November 20, 2007

Twins Notes: Clark, Rincon, Hunter, and Christensen

  • Last month in this space Tony Clark was suggested as a "pending free agent who the Twins could potentially go after" and now Official Twins Beat Writer of LaVelle E. Neal III reports that the team is indeed interested in him. Here's what I wrote about Clark back on October 18:

    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.

    On a one-year deal worth around $2 million Clark wouldn't be a bad signing, but LEN3 reports that he's "believed to be seeking a two-year deal." Making a multi-year commitment to a 35-year-old who batted .249 with a .310 on-base percentage in 2007 and hit .197 in 2006 isn't something that I'd advise. Plus, if the Twins are simply looking for some power from a designated hitter, there are plenty of similar players who're available at a fraction of the cost.

    For instance, 29-year-old Josh Phelps has been designated for assignment by the Pirates after hitting .306/.399/.503 in 183 plate appearances this season. He's a career .273/.344/.476 hitter in over 1,500 trips to the plate, including .296/.364/.500 against left-handed pitching, and can serve as a passable third catcher. For a team that has plenty of holes to fill on a limited budget, spending $500,000 on Phelps is likely a much better investment than whatever Clark would command at this point.

  • Speaking of passable third catchers, the Twins waived Chris Heintz over the weekend. A generic Triple-A catcher, the Twins chose to keep the 32-year-old Heintz over both Alex Romero and J.D. Durbin last spring, losing both players for nothing on waivers. Heintz then split the season between Minnesota and Rochester, hitting .250/.288/.250 in 61 plate appearances while going 1-for-14 throwing out runners. The Twins went 3-11 in Heintz's starts and lost each of the final 10 games that he played.
  • One player who hasn't been mentioned much in trade talk so far this offseason is Juan Rincon, but the Twins would be smart to shop him. Not only has the 29-year-old Rincon shown a consistent, steady decline each season since 2004, he's set to make around $4 million in arbitration. For a team with a $75 million payroll, that's an awful lot to pay a shaky pitcher who figures to be no more than a middle-inning option in a very deep bullpen.

    In a market where mediocre middle relievers tend to get three-year deals worth $12 million or more, there's no doubt that Rincon still has some trade value despite his ongoing struggles. Guillermo Mota is similar to Rincon in that he's a formerly dominant right-handed reliever who once tested positive for steroids and has seen his performance decline sharply in recent seasons. Mota is set to make $3.2 million in 2008, yet the Mets were able to unload him on the Brewers yesterday for a decent catcher.

  • With tons of top hitting prospects playing in an extremely hitter-friendly environment, the Arizona Fall League tends to be very tough on young pitchers. Despite that, Nick Blackburn starred this year, going 4-0 with a 1.64 ERA and 20-to-2 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 22 innings, including six innings of one-hit ball in the AFL championship game. As he did during his breakout season between Double-A and Triple-A, Blackburn kept the ball on the ground and threw strikes.
  • The Torii Hunter media tour that began during spring training and played out in each city that the Twins visited throughout the season is really picking up steam now. There's essentially zero chance of Hunter returning to the Twins at this point, so the best-case scenario would involve him signing with an NL team that had a decent record in 2007. If that happens, then the Twins won't have to see him regularly and they'll receive a first-round pick as part of the compensation for losing him.

    If Hunter signs with a team that finished below .500 this season--for example, the White Sox, Rangers, Dodgers, Nationals, Royals, Astros, or Reds--the first-round pick becomes merely a supplemental first rounder. Unfortunately for the Twins, most of the teams that are said to be interested in Hunter had losing records this season, so it doesn't look like they'll be having multiple top-30 picks in June. It's a shame that all of that talk about Hunter only wanting to play for a "winner" is proving to be just that, talk.

  • In preparation for next month's Rule 5 draft, the Twins protected Matt Macri, Matt Tolbert, and Bobby Korecky by adding them to the 40-man roster. It wouldn't be surprising to see all three players begin 2008 at Triple-A, but Tolbert is an option at second base and Korecky has a chance to be a decent middle reliever. If the Twins were somehow willing to go with unproven players and perhaps take a hit defensively, a Macri-Brian Buscher platoon at third base could be pretty productive for about $650,000.
  • If you missed it earlier this week, my "Top 40 Minnesota Twins" series continued with a write-up of the 17th-best player in Twins history. Six months regrettably passed between No. 19 and No. 18, and there were three months between No. 18 and No. 17, but believe it or not No. 16 could be ready as soon as next week.
  • I've been calling LEN3 the "Official Twins Beat Writer of" for several years now and the title still applies, because he does an excellent job at the Minneapolis Star Tribune and has been friendly to both me and the Twins blogosphere as a whole. However, since joining the newspaper in 2006 as a massive upgrade over Jim Souhan as the Star Tribune's "national baseball reporter," Joe Christensen has also proven to be very good at covering the Twins and one hell of a nice guy.

    In other words, it's probably time for Christensen to get his own "Official [Blank] of" title. Making LEN3 and Christensen co-Official Twins Beat Writers of is an option, but it doesn't seem right to diminish LEN3's longtime status and "Twins beat writer" isn't technically Christensen's job anyway. I'm open to suggestions, so give it some serious thought--it's important, because he'll be referred to by that title several million times per week--and post a note in the comments section or e-mail me.

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

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