Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Lots of moves, lots of criticism

The Jaime Garcia trade finally went down Monday. The trade itself is OK, with one curious aspect. The roster ramifications of adding the veteran lefty starter have, in my opinion, been mishandled.

I discussed in the Monday print column why such a trade was a logical move. Two (to three) months of Garcia will cost the Twins Huascar Ynoa, a 19-year-old Dominican signed in 2015 for a $800,000 bonus. He has to this point put up a 5.26 ERA at Elizabethton (25.2 innings), not that Appy League stats matter. Ynoa is a strong armed project who might make it and might not, a genuine lottery ticket. The major league team has a chance at a playoff spot and it desperately needs competence in the back of the rotation. Giving up Ynoa for Garcia is sensible.

Plus it probably saves me from having to learn to spell Huascar Ynoa.

Less obvious is the addition of "Quadruple A" catcher Anthony Recker. He's 33, he has accumulated 630 major league plate appearances over seven seasons, he landed on the 40-man roster via the trade and I don't really see the point. I would not only rather have Chris Gimenez than Recker, I'd rather have Mitch Garver. (At this point, I might rather have Garver than Gimenez, but that's another matter.) The Twins now have five catchers on their 40-man roster, which seems excessive (Jason Castro, Gimenez, Garver, Recker and John Ryan Murphy).

The Twins, as noted in Monday's post, pushed Craig Breslow off both the active roster and the 40-man roster after Sunday's game. I had expected that they would fill the 25-man spot by bringing back Rule 5 pick Justin Haley from the disabled list. Instead they recalled Alan Busenitz and returned Haley to Boston. Nothing against Busenitz, but I don't care for abandoning the Haley project at this point, even though they almost certainly would have to carry his Rule 5 restrictions over to next season.

Dumping Haley does open a second 40-man roster spot, and they needed that to accommodate the addition of Recker -- assuming that they needed to add Recker. Meanwhile, it's worth noting that last winter the Twins exposed catcher Stuart Turner to the Rule 5 draft and lost him to Cincinnati; in a very real sense, this series of roster moves amounted to trading Turner for Recker. Turner hasn't done much for the Reds, but he's still there, and he's about eight years younger than Recker.

Recker, at least for now, is assigned to Rochester. Garcia, obviously, needs to be on the 25-man roster. And the Twins got there by optioning Kyle Gibson to Rochester for the second time this season. They're going to stick with Bartolo Colon in the rotation.

I've little good to say about Gibson's pitching this season. He remains a highly frustrating pitcher. But if it's a binary choice -- I have to start either Gibson or Colon -- I'd go with the guy with the 6.08 ERA on the season (94 innings) over the guy with the 8.00 ERA (72 innings).

Pedro Martinez, who knows more about pitching than I ever will, backs his countryman Colon:




I will say this for Colon: He made his first two starts against some stiff lineups, the Yankees and the Dodgers. Those were not cupcake assignments. Gibson's seven shutout innings in his most recent start came against a much softer lineup (Detroit).

I would go with Gibson over Colon, which is not claiming that either is an optimal choice.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Goodbye, Breslow (and injury updates)

Craig Breslow was designated for assignment after Sunday's game. The move was unsurprising, necessary and, for me at least, a bit depressing. I've always liked Breslow, or more accurately I liked what Breslow represented -- a top-of-the-charts intellect carving out a space for himself in baseball.

Breslow's been through this before. The veteran lefty is in his 12th major league season; he's pitched for seven teams in that time, but this is his second go-around with the Twins, and he had a pair with Boston as well. So he's been passed around like a dollar bill, and he's getting pretty worn -- he hasn't had a sub-4.00 ERA since 2013, when he helped the Red Sox win the World Series.

This might be it for Breslow as a pitcher, although Paul Molitor said he wants to continue his career and the Twins will try to place him with another major league team. He might even accept assignment to Rochester.

---

No corresponding move was announced Sunday, but the expectation is that Justin Haley -- remember him? -- will come off the disabled list. The Rule 5 pick was last seen almost two months ago, and his 30-day rehab assignment is to expire Tuesday.

He's tabbed for long relief, but he is stretched out -- he's been starting for Rochester --  and if there's no trade for a starter and if Bartolo Colon washes out, he might get a chance to start. Those are two "ifs," and I doubt the Twins are eager to go that route.

---

Speaking of 30-day rehab assignments, the clock started ticking during the weekend on Glen Perkins, who appeared in a Gulf Coast League game. He faced three hitters, striking out two and getting a comebacker to the mound.

The GCL being what it is -- the lowest rung on the organizational ladder -- the results are almost meaningless. More important:

  • He was reportedly without pain,
  • His velocity topped out at 90.

The first is good, the second less so. I doubt he can pitch effectively in the majors with a 90 mph fastball; changing speeds has never been his forte, and the lack of a usable changeup is part of what drove him to the bullpen.

The timeline is intriguing. If all goes well (that word if again) the Twins would have to bring him off the disabled list in late August, before the expansion of the active roster. Even if Perkins' return is somehow delayed until September, it will require opening a spot on the 40-man roster. There's a lot of time between now and then, to be sure.

---

No rehab assignment for Bryon Buxton, in part, it seems, because the Twins will be in Los Angeles today through Wednesday and the travel was deemed excessive. Buxton is eligible to come off the DL Tuesday.

Buxton, incidentally, ranks third on the team in WAR as calculated by Baseball Reference, behind Ervin Santana and Miguel Sano but ahead of Max Kepler and Brandon Kintzler.

---

The Twins traded pitcher Nick Tepesch to Toronto on Sunday for "cash considerations." This ranks as an exceedingly minor transaction; he's been on a minor league DL for a while and didn't appear to be in the Twins plans for the rest of the seasons. The "cash considerations" may wind up being dinner at the Winter Meetings.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Pic of the Week

Tom Kelly with his Target Field statute on Friday.
The Twins installed yet another larger-than-life bronze statue at Target Field on Friday, this time honoring Tom Kelly, manager of the 1987 and 1991 World Series champs.

Kelly remains a "special assistant" in the new regime, but he's clearly pared back his activities after his stroke of a couple winters ago, and I doubt that he's as influential with "Falvine" as he was with Terry Ryan.

His influence remains in the organization, however. Paul Molitor, the current occupant of Kelly's former job, played and coached for Kelly. The two best managerial prospects in the Twins organization, Jake Mauer and Doug Mientkiewicz, are also offshoots of Kelly's managerial branch.

The game has changed since Kelly's heyday. It always evolves. The constant challenge for managers is to identify those changes, adjust to them and find how the eternal verities of the sport fit in those changes.

This task, if I may get philosophical, applies to other aspects of life than baseball. Those of us who resist that evolution become grumpy old men. I can identify with that. I suspect that is part of why Kelly retired at an age at which Molitor hadn't started managing.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Or not adding Jamie Garcia

Reports of the Twins trading for Jamie Garcia proved to be greatly exaggerated. The Mexican lefty started Friday night in Los Angeles, allowing three runs in seven innings to the mighty Dodgers and even hitting a grand slam -- for the Braves.

The supposedly imminent deal was on the rocks by Friday morning, with the Braves said to be shopping the 31-year-old around to other clubs. I'm in no position to evaluate what went wrong, but with so many reporters -- national and local -- all reporting the same thing Thursday night, I have to assume there was fire behind that smoke.

And this presumably near-deal suggests that the Twins are indeed in the market for a rental starter, despite Thad Levine's earlier statements that the front office is focused on players who would help in 2018 and beyond. (Garcia is a free agent after this season).

A rental makes sense (properly priced, of course). The Twins need to deepen their rotation; right now the fourth and fifth starters are Kyle Gibson (6.29 ERA coming into tonight's start) and Bartolo Colon (8.18 ERA between Atlanta and Minnesota). News flash: Those ERAs are not good.

Assume for the moment that the Twins pick up a rental starter akin to Garcia. Even with Rental X joining Hector Santiago in free agency after the seasons, and even assuming that the Twins nontender Gibson, the Twins would still enter the offseason with:


  • Three effective 2017 starters (Ervin Santana, Jose Berrios, Adalberto Mejia)
  • Two rehab projects (Phil Hughes, Trevor May)
  • Five good to reasonable prospects currently in Double A or Triple A rotations and thus presumably nearly ready (Fernando Romero, Stephen Gonsalves, Felix Jorge, Kyle Stewart, Aaron Slegers).
They'd probably like to add a veteran arm on a one-year deal to open the season. That would allow them some flexibility with the rehab projects and not be forced to rush a prospect. But that list has 10 2018 starters. They can afford to target a 2017-only addition, especially if that rental doesn't cost them Romero or Gonsalves.



Friday, July 21, 2017

Adding Jamie Garcia

News broke Thursday night that the Twins were about to complete a trade with Atlanta that would bring veteran left-handed starter Jamie Garcia to Minnesota for a prospect.

The deal was not complete when I went to bed, and there was no indication of who the prospect would be. And without knowing who the Twins are giving up, there's no way for me to say yeah or nay.

I will say this: Garcia is a step up for the backend of the rotation. The Twins have started 11 different pitchers so far, and three -- Ervin Santana, Jose Berrios and Adalberto Mejia -- have been good to decent. The rest ... ugh. The best ERA of the other eight belongs to Nick Tepesch, 5.40.

No, Garcia isn't a star and isn't going to be a star. That's neither the point nor the goal. Competence is the goal.

He's 31 and in the last year of his contract, which contradicts Thad Levine's statement a week or so ago that the Twins weren't interested in rentals. I always took that as a preference, not a commitment; there is a price point at which you take a rental even if it doesn't fit your long-term blueprint.

We'll see, soon enough, not only who the Twins traded away but who gets bounced from the rotation. Kyle Gibson or Bartolo Colon?  Perhaps there was indeed some credence to the ESPN report that Colon was considering hanging it up after his start Tuesday deteriorated.


Thursday, July 20, 2017

File this suit

I think I'm afeared the suit will jump me.
(Photo by Linda Vanderwerf)
My wife and I rolled up to Target Field for the Wednesday matinee against the Yankees. I expected to comment today about the game.

And there were plenty of things to comment about, and you can find comments elsewhere on the interwebs about Miguel Sano's homer and Jose Berrios' pitching and Zack Granite's first major league RBIs.

On the basis that it's better to give you something unique, some commentary you can't get anywhere else, an EXCLUSIVE, I instead offer for your contemplation this suit, available at the Majestic Clubhouse Store at Target Field for a mere $599. (ADDENDUM: I am told that the price tag I looked at was just for the suit coat.)

It caught my eye almost as soon as I entered, but my wife missed it until I pointed it out to her. She insisted that she had to get some photos of me with it. Then she told me after we got home to put one of those photos on social media. And the tweet and Facebook posts that resulted got, by my low standards, quite the response, including a threat by co-workers past and present to take up a collection to buy it for me.

I'm not worried; they work for the same employer I do, so they won't be able to come up with the scratch.

(Wandering off on a tangent: My Twitter account, @bboutsider, is mostly baseball; my Facebook account is mostly personal, and I typically decline friend requests that aren't people I have real-life interactions or pasts with. I've had a number of FB requests from people I don't know who I assume are interested because of the blog, and I nix them routinely. I'm just not social enough for social media. Let me assure those of you who fear you're missing out: anything baseball I put on Facebook will be on this blog and/or Twitter first and/or better.)

This suit is, obviously, quite the monstrosity, and I would be inclined to give a wide berth to anybody who actually wore the thing. You've heard of "dress for success"; this is more like "dress to distress." But as my nephew replied on Facebook, anybody who can afford to buy this suit can afford not to care what anybody else thinks.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Gee, Colon? Part 3 (and Hughes and Breslow)

Well, at least he threw strikes.

For four innings, the Bartolo Colon Experiment worked, He carved up the Yankee lineup with mediocre velocity coupled with location and movement, and with some good fielding plays behind him.

Then came the fifth, in which he got no outs, and in which Ryan Pressly did what Ryan Pressly has done pretty consistently all season: give up a homer. The 3-1 lead turned to a 6-3 deficit, and both bullpens put up zeros after that.

Yeah, the Twins had plenty of opportunities to score more runs, but you shouldn't hang your hat on allowing six runs.

Four earned runs in four innings won't do much for Big Sexy's already bloated ERA, but he'll get another start after throwing 53 strikes in 82 pitches. That will come against the Dodgers, who are doing unto the National League what the Astros are doing unto the American. He's not drawing cupcake assignments.

---

Despite the report Monday that Dillon Gee has been waived, he remains on the 40-man roster as of early this morning. The 40-man (and 25-man) roster spot for Colon came from putting Phil Hughes on the 60-day disabled list. He's done for the season with a recurrence of his thoracic outlet syndrome with another round of surgery in his near future. This is a discouraging development for Hughes personally, but doesn't really damage the team's outlook for the rest of the season, as he hasn't been very effective as a reliever.

Kennys Vargas was indeed optioned out, and Craig Breslow was returned to the 25-man roster from the disabled list. He got one out on Tuesday. Replacing Hughes in the 'pen with Breslow doesn't do much for me.

The roster maneuvers left the Twins roster in this condition: The game ended with Chris Gimenez on-deck waiting to pinch-hit for Eddie Rosario against Aroldis Chapman. I'm not really sure what the point of that move would have been ... yeah, Gimenez would have the platoon advantage, but I would too. I'd rather have Rosario against Chapman.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Gee, Colon? Part Two (plus Vargas)

Monday morning's post questioned the logic of giving tonight's start to Bartolo Colon over Dillon Gee.

The Twins doubled down on that decision, right or wrong, after Monday's game:




Cutting Gee fits the timing of his opt-out. The Twins clearly decided he wasn't a solution. Presumably the opt-out forced this resolution to his status.

That gets Colon on the 40-man roster. To get him on the 25-man active roster required another move:




This is the second time in two weeks they've optioned Vargas out. The first try ended early when Joe Mauer went on the DL. But Mauer returned Friday, and on Sunday Vargas's defensive frailities -- or at least one of them -- showed when the Astros twice ran on him.

Normally the quality of a first baseman's arm is immaterial. Steve Garvey, to name one prominent example, couldn't throw and wouldn't throw if he could possibly avoid it, but he was an outstanding defensive first baseman. I don't know that I've ever seen a first baseman's arm disregarded so throughly as was Vargas' on Sunday.

The interesting thing is that Vargas shows up pretty well in the publicly available defensive metrics. Both versions of runs saved shown on Baseball Reference have him, on a per-inning basis, as outperforming Joe Mauer.

Small sample size, to be sure. Vargas is NOT better with the glove than Mauer. And that Paul Molitor chose to pinch-hit Eduardo Escobar for him Monday night should say something about how his bat is playing.


Monday, July 17, 2017

Gee, Colon? A tale of two Mets refugees

The Twins signed Dillon Gee to a minor league deal with an opt-out on June 22. They brought him to the majors two days later and had him sit in the bullpen waiting for a long relief outing that never came, then optioned him to Rochester. The major league stint did not wipe out the opt-out.

Gee, who has made 125 major league starts, most of them with the Mets, has made three starts for Rochester, 15 innings in which he has not allowed a run. While an ERA of 0.00 is obviously impressive, his K/9 -- 4.8 -- is not. His opt-out window has arrived, but there is no indication that he has exercised it. He started Saturday for Rochester; his turn would come up Thursday.

While Gee has been in Rochester, the Twins signed the well-traveled Bartolo Colon to a minor-league deal. Gee's ex-Mets rotation mate made one start for Rochester in which he didn't get through the fourth inning.

Colon will nevertheless start Tuesday for the major league team. (The corresponding moves, to get Colon on the 40-man roster and onto the 25-man roster, have not been announced and probably won't be until Tuesday.)

Now ... I am obviously guilty here of scouting the stat line. I haven't seen either man pitch, and I haven't access to the spin-rate data and other metrics the front office has. There may well be reason for them to prefer Colon to Gee in their search for a fifth starter.

That reason is not apparent.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Pics of the week

Yadier Molina of the St. Louis Cardinals donned a special
gold chest protector

Josh Harrison of the Pittsburgh Pirates sported a pair
of deliberately mismatched All-Star socks.

Bruce Harper of the Washington Nationals wore spikes
that paid tribute to Jose Fernandez, the star pitcher of the
Miami Marlins who died last year in a boating accident.

A few fashion statements from the All-Star Game.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Contemplating Jorge Polanco

There isn't a lot of reason to praise Jose Berrios' pitching Friday night in Houston -- more than half his pitches missed the strike zone -- but the fact remains that five of the seven runs he allowed were unearned because of an error by Jorge Polanco.

Polanco's defense has deteriorated sharply since this post in late May, which quotes the founder of Baseball Info Systems as saying that Polanco had saved five runs with his defense to that point. Well, that same metric, available on Baseball Reference, now shows Polanco as having given back four of those five runs -- and as of this writing, that's not updated with Thursday's game.

My expectations for Polanco's defense at shortstop were not high coming into the season. I would have been pleased on Opening Day with league-average defense from him, and to this point that's close to what the Twins have received. But I also expected him to be a much more productive hitter than he's been. His OPS, .591, is even worse than that of Byron Buxton (.603), and he's 3-for-35 so far this month.

Deteriorating fielding, deteriorating hitting. That's not a good combination, especially with two other shortstops, Eduardo Escobar and Ehire Adrianza, on the roster.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Notes, quotes and comment

Bartolo Colon made what was presumably his sole minor-league tune-up start Thursday night for Rochester, the Twins' Triple A affiliate. His stat line was not particularly encouraging: 3.2 innings, 4 hits, 4 runs, 2 walks, 5 strikeouts. He threw 76 pitches.

Those determined to find a reason to believe can latch onto the strikeouts. I'm inclined to pay more attention to the walks, because Colon's success in recent years was based largely on the fact that he almost never walked anybody. His command was impeccable until this season. This year it has been emphatically peccable.

Still, the Twins roster lacks a fifth starter, and somebody's going to get called up to start Tuesday against the Yankees. Colon is lined up for that assignment. I expect him to get that start, and I expect him to get shelled.

I would also expect Felix Jorge to get shelled if he gets the start. It's not like the Twins are sitting on Clayton Kershaw. They have no good answers available.

---

The Chicago White Sox picked up another prospect haul Thursday by trading lefty-starter Jose Quintana to their North Side neighbors. The Sox got four minor leaguers, including current Baseball America coverboy Eloy Jimenez and pitcher Dylan Cease.

Quintana is a quality pitcher, and he's under team control for several more seasons; that's the kind of asset any organization would value, and I'm sure the Twins would have loved to land him. But they do not have any prospects as highly regarded as Jimenez, a power-hitting outfielder, and their best pitching prospects are roughly comparable to Cease. 

The Sox farm system is getting pretty stocked up with the returns of the Adam Eaton, Chris Sale and Quintana trades. If their player development system gets this right, they figure to be mighty tough around 2020.

---

Baseball's back today from the All-Star break, and hooray for that.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Nick Gordon vs. Royce Lewis vs. Wander Javier

Away back last Sunday, Nick Gordon, the Twins' sole representative in the Futures Game, started at shortstop and hit leadoff for Team USA. He went 1-for-3 with a run scored.

There's a debate over whether Gordon, who is having what appears to be a typical Gordon season at Chatanooga, is still the organization's top prospect. Royce Lewis, taken 1/1 by the Twins about a month ago, outranks him in the estimate of some. But Gordon is considerably closer to the majors.

I'm not ready to take a position on this, partly because it's unclear to me what position either will take in the majors when their times come. I'd vote for the one who plays shortstop in the majors, and there is no consensus that either will stick at shortstop.

Gordon is hitting .298/.366/.448 in Double A; he's hit six homers, which is more as he hit in his previous three minor league seasons combined. His slugging percentage is some 70 points higher this year. That might represent growth; it might be more about the difficulty of hitting in Hammond Stadium in particular and the Florida State League in general. It's a pitcher's league.

Lewis is hitting .340/.426/.566 for the Twins team in the Gulf Coast League. Statistics in the GCL (or even the Appy League, the next rung up the ladder) are meaningless for evaluative purposes; he could hit .140 there and it wouldn't mean anything. He's an 18-year-old getting his feet wet.

Then there's Wander Javier, also 18, a Dominican signing from two years ago who is playing short this summer for Elizabethton in the Appy League. Javier is hitting .286/.362/.429 in E-Town. The Twins gave him a bigger bonus than they gave Miguel Sano, so even though Javier hasn't played two dozen professional games yet, he's obviously somebody to keep an eye on.

And one of the things to watch is what happens when/if Lewis is assigned to the same level as Javier, which might come fairly quickly. Only one can play shortstop at a time.

Too many shortstop prospects is a better problem than no shortstop prospects.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

The Twins at the All-Star game

All three Twins at the All-Star Game played, and it was a mixed bag of results:


  • Miguel Sano blooped an RBI single to right in his only at-bat;
  • Brandon Kintzler had a Brandon Kintzler inning -- three batters, three ground balls;
  • Ervin Santana allowed the only National League run, a homer by Yadier Molina.


“I was a fan that got to pitch in the game, so I appreciate that.”
-- Brandon Kintzler
 
 Nicely said. Now two days off and back to the season.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

The Twins at the break

The Twins are 45-43, 2.5 games behind Cleveland in the American League Central. This you can tell from a glance at the standings.

But the innards of that record are ... interesting.

For example: The Twins are 10-5 in games decided by one run. They are 12-20 in games decided by five or more runs.

This is NOT typical of good teams. The better the team, the more often they win in blowouts, and as a rule they have a lesser record in one-run games. Truly good teams turn the game they imight win close into an easy win and the game they might get blown out in into a tight contest.

For example: The Los Angeles Dodgers, who have the best record in baseball, are 12-10 in one-run games, but 21-4 in blowouts.

The Twins have been outscored on the season by 60 runs. The Pythagorean Theorum says their record should be 38-50. That's not the worst pythagorean figure in the AL, but it's close, and that suggests that the real record is something of a mirage.

Drilling a bit deeper:

Hitting: The average American League team has scored 4.71 runs per game. The Twins are averaging 4.58, ninth of the 15 teams. They are next to last in slugging percentage but seventh in on-base percentage, which is helped by the second-highest walk total in the league.

Minnesota also has the youngest lineup in the league (according to Baseball Reference, which weights the ages by at-bats and games played). As a general rule, hitters walk more as they age, which makes the Twins' high walk totals a bit of an oddity.

Pitching: The Twins (no surprise) have the second worst ERA in the league (4.89). They are one spot better in runs allowed per game (5.26) because they allow relatively few unearned runs. They have surrendered 135 homers, second-most in the AL, and they remain, as they have for years, dead last in the league in strikeouts.

Defensive metrics: The Twins currently have a DER -- Defensive Efficiency Rating -- of .694, meaning that they have turned 69.4 percent of balls in play into outs. This is fourth in the AL, and closer to seventh than to third. Their status in this metric has slipped over the past month or so.

The Twins rank better in some other metrics. They're second in the league in runs saved as estimated by the Total Zone method and third in runs saved as reckoned by Baseball Info Systems' methodology.




Monday, July 10, 2017

Contemplatng Tyler Duffey

It was the kind of situation Tyler Duffey had excelled at for most of this season: The starting pitcher (in this case Kyle Gibson) was struggling in the fifth inning, but the Twins were still in the game, down two with a man on and no outs. The obvious notion was for Duffey to work the fifth and sixth innings and keep the Twins in the game. This, as I have repeatedly observed, is Duffey's role on the staff.

But Duffey did not excel Sunday. Single, groundout, single, double. goundout,. fly out. Not only did the inherited runner score, but so did two more runs charged to Duffey, and the Twins were down five.

Duffey's ERA, as low as 2.10 on May 28,  is now 4.81. Sunday's appearance was the fifth straight in which he allowed at least two baserunners.

My sense is that Paul Molitor in the past month or so has tried to expand Duffey's role, to not only include the middle-relief multiple inning assignment but to be the primary right-handed setup guy. He has worked back-to-back days four times now this season, the first on May 28, so the no-rest outings have gome in this rough stretch.

This is the problem with a thin bullpen, that the reliable guys get used so much that they break. Perhaps four days off will revive Duffey. But even if Duffey bounces back, the Twins still need a righty Molitor can use in the seventh or eighth innings so Duffey can settle back into that fifth and sixth inning role.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Pic of the Week


 Derek Dietrich of the Miami Marlins
jokes around with an oversized glove borrowed from
Marlins fan Tony Voda (right)
during the first inning of their game on July 4 in St. Louis.
Too big a mitt to be legally used, but cause for a double-take anyway.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Notes, quotes and comment

Friday was quite the busy day in Twinsdom. Let's get chronologic:

* Joe Mauer went on the disabled list with Kennys Vargas recalled. The Twins demoted Vargas on Monday to reactivate Ehire Adrianza. Mauer injured his back on Tuesday, and the Twins dawdled a couple of days before pulling the trigger, presumably (as I noted Thursday) because Vargas hasn't given them a lot of reason to get excited about playing him.

So naturally Vargas went 3-for-4 with a double and a couple RBIs.

*Brandon Kintzler was one of a handful of replacement All-Stars named Friday, and good for him. That gives the Twins three members of the AL squad: Miguel Sano, Ervin Santana and Kintzler.

Kintzler currently leads the American League in saves, which

  • is meaningless as an evaluative stat and
  • made his selection almost inevitable.

* The Twins signed Bartolo Colon to a minor league deal.

Colon became an unlikely cult hero in his three years with the Mets; he's old (44), fat (listed at 285 pounds) and amusingly inept at the plate. But the Braves released him after he put up an 8.18 ERA in 13 starts.




I'm not optimistic about Colon. But I'm not optimistic about the rotation "fixes" on hand either. Derek Falvey told the press corps during the game that Colon thinks he can correct himself and pitch beyond this season, and noted (accurately) that Colon has reinvented himself as a pitcher a few times. So we'll see; the Twins have a minimal investment in "Big Sexy," so all they have to lose are a couple of games.

* Felix Jorge started, got shelled, got demoted (that last, as least, as predicted here).

Roy Smalley drew a Johan Santana comp to Jorge early in the game on FSN, which is ridiculous. Santana is left-handed and threw harder than Jorge. A more realistic comp, at least in terms of what kind of pitcher Jorge might become, is Brad Radke -- a fastball that sits around 90, a good change-up, top-notch command of both pitches.

And, hey, if Jorge becomes Radke, that's marvelous. He's not there yet. He has no chance of becoming Santana. And the signing of Colon, plus the presence in Rochester of Dillon Gee (opt-out date July 15), plus Friday's failed outing  -- that all adds up to he's not getting another shot at the majors anytime soon. Jorge is returning to Chattanooga, and I would expect to see him back in September but not before.

* Outfielder Zack Granite was recalled. He's hitting .360 in Rochester, which is good. He's drawn about as many walks in Rochester as Eddie Rosario has in Minnesota, which is less good, and has far less power.

The gaudy batting average not withstanding, Granite is a fringe prospect, a protoypical fourth outfielder -- left-handed contact hitter, fast enough to play center, not enough pop to be a regular. And as a lefty bat, he's not a particularly good fit as a backup in an outfield with Rosario and Max Kepler among the regulars.

Granite is, at best, Ben Revere with a better arm.

My prediction: He won't be up long.

*Byron Buxton scored from first base on a single to center. Wowzers.

Anybody who thinks Granite should get Buck's playing time is deluded. Baseball Reference, at this writing, has Buxton as the third-most valuable player on the 2017 Twins with 1.8 WAR, behind Ervin Santana and Kepler and fractionally ahead of Sano.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Mauer's (not) back

I got one right, more or less: Alan Busenitz, called up to fill Hector Santiago's roster spot, was sent back to Rochester after watching two games from the bullpen to activate Felix Jorge, who will start today's game.

I expect that Jorge will be demoted again immediately after the game. The Twins figure to fill out the weekend with Aldaberto Mejia and Kyle Gibson, then have four days off, then will likely resume with Jose Berrios, Ervin Santana, Mejia and Gibson before needing the fifth starter again. That's 10 days; that's enough to reactivate Santiago if he's ready, or recall Jorge, or bring back Dillon Gee, or whatever.

It won't be Busenitz, but the Twins can get a useable player -- a bullpen arm or a position player -- into that roster spot for six games before they need a starting pitcher there. That's the kind of roster game the new regime has been rather adept at playing.

They've been a great deal less agggressive with Joe Mauer's roster status. Mauer sat out Wednesday and Thursday after injuring his back running the bases on Tuesday, and he remains on the active roster.




One issue may be: Who would they activate to take his place? They could bring back Kennys Vargas early if they DL Mauer, but they sent Vargas out because he's not hitting. Byung Ho Park has finally gotten his bat going at Rochester, but he's not on the 40-man roster. They could bring up an outfielder (hello, Zack Granite) and move Max Kepler to first base, but I doubt they're eager to take Kepler out of right field.


Thursday, July 6, 2017

Dancing the pitching staff

Hector Santiago was insistent that his lack of velocity Sunday was deliberate. On Tuesday he threw his regular bullpen session and, asked by a reporter if that meant he was making his scheduled start Friday, replied: "Presumably." On Wednesday he went on the disabled list again.

We can connect the dots as we wish, but bottom line is: Santiago is not making that Friday start.

Alan Busenitz, sent out on Friday, was recalled to take Santiago's roster spot. He could be called back up so quickly (normally an optioned player has to be down 10 days) because he's taking the place of a player going on the disabled list. But he's a relief pitcher, so that doesn't fill the vacant rotation spot.

That will reportedly be Felix Jorge, who started the second game of Saturday's doubleheader and gave the Twins their best start of the Kansas City series. He isn't covered by the 10-day rule because he was the 26th man for the doubleheader.

But somebody will have to come off the roster after today's game to make room for Jorge. Busenitz seems a possibility; so too Ryan Pressly, who was recalled to take Busenitz's spot after Busenitz had a long bullpen outing on Friday. Pressly has made one (unsuccessful) appearance in this callup.

The most likely outcome is that the Twins will have milked two days of an extra bullpen arm out of all this. And on day one of that extra arm. Ervin Santana threw a complete game, which sorta makes all the maneuvering irrelevant.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Contemplating Adalberto Mejia

Adalberto Mejia has been credited with the win in each of his last three starts, posting a 1.53 ERA in those outings and lowering his ERA for the season by more than a run in the process.

That would seem to suggest that the hefty lefty, a rookie who turned 24 a little more than two weeks ago, is emerging as a third effective starter in the Minnesota rotation.

On the other hand, he also averaged less than six innings a start and posted a mediocre 7/12 walk/strikeout ratio in that stretch. In 17.2 innings, he allowed 24 baserunners (16 hits, seven walks and one hit batter).

Mejia's gotten better results in the past couple weeks than even Ervin Santana and Jose Berrios, the big two of the Twins rotation. Still, even as one who prefered Mejia for the rotation over the spring training competion for the one open spot, I can't say I see this success as sustainable given the underlying numbers.

He's not truly pitching well enough for a 1.53 ERA. And for the season, he's not truly pitching well enough for a 4.32 ERA, which is his mark after 12 starts. He's not the biggest problem in the rotation, but he's not yet fully convinced me, as Berrios has, that he's part of the solution.

More innings and fewer baserunners, please.


Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Notes, quotes and comment

Sir Rodney, back in Minnesota with his new heart
Another milestone in the recovery of Rod Carew, who survived a "widowmaker" heart attack 15 months again and a heart/kidney transplant six months ago: Cleared to fly, he got to Minnesota to throw out a first pitch Monday in a game that pitted the two teams that have retired his number, the Twins and the Angels.

So presumably he'll make it to Cooperstown for the Hall of Fame induction weekend later this month, and presumably the beloved bat magician will have a few more trips to Minnesota in the future.

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The Twins optioned out Kennys Vargas after the game and reactivated infielder Ehire Adrianza. They didn't want to send out a pitcher, considering all the short starts of late (Adalberto Mejia's seven-inning start Monday not withstanding), and Brian Dozier's back is apparently acting up, so another infielder might be needed.

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Baseball America's current issue names its high school player of the year (No. 3 overall pick Mackenzie Gore) and its All-American high school team. A notable omission in my eyes: Royce Lewis, the California prep infielder the Twins took first overall. He's not only absent from the first team, but the second and third as well, meaning BA found at least six high school middle infielders it deemed to have had better seasons.

This hardly means the Twins laid an egg last month by tabbing Lewis 1/1. (For what it's worth, the kid is putting on a laser show with the bat in a few dozen Gulf Coast League at-bats.) I just expected to see the first overall pick to be on the team.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Rotation roundabout

A road trip that began with such promise -- a sweep in Cleveland and a return to first place -- collapsed in Boston and Kansas City. The Twins end the first half 41-40 and three games out, and it feels worse.

I've been obsessing here with the bullpen depth, but the biggest immediate problem right now might be the starting pitching:




On Sunday Hector Santiago was pulled after 58 pitches, just 10 outs and almost no velocity; he grumbled postgame about the quick hook, but it's difficult to criticize Paul Molitor for pulling him. Phil Hughes then entered (his second bullpen outing), and he got five outs while allowing six hits, which is a horrid batting average allowed.

Santiago's ERA is 5.63, and that may overstate his effectiveness. Hughes' ERA is even worse (5.72) and the hope that he can at least give the bullpen a boost has yet to be supported. We have not seen from him the usual velocity surge that accompanies moves to the bullpen.

Felix Jorge allowed three runs in five innings in his spot start in Saturday's doubleheader, and that mediocre line is being lauded. I'll be the Debby Downer on this: He's not an answer to the rotation woes. But then, I don't know who is.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Pic of the Week

Houston pitcher Lance McCullers tags out
the Yankees' Austin Romine as he tries to
score on a pitch that got past the catcher.

That is one ugly slide.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Notes, quotes and comment

Another big inning fueled by a poor defensive play involving a comebacker to the mound. On Thursday in Boston it was a mental mistake by Kyle Gibson; on Friday it was a poor throw by Ervin Santana.

I say it a lot, but it's true: This pitching staff isn't good enough to bail out the fielders. That's true even when the fielding miscues come from the pitchers themselves.

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Roster stuff: Alan Busenitz got eight outs on 35 pitches Friday night to mop up behind Santana. He also committed an error of his own that led to an unearned run, but he knocked his ERA down to 2.08. (The underlying numbers are considerably less impressive.)

His reward was to be optioned back out to Rochester, with Ryan Pressly and his 8.18 major league ERA recalled. Pressly has a 0.90 ERA in Rochester with 15 strikeouts in 10 innings (and five walks), so it's not like it's an unwarranted return.

The Twins have been doing this for much of the year. They have a handful of relievers who are staying -- the big three of Brandon Kintzler, Taylor Rogers and Tyler Duffey, the optionless veterans Matt Belisle and Craig Breslow -- and everybody else is subject to the Rochester shuttle. Busenitz isn't going to be available for a few days, the Twins have a double header today in Kansas City, the Twins have a fresh arm.

Pressly and Busenitz are essentially the same type of pitcher: Good velocity, less good command. On Friday, Busenitz had the bullpen's highest velocity; today that designation belongs to Pressly.

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Both Alex Wimmers and Mason Melotakis cleared waivers and remain in the Minnesota organization. The move a week ago to clear Melotakis off the 40-man roster raised some eyebrows in the Twins internets, but we now know that nobody else thought the lefty was worth a 40-man roster spot.

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One Twins prospect was selected for the Futures Game this year. middle infielder Nick Gordon. whose offensive game has stepped up in all areas this season. (Moving up from Hammond Stadium probably helped.)

Notably absent is outfielder Zach Granite, who is hitting about .370 in Triple A, albeit with few walks and minimal power.

The Futures Game is intended to showcase top talent regardless of level. Granite is obviously having a fine season despite the shortcomings in his game, but he doesn't truly fit the idea of the Futures Game.