Twins acquire Craig Monroe; occasional wailing breaks through the yawns

Categories: Twins

I heard a bad joke last night that makes me think of yesterday afternoon's acquisition of Craig Monroe by the Twins -- which, to be fair, is actually itself a bad joke.

The joke goes like this. A physicist, a chemist, and a statistician walk into a bar. Shortly thereafter, they see that there is a fire in the wastebasket. While the other patrons run out, the physicist says, "We have to cool down the materials so that their temperature is lower than the ignition temperature; then the fire will go out!" The chemist says, "No! Let's cut off the supply of oxygen; that way, the fire will go out due to lack of one of the reactants!"

Then they notice that the statistician is moving around the bar, starting other fires. "What are you doing?" they cry. Says the statistician: "Trying to get an adequate sample size."

This is not, you will note, funny. But neither is the trade, which makes me also want to start fires. And the joke holds a clue as to why I'm reaching for matches.

Craig Monroe is a player with one skill. He hits for some power. By "some," I mean he has a career .446 slugging percentage, a pedestrian number for a corner outfielder. He doesn't get on base, doesn't play good defense, and doesn't play a position where talent is scarce.

Sure, the Twins didn't give up much -- the vaunted "player to be named" -- but this is a player who was likely to be non-tendered, a guy who doesn't do much more than fill a spot for you. Oh, yes: he also takes up roughly $5 million in payroll, and he'll be paid to deliver production that we might charitably call replacement level.

I'd rather the team acquire the rights to the canon of Bill Monroe. He wouldn't hit as much, but he wouldn't curtail pursuit of other free agents, and we'd get to listen to bluegrass all season.

So why bring Craig Monroe in? As the Strib's Joe Christensen notes, "Monroe has been a notorious Twins killer throughout his career, batting .322 against them with 13 home runs in 283 at-bats. He has batted .304 in 35 career games at the Metrodome." Basically, he's killed Minnesota during a few trips here, and that makes him look better than he actually is.

This is where the team is starting fires like the statistician in the joke. The existing sample that tells us Monroe is not a major league starter isn't enough -- let's run him out there some more, just to be sure.

See, it's fundamentally a sample size issue. Do you believe the 200+ at bats he's had against the Twins, or the 2000+ other at bats elsewhere in the majors? Yeah, the Dome's a better place to hit than Detroit, but 35 games is nothing as far as evidence of production goes. Also recall also that Monroe turns 31 in February. We ought to expect a decline from a player of his skill set.

Moves like this -- for middling, veteran talent -- don't help most teams. Winning teams usually fill rosters will players of rare skill (for which they pay a premium) and young, inexpensive talent that has room to improve, thus freeing up money to pursue the top-tier category of players. Players like Monroe aren't young enough that we can reasonably expect them to get better, cost more than younger talent, and are freely available in the minor leagues or on the waiver wire (which is why most people think he was about to be non-tendered).

The one level this trade might make sense on is if the Twins think acquiring Monroe will help them re-sign Torii Hunter, since the two are friends. Re-signing Hunter would be a bad idea, too, a topic I'll tackle in a later post, but the larger point is that moves should make sense for their own sake.

This one doesn't, whether you ask a stathead or a scientist.


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