Friday, December 14, 2007
Twins Sign Everett
Having created an opening at shortstop by including Jason Bartlett in last month's trade with the Devil Rays, the Twins filled the hole yesterday by signing Adam Everett to a one-year deal worth $2.8 million plus incentives. Everett was non-tendered by the Astros following their trade for Miguel Tejada and at first glance it's tempting to lump him in with good-glove, no-hit middle infielders like Nick Punto and Juan Castro, but that's misleading because Everett is more like the good-glove, no-hit middle infielder.
Numbers often disagree with the sterling defensive reputations that guys like Punto and Castro have been tagged with, but in Everett's case his reputation is strong and his numbers are even stronger. In fact, Everett's numbers--the important ones, not misleading/near-useless stats like fielding percentage and Range Factor--show him as either the best or second-best defensive shortstop in all of baseball since he became an everyday player in 2003.
Zone Rating measures the rate at which a player turns a ball hit into his defensive zone into an out, which is essentially the goal of playing defense and combines the ability to get to a ball with the ability to actually convert it into an out. For instance, if 100 balls are hit in a shortstop's zone and he converts 85 of them into an out, then his Zone Rating is .850. Here's how Everett has fared in Zone Rating on a year-to-year basis among all MLB shortstops:
2007 ZR 2006 ZR 2005 ZREverett's Zone Rating led all of baseball in both 2006 and 2004, finished second to 11-time Gold Glove winner Omar Vizquel in 2007, and also ranked among MLB's top five in both 2005 and 2003. No other shortstop ranked among the top five in each of the past five seasons and only Vizquel even has an argument for being as good as Everett overall. Looking at career Zone Ratings, Everett's fantastic .880 mark safely tops Vizquel's .862 and Bartlett's .854 while dwarfing Castro's .832.
Revised Zone Rating is slightly different in that it looks at the rate at which a player turns a ball hit into his defensive zone into an out while ignoring plays made on balls not in a player's zone. In other words, if a shortstop jogs into foul territory to handle a pop up, that play is not included in his Revised Zone Rating (although it does get added to his "Out Of Zone" play count). The Hardball Times has Revised Zone Ratings dating back to 2004 and here's how Everett fares:
2007 RZR 2006 RZR 2005 RZRSome of the names surrounding him shift around, but Everett's place remains the same. His Revised Zone Rating led MLB in both 2006 and 2004, ranked second to Vizquel in 2007, and ranked third behind Neifi Perez and Jack Wilson in 2005. Beginning in 2004, Everett has posted yearly Revised Zone Ratings of .877, .860, .891, and .871. To put those numbers in some Twins-related context, consider that Bartlett's career RZR is .835 and Castro had an .833 RZR in Minnesota.
Along with Everett's incredibly strong showing in both Zone Rating and Revised Zone Rating, David Pinto's Probabilistic Model of Range rated him as MLB's best everyday shortstop in both 2005 and 2006. Mitchel Lichtman's Ultimate Zone Rating shows Everett as not only the best defensive shortstop in baseball over the past five years, but by far the best defensive player at any position on the diamond over that span, period.
Baseball Info Solutions "charted every ball hit in the majors and assigned it a percentage of difficulty based on direction, distance, speed, and the route the ball took" as part of the unique analysis found in The Fielding Bible, concluding that Everett was 119 plays better than an average shortstop between 2003-2006. In an essay featured in the same book, Bill James specifically chose Everett as the means to show how overrated Derek Jeter is defensively.
Even the most advanced defensive metrics often disagree on the best defenders at each position and the nature of defensive stats leads to quite a bit of year-to-year variation, but in Everett's case there's near-complete agreement across the board and plenty of yearly consistency. He's simply an absolutely phenomenal defensive shortstop and, while he's been snubbed by the often clueless Gold Glove voters, has a legitimate argument for being one of the elite defensive players of this era.
Of course, like many of the truly great defensive players in baseball history Everett is also a horrible hitter. Despite calling a hitter-friendly ballpark home, playing in a weaker league, and getting 10 percent of his career walks thanks to batting in front of the pitcher, Everett has hit just .248/.299/.357 in 2,374 plate appearances. That still makes him a much better hitter than Castro (.231/.269/.336), but Everett is essentially equal to Punto (.248/.314/.321) offensively.
The question is whether Everett's second-to-none defense at shortstop can make up for his awful hitting. During his career Everett has essentially been the definition of a replacement-level shortstop offensively, producing a combined Value Over Replacement Player of 2.4 in 2,374 trips to the plate. Broken down to every 600 plate appearances (approximately one full season's worth of playing time), Everett has been about 0.6 runs better than a replacement-level shortstop offensively.
Jeter led all AL shortstops in VORP this season with 53.3, followed by Carlos Guillen (45.0), Michael Young (38.1), Miguel Tejada (31.8), and Orlando Cabrera (31.7) rounding out the top five. Bartlett was ninth in the league at 14.7. In other words, Everett figures to be about 30 runs worse than a good-hitting shortstop and about 15 runs worse than a decent-hitting shortstop. Baseball Prospectus agrees with that assessment, showing Everett as 18.7 runs below average per 600 plate appearances.
Given that, for Everett to be an "average" all-around shortstop he has to be 15-20 runs above average with his glove. That may seem like a huge amount of runs at first glance, but Everett's defensive numbers suggest that it's well within reach. According to Zone Rating and Revised Zone Rating, he's been approximately 25 runs above average defensively per full season. Ultimate Zone Rating shows him as about 30 runs better than average per season.
If Everett simply hits his usual .250/.300/.350 at the plate and provides his usual outstanding defense in the field, he'll be a slightly above average all-around shortstop who's a much better choice than in-house options Punto and Brendan Harris. Another viable option would have been signing free agent David Eckstein, but he's really just a better-hitting, worse-fielding version of "slightly above average all-around shortstop" and received $4.5 million from the Blue Jays earlier this week.
Hitting is much easier to simplistically evaluate than defense, so on the surface the fact that both Harris and Eckstein are 15-20 runs better than Everett offensively makes it seem like they're clearly better all-around players despite being sub par defenders. And most of the time that'd be correct, because as the Twins learned the hard way with Castro, the problem with many good-glove, no-hit middle infielders is that their defense isn't exceptional enough to make up for their putrid offense.
However, if there's one player in all of baseball whose glove can balance out the damage done by a .650 OPS it's Everett. He's basically the player that the Twins misguidedly thought they had in Castro, providing replacement-level offense and legitimately phenomenal defense (as opposed to Castro's sub-replacement level offense and illegitimately phenomenal defense). Everett might be 15-20 runs worse than Harris and Eckstein offensively, but he makes up for that and then some defensively.
Everett turns 31 years old in February and missed most of 2007 with a fractured fibula suffered while ranging into left field chasing a fly ball, so there's a chance that his days of providing dominant defense are in the rear-view mirror. However, he was fantastic prior to suffering the injury and even a slight drop-off in his glovework would leave the Twins with a valuable player at a reasonable cost. Their value comes in different packages, but the Twins have more or less replaced Bartlett with an equal player.
Once you're done here, check out my latest "Daily Dose" column over at Rotoworld.
Thursday, December 13, 2007
Twins Sign Monroe
He's only been on the job for about two months, but general manager Bill Smith has already proven to be very different than predecessor Terry Ryan in several important ways. Last month's huge swap that sent Matt Garza, Jason Bartlett, and Eduardo Morlan to the Devil Rays for Delmon Young, Brendan Harris, and Jason Pridie proved that Smith is significantly more willing to take risks than Ryan, who shied away from such franchise-altering moves during the final days of his tenure.
Beyond that, from the Garza-for-Young deal and letting Torii Hunter walk via free agency to shopping Johan Santana and cutting Lew Ford and Jason Tyner loose, Smith has also shown that he's far less willing to let loyalty guide his decision-making. I'm not especially fond of the six-player swap with the Devil Rays and for all his faults Tyner was worth keeping around, but generally speaking more risks and less loyalty are things that will serve Smith well compared to Ryan's final couple years at the helm.
Unfortunately, Smith showed yesterday that he's still very much like Ryan when it comes to overvaluing veteran mediocrity, signing Craig Monroe to a one-year deal worth $3.82 million plus incentives. The Twins acquired Monroe's rights from the Cubs last month for a conditional player to be named later, hoping that he'd accept a pay cut from his 2007 salary while realizing that they could simply non-tender him without owing anything if he balked.
The Twins got what they wanted, as Monroe agreed to slice his 2007 salary by 20 percent, which is the maximum allowed for an arbitration-eligible player. However, getting what they wanted also involves paying $3.82 million for a 31-year-old corner outfielder who was never all that good to begin with, has declined in three straight seasons, and batted just .219/.268/.370 in 2007. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.
Monroe's contract is unique in that it's only partially guaranteed. If the Twins decide to cut him during spring training, they'll be on the hook for just one-sixth of his total salary, which comes out to "only" $636,667. Of course, the odds of the penny pinching Twins throwing away over $600,000 based on how Monroe looks in a few meaningless exhibition games down in Florida are beyond slim. He'll make the team and he'll make at least $3.82 million.
The Twins' front office no doubt views Monroe as a "power hitter" and "proven run producer" because he averaged 22 homers and 82 RBIs while with the Tigers from 2003-2006. However, that's the same type of misguided thinking that led Ryan to sign Tony Batista two offseasons ago. Like Batista back then, Monroe has shown that he's no longer the player he was just a few seasons ago. And like Batista back then, the player that Monroe was just a few seasons ago wasn't especially good to begin with.
Lost in the nice-looking homer and RBI totals is that Monroe has hit .256/.303/.446 over 2,658 career plate appearances in the majors, which is nearly identical to Batista's .251/.299/.453 career mark. He's still a better player now than Batista was in 2006, but in both cases the Twins willingly signed up for low on-base percentages and mediocre defense that wipe away whatever value that comes from the decent power.
Monroe has some power, but major-league corner outfielders are supposed to have some pop in their bats and his all-around offensive game is lacking for the position. MLB corner outfielders as a whole batted .277/.347/.453 in 2007, which is about nine percent better than Monroe's career numbers and a level of production that he hasn't approached since 2004. Even at his best Monroe was more or less an average hitter for a corner outfielder, and those days are likely gone:
YEAR G AVG OBP SLG OPS IsoP IsoDMonroe has hit .254/.300/.439 over the past three seasons and his .219/.268/.370 line from 2007 looks like something that belongs to Rondell White. However you slice it, Monroe is overmatched as an everyday player. Of course, with Young and Michael Cuddyer established in the outfield corners and Jason Kubel seemingly entrenched at designated hitter, the odds of Monroe being an everyday player appear minimal unless the Twins get crazy and play Monroe or Young in center field.
A right-handed bat who's produced a horrible .249/.296/.425 hitting line against right-handed pitching during his career--including a pathetic .194/.247/.308 against righties in 2007--the optimal use for Monroe is to limit him almost exclusively to facing left-handed pitching. For his career he's batted .273/.319/.495 versus left-handers, including .271/.309/.496 against them despite his overall struggles in 2007. As a platoon starter against lefties, Monroe has some value.
Unfortunately, that value isn't anywhere close to $3.82 million for a small-payroll team and as far as lefty-mashing platoon bats go Monroe isn't even particularly outstanding. Monroe has hit .281/.332/.481 against lefties over the past three seasons, which looks pretty good until you realize that it's actually below-average production for a right-handed hitting corner outfielder facing left-handed pitching. Most decent right-handed hitters thrive against lefties and true lefty mashers tend to ... well, mash them.
Kevin Mench, who was non-tendered by the Brewers this week and will probably sign somewhere for less than Monroe, hit .305/.368/.558 against southpaws over the past three seasons. Emil Brown, who was non-tendered by the Royals yesterday, batted .289/.353/.488 against lefties during that same three-year span. Former AG.com favorite Bobby Kielty, who was non-tendered by the Red Sox two weeks ago, hit .313/.372/.494 against lefties from 2005-2007.
Those are just three examples of players who recently became available, but the point is that finding a right-handed bat capable of matching Monroe's production against lefties isn't overly difficult. Mench, Brown, and Kielty are each better hitters than Monroe against lefties, yet were all cut loose by teams that were unwilling to pay them what the Twins are going to pay Monroe in 2008. Corner outfielders capable of posting solid numbers against lefties are available cheaply all the time.
Even if Monroe bounces back from his awful 2007 season, the Twins have paid a premium for a part-time player who's at best mediocre offensively and defensively. And counting on that bounce back taking place is a mistake as well. Monroe's strikeout rate has gone from 15.3 percent in 2005 to 21.5 percent in 2006 and 25.1 percent in 2007, with the decreased ability to make contact suggesting that returning to his pre-2007 performance could prove tough.
Monroe has always been a free swinger, drawing a non-intentional walk in fewer than six percent of his career plate appearances (about the same rate as Hunter). He once managed a high enough batting average to somewhat make up for the lack of plate discipline, but that hasn't been the case over the past two years. From 2001-2005, Monroe batted .266 while striking out in 17 percent of his plate appearances. Since then he's batted just .240 while striking out in 23 percent of his trips to the plate.
Striking out about 35 percent more often is a sure-fire way to see your batting average plummet and it's also a sign that Monroe hasn't taken well to being on the wrong side of 30. In other words, reversing what has been a steady multi-year decline is going to be extremely difficult and the payoff is modest even if he succeeds. Monroe is ill-suited to be an everyday player and vastly overpaid as a reserve, and there are better, cheaper players available to fill either role.
Once you're done here, check out my latest "Daily Dose" column over at Rotoworld.
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Top 40 Minnesota Twins: #16 Corey Koskie
CORDEL LEONARD KOSKIE | 3B | 1998-2004 | CAREER STATS
After finally reaching Double-A as a 24-year-old in 1997, Koskie batted .296/.408/.531 with 23 homers, 55 total extra-base hits, and 90 walks in 131 games to make the Eastern League All-Star team as the starting third baseman. He moved up to Triple-A in 1998, hitting .301/.365/.539 with 26 homers, 63 total extra-base hits, and 51 walks in 135 games before finally earning his first in-season promotion in the form of a September call-up to Minnesota.
When starter Frankie Rodriguez and reliever Dan Serafini combined to give up 10 runs while recording six outs against the Angels on September 9, 1998, Koskie came off the bench in the sixth inning to make his major-league debut, going 0-for-2 with two strikeouts after replacing Ron Coomer at third base. Koskie saw his next action three days later against the A's, pinch-hitting for Chris Latham in the eighth inning and singling to center field off Tim Worrell for his first career hit.
Koskie started seven of the final 15 games and didn't show much while going 4-for-29 (.138), but still broke camp with the Twins the next spring. Koskie played sparingly through midseason, starting just 41 of the team's first 81 games in large part because manager Tom Kelly didn't think much of his defense at third base. Fewer than half of those starts came at third base and at one point Koskie went nearly six weeks without a single start there as Coomer and Brent Gates manned the position.
The bulk of his sporadic early playing time came at designated hitter or right field (after Matt Lawton was injured), which allowed Koskie to at least show that his bat was clearly MLB-ready. He hit .301/.349/.462 through 81 games as one of the few capable hitters on a team that went on to rank dead last in the league offensively, yet totaled just 189 plate appearances. With the team 20-plus games out of the division race in early July, Kelly finally decided to make Koskie the regular third baseman.
Koskie continued to sit against most left-handed pitchers while starting 52 of the final 81 games, but more importantly each of the 52 starts came at third base. He batted .318/.421/.471 during that stretch, finishing the season at .310/.387/.468 in 117 games overall to lead the Twins in batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage as a rookie. In fact, Marty Cordova (.285/.365/.464) was the only other hitter on the entire team who was even above average offensively.
Looking back, it's amazing how quickly Koskie went from playing right field or DH because his defense wasn't considered strong enough at third base to playing exclusively third base while being considered a very good defender there. Koskie never set foot in the outfield again after his rookie season and made a combined total of four starts at designated hitter over the next five years, all while establishing himself as one of the best, most underrated defensive third basemen in baseball.
The Opening Day starter at third base in 2000, Koskie hit .300/.400/.441 in 146 games for an offense that ranked second worst in the league. He was one of three above-average regulars on the entire team, along with Lawton and David Ortiz, and ranked fourth among AL third baseman in Value Over Replacement Player behind Troy Glaus, Travis Fryman, and Eric Chavez. Having mastered defense while emerging as the team's best hitter, Koskie moved on to developing his home-run power.
Koskie homered once every 24 at-bats in the minors, including 20-homer seasons at both Double-A and Triple-A, and batted .298/.388/.445 through his first two full big-league seasons. However, he managed just 21 homers in 845 at-bats, including nine homers in 474 at-bats during his sophomore campaign. That all changed in 2001 when Koskie put the finishing touches on his all-around game while having the finest year of his career as the Twins had their first winning season since 1992.
Perhaps sacrificing some batting average for power after hitting .310 and .300 in his first two seasons, Koskie batted .276/.362/.488 with 26 homers, 37 doubles, 103 RBIs, and 100 runs. He played 153 games, logging over 1,300 innings at third base, and shockingly stole 27 bases at an 82-percent clip. Koskie's VORP trailed only Glaus and Chavez among AL third basemen and along with Gary Gaetti in 1988 it was the best non-Harmon Killebrew season ever by a Twins third baseman.
Koskie's power dipped in 2002 without an increase in batting average and he missed a couple weeks with a hamstring injury that proved to be a sign of things to come when it came to his ability to stay on the field. Despite that, Koskie still managed to rank fourth among AL third baseman in VORP by hitting .267/.368/.447 with 15 homers, 37 doubles, and 72 walks in 140 games as the Twins won 94 games and the AL Central while advancing to the playoffs for the first time since 1991.
A strained back limited Koskie to just 131 games in 2003 and his 20-homer power failed to resurface, but his batting average and OBP returned to their 2000-2001 levels as he hit .292/.393/.452 to lead the Twins in OPS. Koskie turned 30 years old midway through the 2003 season, but between a rapidly balding head and increasingly slow gait had the look of an old man for whom doing nearly anything seemed to be a chore.
Koskie set a career-high with a .495 slugging percentage and smacked 25 homers in 2004, but saw his batting average dip to a career-low .251 while more injuries sidelined him for two weeks in May and three weeks in September. Despite showing plenty of signs that he was wearing down physically, Koskie actually played his best down the stretch, batting .281/.349/.607 from August 1 to the end of the season as the Twins held off the White Sox and Royals to win the division.
He then came up big in the Twins' third straight trip to the postseason, batting .308 with a .474 OBP in the ALDS while nearly becoming a hero against the Yankees. After winning Game 1 at Yankee Stadium behind Johan Santana's seven shutout innings, the Twins trailed 5-3 heading into the eighth inning of Game 2. Mariano Rivera came in and got a fly out from Shannon Stewart before striking out Jacque Jones, but Jones reached first base on a wild pitch.
Torii Hunter and Justin Morneau followed with back-to-back singles, cutting the Yankees' lead to 5-4 and bringing Koskie up with runners on the corners. Luis Rivas pinch-ran for Morneau, providing excellent speed as the go-ahead run at first base, and Koskie slashed a Rivera fastball into the left-field corner. Hunter jogged home with the tying run and Rivas had a chance to claim a lead that could have put the Twins up 2-0 in the series heading back to Minnesota.
Except the ball took a big bounce, hopping over the left-field wall for a ground-rule double that kept Rivas locked at third base and the game tied at 5-5. As Yankees catcher Jorge Posada said afterward: "They would have scored two, no doubt about it." Instead, Jason Kubel and Cristian Guzman stranded Rivas 90 feet away from the plate and Alex Rodriguez's 12th-inning double scored Derek Jeter with the game-winning run.
Instead of Koskie's hit off Rivera putting the Yankees on the verge of elimination, one bounce wiped away his series-changing moment and the Twins lost back-to-back games at the Metrodome to end their season. A pending free agent, that proved to be the final big hit of Koskie's career in Minnesota. In previewing the market that winter over at The Hardball Times, I wrote that Koskie was the "forgotten man among free-agent third basemen" and added:
Just looking at Koskie, you'd think he was all washed up. He does everything methodically, from walking to swinging a bat, and it often appears as though he's in a constant state of hurt. After every diving stop at third base that ends an inning, he rolls the ball back to the pitcher's mound and slowly ambles over to the dugout, like an old man who forgot his walker.The Twins showed little interest in re-signing Koskie and he returned to Canada by inking a three-year, $16.5 million contract with the Blue Jays, thanking fans for their support with a full-page newspaper ad. After hitting just .249/.337/.398 while missing 65 games with a broken thumb during his first season in Toronto, the Blue Jays made Koskie available for pennies on the dollar via trade and the Twins once again passed despite having a hole at third base that they eventually chose to fill with Tony Batista.
Koskie ended up with the Brewers, as the Blue Jays picked up most of his remaining contract and accepted a low-level prospect in return. He got off to a strong start in Milwaukee, batting .261/.343/.490 with 12 homers and 23 doubles in 76 games, but suffered a concussion after falling while chasing a pop-up on July 5. A debilitating bout with post-concussion syndrome followed, causing Koskie to miss the remainder of 2006 and all of 2007 while putting his career in serious doubt.
A free agent again, Koskie indicated in October that he hopes to play again, but added: "If I can't play, I at least want my life back." He's often criticized for his lack of durability, which is certainly fair to some extent and could be a big part of his legacy given the way that his career may end. However, it's also likely overstated. He missed 44 games during his final season in Minnesota, which was the lasting image that Koskie left fans with, but prior to that he had 550 plate appearances in four straight years.
His 3,257 plate appearances rank 20th in team history and ignoring his rookie year, when Koskie was kept out of the lineup by his manager rather than by injuries, he averaged 138 games per season in Minnesota. For comparison, Torii Hunter averaged 141 games in seven seasons after he became a full-time player. Hunter somehow has a reputation for being an iron man and had different types of injuries, but at the end of the day was essentially out of the lineup as often as the "injury prone" Koskie.
VORP is a "counting stat" that blends together performance and playing time, and lack of durability or not Koskie led the Twins in VORP three times and ranked second twice before finishing third during his final year. A .280/.373/.463 career hitter with the Twins, he ranked sixth, fourth, third, sixth, fourth, and seventh among AL third baseman in VORP during six full seasons in Minnesota. Among hitters with at least 3,000 plate appearances in a Twins uniform, only six posted a higher OPS+ than Koskie:
OPS+That's some elite company and Koskie's 115 OPS+ ranks ahead of Gaetti, Hunter, Lawton, Earl Battey, Chuck Knoblauch, Tom Brunansky, Roy Smalley, Cesar Tovar, and Jacque Jones, among others. For comparison, Morneau has a Koskie-like 117 OPS+ in 2,299 career plate appearances. Beyond that, VORP and OPS+ only account for offense, and Koskie was an outstanding defender who added a ton of value with his glove at third base.
A clubhouse favorite whose numerous pranks included filling an unsuspecting Ortiz's underwear with peanut butter, Koskie spent part of his Twins career starring on horrible teams and then finished his time in Minnesota cultivating an "injury prone" label that he'll never shed. The end result is a career that goes down as one of the most underrated in team history and a player who ranks as the best Twins third baseman of all time.
TOP 25 ALL-TIME MINNESOTA TWINS RANKS:
Once you're done here, check out my latest "Daily Dose" column over at Rotoworld.
Monday, December 10, 2007
Twins Notes: Eckstein, Rule 5, and Jennie
There's little doubt that Eckstein is significantly overrated by a fawning mainstream media and Nick Punto-loving managers, but the perception that many fans seem to have of him being a horrible player is just as off base. Eckstein has seemingly become so overrated in some circles that he's underrated in other circles. In other words, he's a poor man's Derek Jeter. At the end of the day how Eckstein is "rated" matters little, which leaves his actual on-field performance to evaluate.
Judging from the many comments and e-mails that I received on the subject, many people seem to view him as a Punto-like hitter. In reality that's far from the case, as Eckstein's .286/.351/.362 career hitting line is vastly superior to Punto's .245/.314/.321 career mark. Instead, the player who Eckstein truly resembles offensively is Luis Castillo. In fact, whether looking at this season or the past three seasons, Castillo and Eckstein have been about as similar as two hitters can be:
2007 PA AVG OBP SLG OPSThey're both middle infielders who were born in 1975 and have consistently hit around .300 with very limited power and good on-base skills. Eckstein is basically a right-handed hitting version of Castillo, except that he can play a passable shortstop while Castillo is limited to second base. Beyond that, Eckstein's .297/.357/.375 hitting line over the past three seasons also compares favorably to Jason Bartlett's .272/.341/.362 career mark.
To be clear, I'm not suggesting that the Twins should sign Eckstein to a three- or four-year contract, because that would be an obvious mistake. At the same time, as a short-term fix for a team that's currently lacking in appealing middle-infield options he'd be fine if the price was right. His defensive numbers at shortstop were sub par this season, but he's shown the ability to capably man the position in the past and would likely be above average at second base (where he played in the minors).
At worst he's a better fielder than Brendan Harris, a much better all-around player than Punto, and essentially represents the best-case scenario for Alexi Casilla offensively. Is Eckstein as good as guys like Gardenhire or Tim McCarver or Joe Morgan think? Definitely not, but if Eckstein could hit his usual .300/.350/.375 with decent defense up the middle he's a very solid player who could absolutely help the Twins in 2008.
The good news is that the Twins avoided losing Peterson, Pino, and Winfree. The bad news is that they had a total of six players plucked from the organization, including Guzman, who was selected by the Nationals. Between Austin Kearns, Lastings Milledge, Wily Mo Pena, Elijah Dukes, Nook Logan, and Ryan Langerhans the Nationals seemingly have way more than enough outfield depth, which increases the chances of Guzman not making the team out of spring training.
If that happens then Guzman will be offered back to the Twins prior to Opening Day, in which case no harm is done. Of course, strong outfield depth or not the Nationals may simply decide to keep Guzman around as their 25th man, in which case the Twins have given away one of the few solid upper-minors hitting prospects in the entire organization for absolutely nothing just because they didn't see fit to give him a spot on a 40-man roster that had plenty of room.
Guzman is certainly a long shot to become an impact player in the majors, but he's also very capable of becoming a solid big leaguer after hitting .312/.359/.453 in 125 games at Double-A in 2007. He's a .290 hitter in 516 minor-league games who's struck out in fewer than 11 percent of his 2,085 career plate appearances and has shown increased power since coming back from a broken neck that wiped away his 2005 season following a car accident.
In other words, he's a solid young hitter who has a chance to carve out of an MLB career, which can't be said for many of the Twins' position-player prospects above Single-A. Toss in Alexander Smit and Alex Romero, and the Twins have given away three perfectly good prospects in the past year. There's a chance that all three fail to become anything worthwhile and losing Guzman may become a non-issue, but at some point these repeated mistakes made managing the 40-man roster will hurt the Twins.
On the other hand, Lahey is 6-foot-5 and about 250 pounds, induces tons of ground balls, and has far less pitching experience than most 25-year-olds at Double-A, so there's more room for long-term development than his mediocre numbers suggest. With that said, the Twins can't be blamed much for exposing him to the draft and the fact that he was picked at all is a surprise. That he went No. 1 overall and was then traded for $150,000 is a shock.
Lahey will try to crack the Cubs' bullpen, but like Guzman there's seemingly a strong chance that he'll be offered back to the Twins. Along with Lahey leading off the draft, another surprise was that the Mariners selected R.A. Dickey one week after he joined the Twins on a minor-league deal. Chris Gomez was selected shortly after signing a minor-league contract a few years ago, so it's not unheard of, but it's odd given that the Mariners could have convinced Dickey to sign with them instead.
Losing a minor leaguer days after signing him obviously isn't a big blow, but Dickey is intriguing after going from "regular" pitcher to knuckleballer and posting a 3.73 ERA with a 119-to-60 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 169 innings at Triple-A. He was slated for the Rochester rotation and could have found himself in Minnesota at some point. Dickey, Lahey, and Guzman were lost in the draft's MLB phase, but the Twins also lost three guys in the minor-league portion (which is how they got Brian Buscher last year).
Losing right-handers J.P. Martinez and Joshua Hill is no concern, but Martinez was a ninth-round pick in 2004 and Hill has been in the organization since signing out of Australia in 2001. Neither pitcher projects to ever be anything more than a middle reliever in the majors, if that. Rashad Eldridge is also a long shot to have any sort of MLB career, but as a center fielder who hit .291/.360/.429 in 105 games at Double-A in 2007 he was worthwhile depth in an organization that's thin in the outfield.
Here's a picture of the happy couple, who amusingly named their son "Ace." Not to take anything away from Jim Mandelaro, but the crowd at Red Wings games just got a lot more attractive.
Once you're done here, check out my latest "Daily Dose" column over at Rotoworld.