January 23, 2013

Twins Notes: Butera, Duensing, Correia, Blackburn, and farm rankings

• This year the Twins' only arbitration-eligible players were Brian Duensing and Drew Butera, both of whom were in their first season of eligibility and both of whom avoided a potential hearing by agreeing to one-year contracts. Duensing gets $1.3 million and Butera gets $700,000. Alexi Casilla would have been arbitration eligible for the third and final time, but the Twins dropped him in November rather than pay him around $1.75 million.

I devoted a whole post to Duensing two weeks ago, so I won't rehash everything, but the short version is that this could be a make-or-break year as he tries to establish himself as a valuable reliever after flopping as a starter. If he fares well in a full-time bullpen role he'd certainly be worth keeping around in 2014 for the $2 million or so he'd likely get via the arbitration process, but if Duensing struggles he could be a Casilla-like non-tender candidate next offseason.

Butera getting a raise from the $450,000 minimum salary to $700,000 is meaningless in terms of the Twins' payroll, but whether he warrants a place on the roster for a fourth consecutive season remains in question. There's a place for good-glove, bad-hit catchers on a lot of teams, but Butera is quite possibly the worst hitter in baseball and it's awfully tough to make up for that defensively. With that said, if he gets fewer than 150 plate appearances again it will barely matter.

• I've talked a lot about how it made little sense for the Twins to give Kevin Correia a two-year, $10 million deal because plenty of equal or better starting pitchers are almost always available for one-year contracts. Correia signed in early December and six weeks later some of those starters still haven't signed, suggesting the Twins were impatient in addition to simply overrating him. And here are 11 examples of free agent starters who accepted one-year deals:

Brett Myers         Indians       $7.0 million
Scott Feldman       Cubs          $6.0 million
Scott Baker         Cubs          $5.5 million
Mike Pelfrey        Twins         $4.0 million
Roberto Hernandez   Rays          $3.3 million
Bartolo Colon       Athletics     $3.0 million
Jason Marquis       Padres        $3.0 million
John Lannan         Phillies      $2.5 million
Jeff Karstens       Pirates       $2.5 million
Jeff Francis        Rockies       $1.5 million
Erik Bedard         Astros        Minor league

I'm not counting Dan Haren, whose one-year deal was in a higher price range. If you're being kind to Correia he might be better than 2-3 of those 11 starters, but if so it isn't by much. Yet all of them were had for one-year deals--including Mike Pelfrey by the Twins--and that list will grow with names from a group of still-unsigned starters that includes Shaun Marcum, Joe Saunders, Roy Oswalt, Jair Jurrjens, Kevin Millwood, Freddy Garcia, and Chris Young.

So why was a two-year, $10 million commitment to Correia needed when a dozen similar or better starters were available for inexpensive one-year deals? And that's anything but hindsight, as it was clear all along that this free agent class was deep in third, fourth, and fifth starters. Despite that somehow the Twins managed to target one of the weaker options in a well-stocked bargain bin and overpay him. It didn't make much sense then and it makes even less sense now.

• With the Twins' pursuit of rotation help proving to be less fruitful than fans were led to believe early in the offseason Nick Blackburn re-entering their plans as a fifth starter seemingly wasn't out of the question. He's under contract for $5.5 million and despite being a horrible pitcher for most of the past three years it's not hard to imagine a decent spring from Blackburn leading to Ron Gardenhire wanting to give him another chance instead of, say, Liam Hendriks.

Now it's a moot point, because Blackburn underwent wrist surgery that will keep him in a cast for six weeks. Blackburn previously had surgery in October to remove a bone chip from his elbow, so his odds of a comeback are slimmer than ever. Still, by not simply releasing Blackburn like many teams do in dropping highly paid players from the 40-man roster the Twins left the door open for his return and, if healthy, no one should be surprised if he finds his way back to Minnesota.

John Bonnes, Parker Hageman, Nick Nelson, and Seth Stohs from Twins Daily are hosting a get-together Saturday night at Hubert's across from the Metrodome. It starts at 6:00, which is when TwinsFest ends for the day, and I'm told there will be several rounds of free beer and prize giveaways. I'll be there, probably hanging out until they kick me out, and would love to see some AG.com readers and "Gleeman and The Geek" listeners there too.

• Last offseason the Twins non-tendered Jose Mijares rather than pay him around $750,000, which struck me as an odd decision at the time. Mijares, who had a 3.16 ERA for the Twins, went on to throw 56 innings with a 2.56 ERA for the Royals and Giants while being paid more than he would have via arbitration anyway. And now the Giants avoided arbitration with Mijares by signing him to a one-year, $1.8 million deal for 2013. He'll be under team control again in 2014.

Jim Callis of Baseball America was asked to rank the 10 best farm systems and put the Twins seventh, noting that they have "the best collection of bats in the minors, led by Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano."

• On a related note, my annual series ranking and profiling the Twins' top 40 prospects will start tomorrow. I'll be counting down from 40 to 1, five prospects at a time, and then I'll have a system overview post putting the whole group in some context.

• How little interest was there in Delmon Young? As a 27-year-old free agent he signed for just $50,000 more than Butera got in his first year of arbitration. Young in Philadelphia is an amusing match for several reasons, not the least of which is that Bonnes' wife is a Phillies fan.

Francisco Liriano's two-year, $12.75 million deal with the Pirates was in jeopardy because of an offseason injury to his non-throwing arm, but the two sides have worked out a new deal.

• For a lot more about Butera and Duensing, plus the merits of pursuing Saunders and the secret world of haircut prostitution, check out this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode.

This week's blog content is sponsored by Fresh Brewed Trivia at Granite City in Rosedale Center on Tuesday nights, where you can drink $3 tap beers and win prizes. Please support them for supporting AG.com.

January 21, 2013

“Gleeman and The Geek” #77: Butera, Saunders, and Haircut Prostitution

Topics for this week's episode of "Gleeman and The Geek" included Drew Butera and evaluating catcher defense, Brian Duensing starting or relieving, pursuing Joe Saunders, drinking at noon, gay athletes, online dating, the vetting process for weirdos, talking prostitution during a haircut, interviewing Dave St. Peter, the arbitration process, preparing for TwinsFest, Nick Blackburn's wrist surgery, Elliott Gould's chest hair, grading the Twins' offseason, and playing hooky.

Gleeman and The Geek: Episode 77

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

This week's blog content is sponsored by Fresh Brewed Trivia at Granite City in Rosedale Center on Tuesday nights, where you can drink $3 tap beers and win prizes. Please support them for supporting AG.com.

January 18, 2013

Link-O-Rama

• When we started "Gleeman and The Geek" the basic idea was simply two guys having a long, unedited conversation over some beers. Conan O'Brien and Jack White had the same concept while adding in smoking and being far more interesting, and the result is absolutely fantastic.

• Big deal, I've been making up fake girlfriends for years.

• On a related note, Amy Webb developed a sort of sabermetric approach to online dating.

• I thought of a new pickup line on Twitter and Jon Shields was kind enough to give it life.

• My favorite lead sentence of the week, from Marino Eccher of the St. Paul Pioneer Press: "An Eagan lawyer is suspended indefinitely after having an affair with a client whom he represented in a divorce, then billing her for time they spent having sex."

Pete Rose's new reality television show is exactly what you'd expect.

• Who mocks stat-heads and who hires stat-heads?

• Longtime readers and/or Twitter followers probably know that I'm obsessed with the "Hardball Dynasty" game on WhatIfSports, running two leagues and frequently recruiting new owners. One of those new owners is Carson Cistulli of Fan Graphs, who had WhatIfSports president Tom Zentmeyer on his podcast to discuss the game and the website and the role of sabermetrics in everything. And they even talked about me and my "dominance" for a little bit.

• Old friend Denny Hocking has been named the Angels' new rookie-ball manager.

• I'm way more upset about this week's "Top Chef" elimination than I was about Miguel Cabrera beating Mike Trout for MVP, and Keith Law's recap explains why.

• After a month-long break John Bonnes reunited with me for this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode and naturally we talked mostly about drugs and Bar Mitzvahs.

• Not only is Rob Delaney a good stand-up comedian and must-follow on Twitter, he brilliantly analyzes baseball's sexy scouting lingo:

His mustache really puts it over the top.

Worst e-mail ever?

More reason to wish the Twins had signed Brandon McCarthy.

• I'm going to TwinsFest this year for the first time since 1995 or so. We have some interesting podcast-related plans that may or may not actually happen, but I'll definitely be at the Twins Daily get-together Saturday night at Hubert's and I'll also definitely try to re-enact this picture.

Milton Bradley is no longer a baseball player, but he's still a scumbag.

Anna Kendrick's tweet about Ryan Gosling was especially funny/bold considering she might actually run into and/or star in a move with him at some point.

• Friend of AG.com and fellow Twins blogger Seth Stohs' fifth annual "Minnesota Twins Prospect Handbook" is now available as a paperback and ebook. with 191 pages of unique, in-depth content covering every key prospect, draft pick, and minor leaguer in the organization.

Pop quiz, hotshot: Delmon Young or Delwyn Young?

Ariel Helwani of MMAFighting.com covers mixed martial arts as well as any journalist covers any sport and I've become a huge fan of his over the past few years, so I really enjoyed Vice's video profile of him. His story is very interesting and a lot of it hit home with me.

Old Time Family Baseball is doing its annual charity blogathon this weekend to raise money for Doctors Without Borders, with non-stop blogging by Michael Clair and lots of good guest posts.

• Some recent Netflix instant recommendations: "God Grew Tired Of Us," "The Company Men," "You Can Count On Me," "Jeff, Who Lives At Home," "The English Patient," "Gosford Park," "The Wave," "Biutiful," "Sleepwalk With Me," "Take This Waltz."

• This week in Chelsea Peretti being the best.

Jessi Klein was a great guest on Dave Hill's always laid back podcast.

• Three months ago Adam Meier sponsored a week of AG.com for his mother, Emily Meier, promoting her self-published fiction writing as she battled cancer. I'm sad to report that she passed away last week, but I would encourage everyone to please check out her website and continue to give her the audience that she struggled to find.

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

- "Patrick Reusse weight loss"
- "Van Morrison divorce"
- "Chris Pratt Norwegian"
- "Jessica Alba porno"
- "Mitch Hedberg talks about baseball"
- "Plan to lose 150 pounds"
- "Why my body craves a cheeseburger"
- "Geek with turtleneck"
- "How much does Amy Grant weigh in pounds"

• Finally, in honor of that great O'Brien/White chat this week's AG.com-approved music video is The Raconteurs' live version of "Old Enough" with Ricky Skaggs and Ashley Monroe:

January 17, 2013

Offseason outlook: Alex Burnett

At first glance it looks like Alex Burnett took a big step forward in 2012, tossing 72 innings with a 3.52 ERA at age 24 after posting a 5.40 ERA in his first two seasons. Unfortunately a deeper look shows that his improvement was fueled almost entirely by an unsustainably low batting average on balls in play that masked a declining strikeout rate and poor control. Burnett didn't pitch well in 2012, he merely had a nice-looking ERA.

Burnett struck out 17.5 percent of the batters he faced as a rookie, but that dropped to 14.7 percent in 2011 and fell even further to 11.7 percent in 2012. To put his 2012 strikeout rate in some context, 166 different relievers threw at least 40 innings and Burnett tied for dead last with 4.5 strikeouts per nine innings. And he was tied for last with Jeff Gray, who spent most of the season alongside Burnett in the Twins' bullpen before being designated for assignment.

Burnett gets a solid number of ground balls and has made strides with his control, improving his yearly walks per nine innings from 4.3 to 3.7 to 3.3, but that's nowhere near enough to make up for such a pathetic strikeout rate. You'd think a young pitcher with a fastball that averaged 92.7 miles per hour, a mid-80s slider, and a changeup left over from his days as a starter couldn't help but miss some bats, but Burnett ranked 156th out of 166 relievers in swinging strikes.

It's worth noting that Burnett didn't move to the bullpen until 2009 and initially thrived at high Single-A and Double-A, but he was rushed to the majors in early 2010 to replace the injured Clay Condrey and never really got a chance to put together an impressive stretch at Triple-A. That less than ideal development and the fact that he's still just 25 years old makes it tough to totally write off Burnett, but nothing about his performance so far inspires much optimism.

Presumably his age, nice-looking ERA in 2012, and nearly three full seasons worth of experience in the majors will be enough to get Burnett an Opening Day bullpen spot, but he could easily pitch exactly as well as he did last season and see his ERA balloon back above 5.00. Without missing significantly more bats or vastly improving his control it's tough to see how Burnett can have long-term success as more than a middle reliever.

Other "offseason outlook" write-ups: Justin Morneau, Josh Willingham, Trevor Plouffe, Joe Mauer, Ryan Doumit, Brian Duensing, Jamey Carroll

This week's blog content is sponsored by Seth Stohs' fifth annual "Minnesota Twins Prospect Handbook," which features 191 pages of content devoted to every key prospect, draft pick, and minor leaguer in the organization. Please support him for supporting AG.com.

January 16, 2013

Offseason outlook: Jamey Carroll

Signed to a two-year, $6.5 million contract last offseason to provide some much-needed middle infield stability, Jamey Carroll was more or less as advertised at age 38. He played sure-handed defense with decent range, worked deep counts and drew walks without striking out much, and moved all around the infield while starting 56 times at second base, 33 times at shortstop, and 28 times at third base.

Carroll got off to a slow start thanks largely to a low batting average on balls in play, but his luck evened out in the second half as he hit .315/.378/.371 in 58 games. Overall he batted .268 after hitting .285 during the previous four seasons, but thanks to 52 walks in 537 plate appearances Carroll still managed a .343 on-base percentage that topped Denard Span and Justin Morneau to rank third on the team behind Joe Mauer and Josh Willingham.

He joined Mauer and Willingham as three of the 22 hitters in the American League to see more than 4.0 pitches per plate appearance and joined Span and Ben Revere as three of the league's seven hitters to make contact on more than 90 percent of their swings. Carroll's ability to grind out long plate appearances and draw walks is particularly impressive considering his power was non-existent and pitchers threw him the third-most strikes in the league.

Carroll's complete lack of power was to be expected, as his lone homer of the season came on September 2 and snapped a streak of 1,540 plate appearances without a homer dating back to 2009. His modest RBI total of 40 actually set a new career-high and matched his combined RBI total in 924 plate appearances during the previous two seasons. His offensive value comes from getting on base and he did that remarkably well for a 38-year-old.

Defensively he began the year as the starting shortstop and looked perfectly capable there, but shifted to second base in May. That move was seemingly driven less by anything Carroll did and more by the Twins believing (wrongly, it turns out) that Brian Dozier was ready to thrive. Dozier was so unimpressive defensively that the Twins have apparently soured on him as a shortstop and he posted a .271 on-base percentage that was barely higher than Carroll's batting average.

Carroll is under contract for $3.75 million in 2013 and if the Twins decide against acquiring more infield help he figures to battle Dozier for the second base job during spring training. If he wins that battle or perhaps beats out Pedro Florimon for the shortstop job it'll be interesting to see how the Twins handle Carroll's playing time. Not only do 39-year-olds need regular days off, Carroll topping 401 plate appearances would trigger a $2 million player option for 2014.

In the history of baseball only 13 middle infielders have topped 400 plate appearances at age 39, but then again Carroll just became one of only 19 middle infielders to top 500 plate appearances at age 38. All of which means he's already aged significantly better than nearly every player like him for the past 100 years, but no one should be surprised if Carroll declines suddenly at some point. Until then he'll be a solid role player who can plug whichever infield hole is leaking most.

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

This week's blog content is sponsored by Seth Stohs' fifth annual "Minnesota Twins Prospect Handbook," which features 191 pages of content devoted to every key prospect, draft pick, and minor leaguer in the organization. Please support him for supporting AG.com.

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