December 23, 2005

The Final Piece

The Twins signed Rondell White yesterday, inking him to a one-year deal with an option for a second season. The details of the contract are a little confusing, but basically if White plays well and stays healthy it'll be worth about $8 million over two years. If he plays poorly and/or gets hurt, it'll only cost the Twins $3.25 million for one season.

I like the signing a lot. It has very little risk, even for the cash-strapped Twins, and unlike signing Tony Batista, White actually comes along with quite a bit of potential upside. Plus, the fact that Terry Ryan was able to move so quickly to lock him up for a fraction of what Jacque Jones received from the Cubs earlier this week is impressive.

Here's what the Twins are getting in White ...

RONDELL WHITE | 6'1" | 205 LBS | DOB: 2/23/1972 | BATS: RIGHT

2003 137 534 .289 .341 .488 119 31 79
2004 121 498 .270 .337 .453 108 39 77
2005 97 400 .313 .348 .489 122 17 48

Entering his 14th major-league season, White can be counted on for two things. One is providing average offense in an outfield corner or at designated hitter, and the second is not staying healthy for a full season. He is a career .289/.343/.472 hitter who has posted an OPS between .790 and .900 in eight of the past nine seasons, and he has played in 90% of his team's games just twice (which is why he's earned the nickname "RonDL").

For overall offense, White is similar to what Jones provided at his peak in 2002/2003. While Jones' production has dropped off significantly over the past two seasons, White's has stayed remarkably consistent with the rest of his career. Plus, White is capable of holding his own against both right-handed and left-handed pitching, whereas Jones was good against righties and completely lost against lefties.

2003-2005               OVERALL             vs RHP             vs LHP   
Rondell White .289/.341/.476 .284/.334/.481 .302/.360/.464
Jacque Jones .268/.322/.443 .280/.333/.474 .238/.295/.363

The gap between their overall numbers grows larger once you account for the fact that White has played the past three seasons for teams with extremely pitcher-friendly ballparks. Adjust for that and White's .289/.341/.476 line from 2003-2005 was good for a 116 OPS+, while Jones' .268/.322/.443 line over that same span was good for just a 98 OPS+. To put that in some context, a 116 OPS+ would have led the Twins in 2005, while a 98 OPS+ is what Michael Cuddyer posted.

White doesn't have much plate discipline or great speed, but he'll likely hit in the high .200s with good power, makes surprisingly solid contact for a free-swinger, and is still a very capable defensive corner outfielder who covers plenty of ground when healthy. Of course, the "when healthy" part has plagued White for his entire career and is why he was available to the Twins at a discount.

A shoulder injury limited White to just 97 games in 2005 and he has averaged 118 games over the past three years. When White goes down with his inevitable injury in 2006, his at-bats can go to guys like Jason Kubel, Lew Ford, and Cuddyer. That's obviously not an ideal situation, but the Twins are fairly well-equipped to handle it and White's production in the 120 games he does play should be good enough to make it worthwhile.

It sounds like the Twins plan to play White exclusively at designated hitter, which should lessen the chances of a major injury. White often served as Detroit's DH over the past two years, but was still the Tigers' left fielder most of the time. He's good enough defensively to start in left field over Shannon Stewart (and owns a similarly horrendous throwing arm), but if keeping him on the bench when the Twins are in the field makes White even 10% more likely to make it through the season, it's worth it.

Signing White is not a headline-grabbing acquisition, but like dealing for Luis Castillo it is a quality decision. Both Castillo and White have established levels of performance that are safely above average and each came at a reasonable price in terms of money and players (in White's case, just money). Rather than misguided, shoot-the-moon fantasies involving overpaying for guys like Hank Blalock or Alfonso Soriano, these are exactly the sort of moves the Twins should be making.

The sad thing is that I like trading for Castillo and signing White so much that it makes me even more upset about signing Batista. The Twins took two steps forward and one step back, while it would have been relatively easy to fill all three spots with good hitters. The upgrades at second base and DH are still sizable, but they're partially offset by Batista sucking up outs at third base and the overall impact of the offseason maneuvering is less than it could have been.

White is arguably the biggest free agent the Twins have signed in a decade, and I'm guessing the team is done making major moves. Ryan will probably look to finish up the offseason by adding a couple middle relievers or a bench bat, but unless he decides to trade Kyle Lohse I don't expect the roster to look much different than it does right now.

Here's what the Twins' lineup looks like at the moment, barring a complete recovery by Jason Kubel (which may be more likely than initially thought) or a surprise move before spring training:

C    Joe Mauer          .303 AVG     .377 OBP     .427 SLG
1B Justin Morneau .266 AVG .336 OBP .491 SLG
2B Luis Castillo .321 AVG .401 OBP .391 SLG
SS Jason Bartlett .281 AVG .354 OBP .387 SLG
3B Tony Batista .237 AVG .270 OBP .392 SLG
LF Shannon Stewart .283 AVG .342 OBP .399 SLG
CF Torii Hunter .264 AVG .328 OBP .447 SLG
RF Michael Cuddyer .263 AVG .340 OBP .427 SLG
DH Rondell White .286 AVG .336 OBP .464 SLG

The batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage numbers listed above are Baseball Think Factory's ZiPS projections, which give a very rough estimate for what to expect from each player in 2006. The bench will consist of some combination of Kubel, Ford, Mike Redmond, Nick Punto, Juan Castro, Luis Rodriguez, Terry Tiffee, and Jason Pridie. I still don't think it's a strong enough group unless everything breaks right, but it certainly looks a lot better than two months ago.

Today at The Hardball Times:
- It's Not The Second Advent In The Bronx, People (by John Brattain)

Pick of the Day (156-135, +$1,935):
Los Angeles -1 (-110) over Orlando

Saturday's Pick:
Carolina -4.5 (-110) over Dallas

Sunday's Pick:
Chicago -7 (-110) over Green Bay

Monday's Pick:
New England -5.5 (-110) over New York

Tuesday's Pick:
Cleveland +2.5 (-110) over New Jersey

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