Should Twins offer Wilson Ramos for Cliff Lee?

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If the Twins want a second ace left-hander for the postseason, that’s probably what it will take. Cliff Lee went 4-0 with a 1.56 ERA for the Phillies last October. The team won all five of his postseason starts, with Lee pitching 40 1/3 of a possible 45 innings in those games. His addition to a rotation featuring Francisco Liriano, Scott Baker and one from a group of Carl Pavano, Nick Blackburn and Kevin Slowey would transform the Twins from likely ALDS victim into a legitimate threat to win the World Series.
And the Twins could get him for a player who has no obvious role in the team’s future plans.
Now, Wilson Ramos does appear to be a special talent. And the Twins could find a way to incorporate him in 2011 and beyond if they wanted to. But it’s doubtful he’d be anywhere near as valuable elsewhere on the field as he is behind the plate. For what it’s worth, while he was impressive in his brief stint replacing Joe Mauer earlier this year, he’s hitting just .229/.262/.346 with a 33/7 K/BB ratio in 179 at-bats for Triple-A Rochester. He seems to have turned things around recently — he’s batting .339 in June — but he’s not in the same league with, say, Carlos Santana as an offensive prospect.
The 22-year-old Ramos shines more brightly on defense. He should contend for Gold Gloves someday, and with his ability to hit for average, it’d be no surprise to see him serving as Mauer’s backup on All-Star teams a few years down the line.
Still, Ramos’ greatest value to the Twins is likely as a trade chip. But is it worth parting with his next 6 1/2 seasons in return for a half-season of Lee?
I think it is. The Twins would have very little chance of keeping Lee as a free agent, but they’d be in line for a first-round pick and a supplemental first-rounder after he departs. That’s a big key here. It’s why the Mariners won’t part with Lee cheaply even if they end July with no chance of headed to the postseason.
Barring a big turnaround over the next several weeks, Seattle, though, should be willing to let him go for Ramos and a lesser pitching prospect. Adam Moore is a solid young catcher, but he might be more of a long-term backup than a regular. The Mariners lack young talent on offense. Ramos isn’t the long-term cleanup man they need, but as sort of a right-handed-hitting version of A.J. Pierzynski, he’d soon be an upgrade in the sixth or seventh spot in the lineup.
The Mariners might shoot for more and try to come up with someone who could put up big numbers immediately. Or perhaps they’ll aim for the Yankees’ Jesus Montero, who could well be a cleanup hitter but who figures to accomplish it as a first baseman, rather than as a catcher. I think Ramos is likely as good as they’re going to do. He can contribute right away, and he’ll be useful even if he doesn’t hit during his first couple of seasons.

Report: Koji Uehara close to signing with the Cubs

BOSTON, MA - OCTOBER 10:  Koji Uehara #19 of the Boston Red Sox pitches in the eighth inning against the Cleveland Indians during game three of the American League Divison Series at Fenway Park on October 10, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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Evan Drellich of the Boston Herald reports, citing a source as well as Nikkan Sports, that reliever Koji Uehara is close to signing a one-year, $4.5 million deal with the Cubs.

Uehara, 41, finished the 2016 season with a 3.45 ERA and a 63/11 K/BB ratio over 47 innings. He missed some time in the second half with a strained right pectoral muscle. When Uehara returned from the disabled list on September 7, he tossed 11 scoreless innings with 12 strikeouts and two walks through the end of the regular season. So there’s at least some evidence, albeit in a very small sample size, that Uehara has stuff left in the tank.

The Cubs recently acquired closer Wade Davis from the Royals. Uehara would join Hector Rondon, Pedro Strop, Carl Edwards, Jr., Justin Grimm, and Mike Montgomery in what is once again a very deep bullpen.

MLB implements another player-unfriendly rule, this time targeting draftees

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 28:  MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred speaks to the media before Game Three of the 2016 World Series between the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians at Wrigley Field on October 28, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Jon Morosi of MLB Network and FOX Sports reports that the MLB draft has a new program in which the top-50 pitching prospects are asked to undergo a voluntary pre-draft MRI on their throwing arm. At first glance, it seems reasonable because, hey, pitchers are injury-prone and players sometimes hide injuries. It would feel bad if my favorite team drafted a lemon!

The reality is that this is just another player-unfriendly rule that shifts financial risk away from the owners and onto the players. The players, in this case, are often not wealthy and are about to begin life in the minor leagues where they earn less than $8,000 per year. Signing bonuses help alleviate some of the immediate financial discomfort of minor league life.

The pre-draft MRI is “voluntary” with quotes around it. Choosing not to undergo the MRI will only give prospective teams more reason to be skeptical of one’s durability. It’s a lot like those voluntary workouts in football that aren’t so voluntary due to superior and peer pressure. You don’t show up, you’re lazy, entitled, a bad teammate, etc. In this case, a pitching prospect refuses to undergo the MRI, it’s because he’s hiding an injury.

Ian Anderson was the first pitcher taken off the board in the 2016 draft, going to the Braves at No. 3. He got a $4 million signing bonus. Let’s say this new MRI program had already been instituted and Anderson refused, or something came up that caused the Braves to change their minds. Anderson’s draft stock falls, let’s say to 21 where the Blue Jays took T.J. Zeuch with a $2.175 million signing bonus. Falling 18 spots in this case costs Anderson about $2 million, perhaps more because he loses a lot of negotiating leverage. Maybe he falls further, even to the second round.

In a column for FanGraphs nearly two years ago, Nathaniel Grow showed that, as a percentage of total league revenues, player salaries have been declining since the early 2000’s. In 2002, player salaries made up 56 percent of league revenues. In 2014, it was only 38 percent.

In isolation, the MRI program isn’t a big deal. The injured player loses stock, but another player moves up to take his place and earns a bit more money. As part of the bigger picture, however, this is part of an ongoing trend in which owners abdicate financial risk and push it all onto the players. The new collective bargaining agreement, for example, capped international signings at $5-6 million per team per year. That removes any incentive for overseas stars like Shohei Otani from coming over to play Major League Baseball. If he wanted to anyway, he would make much less money than he otherwise would on an open market. The amateur draft itself is almost entirely risk-avoidant for owners and it’s terrible for the players because they, too, would earn much more on an open market. And let’s not forget how owners have fought tooth-and-nail to keep minor league salaries suppressed.

Diamondbacks owner Ken Kendrick once paid $2.8 million for the Honus Wagner T-206 baseball card. Let’s not act like these owners can’t afford to shoulder the risk on young pitchers.

EDIT (4:40 PM EST): As I’ve seen others mention it, it’s worth bringing up the Astros/Brady Aiken issue. The Astros took him first in the 2014 draft, but they took issue with his elbow health. The two sides had agreed to a $6.5 million signing bonus, but the Astros wanted to reduce it to $5 million as a result. Aiken didn’t end up signing with the Astros. He underwent Tommy John surgery and was later selected by the Indians 17th overall in the first round of the 2015 draft. He got a $2,513,280 signing bonus.