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November 29, 2007 at 7:52 AM

Trading season underway

Good morning to all of you on one of those cool and overcast (for now) days. As many of you have already heard, that six-player swap between the Twins and Rays is now official. One of you asked me about my reasoning behind grading certain prospects as more proven than others. In the case of outfielder Delmon Young, now with the Twins, versus Matt Garza, newly of the Rays, it’s pretty simple. Young played all 162 games as a rookie for the Rays last season, batting in the middle of the order at age 21 — all without the benefit of any Class AAA experience behind him.
To that end, he hit 13 homers, drove in 93 runs and hit .288. I’m well aware that he hit into plenty of outs and that his on-base-plus-slugging percentage was barely above .700. But you have to remember that, very often, young power hitters need time to find their stroke, not to mention plate discipline. It can often take years, which is worth remembering in the case of Adam Jones — though the latter has mastered Class AAA pitching, which gives him a big leg-up.
Young reminds me a little of the way Alex Rios was when rushed to the majors by Toronto in 2004 without any Class AAA experience. Took him a couple of full seasons before his power stroke kicked in and his OPS went up from the low .700s.
In Young’s case, he’s even younger than Rios was and appears to have adapted to major league pitching much more quickly. The last rookie to play all 162 games was Hideki Matsui of the Yankees and we all know that he was much older and had years of seasoning as a Japanese professional.
Garza was one of the top pitchers in minor league baseball in 2006 but has yet to throw even 100 innings in the majors. That his ERA was lower than 4.00 last season bodes well for his future while his 2-to-1 strikeouts-to-walks ratio was also good, if not off-the-charts the way it was in the minors. He also allowed tons of baserunners, in a very Miguel Batista fashion. The jury is still out on whether Garza will become a No. 1 or No. 2 guy or a mid-rotation mainstay like Batista. We may not know the answer for years.
That’s where Young appears to have the early edge. He’s gotten his feet wet in the majors, nearly drove in 100 while playing every game and hitting mostly in the fifth spot in the order. Very few 21-year-olds can do that. In fact, Baseball Reference lists Tris Speaker as the historical hitter most comparable to Young at his age. Not bad.
Naturally, the reaction to this deal in Tampa Bay has been somewhat muted.
Here’s what the cautious John Romano had to say in the St. Petersburg Times.
“In the end, the Rays have traded a potential superstar for a very good pitcher and a serviceable shortstop. It’s certainly a subjective argument, but it doesn’t feel like enough on a gut-level reaction.”
Over in Minneapolis, they’re already saying Young’s numbers next season will be better than those of Torii Hunter, who recently left the Twins as a free-agent and signed with the Los Angeles Angels. This was the first major deal by new Twins GM Bill Smith.
“We think his power is going to continue to improve,” Smith said of Young in a conference call with reporters last night. “He’s going to be a middle-of-the-order difference maker in our lineup.”
Time will tell. Where does Seattle outfielder Jones fit into all this? Not sure. He has nowhere near the level of big league experience that both Young and Garza already have. We know less of where Jones is going to be as a big league performer in a couple of seasons than we do of either Young or Garza. We can try to guess, based off minor league statistics. But we would be guessing. With Young and Garza, both have shown they can contribute at the major league level over something close to a full season. They still have a long way to go, but both are already off to pretty good starts — Young moreso than Garza. We’ll know after this year how much room for improvement Jones has. But he’s a year behind those other two at this moment. So, hopefully that explains a little of the difference in some of my labeling of the young talent being traded or talked about. Hopefully, it wasn’t too confusing.
As far as the M’s go, the Garza-Young deal means the Twins will definitely be looking for another young starter in any Johan Santana package. Minnesota also is unlikely to have any room left for outfielder Craig Monroe, acquired just weeks ago. The corner outfielder put up some Jose Guillen-like numbers with the Tigers in 2006 before slumping this past season. For those of you wondering who would play the outfield for Seattle if Jones were to be traded to the Twins in a Santana package, this could possibly be part of the answer.
But there’s a long way to go for the M’s on the Santana front.
In a more realistic acquisition scenario, the competition for Japanese pitcher Hiroki Kuroda is heating up big-time. The Dodgers are now in the fray, along with Seattle, Kansas City and Arizona. From the Long Beach Press Telegram story, it’s apparent the M’s weren’t the only team that sent a delegation to Japan (why this would surprise anyone is beyond me, but there you have it).
Does the KC signing yesterday of reliever Yasuhiko Yubuta make Kuroda any more likely to sign with the Royals? Who knows? But it didn’t sound yesterday like the hurler was any closer to a decision after his agent, Steve Hilliard, apprised him of the situation at a meeting in Hiroshima, Japan.
“Right now, I haven’t decided anything,” Kuroda told a Japanese newspaper. “Teams are on a line. Steve explained a lot to me, including (the) environment I am concerned about. I’ll take time to think about my future.”
So, there you have it. It’s going to be an interesting week at the winter meetings in Nashville. If you thought the cost of starting pitchers — mediocre or otherwise — was ridiculous a year ago, just wait to see what happens over the next week.

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