Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Around the Central (02.09.10)

Rummaging through the news and notes from the Twins interdivision rivals so you don’t have to:

Chicago White Sox

ESPNChicago’s Bruce Levine notes that the White Sox are in the market for another situational left-handed reliever. Levine speculates that Chicago could potentially target Toronto’s Scott Downs in a trade.

  • ANALYSIS: With Matt Thornton and Randy Williams as the two left-handed options on the 40-man roster, the White Sox’s bullpen would be better served by upgrading from Williams, particularly in context to the Twins’ left-handed heavy lineup. Downs, who will be 34-years-old in March, has disassembled same-sided opponents well. In his career, he’s struck out 22% of all lefties and limited them to a .651 OPS. What’s more is that he’s due $4 million in 2010 and will be a free agent after the season so the Blue Jays should be motivated to move him.  Still, other than Justin Morneau (1-for-11, 2 Ks), Minnesota’s heart-of-the-order left-handed constituency has recorded success off of Downs as  Jim Thome (4-for-13, HR, 2B) and Joe Mauer (5-for-10, 2B) have hit the southpaw well. 

MLB.com’s White Sox beat writer, Scott Merkin, believes that the Sox are not interested in bringing back outfielder Jermaine Dye no matter what his price drops to.

  • ANALYSIS: While some (surprisingly) National League teams appeared interested in his services, Dye still lingers on the market with pitchers and catchers reporting in a little less than a week.  With age and fielding limitations restricting him to designated hitter duty, Dye’s future is cloudy. His nasty second-half numbers (.179/.293/.297 in 246 plate appearances) might have signaled that he is no longer able to remain productive for an entire 162-game stretch.  As a role player like former teammate Jim Thome’s position with the Twins, Dye could be a very solid contributor. He smacked around left-handed pitching well in 2009 (.292/.387/.508 with 14 extra base hits in 150 plate appearances) and had a muted batted ball average, posting a BABIP of .269, one of his lowest of his career. A team that implements a platoon effectively should wind up with a decent bargain in Dye.

Cleveland Indians

Prior to signing with the Twins, the Indians were aggressively pursuing Orlando Hudson. According to MLB.com’s Indians beat writer, Anthony Castrovince, the cash-strapped organization offered Hudson a two-year, $10 million dollar deal that was heavily backloaded in a 2012 buy-out.

  • ANALYSIS: It was an interesting competitor for Hudson’s services. The Indians had spent 2009 shedding payroll, trading the likes of Cliff Lee, Victor Martinez, Carl Pavano, Ryan Garko and Mark DeRosa to offset the ledger that was hemorrhaging money and refill the farm system. Mark Shapiro and company probably noted the undervalued Hudson available at a bargain buy and concocted a plan to use him for half of the season then flip him for prospects at the deadline. Castrovince said that the Hudson offer had very little financial commitment to 2010 so the bulk of the investment would have been pushed on to another organization. For a team in rebuilt mode like the Indians are, this would have been a good play.

Cleveland Plain Dealer’s Paul Hoynes is not convinced that Aaron Laffey will be a member of the Indians’ wide-open starting rotation in 2010.

  • ANALYSIS: This really isn’t a surprise but Laffey at one time was a top-flight prospect in the Indians system.  Kind of the Glen Perkins of the Cleveland organization. The left-handed Laffey was able to induce groundballs at an insane rate (62%) while developing in the minors and posting acceptable strikeout rates. This certainly hasn’t translated at the major league level and in each passing year, Laffey loses a little bit of his wormburning and K abilities. Additionally, Laffey, who has never been mistaken for a strikeout artist, walked over four batters per nine innings and saw a good amount of those grounders slip past the infield defense (.262 GBBA) in ’09. He’s still just 25 in 2010 and if he can find control of the strike zone, he could be a capable rotation component.

The Indians head into spring training with hefty competition in left field, including Michael Brantley, Trevor Crowe, Jordan Brown, Austin Kearns and Shelley Duncan.

  • ANALYSIS: One of the dividends of the CC Sabathia trade with Milwaukee, Brantley received an early introduction to the majors when Grady Sizemore when down in September. His initial foray into the bigs was a reaffirming one as the 22-year-old hit .313 with an on-base percentage of .358. Those numbers are a tad on the unsustainable side as his average was floated by an inflated .376 BABIP. Still, the kid rarely strikes out, draws walks and has some great speed on the bases so he could be a great addition to the top of the lineup. Kearns is a solid corner outfield defender so he could be used to bring some value to a left field position in which the Indians were the fifth worst in baseball according to the Plus/Minus system.


Detroit Tigers

The Tigers locked in Justin Verlander to a five-year, $80 million extension that will keep him in Detroit through his age-31 season.

  • ANALYSIS:  Whoa boy. This is going to be one of those careers to monitor. True, Verlander’s essentially has been healthy as horse – only two minor blips pop up on the fantasy pitchf/x DL tool since 2005 – but the team has put a lot of mileage on his arm. Last season, Verlander led all of baseball in Pitcher Abuse Points (219,899 PAP!!!!). This was 125,287 points higher than the runner-up in Tim Lincecum. In 11 of his 35 starts, Verlander threw over 120 pitches, maxing out at 129 and averaging a baseball-high of 112 pitches per start. Five years feels like the perfect length for a pitcher like that but don’t be surprised if some of these high totals result in various arm injuries in the duration of his Motown contract.

The Tigers are still interested in bringing in Johnny Damon, says MLB.com’s Tigers beat writer, Jason Beck.

  • ANALYSIS:  After losing one of baseball’s best two-spot hitters in Placido Polanco this offseason (as well as leadoff hitter in Curtis Granderson), acquiring Johnny Damon might be the best counterpunch Detroit can make. Transitioning from Yankee Stadium where the left-handed hitting Damon launched 17 of his 24 home runs to Comerica’s distant outfield fences will certainly zap the majority of his pop, but Damon will still manage to coax walks and caused problems for the opposing team on the bases (12-for-12 in stolen base attempts in ‘09). The question is whether he can field in the more expansive ballpark.    

The Detroit Free Press’s George Sipple relays that Jeremy Bonderman, who is recovering from shoulder surgery, is throwing well down in Florida.

  • ANALYSIS:  Right now, the Tigers believe Bonderman, 27-years-old, can be their rotation’s number four starter. If he can go back to his pre-2007 form, he’d be a heck of an addition.  That said, he’s throwing his fastball at 90-mph, down from 93.3 in ’06. Likewise, after getting hitters to miss on 55.2% on all out-of-zone swings that season, hitters have made an abundance of contact, missing on just 36.4% this past season in limited duty. His slider has taken a substantial hit (from 2.34 wSL/C in ‘06 to -10.27 wSL/C in ’09) which may have a lot to do with his diminished velocity on the pitch – dropping from 85.4 mph to 82.0 this season. With an entire offseason of rest on his shoulder, Bonderman is young enough to bounce back but his injury list is extensive and daunting.

Kansas City Royals

The Royals have signed Rick Ankiel to a one-year deal (and a mutual option for 2011) and have stated that he will be the team’s starting centerfielder in 2010 says the Kansas City Star’s Sam Mellinger.

  • ANALYSIS: In landing Ankiel, the Royals have swapped Mike Jacobs's all-or-nothing power, low-OBP at-bats for Ankiel's similar plate skill set. Ankiel, however, can play a serviceable outfield but is a miscast in center. He's got the arm but his range is deficient. Nevertheless, his acquisition moves Jose Guillen off of the field and into the designated hitter's role thereby improving the defense in that respect.

Royals manager Trey Hillman made some comments regarding his 2010 alignment now that Chris Getz and Josh Fields are in the mix. According to MLB.com's Royals beat writer, Dick Kaegel, Hillman wants Getz at second but will consider him at short if Mike Aviles is not ready this spring. The Royals skipper also wants Fields at third but will get some looks in left field as well.

  • ANALYSIS: Since the trade, it's been interesting to see how Hillman will line these players up. The second base incumbent, Alberto Callaspo, hit .300/.356/.457 as the Royals' second best hitter behind Billy Butler. As a line drive hitter who makes regular line drive contact, Callaspo is capable of repeating these numbers (absent the slugging percentage). Defensively, in his first full season at second, he posted a UZR/150 of -7.5. Getz was slightly better in Chicago in the field (-6.7) but is not as skilled offensively as Callaspo. Fields meanwhile has struggled at the major league level to make regular contact, connecting on just 71% of his swings. In the field, he has failed to live up to his namesake committing eight errors in just over 400 innings at third in '09. With Alex Gordon firmly entrenched at third, Fields will get spot starts all over the diamond from third to left to DH which should not help with his flaky contact rate.