July 19, 2010

Life after Cliff Lee

All the Cliff Lee trade speculation went for naught, as the Twins reportedly balked at making Aaron Hicks part of a package for the impending free agent and the Mariners ended up with several offers beyond what the Twins should have been willing to give up for him anyway. At the last moment the Mariners pulled out of a nearly agreed-upon deal with the Yankees for a package headlined by Jesus Montero to accept a Justin Smoak-led offer from the Rangers.

Prior to the season Baseball America ranked Hicks as the No. 19 prospect in baseball, but the same list had Smoak at No. 13 and Montero at No. 4. At midseason Baseball America published a rankings update that had Montero at No. 5 and Hicks at No. 9, with Smoak no longer eligible for "prospect" status after playing regularly in the majors. I'm sure plenty of people view Hicks as a better prospect than Montero or Smoak, but in general he's not seen at quite that level.

New York's offer reportedly included Montero and two or three other mid-level prospects, while Texas' package for Lee included Smoak, Blake Beavan, Josh Lueke, and Matthew Lawson. In terms of trying to match those offers up to the Twins' farm system, it would likely be something along the lines of Hicks plus David Bromberg, Alex Burnett, and Luke Hughes. Or perhaps, as was rumored at one point, Hicks plus Wilson Ramos. Either way, far too much for my liking.

Now that Lee is off the table Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com speculates that Cubs lefty Ted Lilly would be a "logical target" for the Twins. Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune went even further, listing the Twins and Mets as the front-runners for Lilly. It passes the smell test, as the Cubs are clearly sellers, Lilly has long been a solid mid-rotation starter, and as an impending free agent he'd be much easier to acquire from a payroll standpoint than, say, Roy Oswalt.

In fact, recent reports suggest that no teams are even willing to absorb the remaining money on Oswalt's contract, let alone do that and give up prospects. Lilly is owed about $5 million for the rest of the season, which the Cubs may be willing to cover in the right deal. On the other hand, because he projects as a Type A free agent the Cubs could just let Lilly walk and collect a pair of compensatory draft picks, so any trade offered would likely need to beat that value.

Lilly has a 3.76 ERA, .235 opponents' batting average, and 584-to-180 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 693 innings since signing a four-year, $40 million deal with the Cubs, including a 4.07 ERA, .236 opponents' batting average, and 75-to-25 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 104 innings this year. He has a 4.22 xFIP during that four-year span, which would basically put him neck and neck with Scott Baker as the Twins' third-best starter behind Francisco Liriano and Carl Pavano.

Among the starters rumored to be available Dan Haren strikes me as the most intriguing. He's one of the youngest of the bunch at 29 years old and has generally been underrated, with his value perhaps at a low point because of a bad-looking 4.60 ERA through 20 starts this season. His secondary numbers are far better, with a 133-to-24 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 135 innings, and he's had a sub-4.00 xFIP in six straight years to go with a 3.72 ERA in 207 career starts.

Haren is one of the top dozen or so starters in baseball despite remaining fairly anonymous in Arizona and he's also signed through 2013 at about $13 million a year, so if the Diamondbacks are looking to sell low on him the Twins should be willing to pounce. However, it doesn't sound like that's necessarily the case, with reports that they're smartly asking for a lot in return, and it's tough to imagine the Twins giving up top prospects and absorbing that much salary.

Ricky Nolasco is another interesting name rumored to be available thanks to his 4.90 ERA in 50 starts since going 15-8 with a 3.52 ERA in 2008. His secondary numbers are significantly better than his ERA, with a 3.73 xFIP this season and a 3.85 xFIP for his career, and Nolasco is even younger than Haren while still being arbitration eligible next season. If you look past the recent ERAs he's a 27-year-old mid-rotation starter who misses bats and throws strikes.

I've gotten e-mails and comments asking about Fausto Carmona since the Indians are clearly sellers and he was their representative in the All-Star game. Carmona has seemingly bounced back from a horrendous 2009 with a 3.65 ERA in 19 starts, but a 64-to-49 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 123 innings suggests not that much has changed. He has electric raw stuff and induces tons of ground balls, but Carmona remains a big question mark because of shaky command.

Oakland will likely make Ben Sheets available, because he's signed to a one-year, $10 million deal and the A's are struggling just to stay around .500. Sheets got off to a terrible start after missing last year following elbow surgery, but has a 3.72 ERA and 66-to-25 strikeout-to-walk ratio in his last 82 innings. Similarly the Astros will likely look to deal Brett Myers, although his one-year, $3.1 million contract also includes an $8 million mutual option for next season.

Myers has a 3.35 ERA and 93-to-39 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 129 innings this year and an xFIP of 3.91 in over 1,300 career innings.  While not really a fly-ball pitcher he struggles at times to keep the ball in the ballpark, serving up an average of 31 homers per 200 innings during eight seasons with the Phillies. Myers has kept the long balls in check so far this season and Target Field would help mask any homer-related issues with the Twins.

Guys like Kevin Millwood, Jake Westbrook, and Jeremy Guthrie are also said to be available, but aside from making a change just for the sake of making a change none represent any kind of real upgrade over Baker or Kevin Slowey (and nearly anyone represents an upgrade over Nick Blackburn at this point). Sticking with in-house options is a much better idea than giving up value to scrape the bottom of the veteran barrel.

Haren and Oswalt are legit No. 1 starters, Lilly, Nolasco, and Myers are all strong mid-rotation starters, Sheets is a riskier mid-rotation option, and after that it dries up in a hurry. Between those six starters there are definitely opportunities for the Twins to upgrade the rotation, but with Baker and Blackburn both signed to long-term deals and Slowey still 26 years old with a career 4.53 ERA despite recent struggles the situation is a lot trickier than just picking a name.

  • Random Reader

    Its not July 19 yet, at least not in the Central Time Zone. Have you gone East on us, Aaron? Are you catering to Washington interests? Wait, you’re not a politician…never mind.

  • chris

    great weekend for us!!! Now get 2 of 3 from the indians!!!

  • http://www.mog.com/funoka funoka

    I don’t get Blackburn — it looked like he had pretty good velocity yesterday – then, BAM, he can’t get anyone out. Very disappointing. I think Haren would be a great add, but the Twins are going to have to give up something. Let’s see if they have the stomach to do it.

  • Mark R. (Columbus)

    Bring back Frankie V!!

  • Word

    The Twins don’t usually go after wife beaters, so I think Myers is out, but can you imagine how he would react after a bad game when questioned by Sid? Here’s an excerpt from his days as a Phillies closer. He was being interviewed by Phillies columnist Sam Carchidi:

    Sam Carchidi: “You thought they both were pop ups?”

    Brett Myers: “Yeah, didn’t you? You think they crushed ‘em?”

    SC: “The first one I thought was out, the second one no.”

    BM: “Yeah, cause you’re a retard, you don’t know s**t about f***in’ baseball. You’re filling in for somebody.”

    SC: “How do you spell ‘retard’?”

    BM: “You know how to spell it, it’s in your f**in’ vocabulary, I’m sure you know.”

    SC: “You are classy, I’ll tell ya.”

    BM: “Go on. [Get] outta here, you f**in’ idiot.”

    SC: [pointing at Brett Myers] “You’re the f**in’ idiot.”

    BM: “Hey! You pointin’ at me mother****er?! I’ll tell you what, dude, I’ll knock you mutherf***ing out! F**K YOU!!! You’re tough when f**in’ people are standing in front of you, aren’t you, you piece of sh*t! Come on! You f**ing idiot. Yeah, you’re tough when f***in’ people are standing in front of you, you stupid ass.”

    SC: “I’m a retard?”
    BM: “Yeah, that’s right, YOU ARE, you’re a f***ing idiot. You ask stupid ass f***ing questions!”

    http://www.faniq.com/blog/Brett-Myers-Blows-Game-Then-Blows-Up-At-Philly-Reporter-Sam-Carchidi-Calling-Him-A-Retard-And-Much-More-Blog-3940

  • David

    I’m surprised by your take on Ted Lilly. At 34 years old and sporting a 4.62 xFIP/4.70 FIP in the National League, he strikes me as a declining pitcher who’s bound to regress in the second half, perhaps similar to (though probably not as drastic as) Jarrod Washburn last year.

  • Pedro Munoz

    We’ve got a rotation full of mid-rotation starters. If you can’t get a true No. 1, don’t make a deal. Ted Lilly isn’t going to make the difference for the Twins.

    When you say Duensing is preparing to move into the rotation, does that mean that he is going to take Blackburn’s next start? Or is there more “stretching out” involved? Blackburn’s next start is on the road, so the four innings Duensing pitched yesterday is more than we would get out of Blackburn.

    http://www.startribune.com/sports/twins/98717754.html?elr=KArksi8cyaiUqCP:iUiD3aPc:_Yyc:aUU

  • Scott

    Haren has the best mug shot of those showed, id say go for him haha

  • http://twins.gearupforsports.com/blog/ Steve L.

    What about sending out a flyer to Pedro Martinez? It would be a similar situation to what he did with Philly last year (made his first start on Aug. 12th and went 5-1 in 9 starts). And there wouldn’t be any loss of prospects and would likely cost far less money than taking on anyone else who’s a difference maker. I wouldn’t expect him to be an Ace, but I think he’d be a better mid-rotation guy than we have right now.

  • http://kkvb.blogspot.com Karl

    At this point – does giving up talent and spending payroll dollars on a pitcher outside of the organization really put us “over the top” and a contender for an AL championship?

    None of those names strike me as potential “outcome changers” with the exception of Haren.

    In fact I will go as far to say that none of the rest of them is a significant upgrade over Duensing.

    Duensing is currently in full Allan Anderson mode again picking up where he left off last fall.

    Let’s spend the payroll dollars we don’t commit to a deadline pitcher who may or may not be an upgrade to whomever you consider our 5th best starter out of what seems to be:

    Pavano
    Liriano
    Baker
    Duensing
    Slowey

    I guess I almost trust Duensing equally as much as Baker right now.

    Sometimes the best moves are the ones not made – the money we didn’t invest will come in handy when negotiating with Hudson, Hardy, Pavano et al this offseason.

  • Breaker

    I realize he is owed at least $29 million over the next three years, but Haren is the guy to go after. A package of Ramos, Revere and Slowey would likely get the D-Backs attention. I’m not sure it’s enough, but it can’t hurt to ask.

    Lilly, Sheets and Myers just don’t get me excited, and I’d roll with Duensing before giving up anything for Nolasco. It will be interesting to see if the Twins do anything before the trade deadline.

  • ?

    Haren or bust! no other pitcher makes us any better.

  • Cris E

    The thing is, Duensing only fills one spot and there are several problems in the rotation. Even if he takes over for Blackburn this week you still have Slowey stinking the joint up and Baker showing no command at all. And if Baker goes to the DL there’s no one left to toss in there but Perkins or Manship. The Front Office has to add an arm so there are some options to turn these guys around, be it Rochester or a swing role. They can’t yank out more than one guys at a time with the arms at hand.

    I think Haren would be a cool addition, but Sheets and Lilly are more likely targets. If they’re pitching well Pavano and Liriano are good enough to take the Twins into the playoffs, but there’s no way you can get anywhere with a rotation of 2-2-5-5-5. They need to scrape some of the crud off the bottom of the rotation if they’re going to reach the playoffs.

  • spookymilk

    Cris, in general, only three starters matter come playoff time. While I (as well as their stats) don’t agree with your numbering system on these guys, it would still be 2-2-5 in the playoffs, not 2-2-5-5-5.