Thursday, December 29, 2005

And Again...

We Twins fans have been preaching it for years and I'm sure we've heard it all before, but Jim Caple has put together a nice write-up on why Bert Blyleven belongs in the Hall of Fame. With no major players being introduced for the first time on the ballot this year, I think it might happen this time. I certainly hope so.

Garland Signs

The White Sox continued their off-season rampage yesterday by signing pitcher Jon Garland to a 3 year-deal for $29 million. Of course, the immediate reaction of most Twins fans will be to laugh and proclaim Sox GM Kenny Williams a fool. Almost ten million a year to a guy who has had one good season? The notion seems a little trigger-happy. And while I would love to leap atop the pile and heap criticism upon Chicago's management, I think it is necessary to take a moment and consider the possibility that this may have been a savvy move on the part of the White Sox.

I personally don't consider Garland to be all that great of a pitcher, and I think his success last year was probably a fluke to some extent. However, I will not rule out the possibility that Garland simply had a break-out year and will carry that success into the future. Let's look at this objectively. Garland had a tremendous season; 18-10, 3.50 ERA, .298 opponent OBP, and 3 complete game shutouts. His early success catapaulted the Sox into the dominant force they would become in the AL Central. And Garland is only 26 years old. It could be that he finally figured it out last year, and could even improve this year, which would be bad news for the Twins. Sure, the White Sox are giving him this gaudy contract after just one season of proven success, but didn't the Twins give Johan Santana a similar contract after just one half a season of dominance? And while you might make the argument that Santana has a more impressive history than Garland, let's not forget that Garland was a pretty highly touted prospect when he came up for the Sox and Santana was originally a Rule V draftee.

I don't mean to say that this was a good move on the part of the White Sox. I simply think that many Twins fans are far too quick to dismiss the possibility that this guy is for real, and unlike the 34 year-old Jose Contreras - who is almost guaranteed not to replicate his unexpected production of '05 next year - Garland is young and may have simply developed into the pitcher he is capable of being. I know that if Kyle Lohse, who is similar to Garland in many ways, had posted similar numbers last year, we Twins fans would be very optimistic about his future and would probably feel the same way about him that Sox fans do about Garland.

Then again, Garland could easily collapse next year and make the Sox look absolutely foolish for throwing all this money at him. I know that's what I'll be rooting for. Just don't be stunned if Garland remains one of the better pitchers in the American League next season.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Holiday Notes

Here we are, just a couple days before Christmas, and Terry Ryan seems to have gotten all his shopping done in a timely fashion. He came into the off-season with three glaring holes in this offense: 2B, 3B, and DH. By trading for Luis Castillo and signing Tony Batista and Rondell White, he has filled those positions with fairly big-name players and at relatively minimal cost. I have to give him some credit.

I think everyone has some questions about how well Batista and his dismally low OBP will fit with this offense, but the other two should undoubtedly be significant upgrades. Furthermore, Ryan has quietly kept the league's best pitching staff intact. I still believe Kyle Lohse and his potential $4.5 million salary should be dealt, because I think Scott Baker and Francisco Liriano are both ready to join this rotation, but we will have to wait and see what happens there.

Anyway, on to a few news items on the Twinkies...

*Charley Walters had some thoughts from Torii Hunter on the Rondell White signing in his column in the PioPress today. In the article, Hunter hinted that Lohse may yet be dealt, saying, "We also have Kyle Lohse, but you don't know what's going to happen — there's still a lot of winter left. Anything can happen." Hunter also, upon being asked what his opening day batting order would be if he were manager. Here was his lineup:

2B Castillo
C Mauer
LF Stewart
CF Hunter
1B Morneau
3B Batista
DH White
RF Kubel/Ford/Cuddyer
SS Bartlett

That's not a bad lineup. It is interesting that Hunter would place himself in the cleanup spot, as in the past he has supposedly been against the idea of hitting in that spot in the order. I don't know how much I like the idea of Mauer hitting second instead of third, unless Stewart can really bounce back. Granted, Mauer is going to be the team's best OBP guy, but he is also the best hitter with runners aboard and I think he would get more RBI opportunities behind Stewart and Castillo. I also don't think Morneau is going to see any decent pitches if he has Batista hitting behind him.

*One move that seems to have been almost completely overlooked by the media and the Twins blogging community is the Twins signing of left-handed reliever Dennys Reyes to a minor league contract for $550K. The 28 year-old Reyes is not exactly a stud, holding a 4.80 career ERA, but his .208/.306/.265 opponents' line against lefties last year indicates that he probably will be sufficient as a southpaw specialist. Playing in the same division against lefty sluggers like Travis Hafner and Jim Thome, he could be fairly important. It is useful to note that Reyes gets hammered by righties, to the tune of .359/.464/.508 last year, so hopefully Gardy will only be using him as a LOOGY.

*According to, the Blue Jays and D-Backs are very close to completing a deal that would send third-baseman Troy Glaus to Toronto. This is an interesting move for the Jays, who already have in abundance of corner infielders. By acquiring Glaus, he would join a group of first and third basemen that already includes Lyle Overbay, Shea Hillenbrand, Corey Koskie, Eric Hinske, and Aaron Hill. Even by playing one of those guys at DH, the Jays would still have a few extras. If the Glaus deal goes down, I would not be surprised to see the Twins make a move for Hillenbrand or Koskie.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Twins Add White

Just a couple days after the Cubs signed Jacque Jones, the Twins made a move today to replace his production in the lineup by signing former Tiger Rondell White. While it seems at this point that he has been signed to play designated hitter, it seems he may see some action in the outfield. He played 65 games last year in left field, and while he has also seen action in center field in his career, he has never started a game in right, Jones' vacant position.

White appears to be a pretty good fit for this team. While he doesn't carry the potential slugging upside of Mike Piazza or Frank Thomas, he doesn't carry as much downside either. White has had 500+ at-bats in a season only twice in his 13-year career, and he struggled with a shoulder injury last year. However, his contract for next season is completely dependent on how much he plays. He is guaranteed $2.5 million, but can make more by getting a full season's worth of at-bats. This is the type of contract the Twins needed for one of these injury-prone candidates, and probably one that Piazza and Thomas were un-willing to sign.

While White is a steady player, he's not really great in any category. With a full season's worth of at-bats, he'll probably hit about 25 home runs with 80 RBI, and that's being optimistic. On the surface, that's not much of an upgrade over Jones. Also, like Jones, he doesn't draw very many walks (17 last year in 374 ABs). However, unlike Jones, he didn't hit .249 last year. In fact, he has hit below .270 only once in his career since his rookie season. He also isn't going to post a nasty little .319 or .315 on-base percentage like Jones has put up the last two years.

Essentially, White looks a guy who, if healthy, will have about the same power numbers as Jones did while getting on base more often and striking out less. All that for for a couple million dollars less. It seems like Terry Ryan has done well here. White doesn't have the potential to hit 40 homers like Piazza or Thomas, but he's also less risky. He's cheaper, has less of an ego, and should fit well with this Minnesota club. If they Ron Gardenhire chooses to slot the right-handed White between lefties Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau next season, this is what the opening day lineup could potentially look like:

LF Stewart
2B Castillo
C Mauer
DH White
1B Morneau
CF Hunter
RF Kubel
3B Batista
SS Bartlett

And you have a pretty decent bench with Nick Punto, Juan Castro, Michael Cuddyer, Lew Ford, and Mike Redmond available. To me, this offense stands to be significantly improved over last year, especially if Stewart and Morneau bounce back from underwhelming efforts and Mauer and Bartlett continue to develop.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Damon to New York: Good Idea

One of the nice bonuses about running a blog with another knowledgable baseball mind it that occasionally you have disagreements and both can say their piece in a friendly debate. Much like we did a couple weeks ago with the JC Romero trade, Mr. Mosvick and I have differing opinions on the decision of Johnny Damon to sign with the Yankees. I think this is a good move for both parties and it is going to make that powerful bronx offense all the more formidable.

First of all, my associate makes the argument that Derek Jeter, who hit leadoff for the Yankees last year, is a better leadoff hitter than Damon. I guess this case could be made, although it's disputable. Jeter draws more walks and posts a higher on-base percentage, but Damon hit for higher average last year and is a superior base-stealer. Either way, the point is pretty much irrelevant. It's not like they're taking Jeter out of the lineup, their moving him down one spot in the order to the number 2 spot, one in which he has had plenty of success in his career. Whichever order the two are in, you're going to have two of the best OBP guys in the league setting the table for two of the best run-producers in the league in Alex Rodriguez and Gary Sheffield. Throw in Hideki Matsui, Jason Giambi, Jorge Posada, and Robinson Cano, and this is going to be an absolutely monstrous lineup. The Yankees have filled their hole at center field with a great player in Johnny Damon, and he should complement this lineup very well.

Perhaps the most important thing the Yankees have done in making this move, however, is crippling their biggest division rivals. The Red Sox were making a concerted effort to bring back Damon, because they knew as well as anyone that they needed him. But the Yanks put the pressure on Damon and his agent Scott Boras, and pulled him to New York. Now the Red Sox have huge holes at shortstop and center field, and no one apparently ready to step into that leadoff spot and set the table for the big boys in the middle of the lineup.

I think Johnny Damon will do well in pinstripes, and the Yankees have made a major improvement in adding this excellent leadoff hitter. It's hard to imagine any other offense in the Majors even approaching what these guys will be capable of. Of course, they still need to add some pitching...

Damon to New York: Bad Idea

I just had to give my two cents on this signing. Now, a lot like former Twins reporter Jim Caple, I'm not upset because he left Boston. To me, Boston isn't much worse than the Evil Empire. They, after all, have the second biggest payroll, so its Boras had to be the big reason for this. Whatever he told Damon to get him to sign with New York (and betray the good legacy he had in Boston), it worked the way it did with A-Rod in 2000.

Damon isn't going to work out for the Yankees, though, for a few reasons. For one, he does address the center fielder issue, yes, but he is a highly overrated defender. He's got speed, yes, but he's like getting Bernie Williams circa 2000 or 2001. Some speed out there, but no arm and in Yankee Stadium, that could get ugly again.

More than that, he's displacing Derek Jeter as leadoff hitter on that team, or so the stories say. This is not a good idea. To begin, Damon is a worse leadoff hitter than Jeter. Now, in many ways, this isn't such a bad thing, because Damon is still a very good one on his own, but he isn't the future Hall-of-Famer Jeter is. For example, to look at a few key stats Jeter beats Damon on. For one, its known that Jeter performs better in that spot. He scores more runs then Damon (122 to 117 last year, 1154 to 1041 since 1996, including 2003 when Jeter was out for a time), more power (169 HR to 127 HR in that same time frame, although Damon has hit a few more doubles and nearly twice the triples), has posted a higher OPS (.847 to .784), and hits for a higher average (.314 to .290). All in all, Jeter has the edge in nearly all categories. Damon has slightly better speed, has stolen 59 more bases in that period, and has the edge in triples and doubles (albeit, by only seven).

But no one can take away Jeter's obvious leadership qualities. As many have already pointed out, Damon doesn't fit in with the New York crowd. The minute he shaves his beard, cuts his hair, and kills his personality, he'll end up much the same way Jason Giambi has. He won't be the same player. Sure, he'll be productive and its not to say he can't handle New York, but he won't the way Jeter does.

If the Yankees want Damon to really help their cause (and, based on their moves thus far, they still need a 1B and a lot more pitching), he needs to move to the second spot in front of A-Rod, Sheffield, Giambi, Matsui, Posoda, Cano, and whomever else. Damon will begin to regress and I think he'll lose his better aspects a lot quicker than Jeter will.

I don't love Derek Jeter and I certainly don't love the Yankees. But its clear that he is the superior leadoff hitter and leader on that Yankees team. He has to be number one in the order and to his teammates. After all, A-Rod and his $252 million contract didn't take his position away, so why should some "idiot" come in and take it from him?

Thursday, December 15, 2005

A Couple Unexpected Signings

The Twins made a couple of moves to fill needs today, signing third baseman Tony Batista and DH candidate Shawn Wooten. Batista spent last year playing in Japan, and Wooten spent most of last year playing in Triple-A.

Batista, who is perhaps most well-known for having one of the most open batting stances in Major League history (he literally faces the pitcher) historically has had some pretty decent power numbers, but he is not overall a very good hitter, as indicated by his career .298 on-base percentage. He's not a patient hitter, he's not particularly fast, he's a relatively bad fielder, and he's 32. With all that said, I don't mind this pickup.

While the economics of the deal are not yet known, I can't imagine the Twins paying him all that much, and it's only a one-year deal so even if he fails to produce it won't kill them. Furthermore, while he is yet another guy who won't draw walks, he does have serious power potential. Batista slugged 41 home runs in 2000 with the Blue Jays (and still only had a .307 OBP... shudder), and while that was his biggest power season, it wasn't a major anomaly. He is a guy who can typically be counted on for 25-30 home runs, which the Twins could sorely use from the third base position. In 2004, his most recent season in the Majors, Batista hit 32 home runs and drove in 110 for the Expos, but he also posted only a miserable .272 on-base percentage, drawing just 26 walks in 606 at-bats.

All this indicates that Batista will be a fairly frustrating player to watch. But will he be more frustrating than Michael Cuddyer, who last year seemed to ground into a double play or strike out in almost every key situation he stepped to the plate in? That's difficult to conceive. And if he can put up 30 home runs and 100 RBI and show at least a little discipline at the plate, he would be a big addition to the lineup.

Wooten is a decidedly less important signing. The 33 year-old, who plays catcher and first base, was brought in on a minor-league contract today and may be candidate for the open designated hitter job. It's difficult to get a read on Wooten. I seem to recall him being a pretty decent player when he was the DH for the Angels a few years ago, but he really doesn't have a whole lot of Major League experience. At age 33, Wooten has little over one full season's worth of ML at-bats in his entire career. The most play-time he's gotten was in 2003 with the Angels when he appeared in 98 games. He hit .243/.303/.349 with 7 home runs and 32 RBI. We'll have to wait and see how he performs in the spring.

Technically, these signings address areas of major need for the Twins, but let's hope they aren't done yet. While Batista may fill the gap at third base and provide some bottom-of-the-lineup power, it's hard to imagine Wooten stepping in as a full-time DH.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Chicago Trades for Vazquez

The White Sox made another big move Wednesday, sending Orlando (El Duque) Hernandez, top outfield prospect Chris Young, and Luis Vizcaino to the Diamonbacks for starter Javier Vazquez. Vazquez's name will be added to a rotation including Mark Buerhle, Jon Garland, Freddy Garcia, Jose Contreras, and Brandon McCarthy as backup. This seems quite the impressive move, but i'm not so certain it will work out as planned.

I'm not contending that Hernandez or Vizcaino are worth much. They aren't. Hernandez is nearing the end of his career, as despite a memorable appearance in the playoffs, he had a 9-9 record with a 5.12 ERA last year. Its doubtful much of the old "El Duque" will show up in Arizona, where hitters might feast on his finesse stuff. Vizcaino wasn't bad last year, with a 6-5 record and a 3.73 ERA as a middle-reliever, but he was far from the best in a very good bullpen last year. He'll probably do fine for Arizona, but its Young they should be concerned about. After trading Aaron Rowand to the Phillies, Young seemed to be the natural replacement for Rowand. Brian Anderson will be out there next year, but he won't be able to replace Rowand's defense and he doesn't have the future capabilities of Young. In that sense, this deal may hurt them.

But, for next year, it seems to help a lot. But I question the move simply because I'm not sold on Vazquez. Realistically, he's had three good seasons and they were all with Montreal, in an extremely low pressure situation. He was great in 2003, when he struck out 241 batters, but when he signed with New York following a trade in January 2004, he regressed. He was 14-10 in New York with a 4.91 ERA, but he'll be remembered there for his horrible second half and the grand slam he gave up to Johnny Damon in game 7 of the 2004 AL Championship series.

Last year, with Arizona, he was inconsistent. He had streaks of excellent pitching, but he was a dissapointment overall, going 11-15 with a 4.42 ERA and .266 opponent batting average. The reason those numbers should jump out is because Chicago plays in a hitter's park that may not be so friendly to Vazquez, who gave up 35 HRs last year. Those numbers should jump out. If anyone expects Vazquez to come up here and post the numbers he did with Montreal, they are in for a dissapointment. Vazquez doesn't seem to handle pressure well (and the White Sox have plenty of it with big expectations next year) and he hasn't really regained his form since 2004.

Its possible that he'll catch on fire because of a very good staff and follow suit the way Jose Contreras did late last year. But I don't think there are any guarantees that Don Cooper will get to him the way he did with Contreras. He just got Contreras to trust his fastball. Vazquez has a much broader repertoire that includes an outstanding change-up, but his mechanical issues and inconsistent delivery remain problematic.

He'll probably win 12-15 games and have an ERA around 4.50. That won't hurt the White Sox too much if the rest of the staff performs up to expectations. But, in many ways, I believe that last year won't be repeated. Career years for Garland, Contreras, and basically the entire bullpen carried them to the World Series. Its hard to believe all that success will be repeated when the White Sox sold off a key member of that group (Rowand) for a ticking time bomb in Thome and now their future center fielder for what is now another mediocre starting pitcher.

Maybe he'll be like Loiza and surprise everyone with a great year. Its very possible that Chicago will be better next eyar. But Vazquez, like Thome, brings no guarantees with him. But the Twins should be nervous anyways, because there is no marathon trade for Terry Ryan on the horizon and the White Sox may have gotten a lot better this offseason.

Twins Tidbits

*It should come as no surprise to anyone in Twinsland that Jacque Jones will be rejecting the Twins' arbitration offer. The Twins have made it clear since they signed Jones to a one-year deal before last season that he wasn't in the team's long-term plans. Now, with Jason Kubel hopefully returning from a major knee injury and the team still looking to sign a veteran hitter, it looks like Jacque's time with the Twins is done.

I have already discussed this topic at length in the past, but to reiterate, I will not miss Jones. During his time with the Twins, he has shown flashes, but generally I don't consider him to be a very good player. He cannot hit left-handed pitchers, he has no strike zone judgment, he is a boneheaded fielder, and he is not a good base-runner. To his credit, he is a nice guy and he has hit some very dramatic home runs and done some great things for this team, but I think it is best for all parties that he move on. In a lineup where he has some protection, he may very well put up some gaudy numbers (although if he ends up in Kansas City, one rumored destination, I wouldn't be suprised if we see him fall off the face of the earth).

*The cover story on's MLB page yesterday was a Jerry Crasnick article about the Twins and their incredible lack of power over the past couple decades (Insider account needed). I knew the Twins were one of the worst teams in baseball in this regard, but I hadn't realized quite how bad it was in relation to the league's other 29 teams. As most of us know, the Twins have not had a player hit 30 home runs since the 1987 season when Kent Hrbek, Tom Brunansky, and Gary Gaetti all did it. The next longest dry streak of any Major League team belongs to the Kansas City Royals, who have gone 5 years since Jermaine Dye clubbed 33 dingers in 2000. The Rockies have had 27 players hit 30+ homers since 1987, while the Twins have had zero.

What could be the cause of such a colossal lack of power? It's not like the Metrodome is a giant pitcher's park. Is it the scouting, the coaching, or simply the organizational philosophy? Whatever the case, the Twins will never be able to win a World Series without a decent power threat. Fans were hoping that last year Justin Morneau, who hit 19 dingers in about half a season's worth of at-bats in '04, would break the tragic streak, but unfortunately he regressed into one of the worst-hitting first basemen in the league. The Twins' current roster has several players capable of hitting 30 home runs - Torii Hunter, Joe Mauer, Morneau, and perhaps Jason Kubel - but when will one or more of these players put it all together and become a consistent power threat? We can only hope it's soon.

*The Phillies a couple days ago sent pitcher Vicente Padilla to the Rangers in return for a player to be named later. This move negatively impacts the Twins in a few ways. For one thing, it fills a pitching need for the Rangers, reducing their desperation and thus making them less likely to deal Hank Blalock or Kevin Mench to us. Also, it tells us that Kyle Lohse's trade value is probably not as high as we would have liked to believe. As Aaron Gleeman notes, Padilla is similar to Lohse in a lot of ways, including age, salary, and career stats. The fact that he only garnered a PTBNL for the Phillies, the same thing the Twins gave up in the trade for the dreadful Bret Boone, is a pretty sobering fact.

It's hard to see the Twins making a trade in the near future. The trades occurring around the league are making it evident that the pieces they have to move are not particularly valuable at this point in time. I think Terry Ryan will probably wait until the spring to try to make a move, when needs of other teams become a little more urgent and values tend to rise a little bit. That said, I certainly hope he can make a move for a free agent hitter of some sort, any sort. I will be beside myself if the Twins go into training camp with Michael Cuddyer at DH and Glenn Williams or Juan Castro at third base.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Adios, JC

In a move that has been a long time coming, the Twins finally got rid of disgruntled lefty reliever JC Romero, sending him to the Angels in return for minor league infielder Alexi Casilla. With all due respect to my associate, who posted below with his analysis of the trade, I would like to voice my disagreement with his opinion that the Twins got the short end of this swap.

I'm happy with this move, if only because I was sick of Romero's despicable lack of control and almost amazing inability to hold inherited runners on base in any situation, not to mention the fact that he was taking up a couple million dollars of salary which could be used to sign a free agent DH.

It's true, Casilla doesn't appear to fill any immediate needs. He is a second baseman with good speed who still appears to be a couple years away from making an impact at the Major League level. He spent the first month and a half of last season in Double-A and Triple-A, putting up unimpressive numbers in both, before being knocked down to Single-A for the remainder of the year and doing pretty well. In 78 games there, he hit .325/.392/.409 with 3 home runs and 17 RBI. Perhaps most notably, he was 47/59 on stolen bases attempt, showing that this guy is a potential monster on the basepaths. He also looks to have some patience at the plate, something the Twins sorely need. In 366 at-bats last year (all levels combined), Casilla struck out only 40 times while walking 34 times.

At only 21 years old, Casilla can be taylored as the eventual replacement to recently acquired Luis Castillo. Keep in mind that, at age 30, Castillo isn't exactly young for an infielder whose game is based on speed. To me this looks like another heady move by Terry Ryan that will hopefully pay off down the road. It didn't look like such a smart manuever several years ago when he shipped Brian Buchanan to the Padres for mediocre infield prospect Jason Bartlett, but it was looking a lot smarter a couple years ago when Bartlett hit .330 in Triple-A and last year when he was the starting shortstop for the Twins on opening day, while Buchanan turned into a minor league castaway.

The problem with this move is that it opens up a hole in the Twins bullpen. There are no obvious candidates to fill the left-handed specialist role. There are a few decent, but old, options on the free agent market (35 year-old Alan Embree, 40 year-old Buddy Groom, 39 year-old Chris Hammond), and no lefty in the Twins' minor league system appears prepared to make the leap to handling the pressure associated with the role. With all that said, I'd say there is a strong possibility that we will see Francisco Liriano in the bullpen next season.

Romero jumps into an interesting situation in Anaheim. If he can put it together and eliminate the walks, and his problems last year were indeed the result of him being unhappy with his situation here as he says they were, the Angels will have a formidable bullpen, with Romero and Scot Shields setting up for stud closer Francisco Rodriguez.

Romero Traded

Well, scratch all the rumors about Hank Blalock for now. Unless, that is, we are going to trade Lohse and one of our prospects. The Twins traded J.C. Romero today for Alexi Casilla, a minor league infielder who ended last year at Triple-A. No big package or Brandon Wood or any of the Angels' best infield prospects. It is, seemingly, a bad trade for the Twins.

The Twins need help right now in their infielder. Are they planning on using Castilla right away? Casilla spent most of last year at Class-A Cedar Rapids, where he hit .325 with 47 stolen bases and a .392 OBP. However, with 3 HRs and 17 RBI only, he doesn't present the power option we need as well. So, was the trade purely a salary drop or the overwhelming desire to get rid of clubhouse cancer?

If so, I still believe we could have done better. After all the talks of various deals involving Romero, it makes little sense that Terry Ryan would take this deal. It doesn't really address any of the Twins needs and doesn't improve us for 2006. Romero to Texas or Boston in a deal to at least get a decent 3B option would have been better. And it seems the Angels have much better options to give us for Romero, when it appears he had at least a little value left on the market.

After a week of much talk and hard work from Ryan, this is not a very good result. Perhaps Casilla can help soon, but it seems doubtful. We still need a DH and a third baseman. Why would Ryan throw out one of the cards he has if he doesn't want to trade Baker or Liriano? I just hope this clears up money to sign Piazza or some bat. Cause we certainly need it.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Hank Blalock's Texas Cookin'

Rumor has it the Twins are very interested in Rangers' third baseman Hank Blalock, and GM Terry Ryan is dangling pitchers Scott Baker and JC Romero for him. The sentiment from Twins' fans is that this would be a bad deal, because Baker is a top prospect who has proven himself at the Major League level and Blalock can't hit outside of Texas. I would argue that both of these points are blown way out of proportion.

I think Baker will indeed be a very nice pitcher, but he's not untradable. He's a steady guy who throws strikes and gets outs, it's too early to say he would be a great full-time starter over the course of a season. If we traded Baker, we would hold on to Kyle Lohse. Lohse can be counted on for about a 4.50 ERA and 10 wins, and when we're talking about a guy who would be 5th in the rotation behind four potentially excellent pitchers, I think we can live with that. While I would rather send Lohse and Romero off, possibly along with another decent prospect like Boof Bonser or JD Durbin, I somehow doubt the Rangers will make the move unless it includes Baker. Personally, I don't think it would be the worst thing in the world.

Blalock hit .297/361/534 at home last year vs .231/.276/.335 on the road. Granted, that is a substantial difference, and would lead to the impression that Blalock can only get the job done in Texas' hitter-friendly stadium where he has spent his entire young career. However, I don't think everyone should be jumping to the conclusion that he will put up the latter numbers in the Metrodome. Players generally hit better at home than on the road, that is a simple fact. And while Texas does have a ballpark conducive to big offense numbers, this isn't Coors Field we're talking about.

Take Ivan Rodriguez for instance. His last year in Texas in 2002, he hit .354/.389/.660 at home, while putting up a line of only .270/.314/.413 on the road. Not as large a disparity as Blalock, sure, but a considerable one nonetheless. The next year, Pudge played for the Marlins in what is generally considered to be a pitcher's ballpark. His home numbers? .317/.403/.506. Not bad, and a significant improvement over his road numbers while in Texas. The next year, Rodriguez goes to Tiger Stadium, an even more pitcher-friendly ballpark. His home numbers there in '04? .354/.410/.514. So while his power numbers did decline a little bit, Rodriguez was still getting the job done after leaving Texas. Now, obviously, he and Blalock are very different players, but the point I'm trying to make is that he wasn't putting up unrealistic numbers all because of his ballpark.

The Twins need to make a move, and Blalock is a proven slugger, as well as a terrific defensive player, not to mention only 25 years old. Terry Ryan has already stated he does not want both Baker and Francisco Liriano in the Twins' rotation this year, and if that is the case, it doesn't make sense to leave one of them rotting away in the minors since both appear Major League ready. There are other pitchers in the Twins' minor league system who have the potential to be where Baker is currently at in just a year or two. I would not be opposed to this trade.


One other thing. This is a direct quote from the Twins' official website regarding our Rule V draftee OF Jason Pridie:

"Pridie garnered the attention of the Twins during this year's Arizona Fall League. Pridie batted .232 with one home run and 10 RBIs for the Phoenix Desert Dogs."


Wednesday, December 07, 2005

A Few Musings

Just a couple thoughts on some off-season observations...

*Apparently Terry Ryan was in talks with the Baltimore Orioles at the winter meetings regarding Kyle Lohse. I wonder who the Twins would seek in such a trade. To me, the obvious candidate is third baseman Melvin Mora. Mora would be a solid acquisition for the Twins, as he hit .283/.348/.474 last year at a salary of only $3.8 million. He is not great defensively, but would be no worse than Michael Cuddyer was and would certainly provide more offense. Furthermore, the Orioles have a top minor league prospect at third base in Tripper Johnson.

*According to Peter Gammons, the Rangers and Dodgers are close to a deal that would send Alfonso Soriano to the LA in return for minor league pitcher Jonathan Broxton. As far as I can tell, Broxton is not exactly an amazing prospect; he posted a 3.12 ERA in Double-A last year and a 5.93 in 14 appearances at the Major League level. Why is this guy better than a package of Kyle Lohse and JC Romero?

*In an in the Pioneer Press, Twins beat-writer Jason Williams contemplates the notion that the Twins use Cuddyer as their DH next season. For a team with a lack of power and bad discipline problems, this seems like an absolutely awful idea. I am not at all convinced that the Twins are serious about signing Frank Thomas or Mike Piazza, but I do hope that they can find a veteran hitter somewhere with some pop who could fill in this role.

*According to LaVelle E. Neal, the Twins probably will not sign Bill Mueller, as the interest he has gained from the Dodgers, Giants, and Pirates will likely put him out of the Twins' price range. As Mueller was really the only free agent third baseman who would've provided a significant improvement, the impetus is now on Terry Ryan to work out a trade for a guy who can come in and fill this gaping hole for the team. Hank Blalock would be splendid, but Toronto's Shea Hillenbrand is also a viable option.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

The Offseason So Far

After a few weeks of trading and big signings, the need for a little insight has come about. Needless to say, its been an offseason with more parallels to 2000 then 2004. At one point, we may have found ourselves complaining about Johnson contract or the Pedro signing. But no more. 4 years and 52 million doesn't seem all that excessive in the wake of recent signings. Here's a rundown of the most perplexing ones:

B.J. Ryan, 5 years, $47 million with the Toronto Blue Jays - Now I grant Ryan is a great talent. In the last three years, he has average a 2.88 ERA and has had over hundred Ks the last two years. His 12.8 Ks/nine innings this year was very impressive as was his .208 opponent batting average. But all those things don't add up to the highest-paid closer in history. He was only a full-closer last year and he was not under the pressure of a big contract. He isn't exactly Billy Wagner or Eric Gagne. He won't strike out nearly 15 hitters per nine innings anytime soon or hold them to a sub .180 average. So, therefore, its crazy to pay him like he is better than either Wagner or Gagne. By doing so, Toronto gives themselves a player that may help them now, but who will not live up to the contract given to him. And such contracts only hurt teams like the Twins in their pursuit of offseason options.

Estoban Loaiza, 3 years, $21 million with the Oakland Athletics - Loaiza has had exactly two good years in his long, journeyman career. In 2003, he went 21-9 with a 2.90 ERA with the White Sox, representing a career-year. The next year, he went from mediocre to awful when he was traded to the Yankees. Last year, he had a decent year under little pressure and in a pitcher's stadium playing for the Nationals. 12-10 with a 3.77 ERA isn't bad, but if Carl Pavano is any proof, there is no guarantee. Thats why it makes not sense that people in baseball believe that Oakland will now trade Barry Zito with Loaiza on board. Zito may not be an ace, but his numbers are far superior to Loaiza and Loaiza is getting too old to be consistent.

Paul Konerko, 5 years, $60 million with the Chicago White Sox - It seems like a good reasonable contract, but Konerko doesn't seem to breathe consistency to me. Konerko may also have an degenerative hip, so signs of Mo Vaughn do spring in the background. But, beyond that, 2005 was in many ways a career year. Konerko had his best OBP at .909 and and hit 40 HRs with 100 RBI. Along with 2004, when he hit 41 HRs and had 117 RBI, these have been his best years. However, for $12 million a year, Konerko isn't exactly Albert Pujols. He doesn't run well (as he has never scored 100 runs), is immobile on defense, and had an atrocious year in 2003. Its the same reason Pat Burrell has been a risk for the Phillies, but this wasn't the strangest signing this offseason. It was, instead, pretty predictable.

Rafael Furcal, 3 years, $39 million with the Los Angelos Dodgers - This one I don't get at all. The Dodgers certainly need offense, but this is overpaying big time. As Buster Olney put it, Furcal remains spectacularly inconsistent. I'd agree. Last season was a perfect example, as Furcal had a great second half but was awful in the first. Furcal has other issues as well. He has never hit over .300, which is troubling for a leadoff man, his career OBP is .348, and he has only begun now to realize his potential use of speed. Also, Furcal has a great arm, but he committed 31 errors last year, which is an awful lot for a Dodgers pitching staff with guys like Derek Lowe who need good infield defense. Understandibly, Furcal and Cesar Izturis, when he returns, can be a great combo. But he isn't worth $13 million. That's more than what Miguel Tejeda makes for being a superior offensive and defensive player. Furcal is more in Jimmy Rollins territory and Rollins is only getting $8 million. Thats a wide gap.

Scott Eyre, 3 years, $11 million with the Chicago Cubs - This is where my bigger concerns appear. Overpaying for relief pitchers escalates the market price for many free agents big time. Eyre had one good season last year amidst tons of mediocre relief performances. And he gets this contract? Same goes for Bob Howry. What are the Cubs thinking? They need support for Derek Lee, a new center fielder not named Corey Patterson, a corner outfielder, a shortstop, and a second baseman. They have far bigger concerns. Why throw some much money on what is clearly a bad invenstment.

Overall, so far it has been overpayment after overpayment. Contracts have been absurb nearly the way there were in 2000. Will Johnny Damon get seven years and $100 million and if so, why? There are very few players worth this kind of cash, but in a weak free-agent class, clubs decided to get competitive and offer out terrible contracts to unproven players. The point is this is bad news for the Twins. It destroys much of their hope to get a guy like Bill Mueller or Mike Piazza or especially Nomar Garciaparra. It seems now we can only hope for inconsistent guys like Rondell White and Tony Graffinino. Lets just Terry Ryan has a surprse for us this week.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Twins Get Castillo

It seems Terry Ryan was tired of idly sitting around and watching White Sox GM Kenny Williams make moves to improve his championship ballclub. Earlier today, Ryan pulled the trigger on a deal with the Florida Marlins to bring second baseman Luis Castillo to Minnesota. In return, the Twins shipped off pitching prospects Travis Bowyer and Scott Tyler.

Bowyer had a phenomenal year in AAA last season, becoming one of the best prospective closers in baseball. He appeared in eight Major League games during a September call-up. He didn't look great, posting a 5.59 ERA and allowing three home runs in 9.2 innings, but there is little question that he is going to be a very good reliever and he could become Florida's closer as soon as next season. Tyler, on the other hand, is a low level prospect who is still a few years away.

The Twins, however, are in a position where they can afford to lose some good minor league pitchers, as they still have several pitching prospects waiting in the wings. Granted, Bowyer was the most polished and Major League-ready of these prospects, but it's hard to question the trade as Castillo fills several major areas of need for the Twins. He gets on base, he can run, and he hits lefties supremely well. These factors will make him a perfect candidate to wedge between Shannon Stewart and Joe Mauer at the top of the lineup. Castillo posted a .423/.467/.650 line against left-handed pitchers last year, meaning he'll nicely off-set Stewart's and Mauer's weakness against southpaws. He also posted a .391 on-base percentage, so he should nicely set the table for Mauer and whoever hits clean-up. On top of all that, Castillo is a reigning three-time Gold Glove winner with excellent range.

There are a few things to consider when looking at Castillo's transition to the Twins, the first Major League club other than the Marlins he will have played for. First of all, there is the transition to turf. Due to the dearth of National League indoor ballparks, Castillo has very little experience playing on artificial grass (he played only 3 games on turf last year). That said, there is no reason to think that his game will not translate well, as players have generally been complimentary of the Metrodome's new turf and Castillo has the type of game that usually excels on artificial turf.

One other factor of note with Castillo is his apparently dwindling base-stealing proficiency. He was once a supremely excellent base-stealer, swiping 50 bases on 67 attempts in 1999, 62 on 84 attempts in 2000, and 48 on 63 attempts in 2002. However, in 2003 he stole only 21 bases while being caught 19 times, and since then he just hasn't attempted to steal as much. Only 25 attempts in 2004 (successful 21 times) and only 17 attempts last year (successful on 10). The indication is that Castillo has lost some speed, or else perhaps it is a reflection of a change in the Marlins' style of play under Jack McKeon. Whatever the case, it will be interesting to see if the Twins run him aggressively on the bases and if he can gain back a little speed on the artificial turf.

With the Twins rumored to be very interested in former White Sox slugger Frank Thomas, the starting lineup for 2006 is shaping up to be heavily improved over the meager group put out last season. If the Twins sign Thomas, and assuming Jason Kubel's knee is well enough for him to play the field by the start of the season, this is what the lineup might look like:

LF Stewart
2B Castillo
C Mauer
DH Thomas
1B Morneau
CF Hunter
RF Kubel
3B Cuddyer/Mueller?
SS Bartlett

Obviously there are some serious questions about this lineup. Thomas is getting old ans has had serious injury problems the past few years, Bartlett needs to improve on a disappointing rookie season, Morneau needs to be more consistent, and Terry Ryan has stated definitively that Cuddyer will not be starting at third base (though it's hard to visualize another option unless they sign a free agent like Bill Mueller or Joe Randa).

In any case, it is nice to see Ryan make a major move to show that the Twins will not bow down and hand the division over to Chicago. Right now, all signs point to this being a very good move for the Twins, and chances are they're not finished yet, as they still need to address third base and hopefully unload Kyle Lohse and JC Romero. We'll continue to keep you updated as the off-season progresses.