November 27, 2012

Twins Notes: Pinto, Thielbar, Bromberg, Clement, Valencia, and Nishioka

• After clearing lots of the dead weight from the 40-man roster the Twins filled the empty spots by adding eight players: Aaron Hicks, Kyle Gibson, B.J. Hermsen, Michael Tonkin, Daniel Santana, Josmil Pinto, Tim Wood, Caler Thielbar. All eight players would have been eligible for the Rule 5 draft on December 6 if they hadn't been added and the first five names on the list were expected, as they rank among the Twins' better upper-minors prospects.

Pinto was somewhat surprising in that he's played just 12 games above Single-A through age 23, already spent about half of his time as a designated hitter, and failed to crack a .700 OPS in 2010 or 2011. He did bounce back with a strong season at high Single-A, hitting .295/.361/.473 in 93 games before a late promotion to Double-A, and the Twins apparently believe Pinto has a chance to be an impact bat.

When the Twins signed Wood to a minor-league contract on November 10 he didn't get a 40-man roster spot, but for some reason two weeks later they decided the 30-year-old reliever with just 58 career innings of big-league experience needed to be protected. He has a decent Triple-A track record and looks capable of being a useful middle reliever, but adding Wood to the 40-man roster weeks after signing him to a non-roster deal certainly seems odd.

Thielbar was cut by the Brewers two years after being an 18th-round draft pick and latched on with the independent league St. Paul Saints, where the left-handed reliever impressed the Twins enough to sign him in mid-2011. This year he pitched at Single-A, Double-A, and Triple-A, faring very well overall, but his 3.57 ERA and 32/16 K/BB ratio in 40 innings for Rochester were nothing special for a 25-year-old. Helluva story, questionable 40-man addition.

• Most of the aforementioned dead weight that was previously trimmed from the 40-man roster have either found new homes or re-signed with the Twins on minor-league deals. Samuel Deduno, P.J. Walters, Esmerling Vasquez, and Luis Perdomo re-upped without 40-man roster spots, Jeff Manship signed a minor-league contract with the Rockies, and Matt Carson signed a minor-league deal with the Indians.

At the time Carlos Gutierrez was the only player claimed off waivers after being dropped from the 40-man roster by the Twins, but two weeks later the Cubs dropped him from their 40-man roster and sent him outright to Triple-A when no one claimed the former first-round pick. As of now the Twins have a full 40-man roster, but there's still no shortage of replacement-level talent that can safely be let go if/when they need spots for trades or signings.

David Bromberg was the Twins' minor league pitcher of the year in 2009, but he was dropped from the 40-man roster after missing most of 2011 with a broken forearm and became a minor-league free agent last month. It was somewhat surprising to see the Twins sour on Bromberg so quickly, but he was never considered a top prospect and struggled this year working mostly as a reliever at age 24. He signed a minor-league deal with the Pirates.

• If you're into misleading headlines "Twins sign former top prospect, No. 3 pick" is a good one, but Jeff Clement seems destined for Rochester after inking a minor-league deal. While in the Mariners' farm system Clement ranked among Baseball America's top 75 prospects in 2006, 2007, and 2008, but poor defense kept him from playing catcher regularly and his bat hasn't been good enough for first base/designated hitter. For now he's just intriguing Triple-A depth.

Tim Doherty and Marty Mason replaced Tom Brunansky and Bobby Cuellar on the Triple-A coaching staff. Doherty will be Rochester's hitting coach after serving as a Red Sox assistant hitting coach this year. Mason takes over as pitching coach and his resume includes 11 seasons as the Cardinals' bullpen coach under manager Tony La Russa. Brunansky and Cuellar were promoted to the Twins' coaching staff as part of last month's quasi-shakeup.

• Last month when Tsuyoshi Nishioka forfeited the remaining $3.25 million on his contract to part ways with the Twins it was portrayed as an act of charity on his part. There's no doubt he did the Twins a favor, but as I wrote at the time: "He'll likely recoup the $3.25 million and then some back in Japan, where he was a .346-hitting, Gold Glove-winning star before leaving." Sure enough, Nishioka signed a two-year, $7.5 million deal with the Hanshin Tigers.

Danny Valencia spent most of his time at Triple-A after the Twins traded him to the Red Sox for a non-prospect in early August and now Boston has cut him from the 40-man roster. Overall this year Valencia hit .188/.199/.299 in the majors and .259/.300/.404 in the minors, posting a combined 90/21 K/BB ratio in 126 games. At age 28 he might be nearing the end of the line, although Valencia re-emering as a right-handed bench bat wouldn't be shocking.

Torii Hunter is back in the AL Central, signing a two-year, $26 million contract with the Tigers. That's a big commitment to a 37-year-old and his 2012 production was built on an sustainably great ball-in-play batting average, but it's worth noting that Hunter has more or less been worth $20 million over every two-year period since establishing himself in 2001. He's aged remarkably well and moving from center field to right field resuscitated his defense.

• For a whole lot more about the 40-man roster additions, Nishioka's raise, and the state of the Twins' farm system check out this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode.

October 25, 2012

Twins Notes: 40-man cuts, declining Capps, Baker talks, and 25 years ago

Yesterday in this space I listed 11 marginal players the Twins could designate for assignment to create space on the 40-man roster heading into the offseason and by the afternoon they'd done just that, dropping all but four of those players from the roster. Carlos Gutierrez was claimed off waivers by the Cubs while Jeff Manship, Luis Perdomo, Esmerling Vasquez, Kyle Waldrop, P.J. Walters, and Matt Carson all passed through waivers unclaimed.

Gutierrez was the 27th overall pick in the 2008 draft out of the University of Miami and for years was touted as a late-inning bullpen option, but he never actually pitched well beyond Single-A. He got ground balls with his sinker, but Gutierrez was basically a one-pitch reliever with poor control. He posted a 4.90 ERA between Double-A and Triple-A while managing just 6.9 strikeouts per nine innings and is currently recovering from shoulder surgery at age 26.

Manship once looked like a decent prospect as a starter in the minors, but he simply couldn't miss enough bats against experienced hitters and wasn't able to add much velocity in a move to the bullpen. He could resurface as a decent middle reliever at some point, but there's little in his track record to suggest an upside beyond that and Manship is 27 years old with mediocre raw stuff and a 6.20 ERA in 85 innings as a big leaguer.

Waldrop was drafted 25th overall in 2004, which is so long ago that the Twins took him with the compensatory pick they got for losing LaTroy Hawkins as a free agent. He was drafted as a starter out of high school, but shifted to the bullpen following shoulder surgery in 2008 and spent three years at Triple-A. Waldrop throws strikes and gets tons of ground balls, but had just 5.4 strikeouts per nine innings in Rochester and missed even fewer bats in Minnesota.

Perdomo, Vasquez, Walters, and Carson were each acquired by the Twins via minor-league deals or waiver claims, so cutting them loose comes as no surprise. Perdomo is the reliever the Twins decided to promote in September instead of giving Anthony Slama an opportunity to show that his consistently amazing minor-league numbers are no fluke, which was maddening then and remains so now.

• Along with trimming the 40-man roster the Twins also declined their $6 million option on Matt Capps, buying him out for $250,000 instead. That doesn't preclude them from re-signing Capps for less, but hopefully the front office can talk themselves into a clean breakup after such an odd love affair. Capps threw 122 innings for the Twins with a 3.61 ERA and 5.4 strikeouts per nine innings, which cost them Wilson Ramos, one draft pick, and $13 million.

Capps is a perfectly decent setup man when healthy, but he's always been an example of the folly behind labeling someone a "proven closer" based on save totals and then paying a premium for that meaningless label. Doing it over and over again, as the Twins did, is one of the team's most obvious fundamental mistakes in recent memory. Closers are made, not born, as Rick Aguilera, Joe Nathan, Eddie Guardado, and now Glen Perkins have shown.

• They haven't officially declined the $9 million option on Scott Baker for 2013, but that's merely a formality after he missed the entire season following Tommy John elbow surgery. Two months ago Baker said he'd like to remain in Minnesota, this week general manager Terry Ryan said the Twins are interested in keeping him around, and yesterday Darren Wolfson of 1500ESPN.com reported that the two sides are "working now on a new deal."

Baker is no sure thing to be healthy by Opening Day and had durability issues even before the surgery, but getting him signed to an incentive-laden one-year deal before free agency begins would be a nice first step toward rebuilding the rotation. Baker logged 135 innings with a 3.14 ERA and 123-to-32 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 2011 and among the 144 starters with 500-plus innings since 2007 he ranks 12th in K/BB ratio, 50th in xFIP, and 52nd in ERA.

• Last but not least, on this date 25 years ago ...

Twins 4, Cardinals 2.

August 21, 2012

Twins Notes: Blackburn, Nishioka, Tosoni, Carson, Parmelee, and Slama

Nick Blackburn's latest start came against the AL's lowest-scoring lineup in one of MLB's most pitcher-friendly ballparks, yet he still allowed five runs in five innings and served up two homers among 11 total hits. Among all MLB pitchers to start more than 15 games this season Blackburn ranks dead last with a 7.39 ERA (no one else is worse than 6.36) and a .340 opponents' batting average (no one else is worse than .316).

And as Twins fans know all too well, Blackburn's extreme struggles date back much further. Since the beginning of 2010 he's now started 71 games and thrown 408 innings with a 5.56 ERA while opponents have hit .313/.359/.507 off him. To put that in some context: Justin Morneau is a career .281/.351/.497 hitter. So for the past three seasons and 408 innings Blackburn has essentially turned every batter he's faced into a better version of Morneau.

Among all MLB pitchers to start more than 60 games since 2010 he ranks dead last in:

- ERA (5.56)
- Opponents' batting average (.313)
- Opponents' on-base percentage (.359)
- Opponents' slugging percentage (.507)
- Homers per nine innings (1.5)
- Baserunners per nine innings (14.1)
- Strikeouts per nine innings (4.1)
- Strikeout-to-walk ratio (1.55)

Quite simply: Blackburn has been the worst pitcher in baseball for the past three seasons and it's not particularly close. If not for the Twins giving him a misguided and totally unnecessary contract extension in March of 2010 he'd have been cut a long time ago, but instead they're paying him $4.75 million this season and owe him another $5.5 million in 2013. They also hold an $8 million team option on Blackburn for 2014, which would be funny if it weren't so sad.

And yet when asked recently about Blackburn's status for 2013, Ron Gardenhire said:

He's going to be one of our pitchers. He'll be one of our pitchers again next year, and we need good outings from him. He's the veteran of this staff now. Hopefully we'll let him finish out here and he'll get on a bit of a roll and get some wins underneath his belt and get him more confidence.

Gardenhire's stance apparently wasn't shared by the front office, because yesterday Blackburn was sent outright to Triple-A. That means he was removed from the 40-man roster and passed through waivers unclaimed, as predictably none of the other 29 teams wanted anything to do with his contract. Blackburn remains in the organization and can be recalled to the majors at any time, but first the Twins would have to re-add him to the 40-man roster.

Tsuyoshi Nishioka was also sent outright to Triple-A after the Twins initially optioned him to Rochester last week. Nishioka, like Blackburn, is no longer on the 40-man roster after passing through waivers unclaimed and will continue to play at Triple-A. I'm not sure why they avoided dropping Nishioka from the 40-man roster immediately last week or when they first sent him to the minors during spring training, but there's obviously no need to waste a spot on him.

• In further 40-man roster housecleaning Rene Tosoni was sent outright to Triple-A to make room for Matt Carson's arrival. Tosoni was once a solid prospect who projected as a potential starting corner outfielder, but he's 26 years old now and has been brutal in the minors for the past two seasons. Not surprisingly he passed through waivers unclaimed, so the Twins were able to retain him in the organization without the 40-man roster spot.

• By calling up Carson as a fill-in for the banged-up outfield the Twins showed they'd rather have Chris Parmelee playing in Rochester than collecting dust on the bench in Minnesota again and perhaps don't view him as a viable outfield option defensively. Based on his great Triple-A performance Parmelee is obviously deserving of another opportunity in the majors, but as I wrote last week there's nowhere for to consistently play him barring a trade or injury.

Carson is a 31-year-old journeyman who joined the organization in November on a minor-league deal. He previously had brief stints in the majors with the A's in 2009 and 2010, but was never a top prospect and has spent 11 seasons in the minors. Carson hit .277/.339/.447 in 110 games for Rochester, which is both nothing special for a corner outfielder and nearly identical to his career .264/.325/.447 line in 4,649 plate appearances as a minor leaguer.

• April elbow surgery knocked Scott Baker out for the year and the Twins will decline his $9.25 million option for next season, making him a free agent. However, with the 2013 rotation wide open and Baker looking for a place to get his career back on track a reunion is possible. Baker is scheduled to begin throwing off a mound in October and indicated to Joe Christensen of the Minneapolis Star Tribune that all things being equal he'd like to remain in Minnesota.

• After missing two months with a broken leg Anthony Slama is back to closing out games for Rochester, where he's logged 26 innings with a 0.70 ERA, .183 opponents' batting average, and 44 strikeouts. Slama isn't on the 40-man roster, but as noted above they created multiple new openings and there's no excuse for the Twins not to give a September call-up to the 28-year-old with a 2.25 ERA and 180 strikeouts in 144 innings at Triple-A.

• There are 10 pitchers in the Twins' farm system to throw 100 or more innings this year and all 10 have a strikeout rate below 7.0 per nine innings. Blackburn's likely replacement, Liam Hendriks, has the highest strikeout rate among those 10, whiffing 82 batters in 106 innings at Triple-A for a rate of 6.9 per nine innings that's actually below the International League average of 7.4 per nine innings. Pitching to contact still dominates the farm system.

• Back in 2003 the Twins moved their Triple-A team from Edmonton of the Pacific Coast League to Rochester of the International League, where they've been since. There were some rumblings that Rochester could try to ditch the Twins when their contract expired after this season, which would have left the Twins scrambling for a new Triple-A home and might have even led to returning to the PCL, but the two sides have agreed to a two-year extension.

• Twins rookie-ball catcher Michael Quesada was suspended 50 games for violating the minor league drug prevention and treatment program by testing positive for Methylhexaneamine, a stimulant and dietary supplement. Quesada was a 10th-round draft pick out of Sierra College in 2010, but has hit just .213/.314/.333 with three homers in 62 career games while remaining in rookie-ball as a 22-year-old.

Denard Span injured his shoulder on August 12. Nine days later he remains "day-to-day" and on the active roster despite being unavailable to play for that entire time and finally underwent an MRI exam yesterday. At this point I'm not even sure what to say about the Twins' ongoing pattern of "day-to-day" injuries and disabled list avoidance, other than maybe "sigh."

• Only two MLB hitters with more than 375 plate appearances this season have zero homers: Jamey Carroll and Ben Revere.

• Four hitters in the Twins' entire organization, majors and minors, have drawn 60 or more walks this season: Joe Mauer, Josh Willingham, Miguel Sano, Aaron Hicks.

• Since becoming the primary closer Glen Perkins has converted 7-of-8 save chances with a 2.66 ERA and 24-to-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 24 innings. Before that he had two career saves.

• For a whole lot more about Blackburn and Hendriks, plus a pretty good puking-in-public story and comparing Sam Deduno to a UFO, check out this week's Gleeman and The Geek episode.

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November 21, 2011

Twins Notes: Carroll’s contract, Kubel’s compensation, and minor moves

Jamey Carroll's deal was initially reported as two years and $7 million, but the actual details are slightly different. Carroll will get $2.75 million in 2012 and $3.75 million in 2013, and there's also a $2 million team option or $250,000 buyout for 2014 that becomes a player option with no buyout if he tops 400 plate appearances in 2013. Most likely it'll wind up being a two-year, $6.75 million deal, but it could become a three-year, $8.5 million contract.

Obviously committing multiple seasons to a 38-year-old middle infielder isn't ideal, but Carroll's deal seemed like a fair one to me at the time and looks even better now compared to a pair of middle infielder signings that followed. Mark Ellis got two years and $8.75 million to basically replace Carroll on the Dodgers. They're similar players, but Ellis hasn't played shortstop since 2005 and is coming off a career-worst season that saw him hit just .248/.288/.346 at age 34.

Clint Barmes got two years and $11 million from the Pirates, who'll use him as their everyday shortstop. All things being equal Barmes might be a better choice than Carroll for the next two seasons because he's five years younger and an elite defender with 15-homer power, but the money isn't close to equal and Barmes has also hit just .230/.275/.360 away from Colorado. Even with Coors Field included his .302 on-base percentage is 54 points below Carroll's mark.

Reported changes in the soon-to-be-signed collective bargaining agreement would eliminate compensation for Type B free agents, meaning the Twins would receive nothing if Jason Kubel signs elsewhere. Getting rid of the Type B free agent designation and lessening the number of Type A free agents qualified for compensation seems like bad news for the Twins long term, as they lose more free agents than they sign and rely heavily on the extra draft picks.

Not trading Kubel was a questionable decision when the Twins assumed they'd be receiving a supplemental first-round pick if he left as a free agent, but if that compensation for Kubel and other Type B players is eliminated they'll obviously regret the non-move. Instead of cashing him in for a decent prospect or two they'd get nothing, although certainly you can't blame the Twins for not being able to predict the future of collective bargaining changes.

Phil Dumatrait re-signed with the Twins on a minor-league deal after being trimmed off the 40-man roster. Dumatrait's track record shows that even his limited success involved pitching way over his head, but as Triple-A depth he's fine. Along with Dumatrait (and Brian Dinkelman and Jared Burton, who signed last week) the Twins also inked minor-league deals with Jason Bulger, Brendan Wise, Matt Carson, Wilkin Ramirez, Samuel Deduno, and Luis Perdomo.

When the Angels acquired Bulger from the Diamondbacks for Alberto Callaspo in 2006 he was a potential late-inning reliever, but injuries and control problems have held him back and now he's 32 years old with just 133 career innings in the majors. On the other hand he has a 4.33 ERA and 138 strikeouts in those 133 innings and throws in the low-90s with a good curveball, so the right-hander could be a midseason bullpen option.

Perdomo throws hard and spent 2009 in the Padres' bullpen with a 4.80 ERA and 55/34 K/BB ratio in 60 innings, but the 27-year-old righty has been mediocre at Triple-A since then and mostly just adds to the sudden collection of relievers with big velocity and little else. Wise and Deduno don't fit that mold, topping out in the low-90s. Wise's pretty ERA at Triple-A hides poor secondary numbers and Deduno is a ground-ball guy who doesn't miss bats or throw strikes.

Carson and Ramirez are both journeyman outfielders with brief stints in the majors who'll add some speed and right-handed pop to Rochester's lineup. Carson has hit .280/.343/.515 in 378 games at Triple-A, including .279/.337/.533 with 24 homers and 11 steals in 112 games this year at age 29. Ramirez is 27 years old and has hit .247/.308/.431 in 270 games at Triple-A, including .267/.307/.458 with 11 homers and 19 steals in 81 games this season.

• Bulger, Burton, Dumatrait, Dinkelman, and Carson are examples of the type of guys available on minor-league deals every offseason, which is why it's so confusing that the Twins decided to give 40-man roster spots to similarly mediocre talent like Matt Maloney and Jeff Gray. They can always drop Maloney and Gray from the 40-man roster, of course, but in the meantime the deadline to add prospects newly eligible for the Rule 5 draft came and went.

Oswaldo Arcia, Carlos Gutierrez, and Tyler Robertson were the three additions, protecting them from being selected in next month's draft, but the Twins also left decent prospects Angel Morales, Manuel Soliman, and Tom Stuifbergen unprotected and changed David Bromberg from protected to unprotected by outrighting him off the 40-man roster. Odds are that none of those four will be Rule 5 picks, but it certainly wouldn't be shocking if the Twins lost someone.

Bromberg was named Twins minor league pitcher of the year in 2009, but saw his stock drop with the jump to Double-A and Triple-A in 2010 and missed most of this year after a line drive broke his forearm in May. He ranked No. 13 on my list of the Twins' best prospects coming into this season and will probably drop into the 20-30 range for 2012, which is also where Morales, Stuifbergen, and Soliman will likely end up if they remain in the organization.

Delmon Young's postseason power surge caused some people to overreact about the Twins dumping him in mid-August, but now Jon Paul Morosi of FOXSports.com writes that the Tigers are trying to deal him because they're "concerned about his defense." They apparently offered Young to the Braves for Martin Prado, but were turned down. And if the Tigers keep Young for 2012 they'll likely be paying him at least $7 million in his final season before free agency.