May 24, 2011

Twins preparing to part ways with Kevin Slowey

Kevin Slowey has been a full-time starter since he was 19 years old at Winthrop University in 2003 and he wants to continue starting, which makes sense given his 4.42 ERA in 82 starts for the Twins. However, during spring training the Twins decided that they didn't want him in the rotation and moved Slowey to the bullpen, where he's been equal parts injured and miserable while struggling to adjust to a relief workload for the first time in his career.

There's more to the story than that, like rumors of Slowey not being particularly popular in the clubhouse and various media members making it clear that they aren't fond of dealing with him either, but ultimately it boils down to this: Slowey wants to start and the Twins don't want him in their rotation. After unsuccessfully trying to turn him into a reliever the Twins have chosen to send Slowey back to Triple-A, where he can resume starting and showcase himself for a trade.

Slowey has been a solid mid-rotation starter, posting ERAs of 4.60, 3.99, 4.86, and 4.54 in four seasons in the rotation. As an extreme fly-ball pitcher he's allowed lots of homers, but Slowey has made up for the long balls by walking just 1.5 batters per nine innings, which is tied with Roy Halladay for the best walk rate in baseball since 2007. He's also missed more bats than a typical control pitcher, averaging 6.8 strikeouts per nine innings for an average rate.

Overall he has a 4.42 ERA in 464 innings spread over 82 starts, with 354 strikeouts versus 77 walks for MLB's third-best strikeout-to-walk ratio since 2007 behind Halladay and Cliff Lee. He fares even better in advanced metrics, with a 4.16 xFIP, and if for some reason you still prefer to judge pitchers on their win-loss records Slowey (39-21) remarkably has the second-highest winning percentage in Twins history behind only Johan Santana. Seriously.

By any measure he's consistently been an effective third or fourth starter, but what he hasn't been is durable. Slowey has never topped 160 innings in a season and has averaged just 5.65 innings per start. Clearly the lack of durability frustrated the Twins, especially once it extended to his bullpen availability. However, while Slowey isn't blameless and all but forced their hand by being unable or unwilling to pitch regularly in relief it's just as clear why he'd be frustrated.

There was local and national speculation about Slowey being shopped long before the Twins announced his demotion to the bullpen in mid-March and the writing on the wall has been so clear since that decision that I wrote last week: "Even if they avoid going into full-scale seller mode for the first time in a decade I'm now convinced Slowey will be traded." With his situation becoming even more public since then, the only question now is when they'll pull the trigger.

Slowey was never going to fetch a huge return in trade and his value is probably at an all-time low right now, but I'd be surprised if the Twins aren't able to find at least a couple suitors for a 27-year-old mid-rotation starter with a 4.42 ERA and excellent strikeout-to-walk ratios who's earning $2.7 million this year and is under team control for 2012 and 2013. Slowey has burned his bridge in Minnesota, but he's too useful and too cheap not to draw interest elsewhere.

  • adjacent

    I hate how they are handling with situation, using Dick and Bert to badmouth Slowey. Whatever you do, send it to AAA, trade it, whatever. But this badmouthing shows very poor class. I think the one who has to go is the GM, who is getting the poorest results in a decade with the most money.

  • TheOW

    Agreed adjacent!
    The GM has to go. Bring in someone, anyone, else. Never happen in Twinsland, however.

    UGH!

  • MC

    I said in the off-season that I didn’t want them to sign Pavano because it meant moving Slowey to either a less effective role or out all together. Pavano’s been terrible; if it’s so apparent to me that this was a bad move, then why isn’t it to the Twins?

  • MC

    i.e. Making one mistake doesn’t make it a good decision to compound it with another.

  • MC

    I think Gardy needs to stop trashing players he doesn’t like. It’s clearly not about performance or he’d be trashing some of the other guys. The Twins have a way of running competent players out of Town.

  • mike wants WINS

    I have to agree, the use of broadcasters (as John Bonnes pointed out this morning on KFAN) to badmouth players has to stop. The pettiness and vindictiveness has to stop. This is a business. I admit it, I’m losing a ton of respect for this organization over the last few years. Nothing about the way they treat certain players is even remotely like they talk about, in terms of respect and maturity. Frankly, if Gardy doesn’t start acting respectful of people he disagrees with, and the organization doesn’t start being mature in its handling of players, I’m not sure I can be a Twins’ fan anymore. They are losing my respect, big time.

  • http://thebatshatters.blogspot.com AK

    I’m down with trading Slowey, there’s only one problem, and his name is Bill Smith. Despite the injuries and durability issues, Slowey is still a 27-year-old who would be under a team’s control for another 2.5 years, which means he has some value…problem is I don’t have the confidence in Smith to be able to maximize that value in a trade. He has shown time and again that he (and his staff) do not have the skills or the knowledge to make intelligent trades.

  • David

    Maybe they can get a proven closer for him!

  • mike wants WINS

    Great line on “proven closer” on the daily wrap on hardballtalk today….

  • Mike

    This is like selling a car and telling the buyer everything that is wrong with it. Great way to drive down the price. Nothing new that the TV and Strib guys read from the Twins press release. Nothing new but stupid!!

  • TerisPlug

    Maybe they can throw Delmon in the mix and kill two birds with one stone.

  • curt

    Bad-mouthing the guy will surely improve his trade value. No? Good grief. They should have given him a couple of starts to showcase him. Too late now. The Twins’ most fungible asset at the moment is Thome. I know, I know. But which contending team wouldn’t want a part-time home run machine? The only guys worth trading are guys you can get value for in return.

  • Brian

    Great, another competent cheap young pitcher who the Twins brass are running out of town and sure to get poor trade value in return for.

    Kyle Lohse (2006)- traded for something called Zach Ward, since has been competent 3/4 NL starter

    Matt Garza (2007)- run out of town FAST for “attitude problems” funny never heard a peep about this in Tampa or Chicago.

    Kevin Slowey (2011)- here he goes, you can expect ~400-500 innings of 1BB:3K pitching over the next 3 years for somebody else

    Francisco Liriano/Scott Baker (2012) – count on one of these two clashing with the brass next year and being traded at discount rates.

  • Brooklyn Twins Fan

    From what I could gather last night, it was Dick who was more questioning what the TWINS were doing with Slowey. He looked in that bullpen and saw Burnett, Hughes, Dumatrait, and Swarzak and still wanted an injured/unwilling Slowey to pitch over those deadbeats. Bert was the one being the prick talking about a “bus leaving and the guys on it,” or something stupid like that. I actually lost a lot of respect for Bert hearing him talk trash like a girl gossiping.

  • Brooklyn Twins Fan

    As for Gardy, a guy running team that is 15-31 has absolutely no business being picky about a player just because he doesnt “like” him, or in Gardy’s words “cant adapt” to him. Bullcrap! If he cared about not becoming only the 2nd team in baseball to have a 100M payroll and 100 losses, he’d wise the hell up and find a spot. White Sox are running a 6-man rotation, why cant we?

  • Brooklyn Twins Fan

    Finally, as for the media-types, would you expect anything less? They are bought and paid for shills. They want to have the joy can beer in the mgrs office after the game, so you know they are going to rave about the players the mgr likes and step on the throats of the ones he doesnt in print. JoeC and Lavelle have been especially brutal this season and it has left me very disappointed in their journalistic integrity (did anyone see Souhans hit piece today as well?). Mike Russo covered a crappy Wild team this past season and was tough yet fair with his coverage. He still got the interviews, he still is employed, so what are the Strib writers excuses?

  • Nick

    I laughed pretty hard last night when Slowey was yawning during extra innings and Bert said “Ah keeping you up past your bedtime, poor guy.”

  • Dan

    I’d be in favor of trading Blackburn instead. I don’t think Blackburn is really any better than Slowey, but we haven’t trashed him. The club likes to trash their players before trading them, and it makes fans less upset, but it yields poor returns (e.g. Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett).

    Slowey is a good starter with a couple years of club control. He should yield very good returns, but I’m afraid we’re not going to get much.

  • http://www.knuckleballsblog.com JimCrikket

    There’s plenty of blame for this mess to go around, including the manager and GM. They deserve to be questioned for some of the decisions they’ve made.

    That said, I’m not impressed by many of the comments, either. It strikes me that many of the same people taking broadcasters and the manager to task for being mean to poor Kevin Slowey are the same people who have questioned why other players, past and present (Punto, Cuddyer, Mauer, Butera, et al) AREN’T publicly criticized. Ah, but of course those players arent darlings of the internet crowd like Slowey. So it’s not really that you object to players being criticized, it’s just that you don’t want certain players criticized, right?

    If I had my way, the Twins would be trading Pavano or even Blackburn ahead of Slowey. But on the other hand, despite his “whatever it takes” quote coming out of Spring Training, it’s clear Slowey isn’t making much of any attempt to contribute. When things are tough, you need everyone pulling together and he’s apparently not interested in anything or anyone but himself.

    If that’s the case, I wouldn’t want him in my clubhouse either. I’d send him to Rochester to rot if I couldn’t get a decent return for him.

  • Matt in SoDak

    Dan,

    I totally agree! The Twins organization needs to stop bad-mouthing its players because, 1: its terribly disrespectful, 2: they may be the reason players are upset (with their poor management recently), and 3: IT DESTORYS WHATEVER VALUE THEY HAVE!

    I mean, sheesh! As an organization, you never hear anything about what they are thinking regarding trades…. Unless they have decided they don’t like a player, at which point it becomes a high school rumor mill. This is laughable, but even more, pathetic.

    I was actually also just thinking something similar last night, Dan, where the Twins would trade a “better” pitcher first, since it seems this season will end in a fire sale anyway. That way, they could maybe get some value in the trade (although Bill could still screw that up), and then Slowey could regain some value in the MLB rotation.

    As far as Slowey, I don’t know him personally, but I can see how he is upset with the Twins. Injuries are a part of baseball (right Mauer?) and he has been solid when on the field.

    Wow, this is 2 days in a row where I am spitting venom at the front office…. I hope things get better, and I will always be a fan, but the Twins as an organization are looking pretty silly these days. You can get away with some of this crap when you are winning 2 of every 3 games, not when you are the worst team in baseball.

  • Matt in SoDak

    Jim,

    Just saw your post right after I posted. I think it isn’t so much of who the Twins pick and choose to question, its more about timing. They tend to question a player’s drive/motivation/play only after they have decided to cut ties. This also has me worried about how Gardy has been bashing Valencia lately….

    On a different, more positive note, Plouffe made some bad plays (which had a big part of the loss) and came out and took responsibility. That was pretty neat to see out of a young player.

  • JB (the original)

    The way things are going in Oakland the last few days, how about Capps and Slowey for Fuentes…..?

  • mike wants WINS

    JimC, I think you raise an interesting point. For me, it isn’t about never calling out a player by a manager. I think it is ok for the manager to occassionally mention in the paper that a player messed up. It is also ok to mention when a player does well.

    Here are my issues:
    1. Gardy will trash some players a lot, but rarely his favorites, even in a game where they both mess up. I’m ok with him commenting on individual plays. I’m ok with him saying “Valencis isn’t playing as well this year, but we hope last year is what he really is” or “Plouffe really f’d up those plays last night.” or “Butera is not a good hitter right now. He may never be. He’s best as a backup, but we need him to play now.”. None of those are bad comments. The issue with his favorites is his gushing over guys that aren’t playing well, but never gushing over other guys.

    2. The team seems to sour on players, and then engage the press and their tv/radio employees to start badmouthing not just their play, but their effort and personalities. That’s not what I want at all. This is tricky, as there are PR issues around dealing a guy that is productive, but actually is bad in the clubhouse. In general, I think a team is better off not badmouthing anything but obviously public occurrances around effort/personality.

    3. If they are dealing Slowey, I’d like a package deal, where Revere or someone else is included, and the TWins get a super high level prospect, or 2-3 really, really good ones. Frankly, I’d love Slowey and Valencia for Lawrie, but that is not happening.

  • Mike

    “…Slowey for Fuentes…..?” Makes sense, Gardy doesn’t want Slowey, the A’s have a couple starters on the dl and Fuentes is unhappy with their manager. Wonder how Fuentes and Gardy got along?

  • toby

    Mr. Wins summed up my feelings entirely. I often do not listen to the commentary of Twins games for fear of being driven insane, but I actually did hear what Bert said about Slowey and if that was team-approved/instigated, it’s pathetically petty and utterly counter-productive. And it’s exactly the kind of thing that is turning me off of this franchise.

    I hope it was just Bert acting on my own (Hey Bert, you’re an asshole and your “analysis” works only to make the viewer less informed than s/he was to begin with) and I hope he’s forced to issue an on-air apology. I’m not going to hold my breath.

    All this said, if the Twins can’t get good value for Slowey (and given everything I doubt they can) there’s nothing wrong with seeing if he can’t dominate AAA and, if so, calling him back into the rotation if/when Blackburn/Duensing/Pavano tweak the Suck knob to 11 or get hurt. Whether this could actually happen given the personal relationships, I’m not sure.

    As an aside: I sincerely believe Gardenhire dislikes Slowey in part because he senses how much smarter he is than him. The anti-intellectualism of the Twins organization dwarfs that of baseball generally, which is tough to do.

  • http://bigleaguewiffleball.com/ Jon L.

    He has some value and maybe he can resurrect his career with another organization.

  • Scott

    I sense that the team doesnt want to play for Gardy anymore. Hence the reason youre seeing all of these minor injuries happening all the time, and Mauer taking his time. Ive been saying this for awhile, but Gardy has to go. And soon too, Im afraid that Gardy will eff up this team by trading away the wrong pieces….

  • Dave

    You know, all of the talk about Slowey being a clubhouse cancer and not being liked has confused and frustrated me. I imagine it is true, but no media outlet has ever given me a good picture for why. Specifically what does he do that people can’t stand? Does he bad-mouth other players? Is he conceited? Does he harass other people? Earlier I would read stories about how the Twins didn’t like his “personality,” but no writer would ever tell me what that “personality” is. Is he selfish? a bully? Unwilling to work? Does he not follow the wishes/orders of management? Is he un-coachable? Or, is all this personality and clubhouse stuff code words for something else?

  • Christine

    Wow…
    Last year I was lucky enough to go to the Justin Morneau Casino night at Target Field. Kevin Slowey was among the 15 or so players we met, talked with and got our picture taken with… He was by FAR the nicest, most conversational of all the guys we met… There were a few guys who refused photos, and ones that wouldn’t even look anyone in the eye. Kevin talked with my friend and me for a good five minutes. The kicker, he had just lost a game to the Braves. You wouldn’t have even known he had a bad day on the field. He was awesome.
    It is hard for me to fathom that he is someone that is disliked in the clubhouse, someone who the media refuses to talk to!! Also, if he was so disliked, why did they extend another contract for him over the off season?
    I’m at a loss.

  • mike wants WINS

    Just read on CNN that one reason the Cleveland team has been successful in trades is that they use a computer system to compile information about players. Do the Twins even own a computer?

  • Ed Bast

    To follow up on Jim’s comment, the problem I have with the Twins “badmouthing” is that they are so selective and ill-advised with their targets. I’m all for accountability, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with saying so-and-so needs to come through in that situation as long as you’re consistent. So far this year Bill Smith has publically criticized Matt Tolbert and Alexi Casilla. Those are terrible ballplayers who should not be criticized for playing up to their limited potential. Gardy’s favorite target is Valencia. Yet some of Gardy’s pets go unscathed.

    And now the Twins are going after Slowey personally? How utterly classless. They have Joe C write that he’s never seen a player so reviled in the clubhouse. Why? Explain! Why is he so terrible as a person? His unwillingness to pitch in relief is pathetic, I agree. But we’ve heard about how much they dislike Slowey for some time right now. If I’m him, I’d be at my wits end too. While it’s probably never advisable to fight childishness with childishness, he’s probably at the point where he’s sick and tired of this organization and figures if the Twins don’t respond to/recognize professionalism than he’ll have to sink to their level to get the hell out.

  • grey

    Would be interesting to compare the Rays and Twins … two teams that (at one time) couldn’t afford to make mistakes because of payroll limitations. It just seems that the Rays have been so much more astute (granted, with high draft picks from years of losing) of late … dishing Garza and Bartlett, etc. when they have trade value … same should have been done with Slowey but trigger wasn’t pulled. Joe Maddon, Andrew Friedman, others? Was the need to be “lean and mean” part of our success? Did signing Joe to the monster contract/getting a new ballpark create problems for our management? This year will be telling.

  • mike wants WINS

    I don’t think you want to do a comparison between the Twins and Rays, it will just depress you.

  • Josh

    I’m not going to get all het up for Kevin Slowey. Can’t pitch deep into a game, can’t stay healthy…he’s a 4th or 5th starter at best, despite the decent peripherals.

    Trade Blackburn instead of Slowey? No thanks. Blackie isn’t my favorite guy on the staff either, but at least he can go deep into a game, and he’s been the Twins most consistent starter this season. As long as he’s getting ground-ball outs, he’s more valuable than Slowey.

    If Slowey was able to stay healthy, or pitch deeper into a game the other stuff wouldn’t matter nearly as much. But when you’re not performing up to par and you’re pulling clubhouse lawyer stunts, whining, and not following the coaches instructions…while getting paid $2.7M…eventually it’s going to start getting out there.

    Other clubs aren’t going to care about the popularity stuff if he can pitch. The real question is can he showcase himself enough in AAA to make other clubs take a flyer on him? My bet is for the NL. Probably more willing to pinch hit for him in the 5th or 6th inning, and he might be able to go longer with an easier out in the pitcher on the table.

  • Scott

    none of the players want to play for Gardy anymore.

  • toby

    Following up on what Christine said, all I have ever heard from people who’ve met Slowey is that he’s EXTREMELY nice and doesn’t seem like a “typical athlete”. My friends are the sorts of people for whom “typical athlete” does NOT carry positive connotations. I’m guessing given the evident culture clash and his ubiquitously reported intelligence he’s GENUINELY nice while maintaining a strong sense of self, not “PR nice”, not “Minnesota nice,” and consequently not one to wholly swallow his opinions or join the herd for the sake of going along.

    The Twins in general and Gardenhire specifically (pretty much overtly and consciously) ENCOURAGE a herd mentality and groupthink. How else do they so perfectly and consistently ignore SABR research and yet happily continue on as though they’re not shooting themselves in the feet?

    If he’s reviled in the clubhouse as Joe C. (apparently – I didn’t see it) wrote, is that how ALL the players ACTUALLY feel or is that Gardenhire and his “coaching” staff plus organization brown-noser Cuddyer and maybe some dim bulbs eager to be on the right side of things.

    The most realistic scenario explaining the lack of details regarding his supposed clubhouse cancerdom is that a small core of “Gardy’s Guys” reflexively go along with the red-faced buffoon and his staff stooges, talk sh*t regarding non-Gardy guys and from their privileged position in the pecking order socially “enforce” an atmosphere of political correctness (in the true sense, not the late american sense) regarding their opinion.

  • Scott

    Toby, I don’t think that’s entirely it. I feel that ALL of the players want a change. Especially given that they get owned and outmanaged in the playoffs every year. A change that does not involve losing 4 bullpen arms and starting middle infield while bringing in an unproven japan player and giving the SS job to a guy whos at best a bench player. Yes, I think the players are tired of Gardy’s tenure and its time for change.

  • Pedro Munoz

    Clearly the Twins are behind the curve in terms of computer analysis and using sabermetrics, but I had never thought of the Twins approach as anti-intellectual. Thinking through it, I think there is definitely something to that and I wonder how much of that is behind the problems with Slowey – a guy who is clearly more well rounded (climbing Mt. Kilamanjaro?) than the average jock.

    After listening to Tolbert fail with runners in scoring position in today’s game, I did a little digging around to see what the impact of putting such a terrible hitter in the second spot. The second batter will have around a 100 more plate appearances per year than the eighth batter. Replacing Tolbert’s sub-.200 OBP with the Valencia’s mediocre .288 or Casilla’s .274 translates to 8 or 9 more baserunners per year. Even batting Butera 8th and Casilla 9th, like Gardy is doing today, costs us a few baserunners per year. You can make the team better by optimizing the same crappy players just by using a better batting order.

  • toby

    Pedro, as you probably know models show the 2nd place in the batting order is the single most important spot – if you’ve got one balanced, dominant hitter, that’s where you should hit him – yet Gardenhire treats it with an inexplicable co-mingling of fetish and contempt. Bizarre.

    When Tolbert stepped up 2nd last night I just sighed and drank, equally deeply.

  • bohemian club

    Because, as Gardy well knows, he is required to bat the shortstop position 2nd in the batting order. His hands are tied …

  • mike wants WINS

    Doesn’t matter what Plouffe does from here on out, he’s in the doghouse, right?

  • Pedro Munoz

    It would be one thing if what Gardy was doing with the second spot was part of some long-held, but ultimately wrong, baseball conventional wisdom. But it isn’t – its just Gardy being stupid. One would think that somehwere along the line someone would have pointed this out to him, but he’s been doing it for years.

    I will say I was glad Gardy ignored the pitch count and let Blackburn finish last night. I was expecting Dusty Hughes to trot out to give the game away.

    Plouffe is clearly not one of Gardy’s guys.

  • toby

    How could he be? Middle infielder with power? Can’t have that!

  • jimbo92107

    Too bad about Slowey. He’d be a much better pitcher if he’d get himself a good strength and conditioning coach. He injures too easily, but there are ways to toughen up the body to resist that.

  • Scott

    Just for fun, we should all compile a list/chart of Gardy’s boys and Gardy’s doghouse (and those that may fall in the middle)

    Gardy’s Boys: Cuddy, Alexi, Tolbert, Revere, Butera, Hoey, D. Hughes, Capps, Blackie, Mauer, Morneau, Nathan, Burnett, Slama, Pavano, Hacker

    Gardy’s Doghouse: Plouffe, Valencia, Young, Kubel, Perkins, L. Hughes, Slowey

    On the fence (or rather i cant decide): Baker, Liriano, Duensing, Span, Thome, Manship, Nishioka

  • Anare

    Scott your doghouse assessment looks pretty square. I note that the guys in the doghouse are the ones who are either effing up lately or are the types of guys who go about their business in their own quiet way and then get dogged for not being Cuddy-like. That is unfair, yes, but in sports as well as business, that happens to smart hardworking people. Sometimes a person can ride out the unpleasant times and survive and sometimes it is best for everyone to cut their losses and move on. In this case I think the Twins and Slowey need to part company. Plouffe and Valencia will be fine.

  • brian

    Why are you reading old comments?

  • EverydayEdward

    Because I missed them the first time.