Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Winter Meetings, Day 1

The only news of substance involving the Twins Monday was a reshuffling of titles and responsibilities in the scouting department.

Deron Johnson, who had been scouting director, has been named "senior advisor of the scouting department." As expounded here by the Pioneer Press' Mike Berardino, he's to be more heavily involved in international and pro scouting than he has been. Sean Johnson (no relation) will be the scouting director, which puts him in charge of the June draft and the No.1 overall pick.

To my knowledge, neither Derek Falvey nor Thad Levine, the two newcomers at the top of the baseball ops hierarchy, have been an amateur scout, much less a scouting director. But the Twins have no shortage of experienced -- and well-regarded -- amateur scouts. Mike Radcliff, the scouting director when the Twins took Joe Mauer 1-1, is still around (vice president, player personnel). So is Larry Corrigan, the scouting director before Radcliff; he ran the draft that brought in Torii Hunter. So the new scouting director has his predecessors going back more than two decades to advise him.

At least, they are around now. While Falvey and Levine said at their introductory press conference that current baseball ops people who want to buy into their vision are welcome to stay, we know that Terry Ryan chose to leave and Bill Smith has been told he's not returning.Two area scouts were let go even before Falvey and Levine arrived, a decision made by assistant general manager Rob Antony. The new cadre of special assistants (Michael Cuddyer, LaTroy Hawkins and Hunter) are apparently expected to play a role in the draft. There are going to be changes -- not necessary dramatic or in a tidal wave, but changes nevertheless.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Winter Meetings: Hall of Fame vote

The annual baseball swap meet, jobs fair and self-promotion festival known as the winter meetings opened Sunday with the usual ceremonial throwing in of the Hall of Fame inductees.

There are two ways to be chosen for induction: the writers vote, which is on players and is pretty stable, and the "veterans committee," no longer called such, which is constantly tweeked by the powers that be in an unceasing and doomed effort to finally get it right. It's the latter that occurs at the start of the meetings.

At this point that process is a lot better at choosing non-players to get plaques than players, and that was the case again Sunday, when retired commissioner Bud Selig and not-fully-retired executive John Schuerholz were chosen for the honor.

I too regard Bud Selig as more worthy of derision than honor, but ...  Bowie Kuhn's in the Hall of Fame. The standard for commissioners isn't imposing. Major League Baseball does not run the Hall of Fame, but, as Bill James wrote decades ago about the relationship, the people who do run the Hall of Fame want very much to have the people who run MLB like their institution. So Kuhn -- and Selig -- are in, and Marvin Miller is not.

As for Schuerholz -- yeah, outstanding general manager who built a great organization in Atlanta, and the precedent for inducting the quasi-active executive was set already (Pat Gillick). I guess it's better than waiting until the guy is dead or at death's door for induction, as with Branch Rickey decades ago.

If there's a surprise in the results, it's that George Steinbrenner wasn't even remotely close in the balloting. Good.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

The Sunday Funnies

Alex Johnson was an outstanding hitter for a few years in the late 1960s and early 1970s. He was also an indifferent outfielder at best, and generally regarded as a pain in the rear to have around, which is why he bounced from team to team.

A reporter once approached the dour Johnson. "Last year you hit two homers. You have seven already this season. What's the difference?

Johnson glared at his inquistor. "Five, you dumb bleep."

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Tender is the night

Eduardo Escobar,
Yoman Landa, gone.
A plethora of news items concerning the Twins to sort through as we reach the weekend before the winter meetings being:

Tendering deadline

Friday was the deadline to tender contracts to arbitration-eligible players. The Twins had five such: infielder Eduardo Escobar, left-handed starter Hector Santiago, right-handed starter Kyle Gibson and relievers Brandon Kinzler and Ryan Pressly. The Twins reached an agreement with Escobar ($2.6 million) and tendered contracts to the other four, so they let none of them go.

No surprises there. I saw some speculation about non-tendering Escobar, but that really didn't seem likely. He is almost certainly not the Twins idea of a long-term shortstop, but he's more likely in my mind to hold the position on opening day than anybody else on the 40-man roster.

Opening a roster slot

The Twins were expected to vacate at least one spot on the 40-man roster before the Rule 5 draft next week, and they did so Friday by dumping Yoman Landa, a relief prospect

Landa was added to the 40 last winter despite not having pitched above low-A ball. He spent a good chuck of 2016 on the disabled list at High A Fort Myers with shoulder woes, and the Twins didn't merely outright him off the 40-man roster, they non-tendered him. So he's a free agent.

Which, presumably, tells us what the Twins think of his chances of  recovering fully.

New hitting coach hired

James Rowson was named Friday to follow Tom Brunansky as the major league hitting coach. He held the job with the Chicago Cubs in 2012-13 and more recently was working in the Yankees organization.

Mike Bernardino of the Pioneer Press has this on Rowson. I said when Bruno (and Butch Davis) got the ax that the key factors were Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano. Sano regressed in 2016 from 2015, and Buxton struggled much of the season. They are Jobs 1 and 1A for Rowson.

Davis's job -- first base coach, base running instruction, outfield instruction -- remains open.

Bill Smith leaving

Terry Ryan, it was announced earlier in the week, has joined the Phillies as a special assignment scout. On Thursday came word that the Twins are not renewing the contract of Bill Smith, who was the general manager for a few years between Ryan's two terms in the job and more recently has been heavily involved in the multi-year upgrade of the spring training complex in Fort Myers.

Smith was atop the food chain when the Twins imploded on the field, so he got the blame for the collapse, probably more of it than he really deserved. It comes with the territory. He's also the GM who OK'd the signings of Miguel Sano, Max Kepler and Jorge Polanco, and the Hammond Stadium upgrades are impressive.

Smith told the Fort Myers newspaper that his departure wasn't his choice. I suppose that the new baseball ops guys decided that with the complex project done, they had no need for that skill set in the organization, and with the additions of a flock of ex-players as special assistants, somebody had to go.

Friday, December 2, 2016

The power of 10 (days)

There is an obvious appeal to changing the minimum stay on the disabled list from 15 to 10 days.

Twins fans have long beefed about an organizational tendency to refrain from putting a mildly injured player on the DL. A regular infielder tweaks something, and it's obvious that he's going to miss some time. But how much? It's seldom certain. So the team waits two, three, four days .. and maybe the guy is back in the lineup at this point, but frequently he's not, and now he goes on the shelf, but in the meantime a roster with few reserves to begin with has been even more shorthanded.

This is not unique to the Twins. It's a problem for every organization. The 10-day DL, it would seem, will make it easier to move that player off the active roster, because now you're not committed to doing without him for two weeks plus.

But there's a drawback to that ease. I suspect teams -- particularly those with one or two rotation anchors piling up the innings (at least by today's standards) and a number of roughly comparable candidates for the back end of the rotation -- will use the 10 day standard to shuffle three or four weaker starters in and out of the rotation, and use that roster spot on yet another reliever.

As a practical matter, it's not that difficult to turn 10 days into one missed start. And as a practical matter, almost any starting pitcher has something going on in his arm. James is placed on the disabled list with inflammation in his pitching shoulder, and John comes off the DL and makes a couple of starts, while Mike goes on the DL when James is eligible to pitch again and comes off so John can go back on the DL ... and meanwhile George remains on the roster as an extra bullpen arm.

And of course James, John and Mike (and George) all really do have inflammation in their shoulders, because they're pitching in the major leagues. It's part of the job. The question is always, what amount of pain can they put up with, and how severe is the damage being done? Now another factor enters: the willingness of the organization to game the system.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Notes, quotes and comment

The signing of Jason Castro became official Wednesday. The Twins now have a full 40-man roster and have the first pick in the upcoming Rule 5 draft, so we should expect a deletion shortly.


The Rule 5 draft is held at the end of the winter meetings, and there had been rumblings that the meetings would be called off if there was no labor agreement; Wednesday was the last day of the expiring pact. But the deal was announced late Wednesday.

Details were still trickling out during the night, but some notable tweaks to the major leagues as we know them:

  • The season will open five days earlier than "usual," giving the players a handful of extra days off during the season. This is not necessarily good news for fans in northern climes (like me), but the bizarre travel patterns created in part by an ever-increasing number of teams (expansion and interleague play) to fit into a 162-game schedule were a quality and health issue.
  • Smokeless tobacco is banned, with current users grandfathered in. So the chaws and snuff may be gone from the game in my lifetime, depending on how long I live.
  • The All-Star Game will no longer determine home field in the World Series. Proof that Bud Selig really is retired and not running things from behind the curtain.
  • There will be no international draft. This is the first instance I can think of in which the players union didn't sell out the amateurs who will someday be union members but are now merely future threats to their individual jobs. Good job. union.
  • The roster rules remain as they were: 25 March through August, 40 in September. Good; I don't care to see 14-man pitching staffs.
  • The free agent compensation rules got still more complex. They already made my head hurt.
  • The 15-day disabled list becomes a 10-day disabled list. My brain still occasionally latches onto the old 21-day DL, so I may have a long time fully adjusting to 10. 


Terry Ryan is moving on. He joined the Phillies as a special assignment scout, so he's reunited with Andy MacPhail, the man who brought him to Minnesota about 30 years ago.

I wouldn't have minded seeing Ryan remain with the Twins in such a capacity, but I also understand the rationale behind going elsewhere.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

All or nothing, and it's nothing

Chris Carter -- not to be mistaken for the retired football player; this guy knows how to spell Chris -- hit 41 home runs for Milwaukee this year. This tied for the National League lead in home runs, which is generally considered something worth having on the roster.

The Brewers cut him loose Tuesday. Non-tendered him. Go play for somebody else, fella. They signed Eric Thames, who washed out of American ball three years ago and has been starring in the Korean league, to fill the roster spot.

Carter is pretty much the epitome of the all-or-nothing hitter. He struck out 206 times in 2016; nobody in the NL whiffed more often. And 206 isn't even his career high; he piled up 212 K's in 2013, when he was with Houston. His 2016 batting average was .222, which is (a) low and (b) higher than his career batting average, .218.

And on top of that, he's not a particularly adept defensive player either.

Add it all up, and you have a player that both Houston last year and now Milwaukee find eminently replaceable. (Houston non-tendered him last winter.)

WAR, or at least the Baseball Reference version, agrees; last year Carter scored at -0.1, this year at 0.9. Milwaukee invested 644 plate appearances in him and got little return, even with the 41 long balls.

Letting a 41-homer guy walk is something that probably wouldn't have happened even 10 years ago, Teams would have perceived value in that many homers, even with all the outs that accompanied them. But in the age of analytics, the counting stats -- the narrative stats, as I described them recently -- matter less than they once did.