Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Trying Times in Twins Territory...

Okay…so as a Twins fan, these are somewhat trying times.

I knew coming into this postseason that Torii Hunter was as good as gone. You don’t come off a career year and enter a VERY thin free-agent market and actually expect to return to your low-budget, small-market team. Torii knew this. I knew this. All the residents of Twins Territory knew this.

There have been a lot of Torii haters coming out lately, mostly uneducated fans pissing and moaning about how he “took the money and ran” or “turned his back on the Twins” or simply “left.” There are also tons of idiots who are pissed at new General Manager Bill “I have the lamest name, ever” Smith for “letting him go.”

Now I can see where both of these arguments come from, but let’s be honest, everyone (who knows anything about the Twins, that is) knew coming in that they weren’t going to be able to match the offers that Rangers and White Sox would put on the table, heck even the Royals were willing to pony up for 5 years at $75 million. Unfortunately, with Carl Pohlad still alive (and come on…no ill-will intended, honest!) that puts Torii lights years away from anything the Twinkies could offer.

So when the Angels waltzed into town with a five-year pact and $90 million to spend, Torii probably crapped his pants and thought…“Seriously?! Do these guys know that I’m a career .271 hitter with 192 homers?” Honestly, I can’t blame the dude for bailing and I wish him the best.

Then less than a full week later comes the trade rumors. In the last week the Twins realized that they are roughly $40 million apart from Johan Santana’s agent on an extension and—although Alex Rodriguez probably makes $40 million brushing his teeth under his new contract—that’s still a lot of money, especially to the Twins.

As such, the Twins are exploring trade offers for Santana; and low-and-behold who’s first to come knocking at the Twins’ door? Well what do you know; it’s none other than the New York Yankees. The mighty, mighty Yankees; the team that everyone expected to go ahead and scoop Santana up after 2008 when it was apparent the Twins wouldn’t be able to re-sign him. It just so happens that the Twins came to this realization early on and decided that, unlike the Hunter situation, they’re going to be proactive and get more than a compensation draft pick for this big fish. They’re going to rape and pillage anyone who is willing to meet their asking price.

SMART F’n MOVE!!!

As I mentioned in previous blogs, roughly five teams are actually in the hunt for Santana because only those five teams have the coffers to sign him to a long-term deal, a requirement for him to wave his no-trade clause. Personally, I think that’s Johan’s way of doing the Twins a favor. He knows they can’t afford him, so he’s demanding a long-term deal before he accepts a trade. This helps the Twins because they can demand a better return from a big market club and it helps Santana because it—most likely—lands him with a consummate contender. Anywho, the big five who are in the Santana hunt would include the Yankees, Mets, Red Sox, Angels and Dodgers. Although recent reports state that the Mariners think they have some sort of puncher’s chance of jumping in and wooing the Twins over with both of the prospects they have in their farm system?! Whatever…it’s the big five and no one else.

The only real uprising I’ve heard from any of these cliques has been from the fans of—you guessed it—the Yankees. Apparently, Yankees fans think that by trading for Santana they are doing the Twins some sort of favor. As such, most fans continue to throw out packages that include Mike Mussina, Johnny Damon, Jason Giambi, Shelly Duncan, Wilson Betemit and Ian Kennedy. These same fans have labeled Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes, Robinson Cano and Melky Cabrera untouchable to the Twins.

Let me get this straight Yankee fans. The Twins will give you the best pitcher of this era and in return you think the Twins should take the fat, bloated contracts and washed up players that the Twins clearly can’t afford—thus the mass exodus of home-grown talent—and you offer career minor leaguers and the third-best of the “big three.”

Hmmmmm…now, correct me if I’m wrong, but the Yankees biggest issue the last, oh I don’t know, half-decade or so has been pitching, correct? Wouldn’t it make sense to gamble some prospects (believe it or not Yankee fans—Joba and Hughes are not Nolan Ryan and Tom Seaver—they are still unproven rookies) for the single greatest pitcher in baseball?

Honestly, I hope the Yankees own arrogance about their “untouchables” comes back to bite them in the ass and the Red Sox swoop in and offer some sort of three player deal involving Bucholz, Lester, Ellsbury, Crisp, Lowrie, Moss and/or Delcarmen. Then I hope Johan continues his career brilliance (2.66 ERA) against the Yankees and the Red Sox go on to win multiple division championships with the two-headed monster of Santana and Beckett staring down at the oddly-Pulsipher, Isringhausen, Wilson-like trio of Chamberlain, Hughes and Kennedy.

Wow, that was a lot of Johan ranting and Yankee-bashing. Let’s move on to the trade that is almost complete. That involves sending arguably the Twins best young pitching prospect Matt Garza, starting shortstop Jason Bartlett and set-up man Juan Rincon to the Tampa Bay Rays for outfielders Delmon Young, Jason Pridie and middle infielder Brendan Harris.

This one is pretty much a lock right now and I think it benefits both sides. Although I hate to see so much of the Twins core go. I think the return works out pretty well. Clearly the Twins have enough confidence in Pat Neshek and a healthy return of Jesse Crain to assume that Rincon can go. They also must believe that some combination of Alexi Casilla and Harris will work in the middle infield, despite the defensive lapses and obvious offensive short-comings of both men. However, the biggest plus here is the addition of Young.

Young, 22, was second in the Rookie of the Year voting in 2007 to the Red Sox’ Dustin Pedroia. As a rookie last season, Young started all 162 games for the Rays, hitting .288 with 13 home runs, 93 RBIs and 10 steals. Young was Tampa Bay's top choice in the 2003 amateur draft, and named “Baseball America's” Minor League Player of the Year in 2005. Adding Young to an outfield that currently includes Michael Cuddyer, Craig Monroe and Jason Kubel is a big coup for the Twins. (Rumor also has the Twins pursuing the likes of Coco Crisp and/or Jacoby Ellsbury in a potential trade with the Red Sox.)

The biggest loss obviously is Garza who is a righty with some nasty stuff and a very high-ceiling. With the expected losses of Santana and Carlos Silva this puts even more pressure on a very young rotation which (barring the return on Santana’s trade) should include Boof Bonser, Kevin Slowey, Glen Perkins, Scott Baker, potentially Nick Blackburn, and—returning from Tommy John surgery—new staff ace…Francisco Liriano.

Finally, the Twins current closer and future trade bait, Joe Nathan. Nathan emerged as a huge presence and one of baseball’s best closers after his trade from the Giants following the 2003 season. With Francisco Cordero and Mariano Rivera recently raising the bar for closers’ salaries, smart money is on the Twins moving Nathan this winter. Nathan is a Houston native and the Astros recently dispatched troubled closer Brad Lidge to the Phillies. The Astros have the money to spend; although so do the rival Texas Rangers who are also in need of a late-inning stopper. In addition, many other teams include the Cubs, Brewers, Red Sox, Mets, Tigers and Yankees could all be interested.

If the Twins do, in fact, dismantle and are left with what they view as the “new core” of the franchise—Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and Michael Cuddyer (and potentially Delmon Young)—expect them to dole out long-term deals quickly to avoid these problems in the foreseeable future and to lock up a solid roster for the Twins’ move to their new ballpark in 2010. At the same time, one can expect a hearty return for the likes of Santana and Nathan. Hopefully, new GM, Bill Smith will be able to build the team for the future without completely alienating the fans who have been here all along.


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--------EDIT----------

Just a heads up to anyone who isn't aware, once the trade became offical the Rays received highly-touted minor league pitching prospect Eduardo Morlan in the trade and not Juan Rincon as was originally rumored.

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