February 10, 2008

Twins Notes: Wedding Bells, 20 Pounds, and Scary Stuff

  • In addition to his new six-year, $80 million contract extension, Justin Morneau recently revealed that he's engaged to "a Minnesota girl" named Krista Martin, who he's been dating since mid-2006. Martin has played a part in this blog's increased readership without even knowing it, because thousands of people have arrived here while looking for information about her on various search engines. Here's a picture of the future newlyweds:

    And just so that those new readers arriving here by way of Google and Yahoo! don't leave tremendously disappointed, here's a picture of Martin sans shades:

    This concludes the "Aaron pretends to be C.J." portion of today's entry.

  • Trading Johan Santana to the Mets was far from ideal for the Twins, but it's essentially the perfect fit for Santana. He joins a perennial contender in a weaker league where he'll face pitchers instead of designated hitters, now calls one of MLB's most consistently pitcher-friendly ballparks home, should receive much-improved offensive support from a lineup that includes multiple MVP-caliber hitters, and will get a chance to put his own solid hitting ability to work.

    Thanks to interleague play, Santana threw 182.2 innings against National League teams while with the Twins. He went 16-4 with a 2.27 ERA, 191-to-46 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and .187 opponent's batting average while hitting .258/.281/.355. There's an awful lot of room for Santana to ultimately be viewed as a disappointment in New York given the tremendous hype and massive long-term contract, but he's in position to put together some amazing numbers for the Mets over the next few seasons.

  • Twins management asked Boof Bonser to lose weight this winter following a disappointing season that included questions about his in-game stamina and to his credit Bonser has reportedly lost about 20 pounds. Kelly Thesier of MLB.com noted last month at TwinsFest that "Bonser's clothes now seem to hang off him," but since 20 pounds likely only represented about six or seven percent of his total weight last season it's more of a step in the right direction than some sort of life-altering amount.

    Whatever the case, with Santana gone the Twins are counting on Bonser to provide some stability in the rotation given that his 48 career starts are tied with Scott Baker for the most on the staff. Compared to his rookie season Bonser lost 12 percent of his strikeouts and handed out 50 percent more walks last year, but also did a better job keeping the ball on the ground and in the ballpark. There's no doubt that Bonser struggled, but his 4.60 xFIP suggests that he pitched better than his ugly 5.10 ERA shows.

  • When the Twins traded for Craig Monroe earlier this offseason and then signed him to a one-year deal worth $3.82 million plus incentives, my criticism of the move was two-fold. First, he simply isn't very good at this point. Second, he's vastly overpaid compared to similar players. The "simply isn't very good" part was clear immediately because of Monroe's .219/.268/.370 hitting line last season and .254/.300/.439 mark over the past three years combined.

    It took a couple months for the "vastly overpaid compared to similar players" part to become clear, but sure enough Monroe's salary predictably sticks out like a sore thumb now that numerous other veteran, platoon-caliber bats have settled for low-paying jobs or are still attempting to latch on somewhere with minor-league contracts despite just days remaining until spring training. Compare Monroe's salary and production over the past three years to some similar players who were available to the Twins:

                            OVERALL          vs LEFTIES          SALARY
    Craig Monroe .254/.300/.439 .281/.332/.481 $3.82 million

    Emil Brown .279/.340/.428 .289/.353/.488 $1.45 million
    Tony Clark .266/.332/.546 .269/.357/.462 $900,000
    Bobby Kielty .260/.335/.399 .313/.372/.494 $800,000
    Kevin Mench .266/.318/.445 .305/.361/.558 Minor-league deal
    Mike Sweeney .279/.339/.467 .283/.358/.478 Minor-league deal
    Craig Wilson .248/.338/.420 .266/.368/.445 Minor-league deal
    Morgan Ensberg .255/.375/.490 .270/.409/.541 Minor-league deal

    Over the past three seasons all seven of the above players have hit better than Monroe both overall and against left-handers, often by wide margins. Despite that, unless the Twins cut Monroe next month and eat $600,000, he'll make more than the guaranteed money in all seven contracts combined. In other words, the Twins could have signed all seven of those guys for less of a commitment than they'll likely end up making to Monroe, who's been the least productive player in the entire group since 2005.

  • Rick Aguilera grabbed the No. 18 spot in my ongoing Top 40 Minnesota Twins series and now he's been elected as the 19th member of the team's Hall of Fame.
  • Shortly after the Twins traded for Delmon Young in November, Official Twins Beat Writer of AG.com LaVelle E. Neal III wrote an article in which he quoted an unnamed scout who "compared him to Frank Robinson." Then a couple weeks ago LEN3 discussed telling Rod Carew about that same scout's previous Young-Robinson comparison during a conversation they had at TwinsFest. Carew replied that he'd "heard the same thing about his potential."

    Carew has forgotten more about hitting than I'll ever know and part of LEN3's job is passing along information that sources have told him about players, but repeatedly suggesting that Young can be compared to Robinson is a pretty clear case of team-friendly spin and it's something that some fans have already begun repeating as dogma. Meanwhile, compare the actual numbers from Young and Robinson through the age of 21:

                  G      AVG      OBP      SLG     OPS+    HR     K/BB
    Robinson 302 .307 .378 .543 139 67 1.73
    Young 192 .293 .319 .419 94 16 5.59

    As you can see, there's absolutely no comparison. Robinson was already a Hall of Fame-caliber player through the age of 21, batting .307/.378/.543 in an extremely low-scoring era to rank as one of the elite hitters in baseball. He smacked 67 homers, controlled the strike zone well with just 1.73 strikeouts for every walk, ranked among the league leaders in most offensive categories, and made two All-Star teams with a pair of top-10 MVP finishes.

    Meanwhile, through the same age Young has hit just 16 homers in 192 games while showing poor plate discipline and striking out 5.5 times for every walk, producing a measly .319 on-base percentage and .419 slugging percentage that makes him a below-average hitter. Many smart people believe that Young has the potential to become a great hitter, but Robinson was already a great hitter at Young's age and any comparison between them is based on something other than actual performance.

  • Ron Gardenhire remains irrationally terrified of a mid-game injury potentially causing the Twins to lose the designated hitter on days when both Joe Mauer and Mike Redmond are in the starting lineup:

    Those situations where last year, where we had Mauer DHing and Redmond catching, those are scary stuff. So, you know what, you can put a situation where if you catch Redmond, you DH Morneau to give him a break, and play Joe at first base a day or two, that would be wonderful, probably for his legs and probably for Morneau's.

    Gardenhire has repeatedly talked about his phobia of that scenario over the years and the Twins lost talented young players in order to misguidedly keep Chris Heintz on the roster as a third-string catcher solely to avoid that situation, but being forced to play by NL rules for a few innings is hardly "scary stuff." There are far worse things, like having Heintz on the roster or keeping Mauer on the bench to avoid a situation that rarely occurs and is perfectly manageable when it does.

  • Phil Miller of the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports that Jesse Crain "is ready for spring training as he normally would be" after undergoing season-ending shoulder surgery in May. "I'm throwing five times a week," Crain said. "I do two bullpens two times a week, and everything is fine. No pain at all." Crain has made great progress, but a torn labrum and rotator cuff is just about the worst possible combination for a pitcher, making him far from a sure thing to return at full strength. So far, so good.
  • Former Official Whipping Boy of AG.com Luis Rivas--who has gotten a grand total of 11 at-bats in the big leagues since mercifully being let go by the Twins in 2005--recently signed a minor-league contract with the Pirates.

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