Thursday, September 6, 2007

Overheard

I've been critical of the Twins roster construction and organizational approach to offense, and to prove to you I'm not crazy, here are what some better writers have been saying about the hometown nine:

Similar to the A's the Twins have a solid pitching staff and defense, but flat out lack the offensive weapons the compete in the AL. With the loss of Torii Hunter seeming certain, the Twins need to make some radical changes to their team-building philosophies this off season.

-Matthew Carruth, The Hardball Times

This brings up something I've forgotten to mention on this blog. Thankfully there have been some rumors that the Twins' publicly stated policy of not negotiating with players during the season isn't actually how they operate, so I'm hoping it's just a ploy to keep the media coverage as calm as possible. However, if the Twins really don't negotiate with free agents to be during the season, that's an idiotic stance to take. I'm still confused by the way the Torii Hunter situation has unfolded and not impressed with the way things have been handled.

The Twins should have tried their very best to sign Torii Hunter to an acceptable contract up until July 15th, and then moved him for prospects if they weren't able. Now, if Terry Ryan fails to resign Hunter in the off season, the Twins only get a sandwich pick in between the first and second round as compensation for loosing Hunter, where they could have gotten much better prospects in a trade.

The team is in a tough position. The offense is in bad enough shape even with Hunter producing well, but Hunter is also going to be 32 next season. In all likelihood, the 2007 version of Hunter is as good as he's ever going to be offensively, and his defense has already started to decline. So the team can either lose one of their three best hitters, or overpay for an aging former all-star. Yuck.

It's never the annual salary that makes for a bad contract. Rather, because all contracts in baseball are guaranteed, it's always the length of big contracts that negatively impacts a team's competitiveness in future seasons. Ryan's goal should be to sign Hunter to a three year deal, which would cover his 32, 33 and 34 year-old seasons. I can't think of very many 35 year-old center fielders that have been worth big money. Johnny Damon is currently getting paid $13 million to post a .727 OPS for the Yankees right now and he's only 33 (and they still owe him $26 million for his 2008 and 2009 seasons).

Hunter and his agent aren't morons. They're going to push for the longest deal they can and they both know Hunter will never again be worth more than he is now. This off season will be his last chance to cash in big and set himself up financially for the rest of his life. The only way to get a player in Hunter's position to shave years off a contract is to up his annual salary, which isn't normally a bad trade-off, but Ryan has to contend with all the other contracts that will be coming due over the length of even a three year deal for Hunter, so that option is most likely out.

I hate to say it, but barring a contract that is going to hurt the Twins further on down the road, Hunter is leaving for good and all the Twins are getting in exchange is a sandwich pick. Barring a one-to-three year deal, it really looks like the Twins' front office has dropped the ball.

Completely lost in the offense's feeble second-half showing (3.75 runs/game) is the performance of the Twins' rotation. They've put up a 3.79 ERA, with Scott Baker (3.30) and Matt Garza (3.74) proving their big-league mettle, offering hope that Terry Ryan won't feel so compelled to seek out next year's version of Sidney Ponson or Ramon Ortiz to hobble the team out of the gate. As for that offense, its plight gets no easier with Joe Mauer sidelined by hamstring soreness.

-Jay Jaffe, Baseball Prospectus

The Twins continue to make the same mistakes. Jason Bartlett's no Jose Reyes or Hanley Ramirez but he is above replacement level, which is something you can't and couldn't say about Juan Castro. As with the shortstop debacle of seasons past, the Twins wasted money on washed up veterans (in this case back-end starters) because they were yet again afraid to trust their young talent. This time around the team ran out of money by the time the amateur draft came along and wound up drafting an inferior talent in the first round because they couldn't afford any of the true first rounders still on the board.

The front office has botched assembling a supporting cast on offense that can combine with the few real hitters the club has in their line-up to win games even with stellar pitching.

For me, the really interesting thing about the Phillies for the moment is that they're actually only at 38 players on their 40-man. In part, that's a product of having four hurlers on the 60-day DL, saving them space, but those moves were already old news—what's new is that they added those two extra spots not by transferring people to the 60-day DL, but by dumping Sanches and Branyan. Sanches is understandable; he's just organizational fodder. But ditching Branyan strikes me as an especially odd decision, especially considering that the club doesn't have a lefty pinch-hitter of note, and given that they're all of one player deep at the infield corners—subtract Greg Dobbs, let alone Ryan Howard, and the Phillies wind up with some pretty massive casting problems, and go from engaging underdogs for a third year running to something more like the Twins' National League cousins, a team that handicaps its bid for relevance and October action by blowing the little stuff.

-Christina Kahrl, Baseball Prospectus

Amen. At least someone, somewhere sees things as they are. The Twins front office has escaped a lot of well deserved criticism because they have done a remarkable job of building pitching staffs over the past half decade. Francisco Liriano was the only pitcher to place in the top ten in VORP (Value Over Replacement Player) in 2006 who didn't throw at least 200 innings. He threw just 121! As a result of the front office's approach to pitching, the Twins have pitched their way to four playoff births in the last five years. As a result of the front office's approach to offense, the Twins still haven't been to a World Series in sixteen years.

Twins fans need to decide if getting bounced from the playoffs without ever winning an AL Pennant is enough for them when everything goes right over the course of a season (if not we wind up in third place). If so, great, they've got the perfect general manager right now. If not, the Twins as an organization are going to need to change they way they go about several things.

It's going to be an interesting and challenging off season. Hopefully a disappointing but predictable third place finish forces the organization outside their comfort zone this off season.

5 comments:

John said...

Well, I agree with you wholeheartedly on the Hunter thing. Ryan tried to walk a middle line and he ended up doing about the worst possible thing. You cannot trade away Castillo and then keep Hunter. You just can’t. That was the single biggest blunder of the last year. Maybe of the last couple of years. Maybe of the decade.

But as for the other stuff…

It’s fine to say they haven’t done the little things, but sooner or later someone had better ask exactly what little things they should have done. I’ll talk about Ortiz/Ponson tomorrow on TG, but in my mind the mistakes they made were:

- Gambling that Rondell White could stay healthy as a DH and that his second half last year was more representative of his ability. And I agreed with them on both of these thoughts.
- Gambling that the plate discipline that Nick Punto suddenly developed last year was enough to elevate him to an average OBP guy. Instead, he didn’t simply regress to normal, he fell right off the map. I thought they were right about Punto, and nobody saw this performance. Nobody.
- Gambling that if they invested a couple of hundred at-bats in Kubel that he would become the middle-of-the-order threat he was projected to be a couple of years ago. Instead, he’s a below average left fielder both offensively and defensively. I would’ve agreed with that too, as evidenced by drafting him in my roto league.

These are not “little things” These are three players that should’ve provided 1500 average or above at-bats and instead have posted an absolutely miserable lines when they were even in the lineup. They are gaping holes to fill, and by the way, they aren’t going to be easy to fill this offseason either.

Tricia said...

I will miss Torii. It seems almost 100 percent likely that he'll hit the road for more money & a longer contract than the Twins can or will give him. And I guess I can't blame him for wanting to get as much money as he can. However: "This off season will be his last chance to cash in big and set himself up financially for the rest of his life." Oh my lord. He's making 12 million dollars this year, right? He ought to be set for life already. I did the math (depressing!) and it would take me 285 years to earn that much money, and I'm including the health insurance my generous employer pays as well as their contributions to my 401(k).

Kyle Eliason said...

Tricia,

I hear what you're saying. I didn't mean that Hunter is in need of money, just that this is the contract he'll plan his finances for life after baseball around. This is the big one.

Tricia said...

Kyle...

Thanks for clarifying that. I hope my post didn't come across as crabby. I didn't mean for it to. It just drives me crazy to think of someone actively seeking more than 12 million a year, even Torii, who I really like. I wish he'd stick around for a few more years

Anonymous said...

RE: John's take on the 'little things.'

Because 'you agreed with them' on signing Rondell White means it wasn't a mistake?

Nick Punto and Rondell White were supposed to supply 1000 of 1500 'average or above average' ABs, and you think there's no reason to look back at that and say, "boy that was foolish? We should've listened to the other 90% of the world who thought there was a, uh, SIGNIFICANT chance for failure there."

Nick Punto had 4 months of ALMOST average play last year. He still didn't amass 500 ABs.

When was the last time Rondell put up 500 ABs, much less 500 ABs of 'average or above' performance?

Simply because YOU thought it would work is no reason for everyone else who predicted a disaster to change their mind now.