Thursday, October 31, 2013

Game 6: Boston. Strong.

David Ortiz drew four walks (three)
intentional) and scored twice in
Wednesday's World Series clincher.
A baseball season lasts a long time -- a month or more of spring training (more this year with the World Baseball Classic), six months of regular season play, and October's postseason. 

A lot happens in that time. Some we forget almost immediately, some we think we'll remember only to see it fade away, and some sticks.

A lot from this World Series should stick. The bizarre ending of Game 3, when St. Louis got its winning run without the runner reaching home plate; the big bat of David Ortiz; the sturdy pitching of Jon Lester.

And as I think of Ortiz and the 2013 season, I can't help but remember an emotional moment back in April, when the Sox weren't well-regarded as a contender -- remember, they had finished last in the AL East in 2012 -- and Boston was reeling from the Marathon bombing and subsequent manhunt. A stressful time indeed.

The Red Sox, of course, traditionally play a morning game on Patriots Day, a state holiday in Massachusetts. The game is scheduled with the intent that it will end in time for the Fenway fans to watch the marathon stream past the ballpark. In practice, with the Sox games typically dragging along, it hasn't worked that way in recent years. Still, there is a connection of long-standing between the Red Sox and the Marathon.

So the bombing happens, and the manhunt begins, and the shootout happens, and one bombing suspect is dead and another wounded and arrested. The Sox come back to Fenway after a road trip and hold a pre-game ceremony, and David Ortiz -- native of the Dominican Republic, naturalized American -- says something blunt and earthy and defiant that captures the moment, and the popular sentiment, perfectly:

This is our fucking city, and nobody gonna dictate our freedom. 

The Red Sox didn't win the pennant and the World Series because of the bombing. They won because they were the best team in the American League and because they played better than their rivals in three short series this month.

But this feels somehow righteous: Ortiz, who gave voice to the larger feeling in April, was the man the Cardinals simply could not deal with in October.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

A little Series off-day Twins news

Pedro Hernandez
was 3-3, 6.83 in
56.2 innings for
the Twins.
The Twins on Tuesday announced that LHP Pedro Hernandez has been outrighted to Triple A, thus removing him from the 40-man roster. The Twins now have 35 players officially on the 40, plus Sam Deduno, who remains on the 60-day disabled list but should soon be reinstated to the roster.

The Hernandez move is hardly a surprise, and — as noted with previous roster-clearing moves — not the last such move to come this offseason. He's left-handed, and he's only 24, but his Triple A numbers weren't particularly appealing and his stats with the Twins are terrible.


Larry Corrigan, once a significant behind-the-scenes figure in the the Twins baseball operations, is returning to the organization.

He was, at various times, the Twins scouting director, director of minor league instruction and a special assignment scout. He left the Twins within weeks of the ascension of Bill Smith to the general manager's job when Terry Ryan stepped down at the end of the 2007 season; with no evidence other than the timing, I've always figured that Smith's rise prompted Corrigan to depart.


While the Twins have made no formal announcement about Corrigan and his future role, they did on Tuesday release their plans for TwinsFest, post-Metrodome. I really don't know how well Target Field will work for a late January event like that. but in all honesty, I haven't been to TwinsFest in years. (Driving in a Minnesota winter becomes less appealing as I grow increasingly older.)


On a purely personal note: Happy birthday, Mom.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Game 5: A routine Boston win

Boston closer Koji Uehara
and catcher David Ross react
at the end of Monday's game.
Something odd happened in Game 5 Monday night: It was a routine baseball game.

There was no blown call reversed by the convention of umpires.

The winning run did not score on a wild throw.

There was no decisive call of obstruction.

The final out didn't come on a pickoff.

Neither team committed an error.

A rotation mainstay wasn't bought out in relief for a crucial inning.

Heck, the game didn't even last three full hours -- a major rarity for any game involving the Red Sox, and almost impossible in the World Series, given Fox's desire to cram in every possible commercial while inflicting histrionic performances of patriotic songs on its audience.

It was just a nice, normal 3-1 game with two quality starting pitchers. I'd almost forgotten that kind of game.

And now the Red Sox get to go back to their cozy, familiar home grounds needing just one more win to take its third World Series title in 10 seasons.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Games 3 and 4: An even Series

Boston first baseman Mike Napoli leaves the field
after tagging out pinch-runner Kolten Wong to end
Sunday's Game 4.
Two games played in St. Louis, two bizarre endings.

Game Three figures to be famous, or infamous, depending on how one views the outcome. I wrote the Monday print column about the obstruction call that awarded St. Louis the decisive run, so I won't rehash it all here. Suffice it to say that the wonderfully hilarious "Old Hoss Radbourn" Twitter feed summed it up beautifully within seconds of the ruling:

There still, however, remain nitwits like Ron Coomer — that he actually gets paid to "analyze" baseball is beyond comprehension — insisting it was a bad call. No, it was the right call. It was a bad play by Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Had Allan Craig not been tripped, he would have scored on Saltalamacchia's wild throw. He did trip, and the umpires awarded him the run. Which is as it should be, and which is as will always happen on such a play. (Coomer, a former third baseman, is perhaps identifying too deeply with Will Middlebrooks, the third baseman who was put in a hopeless position by his catcher.)

The Cardinals returned the favor on Sunday, albeit less crucially, when rookie Kolten Wong, pinch-running in the ninth down two runs, got picked off first base. As one of my brothers was prone to saying back in the day, dum with a capital M. His run was only important if other Cardinals could score also, so why take any sort of chance?

It was a sizable mental mistake, but even if Wong hadn't gotten picked off, the Cardinals were likely to lose.

So the Series is even, two games apiece, and one thing we know for sure: There will be a Game Six in Boston, and the home plate umpire for that game will be Jim Joyce — the umpire who made the obstruction call in Game Three. I predict the Fenway fans will continue to embarrass themselves.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Pic of the Week

A rainbow over Fenway Park
the day before the World Series

I think that pretty much says it all.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Implications of the Lincecum deal

After two Cy Young seasons, two World Series titles
and a no-hitter, Tim Lincecum is a fan favorite
in San Francisco — and he's staying put.
The San Francisco Giants this week reached agreement with Tim Lincecum to a two-year, $35 million contract. This raised a number of eyebrows, as Lincecum has had two consecutive subpar seasons — and displayed decreasing velocity in the process.

He'll turn 30 next June, and he's not the pitcher who won consecutive Cy Young Awards at age 24 and 25. But the Giants were still willing to give him $17.5 million each of the next two seasons in hopes that he'll either recapture his old dominance or find a way to succeed with his new normal.

Good luck with that.

To be sure, this contract isn't going to cripple the Giants any more than the Barry Zito contract (seven years, $126 million) did. The Giants won two World Series during that period, with Zito not even on the postseason roster for one of them.

The Lincecum signing may be unique, just as Lincecum himself has been a unique pitcher. Or it may be a harbinger of a grossly inflated market for free agent starters, fueled by a fresh wave of national television money (each team gets an addition $30 million to $40 million a year under the new deal).

The Twins have at least $40 million in payroll space to play with. The problem for Terry Ryan and Co. is pursuing free-agent pitching isn't having money to offer; it's finding good pitchers (by which I mean they can be more than Kevin Correia) who will take the Twins' money.

This is the list of pending free agents as compiled by Baseball Prospectus. (I note that the list includes Lincecum, so it is not necessarily up-to-date). There are a lot of pitchers on that list, but very few one would feel comfortable throwing an eight-figure salary at. I don't see anybody who fits Baseball America's precise definition of a "No. 1 starter," or Keith Law's definition of an "ace."

Roy Halladay and Johan Santana? A few years ago, yes; today, no. Jon Lester? Rest assured, the Red Sox will pick up his option; he won't hit the market. Tim Hudson? Coming off an injury himself, and at age 38 he's unlikely to sign on to a rebuilding process. Matt Garza? Been there, done that.

There are some interesting, and more plausible, names on that list, to be sure: Jorge De La Rosa, Jason Hammel, Josh Johnson, Phil Hughes ... They all come with serious question marks, questions of health and ability.

As Ryan has said, there are 25 teams likely to be chasing free agent pitchers, and the Twins won't be the only ones with money burning a hole in their pockets. Lincecum figures to be just the first pitcher this offseason pulling in a free agent deal that seems bafflingly large.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Game 2: Ex-Twins rise and fall

Craig Breslow threw 13 pitches in his disastrous
one-third of an inning Thursday, just six for strikes.
There are two former Twins involved in this World Series, and both play for the Boston Red Sox.

David Ortiz, of course, is Boston's DH, cleanup hitter and unofficial face of the franchise. Craig Breslow, left-handed reliever, is one of the bullpen arms manager John Farrell relies on.

On Thursday night, Ortiz homered in the sixth inning to give Boston a 2-1 lead in Game 2. In the top of the seventh, Breslow came in with two on and one out; he allowed a double steal, yielded a walk, gave up a sac fly to tie the game, committed a throwing error to put St. Louis ahead, and allowed a single to plate yet another run.

And that was all St. Louis needed, because Boston got nothing more. John Lackey is the official losing pitcher, but Breslow — who had a terrific regular season (5-2, 1.81) and had not allowed a run in seven innings in the playoffs — should bear more of the blame.

Breslow has a 2.82 career ERA, slightly better than the 2.89 mark he put up with the Twins in 2008-09 before they blundered by putting him on waivers. I have long believed (and frequently written) that the Twins lost out on the 2008 division title because Ron Gardenhire wouldn't use Breslow in game situations. I've never understood why Gardenhire didn't trust Breslow more, or why Breslow had such a short leash in '09.

A familiar sight over the years: David Ortiz
gestures to the sky as he reaches home
plate after a home run.
More Twins fan complain about how the Twins gave up on Ortiz than about the Breslow fiasco, but it's worth remembering that when the Twins cut Ortiz loose after the 2002 season, nobody wanted him. He cleared waivers and signed a minor league deal with the Red Sox just before spring training began.

Ortiz has fueled the second-guessing over the years by criticizing Tom Kelly in particular and the Minnesota organization in general for insisting that he learn to hit to left field. In the Ortiz version of history, he got to Boston and the Sox let him pull the ball, and the rest is baseball history.

It's not that simple, and Thursday's home run — hit to left field, over the Green Monster — is a good example. Ortiz has become a legend in large part because he's not simply a pull hitter. He actively looks to go the other way, especially in Fenway. The cozy old yard has long been a boon to lefties with that approach, and Ortiz realistically should be grateful he encountered Kelly's philosophy in his formative years. (And perhaps he is, and clings to the slight of being cut loose as incentive.)

There are valid grounds to criticize how the Twins handled Ortiz, specifically the decision that he wasn't a good enough defensive player to DH. Boston made him a full-time designated hitter; that's something the Twins were unwilling to do.

Would Ortiz have become a star had the Twins stuck with him? He has a career slash line of .313/.409/.591 in Fenway; in all other games, his slash line is .268/.361/.519. That's certainly good enough to play, but not the stuff of legends.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Game 1: Sloppy defense and phantom calls

How not to turn the double play, by Pete Kozma.
It sure didn't take long for the St. Louis Cardinals to make my World Series prediction look silly.

St. Louis displayed the worst infield defense I've seen since the Twins dumped Tsuyoshi Nishioka. Just about everybody had a hand in it, or an iron glove:

  • Shortstop Pete Kozma failed to catch the initial throw on what should have been an inning-ending double play. Despite the worst efforts of second-base ump Dana DeMuth, the Cards got nothing out of it. The Red Sox turned it into three runs.
  • Pitcher Adam Wainwright and catcher Yadier Molina talked each other out of catching a routine popup. (In an awe-inspiring display of incompetence, the official scorer deemed it a single for Stephen Drew. Apparently the scorers have decided to ignore the part of the definition of error that says the play can be made "with ordinary effort." There was extraordinary lack of effort on Wainwright's part.)
  • Third baseman David Freese displayed less range than Trevor Plouffe on an RBI single. The range of some third basemen is described as "a step and a dive." Freese had neither.
  • Later in the game, Freese lollypopped a throw on a routine grounder. It bounced before reaching first baseman Matt Adams, and Adams channeled his inner Prince Fielder. Poor throw, worse scoop. Error goes to Freese, but Adams truly made the lesser play.
How not to catch a pop up, by
Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina.
I didn't notice second baseman Matt Carpenter bollix a play, but there's time.

To make a weak defense of my prediction (which would still be stronger than the Cardinals' defense), it was based on the notion that the Cardinals pitching would handle the Red Sox hitters. Wainwright was more effective than his line (five innings, three earned runs). But one of the misplays was his own fault, and of course Carlos Beltran saved him a lot of runs with his catch off David Ortiz.

Most of the attention has gone to the first Kozma error (he was charged with another) because DeMuth blew the initial call, which the rest of the umpiring crew overturned. It is my belief – which I voiced last night on Twitter — that underlying the bad call is the reflexive habit of giving the pivotman credit for the out at second base. Umpires routinely rule that an infielder dropped the ball during the transfer. Ball hits glove, catch is made — that's the way umps call it, and that's why DeMuth ruled the way he did.

Ball-hits-glove-equals-catch is the way umps make the call at first base, but the first baseman at least has to hang on to the ball. The middle infielder trying to turn two is hurrying not only to get a throw off, but to avoid the oncoming baserunner as well. This phantom call, much like that of the "neighborhood play," may be an umpiring concession to player safety.

It's understandable. But that doesn't mean I like it.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

A quick World Series prediction

Fenway Park is gussied up for the World Series, which
open there tonight.

I don't particularly like either of the teams playing in the World Series this year. I don't have a rooting interest in this matchup.

But I recognize this: The best teams in their respective leagues are playing for the championship. That doesn't happen every year. It didn't happen every year when there were just two divisions per league — the 1987 Twins are testimony to that fact — and it has rarely happened in the wild card era.

So kudos to the Boston Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals. Despite the pitfalls built by Commissioner Bud at the behest of TV to create artifical suspense, they got to the showcase.

So who wins? I think St. Louis does.

I'll boil it down to this simple matchup: The Detroit Tigers starters demonstrated in the previous round that power arms overmatch much of the Red Sox lineup. The Cardinals have some power arms in their rotation. Unlike the Tigers, the Cardinals have power arms in the bullpen to boot. The Sox survived the Tigers series by outlasting the Detroit starters and preying on the Detroit relievers. That isn't likely to work against the Cardinals.

The conventional wisdom has this being an evenly-matched series that will go seven games. Maybe it will. But I think it might be over in St. Louis.

Molitor, Ramirez and minor surgeries

Paul Molitor at his Hall of Fame
induction in 2004.
Paul Molitor, the Twins announced Tuesday, will be their seventh coach, with a set of responsibilities described as bunting, baserunning, defensive positioning and in-game advice.

Not exactly earth-shaking news, but there's certainly room for reaction:

  • Nothing against Molitor, who clearly knows those areas of the game as thoroughly as anybody, but this does still leave the Minnesota coaching staff very white and Anglo. The wave of position player talent coming is heavily Latin and dark-skinned. I still think it would be better if the coaching staff were more diverse.
  • Both Molitor and Terry Ryan said bringing Molitor on board was initiated by Ron Gardenhire. When Ryan reshuffled the coaching staff a year ago, the general manager said there was "no fit" for Molitor, who was — and remains — popularly seen as the likely successor to Gardenhire's job should Ryan opt to change managers. Presumably the difference in "fit" some 12 months later is connected to the two-year extension the manager received after the season ended. Molitor's presence is not an immediate threat to Gardenhire's employment.
  • I don't know what kind of label we'll attach to Molitor's duties. For four of the other coaches, the label refers to where they are during games (first-base coach, third-base coach, bench coach, bullpen coach); for the other two, the label encompasses a broad responsibility (pitching coach, hitting coach). Molitor is to be in the dugout, with Scott Ullger and Joe Vavra still on the bases. I'll go with baserunning coach for now.

Outfielder Wilkin Ramirez was activated from the 60-day disabled list and then outrighted to Triple-A Rochester. He'll presumably exercise his right to declare free agency and see if anybody else wants him.

The Twins 40-man roster remains officially at 36, with Sam Deduno remaining on the 60-day DL as an unofficial 37th. Plenty of pruning awaits.


Closer Glen Perkins and outfielder Darin Mastroianni each had surgeries since season's end.

Perkins' knee issue was not public knowledge last season, and he certainly had a fine season despite it. Mastroianni's season, on the other hand, was essentially ruined by his ankle problem.

Both men are supposed to be good to go for spring training. Inasmuch as Perkins was quite effective with a troublesome meniscus, I've no concerns about him. Mastroianni, on the other hand, needs his speed. He was not the baserunner last September that he was in 2012.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Identifying managerial trends

John Farrell of the Red Sox is a rare pitcher-turned-manager.
Out with the old, in with a new generation of managers.

2010: Bobby Cox (29 years, two franchises, 2,504 wins, one World Series title, five pennants, 15 division titles); Lou Piniella (23 years, five franchises, 1,835 wins, one World Series title,  one pennant, six division titles); and Joe Torre (29 years managing five franchises, 2,326 wins, four World Series titles, six pennants, 12 division titles) retire.

2011: Tony LaRussa (33 years, three franchises, 2,728 wins, three World Series titles, six pennants, 12 division titles) retires.

2013: Dusty Baker (20 years, three franchises, 1,671 wins, one pennant, five division titles) and Davey Johnson (17 years, five franchises, 1,372 wins, one World Series title, one pennant, six division titles) are forced out; Jim Leyland (22 years, four franchises,  1,769 wins, one World Series title, three pennants, six division titles) retires.

Those seven men combined for 173 seasons; 14,205 regular-season victories; 12 World Series titles; 23 pennants; and 62 division titles.

The managerial field can't help but get younger with that bunch removed from the field.

The Cincinnati Reds are today to announce that they will promote pitching coach Bryan Price to the managerial job, succeeding Baker. Price, 51, not only hasn't managed in the majors before, he hasn't managed in the minors.

The rival managers in the NLCS this year, Don Mattingly
(left) of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Mike Matheny
of the St. Louis Cardinals, never managed in the
minors before landing their current jobs.
As I noted in the Monday print column, relatively few pitchers emerge as managers. John Farrell, who will lead the Boston Red Sox in the World Series beginning Wednesday, is one of two ex-pitchers currently managing (the other is Bud Black of the San Diego Padres). Price will make it three of the 30.

Price also figures to join the growing ranks of the truly inexperienced skippers. And there's one of them in the World Series also: Mike Matheny of the St. Louis Cardinals hadn't managed on any level before being picked to follow LaRussa in the St. Louis dugout.

Most, if not all, the managers who get big-league jobs without serving minor league apprenticeships have the benefit of long and distinguished playing careers. Price does not; he never pitched in the majors.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Jim Leyland retires. Again

Jim Leyland: 22 years as a manager, 1,769 wins, 1,728
losses, one World Series title, three pennants, six
division titles.
Jim Leyland announced Monday that he's walking away from the managerial job in Detroit.

This is his second retirement — he hung 'em up, so he said, when he decided he'd had enough in Colorado back in 1999. He was 54 then, 54 and frustrated after losing 198 games in two years. He's 68 now and has won three straight division titles. I think this one will stick — and for that matter, the first stuck for seven years.

There are now, oddly, three managerial openings for teams in "win-now" position: Detroit, Cincinnati and Washington.

I would expect the Tigers to view this as a short-term opening. The youngest of the 12 players who got the most plate appearances on the 2013 Tigers was 26. Miguel Cabrera is now on the wrong side of 30. Prince Fielder's numbers have fallen each of the last two years. Alex Avila has been ridden hard behind the plate.

This is not, in my mind, a team to be turned over to a managerial prospect with a learning curve.

One issue that the new manager, whoever he is, will have to deal with is the bullpen. Leyland's patchwork failed him this month. That might be relatively prominent on Dave Dombrowski's checklist as the Detroit general manager seeks a new dugout boss.

Let's see: Experienced manager for a veteran squad with a knack for assembling and deploying a bullpen. I know just the man. But Ron Gardenhire already has a job.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Pic of the Week

Torii Hunter tumbles over the right field wall in
Fenway Park in vain pursuit of David Ortiz's
grand slam in Game 2 of the ALCS.

Pic of the Week? Pic of the Year, really, at least as far as baseball is concerned. Hunter's legs, the cop's arms...

What struck me, really, about the play was that it was very much the kind of play that made Hunter famous more than a decade ago — charging the wall to take a home run away. But this one he overran — as we all saw on the replays, he was going to his right to intercept the ball, then had to reach to his left at the wall.

He just missed it. Excruciatingly close. And, of course, had he caught that ball, the Tigers probably — almost certainly — win that game. And they would have taken a 2-0 lead in the series, and who knows what might have followed that. Instead, the Sox evened the series, and today they are champions of the American League and headed to the World Series.

Hunter's been a right fielder for a few years because first the Angels and now the Tigers have younger legs for center field. The advanced defensive metrics aren't very kind to him at this point in his career; Baseball Info Systems estimates that he cost the Tigers 10 runs (approximately one win) with his defense this season.

Maybe the young Hunter would have made that catch. But then, the young Hunter would have been playing center field, not right.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

The Yasiel Puig Rorschach test

Yasiel Puig misplays a base hit in the fifth inning
Friday night for his second error of the game.
The Los Angeles Dodgers played a really bad, no-good, horsebleep, rotten game on Friday night. Yasiel Puig was part of the problem.

So was just about everybody who took the field for L.A. — the Dodgers got just two hits, and likely Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw was ineffective — but Puig made some early and obvious mistakes in the field as the Cardinals jumped to a fat lead and carried away the NL pennant.

Had Puig played a perfectly clean game in the field, the Dodgers would still have lost Game 6, and with it the National League Championship Series. He didn't play a clean game. And because he is who he is, it was noticed.

Puig spent the season in the spotlight — his controversial contract as a Cuban defector from the free-spending Dodgers; his dominating spring training; his call-up in early June; his .391 batting average at the All-Star break; his .273 batting average after the break. He came to the Dodgers when the team was in the basement; the team's emergence as the power in the NL West largely coincided with his arrival.

His admirers love his gusto, his enthusiasm, his exposed emotions on the field. His detractors deride his frequent mental errors and, yes, his exposed emotions on the field.

Puig is a rare talent, somewhat reminiscent of Bo Jackson. Jackson did things we'd never seen — and could also look like he'd never seen a baseball game. For all his magnificent talent, Jackson was never a truly great baseball player. A great player doesn't just do one spectacular thing a week. He grinds out good play six or seven days a week and mixes in the did-you-see-that stuff.

Puig might get to that point someday. He's not there now.

The reaction to this man and his emergence was been interesting. There are the old-schoolers — self-righteous "protectors of the game"— who want him reined in and forced into a cookie-cutter mold. On the opposite side are his defenders, who often come from a sabermetric camp that routinely scoffs at talk of "doing the little things right." They frequently come off as having decided that chronically missing the cutoff man is no problem — and that any mention of Puig's blunders borders on ethnic insensitivity.

People look at Puig, and see what they want to see. An out-of-control "wild horse" on one hand, a refutation of stodgy baseball tradition on the other. It all says more about the viewer than about Puig.

Puig isn't a problem. He's a challenge. For the Dodgers, the challenge is to get him to refine his play, to strip out the miscues while keeping the passion and aggressiveness. For the rest of the league, the challenge is to cope with the talent he brings to bear.

Everything else is just nonsense.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Mike Pelfrey and WAR

Parker Hageman, one of the bloggers behind Twins Daily, this week posted this query on Twitter:

To which Jack Goin of the Twins front office, who supplies Terry Ryan with whatever statistical input the general manager requires, replied: "Looks like 0.9" — which is the average between the two figures.

Mike Pelfrey made 29 starts
for the 2103 Twins,
going 5-13 with a 5.19 ERA
in his first season after
Tommy John surgery.
This illustrates, by the way, the obstacles WAR — Wins Above Replacement — faces in winning popular acceptance. It's an opaque formula stat. You can't look at a box score and say, "Brian Dozier had .2 WAR last night" the way you can say, "Two-for 5? Dozier hit .400 last night." And because Fangraphs uses a different formula to account for team defense behind a pitcher than Baseball Reference does, you can get, as in this case, drastically conflicting results.

Using the rule of thumb that teams will pay $5 million per win in free agency, Fangraphs says Pelfrey was worth $10 million last year. Baseball Reference says he was release bait.

And Goin's Twitter response suggests that Pelfrey's $4 million-plus pay was basically what he earned.

All this is not necessarily academic. Pelfrey, who'll be a free agent after the World Series, has told people covering the Twins he wants to return to Minnesota. But his agent is Scott Boras, who seldom cuts team-friendly deals. If some other team buys into the Fangraphs interpretation of Pelfrey's season, Pelfrey's return is less likely.

Baseball Reference's interpretation,  and the traditional stats, would suggest that's not a bad thing for the Twins.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The aces are falling

Adam Wainwright shut down the Pirates to clinch the
Division series for St. Louis, but he couldn't beat the
Dodgers in Game Three of the NLCS.
Aces ruled in the four Division Series. In the two League Championship Series, not so much.

There have been nine games played so far (five in the NLCS, four in the ALCS), which means there have been 18 starts. Six of those starts have been made by pitchers who have won Cy Young Awards (Zach Greinke, Clayton Kershaw, Jake Peavy, Justin Verlander) or who are about to (Max Scherzer). Peavy, whose Cy dates to 2007, isn't what he once was, but even if we leave him out there's Adam Wainwright, who hasn't won the award but has had three seasons in which he could have. None of those starts have been against each other.

Greinke, Kershaw, Scherzer, Verlander, Wainwright. An impressive set of pitchers there. And their teams have gone 1-5 in their starts. The Dodgers got a win out of Greinke's start Wednesday. If you want to include Peavy, the teams are 1-6 with the big gun arms. If you want to include Jon Lester, the best of the Red Sox rotation — a fine pitcher but not quite on the level of the five names who led this paragraph — the teams are 1-7.

It isn't that the aces have pitched poorly. Verlander and Scherzer allowed just one run each, but the Tigers got shut out in Verlander's start and their bullpen imploded in Scherzer's. Kershaw (one run allowed) and Wainwright (two runs) were shut out in their starts, as was Lester (one run).

It's just been two series dominated not by the established aces but by the lesser names. Greinke got the win in his second time around; we'll see if that holds for the other stars as they begin to repeat the rotation cycle.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Sickles' Twins top 20 prospects

John Sickels, the minor leagues writer for SB Nation and a notable prospect guru, posted on Tuesday his Twins Top 20 prospects list.

Big surprise: He has Bryon Buxton and Miguel Sano at the top of the charts, Grade A for both. (On Monday he posted this long comment on Buxton, which will be part of his annual Prospect Book this spring.)

The ranking that jumped out at me was Lewis Thorpe, a 17-year-old left-handed pitcher from Australia who dominated the Gulf Coast League (64 strikeouts and six walks in 44 innings). Sickles puts him at No. 7, one step above Josmil Pinto and one below Jose Berrios.

The GCL is an introductory league, a step below even the Appy League, and one is wise not to put a lot of emphasis on stats compiled in either of the Rookie Leagues. Such video-game numbers are not that uncommon at those levels.

Clearly Thorpe's talent opened some eyes this summer. He's grown since he signed (reportedly adding an inch and 55 pounds) and added velocity with the size. Still, ranking him above a catcher who hits as well as Pinto has in the upper minors, even if defensively flawed, strikes me as a reach.

Sickles puts Thorpe's ETA at 2017, and that seems rather fast-track. Let's see: Appy League in 2014, Midwest League (which would be his first full-season league) in 2015, and he's supposed to rise from Low-A to the majors within two years?

Maybe I'm overly skeptical, but I regard him as more a name to remember than somebody to get excited about right now.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

On hitting coaches

Miguel Cabrera homrs Sunday in Fenway Park.
It has long been said that you can't teach hitting. A player either has the hand-eye coordination to hit or he doesn't. The most a hitting coach can do is refine the talent.

Yet major league teams today are increasing adding assistant hitting coaches. The Twins are said to be discussing internally adding a seventh coach to the staff and rearranging duties; it seems likely from this outside view that somebody will be joining Tom Brunansky as an assistant hitting instructor.

I just came across this Wall Street Journal piece from earlier this month about Miguel Cabrera and how he fits — or doesn't fit — into the various theories of hitting.

My favorite paragraph from the story, which comes after describing some unique things Cabrera does:

Batting coaches generally strangle such habits early on. "You know what Ted Williams would have done with this guy?" said Toby Harrah, an assistant batting coach with the Tigers who played for Williams when he managed the Washington Senators in 1971. "He would have left him alone."

It's worth reading not so much for what Cabrera does — he is, as the piece explains, a unique beast — as for the background on hitting coaching, approaches and techniques.

There's enough variance in ideas and theories that I wonder if the organizational habit of telling players This is how we do it is misplaced. Joe Mauer and Trevor Plouffe, to pick two Twins who have played for no other organization, are very different hitters, and it seems unlikely that they would benefit from the same instructional emphasis.

Calling somebody an "assistant hitting coach" implies that the "hitting coach" has the authority and the responsibility. Maybe it has to be that way; there is clearly a risk of confusing a player with contradictory advice and instruction. But I doubt anybody knows enough about hitting to make any one approach mandatory.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Contemplating a bullpen meltdown

Beginning the meltdown: Jim Leyland
sends Jose Veras back to the dughout and
awaits the arrival of Drew Smyly.
Back in 2008, when this blog was on a different and far less useful (or searchable) platform on the Free Press website, I started tracking the Twins' multi-pitcher bullpen meltdowns.

Do you remember that season? The Twins wound up losing the division title in a Game 163, but had the bullpen not coughed up a number of big leads, that game wouldn't have been necessary. I can't readily find my tally from that season, but I believe the Twins lost at least four games that year when the starter left with at least a three-run lead and at least three relievers combined to allow a crooked number inning.

The frustration of that season reverberated Sunday night as the Tigers bullpen melted down in the eighth inning. Four relievers combined for 25 pitches and four runs in that frame as Jim Leyland searched for the outs he needed:

  • Jose Veras got Stephen Drew to ground out, then allowed a double to Will Middlebrooks.
  • Drew Smyly entered, walked Jacoby Ellsbury.
  • Al Alburquerque entered, struck out Shane Victorino, then allowed a single to Dustin Pedroia.
  • Joaquin Benoit entered, gave up a home run to David Ortiz.

Enter pitcher No. 5 for the game, and No. 4 for the
eighth inning. Exit, one pitch later, the lead.
And a 5-1 lead turned into a 5-5 tie.

All this matchup playing pretty much follows current managerial convention, except that I doubt that in the regular season Leyland would have used Benoit, his closer, to try to get that last out. Regular-season Leyland might have deployed Phil Coke instead (even though Coke isn't really a lefty killer and Benoit actually has better numbers against lefties.)

It all reminded me, as I say, of Ron Gardenhire's struggles in 2008 (which were, frankly, somewhat self-inflicted; Gardy simply would not use Craig Breslow in game situations and spent months trying to get big outs from Brian Bass, who had no big outs in him).

But it also reminded me of how much the game has changed since I started my fandom in 1969. Managers of my youth didn't indulge in this kind of pitcher shuffling.

In the baseball of my youth — even the baseball of my young adulthood — Max Scherzer doesn't come out of the game after seven innings. Two hits and one run allowed in seven innings? Managers in the 1970s and long into the 1980s would have kept him in the game. I can't imagine Earl Weaver or Walter Alston pulling a 21-game winner pre-emptively like that. They may or may not have been aware of pitch counts (Scherzer was at 108), but they didn't manage with that in the forefront of their minds.

And even if they had felt it best to go to the pen, they wouldn't have made repeated moves. Most likely Benoit, as the best reliever on the staff, would have gotten the call and told to get six outs.

This stuff didn't become managerial convention until the late 1980s and early '90s. The managers who did the most to make it convention were Tony LaRussa and ... yes, LaRussa's buddy, Jim Leyland, who was then managing the Pirates.

If Leyland appeared a slave to managerial convention Sunday night, it's appropriate. He helped create that convention more than 20 years ago.

The return of Doug Bernier

Doug Bernier was called up at the All-Star
break and played in 33 games for the
Twins, but only four of them in September.
The Twins earlier this month outrighted infielder Doug Bernier, which made the 33-year-old infielder a minor league free agent. This weekend, Bernier re-signed with the Twins on a minor league deal, presumably with an invite to major league camp this spring — which, itself, is a step up from last year.

It's not difficult to understand why Bernier was eager to return to the Twins organization; they gave him almost a half season in the majors, which is a whole lot more service time than he ever got from his previous organizations (Colorado, Pittsburgh and the Yankees twice).

A bit more puzzling is why the Twins were eager to bring him back.

As matters stand, the Rochester middle infield regulars figure to be Danny Santana at shortstop and Eddie Rosario at second. I don't know what James Beresford's status is — he's probably a minor league free agent too — but I see more of a possibility of him becoming a useful major league player. For one thing, he's nine years younger than Bernier. Assuming Beresford is retained (and that's not a certainty), there doesn't appear to be a purpose to having Bernier as well.

So are appearances deceiving?

This may be reading too much into a signing that is clearly about minor league depth, but it leads me to suspect that the Twins may have other plans for Rosario in 2014 than playing second base in Triple A. The emergence of Brian Dozier during the second half may have persuaded the Twins that they don't need Rosario as a second baseman. If so, they might shift him back to the outfield; they might trade him.

And if Rosario isn't the second baseman for the Red Wings, there's a role available for Bernier.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Pic of the Week

Detroit's Anibel Sanchez celebrates
after escaping a bases-loaded jam in
the sixth inning with his 116th
and final pitch.
I said in the Saturday morning post that I was rooting for the Tigers over the Red Sox, and I suppose I am, but my heart's not really in it.

One way I know that is how relieved I felt when Daniel Nova got his single in the ninth inning to break up a five-pitcher no-hitter. Had Joaquin Benoit finished off the "gem," it would have been one of the ugliest no-nos ever.

I reflected on Twitter during the seventh inning that 10 years ago, Anibel Sanchez would almost certainly have continued pitching, but not in today's game. Sanchez at that point had thrown 116 pitches  — 66 strikes, 50 balls, which is not an impressive ratio.

Jim Leyland made the right move on many levels in pulling Sanchez. I suppose there are some who think he should have left his starter in to pursue the no-hitter, but I certainly didn't see any criticism on my Twitter feed. If anything, I got a sense that people felt Leyland should have pulled Sanchez in the sixth, that the Detroit manager had gotten away with one by letting Sanchez get out of his own jam.

It seemed pretty obvious that from reaction after striking out Stephen Drew to end the sixth that Sanchez knew that was his final inning. Chicken or the egg: Did Leyland pull Sanchez because Sanchez expected to be pulled, or did Sanchez expect to be pulled because he knows that's what Leyland would do in that situation? My guess is the latter.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Picking a rooting interest

Zach Greinke, who went eight innings for the Dodgers
on Friday in Game One of the NLCS, is one reason to root
for Los Angeles. There aren't many.
I can't complain about the quality of the four teams standing in the baseball playoffs. There's not a wild-card pretender left in the field, and there's a good case to be made for any of the four as the best team in baseball.

There's just not a team left I really want to root for.

The route espoused on Twitter earlier in the week by friend of the blog Jim Crikket — that he'd stop paying attention — isn't feasible for me. Crikket likes football, or at least some specific teams; I'd just as soon the whole sport went away. There's only so many baseball games left to 2013 (maximum now of 19 to be played). I'm not going to ignore them.

So I here try to pick the lesser of the evils:

Los Angeles Dodgers

Reasons to root for: Zach Greinke has been one of my favorite pitchers to watch since before he became a star. Vin Scully, the 85-year-old broadcasting legend, made the journey to St. Louis to do the games on Dodger radio (it's not in sync with the TV feed, but it's still an improvement over the TBS blather).

Ex-Twins: Nick Punto is on the active roster; Drew Butera is inactive.

Reasons to root against: It's Los Angeles, and one thing I've become increasingly certain of in 55 years of life is that little good comes from L.A. Biggest payroll in the game, and from all indications the new ownership intends to step it up further. Tommy Lasorda's still connected with the franchise.

St. Louis Cardinals

Reasons to root for: Midwestern city. In many ways, a model operation, fixing problems with home grown solutions. The Cards let Albert Pujols walk and got better.

Ex-Twins: None anywhere. Closest I can see is that reserve infielder Kolten Wong was drafted by the Twins as a high schooler and went to college instead.

Reasons to root against: Still soiled to some extent by Tony LaRussa's borderline insane belligerence. I've grown weary of the smug puffery about "the best fans in baseball." That they feel it necessary to repeat the claim ad nauseum suggests they doubt it.

Boston Red Sox

Reasons to root for: I need more time to come up with an active reason to root for them. Not being the New York Yankees is no longer enough, and the long drought without a World Series title is a thing of the past. OK: Bill James is part of the baseball operations. Best I can do.

First baseman Mike Napoli displays one
of the more unkempt beards on
the Boston roster.
Ex-Twins: David Ortiz in the starting lineup, Craig Breslow in the bullpen.

Reasons to root against: The untrimmed beards. "Sweet Caroline." The chronic smear campaigns against players and managers on their way of out of town. The spending. The obvious organizational ambition to be as unlikeable as the Yankees.

Detroit Tigers

Reasons to root for: Midwestern city. The hope, probably in vain, that if he wins a World Series title that aging owner Mike Ilitch will scale back the spending to a level that would appear economically sustainable. Miguel Cabrera is the best hitter in baseball; Justin Verlander is the best pitcher in baseball. Prince Fielder recently took a nacho from a fan's tray after chasing a foul ball.

Ex-Twins: Torii Hunter

Reasons to root against: Force of habit as a Twins fan. Jhonny Peralta was part of the Biogensis steroid scandal (and upon his return from his 50-game suspension hit a crucial, if disputed, home run against the Athletics in the ALDS). Cheater!


Tigers, Cardinals, Red Sox, Dodgers in that order. 

Friday, October 11, 2013

The kids and the aces

Justin Verlander won't get any Cy Young votes
this year (teammate Max Scherzer will win),
but he's still the better pitcher.
TBS' announcing crews said several profoundly inane things over the course of the 21 games since the end of the regular season schedule, but I doubt any were as silly as Buck Martinez' assertion Thursday night that the "Moneyball" A's — Tim Hudson, Barry Zito and Mark Mulder — lacked a starting pitcher as good as Sonny Gray.

Gray is impressive, yes. But with 64 major league innings under his belt entering the playoffs, he has hardly established himself on a par with the A's Big Three of a decade ago. Zito went 102-63, 3.55 with a Cy Young in seven seasons with the A's and he was probably the least talented of the trio. (Mulder was 81-41, 3.92 in five seasons; Hudson 92-39, 3.30 in six seasons.)

The A's were not alone in this year's division series in placing an elimination game in the hands of a rookie with less than 70 innings in the majors. The Pirates, as did the A's, moved their Game Two rookie up ahead of their Game One veteran for Game Five; for Pittsburgh, it was Garrett Cole over A.J. Burnett, for Oakland it was Gray over Bartolo Colon. St. Louis deployed Michael Wacha in a must-have Game Four.

Wacha won his start; Cole and Gray lost theirs, but hardly embarrassed themselves in the process. They pitched well, but ran into legitimate, top-of-the-line aces in Adam Wainwright and Justin Verlander on the other side.

Earlier in the week, as I contemplated the notion of the Twins making a bid this offseason for Tampa Bay's top gun, David Price (this is likely to be the subject of Monday's print column), I spitballed a "top four-man rotation." Pick any four major league starters, money no concern, for your team. Who do you want?

My four — more or less off the top of my head — was (alphabetically): Felix Hernandez, Clayton Kershaw, Verlander and Wainwright. My four (and yours can be quite different without being provably wrong) have both an established multi-year level of top-grade performance and the likelihood of something left in the tank.

I don't think it's a coincidence that three of the surviving teams pitched one of those guys to clinch their division series: Kershaw, Wainwright, Verlander all got the call, and they surrendered a total of one earned run in 23 innings in their three games.

That's trump ace pitching.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Will Morneau return?

Justin Morneau, speed demon: He scored from second
base Wednesday on an infield single. It was the only
run the Pirates scored in the 6-1 series-decider.
Justin Morneau's season came to an end Wednesday night. He had two singles and scored a run for Pittsburgh in Game Five, but that was hardly enough to get the Pirates past St. Louis.

He'll be part of the free agent field after the World Series, and I really wonder how much demand there will be for him.

Morneau hit an even .300 in the Division Series, but it was a soft .300, with just one extra-base hit (a double) and no runs batted in. Most of the blame for the lack of ribbies should be laid on Sterling Marte and Neal Walker, the Pirates' No. 1 and No. 2 hitters, who combined to go 1-for-38 in the five games, but still ... Morneau never hit a home run for Pittsburgh, not in the regular season, not in the playoffs.

Mike Bernadino of the Pioneer Press said on Twitter late in the game that he expects Morneau to return to the Twins:

As I said a few days ago, I'm inclined to believe the Twins will point Joe Mauer to first base and tell him to have a good rest of his career there. I suppose that, even if Mauer is done catching, that the Twins could split the first base and DH jobs between the two.

But why bother? The fact that Pirates manager Clint Hurdle stubbornly kept Morneau in the cleanup spot notwithstanding, the evidence that Morneau belongs in the middle of the lineup now is thin to nonexistent. He might be more an road block than a bridge to the next outstanding Twins team.

I don't like saying this. My emotions want Morneau back, never wanted him to leave, even for this brief period. My logic says it's time for the organization to move on.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

What happened to Jeremy Hellickson?

Jeremy Hellickson beat out Mike Trout for Baseball
America's Minor League Player of the Year award in 2010,
then was voted Rookie of the Year in 2011.
Jeremy Hellickson got the ball Tuesday in an elimination game for the Tampa Bay Rays. It was about the weakest no-run start one can imagine: He breezed through the first inning, then loaded the bases with nobody out in the second and got pulled.

That the Rays escaped the jam without allowing a run doesn't excuse his performance — in that game, or for the season. Hellickson, in his third full season in the majors, saw his ERA inflate from 2.95 as a rookie in 2011 and 3.10 in 2013 to 5.17 in 2013.

The Iowa native's leading indicator stats are a mixed bag. His strikeout rate and walk rates actually improved this year, and the home run rate remained stable. More batted balls found holes, and that may well be ascribed to hit luck. But if so, it would more more a case of abnormally good fortune in the first two years, when his BABIP (batting average, balls in play) was a minuscule .224 and .264, than abnormally good fortune this year (his 2013 BABIP was a more normal .308). Which suggests that Hellickson was getting better results in his first two seasons than he deserved.

Hellickson is about to become arbitration eligible, and I really wonder what the budget-conscious Rays will do with the 2011 Rookie of the Year. Scott Boras is his agent, so there will be no team-friendly bargains struck. The statistically-savvy Rays may well decide it's time to dump him on a team hoping that his 2013 was an aberration.

And if there's an organization susceptible to that kind of thinking, it would be the Minnesota Twins.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The young and the old

Yadier Molina was happy Monday with the work of
rookie starter Michael Wacha.
The NL Division Series on Monday offered a contrast too obvious to ignore: Two teams, Atlanta and St. Louis, in elimination games. One's starting pitcher was about as inexperienced as they come; the other's was a crafty veteran who offered almost nothing but his veteraniness.

St. Louis won its game. Atlanta lost its. But both pitchers did quite well, thank you, establishing yet again that there is no pat answer to this game.

Michael Wacha is indeed an impressive young pitcher. He's 22, a rookie out of Texas A&M, the 19th overall pick in the 2012 draft, and his major league resume entering the series boasted less than 65 innings in just 15 games and nine starts. On Monday, he carried a non-hitter into the eighth inning (when Pittsburgh's Pedro Alvarez hit a long homer) and came away credited with the 2-1 win that forced a decisive Game Five back in St. Louis. He threw almost nothing but fastballs and changeups, and why bother with a third pitch when two are that effective?

That game will feature the Cardinals' best in Adam Wainwright — and Pittsburgh's own rookie sensation, Garrett Cole, who is being moved ahead of veteran A.J. Burnett in a youth-over-veteran move.

Freddy Garcia's been there and done that in the postseason,
and even without the fastball he had in his youth
he still got the job done on Monday.

Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, with the Dodgers bringing Cy Young favorite Clayton Kershaw (league leader in ERA and strikeouts) back on short rest to try to close out Atlanta, the Braves countered with Freddy Garcia — at age 37 a veteran of 15 major league seasons with seven teams. Monday's outing was Garcia's 11th career start in playoffs and World Series (6-3, 3.25 in postseason play).

"I don't panic," Garcia was quoted as saying on Sunday (which, as it happened, was his birthday) after the Braves were pushed to the brink. "I just make pitch." Which pretty much sums up the appeal of age and experience in a crucial situation.

Garcia made his pitches on Monday: Six innings of two run ball. He navigated his way around eight Dodgers hits, struck out six and left with the lead.

Garcia was hardly as overwhelming as Wacha, but he gave the Braves all they could ask for, and more than should have been expected from a guy who brought a 5.77 ERA over from the American League in midseason.

Nice work by both of them.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Duke Welker and Justin Morneau

Justin Morneau is greeted in the Pittsburgh dugout after
scoring a run in Game Two of their series with the Cardinals.
Duke Welker was officially named Saturday as the second player (the other being outfielder Alex Presley) the Twins got from Pittsburgh in the Justin Morneau trade.

Welker's a 6-foot-7 right-handed relief pitcher, age 27, whose fastball sits around 93 mph and occasionally touches 97. He has all of 1.1 major-league innings on his resume, so it's a reasonable assumption that his velocity isn't enough. He has good Triple A strikeout rates, bad walk rates.

I expect Welker to compete come spring for the bullpen job occupied this year by Josh Roenicke — not quite a set-up man, not quite a long reliever.

His addition brings the Twins "unofficial" roster count to 38. (This is a more accurate tally than the official roster, which doesn't include Sam Deduno or Wilkin Ramirez, who remain on the 60-day disabled list.)

Morneau, meanwhile, is hitting cleanup for the Pirates in the NLDS, which would seem to refute my earlier claims that he no longer belongs in the middle of a major league lineup. Through Sunday, he was 5-for-17 (.294) in four postseason games, with one double.

Morneau did have a rather punchless September for the Buccos: slash line .260/.370/.312. That's a real nice OPB, and a slugging percentage that makes Nick Punto look powerful (career slugging percentage .325).

When the Twins traded Morneau, I estimated a 50 percent chance that he'd return to Minnesota as a free agent. I don't think it's anywhere near that high now.  Between the severity of Joe Mauer's concussion and the strong September of Josmil Pinto, I think it's more likely that Mauer will be the Minnesota first baseman next year. And if not in 2014, certainly in 2015. If Mauer's the first baseman, Morneau's not coming back.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Pic of the Week

Todd Helton acknowledges the ovation
in Los Angeles before his final at-bat.
A goodly number of players, whether they know it or not, saw their major league careers end last month. The Ozzie Guillen line comes to mind: "Good players retire. Bad players get released. I got released."

Todd Helton, like Mariano Riveria and Andy Pettitte, retired, only with a lot less fanfare and publicity. Of course, Helton spent his career in Denver, not in the Big Apple.

Hitting numbers are and always will be inflated by Coors Field (or, more accurately, by the altitude in Denver), but Helton is the best player the Rockies have had in their short history. He ends his 17-year career with a slash line of .316/.414/.539. Taken at face value, his stats would not be an embarrassment to the Hall of Fame, but I don't think he's going to get there.

I find this coincidence intriguing: Helton was a quarterback at the University of Tennessee. As a junior in 1994, he inherited the starting job when the starter was injured. Three weeks later, Helton himself was injured, and a true freshman stepped into the lineup. That was Peyton Manning. And Helton's career path to baseball rather than football was set.

Today, of course, as Helton's career ends, Manning is the quarterback in the city where Helton spent his career. Manning, in a sense, was there for the beginning and the end.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Notes, quotes and comment

Doug Bernier appeared in 33 games for
the Twins, with a slash line of
The Twins on Friday outrighted infielder Doug Bernier, who thus becomes a minor league free agent. This officially reduces the 40-man roster to 35, but the unofficial tally of 37 is more accurate, since it accounts for Wilkin Ramirez and Sam Deduno, who are on the 60-day disabled list.

This was certainly the most glorious season of Bernier's professional career: He got to spend almost three months in the major leagues after hitting .295 in a half-season as the primary shortstop for the Rochester Red Wings.

The Twins never really had a role for the 33-year-old — no matter how thin his bench, Ron Gardenhire always seems to have somebody who doesn't have much purpose sitting around — but I'll guarantee you, Bernier preferred that to playing every day in Triple A.

His removal from the 40-man roster was inevitable. It's possible that the Twins will seek to retain him as Triple A roster depth, but Danny Santana figures to be the primary shortstop in Rochester next season, and Eddie Rosario may be the primary second baseman if the Twins don't return him to the outfield or use him in a trade, and then there's James Beresford, who's considerably younger than Bernier, as a utility guy.

There may not be a place for Bernier in this organization. And at his age, it's not going to be easy to find a place to keep his dreams going.

Dusty Baker has managed the Giants, the Cubs and
the Reds into the playoffs over the years, but has
never managed a World Series winner.

The Cincinnati Reds surprised a lot of observers Friday by dismissing Dusty Baker as their manager.

Baker's been around a long time — he is 16th on the all-time managerial wins list — and even at age 64 he doesn't appear inclined to go into retirement. He still wants to manage, and I suppose somebody will give him a job.

But he's not a manager I'd be particularly interested in having run my team. Even discounting his often-bizarre statements about the game (such as his complaint that hitters who draw walks merely clog up the basepaths), his tenures have been marked by a rather hands-off approach to player behavior, and inevitably there are incidents that appear to be the direct result of players knowing there will be no ramifications for immature behavior.

Cincinnati and Washington are two clearly win-ready teams with managerial openings. Those kinds of jobs aren't often available.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Gardenhire stays, Sveum goes

Dale Sveum had two years as the dugout boss of the
rebuilding Cubs — the worst two year stretch in team history.
The Minnesota Twins and Chicago Cubs had identical records in 2013: 66-96. (The Cubs will pick fourth in the amateur draft next June and the Twins fifth because the Cubs had the worse 2012 record.)

On Monday, as we know, the Twins announced that Ron Gardenhire was getting a new two-year contract as manager after 12 years on the job. Also on Monday, the Cubs announced that Dale Sveum was out as their manager after two seasons.

It's an interesting contrast, one worth exploring.

The Cubs are, and have been since Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer took over the operation in October 2011, in acknowledged tear-it-down-and-rebuild mode. The Twins have been roughly as bad as the Cubs over the same period, but Terry Ryan (who returned to the Minnesota general manager job about a month after Epstein parachuted into Wrigley from the Red Sox) has sent mixed messages about the short-term expectations.

Sveum's priority was to establish and nurture young players as the foundation for the future, specifically shortstop Starlin Castro and first baseman Anthony Rizzo. Both players regressed in the just concluded season, and Epstein/Hoyer decided Sveum was part of the problem:

"There has to be tough love, but there has to be love before there's tough love. You have to be patient with them. There has to be a clear, unified message. You can't be getting different signals from different directions. And collectively — myself included — we failed to provide that."

Thus spake Epstein on Monday about Sveum. It's worth noting that Castro and Rizzo each played at least 160 games despite their struggles, which sure appears patient to me — certainly more so than the yo-yoing of Oswaldo Arcia between Rochester and Minneapolis or the mid-summer plug-pulling on Chris Parmelee and Aaron Hicks.

The Twins, whatever else the top execs may say or imply, are not likely to take a great leap forward in 2014. The priority next year should be picking the right time to install Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton into the lineup, should be establishing Arcia and Josmil Pinto, should be regenerating Hicks and Kyle Gibson as legitimate prospects. It should be about getting that talent to flourish. It's not quite that nothing else matters, but it's close.

Terry Ryan presumably knows that's Job One. Presumably he's also confident Ron Gardenhire's the manager to do that.