August 31, 2011

“Gleeman and The Geek” #3: Losing Morneau … and Cuddyer?

This week's episode of "Gleeman and The Geek" was recorded at the Big Ten Restaurant and Bar in Hopkins and my beer of choice was Fat Tire.

Topics included Justin Morneau's latest setback, package kicking, possible free agent targets, Anthony Swarzak's future role, next season's middle infield, disabled list shenanigans, Brian Dozier's moment in the sun, Danny Valencia's view from the doghouse, what John ate at the state fair, more possible free agent targets, botching Occam's razor, speaking directly to Seth Stohs, betting on Nick Blackburn, my basketball career, and a whole bunch of other stuff.

Gleeman and The Geek: Episode 3

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August 29, 2011

Twins Notes: Waivers, trades, types, reinforcements, and Bernardo Brito

• Cleveland claimed Jim Thome off revocable waivers to facilitate last week's trade, but Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports.com reports that the Indians were also the team that claimed Jason Kubel. No deal was struck and the Twins pulled Kubel back off waivers, in part because their asking price for him was much higher than for Thome and in part because the Indians ceased needing a left-handed bat after acquiring Thome.

Ron Gardenhire revealed during his weekly radio show that Thome and his agent asked the Twins to place him on waivers "to see what happened." There's speculation that Thome ideally wanted to land back in Philadelphia, where a playoff appearance is guaranteed, but he would have been merely a pinch-hitter for the Phillies. Cleveland's playoff hopes are slim, but Thome is playing every day for the Indians and homered Saturday on his 41st birthday.

Joe Nathan explained that he "would consider" waiving his no-trade clause for a Thome-like trade to a contender, but his contract complicates things. He's owed around $2 million for the rest of this season and has a $12.5 million option or $2.5 million buyout for 2012. To get even a mid-level prospect in return for Nathan the Twins would presumably have to eat nearly that entire $4.5 million and any move would have to be made by Wednesday.

Michael Cuddyer moving to first base has helped the Twins during Justin Morneau's lengthy absences, but it also appears to have hurt his free agent ranking. MLB and Elias Sports Bureau keep their official rankings secret until the offseason, but MLB Trade Rumors reverse-engineers the data and posts frequent updates. Cuddyer was projected as a Type A free agent until last week, when his listed position changed from outfield to first base and he dropped to Type B.

• Based on MLB Trade Rumors' latest projection Cuddyer and Kubel are both slightly below the Type A cutoff, but a lot can still change. It's an important distinction in terms of compensation the Twins would receive if they sign elsewhere, but also in terms of how many teams figure to pursue them. Carl Pavano was an example of Type A status hurting a free agent's market, as many potentially interested teams didn't want to forfeit a first-round pick to sign him.

• There are seven AL pitchers who qualify for the ERA title with an opponents' batting average above .290 and the Twins have three of them (Pavano, Brian Duensing, and Nick Blackburn). In throwing 181 innings this season Pavano has allowed the most runs (103), hits (214), and baserunners (264) among AL pitchers and also has the league's second-lowest strikeout rate at 3.98 per nine innings. He'll be 36 years old next season and is owed $8.5 million.

Scott Diamond coughed up 10 hits in Friday's spot start versus the Tigers, becoming the fifth Twins pitcher to allow double-digit hits in a game this year. Diamond, Duensing, and Francisco Liriano have done it once apiece, Pavano has done it four times, and Blackburn has done it seven times in 26 total starts. Overall a Twins pitcher has allowed double-digit hits 14 times, which leads MLB. Not coincidentally their rotation has MLB's third-lowest strikeout rate.

• So far the Twins have used 16 players who weren't on the Opening Day roster and the only one of those 16 call-ups with an OPS or ERA better than league average is Anthony Swarzak. Seven are hitters and they've combined for 20 percent of the lineup's playing time while hitting .232/.281/.323 in 1,018 plate appearances. Nine are pitchers and they've logged 18 percent of the staff's batters faced while posting a 4.57 ERA in 187 innings (5.09 ERA without Swarzak).

Trevor Plouffe air-mailed a throw to first base over the weekend, but for the most part he's looked much improved at shortstop while subbing for the injured Tsuyoshi Nishioka. However, the destruction of Triple-A pitching that got him recalled to Minnesota hasn't shown up yet, as Plouffe has batted just .250/.293/.411 with an ugly 30-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 34 games since rejoining the Twins in mid-July.

Ben Revere swiped his 25th base yesterday, moving into second place on the Twins' all-time list for rookies. That sounds impressive, except the person atop the leaderboard is Luis Rivas, who stole 31 bases as a rookie in 2001. Not only did Rivas bat just .266/.319/.362 in stealing those 31 bases, he went on to steal a grand total of just 48 bases in his next 479 games. Of course, even .266/.319/.362 is quite a bit better than Revere's current .255/.301/.294 mark.

Luke Hughes went deep twice yesterday in his 73rd career game, becoming the first Twins hitter with multiple homers in one of his first 75 games since Morneau and Joe Mauer both did it in 2004. Before then the last Twins to do that were Corey Koskie in 1999 and Ron Coomer in 1996. Oh, and Bernardo Brito in 1993. Brito, who spent seven years at Triple-A for the Twins and totaled 164 homers there, managed just five homers in the majors.

• Mauer came off the disabled list on June 17. Since then he's played 61 games and Cuddyer has played 55 games. Since the All-Star break Mauer leads the Twins in batting average (.320) and on-base percentage (.380) while playing more games than anyone but Revere and Danny Valencia. Not everything must fit the pre-established narrative. Speaking of which, this is one of the rare times when Patrick Reusse and I are in complete agreement.

Dr. David Altcheck, who performed Tommy John elbow surgery on Nathan in March of 2010, provided a second opinion on Kyle Gibson's partially torn elbow ligament and agreed with the Twins' recommendation that he attempt to rest and rehab the injury before going under the knife. Gibson will miss all of 2012 whether he undergoes surgery now or in two months, so the delayed decision won't necessarily impact his return timetable much.

• Gardenhire finished ninth in a Sports Illustrated poll asking players which manager they'd like to play for, with Joe Maddon of the Rays holding the top spot at 14 percent.

• One big Thome is back in Cleveland, but 10,000 little Thomes are still in Minnesota.

Charley Walters wrote the most St. Paul article in the history of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

• Old friend Pat Neshek learned the hard way that there's a considerable difference between "designated for assignment" and "optioned."

Delmon Young has zero walks in 58 plate appearances since being traded to the Tigers.

• Since the All-Star break the Twins are hitting .247 with a .305 on-base percentage and .366 slugging percentage compared to their opponents hitting .297 with a .353 on-base percentage and .467 slugging percentage.

• Overall this year the Twins have been out-scored by 144 runs for the worst run differential in the league and the second-worst mark in baseball ahead of only the Astros at -157. Last year the Twins out-scored their opponents by 110 runs.

• Dating back to 2010 and including the playoffs, the Twins are 58-88 in their last 146 games.

• Here's how the race for the top draft picks in 2012 looks:

              W      L       GB
Astros       44     90     ----
Orioles      53     78     10.5
Royals       55     79     11.0
TWINS        56     77     12.5
Mariners     56     76     13.0
Cubs         57     77     13.0

They may have to call up Mark Madsen to shoot some three-pointers in late September.

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August 26, 2011

So long, Jimbo: Twins trade Thome to Indians

Well, that was fun.

Jim Thome has been one of the few bright spots in an otherwise dismal season for the Twins, reaching 600 career homers and putting together one of the most productive seasons ever by a 40-year-old, but with the team in a depressing tailspin of 19 losses in 24 games and Thome hitting well enough to help a contender make a playoff push it made sense to trade the future Hall of Famer. There was no sense making him sit through the final six weeks of this mess.

Thome was placed on waivers and claimed by the Indians, who drafted him as an 18-year-old shortstop in 1989 and watched him develop into one of the elite sluggers of all time. He spent the first decade of his brilliant career in Cleveland, winning six division titles and smacking 334 homers, and Thome waived his no-trade clause to return in the hopes of getting the Indians to the playoffs for just the second time since he signed with the Phillies as a free agent in 2003.

By claiming Thome off revocable waivers the Indians became the only team eligible to trade for him, which made the Twins' options very simple: Either work out a deal with Cleveland or pull Thome back for the remainder of the year. In choosing the former they wound up with a player to be named later, but that figures to be a marginal prospect and ultimately the decision was mostly about giving Thome a chance to play in meaningful games down the stretch.

Exactly how meaningful remains to be seen, as the Indians have fallen below .500 following a great start and are 6.5 games behind the Tigers with just 35 games to play. Travis Hafner is on the disabled list with a foot injury that could require season-ending surgery, so Thome will take over for him as Cleveland's starting designated hitter after batting .243/.351/.476 with 12 homers, 12 doubles, and 35 walks in 242 plate appearances for the Twins.

When the Twins signed Thome to an incentive-laden one-year contract in January of 2010 they talked about adding him primarily to fill a bench role, but between his exceptional production and Justin Morneau's concussion that turned into a starting job. He hit .283/.412/.627 with 25 homers, 16 doubles, and 60 walks in 340 plate appearances, including .303/.438/.669 with 15 homers in 50 games after Morneau went down.

He earned just $2 million while joining Morneau, Josh Hamilton, Miguel Cabrera, Joey Votto, and Albert Pujols as the only hitters in baseball to bat at least 300 times with an OPS above 1.000, but after flirting with other teams as a free agent Thome re-signed with the Twins for another modest one-year deal. His production dropped from amazing to merely very good, but Thome ranked second on the Twins in on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and OPS.

In all the Twins paid about $5 million for 582 plate appearances of .266/.386/.562 hitting and a .948 OPS that ranks as the highest in team history among all players with at least 500 trips to the plate. Harmon Killebrew ranks second on that list at .901 and Joe Mauer is third at .874, which shows how incredible Thome was in Minnesota despite not arriving until age 39. Toss in the player to be named later and that's one hell of a return on a $5 million investment.

Before he became one of the best free agent signings in Twins history Thome terrorized the Twins, batting .311/.410/.628 with 57 homers, 109 walks, and 142 RBIs in 186 games against them and turning Rick Reed into his personal batting practice pitcher. Despite destroying my favorite team Thome was always one of my favorite players and it was an honor to watch him continue to mash in a Twins uniform.

My hope is that Twins fans appreciate not only how great Thome was during these past two seasons, but also how extraordinary he was before arriving in Minnesota. In addition to being just the eighth member of the 600-homer club Thome has reached 40 homers and 100 walks in more seasons than every hitter in baseball history except for Babe Ruth and Barry Bonds, who're also the only two hitters with more career homers and walks than Thome.

Ruth, Bonds, Stan Musial, and Frank Thomas are the only four hitters in baseball history with more plate appearances and a higher OPS than Thome, who has a .959 mark in 10,045 trips to the plate. And his OPS for the Twins was .948, so we got to see one of the greatest offensive monsters of all time at his pitcher-clobbering best even if the fun lasted for just 179 games. Of course, I certainly wouldn't mind Thome returning as the Twins' designated hitter in 2012.

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August 24, 2011

“Gleeman and The Geek” #2: The (J.J.) Hardy Mysteries

This week's episode of "Gleeman and The Geek" was recorded at the Scoreboard Bar and Grill in Minnetonka and the beer of choice was Grain Belt Premium.

Topics included Brian Duensing's struggles as a starter, what the 2012 rotation will look like, whether Jim Thome and Jason Kubel should be traded, J.J. Hardy's return to Minnesota, the origins of my weird accent, Joe Nathan's chances of staying, Michael Cuddyer's price tag, why talking about Kevin Slowey is like making fat jokes, Tsuyoshi Nishioka's future, Joe Benson's upside, Lester Oliveros' debut, and a whole bunch of other stuff.

Gleeman and The Geek: Episode 2

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August 23, 2011

Twins Notes: Thome, Oliveros, Blackburn, Swarzak, Neshek, and Hardy

Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports.com reports that the Twins placed Jason Kubel and Jim Thome on revocable waivers yesterday, which is no surprise and doesn't necessarily mean anything. Both impending free agents will likely be claimed, at which point the Twins can either work out a trade with the claiming team or pull them back for the rest of 2011. They won't have options or leverage, but trading Thome and to a lesser extent Kubel could still be worthwhile.

• It took the Twins about 72 hours to choose Lester Oliveros as the player to be named later in the Delmon Young trade and then less than a week to call him up, adding the 23-year-old to the bullpen while placing Nick Blackburn on the disabled list with a forearm strain. Oliveros' fastball velocity and minor-league strikeout rates make him intriguing, but his awful control is a big hurdle to get over if he's going to become a useful late-inning option.

• For the second straight season Blackburn has pitched horribly before revealing an arm injury. Last year he earned a late-July demotion to Triple-A by throwing 104 innings with a 6.66 ERA, returned a month later to pitch well down the stretch, and then had elbow surgery. This year he was very good through mid-June, posted a 7.01 ERA and .366 opponents' batting average in his next 11 starts, and exited Sunday's game with "sharp pain" in his forearm.

Anthony Swarzak will step into the rotation for Blackburn, which is a perfect opportunity for Swarzak to convince the Twins that he's more than just a long reliever. His miniscule strikeout rate and mediocre minor-league track record suggest he's been pitching over his head and will be overmatched as a full-time starter, but Swarzak has certainly earned the chance to prove the numbers are wrong with a rubber-armed 3.12 ERA in 66 innings.

J.J. Hardy going deep last night might have been the most inevitable homer of all time or at least the most inevitable homer since Young's first post-trade swing last week. Hardy now has 24 homers for the Orioles, which is the most by an AL East shortstop since Miguel Tejada back in 2006. Hardy has 24 homers in 383 at-bats while the Twins' entire infield, including everyone to play first base, second base, shortstop, or third base, has 37 homers in 2,328 at-bats.

• Gardenhire claimed yesterday that Hardy "was probably going to be non-tendered" by the Twins if they hadn't traded him to Baltimore, except they actually tendered Hardy a contract on December 2 and didn't trade him until December 9. Perhaps they already had the framework of a deal in place, in which case Gardenhire is telling the truth about their misguided plan to cut Hardy for nothing. Ultimately the only difference is the degree of the Twins' ineptitude.

• On other hand, Gardenhire saying that the Twins planned to non-tender Young this winter if they hadn't traded him to the Tigers is totally believable and equally justified. Much like with Hardy they got whatever modest return they could for Young rather than simply cut him loose for nothing, but the fact that they apparently viewed Hardy then and Young now in the same light is pretty discouraging from a player evaluation standpoint.

• Also discouraging was Hardy strongly hinting that the Orioles' training staff has done a much better job than the Twins' training staff, which unfortunately isn't difficult to believe given the Twins' incredible number of injuries and failures to meet recovery timetables this year.

• Old friend Pat Neshek has been designated for assignment by the Padres after throwing 25 innings with a 4.02 ERA and more walks (22) than strikeouts (20). Neshek has been hard to hit with a .216 opponents' batting average, but between the hideous strikeout-to-walk ratio and an average fastball velocity of 86.4 miles per hour he hasn't made the Twins regret letting him go for nothing during spring training.

Jim Callis of Baseball America crunched the numbers for the past five drafts and reports that the Pirates and Nationals led all MLB teams in spending at $52 million and $51 million while the White Sox were last in spending at $18 million. During the five-year span the Twins were 25th in spending at $24 million, which is largely due to having just one top-20 pick and zero top-10 picks from 2007 to 2011.

• Speaking of the draft, after last night's loss the Twins are in line for the No. 5 pick next year. Last time they picked higher than 14th was in 2001, when they took Joe Mauer first overall.

Jeff Sullivan of SB Nation reviewed Mauer's first career appearance in the outfield and found that playing right field seems pretty damn easy most of the time.

Ron Gardenhire's history with umpire Hunter Wendelstedt trumped his history with Danny Valencia last night, so hopefully the manager and his third baseman at least cracked a couple beers together in the clubhouse after their dual ejections.

Ben Revere's iffy routes, weak arm, and six errors in just 60 games in center field have been frustrating, but last night he made one of the best, most spectacular catches I've ever seen.

John Bonnes and I are slated to record the second episode of our "Gleeman and The Geek" podcast tonight, so hopefully you'll be able to download it here or on iTunes in the morning. If you'd like to ask us questions to be answered on the show or want podcast-related updates, follow @GleemanAndGeek on Twitter.

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