HJ-ED-DHJHerald Journal Columns

December 3, 2007

Smith era begins with a bang

By Jesse Menden

Well, the Bill Smith era has just begun and it already has been a wild ride. Within the last two weeks, the Minnesota Twins have lost one of the best center fielders in the league to free agency in Torii Hunter, and swung a deal with Tampa Bay to bring in one of the top young bats in baseball, Delmon Young.

Those two decisions weren’t perfect, but both made sense for Smith to make.

The first was letting Hunter leave. As much as it hurt to see Hunter head west to Los Angeles, he was not worth that $18 million a year the Angels gave him.

If he puts up 2007-like numbers with the Angels, he is still not worth that money.

Even if he hits 45 home runs this season, it will still not be worth it because he will not be putting up those kinds of numbers five years from now when he is still under contract (unless he figures out what serum Barry Bonds was taking).

As an organization, it was a mistake to let Hunter go because he still has plenty of talent, but the mistake was made by Terry Ryan, not Smith. Had Ryan been proactive in signing Hunter before he hit free agency, he probably would still be with the Twins, and not for $18 million a year, either.

Smith appears not to be afraid of making moves, and looks to be a proactive general manager. Isn’t it better to be proactive and make some deals for players you need, rather than be reactive and sign free agents like Sidney Ponson and Jeff Cirillo?

Swinging a deal with the Rays was a decent move, but not great. In the trade, the Twins gave up pitcher Matt Garza, shortstop Jason Bartlett, and pitching prospect Eduardo Morlan for outfielder Young, infielder Brendan Harris and outfield prospect Jason Pridie.

By obtaining Young, who hit .288 with 13 home runs and 93 RBIs in 2007, in just his second season at the majors, the Twins have addressed the need of getting another bat in the lineup. They might not get 25 home runs from Young in 2008, but they should in the near future.

There is no doubt about it, the Twins did give up some nice talent, too. Garza has good stuff, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he becomes a 17-20 game-winner at some point in his career. Bartlett has also shown signs of brilliance, especially during the Twins’ run in 2006.

The trade did bring in some much-needed offense and perhaps put a Band-Aid on the negative public relations oozing out of the Metrodome with the loss of Hunter and a spanking-new stadium in the horizon.

One thing that bothers me about the deal (not counting the fact that Young is most known for chucking his bat at an umpire during a minor league game and being suspended for 50 games in 2006) is that it did not address any of the positions the Twins already had open.

If the Twins were finally ready to deal some of their young pitching, why did they not use that chip to get something they needed?

The Twins still have significant holes in their lineup. Young is not a center fielder, and indications are he will not be forced into that position. That leaves Hunter’s ex-home still open, along with left field, third base, and now, shortstop, with the trade of Bartlett.

With that many spots open, it appears the Twins must swing another deal with the likes of Johan Santana and Joe Nathan as the bait.

Harris, who the Twins also got in the deal, can adequately fill the shortstop position, and perhaps platoon with Nick Punto. If the Twins add more bats, having a .200 hitter in the lineup at a position that is not typically known for power is not that bad. Example: Greg Gagne in 1987.

But the Twins still have absolutely nobody for center field and third base . . . and they need somebody that can hit at those positions.

Another thing that is bothersome is that a deal like this should have been done a couple of seasons ago. The wealth of pitchers the Twins have is nothing new. The organization has been stocked at that position for years.

A similar trade two or three seasons ago might have brought a championship. But these moves are a good sign of things to come.

The Twins now have a GM that is willing to take chances and is not scared of failing (trading for Young is a risky move). Nobody knows if these recent moves are the right ones, but the team is active, and that can’t be a bad thing.