Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Deadline Passes Without Moves


Another trade deadline passed without the Twins making a single trade, although the general sentiment is that the Twins made the right decision by choosing to not make any deals over making a bad deal. That's true, but unfortunately the most rumored trade may have actually benefitted the Twins in the long-run.

Had the team decided to trade Denard Span for a package that was centered around Drew Storen, it would have been a mistake. Trading an above-average lead off hitter and center fielder who's under team control through 2015 for a closer would be a mistake, regardless of Storen's age or the fact that he's under team control through 2016. A closer will throw between 55 and 70 innings a season generally, which is less than 5% of a pitching staff's innings usually. Giving up an everyday player in a key position for a closer would have been silly.

However, reports emerged on Sunday that the Nationals were indeed willing to part with Storen in a deal for Span, but they weren't willing to include 22-year-old AAA second baseman Stephen Lombardozzi. Depending on the reports we choose to believe, the Twins either asked for Lombardozzi and Storen for Span or Lombardozzi, Storen and Roger Bernadinha. Either way, the Nationals ultimately passed on sending Lombardozzi away in a deal for Span. I've seen multiple writers whom I respect say the Twins were saved only by the stupidness of the Nationals--but I tend to disagree. Originally I was 100% against a Span-Storen swap, but once Lombardozzi's name came up in the talks it was worth taking a look at his minor league numbers to see if he had a future.

Last year, between high A and AA Lombardozzi hit .294/.371/.431 as a 21-year-old, good for an OPS of .802. The average age in high A was 22.6, with an average slash line of .260/.330/.388 while the average age in AA was 24 with an average slash line of .259/.332/.397. He was well above average offensively despite being young for both levels and he plays a premium defensive position as a second baseman.

This year, Lombardozzi got off to a .309/.366/.454 start in AA in 65 games before getting promoted to AAA. As a 22-year-old, he's hitting .315/.356/.420 in 38 games so far, compared to the league average .260/.329/.401. The average age for AAA is 26.7, so again he is far younger than average while outhitting most of the league.

So, what could a team expect from Lombardozzi in the future as a major leaguer? Obviously there are variables that are beyond anyone's control, but to get an idea of how minor league numbers translate for second baseman let's take a look at a few current big league second baseman and see how Lombardozzi's minor league stats compare.

Dustin Pedroia: As a 21-year-old Pedroia spent time between AA and AAA, which puts him about a year ahead of Lombardozzi as far as development time. Pedroia also hit very well at all levels, posting OPS' north of .900 at four different levels in the minor leagues. Pedroia's final season in AAA he was a 22-year-old and he hit .305/.384/.426, which is about 5% better than Lombardozzi has done this year. Pedroia is a career .305/.376/.465 hitter in the big leagues.

Ian Kinsler: As a 22-year-old Kinsler played 72 games in AA and hit .300/.400/.480, which is about 8% more productive that Lombardozzi was in AA this year. In Kinsler's last full minor league season, he hit .274/.348/.464 as a 23-year-old in AAA. That's about 5% better than Lombardozzi has been, but Kinsler also was a year older. I think Lombardozzi could match Kinsler's final AAA season if he repeats AAA again next year. Kinsler is a career .275/.355/.462 hitter in the big leagues.

Chase Utley: Utley spent two seasons at AAA while he was 23 and 24, and he hit .291/.370/.491 in 271 games. While Lombardozzi is a year younger than Utley was when he debuted in AAA, there's little evidence to suggest he'll one day be able to match the slugging numbers of Utley.

There are many other examples as well, and hitting well in the minor leagues doesn't always equate to stardom (See Wood, Brandon) but had the Twins acquired an offensive minded second baseman for the future as well as their closer of the future all for an above average center fielder who likely won't be here past 2012 anyways, it may not have been the end of the world. Unfortunately, after the deal originally looked like a poor one for the Twins, they ultimately couldn't convince the Nationals to pull the trigger on a deal that likely would have helped both teams for years to come.

I was surprised the team didn't trade Slowey, not surprised the team held onto Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel, and generally not worried about the team not acquiring any more relievers. Relievers get traded every August, and with the team barely hanging onto hope, there's no reason to give up prospects for a reliever unless you're sure your team is going to be in the race. The Twins can see where they are in two weeks and then, if necessary, go out and acquire a reliever.

It's hard to throw in the towel on a team that has made miraculous comebacks a yearly tradition, and I'm not saying the season's over yet, but if the Twins don't start making another charge soon, it's going to be too late. They'll be trying to make that charge with the same guys they've been with all year, so here's to hoping getting some key players healthy in the near future will provide enough of a boost to elevate the Twins to the playoffs.

**By the way, I'll be doing a giveaway for two free Twins 1991 World Series DVDs on Thursday for one lucky winner. It'll be a trivia question, and I'll post it on Twitter and the Blog. Rules, links to the prizes and more information will come Wednesday.**