March 30, 2010

Twins Notes: Committees, Timetables, and Risky Girlfriends

  • Ron Gardenhire announced that the Twins will begin the year using a closer-by-committee approach with Joe Nathan out for the season following Tommy John elbow surgery:

    We are a committee. Our closer role is a committee. We're going to try just about anything. I've never had to do it. It's going to be an experience trying to mix and match as best we can. But I've got some capable arms that we're going to rely on. I've seen committees work. It's not always the easiest thing in the world, but you just have to ad lib. When you lose your closer, it's a little different. That's how we're going to start, and we'll go from there.

    Aside from steroids there's nothing the baseball media freaks out about more than a team without a so-called established closer, so expect plenty of logic-be-damned overreactions if the Twins blow a couple leads early on. In fact, expect some of those reactions right now. However, the odds of Gardenhire and the Twins sticking with a true committee approach to the ninth inning all year are very slim.

    Gardenhire has said multiple times that he wants to find one man for the job, so mixing and matching Jon Rauch, Matt Guerrier, Jose Mijares, Jesse Crain, and perhaps Pat Neshek early in the season will likely just be a way for him to determine the best fit for the role. I'd be surprised if a committee approach lasts longer than 3-4 weeks and, assuming the Twins don't trade for a veteran closer, would still bet on Rauch leading the team in saves.

    In the meantime we're bound to hear how monumentally insane the Twins supposedly are for treating the ninth inning just like the seventh and eighth innings, which shows just how wrapped up everyone is in a role built around the save statistic. I don't think Gardenhire will go with a true closer-by-committee approach for long, if at all, but the Twins will be just fine if he does. Baseball existed without a one-inning closer for a hundred years or so.

  • Nathan officially underwent surgery Friday, with Mets team doctor David Altcheck doing the honors in New York. Nathan has remained very upbeat publicly while expressing confidence that he'll be ready for Opening Day next season, but those are longer odds than he may be willing to admit. Neshek is 16 months removed from his Tommy John surgery, so I asked him whether coming back in 12 months would have been possible in his case:

    For me, at 12 months there was no way I was ready to face hitters at that time. I don't know how guys come back quicker than that because it honestly was painful at that stage. Lots of scar tissue that would break up. I think they wrote my program to go slower so everything I did was set back a couple months, whereas a normal guy is around 12.

    Plenty of pitchers have returned from the surgery within 12 months and been effective, but I'd be very surprised if Nathan is able to do so at age 35. Incidentally, if you weren't already a huge Neshek fan his answering my questions about elbow surgery via Twitter at midnight on a Tuesday should make you one.

  • After shopping around for a better deal all offseason Ron Mahay finally settled for re-joining the Twins on a minor-league contract last week. Mahay originally signed with the Twins in late August of last season after being released by the Royals, but pitched just nine innings down the stretch. Much like Jacque Jones he's apparently willing to accept an assignment to Triple-A, which makes Mahay a nice low-cost pickup as a potential lefty middle reliever.
  • Along with Mahay, the Twins also signed 29-year-old Yoslan Herrera and 30-year-old Brad Hennessey to minor-league deals. Hennessey spent five years with Giants and even served as their closer for much of 2007, saving 19 games with a 3.42 ERA in 68 innings. He was let go after coughing up 35 runs in 40 innings in 2008 and then spent last season sidelined by elbow problems after agreeing to a minor-league contract with the Orioles.

    Herrera received a $2 million signing bonus from the Pirates after defecting from Cuba as a 25-year-old in 2006, but has been mediocre in the minors and allowed 20 runs over 18.1 innings during his only major-league stint in 2008. They both seem destined for spots in the Rochester bullpen and are solid organizational depth, but Mahay is significantly more likely to see time in Minnesota this season.
  • LaVelle E. Neal III recently profiled 17-year-old top prospects Miguel Angel Sano and Max Kepler. The whole thing is worth reading, but my favorite part was this quote from Kepler:

    I can't wait until I get my driver's license because I have to look for people who are 21 to get into my car and just go somewhere. I was thinking about getting a girlfriend who was 21, but that's kind of risky.

    I initially imagined that quote being said in a thick German accent, but then hearing Kepler's nearly flawless English during a radio interview with Patrick Reusse ruined the fun.

  • Despite extraordinary minor-league numbers Anthony Slama didn't reach Triple-A until just before his 26th birthday last year and I've criticized the Twins for not promoting him more aggressively. However, while the front office may not have much confidence in Slama being for real both Gardenhire and pitching coach Rick Anderson indicated they were impressed by the right-hander who ranked 19th on my annual list of the Twins' top prospects.
  • Acquired from the Mets in the package for Johan Santana and traded to the Diamondbacks for Rauch in August, Kevin Mulvey is now competing for the final spot in Arizona's rotation. Meanwhile, a groin injury is hurting Boof Bonser's bid for a bullpen job in Boston.
  • Joel Sherman of the New York Post reports that the Yankees "made a series of attempts" to trade for Denard Span last season "only to be rebuffed each time by the Twins."
  • Remember the lone voter who kept Joe Mauer from being a unanimous MVP? Well, suffice it to say you won't be satisfied by his reasoning.
    • dirleton

      How does one “officially” undergo surgery?

    • http://www.twinkietown.com jesse

      You’re much nicer in reporting on Sherman’s Span/Yankees bit than I was.

    • http://thebatshatters.blogspot.com Adam

      Gotta love Neshek, he has to be one of the more accessible players in MLB. Glad he’s a Twin.

    • James M.

      After Monday’s performance I think you can forget about Mulvey being the D’backs 5th starter. His line is ugly:
      IP 2, H 6, R 8, ER 3, BB 3, SO 0, HR 1, WP 1. Yes, he was (again) victimized by shoddy defense. But in this case some of that shoddy defense was his own. (He was slow covering first which resulted in a throwing error on the second baseman.) Beyond the numbers, he seemed totally lost on the mound, without any plan of attack. He tried nibbling around the corners, usually missing. Then he threw it right down the middle, with predictable results. His stuff is mediocre, but I’ve seen pitchers succeed with less. He doesn’t seem to have learned anything about pitching from his 3 different organizations. Or maybe he’s learned too much and doesn’t know what to believe.

    • that guy

      I am wondering how slama’s minor league “setbacks”/holdups compare to Neshek. He seems to have a similar “funky” (not sidearm, per see, but …) delivery/stuff and great minor league numbers but is being held back. Are the situations similar?

    • Jim Haas

      Agree that closer role will be settled in amonth or so and that closer-by-committee is not something to get all worked up over.

      Yoslan Herrera should probably know that renowned Cuban jazz pianist Nachito Herrera lives in the Twin Cities.

    • Breaker

      I still don’t get it…Slama’s numbers are ridiculous in the minors, he was tough this spring, Gardy and Anderson seem to like him after this spring, and yet he is sent down when we have a large hole in EXACTLY his spot in the bullpen.

      Why not give the rook the ball to start the season, and if he implodes, then figure it out from there. Seems like the current situation is going to mess with peoples roles more than anything. Closers are overrated, no doubt, but apparently having defined roles seems to help most relievers. So let everybody be in their comfortable role until Slama proves he doesn’t belong.

    • Kyle

      This article is really interesting to me because this shows how twitter has made newspaper beat writers and newspapers themselves even more obsolete. Gleeman is able to ask Neshek very interesting and relevent questions from his basement and get an almost immediate response that can go into a blogger story.

      The main advantage that newspapers have held in the sports world is access and quotes that bloggers are unable to attain.

      However, with a new generation of players that are internet savvy. (Neshek being a prime example) These players understand that many of these bloggers are not just weirdos living in their parents’ basement and can provide excellent analysis.

      Gleeman has the advantage of being associated with several reputable media organizations, but any blogger will be able to go to the growing number of athletes on twitter and get information straight from the source as opposed to getting quotes from a mainstream publications.

      Really good article and I am excited to see more of it in the future.

    • Neil

      AG is right about how Gardy will approach this. In a month the Twins will have one closer. I’m thinking it will be Guerrier.

      Sabremetricians can complain all they want about the overratedness of closers. Logically, they’re right. But I think players do benefit by having set roles and knowing what’s expected of them. Yes, oftentimes the biggest outs of a game are recorded in the seventh and eighth innings rather than the ninth, but as long as MLB puts value (read: money) on the position, and as long as we as fans pay more attention to games blown in the ninth inning than the sixth and seventh, there will be more pressure with the closer role. I probably haven’t stated this all that well, but it comes down to money and pressure.

      If I ran MLB one thing I would assuredly change is the save rule. Eliminate save eligibility for pitchers who start the last inning with a three-run lead, and it would transform how relievers are used. I’m serious.

    • Vulture

      That reasoning is hideous but ole Yoslan still is more plugged in that Bob Sansevere.