October 17, 2007

Twins Notes: More Targets, Fewer Homers, and Love Letters

Note: Before I get to today's batch of Twins-related bullet points, a reminder that the floor remains open for the reader-submitted questions that I'll be answering here next week. If you missed it the first time around, yesterday's entry has details.

  • A couple weeks ago I suggested Geoff Jenkins as a possible offseason target for the Twins, noting that he remains a strong defensive corner outfielder with a good bat against right-handed pitching. The Hardball Times' resident Brewers fan, Jeff Sackmann, recently examined whether Milwaukee should exercise Jenkins' $9 million option for 2008. I recommend reading the whole piece, but Sackmann's conclusion is that the Brewers should probably decline the option and let him become a free agent.
  • If Jenkins' price tag gets too steep for the Twins, Cliff Floyd is another veteran left-handed hitter who they could potentially pursue. Floyd will be a free agent after hitting .284/.373/.422 in 108 games for the Cubs and indicated last week that he'll only consider playing next season if a team offers him a starting job. Given his age and injury history the teams willing to do that might be limited, but he could certainly help the Twins at designated hitter. Here are his recent numbers against right-handed pitching:
    YEAR      AVG      OBP      SLG      OPS
    2005 .290 .382 .533 .915
    2006 .266 .342 .423 .765
    2007 .281 .370 .422 .791

    For their careers Floyd and Jenkins have hit similarly against righties, but Jenkins fared better recently. He's also younger, healthier, better defensively, and appears to have more left in the tank, but Floyd figures to be available at a reasonable price after playing this season for $3 million. Given that he didn't put up especially big numbers and totaled just 322 plate appearances as a 34-year-old, he might be willing to accept even less than that if it came along with the promise of regular playing time.

  • Tony Clark is yet another pending free agent who the Twins could potentially go after. He's spent the past three seasons in Arizona as a pinch-hitter and part-time first baseman, batting .266/.322/.546 with 53 homers in 785 plate appearances, including .249/.310/.511 with 17 homers in 245 trips to the plate this year. The Diamondbacks have said that they want to re-sign Clark, but 25-year-old Conor Jackson is their starter at first base and Clark could probably find more playing time with a team like the Twins.

    Clark is 35 years old and his numbers in Arizona weren't great considering the hitter-friendly ballpark and low on-base percentages, but he made just $1 million in each of the past two seasons. He's a switch-hitter with a good shot at providing 20-plus homers and a .450 slugging percentage, which wouldn't look bad in the Twins' lineup at a similar price. Of course, until free agency officially begins and the list of available hitters is set, names like Jenkins, Floyd, and Clark and just food for thought.

  • The Twins are reportedly still interested in re-signing Carlos Silva, but his price tag continues to rise. Joe Christensen of the Minneapolis Star Tribune suggested late last month that Silva "could get a three-year, $25 million deal" on the open market, which struck me as "far-fetched on the low side." Joel Pineiro recently signed a two-year deal worth $13 million thanks to putting together 11 good starts with the Cardinals after posting ERAs of 5.62, 6.33, and 5.03 in the AL over the past three seasons.

    If Pineiro can shake off those ERAs to get $13 million based on a couple good months in an inferior league, it seems clear that Silva can do more than double that coming off a 202-inning, 4.19-ERA year. As I wrote last month, my guess is that Silva's next contract is likely to be worth closer to $40 million than $20 million. If that's the case, then hopefully the Twins aren't the team that gives it to him, because they definitely shouldn't be paying a premium for good-but-not-great starting pitching at this point.

  • Among many other amazing stats, Baseball Info Solutions tracks the number of "home runs robbed by outfielders." As you might expect, Torii Hunter leads baseball with a total of eight "robbed homers" over the past four years. That's impressive, although it's important to note that the dimensions of the actual outfields play a big role in the potential for robbed homers. For instance, Manny Ramirez could be the greatest outfielder in the history of baseball and he'd never pull back a homer at Fenway Park.

    Similarly, Jason Bay is far from anyone's idea of a wall-climbing outfielder, but the low left-field fence in Pittsburgh enabled him to rank just behind Hunter with six "robbed homers" since 2004. Meanwhile, with their low walls center field and left field at the Metrodome are good setups for erasing homers. In addition to Hunter wiping away eight homers over the past four seasons, occasional fill-in Lew Ford ranks fourth in all of baseball with five "robbed homers" over that same stretch.

  • Speaking of Hunter, this surely comes as a shock to everyone, but he's apparently open to the idea of signing with a team other than the Twins. The news is so surprising given that he never talked about his pending free agency during the season or anything. It's nice to see Hunter finally open up and talk to the media a little bit for once. Also, I'm hopeful that you avoided drowning in the sarcasm that was dripping from the previous three sentences.

    Interestingly, a friend of AG.com who knows new Reds manager Dusty Baker well and talks with him regularly recently suggested to me that Cincinnati could make a strong play for Hunter. That makes sense, both because the Reds could use a center fielder and because their general manager is former Terry Ryan assistant Wayne Krivsky. The Rangers also seem like an obvious fit given their need for center-field help and the fact that Hunter lives in Texas during the offseason.

  • While at the St. Paul Pioneer Press, Gordon Wittenmyer covered Jacque Jones for years. Then Jones left the Twins for the Cubs and Wittenmyer left the Pioneer Press for the Chicago Sun-Times, which is how a fawning, logic-stretching 1,000-word piece about Jones ended up in the Sun-Times. For starters, the Cubs have a good center-field prospect to potentially replace Jones in Felix Pie, but Wittenmyer writes that "he's not a major-league hitter and it's questionable whether he ever will be."

    Jones himself hit just five homers in 135 games this season, but according to Wittenmyer that's "an aberration" caused by "stress." He also notes that Jones "plays the game the way the Diamondbacks do," although it's unclear what that actually means. He suggests that "the biggest reason to keep Jones" is that "the next time he takes a play off will be the first" and he "runs out every grounder and pop-up." That seems like an odd No. 1 reason to keep someone on the team for $5 million.

    Of course, as he explains, not hustling is "far more damaging to a team ... than an honest, aggressive effort ... that falls short." Coincidentally, Jones was criticized for many honest, aggressive efforts that fell short. According to Wittenmyer that's no big deal as long as he runs hard down the first-base line in the two-thirds of his trips to the plate that end in outs. There's plenty more where that came from, as the entire piece reads like something put together by a public-relations firm that was hired by Jones.

  • Once you're done here, check out my latest "Daily Dose" column over at Rotoworld.

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