Tag:Johan Santana
Posted on: December 16, 2012 3:51 am

No Country for Old Men

The Minnesota Twins don’t seem to be keeping up. In fact, they resemble a grizzled, small-town sheriff reading a weekly newspaper and fighting the drug war with pencil and paper against opposition armed with drones in the air, satellite images of the countryside and encrypted cell phones.

Evidence in favor of the Twins’ front office may have evaporated with the Johan Santana trade to the Mets. No longer can this management team offer its wisdom in flipping AJ Pierzynski into three pitchers, two of whom powered the team through the better part of the 2000s. In fact, one could have traced the Chuck Knoblauch trade to the Yankees through Eric Milton, again through Carlos Silva and Nick Punto. Or explored the beauty of dumping JC Romero for Alexi Casilla, converting a 1997 draft pick into a major league infielder starting through 2012.

But none of these things matter now. All those players are no gone, some of the unceremoniously dumped, such as Casilla being cast off and returning no value following a waiver claim by the Orioles.

The worst of these historical portraits comes straight out of the childhood nightmares of every baseball fan. Johan Santana went to the Mets for Carlos Gomez, Philip Humber, Kevin Mulvey and Deolis Guerra. Gomez was flipped for JJ Hardy, who was later flipped for Brett Jacobson and Jim Hoey. Hoey was waived a year later. Jacobson remained in the system until the 2012 season. Humber became a free agent after two seasons. Mulvey went to Arizona for Jon Rauch. Rauch spent a little more than one year in the Twins bullpen. Guerra is still making his way through the system.

By contrast, the Twins sent Frank Viola to the Mets for Rick Aguilera, Kevin Tapani, David West, Tim Drummond and Jack Savage. The first two were major contributors in the 1991 World Series win. Aguilera spent ten years with the team and, in two outbound trades, fetched Frankie Rodriguez (four years of service), JJ Johnson, Kyle Lohse (five plus years) and Jason Ryan. Tapani gave six plus years and yielded four parts in an outbound trade (including Ron Coomer). In short, Frank Viola was still paying dividends in 2007, and the major parts contributed more than 25 years of major league service time.

By far worse, Minnesota’s formerly acute front office passed on other offers for Santana that might have been far superior and would have yielded distantly greater returns in terms of major league service years. The Yankees offered Phil Hughes, Melky Cabrera and one more prospect. The Red Sox offered Jacoby Ellsbury, Justin Masterson and Jed Lowrie. Ian Kennedy, supposedly untouchable for the Yanks, was traded a year later in the three-way deal that brought Curtis Granderson to New York. Anything would have been better than the Santana deal actually made. Ellsbury and Lowrie up the middle would have been years of above average big league parts.

Recent evidence suggests the situation in Minnesota is getting worse for our old-timer sheriff. John Lannan signed with the Phillies for one year at $2.5 million base and an incentive-laden deal. Meanwhile Kevin Correia accepted an offer from Minnesota for two years and $10 million total. Based on Fangraphs data, Lannan is actually the better pitcher by WAR. Ty Wigginton signed in St. Louis. Not only is Minnesota not signing players who represent good value at their budget, the front office is spending more money for the wrong players.

Possibly in the interest of planning his own obituary, our sheriff also made a terrible trade this off-season. Denard Span was sent to Washington for an exciting prospect in Alex Mayer. A proven, multi-year big league outfielder who was exactly what was most desired by the Nationals did not fetch more than one prospect. A solid prospect to be sure, but only one. Not even John Lannan before he was non-tendered, or a second-tier minor leaguer like Sammy Solis. When Billy Beane, who should from this point forward be referred to as Sir William, sent Gio Gonzalez to Capitol Hill, he got projected studs AJ Cole and Brad Peacock plus Derek Norris with Tommy Milone thrown in. Again, based on Fangraphs, Gio Gonzalez’s WAR was 3.6 for the season before the trade, Span’s was 3.9. Put simply, an every-day big league regular who is solidly above average is worth more than one prospect. Just ask the Tampa Bay Rays about Jake Odorizzi or Mike Montgomery.

What emerges from this mosaic of events in the last decade is far more unbecoming than an unfortunate choice of player(s) selected in the Santana windfall, or bad luck from one free agent signing or another. This mosaic instead could be interpreted as the clearest picture yet of a second division emerging in front office understanding of the changing game. Sadly for Twins fans, that Minnesota front office shows no sign of jumping back into the premier league.

Posted on: November 22, 2012 1:23 pm

What Might Be, But Never Will

Happy Thanksgiving. I’m thankful for the opportunity to have A’s season tickets, and to have been through a magical season.

About once a year, I beg the front office of my childhood favorite team, the Minnesota Twins, to do something aggressive. You would think I would’ve learned by now. But I haven’t.

Here I go again. This week, I was seriously disheartened to witness the Twins filling their 40-man roster. Naturally, this wasn’t because the Twins added Kyle Gibson, Aaron Hicks, Danny Santana and other future big leaguers. No. I was disturbed because someone in the front office sees this roster as somehow complete, albeit temporarily, with such potential All-Ordinaries like Pedro Florimon, Casey Fien and Josh Roenicke. I was disturbed because this apparently precludes use of that favored Johan Santana-Scott Diamond vehicle, the Rule 5 Draft.

The Twins have acknowledged that Scott Diamond is in the rotation for 2013. And that’s it. There are four openings. Let’s say for the sake of argument that three starting additions would be necessary to create a competition for the fifth spot. Kyle Gibson and others would theoretically compete for that fifth spot if the prior three were filled by established big leaguers.

Between the Rule 5 Draft and free agency, even given the usual Minnesota constraints, humble approach, and strike-throwing requirements, there are abundant possibilities. No one wants to see the Twins pay Carl Pavano a salary of $8 million again. No one wants to see the Twins fork out $25 non-sense millions to Jeremy Guthrie.

Let’s start with the desire for a front-end stud, in the almost unthinkable event of a playoff appearance. The Twins are not stacked up to make a deep run in the playoffs because their pitching is barely major league in caliber. It just so happens that some unique combinations are available.

The Twins assert that $25 million or so. I’m going to spend it now.

Dan Haren is going to come with an injury discount at some rate significantly less than his $15 million option. Let’s say the medical reports come in on his back that he’s a risk worth taking. That may already be out of the question. If he were medically sound, I’m offering him $10 million, willing to go to $12, for the one-year deal to re-establish himself. Even better if this is an incentive-laden offer, heavily focused on innings, starts, quality starts, and similar benchmarks of his previous durability.

Ryan Dempster is a character. He’s goofy, light, and known around the National League as a clubhouse Blyleven. I’m offering him the last contract of his baseball life, two years with a third year option, at an average annual value of $8 million, with bonuses for all kinds of things including returning to his strikeout-per-nine rate over 8.0, making 28 starts, and so forth. Dempster ends his nicely above average career as a Twin, and the team gets a tremendous influence on the pitching staff.

Next, I want some subprime talent looking for a shot. I want Jonathan Sanchez, who is truly out of control at times. Or Erik Bedard, who is maybe a little mercurial. Or Rich Harden, who will break down after 6 weeks. Or Scott Feldman, who will be motivated to prove himself – but who doesn’t look like these others in that he stands very little chance of missing 150+ bats. Or Shawn Marcum, who is an overachiever in the mold of Brad Radke. Unfortunately, Marcum likely breaks the bank for this plan. These moves would be out of character for the Twins front office.

Now for this commercial message: Dear Twins front office, your pitching approach has not been successful. Dare I say, it has been an outright failure. Where is Shooter Hunt now? How about that Carlos Gutierrez? It’s high time to consider a mix of approaches, so that all five starters don’t resemble the cloned, high-80s heat of a gopherball strike thrower. And how did that Jason Marquis signing pan out? Or even the front end approach with Pavano? For an organization holistically geared to strike throwing, where are the strikeouts? I do understand and agree with Crash Davis’ truism: ground balls are more democratic. But that approach would require pitchers to successfully throw more outs. That doesn’t seem to be happening.

Back to our approach. The combination of Haren, Dempster and Sanchez has a chance at producing more than 550 strikeouts, and is veteran enough not to require years of development. Swap out Sanchez for the injury risks of Bedard or Harden and you have different clubhouse risks. The personality of Bedard, and the seemingly recovered prima donna of Harden. Either way, you still run out to the mound with a shot at 175 Ks. Switch those with Feldman or Marcum, and you are more likely aiming for 500 strikeouts, but with a notably more mature rotation that allows Diamond, Gibson and Company to continue on their normal development path, won’t have to count on rookies in slots 3-5, and makes a statement to fans that will sell more tickets.

With the new ballpark, the Twins face a new reality in the AL Central. They are no longer poor. Meanwhile, the Tigers’ billionaire owner is trying to grab that ring before his end of days. That’s the new reality. Winning will require a different approach. For the passing fan, the Twins simply haven’t shown the ability to break out of their terribly outdated business model.

Instead, we’ll wind up with Joe Saunders and some other Jason Marquis clones like John Maine.

I no longer wake up on Christmas morning hoping for something surprising under the tree in Minnesota. And that’s why I’m so thankful that I live in California now, with all the chances at winning that these teams present.

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com