Monday, May 16, 2011

Bill Smith's Disastrous Trading Record as Twins GM

The Minnesota Twins stink right now. Through 38 games, they are 12-26, the worst record in the majors, and frankly, they're lucky to even be there. Their Pythagorean record is a pathetic 10-28. They've scored 3.13 runs per game, fewest in the majors by 1/3 of a run, despite the fact that every National League team - even the bad ones- have to bat a pitcher. They countered that by allowing 5.5 runs per game the MOST in the majors. That's .13 more than the Houston Astros, and .99 more than the Orioles, who have allowed the next most. They have 18 home runs, the fewest in baseball. Their pitchers walk the most batters, but strike out the second fewest.

Injuries, particularly the one to Joe Mauer, have gotten a lot of attention, but this team is a lot more than a healthy Mauer and a resurgent Justin Morneau away from contention. This is a team that has gradually gotten older and less talented since Bill Smith took over for Terry Ryan in October 2007 until reaching the point they are right now.

In the fall of 2007, ace pitcher Johan Santana was a year away from free agency, and it was clear that the Twins were not going to be able to resign him. They were entertaining offers from every big market club. An offer from the Red Sox which included Jon Lester and Justin Masterson was turned down because it didn't include Jacoby Ellsbury. An offer from the Yankees that included Jose Tabata and Phil Hughes was turned down because it didn't include Ian Kennedy. Waiting out the Red Sox and Yankees and trying to play them against each other turned into a misplay, as both teams went other directions to prepare for the 2008 season, leaving the New York Mets offer the last on the table.

For Santana, a two time Cy Young Award pitcher and arguably the best pitcher alive in 2007 when the trade happened, Smith came away with this package from the Mets: Deolis Guerra, Kevin Mulvey, Philip Humber and Carlos Gomez. Despite his injury and his common inclusion among the Mets group of overpaid, underachieving veterans, Santana has a 14.4 WAR since the deal, while it's pretty clear the Twins did not get that kind of value in return.

How much value did they get? Well, Lets break down the pieces:

--Deolis Guerra is in his third year at Double A New Britain, and currently has a 9.85 ERA.

--Philip Humber had a -.2 WAR in 13 relief appearances before the Twins decided they had seen enough of him and let him go as a free agent after the 2009 season. In the early part of 2011, he has been the White Sox best starter.

--Kevin Mulvey's Twin career lasted 1.1 innings, where he gave up 4 runs (WAR of -.2), before he was traded to the Diamonbacks (as the player to be named later) for reliever Jon Rauch. Rauch actually pitched quite well in his year and a half with the Twins, registering a 2.82 ERA in 76 games, good for a 1.9 WAR.

--Carlos Gomez was the centerpiece of the deal, a speedy centerfield prospect. Gomez did not hit consistently in his two years with the Twins, finishing with a .248/.293/.352 line. His defense, while inconsistent, was good enough to give him an aggregate 3.0 WAR. This was enough for the Brewers to be convinced to trade headaches, sending Shortstop JJ. Hardy to the Twins. Hardy was serviceable in his year with the Twins, going .268/.320/.394, good for 1.3 WAR, while Gomez has still not figured out how to get on based consistently in Milwaukee (WAR of .7 since the trade). After one year, Hardy was sent along with Brendan Harris (acquired in the Matt Garza trade, see below), for Jim Hoey and Brett Jacobson. Hoey, in 10 appearances before being designated for assignment last week, had a .375/.432/.725 line against him, good for a -.7 WAR. Jacobson is in Double A, walking more batters than he is striking out. Meanwhile, Hardy has 5 extra base hits in only 40 AB for Baltimore (.9 WAR in very limited play), while current Twins starting SS Alexi Casilla has only 4 in 84 AB.

A few weeks earlier that same offseason, Smith traded Matt Garza, a young talented prospect with a reputation for being temperamental and hard to coach to the Rays along with shortstop Jason Bartlett in exchange for outfielder Delmon Young, a young, talented prospect with a reputation for being temperamental and hard to coach, along with utility infielder Brendan Harris and outfielder Jason Pridie.

The trade made sense on paper. The Twins had other young pitchers such as Francisco Liriano, Scott Baker and Kevin Slowey, and had to assume they'd get at least one pitcher in any Santana deal, and needed outfield help. Meanwhile, the Rays had Carl Crawford, Elijah Dukes and BJ Upton, and were tired of Young's attitude.

Let's break this one down as well:
--Matt Garza, in his 3 years in Tampa, went only 34-31, but had a strong 3.86 in the tough AL East, compiling a 9.5 WAR. Garza was traded this past offseason to the Cubs, for a variety of prospects, so he is still providing a return for the Rays. Jason Bartlett also spent three years as a Ray, going .288/.349/.403, good for a 6.6 WAR.
--Delmon Young has continued to be a work in progress. Still only 25 years old, Young has a .288/.324/.434 so far in his Twins career, though when combined with his poor defense has been good for only a 1.5 WAR. After what appeared to be a breakout year in 2010 (.298/.333/.493), Young has been hurt and ineffective in 2011. Young's problem continues to be his proclivity to swing and miss at curveballs low and away. Last year, having his best season, Young struck out 81 times and walked only 28.
--Harris and Pridie both provided minimal value in their time in Minnesota, totaling WARs of -.5 apiece. Harris was traded to Baltimore in the Hardy/Hoey trade, while Pridie signed with the New York Mets before the 2010 season.

So, if you have your scorecards out, the net of Smith's biggest trades brought them 6 WAR, while they gave up 30.9. Worst of all, the Twins have only one player on their major league roster to show for trading Johan Santana and Matt Garza. This, and not the Mauer/Morneau situation, is why the Twins stink right now. They've had value, and gotten nothing in return for it.

In the interest of fairness, there have been other, minor trades that Smith has made, some of which have gone their way.

--At the 2009 trading deadline, the Twins acquired Carl Pavano from the Cleveland Indians for pitcher Yohan Pino. Pino has since moved on the Blue Jays organization and has not yet pitched in the majors, while Pavano, despite a rough go in 2011 so far, has a 3.8 WAR in his time with the Twins, with a 4.24 ERA in 342 innings. It is fair to question the wisdom of giving Pavano anything more than a one year contract, particularly in light of his strikeout rates, but this trade ended up benefitting the Twins in 2009-2010. (Aggregate +3.9 WAR)

--In the 2009-10 offseason, Smith traded Boof Bonser to the Red Sox for Chris Province. Bonser had a -.2 WAR for the Red Sox, while Province has not pitched in the majors. More importantly, this trade made it impossible for Ron Gardenhire to continue his infuriating trend of continuing to use Bonser in high-profile situations, and then have to convince Bonser that it was "Boooooof" that Twins fans were chanting at him. (Aggregate WAR, somewhere between +.2 and infinity)

-When Jon Rauch was struggling last summer, Smith traded Wilson Ramon and journeyman minor league pitcher Joe Testa to the Nationals for Matt Capps. Capps served effectively as closer last year, and has taken the role again in 2011 with the ineffectiveness of Joe Nathan. Ramos has meanwhile been very effective as the Washington catcher. So, while statistically you can say that the Twins are ahead in this deal, with Capps' 1.4 WAR outpacing that of Ramos' .9, the Twins production at catcher in 2011 has been far BELOW replacement level. If Mauer ends up needing to move off of catcher long-term, the Twins may regret this move. (Aggregate +.5, with a huge asterisk.)

--Also at the 2010 Trade Deadline, the Twins traded Dutch 7'1" minor league reliever Loek Van Mil for Brian Fuentes. Fuentes was effective in 9 appearances before getting hurt, and signed with the A's this offseason. (Aggregate WAR +.6 WAR, though without the awesomeness of having a ridiculously tall relief pitcher in their system).


So, in total, the Twins have traded 32.5 WAR in exchange for 11.8. More importantly the Twins have very little to show for these deals, getting no present production in exchange for Johan Santana, and inconsistent production in exchange for Matt Garza. Combined with Smith's ineffectiveness at compiling organizational depth, particularly at catcher and in the middle infield, it is likely that he's going to be on the hot seat in the coming months. In an organization that accentuates stability, any decision on Bill Smith will be heavily considered. And it's fair to call this unfair, if this does turn into his first losing season in four years running the club. However, if the Twins do fall out of contention, it will be important to see what kind of return Smith can get on some of his veteran talent.
Of course, it's not clear that Smith has any idea how to rebuild his baseball team. One of his most infamous quotes is discussed in brief here at the brilliant, defunct "Fire Joe Morgan" page.

Side note: Statistics, including WAR, are from I know some don't care for B-R's WAR calculations. I find them to be quite accurate for pitchers, a little bit more inconsistent for position players, particularly because of the way they rate defense. For the case of this exercise though, fangraphs and everywhere else aren't going to have numbers that deviate much from the point here. Since the most valuable aspects of the trade are pitchers Garza and Santana, I went with B-R.

No comments: