April 17, 2012

Twins claim Clete Thomas off waivers, demote Ben Revere to Triple-A

Late in spring training the Twins essentially chose Chris Parmelee over Ben Revere for the final starting job and once that happened it made sense for them to find a new fourth outfielder via the waiver wire or an inexpensive trade rather than keep Revere around to play sparingly in a reserve role. Sure enough they came to that realization after using Revere for just 11 plate appearances in eight games, claiming Clete Thomas off waivers from the Tigers.

Despite homering in his Twins debut Thomas has a pretty limited skill set with plenty of flaws and resembles a replacement-level player more than he does a starter, but that's basically what the fourth outfielder role calls for anyway and as a 28-year-old veteran of 255 games at Triple-A and 145 games in the majors he's far better suited for a little-used bench gig than the 23-year-old Revere.

And that's coming from someone who's been very skeptical of Revere's upside, but whatever chance he has of developing into an above-average regular is better with him actually playing in Rochester rather than sitting in Minnesota. Revere played just 32 games at Triple-A before the Twins' never-ending injuries last season accelerated his timetable, so while sending him back there after 134 games in the majors isn't ideal it makes sense developmentally.

Odds are Revere will be back in the majors relatively soon and hopefully that return will come because he thrived at Triple-A, but there will also be an opportunity for him if someone gets injured or Parmelee proves that he could use some time in Rochester himself. Whatever the case, in the meantime the Twins are better off using Thomas as a defensive replacement and spot starter because that's the role both his current and future ability fit best in.

Thomas was actually the Twins' fifth-round pick in 2002 out of high school, but he chose to play college ball at Auburn instead of signing. Three years later the Tigers picked him in the sixth round and three years after that Thomas cracked their Opening Day roster as a 24-year-old despite underwhelming production in the minors. He spent two seasons going back and forth between Triple-A and the majors, hitting .253/.336/.391 in 142 games for the Tigers.

Knee surgery knocked Thomas out for most of 2010 and he spent all of last season at Triple-A, hitting .251/.314/.401 with 12 homers and an ugly 130-to-32 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 113 games. He still managed to make this year's Opening Day roster, but Thomas was designated for assignment after appearing in three games without getting a plate appearance. And then, naturally, he was claimed off waivers by the Twins and homered in his second at-bat.

Coming back from microfracture knee surgery is extremely difficult, so if you give Thomas some benefit of the doubt he's likely better than he looked at Triple-A last season. On the other hand his .253/.336/.391 career line in the majors is nearly identical to his .252/.336/.409 career line at Triple-A, so at 28 years old it's fairly easy to conclude that what you see with Thomas is probably what you'll get at this point.

He doesn't walk a lot and strikes out too much, which drags down his average, but Thomas has enough pop for 10-15 homers, enough speed for 10-15 steals, and (before the surgery, at least) enough range to back up all three outfield spots. That isn't someone who should play regularly, but for the occasional start versus righties and some late-game defense or running he's a reasonable enough fit while the Twins hope Revere will prove too good for that role.

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January 16, 2012

Twins add hard-throwing, oft-injured Joel Zumaya to bullpen mix

Joel Zumaya hasn't appeared in a major-league game since gruesomely fracturing his elbow while throwing a pitch to Delmon Young at Target Field on June 28, 2010, but the oft-injured reliever was healthy enough to impress the dozens of scouts attending his workout last month and yesterday the Twins signed him. Assuming that Zumaya passes a physical exam, Jason Beck of MLB.com reports that the one-year deal is for $800,000, with $900,000 in incentives.

According to Joe Christensen of the Minneapolis Star Tribune the contract is a big-league deal that includes a spot on the 40-man roster, but is not fully guaranteed and "the Twins would be able to cut Zumaya in spring training and not be on the hook for all of the guaranteed money if something doesn't look right." All of which means the signing falls somewhere between no-risk and low-risk, with the upside of a late-inning reliever who does anything but pitch to contact.

Of course, given his incredibly lengthy injury history the far more likely scenario is that Zumaya spends most of the year on the disabled list or perhaps doesn't even make it through spring training. Zumaya was a 21-year-old rookie phenom for the Tigers in 2006, posting a 1.91 ERA and 97 strikeouts in 83 innings while holding opponents' to a .187 batting average, but in the five years since then he's thrown a grand total of 126 innings while undergoing six surgeries.

Zumaya ruptured a tendon in his finger in early 2007, separated his shoulder while helping his father move boxes prior to the California wild fires in late 2007, underwent a second shoulder surgery for a stress fracture in late 2008, needed a third shoulder surgery after aggravating the injury in mid-2009, and has been under the knife twice since his elbow exploded in June of 2010. And sprinkled in with all the operations have been several other brief disabled list stints.

What makes Zumaya worth taking a flier after all the injuries is that he's still just 27 years old and has never lost his high-90s fastball. Most pitchers see velocity vanish as the arm problems pile up, but Zumaya actually threw slightly harder in 2010 than he did as a rookie in 2006. For his career Zumaya's fastball has averaged 98.5 miles per hour, which is the highest in baseball among all pitchers with at least 50 innings since 2006:

                      MPH
JOEL ZUMAYA          98.5
Henry Rodriguez      98.3
Aroldis Chapman      98.2
Jordan Walden        97.8
Daniel Bard          97.5
Stephen Strasburg    97.0

He had MLB's fastest fastball in 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2009 before narrowly finishing second to Aroldis Chapman in 2010 and wasn't simply lighting up radar guns. Zumaya also remained effective after the surgeries with a 2.58 ERA and 34-to-11 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 38 innings before his elbow snapped in 2010. None of that guarantees the recent elbow surgeries won't sap his velocity, but Zumaya was reportedly clocked in the mid-90s at last month's workout.

Odds are Zumaya won't stay healthy, so if the Twins are viewing him as the final piece of their bullpen and the guy to fill the vacant right-handed setup man role that's a mistake. However, assuming that they're still in the market for a low-cost veteran right-hander like Todd Coffey or Dan Wheeler or Chad Qualls or Michael Wuertz the addition of Zumaya on a low-risk deal makes all kinds of sense. He still has plenty of upside and the contract has no real downside.

August 23, 2011

Twins Notes: Thome, Oliveros, Blackburn, Swarzak, Neshek, and Hardy

Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports.com reports that the Twins placed Jason Kubel and Jim Thome on revocable waivers yesterday, which is no surprise and doesn't necessarily mean anything. Both impending free agents will likely be claimed, at which point the Twins can either work out a trade with the claiming team or pull them back for the rest of 2011. They won't have options or leverage, but trading Thome and to a lesser extent Kubel could still be worthwhile.

• It took the Twins about 72 hours to choose Lester Oliveros as the player to be named later in the Delmon Young trade and then less than a week to call him up, adding the 23-year-old to the bullpen while placing Nick Blackburn on the disabled list with a forearm strain. Oliveros' fastball velocity and minor-league strikeout rates make him intriguing, but his awful control is a big hurdle to get over if he's going to become a useful late-inning option.

• For the second straight season Blackburn has pitched horribly before revealing an arm injury. Last year he earned a late-July demotion to Triple-A by throwing 104 innings with a 6.66 ERA, returned a month later to pitch well down the stretch, and then had elbow surgery. This year he was very good through mid-June, posted a 7.01 ERA and .366 opponents' batting average in his next 11 starts, and exited Sunday's game with "sharp pain" in his forearm.

Anthony Swarzak will step into the rotation for Blackburn, which is a perfect opportunity for Swarzak to convince the Twins that he's more than just a long reliever. His miniscule strikeout rate and mediocre minor-league track record suggest he's been pitching over his head and will be overmatched as a full-time starter, but Swarzak has certainly earned the chance to prove the numbers are wrong with a rubber-armed 3.12 ERA in 66 innings.

J.J. Hardy going deep last night might have been the most inevitable homer of all time or at least the most inevitable homer since Young's first post-trade swing last week. Hardy now has 24 homers for the Orioles, which is the most by an AL East shortstop since Miguel Tejada back in 2006. Hardy has 24 homers in 383 at-bats while the Twins' entire infield, including everyone to play first base, second base, shortstop, or third base, has 37 homers in 2,328 at-bats.

• Gardenhire claimed yesterday that Hardy "was probably going to be non-tendered" by the Twins if they hadn't traded him to Baltimore, except they actually tendered Hardy a contract on December 2 and didn't trade him until December 9. Perhaps they already had the framework of a deal in place, in which case Gardenhire is telling the truth about their misguided plan to cut Hardy for nothing. Ultimately the only difference is the degree of the Twins' ineptitude.

• On other hand, Gardenhire saying that the Twins planned to non-tender Young this winter if they hadn't traded him to the Tigers is totally believable and equally justified. Much like with Hardy they got whatever modest return they could for Young rather than simply cut him loose for nothing, but the fact that they apparently viewed Hardy then and Young now in the same light is pretty discouraging from a player evaluation standpoint.

• Also discouraging was Hardy strongly hinting that the Orioles' training staff has done a much better job than the Twins' training staff, which unfortunately isn't difficult to believe given the Twins' incredible number of injuries and failures to meet recovery timetables this year.

• Old friend Pat Neshek has been designated for assignment by the Padres after throwing 25 innings with a 4.02 ERA and more walks (22) than strikeouts (20). Neshek has been hard to hit with a .216 opponents' batting average, but between the hideous strikeout-to-walk ratio and an average fastball velocity of 86.4 miles per hour he hasn't made the Twins regret letting him go for nothing during spring training.

Jim Callis of Baseball America crunched the numbers for the past five drafts and reports that the Pirates and Nationals led all MLB teams in spending at $52 million and $51 million while the White Sox were last in spending at $18 million. During the five-year span the Twins were 25th in spending at $24 million, which is largely due to having just one top-20 pick and zero top-10 picks from 2007 to 2011.

• Speaking of the draft, after last night's loss the Twins are in line for the No. 5 pick next year. Last time they picked higher than 14th was in 2001, when they took Joe Mauer first overall.

Jeff Sullivan of SB Nation reviewed Mauer's first career appearance in the outfield and found that playing right field seems pretty damn easy most of the time.

Ron Gardenhire's history with umpire Hunter Wendelstedt trumped his history with Danny Valencia last night, so hopefully the manager and his third baseman at least cracked a couple beers together in the clubhouse after their dual ejections.

Ben Revere's iffy routes, weak arm, and six errors in just 60 games in center field have been frustrating, but last night he made one of the best, most spectacular catches I've ever seen.

John Bonnes and I are slated to record the second episode of our "Gleeman and The Geek" podcast tonight, so hopefully you'll be able to download it here or on iTunes in the morning. If you'd like to ask us questions to be answered on the show or want podcast-related updates, follow @GleemanAndGeek on Twitter.

This week's content is sponsored by PosterBurner.com, where you can turn your photographs into high-quality custom posters.

August 19, 2011

Twins Notes: 600, concussions, missed flights, debuts, and naming later

Jim Thome ruined the Twins' plans to have him reach 600 career home runs at Target Field by being too damn good, hitting his 599th and 600th homers Monday night in Detroit and then delivering No. 601 against the Tigers two nights later. Thome has been deserving of the Hall of Fame for years already, but hopefully becoming the eighth member of the 600-homer club will ensure his place in Cooperstown. With the way he's hitting, though, that can probably wait.

Thome hasn't been able to duplicate his ridiculous 2010 numbers, but he's having one of the greatest seasons in baseball history by a 40-year-old. In fact, last season his .283/.412/.627 line added up to the fourth-highest adjusted OPS+ of all time by a 39-year-old and this season his .259/.365/.513 line would be tied for the fourth-highest adjusted OPS+ from a 40-year-old. Here are the age-39 and age-40 leaderboards for adjusted OPS+:

AGE 39           YEAR     PA    OPS+        AGE 40           YEAR     PA    OPS+
Barry Bonds      2004    617    263         Willie Mays      1971    537    158
Ted Williams     1958    517    179         Carlton Fisk     1988    298    155
Hank Aaron       1973    465    177         Edgar Martinez   2003    603    141
JIM THOME        2010    279    161         JIM THOME        2011    226    139
Babe Ruth        1934    471    161         Dave Winfield    1992    670    137

If you're curious, here's the adjusted OPS+ leaderboard among 41-year-olds:

AGE 41           YEAR     PA    OPS+
Ted Williams     1960    390    190
Barry Bonds      2006    493    156
Brian Downing    1992    391    138
Stan Musial      1962    505    137
Carlton Fisk     1989    419    136

I'd love to see Thome take a run at that list in 2012 for the Twins and even in a part-time role he'd move past Sammy Sosa for seventh place on the homer list. My favorite stat: Babe Ruth and Barry Bonds are the only hitters with more homers and more walks than Thome.

• Two weeks ago Denard Span came off the disabled list despite admitting that he wasn't fully recovered from a June 3 concussion, saying that he felt it was time to simply play through the symptoms after spending two months on the sidelines. He struggled on a rehab assignment at Triple-A and that continued with the Twins, as Span went 2-for-35 (.057) with three times as many strikeouts as walks before being shut down again with migraines and dizziness.

According to trainer Rick McWane "this is something very similar" to his 2009 bout with vertigo and "the concussion stirred up a previous existing condition." Various medications failed and left Span with side effects, making it likely that he'll miss the remainder of the season. Worse, much like Justin Morneau coming into this season, Span may enter 2012 as a major question mark. Unfortunately for Span and Morneau being tough won't help you get over a brain injury.

Luke Hughes was recalled from Rochester to take Span's roster spot and the short-handed Twins would've started him last night versus left-hander CC Sabathia and the Yankees, except Hughes missed his flight to Minneapolis because he was at the wrong gate. Seriously. Michael Cuddyer and Matt Tolbert were on the active roster but injured and Jason Kubel wasn't with the team due to a personal matter, which forced Ron Gardenhire to get creative.

Gardenhire had exactly nine healthy players at his disposal, including a 40-year-old designated hitter and a pair of catchers, so he wrote out a lineup that included Joe Mauer in the outfield for the first time since high school. Mauer will surely never get the same type of endless praise that the local media gives Cuddyer for his willingness to play other positions, but he's looked good at first base since returning from the disabled list and was decent in right field too.

• It turns out the "later" in player to be named later was around 48 hours, as the Tigers sent 23-year-old right-hander Lester Oliveros to the Twins to complete the Delmon Young trade. At the time of the deal a source told me the PTBNL would be "nobody special" and Oliveros fits the description, but he's not without promise. His fastball averaged 94.5 miles per hour in nine games for the Tigers and he's got 93 strikeouts in 72 innings between Double-A and Triple-A.

Oliveros' mid-90s velocity and outstanding strikeout rate also comes with poor control, as he's walked 43 batters in those 72 frames. Tons of strikeouts, tons of walks, and a big-time fastball make Oliveros appear similar to a younger version of Jim Hoey, which is intended as a positive thing despite the actual Hoey flopping with the Twins earlier this year. Oliveros may eventually do the same, but he also has a chance to be a quality reliever as soon as next season.

• It went down to the wire, but the Twins got first-round pick Levi Michael and supplemental first-round picks Hudson Boyd and Travis Harrison signed before Monday's deadline. Michael received $1.175 million, which is right about the MLB-recommend "slot" bonus for a 30th pick, but Boyd and Harrison each signed for around $1 million when the slot amounts for their picks were $700,000 and $650,000. As always, it's good to see the Twins spending on the draft.

Kevin Mulvey, who the Twins acquired from the Mets as part of the Johan Santana deal and then traded to the Diamondbacks for Jon Rauch in mid-2009, was designated for assignment by Arizona. He's allowed 24 runs in 27 innings as a major leaguer and the 26-year-old former second-round pick has posted increasingly poor results at Triple-A, including a 6.98 ERA and 44-to-37 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 80 innings there this year.

• Gardenhire was asked about the 2012 middle infield during a recent interview on 1500-ESPN and specifically mentioned Brian Dozier, a 2008 eighth-round pick who began this season as a 24-year-old at high Single-A and is now playing at Double-A. Dozier is having a very nice year, hitting .317/.397/.465 with nearly as many walks (46) as strikeouts (55) in 108 games, but has just four homers and batted just .275/.350/.349 between two levels of Single-A last season.

• No decision has been made yet on Kyle Gibson's possible Tommy John surgery, as the 2009 first-round pick has decided to get a second opinion next week from the doctor who performed Joe Nathan's elbow surgery in March of 2010.

Ben Revere has made too many outs atop the lineup, but at least some are exciting outs.

• Last night's game against the Yankees wasn't much fun, but this MLB.com headline made me laugh: "Long balls trip up Duensing." In related news, I'm a 28-year-old child.

• Thanks to everyone who listened to the first episode of my "Gleeman and The Geek" podcast with John Bonnes. We weren't sure what to expect, but the download count and the feedback have been extremely encouraging and our plan is to record one new episode a week. You can now subscribe to the podcast on iTunes or download it via the website, so please help spread the word. And if anyone with some design skills has an idea for a good logo, let me know.

This week's content is sponsored by the Minnesota law firm Snyder Gislason Frasier LLC, so please help support AG.com by considering them for your legal needs.

August 16, 2011

Twins trade Delmon Young to Tigers for Cole Nelson and PTBNL

There's no doubt that trading Matt Garza, Jason Bartlett, and Eduardo Morlan to the Rays for Delmon Young, Brendan Harris, and Jason Pridie on November 28, 2007 was a big mistake. It was a bad move at the time, as the Twins undervalued Garza and Bartlett while overlooking Young's considerable flaws as part of his supposed upside, and in the four years since then it has proven to be one of the most lopsided missteps in team history.

At various points along the way the Twins surely could have gotten a decent return by trading Young, particularly following a 2010 season in which he hit .298/.333/.493 with 21 homers, 46 doubles, and a bunch of RBIs. But they didn't and he took several massive steps backward this year. Trading for Young was a mistake and not trading him after last season was too, but once those poor decisions were made yesterday's decision to dump him was a sound one.

Young was a No. 1 pick and universally regarded as an elite prospect, but those days are long gone. Now he's a 25-year-old veteran of 2,800 plate appearances and has hit .289/.322/.426 with meager power, zero plate discipline or strike-zone control, awful defense, and laughably bad baseball instincts. He's also being paid $5.38 million this season and would be in line for a raise to at least $6 million next season via arbitration, with free agency looming in 2013.

There's nothing the Twins could do to erase their previous bad decisions regarding Young, but the mistake now would have been keeping him for another season at that price. Too little too late, but the Twins finally came to the realization that he shouldn't be in their long-term plans and that left them three options. They could trade him now, they could try to trade him shortly after the season, or they could non-tender him this winter.

They chose the one option with a guaranteed return, minimal as it may be, trading him to the Tigers for minor leaguer Cole Nelson, a player to be named later, and around $1.25 million in savings. Nelson was a 10th-round pick in last year's draft out of Auburn and the Edina native is a 6-foot-7 southpaw with plus fastball velocity and mediocre numbers at Single-A, so he's a decent second-tier prospect. I'm told the player to be named later will be "nobody special."

By trading Young within the division the Twins made it clear they no longer believe his oft-cited potential is likely to arrive and it's difficult to argue otherwise about a poor defensive corner outfielder with a .426 slugging percentage and 12 homers per 500 at-bats. Since he joined the Twins in 2008 the only player in all of baseball with more plate appearances and a lower Wins Above Replacement total than Young is Yuniesky Betancourt. Seriously.

Even in 2010, his lone quality season in four years with the Twins, he was merely a good but not great hitter whose putrid defense wiped away much of his offensive value. That year there were 64 total corner outfielders, first basemen, and designated hitters with at least 500 plate appearances and Young ranked 46th in on-base percentage, 23rd in slugging percentage, and 27th in OPS. And in the three surrounding seasons Young slugged .401.

Perhaps it'll click for Young in Detroit or his next home after that, but he got ample opportunity to show he's more than just another bad-glove, good-bat corner outfielder and couldn't even consistently accomplish the good-bat part. Young's flaws on and off the field mean his bat has to be special and it's barely been average. There's a reason the Twins got so little for him and it's the same reason their trade for him was such a mistake: Young simply isn't very good.

This week's content is sponsored by the Minnesota law firm Snyder Gislason Frasier LLC, so please help support AG.com by considering them for your legal needs.

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