November 11, 2008

Twins Notes: Neshek, Blake, Punto, Lugo, and Reyes

  • Pat Neshek suffered a setback in his recovery from a season-ending elbow injury and is scheduled to undergo an MRI exam today. Based on the Twins' advice Neshek opted against surgery and instead has been rehabbing the injury for the past five months, which means that if he's forced to go under the knife now he'll essentially end up missing two seasons instead of one. Neshek is an extremely likable person and an extremely valuable player, so hopefully he'll get some good news.

    UPDATE: Neshek reportedly will undergo Tommy John surgery, knocking him out for all of 2009. Damn.

  • Joe Christensen of the Minneapolis Star Tribune notes that "the Twins are among seven teams that have expressed interest in" Casey Blake, which is interesting given that he's a former Twins farmhand who was released twice before establishing himself in the majors with the Indians. Blake is similar to Garrett Atkins in that he's a third baseman who's slightly above average offensively and slightly below average defensively for the position.

    Atkins is 29 years old, will make at least $15 million over the next two seasons before becoming a free agent, and will cost several valuable players to get from the Rockies, which is why there was a case against trading for him in this space yesterday. Blake is 35 years old and will likely get a multi-year deal worth at least $5 million per season as a free agent, so even though the Twins would only have to part with money to get him Blake isn't really any more appealing than Atkins.

    If the Twins' limited, typically unsuccessful forays into free agency have shown anything it's that paying a premium for veteran mediocrity is almost never a good idea. Blake is a valuable enough player, but he's 35 years old, will require a multi-year deal that figures to make him overpaid, and isn't significantly better than a Brian Buscher-Brendan Harris platoon that would cost around $700,000. Much like with Atkins, the Twins are probably better off devoting their limited resources elsewhere.

  • Because the Twins already have a decent fallback plan at third base in Buscher and Harris, my take has always been that shortstop is a more pressing need this offseason. Nick Punto emerged as the team's best shortstop down the stretch, but aside from perhaps Ron Gardenhire he's no one's idea of an ideal everyday player. Plus, Punto being a free agent means that even if the Twins wanted to hand him the starting job for next season they'd have to re-sign him first.

    Naturally, Christensen reports that the Twins "have had discussions with" Punto, but "have yet to make an offer." Pursuing a mediocre veteran third baseman doesn't make a ton of sense when Buscher and Harris are available to form a decent platoon for $700,000, but pursuing a mediocre veteran shortstop makes more sense when the alternative is giving Punto a multi-year deal that would almost surely be worth at least $3 million per season. Re-signing him might not be horrible, but the Twins can do better.

  • Speaking of mediocre veteran shortstops, Julio Lugo has been injured and ineffective since signing a four-year, $36 million contract with the Red Sox two offseasons ago and lost his starting job to rookie Jed Lowrie (who was rumored to be part of the various Johan Santana negotiations). All of which is why the Boston Herald speculates that the Red Sox may be willing to eat a big chunk of his remaining salary to facilitate a trade:
    A number of clubs have holes at shortstop--including the St. Louis Cardinals, Minnesota Twins, Cleveland Indians, Detroit Tigers, Baltimore Orioles and San Francisco Giants--but Lugo is a tough sell, coming off a season in which he didn't play after July 11 because of a severe quad strain. Beyond his value, there's the issue of his contract. The best bet would seem to be a deal in which the Sox absorb a bad contract in exchange for a team taking Lugo's remaining dollars.

    Michael Cuddyer is the closest thing the Twins have to a "bad contract" and he's set to make $2 million less than Lugo over the next two seasons, so that's not really a good fit. Still, if the Red Sox are willing to eat, say, two-thirds of Lugo's remaining deal he might be worth considering as a stopgap. Over the past three years Lugo has hit .258/.323/.370 with a .794 Revised Zone Rating, which at shortstop puts him about three percent below average offensively and four percent below average defensively.

  • Dennys Reyes is the only departing Twins free agent to qualify for draft-pick compensation, ranking as a "Type B" player. That means the Twins are eligible to receive a supplemental first-round pick if he signs with another team. However, in order to get that compensation the Twins would first have to offer Reyes salary arbitration, which is no sure thing given that he could force the team into re-signing him to a one-year deal by accepting.

    Reyes is a very effective left-handed specialist and bringing him back via a one-year contract is hardly a disastrous scenario, but the Twins have probably moved on and may not want to risk being forced to devote a sizable chunk of payroll to an area they have covered with Craig Breslow and Jose Mijares. Offering arbitration to Reyes would be smart, because he's unlikely to accept and the payoff outweighs the risk, but if the Twins opt against doing so their reasoning will be easy to figure out.

  • Joe Mauer has been awarded his first Gold Glove, which is meaningful as long as you're willing to ignore the fact that, among many other things, range-challenged center fielder Nate McLouth also won his first Gold Glove this season, Derek Jeter was a "Gold Glove shortstop" every year from 2004-2006, and Rafael Palmeiro won the award at first base in 1999 despite playing all of 28 games defensively. Mauer winning the award is nice, but the Gold Glove voting is too far gone to be all that important.
  • Remember my analysis last month regarding a potential Delmon Young-for-Matt Cain deal? Sadly, it doesn't sound like that trade is on the table, because Giants general manager Brian Sabean replied "yes" last week when asked if Cain is untouchable:
    Clubs know that. That hasn't necessarily discouraged clubs from inquiring or making suggestions of offers. But we don't see anything out there that gives us a net gain by losing him. We have a list of very definitive untouchables for various reasons. After that, if someone wants to get creative and we could find a way to do something, even if it takes more than one prospect, we're willing to do it.

    Sabean remains likely to value Young higher than most general managers, but if the Twins are looking to get MLB-ready talent in return the Giants are lacking.

  • Baseball America reports that the following Twins minor leaguers are now free agents: Joe Gaetti, Howie Clark, Darnell McDonald, Mariano Gomez, Julio DePaula, Danny Graves, Ricky Barrett, Felix Molina, Carmen Cali, Jason Miller, Garrett Jones, Sergio Santos, Tommy Watkins, Tom Shearn. Of that group Clark, McDonald, Cali, Watkins, DePaula, Miller, and Jones all had stints with the Twins, but Gomez and Barrett had the best performances this season and should be the priorities to re-sign.

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

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