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Propaganda Pool: Alfonso Soriano

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On Tuesday, the Washington Nationals placed 2B Jose Vidro on the disabled list.  Could this play to the Twins advantage?

By now everyone knows that Soriano is topping the Most Wanted lists of any team considered a "buyer" heading up to the July 31 trade deadline.  In a world where the Washington Nationals were competing for a shot at the postseason, the injury to Vidro could have seen the Nationals withdraw Soriano from the blocks as they moved him back to second base.  But as things stand, even though 9 games out of a Wild Card isn't unfathomable for a comeback (just ask us), Washington is chasing 10 teams.  They also don't have the roster to mount a late surge.  Soriano is on the block, regardless of Vidro's injury, and this could play into the hands of the Twins.

With the Nationals in need of a starting second baseman, and with the Twins full up in the outfield (especially with the imminent return of Torii Hunter), Castillo could be used as a major selling point and reduce the need for the Twins to offer a top prospect to complete the deal.  Combining Luis Castillo and Jesse Crain could be enough to land Minnesota Alfonso Soriano...as our second baseman.

While Soriano's defense is less than desirable, at second base or in left field, it's not as though Castillo is the Gold Glove calibre defender we hoped he still was.  Additionally, what you lose in the field you gain at the plate.

I'm going to be the first to admit that I'm blinded by the sheer genius of this idea, if only because I haven't bounced my plan off anybody yet.  That's where you come in.  Can Terry Ryan get this done?

Salaries

In 2006, Jesse Crain is making $360,000.  Luis Castillo is raking in $5,000,000.  Soriano is a bit more expensive, at $10,000,000.  Even if you pro-rate the salaries for the remainder of the season, the Twins would still end up owing Alfonso $3,000,000 to $4,000,000.

While this does make for an expensive rental being that Soriano is a free agent at season's end, consider this:  Luis Castillo's $5,750,000 option for 2007 kicks in with just another 35 at-bats.  Jesse Crain (unless I'm mistaken) is elligible for arbitration, meaning his salary will jump in the offseason.  This is food for thought; I'll get back to it later.

Personnel

The Twins in this proposed trade receive 2B Alfonso Soriano, who becomes our second baseman for the remainder of 2006.  This leaves the outfield roster as it is, since we're going to have enough troubles finding at-bats for Hunter, Kubel, Cuddyer, White and Tyner.  Decisions will need to be made as this situation gets sticky.

The Twins lose 2B Luis Castillo and RHP Jesse Crain.  Castillo's absence is covered in the trade.  Crain, who has been better than his numbers indicate, is finding himself in a very tight bullpen where Rick Anderson can basically close his eyes and point at random to put an effective reliever into the game.  Juan Rincon and Joe Nathan own the 8th and 9th innings respectively, and have done so consistently over the last two and a half seasons.  Then comes Pat Neshek, Dennys Reyes, Jesse Crain, Willie Eyre and Kyle Lohse.  Oh yes, Matt Guerrier is working his way back as well.  I've always been a fan of Jesse Crain, and yes, for more reasons than just because we have the same first name, but could he be an expendable commodity in this scenario?  He has a good fastball and slider, has a good strikeout rate and has been talked up as a potential closer in the recent past.

Bullpen and Lineup Adjustments

In ideal circumstances, your bullpen's best arms align like this:

Name      Duty
Nathan    Closer
Rincon    Set-up
Neshek    6th/7th
Reyes     LOOGY/6th/7th
Eyre      6th/7th
Lohse     Long Relief
Guerrier  Long Relief

As you can see the Twins would still be busting at the seems in the bullpen.  This scenario leaves the door open for Lohse on the trading block, and could give Eyre more consistent appearances to gain confidence and actually see Major Leage hitting.  That, or you could send him to Rochester in order to get regular time.  One or the other needs to happen, because you can't let talent waste away on the bench.  Right, Luis Rodriguez?

The batting order could be construed in a number of different ways, but knowing how Gardenhire likes to balance his right and left-handed hitters, and how easily Punto reaches base, this is how I see it:

Pos B  Name
3B  R  Nick Punto
C   L  Joe Mauer
2B  R  Alfonso Soriano
1B  L  Justin Morneau
RF  R  Michael Cuddyer
CF  R  Torii Hunter
DH  L  Jason Kubel
LF  R  Rondell White
SS  R  Jason Bartlett

Punto leads off, as a patient hitter who takes a walk as easily as he gets a hit.  Soriano splits up the two lefties, and sliding Mauer into the two-hole means Morneau can slip into the cleanup spot, which is where he should be hitting anyway.  Cuddyer, who has been effective, hits fifth, where his offensive prowess is better suited.  Hunter, with his moderate power, remains hitting sixth.  The rest of the bottom of the order remains unchanged as well.

Combining Logistics and Moving Forward

Castillo will be 31 on September 12, and has already shown signs of decay in his game.  His offense has levelled out around .280/.335/.370, but I'd have an easier time justifying Hunter's $12,000,000 in 2007 for his likely numbers than justifying Castillo's $5,750,000 for his likely 2007 numbers, considering the decline of typical middle infielders in their early-30's.  Moving Punto to second base in next year and using the money saved from the Castillo move to find a third baseman, via free agency or trade, is a viable solution for the hot corner debacle.

In 2007 there will be another batch of Twins pitching ready to make an impact in The Show.    Beau Kemp and Ricky Barrett, not to mention Matt Garza and Boof Bonser, will all be ready to legitimately vie for spots on the 25-man roster.  While losing Crain will remove a favorite of mine from the roster, there will be others to take his place.

Conclusions

While the Twins organization would have to open the wallets to attain Soriano, it's a gamble that could pay off.  He's strikeout prone, but Soriano hits for average and for power, something the Twins can use more of to help make the offense a threat in the postseason.  Losing Castillo and Crain, both good players, won't create any large holes, won't cost us prospects and creates a little more payroll flexibility for next season.

Prior to Soriano's discontent over having to play the outfield in Washington, he had been a clubhouse and fan favorite in New York and in Texas.  A return to second base will only make him happier.

Why I believe the injury to Vidro aides the Twins is because we can offer a player like Castillo, who still has value, to a team who not only needs a second baseman but needs the appearance of not just selling for the sake of selling.  Getting two players like Castillo and Crain cushions the blow of losing a player like Soriano.  Sure, we lost a guy, but look who we got for you!  A shiny, slightly used, but good, second baseman!  Ooh!  And look at this!  A young pitcher with a pretty fastball!

I'll leave you with some numbers on Soriano.  I've convinced myself this is a legitimately doable trade, and one that could give the Twins a little extra push as we enter the month of August.  Let's get it done.

2006 Statistics
 G  AB   H  R  2B  3B  HR  RBI  SB  SO  BB   Avg   Obp   Slg
99 402 115 74  25   2  31   62  25  89  43  .286  .360  .590

Advanced Batting Statistics
VORP   EQA  WARP  BRAR  BRAA
40.0  .310   5.1   41    28