May 10, 2012

Twins’ latest shakeup sends Valencia to Triple-A and Liriano to bullpen

Minutes after the final out of last night's loss the Twins shook up the roster for the second time this week, demoting Danny Valencia to Triple-A and designating Matt Maloney for assignment while calling up utility man Darin Mastroianni and right-hander P.J. Walters from Rochester. They also announced that Francisco Liriano has been shifted to the bullpen, with Walters taking his spot in the starting rotation beginning Saturday against the Blue Jays.

Less than 48 hours earlier Ron Gardenhire insisted that the Twins would stick with Liriano as a starter, but now they're apparently hoping to get him back on track for an eventual return to the rotation with some low-leverage relief work. Liriano has taken some very small steps forward in his last two starts, but has been mostly terrible since the beginning of last season and it would be worth seeing what he can do in a one-inning role before free agency beckons.

Unfortunately his rotation replacement is a 27-year-old soft-tosser, so while watching Walters get knocked around may not be quite as frustrating as watching Liriano struggle to find the strike zone the end result figures to be largely the same. Walters has a 7.24 ERA with 12 homers allowed in 51 innings as a big leaguer, averaged just 88.0 miles per hour with his fastball during that time, and has a 4.51 ERA in 91 career starts at Triple-A.

As soon as the Twins called up Brian Dozier to start at shortstop and shifted Jamey Carroll into a utility man role it was clear that Valencia and Alexi Casilla were on some very thin ice. Carroll has started each of the past three games at second base, but apparently that was due mostly to Casilla being limited by a shoulder injury and instead Valencia is the one on the chopping block after serving as the starting third baseman since mid-2010.

Valencia was never a top prospect and a modest minor-league track record made it obvious that his strong half-season debut was largely a fluke, but he's declined even further than expected since then both offensively and defensively. He's played 266 games in the majors and hit just .262/.304/.395, which would be poor production from a shortstop or a catcher and is downright awful for a third baseman who's mediocre defensively on a good day.

On the other hand he's 27 years old with more than 1,000 plate appearances in the majors, so a demotion to Triple-A furthering his development seems like wishful thinking. Valencia is what he is at this point, and that's simply not a quality regular because he can't hit right-handed pitching. With that said, he's a career .325/.374/.485 hitter against left-handers and that type of production certainly has a place on a major-league roster if used correctly.

Mastroianni is technically replacing Valencia on the roster, but don't count on him making much of an impact. Claimed off waivers from the Blue Jays in February and assigned to Double-A to begin the season despite being 26 years old, he moved up to Triple-A because of injuries in Rochester and took advantage by hitting .365 in 19 games. That obviously got the Twins' attention, but Mastroianni hit just .279/.358/.389 in 79 games at Triple-A last season.

Mastroianni's lack of power has limited him to a .372 slugging percentage as a minor leaguer and makes him unlikely to be more than a useful bench player, but he has good on-base skills, spectacular speed, and can play all three outfield spots along with some second base. It'll be interesting to see if Mastroianni gets any action as an infielder or if Gardenhire will stick with Carroll, Casilla, and Trevor Plouffe in some combination at second base and third base.

Maloney was claimed off waivers from the Reds in October and there's a good chance he'll clear waivers this time around, in which case the Twins can stash him at Triple-A sans 40-man roster spot. He's the latest in a long line of examples showing the folly of putting any kind of faith in spring training performances, as Maloney was one of the most impressive players in camp and then predictably reverted back to the marginal big leaguer he's always been.

It was easy to see that the first roster shakeup was done to facilitate immediate improvement, as Liam Hendriks simply not being ready to thrive in the majors at age 23 made it reasonable to prefer Scott Diamond in the short term and the Twins have high hopes for Dozier. It's not so easy to see how the second roster shakeup really improves much, save for perhaps the fans' viewing experience and Gardenhire's mental state.

For as awful as Valencia has been, giving his starts to Casilla or Plouffe or Mastroianni isn't likely to be much of an upgrade and if nothing else he provided a right-handed bat capable of knocking around left-handed pitching. Liriano has been bad enough for long enough that trying to salvage some value out of him with a move to the bullpen is perfectly reasonable, but replacing him with Walters isn't likely to actually keep more runs off the board.

Of course, making changes mostly for changes sake may not be such a terrible thing at this point considering the Twins are now 73-132 since the final 10 games of the 2010 regular season. It'd be nice if they had better options to call up than Mastroianni and Walters, but they've already rushed non-elite prospects like Hendriks, Chris Parmelee, and Ben Revere to the majors with poor results and the rest of the upper-minors cupboard is mostly bare.

Beyond that, Liriano is at a career crossroads five months from free agency and Valencia may beat him out the door if the Twins can find a taker willing to trade even a mid-level prospect for him. Casilla is next in line for the guillotine if they go into full-on housecleaning mode and unlike last season hopefully they'll commit to a rebuilding effort by ditching more dead weight and getting whatever they can for any veterans not in the plans for 2013 and beyond.

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  1. I like the moves, even if to make a point that performance actually matters.

    I think what might end up happening is that Valencia will be down for 10 days and will come back up in a Morneau/Valencia for Parmelee/Gray swap.

    I like Mastroianni and Komatsu as OBP guys unlike what they have had with Revere and Repko. Mastro is going to be pinch-running a lot for Willingham in the 8th and 9th innings.

    Comment by Shane — May 10, 2012 @ 1:55 am

  2. Great commentary. Thanks for staying up.

    Comment by Dave — May 10, 2012 @ 2:28 am

  3. Welcome to the PJ Walters era! He should make a fine addition to the Minnesota Nice.

    Comment by neil — May 10, 2012 @ 6:12 am

  4. I’d still be running Liriano out there… Just to try to salvage some value and flip him… because his value as a RP is not going to fetch them much even if he does turn it around.

    Since they’re in experiment mode, I also think they should be experimenting with Perkins back in the fold for Starters.

    He’d probably be our best starter right now and since they have him locked up for 3 more years, they should be giving him another look at this time.

    Comment by MC — May 10, 2012 @ 6:21 am

  5. MC – Starting Perkins is an interesting thought – actually surprised we haven’t heard much call for it. I suppose he’s been so good at the 8th inning role that it doesn’t seem like a great idea. Upon further review, however, what good is it to have a solid 8th inning guy if you’re always losing by 7 runs in the 8th inning?

    Comment by grubah — May 10, 2012 @ 6:30 am

  6. Does PJ Walters have a rookie card? If so, I would like to invest in that.

    Comment by Bryan — May 10, 2012 @ 8:12 am

  7. I’m with MC, it’d seem that Perkins would have a better shot at some long term success than PJ Walters. It was just 2009 that he started the season with three great starts.

    Comment by cy1time — May 10, 2012 @ 8:15 am

  8. Depressing thought: It’s only May 10th. There are still about 140 days left of this season.

    Comment by Joek — May 10, 2012 @ 8:22 am

  9. The state of this organization is literally incredible. They were really, really bad last year at this time, and many people (including Gleeman) were commenting on how this team had to sell. At least they had assets to sell. Cuddyer, Kubel, Thome, Pavano, Liriano, Baker, Slowey, Span and Capps all could have fetched something (if they’d been dealt before injuries struck). But this crew…my goodness. I think the only players right now who could get you anything would be Span, Willingham, Perkins, and maybe Burton. The Twins have somehow managed to lose credible major-league assets without amassing any new young talent. Incredible.

    Comment by David — May 10, 2012 @ 8:51 am

  10. One thing Mackey noted was that Walters minors ERA comes from the Pacific league, where only 7 pitchers of 52 posted an ERA below 4. May not mean he’s going to dominate, but I’m hoping we’ll be pleasantly surprised.

    Comment by Alex — May 10, 2012 @ 9:39 am

  11. I can only agree heartily with David’s points.

    If the grocery store has swiss cheese that is about to expire, they put it on sale prominently to try and get whatever they can for it. They do not stupidly still try to get full price for it, or bury it behind the eggs – or try to pass it off as the perfect compliment to spaghetti and fish.

    Or the “Twins Way” – Give most of it away for nothing in return, then simply let the rest go bad and keep it rotting on the sales floor

    Comment by Karl — May 10, 2012 @ 9:46 am

  12. David is on the money, but after a division championship, giving up in early May 2011 would have been hard to swallow for many of us. Then they went on that little 14-2 run or whatever it was, which proved to be a mirage. Unfortunately for Twins fans, especially season ticketholders, this looks like a three to five year re-building project. Unless the Pohlads want the Pittsburgh experience — 10,000 people in a nice new park on weeknights — they better seriously consider investing in some serious player development and free agents.

    Comment by funoka — May 10, 2012 @ 10:25 am

  13. but but we’re only 9 games back! we play .600 ball the rest of the way and get 87 wins that could do it. with all the talent on this team that should be doable.

    Comment by Mike — May 10, 2012 @ 10:34 am

  14. David is right. The foresight and arrogance of this organization has been terrible for years (the “twins way”). Weren’t we the 2nd to last organization to hire a sabermatrician?

    Those bloggers who are somewhat objective, have noticed the baron waste land, that is our minor leagues for the last 3 to 4 years.

    Ryan’s sure blindness, in thinking this team could compete, shows me he is either out of practice, or his old bargain basement days of running a team are a thing of the past. I mean, how was this team going to be better than last year’s team?

    That’s the question I asked as off season moves were being made and as the team headed north from spring training. Baffling. Now Ryan, Gardy, and the main stream media all are scratching their heads….good gravy.

    Comment by rghrbek — May 10, 2012 @ 10:54 am

  15. Wait, are you saying the Twins have a sabermatrician? That they are not just evaluating players based on whether they battle (or bust or work) their tails off?

    Why, when the Twins pick up guys from the scrap heap, do they always get guys with little upside – i.e., Thomas, Komatsu, Mastroianni? Why can’t they go after guys like Jack Cust, who have some power and/or have at one point proven themselves in the majors?

    Comment by Pedro Munoz — May 10, 2012 @ 11:14 am

  16. Liriano has amply demonstrated that he has the stuff, but not the mental makeup to be a starting pitcher. Maybe he’s ADD.

    I’m happy to hear he’s going to the pen, but disappointed Gardy still sees him as starter. I think he could be very effective as a 1 inning reliever. Insanity is doing the same thing over & over and expecting a different result.

    Comment by Jeff — May 10, 2012 @ 12:28 pm

  17. Weren’t we the 2nd to last organization to hire a sabermatrician?

    I believe that is correct. I also believe that 1) that was never a full-time position, and 2) that is a position that is currently vacant. Not sure about either of those points, but I seem to remember reading them somewhere (maybe here?).

    Comment by David — May 10, 2012 @ 12:42 pm

  18. We need Roy Hobbs.

    Comment by jfs — May 10, 2012 @ 3:26 pm

  19. Is no hope

    Comment by There — May 10, 2012 @ 4:28 pm

  20. @funoka hits on a problem with the Twins – making strategic decisions based upon public sentiment. While the Twins are nothing without fan support, highly effective and sustainable franchises – must critically assess where they are now, the assets and resources, and where they will be in 1-3&5 years in the future and make decisions to put the team in the best position to succeed. And then effectively communicate the plan. In the Twins case, poor strategic planning and execution + bad luck (health) doomed the club. Post-2010. Delmon had a career year at 24. Had slow FAs-to-be Cuddyer and Kubel manning OF corners in a huge Target Field, open DH, and a stable and strong defensive MI. Twins plan? Keep but not commit to Delmon (either you extend and commit to him – good thing they didn’t – or you sell high – meaning the Twins decided Delmon wasn’t the long term solution, so trade when his value was high. Twins did nothing. Sit on Kubel and Cuddy in FA year. Decide to add speed in MI rather than OF and give hardy away. Butera as backup to Joe when Joe was rehabbing in spring. Not evaluating SP pipeline. So the kept the band together, minus middle INF and top 3 relievers. All this without mentioning the dumb and dumber act with Capps. No concurrent plan to restock the mid and upper levels of the minors. And a big part of these decisions seem oriented around not wanting to upset the fans (by rebuilding) in year 2 of a new ballpark, 100MM roster, etc… So here we are. No plan. No assets. No rational amount of spending will buy 3 quality starters, 3B with pop, RF with pop… No help until 2015. Welcome to the abyss- Pittsburgh west.

    Comment by Williesworld24 — May 10, 2012 @ 8:00 pm

  21. Tonight was one of the most pathetic efforts I have ever seen. This team is more than an embarrassment — it is a rip off. Why anyone would pay to watch this abortion is beyond me. But I, the sucker, with 4 $85/game season seats am simply embarrassed for being such a dumbass for buying them.

    Comment by Killshot — May 10, 2012 @ 10:08 pm

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