Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Learning From Our Mistakes



Every single one of us makes mistakes on a daily basis. Some days those mistakes are bigger than others, but since we all make mistakes, most people tend to be forgiving when we do make a mistake. As a culture, we tend to get more annoyed and frustrated though when the same people continue to make the same mistakes. This is human nature; if someone can't learn from their mistakes, it's natural for us to get angry because it seems as if the person isn't trying to improve their issues, whatever they may be.

Over the past decade, the Twins have been a very well-run organization and they have (rightfully so) been given an awful lot of credit for it. They draft well, develop talent well, and even when they aren't all that talented they always seem to at least find a way to be in the division race late in the year. It's fantastic that they have drafted well, because if a team drafts well they can mask even a colossal mistake that the front-office may have made with a free agent or trade.

Look at the San Francisco Giants. They're the defending World Series champions now, yet they spent $18MM this year on a starting pitcher who didn't pitch one inning in the post-season despite being healthy in Barry Zito. The Giants payroll was just under $100MM, so that means they spent about 20% of their payroll on someone who was useless during the playoffs. But since they drafted Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, Jonathan Sanchez and Brian Wilson, they were able to make up for Zito's bloated contract with home-grown stars.

The Twins, thankfully, don't have a colossal mistake on their roster like Barry Zito. Michael Cuddyer is fairly overpaid, but he's a free agent at the end of the year and he was worth the money as recently as two seasons ago. However, the Twins seem to continue to make the same mistakes off-season after off-season. Last off-season, the team was pretty much flawless, although that's in large part due more to luck than anything. They did waste almost $1MM on Clay Condrey, who was never healthy, and Jarrod Washburn misguidedly turned down the team's $5MM offer which saved the team enough money to fill an actual need at second base. They spent that money on Orlando Hudson instead.

This is an organization that signed Livan Hernandez and Ramon Ortiz when they had better, cheaper, younger options in their system already. They signed Tony Batista and Rondell White despite very little evidence that either would be even remotely productive. The Twins organization never seems to make the gigantic mistake, but rather a series of small mistakes. Even spending the money they spent last year on Clay Condrey on the amateur draft may have allowed the team to target a high-schooler who had slipped due to bonus demands. $950K is two or three signings of very good high school players; it would be better business and it would make the team better if the silly signings would stop.

Unfortunately, three days into the off-season, the signs seem to point towards those same old Twins.

It was announced yesterday that the Twins had agreed on a major-league deal with starting pitcher Eric Hacker. My thoughts upon hearing the news, much like your reaction to hearing that name now, was "Who?" So who is Eric Hacker and why are the Twins signing him to a major league contract?

Hacker was a 27-year-old starter in AAA last year who put up rather pedestrian numbers. He posted an ERA over 4, struck out just 128 in over 170 innings pitched, and he allowed over a hit an inning. Hacker isn't anything more than a bottom of the rotation starter in AAA, and it seemed silly to me that the team would be spending any sort of money on this player when they have better options all throughout the system.

Well, as it turns out, the team likely won't lose any money on this deal. Hacker was given a major league contract because he had to be based on his service time, but there's less than a zero percent chance he makes the opening day roster in my opinion. As long as he doesn't start the season on the Twins 25-man roster, he won't be making anything more than what a AAA pitcher would make, so strictly from a monetary perspective the Twins will likely lose nothing more than they already would have.

However, Hacker is now filling a spot on the Twins 40-man roster. Any player that has played at least three seasons in the minor leagues is subject to the Rule V draft. The Rule V draft is where the Twins landed Johan Santana for a measly $50K, and the Marlins landed Dan Uggla, among others. You can protect players in your own organization by placing them on the 40-man roster. However, generally, the Rule V draft doesn't garner much attention. That said, it seems silly to me that this team would waste a 40-man roster spot on a 27-year-old pitcher that not only has little chance to crack the opening day roster, he's likely to be at best a #4 starter in Rochester.

Nothing about his stats suggest he's a power arm that could be converted to a reliever; he seems to be a pitch-to-contact type starter. The Twins love those kinds of pitchers, but Hacker does nothing exceptionally well and to be blunt he doesn't do much even league-average, either. He gave up 21 home runs last season in 29 starts, which seems like even more proof that his stuff is well below average.

Again, signing Eric Hacker to the contract they did isn't likely going to cost the team a divisional title or anything along those lines; but if enough of these silly mistakes continue to happen, it could eventually cost the team a talented prospect or even worse a solid veteran that could help during the season.

The more worrisome 'mistake' this team almost made, though, was bidding on Japanese starter Hisashi Iwakuma. Sure, it would have been interesting to see the the Twins go after a Japanese star. He posted an ERA under 3 last year in Japan, and he was widely considered the second best pitcher in Japan behind Yu Darvish. However, scouts that have seen him play believe he projects as a #4 starter in the big leagues, a borderline #3 at his absolute best. The A's reportedly won the bidding by putting in a bid of $17MM or so, and that's before they have to pay Iwakuma anything. I would expect the A's to eventually sign Iwakuma to a 4-year, $35MM contract. That's entirely a guess, but it seems in the ballpark; and it might even be higher.

If the Twins had instead spent that money, they'd have a log-jam of starters again and top prospect Kyle Gibson would likely need not one but two starters to struggle or get hurt to get his chance to show what he can do. The Twins have enough needs without spending any money on another starter, as I've explained before, so it's disheartening to see this team target two starting pitchers in the first few days of free agency. The team could use an ace to pair with Francisco Liriano, no doubt, but Cliff Lee isn't going to be a Twin so it seems very foolish to target any other free agent starters.

Hopefully the team doesn't feel the need to bring in a 'veteran' starter for the pitching staff, wasting valuable resources that could be used to improve a very weak bench or to find a starting second baseman. One of these years the Twins will have to learn from their mistakes, right? Don't count on it.