All Is Well

AllIsWellIt has been pointed out to me more than once that I’m a bit bipolar when it comes to my feelings with regard to the Minnesota Twins and they way they’re operated. That’s probably a fair observation. I can sometimes seemingly blow off steam about a decision by the Twins one moment and then turn around and be really excited about the team and chastise someone else for going too far in their negativity toward the organization. I never claimed to be the most consistent person in the world.

Like most fans (and, it seems, almost all bloggers), I’m quick to point out what I think the decision-makers are doing wrong and what I believe they should do to fix things. This is particularly true at specific times of the year: during spring training when the final roster spots are being filled; at or near trade deadlines in July and August; and during the first couple of months after the season when, presumably, the front office is making and executing their plans to revise their roster for the following season.

When I go on a rant about how Terry Ryan isn’t doing this right or should do that instead, it may even seem like I’m angry. I may, indeed, be frustrated, but I don’t think it often reaches the point of anger. In fact, I’m actually having fun. Putting myself in the General Manager’s role is just one part of what’s fun about being a Twins fan, for me. If you think I come down hard on Terry Ryan at times, you should have been around me during Calvin Griffith’s days of (mis)running the team. Yet Griffith, like Ryan, managed to assemble some of the most talented teams in the franchise’s history.

You may have noticed that I haven’t ranted much lately. Sure, I’d like to see Ryan throw a few bucks at Joe Saunders and add him to the rotation for the next couple of years and, like almost everyone else, I’m less than enthusiastic about Kevin Correia being the Twins’ “big free agent” signing for their rotation (at least measuring by contract size).

But, for all intents, I’ve turned the page. This time of year, I move in to, “I can’t wait for baseball season to start!” mode. I don’t care if it’s Little League or Major League, I want to see somebody playing some baseball and I want to see it NOW!

I’ve been writing about the coming season for a few weeks now. I contributed a piece about the addition of Cedar Rapids to the Twins family for Seth Stohs’ 2013 Twins Prospect Handbook and that certainly put me in the mood to look forward to this season. I researched and wrote a few posts about Twins prospects we could see playing in Cedar Rapids for the Kernels and that genuinely got me excited for baseball to start. I attended the Twins Caravan/Kernels Hot Stove Banquet event last week and seeing over 500 people celebrating the new relationship and hearing the Twins representatives on stage talk about how they looked forward to 2013 just added fuel to my baseball fire.

This weekend, it’s TwinsFest at the Metrodome. I’m only going to make it for a bit on Saturday (and hopefully across the street to Hubert’s to sit on the periphery of the gathering of Twins bloggers taking place there Saturday night), but I’m pretty sure that’s all I’ll need to bring my fandom to a boil. I don’t really get heavily in to autographs or pictures with players, but I enjoy watching the people who do. It’s a celebration of baseball… and of being a Twins fan.

So I hope everyone will understand if I don’t keep piling on Terry Ryan at this point. I think there’s been enough of that, at least for now.

There seems to be a prevailing opinion out there that the signing of Correia and, perhaps more importantly, the lack of signings of any of the more statistically successful free agent pitching options, indicates that Ryan and the front office are now in full-blown “rebuild” mode. This, despite early offseason assurances from Ryan and others that the Twins were intent on making significant improvements to the rotation and the general competitive level of the Twins in 2013. I have to admit that, for a while, I was bordering on being convinced that was the case.

But I really don’t think so.

From various recent media accounts and interviews with the Twins’ GM, I think it’s pretty clear that it has been, is, and continues to be his intent to put a far better product on the field in 2013 than we’ve seen the past two seasons. He believes Correia will be a significantly better pitcher than almost all of the guys the Twins trotted out to start games last year. He believes Vance Worley will be, as well. Likewise Mike Pelfrey.

It’s fair, of course, to question the basis on which Ryan and his organization came to some of those conclusions.  As 1500ESPN’s Phil Mackey pointed out this week, Ryan is clearly sticking his neck out with Correia and saying he and his scouts believe the former Pirates pitcher will be better than his numbers indicate he has been in the past. In retrospect, while it’s reasonable to question how wise relying so entirely on “old school” scouting is in this case, I’m not sure why any of us should be surprised by that.

But right now, I just don’t care. As far as I’m concerned, Correia, Worley, Pelfrey and the other new arrivals are now Minnesota Twins and that makes them our guys. I say we welcome them aboard and wish them all the best.

I want to SEE whether the right decisions were made or not. I want to see the new pitchers pitch and I want to see if Trevor Plouffe can hold down third base and, hopefully, hit like he did for a couple of months in the middle of last year. I want to see if Chris Parmelee can establish himself as a legitimate Major League hitter and I want to see young outfielders, who probably thought their paths to the Big Leagues might be blocked by not one but two centerfielders in front of them, compete to break camp in the starting outfield of a Major League baseball team. And I want to see familiar faces like Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau hit baseballs.

And I want to see a bunch of kids put on Cedar Rapids Kernels uniforms and show us whether they’re as good as we all seem to think they will be. Some day, some of those guys will wear Twins uniforms and someone will ask me whether I remember them when they played for the Kernels. And I will remember. I’m just so anxious to get started burning those memories in to my mind right now.

My opinions about what woulda-coulda-shoulda been done this offseason haven’t changed. But I’m ready to move on.

I spend nine or ten hours a day working so I can spend a few hours with family and friends at a ballpark or in a bar watching baseball or even just talking about it. I do that because I just wasn’t good enough at anything that would allow me to make my living at a ballpark, but there are still very few things I’d rather do than watch baseball.

In a few weeks, we’ll all get to start doing that again. As long as that’s the case, I’m going to try to remain calm… all is well.

- JC

What is going on with the bullpen?

Coming off of back-to-back 90+ loss seasons, the Twins, predictably  have a lot of holes in their roster.  Most noticeably, the Twins went into this winter with as many as four holes in their starting rotation, then traded away two center fielders, creating another hole, and there is still no real answer in the middle infield.  With all those other needs to address, the bullpen has become something of an afterthought, but even with a breakout year from Jared Burton and another strong year from Glen Perkins, the Twins still ranked just 9th in the American League in bullpen ERA (3.77).  Of the five teams with worse bullpen ERAs than the Twins in 2012, only the Tigers earned a postseason birth.

So with a below average bullpen in 2012, what will be relieving corps look like in 2013?  Glen Perkins will remain the closer and Jared Burton will be the primary 8th inning set-up guy.  Beyond those two, Brian Duensing is really the only other player with a firm spot in the pen, serving as the team’s primary left-handed specialist.  The Twins commonly work with a seven man bullpen, so that leaves four spots left to fill.  Ryan Pressly was the Twins’ Rule 5 draft pick earlier this winter, so he’ll need to be on the 25-man roster, but I do not think he’s a realistic candidate to stick, so he’ll either need to be returned to the Red Sox or the Twins will need to work out a trade to keep him.  Casey Fien put together a nice season a year ago in 35 innings of relief, so he’s likely to have a leg up on the competition for one of the four remaining spots.  Tyler Robertson is a guy that I really like, and if he can become a little more consistent strike thrower, he could slot in as the Twins’ second left-handed specialist.  That’d give the Twins three left-handers in the bullpen, but with Perkins serving as the closer, I think the Twins would be willing to go that route.  Alex Burnett, while he does not have great peripherals (and outside of 2012 has been a 5+ERA type reliever), probably did enough last year to earn a spot in the bullpen to start the year, but if he struggles, expect him to be one of the first players to go.

Anthony Swarzak gave up 1 run on 6 hits with no walks and 6 Ks in six full innings of work for the Twins

“Big Game Tony Swarz”

That really just leaves the Twins with one additional opening, long relief.  Over the past couple of seasons that role has been filled by Anthony Swarzak.  He’s performed adequately in this position, eating up innings, mopping up blow-outs, and has the arm strength to give the Twins an occasional spot start.  Swarzak is 27 years-old and owns a career 5.03 ERA in more than 200 major league innings, so he is not likely to make any major improvements in 2013, and with the Twins building for the future, they may want to look elsewhere.  Josh Roenicke, Tim Wood, Michael Tonkin and Caleb Thielbar are all other options on the 40-man roster that the Twins may look at during Spring Training.  Roenicke started last year for the Rockies, but because the Rockies limited their starters to about 75 pitches per start, he pitched just over 88 innings last season, and could be a guy the Twins want to have on-hand as a long reliever who can be relied upon to make a spot start, especailly early in the season as Kyle Gibson and Mike Pelfrey are both coming of Tommy John surgery and may not be with the MLB club to start the year. Tim Wood pitched in AAA last season, and had good numbers for the Pirates’ affiliate, so could have a shot here as well and Terry Ryan recently said on a Rochester radio program that Tim Wood will not pitch in Rochester, so he will either be with the Twins or, as he is out of options, waived.  Michael Tonkin hasn’t pitched above A-ball, and the Twins are not likely to jump him all he way to Minneapolis, so while he has a spot on the 40-man roster, Twins fans shouldn’t expect to see him any time soon.  Caleb Thielbar could be an interesting option here, especially if the Twins want to see what Thielbar can do with the Twins.  He split time last season between AA-New Britain and AAA-Rochester, so the Twins have a pretty good idea of what he can do against high-level talent.  I’d still give the edge to Swarzak or Roenicke in this long-relief roll, but if the Twins open the year with a 4-man pitching rotation and an extra bullpen arm, Thielbar could very well be the beneficiary of that extra spot.

Not a lot to be excited about in the bullpen, but there may be some addition by subtraction as the Twins jettisoned Jeff Gray, Matt Capps and Jeff Manship from the bullpen.  There should be a couple of fun battles left for Spring Training and I expect the bullpen to be better as a unit. But if the starters don’t give the bullpen a little more rest in 2013, the relievers will be over used, worn out, and ineffective before the All-Star game.

-ERolfPleiss

Winter Meetings Day 1: Twins News & Rumors

Day one of baseball’s Winter Meetings in Nashville is drawing to a close and while the Twins rotation still sucks, there wasn’t a complete lack of Twins-related news coming out of the Gaylord Opryland Resort. OK, calling it Twins “news” might be a stretch, but at least the Twins were mentioned here and there among all the rumors floating out of Nashville.

The Grand Ole Opry… Nashville’s second biggest attraction this week.

I spent the better part of my day refreshing various web sites that track the latest rumors and reading Twitter messages being posted by all of the Twins beat reporters representing  various media outlets. After all, I had to make sure I didn’t miss anything interesting. I was keeping up pretty well, too, at least until someone with a pretty screwed up set of priorities scheduled me in to back-to-back conference calls starting at 3:00 pm.

Speaking of those hard-working reporters down in Nashville, you really should be following them on Twitter, if you aren’t already: Rhett Bollinger of MLB.com (@RhettBollinger), Phil Mackey of 1500ESPN (@PMac21), Ben Goessling of the Pioneer-Press (@BenGoesslingPP) and LaVelle E. Neal III of the Star-Tribune (@LaVelleNeal). Of course, MLBTradeRumors.com is a must-follow this week (and most weeks), as well.

Anyway, here’s a rundown of what I saw and heard around this here interweb thingy today:

  • Terry Ryan stated that the Twins have checked in on every available free agent pitcher, but that some are more realistic than others. (Yeah… I bet.)
  • Ryan also indicated the Twins would almost certainly participate in Thursday’s Rule 5 draft. They have the 4th pick so not participating would be pretty stupid.
  • The Twins remain interested in right-hander Brett Myers. They may or may not have competition for Myers from the Orioles, depending on whose rumor you believe.
  • Other lesser (and in some cases, much lesser) pitchers that the Twins have been linked to include: Joe Blanton, Kevin Correia, Mike Pelfrey, John Lannan. Mike Pelfrey and Vicente Padilla. Blanton and Lannan, in particular, are reportedly high on the Twins’ list.
  • Ryan Dempster is the only pitcher remotely close to being considered a top-half-of-the-rotation option that I’ve seen even mentioned in connection with the Twins today.
  • While the Twins have indicated they’re likely to be focused on free agents during the winter meetings, other teams have continued to check in with them about the availability of both Ben Revere and Josh Willingham.
  • Terry Ryan stated that Joe Mauer will not be traded.
  • In addition to pitching, the Twins are likely to acquire a third baseman to provide competition for Trevor Plouffe during Spring Training. However, it’s unlikely they’ll add more middle infielders, which means Brian Dozier, Pedro Florimon, Jamey Carroll and Eduardo Escobar are most likely going to be manning SS and 2B, for better or… you know… worse.
  • Pitcher Liam Hendriks had some elbow surgery to remove bone chips and won’t pitch for Australia during the World Baseball Classic. Nick Blackburn had a similar procedure done at about the same time. Both should be ready to go by Spring Training.
  • Joe Mauer (USA) and Justin Morneau (Canada) do plan to participate in the WBC for their respective home countries.
  • Manager Ron Gardenhire commented to media about his time in the Twins’ “War Room” at the hotel: “I’m listening to them all and they’re trading my whole darn team!” He was kidding. (We think.)
  • Chris Parmelee may be the early contender for the Twins’ RF job, but Darin Mastroianni and Ryan Doumit could compete for the job.

I’m posting this a bit before 8:00 pm CT Monday night and suffice to say I’m pretty disappointed in Day 1, so far. Joe Blanton is the top pitcher the Twins have been connected to in any manner more than just having “checked in on.”

Newsflash for Terry Ryan: Joe Blanton will not solve your problems, sir. Nor will additions of that caliber bring fans back to Target Field. You can do better.

You must do better.

- JC