July 17, 2005

The Change Has Come

There've been times that I thought
I couldn't last for long
But now I think I'm able to carry on
It's been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change is gonna come
Oh, yes it will

--- Sam Cooke, Change Is Gonna Come

The change finally came this weekend, and to say it's been a long time coming would be a major understatement. In my three years or so writing about baseball for an audience, no player has received more of my attention than Luis Rivas. I once bought the hype and considered him a promising young player before I knew better, and Rivas has since become a bit of a running joke among fans of this blog.

Luis Oh-For-Thrivas, the Official Whipping Boy of AaronGleeman.com.

Rivas has epitomized my frustration with the Twins, who rushed him to the major leagues at the age of 20, handed him a starting job for five straight years, and watched as he actually regressed as a player. Or as Ron Gardenhire put it yesterday:

We wanted him to anchor the infield, and as you saw, he was very inconsistent. He had some injuries also. But here's a kid who's been playing for [five] years in the big leagues, and he's been about the same. He's never really taken it to the next level.

The Twins have been a winning team in each of Rivas' five full seasons in the majors, but their unwillingness to cut bait on him and move on to a better option at second base encapsulated my frustration with their somewhat complacent organizational approach. Aside from the fact that he was young (which by itself means absolutely nothing), there was never any realistic reason to believe Rivas could become a good player.

Now, after wasting over 2,000 plate appearances and millions of dollars on someone who has consistently been one of the worst regulars in baseball, the Twins have finally sent Rivas down to Triple-A. And it's only about five years too late. The interesting thing is that it was Rivas' previous stint at Triple-A that got the Twins so infatuated with him in the first place.

Back in 2000, Rivas played 41 games at Triple-A and hit a very impressive-looking .318/.376/.478. Shortly after that he began his disappointing and infuriating career as the Twins' starting second baseman and leading out-maker. But unless you think 41 games outweigh years of mediocrity, there was little reason to think Rivas was ever a legit prospect. Take a look at his minor-league numbers before that brief stint at Triple-A:

LEVEL            G      AVG      OBP      SLG      OPS
Rookie 53 .259 .320 .343 .663
Single-A 253 .257 .298 .345 .643
Double-A 214 .253 .317 .380 .697

Rivas had proven himself to be a completely worthless offensive player, with low batting averages, very little plate discipline, and mediocre power. The Twins were apparently more than willing to overlook his track record when he had a good six weeks at Triple-A, but that has proven to be a horrible decision. In fact, Rivas' performance in the majors matches up perfectly with his numbers before that fateful stint at Triple-A:

LEVEL            G      AVG      OBP      SLG      OPS
Rookie 53 .259 .320 .343 .663
Single-A 253 .257 .298 .345 .643
Double-A 214 .253 .317 .380 .697
Majors 554 .261 .306 .382 .688

I don't fault the Twins for investing playing time and money in a prospect and having him fail. I fault them for ever believing that Rivas was a prospect, and then for showing incredible stubbornness by continuing to believe it as mountains and mountains of evidence to the contrary kept rolling in. He has been almost exactly as bad in the majors as he was at Single-A and Double-A.

Waiting until now to admit defeat with Rivas has been very costly to the Twins. He has been one of the least valuable players in all of baseball during his career, costing the team a significant number of runs each season. Prior to this year that just meant a smaller margin of victory in the AL Central and perhaps a less-favorable postseason situation, but Rivas' horrendous play this season might mean a lot more in what is a very close Wild Card race.

In addition to the negative impact Rivas has had on the Twins in the regular season, he has completely collapsed in the postseason, hitting .158/.195/.184 in 16 games. And all the while he has kept the team from developing more attractive options at second base. For reasons that have long been beyond my level of comprehension, Rivas has been given more of a shot to establish himself as an asset to a big-league team than Michael Cuddyer, Nick Punto, and Luis Rodriguez combined.

The Twins have invested five years of playing time and millions of dollars in Rivas, and it has been a complete bust. The frustrating part is not that his career with the Twins hasn't worked out, but rather that it took this long for the Twins to see what should have been obvious all along.

Luis Rivas has not shown anything in his entire seven-year career with the Minnesota Twins that would jump out at you and say he has this "potential" that everyone talks about. ... "Potential" is only worth waiting for when there is some kind of sign that it is likely to actually arrive at some point and be worthwhile. I don't see that sign in anything Luis Rivas has done since 1996.

---Yours Truly on this very blog, November 9, 2002

At that point the Twins had already wasted over 1,000 plate appearances on Rivas, and since then they've wasted nearly 1,000 more. They finally saw the light just in time to send him down to the minors while paying him $1.625 million to hit .250/.293/.287 this year.

What a waste.

UPDATE: This is hilarious.

Today at The Hardball Times:
- Raffy and the Hall (by Aaron Gleeman)
- The PrOPS-Star Team (by J.C. Bradbury)

Today's Picks (77-63, +$1,370):
Oakland (Saarloos) +125 over Los Angeles (Santana)

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