Friday, January 29, 2010

Notes and comments

Francisco Liriano is blowing people away in the Dominican Winter League, and on Thursday he pitched five scoreless innings (striking out 10) to clinch the playoff title for Leones del Escogido. The game was streamed live online by EPSN, and bloggers who watched (I didn't; I was working) were impressed.

Ron Gardenhire may not have been blowing smoke earlier this winter after all.


The Yankees signed veteran outfielder Randy Winn to a contract this week, and the big buzz was about how this closes the door on Johnny Damon's return to the Bronx.

Being the parochial guy I am, I'm more interested in how this affects the NUN — New Ulm Native Jamie Hoffmann, who was, at least a few weeks ago, supposedly very much in the Yankees outfield plans.

Curtis Granderson and Nick Swisher are locks. Then there's Winn, a 35-year-old swtich hitter coming off a poor season in San Francisco; Brett Gardner, a speedy left-handed hitter who was on the Yankees roster last season; and Hoffmann.

Can the Yankees carry all three? I doubt it.


Glen Perkins is chafing still over the Twins' decision late last season to option him to the minors. My view after reading the piece is unchanged: Pitchers with 5.89 ERAs in almost 100 innings tend to lose their jobs.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

What are the White Sox thinking?

The above cartoon is from "Smells Like Mascot," a cartoon blog on Chicago sports with a heavy emphasis on the White Sox. And I'm using it because

  • I've used both of the Jim Thome photos I have the past two posts and
  • It illustrates the real complaint White Sox fans have with the team's disinterest in bringing Thome back.
From Sox Machine, a blog listed on the sidebar:
There are reasons on passing on the Gentleman Masher himself. He lost something off his bat speed, he missed more fastballs, his contact rate overall dropped, his strikeout rate increased, and he lost something off his isolated power, too. He’d still be productive with another year of a gentle decline, but he’s a risk to fall off a cliff, get hurt, or both.

Which matches my primary concern about adding Thome: The White Sox know him better than the Twins do. I think they think he's washed up, just as they thought after 2008 that Joe Crede couldn't stay in the lineup.

The problem isn't with deciding they can do better than Thome. It's that the plan Ozzie Guillen espouses seems so ludicrous. Andruw Jones? Omar Vizquel? Mark Kotsay?

It's a three-headed DH combo with more Gold Gloves to its past than extra-base hits in its future. OK, that's probably an exaggeration — but not by much. Who could have imagined Vizquel and his 11 Gold Gloves wrapping up his career as a designated hitter?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Picking up the White Sox' discards

Last season it was Joe Crede; the White Sox let him go after the 2008 season because they couldn't rely on his balky back. The Twins signed Crede and got 370 PAs of low production and plenty of day-to-day lineup absences before his back went out for the rest of the season.

Now it's Jim Thome, now deemed too one-dimensional by the White Sox front office. The Twins signed the veteran slugger on Tuesday.

It's an eminently reasonable contract — $1.5 million plus up to $750,000 in incentives. "Eminently reasonable" in this context means that if or when the the Twins conclude that he's just too one-dimensional to carry, he can be disposed of without great financial pain.

Which is what I expect is going to happen at some point this summer. I ranted about this before. Without being overly redundant, it's real difficult to have 25 percent of your "position player" reserves be somebody who can't play in the field.

Ron Gardenhire, quoted in the Star-Tribune story on the signing:
"A guy like Jim, he's not going to just come off the bench. We'll get plenty of at-bats for him. Kubel's my DH, and Delmon's my left fielder, and we all know that going into it, and Jim's going to play a role off the bench and spot play at DH."

That sounds like Gardenhire last spring talking about his outfield. As it turned out, he locked Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel and Denard Span into the lineup and spent most of the year trying to find a hot hand between Carlos Gomez and Delmon Young. When Young got going, Gardenhire locked Young into the lineup as well. There weren't "plenty of at-bats" for Gomez — he came to the plate less often than Crede.

There won't be "plenty of at-bats" for Thome either. That's just not how Gardy rolls.

I suspect this signing precludes the addition of a veteran infielder. Maybe it was a fallback because there wasn't going to be a signing of a veteran infielder.

Work through it: Say the Twins sign Crede. Now the bench is:
  • Reserve catcher (Jose Morales or, if his wrist is an issue, Drew Butera)
  • Reserve outfielder (Jason Pridie)
  • Thome
  • Brendan Harris (who just signed a two-year contract)
The obvious candidate in the regular lineup for Thome to pinch-hit for is Nick Punto. OK, so Thome pinch-hits and draws a walk. Now what?
  • He's about as slow as anybody in baseball other than the Molina brothers, so you have to pinch run for him. The one guy on that bench who runs well is Pridie.
  • Somebody has to play second base now, and the closest thing to that on this bench is Harris, and we know what Gardenhire thinks of that option.
Suddenly this one move has consumed three of the Twins' reserves. No, having Thome as a pinch-hit specialist means that either Matt Tolbert or Alexi Casilla is on the team, to pinch-run and to play second in Punto's stead. Which means Harris is the third baseman.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

How would Jim Thome fit?

The notion that the Twins might sign Jim Thome — even at a bargain-basement price — is baffling.

Thome is a 39-year-old limited to hitting duties — he hasn't played in the field since 2007 and has logged a total of 28 innings the last four season combined — whose numbers against left-handed pitching have deteriorated to the point that he's essentially a platoon player.

The Twins have a left-handed hitting DH in Jason Kubel. They also like to use the DH slot to give Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau partial days off — keep their bats in the lineup but their bodies sitting.

There's no fit there. Thome would be a pinch-hit specialist, and one can see the value in having him swing that dangerous bat in Nick Punto's stead come the ninth inning of a one-run game against the likes of Bobby Jenks or Jose Valverde.

But if that's all he does, can the Twins afford to carry him? It's tough to see it with a 25-man roster and 12 pitchers. The Twins back in 1991-92 carried Randy Bush as a pinch-hit specialist, but they rostered just 10 pitchers back then.

Assuming that Brendan Harris is the regular third baseman, the bench right now projects out thusly:
  • Jose Morales, backup catcher (or possibly Drew Butera, same role).
  • Jason Pridie, backup outfielder (legs and glove to spell Denard Span).
  • Matt Tolbert or Alexi Casilla, utility infielder.
  • This could be Thome's roster spot. But that doesn't leave a lot of depth among guys who can actually play in the field.
And if they sign another infielder, Harris moves to a reserve slot. Which, depending on how the infield is configured, might bump Tolbert or Casilla, nor might not. We already know Ron Gardenhire doesn't think Harris is a competent second baseman.

Of course, the Phillies carried Matt Stairs all season — but they, by virtue of not playing in a DH league, had an extra bench slot. (Eight regulars plus 12 pitchers equals five reserve position players; in the Twins case, Kubel becomes a ninth regular.)

Meanwhile the White Sox — who have said all winter they were going to split the DH job up among multiple players — are suddenly talking abut bringing him back. But Ozzie Guillen apparently plans to carry 13 pitchers — and if it's tough to carry such a limited player with a 12-pitcher roster, it's even more difficult with 13.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Notes, quotes and comments

When you have problems, you can't hide. When you know you don't do right, you need to do something and ask for help.

— Detroit Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera (right) on his alcoholism rehab. The slugger, who had a notorious drinking binge late in the season as the Tigers blew the divisional title, says he hasn't had a drink since October.


The Twins are linked to free agent Jim Thome? Really? I don't see the point of making the lineup slower and even more left-handed, even if he figures to come cheap.


A player who might have been a fit with the Twins is Gary Matthews Jr., at least at the price the Mets are paying for him. But the Angels moved him for almost nothing because he's not willing to fill the fourth outfielder role, and that's what he'd have been in Minnesota, so I can't be too upset that he's going to Citi Field.

The Met will be paying Matthews about a million this year and next, which isn't horrendously out-of-line for a veterans reserve CF, and he is at least insurance on Carlos Betran's knee surgery. The Angels will pay $21 million-plus to have him on somebody else's roster, which is something they probably should have foreseen when they signed him to that ridiculous contract.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Avoiding arbitration

Lots of signings Tuesday by the Twins. They had eight arbitration cases pending and wiped the slate clean.

Because all eight were already under team control, the deals are mainly of interest to their employer, who now know exactly how much they're paying these guys, and to their accountants.

Tuesday was the day to exchange arbitration figures, and there were a lot of signings all over baseball. It appears that everybody's got a pretty good handle on where the arbitration ruling was likely to go, and if they have that figured out, it's easy to settle.

Some of the Twins deals are complex enough that they were clearly being work on a while. Francisco Liriano, for example, has incentives both as a starter and as a reliever. Brendan Harris got a two-year contract —which make his the worst contract on the roster, except that it's not a huge amount (for baseball. Me, I'd be able to retire on it).

And J.J. Hardy's contract is essentially what Orlando Cabrera got last season, which was too low for O-Cab's liking. Cabrera's still available; he's overestimated his market again, it appears.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Around the division

It's been more than a month since the last look at the Twins' divisional rivals. Let's see what's been happening:

Tigers: Just signed Jose Valverde (left) to close. Silly move in my estimation; they have a ton of young relievers, at least one of whom ought to be capable of pitching the ninth inning. Well, it's one less decision for Jim Leyland to make.

They're rumored to be looking at Johnny Damon, which sounds more like another Scott Boras invention than reality. They have several million tied up in Carlos Guillen and Magglio Ordonez, who are (like Damon) corner outfielders now so limited defensively that they ought to be DHs. They don't need three of that kind of player.

Now watch: They'll probably sign Damon and put him in center. There he would replace Curtis Granderson, who is essentially replacing Damon on the Yankees roster. That would buy some time for Austin Jackson to ripen in the minors. It would also probably cause heads to explode in the Tigers-oriented part of the blogosphere.

Kansas City: The Royals have been busy this winter signing such free agents as Jason Kendall and Scott Podsednik.

It's kind of cute, their relentless pursuit of mediocrity. Dayton Moore, the K.C. general manager, might has well have "I can't evaluate talent" tattooed across his forehead.

White Sox: They've been pretty quiet since dealing for Juan Pierre, who is apparently ticketed for left field with Alex Rios in center and Carlos Quentin in right. (I had assumed, when the deal was done, that Quintin would stay in LF, Pierre in his accustomed CF and Rios in his accustomed RF.)

The Sox did sign relief pitcher J.J. Putz, which would impress me more if this were, say, 2007. He hasn't done much since then but get hurt. Important if healthy.

GM Kenny Williams says he's done dealing, which doesn't necessarily mean anything.

Cleveland: Making minor moves, some of which make sense. Outfielders Austin Kearns and Shelly Duncan signed minor league deals. Duncan's been trapped in the Yankees system, and Kearns has struggled with injuries. Neither has any real star potential at this point — they're both 30 — but either could be a useful bench player.

Mike Redmond, as noted in the previous post, signed with the Tribe. He's on the 40-man roster, unlike Kearns and Duncan. I don't know which youngster will be Cleveland's No. 1 catcher, Lou Marston or Carlos Santana — the linked-to story says Marston's the favorite, but I believe Santana is the more highly-regarded prospect — but it's a safe bet that they expect Red Dog to catch once a week and mentor the kid the rest of the time.

Meanwhile, Jake Westbrook, who has been out since May 2008, pitched winter ball in Puerto Rico and pronounces himself good to go. He's to be their Opening Day starter.

Friday, January 15, 2010

No Kouzmanoff for the Twins

The Padres have reportedly agreed to ship third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff (right) to Oakland.

Kouzmanoff had supposedly been the subject of trade talks with the Twins, who were believed to be dangling Glen Perkins in exchange. San Diego wanted more than Perkins, and the Twins wouldn't budge.

I'm not dismayed by this; Kouzmanoff is a low OBP guy, and putting him back-to-back with Delmon Young in the lineup is a recipe for lots of outs and quick innings. He's got some power, and his numbers were dragged down by the San Diego park, but as a hitter he's essentially a younger, healthier version of Joe Crede. And defensively, he's not much.

Still, it's another infield option that won't come to fruition for the Twins, and every one that slips past makes the return of Crede more likely. The more I think about it, the more interesting Matt Tolbert looks.

Meanwhile, Mike Redmond (left) signed Friday with the Cleveland Indians. And his putative successor as the backup catcher, Jose Morales, needs wrist surgery.

Redmond's departure was expected and planned for; Morales' injury may leave him not quite ready for Opening Day but doesn't figure to be long lasting. Still, it was an unwelcome pair of developments to have on the same day.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

BA's prospect list

Baseball America rolled out its Twins Top 10 prospects list Wednesday.

Along with the list and overview (linked to above) BA's website has, for subscribers, the capsule scouting reports on each of the 10 and the transcript of an online chat with John Manuel, the BA co-editor who drew up the Twins list.

There are plenty of such lists available in cyberspace, some of them good, some bizarre. BA carries more credibility with me than most; they've been doing this for a long time, they have a track record, they understand what the stats say and the limitations of the stats, they talk to scouts and scouting directors and minor league managers.

And despite all that, the list itself doesn't mean a lot. When the Twins traded Johan Santana to the Mets, all four players they got were in BA's Mets Top 10. But they were in the top 10 of a weak organization.

The really interesting stuff here is the stuff that I can't link to. It's the scouting reports, and it's Manuel's explanations. The reports will be in the next print edition of Baseball America. Plus there's a longish piece about how the Twins are scouting some obscure corners of the baseball world.

A few highlights, at least to my eyes:
  • Three of the Top 10 — Kyle Gibson (3), Miguel Sano (4) and Max Kepler (10) have yet to play a minor league game.
  • The Twins "learned" something from Denard Span's development — that their center field prospects need to spend some time in the outfield corners as well. So Hicks will be playing some in left and right this season.
  • Sano has decided to stick with his mother's last name rather than adopt his father's, Jean.
  • Manuel says his ranking of catcher Wilson Ramos (No. 2) is aggressive.
  • Hicks is listed as both the system's best athlete and as having the best plate discipline. From the scouting report: When his skills and experience level catch up to his tools, he could take off, making his big league ETA of 2012 look conservative.
  • Trevor Plouffe, Manuel says, is a tweener. He doesn't run enough to be a great bench guy, like say Matt Tolbert is; he doesn't have the power to be an everyday 3b, like say (Danny) Valencia could; he doesn't field well enough at SS to be a factor there.
  • With Rich Knapp, long the Twins minor league pitching coordinator, now in Detroit, the Twins have eased their restrictions on "long-toss" training for pitchers.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Shocker! McGwire 'roided up!

Somebody apparently convinced Mark McGwire that he can't just waltz into training camp next month as the Cardinals new hitting coach and expect that nobody's gonna ask him about steroids.

So Monday afternoon he issued a statement confessing to a decade of steroid use but insisting that the steroids didn't affect his play.

The statement is essentially cattle excrement from the very first sentence:

Now that I have become the hitting coach for the St. Louis Cardinals, I have the chance to do something that I wish I was able to do five years ago.

Nobody, when he told that congressional committee he wasn't there to talk about the past, was stopping him from instead saying: Yeah, I used. It wasn't banned, there were plenty of others using, it was accepted in clubhouse culture. You may not like knowing it, but you sure enjoyed all those home runs, didn't you? You got what you wanted, I got what I wanted.

He didn't say it then. He won't say it now. But it's a lot closer to truth than what he said in the past and what he said today.

Here's some more organic fertilizer:

Looking back, I wish I had never played during the steroid era.

If we are to take his current version to be accurate — a big if, considering how long it's taken for him to come off his claims of innocence — he only used to recover from injury. If that's the case, had he NOT played in the steroid era, he wouldn't be significant enough for us to notice today.

I see two ways to view McGwire:
  1. He tainted the game as badly as has been done since the days of the game fixers in the 1910s — in which case he shouldn't be back in uniform.
  2. His steroid use was regarded as acceptable at the time and isn't now — in which case he hardly needs a weepy apology.
I'm inclined to the latter. I want a little less weeping and a little more honesty.

What we got today is McGwire saying he shouldn't have done what he did but what he did didn't make any difference.

Which makes no sense at all.

Aroldis Chapman and the draft

Aroldis Chapman (left), a 21-year-old lefty who defected from Cuba last year with a mid-90s fastball, uncertain command and supposed "makeup" issues, signed today with Cincinnati.

The Twins were among the 15 organizations who attended a bullpen session last month, but if they were a factor in the negotiations, it was quietly. Which is possible; the Reds' successful pursuit wasn't trumpeted on the Internet.

There are a lot of aspects to this signing that I could get into, but the one I'm going to is this:

Stephen Strasburg, the top pick in last summer's draft, wound up signing for $15 million with Washington. Chapman's deal is for a total of $30.25 million, although Cincy will be paying some of that four years after the contract itself expires.

The difference, of course, is that Strasburg was subject to the draft, Chapman was not.

The draft now covers the United States, its territories, and Canada. Players from the rest of the world are not covered.

Bud Selig wants a worldwide draft, but it figures to be a self-defeating notion.

Teams today get a lot of talent out of the Dominican Republic — because they're provided the athletic infrastructure, in the form of academies, to develop that talent. Teams aren't going to spend money to develop players for somebody else to draft. That's what happened in Puerto Rico: Once the island was covered by the draft, the talent dried up.

The link above wrestles with the difficult mechanics of a worldwide draft, but as far as I'm concerned that's secondary to the damage to the talent pool it would bring.

The real question ought to be: Should there be an amateur draft at all?

The argument for it is that without one, the rich organizations would sign all the young talent. But in the decades since the draft began (1965), something major happened: Free agency.

The Yankees and Red Sox are spending their money chasing veterans. Neither appears to have been a serious suitor for Chapman. The team that ponied up for this unproven talent was a small market club.

From La Velle Neal's blog today:
I also agree with a fellow scribe’s tweet that Scott Boras must be seething that Chapman can get $30 million as a free agent while Stephen Strasburg could get only $15 million because he was drafted. But this also is another example of why the draft needs to survive.

I don't know how it shows that at all. It might if the Yankees had blown everybody out of the water. But the biggest-dollar signings out of the Dominican the last couple of years have come from the Twins (Miguel Sano) and the Athletics (Michel Inoa).

Wipe out the draft, and what will happen? Players like Strasburg probably would get bigger contracts — I doubt any pro scout thinks Chapman is twice as valuable a property as Strasburg — but many others might find their clout diminish. It's difficult for a bad team to walk away from a first-round pick making an exorbitant demand; there's a commitment made to that player by the very act of selecting him.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

No such thing as too much pitching

After posting on the folly of offering Jarrod Washburn $5 million, I did some more thinking about it, and decided ... it's still folly.

Still, there is a rationale behind it.

Here is a reasonable projection of the Twins starting rotation for 2010 at this point. One can quibble with the order, but the first four are clearly the first four, and the next three are the primary current candidates for the fifth spot, and the rest can be expected to open the season in Rochester, New Britain or lower levels of the farm system.

1) Scott Baker
2) Kevin Slowey
3) Nick Blackburn
4) Carl Pavano
5) Francisco Liriano

Plan B: Brian Duensing
Plan C: Glen Perkins
Plan D: Jeff Manship
Plan E: Anthony Swarzak
Plan F, etc: Mike Maroth, Jason Jones, Carlos Guterriez, Kyle Gibson...

Now ... Baker, Slowey and Perkins all spent time on the disabled list last year. Pavano didn't, but he's spent more time on the DL than active the past five seasons combined. Liriano had an ERA of 5.80 last season. Perkins feuded with the organization and is reportedly being made available in trade talks.

If the Twins could be sure their projected rotation would hold together, or close to it, a spare $5 million would be better aimed at other needs. But they can't be sure. Pitchers get hurt. It's a fact of baseball life.

Let's say just one of the four "sure things" gets hurt. Say it's Pavano. Let's say, also, that Liriano continues to struggle with his command.

Now it's Baker, Slowey, Blackburn, Duensing and Perkins -- and that's assuming that Perkins isn't traded -- with Manship the first guy to get the call if needed. Yikes.

I'm not convinced the Twins would be better off with Washburn than with Perkins or Duensing. But I do see a need for more depth in the rotation. And I particularly see a need for somebody at the front end of the rotation. The Twins won't find that in a $5 million free agent. The guy who might fit that description is Liriano. But, at least on paper, signing Washburn blocks Liriano.

At least until an injury occurs.

The pursuit of Washburn

Here's a sentence you may never again see from me: Thank God for Scott Boras.

The Star Trib's LaVelle Neal says the Twins offered Jarrod Washburn a one-year, $5 million deal, which Boras (Washburn's agent) rejected.

The Twins keep playing Russian roulette with Washburn and dodging their own bullet. They tried to trade for Washburn in mid-year 2008, and the then-management in Seattle wasn't bright enough to dump his bloated contract on them. Someday the Twins won't be so lucky, and they'll wind up stuck with him.

Boras-Washburn erred in turning down this latest contract. Even discounting the notion that Washburn wants to play close to home (he lives in Webster, Wis.), his best shot at a contract is with an organization, like the Twins, skeptical of statistical analysis.

The stat-savvy operations have discounted his impressive 2009 Seattle line (8-6, 2.64) as a mirage conjured up by a spacious home park and off-the charts outfield defense. The Twins have no Ichiro in right field, no Franklin Gutierrez in center. We don't know how the new stadium's going to play, but few parks are as accommodating to flyball pitchers as Seattle's.

All this suggests to me that the Twins should stay far away from Washburn. They have four set starters (Scott Baker, Nick Blackburn, Carl Pavano, Kevin Slowey) and a passel of contenders for the fifth spot. As a fan, I'd much rather pay to see Brian Duensing pitch than Washburn; as an organization, the Twins should much prefer to pay Duensing $500,000 (actually less) to pitch than $5 million (or more) to Washburn.

On the other hand ... perhaps they have reason to doubt that Slowey's wrist is recovered. They should have doubts about Pavano putting up a second straight full season. Duensing and Francisco Liriano are not pitchers of established quality. Jeff Manship and Anthony Swarzak are even less established.

So I can understand why the Twins would be prowling about for starting depth. But $5 million is not an amount I see them walking away from in mid-May when Washburn has imploded, a la Sidney Ponson and Ramon Ortiz.

A $1 million deal, I can see. Offering $5 million is asking for trouble. Having Scott Boras turn it down is priceless.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Thinking spring

As I write this, it's double-digits below zero.  So let's think spring.

The Twins on Friday announced their non-roster invites — 14 players not on the 40-man roster who will be in the major league camp. Only one, former Tigers pitcher Mike Maroth, is from outside the organization. He hasn't been in the majors since 2007.

Frequently teams will sign a fringe veteran to a minor-league deal with a major league invite and every expectation of putting him on the 25-man roster — a way to avoid cutting a player from the 40-man roster before camp. There's none of that here; I don't expect Maroth to make the 25-man roster. 

Nobody in this crowd is likely to contend for a roster spot, although a couple of them might get called up during the season.

The one with the best prospects of that: relief pitcher Anthony Slama, outfielder Rene Tosoni and relief pitcher Jose Lugo, who probably isn't as good as Slama but has the advantage of being left-handed. I can see him being a LOOGY candidate at some point.

The one I'd be most interested in seeing were I to go to Fort Myers is Ben Revere.  He's not going to see Target Field in 2010 short of utter calamity, but I suspect Ron Gardenhire and company are very curious to see him play. 

Three of the invitees are catchers, who will be there because there will be about two dozen pitchers in camp and somebody's got to do the squatting. 

A solid take on the invitees can be found at

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Swapping out generic middle men

The Twins signed Clay Condrey, a 34-year-old right-handed middle relief pitcher to whom the Phillies declined to offer a contract, and bid farewell to Bobby Keppel, who will take a bigger offer to pitch in Japan.

There's not much to see here. Barring injuries to the established bullpen crew, it was difficult to see a place for Keppel on the major league roster. It isn't easy to see one for Condrey either.

I ran through this exercise in December, but let's repeat: Here's a logical set of bullpen roles.

Closer: Joe Nathan
LH setup/LOOGY: Jose Mijares
No 1. 8th inning: Matt Guerrier
RH setup No. 2: Jon Rauch
RH setup No. 3: Jesse Crain
LOOGY no. 2: Vacant
Long man: Condrey, or somebody who lost out on the fifth starter job (Brian Duensing, Francisco Liriano, Glen Perkins...)

Missing for that list is Pat Neshek. Nobody knows exactly what to expect from him, or if he's going to be ready for the majors at the start of the season.

Condrey had a nice season for the Phillies last year (6-2, 3.00 ERA in 45 appearances), but he's not really that good. It's a minor move.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The BBWAA chokes. Again.

Bert Blyleven
(above) fell five votes short of Hall of Fame induction in the results announced Wednesday.

Roberto Alomar — who I reckon was one of the ten greatest second baseman in history — didn't make it either. Nor did Barry Larkin — one of the 10 best shortstops in history.

Andre Dawson did. The Hawk was a good player. He wasn't anywhere near as good as Tim Raines, but why vote for the second greatest leadoff hitter in history when you can induct somebody whose career on-base percentage is 20 points lower than the previous worst among HOF outfielders?

Dawson isn't quite as bad a joke as last winter's selection of Jim Rice, but it's close.

It used to be that almost all the mistake inductions into the Hall came from the various Veterans Committees. After Jim Bunning, Tony Perez, Rice and Dawson, it's becoming increasingly common for the writers to boff it.

10 things to remember about Randy Johnson's career

1) He played college ball at USC with Mark McGwire — and played basketball there too.

2) When he arrived in the majors with Montreal, he was the tallest man ever in MLB. (Jon Rauch, now with the Twins, is the current record-holder.)

3) His first three seasons in a major league rotation — with Seattle — were a struggle for command. He led the AL in walks each year. Nolan Ryan, then with Texas, suggested that he change his stride so that he landed on the balls of his right foot rather than the heel. That made a smoother delivery with less jostling — and his pitching immediately got dramatically better.

4) He threw tremendous numbers of pitches for his time, frequently exceeding 130 pitches and about once a year going over 140. This workload came with a physical price. He had four back surgeries and three knee operations. He pitched the last six years or so of his career with an artificial lubricant in his right knee — it was injected at the start of the season and again around the mid-point — because his cartilage was gone.

5) He terrorized left-handed hitters — think John Kruk in the 1993 All-Star game; Johnson threw his first pitch over Kurk's head, and Kruk spent the rest of the at-bat as far from home plate as he could get — and most lefties got a day off when Johnson's turn in the rotation came up. As a general rule, only the very best left-handed hitters faced him, and even they weren't too happy about it.

6) He threw a perfect game on May 18, 2004, against the Atlanta Braves. I remember watching the highlights and realizing that he had, for the last two innings, returned to a delivery that put more stress on the knee — risking further damage for the chance at the perfecto.

7) Speaking of risking damage for glory: Johnson, then with the Arizona Diamondbacks, pitched seven innings (107 pitches) to win Game 6 of the 2001 World Series against the New York Yankees. The next day, in Game 7, he came out of the bullpen to get the last four outs as the D'backs put an end to Joe Torre's streak of World Series titles.

His stats for that World Series: 3-0. 1.04 ERA, 11 baserunners allowed in 17.1 innings, 19 strikeouts.

8) He won five Cy Young Awards, four of them in a row. He also finished second three times.

9) His strikeout total (4,875) is second all-time only to Ryan. His strikeouts per nine innings rate — 10.6 — is unsurpassed.

10) Of course, the bird. In a 2001 spring training game, a hapless bird darted into the path of a Johnson pitch and disappeared in a puff of feathers. (The ruling, incidentally, was no pitch.)

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Big Unit calls it quits

I keep in my skull a list of the great pitchers I've seen work in person.

I saw Roger Clemens beat the Twins in 1986 a few weeks after his first 20-strikeout game announced his arrival as a star.

I saw Greg Maddux during his Cy Young season with the Cubs — that game was in St. Louis — and again when he pitched against the Twins in the Metrodome.

I saw the Twins beat Pedro Martinez and Curt Schilling. I saw John Smoltz and Tom Glavine in the World Series.

I remember seeing games pitched by Jim Palmer and Steve Carlton on their way out, Bert Blyleven and Frank Viola, Jim Kaat and Tommy John and, of course, Johan Santana.

But I don't remember ever being at a game with Randy Johnson pitching, and now I never will.

The Big Unit hung 'em up Tuesday, calling an end to one of the great pitching careers of this or any era. A 303-166 won-loss record, 4,875 strikeouts, five Cy Young Awards, four of them in a row — the numbers are staggering.

Part of why I never saw Johnson pitch is, I think, is a piece of personal history. Johnson's father is buried in Duluth, and when his team came to Minnesota, Johnson would go to visit the grave. At some point, Lou Piniella — who managed Johnson for most of his time in the American League — decided that he would avoid pitching Johnson in the Metrodome, because the pitcher was too wound up emotionally.

According to Baseball Reference, Johnson made 11 starts in the Metrodome — only one after 1995.

His Metrodome ERA was 4.11 — almost a full run higher than his ERA in the Kingdome, his home park in those days — and his strikeout rate in Minnesota is the lowest of any park in which he threw at least 20 innings.

It seems likely, as I sort through his game logs against the Twins, that I may have been at one or two of his starts early in his Seattle tenure, when he was walking 150 men a year and greatness was not evident. I had partial season tickets in those days — Saturdays and Mondays and occasional other days — and I find a couple of Monday games in the Dome on his record.

But I simply don't remember him. He wasn't the Big Unit yet. He was just a really tall guy trying to get his body to work efficiently, trying to harness his stuff.

Which, I guess, is a story that offers some hope for Francisco Liriano.

The annual Francisco Liriano hype

Important if true: From the Pioneer Press today: Ron Gardenhire says Francisco Liriano is impressing in winter ball.

"I just got a report that he's throwing the living fire out of the ball down in the Dominican (Republic)," the Twins manager said. "He threw eight innings the other day, and his fastball was 92 to 94 (mph) and his slider was filthy. That's a really good thing, because he can be the bonus if we can get him on track."

Let's backtrack. Liriano in 2006 — that wondrous nine weeks or so when he was absolutely incredible — was topping out on the radar gun at around 97 mph before his injury. Last year, he was in the low 90s. Nothing impressive, then, on the velocity part of this report; it's what he was doing last season.

Liriano had Tommy John ligament replacement surgery late in 2006, missed all of 2007, and the reports during the the 2007-08 offseason — winter ball in the Dominican — had him throwing in the mid 90s.

Then he reported to training camp, and the velocity he displayed in Fort Myers was nowhere near what it had been in 2006.

The moral here: Don't figure that he's back until he shows it in the states. He should be regarded as a pitcher with slightly above average stuff and below average command, because that's what he demonstrated himself to be last season. Winter ball reports on Liriano have been inflated before.

Another IF target gone

Adrian Beltre (left) is reportedly a physical away from signing with the Boston Red Sox —a one-year deal for $9 million plus a player option for $5 million with $1 million buyout.

This, then, is a one-year, $10 million deal, since he's not going to accept that $5 million option short of a paralyzing accident. He'll take the $1 million buyout and try free agency again.

Even on a one-year basis, $10 million figured to be a bit rich for the Twins, who are already looking a a $90 million-plus payroll with the Joe Mauer negotiations at whatever phase they may be.

My earlier list of eight free agent infielders I imagined the Twins making take-it-or-leave-it offers to is now down to four: Miguel Tejada (who would be moved to third base), Orlando Cabrera (who would be moved to second), Felipe Lopez (second base) and Orlando Hudson (second base).

Meanwhile, the Red Sox figure to be motivated sellers of Mike Lowell, who has a $12 million contract for 2010 and just had thumb surgery. A Lowell to Texas deal (for prospect Max Ramirez) fell through because of the thumb issue; supposedly (a) the Red Sox are willing to pick up $9 million of Lowell's salary and (b) they're willing to wait until spring training, when Lowell is supposedly to be ready to show that the thumb is fine, to do a deal.

Also meanwhile, the Twins are said to have dangled Glen Perkins in a trade for Kevin Kouzmanoff of the Padres, with San Diego wanting something more than Perkins.

Kouzmanoff as a hitter is Joe Crede, only younger, sounder of back and with less defensive ability. He's arbitration-eligible, which is why the cash-strapped Padres are peddling him.

That there is mutual disgruntlement between Perkins and the Twins is no secret. I can't imagine the Twins wanting to have him in camp.

So ... Perkins for Lowell and $9 million? If the front office doubts it can get one of the free agents at its price, and if the alternative fall-back option is Crede, it's a deal they should offer Boston. Whether the Red Sox would take that offer might depend on whether they want a bird in the hand or the ones in the bush.

Monday, January 4, 2010

I'm sponsoring Michael Cuddyer

Well, kind of.

What I'm really doing is sponsoring Cuddyer's page on Baseball Reference. For the next year, Baseball Outsider's message and link will be on his stat page — and on those of Terry Steinbach and Gene Larkin.

Why those three?

  • Cuddyer is the best of the available current Twins — Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Denard Span, Joe Nathan, Jason Kubel were already taken.
  • Steinbach is the best major league player to emerge from the Free Press circulation area.
  • Larkin is a favorite of my wife's — and, of course, as the man who drove in the winning run of Game 7 of the 1991 World Series, a Minnesota Twins legend.
  • And, finally, the total ($40) fit my arbitrary budget.
So stop by and visit their numbers sometime.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

More on de los Santos

Thursday's post — built around a quote from the Twins top talent evaluator that Estarlin de los Santos is the only "true shortstop" in the system — was deliberately crafted to avoid giving an opinion on how good a prospect he is.

That's because I haven't the slightest notion.

Seth Stohs, a blogger (linked to on the sidebar) who is pretty well plugged into the Twins system, was surprised when the Twins put de los Santos on the 40-man roster. Prospect guru John Sickels, in his preliminary grading of Twins prospects, not only didn't put de los Santos in the top 20, he doesn't have him in the running. (Trevor Plouffe didn't make the top 20 either, but Sickles did include him in a lump of "Grade C" prospects.)

The Twins, on the other hand, believed that if they didn't protect him, de los Santos would get snatched away in the Rule 5 draft, a la Everth Cabrera, who played A ball for the Rockies in 2008, was picked by the Padres and finished 2009 as San Diego's regular shortstop.

Mike Radcliffe, in the Baseball America article that triggered the initial post, talked of de los Santos' "plus hands and plus arm" — scouting terms that mean he has well-above major league average defensive skills — and claimed that he has improved his strike zone judgment.

One could hardly design a better example of the difference between traditional player evaluation and stat-based evaluation. Radcliffe judges de los Santos by his physical gifts; Strohs and Sickles look at his numbers and aren't nearly as impressed.

If Radcliffe is correct about de los Santos' strike zone command, it's not showing in his walk and strikeout rates (13 walks and 50 strikeouts last season); if he's correct about the outstanding hands and throwing arm, it's not showing in his fielding percentage (.905 at short last season).

This split between perceived ability and demonstrated ability doesn't bother me — much — in a player in Class A ball. If it persists in the higher levels — in Double A, where I assume de los Santos will open 2010, or Triple A — then there's reason to be concerned. It takes time for most players with major league caliber tools to learn how to use those tools.

Do not get too worked up about his hitting stats. The Twins' current set of minor league affiliates are almost entirely in difficult places to hit. With the exception of Elizabethton in the Appy League, their parks depress offense and make pitchers look good. In the context of Fort Myers and the Florida State League, de los Santos actually hit well in 2009. His batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage were all above league average.

But ... it was the second straight season in which he missed considerable time to injury. He's about to turn 23 and he's still in High A; Plouffe is about six months older and has a year and a half of Triple A on his resume. That's significant.

My sense is that Sickles is right: Plouffe is the better prospect, but not by enough that one should wager heavily on either ever becoming a major league regular.