Friday, November 16, 2007

The Monroe Doctrine (Or How I Learned To Not Accept the Twins Offseason Moves)

A few days has passed since the Twins announced that they are relinquishing one of their dimmer stars for the 30-year-old Craig Monroe. While most in the Twins community seem to believe that this is yet again another indication that the Twins are only interested in second-rate stars (Gleeman, TwinsGeek, Nick&Nick ) and truthfully that was my initial gut reaction as well. Why spend any amount of the payroll towards Monroe even if he is a 4th outfielder/DH platoon? Last year the Twins acquired Jeff Cirillo in what turned out to be the final season of his career. When Cirillo wasn't on the DL, his contributions were minimal and was eventually waived and picked up by the Diamondbacks. To some, it would appear that the Twins were once again acquiring an overpaid, low-reward hitter.

Don't be fooled because this is exactly what they got. The only mitigating factor is how the team deploys Monroe.

When the rumor mill began to buzz that the Twins were in talks with the Cubbies for Monroe, my first inclination was that if you are negotiating with the Cubs, why not attempt to get Matt Murton, a young right-handed bat with years left in his legs? After all, the numbers certain indicate that Monroe has probably peaked with his production. Monroe's numbers prior to his 2007 drop-off were not all that impressive and since his best offensive season in 2004 he has steadily declined and his strike out rate has increased.

Monroe AVG. OBP. SLG. BB% K%
2004 .293 .337 .488 6.0% 16.4%
2005 .277 .322 .446 6.4% 15.2%
2006 .255 .301 .482 6.3% 21.5%
2007 .219 .268 .370 6.0% 25.0%
In an ensuing conversation with a high-ranking organizational official, I learned that the Twins view Monroe as a no-risk deal. Essentially the Twins bought themselves the ability to get a free look at Monroe and the ability to negotiate a lower contract. The team believes that Monroe would be a better option instead of Lew Ford as the outfielder on the bench. Meanwhile, Murton was discussed both internally and with the Cubs, however the consensus within the organization is that Murton is not an "everyday player" and the Cubs were seeking several prospects in exchange for Murton.
The Cubs wanted too much for Murton and the Twins were only in the market for a 4th outfielder/platoon DH with power that is seemingly affordable (giving up a Garza or Slowey isn't affordable). I realize that the parameters that the Twins acquired when they sold a prospect for Monroe was the right to (hopefully) reduce his salary to play a very specific role: a right-handed platoon and a power-bat off the bench in a pinch-hitter capacity. Only there are two problems with that: (a) Monroe is not a particularly good hitter against left-handed pitching and (b) Monroe has made 25 pinch-hitting appearance and has hit exactly zero home runs.
So is Monroe the solution to the Twins problem? No.
As a vigilant advocate for Kevin Mench, a player that has continual speculation that the Brewers are going to non-tender him this offseason, I believe the Twins should be bringing Mench in instead of Monroe. In 812 plate appearances against southpaws in his career Monroe has hit .273/.319/.495 (6.7%BB%/18.5%K%). Mench, however, in 775 plate appearances against left-handers has hit .305/.361/.563 (7.7%BB%/6.8%K%). Monroe has hit home runs in 4.4% of his plate appearances against lefties. Mench has homed in 5.1% of his.
While I was lead to believe in my brief conversation with the Twins official that the options present were Lew Ford versus Craig Monroe, in which case, everyone would hopefully opt for Monroe. The spin from the front office would like you to believe that there were no other options for the same product for the same price range when that simply wasn't the case. There was a better product at the same price range.