rumor. But, as usual, the details matter, and they're showing some creative thinking on behalf of the organization.

To be honest, I don't think I've ever heard of a trade quite like it. The Twins and Cubs structured this so the Twins basically acquired exlusive negotiating rights to Monroe for the next month. If they don't get a deal done, they basically lose nothing. And if they do get a deal done, they lose very little besides some money.

Some of the criticisms still stand. Monroe still is nothing more than a deceivingly shaky fallback option. Also, the most the Twins can reduce his salary is 20%, which would mean he makes around $4 million next year, which is still probably too much for someone with his history. And finally, it's not clear the Twins truly understand that their biggest and riskiest investment is playing time.

But there's enough positives to make me gloss over the queasy feeling the accompanied the news that the Twins apparently made this deal without understanding whether they could negotiate a 20% or 40% pay cut for Monroe from last year's salary. Hey, what's a million dollars when you've got Carl's checkbook, right?

Or could it be that is another ploy, used to negotiate Monroe closer to the 20% cut? Far-fetched? Maybe, but my paradigm on this new regime has shifted a little. Objectively, all that's changed over the last 48 hours is that the Twins will likely spend $1 million less than I thought, may not give up anything from their minors, and may even throw Monroe back like an undersized walleye. Should that really be enough to change my view?

Maybe not. But the outside-the-box nature of this trade raises the possiblity that the Twins are suddenly acting a little smarter - and more creatively - than we're used to. For Twins fans starved for some pride in the local nine, that's not such a little thing.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007


And the Bill Smith era begins with....well, a kind of queasy feeling.

The rumored trade for outfielder Craig Monroe is going to be spun as a risk-taking move, and maybe even a steal. It will be taken as a sign that the Twins are willing to part with minor league talent to win now. Focus will be place on Monroe’s 30 home run power and RBI ability in 2006, and on the effect injuries had on him last year. But most of all, Monroe’s right-handed bat will look like a possible replacement for Torii Hunter’s offensive production.

And all of these are kind of true.

But there are other truths, too, and they’re truths that lead to a queasy feeling inside. Starting with:

Monroe is not as good as his numbers.
Simply put, Monroe is a right-handed version of Jacque Jones. His power is balanced out by his lack of plate discipline, and his numbers were enhanced by where he was hitting in Detroit’s lineup. In 2006, he hit 28 home runs and tallied 89 RBI, both impressive totals. He also hit just .255 and got on base at just a .301 clip. If you’ve been pining for those all-or-nothing at-bats that Jacque used to take, you’re going to like Mr. Monroe.

He’s older than you think.
Monroe burst onto the scene with Detroit just a couple of years ago, so it’s easy to think of him as a prospect. He’s not. He’s going to be 31 by the time spring training starts and one way or the other his decline started last year, when he hit just .219. Whether that was due to the patellar tendonitis and back problems, his age, or some combination of both doesn’t really matter. Either way, there’s no real upside here beyond 2008.

He’s expensive.
Believe it or not, the Twins came into this offseason with money to burn, having something like $25 million that they could throw at free agents or retaining players like Hunter. Monroe is now going to take up at least $5 million of that, unless they have the foresight to insist that they negotiate a contract with him prior to the trade, which is REALLY unlikely to have happened for a player of his stature.

He’s likely not worth the prospect they gave up.
If the Twins gave up anything more than a warm bucket of spit, they likely got rooked in this deal. If Monroe wasn’t traded, he was going to be non-tendered and would have been available on the free agent market. It’s unlikely the Twins would’ve had to pay him the salary they’ll need to now if they had gone that path.

The only real positive news here is that the Twins have reduced their risk level a bit if Hunter leaves. But they did so by acquiring a bargain level veteran who isn’t as good as his stats, with very little upside, who they’re likely paying too much. And so Twins fans are left hoping that the Twins know something that we don’t. Or we’re left trusting that the Twins scouting is doing a better job than they’ve done the last couple years with similar players.

Or we’re left embracing a slightly familiar queasy feeling.

Monday, November 12, 2007

On Losing Control

Philadelphia Phillies announce they've signed JC Romero (LHP) to a three-year contract for $12 million.

Blink. Blink.

I learned first hand that there are plenty of pitfalls to being an earnest young man, starting with the limits it places on your sense of appropriate behavior. Earnest, serious analysis has its time and place, but there are also times to be stupid. Or, in the words of Walter “Gib” Gibson, “What the hell's wrong with being stupid once in awhile?”

The foremost example of this philosophy is matters of the heart. There is precious little room for analysis in intimacy. Letting someone you barely know into your bed and falling asleep naked next to him or her is an act of insanity. You need to play a ridiculous game, and act the fool to get anywhere near love.

So you had better get a highly developed sense of humor, and quick. That walk of shame can crush oneself quick if you can’t laugh at your own actions, weaknesses, and kitschy sexual predilections. Just what was it that drew you to her, exactly? Where did that feeling come? And most importanly, what were you thinking?

You’re a good way towards the answers when you can shake your head and laugh at the results.

I hope this morning Philadelphia Phillies GM Pat Gillick is laughing at himself and the chemical hold that JC Romero seemingly has on him, because I assure you, he’s likely to be fielding some calls from his fraternal brothers.

“Mr. Gillick? Mr. Ryan is on line one.”“Dude, you know he went after my manager’s door with a bat, right? A BAT. And that was after we’d sent him down to the minors to get his head straight. Sleep tight, buddy.”
“I’ve told Mr. Epstein several times that you’re busy, but he keeps calling. He’s on line two.”
“You just can’t get enough of my throwaways, can you buddy? Listen, I hear you, it’s closing time, you’re in the game and he looks like the complete package. But let me warn you – no control. Or maybe you like that type, eh?”

The danger is that this wasn’t just a temporary case of beer goggles. Maybe Gillick really is smitten. He’s a sharp guy, but even the smartest people think that this time is different. Maybe the object of my affection has changed. Or worse, maybe I can be the one that changes them.

I can see where Gillick might think that, seeing as Romero had a 1.24 ERA in his time with the Phillies. But his fundamental problem – the aforementioned lack of control – doesn’t seem to have changed. In his 36 spectacular innings with the Phils, he still walked 25 guys, which is about par. He succeeded despite that wildness because nobody could actually hit him. Which He raises the possibility that maybe the NL batters just haven’t figured out to show a little patience with him.

Now they’ll have three years to work on it, which is damn near an eternity for formerly free-falling Romero. After all, two years ago he was worth $2.2 million and a mid-level prospect. One year ago, he was worth $1.6 million. Five months ago, he was available for free. But today he’s worth $12 million over three years.

And, hopefully, a good self-deprecating laugh.