Friday, October 13, 2006
Open Chat: Weekend EditionI'm bogged down with some other writing stuff, so I'm taking a rare three-day weekend from blogging and will instead open up the comments for whatever it is you guys feel like talking about from now until Monday morning.
Some suggested topics: Bringing back Torii Hunter, bringing back Carlos Silva, the postseason final four, Jessica Alba refusing to make the world happy, things to know as a first-time home buyer, and ideas you'd like to see me cover here during the offseason (besides resuming the "Top 40 Minnesota Twins" series, which is a given).
See ya Monday.
Thursday, October 12, 2006
Bringing Back Silva?The Twins have until sometime in mid-November to decide whether or not to exercise Carlos Silva's $4.3 million option for 2007, so there'll be plenty of opportunity to debate the issue between now and then. However, in the wake of the team spending $12 million to bring Torii Hunter back for one more year and Terry Ryan seemingly indicating during a radio interview earlier this week that he plans to pick up Silva's option, now seems like a good time to begin the conversation.
Is this pitcher worth paying $4.3 million in 2007?
YEAR G GS W L IP ERA OAVGOr if you're like me and want to dig a little deeper:
YEAR xFIP SO% BB% HR% GB% LD%*Definitions of the various stats quoted above can be found by clicking here.
Regardless of which set of numbers you prefer, the trends aren't very encouraging. Silva's ground-ball percentage has declined significantly while both his line-drive percentage and home-run percentage have steadily risen, which is just about the worst-case scenario for a guy who fails to strike out even 10 percent of the batters he faces (for comparison, Johan Santana is at 26 percent for his career). Silva has gone from being a strike-throwing ground-ball machine to simply tossing batting practice.
In fact, Silva's ground-ball percentage of 43.6 was actually slightly below the league average of 44.0 percent. In other words, for all the talk about his sinker and all the focus on his ability to keep the ball on the ground, he's no longer even a ground-ball pitcher. When you don't miss bats and you don't get tons of grounders, you're not long for a sub-5.00 ERA. Of course, the question now is whether or not the Twins think they can get Silva back to his grounder-inducing ways.
Pitching coach Rick Anderson seems to think so and Ryan seems willing to spend the money to give him another try. I have as much faith in Anderson as I do anyone in the organization, but the odds are against him here. Throughout baseball history, low-strikeout pitchers have walked a thin line between success and failure, and because of that don't typically experience sustained excellence. There are many exceptions, of course, but as a group pitchers who can't miss bats have a limited shelf life.
Silva's days as a competent middle-of-the-rotation starter may simply have expired and he wouldn't be the first such pitcher to see his success vanish in an instant. When the best-case scenario is likely 180 innings of 4.00 ERA pitching and the worst-case scenario is as ugly as Silva's performance this year, devoting seven percent of the team's payroll to find out which it'll be strikes me as a mistake. Sadly, it also strikes me as something that's likely to take place.
It's likely that the Twins are overpaying Hunter by a few million dollars for 2007 and compounding that by giving $4 million to a high-risk pitcher coming off a disastrous season would leave them with little payroll room to bring in outside help. When spring rolls around and no "big bat" has been added to the lineup, devoting one-fourth of a $65 million payroll to the team's fourth-best hitter and fifth-best starter can safely be blamed.
Twins fans can only hope that Anderson is able to work enough magic to keep the team from flushing $4 million down the toilet and Ryan is able to identify better bargain-basement free-agent options than Tony Batista this time around. I had some thoughts of the Twins addressing their lineup and rotation holes through semi-legitimate free agents (as opposed to the Batista kind), but less than a week into the offseason I've all but given up on that.
I'm now convinced more than ever that any major changes to the Twins' roster will come via trade and, barring that, a lower-level veteran starting pitcher will be the only significant addition to the team. The Twins remaining serious contenders through that approach depends on Francisco Liriano's health and how many young players step up into prominent roles, but it certainly doesn't leave much margin for error.
Wednesday, October 11, 2006
Bringing Back HunterAs expected, the Twins exercised Torii Hunter's $12 million option for 2007 yesterday.
I've long been of the opinion that the Twins would have been smart to trade Hunter at some point over the past couple seasons and there's little reason to think he'll be worth 20 percent of the team's payroll in 2007, but that doesn't necessarily mean picking up his option is a major mistake. In fact, it's tough to call any one-year commitment to a good player a huge blunder, because there simply isn't much room for regretting the decision financially.
Would the Twins have been better off cashing Hunter in for a major league-ready prospect or two while clearing his salary off the books and better allocating it? Yes. Would they have been better off declining his option and taking their chances on whichever veteran center fielder falls into their price range from a free-agent class that includes Jim Edmonds, Gary Matthews Jr., Kenny Lofton, Dave Roberts, Juan Pierre, and Jay Payton? Perhaps.
A favorable scenario post-Hunter would have involved signing someone like Lofton to a one-year deal worth around $4 million. Hunter's option included a $2 million buyout that was going to him either way, which means the Twins decided to pay him an additional $10 million to stick around for one more year. In that sense, they decided the certainty in going into the winter without needing a starting center fielder and the difference between Hunter and Lofton is worth about $6 million.
The real "difference" is probably worth more like $3 million, but that wasn't actually a choice. I think the vast majority of Twins fans overestimate how much better Hunter is than the various Lofton-like center fielders who figure to be available and I probably would have rolled the dice by letting Hunter leave, but Terry Ryan choosing the risk-averse option is expected and in no way disastrous. At worst, the Twins wasted a few million bucks and delayed their search for a new center fielder by exactly one year.
Given the choice between overpaying Hunter in 2007 and trying to find something else that works, I'd have chosen the latter. However, given the choice between overpaying Hunter in 2007 and signing him to a long-term deal, I'll take the one-year commitment every time. While many Twins fans no doubt want to see Hunter retire in Minnesota and Hunter himself has said repeatedly that he wants to be around when the new ballpark opens in 2010, locking him up through his mid-30s could be disastrous.
Unless Hunter agrees to a sizable paycut in exchange for sticking around, it would be a major mistake to lock the team into spending 15-20 percent of what is already a limited payroll on an oft-injured center fielder on the wrong side of 30 who has shown signs of serious decline defensively. In general, long-term contracts tend to work out poorly for the team that hands them out. In cases like this, when health and performance are both issues, the odds are really stacked against it ending well.
In the wake of the disappointing ALDS loss to Oakland, I heard from a surprising number of fans who felt Hunter's back-breaking misplay in Game 2 was reason enough for the team to decline his option. While I've chronicled Hunter's rapid defensive decline for months here, I also think it's silly to base any sort of evaluation or decision on one play (however horrible and misguided it may have been). Playing a single into a homer was merely an example of his decline, not the evidence of its existence.
Hunter's defense had gone downhill well before he tried to catch a liner off Mark Kotsay's bat, although the botched catch seems to have opened a few eyes to the idea that Hunter is not the center fielder he once was. Despite Hunter turning 31 years old in July and dealing with multiple foot injuries recently, that notion had been a difficult sell prior to the ALDS. One minute his defense was a relative non-issue and the next minute it's seen by some as reason to let him go.
While the public perception of Hunter's defense is at an all-time low, his second-half power surge has fans thinking he's made significant progress at the plate. I even had someone tell me the other day that "Hunter's hitting is so good now" that he could move to a corner-outfield spot and retain his value. Much like one missed diving catch on the season's biggest stage, establishing a new career-high in homers can change a lot of opinions.
Meanwhile, lost in the 31 homers is that Hunter's overall offensive production was right in line with the rest of his career:
YEAR AVG OBP SLG OPSHunter's last five seasons have been remarkably consistent for someone who's seemingly so streaky. The exact numbers fluctuate a bit because that's how baseball is and there are stretches of increased power or plate discipline involved, but the end result is that Hunter has established himself as more or less a .275/.335/.475 hitter capable of 25-30 homers in a full season. Over the past three years, Hunter has batted .273/.334/.475 and he's a career .269/.323/.463 hitter in 1,074 big-league games.
Major-league center fielders hit a combined .269/.338/.429 this season, which means Hunter is almost exactly "average" in terms of both batting average and on-base percentage. His power puts him safely in the "above-average" category overall, but certainly not in the elite class reserved for guys like Carlos Beltran, Grady Sizemore, and Andruw Jones. How Hunter fits into the all-around picture depends on what you think of his defense at this point, but he's clearly among the top half of the position.
The idea that he'd be great in a corner spot runs into a problem, because corner outfielders combined to bat .276/.351/.446 this season. That means Hunter's power would be slightly above average for the position, but he'd give those gains back by being below average in on-base percentage. Toss in what would probably be outstanding defense and he'd certainly be an above-average left or right fielder, but just as certainly not be worth anything close to $12 million per season.
As long as the Twins avoid offering Hunter a multi-year deal at this price, I have no problem bringing him back in 2007. They're overpaying with money that could be used to upgrade the offense elsewhere or bring in a starting pitcher, but it's not the end of the world. If Hunter's unproductive or injured, the deal isn't an albatross. If he's productive and healthy but the team falls out of contention, he can be traded. If he's productive and healthy while the team contends, no one will care about wasting a little cash.
With that said, I'm hopeful that Hunter's is the last option the Twins pick up for 2007, because Carlos Silva's $4.3 million pricetag isn't looking so good.
Tuesday, October 10, 2006
Link-O-RamaI haven't done one of these in a while, so forgive me if I'm a little rusty ...
Congrats! And if there isn't a single "Boof" or "Johan" involved in the naming process, I'll be extremely disappointed in both parties.
I think the show, while often uneven and usually jarring, was bordering on brilliant. Whether it simply wasn't right for the general public or I'm one of the few truly insane people with cable, it was right up my alley. I laughed harder during an average episode of Lucky Louie than I have during every episode of Entourage combined. And now, after just a dozen episodes, Lucky Louie joins Freaks and Geeks and Arrested Development in my TiVo in the sky.
Injuries haven't been too much of a factor for the Twins this season and the hope is that continues into the playoffs.That statement would be ridiculous enough as a throwaway line, but it was the lead. For the record, the Twins lost Francisco Liriano and Shannon Stewart to season-ending injuries, and Brad Radke, Torii Hunter, Rondell White, and Jason Kubel missed a chunk of the schedule and/or saw their play suffer because of health problems. You'd think someone who spent the year reporting on Liriano's elbow and Radke's shoulder would see the silliness in "injuries haven't been too much of a factor for the Twins."
I'm skeptical that taking some time off will "fix" Liriano's elbow and this attempt to avoid surgery may end up simply delaying the inevitable. The worst thing that could happen now is for Liriano to try to pitch through the injury again, suffer another setback, and either make the situation worse or further delay his eventual recovery. As discussed here a few weeks ago, Tommy John surgery would likely get him back on the mound, healthy within a year. I'm not sure this approach can do the same.
I know some of you who stopped by NBCSports.com upon my urging a while back were disappointed that all the coverage was devoted to football, but as I explained at the time, they're doing what's called a "gradual launch." Slowly but surely, they've added NHL and NASCAR content to go along with the NFL stuff, and baseball is on the way. In fact, there's some stuff on the horizon at NBCSports.com that I'm confident those of you who frequent this blog will enjoy quite a bit.