November 7, 2011

Offseason shopping on a budget: Shortstops

Tsuyoshi Nishioka flopped, Trevor Plouffe can't be trusted defensively, Alexi Casilla appears to be locked in at second base, and as has been the case for the past decade they don't have an obvious long-term solution in the minors, which means the Twins will be in the market for a shortstop. Jose Reyes and Jimmy Rollins are wishful thinking, so here are 15 realistic options the Twins could pursue via trade or free agency and my take on whether or not they should.

Rafael Furcal: Most likely Furcal will be out of the Twins' price range, but if the big spenders are fighting over Reyes and Rollins there's a chance his demands could drop enough to get on their radar. Furcal hasn't been able to stay healthy and is coming off his worst season at age 33, but the speedy switch-hitter is a year removed from batting .300/.366/.450 and remains capable defensively. He's a risk, but if healthy few other shortstop options can offer his upside.

Jed Lowrie: Injuries and prolonged slumps have been the story of Lowrie's career so far and despite showing flashes of a strong bat he's 27 years old with a modest .252/.334/.408 career mark. He's also yet to play even 90 games in a season and there are some doubts about if he can handle being an everyday shortstop defensively. If the Twins trust his glove and Boston isn't asking a ton in trade the switch-hitting former first rounder could be a worthwhile gamble.

Marco Scutaro: If the Red Sox would rather keep Lowrie that could make Scutaro available. At age 36 he's at risk for a steep decline, but Scutaro's defensive numbers remain decent, he hit .299/.358/.423 in 113 games this season, and he's under contract for just one more year at $6 million. As a high-contact right-handed hitter with quality on-base skills and some pop Scutaro would be a much better fit atop the lineup than most other shortstop options.

Clint Barmes: His numbers away from Coors Field were terrible while playing for Colorado and Barmes hit just .244/.312/.386 in 123 games after a deal to Houston, but for an elite defensive middle infielder that's enough offense to make him a valuable all-around player. At age 33 the risk of a sudden range decline exists, but the free agent can dramatically improve the defense and has enough pop to be a palatable regular as long he's batting in the bottom of the lineup.

Jamey Carroll: He's quietly put together a decade-long career as a plus defender with strong on-base skills despite being stuck in the minors until age 28. Carroll had the best season of his career in 2010 at age 36 and then followed it up with an equally strong campaign at 37, hitting .290/.359/.347 with nearly as many walks (47) as strikeouts (58) and 10 steals without being caught. His range has slipped with age, but Carroll can be a nice stop gap on a one-year deal.

Ramon Santiago: As the Tigers' utility man Santiago has averaged just 278 plate appearances during the past four years, but he's hit .266/.335/.374 and is a plus defender at shortstop and second base. His power is limited and despite switch-hitting he's much weaker versus righties, but faring better off lefties might actually be a positive on the Twins. He'd be misused atop the lineup, but the free agent's on-base skills are decent enough to not be a total disaster there.

Ian Desmond: Linked to the Twins in the Denard Span-Drew Storen talks, Desmond took a step backward as the Nationals' shortstop in his second season, losing 50 points of OPS and remaining erratic defensively. Through his first 329 games Desmond has batted .262/.304/.387 with a putrid 262/68 K/BB ratio, 61 errors, and an Ultimate Zone Rating of -13.7 runs, so the Twins would have to be convinced that there's a lot more room for improvement at age 26.

Brendan Ryan: Defensive metrics consistently peg Ryan as a truly elite shortstop and while far from an asset offensively his .256/.313/.339 career line is basically identical to Casilla's career .252/.310/.337 mark. At age 30 he should have another season or two of fantastic glove work left in the tank and with one season remaining until free agency the Mariners may not want to give him a raise to around $3 million via the arbitration process.

Nick Punto: Last offseason the Twins smartly declined Punto's option for $4 million, but made a mistake by not offering him $1 million to return. He ended up signing with the Cardinals for $750,000 and missed much of the season with injuries, but when healthy had a career-year at the plate and started regularly in the playoffs. As a $4 million everyday player he'd again be a source of frustration, but as a utility man making $1 million Punto would be plenty useful.

Reid Brignac: Trading with the Rays should make every Twins fan nervous, but if Tampa Bay is sick of waiting for Brignac's bat to develop he may be worth acquiring at a big discount. Once a top prospect, he's now a 25-year-old career .231/.272/.325 hitter in 240 games. His stats in the minors aren't a whole lot better, but do suggest he can be something resembling a decent hitter and Brignac's glove rates well enough to support a sub par bat for the minimum salary.

Yuniesky Betancourt: An early reputation for a nice glove has given way to consistently awful defensive numbers and Betancourt has always been one of MLB's premier out-makers, with a .292 on-base percentage that ranks third-worst among all active players with at least 3,500 plate appearances. This season he got on base at a .271 clip, laughably drawing a grand total of 13 non-intentional walks in 152 games. Betancourt is a mess the Twins will hopefully avoid.

Alex Gonzalez: Gonzalez is one of the two hitters with 3,500 plate appearances and a worse career on-base percentage than Betancourt, with the major difference being that his defense has been good enough to live with the extreme out-making most years. At age 34 that may no longer be true and despite smacking 15 homers Gonzalez was brutal at the plate this season, hitting .241/.270/.372 with 126 strikeouts versus just 22 walks in 149 games.

Ronny Cedeno: His two great Triple-A half-seasons now look like obvious flukes, but Cedeno is still a quality defensive shortstop with just enough offense to be a passable stop-gap starter. Since being traded to Pittsburgh in mid-2009 he's hit .254/.297/.367 in 1,126 trips to the plate, which looks very ugly despite being just slightly below the MLB average of .263/.317/.380 for shortstops in 2011.

Jack Wilson: Once upon a time Wilson was a Gold Glove-caliber shortstop with a sub par bat who occasionally had a nice year offensively, but at age 33 his defense has fallen off and he's hit just .256/.292/.335 during the past four seasons. Wilson is a free agent after earning $34 million over the past six seasons, but if he's available for a one-year, $1 million deal and the Twins whiff on the various superior options he'd be a palatable last resort.

Orlando Cabrera: He already lacked range as a 34-year-old for the Twins down the stretch in 2009, so a 37-year-old Cabrera could be a disaster at shortstop and he's hit .251/.286/.332 in 253 games since leaving Minnesota. Cabrera, much like fellow over-the-hill free agents Miguel Tejada and Edgar Renteria, has a very recognizable name, tons of shortstop experience, and absolutely no business starting there for a big-league team in 2012.

February 14, 2010

Twins Notes: Perkins, Morales, Butera, and Snow

  • Joe Christensen of the Minneapolis Star Tribune penned a lengthy, well-done article detailing Glen Perkins' strained relationship with the Twins stemming from his arm injury and the team's subsequent service-time shenanigans. While the two sides officially settled the grievance filed on Perkins' behalf by the players' union, the 25-year-old left-hander is clearly still upset about the whole thing costing him as much as $500,000 and sounds like someone who expects to be traded:

    I guess I really found out the hard way that it's a business. I spent my life cheering for that team. I got drafted by them and got to the majors quick, and two weeks later we're in the playoffs. I had a really good year in '08, and everything was rosy. You find out the hard way that it doesn't really matter.

    I think I'm more prepared for this year than I ever have been. I feel like I'm going into an uphill battle [for a roster spot], but I'm fine. My arm's healthy, and I feel like I'm a major league pitcher. I'm sure if they don't think that, then someone else does.

    I'm hardly plugged into the Twins' front office, but have heard from multiple sources "with knowledge of the situation" (as reporters so often phrase it) that the team is basically just waiting for Perkins to show that he's healthy this spring before trading him. Perkins simply isn't good enough for the combination of injuries, inconsistent performance, and an off-field grievance not to cause a team to sour on him and the Twins apparently tried to trade him to the Padres for Kevin Kouzmanoff earlier this offseason.

  • Last week the Twins had to clear a spot on the 40-man roster for Orlando Hudson, and presumably one of the reasons for dropping Jason Pridie rather than Drew Butera is that Jose Morales sounds less and less likely to be ready for Opening Day following wrist surgery. Morales began experiencing wrist problems in September, but waited until last month before deciding on surgery and then for some reason delayed actually going under the knife for another two weeks.At best he'll be cleared to resume baseball activities in mid-March and even a slight setback would rule him out for Opening Day, so the Twins will likely need a third catcher to begin the season. Butera was seemingly placed on the 40-man roster for just this type of situation and the Twins previously talked him up as a great defender behind the plate, but now LaVelle E. Neal III of the Star Tribune reports that "there are some concerns about Butera's catching skills."

    Butera has hit .214/.296/.317 in the minors, including .211/.268/.292 in 99 games at Triple-A last year, so if his "catching skills" are anything less than amazing he's essentially a worthless player. His place on the 40-man roster was a mistake to begin with and now the Twins are hesitant to even let him fill in for Morales, with Ron Gardenhire beginning to stump for Wilson Ramos. Butera is awful, but I'd hate to interrupt Ramos' development and start his service time just to back up Joe Mauer for a couple weeks.

  • Early on this offseason there was speculation about the Twins re-signing Orlando Cabrera, mostly because Gardenhire repeatedly made it obvious that he'd love to have him back. Instead the front office dealt for J.J. Hardy to replace him at shortstop and then signed Hudson to start at second base, which is the only other position Cabrera has played. Cabrera ended up signing with the Reds for a one-year deal that guarantees him $3 million and includes a mutual option for 2011. Twins were smart to pass.
  • Dave Cameron of Fan Graphs wrote an intriguing article about Mauer's unique, opposite field-driven hit chart and suggests that teams should employ separate infield and outfield shifts to neutralize him.
  • Whoever runs the Twins' official Twitter account posted two photos of a snow-covered Target Field:
    Click the picture to see the full-sized versions. I bet at least half that snow will be gone by Opening Day.
  • Unfortunately my day job precluded me from actually being involved in the project, but that won't stop me from recommending that anyone who likes this blog should get the recently released Twins Annual 2010 from Maple Street Press. I've previously worked with Maple Street Press on a couple of non-Twins publications and know that they always put out high-quality products, and their inaugural Twins offering is spearheaded by John Bonnes and features a great writing lineup from the blogosphere and beyond.In addition to the Twins Geek, the list of contributors also includes Seth Stohs, Nick Nelson, Phil Miller, Howard Sinker, Parker Hageman, Phil Mackey, Darren Wolfson, Judd Spicer, Josh Johnson, Stew Thornley, Jim Thielman, Andrew Kneeland, Dan Wade, and Adam Peterson. You get 128 pages full of great Twins writing, full-color photographs, and top-notch design work for just $12.99, all while helping to support a blogosphere that churns out so much great content for absolutely free all year. Go buy it.

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