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.