Saturday, December 16, 2006

To say that the Twins don't participate in Baseball's Winter Meetings is a vast understatement. It is common knowledge at this point. Twins never make any significant free agent signings at the Winter Meetings. Water is wet. E=MC2. Twins won't sign big name sluggers or pitchers. Period. End of story. Year in and year out, the Twins fans are subjected to hot stove headlines that contain the non-steroid user names like Juan Castro and Jeff Cirillo. To be honest, for ages I was bothered by that. I wanted to experience the exhilaration that only fans in Chicago, New York, Boston or Los Angeles feel when the open their paper and shout "Yes! Yes! We got him! We finally got him! We got Zito!" It just doesn't have the same oomph with the name Cirillo. Seriously. Try it. Next to the Cirillo signing, the biggest signing for the Twins had been a Minor League contract to Ken Harvey who may or may not have been panhandling on a freeway off-ramp when Terry Ryan spotted him (and the contract may or may not have been for a fresh shave and a hot meal). For the record, Twins fans should take comfort knowing that his only chance of seeing Major League time is if an elevator carrying our 40-man roster snaps and plummets 40 storys. Meche. Bonds. Thomas. Piazza. These are all names bantered about. None would have made sense for the Twins. Think about it. Aside from left field (I would personally have Rondell White back) and a designated hitter (I'm not terrible with Jason Kubel), could you honestly say you would displace any member of the starting lineup for any member of this free agent class? The murmur from the mostly dormant offseason Twins fans was at a hush, the only vocal ones made snide, but poignant, barbs about how the term "All-Star" and "Ken Harvey" were being thrown around all too loosely. Some ripped Terry Ryan for not chasing a free agent market gone wild. But here's the thing that all Twins fans should be thankful for: We're lucky to have such an even-keeled General Manager. Consider the alternatives. General Managers with an open checkbook in the off-season is like Stallone running through the Vietnamese jungles with a high-powered machine gun Rambo-style. He can do real damage, real fast. Take Chicago Cubs Gm Jim Hendry who has Alfonso Soriano signed until most of the world's uranium supply decomposes. Essentially all that will be left after a nuclear fallout will be cockroaches and Soriano playing the outfield for the Cubs. If that wasn't foolhardy enough, he then enlisted left-handed Ted Lilly to ensure that all the fans on Waveland Avenue had recieved enough souviners from the opposing team's right handed bats. Look at Pat Gillick, the Philadelphia Phillies GM. Assessing this offseason talent pool Gillick made an accurate analysis saying, "The group that's out there as free agents, it isn't the most attractive group." Gillick then signed Adam Eaton. Gillick convinced himself (or worse yet, the "market" convinced him) that his team had a need that could only be filled by earmarking $24.5 million of the Phillies money for the next three years. For a pitcher that has yet to throw 200 innings in a season. That's like walking into a bar, declaring there is nothing but deranged-looking women and then proceeding to down several Jack and Cokes until -- eh, what the hell -- one of them seems remotely attractive. The next morning are you really going to feel good about what you did? Do you think Pat Gillick could look at himself in the mirror? The Twins are the baseball equivalent to Costa Rica, we stay out of the Free Agent Wars. We are a better people for it too. Sure Twins fans can't log on to and read the latest rumor about the Twins pursuing Zito and sure no one will ever blurt out the words "Terry Ryan has signed Soriano to a 10-year/$130 million deal" but the bottomline is that Terry Ryan has created an unquestionable template for winning. If you need further proof: for the cost of a Ted Lilly, we have a two-time Cy Young Award winner in Johan Santana (4-years/$40 million)? Ryan's got a plan. Trust him.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Hello Cirillo.

Have you ever had that friend that had a particular "type" of girl that he dated? All the women in his life shared a similar defining characteristic of a certain celebrity that he is obsessed with -- say Jennifer Garner -- then subsequently dates various women that looked vaguely like Garner in some low-grade way (brown hair, knobby-kneed, named Jen, etc). Once you heard that he was dating someone, you instantly had a mental image of what they looked like. This friend is so transparent with his love-life, that when you see a girl at a bar that shares those same qualities, you instinctively know that your buddy is going to comment on her long before he before he does. What is known is that the friend of yours would never in a million lifetimes end up with Jennifer Garner, for several glaring reasons such as 1) he spends too much of his time at a peanut bar called Williams in Uptown Minneapolis where Jennifer Garner rarely shows up, 2) it's doubtful if she is into dudes that play Golden Tee in Prior Lake and 3) she already in a committed relationship to one Ben Afflack. So he is going to find the next best thing on the market that resembles Garner and will also sleep with him. That's sort of how the Twins operate. That is what is transpiring when you read the paper and find out the Twins signed Jeff Cirillo on Tuesday. They become infatuated with a certain type of player's tools. Most of the time, there are obvious reasons to why a premium player won't come to Minnesota such as 1) too high of an asking price, 2) they prefer to play on "the coast" or 3) in a committed relationship to one Scott Boras. So the Twins seek out the next closest (and cheapest) player. One such example of this was the Dmitri Young Years. Over the past few seasons, the Twins were rumored to be seeking potential deals to bring Dmitri Young to the organization. The Twins front office coveted his switch-hitting power in 2002 and 2003. Bert Blyleven reminded us every time the Twins were playing the Tigers that the Twins "loved how Young just drops the head of the bat". In the 2003 season he put up semi-monster power numbers considering he was playing in Comerica prior to the walls being moved forward (29 HRs 84 RBIs, .297/.372/.537 (.909 OPS)) and was elected to the All-Star team. All drug addictions aside, the Twins were fortunate not to have made this deal. At 32 years old, Young is averaging 21 HRs 82 RBIs, .289/.346/.476 (.822 OPS) per season and limited to first base and DH. The problem was that he was a little out of the Twins' league at the time. He had a 4 year/$28.5 million dollar contract. In 2002 he signed a deal with the Tigers that would allot him $5.5 in that year, 2003 he would receive $6.7 million, $7.7 million in 2004 and $8.0 in both 2005 and 2006. These were figures that the Twins were reserving for Torii Hunter who would be commanding a 4-year/$32 million deal. Meanwhile the Twins in the 2005 offseason signed Rondell White to an incentive-laden contract that was worth $2.5 million for the year with trigger options for 2007. Despite not being a switch hitter, White shared many traits with Young. Both had bursts of power, both have a low walk/high strikeout rate and both could play DH and the corner outfield if asked. Rondell's career average offensive numbers (22 HRs 94 RBIs, .286/.339/.465 (.805 OPS)) are very similar to DY's. Even in this past season when both players missed a significant amount of time, they seemed to replicate stats: DY 172 ABs 7 HRs 23 RBIs .250/.293/.407 (.700 OPS) RW 337 ABs 7 HRs 38 RBIs .246/.276/.365 (.641 OPS) For all intents and purposes, White was every bit as good (or bad depending on the season) as Young. The difference was White was a more frugal signing for the same kind of output with less off-field problems. That's what the Twins do. They find the characteristics that they value in a player then see if they can obtain it for a bargain. White was a gamble who didn't necessarily pay dividends. I would rather pay $2.5 million for those stats as opposed to $8.0 million. Similar to Dmitri, baseball insiders have said the Twins have had a long-standing man-crush on Joe Randa (aka the Joker). Randa has spent most of his career playing against the Twins in the AL Central for the Kansas City Royals and putting up respectable, workman-like offensive numbers and showing a solid glove at third base. In 2005 Randa split a one-year/$2.1 million contract with Cincinnati and San Diego. His offensive season (17 HRs, 68 RBIs .276/.335/.452 (.787 OPS)) was good enough to earn him a raise from Pittsburgh (1-year/$4.0 million) in which is output dropped off after injuries and the emergence of doubles-machine Freddy Sanchez. Randa has since announced his retirement this offseason due to the stress fracture in his foot. So once again, the person that the Twins desire is not available. The Twins went searching for the next best thing. The boys at proclaimed Jeff Cirillo to be the most similar batter to Joe Randa. Consider their career offensive averages, keep in mind that Cirillo spent two seasons at Coors, but otherwise they are almost interchangeable: JR 13 HRs 79 RBIs .284/.339/.426 (.765 OPS) JC 12 HRs 74 RBIs .298/.368/.432 (.800 OPS) And in the past season where both had limited playing time (Cirillo because he was cast to the bench and Randa because he had a nagging foot injury) they nearly duplicated numbers: JR 4 HRs 28 RBIs .267/.316/.388 (.714 OPS) JC 3 HRs 23 RBIs .319/.369/.414 (.783 OPS) Even after digesting all those numbers, here is the most crucial one: JR $4 million JC $850,000 The Twins have signed Cirillo for a 1-year/$1.25 million dollar contract to play a limited role this season. Cirillo should be durable enough to adequately back up/platoon at third with Punto, even if he puts up the exact same numbers as his previous season with the Brewers he would still be worth it.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Hope Springs Eternal

"Love. She's a motherfucker." waiter, Old School At the moment, I'm try to decide why, exactly, are the Twins are "Hopeful" to keep Lew Ford? At this point in the offseason which has turned into a Roman orgy of money for most General Managers, the Minnesota Twins would be damn lucky retain a Lew Ford. Obviously the hope that Lew stays in Minnesota is not inspired by his steady decline over the two previous season, dropping offensively from a solid .827 OPS to a respectable .715 to a mortal .599 this past season. The hope would be that he can somehow reclaim that 2004 swing. His price tag, if offered arbitration by the Twins, should qualify him for a raise from $425,000 to $850,000 for next year and considering the astronomical increase for the cost of moderate outfielders, the Twins might be getting a bargain. Consider Gary Matthews Jr. who received what many would call a farce of a contract from the Angels this past offseason. After a "breakout" season at the age of 31, Gary cashed in for 5-years/$50 million. Here is the stat line that buys you $50 million dollar contracts: 31 - 19 HRs 79 RBIs .313/.371/.495 (.866 OPS) After Lew Ford's "breakout" campaign of 2004 when his was a youthful 27 Lew produced these numbers: 27 - 15 HRs 72 RBIs .299/.381/.446 (.827 OPS) For a season, it appeared that the Twins had once again pillaged another team's farm system. Of course we already know that Lew Ford regressed back down to earth. Lew started being Lew again. Had Lew compiled those numbers this past season, Lew might have found himself being a valued commodity. Instead, he's waiting next to his phone to hear (hopefully) an offer from the Minnesota Twins for, perhaps, less than a million dollars for one season. Baseball's time-line has a funny way of messing with its players. Almost Shakespearean. For instance Cool Papa Bell was labeled by Bill Veeck as one of the greatest players he had ever seen, drawing comparisons to Honus Wagner, even though most agreed that that was a unfair comparison. Cool Papa was much superior because he was in his 40s when Veeck saw him play. Because he was born before Jackie Robinson and was long past his prime when the color barrier was broke, he never was able to obtain the dividends that the Major Leaguers were entitled to. Cool Papa grew old in the slums of North St. Louis and spent many nights as a 72 year old with a shotgun on his lap because of the crime and grit of the neighborhood. He died penniless. Had he been born 15 years later, he might have played along side Robinson, Aaron and others. Naturally this story is heavy in contrast to the Matthews/Ford debate. I'm not suggesting that Lew Ford is Cool Papa either (although that nomenclature would fit Lew). Look again at the offensive numbers of Matthews and Ford. Lew Ford will be playing next season with the constant dread in the back of his mind that he might be sent on a one-way flight to Rochester or worse, Kansas City. Matthews might be seen next on Cribz or the OC. Some reap the rewards; others become Lew Ford and Cool Papa. Timing in this game is everything. Baseball. She's a motherfucker.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Lilly's in for $40 million

When the Texas Rangers resigned Vicente Padilla for a hefty sum of $34 million/3 years it was a direct response to the contract the Phillies offered frequent DLer Adam Eaton ($24.5 million/3 ars). These transactions sent the price for adequate arms higher than Snoop Dogg's tour bus. What transpired next was the unreasonable domino effect in which clubs with a ton of cash - desperate for pitching - buy anything that sounds legit. This is what explains the Lilly signing. When the Chicago Cubs purchasing lefty Ted Lilly for $40 million/4 years, Chicago was a team in dire need to reduce the number of runs allowed. Nobody has informed Chicago that Lilly has the unlikely probability of reducing the number of runs Chicago gives up then Bono has for eradicating hunger in Africa. The Lilly contract isn't as unreasonable as some of the other budget-busting acquisitions that Tribune Company has been involved in this off-season (see: Soriano, Alfonso) but this one proves that no one is taking any careful consideration either. The problem is, the same money could have been used to buy an equivalent starting pitcher or pitchers for same amount; minus the name recognition. At the turn of the last century, the Cubs had the best starting trio in Zombrano, Wood and Prior since Hudson, Mulder and Zito of the Oakland A's. Wrigley is built for power pitchers. Lilly is not a power pitcher. The overpaying for a 30 year old starting pitcher who spent his career with an ERA (4.60) higher than the combined league average from 1999-2006 (4.56) for $1o million a season is unjustifiable. Of course, any stathead knows that judging a pitcher by his ERA is like judging a Beauty Pageant by the talent portion. Unfortunately for Lilly, his talent isn't necessarily pitching. For the past three seasons with a higher walks per 9 innings than the league average in addition to offering the third highest walks total in the AL last season. Base runners at a place hitters' park like Wrigley isn't really the right direction to go for a pitcher trying to bring his career ERA below the league average. The past six season Lilly dished out more than the league's average of Home Runs per 9 innings. Last season he average 1.4 home runs a game while the Cubs averaged 1.3 staff-wide in the homer friendly confines of Wrigley. A higher walks and home run frequency added to the rotation? How is that suppose to improve your pitching staff?

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Royally Screwed?

It hasn't been a light task of transforming the Kansas City Royals into a contender. In recent times there hasn't been a more prolonged rebuilding process this side of the Tigris and 2007 seems to be more of the same. With a current $55 million earmarked in the 2007 season Royals GM Dayton Moore has approximately $18 million to play with. There would be a tendency for the Moneyball pundits to suggest bargain shopping, invest that $18 million in bolstering the pitching staff with hurlers who can locate the strike zone without the aid of a GPS device (against the Twins last season in Kauffman, the Royals issued 27 free passes in one series). Assessing the inflating rate for the cost of arms this year (see: Eaton, Adam 3 years/$24.5 million), Moore naturally agreed that the franchise would be frugal this offseason as not to get caught up the bidding excitement. Unfortunately, Moore fancies himself a bit of a day trader. The thought of Moore rummaging through sales bins was quickly extinguished when it was announced that the Royals are finalists for the Gil Meche sweepstakes. For $8 to $10 million a year for three to four years (and lets face facts, it will take a higher range for Meche to pass up offers from the Chicago Cubs and Toronto Blue Jays) the Royals can have a mid-rotation starter while leaving only $8 million to address a faulty bullpen. Item #1 would be to improve the starting rotation. The Royals minor league affiliates are primed with prospects that may need another season of conditioning or at the very least, gingerly brought along in the pros (anti-Jimmy Gobble). The recent acquisition of the Mets farmhand Brian Bannister has given them yet another option of youth/prospect (see also: Gobble, Hovacher, Buckner, Rosa). One way to accomplish this affordable would be by resigning Mark Redman, an inning-eater that gives up few walks (2.9 per 9 innings in his career). This would be an inexpensive solution to keep runners off the base paths. Item #2 would be to find a legimate closer and bullpen. Last season the Royals bullpen blew 31 of 66 save opportunities. The hard part to believe is that the Royals actually had 66 save opportunities. The recent jettisoning of the hard-throwing-but-just-a-bit-outside prospect Ambiorix Burgos (dealt to the Mets for Bannister), who had 12 of the blown saves in 2006, is a step in the right direction, much like admitting you're an alcoholic is the first step to recovery. Bringing in free agents like former closer turned right handed specialist Danny Kolb ($2.0 million/season or less) and lefty set-up man Steve Kline ($3.0 million/season or less) would help solidify the ailing bullpen. Meanwhile, tapping a rehabbed closer like Dustin Hermanson ($2.0 million/season) might buy the Royals a few extra wins. Simply a low-risk stopgap, these signings would bridge the roster until yet another generation of Royals pitching prospects are field-ready.