November 7, 2012

Waiver wire wrap-up: Casilla, Deduno, Roenicke, and Field

Alexi Casilla made $1.375 million this year and was in line for at least $1.5 million in 2013 via his final season of arbitration eligibility, so my assumption was that the Twins would non-tender him by the end of the month. Instead they shopped him around for a trade, predictably found no takers, and placed Casilla on waivers where he was claimed by the Orioles. And so ends one of the more unproductive, frustrating tenures in recent Twins history.

During his first stint as Twins general manager Terry Ryan gained a reputation for plucking unheralded prospects from the low minors of other farm systems in trades and watching them develop into quality big leaguers. Casilla is an oft-cited example, as Ryan acquired him from the Angels in December of 2005 for setup man J.C. Romero, who'd worn out his welcome by struggling to throw strikes and being ineffective versus right-handed hitters.

At the time Casilla was 20 years old and no one's idea of a top prospect, but was coming off a season spent mostly at Single-A hitting .325 with 47 steals in 78 games and--because some things never change--the Twins were short on middle infield talent. I wrote a positive review of the trade on December 12, 2005, crediting Ryan for getting something of value in return for Romero and his undesirable contract while saying the following about Casilla:

Casilla is a switch-hitting middle infielder who has almost zero power, controls the strike zone, gets on base, and has a ton of speed. ... If Casilla develops well, he could step in at second base and the top of the order when [Luis] Castillo's contract is up in two years. If his development stalls a bit, he could turn into a solid utility man.

Well, sort of. Sure enough Casilla ended up replacing Luis Castillo at second base in mid-2007 and during the next six seasons he was given 1,764 plate appearances to show that he could be that speedy top-of-the-order asset. There were occasional flashes of that player, most notably in 2008, but more often than not Casilla was terrible while his age and experience were frequently overlooked by people focusing on his supposed potential.

For the most part Casilla's contact skills carried over from the minors, as he struck out in just 12 percent of his plate appearances, but despite being a ground-ball hitter with excellent speed his batting average on balls in play was a measly .282. He never developed any power and the good plate discipline he showed in the minors vanished, as he drew an average of just 37 walks per 550 trips to the plate.

Casilla's speed was as advertised and he became an extremely efficient basestealer with a career success rate of 89 percent. Unfortunately for whatever reason he never fully put that elite skill to proper use, attempting a grand total of 80 steals in 515 games. Defense proved to be his biggest strength, particularly at second base, and Casilla's glove is good enough that he doesn't have to hit much to be valuable.

Sadly even "doesn't have to hit much" was too high a standard for Casilla, as he cracked a .700 OPS twice in six seasons and hit .250/.305/.344 overall. Among the 320 major leaguers with at least 1,500 plate appearances from 2006-2012 he ranked 295th in on-base percentage, 311th in slugging percentage, and 313th in OPS. And in all of Twins history only Al Newman and Danny Thompson had a lower OPS in more plate appearances than Casilla.

• Two weeks ago I identified 11 "marginal players" on the 40-man roster who could painlessly be dropped to clear space for the offseason and less than 24 hours later the Twins dropped seven of them. They've now dropped an eighth player from that list, passing Samuel Deduno through waivers unclaimed and sending him outright to Triple-A. Deduno had the ability to leave the organization as a free agent, but decided to re-sign on a minor-league deal.

I spent most of Deduno's time with the Twins trying to explain why a poor track record, terrible control, and an awful strikeout-to-walk ratio made his initial success unsustainable. People looking for a reason to believe in Deduno came up with all sorts of theories on why he was different, but in the end he threw 79 innings with a 4.44 ERA that was both worse than the league average and right in line with a 4.73 xFIP based on his terrible 57/53 K/BB ratio.

For a team in desperate need of pitching there was an argument to be made for hanging onto Deduno for a while and that's perhaps why he wasn't among the initial 40-man cuts. On the other hand if the Twins are in position to need meaningful innings from Deduno again that means their attempt to fix the rotation was a flop. They deserve credit for seeing through his smoke-and-mirrors act and for realizing the other 29 teams probably weren't fooled either.

• Along with passing Deduno through waivers unclaimed the Twins also filled two of those 40-man roster spots by claiming Josh Roenicke and Tommy Field off waivers from the Rockies. At first glance Roenicke looks like an excellent pickup. He's a hard-throwing right-handed reliever with a 3.25 ERA in 89 innings this year, which is made more impressive by the fact that he called hitter-friendly Coors Field home.

However, scratch beneath the surface and you'll discover that, not unlike Deduno, his secondary numbers were anything but impressive thanks to a horrible 54-to-43 strikeout-to-walk ratio and nine homers allowed. None of which is to say that Roenicke can't be a useful player. His fastball averaged 93 miles per hour, which by itself would stand out on the Twins' pitching staff, and Roenicke's slider/cutter has been a plus pitch throughout his career.

Combining good fastball velocity and a quality second pitch is often enough to succeed in a role that requires 20 pitches per appearance and 60-80 innings per season. Of course, that truism about relievers doesn't just apply to Roenicke and at age 30 there isn't a lot in his track record to suggest he's particularly promising. His hard throwing has produced 6.9 strikeouts per nine innings, including 5.5 per nine innings this year, which is below average for a reliever.

Roenicke also has abysmal control, throwing just 45 percent of his pitches in the strike zone on the way to 4.6 walks per nine innings. And as his mediocre strikeout rate would suggest it's not as if his wildness has caused batters to chase pitches. In fact, Roenicke has induced a below-average number of swings on pitches outside the strike zone and an average number of swinging strikes, period. He throws hard, but is very wild and not especially tough to hit.

• Field was a 24th-round draft pick out of Texas State University in 2008, has had a couple brief stints with the Rockies, and spent this year as their starting shortstop at Triple-A. He hit just .246/.315/.400 with eight homers in 121 games, which is bad for any 25-year-old at Triple-A and really bad for someone in hitter-friendly Colorado Springs, which as a team hit .291 with a .784 OPS and had a 5.07 ERA.

Field did show some offensive potential in the lower minors, but his numbers were never anything special and he was old for each level. He'll be 26 years old before spring training and has hit a combined .256/.337/.413 in 278 games above Single-A. Reviews of his defense are positive and he has experience at both shortstop and second base, so Field profiles as a utility man and gives the Twins some middle infield depth right after parting ways with Casilla.

3 Comments »

  1. Dude,

    I love your weekly Podcast. Especially the “off-radio” ones where you don’t have to comply to radio rules. I’m a stats geek and consider myself very well versed in the Saber World and the real world as it relates to roster requirements, service time, etc. Having said that, I do have a few questions that I’d call fine-tune questions. Dealing with service time and luxury tax. (As we all know, the luxury tax will effect the Twins greatly.) :)

    1) Service time related: We all know (or should know) that you can become a FA after 6 full seasons of service time. How is that Cespedes out in Oakland will be a FA after only 4 years? Is there a different criteria for a foreign player who wasn’t drafted?

    2) Luxury Tax Question related: I get the 180M threshold. But I want to focus it on A-Rod and the Yankees. First question, A-Rod signed a 10 year deal for 275M. From a luxury tax perspective only, does that mean that he counts against the Yanks luxury tax # for 27.5M each year during the 10 year cycle, or does he count againt the actual amount he’s being paid that specific season? For example, he’s due around 29M in 2013, do the Yanks get dinged that amount (and 20M per year the last 2 seasons of the deal)or do they go by average annual value?

    2nd question, again luxury tax and A-Rod related. I for one can’t figure out how they can justify giving the guy away for mere pennies on the dollar. The only theory I could come up with (unless he’s so utterly horrible to have around for clubhouse reasons)is perhaps the Yanks may do themselves a service on the luxury tax front? So my question is. For the sake of argument, let’s say the Yanks trade A-Rod to another team and the Yankees eat 100M of the remaining 114M he’s due. Again, from a luxury tax perspective only, does that absolve them in any way from the luxury tax? In other words, by virtue of him being on another roster, will he still count against them even though they’re paying the bulk of his salary? I hope that makes sense and you can see what I’m driving at. Anyway, great work with the show and blog. And now I have to give you a hard time. Outside of Charles Barkley’s “turr-ible”, you got the best terrible in the media!! I typically set the over/under of your usage of that word per Podcast at about 38.5. lol anyway, thanks for the blog and show.

    Comment by Jared — November 7, 2012 @ 12:07 am

  2. I enjoyed the write up very much. It was nice to have a little baseball reading on such a heavy news day.

    I was on the fence about the Offseason Handbook, and the promo in the podcast was the push I needed. Nice choice on the code!

    Comment by neil — November 7, 2012 @ 8:25 am

  3. Quick answers to above: A-Rod’s salary gets averaged for LT purposes; so, it’s $27.5M each year, not the actual amount being paid. And if they trade him, the only relief they get is the salary that the other club picks up. NY is still on the LT hook for any amount it’s paying.

    Not sure about Cespedes. Is he actually a FA after 4 years, or does his contract simply end and he becomes subject to the arb process? That’s how it’s worked in the past for international players…

    Comment by BR — November 7, 2012 @ 10:45 am

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