December 7, 2006
LaVelle E. Neal III of the Minneapolis Star Tribune and Jason Williams of the St. Paul Pioneer Press were running late because their Baseball Writers Association of America meeting ran long, but they soon joined us. A day earlier, guys like Terry Francona, Joe Maddon, Tony LaRussa, Willie Randolph, and Ozzie Guillen had each drawn huge crowds that occasionally approached 50-plus reporters, including multiple camera crews (for more on this, check out my video recap over at NBCSports.com).
Gardenhire told our significantly smaller gathering to "fire away" while Neal and Williams got situated, so I gladly batted leadoff with a question about Rondell White, asking if he had "any news on White possibly returning." Gardenhire responded that the Twins are "talking to him" and plan to "throw something out at him and see what happens." He then continued:
He had a great second half for us, he is healthy, he's working out. I've been told that he's, you know, losing weight and all those things, which I didn't think was possible because he's in good shape anyway. But we can get him healthy and he would be a great option for us as a DH, seeing where all the salaries are. There's not that much out there and Rondell, we know he can hit, did it in the second half. So, we are going to make a run at him and see what happens.
I was intrigued by Gardenhire's comment that White "would be a great option for us as a DH," so I followed up by asking if he'd "be looking at him as a designated hitter, rather than a left fielder." Seemingly changing his mind completely in the span of a few moments, Gardenhire responded that "no, he would be left field." He added:
That would put somebody else as our DH, which we just flip-flip if we sign him. If we don't, then you go other ways. We know Rondell does not like the DH, but he would have to play, which he did fine out there.
Seeking clarification, I asked if the Twins are "looking at Jason Kubel more as the DH then," to which Gardenhire replied that "Kubel may be better suited to DH right now" because of his knee injuries. Neal and Williams then peppered Gardenhire with questions about White, asking about his defense, whether he'll have a better season, and if Gardenhire liked having him on the team. Judging from the questions and the responses, it's safe to say White's odds of returning to Minnesota for 2007 are high.
Here's what Gardenhire said when asked if Kubel "is going to be ready for spring training":
From what we've been told, yes. I mean, he went in with his bad knee and had a scope on another knee, so maybe if we can get him to limp equally we'll be okay. We're hoping that he does some work this way. He's been told enough now, now it's on his shoulders. He's got to do a lot of work this winter, he needs to go down to spring training early and he needs to come prepared to play.
There was quite a shift in mood during that one response, as Gardenhire went from getting a big laugh with his "limp equally" line to yet again questioning the work ethic of an injured player. LEN3 then asked Gardenhire what the five-man rotation looks like "right now," at which point Gardenhire jokingly said, "Next question." He eventually said Johan Santana, Boof Bonser, and Carlos Silva "are in" and "we got the kids fro there on out."
Since that didn't really answer anything specific, I followed up by asking, "Do any of the kids have a leg up on anyone else?" Gardenhire mentioned that Matt Garza and Scott Baker each have "got some experience" and jokingly said Glen Perkins "ought to be ready" after he "got what, two or three innings in?" He then tossed in a wild card, mentioning relatively unknown prospect Oswaldo Sosa as someone with a "great arm" and even said Dennys Reyes could start if needed.
Of course, a few seconds later Williams asked, "Honestly, Reyes would be a last resort, you don't want to mess with him?" Gardenhire then admitted that "we don't want to mess with Reyes." He went on to say that "another veteran would be nice," but suggested general manager Terry Ryan "will not give up all our young pitching arms for one veteran pitcher" in a trade. On the other hand, Gardenhire said he's "very confident" that Ryan will "come up with another pitcher."
Then, seemingly pleased with how bold his "very confident" response had been, Gardenhire asked LEN3 "how do you like that one?" and then told him to "put that one in your paper." Seriously. It was pretty amusing. Being a party pooper, I then stepped in and asked, "At this point, is Nick Punto the starting third baseman?" After Gardenhire said yes, I asked, "Is there any worry that he'll wear down during the season?"
Gardenhire's response was predictable:
No, I think he proved he could go out there and play every day last year. Diving all over the place, as you've all seen, diving into the stands. You know, he's on a different program with his body now, some kind of yoga or whatever and he's doing well. His body's able to handle just about anything you throw at him. He didn't really want days off, so I think he set himself up pretty good.
It wasn't long ago that Gardenhire talked about Punto's injuries much the same way he talks about Kubel's injuries, yet now Punto is seen as "able to handle just about anything." The entire basis for my question was largely Punto's .252/.266/.294 September hitting line, so obviously Gardenhire saying he "proved he could go out there and play every day last year" didn't exactly answer it. With both a question and a follow-up question on the topic, at least I can say I tried.
LEN3 then asked Gardenhire if he tried "to talk Brad Radke out of quitting," to which he responded:
We've all said, you know, one more year. Brad has pretty much done what he had to do in the game, I think. And until he makes his official announcement in front of you guys, we still got options with him. We are still talking, but it doesn't look very good, let's put it that way.
When no one followed up on the Radke angle, I asked if Alexi Casilla would be "the guy coming up" if there was "an injury to an infielder." I asked in part because I wanted to get a feel for whether he might be an option at third base should Punto struggle (see, I was still trying to get a better answer on that topic) and in part because I'm legitimately curious about what the Twins think of him long term. Here's what Gardenhire said:
He hasn't played much in the bigs, only got a couple of at-bats, but he impressed the heck out of us with his work habits and the way he handled himself when he got out there on the field. He is one of our top prospects, let's put it that way, and we think we could probably slot him in to help out and he would do a very good job. A speed guy, could slap the ball around, could play short, he could play second. ... If we did have a big injury, he would probably be first in line.
As usual, I wanted a few more details, so I asked, "What do you see as his long-term position?" Gardenhire said "probably second base" because "Jason Bartlett can handle himself" at shortstop (at which point I avoided the urge to yell out something about Juan Castro). He then seemingly mapped out the team's plans for Casilla by saying he will probably be "slotting in" for Luis Castillo once his contract is up following this season.
Gardenhire then responded to a question about Perkins by essentially ruling him out of the bullpen picture, indicating that he'll be starter at Triple-A if he's not in the Twins' rotation. With the subject back to young pitching, I took the opportunity to ask, "Do you expect J.D. Durbin to make the team in spring training, since he's out of options?" Here's what Gardenhire said:
He is out of options. That's another one we have to look at and, you know, the arm injury last season, but he was throwing the ball the best we've seen him in probably three years. So he's gonna be, you know, one of those guys in spring training that we're gonna take a real hard look at and hope that he bounces back and really, you know, was healthy enough to come and help us. He's very talented, another great arm, and if he's healthy and throwing the ball like he did when he went down, he's pretty good. He is pretty good.
I'm pretty sure that qualifies as a non-answer, but it was at least a long non-answer. Realizing that no one had even mentioned Matt Guerrier in all the talk about starting pitching, I asked if Guerrier "is an option in the rotation." Gardenhire replied:
We like Guerrier where he's at. We've always liked Matty right where he's at and he seems to. When we have trouble of the start, he can come in and he changes the speeds, he's got the big curveball, he seems to get us to our bullpen if he can stay in the game and he has been good at that. We like him in the long relief. ... I'd rather keep him where he's at.
After a joke about how LEN3 probably "started that rumor" about the Twins being a potential home for Barry Bonds, the press conference came to an end and my first (and perhaps only) taste of life as a Twins beat reporter was over. It was an interesting experience and, if nothing else, I feel good knowing that I probably asked as many questions as Thesier, Neal, and Williams, combined.