Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Life after Gardy

Ron Gardenhire at Monday's press
Ron Gardenhire didn't go kicking and screaming when fired Monday, He took part in the press conference, made a few jokes, and even said removing him from the managerial job might be the best thing for the team: "A different voice, a different face."

Meanwhile, Terry Ryan emphasized that the next manager may not be a current Twins employee. When Gardenhire was hired in the wake of Tom Kelly's retirement after the 2001 season, the known candidates were on the coaching staff: Gardy, Paul Molitor and dark horse Scott Ullger.

There's no shortage of legit in-house candidates this time around, starting with current coaches Molitor and Terry Steinbach. Ullger is known to want to manage but probably has no chance at the job. From the minors, there's Doug Mientkiewicz. (Jake Mauer is also racking up an impressive resume in the farm system, but the presence of his younger brother on the roster probably precludes Jake as a serious candidate in Minnesota.) I've seen Gene Glynn and Jeff Smith mentioned, but I can't believe either would rate above Mientkiewicz.

If Ryan and Company go outside the organization, a name to be aware of is Dave Martinez, currently bench coach for the Tampa Bay Rays. Martinez, as Joe Maddon's understudy/protege, figures to be more openly attuned to the analytic approach to running a team than was Gardenhire (who was, I am convinced, more aware of the numbers than he wanted us to believe.) There are plenty of other outside possibilities being floated -- Torey Lovello from the Red Sox, Chip Hale (former Twin form the Tom Kelly era) from Oakland, Jose Oquendo from the Cardinals -- and almost all come from more openly sabermetric operations than the Twins.

I do not take the Ozzie Guillen chatter seriously; that's just talk radio nonsense. I do want the revamped coaching staff -- and there are likely to be changes -- to include at least one native Spanish speaker. There are just too many young Latin players of importance in this organization to allow things to get lost in translation.

My guess right now is that Molitor and Mientkiewicz are the two most likely choices, but that sense stems in part from past practice. My personal preference would be Mientkiewicz, who would be the most likely to have a decade-plus tenure. But I think it's more likely that Molitor would be the pick with Mientkiewicz added to the coaching staff.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Ron Garden-fired

Ron Gardenhire during his last game as Twins manager.
So it happened Monday: The Twins dismissed Ron Gardenhire as manager.

I'm not celebrating.

The suspicion here is that Gardy got ousted for the wrong reason: To appease the columnists, talk radio loudmouths and critical Internet voices, none of whom have any responsibility for anything in the Twins organization.

It's possible that the ax dropped for a good reason, such as the possibility that Gardenhire and the front office were at cross-purposes on how certain players should be used.

The most likely case would appear to be Danny Santana. Gardenhire was reluctant to play the rookie at shortstop, even when he had two other center field options in Aaron Hicks and Jordan Schafer. Both Terry Ryan and his assistant GM, Rob Antony, said repeatedly this month that Santana is viewed as a long-term shortstop, even as Gardy persisted in using Santana in center.

My sense on this possible source of friction is that Gardenhire is more correct. I don't think Santana is going to be a quality shortstop. If Santana has a future as a one-position player, I think that future is at a spot he has yet to play in the majors (left field).

But we've seen signs that Gardenhire and Ryan had different views on the talent before -- see Gardenhire's similar reluctance to play Jason Bartlett in 2005-early 2006 -- and they've worked it out.

We'll see who the Twins fill the job with -- and how his approach to the game differs from Gardenhire's. My sense is that this might be akin to what happened when Ted Turner fired Bobby Cox after the 1981 season. Somebody asked Turner at the press conference, "What kind of manager are you looking for?" Turner replied: "Someone like Bobby Cox."

If the Twins are looking for someone like Gardenhire, they probably shouldn't have fired the real one.

End of the season

The Twins would have liked to keep the Tigers from clinching the division title on the field this weekend in Detroit. They couldn't quite do that.

The Twins did split the four-game series. They did win the season series (10-9). They did outscore the Tigers by 17 runs head-to-head for the season, which would suggest a much better record than 10-9.

But Detroit won 90 games and a fourth straight division title, while the Twins won 20 games fewer and finished last.

Brian Dozier sees better days:

Dozier has said things that I disagree with (for example, that Derek Jeter is the greatest player ever). On this, I think he's right. There is real reason for optimism about the future this offseason.

The growth of the Twins lineup this year was impressive. Anybody watching the slow veteran bats in spring training -- Jason Kubel, Josh Willingham, Jason Bartlett -- had to wonder how the Twins would even match 2013's dismal run production. The 2014 Twins outscored their 2013 selves by more than 100 runs, and things really picked up when the old guys gave way to the new blood.

And I think Dozier -- and the others who were in camp early -- remembers what he saw from Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton before their injuries. They are the "couple of new things around the corner." This was a lost season for the two megaprospects, but their talent is undeniable, and they are coming, if a year later than expected.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Pic of the Week

Derek Jeter exults after his walk-off hit in his final
game in Yankee Stadium on Thursday.
I avoided adding to the Derek Jeter adulation and backlash as much as I could this year, and the past week in particular. I doubt anybody's missed my contribution. You want to read about Jeter, about the Captain, about "RE2PECT," there's plenty of other places to find that.

Still, he was a special player, the linchpin of a special team. For my money, the 1998-2001 Yankees were the greatest team ever --- better than the 1936-39 Yankees, better than the 1975-76 Reds, better than the 1926-28 Yanks, better than all the magnificent multi-year dynasties and mini-dynasties. And Jeter himself, I say, is the second best shortstop in major league history -- not up to Honus Wagner's standard, but better than Cal Ripken or Arky Vaughn or Ozzie Smith or Alex Rodriguez or anybody else one might care to nominate.

Thursday's game wasn't merely the last home game of Jeter's career. It's also the only game he ever played in the Bronx with the Yankees mathematically eliminated. The expanded playoff system certainly had something to do with that, as the the quality of the teams he played for. But that's still an astounding fact.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Tigers and Royals

Eric Hosmer and Salvador Perez
celebrate as the Kansas City Royals
secured their first postseason berth
since winning the World Series in 1985.
They are, going into the final two days of the schedule, separated by just one game. But as close as they are in the standings, the Detroit Tigers and Kansas City Royals are very different teams, with almost mirror image strengths and weaknesses.

The Tigers have a brawny lineup. They stand second in the American League in runs scored and are closer to first than to third in that important stat. They're first in doubles (you'll never guess which team is second*), first in batting average, first in slugging percentage, first in on-base percentage,

Their starting rotation boasts the last three American League Cy Young Award winners, and they also have last year's ERA champ, who isn't one of the Cys.

But their bullpen -- despite the addition of numerous "proven closers" -- remains a minefield, and they are -- despite their drastic offseason infield makeover -- a dismal defensive team. The Tigers shed Prince Fielder so they could move Miguel Cabrera to first base and insert Nick Castellanos at third, and this was expected to improve the defense. Um ... not so much:

(Last night Castellanos committed a throwing error that allowed the Twins two runs.)

The Royals, on the other hand, are ninth in the AL in runs scored, more than 100 fewer than the Tigers. They are the one AL team with fewer than 100 homers. They are dead last in walks drawn.

Their starting pitching is competent, but certainly James Shields, Danny Duffy, Yolando Ventura and Jason Vargas don't have the cachet of Max Scherzer, David Price and Justin Verlander.

What makes the Royals -- at least in the standings -- the virtual equivalent of the Tigers is their prowess afield and the smothering capacity of their bullpen. Kansas City has a collection of fleet outfielders and skilled infielders, with legit Gold Glove candidates at four or five positions. (Torii Hunter owns more Gold Gloves than the entire Royals roster put together, but he now covers about as much ground as those ugly trophies.)

To be sure, the Pythagorean Theorem doesn't see the two teams as near equals. By the simple formula of runs scored vs. runs allowed, Detroit "should" be four games better than Kansas City. By wins and losses, they're only one game better after 160 contests.

I've been neutral between the two teams. But the novelty of Kansas City in the playoffs is intriguing, and -- well, the Royals aren't winning the division title without help from the Twins this weekend. So let's go Royals.

*OK, I was wrong, and you did guess that the Twins are second.

Friday, September 26, 2014

May be

Trevor May waits on the Twins bench to return to the
mound Thursday night in Detroit.

Trevor May had a rough first two months in the major leagues: 3-6, 7.88 isn't exactly staking a claim on a 2015 rotation spot.

Still, one can find reasons to believe. Thursday night's loss to Detroit gave some.

May had one of those minimal quality starts that dampen the stat's reputation: six innings, three earned runs. He was stung by home runs from Victor Martinez and Miguel Cabrera, which hardly makes him unique. The plus side: one walk allowed, and that intentional, as compared to seven strikeouts.

In his first three outings in the majors (two starts and one relief effort, total of nine innings), May walked 13 and struck out three. In his seven subsequent starts (36.2 innings), he walked nine and struck out 41.

Obviously, he still wasn't going particularly deep into games. The ERA (7.61) in that span still wasn't anything resembling good. But he clearly took to the example Phil Hughes set -- he threw strikes and trusted his stuff. And his two best starts came against Cleveland and Detroit, two good lineups both still in the hunt (at least at the time).


The Twins brain trust on Thursday offered Hughes an opportunity to pick up a relief outing this weekend, pick up that elusive 630th out and get his half-a-million bonus. He declined, saying he had put enough innings on his arm and didn't want to jeopardize his health with a short-rest relief appearance, even a brief one.

Were the Twins in the hunt, Hughes would probably be volunteering to start on three days rest in the season finale. They aren't, to state the obvious.

By not pitching this weekend, Hughes not only protects his arm after setting a career high in innings pitched. He also preserves what stands now as the major-league record for strikeout-walk ratio: 11.4 strikeouts for every walk allowed.

That may not be a prominent a record as, say, Bob Gibson's 1.12 ERA in 1968, but it's still a significant achievement.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Phil Hughes and the $500,000 rain delay

Phil Hughes pitched at least seven innings in 19 of his
32 starts, but never into the ninth inning.
Phil Hughes needed to pitch 8.1 innings -- 25 outs -- on Wednesday to reach 210 innings for the season. That would trigger a $500,000 bonus.

He sailed through eight innings -- 24 outs. And then the rain came.

The game was delayed 66 minutes, and when it resumed, Hughes did not. He is, and apparently will remain, one out shy of that bonus. He is not scheduled to start in the final series, and he said after the game that he's not interested in pitching in relief this weekend to collect that bonus.

There are those on the Internets calling for the Twins to pay out the bonus anyway. I'm not joining that call.

Yeah, he hit some bad luck on the weather in his final start, but ... he had 31 other starts this year, and you can go down the list of starts and see plenty of opportunities for him to pick up another out or another inning.

May 9 is probably the best example: He threw seven innings of shutout ball at Detroit on 84 pitches, then apparently told the dugout bosses he was done.

I'm not going Blyleven on Hughes and implying that he's some sort of slacker by mentioning that game. I'm willing to assume that Hughes gave the Twins everything he had in every start and made every start he should make.

The contract called for 210 innings for that bonus. He just missed.

It's still a heck of a season. Sixteen wins and only 16 walks allowed, the best strikeout-to-walk ratio in history -- yeah, Hughes had a really good season.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Josmil Pinto, catcher

Trevor Plouffe celebrates Tuesday's win
with catcher Josmil Pinto.
Josmil Pinto can hit.

Can Josmil Pinto catch?

This has long been the issue for the 25-year-old Venezuelan. Managers aren't opposed to good-hitting catchers, of course, but they tend to prefer the backstops who can help get the pitcher through the game. Pinto's ability to do that -- pitch calling, receiving, throwing -- is not well-regarded. 

He was behind the plate Tuesday night, working with Kyle Gibson. Gibson, as we know, is a sinker-slider guy whose sinker, when it's on, moves a lot and when it's off is not particularly well commanded. Which adds up to, he's not a particularly easy pitcher to catch. 

And sure enough, Gibson was charged with a wild pitch. Pinto has now caught 218 innings this year. In that time, there have been four passed balls and 10 wild pitches. 0.58 per nine innings. This is a rather high rate; in comparison, Kurt Suzuki has been involved in three passed balls and 31 wild pitches in 991.2 innings, just under 0.31 per nine innings.

Tuesday's wild pitch was a rather goofy play; A third strike that Pinto didn't catch cleanly and then didn't throw to first to complete the out. Since the ball bounced before reaching the catcher, the scorer charged it to Gibson, but the outcome was clearly Pinto's fault.

For the season, Pinto has a donut on base stealers: He's 0-for-19. The Diamondbacks didn't attempt a steal Tuesday night, but Gibson did pick off a runner.

One of the criticisms of Pinto as a receiver has been that he moves around too much, not presenting a stable target (particularly with the glove) for the pitcher. That didn't seem to be an issue Tuesday night to my eyes, and certainly the Twins pitchers weren't struggling to get pitches called strikes.

It was but one game, and a decidedly amateur set of eyes watching Pinto during it, but he didn't look terrible behind the plate Tuesday night. But then, I want to have hope that he can be a useful catcher. I'm not at all confident that the Twins think that's possible. The thing is, they don't seem to have any other idea for him.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The annual Anthony Swarzak nonsense

Anthony Swarzak would rather be a starter,
but the numbers are against him.
It has become a late-September tradition:

  • The Twins rotation is a mess;
  • Anthony Swarzak talks himself up as a rotation option;
  • Terry Ryan says Swarzak should prepare himself over the winter to start and will be considered for the rotation in the spring.

And a following tradition in March is that Swarzak doesn't really get a shot at starting.

We're going though this pattern again, kinda-sorta. The Twins rotation has been awful beyond Phil Hughes, so that part is in place.

Swarzak has, apparently, never been shy about wanting to start, and who can blame him? Ricky Nolasco is getting about $11 million a year more than Swarzak, and they have, at the moment, identical career ERAs (4.47). Starting is a lot more lucrative than long relief.

Swarzak has gotten a couple of September starts this year (thanks in large part to Tommy Milone's neck and the decision to shut down Alex Meyer rather than give him as September call up). Neither went all that well. He went 4.1 innings in both starts and gave up a total of nine earned runs.

Even with a successful emergency start in July, Swarzak's starter-reliever splits this year resemble his career splits. His ERA in his three 2014 starts is 6.59; his ERA in relief, 4.10. For his career (31 starts), Swarzak's starter ERA is 5.86, bullpen ERA 3.66.

I heard Ryan talk on the radio before Sunday's game about that day being a potentially big start for Swarzak and his hopes of emerging as a rotation option. So that implies that Ryan's still open to the possibility.

I just can't see it. Not only is Swarzak's track record evidence that he ought not be a starter, the roster numbers at the moment are against him.

We've been over this before, but it bears repeating:The Twins head into the offseason with Hughes, Nolasco, Kyle Gibson, Tommy Milone and Mike Pelfrey as presumptive starters. Hughes, Nolasco and Pelfrey will be paid a combined $25 million-plus, Milone (despite his lousy record since coming to the Twins) has a solid track record and the Twins still have hopes for Gibson. Plus there's Meyer and Trevor May knocking at the door and Jose Berrios trotting up the sidewalk to join them.

That's eight guys, at least, who are going to get priority over Swarzak as starters. Ryan is likely to try to clear some of the incumbents this winter, but that won't be easy. Even if he moves one or two of the veterans, Meyer and May should be at the head of the line.

Monday, September 22, 2014

The "indispensable" Tommy Milone

Tommy Milone had
a cortisone shot in his
neck last week.
Tommy Milone last started for the Twins 20 days ago -- Sept. 2, when he yielded three runs in 3.2 innings in a 6-3 loss to the White Sox -- and there's no guarantee that he's going to pitch in this final week of the season.

Out of sight, out of mind: Milone is oft overlooked in chatter about the 2015 Twins, the forgotten veteran pitcher. Which is a bit of a mistake; Milone, despite his poor work since coming to Minnesota in exchange for Sam Fuld, still boasts a 32-23, 3.99 career mark at age 27, and that ought to get more respect than, let us say, 14-15, 5.08 (Kyle Gibson's career) or even 94-86, 4.47 (Ricky Nolasco).

Plus Milone is left-handed, and there aren't a lot of southpaws in the Twins' rotation mix.

Milone, it appears, is not forgotten in Oakland. A piece this weekend in the San Jose Mercury News trades the Athletics' second half collapse to the removal of Milone from the Oakland rotation:

In truth, it started to change the day Oakland sent Tommy Milone to the minor leagues July 5. Milone wasn't so much a casualty of the (Jeff) Samardzija acquisition but the accompanying Jason Hammel move that left no place for him. ...
The end result was that a strong clubhouse spirit was shattered. An integral part of the A's success from the point (Bob) Melvin took over as manager, Milone was on a 6-0, 2.62 ERA roll over 11 starts when he was tossed aside. Talking to a number of players that day about the logic of the left-hander being shipped out, there was a unanimous sentiment of disgust. The words "stinks" and "unfair" were uttered more than once.
I'm a bit dubious about that theory. Oh, I don't doubt that there was displeasure in the clubhouse about Milone's demotion. I just doubt that his absence caused All Stars Josh Donaldson and Brandon Moss to slump, caused Coco Crisp and Jed Lowrie to get hurt, caused what had been the most productive hitting attack in the league to fall into a massive slump.

I believe Milone can be a rotation asset for the Twins. I don't believe his loss caused the A's collapse.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Pic of the Week

Be careful what you wish for:
A Yankee Stadium fan gets a faceful of foul ball.

This wasn't from the past week, but it's too amusing to pass up. This image came from a Rays at New York game on Tuesday, Sept. 9.

As Kevin Harlan used to exclaim on Timberwolves broadcasts: Right between the eyes!

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Contemplating Trevor Plouffe (with a Danny Santana tangent)

Trevor Plouffe and Oswaldo Arcia
enjoy the moment after Plouffe's
game-winning single Friday night.
Trevor Plouffe's extra-inning walkoff single Friday night underscores the fine season he's had.

Plouffe has career highs in almost every stat: Games, at-bats, runs, RBIs, doubles, triples, walks, on-base percentage, total bases. He's not close to matching the home run total from his 2012 power surge, but the slugging percentage is pretty much a match anyway, Plus he's gone from being a brutal third baseman afield to being average or slightly above,

This figured to be an important year for him. Miguel Sano, superstar slugger in waiting, is still waiting. Plouffe, as I've said before, isn't good enough to keep Sano out of the lineup once the big Dominican is ready for the majors. But Plouffe has established now that he's good enough to play third base for somebody. That wasn't necessarily the case entering the season.

Plouffe was a Super Two arbitration eligible player this year, so he has two more years to go before he's eligible for free agency. He might be of interest on the trade market this winter -- if the Twins are confident enough that Sano will be ready for the big club by midseason.


Plouffe, of course, came to the majors in 2010 having played almost nothing by shortstop in the minors. He played himself out of the position in the majors in 2011, then had a brief detour to the outfield before settling in at the hot corner in 2012.

Danny Santana came to the majors this year having played strictly shortstop for the past couple of years and was pressed into service as a centerfielder. The continued reluctance to deploy the rookie sensation at his accustomed position is irritating some fans. (He did get the start at short Friday.)

For me, that reluctance signals that the Twins already know that Santana is not a good defensive shortstop. A recent post on that thought elicited this response:

Trevor Plouffe played minor league SS for about 7 years, and the people in the Twins system still did not realize he couldn't handle the job in the majors (and that he could barely stick at third). Is their evaluation of Santana any better?

The first sentence is accurate, which makes the second sentence a valid question.

One aspect of this is that it's a different set of evaluators.

The minor league managers who had Plouffe in 2009-11, his final two-and-a-fraction seasons in the minors, were Tom Nieto and Stan Cliburn. The minor league managers who had Santana in 2012-14, his (presumably) final two-and-a-fraction seasons in the minors, were Gene Glynn, Jeff Smith and Jake Mauer.

If there was a stack of reports attesting that Plouffe was a valid shortstop option for the major league team in 2011, those reports came from managers who aren't working for the Twins anymore. I suspect that may not be a coincidence.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Goodbye, Florimon

Pedro Florimon
was the shortstop
on Opening Day
and out of the majors
before July.
It was a bit of a shock Thursday when the Twins announced that Pedro Florimon had been claimed on waivers by the Washington Nationals.

Two reasons I was surprised: First, because I had forgotten that Florimon was still on the 40-man roster; second, because it's hard to see what use the Nats have for him. (The Washington Post suggests he'll be minor-league depth; that isn't very useful in September when the minor league season is done.)

Certainly Florimon didn't fit in the Twins plans, near-term or long haul. That was made obvious when he was bypassed for a September callup.

Even with Eduardo Escobar sidelined by his strained shoulder (no structural damage, the Twins said on Wednesday), the Twins still have three "shortstops" on the active roster in Danny Santana, Eduardo Nunez and Doug Bernier. And Jorge Polanco, while not on the active roster, probably ranked ahead of Florimon on the depth chart as well.

I put the word shortstop in quotation marks because all five, including Escobar, see consider time at other positions, which suggests that their glovework leaves something to be desired. True shortstops don't bounce around the infield. Ozzie Smith and Luis Aparicio didn't shuffle to second or third so that somebody else could slide in to play short.

Florimon is a true shortstop. He hasn't played a major league game in the field at any other position. But his glove isn't good enough to carry his anemic bat. The Twins have rightly moved on.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Chattanooga choo-choo

Ever have the feeling you were
being watched?
The Twins went back to their distant past Wednesday when they and the Chattanooga Lookouts announced a four-year affiliation deal.

No more New Britain RockCats for the Double A franchise. The Twins will have their second-highest minor league team in the Southern League again -- and in Chattanooga for the first time in more than half a century.

Back in the day -- when the Twins were still the Washington Senators, back before Calvin Griffith inherited the club from his adopted father, Clark "The Old Fox" Griffith -- the Lookouts were not only the Senators' top farm club but owned by Griffith. Indeed, for much of three decades, the Lookouts may have been the complete extent of the Senators' farm "system."

The story of Chattanooga baseball really can't be separated from that of Joe Engle, a truly fascinating obscurity in baseball history.

Engle was a Washington native who grew up a playmate of Teddy Roosevelt's kids and was batboy for the Senators, Engle pitched for the Senators for a few years in his teens and early 20s with marginal success (rooming with Walter Johnson in the process), Then he drifted into scouting for Griffith, Engle is credited with finding three Hall-of-Famers for Griffith (Goose Goslin, Joe Cronin and Bucky Harris) and landing the core of the only three pennant winning teams Washington ever boasted.

Supposedly, when Engle brought Cronin to Washington, he introduced the young shortstop to Calvin Griffith's niece by announcing:  Look, Millie, I brought you a husband, embarrassing each of the pair. But indeed, the two did marry. (Clark Griffith then traded Cronin to Boston, where the salaries were higher.)

In 1929 Griffith sent Engle to Chattanooga to run the Lookouts, There Engle remained, pretty much, for the rest of his life, essentially being a early Bill Veeck.

One of his more legendary stunts came with an 1931 exhibition game in Chattanooga with the New York Yankees, in which he had a 17-year-old lefty from Chattanooga named Jackie Mitchell pitch to Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. The stunt was that Mitchell was female. She struck out both the Bambino and the Iron Horse, and nobody will ever know for sure if the whiffs were on merit or because the two all-time greats were being chivalrous and/or playing along with the gag.

Eventually Calvin Griffith succeeded Engle at the helm of the Lookouts, prepping to inherit the Washington club by running the minor league team. Chattanooga was also where a young Harmon Killebrew played his minor league ball (after stewing on the Senators bench for two years under the bonus baby rules of the time), as did Jim Kaat.

All that is part of the distant past. Now the Lookouts are part of the Twins future. Presumably the Twins cut ties to New Britain because of the messy stadium situation in central Connecticut; the team's ownership appears to have burned their bridges with New Britain. but the stadium deal with Hartford hasn't been finalized.

Jim Crikket had an interesting observation on Twitter. As part of a reshuffling of Triple A affiliations, the Oakland Athletics were displaced in Sacramento and wound up in Nashville, which is not a particularly attractive geographic fit for a California franchise. That affiliation (like the Twins renewal in Rochester) expires in two years. Crikket suggests that Nashville might be an attractive destination for the Twins' Triple A affilation after 2016; having the Triple A and Double A teams in the same state (Tennessee) could be quite handy. (UPDATE: The affiliation agreement announced Thursday between the A's and Nashville runs through 2018, so a Tennessee nexus ain't happening in two years.)

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Perkins and Escobar

A dismayed Glen Perkins reacts after yielding a
three-run homer in the ninth inning Tuesday.
I doubt anybody believes Glen Perkins is sound right now.

He's certainly not effective.

The Twins closer sat out seven games earlier this month with a sore neck. He hasn't had a scoreless outing since: 3.1 innings, seven runs allowed. On Tuesday, protecting a two-run lead, he gave up two singles (not particularly well struck, but definitely well-paced), followed by a home run.

That the Twins rallied for two runs in the bottom of the ninth to win doesn't obscure the reality: Perkins isn't getting it done, and doesn't seem capable of getting it done.


Eduardo Escobar left Tuesday's game after a diving stop and throw. He's got something wrong with his shoulder, and he figures to have it examined today.

Whatever they find, this injury gives the Twins every reason to do what they arguably should have been doing this month anyway: Play Danny Santana at shortstop, work Aaron Hicks and Jordan Schafer in center, and look to 2015.

Personally, I believe the 2015 plan should have Santana in the outfield and Escobar as the shortstop, but the Twins will lose nothing from giving Santana these last 12 games or so at short. It certainly makes more sense than giving those innings to Eduardo Nunez.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

A night at Target Field

Jordan Schafer turned the wrong way
on this first-inning double over his head
Monday night. 
Monday night's game provided a strong reminder of one of my favorite precepts about baseball: The easiest way to improve the pitching is to improve the outfield defense.

Anthony Swarzak, making a spot start, wasn't really as bad as his line -- 11 hits in 4.1 innings -- indicates. My scoresheet was dotted with notations of outfield plays unmade and resulting runs .

Jordan Schafer, playing centerfield, got turned around on a ball hit by Victor Martinez in the first inning. If Schafer makes the play the Tigers get nothing; in reality, V-Mart's double scored one run and set up his own on J.D. Martinez' subsequent hit.

The latter Martinez opened the three-run fourth inning with a double that Oswaldo Arcia misjudged in right field. That could, should, have been caught.

I didn't mark any poor plays by left fielder Chris Parmelee, but Dan Gladden suggested on the postgame show that there was a play (or more) that the first-base transplant should have made. Presumably Gladden was talking about Bryan Holaday's RBI double in the fourth and/or Victor Martinez' double in the fifth.

I will give Parmelee credit for a good throw to the plate to cut down V-Mart to end that fifth inning. Martinez isn't fast by any means, but Parmelee had to make an accurate throw to get him on Holaday's fly ball, and he made the play.

Other notes from what I expect will be my final in-person game of 2014:

* Danny Santana started at shortstop, as he did in my previous trip to Target Field 10 days earlier. On Sept. 5 he missed on what I thought was a double play opportunity; on Sept. 15 he had a similar chance (second inning off the bat of Ian Kinsler) and started the twin killing. He also had a well-turned pivot on a flashy DP started by Brian Dozier's diving play and flip with glove hand; that flip was a little behind Santana, but he handled the exchange fluidly.

I've been, and remain, skeptical of Santana's ability to handle shortstop, but those were nicely done plays.

* Swarzak, as implied by the previous paragraph, was helped by his infielders, perhaps as much as he was hurt by his outfielders. Give him credit for this: He threw strikes -- 14 first-pitch strikes to his 23 hitters faced, 47 strikes in 70 pitches, just one walk and that intentional.

* A.J. Achter, on the other hand, got through his 2.1 innings without being charged with a run, but threw almost as many balls (17) as strikes (19). He walked home one of Swarzak's inherited runners, a run set up by the intentional walk to J.D. Martinez.. Achter and Ryan Pressly kept the Tigers off the board in the sixth-through-eighth innings, but it wasn't pretty, at least on Achter's part.

* Miguel Cabrera is a beast. The man's leg is clearly killing him, but he had three hits for seven total bases and three runs scored. The way he stared out at the outfield after his first-inning double off the limestone overhang suggested that he couldn't believe that didn't get out of the park.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Trevor May can

Trevor May delivers what was
presumably a curve ball (note the
index finger tucked in) during
his stellar start Sunday.
I caught part of a Terry Ryan interview on the radio pregame Sunday in which he essentially challenged Trevor May to get deeper into games. Cory Provus had suggested seven or eight innings; the general manager said as part of his response: "I'd like to see a complete game."

Well, by that standard, May was a bit of a disappointment. On pretty much every other level, he was outstanding: Six innings, five hits, NO walks, 10 strikeouts.

Yes, he gave up three runs. The White Sox bunched their hits to good effect in the fourth.

But no walks and 10 strikeouts? Yeah, that's pretty darn good.

To be sure, he inflicted a lot of those strikeouts on the bottom half of the order, and several of those players are no more established big leaguers than May is. One start under those conditions doesn't establish a whole lot.

The fact remains that he entered the game with 19 walks allowed and 24 strikeouts in the majors, a horrid ratio. Now he's at 19 walks and 34 strikeouts -- still not a good ratio, but approaching acceptability.

I don't know where or how May fits into the 2015 pitching plans. The Twins have, in Phil Hughes, Ricky Nolasco, Kyle Gibson, Tommy Milone and Mike Pelfrey, five starters with seniority and/or salaries rank them ahead of May. They have, in Alex Meyer and Jose Berrios, two prospects generally considered to have higher ceilings.

But I've seen enough of Pelfrey to know I'd rather see May. And if Sunday's throw-strikes May is the May we see going forward, that might be true of all those first five except Hughes.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Pic of the Week

Ike Davis of the Pittsburgh Pirates prepares for an
at-bat Monday in Philadelphia.
Dramatic pose. Dramatic angle. Dramatic sky.

I probably select a photo like this at least once every year. They never seem to get old.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

More veteran pitchers? Really?

If there's been a theme to the blog this week, it's how age and experience play into the Twins pitching problems:

  • The Twins lost almost a half-decade's worth of pitchers drafted in early rounds;
  • They have one of the league's oldest staffs;
  • Most, if not all, top-rate rotations have a home-grown foundation;
  • One of their more impressive pitching prospects has a bum elbow despite being handled with care.

So it's been a topic prominent in my mind this week. I am convinced that the Twins aren't going to spend their way out of their pitching hole -- not because they are unwilling to spend the money, but because spending the money doesn't work.

The solution is to draft better, develop better, and get a bit luckier than they've been with the process of growing their own pitchers. They need to display the patience with Trevor May (for example) that they never had with Liam Hendriks (for example).

I saw a tweet this week from a season-ticker holder who said he was renewing, but "spend it on a pitcher." That's a self-defeating piece of advice. The Twins have a rotation jammed with such veterans as Ricky Nolasco, Mike Pelfrey and Tommy Milone; to get good, they need to create room for, and use, such high-end guys as Alex Meyer and Jose Berrios. Another veteran just gets in the way.

A splashy offseason in the pitching department will be an offseason gone offtrack. That's not a sexy prospect, and it may not do much for ticket sales, but it's reality.

Friday, September 12, 2014

A pitching prospect's elbow

Lewis Thorpe turns
19 in November.
Lewis Thorpe is an 18-year-old left-handed pitcher, and a talented one.

The Twins signed him out of Australia as a 16-year-old, and they've been careful with his workload: 44 innings last season in the rookie Gulf Coast League, 71 innings this year in Cedar Rapids after spending much of the first half of the season in extended spring training.

He was 3-2, 3.52 for the Kernels, with 80 strikeouts, which is pretty solid to start with. Add in that he was about 4 years younger than the average pitcher in the Midwest League and that his ERA in his final 10 starts (16 total) was 2.40 with 60 strikeouts in 45 innings ... well, he was living up to some lofty rankings in the Twins organization.

And then he was warming up for a start in the Midwest League playoffs and felt something in the elbow.

The diagnosis: A strained ulnar collateral ligament. The UCL is the one replaced in Tommy John surgery.

Thorpe was examined in the Twin Cities on Thursday, and the verdict was in favor of rehab over cutting. He'll report next week to the instructional camp as scheduled.

We can hope the docs are right and he doesn't need Tommy John. But a strained elbow is still an elbow with ligament damage. TNSTAAPP -- There's No Such Thing As A Pitching Prospect.

The Twins handled Thorpe carefully. He got only a partial season at age 18 and was kept on a tight pitch count, averaging less than five innings a start. (Getting credit for three wins under such circumstances is pretty impressive; a starter can lose a game pitching less than five innings but can't get the win.) He got hurt anyway.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Contemplating Aaron Hicks

Aaron Hicks: His OBP
for the season is .341, but
his SLG is a dismal .275.
Aaron Hicks has had just 25 plate appearances since his recall, which is hardly a sound basis for drawing conclusions.

Plus, it's September, and there's an adage that claims the worst times to evaluate a player are September and spring training.

Still, that's what we have to work with in gauging Hicks' status. And it's worth noting that this September for the Twins has not been filled with series against other out-of-the-chase teams playing out the schedule.

At any rate, Hicks is 7-for-23 this month, a .304 average, with a couple of walks tossed in to boost the on-base percentage to a healthy .360. He has raised his major league average for the season above the .200 mark -- not good, certainly, but somewhat less embarrassing than the .180-something he has generally carried.

And the switch-hitter has had, in his limited left-handed at-bats -- his pronounced weaker side -- three RBI hits, notable for their previous rarity

It's a small sample size, to be sure, but there may be hope yet for the outfielder. Nobody who has seen him can doubt the tools, but he was, in retrospect, not ready to hit the majors last year, and his premature rise appears to have been a significant detriment.

Still, the Twins have openings for him to fill. The one certainty about their 2015 outfield plans is Oswaldo Arcia in right field. Danny Santana might be an outfielder next year or he might be a shortstop or he might continue to be a combination of the two.

And then there's Hicks and Jordan Schafer and Chris Parmelee -- and, although not a likely Opening Day candidate, Byron Buxton. The Twins might bring in a veteran outfielder this offseason, but right now I'm optimistic enough about Hicks that I hope they stick with the current bunch and go young. Whether I'll still be inclined that way by November is another matter.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

It's a Miracle

Caps and logos for a variety of teams in the Twins
system, from the big league club to (from left)
the Rochester Red Wings, the Cedar Rapids Kernels,
the New Britain RockCats and the Fort Myers Miracle

The Twins' minor league season officially ended Monday when the Fort Myers Miracle (high A ball) won the Florida State League championship, taking the best-of-five series from the Daytona Cubs in four games.

They were a deserving champ, racking up the best regular season record in the league before rolling through the postseason.

It is worth noting that the Fort Myers roster core is largely the same as the bunch that dominated the Appy League two years ago and had the best regular season record last year in the Midwest League before falling in the first round of that league's playoffs: Adam Brett Walker. Travis Harrison. Niko Goodrum. D.J. Hicks. Max Kepler. Brett Lee.

Among those who had moved up to higher levels before the FSL playoffs: Byron Buxton. Jose Berrios. Mason Melotakis. Jorge Polanco. All contributed to the regular season record.

It's a pretty impressive record this bunch is compiling as they wend their way up the ladder, and that bodes well in the long run for the big-league team.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

An old pitching staff

Jared Burton is 33
years old.
The Twins pitching problem is a old story. Literally.

I was poking about in Baseball Reference on Monday morning looking for something new to say about the Twins lineup and noticed that, by BR's formula, the Twins have the third youngest lineup in the American League, with an average age of 27.8.

Then I checked out the pitching staff ages. Guess what: as BR reckons such things, the Twins have the third oldest staff in the league,at 29.5 years.

That shouldn't have surprised me as much as it did. The Twins did, after all, base their 2014 starting rotation on four free agent signees (Ricky Nolasco, Phil Hughes, Kevin Correia and Mike Pelfrey) and base their bullpen on four 30-somethings (Glen Perkins, Jared Burton, Brian Duensing and Casey Fien.)

Even when Pelfrey went down, the rotation didn't really get younger. The man with the fifth most starts for the Twins this year, Yohan Pino, may be a rookie, but he's a 30-year-old rookie. The man with the sixth most starts, the departed Sam Deduno, is 30.

The youngest staff in the American League, according to Baseball Reference, is Cleveland's, 2,2 years younger than the Twins. Even Detroit, with the aged Joe Nathan closing and a veteran starting rotation, is a full year younger on average than the Twins.

This ties in, obviously, to my Monday post about the futility of building the rotation out of free agents and the failure of the Twins to find pitchers out of the drafts of 2008-2011.

And it strongly suggests that improvement will require different arms. A staff that averages almost 30 years of age is not one with its future ahead of it.

The Twins have so much invested in several of the veterans, particularly the starters, that it may be a challenge to make room for new blood. Still, that's a challenge that must be met. It's not just the rotation that needs a makeover; as the bullpen's debacle over the weekend against the Angels suggested, the relief corps needs a shakeup also.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Thoughts on building a good rotation

Kyle Gibson is the one pitcher the Twins took in
the first three rounds between 2008 and 2011 who has
amounted to anything in the majors.
I've been carrying on a sporadic email conversation with a reader -- he's consistent, actually. I'm sporadic about replying -- largely about the Twins pitching issues. One thing I've told him is that the problem isn't that the organization has been cheap. It hasn't been. Witness the Ricky Nolasco-Phil Hughes-Mike Pelfrey $73 million splurge of last winter.

The problem with building a rotation from free agents is: A "proven" free agent starter, by definition, is a pitcher in or at least near his 30s with several years of wear-and-tear on his arm; decline is more likely than improvement. The Twins hit on one of their three signings this year (Hughes); it really is irrational to expect better than that.

Look at the best rotations around baseball and you'll see a heavy reliance on pitchers who

  • were developed entirely by that team's farm system or
  • were acquired in trade BEFORE they became accomplished major leaguers
  • with a free-agent or veteran tradee mixed in

Consider, for example, the Tigers: Justin Verlander (homegrown), Max Scherzer (9-15 won-loss record when acquired in trade), Anibel Sanchez (free agent), Rick Porcello (homegrown) and David Price (acquired in trade for the homegrown Drew Smyly).

Or The Giants, who have won two World Series this decade with a rotation built around Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum and Madison Bumgarner, all homegrown.

The Twins are not going to build a stellar rotation out of free agent veterans. It simply doesn't work that way. You can get one or two pieces of the puzzle from free agency and veteran trades, but the foundation has to be built with young arms, because young arms are (probably) less damaged and easier to accumulate.

This process hasn't gone well in recent years for the Twins. They are feeling the effects of a multi-year dry spell in drafting pitchers, and not for a lack of effort.

In 2008, they drafted three pitchers in the first three rounds: Carlos Gutierrez, Shooter Hunt and Bobby Lanigan. Bust, bust, and bust.

In 2009, they invested their first four picks, all in the first three rounds, in pitchers -- Kyle Gibson, Matt Bashore, Billy Bullock and Ben Tootle. Gibson may be the second-best starter the Twins have, but he really hasn't established himself as a quality rotation piece, and the other three are all out of baseball five years later.

In 2010, they drafted Alex Wimmers in the first round and Pat Dean in the third; we won't see either of them in Target Field soon, if ever.

In 2011, first three rounds: Hudson Boyd, Madison Boer, Corey Williams. None are close to the majors.

That's 12 pitchers, all drafted in the first three rounds in consecutive years long enough ago to expect some results, and while the return hasn't been exactly zero, it hasn't been good, either.

There's a web acronym that gets a good deal of repetition among baseball bloggers: TNSTAAPP -- There's No Such Thing As A Pitching Prospect. The point -- and it's accurate -- is that pitchers are difficult to project and they have a frighteningly high attrition rate, as that list of failed draft picks suggests.

And yet, teams do build championship rotations out of pitching prospects. They do, they really do.

The Twins got most of their starters for their run of division titles that way. Brad Radke, Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey, Nick Blackburn and Glen Perkins were all draft picks; Johan Santana, Francisco Liriano, Eric Milton. Joe Mays, Carlos Silva and Kyle Lohse were all acquired out of other organizations with little or no major league experience.

That magic touch has dried up. The hope is that guys like Alex Meyer, Jose Berrios, Kohl Stewart and Lewis Thorpe will turn it around. But that remains in the future.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Pic of the Week

Fans in Kansas City duck a bat that escaped
the grasp of Tomas Telis of the Texas Rangers
in the seventh inning Wednesday.
Everybody lean left...

This is, in all seriousness, one of the frightening aspects of prime seats at ball games -- the "incidental danger" posed by bats and balls flung or hit into the seats behind the dugouts. I've seen people get pretty bloodied up by foul balls. On some of them, being attentive is not enough.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

A night at Target Field

Oswaldo Arcia was charged with an
error in the fourth inning on a ball hit
by Kole Calhoun that resulted in a run
for the visiting Angels.
Here's one bright side to the Twins' low status: Good tickets can be had reasonably on the resale market.

My wife and I darted up to Target Field with lower-deck home plate box seats. We didn't make it through the entire 10-inning, four-and-a-half hour game; it may have been a Friday night, but there was a long drive home and things to do today too. So we missed Trevor Plouffe's game-tying double with two outs in the ninth -- and Jared Burton surrendering the winning run in the 10th.

A few observations, on and off the playing field:

* Danny Santana got the start at shortstop. In the second inning, with a man on first, Brennan Boesch hit a one-hopper just to Santana's right; he tried, a bit awkwardly I thought, to backhand the ball only to have it go off his glove. I marked it an error on my scorecard; the official scorer ruled it a hit.

Still, it was a play I expect a major league shortstop to make; indeed, it was a ball I expect a major league shortstop to turn into a double play. The failure to make that play resulted in a run.

That was the extent of Santana's defensive involvement for four innings. He had four routine plays in the fifth and sixth inning and cleaned them all up.

*Aaron Hicks had a pair of two-out RBI base hits -- left-handed, his weaker side. He's hitting over .200 now.

*Josmil Pinto had a pair of doubles and a walk and scored twice (on those Hicks hits). He also had a passed ball and saw a pair of Angels steal second, although I'm inclined to blame the pitchers more for those steals. Terry Ryan said when they recalled Pinto that his defense had improved; it's hard for me to see the difference.

* Oswaldo Arcia had an impressive home run in the second inning. And in the fourth inning he had an outfielding misadventure (see photo) that cost the Twins a run. Actually, he had another misplay of a ball off the wall in the first inning -- rule a triple rather than a double and error -- that led to yet another run. The slugger giveth and he taketh away, and on the whole in this game, he gaveth too much to the Angels.

* Ricky Nolasco wasn't particularly good, but as you've noticed already, his defense didn't help him much. He went five innings and allowed three runs, two earned; with spotless defense behind him, no runs score. He struck out five and only walked one.

That's the glass half full. On the other hand, he didn't have a one-two-three inning (the fourth would have been had Arcia corralled the Calhoun drive), and the Angels had the leadoff man on in four of the five innings, so he spent most of his time pitching out of the stretch. The misplays didn't put all those leadoff men on, they just moved them along the route home.

* Matt Shoemaker, who started for the Halos, has had a fine season (14-4, 3.14 coming into the game with 115 strikeouts in 117 innings), but he struggled to throw strikes in this one. He threw a lot of offspeed and breaking stuff and only got through four innings. I wasn't impressed, but he's obviously been better.

* This game marked my first encounter with the much-praised rib tips from the Butcher and the Boar stand (near Gate 34). They are not over-rated. Between that and my addiction to the Kramarczuk bratwurst, my carnivore cravings were more than satisfied.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Danny Santana, superutility player

Danny Santana has been a fixture in the leadoff spot,
but he has started just 20 games at shortstop.
The recall of Aaron Hicks of the last month of the season gave the Twins two "true" center fielders (Hicks and Jordan Schafer), and prompted many of us to assume that September would see Danny Santana get an extended trial at shortstop.

Santana did start at short on Wednesday. On Thursday, however, he was back in center field. Which led to (knowledgeable) fan reaction such as this:

I've made similar points about Santana's use over the past month or more. But something occurred to me this week, also in conjunction with the September callups: While we in Minnesota haven't seen Santana play shortstop regularly, the Twins organization has.

I'll guarantee you, the Twins have on file (either electronically or on paper) report upon report from minor league managers Jack Mauer, Jeff Smith and Gene Glynn (each of whom has managed Santana during the past three years) about his defense.

In talking this week about September callup Doug Bernier, Ron Gardenhire mentioned that when the Twins called up Santana earlier in the season, it was Bernier who was "recommended" for the call. That recommendation, I infer, came from Glynn, who had both players at Rochester.

Theory: The Twins already have a pretty good idea about Santana's "instincts and decision-making" at short, and about his reliability and consistency on the routine plays. That idea is: You don't want him playing the position six days a week.

The Twins are never likely to say that out loud. They're not going to publicly belittle his talents, and besides, Eduardo Escobar could sprain his ankle on Saturday and pretty much force the Twins to deploy Santana at short.

But if my theory is correct, Santana might be the kind of "superutility" guy Gardenhire suggested during spring training that he was looking for, a player he can use in the manner that Tampa Bay uses Ben Zobrist: in the lineup everyday, but moving from position to position.

The Santana we've seen this year at the plate is certainly productive enough to carry a key offensive role. The Santana we've seen in the field is good enough to get by at up-the-middle positions, but not a truly high-caliber glove man. And a key to Zobrist and other superutility types: They hit enough to stay in the lineup.and field well enough to play a key position but not so well that they can be a regular there.

I can envision Santana, when Byron Buxton arrives to take over center field, shifting to left for the bulk of his playing time, but getting a few games at shortstop and center to give the regulars there a day off. That's the kind of flexibility Zobrist gives the Rays, and that Michael Cuddyer used to provide for Gardenhire.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Kennys Vargas, switch hitter

Joe Mauer greets Kennys Vargas at home plate
Wednesday after Vargas mashed his first career
right-handed home run.

Kennys Vargas made his major league debut Aug. 1. He had a double and two RBIs that day, and hasn't stopped hitting since.

Wednesday night he homered -- right-handed. It was the switch-hitter's sixth homer in the majors, but his first off a left-hander.

For what it's worth -- and that's very little, as Vargas hasn't had even close to 100 plate appearances from either side of the plate -- he entered Wednesday's game hitting .351/.373/.597 against right-handers, .264/.286/.340 versus lefties. He didn't have the reputation in the minors (as Aaron Hicks did) of struggling from one side of the plate, and I know of no reason to believe that that differential will persist as the sample size increases.

I am more concerned about the warped walk-strikeout rate he's displayed: 37 strikeouts in his first 139 plate appearances with just four walks. It's exceedingly difficult for a hitter to sustain success with a BB/K ratio that out of balance. But his BB/K ratios in the minors weren't that out-of-whack, and, again, we're not talking about a lot of at-bats.

August was a very good month for the big guy. September's first few days have been even better. We can find red flags in the production, but it's better to enjoy it.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Minors stuff

2014 has been a difficult year physically for the Twins' top position prospects. So why would it be any different for Nick Gordon?

Byron Buxton had a stubborn wrist injury that robbed him of most the the season, then sustained a pretty significant concussion that ended his season prematurely.

Miguel Sano missed the whole season with Tommy John surgery.

Eddie Rosario's year wasn't wrecked so much by injury as behavior, but he didn't make any real progress toward the majors either.

And now Gordon. The Twins first-round draft pick in June broke a finger Monday night in the first game of the Appalachian League playoffs. Elizabethton, which dominated the Appy League regular season (as it often does), wound up swept out of the best-two-of-three series by Johnson City, and Gordon will not be able to participate fully (if at all) in instructional league this fall.


E-Town boasted the Appy League's player of the year in Max Murphy and pitcher of the year in Felix Jorge, but we should restrain our enthusiasm over their status.

Murphy, a Minnesota native and ninth-round draft choice in June, came out of college and was a bit old for the Appy League. He moved up to Cedar Rapids after terrorizing Appy League pitchers for 35 games (slugging percentage .753), and he found the Midwest League a good bit more challenging (.242/.314/.395).

Jorge was repeating the Appy League after having a horrible 12 games (eight starts) with CR: ERA of 9.00 in 39 innings. (Even with the return to Elizabethton, however, Jorse is still slightly young for the league.)

It's better, of course, that these two dominated the Appy League than the alternative. I'm just saying that this success isn't particularly indicative of the future.

Andrew Walter, the "Twins Fan From Afar" who resides in the vicinity of the New Britain Rock Cats -- the Twins Double A affiliate -- took note Tuesday on Twitter of the uncertain status of the affiliation between the Rock Cats and Twins.

Last month the Twins had public, pre-game ceremonies in Rochester (Triple A) and Cedar Rapids (low A) to sign fresh affiliation agreements with those clubs. The alignment with New Britain was similarly up for renewal, and nothing has happened. A couple of stories in local newspapers suggest that the Rock Cats are eager to re-up with the Twins; the Twins, we might infer, are looking for an alternative. (The Fort Myers affiliation is also up, but there doesn't seem to be any question about that connection.)

According to this "affiliation tracker" on the Baseball America website, 10 Double A affiliations are due to expire this month -- three in the Eastern League, including New Britain; three in the Texas League; and four in the Southern League.

I assume that, geographically, the Twins would prefer to remain in the Eastern League, keeping the Double-A affiliate relatively close to the Triple A affiliate. A Southern League team, on the other hand, would be more convenient to the lower rung on the ladder (high A Fort Myers). The Texas League is largely made of of West Coast affiliations; I will be surprised if the Twins wind up in that league.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The September call-ups

Doug Bernier, who
spent half the 2013
season with the Twins,
was named MVP of
the 2014 Red Wings.
The Twins on Monday morning announced eight callups for the expanded September roster, names familiar and otherwise: A.J. Achter, Doug Bernier, Logan Darnell, Chris Herrmann, Aaron Hicks, Lester Oliveros, Josmil Pinto and Michael Tonkin. They were all with Triple A Rochester, which was eliminated Sunday from playoff contention, and will join the Twins today.

As surmised here earlier, three of them -- Achter, Bernier and Oliveros -- had to be added to the 40-man roster. Of the eight -- nine if you want to count Aaron Thompson, called up during the weekend -- only Achter has never appeared in the majors before.

This collection is heavy with minor league veterans and light on true prospects.The Twins did not call up anybody who is to be first-time eligible for the Rule 5 draft and thus likely to be added to the 40 early in the offseason. That would include Eddie Rosario, who didn't play well enough this year to be rewarded with a month of major league pay and perks but is too good a prospect to expose, and Alex Meyer, who went on the minor league disabled list during the weekend.

Lester Oliveros
will audition this
month for a bullpen
role next year.
The most interesting of the nine, as I look to 2015, are Hicks, Oliveros and Tonkin.

Hicks needs to have a strong September, as I see it. He's twice won jobs in spring training only to flop in the regular season, and I can't see a good reason for the Twins to let him do that a third time.

Oliveros and Tonkin are a pair of hard-throwing righties, either of whom might be a successor to Jared Burton (whose contract is expiring) in a set-up role next year. Oliveros, as you might recall, came to the Twins in the Delmon Young trade in 2011; he's had some injury issues and has returned from Tommy John surgery. (Achter might be put in this group, but his stuff is a notch behind the others.)

Chris Herrmann hit
.304 for Rochester
but just .143 with
the Twins.
Darnell and Thompson are showcasing themselves as potential replacements for Brian Duensing and Caleb Thielbar as lefty specialists.

Pinto and Herrmann ... I think their purpose is to lighten the load on Kurt Suzuki, who has taken a beating behind the plate in recent days. Theoretically either could push out Eric Fryer as the backup catcher in 2015, but Fryer is the superior receiver, and a reliable backstop seems to be Ron Gardenhire's preference in that role. (Assuming, of course, that Gardy is back next year.)

Herrmann would have a better chance at a backup job with a manager inclined to use the backup catcher in platoon situations -- meaning, to look to give Suzuki his days off against right-handed pitchers and fit the left-handed Herrmann in then. Gardenhire is not such a manager.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Goodbye, Deduno

Sam Deduno had
 a 16-18, 4.26 record
with the Twins.
The Twins' second-half roster churn continued during the weekend with Sam Deduno going to the Houston Astros on outright waivers.

Deduno spent most of the season in the bullpen and was better in that role (3.21 ERA in 22 outings, 53.1 innings) than in his eight starts (6.52 ERA in just 38.2 innings). It seems safe to infer that the Twins figured they have better choices for the 2015 bullpen, and I think that's true.

Deduno spend bits of the past three seasons with the Twins, and always seemed more interesting as a rotation candidate. He had a couple of stretches in which it seemed he might finally have tamed his self-described "crazy fastball." But those stretches never lasted. His lack of command and injury history meant he wasn't capable of working deep into games.

Aaron Thompson had
an ERA of 3.98 for
Triple A Rochester
this year.
When the Twins waived Deduno, they already had two openings on the 40-man roster. They filled one with Aaron Thompson, a left-handed reliever who entered the organization the same winter Deduno did and in the same manner (as a minor-league free agent). Thompson was added to the 25-man roster Sunday and made his first major-league appearance since 2011, when he worked four games for Pittsburgh.

Thompson's September trial appears to indicate a dissatisfaction with the left-handed set-up men, Brian Duensing and Caleb Thielbar. I don't expect Thompson to be any improvement on them, and I expect the Twins to look for more lefty bullpen alternatives this winter. (Neither Duensing nor Theilbar are eligible for free agency this winter.) Or the Twins could consider giving one or more of the lefties in the upper minors a shot. (Mason Melotakis, headed to the Arizona Fall League, comes promptly to mind.)

One such lefty, Edgar Ibarra, was dropped from the 40 on Sunday, once again creating three openings. So I suspect that the Twins plan to add three players now off the 40-man roster for the season's final month. That fun can begin today, although the call-ups probably won't happen until Rochester and New Britain end their seasons.