Friday, December 14, 2018

Wrong again, Eddie

It says something that no team thought Tyler Jay was worth a Rule 5 selection. I was pretty sure that he would be too attractive a target, that somebody would take a flier on him.

It's not that his work in the minors has justified the opportunity. It's that the talent -- a live, left-handed arm -- to be at least a LOOGY is there.

So Jay remains in the Twins organization. And we have to consider his drafting -- the sixth overall pick in 2015 -- a painful mistake. After all, the next man taken, by the Boston Red Sox, was Andrew Benintendi.

Anyway: the Twins took nobody in Rule 5, as anticipated. And they lost nobody either. That was not what I expected.


Another missed call: I correctly anticipated that Seattle would send Carlos Santana on his way. I hardly expected it to be back to Cleveland, which made little obvious effort to retain him as a free agent last offseason.

It was a three-way trade that sent Edwin Encarnacion to Seattle, Santana and Jake Bauers (from Tampa Bay) to Cleveland and a hard-hitting Cuban infielder named Yandy Diaz to Tampa Bay.

Encarnacion may not be long with Seattle either. But remember my complaint about the C.J. Cron and Jonathan Schoop additions: they lack the ability to reach base consistently. Encarnacion is of the same ilk.

Santana is much more the kind of hitter the Twins need than Encarnacion is. Or, for that matter, Nelson Cruz, who has been linked to the Twins all week in the rumor mill.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Thanks for (not) playing

With a full 40-man roster, the Twins won't be drafting anybody in this morning's annual Rule 5 draft.

I have mixed feelings about that, largely because the minor league geek in me loves the idea of spotting the player in somebody else's system that deserves a major league opportunity. The reality is that the current rules make it exceedingly rare for anybody worth devoting a roster spot to be available, Ryan Pressly being the exception. (Johan Santana, perhaps the most famous Rule 5 pick of this century, was plucked from the Astros system before teams were granted an extra year of minor league control.)

The Twins have in recent years tried hard, probably too hard, to make a Rule 5 pick pay off. It's probably better not to play that game at all.

I do expect the Twins to lose at least one player -- Tyler Jay, left-handed reliever and former first-round draft pick -- today, and quite possibly more. The Twins in the final years of the Terry Ryan administration spent a lot of high draft picks on college relievers, and many of them, like Jay, are now Rule 5 eligible and unprotected. Relievers are prime targets for Rule 5, since pretty much everybody carries at least 12 pitchers all season and pretty much everybody needs a mop-up man.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Notes, quotes and comment

Thad Levine, the No. 2 in the Twins baseball operations hierarchy, strongly implied during an MLB Radio interview Monday that the Twins were now set at second and first bases with Jonathan Schoop and C.J. Cron.

Maybe he was sincere, maybe he was posturing. I continue to hope that the Twins recognize the significant drop in on-base ability in this lineup as currently projected. It will be difficult for them the address that problem and still have both Schoop and Cron in the lineup.


I closed the Monday post by suggesting that the outcry over the election of Harold Baines might prompt the Hall to again revise the "Veterans Committee" process. Having considered the question for another day, I doubt it.

The Mazeroski selection, which prompted the drastic revision of 2001, came from an open slate of candidates; the committee could consider literally anybody officially eligible for the Hall but not under the perview of the writers.

Baines was selected out of a list of 10 candidates chosen by some mysterious process by the Hall. It does not figure that the Hall, having specifically presented the committee with the opportunity to chose Baines, would now recoil in horror because the committee did just that.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Smith, Baines and the Hall of Fame

The news Sunday night that Lee Smith and Harold Baines had been selected for the Hall of Fame was a puzzler.

Smith is hardly a huge surprise. His candidacy always had some legs with the writers, although not nearly enough to get him over the 75 percent of the vote hump. Smith's qualifications hinge heavily on the save statistic; for a good while he was the career leader in saves, and while the stat savvy among us know the fallacy of the save, the panel that put Smith in includes a number of ... the non stat savvy. (Hello there, Bert Blyleven.) I won't defend Smith's selection, but I understand the case for it.

The shocker was Baines. A long career, to be certain; a great deal of respect around the game, just as certain. Nothing in his statistical resume, distinguished as it is, suggests he should be in Cooperstown. Baines led the league in just one category, one time -- slugging percentage in 1984. He never finished higher than ninth in an MVP vote. And he spent most of his career as a designated hitter, so you know he wasn't helping his team afield.

If Baines is in, why not, say, Vada Pinson? Everything Baines has, Pinson has -- and more, when you figure in the pitching-dominated era of Pinson's career.

The immediate suspicion is that "Today's Game" panel was rigged in Baines' favor, with a former manager (Tony LaRussa), a former GM (Pat Gillick) and a former owner who so loved Baines that he retired Baines' number before his career ended (Jerry Reinsdorf). Of course, the other 13 members didn't have go along with their nonsense.

Ah, well. Baines won't be the worst player with a plaque in that hallowed hall. But he's a good candidate for that status. The last time the "veterans committee" process mucked up a selection this badly -- Bill Mazeroski in 2001 -- it resulted in a good bit disgruntlement among the already-enshrined and led to a heavy revamping of the selection process. Maybe that will happen again.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

The Sunday Funnies

Former big league shortstop, manager and scout Eddie Kasko, asked about the best signing during the period when he was running the Red Sox scouting department:

"Probably the biggest one was Roger Clemens. We were drafting, I think, 19th at the time and we didn't think we would get Clemens. Clemens didn't throw that hard when he was at the University of Texas. He threw hard enough, but Calvin Schiraldi was at Texas at the same time and if you put the two of them next to each other, Schiraldi probably had a better pitcher's body; he threw harder, and probably had better stuff at the time. Our scout at the time—Danny Doyle—the way he put it, 'I'm not sure what Schiraldi's got behind his belt buckle, but that Clemens boy will fight you.' So we got to 19 and Clemens was still there, so I took him. When I called Danny Doyle, I told him, 'Well, I took Clemens for you. Now go out and sign him.' 'Oh, I'll get him signed, all right.' He really liked him.

"He called back within, I think, two days and said, 'I signed the Clemens boy.' I said, 'What did you give him?' He says, '$121,000.' I said, '$121,000? Why not 120 or 125?' He said, 'Well, 21's his lucky number.' I said, 'Well, did you try offering him $21,000?'

Friday, December 7, 2018

Schoop and Torreyes

The Twins on Thursday signed a pair of infielders.

The big name is Jonathan Schoop, a second baseman who hit 32 homers while making the AL All-Star squad in 2017 with Baltimore only to see his 2018 season crater.

The smaller name is Ronald Torreyes, who spent the 2016 and '17 seasons as the Yankees' primary backup middle infielder and spent most of 2018 in the minors. The Yanks waived him at the start of the offseason; the Cubs claimed him, when waived him themselves, and now the Twins have signed him.

Torreyes has hit for decent averages in his limited major league at-bats, but with little power or strike zone judgment. He has an option left, so he might spend 2019 in the International League again. Or -- I think this more likely -- he may supplant Ehrie Adrianaza as the Twins backup middle infielder.

Schoop figures to be the starting second baseman. There's obvious upside to him despite his horrid 2018 season. He has power, he's a good fielder and he's only 27, in his theoretical prime. He signed for one year and obviously hopes to have a season more like 2017, then try to cash in.

But even in his good seasons, he had terrible on-base percentages. The Twins have already lost their two best hitters at reaching base (Joe Mauer and Robbie Grossman). Schoop and C.J. Cron are both hackers; they have terrible walk-to-strikeout ratios but occasionally "run into one," as the saying goes. (The same is true of Tyler Austin, at the moment the most significant challenger to Cron for the first base job.)

Solo homers is not a sound foundation for an offense. Adding one of these guys is defensible; adding two, especially to a lineup that already features a number of impatient hitters, is a bad sign. The Twins lineup as it currently stands has too many easy outs.  There's time to correct this, of course.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Thinking first base

I doubt that the Twins view C.J. Cron as their 2019 first base solution. This may be wishful thinking, but I doubt it anyway -- first, because he's not the kind of hitter a analytically inclined operation should be coveting anyway, second because adding him while subtracting Robbie Grossman (nontendered), Joe Mauer (retired) and Logan Morrison (free agent) leaves them short an established bat to share first base and the DH slot.

Yes, they have Tyler Austin still, and yes, they have Brant Rooker in the farm system, but

  • Rooker needs more minor league time and
  • Between Cron, Miguel Sano and Austin, there is way too much right-handed swing-and-miss going on. Too much of the same set of tools-and-flaw for one lineup.
Morrison ended his 2018 season early for hip surgery. He had a disappointing season and there's no telling from the outside what his medicals look like, but he hits left-handed, and that's at least a different ingredient for the mix. I don't really expect the Twins to re-sign him, but I wouldn't rule it out.

So I expect the Twins will do something, either in trade or free agency, to acquire a left-handed (or switch-hitting) first baseman/DH. One of the names that came readily to mind as I pondered this while dealing with a weekend virus was Carlos Santana. The Phillies shipped the former Cleveland standout to Seattle on Monday, but he's probably still available, as the Mariners are selling pretty much any player of immediate value. 

I really like Santana. Even whne hitting a disappointing .229 in 2018, he still popped 24 homers and took 110 walks. I am surprised, looking at his career stats in the above link, that he's never hit for average. But he's never been a truly poor hitter, and he's become a good defensive first baseman after years of being a bad catcher and a truly misbegotten attempt to play third base.

There are two drawbacks to Santana: He turns 33 in April and he's got some $40 million coming over the next two seasons. 

Still, considering the obvious teardown in Seattle, his main purpose with the M's is as to be turned into something of future value. There is a deal to be made there.