January 9, 2008

Twins Notes: Arms, Arms, Arms, and Picks

  • Joe Christensen of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports that the Mets have offered Deolis Guerra, Carlos Gomez, Kevin Mulvey, and Philip Humber in exchange for Johan Santana, but notes that the Twins have asked for Fernando Martinez to be included in the deal. Martinez is the best that the Mets' farm system has to offer and the 19-year-old outfielder possesses one of the highest ceilings of any prospect in baseball, so getting him added to the proposal is a pretty major stumbling block.

    Gomez is a speedy, low-power center fielder who's somewhat similar to Jacoby Ellsbury without being as MLB-ready. Guerra is a 19-year-old right-hander with big-time upside who the Mets signed out of Venezuela for $700,000, while Mulvey and Humber are MLB-ready rotation options who don't project to be stars. Monday in this space I discussed the strength of a Phil Hughes-led offer from the Yankees, but a Mets package that includes Martinez, Guerra, Gomez, and Mulvey would blow that out of the water.

    Baseball America ranks Martinez as the Mets' top prospect (and likely one of the top 20 prospects in baseball), with Guerra second, Gomez third, Mulvey fourth, and Humber seventh. In the past the Mets have famously shown a willingness to mortgage the future by dealing top prospects like Scott Kazmir and Lastings Milledge for relatively modest veteran returns, but giving up a potential stud like Martinez while completely gutting a fairly strong system seems highly unlikely.

    A Mets offer similar to reported proposals from the Yankees and Red Sox would be something like Martinez, Gomez, and Humber or Martinez, Guerra, and Mulvey. Both of those scenarios include more risk and less short-term value than deals built around Hughes or Ellsbury, which is why the Mets likely remain the Twins' third-best option unless Omar Minaya decides to go crazy. Interestingly, it sounds like the Mariners are close to parting with a very desirable Adam Jones-led package for Erik Bedard.

  • Asked earlier this week about Santana, Yankees senior vice president Hank Steinbrenner said that the team isn't interested in going beyond five seasons for a potential post-trade contract extension. Santana has the right to veto any trade and there's little reason for him to accept a five- or six-year commitment when Barry Zito got a seven-year contract, which would seem to significantly lessen the odds of the Yankees acquiring him.

    On the other hand, during his brief time in the spotlight George Steinbrenner's eldest son has shown pretty clearly that what he says to the assembled media and what the Yankees do aren't necessarily connected. Last week Steinbrenner told various New York reporters that he's "leaning towards doing" a Santana trade and this week he's saying that the Yankees are "leaning away from" a Santana deal, so it might be time to stop paying any attention whatsoever to his amazingly frequent media briefings.

  • Over at The Hardball Times, John Walsh analyzed advanced defensive and base-running numbers to determine which outfielders displayed the most effective arms in 2007. Here's a brief explanation of his methodology:
    Using play-by-play data, I consider five different situations when a throw from the outfield is important:

    1. Single with runner on first base (second base unoccupied).
    2. Double with runner on first base.
    3. Single with runner on second base.
    4. Fly out with runner on third base, fewer than two outs.
    5. Fly out with runner on second base, fewer than two outs (third base unoccupied).

    For those plays, I add up how often the runner is thrown out (kill) or how often the runner is "held," i.e. prevented from taking an extra base (hold). A comparison with league average allows me to rate the outfielder's arm.

    Most people tend to simply look at assist totals when discussing an outfielder's throwing ability, but Walsh shows why that can be extremely misleading and then does a very nice job explaining how the impact of an outfielder's arm actually goes far beyond that. I'd highly suggest reading the entire article, but in the meantime there were several Twins-related notes of interest. First, Walsh gives his "gold medal for the best right-field arm of 2007" to Michael Cuddyer.

    Cuddyer had 15 "kills" and was also above average simply holding runners, which means that teams didn't try to take the extra base on him very often and he still managed to rack up tons of assists. Walsh calculates that Cuddyer saved the Twins about 12 runs with his arm in 2007, which led all MLB right fielders. On offense Cuddyer was only around 10 runs above average while hitting .276/.356/.433, so a huge chunk of his value came from his arm.

    Jeff Francoeur was a close second to Cuddyer among right fielders, while Delmon Young ranked third with about nine runs saved. Young now joins Cuddyer in the Twins' outfield, which figures to produce an awful lot of station-to-station baseball from opponents. Jason Kubel had one of the least effective arms among left fielders (former Twins left fielder Shannon Stewart predictably ranked dead last by costing the A's about a dozen runs), so Young represents a major upgrade.

    Kubel's poor showing is surprising given his reputation for having a strong arm and it'll surely shock most fans to learn that Torii Hunter had one of the least effective arms among center fielders. Teams ran more on Hunter than the average center fielder and he managed about half as many kills as would have been expected from an average arm. Melky Cabrera had one of the most effective arms among center fielders, so trading Santana to the Yankees would give the Twins an amazing set of arms.

  • While reading various non-Minnesota newspapers for my news-gathering gig over at Rotoworld, I stumbled across this scary one-liner within Tracy Ringolsby's column in the Rocky Mountain News:
    Left-hander Francisco Liriano, 24, is rehabbing from the reconstructive left elbow surgery he underwent a year ago, and it appears he will not be ready until midseason.

    Had the Star Tribune or St. Paul Pioneer Press printed that it would be major cause for concern, but there's little reason to believe that a Colorado-based writer has inside information on Francisco Liriano that dramatically differs from the consistently positive reports on his progress over the past several months. In fact, just last week Official Twins Beat Writer of AG.com LaVelle E. Neal III reported that "everything to this point has gone well" regarding Liriano's comeback from Tommy John surgery.

    For Liriano to "not be ready until midseason" would mean that he's far behind schedule for the surgery, which tends to get a pitcher back on the mound about 12 months later. Liriano underwent surgery in November of 2006, which is why he's expected to be fully healthy in time for spring training and why suggesting that he won't be ready to pitch until 20 months after surgery would be worthy of more than a one-line note buried midway through Ringolsby's column if it was based on serious reporting.

    Interestingly, unsubstantiated notes like Ringolsby's are exactly the type of thing that newspaper writers love to criticize bloggers for. In fact, if a blogger wrote what Ringolsby did about Liriano and it gained any sort of steam, one of the local beat reporters would no doubt dig further before telling readers that "an internet rumor" had no basis in reality. If Ringolsby has solid information about Liriano being behind schedule, it'd be nice to engage in a little journalism by sharing with the rest of the class.

    UPDATE: Sure enough, the following note appears in Charley Walters' Pioneer Press column today:

    A rumor that Twins pitcher Francisco Liriano might not be ready until midseason this year isn't true, general manager Bill Smith said Tuesday. Liriano is rehabbing after reconstructive elbow surgery in 2006, which cost him the 2007 season.

    "He's healthy and strong, he's throwing bullpens, and he has not had any troubles," Smith said. "He will prepare for spring training as he normally would. He's doing fine; he hasn't had any setbacks."

    Walters fact-checking someone's work is like Matthew LeCroy handing out dieting tips, which shows just how clearly off base Ringolsby's "reporting" was. If you're curious, he's a former president of the Baseball Writer's Association of America and has received the BBWAA's highest honor as a J.G. Taylor Spink Award winner, so don't expect any newspaper scribes to be as harsh on him as they would be to a lowly blogger who wrote the exact same thing.

  • Jim Callis of Baseball America recently posted the order for June's draft and it has the Twins with three of the first 31 picks due to losing Hunter via free agency. Along with their own pick (No. 14 overall), the Twins get the Angels' pick (No. 27) and a supplementary first rounder (No. 31). History suggests that their unwillingness to bust the budget on bonuses will keep the Twins from taking full advantage of stockpiling the picks, but it's still a great opportunity to pump up the system with impact players.

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