Saturday, December 31, 2011

Two Hall of Fame also-rans

Today is the deadline for those members of the BBWAA who vote for the Hall of Fame to submit their ballots, and therefore the likely end of the Hall of Fame candidacies of two former Twins pitchers, Brad Radke and Terry Mulholland.

Terry Mulholland was just
getting started in 1987, when
the back of his card said he
had an off-season job as a
gas-station attendant. Really.
Anybody who merely makes a major league roster, even for a day, is a player of rare ability, and those who last the 10 years required to make the HoF ballot are rarer still. Mulholland pitched 20 years in the bigs, two of them for Minnesota; Radke pitched his entire 12-season career for the Twins. Both last pitched during the 2006 season, which made them eligible for the ballot this winter. Neither will (or should) draw enough support to remain on the ballot next year, much less win induction.

Still, I find myself as a Twins fan missing both of them.

Radke in particular. Whenever he makes an appearance in Minnesota I wonder how his shoulder feels after a few years off. It's a silly notion, of course; he's not walking through that door. But still ...

Radke was the anti-Liriano. Right-handed, not blessed with a high-velocity fastball or devastating slider, but adept with the circle change and a master of control -- not only in the sense of locating his pitches but of mastery of his emotions. He might win or he might lose, but Radke was not a pitcher who beat himself. He kept it simple, trusted his stuff and wound up with the third most wins in Twins history.

Mulholland was a baseball nomad. Twenty seasons and 11 teams pitched for. He made 88 appearances in his two seasons with the Twins, and that's the third most he made (behind Philadelphia and the Cubs).

Mulholland showed up in Minnesota for the 2004 season, already age 41, and was, for the first half of the season, a long reliever and mop-up man. In the second half, he was the fifth starter -- 15 starts for the season, in which he went 4-5 with a 4.95 ERA. The Twins were 8-7 in his starts. Not great, but good enough for the back of the rotation.

He was back in 2005, but Ron Gardenhire must have seen something missing, because Mulholland got no starts and few game situations to pitch in. The Twins cut him loose after 2005, and he made five appearances with Arizona, at which point the Diamondbacks released him. That was it.

Radke walked away from the mound because his shoulder was frayed beyond endurance. Mulholland pitched as long as anybody would have him. I applaud both.

Friday, December 30, 2011

The $100 million payroll

There appears to be a consensus in Twins-blogland: The Jason Marquis signing signals that the 2012 payroll is indeed "hard-capped" to $100 million, and that's a betrayal of the fans and a detriment to the team.

I have two basic quarrels with this conclusion:

1) I see no reason to doubt that, for the right player at the right terms, the Twins would (have) again expanded their budget plan. The Twins continued to publicly hold the door open for Michael Cuddyer and/or Jason Kubel even after signing Ryan Doumit and Josh Willingham. As matters transpired, both hitters got better offers than the Twins thought they were worth, but had either said yes, I'm sure Terry Ryan would have made "the three-block walk" to get the OK from Jim Pohlad.

2) The pitching market is hideous for buyers. Four years and $56 million for Mark Buhrele? Five years, $77.5 million for C.J. Wilson? No thank you, and I don't care what the budget is.

Terry Ryan appears to be hewing
to a $100 million player payroll for
2012. This is not a disaster.
The notion that the Twins would be well served to throw a big package at Edwin Jackson is laughable. This is a guy who has gone through six organizations in nine major league seasons. Teams get him and literally can't wait to dump him on somebody else. And if/when Jackson gets a four-year, $40 million deal, he won't be so readily dumpable. It was a lot easier for a team to trade for him when he cost a couple million or so than it will be when he's pulling in five times as much and carries obligations beyond the current season.

I dislike pieces opining that somebody else ought to spend more -- a team, the fans, whoever. It's easy to spend somebody's else's coin. And most of us writer types aren't particularly adept with finances anyway (which has something to do with why we're writers).

Look, just because the Twins spent $117 million or so in 2011 (and exceeded their budget in the process) does not obligate them, morally or otherwise, to do the same in 2012. This is not a perfect analogy, but I'll use it anyway: My wife and I spent some extra money last March and went to spring training. That doesn't mean we have to do it again next March.

And we enjoyed what we got for the extra expense a lot more than the Twins enjoyed what they got for theirs.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Dissecting the Bill Smith era: The Capps-Ramos trade

Wilson Ramos hit
16 home runs in 2011
for the Washington
Nationals, then
survived a kidnapping
in his native
When: July 29, 2010
What: The Twins acquired relief pitcher Matt Capps from Washington for catcher Wilson Ramos and left-handed pitcher Joe Testa
Value: Capps had 13 total win shares in 2010 and 1.1 WAR during his time with the Twins that season. He was retained for 2011 and earned 7 win shares and 0.8 WAR. Ramos had 3 total win shares in 2010 and 13 more last season; he has had 2.7 WAR with Washington. Testa has not reached the majors and pitched in high A ball in 2011 at age 25.
Twins motivation: Bullpen help for the pennant push; also an eye to the 2011 bullpen.

This trade soured badly on the Twins in 2011. Capps, relied on to anchor a reconstructed bullpen, had a poor season. Ramos took over the Nationals catching job and finished fourth in the National League rookie of the year voting. Ramos' absence from the Twins system was easily noted with Joe Mauer spending much of the season on the shelf. Even the unheralded Testa put up a sub-2.00 ERA in the minors.

All of this might be forgiven had Capps played a major role in a World Series trip in 2010. But the Twins got swept out in the first round, and the closer never had a lead to protect.

The trade, to state the obvious, has not worked for the Twins. What happened?

A big part of the trade's failure may be in how the Twins (and others) viewed Ramos.

He was at the time generally considered one of Minnesota's top prospects: Major-league ready (or nearly so) at a premium position. He had some drawbacks as well. He had a history in the minors of injury. He was hitting a mere .241 in Triple A at the time of the trade. And in a brief stint with the big league team during a Mauer injury, he followed an initial flurry of base hits with a series of easy outs on breaking balls.

There had been debate (with this corner of the Internet having its say) on whether Ramos was more valuable to the Twins as a long-term backup to Joe Mauer (who was, at the time of the trade, signed for another eight seasons) or as trade bait. Ron Gardenhire during spring training briefly made a public argument for keeping Ramos on the 25-man roster. Ramos was instead optioned to Triple A, which prevented his service time clock from starting and theoretically enhanced his trade appeal.

Going into 2011, Baseball America had dropped Ramos on its prospect list from No. 58 (entering 2010) to No. 96, an indication that the consensus opinion on him around the game had soured somewhat.

The Twins, in short, sold Ramos at the low point of his value.

Matt Capps is 6-7 with 31 saves
in his time with the Twins. 
As for why the Twins traded for a closer: Joe Nathan had blown out his elbow early in spring training. Jon Rauch had filled in at least adequately in the ninth-inning role (21 saves, four blown saves) but was showing signs of deterioration. (In nine appearances in the month of July, he had just one hitless outing, and his ERA had risen from 2.40 to 3.05.) The Twins felt a need to shore up the bullpen, and once Capps came on board, Rauch seldom appeared in a game situation (two holds, one of them a one-out appearance, and a win in an extra-inning game).

The Twins also knew that Rauch, Jesse Crain and Matt Guerrier were all destined for free agency and were unlikely to return in 2011. Capps would not be free-agent eligible until after 2011; they were trading for him not only for immediate use, but as a bullpen cornerstone in the coming season.

It is safe to say that the trade was not viewed well by Twins-devoted bloggers at the time, and even less so now. But the Twins are doubling down on this deal. They clearly like Capps as a pitcher -- not only enough to give up Ramos for him, but enough to bring him back for 2012 after 2011 didn't go well on any level.

This series is called "Dissecting the Bill Smith era", but one of my basic precepts is that Smith did not make these moves in a vacuum.  I know of no reason to believe that he substituted his judgment over those of more established talent evaluators, particularly Terry Ryan and Mike Radcliffe.

If the Twins overvalued Capps and undervalued Ramos -- and off 2011, that appears to be the case -- it was an organizational failure.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Jack Morris, the DH rule and the Hall of Fame

Jack Morris's 1987 card.
He went 18-11
for the Tigers that year.
He also led the
American League
in wild pitches.
The veteran baseball writers who make up the Hall of Fame electorate are wrapping up their ballots for the Hall's Class of 2012.

This election, as I said here almost a year ago, probably represents Jack Morris' last best shot at the Hall via the front door. It's the one year in which Black Jack is certainly the best starting pitcher on the ballot; there's always been Bert Blyleven on the ballot in his previous years, and next year there'll be Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling, and for the 2014 class there'll be Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine.

I regard Morris as a dubious candidate. A good pitcher, absolutely, just not rising to HoF status. The ERA is a bit too high, and the claim made by his supporters that he "pitched to the score" just doesn't hold water when examined closely. Almost every post-1901 pitcher with 250 or more career wins is in, but (a) that's drawing a line just after Morris and (b) by that standard, Jim Kaat and Tommy John have better claims that remain ignored (neither is on the writers' ballot).

But here's something that occurred to me last week as I was setting the blog on autopilot for the holiday weekend:

The American League established the DH rule in 1973. That's almost 40 years ago. I will now list the starting pitchers to debut since then who have made the Hall of Fame:


That's right. Zero.

Now, as a practical matter, we're basically saying there were no HoF starters to debut between 1973 and the mid-80s, when guys like Maddux and Clemens started showing up. Call it a 12-year drought if you will. That's still historically large.

The institution of the DH was the single biggest help-the-hitters rule change since the abolition of the spitball (1921). In the 10 years that followed the spitball ban, future Hall of Fame starters Lefty Grove, Carl Hubbell, Red Ruffing, Ted Lyons and Lefty Gomez debuted. Make it 15 years, and we pick up Dizzy Dean and Bob Feller. There's nothing like that wave of talent in the wake of the DH rule.

Dave Stieb — 176-134 with a
3.44 ERA for his career — had
his last good season at age 32.
He was one-and-done on
the writers ballot.

There were plenty of quality pitchers beside Morris (who debuted in 1977) to enter the majors in 1973-1985. Fernando Valenzuela and Mark Fidrych. Ron Guidry and Doc Gooden. Frank Tanana and Don Gullett. Mike Flanagan and Dennis Martinez. Dave Stieb and Bret Saberhagen and Teddy Higuera and Frank Viola and Orel Hershiser and Rick Rueschel ...

They all fell short. Most had full careers, but some got hurt, some blunted their lives on chemical abuse, some blunted their talents on overuse. None of them got elected to the Hall; none drew enough support to stay on the writers' ballot.

The coming wave of big-number pitchers from the Selig Era (aka the Steroid Era) -- Clemens, Maddux, Glavine, Schilling, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Mike Mussina, John Smoltz -- differ from the Morris era group thusly:

  • They worked in five-man rotations;
  • Had pitch counts for much of their careers;
  • Spent much, if not all, of their careers, in the non-DH league.

Look at the 14 guys I listed in the 1973-85 debut category. Nine of the 14 established themselves in the DH league. Look at the second list. Mussina spent his entire career in the AL. Clemens (who debuted in 1984) spent most of his in the AL. Johnson established himself in the AL (but had his best years in the NL). But Maddux, Glavine, Smoltz, Martinez and Schilling all established themselves as starters in the National League, with Maddux and Glavine spending their entire careers in the senior circuit.

I'm not convinced, even after going through that, that Jack Morris is/was the best Hall of Fame choice from that period. Guidry or Rueschel might be better picks. But Morris appears to be the consensus pick as the best career among starters to debut in the immediate DH era, a period of time that took a tremendous toll on young starters. That counts for something.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The merits of a Revere-Plouffe platoon

Ben Revere's defensive range
is a definite plus; his
throwing arm is not.
I have found frequent cause in recent days to mention Ron Gardenhire's reluctance to utilize platoons.

Jason Kubel. Jacque Jones. Michael Cuddyer. Mike Redmond. These were all players with pronounced platoon differentials, yet for a variety of reasons Gardenhire didn't platoon them. (Redmond, of course, was a backup, but Gardenhire over the years bypassed plenty of opportunities to give Joe Mauer his rest day against a left-hander and instead used Redmond the following day against a rightie.)

Gardenhire has used a few short-term platoons -- about a half-season in 2008 with Brian Buscher and Brendan Harris at third base, September 2009 with Harris and Jose Morales at DH -- but he prefers to identify a regular at each position and use the bench as fill-ins.

Left field in 2012, however, appears to offer good reason for a time-share arrangement. Let's break it down:

Ben Revere is generally viewed as the regular-in-waiting in left. (He's also the backup center fielder to Denard Span.) He is a player with one great tool (speed afoot) and two obvious weaknesses (power and throwing arm).

Trevor Plouffe spent 2011 convincing the Twins that he's not a major-league caliber middle infielder. They do see hope for his hitting, particularly in the power department.Terry Ryan has repeatedly said this offseason that Plouffe will be an outfielder going forward, but he has little experience, majors or minors, in the outer garden.

Trevor Plouffe has played
his way out of the Twins'
infield plans.
This is a classic platoon situation: Two marginal talents whose strengths and weaknesses match up. Plouffe has power; Revere does not. Revere covers ground like few others in the outfield; Plouffe is a novice. Revere can't throw; Plouffe has a strong arm. Revere hits left, Plouffe hits right.

Plouffe hit .212 against righties in 2011, .308 against lefties. Revere showed no real platoon differential last season, but in both cases the playing time is small enough that the stats are merely indicative, not conclusive. Over time, we can expect both players to show a platoon differential.

The underlying point: This is not a case where a platoon is likely to retard the growth of a potential star. This is a case of trying to maximize the production from two flawed talents.

And it's not a case that fits into Gardenhire's established managerial strengths or style.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Dissecting the Bill Smith era: The Hardy-Gomez trade

Carlos Gomez: Eye-popping range, head-shaking decisions.
When: Nov. 6, 2009
What: The Twins acquired shortstop J.J. Hardy from Milwaukee in exchange for center fielder Carlos Gomez.
Value: Hardy had 10 win shares and 1.3 WAR in 2010, his sole season in Minnesota. Gomez, still with the Brewers, has had 11 win shares and 1.3 WAR in 2010-11.
Twins motivation: Fill the shortstop hole and unload Gomez.

This trade came quickly, just days after the Giants wrapped up their World Series title.

J.J. Hardy: One and
done with the Twins.
Gomez had clearly fallen out of favor with the Twins. The most obvious piece of evidence for that: In September 2009, with Justin Morneau out of the lineup with a stress fracture in his back, Ron Gardenhire could have put Denard Span in right and Gomez in center. Instead, he filled the right field gap opened by the shift of Michael Cuddyer to first base with Jason Kubel and the DH spot vacated by Kubel with a platoon of Brendan Harris and Jose Morales.This was a far weaker defensive alignment, and the Harris/Morales platoon wasn't much at the plate either.

ABG -- Anybody But Gomez.

Hardy had also fallen out of favor with the Brewers, The shortstop had bopped 26 homers in '07 and 24 more in '08, but never got his bat going in '09. He got optioned back to Triple A in favor of prospect Alcedes Escobar (now with Kansas City) late in the season in a transparent move to halt his service time calendar and make him more attractive trade bait.

So the two teams traded their disappointments in hopes of filling lineup gaps.

Gomez, who lost the center field job in Minnesota after being given it, didn't hang on to the center field job in Milwaukee either. Hardy hurt his hand early in the season, started just 95 games at short and slugged under .400 for the season -- nothing that increased his value. The Twins traded him after the 2010 season; we'll deal with that trade later.

I daresay both teams were dissatisfied with the results of this trade.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Sunday Funnies

Merry Christmas. And Happy Birthday to Rickey Henderson, too.

In Rickey's honor:

Henderson is in spring training with the San Diego Padres late in his career, and he's getting on the bus for their first road game of the exhibition season.

Uncertain of the protocol on his new team, and not wanting to disrupt any veteran's accustomed preferences, he ask, "Where do I sit?"

Fellow veteran outfielder Steve Finley replies: "Sit anywhere you want, Rickey, you've got tenure."

Henderson gives Finley a puzzled look. "Tenure? Rickey got 16, 17 year."

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Dissecting the Bill Smith era: The other 2009 trades

Craig Breslow: Not a wise discard by the Twins
When: Feb. 18, 2009
What: Waived Bobby Korecky
Value: He has pitched six major league innings since then, allowing nine runs.
Motivation: Opening a roster spot for free agent Luis Ayala

Not much to see here. Arizona claimed Korecky, but he washed out with them. He spent the 2010 season in independent ball, then pitched in the Toronto system last season.

When:  April 17, 2009
What: Claimed Juan Morillo on waivers from Colorado
Value: Pitched all of two innings for the Twins, allowing five runs.
Motivation: He threw hard.

Juan Morillo threw a legitimate upper 90s fastball. Colorado couldn't tame it; neither could the Twins. He was released to a Japanese team in November 2009.

When: May 20, 2009
What: Sold Craig Breslow to Oakland on waivers
Value: Breslow has had 17 win shares in 2009-11, 3.2 WAR with Oakland
Motivation: Over-reaction to 14 innings.

As I noted in the 2008 acquistion of Breslow, Ron Gardenhire was reluctant to use the lefty in game situations. With the departure via free agency of Denys Reyes, Breslow entered 2009 as the primary lefty in the pen. He struggled early, and the Twins waived him, intending (so they've since said) to outright him to Rochester to get straightened out.

Instead, Oakland claimed him. He has made 202 appearances with the A's since, compiling an ERA of 3.14. The 2011 season was easily his least effective, however. Still, on the whole, the Twins would have been better off keeping him around. (Oakland traded him to Arizona this winter.)

Friday, December 23, 2011

Twins sign Jason Marquis

Jason Marquis has a career record of 104-98.
It's a one-year, $3 million contract for a veteran back-of-the-rotation starter.

On the face of it, this signing doesn't thrill me. Jason Marquis is 33, he has a career ERA of 4.55, he has a low strikeout rate and, despite Terry Ryan's description of him as throwing the ball over the plate, his walk rate is mediocre. 

As a matter of basic principle, I would rather see the Twins open the fifth spot to competition from pitchers who haven't established themselves, not hand it to somebody who has established himself as a mediocrity.

The Twins will now pay Marquis some $300,000 more than Colorado will pay Kevin Slowey. I'd rather have Slowey. 

And yet, I see why the Twins wanted to add a veteran starter. They came into Thursday with a projected rotation of Carl Pavano, Francisco Liriano, Scott Baker, Nick Blackburn and an unknown. Nobody really knows what to expect from Liriano, Baker has yet to survive a full season in the rotation, and Blackburn has had elbow surgeries each of the past two winters. It's one thing to have one rotation opening for the likes of Anthony Swarzak, Scott Diamond, Matt Maloney, Terry Doyle and Liam Hendricks to fight over; it's another thing to have multiple holes to fill.

Marquis is the pitcher the Twins appear to think Blackburn is: a sinkerballer who eats up innings. (Marquis, like Blackburn, has not finished the past two seasons; he had elbow surgery after 2010, and suffered a broken fibula off a line drive last August). Marquis actually does get a lot of ground balls. I'm not sure the Twins infield is going to be much help to such a pitcher.

The importation of Marquis is yet another clear indication that Brian Duensing is ticketed for the bullpen. So was the non-tender of Jose Mijares. So was the claiming of Maloney, a left-handed starter who has done quite well in Triple A but never got a clean shot with Cincinnati.

The more I look at Maloney's minor league stats -- and at his walk and strikeout rates in the majors -- I more I like what I see. The problem for him is that the Twins are now paying five veteran starters at least $3 million. Somebody's going to have to get hurt for him to get a shot.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

A difference of opinion on Jose Mijares

Jose Mjares: Going
to Kansas City
About a week ago, the Twins, who have had the sometimes dubious pleasures of having Jose Mijares on their roster for the past three-plus seasons, non-tendered  the arbitration-eligible lefty specialist  rather than pay him an estimated $750,000 to return in 2012.

On Wednesday, the Kansas City Royals, having scouted Mijares hard in the Venezuelan winter league, signed the portly portsider to a $925,000 contract.

Mijares figures to be the Royals' No. 2 lefty, behind Tim Collins, a diminutive fireballer who has some command issues. In Minnesota, he appeared to be behind not only Glen Perkins but also Brian Duensing, who appears almost certain to shift from the starting rotation to relief work.

Mijares was a very effective LOOGY -- Left-handed One Out GuY -- in 2009 and 2010, much less so in 2011. The Twins hope to have a very left-handed lineup again in 2012 (that would suggest that Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and Denard Span are all healthy).  Considering how often the Twins and Royals play, Mijares will get plenty of opportunity to test his LOOGY skills against his old mates.

Say, do you suppose Mauer will be looking for his slider?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Arranging the Twins outfield

Delmon Young: Part of one rebuilt Twins outfield,
now a piece to be replaced in a new restructuring.
Gone from the Twins of the past few seasons: Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel, Delmon Young. These men were mainstays of the Minnesota outfield since 2008. Now the Twins are remaking their outfield around Denard Span (as they did after the 2007 season with Cuddyer as the holdover).

As matters stand, these players figure to play in the Twins outfield in 2012. I list them in the order of likely outfield playing time. Those above the line are likely to be on the Opening Day roster; those under are likely to at least begin 2012 in the minors.

Denard Span, cf
Josh Willingham, rf/lf/dh
Ben Revere, lf/cf
Trevor Plouffe, lf/rf
Ryan Doumit, c/rf/dh/lb
Rene Tosoni, rf/lf
Joe Benson, rf/lf/cf
all other outfielders in the system

Willingham voiced some concern after signing with the Twins about playing right, where he has minimal experience. Terry Ryan believes Willingham has sufficient arm for the position, and he probably does, as he is a converted catcher. Certainly we can expect Willingham to get plenty of right field time in Florida.

A number of bloggers -- notably the redoubtable Aaron Gleeman -- have penciled Doumit in as the regular designated hitter. I suspect that if the Twins wind up with a regular DH it will be Justin Morneau (for health reasons). The more Morneau is the DH, the more first base somebody else has to play. That somebody else is probably either Doumit or Joe Mauer, and I'm quite sure the Twins (and Mauer) would prefer to keep Mauer behind the plate. And the more Doumit is the DH, the less valuable his defensive flexibility is -- not that he's actually proficient at any of the positions he plays. My guess is that we'll see more of Doumit at first base than anybody expects -- at least 50 games.

A blog commenter suggested last week that the Twins put Revere in center with Span in right and Willingham in left. That arrangement makes some sense, but Ron Gardenhire is very unlikely to irritate Span by moving him out of center.

Gardy believes in locking his regulars into place. It's one thing if one of his starters volunteers to shift positions, as Michael Cuddyer and Nick Punto were known to do; but absent that, he would rather keep his regulars in their comfort zone. Span is a good center fielder; he may not have Revere's range, but he's not giving up a lot to Revere, and Span throws better. Span made it known last summer that he prefers to play center; I don't see Gardenhire irritating him by making him give way to Revere.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Fare-thee-well, Jason Kubel

Jason Kubel will probably find it easier to hit
long balls in Arizona than in Minnesota.
It's easy to imagine alternative Twins careers for Jason Kubel, who will now pursue an alternative career with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

What if ...

  • He hadn't wrecked his knee in an Arizona Fall League collision with a second baseman?
  • He had played for a manager who believed in platooning?
  • Target Field weren't such a difficult home run park from alley to alley?

The key moment in Kubel's career came in his first game in the AFL in 2004. He was playing right field. He came in on a fly ball, second baseman Ryan Raburn (Detroit Tigers) came out, they collided, and Kubel's left knee was essentially destroyed.

He missed all of 2005, played in 2006 and hurt the right knee because the left knee wasn't completely sound.

Absent the injury, Kubel might well have pushed Jacque Jones off the roster during the 2004-05 offseason. Instead, he didn't get a clean chance to establish himself until 2007 -- by which time he was 25. Speed was never a big tool for him. The injury made his speed a liability and the biggest reason he has spent much of his career as a designated hitter.

I don't know if the injury could have had any effect on his platoon differential, but he certainly has displayed a significant one. For his career, Kubel is a .288/.342/.490 hitter against right-handers, .239/.313/.365 vs. lefties.

In the hands of a platoon-oriented manager like Earl Weaver or Gene Mauch, Kubel would have seen fewer southpaws, which wouldn't make his accumulative numbers any better but would certainly have improved his percentages. Ron Gardenhire is not a platooner, however.

Kubel had 906 plate appearances in the Metrodome, and hit .294/.346.495 under the Teflon sky. In his 448 plate appearances in Target Field, he hit .254/.321/.403. Big difference.

The park in Phoenix is a good hitter's park, so his numbers should look much better in 2012.

Monday, December 19, 2011

A quick comment

I plan to post for Tuesday morning about Jason Kubel's time with the Twins and his departure, but first, a quick comment on something LaVelle Neal said in his blog today about the Twins offseason:

Kubel, Cuddyer and Joe Nathan are gone and the team hasn't come close to replacing them.

As the late, lamented Henry Morgan said in the guise of Col. Sherman T. Potter, "Horse hockey!"

At least in terms of the outfielders. The Twins have replaced Michael Cuddyer with Josh Willingham and Kubel with Ryan Doumit.

Willingham is a better hitter than Cuddyer, if a bit more limited defensively. The talents have slightly different shapes, but they are equivalent. Doumit and Kubel are very similar hitters: .271/.334/.442 career slash stats for Doumit, .271/.335/.359 for Kubel. Both are better hitters against right-handed pitchers. And while the Twins lost positional flexibility in the Willingham/Cuddyer exchange, they gained it in the Doumit/Kubel switchout.

True, the Twins haven't imported bullpen help. Yet. But Neal said "them," and he is just plain wrong.

Dissecting the Bill Smith era: The Rauch trade

Jon Rauch in 2009. He was Baseball
America's minor league player of the year
in 2000, when he was in the
Chicago White Sox organization.
When: Aug. 28, 2009
What: The Twins acquired RHP Jon Rauch from Arizona for RHP Kevin Mulvey
Value: Rauch conributed 1.9 WAR for Minnesota in 2009-10. He had 9 win shares for the Twins in 210 and 7 total in 2009. Mulvey contributed just 26 innings to Arizona with a WAR of -0.3 and was designated for assignment in September. He may be a free agent. Rauch spent 2011 with Toronto and singed last week with the New York Mets as a free agent.
Twins motivation: Bullpen depth

As with Orlando Cabrera and Carl Pavano, Rauch was a late-season addition that worked. Mulvey, a piece of the Johan Santana deal, has not panned out as a prospect. Rauch went 5-1 with five holds down the stretch in 2009, then racked up 21 saves in about a half season as closer in 2010 when Joe Nathan blew out his elbow.

The Twins let him go as a free agent after 2010, and he spent 2011 with Toronto, where he had 11 saves (and five blown saves) with an ERA of 4.85.

It is, in retrospect, interesting how far Mulvey had fallen by the time of the trade and has continued to fall. When the Twins acquired him (just before spring training 2008), he was considered a nearly-ready middle-of-the-rotation prospect. A season-plus later, he was dealt even up for a middle reliever -- not something one does with a good starting prospect. And last summer, Mulvey was designated for assignment by the Diamondbacks. I don't know if he's still in their system or if he's a free agent.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Sunday Funnies

Josh Gibson, the great catcher and slugger of the Negro Leagues in the days of segregation, comes up in a game in Pittsburgh and crushes a ball. It goes so high that everybody loses sight of it. Nobody sees it come down. Eventually the umpire rules it a home run and the game continues.

Next day the same two teams, with the same umpire, are playing again, but this time in Philadelphia. Gibson comes up to bat again, and suddenly a ball comes whizzing out of the sky, and the center fielder runs over and makes the catch.

The ump turns to Gibson. "Yer out -- yesterday, in Pittsburgh."

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Fare-thee-well, Michael Cuddyer

Michael Cuddyer in his career: 141 homers,  140 double
plays grounded into, one shutout inning of pitching.
And so much for the "there's still room for Cuddyer" talk. One day after the Twins confirmed the signing of Josh Willingham, Michael Cuddyer reached agreement with Colorado -- reportedly three years, $31.5 million, which is $7.5 million more than the Twins were said to be offering.

Logically, I have no real doubt that the Twins are better off with this "exchange." Willingham and Cuddyer are roughly equivalent players -- both right-handed, both 33 by opening day. Cuddyer has more value as a defensive player, Willingham more value as a hitter. But Willingham will be paid almost $10 million less than Cuddyer over the next three years, and the Twins gain two high-round draft picks next summer. Logic says this is to the Twins advantage.

Emotionally is another matter. Cuddyer had, over the past 11 years, worked his way into the very fabric of the Twins persona. We Twins fans have watched him grow up as a major leaguer. That matters; fans of any team are more attached to the guys who start there and stay there for years than to the wandering mercenary types. Willingham will never match Cuddyer for popularity here. And Cuddyer will not be as vital to the fans in Denver as he was here.

For all Cuddyer accomplished on the field for the Twins over the years -- and he is in or near the franchise top 10 in a variety of career numbers -- the one thing that remains top of my mind is how he stepped forward after the 2007 season.

The Twins had lost Torii Hunter as a free agent. They had traded away Johan Santana. They had finished third in the AL Central with those two stars with a sub-.500 record. And when the team assembled in Fort Myers for spring training 2008, he distributed T-shirts bearing the message: "162+." One hundred sixty-two, of course, is the number of regular season games on the schedule. The plus meant the Twins were going to play beyond that number.

Which they did -- 163, to be precise. They didn't win the division title, but they came as close as you can without doing so. And it started with that spring training message -- we don't have Torii, we don't have Johan, and we're still good enough. 

The Twins may miss Cuddyer on the field. They are likely to miss him off the field more.

Friday, December 16, 2011

More minor league signings

Another batch of minor-league signing with spring training invites for the Twins on Thursday.

It's a rather uninspiring collection of failed prospects -- Steven Pence, J.R. Towles, Aaron Thompson. If any of the three appear in Minnesota this year, it's a bad sign. This is more about the Triple A team. The Twins want to keep their Rochester affiliation, and they can't keep losing 90-plus games there.

Towles is a catcher who bombed a few years ago when handed the regular job in Houston. He has hit in the minors but not in the majors. He and Rene Rivera are likely to be the catchers for Rochester, which figures to slow the advance of Chris Herrmann and Danny Lehmann. In Herrmann's case, that may not be a terrible thing, as he has less than a season in Double A.

Joe Christensen said the Twins have 24 non-roster invitees lined up for spring training. That sounds like a lot, but about nine of them will be catchers around mainly to the the other half of the bullpen sessions for more than two dozen pitchers. 

Cuddyer AND Willingham? Really?

Michael Cuddyer: Not out of the picture yet
This was going to be as much eulogy for the Twins career of Michael Cuddyer as rumination about the addition of Josh Willingham, but I'll give some credence to the notion that the Twins can fit Cuddyer into their budget and wait for the actual event.

Can the Twins actually fit Cuddyer into their estimated $100 million payroll? That depends on how rigid that figure is. My guess it's that it's a soft target, not a hard ceiling. the Strib's Joe Christensen projects the current roster as costing a bit less than $96 million. The $8 million salary the Twins have offered Cuddyer would push the total to about $104 million, which is still a reduction from 2010.

Re-signing Cuddyer would probably require ownership to sign off on raising the target. That might the be smaller problem; it would also probably preclude further pitching additions. But the free agent pitching market has been rather high-priced this winter, and the chances of adding someone significant for less than $5 million are slim.

So yes, it could happen. I'm not completely sold on the wisdom of it from the Twins standpoint. They have just made a three-year commitment to one 33-year-old corner outfielder; two of them seem excessive. The Twins have young outfielders working their way through the system, and having both Cuddyer and Willingham through 2014 would seem to block the likes of Joe Benson.

This is the constant balancing act general managers encounter. The future is better served if Benson has a clear route to the majors in a year or so. The present is better served with the veterans, as Benson is clearly not ready to contribute as a major league regular.

The Twins during Ryan's era tended to err on the side of the future. Even when they brought in a veteran, it was generally on an inexpensive one-year deal that didn't really block the kids as much as keep a roster spot warm for them.

That changed somewhat during the Bill Smith era, especially when Target Field increased revenues.

Beyond the question of whether it's wise for the Twins to peruse Cuddyer is the question of whether Cuddyer is genuinely interested or just playing a waiting game, hoping for better offers elsewhere. He's been sitting on the Twins offer for more than a week, after all.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Official: Willingham a Twin

I'll write more later. As noted previously, this probably closes the door on Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel.

While we were waiting ...

The Twins continue at this writing to grind with painful slowness to a conclusion to their right field free agent drama.

For public consumption, as in the Associated Press story we're running in this morning's paper, Terry Ryan is not closing any doors on Michael Cuddyer. But if Josh Willingham's in town for his pre-signing physical (as reported by the Strib's Joe Christensen) the train has left the station and Cuddy's not on it. If Cuddyer calls Ryan today and says OK, I'll take last week's offer, is Ryan really going to pull the Willingham deal? I can't see it.

Which leaves the question of why Ryan's putting up the pretense that nothing's settled. Joe C. blogged last night that his sources have been particularly "cautious" about this signing, and he doesn't know why. My guess is that it's a sign of genuine respect for Cuddyer and a reluctance to cut the ties.

Meanwhile, the Twins on Wednesday did announce three minor league signings of guys who played some in the majors in 2011 and who figure to be minor-league depth.

P.J. Walters, right handed pitcher, has 51 major league innings without much success. His strikeout rates in the minors (and even in the majors) have been better than those of most starters in the Twins system, but his walk rates are a bit higher than the Twins prefer, and he really hasn't translated his ability to miss bats into low ERAs.

Rene Rivera: Back
for more.
Rene Rivera is a familiar figure; he spent much of 2010 with the Twins as one of the not-Mauer catchers. He will again be a non-roster invite to spring training and organizational depth at Rochester. There are three catchers on the 40 who rank ahead of him (Joe Mauer, Ryan Doumit and Drew Butera), and a couple coming up from behind (Chris Herrmann and Danny Lehmann), so Rivera's chances of picking up more service time aren't as good as last season.

Sean Burroughs is an odd signing, but then he's had an odd career/life. Son of an MVP, Little League World Series hero, Olympic gold medal winner, flameout prospect, derelict, reborn major leaguer ...

He's 31 now, and why he'd pick the Twins as his next stop is baffling. He hasn't the power to be a major league regular, at least not at third base, and he's no middle infielder defensively. If he's going to carve out a career in his 30s, it's going to be as a pinch-hit specialist. Those jobs are rare in this era of 12-man pitching staffs, and where they do exist, they're with National League teams.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Willingham or not?

Michael Cuddyer has been a Swiss Army knife of
a defensive player over the years for Minnesota.
Last week, I thought the Twins' reported offer to Michael Cuddyer -- three years, $24 million -- would be sufficient to retain him.

Apparently not.

There were conflicting reports Tuesday night that the Twins had (or had not) reached agreement with Josh Willingham, like Cuddyer a right-handed hitting corner outfielder. The Twins typically don't acknowledge a signing until all details are complete, including a player physical, but this one was particularly touchy because it is generally believed that signing Willingham means not signing Cuddyer.

Willingham offers advantages and disadvantages to Cuddyer. He's a better hitter than Cuddyer (although his superiority has been masked over his career by the difficult environments he's had for home parks). He's less flexible defensively. And he's an unfamiliar personality in the clubhouse.

I'm wary of Willingham's lack of experience in right field or first base, the two positions at which Cuddyer was most often deployed. I don't know what Plan B at first base will be if Cuddyer's not on the roster, and Justin Morneau has needed a Plan B for significant parts of the past three seasons.

Willingham has spent much of his career in left field, and he's not particularly good there. He would figure to play right in Minnesota, and that sounds like an invitation to triples. But it has to be acknowledged that right field was something of a hidden defensive disaster for the Twins last season; neither Cuddyer nor fellow free agent Jason Kubel covered much ground. Their problems got less attention than those in the infield, but they were real nevertheless.

The Twins may not be making themselves much worse defensively by putting Willingham in right. But improvement ought to be the goal.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

At the fringes of the roster

The Twins opened Monday with a full 40-man roster.

They ended it with just 37 players.

Jim Hoey walked 13
and struck out 14
in 24.2 innings.
Gone, in chronological order:

Jim Hoey, right-handed reliever, claimed by Toronto on waivers;
Pedro Florimon, shortstop, outrighted to Rochester;
Jose Mijares, left-handed reliever, non-tendered.

Taking them one at a time:

Hoey, acquired from Baltimore last winter around this time in the J.J. Hardy trade, throws with great velocity but with little command and less movement. The result is too many walks, too many hits, not enough strikeouts and way too many runs. The Jays will now try to find a pitcher in that. Good luck to them.

Florimon was picked up from the Orioles a week ago when they tried to outright him to Triple A. The Twins were able to get him through waivers. My take on all this: He ranks in the Twins system below the four middle infielders who remain on the 40 (Jamey Carroll, Alexi Casilla, Luke Hughes and Tsuyoshi Nishioka), and probably below Brian Dozier (who isn't on the 40 because the Twins didn't need to protect him from the Rule V draft).

Jose Mijares walked 30
and struck out 30
in 49 innings.
Mijares was cut loose on the deadline to offer contracts to arbitration-eligible players. The portly LOOGY has had declining stats every season, and it's a pretty safe assumption that the Twins didn't want to give him the kind of raise the arbitration process would dictate -- especially since he didn't figure to be more than the third lefty in the 2012 bullpen. He and his agent now get to see what the free agent market says about him.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Ryan Braun's positive test

Last month, Ryan Braun was hailed as the NL MVP.
Now, he's labeled a steroid user.
Ryan Braun, the 2011 National League MVP, was reported Saturday to have tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs.

The Milwaukee outfielder is said to have tested positive in a sample taken during the playoffs in October. He disputed the findings and the case is wending its way through the appeals process, which is likely to reach a conclusion next month — well before spring training, much less the season. There's no rush here. Or shouldn't be.

So why was the test result prematurely leaked, and by whom?

Likely not by Braun's camp; he gains nothing from the release of this information. His reputation has now been damaged; even if the appeals process rules in his favor, he's now been publicly connected with steroid use.

I'm guessing it came from somebody involved in the testing process who either (a) feared that baseball would cover up the finding or (b) realized that there is a legitimate chance that the finding is invalid and the case overturned and wanted to muddy the waters.

If (a), there was no need to leak the info now; waiting for the conclusion of the process wouldn't affect a single game. If indeed MLB would hide the positive result because it's an important player, expose them after they've done it. Doing it now is silly.

If (b), it speaks ill of the professionalism of the people involved in the testing process. And I think it's (b).

I'm in no position to judge the quality of the lab work or the validity of the conclusions. I do think that when there's a specific, quasi-legal process in place to handle a positive test, that process should be followed. It's already been violated here.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Sunday Funnies

Bob Cerv was an outfielder in the 1950s and early 1960s who spent much of his career as a reserve for the Yankees. He'd get traded to somebody else, then get traded back to the Yanks ...

One day Cerv is sitting alone on the dugout bench waiting for batting practice to begin. Casey Stengel, the Yankee manager, comes out and sits next to him, and the two men just sit there silently, looking out at the empty park.

Finally Stengel speaks:

"Nobody knows this, but one of us has been traded to Kansas City."

(Side note: Many of the stories I'm using in the Sunday Funnies are obvious tall tales and not to be believed. This is plausible -- it's easy to imagine Stengel telling a player he's been traded in such a manner -- but probably not specifically true. Robert Creamer, in his fine biography of Stengel, names Cerv as the player, but the only time the Yankees sent him to Kansas City was in October 1956, so he wasn't sitting in the dugout when told of the deal.)

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Dissecting the Bill Smith era: The Pavano trade

Carl Pavano in 2010, when
he went 17-11, 3.75 with a AL-best
seven complete games.
When: August 9, 2009
What: The Twins acquired RHP Carl Pavano from Cleveland in a waiver deal for RHP Yohan Pino
Value: Pavano provided 0.8 WAR after the trade in 2009. He has remained with the Twins on two free-agent contracts and provided 5.5 WAR in 2010 and 2011. He had 7 win shares total in 2009, 15 in 2010 and 9 in 2011. Pino has yet to reach the majors and ended 2011 in the Toronto organization.
Twins motivation: Reinforce the starting rotation.

The Twins were well behind the Detroit Tigers when they traded for Pavano, and their rotation -- particularly Glen Perkins and Francisco Liriano -- was spluttering. Pavano was trying to rebuild his reputation after an injury-riddled three seasons with the Yankees in which he got dubbed "American Idle" by the NYC tabs.

He has been a reliable starter with Minnesota, far more so than I expected -- 12 starts in less than two months in 2009, 32 starts in 2010, 33 starts in 2011. He has one more season to go on his second Twins contract, and I remain stubbornly wary of his declining strikeout rate.

But it has to be said that this trade worked very well for Minnesota. And for Pavano.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Albert Pujols, Michael Cuddyer and the desire for more

John Mozeliak, general manager of the St. Louis Cardinals,
contemplates life without Albert Pujols. He might also have
the same expression thinking about the possibility of
paying the slugger $20 million-plus when he's in his 40s.
Before the Beatles told us I don't care too much for money/Money can't buy me love, they sang: Give me money/That's what I want.

Albert Pujols had the love and admiration of the St. Louis area, and tossed it aside this week for an extra $40 million or so. You and I probably would have done the same. Forty million? I don't know that I could spend that much in a lifetime, but I might like to try.

Pujols was, in truth, underpaid during his 11 seasons in a Cardinals uniform; while it may seem ridiculous to say that someone who made $104 million in 11 years was underpaid, he provided his team with well over $330 million in production. As wealthy as Pujols was before he signed his deal with Anaheim, he knew he has been underpaid in St. Louis, and it's a safe bet that bugged him. "Hometown discount"? He's given that already.

The Cardinals, to use a metaphor Bill James deployed in the late '80s, ate the heart of the watermelon that is Pujols' career. The Angels are paying for the rind.

It's been said that there's no such thing as a bad one-year contract. By the same token, there's no such thing as a good 10-year contract. The Angels jumped eagerly into the deep end of that pool this week, and nobody's standing by with a life preserver for them.

(It will be an interesting race to watch. Which deal goes bad for Anaheim first: $254 million/10 years for Pujols, or $77.5 million/five years for C.J. Wilson? My guess is the Wilson deal goes sour first.)

Then there's Michael Cuddyer. Cuddyer is no Pujols, of course. The money is lower, the talent is lower, the stakes are lower. But again, Cuddyer has made more money playing baseball than you and I have made doing what we do (I say that assuming Glen Taylor isn't reading this), and there has grown, I believe, a genuine affection between player, community and franchise.

And yet there is a standoff now between player and team. He wants more; the team is reluctant to oblige. In my view, the three-year, $24 million offer reportedly made this week pushes the envelope of Cuddyer's value to the Twins. It's justifiable, but I don't think they should add years or money to it.

He wants more. We all want more. Money can't buy me love -- but it can rent it for a while.

Winter meetings, Day Four

Terry Doyle has been a workhorse in the minors,
something the Twins probably found attractive.
While waiting on Michael Cuddyer some more -- and while no doubt standing agog at the silly money Anaheim spent on Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson -- the Twins made more fringe additions on Thursday. They now have filled their 40-man roster, and I would expect them to do something in the next few days to open at least one slot.

Rule V: The Twins took RHP Terry Doyle from the White Sox with the second pick. Doyle turned 26 last month, has good size, throws strikes, gets ground balls, doesn't have particularly good strikeout rates. He split last season between High A and Double A; between the regular season and the Arizona Fall League, he worked about 200 innings in 2011.

One of the ways I know I'm a baseball geek is that I get more excited about the Rule V draft than it deserves. These guys were left off the 40-man rosters, and there are generally good reasons for that. The Johan Santana and Jokim Soria picks are memorable because they're so rare. Still, here's more info on Doyle than you really need.

Here's John Sickles' take on Doyle coming into 2011:

Terry Doyle was a 37th round draft choice back in 2008 out of Boston College. He had a terrific season in the 2006 Cape Cod League and was projected as a possible second or third round pick at one point, but by '08 he had fallen apart, undone by mechanical problems that cost him six MPH on his fastball and left him lucky to be drafted at all. The White Sox drafted him anyway, rebuilt his mechanics and seem to have made him a decent prospect again. Doyle has average velocity but throws strikes and picks up grounders (1.56 GO/AO last year). He was old for the levels last year and we need to see more, but sometimes you can pick someone off the junk pile and find a gem.

Sickels on Doyle after Thursday's draft:

He had an excellent season in '11 ...He followed that up with a 1.98 ERA and a 22/5 K/BB in 27 innings in the Arizona Fall League. Age 26, Doyle has a mediocre fastball in the 87-90 range, but he mixes in his breaking ball and changeup very effectively and throws strikes. He could end up being a useful fifth starter, and Minnesota seems like a good fit for his skills.

Here's Baseball America on Doyle after the draft:

Doyle is a righthander with guile who lacks a plus pitch but knows how to set up hitters. He helped his chances of being picked with an excellent Arizona Fall League performance. He certainly understands the geometry of pitching, consistently getting outs with his command and a cut fastball. Doyle's 88-92 fastball did pick up as the season progressed and he touched 93-94 mph in Arizona. Doyle confuses hitters who don’t know him, as he often pitches backward, using breaking pitches to set up his fastball. He throws four pitches for strikes, including a biting slider and a high-70s changeup.
You probably know the rules: Rule V picks must remain on the 25-man active roster all season or be returned to the club from whom they were drafted. Last spring the Twins traded for the rights to Scott Diamond rather than return him to the Braves.

Finalizing the Slowey trade: The player to be named got named after the Rule V draft. He's RHP Daniel Turpen, a sidearming reliever who is joining his fourth organization. He had more walks than strikeouts in Double A last season, and certainly that isn't going to fly with the Twins. I fully expect this will be the only time he gets mentioned in this blog.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Winter meetings, Day Three

Cuddyer cuddle: Michael Cuddyer and
his newborn daughters on Tuesday. Twins for a Twin?
Wednesday was a waiting day for the Twins.

Waiting for an answer from Michael Cuddyer. Waiting for today's Rule V draft.

There were a couple of things that did happen. The Matt Capps signing became official. Cuddyer and Jason Kubel declined arbitration, which keeps them free to sign elsewhere but also ensures that if either (or both) do, the Twins will get compensatory draft picks.

My expectation is that Cuddyer will re-sign with the Twins. He may be a bit preoccupied with his new daughters, and his agent may be trying to stir up some interest elsewhere, but I doubt there is a team as interested in him as Minnesota.

Which raises the question: Should the Twins be that interested in him?

Nobody knows Cuddyer as well as the Twins. He's got his flaws as a player, and he has his strengths -- and those strengths are almost exactly a match for what the Twins need. If he leaves, they will have almost no right-handed power, and they'll be shy an experienced alternative at first base if Justin Morneau has to become a DH.

That the Twins are hot to retain Cuddy not only speaks to the high regard in which they hold him, but to the belief that 2011 was a fluke season, that they have a genuine chance to win in 2012. If Terry Ryan were committed to rebuilding, he should have more interest in the draft choices than in a non-star who'll be 33 before Opening Day.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Winter meetings, Day Two

Kevin Slowey: Going to Colorado.
It was pretty obvious last season that there was a massive disconnect between Kevin Slowey and the Twins, and it was widely expected that the pitcher would be moved along this winter.

And so it transpired on Tuesday: Slowey to Colorado for a player to be named.

This move also

  • clears Slowey's salary -- which would have been, through the arbitration process, somewhere between $2.5 million and $3 million;
  • opens a slot on the 40-man roster, allowing the Twins to finalize the Matt Capps signing and participate in the Rule V draft; and
  • clears a bit of the brush in the starting rotation field.

I wish Slowey the best, but I can't say I'm optimistic. Denver is not known as a place where pitchers go to revive their careers, and as a fly-ball pitcher Slowey may be a particularly poor fit for Coors Field.


Here's a Terry Ryan quote from the above link about the Slowey trade:

Twins general manager Terry Ryan — speaking with reporters during his media availability on Monday — spoke highly of Slowey, saying he expects him to bounce back next season.
“All you have to do is look at 2010,” Ryan said. “What did he do in 2010? How many games did he win? You can slice and dice those statistics any way you want, you’re looking for guys who win games. A starting pitcher’s job is probably, first and foremost, to win games. A guy wins 15, 20 games in the major leagues, you say, ‘Geez, I don’t know how he did it but he’s got ‘em.’ OK.”
You couldn't ask for a better traditionalist defense of the pitcher's win stat. And Ryan probably used that sales pitch on Colorado and others as he shopped Slowey around.

Of course, Slowey was the losing pitcher in all eight of his 2011 starts, and the Twins lost in all of his relief appearances as well.


Michael Cuddyer's wife gave birth to twin girls Tuesday morning. I don't know how rapidly Daddy Cuddy will decide on his next employer, but the Twins clearly would prefer it be sooner than later. The Twins are reported to have offered him a three-year deal for about $24 million. I would expect him to take it.


Matt Capps passed his physical, so those hoping that signing falls through will be disappointed.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Winter meetings, Day One

The Twins reportedly lined up on Monday the return of Matt Capps, which was their big news from the first day of the winter meetings.

The initial Internet response to the well-telegraphed signing is predictably negative.

I'm not enthused, but I'm hardly outraged by the move either. As I've said before, my concern is that the bullpen be deep enough that Ron Gardenhire doesn't wreck his few good arms through overwork. Capps alone doesn't do that, but his presence does deepen the bullpen.

One of the common threads to the objections raised by my blogging brethren —  which I shared in my initial post — is that the Twins are bypassing a compensatory draft pick. Terry Ryan's response to that factor, from the Strib story:

Ryan said compensation picks don't factor much into the Twins' decisions on players. "We'll take it," Ryan said, "but we'd rather have the player."
I don't believe for a moment that the Twins don't take the value of compensation picks into serious consideration. Their historic reluctance to give up first round picks to sign Type A free agents is evidence of that.

But I wonder if they are uncertain today of the real value of those picks under the new labor agreement and the formalized, enforceable restrictions on spending. I haven't seen any explanation of how the spending ceilings are to be set, but if the ceilings are too low, it may be difficult to get high school prospects to sign— which will push teams to overdraft collegians and thin out the quality choices by the time the sandwich picks come up.

If that's a realistic possibility, then Ryan has a good point about preferring the player to the pick. Draft picks are hardly a sure thing.

Pedro Florimon hit .267/.344/.367
at Double A Bowie in 2011.

In a lower profile move, the Twins claimed shortstop Pedro Florimon on waivers from Baltimore.

I don't understand the Florimon pickup. That doesn't make it bad. It just means that it's not transparent enough for me to understand.

Florimon is a switch-hitter, turns 25 on Saturday, and got an eight at-bat cuppa in September. He is said to be fast (although his minor-league stolen base stats don't impress) and struggle with breaking balls. He's been bouncing around between A and AA ball in the Baltimore system for a while, and 2011 was pretty clearly his best season at the plate.

My guess is that he's Triple A fodder rather than a threat to make the 25-man roster. But the Twins saw fit to fill one of their 40-man roster spots with him. I don't know what they have in mind. I doubt he's better than Brian Dozier.


Ron Santo didn't live
long enough to see his
election to the Hall.
As of now, the Florimon pickup gives the Twins 39 players on the 40-man roster. If/when the Capps signing becomes official, the roster will be full, and if the Twins intend to do something in the Rule V draft Thursday — they have the second pick — they'll have to clear a spot. They've picked up so many marginal players on waivers since the last week or so of the regular season (Esmerling Vazquez, Matt Maloney, Jeff Gray, Florimon) that I wouldn't think it that difficult to do.


Ron Santo made the Hall of Fame, which is OK by me. Jim Kaat came one vote shy of getting in; that's also OK. Tony Oliva got eight votes, four votes short of what he needed. Unless the Hall changes the Veterans Committee system (again), Oliva and Kaat will be eligible for consideration again in 2014.


Rumor mill (and my reactions):

  • LaVelle Neal said Monday that there's a growing expectation that Michael Cuddyer will re-sign with the Twins (makes sense to me). 
  • Ken Rosenthal said the Twins are one of four teams who have made an offer to Mark Buehrle (someone else will actually sign him).
  • Rhett Bollinger ( said the Twins have a tentative meeting on Thursday with Josh Willingham's agent, apparently as a Plan B on Cuddyer (Cuddyer makes a lot more sense for the Twins for a variety of reasons).
  • ESPN Deportes says the Twins have "expressed interest" in Carlos Guillen (as if they need more guys who can't stay off the DL).

Monday, December 5, 2011

The return of Matt Capps

Matt Capps: Back for
another season, at least.
Let the complaining begin: The word all over the Internet Monday evening was that the Twins and Matt Capps had reached a contract agreement, supposedly one year plus an option. No official announcement; that probably will come after Capps passes a physical.

I'll let this post stand as my opinion on bringing Capps back. I think he'll bounce back in 2012 -- at least if Ron Gardenhire can choke back the impulse to use him for multiple innings on consecutive days, which is where I suspect Capps' forearm tendinitis originated.

The only real issue here (assuming the price was right, and the Twins certainly wouldn't have done the deal if the price wasn't in their range) is that they're losing out on a compensatory draft pick, and as I understand the new labor agreement, that pick isn't going to be there if he leaves as a free agent after 2012 or 2013.

Dissecting the Bill Smith era: The Cabrera trade

Since playing for the Twins,
Orlando Cabrera has been with
Cincinnati, Cleveland and
San Francisco. He is currently
a free agent.
When: July 31, 2009
What: The Twins acquired SS Orlando Cabrera from Oakland for minor league SS Tyler Ladendorf
Values: Ladendorf has yet to play in the majors. Cabrera had 0.2 WAR in his two months with Minnesota, 14 total win shares for the season (my resource for the win shares doesn't split them between the two teams).
Twins motivation: Stabilizing the infield for the stretch run.

The Twins made no significant trades in the 2008-09 offseason. The 2008 season had ended just shy of a divisional title (they lost a tie-breaking Game 163 1-0 to the White Sox), but it also ended with the organization confident that the young starting rotation of the second half (alphabetically Scott Baker, Nick Blackburn, Franscisco Liriano, Glen Perkins and Kevin Slowey) was good for years to come and confident that Alexi Casilla had nailed down second base.

So they brought in Joe Crede as a free agent to play third. LaVelle Neal wrote going into spring training that the infield of Justin Morneau (1b), Casilla (2b), Crede (3b) and Nick Punto (ss) might be the best in Twins history.

September's infield was Michael Cuddyer (1b), Punto (2b), Matt Tolbert (3b) and Cabrera (ss). Morneau and Crede were out with back problems, Casilla got bounced for ineffectiveness, and Cabrera was brought in to play short.

The O-Cab didn't do much with the bat  in August (.259/.283/.375), and he committed plenty of physical errors and showed limited range in the field throughout his Twins tenure. But he (like Punto and Tolbert) hit in September (.315/.338/.477), and he didn't make mental errors.

The Twins didn't bring Cabrera back as a free agent in 2010. He was a two-month rental, and he got by on defense in part because he was flanked by two other shortstops in Punto and Tolbert. It worked; the Twins caught the Tigers in the final weekend of the season and won Game 163, with Cabrera contributing a crucial home run.

Ladendorf was a second-round draft pick in 2008 who put up some impressive numbers in junior college ball.  He remains in the Oakland farm system but has not hit, even though the A's affiliates play in pretty strong hitters' environments.

This mid-season rent-a-vet move worked, and it doesn't appear to have cost the Twins much at all.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Sunday Funnies

Hughie Jennings was the manager of some fine Detroit Tigers teams in the early 1900's. His lineups boasted probably the two best hitters in the American League in Ty Cobb and Sam Crawford, and the Tigers won three straight pennants (1907-09) but no World Series.

Jennings gets a letter one day from a small town in Michigan. The writer says he's a pitcher, a great pitcher, says he can strike Cobb out on three pitches, asks for a tryout and $1.80 in train fare to come to Detroit to prove his stuff.  Jennings, being a manager, is always looking for another pitcher, so he sends the $1.80.

The guy warms up and Cobb steps up to the plate. Cobb hammers the first pitch from the stranger off the fence in right. He pulls the second over the right field wall. He clouts the third over the center-field fence.

Jennings has seen enough of this nonsense and trundles out to the mound. "Well," he says disgustedly to the stranger who has wasted his time, "what have you got to say for yourself?"

The wannabe pitcher looks in at the batter. "You know," he says, "I don't believe that's Ty Cobb up there."

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Dissecting the Bill Smith era: The other 2008 trades

What: Craig Monroe, acquired from the Chicago Cubs in what Baseball Reference describes as a "conditional deal."
When: Nov. 13, 2007
Value: 3 win shares. -0.8 WAR before being released in August
Twins motivation: Outfield depth.

This was Bill Smith's first transaction as general manager, and it was flawed in two crucial aspects.

First, he apparently misunderstood the finances and didn't realize that by acquiring Monroe directly from the Cubs he couldn't offer Monroe as low a salary as he had intended. Second was what I call Craig Monroe Syndrome: Monroe had always hit the Twins well, and the Twins mistook that for an indication of his talent. They didn't comprehend that the rest of the league got him out.

At least he didn't cost the Twins anything. No "player to be named" was ever named.

R. A Dickey: Now a rotation
cornerstone with the Mets
What: Traded RHP R.A. Dickey to Seattle for C Jair Fernandez
When: 3-28-08
Value: Fernandez has not reached the majors; Dickey had 3 win shares and 0.4 WAR with Seattle before being released.
Motivation: minor league catching depth

A rather involved series of transactions here. The Twins had signed Dickey, who was in the process of converting himself into a knuckleballer, to a minor league deal just before the winter meetings. The Mariners then took Dickey in the Rule V draft. As opening day approached, Seattle traded Fernandez to the Twins for the rights to Dickey, which allowed the M's to send him to the minors.

Fernandez was a Class A catcher at the time; he has bounced around the Twins minor league system since, always as a backup. He became a minor league free agent last month.

Seattle released Dickey after the 2008 season; the Twins signed him again, and released him after 2009. He has since emerged as a reliable starter with the Mets. The Twins were a little too early on him.

What: Claimed INF Sergio Santos on waivers
When: 5-16-08
Value: None as a minor league infielder
Motivation: ?

Sergio Santos in 2008 was an infielder who couldn't hit but had a strong arm. The Twins picked him up apparently with the notion of converting him to pitching, but he was unwilling to make the switch, and the Twins cut him loose. The White Sox picked him up for 2009, convinced him late in the season to try pitching, and he ended 2011 as their closer.

As with Dickey, right idea at the wrong time.

What: Claimed LHP Craig Breslow on waivers
When: 5-29-08
Value: Six win shares, 1.1 WAR that season with Twins; 23 win shares, 4 WAR from 2008 to now.
Motivation: Bullpen depth

A good pickup by the Twins, negated to a degree by Ron Gardenhire's inexplicable unwillingness to let him pitch in game situations.

What: Sold RHP Livan Hernandez to Colorado in a waiver deal
When: 8-6-2008
Value: Three win shares total for season, -1.7 WAR for season.
Motivation: Making room in the starting rotation for Francisco Liriano.

The Twins signed the rubber-armed veteran to anchor their rotation in the wakes of the Garza and Santana trades. By midseason Liriano had started pitching well in the minors, and Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey, Nick Blackburn and Glen Perkins had established themselves as more effective than Hernandez.

The Twins over the years have taken outside criticism for this kind of early-season veteran use. I think it's unfair. Signing a Hernandez, a Ramon Ortiz, a Sidney Ponson is only partly hoping for a surprise. It's also buying time for a younger pitcher to mature or rehab in the minors.

"Everyday Eddie"
Guardado ended his
career in spring
training 2010
with the Nationals.
What: Traded RHP Mark Hamberger to Texas for LHP Eddie Guardado
When: 8-25-08
Value: Hamberger made his major league debut in September 2011, earning one win share and no WAR. Guardado pitched seven mostly ineffective innings for the Twins.
Motivation: Bullpen help.

The Twins were chasing the White Sox; the bullpen was thin; Gardenhire, for some reason, wouldn't use Breslow; Guardado, despite a badly frayed shoulder, was having a good season with Texas.

The Twins gave up a Class A arm who hadn't even been drafted for the veteran. This one could begin to backfire big time, as Hamburger has pushed his way to the majors.

What: Sent RHP Brian Bass to Baltimore in a conditional deal
When: 9-5-08
Value: He has had 4 win shares and -0.5 WAR since the deal.
Motivation: Addition by subtraction.

As with the Monroe deal, no player to be named was ever named.