What Should Terry Ryan Do? Part 1


Do you hear that ticking?

The Minnesota Twins are awful. Tick!

They are one of eight teams in 2012 who have already lost 50 games. Tick!

Their winning percentage is a paltry .413 and they are 10.5 games back from the wild card. Tick!

They lost 99 games in 2011 and spent the off-season getting worse. BOOM!

That fictitious explosion was Twins GM Terry Ryan finally blowing up that roster and starting anew. Twins fans everywhere can finally rest easy knowing that 2013 will bring them another high draft pick and the front office has a definitive plan.

If only it were that simple. Wait. It is that simple? You are allowed to make trades and build for the future rather than keep rolling out the same underachievers nightly? Someone please make sure Terry Ryan gets that memo.

All kidding aside, now is the time for the dreadful Twins to prove that they have a direction and give their fans a reason to be optimistic. The Twins are in a unique spot because they have several enviable pieces. They have outfielders, they have infielders, they have starting pitching, and they have relief pitching. It is a veritable smorgasbord in Minneapolis these days and rival GMs are salivating. So what will Terry Ryan do? I know what I would do. I would ring that dinner bell as loud as possible.

Let’s start with Josh Willingham.

If I was Terry Ryan, I would be looking to trade Josh Willingham before the deadline. I would realize that a 33-year old outfielder is not worth $7 million a year for a rebuilding team, especially considering the strength of outfielders in the Twins farm system.

Willingham is exactly the kind of player that contenders try to add before the deadline in the hopes that his power bat can propel them through their playoff push. His career 162-game average is .262/.363/.484 with 28 HR, 91 RBI, and 81 Runs. He is solid across the board. The only trouble with his 162-game average is the fact that he has never played more than 144 games in any season, so it isn’t exactly a true representation of what he brings to the field.  However he has exceeded all expectations in 2012 by posting a triple slash line of .276/.390/.574 to go along with 23 HR, 66 RBI, and 54 runs. His trade value has never been higher. He is also in just the first year of a three year contract with Minnesota that pays him $7 million annually. His offensive production coupled with his reasonable contract (both dollars and years) makes this 33-year old the most valuable asset the Twins have and he could fetch them some key prospects for their farm system.

But where to start? Well let’s take a look at a trade scenario that makes sense for the Twins.

The first team that comes to mind is the San Francisco Giants. The Giants are dead last in the MLB with only 52 total home runs and are desperate for any kind of offensive boost as they battle for the NL West title. Willingham and his 22 HR would dramatically improve the Giants roster. He would add another right-handed hitter to a lineup that features several switch hitters and left-handed hitters. Willingham’s power presence would slot nicely in the 4-spot, something they have been lacking since the departure of Barry Bonds. Another interesting aspect of this potential trade is the fact that Willingham is represented by Bay Area sports agent Matt Sosnick. Since Sosnick also represents Giants resident DL patron Freddy Sanchez, there is a foundation for open lines of communication between the Giants and the agent. Lastly the Giants GM Brian Sabean and current field manager Bruce Bochy have a fetish for gritty veterans. The 33-year old Willingham qualifies on all counts. Sabean has been known to mortgage the future on players past their prime in hopes that there is enough gas left in the tank for a quick fix. For the most part that doesn’t work (I’m looking at you Miguel Tejada), but Willingham is a different animal and his 2012 season proves he is far from the nursing home.

But what would be the asking price of the Twins?

If I was Terry Ryan, I would start by asking for Giants top prospect Gary Brown. Chances are Sabean will be reluctant to part with the speedy center fielder but it is worth a shot. However, Brown alone is not really the long-term fix that Minnesota needs. They already have a similar player in Ben Revere, and as mentioned previously, the outfield is a strong suit of the Twins farm system. Realistically Terry Ryan should focus on protecting Minnesota icon Joe Mauer. By targeting a young catcher, Mauer would be freed up to man first base. It turns out that catching happens to be an area that San Francisco has a lot to offer. Recent Futures Game selection Tommy Joseph should be Ryan’s top target and for good reason. I outlined in detail Joseph’s career progression here. The Giants have Buster Posey who they will slowly transition to first base and rookie Hector Sanchez who is only 22 and performing admirably with the Giants. Aside from Joseph, the Giants also have recent 2011 2nd round draft pick Andrew Susac figuring things out in Class A+ San Jose of the California League.  Tommy Joseph alone is still probably not enough to sway the Twins into trading Willingham and that is understandable. Terry Ryan has already said that it will take a major haul to part with the big slugger and for good reason.

Another area of perpetual weakness with the Twins is starting pitching prospects. Liam Hendriks and Kyle Gibson are the only pitchers who made the Twins Top 10 list according to Baseball America. Gibson is on the comeback trail from suffering season-ending Tommy John surgery in 2011 and is currently getting back in the swing of things down in the Gulf Coast League. Hendriks is still trying to refine his skills in Triple-A Rochester.  Beyond Hendriks and Gibson, the Twins have no clear high-ceiling pitching coming up through their system. The Giants have several different solutions to help aid the Twins in their attempt to remedy their obvious weakness.

If I was Terry Ryan, I would target right-handed starting pitcher Clayton Blackburn. The 19-year old Blackburn is currently enjoying a breakout season for Class-A Augusta of the South Atlantic League. Blackburn is a polished pitcher with a solid four pitch mix that he can use in any count. He is striking out 10.3 batters per nine innings and has a spectacular 2.81 ERA through 15 starts. Most impressively he is only walking 1.4 batters per nine innings, which is extremely rare for a pitcher his age. If I was Terry Ryan I would be stoked to have a guy like Blackburn in my farm system. He would immediately give me a high-ceiling, cost-controlled player who should be ready to contribute to the rotation by 2014. Conversely, if I was Brian Sabean, I would be OK parting with Blackburn since I had a strong 2012 draft where I added both Chris Stratton and Martin Agosta in the early rounds. Additionally, the Giants have depth with both Mike Kickham and Kyle Crick performing very well.

Lastly I would be looking to add a relief pitcher for the back-end of the bullpen at a modest price. This is where I see a player like Seth Rosin factoring in. Rosin was originally a 28th-round selection of the Twins in 2007 from the University of Minnesota. He is enjoying a strong season as a closer for Class-A San Jose where he is striking out 11.4 batters per nine innings while accumulating 10 saves. Rosin is the kind of guy who could transition to a set-up role as early as September 2013 and be a major factor in the late innings regularly by 2014.

I have to believe that if Brian Sabean called up Terry Ryan and offered Tommy Joseph, Clayton Blackburn, and Seth Rosin for Josh Willingham the discussion would become very real very quick. Ryan has to know that Willingham’s value will never be higher and the Twins are in no position to keep an asset like Willingham for the long term. Joseph would immediately become the heir apparent to Mauer who is signed through 2018. Blackburn would become the top pitching prospect in the Twins system and Rosin would be a solid contributor to the bullpen. Likewise the Giants have to know that they are in a crucial position sitting just 0.5 games above the Dodgers who just got Matt Kempback. Also considering the recent extensions and similar signings, Willingham’s contract would fit nicely with the Giants cost-conscious new ownership group. This trade is a win-win for two teams at different ends of the ML spectrum.

The next player who needs to be shipped out of Minnesota is Francisco Liriano.

Liriano is by far the best pitcher on the Twins staff. He can also be the worst pitcher on the Twins staff. Simply put, no pitcher is as frustrating as Francisco Liriano. He has the ceiling of a front-line starter and the floor of a sub-par middle reliever. He is an enigma. He is also in the last year of his current contract and eligible for free agency after this season.  Currently the Twins rank 29th in team ERA with an ugly 4.96 mark. Only the Colorado Rockies have a worse team ERA. The good thing about Liriano is that his trade value is at a season high after he struck out 15 against the Oakland A’s on July 13th and he has been slowly showing improvement after a horrific first two months of the season. As of right now there are some peripheral numbers that indicate he is still valuable. He is striking batters out at the highest rate since his 2006 All-Star campaign where he also finished third in the Rookie of the Year voting.  He is also only owed around $2.75 million through the rest of the season which makes him a reasonable acquisition for a variety of small to large market clubs. Rumors have circulated that the Blue Jays, Angels, Yankees, and Braves have varying degrees of interest in Liriano.

I believe the Angels are the best fit for both Liriano and for the Twins. As of right now the Angels have three starters not pulling their weight. Ervin Santana, Jerome Williams, and Garrett Richards have all had their share of trouble in the rotation. The Angels have already sunk a ton of money into Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson for the 2012 season. It makes sense for them to follow through on their initial investments and owner Arte Moreno has shown a willingness to open up the purse strings and take on additional payroll. They have already made moves to bolster their bullpen by adding Ernesto Frieri and they are not afraid to trade prospects to add major league talent.  They also have a solid farm system that boasts both position players and pitchers and they are looking to win now.

I propose a trade that would send Francisco Liriano to Anaheim for outfielder Kole Calhoun and starting pitcher Ariel Pena.

Calhoun, 24, is a solidly built outfielder who has spent time bouncing between Triple-A Salt Lake City and Anaheim this season. His hit tool is above average but physically he doesn’t have any one tool that is extremely noteworthy. However, he is the type of player who brings a strong motor, allowing his otherwise average tools to play up. An example of this would be what he has done to date on the base paths. Despite not being a speedster Calhoun swiped 20 bags in 2011 and has already stolen 10 this year. He crushed the CAL League pitching in 2011 and earned himself a shot at Triple-A in 2012 where he continued to show an excellent approach at the plate. Through 70 PCL games this season he has amassed a .300/.361/.518 line with 10 HR. He has also made two brief stints in the majors and is currently playing a reserve role in Anaheim. He would be a solid option for the Twins as he represents a young corner outfielder under team control to replace the aforementioned Willingham. He has shown an ability to make his tools play up at every level. At the very worst he becomes a solid (and cheap) 4th outfielder for the Twins as they continue to rebuild.

Pena, 23, is a right-handed starting pitcher who is currently enjoying success in Double-A Arkansas of the Texas League. Pena is the kind of arm the Twins desperately need to continue to improve upon their nearly barren pitching depth. He is a hard thrower with a solid two pitch mix (fastball/slider) and can run his fastball up to 95 mph. He has shown dramatic improvement in command from his 2011 season. This season Pena has a 2.92 ERA and has accumulated 98 strikeouts in 101.2 innings (8.7 SO/9). Pena has always been viewed as a raw power arm and his 2011 CAL League numbers back that up. He ranked second in the CAL League with 180 K in only 151.2 innings but also second in BB with 81. Obviously control has been a problem in the past but he has refined his command for the 2012 season and has reduced his BB/9 from 4.9 in 2011 to 3.3 and it has made a huge difference.  If he is able to continue to refine his command and develop an average off-speed pitch, he has the potential to be a mid-rotation starter. At the very least, he is a live-armed member of the bullpen who has the potential to work the late innings or work himself into a closer’s role.

The next guy heading out of the Twin Cities needs to be Jamey Carroll.

This one is going to be more tough considering the 38-year old Carroll is signed through 2013 with an option for 2014 and the Twins may need to send some cash along with Carroll. The good thing is that his contract is relatively cheap ($3.75 million in 2013). The bad thing is that it seems a whole lot more expensive when you are hitting .242/.322/.284. Even still, Carroll still plays solid defense and can be a veteran presence in the middle infield which can be valuable come playoff time.

The Twins desperately need to shed his contract and build for the future. Plus they have players like Brian Dozier, Alexi Casilla, Tsuyoshi Nishioka, and Luke Hughes who could perform at basically the same level right now and cost considerably less. I would venture a guess that the market for Carroll is pretty thin but if a couple contenders miss out on some of their first choices the market for Carroll could heat up.

So which team would be a good fit for trading Carroll? Detroit seems nice this time of year.

Trading within your own division is not an ideal scenario, but with the revolving door at 2nd base for the Tigers, it makes sense for the Twins to see if Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski has any interest. The Tigers are currently harboring such notable bats like Ramon Santiago, Danny Worth, and Ryan Raburn at 2nd base. It’s gotten so bad that the aforementioned trio makes even Jamey Carroll look like Ted Williams at the plate. Something needs to happen with the Detroit middle infield and Carroll could be a nice stop-gap for the Tigers in 2012.

If the Tigers are willing to listen, it would make sense for the Twins to target a player like 19-year old shortstop Eugenio Suarez. He has shown a solid approach at the plate despite his young age and is a solid defender as well. Perhaps Detroit is not looking to swap an aging shortstop for a teenager and that’s fair. But another guy I wouldn’t mind seeing Terry Ryan go after is big left-handed starting pitcher Brian Flynn. Flynn is a 6’8″ and 240 lb lefty who can dial his fastball up to 95mph which makes it a plus plus from the left side. He has also shown solid command keeping his walk rate below three per nine innings.

So something like Jamey Carroll and $1 million dollars for Brian Flynn seems like a decent proposal to me.


For more on the Twins check out Puckett’s Pond and stay tuned for the second part of the fire sale!