July 10, 2013

Old friends in new places: Catching up with former Twins pitchers

nathan liriano crain

I've been getting lots of e-mails, comments, and tweets about seven former Twins being named All-Stars and ex-Twins in general thriving for other teams, so let's examine that notion. Like all teams the Twins cycle through tons of players every season, making it impossible to keep close tabs on everyone, but I've tried to narrow things down a bit by focusing on relatively prominent and/or oft-discussed players who departed the organization within the past handful of seasons.

Even then the list is a very long one, so today let's stick to the ex-Twins pitchers ...

Joe Nathan: By declining a $12.5 million option the Twins made Nathan a free agent after 2011 and he signed a two-year, $14.5 million contract with the Rangers. At the time it would have been tough to justify a big two-year deal for a 37-year-old reliever still rounding back into shape after elbow surgery and his departure led to Glen Perkins emerging as closer, but Nathan has been amazing in Texas with a 2.25 ERA and 120/23 K/BB ratio in 104 innings.

Francisco Liriano: Traded to the White Sox in mid-2012 for Eduardo Escobar and Pedro Hernandez as an impending free agent, Liriano wasn't much good down the stretch and then signed a two-year deal with the Pirates that was later reworked due to an offseason injury. He's been brilliant for the Pirates with a 2.20 ERA and 74/27 K/BB ratio in 70 innings, relying on his fastball less than ever before.

R.A. Dickey: Dickey spent a thoroughly unmemorable 2009 season in Minnesota, serving as a mop-up reliever for 64 innings before refusing an assignment to the minors and leaving as a free agent. There was nothing promising about his performance, which included a 4.62 ERA and 40/32 K/BB ratio, and the Twins were hesitant to even use the knuckleballer with men on base. He inked a minor-league deal with the Mets at age 35 ... and turned into a Cy Young winner.

Matt Guerrier: Guerrier exited as a free agent following the 2010 season for a three-year $12 million deal with the Dodgers after seven seasons in Minnesota. At the time Guerrier was 32 years old and showing obvious signs of decline, so the decision to let him walk was a sound one. He's struggled with injuries while posting a 4.20 ERA and was recently designated for assignment with a half-season left on the three-year deal, going to the Cubs in a swap of unwanted contracts.

Jesse Crain: Crain followed Guerrier out the door after 2010, signing a three-year, $13 million deal with the White Sox. Despite a modest strikeout rate of 6.2 per nine innings he threw 382 innings with a 3.42 ERA in seven seasons in Minnesota, but Crain has racked up 10.6 strikeouts per nine innings while posting a 2.10 ERA in 150 innings for the White Sox. At the time I'd have re-signed Crain over Guerrier, but didn't blame the Twins for avoiding a three-year deal.

Scott Baker: Baker missed all of 2012 following elbow surgery and then became a free agent when the Twins declined his $9.25 million option. They wanted to re-sign him to a cheaper deal, but balked when Baker refused to include a team option for 2014. He ended up signing with the Cubs for $5.5 million plus some incentives and has yet to pitch. Meanwhile, the Twins spent $4 million on a different pitcher coming off elbow surgery and Mike Pelfrey has a 5.63 ERA.

Matt Capps: Capps went from making a combined $12 million as the Twins' closer in 2011 and 2012 to not even being able to get an MLB contract this offseason, settling for a minor-league deal with the Indians. Overall in two-and-a-half seasons in Minnesota he threw 122 innings with a 3.61 ERA and 5.4 strikeouts per nine innings, for which the Twins parted with the Nationals' starting catcher, Wilson Ramos, and $14 million while also forfeiting a compensatory draft pick.

Kevin Slowey: Slowey's status a solid mid-rotation starter from 2007-2010 unraveled when he got pushed out of the rotation in 2011. Slowey didn't want to be in the bullpen, pitching horribly and getting injured, and the Twins did their best to tear him down while the local media was all too willing to lend a hand. He was traded to the Rockies for a non-prospect, missed most of 2012, and has returned the majors with a 3.99 ERA and 72/18 K/BB ratio for the Marlins.

Jose Mijares: Cut loose after 2011 because the Twins decided a 27-year-old reliever with a 3.16 career ERA wasn't worth paying $750,000 via arbitration, Mijares wound up signing with the Royals for more money and then moved on to the Giants. Since leaving the Twins he has a 2.51 ERA and 88/30 K/BB ratio in 86 innings and still hasn't made more than $1.8 million in a season. Dropping him made little sense to me then and is certainly even more regrettable now.

Jason Marquis: Marquis was as awful as a pitcher can be after signing a one-year, $3 million deal with the Twins last offseason, starting seven games with an 8.47 ERA and more walks than strikeouts while allowing opponents to hit .371 before they released him in late May. He quickly latched on with San Diego, where he pitched well and then re-signed for this season at $3 million. Overall for the Padres he's thrown 201 innings with a 3.90 ERA.

Carl Pavano: Pavano had a good two-and-a-half season run for the Twins, but fell apart last year while unsuccessfully trying to pitch through a shoulder injury. He was finally shut down in June with a 6.00 ERA and didn't throw another pitch, leaving as a free agent. Pavano was looking for work as a back-of-the-rotation starter this offseason when he fell while shoveling snow and ruptured his spleen. He won't pitch this season and at age 37 might be done.

Pat Neshek: Waived by the Twins in the spring of 2011 after struggling to come back from elbow surgery, Neshek was claimed by the Padres and split that season between Triple-A and San Diego with mediocre results. Last year he toiled away at Triple-A for Baltimore before a trade to Oakland, where Neshek has thrived again with a 1.91 ERA in 47 innings. There was really no good reason for the Twins to cut bait on Neshek, who now has a 2.91 career ERA in seven seasons.

Craig Breslow: Breslow was a shrewd waiver wire pickup by the Twins in mid-2008, but after pitching well for 39 innings that season he struggled in early 2009 and they waived him. Not only was it an overreaction to a small sample of bad work, Breslow was cut loose so the Twins could call up a different left-handed reliever, Sean Henn, who lasted all of 11 innings for them. Since being lost on waivers Breslow has thrown 280 innings with a 2.93 ERA.

Jon Rauch: Rauch was briefly the Twins' closer in 2010, filling in fairly well for a rehabbing Nathan by converting 21 of 25 saves with a 3.05 ERA. He lost the job when the Twins decided they had to overpay for a so-called "proven closer" in Capps and then left as a free agent that offseason, signing a one-year, $3.5 million deal. Rauch was decent in 2011 and 2012, posting a 4.12 ERA in 110 innings, but struggled this season and was recently released by two teams.

Billy Bullock: Back in 2011 the Twins picked Scott Diamond in the Rule 5 draft, didn't want to keep him in the majors all year, and traded Bullock to the Braves for the right to send Diamond to the minors. I hated the deal at the time, because Bullock was a hard-throwing second-round pick and the Twins could have just kept Diamond as a mop-up man for nothing in return, but Bullock never harnessed his raw stuff and got released this month. Diamond has a 4.32 career ERA.

Alex Burnett: For three seasons the Twins stuck with Burnett in their bullpen despite an increasingly poor performance, only to waive him this spring for no pressing reason. In the four months since then Burnett has been claimed three times off waivers, going from the Twins to the Blue Jays to the Orioles to the Cubs. Most recently he passed through waivers unclaimed and is now at Triple-A for the Cubs.

Philip Humber: Acquired from the Mets as part of the Johan Santana trade, Humber never made a start for the Twins and appeared in just 13 total games before leaving as a minor league free agent. He had a good run for the White Sox in 2011 and threw a perfect game in April of 2012, but overall since leaving the Twins he has a 5.28 ERA in 322 innings. Humber is currently at Triple-A for the Astros after passing through waivers unclaimed.

Jeff Gray: Gray won a spot in the Opening Day bullpen last year despite a lengthy track record of mediocrity and remained there for most of the season despite a 5.71 ERA and 26/22 K/BB ratio in 52 innings. When the Twins finally came to their senses and waived Gray he went unclaimed by the other 29 teams, became a free agent, and signed a minor-league deal with the White Sox. He's spent all of this season at Triple-A.

Jim Hoey: Back in 2010 the Twins traded Carlos Gomez for J.J. Hardy and then a year later they traded Hardy for Hoey and Brett Jacobson. Whatever you thought of the Gomez-for-Hardy swap the Hardy-for-Hoey trade was a terrible, misguided idea that looks even worse now. Hoey threw 25 awful innings for the Twins, who lost him for nothing on waivers a year after the trade, and Jacobson was released from Double-A. Hoey is now playing independent ball.


This week's blog content is sponsored by Curt's Salsa, a locally owned salsa company that believes in fresh ingredients and rooting for the little guy. Please support them for supporting AG.com.

October 17, 2012

Twitter Mailbag: Answers

Last week I asked for mailbag questions submitted via Twitter, so here are about 1,600 words worth of me answering 140-character queries ...

@mdidrikson: What is the best baseball book you've read?

Without question "Ball Four" by Jim Bouton. I've read it at least five times and it never ceases being amazing. For him to write something that great in 1970 is crazy. Meeting him at the SABR convention in Seattle a few years ago was a big thrill.

@caniwarrior: How did Rick Anderson survive the coaching purge?

Rick Anderson became pitching coach when Ron Gardenhire replaced Tom Kelly as manager in 2002, so the combination of a decade on the job and Gardenhire's support is a pretty strong one. My assumption is that Gardenhire fought to keep Anderson around, perhaps at the expense of multiple other coaches, but that's just speculation. Obviously the Twins' pitching has been in decline for a while now and Anderson is presumably on the hottest of hot seats.

@ZBurmeister: What are your favorite podcasts I probably haven't heard of?

I work from home and listen to podcasts constantly all day while I write for NBCSports.com, so at this point I subscribe to more than 40 of them. There's a complete list on the right-hand sidebar of this page, but in terms of podcasts you may not be familiar with my favorites right now are:

- "Stop Podcasting Yourself" with Graham Clark and Dave Shumka
- "The Best Show On WFMU" with Tom Scharpling
- "Fan Graphs Audio" with Carson Cistulli and Dayn Perry
- "The Long Shot" with Sean Conroy, Eddie Pepitone, Jamie Flam, and Amber Kenny
- "Throwing Shade" with Erin Gibson and Bryan Safi

And of course "Gleeman and The Geek." Once the playoffs are over and my work schedule settles down a bit I think I'll write up a guide to all the podcasts I like, because it's something people ask about a lot and as someone who loves the medium spreading the word would be nice.

@jacoblaxen: What is Terry Ryan's first move this offseason?

It's always hard to predict the timing of moves, but based on Terry Ryan's repeated comments about upgrading the rotation and not liking the free agent market my guess would be some sort of trade for a starting pitcher. Reading between the lines, it sure seems like he has a trade or two on the table that he feels reasonably comfortable with.

@skrypzUSN: Who would you rather see traded for starting pitching, Denard Span or Ben Revere?

It all depends on what type of returns they would fetch. Denard Span is a better player than Ben Revere right now and generally seems underrated by Twins fans, but he's also older, much more expensive, and much closer to free agency. If they both had identical trade value I'd probably lean toward trading Revere and sticking with Span, but they don't. Span should be able to command a lot more in return.

@commnman: Are there any bargain free agent starting pitchers you'd be comfortable with the Twins targeting this offseason?

Quite a few, actually. This is a pretty deep crop of free agent starters, at least relative to other offseasons. There aren't many elite, top-of-the-rotation options, but the Twins wouldn't be in the mix for them anyway and there are plenty of mid-rotation types available. As soon as the playoffs end I'll have an article breaking down all the options, but for now some names to ponder: Joe Blanton, Hisashi Iwakuma, Ervin Santana, Gavin Floyd, Brandon McCarthy.

@dbrugg999: Twins talk is about how they need starting pitching, but what other position is crucial that they upgrade?

Middle infield, but that's been true for essentially the past decade. Right now Pedro Florimon is probably the favorite to start at shortstop in 2013, which says a lot about a lot.

@jackthumser: How closely do you follow other sports?

Pretty closely. I've always been a big basketball and football fan, and for several years I wrote about the NFL for Rotoworld. I know absolutely nothing about hockey and don't have a ton of interest in other sports except for mixed martial arts and, if you consider it a sport, poker.

@mattusaurus: Who has the best pitch in baseball?

Mariano Rivera's cutter was the correct answer to this question for 15 years, but since he missed the entire season I suppose we need a new one. Fan Graphs assigns run values to pitches and based largely off those my picks would be Craig Kimbrel's fastball, Fernando Rodney's changeup, Clayton Kershaw's curveball, Yu Darvish's slider, and R.A. Dickey's knuckleball. And along the same lines as Rivera's cutter, I guess Dickey's knuckler is the best.

@salmensays: Do right-handed hitters or left-handed hitters get more infield hits?

I'm guessing most people would assume left-handed hitters get more infield hits, by virtue of being a couple steps closer to first base. However, studies have shown that right-handed hitters actually get more infield hits because they hit more ground balls to third base and shortstop, which require longer throws than ground balls hit to second base and first base.

@ZnelND: Who's the best Twins prospect no one has heard of?

I'd say probably Jorge Polanco. He was overshadowed by Miguel Sano and Max Kepler when he signed for $750,000 as a 16-year-old out of the Dominican Republic in 2009 and then got off to a slow start as a professional, but Polanco had a great half-season at rookie-ball. He's years from potentially entering the Twins' plans, but as a shortstop with a good bat Polanco is one of their highest-upside prospects.

@jimcamery: Do prominent ex-players make better coaches than scrubs? Is there any real data?

That question was about Paul Molitor being turned down for a job on the Twins' revamped staff. Many fans assume that great players like Molitor would make great coaches, but there isn't much evidence to support that. Very few Hall of Fame-level players go on to become great coaches or managers and many of the best coaches and managers were marginal players. Molitor, for instance, was fired by the Mariners after one season as hitting coach in 2004.

@MeatSauce1: Bring Alex Rodriguez to the Twins?

That question comes from the world renowned Meat Sauce of KFAN fame, so of course I have to answer it. There's zero chance of the Twins trading for Alex Rodriguez, but it'll be interesting to see if the Yankees try to trade him, period. He's owed $114 million for the next five seasons and I'm guessing they'd have to eat at least $75 million to unload him. Also worth noting: Rodriguez hit .272/.353/.430 this season. Justin Morneau hit .267/.333/.440.

@mdidrikson: What's the best team in the past 25 years to not win the World Series?

There are a lot of them, because the nature of baseball means being the best team during a 162-game season and winning the World Series are often very different things. I'd probably go with the 2001 Mariners, who set the modern record with 116 wins and lost in the ALCS. Any good baseball team can beat any other good baseball team three times in five games or four times in seven games, which simultaneously makes the playoffs great and maddening.

@ScandiAngel: What's a reasonable expectation for Kyle Gibson in 2013? Will the Twins treat him like Stephen Strasburg?

I'm sure Kyle Gibson will be on a workload limit in 2013. In terms of what to expect, he's off to an impressive start in the Arizona Fall League and reportedly throwing harder now than he did before Tommy John surgery. He'll compete for a rotation spot in spring training before most likely heading to Triple-A. Expectations should be held in check because Gibson wasn't an elite prospect before the injury, but if things go well he could join the Twins' rotation midseason.

@jimcamery: Was Prince Fielder worth the money?

Prince Fielder hit .313/.412/.528 with 30 homers in 162 games, so he certainly earned his $23 million salary this season. That was always pretty likely, though, because he's 28 years old with a great track record. He's still owed another $191 million for the next eight seasons and the odds of the second half of that deal looking good for the Tigers seems iffy at best. Then again, I'm more or less against handing out massive long-term contracts to any player.

@SpitThatHotFire: Where do you see Josh Hamilton ending up next year?

Josh Hamilton is one of the most interesting free agents ever. Based solely on his track record at age 31 he'd be in line for well over $100 million, but because of his off-field (and on-field) issues it wouldn't surprise me if he signed for less than $100 million. As for where ... I have no idea. It sure seems like the Rangers don't want him back unless it's cheap and most of the usual free-spenders seem unlikely to go nuts for him. "Not the Twins" is the best I can do.

@wombat_socho: Is there any cure for Ron Gardenhire's addiction to scrappy/useless infielders?

Well, the most obvious cure is for the front office to stop providing him with such players, but then that brings up the question of who has the addiction in the first place.

@commnman: How are Twins fans supposed to decide between rooting for Delmon Young and rooting for the Yankees?

We actually discussed this at some length on this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode and ultimately concluded that rooting for the Tigers made sense under these circumstances.

This week's blog content is sponsored by Audible, which is offering a free audiobook download for AG.com readers and "Gleeman and The Geek" listeners at AudiblePodcast.com/Gleeman.

May 25, 2012

Link-O-Rama

Dmitri Young sold his baseball card collection for $2.5 million. And here's my favorite part of the story: "Only seven cards in the entire collection received no bids and all were rookie cards of his brother, current Tigers outfielder Delmon Young."

• Anyone know if this team needs a blogger?

• Oddly both brilliant and creepy: The evolution of a family, one picture per year.

Joe Mauer and Snoop Dogg, together again at Thursday night's White Sox-Twins game.

• Financing the remake of a Pauly Shore movie is a sure sign that you have too much money.

• Thing that made me feel elderly: This week is the 20th anniversary of The Real World on MTV.

• Friend of AG.com and former Gleeman and The Geek guest Lindsay Guentzel beat out 22,000 applicants for a spot in the MLB Fan Cave, but now they're voting out residents, Survivor-style, and she needs your help to stick around and keep living in New York all season. Go vote.

LeBron James reads The Hunger Games in the locker room, obviously.

Michael Cuddyer is in a new league and on a new bad team, but the newspaper articles about him and "clubhouse chemistry" predictably live on.

Curt Schilling: Great pitcher, not-so-great businessman.

• Saying this will inevitably lead to ridicule, but whatever: John Mayer's new album is really good and also quite a bit different than most of his previous stuff.

• If you're interested in becoming an AG.com "sponsor of the week" click here for details.

• Fat-O-Meter update: I wrote on March 7 about losing 153 pounds in one year. Since then I've dropped another 23 pounds and now weigh 179 pounds, compared to 176 pounds lost.

• My weekly appearance on KFAN with Paul Allen was fun and you can listen to us talk about the Twins and the MLB draft and my life as a robot by clicking here.

• On a related note, I showed up at the radio station immediately after this took place:

 Not so long ago I'd have been excited about the fact that there were still donuts around.

• I'd like this cake for my next birthday, please. But definitely not the blond version.

Aroldis Chapman was arrested for driving significantly slower than he throws.

Jim Thome is single-handedly trying to prop up the housing market by selling his old place for $3.8 million and buying a new place for $4.6 million.

• Someone bought Babe Ruth's old jersey for $4.4 million.

Torii Hunter has yet to rejoin the Angels two weeks after his 17-year-old son's arrest on sexual assault charges.

• My former Sunday school classmate Leora Itman writes about how my old temple in St. Paul has a new, supposedly "cool" rabbi. And he has a sports blog called The Great Rabbino.

Chris Brown and his fans truly deserve each other.

Albert Chen of Sports Illustrated wrote a lengthy profile of Georgia high school center fielder Byron Buxton, who might end up being the Twins' choice with the No. 2 pick next month.

• I've never tuned in specifically to watch this show, yet cancellation is probably the only way to stop me from watching five episodes in a row every time I stumble across a marathon.

• NBC renewed Community for another season, but creator and show-runner Dan Harmon got fired and it's tough imagine the quality and creativity not suffering without him.

• Who is Cole De Vries and what is he doing in the Twins' rotation? I'm glad you asked.

• In similar news, I'm taking myself out of consideration for People's sexiest man of the year.

Jesse Thorn's long-form interview show Bullseye is always a must-listen, but that's especially true this week with Mets knuckleballer R.A. Dickey as his guest.

• Finally, this week's AG.com-approved music video is the studio version of the title track from Mayer's new album, "Born and Raised":

This week's blog content is sponsored by Curt's Salsa, a locally owned salsa company that believes in fresh ingredients and rooting for the little guy. Please support them for supporting AG.com.