Monday, January 31, 2011

Matters of high finance

Fred and Jeff Wilson's offer: Invest in our team and shut up.
It's been known for quite a while that the Wilpon family, the owners of the new York Mets had "invested" with Bernie Madoff, once a highly regarded figure on Wall Street and now an imprisoned con man. The Wilpons had withdrawn the money long ago.

Now they are about to be hit with a "clawback" suit from the special trustee, whose job it is to recover whatever funds can be salvaged from the mess and distribute it proportionally among Madoff's victims. How much money is involved is unclear, but it could be as much as $1 billion. It's substantial enough that the Wilpons are offering 25 percent of the team for sale.

Selling a minority interest is likely to prove difficult. There have been expressions of interest, but they pretty much all want control of the operation. Which figures; it's difficult to imagine that somebody with a spare $125 million or so to put into a baseball team would be inclined to let folks with the track record of the Wilpons bumble around with their capital.

Some of those expressing interest are known to have serious money. One, for example, is the founder of Vitaminwater, who sold that company to Coca-Cola for $4.1 billion. Others ... well, one group is headed by Martin Luther King III and includes Ed Kranepool, a Mets first baseman in the 1960s, and Donn Clendenon Jr., the son the the man who platooned with Kranepool on the 1969 Mets. I'm sure these guys have more cash than I do, but is being the son of a civil rights icon really so lucrative? I'll believe it when I see it.

So it's interesting times indeed; baseball is flush with cash, and it appears that two of its most high-profile franchises, the Mets and the Dodgers are approaching forced-sale status through the sloppiness of their ownerships.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Poll stuff

There were some glitches this past week with the Blogger polls. About half the votes from the three polls disappeared at one point; they apparently returned within a day on the Nick Punto question, but not to the two questions related to my Strat-O-Matic league.

So the results are even more meaningless than usual for a poll of limited, self-selecting respondents.

The Punto results, assuming that the final results shown accurately reflect the voting: Forty-nine people responded to the question, Are you happy or sad that Nick Punto is no longer a Twin? Eighteen (37 percent) said happy; 16 (32 percent) sad; 15 (30 percent) indifferent.

At the peak of the results, the Strat questions each had about a dozen responses with no clear consensus on the MVP or Best Pitcher. I don't regard the final numbers as worthy of recording.

New poll up.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

They said, I say

Twins nuggets in the news and my reaction:

* Joe Nathan, preparing to test his reconstructed pitching elbow in spring training, invites manager Ron Gardenhire to step into the batter's box during a throwing session and says: "I wasn't afraid to come inside and brush him back a couple times."

Autograph time at Twins fest for Ron Gardenhire and
Joe Nathan, presumably after Nathan's throwing session.
I say: Pitchers coming back from ligament replacement surgery frequently find that command is an issue. This story implies that Nathan is comfortable enough with his command — the ability to locate the pitch where he wants it — to buzz his fastball off the plate inside on his manager. (It also implies that it matters to Nathan that he not hit his manager; I suspect there are pitchers who would privately love to bury a fastball in their boss' ribcage.)

* LaVelle Neal's blog has commentary on new lefty reliever Dusty Hughes from anonymous team officials:

... they really think Hughes can help. Hughes throws four pitchers — fastball, curve, slider and change — and they think he can be more than a specialty lefty.

``He's Craig Breslow, with crisper stuff,'' one said of Hughes.

I say: I'd be more impressed with this if the Twins had attached any real value to Breslow when they had him. Perhaps it was just Gardy who didn't think much of Breslow, but Breslow was seldom used in game situations and jettisoned rapidly when he hit a rough patch; since the Twins waived him, Breslow has pitched 130 innings with a 2.84 ERA and 115 strikeouts.

The four pitches thing is intriguing, though. It implies that Hughes has a starter's repertoire. That sounds better than it is for a reliever; a starter with four average major league pitches can work with that, but a reliever is better off with one or two quality offerings. Still, it worked for Matt Guerrier.

The trees behind the wall?
Going, gong ...
* The Twins will retire Bert Blyleven's Number 28 this summer, about a week before he is inducted into the Hall of Fame.

I say: No surprise there. I've figured for years that he needed to get into the Hall for his number to be retired. Unlike non-Cooperstown honorees Kent Hrbek and Tony Oliva, Blyleven spent a good portion of his career with other teams.

* The spruce trees behind Target Field's center field fence are to be removed because hitters found the movement of branches in the breeze and the shadows distracting.

I say: As a fan, I liked the trees, but if there were legitimate concerns about visibility, they had to go.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Twins Caravan connections

The 2011 Twins Caravan made its annual Mankato stop last night. One of my co-workers made a sarcastic comment on the drawing power of the contingent -- Tony Oliva, Glen Perkins, Trevor Plouffe and Ben Revere -- that I thought underestimated Tony-O's appeal.

But then, I'm a boomer, and my colleague is a few years younger. Oliva's last at-bat came the year I graduated high school, by which time he was a shell of what he had been; there's a couple generations of Twins fans with hazy memories, at best, of him as a player.

Glen Perkins makes
friends and fans at the Kato.
Certainly Minnesota youngsters swinging wiffle ball bats in their backyards on summer days aren't pretending they're Tony Oliva. Nor are they pretending -- yet -- to be Ben Revere.

The current players at the Kato Ballroom stop are all first-round draft picks. All had some time in the majors last season. None of them is certain to be on the Opening Day roster, and only Perkins figures to be a realistic candidate (barring injuries) this spring.

There's generally a "name" involved in each leg. Sometimes, as with Oliva or Jack Morris, it's a blast from the past; sometimes it's a current player -- Joe Mauer did a one-day, three-stop leg earlier in the week; Danny Valencia's got two shifts scheduled this winter; Denard Span, Matt Capps, Ron Gardenhire all either have or are scheduled to go out. But a lot of the load, yes, is carried by the prospects, the young, the unestablished.

And there are positives in that. The hundreds of Twins fans who saw Revere on Thursday are more likely now to feel a connection to him when he secures a roster spot. For his part, Revere, who grew up in Kentucky, has now seen a bit more of Minnesota. (And probably more snow than he's seen before too.)

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Another bullpen candidate added

Just when we figured the Twins had finished tinkering with their 40-man roster this winter ... they add Dusty Hughes, a LOOGY candidate with experience.

The initial reaction to the news is: If the Kansas City Royals waived him, what's the point in claiming him?

And that may be the final reaction as well. But it's not that difficult to see the appeal here. The Twins had three left-handed bullpen candidates on their 40-man roster -- Jose Mijares, who has repeatedly reported to camp out of shape; Glen Perkins, who does not have a track record of getting left-handers out; and Scott Diamond, a Rule 5 draftee.

The Twins waived Rob Delaney to make room on their 40 for Hughes, and it's a lot easier to imagine a scenario in which Hughes makes the 25-man roster than one in which Delaney makes it.

I don't know if Hughes has options left, and I certainly don't know why the Royals picked him to dump to open a roster spot for Jeff Francis. They would seem to have bigger bullpen problems than him. Which isn't to say he's a good pickup. His stats suggest his control isn't up to Twins standards, and he wasn't all that effective against left-handers last year (.261 batting average allowed).

He's left-handed and breathing. He adds to the Twins' options in their bullpen reconstruction project. If the Twins saw something there they can use more effectively than the Royals did, great; if he bombs, they invested little in acquiring him.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

An unlikely Punto lament

Aaron Gleeman's take on the departure of Nick Punto surprised me today, because Gleeman has regularly criticized the organization for relying on Punto to fill infield gaps.

Nick Punto's 288 plate appearances last season were his
fewest since 2004.
In the past, Gleeman has described Punto's defense as overrated; today's post calls Punto a truly elite gloveman.

The difference, I think, is that this past season Punto really shined in the defensive metrics. I wrote about it in November, that Baseball Info Systems left him off their leaderboards because they simply didn't trust what the numbers were telling them about his defense.

Gleeman takes UZR -- Ultimate Zone Rating -- more seriously than I do. Because of that, he now takes Punto's defensive abilities more seriously than he used to.

Which, now that Punto is 33, is probably an error. My notion is that UZR and other metrics have underrated Punto, but the past is the past. Thirty-three-year-olds are not going to gain range in the middle infield. They are going to decline.

The Twins are right to move on from No. 8. Not only is he older, which implies an increasing proneness to injury and a decrease in ability, but the front office cannot rely on Ron Gardenhire to keep Punto in a reserve role.

The plan is to give the infield jobs to Tsuyoshi Nishioka, Alexi Casilla and Danny Valencia. I suspect that if Punto were around, Gardenhire would want to use him more than Casilla. That might be the right thing in the short run, but it's counterproductive in the long run.

Sure, the Twins probably could have signed Punto to a similar deal as St. Louis did. It's best that they didn't.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Who's the MVP? (A detour from real life)

About a year ago I began a solo Strat-O-Matic league with cards from their Hall of Fame and Negro League stars sets — 10 teams, 44 games each. I have now finished the regular season — still have the championship series to play, but the project is essentially complete.

On the basis that little is more boring than somebody else's fantasy league, I won't delve into the details. If you are really interested, I chronicled the ins and outs here.

What I'm after is opinion on the league MVPs — Most Valuable Player and Most Valuable Pitcher. (I won't call the latter Cy Young because Cy Young was in this league — and wasn't all that good.)

I offer three candidates for each, alphabetically, using only traditional stats because (a) most of these guys never heard of on-base percentage and (b) I kept the stats by hand and opted to avoid extra computation:


Josh Gibson, c/1b: His team, Homestead, finished second in its division, two games out. Gibson was first in batting average (.423), second in home runs (18), second in runs scored (48), ninth in RBIs (38).

Babe Ruth, lf: His team, Franklins, lost a one-game playoff for its division. Ruth led the league in home runs (22), runs (52) and walks (45). He was fourth in RBIs (43).  His .347 batting average did not make the leader board.

Tris Speaker, cf: His team, Teddys, won that one-game playoff. Speaker was second in batting average (.420), RBIs (47) and hits (74). He led the league in doubles (17).


Three-Finger Brown: 8-2, 3.01 for the Teddys. His 89.6 innings were second most in the league. The wins tied for the league lead. The ERA was third best. Not on the leader board in strikeouts.

Carl Hubbell: 8-1, 3.47 for the Franklins. Led league in innings (93.3), tied for sixth in strikeouts (60), was fifth in ERA.

Slim Jones: 6-1, 2.48 for the X-Giants. Led league in ERA. Relatively light workload (72.6 innings), but was still fourth in strikeouts (62).

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Morneau situation

Justin Morneau was hitting .345/
.437/.618 when he got hurt.
The treatment of concussions is at best an inexact science, which is part of why we all spent the second half of last season expecting Justin Morneau to return at any moment. Next week, next month, will he be ready in time for some at-bats in the minors, maybe he'd be able to pinch-hit in the postseason ... plenty of speculation but no real action.

As it transpired, Morneau experienced concussion symptoms well into the winter, and the speculation turned more toward: Is this Corey Koskie revisited? Koskie's career was short-circuited by concussions, and that was always the worst-case scenario. (Minnesota hockey fans also know that Pierre-Marc Bouchard of the Wild missed more than a season after a concussion.

But there's good news today: Morneau was told last week by the doctors to go full bore in in workouts and try to push through any symptoms. And all is well, according to general manager Bill Smith:

He said he pushed it, I think he said - this was Monday night - so he said on Friday he pushed it about as hard as he can in any workout and he didn’t have any problems.  And that’s a great thing for us. 

Indeed it is. The plan is for him to start taking batting practice Feb. 1 and be at training camp on time.

Meanwhile, the Twins have not only last season's Plan B -- Jason Kubel in right, Michael Cuddyer at first and Jim Thome getting the bulk of the DH at-bats --  on hand again, they have imported a couple of minor league first basemen who could step in, Jeff Bailey and Justin Huber.

The Twins would prefer not to have to lean on either, but they are now deeper at first base than they had been the previous two seasons -- two seasons in which Morneau was unavailable down the stretch.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Managerial transition points

I mentioned earlier this month that I was nibbling my way through Chris Jaffe's book on managers. I've finished now, and if you're interested in the history of baseball, you will be interested in the book, although it's not a particularly easy read.

One point he made -- keeping in mind that it was published a bit less than a year ago -- concerns his notion that there have been three significant "waves" of managerial retirements, each of which coincided with significant changes in the job.

The first came in 1920, when Hughie Jennings, Clark Griffith and George Stallings left the job. The second was in 1950-51 (Connie Mack, Joe McCarthy, Billy Southworth and Frankie Frisch, among others). And the third was in 1976-77 (Walter Alston, Bill Rigney, Paul Richards, Danny Murtaugh and Red Schoendienst).

The first wave came with the banning of the spitball and the coming of the lively ball era. The second came with the societal shifts of the post-war era, including the breaking of the color bar, night ball and the rise of personal autonomy -- managers were less able to police the off -field activities of their players. The third came with the advent of free agency.

Jaffe, I think, somewhat overstates this contention. Mack's "retirement" wasn't because of the social shifts so much as because he was 87; elsewhere, Jaffe notes that he was merely a figurehead for the last 10 years of so of his career. Richards' 1976 stint as manager came 15 years after his previous dugout job. Schoendienst returned for two interim stints after 1976. Stallings didn't retire at all; he continued to manage in the minors.
Does Bobby Cox's
departure indicate a
change in the job of

But there remains truth to the thesis, which makes me wonder: Is there a similar shift under way now?

Lou Piniella, Bobby Cox and Joe Torre all left the profession in recent months. That's at least as significant a departure of managerial experience as any of Jaffe's identified waves.

I don't know right now what the big shift in the job would be if there is one. It's something I hope to keep in mind the next year or so, to see if there's something happening behind the scenes that changes the job.

More likely, we simply had a whole lot of really old managers decide at once that they could be happier without the headaches. (And we have more old guys -- Tony LaRussa, Dusty Baker, Jim Leyland -- still around.)

Poll results: We had 51 responses to last week's question, which Twins starter would you be willing to trade for Joba Chamberlain?

The plurality went for Nick Blackburn (19 votes, 37 percent). Fifteen (29 percent) said Kevin Slowey, 11 (21 percent) none of the abover, six (11 percent) picked Scott Baker and zero wanted Brian Duensing to go in such a trade.

New poll up.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Punting Nick Punto and payroll speculation

A fare-thee-well to No. 8
UPDATE: Punto signed today with the Cardinals.

It's never over 'til it's over, but as Joe Christensen reported this morning, it certainly appears that the Twins have broken up with Nick Punto.

It's been fairly obvious for a while. Punto is on the wrong side of 30; the front office wants Alexi Casilla to get a clean shot at shortstop/second base and has reason to believe that if Punto's around, Casilla won't get that shot; and Matt Tolbert -- like Punto a switch-hitting multi-position scrappy infielder -- is out of options.

None of that is new information. The part of the report that caught my attention was this almost throwaway sentence:

Insiders say Carl Pavano's contract actually pushed them over budget, requiring special approval from CEO Jim Pohlad.

The Twins have been quite conservative about their offseason budgets over the years. Some organizations will go over their budget in the winter with the plan to deal off some contract(s) before the season starts. The Twins typically don't do that.

Presumably Pohlad's OK means the Twins are free to keep all six starters on hand all season if they desire. Or perhaps his OK merely means Bill Smith and Co. have until the season begins and they have to actually start paying the players to get the payroll down to their budget.

If they have to get the payroll down before April, it should be doable by trading one of the starters.

Literary pretensions: Baseball haiku

I'm not saying it's good haiku, mind you. But ... it's been the sort of winter that makes me want to go into hibernation, just stay in bed for a month or so and let the world warm up without me participating, and that's impractical.

So I'll change it up a bit here. Hey, we have a Japanese infielder to root for in 2011; I'll try some Japanese-style poetry.

Food for the Soul
Baseball, beer, bratwurst —
All the nourishment I need
On a summer night

A SI Moment
A lefty's high heat
Thome swings, his front toe up
Slow jog into joy

Tommy John rehab
Which scar is longer:
That on a pitcher's elbow
Or memory's sear?

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Pavano contract

Carl Pavano's return to the Twins is finally official, and a bit more team-friendly than I had expected: two years, 16.5 million. Early this offseason there had been expectations of something around $10 million a year.

Still, I'm not a fan of this deal, as regular readers probably know. Not to belabor the points again, but ...

Carl Pavano fell just short of career highs
in wins and innings pitched in 2010.
  • He's 35;
  • He has an extensive injury history (although he has been durable the past two seasons);
  • His strikeout rate, never all that impressive, plummeted last season.

He's a better bet to run off an ERA above 5.00 than under 4.00 in 2011. They don't need to pay $8 million for that.

The Yankees -- with whom Pavano had a miserable, injury-ridden four years -- reportedly made a significant offer (one report said one year, $10 million). I don't know which was less likely, the Yankees bringing him back or him choosing to go back there. But I still think, as I said repeatedly this winter, that the Twins would be better off with the extra draft picks in June than with Pavano in their rotation this season.

Retaining him DOES deepen Minnesota's rotation options. Without him, Plan A was Francisco Liriano, Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey, Brian Duensing and Nick Blackburn (my ranking of them by ability), with Jeff Manship as the initial Plan B when somebody gets hurt.

I don't regard Pavano as truly better than any of those five, but he's not getting $8 million to work out of the bullpen. Assuming that all six starters are healthy, we can figure that Liriano, Pavano and Baker are locks for the rotation, with the other three duking it out for the other two slots.

Duensing is probably the guy who could most help out of the bullpen, but Slowey is the one I think Ron Gardenhire least likes. 

Meanwhile, Kyle Gibson is a real candidate to force his way onto the staff sometime this summer, next year at the latest. If nobody gets hurt, I sense a trade coming this spring.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Capps vs.Crain, Fuentes, Guerrier and/or Rauch

Jon Rauch: The one
rated Twins free agent
reliever who didn't
find a multi-year deal.
Nick Nelson went on a rant about the Matt Capps contract, and there is truth in his core complaint: Matt Capps is going to get in excess of $7 million next season because of the save statistic.

It is an article of faith in the "real" baseball world that the ninth inning is different from the others, and it is equally an article of faith in the sabermetric world that saves are overrated. I see truth in both positions, and lean more to the sabermetric view -- but in the real world, the designated closer has driven the closer by committee to virtual extinction. Managers prefer, for a variety of reasons, to run their bullpens around the save, and that makes the stat overvalued.

Where Nelson (and he's not alone in this error) goes wrong in his rant is in assessing the alternatives. From his post:

Phil Mackey astutely pointed out that the team could have kept two of its other departed relievers by not tendering Capps a contract ...

Basic math problem. Seven million dollars is not $12 million, which is what Matt Guerrier signed for, and what Jesse Crain signed for. Seven million dollars is not $10 million, which is was Brian Fuentes got. It is more than Jon Rauch's $3.75 million, but there is no math that makes the free agent contracts any two of those four add up to less than Capps' deal, even on a one-year basis. 

On a one-year basis, it's close, but that's irrelevant. The market deemed Guerrier, Crain and Fuentes worthy of multiple years, and the Twins were never going to ink any of them to one-year deals. The Twins let other teams take the gamble of paying them into their mid 30s (in Fuentes' case, beyond). 

Letting the four free agents go was probably wise and certainly justifiable. Keeping Capps is a bit more dicey, but it's hardly the insanity Nelson calls it.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

More talk about pitchers

When the Twins announced the Jim Thome signing last week, Bill Smith (the general manager) indicated that  Carl Pavano was going to spend the weekend making his decision and that saga was likely to be concluded Monday or Tuesday.

Matt Capps: The $7.15 million set-up man
(if all goes well).
That's on hold, we are told now, because today (Tuesday) is the deadline to exchange arbitration numbers. That's a big day for all front offices as they deal with the likes of (in the Twins case) Matt Capps, Delmon Young and Francisco Liriano.

That Pavano can be put on a back burner suggests, again, that he's returning. If he had decided to sign elsewhere, no back-burner is needed.

In other pitching developments:

* Jon Rauch landed with the Toronto Blue Jays (one year, $3.75 million, with a 2012 option). Brian Fuentes signed with Oakland (two years, $10 million). That cleans out the four rated free-agent relievers from the 2010 season. Jesse Crain, Matt Guerrier, Rauch and Fuentes combined for 45 percent of the Twins bullpen innings, according to Aaron Gleeman; I would have thought it more, but Fuentes hardly registers, and Rauch's workload was limited.

Matt Capps has been retained; his $7.15 million is probably more than the Twins had penciled in, but he's back. He closes if Joe Nathan isn't ready, he sets up if Nathan is ready.

The absence of a deep established bullpen brings to mind a story from the early days of the Civil War, when William Sherman heard Abraham Lincoln, after being briefed on the North's problems, say, "Well, I guess we'll manage to keep house." Sherman was not impressed by what he deemed a lack of urgency in Lincoln, but events proved Abe right. The Twins knew the four relievers were departing; we shall see if Ron Gardenhire, Rick Anderson and company can keep house without them. I suspect they can.

* That the A's forked out that kind of money for an overqualified LOOGY/underwhelming closer startled me. Billy Beane is known for trying to exploit market inefficiencies, and one of them has long been the tendency to overpay for saves. Beane has certainly constructed an imposing bullpen, with Andrew Bailey in the ninth and Brad Ziegler, Michael Wuertz, Fuentes and Craig Breslow available to mix and match.

* The Yankees are reported to be sniffing at the decaying corpses of Kevin Millwood and Freddy Garcia to fill out their starting rotation. Such a signing would be akin to the Twins past pattern of signing the likes of Ramon Ortiz or Sidney Ponson; the idea is to fill a gap for a few weeks while a prospect marinates a bit longer in the high minors or until a better option emerges on the trade market.

I find it hard to believe that the Yanks would rather go with a washed-up vet than give Joba Chamberlain a clean shot at the rotation.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Too good to start, too talented for the 'pen

This is the rule about relief pitchers, even the best ones: They are failed starters.

Maybe they lack usable secondary pitches. Maybe they break down under the strain of 100-pitch outings. Maybe they're too emotionally wound.

If they could start, they would. The White Sox, back in the mid '70s, had a couple of young hard throwers who had had success in relief. Paul Richards, who had been a genius manager in the 1950s as a builder of pitching staffs, was back in the dugout after a couple of decades as a general manager, and he moved Terry Forster and Goose Gossage into the rotation, because they were his best arms and his best arms belonged in the rotation.

As a relief pitcher in 1975,
Gossage struck out 130 batters
in 141.2 innings; as a starter the
following year, 135 Ks in 224
Forster went 2-12, 4.37; Gossage went 9-17, 3.94. And that was that for them as starting pitchers. Forster is remembered now, if at all, for David Letterman's gibes about his weight — the fat tub of goo — but he was a very good reliever for more than a decade. Gossage is now in the Hall of Fame, and if you're going to put relief pitchers in Cooperstown, Gossage is the place to start — but he was a failure as a starter.

That's the rule. One can find exceptions here and there — Dave Righetti, Joakim Soria – but the rule holds. Mariano Rivera became a reliever after having Tommy John surgery. Joe Nathan moved to the pen after getting hurt. The Twins tried hard, really hard, to find a starting pitcher in LaTroy Hawkins'  talent and never found it. (Baseball history, at least the part before pitching staffs got split between starters and relievers, is riddled with guys like the Hawk —  check out Si Johnson and Milt Gaston as examples.  Great arms, bad teams, lousy results.)

These guys thrive in the bullpen because it's less demanding. They can succeed without a change up, or simply keep their joints attached,  for 15 pitches at a time.

But here's a odd trend developing, and Joba Chamberlain (referenced in my previous post) is a harbinger of it.

Chamberlain was a revelation in 2007. The big guy burst onto the scene with 24 relief innings, 0.38 ERA. The front office imposed "the Joba rules"  — usage limits — to keep manager Joe Torre from burning the kid out. He was going to be their next star, the rotation anchor of their future. But first, they wanted to win this year, and they needed a big arm in the pen.

Things have gone down hill from there. Chamberlain's ERA has gone from 0.38 to 2.62 to 4.75 to 4.40. General manager Brian Cashman this winter essentially wrote him off as a starter, and the Yankees don't trust him as a late-inning option right now either.

Consider the Texas Rangers and Neftali Feliz. Or the Cincinnati Reds and Ardolis Chapman. Or the White Sox and Chris Sale. Three young power arms, all stuffed into bullpen roles to help the here-and-now rather than develop as starters in the minors.

From this perspective, it's silly. They're be far more valuable as successful starters than as successful relievers, because 200-plus innings is more valuable than 60 or fewer. But as their teams saw it last season, and most likely this season as well, their immediate impact is too tempting to delay the gratification.

And they may be right. Chapman may not be able to develop his secondary pitches. Sale's delivery may be too risky for heavy use. The Rangers aren't about to ship their Rookie-of-the Year closer back to Triple A to master a change up, and as defending AL champs aren't likely to opt for on-the-job training for Feliz as a starter. Even Chamberlain — as controversial as the use limits put on him have been, he did have a history of arm problems in college.

The Twins are not immune to this thinking either. Remember: They resisted using Johan Santana in the rotation because Ron Gardenhire so loved having that extra power arm in the bullpen. What a wasted resource that would have been.

There are enough failed starters around with which to build bullpens. Let the most talented ones fail as starters first.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The ramifications of Rafael Soriano

The news that the Yankees had signed Rafael Soriano had barely sunk in when reports surfaced that this wasn't anything general manager Brian Cashman wanted to do. This came from the powers above him.

Those reports were quickly followed by declarations that Cashman still has the "full confidence" of the Steinbrenners, but really. It's never a good thing for an organization when somebody is eager to make it immediately known after a major move that the GM was opposed. Either the GM is convinced that it's a blunder and wants the rest of baseball to know he's not responsible, or the higher-ups are setting him up.

And it's really never a good thing for an organization to let Scott Boras make its personnel decisions.

Meanwhile, one has to wonder what this means for Joba Chamberlain. The Yankees of the past 15 years plus have not been patient with young pitchers, and young pitchers need patience. Cashman wanted to go into 2011 relying on Chamberlain and David Robertson in set-up roles; the Steinbrenner brothers didn't agree. The Yankees don't see Chamberlain as an effective starter, and they have some unsettled spots in the rotation.

Joba the Heat may now be Joba the Trade Bait. One can argue with how the Yankees have handled him, but trading him for a starter seems likely. That's the Yankee Way.

When (OK, if) Carl Pavano re-signs with Minnesota, the Twins will have six established starters. I wonder how the Twins view Chamberlain. Would they trade Nick Blackburn or Kevin Slowey  for him? Would the Yankees accept either?


Poll stuff: My misworded question on Hall of Fame candidates (it should have referenced the 2012 class, not 2010) drew 37 responses. If those voters were representative of the actual electorate, none of the four listed would win election.

Barry Larkin led with 24 votes, but that's just 65 percent -- well short of the 75 percent he needs from the writers. Alan Trammell had 16 votes (43 percent), Tim Raines 15 (40 percent) and Jack Morris 12 (22 percent). Four respondents said none of the above.

New poll up

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The return of Jim Thome

I was skeptical -- at times embarrassingly so -- of the merits of signing Jim Thome last year. I detailed my reasons to be wary of Thome here and here.

Jim Thome contributed some of the
most memorable moments in Target
Field's first year.
That the signing turned out to be a great help to the Twins in 2010 didn't erase the reasons to be wary. And those reasons remain. He still can't help a team in the field, still painfully slow, still doesn't hit left-handers particularly well.

What he does do, he does extremely well, or at least he did last season. (Rob Neyer suggests here that Thome in 2010 was the most productive old part-time player in major league history.) Even at twice the salary of last year, it's not difficult to see why the Twins wanted him back.

I fear that there's bit of Brett Favre flavor to Thome's return -- an aging star coming off a surprisingly superb season and hoping for another season of magic. In Thome's case, of course, he's being paid as, and counted on as, a part-time player, not as the cornerstone of the roster.

We shouldn't expect him to perform at his 2010 level. That's asking a lot of anybody. If the regulars in the Twins DH-corner outfield-first base nexus stay healthy, there's not a ton of playing time left over -- but Justin Morneau, Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel have all had significant injuries in the past. Thome should still be productive enough to help fill the gaps as they arise.

At least there's this in favor of the deal: There had been reports connecting Manny Ramirez to the Twins. That notion, farfetched as it seems to me, is now dead and buried. Which it probably was anyway; I cannot imagine Ron Gardenhire letting Manny B. Manny in his clubhouse.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Thome's back

Jim Thome: 589 career
homers, 25 with
the Twins last season.
It's not often I read the free-agent market correctly, but my belief that there wouldn't be sufficient interest in Jim Thome for him to get a multi-year deal appears to have been correct.

One year, $3 million with playing time bonuses.

I'll do something more on this for Saturday.

Burning a hole in their pockets

Brian Cashman, general manager of the New York Yankees, has delivered another example of why little a GM says for public consumption can be taken at face value.

This is Cashman last week:

“I will not lose our No. 1 draft pick. I would have for Cliff Lee. I won’t lose our No. 1 draft pick for anyone else.”

Rafael Soriano had 45 saves last
season for Tampa Bay; now he'll
set up Mariano Rivera.
That was last week, this is this week. The Yankees have reached an agreement with Rafael Soriano, last year's AL save leader and a Type A free agent offered arbitration by Tampa Bay. As a result, the Yankees forfeit their first round pick in June to the Rays.

Beyond the inherent untrustworthiness of general managers, I draw two inferences from this move:

  1. The Yankees don't think Andy Pettitte will return
  2. The Yankees have become another organization overpaying for established relief pitching.

Cashman had money set aside for the starting rotation. He expected to land Lee; he waited for Pettitte. Lee is gone, and Pettitte remains quasi-retired. He surveyed the market of starting pitchers, didn't like what he sees, and opted to spend on his bullpen instead.

Soriano is certainly a quality arm. A 1.73 ERA and a 0.802 WHIP ain't hay. He's also had multiple arm surgeries, is  on the wrong side of 30, and carried a steep price, both in salary (three years, $35 million is the reported figure, although some of that, perhaps a majority of it, could be player options) and in the opportunity cost of the lost draft pick.

Soirano is going to get big-time closer money to pitch the eighth inning, and even for big-time closers, that's marketplace silliness. I've reckoned the Tigers, Dodgers and White Sox overspent on set-up men this winter already, but Soriano will essentially make what Joaquin Benoit, Matt Guerrier and Jesse Crain are to pull in combined.

Relief pitching isn't sufficiently difficult to find/create to justify that kind of spending.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Thome and Texas

Jim Thome remains unsigned, and over the past few days published reports have had the Texas Rangers sniffing in his direction.

Jim Thome can still mash right-handers, but the rest
of his game is lacking.
I'll have to see it to believe it. The Rangers have already signed Adrian Beltre to play third base, which leaves Michael Young positionless. He's not going to return to the middle infield -- the Rangers aren't that dumb -- and at $16 million annually, he's pretty much untradeable. Perhaps they'll put him at first base, thus giving him the cycle of infield positions (he started his career at second, volunteered to play short to accommodate Alfonso Soriano after the A-Rod trade, was moved to third against his wishes to make room for Elvis Andrus and now is being displaced by Beltre), but ... the current plan is to make him the DH. He probably, at age 34, isn't a good enough hitter to merit everyday play at either first or DH.

Even if there's fire behind this smoke -- and not just the self-serving leaks of an agent hoping to scare the Twins into upping their ante for Thome -- I'm not particularly worried about Thome departing.

There's a good case to be made that he doesn't really fit the Twins' needs anyway. The Twins must be aware that the White Sox are stockpiling lefty relievers with the explicit intention of playing matchups with the Twins' lefty-heavy lineup. If the Twins are going to carry a part-time DH, it ought to be a right-handed bat. That would allow the Twins to platoon Jason Kubel -- although there is little reason to believe Ron Gardenhire would be so inclined anyway.

 I wrote early in the offseason that I didn't see where a market for Thome existed. Now we're into January, and I still don't see where a market for Thome is.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

More spring training anticipation

I posted Tuesday about my upcoming spring training vacation. Lo and behold, the tickets for two of the games arrived in the mail that same day. Beautiful.

Kyle Gibson starred at Missouri and fell
to the Twins in the 2009 draft because
of a stress fracture in his forearm.
Also Tuesday: the news of the 19 "invitations" to the Twins major league camp issues to players not on the 40-man roster. As always, the list is heavy with catchers -- there are 20 pitchers on the 40-man roster right now, even Carl Pavano yet to be officially signed, and somebody's got to be on the receiving end of all those throws.

The headline news on the list is pitcher Kyle Gibson, generally regarded as the organization's top prospect. Joe Christensen tweeted that Gibson is "knocking on the door" for a rotation spot, but it's going to take multiple injuries for him to make the roster. Assuming Pavano is re-signed (as all indications suggest), the Twins will have six established starters in camp plus a handful of guys with major league experience. Gibson's realistic goal is to make Ron Gardenhire and Rick Anderson remember him come July.

The non-headline news: No Toby Gardenhire. The manager's son has been a non-roster invitee the past two seasons as a deep reserve catcher. But the idea that he has established himself as a catching option is belied by his meager playing time behind the dish in the minors: One game in 2009, two games in 2010.

He's what is known as an "organization player" -- kept around to meet roster requirements but not a real prospect. It's possible that he's been cut loose, but he's more likely going to be a bench guy at Double A or Triple A.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Snow and spring training

This is the thought that sustained me this morning as I shoveled the driveway for the umpteenth time this season:

Today is Jan. 11. The Twins pitchers and catchers report on Feb 17. Thirty-seven days to spring training. 

I didn't attempt to calculate how many days it would be before I go ... that won't be until March. But I am going. Plane tickets purchased, hotel reservations made, and, on the morning single game tickets for the Grapefruit League games went on sale, game tickets ordered in a half-hour duel with the online system.

As the snowpiles at the end of my driveway once again edge toward eye-high on this 6-footer, it becomes increasingly difficult to wait.

Blog readers -- or at least those who participated in last week's poll -- look more favorably upon the Hall of Fame candidacy of Jeff Bagwell than does the actual electorate. Bagwell got 41 percent of the vote announced last week; 25 of my 40 respondents (62 percent) said yes to Bagwell, 15 (38 percent) said no.

New poll up.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Housekeeping stuff

The various links to the right of this space probably matter more to me than to you, but I've made some changes this week and thought I'd explain them.

* I dropped some dormant Free Press blogs -- including, I'm sorry to say, the pet blog I was involved in. Pets on Parade never drew the participation I imagined when I came up with the idea and pitched it to a couple of my co-workers.

* I shuffled the AL Central blogs considerably. My notion last winter was to get at least one, preferably two, non-newspaper blogs devoted to the Twins divisional rivals. Two of the blogs I started with, Mack Avenue Tigers and Sox Machine, have now been co-opted by SB Nation. (Sox Machine is fading itself out, and I expect I will eventually drop it from the roll.) I gave up trying to read The DiaTribe last summer; I'm sure there was good content in there, but it was smothered in the verbiage.

So ... I've added all the SB Nation blogs for the AL Central (including Twinkie Town, listed with the Twins blogs). We'll see how well that fits my core purpose, which is to have an easy way to keep tabs on the other division teams. I'm keeping Rany on the Royals, and added Smells Like Mascot (a cartoon blog on Chicago sports, heavy on the White Sox) and Roar of the Tigers. That's two blogs for each team except the Indians.

* The Twins blogs ... I've wrestled with this some, and will continue to. The basic rule: If I list it, it's a site I check regularly and am comfortable recommending. If anything, I ought to purge a couple from the roll. On the other hand, I know from Google Analytics that I get a lot of my traffic from other blogs -- thank you, Aaron Gleeman, and Curve for a Strike, and K-bro -- and on that basis, I should be more generous with the links.

The upshot: The only change in the Twins section is adding the SB Nation site. I haven't spent much time there myself; it's there to be consistent with the AL Central section, and that may not be a good enough reason. If it goes away, it will be because it wasn't adding much to my experience. If the Pioneer Press and Kelly's Corner links go away, it will be because they don't get updated regularly.

For me, this blog is not only my platform but the center of my Web ... I start here and move out through the links. It probably doesn't serve that function for you, and it probably shouldn't, but I'm still interested in how it fits in your experience.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Barry Larkin, Alan Trammell and the golden age of shortstops

Alan Trammell in 1987 hit
.343 with 28 homers, 109 runs
and 105 RBIs for a division
winners— and lost the MVP
to George Bell. Ridiculous.
In the spirit of good will toward all, I've been trying to deduce why the writers have twice bypassed Barry Larkin for the Hall of Fame.  For that matter, I've been stumped for even longer by the same question as regards Alan Trammell.

Larkin was the superior player, but both were far better than several of the shortstops already enshrined in Cooperstown.

Larkin did miss the equivalent of about two seasons in his prime to a series of injuries —a half season here, two weeks there, a month over there — but he was one of the most well-rounded players in history. He did everything well.

Except, perhaps, time his career.

Trammell, I think, suffers in comparison to his contemporaries Cal Ripken and Robin Yount. Both were better hitters — not that Trammell was a slouch at the dish -- and until Yount moved to the outfield, Trammell was never better than the third best shortstop in the American League. It's rather akin to Duke Snider, who was the third best centerfielder in New York City in the 1950s. Snider was great, but Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle were greater still.
Barry Larkin won just one
Gold Glove, but there was this
fellow in St. Louis ...

And then there's Larkin.

Larkin's first season as a regular was 1987. Ripken was in his prime and Ozzie Smith and Trammell were getting ripped off in the MVP votes (both finished second to "run producing" outfielders who didn't really generate more offense). (Yount had already become an outfielder.)

By the end of Larkin's tenure, we had the Trinity (Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Normar Garciaparra) — plus Miguel Tejada winning an MVP, Omar Vizquel winning 11 Gold Gloves, and the rise of Edgar Renteria and Orlando Cabrera, who have both had pretty distinguished careers.

No matter who you want to put in the top 10 all time shortstops, no matter how you want to order them, I would say at least half of them have to overlap with Barry Larkin's career. At least. I might go so high as eight of the 10.

And one of them is Barry Larkin. Trammell might be too. If he's not, he's real close.

Larkin figures to win induction in 2012. Trammell, not so much. He and Tim Raines appear to be the biggest blind spots in the electorate right now. Some would say the voters' anti-steroid stance is, but I view that as a work in progress. They're arguing that one, pro and con. Raines and Trammell are just being overlooked.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Jack Morris' fading Hall of Fame candidacy

Time is running out for the hero of Game 7. (In Minnesota, there is only one Game 7 -- the 1991 World Series finale, 1-0 in 10 innings, with St. Paul native Jack Morris going the distance.)

Jack Morris' 3.90 career ERA
is worse than that of any
pitcher currently enshrined
in the Hall of Fame.
Jack Morris is about as divisive a Hall of Fame candidate as sits on the writers ballot. Statistically, he is a marginal candidate -- one has to draw the lines just so to get him in. He's the "winningest pitcher of the '80s" -- but 1980-89 just happens to be about the weakest 10-year span for pitcher wins you can find. A good pitcher, clearly; not a great one, at least in my estimation and that of about half the electorate.

Anyway: Morris got 53.5 percent of the vote this year. That's up very slightly from 2010. He has just three years of eligibility left with the writers (Blyleven had one year left when he got in). He needs to get to 75 percent.

Next year is a thin crop of newcomers to the ballot; Bernie Williams is probably the most viable candidate. But in 2013: Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, Mike Piazza, Craig Biggio, Curt Schilling, Kenny Lofton ... that crew will suck all the oxygen out of the discussion. And in 2014: Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Mike Mussina and Frank Thomas. Those classes will leave little room for backlog candidates to emerge in the voting.

For Morris, it's 2012 or wait for the veterans committee.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Circle me, Cooperstown: Blyleven is finally in

Bert Blyleven in the 1987 World Series. His postseason
record—5-1, 2.47 — came in three seasons, well spaced:
1970, 1979 and 1987.
The news this afternoon that Bert Blyleven and Roberto Alomar were elected to the Hall of Fame by the baseball writers is no real surprise; they each fell just a handful of votes shy last winter, and their ascension into baseball immortality this time around was expected.

Blyleven's case is particularly noteworthy because when he first hit the ballot 14 years ago, there appeared to be no way that the writers were ever going to elect him -- no matter the win totals, no matter the strikeout totals, no matter the postseason record, no matter the legendary curveball.

And now Blyleven's in. He's in because of the sabermetric crowd. He's in because the more people like Bill James and Rich Lederer and Rob Neyer (and others) dug into the numbers, the more they put Blyleven's career into context, the more he stood out. These nonvoters' research informed such writers as Joe Posnanski, Peter Gammons and Jayson Stark, who took up the cause as well.

Lederer in particular beat the Blyleven drum, with no fewer than 29 entries in his "Bert Blyleven series" at the Baseball Analysts web site. Some tout Blyleven's qualifications; others tear down the arguments of those who vote against him.

There's some irony here, since Blyleven himself last season used some of the same arguments used against him by the Flat Earth Society portion of the electorate to argue against giving the Cy Young award to Felix Hernandez.

Blyleven belongs. The only problem with his selection is that it took 14 years.


I assume that now the Twins will retire Blyleven's No. 28 (with Jesse Crain's departure, the number is vacant). I doubt, however, that they'll blow a hole in the wall of Target Field to get a Gate 28 in his honor.

Luis Tiant, Graig Nettles and Bert Blyleven

Chris Jaffe -- yeah, you've seen his name here a few times lately -- posted an item Tuesday about a big trade the Twins made 15,000 days earlier.

The Twins got Luis Tiant and Stan Williams; in return, they shipped off to Cleveland Bob Miller, Ted Uhlaender, Dean Chance and a young guy they couldn't fit into their lineup named Graig Nettles.

Graig Nettles hit 390 homers
in 22 major league seasons.
Twelve of those homers
came for the Twins.
These were name players. Chance had won a Cy Young; Tiant was one season removed from a 1.60 ERA and 22 wins. Williams and Miller were veteran swingmen; Uhlaender had been the Twins regular center fielder.

In retrospect, we Twins fans would probably like to have Nettles back. But the trade made sense at the time, and in the short term, it wasn't a disaster.Chance, Uhlaender and Miller didn't do much when they left the Twins. Nettles had a stellar career. As for Tiant and Williams ...

I had a post back in September about the 1970 Twins staff. Williams had a big year in relief -- 10-1 with 15 saves and a 1.99 ERA in 113-plus innings. He and Ron Perranoski (7-8, 34 saves, 2.43 ERA 111 innings) were a devastating right-left bullpen combo. They were also 33 and 34 years old respectively, and both men's performance fell off the cliff in 1971.

Jaffe dismisses Tiant's contribution to the 1970 Twins, but he was doing what the Twins were looking for -- 6-0, 3.12 -- before suffering an arm injury in late May that derailed his career for a few years.

People are all agog about the current Phillies rotation, but consider the Twins rotation entering 1970:

  • Jim Perry (age 34) had won 20 games in 1969 with a 2.82 ERA.
  • Dave Boswell (age 24) was also coming off a 20-win season and had four straight double-digit win years on his resume.
  • Jim Kaat (age 31) was one of the better lefties in the league.
  • Tiant (29) had had a poor 1969 season, but had been marvelous in 1968 and was clearly a talented pitcher.

Perry won 24 games and the Cy Young in 1970, and Kaat was his usual effective self (14-10, 3.56). But Boswell's career cratered and never recovered, and, as noted already, Tiant got hurt.

Tiant's injury (and Boswell's ineffectiveness) opened holes in the Twins rotation. One of those holes was plugged by a 19-year-old named Bert Blyleven.

Tiant and Kaat both have Hall of Fame cases. Today should be the day Blyleven's case is finally accepted.

Today is Blyleven Day (or it should be)

Today the BBWAA announces who got elected to the Hall of Fame, and unless everybody's crystal ball is getting static, Bert Blyleven will be in.

Fox Sports North plans live coverage from Blyleven's Fort Myers. Fla., home. The announcement is expected at 1 p.m.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Anticipating the Hall of Fame announcement

The results of the BBWAA voting on this year's Hall of Fame candidates are to be announced Wednesday.

Chris Jaffe — the guy who wrote the book on managers that was the basis of my Monday post — has his prediction of how the vote will go here.

This is a bit like reading a public opinion poll after the voting is over but before the vote is counted; we want to know the winner, but patience will bring the numbers that matter.

But Jaffe's put enough work into understanding how this particular electorate works that one of his points — that Jack Morris either goes in this year (unlikely) or in 2011 or not at all through the writers' vote — strikes me as particularly intriguing.

Morris is an exceptionally marginal candidate. There are worse pitchers in the Hall of Fame, and a number of superior pitchers who have been left out. I see no reason to put Morris in when Jim Kaat and Tommy John are out.

I've made this observation before, but I expect this to be my last chance to do so with these four names: Only four of the eligible pitchers in the modern era (since the formation of the American League in 1901) with at least 250 wins are not enshrined in Cooperstown: Bert Blyleven, Kaat, John and Morris.

Morris is really the odd duck in that group — he's at 254 lifetime wins. Blyleven, Kaat and John are all in the 280s. Morris barely makes that 250-win cutoff;  the other three are comfortably above it.

One other thing those four have in common: They've all been broadcasters for the Twins. It's a conspiracy, I tell you.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Ron Gardenhire's bullpen magic

A bit more than a year ago, a writer for The Hardball Times website, Chris Jaffe, was promoting to bloggers his then-upcoming book on the history of baseball managers. I milked this excerpt for one post in November, then put the book on my Christmas wish list and sat back, figuring that I'd write more about it when I actually had the book.

Effective bullpen use has been a key to Ron Gardenhire's
managerial success with the Twins.
But the publication date got pushed back -- first to January, then, as I recall, to spring, and it faded from my priority list until fall, when I ran across a favorable mention of it by Bill James. Back on the Christmas wish list it went, and into my hands it came.

I've been slogging though "Evaluating Baseball's Managers: A history and analysis of performance in the major leagues, 1876-2008"  in bits and pieces. Jaffe has concocted a series of evaluative stats that I don't necessarily understand, but I can avoid the math and get the kernel of what he's talking about.

And the section on Ron Gardenhire is illuminating -- especially in the context of this offseason, when the Twins are reshaping their relief corps with a bunch of question marks.

Jaffe wraps up almost two pages of detail of Gardy's history of relief pitchers, two pages in which he examines everybody from LaTroy Hawkins and Eddie Guardado to Willie Eyre and Joe Roa to Joe Nathan and Matt Guerrier:

Folks, Ron Gardenhire has not been simply good at handling a bullpen. In all the decades since the bullpen has been an established part of the major league roster, no manager has ever had a seven-year stretch like this is getting the best production from his relievers.

That seven-year stretch is 2002-08; I think it's safe to say that Gardenhire didn't hurt his status at all in 2009-10.

Past performance is no guarantee of future results, of course. But the fact that the established arms have left the Twins middle relief corps does not mean the bullpen will be ineffective. Gardy built a 'pen essentially from scratch in 2002 -- he moved Guardado to closer and found roles in which Hawkins, J.C. Romero, Mike Jackson and Tony Fiore could be effective. A few years later, with all those guys gone, he rebuilt the pen again, this time with Nathan, Juan Rincon, Jesse Crain,  Dennys Reyes and Guerrier.

It's merely time for his third generation.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Jeff Bagwell, PEDs and the Hall of Fame

Back in my youth, when I was trying to decide what role in newspapers I wanted to play, one of the attractions of aiming at becoming a baseball writer was the idea of being one of the Hall of Fame electorate.

Jeff Bagwell actually stepped back
before his swing, not forward.
I went in another direction, for reasons we need not bother with here, and I don't have a Hall of Fame vote.

And when I consider the current controversy over the candidacy of Jeff Bagwell, I'm content not to have a vote.

Bagwell was a great hitter, especially when considering the context of the Astrodome, his home park for the better part of his career. He also had a short career for such a productive bat; he had 14 good seasons, then had a major shoulder problem and was gone. So his career totals -- 2,314 hits, 449 homers -- aren't driving the writers to his cause. His selling point is peak value, and as Tony Oliva can attest, the BBWAA electorate is (for position players) more attuned to career totals.

And it certainly doesn't help his Hall of fame case that his best season, his MVP season, was 1994, the strike year. As it is, his compilation numbers that year -- 39 homers, 116 RBIs, 104 runs -- are better than the stats for some other sluggers who won MVPs. They just happened to come in a season shortened by about a third.

 But the real reason Jeff Bagwell won't be elected when the results of the balloting are announced Wednesday is steroids.

Bagwell  never tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs (not that they did much testing during his time, and not that the results are publicly revealed). He wasn't named in the Mitchell Report or fingered by Jose Canseco. He has always denied PED use.

But ... he played in the era of cheaters; he developed massive forearms; he was an unabashed admirer of Ken Caminiti, who was the third baseman whose presence forced Bagwell to play first base and who was, by his own admission, a heavy steroid user.

Circumstantial evidence at best. Guilt by association at worst.

Bagwell represents the worst aspect of the current consensus against electing steroid users. In his case, unlike those of Rafael Palmeiro or Mark McGwire, it's merely suspicion.

That consensus will eventually crumble. It's one thing to keep McGwire and Palmeiro and Bagwell out; it will be another altogether to keep out Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, who clearly had HOF credentials long before any credible narrative of their careers can connect them to the chemical enhancers. Once that wall cracks, others will follow.


Poll results: The 48 voters make the Twins the favorite to win the AL Central: 28 (58 percent) pick the Twins, 14 (29 percent) pick the White Sox and six (12 percent) the Tigers.

New poll up.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Carl Pavano, it's 2011. Do you know where your contract is?

The waiting is the hardest part.
This wasn't the way Carl Pavano's contract talks were supposed to go.

After his high-quality 2010 season -- 17-11, 3.75 -- he figured to cash on his pair of one-year, make-good deals. He'd gone two seasons without injury, two seasons of 200-plus innings. He was arguably the second-best starter on the free agent market.

The expectations were for a three-year deal totalling $30 million.

Hasn't happened. Doesn't appear to be happening. Might not ever have been a possibility.

Ted Lilly got such a deal, but Lilly is (a) left-handed, (b) two years younger and (c) has a less extensive injury history.

Jon Garland, who has been far more durable than Pavano and is five years younger, got a mere one-year, $5 million deal ($2 million less than Pavano got last season).

Pavano and his agent appear to have figured that if they waited out the Cliff Lee sweepstakes, the teams that were after Lee and missed would go after him. And they probably figured that the Yankees would sign Lee. But that didn't happen. Pavano's history with the Yankees made them an impossible destination (probably for either side), and Texas is apparently uninterested in Pavano.

The Brewers are said to have made a pitch to Pavano, then turned their attention to getting Zach Greinke. They're out.

It appears that the Pavano market is down to the Twins and the Washington Nationals. There's no competitive reason for a 35-year-old to sign with the Nats; if he does go there, it will be for the money. That he hasn't signed yet makes me wonder if either has offered even a two-year deal, much less three.

So he waits for the Twins to bid against themselves. And I don't think that's likely.