October 2, 2007

Twins Notes: Fetching, Slapping, and Good Guys

  • Following Carlos Silva's final start Saturday, Joe Christensen wrote on his Minneapolis Star Tribune blog that Silva "is about to cash in on a very nice free-agent contract somewhere and it's not far-fetched to think he could get a three-year, $25 million deal." Christensen's intention was obviously to suggest that while $25 million might seem like a lot of money for Silva, it's definitely within the range of offers that he's likely to receive on the open market.

    Christensen is right, except that $25 million might actually be far-fetched on the low side. Last winter's crop of free-agent starting pitchers included Barry Zito, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Jason Schmidt, Ted Lilly, Gil Meche, Vicente Padilla, Miguel Batista, Jason Marquis, Adam Eaton, Woody Williams, and Greg Maddux, among several other well-known veterans, yet Jeff Suppan managed to get $42 million as a 32-year-old coming off a season in which he went 12-7 with a 4.12 ERA in 190 innings.

    Silva is a 29-year-old coming off a season in which he went 13-14 with a 4.19 ERA in 202 innings, and this offseason's pool of free-agent starters isn't nearly as deep or star-filled. In fact, an argument can be made for Silva being among the 2-3 most desirable targets in the entire bunch. With mediocrity like Eaton and Marquis getting over $20 million apiece in last winter's jam-packed market, my guess is that Silva's next contract is likely to be worth closer to $40 million than $20 million.

  • Christensen also speculated last week that the Twins might be interested in signing Barry Bonds as a free agent and Ron Gardenhire coyly did little to dissuade that notion. As one of the few remaining Bonds fans outside of San Francisco, I'd love to see him as the Twins' designated hitter next season. Unfortunately, the likelihood of a) the Twins pursuing Bonds, b) Bonds being interested in playing for the Twins, and c) the Twins being able to afford his asking price is probably pretty close to zero.
  • Assuming that he departs as a free agent next month, there's no doubt that I'll miss Torii Hunter the player. However, the disingenuous spin he peddled as part of the city-to-city media blitz surrounding his pending free agency rubbed me the wrong way and I've long since grown tired of him ripping teammates through the media. The latest example of Hunter lobbing public criticism at teammates came last week on Dan Barreiro's KFAN radio show, where he said the following about injuries:

    Somebody needs to slap a couple people around and say, "You've got to play no matter what." If you don't play every day, and you're a good player, then how can you help the team win?

    Hunter made similar comments about Joe Mauer a few months ago, but when asked if he was talking about Mauer this time around he denied it. Of course, the only other Twins players to miss significant time with injuries this season were Francisco Liriano, Rondell White, and Jesse Crain. I'm guessing that not even Hunter would rip a teammate for missing time following arm surgery and White is reportedly one of his best friends, which makes it pretty obvious that he's again talking about Mauer.

    As always, the local media eats up everything Hunter says, with Kelly Thesier of MLB.com writing that Hunter "has been known to speak his mind on numerous occasions." That's a nice way to spin repeatedly calling out a teammate publicly. Meanwhile, over the past three seasons Hunter played 405 games and Mauer played 380 games despite manning the most physically demanding position, yet Hunter passes himself off as some sort of iron man while constantly questioning Mauer's toughness.

  • On a related note, the Twins Cities chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America voted to give Hunter this season's "media good guy award."
  • Nick Punto revealed last week that he "played through pain in his rib-cage area for about six weeks after suffering a slight oblique muscle injury in early June." It would surely please Hunter to know that Punto played "no matter what" and didn't even need to be slapped to do so, but while being a tough guy he batted .150 in June, .218 in July, and .127 in August.
  • After being shut down for the season's final two weeks, Official Twins Beat Writer of AG.com LaVelle E. Neal III reports that Pat Neshek's shoulder "no longer feels weak." Meanwhile, Christensen penned a lengthy and encouraging update on Liriano, with the short version being that his rehab is going according to plan and he remains on track to be ready for spring training.
  • To say that Silva greatly exceeded my expectations for him this year is a huge understatement given that I was actually against the Twins picking up his option for this season. However, it's also worth noting that as well as he pitched and as silly as he made my opinion look, the veteran trio of Silva, Sidney Ponson, and Ramon Ortiz combined to go 19-23 with a 4.76 ERA in 331 innings while costing the Twins about $8 million.

    Meanwhile, the foursome of Scott Baker, Matt Garza, Kevin Slowey, and Glen Perkins--young starters who I suggested should have been chosen instead to fill the final three-fifths of the rotation--combined to go 18-17 with a 4.11 ERA in 322 innings while costing the Twins about $1 million. It's often the case that veterans are simply a more expensive version of the youth a team already has, and it would have been interesting to see how much an extra $7 million could have helped the Twins' punchless offense.

  • Last month seemingly every major media outlet covering the Twins picked up on Justin Morneau's suggestion that his power tailing off in the second half was due to participating in the Home Run Derby during the All-Star break. That bothered me, because the claim lacked evidence. As I wrote here at the time: "The Home Run Derby didn't hurt Morneau when he homered four times in the first 11 games following the break" unless "he had some sort of delayed reaction that didn't kick in for three weeks."

    The reason I'm bringing all of that up again now is because LEN3 recently wrote an article devoted to Morneau's second-half decline that included the following:

    Morneau initially thought that participating in the All-Star Home Run Derby affected his swing the rest of the season — although he hit four homers in his first 11 games after the break. But last week he admitted that he gave away too many at-bats, which his postbreak numbers (seven homers and 37 RBI) reflect.

    Whether LEN3 saw my note here, read Ubelmann's post on the same subject over at Stick and Ball Guy's blog, or did the required number-crunching on his own, it's nice to see a mainstream media member who's covering the Twins go beyond simply trusting that whatever someone from the team tells them is fact.

  • When it comes to Gardenhire's treatment of young players in the media, he rarely praises, frequently criticizes, and often exhibits a lack of patience. There are plenty of examples throughout his time as manager, including guys like Baker, Garza, Jason Bartlett, Jason Kubel, and Alexi Casilla recently. That's frustrating, but even more maddening is that in the rare instances when he does throw around some compliments to a non-veteran it usually goes to someone like Garrett Jones:

    I like him. I like the possibilities of what he brings to the table. When he relaxes, he can really put a swing on the ball. It's hard. You're pressing, you want to do well, and you're not playing every day. I just talked to him about relaxing. He's a big, strong guy. You know what? You're going to strike out, son. Everybody does. Just swing away. And when he does connect, he hits it a long ways. Power is something that's hard to find.

    When a manager goes out of his way to play guys who lack power on a team that clearly values power less than most organizations, it's amusing to hear him say that "power is something that's hard to find." Beyond that, this amazingly isn't the first time that Gardenhire has heaped praise on Jones, who's a career .250/.304/.439 hitter in nine minor-league seasons and batted .208/.262/.338 in 31 games with the Twins as a 26-year-old rookie.

    Talking about Jones being called up for the first time back in May, Gardenhire said: "We let him get his feet wet. But I'd like for him to get a soaking. I really like the instant run production he can put up there when he walks up to the plate." At the time, his praise of Jones helped me further come along to the notion that Gardenhire doesn't always treat young players unfairly and always irrationally favor veterans, but rather only praises mediocre players. Here's what I wrote at the time:

    If Jones was good, Gardenhire would surely be telling anyone who would listen that he strikes out too much or needs to work on his defense or isn't "having good at-bats." But because Jones has all those weaknesses and isn't good, Gardenhire lets the compliments and words of encouragement fly. I used to think that Gardenhire put guys like Jones in the "young" category with Kubel, Bartlett, and Baker, but it's starting to seem like he views them as "mediocre" with Ford, Silva, Juan Castro, and Tony Batista.

    Of course, it's only a theory.

  • Once you're done here, check out my latest "Daily Dose" column over at Rotoworld.

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