Thursday, July 31, 2014

Random comments before the trading deadline

Giving away outs on the basepaths: Sam Fuld is
picked off first base by Danny Duffy in the fourth inning.
Well, that was a pretty ugly loss by the Twins Wednesday night in Kansas City. Two baserunners picked off. Another runner thrown out at the plate by, oh, maybe 15 feet or so.

The moment Brian Dozier took off I was yelling "No no no" at the TV set, and Scott Ullger should have doing the same, because it's possible Dozier could actually hear him. And then I remember the story from the 1975 World Series of Don Zimmer, third base coach for the Red Sox, yelling "No no no" and Denny Doyle hearing it as "Go go go."

Meanwhile, another day slips off the calendar toward the nonwaiver trading deadline, and still no action involving the Twins. I do believe something is going to happen before the deadline this afternoon. But I suspect it won't involve Kurt Suzuki or Josh Willingham. Maybe Kevin Correia (teams are always looking for pitching, although Correia is not a playoff-caliber starter). Most likely, one of the middle relievers -- Brian Duensing, Jared Burton and/or Casey Fien.

But I have a lousy record on guessing trade deadline stuff. Terry Ryan has done deadline deals, but most years he waits until August and the waiver period. That's when Justin Morneau moved last year. So while I expect something to happen today, I recognize that it might not -- and just because it didn't happen in July doesn't mean it won't happen in August.

A few other items:

  • The word from the New Britain Rock Cats about J.O. Berrios: He's fine. No discomfort today. Nothing to see here. Alrighty then. Let's see when he starts next, and what happens when he does. I hope that's accurate. 
  • Hudson Boyd, a high draft pick in 2011 who hasn't risen above Low A ball and has been relegated to relief work in Cedar Rapids, was suspended indefinitely for unspecified violation of team rules. The Twins had four picks by the end of the second round of that draft: Levi Michael, Boyd, Travis Harrison and Madison Boer. I'm not very optimistic about any of them at this point.
  • I've been known, in years past, to hit Davenport, Iowa, to see a Midwest League game (home team: Quad Cities River Bandits). On Wednesday night, their game was interrupted when a possum invaded:

That might have been more exciting to see than watching the Twins' base running tomfoolery.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Talking minor league pitchers

Jose (or J.O.) Berrios in the Futures Game. 
As we wait for the Twins to make what seems an inevitable trade or trades by Thursday's nonwaiver deadline, a few notes about some prominent Twins minor league pitchers:

* J.O. Berrios, who we saw starting the Futures Game in Target Field, started Tuesday night in Trenton, New Jersey,his fourth start in Double A. Keith Law of ESPN was there:

Law has not been as impressed with Barrios as other observers, citing Barrios' relative lack of height (listed at 6 feet). Anyway, the word on Barrios is shoulder discomfort of some sort:

We'll see what further evaluation holds for him. But reports that his velocity dropped sharply his last three pitches hint that this may be more than a minor glitch.

* When Kohl Stewart went on the disabled list, his shoulder stiffness was deem so minor that no tests were going to be done, and I figured that it was just an excuse to skip a start or two for the 19-year-old. Well, the Twins did bring him to Minneapolis for an MRI and exam by the team physician, and nothing was found, or so the Twins say.

There's a bit more than a month to the Cedar Rapids season, and Stewart has topped 80 innings. Last year Berrios threw 103 there (and 13 in Elizabethton) as a 19-year-old, so assuming Stewart gets back in action soon, he will be on track to match that workload.

* Let's have some good news of a sort: The Twins just signed an "out of nowhere" guy who throws 100 mph by has somehow eluded scouts for years. Brandon Poulson is 24, which is pretty old for somebody going to Elizabethton. If he's going to make it, he's going to have to climb the ladder quickly.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Ex-Twins watch: Danny Valencia for Liam Hendriks

Interesting deal Monday between the Kansas City Royals and Toronto Blue Jays, two teams that have at times led their divisions but have fallen to second place. Well, interesting to Twins fans, at least. It's unlikely to change the standings in any meaningful way.

The Royals shipped third baseman Danny Valencia to the Blue Jays in exchange for catcher Erik Kratz and pitcher Liam Hendriks.

Despite my title for this post, the trade's not really Valencia for Hendriks. It's Valencia for Kratz with Hendriks as a throw-in. But to a Twins fan, Kratz is an unknown, and Valencia and Hendriks are a couple of guys we once held hopes for.

Valencia it a fairly empty .282 for Kansas City. The Royals picked him up during offseason presumably as a platoon option with Mike Moustakas, a high draft pick who has disappointed. Moustakas has been even worse than Valencia, but Ned Yost is apparently as allergic to platoons as Ron Gardenhire, so the platoon notion never went anywhere. The Jays have a bunch of corner infielders on the DL (Brett Lawrie, Edwin Encarnacion, Adam Lind), so they can find at-bats for Valencia, at least until these superior players return.

The Royals wanted Kratz as an upgrade on their backup catcher; Brett Hayes has hit .135 in very limited at-bats behind Salvador Perez. Kratz has at least flashed some power in the majors, which is more than Hayes offers. He's an upgrade, but not a significant one.

And Hendriks? Well, we're fairly familiar with this from the Aussie: The Jays gave him three big league starts, in which he worked a total of 13.1 innings and compiled a 6.08 ERA. In Triple A, Hendriks is 8-1, 2.33.

I really don't know why he dominates in the high minors and is so inept in the majors. He'll be for the Royals what he was for the Jays -- rotation depth in Triple A.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Changes for the Hall of Fame

Last year there were no living inductees to the Hall of
Fame. This year, six. From left: Bobby Cox, Tony LaRussa,
Tom Glavine, Frank Thomas, Greg Maddux and Joe Torre.

Six Hall of Famers is a lot. And it wasn't enough.

The writers' ballot is overloaded, and the best they can do is run in place. They picked the the most over-qualified of the new crop of eligibles (Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas) but left out more than a dozen players who, by all past standards, merit induction. (The three managers inducted Sunday were selected by a veterans committee, not by the writers.)

This weekend the Hall announced some new rules for the voting. They cut the period for BBWAA voting from 15 years to 10, and in the process pretty much guaranteed that the writers won't induct Tim Raines. Or Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens, either.

I think Joe Posnanski nails it in this attempt to divine the Hall's intent: The board wants to keep the 'roid users out, it wants to induct more recent players than the writers will, and it is gearing up to change the selection process. Pos figures -- and I agree --that the sooner the Hall gets Alan Trammell and Raines and a few others out of the writers' jurisdiction, the sooner a "veterans committee" can get them in.

Pos lists every player chosen by the writers in years 11 to 15 on the ballot, all 11 of them. There are a few I wouldn't vote for (Jim Rice, for example, was not as good as contemporary left fielders Raines and Roy White), but there are worse players in the Hall than any of them, and Gabby Hartnett, Bert Blyleven and Duke Snider certainly should each have gone in much sooner than they did. The Hall didn't make this limit because the writers are putting unworthy candidates in after year 10.

I regard the BBWAA vote as broken. They have too many voters with a tangential connection to the game, if that; they have grandfathered voters who would be ineligible had they started their career in their current medium; they have a counterproductive 10-vote maximum on the ballot. The BBWAA thinks the "Deadspin" crowd-sourced ballot cast by Dan LeBatard last winter is an embarrassment, but ignores the fact that the next president has been crowd-sourcing his ballot for years.

The Hall's changes don't address any of those issues. And those are the issues that Posnanski predicts the Hall itself will deal with eventually, because the BBWAA isn't capable of that much rational thought. If it were, Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell and Mike Piazza and Mike Mussina and Curt Schilling and Raines and Trammell would all be in.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Pic of the Week

Ryan Braun splits his bat in hitting into a double play
against Cincinnati on Wednesday.

I like the moment captured here -- the bat essentially breaking lengthwise and the ball still in the shot -- but this image also provides the opportunity to comment on Ryan Braun, disgraced superstar.

Braun's involvement with performance-enhancers is pretty well known. He flunked a drug test near the end of his MVP season in 2011, wriggled out of the suspension by raising questions about how the specimen was handled, then wound up suspended for the final 65 games of 2013 after being nailed in the Biogenesis probe.

This year, Braun has

  • moved to right field;
  • played most of the season with a thumb injury;
  • gone from hitting third in the Milwaukee lineup to second; 
  • and is hitting .298/.349/.529, well below his career norms of .311/.372/.561.

On that last point, however, it's worth noting that offense is down all over. The OPS+ measure on Baseball Reference puts Braun at 140, meaning that he's 40 percent above league average. His career OPS+ is 146. This suggests that he's just as good as he has been over the years.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

The daily roster move: Polanco down, Darnell up

Logan Darnell is 5-5,
3.43 in Triple A this year.
The Twins are in a period in which they are shuffling bodies around to cover for a rotation vacancy and because they're downshifting from veterans to prospects -- or at least unestablished players -- as it becomes obvious that contention remains an illusion. The upshot is that something marginal is happening every day.

Friday's move was the demotion of Jorge Polanco -- recalled for a day after Kendrys Morales was traded Thursday for a minor leaguer -- to bring up Logan Darnell, who will get the start Saturday in place of Kris Johnson, who was demoted after Monday's start to make room for Yohan Pino, who started Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the true prospect starters -- Alex Meyer and Trevor May -- remain in Rochester.

This is a growing irritant to a vocal block of Twins fans, who are wondering why we're getting a parade of minor league vets in Johnson and Pino and not seeing the guys who could actually matter down the road.

My guess is that the Twins are (a) wary of May's health after he missed almost a month with a calf injury and (b) unwilling to bring Meyer up with his (unofficial) innings limits. I think -- hope might be the more accurate verb -- that the idea is to bring May in to replace Kevin Correia in the next week or so after Correia is traded. (That, of course, is a scenario that assumes Correia will be traded, which may be merely wishful thinking.) I don't expect to see Meyer in Minnesota at all in 2014.

Darnell is sort of a medium ground between the Meyer-May duo and the Johnson-Pino pair: Not as high-ceiling as the former two, younger than the latter two. He's a lefty, and I suspect that his ultimate role, if any, with the Twins will be in the bullpen. Brian Duensing 2.0, perhaps.

As a starter, Darnell's not staying long. If Duensing is on the trade block -- and a contender may well be interested in him and his 2.27 ERA -- Darnell might stick around for a trial in the pen.

Bottom line: Just because Darnell is here today doesn't mean he'll be here tomorrow, and if he's here tomorrow it doesn't mean he's remaining in the rotation. The roster shuffling is far from over.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Goodbye, Morales

Kendrys Morales' final stat line with the Twins:

Well, it was an attractive idea at the time: Sign free-agent Kendrys Morales to beef up the designated hitter slot and see if he could give the Twins offense enough of a boost to get them deeper into the playoff chase.

It didn't work. Morales hit just one homer in more than 160 trips to the plate with the Twins. His final slash line with Minnesota would embarrass a glove-first shortstop. Even after a 12-game hitting streak, his batting average was still in the .230s. (As 12-game hitting streaks go, it wasn't particularly impressive, with a .292 batting average. Morales had more than one hit just twice in the 12 games.)

On Thursday, the Twins sent him back to Seattle, where he played last year, in exchange for 25-year-old reliever Stephen Pryor. Pryor once threw tremendously hard, but then he got hurt, and the word is that instead of the 100-mph gas he featured before the injury he's operating in the low 90s. He hasn't been particularly effective in Triple A for the M's Tacoma farm team, and I would think that there are other relievers on the 40-man roster (or even off the roster) who should rank ahead of Pryor.

I think it likely the Twins will trade away at least one of their established set-up men (Jared Burton, Brian Duensing, Casey Fien), and if so, it will create openings for some of those relievers.

One thing for sure: We should not expect this to be the last veteran the Twins move this month (or next month in a waiver wire trade). Terry Ryan signed Morales in an effort to win now; the players simply could not live up to that notion.


One aspect of the Morales trade to note: Jorge Polanco, the young Dominican infielder who made a bit of a splash in a brief callup in June, was called up to fill the spot on the 25-man roster.

There really is no point to bringing him up to sit on the bench. But I certainly don't foresee either Brian Dozier or Eduardo Escobar sitting for the kid, and Polanco has had minimal exposure to any position other than shortstop and second base.

Sorta makes me wonder if there's a trade in the works involving a middle infielder.