Minnesota Twins Podcast – Talk to Contact – Episode 34

Episode 34 of the Twins baseball podcast,  Talk To Contact (@TalkToContact), is now available for download via iTunes or by clicking here.

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Featuring Knuckleballs’ own Jim Crikket along with podcast stalwarts Eric and Cody talk about the Minnesota Twins’ Low-A Minor League affiliate Cedar Rapids Kernels.

The Kirby Puckett podcast has Cody and Eric talkin about yoga, going around the league, and creating radio gold for almost 90 minutes.  Enjoy the podcast and thanks for listening!

 

You can follow Cody on Twitter (@NoDakTwinsFan) or read his writing at NoDakTwinsFan.  You can follow Paul on Twitter (@BaseballPirate) or read his writing at  Puckett’s Pond.  And of course, you can find me on Twitter (@ERolfPleiss) and read my writing here at Knuckleballs!

- ERolfPleiss

The End of Anthony Slama

UPDATE: This morning (3/14/2013) Anthony Slama was reassigned to Minor League camp.  

Much has been made of the success enjoyed by Minnesota Twins Minor Leaguer Anthony Slama over the past several years at Triple-A Rochester.  Since 2009, when he first arrived in Rochester, Slama has posted a 2.27 ERA over 154.1 innings and has 191 strike outs to go along with just 74 walks.  Those 191 strike outs came in 635 plate appearances, meaning that Anothny Slama was striking out more than 30% of the batters he faced.  Pretty impressive numbers for a guy that has only two brief Major League auditions, 4.2 innings in 2010 and 2.1 innings in 2011.  Despite everything that Slama did in 2012 (1.24 ERA with 56K and just 18BB) and as bad as the Twins were (66-96), Slama was passed over for a September call-up.  Slama is entering his 7th year in professional baseball, he’s no longer on the Twins’ 40-man roster, and despite being in Big League camp, he has little chance of making the Twins’ 25-man roster to begin the year.

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But he still had a chance entering his March 9 appearance against the Pittsburgh Pirates at McKechnie Field.  Slama was making his first road appearance of the Spring and even though he’d walked four batters and struk out only two through his first 3.1 innings (including an exhibition appearance against the Puerto Rican WBC team), he’d given up just a single earned run, and that was back in his first appearance of the Spring.  Slama pitched poorly, facing six hitters, giving up two hits, two walks, and two runs while recording just two outs.

Anthony Slama throws three pitches.  He throws a 4-seam fastball, a curve ball, and a change-up.  A pretty regular assortment for a right-handed pitcher.  Slama throws his 4-seamer almost three-quarters of the time, with most other offerings coming out of his hand as curve balls and an even smaller number of change-ups.  Slama has fringy velocity, sitting in the upper-80s with his fast ball, and throwing both his change and curve about ten miles per hours slower.

Why Slama has not been given a real chance with the Twins despite his Minor League success is anyone’s guess, but the general consensus is that the Twins do not think his game will translate well to the Big Leagues.  Specifically, according to 1500 ESPN’s Phil Mackey, that “Slama puts too many runners on base, and his low-90′s fastball lacks the necessary life for late-inning success in the majors.”  With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at Slama’s March 9 appearance.*

Batter 1Matt Hague (RHB) – Slama retired Hague on four pitches.  He started him with three fastballs (all between 87 and 89 mph), and then induced a pop-up  in foul territory along the first base line on a 74 mph curve ball.

Batter 2- Lucay May (RHB) – Slama started off May with the same fastball to the top-right hand corner of the strike zone, but this time failed to get the call from the umpire and fell behind 1-0.  May was taking all the way on Slama’s second offering, another fastball right down the pipe.  Slama then missed the zone with his next two fastballs, bouncing the second one in the dirt.  Now behind 3-1, Slama had to throw a strike and May connect on the belt-high fastball and lined a single between the shortstop and third basemen.  Slama did a good job mixing locations with his fastball, but all five fastballs came in at 87 mph.  Because he was unable to find the edges of the strike zone.

Batter 3Jordy Mercer (RHB) – Once again Anothny Slama begins the at-bat with a fastball.  Mercer takes the pitch right down the center of the strike zone for a called strike one.  Slama then throws back-to-back curve balls that miss down and outside and he’s behind in the count 2-1.  Back to the fastball, again Slama misses outside and he’s in his second three-ball count of the inning.  Slama misses way outside on his next pitch, which he appeared to overthrow, and now there are runners on first and second with just one out.

Batter 4Drew Maggi (RHB) – The game-tying run is now at the plate and Slama again goes to his fastball for an 88 mph called strike that catches the bottom of the zone.  Slama drops a curve low and away that misses but comes back with another fastball right down the plate that Maggie fowls down the left field line, out of play.  Looking at the video, Maggi might have been looking for another off-speed pitch, but he still put a good swing on the ball and lining it down the left field line, despite being well behind the pitch.  Ahead in the count, Slama throws what appears to be a change up and induces another pop-up to foul territory along the first base line.  This was Anthony Slama at his best, mixing speeds and hitting his spots on the edges of the zone.

Batter 5Felix Pie (LHB) – Slama quickly falls behind 3-0, missing the zone on three straight fastballs between 87 and 89 mph.  Pie takes the next two pitches, both strikes, before Slama misses throws wide with his sixth fastball of the at-bat, loading the bases.  This was Slama at his worst.  He struggles to throw strikes with his fastball and because he had been so erratic with his control, the regularly impatient Pie lets Slama give him the free pass.

At no point through these first five batters has Slama looked particularly confident.  He’s managed to get a couple of pop-ups to into foul territory, but he routinely misses the catcher’s target, sometimes by what looks like a foot or more.  He has thrown 24 pitches to this point in the inning and has yet to induce a single swing and miss.

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Batter 6Brad Hawpe (LHB) – First pitch fastball (stop me if you’ve heard this before), high and outside, 1-0.  Hawpe then fouls off (up and away from the third base line) two more Anthony Slama fastballs before watching a fourth  fastball (and the 10th consecutive fastball that Slama has thrown) get away from Slama for a letter-high ball.  Slama throws yet another 88 mph fastball that Hawpe again just misses sending the ball into the seats along the third base line.  Slama’s thirtieth pitch of the inning is another fastball that misses high bringing the count full.  Anthony Slama now has a three-ball count with the fourth of the six batters he faced.  The final pitch of the at-bat is a fastball hit through the gap on the right side of the infield that scores two runs.

Anthony Slama’s appearance ended after that second base hit.  He threw thirty-one pitches: 14 strikes, 17 balls, 26 fastballs, 4 curve balls, and what was most likely 1 change up.  He finished with thirteen consecutive fastballs, everyone of them between 86 and 89 miles per hour.  His fastball looked flat AND he could not locate it.  Because he was frequently behind in the count he was unable to get to his curve ball, and when he did, he could not throw that for strikes either.  All in all, a pretty dreadful appearance from Anthony Slama.

Unless things change drastically between now and the end of Spring Training, that performance was likely the unofficial end to Anthony Slama’s career with the Minnesota Twins.

-ERolfPleiss

*In addition to being Slama’s most recent appearance, the March 9 game was Slama’s first televised appearance  so I had an opportunity to review the videotape, approximate pitch locations, and record velocity by way of the on-screen radar gun.  Went a little old school to get the pitch data, here is my chart, NotebookFX

Matt Capps: The “New Nick Punto”?

UPDATE: Just a quick midafternoon update. MLB.com’s Kelly Thesier’s report from the Twins Caravan  included a couple of notable items: She reported that Dave St. Peter announced that the Twins will be unveiling a bronze statue of Tony Oliva outside Gate 6 at Target Field on/about Opening Day (YAY!).  In addition, she (and other various media reporters) provided an update on Harmon Killebrew’s ongoing battle with cancer. Kelly also included this link to the Get Well, Harmon Blog for anyone wishing to pass on messages to Killebrew. – JC 

Based on early returns, it’s starting to look to me like relief pitcher Matt Capps could give Michael Cuddyer a run for the money in the race to replace Little Nicky Punto as the Twins’ MOTO (Most Often Trashed Online… a term I just made up) player for 2011 among the “blexperts” (blogger/commenter experts… another term I just made up. Am I on a roll here, or what?). I have to say, I really don’t understand the disdain so many people have for Capps.

Photo: Star-Telegram/Max Faulkner

On Tuesday, the Twins announced they had reached a contract agreement with Capps that avoided arbitration. They signed Capps to a one-year, $7.15 million deal for 2011. Based on the electronic reaction, you would have thought the Twins just signed Brett Favre to pitch.

I’ve been trying to figure out WHY Capps’ signing caused so much consternation.

I know that it’s widely believed among the blexperts that closers are overpaid because the Save statistic is overvalued. They are and it is.

It’s kind of funny, though, how two years ago so many people downright demanded that the Twins, with a new stadium on the horizon, give then-34-year-old Joe Nathan whatever it would take to stay in a Twins uniform. And the Twins did… to the tune of a contract that guaranteed Nathan something like $35 million over three guaranteed years plus an option year. The primary concern at the time, as I recall, was simply that the signing may have made it difficult for the Twins to also afford also re-signing Joe Mauer (which, of course, it didn’t).

But now, folks are downright apoplectic that Bill Smith would give Matt Capps $7+ million, while letting Matt Guerrier, Jesse Crain, Brian Fuentes and Jon Rauch leave town via free agency and trading away JJ Hardy. The argument is something like, “the Twins could have kept two of those pitchers or a starting shortstop instead of Capps.”

Well… first of all… no they couldn’t have. Hardy was no longer going to be the Twins’ starting shortstop regardless of what the Twins did with their bullpen… the two things weren’t related whatsoever… and Guerrier, Crain and Fuentes all signed elsewhere for multi-year deals with total values well above what the Twins have committed to Capps.

Still, some maintain that, “the Twins could have paid Rauch half as much and had a pitcher just as good as Capps.” Seriously? Even totally forgetting the Save statistic, when you compare the two over the last half of 2010, you would have to get very creative to make a statistical case that  Rauch is “as good” as Matt Capps. There was a reason the Twins traded for Capps, whether a person wants to believe it or not.

Photo: AP/Ted S Warren

And Fuentes? Look… I’d have loved to have him back with the Twins because he absolutely shuts down lefty hitters. But there’s a reason the Angels gave him up and it has nothing to do with “Saves”. It has to do with his .747 OPS against him in the first half of the season, on the heels of an even worse .830 OPS the second half of 2009. The guy has not been strong against right handed hitters in a while.

As for Guerrier and Crain, hey… both guys have served the Twins well and they were entitled to go after the free agent money. But it would have been absolutely nutty to match the three-year deals they ended up signing elsewhere. The Twins offered arbitration to Crain and he (wisely) turned it down. They didn’t offer it to Guerrier because they were afraid he wouldn’t turn it down and they’d be stuck paying a 30-something middle reliever they have no confidence in ever being more than a middle releiver $5+ million.

While the Twins appear hopeful that Joe Nathan will be fully recovered to start the year, there’s no way they can be sure and absolutely need a Plan B in place. Since Crain and Guerrier were certainly not returning and Fuentes has not been effective enough to provide reliable back up in case Nathan isn’t his old self, Capps is obviously the best Plan B. So why do so many blexperts think keeping Matt Capps is a mistake?

Could it really be that people think Capps is taking a spot that should go to someone that came up through the Twins’ system (e.g. Crain, Guerrier, Pat Neshek, or a prospect such as Anthony Slama) and still hold it against him that Bill Smith traded catching prospect Wilson Ramos to get him? 

There’s really no other good reason not to like having this guy (and frankly, even this reason is damn silly… it’s time to get over the Ramos-love, folks!). Capps throws harder than any of the bullpen arms that left, with the possible exception of Crain. He throws harder than Joe Nathan. Is his fastball more hittable than we’d like? Yes… but that’s exactly what a lot of people have criticized Crain for over the years and Capps’ career strikeout/walk ratio is better than any of the departing guys (especially when you factor out the oddly high number of intentional passes the Pirates ordered Capps to give out… could he really have faced Barry Bonds THAT often?).

Photo: Knuckleballs/Jim Crikket

Capps, at just 27 years old, may just improve a bit yet, as well. Of the departing arms, only Crain (at 29) is still south of 30. Go back and look at where Joe Nathan (or pretty much any of today’s top relievers not named Mariano Revera, for that matter) were at age 27 and compare them with Capps. How many of them already had four seasons of entering games in critical situations under their belts?

By the way, a closer may not be getting used most efficiently by always being saved for the 9th inning, but almost every time he enters a game, he’s coming in to a situation where having a bad night is very possibly going to cost his team the game. A guy who comes in and coughs up a 3 run lead in the 6th inning can take a seat and tell himself, “I just didn’t have it tonight,” while he watches his team mates try to fix the damage. The closer who has that kind of night doesn’t have that luxury. Closers may not deserve to get paid 10 times what middle relief pitchers do… but getting paid 2-3 times that going rate is not outragious. While you’d like to think every pitcher at the Major League level has that sort of mental toughness, it’s simply not the case.

One final thought on Matt Capps…

The stat website baseball-reference.com performs some sort of calculation (supposedly using a method adopted originally by the patron saint of stat-heads, Bill James) to determine each Major Leaguer player’s top 10 “most similar” players. According to that site, Matt Capps’ closest comparable player is the Padres’ closer, Heath Bell. The same Heath bell that many blexperts were crying for the Twins to trade for when Joe Nathan blew his elbow out a year ago.

Capps is six years younger than Bell and the Padres avoided arbitration with Bell on Tuesday by signing him to a $7.5 million contract… $385K more than the Twins are paying Capps. And, just for context, Bell’s salary accounts for just about the same percentage of the Padres’ anticipated 2011 payroll as Capps’ and Nathan’s pay… combined… do of the Twins’ payroll.

I’m glad Matt Capps is a Twin and I expect others will be, too, by the end of the season.

- JC

Let’s Not Rush to Judge “the Trade”

Matt Capps

As I went to bed last night, I still wasn’t sure how I felt about the Twins trade of premier catching prospect Wilson Ramos along with minor league pitcher Joe Testa to the Nationals for closer Matt Capps and half a million dollars cash. This morning, I’m still not sure how I feel about it.

I admit I haven’t had time yet to read many of the reactions from the rest of the Twins blogosphere, but I do feel most of this community tends to overvalue the Twins’ prospects, so I’m guessing the reaction in the blogs will be largely negative. TwinsGeek John Bonnes found eight things he didn’t like about the trade, while over in Section 219, Howard Sinker seemed to offer a conditional thumbs up to the deal.

I’m not a terribly patient person, by nature, but I’m going to suggest we all try to exercise some patience here. There’s no doubt in my mind that this trade makes this year’s Twins better. How much better? That’s certainly a fair topic for debate. Capps is probably a moderately better closer than Jon Rauch, but that’s only part of the story. Adding a reliever at the top of the bullpen food chain has a ripple effect which means (or should mean, anyway) that the Twins would actually be replacing their LAST arm in the pen with Capps.

Who you feel that person is depends on how you personally feel about Ron Mahay, Jose Mijares and Nick Blackburn. Mahay and Mijares are lefties and with Brian Duensing in the rotation, it seems unlikely they’ll be sent packing. There’s also an argument to be made that Blackie, if he’s ever going to regain his effectiveness, needs to pitch regularly in Rochester rather than waiting around for a long relief spot in Minnesota. But if he leaves, who exactly IS the Twins long reliever who can go 3+ innings if the starting pitcher struggles early? [EDIT: I realized I should have also included Anthony Slama on the list of guys that could be bumped to make room for Capps. Sitting here thinking about it, unless they decide Blackburn needs regular starts, he's probably the guy on his way out for now.-JC]

Then there’s that $500,000 that the Twins are getting back from the Nationals. What’s that all about? We can certainly all speculate about just how close the Twins are to being maxed out on their payroll for the year, but it just seems odd that half a mil would have a major bearing on that issue. I mean, that’s a good chunk of change for you and me, but for a Major League Baseball team?

Weighing all of this brings me to only one logical conclusion. Bill Smith isn’t done yet.

I realize MLB Trade Rumors is reporting that the Cubs and Dodgers are talking about a deal to send Ted Lilly to LA and they mention that the Twins (and other teams) have “cooled” on Lilly. But whether it’s Lilly or someone else, I’m betting (or at least hoping) Smith is fairly certain he’s going to land a lefty starting pitcher. It may or may not be before Saturday’s non-waiver deadline, but that’s really a pretty soft deadline these days because of the size of contracts the players involved have. They pass through waivers pretty freely.

If the Twins do pick up a LH starter, it frees them to push Duensing back in to his role as the team’s long reliever AND top lefty out of the pen. That sends either Mahay or Mijares packing (I’m guessing Mijares to Rochester). Of course, the Twins don’t have Ramos around to deal for a top lefty SP any more, but I have to figure the teams they’re talking to about such players weren’t after Ramos (if they were and Smith dealt him for a reliever, then I’m completely baffled at the logic). And maybe that $500K gives the Twins some flexibility in terms of taking on more of the next trade target’s salary and thus not having to part with as much talent in the deal? I dunno. Just spitballing here.

So I’m holding off on passing judgment… for now. If it turns out this is it… and the Twins spent arguably their top trade chip for a relief pitcher, then that’s going to be tough for me to swallow. I was all for trading Ramos, but it just seems like that’s not a fair return, given Capps’ contract situation (he’s going to start getting very expensive the next year or two… probably too expensive for the Twins to keep). But after the series of deals Bill Smith made in August last year that, despite not all being widely popular at the time, turned out very well for the Twins, I’m going to sit back and hope this is all part of a larger plan to strengthen more than one area of the roster and prepare the Twins for a playoff run. – JC

GameChat – Indians @ Twins #3, 12:10, FSN & am1500

These are the days of our lives…. 

It’s no wonder that I really find no need or interest in daytime dramas – I get my fill with Twins baseball!  The emotional ups and downs are darn near reaching levels where medication should be considered.  Sheesh. 

There are some bright spots – FSN has picked up the telecast of several days games in the season that weren’t on their original broadcast schedule, including today.  So, for those of us that are able to be near a TV, we get to SEE the game.  Let’s hope they give us something worth watching.

More news:  Kevin Slowey’s outting last night was enough to keep his bacon out of the fire.  It helped make the decision of WHICH struggling starting pitcher was going to need to be replaced.  Nick Blackburn will trade over to the bullpen and do the long relief job for now that will be vacated by Brian Duensing as he moves into a starting role.  Obviously, we’ve anticipated this move coming for awhile.  It’s all presented as temporary to give Blackburn a chance to get his balls down.  #isthataeuphamism? 

Both Mauer and Gardenhire are not in the game today – Gardenhire is attending to a personal matter and Mauer is riding the pine.  Butera will be catching Frankie and Thome is DH’ing.  After Mauer’s mental break last night, a day off is probably a good thing.  He did respond to questions last night about WTF?!?! from the media.  His response really didn’t make me feel any better.  Basically he said that it seemed like a good idea at the time and he just didn’t do it well – if he had, well then everyone would have thought it was a good idea…  uh… really?  Tom Pelissero at 1500 ESPN had a nearly perfect response to that, IMHO.  Didn’t Execute??

Let’s hope that Liriano can shine today and the boys can put their hits together to get runs.  I like runs.  Runs are good.  *sending positive vibes*

Cleveland @ Minnesota
Cabrera, A, SS   Span, CF
Nix, J, LF   Hudson, O, 2B
Santana, C, DH   Young, D, LF
Peralta, J, 3B   Kubel, RF
LaPorta, 1B   Cuddyer, 1B
Duncan, S, RF   Thome, DH
Crowe, CF   Hardy, SS
Donald, 2B   Punto, 3B
Gimenez, C   Butera, C
  Westbrook, P     Liriano, P

 

  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Cleveland 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 7 2
Minnesota 0 0 4 0 0 0 0 2 x 6 9 0

 

A WIN!! A WIN!! A WIN!! 

It sure is nice to head off for the road trip on a good note – and it was a shutout on a getaway day game too!  Lots of good things today.  Slama got to make his MLB debut in front of his parents who were at the game today.  All his buddies down on the Fort Meyers Miracle team were gathered in the clubhouse to watch the mustachio’d man in stirrups throw k’s.  He was definitely nervous so it was good that the Twins offense had done such a good job to give him a nice good cushion which he didn’t need but must have felt good.  So many guys deserve pastries today that I think we should buy stock in a bakery.  Thome had FOUR untinentional walks today; Hardy, Cuddy & Butera had great timely hits.  And the Twins remembered that leaving men on base doesn’t really help your game much. 

But the big standouts today were Delmon Young and Francisco Liriano.  Frankie gave us exactly what we needed – a fiery, dominant 7 inning performance that kept the hitters off-balance.  It was really a thing of beauty.  Delmon also kept up his new Delmon pace - hitting and running and doing things to keep things hopping and earning more RBI.  It’s a beautiful day!  The gamechat has determined that the game deserves both a Defensive and Offensive BOD:  Delmon on Offense and Frankie on Defense.

 

** final note of the day – Twins have sent Manship back down to AAA and re-instated Alexi Casilla off the DL.  We knew that was coming for all the debate that some thought it would be Blackburn going down. **

The Twins Roster – What to do, what to do?

I’ve stayed away from watching the Twins the last couple of games, partially of necessity and partially by choice, but I’m ready to get back in the game. I figured a good way to jump back in would be to share my wisdom with Gardy and Bill Smith on the subject of what roster moves should be made.

I know they say you don’t mess with something that isn’t broken, but let’s be clear… even though the Twins have won several more games than they’ve lost, this roster is at least cracked, if not broken. You don’t carry 13 pitchers, even for just a couple of days, and even pretend that all’s well.

One roster move we all know WILL happen this weekend is that JJ Hardy will be coming off the Disabled List. What’s less clear is who will be removed from the 25-man roster to make room for Hardy. The most likely move will be to send pitcher Jeff Manship back to Rochester since, according to media reports, he was brought up just to give the Twins some bullpen depth in Boston after the pen got used and abused in Toronto earlier in the week. In all likelihood, that’s the only move the Twins will make this weekend… but that doesn’t make it the only move they SHOULD make or even the best move they COULD make.

Casilla should have been Hardy's replacement.

But before I get to my wish list of roster moves, let me take a step back and discuss the Hardy situation briefly. Yes, it will be good to get JJ back and yes, he’s been a very good defender and no, you dare not underestimate the value of his defense to his team and specifically to his pitching staff. That said, I really would love to know why the heck Gardy hasn’t simply plugged Alexi Casilla’s name in to the lineup in Hardy’s absence instead of moving players around the infield like chess pieces. Specifically, I’d like to know what it is that Brendan Harris has done to warrant getting as many starts in Hardy’s absence as Casilla has.

Look, I like Casilla… always have. But I’ve also been a bit of a fan of Harris, so this is not a personal preference thing on my part. This is a “the numbers couldn’t possibly make things any more obvious” thing. Hardy’s offensive contribution so far this year has been pretty pedestrian, but that’s OK for your #8 hitter. His .250/.299/.400 line (batting average/on base pct/slugging pct) isn’t great but it’s tolerable at this point in the season.

But when faced with replacing Hardy for a couple of weeks, why in the world would you give as much playing time to Harris (.181/.277/.264 on the season and .148/.179/.185 the past two weeks) as you do to Casilla (.273/.351/.364 on the season and .294/.400/.471 the past two weeks)? It’s not like Harris is better defensively at SS, either. It just baffles me. In fact, even with Hardy coming back, I’m not sure I wouldn’t be starting Casilla until I’m sure JJ is 100%. Ah well.

Now about that roster.

Valencia isn't ready to replace LNP... yet!

What you won’t hear from me is a loud cry to “bring up the guys from AAA!” I believe there is generally a reason why some players are in the Bigs and some are in Rochester. And let’s face it, the Red Wings aren’t exactly ripping up the International League folks. After getting blown away by Nationals phenom Stephen Strasburg last night, they’ve got the worst record in the I-League. So I’m not going to rant about how half their roster should be promoted while the Twins send a bunch of guys packing who have been contributing (in various degrees) to the Twins success this season. For example, count me as one vote against bringing Danny Valencia  and/or Trevor Plouffe up until they show more (Valencia more power and Plouffe more glove) in Rochester.

But that doesn’t mean there isn’t anyone down there who could improve things for the Twins, either.

First, there’s no point in screwing around with the position players. You add Hardy and leave it at that. But the pitching staff… oh my… yes there are some improvements that could and should be made there.

This is perhaps a good time for me to say I wish people would stop with the “Rauch is doing so well that the Twins don’t really miss Nathan” crap. Jon Rauch has been great. But wouldn’t you love to have him being great as Nathan’s set-up man, instead? You’d basically be shortening every game the Twins led after 7 innings to a 7 inning game.

But we’ve got to deal with the situation as it is, without Nathan, and they’re going to have to get down to a 12-man staff to make room for Hardy. As I mentioned, sending Manship down to Rochester is the easy call. But is it the only call or even the right call? Well, kinda.

I do believe you send Manship down. In fact, I don’t quite understand why he was the choice to be brought up in the first place since he really hasn’t been Rochester’s best pitcher (or even their best starting pitcher… among a group of pretty poor starting pitchers). In fact, I can only think of one reason to keep Manship with the Twins… and that’s so you can use him as your long reliever while you send Brian Duensing down to Rochester.

Why send a guy who’s pitched as well as Duensing has down to AAA? Only one good reason… to have him stretch his arm out so you can bring him back up and plug him in to the rotation. When he’s ready, you call him up and give him Kevin Slowey’s spot, move Slowey to the long relief role and send Manship back down.

Now, last but not least, we come to the obvious question everyone is asking. When are the Twins going to give up on Jesse Crain? The answer should be “now”. It is time to designate him for assignment and, if the Twins can’t get anything for him in a trade, eat the $1 million or so they’d owe him and release him. Even saying that, I believe Crain will go on to have a productive career somewhere else. I just don’t think the Twins, in a year in which they believe they have World Series expectations, can afford to have even one pitcher that they clearly have lost all confidence in.

Anthony Slama and his old school stirrups are ready NOW!

So when Crain is gone, who takes his place in the bullpen? Here’s where the Twins have a number of options. Rob Delaney, Kyle Waldrop and Anthony Slama have all been very effective in Rochester and, that being the case, it makes even less sense to keep calling Crain’s number and holding your breath, closing your eyes, crossing your fingers and hoping for the best when he takes the mound. My preference, for what it’s worth, would be Slama.

Will any of these moves actually happen this weekend? Besides the Hardy-for-Manship swap out, probably not. Slama probably won’t make his Twins debut until June so the Twins can postpone his arbitration eligibility an extra year. By the way, I think that kind of thinking is fine when you are just trying to be competitive and build for the future, but when you have a chance to win NOW, it’s just silly… and I feel the same way about the Nationals delaying Strasburg’s MLB debut for the same reason. They’re going to end up a game or two out of making the playoffs and have only their frugalness to blame. I just hope the Twins aren’t looking back and feeling the same way.

 In any event, whether it’s this weekend or two weeks from now when the service time issue is no longer a concern, here’s my recommended roster:

Starting position players: Mauer, Morneau, Hudson, Hardy, Punto, Young, Span, Cuddyer, Kubel.

Bench position players: Thome, Casilla, Harris, Butera (yes, I agree with having Morales and Ramos in AAA… for a little while longer).

Starting Pitchers: Liriano, Baker, Pavano, Blackburn, Duensing.

Bullpen: Rauch (closer), Guerrier (set-up), Slama (set-up/mid relief), Burnett (mid relief/set-up), Mahay (mid relief/LOOGY), Mijares (LOOGY), Slowey (long relief/spot start).

Now… would someone please pass this along to Gardy and Bill Smith? They don’t seem to be returning my calls. Or maybe I should try Tweeting it… I heard Pat Neshek say Gardy really likes the whole Tweeting thing, right? - JC

Spring Training Vacation Wrap Up

I’m heading out bright and early Thursday morning, but before I call it a night, I wanted to post one final “Spring Training Report.” (OK, it might not be the final one published, depending on whether a final ‘Jim Crikket Report’ makes an appearance in Howard Sinker’s “A Fan’s View From Section 219″ blog Thursday).

I can’t recommend highly enough this kind of spring vacation, if you’re a Twins fan or a fan of Major League Baseball at all. I’m sure Target Field will be terrific, but you don’t get opportunities to watch talent of this level as “up close and personal” anywhere but during spring training. And the opportunity to check out the Twins’ “future stars” on the minor league complex is a huge bonus, in my opinion.

With that, I’ll leave you with a few images from my last day at Twins 2010 Spring Training.

Outside Hammond Stadium, Spring Training home of your Minnesota Twins!

2008 first round pick Carlos Gutierrez gets some help with his change-up grip

Michael Cuddyer doing his Nick Punto impression... and he's SAFE!

Jim Thome and Jerry White doing... something... I don't think I wanna know what.

Anthony Slama... closer of the future?

Ben Revere. His time is coming... soon.

Hammond Stadium Mens Room... with "Take Me Out to The Ball Game" murals

TC Bear with a SuperSoaker... coming soon to an outdoor stadium near you!