December 6, 2010

Picking through the non-tenders

Thursday's deadline came and went without the Twins non-tendering anyone, but a total of 52 arbitration-eligible players were non-tendered by other teams and that group hitting the open market provides a secondary class of free agents worth picking through. There are no stars to be had and for the most part all 52 players were cut loose for a reason, but with the Twins in search of bullpen help and perhaps a backup outfielder there are options worth considering.

Bobby Jenks: Cut loose by the White Sox because he would have been due for a raise on his $7.5 million salary, Jenks remains a very good reliever and pitched much better than his 4.44 ERA this year suggests. His average fastball still clocked in at 95 miles per hour, he racked up 61 strikeouts in 53 innings, and served up just three homers while inducing 58 percent ground balls. Jenks could end up being a tremendous bargain if his ERA and weight scare teams off.

D.J. Carrasco: Arizona had MLB's worst bullpen ERA by a full run and Carrasco was only due for a raise to around $1.5 million, so it's tough to explain why they cut him loose. Whatever the case, after spending 2006 and 2007 in the minors and transitioning to the bullpen full time he's had ERAs of 3.96, 3.76, and 3.68 with 157 strikeouts in 210 innings and a .255/.327/.356 opponents' line in the past three years. He'd be a nice low-cost replacement for Matt Guerrier.

Joel Peralta: After back-to-back rough years Peralta had to earn his way back to the majors with a dominant stint at Triple-A as a 34-year-old and then pitched brilliantly for the Nationals with a 2.02 ERA, .170 opponents' average, and 49-to-9 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 49 innings. That somehow got him non-tendered, but as a fly-ball pitcher with excellent control and a 4.22 career ERA he'd fit perfectly working the middle innings for the Twins.

Todd Coffey: Another right-handed middle-reliever candidate, Coffey was non-tendered by the Brewers despite a 3.52 ERA and 128-to-46 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 153 frames for Milwaukee. Coffey's slider is his best pitch, but his average fastball also clocks in at 94 miles per hour and he's induced 52 percent ground balls to go along with missing plenty of bats. Turning to the bad-control, good-stuff spectrum, Jose Veras and Manny Delcarmen could be decent fliers.

Hideki Okajima: After posting a 2.72 ERA in his first three seasons Okajima was relegated to mop-up duties following a terrible first half, angered the Boston media by avoiding interviews, and admitted to being homesick without anyone to talk to in the bullpen. All of which explains why he was non-tendered, but a rebound playing alongside Tsuyoshi Nishioka seems doable. He pitched well down the stretch and has always been more setup man than lefty specialist.

George Sherrill: With a 6.69 ERA this season Sherrill earned his non-tender from the Dodgers, but he was an All-Star in 2008, had a 1.70 ERA in 2009, and still looks plenty capable of being a good left-handed specialist in 2011. Right-handed batters crushed Sherrill this year, but he held lefties to .192/.286/.288. And that's actually worse than his ridiculously great career mark of .167/.235/.265 versus lefties.

Matt Diaz: Ron Gardenhire has unfortunately shown zero willingness to actually bench Jason Kubel versus lefties despite a miserable .236/.313/.352 career line against them, but if he did Diaz would be an ideal platoon partner. He's stretched thin when asked to play every day, but Diaz is a lifetime .335/.373/.533 hitter off lefties. With an overall career line of .301/.350/.456 he may be out of the Twins' price range for a part-time player, but he'd be very useful.

Scott Hairston: He doesn't destroy lefties quite as convincingly as Diaz, but Hairston hits them well enough (.278/.331/.498 despite calling MLB's most severe pitcher's ballpark home) to be a strong platoon partner for Kubel and also brings significantly more defensive versatility to the table than Diaz with extensive center field and second base experience along with nearly two thousand innings as a corner outfielder.

Lastings Milledge: Yet another nice fit as a possible platoon-mate for Kubel, although Milledge is different than Diaz or Hairston in that he's still just 25 years old. While coming up through the Mets' system he twice ranked among Baseball America's top dozen prospects, but Milledge has already been let go by three teams while hitting just .269/.328/.394 in 1,655 trips to the plate. Within that he's been solid off lefties and has a good glove when playing a corner spot.

Fred Lewis: As a left-handed hitter Lewis obviously wouldn't work at all as a platoon-mate for Kubel, but he'd have value if the Twins are looking for a more traditional fourth outfielder. He's hit .272/.348/.418 in 1,518 plate appearances, has 20-steal speed, and is solid defensively in the corners while having some experience in center field. Not exactly the ideal fit roster-wise, but useful enough that he'd be worth adding anyway if the price was right.

Tony Gwynn Jr.: Despite a Hall of Fame father with seven batting titles and 3,141 hits Gwynn Jr.'s bat is his weakness. He's hit just .244/.323/.314 in 1,054 plate appearances and at age 28 seems unlikely to develop further. He does have the plate discipline to avoid being a total non-factor offensively and Gwynn is an elite defensive outfielder with 30-steal speed. Batting left-handed (and Jason Repko's presence) keeps him from being a better fit for the Twins.

  • mike wants WINS

    Since the Twins’ PR machine (through LaVelle and Joe C) keep posting that Hardy might be traded for relievers, I see them trading a starting SS for relieves, instead of just signing 3 free agents. Not sure I get why, can anyone explain this to me?

    As for the platooning, it makes a ton of sense, but we’ve seen this before (Jacque Jones). This is an example of the things we see day to day that Joe Posnanski doesn’t….

  • Kurt

    Mike – I think it just depends on the players available that they like. Signing 3 free agent relievers isn’t the easiest thing; with other teams in the bidding war, etc. Making a trade for one or two relievers seems more attainable and then if they need more then they just have to sign one free agent.

    I only have one comment in this article and it is to stay as far away from Jenks as possible. Indeed his stats suggest a pitcher still capable of missing bats and being successful but I’ve seen a lot of him over the years and he just looks like an aging time bomb waiting to blow a save. Always gets in shaky situations and just seems like a player the Twins should a stay away from. Go after one of the younger guys at a cheaper price IMO.

  • Josh

    Hairston looks like a great option, but only if Gardy is willing to actually platoon Kubel, something that really should happen. but since the AL Manager of the Year historically doesn’t show any interest in platooning a player no matter how much it would help the team or how much their failures against lefties or righties might be hurting the team, I don’t think they can sign him.

    One of the most important parts of Bill Smith’s job is to Gardy-proof the lineup. By signing the O-Dog last season, we had a middle INF who was almost ideally suited to bat 2nd, which was needed because Gardy was going to hit his 2B second almost no matter what. Bill Smith needs to sign players that fit with the way Gardy is going to manage, because he’s not going to change now.

    So while Hairston looks like a great platoon partner for Kubel and a really nice OF option for the team offensively and defensively, it’s a move that I think will fail unless Gardy is on-board with a platooning plan. And I don’t think he is. And now that he’s been named the best manager in the AL, he’s going to be even less convinced he needs to change anything about the way he runs a team, so Bill Smith needs to save him from himself.

  • Dave T

    Aaron – Your list of bargain-basement pitchers was very encouraging. After seeing the outrageously high free-agent signings that have already gone down this winter, I had assumed that there would not be any cheap replacements available for Guerrier and Rauch.
    Matt Diaz would be perfect, if he could also play a couple of infield positions. Gardy will only accept one non-position player (Thome) on his bench.

  • http://bottomofthefourth.blogspot.com Xave

    I hadn’t heard that about Okajima, but it makes sense, and is a little heartbreaking (inasmuch as we can feel sorry for people who get to play baseball for millions of dollars for a living). I mean, honestly, take a minute and imagine a full-time (more than full-time, really) job where the language barrier prevents you from talking to anyone most of the time you’re there. Despite the money, that has to be pretty hard.

  • wrong em

    Agree wholly with Josh on Hairston. It’s too bad, because a defensively sound extra outfielder who could hit lefties would be perfect for this team to improve both offense and defense, in that the “platoon” arrangement could start the 4th OF in the field and push Cuddyer to DH.

  • Large Canine

    So what is Gardy’s lineup against a LH pitcher? If that lineup includes Kubel and Thome then we are in trouble. I would prefer a lineup (against LH pitcher) that includes JJ at SS, a RH DH (either Cuddyer or Diaz) and Kubel and/or Thome on the bench to PH when a RH reliver comes in. I am worried that instead of adding a RH bat for 2011 the Twins will instead subtract one (JJ).

  • mike wants WINS

    Don’t worry large canine, Casilla is FAST, so he solves the SS “problem”.

  • DK

    How come pitchers don’t smile for their photos but outfielders do? (Okajima didn’t get the memo, probably due to those language problems.)

  • dan

    If I got one thing out of this its that non-tendered relievers have goatees.

  • Marshall Garvey

    I’m all for getting Okajima. There has also been similar talk about signing Koji Uehara, not just for reliable bullpen strength, but to be a comforting presence for Nishioka. Seeing as Tsuyoshi doesn’t speak a word of English, the Twins might want to make such an acquisition either way.