Friday, December 02, 2005

Now Playing 2nd, Meet Luis the Third

The Twins acquired 2nd baseman Luis Castillo from the Marlins today in exchange for pitching prospects Travis Bowyer and Scott Tyler. If this sort of deal had been made a couple years ago, I would have been thrilled. This sort of deal really should have been done to get a 2nd baseman back then. Is it what the team really needs now?

Well, Castillo is a switch-hitter, just turned 30, with a career batting line of .293/.370/.356. This past season, he hit .301/.391/.374 with splits of .423/.467/.649 in 120 plate appearances against lefty pitching, but .259/.368/.280 in 385 plate appearances against righties. That's pretty much in line with his 2002-4 averages, as well (.343/.403/.519 vs. LHP; .288/.373/.320 vs. RHP). So he gets on base to set the table nicely, but in about 75% of his plate appearances he has practically zero power.

His park-adjusted numbers cast him in a more favorable light. Considering that Pro Player Stadium significantly favors the pitchers, Castillo's .765 OPS comes out 8% better than the adjusted league average of .747. Baseball Prospectus credits him with a .281 EqA and a value of 25.7 Runs Above Replacement-Level at 2nd base in 2005, which rates 12th in the majors. By comparison, the whole combination of Luis Rodriguez, Bret Boone, Nick Punto, Luis Rivas, and Brent Abernathy were worth 8.6 Runs Above Replacement-Level. So all things remaining constant, Castillo would be a nice upgrade over the motley patchwork covering the Twins' hole at 2nd base this past season. It's probably worth a couple extra wins right there, before we even think about his Gold Glove track record on defense. Terry Ryan didn't have to give up any prime prospects to seal the deal, either. So why do I feel underwhelmed?

First of all, he's a 30 year-old player with zero power, whose career similarity comparables are Jerry Remy, Joey Cora, Fernando Vina, Tony Womack, and Mickey Morandini. Through age 29, his 5 closest comparables are Dave Cash, Willie Randolph, Steve Sax, Woody English, and Delino DeShields. No doubt you've heard of many of those guys, seen 'em play. Some were even very good players in their primes, but their stories after age 29 generally are not pretty. A lot of below-average bats, a lot of guys who were done--or all but--within a few years.

Dave Cash hit .252/.291/.315 (71 OPS+) at age 30, and was retired after two more years.

Willie Randolph hit .276/.382/.356 (106 OPS+) at 30, and had a couple more good years for the Yankees before a lousy year at 33 led to some ups & downs as a veteran journeyman serving 4 other teams in the final 4 years of his career.

Steve Sax was none other than Randolph's replacement in New York; and after posting a 113 OPS+ for the Yanks at age 29, he hit .260/.316/.325 (80 OPS+) at age 30. He rebounded with a pretty good year at 31, but his numbers quickly fell off a sheer cliff after that.

Woody English hit .247/.394/.297 (87 OPS+) in 64 games at age 30, and retired within 2 years after that.

Delino DeShields hit .264/.339/.364 (81 OPS+) at age 30, rebounded with a 110 OPS+, but played only 2 more subpar years after that.

It's not an inspiring group of forebearers.

Secondly, I'm not convinced that Castillo will be all that more valuable than Michael Cuddyer if he were put at 2nd base next year. Cuddyer hit .263/.330/.422 (98 OPS+) this past season, but .275/.344/.450 after his atrocious April. He's turning 27 next March, commonly a peak age for players, so there's a good chance he will build on the progress he showed after stumbling to start last season. I thought he showed quick improvement when given a chance to play 2nd base late in the 2004 season, as well. If the club would plug him in at 2B for next year, it's still a solid upgrade over Rivas and the other guys they've been trying there, and then Ryan still has $5 million and two more pitching prospects to go find an upgrade in Rightfield.

Is it worth $5 million to this club to have Luis Castillo rather than Cuddyer at 2nd base, or a bat with some pop in Rightfield?

My head isn't emphatically nodding yes. I hope the GM sees there's still a lot of work to be done to improve an offense that was, you may have heard, the absolute worst in the league. We'll see, but I'm inclined to believe this is Terry Ryan's big move. I expect we'll probably see a bargain veteran signed to play 3rd base, and maybe the club could bring in a Frank Thomas if he could be had on the cheap. Meanwhile, I'd guess Stewart and Hunter will be back at their respective outfield spots, with Cuddyer, Lew Ford, and Jason Kubel rotating between the OF and DH. Write in Morneau, Castillo, Bartlett, Mauer, and Bargain Vet 3B (Bill Mueller?), and there you have your 2006 Minnesota Twins lineup.

Can you feel the magic?


At 12/03/2005 12:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I find it hard to see the negative in getting Castillo, unless this is the only deal that gets done. He does fill a gaping hole in the lineup, with no defensive susceptibility. Personally I would rather have Cuddyer in Right and/or a roaming utility guy. I think thats where he is most valuable to the club. May not be best for his career but hey, thats the way it goes sometimes.

To me, trading for a guy with a 1 year deal and incentive based option hopefully sends a signal that there is more to come and that TR is trying to build a team to win now rather than be too concerned with the future. Hopefully reality has set in that we have the games best pitcher in his prime and the time is now to make a run

At 12/03/2005 12:57 PM, Anonymous spycake said...

I'm leery of citing comparables as evidence of future performance. Obviously nothing those guys have done have any bearing on Castillo. Besides, your focus is on long-term viability, which is rare in almost ANY 30-year-old player. Of couse, the Twins didn't acquire Castillo to anchor 2B for the next ten years -- he has two years left on his contract, during which the Twins want to contend. And he's still a good bet to perform for those two years.

And in the case of Willie Randolph, 5 of his next 7 season after age thirty were actually really good (AVG + OBP), especially if you factor in Castillo's gold-glove defense. And even his "off" years weren't bad, considering the era he played in (post-30, his OPS+ was only once below 90 for a full season, which is still respectable for a decidedly non-power hitter -- Punto/Castro are lucky to crack 70).

I think this was a good move, but obviously the overall offseason grade still depends on how TR approaches the remaining RF/DH/3B holes.

At 12/04/2005 11:52 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Have to echo the previous comments, what is the fascination with Michael Cuddyer? He has produced the same batting line for two consecutive years, has been handed both the RF job, then the3B job, and failed miserably in both incarnations. He cannot field well enough to hold down an infield position. Period. Not 3b and most certainly not 2b, despite what Al Newman or Sid Hartman said or wished about his performance there when the Twins were desperate at 2B in the latter half of 2004. If you're into comparables, check out who Cuddyer compares with--not pretty. If this is Ryan's "big move" as oppsoed to the first of three "little moves," he could have done much worse. Get off the Cuddyer bandwagon. He's a utility guy, nothing more.

At 12/05/2005 3:01 AM, Blogger frightwig said...

spycake, I think Willie Randolph is a best-case scenario. Otherwise the records of the other comparables get really spotty and even discouraging.

Why are the comparables meaningful? They show what often happens to players most like Castillo, good singles hitters who could take a walk, after their skills may start to dull at around age 30. When a guy at this age has no power--and 75% of the time in Castillo's case, that's almost literally true--what happens when his bat starts to slow a bit and he loses half a step up the line? (Castillo has had some leg injuries, and his stolen base totals already have declined in recent years.)There are several comparables that show what's likely to happen. His value could decline in an awful hurry.

It's good that his contract runs for just a year plus an option, for now. But suppose he hits .290/.370/.360 this season. Gardy likes his defense, and Castillo seems like a ready replacement at lead-off for the declining Shannon Stewart (whose contract expires after the season). I can already see TR working on that multi-year extension, and that potential temptation for him concerns me a bit.

At 12/05/2005 3:12 AM, Blogger frightwig said...

Anonymous, I disagree with your assessment of Cuddyer as a 'spectacular failure.'

He's roughly a league-average bat (98 OPS+) who did show a lot of progress in the field at both 3B and 2B when given some chance to settle in. He's still young enough to improve, too. The fact is, the Twins have never, ever put him in one position and stuck by him for a season. After any rough patch of a few weeks, Gardy jerks him around--and the next spring they have him doing something else.

In terms of career OPS+, Cuddyer's is actually better than Castillo's (94); and I think there's a good chance his mark will match or better Castillo next season, too.

So why not give the younger, cheaper guy the season to play 2nd base and use your resources to land a corner OF or 3B with some pop in his bat--which is something the lineup badly needs?

At 12/06/2005 4:29 AM, Anonymous Aaron (Spew) said...

Personally, I don't mind the Castillo pickup, but I think it backs the Twins into a corner on what they are going to do with Cuddyer, Ford and Kubel.

As of right now, there is enough room for the three of them (RF, DH & 3B). Assuming TR isn't done dealing, one of these "holes" will be filled, and someone will be benched. Ford and Cuddyer seem like the likely targets, and the Twins are in love with Kubel despite lack of significant major league time (see Jason Bartlett and Justin Morneau).

The way I see it, with the salary situation being where it is, there's either going to be two more big deals (a salary dump and a 3B/RF/DH pickup, possibly in the same trade), or there will be no other movement.

I think something will happen, I'm just not convinced it will be a big enough upgrade over what we currently have, a 29 year old, at worst league aveage OFer, a 27 year old, at worst league average 3B and a 24 year old, promising rookie coming off a devestating knee injury.

Should be interesting....

At 12/08/2005 9:36 AM, Blogger Welcome to Jewscott's Head said...

I share your lack of overwhelming love for Castillo. But I think you missed the scariest possible comp in Tom Herr.

My problem with Castillo is the same as my problem with one-dimensonal power hitters. What happens when that one-dimenson fades? Or more to the point, what happens when all of Castillo's infield singles start turning into infield outs?

At 12/19/2005 4:06 PM, Blogger Sadie Lynn said...

Hi! I did an interview with Pat Neshek over at Minor Details!

"Q&A: Minnesota Twins' Pat Neshek"


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