February 20, 2008

Twins Notes: Liriano Throws, LeCroy Plays, Miller Blogs

  • Francisco Liriano remains in the Dominican Republic because of visa problems stemming from his 2006 drunken-driving arrest, but Official Twins Beat Writer of AG.com LaVelle E. Neal III passed along this encouraging Ron Gardenhire quote about Liriano's comeback from Tommy John surgery: "He's letting it fly. He threw two innings at the [Twins' Dominican] academy and they said he was averaging 93 and throwing it up to 96. Free and easy." He's expected to be in camp by next week.
  • Gardenhire revealed that he plans to begin the season with a 12-man pitching staff. If Liriano and Jesse Crain are healthy, there are seemingly 11 near-locks for the Opening Day roster:
    SP  Livan Hernandez           CL  Joe Nathan
    SP Scott Baker RP Pat Neshek
    SP Boof Bonser RP Juan Rincon
    SP Kevin Slowey RP Matt Guerrier
    SP Francisco Liriano RP Jesse Crain
    RP Dennys Reyes

    If all of the above pitchers make the team out of spring training, that would leave Glen Perkins, Nick Blackburn, and Philip Humber as the most likely candidates to fight over the final spot, with the two losers heading the rotation at Triple-A.

  • When the Twins gave Matthew LeCroy a September call-up last season despite his hitting .194 in 80 games at Triple-A, it seemed like the team's way of giving him a nice send off before welcoming him into the coaching ranks. Instead, LeCroy has decided to continue playing, signing a minor-league contract with the A's. Perhaps fittingly, LeCroy will be the Triple-A catching depth that Oakland needed following the sudden retirement of Jeremy Brown, the so-called "fat-bodied catcher" from Moneyball:

    Amusingly, a blurb about his signing in the San Francisco Chronicle notes that "LeCroy has gray hair, grayer even than that of general manager Billy Beane." Of course, there's no shame in that, because as Moneyball readers can attest to Beane fancies himself "the best-looking GM in the game." LeCroy told MLB.com that he "really didn't have too many options to go anywhere." As the 32-year-old veteran of eight big-league seasons put it: "I guess the older you are, the harder it gets."

  • Sean McAdam's recent ESPN.com article about the Twins' offseason was mostly forgettable--he began by calling Torii Hunter "arguably their best player and inarguably their best leader"--but it did include this interesting tidbit: Johan Santana went 70-32 with a 2.89 ERA during his four full seasons as a starter, while the rest of the Twins' rotation combined to go 172-190 with a 4.60 ERA over that same span. Santana was 38 games above .500, while everyone else was 18 games below .500.
  • Speaking of Santana, he follows Marisa Miller on Sports Illustrated's cover this week:

    Given that he's been the best pitcher in baseball since 2004 (or perhaps even 2002), it's a shame that Santana never made the cover while with the Twins.

  • The Rays' all-time leader in games played and most major offensive categories, Carl Crawford said earlier this week that he was happy to see both Delmon Young and Elijah Dukes leave Tampa Bay this offseason:

    I just feel like it's going to be a little more peaceful this year. I think it will be more at ease. Not so much crazy stuff. ... They're both just young players who've got some growing up and maturing to do. I just don't think the maturing part would have happened over here. It might happen somewhere else, but at the pace they were going I don't think they would have matured over here because they had too much free range to do whatever they wanted to.

    Being loud, talking too much, saying whatever they wanted to whoever they wanted to say it to. There weren't no rules for those guys. Now they're going to somewhere where they have rules, so I don't know what's going to happen then. They'd been getting in trouble and they got rewarded for it every year, so you couldn't expect them to come here and think that they were going to do something different and they were going to be good all of a sudden. That doesn't happen. It can only get worse. They've been doing that since Day 1. It didn't surprise me at all.

    Young has said the right things since being traded to the Twins and has many people convinced that he's already gotten past the problems that helped facilitate his exit from Tampa Bay, but it's interesting to hear what Crawford has to say after actually spending a season with him. Crawford's frustration likely had a lot more to do with Dukes than Young, but his willingness to group them together is telling. On several different levels Young is far from the sure-thing superstar that many fans seem to assume.

  • Livan Hernandez's one-year contract was initially reported as being worth $5 million plus incentives, but Joe Christensen notes that Hernandez will make $6.2 million if he reaches 200 innings and $7 million if he cracks 230 innings.
  • Gardenhire has expressed confidence that the Twins will sign impending free agent Joe Nathan to a multi-year contract extension, but it's unclear whether doing so would be a smart move. Nathan has been about as good as a reliever can be since coming over from the Giants as part of the haul for A.J. Pierzynski, but committing what figures to be in excess of $10 million per season for 70 innings of work is extremely risky for a small-payroll team, especially given that Nathan is already 33 years old.

    From Rick Aguilera and Eddie Guardado to Nathan himself the Twins have shown the ability to create outstanding closers, and beginning with top setup man Pat Neshek there are no shortage of quality relief options throughout the organization. Keeping Nathan in Minnesota is a luxury that the Twins can't afford if it requires something like $50 million over four seasons, and they'd be better off cashing him in for prospects at the trading deadline or taking compensatory draft picks when he walks as a free agent.

  • Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times recently wrote a lengthy, well-done article about Hunter's difficult path to the major leagues.
  • Since taking over as the Twins beat writer from the highly unlikable and only moderately readable Jason Williams last season, Phil Miller has become just about the only good thing to be found in the St. Paul Pioneer Press. And now he's joined the blogging world. As someone who regularly reads the baseball coverage from nearly every major newspaper in the country as part of my gig at Rotoworld, trust me that Twins fans are incredibly lucky to have LEN3, Christensen, and Miller covering the team.

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