Sunday, November 16, 2008

Odds, Ends (11.17.08)

  • In what was the worst kept secret in baseball, the Twins officially announced that the team and manager Ron Gardenhire have agreed on a two-year extension.  Though the announcement might be meet with ire in certain circles, Gardenhire has been one of the winningest managers in baseball since assuming the helm of the Twins.  His .543 winning percentage ranks 23rd all-time among managers and that is currently third among active managers - trailing just the Angels' Mike Scioscia (22nd .551) and the Braves' Bobby Cox (17th, .557).  According to Cot's Contracts, Cox, the long time Braves' manager, is on a one-year contract for $3 million while Scioscia is under contract through 2010 (with an option for 2011) worth $1.75 million a year.  Gardenhire's prior contract was worth $2.5 million for two years ($1.25 per), so the current contract is believed to be similar to Scioscia's annual compensation. 
  • In the wake of Pat Neshek's revelation that he will indeed undergo Tommy John surgery, missing the entirety of the 2009 schedule, it propels the necessity of acquiring a reliever pitcher that much further up the Twins' needs list.  This, of course, is easier said than done.  In 2008, the Twins had used 26% of their payroll to supply their bullpen.  In order to maintain a budget that is within reason, the Twins must not participate in inflated contracts to mediocre relievers in a time of desperation.  It is forgone conclusion that Dennys Reyes' spot in the bullpen will be accommodated by Craig Breslow and Jose Mijares leaving Matt Guerrier and Jesse Crain to assume the role of right-handed setup men in the 6th and 7th innings.  The bridge between those pitchers and Joe Nathan (in his second year of a contract with a AAV of $11.25 million) is undefined.  Rumor-mongering websites suggest that the Twins would target Juan Cruz, a 30 year old right handed reliever with the Diamondbacks who struck out 71 in his 51 innings of work last year.  While a strikeout oriented set-up man would bode well for the Twins, Cruz is a Type A free agent coming at the expense of not only a large three-plus year contract but also two draft picks.     
  • The Yankees and White Sox completed a five-player deal that sends Nick Swisher to the Bronx.  Swisher, despite his unmitigated swagger, never fit in to Chicago's lineup very well.  He is not a centerfielder while Paul Konerko and Jermaine Dye have him blocked at first base and right field, two positions he is more apt to handling.  The White Sox organization also cited his .219 batting average as reason that he was not suitable for the team.  Whether or not the front office actually believes this to be the explanation for shopping Swish, it should be noted that Swisher had an extremely suppressed batting average on balls in play (.266) in comparison to the rest of the league (.302).  His walk rate was also down from his past two seasons, sinking his on-base percentage, but for the most part his BB-to-K was consistent with the past two seasons as well.  It just appears that bad luck caught up to him.  Expect that Swisher's 2009 season resembles 2007 rather than his 2008 numbers. 
  • The White Sox landed Wilson Betemit, Jeff Marquez and Jhonny Nunez for Swisher and Kanekoa Texieria.  Betemit has never had a full-time role to truly define if he is a wash as a prospect.  His tenure with the Yankees, Betemit played all four infield positions, but mostly handled first base.  The left-handed Betemit has hit the righties well (.799 career OPS) but has been stymied by his counterparts (.636 career OPS).  Betemit will probably be asked to man third (along with Josh Fields) and, at times, first to reprieve Konerko from some right handed pitchers.  General Manager Kenny Williams told the Chicago Tribune that he believes that Betemit will perform better after he adjusts to his prescription goggles.  More likely, Betemit will assume the Juan Uribe role of playing whenever an injury arises.  Marquez was a name bandied about during the Santana negotiations last offseason.  After a strong showing in AA in 2007, Marquez was sidelined for a significant portion of the 2008 season.  He was rumored to be hitting the low-90s with a sinking fastball that was inducing groundballs (47% in AAA).  After a half-season or full-season of adjustments in AAA in 2009, Marquez should be a good replacement for Javier Vazquez in the rotation as Gavin Floyd and John Danks accept their rightful place as number one and two starters for the Sox. 


  • Phil Rogers reports that the Royals have hired Mike Arbuckle, an advanced scout for Philadelphia, to fill the role of assistant GM.  When the team passed Arbuckle over for Ruben Amaro Jr when Pat Gillick stepped down, Arbuckle accepted the offer to be Dayton Moore's number two man.  During the Phillies World Series run Arbuckle did an interview with a Philadelphia daily in which he recollected his time as one of the advanced scouts for the Braves during the 1991 World Series.  What information did he provide?  He told the Braves to run on then-Twins catcher Brian Harper.  The offensive-minded catcher (who batted .311 in 1991), only threw out 28-of-126 base stealers that year (22% caught stealing rate).  In legendary Game Six, with the score knotted at three, Rick Aguilera was starting his second consecutive inning in the top of the 11th.  The Braves' Sid Bream led off with a single and Bobby Cox sent Keith Mitchell into pinch run for the first baseman.  During the regular season in 48 games, Mitchell had successfully stolen three bases in four attempts.  Based upon Arbuckle's report, Cox put Mitchell in motion in hopes of gaining scoring position in the pivotal game.  Harper's throw to second baseman Chuck Knoblauch cut Mitchell down for the inning's first out and Aguilera retired Brian Hunter and Greg Olson in order.  In the bottom of the inning, Kirby Puckett would launch his iconic game-winning home run. 
  • The Tigers are targeting Trevor Hoffman, according to the Detroit Free Press's Jon Paul Morosi.  The 41 year old Hoffman would supplant the incumbent Todd Jones of equal age who decided to retire following an injury plagued 2008 season.  The Tigers are searching for a interim closer that would sign a one-year contract as the asking price of free agent closers Francisco Rodriguez, Brian Fuentes and Kerry Wood have grown by astronomical proportions.  A collegue of Morosi at the Free Press, Jamie Samualson, posted a piece suggesting that one of the reasons to avoid signing Hoffman was his decrease in innings pitching.   While there are plenty of reasons to not sign the landmine of a free agent in Hoffman, the decrease in innings pitch is probably the last.  After all, the Padres won just 63 games in 2008 limiting the number of save opportunities available to deploy a closer.  Hoffman's velocity has leveled out at 86-mph on his fastball, but his devastating changeup still possesses enough of a difference (74 mph) to retire the majority of batters faced.  More importantly, his ability to get left-handed batters out has been more pronounced in the past two seasons.  In 2007, lefties held a .799 OPS versus the right-handed .492 OPS.  This past year Hoffman held righties to a .466 OPS while the lefties increased their output to an .873 OPS.  If the Tigers indeed do sign Hoffman, expect Mauer, Morneau and Kubel to make closing games against the Twins a hair raising experience for Tiger fans.  
  • The Marlins are in an active makeover mode.  The South Florida franchise is attempting to improve on a 84-win season (+3 over their Pythagorean record) in a very tough NL East by A) selling off Mike Jacobs for Royals reliever Leo Nunez, then B) trading Scott Olson and Josh Willingham to the Nationals in exchange for a handful of players including utility infielder Emilio Bonifacio and finally C) trading Kevin Gregg to the Cubs for a highly touted relief prospect. 
    • A) Unloading Jacobs is a smart move for a small budget team.  Jacobs has very good pull power but the Marlins have loads of lumbering power hitters that can't get on first base consistently.  In AA, the 24 year old Gaby Sanchez has pieced together a solid minor league pedigree.  Like Jacobs, Sanchez would be an inexpensive addition to the team.  Unlike Jacobs, Sanchez has found other ways to achieve first base besides simply clubbing the ball.  In 1,677 minor league plate appearances, Sanchez possesses a 205/200 BB/K ratio.  Nunez, meanwhile, provides the Marlins with an option in the bullpen with his mid-90s fastball (94.4).  In 2008, the Marlins milked a satisfactory performance out of the aging Joe Nelson but need to supplement the bullpen with something else. The former Royal improved on his control in 2008 by throwing in the zone 68.8% of the time on the first pitch.  This is more than a 10% improvement from his 2007 season. 
    • B) Doing business with the Nationals organization is like bartering with Old Mother Hubbard for food: the cupboards are bare.  This trade then was focused on clearing room on both the roster and a potential raise to Olsen and Willingham.  Dave Cameron at (and USS Mariner) takes a good look at the trade assembled around the pair of Fish.  Most will view this as a steal for the Nationals as Olsen just accumulated 200+ innings in 2008 and the right-handed batting Willingham just posted an OPS of .835.  Those unfamilar with the left-handed Olsen should know that he has a history of run-ins with players and his own coaching staff - another edition to the all-head-case roster that Jim Bowden is trying to assemble in Washington along with Elijah Dukes and Lasting Milledge.  The Marlins do not have a current need for a second baseman in Bonifacio (unless they unload Dan Uggla) and his isn't really strong at either the plate nor the field.  The other two minor leaguers seem destined to do just that: be in the minor leagues.  Willingham was nearly 30 and is probably past whatever productive output he was going to provide a team. 
    • C) Finally the Cubs grabbed the overvalued 30 year old closer in Kevin Gregg, who made $2.5 million in 2008, for minor league prospect Jose Ceda.  Chicago netted themselves the market inflated arbitration eligible Gregg, who experts believe will make more than $4 million in 2009 and whose K/BB ratio took an odd turn this past season.  In 2007 Gregg managed to compile a 87/40 K/BB ratio.  This past year, Gregg had a 58/37 K/BB ratio.  Want another oddity?  His groundball rate swelled from 29% in '07 to 45% in '08.  This probably has more to do with his employment of the split-finger fastball but it would look as though he is pitching to contact - a recipe for disaster for closers (especially in the confinements of Wrigley).  If the Cubs are serious about implementing Gregg as a closer (as opposed to using Carlos Marmol), the results will be like that of Joe Borowski, another closer who pitched to contact after his fastball started to decline.  Ceda, meanwhile, resembles a relief prospect that will help in the Marlins bullpen as soon as next year.  Splitting time between A+/AA last year, Ceda threw 84.2 innings with a solid 95/42 K/BB ratio and allowed just two home runs.  This will be a regrettable trade for the North Siders.