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

Is Twins GM Terry Ryan Bluffing?

It was just one small line in a Pioneer Press article, but it caught my eye.

John Shipley’s article was primarily about Twins GM Terry Ryan going on record as stating his starting pitchers need to get away from the expectation that once they’ve completed six innings of work, they’ve done their jobs and can hit the shower. But there it was, in the next to last paragraph, a quote from Ryan to the effect that the Twins rotation was set unless someone, “fell in to our lap.”

Terry Ryan is a smart man… certainly smarter than I am. That certainty has had me wondering lately whether I’ve been wrong all along in my view that the Twins need more significant help in their rotation than what Jason Marquis, alone, is likely to provide. Pretty much since taking back the GM chair from Bill Smith, Ryan has insisted that the Twins just needed to get more healthy innings out of the starting pitchers they already have on staff, with perhaps the addition of another potential innings-eater at the back of the rotation (which turned out to be Marquis).

So the plan has apparently been to assume that Scott Baker, Francisco Liriano and Nick Blackburn would all be much healthier and much better than last season AND that Carl Pavano would at least replicate his 2011 performance level.

Despite being fully aware of Ryan’s superior baseball knowledge, compared to my own, I’ve remained skeptical.

So I’m grasping on to that tiny quote as a glimmer of hope that maybe… just maybe… Ryan knows his team needs more significant help. Maybe, faced with a restrictive payroll limit, he just knew all along he’d need to wait until the starting pitching market matured to the point where bargains could be had. Maybe, as agents bloviated about how magnificent their pitching clients were, he just shrugged and told them that their clients were indeed such gems that there was no way he could afford the salaries they could get elsewhere… then handed out his business card, you know, “just in case.”

Rich Harden (Photo: Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

Now, with pitchers and catchers scheduled to report to Spring Training in five short weeks, there’s a pretty sizable number of remaining free agent pitchers on the market and a shrinking number of teams with rotation spots available. The Twins clearly will not be signing guys like Edwin Jackson or Hiroki Kuroda, but let’s take a look at some of the other names that still don’t know where they’ll be calling home this season (click names for Baseball-Reference.com pages):

Bartolo Colon

Jeff Francis

Jon Garland

Rich Harden

Kevin Millwood

Roy Oswalt

Brad Penny

Joel Pineiro

Joe Saunders

I’m sure there are some guys on that list that you or I might differ on regarding how much we’d like to see them join the Twins’ rotation, but the chances of one or more of these pitchers “falling in to the lap” of Terry Ryan isn’t completely beyond the realm of possibility, at this point.

Todd Coffey (Photo: Gene J Puskar/AP)

Of course, it’s still probably more likely that Ryan adds a bullpen arm than a starting pitcher. If Ryan is waiting for a reliever to fall in to his lap, as well, there are plenty of those still looking for work and they’re probably getting even more nervous.

Conventional wisdom is that the Twins would want to add a right-hander, so for our purposes, let’s just glance at the… um… “northpaws(?)” Ryan Madson is off the board, now that he’s signed with the Reds, but he wasn’t going to be an option for the Twins anyway. I think we can also assume the Twins won’t be the organization signing Kerry Wood, or even Francisco Cordero, but maybe there’s someone else useful on this list:

Luis Ayala (OK, just kidding… we’ve been there, done that)

Shawn Camp

Todd Coffey

Brad Lidge

Scott Linebrink

Chad Qualls

Dan Wheeler

Michael Wuertz

Joel Zumaya

I can’t help but notice that two guys who were on my “blueprint”, Rich Harden and Todd Coffey, are both still available. I wonder if, perhaps in another week or two as the anxiety levels of the players and their agents rise, Ryan’s budget… or his lap… might have room both.

– JC

Hints of a New Twins Paradigm?

I’m one of those people who likes to look beyond whether a decision is good or bad to determine the underlying reason a particular move was made. So while most of Twinsville spent last night debating whether the Twins’ decision to re-sign Matt Capps was good or bad (or apocolyptical), I’ve been trying to figure out WHY Terry Ryan made that decision.

I know they like Capps. I do too. I’m a little surprised more fans don’t, but fans are weird. And inconsistently hypocritical. The same fans that trash Joe Mauer for being soft and not playing through aches and pains, even if he wouldn’t have been at 100% also trash Matt Capps (and Michael Cuddyer, too, for that matter) for doing exactly that. Basically, fans apparently want players to perform at 100%+, regardless of their physical condition.

Matt Capps

But the reason the Twins are bringing back Capps can’t just be because they like his toughness and his presence in the clubhouse. Can it?

Terry Ryan has indicated he’s expecting payroll to come down considerably. He knows he has other needs to fill, so that $4.5 million he’s paying Capps is no small thing. But beyond that, Ryan is also turning his back on a supplemental draft pick. That’s not really as big a deal to me as it is to a lot of other people, but it certainly seems like the kind of thing that would be a big deal to Terry Ryan.

Ryan seems to be one of those baseball guys that loves the challenge of identifying and obtaining young talent more than just about any other phase of the game. The Twins, historically, have hoarded draft picks like they were gold. They didn’t sign Type A free agents. The didn’t often re-sign their own Type A or Type B free agents. They LOVED high draft picks.

Until now.

During a pre-Winter Meetings chat with local media, Ryan was asked about whether a compensatory pick was a consideration as they pursued deals with Capps, Jason Kubel and Michael Cuddyer. I was struck at the time by how un-Twinslike his response was. “We’ll take it, but we’d rather have the player.”

I’ve seen that quote in two different reliable sources (Phil Mackey and LaVelle E. Neal III) now, so I have no reason to question its accuracy. Questioning whether the ghost of George Steinbrenner has taken over Terry Ryan’s body has remained a viable option, however.

When the Twins no longer are as concerned about high draft picks when determining whether or not to sign a player who isn’t a superstar, something has changed.

As I skimmed through our blogroll this morning to read what those fine Twins bloggers had written overnight about the Capps deal, I think I may have found at least one possible answer. At least it makes more sense to me than anything else I’ve considered.

Over at Baseball Outsider, Edward Thoma wrote:

“I don’t believe for a moment that the Twins don’t take the value of compensation picks into serious consideration. Their historic reluctance to give up first round picks to sign Type A free agents is evidence of that.

“But I wonder if they are uncertain today of the real value of those picks under the new labor agreement and the formalized, enforceable restrictions on spending. I haven’t seen any explanation of how the spending ceilings are to be set, but if the ceilings are too low, it may be difficult to get high school prospects to sign— which will push teams to overdraft collegians and thin out the quality choices by the time the sandwich picks come up.

“If that’s a realistic possibility, then Ryan has a good point about preferring the player to the pick. Draft picks are hardly a sure thing.”

It makes some sense when you think about it. If the new bonus ceilings are low enough that teams are going to be reluctant to draft high school players in the first round and risk having them decide to go to college instead of playing Rookie Ball, it won’t take long before the best college players are off the board. That could leave teams with supplemental round picks having to decide between choosing from the college leftovers that in prior years would have been 2nd and 3rd rounders, HS players that you can no longer offer “above slot” money to, and HS players that you think are “signable” (who also probably would have been lower round picks in previous years).

So, if you’re the Twins, you have to be asking yourself just how good the prospect is that you’re losing by signing one of your own free agents. It’s impossible to know for sure, but it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to foresee that the quality of those supplemental round picks could take a nosedive under the new system.

Which brings us back to the original point. Is it possible that the Twins have given more thought to this possibility than fans have? Is it possible that Terry Ryan knows more than we do? And if high draft picks turn out to be less likely to turn in to contributing Major League players (and it’s not like it’s a guarantee already), is it possible that this is evidence of a significant shift in Twins philosophy?

I, for one, am willing to admit that it’s not only possible, but likely, that Ryan is smarter than we are. The rest, only time will tell.

In the end, none of us will know for a while whether the Capps deal turns out to be a good one. By spring, we’ll know if he’s healthy. By draft day, we’ll know what the compensation pick would have been like, and by this time next year we’ll know if it all worked out.

For now, we just see how Day 2 of the Winter Meetings plays out. It seems it’s starting with a small bang as Kevin Slowey has been traded to the Rockies for the infamous “player to be named later.” In other words, the Twins cleared a roster spot and are in no hurry to fill it.

Best of luck to Slowey. I hope he finds success in Colorado.

– JC

Hump Day “Hmmmmm”s

Today was hump day and here’s a rundown of a few things that made me go “hmmmmm” today.

Matt Capps

Matt Capps

There’s been a lot written in Twins blogdom about the pros and cons of re-signing Matt Capps. There’s certainly room for fair debate since Capps’ history with the Twins has been inconsistent.

But here’s what makes me go “hmmmmm”… Since the announcement that the Twins would get a supplemental round draft pick in 2012 if Capps signs elsewhere, without having to offer him arbitration, there’s been almost unanimous opinion expressed that this settles the question on the side of, “don’t bring him back.” Yet, it’s not as if giving Terry Ryan extra high draft picks to work with guarantees he’ll turn them in to productive Major Leaguers.

As Nick Nelson reminds us, in 2004 Ryan had a boatload of high picks which he turned in to shortstop Trevor Plouffe and pitchers Glen Perkins, Kyle Waldrop, Matt Fox and Jay Rainville. I’m not intending to pick on any of those players or on Ryan, but merely to remind everyone that even high draft picks face long odds against becoming productive Major Leaguers.

The bottom line is that I agree that the draft pick compensation the Twins can get for Capps does make it less likely that they re-sign him, but I’m not so certain that it should.

Twins Winter Meeting Trade Market

I opined in an earlier post that the period between now and the end of the Winter Meetings may determine the Twins’ 2012 fate. Even earlier than that, I published a couple of posts containing “blueprints” for how I would go about assembling a roster for 2012 if I were GM. In fact, November has been pretty much non-stop chatter about what Terry Ryan (and before him, Bill Smith) should do. But the more I hmmmmmm, the more I’m convinced that I know what Ryan and the Twins will do over the next two weeks.

Absolutely nothing.

He doesn’t have the money to sign a Mark Buehrle or Edwin Jackson or Josh Willingham (or even a Michael Cuddyer, though he won’t come right out and say it). Most of the second and third tier of free agents aren’t going to sign anywhere until some of the top tier start signing and establishing the market rates.

Ordinarily, Ryan could make a trade or two to free up some payroll space, but he really can’t even do that for a while. There are two times you want to make meaningful trades… one is when the player(s) you are offering are at peak value and the other is when the player(s) you are offering play positions that are in high demand compared to number of options on the market. Quick, off the top of your head, how many players does Ryan have that fit either of those criteria?

If you make a list of the players Ryan could look to trade to shed salary, almost all of them are coming off “down” years. He’d be selling low on Mauer (who has a no-trade clause anyway), Morneau, Baker, Liriano, Span, Nishioka, Blackburn, Slowey… almost every player earning more than $1 million a year. Except Carl Pavano.

Pavano might bring fair value, but it’s not going to happen within two weeks. There’s no shortage of teams who want the kind of rotation help Pavano would bring, but almost all of them still think they’re in the mix for Wilson, Buehrle, Jackson and others. Only when those players land elsewhere will teams be likely to consider trading away meaningful talent for Pavano. Ryan needs to wait until the demand for Pavano rises before even considering a trade.

“Experienced Closer”

The last thing a team with serious doubts concerning their expected competitiveness needs to do is spend more than $4-5 million for a “closer”.  If it’s a questionable use of resources to overspend for guys who have racked up “saves” when you’re a contender, then it’s insanity to do so when you probably aren’t. Hold auditions in Spring Training and if they carry over in to April, that’s fine, too.

As for the rest of the bullpen, I’m perfectly fine with not spending $2-3 million per arm to fill out the pen. I was similarly fine with that approach last off-season. It wasn’t the plan that was faulty last year, it was the execution of that plan. The problem was that the players the front office brought in were not good pitchers.

And by the way, the people who made the decisions about which pitchers to sign and invite to Spring Training were the same people in charge now. Bill Smith didn’t make those evaluations, Terry Ryan and the scouting staff did. Then Gardy and Andy decided which pitchers to take north to start the season. All of those people are still making those decisions. Just sayin’.

Anyway, I just don’t see Terry Ryan as likely to do anything any time soon. He’s just got pretty limited options right now.

Twins Hall of Fame

The Twins are lettng the fans have a say in who the next inductee(s) might be to the organization’s own Hall of Fame. It’s not clear to me how much weight the fans’ votes carry, but it doesn’t really matter because it is clear that to vote you have to broadcast your votes via Twitter or Facebook. I don’t care enough to do that.

For what it’s worth, though, I’d strongly support Camillo Pascual and Cesar Tovar for induction. Frankly, it’s rediculous that they aren’t already in. You could also make the same statement about Chuck Knoblauch if all you base the determination on is his performance on the field while he was a Twin. That said, given all that happened with Knoblauch toward the end of his time with the team and on through the disclosure of his use of steroids, I’d also be perfectly fine with not inducting him right now. Let’s face it, he wouldn’t show up for the induction anyway, so why bother? Give the honor to someone who truly would appreciate it.

Programming note:

Jack Steal (Fanatic Jack Talks Twins) has returned to Blogspot Radio and he’s asked me to be a guest on the podcast tonight (Nov 30). The podcast starts at 9:00 pm and I’m tentatively scheduled to join about 20 minutes after the hour.

Figuring out why anyone would care to listen to me is truly something to hmmmmmm about.

– JC