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

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

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

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

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

PhotoCredit: NBC Sports, Hardball Talk

Other Notable Rumors/Deals/Signings from Day Two:

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

-ERolfPleis

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

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

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

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

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

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

- JC

GameChat – 2012 All Star Game featuring Joe Mauer & RA Dickey? 7pm

Of course I’m very glad that Joe Mauer is at the All Star game – more importantly, I’m very glad that his PLAYING has actually deserved a spot at the All Star game. Would I like to have more than one representative? Of course. Do I think we have other players that are as important to the Twins as Joe Mauer? Absolutely – especially since this IS a team sport people. Do I think that a team’s MVP is the one who should represent them at the ASG? no, not necessarily. If voted on today, is Joe Mauer the Twins MVP? Maybe… Who cares? That’s who’s there for us and I’m glad that it’s someone who is hitting the ball well right now – good for everyone all around.

I am much more intrigued by someone else’s story and the controversy that surrounds where he plays in the game.. NL Pitcher, RA Dickey. I’ve always had a soft spot for him because I really enjoyed watching him play as a Twin. I thought he was good for us, fit in well here and I would have liked to see him stick around. That’s just not how the business of baseball works though sometimes so I have followed his career after he left us and am AMAZED at what he’s doing with the Mets this year. And I’m not alone. The fact that he’s not the starting pitcher has really angered and baffled a LOT of NL fans. I think Matt Cain is also an incredible pitcher and is equally deserving of consideration so I’m not as flummoxed as some east coasters seem to be. I see that not every CATCHER is prepared to handle a Knuckleballer so it makes a lot of sense to start a more traditional pitcher if you think your starting catcher might not be up to the game. More smart strategizing than deliberate slight. This is what you do when you put together a lineup after all.

I planned to do a little profile on RA before tonight’s game just because he’s always been a favorite around here – both for the namesake pitch, his personality and his originality. In fact, I fully intend at some point to feature a review of his autobiography Wherever I Wind Up here on Knuckleballs at a later date. But in my research, I actually found a really well-written piece that I decided to share with you instead – in its entirety which is something we rarely do here. Skip to the bottom if it doesn’t interest you but I find his story to be fascinating.

From NPR:

Pitcher R.A. Dickey’s Tale Is As Wild As A Knuckleball

July 9, 2012

R.A. Dickey’s career as a major league pitcher has been as unpredictable as his signature pitch, the knuckleball.

And on Tuesday night, the New York Mets’ 37-year-old phenomenon will hit a new pinnacle: the pitching mound at baseball’s All-Star Game.

He won’t be starting for the National League — manager Tony La Russa chose Matt Cain of the San Francisco Giants for that honor. But the manager says says Dickey will pitch.

This guy isn’t the best story in baseball because he’s the best pitcher in the National League. If anything, Dickey is the pitcher he is because of his story. He believes there is a direct line between the pitches he throws and the person he is, which is the only time you’ll ever hear his fluttering knuckleball compared to a “direct line.”

Back in 1996, Robert Allen Dickey was a first-round draft pick of the Texas Rangers as a conventional flamethrower. He was 21 years old and about to be paid more than $800,000 to play the sport he loved.

“[I] flew down to Texas to sign my contract, throw out the first pitch … do all the things that I dreamed about doing my whole life as a baseball player. The first thing I had to do when I landed was head over to the doctor’s office to get a physical, and it was there that they kind of were alarmed at what they saw,” Dickey says.

What they saw, or more accurately didn’t see, was a UCL — an ulnar collateral ligament. Dickey was born without that ligament in his throwing elbow. Doctors said he should be in excruciating pain just turning a doorknob, and yet he had no problem reaching 95 miles an hour on the radar gun.

But past performance didn’t matter to his new club. He was damaged goods, and 90 percent of his signing bonus was revoked.

It was a serious setback in the one area of Dickey’s life that was supposed to be a refuge. Dickey’s parents had divorced when he was a child. His father was distant as R.A. grew older, and his mother was loving but a drinker. He was, while still a boy, sexually abused by a baby sitter and a teenager from his neighborhood.

Even as Dickey entered his 20s, he struggled.

“I began to really hate who I was, and, you know, I was having suicidal thoughts and just all kinds of terrible things running through my mind. You know, I was using the unhealthy ways to escape pain,” Dickey says.

Eventually, Dickey found a few things that helped: his mind, his wife, his faith, and a pitch that’s impossible to own. But if you’re dedicated, it can be leased to great effect.

Learning To Throw Like ‘The Jedi’

A knuckleball is confounding, both going and coming, because it’s thrown with almost no rotation. The baseball’s laces interact with the air, turning it into a Godard jump-cut of pitches.

Currently, Dickey is the only regular knuckleballer in the major leagues. It’s a hard pitch to learn, but there is a fraternity of knuckleballers who can offer advice.

“The people that poured into me and lent me their wisdom and acumen were Tim Wakefield, Charlie Hough and Phil Niekro,” Dickey says. “And so speaking from that experience I can tell you that there’s nobody on this Earth that knows more about it than they do.”

Dickey calls those former major leaguers “The Jedi Council.” In addition to throwing a quirky pitch, he loves Star Wars and The Lord Of The Rings. He names his bats after swords in Beowulf, and the music he has cued up over the stadium PA when he walks up to bat is the theme to Game Of Thrones.

There’s also Dickey’s literary side. His revelatory memoir, Wherever I Wind Up, is clearly written by a lover of language who entertained thoughts of becoming an English professor.

And then there’s the side of Dickey that wants to teach others his recondite skill. Though Cy Young award winner Frank Viola is the pitching coach of the Savannah Sand Gnats, the knuckleball is as baffling to him as string theory. But Dickey eagerly passed along what he knew to minor leaguer Frank Viola III.

“He’s amazing,” the elder Viola says. “R.A. invited him to the games he pitched, invited him to his side sessions to watch; they planned on having Frankie tape a couple workouts and then sending it to New York and having R.A. look at it to critique it and get back to him. I mean he just shared his wealth with Frankie.”

Speaking of wealth, Dickey is in line to be rewarded with the first truly huge contract of his career. Last off-season, Dickey scaled Mount Kilimanjaro to raise money for exploited women in Mumbai, then published his memoir. In it, he dwells on the interplay between his psyche and the knuckleball.

“Oftentimes the more cerebral you are about pitching, the more apt you are to make small changes that might take you out of where you really need to be,” he says. “So for me, there’s a fine balance between being self-aware and really believing in what you can produce on the field organically.”

So far, Dickey has produced back-to-back one-hitters, 10 straight wins, a 12-1 record and his first All-Star invite.

For opponents he’s produced befuddlement; for the Mets, he’s helped produce a winning record. And every fifth night he produces the only extant link in the chain of a confounding and fascinating pitch.

So, with all that? yeah, I’m looking forward to watching him pitch even if it is for the “opposing team”. At least he’s not a Yankee, right? ;)

National League

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American League
C. Gonzalez DH COL D. Jeter SS NYY
M. Cabrera CF SF R. Cano 2B NYY
R. Braun LF MIL J. Hamilton LF TEX
J. Votto 1B CIN J. Bautista RF TOR
C. Beltran RF STL P. Fielder 1B DET
B. Posey C SF A. Beltre 3B TEX
P. Sandoval 3B SF D. Ortiz DH BOS
D. Uggla 2B ATL M. Napoli C TEX
R. Furcal SS STL C. Granderson CF NYY
M. Cain SP SF J. Verlander SP DET

 

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R

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E

NL All-Stars

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3

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0

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0

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8

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AL All-Stars

0

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6

0

OUCH! That just SUCKED for the AL. I’m pretty sure that no one expected such a tough outing from Justin Verlander – including him – but yeah, that was most definitely not his best.

It was fun to get to watch RA finally come out for an inning. It wasn’t anything all that exciting but he did hit Konerko with a pitch which is kind of fun.. *grin*

I decided I was too tired to wait for who was finally decided upon for the MVP.. gotta admit, I didn’t really care all that much but it’s reportedly between Sandoval & Melky Cabrera.. whoever gets it, congrats.

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 History Lesson: August 16-22

Before we dig in to the events that transpired during the upcoming week in Twins history, I want to take a few moments to mention a bit more about one of the reference sources we use for this feature. We footnote three sources that we routinely check every week at the bottom of each Twins History Lesson post*.

One of those resources, however, warrants a little extra mention. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that the Twins Trivia site just provides a few obscure facts about our favorite team. There is so much more of interest to be found there. Want to know exactly which players have worn your favorite jersey number over the years? It’s there. Too young to remember what Metropolitan Stadium looked like, there are a bunch of pictures (including a link so some pictures of an abandoned “Met” that almost brought tears to my eyes). There are interviews with a boatload of former Twins, as well. And of course, there are all of the facts and figures you would expect from a “trivia” site. I highly recommend the site and you can always find the link in our Twins Blogroll list at the right.

Now, on to this week in Twins history…

Kicking off the week on August 16:

1975: You think having a multi-hit game is a big deal? On August 16, 1975, you needed at least two hits just to feel like you played a role at all in the Twins’ 9-1 win over Cleveland. The Twins set a MLB record with nine different hitters collecting at least two hits. Those hitters were Lyman Bostock, Dan Ford, Rod Carew, John Briggs, Tony Oliva, Eric Soderholm, Steve Braun, Jerry Terrell and Phil Roof.

Tom Kelly

1990: A lot has been made of Michael Cuddyer being moved around the field this season by manager Ron Gardenhire, but on this date in 1990, Tom Kelly took the title of “manager” to a whole new level during a game with the Indians. Kelly shifted Kirby Puckett from RF to SS.. to 3B… and finally to 2B while moving Al Newman from 3B to SS and back to 3B, all in the 8th inning alone.

R.A. Dickey is having a very nice season for the Mets this season after never quite having the sort of success with the Twins that the organization hoped he might in 2009. Reportedly, Ron Gardenhire had wanted a knuckleballer on the staff because he felt such a pitcher could be successful in the climate controlled Metrodome. Given Dickey’s performance for the Mariners against the Twins at the ‘Dome on August 17, 2008, it’s not real  clear what may have made Gardy draw that conclusion. On that date, Dickey tied a MLB record with four wild pitches in one inning. He could have broken the record if not for one additional pitch that found the backstop being ruled a passed ball charged to catcher Kenji Johjima.

August 18 has seen a “first” and a “last” of note over the years:

1966: It may not roll off the tongue as smoothly poetic as “Tinker to Evers to Chance”, but Rollins to Tovar to Killebrew made history on 8/18/66 when Rich, Cesar and Harmon turned the first triple play in Twins history during a game against the Angels at Met Stadium.

1986: Twenty years later, Hall-of-Famer-to-be Tom Seaver struck out 7 Twins in 8.2 innings in a Red Sox win over the Twins to earn his 311th, and final, career win.

Johan Santana

Tell me if this sounds at all familiar, Twins fans… a Twins pitcher walks off the mound during what could be a historic night with his team nursing a 1-0 lead. But having already thrown over 100 pitches, manager Ron Gardenhire puts team and the health of the pitcher ahead of “history” and lets the pitcher know he’ll be turning to the bullpen. Kevin Slowey on Sunday? Nope… on August 19, 2007, it was Johan Santana who had struck out 17 Rangers in 8 innings and was within 3 Ks of matching the MLB record of 20 in a game. There was no Jim Thome to give the Twins a cushion on that day, but Joe Nathan struck out 2 in the 9th to help set the Twins single game team record of 19 strikeouts and seal the 1-0 win. Santana gave up only two hits to the Rangers… both by Sammy Sosa.

Ken Landreaux was having a good season for the Twins in 1979 but when you’re the player a team gets back in a trade for a certain Hall of Famer like Rod Carew, living up to expectations is pretty much a lost cause. Nonetheless, On August 20, 1979, Landreaux came through with a very Carew-like performance as he ripped three extra base hits (double, triple, HR) and drove in six runs in a 10-5 win over the Red Sox.

The Beatles at Met Stadium (Photo by Sully)

Where were you on August 21, 1965? If you were at Metropolitan Stadium, you were among a packed house of screaming fans… but the Twins were nowhere to be seen. The Beatles were playing at the Met that night!

Our look back at August 22 goes back only two years to 2008. Rookie Carlos Gomez set a Twins rookie stolen base record by swiping his 27th base of the season, breaking a club record held at the time by Luis Rivas.

That’s enough for this week, I think. We’ll skip over a few August trades involving guys most of us have never heard of (sorry, Jackie Collum) or prefer to forget (that would be you, Joe Mays) as we anxiously await the inevitable demolishing of the White Sox remaining playoff hopes this week. Go Twins! – JC

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*We pull this information from a few different sources, including (but not necessarily limited to) Dave Wright’s excellent book, “162-0, The Greatest Wins!”, as well as some  internet sites like “Twins Trivia” and “National Pastime”.