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

St. Patty’s Day is Separation Day

St. Patrck’s Day means different things to different people. But if you’re a baseball player trying to make a Big League ballclub, you should have a pretty good idea of where you stand with your manager and General Manager by the time you lift your first green beer of the evening on March 17.

At this point, there are just over two weeks left of Spring Training, so if you have any hope of heading north with the Big Club, you had better have made some sort of positive impression by now. You simply can’t look like Leprechaun feces on the field for the first half of March and expect to be wearing a Major League uniform on Opening Day.

The Twins had 67 players in their Big League camp to begin with and will take only 25 with them to Baltimore to begin the regular season. In reality, there were only a handful of spots open on the Twins roster to begin with and not much has changed with regard to those players that were “locks.” Of course, Joel Zumaya’s injury immediately made one more bullpen spot available and now there’s some question whether Scott Baker’s tender elbow could cause him to start the season on the Disabled List, which would open up another pitching spot. Otherwise, the Twins were really only looking to determine who their bench position players would be and fill out the back end of their bullpen.

So let’s look at who the leaders are as the guys take that long bus ride across the state of Florida for a St. Patty’s Day contest with Ozzie’s new-look Miami Marlins this afternoon. (Our friend and fellow blogger, Thrylos, has been maintaining “scorecards” that track game-by-game performance of those contending for bench positions and bullpen spots over at The Tenth Inning Stretch. It’s a handy tool that you should glance at regularly.)

All statistics are through Friday, March 16.

Third Catcher:

It’s been almost a foregone conclusion that the Twins would carry a third catcher, in addition to Joe Mauer and Ryan Doumit, They’re still carrying six other catchers, but Danny Lehmann, Chris Herrmann and Daniel Rolfing will be heading back to minor league camp as the number of pitchers is thinned out.

The assumption has been that non-roster invite J.R. Towles would challenge Drew Butera, but Rene Rivera has perhaps been the most consistent performer of the group. Towles made a good first impression early in the month, but has been mediocre, at best, since then. Don’t rule out Butera, however. After a slow start, he’s had a couple of good games recently. I think Drew remains the odds-on favorite to keep his spot on the Twins bench. Here’s a fun small sample size Spring Training fact, however: Going in to today’s game, all three of these potential back-up back-up catchers are hitting at least .300 in official Spring Training games.

Other bench players:

The Twins really only have open spots for a utility infielder or two, if we assume that Ben Revere and Trevor Plouffe have secure spots as the third and fourth outfielders. There was no shortage of infield candidates, but to be brutally honest, there haven’t been three guys who have thus far demonstrated that they deserve to get a MLB paycheck.

The best of the bunch, so far, is Chris Parmelee (.368/.478/,684). His performance this spring would seem to indicate that his impressive September call-up was not a fluke. The problem is, it’s unlikely that the Twins really want him to spend 2012 sitting on the Twins bench. He needs to play baseball every day and, unless Justin Morneau is unable to answer the bell in April, Parmelee is going to be the Rochester first baseman.

Non-roster invite Mike Hollimon has looked good (.400/.455/.700), but he has to keep it up if he’s going to force the front office to give him someone else’s spot on the 40-man roster. On the other hand, unlike with Parmelee, the Twins wouldn’t think twice about letting him collect splinters on the Big League club’s bench if he can fill in around the infield and be effective in a pinch-hitting role.

Luke Hughes (.273/.333/.500) is definitely still in the hunt for a bench spot, as well. He’s out of options, which helps his cause. He also started out physically behind other contenders, as he nursed his shoulder back to health. Since returning to regular playing time at bat and in the field, his performance has picked up considerably and he finished this week strong.

Of the rest of the candidates for bench spots, nobody as been absolutely terrible, but nobody has been consistently good, either. Outfielder Joe Benson (.250/.304/.400) has been impressive at times, especially defensively, but he’s got the same issue Parmelee does… the Twins won’t keep him just to sit on the bench. Brian Dozier (.250/.294/.375) is probably in the same boat.

Handicapping the race with two weeks left, I’d say the early favorites remain the most likely players to open the year in Twins uniforms. Luke Hughes has a spot unless he kicks it away. Tsuyoshi Nishioka (.261/.292/..348) probably does, too, not so much because he’s looked good, but because almost nobody else has looked a heck of a lot better. Keep an eye on Hollimon, though, because if he finishes strong, he could force the Twins to make a very difficult decision regarding Nishioka.

The rest… Aaron Bates, Sean Burroughs, Ray Chang, Brian Dinkelman and Pedro Florimon… have had a moment or two they can be proud of, but I look for each of them to be sent down or released over the next 7-10 days.

Pitchers:

Things are much more interesting… and surprisingly optimistic… on the pitching front. For all the fretting about how the Twins would manage to cobble together a bullpen capable of backing up one of the most mediocre rotations in baseball last season, we’ve seen a number of candidates make strong cases that they deserve a shot.

Let’s start with Liam Hendriks (7 IP, 0.00 ERA, 1.000 WHIP). He started out pitching just an inning in his outings, but threw three hitless innings at the Red Sox when he got a chance to start. He was never likely to fill a bullpen role for the Twins to start the season, but if Baker has to postpone his season debut a while, Hendriks has looked good enough to step in to his spot. Whether he’s a Twin on Opening Day or not, I look for Hendriks to play a significant role for the Twins over the course of the season.

Alex Burnett, Carlos Gutierrez, Jeff Manship and Kyle Waldrop needed to perform well this spring. Those are guys who have been brought up in the organization and who the Twins expected to be developed enough at this point to be contributing at the Major League level. A big reason there are so many pitchers in camp that have been signed from other organizations within the past year or two is that those four pitchers have not yet proved they can do the job.

Burnett (2.2 IP, 16.87 ERA) has struggled, but the other three guys have been pitching well. They are getting some competition from Matt Maloney, Jared Burton, Casey Fien and P.J. Walters, all of whom have been pretty impressive, as well.

Others have had a good day here and there, as well, but I think the field has been narrowed to Gutierrez (5 IP, 1.80 ERA, 1.200 WHIP ), Manship (4.1 IP, 2.08 ERA, 0.462 WHIP), Waldrop (4 IP, 0.00 ERA, 0.750 WHIP), Maloney (5.1 IP, 0.00 ERA, 0.750 WHIP), Burton (5 IP, 1.80 ERA, 1.000 WHIP), Fien (3.1 IP, 0.00 ERA, 0.300 WHIP) and Walters (5 IP, 0.00 ERA, 1.000 WHIP).

Keep in mind that Gutierrez, Manship and Waldrop are all already on the Twins’ 40-man roster, while the four “outsiders” are not which means the Twins would need to find room for any of them they decide to keep. [EDIT: Matt Maloney is also already on the 40-man roster... my bad.] This race is still too close to call, but I’m excited that there are so many guys who are meeting and even exceeding expectations as we head in to the final couple of weeks of Spring Training.

I’ll be heading down to Ft. Myers for the final week of Spring Training and I’m looking forward to seeing how this all shakes out.

– JC

What Am I Missing Here?

I try very hard to avoid overreacting to decisions that the people running the Twins make. Ron Gardenhire, Bill Smith and the others running the club have tough jobs. I appreciate that, so I tend to give them the benefit of the doubt on most issues, even when I don’t agree with specific decisions. That said, I’m beyond confused about a number of things right now. Maybe some of you smart people can tell me what I’m missing.

Joe Nathan pitches a few successful innings in Florida and proclaims himself ready to rejoin the bullpen, but Gardy says “no… you need to go to Rochester first and prove you can get someone over the age of 19 out.”

Joe Mauer gets a few hits off of 19 yr olds in Florida, but he’s activated straight away, without having to prove he can hit AAA pitching. He promptly proves to be less productive at the plate than Drew Butera or Rene Rivera… a feat that most of us didn’t think was possible.

Not only does Gardy keep putting Mauer in the line up, but he keeps putting him in the 3-spot in the order… exactly the spot where his impotence can do the most damage to his team.

Yeah, Joe, I'm scratching my head, too.

Friday night, after another oh-fer, Gardy tells reporters that he’s considering using Mauer at 1B or even 3B. Why? Well, the announcement earlier in the day that Justin Morneau will miss at least six weeks for surgery on his neck (a topic I will revisit shortly) is a valid reason for looking for another 1B option. But that’s not Gardy’s reason… instead he’s intent on finding ways to keep Mauer’s bat in the line up (apparently even if it means he replaces the current third baseman, who has actually finally started hitting the ball with some success)!

So… if I understand this correctly… for the past few years, when Mauer was consistently hitting well over .300, Gardy steadfastly refused to even listen to anyone who dared to suggest that perhaps it might be a good idea for Joe to learn a position he could play part time in order to keep him healthy and in the line up more often. But now… when Mauer isn’t even coming close to making good contact… NOW we want to find creative ways to keep his bat in the line up???? Wouldn’t it make a little sense to worry about that some other time… like maybe if/when Joe remembers how to hit a baseball?

The Twins have 3 catchers, none of which can hit his way out of a wet paper bag right now, and the manager is trying to come up with creative ways to get TWO of them in the batting order? I don’t get it.

Butera and Rivera were actually occasionally coming up with some clutch hits during the team’s recent winning streak. They also were doing a good job behind the plate. I get that Mauer might need some time to get his timing back at the plate, but why the hell wasn’t he told the same thing Joe Nathan was… “show us you can compete with AAA players before we activate you”? If nothing else, after the way the Twins have had to leave Rochester with yet another crappy team, I’m sure they would have appreciated a couple of nice attendance nights at Frontier Field with Mauer on hand.

As for Morneau, I don’t have much more to add to what everyone else has been writing and tweeting. It dumbfounds me that someone let his neck issue go three months without appropriate treatment. I’d like to go back a couple of years and count the number of times one of the Twins players had an injury or illness, set out on an initial course of treatment with disappointing results, then got a second opinion which resulted in a different course of treatment, which essentially caused the recovery process to start over and thus delay the player’s return to the field. I don’t know how many times it has happened, but it sure seems to happen a lot.

So often, in fact, that one has to wonder… if these guys have to get second opinions so consistently in order to finally get the appropriate course of treatment, what kind of witch doctors are the Twins employing to hand out the worthless FIRST opinions? It’s bad enough when your $23 million a year catcher can’t hit .200, but when the doctors you employ can’t seem to “hit” on their diagnoses any better, that’s something that someone should be able to fix, isn’t it?

Is Rachel Phelps running the Twins these days?

The frustrating thing is that so many of these questionable decisions are being made just as the team was fighting its way in to contention. It really makes one wonder whether Rachel Phelps has somehow taken control of the ballclub and is doing everything in her power to make sure this team DOESN’T win more games.

Implausible? Yeah, probably.

But if the Twins find themselves without hot water for their whirlpools and being forced to take WWII vintage turbo prop planes or even buses on road trips… remember I told ya so.

– JC

 

When Did Catchers Become Caddies?

As expected, the Twins activated Joe Mauer and Glen Perkins after Thursday afternoon’s 1-0 win over the White Sox. I read a lot of different articles (and may have even written one) with projections about who might be sent packing to Rochester when those two Twins made their inevitable returns. Truth is, the choices seemed pretty cut and dried, so I didn’t even pay much attention when the media started Tweeting out the news following the game.

There may have been some question about which relief pitcher would get his ticket punched to Rochester, but Chuck James was certainly no surprise.

I guess there was a little drama about which of the two current catchers, Drew Butera or Rene Rivera, would get the bad news, but it was obvious to everyone that one of them would be wearing Red Wing colors by the weekend.

Well… not everybody, apparently.

Seems Gardy and/or Bill Smith had other ideas. Both current catchers are still Twins, meaning the Twins start interleague play with three catchers on their roster. Which can only bring one possible reaction from me…

WTF?

Let me get this straight. Gardy has insisted that Mauer wouldn’t be activated until he could resume full catching duties, not just occasionally wandering behind home plate for a few innings. So, Mauer is back and he says he’s feeling strong.

Drew Butera, BOD!

But instead of keeping Brian Dinkelman… a guy who’s hit .286 with an OPS of .698 (granted, in limited use)… a guy who can play infield and outfield… the Twins are keeping TWO back up catchers?

And let’s make no mistake here… they aren’t keeping either of those guys around so he can DH. Rivera’s batting average is 100 points LOWER than Dinkelman’s. And he’s the BETTER hitter of the current catching tandem.

What’s the big deal? Well, if the Twins put their best line up out on the field in any given ballgame, those nine players would be: Mauer (C), Cuddyer (1B), Casilla (2B), Hughes (3B), Nishioka (SS), Young (OF), Revere (OF), Repko (OF), Valencia (DH).

Rene Rivera

That leaves a bench of Tosoni (.158), Tolbert (.193), and our two backup catchers, Rivera (.186) and Butera (.169).

It’s bad enough having those guys on the bench this weekend at home against the Padres, but on Tuesday, the Twins go on the road for six games AT National League ballparks, which means there will be no DH. I suppose that might be good news because Gardy would have, for example, Danny Valencia’s sweet .216 BA available off the bench. But it also means that pitchers occupy the ninth spot in the batting order. For those of you who don’t watch much NL baseball, that means more use of pinch hitters.

To put that in perspective, ladies and gentlemen, recent Twins Hall of Fame inductee, pitcher Jim Perry, pitched in the Big Leagues for 14 seasons before the DH rule was enacted by the AL. His career batting average was .199.

Yes, if things stay as they are, the Twins will take on the defending World Series Champion Giants and the Milwaukee Brewers with a stable of potential pinch hitters consisting of four guys who have lower batting averages than Jim Perry did in his career. Brian Dinkelman’s .286 is going to look pretty good at some point next week, I think.

So why would they keep Butera AND Rivera?

The answer is actually painfully obvious to anyone who’s been paying attention.

We’ve all known Butera has essentially been Carl Pavano’s “personal catcher” for a year or more now. And now, for the past month or more, Rivera has pretty much become the same for Francisco Liriano.

I think Gardy is keeping three catchers because he doesn’t want to upset his two prima donna starting pitchers.

If I were Danny Lehmann, down in Rochester right now, I’d be attaching myself to the hip of uber-prospect Kyle Gibson so I could ride his shirttails to Minnesota. Clearly, the trend with the Twins is toward allowing their starting pitchers to each have his own personal catcher. I just hope one of the pitchers decides he can tolerate pitching to Mauer.

I guess if there’s an upside to this philosophy, maybe it’s that we’ve finally found a way to convince Mauer to work on fielding another position. If he’s only going to catch one of the five starting pitchers, hopefully he’ll deign to allow himself to be utilized elsewhere when the other four catchers are caddying their assigned pitchers through their starts.

Still… I’m not wild about the trend.

– JC

Respect The Streak? Not This Time

For weeks, we’ve been moaning and groaning about the bad luck that’s befallen the Twins this season on the injury front. As the injuries mounted, so did the deficit the Twins faced in the standings.

For a while, we fans held out hope… if only they can keep things reasonably close until guys could get healthy. But they didn’t. In fact, not only did injured players not get healthy, but more players got hurt. Until it reached the point where only the most avid “prospect watchers” among us even recognized the names of some of the players wearing the Twins uniform.

And hope faded almost to black.

Almost.

And then a funny thing happened. These guys started to win.

Sure, they weren’t playing the Yankees and Red Sox (or even the Rays, Orioles or Blue Jays, for that matter) any more, but last I checked, all the games count the same in the standings, regardless of who the opponent is.

And they kept winning. They swept four from the Royals. They took 2 of 3 on the road from the AL Central leading Tribe. They took 3 of 4 from the AL West leading Rangers.

They aren’t making the errors (mental or physical) that they had been making. The pitchers aren’t giving up runs the way they had been. They finally managed to burn the assbats and started hitting the ball hard… and often. The new guys started hitting… then the few remaining regulars started hitting.

Yes, the Twins are on a winning streak… and you don’t have to be someone who’s watched Bull Durham 391 times to know that you don’t f… fool… with a winning streak. You respect the streak.

But Ron Gardenhire and the Twins are about challenge Crash Davis’ conventional wisdom. They really have no choice. But I’m betting it bothers Gardy at least as much as it does me… probably more.

Tsuyoshi Nishioka

Starting Thursday afternoon, the first of the Twins’ walking wounded returns to the line up. Tsuyoshi Nishioka has been out of action so long that this will be his first appearance in a game at Target Field. He’ll play shortstop, which means Alexi Casilla moves to second base. For all the talk about rookie Ben Revere and the pitching staff, it has quite possibly been Casilla whose performance, at bat and in the field, has been most responsible for the Twins’ recent success. Now he’s changing positions.

Joe Mauer

Friday, Joe Mauer is expected to take his rightful place behind the plate and in the heart of the batting order. He’s done neither for two months (and the season is only 2 and a half months old). It’s a no-brainer, of course. Mauer HAS to return to the line up if he’s healthy. Drew Butera and Rene Rivera are making more contact than they had been, but there’s a reason Mauer’s the starting catcher. Actually, there are about 23,000,000 reasons.

And that’s just the beginning. Over the course of the next week to 10 days, we can expect to see a lot of familiar faces return. Glen Perkins was arguably the most effective (only effective?) member of the bullpen when he went down. He’s due back by the weekend, but he’s rejoining a bullpen that’s been much better, perhaps because everyone there now has pretty well defined roles. Where will Perkins fit and will he be as effective as he had been?

Remember when Jason Kubel and Denard Span were the only hitters even coming close to performing at expected levels? They haven’t been in the lineup during this surge… but they will be returning before long. Who’s At-Bats will they be taking and… perhaps more importantly… who’s spots in the field will they be taking? There’s no question that the OF defense has improved since Ben Revere was recalled June 2.

Joe Nathan and Jim Thome are also on the road to recovery. They’ll be taking roster spots from a couple of guys who have contributed to the Twins’ recent success, too, but how certain are we that they will outperform the guys they’ll be replacing?

The last to return will possibly be the most recent to go on the DL, Justin Morneau. But has anyone else noticed that Luke Hughes and Michael Cuddyer are actually doing a better job defensively at 1B than Morneau had been?

Don’t get me wrong… I’m very happy to see these guys coming back. But I’m just old-school superstitious enough to be nervous about the timing, too.

If all of these guys come back and perform at the levels we expected from them when the season opened, the Twins may not only catch the rest of the Division, but absolutely destroy it. I just wish I was more confident of that.

One thing I’m pretty sure about, though, is that the Rochester Red Wings are on the verge of getting much, much, better.

– JC

Tough Decisions This Week

The Rochester Red Wings must cringe every time the phone rings in their office this season. Almost every player on their roster who’s shown any ability to play the game of baseball this season has been plucked from their clubhouse and given a ticket to Minneapolis (with Kyle Gibson being one obvious exception).

As difficult as it has been for Ron Gardenhire to keep 25 healthy bodies in the Twins clubhouse this season, his job may be getting even tougher this week. The Twins currently have eight players on the Disabled List. What could be worse than that? How about having eight players all ready to come OFF the Disabled List at one time?

Now, if the Twins were still playing like a bad American Legion team, the way they were throughout April and a good chunk of May, this would be no problem. You celebrate the return of all the “real” Twins and happily send Red Wings manager Tom Nieto back the players you’ve borrowed from him. But now, just as virtually every player on your DL is due back in uniform, you’ve got a team of young players who have been winning a lot of games.

Joe Nathan

Kevin Slowey is just starting to throw, so his return isn’t as imminent as the others, but Glen Perkins and Joe Nathan are going to be ready to return to the bullpen in the next week or two. The current bullpen is consistently shutting down opponents (finally)… so who loses their job when Perkins and Nathan return? How confident are you that those two guys will immediately be as effective as the pitchers they replace?

As tough as those choices may be, things only get tougher when you ponder the decisions coming up with regard to the position players. Jason Kubel, Jim Thome, Joe Mauer, Denard Span, and Tsuyoshi Nishioka are all scheduled to come off the DL at roughly the same time.

The decision concerning which catcher departs to make room for Mauer will be tough enough. Drew Butera has been with the team for most of the past two seasons, but Rene Rivera is reportedly out of options [UPDATE 6/15: Latest information is that Rivera is NOT out of options, which makes the rest of this paragraph moot. Butera and Rivera are therefore essentially on even footing], while Butera still has options remaining. That means the team would have to risk sending Rivera through waivers if they want to keep Butera. That said, the Twins will need to clear a 40-man roster spot for Mauer, so they may be willing to take that risk with Rivera. But you have to wonder if the Twins want to face the possibility of Steve Holm being the fallback option if Joe Mauer’s return is short-lived.

Luke Hughes and Matt Tolbert

As tough as that decision may be, it’s nothing compared to how Gardy and GM Bill Smith will go about finding room for the others. Seth Stohs detailed the performances of the current position players over the course of the past 10 games over at SethSpeaks.net and it would be tough for me to find one or two non-catchers that I’d be anxious to pull out of the current line up, never mind more.

I’d love to get Span, Kubel and Thome back. But do you really want to see Ben Revere benched or, even worse, sent back to Rochester? I don’t. During the offseason, I wrote that I wanted to see more speed in the Twins outfield and now that they have it, I don’t want to give it up.

Tsuyoshi Nishioka

The Twins made a three year commitment to Nishioka and it’s very possible that he’ll end up being worth every nickel of the money they’ve sunk in to bringing him over from Japan. But we haven’t seen enough of him to know that for sure. What we do know is that Alexi Casilla, Matt Tolbert and Luke Hughes have all been batting over .300 (with three doubles each) during the recent stretch of success. How comfortable are you with the prospect of plugging in the unproven Nishioka in place of one of those guys?

We’ve poked a bit of fun at the line ups that Gardy’s been turning in, with references to them being “Red Wings” line ups and comments about how they resemble line ups you’d expect to see at spring training road games. But they’re also line ups that have been WINNING and the Twins still have a lot of winning to do if they’re going to dig themselves out of the hole they’re in.

So who’s time with the Twins is drawing to a close?

Brian Dinkelman’s cup of coffee with the big club is probably about over. In fact, don’t be too surprised if he is passed through waivers to make room on the 40-man roster for Nishioka. Rene Tosoni is also a logical candidate to return to Rochester.

So, if we assume Slowey will be headed to Rochester to join their rotation and that Dinkelman, Tosoni and one of the catchers will be departing, that leaves us just three more players to drop to make room for those returning. Two will be pitchers… but which pitchers? Might the Twins be ready to insert Anthony Swarzak in to the rotation and, if so, would Brian Duensing be likely to head down to Rochester so he continues to get regular starts? Of the rest, you could make an argument that Jose Mijares is the most deserving of a free trip to Rochester.

And what about the remaining position player that we must bid farewell to? I don’t see Revere, Hughes, or Tolbert going anywhere. Is it time to give Danny Valencia a wake-up call? Or is it possible that Jason Repko’s run with the Twins might be nearing an end?

These will all be critical… and difficult… decisions. Two players are going to have to pass through waivers and could be claimed by other organizations, so the Twins must choose wisely. The current roster has been making an impressive run and in the process, they’ve closed the gap between themselves and the division leaders. Shaking up the roster at this point is a risk, even given the talent level that’s returning.

As early as a week from now, we may be seeing a line up that includes Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Jim Thome, Jason Kubel, Tsuyoshi Nishioka, and Denard Span. It will certainly look a lot more like the line up that we expected to see when the Twins broke camp in Ft. Myers. Whether that’s a good thing or not remains to be seen.

– JC

Keep Hope Alive!

“You must not surrender. You may or may not get there, but just know that you’re qualified and you hold on and hold out. We must never surrender. [The Twins] will get better and better. Keep hope alive. Keep hope alive. Keep hope alive. On tomorrow night and beyond, keep hope alive.”

Jesse Jackson at 1988 DNC (AP Photo-Ron Edmonds)

This is what it has come to… I’m resorting to channeling my inner Jesse Jackson.

For those of you too young (or too politically/socially disinterested) to recall, The “Keep Hope Alive!” quote in the first paragraph was the closing line from Reverend Jackson’s speech to the 1988 Democratic National Convention in Atlanta and he was assuring us that “America” would get better, not specifically the Twins (but if the shoe fits, right?). I may not have agreed with Rev. Jackson’s politics a whole lot, but my goodness the man could work a crowd!

With all the gloom and doom in Twinsville these days, it occurs to me that maybe a little dose of Jackson-like oratory might just be what’s called for (setting aside, for the moment anyway, the inconvenient fact that at the time Rev. Jackson gave his 1988 speech, Michael Dukakis had about a 20 point lead on George H. W. Bush in the polls… so Jackson’s speech didn’t exactly motivate the Democratic faithful enough to drive Dukakis to the White House).

I’m not sure I’m the one to turn to for motivational oratory these days, however. I not only have not posted a lot of commentary here, lately, but I’ve all but completely stopped posting comments on other blogs and podcasts. It’s not that I’ve given up on the Twins. Quite the contrary. I believe that when the “real” Twins get healthy and join Denard Span and Jason Kubel in the line up, this team will bounce back.

What I have given up on are many so-called “Twins fans”. I understand the frustration because I feel it, too. I don’t particularly enjoy watching the Twins lose game after game any more than anyone else does.

But I simply can’t tolerate the volume of the insane (and often inane) opinions regarding the reasons for the Twins’ poor showing, thus far. I listen/read some of the stuff out there and I just want to yell, “It’s the injuries, stupid!” Seriously… does anyone with half a brain think that Bill Smith, Ron Gardenhire or any other member of the Twins management should have EXPECTED to have Tsuyoshi Nishioka, Joe Mauer, Delmon Young, Jim Thome, and Jason Repko all on the Disabled List at the same time?

You want to know why the Twins can’t win more ballgames? Go back and read this post from Jim Mandelaro, in which he posts the opening day lineup for the Rochester Red Wings. Let me know if you find these names familiar… Ben Revere, Trevor Plouffe, Luke Hughes, Rene Tosoni, Rene Rivera. That’s right, five members of the Red Wings’ opening day lineup are currently getting regular playing time for the Minnesota Twins (and their opening day starting pitcher, Anthony Swarzak, made a brief cameo appearance for the Twins, as well). The Twins’ bullpen also has been littered with guys who started the season in Rochester.

I think we all have every reason to be surprised that the Minnesota Twins find themselves with the worst record in baseball, 11 games behind the leaders in the AL Central, as we reach mid-May.  But that’s just it… it’s not so much that the Twins are in that position… but rather the Rochester Red Wings are 11 games out in the AL Central and that really shouldn’t surprise anyone.

I know, I know… this is all just “making excuses” for the Twins’ ineptitude. That’s fine, if that’s how you choose to feel. But if you’re one of the people who refuse to acknowledge the role that injuries have played in the Twins’ results, thus far, then there’s a pretty good chance you’re just one of the “fans” who carry so much hate in your heart for everyone in authority with the Twins organization, that you actually come across as being happy about the team’s current struggles, because it allows you to pump up the volume on your “fire/trade/release everyone” rants. If that’s the kind of fan you are, congratulations, I guess. Enjoy yourself… but don’t expect me to listen to your BS.

Denard Span, one of the more prolific Tweeters on the Twins, posted this on Wednesday night: “Before I talk about the heat winning… If ur a genuine twins fan plz be positive and have faith in us bc we haven’t lost faith in ourselve”

Count me in, Denard.

Nobody associated with the Twins likes the way things are going right now and it’s fair to point out when players fail to perform up to expectations. But if you want to be fair, when you point out that six Twins are hitting below the “Mendoza Line” (.200 BA), you probably should also point out that only one of the six was expected to fill a starting role this season, while the others have had to fill in for injured regulars. And in the further interest of fairness, you could mention that three of the six were supposed to be playing in Rochester this season. But, hey… what fun is being “fair” when you can be negative?

This really isn’t rocket science and Tiger manager Jim Leyland knows it. “It’s pretty simple,” Leyland was quoted by media. “When your horses are at the vet, that’s not good. When they’re on the track, that’s good. Their horses will be on the track here shortly.”

I believe that when Mauer, Nishioka, Young, and Thome get back in the line up, this team will score runs. They will win games. Will it be enough to overcome this awful start? I don’t know. Maybe… maybe not. But they’ll be fun to watch again and I’ll enjoy doing so.

In other words, until then… Keep hope alive!

– JC