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.
OK, that's it for my thoughts for today. I would encourage everyone to stop over to Rich's Baseball Beat today. He's got a great interview with Alex Belth, a great guy and the writer of another great baseball blog, Bronx Banter.
I will be back tomorrow, but here again is my posting from Friday, the Best Bang for the Buck Update.
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