May 9, 2011

Promotions, demotions, and disabled list stints

Catching up on the Twins' recent roster moves ...

Alexi Casilla's ill-conceived reign as the Twins' starting shortstop lasted all of a month, as he played his way out of the job by hitting just .190/.257/.286 with predictably spotty defense at a position where he lacked both the skills and experience to succeed. Trevor Plouffe has now taken over at shortstop, earning a call-up by shaking off a dreadful spring training to start well at Triple-A. That leaves Casilla as the primary second baseman, with Ron Gardenhire saying:

I talked with Alexi about it. I asked him about second base and he said it's easier. We'll see if it's easier. I know he's always more comfortable over there too. I think he's trying to do a whole heck of a lot. At second base maybe he'll be able to relax a little bit more and not rush things.

Casilla needing to relax and get comfortable has been repeated like a manta since his debut in 2006, along with talk of supposed upside. At this point, however, it might be time to conclude that Casilla just isn't very good. He'll be 27 years old in July and has 1,200 plate appearances in the majors, so Casilla is neither young nor inexperienced. Defensively he's overmatched at shortstop and merely decent at second base, and he's a career .244/.301/.321 hitter.

Even his best raw tools more often than not go to waste. Casilla has a strong arm, but the big windup and shaky accuracy mean he can't be counted on to make routine plays. He has great speed and is a remarkably efficient base-stealer, yet has a grand total of just 37 steals in 338 games. Casilla is out of minor-league options and can't be sent to Triple-A without first passing through waivers, but the risk of losing him should no longer be part of the decision-making.

• There's no immediate reason to cut bait on Casilla, but if Plouffe is performing well enough to keep a starting job by the time Tsuyoshi Nishioka is ready to return from his fractured fibula in a couple weeks keeping Casilla around would likely mean demoting Matt Tolbert to Triple-A or reducing the pitching staff from 12 to 11. It's difficult to imagine Ron Gardenhire being in favor of either option, so Casilla may truly be playing for his Twins future right now.

Of course, Plouffe having a strong grip on the job in 2-3 weeks is hardly assured. According to Gardenhire the coaching staff at Rochester praised Plouffe's defense and he hit .282/.344/.590 in 21 games there, but that brings his career mark at Triple-A up to just .255/.306/.430 in 307 games and his shortstop defense received mixed reviews long before the error-filled showing this spring. He ranked 32nd on my list of the Twins' top prospects coming into the season.

Plouffe's flaws may be different and less familiar than Casilla's flaws, but aren't necessarily any less abundant and a 25-year-old with a non-elite glove and .306 on-base percentage in 1,300 plate appearances at Triple-A isn't significantly more likely to impress as an everyday shortstop than Casilla or Tolbert. Plouffe is worth a look at shortstop and so is Nishioka once he returns, but this may not be a problem that can be solved by shuffling a deck full of the same cards.

• On the other hand, injuries to Delmon Young and Jim Thome forced the Twins to call up Ben Revere and Rene Tosoni, both of whom project as more likely long-term starters than Plouffe. Tosoni got the nod with Young out by virtue of his better start at Triple-A, but then Revere was called up anyway once Thome and Jason Repko went on the shelf last week and now they're splitting time in left field despite the two left-handed hitters not forming a natural platoon.

Thome, Jason Kubel, and Michael Cuddyer are impending free agents, so it's possible Revere and Tosoni will be two-thirds of the starting outfield next season along with Denard Span. For now they're just keeping the roster spots warm with Young seemingly close to returning and both Thome and Repko also due back before the end of the month. Revere seems more likely to stick once Young returns because he fills Repko's role as the backup center fielder.

• When the Twins claimed Dusty Hughes off waivers from the Royals in January they talked up his nice-looking ERA and the fact that left-handed hitters like Mauer and Span raved about his stuff after facing him. Ignored in all that were mediocre secondary numbers last season and an underwhelming track record in the minors, and sure enough Hughes was demoted to Triple-A after posting a 10.13 ERA in 12 appearances while opponents batted .356/.434/.622 off him.

Meanwhile, the player dropped from the 40-man roster to make room for Hughes three months ago, Rob Delaney, was called up by the Rays yesterday after posting a 1.50 ERA and 19-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 18 innings at Triple-A. Delaney won't necessarily stick in Tampa Bay and Hughes might thrive if given another shot in Minnesota, but so far the reliever swap based on ERA and hitter reviews rather than secondary stats and track records looks like a mistake.

• Last month when Joe Mauer was placed on the disabled list the Twins called up Steve Holm from Triple-A to serve as Drew Butera's backup and Gardenhire said things like "he can swing it" and "we liked him in spring training." Holm's track record said otherwise, as the 31-year-old career minor leaguer had hit just .250/.334/.379 at Triple-A. Holm predictably struggled, going 2-for-17 at the plate and 0-for-5 throwing out runners before being demoted back to Triple-A.

Holm is the definition of a replacement-level catcher, so there's no reason to fault the Twins for dropping him, but the process by which he so quickly fell out of favor is curious given that the Rochester call-up taking his job, Rene Rivera, is every bit as much a replacement-level catcher with a decade in the minors and an even less impressive track record. Why make that switch just weeks after calling up Holm over Rivera in the first place? Here's what Gardenhire said:

Just trying to mix it up. Don't want to sit here and get complacent. I hope these guys understand we're not afraid to move people around. It's just a change. Holm hadn't been swinging great. They told me Rivera was hitting balls right on the button. Terry Ryan had been watching him the last few days. He can run into a ball, and we need somebody who can run into the ball.

Presumably the Twins scouted both players before signing them as free agents this winter and then formed further opinions about them during spring training. Last month that meant calling up Holm over Rivera, yet three weeks and just 18 plate appearances later they reversed that decision because Holm "hadn't been swinging great" and Gardenhire got a report that Rivera "was hitting balls right on the button." Sounds a lot like his quotes about Holm last month.

Terry Ryan must have watched Rivera on a rare good day, because he hit just .200/.250/.333 at Rochester before the call-up. Beyond that, the notion that Rivera "can run into a ball and we need somebody who can run into the ball" is being awfully kind to a career .245 hitter with a .405 slugging percentage in parts of seven years at Triple-A. Decisions don't get less important than "Holm or Rivera?" but the decision-making process in this case fascinates me.

• As if that wasn't already too much talk about replacement-level backup catchers ... When the Holm-for-Rivera swap was announced quite a few people e-mailed and tweeted me wondering why 2007 eighth-round pick Danny Lehmann didn't get the nod instead. My assumption is that those people looked at his .325 batting average in a dozen games this season rather than his ugly .239/.318/.312 career line in five seasons. Lehmann is homegrown, but that's about it.

Francisco Liriano's no-hitter obviously quieted Gardenhire's talk of Kevin Slowey coming off the disabled list to replace him in the rotation, so instead Slowey rejoined the bullpen with a start-length relief outing after Saturday's rain delay. Slowey began the season in a secondary setup role, but with the bullpen hierarchy changing dramatically in the month he missed it'll be interesting to see if he reclaims the high-leverage role that he's capable of thriving in.

31 Comments »

  1. sad to see Delaney go..:(

    Guerra and Osterbrock not look good at AA….
    Gibson is solid at AAA..one more year..!

    Comment by chris — May 9, 2011 @ 1:55 am

  2. Gibson will most likely be up this Summer. We need to wait a bit so in order to delay his free agent eligibility.

    Comment by James — May 9, 2011 @ 9:02 am

  3. I become less and less a fan of Bill smith the longer he’s in charge. The team makes excusese like crazy. They have no real “can’t miss” prospects. They sign veterans to bizarro contracts. They trade players/prospects for relief pitchers. They get nothing for Santana. They think Casilla is a MLB player. They seem to actually think Butera is a MLB player. Frankly, I’m not sure I understand what they are doing there at all.

    Comment by mike wants WINS — May 9, 2011 @ 9:23 am

  4. I still want to know how low is too low. If Butera’s batting average dips below .100, can you honestly put him in a starting lineup 5 days a week? This isn’t the Mendoza line we are talking about. Its half the Mendoza line.

    I can’t wait for the day Casilla gets released.

    Comment by Pedro Munoz — May 9, 2011 @ 9:51 am

  5. Is it just me, or do the Twins seem like they have no idea what the hell they are doing? They seem to be scrambling and making decisions based on desperation, not long-term strategy. That’s understandable given the hole they’ve dug themselves. However, what is more disheartening about management is the decisions they made prior to the season. Their shaky roster plan has fallen apart and they never bothered to put a Plan B in place.

    Comment by JoeK — May 9, 2011 @ 10:29 am

  6. It seems to me that there was more to Holm getting sent down to bring up Rivera than what meets the eye. Apparently Holm did something that upset Gardy and he was sent packing, that is the only reason I can see for this move as both Holm and Rivera seems like identical players to me.

    Comment by jjswol — May 9, 2011 @ 10:30 am

  7. The “Rivera was hitting balls right on the button” quote seems to me Gardy giving a reason why a guy with a .200 batting average in AAA was being called up, as in he was hitting balls hard but right at defenders for outs, so the normal slash stats wouldn’t show him swinging well. That’s the only thing that makes sense, really.

    Comment by SoCalTwinsfan — May 9, 2011 @ 12:44 pm

  8. The Holm v. Rivera swap may be a warning to Casilla that he is replaceable too.

    I’m ready take it a step further and sign and call up Max Ramirez.

    Comment by David — May 9, 2011 @ 2:03 pm

  9. I think the quote is for the fans, as in “trust me, this is a good decision” pr-type comments. Does anyone think any of these catchers is the answer, even Gardenhire?

    Comment by mike wants WINS — May 9, 2011 @ 2:27 pm

  10. You got it Mike. Baseball is a business, and PR is a key part of that. Gardy’s positive words about a new call-up do not need to be analyzed and taken seriously. Nor do they need to be recalled when Rivera flops as well. Part of his job is providing optimism for the public, and that’s what he’s doing.

    Comment by (the other) Neil — May 9, 2011 @ 3:34 pm

  11. “Gibson will most likely be up this Summer. We need to wait a bit so in order to delay his free agent eligibility.”

    The date of Gibson’s callup has zero effect on his free agency eligibility. It might (or by now might now) have an effect on whether he achieves “super-two” status and gets an extra year of arb eligibility.

    Also, there will be a new basic contract in place by then anyway, so the arb process might be different than today. As could the free agency process, I guess, so maybe calling him up now COULD have FA implications down the road if the basic contract changes, but not under the current basic contract.

    Comment by Confused — May 9, 2011 @ 5:23 pm

  12. Twins are last in the AL in runs scored, bringing Gibson up will not help that problem.

    Comment by scot — May 9, 2011 @ 9:16 pm

  13. There’s a lot of hating going on right now and Gleeman makes a pretty compelling argument that these moves are not justifiable, but I think there is more than what meets the eye here.

    And yes, the Twins are clearly scrambling trying to fill the void left by Mauer. That’s what happens when you lose the best catcher in baseball. What’s the Cardinals plan to replace Pujols? Yankees plan to replace A-Rod/Jeter? The Rays plan to replace Longoria? Mets plan to replace David Wright?

    None of those guys are catchers and catchers are more injury-prone, but the Twins have the best catcher in baseball when he’s healthy so it’s not like they shouldn’t try to build around that. He’s hurt, it sucks balls, and there aren’t a lot of options. Anything the Twins do here is going to look bad.

    Going into the season with Nishi and Casilla is inexcusable, and the Twins should have known better. Frankly I would take Felipe Lopez over Casilla and it’s not even close. THAT is an example of Bill Smith’s stupidity.

    But Terry Ryan clearly was a good GM (although it took him a REALLY long time to figure it out), and the nucleus he built is still the one we’re competing with today. That nucleus is starting to finally erode but the Twins will not maintain their current pace throughout the season. They are currently on pace to lose about 104 games. They might disappoint — and probably will — but things will get better. The roster is not a 100 loss roster. It’s been a tough schedule and things will turn around — the law of averages says they have to.

    Comment by Sean — May 9, 2011 @ 11:54 pm

  14. The Twins trotted out a AAA team. Then they brought out the AAA reliever. Odds were not good for Blackburn, Perkins, Kubel, as they sat on the bench. But not impossible. For those that care, it was the worst team fielded by the Twins since 1981. Wow. 0.00 batters. Is Gardy setting up for consecutive AL Manager of the year? Hardly. No, letting Rivera handle Hoey was an abdication of responsibility. People started walking out on a walk-off knowing it was over. Ouch.

    Comment by brian — May 10, 2011 @ 12:06 am

  15. Sean: Evan Longoria, for one example, missed a month of this season with a strained oblique. The Rays went 15 and 11 while he was disabled. So they would seem to have had enough of a plan to at least, you know, not go completely in the tank without him.

    Comment by DK — May 10, 2011 @ 1:09 am

  16. Not only that, but the Rays lost Crawford, their 1B, and their entire bullpen before the season started. They also traded one of their 3 best starting pitchers, and their starting SS (no matter how bad/good he is/was). So, yeah, the Rays are better run than the Twins, there really can be no doubt about that at this point.

    As for Terry Ryan, the lack of MIF and other positions is at least partially on him. It’s not like this roster is filled with great players he drafted that should be in their prime right now.

    I’m dropping from 90 to 86 to 81 to 80 wins as my prediction now.

    Comment by mike wants WINS — May 10, 2011 @ 8:10 am

  17. Ooops, forgot to rip the manager of the year for batting Tolbert 2nd and pinch running for Kubel. Just bad.

    Comment by mike wants WINS — May 10, 2011 @ 8:11 am

  18. Last mean comment about a Twin for two weeks:

    Wow, just awful throws from the OF and the cut off man on that run in the 11th.

    Comment by mike wants WINS — May 10, 2011 @ 8:42 am

  19. Actually, I think swapping Rivera for Holm is a lot like shuffling deck chairs on the Titanic. I wouldn’t read any more into it that that.

    Comment by Steve J — May 10, 2011 @ 10:16 am

  20. I agree the Rays are better run than the Twins. But a lot of those comments aren’t really feathers in the Rays cap. I know they made moves in the offseason, and lost some guys. So did the Twins, what’s the point? The question is whether they had a good plan to replace their best player. And yes, the 15-11 record when Longo went down is better than the Twins record without Mauer. But 26 games is but a blink in a baseball season, and the Twins were also without Slowey, Delmon, and Nishioka. Other guys have been banged up. Thome got hurt. Are the Rays missing 4 starting position players, or were they at any point? No. And don’t cry any rivers for them losing Bartlett and Carlos Pena. Those guys suck. Pena is not even a legitimate major league first baseman at this point in his career.

    I am as big of a critic of the Twins as anyone, but we have to keep it rational here, and frankly Gleeman’s (and everyone else’s) criticism of the Twins and how they are handling the backup catching duties hardly qualifies as rational. What were their options for even getting a catcher? Yorvit? He signed a two year deal for 6 million as a starter. Martin? Bidding war with the Yanks — no thank you. Varitek? Good luck prying him away from the Red Sox. Pierzynski? I think he’d rather start and he’s getting $8 million over two years.

    And honestly, what does Gleeman (and everyone else) expect Gardy to say? “Well, gee, Holm really sucked balls, so we’re going to give it up for Rivera because man we just love this Rivera guy.” Anyone really think Gardy wants to be in this position? He obviously knows these guys suck and that they are bad options. There’s no need to make him demean other players and rub salt in the wounds of guys that have gotten demoted. That’s not how you run a team with any level of class.

    If you want to rip on the Twins keep it to their middle infield, which is stupid and 100 percent foreseeable and their bullpen, and maybe talk about Blackburn over Slowey as being ridiculous. But no one could have seen their rotation performing this badly so far and there is simply no way to mitigate the loss of Joe Mauer.

    It sucks for me to watch them lose as much as the next guy. But ripping on their decisions for a third string catcher? C’mon.

    Comment by Sean — May 10, 2011 @ 11:09 am

  21. my god Ben Revere sucks.

    Comment by Pedro Munoz — May 10, 2011 @ 11:19 am

  22. If anything, the Twins floundering should expose just how reliant this team was on the M&M boys in the middle of the lineup. It’s definitely Smith’s fault for weakening the depth around those two in his few years as GM (looks like he got the short end of the stick on the Bartlet/Garza trade, the Hardy trade, the Ramos trade).

    But the truth of the matter is our team never stood a chance without Mauer & Morneau healthy. And that’s why both of their health struggles — which look like they could very well be on-going — is so frightening as a Minnesota baseball fan.

    Comment by Mitch — May 10, 2011 @ 11:25 am

  23. Sean, there’s no way to 100% replace Mauer when he’s hurt, I agree. But here’s how the Twins are extremely rippable:

    1) Mauer gets hurt all the time.
    2) His primary backup is one of the worst hitters I have ever seen in my life.
    3) The front office chose to ignore 1 & 2 going into the season.
    4) They had 2 decent backups in their system, and traded them away for collectively 2 relief pitchers.

    The Twins seemingly made it a point this offseason to rob the team of depth, arrogantly saying, as long as every single starter avoids injury, we’ll be fine. When your 2 best players have spent significant time the past 2 years being injured, this is a really terrible strategy, and we’re paying for it right now.

    Comment by Ed Bast — May 10, 2011 @ 11:39 am

  24. Sean, the Rays lost Crawford, who is better than Delmon. They lost Garza, who has been better than Slowey. As for catcher, the solutions were on the 40 man roster, but they traded them both away. I will not comment on whether or not those were good trades, I am merely pointing out that they had options that they chose not to rely on.

    Comment by mike wants WINS — May 10, 2011 @ 12:07 pm

  25. Sean,

    You’re apparently choosing to completely ignore the fact that the Twins organizational depth at catcher was among the best in the majors as of 6 months ago. At one point last year Ramos was the centerpiece of a potential trade for Cliff Lee, what did they end up getting for him? A “proven closer” in Matt Capps, even though there were better relievers available practically for free(see: Fuentes, Brian.)

    Oh yeah, and the right to pay Capps $7.5 million this year, which has negative value IMO, especially when the Twins are clearly up against the limits of their payroll budget and this caused the depth problems in the MI as well.

    Now Ramos is batting 4th/5th for the Nationals at age 23, and we are stuck with Drew Buterrible, who every person not named Gardy or Bill Smith could see never should have advanced past single-A ball.

    Oh, and Morales was given away for a bucket of baseballs, would be nice to have him right now too.

    Comment by Brian — May 10, 2011 @ 1:37 pm

  26. Mike wants WINS, I get what you’re saying. But losing players in the offseason is different than losing them in the season. The Rays lost Crawford but had the chance to get Damon/Manny B/Fuld. They had a chance to mitigate that. The Twins can’t really mitigate for Mauer and given the free agents available they couldn’t have.

    Brian, I completely agree those trades were stupid. The Ramos trade was insane to me.

    Ultimately, I just think we need to restrain our criticism to where it’s appropriate. Bashing Gardy for his handling of Holm/Rivera is like bashing Rambis because the Wolves didn’t win 60 games. The talent is there, that’s a terrible hand he’s been dealt.

    The big issue here is not Holm/Rivera, it’s Bill Smith (and Gardy, although to a way lesser extent, since Smith controls the personnel moves). And I saw someone ripping Terry Ryan earlier. Let’s break it down, here is what Terry Ryan had in place when he left in 2007:

    Johan, Mauer, Morneau, Cuddy, Kubel, Baker, Garza, Nathan, Neshek, Slowey, Blackburn, Morales, Bartlett, and departing FA Torii Hunter. And this is with payrolls around $50 million

    Here’s what is left of that: Jim Hoey (instead of Johan), Mauer, Morneau, Cuddy, Kubel, Baker, Delmon Young (instead of Garza/Bartlett), Nathan, Slowey, and Blackburn. This is with payrolls of $110 million.

    This doesn’t even account for guys like Duensing and Span, two players that have contributed significantly to the Twins success under Smith that were a product of the Ryan era.

    The bottom line is that under Smith we have had about two gains (Pavano and Thome, who even at their low salaries would have probably been too expensive for Ryan to keep) and a whole host of massive subtractions. Bill Smith has been a failure. It is his decisions, with a minor dose of injuries, that are the reason why the Twins are in such dire straights. He should be fired.

    Comment by Sean — May 10, 2011 @ 3:32 pm

  27. almost forgot about a recovering Liriano when Terry Ryan left. Either way, Terry Ryan’s remaining core of Mauer, Morneau, Liriano, Cuddy, Kubel, Span, Duensing, and Nathan are the only reason why the Twins are not perennial bottom feeders that lose 110 to 120 games. As those players age and as Smith gets a better opportunity to put his imprint on the roster, the Twins will go down in flames.

    Unless he gets fired or learns some valuable lessons. Terry Ryan learned a lot in the 1990s through all of those losing years. It became obvious in the following decade. The problem is that the Twins future is now. There is no time for the GM to be learning on the job.

    Comment by Sean — May 10, 2011 @ 3:36 pm

  28. It is true, their future is now. Unfortunately, now that we are here, it isn’t what we were all hoping for.

    I agree, this is not mostly on Gardy.

    I actually think we are in agreement more than we appear to be, Sean.

    Comment by mike wants WINS — May 10, 2011 @ 3:43 pm

  29. The Twins need to let Smith go this offseason before he runs this franchise into the ground a la Doug Risebrough with the Wild. Look at what a sorry state that franchise is in due to terrible drafts, an empty minor league system, bad trades, and absurd veteran contracts. Sound familiar?

    I’m sorry, but a guy who can take the largest payroll in team history and put together the worst Twins team in a generation 1 year after a 94-win season should not be running a Little League team, much less the Twins.

    Comment by Ed Bast — May 10, 2011 @ 4:07 pm

  30. I agree completely Sean, Bill Smith is way overmatched as I’ve been saying for years now. At least this season will have one positive result if it gets him fired.

    Comment by Brian — May 10, 2011 @ 5:25 pm

  31. I think we are all mostly in agreement, too. And let me qualify something quick: I think Gleeman is awesome — even this article, other than the catcher stuff, is great analysis. Even when I don’t agree with him he makes a compelling argument.

    I also will say I think Gardy is a very good manager. There is no defending his terrible playoff record and some of his decisions are just outright bad. He’s also obviously not a stats-based guy, and I think he sometimes prioritizes players’ egos over their talent. Kubel and Cuddy are examples — these guys should both be platoon players. Kubel has been better against lefties this year but Cuddy/Kubel/some other cheap right-handed bat would be a much more productive arrangement. Kelly would’ve never done that, and if the players would have sulked about their role he would have traded or released them.

    But at the end of the day, the team almost always performs better than it appears it will on paper. The Twins play hard, give it their best, and Gardy takes care of his players. I like that about him. The players are the ones doing all the work. I think he even does it a little too much, like the platoon reference mentioned above, or his painful coddling of Casilla. And the Twins as a franchise don’t seem to like the hard throwing pitchers, aka their issues with Liriano. This is problematic. But any management approach has its weaknesses and bottom line is that at the end of the day, minus the playoffs, the Twins get it done year after year. Gardy is a big part of that. I think he has done a good job.

    Comment by Sean — May 10, 2011 @ 5:26 pm

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