May 23, 2011

Twins Notes: Perkins, James, Hughes, Thome, Revere, Capps, and Mauer

Glen Perkins emerged as one of the few bright spots for the Twins in this miserable season, escaping the doghouse with a 1.59 ERA and 22 strikeouts in 23 innings, so naturally he injured his oblique muscle Saturday night and is expected to miss at least three weeks. Normally that would give Jose Mijares an opportunity to step forward and prove himself in a higher leverage role, except he's already on the disabled list with an elbow injury.

You'd think that losing their two main left-handed relievers would motivate the Twins to call up Chuck James, a former Braves top prospect signed as a minor-league free agent after injuries derailed his career. James has thrived in the Triple-A bullpen with a 1.75 ERA, .177 opponents' batting average, and 35-to-9 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 26 innings, but because he's not on the 40-man roster the Twins opted instead to bring back Dusty Hughes.

Hughes was demoted to Triple-A just two weeks ago after allowing 12 runs in 11 innings as opponents hit .356/.434/.622 off him and didn't even fare particularly well in five appearances at Rochester. From a roster management perspective turning to Hughes again is much easier than giving James a shot, but from a trying to actually win some games perspective it looks like the Twins are content to just shuffle through the same replacement-level players.

Ron Gardenhire's left-handed relief options are now Hughes, who never deserved an Opening Day job to begin with and pitched his way to Triple-A just 15 days ago, and Phil Dumatrait, a 29-year-old journeyman owning a 6.95 ERA in 113 innings. And three of his five right-handed options are Alex Burnett and Anthony Swarzak, who shouldn't be trusted in anything close to an important spot, and Kevin Slowey, a career-long starter struggling to adjust to relief work.

At this point the seven-man bullpen consists of one mediocre closer, one formerly great closer coming back from elbow surgery, one mid-rotation starter not well suited for relieving, and four guys who should be at Triple-A. There's no "risk" to losing replacement-level arms like Hughes, Dumatrait, and Eric Hacker on waivers, but the Twins predictably avoid 40-man changes and no one in Rochester's bullpen besides James is pitching well enough to really force the issue.

Heading into the season the Twins' two biggest non-injury question marks were the bullpen and middle infield, as guys like me wondered all offseason why they did so little to address the lack of depth in both areas. Injuries have magnified that lack of depth while also wrecking the Twins in other areas, but through 45 games they rank dead last among AL teams in bullpen ERA and middle infield OPS. Sometimes big question marks turn into big problems.

• As expected, after yesterday's game the Twins activated Jim Thome and Jason Repko from the disabled list and sent Luke Hughes and Ben Revere back to Triple-A. Matt Tolbert sticks around instead of Hughes for the same reason he beat out Hughes for an Opening Day roster spot, which is his ability to play shortstop. Hughes struggled in his first extended taste of the majors, hitting .211/.253/.296 with a 17-to-4 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 75 plate appearances.

Revere was on the roster for 17 games, but started just six times and made his lone start in center field yesterday afternoon, misplaying a double into a triple ahead of what proved to be the game-winning run for Arizona. Revere also hauled in a fantastic over-the-shoulder catch in the same inning and made several impressive grabs while playing left field, but his lack of arm strength and limited offensive potential were both on full display.

Gardenhire hinted that he may have pushed the front office to keep Revere instead of bringing back Repko, saying he "really enjoyed Ben" and "told Billy [Smith] ... Rep hasn't swung the bat great down there." Repko "hasn't swung the bat great" anywhere, really, and the fact that he's a right-handed hitter backing up the left-handed-hitting Denard Span and Jason Kubel is rendered nearly meaningless by Gardenhire's refusal to platoon anyone.

Because he rarely starts, even versus lefties, Repko's main duties are coming in as a defensive replacement and pinch-running, both of which Revere could handle. Of course, it doesn't make much sense to keep Revere in the majors as a bench player and with Thome returning to the lineup the outfield playing time will be even harder to come by. Repko is very expendable, but Revere will benefit more from starting at Triple-A than sitting on the Twins' bench.

• I've written plenty about how closing is a role rather than a skill and about how closers are made rather than born. Matt Capps showing that the "proven closer" label is silly while Wilson Ramos thrives with the Nationals has brought the topic to the forefront, but posting the Rick Aguilera installment of my ongoing "Top 40 Minnesota Twins" series caused me to think about the issue in terms of Twins history.

Prior to becoming the Twins' all-time leader in saves Aguilera wasn't a closer. In fact, he didn't even want to be a reliever. Yet the Twins thought he had the raw stuff for the job and gave him a role he'd never filled before rather than give up assets to acquire an experienced closer. Nathan joins Aguilera as the only pitchers with more than 150 saves in a Minnesota uniform, yet when the Twins acquired him from the Giants he was a 29-year-old with one career save.

Eddie Guardado has the third-most saves in Twins history, but he was given the job almost by default in mid-2001 and at the time had a grand total of 18 career saves in eight seasons. Not every successful Twins closer lacked prior experience, as Ron Perranoski and Jeff Reardon racked up saves elsewhere before arriving in Minnesota. And not every good reliever pans out at closer, as Guardado only got his chance to close after LaTroy Hawkins flopped in the role.

Players can sink or swim at closer just like every other role, but logic, history, and specifically Twins history all show that paying a premium for experience accumulating saves is misguided. Judging from the bullpen's current state the Twins may have to go outside the organization for their next closer, but my hope is that they learn a lesson from Ramos-for-Capps and focus on ability instead of previous save totals. Aim for the next Aguilera or Nathan, not the next Capps.

• During his weekly radio show on 1500-ESPN yesterday Gardenhire explained that the plan is for Joe Mauer's first game action since April 12 to come today or tomorrow at extended spring training. That doesn't necessarily mean Mauer is close to returning from the DL, as he'll likely start out as a designated hitter and work his way back into playing shape, but at least there's a light at the end of the tunnel. Tsuyoshi Nishioka may also get into a game there this week.

Justin Morneau revealed that he got cortisone injections for neck and shoulder pain on May 12. Obviously after missing nine months with a concussion Morneau had enough on his plate without new health problems, but those injuries perhaps help explain his early struggles and altered hitting mechanics. His season totals are still ugly, but since getting the shots Morneau is 12-for-40 (.300) with one homer and three doubles.

• Each season when the Twins travel to National League ballparks for interleague games Dick Bremer asks Bert Blyleven about his career batting average and the FSN announcing crew jokes about his hitting. Blyleven hit more or less like most pitchers do, batting .131 with a .290 OPS in 514 career plate appearances. So far this year Drew Butera is hitting .110 with a .288 OPS in 85 plate appearances. Not quite as funny without the Hall of Fame pitching attached.

• I've seen some confusion about whether Michael Cuddyer has the ability to veto trades as a 10-and-5 player. That requires 10 full seasons of MLB service time, including five seasons with the same team. Cuddyer has the latter and this is his 11th year in the majors, but they aren't full seasons. He got merely a September call-up in 2001 and spent much of 2002 and 2003 in the minors, totaling just 76 games with the Twins in those two seasons. He can be traded.

• Perkins' injury left the Twins in a bind Saturday and put Capps into a two-inning save chance that he blew before recording two outs, but Edward Thoma of the Mankato Free Press explains why Gardenhire not making a double-switch while playing under NL rules cost the Twins twice.

Tom Brunansky's son, Terry Ryan's son, Mickey Hatcher's nephew, and Tyler Robertson's brother are among the 2011 draft prospects with relatives in baseball.

• Between the injuries and bullpen shuffling the Twins have already used 36 different players through 45 games. In the previous five seasons they used 42, 42, 40, 42, and 39 players, and that includes September call-ups.

• Since winning two of three games from the first-place Indians in mid-April the Twins are 6-18, with a pair of three-game winning streaks surrounded by losing streaks of nine, six, and now three games. Overall they're 15-30, which is the worst record in baseball and puts the Twins on pace to go 54-108 for the worst record in team history. Their current winning percentage is .333 and the only sub-.400 seasons so far (1981, 1982, 1995, 1999) were all above .370.

26 Comments »

  1. This season has been a complete disaster. I can’t say I didn’t see it coming. Much like Mr. Gleeman said, there were several glaring holes on this team before spring training which didn’t get filled. Contrast that to last year, when Bill Smith signed O-Hud to solidify the middle infield. It is no wonder the 2010 and 2011 Twins are so far apart.

    Don’t get me started on Golden Boy, Joe Mauer, who can’t seem to be bothered to prepare for the season. It is scary to think Francisco Liriano, in 2 AB, has 1/4 the RBI of our $23M catcher in late May.

    To sum it up, Bill Smith and our veterans have really not even showed up this year. Hopefully they will figure it out to win some games, but at the same time, maybe they should lose so we can get some decent prospects in the system.

    Comment by Ando — May 22, 2011 @ 10:21 pm

  2. Gardenhire is vastly overrated as a manager.

    Comment by TerisPlug — May 22, 2011 @ 10:30 pm

  3. I’m sitting here wondering what the best scenario is for the Twins this year. Is it maintaining the worst record in baseball so they get the #1 pick and are forced to do a full on fire sale at the trade deadline while all the tradeable players suddenly go on a tear?

    I know the worst scenario – starting to play .550 ball, enough to have some hope, no trades made, and no playoffs or major changes.

    So, in summary:

    Best: Lose games with tradeable players excelling
    Worst: Win games with tradeable players playing poorly

    Comment by phil — May 22, 2011 @ 10:39 pm

  4. Latroy Hawkins’ tenure as a closer was the last time I was this frustrated with the Twins. I remember as the great start in 2001 was slipping away, and Hawkins was almost a guaranteed blown save every time out at one point.

    With a $110 million payroll, maybe we could have found room to keep Crain or Guerrer or even Rauch. Or how about Pat Neshek. The Padres brought him back up, and his E.R.A. is down to 1.54. His secondary numbers aren’t as good, but they are light years better than most of what we’ve got in the bullpen now. Just saying.

    The Baker thing the other night was maddening – and forget about the double switch, which is probably too complicated for Gardy anyway. I don’t know if Baker said he was gassed, but if he was going to come out, keeping him in based on the batting order was idiotic. As it turned out, Baker – who had pitched ok despite a high pitch count – was gassed and Gardy’s strategy was thwarted anyway. Ugh.

    I think Hughes is back because Smith doesn’t want to admit he made a mistake. At some point if a guy sucked before, sucked with the Twins, and then sucked in the minors, can you conclude that he sucks? As far as the roster, is anyone really going to try to get Hughes anyway? Hughes is terrible. He’s turrible.

    Blyleven could probably better hit better than Butera now. I bet half the guys in the old timers game from last year could do better. I bet Sal Butera could do better. Butera’s been battling to keep his average about .100, but what happens when he “slumps” a little bit and it goes below? Butera is turrible.

    Ben Revere is turrible. Why is he considered a top prospect? I went back and read Gleeman’s prospect scouting report, and it really made me depressed about the Twins’ farm system.

    Has Cuddyer ever hit a home run in a game the Twins actually won? He’s playing himself into another year at 11M per, isn’t he.

    That Ramos for Capps trade gets worse by the day. Ugh. Couldn’t we have at least traded Ramos for a decent closer?

    Comment by Pedro Munoz — May 22, 2011 @ 10:48 pm

  5. Someone needs to start a petition to make Aaron Gleeman the GM of the Twins.

    Comment by Glanzer — May 22, 2011 @ 10:51 pm

  6. I think Aaron’s whole point is that if we were going to trade Ramos to fill the closer role, we should have traded him for a good pitcher, not a decent “closer.”

    Comment by ML — May 22, 2011 @ 11:21 pm

  7. god make it stop. i don’t think i can last through the season!!!

    Comment by Bill — May 22, 2011 @ 11:43 pm

  8. I don’t know if Neshek has a lucky BABIP or something, but his K/9 and BAA are both exceptionally good, to go along with the low ERA and WHIP. The Twins certainly could use him now. Why was he banished, again? He Tweeted too much?

    It is really weird how Bill Smith absolutely had to have a “proven closer,” considering how the organization had chosen its closers for at least the last 20 years–and the general success of that process. And remember that when Everyday Eddie was due to get a nice raise as a free agent, after a few years of success in the closer role, the Twins were wise enough to let him go and replace him with a cheap acquisition whose track record as a solid setup man in San Francisco wasn’t even all that long.

    Smith and Gardy should know as well as anybody that you don’t need to overpay for experience in the role, that even if your next closer implodes it’s not so hard to reshuffle and give somebody else a try. (After Hawkins’ meltdown, not only did Eddie work out great in the 9th inning, but Hawkins settled in as an effective setup man, as well. So, even that “disaster” worked out for everyone concerned in the end.) Didn’t the Twins promote Smith, in part, so that the institutional knowledge of the organization wouldn’t be lost when Terry Ryan stepped down?

    Comment by frightwig — May 23, 2011 @ 12:23 am

  9. I am officially disheartened. Until this weekend, I was fully expecting the team to make a run, and at least have a small chance on September 1st. The only thing that’s kept my spirits up is the memories from the last decade, and with them the realization that we’ve had it pretty good in Twins Land for awhile now. This year is a tough one, but as far as baseball fans go, we’ve been a lucky bunch for ten years. And I am thankful every day that I am NOT A YANKEES FAN.

    Comment by (the other) Neil — May 23, 2011 @ 2:20 am

  10. What Bill said.. This is an absolute disaster. I really wasn’t too optimistic about this season, but this? I don’t even know what to say..

    Comment by Robb — May 23, 2011 @ 6:45 am

  11. I’m not sure if there is any evidence the Twins learn from their mistakes.

    They love veterans that suck, except against them.
    They have this obsession with MIF that can’t hit (and can’t field all that well).
    They don’t DL guys when they are first hurt, even when there are multiple injuries, leaving Gardy short on the bench game after game.
    They under rate catcher offense (which is odd, again, given their history and current catcher)

    As long as Bill smith is the GM, I will have little confidence in this front office.

    Comment by mike wants WINS — May 23, 2011 @ 7:54 am

  12. Keep this in mind -
    The Twins would rather pull the plug on player a year or two too early than be stuck with a bad contract ie Guerrier, and Crain.
    If you look at how they’re currently constructed the only questionable contracts are reasonably priced pitchers ie Blackburn and Baker.

    The problem I see is B. Smith is a numbers guy. He figured out the contract stuff but so far has struck out on the personnel side.

    Comment by pk — May 23, 2011 @ 8:33 am

  13. Nail on the head! “…but from a trying to actually win some games perspective it looks like the Twins are content to just shuffle through the same replacement-level players.”

    Comment by Mike — May 23, 2011 @ 8:41 am

  14. I don’t think some of these guys are replacement level….

    Comment by mike wants WINS — May 23, 2011 @ 8:51 am

  15. Keep Capps in the closer role for five years and you’ll get an idea of what it was like in The Big Guy With Glasses era. Only, then, the Twins were an exciting (though mostly losing) team with huge upside potential. All hope was extinguished when the manager walked to the mound in the late innings.

    Comment by curt — May 23, 2011 @ 9:08 am

  16. The Twins created holes in middle infield and relief pitching over the off-season. We saw that coming. The big problem is Mauer ($23m), Morneau ($15m), Nathan ($11.5m), Cuddyer ($10.5m), Pavano ($8.5m), Capps ($7.0m), Young ($5.5m) and Liriano ($4.5m) not performing. You can swap mid-level and lower players all you want but when your top guys don’t do the job you are screwed. You can’t even trade these guys without eating huge portions of their salaries. And what would you get? Anyone watching would ask if these guys can even play. Mauer, Morneau, Nathan and maybe Liriano are medical question marks that would be huge risks for anyone. Cuddyer and Pavano are past their primes. Young and Liriano are young with potential but are not playing well. Trading anyone else will only bring others in the same situation at their current teams. It is a mess.

    Comment by curt — May 23, 2011 @ 9:19 am

  17. We all need to pray to God, Allah, Buddha, whoever you like personally, that we continue our current win rate. As, mentioned above, the only way to gain anything from this season will be a top 5 draft pick and hopefully something decent in return from deadline trades. Please don’t make the push to mediocrity. Learn from the Wild and their string of .500 seasons.

    Comment by Whistler1217 — May 23, 2011 @ 9:55 am

  18. The Brewers are going for it all this year because players like Prince Fielder are free agents at the end of the year. They had some initial struggles but are playing hot baseball right now. The team’s biggest problems beside having Carlos Gomez on the team is no bench and their bullpen is weak. Target their top prospects and make some trades. The Twins are just going to suck this year. If you are going to suck, might as well go all in and get something out of it — like lots of good prospects, high draft choices and some salary dump.

    Comment by Twins Fan in Milwaukee — May 23, 2011 @ 10:31 am

  19. Enough with the Gleeman for GM comments. He’d have to leave his mother’s basement.

    Comment by Abe — May 23, 2011 @ 1:46 pm

  20. 1. Make Slowey the closer. Then he can warm up to his heart’s content knowing when he’ll be getting used on a consistent basis. It gets rid of his “excuse”. $$$ or not, it’s not like Nathan and Crapps are getting it done. Sending him down to AAA to stretch him out to be a starter again is just doing some future team’s job and using a roster spot we’re in short supply of.

    2. After reading this in the PP: Minnesota Twins: Selig, Carew, Molitor to speak at Killebrew tribute; can someone start a petition to get Selig to stay home? He’s going to get booed out of Target Field, and is that what we want at a memorial?

    Comment by JB (the original) — May 23, 2011 @ 2:32 pm

  21. No one is going to boo Selig at a tribute.

    Comment by mike wants WINS — May 23, 2011 @ 2:36 pm

  22. If the season continues this way and we start a fire sale, is anyone actually convinced that Smith can get a SINGLE top prospect? He has shown over and over his ineptitude in player evaluation and trade management, and now his “stars” aren’t really even performing well enough for other teams to get too excited anyway. The only decent prospect this disaster of a season will result in is a top 5 pick next year. Hopefully the Twins just take whomever Jim Callis ranks in their draft slot and don’t go on their own personal evaluations.

    Just realized that I may be being too harsh, but wow, our front office has really hurt our team. The last few years, they have made questionable decisions and the overall lack of MIF, power arms and catching is tough to swallow.

    That said, we’ve had a good run of great teams (even with the poor playoff appearances, it made for fun summers) and I think I can handle a poor season, just as long as some good comes of it.

    Comment by Matt in SoDak — May 23, 2011 @ 2:54 pm

  23. Do we think Smith is actually evaluating the talent involved in trades? I don’t know we know that one way or the other. Now, that said, he is responsible for hiring the people making those assessments for sure and he may be involved in the actual decision making. We just don’t know.

    Comment by mike wants WINS — May 23, 2011 @ 3:04 pm

  24. mike,

    That is an excellent point. I certainly do not know who is evaluating, but obviously they are not doing too well.

    Comment by Matt in SoDak — May 23, 2011 @ 3:30 pm

  25. Matt, agreed, though I do think the trades to acquire hardy and rauch were good trades for sure. The follow ups, not so much.

    Comment by mike wants WINS — May 23, 2011 @ 4:06 pm

  26. The decision to trade Hardy to Balt. for those two puds Hoey and whoever the other guy was?(I think he’s in AA) was the worse trade of the offseason. Whats worse is that our “prospects” are crap. Revere is not gonna be a good everyday player. Wimmers, our #1 last year is a mess. If we have a top 5 pick next year, we better get either a probable #1 Pitcher w/gas not the Baker/Blackie/Slowey type…or a fantastic 2B-SS-3B, C or OF who has some power.

    Hopefully, we sign some GOOD free agents this offseason, I expect us to do something. We have approx. 35 million coming off the books (24 mill just w/Nathan and Cuddy) and who knows what they plan to do w/Liriano and DY.

    I’m not renewing my 40 game package w/my bro if they drop their payroll to 75 Million w/half the team being minor leaguers..they sucked in AA and AAA, I’m not watching that crap.

    Comment by Bill — May 24, 2011 @ 11:19 pm

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