Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The non-roster invitees

Earlier this month the Twins released the names of 18 non-roster invitees to spring training. While that list is certainly incomplete -- for example, Eric Fryer was then still on the 40-man roster -- it still gives some sign of the organizational depth.

And the good news is that the invitees are relatively light on major league experience.

There are no Jason Kubels or Matt Guerriers, no guys who used to be good and are now trying to squeeze one more season out of their declining talents. Only four of the 18 have any major league experience, and even there, two are still in their 20s and another turned 30 this fall. Just three were signed this offseason as minor league free agents.

This suggests that the organization is increasingly confident in the ability of its own players to fill the rosters of its upper level farm teams competently. Rochester and New Britain in recent years have relied heavily on the castoffs of other clubs to fill the rotations and lineups -- and that has shown as well on the big-league club when it reaches down for help.

Shane Robinson, who the Cardinals cut loose rather than offer arbitration, is the one guy in this list who has a real chance of making the roster out of training camp. A few -- Byron Buxton and J.). Berrios, to name two -- are prime prospects in camp to expose them to the new staff (and vice versa). Most are organizational players.

The invitees:


J.O. Berrios
Tyler Duffey
Mark Hamberger
Ryan O'Rourke*
Taylor Rogers*
Adrian Salcedo

* = left-handed


Mitch Garver
Tyler Grimes
Dan Rohlfing
Stuart Turner


James Beresford
Doug Bernier
Heiker Meneses
Argenis Diaz


Byron Buxton
Eric Farris
Danny Ortiz
Shane Robinson

New to the organization this winter: Robinson; Meneses, who was with Boston; and Diaz, who was with Arizona. The guys with time in the show are Robinson, Hamberger, Diaz and Bernier.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Parmelee goes, Fryer stays

Eric Fryer caught
28 games last year
for the Twins and
hit .213.
My read last week about what the two players removed from the Twins 40-man roster would do proved correct: Chris Parmelee opted for free agency, and Eric Fryer accepted his assignment to Triple A Rochester.

It's all about opportunity. Parmelee (and his agent) can't see much in Minnesota. There's Joe Mauer and Kennys Vargas ahead of him at first base and DH, Torii Hunter and Oswaldo Arcia ahead of him in the outfield corners. Fryer, on the other hand, sees an unsettled situation behind Kurt Suzuki at catcher.

Presumably Fryer will join Mitch Garver, Tyler Grimes, Dan Rohlfing and Stuart Turner as non-roster catchers invited to spring training; unlike the other four, Fryer has a chance to make the major league roster. But that he was outrighted rather than Chris Herrmann or Josmil Pinto suggests that he should not be the favorite to emerge as the No. 2 backstop.

I will be curious about where Parmelee lands. I've suggested before a parallel between him and Garrett Jones, another left-handed hitting first baseman/corner outfielder who was blocked in Minnesota by Justin Morneau and has carved out a respectable career since being axed by the Twins. (Jones was traded this winter to the Yankees, and the idea seems to be that they will find platoon at-bats for him.)

Without studying the issue in any depth, Baltimore strikes me as a possibility. The Orioles have had a knack in recent years with castoff  first basemen/corner outfielders (Steve Pearce, Delmon Young, Chris Davis, even Lew Ford) and they lost two corner outfielders in free agency (Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis).

Obviously, nobody thinks today that Parmelee deserves a spot on a 40-man roster. He's going to have to earn one, and that means he's got to hit. I haven't given up on that possibility.

Monday, December 29, 2014

My theoretical Hall of Fame ballot

The big doings in baseball news this week is the Hall of Fame balloting, with the last of the BBWAA members taking part scrambling to meet the deadline.

I don't have a vote, because I'm not a 10-year member of the BBWAA (or any tenure member, for that matter). Which is fine, because I don't cover baseball for a living.

The thing is, neither do most of the electorate. They have, for a few years, in the past. Or they have some tangential connection to a newspaper's coverage. But this has become one (just one) of the structural problems with the selection process: The BBWAA's Hall of Fame electorate is bloated with golf writers and basketball writers and copy editors who never leave the office.

The Hall of Fame selection process, as Bill James detailed years ago, was never well thought-out and isn't well designed today, and it probably never will be. Which is part of why thinking people have issues with it, and certainly part of why there are this year 18 or so candidates on the ballot who are, by established standards, qualified (or overqualified) for election.

Another of the structural problems is the 10-player limit on ballots. Had the writers been doing their job well, it wouldn't be an issue. The limit makes it almost impossible for the writers to clear the backlog.

The Hall this year shortened the length of time a player can be on the BBWAA ballot. This appears to be designed to get such players as Alan Trammell and Tim Raines, underappreciated by the ink-stained wretches, into the jurisdiction of the veterans committees. Maybe that will work.

Anyway, my 10, in no particular order:

1) Barry Bonds
2) Roger Clemens
3) Tim Raines
4) Alan Trammell
5) Randy Johnson
6) Pedro Martinez
7) Mike Mussina
8) Jeff Bagwell
9) Craig Biggio
10) John Smoltz

Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Sunday Funnies

Rube Waddell was drunk -- not that that condition was all that unusual for the great lefty fireballer -- when he insisted to his teammates that he could fly. Stepping out of his hotel window with his arms flapping, he found himself waking up the next day in a hospital.

When one of his teammates explained how Rube had wound up there, Waddell was indignant. "I coulda been killed! Why didn't you stop me?"

"What?" replied his buddy. "And lose the hundred I had bet on you?"

Saturday, December 27, 2014

The shift in pitcher workloads

For reasons related to a Strat-O-Matic project I won't bore you with*, I have been preoccupied in recent weeks by the 1969, 1987 and 2009 seasons.

And I have been struck, not for the first time, by the massive shift in pitcher workloads during my time as a fan.

In 1969, 11 pitchers either threw at least 300 innings or made at least 40 starts:

Claude Osteen, Bill Singer and Don Sutton, Dodgers
Ferguson Jenkins and Bill Hands, Cubs
Larry Dierker, Astros
Bob Gibson, Cardinals
Denny McLain, Tigers
Dave McNally, Orioles
Gaylord Perry, Giants
Mel Stottlemyre, Yankees

Juan Marichal of the Giants is oh-so-close to meeting those round numbers. He had 39 starts and 299.2 innings.

It all makes the fuss over Phil Hughes' missed bonus for 210 innings look rather silly, doesn't it?

Forty starts is roughly one-fourth of the schedule; a 40-start pitcher truly works every fourth game. Three hundred innings is more than one fifth of a team's innings.

In 1987, only one pitcher in the majors -- Charley Hough, a knuckleballer with the Texas Rangers -- had 40 starts, and nobody came close to 300 innings (Hough led with 285.1). Last season, nobody in baseball reached 250 innings (the high was David Price, 248.2 innings), and the high in starts was 34, shared by 10 pitchers.

There are a lot of reasons today's hurlers don't match the workloads of four decades ago. But I can't help but notice that of the 12 1969 pitchers listed above, five are in the Hall of Fame (Sutton, Jenkins, Gibson, Perry and Marichal).

And it might also be noticed that Dierker, McLain, McNally and Stottlemyre had their careers truncated. McNally and Stottlemyre were done at 32. Dierker's last season came at 30. McLain was out of baseball before he turned 30.

Between them, Osteen, Singer and Sutton started 122 of the '69 Dodgers' 162 games and pitched 930 of their 1,457 innings. This is almost inconceivable today.

*If you're truly interested, and I don't know why you would be, visit

Friday, December 26, 2014

The wandering Pierzynski

I was reminded on Christmas Eve of the old baseball chestnut,  "The best moves are the ones you don't make."

What reminded me of that was the news that A.J. Pierzynski had signed with the Atlanta Braves.

The Twins, you may recall, were hot for their former catcher last winter, but he spurned their two-year offer to take a one-year deal with the Boston Red Sox. It was an understandable decision; Pierzynski was a well-used 36, the Sox were defending World Series champs, and A.J. was chasing another ring.

It didn't work for him in Boston. The Sox released him during the All-Star break with their typical reputation-smearing whisper campaign. He finished the season with the Cardinals and didn't hit with them either.

And now Atlanta, where he probably projects as a backup, although it's not easy to discern the Braves' direction this offseason. As I said last summer, Pierzynski's days as a No. 1 catcher appear to be over. He can probably milk a few more seasons out of his career as a backup, but he's not going to stick in any one place for more than a year.

The Twins settled last year for Kurt Suzuki, who is about six years younger than Piersynski and rewarded the Twins with the best offensive season of his career. Even so, he tailed off rather sharply in the second half, the slump seemingly coming after he signed a two-year extension, and we'll see if the Twins get their money's worth out of the new deal.

Their second choice last December was certainly better than their first choice.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas

Last year I linked to the Baseball Reference page for Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, er Shortstop.

This year Rudolph had a slight dip in batting average, but his home runs rose and his OPS was stable.

BR took things a bit further this year, linking to a new card set for the North Pole Reindeer of the Holiday League -- the eight reindeer named in the Night Before Christmas plus Rudolph.

Here, for example, is the card for Comet, ace right-hander for the Reindeer. The back of the card says he went 20-13 with a 2.89 ERA and 341 strikeouts in 299 innings last season.

See the starting lineup for the North Pole Reindeer here.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

A stocking Stauffer

The Twins on Tuesday signed free agent swingman Tim Stauffer to a one-year, $2.2 million deal.

Rhett Bollinger of says Stauffer's ticketed to fill the set-up role vacated by Jared Burton. Mike Berardino of the Pioneer Press tweeted that Stauffer is a fit for the long relief role played by Anthony Swarzak in recent years.

Those are significantly different roles in terms of importance. I don't particularly care for Stauffer in either.

One warning sign right off the bat: Stauffer, 32, has spent his career with the San Diego Padres, who play in an extremely pitcher friendly park in the non-DH league. His career ERA is a fairly pedestrian 3.87, but that splits into 3.07 at Petco Park and 4.64 on the road.

Environment matters. It matters a lot. I sometimes wonder if the Twins front office grasps the difference between the American and National Leagues when evaluating pitchers. The designated hitter rule means an extra half-run a game in ERA for an American League pitcher. But the Twins tend to sign National League pitchers -- Kevin Correia, Mike Pelfrey, Ricky Nolasco -- and be surprised when they don't match their NL numbers.

That argues against putting Stauffer in a high-leverage job, such as eighth-inning relief.

Long relief is a low-leverage job, and if that's Stauffer's role and he tanks, it doesn't cost the Twins anything but money -- except for the opportunity cost. I would rather see the Twins use the role to ease a young pitcher with upside into the majors with minimum pressure than spend veteran money on a low-ceiling arm to little purpose.

If there's no room in the rotation for Trevor May or Alex Meyer this spring, better that they pitch long relief than in Rochester. They've graduated Triple A.


Also on Tuesday: Chris Parmelee and Eric Fryer cleared waivers. Parmelee had been designated for assignment for the Ervin Santana signing; Fryer's removal from the 40-man roster created the opening for Stauffer.

Both can opt for free agency rather than accept their assignment to the Rochester roster. I would expect Parmelee to go elsewhere. Fryer might still believe the Twins to be his best opportunity to play in the majors. I don't have a sense of what Paul Molitor will emphasize from the backup catcher. Bat? Josmil Pinto. Defense? Fryer. Flexibility, both as a limited platoon partner and at other positions? Chris Herrmann. With Ron Gardenhire, defense was generally the point of emphasis, which was how Fryer spent much of 2014 in the majors.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Hughes extension

Phil Hughes set a major league record for walk-strikeout
ratio last season for the Twins.
So the Twins, in extending Phil Hughes for three years, have effectively signed him to a five year, $58 million contract.

Assuming Hughes' 2014 was not a mirage, and assuming good health, that's a very reasonable price tag.

But he's a pitcher, and five-year contracts for pitchers seldom work well for the team. The odds are that at least one of those seasons will be marred by injury and/or ineffectiveness.

Hughes, predictably, believes he can sustain his brilliant 2014. From Mike Berardino of the Pioneer Press:

“I made a lot of changes last year. I feel like last year wasn’t just a shot in the dark and I got lucky. I felt like I advanced a lot as a pitcher. I feel like I had a more mature approach with what I wanted to do. I don’t think there’s any reason why I can’t repeat that. It wasn’t just like I went out and did everything I had been doing and things happened to work out better or I got into a bigger ballpark and didn’t give up as many home runs. I made a lot of changes to my approach and to what I was trying to do out there, so I’m confident I’ll be able to repeat that if not get better.”

Nobody ever says: Hey, that's probably as good as I can do. Or at least no successful major leaguer says that, even if it's true. They get where they are by denying their limitations. To twist Adam Savage's phrase, they reject my reality and substitute their own.

And as I noted here last week, Hughes did indeed make some pretty significant changes in pitch selection last season.

Fact: Phil Hughes last year struck out 11.43 men for each walk he allowed. This is a major league record. All the years, all the pitchers, and no qualifier (one inning per team game) has had a better walk-strikeout ratio -- not Greg Maddux, not Pedro Martinez, not Warren Spahn or any other of the many great pitchers who have toiled on major league mounds.

This is not a particularly daring prediction: Hughes isn't going to repeat that.

And the more he regresses from that record level of performance, the more help he's going to need from his defense, and ... well, if you read this blog, you already know what I think about the projected Twins defense.

It should be said: He can regress and still be worth the extension. There's more reason to be optimistic about Hughes than there is about Ricky Nolasco or even Ervin Santana. For one thing, when this extension is over, Hughes will be the age those two are now. And while Hughes reached the majors at a young age, he wasn't so wildly successful that he was overworked while still physically developing.

I still want to see this team move some veteran starters out of the way of the young guns. But Hughes is not on that list.

Monday, December 22, 2014

A line in the transactions

The sharp-eyed Mike Berardino on Sunday noted a minor league signing by the Twins:

As scoops go, this is not much. Ledezma is three years removed from his last major league appearance. The odds are this will not amount to anything beyond a line in the transactions file. Yes, he's left-handed and breathing, so there's a chance. But he wasn't all that good when he was young and promising, and now he's neither.

This does suggest how hard the dream dies. Three years out of the majors and in his mid 30s, but he's still pitching (last summer in the Mexican League), still hoping to make it big.

Baseball Reference estimates he was paid $2.4 million in his nine seasons (full and partial) in the majors. Odds are there's nothing else he can do that pays anything near the major league minimum. Of course, pitching in the minors doesn't approach the major league minimum either.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Sunday Funnies

Rickey Henderson, the subject of perhaps more funny stories than anybody since Dizzy Dean, was born on Christmas. Since this is Christmas week, a Rickey story...

The Mets were staying in a hotel less than a mile from Cinergy Field in Cincinnati. While some players walked to the stadium, most took the team bus. A few minutes after they arrived — again it was less than a mile – the last players off the bus noticed a stretched limo that had just pulled up.

Of course, Rickey emerged from the back seat.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

The minor league managers

The Twins on Friday announced their minor league managers and coaches, and there were quite a few changes.

The most important name: Doug Mientkiewicz will be the manager at Double A Chattanooga. There is no more important spot in the Twins farm system than this one. It should be loaded. Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano are likely to open the season there. Quite possibly J.O. Berrios also, plus Eddie Rosario, Jorge Polanco and the core of the bunch that won the Florida State League title for Dougie Alphabet last year.

Mientkiewicz was reportedly disappointed to lose out on the major league managing job, disappointed enough that there was some speculation that he might leave the organization. I regard it as good news that he's staying. I was pulling for him to get the big league job, and I suspect that he might have it in a few years.

Jeff Smith, the Double A manager he past couple of years, is moving down to the Fort Myers job, reportedly at his request. Jake Mauer will remain at Cedar Rapids, and Ray Smith at Elizabethton.

And Mike Quade, who got a year-plus as manager of the Chicago Cubs at the start of the decade, will be the successor to Gene Glynn as the manager at Triple A Rochester.

Quade became the interim manager of the Cubs in 2010, and they opted to hire him for 2011 instead of Ryne Sandberg, the Cubs legend and Hall of Famer. This displeased Sandberg sufficiently that he left for the Phillies, and he's now the manager there. Quade lasted only a year before being dumped by the Cubs.

Quade has 17 years as a minor league manager for five different organizations. He started when he was 28, and he's 57 now. (He's had some years as a major league coach interspersed with the managing gigs.) He was a roving instructor in the Yankees system last year.

I wouldn't have minded seeing Mauer get the Triple A job. Or Mientkiewicz, although I prefer him in Double A because that's where the future is, and I think he's part of that future.

Friday, December 19, 2014

What lies ahead for Cuban baseball?

Fidel Castro at the plate in 1962.
Baseball is big in Cuba. Cuban players -- including such stars as Yasiel Puig, Ardolis Chapman and Jose Abreu -- are big with major league teams.

But there is little reason to believe that this week's breakthrough in diplomatic relations will bring a flood of Cuban talent to American stadiums. Certainly not while the embargo remains -- and that is codified in federal law, with the incoming Republican Senate majority apparently intent on keeping it in place.

Ben Badler of Baseball America covers Cuban baseball for that publication and probably knows about as much on the subject as any American. This piece, posted Thursday, details why there will not be a land rush for Cuban talent.

In a nutshell, there won't be because:

  • The Cuban government doesn't want that; and
  • the commissioner's office doesn't want that either

It's all about the money, of course, which is why the embargo is a major impediment.

The Cubans don't want to wreck the Serie Nacional, their domestic league. MLB recognizes Serie Nacional as a foreign professional league, as it does the Japanese and Korean leagues, and Badler says the Cubans want a relationship with MLB that combines aspects of MLB's ties to the Asian and Mexican leagues.

Most notably, that would include a formal arrangement in which the Cuban teams are paid for Cuban players. That, as matters stand, would be a violation of federal law.

For its part, the commissioner's office has a deep distaste for seeing players get paid; that's the thinking that has brought baseball the draft and bonus pools. It probably would prefer a straight-up player draft, but that figures to be a non-starter with the Cuban government (as it has been with other Caribbean governments, which is why there still isn't an international draft). More practically, MLB will settle for the same kind of arrangement as the Cuban government wants -- something that will restrict player movement and keep at least some of the money out of the hands of the players.

Beyond that, there's a legitimate competitive division between MLB's teams. Some are deeply, if clandestinely,  involved in scouting Cuba, and others are not. The teams that aren't heavily involved in Cuban talent (and the Twins are probably one of them; they certainly haven't been known to be a contender for any of the primo defectors in recent years) will want the others restrained.

As for the notion of an expansion team in Havana: Not happening. The Cuban economy is nowhere near mature enough to sustain such a piece of  indulgent flippery.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Waste as a business model

The Los Angeles Dodgers are under new management, and the new management is unloading a lot of the previous management's commitments.

This involves writing off some pretty substantial contracts:

  • Reliever Brian Wilson, designated for assignment Tuesday, is owed $9.5 million for 2015.
  • The Dodgers will pay the Miami Marlins $12.5 million to take starter Dan Haren off their hands.
  • They will pay the San Diego Padres $32 million over the next five years to take the contract of outfielder Matt Kemp.

Add it up, and those three moves mean the Dodgers are paying $54 million so Kemp. Haren and Wilson will play for somebody else.

$54 million is roughly the equivalent of the largest free-agent signing in Twins history (Ervin Santana).

And that, I think, is the real advantage of the "unlimited budget" teams. Not merely that they can dole out giant contracts, but that they can blithely trash the money if they decide the deal isn't working for them.

In the book Moneyball, Billy Beane is described as treating the Yankees and Mets and other large-market teams as piggy banks when working trades: Shake them until the money falls out. The Dodgers seem to be a pretty generous piggy bank right now.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

What was different about Phil Hughes in 2014?

Amid the awful starting pitching numbers for the 2014 Twins, Phil Hughes shone.

In truth, he was better than his 3.52 ERA indicates. Depending on what metric you care to use, the Twins cost him at least a half run a game with their poor defense (particularly in the outfield).

After the Twins signed him last winter, I noted how his pitch selection had changed between 2012 and 2013. It changed some more last year.

Hughes threw in ...

2012: 65 percent fastballs, 18 percent curveballs, 10 percent changeups, 4 percent sliders, 2 percent cutters.

2013: 62 percent fastballs, 24 percent sliders, 9 percent curves, 5 percent changes and less than 1 percent splitters.

2014: 65 percent fastballs, 21 percent cutters, 14 percent curves, less than 1 percent changeups. No sliders, no splitters.

(Data from the various Bill James Handbooks.)

The core pitch has remained the same -- a fastball a bit less than two-thirds of his pitches. But he's changed his top secondary pitch each year.

Considering his success in 2014, I would expect him to break that pattern and stick with what he did last season.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Brady Aiken fiasco revisited

You may remember that last summer there was a brief storm of controversy when the Houston Astros backed out of at least two, maybe three, contract agreements with draftees Brady Aiken (the No. 1 overall pick), Jacob Nix (fifth-round pick) and Mac Marshall (21st round pick).

The Astros insisted the pre-signing physical on Aiken uncovered something wrong in his elbow. Aiken and his advisors are equally adamant that there was nothing significant. The Astros slashed there offer to Aiken -- a move that, had the prep lefty accepted it, would have allowed the team enough leeway in ther draft bonus allotment to sign both Nix and Marshall to overslot deals.

Aiken didn't sign for any amount -- in the final minutes before the deadline the Astros reportedly tried to raise their lowball offer and were simply ignored -- and the Astros didn't sign Nix or Marshall either, because losing Aiken deproved them of the majority of their bonus pool.

Most of the scorn heaped on the Astros was over their reneging on the offer to Nix, who passed his physical. I am, personally, skeptical that the Astros dealt in good faith with these high-schoolers, but that's just my opinion.

On Monday it was reported that the Astros settled with Nix for an unknown figure. Presumably they were afraid the arbitrator in the grievance filed by the players union would determine that they had a valid contract with Nix, and they would be heavily penalized in the coming draft as a result of exceeding their bonus pool.

The Astros get the No. 2 pick in this year's draft as a result of not signing the No. 1 pick last year. Unsigned draftees cannot be drafted again by the same club without their permission; I would expect that there was enough bad blood from last summer's "negotiations" that none of the three will give the Astros that waiver.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Goodbye, Parmelee

Chris Parmelee was the
Twins' first-round pick
in 2006 .
The Twins waived Chris Parmelee on Saturday to open a spot on the 40-man roster for free agent signee Ervin Santana.

While it wasn't the roster-clearing move I wanted (see Saturday's post), it's understandable. As with Chris Colabello, there isn't an obvious role for Parmelee on the Twins as currently constructed. First base is jammed with Joe Mauer and Kennys Vargas; the corner outfield jobs are occupied by Oswaldo Arcia and Torii Hunter; and Parmelee hasn't the skill set to handle more rigorous defensive positions.

Parmelee cleared waivers a year ago and the Twins kept him in the organization as a minor leaguer; this time, if he clears waivers, he can declare free agency. I would expect him to do so. He needs a change of scenery, and an organization that has a use for him.

He has been in roughly the same boat Garrett Jones was with the Twins. Jones was blocked at first base by Justin Morneau and in the outfield corners by the likes of Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel. Jones has squeezed out six seasons in the majors since leaving the Twins, five of them as a low-grade regular.

I wouldn't rule out that kind of future for Parmelee. He had one brief clear shot at a regular job with the Twins (first half of 2013), and he didn't do anything with it.

And that's the key. Jones clubbed 21 homers in half a season's playing time in his first year with Pittsburgh, and he parlayed that into a multi-season career I didn't see coming. Wherever he winds up, Parmelee needs to hit. In 901 plate appearances (spread over four seasons) with the Twins, he hit .249/.317/.392. That would work for a shortstop or a catcher, but it's not good enough for a first baseman.


The Twins late last week signed right-hander Brayan Villareal to a minor-league contract. He fits what has become the new normal for the Twins in acquirring bullpen arms: He throws hard.

Villareal has 75 major league innings, all with Detroit (he made one appearance with the Red Sox in 2013, walked a guy on four pitches, was pulled and never pitched again; he got a World Series ring for his efforts). He has 86 strikeouts (and 47 walks).

If he can throw strikes, he can help. But that's a sizable if.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Sunday Funnies

The 1916 Philadelphia Athletics were about as bad a team as took the field in the 20th Century, winning just 37 games. Roommate pitchers Tom Sheehan and John Nabors combined to go 2-37 that year.

The duo had the mound duties in a doubleheader on a muggy day in Boston. Sheehan pitched well in the first game, allowing one run on one hit -- and lost 1-0.

Nabors took a 1-0 lead into the ninth of the second game. But shortstop Whitey Witt committed an error (one of 70 for the season for him). Nabors allowed a walk. Then Harry Hooper singled, and the tying run scored when the outfielder's throw bounced out of the catcher's glove.

With a man on third and one out, Nabors threw the next pitch 20 feet over the batter's head, and the winning run trotted home.

Later, Sheehan asked his roomie about that last pitch.

"Look," Nabors explained, "I knew those guys wouldn't get me another run, and if you think I'm going to throw nine more innings on a hot day like this, you're crazy."

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Time to get serious

The Twins announced Friday night that the Ervin Santana signing is official, so he passed his physical. Press conference this morning.

Also coming this morning, presumably, a player move to open a slot on the 40-man roster for the right-hander. The Twins have no shortage of marginal players on their 40-man roster, but it shouldn't be any secret what move will signal seriousness of purpose to me: Dumping Mike Pelfrey.

The story on the Twins website lists four candidates for the fifth starter job, and the first on the list is Pelfrey. (The others: Tommy Milone, Trevor May and Alex Meyer.) Rhett Bollinger may have ordered them by major league seniority or by salary, but naming Pelfrey first does mimic the order Terry Ryan used when listing candidates during a winter meetings interview.

And my reaction is: You cannot be serious. Saying Mike Pelfrey is a leading candidate for the starting rotation is letting the money talk.

Away back in 1987, when the Andy MacPhail-Tom Kelly regime was taking hold, the Twins made a trade late in spring training for Dan Gladden -- two minor leaguers for the outfielder.  Mickey Hatcher was the incumbent left fielder. He had a goofy persona and hit for average, but he had no power, little speed and no real defensive value. He also had a $750,000 contract, which was pretty fair coin in 1987 baseball.

The Twins released him and ate the contract. That was a move that told me: These guys are serious.

It's not a fully new regime now -- new manager, same GM. But canning Pelfrey would send a similar message as the 1987 canning of Hatcher: Merit will rule, not the contract.

I don't expect it to happen. I don't expect it this month. I don't expect it in spring training. Maybe in May. I don't expect it, because I don't think they're serious enough yet. Prove me wrong.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Winter meetings, Day Four: The Twins act

Ervin Santana began his career with
the Angels. He was known as
Johan Santana while in the minors
but changed to Ervin to avoid
confusion with the then-Twins ace.
And on the fourth day, things happened.

The Twins had been bystanders for the first three days of the witner meetings, but on Thursday -- moving day as the annual confab broke up -- things fell into place.

The biggest news for the Twins was the reported agreement with pitcher Ervin Santana. Four years, $55 million guaranteed. The deal both supplants last winter's Rick Nolasco deal as the largest free-agent signing in Twins history and marks the first time the Twins have surrendered a draft pick to sign a free agent.

The Twins' first round pick in June's draft is protected, so they gave up their second-rounder.

Santana is a better pitcher than Nolasco, but he's not the kind of pitcher one wants to have starting Game One of a playoff series.

What I said yesterday stands. I believe the top priority should be opening a path to the rotation for Alex Meyer and (to a lesser extent) Trevor May. Meyer might be that elusive top-of-the-rotation arm, but the Twins seem determined to block his ascension with large barricades of cash.

Reshaping the rotation means moving some of the incumbents out. There has been no sign of that yet. Bu there's plenty of offseason ahead, and the Twins have to lop somebody from the 40 when the signing becomes official.


A secondary aspect to Thursday was the Rule 5 draft. The Twins plucked J.R. Graham, a short right-handed pitcher, from Atlanta. Graham was a high-velocity guy before suffering a shoulder injury; Baseball America once viewed him as Atlanta's second-best prospect, But last year he had a 5.55 ERA in Double A, mostly as a starter, and the Braves opted not to protect him.

The Twins see him as a potential bullpen piece. He either spends next season on the major league roster or is offered back to Atlanta. Graham fills the roster spot opened a few days ago when Chris Colabello was claimed on waivers by Toronto.

The Twins also lost left-handed pitcher Sean Gilmartin to the Mets. Gilmartin, a former first-round pick by the Braves, came to the Twins in the Ryan Doumit trade last December. He split 2014 between Double A and Triple A and didn't impress the Twins enough to get put on the 40-man roster.

The odds are always against Rule 5 draftees. Their original clubs didn't think highly enough of them to put them on the 40, and the new club has to commit to keeping them on the 25. That's a high standard. The Twins did make it work a couple years ago with Ryan Pressly, and of course Johan Santana is the gold standard of Rule 5 picks.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Winter Meetings, Day Three: Rumors and rumors of rumors

For a brief while Wednesday, it sounded as if the Twins had landed Ervin Santana. Then the New York writer who had sounded that alarm backed off, and things died down.

For the record, as I have no real objection to signing Santana in and of itself . I do object -- strenously -- to the continued accumulation of veteran arms for the apparent purpose of keeping guys like Alex Meyer and Trevor May in the minors.

Sign Santana? How about getting rid of Mike Pelfrey first? Ryan has said this week that Pelfrey is coming to camp as a starter "and we'll go from there." We know where we're going from there. The veteran will have his squatter's rights on a rotation job, and they won't pull the plug on him until mid-May. That's the established pattern.

I won't trust the Twins to make the right call on Pelfrey until he's gone.


The Twins reportedly made a pitch to Francisco Liriano, but the lefty re-signed with Pittsburgh. Can't blame him. There's a comfort level there. He's had success there.

Ditto Pat Neshek, who signed with Houston. Supposedly the Twins were looking to bring him back, but the separation between him and the Twins was ugly enough that I would think he'd be reluctant to return.


Rule 5 draft this morning. That might wind up being the highlight for the Twins at this winter meetings. Considering some of the free agents they've been linked to (Kyle Kendrick?), that might not be a bad thing. Doing nothing is preferable to signing Kendrick.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Winter meetings, Day Two: White Sox strike

Jeff Samardzija has never
had a 10-win season.
The word in the wee hours of Tuesday morning (at least here in the Central time zone) was that the Chicago White Sox had both traded for Jeff Samardzija and signed David Robertson.

The first is a power starter who had a 2.99 ERA last season, the second a closer who racked up 39 saves as the successor to Mariano Rivera as the Yankees closer.

Added to the quick free agent signing of first baseman Adam LaRoche and reliever Zach Duke, plus the anticipated return to health of outfielder Avisail Garcia, these moves had some people proclaiming the Sox contenders in the AL Central for 2015.

I'm not so sure.

Every winter some team makes a big splash in the transactions market and is acclaimed the winner of the offseason, and then those expectations come to naught. Remember the Toronto Blue Jays a couple of winters ago? They added Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson and ohmigosh, what a team. They finished fifth, a.k.a. last.

Activity in December does not necessarily equate to wins in the summer.

Samardzija, LaRoche and Robertson might make the Sox better, Or the Sox might just spin their wheels.

The well-traveled LaRoche is 35 and slashed .248/.347/.429 the past two years combined in Washington. I don't see him as a real upgrade from the debated (and retired) Adam Dunn as the lefty slugger in the middle of the lineup.

Samardzija's reputation, and his talent, outshines his fairly pedestrian 36-48, 3.85 career record. He does represent an upgrade for the White Sox rotation, but his track record doesn't compare to the first three guys in the Tiger rotation, even excluding free-agent Max Scherzer.

The 2014 Sox had a below average offense (particularly troublesome for the White Sox because their home park is a hitters haven) and one of the worst defenses in the league. At the moment they have no obvious second baseman, a problem at catcher and an outfield that figures to display about as much range as the Twins outfield, which is to say not much at all.

I still don't see them as a threat to the Tigers and Royals at the top of the division.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Winter Meetings, Day One: Hall of Fame, Colabello

The Veterans Committee didn't come up with enough votes to put any of the 10 finalists from the "Golden Era" in the Hall of Fame. Tony Oliva (and Dick Allen) came one vote shy, Jim Kaat two,

I'm OK with this. I can make an argument for any of the 10, and I can make an argument against any of the 10. Well, maybe not against Minnie Minoso. He was at least twice the player Jim Rice was, and definitely the superior to at least a half-dozen other corner outfielders already enshrined.


Joe Posnanski explains here why the Veterans Committee, at least in its current form, is doomed to failure.

The good news, I suppose (at least for "big Hall" supporters, those who want more inductees) is that the Hall keeps tinkering with the process. The bad news is, they've never really come up with a good process.


That is a popular opinion around the Twins, but it's based on emotion and proximity, not logic and analysis.

Worse sins are committed in Hall of Fame voting every winter by the writers -- Mr. Reusse among 'em. Oliva had a peak worthy of the Hall; he had done the heavy lifting. But there isn't enough there to make him more than a borderline selection. There are better choices for Cooperstown being bypassed every year by Reusse and his BBWAA colleagues.


The Toronto Blue Jays claimed Chris Colabello on waivers Monday. This opens a spot on the Twins 40-man roster for either a free-agent signing or a Rule 5 pick later in the week.

Colabello is easy to root for, and I hope things go well for him. But there wasn't much of a role visible for him with Minnesota, with Joe Mauer and Kennys Vargas ahead of him at first base/DH and Josmil Pinto available to plug the DH job should somebody get hurt.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Into the Winter Meetings

The baseball world gathers this week in San Diego for the annual winter meetings.

The Twins go into the giant trade convention with a full 40-man roster and a desire to reshape the pitching staff.

Just as I believe they took the wrong step in addressing their outfield questions by signing the aging Torii Hunter, I suspect they will do the same on the pitching.

Terry Ryan has spoken in necessarily vague terms about looking for "innings," code for veteran starting pitchers who would fill out the rotation. As I see it, that's what Ryan has behind Phil Hughes and (maybe) Kyle Gibson at the head of the rotation. Ricky Nolasco, Tommy Milone and Mike Pelfrey are not high-ceiling guys.

Ryan would do better, in my view, to move one or two of those guys out of the way of Alex Meyer and Trevor May. I want to see at least one of those two in the rotation this spring. I doubt I will get my wish.

Other things to watch for this week:

  • The Hall of Fame veterans committee votes today on the 10 finalists for this year's time period. Tony Oliva and Jim Kaat are among the 10, and Tony-O is widely seen as one of the most likely to be selected.
  • The Toronto Blue Jays are looking for a new team president, and Ryan's name has come up. He declined to pursue a Toronto job back in 2001, and I suspect he'll not jump ship now either. 
  • The Twins last winter stayed out of the Rule 5 draft for the first time in years. Unless they move somebody off the roster this week, they'll be out of the picture again this year. Rule 5 is generally the closing act of the meetings, so they have time to do something there.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

The Sunday Funnies

Honus Wagner was near the end of his marvelous career in 1916, still playing shortstop at age 42, when Burleigh Grimes was called up to pitch for the Pirates.

Grimes, in his major league debut, took a 1-1 tie into the seventh against the Brooklyn Dodgers. A Dodger reached first. The veteran Wagner came to the mound. "Make 'em hit it to me, kid," the greatest shortstop ever said.

Grimes did just that, inducing a perfect double-play grounder to short. But Wagner kicked it into center, the runner scored, and the batter reached third base.

Wagner returned to mound to tell Grimes: "Those damn big feet have always been in my way."

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Looking for meaning in a minor signing

OK, it's a minor transaction -- specifically, a minor league transaction. But it still says something about a particular problem in the upper levels of the Twins farm system.

The Twins on Thursday signed outfielder Shane Robinson to a minor-league contract with an invitation to spring training.

Robinson has been with the St. Louis Cardinals since he was drafted in 2006 and has been a reserve outfielder for the big-league club for most of the past three years. He's a little (5-foot-9) guy who can run well enough to be used in center field, and he has a career MLB average of .231.

The Cardinals cut him loose rather than risk going to arbitration with him. The Twins got him to sign in a hurry, probably because there's a fairly obvious chance to be on the major league team. While the corner outfield starters are set (Torii Hunter and Oswaldo Arcia), center field is open.

Aaron Hicks? Jordan Schafer? Robinson? As matters stand, at least one, probably two, of these guys are going to be on the 25-man roster. Somebody has to play center field, at least until Byron Buxton establishes that he can stay in one piece for a month.

The Twins had the opportunity to do unto Schafer as the Cardinals did to Robinson, but they lack any sort of depth in center field-competent outfielders. So Schafer, a .229 lifetime hitter, figures to pull in well over $1 million next year, while Robinson will do well to get half that.

At the very least the Twins have now the option of platooning in center. Schafer hits left; Robinson hits right. Robinson has actually shown a backwards platoon split in his limited major league playing time, but if Paul Molitor has any inclination to platoon, this might be a reasonable pair to do it with.

Hicks, a switch hitter who is stronger from the right side, also offers a platoon option, but I doubt the Twins would do that with Hicks, who is considerably younger than Schafer and Robinson and is still seen as having a higher ceiling.

Friday, December 5, 2014

The arbitration tender deadline

Almost lost in the Torii Hunter news Tuesday evening was the deadline for tendering contracts to the arbitration eligible.

As should have been expected after the Twins outrighted Anthony Swarzak -- one of seven arbitration-eligible players on the roster at season's end -- they tendered all six of the remainders: Brian Duensing, Casey Fien, Tommy Milone, Eduardo Nunez, Trevor Plouffe and Jordan Schafer.

One can question the decision to tender Nunez, a utility man who doesn't play any position particularly well and has a career OPS (in 956 a-bats) of just .684. If the Twins are serious about going with Danny Santana at short rather than in the outfield, that relegates Eduardo Escobar to a utility role, and there is nothing Nunez does better than Escobar.

But Nunez is at the least an insurance policy. There are teams looking for a shortstop; maybe the Twins will try to flip Escobar for a pitcher or center fielder. Or maybe they aren't all that sure about Santana as a shortstop and wary of counting on Aaron Hicks and Schafer for center field. If they keep Santana in the outfield, Escobar stays at short and Nunez can be the utility infielder.

As for the other five, I don't see any real question about retaining them. Milone didn't pitch well in his few starts for the Twins before going on the disabled list, but he has a good track record. I'll guarantee this: A team willing to pay the likes of Kevin Correia and Mike Pelfrey $5 million really can't find $2.8 million for Milone to be excessive.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

The Hunter presser

Torii Hunter's three-piece suit is a sharper look
than the new Twins jersey Terry Ryan is holding.
It sure didn't take long for the Torii Hunter signing to become official. Word leaked out Tuesday evening; by Wednesday afternoon Hunter was donning his new, no-pinstripe No. 48 jersey.

(For the record, 48 was worn last year by Lester Oliveros during his September callup. He'll get a new number for spring training; it will be his third since joining the Twins in the 2011 Delmon Young trade.)

And kudos to the Pioneer Press' Mike Berardino, the "prick" (Hunter's description) who dared ask the prodigal Twin about his lousy showings in the defensive metrics and about whether his foray into politics hurt him in the free agent market. Two tough questions, both worth asking about, and two more tough questions than the rest of the assemblage mustered combined.

To be sure, the question about the metrics would have been better directed to Terry Ryan and Paul Molitor. I don't care if a player knows his runs saved numbers or his UZR (ultimate zone rating.) I do care if the people responsible for evaluating talent know those figures. And I'm not satisfied with Ryan's dismissal of Hunter's low -- and declining -- ratings.

As for the question about Hunter's views on gays: He injected himself into the Arkansas governor's race by appearing in an ad endorsing the Republican incumbent on the basis of his opposition to gay marriage. Last summer he was quoted as saying he would have trouble with a gay teammate, then backtracked. Meanwhile, the Pohlad brothers are significant donors to Democratic candidates and causes, they gave heavily to the 2012 campaign against Minnesota's marriage amendment, and Bill Pohlad was one of the producers of the movie "Brokeback Mountain." There is a gap between Hunter and his new employers on this topic.

The split between the media folk who rely on access and the bloggers who don't on this signing is intriguing. The BBWAA guys love having Hunter back. He's glib, quotable, accessible. For a writer on deadline or a broadcaster in need of a soundbite, that's gold. And most of them will suck up to a guy like that. Berardino didn't. Good for him.

The blogosphere -- me included, even if I work for an actual dead-tree newspaper -- basically doesn't care if a player talks or not. We're interested in what he can do on the field.

And as a whole, we're not impressed with the signing. Yes, it's only for one year. And the $10.5 million price tag really isn't a factor. We see a 39-year-old (40 in July) whose numbers, despite his talk Wednesday of how consistent his production is, are in notable decline. We see a 2014 regular with a WAR (wins above replacement) roughly equal to that of part-timer Jordan Schafer. We see, in short, a signing that doesn't figure to make the 2015 Twins better.

A couple piece of real news out of the presser:

  • It is indeed the plan to move Oswaldo Arcia to left field so Hunter can play right. Arcia in 2013 looked even more uncomfortable in left than in right, but really, no alignment with both in an outfield corner figures to be good defensively.
  • Hunter has a full no-trade clause, so the speculation that the Twins can/will flip him to a contender in midseason is empty.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The return of Torii Hunter

The news Tuesday night that the Twins and Torii Hunter had agreed on a one-year contract ($10.5 million, pending the physical) pretty much cemented this theory:

When Terry Ryan and (presumably) Paul Molitor look at this team, they see a different set of problems than I do.

I see a lineup that scores enough runs but has difficulty making enough plays in the field to help the pitching staff.

I'm not sure what they see that Hunter is going to fix.

I know this: Torii Hunter won't help the problems I see. He just gets in the way.

We can be sure of this: Signing Hunter is a strong indication that the Twins don't buy into the defensive metrics. Baseball Info System's Runs Saved metric says Hunter was the worst regular defensive right fielder in baseball last year. Not merely below average. The worst.

Those same numbers said Oswaldo Arcia was the third worst defensive right fielder in the majors. Now, presumably, Arcia will move to left field (where he looked even worse than in right in 2013), and the pitchers will continue to get blamed for all the balls that get to the gaps.

Everybody knew last year that Arcia and fellow corner outfielders Josh Willingham, Jason Kubel, Chris Parmelee and Chris Colabello had limited range, but we blamed the pitchers anyway. We're going to see the same stuff next summer, and we'll be even more inclined to blame the pitchers because we all remember Hunter as the most decorated defensive outfielder of his time.

I don't know what Hunter gets out of playing 2015 for a bad team. I don't know what the Twins get out of playing a 39/40 year-old outfielder. Hunter would be better off chasing his elusive ring with a team that has a real chance at it. The Twins would be better off playing the kids.

Both parties to this contract seem disconnected from reality.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Contemplating Butch Davis

A few hours after I posted these thoughts on the division of labor on the new Twins coaching staff, the team announced the hiring of Butch Davis to be the first base coach, completing the crew.

He has the three characteristics I proposed for the job: He's a former outfielder, he's black, and while his major league record doesn't show it, he had a pair of 40-steal seasons in a long minor league career, so he knows something about that aspect of the game.

Davis is a true outside hire. He's been toiling in the Orioles farm system for 20 years, was never a member of the Twins organization, was never a teammate of Paul Molitor's.

Davis had a odd career. His minor league record says he was a player. He began his big-league career with a bang -- he hit .344 in a 33-game callup with Kansas City in 1983 -- and then fizzled. In 1984, almost the same number of at bats, he hit .147. It was almost a decade before he got another 100 major league at-bats, and by then he was 35.

Davis hit .299 in more than 3,500 Triple A at-bats, but just .243 in 453 major league at-bats. The difference between the levels isn't that great. He had a shot in '84 to take a job and run with it, and his shoelaces were tied together at the starting line. He never really got a shot after that.

Aaron Hicks has gotten more opportunity with less reason than Davis.

Monday, December 1, 2014

The coaching roles

A couple of winters ago, when the Twins dismissed half of Ron Gardenhire's underlings (Steve Liddle, Rick Stelmaszek and Jerry White) and reassigned two-thirds of the holdovers, the front office called the new jobs for Joe Vavra and Scott Ullger "infield coordinator" and "outfield coordinator" respectively.

It took a while for most of us to realize that they were also to be the base coaches during games, Vavra at third base and Ullger at first. (That arrangement decayed during the 2014 season because Vavra's hip went bad; for much, maybe most, of the year Ullger coached third and Paul Molitor first.)

This offseason, Gene Glynn was announced as the third base coach, Back to the established nomenclature, it appears.

Glynn was an infielder during his playing days, and he made his rep as a roving infield instructor for the Montreal Expos. I rather expect that he will inherit the infielders duty from Vavra, and that the next first base coach will be handed the task of finding a defensive outfielder in Oswaldo Arcia.

Molitor, as bench coach, was in charge of the defensive shifts the Twins employed in greater number last season, and Molitor made it clear in his introductory presser as manager that the shifts will continue. But Molitor's old job has been converted to an assistant hitting coach. I figure he'll delegate the shift work to new bench coach Vavra.

So as the Twins seek to complete the coaching staff, I would expect the final piece to be:

  • a former outfielder;
  • preferably with some base-stealing expertise; and
  • preferably non-white, to increase the staff diversity.

That's a combination that almost has to come from outside the organization.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Sunday Funnies

Waite Hoyt -- Hall of Fame pitcher and longtime broadcaster -- was a drinking buddy of Babe Ruth's back in the day

This pastime once landed Hoyt in the hospital, and the newspapers reported that the pitcher had a "case of amnesia." So Ruth sent Hoyt a telegram:


Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Twins and Torii Hunter

There's enough smoke about a Twins-Torii Hunter reunion to make it definite that something is smouldering. Whether there's an actual fire is another matter.

This week's smoke signals have included a Charlie Walters (Pioneer Press) report that Hunter favors the Twins among his current suitors and Minnesota general manager Terry Ryan expounding to Sirus XM's MLB Network Radio on his desire to add a right-handed bat with experience to the outfield.

Sounds like a match.

But it hasn't happened yet, and Hunter's free agent history has been that when he has an offer he likes, he takes it. At this point in his previous forays into free agency, he's been signed already.

Hunter has a well-established knack for telling reporters what he thinks they want to hear. A Minnesota columnist asking about a reunion with the Twins? Sure, I'd love to return.

As I've said before, there are good reasons for Hunter to prefer a different team, one more ready to win now than the Twins are. Hunter is 39, and while he has aged remarkably well, time is undefeated. Hunter has yet to play in a World Series. Mike Berardino has suggested that the Twins aren't offering the money Hunter wants; I suspect Hunter will need a premium to abandon his quest for a ring in 2015.

All of which adds up to Hunter playing a waiting game.

And the Twins, I'm convinced, are overly interested in Hunter. Ryan says he wants "experience" and a right-handed hitter. I think he's got the wrong priorities.

Experience? I want the Twins to embrace the youth. I don't want a $10 million-a-year relic of glory days past getting in the way of glory days future. It may be that neither Eddie Rosario nor Byron Buxton should be in the majors in April or even June, but that should be a possibility.

Ryan says the Twins are overly left-handed in the outfield. I'm not used to hearing any concern from this organization about such issues in the past -- this is a team that embraced having a string of left-handed hitters in the top and middle of the lineup under Ron Gardenhire. Makes me wonder if new manager Paul Molitor is more concerned about the platoon advantage than Gardy was.

Set that speculation aside for now. One outfield spot is filled: Oswaldo Arcia in right. (Berardino has tweeted that should the Twins sign Hunter, Arcia will be moved to left so Hunter can play right; that would also be a mistake, albeit a lesser one than signing Hunter period.) Center and left field are open.

Leaving Rosario and Buxton out of the equation, the incumbent candidates are a pair of left-handed hitters (Jordan Schafer and Chris Parmelee) and a switch-hitter who's better right-handed (Aaron Hicks).

There's Danny Santana too, a switch hitter, but the indications are that he's going to be at shortstop. That's another decision, if true, that I'm not thrilled with.

The Twins could go with an outfield of Arcia, Santana and a timeshare of Hicks and Schafer. Against a right-handed starter, that would give them three lefty hitters, which shouldn't be a problem; against a lefty, they could have two right-handed sticks in the outfield by playing Santana and Hicks. That foursome might not provide great offense -- neither Hicks nor Schafer have impressive track records -- but either of them plus Santana should be able to cover some ground in the field, and that matters.

Let's be emphatic about this: If the Twins sign Hunter and pair him in the corner outfield with Arcia, it probably won't matter what moves the Twins make with the pitching staff. They will give up a lot of runs just on the lack of range in the outfield.

Friday, November 28, 2014

The Knoblauch legacy

We can trace Brian
Duensing's presence on
the Twins roster to
Chuck Knoblauch.
A few years ago I wrote a print column on the "Knoblauch tree," in which I traced the impact on the Twins of their 1989 decision to draft Chuck Knoblauch in the first round.

As detailed in this Grantland piece by Ben Lindbergh, the Twins are still benefiting from that move.

Knoblauch's personal travails notwithstanding, he had an excellent seven-year run in Minnesota: Starting second baseman on the 1991 World Series team, Rookie of the Year that year, four All-Star teams, a cumulative slash line of .304/..391/.416.

The Twins traded him to the Yankees and got back Cristian Guzman, Eric Milton, Brian Buchanan and Danny Mota (and cash). Mota washed out. The others:

  • Guzman was the Twins regular shortstop for six years, during which time they won three division titles. Guzy led the league in triples three times, made an All-Star team, slashed .226/.303/.383. 
  • Milton spent six years -- or five really, considering an injury that wiped out most of his final season in Minnesota -- in the Twins rotation, racking up a 57-51 record with a 4.76 ERA and one All-Star season.
  • Buchanan wasn't so much of a much. The Twins gave the big outfielder 455 plate appearances over three seasons, in which he hit .258 with 16 homers. But he still matters in this saga.
Guzman left as a free agent; under the prevailing rules, the Twins got a third-round draft pick from the Nationals. (Lindbergh's flow chart says it was the Mariners, but that's an error.) That pick turned into Brian Duensing, still a member of the pitching staff. Duensing to date is 37-36 with a 4.12 ERA with the Twins, splitting his time between the rotation (61 starts) and the bullpen (238 relief outings).

Milton was traded to Philadelphia for Nick Punto, Carlos Silva and Bobby Korecky.

  • Korecky's still hanging around at age 35; the Blue Jays gave him 3.1 innings last season. He made just 16 appearances with the Twins before they cut him loose. 
  • Punto's also still going; he was with Oakland last year as a reserve infielder. In seven years with the Twins he slashed .248/.323/.324 and drove a vocal contingent of the fan base nuts by repeatedly winding up the regular at one of the infield spots. Third base, second base, shortstop. He left as a free agent and hasn't missed the postseason since.
  • Silva spent four years in the Twins rotation, compiling a 47-45, 442 mark and averaging more than 190 innings a year.
That's where these guys' contributions end. Korecky was released, and Punto and Silva's departures as free agents did not bring back any compensation picks.

Buchanan was traded to San Diego for a Class A infielder: Jason Bartlett. Bartlett was with the Twins for three partial seasons and one full one, slashing .272/.341/.362 in those four seasons. His belated emergence as the full-time shortstop was a key to the division title run in 2006, in my opinion the best of the Ron Gardenhire teams.

Bartlett was traded to Tampa Bay. Unlike the previous trades listed here, this wasn't a clean, one-player for this package. The Twins included Matt Garza and Eduardo Moran in the trade and got back Delmon Young, Brendan Harris and Jason Pridie.

  • Pridie was the outfield equivalent of Korecky; A short, ineffectual stint with the Twins (11 games, six plate appearances), then cut loose. (Like Korecky, he's still playing; he got four at-bats with Colorado in 2014).
  • Harris spent three years with the Twins, playing some shortstop and some third base. He hit .252/.309/.360 with more than 1,000 plate appearances.
  • Young had one big season in 2010 and three mediocre ones for the Twins, with a combined slash line of .287/.324/.429. 
Harris was included in the notorious J.J. Hardy trade: Hardy and Harris to Baltimore for Jim Hoey and Brett Jacobson. The Twins released Jacobson after the 212 season, he stalled out in Double A for the Twins. Hoey had one lousy season with the Twins and was claimed on waivers by Toronto. So this branch of the Knoblauch tree ends there.

Lester Oliveros might
be the best bet to
keep the tree growing.
Young was traded to Detroit for Lester Oliveros and Cole Nelson. Nelson has been released; the Minnesota native pitched for the independent St. Paul Saints last summer. Oliveros, still only 26, has spent the past two years recovering from Tommy John surgery and is regarded as a serious candidate for the Twins bullpen in 2015.

So that's the Knoblauch tree so far. By Lindbergh's computation, it's the seventh-longest current tree in the majors. The longest is an incredible one: The Mets used a 1967 -- that's right, 1967 -- draft pick on Jon Matlack, and almost a half century later have David Wright to show for it. 

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving

The years pass along, but my turkey photo lives on.
I've been thinking as this Thanksgiving approached of the zero-sum aspects of baseball. Somebody wins, somebody loses. A manager gets fired, another one gets hired. One player gets released, another gets a chance.

Thinking about Neil Allen, the Twins new pitching coach, a recovering alcoholic who had 11 years in the majors and almost 20 years of being a pitching coach in the minors. I saw a quote from him in the days before his selection became known, something along the lines of It's time for me to get off the buses and back on the airplanes.

The comments from others in the game, including other candidates, when Allen got the job almost always included a variation of He's been through a lot. Yes he has, notably the death (from an aneurysm) in September 2012 of his wife Lisa. Besides being a pitching coach, he's a single father to a 15-year-old son, and in terms of the travel involved in Allen's occupation, it may not matter if he''s on a bus or a jet. It can't be easy.

Thinking, too, of Scott Ullger, who has spent almost his entire adult life in the employ of the Minnesota Twins. Signed as a player out of college in 1977, he got 85 big league plate appearances back in 1983 and hit .190. While the Kent Hrbeks and Gary Gaettis and Frank Violas and Tim Laudners were laying the foundation of 1987's World Series team, Ullger was hitting his ceiling as a player.

He went back to the buses, first to continue playing, then as a manager -- seven years managing farm teams in the Twins system, never with a losing record. He worked his way back to the big leagues as a coach. And he stuck for 20 years in a variety of assignments: Hitting coach, first base coach, third base coach, bench coach.

And now he's 59 and looking for another job. I don't quarrel with the decision to replace Ullger; I have been known to question the value he brought the team, although I recognize that I'm too distant to know what he brought to the table. He's been fortunate to have such a long-term job in such a transient occupation. But now that job is gone, and as a fellow 50-something, I can identify with that.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A "no" from Korea

During the night came word from South Korea that the Kia Tigers had rejected the posting bid for Hyeon-jong Yang.

While it's unclear if the high bid came from the Texas Rangers or the Minnesota Twins, the Korean team deemed it too low, and now the left-handed pitcher can't be posted again until next winter.

I said earlier this week I'd get interested in this one a bit further in the process. That process is dead. Nothing to see here.

I wondered if the decision to outright Anthony Swarzak on Tuesday came to make room for Yang and decided the two were not connected. Even if the Tigers had accepted the bid and it was from the Twins, the Twins would still have to sign the pitcher. There wasn't any immediate need to open the spot. It's more likely that the Twins made an early offer to Swarzak well under his likely arbitration figure, were rejected and decided to drop him.

Goodbye, Swarzak

Anthony Swarzak
has a career ERA
of 4.48.
The Twins on Tuesday outrighted Anthony Swarzak to Triple A. That move took him off the 40-man roster and gave the former second-round draft pick the right to declare free agency, which he is expected to do.

It was time for the Twins to move on. Swarzak has averaged more than 90 innings of work in each of the past four seasons, and he's been unable to establish himself in any sort of truly useful role.

In what Baseball Reference defines as "high leverage" situations over his career, Swarzak has allowed a batting average of .308 and an OPS (On-base Plus Slugging) of .823. In "low leverage" situations, those numbers improve to .262 and .724.

Yes, Swarzak ate up a lot of innings in long relief. But they were innings that didn't matter in terms of winning games, innings that he worked because the starter failed. Good teams -- the kind of team the Twins want to be -- don't need 90-plus innings of mop-up work. And Swarzak never worked his way out of that role. Given a chance to start, given a chance to pitch in game situations, he almost always faltered.

And now, going into his second year of arbitration eligibility, he figured to get a salary around $1.4 million if retained. That's way too rich for a mop-up guy. They can fill that role with somebody cheaper.

The Twins now have 39 players on the 40-man roster. The open slot might be used in the Rule 5 draft in a couple of weeks. Or it might be filled with a free agent signing.


The Twins also on Tuesday officially announced the hirings of Neil Allen, pitching coach, and Eddie Guardado, bullpen coach, moves already widely reported. They also announced that Joe Vavra will be retained from the Ron Gardenhire staff; he'll be the bench coach.

This was not anticipated at all. I had expected that the bench coach would be a elderly ex-manager assigned to whisper strategic advice into Paul Molitor's ear. Or, alternatively, a young, analytics-savvy up-and-comer. Vavra doesn't fit either stereotype.

Adding to the bafflement was that Vavra's duties will apparently include catching instruction. Vavra's playing background was as a middle infielder. He certainly hasn't the catching pedigree of Terry Steinbach (who will not be retained). And if Steinbach couldn't smooth out Josmil Pinto's defensive flaws, I doubt Vavra can.

There remains one coaching job to fill, first base coach/outfield instructor.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Notes, quotes and comment

Josh Willingham's
final plate appearance
came in the World
Josh Willingham made it official Monday: He's retiring.

No real surprise there; Mike Berardino of the Pioneer Press wrote it about two months ago. He goes out with 195 home runs. His best season was with the Twins in 2011; his worst, at least by OPS+, was also with the Twins in 2012.

He finished with Kansas City, of course, and had just four at-bats in the Royals' postseason run. But the Hammer had a big hit in the wild-card game against Oakland: a leadoff pinch-hit single in the bottom of the ninth that set up the tying run.


Twins new, if still unofficial, bullpen coach Eddie Guardado is among the 17 newcomers on the Hall of Fame ballot. No, he's not going to get in, or even make it to a second year on the ballot. He'll be one and done.

The big names among the newbies: Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz.

There are a lot of highly-qualified candidates on the writers ballot, and the BBWAA has done a lousy job keeping up with the crowd. But even this crowd will vote in Johnson and Martinez. Maybe they'll get around to Craig Biggio too.


Berardino reported Saturday that the Twins had placed the high bid for the posting rights to Hyeon-jong Yang, a left-handed pitcher who was voted the top Korean pitcher in the KBO this year. On Sunday another report said the Texas Rangers had placed the high bid.

The winning bidder, whoever it is, won't be officially notified (and the clock started on the negotiations with the pitcher) until the Kia Tigers actually accept the bid, and the word is that the team expected more.

I'll get interested in this one if and when the Twins are confirmed as the rights winners.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Neil Allen, pitching coach

Neil Allen's 1987 baseball
card. Allen went 58-70,
3.88 with 75 saves
in 11 MLB seasons.
The Twins haven't made a formal announcement, but it was widely reported during the weekend that Neil Allen has been hired as the pitching coach.

Allen pitched in the majors for 11 years for five teams, seeing time both as a starter and as a reliever. He has no previous connection to the Twins and was never a teammate of Paul Molitor's. He's about as much an outside hire as you can get.

What I remember of Allen from his pitching days in the 1980s is that he was the major piece the St. Louis Cardinals got from the New York Mets when Whitey Herzog decided Keith Hernandez was too coked-up and had to go. As I remember it, Allen wanted to be a reliever, Herzog wanted him to be a starter, and the fans wanted him to be Keith Hernandez. It didn't go well.

The Twins hired him out of the Tampa Bay organization, where he's been the pitching coach at Triple A Durham and helped shepherd a string of pitchers to the major leagues.  He's also worked in the Toronto and Yankee organizations, with one season (2005) as the Yankees bullpen coach.

Hiring Allen probably doesn't mean a conscious effort to move away from the throw-strikes-and-let-the-defense-get-the-outs approach. No pitching coach advocates walking hitters. But I expect that the Twins will walk more hitters going forward. The team has been uncommonly low on walks throughout Rick Anderson's tenure as pitching coach, and practically every significant pitcher on his staffs had higher walk rates with other organizations. I have absolutely no doubt that Anderson is part of that. The question is whether Twins pitchers will have higher strikeout rates under a different coach.

For what it's worth, Durham last year was middle of the pack in the International League in walks allowed.

At this point the Twins have filled five of the seven coaching slots:

Pitching coach: Allen
Bench coach: (Vacant)
Third base coach: Gene Glynn
First base coach: (Vacant)
Hitting coach: Tom Brunansky
Asst. hitting coach: Rudy Hernandez
Bullpen coach: Eddie Guardado

Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Sunday Funnies

Ellis Clary played in the majors for a few years, mostly during World War II, but spent most of his adult life scouting for Calvin Griffith. His area was the south, and he ran with a group of scouts who dubbed themselves "The Underground."

One day he and the others in the Underground are watching a game in a small Alabama town, and Clary is stricken with a heart attack. His buddies get him an ambulance and have him taken to a hospital in Mobile.

There Clary wakes up in his hospital bed and finds Atley Donald, fellow Undergrounder, sitting at his side.

Clary hoarsely whispers, "Atley, will you do me a favor?"

"Certainly, Ellis, anything," Donald replies.

"Will you find that ambulance and get the mileage so I can put it on my expense sheet?"

Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Tampa Bay managerial search

Raul Ibanez might go from active player to dugout boss.
For no real reason, I'm intrigued by the Tampa Bay Rays managerial search. They were, most likely, not expecting to be looking for a manager, and then Joe Maddon jumped ship shortly after their general manager left for a (presumably) more lucrative job in with the Dodgers.

Their search started well after the Twins search. Maddon left after the Twins had essentially narrowed their field down to Paul Molitor and Doug Mientkiewicz, and Terry Ryan said during the Molitor presser that he had talked to Maddon until learning that Maddon was going to accept the Cubs job.

The Rays had released a list of eight preliminary candidates, none of whom were among the people the Twins interviewed or pursued. I thought at the time that there was one obvious favorite, Maddon bench coach Dave Martinez.

On Friday it was reported that the Rays had narrowed the field to three -- and Martinez was not among the three. All three were in the AL Central last season.

The Rays finalists: Kevin Cash, bullpen coach for Cleveland; Don Wakamatsu, bench coach for Kansas City; and -- surprise! -- Raul Ibanez, who played for Anaheim and Kansas City and hit just .167 as a part-time player.

The way things have been going of late, with teams tending to hire completely novice managers, I wouldn't bet against Ibanez landing the job. It's even possible he would be a player-manager, although I think that era ended with Pete Rose almost 20 years ago. Certainly there's no reason to think he's got much juice left as a hitter.

Meanwhile, I am stunned that Martinez not only didn't get the job, he wasn't one of the finalists. It's hard to imagine him staying with the Royals. Maybe he'll follow Maddon to the Cubs. I had expected the Twins to at least pursue an interview with him for the managerial job, and apparently they didn't, bu if he's interested in a lateral transfer, Ryan and Molitor ought to consider him for the bench coach job.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Filling the 40 (for a while)

Thursday was the deadline for teams to protect eligible players from the Rule 5 draft.

The Twins entered the day with four open spaces on the 40 and filled them all.

Three were obvious selections: Miguel Sano, Alex Meyer and Eddie Rosario. The fourth wasn't so obvious: left-handed pitcher Jason Wheeler.

I saw Wheeler pitch once, in 2012 in Beloit. He was, I am told, a different pitcher then. He's a big guy, but his fastball velocity was not impressive (upper 80s). The next year, in Fort Myers, he added a few mph, and now he reportedly works in the low 90s, occasionally touching 94.

He opened 2014 back at Fort Myers, got promoted to Double A after 13 starts, then moved up to Triple A for one end-of-the-year start. He led the minor leaguers in innings pitched. The 2.67 cumulative ERA is impressive; the 6.5 K/9 rate is not. The increased velocity has not translated into more strikeouts. He does throw strikes.

The Twins chose to protect Wheeler over Sean Gilmartin, another 24-year-old left-handed starter who split 2014 between Double A and Triple A. Gilmartin, a former first-round pick acquired from Atlanta for Ryan Doumit last winter, had a higher ERA and walk rate than Wheeler but a higher strikeout rate. I put more weight on the strikeout rate than on the ERA.

Also exposed to next month's Rule 5 draft: Jason Adam, a right-handed pitcher acquired from Kansas City in the Josh Willingham trade. Adam pitched in the just-completed Arizona Fall League and I think it's safe to say that the Twins weren't impressed enough to open a roster spot for him.

Levi Michael and Niko Goodrum, a pair of middle infielders taken with high draft picks (Michael in the first round, Goodrum in the second) were also left unprotected. I don't think either is likely to be lost.

The Twins don't often lose players in Rule 5. I won't be surprised, however, if Gilmartin gets picked and sticks.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Progress on the coaching staff

Eddie Guardado was a fan favorite as a Twins reliever
from 1993-2003 and again in 2008.
The lengthy pause after announcing that Gene Glynn and Rudy Hernandez would join holdover Tom Brunansky on Paul Molitor's debut coaching staff suggested that the remaining four slots would be filled by outsiders, people the Twins would have to pry away from current teams.

But then word leaked Wednesday night that Eddie Guardado will be the bullpen coach. "Everyday Eddie" has been on hand early in spring training the past few years, but hasn't had a fulltime job with any organization.

Bobby Cuellar, the bullpen coach the past two years, told Mike Berardino of the Pioneer Press that he was informed two weeks ago he would not be retained. Frank Viola, "Sweet Music" on the 1987 champs and 1988 Cy Young winner and now a pitching coach in the Mets system, said he was interviewed for the pitching coach job but has been told he's not one of the final two candidates.

Carl Willis, dubbed "The Big Train" as the top setup man on the 1991 champs, apparently is one of the finalists. (The other, according to the star Tribune's LaVelle Neal, is Neil Allen, currently the Triple A pitching coach for the Tampa Bay Rays.) Willis has a fairly lengthy coaching resume, largely on the staffs of Eric Wedge, who managed the Cleveland Indians 2003-2009 and Seattle 2011-13. He's currently working in the Indians system.

Willis has also coached three Cy Young seasons (C.C. Sabathia, Cliff Lee, Felix Hernandez).

Which led me to wonder about Rick Anderson. He coached two Cy Youngs (both Johan Santana.) His charges have also had 12 All-Game nods from six pitchers: Joe Nathan four times, Santana three times, Glen Perkins and Guardado twice, Francisco Lirano once. That list is heavy on bullpen guys, which figures. The bullpen was generally a strength of the Gardenhire era.