Tuesday, February 6, 2007
Look Back - Big Trades
Good morning everyone! By 10:00 this morning, I will be on a plane to Orlando. There will be new postings each of the next three days, so please be sure to stop by. Today is another day that will be just some re-prints of old postings, but I do think it is pretty interesting. The Twins made a couple of significant trades in the winter of 2003 that really helped shape the last three seasons' success. I had some mixed opinions on the trades at the time, but I think you will enjoy seeing me be both right and wrong. So, below you will find my thoughts on 1.) the AJ Pierzynski trade and 2.) the Eric Milton trade.
Have a great day!
Monday November 17, 2003
The AJ Trade
Happy Monday! I mentioned Friday that I wasn't going to write up anything for today, unless something major happened. Well, the Twins traded their All-Star catcher, AJ Pierzynski, on Friday. I think that would be something that could be classified as fairly significant to a site that primarily discusses the Twins and other Minnesota sports teams.
Over the weekend, I have heard both sides of this trade. Good trade for the Twins? Bad trade for the Twins? Good trade for the Giants? The Giants gave up too much?
So where do I stand? Well, I think it was a very good trade for the Twins, but I think that the Giants should be very happy as well. First, from the Twins standpoint. There was no doubt that Pierzynski was going to play no more than one more season with the Twins anyway. Joe Mauer's performance in the minor leagues and then this fall with Team USA showed scouts that they think he is ready for the big show. Will he hit .300? Will he hit as well as AJ has the past two seasons? Probably not. But will he hit? Yes. Will he be a better defensive player than AJ? I have no doubt in that. I thought AJ's defense took a big step backwards in 2003. Will this trade be good for the team's chemistry? I have no doubt in this. A number of sources have told me that AJ was not the respected clubhouse leader that he has been made out to be. From all indications, Mauer is a confident, yet quiet leader who will fit right in to the Twins clubhouse, despite being just 20 years old.
Some may think that Mauer should use a year of AAA ball to prepare. I disagree. I think too often you find former big leaguers or life-long minor leaguers at AAA who are bitter and disgruntled. I don't think that's the kind of environment that Mauer needs to be in. I think many of the best players in the big leagues have made that direct jump from AA, and I don't think that's a bad thing.
Now, from AJ and the Giants perspective. AJ goes to a team that has been in the playoffs a lot. He gets to play with one of the greatest players ever to play this game in Barry Bonds. He will be able to immediately contribute to bettering that team. Sure, he goes to the worst hitters ballpark in baseball, but he never has been a big home run hitter anyway. With the spacious outfield, especially in right centerfield, AJ should continue to hit lots of doubles.
Now back to the Twins; to the players they received in return for AJ. Joe Nathan had a great return season last year in the Giants bullpen. He was fully recovered from Tommy John surgery and was a dominant setup guy. He was 12-4 with a sub-3.00 ERA. Boof Bonser is not only a great name player (his name was John, but he had it legally changed to Boof a couple of years ago), but he is a big prospect. He had an average season split between AA and AAA. I think he probably slots in as the Twins #4 prospect going into next season. That's pretty impressive when you consider the Top 3 prospects will be Joe Mauer, JD Durbin and Jesse Crain. Rochester should be excited about having Bonser and Durbin starting games for them. Francisco Liriano is another top 'prospect' type. He is just 20 years old and throws 98 mph from the left side. There is no questioning his tools. His control and his health are the two question marks with him. The last two seasons, he has pitched a combined 9 innings. If he is healthy again, this could be the key to the trade.
So, the Twins pick up a guy who can either take LaTroy Hawkins place or add to the bullpen. With Hawkins, Nathan and Rincon, that's a pretty solid group setting up the closer (whether it's Guardado or Crain). They pick up a very solid pitching prospect who is probably within a year of making a big league contribution. And they add a big risk/big reward hard throwing left-handed 20 year old pitcher. I think the Twins did very well in this trade. It also is the first in, what I believe will be a number of offseason deals.
The purpose of the deals are to 1.) clear up some salary in an attempt to re-sign Hawkins, Guardado and Stewart, and 2.) become a better team. Some may not understand how trading a guy like Pierzynski (or Milton or Jones, who could be next) can make them a better team. It has long been my opinion that the Twins current team is very good. However, they have developed such a strong minor league system that they could very well be even stronger by piecing in some of those other players with (or in place of) the current group. If Jones is traded, the likelihood of Stewart returning is more possible (although I think he'll be heading west). I also think that the likes of Cuddyer, Restovich, Ford and Ryan could fill left-field and right field and the Twins wouldn't miss a beat. (I almost hate to say that because as I've mentioned before, Jacque is probably my favorite current Twin) If the Twins trade Milton, there is $9 million available. That could secure both Guardado and Hawkins, leaving a very strong Twins bullpen. But also, JD Durbin impressed so much last season, and even more with Team USA, that he could slot into a 4th spot in the 2004 Twins rotation. A rotation of Santana, Radke, Lohse, Durbin and Balfour may be young, but I think they could be stronger than a group of veterans.
And, don't forget some of the comments the Doug Mientkiewicz has made before and since the Pierzynski trade. Don't think that the Twins brass, including Terry Ryan, isn't reading that as well. Justin Morneau is more than capable of taking over the 1B position, should the Twins decide to go that direction. People definitely make too much of Morneau's struggle with the Twins last year. But don't forget, like other prospects before and since him, he came up and did well with regular playing time. Then he had his 4 strikeout game, and after that Gardy lost all confidence in him. Given regular playing time, it is very exciting for me to think of what types of numbers Morneau could put up. But I can say the same thing about Michael Cuddyer, Michael Restovich, Lew Ford, Joe Mauer and others. That's why the concept of trading some of these veterans doesn't scare me as much as it excites me for Spring Training. I realize that there will be some struggles, but it excites me because I think this next wave has the potential (And I know that's a scary word to some people) to be far better than the current group.
So, there were my thoughts on what has since been called the greatest trade in Twins history. How about the other big trade a couple of weeks later?
December 4, 2003
Can You SayÖ Salary Dump?!
Late yesterday afternoon, I heard the news. The Twins had traded starter Eric Milton. That certainly did not come as a surprise to me. Trade rumors surrounding Milton have been circulating the newspapers and web sites for the past month. It was not so much a matter of if Eric Milton would be traded, but to whom and more importantly, for whom.
The answer to the first question came first. We found out that Milton was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies, but for who? Shortly thereafter, we found out. The Twins and GM Terry Ryan traded Eric Milton to the Phillies for utility infielder Nick Punto and middle reliever Carlos Silva, along with the ever popular Player to be Named Later.
I have to admit, that upset me. I knew Milton would be traded, however, I expected that he could bring the team a prospect or two. But no, we get a utility infielder and a middle reliever. (thatís the part that disappoints me, I understand that his $9 million salary for this year is a burden that needed to be moved) I was planning on going home after work and typing up a major rant right away about how upset I was about the trade, but I decided to go a different route instead.
I got home. I checked my e-mail. I saw that Aaron Gleeman had posted my two Hall of Fame discussions (Part 1 - The First-Timers, and Part 2-The Returners) on the Baseball Primer website. I noticed that there were already over 40 Comments about it on that site (there are probably more now, so check them out here, and add to it, if you would like). I was pretty excited. It was my first Baseball Primer mention.
I still wasnít ready to start typing about the Milton trade yet, so I figured Iíd do something productive. I paid my bills. Thatís always fun and puts me in such a good mood! That took awhile, but I have to admit, I was watching The Simple Life because itís funny, followed by Ryan & Tristaís Wedding because itís cool!
So now I am able to write more clearly about the Eric Milton trade. That said, it will probably still turn into a rant. So, letís see:
First, letís discuss Milton and what was the main reason for his trade, his $9 million contract for 2004. Eric Milton made just three starts last season because of his knee surgery. When he came back, he was basically still in Spring Training mode. My thinking all along in regard to trading Milton was that if they got a very good prospect or two, it would be a good trade. However, if the Twins were unable to get fair market value in return for Milton, I was excited to see him pitch in 2004. I think that his arm will be stronger next season, and his knee, although a risk, could be back near 100%. His lost weight and the workout necessary to rehab his injury put him in the best shape he has been in. I look for big things from Eric Milton in 2004. If that is that case, the $9 million salary would be bearable. If not, well, he isnít on the books for 2005 anyway.
So what did the Twins get in return for Eric Milton?
24 year old Carlos Silva is a middle relief pitcher who came up from AA in 2002 and performed very well for the Phillies. He spent the entire 2003 season in the majors in a setup role and did well. In his two seasons, he has pitched in 130 games for the Phillies and has an 8-1 record. In my mind, Carlos Silva is a reliever in the mold of Juan Rincon, and as Iíve mentioned before here, I think Rincon does a good job. With the loss of LaTroy Hawkins to the Cubs via free agency yesterday, Silva provides another strong bullpen arm to the Twins, along with Joe Nathan.
The second player the Twins received was a middle infielder named Nick Punto. Although his name is fun to say, Punto is not a great player (or even a good player) and, already 26 years old, his ceiling is not high. In 2003, Punto played in 64 games for the Phillies and hit .217/.273/.272 with 92 at bats. I know that the Twins wanted to address their middle infield situation. They want to improve over Cristian Guzman and Luis Rivas. Well, so far they have added Nick Punto and Augie Ojeda to the mix. Neither of them is even as good as the current players. Essentially, these two players will be, at best, the teams two utility infielders (if the team goes with 2 utility infielders again next season). When asked about Punto, here is what Ron Gardenhire said:
"The kid can play. Guzie's my shortstop going into camp, but we're going to put the best people out there. There should be no more excuses for Guzie -- he should come in ready to play, and I think he will."
Maybe a little actual pressure on Guzman will bring the best out of him. We can hope!
The Player to be Named Later will be determined after the Rule V draft. Youíll remember that the Twins will also be receiving a player from the Blue Jays as part of the Bobby Kielty trade. Depending on who that player is, I really am disappointed by this trade.
So, why would Terry Ryan jump into this trade? The only reason I can think of is that the $8.4 million that this trade frees up will be used to sign either Shannon Stewart or Eddie Guardado, or both, or go in a different direction altogether. With the slow-down in the market that we have seen this winter, it is possible for the Twins to get two quality starting pitchers with that money. Maybe they re-sign Guardado and Kenny Rogers with that money? Maybe they sign Stewart and another veteran pitcher? Maybe they make a couple more deals and look into my idea to acquire Vlad Guerrero.
My assumption is that Terry Ryan has a plan. With the need to decide whether to offer salary arbitration to Shannon Stewart and Eddie Guardado due by the end of the week, I would expect that the Twins will make a couple more transactions this week. I think they will make every effort to sign both of these players before that deadline. To do that, Ryan will need to make at least one more deal, and clearly, that means that Jacque Jones will be traded.
It is important to look at this from a bigger perspective. Scrooge, I mean Pohlad, has said that the teamís salary will remain at $56 million for the 2004 season. That makes creativity essential. I will always think that this particular trade was terrible for the Twins. They got a good relief pitcher for a pitcher who could return to an All-Star status to save almost $9 million. However, how Terry Ryan uses the money that this deal frees up will determine how the deal will affect the Twins. And thatís really what matters.
Weíve known all along that the 2004 Twins could look far different from the 2003 version, so I expect more dealing. AJ Pierzynski was traded, and I liked that move. LaTroy Hawkins signed with the Cubs, and that was expected (hence receiving Joe Nathan in the AJ deal was so important), and now Eric Miltonís salary was traded to the Phillies. The roster will look different, but that doesnít mean it will be worse off. The Twins still have Johan Santana, Kyle Lohse and Brad Radke. They will probably sign a veteran pitcher (Steve Sparks?) as a starter. JD Durbin could also get a long look and do well. Joe Mauer may not be better offensively than AJ Pierzynski in 2004, but he probably will be by 2005, and heíll probably handle the job defensively better than AJ right away. Losing Jacque Jones will hurt the team in some ways. Heís a Gold Glove-caliber outfielder. Heís a .300 hitter. If he stays healthy (which he wasnít for a large portion of last season), he will hit a lot of home runs. But the Twins have a plethora of outfielders who can step in and contribute right away, if they are only given a chance. Michael Cuddyer, Michael Restovich, Michael Ryan, Lew Ford. Any one of them, given real playing time, would do well. It is still uncertain what will happen with Doug Mientkiewicz. He too could be traded, and if he is, the Twins would be OK. I completely have confidence that Justin Morneau could step in and play great. I think he could accidentally hit 30 home runs given 550 at bats. What will happen with the shortstop and second base positions?
We knew this would be a tough offseason. We knew tough decisions would have to be made. And now, weíre seeing those decisions happen. Itís hard to watch, but I hope (and Iím sure) that the Twins brass has a plan. They have built up a strong group of top prospects that are ready to contribute now.
Hopefully the fans will understand this and still come out to support the Twins. But at this point, I donít think even the current Twins players know whatís going on. Jim Souhan has some good quotes in his article today. Hereís what Torii Hunter said:
"This stinks! It looks like we're rebuilding again. If I had known this was going to happen, I probably wouldn't have signed my deal. We still have time to prove we're not going in that direction. We might sign someone who makes everybody happy. But right now we're falling backward."
When asked about LaTroy Hawkins signing with the Cubs (without the Twins even making him an offer!), Hunter said:
"You'd think we could have afforded that. I think we're forgetting who we're dealing with here. Joe Nathan is no LaTroy Hawkins. He might be a good pitcher, but LaTroy has proven himself here, and he's a chemistry guy."
Just wait until Jacque Jones is traded. I think Hunter should have some very strong quotes then! It should be entertaining, if nothing else.
By the way, yesterday, Rob Neyer of ESPN.com wrote a piece on LaTroy Hawkins, saying itís unfortunate the Twins didnít make an effort to resign him.
That's why you won't hear me ever claim to always be right or to have all the answers!!
As always, please feel free to e-mail me any time with your thoughts, comments, stories or ideas for future stories.
Have a great Tuesday!|
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