February 15, 2013

Link-O-Rama

• One of my favorite reality television shows, "Bar Rescue" on Spike, is back for another season and the episodes are available for free online. I'm joining forces with fellow Jon Taffer devotees Parker Hageman and Dana Wessel in an effort to get the show to do an episode in Minnesota. So far this is the extent of our campaign, so obviously we're open to ideas. Let's make it happen.

• If this ever happens to me at a bar I'm going on a rampage and hopefully we'll be recording the podcast at the time so everyone can hear me murdering people.

• Now that he's replaced Joe Christensen on the Twins beat Phil Miller launched his new blog on the Minneapolis Star Tribune's website.

Mike Berardino, who was formerly a longtime South Florida Sun Sentinel columnist, has been hired by the St. Paul Pioneer Press as their new Twins beat reporter.

• Sometimes it's tough to tell the difference between spring training reports from beat writers and erotic fan fiction intros.

• If you've ever doubted the genius of Michael Schur/Ken Tremendous, he just cast the always amazing Andre Braugher and AG.com favorite Chelsea Peretti for his next FOX show.

Francis J. Underwood, sabermetrician.

• In elementary school my class sold Kirby Puckett candy bars for some sort of fundraiser and my mom just bought a bunch of them from me and then let me eat them all, which explains a lot about my life and is also relevant to this shocking Deadspin investigation.

• I'll have more on this next week, but the Twins signed Rafael Perez to a minor-league deal.

• There is no age at which men are immune to the charms of Connie Britton. And if you're not going to read this whole thing then why even bother having the internet or a computer or eyes?

Francisco Liriano broke his arm at home, but it wasn't from falling in the bathroom. No, it was actually even weirder than that.

• On this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode "horseplay" and "natural stank" were discussed at length while a woman named April occasionally chimed in.

• On a related note, I'll marry any woman who wears this on our first date.

• In his new book Mike Piazza talks about taking karate lessons to prepare for revenge against Roger Clemens. This is how I imagine those lessons:

Mediocre movie, but that scene gets me every time.

• This is crazy and all, but to lose "only" $13 million on $1 billion worth of bets isn't too bad.

• My blog-mate Craig Calcaterra explained what going to the doctor for an annual checkup has to do with sabermetrics.

• On a related note, here's an example of the type of fan mail we receive at HardballTalk.

• Nearly a decade after beginning her memorable two-year run as Official Fantasy Girl of AG.com Elisha Cuthbert is Maxim magazine's pick for "television's most beautiful woman."

• I'm proud to have convinced Scott Olstad to put together a collection of his 10 favorite Otis Redding cover songs for The Current's website.

• If you're interested in the history of great music and the impact of technology on art the Dave Grohl-directed documentary "Sound City" is a must-watch. Can't recommend it enough.

"Searching for Sugar Man" is another documentary that's definitely worth watching. I won't give away much, but it's a fascinating story that got me thinking about how context is everything.

Trevor Bauer is the next Shaquille O'Neal.

• By far the worst e-mail I've ever gotten.

Alex Pappademas of Grantland went on tour with "Community" creator Dan Harmon and wrote an amazing article about it.

• I started watching ABC's cooking show "The Taste" because of Anthony Bourdain, but have kept watching it because of Nigella Lawson.

Lenny Dykstra's son and Tony Soprano's daughter are having a baby.

• This week "Gleeman and The Geek" passed 500,000 total downloads, so thanks to everyone for listening and for spreading the word about the podcast.

• Giants teammates Tim Lincecum and Hunter Pence are the cutest:

I miss the long hair, though.

Carl Pavano talked about rupturing his spleen while shoveling his driveway and it was gross and scary and crazy.

"What is a badass?"

• Hard to believe, but unless he's a liar this guy turned 52 years old this week.

• The good news is that I bought a red hat, changed my name to Max, and moved to New York.

• Rays reliever Joel Peralta suffered a sandwich-related injury.

• Bloggers seem contractually obligated to hate "Girls" and Lena Dunham, but I watched the first five episodes of Season 2 in one sitting this week and still liked it. I'm constantly confused by who the internet decides to collectively hate or love, but she seems pretty great to me.

• I already liked Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried a lot, but now he's one of my favorite athletes.

David Brauer's return to college hilariously involves having to take freshman comp.

Sh*tty "New Yorker" Cartoon Captions.

• If you saw Mavis Staples on the Grammys, please note that Bob Dylan wanted to marry her.

• My childhood, represented by 29 pictures from one evening that I remember watching.

Jon Marthaler, Brandon Broxey, Clarence Swamptown, and Randall's Stu have started a new podcast about Minnesota sports called "The Sportive" that everyone should check out.

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

- "Chinese food weight gain 2012"
- "Aaron Gleeman fat"
- "Chelsea Peretti naked"
- "Tosoni toes"
- "Todd Glass baseball"
- "Nineties sex symbols"
- "Zoe Barnes wardrobe"
- "Zoe Barnes hair part"
- "Sid Hartman girlfriends"
- "Ricky Rubio's neck tattoo"

• Finally, in honor of Valentine's Day this week's AG.com-approved music video is "Wicked Games" by The Weeknd:

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.

November 14, 2012

Free agent pitching options: Middle-of-the-rotation starters

Twins starting pitchers combined for a 5.00 ERA during the past two seasons to rank dead last in the league and they head into the offseason with only Scott Diamond locked into a rotation spot. Terry Ryan has said he'd prefer to address the rotation via trades, which is no surprise for a team that's basically never pursued free agent pitching beyond bargain-bin shopping, but if they do decide to dive into the free agent pitching pool the water is reasonably deep.

In an effort to figure out the Twins' options I've separated the free agent pitching class into three categories: Top-of-the-rotation starters, middle-of-the-rotation starters, and back-of-the-rotation starters. Below are the middle-of-the-rotation starters, which I view as a No. 3 or No. 4 starter on a contending team and, for example, what Diamond seems likely to be long term if things go well and what new Cubs signee Scott Baker was before elbow surgery.

Shaun Marcum - RHP - 124 innings - 3.70 ERA - 4.21 xFIP - 109/41 K/BB

Marcum never threw hard, but has topped out in the high-80s since returning from Tommy John surgery in 2010. Despite that he has a 3.62 ERA and above-average strikeout rate in 520 innings during that time, thanks largely to a great changeup. After staying mostly healthy in back-to-back seasons Marcum again had elbow issues in 2012, but he pitched well in September. He's a prototypical Twins pitcher and the injuries could drop Marcum into their price range.

Brandon McCarthy - RHP - 111 innings - 3.24 ERA - 4.23 xFIP - 73/24 K/BB

A former top prospect repeatedly derailed by injuries, McCarthy finally got healthy and thrived for the A's before a second straight strong year was ruined by a line drive to the head on September 5 that led to brain surgery. Obviously his health is a serious question mark and McCarthy isn't as good as his numbers looked in pitcher-friendly Oakland, but he's a solid 28-year-old starter who fits the Twins' strike-throwing mold and is someone to root for on and off the field.

Joe Blanton - RHP - 191 innings - 4.71 ERA - 3.39 xFIP - 166/34 K/BB

Blanton missed most of 2011 with an elbow injury and on the surface his return was ugly with a 4.71 ERA and 29 homers in 191 innings, but his secondary numbers were far better. Not only were his 7.8 strikeouts per nine innings a career-high, Blanton had the NL's second-best strikeout-to-walk ratio and his 3.39 xFIP ranked 16th in MLB. At age 31 he's not really a breakout candidate, but Blanton is a strike-thrower with more upside than his ERA suggests.

Kyle Lohse - RHP - 211 innings - 2.86 ERA - 3.96 xFIP - 143/38 K/BB ratio

Lohse was his usual mediocre self for the first five years after the Twins traded him in 2006, posting a 4.66 ERA in 665 innings, but during the past two seasons he had a 3.11 ERA in 399 innings for the Cardinals while starting seven playoff games. At age 34 and with significantly less impressive secondary numbers Lohse is a good bet to be among the offseason's most overpaid free agents, but even if he were available cheaply a Twins reunion would never happen.

Francisco Liriano - LHP - 157 innings - 5.34 ERA - 4.14 xFIP - 167/87 K/BB

Speaking of unlikely reunions, Liriano is a free agent after the Twins traded him to Chicago for a pair of non-prospects in July. He was the same occasionally dominant but mostly frustrating guy in Chicago, tossing 57 innings with a 5.40 ERA and rates of 9.2 strikeouts and 5.1 walks per nine innings. For the Twins he had a 5.31 ERA, 9.8 strikeouts, and 5.0 walks. At age 29 and with all those strikeouts Liriano has more upside than most on this list, but ... who knows.

Brett Myers - RHP - 65 innings - 3.31 ERA - 3.92 xFIP - 41/15 K/BB

In both 2008 and this year Myers was shifted from the rotation to the bullpen and made a closer, with strong results, but he's also been a quality starter for most of his career. He has 247 starts with a 4.27 ERA and 7.2 strikeouts per nine innings, including a 3.79 ERA and 340/123 K/BB ratio in 440 innings between 2010 and 2011. As a fly-ball pitcher he struggles to limit homers, but Target Field would help that if the Twins are willing to bring in a not-so-wonderful person.

Roy Oswalt - RHP - 59 innings - 5.80 ERA - 3.27 xFIP - 59/11 K/BB

Oswalt talked about retiring because of back problems, sat out the first two months before signing with the Rangers, and then got knocked around for a 5.80 ERA while being demoted to the bullpen. At age 35 he may simply be nearing the end of the line, but a 59-to-11 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 59 innings suggests Oswalt wasn't nearly as bad as his ERA. His velocity was the same as 2011, when he pitched well for the Phillies, and his track record is tough to beat.

Carlos Villanueva - RHP - 125 innings - 4.16 ERA - 4.09 xFIP - 122/46 K/BB

Villanueva had a lot of success as a starter in the minors, but has spent most of his big-league career as a long reliever and has been mediocre when called on to make spot starts. He started 16 times for Toronto in 2012, struggling to keep the ball in the ballpark while posting a 4.50 ERA, but also had an 86-to-25 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 92 innings. If given a chance to build up his arm strength as a full-time starter at age 29 he could provide nice value.

Erik Bedard - LHP - 126 innings - 5.01 ERA - 4.05 xFIP - 118/56 K/BB

He's basically never stayed healthy, has a reputation for being a pain in the ass, and posted a 5.01 ERA for the Pirates this year, but Bedard's superior secondary stats included 118 strikeouts in 126 innings. And during the previous five years his worst ERA was 3.76 and his worst strikeout rate was 7.8 per nine innings. I'd never invest big money or multiple years in Bedard, especially at age 34, but for the hope of 25 starts on a one-year deal he's got some bat-missing upside.

August 29, 2012

Twins Notes: Morneau, Hendriks, Pavano, Sano, Liriano, Mauer, and Battey

• Within the Los Angeles Times' story about the Dodgers-Red Sox blockbuster trade was this tidbit from beat reporter Dylan Hernandez:

A four-time All-Star first baseman, [Adrian] Gonzalez was the prize in the deal. The Dodgers inquired about him leading up to the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline and approached the Red Sox again after a failed attempt to land Minnesota Twins first baseman Justin Morneau last week.

Not shocking, as the Dodgers were also linked to Justin Morneau in July, but the notion of the Twins turning them down multiple times is certainly interesting. Morneau has been excellent since the All-Star break, hitting .320/.365/.523 in 39 games, but his overall production this season still qualifies as good but not great and his health remains an issue. Toss in the fact that he has one year and $14 million left on his contract and Morneau's trade value isn't great.

Or at least it shouldn't be, which makes me wonder if they should've jumped at the Dodgers' offer assuming it included any kind of decent prospect. Simply clearing Morneau's salary off the books for 2013 has value to the Twins, especially with Chris Parmelee waiting in the wings as a minimum-salaried replacement, and the Dodgers ended up sending a surprisingly strong package of players to the Red Sox for the right to take on $275 million in mostly bad contracts.

Given how the Dodgers are throwing around money it's not safe to assume their interest in Morneau and his contract guarantees similar interest from other teams, and now Los Angeles is no longer an option for a future deal. Obviously every Twins fan would love to see Morneau resume being an elite hitter, but $14 million would come in handy and letting him walk for nothing as a free agent in 15 months would be a missed opportunity.

Liam Hendriks came into Monday with an 0-8 record and 6.75 ERA in 13 career starts, threw a one-run complete game while allowing just three hits ... and lost 1-0 to Felix Hernandez. Setting aside the silliness of "wins" and "losses" for pitchers it was a very encouraging outing and it's nice to see the Twins giving Hendriks an opportunity to start every fifth day down the stretch following another good stint at Triple-A. At age 23 he maintains mid-rotation potential.

Carl Pavano has been ruled out for the season and--you may want to sit down for this--the Twins' medical staff apparently failed to properly diagnose his injury for three months before a second opinion found the source of the problem:

It's too bad it took three months diagnose that. I could have been resting. The good news is, it doesn't require surgery. I've had this in the past and gotten through it, and obviously I've pitched a lot since then. But as far as I'm concerned, this whole season has been a failure on many levels, for myself, for the team. It's just kind of lousy that it took this long.

Pavano went on to blame himself, rather than the Twins, but it's tough not to connect those dots after reading John Shipley's article in the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

Keith Law of ESPN.com recently stopped by Beloit to watch the Twins' low Single-A team and had some interesting observations about Miguel Sano. First, the good:

Sano has incredibly easy power, with a clean, rotational swing that generates most of its power from his hips and legs, a textbook example of how to make hard contact and drive the ball to all fields. His home run on Friday night went over the batter's eye in Beloit, which is 380 feet from home plate, and he drove two more balls to left without even squaring either up fully.

And now, the bad:

Sano's biggest drawback is his obvious disdain for the defensive side of the game. ... So while he has the arm and hands for [third base] now, the question of whether he'll outgrow the position is secondary to the question of whether he'll work enough to make third base a possibility.

Law also wrote up reports on Eddie Rosario, Kennys Vargas, and Taylor Rogers.

• Monday night Lew Ford started at designated hitter and batted fifth for the Orioles, going deep off White Sox starter Francisco Liriano for his first homer since 2007. What a world.

• Speaking of Liriano, since being traded to the White Sox he's started six games with a 4.26 ERA and 33-to-16 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 32 innings. Liriano has allowed two or fewer runs in five of those six starts and dating back to rejoining the Twins' rotation in May he's started 17 games with a 3.87 ERA, .211 opponents' batting average, and 112 strikeouts in 98 innings.

Joe Mauer passed Earl Battey for the most games caught in Twins history, which provides a good reason to remind everyone that Battey was a helluva player.

• While researching a future article about prospect development, I stumbled across this:

Mauer in the minors: .330 batting average, .406 on-base percentage, 1.2 walks per strikeout
Mauer in the majors: .322 batting average, .404 on-base percentage, 1.2 walks per strikeout

It's probably also worth noting that Mauer was done playing in the minors at age 20, played only 73 games above Single-A, and skipped Triple-A altogether.

Joe Benson's nightmare season now includes left knee surgery, along with a demotion from Triple-A to Double-A and a broken wrist. Coming into the year he looked just about ready to claim a starting job in the majors at age 24, but instead he hit .202/.288/.336 while missing half the season with injuries and never even got to Minnesota.

• Twins' record in their last 300 games: 117-183.

Chris Jaffe of The Hardball Times depressingly notes that all the recent losing has dropped the Twins' all-time record since moving to Minnesota below .500.

• Hundreds of players are placed on revocable waivers every August. Mauer is reportedly one of them. Probably isn't the first time. Probably won't be the last time. The end.

• I'm not sure what exactly is going on here with Mauer, but I watched it about 50 times.

• I went to last night's Twins-Mariners game (the weather was nice, at least), which means I was part of the smallest crowd in Target Field history.

• For a lot more about Morneau and Hendriks, check out this week's Gleeman and The Geek.

August 9, 2012

Twins’ trade deadline inactivity forces fans to have faith

Last year's July 31 trade deadline came and went without the Twins making a deal, although on August 15 they sent Delmon Young to the Tigers for minor leaguers Lester Oliveros and Cole Nelson. This year they pulled the trigger on trading Francisco Liriano two days before the deadline, acquiring marginal prospects Eduardo Escobar and Pedro Hernandez from the White Sox, and then chose not to make further moves (except later dumping Danny Valencia).

Rarely do struggling teams avoid trading any veterans for long-term help, yet in back-to-back seasons the Twins reached the July 31 deadline with one of MLB's worst records and failed to acquire a single quality prospect. Last year's inactivity stemmed from the Twins misguidedly still believing they had a chance to get into contention, plus the knowledge that they were in line for draft pick compensation for impending free agents Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel.

This season there were no such illusions of contending, but Liriano was their only impending free agent with any sort of trade value and the Twins felt the time wasn't right to deal players signed beyond 2012. It's unclear whether that means the Twins felt the time wasn't right because those players are part of the team's intended plan to contend in 2013 or because they simply hope to get more value for them this offseason, but either way they stood pat.

Aiming to contend in 2013 or waiting until the offseason to deal veterans lead to the same thing, which is not trading Josh Willingham, Denard Span, Justin Morneau, Jared Burton, and others by July 31, but the long-term impact of those scenarios are very different. If they held onto veterans believing they're close to consistently contending again that's "optimistic" without plans to add lots of free agent rotation help and further delays a much-needed rebuild.

However, if the Twins held onto veterans believing that players signed beyond the current season will have a stronger trade market in November than in July that's a calculated risk and certainly defensible. Morneau and Burton are both under team control for next season, Willingham is signed through 2014, and Span's contract runs through 2015, so not trading them by July 31 doesn't rule out eventually trading them.

Terry Ryan and company need to be right about that, of course, and there's definitely reason to be skeptical of Willingham or Burton ever having more trade value than they do right now. And if any team was offering to absorb Morneau's entire $14 million salary for next season and give the Twins any sort of quality prospect, that's a move worth jumping on immediately. Still, in theory at least there was no rush to part with players under team control past this season.

Ultimately it comes down to having faith in Ryan and the front office, first to realize the focus should be on finding young talent rather than trying to contend in 2013 and then to maximize their returns from trading the few veterans with value to other teams. If you have faith, the Twins' trade deadline inactivity shouldn't be troubling. If you don't have faith, the Twins missed an immediate opportunity to restock the farm system and dive headfirst into rebuilding mode.

This week's blog content is sponsored by DiamondCentric's new "Walks Will Haunt" t-shirt, which looks good on any Twins fan. Please support them for supporting AG.com.

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