April 18, 2012

Twins Notes: Baker, Liriano, Perkins, Sano, Willingham, and Casilla

• As expected Scott Baker underwent surgery yesterday to repair the flexor pronator tendon in his elbow, but while he was under the knife Dr. David Altchek discovered ulnar collateral ligament damage and performed Tommy John surgery as well. Apparently the torn UCL didn't show up on the initial MRI exam or last week's follow-up version, so instead of a six-month recovery timetable Baker will likely be out for 12 months.

So in the span of two weeks Baker went from having an MRI exam that the Twins described as "good news" to needing "cleanup" surgery to undergoing Tommy John surgery. I'm of the opinion that there was never any chance of the Twins exercising his $9.25 million option for 2013, but now that isn't even a consideration. And at this point any injured Twins player who doesn't seek a second opinion from someone outside the organization is an idiot.

Francisco Liriano turned in his third straight clunker last night, failing to make it out of the third inning. Through three starts he has an 11.91 ERA and .407 opponents' batting average while throwing 138 strikes and 103 balls. It's become increasingly popular to say that Liriano's struggles are mental and I'm sure there's plenty of truth to that narrative, but it's also worth noting that his raw stuff is simply nowhere near as good as it was in 2010, let alone in 2006.

As a rookie Liriano's average fastball was 94.7 miles per hour and in 2010 it was 93.7 mph, but since the start of last season it's 91.6 mph. It certainly isn't shocking that a one-time power pitcher would lose confidence as his velocity vanishes and his fastball becomes far more hittable. Perhaps it's a chicken-or-egg scenario and there's no doubt that he's failed to make adjustments, but to suggest that his collapse is entirely mental seems way too simplistic.

Glen Perkins hopefully won't follow Baker's progression from optimistic diagnosis to career-altering surgery, but he underwent an MRI exam on his forearm after coughing up the lead Sunday. No structural damage was found and he's avoided the disabled list ... so far. Dating back to his final 20 appearances of last season Perkins has a 5.56 ERA in his last 23 innings, although that includes 24 strikeouts and his velocity hasn't dipped.

Miguel Sano is off to a huge start at low Single-A, homering yesterday for the fifth time in 12 games. Despite being the sixth-youngest player in the entire Midwest League and not turning 19 years old until next month Sano is hitting .256/.408/.692 and has already drawn nine walks after a total of just 23 walks in 66 games last season. Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus recently got a first-hand look at Sano and came away very impressed.

Baseball Prospectus subscribers can read the full scouting report, but the short version is that Goldstein was surprised by the vastly improved patience Sano showed at the plate and was awed by the exceptional power as "his bat goes through the zone violently with plenty of explosion from his mid-section and hips." Goldstein even described Sano's defense at third base as better than expected, although that meant "merely bad" instead of "laughably awful."

Josh Willingham, like Sano, also hit his fifth homer yesterday, taking over the AL lead and joining Kirby Puckett in 1987, Kent Hrbek in 1982, and Bobby Darwin in 1972 as the only Twins hitters with five homers through the first 11 games of a season. So far at least the Willingham signing looks every bit as good as it did at the time, although as a left fielder he makes a good designated hitter.

Alexi Casilla is off to another slow start, which is an annual tradition at this point, and while looking over his career numbers with the Twins this comparison to a similarly disappointing middle infielder popped into my head:

                         G      AVG      OBP      SLG      OPS     SB
Casilla with Twins     418     .251     .309     .336     .645     51
Player X with Twins    565     .262     .307     .383     .690     78

Longtime readers of AG.com may recognize "Player X" as Luis Rivas, who was without question the player who received the most criticism during the first four years of this blog's existence. Rivas was released by the Twins at age 25 and was out of the majors for good at age 28, which is how old Casilla will be in two months. It's time to stop treating him like some sort of prospect with impressive upside.

Trevor Plouffe has now committed 13 errors in 465 innings as a big-league shortstop, which is the equivalent of around 40 errors per full season and a startling number for someone who was a shortstop for 680 games in the minors. That includes 242 games as a Triple-A shortstop, during which time Plouffe made 47 errors. In other words, at this point Plouffe is a shortstop like Michael Cuddyer was a second baseman. He needs to start mashing left-handers.

• Last season Twins pitchers ranked dead last among MLB teams in strikeouts by a wide margin and they're back in 30th place again this season with just 54 strikeouts through 11 games. By comparison, Nationals pitchers lead baseball with 117 strikeouts in 12 games. And not surprisingly the combination of the fewest strikeouts in baseball and a sub par defense has added up to MLB's fourth-worst ERA.

• In addition to his hitting .293/.383/.415 through 11 games another positive sign for Joe Mauer is that he stole a base Monday night after a grand total of one steal in 219 games during the past two seasons. On the other hand nearly 60 percent of his balls in play have been on the ground, which is a disturbingly high total even considering he's always been a ground-ball hitter.

• Mauer isn't alone in his worm-killing, as Twins hitters collectively lead baseball with a ground-ball rate of 55.1 percent. No other team is above 51.6 percent and only two other teams are above 50 percent. And because it's really hard to hit a ground ball over the fence everyone not named Willingham has combined for four homers in 358 plate appearances.

Matthew Bashore, the 2009 first-round pick who was released by the Twins last month after injuries derailed his career, has signed with the Yankees.

"Gleeman and The Geek" made its radio debut this week with 70 minutes of non-stop Twins talk, so give it a listen if you haven't already. We'll be live on KFAN again Sunday at 4:00.

This week's blog content is sponsored by PickPointz, where you can make predictions, pick games, and win prizes for free. Please support them for supporting AG.com.

March 12, 2012

Twins Notes: Perkins’ extension, prospect hyperbole, and 1987 romance

• Two months after avoiding arbitration for this season with a one-year, $1.55 million deal Glen Perkins and the Twins agreed to a three-year, $10.3 million extension that includes a team option for 2016. Perkins would have been arbitration eligible for the final time in 2013, so the extension pre-pays that bill and then covers his first two seasons of free agency while giving the Twins a $4.5 million option or $300,000 buyout for his third season of free agency.

Between his 5.06 ERA as a starter and an injury grievance filed against the team Perkins was deep in the doghouse and close to being discarded, but instead he stayed with the Twins and shifted to the bullpen with great success. Perkins wore down late in the season, but that isn't shocking from a 29-year-old working as a full-time reliever for the first time ever and he still finished with a 2.48 ERA and 65-to-21 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 62 innings overall.

Perkins wasn't quite as great as his ERA suggested, largely because allowing just two homers in 253 plate appearances isn't sustainable, but his 2.92 xFIP ranked 16th among all relievers with 50 or more innings. And while committing $10.3 million to a 29-year-old with a 4.41 career ERA is certainly risky, Perkins was a completely different pitcher last season thanks to adding 3-4 miles per hour to his fastball moving from the rotation to the bullpen.

Obviously waiting to see if Perkins could duplicate that success before making the commitment would have been ideal for the Twins, but another standout year would establish him as an elite reliever and leave him just one season away from a big contract in free agency. Once a player can sniff the open market the motivation to sign a long-term deal often vanishes, so if the Twins believe the Perkins they saw in 2011 is the real deal they did well to sign him now.

Perkins will get $2.5 million in 2013, $3.75 million in both 2014 and 2015, and $4.5 million or a $300,000 buyout in 2016, all of which will be bargains if he keeps thriving as a reliever. And while the deal also includes incentives based on games finished to raise those salaries if he becomes a closer, by signing Perkins as a setup man the Twins don't have to worry as much about how racking up saves would strengthen his bargaining power and perceived value.

• More and more lately I've been trying to take the "if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all" approach to the local mainstream Twins coverage, but sometimes it's just too tough. Last week Tom Powers of the St. Paul Pioneer Press wrote a pair of columns about Twins prospects that really had me shaking my head. First he wrote a column entitled "Brian Dozier is going to be the next big thing for Twins" that was full of fawning hyperbole:

Dozier, a shortstop from Tupelo, Miss., is going to be the next big thing for the Twins. The only question is: How soon is next? ... At the moment, there seems to be no alternative [at shortstop]. However, Twins fans should take comfort in knowing this dire situation appears temporary. Because Dozier has been advancing through the farm system at breakneck speed.

Apparently in Powers' mind "advancing through the farm system at breakneck speed" means a soon-to-be 25-year-old who began last season at high Single-A and has yet to play a game at Triple-A. But wait, there's more:

Everyone seems convinced that Dozier is the next big thing. Of course, spring training is all about hope. If you can't get excited over a prospect in spring training, heck, you should be watching a different sport. But in this case, I really do think that "next" is going to be pretty darn quick.

Powers writes that "everyone seems convinced that Dozier is the next big thing." In reality, Dozier appeared on zero prominent top-100 prospect lists and doesn't even rank as one of the Twins' top seven prospects according to John Manuel of Baseball America or Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus or Keith Law of ESPN.com. Dozier has the potential to become a solid big leaguer, but the picture being painted by Powers is misleading at best.

And then a couple days later Powers wrote another column with similarly hyperbolic prose touting Chris Parmelee as a future middle-of-the-order slugger:

A true power hitter has a different air about him when he talks about home runs. It's not about getting a good pitch to hit or guessing right on a fastball, but rather it's about a certain feeling that occurs when bat and baseball collide. True power hitters get sort of a faraway look just describing it.

"It's some feeling when you know you got it," Chris Parmelee said. "It's a good feeling, a great feeling." And if the ball is going over the fence anyway, it might as well go waaayyy over the fence, right? "Yeah, why not?" Parmelee said with a chuckle.

Parmelee, like Dozier, has the potential to be a solid big leaguer. He also has a grand total of 19 homers in 253 games and 1,073 plate appearances at Double-A. But wait, there's more:

Called up Sept. 6, Parmelee, a lefty first baseman, hit .355 in 76 at-bats. His on-base percentage was .443, and he had six doubles and four home runs. And those homers traveled a long way. ...

The good news is that he never has lost sight of his best attribute: the ability to hit the baseball a long way. In other words, his role is that of a power hitter. ... Here's a kid who can hit the ball a mile. Put him in the lineup until he shows he doesn't belong there.

Powers makes a huge deal about the four homers Parmelee hit for the Twins in September, using them as evidence that the 24-year-old with zero Triple-A experience should be playing every day in the majors, and repeatedly writes things that make it seem as though he's a big-time slugger. Yet not once in the entire 20-paragraph article does Powers mention that Parmelee had just 19 homers and a .416 slugging percentage in two seasons at Double-A.

J.J. Hardy joined David Ortiz in saying that the Twins coached him not to maximize his power potential, although unlike Ortiz he later clarified the comments to be less critical. Whatever the case, the Twins' homer total hasn't been among the league's top five since way back in 1988 and they've ranked 10th or worse 16 times during that span. They've also had one of the league's top five offenses just three times in the past 19 seasons.

Alexi Casilla didn't look awful and graded out decently statistically in 36 starts at shortstop last year, but apparently the Twins weren't impressed. During an in-game interview on FSN last week Terry Ryan said: "We tried Casilla at shortstop a couple times and it didn't really work out."

Kevin Mulvey, who was acquired from the Mets in the Johan Santana deal and then traded to the Diamondbacks for Jon Rauch, has re-signed with the Mets on a minor-league contract after being released by the Diamondbacks. And at age 26 he's little more than Triple-A filler.

• California high school right-hander Lucas Giolito is one of the Twins' potential targets with the No. 2 overall pick, but he'll miss the rest of the season with an elbow injury.

Bobby Valentine, who managed Tsuyoshi Nishioka in Japan for six years, says he predicted Nishioka's broken leg and even warned him about it last spring.

Drew Butera has hit .178/.220/.261 in the majors after hitting .214/.296/.317 in the minors, which makes this article pretty hilarious.

Jason Pridie was suspended 50 games after testing positive for a "drug of abuse," which means the Twins probably won't try to acquire him for a third time.

Doug Mientkiewicz, who last played in 2009, is the Dodgers' new rookie-ball hitting coach.

Joel Zumaya is scheduled for Tommy John surgery and will attempt another comeback.

Gary Gaetti's son is marrying Dan Gladden's daughter.

February 16, 2012

Twins Notes: Mastroianni, waivers, options, and avoiding arbitration

Darin Mastroianni is the Twins' latest waiver claim, as they snagged the 26-year-old outfielder after the Blue Jays designated him for assignment to make 40-man roster room for Francisco Cordero. Mastroianni is too old to be a prospect and lacks the skill set to have big upside, but he's potentially a useful role player and could be a solid fit on the Twins' roster as a right-handed hitter with speed and on-base skills who can play all three outfield spots.

Mastroianni's patience and strike-zone control are great for a player with almost zero power, as he's drawn 82 walks per 150 games in the minors despite pitchers never being afraid to throw him strikes. He managed just four homers and a measly .379 slugging percentage in 325 games between Double-A and Triple-A, but also hit .283 with a .368 on-base percentage and nearly as many walks as strikeouts while averaging 54 steals per 150 games.

Ultimately most of his value depends on defense and in asking around about Mastroianni's range I've gotten mixed reviews, which along with about half of his action last season coming as a left fielder suggests he's probably not an elite center fielder. However, even if he's merely average in center field and above average in the corners Mastroianni looks capable of being a worthwhile backup behind two lefty-swinging outfielders in Denard Span and Ben Revere.

• To make room for Mastroianni on the 40-man roster the Twins designated reliever Esmerling Vasquez for assignment after claiming him off waivers from the Diamondbacks in early October. Vasquez has a mid-90s fastball, but it comes with awful control and not surprisingly he passed through waivers unclaimed. That means the Twins were able outright him to Triple-A, keeping the 28-year-old right-hander in the organization without taking up a 40-man roster spot.

Alexi Casilla and the Twins avoided arbitration by agreeing to a one-year, $1.38 million deal. He filed for $1.75 million and they countered at $1.065 million, settling just below the midpoint. Casilla will be arbitration eligible again in 2013, but keeping him around for a decent-sized raise would be tough to justify unless he can finally stay healthy and consistently productive. He's never played 100 games in a season and is a 27-year-old career .252/.310/.327 hitter.

• MLB Trade Rumors put together a list of players on 40-man rosters with less than five years of MLB experience and no minor-league options, and the Twins' contingent is Casilla, Glen Perkins, Anthony Swarzak, Trevor Plouffe, Luke Hughes, Matt Maloney, and Jeff Gray. Perkins, Casilla, Swarzak, and Plouffe are locks to make the team and Hughes is a near-lock if the sprained shoulder he suffered playing winter ball in Australia doesn't ruin his chances.

Gray and Maloney lacking options is part of why the Twins claiming them off waivers back in October never made sense to me, with the other reason being that they simply aren't much good. Both pitchers are marginal big leaguers without any sort of real upside, so if the Twins need to trim any more players from the 40-man roster they'd seemingly be atop the list. And if not expect to see them both placed on waivers at some point between now and Opening Day.

Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports calculates MLB's average payroll at $98 million, which is exactly where the Twins stand after choosing not to spend $1 million on one of many decent relievers available. Obviously having an average payroll is much better than the Twins' spending during the Metrodome years, but if they're already merely average in Target Field's third year and have shed $15 million from last season's payroll falling below average soon seems inevitable.

Keith Law of ESPN.com ranked the Twins' farm system 14th among all MLB teams, pegging the strengths as "interesting high school bats and high-impact Latin American prospects."

• I answered some questions about the Twins over at Razzball.

• On this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode John Bonnes and I went through the roster for a player-by-player look at each hitter, from Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau to Drew Butera and Tsuyoshi Nishioka, discussing where they each stand heading into 2012.

January 20, 2012

Twins Notes: Arbitration, invitations, compensation, and reconsideration

• Tuesday night was the deadline for players and teams to submit salary figures for arbitration hearings to be held next month, but the Twins avoided that with Francisco Liriano and Glen Perkins by signing them to one-year deals. Liriano got $5.5 million for his third and final year of arbitration eligibility, which is exactly what I projected as his salary last month. Perkins got $1.55 million for his second arbitration year, which is slightly less than my $2 million projection.

Alexi Casilla did not agree to a pre-deadline deal in his second arbitration year, filing for $1.75 million while the Twins countered at $1.065 million. If the two sides fail to reach a compromise they'll go to a hearing, present their cases, and have someone choose which salary he'll get for 2012, but given that the Twins haven't actually gone to arbitration with a player since Kyle Lohse in 2005 and 2006 odds are they'll split the difference on a one-year deal before then.

• Last month the Twins non-tendered Jose Mijares rather than retain him via the arbitration process, with general manager Terry Ryan explaining that "we didn't want to go there" with a salary bump. That struck me as very odd, because Mijares was paid $445,000 last season and projected to make about $725,000 in 2012, whereas the new minimum salary is $480,000. No team cuts a player they think has any sort of value over $250,000. Or at least they shouldn't.

Mijares didn't spend much time as a free agent and ended up with more money than he would have gotten from the Twins, quickly signing with the Royals for $925,000. He was bad enough last season that bouncing back is certainly no sure thing, but considering Mijares' modest cost and the fact that he's 27 years old with a 3.16 ERA and .243/.310/.381 opponents' line in 154 career innings makes letting him go for nothing a questionable move.

Mijares was an easy target for criticism because of his weight and supposed poor work ethic, but the oft-repeated notion that he was an ineffective pitcher who failed in key situations isn't supported by facts. In addition to his 3.16 ERA in 154 innings Mijares held opponents to a .219 batting average and .590 OPS in high-leverage situations and had a positive Win Probability Added, which measures performance in context to reward doing well in crucial spots.

• Fort Myers will be crowded after the Twins signed 25 players to minor-league contracts with invitations to spring training. I've written about most of those players, but neglected to cover J.R. Towles, Steve Pearce, and Aaron Thompson when they signed last month. Towles is the most interesting of that trio, both because he was once a top-ranked catcher prospect and because a decent alternative to Drew Butera as the Twins' third catcher would be nice.

After hitting well in the minors Towles hit .375 in a 14-game debut with the Astros in 2007 and was No. 53 on Baseball America's prospect list going into 2008. He flopped as a rookie, hitting .137 in 54 games, and has repeatedly failed in other brief chances with the Astros, hitting .187 in 155 career games spread over parts of five seasons. However, he's still just 27 years old and never ceased producing in the minors, batting .286/.389/.443 in 152 games at Triple-A.

Pearce was also once a top prospect, albeit briefly, ranking 89th on that same Baseball America list for 2008 after a monster 2007 season in which he hit .333/.394/.622 with 31 homers and 40 doubles in 134 games between three levels. He was already 24 years old at the time, his OPS dropped 300 points the next season, and Pearce hit just .232/.302/.366 in 185 games for the Pirates, but his Triple-A numbers remained strong and he's useful first base/outfield depth.

Thompson was the 22nd overall pick in the 2005 draft by the Marlins, but the left-hander's career never got enough traction to crack any top prospect lists. He pitched well in the low minors, but struggled some with injuries and has a 4.91 ERA in 473 career innings between Double-A and Triple-A. Thompson made his MLB debut last season, appearing in four games for the Pirates, but got knocked around and seems like a poor bet to make it back to the majors.

Phil Mackey of 1500ESPN.com did some digging and found that the Twins recently extended their television contract with FOX Sports North, signing a new deal worth approximately $29 million per season. That may sound like a lot and it's certainly a big improvement compared to their previous television revenue, but relative to many other teams it actually puts them at a significant disadvantage.

For instance, the Angels were able to hand out massive long-term contracts to Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson this offseason because their new television deal pays around $150 million per season and that pales in comparison to the estimated $400 million in revenue the Yankees get per season from their own network. Even the Rangers, who weren't previously viewed as a big-market powerhouse, inked a new television deal worth a reported $80 million per season.

• Speaking of which, Patrick Reusse of the Minneapolis Star Tribune spit some truth about the Twins' television broadcast as it relates to an overall trend in local announcers:

It was uncomfortable listening to Twins telecasts last season as Dick Bremer and, to a lesser extent, Bert Blyleven spent most of the three hours nightly trying to explain away the 99 losses as something other than a disaster wrought upon the public by the front office.

Apparently, they did have permission slips to denigrate Kevin Slowey. Injuries and Slowey's attitude--those were about the only factors that could be identified by the long-serving duo for this fine baseball organization to have fielded the worst team in the American League.

And we can't forget that a Bremer-Blyleven telecast is always rich with the fable that there's a Twins Way of playing baseball: exceptional fielding, being smart and aggressive on the bases, and throwing strikes. No matter that you have to go back to 2006 to find a Twins team that stuck to those principles.

Amen. I'd guess that my television was muted for about 90 percent of Twins games last year.

• Cutting payroll by $15 million luckily hasn't stopped the Twins from spending on prospects, as they signed 16-year-old pitcher Mauricio Silva out of the Dominican Republic for $370,000. Ben Badler of Baseball America praised Silva's fastball-curveball combo and calls the 6-foot-2 right-hander "one of the more promising Latin American pitching prospects" eligible to sign in 2011. And this will make you feel really old: Silva was born in Brad Radke's rookie year, 1995.

• They'll also be spending big in the draft, because in addition to having the No. 2 overall pick by virtue of their 63-99 record the Twins are projected to receive the No. 32 and No. 67 picks as compensation for losing Michael Cuddyer and the No. 41 pick as compensation for losing Jason Kubel. Toss in their own second-rounder and the Twins will likely have five of the top 70 picks in June's draft, which makes for one incredibly important day in their rebuilding process.

• Back in early 2008, when the Twins were in the process of trading Johan Santana, various reports had them seeking Fernando Martinez from the Mets as the centerpiece of a deal. At the time Martinez was a 19-year-old center fielder who twice ranked among Baseball America's top-20 prospects, so the Mets balked at including him and eventually the Twins settled instead for a four-player package of Carlos Gomez, Deolis Guerra, Kevin Mulvey, and Philip Humber.

Four years later none of those four prospects panned out as hoped and Guerra is the only one who remains in the Twins organization, but it turns out they wouldn't have been any better off with Martinez. Chronic knee issues and mediocre hitting caused his stock to plummet and last week the Mets placed him on waivers, giving up on Martinez for nothing. He didn't make it far, as the Astros used their No. 1 waiver priority to claim Martinez ... directly in front of the Twins.

• Of course, the Santana trade didn't work out particularly well for the Mets either. He missed all of last season following shoulder surgery, remains a question mark for the beginning of this season, and is owed $55 million over the next two years. Santana did at least give them 600 innings of a 2.85 ERA prior to going down in late 2010, which is even better than his 3.22 ERA in 1,309 innings with the Twins.

Ron Gardenhire's son, Toby Gardenhire, has retired after playing seven years in the minors for the Twins and the former 41st-round pick is the University of Wisconson-Stout's new coach.

Seth Stohs' annual Minnesota Twins Prospect Handbook is now available and as always I can't recommend it highly enough. Well worth the price, for the 180 pages of content and to support all the free blogging Stohs has provided over the years. Go buy it, you'll be glad you did.

• For a lot more on how the whole arbitration process works, plus analysis of the Joel Zumaya signing and talk about what moves the Twins have left to make this offseason, check out this week's podcast with special guests Nick Nelson and John Bonnes' horrible beard.

August 15, 2011

Twins Notes: “Psst. It’s Over.”

• To put the Twins' current 11.5-game AL Central deficit into context consider that they're 15.0 games ahead of the Astros for the worst record in baseball. They're also just 3.0 games ahead of the Royals for last place in the AL Central and 5.5 games ahead of the Orioles for the worst record in the AL. There are 43 games remaining and the Twins would have to go 29-14 just to finish .500. In their last 43 games the Twins are 20-23.

Alexi Casilla spent two weeks on the disabled list with a strained right hamstring and then aggravated the injury in the seventh inning of his first game back Friday, immediately returning to the DL. Trevor Plouffe, who was optioned to Triple-A to clear a roster spot for Casilla, was called right back up and will hopefully get more of an opportunity than last time, when he often found himself on the bench in favor of Matt Tolbert.

Plouffe has plenty of flaws and is hardly guaranteed to become a solid big leaguer, but if ever there was a time for the Twins to find out it's when the division title is out of reach and their primary alternative is a 29-year-old career .235/.291/.326 hitter. Using the final six weeks to see if Plouffe can be a part of the team's plans in 2012 and beyond is far more valuable than giving Tolbert more time to cement his status as the definition of a replacement-level player.

Kevin Slowey's long-awaited return to the Twins' rotation technically never happened, as he allowed one run in two innings yesterday before the game was washed away by rain.

Denard Span is 2-for-35 (.057) with nine strikeouts versus three walks since spending two months on the disabled list, telling LaVelle E. Neal III of the Minneapolis Star Tribune that he's still having post-concussion symptoms and is struggling with new medication. Not good.

Justin Morneau returned to the lineup six weeks after surgery to remove a herniated disk fragment from his neck, but told Neal that he still doesn't have feeling in his left index finger because of nerve damage. Despite that Morneau went 11-for-30 (.367) with a homer and four doubles in seven games rehabbing at Triple-A.

Joe Nathan became the Twins' all-time saves leader Wednesday with his 255th since joining the team in 2004, moving past Rick Aguilera. Nathan is definitely the most dominant closer in Twins history--and one of the most dominant in baseball history, for that matter--but his save total and Aguilera's save total isn't an apples-to-apples comparison. Here's an explanation of the differences from my write-up of Aguilera as the 18th-best player in Twins history:

It's important to note that Tom Kelly used Aguilera much differently than Ron Gardenhire has used Nathan. Nathan has inherited a grand total of 54 runners in seven-plus seasons with the Twins, which works out to one per eight innings. Aguilera inherited 38 runners in his first year as closer, and then saw 37 and 40 more in the next two years. In all, Aguilera inherited 207 runners during his time in Minnesota, which works out to one every 2.5 relief innings.

The vast majority of Nathan's saves involved starting an inning with a clean slate, but Aguilera often saved games he entered with runners on base. That goes a long way toward explaining his seemingly mediocre save percentage and Aguilera also deserves credit for stranding more than three-fourths of the runners he inherited.

In addition to being more difficult than Nathan's saves, on average, Aguilera's saves were also longer, as he recorded 55 more outs in his 254 saves than Nathan has in his 255 saves.

Glen Perkins might be wearing down in his first full season as a reliever. He allowed eight runs in 43 innings through August 5, including 37 scoreless appearances in 45 total outings, and never gave up more than one run in a game. And now Perkins has allowed six runs in his last four innings, including four straight outings with a run and multiple runs in two of them. David Ortiz's homer was the first served up by Perkins in 178 plate appearances this year.

Amelia Rayno of the Minneapolis Star Tribune wrote an interesting article about the pitcher-catcher relationship and specifically Carl Pavano picking Drew Butera as his personal catcher. Near the end of the article she noted Pavano's respective ERA with different catchers, but it's worth repeating: Pavano has a 4.26 ERA in 35 starts with his preferred catcher, Butera, and a 4.09 ERA in 31 starts with Joe Mauer. And this year's numbers skew further in Mauer's favor.

• MLB suspended Twins minor leaguer Kennys Vargas for 50 games after he violated the drug prevention and treatment program by reportedly testing positive for phentermine, which can be used to speed metabolism for weight loss. Vargas is 6-foot-5 and Seth Stohs notes that his weight has been an issue. Vargas, a 20-year-old first baseman who was signed out of Puerto Rico in 2009, was hitting .322/.377/.489 in 44 games at rookie-level Elizabethton.

Ted Uhlaender is the only outfielder in Twins history to get 200-plus plate appearances in a season with an on-base percentage below .300 and a slugging percentage below .300, hitting .226/.280/.286 in 403 plate appearances in 1966. Ben Revere is hitting .245/.294/.285 in 298 plate appearances. And his noodle arm was in right field Wednesday because Ron Gardenhire refuses to move Delmon Young there. Don't mess with success. Or something. How silly.

Jim Thome has faced three pitchers at least 70 times in his career. One is Tim Wakefield, whom he faced last week, and the other two are Roger Clemens and Brad Radke. Thome has hit just .185 off Wakefield and .225 (with good power) off Radke, but crushed Clemens to the tune of .355/.438/.855 with eight homers and seven doubles in 62 at-bats. Among all hitters Clemens faced at least 50 times Thome is the only one to top a 1.000 OPS. And he's at 1.293.

• Tonight is the deadline for MLB teams to sign draft picks and the Twins' first-rounder, North Carolina junior shortstop Levi Michael, remains unsigned, as do supplemental first-round picks Travis Harrison and Hudson Boyd. Their next six picks are all signed.

• While watching Tom Kelly fill in for Bert Blyleven during one of the recent FSN broadcasts I looked up his old minor-league numbers and the former manager hit .272/.406/.436 with more walks (538) than strikeouts (429) in 782 games at Triple-A. Of course, he was a first baseman, which is why Kelly spent 13 seasons in the minors and 47 games in the majors. Offensively at least he was a poor man's Doug Mientkiewicz.

• Why was Chuck Knoblauch a no-show at the 1991 team's reunion last week? Because "he's considerably out of shape," according to Charley Walters of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Which is smart, because Kent Hrbek would have really goofed on him.

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