October 30, 2007

Hunter and Silva opt for Free Agency, More Torre

As expected, outfielder Torii Hunter and pitcher Carlos Silva opted for free agency on Monday, which means that the Twins now have exclusive rights for the next 15 days to try and re-sign either of them before other teams can place bids for them. Although other teams can not express financial terms of any contract, they can express length. And from reports, Hunter is looking for a 5 or 6 year deal while Silva is looking for a 4-5 year deal.

As smart that I may think letting Hunter go, I just can't hope to see him in another uniform. At 32 years old, Hunter is a two-time All-Star and six-time Gold Glove winner, and he's coming off of one of his best seasons as a professional. The player often referred to as "Spiderman" was an offensive beast this season for the Twins, batting a respectable .287/.324/.469 with 74 extra base hits and 107 runs batted in. He finally produced from the 3-hole in the lineup for the Twins, which they've wanted since he came up with the Twins almost 10 years ago. He also had one of his best years defensively with just 2 errors in center field and a nice .995 fielding percentage. He has been the leader for the Twins for the most part of this decade and he has stated numerous times that he'd like to stay here (although he's also stated his interest in playing elsewhere). I don't know what to expect with him, but I think that the Twins will ultimately end up signing him for 5-years $75 Million, which has been speculated for quite some time. The catch is that I really think the Twins will find some quirky way to defer payments until after he is retired, sort of the way the Mariners re-signed Ichiro Suzuki this summer.

Silva just 28 is in his "prime years" of his career and just finished one of his best seasons in his career. He was one of the most reliable pitchers for the Twins down the stretch, as Johan Santana started to struggle as the season progressed. Silva finished with a 13-14 record with a 4.19 ERA and a 1.31 WHIP. Although I like Silva's "veteran presence" in our very young rotation, I just don't like the thought of having a ground ball pitcher on our turf. The ball speeds up on the turf and it makes it harder for our defense, especially our infielders to field the ball cleanly. Silva gave up .287 batting average and is a career .299. I just think that he puts our team into too many holes, unless his grounder is really on, which many times this year, it was. "Chief" Silva is Johan Santana's best friend and it is known by many that both would like to play with one another. But with the market value so high on pitchers, I just can't justify paying him near $10+ Million per season which he could likely find on the open market. I predict the Twins offer him a low-ball offer with the 4-years that he's requesting, but he'll likely only get around $6 Million annually from the Twins if he chooses to say.

In the result that neither return, here are a few (realistic) possible replacements:

Center Field

Kenny Lofton: he's a 40 year old outfielder who could provide a presence at the top of the lineup for the Twins, which could move Bartlett to either #2 or to the bottom of the order (although, I'm sure Lofton would be the one to move down). He had a great 2007 season and could be a (relatively) cheap acquisition who could provide Denard Span another year to develope.
Possible contract offer: 1-year $8 million.
Mike Cameron: Cameron is going to be 35 years old next season and is one of the best defensive players in baseball. A few years ago, Cameron was the only center fielder comparable with Torii Hunter, defensively. And although he has very bad discipline at the plate, I can deal with it as I've dealt with Torii's for the most part of his career. He will likely be a little more expensive for another year or so.
Possible contract offer: 2-year $18 million deal.
Corey Patterson: Patterson is a very energetic player and would provide a great athletic outfielder to the Twins lineup. Although he bats lefty, I would rather add him than either of the two previously mentioned. Patterson doesn't add a ton of power, although with a left-handed friendly ballpark, he may net a few more dingers at the dome. I wouldn't mind seeing Patterson roaming center field for the next few years, and I think that it's a realistic possibility.
Possible contract offer: 3-year $18 million deal.
Darin Erstad: Erstad has always been a player I've thought the Twins would someday sign, mostly because he is from North Dakota. Erstad plays hard and will probably run through a brick wall to catch a ball or to reach home plate. I like that, but with it comes a very big con which is his injuries. He's battled injuries the last two seasons and he likely won't avoid the DL in Minnesota, playing on the turf.
Possible contract offer: $2-year $5 million deal.


Before I list the possible candidates, this is my projected 1-4 starters:

1) Johan Santana
2) Scott Baker
3) Francisco Liriano
4) Matt Garza
5) ????

• Nick Blackburn:
I liked what I saw from him in his first three or four appearances, before he collapsed at the end. He has pitched well thus far in the AFL, and he will likely be a candidate to make the rotation come Spring Training.

Kevin Slowey: Slowey had an impressive season in the minors, and showed some flashes in his short time in the majors, and although I think he'll have a fine career, he needs to prove more next spring because right now I think he has a lot to work on.

Boof Bonser: Bonser was demoted to the bullpen late in the season because of his ineffectiveness in the 5th+ innings. He had a ridiculous 8.00 ERA in the 5th inning and a 7.56 ERA in the 6th. The Twins believe this is an endurance issue and have asked Boof to come to Spring Training in better shape. He's vowed to do it, so I think he has as good of a chance as any.

Glen Perkins: Perk spent the majority of the '07 season on the DL after suffering a shoulder injury in May. He came back in mid-September and was great for the last 2 weeks of the season. He only allowed 3 hits and didn't allow a run in 5 innings to finish the season. He also struck out 4 batters. The Twins would like to revert him back to starter, but he's been great in the bullpen and with a crowded bullpen as it is, I think he'll spend the entire '08 season in the pen as well.

As you can see, the Twins definitely have options, both in-house and out on the open market.

Stay tuned. The next few weeks will definitely be interesting.

On a side note: The Lower Hudson Journal is reporting that the Los Angeles Dodgers are set to fire manager Grady Little, to replace him with Joe Torre. Following Torre will reportedly be bench coach Don Mattingly and Torre would like to also hire hitting coach Kevin Long from the Yankees. This is a new report, but has been speculated since his "firing" from the Yankees.