A week ago, I looked at the available starting pitchers who are free agents and I distilled the long list of names to three who the MInnesota Twins should target this off-season
. The premise is that other than Alex Meyer
and maybe Kyle Gibson
, the Twins do not have any "sure bets" for the top of their rotation for next season and the near future that will coincide with the coming of age of uber-prospects Miguel Sano
and Byron Buxton
. So, in order to compete in 2014 and to not waste that future, the Twins need three starting pitchers better than Kevin Correia and Kyle Gibson (today) who will occupy the last two spots in the Twins' rotation for 2014.
These pitchers should be young enough to be around for three years, maybe longer. The two other criteria I used to trim the free agent list, in addition to age (31 next season or younger) were characteristics sorely missed by the Twins' rotations since Johan Santana
's departure and Fransisco Liriano
's injury and eventual departure: Hard throwing (FB 92 mph or better) and striking people out (K/9 rate of eight or better.) I also excluded pitchers in rehab or mostly in the minors or in foreign leagues in 2013. From the list of 54 free agent pitchers, I ended with an "A" list of five names who meet the criteria and a "B" list of four names
who meet some of the criteria.
It is unlikely the Twins will acquire three free agent pitchers, yet there is a good opportunity to acquire one pitcher who would had been on the A list (and near the top of that list), were he a free agent. It's not Detroit Tigers pitcher Rick Porcello
, who is potentially available
and young enough, but his fastball is too slow and he does not strike enough people out to even make the "B" list. It's not Cincinnati Reds hurler Homer Bailey
, who has enough characteristics to make the "A" list but likely will cost someone like Alex Meyer to acquire, which would defeat the purpose. And it's really not Tampa Bay Rays ace David Price
, who would likely will cost the farm, and a bit more.
Who is the mystery pitcher and what would it take for the Twins to acquire him?
The Twins need to start thinking about selling high (without destroying the team) and buying low. Unfortunately this front office has not been implementing the strategy well, from the Willingham non-trade after a career season, to the clearance sale of Fransisco Liriano, to the giving up of Delmon Young
, Kevin Slowey
and Jim Thome.
The proposed trade is Brian Dozier
, Casey Fien
and Darin Mastroianni
to the Chicago Cubs for Jeff Samardzija
Why would the Twins want this trade?
Samardzija is 29 years old, listed at 6'5" and 225 lbs, is arbitration eligible and under team control for the next 2 years. His estimated 2014 salary is an affordable $5 million. He has top of the rotation stuff, including a fastball that averages 94 mph and K/9 around or higher than nine the past three seasons. And he is durable (175 and 214 IP the last two seasons) and has a negative W-L ratio and ERA in the 4s, which are not top of the rotation results, which is the buy-low part. Given that his xFIP is about a full point lower than his ERA, his SIERA is 3.60 and his xPE (19.8) in the number 2 starter range
, his actual results are worse than his potential and were likely influenced by the Cubs' bad defense and their horrible-for-pitchers ballpark.
Twenty-eight-year-old Brian Dozier is coming off a career season that has cemented in the minds of many the idea that he is the Twins' second baseman of the future and the Twins should move 22-year-old Eddie Rosario
back to the outfield. But Dozier's results are likely unsustainable - thus the sell high. Dozier's season with the bat, even though it seems Ruthian among the Twins' hitters, was a league average .726 OPS, resulting from a .244/.312/.414 slash line, that propelled his OPS to average because of his slugging percentage.
But that slugging percentage was influenced by a ridiculous HR/FB rate that is not sustainable. If it drops a conservative 30 points and a .244/.312/.384 (with a .696 OPS) does not look quite as Ruthian. He is a prime candidate for regression - sell high. Twenty-five-year-old Eduardo Escobar
, who quietly had a stellar 2013 AAA campaign and is repeating it in the Venezuela Winter League, can be an immediate replacement with potential shift to shortstop when Eddio Rosario is deemed ready, which could be as soon as September of 2014.
Thirty-year-old Casey Fien, who in the minds of some is a prime candidate to be the righthanded set-up man (and whom was used partially in that role last season), is the poster boy for selling high. His peak was before the All-Star break (and the Twins lost the opportunity to trade him at the deadline before he regressed
) but still has some sell high potential. I explained the reasons to sell high on Fien here
then, and they stand, albeit the attractiveness is slightly reduced. The Twins have plenty of pitchers including Michael Tonkin
who can replace Fien with potentially better results.
Why Mastroianni? Because the 28-year-old's future with the Twins as a defensive replacement/pinch runner/fourth outfielder was nulled when the Twins acquired 25-year-old Ryan Pressly
. Mastroianni might be the sweetener of the deal for the Cubs.
Why would the Cubs want the trade?
Samardzija has shown flashes of brilliance but he has not really translated the potential and expectations into actual wins. There is pressure to win in Chicago and the clock is winding down for the new front office leadership to produce a winner in a division where the Reds, the Cardinals and now the Pirates provide tremendous competition. Thus, the Cubs might soon be in "win-now" mode and spending some real money in free agency.
Second base was a black hole for them last season. Dozier, who will likely sustain his high HR/FB rates in Wrigley, will help close that hole and continue with his stellar defense. Their 'pen was a mess and Casey Fien, with a l bit of continuation of his luck, will help them fix it. Their outfield, especially centerfield, was very inconsistent. Mastroianni can hold down centerfield in late innings for them. Also, last but not least, all three players are under club control for five years and would cost only about league minimum the first two, helping the Cubs divert that money toward the acquisition of costly free agents
Is it a fair trade?
On first look, five years (two at minimum wage) of each of Brian Dozier, Darin Mastroianni and Casey Fien for the last two arbitration years of Jeff Samardzija seems like a slam dunk for the Cubs. However, the Twins are buying low and selling high, making this a fair trade for both teams
Just in case this happens, for the Twins' fans: The D, Z and I in Samardzija's name (whose nickname is "Shark) are silent, and pronounced Sah-MAR-jah.
Originally published at The Tenth Inning Stretch