GameChat – Twins @ Mariners #3, 3:10pm

Ron Gardenhire has announced that Brian Dozier will be the team’s starting shortstop when he arrives in the clubhouse on Monday.  Jamey Carroll will be shifted to a utility role for the time being,  giving Gardenhire an opportunity to give occasional rest to Danny Valencia and Alexi Casilla (or replace them if they continue to struggle).

The Twins’ 9 hits in their last 4 games is the worst streak in the modern era (since 1900).  Ouch.  Let’s hope for something better this afternoon.

Erik Komatsu is in right field again, Mauer is back behind the plate for the first time in almost a week, and Carroll will get a swan-song at shortstop.  Here is the rest:

 Minnesota Twins

@

Seattle Mariners
 Span, CF  Ackley, 2B
 Carroll, SS  Ryan, SS
 Mauer, C  Suzuki, I, RF
 Willingham, LF  Montero, DH
 Doumit, DH  Seager, 3B
 Parmelee, 1B  Jaso, C
 Valencia, 3B  Smoak, 1B
 Komatsu, RF  Carp, LF
 Casilla, A, 2B  Saunders, M, CF
  _Blackburn, P   _Noesi, P

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Minnesota

0

0

0

0

0

0

1

0

1

2

5

0

Seattle

3

1

0

1

0

0

0

0

X

5

7

2

 

Ryan Doumit was 3/3 with a walk and 2 HR.  The rest of the Twins were 2/27 with 5 walks and 6 strikeouts.  All in all, another pretty disappointing display of baseball from the Twins.

Twins are back home tomorrow to start a 9 game homestand.  Francisco Liriano takes the mound against a no-name pitcher for the Angels, Jered Weaver.

-ERolfPleiss

Twins On The Hot Seat

As the Twins near the end of the first month of the season, things aren’t going very well. True, few fans really expected that things WOULD be going well, given the combination of last season’s record and the brutal April schedule that MLB saddled them with. Nonetheless, we can’t really be blamed for being disappointed with some of the performances we’re seeing on the field, thus far.

Given the way their most recent season or two have gone, we all had legitimate questions about what we could expect out of Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and even Denard Span. We theorized that, if those three guys could somehow prove to be healthy, this team would have plenty of offense and that alone could allow them to threaten to play .500 ball. Guess what? All three players have been healthy and productive… but the team has still managed to lose twice as many of their first 15 games as they’ve won.

So, who’s to blame? More specifically, who’s roster spots… and perhaps even who’s future in Major League Baseball… are on the line already in this young season? Honestly, the list of underachievers on this Twins team so far is so long that it will be a challenge to list all the players with their heads on the chopping block in one post. But let’s try. We can certainly cover the names at the top of the list.

Alexi Casilla

Alexi Casilla – I’ve always loved Lexi. I admit to that bias, going all the way back to his time here in Cedar Rapids with the Kernels. He’s traditionally a slow starter, so it’s hardly a surprise to see him hitting below .250. But he’s not getting on base at a much higher rate and his fielding has been frustratingly inconsistent. With Brian Dozier hitting over .300 and sporting an .841 OPS through Saturday, you have to wonder how long Lexi’s leash is, at this point.

Of course, Dozier can only play one position and Casilla isn’t the only Twins infielder performing at a disappointing level. Which brings us to…

Danny Valencia - Unlike Casilla, I’ve never had a warm and fuzzy feeling toward Valencia. There’s something about his personality that just rubs me the wrong way. Then again, I don’t need to “like” a player to appreciate their talents if they’re contributing a little something to my favorite team’s success. So if Danny would… say… hit the friggin baseball once in a while, I’d overlook the whole personality thing. But he hasn’t done that. Not this year and, really, not last year. So exactly why should we assume he’s entitled to a regular position in the Twins line up?

Brian Dozier

Dozier could take his spot just as easily as Casilla’s. Either Casilla or Jamey Carroll would likely be an upgrade at 3B over Valencia defensively, making room for Dozier in the middle infield somewhere.

In fact, if the Twins really wanted to send a message (or if they could find another team foolish enough to take one or both of Casilla and Valencia off their hands), there’s another infielder in Rochester more than holding his own. Mike Hollimon was somewhat impressive during a short stint with the Big League club in Spring Training and he’s carried that production in to the season. He’s only hitting .256, but he’s getting on base and hitting with a little pop. In other words, he’s doing the things Valencia is supposed to be doing… and isn’t.

But let’s be honest, there’s one guy who’s Big League future is in even graver danger of coming to an end. We’re speaking, of course, about…

Francisco Liriano - Remember when he was known as “The Franchise”? If he’s been saving his money, maybe he’ll be able to buy a Popeye’s Chicken franchise, but his days as a starting pitcher for the Minnesota Twins are running short.

Francisco Liriano

We all know that Spring Training numbers are not necessarily predictive of regular season performance (if they were, Luke Hughes would be in his second year as a starting infielder for the Twins instead of awaiting word of his fate after being Designated for Assignment last week), but how in the world does a pitcher go from giving up just four runs on 10 hits in 18 Spring Training innings to the level of suckage we’re seeing out of Frankie now? An 11.91 ERA? 22 hits and 9 walks in 11.1 innings? Really?

Liriano’s facing the Tampa Bay Rays today… a Rays team that isn’t shy about swinging at pretty much anything that’s thrown near the plate. If he can’t put something together resembling a decent start against these guys, it might be time to think about moving on. Maybe Frankie can be effective out of the bullpen. Pitching one inning at a time gives a pitcher less to think about and, in his case, that has to be a good thing, right?

But who would replace him in the Twins rotation? It’s not like the organization is brimming with high level pitching prospects. Scott Diamond, however, is sporting a nifty little 3-0 record in Rochester, with a 1.47 ERA. If you don’t like Wins and ERA as measuring sticks (and, really, who does?), that’s fine. He’s also struck out 14 hitters and walked only 5 in his 18.1 innings of work and fashioned a nice 1.200 WHIP. He’s given up only one home run.

With Dozier and Diamond looking very good in Rochester, the Twins have some options… and while it’s only the end of April, we’ve seen enough of Casilla, Valencia and Liriano over the past several seasons to pretty much know that they are who they are… and who they are is not terribly good.

- JC

Two Weeks In: Who Is This Team?

I swear if there’s one thing I’ve grown more tired of than people using small sample sizes to “prove” how good or bad a player is, at this still-early point in the season, it’s people who do so while even admitting that they’re using small sample sizes. Let’s be brutally honest here, statheads, stats over a single two week period, even if it’s the first two weeks of the season, are almost completely worthless.

That’s one reason that, despite the disadvantage I have of living in blacked out Iowa, I’ve made considerable efforts to hang out in the local Cedar Rapids sports bars as often as possible this month. This allows me to actually watch the Twins, rather than just look at the box scores, to judge who’s doing well and who isn’t. Naturally, it also gives me the opportunity to purchase overpriced beer and fried food, but that’s just a sacrifice I’m willing to make for my team and our readers.

One thing about having a blog like this is that you eventually feel compelled to write something, even if almost everything you have to say has most likely been expressed elsewhere. With that said, here’s what I think about what I’ve seen of the 2012 Minnesota Twins:

I don’t know what to think.

Are they the team that might just as well have been using toothpicks for bats in their opening series sweep at the hands of the mighty Baltimore Orioles? (That’s the American League East Division LEADING Baltimore Orioles to you, Mack!) Or are they the team that took two of three games from Albert Pujols’ Angels? Or the one that got swept by Joe Nathan’s new buddies from Texas? Or the guys that have taken two out of the first three games from the Evil Empire in Yankee Stadium, no less?

It’s probably just stating the obvious, but since that’s one of the things I do best, here’s a rundown of a few things we probably have found out about this season’s edition of the Twins:

Spring Training numbers mean zip, zilch, nada, not a friggin’ thing.

  • Remember all those good vibrations we were getting in March from Francisco Liriano? Three starts in to the season and he’s the same head case he was last year. Maybe he’ll turn things around yet, but man has he looked bad after being pretty much unhittable in Ft. Myers.

    Luke Hughes, we hardly knew ye

  • For the second season in a row, Luke Hughes put up very impressive numbers in Spring Training. The same Luke Hughes who’s now been Designated for Assignment because the team needed his roster spot for Jason Marquis on Wednesday and Hughes is out of options. I suppose he COULD pass through waivers, but expectations are that some team will claim him and he’ll get a chance to join another organization’s Big League roster. Best of luck to Luke (unless he ends up with the F’ing Yankees or White Sox, of course).
  • There was a lot of hand-wringing in Spring Training over Justin Morneau with many people pretty much writing off his career. He’s attacking the ball at the plate with an intensity we haven’t seen since before his head came in to contact with a Blue Jay knee at second base almost two years ago. Three home runs in the two games he’s played at Yankee Stadium so far this week isn’t too shabby.

Josh Willingham can hit baseballs really, really well. Yes, defensively, balls hit in his direction can turn in to an adventure, but this is a fan base that’s been watching Delmon Young in LF for a couple of years… we can deal with Willingham. Especially if he keeps hitting the ball consistently. You can’t get much more consistent than starting the season with a 12 game hitting streak.

Reports of the demise of Joe Mauer and Denard Span were a tad premature. Both are still really good at baseball. Mauer still hits in to too many 4-6-3 double plays, but as is the case with Morneau, we’re seeing a version of Mauer we haven’t seen on the field in far too long. Span looks poised to reclaim his spot atop the rankings of AL lead-off center fielders.

Jamey Carroll is pretty much exactly what we thought he was… a solid shortstop that will field the balls hit near him and make good throws to first base. If the position hadn’t been such a disaster last year, that might not be big news, but I enjoy not having to hold my breath every time a ground ball gets hit that direction.

Alexi Casilla is really bad… or really good… face it, none of us have figured that out for sure ever since the Twins got him in return for JC Romero. We still don’t know, but I like the Lexi that’s been playing in Yankee Stadium this week.

The bullpen hasn’t sucked. Again, faint praise, perhaps. But given the angst most of us felt about the situation and the fact that a couple of guys that were counted on to fortify the pen have either been injured or pushed to the rotation, things could be much worse out there. I’m a bit nervous about Glen Perkins, though.

So with all of this stuff going well, why the hell have the Twins lost twice as many games as they’ve won?

The answer, of course, is a familiar one. This team has a rotation that simply is not very good and the pitchers are being backed up by a defense that’s not much better. I don’t need two weeks worth of statistics to tell me that’s a dangerous combination.

Liam Hendriks and Anthony Swarzak have looked marginally promising. Carl Pavano looks to be what we all know he is… a marginal, but gutsy, innings-eater. Maybe Jason Marquis will be something similar. Nick Blackburn hasn’t been awful, but his ceiling isn’t terribly high, not to mention this “mystery shoulder tightness” thing he came down with this week.

The bottom line is that we still really don’t know what to expect from this team after two weeks. The rest of April will continue to be a challenge, due to the brutal scheduling this month and the iffy pitching situation, but there’s nothing like a couple of wins against the F’ing Yankees at their place to raise spirits a bit. Win another game to claim the series tonight and I may not be able to contain my giddiness!

- JC

Game Chat – Twins @ Yankees, 6:05 pm

Justin Morneau plays first base tonight and Josh Willingham slips up in to the clean-up spot between Morneau and Joe Mauer, as Justin drops down to 5th in the order.

It’s also Carl Pavano’s first start for the Twins in Yankee Stadium. That should be interesting because he’s so beloved there.

TWINS

@

YANKEES
Span, CF Jeter, SS
Carroll, SS Granderson, CF
Mauer, DH Rodriguez, Al, 3B
Willingham, LF Cano, 2B
Morneau, 1B Teixeira, 1B
Doumit, C Swisher, RF
Valencia, 3B Ibanez, DH
Thomas, C, RF Martin, C
Casilla, A, 2B Gardner, LF
  _Pavano, P   _Garcia, F, P
  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Minnesota 2 0 0 0 2 1 0 2 0 7 14 1
NY Yankees 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 3 9 0

Many of you younger Twins fans may not realize it, but yes the Twins ARE allowed to beat the Yankees! Young or old, not many fans have seen the Twins beat the Evil Empire lately, especially at George’s Monstrosity.

This was another team-wide effort. Our guys scored two runs in the top of the first and I jokingly asked the Chat group what the over-under was on how long it would take Carl Pavano to cough up the lead. I don’t think any of us imagined the answer would be four pitches, but that’s all the longer it took. But the three runs ‘Stache allowed in the first were all they got as he frustrated the hell out of Yankee hitters (and a few million Yankee fans, no doubt) for the next six scoreless innings.

Brian Duensing lit up the radar gun, hitting 95 mph several times, in the scoreless 8th and Matt Capps closed the door in the ninth.

Joe Mauer had three hits (two of them doubles, one in each corner of the OF), Justin Morneau celebrated his return to the defensive side of the field by launching a home run to dead CF.

All of these guys, and probably more, deserve baked goods galore for their efforts and certainly both Pavano and Mauer were worthy of Boyfriend of the Day consideration. But we’re going to reward defense tonight and Alexi Casilla just ooooozed defense! A slick, leaping turn of a double play and a diving stop of a ground ball up the middle followed by a glove-hand feed to SS Jamey Carroll were just two examples of his contributions. Just for good measure, he also doubled and scored a run. For all of that, Lexi, you are our BOD!

- JC

Alexi Casilla

Twins Predictions

Real live baseball (in America) begins tonight, before ramping up on Thursday, leading to the Twins’ opener on Friday in Baltimore.  With opening ceremonies in mind, here are the Knuckleballs Twins Predictions for 2012:

Pitcher of the Year: Scott Baker (minor early season DL stint not-withstanding) Baker was the best of a bad Twins pitching staff in 2011, despite missing chunks of the season on the Disabled List.  I couldn’t tell you why I think he’s going to be healthy and productive this year (which already seems like a bad idea), but I think he will be great.  Jim Crikket thinks that Francisco Liriano will be the best pitcher of the year.   His spring numbers were very positive, he limited his walks and earned plenty of strike outs.  Unfortunately, if you look back just a little farther to his Winter numbers, they’re terrible.  Let’s hope the recent results tell more of a story for 2012.

Hitter of the Year: Justin Morneau  “Morneau is swinging like I haven’s seen him swing in a couple of years. Vicious cuts.” – Jim Crikket  Again, these are only Spring Training at bats, but ever since Morneau flipped the switch and hit two home runs in a game a couple weeks ago he’s been a man on fire.  Moving into the DH position and focusing solely on hitting seems to be working for Morneau.  Success in 2012 will help distance Morneau from his 2010 concussion and he could be playing first base everyday by the All-Star Break.

Defender of the Year: I wanted to select Alexi Casilla as the defender of the year, hoping against hope that he will remain focused, healthy, and attentive at second base and play more than 100 games for the first time in his career.  Jim wanted to go with Denard Span, because for the Twins to succeed in 2012 Span is going to need to cover huge amounts of ground in the left field and right field gaps (gaps which are now wide open with the move to put Josh Willingham and some combination of Trevor Plouffe and Ryan Doumit in the corners).

Rookie of the Year: Chris Parmelee/Liam Hendriks If Parmelee continues to hit like he did last September and this Spring he’ll be a top choice for the Twins’ best rookie.  The other candidate, who made the 25 man roster and will open the season in the starting rotation is Liam Hendriks.  Hendriks was probably slated to come up after 5-10 AAA starts, but because Scott Baker and Jason Marquis are not ready to start the season Hendriks gets a chance to showcase his skills earlier than anticipated.  If he keeps his spot in the rotation when both Baker and Marquis are back you’ll know he’s pitching well and on track to steal a Rookie of the Year award from Parmelee.

Most Valuable Player: Justin Morneau The engine that makes the Twins go is Joe Mauer, but Mauer is even better with a healthy Justin Morneau hitting behind him, forcing pitchers to attack Mauer allowing him to hit doubles all over spacious Target Field and driving in runs for the Twins.  If Morneau comes back and is indeed the hitter of the year, selecting him as the MVP will be as much about what he does as an individual, as what he does in the lineup to help those around him.

Comeback Player of the Year: Francisco Liriano Obviously Justin Morneau is a candidate here if he hits well and helps the team succeed, but after a horrendous 2011, if Liriano returns to his 2010 form he’s one of the best players in baseball.  If Morneau and Liriano are both All-Stars, this team will be lucky to two potential comeback players on their squad.

Expected Record: The Marcel projections peg the Twins for just a 70-92 record, relying heavily on the Twins’ 2011 results as a predictor of 2012 success (and a heavy dose of regression to the mean).  Even if Joe Mauer’s Cindarella Spring Training Clock strikes midnight and he turns in another injury plagued 2012, simply trading Drew Butera for Ryan Doumit means turning a -1.2 WAR into a 1.2 WAR, 2.4 additional wins, and that’s not even factoring in upgraded seasons the Twins are likely to receive from Denard Span, Alexi Casilla, Jamey Carroll (vs. Tsuyoshi Nishioka), Danny Valencia, and at least half of the Twins’ pitching staff.  Assuming then that the 70-92 record is the worst that the Twins could do in 2012, what is a reasonable expectation for the Home 9?  My best guess, 82-80, Jim Crikket is more optimistic, suggesting even 86-76 for the Twins.  Either way, the Twins are going to be competitive, entertaining and might even be relevant in September.  Will any of this come to pass?   I don’t know, but we’ve got 162 games to find out.  Bring on the baseball!

-ERolfPleiss

Looking for Breakout Seasons

By this point, everyone knows the variables that will determine whether the Twins will have a successful 2012 season, right? Mauer, Morneau, Baker and Span have to stay healthy and the bullpen needs to be vastly improved over last year. We know all of that because every beat writer, columnist and blogger has pointed at those issues over and over again since October.

Sure, if the established veterans all return to the level of productivity we’ve come to expect from them, the Twins should avoid the kind of meltdown they suffered through last season. That said, if the team is going to actually contend in 2012, they’re going to need more. They will need breakout seasons from players that have not yet demonstrated that they belong among the American League’s elite names at their positions.

But where can the Twins expect to find those potential breakout seasons?

The typical arc of a professional baseball player’s career is actually more predictable than one might think. Their prime years are pretty much from ages 26 to 32. We all spent a lot of time discussing the back end of that range during the offseason, as we discussed the pros and cons of offering multi-year contracts to Michael Cuddyer, who is just past that “prime” range, and Joe Nathan, who is well past it.

But when you are looking for potential breakout years, it makes more sense to focus on the front end of the range. The Twins are notorious for bringing their minor league prospects along slowly through the organization and, for a club with a reputation for disregarding advanced statistical analysis, it appears that they may have a basis for this particular proclivity. Projecting that most players hit their strides at age 26, I doubt that it’s a coincidence that most Twins prospects aren’t often starting their Major League careers (and their arbitration clocks) until they’re at least 24 years old. The Twins apparently try to time a player’s Big League debut a year or two before they expect him to break out and become a fully productive Major League ballplayer, then get as much of their peak years as possible while they’re still affordable.

Glen Perkins

For example, Cuddyer was getting his first real full-time duty with the Twins at age 25 and had his first OPS above .800 (or first OPS+ season over 100, if you prefer that metric) in his age 27 season. Torii Hunter got a taste of the Big Leagues in the season during which he turned 24, but he really figured it out in 2001, the season he turned 26. More recently, Glen Perkins may have made his debut at age 24, but it wasn’t until last year, in his age 28 season, that he carved out a meaningful role for himself with the Twins.

Armed with this knowledge, who should we be looking at in 2012 as having the potential to have breakout seasons? Here’s a list of possible candidates:

Trevor Plouffe turns 26 years old in June. He’s shown some pop in his bat and, let’s be honest, if he had demonstrated passable defensive abilities, he’d be the Twins regular shortstop right now. If he can play a decent outfield, Plouffe could establish himself this season. But few players really get it all figured out in their first full year of regular time in the Show, so we should probably hold off on establishing those expectations of Trevor quite yet. Maybe next year.

The same would be true of pitchers Anthony Swarzak and Kyle Waldrop. Both will be 26 years old pretty much throughout the upcoming season, but given their relative lack of Major League experience, it’s probably not realistic to expect them to have Glen Perkins-like results already this season.

Luke Hughes

Infielder Luke Hughes is starting his age 27 season and he got a few swings in at the Big League level last year, so we can hope to see him step his game up a little bit. He’s not currently penciled in for a regular starting job, though, so you have to wonder if he’ll get the plate appearances necessary to make significant strides in 2012.

So if those candidates aren’t likely to break out, who will?

First, keep in mind that Denard Span just turned 28 years old a couple of weeks ago, so while he’s arguably already had his breakout season, he’s still on the front side of his peak years. He’s reached the point of being physically mature and has enough experience that he really should no longer be seeing much of anything offensively or defensively for the first time. That being the case, I’d like to see Span take a big step forward with his game this season, assuming he can stay healthy.

Another familiar name on my list of potential breakout seasons is Francisco Liriano. We’ve been waiting for him to have a true breakout season for what seems like forever. Despite having several seasons of Major League experience in the books, Liriano is still just now entering his age 28 season. That’s slightly past our “breakout season” ages, but it’s not too late to see it happen… yet. That said, this is arguably the last year that anyone can make the, “he’s still a young pitcher with potential,” statement, so it’s now or never (at least with the Twins organization) for Frankie.

If it seems like Alexi Casilla has been around forever, too, it’s because he has. He was rushed a bit after being acquired from the Angels for J.C. Romero and his service clock started while he was still just 23 years old. That means he’s just now entering his age 27 season (he turns 28 in July). Casilla has been inconsistent, to say the least. But this season, he’s starting off at what’s arguably his best defensive position, second base, and so far this spring he’s making good contact from his spot at the bottom of the Twins order. The game should finally be slowing down a bit for Lexi and if he can play decent defense while getting on base with regularity, he could play a significant positive role for the Twins in 2012.

Danny Valencia

Finally, the guy with perhaps the greatest potential for having a true breakout season is third baseman Danny Valencia, who will be 27 years old throughout the first five months of the season. Valencia’s had two full years now to adjust to Big League pitching and there’s no reason he shouldn’t take a major step forward in 2012. Everyone seems to project Valencia as hitting in the #7 spot in the Twins lineup and he very well may start the season there, but if he’s still hitting in the bottom third of the order in August, I’ll be disappointed.

So those are my “breakout season” picks… Liriano, Casilla and Valencia (with some additional improvement also from Span). Talk all you want about Mauer, Morneau, Baker and the bullpen, but in my mind, the Twins’ success, or lack thereof, this season is riding just as much on the ability of these players to make significant strides as any other factor. They are hitting their prime years and it’s time for them to show fans what they’re made of.

- JC

Twins Projections, Reactions & Words From @TwinsPrez

I spent the weekend doing almost no thinking about baseball, as difficult as that is to imagine. Of course, that doesn’t mean I’ve totally run out of opinions, so here are a few things on my mind at the moment.

Focus on Pitching

I think it’s almost a given that Terry Ryan will be bringing in at least one more pitcher and probably some more potential bullpen help, but I really don’t expect that to happen until at least January some time (and perhaps even right up to the date pitchers and catchers report to Ft. Myers in February). Honestly, I think waiting out the market at this point is probably the smart thing to do.

Paul Maholm can pitch in inclement weather. That could be handy, right?

I advocated in my “blueprint” for consideration of adding Rich Harden and/or Paul Maholm to the rotation and I wouldn’t mind seeing the Twins pick up either guy (or both, if Ryan is feeling particularly ambitious with the Pohlads’ credit card). Frankly, however, the difference between those guys and any of about half a dozen others that are still floating around out there is so marginal that it probably makes sense to see who’s still available in a few weeks when the players and their agents start getting nervous about not having a roster spot and the prices come down.

If you’re just going to sign a guy to compete for the 5th spot in the rotation and maybe a guy to pitch the 6th or 7th inning out of the pen, what’s the hurry?

Exit Kubel

Jason Kubel

We formally bid farewell to Jason Kubel this week as Kubes signed on with the Diamondbacks. I didn’t expect to see him return to the Twins (like Cuddyer and Nathan, it was pretty clear he wanted out of Minnesota). That said, I sure didn’t see the D’Backs as a logical landing spot. They’ve kind of got a pretty full roster of outfielders already and it’s not like they have a DH spot to offer. Maybe they have additional irons in the fire to open up a spot for him and, if so, I can certainly see him having a big year in that ballpark in Arizona.

I can’t help but wonder what kind of player Kubel could have turned out to be for the Twins if he hadn’t blown up his knee in the Arizona Fall League just as he was getting ready to become a regular in the Twins outfield. In any event, I wish him well in Arizona.

Will the Twins be Better?

Since it is now likely that the Twins are done shopping in the free agent market for position players this off season, I was comparing the Opening Day line up the Twins fielded in 2011 with the line up we would anticipate opening the season in 2012.

2011 Opening Day   2012 Projected
Span CF   Span CF
Nishioka 2B   Carroll SS
Mauer C   Mauer C
Morneau 1B   Morneau 1B
Young LF   Willingham RF
Cuddyer RF   Doumit DH
Kubel DH   Valencia 3B
Valencia 3B   Casilla 2B
Casilla SS   Revere LF
  _Pavano P     _Pavano P

Yes, I know the Twins could still trade away one of the projected starters for some pitching and/or payroll relief and that, even if they don’t, the line up could see Willingham hitting 4th and Casilla may be 9th, but these are the players in play right now and this projection is good enough for comparison purposes. Keep in mind, many of us had every expectation that the 2011 line up was at least good enough to compete in the AL Central Division. Essentially, you’re replacing Nishioka, Cuddyer, Young and Kubel with the foursome of Carroll, Willingham, Doumit and Revere.

We could debate whether or not that’s an overall upgrade or downgrade offensively, depending upon which offensive categories you value over others, but I think we would reasonably have every hope that the replacements constitute an improvement on the defensive end. I’d give Cuddyer an edge over Willingham in RF purely based on Cuddyer’s arm and Willingham’s lack of recent experience playing in that corner of the OF. But while Revere’s arm doesn’t have half the oomph that Young’s does, I’d still take Revere in the outfield over Young every day. I think it’s also clear that we all expect the combination of Carroll/Casilla will out-defend the Casilla/Nishioka pairing that opened 2011 in the middle infield.

Of course, the factors that will likely determine whether the 2012 Twins improve their run production and scoring defense enough to restore some level of pride to the organization are the guys hitting in the 1, 3, and 4 spots. Denard Span, Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau have to return healthy enough to put up the kind of numbers we expected a year ago. If that happens, I can see it being enough to lead this team to 81 wins and a .500 record.

To improve more than that, it’s going to take similar significant improvement from the pitching staff and we’ll have to wait a while longer to even project the likelihood of that happening.

Executive Communes with the Masses

Twins President Dave St. Peter (Photo: John Mowers)

Twins President Dave St, Peter continues to make himself available to fans via Twitter (@TwinsPrez) and I think you have to give him credit for putting himself out there. Every so often, he sits down and just responds to one question/comment after another. I certainly don’t agree with everything he writes, but he’s by far the most accessible member of the Twins organization when it comes to interacting directly with fans.

Here are a few interesting things I learned from St. Peter’s tweets on Monday night:

  • The Twins’ special event calendar will be announced in February, but he did whet fans appetites with news about one thing planned for 2012: The Twins will have a promotion this season that will involve wearing 1951 Minneapolis Millers throwback uniforms. The opponent will be the Kansas City Royals, with the Royals wearing KC Blues throwbacks. The Millers throwback jerseys and caps will, of course, be available for sale.
  • In response to a question from TC Bear (@TC_00), St. Peter was noncommittal concerning TC getting a Millers throwback jersey to wear, as well. He asked TC whether the Millers had a bear for mascot. TC asked if that meant he would get a night off. The Prez’s response: “No chance!!!!” I guess you can’t blame a bear for trying.
  • He believes the Twins can overcome the losses of Nathan, Cuddyer and Kubel much the way they did the losses of Santana, Hunter and Koskie.
  • Spring Training tickets go on sale January 14.
  • The autograph schedule for Twinsfest will be made public in early January.
  • He likes Bing Crosby Christmas carols. Then again, who doesn’t?!

Again, I could take issue with St. Peter on some issues and I’m certainly not on board with the organization’s mandate to slice payroll more than 10%, but I like that he is willing to answer fans’ questions and even respond to criticisms occasionally. If you’re a Twins fan and aren’t yet following him on Twitter, you definitely should be!

- JC

Twins Regime Change: Winners and Losers

You may have heard the news… the Twins fired General Manager Bill Smith Monday and replaced him with his predecessor, Terry Ryan.

The news has been received well among most Twins fans. That’s not surprising. Most of us had lost much of whatever confidence we may have once had in Smith’s talent as a GM and what better guy to replace him with than the GM who gets most of the credit for molding the Twins in to a contender for most of the past decade? It does seem pretty convenient though, doesn’t it, that fans tend to overlook the fact that he also failed miserably at the GM job during his first half dozen or so years in the GM chair. Then again, he was barely over 40 years old when he first got the job and we all know that nobody under 50 knows a damn thing, anyway.

In any event, I’m certainly not disappointed to see Ryan back in charge. It was a good and necessary move by the Twins ownership and top management.

But make no mistake, this move means things are going to be done differently and there will be changes, both at Target Field and across the Twins organization, from the minor leagues to the international scouts and beyond. You might not think that someone with merely an “interim” GM title would have the clout to turn an organization on its head, but this is no ordinary “interim” GM. There is nothing “interim” about his level of authority.

All of this has me thinking a bit about who the potential winners and losers are likely to be when the dust settles on this little internal drama that’s playing out within the team’s front office.

WINNERS:

Twins prospect Aaron Hicks

Minor league prospects: If you’re a prospect in the Twins organization and were starting to get concerned that the Twins might go out on the open market and sign a free agent to a multiple-year contract that could essentially block your path to the Big Leagues, you’re a winner in this deal. It wasn’t all that likely to happen in the first place, but now, those chances are considerably smaller.

By association, our friend Seth Stohs over at SethSpeaks.net is a winner, too. Seth lives and breathes minor league baseball and nobody knows that stuff better. I doubt that Seth was ever too concerned that the Twins might become a “trade all your prospects for old guys” organization, but there’s no doubt in my mind that Terry Ryan will make improving the Twins minor league organization a high priority. That’s going to make Seth (and, eventually, the rest of us) very happy.

Ben Revere

Ben Revere: Terry Ryan made perfectly clear on Monday that the Twins need to improve their defense. There are questions about whether you’ll ever be a Major League hitter, but if Ryan truly believes that better defense will lead to better pitchers, I think you just got locked in to a starting spot in the 2012 Twins outfield.

Talented prospects buried in other organizations: Terry Ryan’s forte is identifying young talent, whether in his own organization or others, and bringing that talent to the Twins where they get a chance to prove themselves worthy of a shot at the big time. If your organization has been holding you back, there’s a decent chance Ryan already has a file on you that’s about an inch thick. Make sure your agent has Ryan’s number on speed dial.

Wayne Krivsky: It’s been quite a rollercoaster ride for you over the past week. A week ago, you were a frustrated, seldom listened to, advisor in the Mets front office. Then you got the good news… the Twins GM wanted you back in the organization in an advisory capacity. Then you got the bad news… the GM who wanted you back was being canned. Then you got more good news… the new interim GM is your old buddy Terry Ryan and now you’re close enough to sniff your next opportunity to become a Major League GM, once again. That is, if you’re the one person on the planet who actually believes that Terry Ryan is just the “interim” General Manager of the Twins.

LOSERS:

Twins Medics: You may have breathed a sigh of relief a while back when Bill Smith stated publicly that there would be no blood-letting among the organization’s doctors and trainers. Better get back to work on those resumes, folks.

Cuddyer, Nathan, Kubel (assuming any of them wanted to return to the Twins for 2012 and beyond): Bill Smith grew to genuinely like certain players and some feel that he allowed those feelings to affect his decisions. Terry Ryan isn’t heartless, but he is first and foremost an evaluator and appraiser of baseball talent. The next time he overpays for the declining years of a player who’s productivity level has arguably peaked will be the first time.

Mike Radcliff: A week ago, you were being mentioned as a possible GM candidate in Baltimore, then the Twins declined to allow the Birds to interview you. Now, your new boss is publicly talking about how you’ve been spread too thin and will have some of your responsibilities reassigned. Word is that you decided you weren’t interested in their job and the Twins “declined permission” for the Orioles to talk to you merely to allow them to save some face. If that’s the case, you may be regretting that decision. Now, instead of the organization’s highest ranking player-personnel guy and heir apparent to Bill Smith, your new boss is twice the baseball man you are and he’s bringing back his former right-hand man in Krivsky. Ouch.

Tsuyoshi Nishioka

Tsuyoshi Nishioka: There is absolutely no way Terry Ryan would have committed $15 million to acquire you a year ago and given that you embody everything that Ryan feels is wrong with the current roster, your already meager hopes of ever playing another inning of baseball for the Twins just became virtually non-existent. I don’t know where you’ll be playing ball in 2012, but it won’t be in the Twin Cities.

Trevor Plouffe: Did you hear what Ryan said about needing to improve the Twins defense? Yeah… he was talking about you, Trevor. You’re still inexpensive, so if you’ve been improving your glovework, you may get a shot at redemption in Ft. Myers, but you’d better demonstrate marked improvement or you’re going to be the “throw in” player in one of Ryan’s inevitable trades.

Anyone who pitched for the Twins in 2011: Glen Perkins might be the only pitcher on the roster who’s spot is relatively safe. The rest of you, either by virtue of your performance or your contract (or both… see: Blackburn, Nick, et al), are just as likely to be playing elsewhere in 2012 as playing on a Terry Ryan team.

Carl Pavano

Carl Pavano: I don’t believe for an instant that Ryan would have re-signed you to a two-year deal last offseason. If he can find someone willing to take on most of your remaining salary, I believe you’ll be wearing another uniform in 2012.

Bloggers who spent time assembling a 2012 “blueprint” (unless you didn’t really like your blueprint, in which case you’re in luck because now you can start over and do a new one): Back to the drawing board. Any of us that still want to spend $35 million on free agents need to get creative about figuring out how to cut $15 million from the existing commitments. Then again, we can pretty much rule out the Mark Buehrles and anyone else likely to get several million dollars for multiple years.

TOO EARLY TO TELL:

Ron Gardenhire

Ron Gardenhire: You didn’t see eye-to-eye with Smith on a number of personnel issues, so you’re probably feeling pretty good about things right now. But keep in mind that Terry Ryan just actively participated in the firing of one of his best friends. He says he’s going to assemble a team that he thinks should be competitive in 2012. If it isn’t, he’s not going to hesitate for a moment to send you packing, too.

Danny Valencia: On the one hand, Danny, you’re young and cheap and you hit the ball a little bit. On the other hand, your defense is not good and some reports indicate you’re not exactly the prototypical “Twins guy” in the clubhouse. That may not have been a big deal a week ago, but there is absolutely nobody in the organization that’s more of a believer in the “Twins Way” than Terry Ryan. If you thought Gardy was anal about that kind of thing, you’re REALLY gonna love the new sheriff in town.

Denard Span

Denard Span and Alexi Casilla: I’m honestly not sure what Terry will do with you two. You’re not gold-glovers in the field, but by comparison to almost everyone else the Twins have on defense, you almost look the part. I suspect he will start his purge elsewhere, but your salaries are getting to the point where Ryan starts to think he can find someone comparable for less money. Not to mention, you may be two of the few members of the current roster with actual trade value.

Fans: I stand by my previous statements that fans should not accept a slashed payroll without loud objection. We can hold out some hope that Ryan was just tossing out numbers during the press conference and, by the time spring rolls around, the payroll is pretty close to the 2011 levels. At any rate, if (and this is a very big “if”) Ryan can actually unload some dead weight and replace it with players who can actually… you know… play baseball, then fans may be pleasantly surprised with the results.

What are your thoughts? Who do you project to be the big “winners” and “losers” under the Terry Ryan Regime, Part Deux? Tell us what you think in the comments section.

-  JC

Respect The Streak? Not This Time

For weeks, we’ve been moaning and groaning about the bad luck that’s befallen the Twins this season on the injury front. As the injuries mounted, so did the deficit the Twins faced in the standings.

For a while, we fans held out hope… if only they can keep things reasonably close until guys could get healthy. But they didn’t. In fact, not only did injured players not get healthy, but more players got hurt. Until it reached the point where only the most avid “prospect watchers” among us even recognized the names of some of the players wearing the Twins uniform.

And hope faded almost to black.

Almost.

And then a funny thing happened. These guys started to win.

Sure, they weren’t playing the Yankees and Red Sox (or even the Rays, Orioles or Blue Jays, for that matter) any more, but last I checked, all the games count the same in the standings, regardless of who the opponent is.

And they kept winning. They swept four from the Royals. They took 2 of 3 on the road from the AL Central leading Tribe. They took 3 of 4 from the AL West leading Rangers.

They aren’t making the errors (mental or physical) that they had been making. The pitchers aren’t giving up runs the way they had been. They finally managed to burn the assbats and started hitting the ball hard… and often. The new guys started hitting… then the few remaining regulars started hitting.

Yes, the Twins are on a winning streak… and you don’t have to be someone who’s watched Bull Durham 391 times to know that you don’t f… fool… with a winning streak. You respect the streak.

But Ron Gardenhire and the Twins are about challenge Crash Davis’ conventional wisdom. They really have no choice. But I’m betting it bothers Gardy at least as much as it does me… probably more.

Tsuyoshi Nishioka

Starting Thursday afternoon, the first of the Twins’ walking wounded returns to the line up. Tsuyoshi Nishioka has been out of action so long that this will be his first appearance in a game at Target Field. He’ll play shortstop, which means Alexi Casilla moves to second base. For all the talk about rookie Ben Revere and the pitching staff, it has quite possibly been Casilla whose performance, at bat and in the field, has been most responsible for the Twins’ recent success. Now he’s changing positions.

Joe Mauer

Friday, Joe Mauer is expected to take his rightful place behind the plate and in the heart of the batting order. He’s done neither for two months (and the season is only 2 and a half months old). It’s a no-brainer, of course. Mauer HAS to return to the line up if he’s healthy. Drew Butera and Rene Rivera are making more contact than they had been, but there’s a reason Mauer’s the starting catcher. Actually, there are about 23,000,000 reasons.

And that’s just the beginning. Over the course of the next week to 10 days, we can expect to see a lot of familiar faces return. Glen Perkins was arguably the most effective (only effective?) member of the bullpen when he went down. He’s due back by the weekend, but he’s rejoining a bullpen that’s been much better, perhaps because everyone there now has pretty well defined roles. Where will Perkins fit and will he be as effective as he had been?

Remember when Jason Kubel and Denard Span were the only hitters even coming close to performing at expected levels? They haven’t been in the lineup during this surge… but they will be returning before long. Who’s At-Bats will they be taking and… perhaps more importantly… who’s spots in the field will they be taking? There’s no question that the OF defense has improved since Ben Revere was recalled June 2.

Joe Nathan and Jim Thome are also on the road to recovery. They’ll be taking roster spots from a couple of guys who have contributed to the Twins’ recent success, too, but how certain are we that they will outperform the guys they’ll be replacing?

The last to return will possibly be the most recent to go on the DL, Justin Morneau. But has anyone else noticed that Luke Hughes and Michael Cuddyer are actually doing a better job defensively at 1B than Morneau had been?

Don’t get me wrong… I’m very happy to see these guys coming back. But I’m just old-school superstitious enough to be nervous about the timing, too.

If all of these guys come back and perform at the levels we expected from them when the season opened, the Twins may not only catch the rest of the Division, but absolutely destroy it. I just wish I was more confident of that.

One thing I’m pretty sure about, though, is that the Rochester Red Wings are on the verge of getting much, much, better.

- JC

Tough Decisions This Week

The Rochester Red Wings must cringe every time the phone rings in their office this season. Almost every player on their roster who’s shown any ability to play the game of baseball this season has been plucked from their clubhouse and given a ticket to Minneapolis (with Kyle Gibson being one obvious exception).

As difficult as it has been for Ron Gardenhire to keep 25 healthy bodies in the Twins clubhouse this season, his job may be getting even tougher this week. The Twins currently have eight players on the Disabled List. What could be worse than that? How about having eight players all ready to come OFF the Disabled List at one time?

Now, if the Twins were still playing like a bad American Legion team, the way they were throughout April and a good chunk of May, this would be no problem. You celebrate the return of all the “real” Twins and happily send Red Wings manager Tom Nieto back the players you’ve borrowed from him. But now, just as virtually every player on your DL is due back in uniform, you’ve got a team of young players who have been winning a lot of games.

Joe Nathan

Kevin Slowey is just starting to throw, so his return isn’t as imminent as the others, but Glen Perkins and Joe Nathan are going to be ready to return to the bullpen in the next week or two. The current bullpen is consistently shutting down opponents (finally)… so who loses their job when Perkins and Nathan return? How confident are you that those two guys will immediately be as effective as the pitchers they replace?

As tough as those choices may be, things only get tougher when you ponder the decisions coming up with regard to the position players. Jason Kubel, Jim Thome, Joe Mauer, Denard Span, and Tsuyoshi Nishioka are all scheduled to come off the DL at roughly the same time.

The decision concerning which catcher departs to make room for Mauer will be tough enough. Drew Butera has been with the team for most of the past two seasons, but Rene Rivera is reportedly out of options [UPDATE 6/15: Latest information is that Rivera is NOT out of options, which makes the rest of this paragraph moot. Butera and Rivera are therefore essentially on even footing], while Butera still has options remaining. That means the team would have to risk sending Rivera through waivers if they want to keep Butera. That said, the Twins will need to clear a 40-man roster spot for Mauer, so they may be willing to take that risk with Rivera. But you have to wonder if the Twins want to face the possibility of Steve Holm being the fallback option if Joe Mauer’s return is short-lived.

Luke Hughes and Matt Tolbert

As tough as that decision may be, it’s nothing compared to how Gardy and GM Bill Smith will go about finding room for the others. Seth Stohs detailed the performances of the current position players over the course of the past 10 games over at SethSpeaks.net and it would be tough for me to find one or two non-catchers that I’d be anxious to pull out of the current line up, never mind more.

I’d love to get Span, Kubel and Thome back. But do you really want to see Ben Revere benched or, even worse, sent back to Rochester? I don’t. During the offseason, I wrote that I wanted to see more speed in the Twins outfield and now that they have it, I don’t want to give it up.

Tsuyoshi Nishioka

The Twins made a three year commitment to Nishioka and it’s very possible that he’ll end up being worth every nickel of the money they’ve sunk in to bringing him over from Japan. But we haven’t seen enough of him to know that for sure. What we do know is that Alexi Casilla, Matt Tolbert and Luke Hughes have all been batting over .300 (with three doubles each) during the recent stretch of success. How comfortable are you with the prospect of plugging in the unproven Nishioka in place of one of those guys?

We’ve poked a bit of fun at the line ups that Gardy’s been turning in, with references to them being “Red Wings” line ups and comments about how they resemble line ups you’d expect to see at spring training road games. But they’re also line ups that have been WINNING and the Twins still have a lot of winning to do if they’re going to dig themselves out of the hole they’re in.

So who’s time with the Twins is drawing to a close?

Brian Dinkelman’s cup of coffee with the big club is probably about over. In fact, don’t be too surprised if he is passed through waivers to make room on the 40-man roster for Nishioka. Rene Tosoni is also a logical candidate to return to Rochester.

So, if we assume Slowey will be headed to Rochester to join their rotation and that Dinkelman, Tosoni and one of the catchers will be departing, that leaves us just three more players to drop to make room for those returning. Two will be pitchers… but which pitchers? Might the Twins be ready to insert Anthony Swarzak in to the rotation and, if so, would Brian Duensing be likely to head down to Rochester so he continues to get regular starts? Of the rest, you could make an argument that Jose Mijares is the most deserving of a free trip to Rochester.

And what about the remaining position player that we must bid farewell to? I don’t see Revere, Hughes, or Tolbert going anywhere. Is it time to give Danny Valencia a wake-up call? Or is it possible that Jason Repko’s run with the Twins might be nearing an end?

These will all be critical… and difficult… decisions. Two players are going to have to pass through waivers and could be claimed by other organizations, so the Twins must choose wisely. The current roster has been making an impressive run and in the process, they’ve closed the gap between themselves and the division leaders. Shaking up the roster at this point is a risk, even given the talent level that’s returning.

As early as a week from now, we may be seeing a line up that includes Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Jim Thome, Jason Kubel, Tsuyoshi Nishioka, and Denard Span. It will certainly look a lot more like the line up that we expected to see when the Twins broke camp in Ft. Myers. Whether that’s a good thing or not remains to be seen.

- JC