Twins Trade Targets: Freddy Sanchez

Dan WadeSenior Analyst IJuly 5, 2009

NEW YORK - MAY 09:  Freddy Sanchez #12 of the Pittsburgh Pirates bats against the New York Mets on May 9, 2009 at Citi Field in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. The Mets defeated the Pirates 10-1.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Besides bullpen help, which is how this series started, the Twins are almost certainly looking for help in the middle infield.

Brendan Harris, once a seemingly permanent member of Ron Gardenhire's doghouse, has filled in admirably at short since he started getting consistent starts there. Not only has he posted a better UZR than the man he replaced, supposed defensive specialist Nick Punto, his bat has been a valuable asset for the Twins lineup.

Harris has been just a tic below league average, which is a survivable line for a good-fielding shortstop, but his emergence has, quite unfortunately, not relegated Nick Punto to the bench.

Alexi Casilla, who will be dealt with in due time, fell below the Mendoza Line on April 19 and never recovered. Add to his ineffectiveness a perceived lackadaisical approach in the field and Casilla basically wrote his own ticket back to AAA.

If Punto was the only offensive blackhole the Twins had, perhaps they wouldn't be looking to move him out. However, with both Carlos Gomez and Delmon Young offering little at the plate but with more future potential than Punto, the Twins have decided that if anyone goes, it will be Captain Scrappy himself.

It is hard to imagine Freddy Sanchez being a Pirate when this year ends, not with GM Neil Huntington's seemingly insatiable urge to get younger and cheaper. Sanchez is 31 and is the third-highest paid player on the Pirates, which ought to scream trade bait to anyone who will listen.

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There's a lot to like about Freddy from the Twins' point of view. He's a passable defender, if a little limited on range, posting a 2.8 UZR, with a -0.4 for range runs.

Offensively, he's a former batting champ who is still a near lock to hit over .300, while posting an isolated power of .161, due in no small part to his 25 doubles and six home runs.

While he is the third most expensive Pirate, Sanchez's contract is very doable, even for the money-conscious Twins. He's owed $6.1 million for this season, then has a club option for next season of $8 million with a 600k buyout.

Considering the team is paying Punto $4 million this season and next, and $2.6 million to Mike Lamb, who is no longer with the team, adding Sanchez shouldn't strain the payroll much at all.

Getting a bit ahead of ourselves, with his speed and high average, there might be an urge to put Sanchez into the two-hole behind Denard Span and ahead of Joe Mauer.

However, looking at that positioning brings to light a few things that may make Bill Smith and the Twins brass nervous when deciding whether or not to sign the Pirates utility man.

While Sanchez's batting average (.316) is well above the league average (.257), his on-base is much closer to the midline (.355 to .330) and his K/BB rate is a forgettable 45/18, and that's an improvement from last year.ย 

Sanchez also gets credit for speed he hasn't shown. While he was often linked with the Pirates other slap-and-dash hitters like the now departed Nyjer Morgan, Sanchez doesn't have the same speed; his five steals so far this season are career high.

Does this mean the Twins should shy away from Sanchez? Not necessarily. Does it mean he should hit at the back-end of the order? Ideally, yes.

Freddy Sanchez brings a lot to the table right now and the Pirates know it. His 24.9 VORP is the best on the team and is better than the No. 2 and 3 hitters combined; trading him is even more of a white flag than trading Nate McLouth was.

Without question, the Twins will be forced to pay a premium for Sanchez's services, but that doesn't necessarily mean they should back away from the table. Sanchez represents a clear upgrade over internal options, and the Twins are bullish at certain positions in the minor leagues.

Until real negotiations begin, any players mentioned are pure hypothesis, so it hardly seems worth the space to guess at what Sanchez will cost. But my preference for the team would be to pursue this deal until it either gets done or it fails for a specific reason, not just "We couldn't get a deal done."

If the Twins don't like Sanchez's mediocre OBP, fine, there are other options. But right now, he is worth about 16.4 runs and Nick Punto is worth -15, a difference of 31.4 runs. Given that 10 runs is approximately equivalent to one win, Sanchez is a three-win upgrade over the Twins current starter.ย 

It hardly needs to be mentioned, but the Twins lost the division by one game last season, and with how tight the AL Central is now, Sanchez could easily be the difference between a long winter and a playoff run for the Minnesota Twins.

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