August 30, 2009

Twins Add Rauch, Mahay To Bullpen

It took 15 months in the wake of Pat Neshek's elbow injury last May, but the Twins finally addressed the bullpen by adding a veteran setup man over the weekend. In fact, they added two within the same hour Friday afternoon. Left-hander Ron Mahay, who'd been designated for assignment by the lowly Royals a few days earlier, agreed to a one-year contract worth a prorated share of the minimum salary, and the Twins traded a player to be named later to the Diamondbacks for right-hander Jon Rauch.

Mahay will be a situational lefty and with only five weeks remaining he's unlikely to throw more than 10 innings for the Twins, limiting his potential impact. Originally an outfielder when the Red Sox made him an 18th-round pick in 1991, Mahay became a full-time pitcher five years later and started a six-year run as one of the league's better setup man in 2003, at the age of 32. He went 15-7 with a 3.50 ERA and 283 strikeouts in 336.2 innings from 2003-2008, posting a mark above 4.00 just once during that span.

He pitched his way out of Kansas City this year with a 4.79 ERA and .313/.382/.545 opponents' line in 41 innings. For comparison, Justin Morneau is at .290/.378/.545. Normally a sustained track record of success makes someone a sound bet to bounce back, but Mahay is 38 years old and wasn't great last season either. Mahay is better than Sean Henn and worse than Craig Breslow, which means that the Twins could have saved themselves some trouble by not making that ill-advised swap in the first place.

Predicting how Mahay will perform in what will likely be at most 10 innings in Minnesota is impossible, but he's a reasonably effective pitcher and for a cost of about $100,000 and no prospects the price was certainly right. Not a good move. Not a bad move. Just a move. Rauch is a different situation, because along with getting him for the rest of this season the Twins have added him for next year at $2.9 million. He also cost a PTBNL, which makes it difficult to evaluate the trade until that prospect is revealed.

For instance, the Twins announced that the PTBNL going to Cleveland for Carl Pavano is Yohan Pino, which makes that deal less appealing than it appeared initially. Pino isn't a top prospect by any means, turns 26 years old soon, and seemingly never earned the Twins' trust because of underwhelming raw stuff. However, his numbers in the minors have been strong at every level and this year he's posted a 3.03 ERA and 108-to-27 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 113 innings between Double-A and Triple-A.

If the Twins were willing to part with an intriguing mid-level prospect for 10 starts from Pavano it worries me what they may send Arizona for Rauch, but in the meantime let's focus on his value. Originally taken by the White Sox in the third round of the 1999 draft, the 6-foot-11 righty went 16-4 with a 2.66 ERA and 187-to-49 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 166 innings during his first full season to earn Minor League Player of the Year honors from Baseball America, who ranked him as MLB's fourth-best prospect for 2001.

Two months into the next season Rauch needed surgery to repair his labrum and rotator cuff, and like so many pitchers who undergo those career-threatening operations he was never the same. He spent the next three years at Triple-A reestablishing himself as a solid but unspectacular starter and posted a 6.51 ERA in 10 games with Chicago. "I just don't have the same arm," Rauch later explained. "Things didn't work out like they should've with my rehab. I'm just thankful I can still go out and get hitters out."

Traded to the then-Expos for Carl Everett in July of 2004, Rauch reinvented himself as a reliever only to undergo another shoulder surgery. There was less damage to repair the second time around and he actually made it back in September. Despite being less than a year removed from his second shoulder surgery Rauch emerged as the workhorse of the Nationals' bullpen in 2006, logging 91 innings in 85 appearances to rank second among NL relievers in both categories while posting a 3.35 ERA.

He led the majors in appearances the next season, working in 88 games with a 3.61 ERA and 71-to-21 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 87 innings. With closer Chad Cordero hurt the Nationals handed ninth-inning duties to Rauch last year and he had 17 saves with a 2.98 ERA and 44-to-7 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 48 innings before being dealt to the Diamondbacks in mid-July. And then he fell apart. Rauch was 0-6 with a 6.56 ERA following the trade, including allowing 15 runs in his final 14 innings.

It looked like more of the same when he gave up 17 runs through 18 innings this year, but he bounced back with a 2.52 ERA and 22-to-7 strikeout-to-walk ratio in his next 36 innings before Friday's trade. In slightly more than a calendar year with Arizona he had a 4.87 ERA and 57-to-26 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 78 innings, serving up 11 homers. That's a steep decline from his time in Washington, and given his shoulder problems and huge workloads it wouldn't be shocking if he's simply wearing down at age 30.

Rauch became a full-time reliever in 2006 and since then he's the only pitcher in baseball to appear in 300 games. He's been ridden very hard and has shown clear signs of decline even while getting back on track lately. After going from Washington to Arizona his strikeouts dipped 20 percent, his walks rose 25 percent, and he served up 30 percent more homers, and this year's strikeout rate is the worst of his career. Fortunately he's still a capable reliever and isn't that far removed from being a very good one.

Waiting until now to bring in some bullpen help is mind-boggling, because the Twins are clinging to their playoff lives at 4.5 games back with 32 games remaining and the team's middle relief has been a weakness for the past 250 games. While the front office sat on their collective hands for 15 months the bullpen trotted out Rochester-caliber arms Henn, Brian Bass, R.A. Dickey, Bobby Keppel, Luis Ayala, Philip Humber, and the washed-up remains of Eddie Guardado and Juan Rincon for 240 innings.

Better late than never, perhaps, but making a move like this last season could've put the Twins into the playoffs and making a move like this a couple months ago could've left them without needing to mount a miracle comeback in September. Rauch and especially Mahay aren't going to have a huge impact in five weeks, but adding Rauch for next year at $2.9 million is certainly a reasonable price and should be a worthwhile pickup depending on the PTBNL. Still, probably too little and definitely too late.


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August 27, 2009

Link-O-Rama

  • If this story is even close to true, I'm likely going to retire and just spend the rest of my life watching the footage on an endless loop.
  • Cowboys receiver Roy Williams is so irate about his 86-rated speed in Madden 10 that he used the phrase "geez Louise" and the term "slowpoke."
  • If ever you doubt the pure evil humans are capable of, read this horrific story 18 years in the making.
  • CNN reports on formerly anonymous bloggers who suffered consequences once their true identities became known, but the real key to remaining an anonymous blogger is picking a believable pen name such as "Aaron Gleeman."
  • According to the New York Post's gossip column, Derek Jeter and Minka Kelly might be "secretly engaged." First, that's the best decision Jeter has made since roaming into the middle of the infield on the Jeremy Giambi flip play. Second, imagine getting to a point in your life where you're not even eager to tell everyone about your engagement to the insanely attractive girl on Friday Night Lights. I'm tempted to tell everyone when I watch Friday Night Lights.
  • My quick review of Inglourious Basterds: Perhaps not quite a great film and definitely not my favorite by director Quentin Tarantino, but amazing acting, several absolutely extraordinary scenes, and a pretty awesome movie-going experience. Also, from now on I'd like everyone to refer to me only as "The Bear Jew." Thanks.
  • Speaking of Inglourious Basterds, while top billing naturally went to Brad Pitt (and Tarantino) veteran Austrian actor Christoph Waltz completely stole the show as one of the great movie villains of all time. Better yet, he was also interesting, funny, smart, and charming during a 45-minute interview on Adam Carolla's podcast this week.
  • One of the main perks of working from home is the ability to quote Seinfeld with zero consequences.
  • However, one of the biggest drawbacks of working from home is the lack of potential for slow claps:


    Aside from maybe causing massive explosions by flicking a cigarette at stuff, is there anything that gets portrayed more often in moves while happening less often in real life?
  • Twins high Single-A affiliate Fort Myers--which at various points this season has been home to 13 of their top 40 prospects--recently held a "What Would Tim Tebow Do?" promotion, with amusing results.
  • Quote of the Week, courtesy of Ichiro Suzuki talking about racking up infield hits during an era when "chicks dig the long ball":
    Chicks who dig home runs aren't the ones who appeal to me. I think there's sexiness in infield hits because they require technique. I'd rather impress the chicks with my technique than with my brute strength. Then, every now and then, just to show I can do that, too, I might flirt a little by hitting one out.

    Ichiro has an MLB-leading 449 infield hits since joining the Mariners in 2001, including 43 this season when no one else has even 25. He leads the league in cool by an even wider margin.

  • Friend of AG.com Keith Arnold is now part of the NBCSports.com family with Inside the Irish, which joins Circling the Bases and Pro Football Talk in the site's growing stable of blogs. A friendly word of advice from someone who's already been through the grueling initiation and humiliating hazing: Don't take off your underwear, no matter what Gregg Rosenthal and Mike Florio tell you.
  • Purple Jesus apparently does not save ducks.
  • Anna Paquin gets offended when people wonder why she hasn't fixed the gap in her front teeth after tuning into True Blood for her weekly nude scene.
  • As you might expect from someone who was placed on the disabled list with a testicle injury, Adrian Beltre probably won't be returning when eligible next week. "I think the swelling has going down a little slower than we thought," manager Don Wakamatsu said. Of course, the craziest part of the whole story is that Beltre is undecided about wearing a protective cup when he does come back.
  • Not that he's wrong in any way, but when someone who looks like this makes fun of my fellow SABR convention attendees' physical appearance ... well, it stings just a little more than usual.
  • Friend of AG.com Tom Tango launched his annual "scouting report by the fans for the fans." If you've ever dreamed of being a scout, this is your chance. After going to Tango's database, enter in personal observations about the players you watch on a regular basis to become part of the huge collection of scouting reports compiled entirely by fans. Take a look at the instructions and details, and then head to the Twins page to mark down what you think of, say, Delmon Young's "instincts" in the outfield.
  • Some of the highlights from my NBCSports.com blogging this week:

    - Big Papi back to putting up big numbers
    - If you're worried about Hamels, look past his ERA
    - Lidge keeps job after blowing MLB-high ninth save
    - Cookie Monster, Wily Mo Pena, and J.D. Drew
    - Defensive metrics, the Mariners, and Kevin Kouzmanoff
    - Remaking the Halladay-Lee comparison, a month later
    - Wagner changes mind, agrees to join Red Sox
    - Papelbon changes tune on Wagner, not a Rhodes Scholar
    - Twins getting what they paid for with Crede
    - Penny dropped from rotation; Smoltz was tipping pitches?

  • Finally, this week's AG.com-approved music video/audio is The Black Keys with "I'll Be Your Man":


  • Once you're done here, check out my NBCSports.com blog and Twitter updates.

    August 26, 2009

    Top 40 Minnesota Twins: #38 Eric Milton

    ERIC ROBERT MILTON | SP | 1998-2003 | CAREER STATS

    G GS IP W L ERA ERA+ WARP WS
    166 165 987 57 51 4.76 101 16.5 55

    Selected by the Yankees with the 20th overall pick in the 1996 draft via the University of Maryland, Eric Milton was named New York's minor league pitcher of the year after going 14-6 with a 3.10 ERA in 171 innings between Single-A and Double-A in 1997. That turned out to be his only season in the Yankees organization, as Milton was shipped to the Twins along with fellow prospects Cristian Guzman, Brian Buchanan, and Danny Mota for Chuck Knoblauch in February of 1998.

    He likely would've spent at least another season or two in the minors had he stayed with the Yankees, but following the deal Milton was immediately thrust into the Twins' rotation despite a grand total of just 14 starts above Single-A. His major-league debut came on April 5, 1998 against the Royals, and Milton tossed six innings of shutout ball to pick up the win. He continued to pitch fairly well during the first four months of the year, going 6-7 with a 4.64 ERA through July.

    Then, as you might expect from a 22-year-old rookie with such little experience, he fell apart down the stretch. Milton went a combined 2-7 with an 8.10 ERA in 11 starts between August and September, and disappointingly finished the season at 8-14 with a 5.64 ERA over 32 starts for a Twins team that went 70-92. Despite a sub par rookie campaign, Milton had clearly shown flashes of potential and it was no surprise when he put things together in his sophomore season.

    While his 7-11 record in 1999 was underwhelming, it was more a reflection of the Twins' terrible 63-97 record and league-worst offense than Milton's performance. In fact, that season was arguably the best of Milton's career, as he tossed 206 innings with a 4.49 ERA in a high-scoring environment, struck out 163 batters, allowed opponents to bat just .243, and threw the fifth no-hitter in team history against the Angels in September.

    Milton was brilliant that afternoon, striking out 13 batters, but game isn't exactly etched in the memory of many Twins fans. Not only did the no-hitter come against an awful Angels lineup that consisted almost entirely of September call-ups and bench players, the game wasn't on television in the Twin Cities and the first pitch was pushed up thanks to a Gophers football game later that day. At most 11,222 people saw Milton's gem.

    After going 13-10 with a 4.86 ERA during his third year, Milton began the 2001 season 8-3 with a 3.73 ERA in the first half and was selected to his first All-Star team. The Twins came out of nowhere to lead the division by five games at the All-Star break, but ended up six games behind the Indians as guys like Milton faded badly in the second half. Even with the fade, Milton finished the year 15-7 with a 4.32 ERA in 220.2 innings and the Twins finished above .500 for the first time since 1992.

    Milton was in the middle of what had become a fairly typical season for him in 2002, going 13-7 with a 4.60 ERA in his first 24 starts. Then, after a 131-pitch complete-game shutout against the White Sox on August 1, he reportedly heard his left knee "pop" while warming up for his next start against the Orioles. He was scratched from the start, immediately went to the hospital, and underwent surgery to repair a tear in his lateral meniscus a couple days later.

    He ended up missing just under a month of action and returned to the mound on September 2 as the Twins started him off slowly and gradually increased his workload with an eye towards getting him on track for the postseason. Milton struggled, going 0-2 with a 6.64 ERA in five September starts, but went 1-0 with a 2.08 ERA in two playoff starts as the Twins made it all the way to the ALCS. Sadly, Milton was far from done with the injury.

    After an offseason filled with stories about his surgically repaired knee swelling and Milton "toughing it out," the Twins finally announced in March that he would need a second surgery. It was initially reported that he would miss around two months, but instead Milton missed nearly six months and didn't make it back until the final two weeks of the season. He made just three regular-season starts and then threw 3.1 scoreless innings as a reliever in Game 4 of the ALDS loss to the Yankees.

    That was his final game with the Twins. With one season and $9 million left on the four-year contract that he signed in March of 2001, the Twins shipped Milton to the Phillies for Carlos Silva, Nick Punto, and Bobby Korecky on December 3, 2003. At the time of the deal my take was that just getting Milton's salary off the books had "a lot of value" considering his uncertain health status and suggested that the players general manager Terry Ryan got in return were "just an added bonus."

    Milton led the NL in homers allowed and had a 4.75 ERA in 201 innings for the Phillies in 2004, which certainly wouldn't have been worth $9 million to a small-payroll team. Meanwhile, Silva stepped right into the rotation and out-pitched Milton by going 14-8 with a 4.21 ERA in 203 innings while making just $340,000. He left Philadelphia as a free agent after the season and signed a three-year, $25.5 million deal with Cincinnati, where he went 16-27 with a 5.83 ERA in 66 starts before blowing out his elbow.

    He was off to a fairly successful comeback with the Dodgers this season before back surgery brought that to a screeching halt after just five starts, and Milton might be done at the age of 33. In researching this and other installments of my Top 40 Minnesota Twins series, there were some striking similarities between Milton and the pitcher one spot below him, Scott Erickson. The most obvious comparison is between their actual numbers with the Twins, which were nearly identical:

                    GS        IP      W      L     ERA+    WARP     WS
    Milton 165 987.1 57 51 101 16.5 55
    Erickson 153 979.1 61 60 103 14.8 56

    Eerily close and the similarities run deeper. Both were in the rotation at 22 and the ways in which their careers with the Twins played out tells the story of the team during each time period. Erickson peaked early, winning 20 games for a championship team in his second season, and went downhill from there as the Twins fell into a funk for the rest of the decade. Milton struggled early as the team continued its post-1992 tailspin and began to thrive as the Twins finally became contenders again in 2001.

    Even the differing returns that the Twins received for trading them paved the way for the franchise's fate. Erickson was sent to Baltimore for prospects who failed to pan out in a period defined by the team's inability to develop young talent. At the other end of the spectrum, Milton went to Philadelphia in a deal that brought back a young pitcher who immediately became a key contributor on a team that was filled with prospects who blossomed together over the next five years.

    The end result was basically the same 1,000 innings of slightly above-average pitching over six years in Minnesota, but the paths to get there were very different. One was a right-handed ground-ball pitcher who peaked early and struggled with an arm injury, while the other was a left-handed fly-ball pitcher who developed gradually and struggled with a knee injury. Two players whose Twins careers were very much typical of the entire franchise. It's probably fitting that they're back-to-back on this list.

    TOP 25 ALL-TIME MINNESOTA TWINS RANKS:

    Starts 165 10th
    Quality Starts 84 10th
    Innings 987.1 11th
    Strikeouts 715 11th
    Wins 57 12th
    Shutouts 4 18th


    Once you're done here, check out my NBCSports.com blog and Twitter updates.

    August 25, 2009

    Top 40 Minnesota Twins: #39 Scott Erickson

    SCOTT GAVIN ERICKSON | SP | 1990-1995 | CAREER STATS

    G GS IP W L ERA ERA+ WARP WS
    155 153 979 61 60 4.22 103 14.8 56

    Scott Erickson's career got off to one of the fastest starts in Twins history. A fourth-round pick out of the University of Arizona in 1989, he posted a 2.97 ERA in 78.2 innings at Single-A after signing, went 8-3 with a 3.03 ERA in 101 innings at Double-A to begin the 1990 season, and then found himself in the big leagues at the age of 22. Erickson's debut came against the Rangers on June 25, 1990 and he got a win with six innings of four-hit, one-run ball at the Metrodome.

    Rafael Palmeiro's first-inning single was the first hit allowed by Erickson, a 31-year-old Julio Franco played second base for Texas that day, and Kirby Puckett and Shane Mack each homered to provide the run support in a 9-1 victory. Despite finishing 8-4 with a 2.87 ERA in 113 innings, including 5-0 with a 1.35 ERA in September, Erickson failed to garner a single vote in the Rookie of the Year balloting that saw rotation-mate Kevin Tapani finish fifth with a 12-8 record and 4.07 ERA in 159.1 innings.

    For his sophomore campaign Erickson helped lead the Twins into the postseason by going 20-8 with a 3.18 ERA in 204 innings, including a 12-game winning streak that lasted from April 21 to June 24 and a 30.1-inning scoreless streak that tied Frank Viola's team record. He led the AL in wins and finished second to Roger Clemens in the Cy Young balloting, but battled some arms problems in the second half before struggling in both the ALCS and World Series as Jack Morris stole the show.

    At just 23 years old Erickson was a 20-game winner with a championship and had a 28-12 record with a 3.07 ERA. Unfortunately, it was all downhill from there. He had a solid 1992 season, going 13-12 with a 3.40 ERA in 212 innings as the Twins narrowly missed the postseason, but as was the case with the entire franchise things began to fall apart in 1993. While the Twins dropped to 71-91, he won just eight games and led the league in losses (19), hits allowed (266), and runs allowed (138).

    Improbably, in his fifth start the next season Erickson became the third pitcher in Twins history to toss a no-hitter, blanking Milwaukee at the Metrodome as Puckett and Chuck Knoblauch combined for seven hits and Kent Hrbek launched a homer. Sadly, that was just about the lone bright spot that year. He finished 8-11 with a 5.44 ERA in 144 innings for a fourth-place team and the season ended more than two months early when the players went on strike.

    The strike dragged on into the 1995 season and when Erickson finally hopped back on a mound in late April he was a mess. After going 4-6 with a 5.95 ERA in his first 15 starts, the last-place Twins traded Erickson, who was still only 27 years old, to the Orioles for prospects Scott Klingenbeck and Kimera Bartee. He never found the success from his first few seasons, but Erickson became a workhorse for Baltimore, throwing 220-plus innings in four straight seasons before arm injuries eventually did him in.

    He was Baltimore's starter and threw a complete-game shutout when Cal Ripken Jr. tied Lou Gehrig's record for consecutive games played on September 5, 1995 and was also on the mound the next year when Roberto Alomar spit on umpire John Hirschbeck. Oh, and he had a cameo on Baltimore-based Homicide: Life on the Street with teammate Armando Benitez when the storyline involved a Yankees fan being murdered at Camden Yards.

    Erickson's last effective season was 1999, when he won 15 games for the Orioles, yet he managed to stick around until 2006 despite going 7-20 with a 5.87 ERA over his final 254.1 innings while spending more time on the disabled list than the field and marrying former Monday Night Football reporter Lisa Guerrero. Meanwhile, like most of the prospects acquired by the Twins in the mid-90s, Klingenbeck and Bartee were complete flops who combined for one win and zero hits in Minnesota.

    In many ways Erickson's career in Minnesota mirrored the whole team's story in the 1990s. He peaked in 1991 as the most effective pitcher on a championship team at 22 years old, but that success was short-lived with sub par strikeout rates and strikeout-to-walk ratios perhaps foreshadowing the decline. Even the players the Twins received in return for Erickson were among the many prospects who turned out to be busts as the team failed to return to respectability throughout the last half of the decade.

    Like the Twins, when Erickson was good he was very good. An extreme ground-ball pitcher who wore black shoes with black socks, a black glove, and an intimidating stare, he was a lot of fun to watch and remains my mom's all-time favorite player. And like the Twins, when Erickson was bad he was very bad. When the sinker wasn't sinking, the right elbow was barking after some very heavy workloads, and those grounders were finding holes and skipping through the infield turf, things got ugly.

    Had you told someone in 1991 that Erickson would win just 61 games in a Twins uniform they never would have believed you, but he ended up staying in Minnesota for just six years and split them evenly between three very good seasons and three very bad ones. The end result is a Twins career that could have been a lot better, yet for a brief time shined brighter than just about anyone and still makes him one of the dozen most successful starters in team history.

    TOP 25 ALL-TIME MINNESOTA TWINS RANKS:

    Shutouts 7 10th
    Wins 61 11th
    Starts 153 11th
    Innings 979 12th
    Quality Starts 73 12th
    Strikeouts 527 18th


    Once you're done here, check out my NBCSports.com blog and Twitter updates.

    August 23, 2009

    Twins Notes: Tools, Ballet, Fastballs, Casinos, and Retirement

  • From the minors to the majors several Twins were picked in Baseball America's annual "best tools" survey of managers. Joe Mauer was named the league's best hitter and best defensive catcher while placing second behind Bobby Abreu for best strike-zone judgment and third behind Carl Crawford and Ichiro Suzuki for most exciting player. Joe Nathan came in second to Mariano Rivera for the AL's best reliever and Justin Morneau won for the league's best power.

    In the minors Ben Revere earned best hitting prospect, fastest baserunner, and most exciting player in the Florida State League, David Bromberg was named the FSL's best pitching prospect, Brad Tippett was picked for the best control in the Midwest League, and Drew Butera was named the International League's best defensive catcher. Now, the same BA managers survey once pegged David Ortiz as the best defensive first baseman at Triple-A, but grain of salt or not the picks are always interesting.

  • John W. Miller of the Wall Street Journal wrote a great profile of Max Kepler-Rozycki, the 16-year-old German outfielder who recently signed with the Twins for $800,000. His parents, American-born Kathy Kepler and Polish-born Marek Rozycki, met while starring together in the Berlin ballet, which led to an intriguing upbringing for their baseball-playing son. Twins scout Andy Johnson first saw him when he was 14 years old and described Kepler-Rozycki running to first base "like a galloping baby deer."
  • Dave Allen of Fan Graphs put together an eye-opening analysis of Francisco Liriano's struggles this year, basically concluding that his slider and changeup remain very good pitches while his fastball has gone from good to awful following Tommy John surgery. In terms of damage done on specific pitches, only Armando Galarraga has had a less effective fastball than Liriano. Meanwhile, despite averaging a modest 90.9 miles per hour with the pitch Scott Baker has had the majors' ninth-best fastball.
  • Whoever runs Morneau's personal website posted a bunch of photos from his recent "Casino Night" fundraiser, so you can see what Morneau, Mauer, Baker, Nick Punto, Mike Redmond, Brendan Harris, and Orlando Cabrera look like in their civvies. Also pictured: General manager Bill Smith after losing 40 pounds, MLB.com beat writer Kelly Thesier, Morneau playing poker with his wife on his lap and then raking in chips after winning a pot, and finally this beauty of Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel:


    From the arms-crossed guy standing guard behind Cuddyer and Thesier making an appearance in the background to Kubel's omnipresent shit-eating grin and Andy Sipowitz-like formal wear the photo is all kinds of amusing. And more importantly, Morneau and company raised $75,000 for juvenile arthritis.

  • Former first-round pick Jay Rainville has decided to retire from baseball at the age of 23 after failing to reestablish himself as a prospect following 2006 shoulder surgery, explaining:
    I think I owed it to the Twins and the Rock Cats not to keep spinning my wheels. I didn't have what it takes to pitch competitively. I did everything I could. I was able to get my arm strength back but never quite got the velocity back. It's tough to pitch when you don't have any velocity. I sat down with my family and thought about it and I feel this is the right move.

    In my annual ranking of the Twins' top prospects Rainville placed 21st in 2007 and 28th in 2008, but he dropped off the list after serving up 23 homers and posting a 5.45 ERA in 138.2 innings between high Single-A and Double-A last season. He continued to struggle at Double-A this year, allowing 51 runs in 69.2 innings while opponents hit .315. Rainville had a 3.15 ERA and great control in the low minors, but even before the surgery a high fly-ball rate and modest strikeout totals limited his upside.

  • Torii Hunter's tough-guy act took another hit recently, as he spent six weeks on the disabled list with a groin injury and then delayed his return thanks to "flu-like symptoms" after dining at the Olive Garden. Seriously. Hunter spent his final season in Minnesota publicly criticizing Mauer for not possessing the toughness to play through injuries, yet has missed 56 of a possible 284 games since signing with the Angels and has been in the lineup just eight more times than Mauer during the past five years.
  • Chris Jaffe of The Hardball Times found that every team but the Rays, Reds, and Brewers have had at least one player produce a 200-hit season since the Twins last got one from Paul Molitor in 1996. In fact, Mauer and Morneau are the only Twins to have even 180 hits since then. Interestingly, the Brewers' last 200-hit season also belongs to Molitor, way back in 1991.
  • Either the people who write the captions for Associated Press pictures are dyslexic or the Twins have a new pitching prospect.

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