Thursday, December 02, 2004

They Can't be Serious... Can They?

It all started way back when Dustan Mohr was traded.

One by one they have had their chances and each watched it disappear. Michael Cuddyer was supposed to be the savior; now he is slated to start at second. Mike Ryan had one great September, but we now know it was a fluke. Michael Restovich doesn't look like he's good enough to play in the majors and has now endured a setback (falling on some ice a couple of days ago).

Jason Kubel was the best of them all, hailed as the next great outfielder in the game. All it took was one fateful day in the fall league to derail that dream.

The only light in the darkness has been the play of Lew Ford, playing well beyond anybody’s expectations. We here at Twins Chatter hitched a ride on his star back in April and neither one of us has looked back ever since.

Slowly the Twins have watched their organizational outfield depth dwindle to almost nothing over the course of two years. They were supposed to be the next wave of players who finally forced enigmatic Jacque Jones out of town. Now, following numerous promises that 2004 was Jacque’s last in a Twins uniform, his return is becoming more than a mere fantasy.

For some reason the Twins have a fascination with speaking out of both sides of their mouth when it comes to Jones. Since last winter, it has been apparent it would be in the team’s best interests to let him go. His production has diminished and he never became the player many envisioned back when he was jumping over catchers' heads as a rookie. At the same time, the team has refrained from openly admitting just that and the local papers continue to drop different scenarios involving Jones’ return. These scenarios imply the team is willing to work to keep Jones, as though he’s a real asset to the team.

The latest update in the Jones saga, according to La Velle E. Neal: if the Twins are unable to sign Corey Koskie they may then use that money to keep Jones. The Twins have until December 7 negotiate with Koskie, who they have decided not to offer arbitration. Koskie is right behind Troy Glause and Adrian Beltre in the free agent third base market. The team has offered him 2 years at $8 million, which seems awfully low compared to the $2 million they just paid Juan Castro.

Jones is expected to make $6 million in arbitration. He is the younger player but a third baseman of Koskie’s caliber, bad back and all, is more valuable then a light hitting right fielder who does not hit lefties.

There are other free agents out there who might be better options than bringing back Jones, including Joe Randa, Placido Polanco, and Tony Batista at third base. There are also many outfielders on the market that are a better value then Jones. Sometimes it appears the Twins fall in love with their own players and are too concerned about chemistry. This is the same team that was attacked by LaTroy Hawkins for its lack of loyalty after it provided him with multiple opportunities. Jacque Jones will not have the same turnaround as Hawkins and it would be a mistake to bring back Jones at such a price tag.

Everyone is familiar with the fact that Jones struggles against lefties. Last year, however, he actually had a higher on base percentage against lefthanders at .328 compared to .310 against righties. Yet neither number is something to be proud of. Jones also has no power against lefties with 2 homeruns in 155 at-bats last year another 2 in 145 at-bats the year before. Overall Jones’ numbers last year look like this; 555 at-bats, .254 BA, .315 OBP, 24 HR, 80 RBI, and 117 K’s. Those numbers do not warrant 6 million dollars plus; yet for some reason the the rumors persist. Why?

It is a possibility that the team is merely talking up Jones’ trade value. The team is going to have a hard time trading him either way. Teams know what they are getting by now. If he is traded, the likely outcome is that the team acquiring him will try to negotiate a better deal with him. If they are unable to come to terms, they will non-tender him rather then risk arbitration themselves. This happened last year with the Cubs and Michael Barrett. The reasoning for such a move is obvious: a team that likes Jones would have time to exclusively try to sign him before exposing him to the rest of the league. It is hard to imagine the Twins receiving much of value in any such deal but it is also Terry Ryan’s specialty acquiring low-level prospects that other teams undervalue.

It is a little odd how many chances Jones has been given. Every time the team has a valid replacement lined up, something goes wrong and Jones is given a reprieve. This wasn’t supposed to be an issue a couple of months ago, but then Jason Kubel lost next season to his knee injury. As it stands right now, the Twins have three healthy outfielders in Ford, Shannon Stewart and Hunter, plus last year’s opening day DH, Matty LeCroy. These players are enough to say good-bye to Jacque Jones. It’s time for the Twins to get creative and look elsewhere. Their priorities remain Brad Radke and Corey Koskie. If that means increasing their offers to each, so be it. No amount of outfielders going down is enough stop the team from finally escaping Jacque’s hold. My worst nightmare is waking up one morning to discover the team has decided to keep Jones, signing him to a 3-year, $6 million per year deal.

Good thing Jim Bowden is in Washington. :)