January 22, 2014

Twins Notes: Arbitration, Korea sales, Molitor shifting, and drugs of abuse

Philadelphia Phillies v Minnesota Twins

• As usual the Twins avoided arbitration with all of their eligible players, agreeing to pre-hearing 2014 deals with Trevor Plouffe for $2.35 million, Brian Duensing for $2 million, and Anthony Swarzak for $950,000. They previously non-tendered Josh Roenicke rather than paying him approximately $1.5 million via the same process. Following the Plouffe, Duensing, and Swarzak signings the Twins' payroll sits at $83 million, which is nearly identical to last season's spending.

Here are their payroll figures since moving to Target Field in 2010:

2010: $98 million
2011: $113 million
2012: $100 million
2013: $82 million
2014: $83 million

When the Twins signed Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes there was a lot of talk about how they were finally spending some money--and certainly within the context of free agency they opened their wallets like never before--but in the grand scheme of things nothing has really changed despite revenue across baseball rising rapidly. Barring a late acquisition their payroll will likely rank among the bottom third of MLB in 2014.

• It's not official yet, but Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports that the Twins are finalizing an agreement to sell Andrew Albers to a Korean team. Albers reaching the majors at age 28 and tossing 17 scoreless innings in his first two starts was a helluva story, but a mid-80s fastball and lack of missed bats made it tough to envision a scenario in which he was anything more than a back-of-the-rotation starter.

Once the Twins re-signed Mike Pelfrey in addition to signing Nolasco and Hughes it became clear that Albers wouldn't be getting another extended opportunity this season unless a ton of injuries struck the rotation. Going to Korea allows him to pitch regularly somewhere other than Rochester, New York and gives Albers a chance to make big-league money as opposed to Triple-A wages. And for a guy who was in an independent league a few years ago, that ain't bad.

• As part of his new job on the Twins' coaching staff Paul Molitor will be in charge of positioning the infielders defensively during games and Rhett Bollinger of MLB.com has an interesting note about his approach to those duties:

Molitor has already got a head start on positioning, as he met last week with Sean Harlin, the club's major league video director, and Jack Goin, the club's manager of major league administration and baseball research, to learn more about the club's video system and the advanced defensive statistics available for infield shifts.

The Twins haven't been a club that leans heavily on shifting aggressively in the past, but Molitor believes that baseball is trending that way and that it can help the Twins, especially given that the club has several ground-ball pitchers.

"The game has changed so much; we're seeing more overshifts and people not afraid to give up space based on tendencies, so it's something I'm excited about learning about and applying to the way we play defense," Molitor said. "They showed me the capabilities of not only pregame information but how we can use whatever data we have, including our in-house cameras at Target Field, to try to line up the defenses based on the pitcher's capability of executing pitches and the hitter's tendency of where they might hit the ball."

Those are the type of open-minded, analysis-driven quotes that we've rarely seen from anyone involved with the Twins over the years, which is awfully encouraging.

• Twins prospect Eddie Rosario received a 50-game suspension after a second positive test for a "drug of abuse." On one hand that means it wasn't a performance-enhancing drug. On the other hand that means Rosario tested positive once already and couldn't stop himself from continuing to use the unnamed drug. As a 22-year-old trying to make a position switch to second base the lost development time could be costly, but he remains a very good prospect.

Yohan Pino, who the Twins traded to the Indians for Carl Pavano in mid-2009, is back in the organization on a minor-league deal. Pino posted great numbers in the low minors before a lack of velocity caught up to him and now he's 30 years old with a 4.27 ERA in more than 800 innings between Double-A and Triple-A.

Joe Benson, who was released by the Twins in the middle of what proved to be a lost season, is now with the Marlins on a minor-league contract. Benson is still just 26 years old, but injuries and the inability to make consistent contact at the plate have turned him into a non-prospect.

• Just as I feared at the time of the signing Terry Ryan has already dropped some hints that Kurt Suzuki could be the Opening Day catcher, with Josmil Pinto heading back to the minors.

• For a lot more about the arbitration process and how it works, plus a lengthy discussion about Molitor and embracing analytics, check out this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode.

December 5, 2013

Twins Notes: Morneau, Nathan, Kazmir, Pierzynski, and Saltalamacchia

joe nathan and justin morneau twins

Justin Morneau is joining Michael Cuddyer and LaTroy Hawkins in Colorado, agreeing to a two-year, $13 million deal with the Rockies. Morneau is smart to try to resurrect his career in the majors' most hitter-friendly ballpark and calling Coors Field home for half his games should lead to decent-looking raw numbers even if he doesn't actually improve any, but that's a whole lot more money than I'd feel comfortable investing in him at this point.

Joe Nathan is coming back to the AL Central, signing a two-year, $20 million contract with the Tigers that also includes a team option for 2016, when he'll be 41 years old. Nathan was brilliant in two years with the Rangers, saving 80 games with a 2.09 ERA, 10.5 strikeouts per nine innings, and a .198 opponents' batting average, and then shrewdly declined his $9 million player option for 2014 knowing that he could get a multi-year deal for similar annual money on the open market.

Scott Kazmir signed a two-year, $22 million contract with the A's, which is interesting within the context of Phil Hughes' three-year, $24 million contract with the Twins. Both signings seem reasonable to me, but as noted last month in my breakdown of free agent starters I think Kazmir has more upside than Hughes. Kazmir is perhaps also at considerably higher risk to provide zero value at some point, but there's only so much that can go wrong during a two-year commitment.

• There was quite a bit of buzz linking the Twins to free agents Jarrod Saltalamacchia and A.J. Pierzynski, but now both catchers are off the board. Pierzynski signed a one-year, $8 million deal with the Red Sox and it sounds like he passed up multi-year offers to join the defending champs. Saltalamacchia got a three-year, $21 million deal from the Marlins, which is pretty reasonable and suggests he really wanted to play in Miami and/or the Twins' reported interest was overstated.

• As expected the Twins tendered contracts to all of their arbitration-eligible players: Anthony Swarzak, Trevor Plouffe, and Brian Duensing. All three are due for raises to around $1.5 million, so there were no monetary reasons to let any of them go. Last month the Twins parted ways with another arbitration-eligible player, Josh Roenicke, because they didn't think he was worth that type of money for a low-leverage middle relief role.

Caleb Thielbar, Andrew Albers, and Chris Colabello worked out well, so the Twins dipped back into independent ball to sign right-hander Jon Velasquez. He spent a couple seasons in the Phillies' farm system before moving on to the Canadian-American Association (where Colabello was MVP) and Atlantic League. Velasquez's track record was nothing special as a starter, but in shifting to the bullpen this year at age 27 he threw 74 innings with a 1.95 ERA and 82 strikeouts.

• They also signed career minor leaguers Brandon Waring, Chris Rahl, and Matt Hoffman to minor-league deals. Waring is a 27-year-old corner infielder with lots of power and strikeouts who hit .214/.317/.449 with 25 homers and 148 strikeouts in 109 games this year. Hoffman is a lefty reliever with just 117 strikeouts in 148 innings at Triple-A. Rahl is a 30-year-old outfielder who's hit .292/.328/.445 at Triple-A. Depth for Rochester, mostly.

Ron Coomer, who does television work for FOX Sports North during Twins games and co-hosts a daily radio show on K-TWIN, is one of two finalists for the Cubs' radio analyst gig.

Adam Platt interviewed Twins owner Jim Pohlad for Twin Cities Business magazine.

This week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode might be the most baseball-focused show we've ever done, with an hour of non-stop talk about the Hughes and Ricky Nolasco signings.


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July 18, 2013

Reviewing the Twins’ first half: Pitchers

glen perkins and joe mauer

Last year Twins starters ranked dead last in the league with a 5.40 ERA, but after big talk of fixing the rotation the actual additions were inexpensive and uninspired. This year Twins starters have a 5.23 ERA that ranks dead last in either league and even with surprisingly good work from a largely makeshift bullpen the pitching staff has the league's worst ERA and fewest strikeouts. Before the second half gets underway here's a pitcher-by-pitcher look at the individual performances ...

Kevin Correia: .296/.336/.472 in 472 plate appearances

Signed to a two-year, $10 million contract that didn't make much sense this offseason, Kevin Correia posted a 2.23 ERA in April that had people coming up with all sorts of theories about why he'd turned a corner at age 32. Since the calendar flipped to May he's made 15 starts with a 5.21 ERA, allowing opponents to hit .321 with 15 homers in 74 innings. Since completing at least seven innings in each of his five April starts Correia has done so just once in his last 15 outings.

Overall he has a 4.23 ERA compared to the AL average of 4.08 and across baseball Correia ranks 85th among 89 qualified starters in both strikeout rate and swinging strike percentage, which is some serious pitching to contact. He's been slightly less ineffective than expected thanks to the fast start, but Correia has shown why the multi-year commitment was misguided and if the Twins can trade him before the ERA rises any further they should.

Scott Diamond: .313/.355/.514 in 394 plate appearances

Scott Diamond's miniscule strikeout rate suggested that last year's success would be short-lived and sure enough he unraveled in the first half. His strikeout rate fell even further to 4.2 per nine innings, which is the worst in baseball, and his walk and ground-ball rates declined from excellent to merely good. Toss in a 30-point uptick in Diamond's batting average on balls in play and you end up with an ERA that jumps from 3.54 to 5.32.

Diamond wasn't as good as he looked last season and isn't as bad as he's looked this season, but overall he's a whole lot closer to a left-handed Nick Blackburn than a long-term building block. In fact, through three seasons the comparison between Diamond and Blackburn is eerily close. Diamond has a 4.27 ERA and rates of 4.5 strikeouts, 2.1 walks, and 1.0 homers per nine innings. Blackburn had a 4.14 ERA and rates of 4.4 strikeouts, 1.8 walks, and 1.1 homers per nine innings.

Mike Pelfrey: .313/.359/.478 in 363 plate appearances

All the offseason and early spring training talk of Mike Pelfrey being vastly ahead of schedule in his recovery from Tommy John elbow surgery gave way to his actually having to pitch and it was ugly. Pelfrey had a 6.66 ERA through 11 starts, including a .332 opponents' batting average and 26-to-19 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 51 innings. He then likely saved his rotation spot with a decent five-start stretch to finish the first half, with a two-week disabled list stint mixed in.

Pelfrey wasn't particularly effective before the surgery, serving mostly as an innings-eater for the Mets, and going under the knife didn't fix his inability to miss bats. He relies almost exclusively on a low-90s fastball, which is why Pelfrey is averaging fewer than 6.0 strikeouts per nine innings for the eighth time in eight seasons. That pitch used to at least generate lots of ground balls, but his current rate of 43.8 percent is a career-low and actually qualifies Pelfrey as a fly-ball pitcher.

Samuel Deduno: .262/.327/.371 in 264 plate appearances

Last season Samuel Deduno was relatively successful with a 4.44 ERA in 15 starts despite nearly as many walks (57) as strikeouts (53) in 79 innings. Even that modest success won't work long term with those secondary numbers and somewhere along the way pitching coach Rick Anderson appears to have hammered that point home to Deduno. Prior to this year Deduno had walk rates of 6.1 per nine innings in the majors and 5.0 per nine innings at Triple-A. This year he's at 2.9.

It's a sample size of 10 starts, but Deduno has three or fewer walks in all 10 of them after doing so just half the time last year. His strikeout rate has actually fallen to 4.5 per nine innings, which is among MLB's worst, but he's made up for the lack of missed bats by nibbling less and letting the movement of his pitches induce an AL-high 61 percent ground balls. Or, put another way: Pitching to contact actually works for Deduno. There's more reason to believe in him now than last year.

Anthony Swarzak: .281/.314/.412 in 237 plate appearances

After three sub par years split between the rotation and bullpen Anthony Swarzak has taken a step forward as full-time long reliever. Compared to his first three seasons Swarzak has upped his strikeouts by 28 percent, reduced his walks by 26 percent, and become less fly-ball prone. He's been one of the most effective pitchers on the entire staff, although that's admittedly not saying much and because most of his work comes in long-relief spots his impact has been minimal.

In fact, the Twins are 6-21 when Swarzak pitches. That should be blamed on his role rather than his performance, which includes a 3.55 ERA and 41-to-12 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 58 innings. So far they've resisted the urge to put Swarzak back into the rotation and they've also yet to really move him up the bullpen hierarchy. Considering the overall state of the pitching staff if Swarzak keeps pitching this well in the second half he'd warrant some kind of higher-leverage gig.

Vance Worley: .381/.427/.577 in 234 plate appearances

When the Twins acquired 25-year-old Vance Worley from the Phillies in the Ben Revere trade he was supposed to step in as a long-term mid-rotation starter. Worley had thrown 278 innings with a 3.50 ERA for the Phillies and while there were questions about his many called strikeouts being sustainable there was little reason to expect a collapse. And then he went from Opening Day starter to Triple-A in less than two months, allowing 43 runs in 49 innings.

He generated just 15 strikeouts in 10 starts, got a swinging strike on an abysmal 4.5 percent of his pitches, and allowed a .381 opponents' batting average. Worley has been much better since the demotion to Rochester, but it's hard to be very encouraged by a 3.88 ERA at Triple-A when it comes with 34 strikeouts in 58 innings. He'll be back with the Twins at some point, but Worley hasn't been right since last year's elbow issues and was never a high-upside arm to begin with.

Ryan Pressly: .255/.321/.345 in 185 plate appearances

As far as Rule 5 picks go Ryan Pressly has been a big success. Used mostly for mopping up and long relief, he threw 44 innings with a 3.09 ERA and averaged 93 miles per hour with his fastball. Far less impressive than the shiny ERA is a 30-to-17 strikeout-to-walk ratio and Pressly is unlikely to be as stingy with homers going forward considering his high fly-ball rate, but he's been a useful member of the bullpen and has definitely shown some long-term upside.

Jared Burton: .247/.333/.377 in 184 plate appearances

Jared Burton picked up right where he left off following a fantastic 2012 season with a 2.10 ERA and 26 strikeouts in 26 innings through the end of May. Then he went through a rough patch while dealing with a groin injury, allowing 12 runs in 10 appearances as his ERA ballooned to 4.29 and he was removed from setup duties. Burton recovered to end the first half with six shutout outings in a row, although his usual swing-and-miss stuff still wasn't there.

Last year's .220 batting average on balls in play was always unsustainable and his overall stats remain decent with a 3.67 ERA and 36 strikeouts in 42 innings, but Burton has already walked more batters than all of last year and both his velocity and swinging strike rate are down slightly. Hopefully it's just a blip on the radar, because a healthy Burton can be light outs and he's signed through 2015 at salaries that make him a reasonably priced setup man or good trade bait.

P.J. Walters: .311/.383/.494 in 183 plate appearances

For the second time in two seasons the Twins called up P.J. Walters when their rotation was a mess, got a handful of decent outings from him before things fell apart, and then passed him through waivers unclaimed to keep the 28-year-old right-hander in the organization as Triple-A depth. Meanwhile, he has a 5.79 ERA in 20 starts for the Twins after posting a 4.60 ERA in 133 starts at Triple-A, making Walters the epitome of a replacement-level starter.

Pedro Hernandez: .311/.373/.517 in 169 plate appearances

Acquired from the White Sox in the Francisco Liriano trade, Pedro Hernandez is a soft-tossing, strike-throwing lefty who struggled against right-handed hitters in the minors and not surprisingly big-league righties have crushed him to the tune of .353/.423/.639 with eight homers in 137 plate appearances. He had two first-half stints with the Twins as a rotation fill-in, posting a 6.17 ERA in seven starts, and it's tough to see Hernandez having long-term success as a starter.

Josh Roenicke: .238/.331/.420 in 167 plate appearances

When the Twins claimed Josh Roenicke off waivers in November the story of his career was a big fastball and not much else, including a modest strikeout rate and poor control. His average fastball dipped to 91.2 miles per hour in the first half, but the rest of the story stayed the same with an awful 25-to-21 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 38 innings. And after some initial success he gave up 14 runs in his final 24 innings with as many walks (15) as strikeouts (15).

Brian Duensing: .300/.373/.393 in 159 plate appearances

Brian Duensing flopped as a starter, but has yet to rediscover his previous success as a reliever. Slated to be the primary left-handed setup man, Duensing struggled against lefties and righties while posting a 4.67 ERA and 30-to-16 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 35 innings and spent the final month or so of the first half working mostly in a mop-up role. His inability to handle righties will forever limit Duensing, but the good news is that his trouble with lefties looks like a fluke.

Lefties hit .307 off Duensing in the first half, but that was due to a ridiculously high .408 batting average on balls in play. Delving a little deeper, he posted a great 20-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio versus lefties and held them to just one homer in 82 plate appearances. Despite the rough first half not much has really changed with Duensing, but unfortunately that just means he's still a decent middle reliever who's a bad bet facing righties and a good bet facing lefties.

Casey Fien: .179/.217/.284 in 146 plate appearances

Burton and Duensing struggling as the main setup men pushed Casey Fien into a more prominent late-inning role and he responded by continuing to thrive. Not only did he have a 3.03 ERA and 42-to-7 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 39 first-half innings, dating back to his debut with the Twins last season Fien has a 2.57 ERA and 74-to-16 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 74 frames. Not bad for a guy who joined the Twins as a minor-league free agent last offseason at age 28.

He's probably due to come back down to earth at least a little bit and if that does happen it'll likely stem from serving up too many homers, as Fien was an extreme fly-ball pitcher in the minors and has one of the 10 lowest ground-ball rates in the majors since last season. However, his overall track record in the minors showed someone capable of being a quality middle reliever and so far he's allowed just seven homers in 287 plate appearances.

Glen Perkins: .172/.221/.262 in 131 plate appearances

Glen Perkins' first full season as the Twins' closer has been an overwhelming success except for the part about the team failing to find him consistent work. Perkins converted 21 of 23 saves with a 1.82 ERA and 47-to-7 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 34.2 innings, holding opponents to a .172 batting average. That's about as dominant as a pitcher can be and Perkins was rewarded with his first All-Star selection, yet the Twins used their All-Star closer for just 131 batters in 92 games.

Some of that stems from their lack of late leads, but Ron Gardenhire's refusal to use Perkins in non-save situations is the real culprit. Not only have 100 different relievers thrown more innings than Perkins, six Twins relievers have worked more. It's gotten so bad that Perkins requested more action, but Gardenhire continues to manage the bullpen around the save statistic while calling on lesser relievers in game-changing spots. Perkins is great, but his usage is terrible.

Kyle Gibson: .315/.392/.393 in 102 plate appearances

In his first full season back from Tommy John surgery Kyle Gibson entered spring training in the mix for a rotation spot, but pitched his way out of the immediate plans and then the Twins decided to keep him at Triple-A for three months. He was one of the International League's best pitchers, posting a 3.01 ERA with tons of ground balls and a 79-to-28 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 93 innings, and after going through eight other starters the Twins finally called him up three weeks ago.

Gibson had a very nice debut followed by three mostly poor outings, but looking beyond the ugly 6.45 ERA he induced 51 percent ground balls, generated a decent number of swinging strikes, and averaged 92.3 miles per hour with his fastball. Ultimately the key for Gibson is whether he can get enough strikeouts to be more than a mid-rotation starter who throws strikes and kills worms. At this point the jury is still very much out and his second-half workload may be limited.

Caleb Thielbar: .103/.205/.221 in 78 plate appearances

Twenty straight scoreless innings is an amazing start to anyone's career, let alone a 26-year-old rookie signed out of independent ball in 2011. Caleb Thielbar turned what looked likely to be a short-term call-up into a two-month gig, and while his secondary numbers and inherited runners allowed paint a much less impressive picture than his sparkling ERA he's shown more than enough to stick around with 21 strikeouts in 21 innings and 11 percent swinging strikes.

Note: For a similar first-half review of the Twins' hitters, click here.


This week's blog content is sponsored by the Twins Daily light rail pub crawl/Twins game, where you can join Aaron Gleeman, John Bonnes, Parker Hageman, Nick Nelson, and Seth Stohs for a day of bar-hopping and baseball on September 14. Space is limited, so book your spot.

March 25, 2013

Twins Notes: Hicks, Butera, Gibson, Diamond, Benson, and 612 Brew

aaron hicks three homers

• Making official what was pretty clearly the plan as soon as they followed up the Denard Span trade by also trading Ben Revere, the Twins named Aaron Hicks the Opening Day center fielder. Perhaps if Hicks had a terrible spring training Darin Mastroianni could have worked his way into the gig as a place-holder, but Hicks made that a moot point by hitting .350/.397/.650 with three steals in 18 games, including a headline-making three-homer game.

Hicks is a very good prospect with an all-around skill set that could make him a long-term building block, so I'm extremely excited to see him play. However, by jumping him from Double-A to the big leagues at age 23 the Twins may be rushing his development a bit and are definitely sacrificing their ability to delay his eventual free agency for the maximum amount of time. If he never goes back to the minors Hicks will be a free agent following the 2018 season, at age 29.

Based on service time rules they could've pushed back his free agency by an entire year, gaining an extra season and 162 games of team control, by sending Hicks to Triple-A for as little as four weeks. In that scenario if the Twins called him up in late April or early May and Hicks never went back to the minors he'd be a free agent following 2019, at age 30. Short-term gratification is hard to ignore, but stretching a prospect's pre-free agency years is done regularly by many teams.

Instead of having Hicks for 135 games this year and 162 games in 2019 they'll have him for 162 games this year and zero games in 2019. That math seems straightforward enough, especially considering Hicks is likely to be better as a 29-year-old veteran than as a 23-year-old rookie and the Twins might actually be contending in 2019. It's not about being cheap, it's about maximizing a player's value before he can leave. But it apparently never factored into the Twins' decision.

• One thing that has always made Hicks an intriguing prospect is excellent plate discipline, which he displayed immediately as an 18-year-old at rookie-ball in 2008 and has maintained ever since. He's averaged 98 walks per 150 games as a pro, including 79 walks in 129 games at Double-A last season, which is not a skill set you typically find in speedy, athletic, up-the-middle defenders. Joe Mauer, who knows a little something about plate discipline, took notice of Hicks' approach:

I've been real impressed by him. For a young guy to take pitches and work at-bats is pretty impressive. Even today, I talked to him and told him taking pitches is going to help the guys behind him. He has a pretty good grasp on how to approach an at-bat.

Ron Gardenhire tends to use speedy center fielders and middle infielders atop the lineup even if they lack strong on-base skills, so it's nice that Hicks is actually a patient hitter. By comparison, Revere drew a grand total of 57 walks in 254 games for the Twins. Hicks' high walk rate has also come with lots of strikeouts and mediocre batting averages, so it'll be interesting to see how he adjusts to facing pitchers with better control and no fear of throwing him strikes.

• Back in December the Twins tendered Drew Butera a contract for 2013 and then in January the two sides avoided arbitration with a one-year, $700,000 deal, but he'll be making that money in Rochester after being optioned to the minors. On one hand it's encouraging that the Twins finally realized a career .183/.232/.265 hitter probably shouldn't be in the majors. On the other hand it would have been nice to come to that conclusion before signing him to a $700,000 contract.

One-year deals to avoid arbitration aren't fully guaranteed until certain dates this month, so even after signing Butera they could've saved five-sixths or three-fourths of the money by releasing him. Detroit recently did that with Brennan Boesch, saving $1.9 million of a $2.3 million deal, but those deadlines have passed. Gardenhire talked of wanting a stronger bench and removing Butera fits that, but he also talked of wanting Jim Thome and that apparently isn't happening.

Kyle Gibson won't be joining Hicks on the Opening Day roster, as initial reports of him looking great coming back from Tommy John elbow surgery gave way to struggles in actual games and the Twins sent him to Triple-A. He'll be limited to 130 innings this season, so there's an argument for not wasting them at Triple-A, but the problem with that line of thinking is assuming Gibson is ready to succeed against big-league hitters when he hadn't even done that yet before surgery.

• What was supposed to be minor surgery to remove a bone chip from Scott Diamond's elbow in December has become a season-opening stint on the disabled list for the would-be Opening Day starter. For now the plan is for Diamond to make his season debut in mid-April, missing the Game 1 matchup versus Justin Verlander and a couple more starts, but the Twins' injury timetables haven't been worth a whole lot in recent years and worrying about elbow issues tends to loom.

• Diamond on the DL and Gibson at Triple-A means Samuel Deduno or Cole DeVries is likely to be in the Opening Day rotation and both of them could get a spot if the Twins decide to send Liam Hendriks back to Triple-A. At the beginning of the offseason Terry Ryan spoke of big plans for fixing the awful rotation, yet the Twins are already turning to the same career minor leaguers who were thrown against the wall to see if they stuck last season as emergency options.

Joe Benson was sent to Triple-A after a lackluster spring training, but even if he'd played well there wasn't much room for him on a roster with Hicks and Mastroianni. Benson is coming off a terrible, injury wrecked season, so he needs to get back on track or risk falling off the prospect radar, but he'd seemingly be the obvious call-up if Hicks struggles or if any of Josh Willingham, Justin Morneau, Chris Parmelee, or Ryan Doumit gets injured.

Danny Rams and Cole Nelson were among a handful of minor leaguers released by the Twins. Rams was a 2007 second-round pick with lots of power, but couldn't turn himself into a quality defensive catcher and hit .241 with 543 strikeouts in 406 games while failing to get past Single-A. Nelson and Lester Oliveros were acquired from the Tigers for Delmon Young in 2011--the same day "Gleeman and The Geek" debuted--but the big left-hander from Edina stalled at Single-A.

Anthony Swarzak will join Diamond in beginning the season on the disabled list as he recovers from the fractured ribs suffered in the "horseplay" incident during Twins Fest.

Tim Wood, who was a candidate for the Twins' bullpen and out of minor-league options, has been shut down with a strained rotator cuff.

Matt Capps failed to make the Indians on a minor-league deal and may accept an assignment to Triple-A one year after beginning the season as the Twins' closer.

Scott Baker's comeback from Tommy John surgery has been derailed by a strained elbow and he'll be shut down for at least a month.

• Thanks to everyone who came to the Twins Daily meet-up Saturday at 612 Brew. It was a great turnout and we're definitely planning to host semi-regular events throughout the season. Between the beer and laid-back space 612 Brew is an ideal venue, with the added bonus that the owners are Twins fans and the head brewer is a "Gleeman and The Geek" listener. I'm sure we'll be back there at some point, but in the meantime I highly recommended checking out 612 Brew.

• I didn't think to take any pictures until after the crowd had already thinned out a bit, but ...

twins daily 612 meetup2

twins daily 612 meetup1

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twins daily 612 meetup3


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April 12, 2012

Scott Baker to undergo elbow surgery, likely ending his Twins career

As if their 1-4 start wasn't bad enough the Twins announced yesterday that Scott Baker will undergo season-ending surgery to repair the flexor pronator tendon in his right elbow. Baker has battled elbow problems since 2010, needing two disabled list stints last season and beginning this year back on the shelf, yet last week the Twins gave him an MRI exam and Terry Ryan called the results "very similar to what it showed last July" and "good news."

Baker sought a second opinion from Dr. David Altchek, who performed Tommy John surgery on Joe Nathan in 2010 and Kyle Gibson last year, and he recommended that Baker go under the knife as well. While the recovery timetable for Baker is six months, as opposed to 12-18 months for Tommy John surgery, he'll miss the entire season and may have pitched his final game for the Twins given that they'll surely decline his $9.25 million option for 2013.

It's remarkable that Baker pitched as well as he did last season, posting a 3.14 ERA and 123-to-32 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 135 innings, but unfortunately pitching well between DL trips is the story of his career. Only nine pitchers in Twins history have made more starts with a better adjusted ERA+ than Baker and his strikeout-to-walk ratio is the second-best in team history behind only Johan Santana, but 2007 is his lone season with more than 175 innings.

Baker was typically one of the Twins' two best starters when healthy and his 150-175 innings were often more valuable than 180-200 innings from a lesser pitcher, but between the DL stints and tendency to serve up some monster homers as an extreme fly-ball pitcher he never seemed to gain much traction as a fan favorite. None of that matters now, of course, but in remembering a Twins career that's ending too soon it adds another unfortunate layer.

Baker is 30 years old, so if the surgery can fix the elbow problem that has plagued him for three seasons he'll have plenty of opportunity to reestablish himself as a solid mid-rotation starter in 2013 and beyond. It's just hard to imagine it being in Minnesota, in part because there's no way to justify paying him $9.25 million and in part because both sides seem likely to be in favor of moving on nine years after he was a second-round pick out of Oklahoma State.

Even a somewhat healthy Baker would have been able to fetch a decent prospect or two at the trade deadline, but that's obviously a moot point now and his surgery opens the door for Liam Hendriks to stick in the Twins' rotation instead of merely being a short-term fill-in. Hendriks was supposed to start the third game of the season in place of Baker, but instead was hospitalized for food poisoning and is now slated to make his 2012 debut Sunday.

Hendriks ideally could use a half-season at Triple-A, where he made just nine mediocre starts before being promoted to the majors at age 22 last year, but with Gibson recovering from Tommy John surgery he's the organization's top pitching prospect by default and the Twins don't have a ton of other options. They could turn to Anthony Swarzak once he's no longer needed to fill-in for Jason Marquis, but taking a longer look at Hendriks seems to be the plan.

Baker, Marquis, Carl Pavano, and Francisco Liriano will all be free agents after the season, so right now the 2013 rotation is Hendriks, Nick Blackburn, and three vacancies. That's not encouraging, although not much is with the Twins these days, and hopefully Baker's injury speeding up Hendriks' timetable won't hurt his development. Because if Hendriks develops as hoped and stays healthy his long-term upside is basically a more durable version of Baker.

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