Monday, December 31, 2012

Kyle Lohse's free-agency misadventures

We're on the cusp of a new year, and Kyle Lohse -- former Twins pitcher coming off the two best seasons of his career -- remains without a team.

Kyle Lohse went 30-11, 3.11
over the past two seasons for St. Louis.
He has multiple factors working against him. I'll list them in the order that I consider them significant, but any of them would logically discourage teams from pursuing him:

  • Stat-savvy organizations will be particularly wary of his below-average strikeout rate (6.1 K/9 last season, 5.6 for his career) and his far-better-than-sustainable batting average on balls in play (.272 and .267 the past two seasons). Those stats mean he's a bad bet to continue pitching well.
  • Because the St. Louis Cardinals made him a qualifying offer, the team that signs Lohse will lose a draft pick. More than that, it will lose the bonus budget allotted to that pick, which figures to limit its flexibility in signing draftees next summer.
  • He's 34.
  • Lohse's success is a creation of the Tony LaRussa-Dave Duncan patch-a-veteran pitching assembly line, and such pitchers have not generally fared well out of that environment.
  • He is represented by Scott Boras. No bargains are available there.

The Twins probably weren't going to go after Lohse simply off their past history with him, but point two in the above listing is the real killer for them. In the Twins specific case, it would be the second-round pick that they'd lose -- and they're not at a point in the success cycle where it makes sense to surrender a high pick. Even contenders might think that regarding somebody with as many warning lights as Lohse.

The problem of draft-pick compensation dampening demand for specific free agents was supposed to have been fixed by the new labor agreement. The old system of free agent classification -- which resulted far too often in decent middle relievers being absurdly overvalued -- was abolished and replaced with the qualifying offer system.

Lohse is among a group of free agents to whom qualifying offers were made who might wish they'd accepted. They're good enough for their old team to have offered a $13 million one-year deal but not good enough to find real demand in the open market, at least not with the draft-pick penalty attached. Michael Bourn and Adam LaRoche also remain unsigned; Nick Swisher landed with Cleveland, a move I expect to look at in more detail in the next week or so. Suffice it to say for now that the Indians were hardly Swisher's desired destination.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Sunday Funnies

Pie Traynor, the Hall of Fame third baseman, was reputed to be a mild-mannered man who seldom argued with the umpires and never used profane language. But one day the legendary Bill Klem, perhaps the greatest of umpires, threw Traynor out of a game.

The writers were astounded. And after the game, they sought an explanation from Klem for the ejection.

"He wasn't feeling well," Klem said.

"He looked OK before the game," a reporter replied.

"Well, he told me he was sick of my stupid decisions."

Saturday, December 29, 2012

On stadium finance

Target Field's financing mechanism
has been working well so far.
The Star Tribune today has a story on how quickly the public debt on Target Field is being paid off.

Hennepin County, the paper reports, has prepaid $31.3 million — which will ultimately reduce the county's interest payments by more than $53 million.

The original plan was for the county to finish paying off its $350 million in bonds in 2037, but the story says that could happen five to 10 years sooner. Which would take out the 0.15 percent county sales tax that much earlier.

Revenues from that sales tax have been a bit lower than projected (because of the recession), but the interest on the bonds has been lower still (also because of the recession).

The Target Field financing mechanism always seemed sound to me -- a low but broad sales tax in the state's biggest retail jurisdiction. In comparison, the public financing scheme for the Vikings stadium -- which is supposed to come up with more money than Target Field required -- strikes me as too flimsy to be called a plan. Electronic pull tabs? Really?

I believe this: If something is worth having government do, it's worth taxing openly and honestly to do it. If it's not worth taxing openly and honestly, it's not worth doing.

The value in public financing for sports facilities is debatable at best. This, however, is not: Target Field has a plain, broad-based tax behind it. The Vikings stadium has a gimmick.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Contemplating Hideki Matsui

Hideki Matsui during the 2009 World Series, when he
went 8-for-13 with three home runs and was named
the MVP of the series. For his postseason career in the
states — 11 series, all with the Yankees — he hit
.312/.391/.541, which is strong hitting by any standard.
Hideki Matsui — "Godzilla" — announced his retirement Thursday.

In truth, his announcement was merely his acceptance of what the 30 teams had been telling him since August, when Tampa Bay released him. He's 38, he hit .147 for the Rays last season, he's done.

This is the way most players "retire" — passively. The Chipper Joneses, who get to select the time they leave, are the exception. Most players have retirement happen to them.

Matsui's departure is of particular interest because he has been the rare — to my knowledge, unique — Japanese hitter whose power translated to this side of the Pacific. The Japanese players who have brought their skills to the West have had varying degrees of success, but only Matsui's tool box included legitimate power.

Matsui hit 175 homers in the states in his 10 seasons here — 10 seasons spent largely in what is usually the decline phase of a career. How many homers he'd have hit had he spent his entire career in the Americas is unknowable, of course, but it hardly seems outrageous to guess that he might have doubled his total.

He did hit 332 homers in 10 years in Japan's highest leagues before coming to the States. His career was split between two worlds, and the numbers may not be an accurate guide to his ability. A good player, definitely. A great player, perhaps. I'm inclined to think so.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

A thought on Lester Oliveros' camp invite

Lester Oliveros had
one appearance for
the Twins in 2012;
he had a combined
ERA of 2.42 in
Double A and
Triple A.
Many of the players coming to the Twins major league spring training are either assured a place on the 25-man roster (Joe Mauer, Glen Perkins) or have a legitimate shot at winning a job (Pedro Florimon, Tyler Robertson). Some are there to be seen by the major league staff, either for potential use in 2013 (P.J. Walters probably fits into this category) or for longer-term purposes (Alex Meyer and Trevor May)

And then there's Lester Oliveros.

Oliveros had Tommy John surgery in August. He's not going be on the Opening Day roster in Minnesota, or in Rochester or New Britain, for that matter. He has no chance of catching the pitching coach's eye in camp. But he has that coveted major league invite anyway. Which raises the question, why?

Start with the roster games the Twins played with him this offseason. Oliveros -- acquired in August 2011 in the Delmon Young trade -- had been on the 40-man roster. The Twins non-tendered him this offseason -- which got him off the 40 -- and then re-signed him to a minor league contract. This spares them the expense of having him on the major league disabled list (and paying him a major league salary) as he rehabs the surgically-repaired elbow.

I assume that Oliveros, who was briefly a free agent, was guaranteed the spring training invite as a lure to remain in the organization.

And I can think of two possible advantages for him to have that invite:

  1. He'll get a bigger per diem while in major league camp.
  2. He may well have greater access to the rehab facilities as a major league invitee than as a minor leaguer.

The extra per diem for Oliveros is a rounding error in the context of the Twins payroll, and it's a low price to keep one of their more advanced bullpen power arms around while he gets back into condition to unleash his fastball once again.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

A thought on Alex Meyer's camp invite

Alex Meyer, the pitching prospect the Twins acquired from the Washington Nationals at the cost of Denard Span, isn't on the 40-man roster. At the time of the trade, Terry Ryan said it was possible the Meyer would be brought to major league camp.

On Friday, the Twins included Meyer on a 15-player list of non-roster invitees.

It was probably no coincidence that that announcement came on the same day the Twins signed Rich Harden. That makes four starters with major league resumes -- Vance Worley, Kevin Correia, Mike Pelfrey and Harden -- added since Meyer came on board.

That makes it a lot easier for Ryan to expose Meyer's raw stuff to Ron Gardenhire and Rick Anderson. I suspect that if the Twins rotation was still Scott Diamond and the Void that Ryan would keep Meyer as far from Gardenhire's sight as possible.

One thing all those low-impact veterans do provide is a chance to let Meyer -- and Trevor May, J.O Berrios and perhaps even Kyle Gibson -- advance at their own pace, rather than be pushed into a role they aren't ready for.

Monday, December 24, 2012

A non-roster invitees roster

Dan Rohlfing is
no stranger to the
non-roster invitee
gig; he's a catcher,
and they're always
prominent on such lists.
On Friday, when the Twins announced the signing of Rich Harden to a minor-league contract, they also listed 15 non-roster invitees to spring training.

Fifteen sounded like a realistic number, but there were names missing -- Sam Deduno and P.J. Walters, for example -- that I expected to see, so I figured it wasn't a complete list. Eventually I found this list of 26 invitees buried in the Twins website. There isn't yet a link to it from the roster section, so I'm not sure it's official, but it seems more plausible to me than the 15 names released Friday.

One of the 26 -- and, for that matter, one of Friday's 15 -- is Lester Oliveros, who had Tommy John surgery in August and clearly isn't going to be contending for a job this spring. That leaves 25, which coincidentally happens to be the size of a big-league active roster.

As it turns out, one could actually field a complete team out of the 25. It wouldn't be a good team -- it would lose 100 games easy in the majors, might lose 120 or more. It would be worse than an expansion team. But it's got 11 pitchers (none of them, unfortunately, left-handed), a full infield and a couple of outfielders one could put in center field. And being a list of non-roster invitees, it's got plenty of catchers (four).

So, just for the heck of it, the NonRoster Scrubs as a lineup:

1) Wilkin Ramirez, LF
2) Brian Dinkelman, RF
3) Chris Colabello, DH or 1B
4) Jeff Clement, 1B or DH
5) Mark Sobolewski, 3B
6) Clete Thomas, CF
7) James Beresford, 2B
8) Danny Lehmann, C
9) Ray Olmedo SS

Bench: Brandon Boggs (OF), Eric Fryer (C), Kyle Knudson (C), Dan Rohlfing (C), Delbinson Romero (3B). (Note: Dinkleman can play second base, and Beresford can play short, so there are legitimate reserves.)

Nick Blackburn made
19 starts for the Twins:
4-9, 7.39

Starting rotation:

Sam Deduno
P.J. Walters
Rich Harden
Alex Meyer
Nick Blackburn


Shairon Martis
Esmerling Vasquez
Luis Perdomo
Bryan Augenstein
Deolis Guerra
Anthony Slama

Martis and Vasquez could be put in the rotation, but those are the five I'd go with. Blackburn, Deduno, Walters and Vasquez combined to make 52 starts for the Twins last season; let's just say there's a reason none of them were kept on the 40-man roster. 

Until I found this list, I had forgotten that the Twins had signed Martis. He's spent most of his career, majors and minors, as a starter, and his work last season certainly didn't give much reason to keep him in mind as an option. But if he's going to be in camp, he's at least a theoretical possibility.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Sunday Funnies

Star players frequently check into team hotels under aliases, the better to avoid fans, media, prank callers, etc.

One day Kevin Towers, then the San Diego general manager, needed to call Rickey Henderson. He knew Rickey used an alias on the road, but he didn't know what it was on this particular trip. So he tried to think like Rickey, and after a couple of misses, Towers figured it out.

Rickey had checked in as Richard Pryor.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

More Twins pitching developments

Rich Harden has a career record of 59-38, 3.78, most
it coming with the Oakland Athletics.
Friday had a number of developments on the pitching front for the Twins, but little of the activity seems likely to mean much, Let's look:

Diamond has elbow surgery: The team announced Scott Diamond had a bone chip removed from his left elbow on Tuesday.

The view here is that minor surgery is a procedure that happens to someone else, but this is a rather low-risk operation, and Diamond is expected to be ready for spring training in roughly two months. He won't, however, pitch for Team Canada in the World Baseball Classic, which probably disappoints him.

The Twins sign Rich Harden: It's a minor league deal with spring training invite, so the Twins aren't staking a whole lot on him. Which is good, because his history is that he's not going to pitch a whole lot.

Harden has only qualified for the ERA title once (2004) and last pitched effectively in 2009. He didn't pitch at all in 2012. How much, if anything, he has left at age 31 is to be seen.

He goes into the non-roster invitee pile with much of last September's rotation, but my guess is that, unlike the other three I listed Friday, Harden either will make the major-league team or be released. If he can pitch, there's no point in wasting his innings in Rochester.

Francisco Liriano to join Pirates: And so much for the notion that the Twins might bring back the enigmatic southpaw.

While there will always be some residual affection for "Franchise," this is probably for the best. The Twins never found a way to connect his stuff to the strike zone. Neither could Don Cooper, the esteemed ptiching coach for the White Sox.

If he finds himself in Pittsburgh, good for him and good for the Pirates. It seems time to stop imagining that it was going to happen in Minnesota.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Quality vs.quantity

Mike Pelfrey in a spring training game with the Mets.
It's safe to say he'll wear a different number with the Twins.
The Twins on Thursday made the Mike Pelfrey signing official. I don't dislike this one as much as the Kevin Correia signing, but it still seems rather irrelevant. Neither pitcher is likely to help make the 2013 team good, and Pelfrey is unlikely to stick around beyond 2013.

Pelfrey refills the 40-man roster. The Twins had hacked it down to 36 going into the winter meetings earlier this month, but then added one in Rule 5 draft (Ryan Pressly); another by trade (Ben Revere off,Vance Worley and Trevor May on); and two via free agent signings (Correia and Pelfrey).

Terry Ryan has talked often this offseason about needing starting pitching in numbers. He's apparently going for the old Branch Rickey alchemy of "quality out of quantity." Rickey's idea was that if you needed five good pitchers, you didn't sign the five best you could; you signed 50, 100, 150 pitchers and let them sort themselves out.

That was a different era. Rickey had fewer competitors and many more minor league teams to which he could farm out all those pitchers. He was also doing this at a much lower cost per arm and with prospects, not veterans with rostering restrictions attached.

When the 2012 season ended and Ryan surveyed the wreckage that was the Twins rotation, yeah, he needed numbers. Today he has, by my count, at least 16 starting candidates coming to camp, and he's apparently wants more.

Sort through the categories:

Quasi-established starters (2): Scott Diamond, Worley

Veterans with low strikeout rates (3): Nick Blackburn, Correia, Pelfrey (Blackburn is not on the 40-man roster)

Rotation or bullpen (2): Brian Duensing, Anthony Swarzak

Rotation or minors (6): Cole De Vries, Kyle Gibson, Liam Hendriks, B.J. Hermsen, Pedro Hernandez, May

Non-roster invitees (3): Sam Deduno, Esmerling Vasquez, P.J. Walters

Assuming everybody's healthy -- which is, admittedly, a big assumption -- that's enough to fill the rotations in Minnesota, Rochester and New Britain, with one left over.

Of course, those numbers can dwindle quickly.  Pelfrey and Gibson are both rehab projects whose workloads will be restricted. Hermsen and May have yet to pitch above Double A, and Hernandez has had limited exposed above Double A; I doubt any of the three are legitimate candidates for the April rotation in Minnesota. Duensing and Swarzak seem more likely to be in the bullpen than in the rotation.

Ryan still has payroll space to play with. I'd rather see it be used on quality than quantity, but that's easier said than done.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

What the Kendrys Morales trade tells us about Justin Morneau's value

Kendrys Morales shattered his ankle in 2010 celebrating
a walk-off grand slam.
Here are two first basemen/DHs in 2012:

  • Kendrys Morales of the Angels: 522 plate appearances, 22 homers, .273/.320/.467.
  • Justin Morneau of the Twins: 570 plate appearances, 19 homers, .267/.333/.440.

Fairly similar 2012 seasons, right? Each suffered a major injury in midseason 2010 that not only ended that year but wrecked 2011 as well. While both played regularly in 2012, neither was quite at the level they had been at before the 2010 injury. (For Morales, it was a fractured ankle; for Morneau, it was a concussion). Both are to be free agents after the 2013 season.

There are a couple of significant differences, however. Morneau turns 32 in May and will be paid $14 million next season; Morales is a bit more than two years younger and is much cheaper (arbitration eligible).

The Angels traded Morales on Wednesday to the Seattle Mariners for Jason Vargas, a left-handed starter who is basically what the Twins hope Scott Diamond is. Vargas gave the Mariners about 200 innings each of the past three seasons, 30-plus starts each year, ERA of 3.96 for the three years combined. Good but not great.

Vargas, too, will be eligible for free agency after 2013.

That's what a near-match for Justin Morneau fetched in a trade: One year of a No. 3 starter.

This trade convinces me that Morneau isn't getting dealt this winter. The Twins still have a place in their lineup for Morneau; the Angels, having just signed Josh Hamilton, didn't really have a role for Morales. That they traded him in the division suggests that Vargas was the best offer they had for the big Cuban.

Terry Ryan isn't likely to trade Morneau for anything less than a significant long-term pitcher -- a trade along the lines of the Denard Span deal. And I don't think that's coming this offseason.

Come the trading deadline, maybe.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Half-baked musings on broadcasting revenues

With moves such as the signing of Zach Greinke, the
Los Angeles Dodgers have passed the New York Yankees
in player payroll.
It happens pretty much every offseason, and it's happening now: The free agent contracts being signed seem absurd.

  • Zach Greinke, six years, $147 million (with bonuses that could make it $158 million)
  • Josh Hamilton, five years, $125 million
  • Anibal Sanchez, six years, $80 million
  • B.J. Upton, five years, $75.25 million

OK, that's cherry picking the top deals, but still ... I don't think any of these guys are on a Hall-of-Fame trajectory, and I say that as one who loves watching Greinke pitch.

The current burst of spending is, for the most part, being fueled by a boom in local cable money, and that's a highly uneven phenomenon. The Twins get a reported $29 million a year for their TV rights (my source for that figure doesn't give when the contract expires); the Los Angeles Dodgers get a reported $240 million a year, or will when their new deal kicks in.

That's a pretty stark gap, and while there are myriad complexities involving revenue sharing, equity rights in the broadcasters and sweetheart provisions mandated by the bankruptcy court that oversaw the sale of the Dodgers, the blunt-force truth is: The Dodgers (and other major-market teams) have access to broadcast revenue streams that the Twins (and Royals and Brewers and other smaller markets) will never have -- revenue streams that far outweigh the money that comes in through game attendance.

Why are teams getting such giant TV deals? Again, to perhaps oversimplify: Because sports, at least so far, has been largely impervious to "time shifting" by viewers. The advent of DVR and Tivo has badly shaken the broadcasting business model, which has been based on the idea that somebody who wanted to watch "Seinfeld" or "I Love Lucy" -- or the Twins game -- also had to watch the commericals. Now we don't. Now people can record the show, watch it later and skip the ads.

Sports broadcasts have been different. The percentage of viewers who time shift the games is far lower. We want to see it live, not later. Which is why the networks keep bidding up league contracts in football, baseball and basketball, why NBC and CBS and Fox are all trying to horn in on ABC/ESPN's cable turf and why there's been a rash of billion-dollar local cable deals in baseball.

But I wonder how sustainable this is. The Los Angeles Times, in the wake of the Dodgers' cable deal, reported earlier this month that about half a $90-a-month cable or satellite bill goes to sports channels:

Over the next three years, monthly cable and satellite bills are expected to rise an average of nearly 40%, to $125, according to the market research company NPD Group.
So far, people seem willing to pay. But the escalating costs are triggering worries that, at some point, consumers will begin ditching their cable and satellite subscriptions.

I have long wanted a truly a la carte system for cable: set the prices for the individual channels and let the consumers pick what they want. That notion probably scares the daylights out of everybody in the broadcasting business, whether they run a cable system, a network, an ad agency or a niche channel, so that will probably never happen.

But something's going to give. The current model is going to break, because it relies far too heavily on non-sports watchers paying heavily for the sports channels. 

And when it breaks, I wonder if the teams feeding so greedily at the trough have a backup plan.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Around the Division: Detroit Tigers

The Tigers traded for Anibal Sanchez in midseason.
He went 4-6, 3.74 in the regular season and 1-2, 1.77
in the postseason.
As has been the case in recent years, the Detroit Tigers have spent some serious money this offseason.

Torii Hunter, cast loose by the Angels, landed in the D last month on a two-year, $26 million deal. While the erstwhile Twin has been better in his 30s than I expected, that's a pretty fat salary for a 37-year-old outfielder.

And last week the Tigers outbid the Cubs for the services of pitcher Anibal Sanchez. If the Hunter salary seemed generous, Sanchez' is something closer to excessive: six years, $80 million. For a guy with two winning seasons out of seven, who has never pitched 200 (regular season) innings, who figures to be the fourth man in the rotation.

Sanchez is talented, but the results have never matched the talent.

The signing leaves the Tigers with six starters for their rotation. The odd man out figures to be Rick Porcello, whose pitch-to-contact style is less than a perfect fit with the Tigers' porous infield defense. Drew Smyly, a left-hander, gets strikeouts. And the Tigers could use a southpaw in the rotation.

So Porcello is likely to be peddled, and some early speculation has linked him to the Angels (for an outfielder) and Pirates (for a closer). I wouldn't be stunned if his destination turned out to be the Cubs in a deal involving Alfonso Soriano. This Detroit blog post even mentions the Twins as a potential trading partner, although I don't think that's likely.

Anyway, the Tigers have won the last two AL Central titles and seem well positioned for a third, even if their infield is regularly mystified by the process of turning a double play. They have the best rotation in the division, maybe the best in baseball -- if Porcello is traded to the Twins, he'd be their most logical Opening Day starter -- they have some hammers in the middle of the lineup; they have some heat in the bullpen; and they've improved the outfield defense.

I have a post in the works on how local cable revenues are fueling the overall increase in free-agent pay and how that leaves the Twins lagging, but in the case of the Tigers, it's not TV money getting spent. It's that Mike Ilitch is 83 and worth some $2.7 billion (according to Forbes), and he's decided that he'd rather die with a World Series parade than with $2.7 billion.

What happens to that "business model" when Ilitch does die and his heirs get to decide if they want to continue to divert resources to a vanity investment is a fair question -- and one that will be answered at some future date.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Here comes another one, just like the other one

Mike Pelfrey made at
least 31 starts each year
from 2008-2011, working
at least 184 innings each
of those four seasons.
The Twins were reported on Sunday to have reached a contract agreement with free-agent pitcher Mike Pelfrey. Pending a physical, no doubt, which in his case will determine that, yes indeed, he had major elbow surgery last May and is still recovering from it.

It's a better idea than signing Kevin Correia, but not by a whole lot.

Both Pelfrey and Correia are right-handers with low strikeout rates and resumes built entirely in the DH-free National League. As such, they're not particularly good bets.

Pelfrey is a few years younger than Correia, and Pelfrey has had better results over the years and been much more a workhorse than Correia, but that latter advantage is probably negated by Pelfrey's current status as a Tommy John rehab project. It's unclear how soon he'll be ready to pitch or how many innings he can be expected to work. Being ready for the start of the season seems like a stretch to me.

The Pelfrey contract is said to be a one-year affair -- $4 million guaranteed, with some incentive bonuses. I'd actually feel better about Pelfrey on a two-year contract, since it would allow some benefit from a rehab season from him. As it is, he'll either be worthless or mid-season trade bait.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Sunday Funnies

Before the 1934 World Series, Dizzy Dean approached sportswriter Grantland Rice. The Cardinals ace wanted Rice to help him persuade manager Frankie Frisch to let him pitch every game of the upcoming Series against the Detroit Tigers.

"Be serious, Dizzy," Rice said. "You can't expect to win four straight games."

"I know I can't," Dean said. "But I can win four out of five."

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Losing out on John Lannan

John Lannan went 42-52, 4.01, over six seasons with
the Washington Nationals.
John Lannan, the No. 2 guy on my list of free-agent pitchers who might be in the Twins price range, has agreed to pitch for the Phillies: One year, $2.5 million guarantee, up to $2.5 million in bonuses, all pending the proverbial physical.

That's the kind of contract that would have made the Kevin Correia signing palatable.

Lannan's not a great pitcher either, but he's left-handed, gets ground balls and is more durable than Correia.

Plus he appears to be cheaper.

That last point, however, may be an illusion.

Lannan may figure that he can achieve those bonuses -- which makes 2013 a $5 million deal, followed by a return to free agency. Plus he stays in the easier National League, in the division he's familiar with. And he'll be with a team that still sees itself as a contender.

Yes, he got $7.5 million less in guaranteed money, but he may figure he'll make that difference up. Earn the bonuses and he's even with Correia, and he's free to hit the market again.

If that's his thinking, the Twins weren't going to land him for Correia's deal.

Kyle Gibson and the 2013 rotation

Kyle Gibson is an
important piece
of the future --
or so the Twins
I've had almost a week now to get used to the notion of Kevin Correia as a key component of the Twins rotation.

It's not sitting any better now than it did on Monday night, frankly. Terry Ryan has been known to chafe at the image of the Twins organization ignoring statistical analysis, but this is exactly the kind of thing that feeds that image. If the Twins really do have serious number-crunchers on the baseball side, they are, at least on this signing, either (a) incompetent or (b) ignored.

Still, it's done. Which sets the Twins up with this rotation:

  1. Scott Diamond
  2. Vance Worley
  3. Kevin Correia
  4. (Vacant)
  5. Kyle Gibson

One can flip Diamond and Worley if one wishes; I'm giving Diamond the nod on squatter's rights. Neither really belongs at the head of a major league rotation, but they're the two best the Twins have.

I put Gibson five because he's the guy who's going to have his slot skipped if possible. Ryan has already indicated that Gibson will be limited to 120-140 innings in 2013, majors and minors.

Phil Mackey of ESPN1500 keeps saying that the Twins should avoid the Stephen Strasburg dilemma, in which the Nationals ran out of innings for their best starter and rehab project in September and didn't have him available for the playoffs. Nonsense.

It would be silly for the Twins to save Gibson's innings for October, or even September; the Twins aren't particularly likely to be in the playoffs, or even in the hunt.  Gibson needs to use the innings to continue his rehab from Tommy John surgery. It would be malpractice for them to end the season with Gibson at 100 innings so that he's available for the playoffs.

If he runs out of innings in August, fine. Even if everything goes right for the Twins and they do turn out to be a serious contender and Gibson runs out of innings in August, so be it. Whether or not it's rebuilding year for the Twins, it is definitely a rehabbing year for Gibson.

Friday, December 14, 2012

The case against Kevin Correia

Kevin Correia has a 46-43 record over the past four
seasons with San Diego and Pittsburgh.
The Twins on Thursday made the signing of veteran starter Kevin Correia official.

They could just as well have stacked the $10 million in a big pile and lit a match to it.

I said this earlier: I will measure the Twins pitcher acquisitions by their likelihood of meeting or beating the Diamond Standard: 200 innings, sub-4.00 ERA. Vance Worley, acquired in the Ben Revere trade, is likely to at least meet that standard. The two prospects the Twins traded for, with their upside, they meet that standard.

Correia does not. He's no real improvement on the likes of Cole De Vries, Liam Hendriks, P.J. Walters and Sam Deduno. He will, however, cost 10 times more than any of those guys will -- $5 million a year (average) as opposed to $500,000. And for two years rather than one.

If the Twins really need to spend $5 million on a starting pitcher who can't miss bats, they could just return Nick Blackburn to the rotation. Which they might, since they're committed to spending that money anyway.

There may be a team for which a pitcher such as Correia is a sensible signing -- a contending team with four set starters, with no reasonable prospect perched in the high minors. The Twins today are not that team. As I said in the Diamond Standard post, the Twins need front-of-the-rotation arms. They have plenty of back-of-the-rotation options.

I fear that Correia is a "appease Gardenhire" gesture from Terry Ryan. Gardy's job is perceived to be on the line in 2013, and Ryan's moves this month had not done much to support the 2013 club. Yes, he added Worley, but he created a gap in center field in the process. Yes, he added a couple of power-armed prospects, but neither Alex Meyer nor Trevor May will be of use in the majors in the coming season.

So Gardy now has an established veteran for his rotation. Goody goody gumdrops. Correia won't be there if and when the Twins get good again, and he's not a good bet to help Gardenhire stick around for that revival either.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Minor league shortstops

Levi Michael as a collegian in 2011. He figures to
repeat high-A -- and to spend the season at shortstop.
The Twins on Wednesday made no announcement about Kevin Correia. (I think they're toying with those of us who think signing him is a mistake, raising our hopes that all those reports early in the week were erroneous.)

They did, however, announce eight minor-league free-agent signings, only three of which came with invites to major league camp. None of those three strike me as particularly likely to see any major league time.

I wanted to take note of Ray Olmedo, however. When the Twins sought to open space on their 40-man roster just before the winter meetings and lost Tommy Field on waivers, I predicted that they'd be in the market for a shortstop for Triple A Rochester. And here he is. Olmedo's 31, and if he spends time in Target Field it will be a very bad sign.

It got me thinking -- again -- about the shortstops in the farm system. I've said this before: The Twins have a lousy track record in developing shortstops, going back to the time the franchise arrived in the Twin Cities. Zoilo Versalles, the Twins original shortstop, was homegrown; the best truly homegrown shortstop since Versalles was probably Danny Thompson, and he had only one true season as a regular.

The Twins' best shortstops since Versalles -- Roy Smalley, Greg Gagne, Cristian Guzman, Jason Bartlett -- all came from some other organization.

If that streak is to be broken, the player is probably lower in the organization. Probably.

Doing a little projecting for the full-season affiliates, from the bottom up:

Cedar Rapids (low-A): Niko Goodrum and Jorge Polanco are likely to move up the ladder from Elizabethton. Goodrum, a second-round pick in 2010, repeated the Appy League, and while his hitting numbers didn't really improve, he did cut his errors almost in half. Polanco, a Domincan signed the same summer as Miguel Sano, spent most of the season at second base and hit well. Goodrum is 20; Polanco is 19. Goodrum may eventually move to the outfield; Polanco could, should that happen, return to shortstop.

Fort Myers (high-A): I rather suspect Levi Michael, the 2011 first-round pick, will repeat the Florida State League. He largely split 2012 between second base and shortstop there, but spent more time at second. Tyler Grimes, who saw the most time at short in low-A in 2012, is apparently going to try catching in 2013; I think Michael will be seeing more shortstop time as a result, especially since Eddie Rosario ought to be getting most of the second base time at this level.

It'll be a key season for Michael; the Twins are reportedly inclined to blame his rough 2012 on the injures he had as a collegian in 2011, but he needs to show something in the coming season. An infield with Rosario, Sano and Michael -- certainly last spring, that was the long-term dream for the Twins. It seems a good bit less likely this offseason than it did last.

New Britain (Double A): Danny Santana moved ahead of Michael in the pecking order with a strong season at Fort Myers and won a spot on the 40-man roster. His walk/strikeout ratio even in a good season (29 walks, 77 strikeouts) doesn't bode well for continuing his 2012 success at higher levels, but he just turned 22 last month. Now entering the upper levels of the farm system.

Rochester (Triple A): Olmedo plus organizational lifers James Beresford and Estarlin de los Santos,either of whom may repeat Double A and/or play second base. Nothing to see here in terms of potential long-term regular shortstops.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Kevin Correia's missing dimension

Kevin Correia has struck out just 4.6 men per nine innings
over the past two seasons, both of which were spent with
the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The Twins have still not confirmed (or denied) signing free-agent right-handed starter Kevin Correia, presumably because there are still details to finalize, such as the pitcher passing a physical.

I'll wait until it is actually official, and until Terry Ryan and Co. have given their rationale, to rip the signing. For now: I don't like the idea of signing him, I don't like the reported contract (2 years, $10 million), and I doubt a convincing rationale for it can be made.

But I wanted to take note of a LaVelle Neal tweet of Monday evening, in which the Star Tribune beat writer said Correia's average velocities on his pitches were:

  • Fastball: 90.3 mph
  • Cutter: 88.1
  • Slider: 85.9
  • Change-up: 85.9
  • Curve: 77

Five pitches, and four of them with less than 5 mph of separation among them. That's not a real change-up, or at least it cannot realistically serve the function of a change-up. It's not different enough from the fastball.

Pitching is an art in four dimensions. The strike zone has width, height and depth (that last a factor ignored by the animated strike-zone graphics displayed during most TV game broadcasts). The fourth dimension is time, the ability of the pitcher to throttle up and down.

Earl Weaver, the great manager of the Baltimore Orioles' glory years, was an early adherent of radar guns. Not because Weaver was fascinated by 95-mph fastballs, but because the guns provided objective evidence of pitch separation. The guns made it possible for Scott McGregor, a lefty with almost no velocity, to develop gaps of about 12 mph between his fast ball, his straight change and his curve -- and that made it possible for McGregor to win at least 13 games in eight consecutive seasons.

Correia lacks that dimension to his craft. And if he hasn't developed it at age 32, I don't know that he's ever going to.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The return of Doug Mientkiewicz

The Twins on Monday announced that Doug Mientkiewicz will manage their high-A team, the Fort Myers Miracle. Last year's manager there, Jake Mauer, will manage the low-A Cedar Rapids Kernels.

Dougie Alphabet isn't new to the Twins, of course; a decade ago he was a defense-first first baseman on the Twins team that revitalized the franchise. He was eventually pushed aside by Justin Morneau, who wasn't -- and isn't -- the glove whiz Mientkiewicz was, but hit a whole lot better, after which Mientkiewicz bounced around a bit -- Red Sox, Mets, Royals,Yankees, Pirates, Dodgers. Last year he was a hitting coach in rookie ball for the Dodgers.

He's stepping into an important spot in the Twins system, at least as I see it. Every minor league affiliate has its special projects and priorities, and the Miracle in 2013 might have the two most important projects in the system: Turning Miguel Sano and Eddie Rosario into a bona fide third baseman (Sano) and second baseman (Rosario).

Sano and his big-time power will be a greater asset as a third baseman than if he has to move to an outfield corner or to first base. Rosario's bat figures to be a real plus if he can turn the double play with the likes of Nick Swisher trying to take his legs out, less so if he's limited to outfield duties.

Making them infielders is Job 1 and 1A for Mientkiewicz, arguably for the entire farm system.


Late Monday night word came that the Twins and right-handed starter Kevin Correia had agreed on a two-year, $10 million deal.

This is atrocious if true. I chose for now to ignore this report and hope it goes away. When it is confirmed, I'll open fire.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Around the division: Kansas City Royals

James Shields has
exceeded 200 innings
in each of the past
six seasons.
Back in September, I published this post suggesting that the Twins could trade Chris Parmelee for James Shields. A few days later I said: No, Shields is going to cost a lot more than that.

The reconsidered view proved more correct: The Kansas City Royals on Sunday traded four top prospects for Shields, Wade Davis and a player to be named. They also acquired a great deal of social media mockery.

They earned every bit of that mockery.

It isn't that Shields and Davis are bad pitchers, by any means. It's that this was a horrendous overpay on the part of Kansas City. Wil Myers is one of the very best prospects in the minor leagues, fully ready to step into the middle of a major league lineup. Jake Odorizzi is a nearly-ready starter. Mike Montgomery's luster has faded after a pair of disappointing seasons in the upper minors, but he remains too talented to count out. Patrick Leonard is further away, but talented.

This was a deal of desperation on the part of the Royals front office. Dayton Moore has been in charge for seven years, and the Royals, despite building an impressive stack of prospects, have not reached .500, much less reached the playoffs, under his regime. The basic problem: The young starting pitchers have failed to develop, and the Kansas City rotation last year was as much a mess as Minnesota's.

Wil Myers was Baseball
America's minor league
player of the year in 2012.
And so Moore, who is widely perceived to be running out of time, has spent the offseason scraping up immediate rotation help. He claimed Edwin Santana on waivers, signed Jeremy Guthrie to a three-year contract and gave Tampa Bay the heart of his farm system for Shields and Davis. (Davis had started for the Rays in previous seasons but spent 2012 in the bullpen, where he was much better; it's unclear what the Royals have in mind with him.)

This improves the Royals; they figure now to be a .500 team, maybe a little better, perhaps a wild-card contender. I don't think that two years of James Shields justifies giving up Myers' career. I don't think Davis justifies giving up Odorizzi's career. And that's not counting the Montgomery and Leonard lottery tickets.

Moore may have figured he needs to achieve at least .500 in 2013 much to keep his job. Or, to be charitable, he may have a different sense of how close his team is to a true breakthrough. If he really thinks his team is now a World Series contender, he's pretty close to unique. This looks like a desperate move by a desperate GM, and desperation is seldom productive.

As a Twins fan, this trade pleases me. Terry Ryan is assembling a crop of prospects -- Miguel Sano, Byron Buxton, Alex Meyer, Oswaldo Arcia, Aaron Hicks, J.O. Berrios and others -- worthy of comparison to the Royals farm system of a few years ago; this trade may well mean that when Ryan's prospects are ready in a couple of years, the Royals won't be an obstacle. At least, they won't be as formidable an obstacle as they could have been.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Sunday Funnies

Satchel Paige is lounging in the Cleveland Indians bullpen circa 1949, bucking up the young Mike Garcia. Garcia is nervous because the Tribe is playing the hard-hitting Boston Red Sox, and he's been told he's likely to be used in relief.

A Red Sox pinch-hitter singles, and Dom DiMaggio comes up. "Now this guy is a mess," Paige tells Garcia. DiMaggio singles.

Up comes Johnny Pesky. Paige snorts. "Pesky! Who ever said that man could hit?" Pesky singles to load the bases and bring up Ted Williams. Indians shortstop-manager Lou Boudreau goes to the mound.

"Now we're in good shape," Paige tells the worried Garcia — and then Boudreau turns to the bullpen and signals, not for Garcia, but for Paige.

Ol' Satch falls silent, then sadly reaches for his glove. Before heading out to the mound, he tells the suddenly relieved Garcia:

"Son, just remember: When you're disputing the Red Sox, put your faith in the power of prayer."

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Notes, quotes and comment

Jared Burton had
career highs in games,
innings, saves and
holds in 2012.
One aspect of the Twins' busy end-of-the-winter-meetings I hadn't commented on (until now) was the new multi-year contract for Jared Burton — two years for $5.5 million, plus a club option for 2015.

Burton turns 32 in June and he's had a career threatening injury, so it's no surprise he'd take such a deal.  $5.5 million is life-changing money, and if he stays healthy and effective enough to make it worthwhile for the Twins to pick up that 2015 option, the whole package exceeds $9 million.

For the Twins, even with the third year, it's basically what they used to pay middle relievers Jesse Crain and Matt Guerrier before they hit free agency.

The only question is if they can keep Burton healthy. Ron Gardenhire handled Burton carefully in 2012; it will be interesting to see if he continues to avoid using Burton on back-to-back days next year. Terry Ryan has tried to deepen the bullpen with the additions of Josh Roenicke, Tim Wood and Ryan Pressley to holdovers Casey Fien, Alex Burnett and Anthony Swarzak; that should help protect Burton.


The free agent starter who was highest on my wish list for the Twins, Brandon McCarthy, signed Friday with Arizona — pending a physical, which, with his injury history, may not be a matter of routine.

McCarthy got essentially the same deal as Joe Blanton did with Anaheim: two years, $15.5 million. They are rather different pitchers. McCarthy's career highs for starts and innings are 25 and 170; Blanton has had only one year under 175 innings since 2005. McCarthy's innings are generally of higher quality. Blanton provides more innings.

The market values each evenly. In the specific case of the Twins, who need quality innings more than bulk innings, McCarthy would have been more valuable.

Obviously, the Twins landed neither. Still out there from my three names are John Lannan and Shawn Marcum.


How good a prospect is Trevor May?

The initial reaction in the Twins blogosphere to the Ben Revere trade was to view May as roughly equivalent to Alex Meyer, the prospect the Twins got in in the Denard Span trade. May and Vance Worley, the quasi-established starter the Twins got for Revere, would thus be a better return.

But ... Jim Callis of Baseball America tweeted Friday that May, who was in BA's Top 100 prospects last spring, won't be in the list when it comes out. May's command is a big enough problem to knock his status down considerably.

I still like the deal for the Twins; Worley alone is probably worth surrendering Revere, and May is a decent lottery ticket. If he harnesses his stuff, it becomes a very good trade.

But Meyer is easily the better prospect.

Friday, December 7, 2012

At the center field of it all

Joe Benson hit .179 in
Triple A in 2012 and
.184 in Double A.
Denard Span: Gone. Ben Revere: Gone.

The Twins now have a hole where their center fielders used to be. And much as was the case when Torii Hunter fled as a free agent after the 2007 season, the idea appears to be to let three unestablished players fight it out in spring training.

In the spring of 2008, it was Carlos Gomez, Jason Pridie and Span. In the spring of 2013, it will be Joe Benson, Aaron Hicks and Darin Mastroianni.

The Twins, to put it bluntly, chose the wrong guy in 2008. Span demonstrated in spring training that he was a true leadoff hitter, a man who could get on base. In on exhibition game against the Yankees, Span drew three walks; he probably took more pitches in that one game than Gomez did all spring.

Darin Mastroianni stole 21 bases in 24 attempts.
The Twins went with Gomez instead. It took almost half a season for the organization to get Span up from the minors and into the leadoff spot, and the Twins wound up out of the playoffs by the margin of a Game 163. It was a costly misreading of the talent, perhaps set up by the fact that both Pridie and Gomez were new to the organization.

This time around, there is greater familiarity with the three candidates. Mastroianni spent much of last season on the big-league squad; Hicks and Benson have spent their entire professional careers in the organization.

Each has known flaws. Mastroianni — fast but lacking in power — profiles as a fourth outfielder, not as a regular. Benson, who had a miserable, injury-riddled 2012 and is rehabbing from knee surgery, is a suberb athlete who has never really demonstrated command of the strike zone. Hicks, a switch-hitter, struggled for years as a left-handed hitter; only last season, at Double-A New Britain, has he performed well against right-handed pitching.

I believe any of the three can handle the job defensively. The question is who can hit.

My take: Hicks is, at least in the long-term, the favorite, and I suspect the Twins would really like to see the former first round pick come into camp and seize the job. Unlike Benson, he projects as a leadoff man; unlike Mastroianni, he projects as a regular.

But there's a part of me that favors the notion of handing the job to Benson. Sink or swim, kid.  It's time to see what you've got.

I've grown skeptical of Benson's ability to turn his tools into skills. And I suspect that 2013 represents his last best chance to live up to the expectations. Whether he hits or not, I would expect Hicks to come up in mid-season — either to replace Benson in the lineup, or to fill the gap left when either Josh Willingham or Justin Morneau is traded.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Winter meetings, Day 4

Vance Worley had a 3.01 ERA in 2011 but 4.20 in 2012.
He had bone chips removed from his elbow in September.
And on the fourth day they acted.

On Thursday, after the Twins selected a relief candidate in the Rule 5 draft, they made a more significant move: Trading OF Ben Revere to Philadelphia for RHS Vance Worley and power-pitching prospect Trevor May, also a rightie.

Revere -- with his big smile, infectious personality and speed -- had quickly become popular with Twins fans, but this was a good trade for the Twins, even if it creates a bit of a gap in the middle of the outfield.

Worley emerged as a surprisingly good starter in 2011 for the Phillies when their super rotation (Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, Roy Oswalt and Joe Blanton) started having injury issues in the back end. Worley was markedly less effective last season, and had elbow surgery in September.

Does he meet the Diamond Standard? Well, he's not pitched 200 innings in any season, but he came fairly close in 2011 (50-plus in the minors, 130-plus in the NL, a handful of outs in the playoffs), but his career ERA in 277.2 innings is 3.50. Assuming the elbow's sound, he's a good bet.

Then there's May, a big-hoss (6-5) pitcher who has struck out 647 men in 525.1 minor league innings. The scouting reports I've seen cite not only a good fastball but good secondary pitches. He's regarded as a prime prospect -- Baseball America last spring ranked him No. 69 among all minor leaguers -- but he's got work to do.

He pitched in the Eastern League (Double A) last year and led the circuit in walks and home runs allowed -- an indication of problems with command and control. He's on the 40-man roster, so he'll be in spring training; conceivably he could win a rotation spot if he comes in to camp throwing strikes, but more likely he'll be sent to Rochester.


The Rule 5 addition is Ryan Pressly, a right-handed reliever out of the Boston organization. By definition, he's fringey -- hot prospects aren't exposed to Rule 5 -- but he appeared to raise his trajectory last summer when he was shifted to the bullpen in Double A, and he impressed the Twins during his stint in the Arizona Fall League.

He'll compete with the likes of Alex Burnett, Josh Roenicke, Tim Wood and Anthony Swarzak for a spot deep in the Minnesota bullpen. Most of that crop are use-or-lose -- either out of options or, in Pressly's case, a Rule 5 -- and it will be interesting to see how it shakes out in spring training.

Another interesting move, and one that may never be mentioned again, was the signing of Jason Lane, former major league outfielder, as a left-handed pitcher on a minor-league deal. He's 35. He's been pitching in independent ball and Triple A for four seasons.

Winter meetings, Day 3

Joe Blanton finished 2012 with the Dodgers, for whom
he made 10 starts and pitched 57 innings.
The Twins lost out on one of their reputed free-agent targets Wednesday. As that target was Joe Blanton, that was winning by losing; Blanton hasn't had an ERA below 4.00 or topped 200 innings since 2007. His ERA the last three years were 4.71, 5.01 and 4.82.

He's not close to the Diamond Standard.

Brandon McCarthy missed
much of September after
suffering a fractured skull when
hit by a line drive. His recovery
is said to have gone well.
And Anaheim signed him for two years, $15 million.

Blanton does have a track record of making 30 starts a year, and his strikeout rates have improved with age, but on the whole I'm not impressed. He's a back of the rotation guy, and the Twins have plenty of cheaper options there. I'm glad the Twins missed out on him.

I might as well put this on the record: Of the free agent pitchers linked to the Twins, the three who interest me most are, in order, Brandon McCarthy, John Lannan and Shawn Marcum.

All three are flawed, of course; if they weren't flawed, they probably wouldn't be available. McCarthy and Marcum, both right-handed, are health risks; the left-handed Lannan has poor strikeout and walk numbers. But McCarthy and Marcum, if they can take the mound, pitch well, and Lannan is a true ground ball machine. I have no issue with slotting the two righties ahead of Diamond, and Lannon isn't far off Diamond.


Coming this morning is the Rule V draft. The Twins have the fourth pick, and they have four open roster spaces still, so we can expect some activity from them.

I anticipate that they'll select a pitcher. If they instead pick an outfielder, that will suggest that a trade of either Justin Morneau or Ben Revere is in the works; whispers out of Nashville this week had the Twins gauging the market for both.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Winter meetings, Day 2

Ron Gardenhire's contract as Twins manager expires
after the 2013 season.
Two days gone on baseball's big winter swap meet, and for the Twins -- as for most teams -- it's been all talk and little action.

Ron Gardenhire had his managerial presser Tuesday -- all managers are expected to do one during the meetings -- and his became the Twins story of the day, if only because there was no competition.

He professes to be OK with his current lame duck status; he said, as he has before, that he hasn't had enough success the last two seasons to merit an extension. Terry Ryan, for his part, told reporters that it's on him to get Gardy a better starting rotation.

Which is true -- you can put any of the managers in the Hall of Fame in charge of the current starting staff, and he's not winning a pennant -- but I doubt the sort of upgrades the rotation needs are available or affordable. Anibal Sanchez is reportedly seeking six years, $90 million? Really? And he's generally reckoned the second-best starter on the market (behind Zach Greinke).

Ryan is vague on what he needs to see from Gardenhire to retain him beyond the coming season. It's an offseason of mixed messages for we the fans -- talk of improvement in 2013 is more than countered by an apparent commitment to a young middle infield that is unlikely to hit, the trade of an established position player for a possible future ace and the continued void in the rotation.

It's still early in December, with plenty of time for significant moves, but the pattern so far says Ryan's priority is 2014-15 and beyond. I'm inclined to think that's the proper direction. But I'm also inclined to think that may not bode well for Gardenhire.

The question before the house: Is Ron Gardenhire a good match for a rebuild? I suspect this will be a running theme for the coming winter and season.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Winter meetings, Day 1

Monday was an outwardly quiet day for the Twins at the winter meetings.

Terry Ryan told SiriusXM radio that Joe Mauer wouldn't be traded (now there's a news flash; I have no idea why the Star Tribune keeps dragging that nonsense out); Ron Gardenhire told MLB TV that the front office is busy trying to trade his entire team; no moves were actually made.

By the Twins or anybody else. The biggest news of the day:

Umpire Hank O'Day. He
is the only man to
play, manage and
umpire in the majors.

  • Alex Rodriguez needs hip surgery again; the Yankee third baseman is prehabbing now, will have the surgery in January and is unlikely to play before midsummer. Brian Cashman had an amusing reason for not revealing this earlier: Nobody ever specifically asked him about A-Rod's hip.
  • Joe Mauer will play for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic next spring; Justin Morneau will play for Canada. Liam Hendriks was also announced for Australia, but Ryan said Hendriks had his elbow scoped and will not pitch in the tournament. 
  • The Veterans Committee elected three men from the pre-integration era to the Hall of Fame: umpire Hank O'Day, catcher Deacon White and owner Jacob Ruppert. 

That Ruppert, the owner who turned the Yankees into the Yankees, wasn't already in the Hall is inexplicable. O'Day is most noteworthy as the man who made probably the most famous controversial call in umpiring history; he's the guy who ruled Fred Merkle out in 1908. Merkle's Boner. The call was correct by the written rule, but it went against the conventions of the day. White was a standout in the early days of professional ball -- a 20-year-career and a barehanded catcher.

A barehanded catcher. Yeah, I don't want to think about it either. It was definitely a different game then, but still ...

Monday, December 3, 2012

The Diamond standard

Scott Diamond is the only certain
piece of the 2013 rotation right now.
Last week's Denard Span trade -- established center fielder for Class A pitcher -- was the trade of an organization looking to 2015 more than 2013.

The Twins insist that's not the case. With the winter meetings -- three-plus days of the baseball industry gathered in Nashville -- getting started today, we may be about to find out how serious the Twins are about trying to rise up in the coming season.

Terry Ryan and Co. appear to have some $30 million in payroll available. They also have four openings in the starting rotation and a reputed focus on the free agent crop rather than trades to fill those gaps.

My yardstick for whatever veteran starting pitchers the Twins acquire is fairly simple: Scott Diamond. Diamond's career numbers to date -- 34 starts, 212 innings, 3.82 ERA -- is roughly one full season in the rotation in terms of workload and a decent third starter in terms of results.

The Twins have plenty of options to slot in behind that. They have, on their 40-man roster, five pitchers who figure to start if they make the 25-man roster -- alphabetically, Cole De Vries, Kyle Gibson, Liam Hendriks, B.J. Hermsen and Pedro Hernandez -- and a sixth, Brian Duensing, who may start but probably fits better in the bullpen. They will have in camp as non-roster invitees another wave of candidates, most of whom we're familiar with: Nick Blackburn (and his $5.5 million contract), Sam Deduno, Esmerling Vasquez and P.J. Walters.

That's at least 10 candidates, none of whom can reasonably be said right now to project to the Diamond Standard in 2013. Gibson does in further seasons, but we know he's not going to be allowed to throw 200 innings next year.

The Twins goal in Nashville this week -- if they are serious about trying to return to contention in 2013 -- has to be on finding two pitchers who can reasonably match or surpass the Diamond Standard next season: 30-plus starts, 200-plus innings, ERA under 4.00.

That won't be easy, or inexpensive. But that's the need. The Twins don't need to spend on bulk starters to fill out the rotation; they have that already. They need quality at the head of the rotation.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Sunday funnies

It occurs to me that I should provide the disclaimer I repeated a few times last winter with the Sunday Funnies: I make no claim of accuracy. These are merely amusing stories, quips and anecdotes; some have some truth to them, others are obviously fictional, many come with a variety of punch lines. We're just having fun here.


The Los Angeles Dodgers under Hall of Fame manager Tommy Lasorda were generally a very good team, but their infield defense for part of his tenure was suspect at best. Second baseman Steve Sax developed a well-publicized mental block about throwing to first base, and the Dodgers, in an attempt to fit another bat in the lineup, were trying to turn slugging outfielder Pedro Guerrero into a third baseman.

Came a day when Guerrero, Sax and their teammates had another rough game afield, and Lasorda had enough. He closed the clubhouse, called a team meeting and lit into his squad, accusing them of insufficient attention in the field.

"You, Guerrero, what in the world are you thinking about out there," the manager demanded.

"I hope they no hit the ball to me," the Dominican replied.

"Don't you think of anything else?" Lasorda asked.

"I hope they no hit the ball to Sax, either."

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Clearing room on the 40-man roster (updated)

Thomas Field's 2012 Topps card.

Last week, the Twins had 40 players on their roster. After a week of subtraction, they're now down to 37 36.

Wednesday: IF Thomas Field was lost on waivers to Anaheim
Thursday: CF Denard Span was traded to Washington; Alex Meyer, the pitcher they got back, isn't on the 40-man roster and probably won't be put on the 40 until he's put on the 25-man active roster.
Friday: RHP Deolis Guerra was outrighted to Rochester; RHP Lester Oliveros was nontendered.

The Span trade, of course, has gotten plenty of commentary, here and elsewhere. The other moves, not so much.

The Twins claimed Field on waivers from Colorado early in November. As I predicted when the Twins acquired him, the Twins tried to slip him through waivers themselves. On Wednesday we learned that Anaheim claimed him. So he's gone.

Deolis Guerra has
been in the Twins
organization since
2008, but is only 23.
The Twins probably picked Field up with the intent of making him the shortstop at Rochester. Now the organization has a bit of a hole to plug there. Last year the Red Wings used Brian Dozier or Pedro Florimon at short (Dozier to open and close the season, Florimon while Dozier was in Minnesota), with Tsuyoshi Nishioka at second base. Nishi won't be back, of course, and Dozier, Florimon and Eduardo Escobar are all in the mix for jobs at the big league level. I expect another infield addition in the Twins future.

Guerra, the last remaining piece from the Johan Santana trade, cleared waivers, which means nobody else wanted to give him a spot on their 40-man roster. He remains in the organization and will be in major league camp this spring. He was out of options anyway, so had he not cleared waivers now and didn't make the team the Twins would have had to waive him in the spring. Guerra had had a good start to his 2012 season and seemed likely to get a call-up, but tailed off and missed a good bit of time to injury.

Oliveros' nontender took me by surprise. Friday's deadline for making "qualifying offers" generally focuses on the arbitration-eligible players -- in the Twins case, Drew Butera, Jared Burton and Brian Duensing. All three were retained. Oliveros, a hard-thrower acquired in 2011's Delmon Young trade, will miss 2013 after having Tommy John surgery, and the Twins apparently decided it wasn't worth keeping him on the 40-man roster. (Update: The Twins have re-signed him to a minor league deal.)

All this frees up plenty of space for either free agent signings or activity in the Rule V draft. The word from Twins execs after the Span trade was that their focus at the winter meetings next week would be on talking to agents rather than trades, so making room was necessary.