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Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Trading for Prospects: What Arrival Time are We Looking For?

In exchange for Denard Span,
should the Twins be targeting
MLB-ready talent, or guys set
to contribute in 2014 and beyond?
There has been a lot of fun and interesting talk lately about the Twins potentially trading away some veterans, such as Denard Span and Carl Pavano, to a contending team. This, unfortunately, is what losing teams do in order to re-stock. What's doubly unfortunate is that these discussions are taking place in the first part of May, 2012. The Twins' nice win last night notwithstanding, it seems like the stars have to align lately to get both a good pitching and hitting performance out of this team, and that feels unlikely to change. Naturally, fans (and hopefully the front office) begin to look toward the future. Last season, many in Twins Territory were hopeful that 2011 was an aberration -- that the Twins would be healthy and bounce back in 2012. We now know that 2012 is heading in a similar, or worse, direction as 2011, and that the Twins are in the midst of a rebuild, even if they haven't yet uttered that dirty word.

Denard Span is our most tradeable asset: he is a good offensive player, a solid defender, and he is under a relatively team-friendly contract through 2014 with a club option for 2015. There have already been a couple notable outfield injuries in baseball this year, such as Jayson Werth of the Nationals. The Nationals, of course, were the team that had interest in Span last season and were dangling young reliever Drew Storen. The deal never happened, thankfully. But it got us all talking about what it would take to move Span.

Because this team is rebuilding, every potential deal that the Twins consider this season must be made for the future. We have high hopes for players in the low levels of our farm system like Miguel Sano and Eddie Rosario. Even if you fast-track both of those players, and even if they exceed expectations, their ETA at Target Field for a permanent call-up is probably 2015. We have some good, yet unrefined, talent at AA New Britain in Aaron Hicks, and hopefully Joe Benson can find his swing again. And there isn't much to speak of at AAA right now after Brian Dozier's promotion. Kyle Gibson is recovering from Tommy John surgery, and top prospect Alex Wimmers might be next on the operating table, pushing back (what I had figured to be) a 2013 Target Field debut if he had a successful 2012 at New Britain and Rochester. These are just a few guys of dozens in the farm system, but you get my point: the best Twins' minor league talent is not yet close to knocking on Target Field's door.

When the Twins consider offers for Span, or Pavano (or even Liriano if he could manage to string together 3 or 4 good games in a row), they need to think about acquiring young players that will be ready for 2014 at the earliest -- and that will be under team control for those years immediately thereafter. Drew Storen, the Nationals reliever, is an interesting study precisely for that reason. Notwithstanding the fact that I don't believe in trading Span, an every day player, for a relief pitcher that will throw around 60 total innings, let's examine it. Storen, a very good pitcher who would be an asset in pretty much any bullpen, will become a free agent in 2017. Yes, that sounds really far away. But it isn't. In 2017, this team could just be getting good again. Let's say Sano pans out -- he would be in his age 24 season, perhaps his 3rd or 4th season, and at his athletic peak -- and Rosario would be 26. Mauer would still be under contract, and who knows, he could still be a .330 hitter. Gibson, Wimmers and Hicks would still be under team control, too. In other words, a young, affordable nucleus. Does that sound familiar, Twins fans? It sounds to me like the teams of the early-to-mid 2000s. Yes, it's all speculation, but when your team is this bad now, I do think you have to look at the big, very distant picture, as you evaluate deals.

What I'm getting at is that it might not be best, as many (including myself) have suggested, for the Twins to look for pitchers -- or other position players -- that are close to "major league ready" this season. If it's indeed going to be tough in Minnesota for a few years, why do I want a pitcher that, as an example, has Storen's current service time? Just so he can be ready for an expensive contract right when the new nucleus of the Twins is coming into its prime? Or so I can watch him pitch on losing teams for 2 or 3 years? Perhaps the best bet -- and it is indeed a gamble -- is to look for younger players. Make no mistake: I'm not talking about low round draft picks or anything like that, just young, high-ceiling players that have a distance to travel before they, too, are ready for Target Field.

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