We are a fantasy baseball league whose draft is scheduled for April 23. That's a little late, even for us. But given the spate of players going on the DL...

Thursday, December 23, 2004

BP on Twins

Minnesota Twins
Who's on Third: Turning to the Twins' free agents:
Coming VORP '04 Salary Status
Brad Radke 60.1 $10.8MM re-signed 2 yr/$18MM
Juan Castro 0.8 $1.0MM signed 2 yr/$2.05MM
Terry Mulholland 9.6 $0.6MM signed minor league deal
Mike Redmond 3.7 $0.8MM signed 2 yr/$1.8MM
Going VORP '04 Salary Status
Henry Blanco -8.0 $0.8MM signed CHN 2 yr/$2.7MM
Cristian Guzman 15.5 $3.7MM signed WAS 4 yr/$16.8MM
Corey Koskie 26.7 $4.5MM signed TOR 3 yr/$17MM
The Twins' angle on the winter meetings was only notable for what it didn't include: a contract for Corey Koskie. Though Koskie had said he'd be willing to take less money to return to Minnesota--a two-year deal in the vicinity of $9-10 million overall, with a no-trade clause--GM Terry Ryan was content only to offer him arbitration. When the Blue Jays swooped to offer the 31-year-old a three-year deal, Koskie's six-year tenure as the Twins' third baseman ended.
Coupled with the earlier departure of Cristian Guzman, the loss of Koskie means a turnover of the left side of the Twins' infield. That's not necessarily a bad thing, given the generous contracts the two players received from their new teams and how fertile Minnesota's system has been in recent years. But how the Twins will choose to fill that hole is an open question.
Recall that in a market crawling with shortstops to fit every budget, the Twins found a way to go off-label by signing Juan Castro. A futilityman who can barely keep his performance above sea-level (4.7 WARP spread over 1742 plate appearances, with a robust EQA of .210), Castro's signinq barely makes sense even if he's merely the caddy for prospect Jason Bartlett. On a team where every million counts, locking up a Castro for two years is a gross misunderstanding of the replacement-level concept.
With the Beltre and Koskie signings, the market for high-profile free-agent third basemen boils down to Joe Randa, a 35-year-old who hit .287/.343/.408 (a .263 EQA) last year, and 32-year-old Tony Batista (.241/.272/.455, .242 EQA). The most likely scenario has Michael Cuddyer, who filled in at third base when Koskie was injured, taking over the role full-time. In his first full season in the bigs, Cuddyer hit .263/.339/.440 for a .267 EQA, falling somewhere between his 25th and 40th percentile PECOTA projections--a bit of a disappointment, in other words. He'll turn 26 in the spring. For comparison's sake, at 26, Koskie was a rookie raking to the tune of a .310/.387/.468 line (a .288 EQA), a level that he's more or less held since then. Cuddyer has his work cut out for him to reach that level, let alone maintain it.
Slotting him at third may not be in the Twins' best interests. Cuddyer's 43 games there were a bit hairy: 17 runs below average per 100 games, according to the Davenport system. He also subbed for the injured Luis Rivas at second base, putting up slightly above average performance in 48 appearances. It's fair to say that Cuddyer's skill as an infielder is an open question; whether he can comfortably handle a regular role defensively will drive many of the Twins' decisions in the spring.
Another name from within the organization is Terry Tiffee, who was the Eastern League's All-Star third baseman in 2003 and who hit .307/.357/.522 (a .254 MjEQA) in Rochester last year before getting a cup of coffee with the big club. Only three weeks younger than Cuddyer, Tiffee's a solid two years behind him developmentally--a considerable gap. He's a switch-hitter with a bit of pop, but he's walked only once for every 17.5 plate appearances in the high minors, and the Twins can use all of the plate disciplinarians they can find.
The Twins have owned the AL Central for the past three years, but they'll need to find some production in the infield to insure that they stave off the pretenders to the divisional throne. Cuddyer/Castro/Rivas likely won't cut it, and Tiffee/Bartlett/Cuddyer might still not be enough. They're probably one man short here, so don't be shocked if they make a move to throw another veteran into the mix.
Bradical: The Twins' biggest victory this offseason has been the retention of Brad Radke, who was heavily courted by the Boston Red Sox before an 11th-hour deal kept him in... Twinstripes? Sure. Though his won-loss record was only 11-8 last year, Radke enjoyed an excellent season, with career-bests in ERA (3.48) and strikeout-to-walk ratio (5.5) and the most innings he'd thrown (219 2/3) since 2001.
Radke finished tied for eighth among pitchers in VORP with 60.1 and second among all pitchers (behind staff ace Johan Santana) in... wait for it... Support-Neutral Lineup-Adjusted Value Above Replacement. Radke added 6.9 wins above a replacement level pitcher given the same support, the same ballpark, and the same quality of hitter faced. He was also fourth in Team Expected Wins in his starts with 20.6, one of only six pitchers to crack 20 last year. Not too shabby for the team's second-best starter.
The Twins had been offering Radke a three-year deal worth about $21 million, but the Mets' overly generous pact with Kris Benson raised the ante. By settling for two years, Radke received a higher payday, while the Twins kept themselves flexible over the long term.
Tender Mercies: As Monday night's non-tender deadline approached, the Twins had seven arbitration-eligible players whose fates rested in the balance. Just before the deadline, the team announced deals with Rivas, Jacque Jones and Matt LeCroy, and tendered contracts to Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana, Kyle Lohse, J.C. Romero and Carlos Silva.
Jones' deal is for one year and $5 million. Second on the team in homers with 24, Jones was nonetheless a drag on the Twins' offense, hitting just .254/.315/.427 (.244 EQA). As the season wound down, the Twins looked well-positioned to replace him thanks to the performance of Jason Kubel (.300/.358/.433 in 67 plate appearances), the team's minor-league player of the year. But Kubel suffered an injury during Arizona Fall League play, tearing not only his anterior cruciate ligament but possibly his medial collateral ligament or his meniscus as well. He's expected to miss all of the 2005 season. With their readymade replacement out of the picture, the Twins went with the safe bet.
Said Ryan of the signing, "I understand people have said we have all kinds of outfield depth. But Jacque gives us offense, he hits for power and he plays a good right field. He's unselfish, he's durable, he's a good teammate. He's a lot of things that we're about here." Resist the temptation to take the red pen to that quote, Twins fans. After all, Luis Rivas is coming back (one year, $1.625MM), too.

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