January 24, 2012

Twins Notes: Morneau, Slowey, Turpen, Putnam, French, and Tolbert

Joe Christensen of the Minneapolis Star Tribune traveled to Arizona to see Justin Morneau's workout routine and wrote a lengthy article about his latest comeback. Morneau revealed that he had concussion symptoms as recently as last month, which is awfully worrisome considering his initial brain injury occurred nearly 18 months ago and he still hasn't begun taking batting practice or fielding ground balls. Here's more of what Morneau said:

I wouldn't say the head's perfect yet ... but what I was able to do today is miles ahead of where I was at this time last year. I've had problems with focus. Your mind kind of wanders, I guess, because your brain's so exhausted from trying to interpret what your eyes are seeing.

Not exactly encouraging with spring training around the corner, and lost in all the concussion concerns is that he also underwent neck, knee, foot, and wrist surgeries in 2011. Christensen writes that Morneau still lacks feeling in his left pointer finger, needs treatment on scar tissue in his knee, and has a big bump on his foot. And oddly the wrist injury has somehow flown under the radar despite being the official reason for his trip to the disabled list in June.

At the time little was said about the actual cause of the wrist injury and that remains true, as Christensen says that "his left wrist began bothering him in May" and "when he returned two months later, the wrist was still a big problem." Morneau eventually had surgery to "stabilize a tendon." And that's about it, except Nick Nelson of TwinsCentric reported way back in June that "Morneau's wrist injury was the result of a locker room tirade after a strikeout."

• Last month the Twins traded Kevin Slowey to the Rockies for minor leaguer Daniel Turpen, dumping him for a marginal pitching prospect following a drama-filled year during which neither side came off looking good. At the time he was slated to be Colorado's fifth starter and Slowey avoided arbitration by signing a one-year, $2.75 million contract, but the Rockies later traded outfielder Seth Smith for two potential starting pitchers and decided Slowey was expendable.

Six weeks after acquiring Slowey the Rockies traded him to the Indians, who wanted rotation help in case Fausto Carmona's legal situation in the Dominican Republic keeps him from being approved for a visa. Not only is he returning to the AL Central after the Twins banished him to the NL and the worst possible environment for a fly-ball pitcher, the Rockies managed to swap Slowey for Zach Putnam, who's a better prospect than they gave the Twins to get him.

Putnam is far from elite, but he's a 23-year-old former third-round pick with strong numbers in the minors and Baseball America ranked the right-handed reliever as the No. 10 prospect in the Indians' farm system. Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus has a lower opinion of Putnam, ranking him No. 20 in Cleveland's system, but still likes him more than Turpen. In fact, you'll be hard-pressed to find a prominent prospect analyst who doesn't have Putnam ahead of Turpen.

So how did the Twins trade Slowey for a marginal prospect only to see him swapped six weeks later for a younger, better prospect? Well, for one thing the Rockies sent $1.25 million to the Indians along with Slowey, whereas the Twins simply wiped him from their books. Beyond that Carmona's legal issues presumably meant the Indians were willing to give up more for Slowey than six weeks ago. And the Twins may have balked at trading him within the division anyway.

Ultimately the odds are against Putnam or Turpen having a significant impact in the majors and it's tough to place a value on how much of a prospect upgrade $1.25 million can buy, but given how the Twins mishandled the situation from start to finish their trading Slowey with his value at an all-time low becomes doubly frustrating when another team got more by letting him sit on their roster for a month. There wasn't even time for Slowey to piss off the Colorado media.

• In trying to figure out how much room the Twins have under their self-imposed $100 million payroll limit my assumption has been that Joe Nathan's buyout was part of the 2012 money. However, according to Christensen the Twins actually view the $2 million as part of "last year's books." If true, that means they should have more than enough payroll room to add a veteran right-handed reliever like Todd Coffey or Dan Wheeler or Brad Lidge or Chad Qualls.

• They won't be among the 25 non-roster players invited to spring training, but Luke French and Brad Thompson are the latest minor leaguers collected by the Twins. French was a decent enough prospect to be traded for a half-year of Jarrod Washburn in mid-2009. He's struggled in the majors with a 5.00 ERA and 79-to-57 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 155 innings and got killed at Triple-A last season, posting a 6.27 ERA with 30 homers allowed in 146 innings.

Thompson briefly had some success as a middle reliever for the Cardinals in 2005 and 2006, but struggled after that and the Twins are his fourth organization since 2010. He's still just 29 years old, but Thompson's fastball tops out in the high-80s and his career strikeout rate is 4.2 per nine innings. To put that in some context, Nick Blackburn has averaged 4.3 strikeouts per nine innings. French and Thompson are both destined for Rochester.

Matt Tolbert, who the Twins dropped from the 40-man roster shortly after the season, inked a minor-league deal with the Cubs.

• We're recording a "Gleeman and The Geek" episode tonight, so if there are some questions you'd like to hear answered on the podcast leave them in the comments section.

December 9, 2011

Twins Notes: Slowey, Turpen, Doyle, Hunt, Popham, Florimon, and Cuddyer

Kevin Slowey and the Twins have been headed for divorce since they demoted him from the rotation in favor of Brian Duensing and Nick Blackburn during spring training and he reacted poorly to the idea of becoming a reliever. He lasted much longer than I ever expected, making it through the season with a team that grew to despise him, but the two sides finally parted ways as the Twins traded him to the Rockies for a marginal reliever prospect in Daniel Turpen.

Slowey absolutely deserves plenty of criticism, both for his attitude and performance, but the Twins also created the ugly situation by dumping a 27-year-old career-long starter with a 4.41 ERA from the rotation and trying to force him into a role he was unwilling or unable to accept. Duensing and Blackburn combined for a 4.87 ERA in 54 starts while Slowey's stock plummeted so far that the Twins dumped him for a reliever who won't crack my top 40 prospects list.

No one should come off looking good, yet the local media focused on portraying Slowey in the worst possible light while freeing the Twins of any responsibility. He was ripped for refusing to accept an understandably upsetting demotion and for supposedly faking arm issues, and once it became clear the Twins no longer wanted anything to do with Slowey the criticism became absurdly personal. Following the trade, Minneapolis Star Tribune columnist Jim Souhan wrote:

Slowey, we hardly knew ye. Oh, wait, yes we did. That's why Twins traded the jerk for a boiled hot dog and a used spit cup.

Terry Ryan made the deal of winter meetings. Traded Slowey for a human.

That's just the culmination of his season-long bashing and while Souhan is the most extreme example he was hardly alone. I'm not defending Slowey's pitching or behavior, but the media coverage was laughably one-sided and the personal attacks were both pathetic and plentiful. Slowey showed how not to handle a demotion, the Twins showed how to squander an asset, and the local media showed how willing they are to rip a guy to shreds if given the go-ahead.

• In trading Slowey to the Rockies the Twins sent him to the worst possible place for a fly-ball pitcher and calling Coors Field home makes it far less likely he'll come back to haunt them. In a neutral environment Slowey remains capable of throwing 150-175 innings with a 4.50 ERA and great strikeout-to-walk ratios, but the odds are heavily stacked against a control pitcher with a high-80s fastball and one of the highest fly-ball rates in baseball thriving at altitude.

Colorado targeting Slowey is weird, but the Rockies probably just saw a 27-year-old formerly decent mid-rotation starter under team control at reasonable salaries for two more years and figured why not pick him up for pennies on the dollar. Turpen was revealed as the player to be named later immediately after the Rule 5 draft was completed and the brief delay was due to the Twins not wanting to protect him from being selected by placing him on the 40-man roster.

Turpen was actually picked by the Yankees in the Rule 5 draft last winter, but didn't stick and is now with his fifth organization in five seasons. He spent this year at Double-A, where the side-arming righty threw 60 innings with a 4.82 ERA and more walks (35) than strikeouts (33). Turpen's previous track record was somewhat better and he's a ground-ball pitcher with good velocity, but as a 25-year-old reliever yet to reach Triple-A he's a long shot to be useful.

• With the No. 2 pick in the Rule 5 draft the Twins selected right-hander Terry Doyle from the White Sox. Doyle's strong performance in the Arizona Fall League got the Twins' attention, but that involved just eight starts and he split the regular season between Single-A and Double-A despite being a 25-year-old drafted out of college in 2007. He fits the Twins' mold with good control and a low-90s fastball, throwing 173 innings with a 3.07 ERA and 122/33 K/BB ratio.

Rule 5 picks must remain in the majors all season or be offered back to the original team. Last year the Twins took Scott Diamond from the Braves and rather than keep him on the roster traded former second-round pick Billy Bullock for the ability to stash him in the minors. I hated the move, as Bullock had far more upside as a hard-throwing reliever with big strikeout totals, and the Twins ended up promoting Diamond to the majors in July anyway.

Presumably by passing on various higher-upside arms to take Doyle with the No. 2 pick they're willing to simply keep him in the majors as a long reliever and mop-up man. Vice president of player personnel Mike Radcliff told John Manuel of Baseball America that the Twins think Doyle "has got the ability to be a fourth or fifth starter" with velocity that ranges from "marginal" to "average." Not exactly what I'd target atop the Rule 5 draft, but he's not without potential.

• Despite leaving some decent prospects unprotected the Twins lost no one in the big-league phase of the Rule 5 draft. Shooter Hunt was taken by St. Louis in the minor-league phase, but the 2008 first-round pick's complete inability to throw strikes took him off the prospect radar long ago. Hunt once projected as a potential top-of-the-rotation starter, but he's yet to move beyond Single-A and has a 6.85 ERA with 236 walks in 193 career innings.

They also selected right-hander Marty Popham from the Indians in the minor-league phase and unlike Doyle he can remain in the minors. Popham is another strike-thrower with low-90s velocity and the former 20th-round pick tossed 112 innings with a 4.58 ERA and 106/25 K/BB ratio between high Single-A and Double-A as a 23-year-old. Major-league Rule 5 picks rarely pan out and minor-league Rule 5 picks almost never pan out, so he's likely just Triple-A depth.

• Baltimore trimmed Pedro Florimon from the 40-man roster after an abbreviated September call-up and the Twins claimed the 24-year-old shortstop off waivers. Prior to making his debut Florimon spent the year hitting .267/.344/.396 in 133 games at Double-A. Those numbers are mediocre enough for any 24-year-old at Double-A, but also include a poor 114-to-51 strikeout-to-walk ratio and actually represent the best performance of Florimon's six-season career.

In other words he can't hit, but Florimon has a reputation as a good defensive shortstop and the other middle infielders on the 40-man roster were Jamey Carroll, Alexi Casilla, Tsuyoshi Nishioka, Trevor Plouffe, and Luke Hughes. There isn't a standout defensive shortstop in the bunch and even "middle infielder" is a stretch in some cases, so for now at least a good-glove, no-hit guy is worth adding to stash in the minors even if Florimon's upside is utility man.

• It sounds like the Twins' primary competition for Michael Cuddyer is the Rockies, so he might be reunited with Slowey if they top the Twins' reported three-year, $25 million offer.

• Old friend Jose Morales signed a minor-league contract with the Pirates. Morales was traded to the Rockies last offseason when the Twins opted for Drew Butera as their backup catcher and ended up missing most of the season with a broken thumb.

• I'm assuming ESPN.com chose this picture to accompany Jerry Crasnick's article about Terry Ryan because it features a Phil Mackey cameo.

• Speaking of which, Twins baseball communications manager Dustin Morse shared a photo of Mackey, John Shipley, and Rhett Bollinger grilling Ron Gardenhire at the winter meetings.

Dan Szymborski released his annual ZiPS projections over at Baseball Think Factory and the Twins' numbers ... well, they aren't pretty.

• This week's podcast features lots of talk about Cuddyer, Slowey, Matt Capps, Jason Kubel, and the winter meetings, plus various other beer-fueled randomness, so give it a listen.