The Twins, taking my advice and not standing pat, continued making moves at the Winter Meetings to improve pitching in the organization, a desperate and drastic need, this time shipping out Ben Revere to the Phillies for a couple of young arms, and in a Shyamalanian twist the return they got for him looks more impressive than what they got for his predecessor (mentor? elder?) Denard Span.
I was a little bit surprised they would trade Revere since it seeded like such a natural thing to slide him into Span's spot, but it makes a lot of sense. Revere is an elite fielder and has elite speed, but his lack of power, noodle arm, and questionable plate discipline were all major questions. With his high rate of contact and slap hitting plus the speed and no power Revere's upside was pretty much Juan Pierre, which is fine, but when you have a chance to move a possible next Pierre for two good arms under 25 you pretty much have to do it. When you also factor in that Aaron Hicks is a year away and considered a better prospect, not to mention eight billion other OFers who make up practically the Twins' entire top prospects list, it becomes a no brainer.
In getting Vance Worley from the Phillies the Twins' pick up a major league ready arm who still has upside, which is exactly what I'd hoped they'd end up getting by trading Span (although I am happy with the return they ended up getting for Denard). Worley has been in the rotation for the Phils for the past two seasons (most of the time) and has put up an ERA of 3.60 with a WHIP of 1.37 those two years while striking out 7.7 batters per 9 innings, a stat I can only assume that confused the Twins since they hate striking guys out. Worley isn't really a pure strikeout guy since his fastball maxes out in the low 90s (more like exactly 90, really) and he doesn't have a killer strikeout pitch (and actually his contact rate of 86.2% is about what Carl Pavano's was in his days as a Twin so it doesn't really make sense he strikes out nearly a batter an inning. There are plenty of pitchers, however, who continue to defy what their peripheral stats say they should morph into at some point so it wouldn't be unprecedented for him to keep this up. In any case it's not something to worry about. Worley is a 25 year old middle-of-the-rotation starter who is now either the Twins' best or second best starter, depending on your feelings about Scott Diamond. At that age there's still room for him to get better, and Worley would have been an acceptable return for Revere (or Span), but the Twins' got more. Plus, dude rocks the Rec Specs. Holla.
Perhaps because Worley is coming off elbow surgery (although should be just fine) the Twins were also able to finagle Trevor May in the deal, and this my friends is one intriguing prospect. Both Baseball America and MinorLeagueBall.com listed May as the Phillies #1 prospect coming into last year on the strength of a mid-90s fastball and some ridiculous strikeout rates (11 K/9 or better in every stop after rookie ball). He hit Double-A this year and things were a little rougher, posting an ERA of 4.87 and a WHIP of 1.45, although he still struck out more than a batter per inning (9.1 per 9). By all accounts May was struggling with location, which manifested itself both in more walks (4.7 per nine) and hits allowed (8.4 per nine). Interestingly, the 4.7 BB/9 was worse than the previous year, but was still better than 2008, 2009, and 2010 - the increased hits allowed is the real concern. Given the Twins' relative success in developing pitchers with control - although generally that manifests more as few walks rather than pinpoint control - I'm cautiously optimistic. In any case, dude has #1 stuff by all accounts and despite the issues with his command last year he's still considered the Twins #5 overall prospect by MLB.com (Sano/Buxton/Meyer/Hicks/May). Awesome.
Looking at the two trades, let's count the positives:
1. Traded a good, not great, player, but at a position where a MLB ready back-up was available with a comparable skill set to upgrade a position of weakness
2. Traded a low cost, quality but limited player for two badly needed assets with a replacement a year away.
3. Acquired a low cost, team controlled middle-of-the rotation (2-3-4 depending on development) starter under the age of 25.
4. Acquired 2 big-time prospects with the potential to develop #1 type stuff who aren't soft-tossing nancy boys and actually show an interest in making people swing and miss.
5. Recognized the team's biggest weakness (pitching throughout the organization) and biggest area of depth (Young OFers) and moved one for the other.
6. Recognized that occasionally it's good to have pitchers who throw the ball so hard that professional hitters can't catch up to hit and/or have so much movement they can't hit it.
And the negatives:
1. Denard Span was a true leadoff hitter with a lead-off hitter skill set who was very affordable.
2. Ben Revere was really fun to watch and a good guy who was super duper affordable.
3. Darin Mastroianni will probably have to play CF now and maybe even lead-off too which is kind of gross.
That's all I got. There's really no way to hate these trades, especially the Revere one. The team upgraded it's biggest weakness (organization wide) by using it's biggest strength without hurting the future, only the present where they weren't going to contend anyway, while acquiring the exact type of player they're shied away from which has proven to be the type that can make a major difference. Freaking awesome. Even that Mastroianni crack was a little overdone, because he's not that big a drop from Revere. Using WAR (and I confess I don't know what this means other than it tries to measure total value and is impacted by plate appearances) Revere was a 3.4 in 553 PAs, Mastroianni was a 1.5 in just 186. Game freaking on, brohan. We goin' Sizzla.
As far as the Gophers won pretty easily in LA, beating USC 71-57 by doing what they've done all year: tough perimeter defense (USC 1-9 on 3s, hitting the boards (out-rebounded the Trojans 36-29), turned over the opponent (17 TOs), and moved the ball (16 assists). Since the game was on the Pac-10 Network which nobody in Minneapolis gets and I went to the bar with Bogart, Bear, Snake, Dawger, and Crazy Eddie instead of staying in and watching it on my computer I don't really have much else to say. They're now poised to crusie to wins over NDSU and LaFayette and go into their December 31 game against Michigan State at 12-1 and likely ranked in or near the Top 10. Michigan State at home is pretty much the perfect test for this team if you want to know where they stand. If they're as good as I think they are they should handle Sparty at home. If they don't, you know we're looking at fool's gold once again. Pretty much the biggest game in Gopher history since the Final Four. No biggie.