Winter Meetings: Time For Terry Ryan to Step Up.

Baseball’s Winter Meetings get in to gear down at the Gaylord Opryland hotel in Nashville on Monday and that’s got me a bit nervous. The Twins, at least at the Major League level, are in a sorry state, having come off a 96-loss season which followed a 99-loss season. It just doesn’t get much worse than this, folks.

A year ago, just ahead of the Winter Meetings in Dallas, I wrote a post here headlined “M&M: Time to Step Up or Shut Up.” The point was that, following a season in which the Twins stars had spent more time not playing baseball than playing baseball, perhaps it wasn’t totally unrealistic for the front office to play a little “wait and see” before spending a bunch of money trying to rebuild the roster to a level capable of contending. Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau, among others, needed to play better in 2012 or it really wouldn’t matter whether the Twins spent money to buy them some help.

To their credit, I believe Mauer and Morneau did exactly what I asked. They both had much-improved seasons, managing to stay on the field and hit baseballs with some regularity. Whatever the reasons were for the Twins dropping 96 games in 2012, those reasons had little, if anything, to do with Mauer and Morneau. The failure can arguably be laid almost entirely at the feet of the pitching staff. And that’s not entirely surprising. We at Knuckleballs posted multiple articles last offseason expressing our disappointment about the Twins failure to add significant pitching help and we certainly weren’t the only people making that point.

So here we are, a year later, on the eve of yet another week of Winter Meetings, and guess what… the Twins need to significantly improve their pitching staff. Terry Ryan made what certainly appears to have been a reasonable trade this week when he sent popular and productive outfielder/leadoff hitter Denard Span to the Nationals for potential future top-of-the-rotation pitcher Alex Meyer. But that deal won’t do anything to make the product at Target Field any more watchable in 2013.

The reports we are reading leading up to these meetings indicate the Twins are expected to be very active and that Terry Ryan is looking to significantly improve the 2013 rotation largely through the free agent market. That’s encouraging to hear, but folks, we’ve heard that before.

Let’s hop in to our time machine and go back just one year ago, shall we? Here’s a summary of what we were reading about the Twins activities during the Winter Meetings last December:

  • On Day One last year, there was conjecture that the Twins remained interested in Edwin Jackson, but that Jackson was going to wait until CJ Wilson and/or Mark Buehrle set the market. The Twins were said to be interested in Jackson only if they did not spend the money to re-sign Michael Cuddyer. Of course, they signed Josh Willingham for considerably less money than Cuddyer was demanding, but we certainly did not see Jackson in a Twins uniform.
  • Speaking of Mark Buehrle, reports also came out of Dallas on Day One that the Twins were one of four teams (along with the Nationals, Marlins and Rangers) that were “still in on” Buehrle. He eventually signed with the Marlins and is now a Blue Jay.
  • So what DID the Twins do on Day One? They re-signed Matt Capps and claimed SS Pedro Florimon off waivers from the Orioles.
  • On Day Two, we read that Buehrle had narrowed his list to five teams and that the Twins had an offer in. Word also came out that the Twins would be meeting with Jeff Francis’ agent during the Winter Meetings.
  • On the other hand, the Strib’s LaVelle E. Neal III was reporting that the Twins had had no conversations with the agents of Francis and Jackson.
  • They didn’t add a pitcher on Day Two, but the Twins did part with one. They traded Kevin Slowey to the Rockies for a “player to be named later.”
  • And on Day Three, apparently worn out by all the activity the first two days, the Twins front office rested.

Of course, later in the month, Terry Ryan inked Jason Marquis to a one year contract, so it’s not like he didn’t add any starting pitching, right?

So what’s my point?

My point is that, while Terry Ryan and Dave St. Peter are saying all the right things right now about improving the Twins in 2013 by adding legitimate starting pitchers, I’ll believe it when I see it. I’ve heard it before. Just a year ago, the media was being fed reports about how the Twins were in on Mark Buehrle and interested in talking to Edwin Jackson’s agent. But when it came to actually spending money, they signed Jason Marquis.

And make no mistake, it would have been pretty easy to make a case to a top pitcher that their 2011 failures were fluke-ish… that injuries to Mauer, Morneau, Span, and others were responsible for the lousy record… and that with some pitching help and a return to health by their stars, the Twins could contend again in 2012. It won’t be nearly as easy to convince a top free agent that they’d be signing on to a contender in Minnesota this year. Last year, all Ryan had to so was spend money. This year he has to do a helluva sales job AND spend money.

It’s perfectly fine for fans to be hopeful that Ryan will do exactly that. As fans, hope is what we live on in December and January.

It’s also perfectly understandable for us to be skeptical that the Twins are really serious about being willing to spend the money that would be necessary to bring legitimate starting pitching help on board.

As I’ve written this past week, Terry Ryan has been saying all the right things. I’m sure the Twins would like fans to take them at their word when they talk about being willing to spend money to make real and immediate improvements.

But if the Twins really want us to take their words seriously, they need to do more than talk about signing good pitchers. They need to do it.

You’re on deck Mr. Ryan. It’s time for you to step up.

- JC

A Full Forty – Dissecting the 40-Man Roster (Position Players)

On Monday I did a quick run down of the pitchers currently on the Twins 40-man roster.  Today I will take a look at the position players, including five catchers, nine infielders, and seven outfielders.  Several of these players will not be on the roster when the Twins head north to start the season.

Catchers (Age, Position, Highest 2012 Level)
Drew Butera - 29, 3rd Catcher, MLB – If Butera is still on the 40-man roster when the Twins break camp, the Twins are doing it wrong.  With Mauer and Doumit handling most of the catching duties, the Twins’ third catcher should be more versatile than Butera (and have some value as a bench bat), pitching ability notwithstanding.

Ryan Doumit - 31, C/RF/DH, MLB – Ryan Doumit might never pass for an average defensive catcher, but his ability to slot in at RF and DH allow the Twins to move Mauer and Morneau around and if he hits like he did in 2012 (.275/.320/.461, 18 HR and 75 RBI) the Twins will continue to reap the benefits of his very reasonable contract extension.

Chris Herrmann - 25, C/LF, MLB – Herrmann lucked into a September call-up when Mauer and Doumit were both a little nicked up and he struggled offensively while he was up.  Herrmann was off to a pretty decent Arizona Fall League performance but an injury ultimately derailed his season in Peoria.  Herrmann is pretty rough as a catcher, but he has a great arm, and like Doumit, has the ability with the bat to play well as a corner outfielder.

Joe Mauer - 29, C/DH/1B, MLB – Joe Mauer’s 2012 went a long way to erase 2011 from fan’s memories.  He led the league in OBP and if you don’t consider his 2009 MVP season, Mauer was back to being Joe Mauer.  He will probably never hit 29 home runs again, especially in Target Field, but the Twins’ flexibility with Mauer has allowed them to keep his bat in the lineup almost every day.

Josmil Pinto - 23, C/DH, AA – Pinto has virtually no shot to make the 25-man roster having barely played any ball above High-A.  The Twins like his bat, but if he’s going to stick as a catcher he’s going to have to catch a lot of breaks.  As Aaron Gleeman said in a recent podcast (I’m paraphrasing heavily), if he’s already splitting time at DH in the lower levels, he could easily be stuck at 1B or DH by the time he’s ready to put on a MLB uniform.

Old Man Jamey Carroll, Photo Credit: CapitalBabs

Infielders
Jamey Carroll - 38, Utility Infielder, MLB – At 38 years-old Carroll is long past his prime as a baseball player, that the Twins might have to use him as a starting infielder in 2013 gives you a pretty good idea about how bad they’ve been at producing middle infield talent with their farm system in the recent past.  Carroll lived up (mostly) to his solid defensive and on-base percentage track record in 2012, but if this team is really building toward the future, Carroll needs to be relegated to utility infield duties by mid-season to give the youngsters more opportunity.

Brian Dozier - 25, SS, MLB – 2012 started off so well for Dozier.  Coming off a red-hot 2011 campaign, Dozier had a great spring and after crushing the ball to start the year in Triple-A the Twins called him up to be their everyday shortstop.  From there things went poorly.  Dozier hung on for 84 games hitting just (.234/.271/.332) while playing sub-par defense before the Twins sent him back down to Triple-A.  Dozier wouldn’t be the first MLB regular who failed in his first Big League opportunity, but some of the luster has worn off and he’ll need another strong spring – offensively and defensively – to play his way back into the good graces of upper management.  He should be on the 25-man roster to start the season, if for no other reason than to make sure 2012 was not a fluke.

Eduardo Escobar - 23, Utility Infielder, MLB – Escobar was obtained from the White Sox in the deal that sent Fransico Liriano to Chicago.  Escobar played sparingly with the Sox over the past two seasons playing all over the diamond (3B, 2B, SS, and LF), but he isn’t a true shortstop.   Between Dozier, Carroll and Florimon, Escobar is probably the odd man out, starting the year in Rochester.

Thomas Field - 25, MI, RF, MLB – Claimed off of waivers from the Colorado Rockies, Field has primarily played shortstop in the minor leagues, but has spent time at second base as well.  He doesn’t have a big bat, even in the Minor Leagues (.264/.359/.414 across five seasons), but he seems to be proficient with the glove.  I don’t expect him to make the 25-man roster, and he’s a guy I could easily see the Twins removing from the 40-man roster to make room for a free agent signing. EDIT: Per MLB Trade Rumors, Thomas Field has been claimed off waivers by the Los Angeles Angles of Anaheim.

Pedro Florimon - 25, SS, MLB – Florimon is entering his second full season in the Twins organization after being claimed from the Baltimore Orioles at the conclusion of the 2011 season.  Florimon played in 43 games with the Twins and hit poorly but showed flashes of spectacular defense, as is Florimon’s MO.  After suffering through a combination of Tsuyoshi Nishioka, Trevor Plouffe, and Brian Dozier at SS the past couple of seasons the Twins like Florimon’s defensive upside, but he’ll have to hit better than .219 to beat out Brian Dozier and earn the starting spot at short.

Justin Morneau - 31, 1B/DH, MLB – Entering the final year of his 6 year/$80 million dollar contract, Morneau will earn $14 million dollars in 2013.  Morneau finally seemed to put his concussion behind him in the second half of 2012 and when he’s healthy he is still a valuable offensive weapon.  He plays above average defense at first base, and if he has another strong half of a year and the Twins are out of contention by the All-Star break, the Twins could easily flip him for a prospect this summer.

Chris Parmelee - 24, 1B/RF, MLB – Parmelee does not have much of anything left to prove in Triple-A after hitting a blistering .338/.457/.645 batting line in 2012, but he’s yet to have sustained success with the Minnesota Twins.  He had a red hot September in 2011, but with almost 3x as many plate appearances in 2012 he hit like a Pedro Florimon, with a little more power.  The Twins will need to find regular at-bats for Parmelee in 2013, but with a crowded outfield, Mauer and Morneau splitting time at first, and a solid rotation at DH, there just is no room for Parmelee on the roster as it is currently constructed.  I do not expect the Twins to trade Parmelee, especially with Morneau unlikely to return in 2014, and Parmelee might have to log a few more months in Rochester before a spot opens up for him on this Twins team.

Trevor Plouffe - 26, 3B, MLB – Was Plouffe’s six-week power surge for real?  Did his thumb injury keep him from succeeding at the tail end of last season?  Or was the real Trevor Plouffe something in between, a guy with questionable defensive ability and occasional power to left field?  Terry Ryan said on Monday night in an interview on 1500ESPN that the Twins want to bring in some third base competition for Plouffe this winter, but the Twins have bigger holes at shortstop and in the pitching rotation, so it seems highly unlikely that that Twins will bring in anyone that could really threaten Plouffe’s hold on the starting third base job.

Daniel Santana - 22, SS/2B, High-A – Santana is widely considered as the best shortstop prospect in the Twins system, but without any playing time above High-A, he’s not making the 25-man roster out of Spring Training.  Santana could move quickly through the system in 2013, probably starting the year in AA, and if he continues to play well and hit he could easily be in Rochester before the season’s end.  Santana just turned 22 years old, so even if he is not Big League ready until 2015, he’d still be just 25 years old.  A lot of upside here, but like many of the Twins’ best prospects, he’s a long way from donning the Twins uniform.

Outfielders
Oswaldo Arcia - 21, RF, AA – Arcia took another big step forward in 2012 posting one of the best batting lines of his career in a full season at Double-A.  Along with Double-A teammate Aaron Hicks, Arcia should be roaming the outfield in Rochester to start 2013, but if the Twins deal Span, Revere or Willingham he could potentially be looking at a MLB tryout in Spring Training.  As a corner outfielder he’ll need to continue to hit at Triple-A to retain his prospect value, but if he succeeds he could be a Twins regular as early as 2014.

Joe Benson - 24, CF/RF, AAA – 2012 was a lost year for Benson.  After a solid 2011 season he was rewarded with a September appearance with the Twins and while he didn’t light the world on fire, he flashed his defensive value and speed, along with a beautiful head of hair.  In 2012 Benson started the year at Triple-A, struggled and was demoted to Double-A, struggled more, was injured, rehabbed in the Rookie League and at High-A, and then struggled again at Double-A before ending the year back on the disabled list with a knee injury.  I think the Twins will put Benson back at Double-A to start 2013, but he could quickly join Arcia and Hicks in what would be a really fun outfield for the Rochester Red Wings.

Aaron Hicks - 23, CF, AA – Formerly the Twins #1 prospect, Hicks was rated as high as the 19th best prospect in all of baseball by Baseball America before the 2010 season, but by 2012 he had fallen all the way off the Top 100 list.  Then, as if motivated by his removal from the list, Hicks had a great 2012 and vaulted his way back up Twins prospect lists and sits firmly behind Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton as one of the Twins’ best Minor League ballplayers.  Hicks hit .286/.384/.460 in 129 games in Double-A last year, and he also hit well from both sides of the plate, something he’d struggled to do for the past couple years, so much so that there was talk that Hicks give up his switch hitting ways.  Hicks combines a high-upside bat with spectacular defense and a great arm.  He likely has all the defensive ability of Ben Revere, but with a bat that could profile well even as a corner outfielder.  If the Twins move Willingham, Span or Revere this winter, Hicks is likely to be the best fit to fill in, but I would be a little more comfortable if he had some time in Triple-A to build on his 2012 success before handing him a starting job in Minnesota.

Darin Mastroianni - 27, CF/RF/LF, MLB – I feel like a broken record here, but if the Twins move one of their starting outfielders this winter, Mastroianni is probably the immediate beneficiary in terms of playing time.  While he’s perfectly suited in his role as a fourth outfielder, he would likely be exposed offensively if given an increased workload.  His defense is good enough for him to play everyday, but his bat would suffer.  Mastroianni’s speed and versatility give him an advantage over Chris Parmelee for a 25-man roster spot, but if the Twins are dead set on finding room for Parmelee, Mastroianni could be squeezed.

Ben Revere - 24, RF, MLB – A year ago Twins fans were clamoring for Revere to earn a full time spot in the Twins outfield, and despite his weak arm, the Twins installed him as their everyday right fielder.  Revere has the range and defensive ability to play center field, but Ron Gardenhire is a manager that frequently defers to his veterans, and even after another year of watching Revere make spectacular plays in the outfield, Gardenhire is unlikely to swap roles with Span and Revere.  The biggest takeaway from 2012 for Revere was his offensive improvement.  He’s always going to be a guy who’s batting average will sit around .300 with plenty of infield hits, and he won’t take a lot of walks, but if he continues to develop extra base power, he’ll be a Denard Span lite (which the Twins would be happy to have in center field if – again- they move Span this winter).

Denard Span - 28, CF, MLB – Span has been the Twin most frequently listed on MLB Trade Rumors, and if the Twins are really looking to bring back a quality starting pitcher, his team friendly contract makes him the most likely candidate to go.  After battling concussion issues in 2011, Denard Span played 128 games in a mostly healthy 2012 campaign and his offensive season was almost identical to his career averages.  The Twins hold a team option on Denard Span for 2015, so if the Twins keep him around, he could still be with the team when they have a realistic opportunity to contend for the AL Central.  Span is a valuable player even if the Twins are bad again in 2013, but with so many holes in their starting rotation it is hard to see Span sticking around until Opening Day.

Josh Willingham - 33, LF, MLB -2012 was a great year for Josh Willingham.  His best as a major leaguer and he was rewarded with a Silver Slugger for his 35 home runes, 110 RBIs and a .260/.366/.524 batting line.  Willingham is unlikely to repeat those numbers in 2013, but even if he’s the player he was in Washington and Oakland, he’s a valuable corner outfielder and the Twins best power hitter (though a healthy Justin Morneau could certainly give him a run for his money).  Willingham is likely locked into his left field role again in 2013, even if the Twins move Span and bring up a talented youngster.  He doesn’t play great defense, but as Babs likes to say, it looks like he’s trying really hard out there, and effort goes a long way in earning forgiveness from the fans (something Delmon Young never got the hang of).

So there they are, TWENTY ONE TWENTY position players.  The Twins are unlikely to carry five catchers on the roster once Spring Training breaks, and of the five, Drew Butera is the most likely candidate to be removed.  Of their nine infielders, I think the Twins could remove Escobar or Field without too much concern of another team claiming either player (or not), and of the two, I think Field is the most likely to be waived.  It would be tough for the Twins to sneak any of their outfielders through waivers and these seven are likely to remain unchanged in the near future.  Mastroianni could become expendable if either Arcia or Hicks join the 25-man roster, but that is likely to happen only if the Twins move one of the current MLB incumbents, likely Span or Willingham, should that scenario arise.

-ERolfPleiss

Twins Should Follow Blue Jays Bold Lead

Grumpy blogger

I’ve been feeling under the weather the past couple of weeks and that tends to make me grumpy. I’m feeling much better, but apparently the grumpiness is not wearing off quickly. The Toronto-Miami trade announced Tuesday didn’t help my mood much, either.

We really should have seen this coming. It’s not like Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria has never cleaned house before, right? True, in the past, he’s dumped his high-priced stars after winning World Series Championships and pleading poverty because he didn’t have a shiny new stadium like other teams did. But in retrospect, we really can’t be surprised that he is once again overseeing the complete dismantling of his roster. What did surprise us, however, was that this time he unloaded almost his entire remaining cadre of recognizable stars on to one single team and that team was the Toronto Blue Jays!

All-Stars Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle and Jose Reyes are now Blue Jays, as are Emilio Bonifacio and John Buck, who’s actually returning for a second engagement in Toronto. The Marlins are also sending a few million dollars in cash along, but not enough to even make a dent in what I’ve seen estimated to be $160 million of remaining salary owed to the new Jays players. In fact, it appears the cash included in the deal is primarily just to cover most of Buck’s salary.

In return, Toronto sent the Marlins Yunel Escobar and several young (read: cheap) players that are several years from their first big paydays. A couple of those players are legitimate prospects that could eventually play major roles on a Big League roster, so it’s not like Toronto didn’t give anything up in the deal.

But this is a Minnesota Twins blog, so what does any of this have to do with the Twins? Simply this… the Blue Jays, like the Twins, saw themselves at or near the bottom of their Division after yet another disappointing season and faced some choices concerning how to change their fortunes. They could promote young talent from within the organization to fill some of their needs and look to fill a few other holes via trade or fringe free agents… or they could find top-shelf talent available on the trade market and use some of their better young prospects to acquire it. They obviously chose the latter path.

As Twins fans, I think we’re entitled to pose the question, “Why shouldn’t the Twins do the same thing?”

I know we’ve been brainwashed for years by the Twins to the point where we now believe that the only way for the Twins to become competitive again is to trade away established stars like Denard Span, Justin Morneau and/or Josh Willingham for the starting pitching so desperately needed and middle infield help that certainly could stand to be upgraded, while replacing the departing players by backfilling with young guys. That’s what the Twins have always done. It’s a much more accurate description of “The Twins Way” than is the long-established myth that they play sound fundamental baseball between the lines.

The Blue Jays, however, have examined a very similar set of circumstances and decided instead to be bold. Of course, it helped that they found a crazy-assed owner who overpaid for several stars a year ago and now wanted to dump them all.

So let’s return to the question posed… what would keep the Twins from doing the same thing the Blue Jays did (other than the obvious… an ultra-conservative management team)?

Do the Twins not have young talent comparable to what the Jays had? I find that hard to believe. Most of the Major League ready players sent to Miami appear to be nothing more than temporary fillers to replace the guys they gave up and only two of the prospects appear to be even potential above-average ballplayers. One of them is a Jake Marisnick, a “five tool” outfielder who’s probably going to repeat AA and the other is lefty starting pitcher Justin Nicolino, who has only had one year of full-season minor league ball. Nicolinao is arguably a better pitching prospect than the Twins have in their pitching-poor organization, but the Twins appear to have several outfielders with greater value than Marisnick.

Is it a money issue? Let’s put it this way… it probably IS a money issue in that the Twins under current management have never been inclined to take on the kind of salary commitments that Johnson, Buehrle and Reyes represent. However, it SHOULDN’T be a money issue. The Blue Jays had an opening day payroll in the mid 80 millions a year ago, without the benefit of a ballpark like Target Field. They barely cracked the 2 million mark in attendance and even that was about a 10% increase over 2011.

But here’s the thing. The new national media rights deal for Major League Baseball is going to put something like an additional $25 million in revenue straight in to the pockets of every MLB team starting in 2014. Does that mean that teams like Toronto and Minnesota should just go indiscriminately crazy and overpay a bunch of has-beens and never-weres? Of course it does not. But it should open the door for teams to rethink their past operating models.

The Twins have historically told the public that their model is to spend about 50% of revenues on their Major League payroll. That goes back all the way through the old Metrodome days when the team had one of the worst revenue streams in MLB and it has continued through the “boom” years of their new ballpark. If they hold to that model, only half of the “new money” from the media deal will see its way in to their payroll budget.

But why should that be the case? What additional expenses come with that $25 million in additional revenue? Absolutely none. It is simply “found money” that comes with no strings attached and if the Twins have indeed been realizing revenues at twice their MLB payroll, it represents at least a 12.5% increase in revenues! I’m sorry, but I simply can’t buy any excuse that might be proffered for why the team should not sink most, if not all, of that money in to putting a better product on the field.

But wait… the Jays, while not drawing as many fans as the Twins lately, are at least seeing their attendance rise over the prior year while attendance at Target Field is dropping off dramatically. So shouldn’t the Twins be more conservative? Heck, no!

Don’t you think the phone lines going in to Toronto’s offices are heating up today with people signing up for 2013 ticket packages? Reasonable debate may be offered as to just how many additional wins the new Blue Jays players can be expected to add to their record, but the Jays front office sent a clear message to their fan base that they intend to get serious about ending their also-ran status in the AL East. I refuse to believe the same wouldn’t be happening at the Target Field offices of the Twins today if it had been Terry Ryan who had pulled off a similar deal yesterday.

I’m fine being patient for a few more weeks to see what kind of improvements Ryan can make to the Twins roster. After all, even if he did want to follow the Blue Jays’ lead and pull off a similar monster deal, there aren’t many crazy owners like Jeffrey Loria out there. Even the A’s, who can almost annually be counted on to trade away anyone with a pulse, are reportedly looking to add talent this offseason rather than trade away what they have.

But Twins fans should not have to listen to more crap from the front office about how payroll doesn’t matter and how $85-90 million is more than Terry Ryan ever used to have at his disposal so there’s no reason to spend more than that now. That’s complete and utter bullcrap.

If the Twins want more people to attend games in 2013 instead of fewer, there’s one way and one way only to accomplish that. It’s not by adding pitching at the expense of having to trade away a number of your best position players and it’s sure as hell not just by adding a drink rail in right field.

You get more fans at the ballpark and more viewers on television and more sales of your merchandise by making bold moves to improve the crappy product you’ve put on the field for the past two years.

The Blue Jays finally seem to get that. I’m not sure the Twins ever will.

- JC

Looking Back… and Ahead

I have a poor memory.  I have trouble remembering names and all sorts of other things. I need to be reminded of appointments and family events I’m supposed to show up at. This may well be indicative of some pretty unpleasant final years of my life, but for right now I’m trying to look at the positive side to having a bad memory.

For example, I can tell you I don’t remember predicting before the season started that the Twins would come through with an 86-76 record for 2012.

I can tell you I sure as hell don’t remember predicting Francisco Liriano would be the Twins “pitcher of the year,” before the season got underway or that Liam Hendriks was likely to be the team’s “rookie of the year.”

The problem is that Eric went and made all of those predictions public back in April, so there’s a record of my preseason bout of insanity. Then again, maybe he just made that stuff up?

Scott Diamond

The reality is that the Twins pitcher of the year was probably Glen Perkins and when your best pitcher is a member of your bullpen, that’s probably not good. I suppose Scott Diamond should get some consideration for this award, as well, however. He certainly was the lone bright spot in the rotation (though I suspect he just seems brighter because of how totally dull the rest of the rotation was, by comparison).

Eric and I both apparently thought Justin Morneau was poised for a huge rebound season and predicted he would be the team’s hitter of the year. Justin certainly bounced back well, but Josh Willingham had a huge season and Joe Mauer is once again leading the league in on-base percentage and fighting for the batting title. Either of those two would be legitimate choices for the Twins hitter of the year, but I’d go with Willingham.

I predicted Denard Span would be the team’s defender of the year and I could make a pretty good case for that having turned out to be accurate. But Ben Revere would probably get my vote at this point.

I’m a bit fuzzy on who’s eligible to be considered a rookie and who isn’t, but assuming they’re both eligible, my choices would be Revere and Trevor Plouffe, in that order.

Morneau didn’t turn out to be a bad choice for Twins comeback player of the year, but I’d probably vote for Mauer.

Twins MVP would come down to Willingham and Mauer, but I’d probably go with Mauer because he contributed so much more than Willingham defensively. Then again, does anyone really want to be considered the most valuable player on a 90+ loss team?

I did get one prediction right. I said up front that the Tigers had to be the favorites to win the AL Central Division, but that their defense was going to be bad enough that they’d struggle more than a lot of experts were predicting. I did not, however, expect the White Sox to be the team that challenged them. It does appear that I was slightly overly optimistic about the Twins doing the challenging. (OK, more than slightly.)

But enough about the past, let’s look ahead a bit.

The big question being tossed around these days seems to be whether the Twins will (or should) blow up the roster and rebuild with an eye toward competing in 2016 and beyond or try to improve enough to get competitive again as early as next year.

It’s a fair question. But there’s only one realistic answer.

In a fantasy world where revenue streams are secondary to strategy, you could make an argument that the Twins should blow off the next couple of years and plan for the days when some of their current Class A and AA prospects are arriving at Target Field. But this is the real world and the Twins are a real business.

If they trade away Willingham, Span, Morneau and anyone else with any value who might not be expected to be around in 2016, attendance over the next couple of years will continue to drop even more dramatically, right along with television ratings. That means lower revenues. That means lower payrolls.

Granted, those prospects we’re counting on will be playing for the league minimum for a while, but even by 2016, this team will still be paying $23 million a year to Joe Mauer through the 2018 season. The bottom line is that, regardless of how good prospects look in the Eastern League, Florida State League and Midwest League, the odds are that more than half of them will never become above average MLB ballplayers. That means that blowing the team up now is just as likely to result in bad teams in 2016 and beyond as it is championship caliber teams. Taking that risk might be gutsy to some, but to me it would just be stupid.

Terry Ryan

Building from within with young players is necessary. But it’s not necessary to do so exclusively. Terry Ryan has told media and fans that he and his front office simply need to do better. They need to scout better. They need to trade better. They need to do better at finding the right free agents. He may not have come right out and said it, but he’s certainly hinted that the front office needs to take a very close look at the coaching and training staffs throughout the organization and make better decisions concerning those positions, as well.

Ryan is right. The Twins can’t be satisfied with two or three more seasons of bad baseball while they wait for their top prospects to be ready for prime time. They need to spend the next couple of years improving every. single. year. They need to reinstitute an expectation of competitiveness among their fan base AND in their clubhouse. They obviously need to start that search with their rotation, but whether by trade or free agency, they do need to improve the product on the field immediately.

That may not be the popular approach with some fans, but it is the right approach.

- JC

GameChat: Twins @ Indians #2, 6:10 pm

Let’s see if the Twins can get the job done in a regulation nine innings tonight.

The news today involves yet another injury. Darin Mastroianni has a torn tendon in a middle finger (insert juvenile off-color joke here) and will be limited to pinch running duties for the rest of the season.

On a happier note, Chris Parmelee will leave tomorrow to return home to LA for the birth of their first child. Congratulations, in advance, Chris!

Another Chris, Chris Herrmann, is getting his first-ever Major League start behind the plate, which is very cool. It would be even cooler if Chris can be a good-luck charm for his battery-mate, starting pitcher Liam Hendriks, who’s still trying to get his first MLB win in his 18th start.

Oh… and this afternoon, the Twins and Cedar Rapids Kernels announced at a press conference today that they’ve entered in to a new four-year player development contract. I heard the press conference, which was open to the public, went well.

TWINS

@

INDIANS
Span, CF Choo, RF
Carroll, 2B Kipnis, 2B
Mauer, DH Cabrera, A, SS
Willingham, LF Santana, C, C
Morneau, 1B Brantley, CF
Parmelee, RF Hafner, DH
Plouffe, 3B Canzler, 1B
Herrmann, C Chisenhall, 3B
Florimon, SS Rottino, LF
_Hendriks, P _McAllister, P

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

R

H

E

Minnesota

0

0

2

0

3

1

0

0

0

6

12

1

Cleveland

1

0

1

0

0

0

0

2

0

4

7

0

Liam Hendrik’s FINALLY gets his first WIN!! He also took a double shaving cream pie to the face in the post game interview courtesy of Pedro Florimon and Alexi Casilla. Today was not his best outing to be honest but it wasn’t a bad one. After going soooooo many starts without a win, piles of no decisions and a handful+ of losses, it must be the most amazing feeling to finally have this part behind him. I’m also happy that the TEAM got a win – that always feels good.

Liam also gave a LOT of credit where credit most definitely due – Chris Herrmann. He may not have gotten a hit tonight but he did get his first MLB RBI. However, that’s not what was so good about his job tonight. He had an amazing catching debut managing to keep a LOT of bad pitches from becoming bad situations; at least one truly stellar throw to 2B; and a few great tags. He did everything you would expect from an experienced MLB catcher with none of the cross-ups you could leave room for in a newbie. For that we have to be truly thankful and we give him his own shaving cream pie! (ours is much easier to clean up)

Additionally, I don’t know whether to be grateful or disappointed that Gardy went face to face with Cowboy Joe West and managed to stay in the game. It might even be a first… is Gardy losing a step at the end of the season or is he just not feeling the pressure since there is no pennant to be racing.

Lastly, tonight’s BOD was a unanimous choice – Josh Willingham. He earned it and in a big way: 4 hits, 4 RBI and in general, fantastic presence in the offense. Considering it was yet another 1 run game, and another save for Perkins (thank you for shaving btw), we needed every bit of offense we were able to round up tonight. Good Job Willy! – CB

CameChat – Mariners at Twins #4 12:10pm CDT

Day baseball is the best kind of baseball.  So I feel good about that.

Last night Samuel Deduno pitched 7 innings of no-hit baseball with ZERO walks and 9 strikeouts.  So I feel good about that.

Trevor Plouffe and Josh Willingham both hit home runs last night and Joe Mauer hit a triple.  So I feel good about that.

Jeff Gray was demoted to AAA Rochester and Chris Parmelee was called up and is starting in right field today.  So I feel good about that.

Brian Duensing is pitching today.  So I do not feel good about that.

Seattle Mariners

@

Minnesota Twins
 Ackley, 2B  Revere, CF
 Gutierrez, F, CF  Casilla, A, 2B
 Seager, 3B  Mauer, C
 Montero, C  Willingham, LF
 Smoak, 1B  Morneau, 1B
 Olivo, DH  Doumit, DH
 Robinson, T, LF  Parmelee, RF
 Thames, E, RF  Plouffe, 3B
 Ryan, SS  Florimon, SS
 _Beavan, P  _Duensing, P
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Seattle 1 0 0 0 0 4 0 0 0 5 6 0
Minnesota 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 0 4 6 1

Well that was pretty disappointing.  The Twins had just six hits, one of them a two-run bomb from Josh Willingham (his 33rd of the season), but a disastrous 6th inning from Brian Duensing and Casey Fien led to four runs and that was enough for the Mariners to secure the win.

Try again tomorrow in Kansas City.

-ERolfPleiss

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

Trading Season Opens: Prepare For Disappointment

It seems ridiculous at this point to suggest Twins fans need to be prepared for disappointment. We’ve been getting slapped in the face by disappointment for going on two years, after all, and we’re pretty much resigned to this team continuing to disappoint us at least through the rest of this season. A lot of fans are already accepting disappointment as a near-certainty in 2013.

How much more prepared for disappointment do we need to be?

A bit more, I believe, and soon.

Terry Ryan

Our collective eyes and ears are focused on Twins General Manager Terry Ryan, in anticipation of the deals he’s going to make to improve the future rosters of his team. Fans seem prepared, at this point, to part with pretty much anyone in a Twins uniform as they dream of the top prospects Ryan will extract from his fellow GMs in return. After all, if Ryan could get Joe Nathan and Francisco Liriano (not to mention Boof Bonser) for AJ Pierzynski, just imagine the load he should pull in for Denard Span, right?

The Star Tribune put out a good piece a few days ago that gives some insight in to the mind of Terry Ryan. There’s a case to be made that with the extra wild card in each league this year, there should be plenty of interest in the players Ryan has to offer. But while it’s true that there are more teams that consider themselves contenders than there may have been in the past, there are also some factors working against the Twins.

The biggest problem for the Twins is that a lot of contending teams want the same thing they do… good starting pitching. Of course, the difference is that contenders are looking for arms that can help them immediately, while the Twins are happy to take on talent that isn’t quite ready for the big stage yet. Still, top shelf starting pitchers, whatever their age and level, are hoarded like gold by teams these days so it takes some combination of talented front line players and desperation on the part of the trading partner to extract that kind of talent in a trade.

The other thing working against the Twins now is the new collective bargaining agreement. In past years, a team could take on a half-year rental player who is going to be a free agent at the end of the season and, at the very least, the “buying” team might be able to get a draft pick or two in compensation when the player bolts after just a couple of months. Now, not only is it more difficult to get compensation picks, but those picks aren’t available at all unless the player wore your uniform all season.

This means that, for example, if the Twins don’t trade Francisco Liriano, they have to offer him something like $12 million on a one year deal in order to get a compensation pick for him if he turns them down. But if they trade Liriano, his new team doesn’t even have that option. So guys like Liriano and Matt Capps and anyone else not locked up beyond the end of this year are truly just rental players for any team acquiring them. That team is just getting their services for the rest of this season, where in the past they may have received those services PLUS compensation picks. Think about it… how much would YOU give up for 2-3 months of Liriano’s services?

That should temper fans’ expectations for the return that Ryan is likely to get for Liriano and Capps.

Denard Span

It demonstrates why Denard Span and Josh Willingham are likely much better trade chips. For that matter, the contract extension Ryan Doumit recently signed moved him from the “rental player” category and on to the list of players that could return something of more value.

But the Twins can’t just trade away everyone of value on the market. They need to put a team on the field next season and it needs to be a pretty good one.

I agree with Howard Sinker’s view that the Twins can’t just tear this team down and start over. Fans are not going to accept that and they shouldn’t. The everyday line up the Twins put on the field is close to being good enough to compete. What’s missing is exactly what everyone knew was missing last offseason… pitching. Specifically, at the top of the rotation. It should have been addressed last season and it MUST be addressed before Opening Day 2013. Being “penny wise” this off season won’t be “pound foolish”, that foolishness will be measured by the ton.

Since Target Field opened, the Twins have been the hottest ticket in town. For the past year or more, that’s been as much about the Vikings, T’wolves and Wild being less than highly competitive as it has been the quality of the product the Twins put on the field and the remaining luster of their new digs in the Warehouse District.

But that’s about to change. The Wild made blockbuster signings, the Vikings got their new stadium approved and even the Pups look like they may be getting more serious about fielding a real basketball team right next door to Target Field. If Terry Ryan and his bosses don’t want find out just how quickly the Twins can become an afterthought at the bottom of the area’s list of major entertainment options, they need to get this team turned around starting in 2013, not years beyond that.

Francisco Liriano

That process starts now. I believe Francisco Liriano has quite possibly pitched his last game in a Twins uniform. His value will likely not get any higher than it is right now after his 15 K performance Friday night. He won’t bring back anyone likely to be a top of the rotation guy next year, but he should fetch a role player that can improve the roster or a higher pitching prospect that perhaps is still down in the Class A ranks.

I would love to see Denard Span stay a Twin for years to come. I really like the way he goes about the game and he’s a quality individual. But he’s the one guy on this roster that offers the combination of the ability to bring immediate help to the rotation in the form of Big League ready starting pitching AND he plays a role with the team that they arguably have in-house replacements available to step in and play in his absence. Ben Revere can lead off and play centerfield. He’s not Denard Span, but maybe he’s close enough to do the job adequately.

Beyond that, if the Twins can get useful returns for Capps or anyone else not penciled in for a major role in 2013, fine. Just don’t expect to be overjoyed with the return coming back. Willingham and Doumit could get  something of value, but they shouldn’t be dealt unless someone offers an absurdly one-sided deal. Justin Morneau isn’t going to be in great demand unless the Twins agree to eat pretty much all of his remaining contract and honestly, the Twins don’t have a replacement for him yet anyway. All three of these guys fill roles that you would just have to go back on the market to replace over the off season and I guarantee that replacing Willingham’s production and Doumit’s versatility will be more expensive this time.

Of course, if anyone wants any of the remaining pitchers on this roster bad enough to offer anything of real value in return, as unlikely as that may be, TR should probably make the deal before that other GM comes to his senses. There’s nobody on the pitching staff that can’t be replaced. Even Scott Diamond, who’s been incredibly successful, has to be available for the right price. I have a suspicion you might be selling high on him. As much as I like him, I’m still having trouble believing he’s going to maintain this kind of success over time.

Yes, trading season is upon us and it’s almost certain that Terry Ryan is going to be right in the middle of it. Just keep expectations in check. It’s not like he’s the chip leader at the table and the rules have changed enough this year to make everyone just a little less certain about how to play the game.

- JC

 

Everyone Needs a Break

Considering the lack of any games of real importance going on in Major League Baseball at the moment, there sure seems to be a lot of “stuff” flying around the perimeter of the game, agitating the media which, in turn, agitates the masses (or is it the other way around? I’m honestly not sure).

I’ve tried to get fired up about some of it or at least interested enough to give a damn about any of it, but it’s just not happening. But I’ve been embarrassingly absent as a contributing member of this group of bloggers lately, so I’m determined to say SOMETHING about at least a few of the items that have passed for “news” in and around the Twins and the rest of MLB the past few days.

R.A. Dickey’s snub

Dickey deserved to be the starting pitcher for the National League in the All Star Game. He knows it. So does Tony LaRussa. So does Buster Posey, the catcher that the voters erroneously voted to start behind the plate for the NL.  He deserves to start more than Matt Cain does. Even Matt Cain knows it and apparently said so out loud. In fact Dickey deserves to start more than Posey does, but that’s immaterial, I guess.

He’s not starting for one reason and one reason only. He throws an 80 mph knuckleball. Posey has seen it as a hitter, I would imagine, and since he’s apparently never caught even a 60 mph amateur version of a knuckleball, he’s none too anxious to learn how to catch Dickey’s for the first time in front of 40,000 fans and at least a handful of people who tune in to watch the ASG on TV.

As a former knuckleballer myself (though I doubt mine ever even reached the 60 mph level), I should be outraged at the injustice of this discrimination against Dickey. But I’m just not. Hopefully, he got to spend some time yesterday working in the bullpen with one of the NL’s catchers so neither party gets embarrassed out there when Dickey inevitably enters the game.

I’m really happy for the guy because he’s a great story, but I just can’t get worked up about the fact that he’s not starting the game.

Reggie’s dis of Bert, Puck and other Hall Members

I really stopped caring what Reggie Jackson said about anything the day he became a Yankee, but if there was one of these items that did get under my skin a bit, it was Jackson spouting off about how certain recent Hall of Famers didn’t deserve the honor of being enshrined in Cooperstown. The first Tweets I saw indicated he specifically referred to Bert Blyleven and Kirby Puckett. The next Tweet I saw pointed out that Reggie’s results when facing Bert in their careers were… well let’s just say that Reggie didn’t get to Cooperstown based on how he hit against Blyleven.

Bert Blyleven

Eventually I saw that Bert himself Tweeted that Jackson had called to apologize, relying on the old, “my comments were taken out of context,” line of BS. But whatever, at least the guy apologized. He apparently did likewise to others that he lumped in to the “unworthy” category. Again, however, I just couldn’t get too worked up over this. After all, as much as I loved both Puckett and Blyleven as players, I have to admit that their on-field HOF credentials were both marginal, so while Jackson should probably keep that kind of opinion to himself, he’s entitled to it and it’s not an altogether unreasonable opinion. I don’t think the BBWAA gets it right all the time, either, and I’m actually a “big Hall” guy.

I did care enough, however, to seek out the actual SI article that the quotes came from. I came away thinking that it’s really too bad he said the stuff he said about the HOF, because the rest of the article is very good. Ironically, the underlying theme of the article is how Reggie has changed and no longer prone to making outlandish comments and feeding an oversized ego.  Then he has to go and say that he’s going to get up in front of the HOF dinner next year and tell the other members that they all need to do something about keeping guys like Puckett, Blyleven, and others, out of their club in the future. It’s a shame.

Now we read that he’s been invited to stay away from Yankee Stadium for daring to say that A-Rod’s accomplishments are tainted because he admitted to using PEDs. Again, should he have given that quote, considering he’s still collecting a “special assistant” check from the Yankees? No. But he’s not exactly alone on an island with that opinion.

Anyway, it all just seems like more drama than it really should be.

Royals fans dis Cano

Speaking of things that are made bigger than they should be, apparently thin skinned Yankee fans took a major exception to the way the Kansas City crowd treated Robinson Cano during the Home Run Derby Monday night. Fans booed Cano loudly when he was introduced, mostly because after originally publicly stating that putting Royal Billy Butler on the Derby team would be the right thing to do, he changed his mind and didn’t select him after all. Of course, I think just the fact that he’s a Yankee makes him worthy of a pretty loud boo, but maybe Kansas Citians need more than that.

Anyway, not only did they boo him beforehand, but lustily cheered every “out” Cano made when the defending Derby champ came to the plate for his cuts in the first round. They got lots of opportunities to cheer, too, because Cano got completely shut out. No home runs in 10 cuts. With his dad pitching to him.

Anyway, Yankee fans apparently lit up Twitter with comments bashing KC fans’ treatment of Cano. I guess it’s easy to see why they’d be upset, though. After all Yankee fans are generally so well known for how politely they treat players of other teams, right? I guess the rest of us are all just supposed to acknowledge that anyone associated with the F’ing Yankees is entitled to be shown due respect.

Yeah, this is another not-so-big deal to me. Get over it and move on.

Prince Fielder wins the HR Derby

Yeah, I enjoyed watching the Derby. Prince Fielder can hit a baseball a LONG way. I also love the remodel job done on the stadium in Kansas City and it remains very high up on my list of favorite ballparks, so I enjoyed seeing it host the event. But neither the Derby nor the winner matter to me at all.

Mauer the lone Twins representative at the ASG

I’ve covered this before. Mauer deserves to be at the ASG, in fact the voters screwed up voting Ranger Mike Napoli as the starting catcher. I’d have liked to see Josh Willingham go, but there are just a lot of All Star worthy outfielders and very few catchers. And when you’re on a team that appears headed to its second consecutive 90+ loss season, you probably will just get one representative. Joe was the correct choice and anyone who doesn’t think so, while entitled to their opinion, is simply wrong.

By the way, Napoli is one of THREE former Cedar Rapids Kernels on the AL All Star Game roster. Napoli joins two other former Kernels (both now with the parent Angels) Mark Trumbo and Mike Trout. Trumbo represented well in the Derby Monday night and Trout is… well… if you don’t know who Mike Trout is, then you clearly care less about Major League Baseball than I care about the Home Run Derby.

Home Field Advantage

It’s been a decade now since the infamous tie game that led Bud Selig to decide that the ASG should matter more and declared that the winning league’s representative in the World Series would have home field advantage.

Bud Selig

I swear I have heard this thing bashed on every sports talk show for a week. I feel like I should care, but I don’t. It’s not a perfect solution to the trend of these games becoming poorly played and poorly managed exhibitions, but after the sham of a Pro-Bowl the NFL put on a few months ago, MLB needs to make sure the game counts for something if they want players to give any kind of effort whatsoever… or even bother to show up.

And at least it gives me another excuse to post my favorite Bud Selig picture of all time.

That’s it… enjoy the All Star Game if you care to watch it. If not, hold on tight and we’ll begin the second “half” of this exciting Minnesota Twins season in a few days!

-          JC

Twins All Stars – Today’s and Tomorrow’s

Apparently, when Twins catcher Joe Mauer’s name was announced as the team’s representative to the All Star game, the Twinsville Twitterverse lit up with tweets condemning his selection. I didn’t notice this so much, myself, which is perhaps a testament to the intelligence of both those who follow me on Twitter and those I personally follow.

Joe Mauer

From what others were writing, however, it seems that a significant segment of Twinsville does not believe Joe Mauer is All Star worthy and/or they believe Josh Willingham was more worthy. Whichever the reason, those fans are wrong, of course. Not only is Mauer worthy of being named to the team to represent the Twins, he should have been voted by fans to start the game over the Rangers’ Mike Napoli.

Napoli’s split line is .235/.335/.438 for an OPS of .773. Mauer’s is .324/.414/.445 which gets him an .859 OPS. Napoli does have 12 home runs, of course, but nobody with a lick of baseball sense would consider that stat alone to be enough to overcome 86 OPS points, especially given the difference in stadiums the two call home. No, there’s absolutely no rational reason for Napoli being the starting AL catcher over Mauer. The fans blew that one. Of course, you won’t hear the talking heads mentioning that because Napoli is playing for the two-time defending AL champion (and World Series loser) Texas Rangers.

I did see someone raise the “but he’s not a real catcher” argument yesterday, in regard to Mauer. Yes, he DHs and plays some first base. But guess what, so does Napoli, who’s played more than 20 games at 1B himself this season. Smart managers (and even not-so-smart ones like Gardy and Ron Washington) find a way to give their catchers… especially those that hit like Mauer and Napoli… some time off from duty behind the plate in order to keep them healthy.

Josh Willingham

I would have liked to see Josh Willingham get his first All Star selection. Maybe if one of the AL All Star outfielders can’t participate, he could still get selected, but it’s not likely. Willingham’s year is All Star worthy, but every year there are All Star worthy players who don’t get selected and they’re usually from teams that have lost more games than they’ve won. Just as every year there are players named to the All Star team who are less worthy than others and they’re usually from the team managed by the guy managing the All Star team. This year is no exception. Ron Washington had seven “managers choice” slots to fill. Four of those selections had to come from teams that had no representative voted in. The other three selections were all members of his Rangers team. To the victor goes the spoils, I guess.

Willingham isn’t on the All Star team for three reasons: (1) He plays a position that requires him to compete with a lot of All Star worthy players; (2) He plays on a bad baseball team in a mid-level market; and (3) He is not the best player on his team.

I’d actually boil that down to one big reason he isn’t on the All Star team: The Twins starting pitching has flat out sucked for most of the season. If the Twins had better pitching, their offense is good enough to  have them in contention and they wouldn’t be relegated to the “must have a representative” class of teams. He would be getting the recognition he deserves as one of the top Free Agent pick-ups off the past offseason and his name would be getting mentioned as one of the best hitting outfielders in the league.

So, those of you who want to complain about Josh Willingham not being selected to the All Star team, lay off of Joe Mauer. It isn’t his fault. Blame Ron Washington, if you like, but he’s just doing what managers do every year… reward the guys in his own clubhouse. If MLB didn’t want managers to do that, they can stop it easily by simply taking the manager’s choices away. The real blame for Willingham’s “snub”, if you feel he was snubbed, gets laid at the feet of Carl Pavano, Nick Blackburn, Francisco Liriano, Liam Hendriks, et al.

Speaking of All Star snubs, I can’t help but wonder why nobody is up in arms over Trevor Plouffe not being selected. He arrived on the scene in Minnesota about the same time phenom Mike Trout arrived in Disneyland and their stats since arriving are similar (though Trout is admittedly the far superior defender). If Ron Washington is really serious about setting his Rangers team up with home field advantage in the World Series this time, you would think giving some consideration to arguably the hottest player in the league for the month of June might have been in order.

Trevor Plouffe

It’s hard to argue that Adrian Beltre and Miguel Cabrera, the two third basemen on the AL roster, don’t belong. They certainly do. But if I were the AL manager, having a late inning option as a pinch hitter and a guy who could play pretty much any position on the field other than pitcher and catcher (though, admittedly, none of them particularly well) would be an option I might consider valuable.

I’m certainly not arguing that Plouffe SHOULD have been selected over anyone who was so honored, but just pointing out that Willingham isn’t the only Twins player that the team’s crappy overall performance may have cost an All Star spot.

Speaking of Plouffe, I know we’re all waiting for his bubble to pop because there’s no way he keeps up the level of offensive productivity he’s shown in June (and the first day of July), but he’s riding just about the hottest offensive streak I’ve seen in a long time. There’s understandably a lot of attention paid to uber-prospect Miguel Sano down in Class A Beloit, but isn’t Plouffe pretty much putting up the kind of numbers that most of us dare to even hope Sano will put up some day? Over the last four weeks, his split line is .311/.376/.744 for a 1.121 OPS. Yes, small sample size warning is applicable, since that covers only 24 games, but still… that’s one heck of a four weeks!

Plouffe was the Twins’ first round draft pick in 2004 and it seems like we’ve been waiting around forever for his productivity to reach his potential. His stats over the course of parts of eight seasons spent in the Twins’ minor league system were unremarkable, if not downright disappointing, for a first round pick (.258/.320/.406 .726OPS). That said, he put up a 1.019 OPS in 51 games at Rochester last season, so his current hot streak is not completely out of nowhere, either.

Miguel Sano

Sure, his defense still needs work, but trust me when I tell you that, by comparison, Miguel Sano makes Plouffe look like Brooks Robinson at third base. Most people still believe Sano will eventually need to be moved to a less challenging position, though the organization is still holding out hope that he can learn to play a passable third base. Plouffe, on the other hand, didn’t really even start to learn the position until he was thrown in there at the Major League level earlier this season.

And here’s the best part… Trevor Plouffe JUST turned 26 years old a couple of weeks ago. Pitchers around the league won’t allow Plouffe to put up numbers at his recent levels forever, but while he’s hot, he’s certainly got the potential to be one of the few interesting stories to follow through the remainder of this disappointing Twins season. And if he keeps improving year-to-year, by the time Miguel Sano arrives in Minnesota, it won’t matter whether Sano can play 3B, because that position will be claimed for the foreseeable future by Trevor Plouffe.

- JC