Friday, July 25, 2014

Goodbye, Morales

Kendrys Morales' final stat line with the Twins:
.234/.259/.335

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.

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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.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Goodbye, Guerrier

Matt Guerrier was born in Cleveland, and his last
outing for the Twins came against Cleveland.
The last of the Reunion Three got the ax after Wednesday's game: Matt Guerrier was designated for assignment.

Ryan Pressly was recalled to take his place on the 25-man roster, and the Twins, for now, have an opening on the 40-man roster.

Guerrier ends his second stint with the Twins with a record of 0-1, 3.86 in 28 innings. The ERA had been a pretty sparkly 2.67 before an ugly outing on Tuesday, but that was deceptive. He hadn't had a "clean" outing -- no baserunners allowed -- since June 22, and that was a one-batter appearance. He hadn't had a clean outing of an inning or more since May 28. Ten walks and 12 strikeouts in 28 innings is not a solid foundation.

I never saw the purpose in giving Guerrier a roster spot over Pressly or Michael Tonkin, but somebody did.

As with the other two retreads from playoff teams past, Jason Bartlett and Jason Kubel, my issue isn't with the player. I do not begrudge a veteran trying to milk another season (or more) from his declining skills. My issue is with the management that could not, or would not, recognize that these guys didn't belong in the majors any more.

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The Twins will get an extra draft pick next June, having "won" a pick between the second and third rounds in the "competitive balance" lottery. An explanation of the lottery can be found here.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Bunting against the shift

Carlos Santana drops one down for a single Tuesday.
Top of the third inning, two outs, nobody on. Carlos Santana, the Cleveland cleanup hitter, steps up to the plate against the pronounced shift he typically sees when hitting left-handed and promptly pushes a bunt to the vacated third base position.

Easy base hit.

In the Twins TV booth, Bert Blyleven is critical of Santana for bunting. The old pitcher's analysis: With two outs, Santana should be looking for extra bases. A bunt single doesn't put him in scoring position for the next guy (Lonnie Chisenhall in this specific example). The unspoken next step of this line of thought -- unspoken, at least, by Blyleven -- is that the bunt is a selfish play, executed less to help the team than to fatten Santana's meager batting average. (Santana is having the kind of season at the plate only a stat nerd can love: He leads the American League in walks and he has 15 homers, but he entered Tuesday's game batting just .205. He left it hitting .214.)

Later in the game, I am listening to the radio guys, and the Santana bunt comes up. Dan Gladden is almost enthusiastic about the bunt. Santana got on base, he kept the line moving. An unspoken thought in defense of the bunt: Beyond doubt, part of Santana's meager batting average is the heavy use of infield shifts against him. Some bunt singles might discourage teams from shifting.

There's merit in both viewpoints. Blyleven's right in this: Santana's three other hits Tuesday (a home run and a pair of doubles) did more to help Cleveland score runs than the bunt did. On the other hand, had Santana lined a single to the outfield, nobody would criticize him for merely getting a one-base hit. Hitting is difficult.

Personally, I'm fine with the play. It's not the optimal time for Santana to take a bunt hit (leading off the inning would be), but he's got to do something to get the third baseman back on left side of the infield and open up the right side. And he's got hitters behind him who can do some damage. Getting on base -- not making an out -- is the goal of hitting.

Moving beyond this specific case to the abstract: There appears to be a brainless dispute within the game about when it's appropriate to bunt against a shift.

Earlier this year, the Houston Astros and Oakland Athletics got into a plunking war that was rooted in a bunt attempt by the A's Jed Lowrie with a 7-0 lead. The Astros responded by throwing at Lowrie.

This weekend, Colby Lewis, Texas pitcher, griped at Colby Rasmus, Toronto outfielder, for a bunt in essentially the same situation as Santana's bunt. (I can't resist; what's with these cheesy first names?)

My opinion: If it's appropriate for the defense to put on an exaggerated infield shift -- which are designed to take away singles; no infield shift is going to keep a home run ball in the park -- then it's appropriate for the batter to bunt against that shift.

The hitter is under no obligation to cooperate with the defense. Or the pitcher.

I suspect the pitchers unhappy with the opposition bunts are, in truth, unhappy with the shifts being deployed behind them. But they can't publicly vent about the manager giving away the bunt hit, so they direct their frustration at the guy taking what is given them. (Let it be noted that Lewis' ERA this year is 6.37, and Paul Clemens, the Astros pitcher who used Lowrie for target practice, has been up and down with an ERA of 6.08 in the majors. They can give up runs without their manager giving away the bunt.)

I know Tom Kelly thinks the shifts are overdone. But they are prevalent in today's game because they work. When enough hitters do what Santana did Tuesday often enough, the shifts will fade.



 

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Contemplating A.J. Pierzynski

A.J. Pierzynski's half-season with the
Red Sox, captured in one image.

A few days before the All-Star break, the Boston Red Sox designated veteran catcher A.J.Pierzynski for assignment. During the break, the Sox, having determined that there was no trade partner to be had for the remainder of Pierzynski's $8.5 million contract, released him.

Roughly a week later, Pierzynski remains eminently available.

At age 37, it's not difficult to see way he's had no takers. As a catch and throw guy behind the plate, Pierzynski has never been all that good, especially in the throwing aspect. As a hitter, he's fallen off tremendously with age. A slash line of .254/.286/.348, Pierzynski's stats with the Sox through 70 games, looks pretty good for Drew Butera, but it won't cut it for a below-average defender.

It's a pretty good bet that Pierzynski's days as a No. 1 catcher are past. And  his reputation as a jerk works against him if he's interested in hanging around as a backup.

Still, the Twins were interested enough in a reunion with Pierzynski to offer him a two-year contract last winter (he instead took Boston's one-year deal because he saw an opportunity to chase another ring). Perhaps they've changed their evaluation of him. But I can imagine them deciding that he's an upgrade over Eric Fryer as a backup to Kurt Suzuki -- or even, should they trade Suzuki, deciding to deploy Pierzynski as their main catcher.

Either way, I suspect Minnesota represents Pierzynski's best chance of continuing his playing career. I think it's more likely that he'll be behind the microphone than behind the plate.

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Astros' 1/1 problems

Carlos Correa, seen here hitting for the Quad Cities
River Bandits against the Cedar Rapids Kernels in 2013,
is currently shelved with a fractured leg.
The Houston Astros have had the first overall pick in each of the last three drafts. With the spectacular collapse of their negotiations with this year's 1/1 as the team indulged in apparent gamesmanship with its draft pool, it's worth looking at how they've fared with those picks so far.

2012: Carlos Correa.

This was a gamesmanship draft by the Astros. Correa wasn't expected to go that high; the consensus had Byron Buxton as the top talent and three college pitchers (Mark Appel, Kyle Zimmer and Kevin Gausman) as safer selections.

The Astros took Correa and signed him for considerably less than the Twins, who picked second, spent on Buxton. They then used their bonus pools savings to buy a pair of "tough signs," Lance McCullers Jr. and Rio Ruiz, out of their college commitments.

Two years later, Correa is a highly regarded prospect, albeit out for the remainder of the season with a fractured fibia near the right ankle. He's not as highly regarded as Buxton, however, and if the broken leg helps force him from shortstop to third base, his value will recede a bit more.

As for the gain downdraft, it's probable that the Twins did better with Jose Barrios than the Astros did with McCullers Jr.

Correa wasn't a bad selection by the Astros, but I think the industry would agree they'd have been better off taking Buxton.

2013: Mark Appel

When the Astros and Twins bypassed Appel in 2012, so did several other teams, and he slid to the Pirates at No. 8. Pittsburgh didn't have the bonus pool money to appease the college junior, and Appel returned to Stanford.

This time the Astros took him (over Jonathan Gray and Kris Bryant), and Appel signed.

He has been a disaster.

Appel was somewhat less than dominant for Quad Cities in the Midwest League last summer, but it had been a long collegiate season and he was shifting from pitching once a week for Stanford to a more frequent professional rotation. Nobody was concerned.

Moved up to high A Lancaster in the California League this year, Appel is 1-5, 10.80. Let me repeat that ERA: Ten-eighty. He's averaging a bit more than three innings a start, and he's allowed 69 hits in 38.1 innings.

Lancaster is a notoriously terrible place to pitch, but there is no sugarcoating those numbers. The Astros would have done better to take Bryant, certainly. At this point, they'd have done better taking anybody else. It's difficult to envision a four-year college pitcher doing this poorly in A ball and having a career.

2014: Brady Aiken.

Appel may not be what the Astros (and, to be fair, most everybody else) expected, but at least there's a chance he will contribute someday to the Astros. Aiken will assuredly not.

Whatever the specifics of the medical concerns, whatever the perceived risk, it is baffling that the Astros front office screwed up the negotiations this badly. And, of course, it wasn't just Aiken they lost, but Jacob Nix as well. I doubt that general manager Jeff Luhnow is in any real jeopardy over this, but there is a serious case to be made that this should a firing offense.

Houston will get the No. 2 pick next June in compensation for failing to sign Aiken. The Astros don't deserve it.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Pic of the Week

Derek Jeter acknowledges the
Target Field crowd after being
pulled from his final All-Star Game.

Well, yeah. Derek Jeter. Of course he's the pic of the week. The All-Star Game was the event of the week, and he was the focus of the All-Star Game.

He's not the best shortstop in the American League this year, but he's not the worst either. He's not the greatest shortstop in baseball history -- that remains Honus Wagner, as it has been for a century or more -- but I think he's the second best shortstop.

A great player who somehow manages to be at once both overrated and underrated. Tuesday was a good day to appreciate him.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Brady Aiken fiasco

The current regime of the Houston Astros has a tendency to come off as convinced that they're the smartest guys in the room -- and more than that, they frequently seem compelled to make sure everybody else knows it.

Today, with the first overall pick in the draft lost to them -- and their fifth round pick too, and, although this is perhaps a bit more of a stretch, their 21st round pick -- they look considerably dumber than that.

The Astros on Friday lost two prime prospects, maybe a third, in a dispute over a medical evaluation and, depending on which offer we're talking about, $3 million to $1.5 million. Now, $3 million is a life-changing sum for most of us, but teams toss that much money overboard routinely these days. The Red Sox dumped A.J. Pierzynski last week; they will pay him more than $3 million not to play for them.

The Astros, if we take their reported concerns about Brady Aiken's elbow at face value (and Aiken and his camp emphatically do not), were willing to risk more than $3 million on Aiken, even $5 million,  but not the agreed-upon $6.5 million. This flabbergasts me. 

Five million is the same amount the Twins are wasting on Mike Pelfrey this year -- and will spend again on him next year. The Astros couldn't bring themselves to wager less money on Aiken's future than the Twins did on Pelfrey.

Dumb, dumb, dumb.