October 25, 2011

On this date in 1987 …

Twins 4, Cardinals 2.

October 24, 2011

Twins Notes: More trimmings, fewer collisions, and shopping lists

Matt Tolbert, Jason Repko, Anthony Slama, and Rene Rivera were passed through waivers unclaimed and sent outright to Triple-A as part of the Twins' initial 40-man roster trimming and they've since done the same with Phil Dumatrait and Brian Dinkelman. Some of the six guys may stay in the organization, but they've all been removed from the 40-man roster and Tolbert quickly opted for free agency after spending his entire eight-year pro career with the Twins.

Dumatrait had a nice-looking 3.92 ERA for the Twins, but didn't actually pitch well with an awful 29-to-25 strikeout-to-walk ratio and seven homers in 41 innings. Even the 1.15 ERA he posted at Triple-A to coax the Twins into calling him up involved just 15 innings and a horrible 12-to-11 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Dumatrait is a 30-year-old journeyman with a 6.20 ERA and nearly as many walks (90) as strikeouts (97) in 151 career innings as a major leaguer.

Dinkelman is a similar story, as his .301 batting average vastly overstates how well he actually played in 23 games for the Twins. All but one of his 22 hits were singles, producing a measly .315 slugging percentage, and Dinkelman drew just four walks while striking out 14 times. His call-up never made much sense in the first place, as Dinkelman is 27 years old and has hit just .255/.327/.353 in 264 games at Triple-A while being iffy defensively at second base.

Of the six players dropped from the 40-man roster Slama is the only one with any sort of shot to be more than a marginal big leaguer and the Twins avoiding the status quo with their own collection of replacement-level talent is a positive thing. And even after those moves they still have plenty of fungible non-prospects taking up space on the 40-man roster, including Drew Butera, Jim Hoey, Jeff Manship, Kyle Waldrop, and Esmerling Vasquez.

• During a recent radio interview on 1500-ESPN general manager Bill Smith confirmed that the Twins will not make any changes to the training staff following one of the most injury wrecked seasons in team history. Smith noted that "there's nothing from a training standpoint that you can do to prevent" what he called "collision injuries" such as Tsuyoshi Nishioka fracturing his leg while trying to turn a double play or Michael Cuddyer injuring his wrist on a hit by pitch.

As he's done multiple times since the end of the season Smith suggested that Alexi Casilla's hamstring strain was the only prominent example of a non-collision injury, but as Phil Mackey of 1500-ESPN pointed out that's inaccurate. Casilla, Kevin Slowey, Scott Baker, Jim Thome, Francisco Liriano, Delmon Young, Nick Blackburn, and Glen Perkins each required disabled list stints and missed significant time with non-collision injuries.

I'm not really in a position to say whether the Twins need to dramatically shake up the training staff, but for Smith to dismiss the never-ending flood of health problems as simply bad luck and spin the situation with misleading information is disappointing. Yes, many injuries were of the collision variety, but most of those players missed far more time than the initial diagnosis and there were also plenty of non-collision injuries that kept players out far longer than expected.

• Smith also revealed a few other tidbits during that same interview, admitting that the Twins "will be looking" for a veteran shortstop who can provide "solid leadership and solid defense." No surprise, as entering 2012 with Nishioka or Trevor Plouffe atop the shortstop depth chart was never going to happen, but after botching the J.J. Hardy situation upgrading the position is once again a priority. If history is any indication the next shortstop will be underwhelming.

Asked about upgrading the depth at catcher Smith called Butera "a wonderful backup catcher" despite a .178/.220/.261 career line making him one of the worst hitters ever. Of course, more important than the silly platitudes is Smith admitting that "we've got to have more offense out of that backup position" and "are looking to add that." If they aren't willing to cut Butera loose that points to keeping three catchers or at least two catchers and a catcher/designated hitter.

• Last week I wrote about how the Twins' minor league player of the year winners have been a mixed bag during the past decade. David Winfree is perhaps the least successful recipient during that time, winning the award in 2005 thanks to a nice-looking RBI total at high Single-A masking unspectacular overall production and an ugly 93-to-22 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Winfree never even reached the majors, leaving the organization as a free agent in 2009.

He's played at Triple-A for three different organizations during the two seasons since then, but put together a good 39-game stretch for the Diamondbacks' affiliate this season and somehow convinced them to add him to the 40-man roster. Winfree is a 26-year-old first baseman/corner outfielder with a .287/.331/.484 mark in 264 games at Triple-A, so even if he finally makes it to the majors in Arizona don't expect the former 13th-round pick to haunt the Twins.

LaVelle E. Neal III of the Minneapolis Star Tribune notes that the Twins are giving rookie-ball center fielder Eddie Rosario some reps at second base in instructional league games. Rosario had a monster season for Elizabethton as a 19-year-old, batting .337 with 21 homers in 67 games, and given the organization's solid outfield depth and longstanding inability to develop quality infielders it's worth a try while he's on the bottom rungs of the minor-league ladder.

John Bonnes, Seth Stohs, Nick Nelson, and Parker Hageman are taking pre-orders for their annual "Offseason GM Handbook." I'm not part of the TwinsCentric group and have nothing to do with the handbook, but can absolutely vouch for product as a worthwhile investment. Plus, in addition to 135 pages analyzing offseason possibilities and all things Twins the e-book also features a foreword by Patrick Reusse of the Star Tribune and 1500-ESPN. Check it out.

October 21, 2011

Link-O-Rama

• As a kid Razor Ramon was one of my favorite wrestlers and a chest hair inspiration, so this ESPN segment about his post-wrestling life is extra depressing. And apparently it got worse.

Ryan Howard isn't going to let a pesky torn Achilles' tendon keep him from Whole Foods.

Ozzie Guillen quote of the week: "We want to f*** you, but we don't want to marry you."

• This list of the best television show title sequences is a good way to waste an afternoon.

• Between these Community outtakes and her Late Night With Jimmy Fallon appearance Alison Brie shattered all sorts of adorability records. She's in the Official Fantasy Girl of AG.com mix.

• If you watched Game 2 of the World Series last night you probably recognized this guy.

Tony La Russa's wind-blown mohawk was pretty spectacular.

• How can one man be responsible for unleashing all that internet nudity?

• Thanks to Jason Collette of Baseball Prospectus and DRaysBay for being an excellent guest on this week's podcast, which you can listen to by clicking here.

A.J. Pierzynski has successfully introduced "rally beer" into the baseball lexicon.

• The first two comments on the last Link-O-Rama entry sum up the internet perfectly.

Kate Beckinsale is having one of the best age-38 seasons of all time.

• It turns out "poo-poo and pee-pee cards" are the keys to managing a World Series team.

• Fat-O-Meter update: I'm down 110 pounds since March 7. No special gimmicks or weird diets, just fewer calories and more exercise. By now the weight loss has slowed down considerably, but I've gone from obese to fat and am dangerously close to husky. Still lots of work left.

Kimbo Slice's boxing career is going slightly better than his mixed martial arts career.

Don't blink.

Jake Fogelnest of Spin magazine wrote a great and lengthy article about the comedic genius of Tom Scharpling (and Jon Wurster).

Sad news about one of the OG baseball bloggers, Mac Thomason, who had a big impact on my blog-mate Craig Calcaterra.

• Before he became a playoff hero Nelson Cruz was passed over by every team in baseball, including the Rangers.

Michael Beasley hired a public relations firm to help his image, but last night they did him no favors by sending out literally a dozen unsolicited e-mails promoting the same charity game.

• She'll always be Lindsay Weir to me, but Linda Cardellini is 36 years old and pregnant.

• I'm a devoted Dasani drinker, but mostly because the bottle looks nice and clean.

Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe wrote a really good, rational take on the Red Sox's beer and chicken controversy.

• I'm not religious ... or am I?

Maria Bello's hat made me snark on the show initially, but Prime Suspect has grown on me.

• On a related note the original, British version of Prime Suspect starring Helen Mirren (plus a pre-fame Ralph Fiennes and Tom Wilkinson) is available on YouTube. Fewer hats, though.

• I've reached the saturation point with Jonah Hill, but anything that makes Hannibal Buress more famous is a good thing.

• I sent this link to my mom and she replied: "Thank you for George Clooney!"

• And speaking of great-looking couples that seem just about right, there's this news too.

Norm Macdonald on Marc Maron's podcast was pretty much the best thing ever.

• I saw The Tree of Life and decided it's either bad or I'm too dumb to appreciate its greatness.

• I've been posting a running commentary during the World Series games, so if you're into that sort of thing follow me on Twitter.

• Finally, this week's AG.com-approved music video is The White Stripes doing a live version of "Ball and Biscuit":

October 19, 2011

“Gleeman and The Geek” #10: Twins vs. Rays

This week's episode of "Gleeman and The Geek" was recorded at Senser's in Bloomington and my beer of choice was Sam Adams Octoberfest. And after embarrassingly sticking exclusively to water for the past month John Bonnes was finally back on/off the wagon. We were joined by a special guest, Baseball Prospectus, DRaysBay, and Rotowire writer Jason Collette, who was in town from Florida and immediately fit right in while drinking Grain Belt Nordeast.

Topics included the original Delmon Young trade, how the Rays and Twins compare on and off the field, why a team's division shapes the way their success or failure is perceived, television ratings and attendance numbers, the end of the Matt Tolbert era, payroll limitations saving teams from regrettable long-term deals, and what it's like to blog about an organization that's fluent in sabermetrics. It's our longest show yet and Jason was a great guest, so check it out:

Gleeman and The Geek: Episode 10

In addition to the direct download link above you can also subscribe to the podcast via iTunes.

October 17, 2011

Twins Notes: Roster trimming, old friends, minor awards, and 10-5-2004

• Most teams prepare for the offseason by trimming at least a handful of lesser players from the margins of their 40-man roster and the Twins' initial purge included Anthony Slama, Matt Tolbert, Jason Repko, and Rene Rivera. All four players were outrighted off the 40-man roster and went unclaimed on waivers before being assigned to Triple-A. In order to call any of them up to the majors next season the Twins would first have to re-add them to the 40-man roster.

Slama is the one questionable cut, as his minor-league track record has long screamed out for an opportunity that the Twins simply never seemed interested in giving him. He likely would've finally gotten an extended shot in the majors during the second half because of all the Twins' injuries, but Slama missed the final two months of the season with an elbow injury of his own. If healthy he's capable of being a solid middle reliever, but at age 28 time is just about up.

Tolbert is the epitome of a replacement-level infielder and the Twins realizing that's not worth 40-man roster space is encouraging considering they gave him at least 100 plate appearances in each of the past four seasons. I've called Tolbert a poor man's Nick Punto, but that actually might short-change Punto. Tolbert is 29 years old, doesn't offer anything special defensively, and has hit just .230/.288/.319 in 680 plate appearances as a big leaguer.

Rivera entered this season as a 27-year-old with 159 plate appearances in the majors, but the Twins gave him 35 starts and 114 plate appearances because Joe Mauer wasn't healthy and they had embarrassingly little catching depth behind him. Just as Tolbert is the definition of a replacement-level infielder, Rivera is a prime example of a replacement-level catcher. He's solid defensively, but Rivera has hit .193 in the majors and .254/.297/.421 in 186 games at Triple-A.

Repko's best fit is as a fifth outfielder who starts against left-handed pitching, but that role is pretty limited to begin with and Ron Gardenhire never utilizes a platoon anyway. When put in a more traditional fourth outfielder role Repko doesn't hit enough to be a reasonable fill-in and mostly just wastes a bench spot, which the Twins can't afford when combined with the 12-man pitching staff Gardenhire prefers. He'll likely be in another organization next season.

• Old friends Pat Neshek and Jose Morales were also dropped from 40-man rosters in similar house cleanings by the Padres and Rockies. Neshek split this year between Triple-A and San Diego, but struggled in both places as his fastball topped out in the high-80s following elbow surgery in November of 2008. Morales missed most of the season with a broken thumb, hitting .267/.352/.317 in 22 games as the Rockies' backup catcher. They'll both likely be free agents.

• Rochester is plenty frustrated with the Triple-A team after back-to-back 90-loss seasons, so the Twins re-signed minor-league free agents Aaron Bates, Ray Chang, and Mike Hollimon to begin stockpiling some depth. All three guys are closing in on 30 years old with basically zero chance of being called up to Minnesota, but Bates is a first baseman who hit .316/.408/.439 in 106 games for Rochester this season and Chang and Hollimon are useful infielders at Triple-A.

Brian Dozier was named the Twins' minor league player of the year, which is both a tribute to how well he played this season and an indictment of how poorly the rest of the farm system fared. Dozier was an afterthought coming into this season, as the Twins assigned him to high Single-A as a 24-year-old and only promoted him to Double-A after the 2009 eighth-round pick hit .322/.423/.472 in 49 games at Fort Myers.

Dozier was just as productive at Double-A, hitting .318/.384/.502 in 73 games, but he currently projects as more of a utility man than a strong everyday player and won't be anywhere close to cracking any top prospect lists for 2012. Depending on how the Twins address their woeful middle infield depth this winter Dozier may get a chance to force his way onto the Opening Day roster, but more likely he'll begin next season in Rochester at age 25.

Liam Hendriks got the nod as the Twins' minor league pitcher of the year after throwing 139 innings with a 3.36 ERA and 111-to-21 strikeout-to-walk ratio between Double-A and Triple-A. Hendriks is two years younger than Dozier and a step or two above him as a prospect, looking like a future middle-of-the-rotation starter. He ranked No. 8 on my list of the Twins' prospects coming into this season and got his feet wet in the majors with four September starts.

Here are the Twins' recent minor-league award winners:

YEAR     PLAYER              PITCHER
2011     Brian Dozier        Liam Hendriks
2010     Joe Benson          Kyle Gibson
2009     Ben Revere          David Bromberg
2008     Ben Revere          Anthony Slama
2007     Brian Buscher       Kevin Slowey
2006     Alexi Casilla       Matt Garza
2005     David Winfree       Francisco Liriano
2004     Jason Kubel         Scott Baker
2003     Joe Mauer           Jesse Crain
2002     Lew Ford            J.D. Durbin

Certainly a mixed bag, to say the least.

• How far has Aaron Hicks' prospect stock fallen? According to Baseball America at least, a ton. On their annual preseason prospect list they ranked him No. 19 for 2010 and No. 45 for 2011, but on their recently released postseason list of top prospects by league Hicks ranked No. 18 ... in the Florida State League. Seems like a safe bet that he won't crack Baseball America's top 100 for 2012. In fact, Miguel Sano may be the only Twins prospect who does.

• Speaking of Hicks, this out of context quote amused me: "I was pretty much going down the same road as Tiger Woods."

John Ourand of Sports Business Journal crunched the numbers on local television audiences across baseball and the Twins' viewership declined 28 percent compared to last year, dropping from 152,000 to 109,000 viewers per game. That decline of 43,000 viewers per game was the largest drop of any MLB team, although based on percentage of viewers lost the Twins' drop was only the fifth-highest. Whatever the case, FSN had an ugly season along with the Twins.

• How long has it been since the Twins won a playoff game? Their last postseason win came on October 5, 2004 against the Yankees, as Johan Santana tossed seven shutout innings and Jacque Jones homered off Mike Mussina in a 2-0 victory. New York's lineup that day included Gary Sheffield, Bernie Williams, John Olerud, and Ruben Sierra, all of whom are retired. And here was the Twins' lineup:

1. Shannon Stewart, LF
2. Jacque Jones, RF
3. Torii Hunter, CF
4. Justin Morneau, 1B
5. Corey Koskie, 3B
6. Lew Ford, DH
7. Cristian Guzman, SS
8. Michael Cuddyer, 2B
9. Henry Blanco, C

Wow. Lew Ford at designated hitter, Corey Koskie at third base, Henry Blanco at catcher, and Justin Morneau in the cleanup spot as a 24-year-old rookie, not to mention a double-play duo of Cristian Guzman at shortstop and Michael Cuddyer at second base ... with Cuddyer batting after Guzman. I was still in college at the time, Sano was 11 years old, and on that same day Dick Cheney and John Edwards had their vice presidential debate.

• I wrote an article for MinnPost attempting to make sense of Delmon Young's playoff power.

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