By Joe Christensen
When we launched these baseball blogs in 2007, we quickly discovered a spike in readership each time we including trade rumblings. It was addicting, really, throwing that stuff on the blog and watching the comment section explode.
I started a Trade Target series that year, as a Twins team with current All-Stars Johan Santana, Torii Hunter, Jason Bartlett, Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and Joe Nathan slumbered through a mediocre season. Many of us thought that team was one big bat away from turning the corner and making another serious run.
In the end, it was all a waste of time. The Twins wound up selling, not buying, trading 2B Luis Castillo to the Mets in a move that infuriated their clubhouse.
Last year, when it was so obvious they needed relief help to fill the void left by Pat Neshek’s injury, we helped feed the frenzy again, profiling various relievers who could help the Twins, including LaTroy Hawkins. Again, it was mostly a waste of time, as the Twins responded with an August deal for non-factor Eddie Guardado.
So forgive me for being less enthused this trade season. The Twins haven’t made an impact move before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline since 2003, when they landed Shannon Stewart. La Velle and I make the calls, and we keep hearing how hard the Twins are trying – talking to every team, listening, blah, blah, blah.
Sure, we hear they’ve spoken to the Pirates about Freddy Sanchez. Sure, we’ve read these recent reports. But we have yet to hear of the talks getting serious, yet to hear of an actual offer. So this isn’t exactly driving our coverage. Basically, I went through this exercise on Sanchez for background, in case things really do get serious.
Name: Freddy Sanchez, Pirates 2B
Basics: He’s 31 (and turns 32 on Dec. 21). Bats – R, 5-foot-11, 185 lbs. Born in Hollywood, Calif. He went to Oklahoma City University. He signed with the Red Sox after being drafted in the 11th round and got traded to Pittsburgh in 2003.
Stats: He is batting .316 with a .355 OBP and a .477 SLG. He has six home runs and 33 RBI. Sanchez is batting .304 against righties and .345 against lefties. He won a batting title in 2006, when he led the NL at .344. But he also batted .271 last year with a .298 OBP. Sanchez has committed just one error this season.
Injury note: Sanchez has been out since July 2 with a lower-back problem.
Salary: He’s making $6.1 million this year and has an $8 million vesting option for next year. (Because Sanchez made the All-Star team, the option has a better chance to vest, as he needs just 600 plate appearances to trigger it now and already has 329.)
Fielding Bible Says: In the latest edition of The Fielding Bible (Volume II), John Dewan rates Sanchez as an average MLB second baseman, noting that he saved the Pirates +2 runs last season. (For comparison, Alexi Casilla was a -2 for the Twins.) The Sanchez entry says his “fielding suffered due to injuries in 2008. He was plagued by both an inflamed rotator cuff and blurred vision due to getting a sliver of metal in his eye in 2007. When healthy, Sanchez uses his quickness and good instincts to field balls to his left and right. He holds his own turning the double play, possessing sound footwork and a good, accurate arm. However, he has struggled with fly balls long enough that it has become a fact of life rather than a phase.”
Sanchez’s defensive improvement this year is noted at www.fangraphs.com, where his UZR (ultimate zone rating, the number of runs saved above an average 2B) was -1.8 last year and is 3.2 this year.
Good Twin because: The Twins should know Sanchez well because they see him so much in spring training. I had concerns that Sanchez isn’t enough of a defensive stalwart to meet Manager Ron Gardenhire’s high standards. Would Gardy be able to stomach a middle infield of Brendan Harris and Sanchez? But the trade-off would be immediately resolving the Twins’ problem in the No. 2 spot of the batting order, and shortening the list of “outs” at the bottom.
Available?: Definitely. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that the Pirates are “pushing hard” to deal Sanchez. GM Neal Huntington is remaking that team, and he knows Sanchez’s value is at a peak now, 15 months before free agency. The Giants and Rockies also are reportedly interested.
Probable cost: For an All-Star 2B, the Pirates can command high-level prospects or current major leaguers. But teams appear to be bristling at paying Sanchez $8 million for next season, so that drives his trade value down a notch. Pure speculation: The Twins could offer Delmon Young and a prospect, although that would require them to play Carlos Gomez every day. They could part with one of their six starting pitchers (six, if you count Anthony Swarzak), or they could package some of their top prospects, including Ben Revere and/or Jeff Manship.
The point is, the Pirates aren’t giving Sanchez away. Moves like these have to hurt somewhere, which is why the Twins have been so reluctant to make them in the past.
Odds this trade happens: 20-to-1. (I remember having much lower odds during my 2007 Trade Target series. I think in Year 5 on this beat, reality is setting in.)