March 27, 2006

Twins Notes

Before I get to today's batch of Twins notes, I want to thank everyone who offered their congratulations and support for my appearance in Sports Illustrated last week. The response was overwhelming, from the comments section here and the many individual e-mails I received to the numerous entries on other blogs and the personal notes from other writers. The whole experience was an amazing one.

One of the most interesting aspects was that people from my past came out of the woodwork. All sorts of family members, friends from way back in elementary school, and even people who rejected me for jobs got in contact with me. Sports Illustrated reaches a lot of different people in a lot of different places. The response from readers of this blog makes doing this worthwhile and reminded me that every once in a while it's nice to hear how many of you enjoy stopping by here each day.

With that over with, let's get back to normal ...

  • Ron Gardenhire appears to be growing more interested in keeping Francisco Liriano on the Opening Day roster with each passing day, but unfortunately with Kyle Lohse still around it'll have to be as a reliever. In fact, the way Gardenhire has been talking makes it seem as though he is now looking at Liriano as the bullpen's sole lefty, which until about a week ago was a job being fought over only by mediocre LOOGYs Dennys Reyes and Darrell May (who was released yesterday).

    Despite what my "Free Johan Santana!" campaign a few years ago might have you believe, I'm not against Liriano beginning the year in the bullpen. In fact, I was never actually against Santana getting his feet wet as a reliever. I believe putting young starters in the bullpen is a great way to work them into the big leagues. However, in Santana's case his time as a reliever dragged on far too long. He had four seasons in the majors and was 25 years old by the time the Twins finally handed him a rotation spot for good. That was what I had a problem with.

    There is no danger of that happening with Liriano, as the Twins have given every indication that he'll be a full-time member of the rotation by 2007 at the latest. With that said, I don't think using Liriano as a typical LOOGY is a very good plan. His future is without question in the rotation and there's a good chance that he'll be asked to start every fifth day during the second half. Because of that, is asking him to focus on short relief outings where he typically only faces left-handed hitters really all that smart?

    I would love to see the Twins go without a traditional LOOGY, moving Matt Guerrier into a more prominent middle-relief role behind Juan Rincon and Jesse Crain, and sticking Liriano in Guerrier's old spot as a long reliever. That way Liriano gets his feet wet in low-pressure situations, but is also able to keep his stamina and arm ready for when he's asked to start while continuing to work on his full repertoire of pitches.

    UPDATE: Tom Powers reports in the St. Paul Pioneer Press this morning that the Twins may take both Reyes and Liriano north, using Reyes as a LOOGY and Liriano in the long-relief role I described above. That's better than using Liriano only against lefties, but I'd much rather have Willie Eyre in the bullpen than Reyes.

  • I wasn't quite sure what to make of this note when I saw it in the Los Angeles Times last week, so I'll just quote it:
    Among the possible targets in the Angels' search for a left-handed hitting bench player are Baltimore utility player David Newhan, who is batting .429 in 16 games this spring, Minnesota outfielder Ruben Sierra, a veteran switch-hitter with power who is batting .389 in nine games, and Florida veteran infielder Lenny Harris, who is hitting .200 in 15 games.

    This was before Ruben Sierra suffered a leg injury that may force him to the disabled list to begin the season, but regardless of that I wonder in what sense the Angels were interested in him. The Twins have given no indication that they plan to cut Sierra, and in fact have been fairly consistent in talking about Sierra as if he was a near-lock for Opening Day roster before the injury.

    Perhaps the writer was just throwing out names without any sort of information from the Angels, but it does make me curious. The idea that the Twins could have potentially traded Sierra for something of actual value before the season even began is fascinating to me. Remember, for all the talk of him being "a veteran switch-hitter with power," Sierra is 40 years old and hit .229/.265/.371 last year.

  • This week's reason for why it's too bad that the Twins are committing two roster spots and about $2 million to Juan Castro and Tony Batista: Boston put Tony Graffanino on waivers yesterday. For that same $2 million the Twins could get their hands on Graffanino, who batted .309/.366/.425 last year and has hit .281/.346/.398 over the past three seasons. He'd be a perfect utility man (as opposed to Castro, who only fits that description in Gardenhire's head) and would also be an improvement over Batista at third base. Little stuff like this is an overlooked disadvantage for a small-market team.
  • In addition to being one hell of a pitcher, Santana appears to be a genuinely great person. The Vikings might be a mess, but at least Minnesota sports fans have had the pleasure of rooting for two superstars athletes who are easy to root for in Santana and Kevin Garnett. When I started hyping Santana a few years ago, I certainly picked the right bandwagon to drive.
  • Former Twins outfielder Dustan Mohr was hoping to win a job on the Red Sox as Trot Nixon's platoon partner, but his chances may have gone out the window with Boston's acquisition of Wily Mo Pena. See how everything revolves around the Twins? A former Twins assistant general manager trades a player to the Red Sox and in doing so takes a job away from a former Twins outfielder. And Boston's best player? Former Twin (I probably could have left that part out).
  • Speaking of former Twins, here's an interesting note from the San Diego Union Tribune:
    Padres minor league staffers are intrigued by Twins castoff Evan Meek, a right-hander signed last September who has one of the liveliest fastballs of any Padres prospect. Meek, whose fastball reached 98 mph last fall in San Diego's instructional league, is working out with Double-A Mobile in minor league camp.

    Of course, the part they conveniently leave out is that Evan Meek has a 5.66 ERA in 97 career minor-league innings and walked more batters (100) than he struck out (84) despite that "lively fastball." How hard you throw doesn't matter if you can't get the ball over the plate.

  • It's too bad you can't learn to hit simply by osmosis, because three of the greatest hitters in baseball history have been hanging around Twins camp this spring. Yet somehow I doubt it'll help Nick Punto make contact when he's got two strikes on him with a man in scoring position.
  • Not only does Jason Bartlett have to deal with a manager who picks on him at every opportunity and a slew of utility men trying to steal his job, he's got to hold off Trevor Plouffe now too. Don't laugh, it's apparently a lot harder than it sounds.


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