December 20, 2010

Twins Notes: Nishioka, Morales, Bargas, Ullger, Hudson, and Punto

Tsuyoshi Nishioka's contract turned out to be a little more team-friendly than expected. He'll earn $3 million a season for three years, which is slightly less than first reported, and the deal also includes a $4 million team option or $250,000 buyout for 2014. If he proves to be a good player the option lets the Twins control him at a reasonable cost for a fourth season and if he struggles their total commitment (including posting fee) will be $14.55 million for three years.

Vice president of player personnel Mike Radcliff noted that the Twins have scouted Nishioka in Japan for several years, so the front office had no shortage of reports and information from which to base their opinion on him. On the other hand, somewhat surprisingly (to me, at least) Ron Gardenhire revealed that he's never even seen video of his new starting middle infielder in action:

I don't know anything about him. I don't know anything about his swing, nothing. I haven't seen video on him or anything. Just the reports from our scouts. He's supposed to be a good player. I'm going to get this kid down there [to spring training] and see what happens, see what he looks like, see where I think he's most comfortable, and talk to the kid.

Gardenhire apparently isn't much for YouTube. There were plenty of interesting quotes uttered during Nishioka's introductory press conference, but my favorite came earlier when he said the following upon arriving in Minnesota: "I was so surprised by this cold weather because it was colder than I expected. Even the stadium was covered by snow." For his sake hopefully no one is taking Nishioka to the Vikings game.

• Lost in Nishioka signing is that the Twins also dropped Jose Morales from the 40-man roster, trading the 27-year-old catcher to the Rockies for relief prospect Paul Bargas. I'm far from the biggest Drew Butera fan and would've preferred if the Twins gave Morales more of a chance to be Joe Mauer's backup, but injuries played a factor as well and at this point he's a marginal player without minor-league options who the team seemingly never trusted defensively.

Morales hit .297 with a .370 on-base percentage in 181 plate appearances for the Twins and .304 with a .367 OBP in 1,163 plate appearances at Triple-A, and those numbers coming from a switch-hitting catcher definitely make him a viable big leaguer. However, with just 11 homers and a measly .095 Isolated Power between Rochester and Minnesota he doesn't have enough pop to be an asset at another position if the Twins weren't willing to use him behind the plate.

• Bargas was a 13th-round pick in 2009 and shifted to the bullpen as a pro after starting for three years at UC-Riverside. He's posted very good numbers in the low minors with a 3.12 ERA and 98-to-27 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 98 innings, and the 6-foot-1 southpaw has been death on left-handed batters early on. He's far from a top prospect, but Bargas certainly represents a reasonable return for a 27-year-old backup catcher and at age 22 has some upside.

• I can't recall any fan base ever loving a third base coach. For the most part the job involves going unnoticed when you perform well and being vilified when you perform poorly, because the successes blend into the flow of a game and the failures bring things to a screeching halt. With that said, Scott Ullger has seemingly been an extraordinarily poor third base coach, with a tendency to get the Twins' slowest runners thrown out at the plate by the widest margins.

He's been relieved of third base duties and will now serve as bench coach, switching jobs with Steve Liddle. Aside from Al Newman being let go as third base coach in 2005 there's been a remarkable lack of coaches leaving the staff during Gardenhire's decade-long tenure with the Twins, but Ullger has been moved (or perhaps more accurately, demoted) from hitting coach to third base coach in 2006 and from third base coach to bench coach now.

• There was never any chance of the Twins re-signing Orlando Hudson, but he's landed on his feet (and then some) with a two-year, $11.5 million deal from the Padres. Reportedly as part of a gentleman's agreement Hudson promised the Twins ahead of time that he'd decline their arbitration offer, so they'll get a compensatory draft pick between the first and second rounds for letting the Type B free agent walk.

Good defense at second base and hitting .268/.338/.372 in 126 games made Hudson a sound one-year investment for $5 million, and if you toss in a top-50 pick that also carries significant value it turned out to be a very positive signing even if the Twins didn't enjoy his presence in the clubhouse enough to bring him back. Hudson is coming off arguably a career-worst season and had to settle for one-year deals in 2009 and 2010, so getting a two-year deal now is odd.

• Mauer missed some time in September with left knee problems and recently underwent what the Twins are calling a "minor procedure" that leaves him with plenty of room to recover before spring training. Since missing most of his rookie season because of a knee injury that required surgery in 2004, he has the most plate appearances of any catcher in baseball.

• In the least surprising news since my last weight-loss attempt failed, Charley Walters of the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports that "Gardenhire has asked the Twins' front office if it can bring back free-agent infielder Nick Punto." No word on if Gardenhire has contacted Punto, but if he did I imagine it went something like this:

He's supposed to be a good player.'

Gardenhire said he has no immediate plans to slot Nishioka either at second base or shortstop.

"I'm going to get this kid down there (to spring training) and see what happens, see what he looks like, see where I think he's most comfortable and talk to the kid," he said.


  1. Was Newman let go? I could have sworn that he left on his own.

    Comment by Evan — December 19, 2010 @ 11:18 pm

  2. a) I thought Newman left for medical reasons..

    b) I think Wendell Kim was probably the most loved/hated 3B Coach ever. He was entertaining to watch, and terrible at his job.

    Comment by TD — December 19, 2010 @ 11:42 pm

  3. from AG 11/11/05 “•I expect to have some more thoughts on this subject in the coming weeks, but in the meantime add me to the growing list of Twins fans who wouldn’t mind seeing hitting coach Scott Ullger replace Newman coaching third base. ” hmm…..careful what you wish for

    Comment by Pat — December 20, 2010 @ 1:43 am

  4. I also clicked back to the link from 2005. You should bring back “Today’s Picks.”

    Comment by Sal — December 20, 2010 @ 1:46 am

  5. I would say that bench coach is a more esteemed position than 3b coach, which is more esteemed than hitting coach. So on the surface, it would appear that Ullger was promoted. But because of the emphasis that the Twins organization places on loyalty and continuity, I too think that this move was a demotion. If you look around MLB, many bench coaches have managerial experience.

    If I recall correctly, Newman was not resigned as a coach because he “talked out of class”. He was too open w/his opinions w/the media.

    Comment by Dose of Thunder — December 20, 2010 @ 6:43 am

  6. “Since missing most of his rookie season because of a knee injury that required surgery in 2004, he has the most plate appearances of any catcher in baseball” many of those AB’s were from the DH spot meaning we had guys like Butera (worst hitter in MLB) batting in the C spot. Am I only thinking that Mauer’s value to the Twins is as a C and not so much as a DH? Who pays a high BA low power DH 23mil/yr?

    Comment by Large Canine — December 20, 2010 @ 7:41 am

  7. I find it fascinating that Gardy has not seen one bit of video of his new SS/2B. I can’t even imagine having the manager’s job, and not going to the internet and looking up this guy the moment the FO started talking about him.

    From a guick glance at Fangraphs, it looks like Mauer is leading MLB in ABs at catcher, not at catcher+DH…..

    Comment by mike wants WINS — December 20, 2010 @ 8:40 am

  8. No More Punto! Not with 2 new middle INF, one of whom gets in Gardy’s doghouse easy and the other a guy who Gardy’s never even seen swing a bat before. If Lil’ Nicky Punto comes back you just know Gardy will have him starting by May and talking about how gritty he and and can really pick it, and ignoring the fact that he just. can’t. hit!


    I’m not very happy with letting Morales go. I get that he’s not great behind the plate, but he’s showed competance at the plate, and I think his failures as a catcher are overrated. He also gave the team some position flexibility in that he could fill in at 1B in a pinch (admittedly, his bat would be a major downgade there, but at least we’d have a guy who could handle the position). Butera is a total failure at the plate and I haven’t seen enough to assure me that his defense is really so superior. It certainly doesn’t make up for the fact that he is basically an automatic out.

    Comment by Josh — December 20, 2010 @ 9:28 am

  9. The Bargas trade is awesome IMO. Exactly what you said, Morales not a good enough defender to play catcher and not a good enough hitter to play elsewhere. Bargas’ being a southpaw with those K numbers at 22, gotta love that.

    Comment by Kurt — December 20, 2010 @ 9:29 am

  10. “From a guick glance at Fangraphs, it looks like Mauer is leading MLB in ABs at catcher, not at catcher+DH…..” Looking at Baseball0Reference and ESPN STATS from 2006 frwd it looks like AJ has more AB’s then Joe (as C). So does Suzuki. I’m not the greatest at looking up these stats but that is what I have found. My point is that Joe as the catcher plus whomever we have at DH (Thome/Kubel/RH Bat) is better then Joe as the DH and Butera as the C.

    Comment by Large Canine — December 20, 2010 @ 10:17 am

  11. Another glance tells me Joe had many more walks then Suzuki or AJ so most likely more PA’s. Of note, Joe does not lead in innings caught. He gets more PA’s because he bats higher in the order then the typical C. Makes sense with his BA and OBP. I would like to see him bat 2nd. Span, Joe, Young, Justin, Cuddy, Thome/Kubel, Danny, Casilla, Nishi

    Comment by Large Canine — December 20, 2010 @ 10:29 am

  12. Canine, I too would like to see Joe bat 2nd, but they didn’t spend the past two months talking about speed to put a catcher in the two hole. It isn’t how they think a batting order MUST be built. It should come as no surprise that I’d like to see the high OBP with medium power guy batting 2nd, not some guy with a lower OBP but who is faster.

    Comment by mike wants WINS — December 20, 2010 @ 10:41 am

  13. Mike,

    If you took someone who knows nothing about baseball and explained to them OBP and BA wouldn’t that person contruct a batting order that had the highest OBP guys hitting high in the order followed by the guys with the highest BA? Seems pretty simple to me. Curious to see how our offense would have been last year with our 1 and 2 having higher OBP and higher BA such as Joe. Span had close to the lowest OBP of the starters and yet he had the most PA’s. Seems wrong.

    Comment by Large Canine — December 20, 2010 @ 11:02 am

  14. Ullger is out at third? Sweet. Did someone actually figure out how bad he was?

    Comment by Pedro Munoz — December 20, 2010 @ 1:26 pm

  15. Chuck James is a pretty interesting minor league signing. He used to be pretty good for the Braves before his shoulder surgery in 08.

    Comment by TMW — December 20, 2010 @ 1:28 pm

  16. I agree, bench coach is well above 3B coach on the prestige chart. And, if the math says to send the runner, it doesn’t matter how much they get thrown out by. A good risk is a good risk. Now, if you’re losing guys at home with no outs and Mauer up, you have a problem. But, with 2 down, you only need to be correct 40% of the time to justify sending the baserunner.

    Comment by Al — December 20, 2010 @ 1:50 pm

  17. Check out our new 2B’s wife in this video! She’ll warm up your day!

    Comment by funoka — December 20, 2010 @ 2:48 pm

  18. A blind dog would have made a better third base coach than Ullger.


    A couple of barks and you go! No barks and you stay. Sure it’s based on nothing, but so was Scotty – apparently. At least you’ve got a 50% shot of being right. After a while with Ullger, you knew that whatever he did, it was probably wrong.

    My perception of the “Bench Coach” is the coach we have on staff with no set of definable skills – like the Matt Tolbert of coaches. I’m not sure what the skill set for a 1st base coach is. 3rd Base is obviously important. Pitching and Batting coaches are self-explanatory. If you’re not good enough to be one of those, but the manager wants you hanging around anyway – well, you’re the “bench” coach, whatever that is.

    Bench Coach? Think Don Zimmer.

    Maybe your role is to charge Pedro?

    Anyway, that’s my perception, based on absolutely nothing concrete, just what I see as a fan.

    Comment by Son of Shane Mack — December 20, 2010 @ 5:27 pm

  19. The bench coach is who the Manager consults w/about in-game strategies. Who to pitch around, where to play the defense, when to pitch out, etc.

    Comment by Dose of Thunder — December 20, 2010 @ 8:26 pm

  20. The fact that Gardenhire hasn’t taken the initiative to watch any film on Nishioka, now more than ever leads, me to believe he doesn’t have a clue. It may as well be Ullger managing. Just wait, as soon as Nishioka shows any sign of struggle, it will be LNP in his spot for the rest of the season. Minnesota should be disgusted. This guy has two MVPs playing for him and he can’t get past the ALDS… The Yankees don’t even have two MVPs!

    Comment by Lois Lane — December 20, 2010 @ 10:21 pm

  21. Dear Lois,

    Yes, not watching any video on Nishi is pretty weird. Your MVP comment is meaningless. Sober up or take that to another site.

    Comment by brian — December 21, 2010 @ 7:11 am

  22. I don’t remember the fan base vilifying Newman. The fan base loved Newman.

    So I guess they don’t hate ALL 3B coaches…

    Comment by TheatreBrian — December 22, 2010 @ 1:29 am

  23. I agree, bench coach is well above 3B coach on the prestige chart. And, if the math says to send the runner, it doesn’t matter how much they get thrown out by. A good risk is a good risk. Now, if you’re losing guys at home with no outs and Mauer up, you have a problem. But, with 2 down, you only need to be correct 40% of the time to justify sending the baserunner.

    Comment by TheoTheo — December 27, 2012 @ 1:57 am

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