Monday, February 28, 2011

News of the days: Morneau, Cuddyer, Liriano and radio ravings

Things going on while I'm writing exclusively about bullpen candidates:

  • Justin Morneau is apparently ready to seek medical clearance to play in games. 
  • Michael Cuddyer's hampered by a wart on his left foot that has so far defied attempts to disappear it. (A bit of back-and-forth about it suggests to me that Ron Gardenhire was told "it was ineffective" and heard "it was infected.")
  • There are games on the radio -- if you can pull in 1500ESPN. Either the Twins Radio Network isn't carrying the broadcasts or KTOE (the Mankato station in that network) is taking a pass. For me, if I'm in the car I can hear the broadcasts, otherwise not. So my exposure to how John Gordon and Dan Gladden are handling the challenge posed by Tsuyoshi Nishioka has been limited. On Sunday, they appeared to be trying to avoid the Tsuyoshi part altogether. The game thread on Twinkie Town during Monday's game listed repeated creative pronunciations. This figures to be a running theme in 2011.
  • There is a buzz linking Francisco Liriano to the Yankees. I have my doubts.

Bullpen candidate profiles: Brian Duensing and Kevin Slowey

Brian Duensing was 10-3,
2.62 last season.
Kevin Slowey was
13-6, 4.45.
Pitcher: Brian Duensing
Throws: Left
Age: 28
Roster status: 40-man roster
Chance of making team: Certain

Pitcher: Kevin Slowey
Throws: Right
Age: Turns 27 in May
Roster status: 40-man roster
Chance of making team: Certain

The Minnesota Twins have six established starting pitchers in camp. Five of them have seven-digit contracts; the sixth has ended each of the last two seasons in the rotation and sports a 15-5, 3.02 career record.

The money and the success add up to this: Barring injury or trade, those six figure to make up half the Twins 12-man pitching staff.

But six is not five, and there are only five slots in the starting rotation. One of the starters is bullpen bound.

We know it won't be Francisco Liriano or Carl Pavano. Scott Baker and Nick Blackburn are somewhat less secure, but they have the biggest salaries of the remaining four, Baker has the most upside, and Blackburn is the most durable. Expect them to be in the rotation or on the DL (both are coming off surgeries).

That leaves Kevin Slowey and Brian Duensing. And they are such dissimilar pitchers, with different potential roles in the bullpen, that the choice to fill out the rotation should affect who makes the team as a relief pitcher.

Duensing sparkled in a relief role in the first half of the 2010 season, putting up a 1.80 ERA in 40 relief outings. He held left-handed hitters to a weak .162/.217/.239 slash line for the season as a whole.

The lefty has saved the rotation in each of the past two seasons. But as good as he's been as a starter, there are those in and out of the organization who think he's better suited to be a relief pitcher.

If Duensing is in the bullpen, he's almost certainly going to be used late and close. He could well supplant Jose Mijares as the primary lefty specialist. A late-in-game combo of a healthy Joe Nathan and Matt Capps from the right side and Duensing and Mijares from the left would be imposing indeed.

And the odds of more than one of the remaining left-handed candidates (most notably Glen Perkins, Dusty Hughes and Scott Diamond) make the roster would be sharply diminished. Perkins or Diamond might get the call as the long man, but the remaining two bullpen jobs would likely go to right-handers.

One of Slowey's drawbacks as a starter has been a pattern of fading after three or four innings. He made 29 starts last season, and was pulled in five innings or less in 10 times. That might suggest that shorter stints are in order -- and that means moving to the bullpen.

But Slowey has seldom been used in relief, and certainly not in game situations, as Duensing has. Slowey in the pen would be best used in long relief — which would probably foreclose Jeff Manship's chances of winning a berth, and would certainly mean that the Twins would need at least one of the Perkins-Hughes-Diamond trio to emerge as a second lefty.

It would be easier for the Twins to keep Duensing in the rotation if one of those three convinces Ron Gardenhire and Rick Anderson that he can be death on lefties, and even easier still if either Pat Neshek or Jim Hoey can be deemed capable of getting big outs in middle to late innings.

It's an intriguing decision. My guess is that Duensing will open the season, for the third straight year, in the bullpen. But it wouldn't be all that surprising if it were Slowey in the pen.

And all this becomes moot if one of the starters gets hurt or is traded.

(This post, with some alterations, also serves as the Monday print column.)

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Bullpen candidate profile: David Bromberg

David Bromberg was
a 32nd-round pick,
but he's shot up
the ladder.
Pitcher: David Bromberg
Throws: Right
Age: 23
Roster status: 40-man roster, all three options left
Chance to make team: Nil

I hadn't planned on doing a profile on David Bromberg, because I see no reason to believe the Twins would consider him (or Kyle Gibson) for bullpen jobs. They are, and should be, on the starter track -- developed for the rotation, not relief work.

But Seth Stohs last week produced this detailed analysis of Bromberg, which I thought worthy of calling to your attention, and Stohs believes he's a bullpen option for later in 2011.

Bromberg may indeed be on the Matt Guerrier path, but, as Stohs says, the Twins are wise to let him pitch his way off the starter track before shunting him off to the 'pen.

This from LaVelle Neal on Saturday:

Watched David Bromberg throw. He's 6-foot-5 and it seems like his arms and legs are going everywhere when he throws. The key for him is to make sure the ball doesn't go everywhere, as he once threw 16 wild pitches in a minor league season (he has cut down in recent years).
He hit Danny Rams with a pitch. But he also busted Tsuyoshi Nishioka's bat with a pitch too. The Twins like the way he competes. Wouldn't be surprised if he debuts sometime this season.    

Bullpen candidate profile: Kyle Waldrop

Kyle Waldrop had
a 2.57 ERA in
Triple A in 2010.
Pitcher: Kyle Waldrop
Throws: Right
Age: 25
Roster status: Non-roster invitee
Chance of making team: Slim but plausible

Like previous profilees Glen Perkins and Anthony Swarzak, Waldrop is a high-round pick from the Twins 2004 draft. Unlike Perkins and Swarzak, he has yet to get even the proverbial cup of coffee in the majors.

He reached Double A as a starter in four seasons, putting up decent but not spectacular ERAs and bearing consistently a red flag of a low strikeout rate. Then he got hurt and missed the 2008 season completely.

Since then he's worked strictly out of the bullpen. His ERAs have been much better, but his leading indicator stats (W/K and K/9) haven't budged much. He is said to have a good sinking fastball, and he really has kept the ball in the park well.

Waldrop was a bubble candidate for the bullpen last spring, losing out to Alex Burnett because Burnett was on the 40 and Waldrop wasn't. He did well for a lousy Rochester team last season but tailed off late, then went to the Arizona Fall League and got shelled there. The Twins left Waldrop exposed to the Rule V draft, figuring that the AFL debacle would scare teams off, and he slid on through.

So he remains in the Twins system. His biggest obstacle is, still, that he's not on the 40-man roster. To get a big league job, he has to not only convince the staff that he's one of their seven best bullpen options, but he has to convince the organization that he's worth waiving somebody like Swarzak or Deolis Guerra. I'm more certain that he's worth losing Swarzak for than I am that he's one of the seven best bullpen candidates, but those spots also might be earmarked for the likes of Kyle Gibson later in the year.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

A picture is worth a thousand words

Look, ma: Big-league meal money!
The AP on Friday moved literally dozens of mug shots from Twins training camp — stars, coaches, reserves, non-roster invitees — and  I spent a chunk of Saturday morning pulling and saving them.

All of them. I'm not likely to ever need a photo of Jair Fernandez (non-roster catcher) for the blog, but it might be more useful than a fresh mug of Joe Mauer. I have plenty of photos of Mauer. Fernandez, not so much.

But I was struck by the goofiness of this photo of Dan Rohlfing. He's a catcher who's been kicking around in the lower levels of the Twins farm system for four seasons now, has a career high of 152 plate appearances. You spend four years as a bench player in Rookie and A ball, you're probably not going anywhere.

But here he is in big league camp. The Twins are protecting Mauer's post-surgical knee, and their regular season bullpen catcher is back home for the birth of a child, and somebody's got to catch all these bullpen sessions.

So Rohlfing, who wasn't slated to be here, got a call, and he was there for photo day. This is as close to The Show as he's likely to get, and it won't last long. But he's enjoying it.

Bullpen candidate profile: Anthony Swarzak

Anthony Swarzak had a 3.28 ERA
in Triple A in 2009, but almost
doubled that last year.
Pitcher: Anthony Swarzak
Throws: Right
Age: 25
Roster status: 40-man roster, one option left (at most)
Chance of making team: Not going to happen

To be blunt about it, Anthony Swarzak isn't competing for a bullpen job this spring so much as he's competing to remain a "prospect." If/when the Twins need a spot on their 40-man roster, he's a prime candidate to get the ax.

Swarzak got 12 starts for the Twins in 2009. He went 3-7 with an ERA of 6.25, and none of his markers showed much promise. He got drilled, basically, because he deserved to get drilled. He walked people (20 walks in 59 innings), he gave up home runs (12), he didn't miss bats -- there was little there to hang any optimism on, and after a string of August starts in which he allowed 6,7, 5 and 6 runs, he was gone.

Last year in Triple A he was 5-12 with a 6.21 ERA. Nobody pitched well for the Red Wings in 2010, and the quality of the defense was part of it, but again, the leading indicator stats aren't good. A 5.1 K/9 rate in the minors translates to a lot of line drives there  -- and even more in the majors.

He's still on the 40 because he was a high pick (second round in 2004), the Twins are a patient organization and he hasn't run out of options. He pitched winter ball in Venezuela and lost 25 pounds (at least some of it to illness), so he knows that his current path is getting him nowhere. He's young enough still to make something of this.

Still: The Greg McMichael Rule holds that if you get outs, they'll find a job for you. Swarzak needs to establish that he can get outs in Triple A before the Twins are going to find a job for him in the majors.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Bullpen candidate profile: Jeff Manship

Jeff Manship has has a 3-2 record
in  more than 60 innings
 for the Twins the past two seasons.
Pitcher: Jeff Manship
Throws: Right
Age: 26
Roster status: 40-man roster; at least one option left
Chance of making team: Moderate

In the stretch drive of the 2009 season, Jeff Manship was the Twins No. 5 starter. He made five starts in September-October, only twice completing five innings and only once allowing fewer than three runs. The Twins still managed to win four of the five starts, so Manship filled the most minimal requirement of a fifth starter -- he kept the team in games.

But it's pretty clear that he has no real future with the Twins as a starting pitcher. There are six starters already on the major league roster ahead of him, a couple of first-round picks (Kyle Gibson and Alex Wimmers) rocketing up from behind, and a few others on roughly his level of current skill with more room to grow.

In their current situation, he's not only not Plan B should injuries strike the rotation, he may not be Plan C -- or even Plan D. If he's going to carve out a role for himself on the Twins as anything more than an emergency starter, it's going to be as a reliever.

The Twins appear to see parallels between Manship and the departed Matt Guerrier. Guerrier was a fairly accomplished minor league starter with a good command of a varied repertoire, but his fastball was a tick slow. The Twins made him a reliever, which bumped his velocity up a notch, and he went from long man to middle man to primary set-up man over his Twins tenure.

Manship, says Ron Gardenhire, "can spin it." This is Gardy-speak for "he's got a breaking ball." He throws strikes and has been durable.

If they go with a right-hander as the long man, Manship may well be the choice. But there are a couple of lefties in the mix for that role, and one of the six starters might wind up with that job.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Bullpen candidate profile: Alex Burnett

Alex Burnett pitched
 in 41 games for the
Twins in 2010.
Pitcher: Alex Burnett
Throws: Right
Age: 23 (turns 24 in July)
Roster status: 40-man roster; two options remaining
Chance of making team: Moderate

Alex Burnett made the Twins opening roster in 2010 as the last man in the bullpen and did quite well for a while: His ERA on June 15 was 2.30. A month later it was above 4, and he was back in the minors before July was out. Although he was recalled in September, he didn't pitch well in Rochester or in Minnesota the rest of the way.

His final tally with the Twins: 2-2 with two holds, no saves, 41 games, 47.2 innings, 5.29 ERA and more than 4 walks per nine innings -- and there's your problem, control. In Triple A, he worked 19.2 innings with an ERA of 5.49.

I thought, then and now, that at the root of Burnett's struggles was how he was used, as a long man. Seventeen of his 41 appearances were multiple-inning outings, and a good share of the other 23 were intended to be more than three outs but were cut short because of ineffectiveness.

I think he'd be more effective as a short man, but that role wasn't available on the 2010 Twins, and (unlike Matt Guerrier earlier in his career) he didn't get enough outs as a long man to force his way up the ladder. There may be too many people (imports, injury returnees, other prospects) who've moved ahead of him on the organizational pecking chart for him to open 2011 with the big club.

Still, I see parallels to Juan Rincon in him -- short righties with decent fastballs and good sliders, not much of a change -- and I still believe he can become an effective set-up man. He needs another chance, and he needs to throw more strikes when he gets that chance.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

News of the day: Mauer and Punto

This is for the hair. The other stuff goes in the knee.
Joe Mauer would rather talk shampoo than knee injections, which isn't surprising.

He's getting paid to hawk shampoo now. And any medical report concerning his knee -- such as the revelation that he is getting injections of a lubricating fluid in his left knee -- is bound to bump up the near-constant chatter about moving him from the catcher position, and that gets old real fast.

This is, apparently, less about current problems than about preventing future issues. Mauer has twice had surgery on the knee, and nobody can doubt that the constant squatting involved in the position takes a toll.

The Twins had said Mauer would be held back from catching chores during camp (in fact, Seth Stohs says another minor leaguer, Dan Rohlfing, has been brought in to handle bullpen chores), and maybe nobody would have noticed Mauer's likely series of absences as he has more of the injections in future weeks.

Or maybe they would. Mauer may not like being the center of attention, but that is part of the bargain that includes lucrative paydays not only as a receiver and hitter of pitches but also for pitching video games and hair care products.


It's going to be a while before former Twins infielder Nick Punto slides headfirst again. Punto, who signed with St. Louis almost as soon as the Twins shut the door on him, needs hernia surgery and isn't expected to play until sometime in May.

Bullpen candidate profile: Glen Perkins

Glen Perkins: 80 games
pitched in the majors,
44 starts.
Pitcher: Glen Perkins
Throws: Left
Age: Turns 28 in March
Roster status: 40 man roster; out of options
Chance of making team: Good

Glen Perkins has more than 300 major league innings on his resume and a career record of 19-12, compiled mainly as a starting pitcher. He also has a career ERA of 4.81, a couple of lengthy stints on the disabled list and a service time dispute that soured his relations with the organization.

It appears from this distance that the rift between Perkins and the front office has been smoothed over; the Minnesota born-and-raised lefty was part of the Twins caravan this winter, which is one reason I believe the Twins really want Perkins to make the team this spring.

Another, more significant reason: He's out of options, so he's use-or-lose. And they have a fairly significant investment in him as former first-round pick.

He has been, thus far, their most successful pick in the 2004 draft. The Twins were loaded with picks in the early rounds that June after the free-agent defections of Eddie Guardado and LaTroy Hawkins. The Twins took Perkins with the 22nd overall pick; the New York Yankees followed with Phil Hughes. Oops.

Perkins was the second player the Twins picked, after Trevor Plouffe, the shortstop who spent a little time on the big club roster last season. Kyle Waldrop, a non-roster invitee who'll be part of this series, was also a first round pick. In the supplemental round, the Twins took Matt Fox -- winner starter of what I thought might have been the Twins most crucial game of the 2010 season (Alex Burnett blew the lead and vultured the "W") and now out of the organization -- and Jay Rainville, who is out of baseball. In the second round, they landed Anthony Swarzak, also on the 40 and also a bullpen candidate. The only other guy in that draft who matters today is Matt Tolbert, taken in the 16th round.

Ron Gardenhire has said in the past that he and pitching coach Rick Anderson held different views on Perkins; Gardy saw him as a starter, Anderson as a reliever. At the time Gardenhire said that, it appeared that Perkins was establishing himself as a starter. Now it's shifted in Anderson's direction. Perkins is ticketed for the bullpen.

The question is if that will work. Perkins' career track record against left-handed hitters isn't impressive: .319/.393/,447; his OPS (on-base plus slugging) is actually worse against lefties than against righties. As a second lefty in the pen, he'd be expected to take some LOOGY duties.

Supposedly, Perkins last season in Triple A developed a breaking ball that makes him more effective against lefties. It's a small sample size (32 PA), but he did have more success against lefties during his brief time in the majors last season (.241/.313/.345). If that's sustainable, Perkins will be an effective reliever.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

How a manager knows he's lost his team

Dusty Baker won a division title last year with Cincinnati, so he probably figures that telling horror stories of his tenure with the Cubs won't sound too much like sour grapes.

But there's certainly something nasty to this tale:

"At the very end, somebody took a dump right where I stood in the dugout every day,” Baker said Monday morning. “That was the low point. The grounds crew guy cleaned it up. He said, ‘Oh, I think it’s dog crap.’ I said, ‘No it ain’t. That’s human crap.'"

Baker claims not to know how the dumper was. I have my doubts about that; a manager, if only out of self-preservation, ought to know his team well enough to know who hates him that much. (If you want to try to figure it out, here's the roster of the 2006 Cubs.)

Dusty Baker can smile
now, but the end of his
tenure in Chicago was
But then, that always seemed to be the problem with the Cubs under Baker, and even under Lou Piniella. Baker in particular is a hands-off manager, content to let the veteran players run the clubhouse. It worked well in San Francisco; it worked last season in Cincinnati.

It didn't work in Chicago, where a clubhouse culture developed in which nobody took responsibility for anything. The only people who were held to account were TV broadcasters Steve Stone and Chip Carey, dislodged for the sins of (a) praising players on opposing teams and (b) noting the lack of accountability in the organization.

Baker deserves a lot of the blame for that; so does Jim Hendry, then and now the general manager, the man who hired (and fired) Baker and the man who chewed out Stone for saying on the radio that the Cubs "can't handle the truth." 

Baker probably figures the story says something about the players he had in Chicago, and it does. It also says something about the contempt the players had for their manager, and their certainty that no matter what they did, nobody would have the guts to do anything about it.

Bullpen candidate profile: Deolis Guerra

Delois Guerra had a
6.36 ERA in more
than 127 innings
in Double A and
Triple A in 2010.
Pitcher: Deolis Guerra
Throws: Right
Age: Turns 22 in April
Status: 40-man roster, two options left.
Chance of making team: Not gonna happen

Deolis Guerra has two things going for him: He's still quite young -- he pitched in Triple A at age 21 -- and he is the sole direct acquisition left from the Johan Santana trade.

On the other hand, he hasn't been effective on any level since the Twins acquired him (his lowest ERA in the Minnesota system is 4.69 in less than 100 innings at Fort Myers in 2009; it was his third season in High A ball).

This from John Manuel in a Baseball America chat (subscribers only) back in November about Guerra:

That is one frustrating guy. Think about how the Twins must feel about it ... a 6-foot-5 guy with a power frame who won't pitch off his fastball. Yuck.

My guess is that the Twins won't discard Guerra until they absolutely have to, and he won't run out of options until after 2012. They've got two more years in which to find the pitcher in the talent. If they need a 40-man roster spot this year, they'll find somebody else to cut loose.

Monday, February 21, 2011

News of the day: Morneau, Liriano

Justim Morneau hasn't played since July 7, 2010.
He still doesn't know when he will.
I've spent the afternoon trying to come up with a useful reaction to what Justin Morneau said upon reporting to camp Monday:

"I wouldn't say it's 100 percent yet, but I think it's as close as I can get. It's just trying to get over that final hump." 

He's not cleared to play in games. But there are no games to play in right now anyway. He expects to miss the first week of exhibitions at least and isn't sure about Opening Day.

Obviously, it would be best if he were 100 percent and raring to go. That he isn't 100 percent on Feb. 21 isn't a disaster either.


The recent tidbit on Francisco Liriano isn't encouraging either. He admits that he didn't keep up with his shoulder exercises during the offseason.

This is getting the blame for his shoulder soreness when he reported to camp -- a soreness that worried him enough that he had an MRI without notifying the team.

Things like this might illuminate the question of why the organization would entertain the option to trading their most talented starter rather than risk a long-term contract.

Bullpen candidate profile: Jose Mijares

On Sunday I opined here that the serious competition for bullpen jobs this spring boils down to 10 guys.

Later that day the Associated Press moved a story in which general manager Bill Smith named seven pitchers, two of whom weren't on my list. Which may not mean anything. There are still 27 pitchers in camp, and the Twins aren't going to admit that any them are just there as formalities.

Today I'll start a little project: capsule profiles of the bullpen candidates. There's enough of them to take most of training camp.

Jose Mijares appeared
in 47 games in 2010,
just 32.2 innings.
Pitcher: Jose Mijares
Throws: Left
Age: 26
Status: 40-man roster, at least one option remaining. Eligible for arbitration after 2012, for free agency after 2015.
Chance of making roster: Excellent.

Mijares made a major splash in September 2008, emerging in the last few days of the season as the primary eight-inning option in a pennant race, but got himself pigeonholed into the LOOGY role in 2009. He was devastating against lefties that year, but was really no better against lefties than righties in 2010. He had some injury issues in 2010, particularly a knee injury that might be related to his too-high weight, and his workload and effectiveness both diminished.

He's made a habit the past two years of reporting to camp even more out of shape than usual, but the word this spring is that he came in probably a bit lighter than usual.

At the very least, he should open the season as the primary LOOGY (Left-handed One Out GuY); he could, in time, emerge with a bigger role.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

27 pitchers and so few jobs

LaVelle Neal had a post Saturday about one of the issues with having 27 pitchers in camp: How do the manager and coaches get a good look at everybody?

Jeff Manship is part of a
crowded competition for bullpen
jobs with the Twins.
A somewhat related issue is that of making sure that the top dogs on the staff get enough work to be ready for the season.

Consider this: The Twins will almost certainly carry 12 pitchers on their 25-man active roster, as they have in recent years. Assuming everybody's healthy, we can name nine of them right now: Carl Pavano, Francisco Liriano, Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey, Nick Blackburn, Brian Duensing, Joe Nathan, Matt Capps and Jose Mijares. We don't necessarily know what role each will play, but the combinations of salaries and track records mean each will be either active or on the DL.

That leaves 18 pitchers in camp competing for as few as three bullpen jobs. Theoretically competing, I should say; Kyle Gibson, for example, is not going to pitch middle relief, and Anthony Swarzak and Deolis Guerra are more likely competing to remain on the 40-man roster than to crack the majors.

From this distance, I would say these are the 10 pitchers in camp who can realistically hope to get one of those three jobs, with some being in better position than others: left-handers Glen Perkins, Scott Diamond and Dusty Hughes; right-handers Pat Neshek, Alex Burnett, Anthony Slama, Jeff Manship, Jim Hoey, Eric Hacker and Kyle Waldrop. (Waldrop is the one man on that list not on the 40-man roster.)

Ten pitchers for three jobs is probably a bit more manageable than the 27-pitchers thing appears at first glance, but it's still a lot.

So why are there so many other pitchers in camp? Some (Gibson, Carlos Guttierez) are highly-regarded prospects who didn't have to be put on the 40 this winter but are likely to ge major-league ready by mid-summer; the big league staff gets to know them this spring. Some (Chuck James, Phil Dumatrait, Yorman Barzado) were minor-league free agents signed to deepen the Rochester staff and promised a spring training invite as part of the deal. Some (Swarzak and Guerra) are fading prospects the team has invested heavily in and is unwilling to discard.

Guys like Swarzak and Dumatrait may feel when they get sent to minor league camp that they didn't get a fair shake. The reality is that even 15 good  innings in spring training shouldn't outweigh a full season of poor results in Triple A. The reality also is that the opening roster is not set in concrete. Get outs in Triple A, you'll eventually get a shot in the majors.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Talking Liriano again

Who's to blame for trade rumros?
Francisco Liriano didn't throw on Friday, the first official day of workouts in Twins camp. The word is he has a bit of tendinitis from overthrowing before camp.

Nobody seems concerned about this, so I won't be either. What did get my attention is Ron Gardenhire's commentary on the trade speculation that arose recently about Liriano:

It came up by (the media); that's a shocker. It didn't come up by us. That's the thing about it: Everybody's names come up in trades.  ... I'm sure there are a lot of people that would like Liriano. Trades come about, but we didn't talk about it; you guys did. 

The old blame the media strategy. Three things:

  • Gardy's quotes were printed in the Pioneer Press but not in the Star Tribune, which was the paper that first wrote that the Twins are open to trading Liriano.
  • The Joe Christensen piece specifically cited unnamed Twins officials. So did other followup reports. Joe C. probably asked somebody, so the whole thing began with him, but it wouldn't have gone anywhere if the unnamed folks had given a different answer.
  • I don't blame Gardenhire for taking this approach. Liriano is still on his team. Gardenhire needs him focused, and keeping Liriano focused, I daresay, is a bit more work for a manager than keeping Brad Radke or Johan Santana focused.

For what little it's worth, I don't believe the Twins are actively shopping Liriano around. I think they let it be known that they're open so that, as the spring progress and certain organizations get closer to panic about their pitching, the idea of Liriano is already in their heads.

Assuming, of course, that in mid-March the Twins still have a surplus of starters.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Following up on Miguel (DWI) Cabrera

Miguel Cabrera: Hits baseballs, hits bottles.
The Tigers general manager and their field manager have, let us say, rather different reactions to this week's DWI arrest of Miguel Cabrera.

From GM Dave Dombrowski:

We have an issue here that needs to be addressed and helped — and we're going to help him. We fully support him in trying to get help. But it also can be tough help sometimes.

From manager Jim Leyland:

It has no effect. It might make some dramatic reading material. It’s not going to do (bleep). Believe me. Nothing.

Nothing to see here. Move along.

From all indications, Cabrera isn't looking at jail time out of this. He didn't get in an accident, he didn't kill or injure anybody. Which is just lucky, I guess. 

But the Tigers have committed $106 million to this doofus, and they need him in the lineup. But they also need to be able to rely on him, and off his 2009 incident and this one, I can't regard him as reliable. Leyland may not care if Cabrera has a drinking problem as long as he hits .320 with 40 homers, but if the Tigers take the hands-off approach he appears inclined toward, this is going to end badly. And if they take an aggressive, lets-get-this-fixed approach, Cabrera may miss considerable time this season.

It's the time of optimism

From the Smells Like Mascot blog
Ah, the early days of spring training — the injuries are few, the weather warm (especially to northlanders emerging from an excessively oppressive winter), and nobody's lost a single game.

Optimism abounds.

Joe Nathan throws an early bullpen session, the pitching coach talks of how free and easy his delivery is, and it's easy to dream that yes, the bullpen ace of years past is back — easy because we want to believe it.

And maybe he will be. But he hasn't thrown to a hitter yet, hasn't thrown on back-to-back days.

Tsuyoshi Nishioka drives some balls to the gaps, and employs a rehearsed line of English to greet his new teammates, and we can envision an All-Star — but mastering "Nice to meet you" is just one step in the acclimation process, and pre-camp batting practice pitches offer neither major league velocity nor major league movement.

But if we can't be optimistic, if we can't dream a little, where's the fun and the romance of spring training?

A dose of wariness of the hype is doubtless wise. But let us indulge anyway. Reality will set in soon enough. Nathan and Nishioka and the rest will establish what they bring over the coming weeks and months.

If we can't be adorably optimistic now, when can we?

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Tigers' spring training buzzkill

Here is how the Tigers thought they could win the AL Central this season: power arms in the rotation and bullpen, three big bats (Magglio Ordonez, Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez) in the middle of the lineup, fill out the lineup with gloves and OK bats.

It's fun to be drunk and in jail, right, Miggy?
It could work. Or Miguel Cabrera could get arrested for drunken driving before he ever gets to spring training.

This is not good on any level. Taking a swig out of a bottle of scotch in front of the officer is ... bizarre. Stupid. Self-destructive.

Two years ago, Cabrera's drinking got him arrested in the middle of the final series of the regular season — a series in which the Tigers got swept, a sweep that forced Detroit into Game 163 against the Twins, a game that cost Detroit the divisional title.

He was supposedly clean and sober since. If so, not anymore. And the Tigers have a multi-million dollar problem on their hands.

At this point, it's unclear what the Tigers will do with him, but I would assume that it's going to be awhile before their best player shows up in camp. As with CBS and Charlie Sheen, Cabrera is too valuable not to have at work, but also far too valuable to let him drink himself to death. He needs rehab — but that's only going to work if he wants it to work.

So far, so good for Joe Nathan

Joe Nathan leaves the mound after his elbow injury
in a March exhibition game last year.
The Twins have yet to officially open spring training. Today is the reporting date for more than two dozen pitchers and a clutch of catchers; the first official workout is Friday.

But there have been players at the facility in Fort Myers for some time now, and pitching coach Rick Anderson was there to watch Joe Nathan throw a 50-pitch bullpen session Wednesday.

Anderson pronounced himself impressed:

"I told Joe, 'That's the most free and easy I have seen your arm.' He looked nice and loose with everything, and that is what you look for.''

My immediate reaction to that quote was skepticism. Anderson hasn't seen Nathan throw in almost a year. Granted, he's seen Nathan throw a lot over the years, but does he really know how today's motion compared to how Nathan threw in 2009, or 2005?

Then I realized: Video. It's likely —probable, even — that Anderson has studied some old video of Nathan to refresh his memory of what Nathan looked like pre-injury. Considering how important Nathan is to the team's plans and ambitions, it would be surprising if Anderson hadn't prepped himself for this.

A mid-February bullpen session proves little, of course. It merely establishes that Nathan's ligament replacement wasn't a disaster. Which is another step forward.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Twins, arbitration, Delmon Young and Scott Boras

Seth Stohs last night reported that Delmon Young's Facebook page said he and the Twins had reached a contract and avoided an arbitration hearing.
Delmon Young had 68
extra-base hits in 2010.

There's been no official announcement of this and no details, but I see no reason to doubt it. (Addendum: The Star Tribune's LaVelle Neal says it's $5.375 million.) The Twins have typically avoided the confrontational hearings; I believe that since Andy MacPhail took over the the Minnesota front office in 1986, the only arbitration hearings they've had were two with Kyle Lohse.

It's probably not a coincidence that Lohse is also the one multi-year Twin to be represented by Scott Boras, an agent noted for pushing the envelope. The Twins haven't completely avoided dealing with Boras's clients, but they haven't made a habit of signing them either, and have generally only done so when the leverage was almost entirely on the Twins side (as with Kenny Rogers in 2003).

I can't think of a Boras client the Twins have drafted since they used a first round pick on Jason Veritek and failed to sign him. (Maybe Lohse was a Boras client when he turned pro, but I think he hired Boras after his career got going.) Avoiding the agent may make negotiations easier, but he represents a fast-growing share of the top talents, and I suspect that an unofficial policy of bypassing anybody with a Boras connection would prove self-defeating.

As long as the Twins continue to draft in the bottom third every June, it won't be much of an issue.

Getting back to Young (who is not a Boras client): I have a colleague who insists that Young was the Twins MVP last year. Such an assessment overvalues the RBI stat (Young drove in 112 runs). Young did have easily his best year with the bat, but that's only part of the package. Baseball Reference's version of WAR (Wins Above Replacement) puts the 2010 Young at 0.8 WAR, meaning that he should be a reserve -- 2.9 WAR as a hitter, minus 2.1 WAR for his defense.

I'm not sold on the defensive metrics, but I have no doubt that Young is a subpar outfielder. Add that to an on base percentage that even last year was barely above league average (and has always before been well below average) and you have a player with such significant flaws that there is no way for him to be the most important player on a 94-win team.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Ron Gardenhire in younger days

Ran across this YouTube video from a Twins 1987 spring training game.

Besides being amused by how much Gardy's body has changed over the years, I'm posting it because the clip also features Harmon Killebrew, who was one of the broadcasters for the team in '87. It is my recollection that Herb Carneal was strictly radio, Killebrew strictly TV, and John Gordon and John Rooney (the other voice on this clip) switched back and forth. Rooney left the Twins broadcasts for the White Sox after the season; he was one-and-done in Minnesota.

Rooney and Killer spent the at-bat discussing, vaguely, the issue of who the Twins would keep as a utility infielder. It was a three-way battle, with holdover Ron Washington versus imports Gardenhire and Al Newman. Newman won the job; Washington wound up with the Orioles; Gardenhire spent the entire 1987 season in Portland with the Twins Triple-A club and never played in the majors again.

Today. of course, Newman's out of the game and Washington and Gardenhire are prominent managers.

Monday, February 14, 2011

More alleged "poetry"

I posted a link to today's print column on my personal Facebook page, and an old college friend (at my age, college friends are automatically old) commented:

I enjoyed your rhyme
About the sport sublime
But I think you left out "cavort"

To which I responded:

It's the second time
I've done this kind of rhyme
And the first time I also used "port"

It's been 19 years --
a lot of brats and beers
Since I last did a piece of this sort

Leaving out such a rhyme
Be it twice or one time
Won't get me charged with a tort

And if everybody's lucky, we'll just leave it at that.

The thinness of the shortstop market

It has been postulated here that, if the Twins do indeed trade Francisco Liriano in the next few weeks, they need to realize an immediate return, not merely a long-term one.

There are two obvious areas of uncertainty as the Twins head this week to spring training: the bullpen and the middle infield.

It makes little sense to focus on the relief corps in a Liriano trade. As has been stated here repeatedly, relief pitchers are failed starters; it makes far more sense for the Twins to restock their bullpen in the manner being employed. Nor is it logical to trade Liriano for an known relief arm; if it were, it would be just as logical to shift Liriano himself to the bullpen, and he has clearly established a greater value as a starter.

Nor are the Twins currently in need of outfielders, catchers, DHs or corner infielders, at least not to the extent that moving Liriano to address one of those spots is sensible.

No, the logical centerpiece of a Liriano trade must be a shortstop -- a longer term fix, not a J.J. Hardy one-and-done patch. (A shortstop rather than a second baseman because the odds are that Tsuyoshi Nishioka will be a second baseman in the States.)

So I spent some time this weekend browsing the new prospect books looking for major league-ready shortstops with higher ceilings and less risk than Alexi Casilla and Trevor Plouffe. And I found ... nothing.

Well, maybe not the baseball equivalent of 0 degrees Kelvin (absolute zero), but close.

John Sickles lists 11 shortstops (or shortstop-second basemen) in his top 50 position prospects. Only one of them, Dee Gordon of the Dodgers, played above A ball in 2010, and Gordon (a) led his Double A league in errors last season and (b) plays for an organization with five established starters in its major league rotation. Gordon isn't really ready yet, and the Dodgers don't really need Liriano.

The consensus best shortstop prospect in the minors is Manny Machado of the Orioles; he's 19, has all of nine minor league games on his resume, and as a 2010 draftee isn't even eligible to be traded yet.

That, while extreme, is pretty typical of the best shortstop candidates right now. They're young guys in rookie ball or A ball. Many of them will become fine major leaguers. Some will undoubtedly become stars (I think the odds are that Machado will be a better shortstop than Liriano is a starter), some will wash out completely. None of them are prepared to step directly into the major leagues, much less do so for a contender.

I just don't see any obvious trade targets worth giving up Liriano.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Taking the O-Cab to Cleveland

Orlando Cabrera was the regular
shortstop for Cincinnati in 2010,
and the Reds won a surprising
division title. Coincidence?
Orlando Cabrera, the shortstop whose late-career wandering brought him through Minnesota for a couple of months, has agreed to a contract with the Cleveland Indians.

This will make six teams in five seasons for Cabrera. It is unlikely, however, that he'll make the playoffs at this stop, which is something he's done in six of the last seven years.

Fairly or not, that kind of thing gets a player a reputation as a "winner." I don't know that Cabrera actually adds more to a team than his stats indicate, but a couple of his playoff teams didn't figure to be contenders when he got there.

I take note of his signing for the following reasons:

  • Cleveland apparently has it in mind to make him a second baseman, which makes sense given that incumbent shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera is younger and more athletic than the 36-year-old Orlando Cabrera.
  • The elder Cabrera isn't going to be in anybody's long term plans, much less those of a rebuilding team such as Cleveland. They'll look to flip him in mid season (which will give him a chance to make is seven of eight).
  • Ron Gardenhire liked Cabrera in 2009.
  • The Twins are, let us say, fluid in their middle infield entering spring training. 

The overriding theme of the Twins offseason has been the pursuit of long-term options. They're making a deliberate effort to get away from the one-year or two-month patch in the infield, they're rebuilding their bullpen out of a flock of inexperienced arms.

Come August, if the young infielders are wilting in the summer heat and pennant race stress, the long-term will be a lesser consideration. The Twins might be interested in hailing the O-Cab once more.

Let us hope it doesn't come to that.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Liriano for Young? Don't go there

It was bound to happen; indeed, I'm kicking myself for not anticipating it.

As soon as Joe Christensen published his piece about the possibility of a Francisco Liriano trade, somebody ignorant enough to take Michael Young's stats at face value was bound to say: Hey, the Twins don't want Liriano; Young wants out of Texas and likes the Twins; swap them.

So far as I know, the winner of the booby prize as first to suggest that misbegotten notion is Howard Sinker, who must have turned his brain off when writing his Thursday post. (Sinker has joined Jim Souhan and Sid Hartman on my list of the Strib's unreadables. Life's too short to spend with the inane.)

That was bad enough, but then comes this piece from the Fort Worth Star Telegram. The good news is that the writer says the Rangers aren't finding a taker for Young. The bad news ... he says the Twins are indeed interested, and drags Liriano into it :

Colorado and Minnesota, two of the clubs that aren't blocked by Young's limited no-trade clause, have interest in him, but only if the Rangers pick up a significant portion of the $48 million remaining on Young's contract over the next three years. ... Minnesota is willing to deal away left-hander Francisco Liriano -- who would fill a hole in the Rangers' rotation after they missed out on signing Cliff Lee and trading for Matt Garza or Zack Greinke this off-season. Twins manager Ron Gardenhire is a big fan of Young, who could become their third baseman.

Methinks the key phrase there is the last. Third base? Look, I'm not convinced that Danny Valencia is the player he appeared to be in 2010, but there is no way at this point that the Twins can justify pushing him out of the lineup, and no way the front office is going to displace his low salary for the overpaid Young.

There are good reasons for the Twins to consider trading Liriano. Michael Young is about five years past the point of being one of them. 

Again, the good news is that there's no real reason to believe that anybody with any actual responsibility is inclined to make such a trade.  

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Liriano inferences, part II

Joe Christensen has a piece today on the Twins and Francisco Liriano that draws similar inferences to my post of last Saturday -- and goes further, suggesting that the Twins may well next month look to peddle the talented southpaw.

It makes logical sense. But it doesn't make emotional sense, and therein is the problem.

Francisco Liriano: Let the trade speculation begin.
It's one thing for an also-ran to trade its best starting pitcher -- Kansas City and Zach Greinke, to name a prominent example from this winter. It's another thing for a contender to do that. Very few general managers are that secure and confident, no matter how much they like the return.

One of the issues is the clubhouse. A team that expects to win -- and the Twins are one such -- can be expected to react poorly to excising a key component. If the trade is made in December or January, people have time to absorb it; if it's made in March or July, after the team has assembled, it's a shock.

I have nothing but contempt for the Steve Phillips trade-deadline philosophy that a contender has to make a deal simply to show the players that the front office is trying. That kind of thinking ultimately got Phillips fired as a general manager. But there's a difference between overpaying for a veteran in the stretch and moving a key piece of the roster with the future in mind.

All that said, it's certainly possible to envision a Liriano trade this spring that improves the club for 2011 and beyond. Let's say they get a young shortstop who offers less risk and higher reward than Alexi Casilla; a decent relief pitcher; and a couple of talented low-level arms. That's a deal I could applaud, and a deal that the clubhouse might quickly accept.

I don't know from whom that haul would come. I know it won't be the Yankees; they haven't a long-term shortstop option on their horizon (a fact that shadowed the Derek Jeter contract drama and the subsequent speculation of a position change for the Captain).

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Michael Young litmus test

There are certain players whose stature illustrates the difference between baseball traditionalists and the sabermetric thinkers. Bill James spent much of the 1980s ripping at the reputation of Enos Cabell, whose gaudy batting averages masked his true ineffectiveness at the plate (especially as a corner infielder). Today's lightning rod is Derek Jeter, not so much for his offense -- the concepts of on-base percentage and isolated power have sunk in even for the traditionalists -- as for his defense.

Michael Young's sense of  his value may
be far higher than anybody elses'. 
Then there's Michael Young, who has been a centerpiece of the Texas Rangers roster for a decade. A career .300 hitter, six seasons of 90-plus runs scored,  five seasons of 90-plus RBIs, winner of a Gold Glove at shortstop ... in theory he's great. In reality, not so much. His numbers are in large part a product of his environment (Texas is a great hitter's park); his defense, by any of the metrics, has been subpar at any position. And he's 34 now; he's on the decline.

And now he wants out of Texas. The Rangers moved him to third base after 2008 -- his Gold Glove season -- to make room for Elvis Andrus at short. This winter they signed Adrian Beltre, with the intent of making the 34-year-old Young the DH. Now they've traded for Mark Napoli, and Young apparently figures he's going to lose even DH at-bats.

Aaron Gleeman on Tuesday provided this takedown of Young's decaying skills. And I think it is testimony to the spread of sabermetric thinking in baseball's front offices that it's difficult to imagine anybody taking Young off the Rangers' hands, even if the Rangers agreed to absorb his hefty salary.

The Twins are apparently one of the eight teams to which Young can, per his contract, be traded. I cannot imagine any circumstances in which the Twins would take him, even if Texas offered to pay the entire $48 million he's to get over the next three seasons.

What would they do with him? Play him at third over the younger Danny Valencia? Install him at second or short to wave at ground balls as they go past? If he's displeased with the notion of being the regular DH in Texas, he's hardly going to be happy getting platoon at-bats in that role in Minnesota.

No, old Mr. Young is about to get a reality check, one his abilities have insufficient funds to cover.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The prospect books

The two prospect books I rely on arrived in the past week or so: The Baseball America Prospect Handbook, compiled by the editors of Baseball America, and The Baseball Prospect Book 2011 by John Sickels, who does the blog.

(I should also mention here Seth Stohs' entry, the Minnesota Twins Prospect Handbook, which focuses on the Twins organization. The other two books graze the top of all of MiLB; Stohs mines deeper into a narrower vein, and I daresay he knows more about the Twins farm system than anybody outside the organization itself.)

There is normally a great deal of overlap between the BA book and the Sickels book, and that's inevitable; anybody rating Andrei Lubanov (a Russian-born lefty who has put up interesting numbers in the low minors) over Kyle Gibson (a first-rounder rocketing up the ladder) among Twins prospects is bound to lose credibility in a hurry.

But the differences are illuminating.

To drastically oversimplify, the BA book leans more heavily on traditional tools scouting, the Sickels book on statistical analysis (both books use both). As a result, the Baseball America book likes Joe Benson (Twins outfield prospect) more than Ben Revere; Sickels gives Revere the higher grade. BA looks at Benson and sees a broad range of outstanding physical tools -- power, speed, throwing arm -- while Sickels sees his lack of walks and high strikeout rate as a danger sign. Revere has no power and a weak arm, and BA downgrades him for those flaws.

What grabbed my attention this week in looking at these competing views of the Twins farm system is their differing evaluations of the Twins middle infielders.

The Twins, as I've noted before, have struggled to sign and develop middle infielders. Since the advent of the Tom Kelly-Ron Gardenhire era in 1987, the Twins have had three regular middle infielders who entered pro ball in the Twins organization -- Steve Lombardozzi, Chuck Knoblauch and Luis Rivas. Only Knoblauch was a quality regular. The Twins have instead pried young middle infielders from other organizations -- Cristian Guzman (Yankees), Jason Bartlett (Padres), Alexi Casilla (Angels), Nick Punto (Phillies).

Sickels gives his full evaluation to 42 Twins prospects, just three of them middle infielders. Brian Dozier, Trevor Plouffe and Scott Singleton all get "C" grades, which is as low as a player who makes Sickels' book gets. (He gives a more perfunctory glance to James Beresford and Niko Goodwin, also "C" prospects).

BA, on the other hand, writes up 30 Twins. They have Jorge Polanco as the Twins 17th best prospect, Goodwin 19th, Daniel Santana 20th, Plouffe 24th, Dozier 30th.

We're all over the board here, with seven different names and no real consensus about anything except that Plouffe (the furthest advanced of the group) is not likely to become a major league regular.

There's plenty of time to sort the rest of them out. Singleton, a second baseman, spent last season in Double A, and Plouffe has been mired in Triple A for three years. The rest of them were in A ball or lower last year. Some of them are bound to fall out, but somebody is likely to emerge.

One things seems clear: The days when the Twins could see just one true shortstop in their system are past. It's going to take a while for that change to be reflected on the major league roster, however.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Woodie Fryman (betraying my age)

Left-handed and no longer breathing: Woodie Fryman, a journeyman southpaw who toiled 18 seasons in the majors, died on Sunday at the age of 70.

Seventy. Boy, am I growing old.

Woodie Fryman had a marvelous, memorable name and one glorious half season in 1972. He was a mere 4-10 for a lousy Phillie team when he was waived to the Detroit Tigers, for whom he went 10-3, 2.06 and was a key cog in their drive to unseat the Baltimore Orioles at the top of the AL East. 

And the next season, Fryman was 6-13 with an ERA above 5. Whatever bottle he caught that lightning in had shattered.

It's rather a surprise to me to see in his stats that he had more decisions with Montreal than anyone else. I remember him at a Tiger and a Phillie, but he was most effective with the Expos, especially after he moved to the bullpen.

Most effective for Montreal -- and for a few months with Detroit, when he demonstrated to this then-young fan a long-established pennant race principle: A seemingly ineffective veteran on an also-ran can be something else completely on a contender. 


Poll stuff: We had 44 responses to last week's question on what to expect from Joe Nathan.

Seven (15 percent) expect his pre-injury dominance; 19 (43 percent) expect him to be the fulltime closer but less effectively than in the past; 15 (34 percent) see him sharing the closer role; and three (15 percent) foresee another injury.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Drawing inferences from the Francisco Liriano contract

Francisco Liriano is to be paid $4.3 million in 2011.
The Twins and Francisco Liriano reached an agreement Saturday on a one-year deal that avoids an arbitration hearing.

What intrigues me most about this is that the Twins opted against pursuing a multi-year deal. General manager Bill Smith, as quoted by blogger Seth Stohs:

"We are going to go year-to-year with Liriano, at least for one more year. We definitely recognize the risk in doing that and if he has another big year, it will cost us some money.”

Interesting. Liriano doesn't become free-agent eligible until after the 2012 season, and relatively few players agree during their arbitration years to contracts that eat into their free agency years, but last winter the Twins brought out the arbitration rights of Scott Baker and Nick Blackburn, and they've done the same with other pitchers (Matt Guerrier and Jesse Crain) in the past.

But not Liriano. 

Now, maybe Liriano and his agent are also inclined to go year-to-year in hopes of a big season. But Smith's quote implies that the team has decided it's better off not making a major commitment to the lefty.

The risk is obvious. Liriano's record has not caught up to his stuff and his leading indicator stats. If/when it does, as Smith says, "it will cost us."

The inference I draw: The Twins doubt that Liriano will stay healthy. He's already lost two seasons of his young professional career to arm miseries. He is not a master of repeating his delivery. 

I really wonder how seriously the Twins will try to retain Liriano when he hits free agency. If they're not eager to buy out his arbitration rights now, I doubt they'll make a four-year, or even three-year, commitment to him down the road. 

Saturday, February 5, 2011

A historical rarity: no active 200-game winner

Andy Pettitte: 240 career wins in the regular season,
19 more in the postseason.
Andy Pettitte called it quits Friday. His retirement leaves a gap in the Yankees rotation and raised a Is-He-a-Hall-of-Famer argument.

And, coupled with Jamie Moyer's Tommy John surgery, which least keeps the 47-year-old off the field for 2011 (he says he'll be back in 2012, but really, is that likely?), Pettitte's departure leaves Tim Wakefield the active career wins leader. Moyer has 267 wins, Pettitte 240.

Wakefield has 193 W's. After spending some time chasing this down, I'm quite confident that only once since 1880 has a season opened without an active 200 game-winner, although that may depend on how you define active.

That was 1968. Whitey Ford retired after the 1967 season with 236 wins, leaving nobody over the 200 win mark until Don Drysdale got his 200th win on June 26th, 1968. So there was a bit less than three months in which there was no active 200-game winner. (Drysdale pitched in 1969, during which season Jim Bunning got his 200th, and Juan Marichal got there the following season ... and the chain was not seriously threatened until now.)

Now to explain the "active" question. Bobo Newsom entered the 1948 season with 205 wins. He went 0-4. He didn't pitch in the majors again until 1952. Baseball Reference lists him as the active leader in career wins for 1949. If you don't count Newsom, there was no 200-game winner in the majors until Bob Feller got there in 1950. And if you do count Newsom, we can't know if there is an active 200-game winner now until we know for sure that Moyer's done.

Wakefield is no cinch to get the seven wins he needs for 200; he won four games all of last season. And the next man on the list, Roy Halladay, has but 169 — 31 wins shy of the big round number.

So if Wakefield doesn't get there, nobody will this year.

Two hundred wins is a lot. In all of major league history, 110 pitchers have gotten there. Sandy Koufax didn't.  Nor did Dizzy Dean, Lefty Gomez or Rube Waddell, to name four Hall of Famers.

It's pretty daunting, really. Say a 24-year-old breaks into the majors and averages 15 wins a year for 10 years. That's pretty strong pitching — and at the end of it, you have a 35-year-old pitcher with 150 wins.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Yet another veteran reliever signs elsewhere

Ron Mahay, who spent most of 2010 and a chuck of 2009 in the Twins bullpen, reached a minor-league deal with the Dodgers on Thursday.

Judging from the L.A. Times piece linked to above, it's a good fit for Mahay, who is the very definition of a second LOOGY.

Mahay did a good job for the Twins, and, unlike the Matt Guerrier-Jesse Crain-Brian Fuentes-Jon Rauch combo, he was never likely to command seven figures or multiple years. But there's no reason to believe that the Twins made any effort to retain him.

Which fits my core theory about this Twins offseason: They're consciously seeking long-term roster pieces, not short-term patches. That applies even to the fringes of the roster, to the lefty specialists and the utility infielders, not just to the starting lineup.

Figuring that Brian Duensing is a starter and Jose Mijares the top lefty in the pen, the Twins have three candidates on their 40-man roster for the second LOOGY role: Glen Perkins, Dusty Hughes and Scott Diamond. (If Duensing is in the 'pen, he's more likely to be used as a late-inning man than as a second LOOGY.) Perkins, Hughes and Diamond are all more than a decade younger than Mahay; Hughes and Diamond are minimum salary serfs, and the arbitration-eligible Perkins is to be paid less than Mahay will be if Mahay makes the Dodgers roster.

Mahay is probably the safest bet of the bunch for 2011, but he has the lowest ceiling as well. The Twins only have to hit on one of their three to make the decision to pass on him the right move -- not just for 2011, but in following years as well.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

John Gordon's last season

It was already known that John Gordon was sharply cutting back on his broadcast schedule in the coming season. The veteran Twins radio announcer is to call 90 regular season games this year -- that's slightly more than half the team's games.

But now he's announced that this will be his final season, period.

I've been critical of his work for some time. A few years ago I ran, as part of my print column, a semi-regular feature dubbed The Gordon Files, in which I attempted to chronicle some of his inanities, such as informing listeners that "Carlos Santana" was scheduled to start a particular game. (Carlos Silva? Johan Santana? Or the guitarist?) I abandoned it for a variety of reasons, one of them being my own errors, and another being that it was seen in some corners as mean-spirited.

Which was never the intent. I have nothing against John Gordon; I'm sure he's a prince of a man and a hard worker. I have a problem with the quality of the work.

As a listener, I want to know where the baserunners ended up after a single. Gordon doesn't always tell us. (Nor does Dan Gladden; the two often seem locked in a conspiracy to keep the listeners ignorant of what's happening,) It irritated me last summer when Gordon told us that Jim Thome was scoring on a ball hit into the gap and Thome was thrown out about five seconds afterwards.

I know I would be a poor announcer myself. I would stutter and stammer and talk too fast and fail to enunciate clearly, because I do those things without a mic in my face. I would probably be too disorganized to keep up with the constant stream of promos that get in the way of describing the game.

But my own inability to throw a major-league level breaking ball doesn't mean I can't evaluate a pitcher and find him wanting. This is the major leagues, he holds a major-league job, and (my opinion) he doesn't do it on a major-league level.

Now his exit is in sight, and I will strive this season to stifle my complaints. And it's entirely possible that more rest will mean better broadcasts; it's been my observation that he's worse on day games after night games.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Notes, quotes and comment

I don't often hang around for FSN's post-game stuff, but the promised sight Tuesday night of Ron Gardenhire playing goalie after the Wild game was too good to resist.

Not to say that Darby Hendrickson and Terry Steinbach were firing NHL-quality shots at Gardy, but he seems pretty good with the glove hand, which I suppose one should expect of a former major league infielder, even when in his 50s.

But a goalie has to be better on skates than Gardy. A lot better.

Todd Richards, the Wild coach, returned to the ice to take in Gardy's style:

"You get to see a good goalie (Nikolas Backstrom, who had a shutout for the Wild) and you get to see a bad goalie (Gardenhire)."


I've written the past two days about the Mets/Madoff connection and the implications for the franchise ownership. The New York Times reports the Wall Street con artist was heavily entwined with the baseball team's finances, and a good chuck of Bernie Madoff's clientele came to him though the recommendations of the Wilpons.

This is going to get uglier, I think.


Rob Neyer left ESPN this week to join SB Nation. Because of that, I've added the SB Nation baseball home page to my siderail under "other baseball links."

Neyer was, for me, the biggest attraction to the ESPN baseball page; I expect my visits there to dwindle. And while I find SB Nation as a whole uneven -- so much of it is unappealing or even sophomoric that I've shied away from most of their blogs in the past -- they've made some intriguing hires of late on the baseball side, Neyer being the most prominent.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Mets sale rumor followup

Turns out Martin Luther King III isn't "leading" any group hoping to purchase the Mets. He may (or may not) be part of the group (which may or may not made a bid, and if it does, may or may not be accepted), but he's not the big dog pulling the sled.

Which makes sense. Limited general partnerships in baseball ownership appear to work when (a) they involve large market teams, which makes it relatively easy for investors to move in and out (as with the Yankees and (b) when the big dog also has the biggest chuck of capital involved.

This is part of why the famous Bill Veeck never owned a team for long. He didn't have the money to buy a team outright; he was always the managing partner in a limited general partnership, and the people who did have the money generally wanted the money back after a few years. (There were other factors too -- health, family issues, and a general preference on Veeck's part to chase the next deal rather than build.)

The main point with the Mets right now isn't so much who is looking to buy into the team, but whether the Wilpons' ownership of the Mets can survive the squeeze of the python that is the Madoff scandal. My guess-- purely a guess -- is that a full sale is inevitable, just as I believe the McCourt divorce is going to force that bickering couple to sell the Los Angeles Dodgers.