Game Recap #7: Hometown Heroes 3, White Elephants 8

In which I use far too many words discussing the Miguel Sulbaran trade.

There's not that much to say about the game, really, especially since I didn't see much of it.  Kevin Correia, who looks to be one of the Twins' least inadequate pitchers, struggled through 5.2 innings, giving up six runs on nine hits and two walks.  Once again the second inning gave a Twins pitcher trouble, but this time the third did, too.  The offense tried to hang in there, and it was 5-3 after three.  Correia managed to right the ship for a while after that, retiring seven in a row, but a home run put an end to that and one batter later Correia was gone.  Deduno pitched the rest of the game, which is very important since Gardy continues to be forced to scrape by with only twelve pitchers.

So, the trade.  First, let's look at who the Twins gave up.  Miguel Sulbaran is a twenty-year-old left-handed pitcher.  He's been mostly used as a starter.  He had a fine year in Class A in 2013, split between Great Lakes (Dodgers) and Cedar Rapids, going 9-4, 2.96, 1.26 WHIP with 32 walks and 101 strikeouts in 112.2 innings.

What does the future hold for him?  Who knows?  There are all kinds of reasons why he might never make it.  He could get injured.  He could fail to stay in shape (he's listed at 5' 10", 209 lbs.).  He could have an attitude problem.  He could fail to make adjustments as he moves up the ladder.  He could just not be good enough--I'm sure there are hundreds of guys who are good in the Midwest League who never make the majors.  But he has a chance to be a major league pitcher, and a chance to be a good major league pitcher.

Now let's look at who the Twins acquired.  Eduardo Nunez will turn 27 in June.  He's had 752 major league at-bats and has a lifetime batting average of .267, which the Twins are apparently emphasizing.  However, his line is .267/.313/.379, for an OPS of .692.  In AAA, in 627 at-bats, his line is .273/.319/.357, for an OPS of .676.  Is that better than Pedro Florimon?  Yes, a little.  Is it good?  No.  His AAA numbers are remarkably similar to those of Eduardo Escobar (793 at-bats, .266/.312/.376, OPS of .688).  They're not even that far off of those of Doug Bernier (.249/.347/.342, OPS of .689).

Add to that the fact that he's apparently terrible on defense.  I'll admit to you, I really can't interpret defensive numbers very well, so I'm relying on what I've read.  sean said Nunez has a -34 UZR/150 as a shortstop, which is worse than Trevor Plouffe's number there.  Others have said he's a bad defender as well.  So, any marginal offensive boost Nunez might give over Florimon will likely be offset by his defensive shortcomings.

So in sum, I hope I'm wrong about this, but it looks to me as if we just acquired a man who simply can't play baseball at the major league level.  To get him, we gave up a man who has a chance to be able to play baseball at the major league level.

I wrote yesterday about how one of the things that makes a bad team a bad team is that it makes moves that make no sense.  Another thing that makes a bad team a bad team is that it makes moves reacting solely to current circumstances, as opposed to making a plan a sticking with it.

It's not a surprise that Pedro Florimon can't hit.  He didn't hit last year.  He didn't hit the year before.  He didn't hit in AAA.  He didn't hit in AA.  Everyone knew he wasn't going to hit.  If the Twins thought it was a problem, they should have addressed it in the offseason.  Players like Eduardo Nunez are always available in the offseason, if you want one.  Instead, it appears that the Twins watched the first week of the season and said, "OMG, Florimon's 1-for-17, we've got to do something!"  And they gave away a guy who has a chance to be a legitimate big-leaguer for a guy who doesn't, a guy who's not particularly better than the other shortstop options they have.

Again, I don't mean to over-hype Sulbaran.  He's still in low A, and I have no clue whether he'll ever make it.  All I can tell you is that he's succeeded so far.  But that's the thing:  there's no way the Twins can actually get the better end of this trade.  The best they can do is get a draw.  If Sulbaran doesn't make it, it hasn't cost them anything.  But it can't gain them anything, because there's simply no evidence that Eduardo Nunez is a big-league ballplayer.

When Terry Ryan came back as GM, I had hopes that he would right the ship.  And to be fair, the farm system has improved quite a bit over the last couple of years.  But moves like this make me wonder if the people in charge really know what they're doing.

Luckily, though, any downside to trading Sulbaran will be in future years.  For this year, the team remains the same.  Which means we'll just have to settle for 158-4!

43 thoughts on “Game Recap #7: Hometown Heroes 3, White Elephants 8”

  1. Considering how much time you put into helping us follow the minor league affiliates, your take on this trade is pretty valuable in my book. Thanks for the recap.

  2. Thank you for this. It is spot on.

    My only quibble is the insinuation that Terry Ryan will come back and fix everything. I'm not convinced that's the case. He was still in the building when Bill Smith was in charge and by all reports, Smith would consult with Ryan. Same with today. Even though TR is at home recovering from chemo, doesn't mean that Rob Antony et. al can't run at least the the particulars of the deal past Ryan.

    Sorry, in my humble opinion Terry Ryan, notwithstanding my sincere hope for a full recovery, is part of the Twins problem, not the solution.

    1. JeffA can speak for himself, but it appeared to me that he was insinuating exactly your opinion, but had hopes TR would recapture some of the magic of the 2000's.

      1. Yeah, pretty much what CoC said. I had hoped that things would get better when Terry Ryan came back, and I think the farm system has. I don't know how much input Ryan had when Bill Smith was GM. I have always assumed not much, but I could be completely wrong. My assumption now, though, is that despite his cancer, he is still in charge, and that any moves that are made would have not only his input but his approval. It's possible that assumption is wrong, too, of course.

        The thing I liked about Terry Ryan I was that he appeared to have a plan: try to get by with marginal veterans while building the farm system, and have that farm system provide the basis for the next successful run. I thought when we got Terry Ryan II he would use that plan again. In fact, I thought he was using that plan. And, in fairness, he still could be. It's possible that he knows something about Sulbaran we don't; after all, the Dodgers dumped him for basically nothing, too.

        But twenty-year-old lefties who can strike out almost a batter an inning, even in the low minors, don't grow on trees. It bothers me a lot that we just gave up one for nothing. I'll still do the 162-0 stuff because it's fun and it's what I do. But I'm starting to think we may be in for a lot of losing years.

        1. the Dodgers dumped him for basically nothing, too.

          This is what makes me think something doesn't smell right about Sulberan. In the last year, he has been traded for Drew Butera and Nunez, two players who will never be anything more than marginal players. When we traded for Sulberan, everyone was pretty happy. This was the kind of deal TR usually succeeded at and it looked like he had done it again. Based on this trade that came out of nowhere and does nothing for the MLB team, I'm guessing we figured out why the Dodgers were so willing to give up Sulberan for so little. Whether it's an attitude problem or a weight problem, who knows. When Diamond accepted his AAA assignment, that forced a guy out of that rotation down to AA. That probably had a cascade effect and might have meant the Twins felt they had too many starters. Maybe Sulberan was being put in the bullpen and he went all Slowey on them. Or maybe the Twins felt they needed more middle infield depth and traded from their depth at pitching and whatever had soured them on Sulberan made him available. There's just not enough info on marginal prospects to really know for sure. If a trade like this was part of a trend, I would be more concerned about it. In the end, the Twins traded Butera for Nunez, so pretty much a non-move.

          1. Well, that's one way of looking at it. But it's like if I buy a Kruegerrand for a quarter and sell it for fifty cents. I can say I came out well on the exchange, but I still missed out on something better.

            And yes, they could've felt they had too many pitchers at Cedar Rapids (the one appearance Sulbaran made there this year was in relief). But if they just needed to dump somebody, I can't believe there isn't somebody else either at Cedar Rapids or in extended spring training who's less of a prospect that they could've gotten rid of. And again, if the Twins had gotten something for Sulbaran, I would feel differently. But they dumped him for nothing.

            1. I also read somewhere (unsubstantiated) that he came into camp out of shape. He was repeating low A and was put in the bullpen. Now he's been traded for a non-prospect/non-MLB player for the second time in less than a year. I think his agent should be talking a lot to him.

              1. I read that, too. On the other hand, he's twenty years old. I don't know about you, but I still had a lot of growing up to do when I was twenty (some would say I still do now). Given the success he's had, that seems like a flimsy reason to give up on him.

                1. And again, there are all kinds of reasons Sulbaran might not succeed. But there's a chance that he might. There's pretty much no chance Nunez succeeds. So at best for the Twins, it turns out that they traded nothing for nothing. At worst, it turns out that they traded something for nothing.

  3. Another point- the Yankees traded Nunez because Yangervis Solarte outplayed him and took his spot on the roster. From what I can find, Solarte has a .286/.336/.733 line in the minors. The Twins let him go after his AA season in 2011 (I don't remember why) and he's not a shortstop, but I'd much rather have him and Sulbaran over Nunez.

  4. I think comparing Nunez to Florimon is wrong. He wasn't brought in to replace Florimon, he's here for depth. He's below Florimon and Escobar on the depth chart, otherwise he'd be on the 25 man roster. I consider him to be in competition with Bernier and Bartlett as fill-in utility guys in the event of injury to Florimon or Escobar. If he sees significant playing time with the Twins, that's a different story.

      1. As I said in the Cup of Coffee, telling me we traded Sulbaran for AAA roster filler does not make me feel better about the trade.

        1. Roster filler/depth. Bartlett just went on the DL, Florimon recently had surgery, and they were thin in the middle infield to begin with. Let's just hope Nunez is never needed.

    1. He wasn't brought in to replace Florimon, he's here for depth.

      Not according to LEN3. I didn't care much about losing Sulberan, but this could be subtraction by addition. If the Twins are wanting to replace Florimon, then why don't they try Escobar out there, who actually hit well in AAA last year and is actually a good defensive shortstop. They also have top prospect Danny Santana in AAA. Gardy was all over him in spring training. He starts out 1-for-12, so suddenly we need Nunez? Santana has only struck out twice, so his BABIP is .100. And it's not like Florimon is hurting the team. His defense is terrific at probably the most important position for this team. He was at 1.8 rWAR and 1.3 fWAR last year while making the minimum. Even if he only stays in Rochester, if he takes playing time away from Santana, I will not like this deal.

  5. When Terry Ryan came back as GM, I had hopes that he would right the ship. And to be fair, the farm system has improved quite a bit over the last couple of years. But moves like this make me wonder if the people in charge really know what they're doing.

    I think one of the things about TR coming back is that we have to remember how long it took him to have success the first time. Building a consistently successful organization takes constant, sustained work. When you throw in a whole host of not-good first round picks throughout the 2000's and add a few bad trades to them, the Twins' cupboard was nearly bare. In 2012, 5 months after TR returned, BP rated them the #22 organization for prospects. They were first this year. That's not improving the farm system "quite a bit," that's delivering the most you can ask for.

    Baseball is a slow game, and with regard to front offices it plays out over years, not months.

    I have very little context for evaluating the Sulbaran trade. The context I do have is that the #1 ranked prospect organization didn't feel it needed him, and that another team deemed him worth ~1 Buteras. I don't mean to be arguing from the results here, just providing the context we currently have. Maybe it will turn out to be a horrible trade someday. Maybe not. But I don't see it as worth much commentary at all, and I'm a little troubled by this trade being used as the ground for a critique of TR.

    1. It's not the ground, but it's a ground. Going without a real reserve outfielder because you need the "veteran leadership" of a guy who can't play baseball is not something good organizations do. Trading a prospect for a veteran who can't play baseball is not something good organizations do. Holding a catching prospect back so you can play a marginal veteran is not something good organizations do.

      Is it worth this much commentary? Probably not. I admitted as much in the first sentence of the article. But the point is not so much that it will necessarily turn out to be a horrible trade. The point is that there's no way it can turn out to be a good trade. And the other point is that, again, it shows a lack of a plan. They knew before the season started that Florimon couldn't hit, they already have Nunez-level shortstops, and if they felt they needed another one they could've signed a minor-league free agent. It just strikes me as a desperation move to patch a hole, and that's not the way you build a team.

      1. I disagree. The way you build a team is to take the long view while making patches in the here and now. Neither Nunez nor Sulbaran appear to factor into the long view, so it's a completely acceptable patch. It "helps" the here-and-now hole while in no way sacrificing the long-term building efforts. I think that's exactly how you build a good team.

        1. If you assume Sulbaran is nothing, and if you assume Nunez actually helps, that's true. I disagree with both those assumptions. I think Sulbaran has a chance to be something, and I think Nunez is no help whatsoever. Which, I guess, means we shall agree to disagree.

          1. And see, I think you're making several other assumptions that just aren't justified in the long run. You're complaining about Bartlett and Pinto getting too much and not enough time respectively. I know "veteran leadership" is a bit silly - it's impossible to quantify, it's used to justify lack of on-field performance, etc. - but it's equally silly to dismiss it entirely. Name me a single other field of human endeavor where ability isn't improved by exposure to the experiences of others. So no, we can't quantify it, and we shouldn't revere it, and frequently it deserves to be mocked. But for the 2014 Twins? I think it makes sense. It's certainly not something that would justify their taking the place of a better player on a competitive team, but maybe Suzuki and Bartlett now are helping the 2016 versions of Pinto and Dozier and possibly Nunez.

            So you're complaining about the here-and-now featuring these players, without giving some deference to the future of the organization. But then, on the other hand, you're upset because in the future you're quite bullish on Sulbaran. That is, you think the Twins are giving away something from the future for the here and now, and that bothers you too. It seems like you'd rather muddle through with what we've got and keep our chips for something else that might come down the road. But Sulbaran was at his best the 25th rated prospect in the system, and a low-level minor leaguer. It would have been great to have TR fleece a team for Butera, but realistically that probably didn't happen.

            I think the dual nature of your complaint is a big part of why this is sticking out to me. It really seems like a nothing move. And so I should just stop talking about it too. But I still believe in TR and the plan. It's already given us hope for the future when 2 years ago there was none.

            1. Of course I don't entirely dismiss veteran leadership entirely. But it's silly to waste a roster spot on someone because of their "veteran leadership" when that someone can't play baseball.

              I have given deference to those in charge for years. But three 90-loss seasons, and the prospect of the fourth, has made me decide that those in charge no longer deserve that deference. From now on, I am basing my opinions on what I see and what I know, not on the assumption that, well, the people in charge must know what they're doing.

              And as I've said several times, the point is not that I think Sulbaran is a future star. The point is that they traded a guy who might be a major league player some day for a guy who has proven he never will be. And further, that guy is someone who's no better than the other options they have on the roster, and is the sort of guy they could've acquired as a minor league free agent during the off-season if they felt they needed that sort of guy.

              And I'm afraid I don't get the "dual nature of your complaint" thing at all. They made a move that I believe does not help now and does not help in the future. The best case for the Twins is that Sulbaran turns out to be nothing and it does not hurt in the future, either. In other words, the best case is that you're right and it's a nothing move. But I see no way that it can be a positive.

              1. Cause and effect. Those three 90-loss seasons are a product of what happens when you aren't taking the long view, when you trade away your best prospects for players like Capps and let the manager nitpick young players to death (I will rail on Gardy plenty and I think his continued participation in the organization is a much bigger indictment than anything else we've seen recently). Likewise, the sustained success in the previous decade was a product of continuing to patch the major league roster while sticking to the development plan.

                So Nunez isn't much of a patch. So what? Sulbaran isn't much of a prospect. And it's perfectly clear that he wasn't in the Twins' plans at any rate. He was in the organization for less than a year. It seems you're upset the Twins aren't hoarding scratch-offs. I'm willing to trust the plan. The plan, that, by the way, went into effect after TR came back. So just a little over 2 years ago. Hard to blame him for not immediately righting the ship, but that's exactly what you're doing.

              2. Also this... it's silly to waste a roster spot on someone because of their "veteran leadership" when that someone can't play baseball.

                This is true if you're playing to win that year, yes. It is not true if you're playing to win more games in the future by exposing young players to the experiences of others. Bring in Suzuki to mentor Pinto (because Mauer needs to focus on learning 1B this year). 2 years down the road Pinto is better because of the experience and Mauer is better for having focused on 1B. Makes sense to me.

                1. I don't see how Pinto will be better learning from Kurt Suzuki. If he really needs "mentorship" (something I am not convinced is the case. Mauer didn't have a veteran mentor playing in front of him when he first came up), can't Joe give it to him through words, or discuss handling the pitching staff with the pitching staff? I say direct experience is better than learning from others so long as you have a knowledgeable colleague to discuss that experience with as you go along.

                  1. Mauer is on the roster. Terry Steinbach is on the coaching staff. What does Kurt Suzuki have that those two don't?

                    1. Being worse than Mauer at framing. You know, one of those things that is definitely teachable.

                    2. He's playing catcher.

                      To Cheap's point: I don't think there's much reason to set direct experience and learning from others in opposition to each other here.

                      Bottom line, the Twins were going to be bad this year, regardless of what they did. They're clearly trying to focus on the future still. Whether they'll be effective is an open question, but it appears there's a plan and it appears they're sticking to it. For me, deviating from the plan would be more worrisome.

                    3. Bottom line, the Twins were going to be bad this year, regardless of what they did.

                      I think this is where we are really disagreeing. My point is that, when the team knows its going to be bad, its counter-productive to bring in guys for "veteranshipness" to "teach" the next wave than it is for those promising youngsters to just play and get that experience directly. The risk of playing Suzuki in hopes that Pinto can learn from him on a bad team are not worse than Pinto playing himself while the up-side is much. much less.

                    4. I don't really disagree with that, I just think it's a balancing act. And it's a long season. I see the case for the vet at the beginning (particularly if it's someone who seems to be establishing some value, as then trade!!!), but if Suzuki is playing more than Pinto in July/August/September, then I'd be upset with that too.

        2. it's a completely acceptable patch

          Ehhh... there's an obvious hole, and this is unlikely to repair it, so it strikes me as more like patching on top of an existing patch. I don't see that as acceptable.

          I'm willing to grant there are likely other concerns with Sulbaran that make him a poor fit in the organization, and I'll also agree that in the long view this is unlikely to matter, but I don't see it as a sign that the Twins are doing a good job of building the major-league team.

          1. It's not a sign that their team on the field today is well-built. That's not what I'm trying to say. What I'm trying to say is that this move has no bearing, one way or the other, on the real goal of the front office, which is building a sustainable winner.

            1. Oh, we're in total agreement that the team we have today is not well-built, I didn't mean to imply you were saying they were. I don't think we're disagreeing on much here, mostly just the relative values of Sulbaran and Nunez and how much trust we should put in TR.

              1. 22 to 1, in 2 years. I think he's earned some trust.

                And he went out and got Sulbaran for Butera, so... we'll trust him on buying end of the equation, but not the sale side?

                1. Going from 22 to 1 is a product of having an average draft pick of 22 to an average draft pick of 1.

                  I do trust that Sulbaran isn't good. I can't think of many examples of the Twins giving up on a pitcher too early.

                  I am also ok with acquiring Nunez if he is AAA roster filler. The thing that scares me about this trade is that we have a manager that has certain hang ups that hamper the way he manages. One of these is that he loves utility infielders. Why give him another opportunity to fall in love with one?

                  One other thing. Veteran leadership?! How does veteran leadership help a team that is going to lose 95 games? This team needs to be taking more chances with the Colabellos of the world and less with the Bartletts of the world. It is the time to roll the dice. That is the one advantage you have when you have low expectations.

                  1. loves utility infielders

                    This is the part that galls me. The team now has two utility "infielders" that have no business belonging in the infield. Just because one is in AAA doesn't make it better, as Nunez will be the first one up from AAA and then we get to see Plouffe 2.0 but without the power.

                  2. I'll join your fear of Gardy.

                    I think the veteran leadership isn't about helping the 2014 team, it's about helping the 2016 team. Kind of a "drop from 90 losses to 95 this year, jump from 90 wins to 95 in 2 years" thing. Again, it's not a science, and not measurable. But given every other field of human endeavor sees people improve by exposure to the experiences of others, I feel comfortable suggesting there is a positive long-term effect. We can't know how big it is. But I'll take a few extra losses this year if it mean a better draft pick and a better team in the future.

  6. To pile on the Nunez v. Sulbaran and apparently, the immediate evaluation of the move v. what it means long-term (could it just be labeled micro v. macro?) discussion of what the trade may mean for the franchise we all love. I don't know much about Steven Goldman except what's in his SBNation bio, but here's his take on the trade. I in no way feel he has any perspective on what the move means (or doesn't mean, or whatever) for the Twins, I just really enjoyed his line about Sulbaran.

    Under the title, "Yankees ... somehow trade Eduardo Nunez"

    In other Yankees news, the club successfully traded Eduardo Nunez -- the subject of a 270-game conspiracy pretending that he was a major league player -- to the Twins for a 20-year-old left-handed pitcher named Miguel Sulbaran, who has lately been seen haunting the environs of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Sulbaran hasn't impressed as a prospect, but given that Nunez is a career .267/.313/.379 hitter with a .940 fielding percentage at shortstop -- tied with Jeff Kunkel (1984-1992) for the most butterfingered infielding since the 1970s -- Sulbaran doesn't need to have much more than a good sense of humor to justify the trade.

    Rule of baseball: A utility infielder needs to be able to field, particularly at shortstop. If he cannot do that, he'd better be enough of a hitter to play second base, third base or even left field. If he can do none of these things, as Nunez could do none of these things, you are truly stretching the definition of "utility" and should trade said player -- if not fir [sic] a Sulbaran, a dictionary -- and stop defrauding your customers.

    emphasis mine

  7. Nunez not AAA roster filler.

    Nunez is expected to play several games for the Red Wings, then be called up to the Twins.

    Also from there:

    Statistics suggest Eduardo Nunez, the infielder the Twins acquired from the Yankees on Monday, is a downgrade at shortstop from Pedro Florimon. But Antony trusts his scouting reports more than the advance data available to him.
    “I put a lot of stock in a lot of different metrics, the defensive one the least,” Antony said. “Every year, that seems to be the one thing that is the hardest to measure.”

    Sorry, but UZR rates Nunez poorly at SS, 2B (only 100 innings), and 3B (530 innings). The Fans rate him as below average too. DRS doesn't like him, using the same data as UZR. TZL doesn't like him, using a different data source. Defense is hard to measure, but that doesn't mean ignoring the data helps.

      1. Same thing that led them to think Brendan Harris could play shortstop. Or Delmon Young anywhere.

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