Saturday, December 31, 2016

My mythical Hall of Fame ballot

You know this already, but I'll repeat it anyway: I don't have a vote for the Hall of Fame. Vin Scully and Bill James don't either, so I'm in pretty good company.

But that doesn't preclude me from looking at the writers ballot and asking myself: Who would I vote for? And it certainly doesn't preclude me from telling you who I would vote for.

The writers are limited to voting for a maximum of 10, and there are a lot more than 10 deserving names on the ballot. My 10 would be, in alphabetical order:

  • Jeff Bagwell
  • Barry Bonds
  • Roger Clemens
  • Vladimir Guerrero
  • Jeff Kent
  • Mike Mussina
  • Jorge Posada
  • Tim Raines
  • Ivan Rodriguez
  • Larry Walker

Four candidates I  supported last year aren't on the ballot this time -- two who were elected (Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Piazza), one who ran out of time (Alan Trammell) and a fourth who didn't get enough support to stick (Jim Edmonds). And I created a fifth slot by dropping Curt Schilling in a futile protest of his "joking" support of lynchings.

I've added newcomers Ivan Rodriguez, Jorge Posada and Vladimir Guerrero, plus holdovers Larry Walker and Jeff Kent.

Walker and Kent are the marginal guys on this ballot; they get my nod over Edgar Martinez, but not by a lot, and I could if I tried (and I might try if it mattered) talk myself back into Schilling over any of the three.

I can't talk myself into supporting Trevor Hoffman, even though he appears to have an excellent chance of getting in this year. Hoffman's candidacy -- like that of Lee Smith -- is based largely on his imposing pile of saves, a stat of dubious value. It's difficult to rationalize voting for one of those two and not the other -- and even more difficult to support either over Billy Wagner, yet another one-inning closer. I say leave 'em all out.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Hall of Fame thoughts: Catchers (Jason Varitek)

Two posts on catchers on the Hall of Fame ballot; one on former Twins on the ballot. And now, one on a third catcher on the ballot who could -- should -- have been a Twin: Jason Varitek.

The Twins had back-to-back picks in the first round of the 1993 draft, picks number 20 and 21. With the first of the two picks -- which came from Cincinnati, which had signed free agent John Smiley -- the Twins selected Torii Hunter. We know how well that turned out.

With the second pick, the Twins chose Varitek, then a junior at Georgia Tech. Varitek was "advised" by Scott Boras, and he wound up returning to school for his senior year. The next year, Varitek was drafted by Seattle, which traded him to Boston three years later in one of those "what-were-they-thinking" trades that echo down the years: Varitek and Derek Lowe for Heathcliff Slocumb. Either Varitek or Lowe for Slocumb would have been a steal; both was simply ridiculous.

Varitek made his major league debut later in 1997 (one at-bat); he shared the catching chores in 1998 with Scott Hatteberg and became Boston's No. 1 catcher the following season. He never played a major league game for any team other than the Red Sox, and it's not easy today to imagine him in any other uniform. But it could have been otherwise.

Another catcher broke in in 1998: A.J. Pierzynski. He didn't really emerge as the Twins No. 1 catcher until 2001, however. Imagine an alternative universe in which Varitek/Boras and the Twins agreed to a deal back in 1993 and that Varitek's timeline to the majors was unaltered. What, then, happens to Pierzynski's career? There's a story that at the end of the 2001 season Tom Kelly told Pierzynski that he had never believed that Pierzynski would be a major league catcher but that A.J. had proven him wrong. It's possible that, had Varitek signed with the Twins, Pierzynski would have been blocked from the career he wound up having.

And if that happens, the Twins and Giants never get to make their "what-were-they-thinking" trade of Pierzynski for Joe Nathan, Francisco Liriano and Boof Bonser. (Or maybe it gets made with Varitek instead of Pierzynski. The Twins were bound to make room for Joe Mauer at that point.)

Baseball Reference credits Pierzynski and Varitek with pretty close to the same career WAR: 23.3 for Pierzynski, 24.3 for Varitek, with Pierzynski's totals being dragged down in recent season. Neither is to be found in the other's similiarity score list, however, and Pierzynski's comps are in fact more impressive than Varitek's, with two Hall of Fame catchers prominent (Ernie Lombardi and Gabby Hartnett). It's an interesting question in retrospect: Which catcher would you rather have, Varitek or Pierzynski?

Failing to sign a first-round pick is not a recommended strategy for team building. But failing to sign Varitek worked out OK for the Twins -- and, obviously, for Varitek. Varitek will be one-and-done on this ballot. But he had a fine career.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Hall of Fame thoughts: Ex-Twins on the ballot

There are two names on the writers ballot this year who played briefly for the Twins, and both will assuredly be one-and-done.

There's no shame in that; just getting onto the Hall of Fame ballot signals an impressive career. It requires a minimum of 10 seasons in the majors, for one thing, and even that longevity is not enough by itself.

The former Twins on the ballot this year:

Casey Blake. It 's easy to forget (or to have never noticed) that Blake played for the Twins. Indeed, he had two separate tenures with Minnesota.

He debuted with the Toronto Blue Jays in 1999, then the Twins picked him up on waivers. He got 21 plate appearances with the Twins in 2000 and another 25 in 2001 before the Twins waived him in September. The Baltimore Orioles claimed him and played him in six games, then waived him themselves after the season -- and the Twins claimed him back. He got another 22 PAs with the Twins in 2002.

The Twins then released him. He was 29 and had gotten exactly 125 major league plate appearances. He was blocked in Minnesota by Corey Koskie, but two other organizations had found him wanting. This is the description of a Quadruple A player, a guy who probably needs to find something else to do with his life.

Blake signed with Cleveland, and his career turned around. Over the next eight seasons he averaged more than 20 homers a year, splitting time between third base, right field and first base, playing in three postseasons. He never led the league in anything, never made an All-Star team, but he was a solid regular for both the Indians and the Dodgers. (The Indians traded him for Carlos Santana, so he still has an impact on the Tribe.)

Orlando Cabrera. His career is essentially in two segments: The Montreal years, eight seasons with the Expos, and the nomadic years, in which he wandered from playoff team to playoff team, a short-term shortstop.

He was the shortstop for Boston when the Red Sox broke the curse. He stepped in for the 2009 Twins, hitting over .280 down the stretch and bopping a key homer in the famous Game 163. He never made the postseason with the Expos, but he was in the playoffs six of seven years after leaving Canada. I wouldn't say those teams won because of O-Cab; I would say that he didn't keep them from winning.

Like Blake, he never made an All-Star team, but he did win a pair of Gold Gloves. He was never the best shortstop in the league, but he was a good one and stuck at the position well into his 30s.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Hall of Fame thoughts: Catchers (Ivan Rodriguez)

Jorge Posada, subject of Tuesday's post, isn't the only catcher debuting on the writers ballot this year. He isn't even the best catcher debuting on the writers ballot.

That distinction belongs to Ivan (Pudge) Rodriguez, a genuine challenger to Johnny Bench and Yogi Berra as the greatest backstop in major league history.

By the numbers, by his career accomplishments, Rodriguez deserves first-ballot entry, even by the reluctant-to-honor-catchers standards of the BBWAA. He has a rare set of credentials for a catcher: a brilliant peak and longevity, both an outstanding hitter and a gifted defensive catcher.

But ... steroids.

Rodriguez never tested positive, never was suspended. He was named by Jose Canseco as a fellow 'roider, and he did drop a lot of weight when testing began, the kind of circumstantial evidence that delayed Mike Piazza's election and has held back Jeff Bagwell.

My basic stance on this: I draw a line at the beginning of testing. Before that, performance-enhancing drugs were officially illegal, but nobody bothered trying to enforce that ban. If anything, the culture of the sport -- nurtured, no matter what they say now, by the likes of Bud Selig and Tony LaRussa --  encouraged players to do whatever they could to improve.

If Pudge was using in, say, 2003 and quit when the game got serious about changing the culture, that's fine by me.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Hall of Fame thoughts: catchers (Jorge Posada)

The great Joe Posnanski recently pointed out, in writing about the presence of Jorge Posada for the first time on the writers' ballot, something I was vaguely aware of but had not really put together in my brain:

Six catchers -- only six -- whose careers began after World War II have been elected to the Hall of Fame by the writers. They are, more or less chronologically, Yogi Berra, Roy Campanella, Johnny Bench, Carlton Fisk, Gary Carter and Mike Piazza. Only one of those six (Bench) went in on the first ballot.

The writers have been stricter on catchers, Pos postulates, than on other players of other positions. I think he's right. I think the writers have, for generations, applied the offensive standards they use for outfielders in weighing the candidacies of catchers, while still demanding the higher level of defense from catchers that they do for middle infielders.

Heck, Ted Simmons was a better hitter in his prime years than Jim Rice or Tony Perez. But Simba caught, while Rice pretended to be a left fielder and Perez butchered third base before moving to first, and the position beat the brilliance out of Simmons. He was essentially done -- as is the case with almost all outstanding hitting catchers -- by age 30.

Catchers don't rack up the numbers that outfielders and first basemen do. They can't. It's not physically possible.

Posada played 17 years with the Yankees, but two of them at the start were cuppa coffee and another seven were two-thirds time at best. That cuts him down to nine seasons as the clear primary catcher. He was the best hitting catcher in the league for a few years, until Joe Mauer arrived, and then he was the second best hitting catcher in the league for a few years. He was never a stellar defensive backstop, but his teams sure as hell won a lot anyway. His highest finish in the MVP voting was 2003 (third behind Alex Rodriguez and Carlos Delgado); I remember thinking at the time that I would have voted for Posada. 

Had I a Hall of Fame vote, Posada would get one. Simmons would have too, easily, and Bill Freehan. Posnanski says Posada falls outside the established parameters for Cooperstown catchers, that he's closer to Simmons than to Piazza, and I agree on that. If Simmons doesn't belong, Posada doesn't either. But I think those standards are overly strict.

Monday, December 26, 2016

A thought on pitch framing

Jeff Sullivan, Hardball Times, on pitch framing:

Every team now wants good-receiving catchers. Every team, additionally, wants to develop more good-receiving catchers. The market is going to end up flooded with good-receiving catchers. By then we’ll no longer recognize them as good-receiving catchers. Pitch-framing is sufficiently important that baseball teams will prioritize it right into insignificance.

Sullivan's essential point: Now that it is possible to quantify pitch framing -- now that we can measure it -- and now that every front office takes analytics seriously, there will be less of a gap between the best and the worst.

The Twins are late to this party, but they are trying to make up for lost time. Sullivan's piece uses Ryan Doumit as its example of a terrible pitch-framer; the Twins embraced Doumit as a catcher for 2-plus seasons. Sullivan also includes a chart of the ten best and ten worst pitch framers of 2016. Jason Castro, the Twins new No. 1 catcher, is on the nice list, and Juan Centero, departed backup, is on the naughty list.

This conversion is part of what Sullivan is talking about. The Twins organization wasn't necessarily opposed to good-receiving catchers, but it wasn't a priority. Now they have prioritized that skill, and one more of the 30 organizations has jumped on the bandwagon.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

The Sunday Funnies

Merry Christmas ... and Happy Birthday to the great Rickey Henderson, a staple figure in these stories.

In the last week of his lone season with the Red Sox, Chairman Tom Werner asked Henderson what he would like for his ‘going-away’ gift. Henderson said he wasn’t going anywhere, but he would like owner John Henry’s Mercedes. Werner said it would be tough to get the same make and model in less than a week and Henderson said, “No, I want his car.”

The Sox got Henderson a Red Thunderbird and when he saw it on the field before the last game of the season, Rickey said, “Whose ugly car is on the field?”

Saturday, December 24, 2016

The "Holiday League"

In recent years my Christmas post has linked to Baseball Reference's ficitional pages about Rudolph the Red-Nosed Shortstop and his buddies in the fantasy Holiday League.

This year's offering from Hartwell Studio Works: The logos of the seven teams in the Holiday League and a bit of news about each. Just click on the logo.

Seven is an awkward number for a league, but once you've brought into a 5-foot-3, 375 pound shortstop with a bright red nose, anything is believeable.

The actual Christmas post, of course, will be The Sunday Funnies. So let me wish you a happy holidays on this Christmas Eve.

Friday, December 23, 2016

"Cheap" sluggers

The big news Thursday night was Edwin Encarnacion agreeing to a deal with the Cleveland Indans, reportedly three years, $60 million plus a club option.

That sounds like pretty good coin for a guy of limited defensive value who's about to turn 34, but it's probably not close to what he was anticipating. The baseball marketplace this year appears glutted with right-handed sluggers. Chris Carter tied for the NL lead in homers; he got cut loose and remains a free agent. Mark Trumbo led all of baseball in homers (47); he's still unsigned. And remember, the Orioles only had to give up a backup catcher to get him last winter. Encarnacion essentially replaces Mike Napoli (34 homers) with Cleveland; Napoli is a free agent.

Encarnacion is better (but older) than Carter or Trumbo; he's better (and slightly younger) than Napoli too. But they are all the same kind of player, and that has served to depress the market for any one of them.

Meanwhile, the Twins appear to be stockpiling first base/DH types of a less-established level:

I would expect one of those first two to be in Minnesota sharing the first base/DH roles with Joe Mauer, but even so, that's more 1B/DHs than a Triple A team really needs. And it's not like there's going to be any sort of trade value to the surplus. If guys like Napoli and Trumbo are jobless at Christmas time, there isn't going to be a line of teams looking to surrender something for someone like Vargas.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

The coaching overflow

The Twins on Wednesday filled their coaching staff to overflowing. They named not only Jeff Pickler, whose selection had been leaked Tuesday, but Jeff Smith, who has been managing in the Twins farm system for a dozen years, most recently at High A Fort Myers.

There being a maximum of seven uniformed coaches -- a designation rooted, as I observed in the Wednesday post, in the fact that coaches and managers get credited with time in the player pension fund -- assistant hitting coach Rudy Hernandez becomes a non-uniformed coach.

I had commented a while back about Smith in the context of his reported candidacy for the head coaching job at his alma mater, Stetson. Steve Trimper, who had been the head coach at Maine, got the job Saturday; Smith, according to a Mike Berardino tweet a day or two earlier, had taken himself out of consideration for the position. At the time I figured that meant Smith knew he wasn't getting the Stetson job; now I figure that he had been assured that he was going to be on the major league staff.

Smith will be the first base coach during games. He will also supplant bench coach Joe Vavra as the catching instructor and the departed Butch Davis as baserunning instructor, Smith, unlike Vavra, is a former catcher, so at least theoretically he's a better fit for that role. Pickler's portfolio will include outfield instruction -- another Davis assignment  -- as well as the "analytics liaison" role that had been reported.

Berardino's story on the hires implies, by the way, that Pickler is eager to downplay the analytics stuff, at least for public consumption. Again, I may be reading too much into that, but I think that's connected to the jock-vs-egghead dynamic. Pickler has an extensive playing resume, all in the minors, which gives him more cred inside the clubhouse than would someone like me.

I'm old enough, as mentioned previously, to remember the days when Calvin Griffith pinched his pennies by having a slender three-man coaching staff. I think it was Derek Falvey who spoke earlier this offseason about adding resources; having, in effect, a eight-man coaching staff is a fairly visible example of that.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

On coaching roles

Tuesday's news involving the Minnesota Twins:

The Twins have not announced his hire, and I assume that's in part because they want to iron out their reshuffle of responsibilities before they do so. The remaining vacancy on the coaching staff is/was Butch Davis' job as outfield instructor/first base coach, but the intent appears to be for Pickler to be focused on putting the analytic advice from the front office into use on the field.

Somebody (my guess is Joe Vavra) will be "first base coach," but that in-game chore -- which often appears to be limited to yelling "back back back" on pickoff throws and gathering paraphernalia from hitters-turned-baserunners -- will be a slender portion of his duties.

Major league coaching jobs appear much more structured than in my early days of fandom. One of the running themes of "Ball Four," Jim Bouton's diary of the 1969 season, is the basic uselessness of coaches, who he depicts as protectors of baseball and enforcers (or inventors) of petty rules, hired as favors.

Jim Brosnan's earlier books, set about a decade earlier, is less explicit on the theme, but in "The Long Season" he implies that at least two of the Cardinals coaches have as their top priority jockeying to become the next manager and hints at the same for one of the Reds coaches, and "Pennant Chase" echoes an explicit Bouton critique a decade later of longtime pitching coach Jim Turner -- he was good at attaching himself to a pitcher who is succeeding and ignored those were struggling.

There is no "bullpen coach" in the Brosnan books. In the first, the pitching coaches (he had three on two teams) spend the games in the bullpen. In the second, Turner is in the dugout and Brosnan, as "captain of the bullpen," is basically responsible for making sure the phone gets answered. There is in Ball Four, at least on the Pilots, and it's pretty obvious that Bouton wished there wasn't.

The 1974 Twins had three coaches (Vern Morgan, Buck Rodgers and Ralph Rowe). Current major league teams are allowed seven in uniform during games, a designation I suspect exists largely becaused uniformed personnell acquire time in the players pension plan. The increase in coaches is partly financial (teams can afford more) and partly because the game has evolved to actually put them to work. It's not enough now to be the manager's drinking buddy, although I doubt that aspect has gone away completely,

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Castro vs. Centeno

Here's a curiosity:

The Twins, of course, signed Jason Castro, who had been Houston's No. 1 catcher, in large part because of his defensive skills -- pitch framing in particular. And now Centeno, whose pitch framing is suspect at best, has landed with the Astros.

It's not an even exchange, of course. Castro isn't replacing Centeno on the Twins roster so much as he's replacing Kurt Suzuki (who, by the way, remains a free agent). Centeno isn't replacing Castro in the Astro's plans, either; he may be more likely to be what he was when the Twins signed him last winter -- a catcher for the high minors who would be available if something goes wrong with the big club.

Still, it's at least slightly ironic, this "exchange" of left-hand-hitting catchers with different strengths.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Oh, Shuck

The Twins have signed outfielder J.B. Shuck, veteran of four major league teams over five seasons, to a minor league deal.

The left-handed batter is not much of a hitter, and is regarded as stretched defensively in center field. He's certainly not threat to become a regular, and he's flawed even as a fourth outfielder.

I think he's most likely to fill the roster role of Logan Schafer, who got 74 plate appearances with the Twins in August-September after injuries hit the outfield and has since signed a minor-league deal with Baltimore: stashed in Triple A and available if the major league roster deteriorates, Not much to see there.

There is another possibility, of course. As matters stand, the Twins outfield projects to be Eddie Rosario in left, Byron Buxton in center and Max Kepler in right, with Robbie Grossman as a reserve and Rosario and/or Kepler shifting around when Grossman is in the lineup.

Grossman had a fine season at the plate -- his .828 OPS was second on the team among players with more than 330 plate appearances and led all American League left fielders -- but he was awful defensively. It's possible that the new regime will opt to sacrifice some offense to have a fourth outfielder who can help the pitchers get outs.

In that connection, it's worth noting that Derek Falvey and Grossman crossed paths last year in Cleveland, where the Indians declined to bring Grossman up and instead let him go to Minnesota in May. Presumably Grossman's fielding failings had something to do with that.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

The Sunday Funnies

The Brooklyn Dodgers return to Flatbush by train from spring training in the late 1940s, and they are greeted by a mob of fans -- and a live radio announcer who grabs player after player for quick "interviews."

Each is asked how the team will fare in the coming season, and each answers with the expected optimism. This is our year. Going to win the pennant.

"And here's Pistol Pete Reiser," exclaims the radio host as the oft-injured star centerfielder gets off the train. "Pete, where do you think you'll finish the season?"

Reiser replies: "Peck Memorial Hospital."

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Perfect timing

Less than a hour after the snow started on Friday, the annual giant spring training schedule postcard arrived from the Twins.

Given what is forecast in these parts this weekend, nothing could sound nicer.

The exhibition games start sooner than usual (Feb. 24), I assume because of the World Baseball Classic, which returns this year. The Twins have two games on their exhibition schedule against WBC teams -- March 8 against Team USA and March 9 against Team Colombia, both in Fort Myers. Team USA should look like an all-star squad; Colombia, not so much, although they have a couple pretty solid pitchers.

Three years ago, during the last WBC, Eddie Rosario and Jose Berrios were reserves on the Puerto Rican squad. This time around, Berrios is expected to be one of Puerto Rico's starters, and I'd expect Rosario to be an outfield fixture. Indeed, with Hector Santiago and Kennys Vargas, the Twins might provide a sizable portion of the island's roster.


Let the record of this blog show that Rod Carew's actual transplant surgeries began shortly after midnight Friday -- Thursday was the prep work. The surgeries took some 13 hours and were deemed successful. May it be so.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Notes, quotes and comment

Best wishes to Rod Carew, who on Thursday was to receive a double transplant -- heart and kidney.

Visit the Minnesota Twins/Washington Senators "franchise encyclopedia" page  and you'll find that Sir Rodney is second in franchise history (to Walter Johnson) in Wins Above Replacement. This, frankly, surprised me when I first saw it; I would have guessed Harmon Killebrew as the runner up to the Big Train.

(Incidentally, Joe Mauer is likely in 2017 to pass Kirby Puckett for fifth on that list; everybody ahead of Mauer -- Johnson, Carew, Killebrew, Sam Rice and Puckett -- is in the Hall of Fame.)

I assume that Carew's WAR score is enhanced by the fact that he spent the first nine years of his illustrious career playing second base, a premium defensive position. He wasn't a great gloveman, but most managers not named Gene Mauch will overlook a few missed double plays for a .350 hitter.


The Twins on Thursday announced a bunch of minor league free-agent signings:

The only two that ring any bells with me are Tommy Field, an infielder, and Dan Rohlfing, a catcher I commented on the other day. Minor league depth is what these signings are about.


Torii Hunter Jr. announced Thursday that he is giving up football (he's a wide receiver at Notre Dame with a year of eligibility remaining) to pursue baseball full-time with the Angels. He hasn't played a lot of baseball in college, but the Angels drafted him last June in the 23rd round and he signed.

Good luck to him.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

The rotation candidates

The news Wednesday that Tommy Milone signed with the Milwaukee Brewers led me to think about the Twins rotation at this point. (It's mid December. Do you know who your starting pitchers are?)

Let's think of it this way: there are pitchers who will be in the rotation if healthy, pitchers who can pitch their way out of rotation jobs in the spring, and pitchers who will need a break or two (injuries or ineffectiveness of others) to open the season in the rotation.

In the rotation if healthy: Ervin Santana and Phil Hughes. I'll put Hector Santiago in this category as well.

Santana is pretty obvious. Hughes is coming off surgery but has three more years to go on his contract. Santiago was weirdly inconsistent in his 11 starts with the Twins; in his first four starts, marked by an absence of walks, he posted a 10.89 ERA. After that his walks went back up to his usual levels and the ERA went down to 3.19 over his last seven starts. He's not a thrilling rotation candidate, but he did work more than 180 major-league innings last year between two teams and is the one veteran lefty in the rotation mix.

Can pitch their way out of the rotation: Kyle Gibson, Tyler Duffey, Trevor May.

Gibson and Duffey were two major reasons for the Twins 2016 decline from the competence of 2015, and I wouldn't be surprised if Gibson in particular got moved yet this offseason. There's little reason to believe the new "evidence-based" regime will be as optimistic about him as the Terry Ryan-led organization. May's physical issues as a reliever suggest that he'd be better off as a starter, and I hope he gets that opportunity.

Will need a break or two: Jose Berrios, Fernando Mejia, Justin Haley and other invitees.

La Maquina (Berrios) racked up an ERA of 8.02 in 58.1 major league innings last year; he may be the most talented of the nine arms named in this post, but he's got to command the fastball better than he did in 2016. I think he opens in Triple A. Mejia, acquired from the Giants in the Eduardo Nunez trade, probably has a better shot at the opening rotation than Berrios. Haley is the Rule 5 draftee added last week; he's use-or-lose, but he's more likely to stick as a long man/mopup reliever than at the back end of the rotation.

That's nine candidates for five jobs, but I expect it will change between today and spring training.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Notes, quotes and comment

To my knowledge, the Twins have not announced any changes with their minor league managers. But there may be a defection.

Baseball America reported this week that Pete Dunn, veteran coach of Stetson University in Deland, Florida, was retiring a year earlier than planned, citing a troublesome recovery from knee surgery. One of the five finalists for the position is Jeff Smith, a Stetson alum who has managed teams on three different levels of the Twins farm system since 2006. His most recent assignment has been the Fort Myers Miracle of the Florida State League.

Of the current managers of the Twins four-full season minor league clubs -- Mike Quade of Triple A Rochester, Doug Mientkiewicz of Double-A Chattanooga, Smith and Jake Mauer of low-A Cedar Rapids -- Smith strikes me as the least impressive, although my opinion on such things is not worth a whole lot. His won-loss record is actually pretty solid, especially if you toss out what must have been a miserable first year at Double A New Britain (2010), when the RockCats went 44-98.

Whether Smith gets the job at his alma mater or not, it has to be said that Stetson has a great, if obvious, nickname: the Hatters. Of course.


Dan Rohlfing, a catcher-utility man who was for a few years annually one of the last players sent out of spring training for the Twins, is back:

That the Twins needed to add a catcher to the upper levels of their farm system was pretty obvious after Stuart Turner was taken in the Rule 5 draft. I think Juan Centeno is still in the organization after being outrighted earlier in the off season, but I'm pretty sure Carlos Paulino, who bounced between Double-A and Triple A in 2016, is gone.

And that's Rohlfing's role: catching depth in the organization.


Finally, a link to recommend: A Fangraphs group interview with Derek Falvey and Thad Levine. My biggest takeaway: their favorable assessment of the Twins analytics department they inherited. 

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Hazing the rookies

It had been reported in passing, without detail, that the new collective bargaining agreement bars the now-common practice of "rookie dress up day," when the veterans require the rookies to don some sort of embarassing garb for a flight.

On Monday night the AP reported the particulars of that provision:

The policy, obtained by The Associated Press, prohibits "requiring, coercing or encouraging" players from "dressing up as women or wearing costumes that may be offensive to individuals based on their race, sex, nationality, age, sexual orientation, gender identify or other characteristic."

The story notes that it's unclear when this practice began. I know it wasn't mentioned in Jim Bouton's "Ball Four" or in either of Jim Brosnan's superb season diary books, "The Long Season" (about the 1959 season) or "Pennant Race" (1961). Bill Freehan's diary book about 1969, "Behind the Mask," tells of a prank pulled on the Tigers' rookies of enticing them to go to a marina for a team boatride that didn't exist, but nothing like today's dress-up.

But the story tells of Jeff Kent's rebellion in 1992, arguing that he had put up with it the year before and wasn't going to accept it again. So it was happening by the 1990s.

Personally, I find hazing a profoundly silly ritual at best and often damaging. This is true whether it's involving a marching band, a fraternity or a professional sports team. It tends to escalate, and what seems like harmless fun turns over time into something uglier.

I'm sure there are players disappointed that their bullying ritual has been prohibited. I'm also sure there are players relieved by the ban, which is, as the story details, only partial. There are some costumes still permitted.

Monday, December 12, 2016

RIP, Yorman Landa

Yorman Landa,
Yorman Landa was the subject of a few posts here this offseason because he was the subject of some roster manipulation. This is one I'd rather not write.

The Twins nontendered him a bit more than a week ago to make room on the 40-man roster for the Rule 5 draft. Then they re-signed him to a minor league deal.

And then he died. The 22-year-old perished in a car crash in his native Venezuela.

One of my co-workers asked me if Landa would have reached the majors. I don't know. He certainly had the talent -- he was reportedly clocked at 102 mph during the Florida State League all-star game last summer -- but he had had one shoulder surgery and his command/control wasn't as good as it needed to be. The Twins had put him on the 40 to protect him from the Rule 5 draft in 2015, then exposed him to the 2016 draft, and nobody put in a claim.

Still, he was just 22. He had time. Or so we tend to think.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

The Sunday Funnies

Red Faber was one of the 17 grandfathered spitball pitchers whose career survived the banning of doctored pitches; he's one of three of that group to be inducted into the Hall of Fame (along with Stan Covaleski and Burleigh Grimes)

This tale comes from the 1917 World Series. Faber started Game Two for the White Sox, and in the fifth inning found himself at second base with teammate Buck Weaver on third and two out. For no apparent reason, Faber then broke for third. After he slid into the base, Weaver sourly looked down and inquired: "Where the hell do you think you're going?"

"Back to pitch," Faber replied.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

John Glenn and Teddy Ballgame

Two Marine aviators in Korea: John Glenn and Ted Williams.
Consider for a moment how baseball history might have changed without John Glenn, the astronaut, U.S. senator and Marine fighter ace who died Thursday at age 95.

Glenn and Ted Williams were pilots in the same Marine squadron during the Korean War. According to Glenn in this piece on Williams' military service, about half of Williams' missions were flown as Glenn's wingman.

On Feb. 16, 1953, Williams' F-9 Panther jet was heavily hit and on fire. Glenn flew next to Williams and pointed up. They flew high into thinner air, where the lack of oxygen put the fire out. Willaims limped back to base, refused to bail out, skid-landed the jet and dashed away as it caught fire again.

Glenn and Williams remained close.

Williams on Glenn: “John Glenn? Oh … could he fly an airplane. Absolutely fearless. The best I ever saw. It was an honor to fly with him.”

Glenn on Williams:  "We flew together quite a lot and got to know each other very well. Ted was an excellent pilot, and not shy about getting in there and mixing it up. Ted may have batted .400 for the Red Sox, but he hit a thousand as a U.S. Marine."

Friday, December 9, 2016

Winter Meetings: Rule 5

The first trade of the new Twins regime may well prove to be a minor one, but it was, if nothing else, creative almost to the point of bewildering.

And it came with a justification that underlined the difference between Terry Ryan (the former general manager) and "Falvine" (Derek Falvey and Thad Levine, the duo that replaced him at the top of the food chain).

The Twins were involved in a three-way trade of Rule 5 picks in which they emerged with Justin Haley, a right-handed starter who compiled a 13-10, 3.01 mark for the Red Sox Double A and Triple A teams this year.

What was striking in how Levine explained what the Twins like about Haley. He cited spin rates and swing-and-miss percentages, concepts and figures that I doubt were ever uttered by Ryan. Some of what he talked about, such as Haley's ability to induce awkward swings, echoed old-school scouting, but they came with an idea of why he gets those swings.

Haley will get a real opportunity to make the roster this spring; as a Rule 5 pick, he's use-or-lose. He will be, at least in theory, a candidate for the back of the rotation, but there's no shortage of starting candidates who probably rank ahead of him right now. More likely is a long relief role, and the opportunity to pitch his way into something better.


While the Twins gained a pitcher in Rule 5, at least for a while, they lost a catcher, at least for a while. Stuart Turner, their third-round draft pick in 2013, was taken by the Cincinnati Reds.

He's got a genuine chance to stick there. One of the Reds veteran catchers, Devin Mesoraco, has had a string of injuries the past two years, and as the Cincinnati Enquirer reports, the organization sees Turner as a usable alternative.

Turner won't hit, but he, much like former Twins backup Drew Butera, probably has the defensive chops to be a backup catcher. The Twins obviously decided this fall that Mitch Garver was ahead of Turner; they put Garver on the 40-man roster and left Turner off.

Of course, it's possible Turner will be returned to the Twins. But in the meantime, they probably will be looking for a catcher or two for Triple A or Double A.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Winter meetings, Day 3

Another yawner Wednesday for the Twins in terms of player moves. The Rule 5 draft is today -- that pretty much concludes the winter meetings -- so there will be some roster action today, however minor it turns out to be.

 J.J. "#Rule5Fever" Cooper of Baseball America offers this quick look at the top possibilities (the Twins, of course, go first). (Addendum: The Twins are believed to have a trade in place with the Padres, who pick third; they'll exchange Rule 5 picks with some cash.)

Meanwhile, the Chicago White Sox continue to be aggressive about accumulating prospects. The Adam Eaton deal with the Nationals was just as impressive, really, as the Chris Sale trade the day before, because Eaton is not the name player that Sale is.

WAR really likes Eaton -- but WAR really likes Eaton as a right fielder, and presumably the Nationals plan to play Eaton in center, where his defense is a bit stretched. (Boswell appears to be citing the Baseball Reference version of WAR.)

The obvious plus to Eaton: He's a solid leadoff man with very consistent on-base percentages. If he's capable of handling center field, he gives the Nats a pretty solid lineup 1-8. The less obvious plus: He's controlled for five years. But that was a lot of young pitching talent to surrender for somebody who might not be a defensive fit.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Winter Meetings, Day 2

The Twins had another quiet day Tuesday at National Harbor, Maryland.

One thing they did do: Re-sign Yorman Landa, the relief prospect they non-tendered last week to open a spot on the 40-man roster. So the machination to set themselves up for the Rule 5 draft didn't cost them the player -- at least not yet. Landa was added to the 40 last year to protect him from the Rule 5 draft, and now he's eligible to be taken. Had the Twins waited until, let us say, Friday to sign him, he wouldn't be. (And, perhaps, somebody else would have.)

Probably immaterial anyway. Landa has a big arm, yes, but he also missed the last two months of the season to injury and hasn't pitched above High-A ball. Still, I remember the winter in which the Twins signed R.A. Dickey to a minor league deal early in the offseason and saw him snatched away in Rule 5 by Seattle.

Meanwhile, one division rival -- the Chicago White Sox -- launched a belated rebuild by dealing ace lefty Chris Sale to Boston for a packet of prime prospects, and another -- Kansas City -- is apparently about to trade away bullpen ace Wade Davis. You can find more in-depth commentary on those moves elsewhere; I'll just make these general statements:

  • I can see the Sale trade backfiring for either side. 
  • There are more such veterans-for-prospects trades coming from the White Sox, who are finally done trying to go for it every year with a declining talent base.
  • Dave Dombrowski inherited a rich farm system when he took over in Boston. He has now traded four of his top five prospects. This is what he does. 
  • (David) Price and (Chris) Sale are a pair of aces made for punning headline writers.
  • The new labor deal and its limitations on draft-pick compensation for teams losing free agents may have hurt the Royals more than any other specific franchise. K.C. has a lot of key players with contracts and control expiring in the next two years, and the only way for them to restock the talent base is by trading at least some of them now.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Winter Meetings, Day 1

The only news of substance involving the Twins Monday was a reshuffling of titles and responsibilities in the scouting department.

Deron Johnson, who had been scouting director, has been named "senior advisor of the scouting department." As expounded here by the Pioneer Press' Mike Berardino, he's to be more heavily involved in international and pro scouting than he has been. Sean Johnson (no relation) will be the scouting director, which puts him in charge of the June draft and the No.1 overall pick.

To my knowledge, neither Derek Falvey nor Thad Levine, the two newcomers at the top of the baseball ops hierarchy, have been an amateur scout, much less a scouting director. But the Twins have no shortage of experienced -- and well-regarded -- amateur scouts. Mike Radcliff, the scouting director when the Twins took Joe Mauer 1-1, is still around (vice president, player personnel). So is Larry Corrigan, the scouting director before Radcliff; he ran the draft that brought in Torii Hunter. So the new scouting director has his predecessors going back more than two decades to advise him.

At least, they are around now. While Falvey and Levine said at their introductory press conference that current baseball ops people who want to buy into their vision are welcome to stay, we know that Terry Ryan chose to leave and Bill Smith has been told he's not returning.Two area scouts were let go even before Falvey and Levine arrived, a decision made by assistant general manager Rob Antony. The new cadre of special assistants (Michael Cuddyer, LaTroy Hawkins and Hunter) are apparently expected to play a role in the draft. There are going to be changes -- not necessary dramatic or in a tidal wave, but changes nevertheless.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Winter Meetings: Hall of Fame vote

The annual baseball swap meet, jobs fair and self-promotion festival known as the winter meetings opened Sunday with the usual ceremonial throwing in of the Hall of Fame inductees.

There are two ways to be chosen for induction: the writers vote, which is on players and is pretty stable, and the "veterans committee," no longer called such, which is constantly tweeked by the powers that be in an unceasing and doomed effort to finally get it right. It's the latter that occurs at the start of the meetings.

At this point that process is a lot better at choosing non-players to get plaques than players, and that was the case again Sunday, when retired commissioner Bud Selig and not-fully-retired executive John Schuerholz were chosen for the honor.

I too regard Bud Selig as more worthy of derision than honor, but ...  Bowie Kuhn's in the Hall of Fame. The standard for commissioners isn't imposing. Major League Baseball does not run the Hall of Fame, but, as Bill James wrote decades ago about the relationship, the people who do run the Hall of Fame want very much to have the people who run MLB like their institution. So Kuhn -- and Selig -- are in, and Marvin Miller is not.

As for Schuerholz -- yeah, outstanding general manager who built a great organization in Atlanta, and the precedent for inducting the quasi-active executive was set already (Pat Gillick). I guess it's better than waiting until the guy is dead or at death's door for induction, as with Branch Rickey decades ago.

If there's a surprise in the results, it's that George Steinbrenner wasn't even remotely close in the balloting. Good.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

The Sunday Funnies

Alex Johnson was an outstanding hitter for a few years in the late 1960s and early 1970s. He was also an indifferent outfielder at best, and generally regarded as a pain in the rear to have around, which is why he bounced from team to team.

A reporter once approached the dour Johnson. "Last year you hit two homers. You have seven already this season. What's the difference?

Johnson glared at his inquistor. "Five, you dumb bleep."

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Tender is the night

Eduardo Escobar,
Yorman Landa, gone.
A plethora of news items concerning the Twins to sort through as we reach the weekend before the winter meetings being:

Tendering deadline

Friday was the deadline to tender contracts to arbitration-eligible players. The Twins had five such: infielder Eduardo Escobar, left-handed starter Hector Santiago, right-handed starter Kyle Gibson and relievers Brandon Kinzler and Ryan Pressly. The Twins reached an agreement with Escobar ($2.6 million) and tendered contracts to the other four, so they let none of them go.

No surprises there. I saw some speculation about non-tendering Escobar, but that really didn't seem likely. He is almost certainly not the Twins idea of a long-term shortstop, but he's more likely in my mind to hold the position on opening day than anybody else on the 40-man roster.

Opening a roster slot

The Twins were expected to vacate at least one spot on the 40-man roster before the Rule 5 draft next week, and they did so Friday by dumping Yorman Landa, a relief prospect

Landa was added to the 40 last winter despite not having pitched above low-A ball. He spent a good chuck of 2016 on the disabled list at High A Fort Myers with shoulder woes, and the Twins didn't merely outright him off the 40-man roster, they non-tendered him. So he's a free agent.

Which, presumably, tells us what the Twins think of his chances of  recovering fully.

New hitting coach hired

James Rowson was named Friday to follow Tom Brunansky as the major league hitting coach. He held the job with the Chicago Cubs in 2012-13 and more recently was working in the Yankees organization.

Mike Bernardino of the Pioneer Press has this on Rowson. I said when Bruno (and Butch Davis) got the ax that the key factors were Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano. Sano regressed in 2016 from 2015, and Buxton struggled much of the season. They are Jobs 1 and 1A for Rowson.

Davis's job -- first base coach, base running instruction, outfield instruction -- remains open.

Bill Smith leaving

Terry Ryan, it was announced earlier in the week, has joined the Phillies as a special assignment scout. On Thursday came word that the Twins are not renewing the contract of Bill Smith, who was the general manager for a few years between Ryan's two terms in the job and more recently has been heavily involved in the multi-year upgrade of the spring training complex in Fort Myers.

Smith was atop the food chain when the Twins imploded on the field, so he got the blame for the collapse, probably more of it than he really deserved. It comes with the territory. He's also the GM who OK'd the signings of Miguel Sano, Max Kepler and Jorge Polanco, and the Hammond Stadium upgrades are impressive.

Smith told the Fort Myers newspaper that his departure wasn't his choice. I suppose that the new baseball ops guys decided that with the complex project done, they had no need for that skill set in the organization, and with the additions of a flock of ex-players as special assistants, somebody had to go.

Friday, December 2, 2016

The power of 10 (days)

There is an obvious appeal to changing the minimum stay on the disabled list from 15 to 10 days.

Twins fans have long beefed about an organizational tendency to refrain from putting a mildly injured player on the DL. A regular infielder tweaks something, and it's obvious that he's going to miss some time. But how much? It's seldom certain. So the team waits two, three, four days .. and maybe the guy is back in the lineup at this point, but frequently he's not, and now he goes on the shelf, but in the meantime a roster with few reserves to begin with has been even more shorthanded.

This is not unique to the Twins. It's a problem for every organization. The 10-day DL, it would seem, will make it easier to move that player off the active roster, because now you're not committed to doing without him for two weeks plus.

But there's a drawback to that ease. I suspect teams -- particularly those with one or two rotation anchors piling up the innings (at least by today's standards) and a number of roughly comparable candidates for the back end of the rotation -- will use the 10 day standard to shuffle three or four weaker starters in and out of the rotation, and use that roster spot on yet another reliever.

As a practical matter, it's not that difficult to turn 10 days into one missed start. And as a practical matter, almost any starting pitcher has something going on in his arm. James is placed on the disabled list with inflammation in his pitching shoulder, and John comes off the DL and makes a couple of starts, while Mike goes on the DL when James is eligible to pitch again and comes off so John can go back on the DL ... and meanwhile George remains on the roster as an extra bullpen arm.

And of course James, John and Mike (and George) all really do have inflammation in their shoulders, because they're pitching in the major leagues. It's part of the job. The question is always, what amount of pain can they put up with, and how severe is the damage being done? Now another factor enters: the willingness of the organization to game the system.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Notes, quotes and comment

The signing of Jason Castro became official Wednesday. The Twins now have a full 40-man roster and have the first pick in the upcoming Rule 5 draft, so we should expect a deletion shortly.


The Rule 5 draft is held at the end of the winter meetings, and there had been rumblings that the meetings would be called off if there was no labor agreement; Wednesday was the last day of the expiring pact. But the deal was announced late Wednesday.

Details were still trickling out during the night, but some notable tweaks to the major leagues as we know them:

  • The season will open five days earlier than "usual," giving the players a handful of extra days off during the season. This is not necessarily good news for fans in northern climes (like me), but the bizarre travel patterns created in part by an ever-increasing number of teams (expansion and interleague play) to fit into a 162-game schedule were a quality and health issue.
  • Smokeless tobacco is banned, with current users grandfathered in. So the chaws and snuff may be gone from the game in my lifetime, depending on how long I live.
  • The All-Star Game will no longer determine home field in the World Series. Proof that Bud Selig really is retired and not running things from behind the curtain.
  • There will be no international draft. This is the first instance I can think of in which the players union didn't sell out the amateurs who will someday be union members but are now merely future threats to their individual jobs. Good job. union.
  • The roster rules remain as they were: 25 March through August, 40 in September. Good; I don't care to see 14-man pitching staffs.
  • The free agent compensation rules got still more complex. They already made my head hurt.
  • The 15-day disabled list becomes a 10-day disabled list. My brain still occasionally latches onto the old 21-day DL, so I may have a long time fully adjusting to 10. 


Terry Ryan is moving on. He joined the Phillies as a special assignment scout, so he's reunited with Andy MacPhail, the man who brought him to Minnesota about 30 years ago.

I wouldn't have minded seeing Ryan remain with the Twins in such a capacity, but I also understand the rationale behind going elsewhere.