The End of Nick Blackburn

Yesterday afternoon 32,261 baseball fans were treated to a 4.1 inning performance from Nick Blackburn in which more batters hit home runs (2) than struck out (1).  Before he was yanked midway through the 5th inning, Blackburn faced 23 batters,  and gave up 10 hits and 8 runs (all earned).  Unfortunately for Twins fans, this marked Blackburn’s 8th start of 2012 in which he gave up 5 or more earned runs and failed to get through the 6th inning.  In fact, Blackburn has pitched into the 7th inning just once in 2012, just last week when he went 6.2 innings and gave up just a single earned run, his best start since July 15th of 2011 when he was able to go seven full innings without giving up any runs, despite being tagged with a 2-1 loss.

Originally drafted in the 29th round of the 2001 amateur draft out of Seminole State College, Blackburn made his MLB debut  as a September call-up in 2007, going 0-2 in 11.2 innings spread out over 6 relief appearances.  In 2008 he made the team coming out of Spring Training and has been a perennial fixture in the Twins rotation since then.  Blackburn pitched fairly well in 2008 and 2009, posting ERAs just a blip over 4 in back to back seasons, and averaged almost 200 innings a year.  Coming off of his 2009 season the Twins inked Blackburn to a 4 year $14 million dollar extension that included an $8 million dollar team option for 2014.  Since that time he has struggled to stay healthy and seen his ERA increase, despite playing in the pitcher friendly confines of Target Field for half of his starts.

Nick Blackburn

2010 was a down year for Blackburn as his ERA rose to a career high 5.24 due in large part to career highs in HR/9 and BB/9 and a career low 3.8 SO/9.   In 2011 Blackburn rebounded early in the season and had a 3.64 ERA through the end of June and looked like he had finally become the pitcher the Twins had hoped he would be.  He was striking out almost 1 more batter per 9 than he was in 2010 and his BB/9 were down to a minuscule .84 walks per nine innings.  However, Blackburn fell off significantly after the All-Star break and was shut down at the end of August and never made another appearance in 2011, finishing the year with just 148.1 innings pitched and an ERA of 4.49.

Heading into 2012 the Twins were hopeful that Nick Blackburn would return from the arm issues that cost him the end of the 2011 season and once again be the dependable innings eater he was in 2008, 2009, and even the first half of 2011.  Unfortunately things have been anything but smooth for Blackburn in 2012.  His ERA is 7.46, he’s giving up more home runs than any other time in his career, and opposing teams are just spraying the ball all over the field against him.  Opponents are hitting .327/.368/.566 against him, good enough for an OPS of .934, the same OPS as Melky Cabrera.  Definitely not a recipe for success.

The Twins owe Blackburn another $2.9 million for the rest of 2012, and another $5.5 million in 2013, and even if they’re willing to eat a hefty portion of that salary, there are just not a lot of teams looking for a struggling 5th starter who cannot miss bats and hasn’t pitched a full season in two years.

The reality is that Nick Blackburn is a sunk cost.  The Twins best option at this point is to simply cut him loose.  They are a better team when he is not pitching for them.  Pay him the remaining $8.4 million left on his deal and invest the rest of his innings into some other young arms.  Is there even another option?

-ERolfPleiss

GameChat – Twins @ White Sox #3, 1:10pm

Not a lot of pre-game news to report today. If you’re listening to FSN announcers, you’re likely to hear Dick complaining about the hot weather since that is kind of his pet complaint lately. I keep trying to figure out how to send him the message that baseball is a summer game but yeah, if he hasn’t figured that out by now… But it is pretty warm for a day game – temps will be in the mid to high 90’s and I have to admit that I would be loath to be too overly active out in the sunshine in those temps. I always respect the folk who do even if they’re playing a game.

So let’s hope Blackburn is able to put some good stuff to work today!

Minnesota

@

Chi White Sox
Span, CF De Aza, CF
Revere, RF Youkilis, 3B
Mauer, C Dunn, A, 1B
Willingham, DH Konerko, DH
Morneau, 1B Rios, RF
Doumit, LF Ramirez, Al, SS
Dozier, SS Viciedo, LF
Casilla, A, 2B Flowers, C
Carroll, 3B Beckham, 2B
  Blackburn, P   Peavy, P

 

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

R

H

E

Minnesota

1

0

0

1

0

0

0

0

0

2

6

1

Chi White Sox

0

2

2

2

2

0

0

0

x

8

12

1

That was just ugly.. It seemed to fit the whole series which pretty much sucked. Starting pitching wasn’t good enough, bullpen wasn’t good enough, and hitting wasn’t good enough..

Ouch.

Minnesota Twins 2011 First Round Draft Selection Levi Michael

The last time the Twins were any good (2010) they were swept out of the post season once again by the New York Yankees.  The Twins finished that season with 84 wins, 4th best in all of baseball.  They were rewarded for their success with the 30th selection in the 2011 draft.  With that pick they selected Levi Michael.

At the time of the draft Levi Michael and the University of North Caroline Tar Heels were playing their way into the College World Series (where they promptly made a two game exit).    Levi Michael was in the midst of a fairly strong junior season (.289/.434/.434 (BA/OBP/SLG)), but he dealt with an ankle injury early on in that season which nagged him for a good part of the year.  His sophomore season at UNC was his best, hitting .343/.484/.575 and ranked as the 13th best hitter in the ACC.  While Michael was never projected to be a power hitter, his on-base skills (more walks than strikeouts 47/41) and his speed, coupled with pretty decent range on the defensive side of the ball made him one of, if not the top shortstops in the draft.

PHOTO BY SCOTT BUTHERUS, NAPLES NEWS

Selecting Levi Michael was a departure from the Twins’ usual draft strategy of drafting toolsy high schoolers (think Ben Revere and Aaron Hicks) and college arms (Kyle Gibson and Alex Wimmers), and was their first college position player taken since Travis Lee in 1996.*  Perhaps the Twins selected Michael understanding that he was one of the best players available to them with the 30th pick and they certainly had a system void of shortstops with high upsides.

The Twins signed Michael late for $1.75 million and despite not having a chance to play competitive baseball for the Twins in 2011, they started him at High A playing a combination of shortstop and second base for the Ft. Myers Miracle.  Going into 2012 Baseball America rated Michael as the Twins 6th best prospect.  TheTwins’  rationale at the time had to be that Levi Michael was a polished college player who should not have much trouble adjusting to professional baseball, and could rise quickly through the Twins MiLB system.

In 87 games for the Miracle, Michael has struggled to get his offensive game going.  He is hitting just .237/.333/.309.  He has continued to showcase a strong understanding of the strike zone at High-A, walking in more than 11% of all plate appearances.  Unfortunately, he is not getting on base enough to steal bases and he has not shown any of the power he did in college, with just 15 extra base hits so far this year (his OPS of .642 does not even rank him in the top 100 of the Florida State League).  Michael’s batting line is held down mostly due to a poor 1st half where he batted just .216/.317/.293.  He’s been much better in the second half so far  (.275/.365/.339) and he’s cut his strike out rate nearly in half down to 12.8% from 22.6%.  However, as a switch hitter he’s still struggling mightily against right handed pitching, with an OPS of just .608, almost 100 points lower than against left handed pitching. At 21 years of age Levi Michael is the 3rd youngest player on the Miracle Roster, and almost two full years younger than the average Florida State League player, so even if he spends all of 2012 and part of 2013 in Ft. Myers he would still be a full year younger than the average player when he joins the Double-A Rock Cats.

While his bat is still adjusting to the professional game, Michael is making most of the plays at both SS and 2B and leads the Miracle in games played and Fielding% at both positions.  Michael’s future in the middle infield is still up in the air as the Miracle have him splitting time between the two positions, spending slightly more time at short.  I’m not going to pretend to know much of anything about his defensive abilities beyond the tidbits I have listed above.  I have not seen him play in person, and I do not know if the errors he is committing are because he is getting to balls outside of his range and not making plays, or because he is just booting balls on routine plays.  Any help in this area would be greatly appreciated.

The biggest take-away on Levi Michael is that it is still early.  He is in his first year of professional baseball and he is one of the youngest players on his team.  He is going to face plenty more ups and downs in his career.  Compared to the Twins’ current shortstop, Brian Dozier, Michael has posted essentially the same line in his first year of High-A baseball that Dozier posted in his first full year at the same level, but Michael is two years younger and did not have the extra two years in the Twins system that Dozier had.  The future might not look bright right now, but Levi Michael is still the best middle infield prospect in the Twins system not named Eddie Rosario.

*The Twins whiffed on Lee in 1996, failing to sign him in the two weeks following the draft.  He eventually signed a $10 million dollar 4-year contract with the expansion Arizona Diamondbacks and was their starting first basemen in their inaugural season in 1998 (and came in 3rd in Rookie of the Year voting).  Lee posted a career bWAR of 5.3.

-ERolfPleiss

GameChat – Twins @ White Sox #2, 7:10 pm

The good news is that Justin Morneau has returned to the team after becoming a daddy again (Chris Parmelee has been returned to Rochester), but the bad news is that Justin apparently woke up with a stiff neck today and he’s just DHing tonight. Can a stint on the DL be far behind?

Speaking of the DL, Trevor Plouffe is neither on the DL nor playing baseball. Let’s just leave it there without comment.

Cole DeVries pitched well his last time out (or at least I think he did… I haven’t really been paying that much attention lately), so let’s hope he can do so again. I really hate losing to the Bitch Sox!

Oh… and it’s National Tequila Day, so I may not be in the chat. :)

TWINS

@

WHITE SOX
Span, CF De Aza, CF
Mastroianni, RF Youkilis, 3B
Mauer, 1B Dunn, A, DH
Willingham, LF Konerko, 1B
Morneau, DH Rios, RF
Doumit, C Ramirez, Al, SS
Dozier, SS Viciedo, LF
Casilla, A, 2B Flowers, C
Carroll, 3B Beckham, 2B
  _De Vries, P   _Quintana, P
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Minnesota 0 0 0 1 0 3 0 0 0 4 8 3
Chi White Sox 1 0 0 0 1 0 4 5 x 11 14 0

You may not have seen it, but a couple of days ago 1500ESPN’s Phil Mackey wrote a story about how the Twins field management may be rethinking their religious devotion to pitch count limits for their starting pitchers. I’ve got news for you, Phil… Gardy was pullin’ your leg.

Cole DeVries was excellent through six innings tonight, giving up just two runs (only one earned) on 7 hits, with four strikeouts and no walks. He was backed by a two-home run night by Josh Willingham and held a 4-2 lead through 6 innings. But… he had thrown 95 pitches and no matter what Gardy says to the media, you KNOW he just can’t change. So… the bullpen comes on in the 7th inning and four relievers cough up… no, make that vomit up… NINE friggin’ runs in two innings to cost DeVries and the Twins the ballgame, 11-4.

I can’t imagine how Gardy and those pitchers can even look DeVries and Willingham in the eyes after that. – JC

Denard Span’s Playing Time

On the most recent episode of Gleeman and the Geek they noted that Denard Span has been getting a lot of days off recently.  But just how many days has Span had off recently, and is that enough to cause alarm?

Denard Span has played in 87 of 95 games so far in 2012, and started 84 of those games.  He played in 28 of the Twins games to start the season, and despite missing 3 more games in the middle of May with a minor injury, he remained the Twins’ everyday center fielder and lead off man, getting just one more day off between May 18 and June 30.  However, dating back to the 2nd game of the double-header against the Royals, Denard Span has been out of the line up 3 times,  only came in as a pinch runner on July 20 in extra innings, and had to be removed from Saturday’s game with dizzyness (caused by the heat).  Now, 4 scheduled off days (ignoring the appearance to pitch run) in an 18 game stretch is not necessarily alarming, and his batting line is virtually unchanged from the .275/.344/.391 it was at before he started getting extra time off (.275/.340.378 going into last night’s game) but carried out over a 162 game season that’s at least the equivalent of two extra trips on the 15 day DL every year.

If the Twins are serious about finding a potential trade partner for Span before the August 31 trade deadline they should be doing everything they can to increase his value.  Maybe the Twins are thinking that giving Span a day off every 6th day will allow him to stay healthy and fresh, increasing his offensive and defensive permanence, thus increasing interest in acquiring his services.  However, opposing GMs might also wonder what is going on with his playing time, wondering why an everyday player like Denard Span is suddenly out of the lineup more than 15% of the time.  Is he injured?  Is he having recurring concussion and dizzyness issues that plagued him in parts of 2010 and 2011?  Moving him in and out of the lineup is certainly raising a lot of questions.

If Denard Span is nursing some sort of injury, then the Twins are walking a tight rope as they head to the trading deadline.  Obviously moving him onto the 15 day Disable List would give him time to recover, but it also takes him out of trade consideration.  Instead the Twins would be stuck trying to move him, along with Carl Pavano and Matt Capps, through a waiver trade, severely limiting the leverage of the Twins to field competing offers.  I would not expect the Twins to be playing fast and loose with the health of one of their key assets, regardless of trade value, so that makes his current spike in days off all the more intriguing.

-ERolfPleiss

GameChat – Twins @ White Sox, 7:10pm

You may or may not have heard today’s big trade news already. No, it doesn’t involve Denard Span. Yankees got Ichiro for people I’ve never heard of.. no seriously, two players I have no clue who are. How does something like that actually happen? *shrug* But it does mean that it’s EXTREMELY doubtful that Spanky will be wearing  NY Pinstripes next year.. thank god.

My guess is that Liriano is still being watched as diligently as he has for his last few starts. If he gets a win tonight, my guess is that it will certainly help build interest which is funny given how well he pitched in his last two losses.

Morneau is taking one more day of paternity leave so he’s not in tonight’s lineup. Plouffe is also still out – day to day. So there we have the regular lineup with those guys missing.

Minnesota

@

Chi White Sox
Span, CF De Aza, CF
Revere, RF Youkilis, 3B
Mauer, 1B Dunn, A, DH
Willingham, LF Konerko, 1B
Doumit, DH Rios, RF
Dozier, SS Pierzynski, C
Casilla, A, 2B Viciedo, LF
Butera, C Ramirez, Al, SS
Carroll, 3B Beckham, 2B
  Liriano, P   Floyd, P
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Minnesota 1 1 0 0 1 0 0 1 0 4 11 0
Chi White Sox 3 0 4 0 0 0 0 0 x 7 10 3

Many of us wondered whether Terry Ryan would manage to trade Frankie before he crashed back down to earth and tonight we got our answer. Liriano didn’t help his trade value tonight as he gave up seven earned runs in less than three innings. Ouch.

Denard Span demonstrated he’s healthy, however, as he went 3-5 with a double and Ryan Doumit launched his 10th home run of the season off of our old friend Jesse Crain.

Brian Duensing turned in a nice four-inning relief appearance, limiting the Sox to no runs on three hits. He even plunked AJ Pierzynski just to endear himself even more in our hearts. – JC

Knuckleballs at the Ballpark with the Internet (bloggers)

Blogger Day with FSN (L to R: John Bonnes, Me, Bill Paker, Aaron Gleeman, Nick Nelson and the FSNorth Girls, Angie Avestruz and Kaylin Cockriel)

This past Thursday I had the wonderful opportunity to attend a baseball game at Target Field as the guest of Fox Sports North. In addition to myself, Twins bloggers Aaron Gleeman, John Bonnes, Nick Nelson, and Bill Parker were all in attendance to take in a day game against the Orioles and help Fox Sports promote their recently upgraded GameConnect service.*  A great big thank you to Becky Ross and Laura Beshire from Fox Sports for hosting us, and Robby Incmikoski for stopping by the suite to talk to us and share some of his humorous baseball stories from the recent past.

I brought my father along with me last Tuesday.  It was nice to bring him along as my guest, an opportunity for me to repay him for bringing me to so many Twins games in the Metrodome in the early/mid 90s when I was a young boy.  We arrived on the suite level (just above the Legends Club) about 40 minutes before the first pitch so we took some time to wander around and check out a part of Target Field where we had never been before.  The suites are arranged around the infield lines from first base, back to home plate and then over to third.  In addition to being numbered, the suites are named after Minnesota lakes. My father and enjoyed looking at the images of the lakes and reminiscing about fishing trips at Pelican Lake or a vacation up north at Kabetogama Lake, as we walked through the halls.  On the wall opposite the suites were pictures, poster sized baseball cards, and paintings of great Twins players and management dating all the way back to the origins of the Minnesota Twins franchise as the Washington Senators.  I knew the names of a lot of those Twins greats (Harmon Killebrew, Rod Carew, Tony Oliva, Bob Allison) but my father could remember watching these guys at Met Stadium.

My father and Danny Gladden (who may or may not be my step-mom’s all-time baseball crush).

Eventually we made our way into the suite, introduced ourselves to the rest of the bloggers and their guests and settled in with a couple of beers and brats to take in a game of baseball.  In the past when I have attended games I am usually locked into the on field action.  I know who is on deck, who is warming up in the bullpen.  I like to watch the ways that players communicate with each other between plays and I am always trying to decipher the signs coming in from the dugout or third base coaches.  Up in the suite, hanging out with the bloggers I found myself spending time socializing and talking about baseball things not necessarily happening on the field below.  Numerous times I found myself searching the scoreboard to find out not just what the score was, but what inning it was and who was ahead.

After the game was over (the Twins bullpen ultimately coughed up the lead in the 8th) we joined the Twins Geek, Aaron Gleeman and Nick Nelson at the Fulton Tap Room for a beer (compliments of Mr. Gleeman) before heading back to the car and returning to Wisconsin.  All in all it was a really fun day and I cannot thank FSN enough for giving me a chance to spend a day doing the things I love: tweeting, watching baseball, and spending time with my father.

*The GameConnect webpage designed to be a tag-along feature to enhance your game watching experience.  It is updated live and provides a plethora of stats and has an integrated twitter feature to connect you to social media.  While you are not going to grab a bunch of advanced stats GameConnect gives you enough information to heighten your awareness of what is going on in the game.  The Twitter feed is a little clunky, but it searches Twitter and pulls in tons of tweets referencing the current game.  It is a great place to find new twitter followers and gives other Twins tweeters a chance to find you.  

-ERolfPleiss

Glass Houses of the Big Ten

This isn’t really the appropriate place for me to publish this article. It’s not about the Twins or baseball at all. But it’s the best outlet I have available to me to utilize to get my opinions out there and on the record, so this is the outlet I’ve chosen. If you’re only interested in what may or may not happen with the Twins and their roster, please scroll down… I’ve written plenty on that subject lately… or you can check out any of the other fine Twins blogs we list over to the right hand column .

But here, today, I’m going to write about the mess at Penn State University.

Workers remove Joe Paterno statue Sunday morning (Photo: AP/Centre Daily Times, Christopher Weddle)

I’m not going to pile on to Penn State. The NCAA’s sanctions, announced Monday morning, are unprecedented and stand as testament enough to the egregiousness of the situation. I’m certainly not going to make excuses for Joe Paterno or anyone else connected with the University. I really have no opinion whatsoever concerning whether Paterno’s statue should have remained standing outside the PSU football stadium.

If, like me, you happen to be a big fan of another Big Ten or other major college football program, I humbly suggest that you consider whether you really want to get too high and mighty on this topic either. I’m afraid many of our houses contain far too much glass for us to be casting stones.

Instead, I’m simply going to suggest that every college president and, for that matter, every college football fan, review the recommendations that were part of the report issued by former FBI director Louis Freeh and his firm concerning their investigation of PSU’s handling of the Jerry Sandusky matter.

I read through the entire Freeh report and I couldn’t help but wonder if the environment at Penn State is really all that different than what exists in many, if not most, colleges and universities with high visibility athletic programs.  This was an environment which allowed for Sandusky to continue preying on boys for more than a decade after initial allegations of his perversions were raised, largely because the values placed on sports… in this case major college football. The power placed in to the hands of a revered coach skewed an entire community’s sense of right and wrong.

The men who allowed Sandusky’s evil to go unreported for so long were not, as far as I can tell, bad men. I’m certain they all knew right from wrong. Strictly from an NCAA rules standpoint, all indications are that Penn State’s President, Athletics Director and Head Football Coach ran clean programs. The assistant coaches performed their jobs well and within the NCAA rules, from all appearances. I believe that if any of these people witnessed or even had knowledge of similar atrocities going on at their local YMCA, they’d have called authorities immediately. But sometimes otherwise good people make really bad decisions and often it’s because the subculture that they’re wrapped up in has been allowed to evolve to the point where the mores within that environment are inconsistent with (if not outright contrary to) the rest of society.

That seems clearly to have been the case at Penn State. Everyone… from the janitors to the President of the University to the Chairman of the Board of Trustees…  believed that the PSU football subculture, and the man leading it, were subject to different rules than everyone else. In fact, that dynamic was so ingrained in the fiber of the entire community that there’s almost no indication whatsoever that anyone even considered for a moment that the decision path they embarked upon was “wrong.”

As I read the report, though, I couldn’t help but wonder if the people at PSU handled this situation so much differently than their peers at other campuses would have.

I’d like to hope the people running the University of Iowa would have immediately stepped up and put an end to anything remotely approaching the crimes Sandusky is guilty of. But don’t ask me to bet a year’s pay on it. I’m just not that sure how the U of I and the Hawkeye faithful would have reacted in similar circumstances to those at Penn State. I wish I was more certain. And the fact that I believe the Hawkeyes, today, run as clean a program as anyone in big-time college sports should tell you about how certain I am that most other schools would have done the right thing.

How can we know? How can we be comfortable trusting the people that run our big-time colleges and universities to prevent anything similar to the mess at Penn State from happening on our favorite campuses?

It’s times like these that I bemoan the state of journalism in this country. There was a time, not all that long ago, when the publication of something like the Freeh Report would be met with a mad scramble of investigative journalists anxious to look in to whether the local big-time college has an environment similar to that which Freeh blamed Penn State for tolerating.

Is the Cedar Rapids Gazette investigating Iowa? Are the Star-Tribune and Pioneer-Press going to battle over who can do the best job of looking in to Goldie Gopher’s closets? What about the Detroit Free Press or the Chicago Tribune or the Columbus Dispatch? In fairness, it’s probably too soon to criticize any of those fine publications for not bothering to ask questions of the local U leaders, but I’m not holding my breath until I read something, either.

Maybe bloggers should take up the challenge. It’s not likely, since most of us exist primarily because we’re among the most rabid fans of whatever sports team(s) we focus on with our blogging. But if we’re collectively at least somewhat responsible for the sorry state of the newspaper industry and investigative journalism, in particular, then maybe we should at least try.

It wouldn’t be too difficult to come up with the questions to ask. The Freeh Report did the research for us. All we have to do is look at Freeh’s recommendations and ask every other college with a big-time athletics program if they’ve already implemented something resembling those recommendations.

Given the state of investigative journalism today, however, I’m not sure it will happen. That said, an investigative journalist in Pennsylvania played a significant role in shining a bright light on Penn State. As you can imagine, the Penn State community did not react positively to that writer’s efforts. Likewise, any journalist with the courage to take on any other major football program can expect to be similarly criticized, if not ostracized.

Who will step up and ask those questions at Iowa… at Minnesota… at Michigan and Wisconsin?

The recommendations in the Freeh report are reasonable. They are, among other things, intended to assure that the kind of influence Joe Paterno had at Penn State is never again allowed to be bestowed on coach. The NCAA has mandated that Penn State accept and implement those recommendations. 

But why stop there?

Why shouldn’t EVERY university with a significant athletics program also be required by the NCAA to adopt the recommendations? If the purpose is to prevent the previous toxic environment at Penn State from ever being repeated there, shouldn’t we also want to prevent it from existing elsewhere? Do we REALLY think Penn State under Joe Paterno was so different than anywhere else?

I wish I believed that, but I don’t. Nor do I believe the NCAA has the backbone to tell Alabama and Ohio State they have to abide by the Freeh recommendations.

The Big Ten is getting a black eye in all of this, too, because PSU is a member of that organization. The conference has long crowed about how it’s more than just an athletic conference… it’s focus is also on higher education. It likes to talk about how its member institutions must meet higher standards than schools in other conferences.

Maybe it’s time to prove it.

Maybe the Big Ten should stand up and say, “Our member institutions will ALL be expected to comply with the recommendations in the Freeh report within two years or face penalties similar to those the NCAA imposed on Penn State.” Now that would get the attention of a few University presidents… and their football coaches.

God willing, we’ll never see another situation on a campus as vile as that which Jerry Sandusky and those who enabled him at Penn State are responsible for. But I’m as certain as I can be that the environment that allowed that situation to occur was not unique to Penn State and, unless someone stands up and demands that other campuses also be reviewed, Penn State will not be the last institution brought to its knees by such an environment.

The NCAA won’t do the right thing and impose Freeh’s recommendations on all programs, but the Big Ten should. And if they won’t, someone should ask Jim Delany and the member presidents to go on the record and explain why not.

– JC

UPDATE: As was predictable and likely appropriate, the Big Ten has added its own additional penalties upon Penn State. The penalties involve censure, lack of eligibility for the Conference Championship game (which was a no-brainer, since they aren’t eligible for bowl play) and loss of their share of bowl revenue for four years. I still believe the BIG presidents should turn their attention to their own glass houses, rather than simply pile on Penn State.

Minor Leagues: Let the Affiliation Dance Begin

I’ve been much better this season about limiting my posts to 1200-1300 words. This one, however, is a return to the days of much longer tomes. I apologize in advance to those of you with shorter attention spans. – JC

Some who follow the Twins minor league affiliates were at least somewhat surprised this past week when the Twins announced they had renewed their Player Development Contract (PDC) with AA affiliate New Britain CT. The Rock Cats will remain the home of the Twins’ AA players for at least the next two years. PDCs are entered in to for an even number of years, so two years is the shortest contract the two organizations could have agreed upon. I guess you could say the extension isn’t exactly indicative of the two sides making a mutual long term commitment.

The Rock Cats have had a pretty good year, at least compared to their parent organization. Through Saturday, they had a 56-44 record that the Twins themselves should be jealous of and were just 2.5 games behind the Eastern Division leading Trenton Thunder. They also had a 4.5 game lead over the third place Reading Phillies. That’s important to the Rock Cats because the top two teams in each division qualify for the Eastern League playoffs.

Of course, from the perspective of the parent organization (and most of their fans), winning games and making minor league playoffs is of secondary concern. The primary purpose of the minor leagues is to develop talent that can eventually be of use at the Major League level. But if you don’t think winning games plays a role when it comes to renewing PDCs, you clearly do not live in a community with a minor league ballclub. To the owners and management of those minor league teams, who rely almost exclusively on putting butts in the seats in order to make financial ends meet, winning does matter.

To that end, fielding a competitive team in a PDC renewal year is certainly not a bad idea if you want to maintain your relationship with a community. I don’t think it’s at all a coincidence that New Britain has gone from perhaps the most likely Twins affiliate to explore other options to being the first affiliate to sign on for another two-year term within the time it took to put a team on the field capable of being 12 games over .500 as they near the final month of their season.

But the Cats are not the only Twins affiliate with an expiring PDC after this season. The Twins’ agreements are also up with their AAA affiliate in Rochester NY, their Class A-Advanced affiliate in Ft. Myers FL and their Class A affiliate in Beloit WI. It’s pretty safe to say that the Ft. Myers Miracle will be remaining affiliated with the Twins, since they’re a “complex affiliate” that calls the Twins’ Spring Training complex their home, but the other two situations are not nearly as locked down.

The Rochester situation is interesting. The Red Wings and their fans take a lot of pride in their team and they don’t suffer poor results well. And suffer they have, lately. Both in 2010 and 2011, the Wings were downright awful. They were so bad in 2010 that a vocal part of their fan base were upset that the decision makers signed on for another two years with the Twins. Red Wings management were rewarded for their loyalty with a second consecutive 90+ loss season in 2011. Given the lower number of games played in the minor leagues, that’s pretty comparable to two consecutive 99+ loss seasons at the Big League level. (Sound familiar to anyone?)

The Red Wings got off to another poor start in 2012, so you can imagine how local sentiment for dumping the Twins has grown. A recent hot streak had the Red Wings up to a .500 record at 50-50 through Saturday, but they were still in fifth place, 5.5 games behind the North Division leading Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees (who, coincidentally, have been playing many of their “home” games at Rochester’s Frontier Field while their own home stadium undergoes major renovations this summer). They were also five games out of the International League’s Wild Card spot. That may not seem like a lot, but that still left five teams they would have to pass to make the IL playoffs as the Wild Card.

Nonetheless, the Twins have made an effort to field a more competitive team in Rochester this year and they brought in a new manager, Gene Glynn, who’s more popular with the locals. Is it enough to keep the Twins and Red Wings tied together for at least two more years? Maybe. There simply is not usually a lot of movement of affiliations at the AAA level and both parties have to be a little careful about rushing to end the arrangement. Either (or both) could end up finding themselves in even worse situations.

Beloit is a bit of a different situation. Beloit would do cartwheels to retain their PDC affiliation with the Twins. The Snappers are not off to a very good start in the second half of their Midwest League season, but they finished second in the Western Division in the first half, which assures them a spot in the MWL playoffs. (MWL seasons are divided in to two halves, with the division winners and runners-up in each half qualifying for the playoffs.) But on-field success isn’t the main reason Beloit’s anxious to re-up with the Twins.

Beloit, while being the home of MWL executive offices, has what are widely considered the worst facilities in the league. Their stadium has been in need of replacement for years and the organization has simply not been able to get public support to do what’s necessary. Two years ago, plans were pitched for a new facility but, like prior attempts, they were never approved. Some reports now indicate the club may have better luck with a proposal to renovate. Their stadium issues would likely make attracting a new MLB affiliate challenging, so say the least.

But would poor facilities be enough motivation for the Twins to walk away from their eight-year relationship with Beloit? In a word, yes. In fact, the lack of progress on an appropriate stadium were reported to be the reason the Milwaukee Brewers opted to move their MWL affiliation out of Beloit after the 2004 season. Major League teams do, in fact, care about the facilities that their young prospects call home. They want to make sure the fields are maintained in a first rate manner and that clubhouses and training facilities are at least adequate, if not well above that standard.

Unlike the situation with AAA organizations, it’s far more common for Class A organizations to switch affiliations. In fact, reports I’ve seen indicate 12 of the 16 Midwest League teams have expiring PDCs after the 2012 season and Twins senior director of minor league operations Jim Rantz told the Pioneer Press that he expects 8-9 of those teams to actually make changes. I’ll be surprised if the Twins aren’t one of those teams looking for another MWL home.

I’ve made no secret of my wish that the Twins hook up with my local team, the Cedar Rapids Kernels, but there’s no assurance the Kernels will enter the pool of teams open to exploring a new PDC parner. The Kernels have been an Angels affiliate for 20 years and although it’s not unusual for AA and AAA relationships to run that long and even much longer, the Kernels and Angels have the longest running relationship in the Midwest League. While the Kernels haven’t had a bunch of Championship titles to show for the relationship, the Angels have been pretty good about sending most of their top prospects through Cedar Rapids for at least half a season.

Kernels GM Doug Nelson (right) chats with Angels GM Jerry Dipoto at a recent Kernels game

Still, according to the Cedar Rapids Gazette, there’s a growing sentiment among the fan base in Cedar Rapids (and, rumor has it, among some of the club’s governing Board of Directors, which serves as essentially the “owners” of the Kernels) that it’s time for a change. There’s a sense that it would be nice to have an affiliation with one of the midwestern MLB ballclubs, so local fans could better follow the prospects that come through town all the way to the Big Club. Of course, the fact that the Kernels finished 7th out of the eight-team Western Division of the MWL in the first half of the season and have dropped in to the cellar in the second half might have something to do with the fan sentiment, too.

It would make sense from the Twins’ perspective, as well, in the following ways:

  • Cedar Rapids is the closest MWL community to the Twins Cities. No, players do not routinely get called up from Class A to the Twins, so that’s not an issue. But it’s not at all unusual for MWL teams to be used for rehab assignments by their nearby Big League affiliates and front office types do routinely make trips. (In fact, there have been almost annual Terry Ryan sightings in Cedar Rapids, both during his time as a “senior adviser” and as Twins GM.) Though CR isn’t THAT much closer to Target Field than Beloit, if you’ve ever had cause to try to fly between those locations, there’s a significant difference.
  • Veterans Memorial Stadium is just over a decade old. It could no doubt use some remodeling, but it’s a far cry better than what Twins prospects currently call home in Beloit. Not only that, but Perfect Game (the national amateur scouting service) training facilities are about a block away from the stadium and my understanding is that Kernels players have access to PG’s facilities, perhaps as part of the naming rights deal the organizations have (the formal name of the ballpark is “Perfect Game Field at Veterans Memorial Stadium”).
  • All of Iowa is considered part of the Twins home market, yet FSN isn’t carried by the primary cable providers in Eastern Iowa. Nor is there even a radio station in the area that carries Twins broadcasts. The reason is that, while there’s a solid, loyal base of Twins fans in the area, that base is not as large as it could be… or as it should be. A Twins affiliation with the Kernels would almost certainly change this situation as Kernels fans become Twins fans. The Twins would, over time, see far more group sales from this area as fans travel up to see former Kernels at Target Field.

It makes sense for both organizations. So why don’t the Twins and Kernels just sit down and come to an agreement? Well, as is often the case when you’re talking about professional baseball rules, it’s really just not quite that easy.

Under the rules of MLB and Minor League Baseball (MiLB), existing affiliated teams can negotiate extensions any time they’re mutually inclined to do so, just as the Twins and Rock Cats did recently. But if either party to an existing PDC wants to explore other options, they must wait until a specified window of time to declare their desire to explore other options. New PDC agreements can then be negotiated and entered in to beginning September 16 (any private or public statements about possible interest in another affiliate prior to that date earns hefty fines for the clubs deemed guilty of such “tampering”). Clubs have just two weeks to find a new dance partner, however, because agreements need to be executed by September 30. After that date, any MLB or MiLB clubs without an agreement will be matched up and assigned an affiliation by agreement between the MLB Commisioner and the MiLB President. (Honestly, how many of you would want Bud Selig to be deciding who your affiliate would be?)

Nobody wants that to happen, but it’s not all that rare, either. While the Twins would likely have no problem finding a soft landing spot for their Class A affiliation, the AAA situation could be more dicey. Then again, the relatively small number of MLB teams likely to look for a new AAA partner could make the Red Wings’ management group think twice about whether they can really improve their situation or whether they might end up with an even worse result than sticking with the Twins for another couple of years. After all, in theory, some of those Rock Cats that are having a successful season in New Britain this year should find their way to Rochester next season, right?

So the question is whether the good folks who run the Red Wings are willing to take that chance.

Twins GM Terry Ryan during a recent visit to Cedar Rapids

In the end, I’ll guess that Rochester and the Twins extend their agreement for another two years. I’ll also go with my heart, rather than my head, and predict a Twins move to Cedar Rapids for their Class A affiliation. I readily admit that there’s at best a 50-50 chance that the Kernels will end their relationship with the Angles (Angels GM Jerry Dipoto was in CR last week to make a pitch to continue their affiliation) and it’s no sure-thing that the Twins would step in even if the Kernels and Angels divorce. That makes it far less than 50-50 that my wishes come true, but right now I’ll take those odds.

– JC

GameChat – Twins @ Royals #3, 1:10pm

Several bits of information for today’s pregame conversation:

  1. The Morneau’s have named their brand new little boy – Martin. Yes, they named him Marty Morneau.. it’s a solid name but the jokes have already begun.
  2. Span was only a little dizzy last night which is why he left the game. He was not traded and he was not injured. He’s back today and says he feels fine now.
  3. Plouffe has a deep bruise on the base of his thumb so he’s out again today. In a way though, this is good news. No serious damage and bruises usually heal fairly quickly.
  4. Prepare yourself for constant discussion of the heat if you are one following along with Dick Bremer… it’s supposed to be EXCEEDINGLY hot in KC today. It’s already 96 degrees there right now and is supposed to top out around 102 or so according to reports I’ve looked at. The good news is that it’s NOT humid, just hot. Now that the guys aren’t in those tents they were wearing last night, they should be able to sweat and cool easily.

Despite it being a Sunday day game, Gardy actually has a great A lineup out there so I think he’s taking seriously the desire to win this series and make some progress in moving up in the division. Let’s hope the offense & defense does a better job than last night. Deduno hasn’t really sparkled in his appearances in the bigs so far but I think he’s been laying the groundwork to be a decent pitcher – especially if the offense gives him some room to work.

Minnesota

@

Kansas City
Span, CF Gordon, LF
Revere, RF Escobar, A, SS
Mauer, 1B Moustakas, 3B
Willingham, LF Butler, DH
Doumit, DH Cain, CF
Dozier, SS Perez, S, C
Casilla, A, 2B Francoeur, RF
Butera, C Hosmer, 1B
Carroll, 3B Getz, 2B
  Deduno, P   Guthrie, P

 

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

R

H

E

Minnesota

0

1

4

0

0

1

1

0

0

7

8

0

Kansas City

0

0

0

1

0

0

0

2

2

5

10

0

Well there were a few good points to today’s game not the least of which was we WON! Winning today means we won the series. It does give us a little progress in moving up in the division now though. We are now in last place by only half a game. *snort* I would really like it if we didn’t stay in this place by the end of the season.

We also got a great start from young Deduno who really threw well today. The Royals lineup has shown that it knows how to take advantage of poorly thrown balls so it didn’t really give Samuel a lot of leeway but then again, he didn’t need it. I give a lot of credit to him and to Drew Butera for whatever his part was in getting a quality start plus some from the struggling rookie.

Also, Ryan Doumit accomplished something today that only 2 other Twins have ever done – he hit TWO HOMERUNS, one from each side of the plate. Only Roy Smalley and Chili Davis have done this for Minnesota so that’s quite an accomplishment in itself. It also seemed to light a fire under the other MN bats to get some runs going.

Between the efforts of Deduno and Doumit, we are giving them CO-BOD status today. Thanks guys!

Sam Deduno
David Goldman, Associated Press

Ryan Doumit