December 13, 2009

Picking Through The Non-Tenders

Each offseason the deadline to tender arbitration offers to eligible players leads to a secondary wave of talent hitting the open market, as teams choose to cut bait on dozens of pre-free agency players rather than commit to giving them raises for the next season. In the Twins' case they opted not to tender Boof Bonser a contract, but instead of simply releasing him into free agency they traded him to the Red Sox for low-level pitching prospect Chris Province and then Boston signed him to a one-year deal.

Jesse Crain was the Twins' other non-tender candidate after pitching his way back to Triple-A by giving up 17 runs in 17.2 innings through mid-June. Crain had a 2.91 ERA in 30 innings after returning from Rochester, but seemed to be on the chopping block because he's due for a raise from his $1.7 million salary. Cutting him loose and handing the job to Anthony Slama or Robert Delaney would've freed up $2 million for the Twins to spend elsewhere, but instead they tendered Crain a contract for 2010.

While the Twins ultimately chose to retain Crain for what will probably be around $2.5 million in 2010, a total of 39 players were shed from rosters prior to Saturday's midnight deadline. Most aren't particularly good fits in Minnesota--or all that valuable, in general--but a handful of names struck me as potentially useful for the Twins in 2010 as alternatives to the initial crop of free agents. You know, assuming that the Twins intend to actually sign someone this offseason.

Kelly Johnson: After back-to-back strong seasons as Atlanta's everyday second baseman Johnson hit just .224/.303/.389, missed time with a wrist injury, and lost the job to Martin Prado. As a 27-year-old who hit .282/.362/.451 in 1,222 plate appearances between 2007 and 2008 he's seemingly a solid bet to bounce back offensively, but Ultimate Zone Rating pegs Johnson as 7.4 runs below average per 150 games defensively. His pre-2009 bat is good enough to look past the glove or move him to third base.

Jonny Gomes: Cincinnati misguidedly cut Gomes loose despite 20 homers and a .267/.338/.541 mark in 314 plate appearances and he's unlikely to find a starting gig because of huge strikeout totals and a tendency to go into prolonged slumps versus right-handed pitching. For all his flaws a .274/.369/.517 career line against left-handed pitching would make Gomes an ideal platoon partner for Jason Kubel and even his .224/.311/.448 line against righties would make him a viable alternative to Delmon Young.

Ryan Garko: Similar to Gomes in that he's mediocre against righties and crushes lefties, except Garko doesn't strike out as much and has little experience in the outfield. He's a career .279/.351/.441 hitter overall, which would be a clear upgrade over Young as an everyday player, and his .313/.392/.495 mark against lefties would look very good in a platoon with Kubel. San Francisco traded a decent prospect to Cleveland to get Garko at midseason only to drop him before a raise to around $2 million was due.

Brian Bass: Just kidding.

Ryan Langerhans: Now that Carlos Gomez is in Milwaukee the Twins need a fourth outfielder capable of playing center field and their primary in-house option is Jason Pridie, so they should be looking for someone like Langerhans. He strikes out a lot and won't hit for good batting averages, but Langerhans draws walks, has 15-homer pop, and plays fantastic defense in either corner spot with decent range in center. Similar non-tendered backup options include Jeremy Reed and Brian Anderson.

Gabe Gross: If the Twins want a fourth outfielder to push Young for starts and hold his own if thrust into the lineup due to injury, Gross is a superior option than guys like Langerhans, Anderson, or Reed. He's helpless against lefties, but has hit .251/.346/.414 against righties and UZR grades him as excellent in the corners and above average in center. Not really the Twins' type of player because his defensive reputation doesn't match the stats and lots of his value comes from walks, but Gross is a nice backup.

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