October 31, 2012

Offseason outlook: Justin Morneau

Justin Morneau was a shell of his former self in 2011, hitting .227/.285/.333 while missing 93 games with an assortment of injuries that included continued symptoms related to his mid-2010 concussion, but he was mostly healthy and relatively productive in 2012. Morneau played 134 games after totaling 150 games in the previous two seasons and showed glimpses of being the offensive force whose career was derailed by a knee to the head on July 7, 2010.

After a modest first half that was focused on staying healthy Morneau hit .317/.356/.506 in 42 games from the All-Star break through the end of August, but then he faded in September by hitting .236/.351/.316 in 27 games before being shut down for the final weekend in Toronto. There was no specific injury cited, but Morneau talked often about being unable to lift weights because it bothered his surgically repaired right wrist and he simply seemed worn down.

Coming into the season everyone involved would have gladly signed off on Morneau logging 570 plate appearances and hitting .267/.333/.440, especially since he avoided any major concussion-related setbacks. However, in addition to the concussion threatening his career Morneau has also had surgeries on his wrist, back, knee, and foot within the past two years and at age 31 it's natural to wonder how much of a toll that's taken on him physically.

Compared to his 2008-2010, pre-concussion numbers Morneau's overall production was down 15 percent, including 25 percent less power, 28 percent fewer walks, and 27 percent more strikeouts. Morneau chased pitches outside the strike zone 28 percent more often, swung through more pitches than ever before, and hit just .232/.271/.298 with an ugly 45-to-10 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 214 plate appearances versus left-handed pitching.

Among the 30 first basemen and designated hitters with at least 500 plate appearances he ranked 18th in batting average, 15th in on-base percentage, 19th in slugging percentage, and 18th in OPS. Perhaps being another year removed from the concussion and having a full offseason to rest will enable Morneau to build on his 2012 production, but even setting aside his many health issues he's at an age when declines are expected.

Morneau also has just one season remaining on his contract and it's hard to see him fitting into the Twins' plans beyond 2013. When reports surfaced that the Dodgers were showing interest in Morneau at the trade deadline and may have been willing to give up prospects in addition to taking on his entire contract that seemed like a good opportunity for the Twins to shed his $14 million salary for 2013 and acquire some young talent.

Instead the Twins decided to keep Morneau and the Dodgers traded for Adrian Gonzalez, ruling them out as a potential future trade fit as well. Whether other teams were ever willing to assume Morneau's contract and part with prospects is unclear, but even wiping his $14 million salary off the books would have value for the Twins as they try to rebuild the starting rotation and his departure would clear a path for Chris Parmelee to get regular playing time.

In other words, if Morneau is no longer an elite hitter and is unlikely to be on the team beyond 2013 would the Twins be better off getting some value for him now and moving on? To me that beats paying him $14 million for one more season and then letting him walk for nothing as a free agent, although if he puts together a strong, healthy first half in 2013 his trade value could potentially be just as high or higher than it was in July.

Trading one of the best players in team history is never easy, particularly considering what Morneau has gone through, but in the larger picture he's a good but not great first baseman with tons of health-related question marks signed to a one-year, $14 million contract. Letting him play out that deal and hit the open market might be the least-painful option in the short term, but it would also likely be a missed opportunity to better allocate that money.

Other "offseason outlook" write-ups: Josh Willingham, Trevor Plouffe, Joe Mauer, Ryan Doumit

October 28, 2012

“Gleeman and The Geek” #65: Warm and Fuzzy Wolvhammer

This week's episode of "Gleeman and The Geek" was recorded at Surly Darkness Days and topics included yelling over Wolvhammer, adventures in motorcycling, saying goodbye to Matt Capps, the reconfigured coaching staff, trying to re-sign Scott Baker, trimming the 40-man roster, how much the Twins would miss Ron Gardenhire, paying off a beer debt from six months ago, John Bonnes' chat with Terry Ryan, and Luis Perdomo-fueled beard talk.

Gleeman and The Geek: Episode 65

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

Two pictures to accompany this week's episode. First, here's the Surly Darkness Days crowd, with Wolvhammer on stage in the background, just before we started recording:

And second, Bonnes compared my beard to Sylvester Stallone in "Nighthawks":

October 26, 2012

Link-O-Rama

Clark Kent quit his newspaper job at the Daily Planet and might become a blogger.

• Something tells me this isn't quite how "the archetypal blogger's lair" should really look, if only because it appears to be an above-ground room.

Behind the scenes of HardballTalk, where we're very serious about the photos used in posts.

Alison Brie and Gillian Jacobs are my new favorite tag team, replacing The Road Warriors.

Delmon Young, in addition to being MVP of the ALCS, is also the reigning king of GIFs.

• Old friend Mike Redmond is a strong candidate to replace Ozzie Guillen as Marlins manager.

This week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode featured lots of talk about what to expect from the Twins' offseason and me singing a Beyonce song. We're recording next week's episode Saturday afternoon at "Surly Darkness Day" in Brooklyn Center, so if you see a couple weirdos talking into microphones while everyone around them drinks beer come say hello.

• Last week my YouTube debut was such a massive hit that I decided to get behind the camera for this week's video, so here's my debut as a film maker:

Hey, at least I figured out how to shoot the video in landscape mode.

Marco Scutaro as Andy Dufresne is my favorite moment from the playoffs so far.

• It's almost as if Official Fantasy Girl of AG.com Mila Kunis doesn't care what I think any more.

• CopyBlogger.com posted "eight strange habits for very successful writers" and I'm happy to say at least three and sometimes four of them apply to me. Feel free to guess which ones.

Louis C.K. is hosting "Saturday Night Live" on November 3, so I'll be watching "Saturday Night Live" for the first time in a long time.

Carlton Fisk decided to make his own very weird sequel to "Field of Dreams."

• Ball Don't Lie has an interesting, lengthy preview of the Timberwolves co-written by three of the best basketball bloggers around.

• The world's toughest job is now open.

• Truth or dare? Truth. I took two pages of notes while watching this week's "Survivor" so I could write a stupid Jeff Kent recap post.

• This review of "Gleeman and The Geek" describes exactly what we're going for.

• In bad movies forcing the title into the dialogue can seem incredibly forced, but in a good movie you get some memorable moments like this:

I also appreciate the sheer randomness of the movies picked for that video.

• If you're into mixed martial arts this lengthy roundtable discussion with Ariel Helwani and my old NBCSports.com colleague Mike Chiappetta is definitely worth watching.

• And people say Twitter bots are dumb.

• Finally, some meaningful analysis about homefield (or grass) advantage in the World Series.

• Whatever you think of the Twins' farm system in recent years, at least they aren't forcing top prospects to go through this silliness.

• Since the World Series is also known as the "fall classic" it's safe to say Lil Wayne finally gave at least one of the seasons reason to hate him.

• "Fantasy Football Almanac" is a pretty cool idea from Deadspin.

• Oh, no. This changes everything.

• I'm proud to be a very small part of MinnPost, which is celebrating its fifth anniversary.

• My new thing is watching dark, depressing foreign movies on Netflix after midnight, so if you want to be a miserable insomniac check out "King of Devil's Island," "Bonsai," and "Sidewalls."

• Some of this week's weird and random search engine queries that brought people here:

- "What real men look like"
- "Brooklyn Decker baseballs"
- "Authentic dark colored chicken fried rice"
- "John Sharkman"
- "Susan Tedeschi baseball game"
- "Top rated elbow surgeons"
- "Glen Perkins net worth"
- "Carson Cistulli wife hot"
- "Chelsea Peretti drugs"
- "Livan Hernandez golf club"

• Finally, this week's AG.com-approved music video is "Could You Be Loved" by Bob Marley:

October 25, 2012

Twins Notes: 40-man cuts, declining Capps, Baker talks, and 25 years ago

Yesterday in this space I listed 11 marginal players the Twins could designate for assignment to create space on the 40-man roster heading into the offseason and by the afternoon they'd done just that, dropping all but four of those players from the roster. Carlos Gutierrez was claimed off waivers by the Cubs while Jeff Manship, Luis Perdomo, Esmerling Vasquez, Kyle Waldrop, P.J. Walters, and Matt Carson all passed through waivers unclaimed.

Gutierrez was the 27th overall pick in the 2008 draft out of the University of Miami and for years was touted as a late-inning bullpen option, but he never actually pitched well beyond Single-A. He got ground balls with his sinker, but Gutierrez was basically a one-pitch reliever with poor control. He posted a 4.90 ERA between Double-A and Triple-A while managing just 6.9 strikeouts per nine innings and is currently recovering from shoulder surgery at age 26.

Manship once looked like a decent prospect as a starter in the minors, but he simply couldn't miss enough bats against experienced hitters and wasn't able to add much velocity in a move to the bullpen. He could resurface as a decent middle reliever at some point, but there's little in his track record to suggest an upside beyond that and Manship is 27 years old with mediocre raw stuff and a 6.20 ERA in 85 innings as a big leaguer.

Waldrop was drafted 25th overall in 2004, which is so long ago that the Twins took him with the compensatory pick they got for losing LaTroy Hawkins as a free agent. He was drafted as a starter out of high school, but shifted to the bullpen following shoulder surgery in 2008 and spent three years at Triple-A. Waldrop throws strikes and gets tons of ground balls, but had just 5.4 strikeouts per nine innings in Rochester and missed even fewer bats in Minnesota.

Perdomo, Vasquez, Walters, and Carson were each acquired by the Twins via minor-league deals or waiver claims, so cutting them loose comes as no surprise. Perdomo is the reliever the Twins decided to promote in September instead of giving Anthony Slama an opportunity to show that his consistently amazing minor-league numbers are no fluke, which was maddening then and remains so now.

• Along with trimming the 40-man roster the Twins also declined their $6 million option on Matt Capps, buying him out for $250,000 instead. That doesn't preclude them from re-signing Capps for less, but hopefully the front office can talk themselves into a clean breakup after such an odd love affair. Capps threw 122 innings for the Twins with a 3.61 ERA and 5.4 strikeouts per nine innings, which cost them Wilson Ramos, one draft pick, and $13 million.

Capps is a perfectly decent setup man when healthy, but he's always been an example of the folly behind labeling someone a "proven closer" based on save totals and then paying a premium for that meaningless label. Doing it over and over again, as the Twins did, is one of the team's most obvious fundamental mistakes in recent memory. Closers are made, not born, as Rick Aguilera, Joe Nathan, Eddie Guardado, and now Glen Perkins have shown.

• They haven't officially declined the $9 million option on Scott Baker for 2013, but that's merely a formality after he missed the entire season following Tommy John elbow surgery. Two months ago Baker said he'd like to remain in Minnesota, this week general manager Terry Ryan said the Twins are interested in keeping him around, and yesterday Darren Wolfson of 1500ESPN.com reported that the two sides are "working now on a new deal."

Baker is no sure thing to be healthy by Opening Day and had durability issues even before the surgery, but getting him signed to an incentive-laden one-year deal before free agency begins would be a nice first step toward rebuilding the rotation. Baker logged 135 innings with a 3.14 ERA and 123-to-32 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 2011 and among the 144 starters with 500-plus innings since 2007 he ranks 12th in K/BB ratio, 50th in xFIP, and 52nd in ERA.

• Last but not least, on this date 25 years ago ...

Twins 4, Cardinals 2.

October 24, 2012

Twins Notes: Coaching changes, Rantz retires, and Gibson impresses

• It turns out the coaching shakeup wasn't as extreme as first believed, as the reconfigured staff includes Joe Vavra and Scott Ullger sticking around in new roles. Vavra goes from hitting coach to third base coach and Ullger goes from bench coach to first base coach. Ullger is running out of jobs he can be moved to, going from hitting coach to third base coach to bench coach to first base coach, which is the role he filled upon joining Tom Kelly's staff in 1994.

Vavra and Ullger remaining on Ron Gardenhire's staff and Rick Anderson keeping his job as pitching coach means the shakeup led to just three new coaches: Tom Brunansky replaces Vavra as hitting coach, Bobby Cuellar replaces Rick Stelmaszek as bullpen coach, and Terry Steinbach replaces Ullger as bench coach. Brunansky and Cuellar were the Triple-A hitting and pitching coaches, while Steinbach has been an assistant coach for Wayzata high school.

Cuellar is an intriguing addition because he has a lengthy track record in the minors that includes being credited with teaching Johan Santana his incredible changeup and also gives the Twins a much-needed Spanish-speaking coach. Brunansky was promoted from Double-A to Triple-A this year and has drawn some rave reviews for his work with young hitters, so it will be interesting to see how his approach differs from Vavra's, especially with Vavra still around.

Cuellar and Brunansky were expected additions, but Steinbach seemingly came out of nowhere after the Twins decided against taking Paul Molitor up on his offer to join the staff. Steinbach is a Minnesota native who starred for the Gophers and spent the last three seasons of his 14-year career with the Twins, but he's never coached professionally beyond being a spring training instructor. In addition to bench coach duties he'll work specifically with catchers.

It's not often that you see both a hitting coach and a bench coach demoted to base coaches, but it fits with the Twins' overall reluctance to make sweeping changes. Even when they shake things up they still can't quite say goodbye to longtime staffers and in the end Stelmaszek, first base coach Jerry White, third base coach Steve Liddle are the only members of the 2012 staff who won't be on the 2013 staff.

• There was a major change in the front office, as Jim Rantz announced his retirement after an astounding 52 years in the organization as a player, scout, and executive. Rantz was born in St. Paul, pitched for the Gophers, and actually predates the team's move to Minnesota, signing with the Washington Senators in 1960. He never made the majors, but pitched five years in the minors and went on to become one of the most important people in Twins history.

For the past 27 years Rantz has been the Twins' minor league director, overseeing the draft and development of prospects that has consistently played such a key role in any success the organization has found during that time. He's specifically credited with picking Kirby Puckett third overall in the 1982 draft and repeatedly received awards from his peers in the scouting community. Rantz's right-hand man, Brad Steil, has been named the interim replacement.

Kyle Gibson is turning heads with his performance in the Arizona Fall League, combining great results with better velocity than he showed prior to Tommy John elbow surgery last year. So far we're only talking about a total of 13 innings, so the sample size is barely worth mentioning, but Gibson has a 0.69 ERA and 19-to-2 strikeout-to-walk ratio while inducing nearly three ground balls for every fly ball. Keith Law of ESPN.com filed this scouting report:

Gibson was very impressive Tuesday in his second start of the fall, working from 92-94, driving the ball down in the zone, and showing a plus slider at 83-86 that he would throw in any count, in or out of the zone, and would even back-foot to a left-handed hitter when the guy might be looking for a changeup away. He did show a true changeup, but was mostly fastball-slider and looked like a big leaguer, and one with a higher ceiling than he showed as an amateur when he had a pretty-but-slow curveball as his primary breaking ball.

Gibson wouldn't be the first pitcher to come back from Tommy John surgery throwing harder than before, but that certainly hasn't been the norm for Twins pitchers over the years and too often the opposite has been true. He still has a long way to go, but so far so good.

• On this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode we did a tutorial on transaction, roster, and service time issues and one of them was the circumstances in which "Super Two" players get an extra year of arbitration eligibility. Based on MLB Trade Rumors' calculations Twins reliever Alex Burnett missed qualifying for "Super Two" status by four days, so he'll make the minimum salary in 2013 rather than potentially doubling that amount via the arbitration process.

• In preparation for the offseason teams are clearing 40-man roster space by waiving players and because of their high waiver wire priority the Twins may be able to snag someone useful. Their own housecleaning should come soon and marginal players on the 40-man roster include Luis Perdomo, Esmerling Vasquez, Matt Carson, Jeff Manship, P.J. Walters, Deolis Guerra, Cole DeVries, Samuel Deduno, Carlos Gutierrez, Kyle Waldrop, and Drew Butera.

• Just a reminder in the wake of his ALCS MVP: Delmon Young has hit .268/.296/.422 in 191 regular season games for the Tigers, was moved to designated hitter on a team that has Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder in the field, hit .240/.270/.320 in "high leverage" situations this year to rank dead last among 143 qualified hitters in Win Probability Added, ranked 139 out of 143 in Wins Above Replacement, and hit .235/.278/.235 in the ALDS. Shit happens.

• I wrote the foreword for the "2013 Offseason Handbook" published by Twins Daily, which includes an incredible amount of good, unique content written by John Bonnes, Seth Stohs, Nick Nelson, and Parker Hageman, plus a lengthy interview with Terry Ryan. I'm not part of the Twins Daily crew, so my recommendation is based purely on merit: For just $6.95 you can get a great product and support writers who provide tons of free Twins content year-round.

• There's no real correlation between playing ability and coaching ability, but I ranked Brunansky as the 28th-best player in Twins history.

• I'll start breaking down potential free agent options, trade targets, and other offseason topics once the World Series is over, but in the meantime this week's episode of "Gleeman and The Geek" includes a lengthy preview of the Twins' payroll situation and winter plans along with a position-by-position look at free agency.

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