Saturday, February 02, 2008

Perfect Storm: Trade Lowry to Twins

I saw a headline of a rumor that caught my eye: Twins Might Get Fogg? And if you know the players in the league, Josh Fogg isn't even an average pitcher, he is very much a back of the rotation pitcher, at best a #4 starter, but I'm thinking more like a #5. His career ERA is 4.90 where the league ERA was 4.48 and his ERA+ was 91 where 100 is average. And he has never had one season where he was above 97. This is the guy they want to replace Johan Santana in their rotation?

Lowry is the Answer

That got me thinking, what about Lowry? Lowry would be a huge improvement over Fogg as a replacement for Santana in the rotation. His lowest ERA+ was 95; his career ERA is 4.03 where the league average was 4.38, and his career ERA+ is 109. And he is still young - just 27 for 2008 - and under relatively cheap control with a contract that lasts to 2009 and has an option for 2010. And while Lowry's late season injury problems of the past two seasons might scare off other teams, they took on Francisco Liriano's problems and have now took on Deolis Guerra's injury problems, so they must think that they are experts in handling pitchers who are injury prone.

Now who could we get from them. Well, in the Delmon Young trade, they got Brendan Harris, who is normally a SS but is right now slotted for 2B for them. However, they have Alexi Casilla who is their Eugenio Velez-esque speedburner who was originally slated to be their new 2B. We could get Harris in the trade, which would allow the Twins to start Casilla as they had originally intended.

He had a very nice season offensively at SS in 2007 (have no idea how good his fielding is) and has hit well in the minors coming up the ladder - and he could be either our starting 3B or be a Chone Figgins-type utility guy and get starts at 2B, 3B, and SS. And he could probably be our future SS, particularly if Vizquel sucks offensively, which I kind of expect (he couldn't even muster up one month with an OPS above 700, 688 was the highest, 670 next; he had four months at 745 and above, much above, just the year before). He could be starting by mid-season.

Now he alone is not enough for Lowry, in my opinion, Lowry is a more proven major leaguer, more successful major leaguer. He also is under contract and while we can trade him, we don't need to trade him, whereas the Twins just spent big bucks to lock up Morneau and Cuddyer, so they cannot afford to dick around on price and negotiate much, they need pitching, good pitching, and while they have some nice pitching with potential, the rotation is full of question marks up and down, with Scott Baker having the least question marks. Lowry might be a question mark by the end of the season, but at least he is unquestionably good before Sept: career ERA of 3.83 from start of season to end of August.

For the other player, there are a number of options. One is to get back 3B Brian Buscher. We lost him in the Rule 5 draft to the Twins last season and he had a great year in AA/AAA for them. Of course, that's probably because he got away from the hell-holes that is the stadium homes for the San Jose Giants and Connecticut Defenders. He's a 3B and, what do you know, we have an open spot at 3B in 2008. Buscher bats left, so he and Frandsen could split 3B between them, plus Frandsen could steal a start every week from Durham at 2B.

Another option could be C Wilson Ramos. He played on their A-ball team in 2007 and hit 783 OPS at age 19 (average age of pitchers in that league was 21.7 or 2 years older). He ranked 33rd in the league in OPS and he was not far behind highly hyped C Hank Conger, who was also 19 and hit a little higher with an 808 OPS. Baseball America has him as their #3 prospect. They have Joe Mauer already at C and he looks to be there a long time, so they won't need Ramos.

Lastly, there's SS Trevor Plouffe. Only 21, he was in AA last season and hit .736 OPS with 12 SB. Baseball America ranks him as the Twins #10 prospect, though all that will change with the addition of all the prospects from the Santana trade. Not as interesting as Ramos, but still he could be a good pickup for SS while Harris moves to 3B.

Giants Thoughts

After looking through the prospects lists, there are a lot of interesting prospects that the Giants might get from the Twins. To pair off with Harris, I think Ramos is probably the best deal and best for the Giants going forward, as catcher is always a hard spot to fill and, frankly, we only have Pablo Sandoval as our best looking catching prospect and yet only a season ago, he was a bust prospect. As nice as it would be to get Buscher back to fill our 3B need, I think Ramos would be a better value as well as fill a future position of need.

However, maybe, since the Twins appear to have picked up Mike Lamb for the purpose of being their starting 3B, they might be willing to throw in Buscher into the deal if we give them a pitching prospect in addition. If they can accept a pitcher that the Giants are willing to part with, then we got a deal. If we can do that, we got good prospects for C, 3B, and SS then and the Twins would have a rotation that goes from nice but very suspect, to respectable, as Lowry would fit nicely with Liriano, Baker, Slowey, and Perkins in the rotation (Boof is OK as a #5 starter but he might not even make the rotation in 2008). Lowry would take the #3 spot behind Liriano and Baker, a spot he should do very well in for them.


  1. Given that the Twins have a surplus of young starters (Baker, Liriano, Nick Blackburn, Glen Perkins, Kevin Slowey, plus the guys they got in the Santana trade...) I don't see them making a move to get another.

    Signing Fogg, maybe - it's just money - but it seems unlikely they'll give up players to get someone. Especially since their farm system is pretty much bereft of infield prospects.

  2. I agree. They just picked up 3 pitchers in the Santana deal. Fogg is just a roster filler until those guys are ready, who won't really block anyone, and won't cost them any of their prospects. I just don't see the motivation for it on their end.

  3. Thanks for your comments, Jon and Boof. I can see your points and perhaps the fan in me jumped the gun, but here's where I'm coming from.

    Twins fans has to be mad on two fronts: 1) losing Santana in the first place, and 2) getting an underwhelming package for him.

    Twins management just committed a lot of money to Morneau and Cuddyer and already committed to Mauer a bunch of dough to 2010.

    Yes, they have a nice bunch of young pitchers. But to Boof's point, both Humber and Mulvey are not sure things to be major league pitchers, and only Humber projects to the middle of rotation spot Lowry is in.

    To Jon's point, Blackburn, Perkins and Slowey are not sure things either, and, furthermore, only projects out to back of the rotation guys as well.

    That's high 4/low 5 ERAs for the lot of them, filling out perhaps 4/5-ths of the rotation until Liriano returns to the rotation, IF he returns effectively to the rotation.

    Baker's the only one I consider a good starting pitcher you can rely on. The rest are question marks filling the rest of the rotation.

    And even if they succeed, they are only back of the rotation good, they still need someone to fill up another two of the top three starting spots, with Baker securing one. Liriano might not be ready as most pitchers need two years to recover from Tommy John surgery (it'll be two years in mid-season). They need some reliable performance from the starting rotation if they expect to compete with their core of young hitters in 2008.

    Now, if someone has heard otherwise, that the Twins are not expecting to compete in 2008, then, yeah, I can see that they wouldn't be interested in Lowry.

    But I haven't heard that yet. They were trying to sign Santana to a long, big contract but were unwilling to go the years Santana wanted. That, to me, means they are trying to compete.

    Now, maybe things have changed since they traded Johan, but, again, I haven't heard that yet.

    All I know is that they are hoping to compete by throwing a bunch of back of the rotation pitchers into the mix and see who can do the job. They have only one pitcher who I would call reliable, and Baker hasn't even pitched a full season yet, so who knows if he is capable, I guess he's got a question mark on his head as well.

    Really, Boof Bonser is their most experienced starter and he doesn't even have two full seasons under his belt, and a pretty bad season in his first full season in 2007 (30 games started, yet only 173.0 IP).

    They need someone who is experienced and a good performer, plus ideally relatively cheap.

    They could use Harris at 2B, but they were already planning on using Casilla there before the trade. Throw in another prospect that they don't need, like Ramos who is blocked by Mauer for a long time, and I think that's a fair deal for a pitcher like Lowry.

    I've actually been hoping that the Angels would trade with us, they have a surplus of good MI prospects and they could use starters, and I would like to trade Lowry down closer to his SoCal roots, but I think the Twins would be a good match too, again, assuming they are trying to compete in 2008.

    Heck, assuming they are trying to compete in 2009. Like I noted, only Humber projects to be even a middle of rotation pitcher and Liriano is a big question mark. Even if Liriano is back as the ace, they have Baker as the #2, then maybe, maybe Humber is #3, and the rest battles for the #4/5 spots. Lots of ifs for a team hoping to compete in 2009. Lowry would strengthen their rotation while they give up two players who don't really figure in their plans at all in the future.

    But you all make a very good point, I don't really know if the Twins are planning on competing. If they are in rebuilding mode in 2008 and just want to see which pitcher can perform, then trading for Lowry would not make sense as you two astutely noted.

  4. I think as much as anything, the problem with trading for a starter is that they already have a fairly large glut of starters. Yes, it's possible that Lowry will be better than any of the 5-10 guys that project as future starters for the Twins - but it'd be foolish to give up position players (when the farm system is almost completely bare, especially in the infield) for a slightly more sure thing.

    I don't think it's a matter of competing in 2008; I think it's just a matter of not wasting players to acquire a player at the one position the Twins have some strength.

  5. Martin, I was looking at K Laws list of top 5 prospects for each of the 30 MLB teams. % prospects, 30 teams = 150 players. I was surprised to see that over 50%, 79 of the top 150 players, are pitchers. That means only 71 position players are in the top 150 prospects. Perhaps this is why it is harder to trade pitching for good young position players - they're pretty scarce.

  6. Jon, it's a glut of back of the rotation pitchers. Unless you have the best offense in the league by far, it's damn hard to win a division, let alone go deep in the playoffs. The majority of the pitchers listed above as "glut" are back of the rotation pitchers. That is not a strength, else you would be able to trade them for the position players you need. Heck, the Giants need position players and the only time teams pay attention is when Cain or Lincecum is mentioned. There's no interest in Lowry despite how well he has pitched in his career.

    Let's talk bareness. Harris is a 2B/SS/3B possibility. The Twins have Plouffe behind Everett at SS, Casilla was slated to start at 2B before the trade, Lamb at 3B plus Punto in reserve. Plus Punto has played some at 2B and SS as well. Maybe the minors are barren, but the Twins are covered at all the positions at the moment.

    Harris, to me, is a slight improvement over Casilla, though arguably so, because Casilla can steal a boatload of bases. That won't make a big difference to the offense, in my mind, if they trade Harris away. Plus Plouffe could come up in his place as well.

    Lowry has been a sub-4.00 ERA starter in the NL for much of his career, September 2006 notwithstanding, which translate to about a 4.25-ish ERA in the AL, much better than the 5-ish ERA expected for the other pitchers listed above.

    And I'm not saying all the pitchers will do poorly, I'm saying that out of the 3-4 pitchers in the rotation from the groups above, you cannot expect all of them to be in the 4.5-ish ERA range or better, one of them would be in the 5+ range and it is he who would be replaced by Lowry. That's about a 3 win improvement with Lowry over that last starter. That's quite an improvement in your team's standing if you are competing to win a title.

    In fact, Lowry would contribute to an above .500 team record with a 4.25 ERA; a 5+ ERA would contribute a losing record to the team.

    Hey, I just thought it would make more sense to a team, assuming it is trying to win in 2008, to want to have a Lowry in their rotation rather than a #5 type pitcher as a replacement for Santana. Not that Lowry is that good, just that he is that much better than the motley crew ("glut") of #5 starters that the Twins have available. Back of rotation starters are a dime a dozen, that's why re-treads like Brett Tomko, Jeff Weaver, Sidney Ponson travel from team to team, because they are cheap and available and have a history of at least doing back of the rotation performance, whereas none of the guys mentioned above have any track record of any sort.

    Let me put it this way, I thought for sure Scott Baker would start the season for the Twins in 2007, but even he got put back down before making it back up, and I think he showed more in the minors than any of the players above.

  7. allfrank, there is scarcity but it could be like how there are 103 boys born for every 100: boys tend to not make it to adulthood as much as girls.

    Same with pitchers, we all know TINSTAAPP, we all know that pitching is such a delicate process that one year the guys great, the next year, everything unravels and a career is lost (Jerome!).

    I think that also plays into the trade equation, other teams are aware of how fragile pitchers are and thus are less interested in trading their position players for pitchers. But you need pitching and cannot win without pitching, so if they don't have pitching, they will have to go and trade their position prospects/players for pitching.

  8. Martin,

    I don't think Harris makes alot of sense for the Giants as the future replacement for Omar. Only Derek Jeter was a worse defensive SS last year.

  9. I'll admit, giantsrainman, that I didn't know the depths of how bad Harris is. I figured he couldn't be that good, his offensive stats looks good for a SS, but didn't know he was one of the worse in the league.

    However, according to the prospect book I rely on, he is considered to be average in defense. Quote: "Plays solid defense at 3B and 2B..." Looks like he don't hit RHP well, he's projected to be a platoon 2B/3B, but his MLEs look nice the last couple of years.

    Maybe it's rookie nerves?

    Maybe it's just a bad park. According to Bill James 2007 handbook, the infield error rate was 128 in 2006, 122 for 2004-2006. If the data above is not adjusted for park effects, then his error rate might be overstated.

  10. I like your idea, but I really doubt the Twins would want Lowry very badly. They're short on starting pitching, but they aren't really in a position of desperation because they are fully aware they have no chance in the AL Central this year as long as the Indians and the Tigers are in it. They traded Matt Garza and Johan Santana because they wanted prospects in return that might help them in the future. They probably have no intention of giving any of them up. They're probably going after Fogg just to fill a rotation spot and see what he can do; they don't seriously expect him to be the #1 starter in their rotation. They have Francisco Liriano for that, if he can stay healthy. But signing Fogg makes sense for them because he will either flop, which is fine because he will cost next to nothing, or he will do okay, which means they can either hold on to him or toss him to another team for even more prospects at the deadline. But Lowry would cost them something, even if he is good. They're more than just one starter away from competing, so I doubt they would really want to do that kind of deal.



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