Monday, December 8, 2008

Short Sales

It looks as though the Dodgers will win the Casey Blake sweepstakes (awwwwww), so the Twins can now turn their attention to other players. With the Tigers signing Adam Everett today, there has been talk that the Twins might now be interested in Pirates shortstop Jack Wilson, who the Tigers had been courting recently. Since the season ended, I've been emphasizing that any moves the Twins make (especially trades) should be a clear improvement over the status quo. At the SS position, that means Nick Punto.

Is Wilson an upgrade? Here are their career averages per 508 ABs (Wilson's career AB total divided by 8 seasons. Punto's defensive numbers apply only to his time at SS):

Wilson: .269/.312/.375, 25 2B, 4 3B, 7 HR, 29 BB, 61 K, 4 SB, .978 Fielding %, .846 ZR
Punto: .252/.319/.332, 21 2B, 5 3B, 3 HR, 52 BB, 94 K, 19 SB, .977 Fielding %, .857 ZR

More interested in the recent past? Here are their 3-year numbers:

Wilson: .281/.328/.390, 1325 AB, 74 2B, 4 3B, 21 HR, 84 BB, 138 K, 8/18 SB, .980 Fielding %, .830 ZR
Punto: .258/.327/.337, 1269 AB, 58 2B, 15 3B, 4 HR, 134 BB, 215 K, 48/65 SB, .966 Fielding %, .851 ZR

Basically, Wilson will hit for more power, but will reach base no more often than Punto. The low BB & K totals tell me that Wilson is a hacker who doesn't go deep into counts. His greatly reduced triples total and ZR in recent years tell me that he's already lost a step. Wilson is owed $7.25 million in 2009 with an $8.4 million club option for 2010 ($0.6 million buyout). Punto could be signed for far less than that, and the Twins wouldn't have to give up any other players to get him.

Given their relative strengths, I'd rather have Punto - provided he's the #9 hitter, meaning Carlos Gomez spends the season on the bench or in the minors. The few extra bases Wilson would likely get over Punto wouldn't be worth the added costs of acquiring him. I'd rather have a guy at the bottom of the lineup who works counts and can steal a base anyway. If the Twins are really interested in Wilson, then they ought to just sign Punto.

However, there is still Rafael Furcal. When the offseason began, he seemed to be well out of the Twins' league. But that might not be the case anymore. He hasn't turned out to be a Type A or B free agent, thanks to an abnormally poor 2007 and an injury-shortened 2008; the Dodgers did not offer him arbitration. He earned nearly $30 million over the past 2 seasons, so, of course, he doesn't want his next contract to be a huge step down from that. That's probably why he turned down the A's recent offer of $9-10 million/year for 4 years.

But with other teams that were targeting shortstops filling the void with lower-cost options, a large market for Furcal's services doesn't look like it will materialize. That leaves Furcal with a decision to make - accept a long-term deal for less money than he thinks he's worth, or negotiate a short-term deal for good money and hope that his performance earns him a bigger long-term contract in a year or two, while he's still relatively young (he's 31 now).

The Twins should be able to accommodate him in either scenario. If he's willing to sign a 4-year deal for a low 8-figure salary, that's a relative bargain for one of the premier free agent position players. If he'd rather do 1-2 years for $15 million/year, the Twins have the payroll space available for that as well, and the team's risk is lower. Remember, the Twins offered Torii Hunter $15 million/year just 13 months ago. If they were offering Blake $6 million/year, and figuring at least $3 million for Punto, that's already upwards of $9 million they had budgeted for the left side of the infield. With Buscher/Harris slated to earn less the $500,000 each, it wouldn't be too much of a stretch to get to $12 million or so for a long-term deal on Furcal and keep those guys as a 3B platoon, something the Twins have indicated they'd be OK with if they could get a good SS.

Furcal would be quite a good SS. Adding his numbers to the above comparison (again, career averages are per 508 ABs):

Career: .286/.352/.412, 25 2B, 6 3B, 9 HR, 51 BB, 72 K, 28 SB, .966 Fielding %, .834 ZR
3-year: .293/.362/.420, 67 2B, 15 3B, 26 HR, 148 BB, 183 K, 70/92 SB, .969 Fielding %, .838 ZR in 1378 AB

As you can see, Furcal matches Wilson's power and Punto's plate discipline while hitting for a much higher average and stealing far more bases. He gives up a little bit defensively, but not enough to be a huge concern (the Twins could always swap him with Casilla if they think his range is slipping). Furcal is a gigantic upgrade over the status quo and therefore worth spending some money on. He would enable the Twins to send Alexi Casilla to the bottom of the order and give the Twins a proven leadoff hitter should Denard Span get injured or regress. If Furcal would sign for at least 2 years, the likelihood of him leaving the Twins as a type A or B free agent is pretty good, meaning they'd get an extra draft pick or two when he moves on.

The Twins have the means to acquire one of the best available shortstops and substantially improve the team without having to trade any of the young players who were so valuable to their success in 2008. I think they should at least offer Furcal a richer deal than Oakland did. Meanwhile, as long as they're talking to the Pirates in Vegas, why not take a gamble on Andy LaRoche? Bringing him in to play 3rd could really pay off.

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