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11/13/13

One Starting Pitcher the Twins should target in a trade

A week ago, I looked at the available starting pitchers who are free agents and I distilled the long list to three names who the Twins should target this off-season.  The premise is that other than Alex Meyer and maybe Kyle Gibson, the Twins do not have any "sure bets" for the top of their rotation for next season and the near future that will coincide with the coming of age of uber prospects Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton.  So, in order to compete in 2014 and not to waste that future, the Twins need three starting pitchers better than Kevin Correia and Kyle Gibson (today) who will hold the 2 last spots in the Twins' rotation for 2014.  These pitchers should be young enough to be around at least for 3 years, maybe longer.   The two other criteria I used to trim the free agent list, in addition to age (31 next season or younger) were characteristics sorely missed by the Twins' rotations since Johan Santana's and Fransisco Liriano's departure and injury and eventual departure:  Hard throwing (FB 92 mph or better) and striking people out (K/9 8 or better.)  I also excluded pitchers in rehab or mostly in the minors or in foreign leagues in 2013.  From the list of 54 free agent pitchers, ended up with an "A" list of five names who meet the criteria and a "B" list of four names who meet some of the criteria. 

However it is unlikely that the Twins will get 3 free agent pitchers and there is a good opportunity to acquire a pitcher who would had been in the A list (and fairly on the top of the list), were he a free agent.  There have been thoughts ranging from rumors to dreams about the Twins trading with the Detroit Tigers for Rick Porcello (who potentially is available, and is young enough, but his fastball is too slow and does not strike enough people out to even make the "B" list) or with the Cincinnati Reds for Homer Bailey (who has enough characteristics to make the "A" list, but likely will cost someone like Alex Meyer to acquire, which defeats the purpose) or even with the Tampa Bay Rays for David Price (who would like will cost the farm, and a bit more.)

Who is the mystery pitcher and what would it take for the Twins to acquire him?

The Twins need to start thinking about selling high (without destroying the team) and buying low.  Unfortunately this front office has not been utilizing the practice well recently, from the Willingham non-trade after a career season, to the clearance sale of Frasisco Liriano (who was an ace for the Pirates last season) to the giving up of Delmon Young, Kevin Slowey and Jim Thome (whom the Philies eventually "flipped" to the Orioles for 2 C prospects.)

The proposed trade is Brian Dozier, Casey Fien and Darin Mastroianni to the Chicago Cubs for Jeff Samardzija.

Why would the Twins want this trade?

Samardzija is 29 years old, listed at 6'5" and 225 lbs, is arbitration eligible and under team control for the next 2 years (estimated 2014 award and affordable $5 million), has top of the rotation stuff (94 mph FB average and K/9 around or higher than 9 the past 3 seasons; as far as our criteria go) is durable (175 and 214 IP the last 2 seasons) and (the buy low part) has a negative W-L ratio and ERA in the 4s, which is not top of the rotation results.  Given that his xFIP is about a full point lower than his ERA, his SIERA is 3.60 and his xPE (19.8) in the number 2 starter range, his actual results are lower than his potential and were likely influenced by the Cubs' bad defense and their horrible for pitchers ballpark.

Twenty eight year old Brian Dozier is coming from a career season that has cemented him in the minds of many as the Twins' second baseman of the future who should make the Twins move 22 year old Eddie Rosario back to the outfield, but it is unlikely sustainable, thus the sell high.  Dozier's season with the bat, even though it seems Ruthian among the Twins' hitters, was a league average .726 OPS, resulting from a .244/.312/.414 slash line, that propelled his OPS to average because of SLG%.  His SLG% was influence by a ridiculous HR/FB rate that is not sustainable.  Drop is SLG% a conservative 30 points and a .244/.312/.384 (with a .696 OPS) does not look quite Ruthian.  Prime candidate for regression.  Sell high.  Twenty five year old Eduardo Escobar, who quietly had a stellar 2013 AAA campaign and is repeating it in the Venezuela Winter League, can be an immediate replacement with potential shift to short stop when Eddio Rozario is deemed ready (as soon as September of 2014).

Thirty year old Casey Fien who in the mind of some is a prime candidate for the right hand set up man (and Gardenhire used him in that role partially last season), is the poster boy for selling high; his peak was before the All-Star break (and the Twins lost the opportunity to trade him at the deadline before he regressed) but still has some sell high potential.  I have explained the reasons to sell high on Fien here then, and they stand, albeit the attractiveness slightly reduced. The Twins have plenty of pitchers including Michael Tonkin who will replace Fien with potentially better results.

Why Mastroianni?  Because the 28 year old's future with the Twins as a defensive replacement/pinch runner/fourth outfielder was nulled when the Twins acquired 25 year old Ryan Pressly and might be the sweetener for the deal for the Cubs.

Why would the Cubs want the trade?

Samardzija has shown flashed of brilliance but has not really translated the potential and expectations into actual wins.  There is pressure to win in Chicago and the clock is winding down for the new Front Office leadership to produce a winner in a division where the Reds, the Cardinals and now the Pirates provide tremendous competition.  Thus the Cubs might soon be in "win-now" mode and spending some real money in free agency.  Second base was a black hole in production last season.  Dozier who will likely sustain his high HR/FB rates in Wrigley will help close that and continue with his stellar defense.  The pen was a mess and Casey Fien, with a little bit of continuation of his luck will help them fix.  Their outfield, especially centerfield was very inconsistent.  Mastroianni can hold down centerfield in late innings for them.  Also, last but not least, all 3 players are under club control for 5 years and would cost only about league minimum the first 2, helping the Cubs focus that money towards the acquisition of costly free agents

Is it a fair trade?

On first look, 5 years (2 at minimum wage) of each of Brian Dozier, Darin Mastroianni and Casey Fien for the last 2 arbitration years of Jeff Samardzija seem like a slam dunk for the Cubs.  However, the Twins are buying low and selling high, making this a fair trade for both teams

Just in case this happens, for the Twins' fans:  The D, Z and I in Samardzija's name (whose nickname is "Shark) are silent, and pronounced Sah-MAR-jah




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