WWTD? (What Will Terry Do?)

Six weeks ago, I put up a post here arguing that it was much too soon to “pull the plug” on the Twins’ 2012 season. I argued that, despite an admittedly dismal start, the Twins were performing fairly well on most fronts, with the glaring exception of their starting pitching, and that they were just about to begin playing their own Division rivals on a regular basis. Feel free to go back and read the whole article, but here was my conclusion:

If the Twins only win 10 of their next 34 games, then I’m on board with everyone else… put up the Yard Sale sign and sell off any asset you can get a fair return for.

But the more I look at the schedule… and what other teams in the AL Central Division have done… the less I feel like there’s any real rush to make drastic and irreversible decisions. The starting pitching needs to be better than it has been… pure and simple. But if that can be accomplished, I see no reason this Twins team shouldn’t still be able to live up to our limited expectations of them before the season started.

We could still have a little fun this summer.

Terry Ryan

A few days ago, in the comment section of one of our GameChat posts, regular reader/commenter “frightwig” pointed out that, since I authored that post, the Twins had gone 17-17 and had not cut down the number of games they trailed the Division leaders. (Following the series win over the Reds, that record is now 19-18 since May 14.) He asked if my opinion of the Twins’ outlook and what General Manager Terry Ryan should do had changed at this point.

That’s a fair question. The answer is, “no, not really,” and the reason is that the situation really hasn’t changed all that much. In fact, just as was the case on May 14, the Twins are once again about to embark on several intra-divisional series that could be fun to watch and very few games against contenders in other divisions. Between now and the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, the Twins have 8 games with the White Sox, 7 with the Royals, 4 with the Tigers, 4 with the Orioles, 3 with the Indians, 3 with the Rangers and 3 with the A’s.

On top of that, the Division-leading White Sox have started their annual “trade for big name washed up former All-Stars” exercise, so you know that’s a sign they’re about to tank.

Bear in mind, even six weeks ago, I never argued that Terry Ryan should sit on his hands all year and make no moves, nor did I suggest the Twins were likely to become “good” any time soon. I merely pointed out that the Twins had some things going for them that could make them entertaining to watch and potentially even more than just entertaining if they could do something about the starting rotation. I don’t think that’s changed.

Nor do I think things have changed much since I posted my most recent argument against having a full-out fire sale.

Still, I’ve written a lot about what I DON’T think Terry Ryan should be doing as we enter the “trading season,” but what do I think Ryan SHOULD do?

  1. As I wrote on May 14, Ryan should be listening to any offer. Nobody on this roster is untouchable, though one or two players are likely untradeable.
  2. Any player that does not figure in the team’s plans for 2013 should be traded as soon as decent value of any kind is offered. This would include Francisco Liriano and Carl Pavano, certainly, as well as Alexi Casilla and Ryan Doumit (unless the rumored extension talks prove fruitful).
  3. Ryan should not be in a hurry to trade any productive player that is under contract for 2013 and beyond. Players like Denard Span, Justin Morneau, Josh Willingham (particularly Willingham) and even Jamie Carroll should only be traded this summer for solid starting pitching that are good bets to be no worse than #3 starters as soon as next season. (Of course, in this rotation, it doesn’t take a lot to be considered a #3 starter.)

I still question whether the Twins will find anyone willing to part with a potential top-of-the-rotation pitcher in July, but I could be wrong. For example, with the Twins playing a series against the Pirates last week, I couldn’t help but notice that, for a team sitting at or near the top of their Division as June comes to a close, their offense really isn’t very good after you get past CF Andrew McCutchen. They are where they’re at because of their pitching.

Of course, they aren’t likely to give up anyone in the top half of their rotation at this point and any Twins fans who think they’d consider trading uber-prospect Gerrit Cole are kidding themselves. But guess what… their AAA affiliate, Indianapolis, is also leading THEIR division and they’re likewise doing so because of strong starting pitching. The Pirates appear to have some remarkable depth in the starting pitching department. I’m certainly no expert on the Pirates’ minor league system, but I can’t help but think either Rudy Owens or Jeff Locke, both lefties, would make the Twins’ rotation better as soon as next year and for several years to come (heck, probably THIS year, for that matter).

But why would they trade any of their young pitching now? Do you have any idea how long it has been since the Pirates sniffed the playoffs? No? Me either, but I think it was when Barry Bonds was skinny.

With Cole rising fast up through their organization, there’s going to be a logjam in Pittsburgh’s rotation before long. That’s why they may be more likely to give up some of that pitching for offensive help from one of the few teams without realistic playoff hopes in the coming weeks, rather than wait until the offseason when there will be more potential trade partners and they arguably could get a better return. In other words, they have the potential to be a little stupid with their trades over the next few weeks.

The question is whether the Twins would match up well with the Pirates in a trade discussion. With McCutchen in CF, their need for Denard Span might not be as great as a team that has a need at that position, but Span could certainly play one of the corner OF spots and he would certainly improve their lineup. Then again, just about any position player on the Twins roster, down to and including Drew Butera, could improve the Pirates lineup at this point.

I still don’t think trading players like Willingham or Morneau would be smart, because you’re going to need to replace them in a few months if you let them go. But there’s a case to be made that replacing them would be easier than acquiring starting pitching this winter. I’m not sure I’m convinced, but I’m willing to consider the possibility.

I’m sure the Pirates aren’t the only potential trade partner, but I mention them only by way of acknowledging there may be a stronger market out there than I think there is. The extra Wild Card spots this season and the relative balance of competitiveness in both leagues has the potential to mean a lot more buyers in July and fewer sellers. In any industry, that means a “sellers market,” and if the Twins can capitalize on that market to improve their team as soon as 2013, they’d be foolish not to do so.

Just don’t come at me with salary dump trades for any wannabe prospects. There’s no financial reason for the Twins to pull that kind of crap on their fans when they’re continuing to look at just below 3 million in attendance this season.

– JC

Snappers Weekend Wrap

I had to leave Sunday’s Snappers game with the Cedar Rapids Kernels a couple innings early in order to get ready to catch a flight, but the Kernels had the game pretty well in hand by the time I walked out the gate.

The Snappers scored one run in the top of the first inning, but probably should have had more. Nate Roberts and JD Williams each singled to start the game and Miguel Sano sent a towering fly ball to right field, which bounced off the top of the high wall and back in to play. Roberts scored, but Williams stopped at second base. That fact that apparently was lost on Sano… at least until Sano had rounded second base, himself. They don’t allow one runner to pass a runner ahead of him in this game and that meant Sano was called out. The Snappers didn’t score again.

Pitcher Steven Gruver, 3B Miguel Sano, RP Cole Johnson in the bullpen

Steven Gruver had a little trouble getting out of the first inning, as well. giving up a single, a double and two walks to the Kernels in the bottom of the frame. That had the game tied at 1 after an inning. Gruver settled down a bit after that, though he did make a couple of mistakes that led to two Kernel solo home runs, before finishing his day after five innings of work. He was relieved by Cole Johnson, a late round 2011 pick by the Twins who made his first appearance for the Snappers since joining them from extended spring training.

I’m writing this before the game has finished, but I’m going to assume the 7-1 lead the Kernels held after seven innings will probably hold up, meaning the Snappers will take the series 2 games to 1. (Update: final score, 9-1)

Twins GM Terry Ryan (red shirt), Steve Bedrosian (white shirt)

Twins GM Terry Ryan was in the crowd again today, as was the full contingent of close to 20 scouts who have attended every game of the series. (I thought their numbers were reduced Saturday night, but was told today that they were all there… but many had to be seated in other areas due to the Kernels selling out the game.) Ryan was actually seated just across the aisle from former MLB/Twins pitcher Steve Bedrosian, who’s son, Cam, was the starting pitcher for the Kernels Friday night.

It was just about a perfect weekend for baseball in Cedar Rapids and, as usual, I loved every minute I was out there watching the kids on both teams play. The Angels haven’t done the Cedar Rapids organization any favors this year with the level of talent they’ve dispatched to the Kernels roster (a sign, some say, that they know they won’t be signing a new affiliation agreement with CR this off-season), but the players who are here are a great group of guys and give plenty of effort.

The Cedar Rapids Kernels organization does a great job and they deserve a better affiliation… something I hope the Twins will fix before Opening Day, 2013.

Finally, a few more pictures from today before I head to the airport.

– JC

Tyler Grimes coaching 1B

Starting pitcher Steven Gruver

DH Drew Leachman

1B Steve Liddle graps a pop up with 2B AJ Pettersen looking on

2B AJ Pettersen

Catcher Jairo Rodriguez

3B Miguel Sano

A Snappers Pitching Gem

While the Twins were winning the opening game of their series with the Reds Friday night, I was spending just about a perfect night watching minor league baseball. The Beloit Snappers (the Twins’ Midwest League affiliate) opened the second half of their season here in Cedar Rapids against the Kernels.

Close to 20 scouts were easy to spot behind home plate

The temperature was right about 80 degrees with a slight breeze and there was a sizable crowd of a bit over 3,000 people in Memorial Stadium for the game. Among that crowd, I counted at least 18 scouts perched in seats directly behind home plate. It’s not at all unusual to see scouts at a MWL game, but I typically see 6-8 with their notebooks and radar guns, so seeing so many scouts in attendance is a bit unusual.

Terry Ryan (in the cap and white shirt)

Among that group was one familiar face, as well. Twins General Manager Terry Ryan was pretty easy to spot as he shook hands with a scout wearing a shirt with a Yankees logo and sat in a nearby seat.

The game itself was never at all competitive, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t interesting to watch. The Snappers scored a run in the first inning off of Kernels starting pitcher Cam Bedrosian (son of former MLB/Twins pitcher Steve Bedrosian). In fact, they scored a run off of Bedrosian in each of the first three innings and three more runs in the fourth inning.

Pitcher David Hurlbut and first baseman Steven Liddle

Snappers starting pitcher David Hurlbut gave up a single to the second Kernels batter he faced in the first inning… and that would turn out to be the final hit that a Snapper pitcher would give up all night. Hurlbut threw seven shutout innings, walked three hitters and struck out four. Tim Atherton and Corey Williams each added an inning of relief without giving up a hit, as well.

Snappers hitters, on the other hand, racked up 11 hits on their way to a 7-0 win to start off the second half of their MWL season. The only extra base hits for the Snappers on the night were RBI doubles by Nate Hanson, Steve Liddle and Tyler Grimes. Twins top prospect Miguel Sano had a single in four ABs, with one walk and one strikeout on the night.

In fact, the Snapper lineup avoided getting even their first strikeout through six innings. We’ll try to disregard the fact that once the first K got recorded, Kernel relief pitcher Carmine Giardina sat down five Snappers in just the 7th and 8th innings, alone.

A sizable number of the fans in attendance were wearing Twins gear, as is usually the case when the Snappers come to town. I’m still holding out some hope that the Twins will strike an affiliate deal with the local ballclub starting next year. I continue to hear from pretty reliable local sources that there is some level of mutual interest, so we’ll see how that works out after the season.

Yes, I really did ask Terry Ryan for his autograph

After the game, I did approach Terry Ryan just to have him sign the scorecard I’d been keeping of the game. I expected him to either decline or reluctantly sign and walk away, but instead he not only signed my scorecard but initiated a short conversation. He asked if I lived in Cedar Rapids and how I came to be a Twins fan. I told him about having grown up the son of a HS baseball coach in Albert Lea and that my picture is hanging in the Albert Lea Applebees restaurant to prove it. He laughed and said he’d have to stop there some time and check it out. It was just a brief chat, but he couldn’t have been more gracious.

The Snappers will be back at it here on Saturday night and I’ll likely be there taking in the game, as well. The two teams were even accommodating enough to schedule an afternoon game on Sunday so I have a chance to watch that game, too, before I have to catch a flight to Florida Sunday evening.

I’ll add a few more pictures I took at the game below, for your viewing pleasure. (Fellow bloggers, feel free to pilfer them to post in your blogs, as you may find cause to do.)

– JC

Second baseman Adam Bryant

Shortstop Tyler Grimes

Catcher Matt Koch

First baseman Steven Liddle

Rightfielder Wang-Wei Lin

Leftfielder Nate Roberts

Third baseman Miguel Sano

That’s enough for tonight. I’ll probably snap a few more either Saturday or Sunday.

Will Past Be Prologue?

I’m kinda confused.

I am getting the overwhelming sense that far too many so-called Twins “fans” are actually rooting against the team right now. Why? Because they’re apparently afraid that if the Twins continue to win games at their recent rate, they’ll pull themselves up out of the AL Central Division cellar and perhaps even within shouting distance of whatever sorry excuse for a Division Leader happens to be sitting atop the Division as July nears. These “fans” think that might cause General Manager Terry Ryan to exercise undue restraint when other GMs come calling to inquire about the availability of current Twins players on the trade market.

Yes, that’s right… a significant segment of the fanbase doesn’t want to see the Twins win TOO much because they think the Twins can get significantly better in 2013 or 2014 by trading veterans for prospects this summer and they don’t give a damn how bad the resulting product on the field is for the rest of 2012.

My goodness, how things have changed in Twinsville.

Luis Castillo

I could have sworn we all (both fans and Twins players, themselves) spent most of the early to middle part of the past decade complaining that the front office was always looking toward “next year” when it came to making mid-season deals. Does anyone else remember the reaction from fans and the clubhouse when Luis Castillo was dealt to the Mets in 2007 with the Twins only a handful of games out of the Division lead? The players and many fans believed Torii and Johan and the others still had another run in them, but Terry Ryan dealt the team’s leadoff hitter anyway. Many people felt Hunter and Santana eventually left via Free Agency after that season in part because they didn’t believe the Twins would ever play for “now.”

With the limited revenue that the Twins’ Metrodome lease allowed, Terry Ryan always had to have one eye on the bottom line as he crafted his roster from one season to the next, but the promise of a new ballpark and the additional revenue streams that would come with it changed that perception. Finally, the Twins would be able to afford to pay for enough talent to make a run whenever they were on the edge of contention at mid-season.

So here we are, mid-way through the third season in that new ballpark and fans want Terry Ryan to hold a fire sale?

There are two reasons for teams to trade away veteran ballplayers at midseason. One is because someone who needs instant help this year is willing to give up prospects that the selling team believes will play key roles when they’re finally able to turn things around and contend themselves. The other is to shed payroll, which is often necessary because a bad team is not generating attendance and other revenue streams as had been hoped when the roster was built in the spring.

I hope we can all agree that the latter simply is not an acceptable reason for the Twins to trade anyone. There’s no shortage of cash in the Twins checking account right now. They did their payroll slashing before the season even started and that economizing, rather than paying to bring on better starting pitching, is the main reason this team isn’t living up to hopes this season.

That leaves the only reason for “selling” being to bring in high upside prospects that can play critical roles later. But how realistic is that, really?

I’m afraid some of these people clamoring for the Twins to sell off parts are significantly overestimating what Ryan can get for those parts. Remember the return he got for what was still a very productive leadoff hitter and second baseman in 2007? Castillo was batting .304 with 9 stolen bases, 54 runs and a .356 on-base percentage when he was traded to the Mets… for Dustin Martin and Drew Butera. How do you think people are going to feel if THAT’S the kind of return the Twins get for Denard Span? I, for one, will be pissed!

The Twins’ primary need, in their efforts to rebuild a competitive team, is starting pitching. Their hitting is fine. Their defense could be better, but it’s improved over last year. Their bullpen has been surprisingly solid. They need good starting pitching.

Does anyone really believe there are contending teams out there with such a surplus of good starting pitchers that they’re going to be willing to trade one of them for a Denard Span, a Ryan Doumit, or even a Justin Morneau? I don’t believe it for a heartbeat.

I also believe people are underestimating how competitive this team could be over the next year and a half. The biggest need is for better starting pitching and, unfortunately, that’s something that’s just not easy to come by. It’s certainly unlikely to be something acquired in a mid-season trade with a team looking to improve their ability to contend this season.

That being the case, I simply do not believe that you tear down other areas of your roster when you’re unlikely to improve the area most in need of help… not when there’s no economic reason to do so.

If there’s a GM out there willing to part with a high-ceiling starting pitcher that’s likely to contribute to the Twins at the Major League level in 2013 or at least by 2014, fine… see what it takes to get that player. But I don’t think it’s likely. More likely, potential trade partners will be offering up more of the Dustin Martin/Drew Butera level of prospect or simply offering to take on contracts without giving up any kind of prospects at all.

If that’s the best Terry Ryan can do, I’d rather just keep watching the guys wearing Twins uniforms right now for the rest of the season and see what they can do if a couple of these young pitchers keep getting hitters out the way they have been lately.

I know many fans disagree. But for those who are prevailing on the Twins to trade their veterans over the coming weeks , I have just a small bit of advice. Be careful what you wish for. Based on Terry Ryan’s history, you may just get it.

– JC

Stop With the Premature Trade Talk Already

I know Twins fans aren’t quite accustomed to dealing with having their team be uncompetitive right out of the gate, but that’s no excuse for being rediculously stupid.

It seems like some folks just don’t know how to enjoy the rare good performance when they see one. No, it has to be immediately followed by, “Let’s trade him!”

Justin Morneau

Justin Morneau’s wrist is feeling good and he’s hitting the ball well! Let’s trade him NOW!

Ryan Doumit’s had some clutch hits! He should be traded while he’s hot!

Denard Span is getting on base and playing a decent center field! Trade him for a boatload of pitchers, right now!

Josh Willingham hit a walkoff home run! It’s time to trade him, NOW!

Listen carefully, please… May 30 is never “the time” for a non-contending team to trade productive veteran players for prospects. Why? Because Major League GMs are not idiots… in May. They aren’t going to see one home run in May and think, “Wow. I want that guy and I’ll trade away my best pitching prospect to get him!”  At least not for another several weeks.

Ryan Doumit

Should Twins General Manager Terry Ryan be listening to offers for most of his productive veterans? Absolutely. There’s nobody on this roster that should be “off limits” right now. Some of the contracts may make certain players (that would be you, Mr. Mauer) untradeable for all practical purposes, but that doesn’t mean Ryan shouldn’t listen if a fellow GM thinks he has an idea that would work.

But May 30 is for listening… for determining which teams might have interest in certain players… but not for trading.

Frankly, nobody is desperate (read: stupid) enough to give enough in return, yet.

The Red Sox, Tigers and Angels are off to slow starts, but they are far from being desperate… yet. The Indians and Orioles, although finding themselves in better positions than they perhaps expected heading in to the season, still have some holes to fill. But they are far from desperate… yet.

It’s desperation that makes for unequal trades and we all know that fans… Twins fans in particular, it seems… tend to overvalue their players and thus expect more for them in return for a trade than other teams are likely to be willing to give up. There is simply no trade Ryan could make on May 30 that would make anyone in Twinsville happy, unless it happened to involve a player that a particular fan has some screwy personal grudge against.

First, you have to at least get past the upcoming draft. Until then, neither the Twins nor potential trading partners know for sure what their respective organizatinal needs are, nor where they have sufficient depth to afford the luxury of trading away a decent prospect or two.

Perhaps more than any other professional draft, the MLB draft is a crapshoot. Players can’t be counted on to make an immediate impact at the Major League level and, in fact, they can’t really be counted on to ever play Big League ball. So, despite all the fan chatter about how teams need to draft pitching or power hitting or speed because of the perception that the organization’s current MLB roster is short on that particular talent, teams almost always draft what they believe is the “best player available” when their turn comes around. You simply don’t know with any level of certainty what your organization’s needs will be by the time a particular kid is ready to play Big League baseball.

As a result, it’s only after the draft is over that you can judge with any precision what kind of talents you should be targeting in the trade market… and it’s only after the draft is over that you or potential trade partners can accurately judge which talents they may have a surplus of and can thus afford to send off in a trade.

That’s when phone lines between GMs start to warm up.

Denard Span

Even then, real interest doesn’t often reveal itself until July rolls around and desperation doesn’t kick in until later that month. That’s when teams convince themselves that they need a toolsy lead-off hitting center fielder or a versatile switch-hitting back up catcher with a little pop, especially if they’ve got team-friendly contracts.

For guys with big contracts, the “time” to trade them might not come around until August, after the non-waiver deadline passes. That’s when desperation really sets in and teams become willing to take on big contracts and overpay in prospects, if they think the guy could help them bring home some sort of championship this year.

I think we all understand the reality of 2012. Every GM in baseball will have Terry Ryan on speed dial and Ryan is going to make some deals. I don’t especially like that, but it’s the reality that comes with being an underperforming last place team. But that doesn’t mean I want him giving away every veteran on the ballclub without getting guys who are pretty damn close to being Major League ready in return.

Some people may be willing and even eager to ship current players off for a couple of “organization players” who will never be more than roster fillers for Rochester or New Britain (or whoever next year’s AAA and AA Twins affiliates are). I am not one of those people.

I want… I expect… to see a much better product on the field next season and if Ryan can’t get players in trade that should be expected to contribute to this team being more competitive in 2013, then I’d just as soon see the Spans, Doumits, Morneaus and Willinghams still wearing Twins uniforms next year.

And nobody is offering that level of talent, especially the potential top of the rotation pitching talent the team desperately needs most, on May 30.

So how about we just stop with the, “Twins need to trade so-and-so right now,” crap? No, they don’t.

– JC

(All photos: Jim Crikket, Knuckleballs)

Monday, Grumpy Monday

I’m in a bit of a grumpy mood this morning. That’s not an altogether unusual thing for me on a Monday morning, but I generally try to avoid human contact until noon or later on Monday so I can spare others having to deal with my mood and spare myself the chances I’ll say something I’ll regret later. I certainly avoid publishing written work on Monday mornings for a broad audience to read. But, despite that, here I am writing this.

Here are just a few things I’m feeling a bit… what’s the word my mom used to use?… “owlish”?… about this morning. Don’t say you weren’t warned.

Twins Stuff

My mood isn’t only reflected in Twins-related topics, but since this is primarily a Twins blog, let’s start with those topics.

Brian Dozier

I like Brian Dozier. I think he has a chance to be a decent infielder, but I’m not optimistic that he’s going to be the long-awaited “answer” to the Twins’ revolving door at shortstop. But even if he is, I simply don’t get why he’s being called up now to be inserted as the everyday shortstop.

It’s not that I think Jamey Carroll is irreplaceable, nor is Alexi Casilla necessarily entitled to be an everyday infielder at the Major League level. But if you start a list of all the things that have worked WELL for the Twins this season, middle infield defense would be one of a very short number of things on that list.

Have Carroll and Casilla turned EVERY double play opportunity in to two outs? No. But if you can’t see the improvement over the swisscheese-like pairings that were on the field last year for the Twins, your memory sucks. The Twins’ pitchers are, by and large, awful and the results aren’t going to get better by changing the middle infield defense.

Speaking of the Twins pitching… talk about your mood dampeners. Can these guys get ANYONE out? If the Twins sent their entire rotation to Rochester and brought up the Red Wings’ starting pitchers, Wings fans would complain about getting the raw end of the deal… and rightfully so. Not that the starting quintet in Rochester has been all that good, but the Twins’ rotation has been THAT bad. Sending Hendriks down and bringing Scott Diamond up is a start, I guess, but both the Dozier and Diamond moves feel an awful lot like the proverbial, “rearranging the chairs on the deck of the Titanic,” to me.

I don’t envy Terry Ryan these days. There are no easy answers to fixing the Twins. There really aren’t even any difficult answers, if you’re thinking in terms of salvaging anything this season. He’s got a fan base spoiled by a decade of relative success, at least as measured by contention at the Divisional level. He’s got ownership that ‘s providing payroll levels at least 30% higher than the Metrodome days and expecting at least competence in return. That combination is resulting in fewer people showing up at Target Field, which means lower revenues, which means lower future payrolls, which means a tougher job to assemble a roster that can turn things around any time soon.

But while I may not envy Ryan, I don’t feel sorry for him, either. He may have just recently taken over Bill Smith’s mess, but his hands weren’t clean. He was playing a significant role in the scouting and player evaluation process, even while Smith sat in the GM chair. As a result, the players on this team right now and in the minor league pipeline are just as much Ryan’s responsibility as they were Smith’s.

I don’t consider Ron Gardenhire blameless, either, but I really don’t know what manager could win with this collection of pitchers. I don’t know enough about the pitchers individually to know whether better “coaching” from Rick Anderson would help. But I do know that the organization is fast approaching a need to DO “something” to keep fans’ interest… or at least give us some sign that they’ve at least noticed that the wheels have come off.

Maybe it’s my mood this morning, but if I were Terry Ryan, I’d probably make a change right now in my manager and pitching coach. The problem is, I wouldn’t necessarily want to promote anyone from within my organization to the manager’s job that would give the impression he was going to be my manager for the next decade. Maybe Gene Glynn or Tom Brunansky or Jeff Smith will be logical selections or maybe I’d want to open up the search to outside candidates, but I don’t want to make such an important decision hastily.

Paul Molitor

So here’s my Monday Morning suggestion to Terry: Get on your knees and beg Paul Molitor to finish out 2012 as your manager. He’s supposedly not been interested in a field job with the Twins, but maybe on an interim basis, he could be convinced to take things over.

As for the pitching coach…  I really have no idea who in the organization would work on an interim basis, but try this name on for size: Bert Blyleven. OK, OK… once you’ve stopped laughing, think about it… he couldn’t screw the staff up any worse than they are already and at least he wouldn’t be up in the booth the rest of the year. Then again, I’m not sure how they’d get the monitor hooked up in the dugout in a way that would allow him to circle fans in the stands, so maybe it wouldn’t work after all.

Vikings Stuff

I’m a Vikings fan, not necessarily a “Minnesota” fan, so I’ll root for the Vikings wherever they call home in the future. That said, I’d REALLY prefer they stay in Minnesota. It’s where they belong, in my mind.

Philosophically, I understand the opinion that public money shouldn’t be used for stadiums. Then again, I think we use public money for a lot of crap that it shouldn’t be used for, while our health care system in this country is the laughingstock of the rest of the world’s modern civilizations.

Some things just are what they are and among those things is that communities that want major league professional sports teams have to pony up enough public financial support to provide modern playgrounds for those teams every quarter-century or so. This is particularly true with regard to NFL franchises, which are, whether we baseball fans want to admit it or not, the most popular major sports organizations in virtually every community that has one.

For the past couple of decades, this has been a difficult truth for Minnesotans and their political leaders (and I use the term “leaders” loosely here) to grasp.

So, sometime late tonight, I expect the Minnesota legislature to defeat a bill that has been negotiated in good faith by the Vikings, the city of Minneapolis, the Governor of Minnesota and legislators  from both political parties.

And that’s a damn shame.

I’ve been a registered Republican for over three decades and over that period, I’ve been relatively active in state and local politics where I live. While I don’t want to turn this in to a political discussion, I’ll say that I’m disappointed by the way my party has been hijacked by extremists over the past several years at the national level. But if there’s one thing that makes me feel better about what’s happened to the GOP at the national level, it’s seeing what a bunch of political hacks seem to be running the GOP in Minnesota.

Sure, there were missteps along the way by all parties and governing is often about compromise. “You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours,” is more inherent to American politics than separation of powers.

If, as a legislator, you oppose public funding of a stadium, in principle, so that’s how you will cast your vote, I can respect that. But what the GOP leadership is essentially telling the Governor… and the people of Minnesota… is that it’s not so much opposition to the bill in principle that could likely cause its demise tonight, it’s that the Governor wouldn’t give them his signature on a couple of tax and bonding bills and they’re going to vote against the Vikings stadium bill as political “payback.”

If that means the Vikings are playing in LA or Toronto in 2013, so be it… at least the GOP won’t have let a Democratic Governor “win.”

If that’s what passes for statemanship in Minnesota these days, that’s unfortunate.

– JC

If a Change Must Be Made…

I think most Twins fans had limited expectations for 2012, but this is getting ridiculous.

The theory was… with the health of Justin Morneau, Joe Mauer, Denard Span and Scott Baker uncertain, we had to keep expectations in check. But if all of those players proved healthy, the team could surprise some people. Of course, not all of those players proved healthy as Scott Baker never made it to the starting gate before undergoing season-ending surgery. But the others have not only been healthy, but quite productive, thank-you-very-much.

The pitching has been a disaster, plain and simple.

In situations like this, it’s tough to come up with reasonable solutions. As manager Ron Gardenhire told the media the other day, it’s not like they can just go out and buy more pitching at this point. They have to hope the guys they have do a better job.

But the Twins’ problems on the field are starting to have an effect off the field… in particular, in the stands. Target Field has about 40,000 seats and this week barely 3/4 of those seats have had fans’ butts in them. That means not only lower ticket sales, but fewer hot dogs, beers and jerseys being sold. That’s not good news when it happens toward the end of a season that doesn’t go particularly well. When it happens before May Day, it’s got the potential to be disastrous for an organization.

If there are no reasonable solutions, however, what’s a front office to do? It really only leaves one option… consider UNreasonable solutions.

I’ve said many times that I believe baseball managers, like football and basketball coaches, get too much credit for their teams’ success and too much blame for the failures. It’s a basic truth of professional and major college sports. Another truth in big time sports is that, whether right or wrong, it’s easier to make a change in management than it is to make all the roster changes that are called for.

Would Terry Ryan really do it though? Would he fire Ron Gardenhire?

He may have no choice.

Ron Gardenhire and Tom Brunansky (photo: Jim Crikket)

Gardy has his supporters and his detractors. Many people question his strategies… his fondness for (some might call it an obsession with) “scrappy” ballplayers who “get after it.” Others point to the success his Twins teams have had over the past decade… the Division titles won with arguably marginal talent. Others point to the postseason failures.

But none of that really matters right now. This decision… if it’s to be made… would not be about Ron Gardenhire’s basebally smarts or lack thereof. At this point, it would be a business decision for Terry Ryan and the Twins ownership, pure and simple.

The Twins front office wants to win, of course. They are competitive, by nature, and that means they want to beat the competition. But does that mean winning baseball games or making more money? Some people seem to think that Twins ownership only cares about the latter, but that’s absurd. Even if that’s true, now that they have their new stadium, the two are intractably intertwined. The Twins can’t beat the competition in the financial competition if they don’t also beat them on the field.

Fans are telling the Twins, loud and clear, that as nice as Target Field is, they won’t fill the stadium to watch bad baseball… frustrating baseball… consistently losing baseball. If that’s the kind of baseball the Twins are going to play, changes must be made… and probably sooner rather than later. If only 30,000 fans are coming to games at the end of April, how many are going to be coming through the turnstiles in August and September?

But would a change in the manager’s office mean more wins? Maybe… maybe not… but it would do one thing for certain and that’s generate discussion… generate renewed interest. Whether they agree or disagree with the decision, fans would pay attention… they’d tune in to see IF it makes a difference.

And that’s a factor Terry Ryan may not be able to ignore much longer. Major League Baseball history is littered with fired managers who didn’t suddenly get stupid, but found themselves fired… or “reassigned other duties”… anyway. It’s a cruel fact of Big League life that Ron Gardenhire may be on the brink of finding out about first hand.

All of which begs the question, if Gardy’s days are becoming numbered with the Twins, who would… or should… Terry Ryan replace him with?

When a manager loses his gig mid season, often the replacement is someone within the organization… usually the bench coach or maybe whoever is managing the organization’s AAA affiliate. But if this really would be primarily a business decision, would putting Steve Liddle or Gene Glynn in charge fire up the fan base enough to keep their interest? I have my doubts.

Who would make people start paying attention again, even if the chances of the Twins climbing back in to contention are all but gone?

I’ve had a hunch that the Twins have been kind of grooming Tom Brunansky to take over down the road at some point, but he hasn’t even managed a full-season minor league affiliate yet (he’s Rochester’s hitting coach this season). He would be someone the fans would recognize and would have credibility in the clubhouse, but it’s hard for me to imagine the Twins trusting him in the manager’s chair this soon.

So who would they hire?

I don’t have any answers to that question, yet. But it’s probably time to start sorting through potential candidates.

It’s a good bet that Terry Ryan has already started doing just that.

– JC

Twins Still Mismanaging Injuries

When the Twins demoted former General Manager Bill Smith and put Terry Ryan back in charge last fall, one of the first issues the fans and media raised with Ryan was with regard to the medical staff and, in particular, how mismanagement had resulted in some really poor use of the Disabled List. Ryan indicated there would be changes to how things were done, but, in the end, made no staffing changes in that area.

Early on this season, it’s hard to see evidence of improvement. In fact, this past week, we have seen evidence that the Twins are just as capable of screwing up DL decisions as they were a year ago and this time it cost them a ballplayer.

Starting pitcher Nick Blackburn left the game on Saturday, April 14, when he experienced “cramping” in his pitching shoulder during the 6th inning. The next day, Ryan reported that Blackburn had undergone an MRI that was “normal,” and that Blackburn felt, “OK… stiff.”

Jason Marquis was being reactivated so the Twins had the luxury of giving Blackburn an extra day or two of rest. But, of course, that’s not what they did. They wanted to have him throw a bit to make sure the shoulder was “OK.” Then, they wanted him to throw a full bullpen session on Sunday to REALLY make sure he was “OK.”

After all of that, they announced Blackburn would take the mound for a start this Thursday, April 26… twelve days after he left the game during his last start. [CORRECTION: Blackburn will start TUESDAY, 10 days after his last start. The point remains, the Twins will get one more start out of him than they would have had he been put on the DL – JC]

It will be nice to get Nick back, of course. But that’s only part of the story.

When Marquis rejoined the team in New York, the Twins had to make room for him on their roster. They chose not to put Blackburn on the 15-day Disabled List, but instead designated infielder Luke Hughes for assignment, knowing full well it was likely that Hughes had demonstrated enough ability to swing a baseball bat that he’d be claimed by another MLB team.

Ultimately, that’s exactly what happened. Hughes was claimed by the Oakland Athletics over the weekend.

What did the Twins benefit from losing Hughes? Blackburn gets a start on Thursday Tuesday instead of having to wait THREE FIVE more days to make his next start.

Look, Luke Hughes is not likely to become an All Star infielder in Oakland. With Brian Dozier knocking on the door in Rochester, maybe Hughes’ days with the Twins were numbered anyway. But by mismanaging yet another medical issue, the team essentially gave away a Major League level infielder so that Nick Blackburn could pitch after resting his shoulder 12 10 days instead of 15 days.

Oh, and by the way, the Twins medics still have no friggin’ clue what caused Blackburn’s shoulder to “cramp” in the first place.

In the mean time, the team has two starting infielders, Danny Valencia and Alexi Casilla, who have been completely and utterly lost at the plate (both have an OPS under .520). No, Hughes hadn’t done anything yet to indicate he might do better, but then he’d only gotten to the plate 11 times in the four games in which he’d seen action.

My point isn’t to suggest that Luke Hughes was too good to lose… but he was too good to lose simply because the Twins still haven’t figured out how to manage their medical situation and use the Disabled List appropriately.

Terry Ryan, you still have some work to do on that score.

– JC

Terry Ryan: “Maybe We’ll Get Lucky”

Ever since the Twins handed the reins of the organization back to Terry Ryan, fans have been asking what he was going to do about the pitching staff. We wanted him to tell us how he intended to fortify a rotation that was undeniably one of the worst in Major League Baseball in 2011.

We asked what the plan was for rebuilding a bullpen that arguably made the rotation look good, by comparison, and that was losing the guy who’d been anchoring said bullpen for most of the past decade, in Joe Nathan. Some of us (OK, maybe it was mostly me) hoped that he’d upgrade the rotation to the point where the team would get more than five innings out of starts by pitchers not named Pavano, which would almost certainly make the bullpen look better. But whatever the plan was, we mostly just wanted to know that there WAS a plan.

Can Rick Anderson get lucky and give Glen Perkins some help in the bullpen? (Photo: Reuters/Steve Nesius)

Now… finally… thanks to Twins pitching coach Rick Anderson, as reported in this article posted Sunday by the Pioneer-Press’ Tom Powers, we have our answer. “It’s like Terry Ryan said to me the other day, ‘Maybe we’ll get lucky,'” Anderson said.

I don’t know about you, but I feel better already. Here we were concerned that maybe Ryan and the Twins didn’t really have a plan for improving their pitching in 2012.

My biggest concern was that the Twins were going to repeat Bill Smith’s ill-fated attempt to restock their bullpen a year ago, after losing Jesse Crain, Matt Guerrier, and others. Smith, you may recall, brought in about a dozen guys to compete for the honor of filling in the empty bullpen spots behind Nathan, Matt Capps and Jose Mijares. The field consisted of both new faces (Jim Hoey, Dusty Hughes, Scott Diamond) and old faces (Pat Neshek, Anthony Slama, Kyle Waldrop, Glen Perkins, Alex Burnett). In the end, only Perkins made significant positive contributions on the mound.

It didn’t seem like a totally unreasonable plan, at the time. After all, most effective middle relievers are “discovered” when they stand out given similar opportunities. But it certainly didn’t work for Smith and the Twins, so many of us hoped for a somewhat different approach in 2012.

Thankfully, Terry Ryan does indeed have a different plan. He’s bringing in THIRTY-THREE pitchers.

Yes, I know, some of those guys are going to be in the rotation and a couple others are pretty much locks for bullpen roles, so they aren’t all competing for bullpen spots. But the rotation is pretty much set and only Capps, Perkins and Duensing can be considered virtual sure-things to be members of the Opening Day bullpen corps.

That leaves 25 pitchers competing for the remaining 4-5 bullpen spots. How in the world will Anderson and manager Ron Gardenhire possibly sort through all of those guys to determine which should claim a Big League roster spot?

Again, thanks to Mr. Powers and Coach Anderson, we have a few clues:

“We’ve got 33 pitchers coming in,” Anderson said Sunday from Florida. “I’ve already talked to just about every one of them. We have 13 days to get ready to play. We have the time to get ready.”

There’s clue number one. If you’re a pitcher with an invitation to the Twins’ Big League camp, but Anderson hasn’t spoken to you yet, it’s probably premature to lease an apartment in the Twin Cities.

But there’s more:

“We’ve got ‘B’ games and split squads,” Anderson said. “With 33 pitchers, we need to find innings to see what they’ve got. I was thinking about this just this morning: In the past, maybe we’ve had a couple of spots open, and we didn’t have a whole lot of options. This year, we’ve got nine or 10 guys with a legitimate shot. Maybe more.”

Hmmmm… nine or 10 guys… maybe more… with a legitimate shot. But which nine or 10 guys?

“T.K. [former Twins manager Tom Kelly] always says, ‘Don’t let spring training fool you,’ ” Anderson added with a laugh. “But this year it’s going to be go, go, go. If you don’t have a good spring, we’ll send you down to Triple-A and say, ‘Maybe we’ll see you again.’ This year, guys are pitching for jobs and not just to get in shape.”

Well, I still don’t know exactly who the nine or 10 guys are with a legitimate shot at making the ballclub, but it sounds to me like we’ll all discover pretty quickly who ISN’T in that group. That would be anyone who’s first inning or two of work in Ft. Myers sucks.

So that’s the plan, fans. Invite a crapload of maybes, wannabes, usedtabes, and almostweres to Spring Training, put them on the mound and see if any of them can get anyone out… and, “Maybe we’ll get lucky.”

And here we were worried they didn’t have a plan.

– JC

T-Minus 30 Days And Counting

Yes, we are now under a month before Twins pitchers and catchers report to Ft. Myers for Spring Training. It won’t be long now, gang, before we’re seeing pictures of our guys in uniforms on real baseball diamonds and we’re reading media reports straight from their complex on Six Mile Cypress Parkway.

Terry Ryan

Terry Ryan seems to be pretty much done with his off-season shopping. Whether he SHOULD be done with his shopping is another question entirely and I tend to agree with John Bonnes’ take, which he posted over at his TwinsGeek blog. With so many serviceable and quite affordable veterans still on the market, the Twins are flat out of their minds if they don’t take advantage of the depressed marketplace to pick up some more help.

Todd Coffey and other similar relief arms have to be starting to get pretty anxious about where they’re going to be pitching in 2012. Joel Zumaya may be a low risk-high reward signing, but you certainly can not be serious about counting on him to throw 50 Major League innings this season.

And then there’s Justin Morneau. As TwinsGeek points out, there’s nothing warm and fuzzy feeling about Doc’s comments to the media lately. He certainly doesn’t sound like a guy who’s feeling top of the world and ready to hit the field. I’m not sure a guy like Derrek Lee would be desperate enough to sign on to be the Twins’ fallback option in the event Morneau can’t answer the bell, but there are plenty of other players out there who aren’t going to have many other options.

There’s no rush. The remaining players on the market are largely interchangeable and the prices are only going to go down over the next 3-4 weeks. This is what the Twins are supposed to be good at… scraping the bottom of the free agent barrel and coming up with something worthwhile. Orlando Hudson was barely signed in time to show up for the first workouts of Spring Training a couple of years ago and that turned out pretty well. They don’t need a critical starting infielder this time, just a couple of reliable spare parts.

On the other hand, if the Twins really want to add one more front line player, not many of us would complain. One rumor that’s gotten a little traction has involved starting pitcher Roy Oswalt. Oswalt was never on my list of preferred targets for the Twins this off-season, but I certainly wouldn’t mind if they could sign the guy.

Roy Oswalt (Photo: AP)

He and his agent had reportedly been looking for a multi-year deal for more than $10 million per year after the Phillies bought out his option rather than pay him $16 million for 2012. He had some back problems which certainly would be considered a red-flag, but word is he’s been considering one-year offers lately, with the hope of re-establishing his value and taking another run at a bigger contract next off-season.

The thing is, I really just can’t figure out what the market for Oswalt is. I get the feeling that he’s one of those second-tier pitchers that had to wait until the top-tier guys landed before he would see what the true level of interest in him would be. The problem is, those top-tier guys still haven’t all landed. Edwin Jackson is still out there.

But now that the Rangers have signed Yu Darvish for megabucks, that’s probably one less team that will be willing to throw $8-10 million at Oswalt.

We do know that Oswalt is nearing the end of his career, so you have to figure he wants to play for a legitimate contender if all things are equal. That wouldn’t seem to bode well for the Twins, but speculation seems to be that Terry Ryan might be willing to take a walk up the street to ask Jim Pohlad for approval to exceed that $100 million payroll limit in order to lure Oswalt to Minnesota by offering a multi-year deal.

I honestly think it’s a long shot, but it gives us something to chatter about anyway.

Over the past few years, the final month before Spring Training starts has seen a lot of usable veteran free agents scrambling for jobs and there are bargains to be had out there. Most years, the Twins would be sifting through that bargain bin and picking up a couple of useful parts.

This season should be no exception.

After all, we have another month to kill before we get to actually see baseball. We need something more to talk about!

– JC