Wednesday, July 29, 2009

In need of some relief

Actually, before I take a look at the relief pitchers that are options for the Twins I want to address another person the Twins may be targeting at middle infield: David Eckstein. To be brief, this would be a pointless move that wouldn't improve the team at all. At the plate, he's essentially Nick Punto if he consistently played like his 2008 version (see below), and that's not necessarily a bad thing for a shortstop/second baseman. Unfortunately, Eckstein's defense has eroded to the point where he can no longer play shortstop effectively (and he hasn't played there this year). At 34 years old, that's not surprising. At second base, his defense has been below average, but not horrible, in relatively few innings (~850) the last two years. Punto, meanwhile, has rated above average to good at second over the last two seasons.

That, combined with his weak hitting this year and low upside, makes for an unappealing trade target. He could be a very slight upgrade over Nick Punto if everything works out right, but that's unlikely, especially considering he just came off the disabled list yesterday. I think the last thing the Twins need is another scrappy, light-hitting middle infielder for Gardy to be infatuated with.

On to the real topic now. Yesterday I mentioned a few relief pitchers the Twins have been linked to, and I'd like to run through an expanded list: Sean White (SEA); John Grabow (PIT); Michael Wuertz (OAK); Jason Frasor, Scott Downs, and Brandon League (TOR); and George Sherrill (BAL). It's rumored that the Twins are trying to address both their middle infield and bullpen needs in one trade--Sherrill and White are the two that don't fit that bill. Personally, I don't think they should bother trying to do that if a deal for Sanchez like the one I looked at yesterday is on the table. I'd just take that and worry about a reliever separately.

Sean White is an uninspiring choice, with a nearly even strikeout-to-walk ratio (21:20) and more of the same on his minor league track record (52:43 in 125 AAA innings in 2008). He does induce a lot of ground balls and gives up limited home runs, but he's not the late-inning option the Twins need.

John Grabow is a southpaw who fares only slightly better against fellow lefties than he does against righties. He strikes out more batters than White but also hands out more walks. His WHIP is pretty high (1.57, 1.46 career) and his FIP is 4.47 despite a significantly lower HR/FB% than any other season of his career. So, while I'd like him more than White, he's not that great of an option.

Michael Wuertz has been very good this year, and presents a pretty good option. He's struck out 64 batters in 48.1 innings against just 13 walks. His 3.17 ERA is actually worse than his 2.56 FIP, which he's accumulated with a HR rate right in line with his career average. I believe he still has another year of arbitration, meaning he'd be around in 2010 too. Between all of that, though, the A's may be asking for a lot for Wuertz.

The Blue Jays have a nice trio of relievers in Jason Frasor, Brandon League, and Scott Downs. All 3 would be nice additions, as they all strike out about a batter an inning and have a walk rate around 2.5 per nine innings. Downs is owed the remainder of $3.5 million this year and $4.0 million in 2010, Frasor is in his last year of arbitration and will be a free agent, and League still has another year of arbitration. Downs' contract makes the lefty a little less desirable, but it also means he might come cheaper in a trade.

George Sherrill is another solid option. While I don't like him quite as much as Wuertz and the Toronto relievers, he would be a good addition to the bullpen. His walk and strikeout rates are similar to the Blue Jays corps, but he's an extreme fly ball pitcher (50.6 % fly balls) who gives up very few home runs (0.77/9). Even though he's managed to do this throughout his career, I still don't like counting on those odds.

So, overall, it's hard to determine who's best to trade for when you don't really know what the Twins would have to give up. If you consider recent trades as a baseline, perhaps you can get some idea. The Rockies just traded high-A pitcher Connor Graham to the Indians for reliever Rafael Betancourt. While he's a righty, he's otherwise pretty similar to Scott Downs, since Betancourt has a club option for $5.4 million next year. Graham is a 23-year-old who's pitching pretty well (9.75 K/9, .231 BAA, 2.96 FIP), but walks too many (4.59/9) and perhaps has been aided by a really low HR rate (0.22/9). He did, however, have a rate of 0.18 for 2008, so maybe it's not a fluke.

Perhaps that's someone like David Bromberg? If so, the question becomes are you willing to part with Bromberg for Downs this year and next at the aforementioned price. I'm not sure, and that's why I feel like the trade discussed yesterday is a better bet. But I suppose it's possible the Twins could make two trades--we'll just have to wait and see.

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