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Twins Interested in Brendan Ryan

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Is this for real? According to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, the Twins are trying to trade for Cardinals' shorstop Brendan Ryan. The Cardinals recently traded for Ryan Theriot, who was suddenly buried in the Dodgers' depth chart, while the Twins just dealt J.J. Hardy to the Orioles for a wing and a prayer in relief help.

Theriot, a versatile fielder, isn't a bad defender but he's not good, either. His two primary positions the last couple of years have been second base, where his metrics give him mixed reviews, and shortstop, where until this year his UZR was just a tad on the plus side. In 2008 it looked like he poised himself for a regular place in the Cubs' lineup as he hit .307 with a .387 on-base percentage (he walked 73 times in 661 plate appearances, striking out just 58 times), but his production and patience dropped off significantly in '09. As his fall continued into 2010 he was dealt to Los Angeles...where he was even worse. This year he batted .270/.321/.312.

Ryan, meanwhile, has been the best defensive shortstop in baseball over the last two seasons. Mike Axisa, courtesy of MLB Trade Rumors, puts it this way:

[Ryan's] +18.7 UZR since the start of 2009 leads big league shortstops, just about four full runs ahead of the second best defender, the aforementioned Hardy.

He's also a sub-par hitter, even for a shortstop, hitting like Adam Everett en route to a .223/.279/.294 triple slash in 2010. In spite of appearing in 268 games for the Cardinals in the last two years, or perhaps because he appeared in 268 games, his superior defense hasn't led him to inspired overall production. Ryan has amassed just 3.7 WAR since the start of 2009.

This, however, doesn't bother me too much. In conversations this week I mentioned that, if the Twins did have to trade Hardy, I would hope that St. Louis would be the winning suitor and that Ryan would be part of what came back to Minnesota. If the Twins were about to deal away good defense at a prime position, I thought that returning even better defense at that same prime position would be one way to alleviate my trepidation towards deal I hoped wouldn't happen. Besides, I reasoned to myself, sub-par offense from shortstop can be dealt with from the nine-hole in the lineup. Especially with defense like that.

But this didn't happen.

Minnesota traded Hardy to Baltimore, and it was made apparent that the Twins were ready to hand over the reigns of either shortstop or second base, on an everyday basis, to Alexi Casilla. So, if they truly are trying to deal for Ryan, then we can gather a few things.

  1. The Twins either don't have as much faith in Casilla in an everyday role as we inferred from their actions following Hardy's trade, or they intend to use Ryan as a backup at second and short. If it's the latter, there are much easier ways to go about bolstering infield depth than trading for a guy who's just hitting arbitration for the first time. There's value in having a player under team control, and there's also value in being able to say "player X is the best defender at his position in baseball", so I'd expect Ryan to cost more than what the Twins received for their spite of Ryan's bat. Not an ideal move if you're going for depth.
  2. If the Twins want Ryan as the starter, then both the faith the front office fronted for Casilla and the mantra of "we wanted to get faster" weren't necessarily true. Ryan isn't a stolen bases kind of guy, combining for just 25 in 36 attempts over the last two years as a full-time player (69% success rate). He uses his speed well, something we could compare to Orlando Hudson or to what we've heard about Tsuyoshi Nishioka, but he's not Casilla-type fast.
  3. The Twins definitely value defense at shortstop. When they brought in Hardy they were happy with the scouting reports on his fielding prowess, and as far as Ryan goes there's really no other reason to have interest in him.
  4. When something like this gets out, it's not something that's a recent development. The Twins didn't wake up yesterday morning and develop an interest in the Cardinals' light-hitting glove man, he's a guy they've been at least thinking about since at least October if not earlier. Still, when they dealt Hardy they didn't deal him to St. Louis. I think that's interesting, particularly since I don't see Theroit as an everyday player.

It's also possible that I'm reading too much into this. Speaking of which, let's go over a few questions to see if we can't crack the code of this situation just a bit further.

Can the Twins and Cardinals work out a deal? Besides Ryan and Theriot, their 40-man roster lists Skip Schumaker, Peter Kozma, Tyle Greene and Daniel Descalso as middle infielders. Their depth chart also insists that Theriot will be starting over Ryan. Also,the current middle infield depth chart for the Twins has Trevor Plouffe at short and Casilla at second. Forgive me if my confidence in that infield is precisely zero.

Do the Twins see Brendan Ryan as an everyday player? Honestly, I don't know. I would say yes myself, but I can't be sure how the Twins look at a guy like Ryan. There are scouting reports that insist his career potential is as a "solid utility infielder". And I've never actually watched the guy play.

Do the Cardinals see Brendan Ryan or Ryan Theriot as an everyday player? They wish they didn't have to, and let's hope not. In that order. Viva El Birdos isn't a fan of either player.

Do the Twins have confidence in their chances of signing Tsuyoshi Nishioka? John Bonnes wonders if this could be a negotiating ploy for Nishioka. I don't think so. It's a crappy negotiating tactic, and I'm not sure the Twins need it. All indications so far point towards this thing just being a matter of time. Rosenthal's post mentions three years and $9 to $15 million, and I highly doubt that a middle ground can't be found there. Both the Twins and Nishioka want a deal done, and it will happen.

How much confidence to the Twins really have in Alexi Caislla? I suppose it depends on what happens the rest of the off-season. We'll update you with information if anything else comes of this.