December 3, 2007

Twins Notes: Non-Santana Edition

It now seems likely that Johan Santana will be traded in the near future and perhaps as soon as today if the Yankees get their wish. There are plenty of places to find up-to-the-minute Santana rumors, but for better or worse this blog has always been more about analysis than speculation and it seems somewhat pointless to spend much time on the ever-changing, hard-to-pin-down details of a deal that could be struck at any moment. Instead, let's kill a little time with some non-Santana Twins notes ...

  • If you've been wondering about the potential impact that trading for Delmon Young could have on the Twins' team chemistry, a familiar name has all the answers (plus an inside look at the thrilling LaVelle E. Neal III-Joe Christensen carpool).
  • The Twins will have a big hole in the ninth inning if Joe Nathan is traded, but Ron Gardenhire said last week that Pat Neshek won't take over as closer if Nathan is dealt:
    I think he could do the job part time, but no, we think he still has some things to learn, still get better at getting both sides of the plate out, all those things. That's not an option that we're looking at. If we were forced into it, we would try a lot of different things. I don't count on him as my closer, no.

    Talk of Neshek needing to "get better at getting both sides of the plate out" has persisted dating back to his minor-league days, but he held left-handed hitters to .181/.288/.330 in 113 plate appearances this season and has limited them to .201/.292/.388 during his big-league career. For comparison, in 2007 lefties batted .264/.320/.421 against Matt Guerrier and .313/.402/.513 against Juan Rincon. If Nathan leaves and the Twins want to replace him with their best reliever, Neshek should get the job.

  • Kelsie Smith of the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports that the Twins have asked Boof Bonser to lose 25 pounds during the offseason, which is the amount that Bonser is said to have gained between 2006 and 2007. Here's what pitching coach Rick Anderson said about Bonser: "The two things that killed him last year were durability, No. 1, and command of his fastball, No. 2. Those are directly related to being overweight." Of course, back in August the Twins wanted to him to lose "about 10 or 15 pounds."
  • When Jason Bartlett was in Minnesota, the local media misguidedly focused on his error totals when evaluating his defense at shortstop, ignoring his range and the relative uselessness of errors when analyzing defense. It didn't take long for that to change following last week's trade to Tampa Bay, with Devil Rays beat writer Marc Topkin offering the following note about Bartlett's defense in the St. Petersburg Times:
    Though his .960 fielding percentage was among the worst for shortstops, he ranked much higher in terms of zone rating, range factor, chances and plus/minus, a complicated evaluation system from the Fielding Bible that rates how many more or fewer plays an individual makes compared to an average player at his position. Bartlett's plus-45 over the last three seasons is second best in the majors.

    It would have been nice to read something like that from a mainstream media outlet while Bartlett was still with the Twins.

  • A month ago in this space I put together a list of 25 potential replacements for Torii Hunter in center field, looking at the "pros" and "cons" of each player from free agents Andruw Jones, Aaron Rowand, Mike Cameron, and Kenny Lofton to trade targets Coco Crisp, Lastings Milledge, Reggie Willits, and Jacque Jones. Perhaps the least-known player on the list was Indians minor leaguer Brian Barton, who was described like this:
    PROS: Hit .326/.442/.506, .323/.412/.511, and .305/.402/.420 in three minor-league seasons, but stuck behind Grady Sizemore and has yet to make his big-league debut despite turning 26 years old soon.

    CONS: Barton is a perfect low-cost, diamond-in-the-rough target, but might be stretched defensively and the Indians are unlikely to deal within their division.

    My sense that the Indians didn't value Barton highly has proven to be correct, but it turns out that their willingness to make trades within the division is a non-issue. Why? Because the Indians left Barton unprotected for this week's Rule 5 draft, meaning that any team can pluck him from their organization for $50,000 as long as they're willing to keep him on the big-league roster all season. In the past the Twins have been fairly active in the Rule 5 draft, but they may not get a chance to grab Barton.

    Having lost some outfield depth by trading Young and Jason Pridie to the Twins last week, the Devil Rays are reportedly considering taking Barton with the No. 1 pick in the Rule 5 draft. Interestingly, the Twins originally selected Pridie in the Rule 5 draft back in 2005, but decided not to keep him on the major-league roster and sent him back to the Devil Rays at the end of spring training. Two years later they still liked him and had to give up a lot more than $50,000 to acquire him in a six-player swap.

  • In past years the Twins have had a lot of success grabbing players from other teams in the Rule 5 draft, with Santana and Shane Mack being the two most prominent examples. However, last season provided an example of the flip side to that, with the Padres plucking reliever Kevin Cameron from the Twins' organization and watching as he posted a 2.79 ERA in 58 innings out of their bullpen. Looking over this year's list of unprotected players, the Twins are in danger of losing several solid prospects.

    Yohan Pino and Garrett Guzman were both included on my list of the Twins' top 40 prospects heading into the season and each improved their stock with strong performances in the minors. Pino posted a 3.13 ERA and 104-to-26 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 115 innings between high Single-A and Double-A while Guzman hit .312/.359/.453 in 125 games at Double-A, yet they're both available to any team that wants them for $50,000 and a season-long spot on the big-league roster.

    Brock Peterson narrowly missed making the top 40 for 2007, but will rank highly on the 2008 list after hitting .285/.382/.476 in 112 games at Double-A. With back-to-back strong offensive seasons Peterson is one of the few hitting prospects in the upper minors of the Twins' minor-league system that has some chance to be an impact bat in the majors, but he may not get a chance if another team deems him worthy of stashing on the big-league roster for a season.

    The Twins could also lose David Winfree, Matt Moses, Jay Sawatski, Matt Fox, and Luke Hughes, among others. Moses is the biggest name on that list by virtue of being a 2003 first-round pick, but he's been a tremendous bust and had a horrible 2007 season. The only prospect on the list who figures to join Peterson, Guzman, and Pino in my top 40 for 2008 is Winfree, but as a 22-year-old first baseman who batted .267/.308/.426 at Double-A this season he seems unlikely to be selected.

  • Last week the Twins made some small moves to address their lack of upper-minors hitting depth, including signing 29-year-old Jon Knott to a minor-league contract. Knott is coming off a mediocre year at Triple-A and was no doubt signed to help Rochester win games, but as a right-handed corner bat who's hit .280/.368/.520 in 3,000 minor-league plate appearances he could provide 90 percent of Craig Monroe's offensive production at 10 percent of the cost if asked to platoon against left-handed pitching.
  • Speaking of right-handed corner bats, Chris Shelton has been designated for assignment by the Tigers. Shelton fell out of favor in Detroit after slumping in 2006, but he's still just 27 years old and has hit .281/.348/.477 in 899 big-league plate appearances along with .311/.410/.500 in over 2,000 trips to the plate in the minors. Much like Josh Phelps, who was designated for assignment last month by the Pirates, Shelton would be a perfect low-cost bench bat for the Twins.
  • Dan Serafini, who's bounced around since being a bust as the Twins' first-round pick in 1992, has been handed a 50-game suspension for violating MLB's steroids policy. The 33-year-old left-hander explained that he "took substances that were prescribed for me by a doctor" while playing in Japan and "didn't use any banned substances in order to gain a competitive advantage," but the suspension likely ends his big-league career following a three-game stint with the Rockies in 2007.
  • Let go in October by the Twins after hitting .233/.315/.362 for his third straight sub par season, the Kyodo News reports that Lew Ford is negotiating to play in Japan for the Hanshin Tigers. Hanshin is likely to lose Kosuke Fukudome, who was one of the 25 potential Hunter replacements covered here last month, so Ford could get a chance to replace him in the outfield.
  • What's the best-pitched game in Twins history? You might be surprised by the answer.
  • If after reading all of that you're still craving all things Santana, Rotoworld has one-stop shopping for all the Santana news, rumors, and speculation that you could ever want.

  • Once you're done here, check out my latest "Daily Dose" column over at Rotoworld.

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