February 27, 2008

Twins Notes: Liriano, Fogg, Gomez, Span, and Tyner

  • Francisco Liriano's visa issues are finally settled and it sounds like he'll be ready to hit the ground running once he arrives at Twins camp. Official Twins Beat Writer of AG.com LaVelle E. Neal III reports that "Liriano twice hit 97 miles per hour during a recent bullpen session and pitched consistently at 92-95." There's obviously a lot more to his comeback from Tommy John surgery than fastball velocity, but so far at least every bit of news regarding Liriano's recovery has been positive and setback free.
  • Shortly after the Twins signed Livan Hernandez to a one-year contract that guarantees him at least $5 million with another $2 million in reachable incentives, the Reds agreed to terms with a similarly mediocre veteran starting pitcher for a fraction of the price. Josh Fogg certainly hasn't been as durable as Hernandez, but averaged 170 innings over the past two seasons while posting a 5.22 ERA and 5.20 xFIP. Over that same two-year span Hernandez averaged 210 innings with a 4.88 ERA and 5.50 xFIP.

    Fogg will make just $1 million this season, which means that the Twins paid an extra $5 million or so for another 40 innings of what figures to be the same five-something ERA, all from a pitcher who's (at least) two years older and has shown major signs of decline. Like Craig Monroe earlier this winter and any number of washed-up, declining players before him, the Twins always find a way to overpay for veteran mediocrity while scrimping just about everywhere else.

  • The Twins' motivation for signing Hernandez clearly had a lot to do with avoiding a starting rotation comprised entirely of 26-and-under pitchers. There's some merit to that when it comes to the service times of young players and to a lesser extent wins and losses, but if finding a veteran to compliment an inexperienced rotation was important enough to overpay Hernandez it seems odd that the Twins aren't interested in bringing in a veteran to counteract an even greener group of center fielders.

    By signing Hernandez the Twins have pushed back guys like Glen Perkins, Nick Blackburn, and Philip Humber, giving them additional time to develop and extending their days as low-salaried players. If it was important to do that with a collection of pitchers who at the very least look capable of posting ERAs within shouting distance of Hernandez, why not do the same for the current center-field trio of Carlos Gomez, Jason Pridie, and Denard Span?

    None of them look especially ready to make a significantly positive impact in the majors yet and each of them could benefit from some additional time at Triple-A at least as much as Perkins, Blackburn, and Humber can. If you're going to pay $6 million for Hernandez to post a 5.00 ERA in 200 innings, why not pay $1 million for Kenny Lofton to post a .360 on-base percentage or perhaps even Corey Patterson to steal 40 bases while shoring up the outfield defense?

    Instead, the Twins seem committed to letting Gomez or Pridie (or perhaps both) most likely struggle for a team that may not even contend in a tough division while burning through a valuable year of service time. The odds are against Gomez being a major asset offensively right now, so why not push his free agency back while giving him some additional time to develop by letting Lofton or Patterson keep the position warm at a minimal cost?

    Lofton or Patterson have a good shot at out-producing Gomez and Pridie, or at least as good a shot as Hernandez has at out-pitching Perkins, Blackburn, and Humber. Beyond that, everyone in that trio of pitchers is at least 25 years old, whereas Gomez is just 22. Another few months at Triple-A certainly won't hurt his development given how he was rushed through the Mets' system, and having Gomez in Minnesota for his age-22 season is far less important than having him around at 27 or 28.

  • Speaking of the vacancy in center field, both local newspapers and MLB.com (twice!) have recently devoted articles to Span publicly stating his desire to win the starting job. That bit of information is something that a journalism-school professor of mine used to call "implied and meaningless." In other words, Pridie and Gomez (and every other player) surely have similar desires, with the difference being that all the local reporters already know Span and clearly haven open lines of communication with him.

    Span batted .267/.323/.355 at Triple-A last season and sports a .283/.348/.348 career hitting line in the minors, so him telling the Twins that he "wants a shot at the job" in center field is like me informing the world that I'd really like "a shot" at dating Elisha Cuthbert. Acting as if Span's plans are meaningful by giving them extended media coverage makes about as much sense as reporting on losers who want to date women who're completely out of their league in every possible way.

  • From beat writers to bloggers Span has been telling everyone who'll listen that he's ready to be the Twins' starting center fielder, yet despite the thousands of words being devoted to his proclamations no one in the media seems interested in pointing out his entirely forgettable minor-league track record or willing to note how overmatched he'd likely be in the role. Here's a quote from a recent interview with Span over at Twins Territory:

    I'm definitely ready; I thought I was ready after spring training last year. I felt like I had proven to others and especially to the Twins organization that I was ready for the next level and now one year later everyone is writing me off because of one bad half of baseball in Rochester.

    First, after thinking that he "was ready after spring training last year" Span hit .267/.323/.355 at Triple-A, so perhaps he's not particularly well-equipped to make such judgments about himself. Beyond that, suggesting that "everyone is writing me off because of one bad half of baseball in Rochester" is silly given that Span's .678 OPS at Triple-A last season was nearly identical to his .689 OPS at Double-A in 2006 and his .696 OPS in 2,184 career minor-league plate appearances overall.

    People are writing Span off because he simply hasn't been a very good baseball player and has done little to suggest that he's capable of becoming one since the Twins took him in the first round of the 2002 draft. Span predictably seems unable to grasp that concept, which is why he's amped up enough about the center-field competition to get his quotes in the newspaper on a regular basis and why he's taken exception to meanies like me suggesting that he's not very good:

    I'm ready to compete with whomever, whether it be Pridie or Gomez. I expect it to be a war in spring training because I gotta believe that they are just as hungry as I am. I know for a fact that I have a bigger chip on my shoulder because neither of those guys have been disrespected or slapped in the face like I've been by others and the Twins this off season.

    Again, all of that is coming from someone who owns a .283/.348/.348 career mark in five minor-league seasons and couldn't crack a .700 OPS at Triple-A last year. There's also plenty more where that came from, including Span saying that the Twins "turned their backs" on him, and this isn't the first time that he's complained about being disrespected and unfairly criticized. Another blog interview with Span over as Josh's Thoughts earlier this offseason included this quote:

    I read Twins blogs. I read about people saying I'm not ready and that I suck, etc. But I read it to get motivated.

    If he wasn't referring to this blog then, my guess is that AG.com is probably on his bad side now. The funny thing is that good or bad Span hasn't actually been discussed much in this space over the past couple years, simply because his stock has fallen to the point that he's not (or at least shouldn't be) a big part of the team's plans. It's tempting to criticize him now given the stance that he's taken recently, but I've certainly never written that he "sucks." Of course, perhaps he's been able to connect the dots.

  • Jason Tyner seemingly resurrected his career in Minnesota after hitting just .257/.294/.299 through his first 844 plate appearances in the majors, finding a team that appreciated his modest talents and batting .299/.340/.356 in 620 plate appearances spread over parts of three seasons with the Twins. Instead, new general manager Bill Smith surprisingly cut Tyner loose in December rather than pay him what figured to be around $1 million via arbitration.

    Hurt by the fact that Ron Gardenhire can manage just one team, Tyner apparently drew little interest on the open market and had to settle for a minor-league contract with the Indians. Cleveland was home to Tyner's lone major-league homer, which came last July in his 1,221st career at-bat, but between Grady Sizemore, Franklin Gutierrez, David Dellucci, Jason Michaels, Ben Francisco, and Shin-Shoo Choo the Indians' outfield has even less need than most for a 31-year-old singles hitter.

    In other words, if a speedy, 170-pound veteran outfielder with a .324 career slugging percentage can't stick with a Gardenhire-managed team, it might be the end of the line. Not only did Tyner start 93 times as a corner outfielder during what was essentially two full seasons in Minnesota, he was the Twins' starting designated hitter another 27 times. Seriously. Like Luis Rivas before him, Tyner's chances of securing another prominent role in the majors vanished the moment that he left Minnesota.

  • Last and definitely least, if you've wondered what it would be like for the state's hackiest newspaper columnist to spend 1,000 words extolling the virtues of a player who was the single worst hitter in all of baseball last season ... well, it's your lucky day.

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