August 27, 2010

Twins get Brian Fuentes from the Angels for a player to be named later

Earlier this week the Twins added Randy Flores, a 34-year-old southpaw reliever who's an iffy fit for the "left-handed specialist" role because he's a marginal big leaguer and not particularly effective against left-handed hitters. Friday evening they added another 34-year-old southpaw reliever by sending a player to be named later to the Angels for Brian Fuentes, but if anything the four-time All-Star and longtime closer is actually vastly overqualified for the same gig.

I'm not sure what the Twins ever saw in Flores, against whom left-handed hitters have batted .290 with a .470 slugging percentage in his last 120 innings, but there's no such mystery with Fuentes. He's no longer the elite reliever he was for the Rockies from 2002-2008, but with his funky sidearm delivery and fastball-slider combo Fuentes remains death to left-handed batters and is potentially still good enough versus righties to be significantly more than a specialist.

Fuentes is perhaps one of the most underrated relievers of this era, posting a 3.48 ERA in 515 career innings despite calling Coors Field home for most of that time. Among all active relievers with at least 500 lifetime appearances Fuentes' adjusted ERA+ of 137 ranks seventh, behind only Mariano Rivera, Billy Wagner, Francisco Rodriguez, Trevor Hoffman, Joe Nathan, and Francisco Cordero. He's no longer quite at that level, but he's a massive upgrade over Flores.

Fuentes has been nearly unhittable against left-handed batters this season, holding them to a .132 batting average and .158 slugging percentage in 44 plate appearances. You can blame the small sample size on opposing managers doing whatever they can to avoid letting lefties face Fuentes, and while no one is that good versus lefties over a larger sample during the past three years Fuentes also held them to a combined .213/.284/.276 line in 192 trips to the plate.

Fuentes was also very strong against right-handed hitters during that same three-year span, limiting them to a .224/.313/.349 mark that, for example, compares well to Matt Capps' career .260/.298/.396 line versus righties. This year Fuentes has allowed a .465 slugging percentage against righties due to five homers and nine doubles in 101 at-bats, but small-sample power numbers can be fluky and he's still held them to a .228 average and .328 on-base percentage.

Based on his 2007-2009 performance Fuentes is now the best reliever on the team. Based on his slightly less dominant performance this season Fuentes is now the best option on the team versus lefties and a capable option against righties. Assuming the player to be named later is no one special this is an ideal stretch-run pickup for the Twins, who add one of MLB's truly elite lefty-on-lefty relievers and someone capable of getting late-inning outs versus righties as well.

I'm hopeful that Ron Gardenhire recognizes Fuentes' strong track record against right-handed hitters and is willing to use him as more of a setup man than a pure lefty specialist, because Fuentes and the new-and-improved, slider-slinging Jesse Crain setting up Capps should be a very effective late-inning trio while leaving Matt Guerrier, Jon Rauch, and perhaps eventually Jose Mijares to work the middle innings. And if not, Fuentes can just shut down lefties.

Fuentes is in the second year of a two-year, $17.5 million deal and is owed $1.9 million for the rest of 2010. His contract also has a $9 million option for 2011 that vests if he has 55 games finished this year, but with just 33 so far it isn't an issue. PTBNLs always make me nervous, but as long as the prospect proves palatable this is a sound move and in fact adding a quality arm so cheaply makes me question trading Wilson Ramos for Capps even more than before.

  • http://kkvb.blogspot.com Karl

    PTBNL is scary to me too.

    I smell Aricia or Revere.

    Almost certainly no one worse – the tricky thing is how many players total in the farm system have more value than Aricia or Revere? 10? Maybe 15? Someone smarter than me would probably know.

    Yikes.

  • Evan

    I doubt it’s anyone of any real consequence. Good move for the Twins.

  • http://thebatshatters.blogspot.com AK

    I agree Evan, good move for the Twins, it seems clear they are committed to winning the division and setting this team on a winning track for the playoffs. Crazy that with Nathan, this team now has 3 “closers” who’ve made all-star appearances in the last 2 years.

  • Gendo

    Closer is a pretty meaningless term.

  • AM

    LENIII I reports that the PTBNL should be no big name…someone of the Juan Portes ilk. Even more reason to question giving Ramos away for Capps…

  • http://thebatshatters.blogspot.com AK

    Gendo, that’s why I put it in quotes.

  • mike wants wins

    As long as it’s a guy that has little future, I’m very happy with this move. It does make you wonder about the Capps for a legit chip move, yes. Now, if they could find an OFer that can hit a little and field…..and get rid of one of the extra utility infielders.

  • Neil

    “PTBNLs always make me nervous, but as long as the prospect proves palatable this is a sound move and in fact adding a quality arm so cheaply makes me question trading Wilson Ramos for Capps even more than before.”

    Uh, Capps will be here in 2011. Fuentes won’t be.

    And whoever the player to be named is, I’m sure you’ll make far too big a deal out of it.

    In your defense, after watching Randy Flores last night, I don’t know how he’s ever gotten anyone out. Ever. He looks like me on the mound. But calm down. He was just the best guy they could get to replace Mahay. That’s all he ever was.

  • Marshall Garvey

    Great analysis as always Aaron. I’m very happy with this pickup. Another upside to having him is that he can do bonus closer work to augment Capps from time to time. In that regard he can make it interesting sometimes (a couple of games from last year’s ALCS come to mind), but all in all, he’s a steal.

  • Randy Moist

    Don’t act as if having Capps locked up for next year mitigates how terrible that trade was or somehow negates the redundancy of picking up Fuentes now. It’s all a lot of undue attention to a part of the team that really didn’t need it beyond a few internal promotions and then picking up one guy off the waiver wire (like Fuentes).

    And Flores isn’t a replacement for Mahay, as it’s been pointed out, he doesn’t have any better success against lefties than righties.

  • Ward

    Yikes. Can someone give Randy a hug? He makes AG look downright chipper.

  • MattG

    I highly doubt the Twins are giving up anything more than a “C” level prospect in the Fuentes deal. The Angels wanted to move some salary and give the ball more often to Fernando Rodney. I think the real story here is why in the world the White Sox passed on Fuentes to possibly wait for Manny Ramirez?

    I like the fact that Fuentes will almost certainly be a Type A free agent so if we offer him arbitration we should get a good draft pick back for him. This move basically amounts to the Twins spending $1.9 million for a really good relief pitcher and a sandwich round draft pick. Even the biggest Bill Smith hater has to give him credit for that move.

  • Joe B

    “PTBNL or cash”

    That phrase (the inclusion of ‘for cash’) essentially means the prospect will have almost no value.

  • Twins Fan in Milwaukee

    I am amazed teams like the Sox, the Rangers or someone else let Fuentes get through waivers. You need a strong bullpen in the playoffs since starting pitchers seem to only go 5 or 6, which I think any of our starters can do and put the Twins in good shape. The Twins can’t be like last year and be ahead every game and then lose it in the final innings. The Twins need a 1987 Juan Beringer performance out of their bullpen if they are to do anything in the playoffs, because they don’t have a 1991 Jack Morris.

  • brian

    It is amazing that those teams passed him by, but the Twins are not going to do anything in the playoffs, “because they don’t have a 1991 Jack Morris.” It takes 2 of them to win in the playoffs. Twins are a regular season entertainment, like the Wild.