Cliff Lee Twins Legend: An Alternate Trade Deadline History

For the first time in 5 years the Twins are buyers at the deadline, and with the Mariners in town and the Twitter fanbase on fire, I thought it would be fun to to look back at the last big Twins trade that never happened and imagine what it would be like if the Twins had acquired Cliff Lee from the Mariners 5 years ago.

Note: this is a work of fiction, not a genuine attempt at analyzing impacts...I'm not that smart, I'm just a weird guy who likes Alternate History 

When the Rangers refuse to part with Justin Smoak, the Twins acquire Cliff Lee for Wilson Ramos, Aaron Hicks, Kyle Gibson and Anthony Slama. Minnesota fans rejoice so much that no one notices that Justin Morneau remains sidelined after a collision in Toronto

Without any more trade chips, the Twins go without a proven closer, despite tempting overtures about emerging Nats closer Matt Capps, trusting John Rauch to save the day, or failing that...Cliff Lee on his off days

The Twins clinch the AL Central with 12 games to spare, allowing manager Ron Gardenhire to set up his rotation for a matchup with either the Yankees or Rays in the first round. "Cliffy has done real good up here...so he might just be our game 1 starter" says Gardy. "Doi!!!" say Twins fans.

The Twins finally break their Yankee he'd after Cliff Lee wins Game 5 at Target Field with a 1 run shutout. Says Lee, "it was a bit rough (with the bullpen nearly blowing Liriano's game 2 lead) but we got there in the end, good thing Glen (Perkins) came in in the 8th, you know...he could make a good set up man."

Backed by the home run power of  Jim Thome, Delmon Young and Danny Valencia, the Twins need only 5 games to beat the Rangers in Arlington and advance to the World Series against the Giants. Asked if he's worried about Cliff Lee's workload, manager Rob Gardenhire replies, "work what now?"

Twins lose the World Series to the Giants in 5 games, but remain upbeat. "Obviously we would rather have the trophy, but we'll back and loaded next year, that's for sure" pledges Lee.
Still stings, doesn't it Twins fans?
Cliff Lee jilts Minnesota to re-sign with the Philadelphia Phillies. "I never wanted to leave in the first place," says Lee, "obviously it was nice to help Minnesota, but Philadelphia is where my heart lies." Undeterred, General Manager Bill Smith seeks to lock down the squad that brought Minnesota their first AL Pennant in nearly 20 years giving extensions to JJ Hardy (through 2014), Delmon Young (through 2015), and Francisco Liriano (through 2014) and re-signs Jim Thome. 

Spring training for the AL champs starts with high hopes as Justin Morneau and Joe Nathan return as do new Twins Carl Pavano (who had a fine second half with the Texas Rangers) and intriguing Japanese infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka who Bill Smith hopes could push Alexi Casilla at second base ("he might even be able to spell JJ at short stop" gushes Smith who is eager to offset the loss of fan favorite Nick Punto )

Shame we lost Hardy on this take out slide
Disaster strikes as Nick Swisher slides into second base breaking JJ Hardy's fibula. Manager Ron Gardenhire quickly installs Tsuyoshi Nishioka as the new starting shortstop. A quick RBI triple and lunging grab to his left causes the fan base to erupt with joy as the Twins take a series in Yankee stadium. One fan goes so far as to get a "Nishioka Forever" tattoo.

The Twins have the highlight of their year when Jim Thome hits his 500th Home Run. It's Thome's last before he returns to Cleveland for one final playoff run with his first team. Meanwhile the double play combination of Hardy and Nishioka (or Thunder and Lightning as fans have taken to calling them) offer a ray of hope to compensate for the regression of Danny Valencia and Delmon Young (despite peripheral stats that suggest Nishioka isn't quite as good as his rookie year attests). The team finishes with a 69-93 record, which will give them the fourth pick in the 2012 draft, their highest in a decade.

With a lot of money tied up in other extensions the Twins face a difficult decision between keeping beloved reliever Joe Nathan, former top prospect Jason Kubel, or right fielder Michael Cuddyer who had paced the offense while Morneau and Mauer worked to make a come back. Citing the need for a "proven closer" the Twins resign Nathan (for 3 years), and Kubel (for 2 years). "This year was an anomaly," says Smith who was given a full vote of confidence by ownership, "I don't expect us to have a year like that again, and I'm sure the players don't either."

It wasn't his finest hour, 
Hours after a drunken Delmon Young's anti-semitic tirade in New York and subsequent suspension ("We won't tolerate that" says Jim Pohlad), call-up Ben Revere stuns the crowd with a great leaping catch in left field. Fans who hope a return to the Bronx will remind a struggling Nishioka of his strong April are disappointed when he airmails two throws into the Yankees dugout. Rochester infielder Brian Dozier packs his bags.

With the #4 Pick in the MLB Draft the Twins select
Mike Zunino thereby solving all catching problems
The Twins end their connection with ALCS hero Danny Valencia by trading him through waivers to the Red Sox. "It's part of the game," explained Manager Ron Gardenhire, "Danny gave us a lot over two years ago, I'm sure he'll give his best in Boston." Some fans, frustrated with the inconsistency of Francisco Liriano, had hoped that the former ace in the making and the big third baseman could bring in significant pitching prospects are left wanting. But many have now turned their attention to the Twins top draft choice: Florida Catcher Mike Zunino ("hey, look at what happened the last time they took a catcher in the top 5...maybe this one won't even get bilateral leg weakness!")

The Twins finish their season of struggle sliding to 67-95

Citing their "complete confidence" in Ben Revere the Twins trade Denard Span to the Nationals for Vance Worley and Trevor May. Revere's diving catches and ear-to-ear smile become the face of the Twins.

The Twins shockingly trade their second outfielder in a week, when the Tigers offer the Twins a random relief prospect to take Delmon Young off our hands, who they think is just the veteran bat they need to finally win the World Series. "THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU" shout Twins fans. A small group of fans chant the same words at Tsyuoshi Nishioka's Air Japan flight back home at the completion of his contract.

GM Bill Smith gushes about the team's newly revamped pitching staff: "We know that Perkins, Burton and Nathan can do what we need at the end of the game, but we needed pitchers who could get the leads there. I think we have a very deep rotation, Scott [Diamond] took a big step forward, we know what Francisco [Liriano] is capable of, and now with veteran arms like Kevin Correia and Mike Pelfry we have what we need to compete."

Still hurts to see a Twins legend
in rival colors.
For the first time in over a decade the Twins are never close to contention, due in large part to complete implosions in the starting rotation. The team decides to sell off many of their veteran assets at the trade deadline: Morneau and Liriano head to the Pirates, JJ Hardy goes to the Diamondbacks, Jason Kubel goes to the Cleveland Indians on a short rental. "I guess we're really rebuilding," writes one Twins Daily blogger, "good thing Mauer's locked in at Catcher."

Joe Mauer sustains a concussion during a make up game against the New York Mets that spells the end of his catching career, and top prospect Mike Zunino struggles a bit when called up to split time with Drew Butera as his replacement. The only shocking silver linings in another disappointing season (66 - 96) are the sudden burst of power from second baseman Brian Dozier, says team closer Joe Nathan, "he's the real deal."

Bill Smith steps down as General Manager admitting, "yeah...I can't believe I lasted this long either," the Twins take the unusual step of inviting back former GM Terry Ryan to replace him. "It's time to turn the page and build from within," says Ryan before looking at a farm system that boasts Miguel Sano, Mike Zunino, Second Baseman Eddie Rosario, and not much else. "Well, crap..." says Ryan afterwards.

The Twins welcome new starting pitchers, Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes at a press conference. On the emerging slew of podcasts, one Twins follower says: "Obviously we'd like to have our own pitchers come up through the minors, but besides [Trevor] May at Double A, our best options are the kid we got for not resigning Cuddyer [Berrios], and Kohl Stewart. So they're all a ways away."

With uncertainty around the aging familiar stars and the unknown new signings, The Twins turn to young talent to highlight their ad campaign, "Bringing Smiles back to Twins Territory". The ads mostly consist of Ben Revere and Brian Dozier smiling brightly at the camera saying, "please come back...please...? You're a very attractive person...I'd like to see you at the ballpark...Please?"

While some stat heads argue that Twins Closer Joe Nathan had been outperformed by set up man Glen Perkins, Nathan is the one player chosen to represent the Twins at their home town all star game. Though he loads the bases, he does deliver a final strike out to lone Rangers representative Kurt Suzuki. "God, he'd be better than Butera and Zunino" carps one Twins fan.

The Twins near the end of their 4th straight 90 loss season despite an all-time record Strike out to walk ratio for new starter Phil Hughes. In their final home game the team stages a moving tribute to Joe Nathan, who, after giving up the closer spot in September to Glen Perkins, gets one last 9th inning against the Arizona Diamondbacks. After the game Nathan says "wait...why didn't I get the Mariano Rivera farewell tour?...screw it! I'm coming back next year!"

Torii Hunter joins the Twins for one final season despite the offer to complete a new soul patrol in Seattle with Aaron Hicks and top prospect Byron Buxton. 

New signee Ervin Santana is suspended for 80 games for testing positive for a performance enhancing drug. Rookie Trevor May is added to the rotation behind Mike Pelfry. "Would have been nice to see a little competition for that spot," says Terry Ryan, "but we like the guys we have."

The Newest Twin...
At the trade deadline the surprisingly contending Twins seem in desperate need of a shortstop (as no one has compared to Hardy and Nishioka), catcher (to replace Butera as the struggling Zunino goes back to AAA) and in the bullpen. Terry Ryan delivers only Tampa Bay Reliever Kevin Jepsen to complement Glen Perkins setting up for Joe Nathan, at the cost of starter prospect Chih Wei Hui. Fans demand a more meaningful move, like the one that got them Cliff Lee 5 years ago.


Adopt a Prospect 3.4: Why I Like JT Chargois More than A-Rod

More interesting that Target Field
It has not been an easy last two weeks for our Adopted Prospect: Mr. Jon Tiberius Chargois (okay it's Jon Thomas...but give me some nerd slack). He had his worst outing of the year giving up 6 earned runs on three walks and three hits, and the breezy dominance that made Chargois a Florida State League All-Star seems like a distant memory compared to his current form.

And yet, this weekend, as the Twins got snake bitten (again) by the Yankees and their complicated, record-book busting (again) DH Alex Rodriguez, I found myself eagerly turning away from the superlative performances of A-Rod at Target Field, to the minor league box scores for word of Chargois.

It may seem like a silly comparison: Alex Rodriguez, love him or hate him, will go down in the annals of baseball history; JT Chargois will be in this odd little corner of cyber space...but probably, not much else. And while the part of me that loves athletic excellence is inclined to see the very best players do their very best work, a much larger part of me wants to cheer for Chargois much MUCH more than A-Rod.

The reasons I care more about a AA reliever than the fourth most prestigious home run hitter in baseball doesn't depend on the history of a rivalry, or the fact that one is paid by Minnesota billionaires and the other is paid by New York billionaires. It comes back to the fact that Sports is the rare entertainment that demands honesty.

Other entertainments live on the other side of truth. Movies and books are fictional. Music and even visual arts (painting and sculpture) are as much about what people (and record companies) know will sell, rather than purely what people have lived or feel.

But sports demands honesty. Do your best, play fair, and may the best team win. Do that, and we'll root, root, root for the rest of our lives.

Therein lies the problem. A-Rod is fundamentally dishonest: he didn't trust his best to be good enough, he didn't play fairly with those who stayed clean, and he tried to rig the game so his team would be better than the best.

No question, A-Rod is entertaining, powerful and impressive (even more so on PEDs). But that was a fiction. He insisted he was legitimate twice, once while using and once after getting caught in two more moments of dishonesty. If he was a pro-wrestler, or doing some crazy in-depth performance art it could be strangely intriguing, but instead it's just fake, false and infuriating to watch.

That's why I like a middling AA prospect and can't stand one of the best power-hitters in over a century of baseball. Because JT Chargois is not perfect and makes no pretenses about it. His scuffles at AA are part of the game, an honest failure, just as his run of scoreless innings from April to June was an honest success.

I don't like Alex Rodriguez. I don't wish him ill. I don't hope he suffers. I just wish he were more like JT Chargois.


Cliff Notes for the 2015 Twins: Chapter 3

Again, I've been derelict in my duty--though I was out of the country and away from reliable internets for a while there. Still were back with another nerdy English-Class style recap of the last month (plus) in Twins Territory

Chapter 3: June to the All-Star Break
Plot Summary:
So great was the joy among fans after a shockingly strong June, that the Twins could, to many eyes, have appeared better than they actually were. So it was only slightly surprising that the team stumbled badly in June.

The slide began by dropping two out of three to the Brewers (who had not been terribly impressive) at Target Field. Then the rival Royals ended the Twins' time atop the Central with a sweep (culminating in Torii Hunter's freak out) and the doldrums continued as they dropped two out of three to the Rangers, but in an effort either to stop the slide or to hold on to their quavering place in the attention of local fans the Twins called up the first of their dynamic prospects: Byron Buxton.

Buxton's arrival accompanied the only Twins win in Texas, and despite two losses in St. Louis, his thrilling play and daring speed were on fine display as the team returned to the Twin Cities in excellent form evening the score against the Cardinals, several close games against the Cubs and a crushing of the White Sox. Sadly, a slide against the White Sox also crushed a bone in Buxton's thumb, and he was removed from the lineup as suddenly as he appeared.

Efforts to repeat the magic on a return trip to Milwaukee by calling up another touted prospect in Alex Meyer were unsuccessful. The National League again thwarted the Twins' momentum as the Brewers and Reds squeezed the home town 9 to a paltry 4-8 record against the bottom 3 teams in the NL Central. Meyer was duly demoted and again things looked grim.

The Twins went to the prospect well a third time and called up Miguel Sano for their visit to Kansas City. As a pure hitter, Sano trumped even the heralded Buxton, and his 11 game hit-streak coincided with the Twins sudden offensive rejuvenation as they finished the first half of the season on a 8-3 run, good enough to put them in 2nd place in the division and 2nd place in the entire American League.

Main Character Development:
The true climax of this chapter was the All-Star Game and the two Twins players who went, recognized as being among the best of the best (the 90th percentile of players in the major leagues). First and foremost, the acknowledged top closer in the league: Glen Perkins. Perkins broader acclaim was all the more note worthy for where he had come from: failed starter, unhappy demoted pitcher, after thought set-up reliever, and, as of now, owner of the best Save streak in Twins history (28 in a row). Most impressively, in this chapter of the season he faced 45 batters and allowed only 6 of them to reach base (a .133 OBP against).

Perkins was joined in Cincinatti by second baseman Brian Dozier who was initially left off of the roster. That snub may have been the best thing for him. It begat a voting campaign (No Bull, Vote Dozier); it got his name mentioned consistently in the national press and on cable tv, and it aligned perfectly with an outburst of timely hitting including two walk-off home runs and another in the All-Star Game itself that captured a great many eyeballs across the country and began a genuine grumbling campaign that he might be the league MVP (assuming he both kept it up and found some way of getting Mike Trout to fall into a temporal vortex). What was once a cute photoshop on this blog is now a common talking point (so much so that at a wedding I attended last weekend, both the bride and my grandmother could be found discussing him).

As Perkins and Dozier rise as protagonists, it will be interesting to see what obstacles and conflicts are thrown in their way to create dramatic tension for the rest of the season.

Key Quote/Stat Explained:
Pythagorean Winning Percentage: .528

As any fan can tell you, occasionally the better team loses. Unlucky bounces, dumb umpire calls, a slight stumble on a soggy infield, all of it can turn the game when you least expect it. So there's the Pythagorean Winning percentage, in which the square of the hypotenuse of a right tri...wait, no...that's Pythagorus' Triangle Theorem...when he was brought forward to the present by Doctors Bill S. Prescott and Theodore Logan to watch baseball and party on dude, he (and Bill James) developed an equation to measure how many games a team should win based on both their runs scored and their runs allowed.

To wit:
                      (Runs Scored)^1.83
(Runs Scored)^1.83 + (Runs Allowed)^1.83
via baseball Reference

Basically dividing the (approximate) square of a team's runs scored, by the (approximate) square of their runs scored PLUS the (approximate) square of their runs allowed should yield an average result.

So while many Twins fans are dancing joyously at the fact that the Twins have the second best record in the American League, our Pythagorean Winning Percentage can show whether we are really lucky, a little lucky, or even unlucky to be where we are.

The Twins Pythagorean Winning Percentage is .528 (or 52.8%); their real world winning percentage is .551 (or 55.1%), so they've only been about 2.3% luckier than their run total would suggest. So they are actually a solid team with the chance to get better (unlike the White Sox who are below 500 and still 8% luckier than they ought to be).

The one down side is the Twins have a lower Pythagorean Winning Percentage than 8 other teams, including three currently outside of the playoff hunt: the Orioles (7% unlucky), the Blue Jays (8% unlucky) and the Athletics (9.8% unlucky). If those teams see their records normalize a bit, and the Twins drop even a percent in their luck, people dreaming of the playoffs can put a pin in it.

Literary Term to Impress English Majors:
Writers throughout history have relied on a simple belief: everything's better in threes. Hence "The Rule of Three". Things are funnier, easier to remember, generally more meaningful if you combine things in threes: three volume novels; three act plays; three little pigs; three bears; I came, I saw, I conquered; stop, drop, and roll; a priest, a minister, and a rabbi

It doesn't just take three things to fit the rule of three, they should be thematically connected and structured in such a way as to make meaning. So take the Twins June/July call ups: Buxton/Meyer/Sano.
From L-R: Meyer, Berrios, Sano, Buxton
(Good news, Jose: you don't have to worry about this rule)

  1. Buxton comes first, and excites the fan base, we need him and he looks pretty good but it's over early due to the thumb injury. 
  2. Meyer comes second, the fan base is a little less excited, but there's enough mention of his pedigree, status and dominance as a reliever in AAA to make him enticing, and it's over very quickly when he gets hammered by big league bats. 
  3. Sano comes last, and while he's long been one of the two big names in the Twins' system, the structure is set up to make at least a few fans regard another call-up skeptically. So his offensive outburst with power and patience seems like a pleasant surprise, even though he has always looked capable of this.
Obviously, I don't think the Twins intended Buxton and Meyer to have such unpleasant endings to their Major League debuts, but if there was some sort of magical script-writing in all of this, it would be a pretty great use of the Rule of Three.