Sunday, November 25, 2007

Hot Stove Indulges

During the offseason there is no shortage of inane rumors. Fox Sport's Ben Maller offers plenty of links to a nation of columnists and writers that go to print with a trade offer that seems completely make-believe. One of my personal favorites is Paul Hoynsie in Cleveland who does his best to fan and extinguish some of those very rumors for the Tribe in his Q & A column "Hey, Hoynsie!" Considering the gaping holes in the Twins lineup (third, DH, center) and the league's fetish with young pitching, one could easily put team names in a hat and concoct your very own rumor. Thankfully it is not necessary to find a hat. Locally, the Twin Citians are fortunate enough to have two such sources for hot-stove hearsay: Shooter and Sid.

(As a confession, in spite of the recent gaffs of A) reporting that the Twins will indeed have a centerfielder next season (an excellent follow-up to his prior column "Water is Wet"), B) reporting that the Twins lost Alexander Smit to the Reds "the other day" in October when "the other day" happened to be in the previous July (but hey, we've all misplaced blocks of time), and C) making a claim about Silva's contract offer that was totally unfounded, like Nick & Nick, I somehow maintain the belief that Charley Walters rumors carries significantly more weight than Grandpa Sports in the Westside Fishwrap. While both columnists show signs of phoning it in Walters - with no real evidence to prove this credibility aside from his previous connection to the Twins organization - is seemingly the more trustworthy source.)

In his most recent column, Charley Walters has indicated that 34 Kirby Puckett Place is still in contact with the Tampa Bay and discussing a Delmon Young-for-Matt Garza swap. Arriving at this speculation must have been no small feat for Shooter. After all A) the newly-dubbed Tampa Bay Rays have a glutton of young outfielders and the Twins are in desperate demand for such a product and B) the Twins have a surplus of young, inexpensive pitching the likes of which every organization envies. A well-placed phone call to the Twins front office might have confirm that A) the Rays have outfielders and B) the Twins have pitchers. Following that, all a columnist had to do was fill in the blanks that the Rays are willing to trade Outfielder X for Twins Pitcher Y. (Or, perhaps read one of Joe Christensen's past articles from the beginning of November). Story written.

Meanwhile, Rotoworld has already refuted the Young-Garza deal (and as we will see with good reason) but let's play devil (ray)'s advocate and indulge Walters and assume this deal is indeed discussed between the two organizations. This is precisely the transaction that would benefit the Twins long run. When the Montreal Expos swapped Cliff Floyd to the Florida Marlins for Dustin Hermanson and Joe Orsulak, Floyd had spent parts of four season on the Expos roster. He was a young corner outfielder that had previously destroyed Double-A and Triple-A pitching and in 1994 placed 5th in the Rookie of the Year voting. After coming to Florida, Floyd hit very well and established himself as a premium player in the National League. Likewise, Delmon Young has done the same to minor league pitching for the Tampa organization. Last season he finished second to the Red Sox's Dustin Pedroia as the runner-up for the Rookie of the Year in the American League. He hit left-handed pitching well (.299/.326/.427) and played in all 162 games for the AL East's perennial losers.

Needless to say, the Twins would greatly benefit from Young's right-handed presence in the lineup.

I have long felt that many of the Twins pitchers are replaceable from within the farm system. If the right deal were presented Baker, Bonser, Slowey and Garza are all expendable. Delmon Young is that type of player. While displaying flashes of brilliance, Garza is certainly not a guaranteed number 1 starter in a rotation. In his previous two seasons with the major league club, Garza has a career strikeout rate of 17.9% (of the 599 batters faced, Garza has pined 105 of them). Comparatively, Garza falls between Scott Baker (who has a career strikeout rate of 16.3%) and Boof Bonser (who is at 18.4%). Baseball Think Factory's ZiPs has Garza finishing 2008 with a 13-12 record and a 4.21 era. If the Twins enter 2008 with a rotation of Santana, Liriano, Baker, Bonser and Slowey ZiPs projects that this group would accrue roughly 63 victories. Substituting Garza for Baker, Bonser or Slowey would only aid the Twins only two or three projected victories.

If Garza were to be traded for Young, the pitching prospects in the farm system including Nick Blackburn, Brian Duensing, Anthony Swarzak and Yohan Pino will be ready to enter the rotation following the 2008 season. Garza's potential output would easily be reproduced by a younger prospect. I do believe he has the opportunity to have a brilliant pitching career -- most likely as a mid-rotation guy on a good team -- but the chances of an arm injury add risk, which is why (pending a break-out season) the market for Garza might not get any better.

The Rays are hardly without pitching but like almost every franchise it could use more. With a 2008 rotation that will include Scott Kazmir, James Shields, JP Howell and Andy Sonnanstine, a staff that ZiPs projects to win an estimated 42 games, a solid arm like Garza added to the front of this rotation would provide an additional young talent and has the potential to add 5 to 6 more wins per season over any other starter in the Rays system. Considering Garza's projected 2008 era is 4.21 and better than everyone on the Rays staff besides Kazmir's, he could be the number 2 starter in Tampa.

So the fact that the Tampa Bay Rays would immediately benefit from Matt Garza is substantiated as well.

The problem is that in all likelihood if the Twins were that interested in Young, the Rays would ask for another player or two with Garza to make it happen. Similar to the Twins pitching surplus, the Rays have a like situation in the outfield. Currently on the roster the Rays have Upton, Young, Baldelli, Crawford, Gomes, and Dukes in the outfield. The Rays could conceivably trade Young and replace him with another outfielder, however, he is cheap and will avoid arbitration until after the 2010 season. A player like Delmon Young who finished strong in 2007 can definitely replicate his numbers in the coming seasons. Which begs the question: Of all the potential trading pieces, why would the Rays trade Young? If you were the Rays front office would you not most likely consider moving the often-injured Baldelli, the free-swinging Gomes, the domestically-abusing Dukes or the soon-to-be-expensive Crawford prior to Young unless you were blown away by an offer?

The fact is that even though the Twins and the Rays have something the other wants, it does not mean that the two organizations will agree on the price-point.