Matthew Pouliot

Josh Willingham, Denard Span, Ben Revere

Twins’ overhaul can’t stop with Denard Span trade

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After consecutive seasons of 99 and 96 losses, the obvious answer for the Twins is to tear it all down. True change, though, hasn’t come to Minnesota in a long time.

These Twins have employed two managers in 25 years, with Ron Gardenhire replacing Tom Kelly in 2002. General manager Terry Ryan spent 14 years on the job, stepped down in favor of his longtime assistant, Bill Smith, in 2007 and then came back a year ago only after Smith proved totally inadequate.

When the Twins decided to make some coaching changes at season’s end, it was mostly a reshuffling. The new hitting coach simply moved up from Triple-A. The old hitting coach became the third base coach. The old bench coach became the first base coach.

The Twins finally made a real move for the future Thursday when they traded center fielder Denard Span to the Nationals for a top pitching prospect in righty Alex Meyer. Even that was a compromise move, though. Trading Span isn’t starting over. It only clears $4.75 million from the 2013 payroll. And his replacement, Ben Revere, is a very similar player who probably won’t ever be as good as Span is.

That’s why this can only be the first domino to fall. Trading Span and keeping Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and Josh Willingham would be crazy. With their unexceptional farm system, the Twins aren’t going to contend the next two years. There’s a case for holding on to Mauer as the face of the franchise, but Morneau and Willingham aren’t great bets for 2015, which is the year the Twins need to be thinking about now.

Phillies lose out on B.J. Upton; will they turn to Michael Bourn?

Michael Bourn
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Michael Bourn was undoubtedly a stronger player than B.J. Upton in 2012, yet something surprising happened when free agency opened earlier this month; Bourn’s most recent team, the Braves, and his original team, the Phillies, both made Upton the priority in talks.

Did it have to do with the price tag? Bourn was seeking more money, but the figures were so astronomical with both that it hardly seemed likely to make all of the difference. Upton just got $15.05 million per year for five years from the Braves. Bourn was asking for a sixth year, but he never figured to do much better than the $75 million that Upton got.

It’s all really curious to me. I see Upton as the significantly better bet going forward, but I wasn’t really expecting the Braves or especially the Phillies to view it the same way. Upton is two years younger, which makes a real difference. Bourn, though, is the better fielder and the better leadoff candidate. Upton also has a reputation for not always hustling. No one seems to view him as a bad guy overall, but his head doesn’t always seem to be in the game. Bourn has no such reputation.

Anyway, most suspect the Phillies will now turn to Bourn. And maybe they will. Still, I don’t think they would have been all over Upton like they were if they were eager to pay Bourn’s price. They might mix in a changeup and target the less pricey Angel Pagan instead. They also haven’t ruled out bringing back Shane Victorino, though Victorino needs to get a whole lot more realistic about his salary demands first.

Bourn will still get his big payday, but now I suspect he may have to settle for a bit less than Upton got, whether it’s four years and $60 million or five years and $70 million.

Even at $75 million, B.J. Upton a smart signing for Braves

B.J. Upton
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Some will raise their eyebrows. After all, the Braves just gave $75.25 million to a center fielder who has hit under .250 four years running.

And it’s not a move without risk. Still, Atlanta’s signing of B.J. Upton to a five-year deal should prove fine in time. He’ll strike out a lot and frustrate fans while slumping, but he’ll hit for power, run down a bunch of balls in center and steal some bases.

Let’s face it, $15 million doesn’t buy what it used to. In this market, it’d barely buy Jeremy Guthrie and Jonny Gomes. Getting a potential star at that price seems like a much better idea than loading up with mediocrities.

Upton is just 28 and he’s had a couple of years of terrific play (.300/.386/.508 in 2007 and .272/.383/.401 in 2008), followed by four years in which he hit .240 and relied on more on his glove and legs to provide his value. Because Upton is durable and possesses those skills that aren’t so prone to variation, it’s hard to imagine he’ll be anything less than an $8 million-$10 million per year player at any point during the deal. If he breaks out in the easier league in the NL and a friendlier offensive ballpark in Turner Field, then he could be a $20 million-$25 million guy a couple of those years.

Still, the real bummer here is that the huge outlay doesn’t actually make the Braves any better right away; Michael Bourn was better last year than Upton is likely to be next year. Bourn, though, is two years older than Upton, he has all kinds of red flags as far as his offensive staying power and he’s seeking even more money than Upton was. The Braves definitely set themselves up better for the future by signing Upton than they would have by keeping Bourn. However, if they want to give their lineup a real boost, they’ll need to bring in a quality left fielder to play alongside Upton and Jason Heyward.

The Reds re-sign Jonathan Broxton to a three-year, $21 million deal

Jonathan Broxton
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UPDATE: Yes, it was close to Brandon League’s deal. Ken Rosenthal reports that Broxton is getting three years and $21 million guaranteed. The salaries climb, paying him $4 million in 2013, $7 million in 2014, $9 million in 2015 and either a $1 million buyout or a $9 million option for 2016.

That may seem crazy for a guy like Broxton, but I bet that becomes the going rate for adequate-but-not-spectacular closers here pretty soon.

1:25 AM: CBSSports.com’s Jon Heyman reports that the Reds and Jonathan Broxton have come to terms on a multiyear deal that is set to be announced Wednesday.

It’s expected to be a three-year pact, and one imagines it’ll come in close to Brandon League’s three-year, $22.5 million deal with the Dodgers.

The plan appears to be for Broxton to step into the closer’s role, with Aroldis Chapman joining Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Bronson Arroyo and Homer Bailey in the rotation. Mike Leake would work in relief.

It’s a switch with tons of upside, but also with plenty of risk. Of the three biggest relief-to-starting conversion stories last year, only one paid off: Chris Sale with the White Sox. Daniel Bard was a bust for Boston, and Neftali Feliz got hurt in Texas and needed Tommy John surgery.

And then there’s Broxton. He was a perfectly effective reliever with the Royals and Reds last year, amassing a 2.48 ERA in 58 innings. However, his margin for error certainly isn’t what it was. During his first five years with the Dodgers, he averaged at least 10.5 strikeouts per nine innings every season, topping out at 13.5 in 2009. Last year, he was all of the way down to 7.0 K/9 IP.

Personally, I’m all for taking the chance on moving Chapman to the rotation. Still, I would have gone in a different direction for a closer replacement. Re-signing Ryan Madson to a one-year deal would have been the better move.

Carlos Ruiz and performance-enhancing drugs

Carlos Ruiz
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There are a lot of differing opinions out there, educated and otherwise, on just how much performance-enhancing drugs actually enhance performance. On the one side, there’s suspected users like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens pulling off incredible feats at advanced ages. On the other, there’s the long list of proven cheaters littered with names of journeymen long forgotten.

Now, though, that long list has suddenly gotten interesting at the end. The last three veteran major leaguers caught cheating were all exceeding expectations in a pretty big way:

– Melky Cabrera, the 2012 All-Star Game MVP, was leading the NL with a .346 average through 113 games when he was suspended. His OPS went from .671 in 2010 to .809 in 2011 to .906 last season.

– Bartolo Colon had a 3.43 ERA in 24 starts for Oakland prior to his suspension. Two years after his career was presumed over due to shoulder problems, he was on his way to his best season since 2005. Had he maintained the 3.43 ERA, it would have been his second-lowest mark in 15 big-league seasons.

– Carlos Ruiz established new career highs in average (.325), homers (16) and RBI (68) as a 33-year-old last season. The homer total was two more than he had the previous two seasons combined. His .540 slugging percentage was almost 150 points higher than his career mark of .393.

Of course, Ruiz, unlike the other two, wasn’t caught with testosterone. And because he was using an amphetamine, not a steroid, he’s getting just a 25-game suspension (Cabrera and Colon received 50 games apiece).

Whether the Adderall deserves any credit for Ruiz’s performance spike is a matter I’ll let others debate. But it’s more ammunition for those who believe that cheaters get an incredible advantage over those who get their results naturally.