August 1, 2011

Stranded at the intersection of buyer and seller, Twins stay put

In the end, it turns out the answer was "neither."

For weeks the big debate among fans, media members, and perhaps even the team itself has been whether the Twins would be buyers or sellers (or maybe a little bit of both) at the trade deadline. Yet as the Tigers, Indians, White Sox, and nearly every other team joined the trading frenzy that came to an end yesterday the Twins did nothing, hanging on to various impending free agents, choosing not to empty the doghouse, and failing to secure any stretch-run help.

And it wasn't for a lack of rumors, as the Twins were linked to all kinds of on-the-block players and said to be shopping plenty of their own despite no one being certain whether to consider them buyers or sellers. They were deep in talks with the Nationals over Denard Span, several teams scouted Kevin Slowey at Triple-A, contenders looking to add a bat came after Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel, and Jim Thome, and the Twins had calls in on numerous relievers.

"We had a lot of activity, we had a lot of calls, we made progress on a number of possibilities, but we just couldn't get to the finish line," general manager Bill Smith explained to reporters shortly after the deadline came and went without a move. Smith made it clear that the Twins saw themselves as buyers looking for "more ammunition" and noted how disappointing it was to walk away empty-handed "because we had an awful lot of people do an awful lot of work."

Much of that work apparently involved negotiating with the Nationals over Span, with national reporters joining Minnesota and Washington sources to provide constant updates throughout the past week on a trade that would have brought the Twins significant bullpen help. Initially the Nationals were said to be offering a Tyler Clippard-led package until it became clear that the Twins' focus was on Drew Storen, with the two sides haggling over secondary pieces.

Not only did the reports about Span come out of nowhere and escalate quickly, the talks with the Nationals provided a glimpse into why the Twins ended up doing nothing at the deadline. They viewed themselves as buyers by virtue of contending in the incredibly weak AL Central, but a 50-56 record and six-game deficit made fully committing to that approach tough and they tried to do that buying without delving into the farm system.

Instead of following the typical buyer path of using their highest-ranked prospects to acquire an impact player for the major-league team the Twins offered up their 27-year-old leadoff man and center fielder. Instead of parting with mid-level prospects to bring in big-league depth the Twins tried turning a banished 27-year-old starting pitcher into veteran relief help. They tried to buy with some of the same assets they would have used to sell and instead did neither.

If the Twins were a typical 50-56 team they would have had no problem identifying themselves as sellers, likely cashing in some combination of Cuddyer, Kubel, Slowey, Thome, Joe Nathan, Matt Capps, and Delmon Young for future value. However, because the weak division meant 50-56 wasn't out of the race on July 31 selling those pieces became a much more difficult road to go down. They talked themselves out of being sellers, but not quite enough to be buyers.

It's hard to blame the Twins too much for not selling, because giving up on a season with two months remaining isn't easy when the team climbed out of a 17-37 hole and into respectability while turning a seemingly insurmountable 16.5-game deficit into a margin that inspires hope for a comeback. With that said, Smith and company are responsible for making the toughest of tough decisions and hope or not their postseason chances are as slim as the roster is flawed.

Losing to the A's after the deadline passed puts them at 50-57 and seven games back in the AL Central with just 54 games to play. Detroit has emerged as division favorites, second-place Cleveland leads the Twins by 4.5 games and made arguably the biggest deadline splash by parting with four prospects for Ubaldo Jimenez, and even third-place Chicago leads the Twins by three games. By comparison, the Twins are four games ahead of last-place Kansas City.

I'm willing to believe that the Twins' playoff odds should be higher than the two percent figure shown in most projections, but that still means bumping them up to just five percent or maybe eight percent if you're feeling wildly optimistic. Latching on to that hope is understandable, but they were smart not to deal Span for Storen or swing other big trades in an effort to maximize those modest odds and I'd have been awfully tempted to sell that small now for a bigger later.

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20 Comments »

  1. I guess I shouldn’t be shocked that given the option of negotiating to get Clippard or Storen, Bill Smith focused on Storen. But I’m still a little surprised and appalled.

    Anyway, I can’t blame him for standing pat, given the current circumstances. Looking ahead, I just hope that Smith reconsiders his notion to trade Span for bullpen help, when he makes his plans for the offseason.

    Comment by frightwig — July 31, 2011 @ 11:47 pm

  2. It’s hard to blame Smith too much for not selling, even the guys he should have been thinking of instead of Span and Slowey. Kubel was unlikely to bring back a better payday than the Twins can get in draft picks when he leaves. Thome, Capps, and Young wouldn’t have brought in much more than salary relief, and Thome at least has some value in his chase for 600. Things seem to be headed in the direction of picking up Nathan’s option.

    That pretty much only leaves Cuddyer, and while we might question the decision to retain him for essentially emotional reasons, it’s clear that there is a purpose there even if it’s one that doesn’t resonate with us. I suppose a better GM might have sold Blackburn high a couple of weeks ago, but that’s so far above this organization’s historic level of competence that it’s hard to hold them to that standard.

    Comment by Tim — July 31, 2011 @ 11:47 pm

  3. So I wasn’t the only one who thought Clippard looked better than Storen. Though the only part I liked about possibly trading Span was that maybe it would mean accelerating Joe Bensons journey to the big leagues. That dude should not be at double-a any longer. Moving Hicks would be a good idea if everyone else is as high on him as the folks around here are. A top prospect whose best skill is allowing pitchers with control problems to walk him isn’t really a top prospect at all. Hitters can learn patience but seldom do they learn to really drive the ball. They’ve also got Arcia and Rosario in his approximate range where Benson is knocking on the door. I say move him for middle-infield help this offseason if possible

    Comment by Ben — August 1, 2011 @ 12:17 am

  4. At least Smith didn’t give in and make a deal for the sake of making a deal. The rest of the baseball world must be shocked Smith didnt get hoodwinked again.

    Comment by mike — August 1, 2011 @ 5:24 am

  5. It’s sad that the Twins were winners at the deadline because Bill Smith didn’t do something stupid.

    Aaron, can you get your application in the the Twins for the GM position already?

    Comment by AM. — August 1, 2011 @ 5:28 am

  6. “A top prospect whose best skill is allowing pitchers with control problems to walk him isn’t really a top prospect at all. Hitters can learn patience but seldom do they learn to really drive the ball.”

    I would disagree with just about everything Ben states when writing on Hicks. Getting on base at the levels he does is a great skill, especially for an excellent defensive center fielder. He is a great prospect by most all measures, but yeah some more homeruns would increase his status. Also, its been pretty well argued that you cannot teach a hitter to learn patience, whereas players often develop power as they grow older and fill out.

    Comment by spoof bonser — August 1, 2011 @ 8:16 am

  7. Aaron,

    A couple of ideas for future blogs and areas I would like your opinion

    1) Concerning our middle infield and, specifically Nishioka, it was surprising to hear that the Twins wanted Lombardozzi in the Nats deal. If Nishi doesn’t show some semblence of promise over the final two months, what are the Twins possible solutions? Would it be possible to get out of the final two years of the contract by simply voiding it and allowing him to return to Japan? Is there any historical precedence along these lines?

    2) I know it’s been explained often, but many fans still don’t seem to understand the implications of impending free agency and the arbitration process on the trade deadline and how it affects how much compensation a team may receive or requires for an impemding free agent. Of our impending free agents, who do you think will be offered arb? Perhaps a blog for October?

    Keep up the great work!

    Comment by Rick — August 1, 2011 @ 8:21 am

  8. Do we really think they’ll offer Kubel arbitration? Assuming they keep Cuddy, and Span returns healthy, do we really think they’ll offer Kubel arbitration?

    Not a fan of this decision to stand pat at all. Wanting to be mediocre instead of bad is no way to run a sports franchise. It is what keeps you mediocre.

    Slowey should be up and in the rotation, with Blackburn or Duensing out. How bad for how long does “blackie” need to be before this happens?

    Comment by mike wants wins — August 1, 2011 @ 8:51 am

  9. At this point, I’d put both Slowey and Swarzak in the rotation, while dropping Dumatrait and moving Duensing to the bullpen.

    Comment by Mike — August 1, 2011 @ 9:03 am

  10. Mike I think Duensing in the rotation is the least of the problems. It is Blackburn and Pavano that are struggling. While Blackburn has this kind of struggle one month a year, and then usually comes back, Pavano is more of a problem. Because he is 36, so he could be in the decline, because last year was a career-contract year and because the Twins owe him 8 million for next year. If the Twins could do a salary dump with him, they should. At this point Slowey should be better than him

    Comment by adjacent — August 1, 2011 @ 10:32 am

  11. I was just rummaging through my head and was wondering how two guys were doing this year:

    Player A: 43 R, 13 HR, 51 RBI, 3 SB, .232 AVG, .307 OBP
    Player B: 55 R, 16 HR, 55 RBI, 8 SB, .298 AVG, .379 OBP

    Player “A” is Torii Hunter-at $18M, Player “B”, is Michael Cuddyer-at $10.5M (yes, I realize this doesn’t take defense into consideration, but for as much as we consider Cuddy overpaid, we could be doing worse….

    Comment by JB (the original) — August 1, 2011 @ 11:18 am

  12. Oh, and the Angels are on the hook for another $18M for Torii next year as well…

    Comment by JB (the original) — August 1, 2011 @ 11:19 am

  13. adjacent, agreed, they should dump pavano if they can. But I don’t see that as likely, hence my proposal. Blackburn just isn’t a good pitcher. He has stretches where he is good, but he’s just not good. Slowey has been, and always will be, a better pitcher than Blackburn, probably then Duensing, and right now than Pavano. Their stubbornness with guys with college educations is a bizarre string of coincidence that is hurting them.

    Comment by mike wants wins — August 1, 2011 @ 11:20 am

  14. “Minnesota Twins, whose eagerness to fill their bullpen at the expense of their lineup is so antiquated, so backward, so very silly that the idea they almost did it twice in a row makes GM Bill Smith look like he’s in over his head. Turns out his insistence on the inclusion of Storen torpedoed the deal, which, funny enough, makes the Twins winners.”

    From Yahoo…

    The Twins blew it at the deadline from the get go…considering themselves buyers. 6 games back in a weak division. We would be lucky to win a playoff game, no chance on a series.

    There were some good chances to trade Cuddyer, but the Twins held on to him for sentimental value. Just moronic. At least there will be someone doing card tricks in the club house as this team fumbles its way through the season.

    As dumb as Bill Smith was for wanting to give up Span for Storen, we can take solace in the fact that Washington’s GM was even less smart for not jumping on that deal.

    Comment by mrgerbik03 — August 1, 2011 @ 11:56 am

  15. I think people on this site should give Smith a break for once, at least on the rumored Span deal. Based on reports, the Twins wanted a lot more than just Storen for Span, so saying that Smith was stupid to consider that trade is shortsighted. The Twins wanted Storen, Lombardozzi and someone else for Span. I CERTAINLY wouldn’t trade Storen for Span straight up, but I’d definitely pull the trigger if the Nats offered Storen and Lombo. Lombo’s numbers in the minors are pretty consistent, and solid. And Storen is young. Add a decent third piece and you’d have a package far better than the bag of bolts the Twins got for Santana. Revere is no Span, but it’s not as if the Twins lack outfield depth.

    That said, I think the Twins should have sold and built up their farm system or reloaded for next year. They didn’t, because of the flawed belief that they are contenders. Perhaps I should be grateful they didn’t give up prospects for a rent-a-player, but I still want to see a better 2012 team and think that selling would have been the better option.

    That said,

    Comment by mazeville — August 1, 2011 @ 12:18 pm

  16. Hunter’s defense has also slipped, which is why he now plays right field instead of center. That Hunter contract was one of the dumbest ever.

    I don’t know if Blackburn will just turn it around. Last year it took a trip to the minors. In his last seven starts, he has an ERA of over 8 and a WHIP over 2. He does have streaks when he pitches well, but when combined with the brutal Blackburn, he’s just not a good pitcher.

    Comment by Pedro Munoz — August 1, 2011 @ 1:17 pm

  17. Maybe the players weren’t there in trades for Young, Cuddy, etc… They will get draft picks if some of their pending free agents sign elsewhere, no? They’ll offer arbitration to come of them, I’d sssume.

    I still think they could have dealt Cuddyer and then resigned him in the off season if they wanted him back so badly.

    Comment by ML — August 1, 2011 @ 3:31 pm

  18. I have a hard time understanding how they managed not to trade Slowey. They don’t like him and aren’t using him. Yet he is young and has had success at the major league level. Other teams were reportedly interested, as they should have been. But they couldn’t get back, say, a decent middle reliever for him? Odd.

    Unless he falls off a cliff and/or gets hurt again, they’ll offer arb to Kubel. He’s likely to get a multi-year offer anyway, so they’d at least get the picks by offering arb. But he’s also fairly cheap, so the worse case scenario is that he accepts and they pay him $7M or so for a year. He can always DH and be a #5 OF, so there isn’t much downside. Just letting him walk would be throwing away value.

    Comment by BR — August 1, 2011 @ 3:50 pm

  19. Jonah Keri was not complimentary of Bill Smith in the fangraphs chat today…

    Comment by mike wants wins — August 1, 2011 @ 4:24 pm

  20. Today’s fangraph’s chat rip on the Twins:

    {Comment From KateKate: ]
    I can’t believe Slowey wasn’t traded. How many STARTS does he get in MLB ROS?
    Tuesday August 2, 2011 12:45 Kate
    12:46 Jack Moore: Zero. Because Gardenhire/Smith are completely insane.

    Comment by mike wants wins — August 2, 2011 @ 12:29 pm

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