Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Twelve and counting

The losing streak hit 12 Tuesday. Just think -- we have another month of this to endure.

Or at least the Twins have another month of this to endure. I know a lot of fans have checked out of this season. I'm pretty close to doing that, for cryin' out loud, and I never really stop paying attention to the Twins. But when Logan Schafer is suddenly the daily center fielder, when two rotation slots belong to Andrew Albers and Pat Dean, when the regular shortstop is a good prospect playing out of position -- there's not a lot of reason to think the decision makers give a hoot.

I can make a case for playing Jorge Polanco at shortstop this month and next. They might as well feed him at-bats, and they can't play both him and Brian Dozier at second base, and they are at least accumulating objective data about Polanco as a defensive shortstop for the next management team.

I refuse to try to rationalize Schafer's presence on the roster, much less in the lineup, or feeding starts and innings to Albers and Dean.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Out of indy ball

Logan Schafer made his Twins debut Monday evening. He became the 48th player used by the team this season, tying the Twins franchise record; considering the likelihood that at least one September callup will be making his major league debut, we probably should expect a new standard for roster churn.

Shuffling four dozen players through the active roster in five months is a sign of a bad team (as is the won-loss record, as is the current 11-game losing streak, as is ...).

Here's another one: Two of the 25 currently on the active roster were in independent ball earlier this season. Schafer and Andrew Albers -- today's starting pitcher -- both performed earlier this year for the Lancaster Barnstormers of the Atlantic League. (And Buddy Boshers, on the disabled list, was in the Atlantic League in 2015.)

Players wind up in the Atlantic League -- or the American Association of the St. Paul Saints -- when the 30 major league organizations see no purpose to having them on their minor league teams. That the Twins pulled two players out of that baseball limbo to help staff their high minors isn't exactly unique, but that they have given those two major league time is pretty much an indictment of the farm system.

I do not criticize players for playing; there is an honor and dignity in squeezing whatever one can out of the game and one's talent. My criticism is of the organization. Delving repeatedly into indy ball for players is the scouting equivalent of reopening an abandoned mine. The odds are very much against finding a fresh vein of high-grade ore.

Monday, August 29, 2016

It's gonna get worse

Man, that series in Toronto was was ugly. But it's been ugly for a while for the Twins.

The Monday print column is about the shoddy defense, with an emphasis on the errors this team has piled up. I wrote the thing Sunday morning. A few hours later, the Twins starting outfield consisted of Robbie Grossman (leads the American League in errors by a left fielder), Danny Santana (a shortstop) and Max Kepler (leads the American League in errors by a right fielder). And on the first play of the game, Grossman and Santana collided on the warning track, with Santana spraining his left shoulder.

The Twins after the game put Santana on the disabled list and called up the legendary Logan Schafer, who they plucked out of an independent league in June. Not Byron Buxton, who can at least make some plays in the outfield and just had a four-game home run streak at Rochester. Nor Adam Brett Walker or Daniel Palka, who've had impressive power numbers (admittedly, neither is a center fielder).

Seth Stohs:

I don't think the loss of 35 August at-bats matters a whit in terms of development. I think the Red Wings still have a chance of making the International League playoffs, and Twins are loathe to take a big piece of their lineup out to sit on the big league bench.

Which is, perhaps, part of why they still have their valued affiliation with Rochester. It sure does nothing to make the big league club more watchable or interesting.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Pic of the Week

Matt Kemp strikes out. Matt Kemp breaks bat over his knee.
As Keith Olbermann used to say during his glory days on SportsCenter to such clips: "A good craftsman never blames his tools."

Matt Kemp, on the other hand, has an on-base percentage under .300 and has been deemed by the Braves to be out of shape, so he might be permitted to blame the bat for his failure.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Affiliates current and former

One thing that has gone well for the Twins the past week-plus: They extended their Triple A affiliation with the Rochester Redwings.

There had been some speculation about that in the immediate wake of Terry Ryan's firing, especially considering that the New York Mets are a presumably better geographic fit for an upstate New York team, and the Mets want, for a variety of reasons, to get their affiliation out of Las Vegas.

This 2013 Wall Street Journal piece explains the  odd Mets-Vegas pairing well:

Only a handful of team-affiliate agreements expire each year, and if one of them isn't renewed, it creates a game of musical chairs. Las Vegas is the chair no team wants.
And the Mets have become the fanny no chair wants.
"They're undesirable," said Dave Rosenfield, a longtime Norfolk (Va.) Tides executive. "Nobody wants them."

The story is more than three years old, but as far as I can tell, it's not dated. The Vegas stadium hasn't been replaced, the Wilpons still own the Mets, and Vegas is still in the desert.

The Redwings, incidentally, have had a pretty good season, even if they appear unlikely to make the International League playoffs. It has certainly been a hectic one for player movement. Earlier this summer the Wings' play-by-play announcer tweeted that there were only three position players left from the opening roster -- and no pitchers.


Two years ago the Twins switched Double-A affiliations, leaving the New Britain RockCats (Eastern League) for Chattanooga (Southern League). This came as the RockCats ownership announced plans to abandon New Britain for nearby Hartford.

The team, now branded the Hartford Yard Goats, will spend the entire season on the road. The new stadium in Hartford is unfinished, and nothing as been done on it in months as the city wrangles with contractors and team, And this week, Baseball America reports, the Eastern League president said the Yard Goats may never play a game in Hartford.

The Twins got out of that mess just in time.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Rotation merry-go-round

Tyler Duffey had a poor start Wednesday night. Jose Berrios had a poor start Thursday afternoon.

And now both are back in the minors, with Andrew Albers and Alex Wimmers recalled.

Berrios has now made nine starts in the majors, and his ERA is just south of 9. His command is obviously not there. He clearly has stuff to work on. And Duffey has been effective in just two of his last seven starts. It's hard for Paul Molitor to keep trotting them out every fifth game.

That said, these two are a lot more likely to be important pitchers in the majors than Albers or Wimmers.

I don't know that that's exactly fair, but ... Mike Berardino had a piece recently describing Berrios' side session. There was the pitching coach, the bullpen coach, the number one starter and the Hall of Fame pitcher/broadcaster all there offering the rookie advice. Nothing like overwhelming the kid, huh?


Wimmers' callup isn't official, but it's been widely reported on the interwebs. His has been a torturous trip to the bigs: First round pick out of Ohio State in 2010, a rapid fall from grace the next year when he lost the strike zone, Tommy John surgery, seven seasons of grinding in the minors without ever having a true breakthrough season.

The Twins have twice exposed him to the Rule 5 draft. Nobody's taken him. Even this season hasn't been all that good -- ERA 4.04 at two levels. 

Wimmers was described leading into the 2010 draft as a polished strike-throwing machine who likely wouldn't take long to make it to the majors. It sure hasn't worked out that way.


I'm not sure what the starting rotation is now. Ervin Santana and Kyle Gibson, sure. Supposedly Hector Santiago was going to be held back because of a sore thumb, and now Berrios and Duffey are out of the picture at least until sometime in September. So there are at least two, maybe three, immediate vacancies.

I'm guessing Albers and Pat Dean will fill two of those slots. The Twins don't have an off day again until Sept. 8, so if Santiago has to be skipped somebody else has to fill in. Wimmers hasn't started a game all season, but considering that Jorge Polanco didn't play shortstop at all in the minors and has been pretty much a fixture there for the past three weeks, maybe Molitor intends to do the same with Wimmers.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Park banged

Byung Ho Park turned
30 last month.
Byung Ho Park is to have hand surgery today. His 2016 season is over.

His numbers, majors and minors, weren't good. How much of his struggles can be laid at his hand and wrist issues and how much at his ability/approach is uncertain. It's difficult to hit with a bad hand or wrist. Park, through his translator, downplays the injury factor in the linked story, but that may simply be a "no excuses" approach.

Excuse or reason, the injury (injuries?) make Park's 2016 deceptively difficult to evaluate. When he made contact, the ball went a long way. But he didn't make contact very often.

Park is signed through 2019, maybe 2020 (team option). Joe Mauer is signed through 2018. That's two for first base and designated hitter. Miguel Sano may not be any more a third baseman than he was a right fielder, so he may be a third for that mix. Then there's Kennys Vargas, who slugged .576 in his limited major league time. Four.

Meanwhile, Trevor Plouffe has seemingly been locked into both first base and the cleanup slot. There may be a universe in which that is optimal, but I don't think I'm inhabiting it.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Gotta be the shoes

Danny Valencia and Billy Butler in
presumably friendlier times.
You may have heard about this already: Danny Valencia, former Twin, and Oakland teammate Billy Butler got into a fight in the clubhouse last week. Butler got the worst of it; he missed two games over the weekend and now has gone on the concussion disabled list.

As reported by Susan Slusser in the San Francisco Chronicle, the altercation originated when a representative of an equipment maker asked Valencia about a pair of off-brand spikes in his locker. Valencia assured the rep that he doesn't wear those in games, whereupon Butler interjected himself into the conversation to say that Valencia was lying and Company X should drop his endorsement deal.

There are three things here, at least one of which is probably no surprise:

  • Danny Valencia is willing to lie to get or keep an endorsement deal worth several thousand dollars.
  • Billy Butler is willing to go out of his way to get in the way of that deal.
  • Somebody thinks Danny Valencia's choice of game spikes is worth several thousand dollars to the maker of those spikes.

.The third is the one that puzzles me.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Catching up on the roster shuffle

Adalberto Mejia made his major league
debut Saturday, allowing two runs in
2.1 innings against the Royals.
With all the short starts in the series at Kansas City, the Twins were juggling their pitching staff on a daily basis again during the weekend. New arms, new faces -- the pitchers acquired in a pair of July trades.

Kennys Vargas lost his roster spot through no fault of his own so that the Twins could add a 13th pitcher. On Saturday that was Adalberto Mejia, the lefty who came from San Francisco in the Eduardo Nunez deal.

Mejia worked 2.1 innings of relief on Saturday -- his first game in the bigs -- and was immediately returned to Triple A Rochester with Pat Light coming up. Light didn't have to work Sunday and thus has yet to make his Twins debut.

Rob Antony, the interim general manager, said Sunday that Mejia is not going to be a September call up. The organization does not want to push him past about 135 innings this year, and he's at 125 now (combining his workload at all levels.) Anthony said during a radio appearance that Mejia is "about out of bullets," noting that the lefty's velocity has declined sharply of late. He'll make probably one more start for the Red Wings, then finish the season in their bullpen.

Light, acquired in exchange for Fernando Abad, is another matter. Mejia is seen as a rotation candidate; Light is strictly a relief arm. He made his major league debut already this year with Boston and fared ill -- seven earned runs in 2.2 innings. I think it's quite likely that Light's here for the duration of 2016.

One interesting thing about Light: His preferred secondary pitch is a splitter. As I've noted before, the Twins have a history of discouraging that pitch, particularly from their minor leaguers. But it is an established part of Light's repertoire, and presumably they won't take it away from him.

Monday, August 22, 2016

The hidden problem

Jorge Polanco fails to handle a "base hit"
off the bat of Lorenzo Cain with two outs
in the sixth inning Sunday. The next batter
doubled Cain home for what proved to be
the winning run.
I voiced optimism here about the Twins direction last week. Then they went to Kansas City and got swept. Two blowouts, one extra-inning rain-interrupted marathon, one pitchers duel -- all with the same "L" for the standings.

One of my pet theories about "intelligent fandom" is that the broadcasters reflect the thinking of the organization. Dick Bremer, Bert Blyleven, Cory Provus, Dan Gladden -- these guys are not only around the team (as are the beat writers), they hold their jobs at the mercy of the team (unlike the beat writers). When Billy Beane was in the process of imposing the use of advanced stats on the Oakland A's almost 20 years ago, their TV broadcasts rather quickly ditched the traditional "triple crown stats" on their graphics to show on-base percentage and slugging percentage.

So when Bremer spends much of his airtime bewailing the Twins starting pitching while barely acknowledging the flawed fielding, the presumption here is that he's reflecting the thinking of the manager and coaches.

There's really not much good to say about the Twins starting pitching in three of those four games in Kansas City. Tyler Duffey, Jose Berrios and Hector Santiago all had short starts, and that strains the already strained bullpen.

But defense is the hidden problem. The Kansas City Star on Friday described a pair of plays by Minnesota outfielders Eddie Rosario and Robbie Grossman on Thursday as "two of the worst defensive plays of the year." The video-laden breakdown linked to above concluded:

According to FanGraphs, the Twins’ defense has a negative-25.3 runs saved, the second-worst in the American League.

Sunday's final, and decisive, run was handed to Kansas City by the Twins fielding, specifically the shortstop play of Jorge Polanco. As has been noted here, the heavy use of Polanco at short in recent weeks directly contradicts the obvious conclusion drawn by the farm system, which devoted more than two seasons to playing him at shortstop and decided he's not a shortstop.

Polanco, as depicted above, failed to come up with a grounder in the sixth inning. Blyleven and Bremer were still questioning the scoring call when Eric Hosmer doubled over Rosario's head (might Byron Buxton have reached that ball?) to score Cain from first base -- and suddenly the TV talk went from a missed out to a pair of two-out hits.

I say this a lot: The easiest way to improve the pitching staff is to improve the defense. That we don't hear that from the broadcasters suggests that they aren't hearing that from the organization.

eIad more here:

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Pic of the Week

Brian Dozier catches a pop fly Tuesday night in Atlanta.

So ... how good a defensive second baseman is Brian Dozier?

My sense of things is that the Twins believe he's very good. The metrics are less certain.

Baseball Reference lists two primary metrics, Total Zone and Runs Saved. Runs Saved is kinder to Dozier; in 2013-16 -- his four seasons as the Twins regular second baseman -- he's slightly above average in that measure. Total Zone has consistently had him below average. The defensive component of BR's version of Wins Above Replacement generally credits him with a positive contribution.

If the metrics agreed, that would be a step toward certainty. They don't.

What we do know is that Dozier is an uncommonly productive power hitter for the position. This is his third year with 20-plus homers. He's slugging well above .500. Even if we assume that he's a bit less than average with the glove, he's still helping.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Ex-Twin watch: Oswaldo Arcia

Oswaldo Arcia has
a .229 batting average
on the season with
two teams.
When the Twins gave up on Oswaldo Arcia in June, they traded him to Tampa Bay for a player to be named or cash.

The Rays designated Arcia for assignment Friday, which cleared him off their 40-man roster. So presumably the return for him won't be much, if anything.

Arcia's numbers with Tampa Bay -- at least before spending the past three weeks or son on the disabled list -- weren't bad. His OPS+ with the Rays, according to Baseball Reference, was 111, meaning he was 11 percent above league average.

Almost all that production, however, came in four games early in his Rays tenure. His July slash stats -- .147/.256/.265 -- were atrocious. And, of course, he's still a defensive liability. When he was ready to come off the disabled list, the Rays decided they had better things to do with the roster space.

Tampa Bay is near the bottom of the league in runs scored. Their designated hitters haven't done much to aid the cause. I'm a little surprised the Rays didn't give Arcia more time in that role, but presumably they saw enough of his flail-and-fail approach to hitting to decide to try something else.

And that's not a good sign for Arcia's fading status.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Notes, quotes and comment

Tyler Duffey pretty much summed up his season in Thursday's game. He was very good (retired the first 10 men he faced) and was very bad (got just one more out.) He threw 28 balls and 35 strikes, a poor ratio. The command just vanished in the fourth inning, and he couldn't get it back

I said a few days ago that Duffey's pitching this year mystifies me. It still does.


Supposedly Kurt Suzuki cleared waivers, so theoretically there is a window here in which he can be traded to any team. But ...

  • any team could have claimed him and nobody did;
  • his throwing problems are probably cooling interest in him;
  • somebody's got to catch for the Twins the next six weeks or so.

I doubt he's going anywhere.


I heard Paul Molitor on the radio praising backup catcher Juan Centeno. The manager says Centeno calls a good game, does some things at the plate and "is getting better at blocking balls."

Centeno has caught 302.2 innings. There have been 23 wild pitches and two passed balls with him back there, 0.75 per nine innings. Suzuki's comparable numbers: 671.2 innings, 27 wild pitches, no passed balls: 0.36, about half Centeno's rate.

Wild pitches are officially the pitcher's fault, but just as there are "base hits" that obviously could/should have been outs, there are wild pitches that a better receiver handles.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Looking up

The Twins won Wednesday night. That lifted their record to 49-71, which is the worst in the American League and second worst in the majors -- behind Atlanta, the team they beat (44-76).

So right now, the Twins are in line for the second pick in next June's draft. However:

  • Three teams -- Anaheim, Arizona and San Diego -- are 50-70, just one game better than the Twins.
  • Two teams -- Cincinnati and Tampa Bay -- are 50-69, 1.5 games better than the Twins.
  • Oakland is 52-69, three games ahead of the Twins.
  • Milwaukee is 52-67, four games ahead of the Twins.

It wouldn't take much, in other words, for the Twins to fall as far as ninth in the draft. They had a winning July; they have a winning record so far in August, with more wins this month than in either April or May.

We can't eradicate the first three months. The Twins were awful in April and May, and not a lot better in June; they're last in the league on merit. But they have 42 games to play, and I expect they will finish with a record that -- well, it won't be good, but  they can avoid 90 losses. That would be pretty impressive considering that at one point they were rivaling the infamous 1962 Mets for ineptitude.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Ex-Twin watch: Joe Nathan

Never criticize a player for trying to extend his career ...

Joe Nathan, 41, signed a minor league deal Tuesday with the San Francisco Giants. He's pitched a total of 2.1 major league innings the past two years, including three well-spaced appearances for the Chicago Cubs last month before the Cubs, having restocked their bullpen with a series of deadline deals, designated Nathan for assignment in early August.

This brings Nathan back to where his career began, or at least the organization where it began. Presuming he clears the physical, he's to be assigned to the Giants' Double A affiliate, which is in Richmond. Va. (On a side note, it's rare for a West Coast team to have a high minors affiliate that far away.) The idea is that he'll be added to the big club when rosters expand in September, if not sooner.

The Giants, who slipped behind the Dodgers Tuesday night in a tight NL West race, have need for a good bullpen arm. Whether Nathan, eighth on the all-time saves list, meets that description after two Tommy John surgeries is uncertain. I can't imagine that the Giants are going to let that be their biggest relief move this month.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Nick Punto and a sprinter's gold medal dive

Shaunae Miller of  Bahamas won the 400 meter gold medal
Monday by diving across the finish line.
I haven't watched much of the Olympics, but ... in the final of the womens' 400-meter race Monday in Rio, Shaunae Miller dove across the finish line to edge out Allyson Felix for the gold.

This sparked a series of tweets (from Minnesota-based reporters and others) about Nick Punto and his notorious insistence that his dives into first base got him there faster than running through the base. Including from the former Twins infielder himself:

I've referred here to "Nick Punto's fantasies of physics," and of course the cliche argument against diving into first that "you don't see Olympic sprinters diving across the finish line." Well, now we have. And it worked.

One big difference: Miller's goal was a vertical plane; Punto's was an object on the ground. Miller didn't hit the ground with her knee, chest or hands until after she crossed the finish line; Punto almost always did, and that creates friction, and that slowed him down.

It's still not a good idea, even if a sprinter did it on the biggest stage.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Contemplating Tyler Duffey

I do not understand Tyler Duffey, or at least his 2016 pitching. His season, to steal from Winston Churchill, is  a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.

His ERA is 5.71, which is terrible and still a half-run lower than it was on Aug. 7, but his FIP -- Fielding Independent Pitching, which is intended to account for the vagaries of the fielding prowess behind him -- is more than a run lower.  Right handers are hitting him better than left-handers (9.58 OPS to .738). His walk to strikeout ratio, one of my favored indices of pitching, is actually sharply improved over his 2015 major league figure. He leads the Twins starters in wins (8) but has only six quality starts.)

Duffey is third on the team in starts and innings and will soon pass the departed Ricky Nolasco in those workload figures. Of the four men with more than a dozen starts, he has the fewest walks allowed and the best strikeout rate. And -- killer figure here -- he leads the staff in home runs allowed.

Until this year, Duffey was stingy with homers. In his 58 major league innings last year, he allowed four taters (0.6 per nine innings). In the minors, at all levels and including his three games at Rochester, even better -- 0.5 homers per nine innings. This year in the majors, 19 homers in 108.2 innings, 1.6 homers per nine innings.

I've offered and seen various theories about Duffey's struggles. He's throwing too many changeups. He's throwing too many curves. It's the 2015 innings increase catching up to him. He's too emotional on the mound.

There might be truth to all of that. What is certain: the team's new management will be casting a fresh eye on this pitching staff, and Duffey has to establish if he is a question -- or an answer.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Pic of the Week

Alex Rodriguez, inserted at third base during the ninth
inning during his final game with the Yankees, gathered
a bit of the infield dirt as a memento.

And so the strange and complicated career of Alex Rodriguez is over.


He had an RBI double in four at-bats in what was billed as his final game Friday, which raised his batting average on the year to a woeful .200. As promised (if that's the right word), the Yankees then released him.

While it's safe to say that Rodriguez is done playing for the Yankees, I doubt anybody will be surprised if he signs elsewhere -- assuming that somebody thinks he's worth the major league minimum. I wouldn't think so, but it only takes one.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Contemplating J.T. Chargois

J.T. Chargois was
a college teammate
of Tyler Duffey.
Another short start, another night of bullpen abuse, another roster move to shore up a depleted pitching staff.

Kyle Gibson made it through just five innings Friday. Pat Dean, recalled after the Thursday doubleheader disaster, threw three innings of relief. Dean's outing followed a scoreless inning from J.T. Chargois.

The handling of Chargois the past two days is ... interesting is too bland a description. Infuriating might be a bit strong, but closer to the truth. Potentially counterproductive, that's my critique.

Chargois threw 25 pitches in the first game Thursday, providing 2.2 innings of scoreless relief. He came back for another scoreless inning, just nine pitches, the next day.

To be sure, Paul Molitor was -- and still is -- dealing with a crisis. He got a total of 10 innings from three starters in two days, and somebody had to soak up the innings. Andrew Albers threw six innings in one game Thursday and got DFA'd Friday in return.

Chargois, a prime short relief prospect who has been used gingerly this season -- he didn't pitch at all in 2013-14 -- is not ideal for multi-inning appearances or for back-to-back outings. His managers in both Double A and Triple A avoided doing either, and concern about the possibility of overusing him was supposedly part of why his first big league callup lasted just one appearance. (So was the fact that he got crushed in that outing, giving up five runs in two-thirds of an inning.)

Again, somebody had to pitch, and Chargois was on the roster. But if he gets hurt in these mop-up roles, that would be expensive collateral damage.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Notes, quotes and comment

Thursday was my biweekly appearance on KMSU to talk Twins with Jim Gullickson, and anybody who was aware of what was actually going on at Target Field at that moment -- I wasn't -- must have thought us a bit deranged with our optimism.

Nothing much good happened for the Minnesota team Thursday in either game. Jose Berrios got knocked out after two innings; Buddy Boshers was shelled and put on the disabled list; Tommy Milone, given another start after Wednesday's rainout, only lasted three innings and is to get an MRI on his left shoulder. Eduardo Escobar wound up pitching an inning in the opener, and Andrew Albers, who I never thought I'd see again in a Twins uniform, wore it in the second game:

Just ugly.


Darin Mastroianni, who spent a good chunk of the season on the major league disabled list, was released after the Twins shipped Bryon Buxton back to Rochester earlier this week. Mastroianni's about to turn 31, hasn't hit (or stayed healthy) in his limited major league time and wasn't having a particularly good season in Triple A, so he might be done.

If so, too bad. I never thought him a potential regular, much less a star, but he's probably no worse a player than some reserve outfielders who have found ways to hang onto major league roster spots. What, really, is the difference between Mastroianni and Shane Robinson as players? The breaks went against Mastro.


Today is, theoretically, the final game of Alex Rodriguez's career, although there is no shortage of speculation that A-Rod would rather keep playing than actually do the special advisor gig he and the Yankees announced last week. (He's gonna get his money either way.)

Apparently Buster Olney of ESPN has named the Twins as a potential landing place for Rodriguez. I can't see it. The Twins have more than enough corner infield/DH types on their roster -- Joe Mauer, Miguel Sano, Trevor Plouffe, Kennys Vargas, plus Byung Ho Park in Rochester. Giving a roster spot to A-Rod, much less at-bats, would be foolish.

If Rodriguez does keep playing, Miami is a more likely option. Owner Jeffrey Loria is notably foolish, and he has a Yankee fetish that apparently must be appeased regularly (these are probably connected). Plus Miami is Rodriguez's hometown.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

May's back is back

Trevor May came off
the DL on July 5 and
had a 2.87 ERA since.
The Twins put Trevor May on the disabled list Wednesday morning with a repeat of his back problems.

This is the third time May has been sidelined by back issues since the Twins put him in the bullpen after the All-Star break last season. As one who has dealt with a herniated disc for some 18 years I'm a bit wary of concluding that May's bullpen assignment is responsible for the back problems, but the possible connection can't be overlooked.

But reinstalling May as a starter once this flareup is resolved isn't all that simple. Part of the reason he went to the bullpen, after all, is that the Twins had a bunch of other starters with contracts or potential. The departure of Ricky Nolasco didn't clear any room, because Hector Santiago took his place.

The Twins rotation now has Ervin Santana, Jose Berrios, Kyle Gibson, Tyler Duffey and Santiago, none of whom is a free-agent to be. Phil Hughes is expected back next year as well, and there's Tommy Milone as well.

May makes eight potential starters for the next general manager to sort through, and there is limited roster flexibility involved. Pitching surpluses have a way of becoming pitching shortages, of course -- two of these eight are on the disabled list right now, obviously -- but what I thought obvious last offseason remains true today: Somebody's got to go.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Contemplating Prince Fielder

Prince Fielder and the Texas Rangers are expected to
announce today that doctors will not clear him to return to
playing baseball in the wake of a second cervical fusion.
The MLB Network promo proved accurate: Prince Fielder tells Harold Reynolds it's time to say good bye.

In the promo, it means the rotund slugger is about to hit a home run. Today, it means he's going to end his career for medical reasons.

Fielder, 32, underwent a second cervical fusion in his neck late last month, and today he and the Texas Rangers are to announce that the medicos will not OK his return to playing baseball.

He's had a miserable season: .212/.292/.334 with eight homers as the Rangers designated hitter before bowing to the neck miseries. The eight homers, oddly, pulled him exactly even with his father Cecil Fielder in career homers, 318.

(As somebody retweeted into my timeline Tuesday: Big deal. I hit exactly as many homers as my dad too.)

Fielder is in the fifth year of the nine-year contract he signed with the Detroit Tigers, and he'll get his money: $24 million a year in 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020, $18 million of it from the Rangers and $6 million from the Tigers. I begrudge him none of it. Before his neck issues emerged, he was a durable, productive hitter.

I did wonder as the 2011 offseason approached which free-agent-to-be was the better bet for a megacontract, Fielder or Albert Pujols. Fielder was younger, Pujols in better shape. As it turned out, the answer was neither.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Jorge Polanco, shortstop

Hip, hip, Jorge: Polanco makes a play
in the sixth inning Monday night.
Jorge Polanco played shortstop Monday night and played it quite well.

OK, but how many games has Molitor seen Polanco play at short? Yeah, Molitor was a roving instructor in the organization for years, but he wasn't going to Rochester or Chattanooga or Fort Myers in 2015 or 2014, when Polanco was primarily playing shortstop. In 2013 he split time between short and second. This year Polanco has played zero shortstop in Rochester and three games at short with the Twins. Now, Molitor has likely seen video, and he's seen quite a bit of Polanco in spring training.

The rap on Polanco as a shortstop has been arm strength. Errors are, as I've said about other players (Miguel Sano), are a blunt tool for measuring defense, but Polanco had 30 of them last year playing short at three levels (Double A Chattanooga, Triple A Rochester and the Twins) and 35 in 2014. Those numbers wouldn't have raised eyebrows a half century ago, but they won't work for a shortstop today.

Polanco on Monday made strong throws on balls hit to his glove side and on balls he had to charge. He did not have to make a play going to his right, the hole between third and short. That's the test for a shortstop's arm, the long throw after fielding a ball going away from the target.

I've not had any concerns about Polanco as a hitter. Monday's game, strong as it was, does not convince me that he's a major league quality shortstop.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Three tangents on A-Rod

I wrote either too much or not enough about Alex Rodriguez for the Monday print column. If you want more on the subject from me, you're in luck; if not, well, it's my blog and you can't stop me.


Few teams have boasted the top-level talent of the Seattle Mariners in the 1990s. Ken Griffey Jr. was a Gold Glove center fielder who hit more than 600 homers. Alex Rodriguez was a Gold Glove shortstop who hit more than 600 homers. Randy Johnson, left-handed pitcher, won more than 300 games and struck out almost 5,000 hitters. There's a decent argument to be made for each as the greatest player ever at their position. (I'll even accept it for Johnson).

And backing them up were some other pretty darn good players. Edgar Martinez has a legit Cooperstown case. Jamie Moyer won 270 games himself. Jay Buhner was a quality right fielder. Dan Wilson (former Gopher) was a solid receiver.

And what did the M's accomplish with this terrific talent? Not much.

They had the misfortune to be in the same league as the Derek Jeter dynasty Yankees, a team that was deeper than the M's and not much behind them in front-line talent. Griffey and Johnson forced trades as they neared free agency, and Rodriguez fled for bigger money as soon as he could. And after those three were gone, the Mariners had their best season, when the rookie Ichiro Suzuki arrived from Japan and the M's won 116 games -- and got beat by the Yanks in the playoffs.

Twins fans beef about Ron Gardenhire's inability to navigate his team past the Yanks in the postseason in the 2000s, and to be sure, Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and Johan Santana were a pretty salty trio on which to base a roster. But Gardy's Twins were not more disappointing than Lou Piniella's Mariners.


Somebody dubbed them "the Trinity" -- three glorious shortstops who hit the American League pretty much simultaneously in the mid 1990s. A-Rod. Jeter. Nomar Garciaparra. Miguel Tejada broke in about the same time too, but without the hype and expectations. Sprinkle in the veteran Omar Vizquel, and the American League had five Cooperstown-level shortstops jostling each other for All-Star berths for about a decade.

My guess is that at most three of those five will actually get into the Hall, and maybe only one. Jeter, obviously. Vizquel, the least of the five as a hitter, has a chance to be seen by the electorate as the equivalent of the enshrined Luis Aparicio. Rodriguez and Tejada have the steroid taint on their resumes, and they will need a more forgiving electorate (which may be coming) to get in. And Garciaparras body started to betray him in his late 20s; he was finished as a regular in his mid 30s.

We have a somewhat similar wave of shortstop talent hitting the majors today: Xander Bogearts, Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor, Addison Russell, Corey Seager. Appreciate them. From my perch today, it seems so recent that A-Rod and Jeter had their futures ahead of them.


World War II ended in 1945. From that time until 1974, when Robin Yount debuted, only two shortstops destined for Cooperstown broke in: Ernie Banks and Aparicio. That's almost 30 years.

Draw up a list of the all-time great shortstops, and you might be startled at the recentness of the list.

It starts, of course, with somebody whose peak was more than a century ago: Honus Wagner. But for my tastes -- and your opinion may differ -- most of the rest of the top 10 are guys I saw play: Jeter and A-Rod, Yount and Cal Ripken, Barry Larkin and Alan Trammell and Ozzie Smith. (Trammell's not in the Hall, but he ought to be.) You can line them up however you want and sprinkle in the likes of Joe Cronin, Banks, Arky Vaughn and Luke Appling as you prefer, but those seven are there.

I've listed 13 "shortstops" in this segment. But Yount spent almost half his career in the outfield, Banks actually played more games at first base than at short and Rodriguez, as noted in the print column, has almost as many games at third base as at shortstop. Ripken ended his career at third; Wagner, oddly, didn't become a regular shortstop until he was 29. The top-flight guys who actually spent their careers at shortstop are pretty darn rare.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Pic of the Week

Representing the Seattle Mariners in a pregame ceremony
honoring the retiring David Ortiz were fellow Dominicans
Nelson Cruz, Felix Hernandez and Robinson Cano.
David Ortiz, as we know, is not merely playing one final season this year, but collecting loot from opposing teams as parting gifts.

The Mariners this week gave him some things that made sense -- his first professional contract, signed as David Arias. Thirty-four pounds of salmon (34 for his uniform number, and salmon because, you know, Seattle).

But the Flavor Flav homage ... I don't get it myself. 

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Revisiting the 2001 draft

Mark Teixeira doubled Friday, hours after announcing
that he would retire after this season,
Mark Teixeira said Friday that this will be his last season. Inasmuch as he's 36, in the last year of his contract and was hitting .198/.287/.340 when he made this announcement, he's basically saying to the game, you can't fire me, I quit.

Which is not to denigrate his career. Man hit 404 homers, led the league in different years in homers, runs, RBIs, and total bases, won five Gold Gloves ... yeah, he could play a bit. He's got a Hall of Fame case, but I won't argue for him while Jeff Bagwell is still on the outside.

He was the fifth overall pick in 2001's draft, which was, of course, the year Joe Mauer went No. 1 overall. (Teixeira was taken out of college, which is why he's three years older than Mauer.) Teixeira's pending retirement will leave Mauer and Gavin Floyd as first round picks still playing from that draft. Floyd, now with the Blue Jays, is on the 60-day disabled list after suffering a torn lat, which just adds to a long list of injuries for the veteran in recent years.

But really, the list of 2001 first rounders is kinda daunting. Mauer and Teixeira were stars. Floyd had a good run in the White Sox rotation. Mark Prior had one big year. Casey Kotchman, Chris Burke, Jeremy Bonderman, Jason Bulger, Aaron Heilmann, Greg Gross, Mike Fontenot, Bobby Crosby -- they put in a few years as rotation pieces, marginal regulars, bullpen arms. And the rest, more than half the first round, didn't do much of anything. Dewon Brazelton? Josh Karp? Macay McBride?

Go a bit deeper into the draft and you find a few familar names scattred among the never-weres: David Wright (supplemental first round). J.J. Hardy (second round). And, in the fourth round, Ricky Nolasco.

Yes, Nolasco came out of the same draft class as Mauer and Teixeira. He's going to outlast Teixeira. And almost everybody else in that draft, for that matter.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Steps forward, steps back

There was a lot of talk in my timeline about Paul Molitor's pregame statement that Miguel Sano might get shipped back to Rochester when Trevor Plouffe comes off the disabled list in a couple of days.

I'm agnostic on the topic. I'm not close enough to the situation to know if Sano is complacent about his flaws, if he's struggling with his confidence in the field, if his weight is up, if the cultural differences between player and management have created a perception gap.

I do know that Sano's defense at third base while Plouffe's been on the shelf has been atrocious. Sano was charged with another error Thursday; that makes 12 in 20 games, and while there was some grousing about that specific scoring call, there have been other unmade plays that went as hits.

Whether a couple weeks in Triple A will do anything to improve this is debatable, of course. I have said repeatedly that Sano is unlikely to ever be a truly good fielder at any position. Which shouldn't stop the Twins from prodding him to make the effort.

Plouffe gives the Twins three players looking for playing time at third base -- Sano, Plouffe, Jorge Polanco. Which leads to another thing I know: That's too many. At least one of them has to go somewhere. The ultimate solution has to be a Plouffe trade, but his injury pretty much wiped out the chance of a deadline deal last month, and it's difficult (but not impossible) to get value in a waiver-period move. Moving him may have to wait until the winter -- and the new front office.

If Sano is demoted next week, that doesn't automatically mean the Twins are mishandling the situation. It certainly won't mean the Twins are giving up on him, a notion I've seen implied. Progress is seldom a straight line and a steady advance.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

An Olympic sport (again)

With the Summer Games about to begin, the International Olympic Committee on Wednesday announced that baseball and softball were returning to the list of medal sports with the Toyko Games in 2020 after a two-Olympiad absence.

I am not enthused by this, at least the baseball part of it. The one plus, I suppose, is that Japan has plenty of baseball infrastructure already in place; having baseball in the Olympics won't mean building a baseball field that will then be left to rot, as in Athens.

One reason the IOC dropped baseball to begin with is that the best players weren't coming to the games. That's not about to change. Unlike the NHL and WNBA, major league baseball doesn't need to piggyback on the Olympics to sell its game to the American masses. MLB isn't going to shut down for three weeks for the Olympics.

I suspect -- or expect -- that the reinstatement of baseball/softball is a one-time thing that has more to do with the host country than anything else. Japan loves baseball as much as Americans do. If the 2024 games are in a U.S. city, the chances of the Olympics keeping the sports are higher; if they are in, let us say, Paris, much less so.

Which is as it should be. The Olympics has been defined as "sports packaged for the non-sports audience." Baseball doesn't need the Olympics.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Ex-Twins watch: Francisco Liriano

Francisco Liriano delivers a pitch in what proved to be
his final start for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
One of the many deadline deals on Monday saw Francisco Liriano shipped from Pittsburgh to Toronto -- back to the American League for the guy Minnesotans knew as "Frankie Franchise" a decade ago.

It's been a rough season for the lefty, who seemingly found a home in Pittsburgh after years on inconsistency in the AL with the Twins and (briefly) White Sox. In 2013-15, Liriano put up a 3.26 ERA for the Pirates while going a combined 35-25, and his underlying statistics said he was actually pitching to that level.

This year: 5-11, 5.46 and leading the majors in walks allowed.

The Pirates even included two of their top 10 prospects in the deal, which returned Drew Hutchison -- who, yes, won 13 games last year for the Blue Jays but had an ERA of 5.57 and had all of 12.2 major league innings this year.

All of which suggests that the Pirates didn't think they could easily fix whatever is going wrong with Liriano and wanted out of the remaining year-plus of his contract -- and that there wasn't much of a market for him.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Deadline doings

It was, at the very least, a notable trade deadline day for the Twins.

On the field, they pummeled Cleveland, with Max Kepler hitting three homers, Jorge Polanco a pair of triples, Joe Mauer getting four hits and scoring four runs and Jose Berrios, after a rocky first inning, getting a quality start. Heck, Eddie Rosario even drew a walk.

And before the team took the field in Cleveland, interim general manager Rob Antony made a pair of trades.

Trade One: Fernando Abad to Boston for minor league pitcher Pat Light.

The stuff I said in Monday's post about Brandon Kintzler essentially applies to Abad, except that

  • Abad doesn't have the saves
  • Abad is left-handed

They're both 30, were signed to minor league deals, and have better ERAs this year than their underlying stats would suggest. Kintzler remains, but the Twins cashed in Abad for a power-arm prospect in Light, who they drafted out of high school in 2009 but didn't sign.

Light, 25, is said to reach 100 mph at times, but his control is indifferent at best -- 17 walks in 31 innings at Triple A Pawtucket this year, which is better than last year's 26 walks in 33 innings at the same level. He's strictly a relief arm.

The Twins don't have a good track record developing this type of pitcher, not that anybody has a magic touch with them. Light might turn into a late-inning guy, or he might wash out. At least he has two option years left, so there's time.

Trade Two: Ricky Nolasco, Alex Meyer and money to Anaheim for lefty Hector Santiago and minor league pitcher Alan Busenitz.

Give Antony credit: he found a way to unload Nolasco's contract and add a viable major league starter in Santiago.

It did cost the Twins Meyer, but at this point that doesn't look like a terrible loss. Meyer has missed most of the season with arm issues, and even before his shoulder started barking at him, the Twins didn't seem to know if he was still a starting candidate or destined for the bullpen. A power arm with indifferent control -- see Pat Light, above.

The LA Times story on this trade says Meyer, despite his issues, becomes the Angels' top prospect -- which is quite the indictment of that farm system. Meyer's been highly ranked in the past, but I doubt anybody would have had him among the Twins's top 10 prospects any more.

Which is why Busenitz is just a name to be aware of. Yes, he's reached Triple A for the Angels; yes, he too throws hard; yes, the Twins exchanged a minor league pitcher who as burned at least two options for one not yet on the 40-man roster. These are all pluses. The Twins have plenty of these guys around, and we'll see if he emerges.

Santiago is a 28-year-old lefty who made the All-Star team last year (seriously) and has a 3.68 career ERA in 105 major league starts. Last year he led the league in homers allowed (29) and this year he leads in walks allowed (57), neither of which is a positive. He also strikes out eight men per nine innings, a rate that's been pretty consistent over four years in major league rotations, and he's got another year of team control.

No question: You'd rather have Santiago than Nolasco. The Angels made the deal with the hopes that they can find the major league pitcher in Meyer that the Twins could not.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Contemplating Brandon Kintzler

Brandon Kintzler has
passed the released
Kevin Jepsen for the
team lead in saves.
Brandon Kintzler blew his first save op of the season Saturday, which was also the third straight game in which he pitched. Ryan Pressly got the save Sunday.

There are other internet know-it-alls who say the Twins should trade Kintzler today. This internet know-it-all won't go that far, because I don't know what the market is for him. The case for peddling him can also be the case for other teams to avoid picking him up.

Let's examine the case for moving -- and retaining -- the Twins' surprise closer.

Trade him 

The Twins don't have much invested in him; he was a minor league free agent. While he has converted eight of his nine save opportunities and sports a 2.14 ERA, his underlying numbers aren't that impressive: only 5.6 strikeouts per nine innings and a FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) of 3.79, suggesting that his ERA strongly overstates his effectiveness.

Keep him

He's clearly the reliever Paul Molitor most trusts. While Kintzler's not missing bats, he's also not walking hitters either; he's struck out seven hitters for every walk issued. And he's still under team control for next year, so even if Glen Perkins reclaims the glory job next spring or one of the young power arms emerges, he can be a piece of the future bullpen.


The "sell high" notion really only applies if at least one buyer puts a great deal of importance on the save stat in evaluating relief pitchers. I believe that while saves matter to managers, general managers today aren't getting wound up in that number. And even those who are inclined to think there's something different and magical about getting ninth-inning outs aren't likely to overpay for a guy with eight saves in his career.

I won't be disappointed if Rob Antony keeps Kintzler, and I won't be riled if Antony trades him for a prospect. I certainly don't think Kintzler should be given away, and I don't think he will be.