Once upon a time, this guy was pretty good at baseball. - Ezra Shaw
Because it's just too damn painful to keep talking about the pitching.
Happy 2013! Hope the holiday season was good to everyone!
So far this offseason, nearly 100 percent of the focus has been on the Twins adding more starting pitching, and with good reason. I feel like that's been hammered home ad nauseum though, so I'll refrain from lamenting about the moves and non-moves on the pitching front in lieu of being hopeful that there's some help on the way in terms of the middle infield.
It may seem unthinkable, but the Twins actually received six WAR from their middle infielders last season, per Fangraphs. That, however, is in spite of the fact that their second basemen combined to hit .251/.312/.308, while their shortstops combined for an equally gruesome .248/.307/.316. Basically, Jamey Carroll and Alexi Casilla graded out really, really well according to Ultimate Zone Rating, which isn't all that reliable on a one-year sample anyway.
Casilla is gone on waivers to Baltimore, and Carroll turns 39 in a month's time. I don't think his skills are going to fall off a cliff, but it's entirely possible that he demonstrates some regression or gets hurt. I think Carroll is tremendously underrated, even among Twins fans, but even I'll concede that it's a dangerous proposition when a team's middle infield value is going to be provided solely by a 39-year-old who has about as much power as present day Al Newman.
Last night, Freddy Sanchez's agent Paul Cobbe informed ESPN's Jerry Crasnick that nearly 20 teams had asked for Sanchez's medical records. We can debate how much stock to put into what seems like a crazy number (20 teams? really?) when the source is said player's agent, but that's beside the point. Sanchez is apparently playing 2-3 hours of basketball per day at his home in Arizona -- which is a whole other weird conversation -- suggesting that his surgically repaired shoulder and back are in good enough shape for rigorous physical activity.
Freddy's a good six years older than when he won his batting title (which was a result of his fluky .364 BABIP anyway), and I understand that it's probably fair to question his glove considering his age and recent rash of injuries. However he's a career .297/.335/.413 hitter. Excluding his disastrous 2008 season, he's never posted an OBP south of .332. Ultimate Zone Rating has only once given him a negative fielding rating at either third base or second base. The Fielding Bible loves his work at third base and was lukewarm on his second base work until 2011's injury-shortened season.
Sanchez hasn't played a game since June 10, 2011. He's not going to require a Major League contract, and even if he did by some crazy stretch, it wouldn't be much more than a $1MM-ish guarantee. Given the money the Twins had to spend this offseason and apparently aren't going to, I hardly think that's excessive.
Sanchez is the type of player who makes sense for a team with virtually no middle infield depth. He's not going to block anyone of real consequence (apologies to Brian Dozier supporters), and he's the type of player who could be flipped at the deadline if he's playing up to his career norms.
Sanchez was hitting .296/.334/.442 in 2009 when the Pirates flipped him to the Giants for Tim Alderson, who had struggled a bit that year but entered the season as San Fran's No. 4 prospect and ranked No. 45 overall according to Baseball America. Even if Sanchez were hitting well this July, it'd unfair to expect a similar type of return, but given the dearth of middle infield talent in this league it's certainly conceivable that he could fetch something of value.
And, from Sanchez's point of view, the Twins have to be at least a reasonably appealing destination. Yes Target Field is a big park, but he's not a big power hitter anyway, and the team has question marks at both second base and third base -- his two primary positions. If he's looking to re-establish his Major League career, I'd imagine a team with multiple infield deficiencies is a good place to start.
Shifting gears, the Twins are also reportedly interested in watching the showcase of 23-year-old Cuban shortstop Aledmys Diaz. Diaz actually turns 23 today, which is good and bad news for teams who are interested in signing him because he also comes with three years of professional experience in Cuba. Players with three or more years of pro experience that are over the age of 23 aren't subject to the new Collective Bargaining Agreement's international spending cap. In other words, teams have the power to outbid one another on Diaz.
MLB.com's Jesse Sanchez profiled Diaz and outfielder Dariel Alvarez about a month ago:
Diaz, 22, a right-handed-hitting shortstop from Villa Clara, defected from the Cuban National team last summer during a tournament in the Netherlands and has been training in Mexico City... Known for his ability to hit for power and average, Diaz is considered an average runner with an above-average arm. He is closer to Major League-ready of the two prospects.
Sanchez writes that Diaz is 6'1" and 185 pounds, and in a tweet last night added that he likely still needs some Minor League time. The Twins may have been burned by the international market recently, but they've enjoyed far more success in drumming up talent from Latin America than they did in the Tsuyoshi Nishioka debacle.
Diaz isn't as polished or impactful a prospect as Yoenis Cespedes was last offseason. He's not going to command a four-year deal worth $36MM, but he'll also probably cost more than the four years and $4.75MM that the White Sox stole Alexei Ramirez for. There will come a point where the Twins shouldn't be players in a gamble like the one they'd have to make to sign Diaz, but if the price is reasonable they should be in the mix. Thankfully, 1500's Darren Wolfson has said on Twitter that the Twins will send someone to watch Diaz's showcase. Unfortunately, that showcase appears to have been pushed back to the end of January.
Terry Ryan has done an admirable job of adding some pitching depth to a farm system that was completely devoid of any such talent even one year ago. Now, the team faces a glaring need in the middle infield with no immediate hope on the horizon. Sanchez makes for a low-risk one-year gamble, while Diaz represents a higher-risk, longer-term gamble that could pay dividends in 2014 and beyond. Obviously, there isn't a ton of information out there about Diaz, but he's the type of risk that can help the team long-term without completely breaking the bank.
I don't expect the Twins to contend in 2013, but it sure would be nice to not have to endure a summer of Dozier, Eduardo Escobar and Pedro Florimon in the event of a Carroll injury. Here's hoping for some added depth.
Steve Adams also writes for MLB Trade Rumors and MLB.com Fantasy Baseball. You can follow him on Twitter: @Adams_Steve.