December 12, 2006

Report: Twins to Sign Cirillo

The Twins are reportedly expected to sign Jeff Cirillo to a one-year contract later this week, which qualifies as their first major move of the offseason as long as you don't mind stretching the limits of "major move" to include bringing in a 37-year-old bench player. I didn't expect much in the way of significant free-agent signings this winter (or any winter), but Cirillo is at least the type of player I was hoping the Twins would go after to fill out the roster.

Cirillo is a (presumably) low-cost veteran capable of playing multiple infield positions defensively and has hit well enough to be relatively useful under the right circumstances. If the Twins decide to keep Ken Harvey and Luis Rodriguez at Triple-A, Cirillo can serve as the backup at both third base and first base, while also providing some emergency depth at second base behind Luis Castillo and either Rodriguez or Rule 5 draftee Alejandro Machado.

Once one of the better third basemen in baseball, Cirillo's play declined when he was traded from Milwaukee to Colorado in 1999 and then fell off a cliff when he was sent from Colorado to Seattle in 2001. He batted .249/.301/.328 in 146 games for the Mariners in 2002, was even worse while hitting .205/.284/.271 in 87 games the next year, and was dumped on the Padres prior to the 2004 season. Cirillo batted just .213/.259/.293 in 33 games with San Diego before being released in August.

At 34 years old and with his last decent season coming four years earlier, Cirillo looked all but finished as a big leaguer. Instead, he signed with the Brewers for the league minimum, hit .281/.373/.427 in 77 games as a reserve in 2005, and then followed it up by hitting .319/.369/.414 while making 52 starts spread over 112 total games last season. Milwaukee chose to retain Tony Graffanino over Cirillo, opening the door for him to come to Minnesota.

Here's what Cirillo has done since being let go by the Padres in 2004:

  G      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR     XBH     BB     SO
189 509 .304 .371 .420 7 38 44 55

Those certainly aren't huge numbers, but they compare favorably to Nick Punto's .290/.352/.373 hitting line from last season, giving Ron Gardenhire an alternative option at third base or at least making Cirillo a good fall-back plan should Punto struggle in 2007. Cirillo's bat contained only "doubles power" even at his peak and most of that pop is gone at this point, but he's batted .304 over his last 509 plate appearances and controls the strike zone extremely well.

Breaking the above numbers down even further, here's what Cirillo's splits look like:

             PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR     XBH     BB     SO
vs RHP 361 .261 .324 .365 5 23 30 38
vs LHP 148 .408 .460 .554 2 15 14 17

Cirillo has destroyed lefties to the tune of a .408 batting average over the past two seasons, while hitting a modest .261/.324/.365 against right-handed pitching. It's highly unlikely that his "true" split is anywhere close to that extreme given the sample-size issues at play, but the bigger point is that Cirillo is a solid platoon player against southpaws who likely won't be a disaster in limited exposure against righties.

Here's how Brewers fan and friend of Al Bethke described Cirillo's hitting to me last night:

He hits lefties like nobody's business, which I'm sure you've noticed. He gives righties tough at-bats and works the count extremely well, but hasn't hit them for several seasons.

Punto doesn't need to be benched against lefties (at least any more than he does against righties), but Gardenhire should be able to put Cirillo into the lineup in place of Morneau or more likely Jason Kubel when the Twins are facing a tough southpaw. Whether through an injury to Punto or Castillo (with Punto sliding over to second base), Cirillo is also capable of stepping into the lineup on a regular basis at third base and providing good on-base skills and solid defense.

That's not an ideal situation any more than having Punto as the starting third baseman is an ideal situation, but signing Cirillo gives the Twins significantly more depth at a spot they were very thin at. There were any number of better bats available on the open market this year, whether as options at designated hitter or bench players, but Cirillo is a solid player who fits the roster well while falling into the Twins' price range.

It's been a long time since I was delusional enough to believe the Twins had any chance to bring in big-name free agents, so instead these are the types of moves I hope for. Signing Cirillo isn't going to make headlines or sell tickets, but he'll help the Twins win games and it beats the hell out of Tony Batista. Cirillo has already fallen off a cliff once in his career and is at an age where it could happen again at any time, but I like his chances of putting together 300 solid plate appearances. Nice move.

UPDATE: The Twins officially signed Cirillo to a one-year deal worth $1.5 million, while also non-tendering Luis Rodriguez and Willie Eyre. Rodriguez and Eyre may be re-signed to minor-league deals, but are free to look around for better opportunities in the meantime and no longer occupy spots on the 40-man roster. As things stand now, Machado is all but guaranteed a place on the Opening Day roster and a bench of Mike Redmond, Machado, Cirillo, Lew Ford, and Jason Tyner appears likely.

No Comments

No comments yet.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.