July 16, 2003

So long Bobby...

A few days ago, I was so discouraged with the play of my team, the Minnesota Twins, that I said the following:

"I am so completely frustrated/annoyed/confused with the Twins right now that I have decided I will stop writing about them until they get back to .500. I may throw in an occasional Johan update or a note about a trade or something, but if they don't get to .500, they won't have the honor of having thousands of words devoted to them on this blog. I'm sure that'll motivate them!"

After keeping my word for all of two days, I am breaking my vow of silence to write about the Twins once again, because, unfortunately, they made a trade yesterday.

The Twins traded Bobby Kielty to the Toronto Blue Jays for Shannon Stewart and a player to be named later (PTBNL).

Since joining the Twins in 2001, Bobby Kielty has been one of my favorite players and he is a frequent subject of my entries here on this blog. Yesterday's news that he was leaving the team saddened me quite a bit, but that feeling was quickly replaced by confusion and disappointment.

For now, I am going to assume the PTBNL that the Twins are to receive will not be anyone significant. I could be wrong about this obviously, and that would sweeten the Twins' end of the deal, but the fact that the Blue Jays will be paying the remainder of Stewart's contract this season says to me that the PTBNL isn't going to be an upper-level prospect.

So, essentially, the Twins have traded one outfielder for another outfielder. Let's first look at this from the most basic level - their actual, on-field performance.

2002                                   2003

Kielty .405 .484 .312 Kielty .370 .420 .283
Stewart .371 .442 .292 Stewart .347 .449 .277
2002 + 2003                            Career

Kielty .389 .455 .299 Kielty .375 .444 .292
Stewart .362 .444 .286 Stewart .367 .447 .285

Whether you want to look at this season, last season, 2002 and 2003 combined, or their overall career numbers, Bobby Kielty has been a better offensive player than Shannon Stewart. He has a higher on-base percentage during all four of those periods of time and his "Equivalent Average" - a Baseball Prospectus stat that takes into account home ballparks - has been higher than Stewart's during all four periods of time.

The other main on-field factor is obviously defense. Now, a player's defensive value is much harder to pin down than his offensive contributions. On the other hand, the defensive comparison between Kielty and Stewart is not close enough to need any sort of exact calculations.

Shannon Stewart has not played anything but left field and designated hitter during the last 3 seasons. As a left fielder, he is generally considered to be below-average overall and his throwing arm is almost universally proclaimed to be the worst in the American League.

ESPN.com put it kindly in their scouting report on Stewart:

"He has only average range in left field, and a weak throwing arm does little to intimidate opposing runners."

Another way of phrasing it would be to say what Kent Williams of the "Batter's Box" - the best source for Blue Jays writing, information and conversation on the internet - said, just last week:

"Stewart Must Go

The sooner the worst left fielder in baseball is traded, the better. This little rant would have been completely unprintable last night, as my seatmates at the game will attest. I don't care what his OBP is, or what a 'pure hitter' he is -- the man is absolutely incompetent in the outfield."

That is coming from someone who has watched Shannon Stewart play hundreds of times over the last 9 seasons and, while there is some exaggeration and frustration in that statement, there is also a great deal of truth.

Meanwhile, over the last 3 seasons, Bobby Kielty has played left field, right field, designated hitter, first base and center field for the Twins.

Here is what ESPN.com has to say about his defense in their scouting report:

"Defensively he gets a good jump on the ball and has an accurate throwing arm."

I have now watched Bobby Kielty play approximately 200 major league games, the majority of which have been as an outfielder. Kielty is far from a Gold Glove outfielder in any of the 3 outfield positions, but he is more than capable of playing either of the corner spots and is definitely passable as a center fielder, a position he has played 47 times in the major leagues.

So, at the most basic, on-field level, the Minnesota Twins have traded away an outfielder, Bobby Kielty, for another outfielder, Shannon Stewart. And, during any significant period of time you choose to look at, Kielty has been a better offensive player and a far superior and more versatile defensive player than Stewart.

But wait, it gets even worse than the basic, on-field downgrade the Twins just made.

First of all, Bobby Kielty is 26 years old and Shannon Stewart is 29. So, not only is Bobby Kielty a better player, he is also a considerably younger player.

In addition to being younger, Bobby Kielty is also significantly cheaper than Stewart. The Blue Jays are said to be "picking up" the remainder of Stewart's $6.2 million-dollar contract this season, so the Twins are not out any money this season. In the future though, their salaries and contractual situations will vary tremendously.

Bobby Kielty is making $325,000 this season. Because of his lack of major league experience (2+ seasons), Kielty will not be "arbitration-eligible" until after the 2004 season, which means he will likely cost Toronto somewhere around $500,000 next year. And, once he becomes arbitration-eligble, the Blue Jays will be able to sign him (if they so choose) to gradually escalating contracts for the 2005, 2006 and 2007 seasons - all before he is eligible for free agency.

In other words, they have Kielty for the rest of this year and then each of the next 4 seasons, all for very reasonable prices. In fact, there is no need for "other words" because Toronto GM J.P. Ricciardi put Kielty's situation in his own words:

"Once again, we got a player we've liked for a long time. He fits everything we're trying to do offensively. We've got this guy for the next four years before he can become a free agent. This is basically getting Shannon Stewart from the start all over again."

Well said, J.P.

Meanwhile, Shannon Stewart is making $6.2 million this season and is a free agent at the end of the year. So, either the Twins let him go, at which point they just traded the next 4+ years of Bobby Kielty for about 65 games of Shannon Stewart, or they re-sign him, which will allow them to keep Stewart, but likely with a very expensive price-tag.

To recap:

--- Bobby Kielty has been a better offensive player than Shannon Stewart during the 2002 season, the 2003 season, the 2002 and 2003 seasons combined, and during their respective careers overall.

--- Bobby Kielty has been and will continue to be a better and more versatile defensive player than Shannon Stewart.

--- Bobby Kielty is 3 years younger than Shannon Stewart.

--- Bobby Kielty is locked up for 4 more seasons at very reasonable prices, while Shannon Stewart is a free agent after this season.

Why, again, is this a deal the Twins wanted to make?

Well, there are two possible things saving this from being a complete disaster on every level for the Twins.

1) The PTBNL.

As I said, I suspect this will end up not being an upper-level prospect, but I could be wrong. If it is one of Toronto's top prospects, the deal becomes a little easier to swallow.

2) Possible draft picks.

Stewart is a free agent after this season. If the Twins offer him arbitration and he declines and then signs a free agent contract with another team, the Twins would be in a position to receive draft picks from that team. Of course, if the Twins are willing to offer Stewart arbitration (the only way they can receive draft pick compensation), Stewart may simply accept it, at which point they are on the hook for paying him somewhere between $6-$10 million for next season.

Call me a pessimist, but I think the more likely scenario is that the PTBNL turns out to be a 19 year old kid in Single-A that the Twins like and that Stewart walks free and clear following the final game of this season.

At which point, the Twins, in the middle of a pennant race this season and in a time during which they are in a position to challenge for multiple division titles in the coming years, have traded away the rest of Bobby Kielty's career for a free agent outfielder who is 3 years older than Kielty and worse, both offensively and defensively.

And that, my friends, is a horrendously awful trade.

This is a sad day for me as a Minnesota Twins fan. Not only because they have downgraded their current team. Not only because they have downgraded future teams. Not only because Bobby Kielty was one of my favorite players and was one of the most underrated players in baseball. But also because I now have serious doubts about the decision-making process of the people running the Minnesota Twins and, as a fan of a baseball team, that is about the worst feeling in the world to have.

Today's picks:

Houston (Robertson) -120 over Cincinnati (Wilson)

Colorado (Jennings) +130 over San Francisco (Moss)

Cleveland (Sabathia) +185 over New York (Pettitte)

Toronto (Halladay) -110 over Boston (Lowe)

Oakland (Hudson) -150 over Minnesota (Reed)

Seattle (Garcia) -140 over Kansas City (Lima)

Total to date: + $1,015

W/L record: 170-169

*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****

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