A Logical Landing Spot for Lowell?

… because alliteration = good writing.

Just before Christmas, Mike Lowell was almost traded to the Rangers for three million dollars and Max Ramirez (a C+ Prospect according to John Sickels) . The trade didn’t go through because Lowell ended up needing thumb surgery. He is expected to be ready around Spring Training.

In any case, the trade never made much sense for the Rangers, even at the relatively minimal cost. Michael Young is set at third, and first baseman Chris Davis projects as a good hitter for 2010. I suppose Texas could have moved Davis to DH and had Lowell play first, but it isn’t clear how Lowell’s defense would translate to first base, and that ship has sailed anyway with the Rangers signing of Vladimir Guerrero to be their full-time DH.

Lowell is still a decent player. Despite his poor 2009 (in which he still produced 1.2 wins above replacement in 119 games), CHONE projects Lowell as a .273/.328/.429 hitter, or 3 runs above average per 150 games. My projection is similar: .275/.327/.451, +1/150. Lowell had the worst-fielding season of his career in 2009 according to UZR, but this has to be weighed against his excellent fieldin in the past. Jeff Z. (no relation to Jack) projects Lowell’s 2010 UZR/150 as +1/150. Rally’s TotalZone projection has him at +3/150. Naturally, playing time is a concern due to Lowell’s injury issues and age. The Fans project him for 116 games in 2010. Taking a rough average of the projections and prorating: +2 offense +2 fielding + 2 position + 20 replacement = 26 runs above replacement times 116/150 = about a 2 WAR player for 2010. Even if you bump him down to 100 games, he’s still a 1.7 WAR player.

Boston clearly wants to trade Lowell, particularly after signing Adrian Beltre. But it’s not clear who a good trade partner would be. Lowell’s age makes him a poor fit for a rebuilding team, and most potential contenders have third base filled. Even in cases where Lowell might improve a contender, even for just the three million dollars, he would need to be an upgrade big enough to make a significant difference in their win curve. For example, Texas does have a shot in the West next season, but without a place to play Lowell regularly, he probably doesn’t add enough to their significantly increase their chances of making the playoffs. So we need to look for a team that 1) is a potential 2010 contender; and 2) would get a decent upgrade by acquiring Lowell.

Last week I spent some time plugging projections into a big spreadsheet to get a crude sense of what 2010 might hold. It’s nothing definitive, of course, but is of interest here. Without going through every team and division, a possible fit for Lowell might be Minnesota. At the moment, the Twins look like the favorites to win the AL Central, but they aren’t running away with it. While the 2010 Tigers and Royals are among the worst teams in the AL, Minnesota’s “lead” over Chicago and Cleveland isn’t dominating. It’s also fair to say that the AL Wildcard will be coming out of the East. If Minnesota wants to go to the playoffs, they need to win the Central.

While there are questions around every team, Minnesota’s biggest hole at the moment appears to be third base. Perhaps they could slide Nick Punto‘s terrible bat and great glove to third, but that may create another hole with the near-replacement level Alexi Casilla as a full-timer at second. At the moment, the Twins’ other options at third base are Matt Tolbert and Brendan Harris. Tolbert projects as about a -13 hitter and -4 defender — a 0.5 WAR player over a full season. Harris is better, but not much. CHONE has his bat at -5/150, I have it at -7. His glove is terrible — probably about -7/150. Harris is about a 0.8 WAR player.

Boston didn’t ask for much from Texas, and in the wake of his surgery the asking price for Lowell will be even lower this spring. The Twins are right at the spot on the win curve where even one marginal win can make a big difference, and Lowell is enough of an upgrade to give them additional marginal win (hardly trivial given the Twins situation) even if he only plays 100 games. They also have a new stadium opening this season, and, yes, probably want to impress Joe Mauer a bit. Minnesota seems like a logical landing spot for Lowell.




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Matt Klaassen reads and writes obituaries in the Greater Toronto Area. If you can't get enough of him, follow him on Twitter.


51 Responses to “A Logical Landing Spot for Lowell?”

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  1. odbsol says:

    What about Danny Valencia?

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  2. Matty Brown says:

    Well said. The Twins make a lot of sense for Lowell actually, so much sense that they must already be in talks with Boston.

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  3. Max says:

    What about the Mets? If Lowell can move to 1B, he would be an upgrade over Dan Murphy. I know the Lowell/Castillo trade rumors are dead, but if the Red Sox are resigned to just eat some money, the Mets could get him for cheap.

    And it seems like an Omar kinda move, doesn’t it?

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    • Lowell can probably move to first, but I don’t think he’d be a defensive standout there (1B is sort of an island unto itself), and his bat is only good at a premium position like 3B… so, yeah, that might be an Omar move, except for this:

      “the Mets could get him for cheap. “

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  4. MFG says:

    Prediction: Crede will come back on another cheap deal, with Valencia getting called up for the inevitable DL stints. And that will work out fine for the team.

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  5. Ryan M says:

    a bit TOO logical for the twins

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  6. Jason B says:

    Matty K (or double-A-double-S),

    How do your projections, and CHONE’s, translate into runs above/below average? The reason I ask is because you project Lowell with .001 less in OBP (327 vs 328) but .022 more in SLG (451 vs 429) than CHONE’s projections, which seems to indicate that you project Lowell to be a slightly better hitter than CHONE does. Yet CHONE’s triple slash translates to a 3-runs-above-average hitter per 150 games, while yours translates to only 1 run-above-average per 150? The two don’t seem to go together.

    Am I missing a component here – e.g., is CHONE more optimistic about his defensive capabilities? Or is this just batting runs above/below average?

    (And double-A-double-S is much better than single-A-double-S, in my book!)

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    • Good question. A few thoughts in response.

      First, of all, I only put my own projections in these as a “control” — they are basically a souped-up Marcels. Any of the big names are better — CHONE, PECOTA, ZiPS, etc.

      Also, keep in mind that the three-slash doesn’t really directly translate into runs/linear weights above/below average — wOBA does. I mean, you can approximate wOBA with something like ((1.8*OBP)+SLG)/3, but it’s not the same. I put the three slash in there because a lot of people are more familiar with it, but also because, while wOBA/linear weights (wOBA is just linear weights expressed as a rate stat) is way more accurate, the “three slash” tells gives a quick descriptive picture of “what kind” of hitter a player is — more contact, more power, more walks, etc.

      wOBA/lwts weights each even differently… I don’t know what weights CHONE is using, but I’m using last seasons as I have them. Also, my weights/WOBA (and I don’t know exactly how Appleman is doing things here) are probably different from CHONE’s in themselves, and his are also park- and -league neutralized. Also, I include SB/CS in my linear weights, and I’m not sure whether CHONE does.

      Hope that helps a bit

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  7. Craig in MN says:

    Lowell would also have a chance to DH occasionally in Minnesota, if injuries or age limit his ability to play 3rd. Kubel can play the OF or sit against lefties…he does for Mauer to DH anyway.

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  8. JK says:

    Good article. The Twins are in a good position to take on an injury risk. They have Valencia, Harris, Tolbert who could all fill in if/when an injury hits. None of them are world beaters but could be counted on for 1 WARish production. Also, sliding Punto to 2B removes a subreplacement level player in Casilla. Lowell and Crede would both be good options.

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  9. JoeR43 says:

    Makes sense to me, though I think the defensive projection is a bit too ambitious (I know he was banged up last year, but I saw a statue out there last year and UZR agreed with me). But the Red Sox showed they were willing to pony up for $9 mil of it, so at $3 mil, when the Twins need an upgrade anyway, sounds right to me.

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  10. Jason461 says:

    Because of the Ls at the end of logical and Lowell, it also qualifies as consonance, which totally equals good writing…

    Forgive me, I teach English. It leaves scars.

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  11. Taylor says:

    How much of an upgrade is Lowell compared to Crede? I’d imagine Crede comes cheaper and doesn’t cost a prospect. I would definitely choose Lowell over Crede, but is that upgrade worth lets say 1.5M and a prospect? you could answer either way I suppose.

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    • It depends… I was obviously focusing on a good matrh for Lowell, rather than Minnesota’s options. IT’s a good point. I’m pretty comfortable saying that Crede is the better defender, and Lowell is the better hitter… I guess the two things most relevant here are 1) if Lowell’s physical degradation means his defense is really bad now, and 2) how much of a different in injury-time there is between the two players.

      Make no mistake, though, Harris, Talbot, et. al. are really terrible.

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  12. Ronald says:

    Good points all. Hard to argue with that.

    I also think the Cardinals make a lot (though probably less) sense. Granted they aren’t in a position to take on much money and they seem pretty content to go with David Freese on opening day, but they could stand to upgrade at third and the bench. At third, Freese projects pretty closely to Lowell in 2010, but signing Lowell would bump Freese to the bench, thereby eliminating any need to sign a 4th outfielder. Also, more than some other Cardinals fans, I’m concerned about Freese’s drinking habits. Freese is coming off his 4th alcohol-related arrest in the last few years, and like with a player with an injury history, I don’t think you can assume that he’ll be able to log a substantial amount of quality innings . Obviously not a statistical point, but something that might change people’s projections of him.

    It wouldn’t be the smartest move, but it’s certainly not the dumbest–especially if Boston would take more than $9 mil and take a C-level prospect back–and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the Cards went this route.

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    • Interesting. I didn’t know that about Freese. The Cards certainly aren’t running away from the pack in the NL Central, but I’m not sure how much Lowell upgrades them unless they think Freese can only play half the season or something, as Lowell projects only marginally better than Freese.

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  13. LuckyStrikes says:

    Wait, why are the 2010 Tigers “one of the worst teams in the AL”? Wouldn’t be surprised to see Cleveland finish in the back of the pack again (no pitching), and I think the White Sox will give the Twins a run for their money, but the Tigers aren’t that bad, are they? What am I missing?
    Either way, love the Twins and would like to see them get Lowell. Great fit.

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    • Nick says:

      I was just about to post the same thing. I don’t know what makes the White Sox, Twins, or Indians so far ahead of the Tigers.

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    • Good points. I was merely reporting on what my crude preseason spreadsheet (mostly CHONE hitting/pitching and other defensive projections) said. I was surprised myself.

      OBviously, the AL Central has a lot of flaws teams. Cleveland has suspect pitching, but regression will “solve” some of those problems, and they have good offense and position players. The White Sox pitching is good (perhaps not as good as one might think, but good), and they have some good position players, but too many below bench players in featured roles — Teahen, Pierre, the DH situation. But both of those teams are in striking distance of the Twins right now, as I said.

      As for the Royals… enough said. The Tigers were the big surprise, of course. The Ordonez vesting killed them with the payroll, forcing the Granderson/Jackson trade. Scherzer is a stud — assuming that he stays healthy, he and Verlander are the second best 1-2 punch in the division behind Zack Greinke and a pitching machine. But the rest of the rotation is pretty shabby (from a FIP perspective — Porcello isn’t well liked by fielding-independent stats, but he’s very young), and the bullpen is poor. As for position players… Miguel Cabrera is one of the best hitters int he AL, and Ryan Raburn is a nice player who needs to get time. ON the other hand, Austin Jackson isn’t ready, and, like the White Sox, they’ve got too many spots taken up by below average players. It’s okay to have one or two guys like that as a spotgap,but when that’s the bulk of your team, it’s a problem: Everett, Sizemore, Inge, Carlos Guillen (good hitter when he’s healthy, but without a position and not a good enough hitter to really hold up the DH spot).

      Who knows, anything could happen. I’m not saying my thrown-together spreadsheet is the end-all. I think Dombrowski’s a decent GM, but a lot of financial birds came home to roost this season. The Magglio vesting is an utter disaster.

      Thanks for your comments.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        Scherzer is a stud — assuming that he stays healthy, he and Verlander are the second best 1-2 punch in the division behind Zack Greinke and a pitching machine.

        The danger I see for DET is to spare the bullpen they are going to need to up Porcello and Scherzer’s IP to areas they have never experienced before. Otherwise, they may experience a bullpen situation like ARZ experienced last year. Also, Max’s poor mechanics and past injuries are big concerns for me.

        DET lost 150 IP of BP (Lyons and Rodney). So, their “new” bullpen may be a lot like ARZ’s BP of last year … a lot of young guys trying to find their way in MLB. The exact type of scenario you don’t want to overburden.

        I think DET is going miss EJax’s 214 IP. the 34 IP diff between EJax and Scherzer is going straight to the BP. Combine that with subpar 4th and 5th starters (Do they know who they are?), and the BP could be smashed by the all-star break.

        On the flipside, the ChiSox had 3 guys essentially pitch 200 IP, will have Peavy, and have a good bullpen. The workload is evenly distributed. I, personally, think the CWS pitching staff (total) is that much better than any other staff in the ALC. The problem is the bats.

        Actually, looking through the division, there is a shortage of 3 WAR batters. A few in MIN, 1 1/2 in CLE, 1 in DET (their other 2 are gone), 1 in KC, none for CWS.

        I wholeheartedly agree that the division is full of flawed teams, and will be a close and interesting division race. Whoever finishes above .500 wins the division (maybe?).

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  14. James Morton says:

    I think a more logical landing spot is another team that you mentioned: The White Sox. They are in need of a DH and Lowell is a good veteran presence that they are now lacking with the loss of Thome and Dye, the White Sox could send a comparable prospect to Boston in C.J. Retherford.

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  15. WonkoTheSane says:

    Lowell was going to DH for the Rangers — they weren’t going to move Davis to DH and have Lowell play 1B.

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    • This will apply above as well == Lowell might make sense for a number of teams, but not as a DH. His value, as it is, is in his ability to play 3B. A league average hitter at DH is… a replacement level player. So playing Davis at first and having Lowell DH makes even less sense than the other way around. Even before Vlad, they had better hitters than Lowell available for the DH spot, at least good enough to where it wasn’t worth trading for Lowell.

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  16. Laura says:

    Would Lowell really impress Mauer that much?

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    • I dunno… it was more of tongue-in-cheek comment about the Twins and the playoffs. But if the team makes the playoffs and shows a good faith effort towards doing so, maybe that makes Mauer more willing to re-sign.

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    • Luke in MN says:

      Mauer’s grown up with the Twins, and he seems to like the Twins, flaws and all. There’s a lot of talk of “impressing him” for contract-extension purposes, but I’d find it surprising if he was the type that wanted the team to veer off course just to wow him. (And don’t forget that he’s friends with many of his teammates, and likley not pouring over WAR data all day–he may just as well be pissed a superior import replaces an inferior buddy.) I expect he’ll stay, regardless of how many more free agents the Twins bring over. They won the division in 2009 and are a favorite to do so again in 2010–that’s probably as much “impressing” as is necessary.

      That said, I like the idea of adding Lowell (or really any competant 3b).

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  17. Wet Socks says:

    Great discussion and Matt, I’m thoroughly impressed with your ability to back up your assertions. I agree that if the Twins aren’t pursuing a free agent second basemen, that it’s the right call to have Punto play second and see how much it’s gonna cost prospect-wise to go out and get Lowell. I think the Twins are about as capable of absorbing an injury or decreased playing time of any kind to a veteran like Lowell as any team out there. Valencia may not be ready to produce at the big league level but he’s at least an option. Harris is about a replacement level player I’d say and Tolbert is essentially the poor man’s Nick Punto (I know, I know, Punto IS THE poor man’s Nick Punto).
    I view trading for Mike Lowell as a small gamble at upgrading the position with safety nets in place; very similar to the Crede gamble last year.
    *(Also of note: If Crede were brought back one more time and was able to remain healthy the infield defense of Crede, Hardy, Punto and Morneau would be about as good as it gets. Just something to think about)

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    • Yeah, Crede’s a mystery. A weirdly underrated player. If his back hadn’t gotten hurt, he’s be Adrian Beltre. Of course, the story of many a forgotten player contains numerous “what ifs.”

      One thing about the Twins infield — it’s too bad they can’t play on pogo sticks in order catch all the easy flies that will be landing in right and left field. Farewell, Denard Span’s hamstrings!

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      • Not David says:

        Worst outfield defense in the majors…

        The most extreme flyball staff in the majors…

        Mediocre strikeout rates leading to loads of balls in play…

        Roster construction at its finest. Bill Smith, Jack Z you’re not.

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      • Joe R says:

        Surprisingly, the BABIP against for the Twinkie OF was right around the AL average. Obviously not the best way to measure things, but still…

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      • MFG says:

        Might not matter much if Target Field plays like the new Yankee Stadium, re: HR/FB. Twinks could have Seattle’s OF and it won’t make much difference if Baker, Blackburn, and Slowey can’t keep the ball in the park.

        (Don’t get me wrong: I’m pumped for the new stadium even if it does play like a Men’s slo-pitch softball league. No more indoor baseball!)

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      • Joe R says:

        Are you going to be saying that when it’s an October playoff game and about 20 degrees outside?

        Hypothetically.

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    • Luke in MN says:

      Punto IS the poor man’s…oh, you already pointed that out.

      Sorry, carry on.

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  18. vivaelpujols says:

    Good post DF. I’m pretty sure that Lowell is basically immobile as a defender now though. A basic weighting of UZR isn’t going to do the trick – he’s a legitimately bad defender now.

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    • NEPP says:

      Well, he’s another year removed from hip surgery…he could have regained a bit of that mobility with another off-season to rehab it. Neither ARod or Utley (who both had a similar surgery) were permanently hobbled by it…it could be that he simply came back too soon and aggravated it.

      I’d like to see him in ST before I write him off myself.

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  19. Patrick says:

    I live – and grew up – in Minnesota, so I’m a big Twins fan…

    This makes me cry a little, and not just on the inside:
    “One thing about the Twins infield — it’s too bad they can’t play on pogo sticks in order catch all the easy flies that will be landing in right and left field. Farewell, Denard Span’s hamstrings!”

    :’( Denard was a REALLY good leadoff hitter last year, too.

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  20. NateR says:

    Another possible scenario is Boston flips Lowell to the Mets for Castillo. The money is an even swap, Lowell’s is for 12/one year, Castillo’s is 12/for two. The swap reduces Boston’s overall ‘salary cap’ number for this year by 6 million, likely taking them under the luxury tax threshold.

    The Sox in turn flip Castillo to the Twins to fill one of the holes mentioned above. They throw in let’s say 6-8 million (3 million this year and 3-5 next year) and get a C level prospect in return. This still reduces their ‘cap’ number for this year by 3 million without having to shell out all 9 million this year like they were going to do in the Texas deal. Omar gets his ‘name’ veteran player (and O. Hudson to fill 2B), Twins get a speedy guy ‘small ball’ kinda guy (OK maybe he walks to too much to be a true twins type player) and the Sox get under or at least closer to the 170 million tax threshold plus a warm body.

    Like someone else said, makes too much sense, it’ll never happen.

    a 3 way deal between the Met/Twins/Sox.

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    • Joe R says:

      I think this works out WAY too well for the Red Sox, if Theo can ship out Lowell without eating any salary.

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      • NateR says:

        They are still eating 6-8 million, you argue that it’s the Mets who make out, by not having to eat any of Castillo’s salary.

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      • NEPP says:

        The Mets kinda need to focus their money on getting a nice big patch for the OF now that Beltran is gone for a while…even best case has him back in mid-to-late May at best. Their OF was weak before that.

        Lowell to the Mets isn’t the best for them since they would then need a 2B and Lowell’s bat isn’t a huge value at 1B anyway. Its not as if Wright will be moved.

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      • Joe R says:

        Math.
        +1 bat, 0 defense, +20 replacment, -12 positional = +0.9 WAR

        Oof

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  21. Wet Socks says:

    Twins gave up on Castillo a couple years ago. That was in the thick of a division race. Even mentioning bringing him back would be pretty nightmarish for Bill Smith/Terry Ryan from a PR standpoint. Not to mention that it isn’t a huge upgrade for the Twins even with some salary being eaten up. It certainly would be beneficial to the Mets and to some extent, the Red Sox. I just feel there are better options on the table for the Twins at this point.

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    • NateR says:

      Good point on Castillo’s past history in Minne I had forgotten that. Makes a whole let less sense when you add that to the equation.

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  22. Mike Green says:

    The money is a big issue. There are plenty of 1.5 WAR players available at much lesser salaries (albeit not “free”). Downturn economics.

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  23. Gilbert says:

    Don’t know where Bos is on the Evil Empire money chain, but if there is a 30% chance Min wins Central and 40% chance if that happens that they play BOS somehwere and that having Lowell increases their chance of beating BOS by 5%, reducing the value of BOS postseason by reducing chance of getting to WS where they have a 50% chance of winning if they get there…Enter your estimate for value of WS appearance and WS win

    Compare to choice of either giving Lowell to Min or eating salary to give him to an NL team, there might be some justification to making a “bad” deal even though Min is not a division rival.

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    • Sam A says:

      Lowell would not increase the Twins’ chances of beating any postseason opponant by 5%. When you add in the very real possibility that he isn’t even healthy enough to play in the postseason, I don’t think the Sox have to worry about it coming back to bite them in October.

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      • Note that I’m not talking about their chances of beating a postseason opponent, but about making the post-season. And I didn’t put a number on it.

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      • Sam A says:

        Matt

        I was responding to the suggestion that the Sox might not trade Lowell to the Twins because of implications for the postseason. The poster suggested Lowell might increase the Twins’ chances of beating the Sox by 5% which I think is waaay overvaluing Lowell.

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    • JayCee says:

      Gilbert-

      I second your point. Since BOS will now eat prob $10M of the $12M in salary, I don’t see them trading him to any big-time AL contender like MIN. They might even keep him as a RH DH instead.

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  24. JayCee says:

    You think CLE is demonstrably better than DET? I’d love to put money on that.

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