Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Notes from 50,000 feet (Welcome to the Twins, Willy + Paul trade reaction)

I'm on a plane.  And it has wi-fi.  What a glorious time to be alive.  A lot has seemingly changed since I changed jobs and stop flying to random cities basically monthly and getting drunk on a bathroom sink full of Coors Lights.   This is actually my first business trip since almost exactly a year ago when I went to LA (which is where I'm going today again).  Of course, not that much has changed because the freaking reading lights don't work on this god forsaken plane, so I'm forced to either sleep or type.  Awesome.  Also Blake Lewis's version of "You Give Love a Bad Name" just started playing on my ipod, so I'm pretty sure I'm doing something wrong.  Anyway.  I'm bored.  And you're going to listen to me, god help you.

-  Biggest news is the signing of Josh Willingham by the Twins for 3 years, $21 million which I'm assuming has been finalized.  (side note:  Busta Rhymes now on the ipod, things are looking up).  Considering this is very close to the contract they offered Michael Cuddyer (3 yrs, $25 mil) and they're both outfielders I think this signals the end of the Cuddyer era in Minnesota, for good or for ill.  Let's look first at playing ability.

Both Cuddy and Willingham will be 33 to start next season, and although both are corner outfielders Cuddy is primarily a RF with a great arm and Willingham is a LF with a so-so arm, which automatically raises questions about what happens to the Twins' outfield since neither Span nor Revere can even get the ball from RF to 3B on the fly or so I assume.  Fielding-wise, using UZR which is an advanced fielding stat that I couldn't begin to describe but is one of the more popular ones, both were equally shitty range-wise, which backs up what I've seen with my own two eyes.  Add in Cuddy's ability to play a sub-par 1st, 2nd, or 3rd and the Twins do lose out slightly in the field with this swap, mostly due to the now lack of a true RF in my eyes.

Batting wise once again these two players are similar.  Over the past 3 years, Cuddyer has a slightly higher average (.276 to .257), while Willingham has a slightly higher OBP (.360 to .341) and SLG (.479 to .465), which adds up to Willy's OPS+ of 125 trumping Cuddy's of 117, or about the difference between Troy Tulowitzki and Alex Gordon.  Basically Willingham is probably a slightly better hitter, especially power and plate discipline-wise, while Cuddy might get a few more hits here and there.  Plus Willingham has outhomered him each of the last two seasons, and although they have a virtually identical number of career HRs (Cuddy wins 141 to 132) Willingham has done it in about 1,300 fewer at-bats than Cuddyer (note:  not a typo).  So basically the Twins downgraded their defense a bit but upgraded offensively.  Cool, you think, but what about the intangibles?

My answer to that question would be to punch you in the face if you were on this plane.  Yes, Cuddyer filled a leadership void, but not because he's a great natural leader, but because SOMEBODY had to because Justin Morneau forgot where he was every 15 minutes and had to be reminded and every time Joe Mauer talked to anybody they fell asleep.  I don't deny Cuddy provided a valuable service by becoming the face of the team by being in every single commerical, interview, event, and basically throwing himself in front of every camera he saw.  I also don't deny that having a guy who is willing to play any position where he's needed, and can do so not embarrassingly, is a nice luxury to have.  I also think both of those are very overrated on a baseball team.  Not to mention him always chasing the press and forcing them to interview him kept the pressure off Mauer and Morneua, which at times is good but I would argue doing it to that extent during that kind of year is bad.  I short, I will listen to your arguments that Cuddy is valuable in ways that have nothing to do with on-field performance, but I will also then dismiss this arguments with a roundhouse kick to our face and a condescending wave of my hand.

The Final piece of the puzzle is perhaps what pushes this from a pretty close to even swap that saves $4 million bucks to a great (well, good) decision by the Twins that saves $4 million bucks.  Because Cuddyer was offered arbitration, that means that when Cuddy eventually signs with another team the Twins will receive both a first-round pick and a supplemental pick between rounds 1 and 2.  That's good for any team, but for the Twins, whose list of prospects is getting thinner and thinner by the year, that's huge.  That basically means two top-35 picks in the next draft, and even if Willingham was a notch below Cuddyer this swap might have been worth it.  As it stands, it's the correct move.  And if you're crying because Cuddy is gone, well, you're too dumb to care about anyway.

-  Looks like this Chris Paul trade went down.  Not to follow Bill Simmons' comments, but the Paul to Griffin combo is going to be pretty sick in the open court.  I have no idea if Griffin is pick-n-rollable (and actually I don't know if Paul is either), but if they're both adept at the play look out.  They also (reportedly) managed to do it without gutting their team.  Paul, Billups (who they may regret adding at this point), Bledsoe, DeAndre Jordan, Griffin, and Caron Butler is absolutely a contender, especially if Bledsoe matures (and Jordan to a lesser extent).  Not to mention they have decent vet rotation guys in Gomes and Foye (thanks Wolves), and a bunch of young guys (Willie Warren, Travis Leslie, Trey Thompkins).  If one of those youngsters breaks out look the hell out.  I grabbed some Clips to win the whole thing action at 15-1 last night when it started to look like they were close to getting Paul (heard it was 50-1 earlier in the day, dammit).  Interested to see where that goes to.

And it's not like the Hornets screwed themselves either.  Kaman is a serviceable center in a league with very few of them, Aminu sucks but has potential, and Eric Gordon is probably one of the best young players in the league (there's a Bill Simmons column on that but I'll be damned if I can find it now).  Then there's the pick from the Wolves, which, no matter how optimistic you are, you have to admit is going to be in the lottery.  Hopefully it's late, but even if it's late that doesn't mean it ends up late.  Especially because the Clippers just traded it, upping the odds it ends up in the top 3 by at least triple.  It's a waaaaaay better package than they were getting in the Lakers/Rockets swap so, at least for now, it kind of looks like the league knows what it's doing.

I'm sure there is plenty more to write about, but the plane is landing shortly and they're saying something about turning stuff off, so I must go.  Later. 

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