Friday, April 19, 2019

Ryne Harper and roster churn

Michael Pineda had a short start on Thursday, and Ryne Harper picked up the slack with 3.1 scoreless innings.

Which may be too much of a good thing for Harper personally. He emerged from that outing with the same 0.00 ERA with which he entered (8.1 innings), but it figures to be a few days before he pitches again. If he has options left, and I'm guessing he does, the Twins may ship him to Rochester to bring up a fresh arm.

This sort of roster shuffling has become routine, and it's part of why teams routinely go through dozens of players over the course of a season. The Twins last year used 54 players. The 1970 Twins -- a cherry-picked example, I freely admit -- used just 35. There is simply much more roster churn than there once was.

Is it an effective approach? Well, if the Twins demote Harper for a fresh arm, he's gone a minimum of 10 days. They lose, in effect, a week of Harper for the benefit of somebody being available to pitch the next three days. And in most cases, that's a somebody who's really only on the roster to work low-leverage innings -- there to pitch innings the manager doesn't want to put on the likes of Trevor May or Taylor Rogers.

The Twins presumably think Harper is better than Ryan Eades or Zack Littell. I'd rather see him stay than be shuttled.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Contemplating Tyler Duffey

Tyler Duffey is back in the majors, having taken the berth previously occupied by Andrew Vasquez. He threw two scoreless innings on Tuesday after the Twins fell behind; it wasn't exactly a mop-up assignment, but it wasn't high leverage either.

The intriguing aspect to Duffey's return is his declared de-emphasis of his sinker (two-seam fastball). His focus is going to be pairing curves with four-seam fastballs up.

Duffey made a splash in the final two months of the 2015 season as a starter. He used two different curves -- one sharp and faster, one bigger and slower -- and two different fastballs -- two- and four-seamers -- and went 5-1 with a 3.10 ERA down the stretch.

What we don't see in that mix is a straight changeup. Neil Allen, then the Twins pitching coach, was really big on changeups. Duffey spent spring training the next year working on a changeup. He spent 2016 in the rotation -- 26 starts, second most on the team -- but put up a 6.43 ERA in 133 innings.

So 2017 found him in the bullpen, where he spent most of his collegiate career before the Twins drafted and signed him out of Rice. He was good for about a month and a half working multiple innings with two or three days off between outings, but things got rough when the thinness of the bullpen prompted manager Paul Molitor to start using him on consecutive days. And he's had just 27 major league innings the past two seasons combined.

My sense on Duffey's repertoire is complicated:

  • Two different curves and two different fastballs should be sufficent variation.
  • There hasn't been a notable velocity difference between Duffey's two- and four-seam fastballs.
  • There also doesn't seem to be much movement on his two-seamer.
  • If a pitcher has two pitches of similar velocity and movement, he doesn't have two useable pitches. Duffey may grip them differently, but the hitters don't care.

This is a oversimplification, but as a general rule, pitchers who throw four-seamers are going for strikeouts; pitchers who throw two-seamers are looking for weak contact. Duffey's four-seamer isn't all that fast, but if he can command it in the upper part of the strike zone, it's doing something different than his curves, which are supposed to bend and drop.

Command is the key. Keep that four-seamer up, change the hitter's eye level, and use that curveball. He needs a good run here before some of the injured relievers start coming back -- especially since Ryne Harper gives the Twins another right-hander who specializes in curves.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

The search for five

The number from Monday's Blue Jays-Twins tilt that matters was five, and not just because the Jays scored five runs to win it. It's because the game from the Twins viewpoint was about the No. 5 starter and a fifth bullpen arm.

The starter

Martin Perez's line in his first start of 2019 was good. One run in six innings? Yeah, we'll take that. Two walks and five strikeouts is certainly acceptable. The velocity was good, and he even hit 97 in his final innings. He threw 86 pitches, less than one might wish for from a starter, but he's been trapped by the sporadic schedule for the first three weeks of the season in the bullpen with limited pitches.

On the bad side, there were a lot of hard-hit balls, not only among the seven hits but several of the outs. And the Jays helped him with a pair of base-running gaffes.

The reliever

Left-hander Aldaberto Mejia was handed a genuine test: A 3-1 eighth-inning lead to protect against a lineup heavy with right-handed hitters. He failed.

The thing is, he was ahead of all the hitters leading up to the Teoscar Hernandez three-run homer that put Toronto up for good. He couldn't put any of them away.

Mejia's background is as a starter, and as such he should have weapons to use against right-handers. He didn't get them out on Monday, at least not before giving up the lead. It was not an outing that encourages manager Rocco Baldelli to increase his role.

The Twins bullpen has four guys Baldelli trusts (Trevor Hildenberger, Trevor May, Blake Parker, Taylor Rogers) and three he's tried to avoid using in winnable games (Ryne Harper, Andrew Vasquez and Mejia).

Four trustworthy relievers are not enough if the starters are going to go six innings max. And I've never believed that the Twins were going to avoid going to an eight-man bullpen for long.

Baldelli used his big four pretty heavily against the Tigers Saturday and Sunday. He was clearly trying Monday to stay away from them in the seventh and eighth innings. What he would have done with the ninth and a lead, I don't know.

Harper made his first appearance in almost a week Monday, and he sliced through the 8-9-1 hitters in the Toronto order with two strikeouts in the seventh. He certainly brings a different approach than the rest of the righties in the Minnesota bullpen, and he's easy to root for. But no manager is going to be eager to lean on a 30-year-old rookie without velocity. If Harper is going to get a role, he'll have to earn it with more outings like Monday's.

Of note: Gabriel Moya and Matt Magill, two mainstays of the 2018 bullpen, are starting rehab assignments. Moya's probably the crucial one, as the Twins could really use a second reliable lefty in relief and neither Mejia nor Vasquez have been that so far.

My guess is that Vasquez and a position player are gone when Moya and Magill are ready to be activated.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Trevor Hildenberger, fireman

The bullpen gave the Twins a bumpy ride this weekend, but the late leads were held and the Twins got their chilly two-game sweep of the Detroit Tigers.

Blake Parker, who appears to be Rocco Baldelli's preferred ninth-inning arm, had consecutive appearances in which he lacked command of his preferred out pitch. He got through the first one on Saturday, but was pulled with one out and the bases loaded Sunday. Trevor Hildenberger threw seven pitches for two strikeouts and had a nice line postgame to discribe it:

Back in the day, before the term "closer" was invented, relief aces were known as "firemen." "Small kitchen fire. Baking soda," is evocative of that old bit of baseball lingo.

Hildenberger has now inherited 14 runners this young seasons. Only three have scored, all in that ugly meltdown inning against the Mets when Jake Odorizzi, Andrew Vasquez and Hildenberger couldn't throw strikes. 

For what it's worth, the Twins have five saves -- three for Parker, one for Taylor Rogers and now one for Hildenberger. Of Baldelli's four late-inning options (those three plus Trevor May), Parker is the one in whom I have the least faith. It may be that Parker just needs some warmer weather to rediscover his splitter. At any rate, the guys who got the Twins out of jams late were Rogers and Hildenberger. The roleless bullpen rolls on.

Friday, April 12, 2019

The "Crush" Crash

The Twins didn't play Thursday; it was yet another scheduled off day. They won't play today either, for reasons obvious to everybody living south of, let's say, Brainerd.

So let's talk something else. Let's talk about the astounding combination of incompetence and bad luck that is Chris Davis, the Baltimore Orioles first baseman who went 0-3 on Thursday. He has now gone hitless in 53 straight at-bats and counting dating back to last year.

This is the longest hitless streak for a position player in major league history. (Bob Buhl, a pitcher of the 1950s and '60s, went 0-for-88 to establish the overall record. He hit .089 for his career.)

Davis, unlike Buhl, is a hitter of some accomplishment. He hit 53 homers in 2013; he led the league in homers again in 2015 with 47, and has two other seasons with more than 30 dingers. He also has two seasons of 200-plus strikeouts and three more in the 190s and has never been known as a hitter for average. He's an all-or-nothing batter.

But "Crush" Davis -- a play on the Crash Davis character in the Bull Durham movie -- got the "all" result on his swings often enough that after that 2015 season the Orioles signed him to a seven-year contract at $23 million a season.

It would be an overstatement to blame the last two offseasons' free-agent freeze on Davis' implosion, but it would be silly to ignore it as a factor, Davis turned 30 before the 2016 season opened; in his 30s he is now .198/.295/.388.  His story is not the reason to avoid signing aging sluggers, but it has become a prominent cautionary tale.

Davis hit .165 last season, and is obviously .000 this year. He's hit a few balls hard this year, but not enough to say he's just hitting in hard luck. The .165 may be a pretty accurate measure at this point.

Cue Dire Straits and Mark Knopfler singing "Money for Nothing." If Davis were hitting .165, he would just draw scorn; .000 makes him something of sympathetic figure. And I do feel for the man. Failure on this level in the public space he occupies is not fun. He's not trying to be this bad, certainly, but he also seems unable to change that which once worked and no longer does.

The men who signed him to that contract are gone; the new Baltimore regime is without the emotional investment that Dan Duquette and Buck Showalter had in him. Much as ownership would like to get something out of the (almost) four remaining seasons on Davis' contract, there will come a time when playing him gets in the way of somebody they need to develop. I don't think that's the case yet.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Babe Ruth's dead. Throw strikes.

Big picture: The Twins just finished a seven-game road trip that included five games without the DH (and without Nelson Cruz in the lineup) and emerged with a winning record. That's acceptable.

Big picture: They had a two-game series in New York facing Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard and emerged with a split. That's acceptable.

Small picture: Wednesday's loss feels inexcusable because the pitchers -- specifically starter Jake Odorizzi, rookie Andrew Vasquez and Trevor Hildenberger -- took the Twins out of it through their inability to throw strikes.

The bulk of the Twitter scorn seemed aimed at Vasquez, who was called up earlier Wednesday to replace Chase De Jong. (Once again proving that I don't understand the current front office, the Twins shipped De Jong back to Triple A after his Tuesday appearance.) Vasquez wasn't good, certainly (13 pitches for the lefty, just two strikes).

But the real villain was Odorizzi, who started the walk parade and concluded his outing by walking Syndergaard, the opposing pitcher.

Back in my youth, I read something that categorized a bases-loaded walk as a mental mistake on the basis that a major league pitcher should always be able to throw a strike. I've come to realize that that is not necessarily the case -- Jim Palmer has spent about three decades bragging that he never allowed a grand slam but conceding that he did issue some bases-loaded walks -- but walking the opposing pitcher, at least if it's not Shohei Ohtani, probably is a mental error.

My hope for Odorizzi -- who is a significant part of the Twins plans for the season -- and Vasquez -- who isn't -- is that this fiasco doesn't get into their heads. My fear, particularly with Odorizzi, is that it already has. He walked three of the seven men he faced in his previous start, he walked three in a row to finish this one, he tried mightily to throw a wild pitch and was saved on that by some sloppy baserunning by the Mets.

A case of Steve Blass Disease would be a big problem in the big picture.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

deGrom, De Jong and de manager

The prospect of facing Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard in a two-game series in Queens was rather daunting; I would have been quite satisfied with a split. Now that the Twins have not only won the first game but battered the defending NL Cy Young winner -- well, rationally the split is still sufficient, but a sweep sounds a lot better.

If you were paying attention Tuesday night, you know how rare that game was. DeGrom had had 26 consecutive quality starts, tied with the 1968 version of Bob Gibson for most ever. His ERA last year was 1.70. And the Twins scored six earned runs in four innings off him. From the New York Post's Joel Sherman:

That was as many as he had permitted last July. Don’t look for the date — the whole month of July. That was as many as he allowed last August. That was one fewer than he let in last September. And it was six more than he had yielded in two starts to open 2019 ...
The Twins didn't pick on a punching bag Tuesday night. At least not until they got into the Mets bullpen.


Chase De Jong, handed the ninth inning mop-up duties, was awful. He walked three, gave up four earned runs and basically looked like he had no business back in the major leagues.

To be fair, he hadn't pitched in a while; he was supposed to have started the opener for the Rochester Red Wings, but they got weathered out, and then he was called up to provide length in the Minnesota bullpen after Jake Odorizzi stunk things up last Friday.

I said on Twitter that De Jong was pitching his way off the roster. But ... the Twins bullpen is still in pretty good shape. De Jong shouldn't be available after throwing more than 45 pitches in that ugly inning, but the rest of the bullpenners worked short stints. Taylor Rogers didn't pitch at all, and Trevor Hildenberger and Blake Parker faced just one man each.

And Rocco Baldelli apparently intends to get Martin Perez some innings in this series. My guess is that even if Odorizzi throws six scoreless innings today, Perez gets the ball for the seventh. After all, there's yet another offday on Thursday, and who knows what the weather holds for the homestand to follow.

So De Jong, who is out of options, might stick around after all. His lousy outing -- and it was lousy -- didn't stress the rest of the bullpen.


Baldelli could have gone for the length from Perez after Hildenberger got the Twins out of the fifth inning. In fact, that's what I expected. Instead, he pieced the rest of the game together with a pitcher use reminiscent of Ron Gardenhire's -- one inning from Trevor May, split an inning between Aldaberto Mejia and Parker, an inning from Ryne Harper, an inning from De Jong. Nobody but DeJong was used hard, and all should be available today.

But I suspect that Baldelli would prefer not to use any relievers today other than Perez and Rogers. He's not often used anybody on consecutive days so far, although there have been so many off days that we probably shouldn't draw any conclusions about his bullpen use patterns.

Assuming that he does go for length from Perez today, he will have handled the 'pen in this series as if we were still in spring training -- give everybody a little work to stay sharp, give Perez some length to stay stretched out for his eventual entry into the starting rotation. Doing those things and winning the games is ideal.


Multi-position man Marwin Gonzalez played a lot of first base with the Astros -- more than twice as many games, starts and innings at first than at third in his seven seasons with Houston.

Multi-position man Willians Astudillo entered Tuesday having played more third base in the majors than anywhere other than catcher and with just two innings at first in his brief big-league tenure.

But Baldelli on Tuesday started Gonzalez at third and Astudillo at first, La Tortuga's first big league start at that position. (Baldelli later took Gonzalez out in a double-switch, but Astudillo played the full game at first base.)

My interpretation of that: As long as Miguel Sano remains off the active roster, Gonzalez is primarily a third baseman. He has played four innings at first. He hasn't seen the outfield yet, and he hasn't been in the middle infield either.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Goodbye, Tyler Austin

On Monday morning, the Twins announced that they had traded Tyler Austin to the San Francisco Giants for a minor league outfielder, of whom more later. On Monday evening, Austin was in the Giants lineup as the first baseman, with Brandon Belt in left. He singled in a run, scored himself, and was pulled for defensive purposes, with Belt moving back to first and Geraldo Parra taking over left.

It's not easy for me to see the fit for Austin with the Giants. Their active roster shows just three outfielders -- Parra, Kevin Pillar and Steven Duggar. None of them figure to hit well enough to justify a prominent lineup role. It may be noteworthy that the Giants described Austin as a "first baseman-outfielder." He saw no outfield time with the Twins, either last season or this spring, but it's certainly plausible that the Giants may try to fit both him and Belt in the lineup by playing one on left on a regular basis.

But there's a further complication to that, and his name is Buster Posey. The Giants supposedly wish to pare back the future Hall of Famer's time behind the dish, as there are signs that his body is breaking down. He's 32 and confronting the same conundrum as Joe Mauer did -- catching destroys careers. I don't think the Giants can have Posey, Belt and Austin in the lineup together without Posey catching.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the Giants specifically wanted Austin because he hits lefties well, and I can see that purpose. They're in a division with a few teams that lean heavily on lefty starters, although the Dodgers' list of southpaws has been pretty sharply diminished by injury.

As for the Twins' return: Malique Ziegler is a 22-year-old Iowan who has spent four seasons in the Giants system without notable production and hasn't risen out of A ball. He now joins a farm system with a bunch of well-regarded outfield prospects. While he can't be counted out until he's released or retired, there doesn't appear to be much of a path to the majors for him in Minnesota.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Thoughts from the weekend

The Twins hit a few homers in Philly over the weekend. Eddie Rosario's three-run ninth inning homer off the foul pole on Saturday opened up the game and might be the most memorable.

But it was Sunday's leadoff homer from Max Kepler that stands out to me. A solo shot, of course -- all leadoff homers are -- but it was also the the only run the Twins got all game. And that's why it stands out. My previous post said that my concern that the lineup was geared around the solo homer hadn't be borne out. On Sunday it was.


Friday's sloppy play resulted in something rare. On Saturday the Twins skipped batting practice and took infield instead.

I've noted in the past that daily infield practice has faded away. It was once a pre-game staple between batting practice and the drawing of the foul lines/batters boxes. Supposedly the Atlanta Braves in the mid 90's did away with it as a means of conserving energy in the summer heat there, and the other teams soon followed suit -- and eventually the commissioner's office put the traditional time for infield off limits. It was too lucrative as a time for promotional activities.

So if a manager, such as Rocco Baldelli, decides that the response to sloppy play is a review of the fundamentals, it has to come either before BP or in its place.


The Twins brought up a 12th pitcher Saturday after Jake Odorizzi couldn't get through the first inning on Friday. Tyler Austin was designated for assignment in order to bring up Chase De Jong.

De Jong himself was DFA'd in January. He cleared waivers and outrighted to Triple A. I wouldn't bet on this stay lasting very long.

As for Austin, I doubt there's much of a market for him. He hits for power and he plays a bit of first base, and that's not enough to hold a bench job. I don't know that he's a worse player than C.J. Cron, but his fate with the Twins was sealed when the Twins claimed Cron on waivers last November. He may or may not get claimed. I'm not sure if he's been outrighted before; if not, the Twins might still be able to retain him at Triple A.

Friday, April 5, 2019

Small sample size theater

The Twins have won four of five in the young season. They have done so by hitting one (1) homer.

There are extenuating circumstances to that power drought. The Cleveland starters -- you may have heard this already -- are pretty darn good. Kansas City's starters aren't, but Kaufmann Stadium might be the least homer friendly in the majors. And -- again, you may have heard this already -- the weather has been rather chilly the past week.

So the conditions have not been favorable for home runs. But just one in five games? I would not have believed that this lineup could produce enough runs to win four of five with that few homers.

But ... Minnesota is second in the American League in doubles (17, one behind Seattle in three fewer games), and stood third in slugging percentage according to Baseball Reference in the predawn hours (not sure when the stats are updated from last night).

One week of sporadic play does not suffice to prove or disprove a theory, of course. But so far my fear that the Twins would be overly reliant on solo homers has been mistaken.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

La Tortuga

Willians Astudillo's swing in the second inning wasn't
a thing of beauty, but it resulted in an RBI single.

I've pulled back this year on my use of Associated Press photos for a variety of reasons, but this one tickled my fancy too much for me to resist.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Notes, quotes and comment

The good news from Tuesday's Twins game: The Twins won in 10 innings.

The bad news: Byron Buxton -- hitting .308 -- bruised his back running into the centerfield wall on Aldaberto Mondesi's game-tying inside-the-park homer. He certainly won't be in the lineup this afternoon, and I won't be surprised if he misses at least part of the weekend series in Philadelphia.

Buck's gotta stop running into walls.


Michael Reed, who spent most of spring training in Twins camp, was traded to the Giants on March 23 and opened the season not only on the Giants roster but in their starting lineup.

Unfortunately for Reed, he opened the season 0-for-8. The Giants traded Tuesday for centerfielder Kevin Pillar from Toronto and designated Reed for assignment.

Maybe if Reed had opened 5-for-8 he'd still have a job. Maybe.


The Twins' first save opportunity of 2019 went to Taylor Rogers. The second, I guess, went to Rogers as well -- he's charged with a blown save for Mondesi's inside-the-parker -- but I don't know that Rocco Baldelli brought Rogers in with the intent of getting a six-out save from the lefty.

Anyway, the next save opp, be it the second or third, went to Blake Parker, who walked one and struck out one and kept his splitter out of the dirt this time.

The roleless bullpen rolls on.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Minor thoughts on shortstops

The Twins announced on Monday their season-opening minor league rosters, and shortstop -- the primary position of three of their most prominent prospects -- was of some note.

Royce Lewis will open 2019 at High-A Fort Myers, the same level he ended 2018. This is a mild surprise -- I rather expected him to be pushed up to Double-A Pensacola -- but he did miss a good part of training camp with an strain in his rib cage, and there's a case for letting him get some reps at the lower level before giving him his next challenge.

Wander Javier is staying in extended spring training. Not a huge surprise; it was to be expected that the Twins would be reluctant to expose his post-operative (non-throwing) shoulder to the April chill of Low-A Cedar Rapids. Javier impressed in his limited exposure in major-league camp, and he will be a good reason to make an Iowa trek this summer.

Nick Gordon is opening the season on the injured list of Triple-A Rochester with acute gastritis, an inflammation of the stomach lining. I wouldn't pretend to know how long this might keep him out, but I will say this: Anything interfering with the digestive process on an athlete as skinny as Gordon, with his track record of late-season fades, should be of concern.

Monday, April 1, 2019

Thoughts from the weekend

There was some grumbling on my Twitter feed about the quick hook for Michael Pineda, who worked just four innings, allowing one hit and throwing just 40 pitches, before giving way to Martin Perez.

The complainers generally recognized that the plan coming into the game was four innings from each, in a "piggyback" arrangement designed to keep Perez, destined for a starters role, stretched out, But with Pineda faring so well, their argument went, let Perez do his extra throwing in the bullpen to imaginary hitters and let Pineda go deeper.

Were that game being played in the defunct Metrodome, I might grant that argument. But it was outdoors on a chilly if sunny day, and Pineda is in his second full season after Tommy John surgery. A quick hook for him was justified.


Three games for the Twins under new skipper Rocco Baldelli, three different starting catchers -- and essentially one batting order, with whoever is catching hitting eighth.

I daresay the three previous Twins skippers, dating back more than two decades, would have made a point of getting everybody on the bench a start in the opening series. Baldelli did not. Ehire Adrianza, Tyler Austin and Jake Cave all got into Sunday's game late, after it was all but decided, and each got an at-bat, and Cave pinch-ran Saturday.

And that's all the action that trio got in the Cleveland series. Each, in my estimate, is on the active roster only because of injury and the rash of off-days. None has a real purpose on the roster.

Plenty of managers -- and Tom Kelly was emphatically of this mindset, Ron Gardenhire less so -- take the approach of: If he's on the roster, I need to find a use for him. Three games in, it appears Baldelli is not interested in crimping the playing time of his regulars to get this trio some at-bats.


Cleveland was, and doubtless remains, the consensus pick to win the AL Central. I've grown increasingly skeptical of that in recent weeks, partly on the basis of the Tribe's unwillingness/inability to rebuild its outfield.

Cleveland played this series without middle infielders Francisco Lindor and Jason Kipnis, and Lindor's absence in particular took a key piece out of their puzzle. But even when Lindor and Kipnis return, this is a shallow lineup.

Assume that Lindor and Kipnis return as legitimate top-half-of-the-order hitters, something Kipnis hasn't been the past two seasons. We'll assume it as a best-case scenario anyway. That will give Cleveland some order of Lindor, Jose Ramirez, Kipnis and Carlos Santana hitting leadoff through cleanup, and that's not bad at all (again, assuming Kipnis is the Kipnis of 2013-16). But the bottom half of that lineup ... ugh.

Add in the depletion of their bullpen, and it's not pretty. The Indians have genuine strengths -- that's probably the best rotation in the majors -- and there's a force of habit at work prompting people to forget that Terry Francona doesn't have the talent on hand that he's had in the past. But this weekend displayed the Indians' genuine flaws. The Twins are better balanced, and I think they not only can win this division, they should win it.

Friday, March 29, 2019

One down, 161 to go

That was an historically good opening day start for Jose Berrios on Thursday:


Justin Morneau handled the commentary for the FSN broadcast, and before the game started said, appropos of the 11-man pitching staff and deeper-than-usual bench, that Rocco Baldelli had plenty of in-game moves available.

He made exactly one. The nine men in the batting order were in for the entire game, and he used just one relief pitcher.

That is pretty much what I expect, at least with the position players. Just because Jake Cave, Ehire Adrianza and Tyler Austin are on the bench right now doesn't mean they have genuine in-game roles. This roster is built for nine guys to play and everybody else sit and watch. Which nine plays, that will change on a daily basis. 

As for the pitching staff, giving Taylor Rogers a four-out save opportunity is an interesting data point. We don't really know how Baldelli is going to handle the bullpen. I'm confident that Ron Gardenhire, had he used Rogers to finish the eighth, would have used given somebody else the ninth. But as Dick Bremer said on the telecast, the ninth was a really good set of matchups for Rogers.


After watching Jake Bauers slip on Byron Buxton's double and watching Marwin Gonzalez's game-winning hit get past Leonys Martin, I offered this observation on Twitter:

Cleveland's outfielders went 1-for-10 against Berrios and Rogers. But Saturday is another game, and Jake Odorizzi is no Berrios.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Opening day and off days.

The Twins got down to their initial 25-man active roster Wednesday by deeming Jorge Polanco's balky shoulder ready to go and putting three relievers -- Addison Reed, Gabriel Moya and Matt Magill -- on the injured list.

So Tyler Austin stays around, although I have no idea what he's going to do. He has no purpose as long as C.J. Cron, Nelson Cruz and Marwin Gonzalez are all sound enough to play.

But soon enough the Twins will get to the point where they feel the need for 12 or 13 pitchers, And then either Austin will go or Cron will. And the Twins have a lot more invested in Cron than in Austin.


I doubt the early start to the regular season is accomplishing what the players wanted, at least in these northern climes.

The players wanted more offdays during the season, and got that in the current labor deal. That required

  • cutting games out of the schedule, which means reducing revenue; or
  • making the schedule longer at the end of the season, which means a World Series played after Halloween, which nobody wants; or
  • adding games at the start of the season, which means playing games in March

The third option was reckoned the least bad.

But too many of the added offdays are slated in April (and March) because of interleague play and unbalanced schedules. A high percentage of series for any team involves the given rival's only visit to town. The offdays are there to accomodate those days that get weathered out.

An offday in April is less useful in a rest and recuperation sense than an offday in August. But there are bound to be more cancellations in April.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

End of spring training

The Twins on Tuesday played their final Grapefruit League game. They open the 2019 season Thursday at home against Cleveland.

I decided weeks ago that I was not going to encourage March openers with my presence and cash. I'll work my usual Thursday shift rather than go to Target Field. It appears, however, that the weather is going to cooperate with the absurdly early date.

And I am optimistic about this year's outlook for the Twins. There are two teams in the Central who figure to contend. Chicago, Detroit and Kansas City are all somewhere in the rebuilding/talent gathering mode, while Cleveland and Minnesota are, or should be, in talent-shaping mode.

But the Indians are not the team they were in 2018, much less what they were in '17 or '16. Their outfield ... OK, I'm not necessarily being strictly objective here, but I suspect the Twins have a better major league outfield in Triple A and Double A than the Indians have in the majors. It's certainly not less talented.

And the Cleveland bullpen is nowhere near as deep as we've seen in the past few years, with Chad Allen gone to Anheim and Andrew Miller to St. Louis.

But that is still a very imposing starting rotation in Cleveland, and Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez are awesome, and the Cleveland front office generally knows what its doing. They think more of Tyler Naquin, Leonys Martin and Greg Allen than I do.

We'll see how it plays out, starting on Thursday.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Contemplating the bullpen

Two pronouncments Monday out of Fort Myers by manager Rocco Baldelli about the Minnesota bullpen:

  • He is indeed not naming a closer, or designating specific roles for his relief crew. (This matches the thesis of the Monday print column.) 
  • Non-roster invitee Ryne Harper will be on the opening day roster.

Harper, as you can see by clicking the above link, has a rather extensive minor-league resume, heavier on Double A innings than Triple A. While he has had a (very) brief major league callup, he never appeared in a game, so when he takes the mound it will be his major league debut. Expect lots of curve balls from him.

Contemporary bullpens are always a work in progress. This will be no exception. The Twins are to open the season with an 11-man pitching staff. The number will rise from there.

Three of last year's bullpen appear likely to be on the injured list by Thursday's opener (righties Matt Magill and Addison Reed and lefy Gabriel Moya), and it sounds as if the Twins expect Magill and Moya to be ready relatively soon. Presumably at least one of them will be ready when the Twins need to shift Martin Perez to the rotation.

Perez, the fifth starter, is going to begin the season in the bullpen because of a cluster of April off days. So this 11-man staff breaks down for now as:

Starters: Jose Berrios, Jake Odorizzi, Michael Pineda and Kyle Gibson (that's the announced order).

Late-inning relievers: Trevor Hildenberger, Trevor May, Blake Parker, Taylor Rogers

Not-so-late: Perez, Harper, Aldaberto Mejia

One thing to watch in these first couple of weeks is how Baldelli uses Perez. One major goal is going to be keeping the lefty stretched out so that when he's inserted into the starting rotation he's ready to give them at least five to six innings. I suspect that's part of why Gibson's going last, so that Perez can "piggy back" with either Odorizzi (who seldom pitches deep into games) or Pineda (who will probably be handled with some care early on in his second year back from Tommy John surgery).

Monday, March 25, 2019

Goodbye, Reed

The Twins had no room for outfielder Michael Reed on their major league roster, so they moved him on to the San Francisco Giants during the weekend for another outfielder, John Andreoli, and cash.

Reed is the more interesting of the two outfielders, a speed guy who figures to get a genuine opportunity to play with the Giants even the manager doesn't know much about him yet. When the Twins picked him up on a waiver claim early in the offseason, I surmised that his appeal was as Buxton insurance. With Byron Buxton having a strong spring training, and with the later addition of Marwin Gonzalez, the Twins could let that insurance policy lapse.

Andreoli is Triple-A depth. I think the Twins have shed two better outfielders than him this spring (Reed and Zach Granite). Beside the three regulars (Rosario, Buxton and Kepler) and super-utility man Gonzalez, the Twins also have Jake Cave and LaMonte Wade ahead of him. The chances of Andreoli playing for the Twins are slim.

This does open up a spot on the 40-man roster, which is good news for a non-roster invitee -- probably Ryne Harper, a reliever whose curve ball has caught eyes this spring.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Some notable cuts

The Twins trimmed their major league camp roster a bit more Friday, and they narrowed their opening bullpen options significantly.

First they optioned out youngster Fernando Romero, once a prized starting prospect and now a prized relief prospect. I had put him in the "Is there room" category a while back. The answer, even as some injury issues arise among the bullpen candidates, is apparently "no." He'll be up at some point. But he hasn't been kicking the door down, and it makes sense to give him some minor league time as a reliever.

Then they released a pair of veteran non-roster invitees, infielder Adam Rosales and lefty reliever Tim Collins, both of whom presumably had opt-out clauses.

Rosales hit well in camp, with four homers. But the 35-year-old's chances of making the roster were more about other people than about himself. There weren't enough injuries to make him useful.

Collins is the more surprising release. His stuff has drawn positive reviews, even though his Grapefruit League ERA (4.91) isn't impressive, and in-house lefty Gabriel Moya hasn't pitched in more than a week with reported shoulder issues. I thought Collins had a chance.

But even if Moya can't go on March 28, the bullpen still figures to have Taylor Rogers and Aldaberto Mejia as lefties. Plus there is chatter that, with a bevy of offdays in the first few week, the Twins will open with 11 pitchers rather than their usual 12 or 13, with No. 5 starter Martin Perez shifting temporarily to the pen. He would be a third southpaw. Presumably the Twins hope/expect Moya to be ready by the time Perez returns to starting duties.

Collins had less opportunity than it appeared a few days ago.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Farewell, Ichiro. And thanks

Ichiro Suuki bows at the end of his postgame press
conference at which he announced his retirement.
I was up and at-em early enough Thursday morning to watch Ichiro Suzuki's final professional at-bat and to watch his teammates greet him outside the dugout as he left the field. Some had tears. So did I.

These season-opening games in Japan, about a week before the rest of the major league schedule gets underway, always feel a little gimmicky to me. And Ichiro's very presence on the Seattle roster after a 2018 in which he barely played, had some of the same artifical flavor.

And still, I'm pleased it worked out that way. Pleased that this great player got to go out in his homeland, in the uniform of the American team for which he won an MVP and became a star on this side of the Pacific. Pleased that Japan got to see him one more time.

A younger Ichiro might have beaten out the soft grounder he hit in his final at-bat, but he's 45 now. He ceased being a full-time player some time ago -- his last season with 500 plate appearances was 2013 -- but he accepted a reserve role with grace and dignity. Indeed, he did pretty much everything with grace and dignity.

I will miss seeing him play. I am grateful to have seen him play.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Goodbye, Duda

The Twins released Lucas Duda after informing the camp invitee that he wasn't going to make the roster. Presumably the camp invitee then informed the club that he would exercise his opt-out on Saturday, and they agreed to let him start looking for a new team immediately rather than wait a few more days.

None of this is surprising. Duda never seemed like a particularly good fit for the Twins roster. Like C.J. Cron and Tyler Austin, he's limited defensively to first base, he's older than either and he's been bouncing around the league. The Twins were his fifth organization since 2016.

But he had a three-year run -- 2015-2017 -- in which he hit 30, 27 and 30 homers, so I kept seeing superficial pieces that mentioned him as a key addition to the Twins. Those same pieces seldom mentioned Jonathan Schoop, who will be Minnesota's second baseman.

It was, in a sense, a useful barometer as a reader: If the writer thinks Duda a more significant piece than Schoop, it signaled a lack of knowledge.

The Twins also reassigned four prospects to minor league camp, so they are down to 36 in major league camp. None had a genuine chance of making the opening roster. Indeed, the only cut I can think of who had any realistic chance of coming north was Tyler Duffey, who was optioned out shortly after I listed him in the "Is there room" category of bullpen candidates.

But there was a development that figures to affect the opening roster. Lefty reliever Gabriel Moya has had some shoulder issues and appears destined for the injured list (new nomenclature for the disabled list). This would appear to enhance the status of Aldaberto Mejia and Tim Collins.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

History as their guide

I was tooling around town Monday afternoon running errands when I heard one of the ex-players on MLB radio -- I think it was Brad Lidge, but no guarantee of that -- spout some nonsensical reasoning about the Twins.

I shall paraphrase:

Remember those contracts the Twins gave pitchers a few years ago? Five years for Phil Hughes, four years for Ricky Nolasco, four years for Ervin Santana. Why on earth wouldn't they do that for Dallas Keuchel? They have all that money coming off the books.

Yes, I remember. Those contracts were part of what got Terry Ryan fired:

Ricky Nolasco was awful with the Twins: 15-22 with a 5.44 ERA in 56 starts.

Phil Hughes gave the Twins an excellent first season (2014). Ryan gave him a rich extension, but Hughes immediately fell apart physically and he never mastered the art of pitching with diminished velocity. Both the Twins and Padres released him last season, but the Twins are still on the hook for the final $13 million plus. (He's almost certainly their most expensive pitcher this year).

Ervin Santana's signing was described this winter by LaVelle Neal as successful for the Twins, which suggests a really low bar. He was suspended for half of one season and essentially unable to pitch another. The Twins got two-and-a-half good seasons out of four from "Magic."

(I resent Santana's PED suspension far more than I resent the injuries that wrecked Hughes' career or Santana's final season, or even Nolasco's snotty public persona.) 

These are specific examples of a general principle: You sign a veteran pitcher, you are buying into a declining market. And the longer that contract runs, the more time it has to go sour. 

Citing Santana, Hughes and Nolasco as reasons the Twins should sign another veteran free agent is inane. Yeah, the money's there, but why wantonly burn it?

Keuchel has a resume. He has a Cy Young plaque to hang on his wall, he led the AL in starts last season, he helped the Astros win a World Series a couple years back, he has in other seasons led the league in innings, complete games, wins and shutouts.

And now, a bit more than a week before opening day, he remains unsigned.  He's also 31 years old and 2018 was the first season in three years in which he worked 200 innings. Teams, including the Twins, obviously don't think he's worth what he demands. Whoever it was filling airtime on Sirius Monday afternoon may not like it, but a part of that is the track record of Hughes, Nolasco and Santana.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Cron vs. Austin

A debate of sorts broke out Sunday night on LaVelle Neal's Twitter feed, with respondents demanding that the beat writer justify the Twins' intent to have C.J. Cron at first base over Tyler Austin.

Part of this is small sample size theater. Austin, in 41 exhibition plate appearances, has hit three homes and hit. 390. (He also has zero walks). Cron hasn't been bad -- two homers and .367 in 34 PA -- but the Twitter yellers say Austin is outperforming Cron. There's no room on the bench for a 1B-only bat, and Austin is out of options.

It feels weird to say this, as my immediate reaction to Cron's addition was What does he give the Twins that Austin doesn't? But the reality is, spring training has not given the Twins a legitimate reason to change plans at first base.

Point one: Seventy-five plate appearances don't mean a while lot at any time. Seventy-five plate appearances are particularly shy of meaningful in March.

Point two: Even if they are indicative of current level of ability, Cron has the higher OPS -- on-base plus slugging -- against a slightly higher level of competition as Baseball Reference measures it.

Point three: For whatever reason, the Twins decided during the offseason that they are better off with Cron. Maybe it's because new manager Rocco Baldelli knows Cron from last year with the Rays. Maybe it's because Austin has a history of nagging injuries. Maybe it's because they see Cron as having a higher floor. Whatever the rationale, they made a measured, non-impulsive decision during the winter to add Cron. They aren't going to change course on a March whim.

The Twins have, for now, an embarrassment of riches in right-handed first base-only sluggers. That suggests a trade, but the market on such players has not been generous. Unless there's a team that really wants C.J. Cron, he's going to be the first baseman in Minnesota, at least when Marwin Gonzalez is playing some other position.

Friday, March 15, 2019

The coming change

There's a lot to unpack in the set of rule changes announced Thursday, a handful to take effect this season but most in 2020.

I love, love, love the tightening of the time between innings for nationally televised games. I won't be so fond of the likely increase of split-screen ads, but they weren't going away regardless. It's like ticket prices. Ticket prices have nothing to do with player salaries; they're set by demand for the tickets. As long as somebody wants to buy a split screen ad, Fox and ESPN will sell it to them.

And I don't give a rat's behind about the All-Star Game changes.

Those are 2019 changes. Coming in 2020:

Three-batters-or-end-of-inning minimum for pitchers. Say goodbye to the LOOGY, and to 17 minutes  24 seconds to face four hitters (as detailed in this piece).

We may well have passed the period of peak LOOGY, or Left-handed One Out GuYs. Certainly the Twins have not had somebody like Dennys Reyes in some years. Reyes, in three seasons with the Twins, made 191 appearances and pitched a total of 126.1 innings for Ron Gardenhire, and if he faced a right-handed batter that meant anything in the context of the game, the manager made a public apology.

But there are still LOOGYs around. Tim Collins, of whom I wrote here the other day, was certainly used in that manner last year by the Nationals, and if he makes the roster that would be his likely best-use.

Limits on September rosters. I have mixed feelings about this. On one hand, I dislike the bloated rosters and the occasional games in which a manager uses nine relievers because he has them to use.

On the other, as noted on Twitter by J.J. Cooper, the September callup has been used by at least some organizations to reward org players who are on their way out. Consider Brian Dinkelman, who spent eight seasons toiling in the Twins system. He got a September callup in 2011. That may well have meant the majority of his career earnings.

Minor leaguers are mistreated by the system. The players union abets the maltreatment and the commissioners office, to put it bluntly, lies about it.  It's a disgrace. September call-ups alleviated it a little. Now that's going away too.

26-man rosters for most of the season. This is a sop to the union, which probably expects the extra space to go to a veteran. It won't. Kids are cheaper.

Designated pitchers and position players. I really don't understand how this is supposed to work on a Shohei Ohtani, or more to the point, Brendan McKay. who is coming up the Rays system as a pitcher-first baseman. Yes, we see more position players pitching than we used to ... but it's in blowouts or deep in extra innings, and that's still permissible until this rule.

Pitch clock. Dropped for the duration of the collective bargaining agreement. Too bad.

Reopening the CBA. OK, that's not a rule change. But it's potentially significant. The economic relationship between labor and management has shifted sharply under the current one, and it seems obvious to me that we will either see a drastic reimagining of that relationship or a labor war, and maybe both.

I can't see how the reimagining can happen in a six-month negotiation. It will take time. If the commissoners office negotiates in good faith, we might avoid the labor war. I'm skeptical, but I'm certainly willing to be proven wrong.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Gordon and Arraez

The Twins sent four more prospects who aren't contenders for the opening roster to the minor league side Tuesday. Two of them were infielders Nick Gordon and Luis Arraez.

Gordon is the name, the first-round pick who is the son of one All-Star player and the brother of another. Arraez is the one I think has a chance to be a useful major league player.

Rocco Baldelli, speaking about Gordon after a game this weekend in which Gordon hit a ball over the center fielder's head for a triple, said Gordon, despite his skinny frame, is "plenty strong enough/" But the rookie manager mentioned endurance as a question mark without going into details. Gordon has fallen off sharply in the second half pretty much every season as a pro -- and, of course, in the majors there's another month of play to get through.

Gordon's tools are routinely described by Baseball America as average across the board. That's not to be disparaged, but it is difficult to identify something you'd put him in the lineup to do. (Despite his slender frame and the relationship to speedster Dee Gordon, Nick is not a particularly fast runner.)

Arraez is a player with more obvious flaws. There is debate about whether Gordon can play short in the majors; nobody even asks that question about Arraez. While he gets a few games a year at third and short, he's a second baseman, and not a sensation there either. He's not fast, and he's never hit more than three homers in a minor league season.

But he can hit line drives. His minor league batting average, mostly compiled in the lower levels, is .329. He seldom strikes out. The bat is real.

It's an uphill fight, really, for both of them. The Twins signed Jorge Polanco to a multi-year deal, and my expectation is that he'll move to second when uber-prospect Royce Lewis is deemed ready for the shortstop job in Minnesota. Wander Javier, another shortstop prospect who lost last season to injury, has reportedly been wowing observers on the minor league side.

Gordon and Arraez are sandwiched between these guys, and it will probably require trade or injury for either to get a shot in a major league lineup, not that either is ready for that opportunity quite yet.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Contemplating Tim Collins

When I composed Monday's post on the Twins bullpen, I left out the non-roster invitees, mainly because I didn't view any of them as genuine candidates for the roster.

Then I saw Tim Collins's outing on the FSN rebroadcast. He looked good.

Collins is a little lefty, smaller than Dick Bremer and Dan Gladden apparently realize. Dick said Collins is 5-10. Baseball Reference lists him at 5-7, and considering the liklihood of height inflation, he may be shorter than that. But he has a good fast ball and a better curve than I had realized.

Collins had 38 games in the majors last year with Washington, and a sour final outing (three runs without retiring a hitter) really wrecked his ERA (it went from 3.18 to 4.37). It was still a successful year for him, because he made it back to the majors after missing two full seasons with Tommy John surgery.

I'd put him in the "Is there room?" category. He certainly isn't making the roster ahead of Taylor Rogers, and I doubt the Twins are eager to expose Aldaberto Mejia to waivers. But I can see them deciding to take Collins north ahead of Gabriel Moya, especially if Collins has an early opt-out clause.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Contemplating the bullpen

The Twins made their first camp cuts at the start of the weekend. Sent down the road to the minor league complex were a collection of prospects -- some on the 40, some not -- who came to camp with little realistic chance of making the opening roster unless a wave of injuries hit.

We are less than three weeks from opening day, and it's time for big league camp to focus at-bats and innings on the guys who will be going north. And its time for this corner to go through out annual exercise of projecting bullpen roles.

Which, this spring, is well-neigh impossible. There is no established closer in camp. There is a manager who has never managed at any level before and a pitching coach who has not been in professional baseball before, so we can't look at what they've done in the past. And pitcher usage patterns in exhibition games are meaningless.

There have been suggestions that Rocco Baldelli and Wes Johnson won't base the bullpen on set roles, meaning no specific closer, no specific eighth-inning guy.

But they must have some sort for framework in mind. Let's try to work one out on our own.

Roster locks

Taylor Rogers. He might be emerging as one of the better lefty relievers in the game.
Blake Parker. A couple good years with the Angels, and if the Twins do go with a set closer a genuine candidate for the job.
Trevor May. My choice for closer if the role exists. Out of options.

Depending on health

Addison Reed. If he's healthy, he's a lock. But he wasn't sound last season and it's unclear if he can go two days in a row, and that's pretty much a necessity for bullpen arms. One year and more than $8 million left on his contract.
Gabriel Moya.  Lefty has been limited in camp. Probably the preferred second lefty.

More than likely

Trevor Hildenberger. Had a rough end to an up-and-down season. He and the Twins seem to think the issues are solvable.
Aldaberto Mejia. Lefty, out of options. As a starter has struggled to go five innings, and there is no obvious opening in the rotation anyway.

Is there room?

Matt Magill. Spent most of 2018 with the big club, appearing in 40 games and working 56 innings. The big drawback: 11 homers allowed. Not sure of his option status.
Tyler Duffey. Less time in the majors than I expected last year, and a horrid 7.20 ERA when he was up. His stock has certainly diminished.
Fernando Romero. Eleven games in the bigs in 2018, all starts. Supposedly a reliever now. He may not open 2019 with the Twins, but he'll be there at some point, and may well wind up with a major role.

Already down

Andrew Vasquez. Shipped out with the first wave of camp cuts. Lefty whose early departure suggests the decision makers are satisfied with Mejia and Moya behind Rogers.

So ... I make the top three the most likely late-inning choices, although if Hildenberger and Romero are capable of wedging their way in. Reed, with the biggest paycheck of the group, is a big question mark. I wonder how likely the Twins are to eat his salary if he's limited early on.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Serving Vegas first

A disturbing tweet Wednesday afternoon from Peter Gammons:

I dare say that every commissioner prior to Rob Manfred would have suspended any manager who gave the oddsmakers advance notice of their plans. And now the commissioners office itself intends to do just that? 

Nothing in that tweet truly makes sense, but there is a sentence, or more accurately part of a sentence, that goes to a different level of nonsense. "It's OK to not field (t)he best team, for service time reasons ..." Service time relates to days on the active roster, not at-bats or innings or any other measure of playing time. If Byron Buxton is on the active roster, it's service time whether he starts in center, pinch runs in the eighth or spends the day on the bench. 

I've seen nothing else about this anywhere else so far, and I'm hoping that Gammons got it wrong, or alternately that this is a trial balloon that will be quickly popped.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Oh no, Sano (Part whatever)

So ... the big news Tuesday about the Twins was that Miguel Sano's cut heel is going to keep him out into May.

The Twins rather emphatically avoid blaming Sano, who, as they see it, spent the winter doing what they wanted him doing. He lost weight, he played winter ball -- and then he got hurt in the celebration, and the wound got infected. He reported to spring training with the infection, and the wound wasn't healing as it should, so now comes a more aggressive treatment.

I'm not a medical professional, so I am in no position to second-guess what was done (or not done) when Sano reported to Fort Myers. You probably aren't either, and if you are, you probably didn't examine his specific injury. But there is an irrational contigent of media and fandom that, having lost its favorite target in Joe Mauer, will now almost certainly turn its scorn on Sano. Blaming the athlete for the injury is a longstanding if unattractive tradition.

As a practical matter, this probably means, at least for the first five or six weeks of the season, a lot more time at third base for Marwin Gonzalez than the Twins expected or intended. Which, in turn, means less time for him at any of the other positions.

Another possibility is a steady dose of Willians Astudillo at third, with Gonzalez rotating among positions as originally envisioned.

I don't think this is a case where the injury creates an opening for  La Tortuga (Astudillo) to make the opening roster. I think this creates an opportunity for him to get significant playing time. The guys whose chances of coming north out of camp have improved are Ehire Adrianza and Jake Cave.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Minor transactions

The Twins designated outfielder Zack Granite for assignment when they signed Marwin Gonzalez. On Sunday they announced a series of transactions related to that:

  • Granite goes to the Texas Rangers. The Twins got minor league right-handed pitcher Xavier Moore and "cash considerations" for him.
  • The Twins then shipped Moore to the Baltimore Orioles for $750,000 in international signing bonus cap room. The permission to spend that money expires June 15.

Moore probably isn't too much of a much. A 16th-round draft pick in 2017, he has a 4.54 minor league ERA in 33.6 innings in the lower levels of the Texas chain, all in relief. He's only 20 and is said to be "projectable." Which means the scouts think he's got some physical maturity ahead of him. He's a lottery ticket.

The $750,000 in international cap space sounds significant -- that's the kind of bonus Jorge Polanco and Max Kepler got -- but there's not a lot of talent unsigned in the current international class. My hope is that the Twins have a plan for that cap space.

Monday, March 4, 2019

Hail Cesar: Remembering Cesar Tovar, multi-position regular

The Monday print column concerns Marwin Gonzalez, the Twins new multi-position regular, and how he's fit into the lineup.

Twins fans of a certain age have seen this act, or something like it, before. Cesar Tovar in the late 1960s played pretty much every day while splitting starts between second base, third base and the outfield.

He may be remembered for the 1968 gimmick game in which he played all nine positions, but he was truly a multi-position regular:

1966: 73 starts at second base, 27 at shortstop, 16 in center.

1967: 60 starts in center, 56 at third, 31 at second. (Tovar that year played 164 games in a 162-game schedule, an iron-man feat made possible by two ties.)

1968: 67 at third, 29 in center, 15 in left, 20 at short, 12 at second.

1969: 65 in center, 33 at second, 14 at third.

And those are just the positions at which he had at least a dozen starts in a season.

Tovar was essentially locked in as the center fielder for 1970, and he was predominately an outfielder the rest of his career. The Phillies did shuffle him around in 1973 in a part time role.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

#OldFriends watch

A number of ex-Twins signed minor league deals in recent days.

Logan Forsythe is now in camp with the Texas Rangers.

Off what we saw during his 50 games with the Twins last year after they got him in the Brian Dozier trade, it might seem surprising that he had to settle for a minor league deal -- he was solid defensively, with a noticably better arm than Dozier, and had a .356 OBP, which would look mightly good on this squad.

But he had little power -- six extra base hits in those 178 at-bats with the Twins, all doubles -- and hasn't really hit for two seasons. Plus he's 32. So, yeah, he's not somebody you sign with the intent of sticking him in the lineup.

* Trevor Plouffe re-upped with the Phillies.

The former first-rounder, also 32, got 12 at-bats last summer for the Phils and spent most of the season in Triple A. I don't know that the Phillies are thilled with Maikel Franco at third base, but I also know that Plouffe isn't a superior alternative.

I'll give Plouffe credit for perserverance, though. The man has made, per Baseball Reference, more than $22 million in his major league career. Presumably he doesn't have to take life in the minors for the income.

* Francisco Liriano returned to the Pirates on a minor league deal.

Pittsburgh is where "Frankie Franchise" turned himself around about six years ago. In 2013-2015 he racked up a 3.26 ERA in 510 innings. Not a workhorse, top-of-the-rotation guy, but a really good rotation piece. But things went sour for him in 2016 and the Pirates unloaded his contract on the Blue Jays, and he's been bouncing around since.

If he has a major league future, it's probably as a reliever. The Tigers had him in their rotation last year, and there wasn't a lot to like in his numbers. And he's 35 now, which seems kind of impossible.

A minor-league deal seems right for him at this point. The head-scratcher is his tale of not getting any offers at all -- and then seven, all pretty much identical, arrived on the same day.

It's not collusion if 30 teams have 30 different formulas that all conclude that 2+2=4. It is odd that everybody would run the numbers on Liriano on the same day.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Goodby (maybe), Zack Granite

The Twins on Monday officially signed Marwin Gonzalez. To make room on the 40 man roster, they designated Zack Granite for assignment.

Granite, whose last name sounds like he should be from Stearns County, put up some impressive batting averages as he climbed the ladder of the Twins system. He's a good contact hitter, he can run, and he is a good defensive outfielder. But his power is limited, and that lowers his ceiling to that of fourth outfielder.

There's not much room on the Twins roster for that. Jake Cave, also a left-handed hitter -- and with power -- moved past Granite on the depth chart last year, when Granite had injury issues and did not produce at Triple A.

And unless somebody gets hurt, Cave is probably not going to make the major league roster either,  because Gonzalez gives the Twins a fourth outfielder behind (or more accurately alongside) Eddie Rosario, Byron Buxton and Max Kepler.

It's also possible that LaMonte Wade, who was added to the 40-man roster during the offseason, is ahead of Granite in the Twins estimation. Wade isn't the center fielder that Granite is, but the Twins don't really need their fourth outfielder to be a true center fielder because they can play Kepler or Rosario there if Buxton is out of the lineup. Wade, I think, figures to be a better hitter than Granite, but not good enough to be a major league regular. He too appears to be a fourth outfielder type.

So Granite is redundant on the Twins roster. Maybe somebody will decide he's an upgrade on somebody else on their 40-man roster, but I suspect that a slap hitter coming off a .211 season in Triple A isn't going to get claimed on waivers.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Leading off

Max Kepler was the leadoff man in Sunday's lineup. That may be an indication of things to come, or it may be meaningless. It was, after, the first weekend of exhibition play.

But new manager Rocco Baldelli reportedly approached Kepler about Kep's experience as a leadoff hitter. Which is, apparently, minimal; Kepler said he thinks he hit leadoff some in rookie ball. But Baldelli has it in mind to try Kepler at the top slot.

Identifying a leadoff hitter on this team is a bit of a project. The hitters Paul Molitor preferred atop the lineup the past four seasons -- Brian Dozier primarily, with doses of  Robbie Grossman and Joe Mauer -- are gone. None of those were the slap-and-dash leadoff men of my youth, but they were all selective hitters who would take a walk.

The 10-regulars-for-nine-lineup-slots on the 2019 Twins -- I count here Marwin Gonzalez, who has yet to be officially added to the roster -- includes one guy who would have been reckoned a prototype leadoff man in days gone by. That is Byron Buxton, who certainly has hit leadoff a lot more as a pro than Kepler has. But I doubt anybody in the organization is advocating for installing Buck in the leadoff slot immediately. He'll have to earn it, or any other high-leverage lineup slot.

Kepler has a career OBP of .313 and a career high of .319 and a career total of 16 steals. The leadoff prototype has shifted over time, but Kepler has never fit any of them. That Baldelli (and presumably the analytical folk in the front office feeding him information) is considering him for that slot surprises me. But it is, again, the first days of exhibition play, and there is no obviously right answer to the question.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Marwin the Twin

Marwin Gonzalez had a big year at the plate
in 2017 but regressed last season.
So it is happening, despite my skepticism in Friday's post. Assuming Marwin Gonzalez passes his physical, he will sign a two-year deal with the Twins.

The question I got repeatedly from colleagues at work Friday afternoon was: What position will he play?  My answer: All of them.

The Twins will use him as the Astros have the past three years. They'll get him more than 500 trips to the plate without making him the regular at any one position.

That, at least, is the ideal. More likely, somebody will get hurt, or somebody will fail. The Twins "default" lineup has plenty of upside, but also plenty of risk. I assume you already know the questions, but if we need to delve in to the details:

  • Neither Byron Buxton nor Miguel Sano has made it though a full season in the majors without injury
  • Jonathan Schoop's on-base percentage last season was a woeful .266
  • C.J. Cron has one season with more than 500 plate appearances in his career, and he's not noted for his defensive skills
  • Nelson Cruz is 38
  • Max Kepler hasn't established himself as a productive middle-of-the-order bat
  • Eddie Rosario's power falls off sharply against southpaws
  • Jorge Polanco was suspended for half of last season
Gonzalez is a nice Plan B for all these guys, just as Eduardo Escobar was in the infield for the past few years.

LaVelle Neal suggested Friday afternoon that Gonzalez frees up the Twins to trade a regular. That would be a mistake. The value of Gonzalez' versatility may be obscure, but it is genuine. Trading, let us say, Rosario to make Gonzalez the full-time left fielder actually makes Gonzalez less valuable.

There's room to use him even in the unlikely event that nobody goes on the DL or fails. Even if we discount his 2017 as a fluke season, Gonzalez has been a slightly better than league average hitter -- and does that with quality defense at all four infield slots and in an outfield corner.

He's going to play, a lot, on his own merits, even if it's not always at the same position.

Friday, February 22, 2019

On Marwin Gonzalez

There's been some chatter in recent days connecting the Twins to free-agent multi-position guy Marwin Gonzalez. I don't know what to make of that.

Gonzalez is a good, if complicated, player. Versatile is understating it. He is:

  • a switch-hitter who led the Astros in RBIs two years ago, when they won the World Series. Leading a good lineup in RBIs suggests that he can thrive in the middle of the lineup.
  • a shortstop in the minors who has seldom played the position in the majors because that's Carlos Correa's job
  • going to turn the dreaded 30 in mid-March

The Twins don't have a specific position they would give Gonzalez. And that's quite OK, because playing Gonzalez at one place all season is a waste of a significant part of his value. The Astros found him more than 500 at-bats in each of the past three seasons without making him a regular at any one spot. Last season he started games in left field and all four infield spots, plus he picked up a few random innings in center and right

His 2017 season -- .303 batting average, 90 RBIs, 24 homers -- overstates his true hitting level. He's not that good a hitter. But he's good enough to deepen a lineup, good enough to look for reasons to play his bat. He's not going to win a Gold Glove anywhere, but he's not an embarrassment afield anywhere either.

He's Ben Zobrist with less acclaim, which is kind of funny to say because Zobrist has been underrated and overlooked pretty much his entire career, and for the same reason. These superutility guys are camouflaged. Camouflage works by breaking up the image. You make three dozen starts at one position, two dozen at a couple more, a dozen at a couple more, your image as a player is broken up.

I don't know how seriously the Twins and Scott Boras (Gonzalez' agent) are talking. The spring training games are about to get started, Gonzalez is unemployed, and Boras is a master at generating rumors to try to drum up a market. There may be a lot more smoke than fire here.

I do like the player. I like him a lot -- certainly more than C.J. Cron, who figures to be Minnesota's first baseman right now, probably more than Jonathan Schoop, who figures to be the second baseman. And Rocco Baldelli, coming as he does out of the Tampa Bay organization, has certainly seen how to juggle a superutility guy. I'd like to see this happen.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Contemplating Fernando Romero

Fernando Romero
made 11 starts for
the major league
team in 2018. 
The Twins made it known during the weekend that henceforth Fernando Romero is a relief pitcher.

While this may be disappointing to those who hoped to see him emerge as a top-of-the-rotation starter, it seemed inevitable. Romero, 24, has never shown much durablity, either within games as a starter or over the course of the long season.

My expectation is that he will open 2019 in a minor league bullpen -- probably Triple A Rochester, perhaps Double A Pensacola if the Twins want to give him warmer weather to settle into the new role. But he will see the inside of the Target Field bullpen this year. No matter who makes the opening roster in the Twins 'pen, there will be relievers shuttling back and forth between Minneapolis, Rochester and probably Pensacola.

And if things go swimmingly, once Romero turns up in Target Field, he'll power his way into a late-inning role and stick. LaVelle Neal of the Strib suggested on Twitter that Romero might be the closer by season's end. I'm not eager to see that happen -- that would probably mean that Trevor May failed -- but that it's a realistic outcome indicates that even as a reliever, Romero is seen as a crucial piece of the Twins puzzle.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

The Sunday Funnies

In November of 1964, the New York Mets signed legendary lefty Warren Spahn, then 44 years old. A week later, they added legendary catcher Yogi Berra, who was approaching 40.

Said Spahn: "I don't know if we'll be the oldest battery in baseball, but we'll be the ugliest."

Friday, February 15, 2019

Extending Polanco and Kepler

The Twins today are expected to announce multi-year deals with Jorge Polanco and Max Kepler:

What strikes me about these reported lengths of contract is that the Twins are not just getting their arbitration seasons but eating free-agency seasons as well. That's unusual. The Twins have, with some frequency, bought out arbitration seasons. It has been rare that those deals have delayed free agency.

The union, or at least veteran players, has tended to discourage young players from doing that. "Bet on yourself" has been a common saying. Buying out arbitration years is one thing -- arbitration contracts aren't guaranteed -- but giving up years of free agency is another.

But both Polanco and Kepler are doing so. With the options, both could be surrendering their first two free agent seasons. And both could be well into their 30s by the time they get to test the market.

This is, I think, evidence of the profound change in free agency the past two winters. Kepler (who was a Super Two arbitration-eligible player this winter) and Polanco (still pre-arbitration) are high-floor players in their mid-20s. There's still time for some growth for both, but neither is likely to turn into a perennial All-Star or an MVP candidate. 

These deals may limit the high-end of their future earnings, but they emphatically raise the floor of what they would get in their 20s. And the direction of the free agent market hasn't been kind to free agents turning 30. Kepler and Polanco are getting what they can now.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

More minor stuff

Less than a week before pitchers and catchers report, dozens of free agents remain on the market, and the Twins are still filling out their spring training list.

Over the weekend they announced two veteran names as minor league free agents and released a list of 20 invitees:

Let's start with Lucas Duda and Adam Rosales, two players with resumes if not much else.

Rosales is a odd duck: He's never been a regular but he's been able to hang around the majors 11 seasons. To be sure, some of those 11 seasons are only partial, but still -- it is rare for a utility guy such as Rosales to last into his mid 30s. He typically doesn't stick around long (five seasons with Oakland, in two stints with two midseason trades invoved) and isn't much of a hitter. He has played more than a thousand innings each at second, third and short, and even had more than 500 at first.

I prefer Ehrie Adrianaza or Ronald Torreyes as  the backup middle infielder. Rosales apparently has a March 19 opt-out, so he may suspect that the odds of him making the opening day roster are slim.

Duda is a left-handed first baseman. His strong suit, other than a name that lends itself to parodies of "Camptown Races," is power.  He occasionally homers but doesn't do much else for you. Other than hitting lefty, he's pretty much the opposite of the retired Joe Mauer, who didn't homer frequently but did everything else well. I don't much care for first basemen in the Duda mold. I assume he too has an opt-out, and I hope he uses it.

A few other not-so-random observations about the NRI list:

Tim Collins is a little lefty reliever who had four seasons of promise in the Kansas City bullpen when the Royals were building up to their two World Series appearances. Then he got hurt and disappeared for three seasons. He LOOGY'd for Washington last year -- 35 appearances, 22.2 innings -- and had the kind of strikeout rate he had in the K.C. days but also gave up too many homers. The Twins have plenty of lefty relief candidates, and I'm not sure that Collins is truly in the mix, but he's still only 29.

* Wilin Rosario, whose signing gave me momentary panic a week ago, is NOT an invitee. There are catchers I'm completely unfamiliar with on the list in Wynston Sawyer and Tomas Telis, and presumably Rosario is well down the depth chart. (The Twins may be more interested in him as a first baseman/DH than as a catcher.)

* Brent Rooker, who I regard as the first baseman in waiting, is an NRI -- and listed as an outfielder.

* Chase De Jong, designated for assignment to make room for Martin Perez on the 40, cleared waivers and is an invitee. I'm not high on De Jong, but I'd rather see the Twins pitch him than Perez.

* Ryan Eades, a second-round draft pick in 2013 whose minor league record does not make me eager to see him in Target Field, is an invitee as well. 

Sunday, February 10, 2019

The Sunday Funnies

Ted Lyons, Hall of Fame pitcher, had a reputation for tall tales. One abbreviated one, on his hitting prowess:

“One day there were two out in the ninth and I hit a pop fly so high that the fans got tired of waiting for it to come down. So they all went home and listened to it drop by turning on the radio.”

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Minor moves

A few names there I recognize, but none I hope to see at Target Field this summer. All look like -- and should be -- organizational depth, although I have some fears about Rosario.

Pat Dean is starting his second stint in the organization. The lefty reached the majors in 2016 without noticeable success -- 16 games, nine starts with the Twins and an ugly 6.28 ERA -- and spent the past two seasons pitching in Korea. His team won the Korean title in 2017 and he got paid more than $1.8 million for the two seasons, so good for him.

Jordany Valdespin has also been out of organized ball for two seasons. He had major league time in the four previous years but saw his playing time shrink with each season, He had a notable run-in with then-Mets manager Terry Collins, a notorious HBP in the crotch from Justin Verlander and a 50-game suspension in the Biogenesis PED scandal. He played, and quite well, for the Long Island Ducks in the independent Atlantic League in 2018 and was named Independent League player of the year by Baseball America.

Kevin Comer is a right-handed reliever who has yet to see any MLB time. Most of his minor league service has been in the Houston organization, but he was with Detroit's Triple A team last year. He's shown pretty good strike-out rates but still gives up lots of hits and runs.

Adam Atkins, another righty reliever, is a bit young for a minor league free agent. This will be his first time out of the Mets chain, and he has just two games above A ball. His stat line looks a lot more usable than Comer's, but the lack of upper-level experience works against him.

Finally, the guy who's probably the biggest name of these five: Wilin Rosario. He's a catcher who had a pair of 20-plus homer seasons with the Rockies -- 28 bombs in 2012, 21 in 2013. He is not, however, regarded as a good defensive catcher, and he's had some astoundingly bad walk-to-strikeout rates (15 walks and 109 strikeouts in 2013). Like Valdespin and Dean. he's been out of organized ball the past two seasons; in his case, one year in Korea, one in Japan.

The Twins have been collecting this kind of hitter during the offseason -- Jonathan Schoop, C.J. Cron, now Rosario. To be sure, Rosario is on a minor-league deal, and the Twins always figured to add at least one minor-league free agent catcher. On the other hand, this front office's previous forays into the catching market have emphasized defense. 

If having him at Rochester makes it possible to have Willians Astudillo in the majors, that's acceptable. Anything more significant than that is not.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

The Sunday Funnies

Jack Dunn, who operated the old Baltimore Orioles of the International League in the 1910s and 20s, was known as a top-notch judge of talent. Among the stars he discovered, signed and later peddled to major league teams were Babe Ruth and Lefty Grove.

In 1921, Clark Griffith, owner of the Washington Senators, heard that Dunn was about to buy a young outfielder out of the lower level Sally League. Giffith had never heard of Goose Goslin, but if Dunn wanted Goslin enough to pay the rumored $5,000 for him, the Old Fox reasoned, Goslin must be good.

And indeed, Goslin was hitting .390 for the Columbia team. So Griffith hustled down to South Carolina and struck his own deal for Goslin, upping the ante to $6,000 and landing the player, still sight unseen.

Griffith pocketed the paperwork, climbed into the stands chortling to himself over his sharp manoeuvre -- and promptly witnessed his newly signed slugger get conked on the head by a fly ball.

(It all worked out OK; Goslin was the regular left fielder on all three pennant-winning clubs in Washington history and wound up in the Hall of Fame.)

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Contemplating Martin Perez

The Twins on Wednesday made the signing of free-agent lefty starter Martin Perez official. Right-hander Chase DeJong was designated for assignment.

If the purpose of waiting more than a week after news of the Perez agreement broke was to give me time to rationalize his addition and mute my displeasure (news break: it wasn't), it failed. I don't care for this signing at all.

I can grant that Perez' ugly 2018 was marred by injury to his non-pitching arm, that he's only 28, that he had two seasons as a fixture in the Texas rotation. I know full well that the Rangers stadium is a rough environment for hurlers and the Rangers have not often prioritized defense in their lineup in recent seasons. And one year, $4 million is a pretty disposable contract in 2019.

All these reasons to see upside in Perez are, in my view, irrelevant. Even when he was sound and working mor than 180 innings a season for the Rangers, he was at best ineffective. And last year, he was even worse:

About the one thing he did well in 2018, according to Statcast, was spin curve balls.

Perez's low strikeout rates suggest that success for him means being a low-walk, ground ball machine. Tommy John was the prototype of that kind of pitcher, and I have always had a soft spot for guys like that., probably because of Geoff Zahn back in the 70s for the Twins. But

  • that type of pitcher is essentially obsolete today;
  • that type of pitcher is very team dependent, and I don't think the Twins are likely to give him the defensive backing he needs; and
  • Perez has never thrown enough strikes to make the Tommy John model a true fit for him

Every opportunity Perez gets in the Minnesota rotation figures to be at the expense of somebody like Stephen Gonsalves, Kohl Stewart, Fernando Romero, Zach Littell or the presumably discarded DeJong. Somebody, in other words, who has a chance to turn into a truly useful major league starter.

Not that I was all that optimistic about DeJong. I had (and have) more confidence in Aaron Slegers, lost earlier this offseason to the Pirates on waivers. I will, however, note that in DeJong the Twins have DFA'd somebody acquirred by the new management team rather than, say, Tyler Duffey. I had expected Duffey to be more on the bubble than DeJong.