January 20, 2012

Twins Notes: Arbitration, invitations, compensation, and reconsideration

• Tuesday night was the deadline for players and teams to submit salary figures for arbitration hearings to be held next month, but the Twins avoided that with Francisco Liriano and Glen Perkins by signing them to one-year deals. Liriano got $5.5 million for his third and final year of arbitration eligibility, which is exactly what I projected as his salary last month. Perkins got $1.55 million for his second arbitration year, which is slightly less than my $2 million projection.

Alexi Casilla did not agree to a pre-deadline deal in his second arbitration year, filing for $1.75 million while the Twins countered at $1.065 million. If the two sides fail to reach a compromise they'll go to a hearing, present their cases, and have someone choose which salary he'll get for 2012, but given that the Twins haven't actually gone to arbitration with a player since Kyle Lohse in 2005 and 2006 odds are they'll split the difference on a one-year deal before then.

• Last month the Twins non-tendered Jose Mijares rather than retain him via the arbitration process, with general manager Terry Ryan explaining that "we didn't want to go there" with a salary bump. That struck me as very odd, because Mijares was paid $445,000 last season and projected to make about $725,000 in 2012, whereas the new minimum salary is $480,000. No team cuts a player they think has any sort of value over $250,000. Or at least they shouldn't.

Mijares didn't spend much time as a free agent and ended up with more money than he would have gotten from the Twins, quickly signing with the Royals for $925,000. He was bad enough last season that bouncing back is certainly no sure thing, but considering Mijares' modest cost and the fact that he's 27 years old with a 3.16 ERA and .243/.310/.381 opponents' line in 154 career innings makes letting him go for nothing a questionable move.

Mijares was an easy target for criticism because of his weight and supposed poor work ethic, but the oft-repeated notion that he was an ineffective pitcher who failed in key situations isn't supported by facts. In addition to his 3.16 ERA in 154 innings Mijares held opponents to a .219 batting average and .590 OPS in high-leverage situations and had a positive Win Probability Added, which measures performance in context to reward doing well in crucial spots.

• Fort Myers will be crowded after the Twins signed 25 players to minor-league contracts with invitations to spring training. I've written about most of those players, but neglected to cover J.R. Towles, Steve Pearce, and Aaron Thompson when they signed last month. Towles is the most interesting of that trio, both because he was once a top-ranked catcher prospect and because a decent alternative to Drew Butera as the Twins' third catcher would be nice.

After hitting well in the minors Towles hit .375 in a 14-game debut with the Astros in 2007 and was No. 53 on Baseball America's prospect list going into 2008. He flopped as a rookie, hitting .137 in 54 games, and has repeatedly failed in other brief chances with the Astros, hitting .187 in 155 career games spread over parts of five seasons. However, he's still just 27 years old and never ceased producing in the minors, batting .286/.389/.443 in 152 games at Triple-A.

Pearce was also once a top prospect, albeit briefly, ranking 89th on that same Baseball America list for 2008 after a monster 2007 season in which he hit .333/.394/.622 with 31 homers and 40 doubles in 134 games between three levels. He was already 24 years old at the time, his OPS dropped 300 points the next season, and Pearce hit just .232/.302/.366 in 185 games for the Pirates, but his Triple-A numbers remained strong and he's useful first base/outfield depth.

Thompson was the 22nd overall pick in the 2005 draft by the Marlins, but the left-hander's career never got enough traction to crack any top prospect lists. He pitched well in the low minors, but struggled some with injuries and has a 4.91 ERA in 473 career innings between Double-A and Triple-A. Thompson made his MLB debut last season, appearing in four games for the Pirates, but got knocked around and seems like a poor bet to make it back to the majors.

Phil Mackey of 1500ESPN.com did some digging and found that the Twins recently extended their television contract with FOX Sports North, signing a new deal worth approximately $29 million per season. That may sound like a lot and it's certainly a big improvement compared to their previous television revenue, but relative to many other teams it actually puts them at a significant disadvantage.

For instance, the Angels were able to hand out massive long-term contracts to Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson this offseason because their new television deal pays around $150 million per season and that pales in comparison to the estimated $400 million in revenue the Yankees get per season from their own network. Even the Rangers, who weren't previously viewed as a big-market powerhouse, inked a new television deal worth a reported $80 million per season.

• Speaking of which, Patrick Reusse of the Minneapolis Star Tribune spit some truth about the Twins' television broadcast as it relates to an overall trend in local announcers:

It was uncomfortable listening to Twins telecasts last season as Dick Bremer and, to a lesser extent, Bert Blyleven spent most of the three hours nightly trying to explain away the 99 losses as something other than a disaster wrought upon the public by the front office.

Apparently, they did have permission slips to denigrate Kevin Slowey. Injuries and Slowey's attitude--those were about the only factors that could be identified by the long-serving duo for this fine baseball organization to have fielded the worst team in the American League.

And we can't forget that a Bremer-Blyleven telecast is always rich with the fable that there's a Twins Way of playing baseball: exceptional fielding, being smart and aggressive on the bases, and throwing strikes. No matter that you have to go back to 2006 to find a Twins team that stuck to those principles.

Amen. I'd guess that my television was muted for about 90 percent of Twins games last year.

• Cutting payroll by $15 million luckily hasn't stopped the Twins from spending on prospects, as they signed 16-year-old pitcher Mauricio Silva out of the Dominican Republic for $370,000. Ben Badler of Baseball America praised Silva's fastball-curveball combo and calls the 6-foot-2 right-hander "one of the more promising Latin American pitching prospects" eligible to sign in 2011. And this will make you feel really old: Silva was born in Brad Radke's rookie year, 1995.

• They'll also be spending big in the draft, because in addition to having the No. 2 overall pick by virtue of their 63-99 record the Twins are projected to receive the No. 32 and No. 67 picks as compensation for losing Michael Cuddyer and the No. 41 pick as compensation for losing Jason Kubel. Toss in their own second-rounder and the Twins will likely have five of the top 70 picks in June's draft, which makes for one incredibly important day in their rebuilding process.

• Back in early 2008, when the Twins were in the process of trading Johan Santana, various reports had them seeking Fernando Martinez from the Mets as the centerpiece of a deal. At the time Martinez was a 19-year-old center fielder who twice ranked among Baseball America's top-20 prospects, so the Mets balked at including him and eventually the Twins settled instead for a four-player package of Carlos Gomez, Deolis Guerra, Kevin Mulvey, and Philip Humber.

Four years later none of those four prospects panned out as hoped and Guerra is the only one who remains in the Twins organization, but it turns out they wouldn't have been any better off with Martinez. Chronic knee issues and mediocre hitting caused his stock to plummet and last week the Mets placed him on waivers, giving up on Martinez for nothing. He didn't make it far, as the Astros used their No. 1 waiver priority to claim Martinez ... directly in front of the Twins.

• Of course, the Santana trade didn't work out particularly well for the Mets either. He missed all of last season following shoulder surgery, remains a question mark for the beginning of this season, and is owed $55 million over the next two years. Santana did at least give them 600 innings of a 2.85 ERA prior to going down in late 2010, which is even better than his 3.22 ERA in 1,309 innings with the Twins.

Ron Gardenhire's son, Toby Gardenhire, has retired after playing seven years in the minors for the Twins and the former 41st-round pick is the University of Wisconson-Stout's new coach.

Seth Stohs' annual Minnesota Twins Prospect Handbook is now available and as always I can't recommend it highly enough. Well worth the price, for the 180 pages of content and to support all the free blogging Stohs has provided over the years. Go buy it, you'll be glad you did.

• For a lot more on how the whole arbitration process works, plus analysis of the Joel Zumaya signing and talk about what moves the Twins have left to make this offseason, check out this week's podcast with special guests Nick Nelson and John Bonnes' horrible beard.

November 14, 2011

Twins Notes: Plouffe, Iwakuma, Wada, Thome, Krivsky, Toby, and Kiss

Terry Ryan revealed during a 1500-ESPN interview yesterday that Trevor Plouffe will be an outfielder going forward, which isn't shocking considering how awful he looked as an infielder despite playing 680 games at shortstop in the minors. He has the tools to be a strong corner outfielder defensively and with Jamey Carroll signed that may be the clearest path to at-bats, but before the middle of this year Plouffe had never played the outfield in seven pro seasons.

Moving to the outfield full time also means Plouffe's bat will be held to a much higher standard and aside from a 50-game stretch at Triple-A this year he's never really produced like a corner outfielder offensively. He's batted .262/.316/.451 in 337 games at Triple-A and .226/.286/.382 in 103 games in the majors, so unless his two-month breakout in Rochester at age 25 is a sign of things to come Plouffe will have trouble hitting enough to be more than a platoon player.

According to Nippon Sports the Twins are interested in Japanese pitchers Hisashi Iwakuma and Tsuyoshi Wada, both of whom are outright free agents and can be signed without going through the posting process. Last winter the Twins reportedly finished runner-up for Iwakuma, who failed to sign after the A's bid (and were refunded) $19.1 million for his negotiating rights. He remained in Japan and had a 2.42 ERA in 119 innings, but missed time with a back injury.

Wada was even better, throwing 185 innings with a 1.51 ERA, but the 30-year-old left-hander may not have the raw stuff to thrive in the majors. I've seen Wada compared to Bruce Chen and Jamie Moyer as a strike-throwing southpaw with mid-80s fastball velocity and in talking to people who've seen him pitch in Japan the consensus seems to be that he's no more than a possible fifth starter.

As teams were bidding on Iwakuma last year there were some reports of him potentially being a No. 2 starter in the majors, but apparently those back problems sapped his already modest velocity this season. Iwakuma has more upside than Wada, but the 30-year-old right-hander likely projects as a mid-rotation starter even if his fastball returns to the low-90s. Intriguing, but unless the price tags are modest I'd be surprised to see either pitcher land with the Twins.

Jim Thome signed a one-year, $1.25 million deal with the Phillies, which is a price the Twins should have been willing to match. However, prior to being fired Bill Smith ruled out bringing back Thome because of how his inability to play defense limits the roster and it may have been a moot point anyway, as the future Hall of Famer loves Phillies manager Charlie Manuel and reportedly had been hoping to be traded to Philadelphia rather than Cleveland in August.

Thome will have a very limited role with the Phillies, who view him as only an emergency option at first base even with Ryan Howard potentially out for the entire first half. That means pinch-hitting and serving as a designated hitter during interleague games, which probably won't add up to more than 150 plate appearances. His attempts to recruit Michael Cuddyer to join him in Philadelphia might have a bigger impact than Thome's on-field performance.

Wayne Krivsky was Ryan's right-hand man prior to leaving the Twins to become the Reds' general manager in 2006, but returns now as "professional scout and special assistant to the GM." Joe Christensen of the Minneapolis Star Tribune looked into his role and says "Krivsky will scout 15 major league teams, with scout Kenny Compton handling the other 15." And he'll be stationed out of Kentucky, so Rob Antony remains the No. 2 guy in the front office.

Days before firing Smith the Twins denied the Orioles permission to interview vice president of player personnel Mike Radcliff for their GM opening, but several sources have suggested that was more about Radcliff's lack of interest in the job than anything else. Radcliff was the Twins' longtime scouting director prior to switching roles when Smith replaced Ryan in 2007 and is a big part of the organization, although Ryan admitted Radcliff was "spread too thin" recently.

• To put into context how odd the Twins' timing was in firing Smith: Eno Sarris of Fan Graphs reports that Smith was the first MLB general manager to be fired in November since 1950.

• Last month the Twins dropped Brian Dinkelman from the 40-man roster, making him a free agent, but the 28-year-old second baseman/corner outfielder has re-signed on a minor-league contract. Dinkelman's performance didn't warrant being called up to the majors twice this year, but he certainly took advantage of what may prove to be his lone opportunity by notching 22 hits in 23 games and the organizational solider will provide some veteran depth at Rochester.

• Rochester will also likely have right-hander Jared Burton in the bullpen after the Twins inked the former Reds reliever to a minor-league deal. Burton had a 3.47 ERA and 139 strikeouts in 161 innings from 2007-2009, but missed most of the past two years with shoulder problems that required surgery. He's exactly the sort of cheap, readily available player who makes giving 40-man roster spots to Matt Maloney and Jeff Gray so confusing.

LaVelle E. Neal III of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports that Ron Gardenhire's son, Toby Gardenhire, will not be offered a contract after becoming a minor-league free agent. Nepotism got Gardenhire to Triple-A despite being a former 41st-round pick with a .232/.292/.274 career line, but his defensive versatility served a purpose for Rochester and ultimately at least they cut him loose based on merit.

• Other minor leaguers to leave the organization as free agents include Andy Baldwin, Dusty Hughes, Chuck James, Jake Stevens, Allan de San Miguel, Jair Hernandez, Chase Lambin, Paul Kelly, Yangervis Solarte, Jeff Bailey, and Brandon Roberts. Hughes and James pitched for the Twins this year, Kelly is a former second-round pick, Baldwin is a friend of AG.com, and Lambin was the subject of a Grantland article, but only Solarte resembles any kind of prospect.

• Getting a veteran middle infielder with very strong on-base skills was obviously nice, but I've stumbled across the primary reason the Twins signed Carroll:

Presumably "shorter than Gene Simmons' daughter and Shannon Tweed" wasn't prominently featured on the scouting report.

September 2, 2011

Link-O-Rama

This week's Link-O-Rama is sponsored by ... no one. Please help support AG.com's free content and advertise your product, service, local business, or website by becoming a "Sponsor of the Week."

Free Toby!

• I'm fortunate in that no one really liked me much as a fat guy, but Jonah Hill isn't so lucky.

Halle Berry celebrated her 45th birthday by making it very difficult to believe she celebrated her 45th birthday.

Ryan Braun had his sights on an inside-the-park homer, but instead he wiped out. And then his teammates recreated the crime scene.

• I can't wait to hang out with Sarah Silverman at the NBC company Christmas party.

• Texting with Shaquille O'Neal seems like fun.

• TMZ reports that Lenny Dykstra "pulled a bait and switch" with his penis "at least six times."

Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer has a great story about fellow St. Paul native (and JCC basketball league alum) Jack Hannahan and the generosity of his Indians teammates.

• This chart showing the evolution of every NBA team's logo is oddly fascinating.

• I respect Minka Kelly for not calling me immediately. She obviously doesn't want to come off as desperate.

• It turns out no one really wants to watch Conan O'Brien on TBS either.

• Two great tastes that taste great together: Judd Zulgad and Joe Anderson are teaming up for 1500-ESPN's new show.

• My favorite part of Twitter this week was Gilbert Arenas feuding with comedian Joe Mande.

• Official Fantasy Girl of AG.com candidate Aubrey Plaza was fantastic on Late Show With David Letterman, progressing from nervous to charming to funny to serious in a 10-minute interview:

And there's even a Minnesota reference thrown in.

Kelly Brook on a bicycle. That's all.

• As a veteran of many conference calls and planning sessions, I can relate.

• One of my favorite baseball reporters, Marc Carig of the Newark Star Ledger, gave a lengthy, interesting interview about the beat writing world.

• Based on these photos Sammy Sosa seems really bothered by the constant steroid talk.

• If she's in, then I'm out.

• As someone who co-created a similarly ambitious independent sportswriting site I'm rooting extremely hard for Tom Scharpling, Bethlehem Shoals, Eric Freeman, and The Classical.

• My favorite review of "Gleeman and The Geek" was posted after the podcast's first episode:

This is a good medium for Gleeman. He writes like an arrogant spiteful jerk, but he seems like a good guy talking to you.

Aw, shucks.

• My second favorite review of the podcast was sent to the show's Twitter account:

Listening to "Gleeman and The Geek" it hit me: If you close your eyes, Aaron Gleeman sounds like Christopher Walken.

I'd never really heard myself talk for an extended period of time before, but I now realize how ridiculous and inexplicable my accent is for someone who's lived in Minnesota for his entire life. Based on the early feedback I sound like a mix of Christopher Walken, Michael Rapaport, and the "Da Bears" guys from Saturday Night Live. You can, of course, judge for yourself.

Harris Wittels, Chelsea Peretti, and Adam Scott on "Comedy Bang Bang" might have been the hardest I've ever laughed at a podcast.

• Official Fantasy Girl of AG.com candidate Diora Baird was a recent guest on Riki Lindhome's new "Making It" podcast.

Alex Rodriguez cares more about gambling than what MLB thinks about his gambling and as a fellow degenerate I approve.

• Mixed martial arts was already rapidly ascending into the mainstream, but the UFC signing a long-term deal with FOX and FX should move things along even more quickly. And they're not messing around with the first event.

Bruce Feldman leaving ESPN for CBS is a very interesting story.

• Renowned never-nude enthusiast and 47-year-old comedian/actor David Cross got engaged to 28-year-old actress Amber Tamblyn.

Bill Simmons and my dad hang out in the same places, apparently.

• Last week was my five-year anniversary at NBC, so if you haven't already maybe think about checking out HardballTalk.

• Finally, this week's AG.com-approved music video is James Taylor and Joe Walsh teaming up for a live cover of "Goodnight Irene" on Howard Stern's show:

June 22, 2011

Twins Notes: Sad Mad Bum, Alexi power, first rounders, and imagination

• San Francisco's starter last night, Madison Bumgarner, came into the game with a 3.03 ERA in 205 career innings, including a 3.21 ERA this year. He allowed eight runs on nine hits before getting yanked with just one out in the first inning. And then the Twins were held scoreless for 4.2 innings by Guillermo Mota, a 37-year-old reliever who'd never thrown that many innings in 13 seasons in the majors. Funny game, that baseball (but we knew that already).

• Not to be overlooked in last night's insanity: Alexi Casilla has now homered in back-to-back games after homering once in his previous 221 games.

Buster Olney of ESPN.com reports that the Phillies "made inquiries" about Michael Cuddyer. Presumably given the way he's hitting and the way the Twins are playing they were rebuffed. In the span of two weeks Cuddyer has gone from .260/.321/.370 to .281/.345/.454, raising his OPS by 109 points in 16 games. And the Twins have cut their deficit in the AL Central from 16.5 games to 6.5 games by going 15-3 in June, including eight straight wins, all after a 17-36 start.

Joe Nathan has thrown two scoreless innings while rehabbing at Triple-A and could be back in the Twins' bullpen as soon as this weekend.

Joe Mauer and Bill Smith addressed the media before his return to the lineup last week and what struck me is how much different the perception of his injury would've been had everyone involved simply called it complications from offseason knee surgery. Instead the Twins called it bilateral leg weakness, which raised eyebrows and never seemed to sit right with Mauer, and the odd diagnosis being shrouded in mystery magnified the criticism ten-fold.

Alex Wimmers was removed from the Fort Myers rotation after his season debut when the 2010 first-round pick walked all six hitters he faced and LaVelle E. Neal of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports that two months in extended spring training hasn't solved his control issues. Wimmers has visited a psychotherapist and Neal writes that "the Twins are baffled" by how he went from starring at Ohio State with excellent control to following Shooter Hunt's footsteps.

Hunt was one of the top college arms in the 2008 draft coming out of Tulane and had a strong pro debut after the Twins picked him 31st overall, but in three seasons since then he's walked 181 batters in 129 innings and now looks unlikely to get past Single-A. Hunt went from being one of the highest upside pitchers in the system to a bust overnight and Wimmers is in danger of the same fate just a year after being touted as one of the draft's most polished pitchers.

• Speaking of Neal, he dipped his toe in the sabermetric pool yesterday. What a nerd.

This year's first-round pick, Levi Michael, isn't able to sign because he's still playing for North Carolina in the College World Series, but he was dropped from second to seventh in the lineup because of a recent slump that dragged his once-lofty batting average below .300. I've been watching most of North Carolina's games to get a look at Michael, but he's struggled so much that forming an opinion on his skill set is tough. His defense has looked decent at shortstop.

• Just in case you thought the media taking pot shots at Kevin Slowey stopped when he was placed on the disabled list and banished to extended spring training, Minneapolis Star Tribune columnist Jim Souhan wrote this on Twitter during last night's game:

My imagination or did Twins turn it around after Slowey's plane landed in Fort Myers?

It's his imagination. In the days following Slowey being put on the DL the Twins went 1-6. And if you're going to attach their recent success to specific roster moves, the current 15-2 stretch started the same day they placed Jason Kubel and Jim Thome on the DL. That storyline isn't quite as convenient, though.

Dusty Hughes was removed from the 40-man roster and outrighted to Triple-A after clearing waivers. When the Twins claimed Hughes off waivers from the Royals in January they talked up his 3.83 ERA and how left-handed hitters like Mauer, Justin Morneau, and Denard Span gave glowing scouting reports after facing him. Hughes' track record suggested otherwise and sure enough he allowed 14 runs in 13 innings while opponents hit .365/.452/.673 off him.

Brian Dinkelman was also removed from the 40-man roster and sent back to Triple-A, which is no surprise given that his call-up early this month came out of nowhere. Dinkelman has been in the organization since 2006 and there wasn't much harm in giving him a cup of coffee in the majors when injuries left the Twins with few other options, but realistically he's a marginal role player at best and at age 27 seems unlikely to make it back to the big leagues.

Chuck James kept his spot on the 40-man roster, but the Twins optioned him back to the minors to make room for Glen Perkins' return from the disabled list. While not surprising, the decision to demote James rather than fellow left-hander Phil Dumatrait is unfortunate. Before shoulder surgery James was a solid young mid-rotation starter for the Braves and he deserves more of an opportunity after dominating as a reliever at Triple-A.

I'm sure the Twins based their decision on Dumatrait's sparkling ERA between Rochester and Minnesota, but his success has involved all of 25 innings and comes with more walks (17) than strikeouts (14). Dumatrait's track record includes a 6.67 ERA in 119 innings as a major leaguer and a 6.13 ERA with more walks (55) than strikeouts (46) in 104 innings at Triple-A last year. He's a bad pitcher having a fluky run, whereas James has the potential to actually be useful.

Pat Neshek returned to Minnesota as a member of the Padres over the weekend, throwing a scoreless inning Friday, and also shared some interesting thoughts about his departure with Phil Mackey of 1500-ESPN:

The best word is probably bittersweet I'd say. For that week before [I was waived], I knew everybody passed me up there. I didn't know why. I mean, I got the opportunity, but I didn't feel like anybody was really taking me serious. ... It was sad leaving behind the fan base, all the stuff I worked towards, all the stuff I did in my community, for my hometown. I was sad, but I knew it had to happen.

There comes a time when you're not getting that opportunity. Minnesota, that's my ideal place. I never would have left. I mean, I wish I would have stayed healthy, never had that Tommy John and stuff like that. My family's all decked out in Twins stuff. I don't know what to do with that stuff anymore. What do you do? My car's got a Twins emblem. I didn't expect it to happen. I thought as long as I pitched well I'd stay, but that's how the game works.

I'm very glad to see Neshek having success in San Diego with a 3.60 ERA and .222 opponents' batting average in 20 innings, although it comes with a horrendous 18-to-16 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He struggled to bounce back from elbow surgery and then upset the Twins by speaking publicly about the medical staff, but instead of just stashing him at Triple-A they cut him loose for nothing in a spring training move that didn't make much sense to me then or now.

• Rochester's search for players to fill out a roster plucked over by the Twins led them to sign right-hander Thomas Diamond, who was the No. 10 pick in the 2004 draft and twice cracked Baseball America's top 100 prospects while with the Rangers. Tommy John surgery derailed his career before Diamond bounced back enough to get a call-up to the Cubs last year, but they released the 28-year-old last week after he posted an 8.66 ERA in 45 innings at Triple-A.

• I'm giving serious thought to purchasing Toby Gardenhire's game-used Triple-A jersey in the name of both charity and irony.

This week's content is sponsored by the Minnesota salsa company Curt's Salsa, which I've enjoyed on several occasions and personally recommend.

June 15, 2011

Twins Notes: Immobilized, underrated, grated, deteriorated, and elevated

• Just when the Twins are finally getting key players healthy Justin Morneau has been put on the disabled list. And not with symptoms from last year's concussion or the neck pain that led to cortisone injections last month, but because of a wrist injury the origin of which was never really explained. Answers given last night were oddly vague, but Nick Nelson had a source tell him that "Morneau's wrist injury was the result of a locker room tirade after a strikeout."

Whatever the case, the Twins announced last night that Morneau's wrist will be "immobilized" for 10 days. General manager Bill Smith explained that "we're looking at this as a short-term event," but nearly every recovery timetable the Twins have issued this season has proven to be wildly optimistic. Morneau being shut down with Joe Mauer and Tsuyoshi Nishioka on the verge of rejoining the lineup is unfortunate, but Morneau hasn't looked like himself anyway.

He showed some flashes at various points, but was never able to string together any kind of hot streak and went 2-for-27 following a two-homer game on May 31. Morneau was batting .345 with 18 homers and a 1.055 OPS in 81 games at the time of his concussion last July. After nine months on the sidelines he's hit just .225 with four homers and a .619 OPS in 55 games this season. At this point some more time on the DL might be the best thing for Morneau.

• With the Twins now playing well enough to get people thinking about winning the thoroughly mediocre division MinnPost boss Joel Kramer passed along 2007 analysis from Nate Silver at Baseball Prospectus examining the largest comebacks of all time. Baseball Prospectus recently made its archives free and the article is worth checking out, as you can see where the Twins overcoming their current deficit would rank and where their amazing 2006 comeback fits.

Carson Cistulli at Fan Graphs crunched the numbers and concluded that Denard Span might be the most underrated player in baseball. I wouldn't go quite that far, but twice in the past week I've written that Span has been the Twins' most valuable all-around player this year and both times multiple comments and e-mails strongly disagreed. His performance has definitely flown under the radar, so hopefully the concussion doesn't derail Span's season.

• Speaking of Span being underrated ... I couldn't care less about the All-Star game, but given what I wrote here last month about the local media's treatment of Michael Cuddyer (and the reaction I got from some members of the local media) it was amusing to see Patrick Reusse of the Minneapolis Star Tribune devote an entire column to Cuddyer being deserving of an All-Star spot with a .273/.339/.423 hitting line and versatile but poor defense.

• With every Matt Capps blown save giving up Wilson Ramos for a "proven closer" looks even worse. Capps is 24-for-31 (78 percent) converting saves since the deal, whereas Jon Rauch was 21-for-25 (84 percent) prior to being replaced and is now 7-for-9 (78 percent) in Toronto while earning half as much as Capps. Joe Christensen of the Minneapolis Star Tribune recently wrote that Rauch "might have been a keeper if his personality hadn't grated on the Twins."

Flawed logic regarding the closer role led to mistakenly thinking Capps was a big upgrade over Rauch, poor decision-making led to paying a premium for that non-existent upgrade in the form of a top catching prospect, and the Twins compounded the problem by evaluating Rauch based more on personality than performance or cost. Ramos' current OPS is 30 points above average for a catcher and he's thrown out an MLB-high 50 percent of steal attempts at age 23.

• Christensen also penned a lengthy article about something that has been a frequent topic in this space, which is that the oft-repeated notion of "playing the right way" and "doing the little things" being "the Twins way" has become more perception and less reality with each season. National media members and people who mostly pay attention to other teams haven't caught on yet, but I'm glad to see someone with a mainstream audience busting the myth.

• My grandpa has said for years now that Toby Gardenhire will eventually be the Twins' utility infielder, which I've always laughed off because ... well, he's a career .230/.293/.268 hitter in the minors and nepotism can only go so far, right? Maybe. Tyler Mason wrote a lengthy profile of the manager's 28-year-old son for FSN's website, and between the "Toby Gardenhire moves closer to MLB debut" title and article's content it no longer seems so far fetched. An excerpt:

Gardenhire, now with the Triple-A Rochester Red Wings, is closer than ever to his dream. A call to the majors, however, would mean something more for him: the chance to be coached by his father, Ron, the Minnesota Twins' manager. "Having my dad up there, it would probably just be an added bonus," said Toby Gardenhire, 28, who is primarily a shortstop but has been a jack-of-all-trades in the minor leagues.

"If somebody told me Toby's the guy, we think he deserves a shot to come up here, I don't know how I'd handle it, to tell you the truth," said his dad. "I'd have to regroup. But I know he's worked really, really hard and he's played very well. If that ever happens, it would be a really, really cool thing."

Gardenhire is hitting .254 with a .291 on-base percentage and .349 slugging percentage in 39 games at Rochester for a .640 OPS that's dead last on the team. Yet his dad says "he's played very well" and "has actually swung the bat very, very well." Triple-A manager Tom Nieto says "he's really progressed." Mason notes his "elevated play." Meanwhile, even Drew Butera beat Gardenhire's career OPS by 70 points in the minors. I'm starting to think my grandpa is right.

Anthony Slama's latest "opportunity" lasted all of two games, as the Twins didn't even see fit to give him a chance when they had the league's worst record and a bullpen in flux. He has a 2.10 ERA and 370 strikeouts in 274 innings as a minor leaguer, including a 2.71 ERA and 118 strikeouts in 106 innings at Triple-A, yet is 27 years old with a grand total of seven games in the majors. Slama isn't going to be great, but he might be useful and they'll never know.

• If the Twins opt to move Mauer to another position in 2012 they ought to call the Reds. John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer wrote recently that catcher prospect Devin Mesoraco "killing it in Triple-A" may soon force the Reds to call him up, at which point "a lot of teams would likely be interested in Ramon Hernandez or Ryan Hanigan." Hernandez is 35 years old, but Hanigan is a 30-year-old career .275/.375/.365 hitter with a good arm under team control through 2014.

• Old friend J.J. Hardy hasn't been injury free in Baltimore, missing a month with a strained oblique muscle, but he's yet to make an error in 37 games while hitting .299/.371/.493 for an .864 OPS that ranks third among all MLB shortstops. He's played so well that Orioles president and former Twins general manager Andy MacPhail wants to keep Hardy from becoming a free agent after the season by signing him to a contract extension before the All-Star break. Sigh.

• Earlier this week Nick Nelson and I had a Twitter discussion about Francisco Liriano and all this "pitch to contact" stuff, which Sean Schulte at Hitting The Foul Pole pieced together along with his own take.

• To preview the (now rain-shortened) Chicago series marvelously named White Sox blogger J.J. Stankevitz asked me some questions over at Beerleaguer.

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