December 16, 2008

AG.com Live Chat Today at 2:00

This week's Wednesday chat will be a couple hours later than usual due to work-related obligations, but as always I'll open the doors 15-20 minutes early and keep going until the questions stop rolling in.

December 14, 2008

My Week In Las Vegas: Interviewing Gardenhire

During the winter meetings last week in Las Vegas each of the 30 big-league managers were ushered into the media room two at a time to hold informal, half-hour press conferences that were open to any media members interested in attending. Managers of large-market teams like the Yankees, Mets, and Red Sox draw huge crowds consisting of dozens of newspaper reporters and several television crews, but for small-market managers the gathering is usually single digits.

Ron Gardenhire's session Tuesday afternoon was well-attended for a small-market team, especially given that the Twins weren't really involved in many juicy rumors that would have drawn reporters from other cities. LaVelle E. Neal III of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Phil Miller of the St. Paul Pioneer Press, and Kelly Thesier of MLB.com were in attendance, along with Mark Gonzalez of the Chicago Tribune, a woman from Japan, and two other non-Minnesota writers. Oh, and me.

At my first winter meetings two years ago in Orlando, Gardenhire's press conference probably featured more questions posed by me than by everyone else combined. Unlike the real reporters who speak to Gardenhire a hundred times per season, sitting across from him for a half-hour at the winter meetings likely represents my only interaction with the Twins' manager, so my plan was to once again dominate the question-asking load this year.

Just like last time my notebook was filled with questions, but one by one they were asked by Neal and Miller. In fact, by the end of the session probably three-fourths of my prepared questions were posed by someone else, which suggests that either I've become more mainstream or the local beat writers have become more blogger-like. Or maybe a little bit of both. Whatever the case, each of my questions were posed to Gardenhire one way or another. And he even answered some of them.

One of the great things about the manager press conferences at the winter meetings is that there is a stenographer on hand to provide a word-for-word transcript, which in Gardenhire's case included 37 questions and six pages of dialogue. Most of the other manager sessions were only 3-4 pages, so we definitely asked a lot of questions for a small group. Reprinting the entire session would be a bit much, even for a blog, so instead I'll go over some of the highlights.

Prior to arriving at the winter meetings Gardenhire was in North Dakota attending an agricultural trade show and made headlines for indicating to a local reporter that Delmon Young was the odd man out in the Twins' crowded outfield. Gardenhire said that Denard Span, Carlos Gomez, and Michael Cuddyer "need to play every day" and "those three guys should be your outfield and then you go from there." That caused a big stir back in the Twin Cities and led to all sorts of speculation about Young's future.

Not surprisingly, before the winter meetings press conference officially began Gardenhire tried to make light of his comments about Young, joking that he "got it all stirred up in Fargo ... talking to farmers." He went on to say that the Twins "are pretty blessed to have four very good outfielders" and did plenty of backpedaling on the topic, but also stated that his original comments were not taken out of context and dropped more hints that Young remains the odd man out if "somebody came after us strong" via trade.

Gardenhire expressed remorse for creating a situation where Young had to answer questions about his status on the team and also defended him by saying that he "played the last two months with a bad ankle and came to the ballpark every day." However, Gardenhire went on to say that Young "is a little more stubborn than some of the guys" while "we want him to flow into our program." He then went into further detail about Young's stubbornness:

You have to understand, Delmon is one of these kids that's come up and has been the best player from when he was probably this little all the way up. And the two people that have been probably the biggest people in his life, his father and his brother, pretty talented, pretty knowledgeable baseball people. That's who he listened to, and our goal was to try to break into that and get him to understand what we are about.

Gardenhire noted that he "got along fine all year" with Young and "liked the heck out of the young man" while calling him "a very talented young player." However, in reading between the lines and comparing how Gardenhire talked about Young to how he talks about most other players, it seems fairly clear to me that the Twins were less than thrilled with him both on and off the field. Whether that means they'll end up trading him remains to be seen, but there's no doubt in my mind that he's being shopped.

At the time of the press conference the Twins hadn't yet re-signed Nick Punto, but Gardenhire made it very clear that they were trying to do so with the intention of handing him the starting job at shortstop. Gardenhire called Punto "a gamer" who "brings a lot to our baseball team" because "he can catch the ball, he can run the bases, and all of those things that I like to see." In fact, asked specifically about trading for Pirates shortstop Jack Wilson, Gardenhire replied: "We have a shortstop in Punto."

I've always been curious about Gardenhire's assessment of defense and all the Punto talk gave me a chance to ask him about how the various shortstop options compared with the glove. Gardenhire said that Brendan Harris "is very consistent catching the ball" but "his range isn't as good as other guys." Matt Tolbert is "kind of a good range guy" with "a little erratic arm" but "is a young player still learning and probably the hardest worker." Not surprisingly, he praised Punto most:

We have talented people that can play, but none of them are as solid as Nick Punto out there playing every day and knowing what to do and knowing how to control the game from shortstop, which is what I did. I ask my shortstop to do a lot, and that's control the game. I want him to take charge in the infield and that's why Nicky does a pretty good job, because he takes charge.

I've long suggested that Gardenhire likes light-hitting middle infielders because he was one, so it was interesting to hear him note that Punto does "what I did" at shortstop. Also noteworthy is that he didn't mention Alexi Casilla when discussing the shortstops defensively. Asked if using Casilla at shortstop would be an option if the Twins failed to re-sign Punto, Gardenhire explained "that could happen" but "the way it was going along when we had Casilla playing healthy at second base" was his preference.

Gardenhire was asked several questions about Jose Mijares' role for next year and refused to say that he has a bullpen job locked up despite emerging as the team's top setup man down the stretch. With that said, when asked if Mijares needed more time in the minors Gardenhire explained that "he had command of three pitches" and "took the ball in some very big situations" because he "didn't back off an inch" and "showed no fear." In other words, expect Mijares to be on the Opening Day roster.

Asked about Boof Bonser's status Gardenhire indicated that he's penciled into the bullpen, but would still be an option to start if needed. My feeling is that Bonser has the stuff to succeed as a reliever long term despite his 5.88 ERA in 35 bullpen appearances, so it was good to hear that Gardenhire agrees. "Boof wanted to be a starter, but in the end he enjoyed taking the ball and blowing some people away," Gardenhire said. "Hopefully he'll accept that, because that's where he's at right now. He's valuable."

Gardenhire said that Philip Humber is in the "same situation" as Bonser, because he's a career starter who is out of minor-league options and will probably be working in a "long relief, spot starter" role if he makes the Opening Day roster. "We know these guys are out of options," Gardenhire said. "Going to have to make a lot of tough decisions." Simple math suggests that if the Twins add a reliever between now and then Bonser and Humber may be battling for the final bullpen spot, with a trade for the loser.


December 12, 2008

Back From Las Vegas

I'm back. Took a pretty brutal red-eye flight from Las Vegas after playing poker at the Bellagio all night and then fell asleep for eight solid hours about 30 seconds after getting in the door. Suffice it to say that there won't be a blog entry today (aside from this one), but you can listen to me talk about the winter meetings experience Saturday afternoon on KFAN with Doogie Wolfson and Phil Mackey. They'll be on from 12-2, and I'm scheduled to join them for the second hour. You can listen online by clicking here.

Also, thanks to everyone who visited AG.com, Rotoworld, and NBCSports.com this week to check out my winter meetings coverage. AG.com had record traffic numbers all week and a ton of you clicked the link to go from here to my Rotoworld winter meetings blog, so everyone was happy. I'll be back Monday with a proper recap of my week in Las Vegas, but for now just know that the $2-$5 no-limit game at the Bellagio was extremely juicy and located right next to the star-studded Bobby's Room. Good times.

December 11, 2008

Day 4 at the Winter Meetings

UPDATE #1: Just got back from the Rule 5 draft, where the Twins had a chance to take Eduardo Morlan back from the Rays ... and passed. Instead, they took Jason Jones, a 25-year-old right-hander from the Yankees who went 13-8 with a 3.26 ERA and 102-to-50 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 160 innings between Double-A and Triple-A. Jones has solid ERAs, but doesn't miss bats, induce tons of ground balls, or have pinpoint control. He may stick as a long reliever if Philip Humber or Boof Bonser get dealt.

UPDATE #2: While passing on Morlan to take Jones strikes me as a mistake, the good news is that the Twins avoided losing anyone of significance in the Rule 5 draft. Jose Lugo was taken from them by the Royals, but he's a 24-year-old reliever who's yet to advance past high Single-A and wouldn't have come close to cracking my upcoming Top 40 Twins Prospects list.

UPDATE #3: According to the press release in front of me, the Twins have re-signed Nick Punto for $8 million over two years, with a $5 million option or $500,000 buyout for 2011. Ron Gardenhire made it very clear during his press conference Tuesday that Punto would be the starting shortstop if he returns, so the Twins will presumably now turn their attention (and remaining payroll space) to third base and the bullpen. Punto from 2006 or 2008 is worth $4 million, but the 2005 and 2007 versions were awful.

UPDATE #4: Geoff Baker of the Seattle Times passes along that Adrian Beltre has recently added the Twins to his no-trade clause. However, that may not mean Beltre is against coming to Minnesota, but rather realizes that the Twins are interested in him and knows that he may be compensated for waiving the veto rights. Baker also speculated about a deal built around Beltre for Delmon Young.

More later, but in the meantime please check out my winter meetings blogging over at Rotoworld:

Rotoworld Hot Stove Blog - Live From the Winter Meetings

December 10, 2008

Day 3 at the Winter Meetings

Updating AG.com with various Twins-related notes throughout the day has worked well so far, so let's stick to that for Day 3 here in Las Vegas ...

UPDATE #1: Joining the local beat writers in the Twins' hotel suite yesterday afternoon showed me how tough their jobs can be at times. LaVelle E. Neal III of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Phil Miller of the St. Paul Pioneer Press, and Kelly Thesier of MLB.com did their best to pepper general manager Bill Smith with questions throughout their scheduled sit-down with him, but essentially got zero answers back other than cliches and generalities. It was very awkward.

Smith danced around even the most straightforward, non-prying questions and I'm told that's nothing new, which makes it tough for reporters to simply get usable quotes, let alone interesting information or a scoop. During his press conference Ron Gardenhire was much better about at least providing a little information and quotable material while giving non-answers, and occasionally said enough that someone willing to read between the lines (like me) can draw conclusions.

After spending a half-hour with Gardenhire and a half-hour with Smith, it's clear that the Twins want to re-sign Nick Punto to start at shortstop. Less clear but still seemingly apparent is that Delmon Young is being shopped. In fact, at this point it would actually surprise me if he's in the Opening Day lineup. Gardenhire and Smith both talked about the outfield depth and admitted that he had a disappointing season, and there were hints that at the very least they were less than thrilled with Young off the field.

UPDATE #2: LEN3 reports that the Twins could be in the mix for Mark DeRosa via getting involved in the multi-team Jake Peavy blockbuster. Meanwhile, Miller notes that Joaquin Benoit is on the Twins' radar as they search for bullpen help. It all depends on the cost to acquire them, of course, but on the surface both players strike me as worthwhile targets if the price is right.

UPDATE #3: While having lunch today I heard from a couple non-Minnesota reporters who think that the Twins have a legitimate shot at DeRosa, perhaps for a package involving Philip Humber. At this point Humber looks like a back-of-the-rotation starter or long reliever, so picking up DeRosa without giving up much else would be a very solid deal. Of course, the whole thing depends on the Cubs pulling off a trade for Peavy and an MLB.com report says the Cubs aren't even shopping DeRosa, so who knows.

More later, but in the meantime please check out my winter meetings blogging over at Rotoworld:

Rotoworld Hot Stove Blog - Live From the Winter Meetings

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