February 27, 2012

Twins Notes: Zumaya, Morneau, Span, three catchers, and old friends

• It took 13 batting practice throws for Joel Zumaya to show why he was available to the Twins for a non-guaranteed, incentive-laden deal and why they were foolish not to add another setup man in a buyer's market flooded with veterans willing to sign cheaply. Zumaya felt elbow pain during Saturday's mound session, walked off with a trainer, headed to his too-familiar place in an MRI machine, and was diagnosed with a torn ulnar collateral ligament.

He'll miss the entire season, his Twins career is over before it even started, and Zumaya may call it quits at age 27 following what would be his seventh surgery in five years. And it's a shame, because throughout all the injuries Zumaya never lost the ability to throw gas--he reportedly showed mid-90s velocity in the abbreviated session Saturday--and signing him to a one-year deal worth just $400,000 in guaranteed money was a smart gamble by the Twins.

Not so smart was their decision to view Zumaya as something more than a lottery ticket, but by passing on cheap, decent bullpen options like Todd Coffey, Brad Lidge, Dan Wheeler, Chad Qualls, and Takashi Saito in favor of overpaying Matt Capps and counting on Zumaya they're left with a right-handed setup man void and only in-house arms like Anthony Swarzak, Alex Burnett, Kyle Waldrop, Jeff Gray, Lester Oliveros, and Carlos Gutierrez to fill it.

Justin Morneau created a big stir last week when he showed up to spring training and gave a less than encouraging update on his now two-year-long concussion comeback. Morneau noted that he hasn't had concussion symptoms "since January." He meant that in a positive way, but that only dates back a month, and five weeks ago Morneau told Joe Christensen of the Minneapolis Star Tribune that he hadn't experienced symptoms "since December."

Asked what he'll do if the symptoms return this spring, Morneau said:

I don't think there will be a career if it's something I'm dealing with. That's the reality of the whole thing. I've kind of come to grips with that. I'm obviously not going to continue to mess around with this if it continues to be a problem. There comes a point when you can only torture yourself so long. It's something I love to do, but you keep preparing and keep being let down, that's something that nobody wants to go through, obviously.

In other words, his baseball career may very well be determined by the next six weeks.

Denard Span's own comeback from a season-ruining concussion has flown under the radar a bit compared to Morneau, but Rhett Bollinger of MLB.com reports that "he still is bothered by an occasional bad day" nine months after the initial brain injury. This offseason Span changed his diet, took up yoga, and started seeing a chiropractor, but much like with Morneau there isn't a lot he can do now besides wait and see how his brain responds to increased activities.

• As much as injuries wrecked the Twins last season, it could have been worse. Well, sort of. Jeff Zimmerman of Fan Graphs crunched the numbers and the Twins were close to the middle of the pack when it comes to total days spent on the disabled list in 2011, ranking 13th. They did, however, lead baseball in disabled list stints with 28. By comparison, no other team had more than 24 disabled list stints and the Royals only used the disabled list nine times.

• Because they didn't make any changes to the training and medical staff it's unclear how the Twins plan to achieve their oft-stated goal of keeping players on the field and off the DL more this year, but what we do know is that injury information will be disseminated differently. Last season Ron Gardenhire was often tasked with giving medical updates to reporters, which was no fun for the manager and frequently led to confusing or misleading details.

This time around general manager Terry Ryan and assistant general manager Rob Antony will take responsibility for giving those day-to-day injury updates. Ryan explained that the change is in part to "streamline the process" and in part to let Gardenhire focusing on managing. Asked if he was in favor of the change, Gardenhire said: "When he announced that, I wanted to give him a man hug. I'm happy. Yeah, that's the last thing I want to talk about is injuries."

• Bollinger reports that "the Twins are widely expected to carry three catchers to start the season." While perhaps not ideal, particularly when one of those three catchers will almost surely be Drew Butera, no one should be surprised. In fact, in projecting the Opening Day roster back in mid-December my assumption was that they'd carry Butera along with Joe Mauer and Ryan Doumit. At this point I'd be surprised if they didn't.

Mauer's durability plays a big factor, as does Doumit being counted on to be the starting designated hitter. Toss in Gardenhire's longstanding fear of having to forfeit the DH role in the middle of a game if the DH is needed behind the plate and Butera's spot seems fairly safe despite his ghastly .178/.220/.261 career line in 142 games. Elias Sports Bureau found that the Twins have lost the DH spot mid-game just eight times in 10 years under Gardenhire.

• Old friend Cristian Guzman, who sat out last season, will attempt to get back into the AL Central after agreeing to a minor-league contract with the Indians. Cleveland manager Manny Acta managed Guzman in Washington and apparently talked the 33-year-old into making a comeback as a potential utility man. Guzman has hit .279/.314/.384 in 565 games since leaving the Twins as a free agent following the 2005 season, including .266/.311/.337 in 2010.

• Another old friend, Juan Rincon, signed a minor-league deal with the Angels. Rincon's four-year run as a dominant setup man tends to be overlooked--he posted a 2.93 ERA with 318 strikeouts in 319 innings from 2003-2006--but he was pretty much washed up at age 29 when the Twins released him in mid-2008 and since then has logged a total of just 66 innings with a 6.27 ERA for three different teams.

• Just a reminder: John Bonnes and I are hosting a get-together/meet-up/viewing party next Monday night, March 5 at Wild Boar in Hopkins, where we'll watch the Twins-Red Sox spring training game on television, record a "Gleeman and The Geek" podcast episode, drink beer, and talk baseball. It should be fun and if the turnout is decent we'll probably do a lot more events during the season, so come hang out.

  • Paul
  • JP

    I know he isn’t necessarily the level that a few of the other names you mention, but what is the status of Michael Wuertz? Seemingly could be had on a minor league contract and at least has had a few good years in the league prior to recent injury issues….

  • BR

    The Twins seem to have taken it to an extreme, but it seems fairly clear that they want to find/develop inexpensive, young, in-house relievers rather than rely on older (if relatively cheap) vets. If they were in full rebuilding mode, this would make some sense. But I don’t know how you sign Jamey Carroll to a 2-year deal to be your starting SS and then give such short shrift to your pen – especially when, as AG has repeatedly noted, there were tons of cheap RP vets available. It’s baffling, and it would be nice if the media actually pressed Ryan on this point.

  • Jamie

    Juan Rincon’s career statistics need to be erased. As soon as he got off the juice, he went straight into the toilet.

  • tjw

    I only remember one time where we lost the DH because the catcher got hurt. It was a White Sox game and Redmond got hurt while Mauer was DH’ing.

    Most of the rest of those instances of losing the DH, I believe, were more along the lines of the following: http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/MIN/MIN200805190.shtml

    Casilla started at 2B, leading off while Brendan Harris was DH’ing and batting 2nd. Craig Monroe pinch-hit for Casilla in the 9th, but the game went to extras so Harris moved to the infield. Bobby Korecky singled in the 11th and Livan Hernandez was on deck when the winning run scored.

  • Paul

    @tjw – I remember that game, it was awesome!

  • tjw

    Because I knew this would bug me, I found the five games in which Joe Mauer started a game at DH and then moved to Catcher.

    August 30, 2009 (Home vs. Texas) – Mauer starts at DH, Redmond at Catcher. In the bottom of the 8th, with a 2-run lead and Redmond on 2nd base with 1 out, Redmond is pulled for pinch runner Orlando Cabrera. Mauer catches the 9th and no pitcher bats.

    August 9, 2009 (Road @ Detroit) – Mauer starts at DH, Redmond at Catcher. In the top of the 8th, in a tie ball game with Redmond on 1st base and 0 out, Redmond is pulled for pinch runner Carlos Gomez. Mauer catches the 8th and no pitcher bats.

    May 28, 2009 (Home vs. Boston) – Mauer starts at DH, Redmond at Catcher. In the 7th inning Dustin Pedroia hits a sac fly “scoring” Jeff Bailey. In a reality in which Todd Tichenor is not the umpire, he was actually tagged out. Redmond leaps up to argue and Tichenor tosses him followed shortly by Gardy. Cuddyer pinch hits for Sean Henn in the 7th while Brian Buscher pinch hits for Luis Ayala in the 9th.

    July 6, 2007 (Road @ White Sox) – Mauer starts at DH, Redmond at Catcher. In the 1st inning Redmond is injured and Mauer moves to catcher. Matt Garza goes 0-2. Jeff Cirillo pinch hits for Garza in the 7th. Jason Tyner pinch hits for Matt Guerrier in the 9th. Twins win 12-0.

    August 31, 2005 (Road @ Kansas City) – Mauer starts at DH, Redmond at Catcher. In the top of the 9th, tie game, Redmond on 1st, one out, Brent Abernathy pinch runs (and is caught stealing). Mauer catches the 9th (walk-off Royals win) and no pitcher bats.

    So twice, in Joe Mauer’s 120 career games at DH has he been forced to move to catcher or DH because of injury or ejection.

  • ToddE

    So, if Mauer DHs, and another player catches and gets injured, is it that much worse to have Butera come in to catch and hit future at bats than a pitcher? That would be the comparison if Mauer shifted from DH to catcher. I think Jim Kaat, Jim Perry, Johan Santana and probably many others would be better options than Butera. (I am showing my age to remember Kitty Kaat and Jim Perry.) Butera’s hitting ability is about in line with a slightly above-average-hitting pitcher’s. Maybe they should look for a pitcher who can hit to handle the backup-pseudo-DH slot in case Mauer would have to move out of the DH to a position. They could do a double-switch. Mauer to catcher, the good-hitting pitcher to pitch. :-)

  • http://twinkietown.com SHS

    while i disagree with the assesment that many quality veteran set-up men were available this off-season and even shitty set-up men late for dirt cheap.

    There was no doubt that I classify Coffey, Wheeler, Qualls as solid middle relievers or secondary set-up guys (7th -inning)

    And the Twins look absolutely silly right now for not getting 1. Becasue even a veteran middle reliever at this piont would easily be our 3rd best reliever. (or higher)