Monday, December 31, 2018

Where they stand: Catcher

The Twins have not yet made the signing of Nelson Cruz official. Presumably they are waiting for the results of his physical; they are, quite likely, also looking for the best way to open a roster slot. They would probably like to trade Tyler Austin, but there may not be a market for him. Remember, they got him on waivers last summer.

But assuming that Cruz is indeed signed, the Twins have their Plan A lineup in hand for 2019. Let's go though that set of regulars, position by position, starting with catcher.

Presumed regular: Jason Castro.

Others on the 40: Mitch Garver and Willians Astudillo

Nonroster contenders for the active roster: none

One of the many things that went wrong for the Twins pitching staff last season was Castro's prolonged absence from the lineup. He played just 19 games and hit .143 in 74 plate appearances before having knee surgery that took him out for the remainder of the season.

We know the drill on Castro: Strong defensive catcher, marginal hitter. (It's hard to believe that he routinely hit third for Houston in 2013.). He's expected to be fully ready for spring training and the third and final year of his contract.

Garver is pretty much Castro's mirror image: A good hitter for a catcher but with noticeable limitations behind the plate. He was charged with nine passed balls and was involved in 33 wild pitches; that's way too many pitches being chased to the backstop. He threw out just 18 percent of basestealers (league average was 28 percent). He didn't catch in September after sustaining a concussion.

I think Astudillo is the better player -- a superior defensive catcher and probably equally productive at the plate, although the production is in a different shape than Garver's. Astudillo is also a lot more fun to watch play ball than pretty much anybody on the roster. But he's unlikely to be on the active roster unless and until either Castro or Garver gets hurt.

The biggest problem for Astudillo's chances of making the roster is that Garver is out of options and thus cannot be readily sent to the minors, and that's not a problem for Astudillo. The Twins aren't likely to discard Garver, and I'm not sure that Astudillo is going to convince the decision makers that he's a guy they want to carry as a multi-use player, although that is a possibility.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

The Sunday Funnies

Art Fowler was Billy Martin's preferred pitching coach, following the oft-fired manager from job to job. His most significant qualification appeared to be the ability to match Martin drink for drink.

A struggling pitcher once approached Fowler with a theory, that he was dropping his arm during his delivery after a few innings. Keep an eye on me and look for that during this start, the pitcher suggested.

A few innings into the outing the pitcher's control started to wobble. After he walked two men and fell behind a third, Fowler ambled out to the mound.

"Am I dropping my arm?" the pitcher asked.

"Ah, I don't know about any of that," Flowler replied. "But you're walking people and Billy's pissed."

Friday, December 28, 2018

Cruz control

Plenty of reports Thursday that Nelson Cruz has agreed to a one-year contract with club option with the Twins. While the Twins have yet to officially announce the free-agent signing, Cruz has changed his Twitter avatar to an image of himself at bat wearing a Twins jersey and helmet.

Taken as an individual move, I have no real quarrel with this. Cruz is 38 -- turns 39 in July -- so there is a risk, but he has shown little falloff as he ages. In his four seasons with the Mariners, "Boomstick" has hit between 44 and 37 homers each year. And that production, as you probably know, came in one of the more difficult hitting environments in the game.

Yeah, Cruz can hit. He's pretty much useless afield or on the bases, but he's going to be the DH and he is a legitimate force in the middle of a lineup. As long as they don't try to force him into the outfield ala Josh Willingham, he'll help.

But I continue to be uneasy with the organization's offseason trend away from on-base percentage. The Twins have added three right-handed thumpers in Cruz, second baseman Jonathan Schoop and first baseman C.J. Cron. They all have power and they all swing and miss a lot. Cruz's on-base percentages with the M's were better than they had been with Baltimore or Texas, but on the whole, this lineup looks like the goal is to lead the league in solo homers. That is NOT a productive offense.

That said, the reality is that Cron, Schoop and even Cruz aren't the keys to the Twins 2019 lineup. The Twins will rise or recede on Miguel Sano, Byron Buxton and Max Kepler. If two of those three play at an All-Star level, the Twins are serious contenders. 

They have the talent to do that; they don't have the track record of doing that. But if two -- or better yet, all three -- turn into the players we've been dreaming on for five years or so, then a supporting cast of Cruz, Eddie Rosario, Jorge Polanco, Schoop, Cron and Jason Castro makes for a dangerous and deep lineup even with their flaws.

If Schoop, Cron and Castro hit 7-8-9, things are good. If either Schoop and Cron wind up in the first five spots of the order, it's going to be another disappointing season.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Some Christmas reading

Yeah, it's been a while since I actively posted (the Sunday Funnies are set up well in advance, or at least most of them are). But here I am on this holiday with a couple of links that should be of interest to Twins fans.

First: Jonah Keri, writing for on why the Twins are positioned to take a big leap forward:

If both Sano and Buxton play to the best of their abilities and stay healthy for a full season, that alone could add 10 or more wins to the Twins' ledger. The good news is that the Twins have upside sprinkled all over their roster. Eight of the nine projected starters in the 2019 lineup are 29 or younger. The same goes for the rotation, which is topped by exciting 24-year-old righty Jose Berrios and features additional potential in the form of post-Tommy John surgery right-hander (and former strikeout fiend) Michael Pineda.

You know the old saying about "can't see the forest for the trees." I think we Twins fans have been too close to this team and too frustrated/impatient with the slow development of Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano. And maybe the fans are right and Keri wrong. Maybe Buxton and Sano will never manage to stick in the lineup. But for 2019, at the very least, the best option for the Twins is to build around those two talents.

There is one thing Keri says in that piece that I quarrel with: his assertion that Sano's power is his only useful tool. His arm is of quality also, and it is why the Twins aren't planning on him as a first baseman-DH, which is what Keri sees him as (at best).

The other piece I wanted to call to your attention is from Phil Rogers, writing for Forbes, on the value of payroll flexibility. 

No fan base figures to be in for a more interesting ride between now and Opening Day, 2020. We’re not saying Minnesota will be a postseason team — although it was as recently as 2017 — but the combination of young roster team and financial flexibility stokes the imagination. ...
(H)ere’s the unique part about the Twins’ situation: They have exactly zero dollars in guaranteed commitments for 2020 and beyond. 

These are two outside observers who are intrigued, and optimistic, about this team and its direction -- more so than most of us in Minnesota. 

Sunday, December 23, 2018

The Sunday Funnies

Rickey Henderson was born on Christmas, which is why I post a Rickey Henderson story for the Sunday Funnies that week. And there are a lot of Rickey Henderson stories, some true, some not (but all of them plausible).

This year's:

Henderson once fell asleep on an ice pack and got frostbite, which forced him to miss three games — in mid-August.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

No. 7

The Twins announced Tuesday that they will officially retire the number 7 in honor of Joe Mauer during the 2019 season, specific date undetermined. This is not a surprise.

Mauer and Hocking are far from the only No. 7s in Twins history, of course. Baseball Reference lists 17 players as having worn 7 for the Minnesota Twins, 35 including the Washington Senators years. (One of the Senators bearing the number is a Hall of Famer -- Al Simmons, who wore it in 1938, well after his prime seasons.)

The Twins' No. 7s include some notable names in Twins history -- such as Greg Gagne, Frank Quilici and Jimmy Hall -- and at least as many who-dats -- Greg "Boomer" Wells, Dave Meier and Paul Ray Powell.  

The Star Tribune's Phil Miller pointed out on Twitter that the Twins are a shortstop away from a lineup with the retired numbers. Getting there requires playing a few guys at suboptimal defensive positions, but they are all positions they had considerable time at, so it's legit:

C: Mauer (7)
1B: Kent Hrbek (14)
2B: Rod Carew (29)
3B: Harmon Killebrew (3)
SS: vacant
LF: Jackie Robinson (42)
CF: Kirby Puckett (34)
RF: Tony Oliva (6)
P: Bert Blyleven (28)
Mgr: Tom Kelly (10)

Basically, the Twins retire two kinds of numbers:

  • Cooperstown inductees who are chosen for their Minnesota accomplishments (Killebrew, Carew, Blyleven, Puckett)
  • Really distinguished figures who spent their entire career with the Twins (Oliva, Hrbek, Mauer, Kelly)
Robinson's in a different class, of course, and Puckett fits in both groups. Someday, I expect, Mauer will fit in both also.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

When less is more

Habitual visitors to this site have probably noticed that I'm skipping days without posting with some frequency. That's by design; I decided this offseason not to force myself to think of something to say when I have little to react to. And the nature of the baseball offseason is that there are a lot of days with little to react to.

Of course, I'm not relying on this site for my income. I'm in a different position than the guys on MLB Network on my cable or MLB Radio in my car. They have to talk about something, even if there's nothing new and specific to talk about.

This, I believe, is why the talk show guys constantly cry for more trades. If nothing else, they want moves just for the sake of making moves, because that gives them something to blab about. Even the former general managers -- who should well know the merit of the old adage Some of the best trades are the ones you don't make -- embrace the fallacy of mistaking motion for progress.

The Twins have not been truly idle this offseason, but they had a quiet winter meetings and haven't made much of a peep since. That's OK with me. Idleness is preferable to their discernable pattern of power over on-base percentage.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

The Sunday Funnies

Former Mets outfielder Mookie Wilson, on why he was married in a ball park:

"My wife wanted a big diamond."

Friday, December 14, 2018

Wrong again, Eddie

It says something that no team thought Tyler Jay was worth a Rule 5 selection. I was pretty sure that he would be too attractive a target, that somebody would take a flier on him.

It's not that his work in the minors has justified the opportunity. It's that the talent -- a live, left-handed arm -- to be at least a LOOGY is there.

So Jay remains in the Twins organization. And we have to consider his drafting -- the sixth overall pick in 2015 -- a painful mistake. After all, the next man taken, by the Boston Red Sox, was Andrew Benintendi.

Anyway: the Twins took nobody in Rule 5, as anticipated. And they lost nobody either. That was not what I expected.


Another missed call: I correctly anticipated that Seattle would send Carlos Santana on his way. I hardly expected it to be back to Cleveland, which made little obvious effort to retain him as a free agent last offseason.

It was a three-way trade that sent Edwin Encarnacion to Seattle, Santana and Jake Bauers (from Tampa Bay) to Cleveland and a hard-hitting Cuban infielder named Yandy Diaz to Tampa Bay.

Encarnacion may not be long with Seattle either. But remember my complaint about the C.J. Cron and Jonathan Schoop additions: they lack the ability to reach base consistently. Encarnacion is of the same ilk.

Santana is much more the kind of hitter the Twins need than Encarnacion is. Or, for that matter, Nelson Cruz, who has been linked to the Twins all week in the rumor mill.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Thanks for (not) playing

With a full 40-man roster, the Twins won't be drafting anybody in this morning's annual Rule 5 draft.

I have mixed feelings about that, largely because the minor league geek in me loves the idea of spotting the player in somebody else's system that deserves a major league opportunity. The reality is that the current rules make it exceedingly rare for anybody worth devoting a roster spot to be available, Ryan Pressly being the exception. (Johan Santana, perhaps the most famous Rule 5 pick of this century, was plucked from the Astros system before teams were granted an extra year of minor league control.)

The Twins have in recent years tried hard, probably too hard, to make a Rule 5 pick pay off. It's probably better not to play that game at all.

I do expect the Twins to lose at least one player -- Tyler Jay, left-handed reliever and former first-round draft pick -- today, and quite possibly more. The Twins in the final years of the Terry Ryan administration spent a lot of high draft picks on college relievers, and many of them, like Jay, are now Rule 5 eligible and unprotected. Relievers are prime targets for Rule 5, since pretty much everybody carries at least 12 pitchers all season and pretty much everybody needs a mop-up man.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Notes, quotes and comment

Thad Levine, the No. 2 in the Twins baseball operations hierarchy, strongly implied during an MLB Radio interview Monday that the Twins were now set at second and first bases with Jonathan Schoop and C.J. Cron.

Maybe he was sincere, maybe he was posturing. I continue to hope that the Twins recognize the significant drop in on-base ability in this lineup as currently projected. It will be difficult for them the address that problem and still have both Schoop and Cron in the lineup.


I closed the Monday post by suggesting that the outcry over the election of Harold Baines might prompt the Hall to again revise the "Veterans Committee" process. Having considered the question for another day, I doubt it.

The Mazeroski selection, which prompted the drastic revision of 2001, came from an open slate of candidates; the committee could consider literally anybody officially eligible for the Hall but not under the perview of the writers.

Baines was selected out of a list of 10 candidates chosen by some mysterious process by the Hall. It does not figure that the Hall, having specifically presented the committee with the opportunity to chose Baines, would now recoil in horror because the committee did just that.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Smith, Baines and the Hall of Fame

The news Sunday night that Lee Smith and Harold Baines had been selected for the Hall of Fame was a puzzler.

Smith is hardly a huge surprise. His candidacy always had some legs with the writers, although not nearly enough to get him over the 75 percent of the vote hump. Smith's qualifications hinge heavily on the save statistic; for a good while he was the career leader in saves, and while the stat savvy among us know the fallacy of the save, the panel that put Smith in includes a number of ... the non stat savvy. (Hello there, Bert Blyleven.) I won't defend Smith's selection, but I understand the case for it.

The shocker was Baines. A long career, to be certain; a great deal of respect around the game, just as certain. Nothing in his statistical resume, distinguished as it is, suggests he should be in Cooperstown. Baines led the league in just one category, one time -- slugging percentage in 1984. He never finished higher than ninth in an MVP vote. And he spent most of his career as a designated hitter, so you know he wasn't helping his team afield.

If Baines is in, why not, say, Vada Pinson? Everything Baines has, Pinson has -- and more, when you figure in the pitching-dominated era of Pinson's career.

The immediate suspicion is that "Today's Game" panel was rigged in Baines' favor, with a former manager (Tony LaRussa), a former GM (Pat Gillick) and a former owner who so loved Baines that he retired Baines' number before his career ended (Jerry Reinsdorf). Of course, the other 13 members didn't have go along with their nonsense.

Ah, well. Baines won't be the worst player with a plaque in that hallowed hall. But he's a good candidate for that status. The last time the "veterans committee" process mucked up a selection this badly -- Bill Mazeroski in 2001 -- it resulted in a good bit disgruntlement among the already-enshrined and led to a heavy revamping of the selection process. Maybe that will happen again.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

The Sunday Funnies

Former big league shortstop, manager and scout Eddie Kasko, asked about the best signing during the period when he was running the Red Sox scouting department:

"Probably the biggest one was Roger Clemens. We were drafting, I think, 19th at the time and we didn't think we would get Clemens. Clemens didn't throw that hard when he was at the University of Texas. He threw hard enough, but Calvin Schiraldi was at Texas at the same time and if you put the two of them next to each other, Schiraldi probably had a better pitcher's body; he threw harder, and probably had better stuff at the time. Our scout at the time—Danny Doyle—the way he put it, 'I'm not sure what Schiraldi's got behind his belt buckle, but that Clemens boy will fight you.' So we got to 19 and Clemens was still there, so I took him. When I called Danny Doyle, I told him, 'Well, I took Clemens for you. Now go out and sign him.' 'Oh, I'll get him signed, all right.' He really liked him.

"He called back within, I think, two days and said, 'I signed the Clemens boy.' I said, 'What did you give him?' He says, '$121,000.' I said, '$121,000? Why not 120 or 125?' He said, 'Well, 21's his lucky number.' I said, 'Well, did you try offering him $21,000?'

Friday, December 7, 2018

Schoop and Torreyes

The Twins on Thursday signed a pair of infielders.

The big name is Jonathan Schoop, a second baseman who hit 32 homers while making the AL All-Star squad in 2017 with Baltimore only to see his 2018 season crater.

The smaller name is Ronald Torreyes, who spent the 2016 and '17 seasons as the Yankees' primary backup middle infielder and spent most of 2018 in the minors. The Yanks waived him at the start of the offseason; the Cubs claimed him, when waived him themselves, and now the Twins have signed him.

Torreyes has hit for decent averages in his limited major league at-bats, but with little power or strike zone judgment. He has an option left, so he might spend 2019 in the International League again. Or -- I think this more likely -- he may supplant Ehrie Adrianaza as the Twins backup middle infielder.

Schoop figures to be the starting second baseman. There's obvious upside to him despite his horrid 2018 season. He has power, he's a good fielder and he's only 27, in his theoretical prime. He signed for one year and obviously hopes to have a season more like 2017, then try to cash in.

But even in his good seasons, he had terrible on-base percentages. The Twins have already lost their two best hitters at reaching base (Joe Mauer and Robbie Grossman). Schoop and C.J. Cron are both hackers; they have terrible walk-to-strikeout ratios but occasionally "run into one," as the saying goes. (The same is true of Tyler Austin, at the moment the most significant challenger to Cron for the first base job.)

Solo homers is not a sound foundation for an offense. Adding one of these guys is defensible; adding two, especially to a lineup that already features a number of impatient hitters, is a bad sign. The Twins lineup as it currently stands has too many easy outs.  There's time to correct this, of course.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Thinking first base

I doubt that the Twins view C.J. Cron as their 2019 first base solution. This may be wishful thinking, but I doubt it anyway -- first, because he's not the kind of hitter a analytically inclined operation should be coveting anyway, second because adding him while subtracting Robbie Grossman (nontendered), Joe Mauer (retired) and Logan Morrison (free agent) leaves them short an established bat to share first base and the DH slot.

Yes, they have Tyler Austin still, and yes, they have Brant Rooker in the farm system, but

  • Rooker needs more minor league time and
  • Between Cron, Miguel Sano and Austin, there is way too much right-handed swing-and-miss going on. Too much of the same set of tools-and-flaw for one lineup.
Morrison ended his 2018 season early for hip surgery. He had a disappointing season and there's no telling from the outside what his medicals look like, but he hits left-handed, and that's at least a different ingredient for the mix. I don't really expect the Twins to re-sign him, but I wouldn't rule it out.

So I expect the Twins will do something, either in trade or free agency, to acquire a left-handed (or switch-hitting) first baseman/DH. One of the names that came readily to mind as I pondered this while dealing with a weekend virus was Carlos Santana. The Phillies shipped the former Cleveland standout to Seattle on Monday, but he's probably still available, as the Mariners are selling pretty much any player of immediate value. 

I really like Santana. Even whne hitting a disappointing .229 in 2018, he still popped 24 homers and took 110 walks. I am surprised, looking at his career stats in the above link, that he's never hit for average. But he's never been a truly poor hitter, and he's become a good defensive first baseman after years of being a bad catcher and a truly misbegotten attempt to play third base.

There are two drawbacks to Santana: He turns 33 in April and he's got some $40 million coming over the next two seasons. 

Still, considering the obvious teardown in Seattle, his main purpose with the M's is as to be turned into something of future value. There is a deal to be made there.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Goodbye, Grossman

The Twins on Friday -- the deadline to offer contracts to arbitration-eligible players -- signed recent waiver-wire addition C.J. Cron to a one-year deal ($4.8 million)and cut loose Robbie Grossman.

Cron and Grossman are both bat-first guys, but their hitting success comes in different shapes. Cron has the power; Grossman is an on-base percentage guy. I don't dismiss 30 home runs, but Grossman is the better hitter.

But there's a catch, or lack of them. Grossman is a poor defensive outfielder, and the Twins have four outfielders ahead of him (Eddie Rosario, Byron Buxton, Max Kepler and Jake Cave). Cron isn't as good as Joe Mauer at first base, but he doesn't damage the pitching staff when he's in the field -- and with Mauer retired, the Twins don't have an incumbent at the position. Cron fits the roster better than Grossman does.

Of course, there is arguably room for both in the Minnesota lineup -- Cron at first base, Grossman at designated hitter. That was a road the organization choose not to take. Had Cron not been available, perhaps the Twins would have kept Grossman. More likely, his time in Minnesota was expired anyway.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

The Sunday Funnies

Baltimore outfielder Al Bumbry was in a slump, and mentioned to manager Earl Weaver that he was going to a chapel service.

Replied Weaver: "Take your bat with you."

Thursday, November 29, 2018

#OldFriends and coaching jobs

This corner of the interwebs speculated at one point that the Twins were holding the coaching job that eventually went to Bill Evers for Chris Gimenez. Perhaps that was even an option, but -- obviously -- the job went to Evers.

And Gimenez will be on the Dodgers coaching staff, with the title of "game planning coach." That sounds like it might be the kind of job Rocco Baldelli held with Tampa Bay before the Twins made him manager, but the Rays called him "major league field coordinator."  Both are titles the Twins haven't put on a coach, now or in the past.

Jeff Pickler, whose coaching job with the Twins involved working with outfielders and assisting with game strategy -- which also sounds a good bit like Gimenez's probable responsibility with the Dodgers -- declined a front office job with the Twins and will be a coach on the Reds staff.

Somebody, I don't remember who, described the Twins job offer to Pickler as a "promotion." I suspect Pickler didn't see it that way. And while I don't know the financial specifics of any of these jobs. as a uniformed coach with the Reds Pickler will continue to accrue service time in the players pension plan, which is probably no minor consideration for a guy who spent eight years playing minor league ball for peanuts.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

On C.J. Cron

The Twins picked up C.J. Cron on waivers Monday. I am not impressed.

There is an obvious attraction to a player who hits 30 homers, which is what Cron did last season for Tampa Bay. Thirty bombs is more than anybody on the Twins hit in 2018. Cron had 59 extra-base hits; nobody on the 2018 Twins did that either. Power is an important tool, and Cron has it.

The problem is, that's pretty much all Cron has going for him. He is one-dimensional. He's a right-handed hitter who is limited afield to first base and winds up getting his at-bats as a designated hitter. He sports atrocious walk-to-strikeout rates. He's not (yet) on the wrong side of 30 (turns 29 in January), but he's not young enough to carry any sense of projection.

This is his prime time. He hit 30 homers last year, and the Rays responded by casting him aside. We can do better. 

There's something else that designating Cron for assignment and then waiving him tells us: There was no trade market. None of the other 29 teams (including the Twins)  was willing to give the Rays anything beyond the $50,000 waiver fee for him.

Something Alex Cora, the Red Sox manager, said during the World Series has been resonating with me for a few weeks:

"We live in an era that hitting .210 with 30 homers and 70 RBI is acceptable and it's a good season. We don't believe that."
Cron hit better than that -- .253 with 30 homers and 74 RBIs -- but he's the kind of player Cora was talking about.

Of course, adding Cron doesn't come in a vacuum. Joe Mauer -- pretty much Cron's opposite as a hitter -- isn't going to be the Twins first baseman next season. Kennys Vargas is gone to Japan.

First base in Minnesota is available. Cron may be the front-runner, but there isn't much difference  between him and Tyler Austin other than that Cron is about 30 months older and has more than five times the major league at-bats.

Invest 500 at-bats in Austin, and he'll hit 30 homers too. But I won't guarantee that he'll do enough other things to make him a better player than Cron.

The Rays figure they have better ways to use the roster spot and $5 million (a reasonable projection of the arbitration-eligible Cron's salary for 2018). I would like to think the Twins do as well.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

The Sunday Funnies

Think you can stand another Frankie Pytlak story? So can I.

As with last week's tale, this supposedly came during Pytlak's rookie season. Pytlak's teammates told him that the elevators in their hotel were only free for the first eight floors; after that it was 10 cents a floor.

Pytlak's room was on the 33rd floor, so he decided to save $2.50 a trip and take the stairs.

After a few such excursions, his "buddies" told him that they had arranged with hotel management for him to ride free.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Thanksgiving and a final coaching hire

It's not Thanksgiving on the blog without this turkey
of a photo.

The Twins on Wednesday wrapped up their revamp of the coaching staff with another hire out of the Tampa Bay organization.

Bill Evers has coached in the majors with the Cubs, Yankees and Rays, but none of it in the past decade. He's spent much of his career in professional baseball managing in the minors. According to his Wikipedia entry, he has a career record of 1,381-1,206, which means he has seen a heck of a lot of bush league baseball.

He will be, easily, the oldest member of the Twins coaching staff. His duties will include catching instruction. And presumably, being the voice of experience on a staff with a novice manager and a pitching coach who has never been in pro ball on any level in any role.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

More roster stuff

On Tuesday I suggested that Luis Arraez is a better prospect than Nick Gordon. Later in the day, the Twins added Arraez to their 40-man roster. I am quite sure it is coincidental.

In another move Tuesday involving somebody who actually has played in Target Field, the Twins sold reliever Alan Busenitz to a Japanese team. The Twins yo-yo'd him last year, and he wound up with a really odd looking stat line: 4-1, 7.82. The ERA was a more accurate reflection of how well (poorly) he pitched than his won-loss record, of course. Twenty-five innings with 14 walks and 37 hits, including eight homers? Ouch.

I don't think he's really that bad a pitcher, but the Twins have plenty of other guys to pick from to staff their bullpen in 2019. Busenitz will get paid, and if he does well in Japan, he can try again in the States.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Roster additions

Today is the deadline for teams to add minor leaguers to their 40-man roster to protect them from the Rule 5 draft. On Monday the Twins added infielder Nick Gordon and outfielder LaMonte Wade, bringing their 40-man roster to 38.

Wade and Gordon were generally viewed by outsiders as guys the Twins had to protect or lose in the draft next month. I guess I agree, if only on the basis that Gordon was a high first-round pick and among the Twins top 10 prospects a year ago, and somebody would take a shot at that as free talent. But I've been skeptical of him as a hitter for sometime now, and certainly nothing he did in Triple A has shaken that skepticism.

Unprotected, at least at the moment, is another infielder, Luis Arreaz. He's a level behind Gordon and has never been seen as a potential shortstop; he's strictly a second baseman. But he's always hit better than Gordon, and in my view that makes him a better prospect.

Wade, too, didn't hit worth a darn upon reaching Triple A last summer, and his stat lines are generally lacking in power. I'm not sure either was really an obvious choice to be claimed if left off the 40.

If the Twins were looking to "game" the system and protect the most likely claimants, I think they missed him. Tyler Jay has the Gordon high-draft pick pedigree. He's had injuries and didn't fare well in Double A last year -- but he's a left-handed pitcher. In an era of 13-man staffs, I can see somebody claiming him and figuring that they can carry him for the season as a LOOGY or even as an opener.

He's a more likely Rule 5 loss than either Wade or Gordon (or Arreaz). But lsat year demonstrated that the current front office isn't very concerned about losing minor league relievers in Rule 5.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Thoughts on the coaching staff

There's still a coach to be named, but the Twins this weekend largely filled out the coaching staff. A few thoughts:

* The era when coaches were largely the drinking buddies of the manager are clearly past, at least in Minnesota. It appears that the only one of these seven with a previous connection to Rocco Baldelli is Derek Shelton, and he's a holdover who's probably only with the Twins until he can land a managerial job elsewhere.

* A concept the Twins had emphasized a few years ago when restructuring the coaching staff -- positional coaches -- seems to be less of a focus. Last year, for example, Jeff Smith had the catchers, Gene Glynn the infielders and Jeff Pickler the outfielders. There is no former catcher on the staff right now, and Tony Diaz and Tommy Watkins were identified as third-base and first-base coaches respectively.

* Baldelli answered a question at his introductory presser with a brief commentary on the need for a highly diverse coaching staff. This crew has at least three guys with skin too dark to be acceptable in the pre-Jackie Robinson era, two native Spanish-speakers and a career college coach who apparently never played pro baseball. Yeah, this is a staff of varied backgrounds.

* Jeremy Hefner is identified not as "bullpen coach" but as "assistant pitching coach." Perhaps he'll be stationed in the bullpen during games, perhaps not. I rather suspect that the holdup on the final coach is that they'd like it to be Chris Gimenez, and Gimenez is checking to see if there's still a playing opportunity first.   

Sunday, November 18, 2018

The Sunday Funnies

Another story featuring Willie Kamm and Frankie Pytlak, the duo of last week's tale.

Kamm was an established veteran when Pytlak was a naive rookie, and Kamm told him when their team, the Cleveland Indians, made their first trip to New York that they had to contribute $5 a day to the local gangsters or the gangsters would enter their hotel rooms and tear up their clothes.

Pytlak handed over the money. Kamm kept it for a month before returning it.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Mining the colleges

Johnson is believed to be the first major league pitching coach to be hired out of the college ranks without serving a minor league apprentanceship first. Such cross-pollination between the pros and college is routine in football and basketball but rare in baseball.

But cross-pollination -- a variety of backgrounds and experiences -- seems to be something this front office is prioritizing. Hefner has pitched in the majors, been a video guy, been an advanced scout. (And is only 32.) 

As for Johnson, this from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette's Whole Hog Sports website story on Johnson's departure: 

Johnson is known for developing power pitchers. His two Arkansas staffs finished with a combined 1,238 strikeouts in 133 games, and several Razorbacks saw significant increases to the velocity of their pitches as a result of Johnson's emphasis on lower-body workouts and pitch-mechanic analytics.
At Johnson's urging, prior to the 2017 season Arkansas installed a radar system called TrackMan that records and analyzes 46 data points for pitchers on every pitch.
“If you get into biomechanics, you find out really fast that a pitcher cannot repeat his delivery," Johnson told WholeHogSports in 2017. "You’ve got over 600 muscles in the body. To think that the roughly 240 that we use in pitching are going to fire at the same time - you’ve got a better chance at winning the lottery. TrackMan gives me a chance to show guys a consistent release height and some things we can repeat."
The Twins installed TrackMan at their minor league facilites a few years back, during the Terry Ryan administration. but they are hardly unique in that. 

And that said, none of this has been officially announced yet. As of this morning, the Twins website has changed only the manager on its coaching staff page.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Time marches on

A big week for the Mauer family:

Shooter's tweet was followed in my timeline by a bunch of predictable "Twins first round pick in 2035 born" jokes. Which may well be ... but I'll be the age at which my father died when this Mauer is 18. 

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Notes, quotes and comment

Eric O'Flaherty, a 12-year major league pitcher, asked on a Twitter thread about the Joe Mauer spray chart I wrote about Tuesday where the "450-foot doubles" were hit.

There are some pretty long doubles pinpointed. My guess is the longest were hit at Fenway Park to that "triangle" just to the right of dead center field. There are some cheap homers hit in Fenway; there are some really long blasts that that ballpark holds as well.


Manager of the Year is a a bit of a death knell honor. It seems a lot of recipients are fired soon after winning it -- see Molitor, Paul, as an example.

So I doubt any of the guys who didn't win the award Tuesday are all that upseat. Brian Snitker of Atlanta and Bob Melvin of Oakland took teams to the playoffs, and few writers before the season saw those clubs as contenders, so they got the votes. That's emminently predictable.

I'm still more impressed with Alex Cora, who inherited a Red Sox team loaded with talent and wrung out all the drama; with Kevin Cash, who -- with a lot of help and support from his front office, to be sure -- essentially reinvented the wheel with the Rays pitching staff; and with Craig Counsell, who worked around the Brewers weaknesses to emerge with the best record in the National League.

Not that Snitker and Melvin are undeserving winners. I was just a bit more impressed with the others.


This has little to do with baseball and more to do generically with my occupation, but I saw that a reporter said to NBA star Kevin Durant: "Talk about the game," to which Durant replied, "Ask a question about the game."

Love it. "Talk about" is a copout signaling that the questioner hasn't given the topic any real thought and just wants to be bailed out.

But there was a similar moment during the baseball postseason, involving the Red Sox' Chris Sale. Reporter: "Talk about your success against the Yankees." Sale: "No."

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Mauer's spray chart

This graphic fascinated me over the weekend:

Feel free to check the count of the little dots.

This is a true spray chart -- Mauer's hits were truly scattered all over the field. I dare say that such a chart for Kent Hrbek, to pull an example out of the previous generation, would look markedly different. 

We think of Mauer as an opposite-field hitter, and there is no question that this chart shows that he peppered the left-field line for doubles. But his singles flood the middle depth of the outfield, pretty much foul line to foul line. He went opposite field more often than his peers, for sure, but he is not lacking for pulled extra-base hits.

I also dare say that a chart of Mauer's outs would look markedly different. A lot of ground balls to the right of second base, a lot of fly balls to left field. Mauer -- this was unique -- almost never hit infield popups. Much less unique, he seldom hit ground balls to his opposite field. The vast majority of grounders are pulled, and Mauer was no exception to that principle. 

Monday, November 12, 2018

BA's top Twins prospects

The issue of Baseball America that showed up in my mailbox Friday includes this winter's top 10 propsects rankings for the AL Central. The Twins rankings are certainly different than last winter's.

Fernando Romero graduated -- he lost his rookie status last season -- so his absence is no surprise. But there are four new names on the list, and Romero was the only graduate. Stephen Gonsalves (No. 4 last year); Nick Gordon (No. 8); and Tyler Jay (No. 10) are all still in the organization, and all slipped out of the top 10.

Added are top draftees Trevor Larnach (No. 5) and Ryan Jeffers (No. 9); trade acquisition Jhoan Duran (No. 7); and international signee Yunior Severino.

I saw Larnach, an outfielder, and Jeffers, a catcher, at Cedar Rapids near the close of the Midwest League regular season. (See comments on Larnach here and on Jeffers here.) Duran, who came from the Arizona Diamondbacks in the Eduardo Escobar deal, eluded me. And Severino, an infielder signed when MLB nullifed a bunch of Atlanta Braves international signings for rule violations, spent the 2018 season in Elizabethton.

There are three pitchers on this list: Brusdar Graterol (No. 3), Duran and Blayne Enlow (No. 8). The writeups describe Graterol's ceiling as that of a rotation-topper, Duran and Enlow as potential mid-rotation starters.

Brent Rooker (No. 6) is the only member of the Top 10 to have reached as high as Double A, so this list is short on immediate help for the major league team.

The list:

1) Royce Lewis, ss
2) Alex Kirilloff, of
3) Brusdar Graterol, rhp
4) Wander Javier, ss
5) Trevor Larnach, of
6) Brent Rooker, of/1b
7) Jhoan Duran, rhp
8) Blayne Enlow. rhp
9) Ryan Jeffers, c
10) Yunior Severino, 2b

Sunday, November 11, 2018

The Sunday Funnies

Willie Kamm was a slick fielding third baseman in the 1920s. Catcher Frankie Pytlak was a teammate with a reputation for being, let us say, eccentric.

As Kamm told the story:

“Somebody hit a pop fly between third and home once. I was yelling, ‘I got it,’ but I didn’t hear any answer. Calling for a ball is one thing, but getting the answer is more important. I was running under the ball yelling, ‘I got it’ and wondering where Frankie was. I didn’t hear him so I guessed he was standing back to let me take it. Of course we plowed right into each other. Luckily, Frankie was a short guy and I still reached out and made the catch. But Frankie jumped up and said, ‘Didn’t you hear me waving?’"

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Joe Mauer's Friday night news dump

You -- a business, a government official, a person of reknown -- have a piece of news that you know is of great public interest but that you would prefer get little attention.

So you send out the press release at 6 p.m. or so Friday evening. It's known in the biz as a "Friday night news dump."

Joe Mauer's retirement announcement was treated as a Friday night news dump. It wasn't really a surprise, not after the emotional final game of the regular season and its theatrical one-pitch return to catching. It was impossible to watch that moment without knowing that it would be the last thing he did as a major league player.

Friday's letter to the fans, in which Mauer specifically connected his retirement to his 30-day stint on the disabled list with another concussion, merely made official what we all sensed in that damp-eye moment in late September.

Regular visitors to this space, or of my in-season weekly print columns in the Free Press, know well my view of Mauer's career. He had a decade in which he was as productive as any catcher in baseball history. He milked enough out of the first base years to reach the miminal career milestones expected by the Hall of Fame electorate. He deserves induction at Cooperstown, and I believe he will eventually get that induction.

I have nothing but admiration of his accomplishments, acceptance of his decision to walk away from the game, and gratitude for having gotten to see so much of it.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

The "Today's Game Era" field

The Hall of Fame chronically tinkers with its selection process, specifically with what is commonly referred to as the Veterans Committee. Whatever its offical name and activity, the purpose is to have a backstop to the BBWAA voters, and a way to induct nonplayers -- executives, managers, umpires -- who don't fall into the BBWAA's bucket.

The current approach is to divide the game's history into "eras" and pick 10 candidates from a given period of time each year for the panel to decide upon. More recent periods are up more often than the older ones, which makes sense; nobody alive ever saw Bill Dahlen play shortstop.

This year's field comes from what the Hall has dubbed the "Today's Game Era," and features six players -- Harold Baines, Albert Belle, Joe Carter, Will Clark, Orel Hershiser and Lee Smith -- three managers -- Davey Johnson, Charlie Manuel and Lou Piniella -- and one owner -- George Steinbrenner.

I can listen on Johnson, but my instincts say none of this bunch clearly deserves to be in Cooperstown. For those who say Steinbrenner is too important a figure in baseball history to leave out, I say: He's not as important as Marvin Miller. Steinbrenner was the owner of a great team, but the best Yankees teams of his tenure got to be great because he was suspended during their construction.

The thing is, there are more deserving candidates from this time frame than the six players listed. The Hall's fundamental screwup here is that it's using the writers' vote as a guideline for selecting the candidates. Smith once topped 50 percent of the vote, which is pretty darn good -- almost everybody to gets more than 50 percent even once eventually gets in -- but he got 15 chances with the BBWAA and was passed over.

Lou Whitaker, Kenny Lofton, Jim Edmonds -- they were all one-and-done. They deserve a second look more than Lee Smith deserves a 16th.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Notes, quotes and comment

Well, scratch that Monday notion that the Twins might revamp Derek Shelton's role. He is apparently not only staying with the Twins -- not a big surprise after missing out on the Texas Rangers managerial job -- but remaining as bench coach.


There remains a team without a manager for 2019: The Baltimore Orioles. There also remain, as the general managers meetings begin, a couple teams without a general manager, or whatever title they lay on the top figure in baseball operations: The San Francisco Giants -- and Baltimore.

The Orioles may be the most adrift franchise in baseball -- the O's or the New York Mets. The O's might be the most lost. The Mets at least have some top-shelf pitching talent. Baltimore is short on talent, has jettisoned the top baseball people and continues to have an ownership with a reputation for getting in the way.

It's a far cry from the days of Earl Weaver, Hank Cashen and Jim Russo, when the Orioles had a well-earned reputation as the sharpest operation in the game.


I voted early, about a month ago. If you haven't, and you're eligible, go get 'er done.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Thoughts on the coaching staff

Derek Shelton didn't land the Texas Rangers' managerial job. That went to Chris Woodward, who had been the bench coach for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

That obviously improved the Twins' chances of retaining Shelton on their coaching staff. He was Paul Molitor's bench coach last season and, I believe, the guy charged with running things when Molitor was absent.

A few days after Rocco Baldelli was named as Molitor's successor, the Star Tribune reported that most of the 2018 staff had been let go. The only retentions were the hitting coaches, James Rowson and Rudy Hernandez, and, presumably, Shelton. But almost a week after that report, the Twins have made no official announcements, and their website continues to list only one change, Baldelli as manager.

Presumably they are waiting to make the new staff known when they have all their hires made.

But let's say that Shelton is returning to the staff. Teams hiring a competely novice manager -- such as Baldelli -- frequently supplement him with an older bench coach with a deeper managerial background who can serve as a mentor and advisor. Shelton doesn't quite fit that prototype, although he is a about a dozen years older than Baldelli.

And that, beyond Shelton's unsuccessful managerial candidacy, might be part of the holdup. Do the Twins want to fit Shelton into a different role -- and how would that a different role sit with Shelton himself?

Shelton came to the Twins off a job in Toronto as "quality assurance coach," which, as it happens, was the same title Baldelli had in Tampa Bay last season. Shelton, who was open about his managerial ambitions, took the Twins job because he thought the bench coach job was a step up and a useful addition to his resume. I don't know if he would welcome a similar assignment a year later.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

The Sunday funnies

Today I resume my offseason tradition of Sunday posts intended to elicit a smile, if not a full laugh. Veracity is not guaranteed; tall tales are part of baseball humor. I also, having done this so many years, won't promise I'm not reusing some of them by mistake.


Moe Drabowsky was a pretty good relief pitcher in the 1960s. He was also a world class prankster.

While playing for the old Kansas City Athletics, Moe became quite familiar with the phone system in Memorial Stadium. Then he was traded away, and one day in 1966 was back in the KC park wearing a Baltimore Orioles uniform.

Jim Nash, as the story goes, was throwing a shutout into the sixth inning. Moe picked up the phone in the visitors bullpen and dialed up the home bullpen. "Get (Lew) Krause hot now!" he barked in passable imitation of A's manager Alvin Dark, then hung up.

The A's bullpenners were baffled but obedient -- until Dark noticed the activity. The real manager called the pen and had Krause stop throwing. A few minutes later, Drabowsky called again and restarted the warmup.

Eventually the laughter in the Orioles bullpen tipped off the A's.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Drake, Field gone

The Twins lost reliever Oliver Drake and outfielder Johnny Field on waivers Thursday, reducing their 40-man roster count to 36.

Field was claimed by the Chicago Cubs, Drake by the Tampa Bay Rays.

I wasn't impressed by the Twins acumen last year when they added those two players. but Drake went a long way toward changing my mind down the stretch. He put up prettty good numbers with the Twins, and while it's difficult to trust that delivery, the stuff certainly passed the eye test. 

Drake pitched for five different major league clubs last year, which is a record and should get him nicknamed "Suitcase." The Twins have become the sixth team in four years to decide they have enough better options that they can afford to dump him. They aren't necessarily wrong, but I think I see a few names on the 40 I'd have cut ahead of him.

Picking up Field never made much sense to me, and other than running into a few balls didn't impress me. It's more surprising that the Twins ever played him than that they waived him.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Notes, quotes and comment

The Twins, having opened two spots on the 40-man roster by declining their options on Ervin Santana and Logan Morrison, promptly filled one by claiming Michael Reed on waivers from the Atlanta Braves.

Reed is a right-handed hitting outfielder who turns 26 this month. He had a really impressive minor league season, hitting .342 between Double A and Triple A. He's said to be a speed-and-defense guy who hits lefties well, and he's gotten 37 major league plate appearances over the past three seasons, two with Milwaukee and one with Atlanta.

I can see him being a platoon partner with Jake Cave, a left-handed hitter who really struggled vs. southpaws. But I also believe that the Twins don't want to use an outfield spot to platoon Cave. They want -- need -- the Eddie Rosario-Byron Buxton-Max Kepler trio to be healthy and effective over the full season. That hasn't happened yet.


The Twins have yet to make any official announcments about the coaching staff, and their website continues to list the 2018 staff, with the exception of Rocco Baldelli as manager.


RIP to Willie McCovey, the great power hitting first baseman of my youth, who died Wednesday after a sustained run of health issues. "Stretch" won the NL MVP in 1969, the season I discovered baseball, and hit 521 homers, mostly with the Giants.

The Giants of the 1960s were chronic contenders who seemed to finish second or third every season. Their minor league teams at the time produced outfielders like a southern Minnesota farm produces corn. Off the top of my head, the Giants in the 1960s debuted: Manny Mota, Felipe Alou, Matty Alou, Jesus Alou, Bobby Bonds, Jim Ray Hart, Ollie Brown and Ken Henderson, all of whom because major league regulars at worst. In the early 70s they had Gary Mathews, Garry Maddox and George Foster, each of whom wound up long-term regulars for outstanding teams.

But they got rid of all of them because none of them was Willie Mays.

McCovey and Orlando Cepeda came up at about the same time. Both were great hitters, and both had leg or foot problems that limited them to first base. Alvin Dark, the manager of the Giants in the early 60s, tried each in left field anyway. You can't blame him -- a middle of the order of Mays-McCovey-Cepeda is frightening to contemplate. But what they really needed to have that was the designated hitter rule.

There's a story ... Dark, having decided that playing Cepeda in left wasn't working, moved him back to first and put McCovey in left. Somebody told Dark that McCovey was uncomfortable with the change. Replied Dark: "What else is he gonna do? Catch?"

Eventually, in 1966, the Giants traded Cepeda to St. Louis for a starting pitcher, Ray Sadeki, who was never as useful for the Giants as he had been for the Cardinals. Cepeda won the 1967 MVP; McCovey won the 1969 MVP. The Giants finished second in both seasons. Of course.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Clearing the coaches

The Twins didn't make any official announcments, but the Star Tribune reported Tuesday that most of the coaching staff under Paul Molitor won't be back.

Specifically gone are:

  • Third base coach and infield instructor Gene Glynn
  • Pitching coach Garvin Alston
  • Analytics liason and outfield instructor Jeff Pickler
  • First base coach and catching instructor Jeff Smith
  • Bullpen coach Eddie Guardado

Returning are the two hitting coaches, James Rowson and Rudy Hernandez. And while management reportedly wants to retain bench coach Derek Shelton, who was a finalist for the managerial job that went to Rocco Baldelli, Shelton is apparently a candidate for the manager;s job in Texas.

I'm most surprised to see Pickler and Alston axed; they were brought into the organization by the Derek Falvey-Thad Levine regime, and Alston got just one year in the job. Glynn, Guardado and Smith were in the organization before Falvine arrived, and in that sense their departure two years in is of a piece with Molitor's ouster. But Guardado is a longtime fan favorite, and Glynn is from my part of the state, and I dislike seeing either ousted.

But just as managers are hired to be fired, so are coaches. Glynn has been a coach or manager, in the majors or minors, with five organizations (Montreal, Colorado, San Francisco, Cubs, Minnesota); his reputation is such that I suspect he won't be jobless for long.


The Twins officially declined their options on Logan Morrison and Ervin Santana, two veterans who had injury-wrecked 2018s. Neither move is any sort of surprise.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Phasing out Blyleven

With the World Series wrapped up, teams are now free to start making moves and announcments.

The Twins had already replaced their manager. They still have a coaching staff to name and a bunch of roster moves to make. And the question of Joe Mauer -- retiring or returning? -- remains unanswered.

But the big news of Monday was about the TV broadcasts. Bert Blyleven is being phased out as the main analyst -- 80 games in 2018, 50 in 2019, 20 in 2020.

That news actually came from the 67-year-old Blyleven, who first tweeted that he's putting his condo in downtown Minneapolis up for sale, then explained that the Twins and Fox Sports North "offered me less games for the next 2 seasons because they said they are going in another direction. I agreed to their request."

I am too old to be part of FSN's target demographic, and a captive audience anyway. Nobody is picking analysts to try to get me to tune in. But as fond as I am of Blyleven the pitcher, I long ago wearied of  his constant complaints about how the game has changed since his day. The same applies to Jack Morris.

I've suggested a few times here that a quality local broadcast reflects the outlook and priorities of the organization. I don't believe the Twins broadcast analysts, TV or radio, have consistently met that standard since the Terry Ryan era ended.

Monday, October 29, 2018

A deserving champion

And thus ends the 2018 major league baseball season, with a deserving champion. The best team won October's torunament. The Boston Red Sox won 108 games in the regular season and went 11-3 in the postseason, defeating two other 100-win teams in the AL playoffs. The only loss they had in the World Series took 18 innings.

There should be no quibbling about the Series. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts took a lot of heat (and will continue to do so) for his pitching moves, but with the exception of that 18-inning Game 3, it really didn't matter much who he used. The Red Sox hit them, and the Dodgers bats couldn't keep up.

What stood out in the pitching line was how heavily Alex Cora leaned on his starters to relieve between starts. Each of his four nominal starters relieved at least twice during the tournament, with Nathan Eovaldi being worked so hard in relief he didn't actually make a World Series start.

Eovaldi is an ... interesting ... topic. He's had a injury-plagued career, with two Tommy John surgeries. He has a career ERA of 4.16. He has always had outstanding velocity but lower strikeout rates than one would expect from a starter who can hit 100, but he seems to have finally developed secondary pitches that can miss bats.

He's not yet 28 and headed into free agency. And I am curious how that will play out this winter. His willingness -- even eagerness -- to put his career at risk during the Series was apparently inspirational to his teammates, and was matched by David Price who was similarly hard-used/abused by Cora. But Price is getting paid and will get paid for years to come. Eovaldi's future is nowhere near as secure.

Friday, October 26, 2018

People persons and managers

Rocco Baldelli, 37, is the youngest manager
in baseball. Derek Falvey, background,
who hired him, is younger.
Rocco Baldelli's introductory press conference as Twins manager on Thursday played well with this audience of one.

I particularly liked his fencing with Patrick Reusse about his former team's innovative pitching strategy, which Reusse said is "ruining baseball as we know it." Baldelli led into his response by observing that "openness and curiosity" are good things in any field.

But as I watched a replay of the presser later I found myself thinking about the internal tensions built into the job. Baldelli spoke at length of the need to build relationships and how much he values and enjoys that. I think it's clear that he wants to be a "people person." I also think it's clear that that's a big part of why he got the job.

I am less certain that that's a valuable necessairy trait in a dugout manager. I can rattle off a number of managers of sterling accomplishment who insisted on keeping an emotional distance from his players. Earl Weaver, who may well be my notion of the ideal skipper, would be one such. He spent years managing in the minors before getting the Baltimore job, and a big part of that experience was, in his words, "stomping on dreams." 

Guys with Weaver's background aren't getting a lot of major league opportunties right now, although Brian Snitker has the Atlanta job and Toronto just tabbed Charlie Montoya. but, having noted those exceptions, today's new wave front offices seem to prefer younger candidates who can "relate" to the players. That's Baldelli.

And that's also Alex Cora in Boston, and Dave Roberts in Los Angeles, and Aaron Boone in New York, and Craig Counsell in Milwaukee, and A.J. Hinch in Houston. To a large degree, front offices want the manager to be a conduit between the analytics department and the athletes. That's more likely to work if the manager has good people skills. And obviously, that approach is successful right now.

People skills can't mean simply being agreeable. The manager has to establish authority in some manner, or the whole thing runs aground. Conflict is inherent in sports (and other endeavors, to be sure), and no manager can long afford to try to avoid it. Baldelli, as a manager, has yet to deal with that necessity. 

Which doesn't mean he can't. Pretty much the worst thing a manager can do to his career -- and his team -- is get a reputation among the players for "blowing smoke." Managers can't shy away from honest confrontation with players. That's the people person challenge. 

Thursday, October 25, 2018

What's at second?

The Red Sox now carry a 2-0 lead in the series across the continent. And a dilemma.

Mookie Betts is the likely MVP in the American League. Mike Trout is still the best player in the game, but the MVP voters are very much behaving these days as a different set of voters did in the 50s and 60s -- who can we find to give the award to other than Willie Mays or Mickey Mantle?

This year the obvious non-Trout option is Betts. True, he didn't hit as many homers or drive in as many runs as teammate J.D. Martinez, but Betts plays a brilliant defensive outfield (Martinez seldom sees the field) and had superior on-base and slugging percentages. Betts does well the things Martinez does well, and he does well the things Martinez does poorly. Betts is clearly the better player.

Betts and Martinez are clearly the two best hitters in the Boston lineup, and that poses a World Series problem. There will be no DH in Games 3, 4 and 5, which means (at least according to some voices on the internets) they either

  • bench Martinez, or
  • sharply weaken their defense in both the infield and outfield by moving Betts to second base and putting Martinez in the outfield.

There is a middle ground, which involves sitting Jackie Bradley Jr. and moving either Betts or Andrew Benitendi to center to fit Martinez in an outfield corner. I think option "C" is the more likely approach, even if JBJ was deemed the MVP of the championship series. It would weaken the outfield defense, but not the infield defense.

Then there's this aspect, gleaned from listening to the Red Sox radio feed for Game 2: The announcers said Martinez isn't moving all that well on the bases after rolling his ankle running the bases in Game 1. That, they suggested, might serve to dampen any enthusiasm for wedging Martinez into the outfield for the Los Angeles games.

The question is, which is more valuable, Bradley's glove or Martinez' bat? That is a challenge for the Boston analytics department. And I don't know that there's an answer that is clearly correct for one or three individual games. It can be a different answer on Friday than on Saturday.

I'm a bit curious about what that analytics department makes of the Betts-to-second idea, but this probably is a case in which the analytics won't matter. Yes, Betts was a second baseman in the minors, and a highly regarded one; he wound up in the outfield because second base was blocked by Dustin Pedroia. But it's been years since Betts played second on anything more than an emergency basis. How comfortable would he be to return to second for the biggest games of the season?

Alex Cora might consider the move if Betts, unprompted, came to him and volunteered. Short of that, or sheer desperation because of injuries, I can't see the manager taking that risk in the middle of the World Series.


Late reports Wednesday/this morning that the Twins have settled on Rocco Baldelli as their new manager.

I'm neutral. I like the age (37) but don't particularly care for the complete lack of managerial experience. He's been a player, a front office exec and a coach, all with Tampa Bay, but hasn't managed in the minors or, I believe, in winter ball.

It's a good bet that he's analytics friendly. Everything else about him as a manager is, like an iceberg, submerged and out of my view.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

#OldFriends (Infielders)

The Twins traded Eduardo Nunez to the Giants soon after he made the All-Star team in 2016. He was traded in midseason by the Giants to the Red Sox last year and is likely to be a free agent after the World Series. There is a team option, but I suspect the Red Sox will figure they can find a bench alternative they like more.

It's been a weird year for Nunez. He hasn't played all that well. His OPS+, a rough measurement of how productive his season was at the plate, was a career low, and his fielding has always been deemed subpar. But he still got more than 500 plate appearances for a 108-win team, so he couldn't have been holding the Red Sox back that much.

Alex Cora didn't fit the right-handed Nunez into the starting lineup against the left-handed Clayton Kershaw. He played the left-handed hitting Rafael Devers at third and right-handed Ian Kinsler at second. Kershaw was pulled in the fifth, and the Dodgers didn't use a lefty again until the seventh, when Alex Wood entered to face Devers with two on.

Except, as you probably know, Nunez pinch-hit and clubbed a three-run homer to break the game open.

Had Nunez started at third, it might have been Devers pinch-hitting for him in the seventh, but against a righty. Or, possibly, Devers might have replaced Nunez sooner, and the pinch-hit matchup might have disappeared.

Not a bad way to make his World Series debut.


Brian Dozier, seldom seen in the postseason for the Dodgers, was not only in the starting lineup for L.A. in Game One, he was the leadoff man. He drew a walk, he scored a run and he was unable to turn a critical double play pivot in the fifth inning.

The Dodgers obviously sought to load their lineup with righties against Chris Sale. They could have had someone like Chris Taylor, who led off for them throughout last year's postseason run, in the leadoff spot. I wonder if the fact that Dozier has three career homers off Sale entered into the decision to put him in the maximum at-bat spot.

I would think that the Dodgers analytics department is sharp enough to know that batter-pitcher matchup numbers aren't a reliable indicator. Dozier isn't the same hitter in October 2018 that he was when he hit those homers. And Sale probably isn't the same pticher right now, either.


Finally, a former Twins infielder who isn't involved in this year's Fall Classic. Eduardo Escobar reupped Monday with the Arizona Diamondbacks -- three years, $21 million.

That feels a bit light to me, but Escobar probably didn't want to get frozen out in the marketplace, as happened to a number of veteran free agents last winter.

The story on the signing says the D'backs don't have a specific position for Escobar right now, but his versatility gives them a variety of alternatives as they remake their roster.

Here's the thing: He's not quite as versatile as they apparently think. Age -- he turns 30 this winter -- has made him less playable at shortstop. His outfield experiences were rough enough that the Twins quit trying that pretty quickly. And supposedly he's not comfortable playing second base, although that might be his second-best fit (behind third base).

I had hoped to see Escobar return to the Twins, but he never actually reached the free agent market. 

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Beantown vs LaLa Land

Boston vs. Los Angeles. East Coast vs. West Coast. Highest payroll in the game vs. the third highest (the Giants are second).

This is certainly the series Fox was hoping for (and anything Fox wants I almost reflexively oppose). And while it's not necessarily the best agains the best, it's pretty close to that.

Boston, as we know, won 108 games in the regular season and really didn't have much trouble dealing with a pair of 100-win teams in the division and championship series. We can find flaws if we want, but the Red Sox were pretty clearly the best team in the American League, and the AL seems to be superior to the National League.

Which, in my AL-centric way of viewing thing, makes the Red Sox the favorite to win the World Series.

But I've been watching baseball since 1969, and the one thing I'm absoutely certain of is that the lesser team always has a good shot at winning a short series. This is why the best records so seldom even reach the World Series in this era of multi-layered postseasons.

And we should remember about the Dodgers: This is basically the same team that won 104 games last year and looked until the last month like an historically great team. It is basically the same team that took Houston to the seventh game of the World Series and could easily have won it.

They won "only" 92 games in the regular season, but their run differential suggests they "should" have won 102, which would look a lot like 2017's record. They didn't have the best record in the National League, but they easily could have.

It should be a good series. I don't find either franchise particularly fun to root for, and I won't have any emotional investment in the series, but I'll turn the TV sound off, put one on the radio feeds on my iPad and enjoy two outstanding teams going for the title.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Managerial scuttlebutt

Two managerial openings have been filled already in this brief gap before the World Series commences: David Bell gets the Cincinnati Reds job, and Brad Ausmus gets the Anaheim job.

Neither figured to be a factor in the Minnesota job search.

Ausmus is, in my eyes, a curious choice because he didn't exactly cover himself in glory in the Detroit job. To be fair, he inherited a team on the downcycle and didn't have much of a chance to win there. He's recycled and he's not particularly analytic. I rather expected the Angels to go a bit more modern in replacing Mike Scoscia.

Bell is a better fit for the current trend. He has managed in the minors and coached in the majors, but he spent last season in the San Francisco front office, and that last seems to be something the new era GMs value.

Bell didn't play for the Reds during his 12-year major league career, but his grandfather (Gus) and father (Buddy) did. Third generation player, second generation manager. As a player, David Bell wasn't as good as Gus or Buddy; as a manager, he almost has to be more successful than Buddy, who managed three teams in nine seasons with a total winning percentage of .418.

As for the Twins, I have no real idea of who or when they'll name their new man. I expect it to be Derek Shelton, last year's bench coach, but I also somehow expect to be surprised. I can live with that cognitive dissonance.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Pic of the Week

Yasiel Puig celebrates his game-breaking homer Saturday.

Love him or hate him (and the Dodgers), Yasiel Puig is a talented and exuberant baseball player.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Pretty good, Boston

For a 108-win team, the Boston Red Sox seemed rather vulnerable.

Chris Sale clearly isn't himself. David Price's postseason record is unimpressive, to say the least. There are -- were -- playoff squads with more daunting bullpen depth. Relief ace Craig Kimbrel appears broken.

They released their cleanup hitter, Hanley Ramirez, in May. Star second baseman Dustin Pedroia, a former MVP, never really got into the lineup, and rookie manager Alex Cora had to cobble together two infield spots.

And two other 100-win teams, one of them the defending champions, stood in their way to the World Series.

Well, guess what? The Red Sox beat 'em both. They were the best team all season, and they remain the best team in October.

Nobody in the National League field matched up on paper against any of the American League playoff teams. Somebody will be in Boston next week to play the Red Sox in Game One, and simply on that basis the Dodgers and Brewers have a chance to come away with the crown,

But the Red Sox are the best team, period, full stop.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Blast from the past

Craig Counsell took a page from the ancient past of the Twins, or at least the Twins' Washington predecessor, on Wednesday by starting left Wade Miley for one batter, then bringing in a pitcher of the opposite hand to negate the rival's platoon advantage.

Perhaps you know the story of Game Seven of the 1924 World Series. It was still pretty famous when I started following baseball in 1969, but at that point 1924 was "only" 45 years earlier (1969 is further away from today) and there were plenty of fans who had a living memory of that famous contest.

But ... Washington Senators vs. New York Giants, the series knotted at three games apiece. New York manager John McGraw was platooning the young Bill Terry (who would hit .401 in 1930 and is now in the Hall of Fame) in a complex arrangement that had fellow future Hall of Famer George "Highpockets" Kelly shifting from first base to center field against righthanders.

Terry's 1924 season doesn't look like much, but he was absolutely wearing out the Senators' top right-handed pitchers, the great but aged Walter Johnson and early relief ace Fred "Firpo" Marberry. Johnson had started twice -- Games 1 and 5 -- and been beaten twice; Marberry had started once and taken the loss as well. So the expectation was that Washington manager Bucky Harris would start George Mogridge, a lefty and his second-best starter, in Game 7.

But Harris had a plan, to which he tipped off Johnson after Game 6. Johnson, according to family lore, went home and told his wife he would be relieving in Game 7, drawing a gasped: "Walter, you mustn't!"

Harris started Curly Ogden, a righty who had gone 9-5, 2.58 in 108 innings during the season but had battled a sore arm and hadn't appeared in the Series. McGraw took the bait and started Terry at first base. Odgen retired leadoff hitter Freddie Lindstrom (yet another future Hall inductee) and started off the mound; Harris, suspecting that Odgen might have a big game in his arm, waved him back to the job. But when Ogden walked No. 2 hitter Frankie Frisch (yes, another HOF inductee), Harris brought in Mogridge, who had been warming up in secret under the bleachers.

Mogridge pitched through the fifth, but when McGraw finally pinch-hit for Terry, the trap was set. In came Marberry, then Johnson. The game went 12 innings, with Johnson twice walking left-handed hitting Ross Youngs (HOF) in jams so he could strike out the right-handed Kelly, who had 126 RBIs that year. The Senators scored two runs in the eighth to tie it on a grounder that hit a pebble and bounded over Lindstrom's head, and scored the winner on another grounder that hit a pebble and bounced over Lindstrom -- legend has it, the same pebble.

A great and legendary game. It remains the only World Series title won by a Washington team. Twelve participants, counting the managers, have plaques in Cooperstown. And if I had a time machine and could go back in time to see any one game, it might be the one.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Notes, quotes and comment

I came into the ALCS not really caring which team advanced to the World Series. In my mind:

  • the Red Sox and Astros are the two best teams in baseball;
  • the Red Sox fan base has become essentially insufferable;
  • the Astros management burned away its good will with its hypocritical trade for accused woman-beater Roberto Osuna. "Zero tolerance," my left nostril.

The pleasure I felt when Osuna gave up a grand slam to Jackie Bradley Jr. on Tuesday settled matters. Go Red Sox.


The garish "home run sculpture" in Marlins Park is, somehow, to be moved out of the stadium.

Considering the difficulties in doing so -- it is seven stories high, connected to plumbing and hydraulics and exists to fill a Miami-Dade County requirement for art in public buildings -- I would probably have left it in place.

I can agree with Derek Jeter on the aesthetics of the thing. But it's not the ugliest thing playing in that ballpark since Jeter's consortium bought the team and sold off a brilliant outfield.


Manny Machado is a marvelously talented player. He has also in this series repeatedly jogged on ground balls, twice made questionable slides into second (and was called on it once) and, on Tuesday, took a cheap leg-whip shot at Milwaukee's first baseman.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

A comment on bullpenning

The bullpenning trend has, let us say, not been universally welcomed, but the resistance has been most vocerifious from the broadcasting booths, which generally have at least one seat filled by somebody whose glory days are a decade or more in the past and frequently talk as if convinced that the game has deteriorated since then.

We in Minnesota have become inured to the blunt force opposition of Bert Blyleven and Jack Morris. Short starts? One-inning openers followed by the primary pitcher? I wouldn't have stood for it, they huff, as if they hit the majors already wielding their Cooperstown credentials. 

John Smoltz, doing the NLCS for Fox, takes a seemingly objective view: It won't work, he says. Even in October's off-day riddled short series, he opines, relievers will be overworked and ultimately fail. The evidence to date contradicts Smoltz; the Rays bullpenned pretty much all season and reached 90 wins; the A's bullpenned a lot as they reached the playoffs. If you can bullpen for six months, you can probably bullpen for seven.

James' objection is different. It's subjective. His point is aimed at the audience experience, not at the final tally on the scoreboard. 

The game has always evolved. James himself years ago noted that, with the exception of an upward blip in the 1970s immediately following the arrival of the designated hitter, the innings pitched by individual starters has steadily dropped. 

It evolves in the direction of what works. Success is measured in wins and rings. We have seen in recent Octobers that a dominant bullpen is more likely to survive and advance than a dominant rotation. 

And I don't know how that trend can reverse, short of something impractical such as pushing the fences back 30 feet in every stadium to make home runs drastically more rare. Pitching is simply more difficult today than when Blyleven, Morris and even Smoltz were starring. One example, given by the pseudonymous chief data architect of MLBAM:

Right now, bullpenning is generally not being imposed on established starters, although the way Gio Gonzalez has been used by Milwaukee this month may be crossing that line too. 

Monday, October 15, 2018

Notes, quotes and comment

I've been quiet here for few days, which is unusual. But I haven't felt that I have anything useful to say here. and as long as that persists, I expect to post less frequently than has been my norm.


One of my colleagues asked me about the report that the Twins had interviewed Hensley "Bam Bam" Meulens for the managerial job. My response: "I don't really understand what the Twins are looking for, so I don't know if he's got what they're looking for."

Besides a great nickname, Meulens' resume includes being the hitting and bench coach for the San Francisco Giants, including during their three World Series titles earlier in the decade. He wasn't a particularly successful player, not that that's a managerial imperative.

He's about a decade younger than the departed Paul Molitor, but not really young as managerial candidates go. And the Giants might be the least-analytically inclined organization in the majors right now, so he's not bringing a background steeped in sabermetrics to the table.

Conclusion: I don't think he's particularly likely to land the Minnesota job.


The current issue of Baseball America features the Top 10 prospects in the short-season leagues. For the Twins, that means the Fort Myers team in the Gulf Coast League -- the lowest in-the-states rung on the ladder -- and Elizabethton in the Appalachian League.

Nobody was listed from the Twins in the GCL piece. Trevor Larnach, the Twins' first-round pick in the June draft, came in at No. 5 in the Appy League; he didn't spend much time in E-Town before moving up to Cedar Rapids. Two other Twins showed up in the second 10 listing: Luis Rijo, a right-handed pitcher they got from the Yankees for Lance Lynn, and Ryan Jeffers, their second-round pick in June who also was rapidly promoted to CR.

But the Twins also have the No. 1 player in the New York-Penn League, without having an affilate in that circuit. Gilberto Celestino was that league's top prospect while playing for the Astros' affiliate, and then he was traded to the Twins for Ryan Pressly.

The NY Penn league is probably a half-step  above the Appy League and a half-step below the Midwest League, and the Twins had Celestino finish the year at E-Town. They had enough outfielders to find playing time for at Cedar Rapids, and he's only 19.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

A quality field

Baseball in the 21st Century is not set up for the best team to win the World Series. October has evolved from a pairing of two teams that survived the summer marathon -- combined, one-eighth or one-tenth of the franchises -- to a mob of 10 teams -- one third of the franchises.

On Tuesday the 2018 field was whittled down to four. And in a rarity, the four are almost certainly the two best squads in their respective leagues: Boston and Houston in the American League, Milwaukee and Los Angeles in the National.

It doesn't take a lot of analysis to recognize that the AL teams, each of which won more than 100 games during the season, are both superior to either of the NL teams. That doesn't mean the AL survivor is certain to triumph at months' end.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Notes, quotes and comment

Miguel Sano is apparently in the clear legally in his native Dominican.

The broader point remains. Nothing good happens outside nightclubs at 3 a.m. in any country.


Angel Hernandez set some sort of umpiring record by having three calls overturned by replay in the first four innings Monday night in the Yankees-Red Sox series.

The consensus worst umpire in MLB is to call balls and strikes tonight. Lord knows why he's still umping in the majors much less involved in any postseason series.


I am far from the first to note that both the (Cleveland) Indians and (Atlanta) Braves were eliminated on Columbus Day -- or, as it's now officially recognized by the city in which I reside, Indigenous Peoples Day.

When I decided by process of elimination, to root for Cleveland in the AL after Oakland was ousted, I did not realize that the Tribe was going to once again exclusively wear Chief Wahoo caps in the postseason.

They didn't lose this series because of their logo, of course. They lost this series because Houston is a better team, and because Cleveland's bullpen is no longer the deep and effective unit that pulled it to the brink of winning the 2016 World Series.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Oh no, Sano

Miguel Sano was apparently detained and released by police in the his native Dominican Republic after a hit-and-run early Sunday morning in which a policeman's leg was broken.

The Twins issued a statement saying they are "aware" of the situation and trying to learn more about it.

There's a lot of unknowns about this incident. But I'm probably not getting too far over my skis to say the Twins expect better from the troubled slugger. His midsummer exile to the minors was supposed to be as much, or more, about revamping his lifestyle and improving his professionalism as getting his swing back.

Friday, October 5, 2018

RIP Dave Anderson

Roger Kahn's The Boys of Summer sits at the intersection of my adult occupation (newspapering) and preoccupation (baseball). While it has been years since I last re-read it, it literally took me less than a minute to find this story about Dave Anderson, the great sportwriter whose death was announced Thursday. This is from 1953, long before Anderson acceived fame as a New York Times columnist:


Through the hot months, the Dodgers played phenomonal .800 baseball. They clinched the pennant in Milwaukee on Saturday, September 13, when (Carl) Erskine defeated the Braves 8 to 3, in a game punctuated by three Milwaukee errors. Dave Anderson, a young reporter who had succeeded Harold Burr on the Brooklyn Eagle, wrote the best lead. "The Milwaukee Braves," he began, "died with their boots."

"Two-to-one they change it on you," (Dick) Young said.

"If not the deskman, then the printer," I said. "I've tried to get 'cerebration' into the Tribune four times this season and it's always come up 'celebration.'"

Anderson grinned, but turned less cheerful when he saw a copy of the Eagle. Someone had indeed murdered his pleasant pun. His published story read, "The Milwaukee Braves died with their boots on." On. Not even Dante conceived an inferno for sodden copyreaders.


I am, and have been for more than three decades, the modern equivalent of what Kahn calls here a "deskman" or a "copyreader," although the adjective "sodden" probably doesn't fit. That ancedote has been a cautionary tale down the years, but making that kind of mindless editing blunder would first require a writer with Anderson's skill and inventiveness. It's not an insult to my Free Press colleague to say few of them qualify.