Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Wolves Thoughts

Now that the Wild have completed most of their free agent moves, and the Twins have predictably fallen out of contention, most of the intrigue in the Twin Cities sports scene revolves around the Timberwolves, at least for the next few days until our attention is drawn to Mankato.

That being the case, here are my thoughts on the current state of Flip's crew:
  • As much as I would like to see the Kevin Love distractions come to an end, it is looking like this will get drawn out a bit longer.  It now sounds fairly certain that the Cavs will sign top pick Andrew Wiggins to a rookie scale deal, making him ineligible to be traded for 30 days.  Chicago's signing of Nikola Mirotic means that he won't be a part of a trade until August 18th.  It will also be interesting to monitor when Doug McDermott signs his rookie deal. The Wolves signing of Robbie Hummel makes a trade even more difficult, since we only have one roster spot remaining.  In any case, with the Wiggins signing, it appears that K-Love will remain in limbo for at least another month.  If I had my preference, I'd rate the trade possibilities in the following order.
    • Chicago: Mirotic, McDermott, Taj Gibson for Love + additional player
    • Cleveland: Wiggins plus Bennett/Thompson (filler on both sides)
    • Golden State: Klay, Barnes, Lee + pick for Love + Martin
    • Boston: Olynyk, Sullinger + picks for Love
  • I've included the key pieces only in the above scenarios, as most of these options will have to be adjusted so that salaries can be matched, or for roster considerations.  The T-Wolves, for example, are unlikely to accept 3 guaranteed contracts for Love w/o sending another one back (Barea, Shved, Martin). 
  • The Chicago deal provides a decent short term replacement for Love in Taj Gibson, plus two young players who could eventually form a solid core moving forward.  I'm not sure how motivated the Bulls will be now that they have signed Gasol, or how they would manage Gasol, Love and Noah in the frontcourt.  Long term, the Wolves could have a starting five of Rubio, Levine, McDermott, Mirotic and Gorgi, which could be pretty interesting.
  • I still think the Cleveland deal makes too much sense for both sides to not happen eventually.  Wiggins could be a star in 2-3 years, but Love is a star now.  Lebron will soon be on the wrong side of 30, and Irving is just entering his prime.  You don't miss out on an opportunity to put those three together to gamble on the potential of a raw 19 year old kid.  Without Wiggins' salary (and more) in the deal, or a 3rd team's involvement, this trade simply can't happen.  If the Wolves have to absorb a 3rd contract (in addition to Wiggins/Bennett), we have to send a contract back, or release someone. 
  • I like the idea of a Rubio/Klay backcourt, but can't justify handing out near-max contracts to two guards who are far from "elite" players in this league.  Barnes does little for me, and taking Lee's contract off their hands would be doing the Warriors a favor.  It is comical that they want to land Kevin Love in exchange for Lee, and then use the future savings from Lee's contract to lock up Thompson, who is the only trade piece that the Wolves are after. 
  • It would be fun to see the haul we could get from the Celtics, but this would be a last resort in my mind, and propel us into full rebuilding mode (again). 
I'm interested to see how this plays out so that Flip can start thinking about additional follow-up moves.  No matter what the deal, the Wolves are still left with an incredibly unbalanced roster, which is why moving a player out in such a deal is so appealing (and also a complicating factor).  In any case, it doesn't look like there is an end in sight.  Well, at least that gives us time to discuss Vikings QB options in a few days...

Monday, April 15, 2013

The Curious Case of Chris Colabello

After two straight 90+ loss seasons and a cool start to 2013, a lot of attention has shifted to the Twins promising stockpile of prospects. Plenty has been written about top prospect Miguel Sano and last year's 2nd overall pick Byron Buxton, but this post will take a look at a lesser known "prospect" in 29 year old Chris Colabello. At this time last year, I had never heard of Colabello. In fact, it wasn't until the Twins fell out of contention and I started aggressively following minor league performances that I noticed him.

Who is he?
Chris Colabello is a 29-year old 1B/DH who played high school and college baseball in the Boston area. After going undrafted out of Assumption College in Worcester, MA, he continued his playing career in the Independent League, primarily with the Worcester Tornadoes. In 2012, at the age of 28, Colabello finally got his first shot in affiliated baseball, as the Twins signed him and sent him to their AA team in New Britain, CT. After a very successful season at AA, Colabello spent the winter playing ball in Mexico, where he continued to hit for both average and power. These performances were enough to win an invite to spring training with the Twins, as well as a spot on Team Italy in the World Baseball Classic. After an impressive showing at the WBC, he was assigned to AAA Rochester, one step away from the majors. So far this season, Colabello has obliterated AAA pitching, adding "International League Player of the Week" to his resume.

The case against
For the past year, Colabello has been one of the most productive players in the entire Twins system, so why the lack of hype (and hope)? Primarily, it is because of his age. As a general rule, 29 year old men dominating AA playing against guys in their early 20's don't generate a lot of excitement. On top of that, he plays a position (1B) where the Twins don't need help (Morneau/Parmalee), and doesn't provide any flexibility as a utility player, pinch runner, or defensive replacement. It is easy to look at his situation and assume that he's overproducing because he's playing against younger players, and that he's past his prime and unlikely to get any better. It is also easy to overlook a player who played 4 years of college baseball, failed to sign a minor league deal, and then spent 7 seasons playing for the East Coast version of the St. Paul Saints.

The case for
Ever since I first noticed his name in the New Britain boxscores, "CC" has done nothing but hit. In his first season of affiliated professional baseball, he hit .284/.358/.478 with 19 home runs, 37 doubles, and 98 RBI. A winter spent in Mexico produced the following numbers: .332/.399/.644 with 17 home runs, 13 doubles and 44 RBI in just over 200 at-bats. In the WBC, he hit .333/.368/.667 with 2 more home runs and 7 RBI in only 18 at-bats. In a very limited spring with the Twins, he added 2 more doubles to go along with a .333/.429/.444 batting line. As of this posting, his AAA numbers are .441/.525/.853 with 4 HR and 2 doubles in 34 at-bats! That production was good enough to earn him the afforementioned "player of the week" honors.

Is it possible that he is a "late bloomer" and finally learned how to hit as he approched his 30s? The answer is a resounding NO. Colabello was a 4 year starter in college, with batting averages of .301/.361/.361/.380. He averaged 10 doubles and 6 home runs per year. As a 21 year old for Worcester, he hit .320 with 8 home runs and 7 doubles playing for only half a season. Throughout his 7 years playing independent league baseball, his batting average was .317, hitting as high as .348 and never once hitting below .300 for a full season. He managed to hit for average while showing some power, hitting 86 HR and 166 doubles in 7 seasons. While it is difficult to judge these numbers against Indy League competition, it is clear that Colabello has put up amazingly consistent numbers at every level, both as a young kid playing against older players, and now as an older player playing against younger, higher regarded prospects.

Final Analysis
Chris Colabello is too old to be considered a prospect, but has been too productive to be ignored. Is it possible that he simply flew under the radar for a number of years, finally got his chance with the Twins, and is now blossoming into a legitimate major league first baseman? The guy can flat out hit, plays a decent first base, and is mature enough to handle a bench role on a bench that is carrying a similarly limited player in Wilken Ramirez primarily because he has some skills with the bat. I think it would be a mistake to overlook his impressive body of work simply because of his age. Later on this evening, I'll be braving the elements at Target field watching the major league debut of Oswaldo Arcia, who will hopefully solidify his status as a promising future contributor for the Twins. After a short audition, he'll likely be sent back to Rochester to join Chris Colabello even if he has a successful debut with the big club. It won't be a popular move, but it simply doesn't make sense for a 21 year old prospect to sit on the bench when he could be playing every day at AAA. A 29 year old non-prospect is a different matter entirely...

Monday, August 15, 2011

Emotions

I’m confident that my wife is happy that the trade deadline has passed, as it means that I can stop checking Twitter on my phone every 3-5 minutes. My emotions, however, are much more complicated.

Frustration:
I’m frustrated that the Twins front office decided the best move was to stand pat at the trade deadline instead of making moves to improve the team either now or for the future. I can’t remember a season when the Twins have had so many tradeable assets as they have this year, and yet we pass into August with nothing in return. We can be confident that the team got calls about Cuddyer, Kubel, Span, Revere, Thome, Slowey, Liriano, Pavano, Baker, Nathan, Capps and Young. Of that group, I would at least consider cashing in on a few, but apparently the offers just weren’t good enough.

Confusion:
In order to run any sort of business, you have to have a plan. In the Twins case, you need to know what direction you are going. At the trade deadline, this requires a simple decision. Are you buyers or sellers? Answering neither to this question is a cop out, and is unacceptable to me. It would be like playing the stock market and deciding to wait and see if the start-up company pans out before deciding to invest more or sell off. It is your job to decide what to do and doing nothing is not doing your job! I’m not saying that every GM has to make a move at every trade deadline in order to do their job. Some GMs don’t have enough tradeable assets to be sellers, or don’t have enough minor league prospects to be buyers. If you are truly unable to predict the chances of making the playoffs, I can see why standing pat may be the smart choice. When you have a 2% chance of winning the division, a 0% chance at the wild card, and a variety of tradable players at your disposal, passing up good trade opportunities is just bad business.

Relief:
The Denard Span rumors kept me entertained for the past few days, but I’m both happy and relieved that no deal was struck. I am not surprised that the Nationals were interested in Span, but I can’t imagine anyone on the Twins roster that should bring a larger package of players in return. Span is relatively young at 27, signed to a team friendly contract through 2014 (team option in 2015), bats very well in the leadoff spot (..366 OBP) and plays an above average CF. He is also a solid person and good team player. In short, he is exactly the type of player that the Twins should NOT be trading, unless it is to add a sure thing missing piece to a World Series run.

Odds and Ends:
• August Trades: Bill Smith seems to do a better job making transactions after the trade deadline has passed, rather than before. Maybe this is because there are fewer options to confuse him. We’ll have to wait and see what happens, but waiver trades typically pan out better for buyers than sellers, and we’ll be sellers soon enough.
• Outfield Logjam: The only reason that I didn’t hate the Span rumors was because it did address a real problem for the Twins. We not only have too many outfielders on the current roster (assuming everyone is healthy), but the majority of our top prospects play the same positions. Filling two (or three) holes on a potential major league roster in return for a player like Span would seem like a logical move. A deal involving Storen or Clippard plus a solid middle infield prospect (Lombardozzi) and a younger prospect would make sense for the Twins. Such a deal leverages a valuable asset at a position where we have an excess, and fills obvious holes in the middle infield and bullpen with young major league ready prospects who can help right away (or soon).
• Payroll Issues: In addition to the numbers problem in the OF, there is a numbers problem in the finance department. The Twins are going to have to trim the payroll for a second straight year in the offseason. Much of this could be accomplished by simply allowing our free agents to leave and/or declining expensive team options. This includes Cuddyer (FA), Kubel (FA), Thome (FA), Capps (FA) and Nathan (12M Option / 2M buyout). Some very quick math suggests letting these players walk will save the team about $35 million in 2012. Some of that savings will be eaten up by the arbitration raises of players like Casilla, Young, Liriano, Slowey, Mijares and Perkins. It is not scientific, but this is essentially the list of players we should consider trading in order to get the books in order.
• Mauer: It is becoming more and more likely that Mauer will spend most of his gigantic contract as something other than a catcher. I know he doesn’t like the idea, but it has to happen. No matter when it happens, or what form it takes, it would be nice if the organization were actively planning for it. Here are a few options that should be considered.
o First Base: As much as I hate to use Mauer defensively at first base, he could potentially be the best defensive first baseman in the league within a year or two. In this scenario, Mauer splits his time between catcher and first base, with Morneau as DH when he is not playing in the field. Ideally, we trade or sign a free agent catcher who can hit to split duties with Mauer, and Butera becomes our third catcher or is traded.
o Third Base: A couple years ago, this was Mauer’s most likely landing spot, and I think it is still a possibility. Is Danny Valencia really capable of holding down this spot long term? That is the question that the organization needs to decide. A Mauer/Valencia platoon would be possible, but at Valencia’s age, he needs to either start or be traded. I truly believe Mauer could win a gold glove at 3rd base which would be more valuable than at first.
o Corner OF: Mauer doesn’t have great speed, but he is very athletic for his size, has excellent instincts, and an above average arm. I don’t think this move makes much sense, especially due to the large number of OF prospects in the system.
• In any of the above scenarios, the Twins need to somehow acquire a starting caliber catcher. I don’t mind Butera as a backup, but his offense creates a big hole in the lineup. If Mauer moves to third base, we not only need to decide about Valencia, but will also need to find a new home for Miguel Sano should he work his way to the majors in 3-4 years. If first base is the answer, what do you do with a steadily improving Chris Parmalee, who should be playing in AAA right now?


Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Cuddyer Debate

Lately, there has been a lot of discussion about the merits of trading Michael Cuddyer at the deadline. He is a right handed hitter with good power who can hit for average and provide serviceable defense at almost every position on the field. He could be a valuable contributor for any contending team, both on and off the field. He is also likely to be a Type A free agent, which means the team that trades for him will get compensation if they don't re-sign him after the season. Essentially, any team that can't work out a deal for Carlos Beltran or Hunter Pence by Sunday will likely place a call to Mr. Smith.

The arguments against trading him are far less compelling. The organization, the fans, and the city love Michael, and rightfully so. He was drafted and developed by the Twins organization, is the longest tenured active Twin, and is a class act both on the field and in the community. He has also expressed a desire to sign a contract extension, yet he has been willing to play out the last year of his contract without complaining about the lack of a long term deal. Basically, he is a really great guy.

From a baseball standpoint, bringing him back in 2012 is a questionable proposition, even at a drastically reduced salary. His value on the field is his versatility, and his ability to hit very well in streaks. Fortunately for the Twins, these streaks seem to coincide with Justin Morneau's frequent trips to the disabled list. In a previous posting, I argued that trading him before the season would be desireable, both to free up salary and improve the outfield defense. With the emergence of Ben Revere, and the impending return (hopefully) of Denard Span, the outfield is going to get crowded quickly. If Morneau returns sometime this season, it will get very difficult to keep Cuddyer's bat in the lineup. Since the odds don't look good for another division title, it also makes sense to let some of the younger guys audition for 2012 and beyond.

Jim Souhan made a very compelling argument for making this trade happen, and then re-signing Cuddy to a new contract in the offseason. I have to agree with this suggestion for a number of reasons:
1. Cuddyer's trade value will likely never be higher than it is today. His batting line is verging on career highs across the board (.298/.373/.468) and is in the final year of his contract.
2. Resigning him for next year depends on his willingness to accept a reduced role and salary. While I think it is likely he'd be willing to do this, there is no guarantee that it will happen if someone else offers him a better deal. So, if we can get a deal we consider better than compensatory draft picks, we should do it.
3. Most of our top prospects are outfielders (Revere, Tosoni, Benson, Hicks, Arcia, Morales) and we need to "open the door" to give them an opportunity. Cuddyer should NOT be brought back in 2012 as an everyday outfielder.
4. If we do re-sign him after the season, our first round pick will be protected if we finish in the bottom 15 teams. We would only need to give up our 2nd round pick in order to bring him back. If we don't place that kind of value on him, then I'm not sure why we would consider re-signing him in the first place.
5. Most importantly, we need to give up hope of a division title in 2011. Not only are we 7 games back with 59 to play, but we are chasing three teams to the finish. That means we not only need to get hot in a hurry, but that Cleveland, Detroit and Chicago can not. I just can't see this happening, despite some historic comebacks in recent years.

I hope that Bill Smith takes a good look at the offers that come in, picks up some solid prospects in the deal, and treats Cuddy with the respect he deserves by sitting down face-to-face and explaining why the trade is going down. I then hope he thanks him for all he has done for the organization and sets up a meeting with Cuddyer's agent immediately following the World Series to discuss a potential return as a super-utility player, clubhouse leader and great all-around guy.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Twins For Sale

This is a posting that I meant to put up months ago when the Twins had fallen desperately out of the race.  By the time I was ready to post it, however, losses started turning into wins.  Out of respect for the nearly unprecedented run that followed, I held off on posting my thoughts. Now that the team has returned to something resembling an average baseball team, the post is starting to feel relevant again.  My fear is that the Twins winning ways, combined with a terrible AL Central division, may force the front office into some bad decisions in the next couple weeks.   

I've decided to post the original version, so please take that into account.  I have provided updates in a few places.

If there is one positive thing about the Twins falling out of contention in May, it is that the front office can approach the trade deadline as sellers.  There is a legitimate argument to be made that competing for a division title every year can take a toll on your organization.  First of all, it means that your draft picks are in the 20s and 30s instead of single digits each year, where most of the “can’t miss” prospects are drafted.  It also makes it difficult to leverage current assets to accumulate additional prospects at the trade deadline. 

Imagine the haul that the Twins could have received in 2007 had we been sellers at the trade deadline.  With almost no hope of retaining Torii Hunter and Cy Young pitcher Johan Santana long term, both players could have been dealt to contenders for big returns.  As it turns out, staying in contention left us with compensatory picks for Hunter when he signed a $90M deal with the Angels and a number of marginal prospects for Santana that have currently amounted to Jim Hoey and his 10+ ERA (Update: Hoey continues to dominate AAA hitters with an ERA of 2.63 and WHIP of 1.06, while his major league ERA has dropped below 8).  In fact, the “big piece” of the Santana deal, Deolis Guerra, is currently 3-5 with an ERA of 9.0 at AA (Update: Guerra has been much improved since moving to the bullpen: 2-2 4.13 ERA and 1.375 K/IP) . 

Last year we missed an opportunity to trade bullpen arms such as Jesse Crain and Matt Guerrier at the deadine, and instead sent Wilson Ramos to the Nationals for Matt Capps.  The move, which looked questionable at the time, looks even worse now that Ramos is doing well as the starting catcher in Washington (Update: Ramos is still a work in progress with a .243 average, but has slugged 9 HR) and Joe Mauer is on a “leg strengthening program” in Ft. Myers. To make matters worse, Mauer’s replacements have batting averages of .216, .133, and .118 (does it really matter who’s who?) (Update: Mauer's return to the lineup as a singles hitting utility infielder has been welcome, but has not had a huge impact on wins and losses).

As clear sellers this year, the powers that be have a lot of options as they look out to next year and beyond.  Personally, I would look to trade the following players in order to strengthen the club in the future.  I wouldn’t necessarily make all of these trades, as it depends on what we would receive in return.

  • Kevin Slowey: Since anyone reading the newspaper knows this trade will happen, I’m not sure what we could expect in return, but his combination of major league experience and low cost should generate some interest (Update: Still waiting on this one).
  • Carl Pavano: I still like “stache” and advocated resigning him this year, but if you can pickup a decent prospect or two, it would make sense to move him now and hand his spot to Kyle Gibson next season.
  • Jason Kubel: This is a difficult one as Kubel has been our best player this year.  He will be a (type A) free agent after the season and looking for a long term deal, which we probably can’t afford.  My guess is that we hold onto him, offer arbitration, and take the picks when he signs elsewhere (Update: Kubel's injury has hurt is trade value, and may knock him back to a type B free agent, which could affect this decision).
  • Matt Capps: We’re paying him too much this year, and can’t afford to pay him next year just to justify trading away Ramos.  He is still young and a good setup man for a contender with bullpen issues. (Update: Capps' play of late definitely limits his trade value)
  • Delmon Young: I can’t imagine a more frustrating player than the D-Train.  Trading him at this point would be the definition of buying high and selling low, but I just can’t stand watching him play baseball anymore.  As logic takes over, however, I probably hold onto him one more year to see if anything clicks.

During the offseason, I wrote that the Twins needed to make significant changes in the outfield, mostly maintain the status-quo in the infield, keep the bullpen together to the extent possible, and make some changes to the starting pitching staff.  I find it interesting that the front office decided to keep the same outfield, make major changes to the infield, blow up the bullpen and maintain the starting staff.  I’m not suggesting that the Twins are the worst team in the league because no one listened to me…but they ARE the worst team in baseball, and clearly no one listened to me.