April 25, 2011

Nevermind, I’ll find someone like you

Catching up with old friends in new places ...

Matt Guerrier signed a three-year, $12 million deal with the Dodgers and got off to a great start in Los Angeles with 11 straight scoreless innings before coughing up five runs Saturday. Guerrier has filled largely the same role with the Dodgers that he did with the Twins, working the seventh and eighth innings setting up closer Jonathan Broxton while recording more than three outs in five of his first 10 appearances.

Brian Fuentes has been filling in for the injured Andrew Bailey as the A's closer, converting six of seven save chances with a 4.09 ERA and 10-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 11 innings. He was unable to find a full-time closing opportunity as a free agent and settled for a two-year, $10.5 million deal at age 35. Bailey is due back early next month, at which point Fuentes will slide into a setup role alongside former Twin and original AG.com favorite, Grant Balfour.

Jon Rauch also stumbled into a brief stint filling in as Toronto's closer with Frank Francisco sidelined to begin the season. Just as he did for the Twins last year Rauch did a perfectly solid job in the role, converting all three save chances before Francico returned 18 games in, and he has a 2.25 ERA and 6-to-4 strikeout-to-walk ratio in nine innings overall. Dating back to last year Rauch has converted 24-of-28 saves with a 2.98 ERA and 52/18 K/BB ratio in 66 innings.

• Obviously the three-year, $13 million contract helped, but Jesse Crain also talked about the opportunity to be in the mix for saves as one of the reasons for signing with the White Sox. Chicago's bullpen has been a mess, with closer Matt Thornton blowing four saves already and manager Ozzie Guillen trying all kinds of different combinations late, but Crain has yet to get a crack at closing duties despite a 1.93 ERA and 11-to-2 strikeout-to-walk ratio in nine innings.

Orlando Hudson got off to strong start in San Diego while oddly batting third in the Padres' lineup, but a recent slump has knocked his overall line down to .229/.349/.271 in 21 games. Of course, even that .620 OPS is still much higher than the Twins have gotten from Alexi Casilla (.485), Matt Tolbert (.469), Luke Hughes (.448), and Tsuyoshi Nishioka (.519) in the middle infield and Hudson is playing half his games in the majors' most pitcher-friendly ballpark.

• I didn't like the Twins' decision to trade J.J. Hardy after he was above par offensively among shortstops and outstanding defensively in the 101 games he was healthy enough to be in the lineup, but they have to be smiling after he lasted just six games with the Orioles before being placed on the disabled list. Hardy is out until mid-May with a strained oblique and one of the two minor-league relievers the Twins got for him, Jim Hoey, has been thrust into a setup role.

Brendan Harris was also traded to Baltimore in the Hardy swap or more accurately dumping $1.25 million of his $1.75 million salary on the Orioles was part of the Twins' side of the deal. No one will ever be able to explain why the Twins handed Harris a two-year, $3.2 million deal last January, but after spending most of last season at Triple-A he failed to make the Orioles out of spring training and is once again struggling in the International League.

Wilson Ramos has overtaken Ivan Rodriguez as Washington's starting catcher and all of a sudden articles have popped up explaining how the Twins don't regret trading a 22-year-old top catching prospect for the right to pay $10 million for one-and-a-half years of Matt Capps. I'm sure the timing is purely coincidental. Ramos is hitting .351 with surprisingly decent plate discipline early on, giving him a .302/.347/.414 career line through 34 games.

Dealt for Single-A reliever Paul Bargas in December after the Twins settled on Drew Butera as their preferred backup catcher, Jose Morales is now backing up Chris Iannetta in Colorado and playing sparingly in the early going. He owns a career line of .295/.374/.358 in 81 games, but the Twins never trusted his glove. Bargas unfortunately has been hospitalized due to a neurological condition, with general manager Bill Smith describing him as "very sick."

Nick Punto's one-year, $750,000 contract with St. Louis got off to a rough start when he underwent hernia surgery within days of reporting to spring training, but he's healthy now and already starting regularly in place of injured second baseman Skip Schumaker. I thought the Twins should have re-signed Punto as long as the money was no more than $1 million and the projected role was minor. For all his faults, he'd be their best middle infielder right now.

Pat Neshek not only won a spot in the Padres' bullpen out of spring training after being lost on waivers for nothing by the Twins, he threw eight innings with a 2.25 ERA and .222 batting average against. However, while I'm happy to see Neshek doing well and didn't understand cutting him loose, his 7-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio is anything but impressive, his average fastball has clocked in at just 85.6 miles per hour, and now he's been optioned to Triple-A.

• Traded to the Braves for Rule 5 pick Scott Diamond last month in one of the most confusing Twins moves in a long time, Billy Bullock has struggled at Double-A with a 12.15 ERA through 6.2 innings. He thrived at Double-A in the second half of last season, but his shaky control has been a big problem with six walks. Diamond, meanwhile, has a 3.48 ERA and 13-to-8 strikeout-to-walk ratio in three starts at Rochester.

Rob Delaney was lost on waivers to Tampa Bay in late January when they Twins dropped him from the 40-man roster to make room for Dusty Hughes. Delaney failed to make the Rays out of spring training, but has a 2.45 ERA and 14-to-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 11 innings at Triple-A and will likely get a chance in Tampa Bay at some point this season. Hughes has been a mess so far, living up to his mediocre track record by allowing seven runs in seven innings.

Ron Mahay left the Twins as a free agent, signed a minor-league deal with the Dodgers only to be released in the final week of spring training, and has latched on with the Diamondbacks at Triple-A, continuing a career-long pattern of having to prove himself anew seemingly every season despite consistently solid numbers. He might finally just be out of gas at age 40, but Mahay has a career ERA of 3.83 that includes a 3.49 mark in the previous five seasons.

Dennys Reyes beat out Hideki Okajima for the left-handed specialist role in the Red Sox's bullpen coming out of spring training, turning a minor-league deal into $900,000 in guaranteed money, and then got demoted to Triple-A one week into the season after four shaky outings. Reyes cleared waivers and accepted an assignment to Pawtucket, but the $900,000 salary is locked in whether "Big Sweat" gets called back up to Boston or not.

Yohan Pino, a right-hander the Twins swapped to the Indians for Carl Pavano in mid-2009, was traded to the Blue Jays last week for cash considerations. Pino was a mid-level prospect when the Twins dealt him, posting standout numbers in the minors despite mediocre raw stuff, and now he's organizational filler at age 28. Pavano was an impending free agent back then, but went on to re-sign with the Twins twice and has a 4.09 ERA in 326 innings since the trade.

January 31, 2011

Twins Notes: Waivers, trees, hearings, numbers, and scouts

Rob Delaney signed with the Twins in 2006 after going undrafted out of St. John's University and his numbers were always far better than his raw stuff, so they viewed his success in the minors very skeptically and didn't give him a chance in the majors until a week before his 26th birthday. Delaney made just one appearance in a month with the Twins, serving up a homer to Ian Kinsler of the Rangers on September 4, and Thursday he was designated for assignment.

It's no shock that the Twins ditched Delaney before ever giving him an extended opportunity, because he's been sort of like a poor man's Anthony Slama and they haven't seemed all that inclined to give the actual Anthony Slama a lengthy look. It's also no shock that Delaney was claimed off waivers by the Rays, whose front office relies way more on statistical analysis than the Twins' decision-makers.

Delaney's numbers went from amazing in the low minors to merely solid in the high minors. He pitched well in two seasons at Triple-A with a 130-to-38 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 128 innings, but his ERA was an unremarkable 4.65 thanks to serving up 17 homers. He's racked up lots of strikeouts with a repertoire headed by his low-90s fastball and has excellent control with just 1.9 walks per nine innings.

As a fly-ball pitcher with so-so raw stuff Delaney has little margin for error and the Twins were certainly right to view his success skeptically when it comes to translating to the big leagues, but he was worth giving a chance to considering the question mark-filled bullpen. Tampa Bay is in a very similar situation, needing to replace most of what was a fantastic bullpen following free agent departures, and Delaney is capable of being a solid middle reliever for the Rays.

• Delaney was dropped from the 40-man roster because the Twins needed to clear room after claiming Dusty Hughes off waivers from the Royals. He spent most of last year in Kansas City's bullpen, posting a nice-looking 3.83 ERA in 56 innings, but the 29-year-old left-hander also had a terrible 34-to-24 strikeout-to-walk ratio and wasn't particularly effective against lefties (.260) or righties (.283) while allowing opponents to bat .273/.351/.380 off him overall.

Hughes is left-handed and had a superficially strong ERA last year, but there isn't a whole lot else to like about him. Hughes was even older than Delaney when he debuted in September of 2009 and unlike Delaney his minor-league numbers have never been impressive. In two years at Triple-A he had a 4.10 ERA and 112-to-66 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 143 innings and his raw stuff is hardly special, as Hughes averaged just 90.2 miles per hour with his fastball.

Much like their decision to give a 40-man roster spot to Giants castoff Eric Hacker after signing him to a minor-league deal in November, losing Delaney to add Hughes to the 40-man roster is an odd move that seems predicated on looking at the wrong numbers. Hacker had 16 wins at Triple-A last year, but it came with a 4.51 ERA, sub par secondary numbers, and a track record full of mediocrity from a 28-year-old.

In this case Hughes' nice-looking 3.83 ERA caught the Twins' eye (and being left-handed surely helped too), but he needed an awful lot of smoke and mirrors just to have modest success for 56 innings and brings with him a similarly uninspiring history of mediocrity in the minors at age 29. Delaney isn't a huge loss and would've placed near the bottom of my annual ranking of the Twins' top 40 prospects, but picking Hacker and Hughes over giving him a shot is unfortunate.

• One of the misconceptions about park factors is that the dimensions of the field determine if a ballpark skews pitcher-friendly or hitter-friendly. In reality the dimensions definitely play a big role, but the run-scoring environment is also greatly impacted by other stuff like wind patterns, humidity, playing surfaces, and hitting backgrounds. Target Field was pitcher-friendly in its first year of existence, for a number of reasons, and the Twins have decided to make one change.

Hitters complained that the trees planted behind the wall in center field hurt their ability to see pitches, particularly in day games, so the Twins will remove them and install a new background designed to reduce glare. Obviously not being able to see pitches is something that had to be addressed, but it'll be interesting to find out what the overall impact ends up being considering the Twins went 53-28 at Target Field and actually scored more runs there than on the road.

Matt Capps ($7.15 million), Kevin Slowey ($2.7 million), Alexi Casilla ($865,000), and Glen Perkins ($700,000) have each avoided arbitration with one-year deals, leaving Delmon Young and Francisco Liriano as the unsigned arbitration eligible players. Young filed for $6.25 million, compared to $4.65 million by the Twins. Liriano filed for $5 million, compared to $3.6 million by the Twins. No player has gone to a hearing with the Twins since Kyle Lohse in 2005 and 2006.

• Much has been made about Bert Blyleven needing to wait 14 years before baseball writers voted him into the Hall of Fame, but he's also had to wait those same 14 years for the Twins to retire his number, which they'll officially do on July 16. Blyleven, who has the most strikeouts in Twins history and ranks second to Jim Kaat in wins and innings, will join Harmon Killebrew, Kirby Puckett, Rod Carew, Tony Oliva, and Kent Hrbek in the retired numbers club.

Eric Bynum of Baseball Journeyman recently interviewed Cary Broder, a Twins scout based in Asia whose evaluations played a big part in the team bidding on Japanese players Tsuyoshi Nishioka and Hisashi Iwakuma this offseason. They signed Nishioka for a total commitment of $15 million and finished runner-up for Iwakuma, who ended up not signing with the A's. Broder is a good guy and it's always interesting to learn about people working behind the scenes.

Jayson Stark of ESPN.com included Michael Cuddyer on his "all-underrated team" and I was preparing to rant about how incredibly misguided that is, but then Nick Nelson did it for me.

• I just put the finishing touches on my annual "Top 40 Twins Prospects" series, so the first of eight installments (covering five prospects apiece) will run later this week.

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