Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Trading Liriano Would Not Be Rational, But the Twins May Still Do It

By The Common Man

There is incredible buzz going around about whether the Twins are dumb enough to trade Francisco Liriano before the 2011 season gets underway, an idea that’s gained even more intrigue with Bob Nightengale’s strange-sounding report that the Twins would trade Liriano for a package headed by Joba Chamberlain or Ivan Nova. Rob Neyer wondered yesterday why this would make any sense for the Twins, because, after all, “The Twins sort of need Francisco Liriano, don't they?”

This is similar to the line of reasoning Corey Ettinger put forth the other night, when he tweeted, “Listen guys, there is no chance Liriano is getting traded. None.” He then followed that up, saying,
“First of all, the Twins are looking to compete, not get worse. Second, there it'd be essentially impossible to get equal value for Liriano at this point. A Top-10/15 pitcher in baseball signed at 4.5m with two years of service time remaining... Three, given his peripherals, the Twins would probably be trading him at something other than peak value. There may come a time when Liriano is traded (like after the 2011 season) but it wont be now.” [sic]
And all of this makes sense. There’s a great deal of logic in it. But if the last several years should have taught Twins fans anything, it’s that the Twins are not logical actors. Which means that, as much as we’d all like to believe the team wouldn’t deal its ace, you can’t put anything past them. The Twins have proven again and again that they are unimpressed by concepts like logical analysis. Instead, they’re moved by feelings and guesses and inertia to act.

He doesn’t fit in.

The Twins have a disconcerting habit of trading and marginalizing players who don’t fit their preconceived notions of what that ballplayer should be. Consider the JJ Hardy trade this offseason. By all accounts, the Twins had one of the better shortstops (when healthy) in the American League, a solid hitter who was also an outstanding fielder. But rather than focus on Hardy’s overall value, Ron Gardenhire instead looked at his shortstop’s prime deficiency: a lack of speed on the basepaths. So the Twins dealt him. And rather than properly valuing him and getting a good return, the Twins unloaded him for a pair of spotty (at best) minor league relievers.

In just a few other examples, Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett were traded for Delmon Young after falling out of favor with the Twins. Glen Perkins and Pat Neshek were marginalized after having fallouts with management over how their injuries were handled. David Ortiz was released because he was a pull-hitter. There is The Twins Way and the highway, and he Twins have consistently sacrificed talented players who did not conform to their vision.

Meanwhile, players who meet even low expectations, such as Drew Butera does and Luis Rivas did, are held up as examples to the rest of the organization of the importance of filling that designated role.

I just know this will work!

The Twins front office seems to be ruled as much by their wild-eyed optimism as their prejudices against non-conformity. The signings of Tony Batista, Juan Castro, Rondell White, Ramon Ortiz, Sidney Ponson, Livan Hernandez, and Craig Monroe all bear witness to that. The team finds a forgotten and highly flawed veteran player, and attempts to plug them into a hole, seemingly certain that, because the deal is cheap, it has no risk. But these signings, again and again, jeopardized the Twins’ playoff chances.  Yet the front officed didn't learn their lesson for four years, going back to this well even after it was clear that it had been poisoned.

You have been classified; therefore you are important.

The Twins have an infatuation with labels. When Matt Capps and his closer tag became available last year, the Twins jumped to deal one of their most valuable prospects, despite having Jon Rauch, Jesse Crain, and (eventually) Brian Fuentes available to close. They also overspent this offseason to keep Capps on as “insurance” in case Joe Nathan isn’t healthy. Leaving aside Nathan’s health for a moment, no team should understand how closers are made, not born, better than the Twins who converted Nathan from a setup man after losing Eddie Guardado. And Guardado had been a LOOGY before the club elevated him to the role. And the man who Guardado inherited his job from, Rick Aguilera, had been a starter before the Twins converted him in 1991. Yet, in spite of all the evidence that a reasonably good reliever will make a reasonably good closer, the Twins continued to overvalue the label.

They also, like so many other teams, have a weakness for the “veteran leadership” tag. It’s led them to overpay to keep guys like Michael Cuddyer and Shannon Stewart for several times what the players would be worth on the open market.

Well, we can’t turn back now. We’re already halfway there.

The Twins have, over the years, proven vulnerable to organizational momentum. They get started down a path and are unable to turn back. In particular, the Johan Santana trade stands out as a painful example. The Twins had Santana under control for one more full season in 2008, and did not plan to pursue him as a free agent. So they began exploring trade opportunities for the best lefty in Twins history.

They held talks with the Red Sox and Yankees primarily, involving young players like Jacoby Ellsbury, Jed Lowrie, Phil Hughes, and Melky Cabrera (dodged a bullet there), but were unable to come to an agreement. The speculation and discussion lasted for almost two months, and it became increasingly clear the Twins were unlikely to get what they wanted for their ace. But rather than packing it in and taking their chances with competing for a division title or dealing Santana at the trade deadline, the team seemed resigned to push forward. On February 2nd, they dealt him to the Mets for an underwhelming package of Carlos Gomez, Kevin Mulvey, Phil Humber, and Deolis Guerra. Three of them have essentially been failures, while Guerra clings to prospect status despite underwhelming performance in the minors.

The Twins finished the year tied with the White Sox for the AL Central title, and lost a play-in game. If they had simply kept Santana, the club almost certainly would have won the division outright and then been able to collect two draft picks for him in 2009.


The Twins remain an organization driven by emotion. They lack the ability to keep dissatisfaction in-house (a problem they’ve had since Tom Kelly was managing, actually), and actively seem to antagonize and marginalize talented players. They also overreact to perceived needs and slights without considering alternatives that do not fit with their preconceived notions of what players should be and what roles they can fill. The Twins are, in short, not rational or logical actors. You cannot count of them to make reasonable and sound decisions in the face of high emotion and mounting pressure.  And given that their campaign against Francisco Liriano seems to have started in earnest, witht he public criticism of his conditioning and the decision to start Carl Pavano in the season opener, The Common Man has little faith that it won’t end with the premature unloading of Liriano for a disappointing return.


Joe said...

It's weird how they are clearly a good organization but seem so flawed at times...

Hippeaux said...

Totally agree, Bill. The ease with which the Twins parted ways with Hardy and Hudson, decent hitters and excellent up-the-middle defenders (who were cheap!) really surprised me. They were defensively challenged last year, especially in the outfield, and it could get even worse in 2011.

The Liriano rumors are probably fueled by the fascination with the Yankees (think Carmelo to the Lakers). Do I think Liriano will be on the block if the Twins fall out of contention by midseason? Yes. Do I think they would part with him now? No.

Haplo said...

No, you're right. The front office should listen to this shitty blog.

The Common Man said...

That's what we've been saying! Oh wait, that's that sarcasm what the city folk use to say something they don't mean, ain't it?

Anonymous said...

You lost me when you said JJ Hardy was one of the top short stops in the American League....

Bill said...

He certainly was (maybe THE top shortstop). Take a look at the shortstops in the American League last year. The competition is not terribly impressive.

Nick said...

The key to the Hardy comment is 'when healthy'. This was something he has proven he can't be relied upon to be.

This is also a major factor in discussing Liriano. Put aside the 3 years missed for TJ surgery and comeback, he had a number of arm issues in the minors.

The Twins are not the Yankees, can never be the Yankees and they know it. They can't afford to give another extension to a guy that is not reliable and could end up costing them 40 mil to watch games from the DL for the next 4 years.

The Twins just simply don't have the depth in young talent or the huge payroll to replace lost expensive talent.

Liriano has had 1.5 good years and 3 worthless years due to injury. This is why the Twins were/are listening to offers and why they wouldn't be insane to take a Great offer to move him.

I'm a HUGE Liriano fan and I think he has the potential to break out this year into the top 5 category of SP, but I see where the front office is coming from - though it would suck to see him go.

Anonymous said...

Not that everything the Twins do is good, but this article is ridiculous. Got rid of Hardy because even with the new stadium, we only got so much payroll. Hardy and Hudson for 11 million? Not the way they played.

People like Craig Monroe were only around til prospects could get ready for the big leagues (Denard Span in that case).

Ramos was an overrated prospect they were trying to get value for. And Cuddyer's value has been all over the board. 2009, he pretty much led us to the playoffs on his own.

Bill said...

Anon, you're missing two things in your justifications, and they're both Matt freaking Capps.
1. Ramos was a highly-touted enough prospect (deservedly or not) that he should have brought more in return than a middling closer.

2. The payroll excuse for Hardy doesn't work. He signed with the Orioles for $5.85 million, WAY less than his actual value (and substnatially less even than the 80% of actual value you usually assume for final-arb-year cases). If they have to go with a potential (likely) black hole in Alexi Casilla at short rather than spend $6 million for a quality starting SS, that's an awfully troubling problem in and of itself, but then: they turned around and signed Matt freaking Capps for $7.15 million. 5.85 is too much for a quality starting shortstop, but 7.15 is totally cool for a slightly above average relief pitcher who might throw all of 60 innings this year (probably not even 9th innings). That's just deeply misguided thinking, or an irrational hatred of Hardy.

Jim B said...

Santana pretty much forced the Twins hand when he told them that he would refuse to approve any trade once he reported for spring training. It seemed pretty clear at the time the Twins intended to keep Santana at least until the trade deadline.

Say what you want about the prospects they received from the Mets, but according to Baseball America they were 3rd (Gomez), 4th (Humber), 5th (Guerra), and 6th (Mulvey) ranked propsects in the Mets organization when the deal was made.

Hardy was moved because he was going to make too much money for a guy who they couldn't count on to stay healthy. The didn't get much in return becasue Hardy was no longer a coveted player. Teams weren't beating down the Twins door to acquire him.

Rasho said...

JJ Hardy IS a slightly above average short stop... in fact last year he was worth 1.4 WAR, Now shelling out 5.85 million for 1.4 wins is not at all worth it for the financially strapped twins. Hows that for some logic for you? I just have a hard time believing that a team that is acting on emotion has been so good for so long.

Bill said...

$5.85 million for 1.4 wins is actually a little lower than the going rate right now, but FanGraphs views his defense a lot differently -- and more in line with how both metrics have viewed it over his career, and with my subjective observations for what little they're worth -- and has him at 2.4 WAR, which you can reasonably extrapolate to nearly 4 (roughly All-Star level) if he were to get 600 plate appearances.

I don't know that it's totally accurate to say the Twins were relying on emotion in making that trade. Just a lot of misguided focus on certain less important attributes at the expense of more important ones.

The Common Man said...

To reiterate what Bill said above, the problem is not necessarily that they didn't keep Hardy. It's that they A) allowed his biggest weakness to overshadow his strengths, B) thought so little of him that they were ok for trading him for two non-prospects, and C) clearly had the money to keep him, but felt the need to spend that money on a "proven" closer, who will spend this year as one of the most expensive set-up men in baseball.

FanGraphs and disagree about his WAR last year (2.4 and 1.4 respectively), but it's hard to argue that Capps is worth even more than that given that those same outlets valued him at 1.2 and 1.8 WAR respectively.

Finally, @JimB, Santana could not stop a trade during the season, as he was not a 10 and 5 guy. He could have refused to negotiate an extension, but that would seem to run counter to his interests, and with Santana around and the team in contention, there's no way they would have traded him mid-season anyway.

Josiah said...

Great article! Based on some of the comments here and some of the comments left on ESPN's site about ranking the central (I'm wrathofcrain, there), some Twins fans really love what the front office does, regardless of the results.
Matt Capps will be the death of me this year, I can already feel it. Seriously 7 million dollars? I don't understand.

toby said...

Great article. You nailed it and then some. The Twins cry that money was the problem with Hardy, but they have no problem coming up with money when a player fits their beknighted, parochial definition of a Twins guy and/or what they (generally erroneously) perceive to be "vital need." Granted, most of baseball drastically overpays for "Closers," but that doesn't mean the Twins have to, too, and it doesn't get them off the hook for the atrocious Capps/Hardy decisions, Cuddyer's contract or any of the other dubious moves you mentioned.

All this said: if they get CRAZY value -- Montero plus Banuelos plus Betances or something equally over the top -- it's not crazy to trade Liriano, even before the season. I simply have zero faith in Bill Smith's ability to get the Yankees to overpay if he decides to make the move. As you so aptly point out, the Twins unfortunately appear to make these decisions in the abstract before figuring out if the specifics justify them. (That actually applies to a lot of Gardenhire's in game management, too.) I'm just hoping to hell B.S. doesn't do so here.

grafe said...

The Bill Smith thing I always remember is how he defended Livan Hernandez by saying he'd rather have a pitcher who won 20 games with a 5.50 era instead of a guy who won 10 games with a 2.50 era. I understand he was probably just defending Livan but man don't say stuff like that

scottz said...

My post on 3/4, mid-afternoon (which was absolutely received by the system), has not been shown in the comments. It's hard to take a blog seriously if it can't be bothered to post a comment that criticizes its articles.

Take care now. Good bye.

Bill said...

scottz, didja notice the third comment above? We clearly don't moderate comments. The failure was either the system's or yours.

The Common Man said...

Scottz, I saw your comment show up in my email, but when I returned to this page to respond to you, I found that it was not here. But given its lenght, I assumed you had deleted it because you had either found it to be excessive, or decided to get your own blog. I'm happy to reproduce what I initially assumed to be your debut novel below.

The Common Man said...

Ah, I see the problem, Scottz, the system will only accept comments that are less than 4,096 characters. I'll post your comments in what will have to be several installments below. Enjoy your time in the sun.

The Common Man said...

Here is what Scottz said:

"This article has some salient points, in my opinion (i.e. that the Twins seem to actively antagonize some players who "don't fit", but many of the arguments hold no water.

The Twins liked JJ Hardy. Loved his defense, liked his bat. Didn't love his health, speed, or paycheck. You could pretty much ditto for Hudson with a little tweaking. They are getting faster with this year's duo, likely losing at the plate and (I think) likely staying even in the field, while coming up $6MM cheaper. Additionally, they got an arm for Hardy that they think might fill a much needed slot in the bullpen (Hoey). We'll see, but that's the logic, not that they ran Hardy out because he wasn't fast enough.

Garza and Bartlett have been similarly "marginalized" by the Rays, no? Maybe there's fire with that smoke. Perkins had every chance to stick with the club as a starter and underperformed a few years ago. They like him for a key bullpen spot this year. Neshek had TJ surgery and lost 5-6 mph on his fastball. Both did have issues with management, but the team is ready for both to be on the field this year and contribute. Hardly run out of town. NOBODY wanted David Ortiz when the Twins released him. The ONLY team to offer him a (very small) deal was the Red Sox. Ortiz's numbers in his first 5-6 seasons are nearly identical to that baseball wunderkind, Matt LeCroy. Drew Butera is a ++ defensive catcher. Not a bad thing to have to give Joe Mauer a day off every now and again. Luis Rivas was held up as a POSITIVE example?!!? When did this happen?

Batista, Castro, White, Ortiz, and Ponson all happened under Terry Ryan. Hernandez and Monroe were released/waived in August of the year they were signed...and I think it not unfathomable that their signings in the first place had to do with Mr. Ryan's influence. Mr. Smith's veteran signings since have consisted of Joe Crede (quite serviceable in 2009 when healthy) and Jim Thome (who had an "ok" year last year, right?) Add in some trades for quite savvy and useful veterans in both 2009 and 2010 sure makes it seem like the Twins have learned the lesson you suggest they haven't learned.

The Common Man said...

Here's the 2nd part of Scottz comments:

The Twins do "label" players, and it is aggravating. But overpaying for a single year of Matt Capps when you can't be certain of Nathan coming off TJ, and when you lost MANY bullpen guys (Guerrier, Crain, Fuentes) to multi-year offers to other clubs seems quite defensible. The back end of their bullpen might be OK if Nathan and Capps are able to perform, while they cultivate other arms into "reasonably good relievers".

Say what you want about Cuddyer (and Lord knows I have), but he has been invaluable in stepping up in both 2009 and 2010 when Morneau went down, regardless of what WAR says. When the Twins traded for Stewart in 2003, they were 46-51. After they were 44-21. Definitely a catalyst.

Santana forced the Twins hand, and they made their play, which hasn't turned out great. But Gomez was traded for Hardy, who you laud, who was turned into an arm for potentially this year's bullpen, either Mulvey or Humber turned into Rauch, who was a reasonably good reliever for a couple of years, and Guerra is still rising in the ranks. I think he's 19. Maybe 20. If they had to do it over again, would they trade or take the two picks? I don't know. And neither do you.

All of these flawed arguments are put together that the Twins may still trade Liriano. And they might. But it won't be in 2011 unless they get a HUGE offer. It might be next offseason if they get the feeling that Liriano wants a king's ransom. But the current Liriano trade tizzy originated in the keyboard of a local scribe and has been fueled by Yankee mania. If the Twins were ACTIVELY shopping Liriano, wouldn't multiple teams be mentioned as suitors? Or do only the Yankees need a very good left handed starter?

The Twins can be crticized on several fronts, but this Liriano to the Yankees stuff isn't one of them."

The Common Man said...

And now my response to but a few of Scottz points because I don't have the time or inclination to spend my entire weekend answering him point for point:

It's pretty clear that the Twins made it a priority to replace Hardy, again becuase of the speed issue, and did it without a viable replacement (Casilla was a mediocre-to-bad 2B, so a switch to short is not likely to end well for him or us. For him, they received a replacement level pitcher and a 24 year old who has yet to get out of A-ball. Nice.

Meanwhile, neither Garza nor Bartlett were "marginalized by the Rays," who allowed both of them to flourish until replacements were available and ready, then they traded them to teams that would continue to allow them to flourish for real prospects and players.

Neshek has legitimate complaints as to how the Twins mismanaged his injury status, which ultimately delayed his return by a full season. Meanwhile, while the market for Ortiz was not large, that doesn't change the fact that the Twins were idiotic for releasing him. And while many of the moves for useless veterans did happen under Terry Ryan, this article is about how the Twins have consistently, across different management teams, acted irrationally.

More in a moment...

The Common Man said...

And the response to scottz concludes:

You can't give the Twins credit for keeping Capps to shore up the pen, when they could have signed two relievers for the same price they payed for him.

Finally, let's once and for all do away with the notion that Santana forced the Twins to do anything. He refused to sign a contract extention, but he never demanded a trade, and he certainly never had the power to block any deals. However, the Twins panicked as acceptable deals fell apart, and went for a deal that did not reflect Santana's value.

scottz said...

Common Man, thanks for responding, and for providing me my moment in the sun. Sadly, I'm not even getting a tan.

You maintain that Hardy was sent on his way because of the speed issue. I say, based on what (specifically, not conjecture, or at least admit that it is conjecture)? That this year's guys are faster? Just you saying it doesn't make it true. I agree that 2011 will feature untested guys in the MI.

Garza traded for real prospects and players, agreed. Bartlett, we'll see what kinds of prospects they are. I don't think their stats suggest they are can't misses.

I think Perkins had a (since resolved) legitimate beef with the Twins. I disagree that Neshek's issue was the Twins fault. The Ortiz release no more made the Twins idiots than it makes all 29 MLB teams not named the Red Sox idiots for not offering him a contract. The market for Ortiz after the Twins released him was non-existent (rather than your "not large" description).

re: overpaying for Capps versus "signing two relievers for the same price." Which two relievers? Name them, and the amounts they would have signed for, for one year deals.

re: Santana. he had no ability to block a trade, and demanded no trade. agreed. but if you don't think the Twins had a pretty decent feeling that he wasn't going to resign and which compelled them to act, you're kidding yourself. whether they should have acted? hindsight.

here's my question to you. is there ANY situation where you think trading Liriano WOULD be rational? if not, then the irrationality just might be yours.

thanks for allowing me this platform, where i'm certain that nearly 10s of people have been exposed to my thoughts.

BGrant said...

Great article. I love the Twins but they have a bizarre front office. I'm not sure if you already stated this, but the 'antagonize players' angle also turns into reducing a players actual trade value by public bad mouthing him and his attitude (Recent examples: Garza, Bartlett, the Franchise).