June 16, 2010

Should the Twins trade for Mike Lowell?

Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports.com reported recently that the Twins are involved "in trade talks" with the Red Sox for Mike Lowell, who has been relegated to bench duties after an offseason deal to the Rangers was nixed by thumb surgery. According to Rosenthal "the Twins' field staff is lobbying for Lowell" because "the need is obvious" but the "front office would need to work through money and durability concerns."

Rosenthal is my choice for the best, most plugged-in national reporter in baseball and on the surface at least the Twins being interested in Lowell makes sense. Twins third basemen have been awful this season, hitting .207/.275/.274 with just two homers in 64 games to rank dead last in the league in batting average, slugging percentage, OPS, homers, extra-base hits, and RBIs while also ranking second-worst in on-base percentage and runs.

Lowell has barely played for the Red Sox thanks to the winter signing of third baseman Adrian Beltre and the resurgence of designated hitter David Ortiz, logging a grand total of 90 plate appearances in 65 team games. He hasn't fared well in the extremely limited action, batting just .215/.311/.354, but 90 trips to the plate spread over three months is hardly a significant sample size and his OPS still beats Twins third basemen by 117 points.

Lowell is 36 years old and has undergone hip and thumb surgeries within the past 20 months, so the risks are obvious. However, he's said to be reasonably healthy now and when given a chance to actually play last season batted .290/.337/.474 with 17 homers and 29 doubles in 119 games. In fact, his current poor production in sporadic action marks just the second time in 11 full seasons as a big leaguer that Lowell hasn't posted an OPS above .785.

If you're curious, the last time someone started at least 100 games at third base and posted an OPS above .785 for the Twins was Corey Koskie in 2004. Lowell's lack of consistent work this season makes it nearly impossible to say exactly what he's capable of offensively at age 36, but there's no doubt that he'd be an obvious upgrade over the horrendous production the Twins have gotten from third base so far and the improvement would likely be significant.

Lowell is also a right-handed hitter and has batted .287/.354/.493 versus left-handed pitching during his career, making him a good fit for a Twins lineup heavy in lefty bats. When healthy his overall production has essentially been identical to Michael Cuddyer, with Lowell batting .279/.342/.466 and Cuddyer batting .270/.343/.457. Cuddyer has obviously been a key cog in the Twins' lineup for a long time, so adding a similar right-handed bat would help a lot.

Defensively is another story, because while Lowell was once a Gold Glove-winning defender at third base age and injuries may have turned him into a liability there. He graded out very well in Ultimate Zone Rating all the way up to 2008, but had hip surgery that offseason and came back to rate 10.7 runs below average in 107 games there last season. He's started just four games at third base this season, which makes it impossible to say if his range has recovered.

I'd be confident calling him a worthwhile, sensible target if the Twins are comfortable pursuing Lowell after presumably having access to his health status and scouting some of his starts this year. He could provide a big offensive upgrade at third base while holding his own defensively and even if his range is gone for good the tradeoff may be worth making. Worst case, if Lowell proved to be a huge liability in the field they'd benefit from his righty bat in a platoon at DH.

Lowell will be a risky acquisition however you slice it, so the potential move comes down to what the Twins would have to trade the Red Sox to take that risk. Back in December they had a deal worked out to send Lowell and $9 million of his $12 million salary to the Rangers for an intriguing but ultimately mid-level catching prospect named Max Ramirez and obviously teams haven't been banging down their door since the trade was nixed.

Money isn't as much of a factor at this point in the season, but assuming the Twins have some room to add salary they presumably should be able to get Lowell for a prospect clearly outside their top 20. It's tough to speculate any more specifically than that in terms of which players the Red Sox would target, but if the Twins can get Lowell for a prospect in the 30 range (now, not based on preseason rankings) they should pull the trigger.

He's a risk, but if reasonably healthy and productive Lowell would fill a clear area of need with a massive offensive upgrade in the form of a right-handed bat with some pop and might even surprise some people with his glove. Old, injured players are scary and I'm as hesitant as the Twins when it comes to parting with even mid-level prospects, but if the price is right Lowell was good enough as recently as last season to potentially give the team a major boost.

37 Comments »

  1. Great write up, AG. I expected that you would endorse this move.

    Comment by jackattack — June 15, 2010 @ 10:21 pm

  2. Just saw Delmon Young’s OPS is only 5 points behind Mauer at .833 (vs .838). Obviously he is nowhere near as valuable defensively, but it is encouraging to see him start to have a healthy OPS despite a somewhat (ugly) low OBP.

    Comment by that guy — June 15, 2010 @ 10:30 pm

  3. Would Crede be a substantially worse option? He’s not doing anything, is he?

    Comment by Moss — June 15, 2010 @ 10:59 pm

  4. Nice post AG. I’ve been wondering recently and would like you to give your opinion on whether a trade package built around Wilson ramos and a couple other prospects would be enough to get Cliff Lee.

    Lee for Ramos, and two others out of Revere, Slowey, Bromberg

    Comment by Derek — June 15, 2010 @ 11:16 pm

  5. We’re about half way through the season, so perhaps we can get Lowell for less than what was being offered to Texas. Hopefully around all but $1.5-2 million and a mid level catching prospect (Morales maybe?).

    Lee would be an addition around $4.5 milion in remaining salary and we’d have to give up around 3 prospects (that’s been the going deal with him the last two trades anyway). I don’t see us doing it. Lee would give us an ace with post season sucess (especially against the Yankees) but three prospects for half of a year just doesn’t seem like a wise move. As for Oswalt, Houston probably won’t pony up for any of his contract, so we may get Lowell and that’s about it.

    Comment by D-Luxxx — June 15, 2010 @ 11:48 pm

  6. The Twins will never rent Cliff Lee. The end.

    I’ve been waiting for AG to write about the glaring need for another RH bat. Lowell at this point seems like a Crede who can’t play defense. Not sure it’s their best move. Would Ty Wigginton be better? Not sure about that, either.

    We gotta get O-Dog back though, I know that…

    Comment by Neil — June 16, 2010 @ 12:27 am

  7. what about Slama?? No Run scored vs him in last 6.1 Innings….he is so amazing!!! Want the Twins trade him or what???

    Every 3b is better offensively then ours…

    Comment by Chris — June 16, 2010 @ 12:59 am

  8. I thought the twins should’ve signed crede to a minor league deal before the season. The twins didnt because he was going to get hurt. I didnt mind that because he still would have been move valuable offensively and defensively than punto/harris platoon. Just plan on him only playing 90 games and go from there. Im not sure what crede is doing and how long it would take him to get in shape but hes in my opinion a better often injured 3b than lowell is.

    Comment by Ted k — June 16, 2010 @ 1:46 am

  9. Seriously, where is Joe Crede? Has no team made him an offer yet? Anyone able to enlighten us on his situation?

    On another note, why does Gardy insist on batting his worst hitter 2nd?

    Comment by Pat S — June 16, 2010 @ 4:22 am

  10. I would rather see the Twins go after Alex Gordon. The Royals don’t seem to like him very much.

    Comment by John — June 16, 2010 @ 7:13 am

  11. Lowell is the perfect candidate to be a Twin – he is on the downside of his career, he will be hurt a lot and he will never be as good as he projects to be. I can’t believe that the Twins haven’t traded for him yet.

    Comment by Tom W. — June 16, 2010 @ 7:23 am

  12. Isn’t it worth giving Valencia consistent starts for a month and see what he can do? I mean, Mike Lowell? I feel old just looking at him.

    Comment by Ed Bast — June 16, 2010 @ 9:32 am

  13. Worth the risk for sure. I’d love a RH DH option, and someone that can play 3B about 75% of the time the rest of the way. Looking at your prospect list from 28 on, I’d deal any of them but Jose Morales for him (as I’d send butera down, and call up Morales).

    As for Lee, I just don’t see it happening. It isn’t the Twins’ style to deal 2-3 prospects for a rental player. And, there is no way he signs an extension w/o going to free agency. Oh well, that would be really nice.

    Comment by mike wants wins — June 16, 2010 @ 9:37 am

  14. Only if he is free. He is old, over the hill and doesn’t have power.

    Comment by chris — June 16, 2010 @ 10:12 am

  15. Once Gardy gets something in his head–or his craw–not much can be done. He is not a fan of Valencia, so there the chances of him giving the kid a month to show what he can do are slim and none. I’ve always been a fan of Lowell, never been a fan of acquiring injury-plagued veterans.

    Comment by Dave — June 16, 2010 @ 10:12 am

  16. Even if Valencia pushes Punto to the bench (where he belongs), the Twins still need a right-handed pinch hitter. I don’t see Lowell as a starter.

    Comment by Dave T — June 16, 2010 @ 10:59 am

  17. I’m ok with picking up Lowell, but the price should be pretty damn low. (In terms of the prospect returned; the Twins would be fools to give up a better prospect in exchange for the Sox paying more of his contract)

    Of course, this would also mean the Twins would have to be willing to give up on Harris and eat his contract, I think. I’m not sure there’s room on the roster for Harris & Lowell. (even if they shift to an 11-man pitching staff)

    I think AG’s analysis is about right and Lowell would be helpful to this roster. His RH bat would be nice against lefty’s and I think with consistent playing time he’ll hit, certainly better than what we’ve been running out this year. he’s not a real power bat, but there’s some pop, a nice bonus at the bottom of the lineup. Keep in mind, we’d be looking at a guy to sit in the 7 or 8 hole, not bat 5th…

    Comment by Josh — June 16, 2010 @ 11:11 am

  18. I think trying to trade for Alex Gordon would be a great idea. Instead of wasting wilson ramos in a 2 month deal for cliff lee, make him the center piece of a deal for gordon.

    Comment by Ted k — June 16, 2010 @ 11:26 am

  19. I’ll all for whatever prevents a lineup containing Punto, Plouffe, and Tolbert.

    Comment by Michael J — June 16, 2010 @ 11:26 am

  20. I’m on the Joe Crede train as well. He would be cheaper, we wouldn’t have to give any prospects to Bosox and his defense is undeniably better. While he would probably be sitting out practically every third game, we can use this as leverage to offer him a dirt cheap contract and get a little bit of production in the meantime.

    AG — Can you please address this stupidity behind Tolbert batting in the 2-spot. That’s great he had one good game, but this needs to stop immediately. Our Hometown Hero is getting screwed!

    Comment by Mike — June 16, 2010 @ 2:22 pm

  21. Lowell would be fine for the Twins, for the reasons AG lists. As a Sox fan primarily, I can vouch for how bad his defense is – good glove but zero mobility. He simply can’t move laterally anymore. He’s also horrifically slow on the bases, fwiw.

    That said, his lousy part-time #s still show a 100 pt improvement in OPS over the abysmal showing of Punto et al. He’s good against LHers. He’s a great clubhouse guy with successful post-season experience. And the Twins can mitigate his bad defense by bringing in Punto as a late-inning defensive replacement, once Hudson and Hardy come back.

    The Sox will practically give Lowell away. They don’t need him at 3rd, 1st or DH (with Youk, Beltre, Ortiz and switching hitting V-Mart). They have multiple injury problems in their OF and simply need the roster spot. The deal for Ramirez, who was rated by Sickels as the #13 prospect for Texas, was a good one that was nixed by Texas because of Lowell’s thumb problems. The Sox would take less than that now, especially if the Twins pick up the remaining salary. If the Twins wanted the Sox to pay the freight, then Boston would probably want a top 20ish prospie in return (Slama, anyone?? ;))

    All that said, if I’m the Twins, I want to know if guys like Wigginton are available. Lowell’s an ok option for them but there are better ones out there.

    Comment by BR — June 16, 2010 @ 2:42 pm

  22. Nice post AG. I’ve been wondering recently and would like you to give your opinion on whether a trade package built around Wilson ramos and a couple other prospects would be enough to get Cliff Lee.

    Trading one of the top prospects in Baseball for a rent-a-pitcher for a few months is rarely a good idea.

    If you end up trading Ramos, you want to do it for something that shares his characteristics – cheap, young, talented, lots of upside, and a bright future in a spot you need.

    Gordon is a possibility, at least for the future. He’s not shown he can produce at the Major-League level yet, but, then again, he might be ready now. You shouldn’t need Ramos to get someone the Royals clearly aren’t interested in playing.

    With Punto, Plouffe, and Tolbert getting lots of starts, we’re back to the Piranha days – except without teeth.

    Comment by Son of Shane Mack — June 16, 2010 @ 4:16 pm

  23. Ramos is one of the top prospects in baseball? I think Twins fans are ovefrestimating the type of player he will become. His career OPS in the minors is like .750-ish which is excellent for a catcher, but isn’t the impact bat that some are making him out to be. He has poor plate discipline and is hitting sub .200 in the minors this year.

    I think if you can make Ramos the centerpiece of a deal for Lee you have to do it.
    Consider:
    Ramos has no future with the club. You can think he and Mauer will split time, but that is a worse use of resources than trading him for Lee now.
    If the Twins get Lee they become a favorite to win the title (behind New York and Tampa Bay) with a Lee, Liriano one-two punch.
    When Lee walks as a free agent the Twins will get two compensation picks to make up for losing Ramos.

    All this makes it seem like a good idea.

    Comment by derek — June 16, 2010 @ 4:44 pm

  24. *overestimating

    Comment by derek — June 16, 2010 @ 4:45 pm

  25. Hi Aaron,
    What do you think about Imamura? What’s the reason for his poor season? He has been sucessful in the AL at 3rd before. He should be basically free, could he help?

    Comment by JA — June 16, 2010 @ 5:14 pm

  26. Wilson Ramos is not hitting under .200 hes hitting .230 and what he has done this year should have little baring on how the twins should handle him. And alex gordons mlb line is an alright .249/.331/.413/.744 with an milb line of .332/.448/.593/1.042. People exaggerate his struggles at the MLB level and he has a track record that suggests he is much better than his mlb line. If the twins could work out a deal for gordon they should. Even if he gives them a .750 ops it would be a huge upgrade over puntos 600 ops.

    “If the Twins get Lee they become a favorite to win the title (behind New York and Tampa Bay)” Can you really be considered the favorites behind 2 teams? And arent the twins already the 3rd best team in the AL without Lee? If you trust run differential they are but they are clearly not in the same league as the yankees or rays and adding lee wont change that. Giving away Ramos + high prospect and/or baker/slowey for lee would be a mistake. And the 2 draft pick argument is crap. The picks would be a very late first round pick and a later supplemental pick at best. If the twins were to trade say ramos, baker and some other prospect, with those 2 picks the twins would almost certainly not get one player as good as any of the ones they traded. Theres also a fairly large chance that 1 or both of the players dont pan out at all. The picks are nice but trading good, mlb ready, cheap, players for them is not close to equivalent. And how often do these boat load of good prospects for star mlb player work out for the team that gets the star. Seems like they blow up spectacularly for these teams a lot. Elvis Andrus + neftali feliz for mark texiera comes to mind. The mariners trade for eric bedard didnt go well. Carlos santana for casey blake. Just because ramos is blocked doesnt mean the twins should look to trade him asap.

    Lastly, why is it taken for granted that great starting pitching is the recipe to a world series? Obviously it helps and most champions have good pitching but thats because good pitching is one aspect of a good team. But mindlessly overpaying for an “ace” because thats the final piece is such a low percentage gamble. Who was the last cy young winner to pitch on the championship team? I dont know. How many series did the twins win with johan around. He was the best pitcher in baseball. How is it possible the giants werent champs last year with their rotation (or even make the playoffs)?

    Comment by Ted k — June 17, 2010 @ 1:01 am

  27. Good questions regarding Crede by previous comments. I would take Lowell and pay half his salary if the Sox agreed to take Brendan Harris and a mid-level prospect.

    Comment by Jon K — June 17, 2010 @ 6:14 am

  28. Umm, how would adding Lee not improve their run differential. And yes, the Twins are already the third best team in the AL without Lee, but this move isn’t about the regular season, as this team is probably already in the playoffs. It’s about getting the chance to finally win a World Series. Having two aces gives them a great chance to do that. And who cares if they’re late first round picks, you can still get good players, plus everything I’ve heard says next year’s draft is deeper than any in years.
    Also these trades have worked out recently. How about Sabathia to the Brewers, I don’t think any Brewers fan would tell you they regret that move. Or how about Cliff Lee going to the Phillies, LAST YEAR.
    And I’m not saying give up three high level prospects. Yes Ramos is like the Twins third ranked prospect but he’s only like number 30-40 in all of Baseball. I suggested Bromberg who’s ceiling is that of a two or three starter. The Twins churn out those kinds of pitchers yearly (Baker, Slowey, Blackburn). I also suggested Revere, whose ceiling is Juan Pierre. And you can give up Slowey because Kyle Gibson will be ready to pitch in the majors by next year, he’s dominating in AA right now.
    “Who was the last Cy young award winner to pitch on a championship team”.
    This question isn’t even pertinent to the conversation. How about asking this question instead, “How often does the World Series winner have two high level starters.”
    That answer would be nearly every year
    2009 Sabathia, Burnett for the Yankees and Lee, Hamels for the Phillies
    2007 Josh Beckett and Curt Schilling, Red Sox
    2006 Cardinals have Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright
    2005 Mark Buehrle and Freddy Garcia, White Sox
    2004 Pedro Martinez adn Curt Schilling, Red Sox
    2003 Josh Beckett, Dontrelle Willis, Brad Penny, Marlins
    2001 Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling, Diamondbacks
    2000 Roger Clemens and Andy Pettite, Yankees

    Not too mention the teams that lost in the series like the Astros with Clemens and Oswalt.
    Having Lee would give the Twins a great shot to get to and win the World Series and I think it would be a smart move to make Wilson Ramos the centerpiece of that deal.

    Comment by derek — June 17, 2010 @ 10:18 am

  29. Agnostic on the move, but any package for Lowell needs to make the BoSox take Harris.

    Comment by Twins Fan in Milwaukee — June 17, 2010 @ 10:30 am

  30. you can trade for Lowell, then just release Harris, The Sox are too good to have such dead weight on their roster as Harris.

    Comment by derek — June 17, 2010 @ 10:35 am

  31. Im not saying that lee wouldnt improve their run differential but the twins arent close. Lee wouldnt allow them to overtake the rays or the yankees so the twins would still be the inferior team. And derek those trade you mentioned i would consider failures. The brewers and phillies didnt win the world series and gave up good value to acquire them. And like i said, world champions are likely to have good pitching. There are a ton of teams with good pitching that dont win.

    Comment by Ted k — June 17, 2010 @ 11:55 am

  32. You basically just said give up on the season because even if the Twins had Cliff Lee they can’t beat the Yankees or Rays. And this trade isn’t about being better than those teams over the regular season, it’s about getting two dominant starters for a five and seven game series. It’s about finally taking a chance and giving fans a legitimate reason to think the Twins can win the Series. Even if the Twins go to the World Series and lose, I would call that a successful trade. Ask any Brewers or Phillies fan if they regret making those trades.

    Comment by derek — June 17, 2010 @ 12:23 pm

  33. I can understand if you don’t want to make the trade because you think giving up Ramos and other players is too high a price (even though it isn’t), but you’re saying don’t make the trade because even if they had Lee they still can’t beat the elite teams. Yes I agree the Yanks and Rays are better than the Twins even if they had Lee, but to say “they wouldn’t beat them even if they had Lee, so why bother” is terrible logic.

    Comment by derek — June 17, 2010 @ 12:28 pm

  34. You also say there’s a chance that the compensation picks won’t pan out, so does that mean that Revere, Bromberg, and Ramos are sure things?

    Comment by derek — June 17, 2010 @ 12:30 pm

  35. “You basically just said give up on the season because even if the Twins had Cliff Lee they can’t beat the Yankees or Rays.” Thats not what i said. With lee the twins still wont be better than the yankee or rays. So the twins would still need to upset the rays or yankees to beat them. My problem with trading 2 of the twins best prospects for a rental player has very little to do with the twins ability to beat the rays and yankees. I think the twins have a pretty similar chance to beat either of those teams with or without lee. In a short series a bad team can beat a good team. Its really a crap shoot. The best team wins most of the time in these series but any team could beat any team 3 out of 5. My problem with the trade is giving so much for 2 months of playing time. If you could build a trade around ramos to get a young 2b or 3b that you can control cheaply for a few years the twins would get so much more back than you would dealing the same package for a rental working under the notion that the team is one player away. The playoffs are too random for a team to be one player away.

    ‘“they wouldn’t beat them even if they had Lee, so why bother”’ I never said this so you really shouldnt quote me as saying it. Its not my sentiment either. My problem is that youd have to overpay a lot in minor league talent for a mlb player. Its not a good way to maximize resources and on the very likely chance the twins dont win the world series the trade immediately becomes a huge mistke.

    “so does that mean that Revere, Bromberg, and Ramos are sure things?” Obviously no prospect is a sure thing. I dont even think bromberg and revere are really good prospects. But they are much surer things than a draft choice. And with the way the twins draft bromberg and revere represent just about the best case return on their draft picks.

    I wouldnt be opposed to trading for lee if the price tag was just a little more than 2 draft choices in value but thats not the case.

    Comment by Ted k — June 17, 2010 @ 2:25 pm

  36. Ramos = has been hitting a lot better lately, is up around .230 now after being sub .160. He’s said in interviews his heart was in Minnesota, and I don’t blame him, so that’s why he’s struggled. But he’s starting to just play ball now and doing better.

    I do not like the idea of trading him for Lee, but he is probably what it would take. I want to see him play for the Twins. BUT, where DO you play him? The only solution I can see would be to trade Cuddyer and switch Delmon to his natural RF position and put Kubel in LF, then Ramos can DH and spell Mauer at Catcher when needed. But that won’t happen and I had a hard time convincing myself to even throw that thought out there.

    As for Alex Gordon, FYI: he’s not playing 3B anymore.

    Royals sent him down to AAA and are transitioning him to the OF (he’s raking there now as well: .367, 12 2B’s, 1 3B, 10 HR’s, 30 RBI in 41 Games -> 367/.492/.646). If the Royal’s don’t think he can hack it at 3B for them, what makes you think he can or will for the Twins?

    If Ramos goes in a trade, I’d much rather see the Twins get someone like Oswalt (even with all the money he’s owed), because he’d be here for the next 3 seasons, and could also potentially be dealt again to bring back something for the Twins down the line. I don’t like the idea of paying more for 2 draft picks at the end of the year for a guy who’s not going to stick around.

    I say ride out Valencia at 3B (he seems to have luck on his side) for as long as possible and see what happens before any 3B move is made.

    Comment by Steve L. — June 17, 2010 @ 6:11 pm

  37. I believe the royals are transitioning gordon because they now see mike moustakas as the 3b of the future not necessarily because gordon cant play the position. Alex gordons defense was great in 2007 and slightly below average in 08 and 09 both years he was injured. He was an elite defender in 07 but its tough to tell what type of defender he is right now. Id say hes still capable of playing 3b.

    Comment by Ted k — June 17, 2010 @ 7:02 pm

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