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

Yankee Doodle Dandy

After some early season snafus relating to the Twins’ previous post-season failures against the Yankees, the Twins have an opportunity to put some of those demons to bed, starting tonight, as the open a 4-game series in New York tonight at 6:05pm central.

Image from M.T.'s Blog, http://matt7.mlblogs.com/

While some former Twins (Torii Hunter, Michael Cuddyer, etc.) may have indicated that they Twins were mentally beat against the Yankees before their previous post-season collapses, there is a wealth of historical precedence that helped create those mental barriers.  In the past 10 years the Twins are 18-51 against the Yankees, and that does not include the three times the Yankees eliminated the Twins from post-season play.  Add those in and the Twins are an even more embarrassing 20-63 against the Bronx Bombers. A W-L% of  about .241.  To put that in perspective, over a 162 game season, playing ONLY the Yankees, the Twins would win 39 games.

In those 83 games against the Yankees, 42 were in New York, and the Twins won only 7 times, which does not bode well for the Twins as they roll in to Yankee Stadium this evening.

But here is why I think the Twins have a chance to split* this four game series, which would be a resounding victory, historically:

*Let’s just assume that C.C. Sabathia is his regular self, and Francisco Liriano is the disappointing fallen star that we’ve come to know, so the Twins are not going to win tomorrow night.  And while only two Twins have faced Hiroki Kuroda (Ryan Doumit and Josh Willingham), both have been unsuccessful and the Yankees have blasted Jason Marquis to the tun of .361/.395/.778 for an OPS of almost 1200! In the other two games, the Twins will face Freddy Garcia, and Phil Hughes.  Both are beatable and if the Twins can pitch well enough to keep the Yankees to 5 runs per game, they will have a chance to steal a couple of wins from the Yanks.

Hitting:

In addition to hitting 4 home runs and 6 doubles against Garcia in 71 plate appearances, Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer have combined to walk 10 times compared to just 5 strikeouts.  Of the 114 total plate appearances by current Twins, only Danny Valencia (1/4) has an OBP against Garcia that’s lower than .285.  The Twins have not fared quite as well against Phil Hughes, but still post an OBP of .317, albeit in a sample size limited to just 38 at bats.  Either way, the Twins have an opportunity to get out front of the Yankees early and to allow their starters to work deeper into games, limiting the opportunities for the bullpen to let another close game slip away.

Pitching/Defense:

In addition to hitting well against the Yankees, Carl Pavano (tonight’s starter) and Anthony Swarzak (projected to take Nick Blackburn‘s start on Thursday) have managed to keep the Yankees in check.  Pavano has limited current Yankees to a triple slash of just .229/.252/.359 with just 9/30 hits against him going for extra bases.  Swarzak has faced current Yankees hitters just 39 times, but he has yet to give up a home run to any of the current Yankees, which has been one of their biggest weapons against the Minnesota Twins.  Decent starting pitching will be complemented with a defense that is likely to be near league average with Justin Morneau slotted into first base and either Trevor Plouffe or Clete Thomas taking an outfield spot away from Ryan Doumit.

Winning two games against the Yankees and splitting the series will not get this team any closer to contending for the AL Central, but it will help plant the seed in the minds of this current group of Twins that they can beat the Yankees, something the Twins haven’t really done for a decade.

It starts tonight!

- ERolfPleiss

Room for Willingham AND Cuddyer?

First, we finally get the big news about the Twins officially signing free agent outfielder Josh Willingham to a 3 year/$21 million contract, then quickly there were follow up reports that the Twins were also still holding out some hope to re-sign Michael Cuddyer, as well.

That’s big news! How big? Big enough that I couldn’t convince myself to post my already-written and ready to post column regarding my feelings about the Baseball Hall of Fame, that’s how big!

Instead, we have to discuss the possibility of having both Willingham and Cuddyer as members of the 2012 Minnesota Twins.

Josh Willingham (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)

Media reports indicate that Willingham’s paycheck pushes the Twins payroll to $96 million. I have no idea how accurate that is, but since checking the accuracy would require me to do the math myself, let’s just say it’s accurate. That means adding another $8+ million for Cuddyer pushes the payroll over the $100 million ceiling that GM Terry Ryan has been operating under. What we don’t know, of course, is how hard or soft that ceiling really is.

So that’s part of the question regarding “room” for both players. Is there room in the payroll for both? The other part of the question concerns whether there’s room on the field for both players.

On paper, Willingham is primarily a left fielder and Cuddyer a right fileder, so technically there’s room for each. You simply sandwich them around Denard Span and tell Denard to go after anything he can possibly get to, because Willingham and Cuddyer aren’t likely to be covering a lot of ground in the corners.

It would make for a pretty fair offensive line up, as the Strib’s Joe Christensen points out, inviting us to picture this line up:

1. CF — Denard Span (bats L)
2. SS — Jamey Carroll (R)
3. C — Joe Mauer (L)
4. LF — Josh Willingham (R)
5. 1B — Justin Morneau (L)
6. RF — Michael Cuddyer (R)
7. DH — Ryan Doumit (S)
8. 3B — Danny Valencia (R)
9. 2B — Alexi Casilla (S)

The Twins need to score more runs than they did in 2011 and that line up, when healthy, would do so.

Michael Cuddyer

Then again, the Twins also need to prevent opponents from scoring as many runs as they did in 2011. There’s little doubt that asking Span and Ben Revere to cover most of the expansive grass of Target Field’s outfield while Cuddyer, Jason Kubel and Delmon Young manned the corner positions contributed to the elevated ERAs among Twins pitchers. You have to ask yourself whether an outfield with only one legitimate defender is the smart thing to do in Minnesota.

On the other hand, the only way you end up with that defensive alignment intact for most of the season is if you get full, healthy and productive seasons out of Morneau, Mauer, Doumit, Cuddyer, and Willingham. How much are you willing to bet on THAT happening?

I guess what I’m saying is that I like the chances of seeing Span and Revere side-by-side in the outfield an awful lot, assuming they both stay healthy themselves. Having Willingham and Cuddyer both just provides a lot more depth.

So, yes, I think there’s room for both free agents on the field.

But what about that payroll?

I’m not going to get too deep in to this because I’m still not convinced the Twins need to, much less should, reduce their payroll dramatically from last season. If they believe having both of these players will make the team better and if both will sign for what the Twins have established are amounts that the players are worth to the organization, then they should do so.

The only consideration is that screwed up “ceiling”. If Ryan truly has to stick to a number close to $100 million, he has to realize that scoring more runs is only half the challenge. He needs pitching that will prevent more runs from scoring and he needs a little more money for that, as well.

The Twins have enough money to sign both Willingham and Cuddyer, as well as adding another decent, but not top of the order, starting pitcher and still stay at or below last year’s payroll level. So long as that’s the case, then yes, Mr. Ryan, go ahead and sign both of these guys.

But if signing both means you have no money to improve the rotation or, worse yet, that you have to trade away Span or other critical returning players, well… that would be a really bad idea.

For now, I have to say I’m allowing myself to ponder the possibility of having Willingham and Cuddyer both in the line up and I like that thought.

- JC

 

The Punto-Cuddyer Syndrome

First off, I like Michael Cuddyer. Let’s get that out of the way right up front. I’m a fan of the man and assuming there’s no 12th hour change of heart on the part of Cuddyer and/or the Twins, I’ll miss watching him in a Twins uniform and wish him success with whatever team he suits up for in 2012.

That said, I’ve been around long enough to know that baseball is first and foremost a business these days, not only for the people running the teams but for the players, as well. And both parties have had to weigh a number of factors as they decide whether Cuddyer would continue being a member of the Twins.

Michael Cuddyer

For the Twins, it is perfectly reasonable to step back and question what the player’s worth is to the organization. They should be (and I’m certain they have been) considering his age, his level of past productivity, not just in the most recent season but over the course of the past several years, the value of his clubhouse presence, the value of his work in the community, and the value of the draft picks they get when he signs elsewhere. They also are clearly looking at other available options to replace his presence on the roster and what those options would cost, compared to the cost to bring Cuddyer back. It certainly sounds like it’s going to be cheaper to sign Josh Willingham and he certainly appears to be a comparable talent.

Cuddyer, as well, has things to consider as he weighs whether to return to the Twins. He and his agent have established what they think he should be worth on the open market. The Twins haven’t been offering that, so Cuddyer and his family have to decide if being a career Minnesota Twin is worth potentially leaving a few million dollars on the table. I wonder how many of us would do that. Cuddyer also has to determine how important having a better shot at winning a championship is to him. The chances of doing so in Minnesota over the next three years are probably not as good as they would be in Philadelphia, Boston or, arguably, even Colorado. I think it’s fair for him to wonder just whether it might be best for his career to move on.

In other words, I can see plenty of reasonable factors for either the team or Cuddyer to decide either that they should or shouldn’t continue their relationship.

But what I have never understood is the level of venom that a very vocal segment of the fan base (at least among those who haunt the internet) express in Cuddyer’s direction. At at time when many of us question the toughness of some of the Twins “stars” and their willingness to play through bumps and bruises, Cuddyer is one guy who has consistently tried to do that. Yes, he’s had some injuries over the years and yes, he’s had years that have been better or worse than others. He’s not a superstar. He has weaknesses.

But he’s played a pretty significant role in whatever levels of success the Twins have had in recent years.

Is the problem that people think he’s overpaid? Maybe, but is that his fault? He, like every player, has an agent who’s responsible for getting the best contract terms he can. We should dislike Cuddyer for that?

I think there’s a certain segment of Twins fans that take a particular joy, or at least satisfaction, it tearing down players that they view as being “liked” too much. These people think they’re smarter than most Twins fans and so they trot out this statistic or that criteria to demonstrate that anyone the rest of us dumb fans “like” isn’t as good as we think they are. It happened with Nick Punto and it’s happening now with Cuddyer.

So, in all likelihood, Cuddyer will move on now. That means the haters can joke and feel smug and superior to the rest of us who have valued his contribution to the team and the way he seemed to genuinely enjoy and appreciate the fans… just as they did when Punto finally signed elsewhere.

Most of us have been on this earth long enough to realize that there are people who can only feel better about themselves by denigrating others. I don’t like spending much time with such people on either a social or business basis. I’ve found myself with much less patience for that personality type in the virtual world lately, as well.

I’m not saying there’s no room for debate about the abilities and contributions of players, coaches, managers, GMs or any other member of the Twins organization. Debate and discussion is what we’re all about. Criticism is fair. If someone isn’t doing their job well, pointing that out is fine.

But when it turns personal or when it clearly has less to do with abilities than it does simply wanting to trash a guy that others happen to like just to be contrary… to show us all how much smarter you are than the rest of us… to point out how stupid we all are for liking the way a guy conducts his life on and off the field… you’re not showing us how smart you are, you’re just being a jerk. You’re showing the rest of us a lot more about yourself than you are about anything or anyone else.

These folks threw a little party when Nick Punto was shown the door and we’re already seeing evidence of the same thing as Cuddyer’s time as a Twin appears to be drawing to a close. It makes me wonder who these brilliant people who are so much smarter than the rest of us will choose to pick on next. I guess Matt Capps will be around for a little while longer, but he really isn’t popular enough with fans, in general, to make picking on him all that fun.

Punto had to leave to get the championship jewelry that every player wants. Now he’s signed with the Red Sox, giving him a helluva lot better shot at more such opportunities than anyone associated with the Twins has. And I’d be willing to bet Cuddyer will land in a situation with a better shot than he’d have had in Minnesota, too (just as Joe Nathan did).

So if you are one of those people who enjoy hating on a guy who has done nothing but give 100% to his team, his team mates, his fan base and his community, congratulations… it looks like you’re getting what you want.

But we all know it won’t make you happy. You’ll just need to find someone else to put down in order to make yourself feel superior again.

And that’s sad.

- JC

 

Winter Meetings Chat: Day 2 (7:00-9:00 pm)

On the first day of Winter Meetings, Terry Ryan gave the Twins a new-old pitcher, Matt Capps, and a minor league shortstop out of the Baltimore organization, Pedro Florimon.

While the Capps debate rages on, here we’re ready to move on to Day 2. Let’s talk about what Terry Ryan has doing for an encore during the second day of baseball’s Winter Meetings. (We’ll open up the Chatroll window from 7-9 pm, then we encourage everyone to move on over to Seth’s and Jack’s Blogspot Radio podcast for additional arguing about the Twins’ moves.)

Kevin Slowey

  • The Twins started the day by announcing they’ve traded pitcher Kevin Slowey to Colorado for a “player to be named later”. This one had been discussed for a while as reports have floated around since before the season ended about the Rockies liking Slowey. Slowey was rumored to be a non-tender candidate, so chances are the Rockies aren’t giving up a significant player in return. For now, the Twins probably need the open roster spot, so it may be a while before we hear who’s coming over from the Rockies.
  • Not directly Twins-related but with the trade of Sergio Santos to the Jays, White Sox GM Kenny Williams has finally tipped his hand. He’s going to blow up the roster and rebuild. I’ve read comparisons to the Twins situation, but I think they’re very different. The White Sox didn’t have near the money coming off the books to work with in order to add pieces to remain competitive and, conversely, they have a lot more veteran players with significant trade value than the Twins do.
  • Jeff Francis’ agent will be meeting with the Pirates and Twins this week, in addition to the Mariners and, perhaps, others.
  • Mark Buehrle has “narrowed” his list of possible landing spots to five teams. Supposedly, the Twins are one team with an offer in to Buehrle. Here’s a question… if you were Buehrle, would you prefer to pitch for a team in the same division as the White Sox, where you have a significant amount of experience facing the hitters in that division, or would you prefer to go to a team where the opponents have little experience facing you (perhaps even to the NL)?
  • Not exactly Twins-related, but congratulations go out to Howard Sinker and the rest of the Star-Tribune staff who make their online content among the best in the business. The Star-Tribune web site has been awarded a “Top Ten” award by the Associated Press Sports Editors (APSE) in the large market category (over 2 million average monthly unique users).
  • Speaking of congratulations being in order, Michael Cuddyer tweeted today that his wife, Claudia, gave birth to twin girls (Chloe & Madeline) today. The Twins also reportedly have offered Cuddy a 3 year deal for $24-25 million. Having “twins” on the date you get an upgraded offer from the “Twins” must be a sign, right? Is this a proud daddy, or what?
  • Since multiple sources have been posting most of the news coming out of the Twins suite at the Anatole, I haven’t been crediting specific sources very often, but the Strib’s LaVelle E. Neal III added a few little factoids to the end of his blog post this afternoon that I haven’t read elsewhere (yet, anyway). According to LaVelle, the Twins have had zero conversations thus far with the agents of pitchers Edwin Jackson and Jeff Francis and their interest in Japanese pitchers Hisashi Iwakuma and Tsuyoshi Wada is “almost zero”.

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

Much Ado About Nothing

Yes, it’s true… “Much Ado About Nothing”, the title of a Shakespearean comedic farce, could well be an apt description of the comedic farce that has become the entire Twins season. In this case, however, its use is being applied to the fan angst over Jim Thome and Jason Kubel getting sent through waivers by the Twins.

Jim Thome in Spring Training... when there was still hope

I think the problem is that Twins fans have become a bit spoiled. We’re accustomed to trade deadlines being among the times of the year when we’re wondering which key veteran “spare parts” GM Bill Smith would/could/should snatch from non-contending teams in return for a prospect or two. This, ladies and gentlemen, is what trade deadline life looks like from the other side of the looking glass. Sucks, don’t it?

A year ago, I authored a post here entitled “When Is A Trade Deadline Not A Trade Deadline”, in which I gave a bit of a rambling, not-so-serious look at the waiver-trade process that teams go through in August. Go back and read it if you care to. It wasn’t my best writing, but I thought there was a line or two that worked. I admit, however, that it seemed a bit more humorous last season, when the Twins were “buyers” this time of year. Maybe I was just in a better mood at the time.

But here’s the deal. A team in the Twins’ situation (hopelessly and painfully going through the motions and desperately trying to find someone… anyone… who they think might be a capable MLB baseball player that can help their team in 2012) is going to put a lot of their roster through waivers in August. Most of those players will finish the season with the Twins. Perhaps, some won’t. 

Jason Kubel

Any player that isn’t under contract for 2012 is a likely candidate to be put on the waiver wire. Thome and Kubel are both pending free agents, so why shouldn’t the Twins see if there’s a contender out there who might give up something potentially useful in return for renting their bats for a few weeks? If the Twins want them back next season (and for some unfathonable reason, they would want to return to this crappy organization), they can bid for their services again this offseason, which they would have had to do anyway. Similarly, fans shouldn’t be surprised if Michael Cuddyer and Joe Nathan are put on waivers.

Teams also waive players under team control beyond this season that they think may be overcompensated, in the hope that someone will relieve them of the remainder of that contract. Delmon Young was such a player, as manager Ron Gardenhire pointed out yesterday. He told the media that Young was likely to be “non-tendered” (which is what you do to a young player instead of offering arbitration when you don’t want to pay anything close to what an arbitrator might decide he’s worth). A guy like Carl Pavano might also fit this category. The Twins have him under contract for 2012, but if another team claims him, the Twins may just let him go and let the new team pick up responsibility for the remainder of the contract.

Remember, though, just because a team puts a player on waivers, it doesn’t mean he’s going anywhere. He may not get claimed, which on the one hand, means nobody in either league was certain enough that he’d be any help that he was worth taking a chance on having to pay off the rest of his contract, but on the other hand, means he can then be traded to any team. The terms of the trade could then involve the Twins agreeing to eat some contract.

Also, if a player IS claimed, the Twins can pull him back off of waivers one time. This is where the speculation gets interesting.

I don’t think most Twins fans would begrudge letting a guy like Jim Thome get another shot at the post-season. This may (or may not) be his last such opportunity. Similarly, why should we be upset if Kubel, Cuddyer or Nathan get a little unexpected taste of the post-season? At least it would give us someone to root for in October, because nobody else on this team is going to be playing late baseball.

But what if the first team to have the opportunity to grab one or more of these guys off the waiver wire is the White Sox? Would the Twins really do anything to aid the Bitch Sox in their effort to catch the Tigers?

Hell, yes, they would.

Kenny Williams is notorious (among White Sox fans, themselves) for overpaying to acquire veteran players. If he’s stupid enough to give up highly regarded prospects for the Twins’ spare parts, Bill Smith would be an absolute fool NOT to take advantage. OK… so maybe that means it’s not so likely after all, but he SHOULD take advantage.

It’s not very fun being a Twins fan right now. It’s not fun envisioning the players who have brought so much excitement over the past several years suiting up for other teams the rest of the season. But, as they say, baseball is a business. And while our friend Seth Stohs is trying to cheer us up by pointing out that the Twins minor league system is not totally useless, the fact is that it could use some shoring up (by the way, I firmly believe Seth knows more about the Twins minor leaguers than anyone within the Twins organization itself… I’m just not sure whether that says more about Seth or the people actually getting paid by the Twins). When you’re out of the race and you have the opportunity to get something useful for players that have expiring or expensive contracts, you do it. You have to, if you want to have any hope of getting competitive again any time soon. It’s how the business works.

And hey… look at the bright side… the team, as currently constituted can’t seem to score more than 1 run a game WITH Thome, Kubel and Cuddyer, so how much worse can the offense really get without them? Besides, think about how much cheaper tickets on StubHub or on the street corner the day of games are going to be for a while!

- JC