Friday, July 09, 2004


The fact that the Jays have seriously fallen out of contention may be the best thing for the club in the long-term.

I saw this over at Yahoo! and it brought a tear of joy to my eye:

Looking to match the move their AL Central rivals made when the White Sox traded for Freddy Garcia, the Twins are reportedly interested in Blue Jays pitcher Miguel Batista. Larry Corrigan, special assistant to Twins GM Terry Ryan, is in Toronto scouting Batista, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune. In addition to being a solid addition to their rotation down the stretch, Batista is also under contract for another two seasons at a reasonable $4.75 million per year.

Do you think the Jays could land Justin Morneau?

The Twins are clearly skeptical about Justin. It's obvious, and not just because of their decision to resign Mientkiewicz to keep playing 1B. Because when you think Jose Offerman is a better choice as DH, clearly you don't have much faith in your would-be rookie slugger.

I don't know what numbers the Twins are looking at, because the kid can rake.

The 23-year-old Morneau is hitting .312/.384/.628 in 282 AB in AAA with 22 homers.

That gives him a .279 MjEqA, which puts him in the ballpark with Jeff Bagwell and Rafael Palmeiro. Granted, Bagwell and Palmeiro are in their mid/late 30s, and age aside, aren't hitting like certain Hall of Famers. Bagwell is hitting .272/.390/.437, while Palmeiro is hitting .243/.353/.404. But it's a lot better than what either the Twins or the Jays are currently getting out of their 1B or DH.

The real question, I suppose, is whether the Jays should target Morneau.

Let's borrow a page from Fabian's book:

Player A is Morneau in '04. While his walk rate isn't quite going to send J.P.'s heart aflutter, it's still pretty good. And it's hard to argue with that power. Granted, it's his second tour in AAA, but his performance is in line with what he's done at every level once he's gotten comfortable. Compare Morneau's line to what the Jays' would-be DH did as a 24-year-old in AAA: .292/.380/.658 and 1:8.03 / 0.39:1 / 60.0% Morneau's power is only a shade below Phelps', but without being nearly as susceptible to the strikeout.

Player B is 22-year-old Jason Kubel in his first 182 AB in AAA this year. Kubel doesn't walk as much as Morneau, but he also makes better contact. While his peripherals suggest to me that Kubel's not MLB ready, he's moving up the system fast. He hit .377/.453/.667 in 138 AB to start the year in AA, with better peripherals (1:10.62 / 1:1 / 26.1%). Assuming the 5'11", 190lbs outfielder fills out, he should start hitting for more power. Probably anticipating as much, Kubel also rates ahead of Morneau in BP's new Minor League Top 30 projected Runs Above Replacement (RAR) rankings.

Of course, the Twins still have the three Mikes (Restovich, Ryan, and Cuddyer), but all of them would be on the wrong side of 27 by the end of Batista's contract. I still have faith that one or more of them could turn into productive major leaguers (just look at Lew Ford this year), but given their age I don't think they're worth giving up Batista for.

Personally, I still take Morneau. Justin's got a better track record than Kubel, and his 6'4" frame means that he's more likely to keep his power in the majors.

But what about pitching?

What about 22-year-old Scott Baker? The right-handed starter has posted a 2.52 ERA in 64.1 IP in AA this year. His peripherals are also very appealing (5.6 H/9, 1.7 BB/9, 8.1 K/9, 0.3 HR/9) and he's got an equally good college track record. AA New Britain favours pitchers slightly, but those numbers still bode well for future success.

Then there's Jesse Crain. Crain is also just 22, but the young closer is already in his second year in AAA. Why? Because he tears up hitters. Crain's got a 2.92 ERA in 42.1 IP, but that's only part of the story. Look at this: 7.4 H/9, 2.8 BB/9, 11.7 K/9, 1.1 HR/9.

Crain's strikeout rate is so impressive that BP's PETCO prediction system practically orgasmed: Crain's number one comparable pitcher is Pedro Martinez. And it stays pretty damn impressive as you go down the list: #4 Kerry Wood, #7 Nolan Ryan, #11 Sandy Koufax, #18 Barry Zito. Even some of the so-called duds ain't so bad: #2 Kelvim Escobar, #6 B.Y. Kim (who we forget was a brilliant reliever), #8 Scott Radinsky, #13 Jason Bere. It's important to keep some perspective. At 21, Pedro Martinez was striking out major league batters at a rate of 10.0 K/9, and by 22 was a full-time starter for the Expos. And although the Jays are in the process of transforming former college closer David Bush into a major league starter, there's no guarantee that Crain has the stamina to be in the rotation.

There's no guarantee Twins GM would part with either Morneau or Crain, but Batista's salary makes him one of the most valuable starters in baseball--especially to a "small market" club like the Twins.

And given how the Twins' rival White Sox overpaid for Freddy Garcia, J.P. Ricciardi shouldn't settle for anything less.

So, would you rather have a solid middle-of-the-order bat ready to contribute at the major league level, or a fireballin' reliever who projects to be something between Pedro Martinez and Kelvim Escobar?

Which ever J.P. picks, he'd better be sure to have the Bobbleheads ready. Both Morneau and Crain are Canadians.

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