Monday, February 24, 2020

The wanderings of Brian Dozier

It wasn't that long ago that Brian Dozier was arugably the best second baseman in the game. Coming out of the 2017 season he had averaged more than 30 homers a year over a four-year stretch, he won a Gold Glove ... and he was going into the walk year of his contract, and the Twins were showing little interest in locking him up with an extension.

Today the Twins appear to have been correct in that assessment. Dozier still has some pop, but now it's 20 homers a year, not 30, and with a sharply lower batting average -- not that batting average was ever really his strong suit.

The Twins traded him during the 2018 season to the Dodgers, who expected him to plug second base; they soon shifted to a platoon role for him and let him go after the season. The Nationals signed him, and he opened 2019 as their second baseman, but by the stretch run he was a spare part there as well.

He finally signed a 2020 contract over the weekend, after exhibition games had already begun -- a minor league deal with the Padres. San Diego doesn't have an established second baseman, and he may beat out Jurickson Profar for the job there, but one has to figure he hits camp in Arizona behind Profar.

At least he's got two World Series, and one title, out of his post-Twins wanderings.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Jessica Mendoza and women in baseball

ESPN revealed this week that their Sunday Night booth will have just two voices, Matt Vasgersian on play by play and Alex Rodriguez as the analyst. They're not replacing Jessica Mendoza, who is now assigned to the Wednesday broadcasts as the sole analyst.

I'm loathe to criticize Mendoza, who takes far too much heat for daring to talk about sports while being female. The Sunday Night broadcasts are frequently unlistenable, but that's less about the announcers than on EPSN's basic fear of talking about the game going on in front of the cameras. It's the producers, not the "talent," that's the problem. Their weeknight broadcasts are generally more game-oriented, and I think she'll be fine in that context.

But there was a genuine issue with Mendoza, and not unique to her: She wasn't just an EPSN analyst but also a member of the Mets front office. As such she stepped in it this offseason when, while the Mets were tangentially involved in the Astros sign-stealing scandal (because Carlos Beltran, their then-manager, was the one Astros player specifically named in the commissioner's report), she went on an ESPN broadcast to blast Mike Fiers for revealing the scam.

EPSN is, in many ways, a journalistic cesspool. The Mendoza conflict of interest -- since resolved, as she has given his job with the Mets -- was hardly unique. David Ross, who was also employed by the Chicago Cubs, was pretty much a fixture as an analyst when ESPN carried a Cubs game (which it does often). Now he is the Cubs manager. I doubt very much that the viewers got an honest appraisal for the Cubs with Ross in the booth the past three seasons.

ESPN seems to have become a waiting room for managers and coaches to bide their time and collect a paycheck while waiting for their next gig. I can't speak to the other sports, but I don't think ESPN's baseball viewers are well served by this revolving door.

While Mendoza continues to stake out her place in the broadcast booth, a few other women are carving out roles in organizations. The Twins have a woman, Andrea Hayden, as their strength and conditioning coach; she won't be wearing a uniform during games. Alyssa Nakken of the San Francisco Giants will be a full-time major league coach this year; I haven't seen a specific title for her. Teams are limited to seven uniformed coaches, and the Giants claim 13 coaches, so she may not be in uniform either, but the Giants claim her to be the first female coach in major league history.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Two third basemen

The new Strat-O-Matic cards arrived during the weekend, and as I separated them out I noted the 2019 numbers of two third basemen:

Player A: .259 batting average, 37 home runs, 94 RBIs.
Player B: .269 BA, 35 HR, 118 RBIs

Strat rated both defensively as having excellent range; player B commits slightly fewer errors and is also quite good at second base, whereas player A is coded only for the hot corner.

Player A is Josh Donaldson, freshly signed to a four-year contract with the Twins that guarantees him $100 million. Player B is our old friend Eduardo Escobar, who will get a bit less than $15 million over the next two seasons from the Arizona Diamondbacks. Escobar is also about three years younger than Donaldson.

To be sure, Donaldson is the better player. I cherry picked the triple crown stats for that one season, which make them look more even than they truly are. The biggest thing in Donaldson's favor is that he walks more. In 2019, the "Bringer of Rain" drew 100 bases on balls, "El De La Pica" 50.

Donaldson is better. I don't know that he's $18 million a year better

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Remember Randy Flores? Probably not

I've been building up a rant about how obvious it has become this offseason that Rob Manfred, the commissioner of baseball, doesn't actually like the game. But

  1. I don't really have the energy for it right now and
  2. I think I'll turn it into my Monday print column

Instead ... from the Department of Meaningless Details ... I noticed while double-checking a detail about the 2019 St. Louis Cardinals for my next solitaire Strat-O-Matic project that the scouting director of the Redbirds is one Randy Flores.

Twins fans can be forgiven if they've forgotten Flores. The lefty kicked around pro baseball for 15 years, seeing major league time in seven of them -- but he only had one full season with one major league team. He bounced around, a ping-pong ball on baseball's table.

Minnesota was his last major league team. The Twins picked him up to bolster the bullpen for 2010's playoff push. The stat line shows 11 appearances and 11 outs (3.2 innings) for the Twins and an ERA of 4.91.

As I recall, Ron Gardenhire pretty much gave up on him early in Twins tenure. Gardy brought him in to face a lefty, Flores threw the hitter a fastball, gave up an important run, and Gardy said after the game something along the lines of: I brought him in to spin the ball. If I wanted a fastball, I'd have used a right-hander.

That stuck with me because of the use of "spin the ball" to mean "breaking pitch." That was a new one to me at the time.

Anyway: Flores saw time with three Triple A teams in 2011 and that was it for his pitching career. Now he runs the scouting department for a consistently good organization. And I half-seriously wonder how much of a priority he puts on spinning the ball when evaluating a pitcher.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Marwin and the sign-stealing

On the day that Twins pitchers and catchers reported to Ft. Myers for spring training, Marwin Gonzalez -- neither a pitcher nor a catcher but there anyway -- faced assembled reporters and expressed "remorse" for his role in the Houston Astros' sign-stealing scheme and conceded uncertainty that the Astros would have won the 2017 World Series without it.

It's the most any position player on that team has said about the scandal, and he doubtless hopes he's heard the last of it. I personally suspect his remorse is directly related to the exposure, that he lost no sleep over the escapade until it became publicly known.

But this scandal is not, should not, fade away quietly. Last Friday the Wall Street Journal published a story detailing how drastically different Commissioner Rob Manfred's official report was from the letter he sent now-fired Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow. The Luhnow letter tied the sign-stealing scheme directly to the front office and to executives still with the Astros. The official report described it as player-driven and directed.

The Journal report undercuts the credibility of Manfred's report. The commissioner wants this scandal to go away quickly and quietly. It won't. And it shouldn't.

Whenever or whatever he rules on the 2018 Red Sox in the other part of this scandal, we should be doubt his findings and suspect a coverup. The Astros report was a whitewash. There is no reason to expect better from his Red Sox "investigation."

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

More than Graterol for Maeda

Technically, the Twins were not involved in the Mookie Betts trade. As it was originally reported almost a week ago, Brusdar Graterol was to go to Boston, Kenta Maeda would come to the Twins and Betts and David Price would go to the Dodgers.

On Monday two deals were made official, one strictly between the Dodgers and Red Sox, the other strictly between the Twins and Dodgers. And the latter was more complex than a one-for-one trade. The other components:

OF/1B Luke Raley goes to the Dodgers. Pretty near major-league ready left-handed hitter, 25 years old, had limited playing time in Triple A last year because of injury. The Twins got him from the Dodgers in 2018 when they traded Brian Dozier at the deadline.

Raley's going to play in the majors. It may require another trade for him to get any real playing time; the Dodgers aren't any easier a roster to crack than the Twins, and there was no obvious route for Raley with Minnesota. The Twins, by the way, clear off a 40-man roster spot by trading Raley, and they might need that spot by the end of training camp.

C Jair Carmago comes to Minnesota. A catcher who played in the low-A Midwest League last year at age 19. Reputed to have good catch-and-throw skills, not a lot of evidence that he can hit. He's probably a marginal prospect.

The Dodgers get the Twins "Competitive Balance B" draft pick, no. 67 overall in June. The competitive balance picks, doled out by lottery to the smallest markets, are the only tradeable ones under MLB rules, and there does seem to be a fairly busy market in them. Obviously, we don't know who this would have been had the Twins retained it.

The Twins get $10 million from the Dodgers. There are a lot of ways to view this; one is to say that the Twins are getting the first two of Maeda's four contracted seasons for free. Another is that the Dodgers are playing for much of the playing-time bonuses the Twins hope to pay out this year to the likes of Josh Donaldson, Rich Hill and Maeda.

My conclusion: The expanded trade is probably a little better for the Twins than the original version. The Twins didn't give up anything they needed for 2020. They may not have given up anything or gained anything of future value. The $10 million ... that probably adds a little more wriggle room in the payroll budget, already at a club-record high.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Everybody going to Boston, step forward. Not so fast, Graterol.

The word late Wednesday/early Thursday was that the Twins portion of the big Mookie Betts trade -- aka the Brusdar Graterol trade -- had snagged up on Graterol's medical history.

Apparently the Red Sox now doubt that the hard-throwing right-hander has a a future as a starting pitcher. Whoever would have imagined that?

I guess I can understand the Red Sox's new front office leadership not being completely plugged into the Twins, especially since they had to wrestle with the implications of the Houston scandal around the time the Twins made it known that Graterol's 2020 would be spent in the bullpen. But I would also have thought that they have access to search engines.

From ESPN:

Alternative options to complete a deal exist, according to sources. The players involved could be amended, as could the amount of money Boston is sending to Los Angeles to cover a portion of the $96 million still owed Price. The Dodgers and Red Sox could theoretically opt for a two-team deal or involve a different third team; Graterol is currently with the Twins. 
The likelihood of the trade of Betts to the Dodgers blowing up altogether, sources said, is slim ...
Yeah, the Red Sox are pretty much committed to that now. It's the Graterol-Kenta Maeda portion that's in jeopardy, and I have no idea how much the Twins love that exchange. Are they itching to dump Graterol's risk for the relative certainty of Madea, or do they genuinely fear that this could blow up in their face long-term? Either is plausible, but if the latter it's easier for Falvine to walk away from it rather than sweeten the pot.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Hello, Maeda, goodbye Graterol

There is a lot to unpack in the Mookie Betts trade that burst into the open Tuesday evening, but for the Twins the part that matters is a classic win-now move.

Gone is Brusdar Graterol, the flamethrowing righty we saw for a few innings last September. Arriving is Kenta Maeda, an established major leaguer. Graterol has the higher ceiling; Maeda has the higher floor.

The trade, to be sure, isn't official yet; there are medical reviews to come, and since one of the key components is David Price, who

  • missed significant time last season and
  • has a lot of mileage on his arm

clearing a physical may not be a mere formality. But assuming the deal goes down as reported Tuesday night, the Twins have a 2020 rotation well stocked with veteran hurlers:

1) Jose Berrios
2) Jake Odorizzi
3) Maeda
4) Michael Pineda (suspended into May)
5) Homer Bailey
6) Rich Hill (recovering from surgery, expected mid-summer)
7) Jhoulys Chacin (minor-league deal)

Even with Pineda and Hill unavailable at season's start, there appears no room for the Randy Dobnak-Lewis Thorpe-Delvin Smeltzer trio of prospects who were penciled into the April rotation as late as Tuesday noon. Of course, we're talking pitchers here, and somebody is likely to come up lame in Fort Myers.

The Twins had not included Graterol in that rotation competition. The plan for him in 2020 was a bullpen role. It's not difficult to see why: he has imposing velocity, a violent delivery and, despite his young age, a growing injury history. In five years in the Twins system, he's maxed out at 102 innings. It's certainly plausible that the Twins concluded that he's not destined to be a starting pitcher period.

Maeda isn't going to hit triple digits on the speed gun. But he can pitch. And with four years left on his contract, he's under team control almost as long as Graterol would have been had the younger hurler remained with the Twins.

But there are cautions about Maeda beyond being a 30-something pitcher:

  • He's coming from the National League to the American League; as a rough rule-of-thumb, add a half-run to his ERA for a reasonable expectation now that he's facing lineups with the DH.
  • Dodger Stadium is a better park for pitchers than is Target Field. (Counterbalanced by far fewer trips to Coors Field.)
  • The Dodgers have consistently shifted him to the bullpen for postseason, partly because of problems against left-handed hitters, and perhaps partly because of innings-related bonus clauses.
I slot Maeda behind Berrios and Odorizzi, and probably behind Pineda once he serves his time. The Dodgers clearly slotted him behind a healthy Hill also. If everything goes the way the Twins want them to, there may not be room for Maeda in Minnesota's postseason rotation either. That may disappoint him -- he is said to have been unhappy with the swingman role in Los Angeles -- but it's a pretty good situation for the Twins.

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Contemplating Jhoulys Chacin

In 2017, Jhoulys Chacin went 13-10, 3.89 for a bad San Diego Padres (71-91) team.

In 2018, he went 15-8, 3.50 for a good Milwaukee Brewers team.

In 2019, he collapsed -- 3-12, 6.10 for the Brewers and Red Sox.

The Twins recently signed the 32-year-old righty to a minor-league deal, and it's a reasonable assumption that he's Plan A for the back of the April rotation. Remember, Michael Pineda will be under suspension for the first 39 games of the season, and Rich Hill probably won't take the hill (see what I did there?) until sometime after the All-Star break.

So the initial rotation figures to be, in some order, Jose Berrios, Jake Odorizzi, Homer Bailey, Chacin and a rookie.

The Chacin of 2019 is useless. The Chacin of the two previous years won't be easily dislodged from the rotation. He'll probably get about seven starts to prove that he's worth keeping.

I like this signing. No, he's not a Cy Young contender, but's that's not the point. He has a higher ceiling than most "disposable veteran" starters. Unless he establishes in training camp that he's truly cooked, he gives the Twins additional pitching inventory and sharpens the competition for the final rotation spot among prospects Randy Dobnak, Lewis Thorpe and Devin Smeltzer, and that's a positive too. He should help the Twins get to Pineda and Hill.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Good-bye, Harper

The Twins created room on the 40-man roster for Josh Donaldson last week by designating Ryne Harper for assignment. On Wednesday the Twins traded Harper to Washington for Hunter McMahon, a 21-year-old reliever who the Nats took out of Texas State in the ninth round of the 2019 draft.

Ninth-round picks usually have something going for them, but they're generally not prime prospects either. McMahon put up some impressive numbers in his scant professional time, but he was old for his leagues. Call him a lottery ticket; he might turn into something, or he might never be heard from again.

I had, frankly, forgotten that Harper was still on the Twins roster, which is odd considering that he ptiched in 61 games for Minnesota last season. He's a capable major league reliever, as long as he's not asked to do too much, but as the Twins revamped their bullpen in midseason his role declined, and it was difficult, if not impossible, to imagine a scenario in which Harper made the big-league club this spring. Some other blogger, I can't remember who, said Harper was probably No. 11 on the bullpen depth chart, and you certainly can make a case for that.

So this works for everybody involved. The Twins get a prospect they don't have to carry on the 40-man roster for years for a pticher they had no use for. The Nationals, who have a thin bullpen, add a useful piece for the front end. And Harper, who turns 31 in March and made his major league debut just last year, presumably avoids another season in Triple A -- and remains on a pretty good club.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Two for the Hall

The writers elected two retired players to baseball's Hall of Fame. Derek Jeter sailed in on the first ballot. one vote shy of unanimity; we will now be treated to a cavalacade of outrage that any voter would dare leave Jetes off his (or her) ballot.

Also selected, barely, on his 10th and final chance with the BBWAA, was Larry Walker, the Canadian -born outfielder whose numbers went from very good with Montreal in his early-to-mid 20s to something completely different in Colorado.

It took Walker a decade to get past the understandable wariness. Coors Field is such an extreme environment, so favorable to hitters, that entire mines are required for the metaphoric grain-of-salt skepticism. And writers have had no shortage of equally- or better-justified candidacies to support in recent elections.

Jeter compiled 72.4 WAR (wins above replacement) over the course of his 20-year career (as figured by Baseball Reference's formula). Walker, whose talents had a different shape, had 72.7 WAR in 17 seasons. That's a pretty good match.

That Jeter's election wasn't unanimous, that it took Walker the full 10 years to get to 75 percent -- these things ultimately don't matter. Future visitors to the Hall's plaque room in Cooperstown will find the two side by side. Let us ignore any mock outrage and celebrate their brilliant play.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Managers needed

The spectacle before us today: Three teams with postseason ambitions are suddenly, less than a month before spring training, without managers. One of them has to rebuild its front office. Two of them -- including the one without a baseball ops head -- apparently need a major culture change.

This is intriguing stuff. In some regards the needs of the Astros, Red Sox and Mets are similar. In others, they are not. Let's scroll through and consider the issues involved:

New York Mets

I liked this line uttered on MLB Network by Joel Sherman: This is not their scandal, but they've been splattered by the blood.

Carlos Beltran was hired after a rather lengthy interview process that appears to have emphasized, at least late in the process, inexperienced managers. One of the finalists, former Twins bench coach Derek Shelton, wound up with the Pittsburgh job and is therefore unavailable. Another, Eduardo Perez of ESPN, might still be the pick.

But with pitchers and catchers due to report in a few weeks, the Mets might benefit from an experienced hand who doesn't need months to organize and set up a spring training routine. Dusty Baker, not considered in the initial search, has reportedly emerged as a major candidate.

My thought: Baker should be a candidate for all three of these jobs, but Boston or Houston might be a better fit. If the Mets thought in November that Beltan checked their boxes, they probably should go with Perez, who appears to check the same boxes.

Boston Red Sox

A major market, high-stress environment with a major star eyeing free agency, rumors of a financially-motivated teardown in the offing, a newbie at the helm of the front office and unknown penalties in the offiing.

This sounds like a job for Johnnie B. Baker. who seems to have a way of making problems disappear by walking in the door. The obvious issue is age. Baker is 70. He's so old -- how old is he? -- he's so old he was teammates with Tito Francona.  Not the Tito Francona who manages Cleveland, his dad.

Chaim Bloom, the new Red Sox GM, may wish to go younger and bring in somebody who can be a long-term pairing with him.

My thought: Baker ought to be the guy. No, he's not likely to be a five-year solution. But he is equipped -- if anybody is -- to deal with the current complexities. Install him and worry about the future later.

Houston Astros

If there is substance behind the "they're still cheating" chatter of recent days, if indeed such crucial players as Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman are involved, this team has to have a hard hand at the helm.

Buck Showalter has reportedly already interviewed. He seems the perfect fit for a team that lacks an established general manager and needs a drastic change in attitude and approach.

My thought: Why haven't they hired this guy already? The biggest drawbacks on his well-established record are, in this case, features, not bugs. Yes, he's had clashes with veteran teams; yes, he has been accused of overreaching into areas not in his job description. The Astros can, at least for 2020, not just tolerate those risks but benefit from a bit of a control freak.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Bye bye Beltran

That Boston manager Alex Cora would not survive the damning report on sign-stealing in Houston was patently obvious. I did not foresee that Carlos Beltran would never get a game as Mets manager.

So now, with pitchers and catchers due to report in less than a month, three teams, all with postseasons ambitions if not expectations, need managers, and one needs a general manager. Astounding.

The Mets, unlike the Red Sox and Astros, can probably promote a manager from within the organization. Boston and Houston pretty clearly need somebody unconnected to the sign-stealing schemers, and that rules out their current coaching staffs. Any thought of an insider taking over for AJ Hinch or Cora had to be dashed Thursday afternoon when Twitter erupted with a claim that Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman specifically had been wearing patches that could be buzzed to notify them of specific pitches.

True or not, that's the kind of thing the Astros and Red Sox are going to face all season. No accomplishment will be above suspicion. (For what it's worth, Joel Sherman of the New York Post said on Twitter that the Astros investigation looked specifically at those rumors but turned up nothing.)

So Houston and Boston need managers from the outside. Which shouldn't be that difficult if they want to do a short-term hire. The names of Dusty Baker and Buck Showalter came up immediately -- two veteran managers of accomplishment and authority. Showalter has, apparently, already been interviewed in Houston. If the patches allegations have any validity, the new manager will require a taste for confrontation.

Meanwhile, I have no appetite for self-congratulatory "we did it the right way" commentary from anybody on any other team. It smacks too much of the anti-steroid boasts of the past, which too often proved phony. We have no idea how widespread this kind of chicanery was. I cannot believe the Astros and the Red Sox were alone (and yes, I am presuming the Red Sox had an active sign-steal technology system in place under Cora). Thursday afternoon on MLB Radio, former player Ryan Spilsborghs said something like: If you want to unwind this ball of thread further to the beginning, you know where it leads, and the others on the broadcast immediately responded: The 2016 Yankees.

But that's not likely to be dug into. The commissioner has implied that his "Apple Watch" line in the sand is as far back as he intends to dig, because that's where he specifically notified everybody that (a) penalties for electronic surveillance would be far harsher in the future and (b) that he would hold team management responsible for violations. And that's fine -- but it took a player (Mike Fiers) puttig his name on the allegations to get anywhere in the constant swirl of Houston rumors. And it may take another tattletale to get anywhere on other teams as well.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Hello, Donaldson

Josh Donaldson isn't officially a Minnesota Twin yet, but nobody's denying that the deal's in place. A few thoughts, none particularly unique, about adding The Bringer of Rain to the Bomba Squad:

* He is an immediate and significant defensive upgrade at third base, which figures to help the pitching staff. The best gloveman on this team is still Byron Buxton in center; I think Donaldson is the next best defensive player. Maybe Max Kepler is a better right fielder than Donaldson is a third baseman, but I'm inclined to rate Donaldson higher.

*The gain at third may to be offset by a decline at first, which will now be occupied by Miguel Sano. There was a noticeable decline in defense at first base last year when C.J. Cron replaced the retired Joe Mauer; expect another falloff with Sano.

* No matter how one arranges the batting order, this is a scary lineup, with six men who hit at least 30 homers in 2019 (Donaldson, Sano, Kepler, Eddie Rosario, Nelson Cruz and Mitch Garver), supplemented by the impressive bat-on-ball skills of Luis Arraez and Jorge Polanco and the slash-and-dash of Buxton. In my view, the worst hitter of the default lineup is Rosario.

* The default lineup -- outfield of Buxton flanked by Rosario and Kepler; infield of Sano, Arraez, Donaldson and Polanco; Garver catching and Cruz at DH -- leaves no obvious place for Marwin Gonzalez. Rocco Baldelli is not a manager who wants a lineup of iron men, and he's going to make playing time for Gonzalez. But Gonzalez is a weaker hitter than any of the default nine, and other than at first base, he's not necessarily a defensive upgrade anywhere. (Maybe at second, but we didn't see much of Gonzalez in the middle infield in 2019.)

*Adding Donaldson makes fitting Willians Astudillo on the 26-man roster tougher. Figure 13 position players. with the nine default players. Gonzalez makes 10, second catcher Alex Avila 11, Ehrie Adrianza 12 ... 13 comes down to Astudillo or Jake Cave/LaMonte Wade Jr. I'd vote for Gonzalez as the primary fourth outfielder and keeping Astudillo over Cave or Wade, but the Twins may see it differently.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

A.J.Hinch and the meaning of leadership

The commissioner's office decapitated the Houston Astros organization Monday in the sign-stealing scandal. Banished for a year are Jeff Ludnow, the director of baseball operations who designed and executed the tear-down and buildup that has resulted in three consecutive 100-win seasons, and A.J. Hinch, the manager who carried out Ludnow's vision on the field. About an hour after the announcement, the Astros owner, Jim Crane, fired both of them.

Also banished for at least year -- he'll have to reapply for reinstatement -- is the Astros' former assistant general manager, Brandon Trautman, earlier fired for ... well, basically a gratuitous defense of employing a domestic abuser and then lying about it.

The purpose of the punishment should be to keep other teams from doing what the Astros did -- using electronic surveillance to steal on-field signals in real time. I'm not sure, harsh as the suspensions may be, that this is enough. The Astros won a World Series doing this, and the flag flies forever. Maybe these suspensions will effectively end the baseball careers of Ludnow and Hinch, but I expect Hinch will manage a major league team again, and Ludnow may well get another rebuilding job.

But beyond that, I find myself fascinated by Hinch's apparent unwillingness -- or inability -- to curtail an activity that he disapproved. The report issued by the commissioner's office says the scheme was devised and carried out by players and then-bench coach (now Boston manager) Alex Cora. Hinch apparently didn't like it, didn't want it, and twice damaged the monitor used in the scheme (which was promptly replaced), but never explicitly forbade it.

Why? My guess -- purely a guess -- is that his reading of the clubhouse was that he would lose too many important figures if he ordered the sign stealing ended. Carlos Beltran -- now the manager of the New York Mets -- was a driving force behind the project. Cora was the engineer. It was easier for Hinch to go along with them than to impose his authority and risk their displeasure/alienation. He let the followers lead.

And I find myself thinking of Whitey Herzog running Ted Simmons out of St. Louis when he took over the Cardinals. Simmons, who had become something of a civic figure in St. Louis, resisted Herzog's authority, and Herzog didn't hesitate to get rid of him, star or not. Hinch wouldn't, couldn't, didn't, deal as forthrightly with Beltran.

And now Hinch is gone. Cora, clearly, will be gone from Boston soon; the report is particularly damning on him. Beltran faces no official sanction, but starts his own managerial career with this shadowing him.

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Rotating the rotation

I say it frequently here: Bullpens are always a work in progress. Nobody should expect a bullpen to feature the same arms in the same roles throughout the season.

Starting rotations are, ideally, a different story. Teams with strong starting pitching generally have stable rotations. They can trot the same three or four or five guys out for the first inning in September as they did in April.

And having written that sentence, I begin to doubt its accuracy in the baseball of the second decade of the 21st century. The 35-start pitcher is extinct today; the 200-inning pitcher has become a rarity. The Houston Astros won the 2017 World Series; nobody even met the 162-inning mark to qualify for the ERA title for them (I exclude Justin Verlander, who did most of his pitching for Detroit).

The stable rotation is definitely a plus; it is not a necessity, not in an era of openers, bullpen games and roster shuffles.

The Twins in 2019 got 120 starts from its four most-used starters, 146 from its top five (Jose Berrios, Jake Odorizzi, Kyle Gibson, Martin Perez and Michael Pineda). That leaves just 16 starts for everybody else, and that's about as stable as it gets. But even that rotation was falling apart by season's end, with Pineda suspended, Gibson ailing and Perez ineffective.

The 2020 Twins know their rotation won't be as stable. They're planning on a transition. They know Pineda and free-agent signee Rich Hill won't be there at the start. Hill can, seriously, be viewed right now as a trade-deadline acquisition, a reasonable ETA is the second half of July,

April's rotation will have Berrios, Odorizzi, Homer Bailey and a prospect to be selected in spring training. Remember, the Twins last year went several weeks using a four-man rotation, what with scheduled off-days and postponements. They may well not need a true fifth starter until Pineda finishes his suspension.

So ... Pineda arrives in May, and slots in somewhere amid Berrios, Odorizzi, Bailey and the fifth guy. Hill arrives in July. Whose spot does he take?

It's a question without a definitive answer in January. Maybe somebody will be hurt. Maybe somebody will be ineffective. Maybe the rookie starter will be brushing up against some innings limitations. And maybe Hill won't be ready to roll then either. All these things are possible, and that at least one of them happens is probably probable, if probably probable makes sense.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

New Year, new pitchers

Since I last posted, the Twins have announced the signings of three veteran free-agent pitchers. While none of them are stars, they each meet an important team need.

Tyler Clippard is a right-handed reliever who turns 35 next month. He's bounced around the majors for 13 years; he hasn't stuck in one place for more than a season since 2014. The Twins will be his 10th major league team.

The intriguing thing about Clippard is that he has backward platoon splits -- he's more effective against left-handed hitters than against righties. Last year, for example, lefties slashed .123/.210/.255 against him, rights .227/.292/.455. This is not a one-time fluke; Clippard's career numbers are better against lefties than against righties.

This is an intriguing skill set to add to a bullpen that has depth but also has just one lefty, Taylor Rogers. Most second lefties in major league bullpens are specialists, guys managers don't let face right-handed hitters in game situations. The new restrictions on bullpen moves -- a pitcher must either face three hitters or finish the inning -- severely dampens the value of LOOGYs (Left-handed One-Out GuYs). Clippard can handle the LOOGY role, and be a bit more than that.

Homer Bailey is a right-handed starter who figures to raise the floor of the end of the rotation. He turns 34 in May and he, like Clippard, has 13 years in the majors. He threw no-hitters in 2013 and 2013, at a time when he appeared to be an emerging star with Cincinnati.

Then the injuries hit soon after he signed a lucrative multi-year deal with the Reds. Last season, split between Kansas City and Oakland, was his first full season in a rotation since 2013.  He's not a front-of-the-rotation guy, but he figures to give the Twins starts and innings, and they needed a veteran to fill the rotation between the front end (Jose Berrios and Jake Odorizzi) and the unchosen prospect at the end. The goal with Bailey is quantity of innings and starts.

Rich Hill is kinda the opposite: the goal is quality innings, and specifically in October. The southpaw will be 40 before he throws a pitch for the Twins, and he won't throw that first pitch until sometime in July at best; he's recovering from October elbow surgery. His contract is said to be very incentive-heavy; low base, but once he actually starts pitching, the rewards mount quickly.

Hill has over the past five years or so established that he has two modes: He's either extremely effective, or he can't pitch at all. The Dodgers, for whom he was toiled the past three-plus seasons, seldom let him pitch more than five innings in a start or get much beyond two turns through the batting order. Expect similar usage with the Twins, but not until mid-summer.