Tuesday, May 10, 2011

How One Small Trade Could be the Un-Doing of the Mauer Deal

I have Joe Mauer on my fantasy baseball team. My fantasy baseball team was recently named "All Hail Joe Mauer" until I recently changed it to "Bilateral Leg Weakness". I have reached in each of the last two fantasy baseball drafts to assure that I would get Mauer. I DVRed his Head & Shoulders commercials...ok, that last one is made up. Needless to say I like the guy, as a player and as a person, so you can imagine the angst that his injury has caused me, especially with the continuing mystery as to when we might see him back on the field. I was reading around the Twins blogs yesterday and came across this piece by Nick Nelson. It's a very honest look at the Joe Mauer situation...but it's hard to read because of the truths it contains.

Nick's piece got me thinking...how could the Twins have gotten themselves into this situation when less than a year ago, they had an effing logjam at catcher that every team would have been envious of. For those of you who've forgotten: 

Jose Morales - C - Age 28
The Twins drafted Morales in the 3rd round of the 2001 draft and his arbitration eligibility would have started in 2012; he would not have been a free-agent until 2016. The Twins decided to trade him for a minor league pitcher, Paul Bargas, in December of last year. Morales has been a back-up for the Rockies this year and hasn't exactly lit the world on fire, but his .630 OPS, as paltry as that is, is still 280 points better than the Twins best option so far this season. Meanwhile Paul Bargas, the guy the Twin traded Morales for, has tragically been diagnosed with brain cancer and is currently undergoing chemotherapy. My point here is that the Twins could have kept Morales, passed on the rather average young lefty and been a lot better off right now. 

Wilson Ramos - C - Age 23
The Twins signed young Wilson Ramos as a free-agent in 2004 at the age of 16. Ramos went on to develop nicely in the minors, posting a .285/.332/.431 triple-slash in ~1,600 career MiL plate-appearances. Last year, in the midst of a playoff run, Bill Smith and the Twins front office decided to use the organization's most valuable trade piece to acquire closer Matt Capps from the Washington Nationals. Ramos didn't play much for the Nationals last season (54 total PAs) but this year he has had regular playing time and is hitting .319/.377/.493 so far in 77 PAs with 2HRs and 7 RBI. Like Morales, Ramos won't be a free-agent until 2016. Ramos has accumulated 0.9 WAR (wins above replacement) so far this season while Capps, in his entire time with the Twins to this point, has accumulated about 1.0 WAR.

So, just to make my point glaringly obvious...The Twins had two offensively capable catchers, both of whom would have been under team control through 2015, and traded them FOR RELIEVERS.

More to the point of my overall piece, I believe the Ramos for Capps trade has the potential to ruin the Mauer contract. I have to imagine that the Twins were at least aware that the likelihood of Mauer finishing out his contract as a catcher were slim to none. At age 28, Mauer simply doesn't have many years left behind the plate if he a) wants to remain healthy and b) wants to remain productive. So, knowing that, why did the Twins feel that Ramos was an expendable piece? Wouldn't you plan for the worst-case scenario, especially when it virtually costs you NOTHING to have that insurance in your back pocket? As things stand now, the Twins have no one in the farm system who could play an offensively-competent everyday catcher role and to me, that's a travesty.

During this past off-season, which saw the Twins budget-strapped under the weight of several large contracts, many pointed towards next season when the expiring contracts of Joe Nathan and Michael Cuddyer will free up some extra-cash. Ostensibly the Twins would have used that money to fill some holes in the bullpen and perhaps in the middle-infield as well. Now they need to strongly consider getting a competent back-up catcher as well, a need they would most likely not have had if they had simply held on to Ramos...or even to Morales.

I've been vocal in my criticism of the post-Terry Ryan front-office and my criticism continues. Aside from the moves to bring Orlando Hudson and JJ Hardy on-board following the 2009 season, Bill Smith has made stupid ill-advised move after ill-advised move and now we are seeing the results of that on the field. A team obviously can't anticipate having as many injuries as the Twins have had, but when your depth at key infield positions (2B, SS, C) is as shallow as the Twins have had this season, the blame falls on directly on the General Manager, there is simply no way around that. By trading a valuable organizational asset for an also-ran reliever, Bill Smith has put the future of this team in jeopardy. Time after time he has shown zero foresight and folks, that is major reason why this team is 12-21 coming into their game tonight. Short of a miraculously good run later this year, the Twins will likely finish 3rd or worse in the division this year when they were thought to be a contender for the division crown when the season started.


  1. It's not just in retrospect that these trades look crazy. There were howls of horror when Ramos was traded on the sites I frequent. Same for Morales.

    There was some thought at the time that Ramos couldn't hit a curveball and might be a flash in the pan. Also much talk that he was a future all star. But my thought at the time was, Mauer can't play 162 games at catcher for 8 years. They need a good backup if only to keep Gardy from destroying his knees for lack of a better option.

    But to trade Ramos for a couple months of a reliever? Sheesh.

    And Morales, what was that? They must have found him abusing the coach's cat or something. The word was he just wasn't good enough defensively. But when your other options are people who hit .100, you can live with a few stolen bases.

    Many people assumed at the time that the Twins knew more about Ramos and Morales than any other team and must have concluded they had incurable glaring weaknesses. Their scouting track record was solid enough back then that they deserved some benefit of the doubt. But not anymore.

    It's like they really just thought, we've got a good catcher so we obviously don't need Ramos; we need a reliever with "closer experience"; perfect match!