January 17, 2010

Twins Notes: Catching Up

Between the holidays and magazine-making hibernation I've been a bad blogger lately, so while things get back to normal in this space here's my attempt to catch up on some Twins stuff I've neglected ...

  • Mike Redmond made it clear that he planned to keep playing at age 39 despite the Twins making no effort to re-sign their longtime backup catcher and sure enough he found a new home with the Indians. After trading Victor Martinez and Kelly Shoppach the Indians are slated to go with Lou Marson as their starting catcher, so Redmond will mentor the 24-year-old rookie while likely seeing a bit more playing time than he got with the Twins when Joe Mauer was healthy.

    Jose Morales' presence was behind the Twins' willingness to let Redmond leave as a free agent and that was a sound decision, but now Morales will be sidelined for 6-8 weeks following surgery to repair a strained tendon in his right wrist. Opening Day is still about three months away, so barring setbacks Morales should have enough time to enter the season as Mauer's new backup, but any recovery delays may lead to Drew Butera spending some time on the roster and he's hit .214/.296/.316 in the minors.

  • Speaking of 39-year-old former Twins, Eddie Guardado will try for an 18th season in the majors after signing a minor-league deal with the Nationals. Guardado barely managed more strikeouts than walks for the Rangers last season and hasn't had an xFIP below 5.00 since 2006, but he certainly picked the right bullpen to eek out one more year. As always, MLB.com provided an amusing, team-approved spin on the signing:

    The Nationals continue to be busy this offseason, and they are set to sign left-hander Eddie Guardado, according to a baseball source. Terms of the deal have not been disclosed. The Nationals have been interested in Guardado, 39, since the Winter Meetings. According to the source, team scouts told general manager Mike Rizzo that Guardado would be a big help to the club. Rizzo was unavailable for comment.

    If they ever make a sequel to All the President's Men about a 39-year-old reliever inking a minor-league deal with a 100-loss team, the MLB.com story can serve as the source material and Bill Ladson can be this generation's Woodward and Bernstein. Just to recap: An unnamed "baseball source" revealed that "team scouts" informed a general manager a player "would be a big help to the club" and then the GM "was unavailable for comment." Guardadogate, perhaps? "Get out your notebook. There's more."

  • Like every year since 1998 the Baseball Writers Association of America failed to elect Bert Blyleven to the Hall of Fame, but the big difference this time is that with 74.2 percent of the vote he's a near-lock to crack the 75-percent barrier for induction on the next ballot. In the past I've been a strong supporter of his candidacy and continue to believe he's a clear Hall of Famer, but you won't see me stumping on his behalf because a) the BBWAA has turned me off to anything they vote on, and b) Blyleven is a hypocrite.

    When it comes to evaluating his own performance Blyleven is quick to turn the attention away from his win-loss record, choosing instead to quote strikeout-to-walk ratio, WHIP, or even adjusted ERA+ while noting that his teams often failed to provide decent run support. And he's absolutely correct to do so. Unfortunately in his role as Twins television announcer when it comes to evaluating any other pitcher's performance he's just as quick to focus on wins and losses while ignoring all that other stuff.

  • Asked last week how Francisco Liriano has looked pitching winter ball in the Dominican Republic, Ron Gardenhire said:

    I just got a report that he's throwing the living fire out of the ball down in the Dominican. He threw eight innings the other day, and his fastball was 92 to 94 [miles per hour] and his slider was filthy.

    Liriano has indeed been impressive in the Dominican Republic, starting seven times with a minuscule ERA and 41-to-4 strikeout-to-walk ratio. However, when it comes to passing along third-hand reports about Liriano's velocity Gardenhire isn't exactly a trustworthy source. Two winters ago, as Liriano was making his way back from Tommy John elbow surgery, Gardenhire shared the following report on his throwing sessions at the Twins' academy in the Dominican Republic:

    He's letting it fly. He threw two innings at the academy and they said he was averaging 93 [miles per hour] and throwing it up to 96. Free and easy.

    If you replace "letting it fly" and "free and easy" with "throwing the living fire out of the ball" and "filthy" it's basically the same quote. In reality Liriano arrived at spring training throwing in the high-80s and was the furthest thing from "letting it fly" or "free and easy," at which point third-hand reports relayed to the media by Gardenhire ceased having any credibility. This time the glowing reports are paired with some data, so perhaps the 2010 version will prove more accurate than the 2008 version, but I'm skeptical.

  • BizOfBaseball.com's Maury Brown compiled payroll data from 2000-2009 and found that the Twins ranked 25th in spending for the decade. Given that fact a .533 winning percentage and five playoff trips during that time is plenty impressive, although less so when you consider that the other four teams in the AL Central ranked 14th, 17th, 19th, and 26th in 2000-2009 payroll. For the decade the Twins' payroll was 33 percent below average and about $1.3 billion (yes, billion) lower than the top-ranked Yankees.
  • At the winter meetings last month the Twins reportedly offered Glen Perkins to the Padres for Kevin Kouzmanoff, who was traded to the A's over the weekend for Scott Hairston and Aaron Cunningham. I'm far from a huge Kouzmanoff fan, but he's certainly worth more than just Perkins at this point and the Padres ended up getting a better return from the A's. In writing about the Kouzmanoff trade and Perkins' future with the Twins, LaVelle E. Neal III of the Minneapolis Star Tribune opined:

    To the Twins' credit, they didn't add more. Perkins and Kouzmanoff are similar players in that they are still looking for their breakthrough season. Suggestions that the Twins should have added Alexi Casilla to the deal are crazy.

    Neal's paragraph consists of 38 words and I disagree with all of them. Kouzmanoff is a more valuable player than Perkins and the Twins have more use for a third baseman than a fifth starter, so why they deserve "credit" for not adding more to the offer is beyond me. In particular, the notion that it would be "crazy" to package Alexi Casilla with Perkins is ... well, crazy. Casilla will turn 26 years old this season and has hit .244/.301/.314 through 243 games in the majors after batting .278/.352/.350 at Triple-A.

    He's not a great defender or base-stealer, and aside from a 50-game stretch in 2008 there's nothing to suggest that his bat will be starting caliber. If the Twins thought dealing Perkins for Kouzmanoff made sense they should almost certainly have been willing to toss in Casilla, who has no clear role for 2010 and dwindling upside. Of course, Neal apparently doesn't think much of Kouzmanoff if he equates him to Perkins as "similar players in that they are still looking for their breakthrough season."

    In reality Perkins has a 4.73 ERA and arm problems have limited him to just 281.2 career innings while Kouzmanoff has already been a solidly above-average starting third baseman for three full seasons in the majors and has hit .285/.327/.474 away from pitcher-friendly Petco Park. Not only is he better than and in no way similar to Perkins, there's a reasonable shot that Kouzmanoff has already accumulated more value than Perkins and Casilla will combine for in their entire careers. But hey, maybe I'm crazy.

  • Whether or not the Twins end up trading Perkins, my hope is that they trust the in-house candidates for the final rotation spot rather than wasting money on Jarrod Washburn, who reportedly turned down their $5 million offer recently. Washburn is an overrated 35-year-old coming off knee surgery and they'd be far better off investing in an infielder while letting their various younger, cheaper fifth-starter options battle for the job. Shouldn't they have learned something from Livan Hernandez and Ramon Ortiz?

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