A Log for the Hot Stove: Kevin Kouzmanoff
Even though Chone Figgins, Placido Polanco, and Pedro Feliz have been signed to play third base, the market is far from depleted. Free agents from Adrian Beltre to Troy Glaus are still teamless, which would be more surprising but for last year’s Type-A debacle, where players like Orlando Hudson and Juan Cruz remained on the market long after the winter meetings.
This year, John Lackey is probably the biggest name to be signed so far, but Matt Holliday and Jason Bay remain in the aether, and even a top trade target like Dan Uggla can be had for the right price. Teams are simply willing to wait longer and see how the market develops rather than risk paying last year’s prices for an early shot at players (call it Raul Ibanez Syndrome).
The Twins are pioneers for this way of thinking, frequently signing players late in the offseason, with Joe Crede being the perfect example. Rather than bid against themselves, the Twins waited until Scott Boras could no longer pretend there was competing interest in his client, and the Twins were able to sign the player they wanted to a contract that was fair for both parties.
What should be somewhat surprising is that with a wide number of players available, some to sign and some to be acquired via trade, is that the Twins are already looking at option L on their offseason plan.
It isn’t too hard to see how the Twins got here: Adrian Beltre is likely to be too expensive, Mark DeRosa’s contract demands (three years, $27 million) are out of control given his age, the Marlins’ demands for Dan Uggla are ridiculous, so on and so forth ad infinitum. At the end of the day, we are where we are: Kevin Kouzmanoff.
There’s a lot of ground to cover with Kouz. His career OPS+ of 103 tells a lot about him, especially since it’s composed of a little over three years: one above average (110), a smattering below average (77 in 61 PAs with Cleveland), and two years of dead-on avereage (100). That’s a fair assessment of Kouzmanoff’s offensive contributions, a career .261/.308/.435 hitter isn’t bad at all—he shouldn’t be your team’s best player, but if he’s your worst, you’ve got a solid team.
And this is where the waters begin to murky. Proponents of Kouzmanoff will gleefully point out that he has accumulated that line—solid but unspectacular—in a park so pitcher friendly it’s the architectural equivalent of a home plate umpire with a five foot wide strike zone.
And it’s true. Kouzmanoff’s career home/road split is non-trivial: .236/.287/.388 with 25 HR at Pecto compared to .284/.328/.477 with 37 HR elsewhere. 2009 saw the gulf widen to .220/.280/.382 and .287/.323/.455. This is all to say that Kouz looks like a much better hitter, indeed a good one, when he was anywhere but San Diego. And if there’s one thing I’m sure of in this crazy world, it’s that Minneapolis is not San Deigo.
So the Twins would be getting the road warrior who just needs a real ballpark to play in to become a star, right?
Using Baseball Reference’s Neutralized Batting tool, we can see exactly how Kouz would have looked in the Dome over his career and last season in particular. His career line bumps up to .271/.319/.449, while his 2009 goes to .261/.308/.426; it’s not a perfect system, but that’s a pretty good reference point, and it draws into perfect relief my complaint with Kouzmanoff: he never walks. Ever.
You may think this is hyperbole, but look at is this way: Kouzmanoff strikes out nearly four times more than he walks (K/BB of 4.03) whereas the average major league strikes out just twice for every walk drawn (K/BB of 2.02). His strikeout numbers are just about average, so the discrepancy comes from an incredibly low walk total. He jogged to first in just 4.7% of his PAs, again, well below the league average of 8.9%.
Consider for a moment Delmon Young, whose inability to let four consecutive bad pitches pass him by is legendary, posted a 2009 line of .284/.308/.425, disarmingly similar to Kouz’s projected line. Sure, Kouz would have walked a little more, but in the end a .308 OBP is what it is. Only 14 players who qualified for the batting title posted an OBP lower than .308; it is a very bad on-base percentage.
Bringing in Kouzmanoff isn’t exactly like adding another Young to the lineup. Kouz’s defense is above average, so he brings that to the table. His UZR over the last two seasons, 2.7 and 7.5, has been just fine, and indications are that he’s even improving at the position. He’s better in every way offensively than Joe Crede was, but doesn’t quite play defense at that level.
He was worth 2.5 wins last season to Crede’s 1, so he’s an upgrade, but given that Crede missed 71 games, that’s not a difficult feat to accomplish.
But despite all these reasons, this rumor passes the smell test—in no way do I see this being farfetched or impossible.
Kouzmanoff is cheap in all the right ways. He’s a value-add, a guy who, as I noted above, is an asset to the team, but he’s only in his first year of arbitration, meaning he’d be with the team for at least three years at below market value. Since he is such an average player, his arb award wouldn’t be too much to handle either.
Better still, the Padres are willing to accept Glen Perkins as part of a package for Kouz, meaning one less headache/arb case for the team to worry about.
Had that been the deal, Perkins for Kouz, I’d be all over it. That’s a nothing for something swap. It doesn’t matter if the something is your ideal piece, it was free. However, the Padres want Perkins AND, with the name following the ‘and’ unknown as of yet. Who the second player ends up being will strongly influence how this perspective deal is interpreted.
Let’s, for a moment, say that J.J. Hardy regains a reasonably high OBP, perhaps slightly better than his career .323 line, in the .340 range he was in, in 2008. The Twins then need a player to break up the lefties in their lineup, play good defense, and hit 6/7 in the order. Kouzmanoff makes perfect sense in this scenario as he does all of these things at a reasonable price.
However, since it’s unlikely that Hardy will hit that career high mark in the year in which he hops to the more difficult league, Kouzmanoff simply doesn’t fit the way the Twins top target should.
If, at the end of the day, the market is laid bare, then perhaps he’ll make more sense as a secondary option or if the Pads agree to a deal involving Perkins and little else.
However, the market is currently well stocked with better options—prices yet unknown—and the Fathers don’t look desperate enough to move Kouz for such a low price. We can revisit this idea in a month or so if need be, but for the time being, the Twins should be looking elsewhere.
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