March 1, 2009

Twins Notes: Shoulders, Signings, and Scars

  • Joe Nathan has pulled out of the World Baseball Classic because of shoulder soreness, explaining yesterday that he experienced some discomfort during the offseason, but "didn't really think much of it" until the problem "flared up" once he arrived at spring training and began throwing. He's being held out of game action for a while after allowing one run in the Twins' spring training opener Wednesday, but has not been shut down completely and threw a bullpen session yesterday.

    Arm problems can go from annoyance to surgery in a hurry, but so far at least there's no reason to think Nathan's shoulder injury is especially serious. "I'm not worried about it being a major concern," Nathan said. "I guess it's news because of the World Baseball Classic tournament going on and I'm not able to attend. Staying here allows me to kind of get this thing calmed down and strengthened back up kind of at our pace."

  • All the speculation and conflicting reports about the Twins' pursuit of Juan Cruz can be put to rest, as he signed with the Royals over the weekend. Landing him for $5.5 million over two years while also getting a reasonable $4 million team option or $500,000 buyout for 2011 is a great deal for the Royals, and their first-round pick is protected as No. 11. Had the Twins signed Cruz they'd have surrendered the No. 21 overall pick as compensation, but the Royals will instead give up a second rounder.

    LaVelle E. Neal III of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports that the Twins "offered Cruz a one-year deal," but doesn't say whether they were willing to lose the first-round pick or only made the proposal as part of a potential sign-and-trade deal with the Diamondbacks. Either way, signing Cruz for just one season seems odd if you're giving up a draft pick or prospects to acquire him. Why give up that much for just one year of a player? And if you like Cruz that much, why would you only want him for one season?

    Cruz would have been a huge upgrade for the Twins' bullpen and came at a bargain rate after posting a 2.95 ERA, 183-to-80 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and .192 opponent's batting average in 134.1 innings as a reliever over the past three seasons. However, refusing to lose a first-round pick to sign a 30-year-old reliever is a perfectly acceptable stance for the Twins to take. Unfortunately, the Twins had numerous chances to sign solid setup men without giving up draft picks and ended up with just Luis Ayala.

  • Corey Koskie had hoped to show that he was healthy while playing for Canada in the WBC and then latch on with a big-league team, but he didn't have to wait that long. Koskie signed a minor-league deal with the Cubs over the weekend and will join their camp as a non-roster invitee once the WBC is done. He'll compete for a spot on the Cubs' bench, backing up Aramis Ramirez at third base and Derrek Lee at first base, but may end up in Iowa proving himself again at Triple-A as a 35-year-old.
  • In the grand scheme of things rotation spots matter little because all full-time starters end up with 32 or 33 starts if they stay healthy for the entire season, but the Twins have already announced that Scott Baker will get the nod on Opening Day. It wasn't so long ago that the Twins demoted Baker to Triple-A while most fans were ready to give up on him, and even when he returned to the majors Bert Blyleven repeated the company line about "not keeping the ball down" seemingly every time he allowed a hit.

    Baker thankfully took his demotion in stride and pitched his way back to Minnesota, taking advantage of his second chance by going 20-13 with a 3.82 ERA and 243-to-71 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 316 innings since rejoining the rotation in mid-2007. Growing pains along the way had some people questioning Baker's ability to succeed as an extreme fly-ball pitcher who worked up in the strike zone, but in the end he's settled in as exactly the type of solid major-league starter that his minor-league resume predicted.

  • Twins prospects at Triple-A will get quite a bit more attention than usual this year, with PBS planning to shoot a 13-episode documentary about the season at Rochester. According to Jim Mandelaro of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle:

    A behind-the-scenes look at the Wings, with unprecedented access. Three videographers will follow the team around Rochester and the 13 other cities in the International League. Cameras will roll as players are called into manager Stan Cliburn's office for promotions and demotions, as they spend countless hours walking malls and eating in food courts and as they sit around their apartments, waiting for that call to the major leagues that will change everything.

    Last month Seth Stohs took a crack at what the Rochester roster will look like this season. I'm thinking Drew Butera's call-up would make for a Sopranos-like series finale.

  • Pat Neshek is about three months into a likely 12-month recovery from Tommy John elbow surgery, and recently posted a blog entry about his scars that included the following pictures:

    Here's how Neshek described the surgery and the scarring:

    In simple terms they take a tendon from either your wrist or leg, drill a couple holes in the elbow and tie the tendon through the holes. In a couple months the tendon turns into a ligament. Recovery time varies from about 9 months to 15 months. I had my tendon removed from my left wrist, notice the 3 notches ... one on my wrist, another one about 2.5 inches away and the final one 2.5 inches away from the last one.

    Neshek going under the knife and being lost for the entire season is a shame on a number of different levels, but the one nice thing about the surgery is that it apparently leaves him lots of time for blogging. As a bad actor in a terrible sports movie once said: "Pain heals. Chicks dig scars. Glory lasts forever."

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