October 20, 2010

Twins Notes: Baker, Blackburn, Punto, Sano, Kepler, and Laudner

• Last week Michael Cuddyer underwent knee surgery and now both Scott Baker and Nick Blackburn need elbow "clean ups." Blackburn missed just one start due to the injury, but told Joe Christensen of the Minneapolis Star Tribune that he's been pitching with discomfort "over the last couple years" and "just decided to get it taken care of now." Baker missed more time during the season and needed two cortisone shots, but both surgeries are considered minor.

Kelly Thesier of MLB.com writes that the Twins "will likely decline" their $5 million option on Nick Punto for 2011. Not paying $5 million for a 33-year-old utility man who hit .238/.313/.302 this season and .247/.321/.322 for his career would normally be a no-brainer, but the Twins paid him $4 million in each of the past two years and ... well, I just can't see Ron Gardenhire letting Punto leave without a fight. His deal includes a $500,000 buyout of the option.

• Following the Twins' latest first-round playoff exit there's been lots of talk about needing to add a "true ace" to the rotation without anyone really defining exactly what "true ace" means. For many people it seemingly just means "a starter who pitches very well in the playoffs" even if that evaluation is made after the fact, but Bryan Smith of Fan Graphs crunched the numbers in an effort to determine exactly how each "spot" in the rotation performs across MLB.

Miguel Sano is without question one of the Twins' best prospects, but I'm not sure what to call him at this point. When the Twins signed him out of the Dominican Republic last season for a record $3.15 million bonus he went by Miguel Angel Sano. For most of this season he was generally referred to as simply Miguel Sano. And now John Manuel of Baseball America notes that the 17-year-old infielder "wants to go by his dad's surname and be called Miguel Jean."

Old What's His Name batted .307/.379/.491 with seven homers, 24 total extra-base hits, and a 60/24 K/BB ratio in 61 games between two levels of rookie-ball in his professional debut.

Tyler Robertson's prospect stock has declined during the past few seasons, in part because he's struggled to stay healthy and in part because his strikeout rate deteriorated as he moved up the minor-league ladder. He ranked 16th on my list of the Twins' prospects this winter, but went 4-13 with a 5.41 ERA in 27 starts at Double-A and Baseball America correspondent Phil Miller reports that the 22-year-old left-hander has been moved to the bullpen full time.

• Miller also wrote an interesting article about Max Kepler, the 17-year-old German outfielder who made his pro debut in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League and batted .286/.346/.343 in 37 games. Vice president for player personnel Mike Radcliff had all kinds of positive things to say about Kepler's first taste of pro ball and his numbers, while not jaw-dropping, are impressive for an extremely raw prospect who was one of the youngest players in the GCL.

• After spending the past few seasons as one of the Twins' secondary FSN television analysts Tim Laudner has taken a minor-league coaching job with ... the White Sox. According to Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune, after spending his entire nine-year career as a Twins catcher Laudner will focus on helping to develop the White Sox's catching prospects and could end up spending most of his time at Triple-A Charlotte.

  • Brian J

    Regarding pitchers, I don’t know that all this evaluation is exactly “after the fact.”

    I love how numbers and hard statistics are crunched religiously all year long, but when the Twins fail in the postseason, it’s a simple matter of “Well, guys just didn’t perform.”

    Playoff/high-pressure performance is a good reminder that intangibles still matter in baseball.

  • Adam Platt

    A year ago Joe Nathan had clean-up surgery (elbow?) after discomfort much of last season and followed it up by snapping a ligament in spring training. Let’s hope a similar first part of the equation does not mean a similar second part for Baker and Blackie.

    On the other hand, Bake may embody everything so many of us despise about the organization’s zealotry about pitching. I would love to see the team forced to go outside the comfort zone and its zombie army of emotionless, soft throwing spot-hitters to find someone with some passion and power.

  • Ben B.

    I’d rather have Laudner go to the White Sox than have to keep seeing him on FSN.

  • chris

    So we have
    Liriano, who is a No1. starter, wit xFip 3.06
    Pavano and Baker are N0.2 Starters, with xFip of 4.01/4.02
    Duensing was 4.10, also a No.2 starter
    Slowey has 4.48, which is worth a no.3 starter

    so i see here no problems at all..twins have very good pitching i think. And Liriano was worth a win in 1st game of ALDS. We are just not playoff ready…
    Sabathia, Pettite, Hughes and Burnett was not better in regular season!!! But Yankees have better hitters..so we cannot beat them…we need better pitching vs Yankees..thats all. Maybe sth. with this control.thing…twins pitchers are never flame throwers (aside of Santana) …and in mlb.playoffs are too many good hitters…
    Rangers are also not better.
    So it is not the starting pitching at all…Twins just do not play well in october especially not vs Yankees…

  • Kurt

    Twins have unimpressive pitching outside Liriano. Look at the aces who are pitching for their team between phils, giants, rangers, and yanks and they all have one thing in common: They are power pitchers that miss bats. Just what fangraphs showed, swing and miss capabilities. The Twins have one in Liriano, however, after that, our entire staff is finesse strike throwers. It is so clear to me that these types of pitch to contact guys have less success in Ocotber. Go tell Gallardo, or Jimenez, and Kershaw that they need to stop walking people, hopefully they say “its been working so far!” Remember Jimenez no hitter? 9 IP 6BB with 9K. I’ll take those 6 BB’s and Jimenez electric swing and miss stuff any day over Kevin Slowey’s pitch to contact.

  • marietta mouthpiece

    Congratulations and good luck to Laudner – I have had a chance to see him a few times in a teaching situation, and he seems to be in his element when instructing.

    On an unrelated note, it does appear that this was the year to play the Yankees (sigh). After the Molina home run, their body language was eerily similar to that of the Twins late in game 2 and all of game 3 of the ALDS. Its hilarious to read the avalanche of negative commentary regarding Girardi’s managing decisions, which is comprised of almost the exact same criticism applied to Gardenhire last round.

  • Nathan

    To further confuse things, I’ve seen Max Whatshisname as either Kepler or Kepler-Rozycki

  • Arnold4321

    The ALCS is just a further reminder of how bad the Twins choked this year, and how bad Gardy really is at preparing his team to win in the playoffs. The Rangers have a smaller payroll, they aren’t “as good” as the Yankees on paper (or the Twins, for that matter, even without Morneau), blah blah blah. None of this matters. It’s about believing you can win, showing up, and playing well. The Twins do none of this. It’s really embarrassing to watch. Nobody should be making any excuses for this Twins club anymore. There aren’t any. The organization is a joke. But fans and the front office continue to make excuses for the manager and players. Nothing will change as long as Gardy’s at the helm.

  • http://jasonwinter.blogspot.com Jason w

    It’s also about not having 32 left-handed hitters in the lineup when the opposition’s top two starters are lefties. I love Jim Thome, but do you think it’s too late for him to learn how to switch hit?

  • mike wants WINS

    The Rangers hit the ball out of the park, the Twins don’t. The Rangers’ pitchers make people miss, the Twins’ pitchers don’t. The recipe for post-season success is not all that hard to figure out.

    The Twins are built to win over 162 games over bad to average teams. They are NOT built to win against the elite teams.

    Now that 25% of their payroll is in a guy that won’t score or drive in runs unless the rest of the team also hits (since he can’t hit HRs), they need to look at how their offense is built, and decide if this recipe really works or not.

  • Arnold4321

    Mike, if Capps stays with the club, another 20% of their payroll will be tied up in “closers”, and this year proved closer is perhaps the most overrated position in sports. Throw in Cuddy’s absurd contract. So 55% of the 2011 payroll will be spent on closers, a singles hitter who folds in the playoffs, and a replacement-level 1b/OF. Just what we need to win in the playoffs, right?

  • Brian

    Punto will be back. Not at $5M, but it’s not like you can’t buy him out, then sign him for $2M.

  • Pedro Munoz

    I can’t imagine there is much of a market for Punto’s services, which means that Brian is probably right. Punto comes back at a reduced (but still much too high) salary.

  • Zack

    The hand wringing over Mauer’s contract drives me crazy. The bad contracts on this team are Cuddyer’s, Nathan’s, and Blackburn’s. And I’m positive Capps is going to make a mint this year. I’d much rather have one Mauer than those 3 guys for $23 million a year.

    The season hasn’t even been over two weeks and I’m about ready to scream every time someone whines about Mauer’s contract. He’s a top 5 player in MLB. His (lack of) playoff success is absolutely small sample size theatre at work. I’ll roll with Joe over a bunch of other ways we could spend that money.

    The Twins need to have a decent bench this year. They also need to not have 4 guys (Cuddyer, Young, Thome, Kubel) who should all basically be DH types. Especially when three of them are forced to play in the field.

  • Arnold4321

    Zack, the Twins needed to sign him to that contract. I guess some of us are frustrated that $23 mil/yr doesn’t buy an ounce of leadership/passion in the playoffs. And there’s no question it’s going to hamper the Twins in terms of signing FAs if they don’t raise payroll, which it seems they won’t (another sign the organization cares only about winning the division). For me the frustration is more with the Twins. Why sign him to that contract and then refuse to spend money to bring in guys around him? It’s basically guaranteeing mediocrity.

    Who knows, maybe they do increase payroll a bit this year. From everything I’ve read and heard it just doesn’t seem like they will. Plus they have to sign Gardy to an extension as a reward for his record-setting futility, and you know that won’t be cheap.

  • mike wants WINS

    I have no idea if Mauer is a leader or not, that’s not an issue for me. At issue to me is that his value is teammate dependent, because he doesn’t hit HRs. Therefore, you need guys around him that get on base also. That’s not a slam on Mauer, it’s a fact. And, while his rate stats are great, they don’t accumulate well because he is a catcher and will have 150-200 less ABs than a full time 1B or 3B or whatever. Between that and the waste of money on closers and Cuddy’s bad deal, this team is going to look awfully constrained next year, unless they really up the payroll. Add in the fact that they have ZERO position players at AAA that you are even close to certain are MLB players, and you have a very good, but not great team (unless Morneau can come back full time, that would help).

  • joey

    Twins should have hired Laudner as part of their coaching staff. He is a great teacher and motivator. He will be a great asset to the Sox.

  • rover27

    “He’s(Mauer) a top 5 player in MLB.”

    Total idiocy. Take away the flukey 2009, and his career BA is .318, HRs-9, RBIs-72. Include it, BA-.326, HRs-12.5, RBIs-76. That kind of production for the 4th largest contract in MLB history? No Way!

    Better players earning less, Cabrerra, Pujolis, Hamilton, Cano, Longoria, Teixeria, CarGo, Votto, Adrian Gonzalez, Ryan Howard, others, PLUS several pitchers.

    $23 million a year is for differnce makers. Mauer is not one. Morneau is a much better player when healthy.

  • Adam

    The idea that the Twins need power pitchers to miss bats is rediculous. Is Andy Petite a power pitcher? Did AJ Burnett, about as far as you can get from the Twins philosophy, throw well? CJ Wilson just got smacked around, and he had 170 K’s. Halladay and Oswalt are just above average strikeout guys, not high strikeout guys (ok, Oswalt had9 per 9 this year, but hasn’t had one even close to that high in years). The Giants have 3 high K guys because they basically have 3 aces, and that’s like 75% of what’s good about their team (half of the rest is Buster Posey).

    Take a look at all the box scores from the Twins playoff struggles, and I DEFY you to tell me the problem was not that we scored very, very few runs in almost every single game.

  • Son of Shane Mack

    Go tell Gallardo, or Jimenez, and Kershaw that they need to stop walking people, hopefully they say “its been working so far!” Remember Jimenez no hitter? 9 IP 6BB with 9K. I’ll take those 6 BB’s and Jimenez electric swing and miss stuff any day over Kevin Slowey’s pitch to contact.

    I actually think that you’ve got a point with having some pitchers that are more strikeout-types rather than the pitch-to-contact types – just for variety. Too much of one kind of pitcher could be a weakness just as too many left-handed bats.

    I’ll also point out that none of the teams of the pitchers you mentioned made the playoffs.

  • Twinstalker

    The mentality of the team is all due to Gardenhire, as I wrote once the Twins clinched the division. He does not have the team in a position to believe in itself against the Yankees. The first thing he should have said to the team in their first playoff meeting is that “we’re not going to bunt just because we got a guy on base…we’re going to kick the pitcher’s ass. If we hit into a DP or don’t get the run home, we’ll score a bunch of runs the next inning. You’re a better team than the Yankees, so start believing it.”

    Instead, he allows Hudson to bunt in the first inning. Not his decision? I would have specifically told Hudson and any others there will be no bunting without my specific say-so. And Hudson has shown the tendency to do it, so of course, I warned of this when we clinched.

    There are many reasons, perhaps, you can validly point to for the playoff failure, but the main one is that the Twins didn’t play well, and that is on the manager…again.

  • Large Canine

    rover- None of the players you mentioned (Cabrerra, Pujols, Cano, Hamilton, etc..) are catchers. Mauer has Gold Gloves, MVP’s and batting titles. There are numerous replacement type players who can fill in for Pujols (Texeira, Morneau, Votto) or Hamilton (Crawford, Jackson, Swisher). If you don’t have Mauer, who do you put there? A.J.?, Suzuki?, Butera? Give me a break. There are just not many great catchers out there. There are plenty of great players at other positions.

  • Arnold4321

    Adam, in the playoffs you’re going to run into good pitching. You are not going to be able to score 8 runs every game. It would be nice to have a pitcher who can win a 2-1 game for you every now and then. Power pitcher, ace, call him what you will. If you don’t think pitching was part of the problem in the playoffs, you’ve got to adjust your expectations. 6 innings w/ 4 runs allowed isn’t going to cut it in the playoffs.

  • Pat

    “If you don’t have Mauer, who do you put there? A.J.?, Suzuki?, Butera? Give me a break. There are just not many great catchers out there.”

    Mr. Posey says hi

  • Josh

    God, I hope they give Punto the buyout and he goes free agent. He’s a perfectly decent utility guy, but Gardy treats him like a starter and he just can’t hit enough. decent value at $1M-$2M, way overpriced at $5M.

    The guy I really want back is JJ Hardy. OPS of 714 and OPS+ of 93 doesn’t sound that great, but it was better than Derek Jeter this season. Better than Jimmy Rollins & Elvis Andrus the last 2 seasons. Better than Jason Bartlet. Take out the 12 games when Hardy tried to come back from the wrist injury before he was healthy and the numbers look even better. For a SS, the production was better than fine and a hard value to replace. And the defense was terrific, he was one of the best in the league. I hope the Twins look to lock him up for 3 years. $18-$20M sounds reasonable.

  • mike wants WINS

    Josh, where do they get the money to do that if they keep Capps and give Mauer $10MM more? That’s the conundrum here. I think most of us want them to keep Hardy (not everyone, but most), the question is, how does his salary fit with every other players’?

  • Anare

    I still say it was the lack of grit and quiet bats that killed us in the playoffs.

  • http://kkvb.blogspot.com Karl

    Hardy @ 3 years for 18 = 6m per.

    I am under the impression that he made 5m for this year?

    I know 1m here and 1m there add up, but I don’t think the Twins could cry salary restraints when talking about giving Hardy a 1m per bump.