December 12, 2005


While trading for Alexi Casilla sounds an awful lot like trading for Luis Castillo, the Twins' second trade of the offseason was completely different than their first. The natural reaction when a trade like this one goes down is to say, "I can't believe this is all we got for [insert name of veteran player]. I don't even know who this [insert name of prospect] guy is."

In this case, after weeks of fans speculating about what sort of impact hitter the Twins could acquire by trading away a package that included J.C. Romero, Terry Ryan surprised everyone by sending Romero to the Angels for a minor leaguer. However, while this isn't the sort of deal that provides fans with tons of optimism in the dead of winter, it is a perfectly reasonable move on a number of levels.

Romero had little place on this team. His pitching had become less and less reliable of late and he clashed with Ron Gardenhire over his role in the bullpen. The former is a lot more important than the latter and neither thing made Romero useless, of course. Still, when a guy is making $2.2 million on a team where that counts for a big chunk of the payroll things like that begin to matter.

The Twins' bullpen is very good and very deep, and their budget is very limited. I was initially under the impression that dealing Romero would essentially require dumping his salary, but after reading the many rumors circulating this offseason I became convinced that he had more value than that. Turns out, his value was somewhere in between.

One thing I heard quite a bit over the weekend was surprise about Ryan only being able to get a mid-level prospect for Romero. After all, several people said, look at the huge contracts teams are handing out to relievers this offseason. While that's certainly true, if you look instead at what relievers have been fetching in trades it is a vastly different story.

For instance, Damaso Marte, a lefty setup man who is comparable to Romero is many ways, was dealt last week from the White Sox to the Pirates for utility man Rob Mackowiak. Another comparable southpaw middle reliever, Ray King, was dealt from the Cardinals to the Rockies for Larry Bigbie and Aaron Miles.

If you look at what Marte and King brought back, I don't think the Twins receiving an intriguing 21-year-old middle-infield prospect for Romero, while also clearing his entire salary off the books, is a bad haul. As always with the Twins, the monetary aspect of a move can't be ignored. It's easy to say that the Twins simply dealt Romero for Casilla, but in reality they dealt Romero for Casilla and $2 million.

The odds are against Casilla ever turning into an impact player simply because of his inexperience and distance from the majors, but Ryan has certainly plucked similar prospects out of other systems and watched them thrive. As Angels general manager Bill Stoneman told the Los Angeles Times, "The Twins have a very good history of identifying good players at lower levels and acquiring them."

Can Casilla join the long list of low-level minor leaguers in other organizations who Ryan correctly identified as having potential? He has as much of a chance as Johan Santana, David Ortiz, Joe Mays, Kyle Lohse, Lew Ford, Cristian Guzman, and Jason Bartlett -- all relatively unknown prospects who Ryan brought in via trades.

ALEXI CASILLA | 5'9" | 160 LBS | DOB: 7/20/1984 | BATS: SWITCH

2004 R 45 .258 .332 .313 15 10 24
2005 A 78 .325 .392 .409 29 31 47

Alexi Casilla has a lot more in common with Luis Castillo than the closeness of their last names. Like Castillo, Casilla is a switch-hitting middle infielder who has almost zero power, controls the strike zone, gets on base, and has a ton of speed. In fact, in 156 career minor-league games Casilla has a .296 batting average, three homers, and 75 stolen bases.

If Casilla develops well, he could step in at second base and the top of the order when Castillo's contract is up in two years. If his development stalls a bit, he could turn into a solid utility man. Either way, he's the type of player (a young middle infielder with on-base skills) the Twins haven't had nearly enough of in the organization over the past five years.

Romero-for-Casilla is not a fair swap, but the Twins didn't need a $2.2 million LOOGY who was a pain in the ass and if Ryan could have traded Romero for an impact hitter he would have. Instead, the team saves a significant amount of money, gets rid of a headache whose performance was worse than his raw numbers indicate, and picks up a young middle infielder with some potential.

Today at The Hardball Times:
- Demystifying the MLB Constitution (Part 1) (by Maury Brown)
- Are South Florida Fans at Fault? (by Keith Isley)

Pick of the Day (152-128, +$2,305):
Atlanta -10 (-110) over New Orleans

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