Episode 77: A real live baseball player from the Major Leagues, Hot Dog!

The highlight of this week’s episode is an interview with Twins’ relief pitcher Casey Fien. We discuss the path his career took as he made his way from a 20th round draft pick to an Opening Day roster and what his strategy is when he’s out there on the mound. You can follow Casey on Twitter, @CaseyFien.
Look at this guy, so happy to be on the podcast!

Look at this guy, so happy to be on the podcast!

You can download the new Talk to Contact (@TalkToContact) episode via iTunes or by clicking here.
Besides talking to notable relief pitchers, we also spend some time “Down on the Pond” looking at the Opening Day starters for each of the Twins full-season minor league affiliates, and a hitter from each squad as well as they prepare for Minor League Opening Day on Thursday, April 3.
To find out who took home the first regular season honors for Twins hitter and pitcher of the week you’ll have to give us a listen, and there were actually a surprising number of candidates who’ve gotten the lumber out early this season despite what we’ve been saying during Spring Training.
Oh, and the trees are coming back to Target Field. Heck yeah!

You can follow Cody on Twitter (@NoDakTwinsFan) or read his writing at NoDakTwinsFan, and you can find Paul on Twitter (@BaseballPirate) and read his writing at PuckettsPond.com!

If you enjoy our podcast, please take a couple extra minutes and rate and review us on iTunes. Ratings and reviews keep our beers cold.

Final Twins Cuts: Much Ado About (Almost) Nothing

There seemed to be much consternation in some corners of the Twins blogosphere the last couple of days as the final roster decisions became evident.

Alex Presley began spring training as a competitor for the Twins centerfield job. He leaves spring training a member of the Astros after Houston claimed him from the Twins on waivers.

Lefty pitcher Scott Diamond and 1B/OF Chris Parmelee had inside lanes on roster spots entering camp, but neither made much of an impression on the Twins. In fact, they obviously didn’t make much of an impression on anyone else, either, since both players cleared waivers. Both are now members of the Rochester Red Wings (AAA).

Saturday, catcher Dan Rohlfing was sent to Rochester, as well, in a move that was generally expected.

It’s hard to make an argument that any of the players who didn’t stick with the Twins were unfairly deprived of their roster spots. In fact, almost immediately upon learning he’d been passed over in favor of Kyle Gibson for the fifth spot in the Twins rotation, Diamond told reporters he agreed with the Twins’ decision.

No, none of these players really impressed, so that’s not where the disagreements come from.

The problem many fans seem to have is with regard to a couple of players that DID make the Twins Opening Day roster; veterans Jason Kubel and Jason Bartlett.

Jason Bartlett

Jason Bartlett

The argument is that neither Jason put up spring training numbers that were any better than other, younger, players who were let go.

That’s a valid point. Kubel hit just .196 this spring and yet, remarkably, outhit Bartlett by over 100 points. Still, both were officially added to the Twins roster on Saturday.

I would agree with those who claim they didn’t “earn” their roster spots, but I’m not getting worked up over it because, frankly, nobody else earned those roster spots, either.

It’s not a case of Bartlett and Kubel being handed spots while young players who are likely to be significant parts of the next generation of competitive Twins teams are being blocked from getting valuable Major League experience. Diamond and Parmelee could yet become serviceable MLB players, but when you project the lineups/rotations of the next great Twins teams, neither are likely to be listed.

Likewise, while Presley certainly could contribute as a spare outfielder capable of playing some centerfield, losing him is not debilitating. By mid 2014, if the Twins decide another guy capable of playing CF would be nice to have, they’ll still have Darin Mastroianni around somewhere to call on. But, honestly, you know the Twins front office is silently hoping the next CF that joins the big league club is Byron Buxton.

The Twins candidly stated that Bartlett and Kubel are on the roster because nobody proved they were clearly better than those two guys, they have significant Major League experience with winning ballclubs, and it was clearly felt that the young players with the Twins could benefit from seeing how that kind of veteran conducts himself on and off the field.

That roster decisions are made based on such “intangibles” rubs some fans the wrong way. I understand that. But in the absence of tangible advantages demonstrated by someone else, I have no issue with going the route that provides some veteran leadership. And if having a couple more familiar names on the roster gives casual fans more reason to attend a game or two early in the season, too, that’s fine.

The young players that showed that they deserved to stick with the team to open the season are on the squad. Kyle Gibson, Sam Deduno, Josmil Pinto, Oswaldo Arcia and Aaron Hicks may all be part of the next great Twins teams and all of them earned their roster spots. If any of them had been held back to make room for Bartlett and Kubel, I’d have been disappointed.

But that’s not what happened.

So with the last two roster spots, the Twins decided to keep a couple of guys who have more past than futures on the field, yet provide a clubhouse presence that the organization thinks might be helpful in developing the aforementioned young players instead of a couple other guys who likely don’t have significant futures, either. I honestly can’t argue with that logic.

The critics point out that Ron Gardenhire may be relying on Bartlett to fill in as the fourth outfielder, despite having no outfield experience at any professional level. That’s a fair point, too. But I watched Bartlett play a few games in the outfield in Florida and I have to say he looked like he knew what he was doing out there. Enough so, anyway, for me not to get too worked up over the fact that he might see a little time out there occasionally.

Now, if you want to argue that Bartlett and Kubel are getting roster spots that woulda-coulda-shoulda gone to other players from outside the organization that would have provided more punch to what is clearly looking like another punchless Twins offense, I heartily agree. But the decision to bypass other external options was made weeks and months ago and I see that as a separate set of decisions than what we’re talking about here.

From what I’ve seen of the Twins pitching this spring, I think the rotation will be considerably improved over last year’s disaster. But the offense remains offensive and, at some point, I think the front office is going to realize they could have… and should have… done more to shore it up during the offseason.

But fretting over whether Bartlett and Kubel should have made the team over Presley and Parmelee? That’s the very definition of Much Ado About Nothing.

- JC

Winter Meetings Day Two: Twins Face Stiff Competition for Starting Pitchers

It is a tough time to be looking for starting pitchers.  According to Jon Heyman, at least 15 teams are actively seeking starting pitching:

The reality is that the other 15 teams are not going to pass up an opportunity to sign starting pitching either, as evidenced by the Nationals’ Day 2 signing of Dan Haren on a one-year $13 million dollar deal.

Unless the Twins are willing to spend dollars and years (a notion promoted by our own Jim Crikket), they’re going to have trouble finding free agents that want to sign with a ball club that doesn’t have an immediate opportunity to contend for a postseason birth.  The Twins likely have an edge on some low-end free agent pitchers looking to rebuild their value on a one year deal, as the Twins play in a pitcher friendly park and generally face lesser offensive opponents (playing each AL Central opponent 18 times) than many of the other teams mentioned in Heyman’s tweet.  But low-end free agent pitchers are easily had (Carl Pavano, John Lannan, etc.). With each passing hour it becomes less and less likely that the Twins make a move before the end of the Winter Meetings, but after talking with just about every free agent pitcher with a pulse, they should have at least laid the groundwork for a signing or two later this winter.

After a day of rumors and meetings, this is what Terry Ryan had to say at his end of day presser regarding making a move at the Winter Meetings, “That’s always a tough question. You never know. We could. We may not.”   Don’t hold your breath, Twins fans.

PhotoCredit: NBC Sports, Hardball Talk

Other Notable Rumors/Deals/Signings from Day Two:

And of course, these, any many other, Winter Meetings happenings are all nicely chronicled over at MLB Trade Rumors, should you desire to fully immerse yourself in Winter Meetings maddness.

-ERolfPleis

OVERNIGHT UPDATE: Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports tweeted overnight that Ben Revere’s name is coming up as a possible trade target. He also speculates that, because they traded Denard Span, the Twins may need a CF in return.

First, if indeed CFs are in high demand right now, the Twins have to be willing to listen when teams call. It wouldn’t be ideal for someone like Aaron Hicks to have to skip AAA and be baptized under fire at the Big League level, but if he can’t hack it Darin Mastroianni could probably fill in at CF until Hicks or someone else steps up.

I’ve always figured Revere was probably a short term bridge in CF to get to Hicks or one of the other stud OFs coming up through the organization. If the Twins think the same thing, then you trade Revere whenever you feel his value is at its highest, even if that is one week after you’ve traded Span.

I think the idea of the Twins needing a CF in return is pure speculation on Morosi’s part. That makes no sense at all. You get the best starting pitcher you can and you don’t take a lesser pitcher in order to get a stopgap CF, as well.

In other Twins news, LaVelle E. Neal III of the StarTribune tells us that the team doesn’t see Ian Stewart as a fit to provide the competition at 3B for Trevor Plouffe. I find that odd. To me, that’s exactly the kind of player that would fit that role. Maybe they just want to push Plouffe, not really threaten him.

Stay tuned… maybe Day 3 will be more exciting than the first two days. Then again, because Zack Greinke’s indecision is keeping the rest of the free agent pitching dominoes from falling, I’m not counting on much for excitement today.

- JC

Alexi Casilla – A Twins Career in Retrospect

Alexi (Lora) Casilla was signed by the Anaheim Angels as an amateur free agent in 2003.  He played for the Angels’ Minor League affiliates for two seasons before being traded to the Twins in 2005 for left-handed reliever J.C. Romero.  Casilla started the 2006 season in High-A Fort Myers playing for the Miracle and by September had earned himself a Major League call-up and played in nine games to close out the year.  For the next six seasons Casilla was at least a part time player for the Minnesota Twins, though he never really became the reliable middle infielder that many expected him to become.  And then last week, after losing the starting second base job and struggling to live up to even the meager offensive standards he had set for himself following 2010 and 2011 (the first time in his career he put up two relatively similar offensive seasons back to back), the Twins waived Casilla and he was claimed by the Baltimore Orioles, ending his lackluster career in Minneapolis.

Alexi Casilla, Credit: Knuckleballs Blog

In parts of seven seasons in Minnesota Alexi Casilla hit .250/.305/334 (BA/OBP/SLG), and only in his initial nine games in 2006 did he record an above average offensive season by OPS+ (clearly, some small sample size bias).  All told, he was worth 57 runs LESS than an average hitter in Minnesota.  In terms of Runs Created, among Minnesota Twins players with at least 1500 plate appearances, Casilla ranks 71/76, ahead of only Hosken Powell, Scott Leius, Jim Holt, Al Newman and Jerry Terrell.

Defensively, where most Casilla Apologists would pin most of his value, Casilla falls short of average in almost every defensive statistic. He’s been worth -21 runs in Total Zone Total Fielding Runs Above Average, -1 in BIS Defensive Runs Saved Above Average, and his fielding percentage (arguably a poor predictor of true defensive value) was just .976 compared to a league average of .985.  Again, against other Twins with 1500 plate appearances, Casilla compares poorly coming at 53/76 with -3 runs created from fielding.  Though he’s ahead of some other big name Twins, Joe Mauer (57th), Kirby Puckett (59th), Jason Kubel (68th), Harmon Killebrew (75th) and Michael Cuddyer (76th).  Unlike many of the Twins below him on the all time list, as noted above, Casilla’s bat did little to justify his continued presence on the Twins roster.

The only place where Casilla compares favorably to Twins of the past, is his ability to effectively steal bases.  Casilla’s 71 stolen bases are good enough for an 18th best in franchise history (though 71 is a fairly low total, as Ben Revere, with 700 fewer plate appearances, is already ahead of him with 74).  However, Casilla is the most efficient base stealer in Twins history (min 25 SB attempts), swiping bags in 88.75% of his attempts.  Why Casilla doesn’t have more stolen bases is probably the result of not getting on base frequently enough and playing for Ron Gardenhire, who doesn’t typically push runners to steal bases.*

Casilla leaves the Twins as a fairly successful Major Leaguer, if not a successful Twin, simply because he was able to collect so many plate appearances.  Not counting his September call-up in 2006, only 241 MLB players have more plate appearances since 2007, putting him in the top 10% of players since the start of 2007 (2,447 players had plate appearances between 2007 and 2012.).  And while that list contains players who may have since retired, Casilla still ranks in the top 15% for plate appearances by active players during the same time period.  Whether it was the Twins’ lack of viable middle infield options, or their continued belief in Casilla as a project, he has more plate appearances than all but 57 other Twins players putting him ahead of 92% of players to play for the Minnesota Twins.  He might not be missed, but he was certainly a big part of the ball club for a little more than six years.

*Only three Twins have more than 100 SB attempts since Gardenhire took over as skipper, Torii Hunter, Nick Punto and Denard Span.  And only Ben Revere has a chance to join that group in the next several years.  For a quick point of comparison, Tom Kelly had seven different players attempt at least 100 SB, and Chuck Knoblauch attempted 353 (2nd in team history to Rod Carew).  

-ERolfPleiss

Say, whatever happened to what’s his name?

We’ve been running into so many of our former players on opposing teams lately, like Nathan, Guerrier, Hunter, Hardy, Thome, Punto, Crain…. well, you know. With recent news on a couple more, it got me wondering about some of those guys we don’t hear so much about. Whatever happened to some of the players we used to spend practically every day talking about?

So I went and did a little looking around – not too much because I’m lazy so I’m sure there are lot more of our former guys out there doing things we wouldn’t expect or with teams we don’t see often. If you know of one I didn’t include here, feel free to share what you know! It’s always fun to to catch up..

One of guys we didn’t get to see even though we could have hoped for it was Lew Ford! He recently came up from the minor leagues with the Orioles and got his first hit in MLB since 2007. During that time he played in Japan, Mexico and with an independent league before coming back to the minor leagues in the Orioles system. I’m not sure what it is about the Red Sox and the Orioles but they seem to be a haven for former Twins. And he’s finally on Twitter so you can follow @CaptainLew20 there – anyone else have a little trouble believing that it took a geek like Lew so long to finally join the social media world of micro-blogging?!?! Of course, I found out information about another former Twin by following him! It turns out Terry Tiffee is playing 3B for the AAA Gwinnett Braves. The interesting part is that apparently he recently got called upon to pull a Butera! He pitched an inning in the 22-1 Gwinnett loss. His line: 1IP, 5ER, 4H, 2BB, 0K,45.00ERA.

Also rejoining the ranks after an albeit VERY brief stint in independent league baseball is Luke Hughes! The very same day he announced that he was joining an independent team, he followed up with an announcement that he was going to Las Vegas instead to play for the 51s in the Toronto Blue Jays system. I am hoping his return to the big leagues comes a lot quicker than Lew’s!

Also still in the minor leagues is former utility everything guy, Matt Tolbert. He’s doing well with the Iowa Cubs. He’s also hitting significantly better in the minor leagues than he was able to achieve in the bigs. I suppose that is to be expected for a guy who is used to facing major league pitching. But he’s getting more multiple base hits including a recent outing where he was only a homer short of a cycle. I wish him all the best!

Of course not all former Twins are playing in the minor leagues. Plenty of them are still playing well in their new homes. Interestingly enough, I happened to catch the end of the Cardinals game on the radio on my way home from work on Sunday. Sure enough, there was a former Twin. Kyle Lohse racked up win #12 and is probably their best starting pitcher. I think he could be a good example for Liriano to look to – a guy with a LOT of talent who really struggled with the mental readiness required to anchor a rotation. Clearly Kyle figured something out after he left us.

Speaking of pitching, perennial fan favorite, Pat Neshek is providing a show relieving for the Oakland A’s. Yes, his pitching is still as awkward looking as it always was. And we just faced Jose Mijares with the Royals but yeah, he just got claimed off waivers by the Giants so he’s off to a new home. A couple other former Twins pitchers are currently on the DL, again. I guess they didn’t just have that problem with us. Things are looking up for Johan Santana who is expect to make his return from rehab on Saturday. Things aren’t as rosy for Kevin Slowey. There’s a reason we won’t see him playing the Indians. He’s been out since May with what was reported to be a strained lat. On Friday, trainer Lonnie Soloff said Slowey’s actual injury is a fractured rib. “That takes a long time to heal,” said Soloff. I guess the Twins training staff isn’t the only one having trouble with diagnoses.

It’s not like pitching is the only thing we lose over time. Two of our biggest hitters from last year are with new teams this year. Michael Cuddyer was having a good season with the Rockies – hitting .260 with 15 home runs and 56 RBI — but has been bothered by a strained right oblique muscle and hadn’t played since Tuesday. Does that sound familiar to anyone else?

And my thanks to Thrylos who got me to go check out what is going on with Jason Kubel these days. He’s doing VERY well batting .281 with 23 homeruns. And as Thrylos pointed out, he’s lost a significant amount of weight so in some pictures, it’s hard to recognize him! That has to be a LOT easier on his knees. Yeah, that’s him all they way over on the left. I think he looks taller in addition to looking smaller.

Manager Nelson Prada and Hitting Coach Tommy Watkins

And there are the guys who aren’t playing anymore but are doing the best to pass on what they know to the next generation of players – they are coaching! I am amused by how many former Twins become Hitting Coaches.. really? But one we even get to interact with occasionally. JC just got see Tommy Watkins while visiting in Beloit because he’s still in the Twins system – coaching for us even! You can even follow him on Twitter: @TommyWatkins. He’s been fun to chat with.

Also filling the role as hitting coach are Doug Mientkiewicz and Jacque Jones. I’m very glad they are both still working in baseball but I have to admit that with Dougie especially, I wouldn’t have pegged him as a HITTING coach per se. But according to Utah’s Standard Examiner he’s making a big impact:

Baseball America, in their pre-draft player rankings comprised of both college and high school prospects, tabbed Rathjen as the 229th best draft-eligible player in the country. Had he been the 229th pick, he would have gone off the board early in the seventh round.

But instead of being taken where pundits predicted, he fell to the 11th round, and Rathjen seems pleased with how that’s worked out so far. He’s been given the opportunity to learn from Raptors hitting coach Doug Mientkiewicz, and the two have made a strong connection.

“(Mientkiewicz) was a player, and he was a good player, so he knows how to relate to us and explain things,” Rathjen said. “He can show us what we’re doing wrong and explain it in a way we can understand. For me, personally, that’s really helped.”

Already, Mientkiewicz has helped Rathjen speed up his timing and cut down his long, “metal-bat” swing to a short, direct-to-the-ball cut that’s more suited for wooden bats.

“He’s really done a solid job of (making adjustments),” Berryhill said of Rathjen. “He’s being able to recognize pitches a lot better, which means he’s getting better pitches to hit. He’s driving the baseball.”

I always wanted Dougie to get into coaching – hoped it would be for us like Tommy – because I really thought he had a gift for imparting his love of the game and ability to LEARN the needed skills on to others. I just never really thought it would be about hitting. It makes much more sense to me that Jacque Jones is doing the same thing for the Fort Wayne TinCaps in the Padres system. Since his last couple of playing years involved a LOT of bouncing up and down between the minors and the majors and from team to team, I am almost glad he decided to retire and go into coaching.

Last on my list today but most definitely not last in my baseball heart is Mike Redmond! He’s really making a name for himself Managing in the Blue Jays system. He has already been promoted to AA after a winning season with his A team, the Lansing Lugnuts, last year. His new team speaks pretty highly of him:

…the team will be operating under the guidance of a new skipper, former Major League catcher Mike Redmond.

Redmond made his managerial debut in 2011, when he took the Blue Jays A-ball affiliate, the Lansing Lugnuts, to the Midwest League Championship Series. Though the team fell in finals, the Lugnuts finished the regular season 17 games over .500 at 77-60, and won two post-season series under their rookie Manager.

A native of Seattle, Washington, Redmond spent 13 seasons as a catcher at the Major League level with three different Clubs (1998-2004 with FLA, 2005-2009 with MIN & 2010 with CLE), batting .287 with 13 home runs & 243 RBI in 764 career games.

I honestly couldn’t be happier for him and still really wish we could snag him away to help the Twins minor league system (and eventually the majors!) I think he has a long future in baseball ahead of him.

As I said at the beginning, if you know of someone else I didn’t mention here today, feel free to share! Obviously I love finding out what has happened to someone since the days I wrote their names in my scorebook.

**note: as I was putting the final touches on this post, in the space of about 10 minutes, I was lucky enough to see Brad Radke on TV and see a story about Corey Koskie tweeted out!! Bradke was discussing the American Indian Community Center in Minneapolis that he had recently helped remodel and the story about Koskie, you can read better for yourself: Koskie finds peace of mind.

Just Winging It: The 2012 Minnesota Twins Starting Rotation

There can be no doubts that a 63-99 team has plenty of areas for improvement.  In 2011 the Twins were 28th in team OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage), ahead of only the Seattle Mariners and the San Diego Padres.  Sure, they were playing half of their games in the pitcher friendly Target Field, but even when adjusting for park factors, the Twins posted an OPS+ of just 84 (100 is average), 29th in the MLB, this time behind the Padres.  Clearly there were issues with the Twins’ bats a year ago.  Part of that was attributable to injuries to Joe Mauer (replaced by Drew Butera and Rene Rivera) and Denard Span (replaced by Joe Benson, Rene Tosoni, and Jason Repko).  Another part of the hitting problem was related to dreadful offensive production from the middle infield, as Tsuyoshi Nishioka, Luke Hughes, Danny Valencia, and Matt Tolbert, and the the old Trevor Plouffe all posted below leave average offensive numbers.

As bad as the Twins’ bats were in 2011, it did not really matter what their pitchers were doing.  And maybe that is what the front office was thinking heading into Spring Training.  If the Twins could just upgrade their offense, even with a mediocre pitching staff, they were likely to see a big improvement.  Unfortunately, the Twins did not have a mediocre pitching staff in 2011, their 4.58 team ERA was 29th, and were one of just two teams (along with the Baltimore Orioles) to allow more than 800 runs.  So to go along with their 29th place OPS+, the Twins also had the 29th worst pitching staff, and yet somehow they still only lost 99 games.

After a winter of free agent signings and departures the Twins arrived in Spring Training as optimistic as any team in baseball.  After all, they were only a year removed from a 94-win AL Central Championship team, and they were truly healthy for the first time in more than a year.  Their franchise catcher, Joe Mauer, had finally recovered from whatever it was that was ailing him in 2011 and caused him to miss almost half a season, and Justin Morneau was finally overcoming his concussion symptoms that cost him the better parts of 2010 and 2011.  Ryan Doumit and Josh Willingham were on board to replace Jason Kubel and Michael Cuddyer, and the Twins signed veteran on-base sepcialist Jamey Carroll to compensate for the failures of Nishioka.  Alexi Casilla was coming off one of the best offensive seasons of his underwhelming career and looked poised to finally become the everyday player the Twins had been hoping he would be since 2007.  Despite all their failures in 2011, the Twins looked like their bats were ready to hit in 2012.*

*And to some extent, they are.  The Twins’ 2012 OPS+ is 6th in the American League, and they are scoring runs at an almost league average rate (4.30/4.47).  

The Twins, however, did little to improve a pitching staff that was one of the worst in 2011.    They inexplicably resigned 9th inning reliever Matt Capps to a $4.75 million dollar deal to step in for the departed Joe Nathan.  They also sent starting pitcher Brian Duensing back to the bullpen where he had previously been successful and replaced him in the rotation with free agent acquisition Jason Marquis, hoping that he would rebound from a broken leg that cost him the end of the 2011 season, and become the renaissance man that Carl Pavano had been for the Twins since he arrived in 2009.  But with just five real candidates for starting pitching Minnesota was walking a pretty thin line.  The Twins also brought in just about every free agent relief pitcher they could find hoping that a couple of them would pitch well enough in Spring Training to head north with the big league team.  They even went against their traditionally risk-averse strategy and signed Joel Zumaya to a minor league deal hoping to add a power arm to their bullpen without paying the power arm price.  And with that, the Twins were seemingly ready to start the season.

Just five starting pitchers and not a lot of MLB ready pitchers in AAA ready to step in if things went poorly.  Among the starting pitchers not in that group of five, only Liam Hendriks and Scott Diamond seemed like realistic replacements to join the Twins if things did not go well in Minnesota.

As you are well aware, things have not gone well for the Twins’ starting pitchers in 2012.  Even before leaving Spring Training the Twins were forced to move Liam Hendriks into starting rotation as Jason Marquis was pulled away from the team to be with his daughter while she was recovering from a serious bicycle accident.  To make matters worse, Scott Baker did not leave Ft. Myers with the Twins either, dealing with supposedly minor arm issues which ended up as a worst-case scenario as Baker would eventually require Tommy John surgery to repair the UCL in his pitching arm.  That meant that Anthony Swarzak would start the season in the starting rotation, leaving with Twins without their regular long-reliever until Marquis would be back with the team.  Before long the Liam Hendriks experiment was over and he was back in AAA looking garner some additional seasoning.  Now the Twins had to start getting creative.  They had already burned through the only two replacement options they’d planned for and with the Twins already well below .500, it was unlikely that they would be playing any meaningful baseball in October.  Since that time the Twins have used five additional starting pitchers, none of whom the Twins were counting on in April.  P.J. Walters was first, then Scott Diamond, Cole De Vries, Brian Duensing, and finally Sam Deduno.

The Twins still have 63 games remaining in 201. With Francisco Liriano now pitching for the Chicago White Sox the Twins will have to find another arm to step in.  While the next pitcher they call upon to start will likely not be a fresh face, they will still be tip-toeing around a problem unlikely to be resolved without the infusion of some fresh arms this winter.

Twins fans should have known that when Minnesota signed Jason Marquis and hoped for the best that the team was just winging it in 2012.

-ERolfPleiss

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

Will New Major League CBA Screw the Twins?

If you’re one of those people salivating over the extra high draft picks that the Twins were going to get in return for losing free agents Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel, that salivation might be a bit premature.

The good news is that reports coming out of Milwaukee, where MLB General Managers are meeting this week, indicate that the league and the players’ union are very close to agreement on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). That means baseball fans won’t be going through the nonsense that we saw last summer with the NFL and are continuing to see with the NBA.

The bad news is that the new agreement could cost the Twins at least one of those compensatory draft picks in next year’s amateur draft… and possibly all of them.

As has been well documented by now, the Twins have three members of 2011’s roster that are classified as either Type A or Type B free agents. Under the current CBA, that means that they would receive one or two compensatory draft picks if those players sign with another team, provided the Twins offer them arbitration.

Michael Cuddyer

Cuddyer and Matt Capps both fall in to the Type A category, which would bring the Twins both a supplemental round “sandwich” pick (so named because the supplemental round is conducted between the first and second rounds of the draft) as well as either the first or second round pick of the team that player ultimately signs with (depending on that team’s record in 2011).

Kubel is a Type B free agent, which means the Twins would get one of those supplemental “sandwich” picks, but the signing team would not forfeit any of their picks to the Twins.

The conventional wisdom is that the Twins will not offer arbitration to Matt Capps because he would certainly accept it and would end up being awarded a 2012 salary that’s probably at least double what he’s likely to get on the open market. That means the Twins will get no compensatory pick for Capps.

But the Twins certainly would be planning to offer arbitration to both Cuddyer and Kubel.

Media reports, including one from NY Post columnist Joel Sherman, indicate that the owners may have traded away much, if not all, of the free agent compensation system during CBA negotiations in order to rein in the escalating salaries of draft picks AND that the changes to the system may take effect this offseason.

Would owners really change the rules in the middle of the offseason? To get what they want in terms of restricting salaries for unproven draft picks… absolutely. A formal announcement of the terms of the agreement could come yet this week.

Sherman’s sources tell him that the compensation program for the top Type A free agents (such as the Mets’ Jose Reyes) would not be changed, but that Type B compensation would end effective with the current offseason. Other media reports indicate that the new agreement will reduce the percentage (currently 20%) of players at each position that constitute the Type A category, as well.

Jason Kubel

If these reports turn out to be accurate, it means the Twins: (a) would get no compensation for losing Jason Kubel; and (b) COULD end up getting no compensation for Michael Cuddyer, either, if his ranking by Elias falls below whatever the newly negotiated cut-off line is for Type A players in the American League 1B-DH-OF category.

If you were hoping the three supplemental picks were going to go a long way toward helping Terry Ryan boost the organization’s minor league talent level sooner, rather than later, this turn of events is not good news.

If you’re the Twins GM, would the lack of compensation for losing Kubel and Cuddyer make you more likely to consider re-signing either or both?

- 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

GameChat – Twins @ Angels, 9:05pm

I’ll say this for west coast baseball – it’s giving me a chance to quick get in a fantasty football draft before the game starts… *crosses fingers*

But because of the above-mentioned schedule duplication, my pregame research/comments/offerings are pretty much non-existant.

 [edit] Mauer ended up being a late scratch due to illness so here’s the new order, re-shuffled, with Hughes taking the 1B spot Joe had been manning tonight.

 

Minnesota

@

LA Angels
Revere, CF Aybar, SS
Plouffe, 2B Kendrick, H, 2B
Kubel, DH Abreu, DH
Cuddyer, RF Hunter, To, RF
Valencia, 3B Trumbo, 1B
Tosoni, LF Callaspo, 3B
Hughes, L, 1B Wells, V, LF
Nishioka, SS Bourjos, CF
Butera, C Conger, C
  Pavano, P   Chatwood, P
  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Minnesota 1 0 0 5 0 1 1 4 1 13 16 1
LA Angels 1 0 1 0 0 1 1 0 1 5 8 1

That was a long game. I guess that’s what happens when you have a bunch of pitchers who can’t find the strike zone and when they do, the hitters mash ‘em. Remarkably, I’m not talking about the Twins pitchers being mashed by opposing hitters this time!

Carl Pavano pitched relatively well and the young line up behind him hit the heck out of the ball. With so many hits, it’s tough to pick one guy to award BOD honors. Trevor Plouffe got the scoring started with a homer in the 1st and later added a double, but Jason Kubel tallied 3 hits and a couple of ribbies, so let’s make him our Boyfriend of the Day! – JC

Jason Kubel

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