May 16, 2011

Sellers

I started this blog in 2002. I was a 19-year-old home for the summer after my freshman year of college, Ron Gardenhire was in his first season as manager, and the Twins were headed to the playoffs for the first time since winning the World Series in 1991. In the decade since then the Twins have won six division titles, compiled an 815-682 (.544) record, and finished below .500 just once, when they were 79-83. And they've never been sellers at the trade deadline.

They've traded plenty of veteran players during that time, including some veteran-for-prospect deals in the middle of seasons, but at no point since 2002 have the Twins been in position to give up on contending and shop short-term pieces for long-term value by July 31. There's still a chance to avoid that fate again this season, but time is quickly running out with an MLB-worst 12-26 record and an MLB-high 12.5-game deficit in the division. They're on pace to go 51-111.

If the Twins play at a 90-win pace from now until the end of the year they'll finish 81-81, which won't be enough to win a seventh division title and might not even be enough to hang around as a quasi-contender down the stretch. And it would take a special imagination to envision this team suddenly playing at a 90-win clip even if the entire injury wrecked roster got healthy and stayed healthy. They aren't out of it yet, but they're about as close as you can get in mid-May.

Writing about the Twins as potential trade deadline sellers is a new experience for me and I'd like nothing more than for the whole exercise to prove unnecessary when they surge back into contention, but in an effort to provide an early glimpse into what the options could be and also perhaps distract somewhat from their current ineptitude here are the players most likely to be shopped if things don't improve in a hurry.

Michael Cuddyer: As a 32-year-old earning $10.5 million in his final season before free agency Cuddyer would be an ideal piece to cash in for some value and he lacks the 10 full seasons of service time needed to veto trades as a 10-and-5 player. However, it's difficult to imagine any contending team wanting to add him to their lineup. Cuddyer has hit just .267/.332/.408 since the start of 2010 and for all his supposed versatility his glove isn't actually an asset anywhere.

My concern is the Twins are so in love with his personality and clubhouse presence that they'll ignore declining production and try to keep Cuddyer in Minnesota with another multi-year deal. And even if they're smart enough not to re-sign Cuddyer getting compensation for him leaving as a free agent would require offering salary arbitration, which is a huge risk because he could simply accept and lock himself into another $10 million salary for 2012.

Jason Kubel: Kubel will join Cuddyer in becoming a free agent after this season, but he's also three years younger, making half as much money, and off to a tremendous start. Offering him arbitration wouldn't be a risk, because the Twins would likely be happy to bring back Kubel on a one-year deal if he accepted, so any trade would have to fetch more value than a draft pick. And that's assuming the Twins aren't interested in re-signing Kubel to a multi-year deal.

As great as he's been so far this year Kubel is a career .275/.339/.465 hitter with no defensive value and will be 30 years old in 2012. Right now he looks like Babe Ruth compared to the rest of the sorry lineup, but Kubel has typically been a .275 hitter with 25-homer pop and mediocre plate discipline, which doesn't really stand out compared to designated hitters and bad-fielding corner outfielders. Trading him in the middle of a career-year could make a lot of sense.

Delmon Young: Young won't be a free agent until after 2012, but he's earning $5.4 million this year and will likely get a raise to at least $7 million via the arbitration process next year. That's a hefty price tag for a corner outfielder with a .429 career slugging percentage and he hasn't been able to duplicate a 2010 career-year that was already much less valuable than the RBI total suggested because of terrible defense and a modest .333 on-base percentage.

Young is still just 26 years old, but paying $7 million to wait more for everything to click is much less appealing with free agency looming after 2012 anyway and I'd be shocked if the Twins felt comfortable with the notion of a long-term commitment. Whether or not trading Young makes sense now depends largely on how much his value has declined since the Twins gave up Matt Garza to get him from the Rays in 2007, but shopping him seems like a no-brainer.

Jim Thome: Obviously trading a 40-year-old signed to a one-year contract would make sense, but Thome was in the Twins' price range to begin with because he's limited to AL teams unless someone in the NL wants him as a pinch-hitter. When the White Sox traded him in mid-2009 he was hitting .249/.372/.493 and they got a marginal prospect back, so with Thome currently on the disabled list after struggling early on his potential trade value is very limited.

Francisco Liriano: Trade rumors swirled around Liriano in spring training after reports that the Twins had no interest in signing him to a long-term deal, which I took as a sign that they were undervaluing him and setting themselves up to make a big mistake. Three months later they look brilliant for avoiding commitment, as Liriano has taken several huge steps backward while displaying the combination of diminished velocity and command that suggests arm problems.

Trading him now would be the epitome of selling low and Liriano is under the Twins' control for 2012 as an arbitration-eligible player, so there's still time for him to rediscover his electric 2010 stuff and either convince them a long-term deal is sensible or at least recoup enough value to fetch a strong return in an offseason or mid-2012 swap. I won't be surprised if the Twins shop Liriano leading up to July 31, but I will be surprised if the offers make it a worthwhile move.

Kevin Slowey: Pushed out of the rotation in spring training, Slowey landed on the disabled list after just three relief appearances and has struggled adjusting to typical bullpen usage after starting for his entire career, so a trade in the next two months seems like a strong bet. There was quite a bit of trade speculation surrounding Slowey locally and nationally before Opening Day, so he should have some value.

He's never thrown more than 160 innings in a season, but Slowey is relatively cheap at $2.7 million and relatively young at 27. He's also under team control for 2012 and 2013, but I can't see the Twins wanting to pay him, say, $4 million next season if they don't even think he's one of their five best starters right now. However, for teams that view him as a solid mid-rotation starter based on a 4.42 ERA in 82 career starts that price tag would be very reasonable.

Carl Pavano: Lack of interest in Pavano as a free agent is why the Twins were able to re-sign him for two years after initial speculation had him looking for three years, but now even a $16 million commitment looks like a lot to a 35-year-old pitcher with just one strikeout in his last 80 batters faced. By the time July rolls around his remaining contract will be more like $12 million for 1.5 years, but even then the Twins would probably have to eat money to facilitate a move.

Scott Baker: Baker is reasonably priced at $5 million this season and $6.5 million for 2012 with a $9.25 million team option for 2013 that doesn't include a buyout, so I'd be inclined to keep him unless the offer was a strong one. He's been his usual mid-rotation self with a 3.71 ERA and 40-to-15 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 44 innings, giving Baker a 4.12 ERA in 730 innings since 2007. There's no reason to dump his contract, so it should have to be a value-for-value swap.

Nick Blackburn: Through eight starts his 3.70 ERA looks good, but Blackburn's pinpoint control has mysteriously vanished while his strikeout rate remains among MLB's worst even after a career-high eight punchouts Saturday. Blackburn's four-year, $14 million extension was a poor decision that hasn't gotten better, but that was more about unnecessarily guaranteeing him money than the raw cost. If there are teams that like him the salaries may not scare them off.

Matt Capps: If the Twins were willing to give up a prospect as promising as Wilson Ramos to get Capps for one-and-a-half seasons and happily agreed to pay him $7 million this year they probably aren't going to let him walk as a free agent without a fight. And compounding the mistake of paying a huge premium for Capps' previous accumulation of saves by extending the overpayment is a scary thought, especially since he'll likely shoot for at least a three-year deal.

Re-signing Capps to a multi-year deal would be the worst possible outcome. Letting him walk as a free agent and collecting draft picks would be nice, but that would require an arbitration offer first and Capps could accept and force them to pay around $9 million for 2012. Paying him $9 million for one year is preferable to paying him $25 million for three years, but getting some value for Capps via trade is the best idea. Do the Nationals need a "proven closer"?

Joe Nathan: If he'd come back strong from elbow surgery Nathan might be a prime target for contending teams looking for bullpen help, but his struggles combined with an $11.25 million salary and $2 million buyout on a $12.5 million team option for 2012 makes that a long shot. Even if Nathan puts together an impressive six-week stretch the Twins would probably have to eat nearly all of that money just to move him for a mid-level prospect.

  • Jeff Hamilton

    Unfortunately, there are two proverbial elephants in the room; Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau. What about them? I’m not making a statement to trade either, I did advocate offering Justin for young talent last year … and that was prior to being knocked out of the lineup with a concussion.

  • Evan

    Jeff, Mauer has a full no-trade clause so he would have to approve anything.

  • JR Cigar

    Gleeman, your sign should’ve indicated that Bill Smith was also “for sale”.

  • Alphonso

    What teams would be willing to take on those contracts?

  • SoCalTwinsfan

    Nathan struggles? Really? His K rate is up to 8.1, which is just one below his career average. In his last seven outings (seven innings), he has a 3.86 ERA, with 9 Ks and two walks. Batters are hitting .200 with a .646 OPS against him in those seven innings. Why the Twins aren’t using him in more critical situations is beyond me. He’s clearly better than any other righthander in the bullpen, save for perhaps Capps, who average 5.4 K/9.

  • http://vavoulis.com Andrew

    So what you’re saying is… we’ve got nothing.

  • Wade

    I’m not sure the Twins could fetch a bag of balls in return for Delmon Young on the trade market at this point. Who needs a “corner outfielder” (using that term very loosely) who can neither hit nor field?

    The sad fact of the matter is that the Twins don’t have legitimately valuable major league assets to trade, and aside from Kyle Gibson, their farm system is bereft of talent at the upper levels

  • Eric

    Thome was making $13 million in ’09, which played into the return the White Sox received in that trade. Granted he’s two years older this time around, but even getting salary relief is worth something, even if it’s only $1.5 million.

  • chris

    6 weeks…into the season..season over…wow

  • Ben

    Should have known it would only last so long. I guess we should just be happy Terry Ryan held the job as long as he did. If he stepped down in ’03 Smith probably would’ve traded Mauer for Rocky Biddle since we had Pierzynski and all.

  • Yossarian

    Bill Smith is going to remember last winter and this year for a long, long, long time.

  • AM.

    Well, we know other teams won’t hang up when Smith is on the line, given his propensity to play the fool in trades.

  • CBC

    Someone should tell Bill Smith that the adage goes, “Buy low, sell high,” and not the other way around. I think he has them mixed up.

  • mc

    Hopefully these guys start playing ball better soon so they at least look like they have some value. Kubel, Slowey and Thome are the only ones that I’d be interested in if I’m the other GM on the line.

  • mike wants WINS

    It’s a bummer when your team stinks, and it looks like you can’t even trade few veterans to get players for the future back. Hopefully, the players start to produce (mostly to make the games watchable/listenable, but also to make them more tradeable).

    I’d have to be overwhelemed to deal Baker. Other than that, I think every player on this roster should be available for a fair price.

    I’d rather they keep Slowey, and put him back in the rotation where he belongs. But he seems to be on the Perkins/Garza track at this point.

    I’d also like to keep Kubel, but that’s mostly because I don’t want the team totally blown up, and I also fear that if they deal Young/Kubel, they’ll keep Cuddeyer around so they aren’t “too young”.

    I struggle to name a player that Gardy and his staff have made better over time. I worry that Gardy is NOT the right manager for a young team….

  • ML

    I think they could convince an NL team in contention to take Cuddyer as a “scrappy utility player.” But it would still require eating some of his contract, and I doubt we’d get much in return.

  • David

    So, the only Twins you’re advocating not to give up are Span, and Valencia. Why Valencia?

  • JoeK

    When you look at those names now, you have to wonder why the Twins were counting on them to make a title run this year? What a sorry list of overpaid players for the most part.

  • curt

    Mauer and Morneau? I’m curious if they are not listed because the Twins shouldn’t or wouldn’t trade them or if no one would take them at this point. I’ve never seen such a complete team collapse in such a short time frame before. I’m surprised no one has pin-pointed the obvious problem. VOO DOO!

  • Brad

    The Twins have made terrible decisions with the major league talent for the last three or four years or so and are now paying for it. From trading potential 5 tool players like Gomez to paying midlevel guys way to much, like Blackburn. Bill Smith needs to go.

  • Dave T

    Talk about beating a man when he’s down. The middle of the batting order gas been on the DL all year. Morneau and Young are still in spring training as far as I’m concerned. Without runs, the Twins can’t win.

  • sandbun

    First off, it’s not voodoo, it’s the Curse of the Black Spruce. Never should’ve gotten rid of those trees. Look at what happened to the Mariners since they got rid of the trees in their park – first $100 million dollar team to lose 100 games in a season, and they have lost at least 93 games in half of their seasons since.

    As others have mentioned, the big issue with trading away parts now is that you’re selling low, really low. That said Morneau should be on the list, really they should’ve kept Ramos and been prepared to trade Morneau sometime in the next year and moved Mauer to first. He can be the back-up catcher if he likes the position so much, but we need him healthy and clearly playing at catcher is working out in that regard.

    He’s probably one of the most tradable guys, but I really hope they hold on to Thome. Fans need some reason to come out to the ball park, his chase for 600 is that reason. He’s the only guy on the team that you feel you must watch his at-bat, losing him would end any reason to pay attention to this team. Obviously if someone is willing to give us a crazy good deal you take it, but I wouldn’t trade him for fair market price for a player of his caliber.

  • sandbun

    Forgot to add I completely agree with this –

    “I struggle to name a player that Gardy and his staff have made better over time. I worry that Gardy is NOT the right manager for a young team….”

    Morneau comes to mind, his defense has really improved, but that’s it over the last 5 years. Everyone else seems to stagnate at best or get worse. How many guys, many we’re told have all the tools to make it, have to fail before we start considering our coaching staff may not be all it’s cracked up to be?

  • Pedro Munoz

    Mauer is the franchise – he isn’t going to be traded. End of discussion.

    Morneau is probably untradeable. He’s got a big contract and its unclear whether he will ever return to his old self. If the Twins could trade him, they wouldn’t get much and would probably have to pay part of his salary.

    Valencia is making just over the league minimum and Span is making $1M per year, and both are under the team’s control for years to come. The point of making trades when your team is down is to get young, cheap players, and to get rid of older, expensive players.

    How long will it take before Carlos Gomez shows us his other four tools (the fifth being defense)? The guy now has in excess of 1500 major league plate appearances and hasn’t showed anything. You can knock Smith for a lot of things, but Gomez for Hardy was one of his good moves.

  • mike wants WINS

    Agreed, Gomez for Hardy was a good trade. Agreed, it makes little sense to trade Valencia, given his pay and what you can get in return.

  • jimbo92107

    Yep, it’s time to blow up this team and start over. You’ve still got a decent core if you keep Mauer, Morneau, Valencia, Plouffe, Hughes, Nishioka, Span, and a few of the pitchers. Bring up Revere and Tosoni, several of the AAA pitchers, then finish out the season with them.

    What I’d really like to see with Mauer is him going to right field, then pick up a veteran backstop like Benji Molina. With his knee problems, Mauer simply can’t play in a crouch anymore. I bet Mauer’s arm is almost as strong as Cuddyer’s, and he’s probably at least as fast.

  • Pedro Munoz

    I have to add that this story made me even more depressed about the Twins, which I did not think was possible after this last series.

  • Nick

    I think it would be interesting to see a bunch of guys get moved to “rebuild.” If the core is Mauer, Morneau, Span and Valencia we could see Kyle Gibson in the rotation as well as Ben Revere and/or Rene Tosoni getting full-time shots. Some of the trades could also bring players that can be plugged into the 25-man roster. Hopefully they would keep Baker and/or Slowey so the rotation depth isn’t completely gone.

    If nothing else, we would know better what we have in Hughes, Plouffe, Revere and Tosoni. Are they everyday players or utility/4th OF types?

    What about the trade value of Glenn Perkins or even Jason Repko? Perkins still throws with his left arm and Repko is a very solid defender and base-runner as a 4th OF.

  • Peter

    Loyalty is part of what brought the Twins these 6 division titles but loyalty is what kills the Twins right now. Bad contracts for mediocrity, bad decisions on ‘raw’ talent (Bartlett, Ramos, Garza, Mr Delmon Young, a Japanese highschoolkid), holy crap closers view (Nathan, Capps Inco, Rauch’ tattoos) Bill Smith had a great offsesaon between 09 & 10 and drained totally last offseason by blinking payroll, Japan & Hope. Hope is a good, great thing but on a major league level a vein scraper. Siamese Twins this year as pitching as well as hitting is disgusting. One More Cup Of Coffee for the road. Sell and get well for ’12.

  • Ted

    Just read this at fangraphs: “Over the weekend, Bautista hit five home runs in Target Field. The Twins have hit six home runs in Target Field all season.”

    Ouch.

  • WalterSolbcheck

    “That said Morneau should be on the list, really they should’ve kept Ramos and been prepared to trade Morneau sometime in the next year and moved Mauer to first.”

    That would’ve been too logical.

  • WalterSolbcheck

    And this season has been horribly depressing. Never seen an utter breakdown like this that didn’t involve a Honda.

  • David

    Do the Pohlads really not see how short-sighted and pathetic the Smith\Gardenhire decisions have been? Is there no accountability? Would any other team give a pass to the architects of this level of failure? I realize the injuries have been extraordinary, but Hardy for Hoey is just egregious.

  • Phil Van Schepen

    Get Terry Ryan out of retirement and trade Kubel and Delmon for a right fielder a shortstop and a reliever!

  • chris

    it is not only the wrong trades
    the team is underperfoming on every position so far
    that were not good deals for sure
    but the injuries to M&M and Nathan …happened…
    and the other players cannot keep up their career averages…bad season

  • Ben B.

    Aaron, what are your thoughts on Chris Parmelee? He’s off to a hot start at New Britain, and at 23 maybe it’s time to give him a shot. He’s blocked at 1B, but maybe stick him in right field if they trade/move Cuddyer? He played some there last year, and it’d be hard to be worse than Cuddyer’s been.

  • LaBombo

    The real tragedy of the Twins’ injury woes this season isn’t the loss of output on the field. This team wasn’t going anywhere even if it was generally healthy.

    No, the injuries will help bury this franchise for years to come by giving Bill Smith shelter from the storm. His tenure as GM has been an unmitigated disaster, but the Pohlads will fail to act for at least another year or more because they’re just not willing to look past the injuries to see a franchise that lacks contending front-line talent, depth, and future potential.

    And then there’s the sucking vortex of mediocrity and irrationality that is Ron Gardenhire. He’s not going anywhere, having already been re-anointed Manager For Life by the second generation of ownership. But the perception that injuries render him blameless in this fiasco will cloud the Pohlads’ judgment when it comes time to find a new GM. Plenty of potential GM candidates will still want the job even with the Gardy albatross around their neck, but probably not any good ones.

  • TR

    Well said, LaBombo. Worst case scenerio….the Twins play decent in September when it’s meaningless and the front office fools themselves into simply blaming early season injuries. Then, they re-sign Delmon and Cuddy, and Capps…thus, sealing the franchise for the next 5 years.

  • BrokeBat Mountain

    Agreed TR. Well said, LaBombo, well said.

  • morgan

    WalterSolbcheck:
    And this season has been horribly depressing. Never seen an utter breakdown like this that didn’t involve a Harley.

    Hey, Harleys have gotten a lot better, but yea.