August 28, 2007

Twins Notes: FotF, Castro, VORP, and Slides

  • Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports.com reported that Torii Hunter turned down a contract offer from the Twins that was "believed to be" for $56 million over four years, although Hunter's agent later denied those claims. "We have no plans to talk with the Twins about a contract until after the season if they're interested in pursuing it," agent Larry Reynolds said. That statement alone represents a major shift for Hunter, who previously complained that the Twins weren't interested in negotiating with him.

    Hunter has long talked about wanting to remain in Minnesota beyond this season and has even hinted at potentially giving the Twins a "discount" to do so, but turning down a $56 million contract extension would certainly cast some doubt on that. Of course, given that Hunter has spent most of the season telling the media in other cities how much he'd like to play for the team they cover, there should have been plenty of doubt cast on his plans to begin with.

    Hunter has been perfectly willing to discuss his pending free agency with anyone who asked and some who didn't, but he's suddenly tight-lipped now that the team reportedly offered him a contract. The Official Twins Beat Writer of AG.com, LaVelle E. Neal III of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, asked Hunter about the rumored negotiations and received this response: "I don't want to talk ... I'm not trying to be a distraction for myself or my teammates or even the fans."

    While admirable on the surface, that reasoning is laughable given Hunter's outspokenness on the issue right up until the point that the Twins are said to have actually opened negotiations. In other words, Hunter has used the media to paint the Twins as unwilling to negotiate with a player who wants to remain with the team, but when the Twins showed a willingness to negotiate he reportedly turned down their offer and stopped talking about the issue.

    I have zero problem with Hunter turning down $56 million, because there's little doubt that he could receive more than that on the open market. However, to turn down a relatively reasonable contract after saying that you want to remain with the Twins while complaining that they aren't willing to negotiate seems disingenuous at best. Much like Johan Santana following next season, if Hunter truly wants to remain with the Twins he can do so while still making a tremendous amount of money. We'll see.

  • ESPN.com recently ran a series asking a newspaper reporter, a blogger, an ESPN.com writer, and a Baseball Tonight cast member to pick a "face of the franchise" for each major-league team. Of the four people surveyed for the Twins, one has a job that causes them to rely upon talkative players providing publishable quotes on a daily basis. Of the four people surveyed for the Twins, one picked Hunter. You can probably do the math.

    I was asked to take part in the ESPN.com series, but unfortunately had to pass because of my gig with NBCSports.com. They filled my blogger shoes with ease, as friend of AG.com Seth Stohs made a strong case for Joe Mauer being the face of the Twins. I likely would have gone with Santana as my pick, although Mauer wasn't a bad choice and Justin Morneau seemingly deserves to be in the mix as the reigning MVP. As for Hunter ... well, I'll leave it to Jim Souhan to call him the "face of the franchise."

  • On a related note, J.D. Arney from RedReporter.com picked former Twins shortstop Juan Castro as the face of the Reds:
    The face of the Reds franchise in 2007 is without a doubt utility infielder Juan Castro. He sucks. And the Reds have sucked for a long time. There is little redeeming about Castro as a player, just as there is little redeeming about a Reds franchise that seems adrift these days, with no clear plan of how to pull themselves out of the mess that has been the past seven years. The Reds have had plenty of players on their team the past few seasons that have no business being on a major league roster, but Castro is the worst, and he's the greatest example of why things are looking pretty bleak in Cincinnati these days.

    Castro spent two seasons blocking Jason Bartlett and the man who brought him from Minnesota to Cincinnati, Reds general manager Wayne Krivsky, was formerly Terry Ryan's top assistant. Since leaving the Twins, Castro has hit .234/.267/.332 in 108 games, while Bartlett has hit .292/.353/.391 in 212 games (while going 31-for-38 stealing bases). Thanks, Wayne.

  • Believe it or not my intention today wasn't to pile on Hunter in the middle of what has been a fantastic season, so allow me to point out that he leads all Twins hitters in Value Over Replacement Player (VORP) at 41.0. That means Hunter has been 41 runs better than "replacement level" offensively, which ranks fifth among all MLB center fielders behind only Ichiro Suzuki (56.1), Curtis Granderson (47.3), Grady Sizemore (44.3), and Aaron Rowand (42.3).

    Along with Hunter, the only other Twins hitters with double-digit VORP totals are Morneau (36.7), Mauer (28.7), Bartlett (18.5), and Michael Cuddyer (16.0). Interestingly, if you remove those five guys from the equation, every other hitter who's come to the plate for the Twins this season has combined for a -43.5 VORP, led by Nick Punto at an MLB-worst (and historically bad) -24.3. If you're curious, Santana leads the team with 56.3 VORP, of which 2.3 comes from hitting .286/.375/.714 in eight plate appearances.

  • Oh, and that was a helluva catch.
  • Ron Gardenhire has yet to stifle Punto's tendency to pointlessly slide head-first into first base, but the New York Post reports that Yankees manager Joe Torre is trying to break Melky Cabrera of the same annoying habit:
    Asked how he can break Melky Cabrera of using a head-first slide into first base--always slower than running through the bag--Torre said, "Strangle him." Cabrera cost himself a hit in the eighth when he used the dive on a leadoff grounder. "He has been told and will be continued to be told [not to slide]," Torre said.

    Perhaps the only thing worse than a .199 hitter is a .199 hitter whose false hustle hurts his already slim chances of getting a hit. Despite sitting below the Mendoza Line, including .170 since the All-Star break and .133 in August, Punto has started a dozen straight games and has been in the lineup for 85 percent of this season's 132 games. Punto has hit .199/.290/.258 in 450 plate appearances, while major-league pitchers have combined to bat .144/.177/.186. Make of that what you will.

  • Boof Bonser didn't pitch especially well while losing last night, but allowing three earned runs over seven innings against the league's fifth-best offense certainly qualifies as a solid outing. Similarly, Bonser hasn't pitched especially well this season overall, but his 4.72 ERA in 158.1 innings certainly doesn't match his ugly 6-11 record. All of which leads me to this comparison:
                       GS        IP      ERA      W      L
    BOOF BONSER 27 158.1 4.72 6 11

    Paul Byrd 25 154.1 4.61 13 5
    Jeremy Bonderman 25 160.2 4.87 10 7
    Miguel Batista 27 159.2 4.90 13 11
    Dave Bush 25 156.0 4.96 10 9
    Claudio Vargas 23 124.2 5.13 10 4
    Jamie Moyer 26 158.2 5.16 11 10
    Adam Eaton 25 138.2 6.23 9 8

    Something to think about a) when Bonser's first full season gets labeled a disaster, and b) the next time someone relies solely upon a pitcher's win-loss record to gauge their performance.

  • Somewhere along the line Gardenhire seems to have gotten the impression that Carmen Cali is a legitimate late-inning relief option, but after contributing heavily to last night's loss Cali now has a 7.22 ERA and 23-to-24 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 28.2 major-league innings. On a related note, the recent trend of waiting to bring Pat Neshek into a game until after another reliever has created a big mess in a tight spot is odd, to say the least.
  • Earlier this week I posted an in-depth comparison of Luis Castillo and Alexi Casilla. While Casilla has struggled with the Twins, Castillo has hit .301/.363/.355 with the Mets. That's basically identical to the .304/.356/.352 Castillo hit with the Twins, but he's already stolen five bases (without being caught) in 23 games with the Mets after stealing a total of nine bases (while being caught four times) in 85 games with the Twins. Of course, he also recently missed three games with leg problems.
  • As Joe Christensen notes over at his Star Tribune blog, the Phillies' pitching staff is suddenly home to three former Twins who've fared surprisingly well since arriving in Philadelphia. J.D. Durbin, Kyle Lohse, and J.C. Romero have combined to go 7-5 with a 3.56 ERA in 101 innings for the Phillies, including 6-3 with a 4.07 ERA for Durbin, who was let go for nothing this spring.
  • Along with posting a 5.84 ERA in seven starts with the Twins, Kevin Slowey went 10-4 with a 1.74 ERA, 103-to-17 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and .217 opponent's batting average in 129.2 innings at Triple-A. Those ridiculous numbers earned Slowey the International League Pitcher of the Year award and he'll return to the majors with a start Tuesday against the Indians.
  • Gardenhire was ejected last night for the 34th time in 941 games (3.6 percent) as Twins manager. By comparison, Tom Kelly was tossed four times in 2,386 games (0.2 percent). This is the type of stuff that keeps my mind busy while the season slips away.

  • Once you're done here, check out my latest "Daily Dose" column over at Rotoworld.

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