Monday, July 20, 2009

That Time of Year

The Major League Baseball trade deadline awaits less than two weeks from now. As in any sport, the deadline is a big deal on two fronts: one, which (if any) big name players will be moved? And two, what moves can “my” team make to elevate us into the playoffs? Maybe it’s because I’m such a homer when it comes to the Twins, but every year I feel like we are one move away from winning the division and/or having playoff success. Two years ago I was sure that we needed a powerful right-handed bat in the middle of our order to put us over the top, which is why I wrote about the virtues of Dimitri Young (a bit ridiculous in hindsight). Last year, I just knew that one more dominant arm in the bullpen would make all the difference in the world and get us into the postseason, which is why I opined about a trade for Brian Fuentes (given his stats this year, that one looks legit). Once again in 2009, I think one move could make the difference in the Twins winning the Central Division, and that move is to get a high average, quality defensive middle infielder. As it just so happens, one of those has been rumored to be on the block over the last couple weeks: Freddy Sanchez.

The yearly final piece of the puzzle

For those of you who don’t know, Sanchez is currently the second baseman for the Pittsburgh Pirates. As the 2006 NL batting champ, he brings a much needed presence to the Twins lineup. So far this year the Twins have trotted out Alexi Casilla, Nick Punto, and Matt Tolbert as their second baseman. Not one of those guys is hitting above .225 and they are all relatively average when it comes to defense (or completely overrated, as is the case with LNP). For the first time in years, the Twins lineup is legitimately dangerous—save for one spot basically. The team has Span, Mauer, Morneau, Kubel, and Cuddyer all hitting around or above .300. They have quality, albeit streaky, hitters at the bottom of the lineup (Harris, Crede, and Gomez—who’s been on a tear the last couple weeks). What’s missing is the bridge that connects our leadoff hitter (Span) from the big boys in the middle of the lineup. For some reason, Gardenhire insists on hitting guys like Casilla and Tolbert there, despite their awful batting average and on base percentage. Adding a hitter of Sanchez’s ability would give the Twins one of the most complete lineups in all of baseball.

Ladies and gentlemen, your 2006 NL Batting Champion

As previously mentioned, Sanchez won the NL batting title two years ago, and is hitting .313 this year with an on-base percentage of .353 and he is slugging .471—not bad for a second baseman. Having his bat in the two hole would make a huge difference in our run scoring potential. Now, when Span gets on, you have a legitimate threat behind him. Or if he happens to get out, you have a guy who will find a way to be on base for Mauer and Morneau. To some, his presence might not seem like much, but when you’ve watched as many Twins games as I have, you realize the huge difference it would make.

On top of his outstanding ability at the plate (definitely his biggest asset), Freddy, a 3 time all star by the way, is a top tier defensive player. He is part of a Pirate infield that has a combined for 100 double plays this year—second most in the majors this year. Pairing him up with Harris (or occasionally Punto) up the middle would shore up a relatively weak defensive infield. Don’t let Dick Bremer fool you; this team is not as sound defensively as Twins teams in recent years. All in all, Freddy Sanchez is the perfect player to add to the roster and make the Twins the favorites in the AL Central.

An outstanding double play combo

Of course, as with any trade scenario, it isn’t as easy as simply finding a player that would work well on your team and getting him. First, he has to be available. This seems increasingly more likely with each passing day. The Pirates have been clearing house for the better part of two seasons (see: Bay, Jason; Nady, Xavier; McClouth, Nate; Morgan, Nyjer). They had initially said that they would like to keep Sanchez and Wilson as the cornerstones of their franchise. However just the other day, both players rejected contract extension offers from Pittsburgh. If the team is afraid they are going to lose him to free agency and get nothing in return, they’ll be far more likely to deal him. The second obstacle is the assets you’ll have to give up to obtain such a high caliber player. Even though recent transactions make it seem like you don’t really have to give up much to get the top players from the Pirates organization, you do still have to give them something in return (the days of TR fleecing teams seems to be over). Unfortunately the Twins farm system is seriously lacking in talent these days. So what are the options? Well, if there’s one thing that the Twins have the other teams covet, it’s young starting pitching. All five of our starters are under the age of 28, and we have guys like Duensing, Mulvey, and Swarzak who could likely step in and fair pretty well in a starting role. So if you could build a package around a guy like Glen Perkins (a young, left-handed starter who seems likely to leave anyways) with a couple of prospects, you would seem to have the makings of a potential deal. Yet there is a third aspect to making this trade that needs to be considered as well—money. Sanchez is going to be a free agent in 2 years and will command a pretty decent amount of money considering his ability and the position he plays. The Twins have already committed a sizeable amount of money to keeping guys like Scott Baker, Joe Nathan, and Justin Morneau, not to mention the giant contract they’re going to have to give Joe Mauer soon. Can we really afford to pay Sanchez? If not, are we ok with getting rid of a 26 year old starting pitcher for 1 ½ seasons of Freddy? Those are the questions the organization must ask itself.

If he has to leave to get us an All Star 2B, so be it

Obviously as a fan, I’d say it’s worth it. Even if we don’t end up keeping Sanchez long term, he gives us the best chance to win in the next year or two. Plus, there’s always the chance that he’ll love playing here (players constantly rave about how much they love the clubhouse and atmosphere in Minnesota) and want to continue to do so. And if that happens, there’s the pipedream possibility that his current teammate, best buddy, and shortstop Jack Wilson will want to join him here too (they’ve both said they’d like to play together for their entire careers). Of course that’s way too optimistic of a viewpoint considering we are talking about a Minnesota sports team here. Realistically though, I’d still pull the trigger if possible. Make the team as competitive as possible for as long as you can, even if that’s only a couple of seasons. It only takes one magical run to bring a title to a town that hasn’t seen one in 18 years…

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