October 24, 2007

Twins Notes: Cuellar, Koskie, Skippers, and Brothers

  • Along with several amusing quotes from new general manager Bill Smith, Tom Powers' recent column in the St. Paul Pioneer Press also contained some interesting notes about the Twins' plans. Among them is that the Twins will increase their payroll in 2008, plan to "stay left-handed" as they move towards the new ballpark in 2010, and will make an "effort" to "beef up the quality of position players at the minor-league level." Here's a quote from Smith regarding the "stay left-handed" issue:

    We've tried to get left-handed over the last decade. Mauer, Morneau, Santana, Kubel. And if you go back, Pierzynski, Koskie, Mientkiewicz. It's been a conscious effort. In our ballpark, there's no question left-handed pitching has an advantage because of the bigger left field, and left-handed hitters have an advantage because of the short right field. We have a pretty good handle on the dimensions of the new ballpark. It's not so dramatic, but it still favors lefthanders.

    And here's Smith on the lack of minor-league hitting depth:

    We'll try and address that. If we are able to make any trades, it could involve trading pitching depth for position-player depth. We have more pitching depth at the higher levels than position-player depth.

    Actions speak much louder than words, of course, but so far Smith is talking a good game.

  • As expected, the Twins will exercise their $6 million option on Joe Nathan for next season rather than give him a $1 million buyout. The move was a no-brainer, as Nathan would command twice that on the open market after saving 37 games with a 1.88 ERA and 77-to-19 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 71.2 innings this year. Like Johan Santana, Nathan can become a free agent following the 2008 season, with his agent indicating yesterday that there are no ongoing long-term contract negotiations.
  • The "reporting" found in Charley Walters' Pioneer Press columns is always to be viewed skeptically, but he wrote yesterday that "the Twins have offered free-agent pitcher Carlos Silva a three-year deal worth slightly more than $7 million a season." If true, that qualifies as a low-ball offer and likely signals that the team isn't especially serious about re-signing Silva. If he wants to accept $7 million per season, Silva could no doubt get a four-year contract from several teams on the open market.

    Joe Christensen suggesting earlier this month that Silva could command $25 million over three years seemed very low to me, so $21 million is pretty much a non-offer. As I've written here several times over the past month or so, my guess is that Silva will end up getting closer to $40 million than $20 million. My hope is that the Twins don't make a serious play for Silva, because with their MLB-ready pitching depth a mid-rotation starter making $8-10 million per season isn't needed.

  • In a move that no doubt flies under the radar for most Twins fans, the organization has brought back one-time Triple-A pitching coach Bobby Cuellar as the new manager at Double-A New Britain. Cuellar is a name that many fans probably don't even know, but played a huge role in the development of both Santana and Francisco Liriano. Here's an excerpt of a Patrick Reusse column from June of 2006 that ran in the Minneapolis Star Tribune:

    "Bobby Cuellar," Liriano said. "He's the man."

    Cuellar was the Rochester pitching coach. He was hired away from the Twins organization by Pittsburgh to serve as manager Jim Tracy's bullpen coach this season.

    Liriano said Cuellar refined the young lefthander's delivery to throw more strikes, taught him a new changeup grip and worked with him to make the slider more reliable.

    "I probably would not be in the big leagues, not yet, without the help from Bobby Cuellar," he said.

    Amazingly, whatever work Cuellar did with Liriano ranks second to the fact that he taught Santana his world-class change-up while they were together at Triple-A in 2002. At that point Santana had a modest minor-league resume and a 5.90 ERA in 129.2 career major-league innings. Under Cuellar he began the 2002 season with 75 strikeouts in 49 innings at Triple-A to earn a return trip to Minnesota, posted a 2.99 ERA with 137 strikeouts in 108.1 innings with the Twins, and hasn't looked back.

  • In other minor-league managerial news, Jake Mauer was named the new skipper for the Twins' rookie-level Gulf Coast League team. Joe's older brother played college ball at St. Thomas and was the Twins' 23rd-round pick back in 2001, but hit just .256/.319/.292 in five minor-league seasons. Now 28 years old, he's spent the past two years as a coach on the GCL team.
  • Speaking of the Mauer boys, Joe Mauer was initially expected to undergo hernia surgery at some point this offseason, but Official Twins Beat Writer of AG.com LaVelle E. Neal III reports that doctors have now told Mauer that surgery isn't needed. My hope is that this story ends better than when Liriano was told that surgery wasn't needed, because bypassing a relatively common procedure now will look like an awfully big mistake if Mauer has more hernia-related problems next season.
  • Corey Koskie missed most of 2006 and all of 2007 with post-concussion syndrome, so it was no surprise that the Brewers declined their $6.5 million option on him for 2008. However, LEN3 reports that the 34-year-old Koskie plans to play next season. "I'm probably 100 percent better than that last time you saw me," Koskie said. "The funny thing about this injury is that I thought I was doing pretty good then. I look back now, and I was still in la-la land." Here's more on his current status:

    After visiting doctors at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester and working with a Twin Cities specialist, Koskie no longer suffers from headaches or dizziness after the lightest of activities. He can lift some weights and get some light exercise in. Most importantly for him, he can play with his kids. He figures that, at this rate, he will be ready for baseball activities by spring training.

    Koskie isn't even guaranteed to be cleared by doctors at this point, so he's obviously far from a sure thing to ever be a productive major leaguer again. It's also worth noting that the Twins didn't re-sign Koskie in 2004 and then passed again when he was made available by the Blue Jays for pennies on the dollar two offseasons ago, which is how he ended up with the Brewers. With that said, he did hit .261/.343/490 in 76 games with the Brewers before suffering the concussion in 2006.

    Given the Twins' need for a third baseman and limited budget, they might be willing to see if Koskie has anything left in the tank this spring on a minor-league contract. Being a valuable player as recently as last season makes him much different than guys like Tony Batista, Sidney Ponson, and Ramon Ortiz, none of whom possessed any meaningful upside to balance their risk. If reasonably healthy, he could be a nice backup at both corner-infield spots or perhaps even a platoon starter at third base.

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

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