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.)