Posted at 12:15 PM on June 23, 2008
by Chris Dall
So I go away for a week, and the Twins rip off a six-game win streak, vault to four games over .500, and all-of-a-sudden look like contenders. How did this happen? I was pretty much ignoring all forms of media while I was gone, so I have no clue what prompted all of this. Was it the play of Brian Buscher and Matt Macri? Was it the pitching? Was it Cuddyer and Kubel coming up big? Most importantly, can this be sustained?
And do you agree with Jim Souhan, who wrote in his column today that we should be seeing more of Buscher, Macri and Denard Span, and less of Mike Lamb, Brendan Harris, Craig Monroe and Delmon Young?
Posted at 1:27 PM on June 23, 2008
by Than Tibbetts
If you think they're wildly off base or hit the sweet spot, let 'em know in the comments.
After less than one-half of one baseball season, many have already written off the Delmon Young/Matt Garza trade — a deal in which the principles are in their early 20s — as a failure. That is pure lunacy. As disappointing as Young has been the first 2 1/2 months of this season, he's just 22 years old and remains a centerpiece of the Twins future.
This trade was the kind of bold stroke rookie GM Bill Smith had to make. It's pretty safe to say that Terry Ryan wouldn't have pulled the trigger on this deal. Ryan refused to trade top pitching prospects, whether it was Adam Johnson for Shannon Stewart in 2001 or Garza for Alfonso Soriano in 2005 and 2006. In retrospect, passing on those deals seems foolish.
With Scott Baker, Nick Blackburn, Kevin Slowey and Glen Perkins in the rotation and Francisco Liriano and a number of highly drafted pitching prospects scattered throughout the organization, the Twins are loaded with quality, young arms. Garza was expendable.
The Twins recently history of offensive ineptitude of course, is no secret. The team relies way too much on Justin Morneau for run production and, as much as Young has struggled so far, he's still on everybody's short list of young hitters to watch. At 22 — an age when most players are still working their way up the minor league ladder — Young is by far the best all-around hitting prospect the franchise has right now.
In the end, I believe Delmon Young will become a superstar and this will rank among the top trades in team history.
Top trades in team history!? Whether Delmon young becomes a superstar or becomes an average outfielder (something I'm still waiting to happen), Bill Smith's first trade showed he wasn't ready for the big leagues.
I'll save my critiques of Young the player until later. And I won't even get into the promise that Garza has shown and is showing in Tampa. I'll even save mention of the stability the Twins lost by including Bartlett in the deal. Instead I'll start by stating that this deal was a mistake because it jeopardized the team's prospects in 2008.
Knowing that he was likely going into the season without his two best starters from 2007 (Johan Santana and Carlos Silva) and likely without his the services of Francisco Liriano, how does a general manager trade his organization's top pitching prospect for a corner outfielder when that was one of the few positions where the team was set?
Livan Hernandez has been a serviceable addition to the rotation, but he hadn't been signed when this deal was made. So that means Smith was prepared to start the season with a rotation that had only started only 105 games--COMBINED! (Baker-48, Bonser-48, Slowey-11, Blackburn-0, and Perkins-0.) It's easy to look back and say that Perkins, Slowey and Blackburn have proved they can start at this level, but we didn't know that when this deal was made. We did know that Garza could eat up innings.
Okay, I'm done venting on the foolishness of trading the Twins best pitching prospect when they did and am ready to look at the merits of the trade. Before I do that, David, can you tell me how Delmon Young is going to be this team's centerpiece? He's shown no power, can't hit for average and has been benched for defensive lapses.
Matt Garza was 24-years-old with a career record of 8-13, a 4.47 ERA and .297 batting average against when he was traded last November. Delmon Young had just turned 22 and was coming off a season in which he hit .288 with 13 homers and 93 RBI for a last place team. Garza is off to a nice start with the surprising Rays, but let's not get too excited over a 5-4 record and 4.10 ERA. Even though Young is two years his junior, he was a more accomplished and known big league quantity than Garza heading into this year.
And to say the outfield was "set" when this deal was made is false. Torii Hunter had signed with the Angels a week earlier, so there was nobody in centerfield at that time. Leftfield was also far from "set", the team had hoped Jason Kubel would step up and take over the position in 2006 and 2007, but even after a strong finish in '07, you can hardly blame the front office for not being convinced he was their guy. Plus, many had him platooning with Craig Monroe at DH.
Other than Denard Span, who struggled last year, name one other outfield prospect in the Twins organization that is big league ready. Starting pitching however, is another story. Despite the fact that Phillip Humber and Kevin Mulvey -- the two starters acquired for Johan Santana -- have proven to be completely worthless so far, the Twins have had no problem plugging holes in their rotation with young arms.
Jason Bartlett meanwhile, saw his average dip from .309 in '06 to .265 in '07 and he's hitting a miserable .246/.292/.275 so far this year. He's not that good on defense either, remember the 26 errors he committed in 138 games last year? Brendan Harris, at .250/.312/.338, basically cancels him out.
There's no denying that Young's lack of power has been severely disappointing this season and it has hurt the team. But he did drive in 93 runs last year and his minor league batting line of .317/.363/.517 shows there is pop in his bat. He's obviously struggling to adjust to his new surroundings, but to write off one of the most highly regarded and talented players of his age after 2 1/2 bad months is unbelievably reactionary and short-sighted.
Like I said earlier, few players are even in the big leagues at age 21 and Baseball-Reference.com lists Tris Speaker and Roberto Clemente among the players most similar to Young at that tender age.
And I'll ignore the fact that you called Carlos Silva one the team's two best starters...
I had to swallow hard when I typed that line about Silva, but he did eat up a ton of innings and he did win 13 games with an ERA in the low fours. The fact that he was the Twins second-best pitcher just reinforces my point that the team's rotation wasn't deep enough to deplete through trades.
But let's talk about Bartlett some more before we get into Garza and Young. Yes, Brendan Harris has done a nice job at shortstop the past month. But remember, he was signed to play second base and it was only through injuries and dumb luck that the Twins found a replacement for Bartlett more than a third of the way through the season.
The folks in Tampa on the other hand started the season with a big league shortstop and couldn't be happier with Bartlett's contributions. Last year's defensive struggles were clearly an anomaly. He's sporting a .971 fielding percentage this season and is being credited with dramatically improving the Rays' defense. On the flip side, the Twins have been among the league's worst teams defensively this season and two of the players contributing to that were Adam Everett (the player Smith signed to replace Bartlett) and Young.
While Bartlett was key to the deal getting done, the player the Rays wanted was Garza. Despite being rushed to the majors faster than most pitchers in team history, Garza led all AL rookies with a 3.67 ERA and opposing scouts considered him the Twins best prospect and a possible ace of the staff.
For our discussion I decided to look back at what was said of Delmon Young at the time of the trade. Bill Smith claimed Young's power would "continue to improve" and he'd be a "middle-of-the-order difference maker." Maybe that will happen some day. And maybe Joe Mauer will hit 15 home runs in a season. I'm not going to hold my breath for either.