January 27, 2008

The Answers (Part 2: Twins Questions)

Opening the floor up for questions last week led to over 100 being asked in the comments section and another two dozen or so being sent in via e-mail. Responding to all of them would have been tough, but I've tried to tackle as many as possible by breaking the answers up into two entries. Last week's first installment covered non-baseball topics that were classified as "random" and today's second installment has the answers to questions that were specifically about the Twins.

If the Twins trade Johan Santana, who starts on Opening Night?

I'd bet on Scott Baker starting the first game if Johan Santana is traded. Baker and Boof Bonser have each made 48 big-league starts, but Baker was better last season and the team publicly expressed displeasure with Bonser's conditioning down the stretch. Ron Gardenhire is unlikely to let someone with less experience than Baker or Bonser make the first start, so that seemingly rules out Francisco Liriano and Kevin Slowey or guys from a potential Santana trade like Phil Hughes or Jon Lester.

With the bump in Hall of Fame votes that Bert Blyleven received this year, do you think that it's inevitable that he'll be enshrined or do you believe that this year could represent the high-water mark of his support?

Bert Blyleven received 61.9 percent of the votes this year and players who get that close to the required 75 percent tend to eventually get in. He has four more years on the ballot, so my guess is that he'll be elected in 2011 or 2012. While I've grown somewhat tired of him as the Twins' color commentator on FSN, I'm a big supporter of Blyleven's Hall of Fame candidacy.

Where do you see the Twins' overall defense at this point?

That's pretty tough to say without knowing who's starting in center field. Adam Everett is arguably the best defensive shortstop in baseball, Joe Mauer is among the best defensive catchers, and Justin Morneau is solidly above average at first base, but Michael Cuddyer, Delmon Young, Jason Kubel, Brendan Harris, and Mike Lamb don't grade out especially well according to most advanced defensive metrics. Ignoring center field for the moment, the overall defense looks about average.

If the Twins hold on to Santana, who should they place in center field?

In that scenario I'd be in favor of signing Kenny Lofton to a one-year contract and going after Corey Patterson wouldn't be a horrible option if he's cheap enough, but my guess is that Jason Pridie would likely get first crack at the job.

If Joe Nathan is traded who takes his place as the closer?

If they're interested in handing the job to the team's next-best reliever the Twins would give Pat Neshek ninth-inning duties. However, earlier this offseason Gardenhire said that Neshek "is not an option" to replace Joe Nathan, seemingly indicating that Juan Rincon or Jesse Crain would get the job despite clearly being inferior pitchers. On a related note, the Twins traded away a potential future closer when they sent Eduardo Morlan to Tampa Bay.

If Nathan isn't traded and he doesn't re-sign with the Twins, would he be classified as a Type-A or Type-B free agent?

Assuming that Nathan stays healthy this season, he'll be ranked as a Type-A free agent next winter. Just as they did when Torii Hunter signed with the Angels, the Twins would receive a first-round pick and a supplemental first-round pick as compensation for losing Nathan.

In a few years, do you think that the Angels will regret that enormous contract they gave Hunter?

The Angels almost immediately regretted signing Gary Matthews Jr. last offseason and my guess is that they'll regret signing Hunter when they're paying him $18 million per season from 2010-2012. The odds of a 35- or 36-year-old Hunter being worth that much seem fairly slim, but because of their high payroll the Angels are able to absorb bad contracts far easier than most teams. Having to pay $18 million for Hunter in 2011 or 2012 won't hurt them nearly as much as it would have hurt the Twins.

How many innings would you recommend that the Twins pitch Liriano this year?

An innings count can be misleading, because it says nothing about how many pitches were thrown. For example, Greg Maddux used 13.7 pitches per inning last season, while Scott Kazmir used 17.5. They both threw around 200 innings, but Kazmir's workload was significantly higher. Maddux threw a total of 2,708 pitches without ever topping even 100 pitches in an outing. Kazmir threw a total of 3,611 pitches, topped 100 pitches in 28 of his 34 starts, and went over the 110-pitch mark 11 times.

Based solely on innings their workloads were similar, but Kazmir threw nearly 900 more pitches and had far more stress on his arm during a typical start. Liriano could very easily be overworked while throwing just 125 innings and at the same time he could take on an acceptable workload while tossing 180 innings. More than counting his innings, I'm hoping that the Twins quickly shut him down if any problems arise and keep a very tight grip on his game-by-game pitch count.

How many plate appearances do you see for Kubel in 2008?

I'd probably set the over/under at around 500 or so, given that he received 466 plate appearances last season and now must stay healthy while hoping that Gardenhire doesn't fall in love with Craig Monroe.

Every once in a while I hear a rumor about Mauer switching positions. What are your thoughts on the matter?

I've written about this topic in great length previously, but the short version is that a massive chunk of Mauer's value is tied to being a catcher, both offensively and defensively. By moving to another position he'd lose a huge amount of value defensively and his offense would be significantly less outstanding compared to the other players at his position. Unless Mauer is physically unable to catch, it's highly unlikely that he'd be more valuable or even equally as valuable at another position.

Is Glen Perkins' ability being ignored or underrated by the Twins? I'm not quite sure why he's never been given the opportunity to make a major-league start.

Glen Perkins made his big-league debut in September of 2006 despite having started just one game at Triple-A and then missed nearly four months of last season with a shoulder injury, so it's tough to say that the Twins have held him back much. None of his 23 career appearances have been starts despite Gardenhire saying last winter that he'd be used as a starter, but had Perkins been healthy for more than a fraction of last year he likely would have gotten some work as a starter eventually.

Do you think that there's something in the psyches of the major-league managers that makes them want to bat crappy-hitting speedsters in the leadoff spot?

Throughout much of baseball history speed has been viewed as perhaps the most important factor for leadoff hitters. Many people have begun to realize that's not actually the case, but it takes a long time for old habits to die and most managers are unlikely to embrace the notion given that they're middle-aged men who've heard how important speed is for 40-50 years. It's the same reason that many managers still put one of the lineup's worst hitters in the second spot because he "handles the bat well."

In general, what are the qualities of an ideal leadoff hitter and how important are they to overall team success?

Getting on base is the single most important quality for a leadoff hitter, but it's also the single most important quality for any hitter. The ability to get on base and avoid outs is what fuels a lineup and that's especially true for a leadoff man given that he bats with no one on base at least once per game and comes to the plate more often than anyone else in the lineup. Base-stealing ability isn't even close to being as important as simply getting on base to begin with.

Assuming that the Twins don't acquire an obvious candidate, who are their best options for a leadoff hitter on the current roster?

For all the talk of lineup improvements that the Twins have made this winter, they didn't acquire anyone with especially strong plate discipline or on-base skills. Without knowing who'll be starting in center field, Mauer is likely the best leadoff option at this point because he has by far the best on-base skills on the team and possesses modest power. Of course, a career .313/.394/.459 hitter is also the best option in the No. 2 spot and No. 3 spot, or just about anywhere in the lineup.

Who's the best option at second base for the Twins?

Unless Gardenhire's infatuation with Nick Punto is somehow even stronger than I'd imagined, Harris will be the Twins' starting second baseman. His defense may prove to be sub par, but Harris should provide average offense for the position and more time at Triple-A won't hurt Alexi Casilla.

Do you believe that any personality issues Delmon Young has/had are behind him?

I don't think that I'd really have any way of knowing that, but the fact that some of his "issues" were a factor during the final week of last season suggests that if they're behind him, it's not very far.

I've heard people refer to Fernando Martinez as the Mets' best prospect, but was disappointed by his career hitting line in the minors. You and many others have talked about his high ceiling, but taking into account his current numbers what kind of ceiling are we actually talking about?

Looking at Fernando Martinez's minor-league numbers is very misleading because of how incredibly aggressive the Mets have been in pushing him through their system. At his age most other players are beginning college or starting their pro career at rookie-ball, but Martinez split the 2006 season between two levels of Single-A as a 17-year-old and then spent last season as an 18-year-old at Double-A. Raw numbers don't show it, but hitting .265/.331/.376 as a teenager at Double-A is actually very impressive.

Martinez's ability to hold his own despite being two years younger than any other player in the league suggests that he's a special talent, but beyond that it's difficult to make any sort of specific projections based on his numbers. He's so raw and hasn't even come close to developing fully, so looking at typical stats to draw conclusions about his ability becomes fairly useless. I'm of the opinion that the Mets have made a big mistake by needlessly rushing him so much, but he still has superstar potential.

Making him the centerpiece of a Santana trade carries far more risk than doing the same with Hughes or Jacoby Ellsbury, because projecting Martinez's future is based almost entirely on tools rather than performance and most organizations wouldn't have him anywhere near the majors at this point. He's universally regarded as an elite prospect and looks capable of developing a middle-of-the-order bat, although there are questions about his ability to remain in center field long term.

If the Twins trade Santana to the Red Sox and pick up Jed Lowrie, where will they play him?

Jed Lowrie has played primarily shortstop in the minors and may stick there long term, but my guess is that he'll eventually end up at second base.

Why has Dustin Pedroia's name never come up as a potential centerpiece in a Santana trade?

For the same reason that the Yankees aren't interested in trading Robinson Cano and the Mets aren't interested in trading Jose Reyes. It makes little sense to trade a good, young player who's under the team's control at reasonable salaries for the next handful of seasons for someone who is one year away from free agency and will likely require in excess of $20 million per season to retain. Money and service time play much bigger factors in determining player value than the average fan realizes.

If you re-did your Top 40 Minnesota Twins series would Nathan, Mauer, or Morneau have cracked the list yet?

Perhaps, but you'll notice that there are no current Twins among the 25 players who have been profiled in the series thus far. It makes more sense to evaluate someone's place in team history when they're not in the middle of their time with Twins.

Who do you think will end up winning sponsorship rights to the new Twins ballpark?

Marshall Field's Field would have had an odd ring to it, but that's obviously not going to happen now. Big local companies tend to be the front-runners for such things, so that would probably include 3M, Target, Best Buy, General Mills, Northwest Airlines, and Dairy Queen. Hopefully it's just something that sounds remotely like an actual ballpark, but as long as they play outside it doesn't really matter.

No Comments

No comments yet.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.