Saturday, December 06, 2008

Break from Blake

The TwinsGeek iPhone started buzzing this afternoon as Twins Territory digested LaVelle E Neal's report that the Twins have cut off negotiations with Casey Blake. That sounds like reason enough for a mid weekend update....

As usual, the sticking point wasn't money per year, but the length of the guaranteed deal. The common wisdom about the Twins is that they are too damn cheap to pay free agents, but if you look at who they lost and why, it becomes apparent that the sticking point is almost always about the length of the deal, not the money. Pick your favorite ex-Twins - Santana, Hunter, Koskie, Guardado - nearly every player the Twins lost because they wouldn't guarantee money several years down the road, not because they weren't in the ballpark for the upcoming year.

The exception that proves the rule is David Ortiz. Good lord, the further we get away from that move, the more tragic it appears to be. And I'm not being critical of the Twins when I say that, any more than I'm critical of someone who is blindsided by a speeding bus at an intersection. I didn't see it coming either. That doesn't make it less tragic.

Anyway, it's the length of the deal, not the amount of the deal, that dictates signing Mike Lamb and Adam Everett and Tony Batista and Ramon Ortiz and Sidney Ponson and....

Holy cow. I can't go on listing these guys. I think I could name twenty of them. This started as such an upbeat entry. Instead I've stumbled into Big Papi memories and a litany of guys who are working their way out of the league. Let's get back to the main point....

It's defendable to not guarantee a 35-year-old Casey Blake that you're going to pay him $7-8 million three years from now. But let's hope that after taking that rather bold stand that the Twins don't chicken out in a month or two. If they're willing to walk away from Blake over that 2011 paycheck to stick with the Brian Buscher/Brandon Harris platoon, please don't cave in with a Ty Wigginton trade or a free agent contract for Morgan Ensberg in January.

Financial Creativity
The financial critics of the Twins can rightly claim that it doesn't really matter whether the Twins don't sign these guys because they don't want to spend the money or because they don't want to guarantee a long term deal. Either way, they don't get them.

It's a valid criticism because this looks to be the second year in a row where the Twins will leave tens of millions of dollars of projected payroll on the table (or more accurately, in Carl's pockets). With a farm system that produces major-league ready talent and a hard-wired resentment towards long-term deals, this club is having a lot of money finding a way to spend it's money.

It's easy to say they can always find a way to spend that money, but try doing some analysis on how you would spend $20 million if it couldn't be on MLB players. The Twins will rarely spend much in the draft because they draft low and don't want to undermine the draft slot system that was created to protect them. Long term deals don't require money up front like NFL contracts do, and all it really saves is a million or two down the road. International players and complexes aren't something you throw an extra $10 millon at in one year - you set a budget that provides a long-term commitment to its development. And it's not like you can roll all the money over to the next year - Uncle Sam takes his chunk at the end of the year, whether you spend it or not.

The Twins might need to start getting a little more creative with their contracts. Instead of offering Blake a 3-year $22 million deal, how about a 2-year $18 million deal? Or even a 1-year, $13 million deal? Or a series of one-year deals for $11 million with player options that vests if he has 500 at-bats? Yeah, it's crazy money to spend on Casey Blake. But it's even crazier to spend it on nothing.

A New Name
Neal was nice enough to throw out a new name for us - Jason Donald, the shortstop prospect of the Philadelphia Phillies. He's right-handed and did fairly well in AA (.307/.391/.458) as a 23-year-old. That's not young for that level, but those are nice enough numbers, and Neal points out that he had a very nice stint in the Arizona Fall League too. I'm sure the Twins would love to have him in their organization.

But he also doesn't profile as someone the Twins would assume is ready for a starting major league job this spring. So even if they do trade for him, they're going to need to figure out something for this year, and that something will likely smell a lot like Juan Castro/Adam Everett. Oh, and is it likely that the Phillies will be willing to part with him for a back-end starter? Nope.

Targeting Furcal
Apparently Rafael Furcal just walked away from a 4-year $35-40 million offer from the Athletics, and that leaves him with.....well, nobody's sure that leaves him with anything. Like Blake, the market for him seems much leaner than anyone really anticipated two months ago. Is he worth taking a look at?

Well, he doesn't address the Twins greatest need, the power right-handed bat. But he's a disciplined switch-hitter and leadoff guy who would be an asset at the top of the order. His career OBP is .352, and he's good for 25-30 stolen bases per year, providing he stays healthy. He wasn't last year, missing most of the season with back surgery, and that's pretty clearly scared some suitors off.

But at just 31 years old, he's the kind of guy the Twins could give a four-year deal to and feel confident the latter years won't be wasted. And it's not like the Twins have some high-impact middle infielders that he would block. And it's not like the Twins don't have the money.

Hmm....Span, Furcal, Mauer, Morneau, Cuddyer, Kubel, Young, Buscher/Harris, Casilla. I'd be OK with that.

Yeah, Furcal is worth considering and talking to. He has plenty of upside compared to somone like Blake, and despite a longer deal it looks less risky. He makes sense for the Twins, if they choose to try and shock the world.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Delmon Silliness and Other Winter Rumors

Somehow I missed all the swirl going on about Delmon Young, and frankly, I kind of wish I had continued that trend. It started with a report on Wednesday from Mike McKeely in the Fargo Forum, in which Gardenhire stated that his three top outfielders didn't include Delmon Young. There's been a ton of speculation about this, so you might want to check out the original source.

The hot stove addicts want to believe this means that Young is on his way out the door. However, after reading the actual story, it sounds to me like Gardenhire is just giving fair warning. Last year he ended up having precious little leverage in any showdown with Young, because he had so few healthy outfielders. That doesn't look to be the case this year.

In fact, not only was Young in no danger of spending time in Rochester last year, he wasn't even in danger of losing playing time. He was the second best outfielder available, no matter what Gardenhire says publicly. If Gardy really liked Young more than Gomez, he could've benched Young at the end of August when Gomez found himself out of the lineup multiple times. For that matter, Young led all Twins outfielders in plate appearances for chrissakes.

The rumors about Young are juicy, and I'm not saying he absolutely won't be traded, but unless there is something seriously terrible going on under the covers, the Twins are going to need to be blown away for a trade to occur. Hell, ask yourself: what would you trade the 23-year-old Young's remaining four years of service for? One year of Adrian Beltre? Two years of Garret Atkins? Four years of Kevin Kouzmanoff? I can't imagine him being traded for any of these.

Instead, I'm taking this as a warning shots across the S.S. Young's bow, and that's a good thing. If Gardenhire wants to try and convince Young that he needs to change his habits, that's fine with me. Maybe Young wasn't ready for the majors just yet, and maybe he needs to spend some time back in AAA learning how to hit the ball hard, or track balls in left field. It certainly won't cause Gardenhire any sleepless nights. This year, he'll have his outfielders.

Other Rumors.....

Carpenter Injury Results Shape Cards' Approach
The Cardinals might very well be looking for pitching, and their third baseman is right-handed slugger Troy Glaus who is still signed for one more year and hit 29 home runs with 99 RBI. That's the good news. The bad news is that Glaus has a full no-trade clause (which he's already waived once) and the Cardinals don't really have a replacement for him. Oh, and there is his poor defense. Unless we start hearing rumors about the Cards needing to dump salary, it's a long shot.

White Sox Rumors: Dye, Cabrera, Roberts
Tigers Rumors: Everett, Laird, Garcia
Boy, there are all kinds of stuff about the Tigers and White Sox. Each team deserves more energy than I have tonight. Let's move on to....

Giants Interested In Encarnacion
John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer thinks that Reds third baseman Edwin Encarnacion is the most likely player on their team to be traded. Encarnacion is (stop me if you've heard this before) a right-handed slugging third baseman with poor defensive skills. He's also just 25 years old, won't be eligible for arbitration until next year, and won't be a free agent until after 2012.

He's not a terribly polished hitter, with a career average of .266 (and just .251 last year). But he's averaged a homerun every 24 at-bats in his career, and his season home run total has climbed every year. He knows how to take a walk, drawing 61 of them last year, with a career 2:1 ratio. And he kills lefties (though he has struggled against right-handers). He isn't the big right-handed bat the Twins would like to plug between Joe Mauer and Justing Morneau, but he could be a big piece of the Twins puzzle for the Twins for the next four years.

Phillies, Mets Interested In Punto
If you like Nick Punto as a Twin, believe it or not, this is very good news. Neither the Phillies or the Mets needs a shortstop - they're pretty happy with a coupla guys named Rollins and Reyes. So they're likely fishing for utility infielders. Punto is (and should be) looking for a full-time starting job at shorstop, where he would be most valuable. Options like these are fallback positions, nothing more, and a similar position on the Twins with a manager that loves him would probably be much more appealing to him.

That's it for tonight. Look for another update soon and maybe for some nightly podcasts as the winter meetings heat up.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Notes on Stark's Latest

I've already posted tonight, but Jason Stark comes up with a couple of notes that need to be commened on briefly.

The Giants aren't the only team interested in Florida's Jorge Cantu. There are indications the White Sox also have gotten involved.

Hmm, there's a name worth examining. Cantu is right-handed, 26 years old, plays third base, and hit 29 home runs. Sounds perfect, right? Well, he was last year. And he was in 2005, when he hit 28 home runs for the Rays. But in between he was a complete wash out as American League teams exploited his free-swinging ways to the tune of a .244 batting average. Last year he signed with Florida for a minor league contract.

What changed last year? Well, not a lot. He showed the most plate discipline of his career, but his K:BB ratio was still just short of 3:1, or about the same as our old friend Torii Hunter. Cantu would be a high-risk, high-reward player, especially considering he would be coming back to the American League.

Want more to chew on? His defene is substandard. But did I mention he hit 3rd for most of last year in the Marlins' lineup? Can you imagine that undisciplined bat following Span and Mauer, and hitting in front of Morneau?

And while the Twins weren't mentioned in Stark's story, the Marlins and the Twins would be decent trading partners. Cantu would be available because he is becoming more expensive. The Marlins need starting pitching, and that starting pitching would need to be cheap.

So what would you risk? Blackburn seems like a given. Perkins? Slowey?

OK, that's it for tonight. Stark also talked about Rafael Furcal, but we'll have all weekend to talk about him. There will be plenty of opportunities.

Winter Meeting Start-up

657 miles away is an event that sounds a lot like heaven. But it might be closer to hell.

It would be easy to drive myself crazy about the winter meetings this weekend. After all, they're baseball, and they're in Las Vegas, and if those two things aren't "Favorites" folder, they're sure within spitting distance.

But I long ago came to peace with the fact that the only thing that would drive me crazier than being away from the winter meetings would be being at the winter meetings. And if you wanted to raise that level of frustration exponentially, the easiest way would be to hold the event in my favorite city in the world.

I'd spend the whole time feeling like I should be chasing down rumors, but instead I'd be sitting in a bar (or sports book, or craps table, or retro lounge) and talking baseball. There would be no commentary, no analysis. There would just be ramblings, usually half-drunk ramblings, and hopefully lots and lots of stories involving smart-ass replies and inappropriate behavior. Which you would all likely find entertaining, if I in fact wrote any of them down. Which I would not.

But, um, if any media execs would like to send me in the hope that it plays out a bit differently, I'm game. You never know. We might get lucky.

And we might this weekend, too. I'd like to promise that instead I'll be posting all weekend on the various rumors that are popping up at, but this could be a crazy weekend. Let's see what we have right now and then see what happens this weekend.....

Sabean on Manny, Sabathia, Sanchez
The Giants have already made a splash by signing Edgar Renteria this offseason, and I gotta say, I like that signing. The conventional wisdom on Renteria is that he simply can't hit American League pitching, but that's based on a 721 OPS with the Red Sox in 2005 and his struggles this last year with the Tigers. Keith Law pointed out a few weeks ago that this year's struggles, both offensive and defensive, seemed to be largely based on Renteria showing up out of shape this year, and he hit quite well (812 OPS) after the all-star break. He's also a shortstop, and right-handed, and 33 years old. I wouldn't have cried if the Twins gave him a similar deal.

Other than that signing, there isn't a lot of reason I can think of to pay attention to the Giants. Their primary commodity is young pitching, exactly what the Twins have, so it's unlikely the Twins partner with them in any deals. It's more likely they end up as a competitor in a trade, so at least signing Renteria gets them out of the market for a shortstop.

Lowe Receives Two Offers
I'll caveat this with not being a huge Derek Lowe fan, but I'm baffled that anyone would hand him a four year, $60 million deal. I mean, he's been a ground ball pitcher throwing in a cavernous stadium. Wouldn't you expect him to post a sub-4.00 ERA? He's a solid #2 starter, but he's also 35 years old. Do I really want to make that kind of commitment to someone that age to be the second best pitcher on my staff? The second after that contract is offered it's going to be a burden on the team that offers it.

Brewers Sign Jorge Julio
Reds Sign Mike Lincoln
At least two relievers sign yesterday, and the Twins were supposedly "hot after Mike Lincoln" according to La Velle E Neal.

It's a moot point, but I like right-handed Jorge Julio better, who signed for half the time and 1/4 the money with the Brewers yesterday. Julio is an awfully good example of the type of reliever that the Twins should probably be targeting - good raw stuff, questionable control, probably underrated. I fully expect we'll see a signing like him sometime this offseason. I hope I like whoever they sign as much as Julio.

A.J. Burnett Rumors: Thursday
So the economy is tanking, the free agent market is dry, the hot stove is ice cold - and people are throwing money at AJ Burnett? Seriously? Again, do we all have amnesia?

At this time last year it was assumed that he would absolutely accept the option on his contract because he had spent the last two years hurt. Low and behold, he stays healthy enough to pitch over 200 innings with a 4.07 ERA and decides to become a free agent. Wanna guess the last time he pitched 200+ innings with nice low ERA?

It was 2005, and that was also the last time he was in a contract year. By the way, in 2004, he threw 120 innings. And in 2003 he threw 23. So if the Braves do sign him to a spanky new four year deal (as is rumored), what's the over/under on how many innings he pitches? I'm going with 145.

The best news about this, by the way is that the Yankees are rumored to be making an offer to him today or tomorrow. Burnett and the Yankees hooking up would be the best of all possible worlds for Twins fans. First, it would mean that he could Pavanotage their rotation for the next four years. And it would mean that the Braves would continue to be chasing pitching. They look like an exceptionally good trading partner for the Twins.

Jack Wilson Rumors: Thursday
I continue to be terrified of the possibility of Wilson ending up with the Twins. There have been plenty of rumors about him going to the Dodgers or Tigers, but now Jason Beck is reporting that the the hang-up is money:

"One obstacle for Detroit could be the salary. Though Wilson's contract fits the profile of the short-term solution Detroit wants, his $7.25 million salary for next season could be a difficult fit for a team looking to keep its payroll around the same level as last year...."

Uh-oh. I know a team that isn't looking to keep its payroll around the same level as last year. Shiver.

Oh, and are you ready for the punchline? Now the Tigers are looking to sign Adam Everett instead.