Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Setting the table for trade speculation

Mike Pelfrey's ERA
went from 3.06 to 3.81
Monday night.
A Boston Globe piece Sunday casually listed the Twins among teams looking at potential trade candidates Jeff Samardzija (White Sox) and Clay Buchholz (Red Sox). The paragraph listed nine teams -- that's almost a third of MLB -- and didn't put any particular emphasis on any of them.

And I don't see any real reason to buy into that kind of talk. The fact is, the Twins ought not be in the market for another right-handed starter. They have too many of them as it is, This weekend Ervin Santana comes off his suspension, and then what?

So as June turns into July and the trade deadline edges ever closer, let us not be gullible -- not even after a game such as Monday's, in which the starter was bad and the lineup put up seven runs.

The Twins may well seek to add pieces in the next few weeks -- but those pieces will be position players and relievers, not starters. Indeed, it's plausible -- perhaps even wise -- that the Twins will trade away a starter in July.

Paul Molitor has started four different men at shortstop this season (Danny Santana, Eduardo Escobar, Jorge Polanco, Eduardo Nunez). He has started five different center fielders (Jordan Schafer, Shane Robinson, Aaron Hicks, Byron Buxton, Eddie Rosario). He has started five different left fielders (Oswaldo Arcia, Robinson, E
scobar, Rosario, Nunez). He's split up the DH role six ways (Kennys Vargas, Torii Hunter, Joe Mauer, Nunez, Escobar, even one start for Santana).

While I believe the lineup juggling has benefited the team, the Twins entered Monday's game just 10th in the American League in runs scored. There's only so much lemonade to squeeze out of this fruit.

To trade for a starter would be fixing a problem that doesn't exist. And I have to believe that Terry Ryan, Molitor and the rest of the decision makers know that.

Monday, June 29, 2015

More on Torii Hunter as a Hall of Fame candidate

Torii Hunter watches one of his two homers on Saturday
leave the yard in Milwaukee.
I wrote far too much for the Monday print column on Torii Hunter, the Hall of Fame, and center fielders who are in or out.

Too much is not enough for me, I guess. Here's a tangent I left out.

Hunter moved from center to right in midseason 2010. This, in my view, not only does not hurt his Hall of Fame case, it enhances it.

Center field is a premium defensive position. The ability to cover ground is essential, and teams will put up with a certain lack of offense to have a good defensive center fielder. This is why Aaron Hicks keeps getting playing time despite his anemic hitting.

Most center fielders, when they lose a step or two in the outfield, quickly fade out of the majors. They don't hit well enough to fill a corner outfield role, and if they aren't good enough defensively for the middle garden, they're done.

The ones who can hit move to a less demanding position. Mickey Mantle played first base the last few years of his career. Ty Cobb moved to right field for the last two seasons of his career. Kirby Puckett, of course, ended his career as a right fielder.  Andre Dawson would be an example more comparable to Hunter, although in his 20s he hit for better averages than Hunter did.

Hunter, in his first go-around with the Twins, was an exemplar of a center field type: Defense and power, but with a relatively low batting averages and high strikeout rates. This isn't as common as the speedy slap-hitting leadoff types, but there have been other examples: Vince DiMaggio (older brother of Joe). Mike Cameron. Paul Blair. Andruw Jones.

Those four were all quality center fielders, All Stars and (if the awards existed during their time) Gold Glove winners. But when they stopped being regular center fielders, they stopped being regulars. They hung on a bit as part-time players, but their days of 500-plus at-bats were gone.

Hunter turned out differently. He somehow hit better with age. Only now, approaching age 40, are his numbers receding back toward league average (and his three home runs this weekend have spiked his OPS+ sharply, so that he's now well above average for the season). His batting decline, such as it is, is coming about a decade behind schedule.

The point is: It's exceedingly rare for somebody to play center field into his late 30s. Only the best of the best get to do that. It's a real indication of quality for an aging center fielder to move to an easier defensive position and extend his career that way.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Pic of the Week

Matt Kirby, a volunteer assistant pitching coach for the
University of Virginia, adds his weight to the celebratory
dogpile after the Cavaliers won the College World Series.

Somewhere under that pile is a second-round draft pick who is probably hoping that he doesn't get his shoulder separated in all the joy.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

One of those days

Nothing much went right for the Twins on Friday.

Problem One: Byron Buxton went on the disabled list with a sprained thumb. The Twins put the timeline for his return at four to six weeks. Then he'll probably have a rehab stint in the minors. We're looking at mid-August for his return, is my guess.

With Aaron Hicks also on the disabled list, the Twins started Shane Robinson in center Friday against a right-handed pitcher, which is sub-optimal.

Danny Santana was recalled and warned by Paul Molitor that he might be pressed into center field duties, a la last season. Which gives me that "here we go again" feeling. But even if they slide Eddie Rosario into center (my preferred solution), that just means somebody else has to play left -- and if not Robinson, it's going to be an infielder.

So the outfield defense -- to my way of thinking the key improvement to this team -- is suddenly looking shakier.

Problem Two: Ricky Nolasco tested his troublesome ankle and his new orthotics with a bullpen session. That didn't go well.

Not that there's room for Nolasco in the rotation at the moment anyway, but the Twins would rather have their $49 million pitcher functioning.

Problem Three: Trevor May got one out Friday night against the lowly Brewers. One stinking out.

His ERA rose from 4.03 to 4.62.

One bad start is one bad start, and I still regard May as a better bet than at least two other members of the rotation. But two other facts remain: One, May has roster flexibility; Two, Ervin Santana has to be added to the 25-man roster after seven more games. This bad outing makes it all too easy for the Twins to take the easy route to open a slot for E. Santana.

Problem Four: Alex Meyer got lit up in his major league debut, allowing four runs in 1.2 innings. That's hardly pushing him up the bullpen totem pole.

OK, here's a silver lining: Brian Duensing had three shutout innings and Aaron Thompson one.

Signs of effectiveness from those lefties are welcome. But they don't make up for the bad news.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Alex Meyer, relief pitcher

Alex Meyer in his four-pitch outing in the Futures Game
last July at Target Field.
There I go again, assuming that the Twins will -- finally -- get back to the 12-man pitching staff they say they prefer.

I predicted Thursday morning that Danny Santana was about to return to the big club. Instead, the spot opened by the demotion of Michael Tonkin will be filled by Alex Meyer.

Which is quite alright with me. Meyer as a starter hasn't forced the Twins to bring him up even when he was going good, and this spring he was the opposite of good. The Twins moved him to the bullpen about a month ago with a bloated 7.08 ERA. Nine relief outings later, he's pared that ERA down almost two runs (5.11).

Terry Ryan insisted when the bullpen move was made that this was temporary, that the Twins still see Meyer as a starter. I opined at the time that it might be time to abandon that notion. Meyer is 25 and it's time for the Twins to start getting something out of the Denard Span trade.

Granted, the Twins didn't trade Span for a set-up guy, but right now they have at least eight starters who should rate ahead of Meyer -- the five currently in the rotation, Ervin Santana, Ricky Nolasco and Jose Berrios.

We shouldn't expect Meyer to be thrown immediately into high leverage situations, but if he maintains the command of his fastball-slider arsenal that he's displayed as a reliever in Triple A, that will come soon enough.

The Kansas City Royals the last few years have demonstrated that if the power arms in the bullpen are powerful enough, the LOOGY role -- Left-handed One Out GuY -- is basically irrelevant. Given the ineffectiveness of Brian Duensing and Aaron Thompson in recent weeks, it would benefit the Twins to get to the same point.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

12 pitchers and Santanas in waiting

Michael Tonkin
is back on the
Rochester shuttle.
The Twins demoted relief pitcher Michael Tonkin after Wednesday's game and will bring up an additional hitter before resuming play Friday in Milwaukee. Six games in National League parks, which means six games without the DH, which means more pinch-hitters are likely to be needed.

This is the first time in a month or so that the Twins have pared the pitching staff down to 12 arms. Beleaguered lefties Brian Duensing (8.22 ERA for the season) and Aaron Thompson (5.40) remain, although to what purpose is uncertain, Duensing hasn't been used in a win since June 4. Thompson's June ERA is 15.42, and six of the last eight men to face him have gotten hits or walks.

It may be that the hitter the Twins bring up today will go back down when Ervin Santana comes off his suspension nine games from now, but that would mean not only returning to a 13-man staff (plausible) but moving one of the current starters to the bullpen (less so).

But that's a problem to solve next week. Today the Twins have to settle on a bat to bring up, and it will presumably be somebody already on the 40-man roster. While they have an open slot on the 40, that's earmarked for Santana.

Position players on the 40 but not now on the 25-man roster:

Oswaldo Arcia, Doug Bernier, Aaron Hicks (DL), Max Kepler, Josmil Pinto, Jorge Polanco, Miguel Sano, Danny Santana.

Pinto would be a reasonable pinch-hitter choice, but as far as I know he's still sidelined by his concussion issues. Arcia, after 22 games in Rochester, is hitting .192/.233/.295; he's not coming up. Kepler and Sano, both in Double A, have strong call-up cases, but I don't think the Twins are bringing either up for a reserve role. Hicks is to start a rehab assignment in Triple A Friday and still has a few days he has to spend on the DL anyway.

My guess: Santana. He played a game in the outfield the other day for Rochester, which might mean something in this context. He's hitting .308/.343/.492. If Paul Molitor sticks him back at shortstop, Eduardo Nunez either plays outfield or becomes a pinch hit option. The same set of possibilities exist for Polanco or Bernier, but Santana is probably higher on the totem pole than either of them.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

A Torii Hunter rant

Torii Hunter before a recent road game.
I spent much of the offseason grousing about the Torii Hunter signing. A major component to my displeasure with the move was the analytical evidence that his once-stellar outfield play had become substandard.

I have refrained this season from criticizing Hunter for specific fielding plays, in large part because I doubt my own objectivity on the matter and don't want to damage my credibility. Some readers accept the analytics, some don't. I figure the analytic scores this season will tell their story (which is, at this point, somewhat better than last years but still not good) without me.

But this business of picking up balls in right field and casually flipping them into short center field has provoked me. Hunter did it earlier in the month, when a ball careened off shortstop Jorge Polanco. And he did it again Tuesday night in the ninth inning, when struggling reliever Aaron Thompson gave up his second single to as many hitters.

In both cases, the toss came as a game was getting away. And maybe I'm reading too much into this, but in both cases the play came off as more a mental error than a physical one. The body language speaks of frustration, contempt, even surrender.

These are not useful things to display on the field, period. To the degree that Hunter's presence on the roster and in the lineup is justified as a role model, they're even worse. Polanco commits an error, Thompson gives up a couple of singles, and Hunter responds with a sloppy play that telegraphs: I don't care about this one anymore. That's not the example one wants set for the Byron Buxtons and Eddie Rosarios.

Again, maybe I'm reading too much into this. Errors happen. But these came on sloppy technique at a time when the specific game was going poorly, and they irritate me. One of them, OK, mistakes happen. Two of them begins to establish a pattern.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Buxton's breakout

Torri Hunter (right) greets Byron Buxton after the rookie
scored in the first inning.

Paul Molitor moved Byron Buxton up to the leadoff slot Monday night, figuring that John Danks was a good matchup for the struggling rookie. Buxton, Molitor said, was taking better at-bats, especially against left-handers (such as Danks).

Buxton led off with a double and added a pair of singles. Plus he threw out two baserunners. Chalk up another good call for the rookie manager.

What was noteworthy about the first two hits was the role Buxton's speed played. The double wasn't a real gapper. It didn't get particularly deep into the outfield. Few players would even consider going for second on that ball. Buxton made it fairly easily.

The second hit was a soft groundball to shortstop. Eduardo Perez, part of the ESPN broadcast crew, talking about that play after the fact, said that he had been about to praise White Sox shortstop Alexi Ramirez' handling of the slow hopper. And indeed, Ramirez made the play perfectly; but that wasn't good enough against Buxton's swiftness.

The third hit was also interesting, an opposite field single off a right-handed pitcher. Two of the three hits went the other way.

Buxton entered the game hitting .120; he ended it hitting .200.

I said here Monday morning: Patience. Buxton in the past has struggled for a week or so after a promotion, then gotten going. On Monday night, he sure looked like he got going.

Which doesn't mean Molitor will leave him in the leadoff slot tonight against the right-handed Jeff Samardzija, who is a tough matchup for anybody. That's fine. The best thing about Monday's game is that it probably quiets the chatter about a rapid demotion for Buxton.

Monday, June 22, 2015

On Byron Buxton's first week

Byron Buxton signs autographs before his home debut
Wednesday against St. Louis.
Byron Buxton has now played eight major league games in as many days, going 3-for-25 (.120) and getting thrown out in one of his two steal attempts.

You don't have to dig too hard into Paul Molitor's quotes to find hints that the manager wouldn't mind returning the phenom to the minors. From the Pioneer Press' Mike Berardino on Sunday:

"At least until we figure out where this thing is going to go, he's going to be out there," Molitor said. "We need him defensively. His presence at the bottom of the lineup, while it hasn't been productive yet, it's still exciting when he comes up. You can still sense that something good could happen every time he goes up there."

For what it's worth, Terry Ryan in a radio interview Sunday morning, immediately dismissed a question about whether Buxton would be more likely returned to Double A Chattanooga or demoted to Triple A Rochester.

All this came before Buxton got his first Target Field hit late in Sunday's debacle after four oh-fers.

That Buxton has struggled at the plate in his first week-plus is no real surprise. It fits the pattern so far in his young professional career: Promoted to a new level, he splutters for a week or so, then starts to break out. It's far too early to cast judgment on him.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Pic of the Week

Max Scherzer and catcher Wilson Ramos celebrate
at the end of Scherzer's no-hitter.

Sherz close and yet Sherz far.

Max Scherzer's no-hitter Saturday against the Pittsburgh Pirates was a debatable hit-by-pitch away from perfection. The HBP -- with two out in the ninth -- could have been overturned on the basis that Jose Tabita didn't try to get out of the way of the pitch, but that is an exceedingly rare call. 

It was made, rather famously, to preserve Don Drysdale's consecutive scoreless inning streak. Drysdale hit Dick Dietz of the Giants with the bases loaded, but home plate umpire Chris Pelekoudas refused to award the hitter first base. 

This was the second time in major league history that a perfect game was denied on a hit batter with two outs in the ninth inning. The first was in 1908, when Hooks Wiltse hit the opposing pitcher. (George McQuillan was also throwing a shutout.) Wiltse wound with with a 10-inning no-hitter.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Notes, quotes and comment

Eduardo Nunez got his
10th double of the season
Friday night and is now
hitting .306.
Eduardo Nunez has now started four straight games at shortstop. The Twins have won three of those games, which should not be inferred as cause-and-effect.

Nunez long ago convinced almost everybody that he lacks the skills to play shortstop in the major leagues. I presume that Paul Molitor's sudden reliance on him speaks to the continuing offensive struggles of Eduardo Escobar.

And I further expect that soon enough Nunez will play his way off the shortstop job. At which point the Twins will either bring back Danny Santana or give Jorge Polanco a trial.

Nunez has his uses as a reserve player. Molitor has been adept at finding at-bats that play to his perceived strength of hitting velocity. I doubt Nunez is going to emerge as a regular at any position, much less one as defensively demanding as shortstop.


The Twins released Jordan Schafer, which shouldn't be a surprise. As I said earlier this week, the Twins have too many outfielders with more worthy demands for playing time.

Schafer did a good job for the Twins last year, but even this his .707 OPS merely made him a league average hitter, and it was vastly out of step with his previous major league record. He was miscast at the start of this season as the primary center fielder. That he was hampered by injury didn't help matters.

His release opens a spot on the 40-man roster, which will presumably be filled in a few weeks by Ervin Santana.


The Twins announced Friday that they have signed 20 of their 40 draft picks. Three of their picks in the first 10 rounds are still unsigned, but that's not alarming. Yet.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Ervin Santana and the rotation logjam

Ervin Santana is in Rochester for the first of three planned "rehab" starts. (It doesn't make sense to me that PED suspensions are regarded as injuries, but there's a lot about the rule that aren't particularly logical.) He's eligible to pitch in the majors early next month somewhere around July 5, and as the highest-paid pitcher in club history, you can bet he's going to pitch.

We still have three weeks before Santana Day, and a lot can happen in three weeks, But let's ask ourselves: Who loses his spot in the rotation for Mr. #SmellBaseball?

Mike Pelfrey (5-3, 2.97) didn't get the win Thursday, but eight innings of one-run ball ain't bad, and he's having the best season of his career. I never imagined that he could do this, but I never imagined him with a usable changeup either. The Twins will either keep the pending free agent in the rotation or trade him, and the latter ain't happening in June.

Kyle Gibson (4-5, 3.33)  has outperformed his underlying numbers, and his ERA this month is an unimpressive 5.68. It's difficult to imagine the Twins pulling him from the rotation, but he's trending down.

Phil Hughes (4-6, 4.79) has been the Phil Hughes of Yankees days: Home run prone. He's surrendered 1.6 homers per nine innings this year, which is pretty much the rate he had his final two years with New York. But with his plump contract extension, the Twins will give him a long leash.

Trevor May (4-5, 4.26) has been the opposite of Gibson -- pitching better than his results. May's FIP -- Fielding Independent Pitching -- is more than a run lower than his ERA. He has by far the best strikeout rate of the five current starters. Everything I think I know about pitching says May is the best pitcher in this rotation, but that may not save his job.

Tommy Milone (3-1, 3.67) keeps getting shafted. Last year he got bounced from Oakland's rotation when the A's traded for two veteran starters even though he was 6-3, 3.55; this year he got bounced from the Twins rotation early on and dominated International League hitters for a month waiting for an opening. He's the one lefty in the rotation and has a 2.37 ERA in three June starts.

Off in the wings is the injured Ricky Nolasco, another veteran with a lucrative paycheck. When he's going to be able to pitch is unknown, but he's another one whose contract is too fat to be marginalized.

This is the kind of thing generally called a good problem to have. But I suspect the "solution" will make matters worse.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Coming and going

Tyler Jay is reported to have gotten "slot money":
$3.889,500 as the sixth overall selection
Coming: The Twins on Wednesday officially signed Tyler Jay and Alex Robinson, a pair of left-handed college relievers from Big Ten schools (Illinois and Maryland, respectively).

The Twins intend to keep Jay in the bullpen for the remainder of this season and wait until 2016 to test him as a starting pitcher. Worth a second glance is this item: They intend to start his pro career at High-A Fort Myers.

That's unusually aggressive for them. To be sure, it's been a long time since they've used a pick this high (sixth overall) on a collegiate pitcher. But they've usually had even first- and second-round collegians open at Elizabethton, two levels lower than Jay will be. Nick Burdi, last year's second-rounder, went to Low-A Cedar Rapids to get started, and that was unusual. This is another level up. (Burdi, incidentally, has been at Double A all season and is not exactly forcing a promotion at this point.)

The assignment fits this theory: The Twins are leaving the door ajar to a 2016 major league debut for Jay. They're not going to drop that kind of expectation on him publicly, of course. But IF he dominates in the Florida State League, the next move up is Double A. And IF the Twins remain in the playoff hunt, from Double A he's in position to make the kind of move Brandon Finnegan did last summer with Kansas City.

Those are two important IFs, to be sure, and both have to align for Jay to get the majors in September. The Twins aren't going to start his option clock early unless it will help get them to the playoffs, no matter how well he fares in the minors the next two-and-a-half months.


Going: Tim Stauffer, designated for assignment on June 10, was released Wednesday. The Twins wind up eating about $1.3 million of his $2.2 million deal. Or we can consider the entirety of his work with the Twins (6.60 ERA) and say they ate the whole contract.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The "Ground Control" hack

The big news in baseball Tuesday was the revelation that the feds are focused on the St. Louis Cardinals front office as the culprits in last year's invasion of the Houston Astros' baseball ops database.

You may recall that last summer, almost a year ago, there was a brief sensation when the website Deadspin posted a variety of internal Astros communications about potential trades and player evaluations,That led to the FBI investigation, which has apparently (per Yahoo) led them to a house in Jupiter, Fla., used by Cardinals officials during spring training.

I really don't know what to make of this. Oh, it's easy enough for me to believe the Cardinals would commit industrial espionage. Tony LaRussa no longer works there, but his spirit still permeates the organization, and that spirit is every bit as controlling-to-the-point-of-paranoia as that of Bill Belichick. If the Astros were as lax on security for "Ground Control" as reports indicate, sure, the Cards would take advantage.

But in that case, why would any of their informational loot wind up on an Internet bulletin board to tip off the world that the Astros proprietary information was readily accessible? That makes no sense,

I rather expect the feds to make the Cardinals an example for the rest of the nation. Just because you can break into a competitor's computer system doesn't make it a good idea. This might be small beans as industrial espionage goes, but it involves a high-profile business, so it's a good one to use as a general warning.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

On hitting Buxton ninth

It took Byron Buxton 10.7 seconds to go home-to-third
on his eighth-inning triple Monday night.

Bill James once observed that there are more than 269 quadrillion possible lineup combinations out of a 25-man roster -- 741 billion possible sets of nine players out of the 25, and 362,880 options for batting order for each of the 741 billion. And that's not getting into defensive alignments.

The numbers start shrinking once you start ruling out having Trevor May, Glen Perkins and Mike Pelfrey in the lineup together, of course. But 269 quadrillion is a humbling number. Writes James (in his Guide to Baseball Managers):

The first point to make ... is that we can never really be sure what the optimal lineup is. The number of options is so large that it overpowers even the largest and most sophisticated computers. The only way to approach the problem is by whittling down the theoretically possible selections into those which seem reasonable, and then evaluating what seem to be the prime alternatives.

On Monday night, Paul Molitor hit his pitcher (May) eighth and Byron Buxton ninth. Buxton, of course, is as highly regarded a prospect as they come; May appears to be about as good a major-league hitter as I would be. Yet Molitor had reasons for putting Buxton ninth, and I assume those reasons will prevail again today at the Twins wrap up this visit to a National League venue.

The day will come when we look back on Buxton's arrival and laugh at the idea of hitting him ninth, But right here, right now, Molitor has two missions: Win games, and break Buxton into the majors. He calculates that he serves both by playing Buxton but limiting his exposure to major league pitching. And until Buxton starts recognizing breaking pitches out of the zone and laying off them, Molitor is absolutely right. (Buxton's triple Monday came on a fast ball, and I bet he doesn't see a fast ball strike this afternoon.)

Monday, June 15, 2015

Ranking the Twins outfield priorities

Byron Buxton was 0-for-4 in his debut Sunday with a
pair of strikeouts and a failed sac bunt attempt.
Other than his highly anticipated and greatly heralded presence, Byron Buxton didn't have a great impact on Sunday's game in Arlington, Texas. Yes, he scored the winning run, but scoring from first on a two-out gapper would be routine for most baserunners. He ran down a potential gapper in the field, but I suspect Aaron Hicks would have made that play also, if not as easily.

Hicks, of course, wasn't available Sunday; the Twins put him on the disabled list as the move to get Buxton on the active roster. With Torii Hunter serving Game Two of his suspension, Paul Molitor deployed an outfield of Shane Robinson in left, Buxton in center and Eddie Rosario in right, and that is a pretty close to optimal defensive alignment.

The Twins have a bunch of outfielders now -- on the active roster, on the disabled list, and in the minors but still seen as significant pieces. Let's sort through the priorities.

1) Buxton. Yes, he has all of one game in the majors. He's still the single most important piece of this team's puzzle, the cornerstone player for the anticipated success ahead. He's here; he's playing.

2) Hunter. He's 39, but the team didn't commit $12 million to him to sit on the bench. I'd prefer to see him DHing than playing right.

3) Rosario. Debuted May 6 and has played in all but a handful of games since. Has so far lived up to his minor league billing, with arguably more power (three homers in his first 100 at-bats) than should be expected. Between his youth/developmental needs, his bat and his defensive skills, he should be in the outfield on a near-daily basis. Despite being in the running in training camp for the center field job, he has been strictly in the corners since his call-up, which is proper.

4) Oswaldo Arcia. Spluttering with a .167/.189/.229 slash line in Triple A, he appears to have been eclipsed by Rosario in the corner outfield plans. He's a better hitter than that .418 Rochester OPS suggests, but so what? His fielding woes negate the hitting, and between Hunter and Kennys Vargas, there's not much room available at DH. He's still only 24, but he's out of options after this season. A trade seems inevitable, and right now his value is probably as low as it's ever been.

5) Hicks. Buxton pushes him out of the center field job. His bat pushes him out of a regular corner outfield role. That makes him a fourth outfielder, which is not what he was drafted in the first round to be. Is the organization willing to accept that, or will they dump him? He's also out of options after this season.

6) Shane Robinson. Too flawed to be an outfield regular, but he does enough things well to use him. A prototype reserve outfielder.

7) Jordan Schafer. Rosario has already garnered 40 more plate appearances than the Opening Day center fielder. Schafer wasn't anywhere near the player this year that he was in August-September last year, and I don't see a role for him after he comes off the disabled list. Hicks and Robinson rank ahead of him as reserve outfielders, and nobody needs four center fielders on the roster.

8) Eduardo Escobar. I'll list him here because Baseball Reference has him as the regular left fielder so far. If he's still so listed after the All-Star break, Molitor is doing it wrong. Even if the Twins decide to turn to Jorge Polanco or Danny Santana at short, Escobar shouldn't get outfield time ahead of the first five on this list. He's an infielder. Use him as such.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Pic of the Week

Torii Hunter made a better throw with his jersey
Wednesday night than he did when he returned the ball
to the infield after a Jorge Polanco error.
Nobody should have been surprised Friday with the two-game suspension levied on Torii Hunter after his Wednesday meltdown. Once he started pelting the infield with his equipment and clothing, a suspension was guaranteed.

Unlike Ron Gardenhire, Paul Molitor is not particularly prone to histrionic confrontations with the umpires. It's possible that Gardy would have gotten out there faster and gotten himself ejected rather than Hunter. Or it's possible that all that Gardy would have accomplished is getting himself tossed out as well as Hunter. (Which happened with Molitor).

Hunter immediately appealed the suspension, then dropped the appeal Saturday.

Since we're on the subject, let's delve into another aspect of the Torii Tantrum:

The umpire, in his first year as a full-time major league ump, is Mark Ripperger. As detailed by the Pioneer Press' Mike Berardino, Ripperger has racked up a pretty impressive list of ejectees in his young career, including two Hall of Fame  players-turned managers, a former Cy Young winner and a couple of big-name outfielders.

Which suggests two possibilities:

1) Stars and managers are trying to bully a young ump (hardly unusual);
2) Ripperger is weak on balls-and-strikes (also hardly unusual).

The technological tools are available to improve the umpiring on those calls. If Ripperger is weak on them, he can, and should, get better. (For all the Internet demands for "#RobotUmpsNow", I don't think there's a way to get a ball or strike called mechanically fast enough for use on a 3-2 pitch with the runner going. The catcher can't wait for a PitchFx ruling before throwing or holding.)

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Happy Buxton Day

Byron Buxton in spring training.
He wore 70 in Fort Myers this spring,
but he'll wear 25 now.
No sooner posted than said. A few hours after I noted the surge in anticipation of the arrival of Byron Buxton, the Twins announced his callup.

I am curious about how the Twins will make room for him. They had a spot on the 40 man roster availed after designating Tim Stauffer for assignment, so that's taken care of. Somebody currently on the 25-man roster has to make room.


  • Aaron Hicks, who missed Sunday's game with a suddenly sore elbow, might go on the disabled list. That, obviously, might hinge on what's wrong with his hinge.
  • The Twins have an eight-man bullpen, as they have for weeks, and occasionally make noises about getting back down to seven relievers. The most likely targets for demotion/DFA there are Aaron Thompson and Brian Duensing, but they are the two lefties in the bullpen. Neither is faring well, but I doubt that Paul Molitor wants to go to one LOOGY.
  • Shane Robinson, who has been an effective reserve outfielder, might be seen as superfluous with Buxton, Hicks and Eddie Rosario all on the roster. (They are all at least CF capable.)

I'll say this: There's no good reason to see Eduardo Escobar in left field now.

And an outfield with Buxton in center with Hicks and Rosario on the flanks -- I'd opt for Hicks in right and Rosario in left, but I won't argue it too strongly -- would really be a boon to the pitchers.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Start the Buxton countdown

Even before Aaron Hicks misplayed an eighth-inning flyball/line drive into the winning runs for Texas on Friday, the social media chatter about calling up Byron Buxton was reaching new heights.

Aaron Gleeman perhaps started it a little after noon:

Then Seth Stohs predicted that Buxton would be called up within two weeks.

It can happen any time, as far as I'm concerned. Hicks has dragged his OPS+ up since the last time I wrote about his offensive inadequacies, but .256/.302/.311 is still south of adequate, even for a stellar defensive outfielder. Which, to be fair, Hicks has been, Friday night's error not withstanding.

But I don't think the Twins are going to be knee-jerk about bringing Buxton up. For one thing, he's not on the 40-man roster, so it's not a simple matter of optioning somebody down. They'd have to cut ties to somebody. For another, because he's not currently on the 40, they will want to avoid yo-yoing him up and down. If he comes up next week and struggles, it will cost one of his three options to send him down. They have good reason to want to be as sure as possible that he's going to stick at least through this season.

I've had the All-Star break in my head as the target for Buxton. If the timeline moves up, I certainly won't complain. But I'm not exactly calling for it either.

Goodbye, Stauffer (and other notes)

Tim Stauffer was designated for assignment after Wednesday's game, with Michael Tonkin recalled to take his place.

This is essentially what I expected the Twins to do last month when Casey Fien came off the disabled list. Instead, they shipped Tonkin back to Triple A and kept the veteran around without any real purpose. Stauffer pitched five times since coming off the disabled list May 21, and last appeared on June 6. Paul Molitor really didn't want to use him in a winnable game, and I can't blame the manager for that.

The odd thing, really, is that the argument for having Stauffer on the roster is better right now than it has been at anytime since spring training began. He hit camp with diminished velocity, and now he's almost back to his accustomed speed.

Not that the argument for Stauffer was ever that good. His 3.87 career ERA before coming to the Twins was greatly enhanced by the San Diego park (career ERA in Petco Park: 3.07) and the lack of the DH in the National League. He never should have been signed to a guaranteed contract.

Recalling Tonkin keeps the Twins at 13 pitchers. One has to wonder if the Twins will ever get back to 12 pitchers and if so, which one gets the ax? Neither Aaron Thompson nor Brian Duensing would seem to have that firm a grip on their jobs, but they are left-handed, and I suspect Molitor would rather have two LOOGYs than one.


Josmil Pinto went on the concussion disabled list for Triple A Rochester. The catcher/DH (or maybe it's the other way around) suffered a concussion in spring training, and even though he passed the protocol and was cleared to play, there's been a suspicion that he was still feeling the effects. It's unclear is there's a specific incident that led to this sidelining, or if this is the spring training injury remanifesting itself.

Either way, this is not good for Pinto.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

A day of Jorge

Jorge Polanco
turns 22 next month.
Paul Molitor was pretty blunt about Jorge Polanco's call-up on his pre-game radio appearance: One day. Molitor just didn't want to manage even one day with a two-man bench, especially in a series with Kansas City. Off day today, and Eddie Rosario is expected back for Friday.

Polanco started at shortstop, got a hit, drew a walk, hit another ball hard and had ... adventures in the field. Some nice plays, some misplays. He was charged with one error and was at least tangentially involved in two others. (At least one beat writer, Mike Berardino, suggested on Twitter that Torii Hunter's flip to nowhere was because Polanco wasn't where he was supposed to be, and the Joe Mauer throwing error had Polanco as its target.)

I saw Polanco play a game at short two years ago in Cedar Rapids, and my immediate impression at the time was that his throwing arm is a bit weak for the position. I expect shortstops to show me throws to first that sizzle. Now, there have been outstanding shortstops who didn't have that kind of arm -- Ozzie Smith after his shoulder injury, for example. So its possible for Polanco to be a major league shortstop without a Cal Ripken cannon. But he can't be the human pinball bumper he resembled at times Wednesday.

My take on Polanco: As a hitter, he's major-league ready. I believe in his bat. I think he's best off at second base. The Twins have Brian Dozier at second, and while I can make a case for ranking Polanco ahead of Dozier, it's largely age based (Polanco is about six years younger). Dozier has more power, and he's established himself as a quality second baseman.

If it weren't for the shortstop vacancy, I would expect the Twins to auction off one of them, most likely Polanco. But there's no urgency.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Notes, quotes and comment

Getting blown away by the Kansas City bullpen isn't embarrassing. Getting just one hit off Chris Young should be.


While the Twins were being baffled by Young, the word leaked on social media that Jorge Polanco was coming up. The speculation about the corresponding move raged. I found the notion of calling up Polanco puzzling. Why would they bring him in after just two days of Eduardo Escobar at shortstop?

Then the game ended, and the official announcement was made. Eddie Rosario is going on paternity leave, reportedly for just one game. Polanco takes his place, and returns to Double A Chattanooga when Rosario is back. (You can tell Rosario is a rookie, just leaving for one day.) 

This ignited another social media furor from fans who don't understand the option rule. The Twins burned Polanco's 2015 option long ago. They can yo-yo him up and down all year and it won't matter. 


Tuesday was Day Two of the draft. The Twins drafted a pair of left-handed hitting high schoolers who project to be third basemen in the third and fourth rounds, Travis Blankenhorn and Trey Cabbage. I wonder how the Twins will work out the playing time for them; they would figure to start on the same level. I suppose they'll split time at third base and try some first base and Dh some as well. 

The fifth round pick was another left-handed college reliever, Alex Robinson of Maryland. This is certainly a unique pattern the Twins have going here.

I'm not going to go into great detail of any on them, or discuss at all the rest of the second day picks. This was reckoned to be a pretty mild draft field from the beginning of the cycle, and it thinned out with injuries as the spring wore on. I'm sure somebody will emerge as a bona fide talent, but I'll let him emerge before I get interested.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Feeling a draft: The Twins on Day One

Tyler Jay pitches for Illinois in the Big Ten tournament
last month in Target Field.

The Twins's selection of Tyler Jay with the sixth overall pick fits two recent patterns in their drafting style:

  • He's a pitcher from a Big Ten school (in the past decade they popped Matt Bashore and Aaron Slegers of Indiana and Alex Wimmers of Ohio State; Bashore is out of baseball, Wimmers is in Double A and Slegers in High A).
  • He was used in college primarily as a reliever but is viewed by the Twins as a potential starter.

Sixth overall is too high for a straight-up bullpen guy, but it appears that there was an industry consensus that Jay was the best lefty in the pool. Some mock drafts I saw had him going as high as third overall.

While Terry Ryan downplayed the notion during his appearance on the Twins game broadcast, there was a buzz about the possibility of Jay getting to the big club this year, a la Brandon Finnegan last season with Kansas City.

And Ryan did say that he expects to keep Jay in the bullpen this year in the minors and begin the process of making him a starter next year, This would fit the hurry-him-to-the-majors theory. And watching Aaron Thompson and Brian Duensing struggle of late does prompt thoughts that the Twins need some southpaw help in the bullpen.

That kind of ambitious timeline can only work if Jay cooperates -- sign quickly and dominate from the get-go. And it will also require that the Twins remain in contention. There's no point in putting him on the 40-man roster for a late-season callup if the team's out of the running; that would start his option clock early and, perhaps, impede the long-term goal of making him a starter.

There's an obvious reason Jay was expected to be an early pick. He's a left-handed power pitcher, and there aren't a lot of those guys around. The perceived drawback is that he hasn't been a starter, but there's a plus to that as well: He hasn't been burdened with high pitch counts and lots of innings.


The Twins lost their second round pick by signing Ervin Santana, but they did get a "competitive balance lottery" pick at the end of the second round, 73rd overall. They used that pick on Kyle Cody, right handed pitcher from the University of Kentucky. Which is another school the Twins have dipped into for pitchers quite a bit. Cody's a big guy with velocity.

They've drafted a lot of power arms in recent years. They haven't -- yet -- seen fit to bring them up to the big club.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Santana, Vargas and draft day

Danny Santana has a batting average of .218 at the plate
and 12 errors in the field.
The Twins demoted Danny Santana after Sunday's game and recalled Kennys Vargas.

I suspected from the get-go that Santana wasn't going to retain the shortstop job. He displayed this season the flaws his minor league stats and reputation indicated: Erratic in the field, lacking in strike-zone judgment at the plate.

So Eduardo Escobar gets the everyday job at short, at least for now. He hasn't hit as well this year as he did last season, and it's entirely possible that in a month or so Jorge Polanco will get a trial. Or they may try again with Santana.

Recalling Vargas doesn't do much for me. Vargas as DH means Torii Hunter in right field, with either Eddie Rosario or Shane Robinson in left (supplanting Escobar there.) Hunter's been doing a lot of DHing lately, including four times in the past five games (with a misplayed fly ball in the one game he was in the field).

Ultimately, and obviously, Vargas has to hit. My opinion remains: the Twins are better off using the DH spot to hide Hunter and deploy a superior defensive outfield.


Today begins the annual draft. Baseball America has consistently projected the Twins to take a high school outfielder with the No. 6 overall pick, but which one (Dez Cameron or Kyle Tucker) has fluctuated.

A lot depends on who goes ahead of the Twins, of course, and this is regarded as a particularly difficult draft to handicap. There's no real consensus about who should go first, so the teams at the top are believed to be trying to pre-negotiate below-slot deals with possible candidates. Mike Berardino of the Pioneer Press:

Asked at midday Sunday if he knew yet who the Twins would pick, general manager Terry Ryan shook his head. 
“Not yet,” he said. “Somebody is going to fall.”

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Pic of the Week

Hanley Ramirez plays a fly ball into a double in
the ninth inning on Thursday.
I wrote a lot this week about the virtues of outfield defense. It is my belief that the Twins are consciously emphasizing fielding prowess in the outfield, even at the expense of offense, and that they are benefiting from that.

Many teams do not take that approach. The Red Sox chose this winter to sign free-agent shortstop Hanley Ramirez, an outstanding hitter but an indifferent shortstop, and shift him to left field. Now, if there is a team and position where it makes sense to sacrifice defense for offense, it's left field in Boston. There's simply not much room there for the left fielder to cover,

And yet Ramirez has been little short of a disaster in left. A third of the way into the season, he's already cost the Red Sox 11 runs compared to an average left fielder. Imagine how bad it would be if he had to cover actual acreage in his home games.

The speculation in the Boston Globe this week has Ramirez moving to first base next year (Mike Napoli is a free agent after this season). Or taking over DH for the aging David Ortiz.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

'Risks and dangers incidental to the game of baseball'

A woman who was hit in the head by a shattered bat
Friday night at Fenway Park is taken through the field to
a Boston hospital with what police called 'life-threatening

It's part of the pre-game routine at Twins games: the public address announcer warning fans to be aware of bats and balls flying into the stands and disclaiming any responsibility for "risks and dangers incidental to the game of baseball."

Most of us don't pay much attention to it. And in most seats, there's no need to. But Friday night, in cramped Fenway Park, a woman sitting near a dugout was hit by part of a shattered bat. Reporters tweeted that she was bleeding profusely and shrieking; police described the injuries as "life-threatening."

I've never been big on the notion of extending the backstop netting down the foul lines. But I think it's coming. This is not the first fan injury, but it might be one that creates some changes in the "fan experience."

Friday, June 5, 2015

Nolasco, Milone and Mauer's bunt

This is Ricky Nolasco's
third time on the
disabled list in
11 momths.
As it happened, it was apparently an easy call. Ricky Nolasco tried to throw a bullpen session Thursday morning in Boston and knew immediately that he can't pitch.

So the easy way to get Tommy Milone on the active roster was the way followed. Nolasco is said to be headed to a CT scan now that the team has returned to Minnesota. Given the language used so far to describe the ankle -- the word "impingement" has been used -- I won't be at all surprised if he has surgery in short order.


Milone had a "Blackburn" in his return to the rotation -- a start without a strikeout. Not a real impressive linescore -- five innings, nine hits and a walk, four runs allowed. The defense didn't help a lot early on, but he also threw a couple of gopher balls.

He'll have better starts, I'm sure. With Ervin Santana now about a month away from returning, he'll need to. And this was actually the best of Milone's three career starts in Fenway Park, long regarded as a graveyard for left-handed pitchers.


My Twitter feed featured a lot of commentary about the Joe Mauer bunt in the ninth inning that resulted in a Red Sox error and the first of four runs for the Twins in the inning.

It wasn't a good bunt, and as it turned out, a bad bunt was good for the Twins. The Sox botched the play, perhaps because it took them by surprise. Surprise is a stressor, and this Red Sox team is getting a reputation as a poor defensive team. Or, more broadly, a poor fundamental team; some of their baserunning Wednesday was of the TOOTBLAN category (Thrown Out On The Bases Like A Nincompoop).

I don't want to see a steady diet of Mauer sacrifices -- if that's on the agenda, he shouldn't be hitting in the top half of the order -- but I'm hardly opposed to the call, and wouldn't have been had it been a routine sac bunt. Unpredictability is an optimal strategic state.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

The roster shuffle

Tommy Milone starts
today, but we don't
yet know who leaves
the active roster
to make room for him.
Between Monday's rainout, Wednesday's resultant doubleheader and the mystery of Ricky Nolasco's ankle, the Twins are in another period of roster instability.

There was another noteworthy roster move unrelated to the rainout or Nolasco's uncertainity, but I'll get to that in a moment.

Michael Tonkin -- who in my opinion ought to be on the roster anyway -- got a one-day reprieve from last week's demotion to serve as the 26th man for Wednesday's twin bill. He appeared in the day game, gave up a homer, and now returns to Rochester. As I understand the rainout roster expansion rule, the emergency callup cannot remain.

Tommy Milone -- he of the one earned run allowed in five Triple A starts -- is to be added to the roster and start today. Kyle Gibson gets his start pushed back to Friday. Nolasco is tentatively scheduled to start Saturday, but that depends on how his troublesome ankle responds to a scheduled bullpen session today. If he is deemed able to go Saturday, somebody else has to go to make room for Milone on the roster. If Nolasco goes on the DL, the question of how Milone fits on the 25-man roster is answered, but Saturday becomes a "bullpen game." Which has been known to be the case with Nolasco starts anyway.

Nolasco is said to be resistant to another stint on the disabled list, and I don't blame him. But I don't like the other choices for fitting Milone on the active roster or in the rotation. Shelving Nolasco is the simplest solution. The other routes are more complicated.

Then there's the Oswaldo Arcia move announced between games Wednesday. The slugger was officially activated off the disabled list and optioned to Triple A Rochester, where he's been on a rehab assignment and struggling at the plate.

The Twins didn't have to make that move Wednesday -- there's still time on Arcia's rehab clock -- so it raised some eyebrows. But it fit my view that the Twins are now serious about outfield defense, and that part of that emphasis involves not having a set DH. Arcia remains a poor fielder, and, as with Kennys Vargas, there's only part-time at-bats available at DH. With all the pitchers on the roster, the bench guys have to have some defensive role.

In that view, Arcia simply doesn't fit. There's another factor to this timing, however, one that doesn't involve fidelity to the notion of outfield defense. Arcia's option clock is now started, He can be recalled in 10 days, If the Twins actually want to bring him back soon but deemed him unlikely to be ready when his rehab eligibility expired, optioning him now quickens when he can return to the big club.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Ex-Twins watch: Kevin Slowey

Kevin Slowey
attended Winthrop
University on an
academic scholarship.
At the age of 31, it's on to the rest of his life for Kevin Slowey.

The former Twins pitcher was in training camp this spring with the Philadelphia Phillies and was released at the end of March. Nobody picked him up. On Tuesday it was announced that he's taken a job with the players union as a special assistant to director Tony Clark.

Slowey, who has impressive academic credentials, has a background with the union -- while with the Marlins he was placed on the pension committee as the National League representative. So it's not a huge surprise that the union found a place for him on its staff.

As a pitcher, Slowey was one of my faves, what some Baseball America writers refer to as a "personal cheeseball." In his first four seasons with the Twins, he went 39-21, 4.41, with three straight seasons of 10 to 13 wins. He had almost impeccable control and decent strikeout rates despite not really having a plus pitch.

But he sustained a broken wrist near the end of the 2008 season -- the second of those four seasons -- and didn't seem to me to be quite the same pitcher after the surgery. He never so much as qualified for the ERA title in any season (160.1 innings in 2008 was his career high). Pitchers get hurt, and that was certainly true for Slowey.

And, of course, his spectacular falling out with the Twins in 2011 is, in retrospect, emblematic of the collapse of the Ron Gardenhire era. The Twins entered that season with a seeming surplus of starting pitchers; Gardy opted at the end of training camp to move Slowey to relief; a disgruntled Slowey struggled with the transition, claimed injury, and spent much of the season on the disabled list as Bert Blyleven took to ripping him during broadcasts. Put in the rotation near the end of the year, Slowey finished 0-8, 6.61. That did for him with the Twins, who traded him to Colorado for a minor leaguer who himself didn't pan out (Daniel Turpin).

I've said many times here that both sides mishandled the situation, and nobody profited by it. I'm sorry to say that, even as a Slowey fan, it is the chaos of 2011 that I remember, not the success of the previous four seasons.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

'May 32,' 2015

There was much hubbub about the Twins winning 20 games in May and exiting the month with the best record (barely) in the American League. Paul Molitor made a joke Sunday about Monday being May 32.

And then Monday turned into a rainout in Boston, and the Astros won, so now it's Houston that has the best record in the American League. Which is also a "how the lowly have risen" story, considering that the Astros have had a worse record that even the Twins each of the past four years.

Having the best record on June 1 or June 2 is better than not having the best record, but it's also irrelevant. Just one of the six division leaders last June 1 actually won their division title (that was Detroit), although two others did win wild card berths. We're roughly a third of the way through the season already, so it's no longer early, but there's still a lot of baseball to be played.

Dick Bremer spent a good bit of time on recent broadcasts complaining of a lack of national attention paid to the Twins. The post-game stories after Sunday featured quotes from players about shutting the stat guys up. Both would do well to let it lie.

There's better reason to think the Twins record a fluke than to regard it as an accurate depiction of how good they are. The linked-to piece (by Dave Cameron on FanGraphs) is a sign that, no, the stat guys aren't shutting up. More important, the numbers underlying the Twins gaudy won-lost record aren't shutting up. The Twins are tied for fourth in the AL in runs scored, but they are 11th in on-base percentage and slugging percentage. These figures do not match.

But this is also a significantly different lineup now than it was in April -- no Kennys Vargas, no Oswaldo Arcia, Danny Santana going from getting the most at-bats in the lineup to the fewest -- and it's fairly easy to imagine further personnel changes before season's end.

The early wins are in the books. Now they can try to get the middle season wins.

Monday, June 1, 2015

The defense-offense trade off

The Monday print column grapples with a seeming oxymoron: The Twins improved their defense by sending their designated hitter to the minors.

Consider the Twins' opponent this weekend. Toronto played Chris Colabello, the erstwhile Twin, in left field all three games. The Jays know this is suboptimal, but Jose Bautista has been limited to the DH role by injury. The Jays would doubtless rather have Bautista in the outfield and Colabello either at DH or first base (with Edwin Encarnacion at DH), but they are working with what they have,

Colabello's bat helped the Jays beat the Twins on Friday night; he homered in the ninth off Glen Perkins to break a tie. On Sunday, Colabello's outfielding inadequacies cost the Jays three runs in a game they lost by one.

Win by the Colabello, lose by the Colabello. Certainly the Jays calculate that Colabello's bat -- and he has hit extremely well -- makes up for his fielding. The flip side of it is that his lack of range in left field adds to the stress on their pitching staff.

The Jays lead the American League in runs scored, and it isn't close. They're also, barely, last in runs allowed. They may be inclined to believe that's all on the pitching staff. It isn't.