By Joe Christensen
After 3 1/2 years of covering the Twins with La Velle, I felt like I had stepped into “The Twilight Zone” on Thursday.
It started at about 9:45 a.m., when Buster Olney was on ESPN’s “First Take” talking about the waiver claims that had been submitted for Seattle’s Raul Ibanez and Jarrod Washburn. Olney, who works tirelessly and is incredibly well-connected, said the Twins had won the claim on one of the players, but he wasn’t sure which.
You had to figure it was Ibanez, right? Michael Cuddyer might be lost for the season. Ibanez could play right field, Denard Span could move to center, and Carlos Gomez could give the Twins speed off the bench. The Twins’ obvious need is setup relief, but an Ibanez move would have made them more potent offensively, perhaps lessening the pressure on the bullpen to protect tight leads.
The Rays, who just lost Carl Crawford and Evan Longoria to injury, were desperate to land Ibanez, but the Twins were ahead of them on the waiver list. Turns out, the Tigers were the team that won the claim on Ibanez. That tells you how popular he was. Even the Tigers, who are practically dead (despite all you’ve read on this blog), figured he was a good investment, at $1.4 million over the season’s final six weeks.
Washburn, meanwhile, is owed $13 million through the end of 2009. Going after him was such a non-Twins move, that I didn’t even give it serious thought. I began working the phones, and as soon I learned the Twins had not won the claim for Ibanez, I posted something on this blog.
But the Washburn thing wouldn’t die. At about 4:20 p.m., I got a tip from someone who had spoken to another GM that the Twins were indeed the team working on Washburn. Then, Jon Heyman posted that news at SI.com.
I was still dubious. I had an off-day story to write on Francisco Liriano, but I had to get to the bottom of this, even if the 48-hour waiver period had expired on Ibanez and Washburn, meaning neither player was going anywhere.
So I made more calls, and finally confirmed it: The Twins were dead serious about Washburn. That’s how desperate they’ve become to address their bullpen. They were willing to take on Washburn’s contract and move a starting pitcher into a relief role.
The Twins have become increasingly dismayed about the quality of relievers falling to them on the waiver wire. I know it’s clear they passed on Chad Bradford, and I know what the numbers say — that he would be a clear upgrade over Brian Bass — but the Twins had scouts see Bradford before Tampa Bay got him and decided he wasn’t the right guy. Time will tell if that was wise thinking.
Bradford has pitched three scoreless innings for the Rays, but he’s also given up four hits and allowed three walks. I assumed the Twins turned their back on Bradford because he is owed $3.5 million next year. The Twins never have paid that much for middle relief. But the more La Velle and I talk to people, the more we realize money isn’t the issue right now. Washburn is proof.
But wait, there’s more…
OK, so I was still coming to grips with the Twins’ interest in Washburn, a lefty who is 5-12 with a 4.58 ERA and just turned 34 this week. He has a no-trade clause, but he’s also a Wisconsin guy, so the Twins would be a good regional fit. But then I’m wondering: Why the heck wouldn’t the Mariners just let the Twins have him?
The minute the Twins made the claim, they could have been stuck with the contract. That’s about $2.55 million for the rest of this year and another $10.35 million for next year.
Were the Twins just doing this to block the White Sox from getting Washburn? No, I was told. A team doesn’t put in a claim for a player with Washburn’s contract unless they are willing to get stuck with it.
But that wasn’t enough for the Mariners. They are convinced Washburn has value on the trade market. The Yankees were willing to take the contract off their hands in late July, but the deal fell through because the Mariners wanted talent in return.
I received indications that the Twins offered Boof Bonser. Makes sense, as he is out of minor-league options, and the Twins would need to clear a spot for Washburn. As I wrote recently, Bonser is only 26, and it makes sense for a team that is way out of the race to let Bonser make 10 starts down the stretch.
Bonser isn’t even eligible for arbitration, so the Mariners could have found a pitcher for their 2009 rotation who will make less than $500,000 next year.
Oh no. I have indications the Mariners insisted on getting one of the Twins’ current starting pitchers. Yeah, like Nick Blackburn or Kevin Slowey. That, friends, is sheer lunacy.
Throughout baseball, there is a growing frustration with the Mariners. Teams that deal with them aren’t really sure who’s in charge. Interim GM Lee Pelekoudas is a good baseball man, but it’s not always his say. Apparently, there is great fear in the ownership ranks about the losses mounting and any appearance that the M’s are starting a fire sale.
Teams have tried telling the Mariners that Washburn’s value isn’t exactly on the rise. He’s the type of player who gets moved in July or August, only because other teams are desperate. Come November, the Yankees, Twins and White Sox will have a whole slew of choices on the free agent market.
Maybe the Mariners think they can get someone at least as good as Bonser if they wait until the winter to trade Washburn. No chance.
I can’t sit here and say getting Washburn would have been a good move for the Twins. But I can assure you the Mariners made a bad choice, not unloading him when they could.