What Might Have Been

MLB: MAY 02 Pirates at Dodgers

With Akinori Iwamura’s slow start in Pittsburgh, I thought it might be a good time to examine the moves the front office didn’t make during the offseason, and how they may have impacted the team. This is typically the type of thing I save for the offseason, if I even do it at all, but, well, I don’t really have anything else to write about. For the sake of brevity, I’m just sticking with players the front office expressed serious interest in. I am also just looking at players brought in from outside the organization and ignoring contract extensions to any current players. Follow along, after the jump.

First, here’s a look at the players the front office brought in:

Traded Carlos Gomez for J.J. Hardy. This was the biggest move the front office made, dealing their center-fielder for a shortstop. The trade actually kind of looks about even right now, with Go-Go providing the Brewers with some power (though he still struggles to actually get on base) and his usual dazzling defense, while Hardy is filling a hole that has existed since the franchise moved to Minnesota in 1961. Hardy is no slouch on defense himself, and odds are he’ll finish the season with a better on-base percentage and slugging percentage than Go-Go. Of course, the money sort of tilts the trade in Milwaukee’s favor, since Hardy is making $5.1 million this year and is only under team control through 2011, while Gomez is making just $1.15 million and just reached arbitration-eligibility this year.

Signed Orlando Hudson. This was probably the second-biggest offseason move by the Twins, filling their gigantic black hole at second base by inking the 32 year-old to a 1-year, $5 million deal. So far it looks to be a bargain, with the O-Dog batting .301/.381/.399, good for 1.7 wins above replacement*. Thanks to the likes of Alexi Casilla and Matt Tolbert, Twins’ second basemen were a combined -0.1 WAR all of last season.

Agreed to arbitration with Carl Pavano. Pavano turned out to be a great pickup at the trade deadline for the Twins, posting a 4.64 ERA during his stint in Minnesota and finishing the season with a 3.76 xFIP and 3.77 K/BB ratio. He provided some much-needed stability to a starting rotation beset by injuries, and helped pitch the team into the postseason. Again, his 1-year, $7 million deal looks to be a good one thus far.

Signed Jim Thome. Teams have been loath to shell out a ton of money for full-time DHs in recent years, especially ones pushing 40. This explains why the Twins were able to essentially pull a player of Thome’s caliber off of the scrap heap for a mere $1.5 million. Ol’ Jimmers can still mash too, batting .241/.381/.494 with 5 homers in 97 plate appearances.

Signed Clay Condrey. In an effort to add depth to their bullpen, the Twins inked Condrey to a 1 year, $900,000 deal. So far, this has worked out terribly, as Condrey has been on the DL with elbow stiffness essentially since the moment the contract was signed.

So, the Twins spent a total of $19.5 million to upgrade some key positions. Now, let’s look at the moves they didn’t make:

Signing Adrian Beltre. The Twins were reportedly very interested in signing Beltre to fill the hole left by Corey Koskie way back in 2004, but were out-bid by the Red Sox. Beltre may not be worth $10 million when the season is over, but his .335/.369/.473 line and plus defense makes him a 1.5 WAR player thus far. Compared to Nick Punto, who is batting .218/.267/.286 (though also providing plus defense) and worth just 0.2 WAR, Beltre definitely looks like the one that got away.

Signing Placido Polanco. The Twins were rumored to be interested in Polanco once Detroit declined to offer arbitration, but he ended up signing a 3-year, $18 million deal to play third base for Philadelphia. It’s a little harder to judge this one, since Polanco would most likely be playing second base for the Twins rather than third, but so far he’s done an admirable job at the hot corner while putting up a .343 weighted on-base average. Also, considering that the Twins have no real long-term solution at second base waiting in the wings, perhaps signing Polanco to a multi-year deal would have been for the best.

Still, it’s hard to fault the organization for not wanting commit $18 million over the next three years to a 34 year-old second baseman. Polanco will be 37 years old at the end of his contract, so the Twins may actually be better off with a one-year deal to Hudson, even though they will once again be searching for a second baseman once the season is over.

Trading for Akinori Iwamura. It’s hard to say exactly how close the Twins really were to acquiring Aki, but they were reportedly the mystery team involved in the bidding for the 31 year-old infielder. The Pirates eventually won out, sending reliever Jesse Chavez to the Rays in what looked like a lopsided win for Neil Huntngton. Unfortunately, Aki has been awful in Pittsburgh, batting just .163/.270/.234 while battling a sore hamstring. I’d say the Twins dodged a bullet here.

Signing Jarrod Washburn. The free agent market for pitchers was thin this year, and there is no way, even with increased payroll flexibility, someone like John Lackey would have been within the Twins’ reach. Not with the Red Sox involved in the bidding. Other options, such as Joel Pineiro and Jason Marquis, didn’t look to be much of an upgrade over any of the Twins’ current starters, especially not for the price (Pineiro: 2 years, $16 million, Marquis: 2 years, $15 million). Which leaves the washed-up veterans, like Washburn and Doug Davis. Given the choice between Washburn and Pavano, it looks like the Twins chose wisely.

As for the bullpen, I’m sure any number of reasonably-priced relievers could have been better than Condrey. However, the team also has no real need to go outside the organization for bullpen help. Anthony Slama, Rob Delaney, and Kyle Waldrop are all just a phone call away in AAA, and would be much cheaper and likely more effective alternatives to anything available on the market.

So, depending on whether the Twins signed Pineiro or Marquis, this collection of free agents would have cost somewhere between $21.75-22.25 million in 2010 alone. Of these players, only Iwamura is signed to a one year deal. Beltre has a $5 million option for 2011 (which increases to$10 million if he reaches 640 PAs in 2010), Jason Marquis is owed another $7.5 million in 2011, Pineiro will get paid $8 million next year, and Polanco is owed another through 2012. So far, it definitely looks like the Twins got the most value for their money.

*All WAR values used in this post are from Fangraphs.

Topics: Adrian Beltre, Anthony Slama, Clay Condrey, J. J. Hardy, Jarrod Wasburn, Jim Thome, Kyle Waldrop, Minnesota Twins, Orlando Hudson, Placido Polanco, Rob Delaney

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