November 30, 2011

“Gleeman and The Geek” #17: Mailbag and Coupling

This week's episode of "Gleeman and The Geek" was recorded at the Rock Bottom Brewery in downtown Minneapolis, which broke the streak of consecutive locations within five miles of my house. We were joined by podcast fan Joe Busch, whose girlfriend Kate Agnew set it up as a surprise birthday present and even made cupcakes. They're a great couple and Joe was a fun guest, as we answered mailbag questions from listeners and discussed a wide range of topics.

Gleeman and The Geek: Episode 17

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November 29, 2011

Got a question, comment, or topic idea for this week’s podcast?

Last month's mailbag episode of "Gleeman and The Geek" worked so well for the podcast that we're doing it again, so John Bonnes and I are soliciting questions, comments, and topic ideas from the audience. If there's something you'd like to hear us read, answer, discuss, or argue about on tonight's show you can send it to me/us via the comments section, e-mail, or Twitter. And they don't all have to be Twins-related. In fact, non-Twins stuff is definitely encouraged.

November 28, 2011

Twins Notes: Capps, Perkins, Cuddyer, Kubel, Glynn, Valencia, and Chen

• Changes in the new collective bargaining agreement inked last week benefit the Twins in the short term, as offering Matt Capps arbitration is no longer required to receive a compensatory draft pick for the free agent. Under the old system they wouldn't have risked offering Capps arbitration because he could have simply accepted and locked the Twins into a one-year deal for around $8 million, but the changes basically equal a free, no-risk draft pick for the reliever.

Assuming, of course, that the Twins don't re-sign Capps themselves. Not only has Terry Ryan already ruled out Glen Perkins replacing Joe Nathan as closer, he's repeatedly talked about wanting the role filled by someone with previous closing experience and the Twins have made no secret about attempts to re-sign Capps. For the right price and the right role Capps would be fine, but re-signing him makes much less sense now that his leaving would net a draft pick.

Perkins can potentially be more valuable as an all-purpose setup man, so not handing him the closer job is fine, but Ryan's quotes about searching for an experienced closer bring back bad memories of the Twins talking up Capps as a "proven closer." I noted last week that the three best closers in team history each had zero experience before taking over as Twins closer, so you'd hope that and Capps' failure would have taught them to value ability over experience.

Nathan, who has the most saves in Twins history, was 29 years old and had one career save when they made him a closer. Rick Aguilera, who has the second-most saves in Twins history, was 27 years old and had seven career saves when they made him a closer. Eddie Guardado, who has the third-most saves in Twins history, was 30 years old and had never saved even 10 games in a season when they made him a closer. Closers are created, not born.

Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel also saw their free agent statuses change slightly as part of the new collective bargaining agreement, but unlike with Capps the end result is basically the same. If they sign elsewhere the Twins get two draft picks for Cuddyer and one draft pick for Kubel, and in both cases arbitration still had to be offered to be eligible for compensation. They'd gladly welcome Cuddyer or Kubel back on one-year deals, so the Twins happily offered.

Cuddyer's leverage is even stronger under the new system, because teams no longer have to forfeit their first-round pick to sign the Type A free agent. Instead the Twins would receive the same first-round pick and supplemental first-round pick for his leaving, but the first-rounder is now created from scratch rather than taken from a signing team. That should lead to an even stronger market for Cuddyer, but his odds of re-signing already seemed pretty slim.

Gene Glynn, a 55-year-old Minnesota native who spent the past five years as a scout for the Rays, is the Twins' new Triple-A manager. He hasn't managed anywhere since 1992 and never managed above rookie-ball, but Glynn spent 13 years on major-league coaching staffs under managers Don Baylor and Felipe Alou. Glynn also grew up a Twins fan, was Minnesota's first "Mr. Basketball" in 1975, went to Mankato State, and played seven seasons in the minors.

Joe Christensen of the Minneapolis Star Tribune notes that Glynn scouting Twins players for the Rays played a big part in the trade that sent Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett to Tampa Bay for Delmon Young, and minor league director Jim Rantz revealed that the Twins tried to hire him multiple times in the past. Toss in all the glowing reviews from various big names he's worked with over the years and on paper at least Glynn is an ideal fit.

Rochester fired manager Tom Nieto and hitting coach Floyd Rayford after going 102-186 over the past two seasons, losing 90-plus games in back-to-back years for the first time since 1904. Pitching coach Bobby Cuellar held onto his job and will join new hitting coach Tom Brunansky on Glynn's staff. They won't have many top prospects to work with next season, but the Twins have signed a slew of minor-league veterans in an effort to make Rochester competitive again.

Daryl Thompson is the latest of those Triple-A pickups, agreeing to a minor-league deal with the Twins after spending the past six seasons in the Reds' system. Thompson was originally the then-Expos' eighth-round pick in 2003 and was sent to the Reds as part of an eight-player swap in 2006. Cincinnati's general manager at the time was Wayne Krivsky, who rejoined the Twins' front office as a special assistant and has brought in several of his former players.

Thompson is a 26-year-old right-hander with 17 innings in the big leagues and 711 innings in the minors, primarily as a starter. He was never considered a particularly good prospect and fits the Twins' mold as an extreme fly-ball pitcher with a low-90s fastball and good control. This year between Double-A and Triple-A he had a 123-to-40 strikeout-to-walk ratio and 4.26 ERA in 137 innings, allowing 18 homers and a .280 batting average.

• Deadspin posted a lengthy and not-safe-for-work article on Dan Lozano that included many unsavory allegations about the agent whose client list includes Albert Pujols, Alex Rodriguez, and other big names. Buried near the bottom of the piece was this Twins-related tidbit, which seems downright quaint compared to the various other details:

When Rodriguez signed with Lozano in May, it raised questions: Rodriguez's contract runs through 2017, and his endorsement deals are handled by another agency, so there's little a new agent could do for him. But Rodriguez is reportedly doing plenty for Lozano. According to agents familiar with the South Florida baseball scene, Lozano has repeatedly used Rodriguez as a recruiter for young talent.

Over the winter, even before Rodriguez made it official with Lozano, he was seen hanging out with a trio of highly ranked Miami-based prospects: the Orioles' Manny Machado, the Reds' Yonder Alonso, and the Twins' Danny Valencia. A South Florida-based agent says Rodriguez was the elder statesmen showing the kids a good time: parties, events, and just chilling at his condo. In February, all three left their current agencies and signed with Dan Lozano.

Deadspin alleges that Rodriguez got a piece of Lozano's agency in exchange for helping recruit Danny Valencia and others. None of which suggests Valencia did anything wrong, of course. Well, other than choosing an agent who's now being called "the king of sleaze mountain."

• Kansas City re-signed Bruce Chen to a two-year, $9 million deal, which seemed funny until Jon Heyman of SI.com reported that the Twins and Cubs "were the main other teams showing interest" in the 34-year-old southpaw. If true the Twins dodged a bullet and the fact that they even targeted Chen is disappointing. He posted some decent-looking ERAs, but throws in the mid-80s with poor secondary numbers, including xFIPs of 5.22, 4.79, and 4.68 from 2009-2011.

Javier Maymi of ESPN.com notes that Ivan Rodriguez and Dereck Rodriguez "became the first father-son tandem in history to play for the same team in the Puerto Rico winter league." Dereck was the Twins' sixth-round pick this year and Maymi reports that they're thinking about switching the 18-year-old from outfielder to pitcher. He debuted in rookie-ball and hit just .156 with zero homers and a 35-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 29 games.

November 23, 2011

“Gleeman and The Geek” #16: Nathan and Doumit

This week's episode of "Gleeman and The Geek" was recorded at Wild Boar in Hopkins and my beer of choice was Summit Winter Ale. Topics included Joe Nathan's departure, Ryan Doumit's arrival, karaoke choices, Glen Perkins' role, Matt Capps' possible return, other closer options, the impact of MLB's new collective bargaining agreement, Richard Lewis, beer snobbery, and what not to say while cutting hair.

Gleeman and The Geek: Episode 16

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

November 22, 2011

Joe Nathan leaves Twins, signs two-year, $14.5 million deal with Rangers

Joe Nathan became a free agent last month when the Twins declined his $12.5 million option for 2012, buying him out for $2 million instead, and yesterday the 37-year-old reliever signed a two-year, $14.5 million contract with the Rangers. Nathan was born in Texas and repeatedly talked about wanting to finish his career as the closer on a winning team, so the Rangers are an ideal fit coming off back-to-back AL titles with plans to move Neftali Feliz into the rotation.

Making a multi-year commitment to pay a 37-year-old relief pitcher $7.25 million per season for 65 innings is questionable enough for a nearly guaranteed contender like the Rangers with an otherwise stacked roster, but from the Twins' point of view it would've been extremely difficult to justify. There are too many other issues to address and too little money to spend thanks to a shrinking payroll. And he may not have trusted the Twins to turn things around anyway.

Nathan missed all of 2010 following elbow surgery and initially struggled in his return this year, showing decreased velocity and allowing 15 runs in 15.1 innings before a disabled list stint for more elbow problems in late May. He spent a month on the shelf and then looked like a new man for the final three months of the season, throwing 29 innings with a 3.38 ERA and 28-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio while holding opponents to a .193 batting average.

His velocity was still down a couple miles per hour compared to his pre-surgery dominance, but Nathan's control and off-speed pitches looked very sharp and he's certainly capable of thriving with a low-90s fastball. If he stays healthy and performs like he did down the stretch Nathan will rack up tons of saves in Texas, but counting on that at age 37 and one year removed from Tommy John surgery is a big risk and the Twins shouldn't be paying a premium for saves now.

Nathan went to a better team, likely for more money, and the Twins put themselves in position to spend half of their remaining payroll space on something more vital than 65 innings of relief pitching. Whether or not they will actually accomplish that wiser spending obviously remains to be seen, but in the meantime they made the right decision (or at least had the right decision made for them) and Nathan's just-completed contract paid him $47 million for 181 innings.

None of which should take anything away from how amazing Nathan was in seven seasons for the Twins. He was a 29-year-old with zero closing experience and just one season of bullpen experience when the Twins acquired him from the Giants along with Francisco Liriano and Boof Bonser in a November of 2003 deal for A.J. Pierzynski, but Nathan quickly emerged as Eddie Guardado's ninth-inning replacement and leaves as the greatest closer in team history.

And even that might be selling Nathan short. From joining the Twins in 2004 through 2009 he saved 246 games with a 1.87 ERA and 518 strikeouts in 419.1 innings. During that six-season stretch his 1.87 ERA was the lowest in baseball and his 246 saves were the most in baseball, topping second-place Mariano Rivera (1.90 ERA, 243 saves) in both categories. Nathan wasn't merely great, he had one of the greatest six-year runs by any closer in baseball history.

Nathan going down in 2010 led to the Twins overpaying for a so-called "proven closer" in Matt Capps and my hope is that the incredibly costly mistake at least taught them a valuable lesson about the role. Closers are created, not born, and Nathan, Guardado, and Rick Aguilera going on to become the three best closers in Twins history after beginning their careers as starters and setup men should make that point just as clearly as Capps' failures did.

Their challenge now should be to identify the next pitcher capable of stepping into the role like Nathan in 2004 or Aguilera in 1990 or Guardado in 2001. Find a very good reliever and let him become a very good closer, and in the process avoid the temptation to once again overpay for the "closer" label that can only be earned through opportunity in the first place. That doesn't mean it'll be easy, but focusing on ability rather than saves worked before and will work again.

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