January 30, 2008

So Long, Johan


We're just talkin' about the future
Forget about the past
It'll always be with us
It's never gonna die, never gonna die


- AC/DC, "Rock 'N Roll Ain't Noise Pollution"

The early days of this blog were filled with a "Free Johan Santana!" campaign that urged the Twins to move their young left-handed phenom into the starting rotation. After Santana spent the majority of four years in the bullpen and another half-season at Triple-A, the Twins finally gave him a permanent spot in the rotation to begin the 2004 season. He immediately became the best pitcher in baseball, winning the AL Cy Young by going 20-6 while leading the league with a 2.61 ERA and 265 strikeouts.

In four seasons as a full-time starter Santana went 70-32 with a 2.89 ERA and 983 strikeouts in 912.1 innings, winning two ERA titles and three strikeout crowns while capturing a pair of Cy Young awards and deserving a third. It was an amazing metamorphosis. At 21 years old Santana was a little-known Rule 5 pick who showed some promise, at 23 years old he was an ace-in-waiting who dominated from the bullpen or rotation, and at 25 years old he was the best pitcher in baseball.

Now 28 years old, Santana has established himself as both one of the most successful pitchers in Twins history and one of the greatest left-handers of all time. Three weeks into this blog's existence there was an entry that began with this proclamation: "I suspect that many of you aren't very familiar with Mr. Santana, but with the way he's pitched this season that may change very quickly." And now, a little more than five years later, today's entry is about how the Twins traded Mr. Santana to the Mets.

Santana and the Mets still need to work out a long-term contract extension before the trade becomes official, but assuming that happens the Twins will receive outfielder Carlos Gomez and right-handers Deolis Guerra, Kevin Mulvey, and Philip Humber. Baseball America's recent breakdown of the Mets' farm system ranked those four players as the team's No. 2, No. 3, No. 4, and No. 7 prospects, but the Twins unfortunately weren't able to get No. 1 prospect Fernando Martinez included in the deal.

Trading the best pitcher in baseball without getting the Mets' top prospect in return is disappointing and without Martinez the package falls short of the deals that were rumored to have been offered from the Yankees and Red Sox. A month ago the Twins were said to be deciding between packages headed by Phil Hughes, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Jon Lester, and earlier this month they were reportedly pushing the Mets to include Martinez. Instead, they end up with none of those four players.

Either the oft-cited rumored offers involving Hughes, Ellsbury, and Lester were never actually on the table to begin with or general manager Bill Smith waited so long to pull the trigger that the Yankees and Red Sox eventually decided to take them off the table. All of which is what makes evaluating the package that the Twins ended up accepting somewhat tricky. On one hand, it seems fairly clear that the Twins would have been better off making Hughes or Ellsbury the centerpiece of a Santana trade.

Those two players possess the best combination of long-term upside and major-league readiness, so if at any point Smith passed on offers involving Hughes or Ellsbury then he made a big mistake and ultimately had to settle for something significantly less than the best possible package. On the other hand, when judged on its own and not compared to other offers that may or may not have been on the table, the Mets' package is a decent one.

It seems natural that a team should be able to have its pick of elite prospects when trading away baseball's premiere pitcher, but from the Twins' perspective all they were truly shopping was one season of Santana. While that's plenty valuable, getting four solid prospects for one season of any player seems reasonable. Of course, had the Twins kept Santana this season and simply let him walk as a free agent, they also would have gotten a pair of first-round draft picks as compensation.

Given that, what the Twins really gave up was one season of Santana and a pair of draft picks. That complicates things a bit, but four solid prospects still seems like a relatively palatable return given the added cost and uncertainty of draft picks. Still, my suspicion is that the Twins could have done better and perhaps cost themselves a chance to get the maximum return for Santana by attempting to squeeze extra value from teams.

In poker terms, Smith slow-played a big hand and ended up dragging in less than the maximum pot. It's hard to swallow the possibility that the Twins missed out on acquiring Hughes and Melky Cabrera or Ellsbury, Jed Lowrie, and Justin Masterson. Those were very good offers for Santana and without Martinez included the Mets' offer falls short of those standards. However, there's a difference between the Mets' offer not being the best one and the Mets' offer not being a decent one.

Signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2002, Gomez has been rushed through the Mets' system and made his major-league debut as a 21-year-old last season despite logging just 36 games at Triple-A. He predictably struggled and there was little reason to push him so aggressively given his mediocre track record, suggesting that Gomez's development would benefit greatly from some additional time in the minors. Here are his combined numbers between Double-A and Triple-A:

  G      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR     XBH     BB      SO    SB
156 643 .282 .354 .421 9 51 42 120 58

Gomez is already a strong defensive center fielder and an excellent base-stealer with game-changing speed, but his bat leaves a lot to be desired. He's often talked about as a five-tool player, but with just nine homers and a .139 Isolated Power in 643 plate appearances his power has been modest so far. Beyond that, his 120-to-42 strikeout-to-walk ratio shows poor plate discipline and sub par strike-zone control, both of which are concerns for someone who the Twins no doubt view as a leadoff man.

The Twins may be tempted to make Gomez their Opening Day center fielder, but he looks likely to be overmatched in the majors at this point and the team would be better off delaying his arrival by signing someone like Kenny Lofton or Corey Patterson to a one-year deal. Gomez has the talent to be an impact player in time, but he's yet to convert his tools into great on-field performance and is far from a sure thing to ever become an above-average regular, whereas Ellsbury is basically already there.

Even more so than Gomez, Guerra is the high-risk, high-upside part of the package. Signed out of Venezuela for $700,000 in 2005, he's another example of the Mets needlessly rushing their prospects, spending last season at high Single-A as an 18-year-old. Guerra held his own there, posting a 4.01 ERA and 66-to-25 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 89.2 innings, which is plenty impressive for a teenager who was facing much more experienced competition.

Guerra throws hard and at 6-foot-5 there's plenty of room to project even more velocity, but he missed time with a shoulder injury last season and has a long way to go before reaching the majors both in terms of time frame and development. Had he been with the Twins, it's possible that Guerra would have spent last season at rookie-ball. He has the highest ceiling among the four players acquired for Santana, but also carries by far the most risk.

While Gomez and Guerra are all about projection and development, Mulvey and Humber are close to being MLB-ready and aren't especially far from reaching their relatively modest ceilings. Humber was a dominant pitcher in college, going 35-8 with a 2.80 ERA and 422 strikeouts in 353 innings at Rice University, and the Mets thought that they had a future ace when they took him with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2004 draft.

Humber's heavy college workload caught up to him just 15 starts into his pro career and he underwent Tommy John elbow surgery in 2005. He returned to the mound in the middle of the next season, but left some of his velocity on the operating table and hasn't been the same pitcher since. Once regarded as a potential No. 1 starter, Humber now looks like middle-of-the-rotation material after posting a 4.27 ERA and 120-to-44 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 139 innings at Triple-A as a 24-year-old.

Mulvey was a second-round pick out of Villanova in 2006 and reached Triple-A near the end of last season after posting a 3.02 ERA and 124-to-48 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 173 pro innings. While Humber is a fly-ball pitcher who has had problems keeping the ball in the ballpark post-surgery, Mulvey does a much better job inducing ground balls and has served up a total of just five homers in 173 innings. He also projects as a mid-rotation starter and should be ready by the All-Star break.

In a perfect world Santana would christen the new ballpark with an Opening Day start in 2010 and wear a Twins cap on his Hall of Fame plaque, but for whatever reason his remaining in Minnesota never seemed to be a legitimate option once the trade rumors began swirling. Swapping him for packages led by Hughes or Ellsbury would have put the Twins in a better position for both short- and long-term success, so if either of those deals were passed on then Smith made a major mistake.

With that said, getting Gomez, Guerra, Mulvey, and Humber from the Mets likely beats keeping Santana for one more season and taking a pair of draft picks when he departs as a free agent. A toolsy center fielder who hasn't shown much offensively, a very raw 18-year-old pitcher, and a pair of MLB-ready middle-of-the-rotation starters is no one's idea of a great haul for Santana, but it's not a horrible one and Smith may have backed himself into a corner by not jumping on better offers immediately.

The end result of a bad situation handled poorly is a mediocre package of players that has no one excited, but even acquiring Hughes or Ellsbury wouldn't have made losing Santana easy to live with. Trading away one of the best players in franchise history while he's still at the top of his game is a horrible thing and doing so without getting the best possible return for him is extremely disappointing, but the Santana trade still has a chance to work out in the Twins' favor. It just could have been better.


January 29, 2008

Report: Santana Traded To Mets

It's not official without the two sides agreeing to a long-term contract extension, but multiple sources are reporting that the Twins have agreed to trade Johan Santana to the Mets in exchange for Carlos Gomez, Deolis Guerra, Philip Humber, and Kevin Mulvey. I'll have a full breakdown of the deal in the morning, but my initial reaction is that this is a disappointing haul given the other packages that were rumored to be on the table at various points during the past couple months.

If you can't wait until tomorrow, I'll be on KFAN tonight from 7:00 to 8:30, discussing the trade and taking calls with Doogie Wolfson and Phil Mackey. Listen on your radio or stream the broadcast online.


January 28, 2008

Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2008: 35, 34, 33, 32, 31

Previous Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2008: 36-40
35. Brian Dinkelman | Second Base | DOB: 11/83 | Bats: Left | Draft: 2006-8

YEAR LV PA AVG OBP SLG HR XBH BB SO
2006 RK 203 .298 .338 .420 4 15 10 29
2007 A- 278 .283 .373 .488 7 29 30 34
A+ 292 .255 .361 .389 6 17 36 43

The NAIA's all-time leader in hits, doubles, runs scored, and total bases after his four-year career at McKendree College, Brian Dinkelman won the 2006 NAIA Player of the Year by batting .462 during his senior season. A college shortstop, Dinkelman moved to second base after being drafted by the Twins in the eighth round and debuted at rookie-level Elizabethton, batting .298/.338/.420 with four homers, 15 total extra-base hits, and a 29-to-10 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 46 games.

Dinkelman moved up to low Single-A last season and thrived, batting .283/.373/.488 with 10 steals in 67 games. His production dropped off after a midseason promotion to high Single-A, but he held his own by hitting .255/.361/.389 with eight steals in 64 games. His overall raw numbers aren't especially eye-popping, but a young middle infielder smacking 46 extra-base hits and drawing 66 walks between a pair of extremely low-scoring environments is impressive.

In fact, if you adjust Dinkelman's 2007 performance to account for the pitcher-friendly leagues that he played in, his hitting line goes from .269/.367/.437 to .280/.378/.493. A 23-year-old second baseman with a context-adjusted Isolated Power of .213 is worth keeping an eye on, although Dinkelman saw about one-fourth of his action in left field last season and may not remain at second base long term. As an outfielder he's a marginal player, but as an infielder his bat and speed could have an impact.

34. Brian Buscher | Third Base | DOB: 4/81 | Bats: Left | Rule 5: Giants

YEAR LV PA AVG OBP SLG HR XBH BB SO
2005 A+ 237 .282 .367 .422 5 18 27 47
AA 247 .228 .304 .288 1 10 20 36
2006 AA 524 .259 .321 .366 7 33 39 75
2007 AA 284 .308 .391 .478 7 27 31 30
AAA 147 .311 .374 .523 7 14 13 11

After two years at a Florida junior college Brian Buscher transferred to the University of South Carolina, where he batted .393/.453/.644 as a senior and became the Giants' third-round pick in the 2003 draft. Buscher received a $215,000 bonus and began his career at low Single-A, but hit just .278/.310/.320 with zero homers in 54 games. Over the next two seasons he experienced modest success at high Single-A, batting .288/.359/.413 in 143 games, but hit just .265/.336/.378 in 257 games at Double-A.

A 25-year-old with a .359 career slugging percentage, Buscher fell out of the Giants' plans and was taken by the Twins in the minor-league phase of the Rule 5 draft in December of 2006. Expected to be little more than roster filler, Buscher instead had the best season of any hitter in the Twins' system, hitting .309/.385/.493 with 14 homers, 41 total extra-base hits, and a 41-to-44 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 103 games between Double-A and Triple-A. He then hit .244/.323/.329 in 33 games with the Twins.

Buscher has three major strikes against him in that he's old for a prospect, has a poor track record that makes his breakout year look like a fluke, and appeared to be an awful defensive third baseman in his time with the Twins. On the other hand, his already strong hitting line from last season jumps to .316/.388/.540 after adjusting for the pitcher-friendly environments he called home and included vastly improved strike-zone control, which is at least enough to think that he may have turned the corner.

33. Matt Macri | Third Base | DOB: 5/82 | Bats: Right | Trade: Rockies

YEAR LV PA AVG OBP SLG HR XBH BB SO
2005 A+ 292 .283 .381 .443 7 24 33 67
2006 AA 326 .233 .294 .372 8 22 22 66
2007 AA 298 .298 .349 .502 11 34 20 58
AAA 59 .286 .322 .554 4 6 3 13

Originally taken out of an Iowa high school by the Twins in the 17th round of the 2001 draft, Matt Macri opted for college instead of signing and played three seasons at Notre Dame, batting .367/.465/.667 in his final year. Selected by the Rockies in the fifth round of the 2004 draft, Macri hit well between two levels of Single-A to begin his minor-league career before batting just .232/.293/.370 with a 66-to-22 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 84 games at Double-A in 2006.

Asked to repeat Double-A last season, Macri bounced back by hitting .298/.349/.502 with 11 homers, 34 total extra-base hits, and a 58-to-20 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 79 games. Traded to the Twins in August for Ramon Ortiz, Macri moved up to Triple-A and finished the season by hitting .286/.322/.554 with four homers in 17 games. Macri now carries a .282/.350/.467 hitting line in 296 career games, with solid numbers everywhere except for the season at Double-A in 2006.

He's played all over the infield defensively and is considered a solid glove at third base, so it's easy to see Macri emerging with a major-league job at some point. On the other hand, he turns 26 years old in May, doesn't have much plate discipline, and has struck out in 21 percent of his career trips to the plate. He might be stretched as an everyday player, but being productive platooning against left-handed pitching is doable and the Twins' system lacks good bats, let alone infielders with power.

32. Daniel Berlind | Starter | DOB: 12/87 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2007-7

YEAR LV G GS ERA IP H HR SO BB
2007 RK 11 9 1.93 56.0 37 4 52 20

Selected out of high school by the Cubs in the 44th round of the 2006 draft, Daniel Berlind opted for college instead of signing, enrolling at California Polytechnic State University before transferring to a junior college that was also in California. The decisions paid off for Berlind, who was taken by the Twins in the seventh round of June's draft and received an $80,000 signing bonus before making his pro debut in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League.

A 6-foot-7 right-hander who works primarily with a low-90s fastball and slider combination, Berlind held GCL hitters to a measly .186 batting average while posting a 1.93 ERA and 52-to-20 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 56 innings. While his batting average against and ERA were undeniably fantastic, Berlind's strikeout and walk rates are less impressive than they initially appear given the GCL's pitcher-friendly environment and the fact that he was facing slightly less experienced competition.

A dozen starting pitchers in the 16-team GCL had better strikeout-to-walk ratios than Berlind and even his minuscule 1.93 ERA ranked just third in the league. Of course, all of that is picking nits somewhat and Berlind certainly had a very strong debut that plants him firmly on the prospect map just six months after being a seventh-round pick. If he buys into the Twins' organization-wide emphasis on throwing strikes, Berlind has a chance to rank much higher on this list next year.

31. Dustin Martin | Center Field | DOB: 4/84 | Bats: Left | Trade: Mets

YEAR LV PA AVG OBP SLG HR XBH BB SO
2006 A- 293 .315 .399 .454 2 24 28 50
2007 A+ 548 .290 .361 .426 8 44 53 118

Dustin Martin led the Southland Conference with a .389 batting average during his senior season at Sam Houston State and was selected by the Mets in the 26th round of the 2006 draft. As a little-known college senior with no leverage, he agreed to a $1,000 bonus and reported to low Single-A, where he batted .315/.399/.454 in 72 games. Martin moved to high Single-A in 2007, batting .287/.358/.412 in 93 games before being traded to the Twins along with non-prospect Drew Butera for Luis Castillo in July.

Martin remained in the Florida State League after the deal, hitting .294/.366/.437 in 32 games at Fort Myers to finish the year with an overall line of .290/.361/.426 in a very pitcher-friendly environment, which included eight homers, 44 total extra-base hits, and a 118-to-53 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 125 games. While he's shown decent plate discipline with solid gap power and good speed, Martin strikes out an awful lot for a hitter who's managed just 10 homers in 845 career plate appearances.

Martin has spent the bulk of his pro career in center field and is considered an above-average defender there, but likely profiles more as a fourth outfielder long term. Terry Ryan's decision to unload Castillo at midseason was criticized heavily at the time and looks even more questionable given that the Twins would have ended up with a supplemental first-round pick if they'd simply let him walk as a free agent, but Martin's an intriguing player who gives them a chance to at least get some value out of the deal.


January 27, 2008

The Answers (Part 2: Twins Questions)

Opening the floor up for questions last week led to over 100 being asked in the comments section and another two dozen or so being sent in via e-mail. Responding to all of them would have been tough, but I've tried to tackle as many as possible by breaking the answers up into two entries. Last week's first installment covered non-baseball topics that were classified as "random" and today's second installment has the answers to questions that were specifically about the Twins.

If the Twins trade Johan Santana, who starts on Opening Night?

I'd bet on Scott Baker starting the first game if Johan Santana is traded. Baker and Boof Bonser have each made 48 big-league starts, but Baker was better last season and the team publicly expressed displeasure with Bonser's conditioning down the stretch. Ron Gardenhire is unlikely to let someone with less experience than Baker or Bonser make the first start, so that seemingly rules out Francisco Liriano and Kevin Slowey or guys from a potential Santana trade like Phil Hughes or Jon Lester.

With the bump in Hall of Fame votes that Bert Blyleven received this year, do you think that it's inevitable that he'll be enshrined or do you believe that this year could represent the high-water mark of his support?

Bert Blyleven received 61.9 percent of the votes this year and players who get that close to the required 75 percent tend to eventually get in. He has four more years on the ballot, so my guess is that he'll be elected in 2011 or 2012. While I've grown somewhat tired of him as the Twins' color commentator on FSN, I'm a big supporter of Blyleven's Hall of Fame candidacy.

Where do you see the Twins' overall defense at this point?

That's pretty tough to say without knowing who's starting in center field. Adam Everett is arguably the best defensive shortstop in baseball, Joe Mauer is among the best defensive catchers, and Justin Morneau is solidly above average at first base, but Michael Cuddyer, Delmon Young, Jason Kubel, Brendan Harris, and Mike Lamb don't grade out especially well according to most advanced defensive metrics. Ignoring center field for the moment, the overall defense looks about average.

If the Twins hold on to Santana, who should they place in center field?

In that scenario I'd be in favor of signing Kenny Lofton to a one-year contract and going after Corey Patterson wouldn't be a horrible option if he's cheap enough, but my guess is that Jason Pridie would likely get first crack at the job.

If Joe Nathan is traded who takes his place as the closer?

If they're interested in handing the job to the team's next-best reliever the Twins would give Pat Neshek ninth-inning duties. However, earlier this offseason Gardenhire said that Neshek "is not an option" to replace Joe Nathan, seemingly indicating that Juan Rincon or Jesse Crain would get the job despite clearly being inferior pitchers. On a related note, the Twins traded away a potential future closer when they sent Eduardo Morlan to Tampa Bay.

If Nathan isn't traded and he doesn't re-sign with the Twins, would he be classified as a Type-A or Type-B free agent?

Assuming that Nathan stays healthy this season, he'll be ranked as a Type-A free agent next winter. Just as they did when Torii Hunter signed with the Angels, the Twins would receive a first-round pick and a supplemental first-round pick as compensation for losing Nathan.

In a few years, do you think that the Angels will regret that enormous contract they gave Hunter?

The Angels almost immediately regretted signing Gary Matthews Jr. last offseason and my guess is that they'll regret signing Hunter when they're paying him $18 million per season from 2010-2012. The odds of a 35- or 36-year-old Hunter being worth that much seem fairly slim, but because of their high payroll the Angels are able to absorb bad contracts far easier than most teams. Having to pay $18 million for Hunter in 2011 or 2012 won't hurt them nearly as much as it would have hurt the Twins.

How many innings would you recommend that the Twins pitch Liriano this year?

An innings count can be misleading, because it says nothing about how many pitches were thrown. For example, Greg Maddux used 13.7 pitches per inning last season, while Scott Kazmir used 17.5. They both threw around 200 innings, but Kazmir's workload was significantly higher. Maddux threw a total of 2,708 pitches without ever topping even 100 pitches in an outing. Kazmir threw a total of 3,611 pitches, topped 100 pitches in 28 of his 34 starts, and went over the 110-pitch mark 11 times.

Based solely on innings their workloads were similar, but Kazmir threw nearly 900 more pitches and had far more stress on his arm during a typical start. Liriano could very easily be overworked while throwing just 125 innings and at the same time he could take on an acceptable workload while tossing 180 innings. More than counting his innings, I'm hoping that the Twins quickly shut him down if any problems arise and keep a very tight grip on his game-by-game pitch count.

How many plate appearances do you see for Kubel in 2008?

I'd probably set the over/under at around 500 or so, given that he received 466 plate appearances last season and now must stay healthy while hoping that Gardenhire doesn't fall in love with Craig Monroe.

Every once in a while I hear a rumor about Mauer switching positions. What are your thoughts on the matter?

I've written about this topic in great length previously, but the short version is that a massive chunk of Mauer's value is tied to being a catcher, both offensively and defensively. By moving to another position he'd lose a huge amount of value defensively and his offense would be significantly less outstanding compared to the other players at his position. Unless Mauer is physically unable to catch, it's highly unlikely that he'd be more valuable or even equally as valuable at another position.

Is Glen Perkins' ability being ignored or underrated by the Twins? I'm not quite sure why he's never been given the opportunity to make a major-league start.

Glen Perkins made his big-league debut in September of 2006 despite having started just one game at Triple-A and then missed nearly four months of last season with a shoulder injury, so it's tough to say that the Twins have held him back much. None of his 23 career appearances have been starts despite Gardenhire saying last winter that he'd be used as a starter, but had Perkins been healthy for more than a fraction of last year he likely would have gotten some work as a starter eventually.

Do you think that there's something in the psyches of the major-league managers that makes them want to bat crappy-hitting speedsters in the leadoff spot?

Throughout much of baseball history speed has been viewed as perhaps the most important factor for leadoff hitters. Many people have begun to realize that's not actually the case, but it takes a long time for old habits to die and most managers are unlikely to embrace the notion given that they're middle-aged men who've heard how important speed is for 40-50 years. It's the same reason that many managers still put one of the lineup's worst hitters in the second spot because he "handles the bat well."

In general, what are the qualities of an ideal leadoff hitter and how important are they to overall team success?

Getting on base is the single most important quality for a leadoff hitter, but it's also the single most important quality for any hitter. The ability to get on base and avoid outs is what fuels a lineup and that's especially true for a leadoff man given that he bats with no one on base at least once per game and comes to the plate more often than anyone else in the lineup. Base-stealing ability isn't even close to being as important as simply getting on base to begin with.

Assuming that the Twins don't acquire an obvious candidate, who are their best options for a leadoff hitter on the current roster?

For all the talk of lineup improvements that the Twins have made this winter, they didn't acquire anyone with especially strong plate discipline or on-base skills. Without knowing who'll be starting in center field, Mauer is likely the best leadoff option at this point because he has by far the best on-base skills on the team and possesses modest power. Of course, a career .313/.394/.459 hitter is also the best option in the No. 2 spot and No. 3 spot, or just about anywhere in the lineup.

Who's the best option at second base for the Twins?

Unless Gardenhire's infatuation with Nick Punto is somehow even stronger than I'd imagined, Harris will be the Twins' starting second baseman. His defense may prove to be sub par, but Harris should provide average offense for the position and more time at Triple-A won't hurt Alexi Casilla.

Do you believe that any personality issues Delmon Young has/had are behind him?

I don't think that I'd really have any way of knowing that, but the fact that some of his "issues" were a factor during the final week of last season suggests that if they're behind him, it's not very far.

I've heard people refer to Fernando Martinez as the Mets' best prospect, but was disappointed by his career hitting line in the minors. You and many others have talked about his high ceiling, but taking into account his current numbers what kind of ceiling are we actually talking about?

Looking at Fernando Martinez's minor-league numbers is very misleading because of how incredibly aggressive the Mets have been in pushing him through their system. At his age most other players are beginning college or starting their pro career at rookie-ball, but Martinez split the 2006 season between two levels of Single-A as a 17-year-old and then spent last season as an 18-year-old at Double-A. Raw numbers don't show it, but hitting .265/.331/.376 as a teenager at Double-A is actually very impressive.

Martinez's ability to hold his own despite being two years younger than any other player in the league suggests that he's a special talent, but beyond that it's difficult to make any sort of specific projections based on his numbers. He's so raw and hasn't even come close to developing fully, so looking at typical stats to draw conclusions about his ability becomes fairly useless. I'm of the opinion that the Mets have made a big mistake by needlessly rushing him so much, but he still has superstar potential.

Making him the centerpiece of a Santana trade carries far more risk than doing the same with Hughes or Jacoby Ellsbury, because projecting Martinez's future is based almost entirely on tools rather than performance and most organizations wouldn't have him anywhere near the majors at this point. He's universally regarded as an elite prospect and looks capable of developing a middle-of-the-order bat, although there are questions about his ability to remain in center field long term.

If the Twins trade Santana to the Red Sox and pick up Jed Lowrie, where will they play him?

Jed Lowrie has played primarily shortstop in the minors and may stick there long term, but my guess is that he'll eventually end up at second base.

Why has Dustin Pedroia's name never come up as a potential centerpiece in a Santana trade?

For the same reason that the Yankees aren't interested in trading Robinson Cano and the Mets aren't interested in trading Jose Reyes. It makes little sense to trade a good, young player who's under the team's control at reasonable salaries for the next handful of seasons for someone who is one year away from free agency and will likely require in excess of $20 million per season to retain. Money and service time play much bigger factors in determining player value than the average fan realizes.

If you re-did your Top 40 Minnesota Twins series would Nathan, Mauer, or Morneau have cracked the list yet?

Perhaps, but you'll notice that there are no current Twins among the 25 players who have been profiled in the series thus far. It makes more sense to evaluate someone's place in team history when they're not in the middle of their time with Twins.

Who do you think will end up winning sponsorship rights to the new Twins ballpark?

Marshall Field's Field would have had an odd ring to it, but that's obviously not going to happen now. Big local companies tend to be the front-runners for such things, so that would probably include 3M, Target, Best Buy, General Mills, Northwest Airlines, and Dairy Queen. Hopefully it's just something that sounds remotely like an actual ballpark, but as long as they play outside it doesn't really matter.


January 25, 2008

Morneau, Cuddyer Sign Long-Term Extensions

The Johan Santana saga continues to drag on with no obvious end in sight, but the Twins made a pair of big moves Friday afternoon by signing Justin Morneau and Michael Cuddyer to long-term contract extensions. Morneau's deal overrides the one-year, $7.4 million contract that he signed last week to avoid arbitration and is worth a total of $80 million over six seasons. Cuddyer's contract is worth $24 million over three years, with a $10.5 million team option or $1 million buyout for a fourth season.

Morneau was already under the team's control through 2010 as an arbitration-eligible player. Given the $7.4 million deal that he previously agreed to for 2008 and the $22-25 million that he was likely to make via arbitration between 2009 and 2010, the Twins essentially pre-paid him guaranteed salaries for those three arbitration-eligible years and then bought out his first three seasons of free agency (2011-2013) for around $45-50 million.

Cuddyer was already under the team's control through 2009, so the Twins essentially pre-paid him around $13.5 million in guaranteed salaries for those two arbitration-eligible seasons and then bought out his first year of free agency (2010) for around $9.5 million. Beyond that, they now control the rights to his second season of free agency (2011) for $10.5 million or can choose to let him go by paying a $1 million buyout.

Keeping two good, relatively young home-grown players in Minnesota is obviously a positive thing, but for the payroll-conscious Twins to commit over $100 million to a pair of hitters who have essentially been average for their respective positions during their careers is a major risk and perhaps not the best use of limited resources. Beyond that, it makes it difficult to buy into the oft-repeated notion that the Twins can't afford to commit over $100 million to a truly elite player like Santana.

Morneau won the AL MVP in 2006 despite being far from the league's best player and for all the talk of his back-to-back 30-homer, 100-RBI seasons he's been essentially a league-average first baseman during his five-year career. Similarly, Cuddyer has driven in 190 runs over the past two years, but that's due largely to hitting in the middle of the lineup and he's been essentially a league-average right fielder since moving to the position full time in 2006.

                     AVG      OBP      SLG      OPS
Morneau career .276 .340 .498 .835
MLB average 1B .276 .357 .463 .821

AVG OBP SLG OPS
Cuddyer 2006-07 .280 .359 .469 .828
MLB average RF .281 .351 .453 .804

Morneau has been slightly above the position average offensively during his career and his 2007 performance (.271/.343/.492) was nearly identical to his career marks. Cuddyer has also been slightly above the position average offensively since moving to right field, but that's due to a career-best performance in 2006. He was below average offensively while hitting .276/.356/.433 last season and his .270/.346/.450 career mark is slightly below average for a right fielder.

There's no doubt that Morneau and Cuddyer are good, solid players, but there's plenty of reason to question whether the Twins should be paying premium prices for good, solid players given their payroll constraints, especially when they're about to let the best pitcher in baseball leave over money. For these deals to work strongly in the Twins' favor, Morneau and Cuddyer must increase their production or the team must significantly increase the payroll upon moving into the new ballpark in 2010.


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