February 21, 2009

Is it better late than never?

As I posted late last night, the Twins and free agent Joe Crede have reportedly come to terms that would bring the former All-Star third baseman to Minnesota. The terms of the deal have not been disclosed but it's likely that Crede had to sign under his asking price of under $7 million.

I know quite a few people around the Twins Blogosphere are probably unhappy by this move as the support for a Brian Buscher & Brendan Harris platoon has grown on most people over the winter.

Despite playing for our biggest rival, the Chicago White Sox, I've always been a big fan of Crede's. He ranks as one of the best defensive third basemen in baseball and has shown that he is also a fairly good hitter, if you're looking for home runs and RBI production (which many people are).

Unfortunately, he also features quite a few flaws as well. Currently, Crede's back issues have allowed him to only play 144 games in the past two seasons. Even with his back issues last season Crede still hit 17 home runs, 16 of which occurred prior to the All-Star Break. Crede's other biggest flaw is something that he's dealt with his entire Major League career: his inability to get on base. Crede currently has a career on-base percentage of .306, which is 34 points lower than the league average.

Crede's offensive power and defensive glove are both great, but do they make up for his health concerns and inability to get on base? My personal guess on a contract is $6 million guaranteed (midway between Crede's asking price of $7 million and the Twins' supposed price of $5 million), $3 million in incentive with a 2010 vesting option for $11 million. That could potentially bring this deal to a total of 2-years, $20 million. Total speculation on my part though. If this report is true, I am sure the terms of the deal will be released in the next day or two.

La Velle E. Neal III of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune broke the other "big news" of Friday Night which was that free agent Juan Cruz has received an offer from the Twins. Being that Cruz is a Type-A free agent, one would think that the Twins would have to give up a first round pick for compensation. But that is not the case here. Cruz is one of many free agents this off-season who has been hurt by the current economic issues that surround baseball.

Surely losing a first-round draft pick doesn't seem like it should be a big economic issue, but in today's economy, many teams are starting to value their first round draft pick a lot more. Currently, Major League Baseball is allowing teams such as the Arizona Diamondbacks (Cruz's formal team) to take part in a "sign-and-trade" option. The option is that Cruz is free to sign with any team that he chooses, and instead of losing a first round draft pick, the Diamondbacks and the team pursuing Cruz would then have 48 hours to work out a trade.

Being that the Twins have just signed Luis Ayala to a guaranteed $1.3 million deal, I think it's safe to say that he would not be part of the deal and wouldn't be affected by it at all. I would guess that the Twins would part with reliever Philip Humber as well as a prospect like Brian Duensing or Jeff Manship (I am just purely speculating on the names).

If the Twins bring Cruz in, they would have instantly significantly upgraded arguably their weakest position from last season, their bullpen. Cruz was one of the top free agent relievers on the open market this off-season, but his Type-A free agent tag has warned off potential suitors and that is the reasoning for him still being available at the start of Spring Training.

Cruz is coming off his best season of his career, going 4-0 with a 2.61 ERA and a 12.4 K/9 ratio. He has pitched for 4 different organizations including the Cubs, Braves, Athletics and Diamondbacks. He has a career 4.00 ERA and 1.38 WHIP although those numbers have both been down in the past two seasons.

Cruz would be a fantastic pick-up for the Twins if they didn't have to give up too much in a trade. As we sit in Spring Training, the current bullpen looks like this:

  • Joe Nathan
  • Craig Breslow
  • Matt Guerrier
  • Jesse Crain
  • Luis Ayala

In Competition:
  • Boof Bonser
  • Philip Humber
  • Jose Mijares
  • Jason Jones
Neal mentioned that Gardy had talked about carrying only 11 pitchers, which would mean that only one spot is open for competition. Bonser likely has the biggest edge in the competition group. Despite having a ton of talent and probably the most upside, the general consensus is that Jose Mijares will likely start the season in Triple-A since he still has another option and wouldn't need to be placed through waivers to do so. Both Bonser and Humber are both out of options and wouldn't be back with the Twins if either had to go through the waiver process. Jason Jones on the other hand is a Rule-V draft selection and if he doesn't make the 25-man roster out of Spring Training, he would then be sent back to the Yankees. My personal guess is that in order to make room on the 40-man roster for Crede, Jones is the most likely to be sent packing.

That is why I have come to the conclusion that Humber would need to become part of any trade for Cruz. Although adding Cruz would then make it a losing situation for Bonser too, I think it would prompt Gardenhire to carry 12 pitchers to at least start out the year.

If the Twins carry 12 pitchers, that would mean that one player on the bench would then be out off the team. I would suspect it would be either Buscher or Matt Tolbert getting sent back down to Triple-A. At this point, I would suspect it would be Buscher, but it's too early to tell.

I am totally going overboard on this being that Cruz hasn't even accepted the offer and the Twins and Diamondbacks haven't yet engaged in any sort of trade at this point. Regardless, I think it's worth noting what this deal (and the Crede deal) could do to our overall roster.

Some may be upset that we're even trying to shake up our roster at all right now because we have a good foundation and some of the players we'd have to be giving up on are players many of us expect to perform better this year.

So I raise the question, in this case, is it better late than never to make a move? Or were you fine with how the way things were?