Monday, December 20, 2010

OtB Twins Notes

Having shown interest in acquiring uber-defender Brendan Ryan prior to his trade from St. Louis to Seattle, Buster Olney (via reports that Orlando Cabrera has interest in returning to the Twins as a potential back-up candidate to Tsuyoshi Nishioka and Alexi Casilla.

Of course, simply stating your interest in a team doesn’t necessarily mean that the interest is mutual. After all, Jose Canseco has spent the past month stating his request to play for former boss Sandy Alderson now with the Mets and has a snowball’s chance of finding himself back in baseball. But in Cabrera’s case, manager Ron Gardenhire had said that he would be interested in bringing Cabrera back to the Twins after his second-half stint with the team in ’09 to possibly play second base.  

The organization is clearly interested in adding to the depth in the infield, as evidence by the attempts to acquire Ryan. Whereas Ryan was a light-hitting mega-defender, Cabrera is a light-hitting marginal-defender.

When the Twins acquired Cabrera in the midst of the 2009 pennant race, the team was looking to “upgrade” their shortstop position. At the time, Brendan Harris and Nick Punto were splitting time patrolling the turf and were swinging rolled up newspapers for bats. Cabrera, fresh off a red-hot month of July in which he went 41-for-110 (.372 BA) with the A’s, drew the team’s attention. After shipping former first round pick Tyler Ladendorf, Cabrera continued to hit the ball well, batting .289 while slugging .430, but did not prove to be able to avoid outs with a empty .313 on-base percentage. Despite being far from impressive, this was significantly better production than what was offered previously.

Instead of bringing Cabrera back however, the Twins turned to J.J. Hardy quickly after the World Series ended. The younger Hardy was a much better fielder than Cabrera and, when healthy, much more capable of providing a potent bat in comparison to Cabrera’s flaccid offering. So, after showing much decline in terms of bat speed and range, Cabrera signed with the Cincinnati Reds in the winter and was their opening day shortstop. For the fourth straight year, Cabrera witnessed his on-base percentage decrease as did his overall numbers in spite of playing in a very hitter-friendly ballpark. Part of this regression was due to a significant drop in his line drive BABIP. While he sprayed liners at a very good 18.4% clip, he held a .649 BABIP on those, well below the baseball average of .714. So there is some indication that he could put up better offensive numbers in 2011.

Then there is the matter of his defense. While a very adapt shortstop when balls are hit at him, Cabrera has not been particularly mobile in his 30s. Nevertheless, outside of his brutal 2009 UZR season Cabrera has posted somewhat decent marks, holding a 4.5 UZR from 2008 to 2010, which is strikingly average among qualified shortstops in that time. Even though data suggests he’s average, the wisdom of the crowd doesn’t think too highly of his defense. In the past two seasons, the Fan Scouting Report has ranked him near the bottom of the league with a 52 overall score (Colorado’s Troy Tulowitzki rating the best with an 85 overall mark).  

Now at 36 years old and coming off one of his worst seasons in his career, Cabrera, who made $2.02 million in 2010, will likely be relegated to a utility role and a salary reduction. Plenty of teams lacking depth or a clear-cut starter might target Cabrera. The Twins appear to fit that exact mold as the recently signed Tsuyoshi Nishioka and Alexi Casilla is a tandem that screams “safety net” in the event either is injured or ineffective.

Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo believes that it will take a three-year, $36 million dollar deal to lock up Carl Pavano.

Cafardo wrote that column prior to the Zack Greinke-to-Milwaukee deal effectively eliminating one potential suitor in the process. That leaves Washington, Texas and the Twins as the front-runners to land Pavano and, all things being equal, this almost certainly gives the Twins the advantage and additional leverage in hopes of talking him down in years and price. The wild card, of course, is if either the Nationals or Rangers decide to increase their offers now that one more trade, Greinke, is now unavailable. Given Washington’s liberal agenda with their checkbook and Texas’s TV money rolling in, neither scenario is out of the question.

Many other analysts have gestured towards Pavano’s declining strikeout rate as an indicator that he is likely primed for regression – particularly his minuscule 4.3 K/9 innings in the season’s second-half – in addition to a drop in velocity (averaging only 89-mph on his fastball) and shakier command (hitting the strike zone just 44% of the time) in his five post-August starts. Certainly, his 221.2 inning workload possibly caught up with him.

That notwithstanding, Pavano demonstrated some excellent skills that could hint at a brighter future. The right-hander increased his groundball rate in 2010, raising it from 43.6% in ’09 to 51.2% in ’10. With the possibility of gaining a speedier middle infield (after all, that is the reason for going with Nishioka/Casilla over Hardy/Hudson), Pavano could have a few more of those gloved down. In Texas, where Elvis Andrus and Ian Kinsler provide rangy and fortified defense up the middle, Pavano clearly stands a chance of having one of his better seasons if he replicates that groundball rate. Of course, Pavano has reportedly recognized the value of calling Target Field his home rather than The Ballpark at Arlington as fly balls have the tendency to die in the voluminous outfield in Minneapolis. After all, Pavano allowed 16 home runs in 18 starts on the road versus just 8 home runs in 14 starts at home. As a consistent strike-thrower, there always exists the chance he’ll be taken deep.

Also, in the past two seasons, Pavano has exercised the best out-of-zone swing rate in baseball. His 34.1% mark represents the highest standard in the game for the most attempts incited at, essentially, bad balls. Other names directly below Pavano’s on that list include Shaun Marcum, Roy Halladay, Dan Haren and Francisco Liriano. By getting opponents to swing at pitches out of the zone, Pavano is likelier to have less hard contact.

As I wrote in November, despite the abundance of in-house talent, the Twins will find it difficult to replace Pavano in the rotation:
“The Twins realize that allowing Pavano to walk – with or without offering arbitration – means the rotation loses the starter that consumed the most innings for them. In addition to the sheer total of innings, he worked deep into the games, averaging 6.9 innings per start, saving an often overworked bullpen that was forced prematurely into active duty after numerous Kevin Slowey (5.5 innings per start, third-lowest in AL) and Scott Baker starts (5.8 innings per start). Furthermore, with the team’s rash of injuries and ineffectiveness in 2010, it would be difficult to have the utmost confidence that the in-house starters can pick up the slack Pavano would leave behind.”
Two years for Pavano is potentially the highest recommended duration for his contract. Anything beyond that is a risky investment. Even two years is a steep venture for a team like the Twins would have a finite amount of budgetary wiggle room in the next few seasons but as noted, the team likely needs his contributions in the short-term.

On Friday night, TwinsCentric-like fan blog at Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Bernie’s Crew, broke the story that the Brewers had acquired Zack Greinke and shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt for four prospects.

Numerous Twins fans held on to hope that the team was somehow piecing together an offer that would be able to woo the Royals’ front-line starter away from the club. It would be the Brewers, however, that would be able to get enough talent together to entice Kansas City’s GM Dayton Moore, to swap his best starter and garbage shortstop.

The Brewers gave up two under-25 starters in shortstop Alecido Escobar (who had supplanted J.J. Hardy as the starting shortstop) and outfielder Lorenzo Cain. Additionally, Milwaukee also gave up right-handed starters Jake Odorizzi (A) and the mercurial Jeremy Jeffress (MLB). Considering the depth of their system was already somewhat depleted before, the Brewers emptied the coffers to attempt a run while Prince Fielder was still under contract.

The Royals wound up with a decent mix of talent. The two position players as capable of starting this season with Escobar being a big upgrade defensively over Betancourt and Cain being a speedy, gap-hitter with to patrol the spacious Kauffman outfield. Baseball Prospectus’s Kevin Goldstein had indicated that Odorizzi could wind up being very similar of a pitcher to Greinke while Jeffress may eventually find himself in the bullpen where he can make better use of his triple-digit fastball.’s Tom Pelissero tweeted that he had heard from a Twins source that they were interested in Greinke but the Royals refused to deal with their divisional adversary. It is hard to imagine, even if Kansas City was willing to listen to any Twins offers, that Minnesota could round up enough MLB-ready young talent to appease the Royals. Back in early November, an MLB executive told ESPN’s Jayson Stark that the Royals were looking to:
“(A) they would need to "win" the deal, (B) they would have to get the kind of four-for-one haul the Rangers got for Mark Teixeira to pull the trigger, (C) they need a bunch of "front-line, winning, quality players" in return, and (D) at least one of those players has to be a pitcher capable of turning into the next Zack Greinke in a couple of years.”
To that end, the Twins would have had to have little to offer. Delmon Young might be the best under-25 position player but even he is under club control for just two more seasons and stands to make a substantial amount more than his $2.6 million in 2010. While some of the prospects the Twins could have provided KC would possibly be a better haul in the long run, the Royals ultimately wound up with two players that can contribute immediately followed by two top flight pitchers that will be a part of the staff when other prospects like Eric Hosmer are the core of the team.