Sunday, June 27, 2010

Is Wilson Ramos Trade Bait?

Much has already been written on Wilson Ramos and the fact that he is blocked from making to the Major League level by 2009 AL MVP Joe Mauer. When Mauer went down with an injury earlier in the season, Ramos was called up and instantly took over the everyday catching duties from Drew Butera, so it’s clear that the Twins see him as the second best catcher in the organization.

The problem? He’s young and will easily get more playing time with the Twins’ Triple-A affiliate in Rochester. As a result, we see another rookie with a slash line of .186/.222/.279 through 16 games as the backup to Mauer.

Seeing that Ramos will most certainly not make it as a catcher with the Twins with Mauer signed through to the end of the 2018 season, so it is probably in the team’s best interests to trade Ramos. At the moment, two of the most glaring needs for the Twins are starting pitching and somebody to play on the left side of the infield.

Edwin Encarnacion passed through waivers last week when Toronto GM Alex Anthopoulos designated him for assignment, and Encarnacion is now swinging the bat and manning the hot corner for the Las Vegas 51s. Encarnacion could have provided more power than Nick Punto gives the Twins, but he has struggled to hit just .200 this season with an OBP below .300.

The aforementioned Punto has a slash line of .255/.333/.333 in 58 games this season with the majority of those games coming as the third baseman. Meanwhile, J.J. Hardy has not fared quite as well as the team’s shortstop. Since being brought to the Twins in an off-season trade with the Brewers, Hardy has hit .217/.265/.333 in 37 games at short. Defensively, Hardy has been great as evidenced by his 1 error this season. But in order to justify his $5.1-million price tag, those offensive numbers need to increase.

Hot prospect Danny Valencia made his Major League debut this season, and through 15 games he is hitting .302/.348/.326. Although he has not provided the power a team may seek from a corner infielder, he’s certainly making contact and getting on base thus providing slightly more offence than Nick Punto was.

As for the Twins’ rotation, it is currently anchored by Carl Pavano and a healthy Francisco Liriano. Scott Baker has done quite well, but lately, Kevin Slowey and Nick Blackburn have struggled.

In his past three starts, Slowey is 0-2 with a 12.41 ERA. Although, it should be noted that all three of these starts came against National League teams that he will not have to face again this year.

Blackburn, aside from his brilliant May, has struggled for most of the season. If you take away those 5 starts in May where he went 5-0 with a 2.65 ERA, his numbers do not look very good. In his other 9 starts, Blackburn is 1-5 with a 10.01 ERA. What’s even more troubling is that in those 9 starts, he has walked 17 while striking out only 16. Blackburn has never had more than 98 strikeouts in a season, but whenever a pitcher walks more guys than he strikes out, managers tend to get alarmed.

Unfortunately, the Twins do not really have any suitable replacements at the minor league level. Through 14 games, one of the more experienced pitchers, Glen Perkins, is 1-8 with an 8.10 ERA at Rochester. So it is clear that if the Twins have any hope of contending, they need to look outside of the organization for pitching help.

If the Twins are to trade for pitching help, there is a very good chance that Wilson Ramos will be part of a package leaving the Twins. But who do the Twins target? What other teams are in need of not catching prospects, but young catchers who can play right now? Let’s have a look at two potential trade targets:

Cliff Lee, Seattle Mariners
At 31-43, the Mariners are 14 games behind the division-leading Rangers and appear as though they will miss the playoffs this year. This has caused many members of the media to speculate not if Lee will be traded, but when he will be traded and where he will end up. Being a free agent at season’s end, and one who is almost certain to gain Type A status, the Mariners will likely be looking for a package of high-calibre prospects in return. Seeing as how the Mariners do not have any catching prospects who could contribute immediately, Ramos would be a great addition to the team. One could argue that Adam Moore is a good, young catcher who is currently contributing, but he’s about 3 years older than Ramos.

Paul Maholm, Pittsburgh Pirates
I realize Maholm is signed through 2012, but I still see him as a possible trade target for the Twins. Former catching prospect Jeff Clement is now the starting first baseman for the Pirates, with Ryan Doumit behind the plate. By flipping Maholm to the Twins in a trade for Ramos, the Pirates could make Doumit the everyday first baseman. A position he has made 3 starts at this season. Trading Maholm may not be the best idea for the Pirates at the moment, but they clearly have no shot at the post-season at this point. They have a great young outfield with guys like Andrew McCutchen, Lastings Milledge and Jose Tabata. Garrett Jones is swinging the bat well and could easily play left field or first base. With Neil Walker and Pedro Alvarez around as well, it seems that the Pirates just need to fill in the catching position and find a shortstop for the future and they will be set. By trading for Wilson Ramos, they can fill one of those needs. I guess the point of this is not to show how much Paul Maholm could help the Twins, but to show how trading him could help the Pirates fill future needs.

I see Lee and Maholm as the main guys the Twins should target if they are to trade Wilson Ramos. There are a couple other pitchers I could see them targeting as well such as Jeremy Guthrie and Brett Myers, but those teams have no need for catching. The Orioles have Matt Wieters and the Astros have Jason Castro, both currently playing in the Majors. I’ve also ruled out guys like Roy Oswalt and Jake Westbrook due to financial reasons, and the fact that I question whether Oswalt would approve a trade to Minnesota or whether the Indians would trade Westbrook within their division; not to mention the fact that they already have Carlos Santana as their catcher.

As mentioned earlier, the Twins are clearly in need of a third baseman. Danny Valencia has done well so far, but can he keep it up, and can he show more power? To fill the need at third, the Twins could target guys like Ty Wigginton, Miguel Tejada, or Jhonny Peralta. All three guys could provide some power to the lineup with a respectable average. But most importantly, they are all financially affordable and are fully capable of playing multiple infield positions. I don’t see any of these guys being traded for Wilson Ramos, which is why I did not give them their own little blurbs along with Lee and Maholm. But the Twins could likely put something together for these guys.

Over the next month we will see this list of trade candidates change. Teams will hit slumps and lose some ground, while others may begin to tear it up and pull away from the pack. While we may also see some of the players mentioned here be traded to other teams, causing teams to target new players and the media to speculate on other moves. The month of July should be interesting for baseball fans everywhere as they look to see whether their favourite teams look to upgrade or throw in the towel and look to next year.

As for the Twins, their main goal at the moment should be to find another starter for that rotation. When going for a playoff run, it’s always good to have six guys who can take the ball on any given night and give you a chance to win. That way, if one guy gets injured, you still have an effective 5-man rotation that you can use. At the moment, the Twins do not have that 6th guy and with the performances that Nick Blackburn has been giving them lately, it’s now questionable as to whether they have a reliable 5th man anymore.