Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Trade Targets

Tuesday, after all kinds of rumors, we learned that Jake Peavy is being made available by San Diego Padres this offseason. Peavy won the NL Cy Young last year, and followed it up with a 2.85 ERA this year.

Add those stats to Peavy's age(27) and contract, which pays him "just" $56 million over the next four years, and he might become the most desirable starting pitcher on the offseason market. Before yesterday, that title probably belonged to CC Sabathia, but there probably aren't a half dozen teams that could chase him given the probably size of his contract. There are at least another half dozen teams that would consider making a run at getting Peavy.

The effect on the Twins is minimal, but what effect it has is probably negative. One of the Twins better trade chips this winter is going to be one of their young arms, and this adds one more chit to the supply side. And it's a chit at the top of the list, and one that bumps everyone else down a notch.

But it made me wonder - just what teams might be looking for a starting pitcher this offseason? So let's find out, going through the five worst team in the league as ranked by their starting pitchers' ERA:

Texas - 5.51 ERA

Huh. the name everyone talks about is 3B Hank Blalock, but he's left-handed, and doesn't hit away from Texas.

I wonder if they would ever consider trading shortstop Michael Young? Young is 31 years old, batted .285/.339/.402 last year, and is right-handed. He's under contract through 2013, at $16M per year. His production has slipped the last two years, and that contract is a lot longer than I would like, and it's no bargain. Still, I'd need to think about an offer like that.

Baltimore - 5.51 ERA

Wow. Another team that traditionally needs pitching, and another team that has some infielders worth considering. Third base is manned by Melvin Mora, who looked cooked around midyear, but ended the season hitting .285 (825 OPS) with 23 HR and 104 RBI. He's also right-handed, but he's also 36, and the really bad news is his contract. It's cheap, but it lasts just one more year, and it has a full no-trade clause. It's thought to be unlikely that Mora would waive it, since he has something like centuplets or something.

The other premier piece they could offer is second baseman Brian Roberts. Roberts is mone of the top leadoff hitters in the game, sporting a .397 on-base percentage and 40 stolen bases last year. He's 31 years old, a switch-hitter, and becomes a free agent next year. He would be a great piece to add, but he would likely be a rental, and the Twins could probably use the power more than the another disciplined on-basse guy.

Pittsburgh - 5.36 ERA

The Pirates essentially began their rebuilding process once again midway through last year when they traded Jason Bay for a package of players headlined by third baseman Andy LaRoche. He's perfect - right-handed, projecting power, cheap, young - but they won't be trading him, and the rest is just filler.

Colorado - 5.14 ERA

This is the one team that was desperate enough last year to take Livan Hernandez, don't forget. They have two third baseman, but no second baseman, so it remains to be seen if either is really available.

Garret Atkins hit .286 (780 OPS), is 28 years old, bats right-handed and will be a free agent two years from now. The concern usually expressed about him is that he hasn't hit much away from Coors field.

Ian Stewart hit .259 (804 OPS), is 23 years old, bats left-handed and is two years away from arbitration. He struck out 94 times in 266 at-bats last year.

I wish I could believe in Atkins. I really wish I could. He would be a great fit for this team if I just believed he could hit outside of Coors. Looking at years 2005-2007, he posted a 790 OPS on the road, and I'd sign up for that in a second. But this year it was back down to 661. I'd love to talk to some people who cover the Rockies a bit more and see what they think about him.

Seattle - 5.07 ERA

I and every other Twins blogger has beat Adrian Beltre into the ground. My take is here, and I'll leave it at that, so I can watch the end of this Phillies game.

When I started this, I planned on going through the 15 worst teams, but the truth is I just found too much. We reviewed five teams, and I found seven candidates, and the only one that is probably completely out of bounds is Mora because of his no-trade clause. It's been fun to look at the specifics, and I think I'll take another stab at this later next week. But the more valuable lesson might be just how marketable the Twins young, cheap, and good pitching could be.

Did Gomez Get Better?

Did Carlos Gomez get better last year?

Yes, there is no doubt in my mind that he got better. His fielding certainly got better, and by the end of the year, I no longer gasped every time he had to rifle a ball into the infield. His plate appearances got better, too, or at least he didn't appear to have as many puzzling at-bats by the end of the season.
Did Carlos Gomez get better?

And there was also an uptick in power in September that was very encouraging. Gomez had 10 extra-base hits in September, reminding us that he's supposed to be a lot more than the dink-and-dunk guy that we want to mold our speedy bunt guys into. if we're luck, he has a skill set that could remind us of Ricky Henderson in a couple of years - speed, power, on-base skills....

Well, except for the on-base skills, of course. Gomez's big problem this year was pitch recognition, and it was no secret. He started hitting quite a bit more as the season ended, and I wondered if there was any evidence that he also started showing a bit more selectivity at the plate. So let's check out his monthly stats quickly.

If Gomez started laying off the plethora of low-and-away offspeed pitches that he was force fed by opposing pitchers most of the year, I'd hope to see him take more walks and striking out less. Except for a brief period in August, I'm not seeing that. He got a little better as the season went along, and he was a lot better than he was in an overmatched April, but he still wasn't good.

What is "good"? Well, the average for the American League was about two strikeouts for every one walk. At a ratio of about 5:1, Gomez ended the season more than twice as bad at plate discipline as your average major leaguer.

Which, by the way, doesn't mean he doesn't belong in the major leagues. Lots of major leaugers have a ratio like that, including Delmon Young, Vlad Guerrero and (in his youth) Torii Hunter. But it does mean that the primary thing Gomez needed to learn last year is going to be the primary thing he's going to need to learn again this year.

The question for the Twins is whether they should try teaching it in the same place as they failed to do last year, or whether Gomez might be served better by learning it someplace else. Like Rochester.

Sunday, October 12, 2008


Friday night I was out with Kyle Eliason, the GameDay editor who is responsible for the visiting side of the Dugout Splinters. While most of us have been talking about the Twins offseason plans in terms of position, Kyle wanted to go about it in a different way..

"Get me a #3 hitter."

I gotta say, I don't get too worked up about the whole "Joe Mauer is not a #3 hitter" thing. But let's play along, if for no other reason than I would love to add a big right-handed bat to this lineup. So what is out there?

Starting Point

Friday I was treated to a nice writeup of Adrian Beltre, courtesy of Josh's Thoughts. It's well done, nicely summarizing the rewards and issues surrounding acquiring Beltre.

It's been a hot topic lately, and I spoke about it with several smart guys on Seth's podcast last last week. Twins fans interest seems to be high, but is tempered as soon as you begin to throw out names. Everyone loves the idea of getting him for prospects. But bring up on of the young members of the pitching staff, or one of the glut of young outfielders, and opinions become more guarded in a hurry.

The problem is that we're not going to get Beltre for Boof Bonser and Anthony Swarzak. A lot has been made about the Mariners being a struggling franchise with a bloated payroll. But before we start thinking that the Mariners are going to give away Beltre for some magic beans, we should look at some other factors as well:

1. The Third Baseman market is Olson Twin thin. You could make a case that the 3rd best free agent third baseman this year is going to be Mike Lamb. When the cream of the crop is Casey Blake, who has mostly been a super-utility guy for his whole career, then the market is razor thin.

The demand for Beltre is going to be far, far greater than the supply of Adrian Beltre. What is a "fair" trade isn't really relevant. What will be relevant is what the market will bear, and the market is going to bear a lot more than 2-3 B level prospects.

2. The Mariners dont NEED to move Beltre's salary off the books. Yeah, their payroll is huge, but there isn't lot of evidence that it's a stretch for the Mariners:

2008: $117,666,482
2007: $106,460,833
2006: $ 87,959,833
2005: $ 87,754,334
2004: $ 81,515,834

(Thanks to the indispensable Cott's Baseball Contracts)

There just isn't any evidence that the Mariners care one whit about cutting payroll, and there is plenty to indicate otherwise. For instance, when a team flat out rejects an offer to take unload the $10 M contract of Jarrod Washburn (which the Mariners did this year), I think we can safely assume there isn't any urgency for them to slash payroll.

That high payroll level also means that they don't to worry about "fill-in" players. Next year will likely be the last year they'll need to pay Richie Sexson, Adrian Beltre, Miguel Batista, Jarrod Washburn and possible Erik Bedard. All told, that'll free over $50 million in payroll. They'll be able to sign all the lower-end free agents they would ever want.

With all those holes and all that money, they Mariners are going to be shopping for players with some Big League chops, or at least with some tremendous upside. The Twins don'thave the latter in the high level of their minors. But they do have plenty of candidates to plug some of those rotation holes, and a couple of guys who could replace Adam Jones, who the Mariners traded away last offseason, in center field.

In short, we need to start thinking of the Mariners in much the same was we think about the Mets. They have money, and they have expectation, and the pressure will be to compete sooner rather than later. Discussing them trading Beltre for a collection of minor leaguers is likely a fantasy. One of the Twins young regulars is going to be the starting point.