Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Sunday Funnies

Waite Hoyt -- Hall of Fame pitcher and longtime broadcaster -- was a drinking buddy of Babe Ruth's back in the day

This pastime once landed Hoyt in the hospital, and the newspapers reported that the pitcher had a "case of amnesia." So Ruth sent Hoyt a telegram:


Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Twins and Torii Hunter

There's enough smoke about a Twins-Torii Hunter reunion to make it definite that something is smouldering. Whether there's an actual fire is another matter.

This week's smoke signals have included a Charlie Walters (Pioneer Press) report that Hunter favors the Twins among his current suitors and Minnesota general manager Terry Ryan expounding to Sirus XM's MLB Network Radio on his desire to add a right-handed bat with experience to the outfield.

Sounds like a match.

But it hasn't happened yet, and Hunter's free agent history has been that when he has an offer he likes, he takes it. At this point in his previous forays into free agency, he's been signed already.

Hunter has a well-established knack for telling reporters what he thinks they want to hear. A Minnesota columnist asking about a reunion with the Twins? Sure, I'd love to return.

As I've said before, there are good reasons for Hunter to prefer a different team, one more ready to win now than the Twins are. Hunter is 39, and while he has aged remarkably well, time is undefeated. Hunter has yet to play in a World Series. Mike Berardino has suggested that the Twins aren't offering the money Hunter wants; I suspect Hunter will need a premium to abandon his quest for a ring in 2015.

All of which adds up to Hunter playing a waiting game.

And the Twins, I'm convinced, are overly interested in Hunter. Ryan says he wants "experience" and a right-handed hitter. I think he's got the wrong priorities.

Experience? I want the Twins to embrace the youth. I don't want a $10 million-a-year relic of glory days past getting in the way of glory days future. It may be that neither Eddie Rosario nor Byron Buxton should be in the majors in April or even June, but that should be a possibility.

Ryan says the Twins are overly left-handed in the outfield. I'm not used to hearing any concern from this organization about such issues in the past -- this is a team that embraced having a string of left-handed hitters in the top and middle of the lineup under Ron Gardenhire. Makes me wonder if new manager Paul Molitor is more concerned about the platoon advantage than Gardy was.

Set that speculation aside for now. One outfield spot is filled: Oswaldo Arcia in right. (Berardino has tweeted that should the Twins sign Hunter, Arcia will be moved to left so Hunter can play right; that would also be a mistake, albeit a lesser one than signing Hunter period.) Center and left field are open.

Leaving Rosario and Buxton out of the equation, the incumbent candidates are a pair of left-handed hitters (Jordan Schafer and Chris Parmelee) and a switch-hitter who's better right-handed (Aaron Hicks).

There's Danny Santana too, a switch hitter, but the indications are that he's going to be at shortstop. That's another decision, if true, that I'm not thrilled with.

The Twins could go with an outfield of Arcia, Santana and a timeshare of Hicks and Schafer. Against a right-handed starter, that would give them three lefty hitters, which shouldn't be a problem; against a lefty, they could have two right-handed sticks in the outfield by playing Santana and Hicks. That foursome might not provide great offense -- neither Hicks nor Schafer have impressive track records -- but either of them plus Santana should be able to cover some ground in the field, and that matters.

Let's be emphatic about this: If the Twins sign Hunter and pair him in the corner outfield with Arcia, it probably won't matter what moves the Twins make with the pitching staff. They will give up a lot of runs just on the lack of range in the outfield.

Friday, November 28, 2014

The Knoblauch legacy

We can trace Brian
Duensing's presence on
the Twins roster to
Chuck Knoblauch.
A few years ago I wrote a print column on the "Knoblauch tree," in which I traced the impact on the Twins of their 1989 decision to draft Chuck Knoblauch in the first round.

As detailed in this Grantland piece by Ben Lindbergh, the Twins are still benefiting from that move.

Knoblauch's personal travails notwithstanding, he had an excellent seven-year run in Minnesota: Starting second baseman on the 1991 World Series team, Rookie of the Year that year, four All-Star teams, a cumulative slash line of .304/..391/.416.

The Twins traded him to the Yankees and got back Cristian Guzman, Eric Milton, Brian Buchanan and Danny Mota (and cash). Mota washed out. The others:

  • Guzman was the Twins regular shortstop for six years, during which time they won three division titles. Guzy led the league in triples three times, made an All-Star team, slashed .226/.303/.383. 
  • Milton spent six years -- or five really, considering an injury that wiped out most of his final season in Minnesota -- in the Twins rotation, racking up a 57-51 record with a 4.76 ERA and one All-Star season.
  • Buchanan wasn't so much of a much. The Twins gave the big outfielder 455 plate appearances over three seasons, in which he hit .258 with 16 homers. But he still matters in this saga.
Guzman left as a free agent; under the prevailing rules, the Twins got a third-round draft pick from the Nationals. (Lindbergh's flow chart says it was the Mariners, but that's an error.) That pick turned into Brian Duensing, still a member of the pitching staff. Duensing to date is 37-36 with a 4.12 ERA with the Twins, splitting his time between the rotation (61 starts) and the bullpen (238 relief outings).

Milton was traded to Philadelphia for Nick Punto, Carlos Silva and Bobby Korecky.

  • Korecky's still hanging around at age 35; the Blue Jays gave him 3.1 innings last season. He made just 16 appearances with the Twins before they cut him loose. 
  • Punto's also still going; he was with Oakland last year as a reserve infielder. In seven years with the Twins he slashed .248/.323/.324 and drove a vocal contingent of the fan base nuts by repeatedly winding up the regular at one of the infield spots. Third base, second base, shortstop. He left as a free agent and hasn't missed the postseason since.
  • Silva spent four years in the Twins rotation, compiling a 47-45, 442 mark and averaging more than 190 innings a year.
That's where these guys' contributions end. Korecky was released, and Punto and Silva's departures as free agents did not bring back any compensation picks.

Buchanan was traded to San Diego for a Class A infielder: Jason Bartlett. Bartlett was with the Twins for three partial seasons and one full one, slashing .272/.341/.362 in those four seasons. His belated emergence as the full-time shortstop was a key to the division title run in 2006, in my opinion the best of the Ron Gardenhire teams.

Bartlett was traded to Tampa Bay. Unlike the previous trades listed here, this wasn't a clean, one-player for this package. The Twins included Matt Garza and Eduardo Moran in the trade and got back Delmon Young, Brendan Harris and Jason Pridie.

  • Pridie was the outfield equivalent of Korecky; A short, ineffectual stint with the Twins (11 games, six plate appearances), then cut loose. (Like Korecky, he's still playing; he got four at-bats with Colorado in 2014).
  • Harris spent three years with the Twins, playing some shortstop and some third base. He hit .252/.309/.360 with more than 1,000 plate appearances.
  • Young had one big season in 2010 and three mediocre ones for the Twins, with a combined slash line of .287/.324/.429. 
Harris was included in the notorious J.J. Hardy trade: Hardy and Harris to Baltimore for Jim Hoey and Brett Jacobson. The Twins released Jacobson after the 212 season, he stalled out in Double A for the Twins. Hoey had one lousy season with the Twins and was claimed on waivers by Toronto. So this branch of the Knoblauch tree ends there.

Lester Oliveros might
be the best bet to
keep the tree growing.
Young was traded to Detroit for Lester Oliveros and Cole Nelson. Nelson has been released; the Minnesota native pitched for the independent St. Paul Saints last summer. Oliveros, still only 26, has spent the past two years recovering from Tommy John surgery and is regarded as a serious candidate for the Twins bullpen in 2015.

So that's the Knoblauch tree so far. By Lindbergh's computation, it's the seventh-longest current tree in the majors. The longest is an incredible one: The Mets used a 1967 -- that's right, 1967 -- draft pick on Jon Matlack, and almost a half century later have David Wright to show for it. 

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving

The years pass along, but my turkey photo lives on.
I've been thinking as this Thanksgiving approached of the zero-sum aspects of baseball. Somebody wins, somebody loses. A manager gets fired, another one gets hired. One player gets released, another gets a chance.

Thinking about Neil Allen, the Twins new pitching coach, a recovering alcoholic who had 11 years in the majors and almost 20 years of being a pitching coach in the minors. I saw a quote from him in the days before his selection became known, something along the lines of It's time for me to get off the buses and back on the airplanes.

The comments from others in the game, including other candidates, when Allen got the job almost always included a variation of He's been through a lot. Yes he has, notably the death (from an aneurysm) in September 2012 of his wife Lisa. Besides being a pitching coach, he's a single father to a 15-year-old son, and in terms of the travel involved in Allen's occupation, it may not matter if he''s on a bus or a jet. It can't be easy.

Thinking, too, of Scott Ullger, who has spent almost his entire adult life in the employ of the Minnesota Twins. Signed as a player out of college in 1977, he got 85 big league plate appearances back in 1983 and hit .190. While the Kent Hrbeks and Gary Gaettis and Frank Violas and Tim Laudners were laying the foundation of 1987's World Series team, Ullger was hitting his ceiling as a player.

He went back to the buses, first to continue playing, then as a manager -- seven years managing farm teams in the Twins system, never with a losing record. He worked his way back to the big leagues as a coach. And he stuck for 20 years in a variety of assignments: Hitting coach, first base coach, third base coach, bench coach.

And now he's 59 and looking for another job. I don't quarrel with the decision to replace Ullger; I have been known to question the value he brought the team, although I recognize that I'm too distant to know what he brought to the table. He's been fortunate to have such a long-term job in such a transient occupation. But now that job is gone, and as a fellow 50-something, I can identify with that.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A "no" from Korea

During the night came word from South Korea that the Kia Tigers had rejected the posting bid for Hyeon-jong Yang.

While it's unclear if the high bid came from the Texas Rangers or the Minnesota Twins, the Korean team deemed it too low, and now the left-handed pitcher can't be posted again until next winter.

I said earlier this week I'd get interested in this one a bit further in the process. That process is dead. Nothing to see here.

I wondered if the decision to outright Anthony Swarzak on Tuesday came to make room for Yang and decided the two were not connected. Even if the Tigers had accepted the bid and it was from the Twins, the Twins would still have to sign the pitcher. There wasn't any immediate need to open the spot. It's more likely that the Twins made an early offer to Swarzak well under his likely arbitration figure, were rejected and decided to drop him.

Goodbye, Swarzak

Anthony Swarzak
has a career ERA
of 4.48.
The Twins on Tuesday outrighted Anthony Swarzak to Triple A. That move took him off the 40-man roster and gave the former second-round draft pick the right to declare free agency, which he is expected to do.

It was time for the Twins to move on. Swarzak has averaged more than 90 innings of work in each of the past four seasons, and he's been unable to establish himself in any sort of truly useful role.

In what Baseball Reference defines as "high leverage" situations over his career, Swarzak has allowed a batting average of .308 and an OPS (On-base Plus Slugging) of .823. In "low leverage" situations, those numbers improve to .262 and .724.

Yes, Swarzak ate up a lot of innings in long relief. But they were innings that didn't matter in terms of winning games, innings that he worked because the starter failed. Good teams -- the kind of team the Twins want to be -- don't need 90-plus innings of mop-up work. And Swarzak never worked his way out of that role. Given a chance to start, given a chance to pitch in game situations, he almost always faltered.

And now, going into his second year of arbitration eligibility, he figured to get a salary around $1.4 million if retained. That's way too rich for a mop-up guy. They can fill that role with somebody cheaper.

The Twins now have 39 players on the 40-man roster. The open slot might be used in the Rule 5 draft in a couple of weeks. Or it might be filled with a free agent signing.


The Twins also on Tuesday officially announced the hirings of Neil Allen, pitching coach, and Eddie Guardado, bullpen coach, moves already widely reported. They also announced that Joe Vavra will be retained from the Ron Gardenhire staff; he'll be the bench coach.

This was not anticipated at all. I had expected that the bench coach would be a elderly ex-manager assigned to whisper strategic advice into Paul Molitor's ear. Or, alternatively, a young, analytics-savvy up-and-comer. Vavra doesn't fit either stereotype.

Adding to the bafflement was that Vavra's duties will apparently include catching instruction. Vavra's playing background was as a middle infielder. He certainly hasn't the catching pedigree of Terry Steinbach (who will not be retained). And if Steinbach couldn't smooth out Josmil Pinto's defensive flaws, I doubt Vavra can.

There remains one coaching job to fill, first base coach/outfield instructor.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Notes, quotes and comment

Josh Willingham's
final plate appearance
came in the World
Josh Willingham made it official Monday: He's retiring.

No real surprise there; Mike Berardino of the Pioneer Press wrote it about two months ago. He goes out with 195 home runs. His best season was with the Twins in 2011; his worst, at least by OPS+, was also with the Twins in 2012.

He finished with Kansas City, of course, and had just four at-bats in the Royals' postseason run. But the Hammer had a big hit in the wild-card game against Oakland: a leadoff pinch-hit single in the bottom of the ninth that set up the tying run.


Twins new, if still unofficial, bullpen coach Eddie Guardado is among the 17 newcomers on the Hall of Fame ballot. No, he's not going to get in, or even make it to a second year on the ballot. He'll be one and done.

The big names among the newbies: Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz.

There are a lot of highly-qualified candidates on the writers ballot, and the BBWAA has done a lousy job keeping up with the crowd. But even this crowd will vote in Johnson and Martinez. Maybe they'll get around to Craig Biggio too.


Berardino reported Saturday that the Twins had placed the high bid for the posting rights to Hyeon-jong Yang, a left-handed pitcher who was voted the top Korean pitcher in the KBO this year. On Sunday another report said the Texas Rangers had placed the high bid.

The winning bidder, whoever it is, won't be officially notified (and the clock started on the negotiations with the pitcher) until the Kia Tigers actually accept the bid, and the word is that the team expected more.

I'll get interested in this one if and when the Twins are confirmed as the rights winners.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Neil Allen, pitching coach

Neil Allen's 1987 baseball
card. Allen went 58-70,
3.88 with 75 saves
in 11 MLB seasons.
The Twins haven't made a formal announcement, but it was widely reported during the weekend that Neil Allen has been hired as the pitching coach.

Allen pitched in the majors for 11 years for five teams, seeing time both as a starter and as a reliever. He has no previous connection to the Twins and was never a teammate of Paul Molitor's. He's about as much an outside hire as you can get.

What I remember of Allen from his pitching days in the 1980s is that he was the major piece the St. Louis Cardinals got from the New York Mets when Whitey Herzog decided Keith Hernandez was too coked-up and had to go. As I remember it, Allen wanted to be a reliever, Herzog wanted him to be a starter, and the fans wanted him to be Keith Hernandez. It didn't go well.

The Twins hired him out of the Tampa Bay organization, where he's been the pitching coach at Triple A Durham and helped shepherd a string of pitchers to the major leagues.  He's also worked in the Toronto and Yankee organizations, with one season (2005) as the Yankees bullpen coach.

Hiring Allen probably doesn't mean a conscious effort to move away from the throw-strikes-and-let-the-defense-get-the-outs approach. No pitching coach advocates walking hitters. But I expect that the Twins will walk more hitters going forward. The team has been uncommonly low on walks throughout Rick Anderson's tenure as pitching coach, and practically every significant pitcher on his staffs had higher walk rates with other organizations. I have absolutely no doubt that Anderson is part of that. The question is whether Twins pitchers will have higher strikeout rates under a different coach.

For what it's worth, Durham last year was middle of the pack in the International League in walks allowed.

At this point the Twins have filled five of the seven coaching slots:

Pitching coach: Allen
Bench coach: (Vacant)
Third base coach: Gene Glynn
First base coach: (Vacant)
Hitting coach: Tom Brunansky
Asst. hitting coach: Rudy Hernandez
Bullpen coach: Eddie Guardado

Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Sunday Funnies

Ellis Clary played in the majors for a few years, mostly during World War II, but spent most of his adult life scouting for Calvin Griffith. His area was the south, and he ran with a group of scouts who dubbed themselves "The Underground."

One day he and the others in the Underground are watching a game in a small Alabama town, and Clary is stricken with a heart attack. His buddies get him an ambulance and have him taken to a hospital in Mobile.

There Clary wakes up in his hospital bed and finds Atley Donald, fellow Undergrounder, sitting at his side.

Clary hoarsely whispers, "Atley, will you do me a favor?"

"Certainly, Ellis, anything," Donald replies.

"Will you find that ambulance and get the mileage so I can put it on my expense sheet?"

Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Tampa Bay managerial search

Raul Ibanez might go from active player to dugout boss.
For no real reason, I'm intrigued by the Tampa Bay Rays managerial search. They were, most likely, not expecting to be looking for a manager, and then Joe Maddon jumped ship shortly after their general manager left for a (presumably) more lucrative job in with the Dodgers.

Their search started well after the Twins search. Maddon left after the Twins had essentially narrowed their field down to Paul Molitor and Doug Mientkiewicz, and Terry Ryan said during the Molitor presser that he had talked to Maddon until learning that Maddon was going to accept the Cubs job.

The Rays had released a list of eight preliminary candidates, none of whom were among the people the Twins interviewed or pursued. I thought at the time that there was one obvious favorite, Maddon bench coach Dave Martinez.

On Friday it was reported that the Rays had narrowed the field to three -- and Martinez was not among the three. All three were in the AL Central last season.

The Rays finalists: Kevin Cash, bullpen coach for Cleveland; Don Wakamatsu, bench coach for Kansas City; and -- surprise! -- Raul Ibanez, who played for Anaheim and Kansas City and hit just .167 as a part-time player.

The way things have been going of late, with teams tending to hire completely novice managers, I wouldn't bet against Ibanez landing the job. It's even possible he would be a player-manager, although I think that era ended with Pete Rose almost 20 years ago. Certainly there's no reason to think he's got much juice left as a hitter.

Meanwhile, I am stunned that Martinez not only didn't get the job, he wasn't one of the finalists. It's hard to imagine him staying with the Royals. Maybe he'll follow Maddon to the Cubs. I had expected the Twins to at least pursue an interview with him for the managerial job, and apparently they didn't, bu if he's interested in a lateral transfer, Ryan and Molitor ought to consider him for the bench coach job.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Filling the 40 (for a while)

Thursday was the deadline for teams to protect eligible players from the Rule 5 draft.

The Twins entered the day with four open spaces on the 40 and filled them all.

Three were obvious selections: Miguel Sano, Alex Meyer and Eddie Rosario. The fourth wasn't so obvious: left-handed pitcher Jason Wheeler.

I saw Wheeler pitch once, in 2012 in Beloit. He was, I am told, a different pitcher then. He's a big guy, but his fastball velocity was not impressive (upper 80s). The next year, in Fort Myers, he added a few mph, and now he reportedly works in the low 90s, occasionally touching 94.

He opened 2014 back at Fort Myers, got promoted to Double A after 13 starts, then moved up to Triple A for one end-of-the-year start. He led the minor leaguers in innings pitched. The 2.67 cumulative ERA is impressive; the 6.5 K/9 rate is not. The increased velocity has not translated into more strikeouts. He does throw strikes.

The Twins chose to protect Wheeler over Sean Gilmartin, another 24-year-old left-handed starter who split 2014 between Double A and Triple A. Gilmartin, a former first-round pick acquired from Atlanta for Ryan Doumit last winter, had a higher ERA and walk rate than Wheeler but a higher strikeout rate. I put more weight on the strikeout rate than on the ERA.

Also exposed to next month's Rule 5 draft: Jason Adam, a right-handed pitcher acquired from Kansas City in the Josh Willingham trade. Adam pitched in the just-completed Arizona Fall League and I think it's safe to say that the Twins weren't impressed enough to open a roster spot for him.

Levi Michael and Niko Goodrum, a pair of middle infielders taken with high draft picks (Michael in the first round, Goodrum in the second) were also left unprotected. I don't think either is likely to be lost.

The Twins don't often lose players in Rule 5. I won't be surprised, however, if Gilmartin gets picked and sticks.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Progress on the coaching staff

Eddie Guardado was a fan favorite as a Twins reliever
from 1993-2003 and again in 2008.
The lengthy pause after announcing that Gene Glynn and Rudy Hernandez would join holdover Tom Brunansky on Paul Molitor's debut coaching staff suggested that the remaining four slots would be filled by outsiders, people the Twins would have to pry away from current teams.

But then word leaked Wednesday night that Eddie Guardado will be the bullpen coach. "Everyday Eddie" has been on hand early in spring training the past few years, but hasn't had a fulltime job with any organization.

Bobby Cuellar, the bullpen coach the past two years, told Mike Berardino of the Pioneer Press that he was informed two weeks ago he would not be retained. Frank Viola, "Sweet Music" on the 1987 champs and 1988 Cy Young winner and now a pitching coach in the Mets system, said he was interviewed for the pitching coach job but has been told he's not one of the final two candidates.

Carl Willis, dubbed "The Big Train" as the top setup man on the 1991 champs, apparently is one of the finalists. (The other, according to the star Tribune's LaVelle Neal, is Neil Allen, currently the Triple A pitching coach for the Tampa Bay Rays.) Willis has a fairly lengthy coaching resume, largely on the staffs of Eric Wedge, who managed the Cleveland Indians 2003-2009 and Seattle 2011-13. He's currently working in the Indians system.

Willis has also coached three Cy Young seasons (C.C. Sabathia, Cliff Lee, Felix Hernandez).

Which led me to wonder about Rick Anderson. He coached two Cy Youngs (both Johan Santana.) His charges have also had 12 All-Game nods from six pitchers: Joe Nathan four times, Santana three times, Glen Perkins and Guardado twice, Francisco Lirano once. That list is heavy on bullpen guys, which figures. The bullpen was generally a strength of the Gardenhire era.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Giancarlo Stanton, Russell Martin, Jason Hayward and Billy Butler

A few significant moves the past couple of days, and even through they don't directly affect the Twins, there are still points to be made.

Giancarlo Stanton agrees to a long-term deal with Miami. Exactly how long term is difficult to say. It's Stanton's choice, basically; it's either 13 years for $325 million or six years for $107 million. He has an opt-out clause after the 2020 season.

This is a heavily backloaded contract, so much so that I can't see how the Marlins avoid getting badly scalded at the end. (Remember, I'm the guy who wrote last March that the Twins should offer a pair of 20-year, $200 million contracts to Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano; I'm hardly opposed to really long-term deals for really talented young players).

Stanton is just 24 now; his best years figure to be ahead of him. They figure to be behind him when the opt-out comes. I don't know how likely he is to decide that the market will support $31 million for him in his middle 30s. If he does opt-out, the Marlins dodge the bullet they just fired into their future.

In total, however, this is probably not a terrible contract for the Marlins. Jeff Sullivan of Fangraphs did an illuminating analysis of comparable players to Stanton -- this level of production ages 22 to 24 -- and found 18 others since 1950. Most of them, he concludes, were productive enough to justify the complete 13 years of this deal.

Jason Hayward traded to St. Louis. Stanton is a star because he has one very important tool: He has top-level power. Hayward's power isn't as impressive, but he does everything else better. As a result, he's been a better player than Stanton, but few recognize that. (The two are about the same age, Hayward being about three months older.)

With Hayward a year from free agency, the Atlanta Braves chose not to pay him. They traded him to St. Louis for two young pitchers, notably Shelby Miller, on whom the Cardinals seemed to sour a bit last year.

Jose Posnanski goes into detail on the Hayward-Stanton comparison here. It is intriguing, the different approaches the Braves and Marlins took on these two outfielders.

Russell Martin strikes a five-year deal with Toronto.  OK, I can defend the Stanton contract. I can defend trading one year of Hayward for almost 10 years of pitchers. .

I can't see the logic in committing $82 million over five years to a 31-year-old catcher. It almost doesn't matter that Martin has had just one good year at the plate in the past six seasons. If it were five good years at the plate, the problem would still be there: He's a catcher entering the collapse years for hard-used catchers.

The Blue Jays are putting a lot of faith in his defense and his clubhouse intangibles, more than I think is wise.

Billy Butler agrees to a three-year deal with Oakland. Huh?

Another signing I don't get. Butler has no defensive value, he grounds into about two dozen double plays a year, his power has been in steady decline. I can't see why Billy Beane is sinking $30 million into this guy.

I don't imagine the Royals are sorry to see "Country Breakfast" go. His departure certainly opens a hole in the middle of the Kansas City lineup for a right-handed hitter, and the Royals are said to be pursing Torii Hunter hard.

K.C. makes more sense for Hunter than Minnesota does. He's looking for a ring, and the Twins are not ready to contend, while the Royals just went to the seventh game of the World Series. I think Hunter will sign with the Royals.

Which, as a Twins fan, is fine by me. I don't want Hunter with the Twins.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Pursuing pitching is the wrong priority

Here's the conventional wisdom about the Twins: The pitching's the problem.

And a cursory look at the stats supports that claim. The Twins had a team ERA in 2014 of 4.57, which was last in the American League and almost three-quarters of a run per game worse than the AL average. The Twins were, on the other hand, fifth in runs scored.

It's the pitching, stupid. And so there is speculation of signing free-agent starters (a la last winter's $73 million spree, which brought the Twins one very good season and two injury-plagued/awful seasons).

Here's a unconventional view: That's the wrong priority.

Fix the defense, and the pitchers already in place will look a whole lot better.

One of my foundation beliefs about the game: The easiest way to improve a pitching staff is to get better defensive outfielders.

And it really shouldn't be that difficult to improve the Twins outfield defense. They spent much of 2014 with Josh Willingham or Jason Kubel in left field, Oswaldo Arcia or Chris Colabello in right and a shortstop (Danny Santana) in center.

By Baseball Info System's DRS metric -- DRS meaning "defensive runs saved" -- the Twins were next to last in all of baseball. Only Cleveland's fielders gave more runs to the opposition.

The Twins team DRS was -67, meaning they were 67 runs worse than MLB average. Most of that is traced to the corner outfielders. Left field was -25, right field was -23. (The pitchers and catchers were also notable problems; the pitchers were -13, the catchers -10. Those four positions account for -71 runs, so the other five combined scored a bit better than average.)

TheTwins gave up 777 runs last season, Give them league average defense, at least by DRS, and that drops to 710 -- still worse than average, but fewer than they scored themselves.

It's only mid November, but the Twins outfield plan for 2015 is pretty vague.

We know Arcia will be the right fielder. That probably means subpar defense in that corner again.

Center field and left field are wide open. Aaron Hicks, Jordan Schafer and Chris Parmelee are on hand from last season, but I have to doubt the Twins intend to base their outfield on those guys. Santana ... new manager Paul Molitor sounds like he wants to focus Santana there. It doesn't make sense to me -- Santana has always been a dicey defensive shortstop in the minors, and with Eduardo Escobar coming off a strong season, the Twins would be "fixing" a problem that doesn't really exist.

Which is very much, again, like plunging back into the free agent market to sign a raft of veteran starters. Better to jettison one or two of the incumbent starters and give Alex Meyer or Trevor May rotation berths, not add more big salary guys to block their ascent.

And better to focus on getting outfielders who can run and throw, be they Santana, Eddie Rosario or somebody from the outside.

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Rosario Scenario

Last Saturday, while most sports fans were watching college football, I had an eye on the Arizona Fall League championship game.

After Eddie Rosario, playing left field and hitting third for the Salt River Rafters, opened the game with a strong throw and a home run, I issued a tweet that almost certainly set a personal record for responses:

Call it the Rosario Scenario.

That tweet drew both agreement and disapproval. Brandon Warne gives a rational reason to oppose the Rosario Scenario:

In truth, Rosario vs. Hunter is a false choice. Hunter isn't likely to return to the Twins; he wants a team closer to contention. The Twins are typically conservative with prospects, and they will probably agree with Warne that Rosario's big AFL season doesn't outweigh his lousy regular season. 

Which doesn't make that caution the right choice.

The AFL is a pretty good league, made up largely of Triple A- and Double-A players. Rosario, whose "hit tool" -- the ability to get the barrel of the bat on the ball -- has never been in question, hit consistently there. 

He's got a quality arm. He runs well enough to have been a center fielder before the attempt to convert him to the infield. I'm willing to chalk up his Double A struggles to the drug suspension that wiped out his spring training and first two months of the year.

I'm certain of this: Eddie Rosario right now is a better defensive outfielder than Torii Hunter. Yes, Hunter is the most decorated outfielder of the past 15 years. He's 39 now. He ain't the Gold Glove wizard he once was. I'd rather go with the guy with a future than the guy with the past.

Set the Hunter fantasy aside. Rosario may not be better in the field than Aaron Hicks or Jordan Schafer, but he's not likely to be much worse, either. And I'm certain he'll outhit either.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Sunday Funnies

Hall of Fame pitcher Rube Waddell, as many of his contemporaries did after washing out of the majors, continued to pitch in the minors. He was pitching for the Minneapolis Millers, a high level minor league team, and the Millers were about to play a crucial series against Toledo.

Manager Joe Cantillon told Waddell: "You've gotta lay off the liquor for the next four days. You'll be going against Earl Yingling (Toledo's ace) at least once and maybe twice, and I want you at your best."

But when the series began on Monday afternoon, neither Waddell nor Yingling showed at the Minneapolis ballpark. Nor did they appear on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday.

On Friday, after Toledo had left town, Waddell walked in with a stringer of fish, which he presented to Cantillon with the explanation that he had tkaen care of Yingling by having the Toledo ace accompany him on a four-day fishing excursion on Lake Minnetonka.

A week later, Cantillon received a bill from a local market -- a bill for the fish Waddell had purchased on the previous Friday.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Alvin Dark, Willie Mays and the integration of baseball

Alvin Dark, who would win the pennant that year as
manager of the San Francisco Giants, with Casey Stengel
of the Mets in 1962,
Alvin Dark died Thursday at 92. You have to be of a certain age to remember him in baseball -- a standout shortstop on three World Series teams despite getting his career off to a late start because of military service during and after World War II, a skipper of two World Series teams in a lengthy managerial career.

Dark's career took him just shy of Cooperstown. There are worse shortstops than "Blackie" in the Hall of Fame, and there are better ones out, but that's not the point here. I'm thinking, instead, of the complexities that accompanied integration, not merely in baseball but in the larger society. It was a process, after all. It didn't begin with Jackie Robinson, and it sure didn't end with him.

Dark was widely seen during his playing days as a natural future manager. Dark was not merely a standout athlete. He was a college man and a Marine officer who broke in under one great manager (Billy Southworth) and starred for a second (Leo Durocher).

And he was a white Southerner, with all the racial baggage that came with growing up white in the South at that time.

He tried to change. I believe that. When he took over as Giants manager in 1961, he shuffled locker assignments to break up racial cliques. He had, as any manager would, a deep appreciation for the instant intelligence Willie Mays brought to the game, and named Mays team captain -- the first black to officially hold such a position.

And Mays returned that esteem, telling his future biographer, Charles Einstein, in 1961, that he thought Dark -- who he called "Cap," short for captain, the title Dark had when they were teammates -- a better manager than Durocher.

Then came a mid-season interview in 1964, with the Giants in a losing streak. Dark, who tended to be over-reactive, spouted off on his black and Latin players, rapping star first baseman Orlando Cepeda by name. A few excerpts:

We have trouble because we have so many Spanish-speaking and Negro players on the team. They are just not able to perform up to the white ball player when it comes to mental alertness. ... They just aren't as sharp mentally. ... You don't know how hard we've tried to make a team player, a hustling ballplayer, out of Orlando. ... I'd have to say he's giving out 40 percent.

And so on and so forth.

Well, you can imagine how that went over with men like Mays, Cepeda, Willie McCovey and Juan Marichal -- all black or Latin, all future Hall of Famers. In his fine book on Mays, "Willie's Time," Einstein describes a furious meeting of the non-white Giants convened by Mays in his Pittsburgh hotel room:

"Shut up," Mays told the congregants in his room. "Just shut up." 
"You don't tell me to shut up," Cepeda said. "I'm not going to play another game for that son of a bitch."
"Oh yes you are," Mays told him. "And let me tell you why."
One of those reasons: Were Dark fired immediately, it would merely make him a martyr, "a hero to the rednecks." Another, Mays reminded his teammates, was that Dark was truly colorblind with his lineups and playing time.

Mays, fighting a virus as he fought a team mutiny, quelled the player rebellion. But there was more. Einstein again:

Willie's cold had worsened. The following day he suited up, but the sickness was in this throat and his voice was gone, which may have been a good thing. Silently Dark handed him the lineup card to take out to the umpires. Logically, Mays ought not to play that day ... Logically, also, in the light of what Dark had said the day before, the baseball world would have taken it as a Mays refusal to play for a man who had bailed out on him, and Dark's managerial career would end then and there. Silently, Mays took the lineup card. His name was not on it.
"I actually felt sorry for the man," he told me later. "So I did the only thing I could do." What he did was to take a pencil, write his name back into the lineup, and hit two home runs to beat the Mets.
.... The day a sickness-ridden Mays took the lineup card from Dark and wrote his own name on it was two full months from the end of the season. In all that time, Mays never spoke to his manager again.

Whether or not Mays actually saved Dark's managerial career, Dark went on to manage the Kansas City Athletics, the Cleveland Indians, the Oakland Athletics and the San Diego Padres, winning the World Series with the A's in 1974. Two stints working for Charley O. Finley might be deemed suitable punishment for alienating so many star players.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Baseball America's Top 10 Twins prospects

Baseball America's current issue features the Top 10 prospects for the American League Central teams. The print copy hit my mailbox Wednesday; the on-line copy of the Twins list goes up Nov. 17.

So ... here's BA's list of the Twins top prospects, compiled (or at least described) by Pioneer Press beat write (and BA alum) Mike Berardino:

  1. Bryon Buxton, of
    Miguel Sano missed
    the 2014 season after
    Tommy John surgery.
  2. Miguel Sano, 3b
  3. Jose Berrios, rhp
  4. Kohl Stewart, rhp
  5. Alex Meyer, rhp
  6. Nick Gordon, ss
  7. Nick Burdi, rhp
  8. Jorge Polanco, ss/2b
  9. Trevor May, rhp
  10. Eddie Rosario, of/2b

Now, a few comments:

  • This is largely last winter's list recycled. Only two names are different: Danny Santana (No. 9 last year) graduated to the majors, and Lewis Thorpe (No. 7), a teenage lefty, was good but not dominant in the Midwest League. They've been replaced by a pair of 2014 draftees, Gordon and Burdi.
  • Burdi is an interesting name because he's purely a bullpen candidate. Pitchers who make these lists are usually starters, because starters are more valuable. He ended 2014 in High A; I can easily imagine him reaching Target Field this summer.
  • The three right-handed starters who follow the Buxton and Sano megaduo were 3-4-5 last winter also, but in a different order. Then the list was Meyer, Stewart, Berrios. 
  • Rosario dropped from No. 6 last time around to No. 10. He had a rough 2014, but he rebounded nicely in the Arizona Fall League, and I can imagine him pushing his way into the left field job this spring.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Gene Glynn, the coaching staff and the minor league managers

Gene Glynn wears a Rochester Red Wings cap while
visiting the baseball park in his native Waseca before
spring training in 2013. (Free Press photo by Pat Christman)
The Twins on Wednesday announced two hires for the major league coaching staff, Waseca native Gene Glynn will be the third base coach and Rudy Hernandez will be assistant hitting coach.

Two points about Hernandez before I move on to Glynn.

  • Hernandez is a 14-year veteran of the minor league system and a native of the Dominican, which makes him, I believe, the first native Spanish speaker on the coaching staff since Tony Oliva retired. 
  • The "assistant hitting coach" title is new to the Twins, but it's pretty much the norm for the "seventh coach" around baseball. Teams were permitted seven uniformed coaches starting in 2013. (The number is capped because uniformed coaches accrue service time in the pension plan.) The Twins didn't add the seventh coach until 2014 (Paul Molitor) and gave him different duties. Now they're joining what has emerged as the conventional alignment.

Glynn, of course, is the headline hire here. He's been the manager at Triple A Rochester the past two years and was interviewed last month for the managerial job that went to Molitor. Now he'll be on the major league coaching staff and, as is the fate of all third base coaches, blamed by fans every time he sends a runner who gets thrown out and every time he holds a runner who never scores.

I presume Glynn will also have a hand in infield instruction, his forte for years in the Montreal Expos farm system. And he has several years of experience as a scout with Tampa Bay, which I find intriguing because I've long had doubts about the Gardenhire staff's aptitude for evaluating current ability.

Glynn has also been working for a few winters now as a coach in the Venezuelan Winter League, which leads me to believe that, while not a native Spanish speaker, he probably has some ability in that language. 

The Twins still have four coaching slots to fill: Pitching coach, bullpen coach, bench coach and first base coach.

With Glynn moved to the big league staff, the Triple A job is open. A popular theory has Doug Mientkiewicz ticketed for that position. That may happen, but I think the organization would be better off with Mientkiewicz at Double A Chattanooga, which is where Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano, Jose Barrios, Jorge Polanco and a host of other important prospects figure to open 2015. Chattanooga figures to be the most important job in the farm system. 

The estimable Seth Stohs thinks Jake Mauer, who has run teams at three levels for the Twins, is a likely successor to Glynn in Rochester. I can see that. The Twins have also gone outside the organization repeatedly for Triple A managers, and that might well be the route they take. 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Joe Mauer and the Hall of Fame

Tuesday was a slow day, even with the general managers meetings going on, so I'll drag out something I've been hanging onto for a few days.

Jay Jaffe, who writes for Sports Illustrated, devised a system for measuring "Hall of Fame worthiness" that he dubbed JAWS. Baseball Reference has pick it up and given it a spot on its invaluable website.

By JAWS, for example, Tony Oliva (finalist for the Veterans Committee vote next month) ranks 32nd among right fielders. There are 24 Hall of Famers on the right field list; 19 of them rank ahead of Tony-O.

Anyway, I was poking around in BR's JAWS section last week, and discovered this: By JAWS, the ninth greatest catcher in major league history is Joe Mauer.

I've been saying for years that Mauer has done the heavy lifting for the Hall: three batting titles, an MVP award, a handful of Gold Gloves. This system essentially agrees.

Of the eight catchers listed ahead of Mauer, six are in the Hall. Pudge Rodriguez isn't yet eligible, and Mike Piazza is one of the many Selig-era players the BBWAA has basically decided to ignore. Behind Mauer are such legends as Roy Campanella and Gabby Hartnett (and a few mistakes, such as Rick Ferrell and Ray Schalk).

Now, you don't have to regard JAWS as the last word in such things. JAWS sees Gary Carter as better than Yogi Berra, and I'm not buying that one either. 

The point is, Mauer was been a historically good catcher. It's easy to lose track of that reality amid all the disdain aimed his way by lazy talk-radio hosts and metro columnists. 

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Notes, quotes and comment

Because three colors aren't enough.
Word leaked out almost a week ago that the Twins were going to change the home uniform -- most notably, dropping the pinstripes, adding gold as a drop shadow to the letters and numbers and reversing the name from red with blue outline to blue with red outline.

The new look was officially released Monday, and I'm no more impressed with the result than I expected to be, which was not much at all.

My take on this stuff is: Simple is better. The uniforms I think look best -- the Tigers, the Royals, the Yankees, the White Sox  -- are two-color schemes, white and something. The more colors you're working with, the busier the design becomes.

Which might be why they dropped the pinstripes. to clean up the design some. I prefer the pinstripes to the gold.

The gold is supposed to mimic the Kasota stone of Target Field, and I suppose that, as one who has now lived in Mankato more than half my life (and spent most of my career here) I should like that. But the stone is good enough. They don't have to put it on the uniform too.

Ah well. There are worse changes coming. Someday MLB is going to start putting ads on uniforms. I expect they'll let the NBA go first with that, but it's coming. That will be a monstrosity. This is not.


Francisco Liriano, of whom I wrote in Monday's post, declined the qualifying offer Monday. So did the other 11 free agents who received QOs.

Another ex-Twin, Michael Cuddyer, not only declined his one-year $15.3 million QO from the Colorado Rockies, he signed a two-year deal with the New York Mets for $21 million.

Nothing with Cuddyer this offseason has made any sense to me. I was surprised the Rox made the qualifying offer to begin with. I figured Cuddy was pretty much a lock to accept it. I could not imagine the Mets giving up the 15th pick in June's draft to sign him. Wrong once, twice, thrice.

So discount this next prediction as much as you wish: The Mets will sign at least one more of these QO free agents, onthe basis that it's easier to swallow giving up a second-round pick for Cuddyer.

The Rockies clearly read the market better than I, or most outsider observers did. They're getting a compensation pick. We'll see if the Mets have the better read on Cuddyer's next two years.

Financially, it's an ... interesting decision by Cuddyer. Subtract the Rockies' qualifying offer from his Mets deal, and he's effectively playing in 2016 for $5.7 million. This leads me to surmise that he's leaving some money on the table, that he'd make more if he went year-to-year.

But I suppose that if he has another 49-game season in 2015 he might get Jason-Kubel'd and find that he didn't have a 2016 season.

Plus there's this: The Mets believe they're on the cusp of contention. Cuddyer has, with this contract added in, made roughly $100 million in his career. He can afford to chase a ring.

Monday, November 10, 2014

A high price for innings

Today is the deadline for Francisco Liriano (and 11 other free agents) to accept or decline their $15.3 million qualifying offers.

Liriano is perceived to have a difficult choice. After two strong seasons with Pittsburgh, the lefty might be in position to cash in with a sizable multi-year deal. But ... the qualifying offer means his new team would have to surrender a high draft pick, And Liriano has not been noted for his consistency or predictability.

Here's something else about the former Twin that might give a possible suitor pause: Even while compiling a combined ERA with the Pirates of 3.20 the past two seasons, Liriano has pitched 161 and 162.1 innings. Even the higher figure is barely enough to qualify for the ERA title.

He's been effective, certainly, but he's hardly a durable innings-eating ace.

Assuming that the Pirates expect Liriano to bear roughly the same workload in 2015 as he has in 2013 and '14, they're offering to pay him something in excess of $930,000 $93,000 per inning, or $310,000 $31,000 per out. That doesn't sound like a bargain to me.

Of course, there are other alternatives. If Lirano accepts the qualifying offer, it cuts off his free agency -- but he and the Pirates would still be free to work out a longer-term deal, probably at a lower "average annual value" than the $15.3 million.

Whatever choice Liriano makes, I won't weep for him. I don't see a lot of downside to a one-year deal for $15.3 million. If he turns it down today and finds a weaker market for his services than he expects, that's his fault.

(Update: A reader who is obviously better at basic math than I am kindly notified me of the error in my per-inning and per-out calculations. While I am embarrassed, I still doubt that $15.3 million is, or should be, a market rate for 160 or so innings.)

Sunday, November 9, 2014

The Sunday Funnies

Resuming my regular Sunday feature, the Sunday Funnies -- baseball ancedotes that may or may not be true (indeed, many of them aren't), but intended to at least amuse the reader, if not elicit laughter.


Gates Brown was a noted pinch-hitter in the late 1960s and early '70s for the Detroit Tigers. His nickname stemmed from the circumstances of his signing by the Tigers, supposedly at the gates of the juvenile institution he had been held in for his legal trangressions as a youth.

One day one of his teammates was fondly recalling his high school days.

"I took lots of good classes. English, shop, history. What did you like taking in high school, Gates?"

Brown replied: "Hubcaps."

Saturday, November 8, 2014

A different list of managerial candidates

Dave Martinez would seem a likely winner of the
Tampa Bay managerial job.
As the Twins were wrapping up their managerial search, the Tampa Bay Rays were starting theirs.

This week, they released a list of eight names. None of whom, for what it's worth, were among the seven candidates the Twins interviewed for their opening.

Unlike the Twins, the Rays have a couple of former big league managers (Don Wakamatsu and Manny Acta) on their list. Also unlike the Twins, they have a current player (Raul Ibanez) and an ex-player who has been in a front office role (Craig Counsell) on their list. Like the Twins, they have their Triple A manager on the list (Charlie Montoya) and coaches from other teams (Ron Wotus of the Giants and Kevin Cash of the Indians).

And, like the Twins, they have an internal candidate who should be seen as the favorite for the job: Dave Martinez. The 50-year-old Martinez had a 16-year playing career that included three seasons with the then-Devil Rays. More significantly, Martinez has been Joe Maddon's right-hand man on the coaching staff for years.

I had expected Martinez to be on the Twins radar. I will be surprised if the Rays don't promote him.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Putting together a coaching staff

Tom Brunansky
will be the hitting
coach again in
2015. It is apparently
a one-year deal.
The Twins on Thursday announced that Tom Brunansky will be kept on as hitting coach. One coach hired, six to go.

Bruno was probably the one incumbent most likely to be retained, but there are a couple others I can imagine returning. And couple I can't imagine being back, those being Rick Anderson and Scott Ullger.

Let's sort things out a bit:

Pitching coach: Probably the most crucial of the seven, especially considering that new manager Paul Molitor has never handled a pitching staff.
Bench coach: On some teams a sounding board on in-game moves, often the liaison between the analytic department and the manager.
Bullpen coach: On many teams, an assistant pitching coach. That was likely the role played the past two years by Bobby Cuellar; his predecessor, Rick Stelmaszek, was probably more of a coach to the catchers.
Hitting coach: Brunansky, of course.
Third base: Traditionally the first assistant manager, many of those roles have moved to the bench coach. The Twins the the past couple of years designated Joe Vavra as "infield coordinator,"
First base: Frequently involved in working on base stealing. Ullger was designated "outfield coordinator."
???: The seventh coach in many organizations has been turned into an assistant hitting coach. The Twins have not applied that designation to a coach. Molitor last year was entrusted with defensive positioning and baserunning; roles during the games were juggled because of Vavra's midsummer hip replacment surgery. What role the seventh coach would have under Molitor is unknown.

A few names, hardly comprehensive, to watch in all this:

Rick Renteria, ousted last week by the Chicago Cubs as manager to make room for Joe Maddon, might be a logical choice for bench coach. He's managed in the majors and minors, he's bilingual, he's available and he's already getting paid manager money by the Cubs.

Chris Bosio's 1987 Topps
card. He made his major
league debut in 1986/
Chris Bosio, currently the pitching coach of the Cubs, was a longtime teammate of Molitor in Milwaukee. While he still has two years on his contract in Chicago, Maddon may want his own guy in the role.

Frank Viola, 1987 World Series MVP and 1988 Cy Young winner with the Twins, has been working as a pitching coach in the Mets system for years.

Cuellar is an experienced pitching coach, is bilingual and might be a fit in either his current job or as Rick Anderson's replacment.

Doug Mientkiewicz was reportedly unhappy at being passed over for the big-league job. I suspect the organization will be better served if Dougie Alphabet is the manager at Double-A to guide the likes of Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano and Eddie Rosario, but it's possible they might put him on Molitor's staff.

Gene Glynn, another internal applicant, could be a fit at any of three spots -- bench, third base, first base. He has particular expertise in infield coaching, and if Danny Santana is to be the shortstop, there's a lot of work to be done there.

Eddie Guardado strikes me as a possible bullpen coach.

I don't see Jack Morris as the pitching coach. He lacks Viola's experience at working with a staff full-time. And given Molitor's complete inexperience in that aspect of the game, I would expect experience to be considered a necessity.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Take the money and run

Michael Cuddyer
was limited to 205
plate appearances
in 2014, but he got
a qualifying offer.
Monday was the deadline for teams to extend qualifying offers to their free agents. This was only a theoretical issue for the Twins, as their only free agent at this point is Jared Burton, and he's a free agent because the Twins declined to pick up his option, which was a fraction of the $15.3 million price tag for a QO.

In all, 12 players were extended qualifying offers, which is a tick above average (a total of 22 offers in the first two years of this system). No player accepted the qualifying offer the past two winters, but I expect at least one will this year.

Old friend Michael Cuddyer should. Emphatically so. That the Rockies made the offer astounded many outside observers. Cuddyer will turn 36 before Opening Day, he's started to have some injury issues, his defensive abilities have declined ... and the qualifying offer means a team will have to surrender a high draft pick to sign him.

I don't think that's happening. Cuddy should learn from the experience of Kendrys Morales, Nelson Cruz and Stephen Drew last year and take the QO. The down side: He's guaranteed $15.3 million. I wish I had a bad choice that would be that rewarding.

Who else would be well advised to take the money and run? In my view:

  • Cruz got burned last year; he turned down Texas' QO and wound up with a one year deal in Baltimore for a bit more than half the Texas offer. He led the majors in homers, true, but he's still the same player who couldn't find a market last winter. 
  • David Robertson is a closer. Yeah, he had a good season for the Yankees. Few teams are eager to commit that much money to a ninth-inning guy, much less surrender a draft pick for the privilege. 
  • Francisco Liriano is an interesting case. He's had two good years for Pittsburgh. But has that erased his reputation for inconsistency? Are teams willing to commit dollars and years to him -- and give up that draft pick to boot? And even if there is a market, Liriano might be better off sticking in a place he's been successful. This is a more difficult call, frankly, than Cuddyer, Cruz and Robertson. 
The other eight ... well, I don't think any of them are likely to accept, although I suspect that some will find the market less welcoming than they expect. 

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Molitor presser

Paul Molitor at Tuesday's press conference.
Parsing the statements made in a baseball-hiring press conference is a fool's game. So I'm a fool.

Some thoughts after watching the Paul Molitor press conference Tuesday morning:

* In recounting Molitor's bio -- which probably wasn't necessary -- Terry Ryan said something about the impressive or great managers Molitor had played for. This amused me, because in my view, Molitor's managerial list was among the weakest in the field of candidates.

Ryan cited four names in particular: George Bamberger, Harvey Kuenn, Cito Gaston and Tom Kelly. 

Kuenn and Gaston are an interesting pair to bring up, because they are oddly similar -- they each were put in charge of a talented but underachieving club that was at odds with the previous skipper, and each won, initially, by maximizing the playing time for the regulars, marginalizing the bench and basically making as few moves as possible. Kuenn got the Brewers to their one World Series tht way, and Gaston won it all in 1992 and 1993, the latter with Molitor.

That is, emphatically, not the situation Molitor is inheriting.

Bamberger is a more interesting figure. He inherited a chronic loser and immediately won 90-plus games the first two years, in part by putting Molitor in the lineup right out of A ball. Bamberger also stuck Gorman Thomas, who had been kicking around for years, in center field and lived with the strikeouts, something previous managers had been unwilling to do.

There are potential parallels to the Twins there. Molitor said he's not waiting on the prospect train, that he wants to win now; but the winning might be easier if they hurry the prospect train to the station.

* Pat Reusse, who has been railing for some time about the Twins taking too many pitches, gave Molitor a leading question about how he, Molitor, liked to swing at first pitches. Molitor gave a much more nuanced answer about the evils of predictability. I have no argument with Mollie's response, but I found myself wishing he'd say: I'd a fool to expect every hitter to hit the way I did. 

This, after all, is the crux of the argument against hiring great players as managers: That they expect lesser players to perform the way they did. Eduardo Escobar isn't Paul Molitor, and Kurt Suzuki isn't either. It's not a reasonable standard.

Anyway, the Twins were seventh in the majors in runs scored. The hitters, in short, weren't the problem. The defense and the pitching were. And, to be sure, it's possible that moves to improve the defense will hurt the offense.

* Terry Ryan was quite explicit: He did talk to Joe Maddon, and the Cubs were simply a more attractive offer. 

* Less explicit, but strongly implied: Ryan has had more payroll space to work with than he has used. He hasn't used it all because he hasn't seen anything worth using it on.

Which is fine with me. Spending money just because you have it is silly.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Beginning the Molitor Era

Paul Molitor will be introduced as Twins
manager Tuesday morning.
The Twins made it official Monday: Paul Molitor will be the new manager.

I was pulling for Doug Mientkiewicz, but the Molitor selection neither surprises nor dismays me. Terry Ryan knows more about the candidates than I do, and he has skin in this game. I don't.

There is one sizable drawback to Molitor: He has never managed on any level. That does not seem to be as significant a deterrent to getting the job as it once was. Indeed, as I observed about a month ago here, half the teams in the division series were skippered by men on their first managerial job.

Molitor does have some obvious advantages. First, he is quite familiar with several of the key players coming up the ladder from his years as a roving instructor. Second, he is open to analytics, probably more so than was Ron Gardenhire. Third, Molitor is a known figure to the major league players after spending 2014 on the coaching staff, several of whom have gushed about Molitor's knowledge.

Which ties into the one attribute any manager absolutely must have: He has the respect of the players. He's a Hall of Famer, to start with, and while the managerial track record of truly great players isn't all that striking, it is a credential that figures to command at least the initial respect of everybody.

The general rap on great players as managers is that they can't identify with the struggles of lesser athletes, and by definition most players are lesser athletes than Paul Molitor was. Given the high marks he's gotten in the past for his work with minor leaguers, I don't think that's going to be an issue for him.

Molitor was widely viewed during his playing days as a manager-in-waiting. For whatever reasons -- and I don't think it was just one reason -- it hasn't happened until now. Molitor is 58, and that's fairly old for a first-time manager. That is a minor checkmark against him, and part of why I was interested in Mientkiewicz. The odds are that Molly won't have a decade-plus run in the job as Gardenhire and Tom Kelly did. That doesn't mean he can't be a success.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Tony-O, Kitty and El Tiante

Three players with Twins connections (albeit very loosely for one) are among the 10 Hall of Fame nominees announced last week for the Veterans Committee: Tony Oliva, Jim Kaat and Luis Tiant.

Oliva, if elected, would certainly go in wearing a Twins cap; he didn't play for anybody else.

Kaat probably would; he got 190 of his 283 lifetime wins as a Twin/Senator, and his stats for his other teams (White Sox, Phillies, Cardinals) don't suggest that he should be identified with any of them.

Tiant certainly wouldn't; he spent just one season with Minnesota (1970); he suffered an injury in May, which opened a rotation spot for a 19-year-old named Bert Blyleven.

The other nominees, alphabetically: Dick Allen, Ken Boyer, Gil Hodges, Bob Howsam, Minnie Minoso, Billy Pierce and Maury Wills. Howsam is the executive who built the 1970s Big Red Machine in Cincinnati. The rest were all players.

None of them are terrible nominees. Worse players at their respective positions than each have enshrined.

To be specific:

  • Kaat and Pierce, left-handed pitchers, have better records than Rube Marquard and Lefty Gomez.
  • Tiant, right-handed pitcher, was better than contemporary Catfish Hunter, and far better than Jesse Haines and Vic Willis.
  • Oliva and Minoso, corner outfielders, were both superior to the likes of Ross Youngs, Harry Hooper and Sam Rice.
  • Boyer, third baseman, was better than George Kell and Freddie Lindstrom.
  • Allen and Hodges, first basemen, were superior to George "Highpockets" Kelly and Jake Beckley.
  • Wills, shortstop, was better than Joe Sewell or Travis Jackson.

But that's basically taking some of the weakest Hall of Fame honorees and using them as a standard, and that's not a real good argument, The truth is, there are better players than any of these nine -- Craig Biggo, Tim Raines, Alan Trammell, Jeff Bagwell, Mike Mussina, Mike Piazza -- on the outside looking in because the BBWAA is doing a lousy job at the front end of the selection system.

Still, I expect at least one of these 10 finalists to be elected.

The committee meets Dec 8 at the Winter Meetings. The early speculation has Oliva and Hodges as the most likely choices. Rod Carew, Oliva's road roommate for years with the Twins, is on the committee, which is one reason to think Tony-O has a good shot.

Is he the best of this bunch? For my money, Minoso is. But none of them will demean the standards of the Hall as much as the selections of Andre Dawson, Jim Rice or Bruce Sutter did.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Pic of the Week

From the Giants clubhouse as Madison Bumgarner gets
the World Series MVP trophy and the vehicle that
comes with the honor.

OK, this may be unfair to Bud Selig, but this image encapuslates his public persona. The departing commish appears baffled by the fact that this bumbler has taken over the World Series postgame. Technology and stuff.

Hey, Bud: You and your cronies decided long ago to whore the sport out to corporate interests. This doesn't make MLB any different than the NFL or NBA, but it was still your choice.


Thus concludes another "exciting season" of Pic of the Week. The Sunday Funnies will return for its offseason run next Sunday.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Notes, quotes and comment

Byron Buxton had surgery Thursday on his fractured finger, He's expected to be ready for spring training, and we can only hope that a new calendar year will be kinder to the young man and his career than 2014 has been.

I no longer expect Buxton to head the offseason Top 100 (or 50, or whatever) prospect lists. The injuries that wrecked this year for him ought not be long-term (although the concussion may have ramifications we can't know today), but the year of development is gone forever. He's never going to be 20 again.

Point is, he -- and Miguel Sano -- remain prime prospects, and that doesn't change if Kris Bryant is ranked above them on Baseball America's list. What matters is sharpening their skills and getting them into the major league lineup.


Rick Renteria guided the Cubs to a 73-89 record.
The Chicago Cubs on Friday fired manager Rick Renteria for the sin of not being Joe Maddon, who they officially hired within hours.

There has been some consternation in the Twins blogosphere over whether the Twins made an effort to entice Maddon and if so how seriously they pursued him. I never really thought Maddon would see the Twins as a good fit.

Renteria might be another matter. He's 52, bilingual, and in his one season as Cubs manager he got the season's most important task done: He got Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo, the first two pieces of the team's rebuilding process, back on track. Their fades in 2013 got Dave Sveum axed.

The Cubs graduated several more pieces of the project to the big club late. Not all of them thrived immediately, but that can scarcely condemn Renteria as a manager for a club in transition -- which is what the Twins are, or should be, next year.

There was a national report linking Renteria to the Twins. Hiring him seems more plausible than hiring Maddon.