Monday, November 27, 2006

More MVP Thoughts

Reactions to Justin Morneau's winning of the 2006 AL MVP have ranged from subdued excitement from Twins fans to unabashed disgust portrayed by the national media. For my part, I certainly can admit that Morneau probably was not the most deserving candidate, but I do believe he was closer than a lot of people (even Twins fans) are giving credit for.

When it comes to MVP consideration, I think the best metaphor is this:

Pretend that immediately following the 2006 season, every American League team released all of their players and put them into one big pool, and each team was forced to draft all their players from scratch. Imagine that you are the general manager of the team with the No. 1 pick, and you must choose a player to build your team around. Keep in mind that your team's objective is only to find success in the first season following the draft, so the age of the player is inconsequential.

Who would you select with that pick? Would you take Justin Morneau or Jermaine Dye? Perhaps; those are probably the most desirable players at their respective positions, but the fact is that both first base and right field are deep in offensive talent, so you could probably find a pretty good hitter at either position in the later rounds. Would you use the pick on a DH like Frank Thomas, Travis Hafner or David Ortiz? Well, it would be difficult to justify using that top pick to take a player who can't even play a defensive position. Would you select Derek Jeter? He might be a good choice; you can count on him to hit for great average and he gives you good speed on the basepaths. He also plays a highly important defensive position (albeit not particularly well). However, Jeter will provide very little power, and it's certainly worth questioning whether you'd really want to build your team around a table-setter type. A similar argument surrounds Joe Mauer. He hit for the best average in the league and he has excellent plate discipline, yet he lacks power. In his support, he plays the most important defensive position on the field and he plays it extremely well. Mauer would not be a bad pick by any means. Neither would Grady Sizemore, who is the complete package. He plays a position that is not deep in offensive talent, and he plays it well. He hits for good average and great power, and he can draw walks (he is, however, quite strikeout-prone). The fact that he played in all 162 of his team's games in the 2006 season is a testament to his durability.

If it were me picking, I personally would use that top draft pick on Johan Santana. He may play only once every five games, but his impact in those games is great enough that I feel he is more valuable than any of the offensive players listed above. Still, I don't think this is a year where one player set himself apart to the degree that any one of the players listed above would be a ridiculously bad selection. And I certainly see the sound logic behind choosing Morneau.

Sure, Morneau plays first base, and there are a number of good offensive first basemen around the league, which inherently reduces Morneau's overall value. Still, when you look at the season he had, there are a lot of things which scream of high value. His overall line was terrific: .321/.375/.559 with 34 home runs and 130 RBI. I'm not sure that I buy into the hype about his "greatest four-month stretch in modern history." He had a great span, to be sure, but you have to look at the year as a whole and you can't ignore the fact that he was pretty awful for the first month-and-a-half or so.

Morneau came through when it counted though. He hit .323/.401/.575 with runners in scoring position, .389/.364/.667 with the bases loaded, and .299/.343/.540 in "Close and Late" situations. He was well-rounded, hitting well both before and after the All-Star break, both at home and on the road, and against both left-handed and right-handed pitching. And his defense at first base was at least sufficient.

The points mentioned above all paint a picture of Morneau as a sweet-hitting slugger and who got the job done when he needed to. He provided some of the most memorable moments in the 2006 Twins' season, including his walk-off, two-run single against Mariano Rivera and the Yankees and his dramatic eighth-inning home run off of flamethrowing Joel Zumaya of Detroit. If those aren't the types of qualities that make a player among the most valuable in the league, then I don't know what are.

While I'd certainly be inclined to agree that Morneau was not even the most valuable player on his own team, I think it's outrageous to claim that it was "one of the worst MVP selections in history." This wasn't a year where one player was outright spectacular and separated himself from the pack to the degree that choosing anyone else is indefensible. While Morneau might not have been the best choice, I can certainly live with his selection and I'm happy to see him win the award.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Market of Insanity

One of the last posts I put up was commenting on the possible trades or free agent signings the Twins could try and make this winter. At the time, I felt like there just weren't many options. Now, it seems quite different. It feels impossible for the Twins to do anything now.

Just yesterday, the Astros signed Carlos Lee to a 6 year, $100 million contract. Here are the many ways that is pure insanity: Lee has never had a year with an OPS over .900, is a 30-year old coming off a career year of 37 HRs and 116 RBI, is not a particularly patient hitter (he had one good year with walks, drawing 75, but he also hit .264 that year), and is an awful outfielder. In the AL, there is of course the option to DH, but in the NL, they'll have to play him daily and watched him botch play after play on the giant Minute Maid Park wall.

So what does this mean for the Twins? Well, for one, the Lee signing isn't the most insane deal of the offseason. The Alfonso Soriano contract of 8 years, $136 million given by the Cubs is just as bad. Like Lee, Soriano probably already had his best year and isn't likely to age well. He's a speedy player with power, but he has little patience--already a problem with most of the Cubs hitters--and speed isn't an asset most hang onto later in their careers.

It gets worse. The Gary Matthews, Jr. deal? A 5 year, $50 million deal for a career utility player and 32-year old outfielder who had one good year? A 5 year, $44 million deal for Juan Pierre, a center fielder with an arm worse than Jason Tyner's and whose only real aspect, like Tyner's, is speed? (Not that I'm really comparing the two, but that kind of money for a one-dimensional player is beyond me)

All these deals add up to a major problem for the Twins. It doesn't just mean that they will have trouble signing any free agents they may want. It will affect trades they may potentially want to make and the extensions that they need to give to Joe Mauer, MVP Justin Morneau, and maybe Michael Cuddyer.

In all honesty, I never really expected the Twins to make a free agent splash anyway. Well, more specifically, I hoped that Terry Ryan would be smart enough to avoid doing so. The free agent market is very weak this offseason, as far as I can tell. Soriano, a great player but not an elite player, got the kind of deal that has been given only to Hall of Fame caliber players (well, minus Mike Hampton in 2000): Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Manny Ramirez, and Todd Helton (that may be up for debate to some, but a career .333/.430/.593 with 413 doubles is pretty impressive, even with the Coors factor) and the most recent 8-year deal was given to Scott Rolen, another Hall of Fame caliber player.

With that in mind, the price for even mediocre players has sky-rocketed. Jamie Walker, a 35-year-old lefty specialist who doesn't exactly eat innings, is getting paid nearly $4 million a year. Same with Mike Stanton, a 39-year old journeyman. That means it might take an awful lot to get even a guy like Jason Jennings on the trade market, one of the Twins' apparent targets.

If this trend continues, which it likely will, they should look inward. One of the few sensible deals of the offseason was the four year, $13.25 million extension the Rockies gave to Jeff Francis. Last season, Francis, the ninth-overall pick in the 2002 draft, went 13-11 with a 4.16 ERA and 1.29 WHIP and threw 199 innings. At Coors Field, that's certainly getting the job done, but even in the new market and the offensive era that baseball currently occupies, that is a smart deal. With a fifth-year option, the average yearly salary is just over $3.25 million a year for a guy with who can put up a solid ERA, eat innings, and doesn't walk too many. Those are valuable assets for that kind of money, even if 2006 was a bit of a fluke for Francis. (Jennings may have had more of a fluke year; Francis' HR rate went down, his GB/FB increased from 1.00 to 1.24.)

The Twins may want to do the same. Spending the money they have available this offseason to lock up Mauer, Mornuea, and Cuddyer, and possibly extend others like Johan Santana would be the smartest. They should probably still keep options open on a starting pitcher and a DH, but the focus should be on the kind of deals that will more likely pay off. Deals like that given to Soriano and Lee will probably hurt a club down the line or even next year, but extending young, talented players, while still a risk, is a much better investment for a small market team.

Considering all the ridiculous and idiotic dealing going on this offseason, I would be more than happy if the only thing the Twins did this offseason is make moves to keep the M & M Boys around for a long time. I doubt too many Twins fans could complain about that.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Mixed Feelings

Yesterday at around noon, a major surprise was announced in baseball. Well, that is, if you set aside the absurd contracts being given to the likes of Juan Pierre, Alfonso Soriano, and others, Justin Morneau winning the AL MVP award is pretty surprising. At the same time, it's almost an ambiguous feeling I get in considering it.

When me and my fellow blogger, Mr. Nelson, chose our picks for awards weeks ago, we both picked Twins for MVP but neither of us picked Morneau. I chose Joe Mauer. Oddly, I agree with ESPN's Keith Law (yes, its an Insider story. Yes, ESPN's Insider thing is incredibly dumb), whom I find to have an asserted and obvious dislike for the Twins at times. For one, Mauer is a catcher and likely the best catcher in the bigs, as his offense and defense are both spectacular. I don't think I need to recite any of the stats, since everyone has seen them over and over again by now, but Mauer had one of the best seasons for a catcher EVER.

There is no joke in that. Mauer's season falls in there with Piazza, Bench, Berra, Fisk, and the other few great offensive catchers. Mauer is the only catcher to ever win a major league batting title and his .347 average is one of the highest ever for a catcher, falling below only Piazza (.362, 1997). When a player has a historically great season and there isn't a clear MVP candidate, I would think the choice would be clear.

However, the same thing can be said about Johan Santana. Considering the offensive era and year he pitched in, his year was incredible. He was also the first pitcher to win the Major League Pitching Triple Crown since Dwight Gooden in 1985. In our recent post on Santana, we mentioned the other historical great things he has done. I am a believer that a pitcher who has a historically great season with no clear offensive MVP deserves the award. Pedro should have won it in 2000, Roger Clemens did win it in 1986, and Gooden probably should have won it in 1985.

Despite all the potential reasons not to support Morneau for MVP, he did win it and it's awfully hard to be upset about it. He did have a great second half, hitting .362, and his 130 RBI are the second most in Twins history, next to Harmon Killebrew's 140 in 1969's MVP campaign. The core issue is the obsession voters have with slugging first basemen. We saw it with Ryan Howard winning the NL award this year, and there are plenty of past examples: Jason Giambi (for all purposes, a DH) in 2000, Mo Vaughn in 1995 (what an awful choice that was), Ken Caminiti in 1996, and Jeff Bagwell and Frank Thomas in 1994. The Thomas and Bagwell choices were obvious, but many of the others were chosen with better candidates available.

As already mentioned, Pedro should have been the obvious winner over Giambi in 2000. Pujols, another slugging first basemen--albeit one who plays good defense--should have won in the NL this year, but the voters obsession with homers and RBI became quite clear. Voters seem to avoid looking at other stats, like runs created, VORP, numbers with RISP (Pujols hit nearly .400, Howard hit around .260), and game-winning homers (Pujols had a ridiculous 18). In 1995, Vaughn won because Edgar Martinez, who had an incredible year hitting .356 with 52 doubles and a 1.107 OPS, was a designated while Vaughn was a shoddy first baseman who should have been DHing but had more home runs than Martinez.

Is all this to say that I am adamently angry about the results of this year's MVP vote? Yes and no. I'm happy that Morneau won the award. How couldn't I be? He plays for my favorite team and he had a phenomenal year. At the same time, the continued preference of the voters is consistently annoying. When a player has an amazing career, half the time, it is ignored by MVP voters. It's a tough position, but I think it has to be consistently said that the voting process is watered down to the point that it's hard to put much stock in the awards. Nonetheless, I'm happy to see a Twin win it.

The thing is, while all these points are legitimate and the voters make ridiculous decisions practically yearly, there isn't much to do about it and lets face it: too many people spend too much time discussing. The thing is, Morneau really had a great year. His second half is worthy of infinite praise. He had the most two-out RBIs in the AL and hit a ridiculous .593/.511/1.074 with a man on third and less than two outs, collecting 40 RBI and 11 sac flies along the way.

He also, notably, was hitting .235/.295/.444 with 6 HR and 23 RBI on June 8th, just before his breakout 2 HR, 5 RBI game against the Orioles the next day. In the combined months of June and July, he hit .387 with 18 HRs and 52 RBI. That is an incredible two months and, of course, in those months, the Twins went 38-15, including 36-10 after June 8.

It also is a good story. Morneau's 2005 season wasn't downright awful, but it wasn't very good either and some people felt that Morneau might not live up to his expectations. To go from a season that casts so much doubt on a player to a season in which he wins the MVP and helps lead his team to the playoffs is something worth rewarding as well. While Santana and Mauer were certainly worthy, and maybe more so than Justin, it's pointless to scrabble over it when a Twin won it. His teammates were proud to see him win it and thought he deserved it. Although I agree with Law that Mauer and Santana were better candidates, I don't think it was a "laughable pick."

A Twin for MVP, a Twin for Cy Young, a Twin for Executive of the Year, and plenty more votes in other races? Not too shabby for the 2006 Twinkies. Congrats, Justin, and lets hope the voters eventually figure things out.

Justin Morneau - 2006 AL MVP

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

33 is MVP

Color me tickled. All indications had been pointing to Derek Jeter , but the results were announced today and Justin Morneau has captured the 2006 AL MVP, becoming the first Twin to win the award since Rod Carew all the way back in 1977.

We'll have a more detailed analysis for tomorrow.

Turkey Notes

There hasn't been a whole lot of news on the Twins as of late, but I felt I'd drop in an update here with a few quick notes as Thanksgiving Day rapidly approaches.

* I tend to avoid the urge to criticize the writing of Kelly Thesier, a reporter employed by who writes most of the articles found on the Twins' official site. She draws some aspersion from bloggers for her tendency to write puffy and overly optimistic material, but as a Mass Communications major I understand that the goal of PR is to make your product look as attractive and flawless as possible. She's going to put a rosey-colored spin on everything she writes, and that's her job so I really have no problem with it.

However, sometimes I get a little exasperated when she writes things are blatantly untrue and not even defendable by the logic I described above. For instance, I came across this nugget today when reading an article about the Twins finalizing their 40-man roster for the off-season:
Of the four added on Monday, the most touted prospect would be the 22-year-old [Denard] Span. The outfielder has been talked about as the future replacement for Torii Hunter in center field as he possesses similar skills to the All-Star outfielder.
Aside from the fact that they both play the same position and both are considered to be good defensive players, there are very few similarities between Torii Hunter and Denard Span. Hunter is right-handed, Span is left-handed. Hunter has considerable power, Span has almost none. Hunter is reasonably fast, Span's entire game is built around his incredible speed. Hunter strikes out frequently, Span is a contact hitter who generally puts the ball in play. Saying that the two players possess "similar skills" is a major stretch in my mind. Of course, it's also a little questionable to refer to Hunter as an "All-Star outfielder" seeing as how his only All-Star appearance came four years ago, but that gets back to that overly optimistic PR stuff I was talking about earlier...

* The latest hot rumor is that Terry Ryan is in talks with the Rockies about a possible trade that would send right-handed starter Jason Jennings to the Twins. The names being tossed around on the Twins' side are Scott Baker and Jesse Crain, as the Rockies are reportedly looking for youthful rotation and bullpen help. The Twins have enough starters better than Baker and enough relievers better than Crain that I don't feel like losing them would be a significant blow. With that said, the prospect of this transaction is far from appealing to me.

Jennings was the NL Rookie of the Year in 2002 and he had a successful season in 2006, posting a 3.78 ERA over 212 innings in Colorado. He's also reasonably young at 28 and his salary in 2007 will be $5.5 million, which is relatively modest considering how much some middle-of-the-rotation starters have been signing for recently. However, looking past Jennings' nice ERA, there are plenty of reasons to believe his success in '06 was something of a fluke. For one thing, his ERA in each of the three prior seasons was over 5. For another thing, his peripherals were underwhelming. He didn't strike many batters out, his control was not good, and his groundball/flyball ratio was unimpressive. Couple that with the reality that he would almost certainly be gone following next season, and Jennings really doesn't appear to be worth a couple of fairly valuable trading chips.

* The AL MVP will be announced today. I'm fairly certain it will be Derek Jeter, but Justin Morneau stands a good chance of coming in second. I maintain that Morneau was the third-most valuable player on the Twins this season, but I'd certainly be happy to see him receive a bunch of votes. Of course, I also maintain that Albert Pujols was a much more valuable player than Ryan Howard in the NL, but hey, what do I know.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Santana Wins AL Cy Young Award

In other news, the sun rose this morning.

I don't mean to downplay the significance of a Twins pitcher winning this coveted award, but considering how incredible Johan Santana's 2006 season was and how large the statistical gap between him and his competitors was by the end of the season, this outcome was never in doubt. Santana won unanimously, receiving all 28 first-place votes. His first Cy Young in 2004 also came by unanimous decision, and he joins Roger Clemens ('97 and '98), Pedro Martinez ('99 and 2000), Greg Maddux ('94 and '95) and Sandy Koufax ('63, '65, '66) as the only pitchers to win the award unanimously on multiple occasions. Not bad company.

Santana joins a list of 13 pitchers in baseball history who have won multiple Cy Young Awards. Of those 13, six are in the Hall of Fame and five (Martinez, Maddux, Clemens, Johnson, Tom Glavine) are still pitching.

Of course, I can't really approach this topic without bringing up the fact that this most certainly should be Santana's third consecutive Cy Young Award. I have talked to a number of Twins fans who have actually let themselves believe that Santana's 2005 season was a step down for him simply because of the fact that he didn't win the Cy Young, which shows the sad amount of power these postseason awards can have over even adamant fans who watch all the games. In reality, the '05 season was just business as usual for Santana.

Santana 2004: 228 IP, 20-6, 2.61 ERA, 265 K / 54 BB, OPP .192/.249/.315
Santana 2005: 231.2 IP, 16-7, 2.87 ERA, 235 K / 45 BB, OPP .210/.250/.346
Santana 2006: 233.2 IP, 19-5, 2.77 ERA, 245 K / 47 BB, OPP .216/.258/.360

It's unlikely that Johan will ever match that unbelievable 2004 campaign, but the reality is that Santana's 2005 and 2006 campaigns were nearly identical. The ERA was up slightly in '05, but opposing hitters actually fared worse overall against him in the year he failed to win the Cy Young. Santana's inability to capture the award in 2005 had less to do with better competition and more to do with his low win total which was almost entirely due to his team's complete offensive ineptitude that season. In any case, this is a topic that has been exhaustively covered so I'm not going to delve into it anymore. The fact is that Santana has consistently been the best pitcher in baseball over the past three years and he's showing no signs of slowing down at age 27. Plus, he has pretty much never missed a start due to injury over those three years, which is extremely valuable when you look at all the injuries being sustained by pitchers around the league and even in the Twins' organization.

Finishing second in the AL Cy Young voting was Chien-Ming Wang, basically because he won 19 games. A more deserving second place finisher would have been Roy Halladay, who had an excellent season and finished a close third behind Wang. Fifth in the voting was Twins' closer Joe Nathan. While I'm glad to see his name in the voting results, I'm a little disappointed he didn't get more recognition. In 2005, Mariano Rivera finished second in the Cy Young voting (ahead of Santana) by saving 43 games in 47 opportunities and posting a 1.38 ERA while holding opponents to a .177 average. In '06, Nathan was 36/38 in save opportunities and he posted a 1.58 ERA and .158 opponents' batting average. Nathan also posted an incredible 95/16 strikeout-to-walk ratio this year, signficantly better than Rivera's 80/18 in 2005. I'm not saying that Nathan's 2006 season was better than Rivera's 2005, but it's at least very close and I'm disappointed that it received so little press. Nathan wasn't even the top finisher among closers in the Cy Young voting, as the Angels' Francisco Rodriguez landed ahead of him in fourth place despite being significantly worse in most categories (though not bad, by any means).

Clearly the Cy Young voting is faulty in many regards, but it's still fun to analyze the results because it truly is one of baseball's most recognizable and heralded awards. Twins fans and baseball fans alike have to be happy with the results this year, as the guy who should have won did so in dominant fashion.

Congratulations Johan on your second Cy Young. I think I speak for everyone when I say I doubt it will be your last.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Trades and Bigger Trades

I'm sure most of you by now have heard the big news. Gary Sheffield was traded to the Detroit Tigers yesterday for three pitchers with fairly high ceilings. My wish was to make a post on the offseason outlook, name some needs, and indentify some possible trade partners. This trade obviously changes things. The Twins may have to become a little more desperate.

Naturally, a lot of people are going to point out that Sheffield had wrist surgery last year, and considering that he swings so hard with those wrists flailing away, there are no guarantees. That, and he's going to be 38 in just over a week. However, he is also the same hitter who has 455 career home runs and 1501 RBI. He's a very productive hitter and he may change the balance of the AL Central.

Needless to say, its apparent that Detroit wants to win now and not in the next few years. Does this mean the Twins should get more aggressive? I think they have to make at least a moderate trade and try and improve the team. The problem is that any time another AL Central team makes a fairly big trade (Chicago, Thome/Vazquez trades last offseason), the Twins don't do much to counter the balance of power. Sorry, but Luis Castillo doesn't exactly count.

So, what do the Twins need? Well, Nick Nelson identified DH, 3B, and SP as the big ones. I tend to agree. The problem is that starting pitcher is going to be overvalued right now and DHs are easier to sign as free agents then trade for. Look at all the potential DHs on the market: Moises Alou, Mike Piazza, Shea Hillenbrand, Aubrey Huff, and of course Mr. Bonds.

Personally, out of those, I would think Alou and Piazza are the best options. Bonds is unrealistic and Hillenbrand and Huff aren't terribly productive hitters. Hillenbrand hits for a decent average, but his power is limited and he never walks. We have enough of those guys. Alou and Piazza aren't the most patient guys either, but better than Hillebrand. Also, Piazza slugged .564 against the home-run-killing Petco Park in 2006 and a .283/.342/.501 line isn't bad at all.

Alou, because he's 40, isn't going to make big money. For a couple million, a career .301 hitter who has maintained his power in old age isn't bad at all. After all, in just 345 at-bats in 2006, Alou his .301 with 22 HRs and 74 RBI and slugged .571. I think he would make a great DH and he could play the outfield if entirely necessary.

As for trades, the Twins should probably concentrate on a middle infield. Unfortunate for them, the Indians already snatched Josh Bartfield from the Indians a older prospect who is better off being a DH.

The problem with third baseman is that, for one, the Twins appear to love Nick Punto at third, despite the fact he's probably better at second (for his offense) taking over for Castillo. Also, the Twins aren't exactly filled with options. I'm sure they'd love to trade for Alex Rodriguez or Miguel Cabrera, but those are pipedreams. Its not going to happen. As far as realistic trades, about the only guys I can see available are Hank Blalock, and maybe Adrian Beltre or Eric Chavez.

I mention Beltre and Chavez because they are both can potentially be portrayed by their teams as disappointments. I'm not sure that would expect them to be traded and neither of the players is particularly cheap. As for Blalock, he also had a down year, hitting .266/.325/.401 with only 16 HRs and 89 RBI. After a breakout year in 2004, when he hit 32 HRs and drove in 110 runs, Blalock has had to straight disappoiting years. If Texas did try and trade him, the price on Blalock would be down significantly and I believe it would be a trade the Twins could easily pull off.

As for starting pitching, I doubt the Twins will try to make any trades. This would be because the market for pitching is so high right now that they would be practically guaranteed to overpay, something Terry Ryan isn't likely to do. It would seem more likely for them to pick up a talented, but largely unsuccessful pitcher, like say Tony Armas, and see if the Rick Anderson program has the same magic it did on Dennys Reyes.

As a Twins fan, I'd love to see the Twins get aggressive, but in a market that looks to value the needs of the Twins very highly, I am not sure its likely. I expect most of their needs to get filled with bargain free agents and with internal candidates. Of course, I wouldn't mind the surprise of Alex Rodriguez on my team. Only New Yorkers are smart enough to undervalue such a good player.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Francisco Tommy-John-o

Francisco Liriano went through with his Tommy John surgery today, and apparently the procedure went as planned and without any complications. The ligament replacement surgery was performed by Dr. Lewis Yokum, a specialist, and was assisted by Twins physician Dr. John Steubs. Now, Liriano will begin a long and difficult rehabilitation that will likely take anywhere from 12-18 months.

Despite the fact that Liriano's decision to go through with the surgery surfaced last week, we chose not to write about it here mostly because it was barely even news. Much like every other piece of "news" that has come out so far in the Twins' off-season (the team picking up Torii Hunter and Carlos Silva's 2007 options, Hunter winning a probably undeserved Gold Glove, Gardenhire's contract extension, etc.) this decision was not in any way surprising. The Twins had continued to insist that there was hope that Liriano could take care of his elbow issues with rest and exercise, but it was clear to most Twins fans that surgery was going to be necessary when his second comeback attempt was halted in the third inning and Frisco slumped off the field.

In a way, the Twins come off looking a bit silly in this situation. Their "wait and see" attitude didn't make much sense over the past few months, and it makes even less sense now. If they would have gone through with the surgery back in August or September, Liriano may have been on track to pitch winterball in a year; now we'll have to cross our fingers and hope that he'll be ready to go for Spring Training 2008. Ultimately, I suppose that going through with the surgery is the pitcher's decision, but as an organization the Twins never seemed to take a firm stance and never seemed to show much urgency when talking about the situation.

As has been discussed elsewhere, the prognosis for a pitcher undergoing Tommy John surgery these days is pretty good. Most pitchers who have undergone the surgery and rehab have come back to pitch at least as well as they had beforehand. Some have even added bite to their fastball as a result of the procedure. Liriano's situation, however, makes a little weary, for a couple of reasons.

First of all, I don't think this is a cut-and-dry case of an ulnar collateral ligament causing all the problems. When his problems initially surfaced, there was a lot of talk about Liriano's elbow problems being rooted in his left shoulder. If that is truly the case, I doubt that this surgery will really solve Liriano's problems, unless he is able to additionally strengthen the shoulder during his rehab period.

Secondly, Liriano's delivery puts a lot of strain on his elbow and I think there is legitimate reason for concern that this will continue to be a problem even after the surgery and rehab. There are a few pitchers who have had to undergo the TJ surgery multiple times, and that is certainly not a path that Liriano will want to follow. Aside from the procedure and lengthy rehab, some mechanical adjustments may be necessary to ensure that the young left-hander can have a long and successful career.

As it stands, Liriano is still just 23 years old and there is a good chance that he will be able to join the long list of pitchers who have undergone Tommy John surgery and come back with great success. The issues I've laid out above will no doubt be on the forefront of the minds of the Twins' medical staff as they work to ease him back into the process of throwing from a mound over the next year or so. My hope is that no complications arise during that span and he can come back in 2008 with the same filthy stuff he showed in his brilliant rookie campaign. The now-certain loss of Liriano for the 2007 season is depressing, but if he can come back at full strength and join Johan Santana at the front of the Twins rotation in a couple years, we'll have a very entertaining team to watch in the final years of its Metrodome residence and into the new stadium era.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Potential Free Agent Targets

With the World Series in the rearview mirror and the time for off-season transactions steadily approaching, it's about time to start previewing the Twins' off-season needs and some potential targets via both free agency and trade. Today I will be taking a look at a list of players who have filed for free agency and may fit into the Twins' plans considering their needs and financial flexibility.

Unless something changes, there are three positions where Terry Ryan might be looking to shop during the off-season: SP, 3B, and DH. This list is, of course, liable to change.

For instance, the Twins might look internally for an answer at designated hitter, either by activating the 2007 option on Rondell White based on his good second half, or by bringing back Phil Nevin for another season. Ron Gardenhire might also opt to continue his trend of platooning Jason Tyner at DH next season, but let's hope not. Third base is also not necessarily a position where Ryan will aggressively look to upgrade in the coming months; Nick Punto had a good season there and deserves a lot of credit for the team's turnaround. With that said, his numbers outside of the month of July were not very good and it's unlikely he'll be able to put up such nice overall numbers next season. I think Ryan realizes that if he has the chance to get a good player there, it needs to be done.

Other positions might enter the off-season upgrade list as well. Left field is one that jumps out at me, because I'm not sure if either White or Tyner is really a permanent answer there. The hope is that Jason Kubel will be ready to take over this position in '07, but after the disappointing and injury-hampered season he had in 2006, it is far from a guarantee.

Looking through a list of potential free agents during the 2006-07 off-season, here are some names that stood out to me as possible targets for Ryan and the Twins:


Ted Lilly, 30
Lilly would be a nice southpaw to complement Johan Santana in the Twins' rotation with Francisco Liriano likely out for '07. Lilly has pretty good stuff and has posted a good ERA in three of the past four years. His peripherals aren't dazzling, but I could see him having Kenny Rogers-type success in the Twins' rotation.

Vicente Padilla, 29
Padilla has been a pretty good pitcher over the course of his career. Last year he gave the Rangers 200 innings at a 4.50 ERA, which would be more than sufficient for the No. 3 or 4 spot in the Twins' rotation. I have heard rumors, however, that Padilla might be looking for as much as $8-$9 million in free agency, which is far more than the Twins should or will spend.

Adam Eaton, 29
Eaton had a down year in 2006 when he was in Texas, but who doesn't? He was a solid pitcher in San Diego, and he strikes me as the type of pitcher Rick Anderson could work with. If his asking price is a little less than what he made in Texas last year ($4.65 million), I think he'd be a nice addition to the Twins' rotation. I'd certainly prefer him to Carlos Silva at that price.

Jeff Suppan, 31
Suppan has been fairly average over the course of his career, with a 106-101 career record to go along with a 4.60 ERA, but he's always been an "innings-eater," which is apparently a very desirable trait in a free agent pitcher. Suppan falls into the same category as most of the other pitchers mentioned here; he'd be a fine fit as a middle-to-bottom of the rotation guy, but it would be unwise to overspend on him because he's really nothing special.

Jeff Weaver, 30
I'm not going to sugarcoat my feelings about Weaver. I'm not a fan, at all. I think he's been wildly overrated for much of his career, and I was flabbergasted when the Angels saw fit to sign him for $8 million last winter. Weaver is one of those innings-eater guys, but he's just not all that good. He hasn't posted an ERA under 4 since 2002, and he is generally fairly hittable and homer-prone. He is also represented by Scott Boras, which provides further motivation to steer clear.

Gil Meche, 28
Meche is an intriguing player to me. He posted a 3.78 ERA in 2000, but before the 2001 season he had to undergo arthroscopic surgery to repair a frayed rotator cuff, and he wasn't able to return to the mound until 2003. In the four seasons since his return, he hasn't been quite the same. There are some encouraging signs with Meche though. He pitched a career-high 186 2/3 innings last season and his 4.48 ERA was the best of his career outside of that 2000 campaign. If the price is right, Meche could be a sneaky good pick-up.

Tony Armas, Jr., 28
There aren't many great things to say about Armas, but he might be a decent candidate to fill a spot in the bottom of the rotation at a reasonable price. Armas has a 4.45 career ERA and he's never posted a winning record in a season (except in an injury-shortened 2003 when he went 2-1 with the Expos). Last year, he was 9-12 with a 5.03 ERA and a 1.50 WHIP. He's not a great strikeout pitcher and he doesn't have great control. With that said, he's relatively young and he's managed to keep his ERA under 5 throughout his career up until last year.

Barry Zito is going to be the big name in terms of free agent pitchers this off-season, but behind him there are a number of solid middle-of-the-rotation types that might interest the Twins. Ryan has voiced a desire to bring in a veteran that he can plug into the third or fourth slot in the rotation, so I fully expect him to get into the bidding with one of the guys mentioned above, or possibly another pitcher I didn't mention (Mark Redman, Randy Wolf, Jason Marquis, Aaron Sele, etc.).


Mike Piazza, 38
Despite the fact that he had an excellent season, hitting .283/.342/.501 with 22 homers and 68 RBI, the Padres declined their 2007 option on Piazza, making him a free agent. Piazza has been a great hitter for his entire career, with a lifetime hitting line of .309/.379/.551. He might not have the power he had five years ago, but he proved with his 2006 campaign that he can still hit despite the fact that he's climbing into his late 30s. If he'd be willing to give up catching and settle into a full-time DH role, I believe he'd be a great fit for the Twins, presuming he'd be willing to sign for something around the $2 million he signed for last year with San Diego.

Frank Thomas, 38
The Twins might have missed the boat on Thomas when they decided against pursuing him on the cheap last year due to injury concerns. Thomas, of course, had a monster year for the Athletics and helped power them past the Twins in the first round of the playoffs, and you'd better believe he'll be asking for a little more than $500K this winter. Reports from Oakland are that Thomas and the A's are close a multi-year deal, but if that doesn't happen, he's a guy something the Twins should look into.

Nomar Garciaparra, 33
Garciaparra won the NL Comeback Player of the Year Award in 2006 by hitting .303/.367/.505 with 20 HR and 93 RBI, but because of the fact that he's still only 33 and a fairly valuable defensive player, it's not particularly likely that he'd accept a DH role. It's also likely that he'll demand a pretty penny in free agency because of those nice numbers.

The trend here seems to be players that the Twins could have pursued in the last off-season, but chose not to for various reasons. Now, they're all back and at higher price tags. I would not rate the likelihood of the Twins landing any of these players as particularly high, but any one of them would be a nice fit between those big left-handed bats in the Twins' lineup and acquiring a big name might help increase fan interest. Of course, if they wanted the biggest name, they could take a look at that guy from San Francisco who recently filed for FA...


Pedro Feliz, 31
Feliz, who has spent his entire seven-year major-league career with the Giants, has always been an overrated player in my mind. He's a mediocre fielder with 20 HR-type power who holds a meager .252 career batting average. Last season, he hit just .244 with a Batista-esque .281 on-base percentage, although he did manage to hit 22 homers and drive in a career-high 98 runs. Feliz made $4 million with the Giants last year, and I don't think he's worth that; if he's asking for a raise the Twins should promptly look elsewhere.

Rich Aurilia, 35
At 35, Aurilia would be a very temporary fix for the Twins. With that said, he might be the most attractive third base option among the free agent batch this year. It appeared that Aurilia's career was dying down when he hit .246/.314/.353 between the Mariners and Padres in 2004, leading some to believe that he was incapable of putting up numbers without being in same lineup as Barry Bonds. However, Aurilia has been resurgent in his two seasons in Cincinnati, and last year he hit .300/.349/.518 with 23 home runs and 70 RBI. His right-handedness would make him a good fit in the Twins' lineup, and he was playing for fairly cheap in Cincy, although I'm not sure what he'll demand in free agency.

Aubrey Huff, 29
I thought Huff would have been a decent trade candidate for the Twins last season, because he's got some nice power and he's a versatile fielder who can play first base, third base, and the corner outfield positions. However, to say he's a versatile fielder is not to say he's a particularly good fielder at any of those positions. Between Tampa Bay and Houston last year, he hit .267 with 21 home runs and 66 RBI. Not bad, but nothing spectacular. He'll turn 30 next month and he made almost $7 million last year, which means he's probably not financially feasible for the Twins. The fact that he bats left-handed adds to the unlikelihood that Ryan will give him a look.

Aaron Boone, 33
Boone had some success with the Reds early in his career, and was an All-Star back in 2003. Sadly, he has fallen off the map over the past couple of seasons, and has failed to post an OPS over .700 since '03. Boone is a solid defender with some occasional pop in his bat, but his .264/.325/.429 career line is mediocre and it's been in steady decline since he left Cincinnati. Not a likely candidate.

Tony Batista, 32
Come on, he deserves another shot... right?

When you take into account price and age, I don't see a definitive upgrade over Punto among these players. The only guy in the free agent market at third base who would look a lot better than Punto would be Aramis Ramirez, and I somehow doubt the Twins are looking to shell out the necessary $15 million in free agency. If Ryan wants to upgrade at third base, he may have to look to the trade market to do so.